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Though this bit of beefcake is disappointingly brief, the "Cornered" episode is well above average, dealing with the standard western themes of gunfighters and revenge but in a way that makes the story seem fresh. Thanks for this goes to Richard Matheson, a prolific writer best known for his "Twilight Zone" episodes and such sci-fi novels as "The Shrinking Man" and "I Am Legend." Alas, fans of Peter Brown's physique had to wait more than a year for a third and final look at his best chest in an episode titled "No Contest."
Finally, more than two years after the premier of "Lawman" and in the show's 85th episode, 24-year-old Peter Brown reveals his hairless chest, a chest heretofore hidden beneath long-sleeved, neatly-pressed shirts. What took so long? Other Warner Brothers westerns, such as "Cheyenne" and "Bronco," had actors who took off their shirts with pleasing regularity, but for some reason "Lawman" remained immune to this sort of "beefcake." In Peter Brown's case, this is especially puzzling since he had a torso which was easy on the eyes and since he had the potential to become one of those "heartthrobs" so dear to boy-crazy teenage girls. For whatever reason, however, the modesty continued. Brown appeared shirtless in only two more episodes: "Cornered" and "No Contest." All three of these brief bare-chest scenes occurred at night inside the Marshal's office, when Brown was aroused from his bed. In "Cornered" he wakens alone from a nightmare and in "No Contest" he's awakened by a visiting male friend. Sharon Hugueny is thus the only female to get a look at his bare chest and despite the possibilities, this scene is not played for romance. In fact, during the entire run of "Lawman," Brown is never presented as a serious object of true romantic attention. Strange.
One week later, in episode 86, John Russell finally did his only full-fledged "beefcake" scene in "Lawman" when he strips off his shirt to engage in a bare-knuckle boxing match.
Warners briefly tried to promote Sharon Hugueny by casting her as one of Troy Donahue's girlfriends in "Parrish" but her career never took off. Incidentally, the Indian man to whom she's been promised in "Chantay" is played by Dean Fredericks, soon to achieve his 15-minutes of fame by going blond and playing Steve Canyon in the short-lived TV series based on the comic strip.
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Earlier Jesus movies showed him being nailed through the wrists, but revised thinking on this point has prompted recent movies to show Jesus being nailed through the wrists. Perhaps to please both points of view, "The Lamb of God" shows nails being hammered both through the palms AND then through the wrists. Unlike crucifixions in other Jesus movies, this one thankfully dispenses with those ropes which are merely there to help hold the actor's arms in place.
Earlier Jesus movies generally showed him accepting the pain of crucifixion without struggle or even murmur of complaint. In Joseph Breen's made-in-Spain Jesus movie from the late 1950s, for example, it takes 10 blows of the hammer to nail Jesus' left hand, 14 more for his right hand, 6 for his left foot and 7 for his right one. That's 37 agonizing blows from a hammer driving nails through his flesh but this Jesus lies there calmly, not squirming, not even saying "ouch." This approach has changed. It now seems okay to show Jesus reacting to his pain, even letting out a few cries. Jeremy Sisto, the star of the 1999 "Jesus," actually howls in agony and writhes in a most undignified manner as he's crucified. The Jesus in "The Lamb of God," however maintains a serene silence. His feet are not being shown nailed but this omission is not uncommon in Jesus movies.
As to whether Jesus should look frail and aesthetic or healthy and robust, "The Lamb of God" goes with the latter view. In fact, handsome Mark Deakins, who plays Jesus, might even be called a "hunk," though he has no hair on his chest. (Unless it was shaved off.) He does have hairy armpits, however, unlike Jeffrey Hunter in "King of Kings." In this film Jesus has no interplay with the two thieves and there's no scene of him being speared in the side.
Surprisingly, and pleasingly, "Animals" proves to be not only a movie that's "good for you" but also a movie which engrosses and entertains in an easy manner which seems deceptively effortless. Much of this credit goes to the two leads, David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw, and to the script (by Dastmalchian) which shows us the various ways these two survive through guile and petty crime. You don't approve of what they do and you certainly don't envy their lives and yet they retain a likable quality and don't seem to be that far removed from our own selves.
Each of the supporting characters is well-cast and effective.
Those seeking a movie which veers from the usual multiplex offerings would be well-advised to consider "Animals."
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Of course he's rescued and rather quickly, too, which is actually disappointing since this unique situation could have formed the basis for an entire episode. Instead it just leads into an account of a cattle drive heading toward a town desperate for the arrival of all that beef. And then the cattle drive sets up the story of a lovesick cowhand who's anxious to visit a woman in that town, an old flame, even though she's now married to someone else. And this romantic dilemma leads into a plot about robbing the local bank which, in turn, evolves into a murder case with a number of contrived twists. The episode eventually collapses under its own weight. It's as if they've tried to cram a number of story-lines into a single show.
Robert Reed (of later "Brady Bunch" fame) makes for a disarmingly clean-cut cowhand and Ty Hardin is his usual stalwart self even though he passes up several opportunities to take off his shirt. Maybe they just didn't have enough room left over for a bit of "beefcake."
After Chuck Connors is captured by Indians in this episode, he's seen bound hand and foot in the Indian camp with his shirt half torn off. Chief Wateekah teasingly heats the blade of Connors' broken sword over a fire, implying that he'll soon be pressing the red-hot blade against Connors' bare skin. Such isn't done but it helps establish the sadomasochistic tone of this and later scenes.
Next Connors, shirt still half torn off, is pulled by a rope behind two horses. Connors, sweaty and stumbling, actually falls down at one point and must struggle to regain his footing. Then we see that Connors has been tied spreadeagle-style between two tree trunks. His shirt has now been completely removed giving us a full look at his torso. His pants have been left on but they're low enough on his waist to reveal his navel -- a sight often avoided in the television era of the late 50s and early 60s. To complete the bondage, a gag has been tied around his mouth.
The episode ends at this point, with viewers urged to tune in next week to see the story's conclusion. During the week, it's somehow assumed that poor Connors must sweat and strain and endure hours of torment under the scorching sun. This kind of "cliffhanger" wasn't used again in a TV western until Lee Majors, stripped to the waist, was readied for a flogging inside a Mexican prison in a "Big Valley" episode from 1966 called "Legend of a General." Chuck Connors, no stranger to beefcake-bondage -- remember "The Vaqueros" episode from "The Rifleman?" -- was 44 years old when this scene was filmed but that 45-inch chest of his still looked might impressive.
Why all this masochistic suffering by heroes of TV westerns? For one thing, it allowed the hero -- usually played by a fine specimen of manhood -- to show off his physique without seeming to preen. His suffering also made him a more sympathetic figure to the audience since it demonstrated, despite his obvious strength and vitality, a degree of vulnerability. Besides, the hero couldn't very well be shown acting sadistically toward his enemies but his enemies could be shown acting sadistically toward him which would, in the process, allow him to prove his courage.
However, there is an extended sequence in a steam-room in which Robert Wagner and Ken Scott are seen with white towels wrapped around their waists. As "beefcake" goes, it's not all that much, but, hey, you take your pleasures wherever you can find 'em.
George Montgomery, in the twilight of his long career, plays the "Shane" character and he has two "beefcake" scenes which effectively show off his sweaty, unshaven chest. Romantic interest is supplied by Deana Martin, daughter of Dean Martin, but there's little chemistry between her and the much-older Montgomery.
As well as offering intriguing glimpses of American life and attitudes during World War II, this low-budget production also provides characters and a story which hold one's interest, though its story-line wavers a bit in the second half. The obligatory romance between Jagger and a young woman working at the arcade is temporarily derailed by a subplot in which Jagger tries to convert a young Nazi to the American side. In the process, the Nazi falls for the young woman and it takes some heavy-handed and not quite convincing plotting to resolve this romantic triangle.
The movie's highlight scene occurs when the Nazis decide to use force on the reluctant Jagger. He's shown, stripped to the waist, bound to his printing press, while Sidney Blackmer - yes, Sidney Blackmer - beats him 21 times across the back with a nasty-looking length of rubber hose. This being 1940s Hollywood, the hose is never shown actually striking Jagger's back and Jagger's reaction shots - he's only photographed from the shoulders up - merely show him to be mildly distressed, as if he ate something that didn't quite agree with him. Meanwhile John Carradine, who sits nearby reading a book, says: "Brutality disturbs me. Turn on the radio." Perhaps soothing music will mask the sound of that hose smashing into Jagger's back. Alas, Carradine's notion of brutality is quite limited. Any cop or prison guard would know that a rubber hose is more effectively used not on a man's back but on another, more sensitive part of his anatomy. And as for Jagger, that beating seems to have absolutely no ill effect on him, not even a back-ache.
This movie has acquired a cult reputation, however, because of a scene from it posted on YouTube. This scene shows the torture of the two captured USAF pilots. These pilots - young, hairy, attractive, and soaked with sweat - are only seen from the waist up but apparently they've been stripped naked and apparently they're being subjected to electric shocks delivered directly to their genitals. It's rare that the movies show or even imply genital torture. It's also rare to show manly torture victims screaming at the top of their lungs as these two pilots do. (They're played by Jim Dixon and Bernard Higgins.) Compare this scene to a similar one in "Rambo 2." Sylvester Stallone is also subjected to electroshock torture but he's allowed to keep his pants on, thus putting his genitals "off-limits." He also doesn't lower himself by screaming but instead allows himself only a few grunts of discomfort. Needless to say, the torture scene in "Assault Platoon" is far more convincing, far more memorable.
Throughout this entire sequence, Horton remains gloriously bare-chested, and even after passing the age of 40, that hairy chest of his -- so familiar to "Wagon Train" viewers -- still looks mighty good. Especially pleasing are the scenes of him during the shoot-out. A bare-chested man with a gun -- what a combo!
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When Cheyenne falls into the hands of hostile Indians, he's staked out on the ground and threatened with hot coals being held to the soles of his bare feet. This is an early example of the "beefcake-bondage" scenes for which these TV westerns became famous, but it muffs the "beefcake" factor. Despite the show's propensity for showing off Clint Walker's chest, he's allowed to keep his shirt on in this scene. What were they thinking?! Later in the same year (1957) Richard Boone found himself staked-out by Indians in a "Have Gun Will Travel" episode and even though he couldn't compete with Clint Walker in the physique category, he did that scene gloriously bare-chested.
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One of my fellow reviewers has mentioned the cast members, such as Dennis Hopper, who went on to bigger and better things. Also worth mentioning is Norman Frederic who plays the taunting Indian chief. Several years later, under the name Dean Fredericks and with bleached blond hair, he played the lead in the "Steve Canyon" TV series. He also starred in the cult sci-fi movie "Phantom Planet" in which he has an extended "beefcake" scene which shows off his hairy chest. To play the Indian chief in "Quicksand," however, he's shaved his chest smooth.
There's no such shaving for Clint Walker, however. His "beefcake" scene here -- perhaps the best of the show's first season -- displays his chest in all its hirsute glory. You can even see his navel, something not always visible in 1950s' "beefcake." The fact that he appears bare-chested during a scene in which he's at risk and facing danger only adds to the appeal.
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The story they're in is basically a three-character affair about a cocky young boxer, his older and wiser trainer, and his pretty girlfriend who's grown concerned about the way his life is heading. This is only a half-hour show so there's little time for subtlety or nuance and the ending seems a bit rushed -- and more than a bit implausible -- but seeing John Ericson shirtless and proud is an asset not to be dismissed.
"The Martha Barham Story" offers a splendid opportunity to add a fourth torture sequence to this pantheon of pain. Horton, along with a U.S. Cavalry Captain played by the semi-handsome, well-put-together Mike Road, is captured by Indians. The word "torture" has already been used several times in the dialog and the Cavalry Captain has already been tortured, though we don't see this, by having burning torches applied to the soles of his bare feet. Now he and Horton are scheduled to be tortured to death at daybreak in some unspecified manner but it will clearly involve the use of fire. Yes sir, all that hair on Horton's chest will soon be set aflame! However, the Indians make the mistake of not securing their captives for the night before the torture. True, they leave Horton and the Captain barefoot inside a ring of fire on the assumption that even when the fire dies down, these men will be unwilling or unable to walk across the glowing embers on their bare feet. Ha! (No wonder Indians always come out second-best in these encounters.) Horton simply strips off his jacket and shirt -- thus giving us the requisite look at his bare torso, nicely gleaming with sweat -- so that he can tie them around his feet. He's then able to slowly, carefully walk across those hot coals carrying his fire-crippled companion. (Security was obviously not a high priority in this particular Indian village.) After all that build-up to an orgy of beefcake, bondage, and brutality, one can't help be disappointed that Horton emerges with nothing more than a case of mildly-toasted feet. Even his shirtless scenes, which come quite late in the episode, occur at night and thus aren't well-lighted. And then there's the matter of Ann Blyth, this episode's guest star, who plays an annoying sort of woman. We're told that she and Flint McCullough had once been an "item" but this seems merely a way to assure us that Flint McCullough is "straight" despite the tender way he carried the Captain across those coals on his well-muscled shoulders.
(Mike Road, who plays the Captain, never gets to take his shirt off in this episode, perhaps to avoid competing with Horton, the show's resident "beefcake" provider. If you want to see Road's bare chest, check out a "Sea Hunt" episode which he filmed at about this same time. In this episode, titled "Underwater Beacon," Road shows off his chest which is nicely thatched with hair, particularly over the sternum.)
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However, though Robertson is the character in the compelling position, the character who undergoes the greatest degree of growth and change, the movie understandably keeps turning its attention to Lana Turner. After all, she's the top-billed star and it's with her name that the movie hopes to attract its core audience of Sunday-matinée women. Turner certainly looks good, all things considered, and she's dressed and jeweled with all the requisite glamour, but her character never comes to life and the attempt to give her depth and sympathy through the revelation of a "shocking secret" from her past simply doesn't work. The revelation seems too pat, too contrived, and the fact that it's delivered through a monologue Turner implausibly shares with her maid doesn't help matters.
Interest starts to ebb away in the second half and an effort to re- charge the movie with a bullfight sequence seems more silly than exciting. Still, there's enough of a "glow" to this old-fashioned star vehicle to qualify it as one of those "guilty pleasures" whose charms can't adequately be explained to the uninitiated.
Cliff Robertson does what he can with the material but seems glum and uncomfortable and one never really accepts that he loves Lana Turner. For her part, Turner strikes the right poses but fails to become anything more than a look-don't-touch pin-up. Acting honors actually go to Hugh O'Brien who's usually seen in nothing more than a variety of crotch-bulging swimsuits and whose hairy, sun-bronzed torso seems the very distillation of raw male sexuality. (Robertson has only two bare- chest scenes, one of them quite minor, and while he still has an attractive physique, his beefcake appeal is put on better display in the 1959 "Gidget.") Ruth Roman adds some peripheral interest to the proceedings and one wishes more had been done with the character of reluctant gigolo, Ron Husmann.
While this pilot episode has the somewhat questionable advantage of greater length, it doesn't rank as one of the show's better offerings, but it certainly has a curiosity value and it does offer a pleasing array of guest stars: Arthur Hill, Brian Keith, Anne Francis, Raymond St. Jacques, Ned Beatty, Burt Convy, etc.
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