More Ch-Ch-Changes at Cracked Rear Viewer!

Hello, Dear Readers! Spring is a season of change, and there’ll be a change here at Cracked Rear Viewer as well. Due to scheduling conflicts, my posting days are about to change. I’ll be putting up reviews on Mondays and Wednesdays for the foreseeable future instead of Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays will remain the same, and I’m adding some special features to be posted on Fridays! Stay tuned, and as Bartles & Jaymes used to say, “We thank you for your support”!

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Hell Bent for Vengeance: Randolph Scott in DECISION AT SUNDOWN (Columbia 1957)

I seem to have gained some new channels along with my new DirecTV receiver. I’m not sure why, but I won’t argue…  at least until I see the bill! One of them is Sony Movie Channel, featuring the Columbia Pictures catalog, and I recently viewed DECISION AT SUNDOWN, the third of seven Western collaborations between star Randolph Scott  and director Budd Boetticher. The plot and setting are simple, yet within that framework we get a tense psychological drama about a man consumed by vengeance and hatred.

Scott, still cutting a dashing figure at age 59, plays Bart Allison, who along with his pal Sam, ride into the town of Sundown on the day of Tate Kimbrough’s wedding to Lucy Summerton. Bart’s not there to offer his congratulations though; he announces his intention to kill town boss Tate. The reason: Bart holds Tate responsible for his wife’s suicide three years ago. Bart and Sam then hole up in the livery stable while Tate’s hand-picked sheriff and his men force a stand-off.

To reveal any more of the narrative would be doing a disservice to those who haven’t seen this little gem. Suffice it to say, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. The film is expertly put together by Boetticher, DP Burnett Guffey (Oscar winner for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and BONNIE & CLYDE), and editor Al Clark (ALL THE KING’S MEN, 3:10 TO YUMA ), keeping the suspense tight as possible. Boetticher was a talented director who marched to the beat of his own drum. A trained bullfighter, his breakthrough film was 1951’s THE BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY. He directed the frequently overlooked noir THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956) before embarking on his seven Scott Westerns, then spent over a decade filming and finding financing for his documentary on Mexican matador Carlos Arruza, finally getting a 1972 release. An most interesting man, Boetticher died in 2001.

Scott gives an outstanding performance as Allison, driven by his lust for vengeance. Bart Allison is both a man of principal and tragic figure, and Scott maintains his balance between the two using few words, showing not telling. It’s a difficult role, but Randolph Scott pulls it off in his own inimitable style. His chemistry with Noah Beery Jr, playing loyal friend Sam, is palpable; one can only wish they’d made more films together. Tate Kimbrough is played by John Carroll, who looked and sounded so much like Clark Gable that MGM once tried to promote him as The Next Big Thing. He never quite caught on, probably because the resemblance was too close, and one Gable in Hollywood was enough. Carroll could hold his own in the acting department though, his best known films are probably GO WEST (with the Marx Bros), FLYING TIGERS (with John Wayne), and the Republic serial ZORRO RIDES AGAIN.

Rounding out the cast are Karen Steel (MARTY) as Lucy, Valerie French (JUBAL) as Tate’s former lover Ruby, John Archer ( ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK ) as the sympathetic town doctor, and Andrew Duggan ( THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET ) as the sheriff. Familiar Faces around town include veteran John Litel as Lucy’s father, Richard Deacon, Abel Fernandez, Bob Steele, Vaughn Taylor, Ray Teal, James Westerfield, and H.M. Wynant. If you haven’t watched any of the seven Scott/Boetticher Westerns, you’re missing out on some great filmmaking, and DECISION AT SUNDOWN makes a good  place to start.

 

Rat Pack – 3 = FOUR FOR TEXAS (Warner Brothers 1963)

The wait is finally over, my new DirecTV receiver has arrived and is all hooked up! Unfortunately, all my DVR’d movies have vanished. And since it was filled to about 70% capacity, that’s a lot of movies! Needless to say, I’ve got to load up the ol’ DVR again. Thanks to TCM, I re-recorded one of my old favorites the other day, FOUR FOR TEXAS, an action-packed Western comedy I’ve seen about 100 times already (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration). This combines the two leaders of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin , with the talents of director Robert Aldrich. The result is an all-star, slam-bang entertainment that is loads of fun for film fans.

The pre-credits sequence looks like we’re about to watch a traditional Western, with a gang of outlaws led by Charles Bronson   riding out to ambush a stagecoach. But wait, that’s Frankie and Dino defending the coach, shooting it out with the robbers. Frank is Zack Thomas, who’s got a $100,000 hidden onboard; Dean is Joe Jarrett, a sharp-shooting con artist. After the stage crashes, Zack and Joe are the only survivors. Joe holds Zack at gunpoint intending on stealing the loot. Zack turns the tables, but Joe turns ’em right back and leaves Zack in the desert, high, dry, and horseless.

Seems Zack “persuaded” Galveston banker Harvey Burden (a dyspeptic Victor Buono ) to get the money so he could open a riverboat gambling operation. Zack serves as “protection” to Burden and his crooked cronies. What he doesn’t know is it was Burden who hired Matson (our man Bronson) to bushwhack the stage and kill Zack in the process. While Zack relaxes with his main squeeze Elya (the voluptuous Anita Ekberg), who should come riding into town but good ol’ Joe Jarrett. Zack sends some of his boys (led by Mike Mazurki and Richard Jaeckel ) to jump Joe and get the dough back, but Joe’s aided by his driver (Calypso singer Edric Connor) and little Angel (Nick Dennis), who deposits Joe’s loot (sewn into his jacket!) and takes him to meet riverboat owner Max.

Joe has second thoughts about investing when he sees the run-down, decrepit boat, and even thirds when Max begins shooting at him from a window! That is, until he gets a look at Max in the flesh – it’s Ursula Andress , fresh off her success in DR. NO! Naturally, they hook up, refurbish the boat, and get ready for opening night. Meanwhile, a cargo ship owned by Zack gets scuttled, and Zack assumes Joe’s behind it. He and his men storm the dock, looking for a hostile takeover, and the two go mano y mano (or at least their stunt doubles do!). Little do either of them know Burden’s the guilty culprit, and has sent Matson and an army of men to destroy the boat and kill Zack once and for all.

My favorite scene in the film has nothing to do with the plot; it’s the arrival of The Three Stooges   (Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe) delivering a nude portrait of Ursula to the ship. The comedy vets get to do their old “point to the right” gag, receiving a triple-slap from Dino for their troubles. They’re then accosted by a couple of elderly widows out to ban the painting, and revive their “toughest man in Texas” routine. It’s a fun scene, and I’m sure Martin appreciated it, having been a member of a comedy team himself with Jerry Lewis.

Director Aldrich is noted for his testosterone-fueled films like KISS ME DEADLY and THE DIRTY DOZEN , but he had his lighter side, too (THE LONGEST YARD, …ALL THE MARBLES ). He co-wrote the script with Teddi Sherman but allegedly wasn’t happy with it, nor with Sinatra. The film works for me though, with its plush sets and gorgeous Technicolor, Frank and Dean trading quips and barbs, Anita and Ursula both looking beautiful, and the top-notch supporting cast. Bronson plays his role totally straight, and it’s one of his best villainous performances. (His sick offscreen laugh is dubbed by Frank Gorshin, warming up for his later gig on BATMAN as The Riddler!). Buono gives another of his ace bad-guy turns as the cowardly, corpulent Burden. The roster of Familiar Faces popping up includes Wesley Addy, Marjorie Bennett, Virginia Christine, Ellen Corby, Jack Elam , Fritz Feld, Arthur Godfey (in a comic cameo), Percy Helton , Jonathan Hole, Yaphet Kotto, Jack Lambert , Manuel Padilla Jr, Eva Six , Abraham Soafer, Bob Steele, Grady Sutton , and Dave Willock . Now THAT’S what I call a cast!

There’s plenty of brawling, romancing, double entendres, and laughs to be had viewing FOUR FOR TEXAS, but curiously, there’s no singing from either Frank or Dino. Most critics tend to dismiss the film as just another Frankie & Dino vanity production, but I enjoy it each and every time I watch. It did what it set out to do – it entertained me. And when it’s all said and done, isn’t that what a movie’s supposed to do?

Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

A New Look to Cracked Rear Viewer

After blogging for close to two years, I’ve decided to change the site’s look. I’m using the WordPress Twenty Seventeen theme, which I think gives it a leaner, cleaner look. Archives and categories can be found on the right hand side by scrolling down, and to comment, just click on the post title. Change is good, right? What do you Cracked Rear Viewers think? Feedback is always welcome!

From the VHS Vault 2: THE VIOLENT YEARS (Headliner Productions 1956)

The drama continues: I received a call from FedEx about the status of my new DirecTV receiver (the old one being fried beyond repair) . The new box is now sitting in a warehouse, undeliverable because DIRECTV GAVE THEM THE WRONG ADDRESS!! You’d think after almost two years they’d have my address, right? Wrong! FedEx told me I have to call DirecTV and have them fix the address or drive an hour out of my way to pick it up myself. So I proceeded to call the corporate beast and was transferred to a woman who barely spoke English, gave her all my information, then was transferred to another woman who spoke even worse English and repeated the process all over again! After a half hour of this nonsense, I was then told I’d have to wait an additional 3-5 days before my new box arrives… hopefully at the right address! ARRRGGGGHH!!!!

Not wanting to keep you all waiting, I went back down into the dusty VHS vault to search for a movie, and came up with something interesting. Not necessarily good, mind you, but interesting. It’s THE VIOLENT YEARS, a 1956 “girl gang” drama in the style of HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS.  The interesting part is this one was written by everyone’s favorite low-budget auteur, the one and only Edward D. Wood, Jr!   Ed isn’t in the director’s chair however, that honor goes to William Morgan, known for… well, not much. This is probably his best-known credit.

My copy of THE VIOLENT YEARS is a 1987 Rhino Video release, part of a series called “Teenage Theater” and hosted by the immortal Mamie Van Doren, who made quite a few of these “girls gone bad” flicks. “Teenage Theater” shed the spotlight on movies about (according to the goofy doo-wop theme song) “wigged out biker babes”, “slick chicks in chains”, “motorcycle madmen”, and “starlets starved for sex”. Mamie gives us some dope on the upcoming movie from a 50’s style soda shoppe, all dolled up in a polka-dot outfit. She was 57 at the time, and still looked pretty hot…

…and she ain’t half-bad today at 87! Anyway, after Mamie does her schtick, we get down to business with THE VIOLENT YEARS. It’s the sordid saga of Paula Parkins (former Playmate Jean Moorhead), whose parents are too busy (dad’s a newspaper editor, mom’s involved with various charities) to figure out 18-year-old Paula is the leader of a Gang of Four female delinquents responsible for a series of robberies in town. We see them in action as, masked with bandanas, they hold up a gas station, then attack a couple on Lover’s Lane, making the girl strip down to her lingerie (exploitation films gotta have a strip scene!), tie her up (exploitation films gotta have a bondage scene!), then take the young man into the woods and (it’s implied) force him to have a gangbang! How that works, I’m not quite sure.

Paula and her pals fence their ill-gotten goods with Sheila, who hires them to trash their school, telling Paula “don’t worry if a few flags get destroyed in the process. Let’s just say it’s part of a well-organized… foreign plan!” Commie bastards! But first, there the obligatory “wild party” scene, consisting of some booze, cigarette smoking, and heavy necking. Reporter Barney Stetson (one of Wood’s best character names!) drops by with Paula’s present, observes the wicked goings-on, and his spidey sense starts tingling. He ends up decking Paula’s date, a greasy reprobate who cleans his fingernails with a switchblade!

It’s now time for the gang to commence on their Commie-funded mission, and they get their kicks wrecking a classroom, but the noise has brought the cops. Paula and the gang then engage in a blazing shootout with the coppers, where two of them wind up dead, and Paula kills a cop! Taking it on the lam, they head to Sheila’s place, and when Paula tells her they offed a cop, Sheila threatens to call the police herself. So Paula, already a murderess, shoots Sheila. But the cops are on Paula’s trail, and a chase ensues in which Paula crashes into a plate-glass window, killing her last remaining friend. Now locked in the jail hospital ward, and pregnant to boot (from the gangbang?), Paula is sentenced to life in prison, and the neglectful parents are denied the right to adopt their granddaughter by Judge Clara, who in typical Wood fashion delivers not one, but two clunky soliloquies as only Ed Wood could write ’em!!

Mamie returns with a coda to end the tape, and we get the cheezy “Teenage Theater” theme once again. THE VIOLENT YEARS doesn’t have much star power, though Wood aficionados will recognize Timothy Farrell from GLEN OR GLENDA and JAIL BAIT. Western buffs will know I. Stanford Jolley as the judge; he usually wore a black hat as a B villain. Barney Stetson is played by Glen Corbett, not to be confused with Glenn Corbett, actor in HOMICIDAL and CHISUM. None of the acting is particularly good, anyway. Truthfully, beside the fact that Ed Wood wrote the script, there’s not a whole lot to recommend here. I pretty much enjoyed watching it backwards while rewinding the tape as I did watching it unfold properly, maybe more so. But hey, a film blogger’s gotta watch something!

From the VHS Vault: The Three Stooges in HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL (Columbia 1959)

My DirecTV receiver decided to fry itself the other day. A new one won’t be shipped for another five days – no TCM, no DVR’d movies, no Red Sox, no nothin’! What’s a film blogger to do? Since my DVD player isn’t working either, I thought I’d reach into my collection of VHS tapes and see what I could come up with for viewing. Hmm, let’s see… wait a sec, what’s this? An unopened copy of HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL, the Three Stooges  comeback starring feature! Good Lord, I haven’t seen this movie in years! The Stooges it is!

A little background first: after making shorts for Columbia since 1934, the studio dumped the trio when their contract ended in 1957. Television had killed the short subject market, and the boys were thrown out on their collective keisters. Ironically, it was television that revived their career when the Stooges shorts were released to TV a year later, and a whole new generation fell in love with their physical slapstick brand of humor. Moe Howard and Larry Fine recruited burlesque comic Joe DeRita (who had his own series of Columbia shorts in the 40’s) to replace Joe Besser. DeRita was a better fit than Besser anyway, and his resemblance to Curly Howard (always the most popular Stooge) led to him being dubbed Curly Joe. The reconfigured Stooges toured successfully, and Columbia came crawling back to star them in a feature film titled HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL.

HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL isn’t vintage Stooges, but it’s not half bad, either. The Stooges are bumbling janitors at the “National Space Foundation” who are accidentally locked in a rocket ship and blast-off for Venus, encountering a giant fire-breathing tarantula, a talking unicorn, and a robot super-computer who shrinks them to mouse-size and makes android clones of them. They return to Earth as heroes, are given a ticker-tape parade and a gala celebration, a distinguished affair that devolves into a slap-happy donnybrook. The whole thing gives them an excuse to trot some of their old schtick like the “plumbing” gag, the “chased through multiple doors” gag, and the “couch-spring-stuck-in-the-rear-end” gag. They even get to exercise their tonsils, breaking into song about halfway through, a ditty called… what else, “Have Rocket, Will Travel”!

The Stooges are a bit more kinder and gentler here, older but definitely not wiser. The familiar eye pokes, hair-pulling, and face slapping are still around, as are the familiar sound effects, and Moe still hurls insults at his partners (at one point calling Curly Joe “ya baby hippopotamus”). Robert Colbert (later of TV’s THE TIME TUNNEL) and Anna-Lisa provide the romance, while veteran character actor Jerome Cowan takes his lumps as the Stooges’ foil, head of the space foundation. HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL was aimed directly at their new juvenile audience and is ultra low-budget, with cheezy special effects and cardboard sets, but fans of the boys will enjoy revisiting their antics. I know I sure did!