Friday, July 27, 2012

Operation: 00-OddBalls :: Getting to the Root of the Diabolical Dilema Over My Dastardly Dislike of Danger: Diabolik!

Written by the sibling tandem of Angela and Luciana Giussoni and initially drawn by Gino Marchesi, the Diabolik fumetti (-- the Italian term for comic books) was first published in November, 1962. As the legend goes, sister Angela lived near a busy train station in their native Milan and noticed how much reading the passengers did on their lengthy commutes, especially the paperbacks. Now, Angela had a brief career as a model before marrying Gino Sansoni, who then took a position in Sansoni's publishing firm. And while observing all those commuters, Angela hit upon the notion of creating a new fumetti using the same, smaller dimensions for the reader's convenience. As for what it should be about, depending on which story you believe, Angela either polled the commuters on what they liked to read most, with violent mysteries and steamy adventures winning out or she found an abandoned Fantômas novel on a train and took it as a sign of inspiration.

Angela and Luciana Giussoni

Fantômas was a devious master-criminal co-created by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souverstre. And in typical grand guignol fashion, Allain and Souvestre's protagonist was one sadistic S.O.B. with definite sociopathic tendencies. He was a master of disguise, completely ruthless, and killed without qualm or mercy to achieve his own ends in 43 published adventures.

Despite this grisly modus operandi, Fantômas proved quite popular throughout Europe and inspired many imitators. And with another copycat character set, forming her own company, Astorina, Angela Giussoni bet the bank on this new publishing venture, beginning with the first issue, Ill Re del Terrore (The King of Terror). History proves that Giussoni's gamble paid off, big time, as the public voraciously ate up the intricate plots, protracted violence, and sizzling sensuality of Diabolik and kept coming back for more. E'yup, the series had legs and proved so popular famed Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis soon came calling about the possibility of a feature film adaptation. To direct, de Laurentiis picked Mario Bava, one of my favorite filmmakers of all time -- and I'm sure Bava crapped his pants when the producer gave him a budget of over three million dollars after making gold out of the few copper pennies spent on his previous features.

Teaming up with four other writers on the script, according to several sources, Bava's film version stays fairly true to the comic, too, with, let's face it, a moronically implausible plot of improbable and daring escapades, followed by even more impossible escapes that honestly work better in the panels of a comic -- or a spy movie, 'natch. But, honestly, the plot, characters, and character motivations are just a means to an end. The end being one of the most fantastical feasts of stunning visuals and incredible action set-pieces that almost carry the film into the win column for me. Almost. But not quite.

To find out why, check out our full film review of Danger: Diabolik over to 3B Theater for a complete debriefing on the second installment of our Five part Operation: 00-OddBalls spy-spoof retrospective. The rest of which we will be rolling out over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Alas, all efforts to find any print ads for this feature failed.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blogathon Alert :: Showing My Age...

Nathanael Hood over at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear has once more rung the bell, asking for contributions for the My First Movie Blogathon, where folks are asked to recollect about their first theatrical experiences, whether it be the first film you remember attending, the first R-Rated movie you managed to bluff your way into, or even a virginal Film Festival encounter. So, dealer's choice. And my choice is to hearken back to the wild and wooly days of the early 1970's and a particular weekend matinee, where my unruly brood was dumped off at the old Rivoli theater for a double-feature of...


Back then, man, Dean Jones was like a second father to me.

I'm participating. Are you?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Memoriam :: They Aren't Guilty Pleasures, Folks, if there is No Guilt Involved :: Beach Party 4VR!

For his work on I Love Lucy (directing 100 out of 180 total episodes) and Bewitched (produced and directed for his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery), along with countless other TV shows, William Asher deserves the credit for being the king and originator of the situational-comedy as we know it on the tube. However, having given credit where credit is due, I will always be thankful to Asher for his credulity crunching contributions to the big screen.

As the legend goes, when the brass at American International Pictures took a meeting with Asher on the possibility of producing and directing a feature for them, what Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff had to offer was a script by AIP regular, Lou Russoff, that was basically a rehash of their exploitative teen-angst product, like High School Hellcats and The Cool and the Crazy, of which the company had been churning out since the mid-1950's, and hoped to squeeze a few more dollars out of the waning formula. Turns out Asher wasn't really interested in another take on the horrors of drugs, failed parenting, and the generation gap, but took the opportunity to make a pitch of his own...

His was a novel idea for the time: a movie where the kids weren't in any trouble at all -- except for the eternal pursuit of a good time, usually with the opposite sex; and being a surfer himself, Asher wanted to base the film around the gung-ho surf-culture of southern California. Not completely sold on the idea, the executive producers took a gamble and rolled the dice -- just like they had done a few years earlier when they turned Roger Corman, Richard Matheson, Danny Haller and Vincent Price loose on the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe.

But you have to realize Nicholson and Arkoff took an even bigger monetary risk by backing Asher's proposed teenage-fueled, surfside romp-n-stomp. When Hammer Films introduced vibrant Technicolor to their gothic horror revival in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, the writing was on the wall and AIP's old B&W double-bills just weren't gonna hack it anymore. This led, of course, to Corman's The House of Usher -- a gamble, to be sure, but with Hammer already paving the way, there was already a built in and proven audience for horror pictures to help hedge the bet. Not so for Asher's cinematic brainstorm about 10,000 kids with 5000 beach blankets and what they did on them when the sun went down, the moon came out, and the water got too cold to surf.

History proves American International won both of those bets, big time. And when his inaugural Beach Party started raking it in at the box-office, Asher was expecting a call from AIP to cash in with a sequel. And that call came soon enough, but Asher quickly scuttled the idea of letting the characters mature to the next step of adulthood, thinking the sequel should be nothing more than a literal continuation from the last one, resulting in one of the longest summers in motion picture history that lasted for over three years and seven sequels and spin-offs. And though some may scoff at the knee-deep cheese of Frankie and Annette, the all out buffoonery of Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper, or the thunderous chords of Dick Dale, I unabashedly wallow in it. And for that, Mr. Asher, I would like to say thank you from the bottom of B-Movie lovin' heart.

William Asher


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rumblings from the Mothership :: Operation: 00-OddBalls Commences!

When one thinks of borscht-belt comedians, and Ed Sullivan Show regulars, Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, the subtle, suave and debonair skills of a super-spy really don't spring to mind. Splutter, maybe. But not spring. Basically, picture Joe Besser, with Larry Fine's wild hairdo, and Marty Feldman's googley eyes, and then team him up with carbon-copy of Dean Martin from a vintage copier that's a little low on toner and you'll have a pretty good mental picture of our dynamic duo.

As the legend goes, Rossi was "discovered" by Mae West while acting in a production of The Student Prince in 1953, who incorporated the singer into her Vegas show. After the tour ended, Rossi formed the Robinaires, a musical group, who wound up as part of Nat "King" Cole's entourage. But by 1957, the singer was ready to try something different. Maybe some comedy, he confided with his boss, who knew a guy, who new a guy that he felt would be a perfect fit. Allen, meanwhile, after a hitch in the Army Air-Corps, used the GI Bill to attend USC, majoring in journalism. But while in college, Allen spent most of his nights honing a comedy act at several clubs that soon had him opening for the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Allen had also toured with Cole, who, remember, knew a straight-man who needed a comedian and gave Rossi the funny-man's number.

The two had chemistry, hit it off, and over the next decade the duo made over 700 guest-appearances on the tube -- including three of the four Sullivan episodes which featured The Beatles -- and hammered out 16 comedy albums on top of all the touring and live performances, providing an opening act for the likes of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.

As for Allen's famous "Hello dere!" catch phrase, apparently, one night in the middle of the act, the mad-quipper suffered a bad case of brain-lock and couldn't remember his lines and just kept blurting out "Hello dere" over and over. The audience loved it, chimed in, chaos ensued, and he's been using it ever since. As with most comedy teams, alas, they were destined to split up, and split up they did in 1968. But before the break-up, the duo had enough of a following to land them the lead in a feature film, a spoof, naturally, on the current spy and espionage-addled box-office boom called The Last of the Secret Agents?

And to be honest, these unlikely heroes both have their moments in the film to come. And remember, it could be worse. We could be dealing with Sammy Petrillo and Duke Williams. Yoinks! Now there's a scary thought.

For the full film review of Allen and Rossi's The Last of the Secret Agent? click on over to 3B Theater for a complete debriefing on part One of our Five part Operation: 00-OddBalls spy-spoof retrospective. The rest of which we will be rolling out over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

YouTube Finds :: 0110001101110100011100110




Monday, July 9, 2012

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: Crusading Reporters, Serial Killing, and the Fine Art of Mubers :: Phillip Borsos' The Mean Season (1985)

Of all the film's dedicated to my chosen profession of working at a daily newspaper, my favorite and, I think, the best is Richard Brooks' Deadline - USA, where crusading editor Humphrey Bogart, despite the paper's imminent demise, puts the screws to the local gangster, bound and determined to bring him down for murder before the last edition goes to press. And amongst a plethora of great scenes is the one where the dedicated staff hold a wake for their soon to be dearly departed paper, culminating in Jim Backus relating a conversation about how the brass-nutted publisher asked for the difference between a journalist and a reporter before he would hire him. A journalist, he says, makes himself the hero of the story, while a reporter serves only as a witness; a lesson Kurt Russell's character should have taken to heart in another tale of murder and newsprint with The Mean Season.

Based on In the Heat of the Summer, a crackerjack novel by John Katzenbach, the film set the template for many a serial-murder flick to come. Here, Russell plays a Miami-based reporter who inadvertently becomes the mouthpiece for a serial killer looking for bigger headlines. And as the stakes get higher, along with the body count, Russell soon comes to a realization that he is no longer reporting the news but is the news. And he kind of likes it. Thus, drawing too much media attention to himself, the Numbers Killer (played by a completely whackadoodle Richard Jordan) is quite upset by this, and, in true narcissistic fashion, decides to punish our hero by kidnapping his girlfriend, played by Mariel Hemingway, as his next victim, which leads to the main reason for this post.

For, as the local papers do a patented sit-n-spin on the movie screen, up pops one of the greatest gaffes in the history of newspaper cinema:

Now, now. Cut him some slack, that headline was written
under duress.
In other words, FIRE THE COPY EDITOR!

Sadly, due to budget cuts, in a lot of papers, a copy editor is luxury no longer afforded. And when I finally noticed the typo on this latest viewing (-- for the record, that should be kidnapping with two p's), I laughed pretty hard but was also extremely sympathetic for many reasons. Mainly, because I'm terrible speller and my typing skills aren't all that hot. Also, in my sixteen years working in the composing department, meaning, basically, I make sure everything prints right side up, I've seen golfers shit 3 under par to take second place (-- which makes one wonder what they had to shit out to win), grandfather cocks for sale, teams promising to lay their opponents as hard as they can slip by and see print, and one inexplicable headline with the word "muber" in it, which proved so inexplicable that any error caught since is now affectionately dubbed just that: a muber.

Now, this gaffe in no way, shape or form, ruins the movie watching experience of The Mean Season. Far from it. Russell is great, as always, equaled by Jordan, and buoyed by a strong supporting cast, including a young Andy Garcia and a vintage Richard Bradford as the detectives charged with mucking through the grisly crime scenes to try and catch this psycho, with their only real lead being Russell's link with the killer, meaning all they can do is wait for more bodies and hope the killer eventually slips up and reveals himself. As I said before, a lot of this is tired, worn thin, and needling toward cliche these days, but it all had to start somewhere, right?

The Mean Season (1985) David Foster Productions :: Orion Pictures / P: David Foster, Lawrence Turman / AP: Steve Perry / D: Phillip Borsos / W: Leon Piedmont, John Katzenbach (novel) / C: Frank Tidy / E: Duwayne Dunham / M: Lalo Schifrin / S: Kurt Russell, Mariel Hemingway, Richard Jordan, Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, Andy Garcia, Richard Bradford

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Recommendations :: Good Reads :: The Greatest Jam Session Ever? Maybe. The Most Important? Definitely.

58 years ago, today, three fellas by the name of Elvis, Scotty, and Bill, while simply monkeying around the studio after cutting another track, as the legend goes, jammed-out all impromptu on an old Arthur "Big Boy" Cruddup blues number. And the rest, as they say, is Rock-n-Roll history...

Video courtesy of SeandeRebel2008.

Once again, Sheila O'IwishIcouldwritethatwelldagnabbit gets down to the nuts and bolts of this fateful day with another fantastic piece at The Shelia Variations, which is fast becoming one of my favorite online haunts, especially her beautiful, almost hauntingly lyrical, posts on Elvis Presley, which, somehow, both deconstruct and reinforce the legend of the King of Rock-n-Roll. I don't know how the hell she does it either. But. Highly recommended reading, folks.

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