Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vintage Tuneage :: Take THAT, Winter.

As the winter winds blow and the snow piles up, I think a healthy dose of sun and fun is definitely in order, don't you? Right-O. Hit it!

Video courtesy of Sids60sSounds.

Al Casey

The K-C-Ettes
a/k/a Darlene Love (center) and the Blossoms,
 Fanita James and Jean King

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Operation 00-Oddballs :: Matt Helm vs. the Magic Sparkomatic Bartender and Slaygirls Dressed to Kill!

Wow. Has it really been over six months since I last tinkered with this marathon? That, my friends, is a lot of Red Tape or something. Anyhoo, due to somebody's procrastinating and a running headstart at celebrating the pending New Year, the regular writer of this retrospective has, well, kinda disappeared for a weekend bender. Fear not, faithful readers, both of you, OPERATION: 00-Oddballs marches right along thanks to the timely intervention of long time reader, and even longer time friend, Endless Dave Hudson.

And m'man has drawn a plum assignment, dissecting one of Dean Martin's Matt Helm films. And though this series of spoofs isn't exactly what author Donald Hamilton envisioned with his pulp novel spy hero, it did help cement Martin as one of the Kings of Cool in my book.

The Ambushers, says Dave, was the third of four Matt Helm spy films starring the preternaturally-loose, turtle-neck-clad Dean Martin. While Martin was capable of excellent dramatic work (more on this later), this movie is best seen while in a state of relaxation just short of coma. Don’t expect its 101 minutes to make much sense, for the location footage to match the sound stage shots or for anyone involved to try particularly hard. Not trying hard was Dean Martin’s prime charm, after all. If it bothers you, have another drink fer Christ’s sake. It’s what Dino would do...

Other Points of Interest: 

The Ambushers (1967) Meadway-Claude Productions Company :: Columbia Pictures Corporation / P: Irving Allen / AP: Douglas Netter / D: Henry Levin / W: Herbert Baker, Donald Hamilton (novel) / C: Edward Colman, Burnett Guffey / E: Harold F. Kress / M: Hugo Montenegro / S: Dean Martin, Janice Rule, Senta Berger, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Beverly Adams

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays :: The 7th Annual All Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon!

Geez. Is it that time of year already? Wow. Okay, then, folks, time once again for Yours Truly to gird up the loins and lube the liver for another annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon to celebrate the one night a year the paper I work for doesn't print and to help chase off and drown out the Ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, if you know what I mean. Honestly, the marathon got a helluva a jump-start this year when a quirk in the schedule garnered me an unexpected three-day weekend, over-which I sat through a couple of MST3k'd Gamera flicks, making the decision to spend Christmas Eve on the Satellite of Love a complete no-(Best)-brainer. And with a combination of DVD's, VHS tapes, Amazon streaming, and YouTube, I've managed to throw together a line-up of my all time favorite episodes:

Obviously, at some point, I shall break for my usual Christmas feast...

So, before we officially get Movie Sign, and commence to drinking and quipping -- 'cuz that's how I push the button, Frank -- I bid you Happy Holidays, one and all.

Or Bah! Humbug, where applicable.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Prime Cuts :: Clearing Out the Amazon Instant Que :: Around the World and through the Portals of Time with Herc and Sons!

 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

"Filmmaking in Europe was a little different from working in the United States. There's a scene in Hercules where I'm in chains -- they looked like steel, but they were actually made of wood -- and I had to swing these chains at my supposed enemies who were advancing towards me. Well, I didn't want to really strike someone so I kind of held back with my motions. The director (Pietro Francisci) yelled, 'Swing those chains! Swing them hard!' I said, 'I don't want to hurt someone.' And the director yelled back, 'If they don't get hurt, they don't get paid!"
 -- Steve Reeves
 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

After trying to recreate some forgotten Labor of Hercules last week, I totally pretzel'd my back and spent two whole days convalescing in my trusty recliner while my thoracolumbar fascia and my gluteal aponeurosis stitched themselves back together. And sticking with the theme, trapped and thus, I started plumbing the depths of Amazon Prime's free-streaming catalog and unearthed a whole shitload of Italian imported Hercules flicks and assorted knock-offs. 20 such films in a 36 hour period do have an effect, believe me, but all are a demented good time as Herc and his sons, Maciste, Ursus, et al, or Goliath and Ulysses butted heads, chucked around some Styrofoam scenery, and did battle against some dastardly villains and sadistic despots with penchants for human sacrifice, and put fist to some go-motion monsters who often times exceeded the limitations of their budgets into something somewhere between ineptly inspiring to monumentally stoopid. Most of them are kinda of blur, and a lot of plots have permanently melded together into an intractable morass, but a few stand out.

I remember an initial but ultimately failed attempt to watch them in order -- or at least chronologically, and after polishing off Hercules and Hercules Unchained came Goliath and the Dragon (La Vendetta di Ercole), which sported a couple of those fantastic go-motion monsters (-- meaning nothing more than a giant, glorified puppet in most cases -- though one particular three-headed puppet doubled as a flame-thrower. However, the titular dragon split time between the same and fairly well-executed stop-motion surrogate; there's also a pretty nifty practical-F/X'd centaur.) Here, after Steve Reeves moved on to do The Giant of Marathon, Mark Forest, a near, dead-ringer for Reeves, stepped in quite admirably as "Goliath" for this American International import (-- hence the name change from The Revenge of Hercules.) And just when I thought I'd seen everything, the film concludes with Broderick Crawford wrestling a giant rubber snake to the death -- and losing. A-mazing.

But after that, I kinda just took them as Amazon regurgitated them during my title searches, with the vast majority being part of Embassy pictures syndicated series, The Sons of Hercules, where about 16 or so imports were directly packaged for TV, complete with a connecting, Gilligan's Island-esque theme ballad to link them together:

  Video courtesy of DoctorBritches.

Fire Monsters Against the Sons of Hercules (Maciste Contra Los Monstrous) is one such tube-of-boob flick, where our hero, Maxus, played by Reg Lewis, kinda looks like the end-result of some dubious Reb Brown and Arch Hall Jr. gene-splicing experiment. Anyhoo, this tale of rivaling tribes exchanging massacres is a proto-riff on Skeeter Davis' One Tin Soldier aptly augmented by some more of those nifty sock-puppet monsters. Alas, the fire-breathing hydra promised by the blurb never showed but Ghidrah's underwater cousin more than made up for it.

And then things got a little weird as our musclebound mortal started bouncing around the time-stream and winding up in the damnedest of places. In Goliath and the Masked Rider (Golia e il Cavaliere Mascherato), our hero (Alan Steel this time) winds up in what appears to be 18th century Spain, serving as the strongman for a troop of gypsies, who wind up embroiled in the evil Don El Stinko's attempt to steal both his neighbor's buxom land and prized daughter. Luckily, there's also a Scarlet Pimpernel wannabe running about, making this, basically, a mash-up of Hercules and The Dancing Cavalier. Nowhere near as entertaining as that sounds, unfortunately, and sorely lacking in the go-motion monster department.

And the inexplicable time-jumping world tour continued with Hercules Against the Barbarians (Maciste Nell'Inferno di Gengis Kahn), where Herc (Forest again) winds up in Poland circa 1240, trying to turn back the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. Yeah. That's me shrugging right now. There's also a kidnapped princess, a circus troupe of midgets, and some rubber critter mayhem as Herc must rescue the first by joining the second and fighting off the third. Wow. And THEN he had to fight the renegade sons of Genghis Khan in Hercules Against the Mongols (Maciste Contro i Mongoli).

Okay, next, remember when that giant otter and a freak storm drug Hercules all the way to Judea to fight Samson? Well, Herc must of really pissed off Neptune this time because he's been blown even further off course in Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun (Ercole Contro i Figle del Sol) and finds himself marooned in the New World, where he pledges to help restore the rightful heir to the kingdom of the Incas. Now, Herc (still Forest) accomplishes this by basically chucking the Prime Directive out the window and trains his new friends in the fine art of war and catapult and siege-tower construction, leading up to a fairly spectacular final battle for a no-budget wonder like this. All of that plus several extended sacrificial-dance numbers of Ray Dennis Steckler proportions, where highly colorful meets sheer ineptitude, makes this one a keeper.

Again, there were a lot more screened: Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules, Beasts of Babylon Against the Son of Hercules, Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon, The Fury of Hercules, Mole Men vs. the Son of Hercules, Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness, The Giant of Marathon, Goliath and the Sins of Babylon, The Vengeance of Ursus, Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World, Hercules and the Captive Women and Hercules Against the Moon Men, but all the fighting, and smashing, and massacring, and torturing, and usurping, and rebelling, and goofy-ass musical numbers, and greased pectoral muscles, have me all confused, with the only real way to differentiate flicks was being able to tell which production could afford horses and those who could not. But aside from Hercules and the Masked Rider there wasn't a dud in the bunch no matter how horrid the print was -- and most of them were pretty horrid as the majority of these flicks labor in public domain hell, meaning we may never get to see any of these restored or in there proper aspect ratio. But there are a few out there, and those should be cherished as the rarities they are. Beyond that, this little adventure served to remind me how awesome Steve Reeves is, and showed that Mark Forest was a worthy successor -- though he should have kept the beard. And the only real disappointment of this marathon was that this title wasn't available to stream:

 Ah, well. I guess there's always YouTube.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sounds of the Season :: Gift of the Elvi.

About ten days ago I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, and thus and so, broke one of my cardinal seasonal rules. The rule being to avoid going to any retail store between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. I'm not big on crowds to begin with, and since holiday shopping tends to bring out the worst in everybody, like my Ursa major and minor brethren, I usually just hibernate for a couple of months and do my grocery shopping at the 3 in the morning until the Season of Giving 'til it Hurts passes by. 

And so, I found myself warily entering the local movie and music outlet in town one fateful afternoon, specifically to find a couple of Elmore Leonard westerns on DVD, having recently polished off a couple of novels on which they were based had me itching to see them again. Anyways, all they had was a copy of Valdez is Coming, and with that and a copy of Charles Kaufman's vastly underrated Mother's Day tucked under an arm, with an eye on the clock, hoping to beat out of there before the after-school rush arrived, I headed to the checkout lines.

I thought luck was with me when I reached the front of the store and found all four check-out lines empty and made a bee-line for the one whose in-service lamp was lit. Of course, the cash-register sat unattended, and a quick glance showed two employees at the customer service desk -- one of them looking up an item for a costumer on the computer, the other desperately trying to avoid eye-contact with me. This silent non-stare-off continued unabated for several minutes until a little old lady, five-foot nothing, and easily in her mid-80's puttered up to the occupied customer service desk, several lanes over from me, to check out, which, at this point, finally caused the unoccupied clerk to wave me over with a friendly "I can help you over here, sir." 

Of course, how stupid of me to go to the line with the lit lamp. *sigh* Right. Now, having served a seven year stint at a retail outlet that is far as my frustration goes. Having dealt with many an obnoxious asshole -- I mean pompous jerk-off, I mean valued customer, during my register-jockey sentence myself, I gave the no-eye-contact gal a polite smile, gathered up my booty and moved to the appropriate line, right behind the little old lady and her healthy stack of CD's. We both have to wait until the other clerk finishes up with guy looking for a movie whose name escapes me as it soon become apparent that the other clerk is a trainee. And with his expert tutelage, the trainee starts to ring up the person in front of me and in no-time flat sends the register into terminal vapor-lock. The trainer takes over, the old lady apologizes, though she has nothing to apologize for, but between the two of them they kill the register. Kill the register dead.

Not a problem, he says, and instructs us to move to another register, the register where I first got in line, mind you. Here, I pull a Dudley Do-Right and help the elderly lady navigate her way around all the holiday impulse-buy junk clogging the check-out area and into the proper lane. (She couldn't see over the displays.) Her sincere thank you brings another smile to face as I wave it off as no big deal. But then she starts talking to the clerk about how she couldn't find any Elvis Presley gospel or Christmas albums and my fading smile reversed course and grew even wider. Seems this sweet little old lady -- seriously, picture in your head a little old lady and that's exactly who was standing in line in front of me -- had heard Presley bump and grind through "Hound Dog" back in the 1950's and thought that was enough of that guy. She punctuated the point by rattling off the refrain of the same, cocked a hip, laughed, and I failed to stifle one of my own. We continued to laugh, the clerks joining in, as she mea culpas, saying something about seeing a documentary on Presley recently and had no idea about his spiritual side, and how one should never judge.

At this point, I wanted to give this lady a hug to end all hugs, but I refrain. The clerk chimes in, swearing they have several Elvis albums in the racks, and I even offer to help her go and look for some, but she nixes this, saying her pile is big enough. She then starts to write a check, this takes awhile, I don't care, I'm still smiling, and then there's some trouble with the electronic signature, until, finally, her transaction is completed. She apologizes to everyone again for taking so long. Luckily, there was no one else in line to ruin the moment, and I tell her, again, not a problem; anything for a fellow Elvis fan.

W.B. Kelso in the wild (Artist Interpretation).

As she gathered up her purse I felt compelled to offer to help her go and look one last time, but, I fear I look a little too intimidating (-- as I towered over her by nearly a foot and half) and so she declined once more. And as I rattled off a couple of albums she should be on the lookout for, she asked if I could write them down, which, with a lone of pen from the clerk, I did. And with that, and one final wave, she puttered out of the store

And that, folks, totally made my day.
 Video courtesy of xxsweetcherrypiexx.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vintage Review Spotlight :: Muscles and Mayhem x 3 :: Pietro Francisi's Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1965)

For several weeks a giant sea serpent has laid siege on the coastal village of Ithaca, causing several fishermen, tired of being the beast's personal buffet, to petition King Leyeritis for some much needed help. Luckily for them, Hercules just happens to be reveling in the King's Court and gladly volunteers to help slay the monster. His bestest chum, Ulysses (Cerusico), also volunteers to go; and as the boys and their small crew prepare to set sail, leaving their worried womenfolk behind, they promise to be back before the sun sets. And with that, after Herc easily pulls up the giant stone anchor, they're off -- right into the teeth of a vicious storm! Then, to make matters even worse, the lookout spies the sea monster and raises the alarm (-- and so help me, I'm not making this up, but that "sea serpent" sure looks like an otter to me). Moving quickly, Herc harpoons the beast and tries to reel it in, but the beast proves too strong and, instead, drags them farther and farther out onto a dark and turbulent sea.

The next morning, as wreckage from their boat washes ashore, a carrier pigeon arrives bearing news, assuring all the expedition is okay -- well, if being reduced to floating around on what's barely left of the ship means "okay" -- but they might be out to sea a little while longer than originally anticipated. Cast adrift, what's left of the hungry crew wants to eat the remaining pigeons and threatens mutiny. But as Herc chucks them all in the drink to cool off, land is spotted. But the Greeks are unfamiliar with the native flora and fauna -- but eat it anyway. They also attract the attention of a very large and cantankerous bull. And when the beast charges them, Hercules counters, bopping the bovine on the head several times, killing it. They eat that, too. Then, they follow a path and come upon a village and, judging by the native garb, Hercules conjectures they must be in the land Judea.

Soon spotted, the villagers eye these new strangers warily -- especially a very large native, Samson (Lloyd), who watches them from the shadows, fearing they might be Philistine spies sent to kill him. And I think we all know where this is heading, right? Right...

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1965) was another one of those movies that evaded my grasp for far, far too long. I caught my first glimpse of it over a decade ago after stumbling home from the bar one night, drunk as a skunk, as one normally was after stumbling home from the bar, and kicked on the old boob-tube in time to see some kind of period piece on one of the Super-Stations, where a village was in the process of being massacred by a bunch of baddies. Through my booze induced fog, I watched as people were brazenly crucified against their houses, strung up, burned out, and the rest drug off in chains. Despite this carnage, I kinda faded in and out after that, but clearly remembered watching a muscle-bound hero exact some tasty revenge for those peasants in an equally spectacular fashion. And as this mind-boggling spectacle of carnage and flying boulders continued I realized two things: one, judging by the beefy hero and dubbed voices, this had to be some kind of Italian Hercules movie. And two, this, in my stupor, could quite possibly be the greatest freakin' movie ever made! And then I promptly passed out in the recliner before the movie ended.

Come the dawn, I added more misery to my hangover by kicking myself for not recording the end of the movie. Hell, I didn't even know what it was called. But checking the local TV listings in the paper confirmed I wasn't seeing double due to the booze; there were two musclemen in this thing, running amok. Maybe even three...

And thus, I spent the next decade trying to track down a copy of Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, which was finally accomplished when I bought a VHS dub off of eBay around 2005. When it arrived, the original source of the dub proved to be Video Search of Miami, a gray-market service that had also allowed me to catch Guillio Questi's total mind-f*ck of movie, Death Laid an Egg (1968). And when I finally sat down and watched the whole thing, you ask, Was it as good you remembered? Well, the answer to that is, no, it wasn't. Nope. It was better.

Director and screenwriter Pietro Francisci popularized these muscles and mayhem movies when his Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959) were imported to the States in the late 1950s with surprising box-office success. Which, of course, brought on a rash of imitators to cash in. Goliath, Samson, Ulysses, Maciste -- the son of Hercules, and Atlas all had their separate vehicles, but the most popular protagonist was still Hercules. And of couse, when your scriptwriter gets even more bereft of ideas, they started teaming them up. And that's exactly what Francisci did by teaming up our three stalwart heroes. But, by all rights, the proper title of this film should probably have been Hercules, Samson and Delilah as Cerusico's Ulysses disappears for over half the movie and provides nothing but comedy relief. I mean, after all, it is Liana Orfei's vamping and scheming that provides the lever and fulcrum that moves this plot along.

And in the good news department, you no longer have to rely on crappy, pan-n-scan bootlegs of this gonzoidal flick either, as the Warner Archives has the film available for purchase on DVD. And not only is the film presented in its proper aspect ratio, the print is a massive improvement over anything I've seen. In fact, it's so good we can see the mythical sea-serpent who triggered this whole mess is not an otter as first perceived but is actually a sea lion. ROAR! And so, with both Hercules and Hercules, Samson and Ulysses available in a proper, restored format, one holds out hope that more of these hair-brained epics get the same treatment.

Until then, you could do a lot worse than taking the plunge on a movie with giant monsters, stuffed animal wrestling, bull head-butting, the greatest village massacre ever committed to film, crucifixions, hangings, impalement, raping, pillaging, deadly arrow barrages, spear-chucking, incredible stunt work (both human and equestrian); and that's not even getting to the laughable dubbing, cartoony sound-effects, Delilah's erotic serpentine whip dance of the cobra, the evil Philistine king, who puts the bastard in dastardly villain, the converted German SS helmets of his lackeys, two beefy guys beating the living snot out of each other, and the complete and utter destruction of not one, but two, great stone temples. We're talking some major Styrofoam-boulder-chucking-fu, here, people. Go. Watch this. Now!

Other Points of Interest:

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses a/k/a Ercole sfida Sansone (1965) I.C.D. :: MGM / P: Joseph Fryd / D: Pietro Francisci / W: Pietro Francisci / C: Silvano Ippoliti / E: Pietro Francisci / M: Francesco Lavagnino / S: Kirk Morris, Richard Lloyd, Liana Orfei, Aldo Giuffrè, Enzo Cerusico, Diletta D’Andrea
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