Lee Van Cleef : A Top Gun


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It’s no secret that I have always admired the not so good looking tough guys of cinema. Once the late sixties came around, guys like Lee Van Cleef became household names. There faces were well known from turning up on weekly westerns like Gunsmoke but it wasn’t until Leone put Van Cleef to work that he moved towards the cult icon status.

Much to my delight, Van Cleef turned up in a series of ads when I was discovering his films on late night television while growing up. He teamed with a slew of other well known tough guys and character actors for a set of enjoyable commercials that played up all their images. Take a couple minutes and have a look.

With John Phillip Law and John Quade

With George Kennedy

How about a little Jack Palance?

The always watchable Bo Hopkins along with Robert Tessier.

How about a face off between Lee Van and Henry Silva!

The Third Secret (1964)


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Leaning towards Hitchcock with a dash of Hammer and an arty feel doesn’t help this well cast thriller that in the end plays far to melodramatically.

Stephen Boyd leads the cast of this black and white effort from director Charles Crichton. He’s playing an American news anchor stationed in England. His analyst has committed suicide although it appears rather suspicious. The dead man’s daughter played by Pamela Franklin approaches Boyd to find the truth and bring her fathers’ killer to justice.

third secret (1964)

Boyd himself can’t believe the man killed himself and takes the bait. He comes to the conclusion that the killer has to be a patient like himself. Franklin passes on a list of the people he had been treating as of late.

This takes Boyd on a journey allowing the producers to sprinkle in some top line talent. First up on the list is Richard Attenborough. He’s rather grotesquely made up under a fair bit of make up. It’s not a stretch to seeing him turn up as the killer at the fade out.


Next up is Diane Cilento. She’s a troubled soul who easily finds herself falling into Boyd’s arms. That takes care of the romantic slant for the production.

Our third name on the list and coming off best in the acting department is Jack Hawkins. If there’s a scene in the film that makes it worth catching, this is it. Hawkins is a magistrate who fences with Boyd and is left in a state of disrepair after their confrontation. Given the right material, Jack Hawkins is pure pleasure to watch on screen.

Things kind of go full circle but may not end up where you think. It’s all done reasonably well but is far from special. I hate to pick on Boyd but too much of his performance seems forced and over the top at times while the next minute he appears to be sleep walking. Frankilin is a bit young here and I think could have done with a surer hand guiding her as well.


Keep your eyes on Attenborough’s art gallery assistant. Yes it’s really Judi Dench. Another actor who was a regular face in many a British production turning up here is Nigel Davenport.

For fans of the leading actors, I can’t fault you for checking this out. For others I would suggest sticking with something like Spellbound or even one of Hammer’s psychological thrillers like Paranoiac. There way more fun.


Francis In the Haunted House (1956)


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Here’s a B programmer that spelled the end for the talking mule franchise.


It’s not all that haunting and any talent involved is pretty much wasted. Mickey Rooney steps into Donald O’Connor’s shoes here as the caretaker of Francis. A mule who sounds a whole lot like Chill Wills. The problem this time out is it isn’t Wills at all but a poor attempt at sounding like the well known character actor.


Rooney is targeted here as a fall guy in a series of murders taking place at the local castle that was moved stone by stone from Europe. There isn’t a ghost in sight so I am not so sure where the haunted title comes from. Mickey has his eyes set on beautiful Virginia Welles who has inherited the spooky place.

Hot on his tail is Lieutenant David Janssen. Janssen is making his third appearance in the franchise. Each time out he has been cast in a different role. The series was actually used as a training ground for young actors like Janssen, Piper Laurie and another up and comer named Clint Eastwood among others.


It won’t take you long to see who is really after Welles’ fortune. After all, Paul Cavanagh is her legal guardian. You don’t think that he………nah. I won’t spoil it.

As is the case with most Francis films, there are always a couple of familiar faces. This time we get Richard Deacon as a shady caretaker at the castle who isn’t above wielding a knife in Mickey’s direction. The biggest disappointment might be seeing Timothy Carey turn up in what amounts to a lumbering idiot role. What a waste. Here’s an actor that can be so menacing and when he speaks he just adds to the tension.

Mickey of course knows way too much about the evil doings thanks to Francis filling him in on all the clues. The police of course assume Mickey knows way too much which makes him suspect number one! Under the hot lamp he goes for some intense interrogation.

francis in haunted house

With a little help from our four legged star, Mickey will fumble his way to the finish line of this Universal International production from director Charles Lamont. Lamont was under steady employment for the studio during the fifties. He directed scores of Abbott and Costello titles as well as doing some of the Ma and Pa Kettle films. It’s funny the studio never paired Bud and Lou with the talking mule. Seems like a no brainer.

Overall this has to be considered a let down for all concerned. I have heard it said that Donald O’Connor swore off the series when the mule was getting more fan mail than him. True or not, it’s make for a nice Hollywood legend DonaldOConnor-FrancisTheMule

I feel sorry for Mickey here but it’s no secret that he bummed his way through many a film during his up and down career. This may not be the lowest point but it must have hurt his pride taking up O’Connor’s cast offs.

Best line of the movie…..”I don’t want your head mounted in the castle trophy room.” What makes it funny is that it’s the mule telling this to Mickey as opposed to what you may have expected. After all, “What’s so strange about a talking Jackass?”

Innocent Bystanders (1972)


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Here’s a peek into the rather grim world of espionage and how one is discarded when no longer useful. It’s all been done before but I couldn’t help myself when I realized our head spy with a license to kill is Stanley Baker.

Baker is one of Donald Pleasence’s pawns. A very low key Pleasence is practically playing a game of chess with Dana Andrews. Each is hoping to locate an escaped scientist from the iron curtain. Not only are they trying to stay one step ahead of each other in the game but also trying to prevent the KGB from recapturing him first.


Baker is playing an agent in Donald’s employ. He’s a little older than his counterparts played by ravishing Sue Lloyd and competitor Darren Nesbitt. Nesbitt would like nothing more than to put Baker out of commission. Permanently! Joining Baker in his pursuit is Geraldine Chaplin as a young woman caught up in the game who it seems has a thing for aging spies.


Baker plays it rough and tough here with no hint of a James Bondish influence in his portrayal of an agent who knows his time is closing in fast. Not so much with the soundtrack which sneaks in a very Bondian tune once in a while.

After a run in with Andrews he’s driven to finish the job and at the same time get out from under Pleasence and the “agency”. Do spies ever really retire in the movies to a life of ease and a hefty pension? I’m not so sure. Especially with the skills one acquires of which Baker puts on display throughout the film.

It’s an interesting cast joining Baker here. Pleasence was by this time a very familiar face and would become identified with the Halloween franchise before the end of the decade as Dr. Loomis. Believe it or not his name in this film is one and the same minus the Doctor title.


Dana Andrews was by this point in time well past his prime years but does nicely here having moved into character parts. He’s sufficiently nasty and conniving when the script calls for it.

The film was directed by Peter Collinson who is probably best remembered for 1969’s The Italian Job. He did another espionage based film I go back to every now and then called The Sellout with a couple of favorite actors, Richard Widmark and Oliver Reed.

baker 3

As for Stanley Baker? Truthfully he looks older than his years. He was 42 years of age here and easily looks past 50. That aside he plays the world weary spy who isn’t so sure of himself anymore just fine.

Far from flashy but not to bad due to the actors involved.


Directed By Robert Aldrich : Part 1


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`Next time you draw near me, better`say what your aimin`to shoot at.

Vera Cruz (1954)_04

`I should have thrown you off that cliff back there. I might still do it.

kiss me deadly

`What do you think I asked you here for? COMPANY?


Killin’ generals could get to be a habit with me.

dirty dozen

My road, kid, and I don’t give lessons and I don’t take partners. Your ass don’t ride this train!


How`s this for an old fashioned heavyweight tilt………


Thank you Mr. Aldrich.


Timestalkers (1987)


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Back in the day when movies were made for television this turned up as a feature of the week. While it’s budget is on the low end and it’s special effects leave something to be desired there is much to enjoy here.

First off it’s about time travel and that alone causes interest. Most of us enjoy the fantasy and what ifs of traveling across time. Turning up in the leading role is an actor I have always taken a shine to. William Devane. This probably stems from my love of one of the seventies great revenge flicks where he played the lead, Rolling Thunder.


The last thing that clinches the deal for me is our villain. It’s the legendary Klaus Kinski. It’s impossible not to be drawn into a film where Kinski is involved. Sure he’s made a lot of lesser films over the years but his persona on screen is dynamite. Especially when he’s not dubbed by another voice as is so often the case.


The hook to capture our interest is a good one. Devane stars as a university professor who has a love of the old west and it’s history. At an auction he buys a trunk full of artifacts including an old photograph of 3 dead men propped up in coffins for their final photo. The picture dates to 1886 and it’s an original. The problem is that the man in the corner of the picture is brandishing a firearm. It’s not an old colt but a .357 Magnum. That’s impossible unless we have “a mystery in history” as Devane calls it. The man in the picture is of course Mr. Kinski.

Before he knows it, Devane is pulled into the mystery by another time traveler. The beautiful Lauren Hutton. She is tracking Kinski and the trail leads her to Devane and another western historian played by Forrest Tucker in his final role.

Timestalkers 14

The film jumps back and forth from the wild west to Devane’s era as well as a jump to 2586 where we see the cause of Kinski’s fleeing through time. If you are like me and love to see Kinski throw a tantrum, not to worry as he loses his cool arguing over the time machine with fellow scientist John Considine. For the real thing, check Kinski losing his cool on set with Werner Herzog while filming Fitzcarraldo.

Character actor Tracey Walter turns up here as one of Kinski’s victims in the old west. Walter seems to turn up in practically every fifth film made over the last thirty odd years.

Tracey Walter

I found this one on youtube if you are so inclined. It’s family friendly and one could do worse. Fans of Devane and Kinski should be thankful.

The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)


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Columbia studios takes another shot at the screwball comedy here with a tip of the hat towards a battle of the sexes script featuring stars of the day Loretta Young and Ray Milland.

doctor takes wife

Loretta is cast here as a successful author who is a hero to women everywhere with her latest book that inspires women to become more independent and to quit being subservient to men.

Ray on the other hand is a professor of psychiatry who has his thoughts on where women belong and their proper place in a relationship. Hijinks prevail leading the press to believe that the opinionated Young has gotten herself married. This is news! They’ve named Milland as her new husband. This doesn’t sit well with Ray or his fiance played by Gail Patrick.


There’s plenty of gags that ensue as Ray and Loretta play married couple in order to maintain a proper place in society till they can arrange a quickie divorce for a marriage that never happened in the first place. Turning up as Milland’s proud father is scene stealer Edmund Gwenn. He let’s Ray know that he never liked his intended bride Patrick but is ecstatic with Loretta.

It’s not going to take a genius to figure out how this is going to end but isn’t that the fun with screwball comedies? To see where the hijinks take us to the inevitable fade out?

Columbia studios and Harry Cohn were responsible for a number of these comedies including the classic Oscar winner It Happened One Night in 1934. While this film can’t compete it does make for passable entertainment with both our leads doing their best to entertain us. Young turns on the waterworks when needed with her large expressive eyes and Ray does his best to keep two women happy while holding on to the charade and keep his sanity.


The film was directed by Alexander Hall and scripted by George Seaton. Seaton himself would turn to directing and was behind the camera for a Christmas classic. The 1947 film Miracle on 47th Street which reunited him with Edmund Gwenn in his Oscar winning role.


Three Stooges fans will note the trio’s long time nemesis Vernon Dent in an unbilled cameo as a man waiting outside a phone booth where Milland is trying to win back Patrick after she discovers the supposed marriage of Milland and Young via the newspapers.


While this is no classic it’s nice to remember that Ray could play light comedy in his pre-oscar days and before he turned to miserable old men in his later roles.

The Bamboo Prison (1954)


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Perhaps this film played much better during the McCarthy communism witch hunts. Then again I’d like to think the general public wasn’t quite this naive as Harry Cohn’s studio would have us believe.


Our film takes place in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean war. Brian Keith and a group of soldiers are new arrivals in a camp overseen by Richard Loo and Keye Luke. Already stationed there is Robert Francis who is seen by fellow inmates as a collaborator with the enemy. He’s turning “red”.

This doesn’t sit well with perennial tough guy Leo Gordon who would like nothing better than to put a knife into Francis for the good of all. Could it be that Francis isn’t a communist sympathizer after all? Brian Keith just might provide the answer to that question.


E.G. Marshall turns up here as the camps Catholic priest who does his best to help the men through their ordeals and tortures at the hands of the evil Loo. Richard Loo was a very well known face during the war years and was frequently cast as the enemy during the forties and fifties military films.


How about a little romance thrown into this rather ridiculous film. Stunning Dianne Foster turns up as the wife of a Russian agent who enters into an affair with Francis. All this after he has become a camp trustee we can call Comrade.

This film loves to teach us the evils of communism to the extent that from our vantage point of looking back this is just laughable. Lines like “Those stinking brain washers” ring out when Keye Luke holds his daily class attempting to sway Keith and company to their cause. Best of all is when actor Earl Hyman let’s Loo know that “I’ve decided I’d much rather be black then red.” Maybe you had to live through it to completely appreciate it.

bamboo 2

Either way a film like this has to be insulting to the men who served or worse yet, we’re actually prisoners of war. Everybody seems so happy in between their griping about the “commies”. We even have a makeshift band playing an up tempo number. Perhaps Columbia studios was hoping for a poor man’s Stalag 17. Unfortunetly director Lewis Seiler is no Billy Wilder.

Films like these have to be viewed as a time capsule of sorts and I suspect might actually be quite enjoyable for the wrong reasons if viewed with a group of people who find it as campy and unbelievable as I did.

For the record, there are some solid actors in here from our enemies Loo and Luke to an actor I feel never quite got the credit he sometimes deserved in Brian Keith.


E.G. Marshall of course became a familiar face on both television and film and what’s a western without nasty Leo Gordon riding the hero till his eventual undoing?


Singapore (1947)


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“It was five long years since I’d been here but nothing was changed. From every corner memories came back to me. Things I’d hoped I’d forgotten.”

So says Fred MacMurray’s narration as he arrives by plane in the film’s title locale, Singapore.

Don’t you just love these voice overs in the theater of Noir?

This Universal International production jumps right into a flashback to set the course of the present. It seems Fred was in Singapore at the outbreak of the Japanese invasion during WW2. He’s met the most beautiful woman in the world in Ava Gardner. They embark on a whirlwind romance that is about to lead to marriage when the bombs begin to fall from the sky.

Singapore (1947

The war really complicates matters for Fred’s plans. Not only is he in love but he has a stash of pearls in his hotel room that he intends to smuggle out of the country under the nose of customs watchdog Richard Haydn. The battle zone has cut him off from his hotel and to make matters worse he believes Gardner has been killed during an air strike.

This pretty much brings us back to the present. Fred has returned following the war to retrieve the hidden pearls. Shady Thomas Gomez wants in on the action and Hadyn easily sees through MacMurray’s plans. Now the shocker. Ava is alive and well.

The problem for Fred is that she is an amnesiac. She has no recollection of their passionate affair or the hidden pearls. To top that off, she is now married under a new identity. Our script from Seton I. Miller has given Fred plenty of obstacles to overcome.


By the time of this film, director John Brahm was coming off two outstanding films with The Lodger and Hangover Square but this time the script slowly deteriorates letting both him and us down. With a tweak here and a slight change there, this may have turned into a memorable addition to the Noir genre. It has the right ingredients of both MacMurray and Gardner to get us there but ultimately comes up short due to a tacked on ending that is more or less laughable. Too bad. For a better slice of far off locales and Noir you’re better off watching Macao or how about Ava opposite…….yup Charlton Heston. Cameo time.

Les 55 jours de P├ękin



Defiance (1980)


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If I didn’t know better I would have thought I had just watched Death Wish 3.


Jan-Michael Vincent stars in this rather tame vigilante film from director John Flynn. Tame that is when compared to the above mentioned Death Wish franchise.

Vincent arrives in New York city by way of ship. He’s a sailor waiting for his next job assignment from company man Joseph Campanella. In the meantime he moves into a neighborhood overrun by a gang of thugs led by a very effective Rudy Ramos. Ramos has the citizens so terrified they don’t dare name names to the police for fear of retribution.

Among the locals we have some well known faces including Danny Aiello, Art Carney and our love interest, Theresa Saldana. Vincent continues to turn a blind eye to the criminal proceedings which even includes a beating he receives from the Ramos gang. He just wants to grab a ship and get out of town.


Vincent changes his stance when Lenny Montana aka Luca Brasi from The Godfather is found murdered. He doesn’t need a detective to tell him who committed the crime. No Luca’s not sleeping with the fishes this time out but rather lying with the garbage.

From here the film becomes a question of bravery. Who is going to stand alongside our young crime fighter besides Danny Aiello. Like Death Wish 3, maybe the neighborhood can band together and create an army to put down the Ramos gang minus the overwhelming gun play of Michael Winner’s excessive third film in the Bronson series.

I picked this one up on VHS tape and finally got around to watching it. While the vigilante film has never really gone out of style in one form or another, it was definitely in it’s peak years from 1974 through about 1985. Vincent had actually starred in a 1976 film titled Vigilante Force prior to this. Fighting Back was another similarly themed film from 1982 with Tom Skerritt who even looks somewhat like Charles Bronson.

Art Carney turns up here as the kindly shop keeper while Aiello is the married man trying to raise his family and keep the streets safe. Nice role here for Saldana who I have only seen in Raging Bull and The Evil That Men Do which is once again a variation on the vigilante theme with the master of the genre himself.


The director John Flynn has had some hits and misses over the course of his career but is responsible for giving us the dynamic revenge/vigilante flick Rolling Thunder. He also directed a film I like to mention titled Best Seller in 1987 starring Brian Dennehy and James Woods.

As for Defiance, it’s nice to see Jan-Michael Vincent from his early days before his career went spiraling off the track. Growing up he was an actor I kept my eye on due to his film roles opposite some heavy hitters like Bronson and Mitchum. Now if I can just pick up a copy of White Line Fever. Haven’t seen it in years.


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