Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

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Where Yul Brynner leaves off, George Kennedy takes over as the head gunslinger Chris in the third of four films released under the series banner.

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The original is an acknowledged classic while the 3 sequels are minor entries in the western genre. Having said that, this film is a vast improvement on the disappointing Return of the Seven. Where that film had very little plot, this one is coherent and Kennedy adds a strong presence to the men on a mission genre. Coming off an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke allowed him to take leading roles instead of playing bad guys who get theirs when tangling with the likes of the Duke.

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Enlisted to free revolutionist Fernando Rey from a south of the border prison run by sadistic Michael Ansara,  Kennedy rides along with Monte Markam, James Whitmore, Joe Don Baker, Bernie Casey, Scott Thomas and Reni Santoni. The all new Seven.

It’s a by the numbers formula as Kennedy goes about drafting a new seven. Markham is saved from a hanging, Casey is the Jim Brown of the group that was surely inspired by Brown’s role in The Dirty Dozen. Next up is our new knife man James Whitmore subbing for James Coburn. In an early role is Joe Don Baker as a one armed sharpshooter with demons of his own reminding one of Robert Vaughn in the original. Thomas is on life support as a gun hand with TB and Santoni is a Mexican freedom fighter who steps in for Horst Buchholz.

Now that we have our seven recruits, cue Elmer Bernstein’s rousing soundtrack held over from the original film.

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The sadism is up a notch this time with Ansara dishing out torture as he sees fit. With Rey not talking, more will be sure to die by the time Kennedy and company arrive. Once they do, it’s just a matter of time before actions speak louder than words and the fencing between Kennedy and Ansara escalates to gunfire.

The plot points here are very reminiscent of other westerns of the era. Villa Rides and The Wild Bunch spring to mind. I prefer Villa Rides to this film but neither can compete with Peckinpah’s classic. One thing these films do offer us are decent casts. Kennedy turned up in a number of my favorites so having him step in for Yul isn’t so bad and anytime James Whitmore shows up in a film is a pleasure. The same can be said of Baker and Casey.

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And yes, Reni Santoni is indeed Poppi of Seinfeld fame.

The next film in the series run would replace Kennedy with spaghetti specialist Lee Van Cleef for the series swansong in 1972. Of the three sequels I would say this is the best of the lot. That may not be saying much in light of the original but it can make for a decent rainy day viewing.

Dangerous When Wet (1953)

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For this technicolor Esther Williams musical we get our swimming star fending off the advances of the cocky, loud and boisterous Jack Carson only to settle into the arms of Latin lover type Fernando Lamas.

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Williams plays a farm girl this time out living a peaceful life in the country. Her father played by William Demarest is a health nut and leads his family in daily exercise and swims at the local swimming hole. Into their life comes the bigger than life promoter Jack Carson. He represents the drink/medicine Liquapep and after seeing Williams is inspired to enter her into a contest to swim the English channel.

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Once the family arrives overseas Carson tries his best to win over Esther and go about his Don King style of promoting her. Little does he know that Lamas has entered the scene and our singing swimmer has lost her heart to him.

Near the midway point we are treated to cartoon favorites Tom and Jerry turning up here frolicking underwater with Esther while doing a song and dance routine.

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There’s also a fun scene of Lamas buying Esther a rather scandalous bathing suit that plays out to a good laugh for the viewer although Esther pulls the shade on us.

The best musical bit in this Charles Walters directed film would have to be the song and dance number “Ain’t Nature Grand.” What’s nice about musicals from yesteryear is how even the supporting roles get to join in the fun. I had no idea that William Demarest would be joining in song as well as trying his best at being a hoofer. Same goes for Carson. In the studio days, everyone pitched in when called upon.

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Charles Walters specialized in light comedy musical features and would go on to work with Frank, Bing and Grace on High Society as well as the Debbie Reynolds hit The Unsinkable Molly Brown. This is the second feature I have watched from the TCM collection Volume 1 on Esther. The other being Neptune’s Daughter. They both make for an enjoyable viewing with talented performers surrounding Miss Williams.

Of note is the fact that 16 years later our two leads, Williams and Lamas would be married in real life and remain so until Lamas passed in 1982.

Never a Dull Moment (1968)

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Anytime I have the opportunity to see Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens under the direction of Edward G. Robinson tormenting Dick Van Dyke is what I like to call “time well spent”.

That’s just what we get in this release through the Disney organization.

Dick stars here as a bit part actor usually relegated to gangster roles who winds up being mistaken for the real thing. A cold blooded killer that Eddie G. and company have sent for sight unseen. Realizing he’s in over his head, Dick plays along looking for a chance to make a quick exit.

It doesn’t get easy when he meets the gang. Henry Silva would like nothing better than to take over from Van Dyke as the number one killer in the syndicate. Cowboy actor Pickens is “The fastest tommy gun in the west”.

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We also get familiar faces Richard Bakalyan, Tony Bill and the always lovable Mickey Shaughnessy rounding out Robinson’s gang of art thieves.

Silva plays these roles so perfectly and it’s a delight to see him acting tough conveying  a real threat while Dick is doing his best to keep the cold blooded act up when facing off against Henry.

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To see Eddie planning an art heist is fitting for a man who was one of the art world’s great supporters and collectors during his lifetime. There’s a wonderful scene where he reminisces about the early days in the thirties of being a gangster in his prime. The part has most assuredly been designed around his film career and interest in art.

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Complicating things for Dick is the presence of Dorothy Provine, an innocent bystander who becomes aware of the gang’s plot. She is subsequently marked for death. Top that off with the arrival of the real killer that Dick has been mistaken for. None other than Mr. Jack Elam.

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Actor – Director Jerry Paris is the man behind the camera here who puts long time pal Dick through the paces of trying to stay healthy while Silva, Pickens and Elam all take their best shot at our funny man. Paris worked on Van Dyke’s popular sitcom both as actor and director while also doing other series television shows like The Odd Couple.

For fans of the character actors involved here this is an easy film to like. Eddie G. and Dick Van Dyke are an added bonus. Even gangland favorite Anthony Caruso turns up for a fun intro at the films very Batman like credit sequence. I am referring to the Adam West series of the sixties.

Robinson is of course the legendary tough guy here and even in his old age it’s a pleasure to see him snarl at Tony Bill with the line”Keep your hands to yourself or I’ll take ‘em away from yah.”

 

 

Can You Remember the Drive In Experience?

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Looking back I realize that the drive in craze was pretty much coming to an end during my childhood days and I am hard pressed to recall very many trips to the outdoor theaters with the swing sets in front of the giant sized screens.

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I recall my parents talking about sitting in a crazy line up of cars to see a Planet of the Apes sequel with me in tow but I have no recollection of being there for that outing. I can only assume I was sound asleep in a car seat.

The funny thing is we lived close to a local drive in. I can remember driving by it on a regular basis. Now it’s location has been converted to a strip mall with a Toys R Us store. There was another local drive in operation that ran up until about 1990. The only one left in my area today is about an hours drive from my home. I have been to it once as an adult. I took my kids to see the atrocious Rocky and Bullwinkle flick there a few years back.

I believe my earliest memory of actually going to a drive in was to see a double bill. Outlaw Blues and Killer Force. A double Peter Fonda bill. I was of course dragged along by an older crowd of teens. They were probably told they had to take me along. The best thing of the whole night was the fact that I knew the one actor in Killer Force was none other than Dracula himself. Christopher Lee.

During my youth, Jaws hit the screens and I remember driving my parents crazy to see Grizzly. The latest nature flick to feature a hungry animal hunting down us lowly humans on the food chain. I still love this flick.

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And how about sneaking in to the drive in cramped under a bed in the back of an old van with two other under aged kids. Yup, I did that too. The double bill was Death Wish 2 and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. No way we were gonna miss the latest Bronson feature. Me and the other two boys cajoled a good natured hockey coach of ours into driving us down in his old van. We had a great time watching Charlie cut down the latest cast of criminals as well as the famed Zombie vs. shark scene in the Fulci bloodfest.

I also recall wishing I could drive and go more often as they would host all night horror features that included re released Hammer films and other horrors that I wouldn’t see till they finally turned up on VHS at the nearest outlets.

Writing this I do know I went to see Murphy’s Law as I was old enough to borrow Dad’s car and take a lucky girl with me to see the latest Bronson offering. If I remember correctly it played with Tough Guys. That’s a double feature worth paying for!

My favorite drive in story has to do with collecting film posters. When the one local drive in shut down, I pretty much cleaned them out of posters that had been sitting around for the last 20 years. The Godfather, Death Wish, Outlaw Josie Wales, Taxi Driver and so on. That was a good day.

So how about you? Any drive in memories to share?

Fingers at the Window (1942)

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If one joined this movie just after the opening credits came to a close you would probably get the feeling that you were watching a Universal Studios thriller in the vein of the 1941 old dark house film The Black Cat. Perhaps even more so when you realize the star of that film, Basil Rathbone is one of our featured players here as well.

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Surprisingly this nifty little thriller is an MGM production. The studio that has more stars than there are in the heavens. It’s a fast moving black and white thriller that reminded me of The Stranger on the Third Floor.

Lew Ayres is an out of work actor who happens upon Laraine Day late at night as she is returning home. Out of the shadows he sees a man wielding an axe. Not a good sign as there has been an overwhelming number of separate axe murders recently that number 5 in total. Each one has revealed a different killer.

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Ayres takes it upon himself to become Miss Day’s personal bodyguard when a second attacker with an axe is spotted in her hotel. This sets in motion the theory that these are not random killings and Ayres sets out to prove it and win the hand of the fair damsel. After all as Ayres points out “She hasn’t got the brains of a pancake.” So she certainly is going to need him around.

Basil Rathbone takes time off here from his Sherlockian alter ego to play the type of role he first achieved a level of success with. The villain. He has the perfect voice to fit that of an evil hypnotist using poor souls to do his bidding and removing those who know of his past life. It’s up to Ayres to uncover the truth and bring justice to the proceedings.

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Lew Ayres has fun with this role as the actor without a job who uses his various stage roles to go about solving the crime. Had the script been tweaked a bit, this might have made for a successful series back in the cinematic days of The Saint and The Falcon. Ayres was of course already attached to the run of Dr. Kildare films with his leading lady from this title Miss Day.

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It’s always a pleasure to see Laraine Day on screen even if it’s in a modestly budgeted “B” picture.  She was about to graduate from the Dr. Kildare films with Ayres and on to a couple of larger scale films opposite Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.

Rathbone is one of those gifted actors that commands the screen and easily takes your eyes off our young couple when he’s on camera. By the time of this film’s release he was in the middle of his iconic run playing the great Holmes on screen but would still turn up in other titles like this along the way.

Catch this one if you can as it’s what a “B” mystery should be. Fast paced, slick and professionally done with a cast of performers who know how to make the whole viewing experience fun and entertaining.

 

Fathom (1967)

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1967 sure was a great year for films. Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen and Fathom.

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Settle down, I have no intention of arguing that this film can hold a candle to the other titles. Then again none of those other titles can offer the undeniably gorgeous figure of Raquel Welch.

Fathom offers us a failing attempt at the spy/spoof genre. It shoots for a Flint flavored script but doesn’t really come close. Welch stars as a sky diver who is enlisted by Ronald Fraser to help in the recovery of “Firedragon”. He points her in the direction of Anthony Franciosa’s supposed spy for the forces of evil. Nothing is as it seems.

Clive Revill turns up here doing his best to give off a Peter Sellers vibe. It doesn’t work very well but I must admit by the time the fade out is upon us I have gotten used to his clowning.

Miss Welch is lost by the half way point. She has no idea who is on the level and who to trust. The supposed weapon known as the Firedragon turns out to be a lost treasure and it seems she is in the middle of a murderous group of fortune hunters whose treachery knows no bounds.

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The whole film is pretty much a backfire from the outset but lets look for the positives that come out of this 98 minute film from 20th Century Fox.

Raquel looks ravishing in her jump suit. Just ask Anthony Franciosa who has the opportunity to frisk her.

Raquel looks gorgeous in a red dress. At least when she’s in it and not a stuntman with a wig outrunning a bull in the ring.

Raquel’s figure is finely displayed as she goes undercover while pretty much remaining uncovered in a two piece bikini.

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Franciosa is a long way from his run of acclaimed dramatic roles in the late fifties but remained busy throughout the sixties and seventies. I for one have always considered it a positive seeing him turn up in any film.

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Down the crew list as second unit director is Peter Medak. He would go on to direct a couple of personal favorites. The Changeling with George C. Scott and Gary Oldman’s modern Noir, Romeo Is Bleeding.

So other than the chance to gaze at Miss Welch in all her splendor there isn’t much to recommend here. Then again the producers knew that going in. Check out the trailer and it’s very easy to see the marketing campaign for this scenic title filmed partially in Spain.

Eyewitness (1981)

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Despite realizing that this should have been a much better film overall, I find myself drawn to it on occasion. Truthfully it feels like two films trying to find a home under one title.

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It’s hard to argue with a cast that includes William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Plummer sharing above the title billing. Now add in Morgan Freeman and a special billing nod to James Woods and we’ve got a first rate group of actors lined up for director Peter Yates.

Hurt stars as a night shift janitor who stumbles across a murdered executives body in the building where he is employed. His first thought is that James Woods might be responsible as Woods has had a history with the victim. Woods was fired due to his run ins with the victim.

Enter Morgan Freeman and Sigourney Weaver. Freeman is the detective assigned to the case and Weaver is the newswoman covering the murder for local television. Hurt isn’t talking to Freeman but has been infatuated with Weaver’s newswoman persona therefore insinuates that he knows more than he is telling. She takes the bait.

Mr. Plummer is on the scene as Weaver’s well to do betrothed. He seems to be the head of a Jewish rescue operation who may or may not be a slippery character.

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There is a whole lot going on here in this convoluted plot that at times even seems as if it has a Rosemary’s Baby flavor to it when Weaver’s parents are on screen dealing with her as if she were a two year old not to mention their relationship with Plummer.

Once things get settled plot wise you can begin to see where we are headed. It’s all highly unlikely with far too many loose ends. Still, director Yates has a flair for this type of thing and it’s all been filmed quite professionally.

Woods is his neurotic self, Hurt just weird, Plummer is rather suspicious and Weaver must be an airhead to fall for what appears to be a stalker in Hurt. Morgan Freeman is about the only character that comes off as reasonably normal.

Director Yates has had a hot and cold career but will forever be known as the man who filmed Bullitt. He also gave us the Robert Mitchum classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

For me the interest is Woods and Plummer. Woods can eat up the screen under the right role and this is one of his earlier creepy characters. As for Plummer, I`m a fan. It`s a good role for him but somehow it seems like his character belonged in The Marathon Man.

The Black Rose (1950)

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Once again 20th Century Fox casts one of their strongest box office assets, Tyrone Power in an adventure where swords, sandals and jolly old England play a substantial part.

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Essentially Ty is an outcast Saxon in the days when the Norman’s led by King Michael Rennie rule the lands. With a chip on his shoulder due to his inheritance not being what he expects, Ty along with childhood friend Jack Hawkins leave the old country for adventures in the far east. This takes them on a journey that includes stops to meet Herbert Lom, Alfonso Bedoya and having a slave boy assigned to them. Young Robert (Bobby) Blake tags along as our slave boy.

The end result of their travels is winding up in the camp of Orson Welles’ mongol leader. Welles looks like a cross here between Genghis Khan and Charlie Chan. He is a strategist in the game of war. He’s harsh with his enemies and easily hands out death as a discipline. As for Ty, Welles has a huge respect towards our English Saxon who plays war by a code of chivalry as well as gallantry.

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The Black Rose is played by french actress Cecile Aubry. She’s a captured English woman who believes Ty is the man she has been foretold of that will return her safely to England. This creates problems between Hawkins, Ty and what Welles’ conqueror may be capable of if they desert his army of barbarians. Could there be a jealous line between Hawkins and Ty over Aubry? If there is who do you think Aubry is going to wind up with?

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There is plenty of action down the stretch as the plot plays out the way one would expect in an adventure starring one of Hollywood’s famed swordsman. The problems are not so much in the performances as with the script. The film jumps from the Saxons and Normans and how Ty has become estranged  to the far east where Welles plays a central figure. It’s just not done smoothly.

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All the talent is here from the cast which also includes Finlay Currie and a young Laurence Harvey to the men behind the camera. Henry Hathaway directed and Jack Cardiff was the director of photography. All of the people involved here should have added up to a better showing overall. As it is it’s just passable fare.

Hathaway and Ty would do much better with their next effort in 1951. Rawhide. A solid western that plays out in a rugged style. They had also worked together as early as 1940 on Johnny Apollo and Brigham Young. Diplomatic Courier would be there final teaming in ’52.

My Fellow Americans (1996)

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When it comes to comedy, nothing works better than a couple of “old” pros who know the genre. We get just that when Jack Lemmon and James Garner begrudgingly join forces as ex presidents. They’re on the run from political assassins while at the same time looking to expose the current powers in the oval office of some underhanded deeds.

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The film sets itself up quite nicely over the opening scenes as we are taken through a history lesson of Lemmon and Garner going head to head in presidential races with each one besting the other for their 4 year term as the head of the United States. Now that they are out of office, Lemmon will take any paying gig while Garner longs for the days when beautiful women were easier to come by.

I enjoyed this film when it first came out and I found it just as much fun last night. Lemmon was going through his renaissance period with the Walter Matthau comedies and it’s easy to see that the Garner role was intended for Walter here as well. Although it’s hard to say if the film would have been better with another Lemmon – Matthau teaming, that would be unfair to Garner who delivers a fun, mean spirited performance when pointed in Lemmon’s direction. The cheap shots directed at former real life presidents adds to the fun and nostalgia as well.

Between the bickering and insults directed at each other they get to see life on the road and how they are viewed amongst the “little folk” in rural America. This of course makes them realize that perhaps they didn’t do more than they should have while in office. Just enough to get by. It’s this new outlook that propels them forward to duck Everett McGill and his army of hit men to storm the Whitehouse and expose Aykroyd and company.

Rounding out the cast we have Lauren Bacall as Lemmon’s former First Lady as well as one of those character actors I love to champion, Wilford Brimley.

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The recently deceased James Rebhorn turns up in a key role as well that helps to move the plot forward thus setting off our presidential journey.

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Comedy director Peter Segal lets our two pros shine here without getting in their way. The only flaw that is a distraction is a poorly done horse chase where Jack and James are poorly sketched in with an early form of CGI. (CGI, no comment……ah, why not. whatever happened to the days of a real car chases like in The French Connection!)

Segal has done a few of these comedies pitting two antagonists against each other including Anger Management and the recently released Grudge Match.

Fans of Garner and Lemmon should have already checked this out and so should you for a fun night on the couch laughing with friends and a loved one.

 

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