The Guardian (1990)

When this film came out I remember it wasn’t well received by critics at the time. That crossed it off my radar. Here I am years later and enjoying it on my first viewing after coming across a copy of this William Friedkin thriller on DVD.

The opening sequence serves as a prelude to the main thrust of this ninety minute film from Universal. A mysterious nanny runs of into the woods with a newborn baby and at the foot off a rather haunted looking tree appears to offer the child as a sacrifice.

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Moving ahead three months we find a young couple played by Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell moving into a new home where she announces they are to have their first child.

Moving along with the birth they set out to find a nanny. After extensive interviews they settle on a young lady who is promptly killed in a cycling accident. Second choice is the attractive Jenny Seagrove as Camilla. A fitting name if you know the story of Camilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.

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From the outset there is no doubting her intentions, it’s just a matter of how the thrills will be played out for our benefit. To make sure this is a horror film we’re sure to have a few gross out killings that serve as both a scare tactic and a way to pad the movies running time. There’s some effective use of wolves or coyotes if you prefer, I have a hard time telling them apart. They figure prominently in the harrowing scenes involving Seagrove being followed by Brad Hall to her place of worship and his subsequent terror filled night.

When our young couple slowly come around to discovering their nanny isn’t quite the attractive, caring lady they thought her to be the supernatural aspects of the film kick into overdrive. Showing up as a disbelieving police officer is long time character actor Xander Berkeley. It’s up to the babies parents to face down the evil alone in an Evil Dead inspired bloodbath. Not surprising since according to the IMDB site, Sam Raimi was attached to the project at one point. Which prompts me to wonder where Bruce Campbell would have fit in!

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The Guardian seems a little choppy at times but one shouldn’t let that interfere with enjoying a horror film that is far better than many of the torture porn efforts that we are subjected to today in the evolution of the genre that just cause me to turn and walk away.

We all know that Friedkin gave us The Exorcist so there’s no point in comparing it to his previous work in the genre. That wouldn’t be fair. At the same time I found it a whole lot more entertaining than one of his more recent efforts, Killer Joe. I don’t usually push people away from any film but that one heeded a few warnings to friends in my inner circle.

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The Guardian was released by Anchor Bay quite a few years ago when that company was the go to one for some interesting genre releases if your keen on taking a look for the first time or trying to revisit it. .

The Border (1982)

While this film failed to find an audience upon it’s release it’s a solid performance from an understated Jack Nicholson. No hamming it up for the camera as he plays it straight this time out in a film with quite a bit of talent associated with it.

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Trying to keep his nutty wife Valerie Perrine happy we find Jack taking on a border patrol job along the Texas/Mexico line. They’ve taken on a new house next to her sister whose hubby Harvey Keitel gets Jack the job.

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Jack quickly begins to realize the hopelessness of the situation for all concerned. The border patrol arrests many of the same illegal immigrants to the point of knowing their names yet the people trying to sneak in to the U.S. themselves are in a hopeless situation of never realizing their dreams. When Keitel begins to test out Jack for some illegal operations the plot moves forward into the act of human trafficking. Even the commanding officer played by “the Legendary” Warren Oates will soon want to know where Jack stands.

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Running parallel to Jack’s story are the efforts of Elpidia Carrillo and her attempts to continually sneak into the States. It’s her story that will intertwine with Nicholson’s to where he’ll have to make decisions on who to trust and who to take down for criminal activity within the department. When he learns that her baby has been taken with the intention of being sold on the black market he decides to do “one decent thing.”

While I have to admit that the actual finale seems a bit contrived and too hastily put together this is a film that is totally watchable with Jack is fine form here and never winking at the camera. It’s a believable character and one that I like very much. He’s human. He’s tempted by Keitel to cash in  and turn away until he sees just how far Harvey can go in “taking care of business.”

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Carrillo as the woman who Jack wants to see catch a break is also well cast. It’s impossible not to root for her and hope that Jack comes through and reunites her with her child. Carrillo also starred opposite James Woods and delivered a solid performance in the 1986 film Salvador.

Costar Harvey Keitel comes through as we would expect opposite Nicholson and would team up again with Jack in the so-so follow up to Chinatown in 1990 called The Two Jakes. Warren Oates went all the way back to the sixties with Jack when they appeared in The Shooting together made in 1966.

Music for the film was from Ry Cooder who I always associate with Walter Hill’s excellent  The Long Riders. The opening track Across the Borderline is a song I took an instant liking to that is song by Freddie Fender who was a popular voice around our house growing up as he was a constant on the country music charts for a time.

The surprising thing is the movie is directed by British film maker Tony Richardson who spent the majority of his directing years over seas. Not surprising is the fact that Walon Green has his name on the screenplay. He was also credited on Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch which was another film that took place along the Mexico/U.S. border.

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It’s practically impossible not to have a Nicholson favorite and though this isn’t mine it’s a role for Jack that shouldn’t be overlooked. Go out and find a copy to appreciate his fine work  and see one of Warren Oates final film roles.

 

Yes, I Did See That In The Theater………

It’s amazing how many films I seemed to catch on the big screen before I finally decided they cost too much and the home video market slowly kept me house bound.

When I was growing up Jan-Michael Vincent was one of those “cool” actors that most of the kids took a liking to. “Tanner this is Denton! This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. I repeat: KILLER COCKROACHES! ”

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Deemed as a message film, the whole high school I attended sat in on this one. “He was not a loony. He was the sanest man I ever knew in my life. ”

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Once I discovered the cinema of Paul Newman, I was hooked. “I changed my life today, what did you do?”

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This one gets better with every viewing. ” I know, Jerry, that you are as human as the rest of us, if not more so. ”

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Along came the sex comedies. So yes I headed off with the guys for this lame entry of the era.

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With the home video market one could catch the films of a series before heading off to the latest sequel. “Disciples of the Watch; I stand before you; in the name of the one who was cast out from Heaven, but is alive in me.”

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Burt was cool, Field was cute and Jackie had so many quotes that were just downright repeatable. “There’s no way, *no* way that you came from *my* loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I’m gonna do is punch yo mamma in da mouth! ” or how about  “Nobody, and I mean NOBODY makes Sheriff Buford T. Justice look like a possum’s pecker. ”

Ok just one more……”I’m gonna barbeque yo’ ass in molasses!”

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Gorgo (1961)

Until recently, Gorgo was one of those films that I had seen countless stills of in monster magazines and coffee table books dedicated to classic horror films. Thanks to a splendid release from VCI I finally caught up with this King Kong styled film.

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Hollywood had Kong, Japan had Godzilla and England had Gorgo thanks to producers Frank and Maurice King.

When deep sea divers Bill Travers (a dead ringer for Stephen Boyd) and William Sylvester find themselves in a remote fishing village with sunken treasure they get more than they bargained for. A dormant volcano has erupted beneath the sea and given birth to a large predator whom our leading men set out to capture with fame and fortune on their minds.

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With the aid of some large fishing nets from a trawler they capture our title creature and it’s off to London to showcase their prehistoric creature. Local scientists tell them they believe the creature is no more than a baby. Foreshadowing here as London is about to receive one ticked off parent. A much larger Gorgo descends upon the city and it’s time for the amazing F/X of the day from Tom Howard  to take over.

I had no idea what to expect here other than a kiddie picture that I am catching way to late in my life. But my love of giant dinosaur films which includes both Kong and Godzilla now has a new film to hold near and dear. While the beast himself isn’t anything to brag about it’s the overall appeal of the film which caught me by surprise.

We have a cast of talented actors which includes a young Nigel Green and Martin Benson. Splendid photography that adds to the fiery destruction which includes some British landmarks. Big Ben, London Bridge and Piccadilly Square. You have to love the location shots of the monster on a flatbed truck being brought through Piccadilly.

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The film follows the basic outline of it’s predecessors like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms but offers a couple of twists that were new and I imagine unexpected during it’s initial release.

Directing the film was jack of all trades Eugene Lourie who had already helmed The Giant Behemoth in 1959. Gorgo was his final film as a director yet he went on to a successful career as an art director in the sixties on films like Battle of the Bulge and a “B” favorite of mine, A Crack in the World. He had even worked with Chaplin on 1952’s Limelight in the same role.

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F/X man Tom Howard went on to work with Kubrick on 2001 which only serves to reinforce the top talent that was behind the production of this fun and for me far better than expected monster movie I finally can check off on my list of dinosaur’s on a rampage movies to see.

 

Allegheny Uprising (1939)

For the second time in Hollywood’s big year of “39, John Wayne and Claire Trevor were teamed on screen in an outdoor adventure. The first being John Ford’s Stagecoach. This time out it’s from director William A. Seiter.

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This time out Duke looks to be in training to play Davey Crockett at The Alamo. He’s wearing the buckskin and coon skin cap that Crockett was famous for. Like The Alamo, Duke is playing a real life character named James Smith in this release from RKO studios. Smith was a Pennsylvanian frontiersman and the film takes place ten years before the Revolutionary War.

As the film opens Duke and some fellow frontiersman are freed in an exchange between the English and French on the Canadian border. He quickly winds up on the wrong side of the English officer played by George Sanders. Making their way back to their Pennsylvania homes Duke is reunited with Claire Trevor who plays a feisty mountain girl who can’t wait to become an honest woman. Look out Duke!

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There’s little time for romance as cutthroat liar and Indian trader Brian Donlevy is supplying rum and weapons to the local tribes stirring up trouble. Donlevy is under the protection of the British and overseer Sanders. This is sure to lead to violent confrontations throughout the films eighty minute running time.

The lead actors enlisted here are well suited to the roles each has been assigned. Wayne was finally becoming the leading man he was destined for and while this film isn’t one of his more widely remembered from this period it’s a huge step up in scope and budget from the Mesquiteer films he released for Republic following the success of Stagecoach.

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The surprise for me on revisiting this film after many years was the energy displayed by Claire Trevor. She’s full of enthusiasm and is essentially a “Tom Boy” who would like nothing better than to catch her man on one hand while on the other charge into battle right alongside of him. The script makes good use of it’s comedy breaks by having her character as the focus of it’s jokes . Bits where they finally allow her to come on a raid disguised as Indians. Excitedly she’s ready to go till discovering the men are shirtless.

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Then we have two first class villains. Brian Donlevy is so nasty and cowardly in this film I just wanted to reach into my TV screen and wring his neck. Donlevy excelled at these roles during the latter part of the thirties and while he did find other roles in the forties I am not so sure he every really escaped this typecasting.

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Next up we have delicious George Sanders who has the film’s best line during some courtroom theatrics put upon him by the counsel for the defense. “This is decidedly irregular and smelly.” It’s a line that only Sanders can master in his pompous arrogant way. Although the film casts him as a villain, his role as the British officer at odds with Wayne and company is one of rules and honor giving him a degree of humanity serving the actor well.

While the film is somewhat of a letdown during the rousing finale that never shows up(disappointing) it does offer a nice score from credited Anthony Collins and you’ll see a young Chill Wills here alongside Duke. Wills would go on to supply the voice of Francis the Talking Mule and join Wayne for his 1960 big budget The Alamo. According to film history the less said about Wills campaigning for the supporting Oscar on that film the better.

The Kid From Texas (1950)

Audie Murphy’s name became synonymous with the western genre from this film forward.

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It’s Audie’s first oater and second starring role. He had previously headlined Bad Boy opposite Lloyd Nolan the previous year. He went from playing a juvenile delinquent in Nolan’s care to perhaps the west’s most famous delinquent. William Bonney aka Billy the Kid.

The story is told in a compact 78 minutes under the Universal – International banner for which Audie made numerous westerns in the ensuing years ahead. The central part of the story is similar to the other editions of Billy’s life told on screen. He’s a young hothead caught up in the Lincoln County War where a kindly rancher tries to help the young sharpshooter walk a straight and narrow pathway until violence steps in. Violence in the form of William Talman and three other riders under the command of Dennis Hoey. Audie’s not resting until the four men are laying across a saddle.

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Ray Teal and Albert Dekker at first try to get Audie to lay down the guns and accept clemency but when he refuses they turn on him and the wanted posters go up. The militia dispatches Sheriff Pat Garrett to the territory and if you know the story of Billy the Kid then you’ll know the significance that Garrett plays in the outcome of the Kid’s future. Garrett is played this time out by Frank Wilcox in what amounts to a very minor role.

Along for the ride is Will Geer as Audie’s kindly oldtimer/partner in the Walter Brennan mold. He lives day to day with no worries other than looking after his young friend and protecting him from hangmen and back shooters. With Teal, Dekker and Talman in the mix he’s sure to be busy.

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Gale Storm stars here as not so much the leading lady but a woman who while married to the elderly Dekker feels that Audie has a life in front of him away from the violence and killings if he’d only heed her advice. She serves as a conscience to his troubled character as well as a love that he pines for that can never be.

For just his first time out in a western it’s easy to see why he essentially became typed as a cowboy. Murphy is very impressive here in this “B” film and looks at home in the setting of the west. Black hat and leather jacket serve him well as they would in some other western features like Night Passage in 1957. Murphy was always a popular western star around our house growing up since Dad was a big fan thus passing the torch to me when it comes to the real life war hero.

This version of Billy was directed by Kurt Neumann whose most famous film still lay in the future. In 1958 he directed The Fly.

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If you know your character actors then you’ll be sure to recognize the voice that periodically narrates this tale. It’s Parley Baer. While appearing in many features and television shows I recall him from The Andy Griffith Show where he played Mayor Stoner for a couple of seasons. After all Mayberry is where I’d really prefer to live.

While no classic, this version of the kid’s story is a fine example of the studios output during the glory days of western cinema. I’m not so sure there really is a definitive version of the Kid’s story on screen. Paul Newman, Kristofferson, Val Kilmer and many more to check out if you’re so inclined.

Hard Rain (1998)

Star power and good intentions try hard to keep this armored car robbery thriller afloat but ultimately come up short. Still with Morgan Freeman along and the backdrop of a town flooded by a rising river it has it’s moments. For me it comes across as a failed opportunity that harkens back to the forties and the era of the Warner Brothers cycle of gangster films. Think Criss Cross on water. Lancaster vs, Duryea.

The plot moves at a brisk pace with dialogue filler almost as an after thought to explain the jumps in plot and logic. Ed Asner and Christian Slater are armored car drivers who have millions in the back of their truck that has become flooded out and stalled awaiting the national guard to arrive by boat and take the money and our guards to safety.

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Before help arrives Morgan Freeman and his inept gang show up guns blazing to claim the cash. With Asner conveniently out of the way Slater bags the money and hides it from the criminal element. And so the chase begins.

Along the way Slater is going to run into Sheriff Randy Quaid and his deputies who are hanging back to prevent looters from turning up and to try and get nutty Betty White out of her house and to safety. Quaid believes Slater’s story of thieves and goes into action. Slater meantime has an opportunity to connect with his leading lady. It’s Minnie Driver who gets in on plenty of the action throughout. One minute she’s saving Slater from the rising waters only to be the fair damsel in distress the next.

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The film plays like a cross between a modern day non stop action film and old school Noir. It was written by Graham Yost who gave us Speed so the action quotient should be expected. For us Canadians, we all know that Graham’s father was Elwy Yost who championed classic cinema on his weekly television show so perhaps the Noir(ish) plot and night time setting is intentional. There are plenty of double crosses and killings to play themselves out in one night of bloodshed and a dam that can’t hold the waters back.

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The film feels like it’s trying to mix the success of Speed with the Christian Slater character from John Woo’s Broken Arrow. As a matterof fact we even have a church shootout with some birds/doves flying around at one point. A John Woo signature scene.

There’s a bad mixture of comedy in here among the bloodshed with Betty White nagging her elderly husband to the point he finally tells her what we all have been wishing for. The film was directed by Mikael Salomon who is still active today on shows for cable like Coma. Slater as we all know has disappeared from the leading men list of call ups when needed. Instead he’s showing up in nothing roles like Walter Hill’s Bullet in the Head. Too bad as I kind of liked him back in the day.The last I heard of Randy Quaid he’s living in exile in Canda hiding out from “starwhackers” and Morgan Freeman is now a bonafide screen legend of our times.

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This quick moving time waster is easy to find if you’re in the mood. Just wish it was a little better as I love a heist film and the setting for this in a flooded out town is pretty cool.