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1,000 Shapes of a Female (1963)
Art Appreciation Means Look Don't Touch
1,000 SHAPES OF A FEMALE is a peek-a-boo nudie-cutie film, dressed or undressed if you will as a pseudo-documentary. To its credit, the viewer is provided with an art house view of Greenwich Village, New York circa 1963 in full color, complete with narration mixed with dialogue from the actors and models. We are provided with a coffee house backdrop, complete with a folk singer strumming on his acoustic guitar such chestnuts as "John Riley." Naturally, there is a nubile young lady with a Jackie Kennedy hairstyle sitting at the foot of the singer, hanging on to his every word . The waitress serves espresso in black leotards , high heels and white apron. If you ever wondered why Jimmy Gilmer was inspired to sing about the 'Sugar Shack'(Billboard Magazine's #1 song of 1963) with "the cute little girlie
.wearing black leotards," you'll find out why.
The plot hangs on the premise of various artists painting models, recreating poses of classical masters such as Matisse and Renoir. These painters recruit prospective young ladies by posting ads on the coffee house bulletin board. Some of these artists are sincere in committing to canvas actual reproductions of the original works. This requires, of course, that the model is to display her breasts and derriere. This is actually achieved in good taste with the model undressing behind a screen, posing in accordance to the original classical painting.
A few observations should be mentioned here. First, even a pedestrian knowledge of classical art in relation to the female form notes that women depicted on canvas two hundred years ago were full figured. Fortunately, the models posing for the assorted artists in this movie measure up in this regard. During the early 1960s, actresses and models were 15 to 20 pounds heavier on average than current weight dictates on the fashion scale. ( Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were the barometers of beauty then.) They certainly looked healthier back then. An exception is Audrey Campbell who, in comparison, is downright svelte in the role of 'Margie'. She portrays an artist and model. (Miss Campbell would go on to portray 'Madame Olga' in a series of sexploitation flicks. As an example of her versatility, she would also appear in television series such as THE GUIDING LIGHT and DARK SHADOWS).
Also, every model in this movie is Caucasian (the camera unfortunately doesn't take us to Harlem) and alluringly pale. No tanning parlors back then. That means the viewer is treated to an abundance of pretty women with lipstick, heavy eye make-up and powder. Obviously, this scenario engenders charlatan painters who only wish to see women without their clothes. This premise hits ludicrous proportions as one "artist" throws darts at balloons filled with paint on a canvas while the model poses naked. She catches on to the ruse, dresses and departs quickly.
1,000 SHAPES OF A FEMALE is directed by Barry Mahon who achieved notoriety for directing Errol Flynn's last movie CUBAN REBEL GIRLS in 1959. By today's standards, even with the exposed female flesh, 1,000 SHAPES would rate a PG-13. There is an overall air of gentle civility between the participants involved which is disarming and certainly reminds us of how interaction between men and women have changed during the past 47 years. Oh yes, there is a set of bongo drums in an artists' studio to provide that proper bohemian touch. During an encore viewing, try clicking the 'mute' button and play a Dave Brubeck LP on the record player.
Four Days in November (1964)
A Vivid Chronicle Of Those Four Dark Days
Released in November 1964, shortly after The Warren Commission's report, this documentary presents itself as a companion piece to the excellent photographic journal FOUR DAYS compiled by United Press International. It also serves as a prosecuting attorney's template for stating the position of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman.
Beyond this controversial lightening rod, Four Days In November is an effective filmed record of the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. The primary reason for this film's value is the fact that it was released barely one year after the tragedy in Dallas. The nation is still recovering from its shared anguish. The participants interviewed(including Lee Oswald's landlady, Earlene Roberts) convey urgency in their voices and mannerisms of events which are still fresh in their thoughts. There is a raw immediacy in the way this film chronicles the last week of JFK with rare archival footage. With an election looming in 1964, we see a campaign stop in Tampa, Florida as the President is serenaded by accordion with "Hail To The Chief" and presented with a doll for his daughter, Caroline. Back in Washington, the President honors a yearly pre-Thanksgiving tradition and spares the life of a healthy turkey on the White House lawn.
Leading up to the Texas trip, Richard Nixon is shown in Dallas as an influential lawyer representing Pepsi-Cola, offering a shrewdly political view as to why JFK is really visiting the Lone Star State. During a stop in Houston, President and Mrs. Kennedy (their last night together) attend an event sponsored by a Mexican-American group called LULACS. Jackie is a hit as she addresses the audience in Spanish. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson is introduced as a "fellow Texan" and provides a few humble words of deference for "our beloved President."
What follows is the searing events of November 22-25 replayed in stark black and white. A jarring sidelight to this film includes the appearance of 19yr. old Wesley Frazier retracing his steps that Friday morning, still fresh in his mind. Again, this relates to the advantage of how recent this event was to the actual filming for this movie. Frazier recalls giving Lee Oswald a lift to work in his 1953 Pontiac on their way to the Texas School Book Depository. The viewing audience sits in the passenger seat next to Frazier as he recalls asking "Lee" about his kids, commenting on the weather and that long bundle wrapped up in the back seat.
Composer Elmer Bernstein provides a heavily percussive,brass-tinged score which serves to augment the movie's subject matter. Richard Basehart gives an appropriately anchored narrative with just the right amount of gravitas.
This film is directed by Mel Stewart who has also lensed THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT documentaries, based on the best-selling Theodore H. White books. Stewart would go on to helm the TV docudrama RUBY and OSWALD. In the context of 1964, Four Days In November is like opening a fresh wound. Forty-five years later, it remains a vivid retelling of a dark, sorrowful chapter in American history.
The Atomic Kid (1954)
Mickey Rooney Lights Up The Screen....Really!
What better way to start a movie and grab your audience's attention than with a nuclear blast? THE ATOMIC KID does just that, arriving in movie theatres and drive-ins at the height of cold war fever and Joe McCarthy looking for communists everywhere. How many card carrying members' names did 'Tail-gunner Joe' have inside that well worn briefcase? Anyway, Mickey Rooney stars as Blix Waterberry, the man who survives an atomic explosion at Ground Zero, located in a remote area of Nevada. Above ground testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs were standard operating procedure during the 1950's as long as the detonations were far removed from any populated areas. Still, the sight of military personnel gazing at the blast wearing 'protective' eye goggles in a fully exposed trench just a few miles away is quite hard to forget. A full fifteen seconds after the mushroom cloud ominously rises, the "All Clear" is sounded and the soldiers move briskly toward the bomb site.
Mickey Rooney as 'Blix' emerges as the human remnant of the test house designed to prove what would happen to a prefab structure against a nuclear explosion. Blix is really none the worse for wear, a bit singed from head to foot and wisps of smoke swirling from his hair. The only immediate side effect is a speech abnormality causing him to speak like audio tape on fast forward. Thankfully, this is temporary. He is also holding on to a peanut butter sandwich which is still intact, just a bit on the toasted side.
The plot then gravitates to 'Blix' undergoing a battery of tests by the military and scientists. The love interest is filled by comely Elaine Davis (then wife #4 to Mickey Rooney) who portrays a nurse at the hospital where 'Blix' is being held for observation. Miss Davis' (aka Elaine Devry) most memorable on screen moments occur with a series of appealing smirks directed at Blix. She does light up the screen when it's lights down low for some pitch and woo in the parlor with THE ATOMIC KID. Or maybe it's because Blix becomes phosphorescent, as he's all hot and bothered after a smooch from his after hours nurse. Miss Davis would parlay those sexy smirks as well as her hour-glass figure into a lucrative motion picture and television career.
Robert Strauss is ideal as 'Stan Cooper', burly best friend to Blix and always with an eye to get rich quick. This is where cold war spy antics become involved as an unnamed foreign country (presumably the Soviet Union) tries to get to Blix through Stan offering him instant wealth for instant pictures of THE ATOMIC KID. Strauss is hilarious as the unknowing dupe to Peter Brocco, the spy in the gray flannel suit.
The Saturday matinée atmosphere gives itself away throughout this flick. One can easily imagine this as a perfect vehicle for Abbott & Costello or, perhaps, Martin & Lewis. Jerry could easily play it over the top as the radio-active kid and Dino would play it straight when not crooning his velvet voice toward Elaine Davis.
With a competent supporting cast including Hal March as an FBI agent and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edgar Panghorn, THE ATOMIC KID is the brainchild of none other than Blake Edwards. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson in his first foray behind the camera, (he would later helm vehicles as diverse as P.T. 109 and BATMAN with Adam West) THE ATOMIC KID is worth a peak just before you 'Duck and Cover.'
I remember seeing this movie for the first time with a friend while on vacation in Anaheim, California in October, 1976. While driving the tourist laden city streets , we saw a movie marquee advertising "ALICE IN WONDERLAND XXX." So before even checking out Disneyland's version of the Lewis Carroll classic a half mile away, our curiosity won out and we ventured into this cinematic threshold. I remember even before the movie began how surprised I was to see this kind of film appearing in staid, ultra-conservative Orange County.
Thirty two years later, I came across ALICE IN WONDERLAND at a local video store. I wondered to myself if this was the same film until I looked at the back of the jacket and saw a picture of lovely Kristine DeBell in the starring role and decided to rekindle some fond memories. Subversive Video, to their credit, has released two versions, X and XXX in the same package. As it turns out, the version my friend and I saw in Anaheim was rated X in spite of the original XXX advertising at the there. Seeing it the second time around makes me realize what a delightful romp director Bud Townsend brought to the screen. As an example of this man's scope behind the camera, in his salad days he directed two episodes of TV's DEATH VALLEY DAYS.
Miss DeBell, appearing in the April, 1976 cover of Playboy is ideal as Alice. She brings a fresh all American innocence to the role as a librarian in her early twenties yearning for a better life. When her boyfriend is rebuffed from taking their relationship to the next level, Alice reaches her turning point. This is a 'musical comedy' yet the melodies are quite catchy with appropriate strings and brass to offset the generally suggestive lyrics. Miss DeBell has a pleasant singing voice as she trills about wanting to be free. That's when the magic begins. The pacing of this movie is surprisingly fluid, given the genre and the supporting cast of Wonderland are there to enable Alice as she blossoms into womanhood. Special mention goes to TV veteran Larry Gelman as the White Rabbit who seems to be the only character not obsessed with sex as he is always running late for an appointment .or something.
Special features include comments from noted feminist advocate Lena Ramone who imparts how viewing this movie while attending college influenced her in choosing a career as an adult film actress after graduation.
What makes ALICE IN WONDERLAND such a delightful jaunt is its garden like setting. Partly filmed in the lush, natural splendor of Vancouver B.C.'s Stanley Park, the movie belies its pornographic roots. You don't come away feeling you've watched a sleazy skin flick. At this writing, I haven't viewed the triple XXX version. The extra sex footage tacked on afterward would, in all probability, disrupt the overall flow and remove the light, breezy atmosphere evident throughout.
Naturally, the Lewis Carroll version is the best way to curl up and explore Alice's adventures in Wonderland. However, for a time capsule representing 1970s' adult film archives, ALICE IN WONDERLAND is worth following that white rabbit for a ribald ride full of mirthful mayhem.
Mannix vs. Mr. Big
Frankly, the first season of MANNIX was the best. Mike Connors as Joe Mannix not only had to contend with a different adversary every week, but also put up with a corporate, computerized workplace(Intertect)and spar with his coolly abrasive yet supportive boss, Lou Wickersham played by Joseph Campanella.
I remember watching MANNIX on an Admiral 19 inch black and white set as a high school student. Watching it in color on DVD 41 years later, I still recall being very impressed with 'Joe's' hip yet raw common sense approach to each case. That's why the button down office scenes provided such great entertainment in between the carnage.
The on location episodes also provided a gritty, realistic atmosphere. The first show was filmed aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway while a later episode found Joe at a hippie night spot on the Sunset Strip. For this sequence, the dance music wasn't even canned but was provided by Buffalo Springfield.
Of course, Lalo Schifrin's memorable theme score to MANNIX perfectly complemented the opening credits. The groundbreaking multi-screen process was introduced during Expo 67 in Montreal and was later employed in major motion pictures such as THE BOSTON STRANGLER.
It was a foregone conclusion that Joe Mannix preferred bare knuckled punches to settle disputes instead of relying on IBM punch cards. Yet, bullets and the mounting body count in between commercials were nonetheless fast and furious. As a result, the 1967-1968 season was the most violent per episode during the entire run of this show. After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy were both shot down in the space of two months, MANNIX was toned down as part of the national crackdown on TV violence.
Yet that first season gives the viewer a stark contrast between the florescent lit, corporate mindset against the loose cannon who gets the job done his way. For that reason, MANNIX delivers the goods with a powerful wallop! Bring your own silencer.
Flight to Mars (1951)
Monogram Pictures Finest Hour...and 12 minutes
Actually, the leader of so-called 'poverty studios' was given the highest accolade by French New Wave director Jean Luc-Godard who sited Monogram Pictures as a significant influence in his seminal 1959 film BREATHLESS.
FLIGHT TO MARS certainly has a Saturday afternoon matinée feel to it backed with a popcorn budget with butter. It is filmed in warmly lit Super Cinecolor. The movie was lensed in five days according to Cameron Mitchell who portrays the stalwart lead character. With his trusty Underwood typewriter he is chronicling an on board journal for his newspaper of this intrepid crew's voyage to the red planet.
The crew members on board, including flight commander Arthur Franz, are dressed for a camping trip. The exception is Virginia Huston, introduced as 'the lady scientist', wearing a skirt and heels.
When this movie was released in 1951, remember, there was no NASA, no satellites for that matter, and Flash Gordon was really the closest thing to reality regarding space travel.
Given these parameters, it's relatively simple to suspend belief and be caught up in the moment to which this film takes us.
After a white knuckle landing on Mars surface, one crew member suggests putting on oxygen masks before venturing outside. They have no pressurized space suits or helmets, you see. Oddly enough, the Martians do, hand me downs from the movie DESTINATION MOON.
The Earthlings are given the tour of the Martian's underground city which resembles a paper mache version of H.G. Wells' THINGS TO COME. Upon seeing their living quarters, lady scientist Virginia Huston's first question is "Where's the kitchen?" Terris, the comely Martian hostess,(Lucille Barkley) informs the crew that there are no kitchens, but laboratories and meals are delivered by request. Yes, the Martians speak perfect English. They listen to radio shows. Evidently, that green-eyed monster,television, which has already subjugated Earth has not invaded Martian soil....yet. She then presses a button and a cart of food with drinks emerges from the wall. Terris reminds me of Betty Furness who would always look so comfortable showing off the features of the latest Westinghouse refrigerator on TV. Makes me wonder how many more fridges Betty could have sold if she was wearing the ensemble that Terris is sporting.
Oh yes, the Earth crew's wardrobe have to comport with the typical Martian. That means the men appear in Prince Valiant garb with gray flannel underwear and boots. Virginia, the only female crew member is given what every Martian woman wears, a sleeveless mini-dress with go-go boots. Terris says, "they're very comfortable."
One of the more prominent citizens is leggy Alita,played by Marguerite Chapman. Alita was originally Aelita the Queen of Mars in the classic 1924 Soviet film bearing her name. For FLIGHT TO MARS she appears to have been dethroned to a more subordinate role of administrative assistant to the Council of which her father is a member. Yet, Alita is obviously high up in the Martian fem corporate ladder as she doesn't wear boots, but customized jet black pumps with her mini outfit.
One can imagine Dr. Werner Von Braun and his fellow scientists getting a kick out of this flick in their desert compound at Los Alamos, New Mexico, when they weren't developing their Redstone rocket.
FLIGHT TO MARS is short enough at 72 minutes that there's no chance of boredom to set in. So bring along a B-17 flight jacket and prepare to board ship.
Party Girl (1930)
Careful who you bring home.
This tight little programmer (clocking in at just over 1 hour) is a real curio, Pre-Code of course. The film is designed to 'expose' the sordid underbelly of escort services who are only too happy to entertain men in high places(quite literally in this flick) for a fee. Like most movies of this genre, we are treated to a written prologue attesting to the scourge of the subject matter and how these sordid goings-on could be happening in our own town. This frequent framing device at the time would justify the seedy plot, in this case depicting between men of prestige and prosperity with call girls.
Marie Prevost is hot to trot in a secondary role as one of the 'ladies in waiting.' Miss Prevost did make the transition to sound almost seamlessly as an appealing blend between Betty Boop and Clara Bow. Yet, her fluctuating weight would unfortunately relegate her casting to this caliber of portrayals for the rest of her career.
Judith Barrie is the lead 'party girl' here who leads Douglas Fairbanks Jr. character, scion to millions of dollars, down that reckless road to potential ruin. Miss Barrie handles her role with zest and a very contemporary feel. It's a shame she would abandon Hollywood (or vice versa) in two years.
Then there's Doug Fairbanks Jr. who always adds a note of prestige to any frame he appears in. On the threshold of stardom ('LITTLE CAESAR' would be beckoning soon) the swashbuckler's son is treating this role of a young bon vivant who is caught up in Miss Barrie's web of deceit and degradation like a walk in the park. Well, this is a Personality Pictures production, after all. This would be equivalent to summer stock for an A list actor waiting for that phone call from his agent with that really plum role at a 'major' studio.
Of course, there is an obvious moral to our story which is hastened after an on screen tragedy which is quite jolting.
Yet, when the lights come back on, it's still hard to forget those vehicles, packed with eager customers, transported by elevator directly to the 'party girls' living room, the ultimate drive-in escort service.
Peter Cushing Slices & Dices For Love
I've always had a deep admiration for British actor Peter Cushing. He was, after all, able to convincingly portray such a wide range of characters on screen from Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Frankenstein, instilling each role with cool intelligence plus an element of human pathos. When one thinks of a Hammer horror film from the late 1950's through the ensuing fifteen years, inevitably(apart from his frequent co-star Christopher Lee)Cushing's name comes first to mind.
While CORRUPTION is not a Hammer film,(Columbia Pictures,surprisingly, is the distributor) it is a sheer delight for Cushing fans. Here, he portrays a respected surgeon who slowly goes insane, all for the love of his fiancé played by Sue Lloyd with her kitty claws rendered even sharper than the good doctor's scalpel. After a tragic accident which effectively ends her modeling career, Dr. Cushing works obsessively to repair the damage to poor disfigured Sue's face. Realizing the cure is to be found in the female pituitary gland, he wantonly murders and decapitates young, pretty lasses to achieve his goal.
After each of Cushing's kills in this flick, the camera graphically provides a distorted, fish eye lens view in which we see this eminent physician with hair disheveled and a manic look which has to be seen to be believed. Eventually, an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame reduces the doctor to a quivering mess of nerves as he tries to find solace in the bottle. He certainly won't find it in Sue. She has issues of her own which, in comparison, make Dr. Cushing look almost sane. The climax to all this blood & spatter is provided by a high powered laser(part of the cure,apparently, for Sue's face) which looks more at home in GOLDFINGER than a spartan medical lab.
CORRUPTION is a florid feast for the eyes,too, as we see swinging 1967 Carnaby Street fashions worn by both sexes. Anthony Booth really camps it up as an Andy Warhol wannabe portraying a fashion photographer who tries to shoot a nudie-cutie roll of film with Sue Lloyd to devastating results. Since this is 'Swinging London' there are mini-skirted girls aplenty, with special mention to bimbette Shirley Stelfox whom no party would be complete without. She doesn't wear flowers in her hair, but under her eyes.
CORRUPTION is a delirious roller coaster of madness, mayhem and a minimum of mirth. Character actor David Lodge does appear as a cretinous villain called 'Groper.' Watching him salute(don't ask why) is one of the highlights.
Anyway, after seeing CORRUPTION, don't be surprised if you feel uneasy opening the freezer door of your fridge. Some cold cuts are better left untouched.
Orgy of the Dead (1965)
Hey! Curfew At Dawn!
If you are an admirer of Edward D. Wood, Jr. prepare or better yet, brace yourself, yet again.
While Ed did not direct this spook-fest, he did write the screenplay (so to speak) based on a novel which he also penned for general release, primarily at fine bookstores which also carried magazines like 'Dude', 'Rogue', 'Nugget' and 'Gent.' For 'ORGY OF THE DEAD' is not so much a horror movie but a beyond the grave burlesque show featuring a bevy of beauties summoned by that master seer himself, Criswell. Look deep into Criz's eyes as he reads from his cue cards and glances up at the camera lens every so often. For this role, Criswell's cape was originally worn by Bela Lugosi as 'Dracula' in 'ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN'. The only humor available in this cemetery plot, though, are between the Wolfman(Rod Lindeman)and the Mummy(Louis Ojena), reminiscent of 'PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE's wise-cracking cops, Paul Marco and Conrad Brooks.
A.C. Stephen(Stephen C. Apostolof) directs this flick, with an affectionate nod to the screenwriter. The opening scene takes place in broad daylight with a 1965 Corvair convertible taking in some mountainous curves until the next turn when, in true Ed Wood time management fashion, it suddenly becomes night and then day again along the same mountain pass.
The driver(William Bates)delivers his lines to his girlfriend passenger(Pat Barrington)as if he's narrating a documentary on how "Unsafe At Any Speed" the Chevrolet Corvair is. Kudos to Ralph Nader because, wouldn't you know it, this Corvair crashes, too. Pat Barrington (sometimes billed as Barringer) plays a double role here as 'Shirley' and 'The Gold Girl'. (Criswell goes over the top here as he memorably intones "More Gold, More Gold!"). Miss Barringer would soon play lead in 'THE AGONY OF LOVE'. When Criswell starts drooling in 'Shirley's direction, she lets go with a "blood-curdling" scream(not once mind you, but twice)sounding as anemic as the budget for an Edward D. Wood, Jr. production. Actually, Pat Barringer's 'talents' were displayed to best advantage in Russ Meyer's classic 'MONDO TOPLESS.' Go, Pat, Go!
This brings us to the real reason to view 'ORGY OF THE DEAD.' In spite of Criswell's rants from his coffin about "Monsters to be pitied, Monsters to be despised," the real show is provided by the likes of 'Texas Starr', 'Bunny Glaser','Rene de Beau' and more grind house marquee starlets. Professional exotic dancers with their own bizarre themes set to music perform for Criswell's pleasure in Astra Vision and Sexicolor, no less.
The music sounds like a cocktail lounge blend between Martin Denny and Les Baxter. Actually, the score is provided by Jaime Mendoza Nava, conducting The Chilean Symphony Orchestra(really!). These cryptic chicks dance and bounce topless(no pasties,thankfully) with panties or a G-string. "The Bride" who frugs and jerks to her husband's skeleton and the "Cat Woman" are highlights, but hey, these haunted honeys are all Screaming Mimis even if they don't make a sound and don't always dance in sync to the music, as if that really matters.
So don't be surprised afterward if you find yourself baying at the moon at full port. You Have Been Warned!
The Girls on the Beach (1965)
A Beach Party Movie With Savvy
Forget those AIP Hollywood Beach movies with Annette and her girl friends wearing those Mother Hubbard swimsuits along with Frankie Avalon who somehow never came across as a true hodad, try as he might.
Trust a major studio like Paramount Pictures (yeah, go figure) to deliver a teen beach movie that rocks. Not only does this movie deliver less swimsuit per girl per frame, but the music scores as well.
Featuring The Beach Boys during their initial crest atop the surf/custom car sound (complete with a handsome,tanned and confident Brian Wilson at the helm), they provide the theme song as well as a casual lip-sync to their breezy 'Little Honda' lifting this movie genre beyond the usual Hollywood Tin Pan Alley vs.America's teenagers.
Lesley Gore(the perfect singing role model in handling teen angst) captures the mood of this movie which clearly represents the feminine point of view through a group of bubbly, buxom girls who need to raise money for their sorority. Sure, familiar plot but it glides past the viewer like the swirl on Noreen Corcoran's bottled blond bouffant styled hair. No longer John Forsythe's niece to his 'Uncle Bentley', Noreen fills her role as a California college cutie in this flick as well as she fills her bikini. Not to be outdone, Lori Saunders(credited as Linda Saunders,soon to be the prim and proper Bobbie Jo Bradly on 'Petticoat Junction')delivers a bumpin' bikini belly dance in a beauty contest judged by a group of hot and bothered middle-aged men. Well, no wonder those poor judges are working up a sweat, wearing dark suits and ties on the beach. Anyway, that scene is worth its weight in woodies.
Add the constantly peeved Dick Miller performing yeoman duty as a bartender at the beach hangout and Sonny Curtis revving up the house band(the original 'Crickets'no less),well, you won't find any gremmies on this stretch of sand.
Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Cult Comedy Classic Reaches Climax
In January 1965, I remember reading a TV Guide article bemoaning the immorality depicted in recent Hollywood films. Two movies, in particular, were singled out. The first, THE CARPETBAGGERS, was based on Harold Robbins trashy novel and KISS ME, STUPID, referred to as out and out'smut'by various film critics at the time.
The much maligned and savaged KISS ME,STUPID has aged far better than the previously mentioned title, thanks in large part to director Billy Wilder's razor sharp satiric barbs at the expense of small town America's morals and mores, in this case, Climax, Nevada.
Dean Martin portrays himself or rather a ratcheted up version of his 'Dino' persona. From his killer opening monologue at The Sands in Las Vegas surrounded by a bevy of beautiful showgirls, Martin establishes himself as the ultra cool embodiment of 'The Ratpack.' His comic timing is impeccable throughout this flick.
Kim Novak as 'Polly the Pistol' a cocktail waitress-cum-whore delivers a knock out sympathetic performance. Her physical presence in this film represents girlie magazines of the era such as 'Dude,'Gent,''Rogue,'and 'Nugget' i.e. big dames who are well proportioned. Another of the more interesting aspects watching Kim Novak on screen throughout her career is her facial expression which usually looks like she's in the midst of having sex.
When Martin and Miss Novak are on screen together, the sexual tension is palpable. In one scene, 'Dino' is sitting next to 'Polly' who is wearing a several sizes too tight dress, when he removes one of her high heels and starts lecherously tickling her foot. He then pours a long stemmed beaker of chianti into the high heel stiletto and proceeds to drink from it. During a period when an American sex comedy meant serving up Rock Hudson & Doris Day to titillate audiences, KISS ME,STUPID arrived on the scene like a ribald slap on a pretty girl's primly skirted derrière.
The movie has an alluringly seedy look about it. Debauchery plays much better in black & white than in Technicolor. Ray Walston(already a household name,thanks to "MY FAVORITE MARTIAN") portrays a manic version of a frustrated songwriter who imagines himself to be cuckolded up to a third of the way through the film. Even Walston's hair looks taut, almost spiked to add to his on the brink behavior. Felicia Farr as Walston's wife ,Zelda, provides a perpetually smiling, sometimes naive outlook on her life as one of the residents of Climax. (She was married to Jack Lemmon at the time, a Wilder favorite). Yet she does have the final word in this movie.
In the midst of adulterous affairs with impunity(in itself shocking four years before the MPAA codes were brought in) ultimately,KISS ME,STUPID is a love story. Miss Novak as 'Polly'explains in her husky yet nurturing voice "A woman without a man is like a trailer without a car." Who knows, maybe we can hitch a ride to "The Belly Button" where we can "Drop In And Get Lost."
Bachelor in Paradise (1961)
California Coral is Chic
Call this MGM glossy a Metrocolor time capsule of 1961 when Southern California tract style suburban living was as popular as the Twist and fall out shelters.
The plot gives us Bob Hope as A.J. Niles, a bon vivant author who has been jet-setting around the world for the past ten years or so writing salacious best-sellers about the various sexual mores of men and women based on culture and environment. Due to tax problems, A.J. is summoned back home by his publisher, portrayed by the avuncular yet quirky John McGiver. A.J.'s next saucy expose is to take place in a cookie cutter suburban shangri-la of Southern California real estate for young marrieds called Paradise Village. Kids are optional and cute but not precocious.
'Bachelor' Bob glides through this relaxing opus, ably assisted by adrenalin raising Janis Paige,who practically steals the show as a truly desperate housewife.
Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton are again reunited on screen to add hot and bothered sparks to the otherwise tranquil setting of palm trees, manicured lawns and oh so colorful pastel interiors. In this context, Hope aptly refers to his living room as "early Disneyland."
Lana Turner portrays Bob Hope's love interest. Miss Turner is tailored in perfectly matching fashion and temperament to the laid-back Southern California motif, graceful and elegant as the on screen TWA Boeing 707 is to the cloudless blue skies. Unfortunately, this comparison also sums up the on screen chemistry between Lana and Bob.
Don Porter is cast as the glowering housing tract manager who is also eyeing Miss Turner and accuses A.J. Niles of being no less than a "libertine." This only adds to the author's appeal within the female population of this perpetual block party as they have already read the notorious A.J's previous global escapades.
Henry Mancini's sprightly, yet soothing theme provides a suitable backdrop to the warm, sun kissed environment replete with bright supermarkets. You can almost smell the fresh produce next to the pyramid stacked canned goods waiting for an accident to happen.
While BACHELOR IN PARADISE is not exactly a hotbed of sexual scandal in the suburbs, it does exude a relaxing comfort zone simmer for the viewer.
It's Only Money (1962)
One of Jerry's Best!
When the French deliver accolades regarding the genius of Jerry Lewis, this is, no doubt, one of the flicks they refer to.
IT'$ ONLY MONEY provides the viewer with a perfect blend of Dir. Frank Tashlin's deft touch with a comedic script and the harnessing of star Jerry Lewis who, for this movie, walks a fine laugh-filled tightrope all the way with nary a mishap.
Jerry has referred to Tashlin as his "mentor" and probably for that reason, the comedian has restrained himself from his usual on screen excesses. The result is unbridled humor from the star with special emphasis on featured player Jesse White who is a perfect foil to Jerry's man-child character.
Eye candy is provided by the lovely Joan O'Brien who portrays Jerry's girl. Uh! Oh! Opposites do attract,especially in the movies.
IT'$ ONLY MONEY pays off with interest.
The Star (1952)
Over The Top...What A View!
This is Bette Davis in all her tempestuous, splendid fury and indignation. As Oscar-winning actress Margaret Elliot, she is now given the go by from her own studio in favor of younger Hollywood fillies like Barbara Lawrence who is thrown at the viewer like a new car off the assembly line.
Margaret Elliot is down to cases,bankrupt, with no prospects and is suffering the ignominy of seeing her former household possessions being sold on the auction block to satisfy her creditors,with rock bottom bids at that. Even her relatives are still putting the bite on her for monthly touches she can no longer provide, resulting in an explosive scene which only Miss Davis could deliver.
One of the most searing moments occurs when Margaret takes her "Oscar"(even more unsettling knowing that statuette is,indeed, one of Miss Davis's Best Actress awards) on a drunken odyssey through residential Hollywood. Behind the wheel,she grazes fenders, screams like a wounded banshee at motorists who happen to be driving on the same road as she is and lashes out verbally in front of the house where Barbara Lawrence resides. Her subsequent incarceration for DUI is as demoralizing as the clearly visible toilet inside the cell photographed in publicity stills.
'The Star' has a seedy look to it, which is desirable for this flick as we get a glimpse of Hollywood's underbelly during the early 1950's. One can almost imagine rows of palm trees rooted in used coffee cans with the scent of chicory mixed with cigarette butts. Even Miss Davis's wardrobe is downright frumpy, straight off the Woolworth's rack. Only when she does her screen test for an possible bit part in a movie does she try to project herself as a sexy tart with disastrous results.
The only jarring note to this movie is the appearance of Natalie Wood as Margaret Elliot's teenage daughter. She is bubbling with youthful enthusiasm, quite startling against this cynical, world weary backdrop. Sterling Hayden provides the obligatory beefcake and an ample shoulder for Margaret to cry on.
'The Star' radiates like the hood ornament on the Cadillac Margaret Elliot drives on approval before the studio dashes her dreams yet again and the repo man chases after yet another falling 'Star'.
Rate this *** out of **** stars.
Something Wild (1961)
Baby Doll Grows Up!
Actually, New York,New York is the real star of SOMETHING WILD. Carroll Baker is lovingly lit throughout the whole picture(thanks to Director and then husband Jack Garfein)amidst the alternate squalor and splendor of America's greatest city.
The brutal rape of Miss Baker's character within the first 5 minutes of the movie is depicted with surprising frankness for its time. One can almost smell the sweat of the predatory thug who, without saying a word, viciously violates her. This scene is all the more harrowing in that there is no music soundtrack provided. Yet another example that The Hays Code was becoming by 1961 an historical document not reflecting the current mood of what the North American movie public was indeed mature enough to view on the silver screen.
I really enjoyed the kitchen sink realism of this picture, from the cattiness of the girls at Woolworth's against fellow worker Miss Baker(Doris Roberts nails her part for all it's worth) to the good natured slovenliness of Jean Stapleton's next door neighbor in the tenement slum.
Ralph Meeker(every man's meat&potatoes actor)is Carroll Baker's 'knight in shining armor' in this movie. Rescuing Miss Baker from a leap into despair and the briny deep, he then proceeds to hold her captive in his castle,or in this case a barren basement bed and...bed. "Mike" is an auto mechanic and yet he has no phone,no radio, and just one light bulb that illuminates the entire room. However, away from the elbow grease of his job, "Mike" likes to spend his hard earned money bending his elbow at the neighborhood bar. We see the staggering evidence on more than one occasion and poor Carroll, already victimized earlier now has to confront yet another man turned beast.
Of particular notice is Carroll Baker's wardrobe throughout this flick. She wears light-colored dresses and matching white pumps which, with her soft, flowing blonde hair, enhances her already luminous presence on screen. This is all the more striking in black & white,particularly during the location shots along the sleazy store fronts of 42nd St. Only at the movie's end does she wear a dark print dress and jet black high heels. Likewise in BABY DOLL, Miss Baker wore white until the final reel,after her climactic encounter with Eli Wallach,in which she then donned a black dress.
Parallels may be drawn between the two movies, but SOMETHING WILD is as valid today as a subway token. Some days you are lucky to find a seat,while on others you better hold on to the overhanging strap.
Rate this *** out of **** stars.
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
The Doctor is waiting.
The best way to view I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN is with the lights off and taking the subject matter very seriously. Whit Bissell is Dr. Frankenstein, an eminent British surgeon who has travelled across the pond whose research extends to transplanting organs.
With his almost paternal mask of cool precision, Whit Bissell could easily be pictured as a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos Proving Grounds explaining in his reassuring,avuncular manner the splitting of the atom to a group of his peers. When you get down to it, the man could explain how paint dries and make you hang on his every word. In this role, he is the American version of Peter Cushing in Hammer Films THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Both characterizations appear kinder and gentler on the surface.
Poor Phyllis Coates. From the aggressive,no nonsense news reporter 'Lois Lane' during the first season of television's THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, she is now the wife to be of Dr. Frankenstein, enduring emotional and physical abuse from her fiancé. In a rare emotional outburst, Bissell actually delivers a hard slap across Phyllis's face when she girlishly teases him about daring to discover what he's up to in the 'lab.' Alas, for Phyllis, George Reeves is nowhere to be found. The 'Man of Steel' was already off the air when this flick hit the drive-ins.
Gary Conway's all-American chiseled good looks would later play well as Gene Barry's sidekick for two years in BURKE'S LAW. In the title role of this picture,it certainly provided for Gary an element of cult classic cache and something to show off to the grandkids.
As I said, I watched this movie in a serious frame of mind. That is,until I saw that crocodile being used as Dr. Frankenstein's means of solving problems that would not go away.
Once a Thief (1950)
Cheap Thrills With Class
Here is Cesar Romero as the ultimately garish but smooth cad(driving a Cadillac on the repo list to boot) who is out for what he can get and getting away with it for most of this tacky but tantalizing little opus. Poor June Havoc is the harried heroine who gets hooked up with the wrong people with virtually every turn she makes.
Marie Mcdonald('The Body'coined by some overheated, trench-coated Hollywood press agent) plays "Flo" the virtuous girl next door yet she still radiates a measure of OOOOMPH! on screen.
Made on a frayed shoelace budget, this film still uses its minimal set pieces to the max. The dialogue is as strong as a scalding pot of coffee bubbling on a hot plate. Watch out for Lon Chaney,Jr. as Romero's 'yes man' with a heart. Iris Adrian as the girl who leads June Havoc down the wrong path almost steals the show as well.
ONCE A THIEF is like cheap perfume. Packaged properly, one whiff and you're hooked. Give it ***(out of **** stars).
Scarlet Street (1945)
Film Noir with shades removed
SCARLET STREET is, no doubt, one of Hollywood's first mature forays into the relationship of a prostitute with her pimp and her client.
Until 1945, the big screen's version of a 'lady of the night' was almost waif-like in her mien, casting innocent doe-like eyes at any gentleman who would like to share "a spot of tea" for a nominal fee. As portrayed by Joan Bennett, Kitty is cool,cynical, calculating, a 'ho' who is world weary and holds no illusions. Dan Duryea as her slick, slimy pimp/boyfriend, Johnny, matches Kitty scene for scene in the seediness of their relationship. "Lazylegs" is Johnny's term of affection for his Kitty when he's not cuffing her about openly on the streets.
Then there's the third wheel to this tragic ride, Edward G. Robinson as the henpecked husband Chris Cross who also happens to be a frustrated weekend artist. Kitty sees Chris as a hearty meal ticket as Chris laps up Kitty's milk, little realizing that his dream girl is a nightmare in waiting.
Director Fritz Lang's unflinching finale leaves the viewer drained of emotion. There is no Hollywood happy ending at the end of SCARLET STREET, just a back alley of guilt, punishment and shame.
It is no coincidence that 'Melancholy Baby' is refrained throughout this flick. As played on Kitty's phonograph, the record is scratched and skips over and over at the same spot. For this recording is, like all the characters who reside on SCARLET STREET, damaged goods.