Random Film of the Week Quickie: DEAD END

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“I hear the marinara sauce is good in this joint…”

Dead End 1937 MPI love Dead End for a few reasons. It’s a great film based off a stage play that yep, both looks and feels stagey, but that works highly in its favor. It’s a classic Old New York City film just for the location it presents and the feeling that, staging aside, that place actually existed. It also marked the debut of The Dead End Kids who’d later morph into The Little Tough Guys, then The East Side Kids and then into The Bowery Boys with a total of close to 50 audience-pleasing fluff comedies made between 1937 and 1958. To some non-fans of the Boys, this only proves the law of diminishing returns should have been more strictly obeyed and enforced (ha and ha). But, I digress.

It also has Humphrey Bogart in an early knockout role as a slickly dressed but menacing thug who returns to his old stomping grounds with a brand new facelift for mixed results. Finally, it’s a nicely directed “message” film by the great William Wyler that works on many levels, some of which soak in only after a second or third viewing. Go grab your popcorn, pal. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re making it on the stove the old-fashioned way? Good. I’ll go get a bowl and meet you back here in five.

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Bogie lets McCrea know he can’t wear a hat AND a bucket at the same time.

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The White Buffalo

It’s that time again, folks (Dangit, we need a THEME SONG):

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Go get that popcorn going, this one’s quite a doozy.

The Whire Buffalo (Kino)While it’s not that much of an “obscure” film these days thanks to a few DVD and Blu-Ray disc releases over the years, J. Lee Thompson’s wild fantasy/horror western The White Buffalo goes way the hell out of its way to be as surreal as possible (well, within the confines of a Hollywood studio film, circa 1977). If you’re allergic to allegory and go in expecting it to be a more typical manly-man weekend special Charles Bronson flick, it may likely baffle you with its mystical and more surreal elements even though it definitely delivers the goods on the action front.

If anything, this Dino De Laurentis produced follow up to 1976’s (not quite as classic as the true classic) remake of King Kong suffers from too little scope due in part to a lower budget that, combined with a script that’s not fully fleshed out in spots, doomed it to death by a thousand critics slicing away with pen-knives and audiences who likely were expecting a more commercial flick. Today, it’s a different story as the film has garnered a bit of a cult following, warts and all.

Bronson and Buffalo

One of these hairy dudes is Bronson, the other looks more like a hippie jackalope. Uh, wait. a sec…

Still, it’s an excellent showcase for Bronson, as he completely inhabits the role of an ailing James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (or, James Otis as his alias here), who, after having recurrent nightmares about the titular creature terrorizing his mind, sets out to kill the beast but good. His competition for the prize: Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), whose infant daughter has been killed along with many of his tribe after a bloody rampage by the seemingly unstoppable, mountain wrecking, avalanche-causing monster.

In a kooky way, it’s more or less Ahab (from Moby Dick) meets Quint (from JAWS), but I don’t want to get too far with the literary or cinematic references even though the film is based off the novel by Richard Sale (who also wrote the screenplay). Let’s just say not every idea gels here, and to quote the late Milton Arbogast,

“You see, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jelling.”

That said, when it does gel, it’s like that time you used three boxes of gelatin and too little water and got something sweet you could bounce a silver dollar off of and have it hit you in the eye (ouch). Painfully palatable is a good description.

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Random Film of the Week: Invisible Invaders

Invisible Invaders MPSometimes revisiting an old film can reveal a load of new surprises, particularly if it ends up being a possible inspiration for later and better works. While not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, 1959’s Invisible Invaders managed to actually be a lot more thrilling than I recall from seeing it as a kid.

For one thing, it’s both an alien invasion and a zombie flick, melding sci-fi and horror pretty well despite some rather incredulous plot shenanigans. It’s also an unintentional response to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (also released in 1959) because it features more or less the same story executed far more effectively. Well, for a low budget flick, that is.

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Random Film of the Week: The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

(Thanks, ClassicTrailerGuy!)

TToB PosterStill one of the best and most thrilling fantasy films ever made, The Thief of Bagdad is a perfect movie that’s stuck with me ever since I first saw it as a child. After years of experiencing it in black and while, I didn’t even realize the film was in glorious Technicolor until sometime in the 1980’s when I finally saw it after a few years and fell for its charms all over again.

Considering at least three and as many as six people directed the film and production went from England to America due to a little world war breaking out, the film is even more incredible. Yes, some of you have seen this countless times, but if you know someone who hasn’t, it’s time to change that. Sit them down with this gem when it pops up on TCM or just plop down the cost of whatever this costs on DVD and prepare to be transported into a fantastic fairytale world… Continue reading

John Ford’s Stagecoach: Writers, Here’s How To Introduce Your Hero (#2 Of A Bunch)…

(thanks, ThePiemmebi!)

What can I say about John Ford that hasn’t been better said by a load of other (and far better) writers? Not much, other than even if you hate westerns, his 1939 classic, Stagecoach was and still is a quite phenomenal film from a year where there were dozens of them popping into theaters throughout the year. That famous first shot of John Wayne as Ringo is brilliant and thrilling because it immediately introduces a character that adds to the story in many ways. Without seeing the rest of the film, this clip sets up Ringo as someone who’s liked and hated, a friend, yet a stranger and some sort of outlaw. He’s not giving up his Winchester at all, and yes, that stubbornness comes in very handy soon enough as things get dangerous and his skills are required.

I haven’t seen this one in a while, but if it’s on soon (TCM, of course! I missed the John Wayne flicks they ran last month) and I’m up, I’ll be watching and cheering those great stunts and oohing at that stunning Monument Valley setting once again…

Random Film of the Week: History Is Made At Night

(Thanks, jolaysius!)

History Is Made At Night_MPUp until I saw all of Frank Borzage’s wonderful History Is Made At Night, the only part I’d seen was a hilarious clip that had me laughing a wee bit too hard because I’d taken it way out of context (it’s not hard to do, people). That “Cleo” gag is used again in the film, but by that time you’re probably going to be caught up in the blend of comedy and melodrama on display that adds a slight dip into disaster movie territory and tosses in a suicide for good measure. Borzage’s film isn’t your run of the mill funny flick at all and that’s exactly what makes it worth tracking down.

The plot is a bit loopy for sure, but the cast makes it work as things move from silly to serious and back again. If you’ve yet to see it, you can walk in on this film at a few different points and think you’re watching two or three different movies. It’s got some screwball elements for sure, but it’s also deeply romantic and suddenly serious as it ping-pongs about the emotional spectrum. Then again, real life is just like that at many times (which is why I like this oldie so much)…
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Random Film of the Week: Theatre of Blood

Theatre_of_Blood_MPI can recall as a kid really, really wanting to see a third Dr. Phibes movie after enjoying the first two back in the day and being nicely surprised that Theater of Blood is basically Vincent Price back as a similarly maligned character with a lovely female assistant (Diana Rigg) bumping off in some rather offbeat manners those that did him wrong. Granted, Price here plays the wronged Shakspeare quoting actor Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart as less determinedly psychotic than Phibes and more of someone who’s otherwise a likable man bullied by his critics to the point he decides to clean up the gene pool a bit.

But beggars can’t be choosers at all, and Douglas Hickox’ great, campy as all get out plus tax film packs in some nice 1970’s blood and chills in about an hour and forty five minutes of running time. Although it’s nowhere as gory as straight up slasher films that would pop onto screens less than ten years later, some of the kills here win awards for creativity and sheer ACME-style setup and payoff moments… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: The Defiant Ones

the defiant onesAlthough he doesn’t appear until about 45 minutes into the film and has about seven minutes or so of screen time total, Lon Chaney Jr. plays a pivotal role in The Defiant Ones. As Big Sam, a burly, weathered old soul who saves the escaped duo from a lynching, he delivers a powerful speech against killing the men and beats down one of the angry mob before asking anyone else to step up and try their hand at murder. Given that the guy he slugged went down like a stone wall hit by a wrecking ball, no one decides to test their luck afterwards.

Later on, he cuts the pair loose before brusquely sending them away still chained from the small waterside shack town they’d stumbled across. It’s not until the last moments the three men are together that you realize why Sam isn’t keen on seeing the men harmed (at least by his people)… a flash of his badly scarred wrist reveals he used to be a former chain gang convict. He doesn’t know or care what they’ve done to be chained to each other, but he’s giving them a better chance at survival than anyone else would have… Continue reading

Carrie “In Theaters Now” Spot: Thanks For Sharing, As I Sure Wouldn’t Know It Was!

Seriously, the last movie theater here is still closed and I’m feeling a bit morose and annoyed about that fact. I’m hoping that asbestos issue is resolved and it gets opened back up soon. The nearest theater is a multiplex a train or bus ride away, but I’ve heard that it’s overpriced and a pain to get to because you need to walk a bit after the public transportation jaunt. That and it’s packed with the most infuriatingly ill-mannered viewers who pay no heed to cell phone turn-off notices, bring bawling toddlers into R-rated movies and commit other low crimes against civil behavior that a normal person would go mad if they went there on a regular basis. From my source who frequent there because he’s hooked on films more than I am (well, he tends to watch more crap movies than I do), he also knows that the staff lets their friends hang out there (once they buy a ticket) and sneak into the other theaters to catch other films unless there’s a supervisor hanging about to keep things in check. Granted, that stuff has been going on since movie tickets have been sold, so it’s no big deal to me. On the other hand, I can see that being annoying to anyone trying to run a legitimate business where profits need to be calculated on a per-seat basis…

Anyway, reviews seem good on this Carrie remake, so that’s at least a good thing to see…

More Carrie? OK, Double Jeopardy With A “Telekinetic” Twist!

One clip, a quick TV spot and that dopey prank pulled here in NYC on some unsuspecting citizens strolling into a coffee shop. Of course, in that latter gag, my brain saw the holes in this one right off the bat. If that’s a neighborhood place that’s been open a while, wouldn’t any regulars NOTICE that new wall there or be miffed that their favorite spot was replaced by a wall. Okay, maybe the place was shut for construction with a sign on the door or whatever. Also, a few of those people look as if they were bought in by the studio to act surprised at the action. Granted, most look genuinely shocked, but in this damn city, SOMEONE would have called the cops even on the first scare.

Yeah, I’d have been that ONE guy standing there at the cashier laughing and looking for wires on that guy and wall while still trying to get my damn coffee with a hearty “Hey crazy lady! take that shoving tables crap down the block to McDonalds!” Hell, I’d have even offered her a nice, tasty plain aspirin (I keep a bottle in my bag at all times). Yeah, I’m VERY hard to market anything to. I just like what I like and try to get you do like it as well…

Carrie opens nationwide (except the theater where I live that’s closed. Stupid theater!) on October 18, 2013.