ELI WALLACH : Before Tuco There Was Calvera

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When the opening credits of John Sturges’ The Magnificent 7 come to a close, Elmer Bernstien’s memorable western score  shifts dramatically as an army of bandits on horseback ride into the frame. The music is no longer exciting and adventurous. It’s threatening and seeps with aggression. The reason is very simple. Eli Wallach makes his presence know for the opening scene of this classic western. Wallach’s Calvera is my contribution to the villain blogathon hosted by a trio of fun sites. Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin and Silver Screenings.

Clad in a red silk shirt in front of an army wearing nothing but greys and browns allows Wallach’s bandit leader Calvera to stand out all the more in this crowd of dusty bandolero’s. To set the stage for the film, Wallach has led his riders into a small Mexican farming village that he continually terrorizes as he pleases and takes whatever his men need to survive leaving the villagers just enough to get by on. Preaching to the cantina owner Sotero, Wallach tells of his problems and moves around as if the cantina belongs to him, from emptying the cigar case to grunting and slapping anyone who talks back. While riding out he makes a point of leaving a new widow behind. Upon the seven minute mark in the film Wallach rides out and doesn’t return for another hour and 2 minutes!

It’s during that time that his legend grows as the peasant farmers seek the help of gunslingers and much of the conversation centers around Eli’s Calvera. From our point of view it’s easy to look back and see the now legendary actors needed to take him down. We get the coolest man in black this side of Johnny Cash in Yul Brynner joined by Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. All four would leave a long shadow in film. Robert Vaughn, Horst Buccholz and let’s not forget Brad Dexter round out the Magnificent 7.

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The next time we see Wallach he is confronted by the seven. Appearing truly insulted by the farming community and the hiring of Brynner and company he spits out a great line to Brynner, “If God didn’t want them sheared he would not have made them sheep.” He’s cocky and arrogant, “Generosity that was my first mistake.” When told to ride on the mood shifts and the swagger changes to a grimace and anger. The actor’s gold plated teeth clearly showing through the snarl.

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Wallach is a treasure in this role and is clearly enjoying himself . He has all the props to make him bigger than life from the black hat and the large rings to the bullets around his waist that look as if they are made of gold. Chewing on a cigar he spits out many of his lines when things are not quite going his way. As with all villains we know the basic outcome, his downfall is due to a repeat of his first mistake, generosity. That and over thinking what to do with the seven. Wallach who was billed second to Yul Brynner here is no caricature. His character is fully fleshed out and I love how you can see the wheels spinning as he contemplates the many situations he finds himself in.

Reading Wallach’s book The Good The Bad and Me

eli 3as well as hearing his commentary on the blu ray of the film leaves one admiring his energy and the fun he had on set creating the character. This was the first western in his long career that included future westerns such as the Leone epic as well as other titles How The West Was Won and MacKenna’s Gold.

So the next time you here the trivia question “name the actors who played the Magnificent 7″, throw Eli’s name in there as well as he deserves some recognition for his Calvera.

Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1968)

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FILMED IN CHILL-O-RAMA. So say the opening credits.

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Originally titled La marca del Hombre-lobo this is a Spanish production from the pen of Jacinto Molina that was picked up for North American distribution by Independent International. As was customary at the time, the title was changed and the film promptly dubbed. Apparently U.S. distributor Samuel Sherman was supposed to supply a Frankenstein title so voila, here we have one. Problem is, there isn’t a lumbering giant in sight or a mad scientist named Victor either.

Don’t let that stop you from watching this game effort starring the screenwriter Molina under his North American screen name, Paul Naschy. At the end of the day the film is a bit of a throwback to the glorious days of the Universal Monster films where we team up a couple of boogie men from the crypt. This time out Naschy stars as the character Waldemar Daninsky who he would play numerous times over the ensuing years being bitten during a wolf hunt. His fate is sealed. His loved ones try to find a cure and bring in a mysterious doctor and his rather tempting wife with the low cut outfit. They turn up in a fog shrouded night in capes and looking rather pale. Need I say more?

Films like these are of course never taken too seriously and are generally panned. In many cases rightly so. Despite the poor dubbing on the North American print full marks should be given for the time and care taken to film an old fashioned werewolf thriller in the Lon Chaney Jr. mode. There is some really good camera work and the sets are appropriately done up in the dungeons of a ruined castle. We get Gypsy’s and  crypts as well as silver daggers and bullets to combat the forces of evil. And of course a love interest for Naschy whose own hand must be the one to set him free which is part of the genre’s folklore.

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The film sent Paul Naschy on his way to a long career in Euro horror films covering everything from countless incarnations of his wolfman character Daninsky to playing Dracula, Zombies and other assorted monsters for years to come. He would pass away in 2009.

Circle of Danger (1951)

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Here’s an RKO release by way of the British film industry at a time when it was common for an American actor to film abroad due to taxation loopholes. For this mystery effort we get Academy Award winner Ray Milland as an ex Navy man who comes to England after the war looking for answers. It seems his brother had joined the British forces before America’s entry into the war and had been killed on a commando raid.  The problem is it all seems a might suspicious. He was the only member of the squad killed. A single gunshot wound to the head was his undoing. Without saying it outright, Milland is on a vengeful manhunt.

The trail leads him from London to Wales and across Scotland as he questions the remaining squad members. Keeping his real motives close to the vest he claims to be looking for his brothers personal items. Along the way romance ensues for Ray with beautiful Patricia Roc. She happens to be somewhat involved with the commando squad leader. This of course only adds to the melodrama that plays out over the films 86 minute running time.

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The director of the film has developed a bit of a following over the years. Jacques Tourneur. He was of course associated with the Val Lewton productions and was behind the camera for one of the greatest of Noirs, Out of the Past. Location shooting adds to the film`s overseas flavor along with a cast of local actors.

Admittedly the film did not go in the direction I had expected which I guess one could consider a good thing as it`s not routine. Overall it`s fairly watchable from Milland`s post Oscar period and with Tourneur behind the camera it only adds to my interest. For a little light comedy to break up the serious tone it`s fun to see Milland trying to figure out the British breakdown of money as he goes about paying cabbies throughout the film.

I am not sure if this is readily available as my copy is on the poor side and it was given to me by good friend. If you do find it let`s just say you could do worse.

The Desperate Hours (1955)

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In what proved to his last role as a gangster, screen icon Humphrey Bogart doesn’t disappoint in this tense crime drama from top flight director William Wyler. Teaming up with Bogie is another actor who can cast a very large shadow. Fredric March. And he’s up to the challenge of facing off with the legendary Bogart.

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Bogie is joined by Dewey Martin and hulking Robert Middleton in a prison escape that finds them invading the peaceful home of March and his family. From the opening scene of Bogie threatening his way in past Martha Scott as March’s wife the tension is set on a slow elevation and does a great job at sustaining it for the film’s 2 hour length. March has a beautiful daughter who is a natural temptation to those who would harm her and a small son who would like nothing better than to see his Dad put Bogie and his crew out on their asses.

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Adding another fine actor to the mix, we have Arthur Kennedy as the police officer leading the manhunt for the murderous trio. Wouldn’t you just know it, he’s the cop that sent Bogie up 3 years ago and both are set upon getting another crack at the other. As much as I love Bogie, I have to say that Fred March really drives this one home as the father trying to do what’s best for his family and keep them alive. If that’s to appear as a coward in front of his small son, so be it. His scenes with Martha Scott are both believable and tearful at times.  For almost 2 hours he fences with Bogie as he slowly gets the upper hand in the rousing finale.

That this film is first rate should come as no surprise based on the actors involved not to mention the man behind the camera, William Wyler. Wyler has done more than his fare share of classics including Ben Hur and a previous film that won March the Academy Award. The Best Years of Our Lives. There are many well known faces throughout the cast including Gig Young as suitor to March’s daughter. Whit Bissell and Ray Teal join Kennedy on the man hunt as does Ray Collins.

According to Hollywood legend, Spencer Tracy was slated for the March role but bowed out due to billing issues with Bogie. Although I think we missed something there, that’s not fair to March and his work here. The film also serves as an interesting bookend to Bogie’s gangster films with The Petrified Forest as they have much in common with the hostage taking plot.

It’s understandable how this film can get lost in the mix with so many classics to see from Bogie, March and Wyler but at the same time a little unfair to this nail biter. No one seems to talk of this title when reviewing there careers and I most certainly think it needs to be rediscovered and one should savor the Bogie-March showdown as it deserves multiple viewings.

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The Princess Comes Across (1936)

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Paramount Pictures uses the tried and true backdrop of a ship crossing the ocean on it’s way to North America for an excuse to join frequent co stars Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray together in one of their four co starring features during the mid thirties. This time out Carole is a Swedish Princess on her way to America to become a motion picture star and continue her life of luxury. When asked who her favorite movie star is, she seductively responds Mickey Mooose. As for Fred, he’s a band leader on his way home after a tour on the European continent. Our stars first cross paths quite innocently. Fred has the Royal suite and ships Captain George Barbier is trying to convince him to give it up to the Swedish Princess but Fred isn’t budging. Well, not until he gets a look at the Swedish beauty.

As it turns out we have a blackmailer aboard and all might not be as it seems including our leading players. Things get real prickly when the blackmailer turns up dead in Lombard’s suite. From here the film takes a surprising turn to the who done it genre. Sig Ruman and Mischa Auer are among our on board detectives who are out to unveil the killer and fingers are pointing at Carole. What’s Fred to do? I’m not telling but have a strong suspicion you’ll figure it out.

For his stint as a bandleader Fred even sings a lively song in this one and has great support from William Frawley as his go to guy for all things legal or illegal if necessary. Frawley is always a welcome sight on any cast list as are most of the faces who fill out the characters making the ocean crossing on  the Paramount back lot. He would of course go on to be a cast member of Fred’s My Three Sons years later.

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Once again Fred MacMurray proves he could play light comedy or get tough when needed. He was a great go to guy when casting directors were looking for someone to play opposite most of the leading ladies of the era. Lombard gets plenty of costume changes which was customary for the times and one can’t help but feel cheated every time you see her in a film due to her tragic passing. She had so much more to give us.

The Liebster Award !

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Well as this is all new to me I have to say thanks for tuning in  to Marta at Ramblings of a Cinephile who has been kind enough to swing this my way. I am so tempted to stand on the back of my desk chair and hop to the back of the couch and make my way to the television set and put another movie in the player. Kind of like that Italian guy.

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In accordance to the rules, here are my responses to the 11 questions asked of me.

1. Favorite vacation spot?  St. Lucia

2. Favorite Color? Blue

3. Favorite Dessert? Chocolate Cake and Vanilla Ice Cream

4. Favorite B/W Movie? The Maltese Falcon

5. Favorite Superhero? Super Stone

6. Favorite TV Show? Andy Griffith Show….who wouldn’t want to live in Mayberry?

7.Favorite Book? Bram Stoker’s Dracula

8. Favorite Beatles Song? Hard Day’s Night…I guess. Country boy here.

9. Favorite Dog Breed? St. Bernard. Mine weighs in at a trim 190lbs.

10.Favorite Beverage? Cold glass of Lemonade.

11. Favorite Nerdy Franchise? Original 5 Planet of the Apes Films.

My nominees for the Liebster Award that should be checked out go to.

http://tensecondsfromnow.wordpress.com/

http://filmgeek101.wordpress.com/

http://monsterminions.wordpress.com/

http://bloodymurder.wordpress.com/

http://bogiefilmblog.wordpress.com/

http://therosebudcinema.wordpress.com/

http://davescorneroftheuniverse.wordpress.com/

http://thetimothycareyexperience.com/

http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/

Liebster terms & conditions: There’s no obligation to participate, and a money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied by this nomination.* The bloggers who have been nominated must link back to the person who nominated them. Nominees must answer the eleven questions given to them by the person who nominated them. Those nominated must choose eleven of their favorite bloggers who have less than 200 followers to answer their own set of questions. When you are nominated, you cannot nominate the person who nominated you. * No money changed hands during the making of this post.

Yes I did steal the above quotation from fellow blogger and mad movie challenge pal Kristina at Speakeasy who was kind enough to link me as a nominee as well.

 

Pier 23 (1951)

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If it wasn’t for a VCI Entertainment collection of forgotten Noirs I am quite sure I would never have seen this film let alone ever even heard of it. After watching all 57 minutes of it (yes that’s all) I realized it’s not all that good and probably padded the lower third of a triple feature way back in the day. Having said that there are a couple positives here and standing front and center is the fact that Hugh Beaumont does as a pretty good job here in the lead as a store owner on the docks who has a knack for dabbling with clients from the wrong side of the tracks.

Beaumont’s voice over narration works well with lines like “She was a tall blonde with lots of speed.” True to the genre he wears a trench coat but trades in the dangling cigarette for a pipe which can double as a prop gun in his coat pocket when trying to corner a suspect. The fact that some of the filming is on location helps as does a couple familiar faces including strongman Mike Mazurki and would be bombshell Joi Lansing. We even get Edward Brophy as Beaumont’s drunken partner and confidante.

The unusual thing is that the film is broken into 2 separate cases that have nothing to do with the other. So at the half way point case one is solved and on to the next dame waiting in his office holding a gun on him. Episodic to say the least. I can only assume this was meant for television one way or another. Although this is earlier than Darren McGavin’s Mike Hammer show that’s what I felt like I was watching when I realized the first case is really over and on to the next episode.

Hugh Beaumont dabbled in film for years and even visited The Mole People before achieving his greatest role as Ward Cleaver who was always befuddled by the Beaver and trying to stay calm at the toughest of times. Mike Mazurki appears here quite suitably as The Ape, a huge wrestler who sometimes squeezes a might to hard and curvy Joi Lansing went on to a career in low budget efforts and an occasional visit to The Beverly Hillbillies.

In Search of the Castaways (1962)

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For this Jules Verne tale Hayley Mills hooks up with Walt Disney studios for a live action adventure aimed at the kiddies back in the day. Passable time filler but no where near the success that Disney proved with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Joining Mills in the search for her castaway Father is Maurice Chevalier, Michael Anderson Jr. and Wilfrid Hyde White. Chevalier plays a French professor helping Mills and her brother in their search while White plays the Owner of a fleet of ships that Mill’s father worked for.  Their journeys lead them around the globe battling through earthquakes and volcanoes not to mention an original cad in the form of George Sanders who once again proves untrustworthy. No surprise there if you know anything of Sanders career in film.

This Disney production was directed by Robert Stevenson who worked mainly for Uncle Walt from Old Yeller through to the Flubber films and Herbie the Love Bug as well. Throughout the films 98 minute running time we get songs from Chevalier and Hayley as they go about crossing the globe with plenty of matte shots and back screen projections to give us that location feeling which of course never works. I think the film was trying to emulate the James Mason film from 1959 and another Jules Verne title, Journey To The Center of the Earth but doesn’t come close to succeeding if that was the intention. There is a hokey slay ride down a mountain and some decent model ships crossing the ocean to keep the young ones entertained but overall this is for the little ones or followers of the star attractions.

The year previous to this title Mills had been in a fan favorite The Parent Trap for Disney which was a much more entertaining film than this. Michael Anderson Jr. had just appeared opposite Robert Mitchum in The Sundowners and would move on to play a lead role in the rousing John Wayne adventure The Sons of Katie Elder in 1965. The elder statesmen of the film, Chevalier, White and Sanders had of course been around for years and would all continue to act in films till their inevitable passings.

For a Jules Verne on screen adventure I would suggest sticking to Under the Sea from 1954 or Center of the Earth from 1959.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

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The 1970′s was an interesting era in that the TV Movie of the week was a regular event from the top networks. There was what I like to call the disease of the week movies, the family dramas and an abundance of horror films which are the ones that suited me just fine. By the time I was seeing them they were pretty much 5 to 10 years old but they were regular fodder for late night showings in reruns. Some of them are fondly remembered from Dark Night of the Scarecrow to the films of Dan Curtis(need to talk about those soon!) to Spielberg’s Duel.

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Another plus in the movie of the week was that there was usually an abundance of familiar faces and for this 74 minute thriller we get Kim Darby and Jim Hutton as a couple who move into an old mansion that has secrets to hide. Turning up as an elderly carpenter is William Demarest who gives Darby a stern warning to leave the fireplace bricked up in the downstairs office. Sure! Like that’s gonna happen. Evil spirits in the form of troll like creatures with pumpkins for heads turn up and start to wreak havoc on the cast assembled by director John Newland. Newland was mainly a television director and worked on series ranging from Thriller to Star Trek and Fantasy Island.

Although there isn’t anything wrong with this effort I didn’t see it way back in the day so it doesn’t hold the memories of a Trilogy of Terror or The Screaming Woman for me. Then again for Guillermo Del Toro the film obviously meant something to him as he spearheaded the 2011 remake of the same name. There is an abundance of tele films that have all but disappeared but occasionally surface through archive editions or youtube. Seek them out.

As for our cast, Kim Darby cemented her place in the movies by giving John Wayne all he could handle in True Grit and Jim Hutton was a noted leading man for some time before his untimely death in 1979. William Demarest who had been in films for decades was nearing the end but would reunite with Hutton on the latter’s Ellery Queen mystery show in 1975. Go to a book from Fraser A. Sherman for a nice guide on this genre of television films from McFarland Publishing.

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24 Hours to Kill (1965)

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Since his passing last week I have been meaning to dig thru the titles I have starring The Mick. I came upon this flick that paired Mickey Rooney and former Tarzan Lex Barker. Something a little different from a time period where Rooney had aged into a solid character actor.

For this 94 minute euro thriller from producer Harry Alan Towers Rooney stars as a member of pilot Barker’s flight crew who due to a faulty engine have been rerouted to Beirut. From the moment the plane touches down, Rooney is sweating bullets and will be dodging them before long. It seems he has a history with a local smuggling ring led by Walter Slezak. Slezak reminds me a little of Sydney Greenstreet here as he wants a certain shipment returned and isn’t about to let Barker step in his way when it comes to exacting his vengeance on pint sized Mickey.

Overall this is another passable entry in the Rooney canon. Director Peter Bezencenet must have had a heck of a time trying to frame Rooney and Barker when they are on screen together. Rooney’s head appears at the bottom of the frame and Barker must have been slouching trying to keep his head low enough to stay in frame!

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Nice location work here as well during the plane’s stop over as our crew tries to take in the sights while at the same time stay a step ahead of Slezak’s army.

Fans of euro thrillers, Christopher Lee and exploitation cinema should be familiar with producer Towers. He was behind many of Lee’s films including the Fu Manchu series and would be responsible for funding many of Jess Franco’s films over the years. One of this films leading ladies was Maria Rohm who would marry Towers and retire from the acting profession.

Not great but by no means bad. If you have 94 minutes to kill then check out 24 Hours to Kill and appreciate another effort from a Hollywood legend. Alas we don’t have many left.

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