I Escaped From Devil’s Island (1973)

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With the success of the Steve McQueen film Papillon it should be expected that Roger Corman and brother Gene would put out a low budget knock off to capitalize on the formers success.

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Signing up is football star Jim Brown and the dependable Christopher George for this rather nasty effort from the Corman stable and director William Witney.

The film opens with both Brown and George already imprisoned and Brown narrowly saved from the guillotine. As he is struggling with his captors throughout the film, George is screaming for unity and hoping that both prisoners and the guards can live together peacefully. Fat chance. This is an exploitation flick where we need plenty of violence and full frontal nudity.

It isn’t long before George’s rallying of the prisoners lands him in hot water and the opportunity to spend “a night in the box.” Brown feels indebted to his fellow inmate and busts him out.

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As the title says, there is an escape so we can expect our two stars joined by character actor James Luisi attempt to flee the island of the title.  The guards led by their commandant Paul Richards take up the pursuit. I’ll assume you noticed the film poster has a shark on it so you shouldn’t be surprised then if one of our escapees gets torn to shreds by one of those giants you see during shark week on Discovery.  Care to guess which one? I know…….too easy.

As for the full frontal nudity I mentioned, I wasn’t kidding. Luckily the boys are taken in by a native tribe that has a female member quite taken with our football hero. Voila! Roger Corman sneaks some T & A in again for the drive in crowd. Roger has never been shy about borrowing from other successful films and just like Papillon we get a village of Lepers minus Anthony Zerbe and the cigar scene.

With plenty of fireworks and bloodshed down the stretch it’s just a matter of whether or not our two convicts that don’t always like each other can evade the guards and make there way to a coastal village with outgoing ships.

This one is strictly drive in fare that both actors were known to appear in. Brown for me will always remain a member of The Dirty Dozen and George for the most part had a likeable bad ass presence in everything from westerns to war films before his early death.

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If it wasn’t for a recent release as a four pack on DVD from Shout Factory this is one of those titles that I thought I’d never see. I knew it was out there with a cool poster and equally cool sounding title. Really at the end of the day, that’s all there is to recommend it.

 

Frankenstein : The Hammer Series

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I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!

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If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. click for review

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I realized long ago that the only way to prove my theories was to make something in my laboratory that actually lived.

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Peter Cushing gives us Susan Denberg!

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My brain is in someone else’s body.

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The unofficial entry minus Peter.

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The series swan song. But what a title!

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Thankyou Peter for the memories.

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The Heston Cameo

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Charlton Heston is for me a great example of a bigger than life film hero during my childhood. Growing up I would be watching him on Sunday afternoon television battling everything from ants in The Naked Jungle to Jack Palance in Arrowhead. The holiday specials, Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. How about El Cid and Will Penny?

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I shouldn’t have to mention Planet of the Apes. But what the heck. I just did. And how about The Omega Man! Dig those shades.

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What made Heston ultra cool in my books was that while watching his legendary roles on television my mother helped fuel my love of movies by taking me to see his big screen heroics. At an early age she took me to see him battle earthquakes and be lowered from one plane to the cockpit of another to save a plane load of passengers and girlfriend Karen Black. Pretty amazing when you are an impressionable little kid.

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For the most part his final years on screen were dedicated to the cameo. Films like Any Given Sunday, Tombstone and True Lies. Working in Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness or Burton’s Ape redo. Then there is for me his ultimate cameo opposite Mike Myers…….

I’ve borrowed an idea from a good friend about the Heston cameo so don’t be surprised if I begin to look for any old reason to sneak a Heston photo or cameo if you prefer into some of my film topics. Like this one and this one. Plenty more to come. So every now and then put Chuck’s name into the search engine and see where he pops up.

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The Nutty Professor (1963)

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Like all of us, there are films that stick with you over the years because you enjoyed them in childhood. For me this one stands out for just that reason.

I loved it when this would show up on television so I could watch it once again. It fueled my love of Jerry Lewis as a boy and opened my eyes to the beauty of Stella Stevens. Thank you Jerry for not stealing all the limelight and allowing Stella to look absolutely stunning throughout the film as you let the camera linger whenever she came into frame.

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By this time in his career Jerry was a one man act when he felt like it. Writer, producer, director and star. Dino was seven years removed by this time and was doing quite nicely on his own or teaming with the Rat Pack.

Jerry Lewis _amp_ Stella Stevens in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR _1963_

Taking the Jekyll and Hyde theme, Jerry twists it into (arguably) the Lewis/Martin theme. Jerry stars as Professor Kelp who is as clumsy as possible and when it comes to looking Stella in the eye, he turns to mush. Perhaps if he was just a little more muscular he’d feel more like a man. Off to the gym Jerry goes where one gag follows another.

With his workouts not giving him the results he’s looking for, Jerry turns to what he knows best. The field of science and formulas boiling in colorful test tubes. Before he knows it he’s turned into Buddy Love. A rather warped version of old pal Dean Martin. At least that’s how I see it.

Lewis has created a rather despicable character with Buddy whose ego knows no bounds. He pursues Stella who seems caught by his talent and overall look but is continually put off by his personality. When the formula begins to wear off and Kelp’s nasally voice sneaks into Love’s conversations and singing, she begins to suspect Love and Kelp are one and the same.

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Along for the ride is Del Moore as the University Dean who has some funny scenes with both sides of Lewis’s characters including a Hamlet recital.

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When it comes to character actresses, Lewis always seemed to find a role for Kathleen Freeman in his films and for that we should all be thankful.

Fans of Mayberry will be sure to spot Howard Morris as Jerry’s father. Morris played the rascally Ernest T. Bass who was always driving Andy Griffith and Don Knotts crazy with his rock throwing antics.

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Despite pushing the boundaries with the mean spirited Buddy Love, Jerry brings forth a message for all at the close of the film. Meek and mild mannered Professor Julius Kelp offers us one of life’s lessons that he has learned the hard way.

Could it be possible that drop dead gorgeous Stella Stevens just might go for the book wormish type?

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This is one of those films I almost assume everyone has seen. Lewis may not be for all tastes as the years go by but when he’s on……he’s on. Before you sit down and watch Eddie Murphy attempt to play the role, turn the clock back and give Jerry a shot.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie Challenge…….Baby Face (1933)

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I can’t recall seeing a film from the thirties with so many blatant scenes of suggested sex. That’s s-e-x. Barbara Stanwyck style. Only in a pre-code era film.

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Time for my monthly challenge ( see previous challenges here) from movie pal Kristina at Speakeasy. She has a love for the pre-code days of tinsel town and this time out has assigned me an early film from Hollywood great Stanwyck.

Barbara opens the film welcoming a group of sweaty men into her home where her father has a bootleg operation in full swing. Not only does he produce his own brand but uses their home as an underground drinking hole that is protected by a local politician.

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Things get a bit nasty when it becomes painfully obvious that her father is more than willing to pimp her services to our local representative in order to keep his silence on Dad’s underground operation.

When fate prevails freeing Barbara from the chains at home she takes some crude advice to heart. “Use men to get everything you want!” This becomes her modus operandi.

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She wastes no time in hopping a train boxcar with her servant girl played by African American actress Theresa Harris. I know this is a pre-code film so maybe I’m looking for too much here but there sure seems to be a hint of sexual tension between the two of them. Especially when Barbara protects Harris from those who want her to get rid of her.

Shockingly, Miss Stanwyck begins to use her sexual favors right from the moment they hop on the train when a rail worker discovers them hitching a free ride. There is no hinting about her intentions here as there would be in films of the future. She closes the door on the boxcar and moves to the hay in the corner.

Once Barbara hits the big city it’s all about her rise to the top and the men she uses to get there. First it’s the tubby employee at the bank to get a job. Next up it’s the Duke himself. John Wayne in a brief role as another of Barbara’s conquests.

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She has soon passed him by for the mortgage specialist who is promptly let go for gross indecency. Then comes Donald Cook and finally her sugar daddy the bank president.

The higher she climbs the more gorgeous the outfits from costume designer Orry Kelly get. When things go to far and Barbara has one ex lover kill another she is exiled by the bank to Paris and labelled as poison.Baby-Face-1

Enter leading man George Brent. He’s the new playboy in town turned bank president. Living a life of luxury he can’t help himself where sexy Barbara is concerned. She sees Brent as the ultimate meal ticket and marries into money securing her financial safety and begins to stock pile the jewels, furs and savings bonds. What could possibly go wrong?

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We’ll find out when Brent’s financial empire crashes and he turns to her for help.

Stanwyck is one cold fish this time out. She chews up her men and leaves them longing for her after tossing them aside. Yes, even the Duke. There’s an extremely large model used in the film of a large skyscraper. As Barbara climbs her way up the society ladder so does her room in the building till at the film’s climax she is in the penthouse where she had her sights set upon arriving in the city at the outset.

This is an early Warner Brothers production that was directed by Alfred E. Green. Green was a workhorse from the silent era up until his pace slowed down in the forties. He visited most genres over the years including comedies, westerns and early John Garfield titles like East of the River.

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George Brent was a notable leading man at this time and would settle quite nicely into a number of Bette Davis films. You might say he was an actor cast in films associated with starring actresses as opposed to them appearing in films opposite him.

Dracula fans will be sure to spot unbilled Edward Van Sloan as a member of the board at the bank. Van Sloan was the first actor to take on the role of Professor Van Helsing in the 1931 feature.

As for our leading lady Miss Stanwyck, this film falls in line with many of the characters she would play in the years ahead. She forever seemed to be portraying tough women who used men to get ahead of whatever it is she was up against. Gangster roles, drama, westerns. She did them all. Even later in her career she was still playing tough opposite Elvis in the film I first remember seeing her in as a kid, Roustabout.

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Baby Face (you’ve got the cutest little baby face) is a wonderful example of what was in films before the industry began to police itself in 1934. Films like these weren’t even fit for re-release due to the subject material and would be locked up for many years till the rules began to slacken on what was appropriate for our viewing pleasure.

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As for Kristina at Speakeasy, head on over to check out a film I haven’t seen in years but fondly recall that once again shows the versatility of Edward G. Robinson.

Frankenstein : The Universal Series

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It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

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We Belong Dead.

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One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.

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The lightning. It is good for you! Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was the lightning!

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I can’t do it! I can’t destroy Frankenstein’s creation. I’ve got to see it at its full power.

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I’m going to give that brain of yours a new home in the skull of the Frankenstein monster.

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Get out! It’s the Frankenstein monster!

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I’ve had this brain for thirty years. It hasn’t done me any good!

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I never tire of these movies and a special thankyou to Dear Boris.

 

Trouble In the Sky (1960)

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Here’s a British film that is stocked with familiar faces and is also known under the alternate title Cone of Silence.

Opening the film is the original Cad, George Sanders . He’s grilling Bernard Lee about his actions that may have resulted in the crash of an airliner that led to the death of his co-pilot.

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Lee takes the blame of pilot error thus putting his job in jeopardy till he goes before the board for review. There are those that think he’s too old for the job like Michael Craig and Peter Cushing. Then he has his supporters including Andre Morell who makes the final decisions and his daughter played by Elizabeth Seal.

The airliner makes steady flights from England to Calcutta and most of the flights are performed by planes of the miniature types. They actually blend in fairly well with the actors at the mock airports.

Lee regains his position and proves his metal in a harrowing scene of keeping a plane in the air after going through a hail storm that knocks out a cockpit window. Charlton Heston would be proud.

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Young pilot Craig begins to see that Lee is more than capable in the cockpit and nature begins to take it’s course when he meets Lee’s daughter Seal.

Hammer Films legend Peter Cushing appears here as a conniving front office gent who believes Lee to be far to old to handle the rigors of piloting anymore and isn’t above casting criticisms towards Lee and bending the truths on his own performance in a cockpit. Truthfully, he’s a pompous pr–k.

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When another plane goes down resulting in a fatal crash for all those on board, Craig pushes the airplane suppliers and their creators to reveal the truth of the planes having issues rather than the usual pilot error being the cause of the disasters. Once again George Sanders shows up to prosecute. Can Craig convince him the planes are at fault and save the good name of the accused who isn’t there to defend himself?

Sprinkled throughout the films 94 minute running time are faces that are easily recognizable. From George Sanders to Peter Cushing. The original M from the Bond series, Bernard Lee. If you enjoy the Hammers as much as I do you’ll spot Noel Willman who led a vampire cult in Kiss of the Vampire and Gordon Jackson from countless British films. Andre Morell who was Watson to Cushing’s Holmes is in here too.

This is a respectable film about the earlier days of air transit with a fine cast doing their best to bring dramatics to the proceedings.

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I caught this one on VCI’s dvd release. Despite the title on the box cover, the actual print of the film is under the alternate title.

 

 

Gotti (1996)

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Here’s a gangland flavored film from the people at HBO about the career of one John Gotti.

Armand Assante stars here as The Dapper Don or if you prefer The Teflon Don. He does so with grit and determination.

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The film is told in flashback from 1973 up until the Don’s luck ran out in 1992 when his right hand killer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano turned against him in a court of law thus sealing the fate of the world famous crime lord. Gravano is played by William Forsythe. An actor who is no stranger to the genre of crime films including a substantial role as Noodles in the Sergio Leone epic, Once Upon a Time In America.

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It’s all very “Martin Scorsese(ish) from director Robert Harmon. So much so that we get some of Marty’s stock company coming over from Goodfellas including Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore.

The film has plenty of foul language but nowhere near the violence of a theatrical film of the time. Armand gets to threaten those around him and if necessary slam a few heads before cutting Forsythe’s Gravano loose upon those that are holding him back from taking over the family business. I for one have always appreciated seeing Assante on screen. Big or small. I enjoy seeing him play tough and although I wouldn’t say he made a huge name for himself in the main stream he certainly has a large amount of credits on his resume including a starring role in the last big screen Mike Hammer adaptation, I The Jury in 1982.

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Canadian actor Al Waxman turns up here as Gotti’s big time lawyer who keeps the Don on the streets till the Feds finally catch up with him on charges that stick. While Waxman is far from a household name world wide, that isn’t necessarily true to Canadians who are old enough to recall his popular stint as The King of Kensington here within Canadian borders.

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Adding a touch of class and old time Hollywood to the proceedings is screen legend Anthony Quinn. He plays a member of the family who stands up for Gotti and guides him to the throne of the underworld. Of note is that way back in 1972, Quinn was one of those actors rumored to be The Godfather in an up and coming motion picture from some hack named Coppola.

For plenty of wire taps, stand up guy chatter mixed with William Forsythe hits and mood swings from our leading actor Assante, this plays better than many other genre pieces of the day. Worth a peek.

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