American Idol: RIP Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino, who passed away yesterday at age 82, wasn’t just a professional wrestler. He was an institution, an icon, a true American Dream success story, a hero to millions of kids now “of a certain age” (like me), and the biggest box-office star of his era, selling out New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden a record 187 times. He held the WWWF (now WWE) Heavyweight championship for close to twelve years during his two title reigns, facing the best in the business and vanquishing them all. Face it, Bruno was THE MAN!

The Man himself was born in Italy in 1935, and as a child hid from the Nazis in the Italian mountains. Coming to America in 1950 and settling in Pittsburgh,  Bruno was a sickly, scrawny child who couldn’t speak English, and was bullied in school. This caused the young lad to begin working out with weights, and by 1959 he set a world record in the bench press hefting 565 pounds, a record that stood for eight years. Bruno began performing feats of strength in his hometown, and soon a wrestling promoter offered him a chance to make some money in the squared circle.

Beating Buddy Rogers in 1963

Sammartino wasn’t a great technical wrestler; he was a brawler and a bruiser whose matches were usually won with his devastating bearhug hold. Wrestlers at the time were marketed towards local working class ethnic groups, and Bruno became a hit in Italian strongholds like Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York/New Jersey. New York promoter Vincent J. McMahon (father of current WWE chairman Vincent K.) was about to form his own East Coast alliance called the World Wide Wrestling Federation, and he knew a good thing when he saw it. Naming “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers his first champ, he set up a match between the arrogant heel and the popular Sammartino, and Bruno won the belt on May 17, 1963 in 48 seconds! The rumor is Rogers had suffered a heart attack the week before and needed to retire, and some backstage shenanigans involving the athletic commission doctors allowed the “Nature Boy” to pass a quick physical that night so the belt could be put on Bruno.

Verses the evil Killer Kowalski

Shenanigans or not, Bruno faced all the top heels in the game during his initial seven-plus year run. “Bad guys” like The Shiek, Ernie “The Cat” Ladd, Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, Professor Toru Tanaka, and Killer Kowalski tried and failed to wrest the crown from Bruno. My Portuguese grandmother (‘vovo’) used to get real heated whenever Kowalski came on the television – I can’t describe how shocked I was as a kid to hear my sweet little Vovo yelling, “You dirty son of a bitch!” at Kowlaski’s dastardly deeds on the TV set!

Eventually, Bruno tired of the travel schedule, and dropped the strap to Ivan Koloff in 1971 (who in turn lost to Puerto Rican sensation Pedro Morales a month later). The now ex-champ made sporadic appearances here and there, but soon McMahon Sr. came a-calling. Though Morales was a better technical wrestler than Bruno, box office receipts and TV ratings were down, and Sammartino was persuaded to carry the crown again. Pedro lost to Stan “The Man” Stasiak (‘Master of the Heart Punch’), and a month later Bruno beat Stan, once again lighting up the ratings and box office for another three-plus years, battling villains like George “The Animal” Steel, Ken Patera, Nikolai Volkoff, Stan Hansen, and the hated Kowalski, finally relinquishing the title to “cool” heel Superstar Billy Graham (who, as we all could plainly see, had his feet on the ropes for leverage!).

But Bruno didn’t need a title; he was still the top star in wrestling. He headlined everywhere he went, and the fans went wild seeing him beat the crap out of his opponents. I remember a 1980 card at the old Boston Garden pitting Bruno against his protégé Larry Zbysko, now a hated heel for turning on our hero. The two brawled for an eternity, both men a bloody mess before Sammartino gained the victory, and the crowd went berserk! Yeah, we knew by then it was fake, but damn, it sure was a lot of fun! (For those of you interested, also on the card were The Wild Samoans, Gorilla Monsoon, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and “The Duke of Dorchester” Pete Doherty!)

 

Bruno was now called “The Living Legend”, an appropriate title if there ever was one. He became a color commentator alongside Vince McMahon Jr. after the son bought the company from his father, but still wrestled on occasion. He participated in the first two Wrestlemanias, and feuded with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. But Bruno didn’t like the cartoonish direction the younger McMahon was taking the company, nor the rampant use of steroids, and departed acrimoniously in 1987. Things between Sammartino and the now-WWE remained bitter until 2013, when Paul “Triple H” Levesque pleaded with him to bury the hatchet, and Bruno Sammartino was finally awarded his proper place in the WWE Hall of Fame, inducted by his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. But like every warrior, even the mighty Sammartino could not defeat Father Time. He leaves behind his wife of 59 years Carol, three sons, four grandchildren, and many beloved memories for his fans.

I recall an old issue of Sports Illustrated that had a piece on Bruno’s phenomenal popularity, the first wrestler ever to be profiled by the magazine. In the story, an elderly female fan was interviewed. On her wall, there were three pictures. On the left, John F. Kennedy, on the right, Pope Paul. And the man holding the prestigious spot in the middle… Bruno Sammartino. Holy Trinity, indeed. Godspeed, Bruno.

 

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Pulp Fiction #2: The Man of Steel Turns 80!

On April 18, 1938, National Publications presented Action Comics #1, showcasing typical comic book fare of the era like master magician Zatara, sports hero Pep Morgan, and adventurer Tex Thompson. And then there was the red-and-blue suited guy on the cover…

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men… who can change the course of mighty rivers… bend steel in his bare hands… and so on and so forth! Eighty years ago tomorrow, Superman made his debut and changed the course of mighty comic book publishers forever. An immediate hit with youthful readers, Superman headlined his own comic a year later, spawned a slew of superhero imitators, became a super-merchandising machine, and conquered all media like no other before him!

Wayne Boring’s Superman

And to think he came from humble beginnings. No, not the planet Krypton, but from the fertile minds of two kids from Cleveland, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. The two science-fiction mad teens first presented a story called “The Reign of the Superman” in Siegel’s self-published fanzine titled (aptly enough) Science Fiction, dealing with a bum who gains psychic powers from an experimental drug and becomes a villain. This idea didn’t go over too well, but the lads tinkered with the idea of a super powered being, reimagining it as a comic strip, and the bum as a hero. They pounded the pavement trying to get their brain child sold, getting rejected at every turn, until comics pioneer M.C. Gaines (father of MAD Magazine founder William Gaines) suggested they try National. The boys sold their idea , and in the process all their rights to the characters, for a measly $130 bucks… big money at the time, but when you think of all the loot Superman has raked in over the decades, Siegel and Shuster got super-screwed!!

Curt Swan’s Superman

The Superman Mythos we all know today didn’t really get started until Mort Weisinger took over as editor in 1940. Weisinger, an early member of sci-fi fandom himself, gave us innovations like kryptonite, the Phantom Zone, the Bottled City of Kandor, and a whole host of super-related characters. There was Superboy (The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy), Supergirl, Krypto the Super-Dog, Streaky the Super-Cat, the bizarre Bizarro Superman, and of course Superman’s greatest adversary Lex Luthor, who first appeared in Action #23. National (later known as DC Comics) was very protective of their super-cash cow, filing a famous (or infamous, depending on where your loyalties lie) lawsuit against Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel, who they claimed was a direct rip-off of The Man of Steel. Lawyers battled it out for years, as the Fawcett side showed how Superman himself was “borrowed” from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and Philip Wylie’s sci-fi novel “Gladiator“. After a long legal donnybrook, with the two mighty heroes all lawyered up,  Fawcett finally folded in 1953.

A radio program starring future TV game show host Bud Collyer as Supe and his alter ego Clark Kent debuted in 1940 and ran until 1951. Collyer also supplied the voice for a series of Technicolor cartoons courtesy of Max Fleischer Studios, who also made the animated adventures of another super-guy, Popeye the Sailor. The shorts were released by Paramount, and contain some of the best animation of the era. Since all are currently in the public domain, here’s the first, which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Short (invest in the ten minutes it takes to watch, it’s worth it!):

        Superman made his live-action debut in a 1948 Columbia serial starring the virtually unknown Kirk Alyn as the Man of Steel, battling the evil Spider Woman (Carol Forman) through 15 thrilling chapters. This was Noel Neill’s first appearance as Lois Lane (more on that later). The low-budget Sam Katzman production was highly successful, and a 1950 sequel, ATOM MAN VS SUPERMAN was filmed, featuring veteran Lyle Talbot as Lex Luthor. Then in 1951, a feature titled SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN was released as a precursor of things to come…

“Faster than a speeding bullet”: George Reeves as Superman

George Reeves , a minor actor who played one of the Tarleton Twins in GONE WITH THE WIND, donned the familiar tights, with Phyllis Coates as Lois. This was made as a pilot of sorts for a television version, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, which ran in syndication from 1951 to 1958. George Reeves fit the part perfectly, but Coates left after the first season, to be replaced by… Noel Neill! Co-starring Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson, the 104 episodes were endlessly rerun for decades on local TV stations (and can still be seen Saturday mornings on the Heroes & Icons Channel).

Saturday Mornings with Superman!

Superman made it to The Great White Way in the 1966 Broadway musical IT’S A BIRD… IT’S A PLANE… IT’S SUPERMAN, with music by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (BYE BYE BIRDIE) and book by David Newman and Robert Benton (BONNIE & CLYDE), lasting 129 performances. Supes next flew to the world of Saturday Morning Cartoons in Filmation’s THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1966-70), with Bud Collyer returning to his old radio role. This series, premiering at the height of the BATMAN camp craze, underwent several different titles (THE SUPERMAN/AQUAMAN HOUR OF ADVENTURE, THE BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR) over its four-year run. Superman would return to Saturday mornings three years later as part of the long-running SUPER FRIENDS.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

1978’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE introduced Christopher Reeve to the world, with an all-star cast headed by Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Luthor), Margot Kidder (Lois), Ned Beatty , Valerie Perrine, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford , and Trevor Howard. Directed by Richard Donner, the producers knew the film would be a blockbuster and began shooting a sequel at the same time. Released in 1980, with Richard Lester  eventually taking over for Donner, SUPERMAN II is considered by many fans the best superhero movie ever made… well, at least by this fan! The story pits Krypton’s favorite son against escaped Phantom Zone criminals General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) with the fate of Earth in the balance. I had the privilege of meeting Miss Douglas and Mr. O’Halloran at a comic-con a few tears ago; she had a marvelously bawdy sense of humor, while Big Jack was as intimidating as ever!

Teri Hatcher & Dean Cain as Lois & Clark

Two more Super-sequels were made in 1983 and 1987, but frankly neither was very good, and the Man of Steel went quiet on the film front until returning to TV with LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, an updated version of the venerable tale with Dean Cain as Clark Kent and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. This version, broadcast from 1993-97, focused more on the romance between the two characters than is usual, but was a hit with fans, winning a Saturn Award for Best Genre Series during it’s run.

Latest incarnation: Henry Cavill as The Man of Steel

Superman returned to the big screen in 2006 with the aptly titled SUPERMAN RETURNS, starring newcomer Brandon Routh. The Bryan Singer-directed film didn’t do well enough for Warner Brothers to produce a sequel, and the character remained dormant until Zack Snyder’s 2013 MAN OF STEEL, a darker reboot of the legend giving Henry Cavill the title role. This Superman returned in 2016’s BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, and again in 2017’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, and figures to stick around awhile, at least as long as the DC Cinematic Universe doesn’t implode!

Jim Steranko’s Superman

Eighty years is a long time, and I’ve really just begun to scratch the surface of all things Superman. The character is still going strong today, probably the most recognizable superhero on the planet. DC will release Action Comics  Issue #1000 tomorrow, a milestone in the comics world, and Superman is still the cover boy. As long as there’s injustice in this world, we’ll all need Superman around as a symbol of hope, to keep “fighting (his) never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way”!

Dedicated to the memories of Christopher Reeve, George Reeves, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster

Celebrate Patriots’ Day with JOHNNY TREMAIN (Walt Disney 1957)

Here in Massachusetts, every third Monday in April is designated Patriots’ Day, a state holiday commemorating the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord which gave birth to the American Revolutionary War. The annual Boston Marathon is run on this day, as well as an 11:00AM Boston Red Sox game, so it’s a pretty big deal in this neck of the woods. Those of you in other parts of the country can celebrate by watching JOHNNY TREMAIN, Walt Disney’s film about a young boy living in those Colonial times that led up to the birth of “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.

Based on the 1943 Newbery Award-winning YA novel by Esther Forbes, the film tells the story of the Revolution through the eyes of young Johnny Tremain (Hal Stalmaster), a teen apprenticed to silversmith Mr. Lapham (crusty Will Wright ), who has a cute daughter Priscilla (Luana Patten). When the aristocratic merchant Jonathan Lyte (eloquent but arrogant Sebastian Cabot ) brings in his silver tea-pot demanding a rush job, Johnny shares a secret with Cilla: his christening cup, given to him by his late mother, bears the Lyte family crest. When Johnny diligently works on the pot during the Sabbath (how blasphemous!), his hand is burned, permanently damaging it and his apprenticeship in the process!

Unable to find work because of his injury, Johnny goes to Lyte for help, and instead is accused of stealing the christening cup and arrested! He’s put on trial, and defended by Josiah Quincy (Whit Bissell ), a leader in the secret “Sons of Liberty” society. Cilla’s testimony sets Johnny free, and he’s recruited by the Sons as a messenger, playing an important part in the Boston Tea Party, then again by delivering the famous message to the church sexton (“Two if by sea”) that triggers Paul Revere’s midnight ride, leading up to the Battle at Lexington Green and “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”!

Along the way, Johnny meets all the important figures in the Revolution: Revere, Quincy, James Otis, Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren. The film was  directed by Robert Stevenson , his first of a number of Disney classics: OLD YELLER, MARY POPPINS, THE LOVE BUG, and many more. It’s a stirring saga that manages to both educate and entertain, and features the rousing song “The Sons of Liberty” after the Tea Party incident, with the rebels hanging 13 lanterns on the tree, representing the Original 13 Colonies:

        The cast includes Richard Beymer as Johnny’s pal Rab, Virginia Christine as Mrs. Lapham, Walter Sande as Paul Revere, Jeff York as James Otis (who gives an impassioned speech on fighting tyranny at the Sons’ secret meeting), Walter Coy, Cyril Delevanti, Gavin Gordon, Dabbs Greer , and Lumsden Hare. So today would be the perfect day to watch JOHNNY TREMAIN and celebrate liberty and freedom; as for me, I watched it last week, and since the Red Sox game has been cancelled due to our crummy New England weather, I think I’ll start my day by watching yet another movie! Happy Patriots’ Day, one and all!

BTW, this year Patriots’ Day happens to fall on another celebration – my birthday!!

Best Served Cold: DEATH RIDES A HORSE (United Artists 1967; US release 1969)

During a torrential rainstorm on a dark, bone-chillingly cold  night, a band of men guarding a cache of gold are all murdered by a masked outlaw gang. The marauders then enter the home of the leader, a married man with a family. He is the first to die, and after his wife and young daughter are brutally raped, they too are killed. But the marauders haven’t seen the little boy hiding in the shadows, witnessing his family’s violent demise. The house is burned to the ground, but the boy lives, storing the memory of the men who destroyed his family, until fifteen years pass, and the boy has become a man with an unquenchable thirst for revenge…

This dark, disturbing scene sets the stage for DEATH RIDES A HORSE, a gem of a Spaghetti Western directed with style by Giulio Petroni, made in 1967 but not released stateside until 1969. The genre was in full bloom at the time, thanks to Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” Trilogy , and Italian Westerns were everywhere during the late 60’s/early 70’s. Petroni weaves a spellbinding tale of vengeance, and though not often included in discussions of Great Spaghetti Directors (limited mainly to The Three Sergios: Leone, Corbucci , and Sollima ), his DEATH RIDEA S HORSE left me yearning to watch his other four genre entries: TEPEPA, A SKY FULL OF STARS FOR A ROOF, NIGHT OF THE SERPENT, and LIFE IS TOUGH, EH’ PROVIDENCE?.

American actor John Philip Law , whose career was bigger in Europe than his native land, plays the grown-up Bill Mecieta, now eager to track down the murderous thugs who slaughtered his family. Law was never an actor of great range, but he did brooding well, and is more than acceptable in the part. But there’s another important character in this revenge story: the gunman Ryan, released after spending fifteen years in prison, and out to hunt down his old companeros who framed him for robbery.  He’s played by Lee Van Cleef, fresh off his appearances in Leone’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY . Van Cleef, after years of struggle, was coming into his own after the success of the Leone films and Sollima’s THE BIG GUNDOWN . He would soon become one of the most iconic of Spaghetti Western stars, especially after the 1969 hit SABATA.

It becomes apparent that Bill and Ryan are after the same people, though for different reasons. Bill wants to form a partnership, but the older Ryan balks, telling the youngster there’s too much hate in him. The men play a cat-and-mouse game through most of the film, each fueled by his own desire to right the injustices done to them. We learn the former outlaws have now become prominent citizens in their respective towns, as when Ryan tracks Burt Cavanaugh (Anthony Dawson) to Holly Spring. Cavanaugh is the saloon and gambling czar there, and Ryan tries to shake him down for money. Ironically, Cavanaugh hires Bill to protect him from Ryan, but the older gunman’s much too cagey. Bill discovers Cavanaugh was once known as ‘Four Aces’ because of the tattoo on his chest… the same tattoo Bill saw during his family’s massacre! A violent gundown takes place in the saloon, with Bill victorious, and Ryan making the save.

The trail leads Ryan to Linden City, where banker Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) resides. Walcott is far more devious than Cavanaugh and traps Ryan, as his henchmen (led by Mario Brega) deliver a brutal beating, then Walcott robs his own bank, absconding with a million dollars and setting up Ryan as the fall guy. Ryan’s thrown in jail to wait for a date with the hangman, but Bill breaks him out, then leaves him behind to face the man who killed his mother in a Mexican cantina. He does the job, but is overtaken and tortured by Walcott and his crew, buried up to his neck in the blazing hot sun. Ryan arrives as the outlaws leave to search for him, freeing Bill and setting the stage for a climactic battle in a sandstorm, and a final confrontation as Bill realizes who Ryan truly is…

All this takes place under the keen eye of Petroni and DP Carlo Carlini, with the beautifully rugged Andalusia scenery perfectly framed. The shot composition and fluid camera movement are matched by a top-notch Ennio Morricone score, heavy on guitars, bass drum, and flute. It’s a masterful piece of work, with both Law and Van Cleef at their steely-eyed best. Like I said earlier, DEATH RIDES A HORSE left me craving more Giulio Petroni Westerns, and once you see this terrific film for yourselves, you’ll be reserving your seats on the Petroni train, too.

This post is part of The Great Western Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts. Saddle up and check out the other sagebrush entries by following this link: https://thoughtsallsorts.wordpress.com/

   

One Hit Wonders #11: “LITTLE GIRL” by The Syndicate of Sound (Bell Records 1966)

San Jose’s The Syndicate of Sound reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 with their proto-punk hit, “Little Girl”:

The band was formed in 1964 by members of Lenny Lee and the Nightmen and The Pharaohs as a San Jose supergroup: Don Baskin (lead singer/guitars), Larry Ray (lead guitar), Bob Gonzalez (bass), John Sharkey (keys), and John Duckworth (drums). Two years later, “Little Girl” became a local radio smash,  and Bell Records picked it up for national distribution. Baskin’s snarling vocals and the speed-freak jangling guitar sounds got teens movin’ and groovin’, and the song today is considered one of the progenitors of the punk movement of the 1970’s.

Bell demanded an album from the boys, and after Ray was replaced by Jim Sawyers, the Syndicate cranked one out in three weeks that’s a garage rock classic. Besides their hit and five other originals, the group performed covers of Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown”, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby”, The Hollies’ “I’m Alive”, Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”, and The Sonics’ “The Witch”:

The Syndicate of Sound broke up in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts to return to the top of the pop charts. Twenty years later, Baskin, Gonzalez, and Sawyer reformed the band, and they still play West Coast dates to this day. Rock on, gentlemen, rock on!

Old dudes still rock: The Syndicate of Sound!

 

Fast Friends: THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (United Artists 1974)

Clint Eastwood  is posing as a preacher in a small Montana town, giving his Sunday sermon. Meanwhile, carefree Jeff Bridges steals a Trans Am off a used car lot and goes for a joyride. Clint’s sermon is interrupted by a hit man who opens fire in the church, chasing Eastwood down through a wheat field, when Bridges comes speeding along, running the killer down. Clint hops in the Trans Am, and the two become fast friends, setting up THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, a wild and wooly tale that’s part crime caper, part character study, and the directorial debut of Michael Cimino.

Clint plays Korean War veteran John Mahoney, a criminal known as “The Thunderbolt” who pulled off a successful half-million dollar armory robbery. His ex-gang members (George Kennedy , Geoffrey Lewis ) think he betrayed them, and are out to kill him, but not before finding out where the loot is hidden. He’s basically a loner, an island unto himself, until he meets up with Bridges’ Lightfoot, an affable goofball who lives outside society’s rules. These two outsiders form a bond as they wander around aimlessly, trying to stay one step ahead of the murderous Red Leary (Kennedy) and his quiet partner Goody (Lewis).

The killers finally catch up with our stars, but things are smoothed over, and the four go to retrieve the money, hidden behind a blackboard in a one-room schoolhouse. But the schoolhouse is gone, apparently torn down by progress, and with it their dreams, until Lightfoot comes up with a brilliant idea: recreate their glorious achievement by heisting the armory again. Red, who detests the young neer-do-well, scoffs at first, but “Thunderbolt” is all in, and the elaborate scheme (complete with Bridges in drag) goes off just as planned, except for one fateful mistake at a local drive-in….

Jeff Bridges deservedly earned his second Oscar nomination as the free-spirited Lightfoot, a man-child who’s a loner like Eastwood’s character. The older “Thunderbolt” takes a shine to Lightfoot’s outrageous attitude and outlook on life, which he finds similar to his own. Bridges really came into his own during these 70’s flicks, and was soon a major star in his own right. George Kennedy is always good playing a mean, nasty dude (as opposed to Bridges as THE Dude!), and Lewis offers comedy relief as the soft-spoken Goody. The cast is full of Familiar Faces from film and TV, including Catherine Bach (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD) as a hooker, PLAN 9’s Gregory Walcott as a used car salesman, Alvin Childress (Amos of AMOS’N’ANDY fame) as a janitor, and Gary Busey, Jack Dodson, Burton Gilliam, Beth Howland, Roy Jensen, Karen Lamm, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, and Dub Taylor . Rock’n’roll backup singer supreme Claudia Lennear (Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie, etc) has a bit as a sexy secretary.

Director Michael Cimino with Clint Eastwood

Eastwood himself was originally scheduled to direct, but instead gave young Michael Cimino a shot at his first feature job. Cimino began his career directing TV commercials, and was co-screenwriter on the sci-fi film SILENT RUNNING and Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY sequel MAGNUM FORCE. His shot framing against the backdrop of Montana’s Big Sky country is picture  perfect, and he ably guides the cast of pros through their paces. It’s a good first outing, and led to 1978’s Oscar winner THE DEER HUNTER, copping both Best Picture and Director that year. Unfortunately his follow-up, 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE, became one of Hollywood’s all-time disasters, and tanked big-time at the box office. To be honest, I’ve yet to see it, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s as bad as it’s reputation. I have seen and enjoyed Cimino’s 1985 YEAR OF THE DRAGON, which I feel is underrated and overlooked. But the bombing of HEAVEN’S GATE pretty much ended Michael Cimino’s career as a major filmmaker; he died in 2016, his dreams and the promises of his debut film THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT and his masterpiece THE DEER HUNTER unfulfilled.