Crossed Swords (1977) Oliver Reed Fest Day 3.

If ever a film springs to life when Oliver Reed is on the screen it just might be this Richard Fleischer directed version of The Prince and the Pauper. For despite having a cast of top flight actors, it comes off somewhat flat when Ollie isn’t wielding a sword or barking at our supposed pauper Mark Lester. Then there is the dueling with the likes of baddies Ernest Borgnine and David Hemmings that puts Ollie right in his element calling to mind his previous successes with the Musketeer films.

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The Mark Twain story had been previously done with Errol Flynn in 1937 and this time out Reed is reunited with his Oliver! costar Mark Lester in the dual role. From the outset the plot is set with our Pauper a thief and the son of nasty Borgnine. Our other Lester is the heir to the throne and with Charlton Heston’s King Henry nearing his death it won’t be long before a new King is crowned. When our two Lester’s cross paths they switch places so that the true heir can go to a masquerade ball as a filthy pauper. It backfires and kindly member of the court Rex Harrison has him escorted and gently removed from the palace.

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Enter Oliver Reed as a guardian to the young street urchin who claims to be the true Prince and soon to be King. Reed thinks the boy a lunatic but refuses to let any harm come to him. Their adventures take them from crossing paths with Borgnine who wrongly claims the royal Lester as his own to George C. Scott who commands a group of poor derelicts in the bowels of the city.

When Heston dies the real Prince demands he be taken back to London to stop the “other Lester” from being mistakenly crowned. This leads to learning of Reed’s past and the wrongs done to him by his evil brother Hemmings and his longing for his lost love Raquel Welch. In fact Reed’s plight comes to mirror that of the displaced Prince.

Can they get to the coronation in time and stop Harry Andrews from placing the crown on the wrong Lester?

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With all the talent both on screen and off it’s Reed that breathes life into this often told tale. The film tries hard to duplicate the feel of the Richard Lester Musketeer films which featured not only Reed but Heston and Welch as well. Truly it doesn’t come close. Hard to swallow when you look at not only Fleischer directing but Jack Cardiff as the photographer and the script from George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser had also done the Musketeer scripts and the Flashman novels that resulted in the hilarious tongue and cheek Royal Flash that had also featured Ollie.

Borgnine, Scott and Heston had all worked prior to this swashbuckler with director Fleischer and Borgnine points out in his autobiography he’d have done anything for the director. He had already worked on both Barabbas and The Vikings with Fleischer.

Reed’s the whole show here but don’t expect too much from him in the first hour as it’s the last half of the film where his character takes over. Lastly it should be pointed out that when it comes to a “puffy shirt”, Jerry Seinfeld has got nothing on Oliver Reed.

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Please head over to Speakeasy where Kristina is joining me and featuring a rare “winner” of a comedy from the Reed catalogue in one of his collaborations with director Michael Winner.

Sitting Target (1972) Oliver Reed Fest Day 2

This so so gangland flick gives us something of a “what if.” To see Oliver Reed as a modern gangster in seventies London is a perfect bit of casting. He’s vengeful and dangerous to those around him as he seeks his justice. The “what if” comes from wishing the film was more memorable. Can you imagine him taking on a character like Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday? Looking back it’s too bad Reed never received a call to play a British gangster in the quality of the Bob Hoskins classic.

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With gangland thug Reed doing a fifteen year stretch for murder he’s told by wife Jill St. John that she won’t be back. She’s divorcing him and has a new man in her life. Topping that she’s also pregnant. Ollie promptly puts his hand through the glass pane separating them as his temper overtakes him. He swears he’ll get out and kill both her and her lover. So sets the stage for this violent Douglas Hickox directed film released through MGM studios.

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Reed teams with fellow inmates and syndicate men Ian McShane and Freddie Jones to stage a daring escape from their prison home. It’s well executed and has a couple harrowing clips as they encounter dogs and swinging ropes.

Once over the wall Reed and McShane go their own way allowing the screenwriter to omit Jones from the balance of the film. First up is Reed getting his hands on a high powered gun to take out the former love of his life.

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Assigned to the case of putting our thugs back behind bars is Edward Woodward. He’s sticking to Jill St. John as he awaits the inevitable force of Reed. On the first encounter things don’t quite go Ollie’s way and he’s off with McShane to get monies owed to him from fellow Musketeer Frank Finlay. This gives the producers the opportunity to squeeze in attractive Jill Townsend as Frank’s mistress. It also allows McShane’s slimy mobster an opportunity to take what he wants.

Reed’s run of bad luck continues when the Finlay episode concludes but with some choppy story telling both he and McShane are off to do one last deed before they flee the country. Reed has to kill St. John and her lover. Let’s just say Ollie’s character is mostly brawn with little brains. You’ll have to tune in to figure it all out.

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Director Hickox had a short run of films in the seventies that are worth noting. Brannigan, Zulu Dawn and the must see Vincent Price black comedy Theater of Blood. Serving as editor was John Glen who would go from the editing room on to becoming a director of Bond films including Octopussy and The Living Daylights.

Aside from Reed there is a solid cast here with Bond girl Jill St. John and Ian McShane who still commands respect on screen to this day. Both Finlay and Freddie Jones are character actors that add a little extra something to the films we’ve encountered them in over the years. So it’s a plus having them here brief as it might be. Then there is Woodward who would very soon have a date with The Wickerman.

While McShane smiles his way through Sitting Target it’s Reed whose presence commands your attention whenever he’s on screen. From the opening shots in his cell to the very last at the fadeout. It should also be noted that the infamous scars on Reed’s face suit the gangland character he’s bringing to us in this forceful portrait of a vengeful mobster.

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While no classic or Get Carter it’s still Reed in an intimidating role that he was so good at. This one is out there through the Warner Archive line and therefore has found a spot on my shelf.

The Brood (1979) Oliver Reed Fest. Day 1

David Cronenberg meets the ferocious whispering of Oliver Reed.

To start my mini fest of Oliver Reed films I thought it best to start with a film he made right here in my native homeland. It was produced in the Toronto area of Canada with one of our countries most acclaimed film makers.

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Ollie stars here as a rather self serving psychiatrist of sorts who is dabbling in what is termed as psycho plasmics. He is utilizing people with severe mental hangups for his own gain in developing and proving his theories. When talking to his patients he takes on the being of those that have brought issues and conflicts into his patients past. It could be an abusive Father or lost lover. The results are that the patients experience physical defects of some sort as their distress or anger comes forward emotionally. Hence the book “The Shape of Rage” which is prominently displayed throughout the film.

In his care is Samantha Eggar who is married to Art Hindle. They have a small daughter and are separated while she lives at a retreat in Oliver’s care. While there we begin to learn that she had a tormented childhood with an abusive Mother and an alcoholic Father who turned a blind eye to the beatings. While these “therapy” sessions are going on both her parents are brutally murdered by  a small disfigured childlike creature.

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The police are not sure what to make of it and hubby Art Hindle believes that Reed is no good and hiding something. He then begins to seek out past patients and doesn’t like what he finds. When another bloody slaying takes place, Hindle is convinced that Eggar and Reed are somehow connected. To make matters worse his daughter has been abducted by two of these strange beings.

Following his instincts he heads right to Reed’s clinic where he confronts the good doctor. Oliver seems distressed himself and we the audience along with Hindle are about to discover why Eggar is Ollie’s star pupil. It’s all headed towards a gross out finale with a terrifying scene involving the little girl that Reed and Hindle are trying to save.

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While I have never been a huge fan of Cronenberg films in general I have seen most of them. This is probably the first of his efforts I did see  back in the VHS era. The reason at the time was it had Ollie leading the cast.

By this time Oliver was no stranger to being cast in films made in Canada. Just the year previously he had starred opposite Raymond Burr and John Ireland in Tomorrow Never Comes that had been filmed in Quebec. Both of those gentleman were of course born in Canada as well. He’d also appeared in the 1966 effort The Trap which had been filmed in B.C. He would once more return to the Toronto area to film a low budget shocker with Peter Fonda titled Spasms released in 1983.

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This thriller represents a good look at a horror film from the era of it’s production and a definite departure from the typical plots of the day . It’s different therefore imaginative. Eerie and with the solid presence of Reed involved it’s well worth seeking out for not only the Cronenberg fans but horror fans in general who like the style that isn’t an upscale Hollywood slasher film. It has that George A. Romero feel to it at times if I can use that as a parallel. Slashers were about to invade the theaters in droves after the recent success of Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Along came Jason and the rest shortly there after.

The Brood, Cronenberg and Reed take us in a totally new direction in horror at the time. Give it a look if you already haven’t.

 

 

 

Oliver Reed Interviews

With my focus on Oliver Reed films beginning shortly I went in search of some interesting appearances.

While there are plenty of Oliver Reed interviews available where he is well in his cups it is refreshing to see him discuss his career and how he goes about his craft while coherent and sober. I much prefer watching these snippets of Dear Ollie as opposed to the rather embarrassing drunken clips that seem to flood the internet. He’s very engaging and displays a wonderful sense of humor in these clips. Take the time to enjoy.

Here is one where he takes the stage and pokes a bit of fun at Richard Attenborough seated next to him.

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How about a trailer to Reed’s 1974 film The Three Musketeers. Check out the cast and know that Oliver was top billed. This one is a must see for those that haven’t had the chance or taken the time.

The Kidnapping of the President (1979)

Returning to his homeland, William Shatner stars in this interesting “what if” Canadian production where he actually plays an American secret service agent in charge of rescuing President Hal Holbrook from the clutches of a maniacal terrorist.

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The film begins by setting us up with just how sadistic the lead villain played by Miguel Fernandes can be to those around him as he plots to take the U.S. President hostage in order to extract 100 million dollars in diamonds from the U.S. Government. He kills all those who might present a loose end as he heads to Toronto Canada where the caper will take place. Meeting him there will be his two accomplices who have rigged a local Brinks truck with all kinds of trip wires and explosives.

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Shatner as our head agent has a bad feeling about this whole Toronto trip and would prefer that Holbrook stay away from the crowds but this President loves to walk among the people. It’s at this point that he finds himself handcuffed to a well wisher. It is of course Fernandes with dynamite strapped around his body and a detonator in his hand. With Shatner holding a gun on him and trying to keep Holbrook alive, he allows our terrorist to put the Prez in the back of the Armored truck.

The film becomes a bit of a cat and mouse game as Shatner spars with Fernandes over the diamond exchange and the safe return of Holbrook to the oval office. The Canadian police naturally step aside to let our hero Shatner run the show.

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Joining in the fun as Vice President who needs to make some crucial decisions is Van Johnson. He’s a worthy successor to the presidency and his wife played by Ava Gardner would like nothing better than to see herself as the next First Lady. One of the films better scenes is actually when Holbrook gets a chance to chat with his First Lady, Elizabeth Shepherd over a loudspeaker. It’s a nice touch as they reminisce about times past in the face of realizing they may not have a future together.

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We shouldn’t worry too much because before the fade out Captain Kirk takes on the form of a true cinematic tough guy in the Clint Eastwood mold and tells our terrorist friend, “You f–k with me and I’ll rip you’re heart out!”

The film was directed by George Mendeluk who has worked mainly in television. If it wasn’t for the level of violence in the film, one could almost see this as a movie of the week on prime time Sunday night. A decent cast is involved here and well known  character actor, the late Maury Chaykin appears as well. Maury had a long association with the Canadian film industry despite being born in New York. He actually passed away in Toronto in 2010.

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Holbrook is good as usual and there are less Shatner(isms) this time out for the future T.J. Hooker star.

I haven’t noticed this one around on DVD but it is available on VHS which is how I viewed this Canadian production with the obligatory Mounties on parade and flocks of Sea Gulls. If you’ve been to Toronto you’ll know what I mean by Sea Gulls. Damn birds are everywhere.

Charlie Chan Poster Gallery : The Sidney Toler Years

When Warner Oland passed away in 1938, 20th Century Fox needed to find a new actor to portray Charlie Chan. They had already done some rewrites on the latest Chan script and teamed Keye Luke as Chan’s number one son with Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto and the film was released as Mr. Moto’s Gamble as opposed to Charlie Chan at Ringside.

Next up came character player Sidney Toler who assumed the role in Charlie Chan in Honolulu. Toler would play the famed sleuth a total of 22 times up to his death in 1946. He also made the move from 20th Century over to Monogram when the series switched studios. The first film at Monogram came in 1942 with Charlie Chan in the Secret Service.

My enjoyment of these films with both Oland and Toler never waivers. See a gallery of Warner Oland titles here.

“If befriend donkey, expect to be kicked.”

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“Elusive offspring, like privacy, sometimes hard to find. ”

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“Mice only play when cat supposed to be in bed.”

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“Slippery man sometimes slip in own oil.”

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“Three murders. All different. Dog cannot chase three rabbits at same time. Manning Case like modern highway. Sooner or later come to detour. ”

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“Number Two Son like flea on dog – always must have fine tooth comb to find same. ”

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For the Toler films special mention must go to both Victor Sen Yung and Mantan Moreland.

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Portrait in Black (1960)

“This was supposed to bring us together. Now it’s only keeping us apart.”

So says Lana Turner who isn’t very happy with lover Anthony Quinn when he suggests they must remain calm and see very little of each other in the aftermath of murdering her wealthy husband Lloyd Nolan.

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Nolan plays a shipping tycoon and stern task master whose become bedridden. Physician Tony Quinn is administering the needles to keep Nolan alive. All it would take is just one air bubble to free Lana from the servitude and constant verbal abuse she gets from her hubby. Then of course after a little time for grieving the two would be free to pick up their romance and go public.

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The plan seems air tight with Tony signing the death certificate and all is well until a letter arrives for Lana congratulating her on a successful murder. There is a blackmailer involved and now the two must figure out who it is and kill again to keep their secret.

Lana returns to the framework of her Noir triumph The Postman Always Rings Twice as she entered the final years of her film career by teaming up with Quinn who was in a solid run of titles from the early fifties on. Now that the two know they have a problem they must figure out who it is.

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These two murderers have a list of suspects including Richard Basehart as the man who is taking over Nolan’s duties with the company and would like nothing better than to claim Lana as his own. We have a lowlife chauffeur up to his neck in gambling debts played by Ray Walston. Anna May Wong as the nosy maid who runs the Turner household. Virginia Grey as Nolan’s secretary who just might know more than the average temp.

When our two lovers are sure they know who the black mailer is they commit their second murder. Things are about to go sideways when the next letter arrives complimenting them on their second successful killing.

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This time they have a fall guy who could quite possibly put them in the clear. John Saxon is the number one suspect with the local police. He’s in love with Sandra Dee who happens to be Nolan’s daughter from an earlier marriage. Saxon had words with the second victim and looks like a slam dunk in the eyes of the local police as the would be killer.

Can Lana and Tony catch a break and get away with things? Not likely. It’s just a matter of letting us see how things are going to fall apart.

This Universal International “B” plot has been given the “A” treatment with a first rate cast. That alone makes it worth checking out. It’s directed by Michael Gordon for producer Ross Hunter.

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Lana gets the star treatment with the close ups and both the viewers and Tony are treated to seeing her in a full length mink coat. Lana is fine here but for me it’s Quinn that is always interesting to watch, Especially during his run from about 1952 to 1970. Among so many great leading men of the era, Quinn stands near the top at bringing an unbridled passion to the screen on a regular basis. Old pro Nolan has a rather short time on camera but of course makes great use of it which was par for the course throughout his career.

Aside from an overly melodramatic score at times and a corny Oath flashback that Quinn’s doctor is experiencing this murderous thriller makes for a diverting night of movie watching.