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Show Me the Money (2006)
Jeopardy it's not
I don't see enough TV game shows to understand the attraction of SHOW ME THE MONEY, but I suppose it holds some appeal for undemanding audiences. Ostensibly a quiz show, it offers contestants huge sums of money for answering a few simple questions. However, its quiz elements play only a small part in the proceedings, which I find tortuously complicated. For example, before answering a question, a contestant selects which question is to be asked by choosing from among random "A," "B," or "C" choices. Does this serve any purpose other than to slow the game down? It would be a lot quicker simply to start with "A." Contestants can pass on questions, but must answer one of the three questions in each category.
After responding to a question, the contestant is then asked to "lock in" the answer--another delaying tactic. The contestant's next task is to name which woman from about a dozen go-go dancers in cages is to unveil a card that indicates how much the question is worth. A correct answer adds the card's dollar figure to the contestant's running total; a wrong answer subtracts the same sum. This time-consuming step actually has some entertainment value, as it allows the audience to get a close look at the scantily clad and uniformly gorgeous dancers. Meanwhile, the contestant is reminded that an unlucky selection of the "killer card" will end the game instantly. This naturally makes the contestant sweat and causes further delays as the nervous contestant contemplates the sudden loss of the hundreds of thousands of dollars. My suspicion is that the possibility of sudden disaster is the show's chief audience appeal.
Meanwhile, the whole process is slowed down even more by a lot of empty banter between host William Shatner and the contestant, along with occasional routines by the caged dancers. All these delays burn up so much time that it might be possible for audiences to forget what the original question is by the time the correct answer is revealed.
A typical 30-minute episode of JEOPARDY often gets through as many as 60 questions. The first 30 minutes of SMTM that I watched got through only six questions (many of which pertained to other TV shows). No one in his right mind would watch this show because it's fun to play along by answering the questions at home. That leaves three possible reasons to watch the show.
A. To see how a contestant responds to being on the verge of winning as much as one million dollars, only to lose everything in one stroke.
B. To look at gorgeous young women performing sexually suggestive dance routines.
C. To enjoy William Shatner's scintillating banter.
My choice is "B," but the women aren't on camera long enough to justify suffering through an hour of this show.
Gun Battle at Monterey (1957)
No Gun Battle at Monterey
This film has a script so terrible that I reluctantly sat through the entire thing (which is mercifully brief) merely to see how it would play out.
The film opens with a shot of a manzanita pine overlooking the ocean that immediately establishes the Monterey, California setting and calls to mind the 1961 Marlon Brando film ONE-EYED JACKS, a film with a very similar storyline that was also set near Monterey. We then see Jay Turner (Sterling Hayden) and Max Reno (Ted de Corsia) riding horses along the surf and learn they are fleeing from a robbery. They go into a cave that Reno calls a perfect hideout. Presumably the entrance to the cave is hidden when the tide is up. However, anyone looking for the men shouldn't have too much trouble finding their horses outside. Morever, Turner builds a fire inside the cave. Don't they worry about the smoke giving them away? (For my part, I'd worry about being drowned inside the cave during high tide.)
The men talk and we learn that they've only recently met. They are very different types: Turner is satisfied with the $5,000 he's getting from the heist and wants to give up crime, but Reno wants to continue their partnership and is miffed by Turner's retirement. When Turner goes out to the surf to get a pot of water (What's the water for? Is he intending to use seawater for coffee?) Reno follows him and shoots him in the back. He then takes both horses and flees. This scene stunned me. Why didn't Reno shoot Turner inside the cave, where he could have retrieved the $5,000 and left Turner's body better hidden? Since he seemed not to have retried the money, what was the point of shooting Turner?
The next ONE-EYED JACKS element in the film is the appearance of a beautiful young Mexican woman, Maria Salvador (Pamela Duncan), who likes hanging out at the beach alone. Maria drags Turner out of the surf and somehow gets him to her home, where she nurses him back to health. Predictably, Maria and Turner fall in love. Turner is mellowing but is also obsessed with tracking Reno down and returning him to Monterey, where he can be hanged for murder (i.e., murdering Turner). Maria disapproves, but Turner leaves, vowing to return.
Meanwhile, Max Reno manages to set himself up nicely, under his own name, in a town called Delrey. It wasn't clear where Delrey is, but it seems to be in or near Texas. A long way from Monterey, California, but it makes some sense, as Reno doesn't appear to be worried about being caught by the law.
We first see Reno when he is playing cards in a saloon and winning big. He's obviously cheating, and even the sheriff suggests as much, but he nevertheless wins a huge amount from the saloon's owner. (Would a real saloon owner ever play a complete stranger in a high-stakes poker game?) In a back-room scene, the saloon owner signs over half-interest in his place to Reno, who happens to have a ready-to-sign contract in his jacket pocket. Reno then shoots the man dead and gets away with claiming that the man drew on him. Playing a primitive version of DEADWOOD's Al Swearengen, Reno transforms the formerly tame Delrey saloon into a happening place with fast women, a piano player, and dishonest card dealers.
If Delrey really is in Texas, it's a mystery how Turner finds the place, but he does. He makes a dramatic entrance in Reno's saloon and confidently pretends to be "John York" from El Paso when Reno confronts him. It's been a year since Reno has seen Turner, and he never knew Turner well to begin with, so he's not completely sure that York is Turner. He tries a few lame schemes to discover York's true identity. If Reno were Swearengen, he'd simply have York killed to be on the safe side. Eventually, he tries to do just that, but his schemes backfire. Turner ends up as deputy sheriff. Then, as acting sheriff, Turner saves Reno from a lynch mob and takes him back to Monterey. After Turner and Reno leave town, there is a curious sequence in which it becomes unclear what Turner's intentions are. Is he really taking Reno back to Monterey? Does he plan to kill Reno himself? Is he reverting to crime, with Reno as his partner? The answer is (a), and Turner delivers Reno to Monterey sheriff. He then rides back to the beach where he first encountered Maria and finds her pottering around the surf. They fall into each other's arms, but Maria is upset to learn what Turner has done to Reno. Despite the fact that Reno shot Turner in the back and later made several more attempts to have him killed, Maria thinks it wrong to have Reno tried for a murder that didn't take place. Seems like nitpicking, if you ask me. Turner asks Maria if she will love him, no matter what. She says yes, and we next see Turner being put in the same jail cell with Reno.
Talk about a movie that doesn't deliver ... there is NO gun battle at Monterey! However, one of the film's few strengths is its ambiguous ending. I expected to see a scene in which Turner is let off the hook for being reformed, but that doesn't happen either. Instead, Reno welcomes Turner into his cell with open arms, forgives him "for everything that you've done to me." The film ends with Turner punching Reno out, as the credits begin to roll. Considering how heavy-handed everything in the script has subtle note. Will Is Turner be prosecuted? Will Reno be hanged? We can only guess. Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised if the naive Maria goes back to the beach to pick up more men.
Night of the Running Man (1995)
A good bad movie
After catching this film on cable last night, I looked forward to going on IMDb so I could gleefully tear it apart; however, I see from other viewers' comments that it's going to be tough to say something original. (Check out the other comments; some of them are quite amusing.)
I call this a "good bad movie" because it's a truly bad movie that is bad in ways that make it entertaining. It has what might be called an idiot plot--one that works only because every major character behaves like an idiot. Once you accept that premise, however, you can enjoy the film on its own terms.
As is explained in greater detail in some of the other posted comments, the film concerns a Las Vegas cab driver (Idiot No. 1) named Jerry Logan (Andrew McCarthy), who inherits a suitcase containing a million dollars after one of his fares is killed while trying to abscond with the money from the casino at which he worked. When the casino owner (Wayne Newton) learns that a cabbie probably has his money, he arranges for a contract killer (Idiot No. 2) named Eckhart (Scott Glenn, playing against type), to get the money back.
A key element of the plot is that Eckhart is told to eliminate the cabbie. That and the fact that Eckhart is a sadistic bastard make it clear that Logan won't be able to talk his way out of the mess that he's in. Indeed, the one logical thing about his behavior is the realization that if Eckhart catches him, he's dead meat, whether he gives up the money or not. His only hope therefore is to escape, and if he does that, he might as well hang onto the money. Otherwise, however, Logan behaves like an idiot throughout the film.
What follows is loaded with SPOILERS (as are most of the comments on this film), so don't read on if you don't want to know what happens in the film.
Soon after Logan discovers the money, Eckhart comes after him and gives him good reason to believe that he's in deadly peril. What does he do after he makes his first narrow escape from Eckhart? He goes to the train station, buys a ticket in own name, and then gets coffee in the station cafe, where he tells the waitress where he plans to get off the train.
Needless, to say, Eckhart easily catches up with Logan, only to have the guy slip away from him in a crowded airport. This sort of thing happens repeatedly: Eckhart catches Logan and has the million dollars within his grasp, only to let the dope slip out of his hands. Despite his sadistic professionalism, Eckhart is too stupid to get the job done when he has the chance. Logan, on the other hand, is just clever enough to get away but not clever enough to avoid leaving clues for Eckhart to find him quickly.
After Logan lands at Los Angeles Airport, he hops into the first cab that comes along. It turns out that this cab is being driven by Idiot No. 3, Derek Mills (John Glover), another hit man whom Eckhart has tipped off about Logan's arrival. Possibly even more sadistic than Eckhart, Mills takes Logan to his own house, where he boils Logan's feet to keep him from running away. Figuring that Logan is in such great pain that he can't run away, he unties the poor schnook and leaves him writhing on the floor in agony.
Why Mills keeps Logan alive while awaiting Eckhart's arrival is unclear, but he does nothing to secure Logan's bag full of money and proceeds to fall asleep in a chair. Logan then musters the strength to crawl across the room, knock out Mills with a conveniently placed hand weight, and then make it out of the house with the money. As later events demonstrate, he should have had the brains to bash Mills on the head a few more times. Had he done that, he probably would have escaped safely. However, Mills recovers, sets Eckhart on Logan's trail again, and later comes back to cause Logan even more trouble.
Meanwhile, Logan awakens in a hospital room, where he is being tended by Idiot no. 4, the kindly nurse Chris Altman (Janet Gunn). Despite being drop-dead gorgeous, Altman is single and apparently unattached, as she immediately falls for the scruffy Logan. (And this dope considers himself unlucky?) Unfortunately, Logan's new friend Mills is also in the hospital, getting his head wound treated, and he overhears two nurses talking about the new patient with boiled feet. Soon, Eckhart comes calling yet again.
After Nurse Altman tells Logan that a man is looking for him, they both escape (Logan's boiled feet slow him down considerably, but they seem to heel rapidly through the last 30 or so minutes of the film. Altman must be a damned good nurse.) Where does Nurse Altman take Logan? Why, back to her own house. It apparently doesn't occur to them that Eckhart will have no trouble figuring out where she lives and find them. He does, but not until the next morning, permitting them to spend the night in vigorous love-making--which must be part of Nurse Altman's cure, as Logan is in terrific condition the next day.
Well, I think I've made my point. If you want more plot details, read the other comments. The script of the film is obviously inane. Nevertheless, the film can be fun to watch (apart from several scenes of sadistic violence), if you enjoy guessing what stupid move each character will make next. I've revealed some of their moves here, but the film has plenty more that I haven't described.
Oh ... one final spoiler. The film ends with Logan and Altman blowing up the latter's car with the dead bodies of the two hit men in it. Another commentator on this page suggests that they burn the car so that the "mob" will think that they (i.e., Logan and Altman) are dead and stop looking for them. I don't buy that interpretation. So far as I could tell, before Eckhart gets killed, he goes back to Las Vegas and kills most of the people who might know who Logan is. Moreover, wouldn't Eckhart's own disappearance raise questions about who was in the burned-out car? In any case, I don't think anyone in the mob knows about Nurse Altman, except Eckhart and Mills--who are dead--so there would be no reason to connect Logan with the car anyway. But it doesn't much matter. This film ain't really worth this much analysis.
The Alamo (1960)
History? Not quite
Having just learned that Disney is about to make a new version of this film, I think it's necessary to set straight a few points about Texas's revolt from Mexico. The impetus behind Texan independence was not so much a quest for freedom from Mexican tyranny as it was a drive to preserve African American slavery. The fact was that the Mexican government had abolished slavery, and the Texans weren't going for it. There's no doubt that the defenders of the Alamo were courageous. But freedom-loving heroes? Not quite.
John Wayne was behind the production of the 1961 film and saw to it that he got one of the film's most preposterous lines. When asked, as Davy Crockett, why he, a native Tennessean, had come to Texas to risk his life, he replies that he likes the sound of the word "republic." What a patriot!
But wait a minute ... what "republic" is he talking about? The one that has recently abolished slavery (Mexico) or the one that seeks to preserve slavery (Texas)?
The Parent Trap (1961)
Not necessarily a good film for children to watch
I enjoyed this film when it first came out in 1961, and I was young enough to have a crush on the immensely talented Hayley Mills. I can still enjoy watching it; however, I'm not sure it's an appropriate film for young children. There's nothing overtly inappropriate about its content--no violence, no rough language, no real sexual undertones. What I question is the film's none-too-subtle message about marriage and divorce. It may confuse children, especially children of divorced parents.
The film begins with a bizarre premise: Hayley Mills plays identical twins who don't know of each other's existence until a chance encounter at a summer camp throws them together. Eventually, they discover that they are sisters. That moment of discovery can still bring a tear to my cynical old eye, but stop for a moment and consider just how bizarre the film's premise really is ...
One sister has grown up with her father (Brian Keith) in California; the other with her mother (Maureen O'Hara) in Boston. Apparently separated shortly after birth, each not only has grown up unaware she has a sister, but each has had no contact with the other parent. How could that have happened? By all outward appearances, the parents are intelligent, caring, and responsible people. What horrible thing could have gone wrong in their marriage that caused them to cut off all contact with each other and to separate their daughters from each other and from their opposite parents?
In one summer camp scene, the girl who lives with her father reveals to her about-to-be-discovered sister that she has a photograph of their mutual mother. How could she have that picture and not know that her mother is alive and well? For one reason only: Her parents have lied to both her and her sister throughout their entire lives. Who would do that their own children? How wonderful and caring do those parents look now?
(Incidentally, this is fairly typical Disney fare. Have you ever noticed how many early Disney films are about children separated from their parents. Not just early Disney films, come to think of it. THE LION KING has an awful scene in which the lion cub sees his own father get killed. TARZAN, too, is about an orphan whose parents suffer horrible deaths.)
Leaving aside the premise of THE PARENT TRAP, I must now object to the film's resolution: The girls reunite their parents by contriving to force them together in one place and then overwhelming them with cuteness--personified by the song, "Let's Get Together." The scheme works, of course, but why? If the parents are so wonderful and have always loved each so much, why did they divorce in the first place? Is there any reason to believe they have changed? And what is wrong with parents who would do what they have done to their own children?
As I said, I can still enjoy this film--largely because of Hayley Mills's spunky performance--but allow young children to see this film? I have serious reservations. My own children were unfortunate in having to grow up with divorced parents. I never forbade them to see THE PARENT TRAP, but I took some care to steer them away from it.
My children loved both their parents and would like to have seen us get back together, but it would have taken a lot more than singing "Let's Get Together" to make that happen. Watching that film when they were young could only have made them feel there was something wrong with them in not being able to match Hayley Mills's imaginary success. THE PARENT TRAP may be the worst kind of fantasy for children: a beautiful, dreamlike answer to heartbreak that could almost never happen in real life.
Who benefits by putting such a dream into children's heads?
The Sea Gypsies (1978)
Bring a seasickness bag
This movie is filled with unintended laughs, starting with its title. Originally called "The Sea Gypsies," it was apparently renamed "Shipwreck" in order to attract cable TV viewers who enjoyed "Castaway." Fair enough. The two films have plenty in common. However, a more accurate title for this film would be "The Wilderness Family Washes Up on the Beach."
I missed the first ten minutes or so of the film, but its story seems simple enough. A young single father named Travis (Robert Logan) takes his daughters on a round-the-world cruise on his sailboat. This guy is the ultimate devoted father. There is no risk Travis wouldn't take to save his children from danger and there is no sacrifice he wouldn't make for their benefit. In fact, when things get desperate, it seems like he goes days at a time without eating, to ensure the children never miss a meal. What a guy. Best of all, Travis never loses his boyish optimism. No matter how bad things get, he's always grinning. When he's not busy hunting game (a problem for him, since he hasn't got the heart to kill critters that are cute) or fighting off wolves and bears, he's leading the family hootenanny or playing Tarzan on swinging vines. Yes. Travis is exactly the kind of character you would pay good money to slap.
Mikki Jamison-Olsen (in her only movie credit) plays Logan's obligatory love interest, Kelly. She's a journalist who hitches a ride on the boat to write a magazine story. She's attractive but bland; she does little more than hug the children when they're scared, scream when danger approaches, and be available when Captain Travis gets his horns up.
The final member of the cast is a young orphan (so he claims) stowaway named Jesse who isn't discovered until the boat is well on its way to the Aleutian Islands. Jesse persuades Travis's younger daughter, Samantha, not to reveal his presence to anyone else. Then, while everyone is eating lunch below deck, he proceeds to fall overboard when he leans over the side to fill a bucket of water so he can brush his teeth, I don't know why he's so anxious to brush his teeth; there's no reason to believe he's had anything to eat for days. In any case, he's a lucky guy, for Sam does three unlikely things:
First, she notices Jesse's missing and goes looking for him,
Second, she quickly concludes he has fallen overboard and sounds the alarm.
Third, she persuades her father to turn the boat around to search for a stowaway whom no one else has ever seen. Not bad. I wouldn't have believed her, if I had I been her dad.
After they find Jesse, everyone naturally welcomes him with open arms. They all make him feel so welcome that I was surprised that Travis didn't use his authority as captain to adopt the boy on the spot. More surprising, however, is how calmly Jesse takes his brush with death. Imagine yourself falling off a boat in the middle of the ocean, realizing that the only person who even knows you were aboard is a little girl who talks to her doll. As you watch the boat disappear over the horizon, what possible reason could you have for thinking anyone is going to save you? I don't know about you, but if that happened to me, I would still be having nightmares about it years afterward. However, that ain't Jesse's style. This boy's got nerves of ice.
Back to the plot: After a few more days at sea, the boat sinks in a storm one night, but everyone manages to get to a nearby shore safely in a liferaft. That stroke of luck raises a question: What the heck was Captain Travis thinking by having the boat under full sail so close to land in the middle of the night? Granted the storm blew the boat toward land; however, the storm scene was so brief, the boat couldn't have been far from the shore to begin. Frankly, I'm wondering about the guy's navigational skills. Besides, who the hell sails around the world by way of the Aleutian Islands? Let it go.
Everyone's ashore now, but they're short of equipment and supplies (no tools, no weapons, no food). Nevertheless, they seem to be tolerably well supplied with clothes and blankets. That's great because they're in a northern latitude, and winter is on the way. If you watch the film, keep an eye on the scene when they get on the liferaft and see if you can spot anyone carrying blankets or extra clothes.
This raises another question: There are lots of references to cold weather, and it even snows briefly, but no one really seems to mind the weather. Moreover, they all spend a lot of time in the water. They splash around trying to catch fish, they get chased into the surf by a bear, they even engage in purely recreational swimming. Yet no one is even shown visibly shivering. I don't get it. Aren't they supposed to be in Alaska on the threshold of winter? Why aren't they freezing their buns off? And how do they get dry? Do you suppose when they were filming the water scenes off the coast of Southern California, they forgot where they were supposed to be? Don't they know how cold the water off Alaska can get?
I mentioned a bear chasing the Sea Gypsies into the surf. He (or she) is the only real villain in the film. Until he appears late the story, our castaways have close encounters with deer, moose, musk ox, reindeer, sea lions. and even wolves, but the brown bear (apparently a Kodiak) doesn't appear until fairly late. Just in time to keep anyone who hasn't already fallen asleep awake. I think the bear was introduced for one reason: To force the people to leave where they are. After laying in a large stock of smoked salmon, they're all getting entirely too complacent with their situation. For people who are facing a life-and-death struggle, they spend in inordinate amount of time cavorting on the beach and admiring the sunsets. The situation was starting to remind me of "Swiss Family Robinson," which ends with Mr. and Mrs. Robinson deciding to stay put on their island when rescue is at hand. (I daresay that if their island had a few Kodiak bears, their decision would have been different.)
Incidentally, the trained bear in the film appears to have been heavily sedated because he's about the slowest-moving bear you'll ever see in a movie. Real bears can outrun Olympic champion sprinters, but this bear can't catch anyone. In fact, he's so slow, that the people he's chasing have to fall down a few times to give the poor critter a chance to catch up.
Killer Ape (1953)
My granddaughter and I caught only the last half, or so, of this film, so it's possible that we may have missed something that would cause me to reconsider what I say about it here. What might we have missed that would make a difference? Perhaps a plot, or at least some logical premise to explain what is going on.
This film must rank as a minor classic in the jungle-epic-filmed-in-a-garage genre. Although most of its action ostensibly occurs outdoors, there's hardly a scene in the film--apart from stock footage of rampaging animals--that isn't claustrophobic. Lots of interior shots in tents, huts, caves, dense jungle cover, etc., and even the exterior shots look like they were filmed indoors.
No point in being coy. Everything about this film is bad: cheesy production values, bad acting, hopeless script. Its only redeeming value is Carol Thurston (1923-1969; not the writer of the same name), who plays some kind of "native" princess. She's a babe. Wearing a skin-tight sarong, she looks more like she belongs in a Crosby/Hope "Road" movie than a "Jungle Jim" flick, but anyone who suffers through this turkey ain't likely to complain. She's good-looking, has a great body, and moves likes she's fully aware of all of the above. When you watch the silly film, you'll probably find yourself expecting J. Jim (Johnny Weismuller) to ask, "What's a classy babe like you doing in a jungle like this?" (You can answer that by checking her film credits on IMDb--all turkeys.)
The film's plot--so far as I could make it out--has several storylines. First, there's a giant "man ape" that is killing everything that enters his valley. Next, there's a group of unprincipled scientists who are collecting animal specimens as part of an evil plan to control the world with a serum they have discovered. Next, there is a "tribe" of ethnically mixed people (Arabs? Persians? Africans? Tahitians?) who are unwittingly helping the evil scientists by selling animals to them. Into this mix is thrown Jungle Jim, the world's first eco-tourist, who does his best to save the fight the bad guys, help the natives, and save the animals. (Unfortunately, he has a thing for the man ape and does his best to kill the poor beast. Never mind that the man ape might have some rights, too. Did he invite anyone into his valley?)
What I most enjoy about this silly symphony is its rhythms and patterns of movement. At any given moment, it seems like at least one character is being held captive by another character. As a result, there are escapes galore, and much of the time half the characters are fleeing, while the other half are chasing. What makes all this fun, is that it's absolutely unclear where the heck anyone is going. Characters seem to criss-cross the jungle in random directions with the inevitable result that they are constantly running into each other (and that includes the man ape, who usually grabs anyone who comes near him).
An interesting motif is hiding, or taking cover. J. Jim spends a lot of his time ducking behind jungle ferns, rocks, or passages in the cave that serves as one of the film's main sets. Although characters are hiding much of the time, no one chasing them ever thinks to look behind a rock or fern, so the hiders' presence goes undetected until they pop out into the open--which they always do. I'd like to see someone set this film to music.
If anyone ever writes a treatise on caves in films, they shouldn't overlook this film. Its cave is something special--the sort of place for which the word "cavernous" was coined--like the one in the old "Star Trek" episode about the Horta, or whatever it was called. Actually, this cave may have been used as a set for the "Dr. Who" TV series, though I don't recall spotting any Dalleks lurking anywhere.
Things to watch out for if you see this film:
* In the climactic fight between J. Jim and the man ape, see if you can tell if there is anything in any of the cardboard boxes they throw at each other (they all looked empty to me)
* when the wizard character shows Thurston the "baby dinosaur" in a cigar box, notice that it's a California alligator lizard
* in fact, see if you spot anything in the film--except for stock footage--that wasn't shot in Southern California
* keep an eye on the knife J. Jim drops when the man ape knocks him down; does it land at an angle that would pose a threat to anyone who accidentally falls on it?
* notice how J. Jim holds his chimp's hand every time they go somewhere together; why does he need to hold the hand of a chimp smart enough to understand him when he says, "Run back to the camp and get me knife"? Is it possible that the real chimp wouldn't follow Weismuller if he weren't holding onto him?
Lucky Jim (1957)
What have they done to my favorite novel?
It's hard for me to be objective about this film, as it is adapted from my favorite novel--which I've read eight or nine times. Also, I waited so long to see it that it may have been inevitable that I would ultimately be disappointed. Ironically, I first heard about the film some years before I read the book, and it was only after I read the book that I made the connection between it and the description my brother had once given me. It would be about 20 years (no kidding!) before I finally saw the film myself. I've now seen it twice and mostly hated it both times.
Kingsley Amis's LUCKY JIM was obligatory reading among history students when I was in grad school 30 years ago. The story about an unhappy history instructor in a crummy British provincial university expressed a lot of the angst that we felt as grad students, and it was funnier than heck as well. I loved the book then, and still love all these years later. Why, then, was the film such a disappointment? Mainly because the script muted much of the savageness of Amis's humor, and because it tacked on an idiotic chase scene at the end that has nothing whatever to do with the original story--or even with what goes before it in the film. (Even Ian Carmichael--who played Jim--hated that ending. He told me that the people making the film didn't seem to have any idea of what they were doing--and it shows.)
The producers also added a very unsatisfactory and irrelevant academic procession in them middle of the film--evidently for the sole purpose of making Carmichael look like a klutz by having him tripping over flowerpots and dropping things in the middle of the solemn affair.
Nevertheless, the film does have its virtues, chief among them is excellent casting. Ian Carmichael was born to play Jim. Terry-Thomas was properly unctuous as Bertrand; Hugh Griffith certainly looked the part as Professor Neddy; Maureen Connell looked like I imagined the neurotic Margaret Peel; and Sharon Acker made a fine-looking Christine Callaghan.
Best Man Wins (1948)
How many people still alive have seen this film?
So far as I know, this film has never been released on video. And it may never have been shown on television. In fact, it's possible that I own the only surviving copy of the film! I bought a nice clean 16mm print of it on eBay last year and later had to buy a sound projector in order to watch it. However, even now, I have only seen the first reel (because it took me and a friend so long to get the projector running properly the night we tried to watch the film that we didn't have the energy to sit all the way through it.)
Made in the late '40s, the film is a loose (very loose) adaptation of Mark Twain's jumping frog story. Its main character, Jim Smiley (played by Edgar Buchanan) is a ne'er-do-well obsessed with betting on his champion jumping frog who must change his ways in order to avoid losing his wife. Not much more to say about the film
I regard this film as being strictly for Mark Twain aficianados. And if you happen to be one of them folk, try to get yourself to the State of Mark Twain Studies conference in Elmira, N.Y., on August 16-18, 2001.
An overlooked sleeper
This is a terrific film for a lot of reasons (not the least of which is the outrageously alien behavior of two alien cops trying to pass as INS agents in Harlem), but the best thing about it is the transcendent performance of Joe Morton as the gentle mute alien trying to make contact with his own people. It's hard to take the Academy Awards seriously when they overlook a performance such as Morton's.
Although Morton doesn't speak a single word throughout the film, he conveys so much meaning and feeling through gestures, body language, and facial expressions that one can only wonder why we need language at all.