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Last night, we watched the first episode of this new 6-episode serial
that is s'posed to be an homage to 1940s serials.
It turns out that it's actually a Naked Gun-type spoof of serials (at least, it is based on the first episode) that has some impressive things in it, but which to me if it were an actual WWII serial would be one of the worst.
Blane Wheatley is the chain-smoking hero the Yellow Jacket, who can fly and control actual yellow jackets. Monica Himmelheber is his chain-smoking secretary/girlfriend, and she's the best thing in the episode (there's a running gag involving her being bonked on the noggin that is the only thing I found amusing here). Kimberly Page is the Dragonfly, a femme fatale Japanese agent who speaks like The Craw on Get Smart. There's a lot of references to "Japs" and "Krauts" and Y.J. has a professor-sidekick who is dull, which is supposed to be humorous.
The DVD comes with both color and B&W versions; oddly, they both look awful. The B&W looks like the color has simply been turned off, and the color looks like a B&W that's been colorized. Neither are satisfying, but after sampling both we chose the latter for episode one.
I have no idea why Zasu 'n' Thelma are listed as "cameos" -- they're the stars of the film! This was their 12th short subject together, released shortly after ALUM AND EVE in late 1932. They're door-to-door salesgirls who are unsuccessful selling to housewives, so they head downtown to sell to their husbands. Inside City Hall, they have several run-ins with a cranky judge and his bodyguard (frequent Three Stooges foils James Morton and Bud Jameson) and Charley Hall. A mediocre entry in the series, but there's some pretty good slapstick, particularly when Zasu (pronounced "ZAY-SOO"; most folks pronounce it incorrectly these days) gets tangled up in a ladder.
An entertaining little potboiler with rock, drag racing, beautiful
girls, and a score by John Williams (yes, THAT John Williams,
apparently), DADDY-O if not, like, the most, cats, it's at least an
above-average 1950s exploitation picture.
Dick Contino is Phil, a truck driver who moonlights as a rock 'n' roll singer at the local teen club (just like young Elvis, man). He meets a gorgeous woman (Sandra Giles of LOST, LONELY & VICIOUS) who loves hot cars and fast men and who challenges him to a midnight race through Griffith Park. Phil is arrested for drag racing, and in fact is under suspicion for vehicular homicide, because a guy named Sonny (who just happens to be Phil's best friend) was killed in the park that night. Phil is cleared of that charge, but in trying to uncover the real killer, puts himself and his new sweet-patootie in danger from drug runner Sidney Chillas (Bruno Ve Sota).
Favorite moment: Phil asks his sweetie if she'd like to hear him sing; she says, "Your singing can't be any worse than your driving." He immediately proves her wrong by ripping into a song called "Rock Candy Baby" that'll make you long for the melodious and lyrically mesmerizing "Nobody Lives on the Brownsville Road" from EEGAH! or even "Do the Jellyfish" from STING OF DEATH.
Second favorite moment: Phil "quietly sneaking" from a back alley into a gym to look for evidence in Sonny's death; he makes more noise than Keith Moon.
Least favorite moment: Nude, sweaty Bruno Ve Sota, hot from a steam bath, getting a rubdown. It's like watching somebody try to sculpt a replica of Mt. Rushmore in jello.
Second and third least favorite moments: Phil (who has adopted the professional name of "Daddy-O") sings "Angel Eyes" and "Wait'll I Get You Home". For some reason, his pants are pulled way, way up, so that his belt is roughly in the middle of his chest. This apparently helps him hit the high notes.
William Pine and William Thomas were two Paramount executives who
joined together to produce some cheap little pictures with Paramount
backing and distribution. They became known as the "dollar Bills" for
churning out inexpensive pictures that always made money. At first,
they specialized in aviation pictures (their first three films were
POWER DIVE, FORCED LANDING, and FLYING BLIND, all released in 1941),
but when the war began they broadened their screens to include military
adventures, mysteries, and even musicals. Like many B outfits they had
a stock company of directors (Frank McDonald, William Berke) and
players (Richard Arlen, Chester Morris, Roger Pryor and others).
Late in the war, Pine-Thomas signed Jack Haley to star in musical-comedies, but the first one, TAKE IT BIG (with Ozzie and Harriet) was a disappointment, so they cast Haley in a mystery-comedy called ONE BODY TOO MANY.
Cyrus Wentworth, a crazy multi-millionaire, has died, leaving a will that insults his heirs and promises that half of them will get a lot of money and the other half will get piddle, unless the exact terms of his will aren't carried out, in which case the piddlers will become the piddlees and vice versa. And the terms of his will? He was an astrology nut (who built an observatory atop his decrepit old mansion) and he wants to be entombed with a skylight so he can look up at the stars. Also, everybody named as an heir has to stay in the house for three days until he's safely in his moon-roofed vault. Okay, so you can guess what happens: somebody has read the will, knows he (or she) is a piddlee, and decides to steal the old man's corpse so he can't be entombed, thereby making himself a piddler. Got that? And if anybody gets in his (or her) way, well, then, said anybody is gonna end up vault-shopping with Uncle Cyrus.
Okay, you'd think that would be enough plot, but NO! An eager insurance salesman named Tuttle (Jack Haley) shows up; it seems that he had an appointment with the recently deceased to sell him some life insurance (a little late, there, Tuttle). Haley immediately falls in love with one of the old boy's relatives, the delicious Jean Parker, and decides to stay and protect her. The problem is, he spends the rest of the film cowering, running, hiding, and in general doing everything he can to not impress her. Bob Hope he ain't. Funny he ain't, either. Neither?
Okay, lastly I will mention that there is a creepy butler and housekeeper (naturally), the former of whom is Bela Lugosi in a throw-away part. We see him getting a bottle of rat poison off the shelf ("Dere are too many rats in dis houssssse dey should be done avay vith!") and then spending the rest of the film offering coffee to the assembled, with a look of chagrin when they all refuse (or what passes for chagrin on Lugosi's mug; it could've also been anger, humor, annoyance, horniness, or impatience that his giant bats hadn't arrived yet).
ONE BODY TOO MANY is one Jack Haley scare comedy too many.
I had no idea what to expect from this one, but it turned out to be
Italy's response to the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films, and it's
actually pretty good.
In late 19th century northern France, lovely Emily De Blancheville returns to her ancestral home from finishing school to find that her brother has sacked the entire staff and all the new servants are creepy. Worse yet, her father whom she had believed to be killed in a fire is actually alive but hideously burned and criminally insane, and locked up in the tower. Her brother explains that there is a curse on the De Blancheville line, and their father believes that the curse can only be broken if Emily dies before her 21st birthday, which is coming up so close that they've already got the castle bedecked with festive balloons. Well, to make 89 minutes short, the father escapes and pretty soon Emily is in for a bad time of it.
What I liked about this film: It's produced by "Llama Films", which has to make a person smile. The leading ladies are all lovely, and Emily's little peekaboo nightie is extremely flattering (yeah, yeah, I know, men are pigs. Oink, oink). The location and sets are amazing, with real castles and genuine ruins (it's so cold, even indoors, that you can constantly see the actors' breath). The monster's makeup seems to be some kind of Kharis mask, Italian style. The dialog is priceless, if a tad wordy ("You will follow me, Emily. To your tomb. To your death. To die. To die. To die. To die"). Have I mentioned it was produced by Llama Films? Oh, and the brother ("Roderick", what else) is played by a guy who looks like Vincent Price. At least, in the context of this film. There are a lot of other shenanigans, with a doctor who is not what he appears, a housekeeper who is exactly what she appears, a premature burial, et al, but I don't like to give away too much of the plot. Sometimes, you have to just let the film run its course and try not to think about what it all means for months, or even years.
Kenny Delmar brought his popular character Beauregard Claghorn and all
his Southern bluster from the Fred Allen radio show to the big screen
in IT'S A JOKE, SON!, released by Eagle-Lion in 1947.
Okay, listen carefully and follow the plot: an addle-brained Southern state senator running for re-election on the coattails of a carpetbagging political boss (Douglass Dumbrille) is being challenged by Magnolia Claghorn (Una Merkel), leader of a group called the Daughters of Dixie. Dumbrille forces Magnolia's husband Beauregard to run as a third party candidate so split the opposition, I say split the opposition, but soon Beauregard Claghorn's dander is up and he's running, I say he's running, like a Yankee at Bull Run. Meanwhile, just to keep things interesting because after all we DO have 63 minutes to kill, the Claghorns' lovely daughter (June Lockhart with an adorable Southern accent) is involved with some guy who runs an ice cream truck. Also worth mentioning is that Daisy, the second cutest dog in the movies after Laughing Gravy, is on loan from the Blondie pictures and proves why no actor wants to share the screen with a four-legged scene stealer.
The movie is generally pleasant, and occasionally funny when Claghorn starts boasting about the South (we're told that he still purchases Confederate Victory Bonds, and Claghorn is trying to convince North Carolina to change its name to Upper South Carolina). Unlike the Ma & Pa Kettle films of a few years later, though, Claghorn's film debut didn't catch on, and there were no sequels. On the other hand, I say on the other hand, a knock-off character was more successful over at Warner Bros: Foghorn Leghorn had already made his film debut, in 1946's WALKY TALKY HAWKY, when IT'S A JOKE, SON! was released, and the blustering rooster went on to a long and successful career.
Jack Holt and Evelyn Brent comprise one of the most unusual tandems of
heroes in serial history, long in the tooth but also plenty long on
toughness. Masquerading as "Nick Farrel", escaped tough guy, and his
wife, Holt and Brent infiltrate a gang of counterfeiters. The setting
is surprisingly widespread for a chapter play, as the action moves from
the gang's hideout in a lost canyon to a gambling ship on the high seas
to a small island country where the gang hopes to escape U.S.
extradition. The main villain is a fellow named Arnold, but he hides
behind the facade of one of his men, Quist, to shield himself from the
Secret Service, and lets another one of his men, Valden (frequent
serial henchman Tris Coffin), do most of his dirty work. The island
nation has its own pocket dictator, who is also trying to rub out our
Jack Holt is, simply put, the toughest leading man in serial history, the type of guy who could swallow nails and crap thumbtacks. When he gets in a fistfight with four of Arnold's boys and beats the hell out of the entire quartet, you can believe it.
As this is a James Horne serial, some of you might wonder about the "comedy" content. There is little of the funny stuff that you'll find in such Horne classics as TERRY AND THE PIRATES or THE SPIDER RETURNS, unless you count the occasional "undercranking" that makes everybody look like they are rushing out of a burning house, or the fact that, unlike the Republic serials in which bands were used to keep the Fedoras on during fights, Columbia apparently just instructed their actors and stunt men to crush their hats down tightly on their heads, making everybody resemble two-fisted Buster Keatons.
I give HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE a solid *** and recommend it highly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen a lot of cheesy 1950s juvenile delinquent movies, but THE
COOL AND THE CRAZY took me by surprise it's a top-notch pot movie
with a good script and an excellent cast.
Scott Marlowe is Benny, the new boy in school, and he's all attitude, which ticks off the local gang of toughs, led by Stu and Jackie (Dickie Jones and Richard Bakalyan). Benny's got a little secret, though: he's a pusher who's come to town to infect the kids with marijuana and, inevitably, heroin (since we all know that mary jane leads to the hard stuff). When one of the "nice guys" in school gets the marijuana habit ("I gotta have some 'smoke' I'm DYIN' for it!") and gets shot robbing a gas station for drug money, events begin to spiral out of Benny's control.
THE COOL AND THE CRAZY was filmed on location in Kansas City, giving the picture a rough, realistic edge missing from the similarly-themed HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL. The cast is terrific, and there's genuine tension between the three leads. Best of all is Richard Bakalyan as Jackie; the gang's clown prince, he resists the lure of drugs and meets a nice girl (former child star Gigi Perreau), but his efforts to help his pals leads to tragedy. Yeah, the film's anti-drug message is blatant (and inaccurate; one puff does not a nutcase make, in most cases) but that's going to be a given in the films of that era. Also, if you're looking for a film that lives up to its lurid exploitation ("Seven savage punks on a weekend binge of violence!") you're going to be surprised, as I was, to find, not a seedy little cult thriller, but a taut, well-done drama that ranks very close to the top of 1950s J.D. pictures.
In the late 1950s, famed serial and B-Western director William Witney had found a comfortable niche in television (ZORRO, FRONTIER DOCTOR, BONANZA), but he turned out a series of exploitation pictures that are all outstanding bits of low-budget cult pop; besides this one, he gave us THE BONNIE PARKER STORY, JUVENILE JUNGLE, and YOUNG AND WILD. If it weren't for his earlier reputation director of such classic serials as THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL and MYSTERIOUS DR. Satan, he'd still be well remembered for his '50s cult films.
Stunning Susan Cabot is Sabra, a troubled young woman indeed. Despised
by her mother and hated by her sorority sisters, Sabra has plenty of
dough but no friends and nothing but hatred for the world and everybody
in it, including herself. She tortures the poor chubby li'l pledge that
has been assigned to her as a "little sister", at one point even giving
her *gasp* a good spanking! Events soon spiral out of her control,
though, and her slippery slope of loathing soon leads her to blackmail,
extortion, and revenge. And when I say "soon", I mean "soon", because
the whole darn movie is only 60 minutes long! I like SORORITY GIRL a
lot. In addition to Miss Cabot (who gives her best performance ever
here, despite the fact that at age 30 she was a little
long-in-the-tooth to be a sorority girl), you'll find Barboura Morris
(the sexiest of all '50s AIP starlets, in this guy's opinion), June
Kenney (well remembered from ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE), and the
ubiquitous Dick Miller (somewhat surprisingly playing a character not
named Walter Paisley).
Roger Corman said that AIP presented him with the script and asked him to make the picture quickly and cheaply (no surprise there); Corman was used to being involved in his screenplays, so he worked on it as quickly as he could while filming commenced. He shot the picture at the USC campus and rented, rather than built on a set, the sorority house, to accomplish maximum frugality. It gives the film a nice college atmosphere (watch the cast hanging out at USC landmarks just to show they were really on campus).
The film's hour running time allows for no humor, and suspense builds nicely to the picture's climax. (I shouldn't say NO humor; look for the lamps in Sabra's room: they are ballerina legs with tutus for shades!) In the end, when all of the sorority sisters finally confront Sabra on the beach ("You're not human you're something the SEA cast up!") I actually felt sorry for the poor little sociopath.
SORORITY GIRL originally played as a double-feature with MOTORCYCLE GANG, and that film is also recommended.
In the summer of 1956, American-International Pictures (AIP) had scored
big with a double feature of GIRLS IN PRISON and HOT ROD GIRL, and
followed it up before Thanksgiving with a couple of similar titles,
RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS and SHAKE RATTLE AND ROCK. DAUGHTERS shares director
Edward L. Cahn, writer Lou Rusoff and two actors, Adele Jergens and
Lance Fuller, with PRISON. It also contains the same sneering attitude,
to the third power.
RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS tells the story of three teenage girls with bad home situations; Audrey (Marla English) has parents who throw money instead of love at her; Dixie (Mary Ellen Kaye) was abandoned by her mother, and her father keeps her on a short leash to prevent her from becoming a tramp; and Angela (Gloria Castillo) has been abandoned by her parents and decides that life is only worth living if you're drunk and cheap. Angela's role model, unfortunately, is a brother who's a one-bit heel (he's not even good enough to be two-bit), Lance Fuller, who spends half his time planning heists with his cheesy companion, the delightful Adele Jergens (in her last screen role), and the other half getting his greasy fingerprints all over good-girl Audrey. After problems with parents, brouhahas with boys, tempests with teachers, and clashes with cops, our three vivacious vixens steal a car and head south to L.A., city of hopes, dreams, and ten-cents-a-dance sleaze joints. One unwanted pregnancy, one near rape, and one fatal auto accident later, our trio of troubled teens head for home, sadder but wiser. Well, one of 'em does, anyway.
DAUGHTERS has the usual AIP formula: angst-filled kids, condescending adults, and a mixture of young faces (besides those listed above, you'll find familiar AIP stars Frank Gorshin and Steve Terrell) and old veterans (Anna Sten, John Litel, and in cameos Kermit Maynard, Snub Pollard, and Edmund Cobb; in fact, according to Sam Arkoff, Cahn fought to have Miss Sten, a studio joke back in Sam Goldwyn's heyday, given top billing). At a running time of approximately 94 minutes, however, it's much more leisurely paced than most AIP fare of the time, which is not a bad thing. I found myself even more involved in the girls' story than I had been when watching, oh, DRAGSTRIP GIRL or BLOOD OF Dracula, two other kooky she-teen movies from AIP. Recommended.
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