Sunday, April 13, 2014

On the Big Screen :: An Afternoon at the Movies :: John Ford's Fort Apache (1948)


The Hall County Historical Society sponsored a screening of John Ford's seminal western, Fort Apache, starring John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and G.I. native Henry Fonda, this weekend and, for once, I got wind of it before the matinee actually took place. (I missed out on a similar screening of DeMille's Union Pacific by mere hours last year.) And so, I found myself at the Grand Theater Saturday afternoon, my burgh's beautifully restored show palace, a bag of peanut M&Ms clutched in hand, grinning from ear to ear as the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, the music came up, and the film began. And so, to mark this special occasion, here's a dozen random things I love about this movie:


1. The low camera angles and the resulting big sky.




2. "If you saw them, they weren't Apaches."


3. The Sergeants Four.


3A. The Privates Four.


4. Monument Valley.




5. The Birth of The Agar.



6. "Pour me some scripture."



7.  Ward Bond being awesome.



8. The non-commissioned officers dance.


8B. Henry Fonda's mad dancing skills.


8C. Spiking the punch.


9. How the girls they left behind are the true backbone of the outfit.


10. Sgt. Beaufort's snarling enunciation of "Waahhhrr!"


11. How the film makes it crystal clear that the Apaches are the aggrieved party and not the villains of this piece.


12. This shot right here.


Now take those 12 things, and everything else, and then amp them up to an 11 on the dial when experienced on the big screen. Wow. I'm telling ya, I don't care how big your TV is, how good your sound system is, or how bad the crowd you encounter (-- three old duffer's cell phones chimed off during the screening), there ain't nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen in a darkened theater.


Yeah, I've seen this film dozens of times but that was ah-mazing. And each time, I pick up something new. This time, I realized Cochise used the exact same lure and trap on Col. Thursday (Fonda), who felt the Apache's skills as a tactician were over-exaggerated, that Thursday had used earlier, with young O'Rourke (Agar) as bait to retrieve the bodies of the telegraph repair party, for the climax. There's some irony for ya.


I also love Philadelphia's (Temple) petulance, and the quiet, tender moments between her and her father -- a father whose contradictions I find fascinating. And don't forget Hank Warden, frontier idiot. We also get Guy Kibbee's last hurrah as the permanently soused company surgeon, and Victor McLaglen being Victor McLaglen. And then there's Captain York's (Wayne) visible disdain over the whitewashing and jingoistic twist on Thursday's Charge during the denouement, but holds his tongue as a matter of duty. And I'll always be curious about the unspoken grudge between Thursday and Captain Collingwood. The camaraderie, the stunts, the action, the adventure, the gallantry and the romance, yeah, if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and visit Fort Apache as soon as possible. Forward, yo!


Fort Apache (1948) Argosy Pictures :: RKO Radio Pictures / P: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford / D: John Ford / W: Frank S. Nugent, James Warner Bellah (story) / C: Archie Stout, William H. Clothier / E: Jack Murray / M: Richard Hageman / S: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, John Agar, Ward Bond, Pedro Armendáriz, Victor McLaglen

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

YouTube Finds :: Singing Cowboys, Killer Robots, and Glamour Vixens from Outer Space :: Hitching a Ride on Rogelio A. González's Ship of Monsters (1960)


Riddle me this, Boils and Ghouls. What happens when you combine some pilfered Soviet sci-fi footage with...


... Two Glamazons from Outer Space.
 

... A singing cowboy.
 

... His faithful sidekick.
 

... One of the greatest Trash-Can Robots Ever.
 

... Not to mention The Queen of Outer Space as the Great Guidance, and not one, nor two, or three, but FOUR -- count 'em, one, two, three, four adorable monsters!


... Ook.
 

...Ugh.
 

...Oogie.


...And Phil.
 
What you get, my friends, when you throw all of that into a blender is a whole big cup of instant insanity called La Nave de los Monstruos (1960) a/k/a The Ship of Monsters, which I unearthed from a YouTube hole a couple nights ago. 


The print was in Spanish, and being made in Mexico, well, that makes perfect sense. And even though I only know enough of the language to barely not make a fool out of myself at Taco Bell, I watched it anyway, mesmerized by this genre mash-up. It's kind of a sci-version of Roberto Rodriquez's totally surreal La Caperucita Roja (Red Riding Hood) trilogy and, I'm telling ya, it's awesome and then some. And just when I didn't think I could love the mounting stoopidity of it anymore, Tor, the Trash Can Robot, fell in love with a jukebox.


... And then one of those Space Glamazons turned out to be a Space Vampire!


Zoinks!

And then it got REALLY weird. Okay, okay, perhaps I should back up a bit and start from the beginning. Now, try to get your collective heads around this (and I remind you all that I have no idea what anyone is really saying and am just interpreting the action the best I can. It's like a choose your own adventure novel. So lets roll with it, shall we?):


In the far flung reaches of outer space, after some atomic catastrophe destroyed the entire male population of a certain planet, the surviving Glamazons send two astronatrix, Gamma and Beta, Tor the robot, and those four monsters -- for reasons concerning guesses that are as good as mine, to scour the galaxy for some suitable breeding stock to keep their species going.


Arriving on Earth, our two explorers land in Mexico, where, armed with a flame-thrower, a freeze-gun, and the portable Toaster of Doom, they begin their mission. Barely five minutes out of the ship, they come upon their first male specimen; a singing cowboy, whose name, I think, was Laredo. Now, it's important to note that Laredo is an idiot in the ¡Ay, caramba! mold. A fairly endearing ¡Ay, caramba! idiot, but an ¡Ay, caramba! idiot just the same.


Anyhoo, its twitter-pation at first sight as these alien harvesters keep zapping our crooning lovelorn prairie Lothario with that freeze gun, usually in mid-sentence or mid-grope, which puts the target into a state of rigidity, pumping him for information that they feed to Tor back on the ship. Once they finish the probe, they leave the stupor'd cowboy behind and report back to their leader, whom I've dubbed The Queen Guidance, who seems very excited over their findings. (Laredo better hope this isn't A Boy and His Dog situation.)


Now, about those monsters: They're kept in 'stasis cubes', what we hu-mans call 'ice-cubes'. They've also been trying to escape the brig since the mission first launched. Again, I've speculated for days on why they've been brought along on this mission and that's me still shrugging right now. To keep them in line, the Glamazons use Tor and the portable Toaster of Doom to put them 'back in the box' whenever they get out. And then, for reasons of plain old just 'cuz, Tor is ordered to move all the monsters into a nearby cave.


Where they are thawed out and allowed to stretch and bitch for a bit, allowing a proper introduction to all four of them: Oog is an encephalitic midget with an exposed brain; Ugh is a cyclopean giant with a drooling problem; Oogie appears to be a pudgy were-tarantula that walks on two legs; and Phil is a skeleton who sounds just like Barry White trying to do a Bela Lugosi impersonation.


Once the introductions are out of the way, this interlude comes to an end with the monsters re-frozen, allowing Gamma, Beta and Tor to track down Laredo at his hacienda, where we meet his faithful sidekick, Chewie (sp?), who is immediately smitten with Tor, who, quite hysterically, knocks him on his can whenever the little runt mouths off.


Meantime, Laredo introduces these space vixens to the Earth custom of spit-swapping.


And even though, to my eyes, Beta is clearly the better kisser, she comes off a little too aggressive and predator-like for our boy Laredo.


And besides, Gamma had firsties. 

This rejection kinda pisses Beta off, whom, you all remember, is a Space Vampire.


... Who can fly


... And who is currently getting intoxicated by drinking the blood of wayward vaqueros stumbling home from the local cantina. (They way she swoops down and crashes into them to start this process is ah-mazing.) *hic*


Alas, Gamma's efforts to detain Beta go disastrously awry, with Beta taking over the ship, imprisoning her co-pilot, and seizing control of Tor and the portable Toaster of Doom.


And then Beta goes all Princess Dragon Mom, both freeing the monsters and striking a bargain with them to help her enrapture Laredo.


And if he fails to fall for her vampirish wiles, well, the boys can always eat him. I think that last part was the clincher, but I might be projecting. (Eat him! Eat him! Eat him!) Once she's coerced/convinced them, Beta and Ook ... well, yeah, seal the deal.


Ewwww...

Now, Beta's four-pronged assault begins with Ugh attacking Laredo's hacienda, but finds no one home except for our hero's prized heifer. And, being a bit peckish after being in stasis for two-million light years, Ugh helps himself to some beef.


"Hey. Does that sound like our cow 
being eaten by a Space Monster to you?"
 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the bones are still standing!


Things kinda accelerate from there in both terms of action, plot, and WTF-ness. It begins with Laredo, seeking to avenge his cow, being caught out in the open in-between all four monsters. Once more proving his mettle to be more Knotts than Eastwood, Laredo manages to extricate himself from this beat-down and makes it to the cantina, looking for help, but no one will believe his wild tale of Glamazons, Robots and Space Monsters. To this he just shrugs and starts drinking and singing again. 


Meanwhile, tired of her goon squad failing her, Beta calls in the big guns and sends Tor out to retrieve Laredo, who transports him back to the ship, where he is allowed a brief reunion with Gamma in the brig. (Ah, so that's why Beta wouldn't let the monsters eat her earlier. She needed a bargaining chip.)


And to spare her life, Laredo agrees to take a *ahem* trip to the cave with Beta. And when I say 'trip to the cave', I mean they engage in a dueling duet and have a cha-cha-off.


Ah, but this is all a distraction, which works -- I'm just as shocked as you are, allowing Laredo to seize the portable Toaster of Doom and escape with only his tail slightly scorched.


Once he gets back to the ship, however, our boy only manages to nearly get sucked up into the exhaust intake ports like a duck going through a 747 engine, and then, once inside, he accidentally launches the rocket.


Of course, our hero handles this crisis with his usual quiet dignity and grace. And so, after 427 consecutive orbits, he finally pushes the right button that frees Gamma and Chewie from the brig. How'd Chewie get on the ship? It'd take way, way too long to explain, so just smile and nod and play along, okay? Thanks!


After Gamma manages to rein in the errant rocket and regain control of Tor, this sets up our final showdown.


Oh crap, they gave Laredo a gun. EVERYBODY DUCK!

Flushing the bad guys out of the cave, all eight combatants pair off, who commence to wailing on each other with such ferocity we breach a whole 'nother level of pure and unadulterated bedlam.


Then the tide of battle turns in the good guys favor when Beta tries to dive bomb Gamma...


... But she doesn't see that protruding tree branch.


... And thus, only manages to impale herself on it. Wow.

Then Chewie manages to defeat Ook with his trusty slingshot, taking an eye out, rather gooily, which equates to pulling out the valve stem on your tire. 


And then Tor melts Ugh's face off.


And even Laredo manages a win, forcing Oogie to bite himself with his poisonous fangs.


As for Phil, well, I really don't know what happened to Phil. He never showed up. I'm guessing the (always visible) wire apparatus to animate this skeletal marionette broke and they hoped we wouldn't notice his absence during the final melee. Works for me!


And so, with the bad guys vanquished, Gamma reports to a disappointed Queen Guidance that their mission is a failure and to look elsewhere for herds of men. She also tenders her resignation, staying behind with Laredo to live happily ever after. As for Tor?


Well, Tor takes the rocket and blasts off, taking that jukebox/love of his life with him, and they will serenade each other like Nelson and Eddy throughout the galaxy for all eternity. 


That was AMAZING! I'm telling ya, folks, from production design, to the special-effects, to the sound effects (Tor sounds like a defective cuckoo clock), to the execution, La Nave de los Monstruos was the craziest, silliest, most nucking futz thing I've seen in a good long while. My sides still hurt from the hilarity endured. It's usually at this point where I dig into the history of the production but, you know what? I simply don't care and I'm just gonna take this one at face value. And I encourage you all to do the same. Don't think about it, and just watch it -- as soon as humanly possible.


La Nave de los Monstruos a/k/a The Ship of Monsters (1960) Producciones Sotomayor :: Columbia Pictures / EP: Heberto Dávila Guajardo / P: Jesús Sotomayor Martínez / AP: Alberto Hernández Curiel / D: Rogelio A. González / W: José María Fernández Unsáin, Alfredo Varela / C: Raúl Martínez Solares / E: Carlos Savage / M: Sergio Guerrero / S: Eulalio González, Ana Bertha Lepe, Lorena Velázquez, Manuel Alvarado, Consuelo Frank
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