Apocalypse Later Empire



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Friday, 28 July 2017

C.C. & Company (1970)


Director: Seymour Robbie
Writer: Roger Smith
Stars: Joe Namath and Ann-Margret


Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

I’m exploring genre movies that were shot in Arizona because I live here, but I wasn’t born here like my better half. I’m English, so my cultural background is very different to hers and I find that especially fascinating when watching movies that exist for cultural reasons. This one exists mostly to grant Joe Namath a leading role in a motion picture. To me, Joe Namath is someone who used to play American football and, given that I can only name half a dozen players, mostly those who became blaxploitation legends, that must make him important. To my wife, though, he’s ‘Broadway’ Joe, the player who changed the sport by opening it up to a female audience. He did that because he was hot, he was charismatic and he was confident enough in his masculinity to put on pantyhose for a TV commercial. This was my first experience of ‘Broadway’ Joe and he’s clearly an easy-going character, the sort of man who always does his own thing, regardless what anyone else might think, and makes it cool in the process.

Reading up on his achievements, he was hardly the greatest player who ever put on pads, his statistics notably weaker than those of Jim Brown, who I read up on for Riot, an earlier Dry Heat Obscurity. In fact, Namath lost more games than he won, but some of the winning games were really important ones, like Superbowl III. He was the quarterback for the underdog New York Jets, who took on ‘the greatest football team in history’, the Baltimore Colts, in January 1969. This was right before the two leagues merged for the 1970 season and critics were relatively agreed that the AFL teams would struggle to cope with their NFL competition. The Jets were the face of the AFL in Superbowl III and everyone expected them to get creamed but, only three days before the game, Namath ‘guaranteed’ a heckler that they would win. They did, 16 to 7, and Namath was the MVP. Following up by saying that the toughest defence he’d ever faced was that of the AFL’s worst team, the Buffalo Bills, he gave the AFL instant legitimacy.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

O, My Darling Clementine (1943)


Director: Frank McDonald
Writers: Dorrell & Stuart E. McGowan
Stars: Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys & Girls, The Radio Rogues, Isabel Randolph, Harry ‘Pappy’ Cheshire and The Tennessee Ramblers


Index: 2017 Centennials

No, not My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s version of the gunfight at the O.K. corral, with Henry Fonda playing Wyatt Earp; that was made three years later in 1946. This is O, My Darling Clementine, a country musical released on the very last day of 1943 by Republic, perhaps to capitalise on the resurgence of the old folk tune, which Bing Crosby had brought into the Top 20 a couple of years prior. It’s a cheap and cheerful picture, corny as all get out, but a whole bundle of fun nonetheless, and it features a host of names we’ve either forgotten or never known, many of whom were most famous for their work on radio. In fact, the film actors were relegated to the second card in the opening credits; the first was reserved for ‘Radio’s Popular Entertainers’, people as forgotten today as the Radio Rogues and the Tennessee Ramblers or Isabel Randolph and Harry ‘Pappy’ Cheshire. Even the film’s star is less remembered today than he used to be. That’s Roy Acuff, still singing and fiddling with his Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls.

He was surely the most famous name at the time and he’s top billed, even though he’s hardly playing the lead. Acuff was one of the pioneers of country music, at a time when that was niche regional music. When he made this film, he’d just co-founded Acuff-Rose Music, the first major country music publishing company in Nashville, and the industry was already changing because of his style and charisma. His importance is perhaps best summed up in a quote from Hank Williams, who said in 1952: ‘He's the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn't worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.’ A decade later, in 1962, he became the first living artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, that’s the point at which he was no longer the most famous name in this picture, having been surpassed by Irene Ryan, newly famous as Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies. This is less than two decades earlier but she’s almost unrecognisable.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968)


Director: Don Weis
Writer: John Fenton Murray, from a story by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum
Stars: Phyllis Diller, Bob Denver, Joe Flynn, Eileen Wesson, Jeanette Nolan, Paul Reed, Bob Hastings and David Hartman


Index: 2017 Centennials.

One hundred years ago today, Phyllis Ada Driver was born in Lima, OH. Under her married name of Phyllis Diller, this unique and groundbreaking talent would change the business of stand-up comedy which, before her, was a male only domain. Virtually every American female comedian since has cited her as an influence, including Joan Rivers who wrote for her before she found her own fame. Surprisingly, for someone with such a long career, it began late: she was already in her late thirties, married with five kids but a two week booking at the Purple Onion in San Francisco was extended to a year and a half and, just like that, she had a career. Of course, she eventually found her way to television and onto film but, like so many other comedians, she is still confined by her nationality. Humour is a fickle creature; it doesn’t travel the way that action, horror or romance do. As an Englishman, I never saw Diller on TV or in films and would have had difficulty understanding what made her so popular because of the cultural disconnect.

Even today, I believe I’ve only seen her once, in a highly unusual performance as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s game show, You Bet Your Life, in 1958. It was her television debut and she hadn’t yet adopted the outrageous persona that would make her famous. I found her funny, if a little nervous, and it was obvious that Groucho was impressed. So this was a real discovery for me and I’m not sure that I’ve fully recovered yet; what works on the stage of a comedy club doesn’t always translate into a narrative story and it’s not unfair to state that Diller’s schtick is hard to take as the lead character in a feature film. And I chose this one precisely because she was the lead, for the first time in a straight comedy feature, and I wanted to see how that worked. It was her seventh picture, following a tiny role in Splendor in the Grass; the lead in a musical, The Fat Spy; a voice acting slot in Mad Monster Party?; and a trio of supporting roles in Bob Hope movies: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angel Unchained (1970)


Director: Lee Madden
Writer: Jeffrey Alladin Fiskin, based on a story by Leo Madden and Jeffrey Alladin Fiskin
Stars: Don Stroud, Luke Askew, Larry Bishop, Tyne Daly and Aldo Ray


Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

Angel Unchained is a real product of its time. It’s the standard story, dating back at least as far as Seven Samurai, of a battle with three sides: one defending a second against the third. Here, however, the sides aren’t samurai, peasants and bandits; they’re all grabbed from the counterculture revolution of the American late sixties. Taking the place of the samurai are the Exiles Motorcycle Club, an odd good guy role for bikers at the time. Then again, these are a bit more restrained than the usual bikers you’d expect to be in an American International picture, though they never entirely shed their bad boy image; they’re just on better behaviour. Instead of peasants, they’re called in to fight on behalf of a hippie commune, of all things, which is clearly unable to defend itself because all its members are pacifists. More appropriately for the end of the counterculture, the bikers are tasked with defending the hippies against the normal people, here represented by fist fighting cowboys in dune buggies. Yeah, it’s that sort of movie!

Actually, they may have conjured up the cowboys because the town these townsfolk want to keep the filthy hippies out of is Lehi, Arizona, carved out of the desert because Brigham Young wanted a Mormon settlement in the Salt River Valley and tasked Daniel W. Jones to found one. Fist fighting Mormons in dune buggies is even more far fetched than cowboys, but such intolerance would have a little more historical accuracy; when Jones invited Native Americans to live with them in Lehi, half the colony promptly left to found their own Indian-free settlement instead: St. David in Cochise County. Lehi is now north Mesa and it’s in Lehi, outside the Lehi Market, that these sides first meet. The Angel of the title, which is a role as much as a name, stops to fill up his bike at the gas station/barber shop. Before he leaves, a truck shows up to do likewise and the cowboys tell the hippies that the pump is suddenly closed. Angel picks his side and, next thing we know, he’s on his way to the commune with Merilee the hippie seated behind him.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hotel Berlin (1945)


Director: Peter Godfrey
Writer: Jo Pagano and Alvah Bessie, from the novel by Vicki Baum
Stars: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King and Peter Lorre


Index: 2017 Centennials.

There’s a scene towards the end of Hotel Berlin where Faye Emerson ignores a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered in the magnificent voice of Peter Lorre’s character, because, well, she’s finally got the new pair of shoes that she’s been dreaming about for the entire film. You know, priorities. This was a cinematic in-joke, because at the time the movie was released, in March 1945, Emerson was married to Col. Elliott Roosevelt, son of the president and the favourite child of the first lady. They wed at the rim of the Grand Canyon in 1944, having flown there in planes provided by Howard Hughes, who had introduced them; Col. Elliott died in Scottsdale in 1990 in another Arizona connection. Their marriage didn’t last long; it was her second of three and his third of five. It also didn’t go well, given that she slit her wrists in December 1948 and was hospitalised during the recovery; she finally obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1950. By that point, she’d ended her screen career: 30 of her 33 films were released in the forties.

Instead, she moved from the big screen to the small one, where she soon became known as the ‘Best-Dressed Woman on TV’ and, somewhat inevitably, the ‘First Lady of Television’, though the latter has been reapplied to others every half decade or so. She was important enough early on to generate a rumour that the Emmy Award (for which she was twice nominated) was named for her; it wasn’t, being named for the Immy, the ‘image orthicon tube’ used in early television cameras, which was feminised to Emmy to go with the female image on the statuette. She hosted her own shows, such as The Faye Emerson Show in 1950 and 1951; she co-hosted Faye and Skitch in 1953, with her third husband, a bandleader called Lyle ‘Skitch’ Henderson; and she became a frequent panelist on game shows such as To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line? and and I’ve Got a Secret. Her last screen performance was as a team captain on The Match Game in 1963. After that, she lived a private life in Europe, dying in Spain in 1983. She would have been a hundred today.