"Well, most people like it and I like it, and I'm working hard and trying to keep the cost down"

J. Russell Finch CEO & President
The Pacific Edible Seaweed Company
Fresno, CA.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

OBJECTIVE BURMA ! 1945




   Although Errol Flynn is best known for his swashbuckler and heroic adventurer roles where he basically just played "Errol Flynn", every so often he would get a role that he really felt strongly about and while perking his interest also moved him to up his acting a notch (for which he's never really been given his due). Although only 36 at this time the ravages of Flynn's lifestyle were beginning to wear on his movie idol looks by this time and to be fair he does look a bit to old for a paratrooper (at one point he remarks "we're all young, we have to be"), but this doesn't take away at all from his excellent performance. The movie itself is a great example gritty & dirty WWII "desperate mission" and features a wonderful supporting cast of familiar faces including Henry Hull (WEREWOLF OF LONDON), William Prince (DEAD RECKONING), Anthony Caruso (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) and Richard Erdman (STALAG 17), along with James Brown & the always great George Tobias from AIR FORCE (and this is most likely the only Flynn movie to feature a 100% male cast).
   Flynn as Capt. Nelson leads a group of American paratroopers on mission deep into the Burmese jungles to destroy a Japanese radar installation. Henry Hull as war correspondent Mark Williams comes along and serves as the surrogate "folks back home", along with having military procedures and tactics explained to him which helps keeps the audience informed of whats going on. Flynn is really good here and gives a very grim & determined performance (his reaction after finding the bodies of some of his men who've been brutally killed by the enemy is one of his best performances ever).
   The jungles of Burma are sometimes not to convincingly portrayed by the Providencia Ranch location in the Hollywood Hills, but close ups that were shot at L.A. County Arboretum help along with a multitude off over dubbed "jungle" sound effects and there is a sequence at a ruined temple along a river that features some excellent set design.
   The Warner DVD has a great extra entitled "The Tanks Are Coming" from 1941 which features George Tobias as NYC taxi drive who drives his taxi down to Ft. Knox KY. to enlist in the U.S. Army as a tank driver. If your a tank geek (like me) this has scads of Technicolor footage of early war U.S. armor.




Saturday, October 18, 2014

HALLS OF MONTEZUMA 1950


Hosted by The Hannibal 8


"Action With The Battling Leathernecks !"




    Released by Fox, this 1950 Technicolor war epic features a terrific cast (many of whom were just starting out) and while at first glance it does seem to be something that would have been made about 6 years or so earlier (one of the "why we need to fight" WWII pictures) it does attempt to get into a bit more into the psychological side of things and thanks to full corporation on the USMC it features scads of post WWII Marine armor and vehicles. Filmed in Southern Calif. around Camp Pendleton (along with a stop off at famous Bronson Cavern) the filmmakers were allowed access to hundred of Marines for use as extras.
    Although basically a 113 minute recruiting advertisement for the Marines (recruiting stations were set up in theatre lobbies) it was directed by Lewis Milestone who rather ironically had directed what is considered to be one of the greatest anti-war films ever - ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT from 1930. Although filled with gung-ho rousing action sequences (with the Marine Hymn blasting away on the soundtrack) as mentioned the story does attempt to get a little deeper into a few of the soldiers back story (admittedly with somewhat overdone melodrama) and when characters do die, they die an agonizingly slow death while dragging themselves through the mud (albeit still heroically). The movie was parodied in Robert Altman's MASH from 1970 as one of the PA announcements for an upcoming movie night.



    Focusing on a Marine platoon during an unnamed WWII Pacific battle (it's based loosely upon Okinawa) the film feature Richard Widmark as the Lt., Karl Malden as the medic, along with Neville Brand, Jack Palance, Skip Homeier, Robert Wagner, Martin Milner, Brett Freed (who as the tough Sgt. here would in a few years would be replaced by Aldo Ray in this type of role) and Richard Hylton as the remainder as the central group of soldiers that we're introduced to in the films opening sequences. The remainder of the cast includes Richard Boone (in his big screen debut) as the command figure in the form of a Col. perpetually suffering from a cold, Reginald Gardner as an intelligence officer and Japanese interpreter (also supplying a bit of comedy relief) and Jack Webb as a war correspondent.
     This ensemble (sans Boone) is sent on a mission to locate a hidden Japanese rocket battery that has to be destroyed by a certain time in order for an offensive to start. Earlier in the movie we were introduced to various members of the squad and how their problems such as Widmark's migraine headaches, Hylton's cowardice and Homeier's tough guy attitude play out in the upcoming plot as the groups numbers are whittled down and they become more desperate and disillusioned. It's interesting to see how it's mostly the younger actors (and perhaps those newly under contract) receive the lions share of the back story sequences with Wagner, Homeier and Hylton each receiving a segment. The movie features some spectacular battle footage with actual color combat footage neatly worked in and once the action moves primarily to the island  and the "mission" begins the plot holds interest and excitement in spite of its rather long running time (and as far as a war picture, you couldn't ask for a better cast).



   Playing the war correspondent Dickerman Webb brings the same easy going persona & low key sense of humor that he did in 1948's HE WALKED BY NIGHT and serves as the conscience of the group. There's even an interrogation scene in which he participates that seems to look forward to DRAGNET. It's always interesting to watch Webb in his early movies as you swear you actually see the wheels turning in his head as he observes the creative process. He would later use Boone in the 1954 DRAGNET movie (where he would essentially play the same character as here) and with even more fortuity this would be his first meeting with a young actor named Martin Milner. HALLS ON MONTEZUMA is available on a Fox DVD that's re-packaged every so often in multi-packs with other Fox war films. Once again a big thanks to Toby over at The Hannibal 8 for hosting this.





         
    

Friday, October 17, 2014

DRAGNET - The 1966 TV Movie



Hosted by The Hannibal 8


"Now you listen to me, you gutter-mouth punk. I've dealt with you before, and every time I did, it took me a month to wash off the filth."




    By 1966 Jack Webb's TV fortunes were at a rather low ebb. After the successful run of the original DRAGNET ended in 1959 he attempted a series based upon his feature film PETE KELLY'S BLUES. Starring William Reynolds (who would later gain fame in THE F.B.I.) the series lasted only thirteen episodes before being cancelled. In 1963 he took over as executive producer of ABC's highly rated 77 SUNSET STRIP and after totally revamping the series, along with replacing most of the cast save for Efrem Zimbalist, the show's ratings tanked and Webb was fired. At the same time  he developed a western series with Jeffery Hunter called TEMPLE HOUSTON which was cancelled after one season.
    When in 1966 Universal Television came calling being interested in a new TV movie based upon the still popular and well known DRAGNET Webb could hardly refuse. Again combing through the L.A. Police archives Webb and writer Richard Bream decided on the case of Harvey Glatman, who along with the Black Dahlia and pre Manson and Zodiac was one California's most infamous murder cases. Starting in 1957, Glatman posing as a professional photographer would hire young women from modeling agencies later assaulting and murdering them while taking various pictures of them He was executed in 1959.




    Unfortunately for Webb his longtime partner on the original series Ben Alexander, who had portrayed Officer Frank Smith, was unavailable as he was working on NBC's FELONY SQUAD at the time. Realizing he needed some of the light comic relief that Alexander provided, Webb turned to Harry Morgan an old friend of his who had appeared with him in a couple of excellent film noirs including DARK CITY (1950) and 1951's APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (in which they play a pair of hit men). Additionally in the original DRAGNET the beefy Alexander provided a contrast to the rail thin dark haired Webb, but now with Friday packing on a few extra pounds Webb went for the tall skinny Morgan as a partner. Universal was so happy with the finished product that they ahead and ordered a new series, with the result being that the movie didn't officially air until 1969.
    In this newest incarnation of DRAGNET Webb's Friday is back to the rank of Sgt., even though he was promoted to Lt. in the last episode of the original series. Webb would later brush off the rank change by saying that ranking officers are desk bound for most part and being a stickler for police procedure Fri. needed to be a Sgt. for the new DRAGNET to work (during the course of the movie a suspect refers to Friday as "the immortal Sargent"). Another big change for the new movie would be the then new "Miranda Warning" law that was coming into effect in 1966. No longer would the police be able to hold suspects indefinitely for questioning with no phone calls or legal consul (Friday remarks at one point "we use to be able to talk to them..."). There's also a small bit of tie-in to the previous series with after discussing the name Smith Friday remarks "I had a partner by that name once"

  

    Stopping in to pick up his mail while on vacation (but wearing his soon to be trademark grey sports coat, white shirt & tie) Sgt. Friday is roped into coming back early from vacation by his superior Capt. Hugh Brown (this time played by Gene Evans) to help out with security for a visiting Russian dignitary. This is one of a couple of odd little sidetracks (perhaps being undeveloped DRAGNET plots) that the story takes, although here it does give Webb (who was a fervent anti-Communist) a chance to portray some almost cartoonishly loud and blustery Soviet security men with the other being a sidetrack into an unrelated murder that while being only nominally attached to the main plot does help pad the running time.
    Almost immediately Friday is assigned back to his current partner Officer Bill Gannon (Morgan) to investigate the disappearance of several women related to the modeling industry and perhaps a new unrelated disappearance of young woman who was enrolled in a dating service. Discovering the cases are all related they begin the usual Dragnet style investigation which amounts to examples of carefully explained police procedures and the interviewing of various citizens most all of whom are slightly eccentric (or even downright loopy). Although based on a very grim & salacious crime as to be expected screenwriter Bream tones down the elements (it never even hinted at to what happened to the victims before being killed) and there is some of the soon to be famous Bill Gannon comedy relief as here his dental school nephew shows up periodically to try and fit a new bridge. There's also a plot bit running through the story that it's Gannon's last day before retirement.



    The cast is packed with many of the usual gang of Webb regulars (although Stacy Harris, a mainstay of both incarnations of the series and a lead in the 1954 movie is strangely missing) with Vic Perrin playing the killer and Virginia Gregg as the bitchy owner of the dating service. Perrin, another Webb mainstay would continue on to do some Adam-12's (he played the DA in the 1954 movie) and was the control voice for THE OUTER LIMITS. Gregg, who along with Stacy Harris and Perrin would seem to show up in about every other episode of the upcoming series where she alternately would play either slightly ditsy or downright crabby suspects and/or witnesses.
   One of the more fascinating things about viewing DRAGNET in its various TV incarnations is how Webb took the premise and writing style from radio show and basically just moved it to TV. With each plot development carefully explained either by Webb's narration or by the clipped Q&A style of dialogue you could literally just listen to the audio and follow the story perfectly. The movie is filled with Jack's classic three different camera setups (1 person close-up shoulder shot, 2 people waist up & 3 or more people full length), although the climax in driving rainstorm on a mud clogged hillside is a marvel of editing and its also fascinating to watch Webb narrate car chases by the simple use of radio transmissions, with no actual footage shown of the chase.
    The final scene of the movie shows Friday reuniting with his back from retirement partner Bill Gannon. With this sequence seemingly added on later, it makes you wonder if Webb didn't expect this to morph into a series or if he was perhaps still hoping to get Ben Alexander back. Long unavailable on home video Shout included this as a bonus on their DRAGNET 1968 set. A big thanks to Toby over at The Hannibal 8 for hosting this.








Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Angie Dickinson !!

   A very special birthday wish today for Angie Dickinson, who on the cool meter is pegging the needle with her roles in (among others) RIO BRAVO (1959), OCEANS 11 (1960), THE KILLERS (1964) and one of my favorites John Boorman's psychedelic neo-noir POINT BLANK (1967).






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CROSS OF IRON 1977






    Most often lumped within the group of three that comprise Peckinpah's last movies - the final two being the perverse curiosity of a mess that is CONVOY (1978) and glimpses of greatness failure of 1983's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, however when taken on its own 1977's CROSS OF IRON can looked upon as the last great Peckinpah film. Coming after the box office disaster of the schizophrenic THE KILLER ELITE from 1975, Peckinpah found himself unable to find work in America and traveled to Europe at the bequest of some German producers (whom I seriously doubt know what they were in for) to helm this British/German co-production. Coming at a time in his career when his fortunes were maybe at their lowest ebb (along with his ever present personal demons) he managed to craft a film that while perhaps not a great piece of art does manage to showcase his combination of poetry like brutality and loyalty among men in a desperate situation - all the while battling with "the money men" and working on a agonizingly small budget. And lets face it, even a sometimes flawed Peckinpah minor masterpiece is still better then a vast majority of other directors best work.



    Set in southern most Russia in the year 1943 (during which time the tide of war turned seriously against the German Army) the film focuses on a German infantry platoon led by Sgt. Steiner (James Coburn) who finds himself in embroiled in a battle of wills with Capt. Stransky (Maximilian Schell), an aristocratic Prussian officer newly arrived at the battle front and whose determined to win the Iron Cross. Being the German English co-production in addition to Coburn, it does have a curious mix of both British (James Mason & David Warner) and German actors (Schell & Vadim Glowna) with the resulting sometimes strange mixture of accents.
    In spite of the budget restraints (there are stories of the production being shut down at various times until mysterious loads of cash would show up) Peckinpah manages to stage some truly terrific set pieces including the Russian infantry assault and most spectacularly the tank sequence. The uniform and equipment details are amazingly realistic (even such things as buttons are correct) with only the hair styles of some of the actors (in particular Warner & Coburn) being a bit jarring. The film takes a bit of an odd left turn with a too long sequence at a hospital that works in an appearance by Senta Berger (reunited with Peckinpah from MAJOR DUNDEE) as a nurse. The abrupt ending was improvised by Coburn and Peckinpah when the money ran dry.