Cracked Rear Viewer’s 4th Anniversary Celebration!

Holy Moley! I’ve been so busy lately I failed to realize today marks the 4th anniversary of this humble little blog, until I saw an alert from WordPress.  Where does the time go? I’m usually on top of these things, but with the new job taking up a large amount of my time, I’ve been slacking on the blog front. Yes, Cracked Rear Viewer made it’s debut on June 26, 2015 with a post on one of my favorite little ‘B’ films, 1941’s THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK  starring Peter Lorre (who coincidentally was born on this date in 1904!).

Since that initial post four years ago, CRV has branched out into not only informing you Dear Readers about classic movies, but books, music, TV… pretty much anything that holds my interest (including the occasional rant – and thanks for indulging me!). Most posts get reblogged on Through the Shattered Lens, where I share space with great writers like Lisa Marie Bowman, Ryan the Trash Film Guru, Case Wright, and others (follow the link to check it out, you’ll be glad you did!). The Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook Page has taken on a life of it’s own, with daily extras you don’t find on my main site. As for Twitter, I’m not really on there too much anymore… too much political crap for my tastes!

Between all the different platforms, there are 2,457 viewers out there, and I thank each and every one of you kind people. You given me 100,818 visits and 164,162 views of my 1,024 posts. Hey… I hit the 1,000 post milestone?? Yikes, missed that one completely (told you I’ve been busy!!). And now (drum roll, please) here are CRV’s Top Ten All-Time Posts:

Familiar Faces #8: In Search of Angelique Pettyjohn

Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made!!

I Wish I Were A Fish: Don Knotts in THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (Warner Brothers 1964)

Star Vehicle: Burt Reynolds in WHITE LIGHTNING (United Artists 1973)

The Origin of Billy Jack: BORN LOSERS (AIP 1967)

(tie) That’s Blaxploitation! 11: Jim Brown in SLAUGHTER (AIP 1972)/Victim of Love: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (Universal 1971)

Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)

Existential Exploitation: BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW (AIP 1976)

Tag Team Turmoil: …ALL THE MARBLES (MGM 1981)

Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks!

How’s that for an eclectic group of films for an eclectic group of readers!

So what will the future bring? Unfortunately, the new work endeavor means I’ll have to slow down a bit from the three-times-a-week schedule I’ve been trying to maintain here. You see, in my real life I work long hours in the substance abuse field, and helping people save their own lives is my passion, even above and beyond watching and writing about old movies. I think I can manage to get in at least two a week, though… at least I hope so! Be that as it may, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for supporting my humble efforts to entertain and enlighten you here on Cracked Rear Viewer, and as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. As the great Stan Lee used to say, “Excelsior!”.

Much love and thanks from Gary Loggins, your humble Cracked Rear Viewer!

 

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A (Not-So) Brief Note On WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (20th Century Fox 2004)

Sometimes while scrolling through the channels one come across a pleasant surprise. So it’s Saturday afternoon,a thundershower has cancelled my plan to hit the beach, the Red Sox don’t start for awhile, and I’m clicking the old clicker when I land on WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT. I wasn’t expecting much, just a way to kill time; instead, I found an underrated little gem of a comedy that kept me watching until the very end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT is an undiscovered classic or anything like that. It’s just a solidly made piece of entertainment about small-town life starring Ray Romano (riding high at the time thanks to his successful sitcom EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) and Oscar winning Gene Hackman. Romano uses his nebbishy TV persona to portray Mooseport, Maine’s local hardware store owner “Handy” Harrison, who gets involved in a mayoral campaign against Hackman’s Monroe “Eagle” Cole, ex-president of the good ol’ USA, who’s running so his grasping ex-wife will keep her paws off his vacation house. The race to the corner office takes a U-turn when Handy’s girlfriend Sally, tired of his inability to make a commitment, dates the former leader of the free world to make Handy jealous!

OK, it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but the movie has more than it’s share of chuckles and some out-and-out guffaws. It kind of reminded me of something that Don Knotts would’ve starred in 30 or 40 years earlier, with Romano taking the small-town Everyman role in his stead. Ray’s funny here, and so is Hackman, who could play just about anything. This was Hackman’s final film before retiring and he nails it as usual. The supporting cast is top-notch as well, including the delightful Maura Tierney (ER, INSOMNIA) as tough State-of-Mainer Sally, Marcia Gay Harden (Oscar winner for POLLOCK) as Hackman’s trusted assistant (who of course carries a secret torch for him, just to even things out in the end), Fred Savage (THE WONDER YEARS) as a nerdy political operative, and the great Rip Torn as a sleazy consultant brought in to crank up the political heat. Christine Baranski pops up as the president’s vindictive ex-spouse, adding her own comic touch to the silliness, and that’s an uncredited Edward Herrmann as the debate moderator. And let’s have a shout-out please for the delectable Canadian actress Reagan Pasternak (BEING ERICA) in the small part of Mandy, who’s got a crush on her boss Handy!

I found out there was just as much talent behind the cameras as in front. Director Donald Petrie was responsible for a couple of old favorites of mine (MYSTIC PIZZA, GRUMPY OLD MEN); his father Daniel did both features (A RAISIN IN THE SUN, BUSTER AND BILLIE, FT. APACHE THE BRONX) and TV Movies (A HOWLING IN THE WOODS, MOON OF THE WOLF, the excellent MY NAME IS BILL W) of note. Screenwriter Tom Schulman was also an Oscar winner (DEAD POETS SOCIETY), penned the Disney comedy HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS and the insanely hilarious WHAT ABOUT BOB?, and served as writer/director of the cult classic 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG.

So yeah, WELCOME TO MOOSEHEAD was a pleasant diversion, a well made comedy with an impressive cast giving their all. Sure, it can be a little corny in places, but there’s nothing wrong with a little corn now and then – just ask Frank Capra. The movie seems to have been made in that Capra spirit, and I’m pretty sure Frank would’ve enjoyed it. I know I did!

Is LADY STREET FIGHTER The Worst Movie Ever Made? (American General 1981)

In all my years of watching movies, I’ve seen more than my share of stinkers. But nothing quite prepared me for the total ineptitude that is LADY STREET FIGHTER, starring the immortal Renee Harmon. This wretchedly made film features an incoherent script, horrific cinematography, murky sound, no direction, really bad acting, and an ersatz synth theme ripped off from Morricone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY . Let’s put it this way… when Jody McCrea (Bonehead of the Beach Party series) takes your film’s best acting honors, you KNOW you’re in for trouble!!

This senseless excuse for a movie finds Renee out to avenge the death of her sister at the hands of a gang called Assassins Incorporated, or something like that. I’m really not too sure, as the convoluted plot isn’t well defined. The movie starts off promising for Grindhouse fans with a gruesome torture scene (including a beating with a Kendo stick ala WWE!), but descends into something truly bad. I don’t mean so-bad-it’s-good… I mean downright BAD. I’d say it looks like something out of a high school film class, but that would be an insult to high school film classes across the country. The only redeeming quality I could find in LADY STREET FIGHTER was that it finally ended.

Miss Harmon herself was of German origin, and immigrated to Texas with her Army colonel husband after WWII. Renee was always interested in acting, and after the couple moved to California she began producing, writing, and starring in her own low-budget films. She reminded me of the love child between Bela Lugosi and Marlene Dietrich (if one can imagine!) – trouble is, she couldn’t act her way out of the proverbial paper bag. And her martial arts “skills” are as bad as her acting. Her thick German accent (“Let’s zay at the goo-goo club”, she drones, meaning go-go club) is almost indecipherable, though I gotta admit the 50ish  Renee looks pretty good nekkid, and she can do some really amazing things with a stalk of celery!

At the end of this totally incompetent movie, there was a scrawl that read…

Watch for THE RETURN OF LADY STREET FIGHTER…

coming this Fall!

What?? You mean there was a sequel?? Must’ve been rated “For Masochists Only”!!

One Hit Wonders #26: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett (RCA Victor 1964)

New Zealand born, Canadian bred Gale Garnett sang her way to #4 on the Billboard charts during the summer of 1964 with a song that’s since become a summertime folk-rock classic, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”:

Gale herself penned the tune and performed it with her band The Gentle Reign. Folk music was still big in those early days of Beatlemania, and Gale’s song, with it’s liltingly lovely harmonica and whistling refrains, had young lovers swooning in the summer breeze. Gale and her group copped a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording, and made the rounds of all the TV shows, but “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” was their one and only hit record.

But that didn’t stop Gale Garnett! She was already a starlet of note, appearing on TV shows like HAWAIIAN EYE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, and BONANZA, and would soon be featured in animated form as the beautiful but deadly Francesca, robot assistant to Baron Frankenstein (voiced by the one-and-only Boris Karloff! ) in the Rankin-Bass cult classic MAD MONSTER PARTY?, a stop-motion tribute to horror films that remains beloved by 60’s Monster Kids of all ages! Gale also gets to sing two of the film’s tunes, “Never Was a Love Like Mine” and “Our Time to Shine”, in which she sings and dances with an animated Count Dracula!:

Gale continued to act in TV (KOJAK, KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES) and in features. She played Joanne Woodward’s best friend in MR & MRS. BRIDGES and had a funny turn as Aunt Lexy in MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING. She’s also written a series of romance novels, making her an artistic triple threat! As of this writing, Gale Garnett is alive and well at age 76, and though she’s done many things in her career, she’ll always be remembered for the haunting summer hit “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”. Thanks, Gale!

Goodnight, Vienna: THE THIRD MAN (British Lion 1949)

I’m just gonna come right out and say it: THE THIRD MAN is one of the greatest movies ever made. How could it not be, with all that talent, from producers Alexander Korda and David O. Selznick, director Carol Reed , screenwriter Graham Green, and cinematographer Robert Krasker, to actors Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli , and Trevor Howard. It’s striking visuals, taut direction, and masterful acting transcend the film noir genre and make THE THIRD MAN one of the must-see films of 20th Century cinema.

The story starts simply enough, as American pulp novelist Holly Martins arrives in post-war Vienna to meet up with his old pal Harry Lime, only to learn that Harry was recently killed in a car accident. He attends the graveside service, meeting Harry’s mysterious actress girlfriend Anna Schmidt, and is quickly pulled down a rabbit hole of intrigue and deception involving the British military police, black marketeers, and a very much alive Harry…

Reed fills the screen with dazzling cinematic imagery, from a terrifying ferris wheel ride to the shadow world of Vienna’s sewers, each scene giving the viewer something different: Dutch angles, quick cut edits, close-ups, and atmospheric lighting. Little touches like that kid and his ball or the man with the balloons add greatly to the film’s mood. While Reed was already one of England’s master craftsmen, there’s a heavy Orson Welles influence throughout THE THIRD MAN. Most historians claim the film is pure Reed, but the Welles touch is so evident in many scenes that one wonders…

Orson Welles  doesn’t appear as Harry Lime until around 30 minutes into the film, but his presence is felt throughout, and the entire movie revolves around this charming rogue. Welles is reunited with his Mercury Theater cohort Joseph Cotten as the pulp fiction writer Holly (“I write cheap novelettes”), who sets things in motion. Alida Valli was well known to Italian movie lovers; she’d go on to a long and prosperous international career. Trevor Howard is good as always as British Major Calloway, and his second-in-command Sgt. Paine is played by James Bond’s future boss Bernard Lee. There’s another 007 connection in THE THIRD MAN as well: assistant director Guy Hamilton would go on to direct GOLDFINGER , DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , LIVE AND LET DIE , and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.

Then there’s that unique zither score by Austrian native Anton Karas, unlike anything heard in films before or since. Allegedly, Reed didn’t want to go with traditional Viennese waltz music, and came across Karas playing his zither at a wine garden one night. One thing led to another, and the zither plays a huge factor in making THE THIRD MAN so memorable, not to mention making a brief star out of the humble Karas, whose “Harry Lime Theme” became an unlikely #1 hit in 1950:

I could go on and on about the brilliance of THE THIRD MAN, but why waste time reading my humble scribblings? Go out and watch the film yourselves, and if you already have – watch it again!

Off-Brand Spaghetti: MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (United Artists 1969)

It’s hanging day at a remote Arizona prison outpost, and four men are scheduled to swing from the gallows. After they’re executed, the four pine boxes pop open, and outlaw Luke Santee and his gang commence firing, their six-guns blazing, as they try to free Luke’s baby brother. The escape attempt is an epic fail as ‘Killer’ Cain, a prisoner for 18 years now up for parole, stops the brother from leaving his cell and getting slaughtered, with Luke vowing revenge…

That opening scene, a violent, gory bloodbath, makes one think MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE is going to be a Sergio Leone-inspired American Spaghetti Western. It even stars a former TV Western hero named Clint – big Clint (CHEYENNE) Walker ! But the episodic nature of George Schenck’s script kills that idea, as the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Spaghetti or Traditional Western? Character study, comedy, drama? It plays more like an extended pilot episode for a new TV series, thanks to director Robert Sparr, who worked with Clint on CHEYENNE and whose credits include episodes of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE RAT PATROL, STAR TREK, and THE WILD WILD WEST.

Clint does get to encounter some colorful characters along the way. Chief among them is Vincent Price , taking a break from his AIP horrors, as carny spieler Dan Ruffalo, who goads Clint into picking up his gun once again and traveling through the Southwest as part of a Wild West sideshow. Price is worth the price (sorry) of admission, though he can’t help looking somewhat demonic after spending all those years with Roger Corman. Anne Francis plays a pretty artist from back East who meets and falls in love with Clint. Another brawny actor, former NFL star and movie Tarzan (and the future Junior Justice of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT!) Mike Henry is the vengeful Santee. But Paul Hampton, whose claim to fame is as cowriter of the early rock hit “Sea of Heartbreak”, overacts as young psycho sharpshooter Billy, who’s jealous when Clint joins the carny. Some Familiar Faces on the trail include Frank Baxter, Robert Foulk, Emile Meyer , and William Woodson, whose face may not be all that familiar, but you’ll immediately recognize his voice as the narrator of TV’s SUPER FRIENDS and THE ODD COUPLE.

So the question remains, is MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE worth your time? Well, I guess if you’re a Western buff, Clint Walker die-hard, or Vincent Price completist, then you’ll want to view it. I stuck with it til the end (which was quite bizarre and unexpected), but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s one of those kinda, sorta in-the-middle movies that are okay for a late-night-can’t-sleep or rainy-day-let’s-clean-out-the-DVR watch. Don’t run away from it, but don’t go out of your way to see it, either.