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SUPERBUG--SECRET AGENT is, I believe, the second of five films in this German SUPERBUG series, which is a takeoff on the HERBIE films of Disney, but which foreshadows KNIGHT RIDER in many ways. The English-dubbed version of this film is what I saw, and it is dubbed in a cartoon-like way that is in keeping with the cartoon-like feel of the film. In fact, on the level of being a "spy" film, this plays out a lot like a Scooby-Doo cartoon, but with live actors and real locations (Portugal, quite lovely and well-filmed!). There is much Stooges/Bowery Boys-style slapstick, and even the usually suave Joachim Fuchsberger (star of many fine Edgar Wallace thrillers in the 60s) finds himself mugging as if he's in an Edgar Kennedy comedy short. Superbug's owner, Jimmy Bondi (played by Robert Mark, who also directed and wrote the film under his real name), is a laid-back unshaven fellow with a cowboy hat, making him a relatively "safe" hero for a children's film. As another comment stated, this film is also quite reminiscent of the Terence Hill-Bud Spencer comedies of the 70s and 80s, with sound effects in the fight scenes and quirky semi-lounge music that immediately cries "foreign" to an American audience. Overall, I found this film quite entertaining as an adult...if you like lowbrow comedy and nice Portuguese locations. Think "a live action Scooby-Doo made in Germany, entertainingly dubbed in English" and you should have a good idea what SUPERBUG--SECRET AGENT has to offer.
From the credits I can tell that this film was shot in widescreen and in color. The US print available from SWV, which is worth watching for fans of dubbed Euro historical costumed adventures, is pan and scan, and also in black and white. Made in 1959 and distributed to American TV in 1965 via Walter Manley enterprises (who handled many superb European and Japanese genre films), the US version titled CAVALIER IN THE DEVIL'S CASTLE hints at what an interesting film the color, scope version might be, wherever it is. An evil ruler (played nicely in an arrogant, patronizing manner by Massimo Serato) seizes and keeps imprisoned the benign ruler of a neighboring territory, then tries to entice the daughter of that ruler to marry him and unite the territory. Meanwhile, a "masked cavalier" is standing up to Serato and uniting the populace against him. It should be no secret to the viewer which member of Serato's court is the cavalier, but until the inevitable happy ending, there is some intrigue, humor, well-staged fights and fencing duels, and a steady pace that keeps the viewer engaged. Director Mario Casta's other films that have appeared in the US in dubbed versions are all of interest and not at all standard fare: THE BLACK PIRATE with Ricardo Montalban and Vincent Price; BUFFALO BILL, HERO OF THE FAR WEST with Gordon Scott; KERIM, SON OF THE SHEIK with Gordon Scott (see my review); THE CENTURIAN with Jacques Sernas and John Drew Barrymore (although in the pan and scan version available, Barrymore is often cut out of the frame!); and GLADIATOR OF ROME with Gordon Scott. Even in dubbed, cut versions, Casta's films seem like unique takes on established genres with interesting visuals, and they seem to be well-acted. Of course, seeing these films in anything resembling the original widescreen color un-dubbed versions (and with English subtitles)is not likely to happen in my lifetime, so the US television versions will have to do. Remember, a film such as this is only going to appeal to someone who's already seen 50 similar films and has a hunger for them. For the novice, try something like THE EXECUTIONER OF VENICE (w/ Lex Barker and Guy Madison) and see if the genre interests you.
I enjoyed Larry The Cable Guy's previous film, HEALTH INSPECTOR. It was a perfect example of lowbrow physical comedy that should have appealed to the Three Stooges and Bowery Boys fans out there. It used time-tested formulas dating back to silent comedy (check my reviews of obscure silent and early-sound comedy shorts and you'll see I love that tradition), and while they are simple-minded and obvious, they still work when in the hands of a comic master. For me, Larry the Cable Guy is in the Larry Fine/Leo Gorcey/Jerry Lewis vein, and also somewhat like the comedic sidekicks in old westerns. This new film is not as much of a gross-out vehicle as the Health Inspector. Bill Engvall is very much a straight man to Larry, while DJ Qualls is like a psycho version of Don Knotts/Barney Fife. These three are a great slapstick misfit trio, if crude obvious physical comedy is what you like. I presume anyone reading this already knows the plot--three loser guys are sent to Iraq to fight and mistakenly get dropped off in Mexico. Like any plot for a slapstick comedy, it's merely a device to hang routines on, and I found the routines to be quite funny. The writing is full of jokes and all three guys are great physical comedians. It's also nice to see screen heavies like Keith David and Danny Trejo in comic roles, David as the Sergeant who is leading the boys, Trejo as a weird bandit leader. Larry's stand-up routines are VERY different from this film. Don't see this film unless you liked Health Inspector. Or unless you want to see someone working the old Three Stooges/Bowery Boys type routines. My teenage daughter and I laughed quite often and found the film more than worth the money. By the way, the outtakes at the end of the film are interesting in that they show scenes that did not make the final cut. I hope those scenes will be included on the DVD. I anxiously await Larry's next vehicle, WITLESS PROTECTION.
While the ending of the novel is changed in this 1965 remake of Agatha Christie's novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, it's still an OK murder mystery, a kind of modern version of an old dark house chiller, with an excellent cast of UK veterans and US imports Hugh O'Brian and Fabian. A mysterious "Mr. Owen" invites ten strangers, all of whom seem to be guilty of some crime, to spend a weekend in an isolated mountain home. They gradually get killed one by one. My wife felt that the only interesting character in the film was the one who is killed first (you'll have to watch it to see who that is), but I found the whole thing to be entertaining and the ending to be surprising (although the clues ARE planted, when you watch it a second time). Like any Harry Alan Towers production, this is low budget but well cast, and once again Towers wrote the script himself under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym. The recent DVD reissue of this includes the infamous "Whodunit Break" (which appeared at the film's climax in its theatrical run but was cut from all TV prints) as an "extra" but does not edit it back into the film, which is good because it would make second and third viewings of the film painful. Watch that scene once, marvel that anyone would ever attempt anything so cheesy, and then watch the uninterrupted movie again. Nice to see Shirley Eaton as always (The Girl From Rio and Su-Muru), Hugh O'Brian is a charming and masculine lead, Fabian is entertaining, and the British veterans are as colorful as you'd expect, although some Americans may have trouble telling them apart initially, except for Dennis Price. Worth renting, but I can't say it's worth fifteen dollars. Maybe $8.99 or so.
This uplifting crime-drama, from the early years of Republic Pictures before the studio became an assembly-line, stars usual second-banana and character actor William Hall (a leading man in the Robert Kellard vein) as a former coal-miner who has come to the big city and gets in the way of two rival gangs fighting over a girl, and then finds himself associated with one of the gangs unintentionally. That gang hides out in a rural area (the leader of the gang, Dean Jagger, is not with them...this is just the colorful, "loveable" members of the gang!), where they meet a rural family and a small-time businessman and a dog, all of whom transform the minor criminals and cause them to finally stand up to the gang boss. Ah, there's nothing like those criminals with a heart of gold one finds in Damon Runyon or in 1930's movies. If you can accept the Hallmark Channel premise of this b-programmer, it's actually quite entertaining and fast moving, and has some nice supporting acting from the likes of Ward Bond (as the "cook" of the gang). "Bill" the dog gets a lot of screen time, and he's a good performer in the Rin Tin Tin Jr. vein who fights for the honor of the reformed gang moll with the Hungarian accent, played by Steffi Duna, who seems a lot more comfortable in the "good girl" than in the "tough girl" role. No great analysis is needed of a film such as this. It's good rainy-day entertainment with a positive, uplifting message, but still a crime film. Short of a Touched By An Angel or Highway To Heaven episode, one doesn't see this combination very often nowadays. Worth searching out for b-movie fanatics--others can wait.
The second film I've seen in two weeks made at Republic in the mid-40s starring Kane Richmond and Adele Mara is nowhere near as good as TIGER WOMAN (see my review). In this one, Richmond is some kind of advertising man who comes up with a concept for a women's clothing campaign (I think, based on the drawings we see) called THE THREE SPRINGS. Soon, various eccentric gangster types and crooked businessmen start expressing an interest in the campaign, feeling as though Richmond is actually making a reference to something else with the title and they are trying to cover that up. I won't give away the plot and say WHAT they think he's referring to with the ad campaign because that is the device that puts the plot, such as it is, in motion. Studios needed to churn out a certain number of b-movies per season, and often a project that might have sounded good on paper gets locked into the production schedule and it gets made even though it doesn't fully gel. That's what the problem is here. Each scene, on its own, is entertaining. Richmond--a kind of square-jawed, self-deprecating leading man who probably best resembles George Clooney among today's stars--is always a pleasure to watch. The top-billed star here Stephanie Bachelor--who was in films for a brief six year period, and who seemed to get leading roles mostly at Republic--as Richmond's girlfriend. She looks great and delivers the arguing-couple romantic banter well, but there's not much depth to her character. As for Adele Mara, she's given a thankless role here as a kind of femme-fatale, but we're not really sure how deep is her involvement with the bad guys, and the way the film disposes of her character cannot be excused. Unless my copy of the film is cut (and it's the Hollywood Television Service print, so it may be), I can't believe this script made it past ANY editor. My wife and I looked at each other as the "End" credit appeared, and asked, "What about Adele Mara"? We know what happens to her, but it is never resolved. WHAT??????? On the good side, this film is entertaining in pieces--the supporting cast (with such fine performers as Gerald Mohr and Gregory Gay) is colorful, there's a lot of witty romantic banter between Richmond and Bachelor AND Richmond and Mara. It's just that the plot doesn't hold together, the events in themselves don't command attention, and there's a rushed feel to many scenes as though the attitude was "let's get this in the can quickly." Some of the fights are the most phony I've seen in a Republic film--a studio known for its excellent stunt-men. Richmond and the bad guys seem as though they were just instructed to pull the punches because the stunt men couldn't make it today. Still, it was not an unpleasant way to kill 60 minutes and b-movie and Richmond fans will enjoy it. Bachelor and Mara are both wonderfully attractive and witty leading ladies. Just don't expend much energy or cost in trying to find a copy.
Republic Pictures will always be best-known for its serials and westerns and John Wayne films, but their feature films, most of which resemble the "B" programmers of, say, Columbia or Universal, are a little-known asset of the studio. Most haven't been shown on TV in decades and few have been released on video. Republic issued a strange assortment of excellent and not so good (such as When Gangland Strikes) features back in the VHS days, but nothing really in 15 years. Republic features were almost always entertaining, economical, professionally made, well-cast, and tightly paced...just like their westerns. This particular feature, the first director credit of Philip Ford (nephew of John), casts the witty, square-jawed leading man of serials and b-action films, Kane Richmond, as a private eye sucked into a web of dirty dealings involving a nightclub owner, his wife, her "friend", etc. The night club is the Tiger Club, and thus the wife is the "Tiger Woman" of the title. No, this is not a jungle film and has nothing to do with the serial of the same name. Xavier Cugat vocalist and Republic leading lady Adele Mara plays Sharon, the Tiger Woman, and shows a range of emotions from confused, naive victim to mourning widow to shrill black widow. Ms. Mara is always a delight to see--her large seductive eyes are not soon forgotten!--and she did a lot of work for Republic in the mid and late 40's. Her boyfriend is played by British actor Richard Fraser (Picture of Dorian Gray), whose accent slips in here and there, and who does a good job of playing a character who thinks he's in control of the relationship with Ms. Mara but who is simply a plaything to be discarded. As always, Kane Richmond is the perfect b-movie leading man--handsome, athletic, witty, self-deprecating even while the character he's playing might be vain--and he and Adele Mara take what could be a standard, unimaginative mystery programmer and make it special. Also usual for Republic is the fine cast of colorful supporting players such as Cy Kendall (often a heavy, here a quirky police detective) and Gregory Gay (as a mobster/mortician (!!!!!) of uncertain ethnicity!). The print reviewed is a 16mm Hollywood Television Service (Republic's television syndication arm) copy with the republic logo removed, so it's possible that this copy could have a few minutes trimmed from the original theatrical release print, but most of these b-programmers are under an hour anyway, and the films moves quickly and gets a lot done in a short time. I also acquired at the same time as this film one made the next year at Republic with the same two stars, PASSKEY TO DANGER, and will try to review that within the next few weeks. THE TIGER WOMAN is a pleasant way to kill an hour, the mystery angle works quite well and while the conclusion could probably be anticipated, the film leads the viewer down so many other blind alleys that when the REAL conclusion comes it almost seems to come out of the blue. If only one could see the Republic library on some cable channel...
Maybe it's just me, but how could one NOT laugh at the over-the-top performances in such previous Brian De Palma films as SCARFACE and DRESSED TO KILL. This film, however, has to be one of De Palma's biggest misfires since BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. First of all, forget even a semi-factual account of the real Black Dahlia killing. I have not read the Ellroy novel on which THE BLACK DAHLIA is based, so I can't comment on the adaptation. All I can say is that while this film features amazing 1940s production design and striking camera work, the script is one cliché after another and the dialogue is full of anachronisms. Is that supposed to be cute or "ironic"? And the performances are so over-the-top that the audience laughed at a number of scenes. Even such usually subtle and nuanced performers as Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank chew the scenery and make wild grotesque faces into the camera as wildly as later Orson Welles or later Richard Burton or later Cameron Mitchell at their most extreme. As a director, Welles can get this to work in his films such as LADY FROM SHANGHAI or MISTER ARKADIN or TOUCH OF EVIL because despite the excess there is still a sense of the unknown and the terrifying. In BLACK DAHLIA, it's just hammy acting. If I wanted to see this kind of thing, I'd rent WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. The plot is nonsensical and has no relation to the real world--and during the last fifteen minutes we keep getting new resolutions to the murder that are even more outlandish than the last one. If De Palma intends this as a send-up of the L.A. noir genre, then he achieved what he set out to do. THE BLACK DAHLIA looks good on a big screen, if you can forget the plot and dialogue. If you are thinking of renting this, watch CHINATOWN again...or better yet, watch HOLLYWOODLAND. How does De Palma get financing for these projects??? If you want to see a crime film where almost every character plays it like Glenn Anders in LADY FROM SHANGHAI (a little "target practice"), this is your film. Whatever critic called this a "shrieking camp-fest" was totally on the mark.
The other review of this 1950 Republic western serial described it as "competent", and I second that. It's solid, features fistfights and gunfights and bar brawls and wagon/horse chases galore, and works well as bread-and-butter western entertainment--kind of like the later Rocky Lane films. The plot involves a collective of rural folk who have some oil leases, which are being sabotaged by evil Easterner I. Stanford Jolley (in an outlandish stovepipe hat, as oily as ever!). The head man for the locals is the great 30s western star Tom Keene, now billed as "Richard Powers" as he was during his 40s/50s supporting actor period. It's great to see the star of OUR DAILY BREAD as the star of a film once again, and he brings a kind of depth and gravitas to the role that the usual late-Republic bland leading men, chosen to match the Republic stunt men, usually lack. The mature Mr. Keene is obviously doubled in the fights A LOT, but that's OK--he's an impressive hero anyway. Roy Barcroft is along for the ride as Jolley's henchman, and such western stalwarts of Dennis Moore (as a workman drinking on the job!) and George Chesebro (as a wagon driver, if I remember correctly) are in small roles and not even billed. As I observed in my review of GOVERNMENT AGENTS VERSUS PHANTOM LEGION, a Republic serial from 1951, there was a kind of generic quality to some of the Republic product in this period (except for those that still had a weirdness quotient, such as JUNGLE DRUMS OF Africa or Canadian MOUNTIES VS ATOMIC INVADERS), but star Keene, the fine supporting cast, and an oilfield setting, make this serial a LITTLE bit different. Fans of "b" westerns or post-World War II Republic serials should find this entertaining and worthwhile, but it may drag a bit for the general audience.
GOVERNMENT AGENTS VERSUS PHANTON LEGION, from 1951, is, like virtually all Republic Pictures product (up through 1955, at least), a competent and fast-moving and professional piece of work, but piece of work it is. Even the title has a generic feel to it, and almost every aspect of the serial suffers from a similarly generic, non-specific, non-interesting quality. The hero is bland and uninteresting. The lady who works with him is completely undeveloped as a character and is even more bland. The head of the phantom legion(one of four businessmen is a saboteur, the question is which one) is bland, and even his henchmen show a lack of imagination, trotting out the same old crashing cars off cliffs and staging fires. The federal agency the hero works for is ill-defined (I thought for a moment I was watching a David Mamet piece!), the nature of the materials hijacked and stolen is ill-defined, etc. On the plus side, the action is fast-moving, there are the usual well-staged cliffhangers, constant fist fights, and a number of car chases, and an excellent supporting cast of western-film veterans. Unlike some Republic serials, I don't think I could watch all of this one in an afternoon---I saw an episode or two a day over a week's time. By this time, Republic could produce a solid, professional serial in their sleep, and for this film it seems that they did. Personally, I find a number of Republic serials that came after this to be much more entertaining--Canadian MOUNTIES VS ATOMIC INVADERS is quirky and fun, and even the last two serials KING OF THE CARNIVAL and TRADER TOM OF THE CHINA SEAS have elements of plot and setting and atmosphere and supporting characters that make them more interesting than GOVERNMENT AGENTS. In short, a solid professional piece of work, and not bad to kill time with on a rainy day, but lacking inspiration and not a good introduction to Republic serials, unless you were out to make fun of them and point out their limitations and clichés.
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