Strange Bedfellows: THE GLASS KEY (Paramount 1942)

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Anyone who watches television, reads a newspaper, or surfs the Internet today knows the axiom “Politics is a dirty business” is dead on point. The mudslinging and brickbats are being tossed at record rates, and it just keeps escalating. Here at Cracked Rear Viewer, we’re just plain tired of all the nonsense. Ah, for the old days, when politics was much more genteel and civil, right? Wrong! Politics has always been a dirty business, proving another old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun”. Case in point: the 1942 film THE GLASS KEY.

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The story’s based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, and was filmed once before in 1935 with George Raft, Edward Arnold, and Claire Dodd. In this version, Paramount chose to star their red-hot team of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, fresh off their hit THIS GUN FOR HIRE. Brian Donlevy takes the Arnold role as Paul Madvig, a shady political boss who came up from the streets to become a powerful kingmaker. Madvig throws his support to reform candidate Ralph Henry, mainly because he’s got the hots for Henry’s daughter Janet. Madvig’s second-in-command Ed Beaumont doesn’t trust her, as she’s been making the goo-goo eyes at him.

Henry’s son Taylor is a young wastrel with a gambling habit who’s in deep to gangster Nick Varna. Varna’s backing another candidate, and he and Madvig are at odds (at one point Madvig calls him “a pop-eyed spaghetti bender”). Taylor’s been dating Madvig’s sister Opal, and Ed warns her to steer clear of him. Soon Taylor’s found murdered, and Madvig’s the #1 suspect. The local newspaper (in Varna’s pocket) is splattering Madvig’s name all across the headlines (Aside: I love it when the newsboy screams, “Extry! Extry! Read all about it!”).

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Soon Janet asks for Ed’s help in solving her brother’s murder. Varna sends for Ed and offers him a stake in his gambling joint in exchange for dirt on Madvig. He tells Ed he’s got a sworn affidavit from an eyewitness, but Ed turns the gangster down flat, causing Varna to sic his brutal henchman Jeff on him. Ed’s locked in a room as Jeff continuously beats the shit out of him, trying to “persuade” him. Ed escapes by setting fire to a mattress and lands in the hospital.

Madvig and Janet visit Ed there, and reveal they’re now engaged, though Janet’s still hot for Ed. When he leaves the hospital, Ed goes to the Pine Lake home of publisher Matthews, finding Varna and his hoods there as well. Ed figures it all out, and the publisher commits suicide, leaving a note behind. Ed grabs the note and puts the kibosh on the story. The so-called “witness” is gunned down by Varna’s men, then Madvig astounds Ed by telling him he really did kill Taylor! Madvig’s indicted, and Ed tracks Jeff down at a seedy bar. The hulking brute is drunk, and plans on more fun and games with Ed. Varna arrives, Jeff spills the beans that he killed the witness, Varna pulls a gun, Jeff strangles him, and the real murderer is finally revealed (no, I won’t tell you who it is!). Ed and Janet leave for a new life in New York, with Madvig’s blessings.

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The dense story, a Hammett trademark, is adapted well by screenwriter Joanthan Latimer, no slouch himself in the hardboiled department. Latimer covered the Chicago crime beat during the heyday of Al Capone, then began writing novels featuring tough PI William Crane, three of which were filmed as part of Universal’s “Crime Club” series. Latimer also wrote the scripts for the noir’s NOCTURNE, THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME , and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, and over thirty episodes of the TV classic PERRY MASON.

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Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake had an onscreen electricity between them, a red-hot sexual chemistry that wasn’t topped until Bogie & Bacall. Of the seven films they appeared in together, three (THIS GUN FOR HIRE, THE GLASS KEY, THE BLUE DAHLIA) are bona-fide film noir classics. Ladd, who’d kicked around Hollywood for years, became a major star in films like SHANE and THE GREAT GATSBY. Veronica Lake, whose “peek-a-boo” hairstyle became a 40’s fad, wasn’t so lucky. A troubled soul diagnosed with schizophrenia, Lake turned to alcohol for relief, and by the early 60’s was working as a bartender in New York City. Her final film was the Grade-Z FLESH FEAST, in which she played a Nazi mad scientist. The beautiful Miss Lake died from complications of cirrhosis in 1973.

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Always reliable Brian Donlevy is at his sleazy best as Madvig. I like Donlevy much more when he plays villainous roles, and though Madvig’s not exactly a villain here, he definitely is a political slimeball. Joseph Calleia (Varna) was one of Hollywood’s great gangster types; he’s got a face made for wanted posters! The sadistic Jeff is brutish William Bendix  , and he’s one scary dude. Jeff is supposedly homosexual, but I see him more as a sadistic animal who gets off on inflicting pain no matter who it is. It’s a good performance any way you look at it, and a far cry from Bendix’s later success as a likeable lug on early TV’s THE LIFE OF RILEY. Bonita Granville (Opal, also called ‘Snip’) was just graduating from juvenile leads (as in the popular Nancy Drew films) to more mature roles. The doomed Taylor is Richard Denning, years before his days as a sci-fi hero (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE BLACK SCORPION ). Some other Familiar Faces of note here are Donald McBride (as the dishonest DA), Frances Gifford (a lovely sight to behold!), Moroni Olsen, Dane Clark, Billy Benedict, and Three Stooges nemesis Vernon Dent in a small role as a bartender.

Director Stuart Heisler graduated from the editing room, and does a great job handling the film. Would that I could say more about him, but he was mainly relegated to undistinguished ‘B’ pictures with a few exceptions (ALONG CAME JONES, SMASH-UP THE STORY OF A WOMAN) before ending his career in television. Given some bigger productions and we could be talking about Heisler as a major director, but it just wasn’t to be. That’s a shame, because THE GLASS KEY is a fine example of noir filmmaking, and a film everyone should see during this crazy political season. There’s just as much shady shit going on here as there is today on both sides of the aisle. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Meet & Greet+ Favorite Books and Movies

Friday night Meet & Greet at A Texan’s View of Upstate New York!

A Texan's View of Southern Missouri

Meet and Greet

The day is here! So here are a few rules/tips to get the most out of the Meet & Greet this weekend:

  • Leave a comment with a favorite book or movie (or both!) and why it’s your favorite.
  • Leave a link to your blog, or a specific post.  Write a little something explaining what your blog tends to be about.
  • If you have a link of someone else’s blog or post, feel free to share that in the comment as well.
  • And share this post! Re-blog, tweet, pin, whatever you feel like doing! The more visitors there are, the more participation there will be, and the more exposure there is to all of these great bloggers.
  • And last, but not least, check out these great posts from fellow bloggers!

  1. The importance of photographs
  2. Be Available
  3. In the Arena
  4. The EU referendum 1975 versus 2016.
  5. Guest Post: What… no Brahms?!
  6. We hold these truths to be self-evident, sometimes.
  7. Paris…

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Pre Code Confidential #6: Jean Harlow in THE SECRET SIX (MGM 1931)

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(Once again, your Cracked Rear Viewer is taking part in the TCM Summer Under The Stars Blogathon, hosted by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film  .  Just like last year, I’ll be posting on two stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Jean Harlow (8/7) and Boris Karloff (8/26).)

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Before she became The Platinum Blonde Bombshell of 1930’s Hollywood, Jean Harlow played a pivotal role in early gangster films. She was James Cagney’s second moll in the essential THE PUBLIC ENEMY, and a slutty seductress in THE BEAST OF THE CITY. In THE SECRET SIX, Jean plays a temptress who turns on the mob in a wild Pre-Code film that represents another milestone for Miss Harlow: it’s her first of six with costar Clark Gable.

THE SECRET SIX [US 1931] WALLACE BEERY, JOHNNY MACK BROWN, JEAN HARLOW

Wallace Beery plays Slaughterhouse Scorpio, who rises from the stockyards to the top of the gangster heap. He accomplishes this by brute force, bribery, and rubbing out his rivals. Slaughterhouse is as thirsty for power as his customers are for bootleg booze, and he’ll go to any lengths to get it, including using sexy Ann Courtland (Harlow) to seduce reporter Hank ( Johnny Mack Brown ).

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Hank’s fellow reporter Carl (a moustacheless Clark Gable) is also hot for Ann, but he’s too smart to fall for Slaughterhouse’s games. Carl becomes a double agent working for The Secret Six, a mysterious group of public officials determined to take Slaughterhouse down. When Hank goes searching for Slaughterhouse’s gun, instrument of many a murder, Ann warns him that the gangster is after him. She helps him escape, but the reporter is gunned down in a subway car.

Slaughterhouse is arrested and taken to trial. His aide Metz, whom everyone thought was mute, breaks down and confesses. Ann testifies, but the rigged jury finds Slaughterhouse not guilty in a gross miscarriage of justice! Carl and Ann are about to be taken for  ride, but The Secret Six swing into action with warrants for Slaughterhouse and his mob for tax evasion, arson, murder, and deportation. There’s a violent shootout and a twist ending before Slaughterhouse is finally captured and executed by the state.

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This movie’s loads of fun for gangster film devotees, with its blazing machine guns, colorful slang, and seeing stars in early roles. Beery excels as the rough and tumble, braggadocios Slaughterhouse in a part tailor-made for his talents. Good old Judge Hardy Lewis Stone is on the wrong side of the law here as lawyer Newt Newton, the brains behind the brawn,. Ralph Bellamy makes his screen debut as gangster Johnny Franks, one of Slaughterhouse’s early victims, and it’s a hoot to watch Bellamy play a hoodlum! Marjorie Rambeau shines as the floozy Peaches, and John Miljan, Theodore Von Eltz, and Murry Kinnell all add to the excitement. Even Johnny Mack Brown, more known as a cowboy hero, is good his role as the doomed Hank.

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20-year-old Jean Harlow stands out as Anne, adding a depth of emotion to her scenes, especially her time on the witness stand. Starting out as a typical bad girl, Harlow’s change of heart during the proceedings let her show off her acting chops, and this film led to both her and Gable receiving contracts with MGM and a successful string of hits lasting until her unfortunate death in 1937. Jean Harlow’s three contributions to the gangster genre weren’t large, but were important in getting her noticed after critics excoriated her in Howard Hughes’ 1930 HELL’S ANGELS.

Unlike many early talkies, THE SECRET SIX is fast-paced and energetic, thanks to director George Hill, with a dynamite script from his then-wife Frances Marion. The cast of pros, including young Jean Harlow, bring the tale to rip-roaring life. THE SECRET SIX hasn’t received the attention and accolades of THE PUBLIC ENEMY, LITTLE CAESAR, or SCARFACE, but it’s just as exciting as those classics, and contains one of the genre’s best casts. For a wild screen ride, and a look at Jean Harlow becoming an accomplished actress, pick Six- THE SECRET SIX!

 

Remembering Jack Davis (1924-2016)

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If you grew up reading MAD magazine, you certainly know the name of Jack Davis. His unique style made him one of MAD’s most popular cartoonists, and his exaggerated, “big footed” characters weren’t just confined to the humor mag. Davis, who served in the Navy during WWII, did work for Navy News while in the service. After the war, he relocated to New York, and soon began illustrating for William Gaines’ EC Comics on their horror, crime, and war books. Davis became one of the original MAD artists, and from there drew everything from movie posters to album covers to TV Guide covers. Jack Davis passed away today at age 91, leaving behind a legacy of artwork for all to enjoy. Here are twelve examples of the distinctive art of Jack Davis:

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Double Bogie: THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (1938) and YOU CAN’T GET AWAY WITH MURDER (1939)

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Before Humphrey Bogart became the screen icon known as “Bogie”, he paid his dues as a Warner Brothers contract player, usually cast as a second fiddle gangster who winds up getting filled full of lead by the likes of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. It wasn’t until 1941’s THE MALTESE FALCON that Bogart hit the big time, remaining a box office star until his death from cancer in 1956. Here’s a look at two early movies that typecast Bogie again as a gangster, with wildly different results.

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1938’s THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE is supposedly a comedy, starring Edward G. Robinson  as a Park Avenue surgeon who’s researching a book about the physiology of criminals, mainly by ripping off his high society friends. He meets up with female fence Jo Keller (Claire Trevor in another of her hard dame roles) and gangster  Rocks Valentine (Bogie). Clitterhouse, dubbed “Professor” by the crooks, takes over the gang, much to Rocks’ chagrin, and studies the goons while they work. Rocks double crosses him during a fur warehouse job, locking the doctor in a refrigerated vault. After escaping, Clitterhouse decides he’s done enough research and is ready to retire. But Rocks has other plans after finding the doctor’s notes, and threatens to reveal his role in the crimes unless Clitterhouse agrees to set up his society pals.

Clitterhouse hasn’t researched the “ultimate crime” yet though… murder! He drops some pyridyl chloride tabs into Rocks’ whiskey, causing an overdose, and dumps the body in the river. Dr. Clitterhouse finally confesses to his crimes, stating everything he did was in the interest of science. He tries to prove himself sane, but the jury disagrees, finding him not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming “an insane man cannot writer a sane book”.

Edward G. Robinson (Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse) is fascinated with the working of the criminal mind. He joins a gang of crooks headed by Humphrey Bogart (Rocks Valentine) for whom Clitterhouse masterminds a series of heists. With Maxie Rosenbloom (Butch) and Claire Trevor (Jo Keller).

Robinson is far too good for this mess, but manages to rise above the mediocre material. Claire Trevor hadn’t quite hit her stride yet as Queen of Noir, and she isn’t really given much to do here. The Warner Brothers Rogue’s Gallery is on hand as the gang members (Maxie Rosenbloom, Allen Jenkins , Curt Bois, Vladimir Sokoloff, and a young Ward Bond ), while Donald Crisp, Henry O’Neill, John Litel, and Gale Page represent law and order. Listen close and you’ll hear Ronald Reagan’s  voice as a radio announcer, his former occupation before hitting Hollywood. Another recent Hollywood arrival, Anatole Litvak, directed as if he’d never seen a gangster picture before.

As for Humphrey Bogart, he is said to have absolutely despised this film. Wouldn’t you, if your character name was Rocks Valentine? He referred to it as “The Amazing Dr. Clitoris” among friends. The one good thing to come out of it for Bogie was he became friends with co-screenwriter John Huston. When Huston was tabbed to direct his first film, THE MALTESE FALCON, he chose Bogie to play the lead, Sam Spade. This was the beginning of a long collaboration for the two men, “the stuff that dreams are made of”, to quote Spade.

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Much better is YOU CAN’T GET AWAY WITH MURDER, released in 1939. Bogart gets top billing in this B-movie, but he’s still playing second fiddle. Dead End Kid Billy Halop plays the lead as Johnny, a young punk who lives in Hell’s Kitchen with his sister Madge, and detests her straight-laced boyfriend Fred. He’d rather hang out with local hood Frank Wilson (Bogart), who takes him under his wing. Soon the pair steal a car and rob a gas station. Johnny steals Fred’s gun, and Frank uses it in a pawn shop stick-up, killing the proprietor. Fred is arrested for the murder, while Johnny and Frank get pinched for the gas station job.

All three are sent to Sing Sing, with Fred on Death Row. Johnny has a crisis of conscience; does he rat out his pal Frank, or let Fred fry in the hot seat? Frank and his thug pals plan a jailbreak, and take Johnny along with the intent of capping him, eliminating the possibility of him cracking under pressure. Johnny and Frank are the only two who make it out, and during a gun battle with the screws Frank puts a slug in Johnny’s  gut. Frank then gives himself up, but the still alive Johnny tells the authorities the truth. The youth is taken to the operating table but doesn’t pull through; however he gets to make amends with Madge and Fred before he dies.

If you can get past the  Brooklynese “dese, dems , and doses”,  you’ll find a good performance from Halop. The leader of the Dead End Kids in films like DEAD END, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, and THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL goes solo here, and shines as a slum kid angry at the world, putting up a tough guy front to mask his fear. The scenes with sister Gale Page are kind of schmaltzy, but don’t distract too much from the action. Bogart gives his stock gangster characterization as the vicious hood Frank, a follow-up of sorts to his Baby Face Martin in DEAD END. He’s good, but we’ve seen it done before.

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Henry Travers (Clarence the Angel from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) is on hand as Pop, an old con who befriends Johnny. Harold Huber, Joe Sawyer, and George E. Stone are hardened criminals, and much to my surprise, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson shows up as one of the prisoners. Harvey Stephens is much too bland as Fred… no wonder Johnny decides to follow Bogie! And no,  that’s not James Cagney’s son in the neighborhood pool hall scene. It’s Frankie Burke, a Cagney lookalike who played the actor as a youngster in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. Lewis Seiler keeps things zipping along; he had a long but undistinguished Hollywood career.

Humphrey Bogart continued to dwell in “B” purgatory until receiving good reviews in 1941’s HIGH SIERRA, which led to THE MALTESE FALCON and movie immortality. Watching his 1930’s efforts, we get a brief glimpse into what was to come. Of the two, I’d watch YOU CAN’T GET AWAY WITH MURDER again; far as THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE goes, once was enough.

 

 

 

 

The Big Let-Down: CHANDLER (MGM 1971)

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“Some (producers) are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur”- Raymond Chandler, “Writers in Hollywood”, first published in Esquire Magazine, Nov. 1945

I had high hopes for CHANDLER, I really did. An homage to the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler (born July 23, 1888) with Warren Oates as the titular detective sounded like it’d be right up my dark alley. But as much as I wanted to like this movie, I was let down by its slow pace, convoluted script, and butchering by studio execs. Much of the film was cut, scenes were replaced, and the result is an evocative mood piece that ultimately doesn’t satisfy the noir lover in me.

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I don’t have a problem with Warren Oates as Chandler, with his Bogie-esque look and low-key performance. Oates looks like he belongs in the 1940’s, “a relic of World War Two”, though the movie is set in 1971. His Chandler has no first name, only referring to one in a phone conversation (“C-H-A-N-D-L-E-R, as in Raymond”). He’s a man out of time, hired by old pal Bernie Oakman to trail beautiful Leslie Caron as the mysterious Katherine Creighton. I don’t have a problem with Caron either, tackling a dramatic role with style and ease, and showing off her dancer’s legs to good advantage.

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The supporting cast is fine, with Seventies character actors like Alex Drier, Mitchell Ryan, Gordon Pinset, and Marianne McAndrew doing their best with the material. Film noir icons Gloria Grahame and Charles McGraw shine in brief cameos, as do veterans Richard Loo, Scatman Crothers, and Robert Mitchum’s brother John (as a bartender). Alan Stensvold’s photography brings the California coastline to vivid life, and the jazzy score by George Romanis helps set the tone in the first half, before it descends into TV-movie music. So there’s no problem there.

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The problem stems from what could have been. CHANDLER had all the makings of a great neo-noir, but brutal cuts by MGM boss James Aubrey turned this into a total mess. It was taken completely out of director Paul Magwood’s hands, and he and producer Michael S. Laughlin took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter apologizing for the released product. This was Magwood’s first and last film as director; he did have a career as an AD, notably on TV’s THE NEW MIKE HAMMER. Producer Laughlin (who was married to Caron at the time) went on to write and direct the sci-fi cult classic STRANGE INVADERS.

So while I was disappointed by CHANDLER as a whole, there were parts of it I liked (Oates, Caron, the California scenery). I can’t give it a recommendation, but if you’re interested in some classic Raymond Chandler films, you can watch MURDER MY SWEET , THE BIG SLEEP, or FAREWELL MY LOVELY, and let this failed effort fade into deserved obscurity.

 

That’s Blaxploitation! 7: TROUBLE MAN (20th Century-Fox 1972)

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One of the earliest Blaxploitaion films is TROUBLE MAN, a 1972 entry about Mr T…

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…no, not THAT Mr. T! THIS Mr. T…

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Thank you! This Mr. T is played by Robert Hooks, a tough talking private eye who drives a big-ass Lincoln Continental and “fixes troubles” on the mean streets of L.A. T gets hired by gangsters Chalky Price and Pete Cockrell to protect their crap games, which are getting ripped off by masked gunmen. Things go awry when Chalky shoots one of the heisters, a dude named Abby who works for rival gangster “Big”. Abby’s body is dumped and word is on the streets T did the killing. Police Capt. Joe Marx puts the heat on T, as does “Big”, so T arranges a late night summit between “Big”, Chalky, and Pete at Jimmy’s Pool Hall .  “Big” arrives, but before Chalky and Pete do, some cops raid the joint. These cops aren’t what they seem, and gun down “Big”. T is framed again, and figures out the two hoods have set him up, so he goes out for revenge in a violent and bloody climax.

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TROUBLE MAN is noted for its score by Motown legend Marvin Gaye and not much else. It didn’t do well at the box office, but it’s not as bad as some say.”Routine” would be a good word to describe it. Robert Hooks was primarily a stage actor who’d broken the color barrier as the first black to star in a weekly TV dramatic series, N.Y.P.D (Bill Cosby in I SPY notwithstanding, which had as much comedy as drama). The cast is full of seasoned pros like Paul Winfield (SOUNDER, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN), Ralph Waite (THE WALTONS), Julius Harris (LIVE AND LET DIE), William Smithers (PAPILLION, DALLAS), Paula Kelly (SOYLENT GREEN ), and Bill Henderson, a jazz singer who acted in dozens of films and TV episodes. Others in the cast are Gordon Jump (WKRP IN CINCINNATI), Nathaniel Taylor (Rollo in SANFORD & SON), real-life pool shark Texas Blood, and former welterweight champion Danny “Little Red” Lopez.

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The problem lies in John D.F. Black’s script, which “borrows” heavily from his script for SHAFT, transplanting the character to the West Coast. Some of the dialogue is pretty lame: “You fuckin’ A-right I’m right!”, declares T at one point (Although my favorite line is when one of the henchmen says things went “like sippin’ whiskey… smooth as fuckin’ silk”).Black did much better work on the original STAR TREK series. The direction by HOGAN’S HEROES actor Ivan Dixon is pedestrian at best, only coming to life at the movie’s bloody climax. I think 20th Century-Fox had high hopes for TROUBLE MAN, but when it tanked at the box office no sequels were made.

TROUBLE MAN is just okay, but could’ve been much better with more inspired direction and a stronger script. It’s just kind of mediocre; take out the swearing and the blood, and you’ve got your basic TV detective show. Maybe that’s the route they should’ve taken, and turned it into a weekly series. As it stands, it’s one of the lesser entries in the Blaxploitation catalogue.

 

Book Review: JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster)

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He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction” –

Kris Kristofferson, The Pilgrim

He was a football star at USC who also starred on the debate team. A primitive that could quote Shakespeare, Keats, and Churchill with ease. A two-fisted, hard drinker who was adept at chess and bridge. A man some called racist whose three wives were all Hispanic. To his friends, he was Duke Morrison, but to the world he was known as John Wayne. This definitive, well researched biography by Scott Eyman was released in hardcover in 2014, and is now available in trade paperback form. Eyman, who also wrote the definitive book on John Ford (1999’s PRINT THE LEGEND: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN FORD), spent years to make this the last word on John Wayne, separating the man from the myth, in this in-depth study of how the boy from Winterset, Iowa became the enduring box-office superstar.

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The book covers young Duke from his beginnings with a job-hopping father and ice-cold mother, through his formative years growing up in Glendale, California. We learn that Wayne, despite his reports to the contrary, didn’t just “fall into” filmmaking. From his time as prop boy for John Ford, to his doomed blockbuster THE BIG TRAIL (1930), to his years toiling in low-budget oaters, Wayne absorbed everything about the making of movies. When Ford cast him as The Ringo Kid in 1939’s STAGECOACH, a star was born, and soon John Wayne became a well constructed screen persona. He developed this character piece by piece over the years, learning from Ford, Harry Carey Sr, Yakima Canutt, and Paul Fix to craft the image we’re all familiar with, an image Wayne carefully protected over the decades.

Wayne’s flaws as a human are all here: his affair with Marlene Dietrich, contributing to the failure of his first marriage; his association with the Communist-blacklisting Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; his hawkish stand on the Vietnam War (and the critical drubbing he took for making THE GREEN BERETS); his controversial 1971 Playboy Interview. But there’s a softer side to the man, as well: a devoted family man to his children; his fierce loyalty to those who were there when he was a struggling actor; his regret at not serving in World War II (mainly because Republic Studios honcho Herbert Yates kept getting deferments so as not to lose his only cash cow); and his final battle with the cancer that killed him.

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There are drinking stories with Ford, Howard Hawks, Ward Bond, and Robert Mitchum, a glimpse into his literary tastes (everything from Zane Grey to J.R.R. Tolkein), his Oscar-winning role for TRUE GRIT, and his decade-plus long, Ahab-like quest to film his vision of THE ALAMO, which almost bankrupted him. His collaborations with Ford are well covered here. Wayne looked up to Ford, the only man who could browbeat him in public and get away with it. With lesser directors, Wayne pretty much took over the reins, as he knew more about making movies than any dozen film school grads could possibly imagine.

Duke Morrison and John Wayne shared an important common trait; both are rugged individualists who did whatever it took to achieve their own manifest destiny. For the screen Wayne, it was the taming of the American West. For Duke Morrison, it was an escape from childhood poverty and B-movie obscurity to become an iconic hero to millions. He’s a fascinating, all-too-human man, and this book should be required reading for lovers of The Duke and classic film. Love him or hate him, agree or disagree with his politics, John Wayne was a true American cinema original, and JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND tells his story in full, vivid detail. There’s a passage on page 563 that, for a lifelong Wayne fan like myself, sent shivers up my spine:

“The tribute that might have meant most to Wayne happened in Durango, Mexico, where Burt Lancaster was on location. When word came that John Wayne had died, the cast and crew paused for a minute of silence. They were making CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES.

They were making a western.” -Scott Eyman, JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND (Simon & Schuster, copyright 2014)

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Rockin’ in the Film World #6: IT’S A BIKINI WORLD (Trans-American 1967)

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IT’S A BIKINI WORLD is one of the lowest of the low-budget “Beach Party” ripoffs you’ll ever see. Yet it has a certain charm to it, a likeable little “battle of the sexes” soufflé featuring some great 60’s rock acts and the undeniable appeal of beach bunny Deborah Walley.

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Beach stud Mike Samson goes gaga for knockout new redhead Delilah Dawes (Samson and Delilah, get it?). She thinks he’s an egotistical jerk and gives him the big freeze-out, telling him she prefers the “serious type”, so Mike dons a pair of thick glasses and some nerdy duds, passing himself off as intellectual brother “Herbert”. Herbert takes her to museums and zoos, while Mike competes with her in skateboarding and boat races run by local customizer Daddy, owner of hangout The Dungeon. Delilah discovers Mike’s scam, and they compete in a final Cross Country Race that consists of car racing, motorcycles, swimming, and even riding camels! Mike throws the race, and the two finally get together, as if there were ever any doubt.

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The extremely loose plot is just an excuse to have a bunch of classic Sixties rocker lipsynch some of their hits. Pat and Lolly Vegas, the Native American brothers who wrote P.J. Proby’s hit “Niki Hoky” and later formed the band Redbone, sing “Walk On”. R&B girl group The Toys perform their minor hit “Attack!”. Memphis garage rockers The Gentrys, featuring future WWF manager Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart as lead singer, do the frat rocker “Spread It On Thick”. Minnesota’s The Castaways jam out to their smash hit “Liar Liar”. And finally, British Invasion blues rock stars The Animals, with a bored looking Eric Burdon, do the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil classic “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, which is what Burdon looks like he wishes he were doing!

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Can I get a shout out for the ever-delectable All-American girl Deborah Walley! The cute, perky Miss Walley made her film debut as every surfer’s dream in 1961’s GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN, and quickly became a teen flick favorite. Deborah appeared in several AIP “Beach” movies (BEACH BLANKET BINGO, SKI PARTY, GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI) and was married for a spell to “Beach” regular John Ashley. She was a drummer in Elvis Presley’s band in SPINOUT, and co-starred for two seasons as Eve Arden’s daughter on the sitcom THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW. Deborah’s costar here is Tommy Kirk, former Disney star (OLD YELLER, THE SHAGGY DOG, SON OF FLUBBER) who was fired when Disney was informed Kirk was gay. Moving over to AIP, Tommy did PAJAMA PARTY and GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (with Walley). After getting busted for marijuana, Kirk’s career and life slid downhill. He made MARS NEEDS WOMEN for Larry Buchanan and  BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR for Al Adamson, and developed a vicious drug habit that rendered him unemployable. After getting clean and sober, Tommy Kirk left show business, running a successful carper cleaning business. He returned “home” in 2006 when he was named a ‘Disney Legend’ by the company, and does the occasional fan convention.

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Kirk’s pal is played by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, who would’ve been better used lipsynching his hit “Monster Mash “, because he sure can’t act! Daddy is played with gusto by the great Sid Haig , hamming it up and peppering his speech with phrases like “It’s a gas” and “Groovy, man”. Director Stephanie Rothman was a Roger Corman protégé and one of the only women working in the exploitation field besides Doris Wishman. Corman financed IT’S A BIKINI WORLD, and clips of his ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS are shown when the gang goes to the movies! Rothman and husband Charles Schwartz (who produced and cowrote the screenplay) later left Corman and formed Dimension Films, where she became noted for THE VELVET VAMPIRE and TERMINAL ISLAND. Rothman’s decidedly feminist point of view is evident in this one, pitting Walley against Kirk in physical sporting competitions, something you didn’t see in AIP’s Frankie and Annette features.

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Let me be honest though: IT’S A BIKINI WORLD is cheap, low budget nonsense geared for the teenage drive-in crowd, made to separate kids from their allowances on the weekend. It’s full of corny jokes and dumb slapstick gags, and most of the money spent on it probably went to get the rock’n’rollers to appear. That being said, it’s hard not to like this little time capsule of the Swinging Sixties. It does what it’s supposed to; it keeps you entertained for an hour and a half. Plus, it’s got those classic rock acts in it, and Deborah Walley to look at. Sounds like a win-win to me!!

 

This Eagle Doesn’t Fly: FLAP (Warner Brothers 1970)

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FLAP is an attempt by director Sir Carol Reed to jump on the late 60’s/early70’s “relevance” bandwagon by depicting the modern-day mistreatment of the American Indian. It’s a seriocomic character study that struggles to find it’s identity, and as a result fails at both comedy and drama.

FLAP is Flapping Eagle, an ex-soldier living back on the reservation who’s “pissed off at everybody”. He’s a hard drinking man, as is just about all the Indians here, feeding into the stereotypical “drunken Indian” image. Flap’s had enough of the noise coming from construction workers building a highway project right next to the rez, and causes a fracas between the hardhats and the Indians, damaging a bulldozer in the process. Native Wounded Bear (who has a correspondence school law degree) points out the highway is gong through sacred burial ground, which turns out not to be the case. Everyone’s up in arms, especially local cop Rafferty, who has it in for Flap.

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Flap and his drinking buddies (dim Lobo, young writer Eleven Snowflake, Wounded Bear, storekeeper Looking Deer) decide to become revolutionaries, and derail a train to the rez, claiming it as abandoned property on their land. When Rafferty shoots an elder’s dog who’s always biting at his ankles, Flap has a confrontation that lands the cop in the hospital. The old man dies of a heart attack, and according to an old treaty, if a tribal member dies as a result of malicious intent on the white man’s part, the tribe can reclaim all the land they can walk to from sunup to sundown, resulting in the entire tribe, led by Flap, marching to Phoenix to take over the town. A near riot breaks out, but Flap is assassinated by Rafferty from his hospital window (conveniently placed in the center of town).

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Anthony Quinn plays Flap like a Native American Zorba. That’s not a put-down; Quinn’s the best thing about the film. The two-time Oscar winner had been in pictures since 1936, and knew just what buttons to push to win audience sympathy. The problem’s not Quinn, it’s his character (or any character here) isn’t fully fleshed out by screenwriter Clair Huffaker, adapting his own 1967 novel “Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian”. Huffaker was an uneven writer who produced some good scripts (FLAMING STAR , 100 RIFLES) and bad (HELLFIGHTERS, TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD). FLAP falls into the latter category.

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Quinn’s costars are Claude Akins as Lobo, future producer/director Tony Bill (Eleven), veteran Victor Jory (Wounded Bear), LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE’s Victor French (Rafferty), and Shelley Winters as Flap’s prostitute girlfriend Dorothy Bluebell. Shelley’s her over-the-top self again, at one point threatening to pull a Lorena Bobbitt (Google it!) on unfaithful Flap with a pair of scissors! Familiar Faces include Rodolfo Acosta, William Mims, Anthony Caruso, J. Edward McKinley, Alan Carney  , Parley Bear, and the only real Native American in the cast Chief John War Eagle. Marvin Hamlisch contributes the score, and co-wrote the theme song (done by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition).

Carol Reed was coming fresh off his Oscar-winning success of 1968’s OLIVER! when he took on this project. Sir Carol made a number of true classic films: ODD MAN OUT, THE THIRD MAN, OUR MAN IN HAVANA. Sadly, FLAP is not among them. Maybe if all concerned had settled on a pure comedy, or gone the other way with stark drama, FLAP would’ve been a better movie. As it stands, I would recommend you skip this one and look into three other movies of the time dealing with the problems of Native Americans; Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN, Abraham Polonsky’s TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, and Ralph Nelson’s SOLDIER BLUE.