Apocalypse Later Empire

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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
Filmmakers, submissions for horror and sci-fi shorts are open through Film Freeway.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hospital Massacre (1981)

Director: Boaz Davidson
Writer: Marc Behm from a story by Boaz Davidson
Stars: Barbi Benton, Chip Lucia, Jon Van Ness, Den Surles, Gay Austin, John Warner Williams and Lanny Duncan

With My Bloody Valentine being far too obvious a Valentine’s Day pick for my Horror Movie Calendar, I searched around and found this feature, which begins on Valentine’s Day and which is flavoured by it throughout. It was shot as X-Ray but released as Hospital Massacre, a much more salacious title. While the original isn’t exactly a name to reach out and grab us by the wallet, the new one unfortunately pigeonholes the movie into the slasher genre, which almost everybody seems to believe this is. I thought so too for maybe half the running time, but I gradually discarded that idea because the film makes precisely no sense as a slasher. Now, it is well within the bounds of possibility that director Boaz Davidson, who also wrote the original story which Marc Behm adapted into a screenplay, is completely inept and had no conception of how utterly ridiculous this really is. I don’t buy that and have a theory that allows everything we see to make complete sense. So settle down, kids, and let me explain.

Initially, it does follow the slasher template, right down to the flashback prologue that takes place in 1961. We’re at Susan Jeremy’s house and she’s inside playing with a friend called David and a train set. Another boy leaves a Valentine’s card at her front door, knocks to get her attention, then runs back to the window to watch her open it. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t go so well. ‘From Harold?’ David cries. ‘Oh my God!’ Susan adds. He screws it up and discards it as they laugh. So, during the brief time she leaves the room to cut a couple of slices of cake, Harold apparently sneaks in through the window, lifts David up high and impales him on a hatstand which stubbornly refuses to tip over, even with a ten year old corpse throwing it off balance. Little Susan screams and we leap forward nineteen years to 1980. Susan is all grown up now and looking rather professional in her red business suit. She has a daughter called Eva and a bitter ex-husband named Tom, but she’s off to hospital with her new beau, Jack, to get some test results.
So far, so good for a slasher movie, though we aren’t given any additional information here to help us along. We don’t know what the police thought about David’s gruesome demise, because we never see any. We don’t know that Harold was arrested and locked away in a psych ward like Michael Myers. We don’t know if he continued to obsess over Susan. We don’t really know much at all, just that Susan grew up and has to get some test results. And here’s where I’m going to depart from conventional wisdom and call a different tune. I don’t believe that Susan and Tom are divorced and I don’t believe that Jack exists. I do believe that it’s Tom who will drop his wife off at the hospital, before taking Eva home. I do believe that Susan is going to stress out about how scary her test results are going to be. And I do believe that she worries herself so much that her mind descends into a Kafka-esque nightmare of weird intensity that dredges up the suppressed trauma of David’s death. Keep that in mind and this will make a lot more sense.

The little disconnections from reality begin as they arrive at the hospital. Jack stops in the no parking zone and because Susan says that it’ll only take a couple of minutes, he stays there. He suddenly realises, totally out of the blue, that this was the hospital where some maniac ran amok the previous year. ‘Oh please!’ replies Susan. And into the hospital she goes to ask for Dr. Jacobs’ office, the doctor she’s been seeing for a few years now. The man with a mop drums his fingers in a notably creepy fashion, leering at Susan. Inside the elevator is a fresh corpse, propped against the wall, bleeding on her pristine white shoes. Ah no, it’s a sleepy man and a burger. He wishes her a Happy Valentine’s Day as he leaves. A trio of workers in gas masks and short sleeved shirts are supposedly fumigating the ninth floor, but they’re just hanging around the elevator to tell her she’s gone a stop too far. Then someone pulls a switch and stops the elevator. Just a few minutes, remember? Time never flows at the standard rate in our dreams.

While Susan is stuck in the lift, Dr. Jacobs is called up to the ninth floor for no apparent reason and with no apparent destination. It has to be said that she looks very young and very nervous, but perhaps that’s because there’s nobody to be found anywhere on the ninth floor; even the fumigators have disappeared. And we, up here in the cheap seats, can’t fail to pose a barrage of questions. For a start, I get that Jacobs walks up the stairs because the elevator isn’t responsive but, when she steps out of the stairwell and into a dark and hazy floor that’s clearly not being used, why doesn’t she assume this is a prank and walk right back down again? Does this junior hospital doctor have nothing better to do with her time than wander around a disused hospital floor in the dark wondering why she’s there? Why does she walk tentatively into a random room and then close the door behind her? Why does she pull back a sheet to expose a corpse? And why does she wander over to a locker to get stabbed to death by the maniac in scrubs?

None of this makes sense. It would make sense if she was a college student trying to grab the last few items for the scavenger hunt that might get her into a sorority in a slasher movie, but it makes no sense in this context. The only other way that it makes sense is if it’s the product of Susan’s nightmare. This sort of thing goes on and on. That creepy janitor from earlier discovers Dr. Jacobs hanging upside down in a locker, for no believable reason at all. When he tells the doctor hovering outside, he runs away and the janitor chases him into a room, somehow loses him in there and then stands around waiting for the maniacal killer to materialise out of nowhere and thrust his face into a conveniently nearby sink full of acid. Does anything here make sense at all? I should add that Susan’s fiancé, Jack, is still parked in the no parking zone right in front of the hospital. Nobody has told him to move. Nobody has given him a ticket. He doesn’t wonder why Susan’s taking so long. And it’s so quiet that he even falls asleep.

The only thing that makes sense is that, amidst the creepy doctors, creepy nurses and creepy patients of this hospital, Susan finds one helpful soul to try to lever her out of the bureaucratic nightmare in which she’s found herself mired. And his name is Harry. It isn’t remotely possible that anyone can fail to figure out the killer in this movie; it’s no more difficult to guess who will murder his way through the credits in a new Friday the 13th picture. Yet, the introduction of friendly intern Harry doesn’t stop everyone else in this hospital from acting creepy. In one notorious scene, Dr. Dan Saxon submits Susan, who he has strip down to her panties, to an utterly awkward physical examination. In slow motion. We saw her X-rays too, though they looked more like a gorgon than an actual human body part, and they weren’t of her feet. Or her throat. Or her thighs. Dr. Beam isn’t any better and Nurses Dora and Kitty are there to enforce not to nurse. And these are just the employees! Just wait until you meet the patients!

There has to come a point where enough is enough. If we stubbornly persist in reading this as a straightforward slasher, it’s going to really suck. Sure, the score is impressive, full of choral weirdness and orchestral strains, courtesy of composer Arlon Ober, who had conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra, but the rest fails any test you throw at it. The quality of the acting ranges from capable on down. The cinematography is nothing to write home about. The editing seems off, with a few shots stubbornly refusing to end. The deaths are reasonably plentiful, at least, and the effects decent; one in particular took me by surprise, which is a strong compliment. But the script makes less and less sense as time goes by and the levels of surreality keep on increasing. Nobody seems willing to tell Susan what’s wrong with her, but they dump her into a ward anyway with three old women who rant and rave like a lunatic Greek chorus. I honestly wondered if she had found her way into a mental hospital by mistake.

Beyond the score, there are only two things that work. One is the performance of Barbi Benton as Susan Jeremy, which I must say is surprising because she was never the greatest actor in the world, as decorative as she is in films like Deathstalker. While she was more versatile than most expect, with a string of repeat TV roles and a brief career as a country singer (Brass Buckles reached #5 on the country chart in 1975), she was still primarily known in 1981 for her modelling career that had led her to the Playboy mansion. She met Hugh Hefner at the age of eighteen and he asked her out; when she replied that she’d never dated anyone over 24 before, the 42 year old mogul quipped, ‘That’s all right, neither have I.’ They lived together for seven years, during which time she graced the cover of Playboy three times and ‘photo-essays’ inside twice more. Even though it didn’t seem likely, she does everything here that she needs to do and she successfully sells the nightmare that she finds herself trapped in.

The other success is that nightmare. Halfway through, I stopped watching this as a slasher. I ceased waiting for the next kill to see how ingenious it would be. I quit throwing my hands up in disdain at how ridiculous each scene continued to be. I gave up bitching internally about how empty this hospital is, even when nurses whom we’ve never seen before are suddenly murdered in wild and wacky ways, like the one where the killer walks down a typically dark hallway with a sheet held out in front of him and his mobile light source. Instead I settled back and let the surreality wash over me. Watching this as a stress-driven, PTSD-fuelled nightmare doesn’t merely make sense; it also ups the creepy factor substantially. After she wakes up in the ward to find a horrific gift by her bedside, she runs off and opens the first door she finds, exposing three people in full body casts, flailing around like lunatics. That image is fleeting and utterly irrelevant to the story, but it’s glorious and it’ll stay with me.

There are other images that will stay with me too. At one point, Susan has to wait in Dr. Saxon’s office for a while and eventually her eyes wander to the pictures of wounds framed and hanging on his walls; I couldn’t help but remember how Will Graham told Dr. Hannibal Lecktor how he knew he was the killer he sought. There’s a patient with the same name as me, who looks rather like an intoxicated Quentin Tarantino; he crops up at points throughout the movie and always adds a little edge. A number of notable scenes involve privacy screens, almost like a fetish, and one in particular stands out for its nightmarish quality, the killer inviting Jack to ‘come closer’ to see what is presumably his fiancée collapsed in a wheelchair behind a privacy screen, all through a set of creepy whispers. As I write this, I feel I should set a reminder six months out for me to re-read this review and see which images leap right back to front and centre and which have faded over time. At this point, I’m interested to see how that comes out.

And so, this was utterly not what I expected. Yes, it’s a great movie for Valentine’s Day, with a snubbed young psychopath maybe re-discovering his crush a couple of decades later and murdering his way towards her; if he can’t win her metaphorical heart, he will just have settle for the physical thing, right? But it isn’t a slasher movie, it’s a trip into the subconscious of a young lady with trauma in her past and stress in her present about the possibility of bad news in her future. It’s a consistently wild nightmare of a movie, weird and wonderful and worthy of comparison to films like Possession rather than films like Halloween. Barbi Benton is the lead the film needs and the sight of her half naked is always welcome. The filmography of Boaz Davidson may not be particularly impressive in any way other than picture count, but this deserves to be remembered along with The Last American Virgin and the Israeli movies like Mishpahat Tzan’ani that provide his best IMDb ratings. It’s just not a slasher movie, folks.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Shotgun Wedding (1963)

Director: Boris Petroff
Writer: Larry Lee, from a story by Jane Mann
Stars: J. Pat O'Malley, Jenny Maxwell, Valerie Allen, Buzz Martin, William Schallert, Nan Peterson, Peter Colt and Jack Searle

Classic exploitation flicks had a habit of overselling their cheap products but rarely do they come more oversold than this one. It’s a shocking picture, say the various posters, apparently all about child brides in the Ozarks in ‘flaming hillbilly color’. ‘Was she too old at 15?’ one poster asks, with scantily clad Jenny Maxwell front and centre a year after she didn’t land the lead role in Kubrick’s Lolita. ‘She was only 15 and itchin’ for a man,’ suggests another. Of course, such advertising can’t help but remind us of Child Bride, a 1938 film that has become legendary for all the wrong reasons. It aimed to combat the scourge of child marriage in the Ozarks by showing us an underage girl skinnydipping. Shirley Mills was twelve, while her body double, Bernice Stobaugh Ray, was thirteen. That embarrassment of a movie ran for years on the indie circuit, so perhaps the producers of this one had a deliberate eye on its audience, even though Shotgun Wedding doesn’t feature a single thing that would seem out of place on a TV sitcom of its era.

And that’s odd, because Larry Lee, who wrote the script from a story by the director’s wife, Jane Mann, appears to be a pseudonym for one Edward D. Wood, Jr. Now, Wood’s most famous movies were all released in the fifties, culminating with the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space in 1959, but his career hadn’t yet descended to outright pornography as it would by the end of the sixties, both in books and films. However, I don’t recall anything from Wood’s pen that plays out quite so tamely and it’s surprisingly unsurprising to see Joe Blevins quote the artist Don Fellman, who said in Rudolph Grey’s biography of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, that Wood had written a script for The Beverly Hillbillies which had been ‘rejected at the last minute’. This does feel like Wood distilled down all the component parts of the hicksploitation genre, rendered them family friendly for television and shoehorned them all into an hour. There are no boobs and no deaths and I could hear the nonexistent laugh track over the annoying crackle of my cheap copy.
I watched from a digital rip of a poor quality VHS tape because the film is steadfastly unvailable. Nobody has yet released it on DVD and I’m not convinced that anyone ever released a good quality print on VHS. For all that it feels like a TV sitcom, I’m not sure that it ever screened on television either. Yet, while it’s hardly high cinematic art, its obscurity seems unfair. Beyond the contribution of someone like Ed Wood with his sizeable cult fanbase, many others involved are also notable. The director was the Russian born Boris Petroff, whose career is often tied to Wood’s, as he made films like The Unearthly, with John Carradine, Allison Hayes and Tor Johnson; this was his very last feature. The surf music playing during the ‘wedding shindig’ is by Jerry Capehart, who wrote songs as important as Summertime Blues and C’mon Everybody with Eddie Cochran, whom he managed. It’s utterly out of place here and is clearly not being played on the two acoustic guitars and one banjo that we see, but it’s enjoyably catchy nonetheless.

On screen are many recognisable faces, starting with J. Pat O’Malley, who’s given a rare leading role and lives up to it. He wasn’t a major film actor, being known more for the two hundred TV shows on which he appeared and for the voice work he did for Walt Disney in pictures like Alice in Wonderland, One Hundred and One Dalmations and The Jungle Book. However, he’s still fun to watch here as Buford Anchors, a self-proclaimed river rat who lives on a houseboat outside Mudcat Landing (population 47) with his two sons, Shub and Rafe; his daughter, Lucianne; and his girlfriend, Melanie, who’s of a similar age to his kids. He was doing her a favour at the time, helping her out as she was running from the authorities, having shot the strongman for whom she worked at a carnival back east, but he also seems to have genuinely fallen for her, however shrewish she becomes when he won’t let her know where he hid her $3,000. If there’s a plot here, rather than a string of scenes, it’s sparked by her announcement that she’s pregnant.
Melanie is played by Valerie Allen, one of a trio of gorgeous young ladies who brighten up this film. She’s also the least recognised of the three, even if she met Troy Donohue while filming Come Spy with Me and promptly became his third wife; like O’Malley, she’s a television actress who also made films. Playing Lucianne Anchors, Nan Peterson is a little more recognisable, at least to folk who saw The Hideous Sun Demon, the first of her four features; this was her last. She also appeared on a slew of TV shows, including four episodes of The Twilight Zone. Most recognisable of this bevy of beauties is Jenny Maxwell, the one featured on those outrageously misleading posters. She’s Honey Bee, the daughter of Buford’s neighbour, Silas, and the girl that Rafe has fallen hard for. They get a make out session on the river bank in one scene that reminds of From Here to Eternity, just without waves, though it’s surely a nod to her most famous role, in Blue Hawaii, in which she’s spanked on the beach by Elvis Presley.

Maxwell also got to sadly bring some of what happens here to her real life. The film is entitled Shotgun Wedding, perhaps because it contains both a shotgun and a wedding; we almost get a shotgun wedding during the finalé but that validation of the title is lost in less than a minute. Almost two decades later, Maxwell was actually shot dead, along with her husband, in what is usually seen as a botched robbery attempt. The film revolves around a marriage that features a major difference in ages; Valerie Allen was 27 at the time, while her screen husband, J. Pat O’Malley, was 59. When she died, Maxwell was 39 while her husband, Ervin M. ‘Tip’ Roeder, a criminal attorney, was 60. It’s fair to say that they just avoid failing the creepy test (half the man’s age and add seven), while the film’s fictional equivalent fails it utterly. Yes, the balding Buford and the mellifluous Melanie are too far adrift in age for their love match to be believed, but this is a hicksploitation movie so we should be surprised that they aren’t related to boot.
The closest this film gets to incest is the suggestion that Melanie’s baby might be Shub’s rather than his father’s, as he’s head over heels in love with her too. Then again, he’s the stereotypically strong but dumb hillbilly son, so we can’t even be sure he’s got her into the sack yet. What we get instead is a focus on the classic hicksploitation feud, which found its way into Appalachia with Celts immigrating to the States and is epitomised by the Hatfields and the McCoys. Every hicksploitation tale has to have a feud and this one has neighbour vs. neighbour, Buford vs. Silas, for no reason that we can fathom except that the latter is over-protective of his only daughter, Honey Bee. Writing this, I immediately hearken back to the lack of incest, because it’s not there in the movie. Sure, Honey Bee wears as little as possible at every point, to the degree that she even takes an outdoor shower at one point, but daddy’s upset about the idea that anyone might see his daughter so scantily clad rather than jealous of anyone who succeeds.

Most of the other standard hicksploitation elements included here show up in dialogue, which is occasionally clumsy but delivered well, at least by the adults and the young ladies; the young men are easily the weakest part of the movie. Former child actor Jackie Searl, who was the Dormouse in the star-studded 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland, at twelve years of age, is given some fantastic lines here: ‘Courtin’ and wooin’ brings dallyin’ and doin’,’ he snaps at Honey Bee. As his nemesis, O’Malley gets some too; when the preacher suggests that he take Melanie for better or worse, he quips that ‘Things can’t get much worse so I think I’d better.’ We’re given a great combo when Buford asks Melanie, ‘You gonna kiss me?’ and she replies, ‘You chewin’ tobacco?’ Melanie isn’t passed over for lines; when she tells Buford she’s going to have a baby, she spells it out, with three B’s. My favourite went to Lucianne, as she rushes into the wedding shindig to cry, ‘Pa! The preacher fell in the hog wallow!’ That’s hicksploitation in only eight words.
I’ve left out the preacher thus far, because he’s the other star of this show and deserves special mention. While the story revolves around J. Pat O’Malley as Buford Anchors and the visuals focus primarily on the three stunning young ladies in the cast, it’s fair to say that most of the success of the movie has to do with the subtle villainy of William Schallert as Preacher Parsons. Like O’Malley, he was prolific on television; he actually puts his co-star to shame, having appeared in almost three hundred shows over a strong six decade career, including a long run on The Patty Duke Show. Unlike O’Malley, he was also a notable film actor, racking up almost a hundred feature films and passing that threshold if we factor in TV movies. His first scene here ably highlights that he’s not the man of God he pretends to be, but we find out a lot more as the film runs on; he’s the only character who isn’t a cardboard cutout. This picture was surely never meant to be about the acting, but I got a real kick out of seeing O’Malley and Schallert play leads.

I’m not going to delve deeply into the plot because there really isn’t one. Rafe is in love with Honey Bee and she returns that love; his brother Shub is in love with Melanie, who’s clearly stringing him along. She’s stringing Buford along too, even though he’s not kidding about falling for her, because Melanie is in love with the three grand that he hid for her and she couldn’t care less about a one of them. Sister Lucianne is clearly fond of Preacher Parsons; the preacher likes all the pretty little things who keep smiling at him throughout and leaving him with not so subtle come ons like ‘I ain’t hard to find.’ Then again, that was Lucianne’s response to the preacher’s query, ‘Young lady, are you a milkmaid or an angel in disguise?’ This is more soap opera than plot and the feud has little to add. Sure, Buford rails at Silas and Silas rails at Buford, but we really don’t buy the escalation to shotgun wielding posse in the slightest. Hicksploitation needs more than fluttering eyelids, shotguns and Daisy dukes and this movie is the proof.
While I enjoyed The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dukes of Hazzard, hicksploitation was always meant to be a more adult genre and this feels lacking because it plays it so safe. Other prominent exploitation filmmakers of the day played in the genre and avoided such safety with abandon. Russ Meyer was one year away from Lorna and one more from Mudhoney, both of which make this seem like kindergarten viewing. Herschell Gordon Lewis was similarly a year away from both Moonshine Mountain and, my favourite of his, Two Thousand Maniacs!, the latter of which adds a further element to the sexual violence of Meyer’s films. Frankly, Shotgun Wedding isn’t as wild as something as studio safe as Swing Your Lady, Humphrey Bogart’s most embarrassing film, in which he’s a wrestling promoter touring the Ozarks with dim-witted talent who promptly falls in love with the hillbilly amazon he’s supposed to battle. And that one has authentic old time country music! Even The Beverly Hillbillies had Flatt and Scruggs!

Swing Your Lady was a movie set in the Ozarks but shot on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. This one was at least shot on location out in the countryside but it’s hardly the right countryside. The Ozarks sprawl across Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, which is Osage country, but, for some reason, Boris Petroff Productions chose to shoot it in Apache Junction, Arizona. The town of Mudcat Landing, a sprawling metropolis for a population of 47, is really the original Apacheland movie ranch in Gold Canyon, not far from where the Arizona Renaissance Festival thrives today. It was built in 1959, capitalising on interest in the area after Paramount had shot the Clanton ranch scenes in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Gold Canyon two years earlier. It opened in 1960 and immediately saw success as a location for western TV shows and the odd movie, like Charro! and The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Most of the town burned in 1969, but it was rebuilt and remained in operation until it burned again in 2004. The last film shot there was Blind Justice in 1994.
The other location prominently used here was much harder to track down and I have to thank Charlie LeSeuer, Arizona’s western film historian, for being such a fount of knowledge. We start in Mudcat Landing and we go back there at points, but most of this is shot on and around the houseboat of Buford Anchors somewhere outside of town. There’s a bridge nearby, which looks rather like the Sheep Bridge which crosses the Verde river northeast of Carefree, but it isn’t that one. It’s actually a different Sheep Bridge, of a similar design but in a different place, which crossed the Salt River in the Usery Mountain Regional Park east of Mesa. There are few details online, but it seems that it was washed away in 1966. We do joke aboout Arizona knocking buildings down as they reach ten years of age, but Shotgun Wedding does appear to have been shot in a town that burned down and by a bridge that was washed away. Perhaps that’s appropriate for a movie that’s become rather forgotten, even if anyone really paid attention to it on release.
Important sources:
Joe Blevins - Shotgun Wedding at Dead 2 Rights.

Key locations in the film on Google Maps.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo!? (1985)

Director: Barry Caillier
Writers: Tim Noah and Barry Caillier, from a story by Tim Noah, Creed Noah, Mary Noah and Barry Caillier
Star: Tim Noah

Yes, that’s the real title and it’s enough to suggest that this short 55 minute feature is prime material for me to review as a Weird Wednesdays entry. But wait, there’s more! The film is a solo performance for Tim Noah, who has done almost nothing, according to IMDb, and comments there and elsewhere suggest that it’s a particularly surreal trip. ‘Try to imagine Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the Guggenheim without Lawrence Fishburne or any other entertainment value,’ writes one IMDb reviewer. ‘Is this what inspired the Just Say No campaign in the 80’s?’ asks a shocked viewer. ‘Saving it for the next time I drop acid,’ suggests another. It seemed like an utter obscurity, best appreciated by people who were already stoned by the time they pressed play. That it’s a musical comedy for children performed by a man who is far older than he should be only adds to the weirdness. And I can’t deny that it really did live up to all those expectations within the first twenty minutes. But then something strange happened: I started to dig this.

Now, I am still trying to figure some of it out, as there are some things going on that play very oddly, but I delved deeper into the history and reception of the film and found a lot that surprised me. For a start, it apparently won four Emmys, which is four more than, say, Star Trek, which was nominated for thirteen of them but didn’t win one. Now, I can’t seem to find any information about which Emmys it won because the Emmy website doesn’t mention it at all, so it’s likely that these are Northwest Regional Emmys, like the dozen which Noah won a decade and some later for a children’s TV show entitled How ’Bout That. His IMDb credits are also misleading; it’s fair to say that he’s a versatile and busy talent, merely not on the big screen, as his one feature, 1990’s Daredreamer, utterly failed to set the box office on fire. He’s recorded albums and written books. He’s toured exotic countries and even founded his own performing arts center, the Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, WA.
What’s more, the lack of reviews at IMDb (there are only two, both of which give this one star out of ten) is more than made up for by the profusion of praise that dominates the DVD page on Amazon (87% gave it a maximum) and in the many testimonials Noah is happy to plaster across his website. Apparently this began life as an album, Noah’s debut, in 1983; it won the Parents Choice Award and the American Library Association listed it as a Notable Children’s Recording. This film version is really a long form music video for the album, which was aired on KOMO TV, an ABC affiliate in Seattle, and later HBO, the Disney Channel and even the BBC. Then again, the BBC brought us the Teletubbies, so that’s not entirely a given! It would appear that a sizeable audience watched it on TV, happily bought the VHS tape and proceeded to wear the thing out through repeated viewings. This is a genuine cult hit, merely a cult hit that’s not mentioned in the circles which rave about filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis or Alejandro Jodorowsky.

So, what’s it about? Well, having just watched the film in entirety, I’m not entirely sure I can answer that question! At heart, it’s an attempt to connect to kids who aren’t having the greatest time of it and help them to escape their dull routines by exercising their imaginations, but then so’s every other show for children, right? Whatever this is, it can’t fairly be dismissed by dumping it into a basket with a host of other shows; for all its faults, it’s notably original. For a start, it’s focused utterly on Noah himself, as the only human being we see in 55 minutes of running time. Yes, we hear his mum’s voice and he interacts with a plethora of puppets, but mostly it’s him in a single set. Beyond acting, he showcases his singing in a variety of styles, all of which thankfully predate today’s pop trends. He bounces around a lot, in a mild but energetic combination of dancing and acrobatics. He pantomimes. He performs magic tricks. He sports a wild range of outfits, from eighties pastel shades to circus ringleader. Everything’s about him.
Another reason why he stands out is because he’s in colour while his room is in black and white. No, that’s not a clever effect; the room and everything in it is simply painted black and white. It’s a neat way to highlight a drab childhood, even if the real reason was that the budget was somewhere south of not a heck of a lot. It also means that each of the dozen songs gives him a chance to escape into a new world, which grow inside his room using imaginative stage gimmickry and props. The big exception is the first one, which is easily the most dubious and not merely because it’s shot using primitive eighties technology; there are things that I have trouble explaining away, given that this production was clearly aimed at young children. I’m assuming, for a start, that Noah wasn’t really trying to hint that kids should own up to their homosexuality, then have incestuous sex with paedophile fathers, but it’s right there, next to bouncing on peanut butter sandwiches in space, which symbolism now seems more kinky in context.

So, let’s back up a step and see if any of you can suggest a better explanation. We begin when Mr. Tim (as the disembodied voice of his imagination calls him) arrives home and enters his black and white room with his giant black and white boom box. He listens to different stations, reacting with dance moves or air guitar, but retunes a lot as they’re all obsessed with his closet. Announcers tell him not to look in there, singers sing about its hidden dangers and he even tunes into KLST Kloset. He’s promptly sucked into that closet anyway but comes out of it as a spaceman, leaping off a moon and having a bath in space with an inflatable shark. He’s naked as a jaybird but daddy joins him in that bath anyway, dressed up as a sailor in a pink shirt and a porn moustache. Here’s verse two of Zoom, which this accompanies: ‘Me and my friends were in the bathtub havin’ fun tryin’ to get clean, when in walked my father; he dived in the water, took us for a ride on his submarine.’ Yes, please explain this without incest, paedophilia and gay group sex.
While it’s hard to explain that one away, the rest of the film settles down considerably. Mr. Tim’s imagination rings him on a stone dinosaur to set him a mission: to find the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo. Mr. Tim doesn’t want to know. He’s well aware that his imagination tends to get him into trouble, but he’s promptly talked into it for the fame and the fortune. The second song, If I Only Knew, the first one we see Noah actually sing, is a strange meta piece because it’s all about how he doesn’t have a clue what the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo is. No, we don’t have a clue either. If I understood the point of the movie, then it’s whatever Mr. Tim wants it to be. Like any six year old, Mr. Tim is upset that he doesn’t know what it is, gets distracted by monkeys and then decides that it’s going to be whatever he wants. That’s a pretty fair lesson to teach the little ones, much better, for instance, then suggesting that they can live in the trees and raise a family of monkeys. I don’t think biology works that way.

While I don’t usually pull out records for kids to listen to, the twelve tracks we hear from Noah are actually pretty decent. They’re varied in style, from the country folk of Sunshiney Mornin’ through the James Taylor-esque seventies soft rock of Friends with a Song to the Elvis Presley style rockabilly of Big Booger. That one’s about Mr. Tim getting picked on at school by a musclebound bully and the teacher never noticing; it leads into a self-explanatory sad little ballad called Tears on My Toes. Noah wisely avoids trying to be hip and leaping on the latest styles, using whatever works for each moment in this story. He doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but he’s versatile enough to sound right with each of these styles, which is a good thing given that the success of this entire enterprise rests on him and it only exists to showcase the songs. I wouldn’t rewind a VHS tape of this to watch again and again but I can see why so many kids did. It’s like a compilation of different music that teams up to tell a single story.
The weirdest song has to be Musty Moldy Melvin. While Mr. Tim is the only human in evidence, he’s had a great time with puppets while singing a number of songs. He keeps a cat and a dog in his chest of drawers. During If I Was, a gorilla rips off his trousers and an elephant pulls him behind a tree. There’s an oddly undulating giraffe in his room during The Monkey Song, perhaps because it’s just the right height to look up his loincloth when he’s chilling with a monkey on top of the closet. But Musty Moldy Melvin features a host of weird creatures like the title character, who does the hoochie-koochie-koo, and Greasy Grimy Gertie who does the boogie boo. In fact, all the creepy little critters in the gurgly-gloppy-goo want to dance with him and they get their shot. He doesn’t seem remotely happy about it, but they were my faourite part of the movie. Sadly, my grandkids know how to whip and nae nae; I wish they’d do the boogie boo instead with these glorious nightmare creations that look like diseases on legs.

I can’t see Tim Noah doing the stanky legg, but he does seem to have found that magic spot where he can explain real world social issues, like social ostracism and environmental awareness in songs that are engaging to children. His album, Kaddywompas, appears to be a good example of this. I’m not sure how his feature, Daredreamer, works from that standpoint; from what I’ve read about it, it seems to revisit many of the themes he explored here and in a similar musical fashion, but with the inclusion of odd anomalies like a brief nude scene and a couple of swearwords that would bar this from appealing to the same audience. Surely, however, an adult audience would have a problem with Noah, who would have been 39 when Daredreamer was shot, portraying a high school student. We can't buy it here in In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo!? and he was a relative spring chicken at only 34! I will find that and check it out, but I can’t see it living up to this one, even the calmer last forty minutes after Zoom is done.
What shocks me most about this film isn’t the title and it isn’t even that first deviant song, it’s the fact that Noah managed to do so much with so little. The budget is so low that almost everyone else in the credits has the same last name. Tim Noah wrote the story with Creed Noah and Mary Noah (and director Barry Caillier); Creed Noah also produced (with Pat Royce), while Bill Noah and Zola Noah were both executive producers. Mary Noah also created the costumes. At this point, we have to wonder if set designer Rollin Thomas is merely a pseudonym, given that it’s his sole credit. While the film clearly belongs to Tim Noah, Rollin Thomas cannot be ignored for the craftsmanship that he put into these sets and the imagination with which he endowed them; if he’s real, I can only assume that he was massively experienced in stage work. And here I am praising this picture, even though I fully expected it to be a bad acid trip that would have been impossible to watch. To be honest, I’m half disappointed! But only half.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Emperor of the North Pole (1973)

Director: Robert Aldrich
Writer: Christopher Knopf
Stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Keith Carradine

Thus far, every one of the film luminaries whose lives and careers I’ve been celebrating on what would have been their hundredth birthdays is someone I discovered through watching movies. Some I first saw when I was a kid but others not until later. However, 24th January marks the centennial of an actor I grew up watching on television. It’s Ernest Borgnine, an Academy Award-winning actor whom I initially discovered playing Dominic Santini in the mid-eighties action show, Airwolf (hilariously, my grandkids may have first encountered him on television too, in the even cheesier part of Mermaid Man in SpongeBob SquarePants). Of course, as time went on, I realised that he had a little bit more of a resume than backing up Jan-Michael Vincent on primetime TV. His Oscar was for Marty in 1955, but I caught later films first, pictures like The Black Hole, The Dirty Dozen and Escape from New York. Over time, I’d see him over and over, in films as varied as Johnny Guitar, The Catered Affair and The Devil’s Rain. He was certainly versatile!

To remember his work, I selected Emperor of the North Pole, later released as simply Emperor of the North, for a few reasons. One was that he plays the villain of the piece, the sadistic conductor of a depression-era steam train, who uses brutal means to kick off any hoboes who think they can ride it for free. Another is that his co-star, playing one such hobo, is Lee Marvin, another favourite of mine and another Academy Award-winner (for Cat Ballou); Borgnine and Marvin made six pictures together; the others being The Stranger Wore a Gun, Violent Saturday, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Dirty Dozen and its made for TV sequel, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission. The setting was a bonus too, because subcultures are one of my favourite subjects and this film promised to delve a little into the world of hoboes, of which I’ve read a little. And the cast includes such favourites as Simon Oakland, Elisha Cook, Jr., Sid Haig and, in an uncredited role so deep that I couldn’t find him anywhere in the movie, a young Lance Henriksen.
As such a cast might suggest, the script plays on a clash of ideologies between the old, as portrayed by the massively experienced double act of Marvin and Borgnine, and the young, in the form of Keith Carradine, appearing not only in his first starring role but the first that was given a name. He’s Cigaret, which is more than the obvious step up from ‘Cowboy’ or ‘The Young Gunfighter’ of his previous films, because Cigaret happens to be one of the tramp names used by novelist Jack London when he lived on the road around 1894, the year in which he spent thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary for vagrancy. London is important here, as the script, by Christopher Knopf, is based in part on The Road, the memoir London wrote about that period of his life, and From Coast to Coast with Jack London by Leon Ray Livingston, a famous hobo known within that community as A-No.1. London tracked him down and, in the words of Livingston, during that period was ‘faithfully acting the role of the dog who adopted his master.’

In many ways, that’s precisely what happens here, except that Carradine’s character is far less sympathetic than London probably was in real life. In Emperor of the North Pole, Marvin plays A-No.1, an aging hobo who slips onto the No. 19 steam train heading north to Portland. He seems to know his stuff: he acquired a live chicken before we first meet him and he has to fight off three youths to keep it; he escapes by climbing into an empty freight car on the No. 19 without being noticed, settling down for the duration. The catch is that Cigaret follows him, abandoning his younger colleagues in the process; his lack of skill means that he’s noticed before he even makes it in and the hoboes are promptly locked inside. A-No.1 has to set fire to the back of the car, which is made of wood and filled with bales of hay for animals, so that he can break through the sides of it to escape from his escape, live chicken and all. But Cigaret knows talent when he sees it, so he sticks to A-No.1 like glue, as often as the older man tries to shake him off.
If there’s conflict between the veteran A-No.1 and the rookie Cigaret, there’s a lot more between the hoboes and the Shack, which is the name of Borgnine’s character. He’s the conductor of the No. 19 and it’s his train, as far as he’s concerned; he’ll be damned if he lets a hobo take advantage of his run. He won’t politely ask them to disembark at the next stop and he won’t simply throw them off either; we know what he does to unwelcome guests because we watched him dispose of one ahead of the opening credits. The ‘goddamn ’bo’ slips on after the train pauses for water and settles down in between cars with a sandwich; the Shack finds him and sends him under the wheels with a well aimed sledgehammer. The train keeps a rollin’ to display the body on the tracks behind it, literally cut in two by the wheels. And the Shack grins, because he’s not just good at what he does; he really enjoys his work. ‘He’s gonna be a mean son of a bitch now,’ says one of his men, after seeing A-No.1’s fire. ‘What was he before?’ replies another.

The script follows two battles. One is the war between A-No.1 and the Shack, after the former takes on the challenge of riding the No. 19 all the way to Portland, and the other is the battle between A-No.1 and his young stalker, Cigaret. I’d argue that both were parallels to what was going on at the time, something that seems fundamental in a story that is otherwise about a highly personal war between two men who have never previously met. London and Livingston wrote about their travels in 1894, but Knopf takes their work and updates them to 1933, the heart of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was peaking at 25%. We’ve seen more personal stories from this era often enough, in movies like The Grapes of Wrath, but it’s the abstractions of the era which stand out best. Emperor of the North Pole is a truer abstraction than even Bonnie and Clyde, given that A-No.1 has to face off against the establishment that brought him down, personified by the Shack, and dangerous but immature youth, in the form of Cigaret.
As a two hour film, this often moves with the pace of the steam trains that we follow. In the film’s theme tune, Marty Robbins may be singing about a man and a train trying to run as fast as they can, but the pace of these engines seems rather relaxed to me in my 21st century world of speed. I appreciate the stuntwork done on top, underneath and around the train by the lead actors, but they aren’t going too quickly even when the Shack has the engineer ‘highball it out of the yard’. That doesn’t mean that it’s boring, for the scenes at that point are shot in early morning fog with a mail train due and the tension is palpable. But the train just keeps on rollin’ as the action unfolds on it, with chains, spikes and two by fours, not to mention an axe, all used in the battle to be ‘emperor of the North Pole’, which, to hoboes, means being in charge of a situation that gains you nothing but a title; A-No.1 puts his life on the line for nothing but bragging rights, even if those betting on him may strike it rich in the process.

Marvin struggles through, Borgnine rages and Carradine annoys, in a voice that seems utterly wrong but isn’t really; it neatly adds to his ability to annoy us just as he annoys A-No.1 or whoever else he’s interacting with. It helps that those supporting members of the cast are stellar, even if many are the sort of actors you recognise but can’t name. The most prominent of them is surely Charles Tyner, who plays the brakeman on the train, Cracker by name. Many will know him from Cool Hand Luke or The Longest Yard, but he made a lot of films memorable, including this one. One of the key yardmen is Vic Tayback, who won two Golden Globes for his role as Mel, the owner of the diner in the TV show, Alice, reprising his role from the film, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Accomplished scene stealer Simon Oakland plays a cop who chases A-No.1 after he steals a turkey from a rail yard, ending up in a scene that feels rather like something that Quentin Tarantino might have written. Of course, director Robert Aldrich is hardly a nobody either!
As you may have noticed, all those names are male. There are almost no women in this testosterone-fuelled film at all. Only Diane Dye is credited, in her one and only big screen appearance, and then simply as ‘Girl in Water’. Surely we find A-No.1 preparing for baptism in a river because the church is offering celebratory food, but it prompts a clever scene in which the pastor asks him if he has sinned, all while he’s staring goggle-eyed at the breasts of the girl in front of him through her wet and transparent baptismal gown. Most of the great scenes go to Borgnine, though, even if Marvin is clearly the lead. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play villains because he can hate more effectively than most actors of his era. He’s blistering here, introduced as brutal but given a little more depth as the picture runs on. He’s an archetype, just as Marvin and Carradine are, but these aren’t simple good guy vs. bad guy roles. Cigaret is out of his depth immediately but the other two are worthy opponents unable to escape their positions in life.

I should add here that it’s not all grue. The scene with Simon Oakland, frankly hilarious in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, is far from the only moment of comedy on offer and there are many light hearted scenes in and amongst the suspense. I especially appreciated the yardmen, people who have jobs but know that they could be replaced in a heartbeat, so they work alongside a man they don’t like or agree with, even if they respect his authority like professionals; the scenes in the yards are full of fascinating dialogue. This never delves as deeply as I had hoped into hobo culture, but Knopf does gift us with some of that and also some of what it means to be a yardman. When A-No.1 is talked into taking the No. 19 to Portland, the announcement is scratched onto a water tower at the depot. It’s no spoiler to say that the hoboes are bounced off the train but a continued announcement on a fresh tower further up the line tells everyone, yardmen and hoboes both, that they’ve caught up and it’s all back on again.
Emperor of the North Pole seems a little dated today, not because it’s a period piece but because it has that seventies movie feel, but it’s a strong drama that isn’t as simple as it might play at first glance. Marvin is magnificent in the lead, a couple of decades into a solid career with only a dozen movies left. I had the impression that his career was fading at this point but he’s at the top of his game here and he had The Klansman, The Big Red One and The Delta Force still to come. Carradine is annoying, but appropriately so, at the other end of his career; his Oscar was only three years away but that was for a song, I’m Easy from Nashville, rather than an acting performance. I knew the Carradines were an acting dynasty like a junior version of the Barrymores, but it was always his brother David who comes to mind when I hear the name; incidentally, he was riding the rails only a year earlier in Boxcar Bertha, made for Roger Corman. Yet Keith really rocked the seventies, with a thoroughly interesting set of well chosen pictures.

But I’ll leave this with Ernest Borgnine, the snarling heart of the picture. He started late, beginning his screen career at 34 in 1951, the same year as Lee Marvin but in different pictures. His first role was, of all things, in yellowface, as Hu Chang, the owner of the Green Dragon gambling club in China Corsair, but it didn’t take long for him to graduate to more important films. Two years later, he had a notable role in From Here to Eternity and another in the highly underrated Johnny Guitar. Two more and he’d win an Oscar for playing Marty the lovable Bronx butcher in a year that also saw him appear in Bad Day at Black Rock and Violent Saturday, as an Amish farmer. Maybe his career didn’t initially maintain the levels it should have after such a promising start, but he gave more memorable performances in movie after movie. The mid-sixties saw his star rise again, partly because he landed the lead in the popular TV show, McHale’s Navy, which was adapted to the big screen in 1964, but partly because of a string of feature hits too.
While I first saw him in Airwolf, I soon saw him in many of these films on British television: The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen and Ice Station Zebra. In between were other varied pictures, such as Barabbas, The Oscar and The Wild Bunch, with Borgnine lower in the credits or part of an ensemble cast. By the time the seventies arrived, he was thoroughly recognisable but still able to play the gamut of roles, a much wider range than most of his peers. What’s more, he kept on going. If you recall, Lee Marvin started out in the same year as Borgnine and he acted up until his death at 63, but that was in 1987. Borgnine still had 44 feature films left in him, not to mention a string of TV movies and a host of roles in TV shows. He also kept acting until he died, in 2012 at the ripe old age of 95. Many will know him for movies made a decade after Lee Marvin died, like Gattaca, or even two decades, like RED. He nearly got to celebrate his centennial with us, but we can celebrate for him. Thanks for seven decades of movies, Ermes Effron Borgnino!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Baron Against the Demons (2006)

Director: Ricardo Ribelles
Writer: Ricardo Ribelles
Stars: Juan Carlos Romeu, Helena Lecumberri, Alejandro Ribelles, Xavier Bertran, Irene Belza, Gerardo Arenas, Eva Barceló, Susana Palma and Paulina Gálvez

Much of the joy of my Weird Wednesdays project is in finding movies, watching them and trying to figure out who the filmmakers thought their audiences might be. I really have no idea about this one, because it mixes a few very deliberate approaches that I’m pretty sure I never expected to coincide in a movie. For instance, as the usual English language title, The Baron Against the Demons, suggests, this feels like a tokusatsu picture at heart, with foam latex suits, imaginative monsters and bizarre tale about a futuristic organisation dedicated to fighting evil. That it was made with Spaniards rather than the Japanese is one reason why that doesn’t quite ring true, but there’s also the BDSM comic book aesthetic and the gratuitous gore effects, which suggest that this was never meant for kids, and the most important aspect is the overriding Catholic dogma which drives the whole thing so fundamentally that this can only be a Christian metaphor dressed up for sexual deviants who like the Power Rangers. You know, that sort of film!

Oddly, for a movie so overtly about good and evil, we’re never quite sold on the good and evil bit. Sure, the villain is Satan himself, visiting from the Ninth Planet to witness the birth of the Antichrist, which here means a man in a rubber suit, conceived from seed stolen from a chained hero by a leather clad dominatrix with gigantic knockers, who’s birthed by a hermaphroditic stick monster. We may be relatively safe in assuming that they’re the bad guys! But who represents the side of good? Initially, we might presume that it’s Exorcio Deus Machine, a late 21st century band of Spanish Inquisition commandos sharing their steampunk space satellite with an alien race of muppets, from which lair they combat evil. After all, that’s who our hero, the titular Baron, works for. Yet, if he’s clearly on their side, they’re not quite so clearly on his, as the man in charge, Coronel Doménico, dreams of dropping an atom bomb on his head. What’s wrong with the usual Triumph of the Will inspired awards ceremony for heroes? No, atom bomb it is.
So, are we to see the Baron as our hero or just some rebellious heretic? I have no idea. He certainly appears to be a hero, not least because he saves the day almost single-handedly, the useful contributions of Exorcio Deus Machine comprised of one woman who succeeds in rescuing him from the deviant underworld of Scotland, even though she was only sent because the Coronel wants her vaporised by the same atom bomb as the Baron. However, unlike most sci-fi action films, the phrasing forces us to read it from the standpoint of Catholic theology too and it’s hardly a stretch to see the Baron as a Christ figure, most obviously because he actually describes the quest this picture is for him as his Via Crucis. For those who don’t expect their genre flicks to periodically drift into Latin, that refers to the Stations of the Cross, those fourteen iconic moments which Jesus endured from death sentence to burial. You know, the procession of brutality from The Passion of the Christ. This is just like that but with more biomechanical parasites.

So, if the Baron is really a post-apocalyptic Jesus, what does that make the organisation he thinks he works for but which secretly aims to see him extinguished? Are they true defenders of God’s Word, the New Crusader Legion commanded by the Inquisitorial Committee? Or are they just a sorry bunch of religious fanatics? Frankly, is there even a difference between those options? Well, there lies a dilemma, surrounded by all the invisible detail that writer/director Ricardo Ribelles carefully omitted just to keep us confused. He’s willing and able to craft dynamic dialogue, but he doesn’t appear to grasp that ‘dynamic’ doesn’t have come at the expense of meaning. For instance, when Coronel Doménico tasks Lt. Ira Bowman with rescuing the Baron, we wonder who she is. Well, she’s a human with no special powers, but she has a score of 77 in the Danger Room! Wait a second! What’s a Danger Room and is 77 a good score or a bad one? Is that 77 out of 80 or 77 out of a million? It’s dynamic but it’s also meaningless.
The entire script is so dynamic but so meaningless that I wanted to transcribe every other line of dialogue but couldn’t figure out what was going on for about an hour. I could blame poor subtitles, given that I don’t speak Spanish, but they seem to make sense, as far as the script lets them. I just don’t know where to start. For instance: ‘Justice was the one who had the fetus in her entrails’ should be the title of a black metal album. Justice here may be one of the wildly endowed bondage mutants we find and massacre, but we’re never really introduced. ‘A curious funeral rite for satanic androids’ is enticing. I’m still not sure how androids can find religion but it happens here, just too quickly, so the Baron massacres all his followers before he realises they’re following him. He isn’t too bright, but he’s flamboyant with soliloquy: ‘Blind, Black Faith!’ he shouts at the sky. ‘The faith that moves those who died without washing their souls that resurrects the eyeless dead!’ No, I have no idea what that means either and I watched this movie.

Occasionally, there’s a sliver of explanation. For instance, we first meet the Baron and his sidekick, Lt. Alexander, as they battle an onslaught of Chattering Laughers in northern France, but he vanishes, mysteriously showing back up again in the evil clutches of Doña Pervertvm in her evil lair called Pandemonium, which to space Catholics is apparently located in the Perfidia Caverns below Inverness. Now, I’ve only travelled through Inverness but it seemed to be a nice place, devoid of any ‘sub-world with necromantic roots created under the command of a two-headed leader.’ I’m also very sure I’d have noticed anyone wearing an outfit like Doña Pervertvm’s, given that it appears to be a leather bikini so narrow that it had to have been glued to her labia, with skimpy straps and a massive brass bra that looks like it was crafted from a couple of missiles. Jane Russell, eat your heart out! Then again, Jane Russell wasn’t tough enough to tie her hair back with scavenged intestines. That would have improved The Outlaw considerably!
Doña Pervertvm likes the sound of her own voice just as much as the Baron likes his, so we start to discover some of the details we need to understand the movie here in Pandemonium. She’s keen on extracting the Baron’s blessed sperm so she can use it to make the Ragnarok-Beast pregnant. And time is short; as Sgt. Burkina Fasso explains to the Coronel up on the space satellite, ‘Ragnarok’s still in heat. If this infernal beast doesn’t perpetuate his species before the Winter Angelus, he’ll eat himself as punishment.’ I may not have grasped the point of this, partly because I have no idea what the Winter Angelus is, but it seems like the space inquisition only need to stamp out bestiality underneath Inverness and they’ll be golden. Shame the Baron gets himself captured, huh? Doña Pervertvm interrogates him, rapes him (without actually undressing him first, which is a neat trick), then stabs him in the crotch with a carved dildo so that he can spurt all over her face in a bloody shower. ‘This is my blood,’ I guess, ‘which is given for you.’

Clearly Doña Pervertvm is the mistress and slave of Ragnarok, nesting with him under the Sign of Pluto, and clearly she has a plan. I just wish I understood everything else going on here. For a start, why does she have an army of cackling midget android clowns? Why have they already started to convert to the Baron’s unspoken ideology before he even gets there? Why do they believe that blessing themselves, confining themselves to coffins and throwing those coffins into the ocean is a good way to demonstrate their devotion? It’s no better up on the satellite. For example, why has Dr. Michas, a muppet alien from the utterly unexplained planet of Belfídia and the head of the Revolutionary Prototype Dept., replaced Lt. Alexander’s clown-bitten arm with a prosthetic that is useless except to threaten the satellite? Why do they even have this department? And why does every woman in the film have to dress in a bondage leotard, whether they’re in combat or the lab? Suddenly. chainmail bikinis seem wildly realistic.
Frankly, I gave up trying to figure out the plot. There’s a war, for Pete’s sake, complete with bagpipes and wicked masks and some little general whose body appears to have been removed from the nipples down, which is why he zooms around in an invisible jet pack. And, even if the script is lunacy on acid, these visuals are actually pretty cool, both in how they’re imagined and how they’re animated. That’s especially true, given the date. The Baron Against the Demons was released in 2006 and it incorporated a short film by the same writer/director, Exorcio Deus Machine: La misión, made a full decade earlier. Yet, the majority of the gadgetry, weapons and even spacecraft are notably steampunk in nature, making this aesthetic, surely taken from Jules Verne’s submarines, notably ahead of the curve. I adored the modelwork, which is intricate and ingenious, though some of the other effects work is ridiculous in the extreme, especially the gore effects, which are as wildly enthusiastic as they are utterly inept.

So, is this the story of Jesus? Maybe it’s just one of the Gospels of the New New Testament, to be discovered between now and the end of the century, when this is set. If Ribelles made another three movies, telling the same story from different angles, I’d watch every one of them. Maybe by then it might make sense. This feels like an incomplete tale with much more to tell; there’s so much action that he could double the length of the film without it feeling slow, but there are so many gaps that he’d have to double the length of the film just to fit in all the explanations he needs. In reality, it’s a short film that grew to feature length, but it plays like a twelve episode serial shrunk to a quarter of its size. As far as I’m aware, the international versions are the same movie, just with new, more misleading, titles. Its latest is Star Troopers, which fails to describe this adequately at all. In France, it’s Battleship Pirates, which is even worse. The Baron Against the Demons works best because, never mind just the title, that’s the perfect synopsis too!
And so I wonder what Ricardo Ribelles was trying to do here. What audience was he trying to reach? I can’t help but feel that the logical audiences for its component parts wouldn’t be happy with the others. Tokusatsu fans may love the wild aliens and blissful miniatures, but would probably throw their hands up in despair at all the pontificating on theology while being stabbed. Catholic action fans (is that a genre?) may dig the fact that it has no problem with staging a new crusade a century into the future but I’m not convinced it makes any liturgical sense whatsoever and it suggests that Jesus is cool and all but his church has lost the plot. I have no doubt that the outrageous leather bikinis will appeal to readers of European fetish comics but they only like religion if it means that monks can do unspeakable things to nuns or demons can, well, do unspeakable things to nuns. There aren’t any nuns to be found here, so I have no idea what they’d think of the scenes that don’t feature leather bikinis and/or the Ragnarok-Beast.

I’d argue that there’s certainly an audience for this sort of insanity, but it’s mostly people like me who are looking for this sort of insanity. It’s full of bizarre and engaging imagery but I honestly think I’d have got as much out of it if I’d turned the subtitles off and attempted to figure out the foreign language dialogue. Perhaps that would have been my better option, because I’d have had to conjure up my own story to explain what I saw and that can’t have made any less sense than the one Ribelles actually wrote. I would have failed to rustle up the levels of Catholic guilt and inevitability of self-sacrifice that Ribelles seems to bathe in, but I’d have imagined the Baron as a wild escapee from a live action anime, an old school knight who wants everyone and everything to fight him. I don’t think the rules of journalism would allow me to review the movie that would have played in my head had I had the foresight to switch the subtitles off, but, by Doña Pervertvm’s brass bazongas, I was greatly tempted to do so.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Black Friday (1940)

Director: Arthur Lubin
Writers: Kurt Siodmak and Eric Taylor
Stars: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi

It’s 1940 and Boris and Bela face the worst horror of their careers: camping outside Walmart the day after Thanksgiving to bag one of them there big screen TVs! Well, not quite. This isn’t that Black Friday, it’s just another Friday the 13th which looms heavy on a calendar behind the opening credits. Once they’re done, we visit Boris Karloff in his prison cell as he readies to start his procession to the electric chair. He’s Dr. Ernest Sovac, though most of the characters seem to call him Ernst, and he appears to be a pleasant old man. It’s surely telling that he’s dressed in white and everyone else is in black. Even the guards seem to respect him and allow him to hand his notes to one of the journalists present; the only one who was fair to him, he explains. And, as he walks off screen to his death, that journalist opens them to read and we launch into a feature length flashback to explain why the good doctor is about to be executed. And, whether it’s Friday the 13th in the prison or not, it certainly is when we leap into the flashback.

Dr. Sovac’s notes are titled Notes on the Case of George Kingsley and it’s Prof. Kingsley teaching poetry at the University of Newcastle. It happens to be the end of the semester and he explains to his avid students that he may not return the next year, though that has precisely nothing to do with the doggerel he quotes from Sir Joshua Peachtree, who I believe was invented for this film. ‘Thou who breakest glass will find Fate can be, oh, most unkind: under ladder walkest thee, most unlucky thou wilt be; each dread Friday do take care, else thou fallest down the stair.’ It’s supposed to be because a ‘very large university in the east’ is interested in him, but we can’t ignore all these superstitions, right? It’s Friday the 13th and Kingsley is tempting fate with poetry in a movie called Black Friday. We shouldn’t forget that it’s Karloff the Uncanny who’s going to drop him at the train station because he doesn’t drive; the Sovacs are family friends; Dr. Sovac’s daughter, Jean, is even one of Kingsley’s students.
I liked all these little hints that something’s going to go horribly wrong, only for everything to be perfectly fine. The best is when Margaret Kingsley warns her husband to watch the traffic; halfway across the road, he drops his umbrella, bends down to retrieve it, turns round to wave at her through the passing cars but still makes it safely over. I also liked the stuntwork when he gets his, as we knew he always would. There’s a gun battle between two cars, barrelling along together, and one knocks Dr. Kingsley over as it ploughs into the building behind him. It’s very capable stuff indeed. And, with that relatively fast disaster done with, we promptly set up the next, much slower one, which regular viewers of Universal horror movies will find to be rather odd in its approach and for two reasons: one because of how the central idea affects the story and the other because of whose story this is. While the stars are Karloff and Lugosi, almost a decade into their horror careers, all this really revolves around Stanley Ridges.

Who is Stanley Ridges, you might ask? Well, he was a British actor, like Karloff, who had taken his career to the States. Beginning on Broadway as a song and dance man, he became a capable romantic lead but struggled to translate a stage career to the screen. He found his place as a character actor in the late thirties, knocking out eight films in Hollywood’s golden year of 1939, including Union Pacific, Each Dawn I Die and Espionage Agent. He’d do even better in the forties, with memorable roles in Sergeant York, To Be or Not to Be and The Suspect, not to mention the 1943 B-movie, False Faces, in which he played what may be his one and only lead role, but, arguably, the two parts for which he’ll be best remembered are the two that he plays in this movie: absent-minded professor, George Kingsley, and vicious gangster, Red Cannon. How come he gets two roles? Well, Dr. Sovac is a brain surgeon and he’s eager to save his friend’s life; he does so by transplanting the brain of the gangster who ploughed into him into Kingsley’s body.
And here we pause, because most of you are going to be questioning that. If we’ve learned anything from a hundred horror flicks built around brain transplantation, it’s that everything that makes a man is stored in his brain and that doesn’t change even if you transplant that brain into another body. When Dr. Frankenstein placed a criminal’s brain into his nascent monster, it directed the creature’s actions in an aberrant fashion. So, when Dr. Sovac moves the brain of Red Cannon into the body of George Kingsley, it must be Cannon who wakes up from the surgery? Well, not here! It’s Kingsley in control with Cannon lurking somewhere behind him, ready to come out when needed. We rail against this for most of the picture until we’re let in on the fact that only part of Red Cannon’s brain was transplanted. That’s not what it says in Dr. Sovac’s notes so I wonder if they ‘fixed’ it later and hoped nobody would notice such an obvious problem. Maybe that’s why co-writer Curt Siodmak would revisit the idea with Donovan’s Brain.

Of course, the oddest thing here is the casting. According to Glenn Erickson’s review for DVD Savant, Karloff was supposed to play the double role of Kingsley and Cannon, while Lugosi was to be Dr. Sovac. I can see that, and it would have made more sense at the time than bringing in someone like Stanley Ridges who wasn’t known for the horror genre in the slightest. However, Karloff was unconvinced that he could do justice to two quintessentially American characters, a small town professor and a fiery gangster, and so decided to play the doctor instead. He’s great as Dr. Sovac, of course, but it’s hardly a stretch for him and Lugosi, even less likely to be believable in that prominent double role, was relegated to the much smaller and less important one of Eric Marnay, who had worked for Cannon but then orchestrated his murder so he could take over his gang instead. We’re never given a reason why this New York gangster should have an eastern European accent, but then Lugosi ran into that problem in at least half of his films!
What stood out most to me was that the morals are different from the norm. Usually, it’s the act of transplantation that prompts us to see a character as the bad guy because this whole subgenre of horror came from Frankenstein, a pre-Victorian gothic novel with a religious subtext that pits science against religion. Sure, many of us know people who have benefitted from kidney or even heart transplants, but back then it was surely beyond the pale because Man shouldn’t be playing God! That mentality lasted in the horror movie genre for decades and still hasn’t quite vanished, but Siodmak’s script, written with Eric Taylor, never judges Dr. Sovac for transplanting a brain. It’s illegal, that’s for sure, but we never really get into the morality of it and it’s certainly not why he’s on death row. The suggestion is that he performs this surgery for the best of reasons, to save his friend, but only later discovers that Red Cannon has half a million dollars hidden away somewhere and that discovery sets him on an inevitable path to his downfall.

You see, this is really an unwitting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, with Prof. Kingsley playing a much loved Jekyll and Red Cannon taking the villainous Hyde half of that personality. The two battle for dominance, of course, with Cannon taking firm advantage of his new disguise to get revenge on those who attempted to murder him; Kingsley just gets more and more confused at the whole thing, because he keeps losing time and can’t figure out why. The why of it all is Dr. Sovac, of course, because he’s dazzled enough by the prospect of a fortune to further his work to put his friend at serious risk. When he realises that Kingsley is exhibiting signs of Cannon coming through, he pushes that hard. He takes his friend to New York and books them into Cannon’s regular rooms at the Midtown Hotel, where he throws pointed questions at him as Kingsley falls into sleep, so that he’ll wake up with the gangster in control, whom he believes he can blackmail into sharing the location of that money. So his downfall is greed, not playing God.
I enjoyed Karloff’s performance here, though Lugosi’s is far from his best. I won’t spoil his worst moment, but the man who played Count Dracula pleading in a broken voice is a pitiful thing indeed. He does try, but he can’t find his feet as a New York gangster the way that his cohorts can. William Kane is Paul Fix, the marshal from The Rifleman, who was just as good in villainous roles as he was in heroic ones; Frank Miller is Edmund MacDonald, well known for film noir roles with dark sides; even Raymond Bailey does what he needs to do as Louis Devore, even if we don’t recognise him as Milburn Drysdale a few decades later. Lugosi could look tough in his sleep, but that thick accent hurts him here and we never buy into him taking over the gang from Cannon, who Ridges plays so well that we have trouble initially believing that it’s the same actor we’ve been watching as the gentle Prof. Kingsley. Perhaps he’s aided by the make-up needs being for Kingsley rather than Cannon, but most of it his him; it’s a superb contrasting performance.

And, frankly, Ridges steals the film, which is no small feat for someone tasked with acting with both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi; it has to be mentioned that the latter two don’t share a single scene. I utterly bought into Ridges’ confidence as Cannon; there are some wonderful scenes where he visits his old flame, a singer called Sunny Rogers, and carries on with her as if nothing had ever changed, even though he’s literally in a completely new body that she fails to recognise. Siodmak handles all the little details that confirm him as Cannon superbly. I also utterly bought into Ridges’ absent-minded act as Kingsley, who’s well established with the audience before Ridges ever becomes Cannon. The best scenes are ones where he blurs the boundaries between the two. Cannon has a favourite bellhop at the Midtown, for instance, who uses the distinctive knock he’s mandated. When Kingsley uses it too, he starts to leave, realises what happened, pauses, starts again and almost walks into Boris Karloff. That’s an awesome combination!
Karloff and Lugosi made seven features together, eight if you count Gift of Gab, but this isn’t the double act that we know from Son of Frankenstein, The Raven or The Black Cat. It’s well worth watching for Karloff and it’s interesting for Lugosi but, of all of their films together, this is the one to watch for someone else. I wonder if Universal ever asked Stanley Ridges back for another horror; they wouldn’t cut their output until later in the decade and could easily have used someone with the skills he ably demonstrates here. From what I can tell, the only other horror movie he made was a Republic picture called The Phantom Speaks in 1945, in which he plays a doctor whose body is taken over by a murderer; it’s a different story but with obvious similarities. These old horror movies work because they were cast from quality actors who happened to be playing horror; Ridges is another Claude Rains, who could do The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man, then switch to Casablanca and Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Sadly he didn’t have as much opportunity.

Happy Friday the 13th, folks! And, remember, there are two Friday the 13ths in 2017, so come on back for another one in October which also doesn’t feature Jason Voorhees.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Edge of Eternity (1959)

Director: Donald Siegel
Writers: Knut Swenson and Richard Collins, from a story by Ben Markson and Knut Swenson
Stars: Cornel Wilde, Victoria Shaw and Mickey Shaughnessy

I’ve been wanting to get my teeth into a project I call Dry Heat Obscurities for quite some time now and here’s where I get going with it. I’ll be alternating it going forward with my Weird Wednesdays project, so expect one review from each of those projects every other Wednesday. This one grew out of a conversation with local Arizona film critic Bill Pierce at the Haunted Hamburger, during the first year of the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival, and it revolves around all those other films that were shot here in Arizona over the decades, that weren’t the westerns that everyone expects. The spark for the conversation was my viewing of an obscure 1968 thriller called The Name of the Game is Kill!, which had been shot in Jerome, Clarkdale and Sedona, with Jack Lord and Susan Strasberg. I knew there were others, as I’d already reviewed Violent Saturday, a Richard Fleischer picture shot in Bisbee in 1955 with Victor Mature and Lee Marvin, but how many? Well, Bill threw out some intriguing titles and research led to more.

This picture is a great example of what I was hoping to discover through this project. For a start, I’d never heard of the film, even though it was a big deal. It was released by a major studio, Columbia Pictures, in 1959. It had a famous director, Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame, credited here as Donald Siegel. It starred actors I knew, though I’m talking less about Cornel Wilde, Victoria Shaw and Mickey Shaughnessy in the lead roles and more about character actors like Edgar Buchanan and Jack Elam; the latter is a local boy, born in Miami, a small town near Globe that’s been getting smaller since the thirties (it’s the location of the short film, Black Gulch). It’s an interesting, though flawed, thriller which becomes all the more interesting because of a strong use of Arizona scenery. The opening credits highlight that it was, ‘filmed at one of the Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon, in CinemaScope’. It puts the towns of Kingman and Oatman to good use too, in which Clark Gable and Carole Lombard married and honeymooned respectively.
In fact, it goes further than merely using Arizona scenery to use real Arizona history, not least the short lived exploitation of the Bat Cave guano mine by the US Guano Corporation. The cave was discovered back in the thirties by someone who was boating the Colorado river. Guano is bat shit, but it’s valuable as fertiliser because it’s rich in nitrogen. A mining engineer estimated a deposit of 100,000 tons, much less than the 500,000 tons that Jack Elam’s character suggests in this film but much more than there turned out to be in reality. Most of the cave was actually filled with limestone rubble, with a mere 1,000 tons of guano. US Guano bought the cave in 1957 and spent 14 months building a cableway to carry the guano 7,500 feet across the river and 2,500 feet upwards. Columbia shot a number of key scenes on the ‘dancing bucket’ tram car, including the finalé, but the mine closed a year later. At $100 a ton, US Guano could only earn $100,000 of their $3.5m investment back, making it a loss as a mine but a gain as a location.

We take a while to get there, because we kick things off by running a car off the rim of the Grand Canyon. Burnett Guffey, Siegel’s cinematographer, had already been showing us just how vast the Grand Canyon is by panning his CinemaScope camera around as the opening credits rolled. Once they wrap up, Siegel introduces a couple of actors. One of them stops his car to look over the rim with binoculars, while the other sneaks out of nowhere, releases the handbrake and pushes the car right at him. Surprisingly, it’s the prospective victim who survives, albeit not for long. He’s soon found hanged in the old Kendon Mining Company office up in Oatman. Police Deputy Les Martin might have stopped the murder if he’d listened to old Eli’s ranting about someone up there, but old Eli tells these tales all the time and so Martin chases the speeding Janice Kendon down the winding roads to the bottom of the mountain instead. This works well to kill off our mystery man, set Martin up for future trouble and introduce the leading lady.
In fact, Edge of Eternity starts very well across the board. The scenery is amazing, especially in colour and a format as widescreen as CinemaScope. Cornel Wilde is a laid back but clearly capable deputy and the small town feel only builds as he starts to investigate in Kingman. A description gets him a name, R. E. Wallace, and a hotel, the El Trovatore; Wallace’s room has been ransacked. The El Trovatore still operates today, located on historic Route 66 which at this point is known as Andy Devine Avenue, because the actor, who was born in Flagstaff, was brought up in Kingman from the age of one; the town also holds an annual Andy Devine Days rodeo and parade, the latter of which is usually over two miles long. The early scenes use Kingman magnificently, with other prominent locations such as the Mohave County Court House (there’s a later goof when this is referenced as the more expected ‘Mojave’, the Spanish spelling) and a few local businesses that may or may not still exist.

Best of all, of course, is the US Guano cableway, for a whole slew of reasons. It’s awesomely cinematic, for one, and it actually looks like Cornel Wilde and Jack Elam are right there on the edge, watching the tram car slowly rise towards them. The biggest problem with the early scenes is the rear projection work, mostly during the ‘high speed’ car chase, which on these winding roads means a blistering 45mph (even if the speedos say twenty). That problem isn’t apparent up on the rim looking down at the Bat Cave mine and the tension we feel that high up is exactly what we should feel. Elam is young here, not to mention tall and rangy, surprisingly so as he’d already reached the second half of his career, by film count. Comparing him here to The Night of the Grizzly, a mere seven years later, is unreal; he’s exactly as we expect him in the latter film but nothing like it here. He gets a decent amount of time too, which he puts to good use. I mentioned in my review of The Villain that he deserved bigger roles; this certainly backs that up.
The problem is that the story takes its sweet time to move forward. We almost feel for Sam Houghton, the County Attorney, when he excoriates Deputy Martin on the stand for getting nowhere, partly because he’s right and partly because there are three bodies at this point in the story, but Houghton’s too much of an ass and Martin is too much of an honest man. I think we’re supposed to be more on his side than we actually are, but it’s really his burgeoning romantic interest, Janice Kendon, who breaks the case in a few different scenes. Some synopses suggest that they team up, but that never really happens; it’s just that Martin rarely progresses in scenes that don’t revolve around her explaining something important. She’s Victoria Shaw, an Australian actress who also starred in The Crimson Kimono the same year for Sam Fuller. She’s flighty here, especially compared to Martin, and we wonder if he’d liven up or she’d settle down if the relationship continued. She’s good at flighty but it’s hard to get a grip on her because of that.

I don’t want to spoil the movie, though where it goes is never really surprising. I will say, though, that the story revolves around gold because that’s key to the Arizona setting as well. Janice’s father heads up the Kendon Mining Company, at whose office R. E. Wallace’s body was found hanging, and her brother Bob is a geologist, even though he spends the majority of his time drunk as a skunk down at Scotty O’Brien’s bar. Mining is in the family blood, it seems, and Janice surprises Deputy Martin up at Oatman with an explanation of why the town is empty of people when there’s still $20m of gold under them. I looked this up and she’s talking about War Production Board Limitation Order L-208, which in 1942 restricted the mining of ‘non-essential metals’. Miners moved to copper mines, because that could be used for shells and bullets. The last working gold mine in Arizona shut down in 1998 and it was the Gold Road mine in, you guessed it, Oatman. We see the Gold Road in Edge of Eternity.
I was fascinated by these little historical details, which had extra spice for being outlined by the leading lady rather than her male counterpart. I was less fascinated by the mystery, which is so slow in progressing that we’re likely to forget about it on a number of occasions, like when we puzzle instead about Les and Janice’s date night. After a quick stop at Scotty’s, if I wasn’t hallucinating, they track down what must surely be the world’s only cha-cha dance floor in a Chinese restaurant with a Mexican band. Kingman must have been a hip and happening place back in 1959! There are other diversions too, like the skeleton of an antique car that Eli drives or the periodic trips by plane through the Grand Canyon, which run on far longer than they should but are still glorious to watch anyway. There’s even an amazing scene in which the bad guy, who I won’t name, actually hits exactly what he’s aiming at, holing the engine of the only car that can pursue him and from a moving vehicle too! But at this point, the mystery is solved.

It’s here that we launch instead into our action finalé and it’s a peach. The villain, who has kidnapped Janice, finds that his escape route has been cut off so detours to the US Guano cable head right up there on the rim of the Grand Canyon, so that he can hijack its tram car to carry him across the Colorado river. Deputy Martin catches up right in the nick of time and leaps onto the back as it sets off, no less than 4,750 feet up in the air. Don’t forget the tram car’s nickname: the ‘dancing bucket’. Imagine, if you will, what that translates to when the hero and villain face off over the damsel in distress, while attempting not to fall to their deaths so far below. Like the earlier, much safer, scenes with Wilde and Elam, some of these are obviously real and the product of stuntwork, though the close-ups are still rear projection. IMDb lists Chuck Couch, Rosemary Johnston and Guy Way as stunt performers and I salute them from the safety of my chair, where vertigo is not an option. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like way up there!
It’s hard to imagine what Edge of Eternity would have been like either, had it not been shot in such a spectacular location. We begin and end with the Grand Canyon as our backdrop and, even as we detour into Kingman and Oatman, it’s never far from our minds. Strip it out of the picture and we don’t just lose the finalé, we lose the majesty of the film, leaving just a minor story with a mildly interesting set of characters. Burnett Guffey’s cinematography would have been strong in any other location (he’d had one Oscar already for From Here to Eternity and he’d pick up another for Bonnie and Clyde), but a hole in the ground as big as the Grand Canyon is a gift to someone of his talents. Yet, Wilde plays Deputy Martin like he’s in a B-movie and he doesn’t fit with Shaw’s channeling of Deborah Kerr. Edgar Buchanan and Jack Elam are great in minor roles, but Mickey Shaughnessy doesn’t get enough to justify his third billing and the script by Knut Swenson (Marion Hargrove) and Richard Collins lets them down instead of building them up.

The big winner here is clearly the state of Arizona and its scenic northwest, which I was very happy to see. There were other films shot in Arizona earlier than Violent Saturday and this. Lust for Gold also explored our gold-mining history by pitting Ida Lupino, Gig Young and Glenn Ford against the famous Lost Dutchman Mine in 1949; Edgar Buchanan showed up for that one as well, which saw scenes shot in Apache Junction, Florence and Phoenix, as well as the Superstition Mountains, the Lost Dutchman National Park and the Agua Fria National Monument. As unlikely a candidate for an Arizona shoot as David and Bathsheba, with as unlikely a candidate for King David as Gregory Peck, was shot in Nogales in 1951 with 6’ 8” Lithuanian wrestler Walter Talun as Goliath. I may go back to take a look at those, but I’m mostly going to work forward from the late fifties to my cut-off year of 1987 because Raising Arizona made it kind of obvious that films other than westerns were shot here. See you in two weeks for The Mountain Road!