The Thrill of Ben Gardner’s Boat

When it comes to movie memories, I love to reminisce. When your a kid you see the ads on television for the new movies playing at the local theaters and just hope that someday you’ll get a chance to see them. I freely admit I am old enough to recall the days of having to wait a few years to see the network debut of these films as the VHS craze was still in the not to distant future.

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Jaws was THE movie every little boy was talking of. Our imaginations were running wild about the movie with the Great White shark that was wreaking havoc on the swimmers and a little boy on a rubber raft. Scenes would filter down to us from listening in to the “older folks” that had gone to see it.

If my timeline is correct my parents had gone to see the film on it’s first run and I wasn’t allowed to tag along. Not sure but I believe my older sister had already seen it as well by the time I got my chance. As usual the older siblings always beat us little ones to the real cool looking movies we longed to see.

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When my day finally came I think the film was in re-release and I might have been about 8 years old. Like many of my fondest memories of seeing a film for the first time it was with my Father. I recall seeing Frankenstein with him on a late show and watching The Dirty Dozen for the first time. The main reason I think he finally took me to see the film was probably my badgering him coupled with my older sister having some girls get together in the upstairs apartment we rented in those days.

Looking back I don’t honestly remember much about the night itself and my first viewing of a film that REALLY is in my top ten favorites if I had to narrow the field. What I recall vividly is the scene when Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss come across the abandoned chewed up boat of the missing Ben Gardner. The scene is claustrophobic and Dreyfuss is going to descend to the murky depths. Scheider doesn’t want him to go and neither do I. My Father who has already seen the film knows what’s coming and while I don’t really know if it’s by design he announces to me that he’s going for a smoke. Off he goes to leave me in a wide eyed state of dread. Assuming you have seen the film you’ll know what happens when the Dreyfuss character starts examining the ships haul below. For a kid who might have been about 8 it’s a shocker!

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Over my shoulder I begin to look for my Father and there he is standing at the back of the theater where one would go to take a puff in those days and let the smoke drift up so that we could all see it in the projector’s light. I am quite sure he got one heck of a kick watching my reaction from afar.

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Years later I pulled the same stunt on my own son when he sat down to watch it with me on DVD. He was probably about the same age as I had been and as the scene approached I excused myself and went off to the kitchen. From there I gazed at him hidden behind a flower pot to see his reaction and sure enough he jumped just as I did years ago only he was all bundled up on the couch.

It’s these type of moments that help fuel my passion for films and sharing them with my own sons. I am sure we all have our favorite memories from childhood that stay with us. Might be a film or the story behind seeing it for the first time.

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Jaws has always stayed with me and just about a year ago when it was re-released nationally for a limited run my sons and I headed right down to the local cinema to experience it like it was meant to be. On a full sized theater screen. We loved it all over again from the terror to the adventure. Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis story which to me like many others is the films highlight and the line, “That’s some bad hat, Harry” which I love to say when I see someone wearing one that seems a little “off”.

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Any fond memories to share of those earliest cinema experiences or this classic itself?

 

 

 

 

 

Red Skies of Montana (1952)

A solid cast of male stars dominate this 20th Century Fox film with Richard Widmark leading the way.

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The plot line concerns Forest Rangers and the men who stop the fires that Mother Nature sets when dry season and lightning mix. Widmark opens the film as he and a group under his command parachute in to clear a breaker on an out of control fire deep in the Montana bush. Along for the ride is aging Joe Sawyer who happens to have a son back at the base played by Jeffrey Hunter. When the winds cause the fire to flank the men the group are M.I.A.

Head Ranger Richard Boone flies in to the charred remains of the gutted area and to his sadness begins to find remains of the platoon. Shockingly there is one survivor. You got it! Richard Widmark. Problem is he can’t seem to piece together how he’s still alive and the others are not. This doesn’t sit well back at the base where Hunter is positive that Widmark is hiding the truth and somehow ran out on his men leaving Sawyer to die an agonizing death.

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After some R & R, Boone puts Widmark back on active duty which will of course result in a fiery ending. Literally. Widmark and a platoon including Gregory Walcott and Warren Stevens find themselves battling a raging fire. Soon enough Boone sends in some reinforcements including Hunter which will set off more fireworks than the trees themselves.

Widmark finds himself under attack when the going gets rough and the men get jumpy. This could be his chance to redeem his good character in the eyes of his platoon and allow him to unlock the mystery of the films opening tragedy. It seems the flames are about to flank his group once again.

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In case your thinking it, that is indeed an unbilled Charles Bronson putting a wounded Hunter on his back during the fiery climax.

There is a thankless role here for Constance Smith as Widmark’s wife who knits and worries every time he’s called to duty. After all a leading man of Widmark’s stature needs a leading lady.

Richard Widmark was on a good run here of heroic roles as he continued to shake his debut performance in Kiss of Death. Something film history has never really allowed him to do. Hunter had already appeared with Widmark in The Frogmen and would clock in some solid films throughout the  decade including the classic Ford film The Searchers.

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Joesph M. Newman directed the film and like Widmark was on a roll in the early fifties. He worked with various leading men of the day including Ty Power on Pony Soldier. He also was behind the camera for the memorable sci-fi film This Island Earth.

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Long time character actor Joe Sawyer who plays Hunter’s dad was originally born about forty kms from where I am sitting. In Guelph Ontario. Sawyer is one of those “faces”.  He appeared in countless films from The Petrified Forest to The Killing and dozens of titles in between.

This was a film I recall seeing as a kid with my parents growing up. Nice to see it’s out as a MOD title from 20th Century Cinema Archives.

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Mistress (1992)

From Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions comes this satirical comedy from actor, director, writer Barry Primus.

Robert Wuhl stars as a forgotten film maker who is in his forties when producer Martin Landau gives him a call about a long forgotten script, The Darkness and the Light. From here with a renewed dream in Hollywood the duo along with a young unproven script doctor played by Jace Alexander go about finding backers for the film’s production.

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The script in question is a rather downbeat story of a painter who will not sacrifice his visions for the popular vote and monetary success. Surely this is what Wuhl himself is about to experience as he begins to meet the money men. Each one of them happens to have their own ideas and a mistress who would make one heck of a leading lady.

First up is Eli Wallach who has a young bimbo blonde as his flame. Wallach gets to chew up the trio in a greasy diner. Scenes like this are why I never pass up an Eli performance.

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Then we come to Danny Aiello. An ex Vietnam vet with money. He wants a cheerful film. Not one that apparently will end in the suicide of the painter. Naturally he has a flame that is a recovering alcoholic hoping to get into the picture business.

Our last backer is none other than Robert De Niro himself. He carries a bit of his gangland roles to this one. He’s in it for the money and demands crucial changes to the script as he won’t back some art film that dies a quick death on opening weekend. It’s his way with more “sex and titillation.” His mistress played by Sheryl Lee Ralph is actually acceptable to Wuhl. Problem is she’s a demanding b–ch. Behind De Niro’s back she’s having sex with Aiello and tells Wuhl aggressively, “That’s right. I’m f-ing both you’re investors. So don’t f–k with me!”

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Wuhl is very quickly realizing that his vision is about to be twisted in any number of ways between his backers, their women and his partners. As Landau tells him, “They’re only making this picture to put their girlfriends in it.”

It’s Martin Landau that comes off best in this film as a producer who will do or say anything to stroke the money men and get Wuhl to agree and go along with the flow. He’s past his prime and just wants one more shot at the big time. Landau alone makes this rather rare title worth seeking out.

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The film itself loses it’s way down the stretch with some forced comedy that left me a little cold but the final scene of Wuhl being lured to chase his dream once more is rewarding.

Any film with a cast list like this is always worth a viewing and we even get a couple cameos from Ernest Borgnine and Christopher Walken. Added up, you get a list of heavy hitters in this look at the sacrifices made getting a script bought.

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Fury at Furnace Creek (1948)

One year after the Noir classic Kiss of Death, Victor Mature re-teamed with Coleen Gray in this enjoyable black and white western from 20th Century Fox.

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The film starts with the massacre of an army fort when a band of Indians led by a vicious looking Jay Silverheels ride in under the guise of a wagon train. From here the film jumps to a court martial involving the General who is believed to have made a tactical error resulting in the attack. The General dies in the court room. Most everyone believes he was involved with some underhanded dealings with a load of silver to be mined on the Indian reservation. The attack results in the Indians being relocated and Albert Dekker moving in and becoming a rich man in the silver business.

Clearing the General’s name falls upon his two sons. One a military man played by Glenn Langan and the other a family outcast, gambler and gunfighter played by our leading man, Victor Mature. Both arrive separately under assumed identities with no intention of reuniting as brothers.

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Langan wants nothing to do with Mature while Mature wants Langan out of town as he believes he is closing in on the truth. The key to the mystery is Reginald Gardiner who was the officer in charge of the wagon train before it was overtaken by Silverheels.

Mature has quietly become one of Dekker’s leading gunman after out shooting Fred Clark. It’s Dekker that wants Mature to take out Langan. He’s unaware that they are actually brothers. He only knows that Langan is here to dig into his silver operation. Can you guess who set up the General?

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In between punches and gunplay, Victor takes a little time to romance Gray. When she realizes just who he is and a gunslinger as well the romance takes a turn for the worse. Hopefully when the outlaws are buried and Mature exonerated she’ll come around.

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This mystery western was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Bruce had directed Mature in I Wake Up Screaming after doing some of the early Charlie Chan’s with Warner Oland. From here he’d move into musicals and Gordon Scott Tarzan films.

For fans of the atomic age, Glenn Langan would eventually become The Amazing Colossal Man in 1957.

Beautiful Coleen Gray was in a both Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley prior to this effort and would also appear in Red River this same year. A pretty impressive list of titles for a relative newcomer.

Like Gregory Peck says while narrating the trailer, “No theater goer should miss it.”

Anthony Quinn Poster Gallery

Quinn’s passion always seemed to come shining through.

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The first starring role in 1947 opposite his then wife Katherine DeMille.

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Always at home in the western.

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As the Mountain.

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The bizarre side of Quinn?

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Caught up in a dramatic WW2 saga.

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Making spaghetti with Franco.

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One last epic opposite Ollie.

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Always a pleasure to see Quinn do his thing. But to hear him?

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An Eye For An Eye (1981)

In the years before Chuck Norris had his beard surgically implanted and moved his butt kicking operation over to Cannon he starred in a number of films with threatening titles. It’s been a while since I revisited a Norris flick so what better way to do so then pick one with Richard Roundtree, Matt Clark,  the always enjoyable Mako and the legendary Sir Christopher Lee.

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Chuck is a San Francisco cop whose partner Terry Kiser gets killed when the two are set up. From there Kiser’s girlfriend and daughter of Mako played by Rosalind Chao is strangled to death. Turns out she had some vital information she was hoping to get to Norris before her savage demise.

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Norris and superior Roundtree don’t agree with Chuck’s tactics and he’s off the force. This will of course allow him to work on the case outside of the law with his mentor and teacher Mako. There’s practically an army of assassins awaiting the duo around every corner. What our duo are really trying to find is an overly large killer in the form of Professor Toru Tanaka. This guy is huge and I was surprised his name wasn’t Oddjob.

Naturally there is a master criminal behind a narcotics ring who rules it all from a desk and a false front. I’m not saying who it is but we do have an actor in the cast who just might be the screen’s greatest villain. Once again I’m not playing spoiler here.

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Before the film ends the body count will be outrageous and it’s not entirely due to leaping back kicks from The Chuckster. Roundtree leads an army of police into battle that shoots anything in sight. You’d swear they were landing on Guadalcanal.

This one is directed by Steve Carver who also gave us what is probably the most enjoyable Norris flick. Lone Wolf McQuade.

This was made during Lee’s self imposed break with Hammer and horror films in general. He appeared in a wide variety of films during the late seventies and early eighties. Airport 77, Serial, 1941 to name a few.

As for Chuck, he delivers the fighting goods but falls flat when trying to emote and even sneaks in a love scene. With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, see Lone Wolf McQuade for perhaps the sexiest love scene ever filmed between Chuck and the incredibly hot Barbara Carrera.

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In case you are not familiar with the actor Terry Kiser who plays Chuck’s partner, he played the funniest corpse on film in Weekend at Bernies.

In closing I’ll let Mako have the final line. “I tried to question him…… he preferred to expire.”

Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone (1950)

Every now and then casting directors strike gold. When you take two of cinema’s best character players and put them in the leading roles of a fast moving murder mystery with a slant towards comedy, we the viewers get a winning formula.

How about Marjorie Main and James Whitmore.

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The film starts much like a Ma and Pa Kettle film. Main is living in Proudfoot Montana and wins a radio contest from New York. She names the tune “Possum up a Gumstump.” This nets her 50K and a trip to the Big Apple. As for Whitmore, he’s a lawyer who goes where the money is. Chases women at the drop of a hat which includes his secretary Phyllis Kirk and has been on a bender while his debtors are hunting him down to collect on the bad checks and IOU’s he’s passed around.

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With Main passing through Chicago enroute to New York they cross paths in a swank nightclub where Whitmore is supposed to collect ten grand from a recent parolee. It seems that Douglas Fowley may have 100 grand stashed away that he has done time for and everybody wants a cut of it. Whitmore wants his retainer, Ann Dvorak wants alimony from her ex Fowley and Detective Fred Clark wants the whole stash returned to it’s rightful owner. The bank.

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It turns out that Main is a avid reader of the magazine Foremost Detective Stories and recognizes Whitmore as a contributor to the tales of murder and detection. She’s even more excited when he winds up on her train heading to New York. It turns out everyone catches a ride on this train. It seems Fowley has jumped parole and is heading to the coast. Along for the ride are our aforementioned group as well as the woman Fowley is planning to run away with, Dorothy Malone. It seems they have the cash and it’s her hubby they stole it from.

No one on the train can seem to find Fowley and when Main and Whitmore call it a night and head for their berths they finally locate him. He’s in Main’s room with a knife in his back! Now the fun really begins as our two unlikely sleuths decide to move the body only to find it’s returned with another murder victim for good measure. It’s all going to wind up with a madcap chase with Main and Whitmore joined at the wrists. In handcuffs.

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At a running time of 69 minutes this programmer from MGM is time well spent. It’s not often we can see a couple of supporting pros take the lead and yet be joined by a variety of other well known faces.

James Whitmore really does have that dog faced Spencer Tracy look about him. I love it when secretary Kirk points out he wears a 25 dollar suit with a forty dollar tie.

Marjorie Main will always be Ma Kettle for me and even as I write this I keep wanting to refer to her as Ma. Truly one of the great character actresses to grace the screen. She even treats us to a stage number in this one.

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Norman Taurog directed this title. Here’s a fellow who gave us everything from Tracy in Boys Town and it’s sequel to winding down his career working on nine Elvis films.

The next time this one turns up on TCM set the time aside to enjoy it.