Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Movie Poster Spotlight :: R.I.P. Joe Sarno

A true, but somewhat overlooked, pioneer of legitimizing the act of sex on screen, and a Something Weird Video staple, Joseph W. Sarno passed away on April 26th, 2010. A truly sad day for offbeat sinema enthusiasts everywhere...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Outfoxing the Fox :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

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"I've looked and looked but there is no 'Y' in Egypt!"
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Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo kicks off with the British 8th Army on the run with the German Afrika Corps hot on their heels. And after the fall of Tobruk, the film proper begins with the surreal sight of a lone, crippled British tank rocking its way through the seemingly endless sand dunes. The entire crew is dead, save for Cpl. John Bramble (Tone), who, barely alive after sucking on exhaust fumes for who knows how long, manages to crawl his way out of this runaway death-trap. Lost and delirious, he eventually stumbles into the small town of Sidi Halfaya, where he finds refuge in the local hotel, run by an oafish Egyptian, Farid (Akim Tamifoff), who employs a French chambermaid named Mouche (Baxter); the last member of his staff who hasn't run off or been killed in the latest air-raid.

Unfortunately, the hotel is now in occupied territory and has been pegged to be the new command center of the Desert Fox himself, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Von Stroheim). Luckily for Bramble, he is able to assume the identity of Davos, the recently deceased club-footed waiter, before he is discovered. But, this luck has a fine razor's edge to it. Turns out this Davos was a German mole who spied on the British while they occupied the hotel. So, while this allows the fake Davos to be trusted to move freely amongst the enemy, he is also expected to know things he possibly couldn't and must carefully bluff his way through several dicey conversations. And as he traverses this precarious, razor-wire tightrope, with some reluctant help from Mouche, who has her own agenda to work with the Germans, Bramble keeps his eyes and ears open, with a hope to find some vital detail to unravel the enigma of the "Five Graves" that will hopefully derail Rommel's march to Cairo and the eventual seizure of the Suez Canal. For if that falls into the Reich's clutches, says Herr Rommel, then Churchill will be forced to take that "big fat cigar out of his mouth and say 'Heil Hitler.'" 

After the box-office success of The Major and the Minor, Wilder's first American film, the brass at Paramount allowed the director and his screenwriter, Brackett, to pick and produce their own follow up. Five Graves to Cairo was the result, and this was actually the third film adaptation of Lajos Biró's play, Hotel Imperial. Here, the action is shifted from the first to second World War, and from the Russian front to the deserts of North Africa. Originally, Wilder wanted Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman for his leads, but even though they proved untenable, Tone and Baxter do just fine as the bickering protagonists that are hamstrung by some sexual tension as they pursue their own ends. Wilder did get his first choice for Rommel, and allowed Von Stroheim to run wild with the character's wardrobe and accouterments. 

Behind the camera, Wilder and cinematographer John F. Sietz turned the lights down low and kept them there, giving things a nice, noirish flare as characters slink around in the shadows and the dark. On screen, the espionage and intrigue are taut and suspenseful as Bramble frenetically and barely stays one [club-footed] step ahead of the Germans. And if I have one beef with the film, and it's a minor one, is that the overt comedy elements, supplied mostly by the buffoonish Farid, don't really gel all that well with, and distract from, the overall tone of the film. 

The film was released in 1943, not long after the British stopped Rommel cold at El Alamein. History shows that the good guys would eventually win the day, and they win the day in Five Graves to Cairo, too, but not without a great cost. And as the story goes, looking back on it several years later, Brackett bemoaned the fact that the film had "the dreadful smell of propaganda" to it. Eh, I think that sells the film way short. Yes, there are a few spotlight speeches on why we fight, but I think those scenes only add pressure to the proceedings. This was 1943, remember, and despite the recent victories, the war was still far from over, and who would be the eventual victors was still very much in doubt.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943) Paramount Pictures / EP: Buddy G. DeSylva / P: Charles Brackett / D: Billy Wilder / W: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Lajos Biró (play) / C: John F. Seitz / E: Doane Harrison / M: Miklós Rózsa / S: Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff, Peter van Eyck, Erich von Stroheim

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The One I Might Have Saved :: Tina Takes One for the Team.

A few years ago the esteemed proprietor of Arbogast on Film kicked off a self-described floating blogathon called "The One You Might Have Saved." 

Back then, they put out a call for other writers "to come forward with those doomed characters from horror movies whose plight or personality so moved the writer that he or she wished they had the power to breach the fourth wall of cinema and save that person from his or her tragic fate."  

For quite some time I had kicked around the notion of who I would choose to rewrite history for, but just never got around to putting keystrokes to the blogosphere. However, when the man recently put out a call once more for those We Might Have Saved, I took it as a sign to finally get off my butt and finally get this thing done.

So who did I choose? Well, I chose Marylin Clarke's doomed bad girl Tina
Del Tenney's totally bitchin' The Horror of Party Beach (1964).

Why her? Easy. She's sassy:

... And brassy:

... Brazen:

... And bold:

A girl who wasn't afraid to take a walk on the wild side:

... And do her own thing.

A righteous riot of one, who wasn't ready to rein it in and take the domestication ride on the Yellow Bus to Squaresville, man, but opted, instead, for a fast, free-wheeling trip down the Road to Ruination.

Of course, this wild and recalcitrant streak put a target squarely on her back. The rules for such things weren't cast in bedrock yet back in 1964, but they were definitely an itch in somebody's pants, which is why this Round Hole in a world of Square Pegs had to go,
reduced to serving as a painful lesson to those who would follow in her wake; and make way for the heroine proper -- who, in vetted contrast, was duller than dishwater and might as well have been a store mannequin on the arm of our Square-Jaw.


Thus, when all this behavior finally burns the last straw with her [now] former beau, she casts him off like her cute top and Capris. 

... And then celebrates her new found independence with a swim and little 'me time' on a solitary outcropping.

... Where her fate is quickly sealed in a scene that is both 50% hilariously ludicrous because of what attacks her.



... But also 50% morbidly perverse as the google-eyed and knock-kneed horror slashes / caresses the poor girl to death.


Thus and so, in the end, with our bad girl "properly" punished, and the homogenizing, white-bread vestiges of the Eisenhower era safely defended for just a little while longer, most folks are left with this indelible image as a reminder of those too irredeemable, who veer too far off course. This could happen to you.

... As for me? Nah.

To me, she'll always be the one that got away.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964) Iselin-Tenney Productions :: 20th Century Fox / P: Alan V. Iselin, Del Tenney / D: Del Tenney / W: Richard Hilliard / C: Richard Hilliard / E: Gary Youngman / M: Wilford L. Holcombe / S: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Marilyn Clarke, Allan Laurel

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To See, or Not to See...

"Happily, they took out almost everything that Millar brought to the project and replaced it with characters, dialogue and situations that don't make you hate the actors and the movie. I thought it was a quite-good-but-not-great comedic action film with occasional pathos, a pretty well-considered parody of superhero movies and the fanboy mindset, and a joyously profane middle finger extended to the Guardians of Morality in America for the film's entire length.

"And they even played the Dickies' cover of the Banana Splits theme when an eleven year old girl kills everyone in the room, which warmed my evil little heart. I hope they make a lot of money off the soundtrack."
-- Tim 'Alchemist of Pop' Lehnerer

Hmmmm ... May just have to see this thing after all.

What a Book!

For those of you who can't get enough of my [misspelled, misguided and highly sporadic] prose, I've been invited to a be a contributing contributor for a consortium of friendly bookworms over at What a Book, which, hopefully, will help you in those imposing book aisles.
Books reviewed thus far:
-- Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
-- Michael Connelly's The Poet.
-- Stuart Kaminsky's Murder on the Yellow Brick Road.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dear Platinum Dunes...

In regards to the film Cold Prey, a/k/a Fritt vilt, please take note that the Norwegians make better, more suspenseful and more effective horror films than you do.

W.B. Kelso

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Trailer Park :: Wolfman's Got Gnards! :: Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad (1987)

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Van Helsing? That's the guy who fought Godzilla, right?
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Like, a bajillion years ago, the great Dr. Abraham Van Helsing blew a golden opportunity to banish the evil Count Dracula and his ilk to an eternity in limbo. Now, his diary and "How to Guide" has fallen into the hands of the only people who realize the cycle of evil is about to start again; as once more the most famous monsters of filmland have been resurrected and reunited to subjugate humanity, and mankind's only hope of salvation is a group of tweeners in desperate need of a virgin. 

Video Courtesy of Retrotube.

Now there might be some of you, like me, who remember a short-lived TV show from the 1970's starring a pre-Love Boat Fred Grandy, where Gopher -- sorry, Grandy, was a computer whiz who accidentally brings to life the wax displays of our favorite movie monsters, and together, they fought crime. But today we’re talking about the other Monster Squad

Here, it all begins with a bizarre rash of crimes, including a stolen mummy from the local museum, two missing shipping crates that were lost under suspicious circumstances while en route from Transylvania, and the body of some frothing lunatic who claimed to be a werewolf that disappeared from the county morgue. And while his police detective father blames the full moon and the usual lunacy it brings, his son, Sean, knows better. You see, Sean (Gower) and his buddies are members of a Movie Monster Appreciation Society; and when his mom gives him a book auctioned off at an old estate that was written by some guy named Van Helsing (-- the guy who fought Godzilla, thought Mom when she bought it), and now some guy named Alucard is wanting to buy it back, Sean manages to convince his friends, Patrick (Kiger), Fat Kid (Chalen), and newest member Rudy (Lambert), that the monsters are real, present, and presently killing people. 

Then, with the help of the neighborly Scary German Guy (Cimino), our young heroes manage to translate the diary, which reveals how to banish the monsters forever. With that, preparations are made as silverware is pilfered for bullets, wooden stakes are made ready, and an urgent message, in crayon, is sent off to the army for help. However, their biggest obstacle is convincing Patrick's older sister, an alleged virgin, and a vital ingredient for the spell, into helping them with the proper incantation. Well, that and retrieving a mystical amulet from the monsters that's needed to rip open the dimensional doorway. But in the end, it’s Sean's little sister, Phoebe (Bank), who steals the movie and saves their collective hash. She’s the one who befriends Frankenstein’s monster, gets him to switch sides, and then bails them all out in the end by taking up the incantation when their first choice doesn't ... well, count.

Directed by Fred Dekker, who earlier gave us another cult classic with Night of the Creeps, he also co-scripted the film with Shane Black, most famous for scripting all four Lethal Weapon films. (Wait a second ... Written by Black-n-Dekker?) Together, their film hammers most of the notes right on the head and it makes for a wonderful homage. Now, there are some tonal inconsistencies, where it couldn't quite settle between the comedy and horror elements, be it serious or juvenile spoof, that don't quite jive in spots. But, eh, their cast and characters allows us to gloss over this rather easily. Credit to Ben Edlund and Stan Winston for the F/X and creature designs. They did have to tweak them a little to avoid Universal's rabid trademark lawyers, but we know exactly who we're looking at. And lets not forget the folks inside those costumes who brought these monsters to life: Tom Noonan (The Monster); Michael MacKay (The Mummy); Tom Woodruff (The Creature); and Carl Thibault as the Wolfman. 

And no, I didn't forget Duncan Regehr's portrayal of Dracula. Hands down, Regehr, fresh off the bare-chested butt-steak role of Charles in V: The Series, provides, I think, one of the best cinematic interpretation of the dastardly blood-sucking Count of Yore. Cold, calculating and brutally ruthless, there is no hint of lame and lamentable lost loves, here. And being from the same decade that spawned Ann Ricepires and the misunderstood emo-vamps that followed, Regehr brings some much needed menace and weight to the breed that is sorely lacking these days. 

Yeah, that's The Monster Squad in a nutshell. Or nut-shot, for the lycanthropically challenged. And before I go, I'll leave you with this totally awesome but absurdly inappropriate Italian Locandina for our film in question. 

Seriously. What the hell? 

The Monster Squad (1987) Home Box Office (HBO) :: Keith Barish Productions :: TAFT Entertainment Pictures :: TriStar Pictures / EP: Keith Barish, Rob Cohen, Peter Hyams / P: Jonathan A. Zimbert, Neil A. Machlis / D: Fred Dekker / W: Shane Black, Fred Dekker / C: Bradford May / E: James Mitchell / M: Bruce Broughton / S: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Ryan Lambert, Michael Faustino, Ashley Bank, Stephen Macht, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan, Leonardo Cimino
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