Two Years of Cracked Rear Viewer!

In the summer of 2015, I contacted a complete stranger on Facebook, Lisa Marie Bowman, to inquire about writing for the website THROUGH THE SHATTERED LENS . Lisa asked for a sample, then suggested I start a WordPress account. CRACKED REAR VIEWER made it’s debut on both sites on June 26, 2015 with a look at Peter Lorre’s THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK , and the rest is history! My blog has grown by leaps and bounds since then, covering films from the 1930’s to the 70’s (with a few sporadic new movies thrown in for good measure), and expanded it’s scope to include TV, music, books, and other features I’ve begun spotlighting every Friday morning.

For those of you who are stat geeks (and I include myself in that category), CRACKED REAR VIEWER has gained 994 loyal followers between WP, Twitter (which I joined in October 2015), and Facebook (January 2017). In fact, the Facebook page has proved very popular, with daily extras on stars and music. There have been 24,415 visitors to the blog, with 38,611 views of 525 posts. My most popular month is always October, when I present my annual “Halloween Havoc!” marathon, doing a horror film a day – and trust and believe I’m already working on it! It’s not easy, as I learned the hard way during that first year!

One thing that boggles my mind is the amount of countries interested in reading about mostly older American movies. Besides the good ol’ USA, CRACKED REAR VIEWER has large followings in Germany, the UK, France, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Italy, India, and Japan. There are still a few I haven’t reached yet, but I hope to soon. You hear that, Greenland, I’m coming for you!!

Now I’d like to share the CRV Top Ten Most Popular Posts of All Time! Drum roll, please:

Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made!   (August 2015) – My all-time favorite movie is also coincidentally my all-time most popular post. This being the film’s 75th anniversary has boosted its views.

Victim of Love: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED  (April 2016) – Renewed interest in this film due to the upcoming Sofia Coppola remake has helped spark interest in this, no doubt!

From the VHS Vault 2: THE VIOLENT YEARS  (April 2017) – My review of this Ed Wood scripted Juvenile Delinquent epic was not only a hit, but got me thrown out of a Facebook group for this picture of Mamie Van Doren:

Really, Turner Classic Movies Fan Site? Really??

A Star is Born in Monument Valley: John Wayne in John Ford’s STAGECOACH  (January 2016) – My life-long love affair with the films of The Duke and Pappy Ford has endured since childhood, and I’m not about to stop now. It seems you Dear Readers agree, placing it at #4 all-time.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 4: B-Movie Roundup!   (November 2015) – One of my most popular series here is these “Cleaning Out The DVR” anthologies, where I do capsule descriptions of 5 or 6 movies. Included in this entry are KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, GO WEST YOUNG LADY, BAYOU, TWELVE HOURS TO KILL, and WANDA. An eclectic mix, to be sure!

Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks!   (November 2015) – I don’t pan very many movies, but I’ve never been able to get into this one. Many of you agreed.

I Wish I Were A Fish: Don Knotts in THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET   (February 2016) – This one surprised me, as I didn’t think there were a ton of Don Knotts fans out there. I was happily proved wrong!

Philip Marlowe, TV Detective   (January 2016)- An early attempt at something different, I did an overview of Raymond Chandler’s classic character’s television appearances. I’ve also reviewed four Marlowe movies, which can be found by following this link.

Have a Bucket of Fun!: THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE   (August 2015) – Another surprise, as this zany early Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedy isn’t as well known as their later films (AIRPLANE!, THE NAKED GUN). It’s always been a favorite of mine, though. “Take him to Detroit!”

(Tie) Hidden Gem: Natalie Wood in PENELOPE   (August 2015) and My Living Doll: ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE   (May 2016) – Natalie Wood in Arthur Hiller’s underrated 60’s screwball comedy ties for 10th place all-time with Mr. BIG’s (that’s Bert I. Gordon) 50’s sci-fi schlockfest. I love ’em both!

What does the future hold for CRACKED REAR VIEWER and Yours Truly? Well, I’ve got some projects in the works, including a special post later tonight. As always, I thank all you Dear Readers for your support and kind comments. This venture is a labor of love for me, and I hope younger readers will seek out and watch the fine films covered here, and that you older folks get a nostalgic kick out of reminiscing about films past. Again, I thank you for reading my musings, and hope you’ll continue to follow me on this journey through classic films and retro pop culture. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @gary_loggins and on the CRACKED REAR VIEWER Facebook Page. I’ll see you around 6:00 Eastern Time for a real treat!

 

 

Summer Fun with Bill Murray in MEATBALLS (Paramount 1979)

Summer is finally here, so what better way to celebrate than with a summer movie starring Bill Murray!  Bill had joined the cast of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in 1979 (back when it was actually funny) and quickly became a fan favorite with his smarmy, snarky persona and silly characterizations. After the film success of John Belushi, it was only natural for Hollywood to come calling, right? Wrong, bucko… it was Canada that lured Bill for his first starring vehicle, the oh-so-70’s teen comedy MEATBALLS! Yeah, you heard right, ’twas the Great White North that plucked Bill away from being “Live from New York” to a location shoot at good ol’ Camp White Pines in the wilds of Ontario.

Bill’s fellow ‘Second City’ alumnus Harold Ramis (or as he was called in SCTV’s credits, ‘Ha-Harold Ramis’!) was a cowriter of the screenplay, beginning a long string of movie collaborations between the two (STRIPES, CADDYSHACK,  GHOSTBUSTERS I & II). It’s director is Ivan Reitman, who produced Belushi’s smash NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, a film from which MEATBALLS derives much of its anarchic spirit, minus much of the raunch, though sex is still a pervading theme (hey, it’s a 70’s teen comedy, whaddaya want?).

Bill is Tripper Harrison, the smart-assed senior member of rundown Camp North Star, in charge of the CIT’s (that’s counselors-in-training). Tripper has the hots for his female counterpart Roxanne (Kate Lynch), but she’s turned off by his amorous attempts. He takes new camper Rudy (Chris Makepeace, MY BODYGUARD), a shy kid shunned by the other campers, under his wing, and the relationship between Rudy and Tripper is kinda sweet, in a nutty-Bill-Murray sort of way.

Rival Camp Mohawk is full of snotty rich kids, and they’ve beaten Camp North Star at the annual Olympiad the last twelve years. This time around, things are going much the same, until Tripper gives a rousing, non-sequitur filled speech (like Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE) to rally the troops. After some chicanery, the score’s close, and Rudy ends up sacking the quarterback… wait, wrong Rudy… he wins the marathon race to lead Camp North Star to victory!

MEATBALLS is populated by the usual stereotyped characters you find in these films. There’s the nerdy Spaz (complete with taped glasses and a pocket protector), chubby Fink (who wins the hot dog eating contest), studly Crockett, and perennially put-upon camp director Morty. A special shout-out goes to sexy Kristine DeBell as knockout A.L. Kristine starred in the X-Rated musical spoof ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1976) at age 22, and appeared in I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, Paul Mazursky’s WILLIE AND PHIL, THE BIG BRAWL (as Jackie Chan’s girlfriend), and TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME. She’s gained somewhat of a cult following for her roles, and is fondly remembered by fandom.

The music score is by Elmer Bernstein. Yes, THAT Elmer Bernstein, of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN fame. He also cowrote the goofy disco-flavored theme song, with Rick Dees (of “Disco Duck” and SOLID GOLD fame). David Naughton’s one hit wonder “Makin’ It” can also be heard in the movie – though why anyone would want to is a mystery to me! Pop singer Mary MacGregor (“Torn Between Two Lovers”) contributes the sappy “Good Friends”.

MEATBALLS is perfect fare for a summer’s eve, a silly but sweet comedy that showcases Bill Murray’s zaniness. Like most teen comedies of the era, it won’t tax your brain, and though not nearly as outrageous as ANIMAL HOUSE, you’ll get some chuckles out of it. Now, for all you angry David Naughton fans, here’s “Makin’ It”. Excuse me while I leave the room. Happy summer, everybody!:

One Hit Wonders #3: LONG, LONESOME HIGHWAY by Michael Parks (MGM Records, 1970)

Did you know the late actor Michael Parks (1940-2017) once reached #20 on the Billboard charts with the song “Long, Lonesome Highway”:

Parks was appearing at the time in the NBC-TV series THEN CAME BRONSON, a sort of ROUTE 66 on two wheels, riding his Harley across America in search of meaning. The show aired during the 1969-70 season, and was a nod to the counterculture movement going on at the time. THEN CAME BRONSON had some good writing and featured guest stars both established (Iron Eyes Cody, STAR TREK’s James Doohan, LA Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, Beverly Garland, Gloria Grahame, Jack Klugman, Fernando Lamas, Elsa Lanchester, James Whitmore) and up-and-coming (Dabney Coleman, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Penny Marshall, Kurt Russell, Martin Sheen, folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie), but lost it’s ticket to ride because of CBS’s ratings powerhouse HAWAII FIVE-O, and was cancelled after 26 episodes.

The song was written by James Hendricks (not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix!), who once played in folk-rock group The Mugwumps alongside future Mamas & Papas Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, and John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin’ Spoonful. Hendricks also wrote the Top Ten hit “Summer Rain” for Johnny Rivers, released during the Summer of Love:

And now you know, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story”!

Marlowe at the Movies Returns!: Bogie & Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Brothers 1946)

It’s been a long time since we last visited with Raymond Chandler’s fictional “knight-errant”, PI Philip Marlowe. Way too long, so let’s take a look at THE BIG SLEEP, starring Humphrey Bogart as the definitive screen Marlowe. This 1946 Howard Hawks film was a follow-up to 1944’s hit TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, which introduced audiences (and Bogie) to luscious Lauren Bacall . The pair was dynamite together onscreen, and off as well, marrying a year later. Their May/December romance was one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories, lasting until Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957.

For me to try and explain the plot here would be futile, as it takes more twists and turns than a “Balinese belly dancer”. Marlowe is hired by elderly General Sternwood, whose sexy young daughter Carmen is being blackmailed. The General’s other daughter Vivien, a sexy divorcee, is also in trouble. This takes Our Man Marlowe through a maze involving murder, money, and sexy dames by the truckload, all of whom seem to want the sleuth. It’s tough to tell all the players without a scorecard, but that doesn’t really matter. Hawks’ take on Chandler is all about noir style, and the film has it in spades! The hard-boiled, hard-bitten dialog by screenwriters William Faulkner, Jules Furthman , and Leigh Brackett is delivered in that trademark “rat-a-tat” Warner Brothers style by the cast, the dark, moody photography by Sidney Hickox perfectly captures the noir world inhabited by the characters, the studio-bound fog-shrouded streets look marvelous, and everybody’s hiding some sort of secret. Even the opening credits literally scream noir, with Bogie and Bacall smoking cigarettes in silhouette, then placing the burning butts in an ashtray as Max Steiner’s sweeping music plays under the credits.

THE BIG SLEEP was filmed in 1945, but when TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT lit up the screen (and the box office) like a comet, the studio decided to take advantage of its newfound star team and shoot additional scenes featuring Bogie and Bacall. The couple’s pairing was steamier than General Sternwood’s orchid-filled hothouse, their sexually charged banter flowing freer than bootleg gin (check out their “horse racing” metaphors for example!).  I loved the way Bogart tugs at his ear whenever he’s in deep thought, and Bacall’s still sexiness covers the fact she’s fairly new to the acting game at this point in her career. Tongues are placed firmly in cheek as they trade repartee, and if their first film together established them as a force to be reckoned with, THE BIG SLEEP certainly seals the deal.

The supporting cast is more than up to the task of keeping up with Bogie and Bacall’s star power. Twenty year old Martha Vickers (whose noir bona fides include RUTHLESS, THE BIG BLUFF, and THE BURGLAR) is the sexy (there’s that word again!) Carmen, a babyish bimbo constantly biting her thumb like a pacifier (or more likely, an oral fixation!). John Ridgley (who appeared with Bogart on eleven other occasions) has the pivotal role of gambling joint owner Eddie Mars. You can’t have a film noir without inviting Elisha Cook Jr. to the party, and he’s here in a small role as (what else?) a weasel trying to sell Marlowe some information. Young Dorothy Malone made a splash as a book store owner sharing rye (and whatever else gets left to the imagination!) with the shamus. Cowboy star Bob Steele plays ice-cold killer Canino, an archetype he’d return to in Bogart’s 1951 THE ENFORCER. Familiar Faces dotting the dark landscape include Trevor Bardette , Tanis Chandler (no relation to Raymond!), Joseph Crehan, Bess Flowers , Louis Jean Heydt, Peggy Knudsen, Regis Toomey (as Marlowe’s cop friend), Theodore von Eltz, and Ben Welden.

Howard Hawks mastered any film genre he worked in, from screwball comedy (HIS GIRL FRIDAY) to wild Western ( RIO BRAVO ), during his fifty-four year Hollywood career. In THE BIG SLEEP, Hawks injects the dark world of film noir with his personal artistic vision, and paints a black & white masterpiece with shadows and light. Bogart inhabits the character of Philip Marlowe like a well-worn trench coat, Bacall is the quintessential Hawks “hard dame”, and the overlapping staccato dialog is filled with a sly, sexy sense of humor. Don’t worry about following the story, just sit back and enjoy Hawks and his stars at the top of their game!

Want more Marlowe? Just follow these links:

Criminally Underrated: George C. Scott in BANK SHOT (United Artists 1974)

I’m a big fan of the novels and short stories of Edgar Award-winning writer Donald E. Westlake , named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. His comic-laced crime capers featuring master planner Dortmunder were well suited for films and the first book in the series, THE HOT ROCK, was filmed by Peter Yates in 1972 with Robert Redford as the mastermind. Two years later came BANK SHOT, the second Dortmunder novel, starring George C. Scott but changing the character’s name to Walter Ballentine due to legal issues. Dortmunder or Ballentine, BANK SHOT is a zany film with a fine cast of actors that deserves another look.

Ballentine is doing life in Warden “Bulldog” Streiger’s maximum security prison, but when his shady “lawyer” and confidant Al G. Karp visits with an idea for a new “shot”, the hardened criminal makes his escape. Karp needs Ballentine’s expertise to plan the robbery of Mission Bell Bank, currently headquartered in a trailer while construction is finished on a new building. Karp’s assembled a nutty robbery crew that includes his ex-FBI agent nephew Victor, ditzy, amorous financial backer Eleonora, looney driver Stosh Gornik and his con artist mom, and trigger happy wanna-be politician Hermann X. The brainy Ballentine decides they won’t just rob the bank… they’ll steal the entire kit’n’kaboodle! Ballentine and company pull off an elaborate, ingenious heist that baffles everyone but “Bulldog”, who’s hot on the fugitive’s trail.

 

Scott, complete with bushy eyebrows and a pronounced lisp, is the lynchpin holding BANK SHOT together, playing straight man to the wackiness going on around him. When he learns the job is in LA, he grumbles it’s “freak town- kook city – where the nuts are – trouble”, and he’s not wrong. Sorrell Booke (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD’s Boss Hogg) goes strictly for laughs as his partner-in-crime Karp. Joanna Cassidy (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBITT?) has one of her earliest roles as the constantly giggling Eleonora, as does Bob Balaban (credited as Robert) as young Karp. One of my favorite comic character actors Don Calfa (WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) plays the manic Stosh, with Bibi Osterwald (THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT) as his swindler mom. Ex-NFLer Fred McRae (48 HRS) makes a funny Hermann X, but it’s the late Clifton James (Sheriff J.W. Pepper of LIVE AND LET DIE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN ) who stands out as the ornery, doggedly determined Warden “Bulldog” Streiger.

Director Gower Champion was a former MGM musical star famed for his dancing with wife Marge Champion. He was more successful as a Broadway director (BYE BYE BIRDIE and HELLO DOLLY! were among his many hits) than on film, in fact BANK SHOT was only his second (and last) feature. It was a good swan song, as the film captures the Westlake flavor nicely. The movie has a daffy, anarchic spirit to it, and though sometimes it can be over-the-top silly, is worth watching when you’re in the mood for a good, solid belly-laugh.

Pre Code Confidential #12: Joan Crawford in DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (MGM 1931)

MGM co-starred Joan Crawford and Clark Gable for the first time with their 1931 gangland saga DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE. Well, not exactly co-starring; 27-year-old Joan was already a screen veteran and a star, while 30-year-old newcomer Gable was billed sixth in this, his third picture (not counting his extra work). Regardless of billing, the pair had a definite sexual dynamic between them onscreen (and offscreen as well, if you know your Hollywood history), and the studio would team them again in seven more films.

Joan is carefree Chicago socialite Bonnie Jordan, with a twit of a boyfriend (Lester Vail) and a wastrel brother named Roddy (William Bakewell) who’s got a penchant for booze. When the stock market crashes and their Pop croaks on the exchange floor, the kids are left with neither money or marketable skills. Bonnie’s upper-crust boyfriend Bob offers to do the honorable thing and marry her, but that horrified look on her face says it all! Rejecting the twit, Bonnie’s determined to find a “man-sized job” and make it on her own.

Steadfast Bonnie lands a job as a cub reporter in the male-dominated newspaper racket, where all the wisenheimers crack wise and ogle the pretty new filly’s form (and I love that “clickety-clack” of all the typewriters in the newsroom!) She’s befriended by ace crime reporter Bert Scranton (Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket!), who takes her under his wing. Roddy also gets a job, pushing hooch to his society pals for tough bootlegger Jake Luva (Gable). All eyes will be on Gable when he enters the scene, looking hard as nails and twice as dangerous.

Roddy unwittingly becomes the wheelman in a St. Valentine’s Day-style massacre, with seven rival hoods mowed down by machine gun fire inside a garage. A shaken Roddy heads to the bar in Luva’s nightclub, where his loose lips meet up with Scranton’s ears. Luva ‘s not happy, and orders the lad to kill the nosy reporter or else! Accompanied by a pair of goons, Roddy reluctantly does the deed, then is forced to lay low in one of Luva’s apartments.

Bonnie becomes bait to get the goods on the gang, posing as “Mary Smith, a tough girl from Missouri… a cheap moll in the underworld”. She gets a gig as a dancer at the nightclub, which allows Joan to strut her stuff and show off those gorgeous gams in a hotcha cabaret scene. She catches the eye of Luva, who invites her up to his room and tries to put the make on her. Bonnie’s saved by the bell when the phone rings, but when she picks it up she hears Roddy’s voice on the other end. Rushing to his apartment, Bonnie finds out the truth. However, Luva discovers Bonnie’s identity, and he’s about the take the siblings for a long ride when Roddy finally grows a set and guns down the gang boss and his goon, getting killed in the process. Brave Bonnie calls the story in, and she’s about to leave the paper for a new life when that twit Bob shows up and they get back together.

The film suffers from some rah-ther stagey performances by the supporting cast, as many early talkies do. But there’s no denying the sexual tension oozing from Joan’s and Gable’s pores, and their all-too-brief scenes together make this film worthwhile. The Pre-Code-iest scene involves Joan and her young society friends diving into the ocean in their underwear that was risqué for the time, and Joan’s flapper-girl hoofing is pretty steamy. Director Harry Beaumont had worked with Crawford before (OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS), and helmed 1929’s Oscar-winning THE BROADWAY MELODY. Screenwriter Aurania Rouverol delivers some tough dialog, later gaining fame for introducing the world to a much gentler bunch: teenage Andy Hardy and his family in the hit play A FAMILY AFFAIR! DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE isn’t on a par with other early gangster films, but as the first teaming of Crawford and Gable, it’s a movie that should be seen by classic film lovers at least once.

Catch up with the “Pre Code Confidential” series:

 

Book Review: HOPE: Entertainer of The Century by Richard Zoglin (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

He was unquestionably one of the most famous, most recognized persons of the 20th Century, the father of what we now know as stand-up comedy, the first true multi-media star. A patriot and a philanderer, a giver and a taker, a smart-mouthed comic and a friend to presidents and generals. But who was Bob Hope, really? This ambitious 2014 biography by Richard Zoglin attempts to answer that question, a meticulously researched tome that tries to uncover the private man behind the public mask.

with vaudeville partner George Byrne

Zoglin digs deep into the available archives and uses interviews with those that knew him to paint his portrait of the notoriously reticent Bob Hope, reaching all the way back to his hardscrabble beginnings as an immigrant in Cleveland with six brothers, an alcoholic father who was an itinerant stone cutter, and a stern but loving mother who served as the de facto head of the household. Little Leslie Townes Hope was a wild child who spent time in reform school. He entered vaudeville at age 21, working with various partners (including at one point Siamese twins the Hilton Sisters), engaging in songs, dance, and snappy patter. Hope became an emcee for the shows, honing his future stand-up skills to perfection with rapid-fire comic delivery and engaging his audience by breaking the “fourth wall”, a gimmick he’d later utilize in his movie career.

with Shirley Ross in “The Big Broadcast of 1938”

It’s all here: his Broadway successes in ROBERTA and  RED, HOT, & BLUE; his early two-reelers for Educational and Vitaphone; his ascent to ratings domination on radio and television; entertaining the troops in conflicts around the globe for the USO; making Oscar broadcasts must-see TV as a 17 time host. Hope’s film career is well documented, from his first feature THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 where he and singer Shirley Ross introduced “Thanks for the Memory”, to his last starring role in 1972’s dreary CANCEL MY RESERVATION. The book details his marriage to Dolores Reade (née DeFina), a devout Catholic who kept the family together while Hope travelled the world, remaining loyal despite his myriad affairs with showgirls and starlets (Doris Day, Marilyn Maxwell, and Barbara Payton were among his better-known conquests).

Hope was considered a risqué comedian in his heyday, his brash and irreverent monologues frequently getting him in trouble with network radio censors. The wild and zany ROAD movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour caused audiences to howl with laughter at the madcap ad-libbing (and Zoglin uncovers the truth about Hope’s relationships with his costars). But yesterday’s cutting-edge comic quickly becomes today’s establishment shill, as Hope found out with his unpopular stance on the Vietnam War. Caught in a political crossfire and out of touch with the younger generation, Hope was a staunch supporter of both the war and President Richard Nixon, with whom he became an ally and confidant.

Bob Hope entertaining the troops in Vietnam

Zoglin’s book sheds light on Bob Hope’s inner workings: driven by memories of early poverty and his father’s failures, he used humor and performing as a coping skill, and like an addict with a needle or alcoholic with a bottle, developed an addiction to fame, fortune, and the spotlight, unable to stop until well past his prime. Inaction was death to Hope, he had to hear that applause and laughter to validate himself. It’s a fascinating, well written and researched book that belongs on any classic film lover’s shelf.