Sunday 30 April 2023

Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Director: Bob Kelljan
Writers: Joan Torres & Raymond Koenig and Maurice Jules, based on a story by Joan Torres & Raymond Koenig
Stars: William Marshall, Don Mitchell and Pam Grier

Index: The First Thirty.

After Coffy, Pam Grier was the kick ass chick in blaxploitation movies and I’m utterly sure that audiences wanted to see what she would come up with next. Well, further kick ass flicks were on the way in Foxy Brown, Sheba, Baby and Friday Foster, but she had a couple of others to knock out before them.

This was the first, a sequel to 1972’s Blacula, which was exactly what you think it was. I’ve seen it before and it’s better than Blackenstein because of the presence of William Marshall as the lead actor. He was tall at 6’ 5”, elegant and very well-spoken, through his background as a Shakespearean stage actor and opera singer, and he fits very well alongside a select list of his white counterparts in classic horror, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee.

He’s back for this sequel, reprising his role of Prince Mamuwalde, known as Blacula. Why he could possibly be back is open to debate, as he was a sympathetic monster in the first film and ended it by deliberately walking into the morning sun. He’s just as good here, selling a script that deliberately has fun playing up his outdated manners.

“Your bread, man, all of it!” demand a pair of street hoodlums. “Or are we gonna have to become antisocial and kick your ass?”

Utterly unphased and presumably grasping only the threat in the situation, he apologises: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any ‘bread’ on me, and as for ‘kicking my ass’, I’d strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying.”

Then he backhands one through a window and slams the other face first into a door. And, after that, he feeds.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Coffy (1973)

Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Stars: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert Doqui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus and Sid Haig

Index: The First Thirty.

This project is reenforcing just how many fantastic exploitation pictures Pam Grier made in the seventies. It’s certainly not all of them, but Women in Cages, The Big Bird Cage and Black Mama White Mama makes three winners out of eight, with Coffy a fourth, along with being the first of her classics made back home in the U.S.

I’ve seen it before, though it’s been a while, and, watching in context, it surprised me with its originality. Cool Breeze and Hit Man, a couple of films I hadn’t previously seen, are just what blaxploitation did, nothing original at all. This isn’t remotely like either of them.

For a start, Pam Grier doesn’t have a small role here, playing something stereotypical like a hooker or a porn star. She’s the lead, not just the female lead but the lead who’s female, and she’s an entirely respectable ER nurse dating a city councilman. That was unusual.

Apparently, AIP lost the rights to Cleopatra Jones, which should have pioneered this genre, to Warner Bros., so quickly threw a female-led blaxploitation of their own into production to beat the original to screens, which it did. It’s a better film too, which didn’t hurt, but it was a pioneer, just like The Big Doll House was a mere two years earlier.

For another thing, it doesn’t play into any of the usual stereotypes. Black leaders during the blaxploitation era often condemned them for doing exactly that, but it’s an anti-drug movie. Coffy spends her days saving lives, but she was unable to save her sister, Lubelle, a young girl now living in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Center attempting to recover from cocaine addiction and failing because her brain’s fried.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Aaaaaaaah! (2015)

Director: Steve Oram
Writer: Steve Oram
Stars: Lucian Barrett, Lucy Honigman, Tom Meeten, Steve Oram, Sean Reynard, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Toyah Willcox

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

In many ways, Aaaaaaaah!, actor Steve Oram’s debut feature as a director, is just a soap opera, because all the characters are defined entirely through their relationships, which change considerably over the course of the picture. Denise lives at home with her mum, Barabara, who’s currently with Ryan, even though her ex, Jupiter, is still hanging around looking forlorn. Denise clearly hates Ryan and what passes for a home life that their family has, so acts up accordingly, drinking and shoplifting with her cousin, Helen. When a stranger named Smith shows up at a party that they’re hosting at their house, she hooks up with him prompting things to change. Smith and Ryan clash repeatedly, trawling in friends and family members to their fight until everything eventually settles down to a new normal. The good times are good and folk enjoy cooking or playing console games. The bad times are bad, deteriorating into violent arguments that leave nobody happy. This could be Eastenders or Coronation Street, right? But it isn’t. Oh no!

Oram’s soap opera world has one major difference to anything you’ll see on primetime television, perhaps best highlighted with a note that the film’s title is the most coherent line of dialogue anyone utters in 79 minutes of running time. These characters might look like regular human beings and they might live lives that oddly echo our own, but they’re not regular human beings. What they are, Oram refuses to explain, so we have no easy recourse to a virus or a chemical leak or an alien experiment to explain anything. Things just are and it falls to us to figure out what Oram is trying to do in this film with all his actors communicating only through animalistic grunts. It’s like the world as we know it simply changed one day when everyone woke up with the primal urges and low (comparatively) intelligence of a chimpanzee. They carry on regardless, being British, but just through routine, because any higher functions, such as speech, have been forever lost. Civilisation has fallen, even if nobody’s apparently acknowledged it yet.

Monday 24 April 2023

Black Mama White Mama (1973)

Director: Eddie Romero
Writer: H. R. Christian, from a story by Joseph Viola and Jonathan Demme
Stars: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov,Sid Haig, Lynn Borden, Zaldy Zschornack and Laurie Burton

Index: The First Thirty.

It’s back to the Philippines for Pam Grier yet again. However, unlike earlier Filipino movies, this wasn’t made by New World Pictures. It’s a production of Four Associates, a collaboration between Eddie Romero and John Ashley; if you recall, the former directed the latter in 1972’s The Twilight People, with Grier only growling as Ayesa, the Panther Woman. Here, she’s jointly top-billed with Margaret Markov in a take on 1958’s The Defiant Ones, with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in a similarly chained chase flick.

Oddly, it starts out like a spaghetti western, for no reason I can determine. We’re looking at a Filipino prison, after all, but it’s not only the soundtrack, which is highly reminiscent; it’s also the shots of Grier and Markov on the Women’s Rehabilitation Center bus and those in the fields. It’s a strange way to kick off and it doesn’t continue in that vein at all, but it’s there nonetheless, making little sense.

What does make sense is that we have eyes on these two, because they’re the leads from the very beginning. Grier is Lee Daniels, who arrives in a flowing red dress and tries to help another girl who falls on the steps. Markov is Karen Brent, who doesn’t care about anything except the revolution she wants to return to.

If there’s a third star at this point, it’s Lynn Borden as Matron Densmore, who plays up the lesbian angle so common to women in prison movies. She’s a butch blonde with severe hair and she sneaks between some walls to spy on the inevitable shower scene, moaning so loud that we’re shocked the inmates don’t hear her. Warden Logan knows she’s in there and waits for her to come out. “Keep it up and you’ll go blind!” she tells her.

Apparently the two are an item, but Matron likes to play around. She invites Daniels to her room first, offering her a drink and benefits of cooperation, but Grier, so happily lesbian in a couple of earlier WiP flicks, happily turns her down. Brent, who’s next on her list, plays into her ideas to make her life easier.

Friday 21 April 2023

Hit Man (1972)

Director: George Armitage
Writer: George Armitage, based on the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis
Stars: Bernie Casey, Pamela Grier, Lisa Moore and Bhetty Waldron

Index: The First Thirty.

In the early seventies, Pam Grier made a lot of films for producer Roger Corman, generally women in prison flicks shot in the Philippines. However, in between them were a pair of films for Roger’s elder brother, Gene Corman, which were shot back home in the States.

Notably, both were also blaxploitation takes on hit novels that had already been made into more famous films. Cool Breeze was a version of The Asphalt Jungle, while Hit Man was literally an adaptation of Get Carter, even if the writer, George Armitage, didn’t know it, because Gene Corman gave him a copy of the script without a title on it, asking for a black equivalent.

Grier gets second billing for a much bigger role than the skimpy one she got in Cool Breeze and other actors return too, notably Sam Laws but also Rudy Challenger and Ed Cambridge. In that film she was a hooker, but she’s promoted to porn star here. We even get to see a little of one of her character’s movies during a pivotal scene. No hardcore, of course, because this is a long way from Caligula.

She’s one of three co-stars here, all of them playing second fiddle to Bernie Casey, the star of the show as Tyrone Tackett, the hit man of the title. At least I assume he’s a hit man. That never seems to be important and it really has no bearing on the story whatsoever. Gozelda does and, while she may or may not have the most screen time, she certainly gives Grier the most to do of any of the three co-stars.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

The Big Bird Cage (1972)

Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Stars: Pam Grier, Anitra Ford, Candice Roman, Carol Speed and Sid Haig

Index: The First Thirty.

The Big Doll House wasn’t a great movie but it was an important movie, a pioneer that kicked a genre into motion. This isn’t great either and it’s not as important but it’s much more fun. It stands up as a great example of why seventies exploitation is often so rewatchable.

Everything points to this being a sequel but it isn’t. Sure, it has a deliberately similar title to cash in. Sure, it’s another of Roger Corman’s films for New World Pictures that was shot in the Philippines and it’s women in prison once more. Sure, Jack Hill’s back as both writer and director and Pam Grier and Sid Haig, so good as supporting actors in The Big Doll House, get the leads this time. But it’s unrelated. Unlike Women in Cages, it doesn’t even re-use the sets.

Some of it is just as formulaic as you might expect. There’s a beautiful foreign woman in the Philippines who’s quickly incarcerated in a rural establishment packed full of women in skimpy outfits who take a lot of showers and not just because they need them after working hard on the road crew. The commandant’s a sadist and, every time something doesn’t meet his strict criteria, he doubles down. Of course, that goes way beyond realistic levels and that prompts the inevitable prison break.

So far so typical for the genre. However, Hill switches up a lot of things as well.

For a start, this is a government work camp rather than a prison and that means that it’s outside, as we see the moment the film begins, with a bevy of beauties working above stepped rice terraces. It’s great scenery, however you’ll interpret that. The girls live in dormitory huts and the sun is everywhere, making this quite a bright women in prison movie.

Saturday 15 April 2023

Cool Breeze (1972)

Director: Barry Pollack
Writer: Barry Pollack, based on a novel by W. R. Burnett
Stars: Thalmus Rasulala, Judy Pace, Jim Watkins, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Raymond St. Jacques

Index: The First Thirty.

While Cool Breeze was written by its director, Barry Pollack, there’s an early credit to say it’s based on a novel by W. R. Burnett. Strangely, it isn’t interested in saying which novel, because it’s The Asphalt Jungle, famously filmed in 1950 with Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern, with The Badlanders in 1958 retelling the story as a western and Cairo in 1963 taking it to Egypt.

This, in case you weren’t able to guess from the poster, is a blaxploitation movie, so it’s an inner city look at how the American black man is ripped off by Whitey and it only seems fair to rip him off in return, to the tune of $3m in diamonds. Oddly, the city is Los Angeles rather than New York, but everything else applies.

Opening credits highlight that it’s an MGM picture, trying to stay relevant with the black audience after their huge success with Shaft a year earlier; it was produced by Gene Corman, who was Roger’s older brother; and it features the work of Solomon Burke on the soundtrack.

It also tells us that Pam Grier, who’s listed as Pamela Grier, isn’t one of the stars but is one of four co-stars, suggesting that she’s going to get a heck of a lot more screen time than she actually does. In truth, the only co-star with a real part is Sam Laws as “Stretch” Finian, who plays a big role in the developing crime and a bigger one in how it all falls apart.

What’s particularly telling is that the other three of those co-stars, the ones without a lot of screen time, are all female. Women simply don’t have much of a place in this picture and what place they have is decidedly subsidiary. It seems like women in this world are hookers or mistresses, maybe wives to ignore, but not anything of real consequence.

Thursday 13 April 2023

The Twilight People (1972)

Director: Eddie Romero
Writer: Jerome Small
Stars: John Ashley, Pat Woodell, Jan Merlin and Pam Grier

Index: The First Thirty.

In 1971, officially, at least, there had only been one big screen adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, namely the famous precode, Island of Lost Souls, which had been banned in the UK. Unofficially, there had been many, often made in the Philippines, where Gerry de Leon, director of Pam Grier’s previous film, Women in Cages, started a horror boom in 1959 with one of them, Terror is a Man.

It seems appropriate then that Grier would stay in the Philippines after her two women in prison flicks and diversify her range with yet another Island of Dr. Moreau rip-off, this one directed by Eddie Romero, a co-producer and uncredited director on Terror is a Man.

It’s not a good effort, but it has its moments. It starts out well with an underwater segment, someone scuba diving in tropical waters full of shoals of fish set to an exotica soundtrack. It’s all very nice but then the title arrives and the music gets sinister. After the opening credits, we remain in the water waiting for a story to show up and suddenly there it is, because our unwary diver is caught, tied up and hauled up onto a ship to be anaesthetised.

He’s Matt Farrell, an adventurer, known as the Last Renaissance Man, and he’s caught by Steinman, an adventurer himself, by the order of Dr. Gordon, a reclusive genius who clearly inspires fierce loyalty in his followers.

Eventually we get to meet him, in his huge house at the top of an island, but we’re given a few hints first at someone or something in the undergrowth who’s watching the trucks drive Farrell up there. We don’t know what yet, but the opening credits provided us with hints in some of the character names: Panther Woman, Antelope Man, Bat Man (no, not that one), Ape Man and Wolf Woman.

Gordon, in the form of Charles Macaulay, is a relatively typical mad scientist who doesn’t believe himself to be mad. He rants about the “single most important event in the history of life on this planet”, something he’s preparing for in his work. What could that be, you ask? Well, “The world is changing. Man isn’t. We’re not equipped.” Just in case you hadn’t caught any Dr. Moreau vibes, he hazards, “The human race cannot survive if it doesn’t remake itself.”

Wednesday 12 April 2023

What’s Buzzin’, Cousin? (1943)

Director: Charles Barton
Writer: Harry Sauber, based on a play by Aben Kandel with altered dialogue by John P. Medbury
Stars: Ann Miller, Rochester, John Hubbard and Freddy Martin and His Orchestra

Index: 2023 Centennials.

This is not a good movie. Let’s get that right out there from the get go. I’m also watching a copy of horrific quality, because it hasn’t been officially released in any form that I can find and I don’t want to splash out ten bucks for a bootleg, which may or may not be a better copy than the one I downloaded from the Internet Archive for free. It’s so blurred that I can’t see the mouths moving but it’s so far out of sync that it really doesn’t matter. As bad as it is, though, it’s interesting and there’s much to say about it. For a start, it says that it’s based on a “play” by Aben Kandel, which may have never been produced, a play that I presume was named for a song, which isn’t in this movie. It was in a different movie a year earlier, Song of the Islands, which was shot in 1941 before the U.S. joined World War II but released afterwards, so its tropical paradise musical comedy feud romance story was painfully out of date before a single cinemagoer had a chance to see it. Hawaii had a very different tone indeed after Pearl Harbor.

This film is wildly out of date now but wasn’t when it was released, which makes it such a bizarre window into a bygone time that’s not as long ago as it immediately seems. The star is Ann Miller, who would have been a hundred years old today, but it takes a while for her to show up. Initially, we’re kept busy watching Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, who were big stars at the time. Martin had got his break when his friend Guy Lombardo couldn’t play a particular date so asked him to step in as a saxophonist. He formed his big band in 1931 and tapped into the newest trend in pop music. To quote John Gilliland’s Pop Chronicles, “swing or jive was on the wane and sweet music on the rise.” You may not have heard of sweet music, but Martin was the Ed Sheeran of his day, especially in 1941 after releasing Tonight We Love. It’s an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with lyrics by Ray Austin and it sold a million copies. No wonder they play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 here. Sweetening classical music was his m.o.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Women in Cages (1971)

Director: Gerry de Leon
Writers: James H. Watkins and David R. Osterhout
Stars: Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Jennifer Gan and Pam Grier

Index: The First Thirty.

When I mentioned in my review of The Big Doll House that Jack Hill played it for fun but the jungle women in prison subgenre soon got more vicious, I wasn’t expecting it to happen quite so quickly as this. For half its running time, this is pretty close to being the same film but it grows into something much more and it definitely has more of a vicious streak.

Watching them together as a double bill is a real eye-opener, because the similarities go far beyond what you might expected.

Sure, a young lady is convicted of a crime in the Philippines and sent to a jungle prison, but it’s exactly the same prison as in The Big Doll House. The budget ran to a sign here, reading Carcel del Infierno, or Hell Prison.

Initially, I thought it was the same cell, but it’s one down, Cell No. 2 rather than Cell No. 3, so new graffiti but familiar girls. Three of the cast of The Big Doll House returned, but their roles were shuffled in a worthy approach.

The new fish is Jeff, played by a giant of an actress called Jennifer Gan—she was Amazon #2 in In Like Flint, but better known to Corman fans as Marlene in Naked Angels. In The Big Doll House, Jeff was Collier, played by Judy Brown, who’s back but moving up to play Sandy, the tough chick in charge of the cell.

Thursday 6 April 2023

The Big Doll House (1971)

Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Stars: Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Pam Grier, Brooke Mills, Pat Woodell and Sid Haig

Index: The First Thirty.

If Pam Grier was hardly in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, she more than made up for that in what could be considered her real debut, this pioneering exploitation film shot by legendary director Jack Hill for an even more legendary producer, Roger Corman.

It didn’t start the Women in Prison genre, as that had evolved over decades, from precodes focused on tough female convicts like Up the River and Ladies They Talk About, through more dedicated prison movies in the fifties such as Caged and Women’s Prison to Jess Franco’s 1969 exploitation flick, 99 Women, with Herbert Lom and Mercedes McCambridge of all people, that inspired Corman to take his own shot at it.

But, with 99 Women setting the stage, Love Camp 7 then invented the Nazi WiP subgenre and The Big Doll House invented the jungle WiP subgenre. Every successful genre spawns a set of subgenres that thrive for a while and likely fade away soon afterwards. For a while, both these dominated exploitation cinema and Pam Grier was notable in the latter.

And it all started here, with her singing the opening theme, Long-time Woman, a song that was appropriately reused in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, given that this truly started her career and that restarted it. She shows up on screen very quickly, demonstrating character before anything actually happens and not needing a line of dialogue in order to do so.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971)

Director: Ron Ormond
Writer: Ron Ormond, from the book by Estus W. Pirkle
Stars: Estus W. Pirkle, Judy Creech, Cecil Scaife, Gene McFall and Wes Saunders

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

I’ve long held to the idea that the most interesting people in Hollywood aren’t the stars of big budget blockbusters; they’re the folk behind exploitation films. And I don’t just mean the stars, but the producers, directors, writers, the folk who were flexible enough and aware enough to jump from one thing to another as times changed. One of the people I’ve long wanted to read more about is a gentleman named Ron Ormond, who was all over this weirdly titled movie like a rash. It was a production of his company, simply named the Ormond Organization. He directed it. He wrote it, from the “book” by Estus W. Pirkle, which was really a pamphlet that ran 46 pages long. He edited it with his son, Tim, and the two of them also operated the cameras. Both of them also appear in brief, uncredited roles within the movie. About the only job that Ormond didn’t do was production supervisor, because that was his wife, June. It’s a very strange movie, but I feel like I should build up to it by explaining how Ormond got to this point.

Born Vittorio di Naro in Baldwin, LA in 1910, he soon found his way into vaudeville as Vic Narro, taking his eventual name from his friend, Ormond McGill, who was a magician and hypnotist. He met June in Oregon while working as a magician and MC on shows in which she was a singer and dancer. The Ormonds managed the Three Stooges, produced roller derby on television and travelled in the exotic east, Ormond penning a string of books with McGill with exploitation titles like Religious Mysteries of the Orient, The Master Method of Hypnosis and The Magical Pendulum of the Orient. And they got into the movie business, Ormond directing a fantastic string of B movies. He started out with Lash LaRue westerns like King of the Bullwhip and The Frontier Phantom but lent his hand to anything that looked likely to make a buck, especially in the deepsouth. Forty Acre Feud had an all-star country music cast led by Minnie Pearl. White Lightnin’ Road is a stock car drama. The Monster and the Stripper (aka The Exotic Ones) is, well, it’s exactly what you think it is.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Smokescreen (1964)

Director: Jim O’Connolly
Writer: Jim O’Connolly
Stars: Peter Vaughan, John Carson, Yvonne Romain and Gerald Flood

Index: 2023 Centennials.

Part of the joy of my centennials project is to avoid the typical titles that get trawled out everywhere else and choose something a little more obscure instead. With character actors like Peter Vaughan, that tends to mean seeking out leading roles rather than his usual prominent supporting slots, and, in turn, that has me turn over rocks to discover little gems like this. This is such an obscure film that I can’t even find the usual portrait poster, whether a one sheet or the very English double crown format; just a landscape one, presumably a quad, that isn’t available online without a watermark from CineMaterial. It did land a DVD release, paired with director Jim O’Connolly’s debut, The Hi-Jackers, but it’s long out of print. The version I watched is also watermarked, as a broadcast on TalkingPictures TV, which is new to me but looks like a more British-focused take on TCM that’s right up my alley. And all this obscurity is a shame, because this is a quietly impressive British B-movie that deserves to be more widely seen.

It’s everything I want from delving backwards into British film: a slice of its time shot primarily on location with an excellent cast, plenty of them sparking nostalgia from television roles, and a sharp script. It’s a mystery, but one led by an insurance assessor not the typical policeman or private detective. That insurance assessor is Mr. Roper, whose first name may have been dropped at some point during the film but really doesn’t matter, because 1964 was a different time so it was likely only used by his family. To Player, his boss at Reed, Player & Phillips, he’s just Roper, a highly capable but mild mannered investigator who’s tightfisted with money to the degree that his expenses warrant careful attention. To the many characters he encounters during the film, he’s Mr. Roper, who breezes into Brighton in his bowler hat and refuses to accept anything as its presented. He’s all business, but he finds that sharing a glimpse of his life can loosen lips. The running gag about thriftiness has a reason and it’s a private one we feel privileged to see.

Monday 3 April 2023

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Director: Russ Meyer
Writer: Roger Ebert, based on a story by Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer
Stars: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John La Zar, Michael Blodgett and David Gurian

Index: The First Thirty.

It has to be said that Pam Grier didn’t shine in her debut movie but it was hardly her fault. The only line she was given was cut and so she decorates the background of a single scene for a measly two seconds, half of which is stolen by the gentleman who bobs up in front of her. It took me frame advancing through an entire party scene to even find her. She’s highlighted by the arrow in the first image overleaf just in case she’s still elusive.

And that’s it for her in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Needless to say, she has no influence whatsoever on the quality of this picture.

I’ve seen this film before but I’m amazed by it afresh every time I watch it again. Sure, it’s an exploitative cash-in by cult filmmaker Russ Meyer on the success of Valley of the Dolls, an immensely popular book by Jacqueline Susann that became an immensely popular movie that was, shall we say, critically unacclaimed.

But it was written by a certain Roger Ebert, a nobody at the time who incurred the wrath of his future screen partner, Gene Siskel, who ranked it amongst his worst films of the year, pointing out: “boredom aplenty is provided by a screenplay which for some reason has been turned over to a screenwriting neophyte.” He may have been a neophyte but he was happy to parody everything, not merely Valley of the Dolls but the entirety of Hollywood.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Prankster (2023)

Director: George O’Barts
Writer: George O’Barts
Stars: Nextraker, Bourke Floyd, Dylan Garcia, Gabby Barbosa, Sean Berube, Gianna Francesca Giorgio and Ken Ronk

This is such a quintessential George O’Barts film that it seems surprising that it had to wait until his third feature. He’s a pixie at heart, a filmmaker who subverts human behaviour by adding levels of karma, irony and silliness but never wants to be cruel. If all the filmmakers I know in Phoenix were to make a feature about an imaginary friend, 80% would make a horror movie and 15% would conjure up a drama. Of the 5% of others, only O’Barts would plump for a prankster comedy.

It’s primarily set indoors, within the offices of Biggs Cable, where a host of characters take calls in generic cubicles. It’s low key as it gets going, introducing us to a bunch of characters and setting the stage for what’s yet to come.

Johnny’s helpful but long suffering. Sheila’s supportive. Grace is a bitch while Candice is a manipulative bitch. Jim’s an accepting janitor and Ray’s a lazy IT guy. I know many examples of all of these characters from my life within corporate America. They’re real, but they need more than that to grab our attention here and it’s a while before that really happens.

The only dynamic character in the office is Conner, known as Conner the Terrible. He’s a step up the corporate ladder, as the supervisor over the helpdesk, but he wants to make it up to the executive floor and he’s manipulating Johnny’s hard work to get there. They’ve put a proposal together between them to send up to management but, while Johnny has done most of the work, it only sports one name on the front and it isn’t his. Conner has a sort of trickle down take on how it’ll help Johnny too, who mostly buys into it and, just like that, we have our hero and villain.

Saturday 1 April 2023

Safety Last! (1923)

Directors: Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor Writers: Hal Roach, Sam Taylor and Tim Whelan Stars: Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis

I’ve started this project a couple of years too late to follow Harold Lloyd’s features through, but better late than never. He started in film as early as 1913, a year before Charlie Chaplin, but his star didn’t rise as quickly and he never found the same level of control over his work. His first three features—A Sailor-Made Man in 1921, then Grandma’s Boy and Dr. Jack in 1922—are all excellent but this one is better still.

It’s one of the most famous silent comedies and it features one of the most famous silent era images, that of Harold Lloyd hanging onto a clock on the side of a building a long way up from the ground. I know how that was done, because there are a bunch of videos out there showing it, but it still holds up as part of a tense and frankly scary segment dominating the tail end of the film.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s a while before we get to Harold Lloyd climbing the outside of a tall building with what seems like every obstacle in the world getting in his way. As we begin, he’s just a lovestruck young man leaving Great Bend to make his fortune in the city so that his girl can join him and they can get married.