Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fantastic Four

I followed the making of this film with great interest back in the early nineties because FANTASTIC FOUR had long been a favorite comic book and, in fact, the only major comic where I ever completed a--sadly long since sold now--full run! There were pictures here and there in the movie and comics fan press and eventually a flat-out cover story in FILM THREAT magazine just prior to the film's gala, massive...cancellation.

Not going to get into the whole mess as to WHY it was cancelled. Google if you aren't familiar with that story. 

Within a couple of years, though, it was unofficially released somehow, under the counter...and it isn't bad. It's far too low budget to be as good as it should be but it's sort of the FF on the same level as the TV Hulk and Spidey of the seventies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Silent Partner

Elliot Gould was, in some ways, THE actor of the seventies. In the beginning, he was hot, young, quirky and popular. He made megahits and got rave reviews. Following the unfortunate pattern that often rears its ugly head in Hollywood, he then got full of himself and a combination of ego, money and various abuses made him feel invincible. Then he started acting weird, taking poor vehicles and losing his box office stature. At that point, if an actor is lucky, they come to their senses and start doing what they originally loved in the first place--acting! That's what Gould did and one of his best as he came out of his free fall was 1978's THE SILENT PARTNER.

Not so much a Christmas movie as it is a movie that just happens to be set at Christmas, stalwart Christopher Plummer is a particularly ruthless bank robber. He gets away with a  certain amount of money when he robs bank teller Gould but the enterprising victim takes quite  bait himself, figuring correctly that it will be blamed on the bank robber.

The thing is, the robber KNOWS how much he has and that it isn't nearly as much as the papers say he stole. And he knows that only one person could possibly have taken that money.

...and he wants the money...NOW.

A really well-made suspense flick with an understated performance by Gould and a big, blustery, genuinely creepy performance by the often heroic Plummer (star of THE SOUND OF MUSIC!)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Neutron-My First Luchador

When WXIX in Cincinnati aired NEUTRON VS THE DEATH ROBOTS circa 1970, my friend Terry and I saw it as a Mexican superhero film and didn't "get" the wrestling aspect. IT was cool, though, and Terry made his Captain Action into a clone of the Atomic Superman!

Eventually, Channel 19 also played the film's sequels and we began to piece together hat this was more than just a  one-off movie.

Still, as near as I can tell, Neutron was an actor playing a wrestling superhero. Eventually, we would learn that there were superhero wrestlers in Mexico who played at acting!

El Santo and The Blue Demon were the big favorites but there were actually many! And they dominated the wrestling rings as well! MY favorite over time would be Mil Mascaras. But I still have a soft spot for these goofy black and white, low-budget "masterpieces" from long ago with NEUTRON, THE ATOMIC SUPERMAN!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

R.I.P. Tom Laughlin

Tom Laughlin started out in the fifties in JD films but quickly grew to write and direct his own, often under assumed names. One of those was BORN LOSERS, a 1967 drive-in flick about a girl raped by a cycle gang who fights back with the help of a laconic loner in a cowboy hat named Billy Jack. The most notable thing about the picture is the cameo by Jane Russell.

BORN LOSERS was re-released in the mid-seventies after the astronomical success of the next 2 BILLY JACK films!

BILLY JACK wasn't really a sequel, more of a new start. It clearly wasn't the same character and the emphasis in this one was how the half-breed hero felt bad about using violence to protect a school run by a peace-loving woman. It flopped.

But ever the maverick, Laughlin bought back the film and "four-walled it" in theaters starting in Cincinnati. Basically, that means he paid theaters to run the film for a certain amount of time while he saturated the market with ads on radio, TV and in newspapers. It worked and BILLY JACK--although trounced by critics, became a major hit of the year!

BILLY JACK was then re-released nationally as a very special film where it did amazing box office.

Later ads actually touted the film's unusual route to success. Since the character used martial arts, BILLY JACK also benefitted from the growing trend of martial arts pictures that began in 1972.

Inevitably this led to a sequel--the much-hyped but horribly overblown TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. Parts of it were much better than the other two films but the ego behind it made it tough to see those parts for the over-written, over-directed and over-long rest of the picture!

Another film was made and this one made its world premiere and debut back here at the site of the original BILLY JACK's success--Cincinnati. The cast and crew were here for a week, making the rounds of the local talk shows, riding in parades, getting the key to the city, appearing at Reds games (which means the date below is incorrect) and making personal appearances at the theaters showing the picture. None of which helped. BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON continues the social activist backstory of the previous two films while also serving as a not particularly well-made remake of Frank Capra's classic MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Apparently it never even achieved a national release at the time.

A decade later, in the mid-eighties, the usual crew started and abandoned THE RETURN OF BILLY JACK in which our hero was to go undercover as a priest to stop the mafia's exploitation of children. Scenes later turned up on Laughlin's website.

Still later, Tom spoke in interviews of an anti-Bush film in which the GHOST of Billy Jack returned to coach young activists!

Tom Laughlin died on December 12th, 2013.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Snowball Express

I have long said that any movie with a good snow scene is a good movie. This 1972 Disney flick is basically one long good snow scene. 

I saw SNOWBALL EXPRESS in theaters twice when it first came out. Once I went by myself and a week later when it was still playing, I took my Mom because I thought it was THAT enjoyable. 

One of my friends on Facebook these days is Michael McGreevey whose name is oddly misspelled on the posters for this film! Yesterday, his co-star, Kathleen Cody (now also  FB friend) posted about the movie online.

I had such a major crush on Kathleen Cody from her appearances on DARK SHADOWS not long before this picture. Earlier this year, I was able to tell her that online. (Blush)

Dean Jones once called me on the telephone and Johnnie Whitaker and I spoke once online as well. So odd to watch this movie again last night for the first time in decades with all those connections.

Although quite enjoyable all the way, it's a family film with fairly predictable Disney schtick but the script actually surprises with some genuinely funny bits along the way. 

Dean Jones continues his role as Disney leading man, replacing Fred MacMurray whom co-star Nancy Olsen played opposite in the Flubber films a decade earlier.

According to Michael, the dog was not a performing dog at all but, he believes, Diane Disney's actual dog. "St. Bernards are just naturally funny," he says.

Also in a cast of old pros we find George Lindsey, Keenan Wynn, Mary Wickes and--stealing every scene he's in, effortlessly--Harry Morgan.

If you find yourself snowed in this winter, find a copy of SNOWBALL EXPRESS for good old-fashioned family fun...and the best snow scenes ever!

Thanks Michael and Kathleen for getting me to watch it again and enjoy it all over!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Captain Sindbad

One of my favorite fantasy films as a kid was 1963's CAPTAIN SINDBAD, starring TV's ZORRO, Guy Williams. I saw it on television and then caught it twice in MGM Children's Matinee re-releases. Although the "D" was added to the title most likely to differentiate it from Ray Harryhausen's 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, the special effects are almost on a par with that classic! The charismatic, charming and handsome Williams--here between a stint on BONANZA and his "starring" role on LOST IN SPACE-- proves, as he had with ZORRO, that he was born too late. When swashbucklers ruled the movies, he would have been one of the best!