"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, 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.







Sunday, September 14, 2014

THE LINEUP 1957


"TOO HOT..TO BIG... FOR TV!"



   This excellent 1958 crime caper was based upon the then current San Francisco based police procedural TV drama THE LINEUP (or as its been refereed to "Dragnet by the bay"). The producers looking to perhaps emulate the success of the 1954 DRAGNET theatrical movie hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (THE NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66) and director Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11) to craft a feature film based upon the TV show. Like DRAGNET, THE LINEUP TV series had made the transition from radio to the small screen and stared Warner Anderson and Tom Tully as a pair of San Francisco based police detectives. For the large screen version Tully was replaced by the mean as hell looking character actor Emile Myer. A former New Orleans dock worker Meyer was discovered by Elia Kazan for his PANIC IN THE STREETS from 1950. Most famous for playing the crooked cop in 1957's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, he would also play a priest (!?) in PATHS OF GLORY (1957).
   For their movie version its pretty obvious Silliphant and Siegel have little interest in the two police detectives as the rather boring initial investigation is dispensed with quickly and we focus on the two main protagonists in the form of Eli Wallach and Robert Keith. Wallach plays "Dancer" a somewhat psychotic hit man and the cadaverous Keith plays Julian is his mentor who coaches him in the proper speech and procedures to their job and in a nice macabre touch collects the last words of the their victims. They arrive in town to track down a shipment of heroin that was smuggled in by unsuspecting travelers in various knick knacks. This was Broadway actor Wallach's second movie role after 1956's BABYDOLL and Robert Keith (father of Brian) had been married to Peg Entwistle who gained notoriety for committing suicide by jumping off the "Hollywood(land)" sign in 1932. 



  Hooking up with alcoholic wheel man Richard Jaeckel (GUADALCANAL DIARY) they begin tracking down the various unlucky recipients of the smuggled heroin and killing them, before running into a hitch involving a little girl & her doll, her mother and the gone missing drugs. Siegel (who had also directed the original TV pilot for THE LINEUP) sets up each one of the killings with a different & stylistic look including a steam bath, as shown in an off kilter angle in a mirror and a particularly nasty one involving a wheelchair - that rivals KISS OF DEATH for shocking audacity. There is also great use of actual San Francisco locations and landmarks and with Siegel's use of them (especially in a very well done car chase sequence), along with his great working relationship & co-operation with the S.F.P.D. would both come in handy in another 14 years for DIRTY HARRY. 
    Both Wallach and Keith are fascinating to watch in their roles with Keith grinning away creepily (his scenes with the small girl make your skin crawl) and gleefully writing down their victims last words, along with Wallach as the barely controlled (though losing it at the end) maniacal killer. An excellent movie that unfortunately sort of fell through the cracks before getting rescued by inclusion in Sony's excellent Film Noir Classics I which also includes THE BIG HEAT, MURDER BY CONTRACT, THE SNIPER and the very underrated 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (with Brian Keith). 





    

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where's My DVD ?? # 3 HOLLYWOOD MAN 1976


    Hollywood tough guy and biker film icon William Smith stars in, co-produced and co-wrote (along with his buddy Ray Girardin) this highly entertaining 1977 drama where he plays Rafe Stoker - a Hollywood tough guy and biker film icon trying desperately to make his own low budget biker film. The movie explores some of the same themes as Richard Rush's THE STUNTMAN from 1980 in regards to a maniacal obsessed director (albeit on a lower budget and more sympathetically here ) who will stand at nothing to get his picture completed.
   After getting rebuffed by his studio for the funds needed to finish Stoker ends up putting up everything he owns for collateral in order to secure a loan from some pretty shady "businessmen", who then send in a real biker gang led by Harvey (Girardin) to sabotage the film shoot and collect Stokers asset's. What at first might seem to be a rather happy go lucky action piece gets increasingly dark and pessimistic with ever escalating violence as Stoker fights a desperate battle with the bikers,crooked police, inclement weather and the mafia along with a looming deadline and disappearing money.
   Rafe is a character you can't help but root for him and Smith (who as child actor appeared in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) is really excellent here bringing a combination of doggedness and sometimes scary single mindedness all the while in the pursuit of his dream. In addition to his acting credits he's had one heck of a life - check out his website bio here (5100 continuous sit-ups !!). In addition there's Mary Woronov (DEATH RACE 2000) as Stoker's wife, Jennifer Billingsley (WHITE LIGHTNING) as a biker chick and the great Don Stroud as a stuntman. If all this weren't enough you got direction by 70's drive-in guru Jack Starrett (RACE WITH THE DEVIL, CLEOPATRA JONES and A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS)
   Never released on home video, unfortunately HOLLYWOOD MAN seems to have fallen into some sort of lingo limbo with only a crappy bootleg DVD floating around out there that butchers the film widescreen cinematography and while seemingly uncut running time wise it bleeps out the expletives. Although director Starrett sadly left us way too early, with all the other main participants still around it'd be great to get a nice special edition DVD (as the world always needs more William Smith & Don Stroud on DVD).