Monday, April 30, 2007

PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950) - Film Review

In the dark shadows above a dingy restaurant in the French quarter of New Orleans a card game is being played. One of the players is an illegal immigrant, fresh off the boat and riding a winning streak that’s netted him a nice little stack of bills at the table. Now he says he wants out of the game. His unlucky opponent Blackie (Jack Palance) craves a chance to win his money back and is not going to let him go so easily. Oddly enough the player anxious to call it quits doesn’t want to leave the game because he’s up in winnings and wants to walk away with a wad of cash. He is sweating profusely, looks like hell and is complaining of being very ill. He says he’s so sick, that he has to go home to lie down. He breaks away from the game under heavy protest from the other players. Palance, his crony Raymond (Zero Mostel), and another cohort follow this man out into the streets, across a train yard and outside a warehouse, demanding his money (in an amazingly shot, single long-take). The card game winner starts to defend himself from Raymond and the other Blackie henchman but his hand is folded for good with a couple of slugs from the piece of Palance. As his money is pocketed by Blackie, the audience may think that the movie they’re about to watch involves a murder by some street hoods in the Big Easy. However, what is about to unfold is an unconventional noir set in the New Orleans underworld that touches on social and moral issues stemming from the possibility of a global disaster with origins at the microscopic level.

Cut to the next day and our card game winner is fished out of the harbor and brought to the morgue. The man performing the autopsy notices the copious amount of white blood cells coming from this man’s bullet wounds. Something doesn’t look right and he notifies the Feds. Next we see a nice domestic scene with our lead man Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and his son played by Tommy Rettig (“Laaaaasie!”) doing some painting in the front yard. Barbara Bel Geddes (as Widmark’s wife) calls him in to the house to tell him that his boss called and he is needed downtown. Widmark changes into his uniform as we learn his professional identity is Lt. Commander/Dr. Clinton “Clint” Reed, U.S. Public Health Service. While he's changing, Bel Geddes gently prods him that their tab at the local grocery store has become an astronomical 42 dollars. Reed says he’ll figure out a way to pay it and we are made aware that this man is not making a great living as a doctor for the government yet we will also find out he has duties and responsibilities for which no salary may be adequate.

Widmark shows up to the morgue and determines that while the bullets may have killed our unlucky card player, he was infected with pneumonic plague. Whomever has come into contact with the John Doe with will be dead within 48 hours without serum inoculation. While Dr. Reed does a fine job of inoculating everyone who has come into contact with the body including police, morgue workers and so forth, the one man likely carrying the plague they have not discovered is the murderer (Jack Palance) of the dead card player. The tricky part being they have to find the killer without letting anyone know that they are looking for him. The reasoning behind this tact is mentioning the plague could set off a panic in the population as generally the word “plague” seems to put people on edge and take sudden long unexpected vacations. If that wasn’t difficult enough they have yet to identify the body itself. It’s obviously much harder to find a killer when you don’t know who has been bumped-off. The mayor assigns New Orleans police Captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) to help Widmark find their man to incarcerate a killer and, more importantly, contain a pandemic.

From this point Widmark and Douglas begin an unconventional type of investigation for the noir genre. As it turns out many people have come into contact with the murdered, card playing, plague carrier. Instead of roughing up plague exposed uncooperative suspects, Widmark threatens to hold out inoculating them until they cough up pertinent information about their investigation (is it a Hippocratic suggestion or oath that doctors take?). Eventually they narrow down the investigation and what ensues is a fantastic cat and mouse game between Widmark and Palance to the very end of the film. Within this dynamic exist intriguing moral and social issues brought to the attention of the viewer by the director.

Director Elia Kazan was no stranger to making pictures with social messages and moral dilemmas (Gentleman’s Agreement, Pinky, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn just to name a few) and Panic in the Streets was no exception. Widmark gives a great speech about this potential epidemic not being just about New Orleans, but the world and how we as humans are all interconnected. May not sound like much today, but this type of progressive speech was uncommon for 1950 I’d wager. The issue of freedom of press vs. public safety is a theme also touched upon as a reporter character named Neff (Double Indemnity nod?) is thwarted by Widmark and Douglas from scooping the story. Their reasoning is they don’t want to cause a panic and also have the killer flee town, but does the public have a right to know about this potential plague to protect their families and themselves? This plague is also a metaphor for crime as a disease and how it poisons principles and may infect many who come into its contact regardless of their moral constitution.

The shining aspects of the film manifest in several areas and the casting and acting are certainly included. Paul Douglas is solid as the police captain who reins it in from his usual comedic relief parts and Barbara Bel Geddes is fine as Widmark’s wholesome wife. She works well in some key, unconventional love scenes with Widmark where they are both longing to be close to one another but she must keep at a physical distance because he may be contaminated. Zero Mostel is perfectly cast as Blackie’s sleazy and degenerate underling and Jack Palance (in his motion picture debut) is fantastic as the heavy. He has just the right balance of menace, and believability as an underworld player who may explode with violence at any moment. This young Palance has a very swarthy, gaunt and creepy look going for him, which adds to his presence as a nefarious element one wouldn’t want to cross. Richard Widmark earns serious kudos in my book for this film, as I believe it may be his finest role. He maintains a balance of controlled distress at the potential cataclysmic events that may unfold and passionate determination in his quest to stop both a human and microscopic killer alike. Dr. Clint Reed comes off in a believable and compelling fashion because Widmark brings so much to the table as an empathetic and tough leading man protagonist that when watching him in Panic in the Streets, one forgets all about Tommy Udo (Kiss of Death), Harry Fabian (Night and the City), Skip McCoy (Pickup on South Street) and his other villain or anti-hero roles for which he is associated.

The aspect of this film that shines the most is Kazan’s use of the camera. In many of the shots characters are constantly moving about in the frame creating an edginess to the scenes but Kazan makes the dance between the actors and the camera seem effortless. He incorporates these amazing long takes that may begin on a group of characters and several minutes later we have moved about them and end on a close up. Many of these extended single takes are sans dialogue and remind me of some of the silent Fritz Lang films in their mastery of telling a story with only the camera. Kazan moves the film’s story along visually in a way that is so impressive it must be seen to be appreciated. This was all photographed under the masterful hand of Joseph McDonald who does a fantastic job of capturing the visual flavor of New Orleans with help from the gritty, authentic locations. He and Kazan also use real New Orleans people as extras and in small parts that give the film a neo-realist quality and genuine look that Hollywood couldn’t replicate.

Panic in the Streets is a true gem that deserves more credit that perhaps it has received over the years. Apparently at the end of his career, Kazan felt it was one of his most well crafted and important films amongst his very impressive body of work. The script (Edward and Edna Anhalt of The Sniper and The Young Lions), filming, acting and direction that comprise Panic in the Streets are of the highest calibers across the board. The ending chase scene through the coffee warehouse is worth the price of admission alone; however, I practically guarantee one viewing will only make you concur with Kazan’s self-appraisal of his stellar film.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


One of my best friends Jefferson informed me several months ago that he and his fiance would be coming to Boston so she could see some friends who live in the hub and Jeffy figured it was a great opportunity to see me. He lives in L.A. so needless to say I never see him. Jefferson is a baseball fan so I managed to get us tickets for the day after opening day at Fenway. My boss Sully later won the ticket buying lottery at, was able to score some tickets for opening day and offered to sell me two of the four he got because he knew my buddy was coming into town. Seeing as though he could have sold the $23 bleacher tickets for $150 a piece (at least, easily), to say it was a very nice gesture would be quite an understatement. So me and my friend were lined up to see opening day April 10th and, as it turned out, the day after which was the debut of the biggest Red Sox acquisition of the off-season: Daisuke Matsuzaka. What we saw during that two day period was entertaining to say the least. The following entry contains notes, observations and commentary about the first day.

Tuesday April 10 2007 : Opening Day at Fenway Park

We had an amusing run-in with a Sox “fan” when we were parking the car before the game. Decided to park on a side street off Beacon St. and St. Mary’s area where Brookline ends and Boston begins. This guy was in his 50s driving a brand spankin’ new Explorer, parks on the street in front of us. He was with his son who was about 11 years old and wearing one of those really nice 2004 World Champion Red Sox all leather jackets that go for about $400 (I’m not exaggerating). Needless to say I don’t think he was worrying about paying the electric bill this month. The guy then asks me if it’s okay to park here. I tell him that the ticket here in the residential area is only $15 which compared to $50 (at the lots next to Fenway) is a deal. He then asks me if I’ve been to “any games so far this year?” Uh…it is opening day dude and I didn’t make the trek to Kansas City or Texas when the Sox were on the road before today so no, I haven’t been to any so far. He then asks me “should we bring jackets to the game?” I tell him maybe it’s not a bad idea because of the temperature and then he says “yea I think it may get pretty cold in the park because of it getting all the wind right off the water.” At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he said that a Unicorn collected his toll getting off the Mass Pike because he was so far away from my reality he was sounding crazy as a soup sandwich. Right off the water? Are you thinking San Francisco and not Boston? Are you thinking of the water in the troth urinals in the men's rooms at Fenway? Hardcore fan this guy was not. The sad thing is that these types of people are so much more prevalent at Fenway these days because they have money, connections and the Sox have become such a status event to attend. My girlfriend and I went to a game in 2004 where the group of people in front of us (a bunch male and female “suits”) spent at most an inning actually watching the game and the rest of the time going to get beer, getting up and down, switching seats, talking in the aisles, standing in their seats during non standing moments and my personal favorite; calling everyone they possibly know to tell them (or yell into their cell phones) that they are at the Sox game. To me that’s like going to Paris and spending the entire time in the hotel room. It makes me sad to see this type of thing because I think of the poor blue collar dad living in Charlestown who can’t afford to take his kids to see the Sox yet he’s a truly devoted and loyal fan who was “born into it” and proud as they say. My father grew up in Somerville and told me that my grandfather used to take my dad, uncle and aunt to Sox games when they were kids. Because they were so poor they would all walk to Fenway Park…FROM SOMERVILLE! That' s well over a 3 mile walk. My dad also said my grandfather took turns with each his siblings carrying them on his shoulders during the long trek across town, over the Charles River and into Kenmore square. My dad and my uncle pestered my grandfather about 1000 times, on these walks over to Fenway, about who would hit a home run, Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr (my dad's favorite player). Now that’s devotion and a far cry from the pink hats and people making the “scene” at Fenway instead of watching and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. I’ll hop off the soap box for now.

Went into an Irish bar on Beacon St. for Jeffy to have a few non-ballpark priced beers before the game and a seltzer for myself (I don’t drink anymore after ending a long, ugly and dysfunctional affair with lady liquor). We then headed for the ballpark and got to our seats. They were in the bleachers but we were only a dozen rows back from the visitor bullpen. The wind was blowing our way pretty hard so the potential for David Ortiz sending one our way was good. The first thing I’ll say about the game is it was freakin’ cold, really chilling and windy to boot. That said, I kept warm by dressing appropriately and help from a few choice pharmaceuticals to counter the cold.

Finally got to our seats (which were great) and met up with Sully and his wife Laurie. The opening ceremony was amazing. First we had the unveiling of the huge American flag over the Green Monster and then 4 of the “Green Mountain Boys” Vermont Air National Guard F-16s, did a fly-over directly above us in the bleachers. Still a very cool part of opening day that gives me goose bumps thinking about it. Then Harry Connick Jr. was trotted out and sang “America the Beautiful” which prompted many “Where’s fuckin’ the national anthem?” from Jeffy. I don’t know and I didn’t understand the Connick Jr./Boston Red Sox connection either (many Sox fans in New Orleans?). Is that the best celebrity we could get? I’d rather have a mediocre local celebrity than a more famous national one (I looking at you Gary Cherone). The next part of the opening ceremonies was the highlight. This year marks the 40th anniversary of “The Impossible Dream” Red Sox of 1967 who went from finishing in last place in 1966 to winning the pennant in ’67. All the old players of that amazing team came out on the field in their unis and took their old positions. They all looked much greyer and heavier but Jesus when Yaz came out from the Monster I couldn’t help but scream at the top of my lungs like I was 12 years old which I was when I last saw Captain Carl take the field in person. Not to mention that they brought in THE Robert Goulet who sang “The Impossible Dream” (his signature tune) during the ceremony. Not too shabby at all I’d say. If that didn’t tug on my aortic strings enough, they got yanked when Johnny Pesky was introduced to the crowd, stepped up to the mic and said the true magic words “Play Ball!” Johnny was squeezin' out a few tears at the outpouring of applause and support he received from the fans after his introduction. It was a difficult year for him in which he lost his wife. You’d have to be a fuckin’ robot not to mist up just a little bit. I won’t even get started about MLB kicking Pesky out of the dugout. Way to take a stand, Bud(Selig)!

The game itself was pretty great. The Sox started teeing off the pitching of 2006 World Series darling Jeff Weaver in the first. I won’t go through the entire game but some of the most notable things during the game were as follows: 1) Josh Beckett was absolutely dominating. All his pitches seemed to be working well and most pleasing to me was that he rarely shook off Varitek’s pitch calls (better late than never I guess). Seven innings, one run, 8Ks and only two hits. Speaking of the Captain he had a good game with three hits and three RBIs. I’m hoping this season his bat will be much more potent than last year. 2) J.D. Drew had a good game including his first homer in a Sox uniform and 3 RBIs. He also made a great running catch as well. All in all everyone batting for the Sox looked pretty good with the exception of Coco Crisp. He drove in two RBIs that day, BUT…I’ve been watching him for the past two weeks and he looks so completely lost at the plate. Taking strikes down the middle, swinging at ball fours and having the uncanny ability to hit the ball directly at any one of the infielders when he does make contact. I’m not ready to bring up Ellsbury from AA Portland yet. I think we have to give him (Coco) two or three more weeks (as opposed to the doom and gloom guys that call into WEEI) but boy he better get it going soon (He is batting .111 as of 4/16). As for the bullpen not too bad with the exception of Timlin coming in to pitch the ninth and giving up 2 runs (he left the game with a hearty 18.00 ERA). He just got off the DL so I’m not too worried. I’m also much quicker to forgive him as he and Varitek are the only players who are still sporting the old school look of red socks pulled up high to the knees. I'm a traditionalist at heart. Final score: Red Sox 14 Seattle 3

Left the park and we all went back to the Irish bar which had cleared out considerably since before the game. Still better than waiting a half hour to get into a few of the bars on Brookiline Ave. or Lansdowne St. before the game started (I'm not joking. We checked and I don't wait in lines for a bar, even when I was drinking). I was feeling pretty good after the Sox trouncing of Seattle and was looking forward to Matsuzaka San's start the next day. My first opening day in 12 years was as close to perfect as you can get in 42 degree baseball weather. At least it wasn't rain.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

GUN CRAZY (1950) - Film Review

Joseph H. Lewis’s film Gun Crazy is not a film noir. Gun Crazy is an existentialist film disguised as a film noir. It could also be classified as a two person crew gangster film, lovers on the lam picture, or possibly even a criminal psychology flick. It defies a simple definition as its two main characters and their story may comprise some or all of these elements. I’m far from the type of person who over-intellectualizes or reads too much into films (especially 1950s B-Movies) however, the philosophical dark waters of Gun Crazy run deep below its turbulent surface. Fortunately for the viewer, the story we watch unfold on that surface is gripping, dangerous and crackerjack filmmaking at its best. The core of the film however consists of two characters who are questioning what they are, if they were created that way, or if their actions define their identity.

We first meet young adolescent Bart Tare (Russ Tamblyn) on a miserable night of pouring rain and unsatiated desire. Bart is stopped on the street outsid
e the shop window of a small town hardware store, fixated on its display case prominently presenting an ornate revolver. From inside the store we watch him heave a rock through the front window, creating a big hole just above the gun. He turns himself around and attempts to obstruct the view of the hole in case anyone about is looking to see where the sound of the crash came from. He does this by blocking the hole with his torso and outstretching his arms perpendicular to his vertical body. This ends up looking eerily like he is about to be crucified rather than slyly covering his vandalism. He grabs the gun, a few small boxes of ammo and begins to run away. Bart trips and falls dropping the gun. The camera follows the gun skidding across the street where it stops in front of the boots of a man. The camera tilts up and we see the figure of the local sheriff. The lust for guns, we later discover, is Bart’s cross to bear.

Cut to a court room where we get a glimpse into Bart’s life as this juvenile’s crime is being weighed by the judge before sentencing. Bart’s parents are absent but his sister informs the judge that Bart has always had an obsession with guns but he wouldn’t harm a fly. One flashback later reveals that as a young boy he accidentally killed a baby chick with his BB gun and was deeply traumatized and regretful of this action. Since then he has refused to kill anything. His friends Dave and Clyde attest to this by recounting a story to the judge that one day, while they were exploring the local mountains, they had an opportunity to kill a mountain lion they spotted while hiking. Bart (never without his rifle apparently) is goaded into shooting
the lion by his friends but he purposely misses. His friends chide him for his inaccuracy but Bart proceeds to throw his canteen high in the air and pump it full of several rounds before it hits the ground to prove a point: Barton Tare is a dead eye marksman. He is not however, a killer. A former teacher testifies about Bart bringing in a gun to school a year prior and refusing to give it to her after she catches him showing it off to his classmates at his desk (ah, the good old days). The judge wisely decides that Bart must go to reform school as his actions must have consequences. Bart however feels misunderstood as he tells the judge that shooting guns is the only thing he’s good at, it’s what he wants to do when he grows up and, “I feel good when I’m shooting them. I feel awful good inside like I’m somebody.”

A dozen years later we are re-introduced to Bart now played by John Dall. He has come back to town and is taking some leisurely target practice in the mountains while drinking beer (ah, the good old days) with his same old friends Clyde (now sheriff) and Dave. Bart has just gotten out of the army and is unsure what he will do next in life. For kicks his friends suggest they all go to the traveling carnival in town that evening. Little does Bart know that by going to the carnival his fate is about to change faster than a speeding bullet.

They enter a tent where a gun demonstration is being held by one Miss Annie Laurie Star (Peggy Cummins). Beautiful and dressed to the nines in a cowgirl outfit and tight slacks, Laurie comes out with guns blazing and then points and fires one straight at Bart. The gun, it turns out, is filled with harmless blanks, but her effect on Bart however is like a .38 caliber slug from cupid’s gat right through his heart. She proceeds to demonstrate her prowess with the six-shooter by blasting a cigarette out of her assistant’s mouth at twenty paces and so forth. Bart is mesmerized by Laurie as if his dream woman has been dropped from the sky before him. The carnival host then challenges anyone in the audience to match bullet for bullet the deadly accuracy of Annie Laurie Star. Naturally Bart accepts and what happens next is one of the most ludicrous and amazing seduction scenes ever filmed. As the two take turns back and forth shooting dangerously close to each other in a deadly William Tell like competition, Laurie has noticeably become interested in Bart. Here the two meet for the first time in their purest forms: deadly accurate marksmen who love the tools of their trade and the rush they provide.

Bart takes a job at the carnival to be close to Laurie and they begin falling hard for each other and eventually leave the carnival. They decide on a shotgun wedding but before tying the knot Bart confesses his stint in reform school and Laurie confides that “I’ve never been much good but I want to be good. I don’t know, maybe I can’t but I’m going to try.” Despite the confessions of being outcasts they pull the trigger on their nuptials and travel around the countr
y honeymooning like a typical happy couple. They honeymoon ends as the money runs out and Laurie becomes discontented. Bart suggests that he take a job at Remington (guns not electric shavers) for 40 dollars a week. That kind of dough isn’t enough for Laurie because she wants to do “a little living” so she suggests a lifestyle of crime where they can earn easy money with their guns by stealing from others. Bart expresses his concern at this proposal by stating that he doesn’t want, “to look in the mirror and see nothing but a stickup man staring back at me.” Laurie on the other hand believes she is entitled because, “I’ve been kicked around all my life and from now on I’m going to start kicking back.” Faced with the ultimatum of Laurie leaving him or seeing that stickup man in the mirror, Bart caves and they begin robbing everything from gas stations to banks.

While what comes next is a series of exciting crime scenes, the most interesting aspect of the film is the characters of Bart and Laurie. As the
viewers, we wonder what makes them tick and we see that they are trying to figure that out for themselves as well. Their identities are nebulous entities that they never quite know where they begin or end. Is Laurie rotten to the core even though she honestly tries and wants to be good for Bart? She reminds Bart she told him from the beginning that, “…I was no good. I didn’t kid you did I?” yet she demonstrates moments of real tenderness, concern and love for Bart. Is Bart nothing but that criminal he sees in the mirror even though he is essentially good at heart? Keep in mind that Bart can’t bring himself to shoot anyone if the need arises whereas Laurie has an over itchy trigger finger when she gets scared and stressed. Most would argue that’s not conducive makeup for the life of being successful armed robbers, but Bart and Laurie are misfits and walking contradictions. Bart comments that “It’s all going so fast it doesn’t seem like me.” This elusive selfdom both share is further evidenced by their crime spree where they are literally and figuratively trying on different identities, disguises and role-play while pulling jobs and being on the lam. They impersonate a bookish straight couple, Army officer and wife, beret and sunglasses wearing 50’s hipsters and finally “disguise” themselves in full on cowboy and cowgirl costumes during the infamous single take bank robbery scene shot from the back seat of their car (there’s plenty written about it this deservedly classic part so I will refrain). Despite all these various guises and roles, at their core Bart and Laurie are rare birds that have never quite found nests to call their own. Yet they look for validation and comfort in each other as they are united in their existence as square pegs. Bart tells Laurie “We go together Laurie, I don’t know why, like guns and ammunition go together.”

The two decide to pull one last big heist which goes awry, produces two corpses (thanks to Laurie’s hair trigger finger) and sends them running back to Bart’s home town for a confrontation with his past. Here he faces his sister, Clyde and Dave who beg for their surrender but it’s too late for the two. They have finally established their identities in the form of outlaw robbers; and like their predecessors Bonnie and Clyde, they can run for only so long before he law catches up with them.

Director Joseph H. Lewis makes the Gun Crazy script jump off the page and crackle with dazzling energy. Lewis has a very strong sense of patience and payoff when it comes to visually narrating a scene. For example, he knows when to finally give the audience a close-up for maximized emotional impact at just the right time in the context of the entire scene, whereas another director may give one to the audience too soon. They would expect the close-up to create significance, just because of our viewer's conditioning to register it as such. Lewis does it with impeccable timing and feeling. Overall the film looks fantastic with great camerawork bolstering its visual strength. Lewis also paces the action at a brisk clip yet knows when to slow down to let the viewer savor the fantastic characters of Bart and Laurie. He lets them breathe and come to life without too heavy a hand and too broad a brush. The only flaw I find with the film is the pace lags for a brief time at the very end but otherwise Gun Crazy is a lean, streamlined movie from start to finish. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this film as it has so many great nuances, qualities and themes that are all worthy of exploration. I will say (and go out on a biased limb) that Gun Crazy is one of, if not, the most underrated film noir (okay it is a film noir) from the classic period of 1940 to 1958. Truly a must see for any fan of film noir or great filmmaking in general.


Brattle Theater Cambridge, MA
2/17-2/18 2007
I was quite excited for the bad food, bad hygiene, bad posture, and especially the bad movies Saturday night at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I was in high school one of my best friends Nick used to host, which he then dubbed, “Cheezeathons.” Essentially they consisted of inviting his friends over and having an all night movie marathon where he would show us the finest schlock, exploitation, and horror films he could dig up. While some of the films were of decent quality considering the Cheezeathon moniker (the first time I saw The Hills Have Eyes for example, was shown at one in 1986 if I remember correctly), others were wonderfully atrocious (Invasion of the Blood Farmers is for my money one of the best, worst films ever made that Nick introduced us to during a Cheezeathon).  I still have a particular soft spot in my blood pumper for the schlock, Psychotronic, B-movie or whatever you want to call them.

Nick introduced me to many masters of schlock which served as a catalyst for my interest and appreciation of the genre. I have continued to be a fan and discovered many auteurs of schlock on my own in the past several decades. In the late eighties Nick, myself and a few friends would venture to the Somerville Theatre where once a year the 24 hour Science Fiction/Horror movie marathon would be held (still is I believe). The quality of the films shown was very much to our tastes. For the science fiction category there was no chance of seeing Tarkovsky’s Solaris at the marathon. You could however expect to see gems like The Hideous Sun-Demon or The Crawling Eye instead of something the critics would faun over (which is rare for the two aforementioned genres anyway). The marathon was a true test of physical endurance and devotion to the films. Trying to stay up for twenty four hours straight in a dark theatre is not an easy task. The crowd, copious amounts of coffee, and the films shown made the marathons easier to endure but more than anything , fun. I was excited to try and relive the old glory days when I read about the 15 hour schlock marathon at the Brattle. This event would be easier to handle than the sci-fi marathon as it was a measly 15 hours straight (9:30pm Saturday to 12:30pm Sunday). I was excitedly anticipating a few titles I have not seen such as the Terror of Tinytown among other gems being shown.
The people responsible for the Schlock Around the Clock at the Brattle deserve a big hand for their choice of films, providing refreshments, overall friendliness and just for doing it in the first place. I’ll try to give you the best account of the films I saw but some of it is pretty hazy because of sleep deprivation among other factors. The films are as follows in the order they were shown at the S.A.T.C.
Shanty Tramp (1967)
Amazingly this was co-written by K. Gordon Murray who was known in the fifties, sixties and seventies for producing and distributing low-budget saccharine kiddie films, imported dubbed Mexican horror films, exploitation and horror films made in the good old U S of A. Shanty Tramp has to be one of the best of his stable. As an opening for the marathon it was perfect. Just the right amount of violence, horrendous acting, lame dialogue, and morally bankrupt characters to get the audience in the mood for the cheese that would be flowing for the next 15 hours.
The story centers on the dubious “Shanty Tramp” Emily who is the bimbo belle of the Bayou. Her father is a pathetic drunk and mommy is apparently nowhere to be found. The fact that the actress playing Emily looks like she is in her mid-thirties doesn’t jive with the script that portrays her as a spry hussy. Every scene she's in seems to be the least favorable take the director could have possibly included in the final cut; it’s as if the director had a beef with her and was purposely trying to torpedo her stock as an actress. While this theory is absolutely ridiculous, it may not seem so far fetched when one sees actress Lee Holland (the Shanty Tramp) perform. At a sleazy bar early in the film, she tries to seduce a young man with an alluring dance that’s derivative of that one kid in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special who dances by leading with her head. I found the result such a sexy turn on that I shot the soda I was drinking through my nose.
Brecht There is also some interracial seduction exercised by the Shanty Tramp. A local African-American guy keeps giving Emily the eye and his mother tells him to avoid her (Emily has a bit of a reputation in case you didn't understand from the movie's title). He can’t seem to stop lusting after her even though he knows she's trouble. Emily doesn't disappoint as she cries rape to the local rednecks after she purposely seduces and sleeps with him. This ploy generates a posse of crackers looking to lynch him as apparently, tramp trumps African-American in the creditability department of this bizarre world. Her motivation for doing this seems to stem from her being an unbelievably despicable person because it's simply her nature. A little Bertoltcharacterization nod Murray had in mind I’m sure. There is also a money grubbing preacher who fleeces the local townsfolk of their cash and also offers Emily some private late night “spiritual guidance.” The preacher (played by Hershel Gordon Lewis favorite Bill Rogers) sounds uncannily like actor Greg Holliman (Principal Onyx Blackman) of Strangers with Candy fame.
Troll 2 (1990)
Apparently every human character in this movie is color blind or embraces a Seussian philosophy of tolerance toward the aesthetically unappetising. The protagonist family of the film is constantly being offered various strange colored foods to eat by the evil residents of the town of Nilbog. Some of the questionable food items are bagels with bright green cream cheese and corn on the cob smothered with turquoise blue frosting. They nearly consume them all without a second glance at the bizarrely colored food. Unbeknownst to them these foods will make them dissolve via some sort of chlorophyll process that will somehow provide nutrients to the aforementioned vegetarian "people" of Nilbog (spell the town name backwards and appreciate the cleverness that is Troll 2). The film itself is pretty atrocious and difficult to make sense of, not so much what is happening, but why it’s happening. There are some very strange homosexual undertones that are treated with blasé indifference (some teen boys in the film sleep together in a camper, in the same small bed shirtless.) The kid who stars in the film is horribly annoying and had me rooting for the Nilbogians (?) to turn him into Miracle Grow. The Wonder bread father looked strikingly like the love child of Craig T. Nelson and Henry Rollins. The Nilbogians are defeated by the power of meat, specifically a bologna sandwich. Yes that’s right the antagonist's evil plans are thwarted by the cornerstone of Oscar Meyer’s lunch meats and children’s palates. Like I could make this stuff up? A truly fine, bad movie.
Wonder Woman (TV pilot film 1974)
If you’re like me and grew up in the 70s, when you think Wonder Woman, you think Linda Carter. Apparently before her the TV executives at ABC were thinking the same thing and not thinking Cathy Lee Crosby who starred in this TV pilot film. Cathy Lee Crosby’s Wonder Woman is quite a bit different from the iconic one we all know. The costume she wears shows much less skin, no golden lasso or bracelets, and C.L.C. has blonde hair. It seemed that this version of Wonder Woman didn’t really have any super powers to speak of, just keen gymnastic abilities and a great cardio regiment. Ricardo Montalban plays the heavy in the film but we never see his face for the first half of the film, though we hear him talk while he is filmed from behind giving orders to his goons. The mystery surrounding the true identity of this villain is pretty lame because unless you grew up a Pygmy in the rain forest you’re going to recognize Ricardo Montalban’s distinct voice. Additionally in the last half of the film there is a donkey in just about every scene. Yes a donkey. I’d try to explain what it’s doing in there but I’m short a few hits of acid of figuring it out myself. Advantage Linda Carter.
Barb Wire (1996)
It stars Pamela Anderson and her breasts. It’s like a sci-fi Casablanca with tits and gun fights. Pretty awful film and not very much fun to boot. The story really is ripped off from Casablanca so you have to admire the writers for having the huevos mas grandes to use one of the most beloved American films as a blueprint for the Anderson vehicle. I wonder if the Dark Horse Comic upon which the filmed is based is any good? Oh I almost forgot, Barb’s Rottweiler bites some dude on the nut-sack. Hilarious! Here’s looking at you Kid (Rock’s ex)!
Joysticks (1983)
Like Porky’s but with videogames. What Joysticks has in abundance 1) Breasts, 2) fart jokes, 3) Pac-Man scenes wipes. That’s right almost every time a scene ends, as the audience we know it because a huge animated Pac-Man moves across the screen complete with gobbling sound effects and transitions into the next scene. After the first few dozen times it gets pretty unbearable. As for the highlights there is a young topless woman playing Pac-Man, Joe Don Baker as the film’s heavy and some 80’s street punks acting out a Pac-Man game. The movie’s big climax is a videogame duel that has lots of girl onlookers cooing at the two guys playing Pac-Man against each other, complete with lots of close-up shots of the guys grunting, sweating and hands furiously manipulating joysticks. Read into it as much as you want.
Black Vengeance (aka “Poor Pretty Eddy” 1975)
Truly indescribable. Academy Award winner Shelly Winters turns in a role as an old burlesque performer, heading a group backward hicks indulging her bizarre fantasies. Leslie Uggams is tortured and enslaved in this bizarre southern setting that’s like a cross between a Bergman dream sequence, “Hee-Haw” and Deliverance. She also screams about sixteen-hundred times during the film. At one point in the movie Uggams' character is raped and the scene is intercut with one of the local inbred hicks watching two dogs in heat going at it while an upbeat county tune plays in the background (it’s a long way from “Hollywood Squares” and the Tony award ain't it Leslie). Slim Pickins makes an appearance as a Sheriff who is shall we say unsympathetic to Uggam’s rape testimony as he interrogates her (he tells her to “suck on one'a these tomatoes” during the questioning). To say that this movie is tasteless is like stating that outer space is big. I am still pretty fuzzy on many parts of this movie (thanks vicodin). If you ever get the chance to see this gem, do so. It’s dazzlingly atrocious.
Hershell Gordon Lewis brings us one of his only forays into producing a children’s film. This movie is as close to unwatchable as you can get. Essentially horrible actors portray characters from Mother Goose and act out the stories on a stage (it’s like you’re sitting in the audience of a horrible children's play). They also perform magic tricks just when you think it can’t get any worse. This was the only H.G.L. movie I've seen that didn't have one drop of fake blood. A real let-down. Upon the movie's completion the gentleman who ran the S.A.T.C. provided assorted sweet cereals, milk, plastic bowls and spoons for all patrons to enjoy. Generic brand Coco-Puffs never tasted so delicious. It was also time to change over to the 16mm projector at this point for the final two movies.
Bride of the Atom (aka Bride of the Monster, 1955)
What can you say about Ed Wood Jr. that hasn’t already been covered? Bride was a good one to show as I had never seen it in a theatre before and it came in at just a little over an hour running time. 16mm print wasn’t too bad. Always good to see Bela and Tor on the big screen no matter what the context. In all honesty this is for my money the least “bad” Ed Wood Jr. film he made in the 1950s. Very watchable and fun (of course I was sleep deprived and high at the time.)
This was the final film of the marathon and hands down the best all midget cast, western movie ever made. Yes, in case you have not heard of this infamous film it’s chock-full-o little people, which is a term preferred by them, in a simple western/cowboy plot. T.O.T.T. is very strange. There is a little person saloon chanteuse that has a Shirley Temple look going on with her hair and voice. Unfortunately she has a Rocky from the movie Mask look going on with her face. There are some fine examples of just how small midgets (ahem)…little people really are. The heavy in the film smokes a cigar that looks like it's the size of a banana compared to his head. The hero’s love interest at one point picks up a six shooter that may be a .38 or something but in her hands resembles Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum hand cannon. To be honest I was fading at this point and I also had a nearly two hour drive back to western Massachusetts. I found the perfect opportunity to leave when in one scene all the bad guys are sitting around and plotting nefarious little people deeds to be done. The head villain tells one of his cronies who’s smoking a cigarette near a crate of dynamite “What are you stupid?!? You shouldn't smoke that.” I had to chime in aloud “Yea it will stunt your growth!” On that lame joke exclamation, I left the S.A.T.C. having too much coffee, sweet cereal, sleep deprivation, and especially guilty pleasure.