Danger Is Their Business: STUNTS (New Line Cinema 1977)


With the success of films like WHITE LIGHTING, CANNONBALL, DEATH RACE 2000, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (not to mention the continuing fascination with Evel Knenevel), movies revolving around stunts and stuntmen were big box office in the 1970’s. New Line Cinema took note and produced STUNTS, a murder mystery about stuntmen being killed off that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at low-budget filmmaking in addition to a good cast and well-staged action.


When stuntman Greg Wilson’s hanging from a helicopter gag goes horribly awry, resulting in him plummeting to his death, his brother Glen arrives on the set determined to do the stunt himself and investigate Greg’s demise. Along the way he picks up B.J. Parswell, an attractive reporter doing a story on stuntmen. Glen’s fellow stuntmen start getting picked off one by one in gruesome “accidents”, and he must find the killer before he becomes next.


This basic variation on “Ten Little Indians” serves as the backdrop for some exciting stunt-and-special effect scenes, including one where Glen, asking for more explosive charge in his car, does a spectacular five-and-a-half rolls, emerging unscathed. The film-within-a-film setting also allows the viewer to observe some aspects of moviemaking on a tight budget, which always fascinates me. Director Mark L. Lester keeps things moving, adding comedy to the mystery and action. Lester knew a thing or two about low-budget films, having helmed TRUCK STOP WOMEN and BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW among others, before making hits like ROLLER BOOGIE, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, and CLASS OF 1999.


Robert Forster stars as Glen, and he’s one of my favorite underrated actors. The star of Haskell Wexler’s MEDIUM COOL and TV’s BANYON (a short-lived detective series about a 30’s private eye) struggled for decades starring in low-budget movies and supporting roles in larger ones before being rediscovered in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 JACKIE BROWN, earning an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Fiona Lewis (BJ) is known to horror genre fans for DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and TINTONERA. Ray Sharkey (THE IDOLMAKER) plays macho stuntman Paulie, Joanna Cassidy (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBITT?) is Patty, and Bruce Glover (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) is Chuck. The great Richard Lynch plays special effects wizard Pete Lustig, Candice Rialson (HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, CANDY STRIPE NURSES, CHATTERBOX) is horny starlet Judy Blake, and James Luisi (THE ROCKFORD FILES) is her cuckolded producer hubby. Veteran Malachi Throne (IT TAKES A THIEF, BATMAN villain Falseface) puts up with everyone as director Earl O’Brien.


But the real stars are the stuntmen behind the scenes, and this film assembled some of the best: Joie Chitwood (cars), Deanna Coleman (motorcycles), Dar Robinson (high fall), Lee Pulford (barroom brawl), and Chuck Tamburro (aeriel) all perform their specialties to thrill the audience. STUNTS doesn’t work as a mystery (it was originally titled WHO IS KILLING THE STUNTMEN?), but as an action pic it’s chock full of wild and wooly, death-defying stunts and, though not the best of it’s genre, is an entertaining 90 minutes of fun for movie buffs.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Jane Russell in THE LAS VEGAS STORY (RKO 1952)


Jane Russell’s  sexy as always, but THE LAS VEGAS STORY falls flatter than the proverbial pancake. This dull little crime drama boasts a good cast and some good moments, but on the whole doesn’t satisfy. One of the problems is Jane’s co-star Victor Mature, who tries but can’t match the cynicism frequent Russell co-star Robert Mitchum would’ve brought to the role of Jane’s jilted ex-lover, now a cop in the City of Sin. The most interesting thing about THE LAS VEGAS STORY is it’s screenplay credits, which we’ll get to later.


When ex-lounge singer Linda Rollins (Russell) returns to Vegas with husband Lloyd (a subdued but still sarcastic Vincent Price ), she visits her old stomping ground the Last Chance, where she’s greeted by piano player Happy (Hoagy Carmichael) and former boss Mike Fogarty (Will Wright), who’s been bought out by new owner Clayton (Robert J. Wilke). Police lieutenant Dave Andrews (Mature), Linda’s ex, comes along and is still angry over being dumped by Linda.

Lloyd’s got problems of his own, having embezzled big bucks from his firm in Boston, and uses Linda’s $150,000 diamond necklace to get a line of credit from Clayton, which results in him losing both the dough and the necklace. Sleazy insurance investigator Hubler ( Brad Dexter ) has been following the Rollins’s, keeping his eye on the prize. When Clayton is found murdered late one night, Dave arrests Lloyd for the crime, but the real killer is still on the loose…


Jane’s undeniable charms make the movie watchable, whether it’s in flashback singing “Of Course I Do” (complete with Bettie Page-style ‘do!) or a brief but sexy shower scene. RKO boss Howard Hughes knew how to use her attributes to maximum effect, and her acting ability didn’t suffer for it. When it comes to Victor Mature, he’s good when given the right role (see MY DARLING CLEMENTINE or I WAKE UP SCREAMING for example), but here he’s just dull. Robert Stevenson’s pedestrian direction doesn’t help matters, as even the chase scene through the desert, culminating in a climactic duel at a shut-down army base, fails to kick into high gear. It’s a shame, because the movie had potential, but the lackluster effort put into it causes it to sink under its own weight.

Hoagy Carmichael is good as Happy, and brightens up the proceedings whenever he’s on screen. The composer of standards like “Georgia On My Mind” and “Stardust” acted in films before, most memorably with Bogie and Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and wrote the songs for this one, including a funny ditty called “The Monkey Song”:

Screenwriter Paul Jarrico (left) at HUAC hearings
Screenwriter Paul Jarrico (left) at HUAC hearings

Earl Fenton and Harry Essex are credited with the uninspired screenplay, but Paul Jarrico also contributed. Jarrico’s name was taken off the credits by Hughes because he’d been named as a communist sympathizer by HUAC (The House Un-American Activities Committee) during the blacklist era. Jarrico, who wrote the films THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK , THOUSANDS CHEER, and SONG OF RUSSIA (a film named pro-Soviet propaganda by HUAC), sued to restore his name and lost, the court ruling Jarrico was in violation of the studio’s morals clause. This in turn gave studios free rein to use blacklisted writer’s work without crediting them, or paying them fairly for their toils, either. Jarrcio was booted out of Hollywood, later making SALT OF THE EARTH with fellow blacklistee Herbert Biberman (which became the only FILM to be blacklisted because of its writer and director!) and moving to Europe to ply his trade for another twenty years.

All this behind-the-scenes bullshit didn’t matter to moviegoers, as THE LAS VEGAS STORY bombed at the box office. The film’s definitely minor league, despite a fine cast, and I really don’t think Mr. Jarrico should’ve wasted his time on it. Neither should you; go watch Jane steam up the screen with Mitchum in HIS KIND OF WOMAN or MACAO instead.

Halloween Havoc!: Joan Fontaine in THE WITCHES (Hammer 1966)


THE WITCHES (also called THE DEVIL’S OWN) was the last film of Oscar winner Joan Fontaine. This Hammer entry in the “older actress do horror” sweepstakes is a low-key, atmospheric thriller about devil worshippers in the English countryside that holds up right until its (for me) unsatisfying finale. But we’ll get to that later.


Miss Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary in darkest Africa attacked in the midst of an uprising by a voodoo cult. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Gwen interviews for a job as a teacher at a private school in Heddaby run by siblings Alan and Stephanie Bax. Alan wears a clerical collar, though Gwen soon discovers when she gets the job he’s not a reverend after all. In fact, the local church is in ruins. She receives a note from Ronnie Dorsett, a gifted student in need of tutoring, about Linda Riggs, a girl he’s sweet on. The note says Linda’s “Granny treats her crool”, and the boy tells Gwen that old Granny put Linda’s hand through the wash wringer. When Gwen goes to the Riggs’ home, she’s told Linda just had an accident, though Gwen notices the home is filled with homemade potions. What she doesn’t notice is Granny’s black cat Vesper has been following her.

Ronnie’s later taken away by ambulance after slipping into a coma. Gwen discovers a doll with its head missing, pins sticking in it, and angry Mrs. Dorsett blames her for her son’s woes. Ronnie gets a little better, and his mother takes him out of Heddaby to Wales. Mr. Dorsett is found the next day drowned in a pond, and Gwen sees footprints in the reeds. She’s then nearly attacked by a herd of sheep, whose trampling obliterates them. Gwen begins to put things together and concludes “they” are planning on sacrificing Linda. Stephanie urges her to remain quiet until they can gather more evidence, but before they do, Gwen is revisited by the voodoo horrors she encountered in Africa.

Gwen’s taken to a nursing home after suffering another breakdown, with no recollection of what happened in Heddaby. She regains it when she sees a child’s doll, triggering her memory, and escapes the home, returning to the village. The people act oh-so-civilized towards her, but when she observes them scurrying about in the dark through her window, she follows them to the church ruins. There Stephanie is conducting a Latin Black Mass, praying to almighty Satan! Gwen is coerced into learning the ritual that will keep Witch Queen Stephanie young by transferring herself into Linda’s body.


The bizarre ritual begins with some well-choreographed pagan dancing, eerie drum beats, eating entrails, and an orgy. Linda is possessed by Stephanie’s will and joins in the dark revelry. She’s about to be sacrificed when Gwen disrupts the proceedings by spilling blood on Stephanie’s sacred robe, killing her instantly. The villagers are released from the witch’s power, and Gwen and Alan live happily ever after.

THE WITCHES is for the most part filled with quiet horror and a sense of dread, not unlike a Val Lewton production. The only thing that stops me from liking it more is the abrupt end of the witch Stephanie. I expected a fiery demise or the summoning of some netherworld demons, instead it’s just blood on the robe and *poof*, party’s over. It just seems all that buildup was wasted for what would’ve been a real genre classic.


Joan Fontaine is good, as always. The star of Hitchcock’s REBECCA and SUSPICION (which garnered her the Oscar) and JANE EYRE had a long, illustrious career, but was overshadowed by sister Olivia de Havilland   . Their feud is almost as famous as their films, and regrettably the siblings didn’t speak to each other for decades until Fontaine passed away in 2013.


Kay Walsh plays Stephanie, at first seeming to be Gwen’s only ally until her true nature is revealed. The former wife of director David Lean was featured in such British films as IN WHICH WE SERVE, OLIVER TWIST, STAGE FRIGHT, and THE MAGIC BOX, among her many credits. Alec McCowen (Alan) was primarily a theater actor whose film work includes A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, and Hitchcok’s FRENZY. Martin Stephens (Ronnie)  played in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE INNOCENTS. Ingrid Boulting (billed here as Ingrid Brett) plays Linda.


Cyril Frankel’s direction of Nigel Kneale’s script is moody and properly tense. If it wasn’t for the so-so ending, I’d rate THE WITCHES a lot higher on the horror scale. As it is, I’d have to say it’s a not quite classic supernatural story, and recommend it for its first 85 minutes. The last five stop it from being completely satisfying for genre fans, or maybe that’s just me. Give it a look yourselves and make your own judgements!

Youth Run Wild!: HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (AIP 1958)


One of the most popular 50’s exploitation subgenres was the “Teenage Girl Gang” movie,  with titles like THE VIOLENT YEARS (script by Ed Wood ) and Roger Corman’s TEENAGE DOLL. The plots are pretty much interchangeable: rebellious high school chick, misunderstood by her parents, falls in with the wrong crowd. Soon she’s smoking butts, drinking booze, stealing, staying out late. There’s usually a wild party where something bad happens, and our heroine is placed in peril. If you’re into exploitation flicks, you’ll immediately recognize the storyline, and it’s reused again here to good advantage in HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS.


Our heroine here is Joyce, the new kid at High School USA. Joyce’s parents just don’t understand her: mom’s always out playing bridge, and dad is just a prick. Joyce longs to be accepted, and is invited to join the Hellcats by anti-social Connie, a rebellious vixen whose attitude seems to be fuck the adult world, except for understanding teacher Miss Davis. Joyce goes through some initiation tests, including shoplifting, and becomes a Hellcat. In fact, Connie has plans for Joyce, to make her Hellcat #2, which causes current #2 Dolly to get jealous. To say Dolly’s a bit of a psycho is an understatement.

Meanwhile, Joyce has met Mike, who works at the local coffee shop. Mike’s an  earnest young boy working his way through night school. They hit it off, but Connie warns Joyce to stay away from him, as he’s definitely not Hellcat material. Too square. Joyce is conflicted between her feelings for Mike and her loyalty to the Hellcats, continuing to see him on the sly without the knowledge of both the Hellcats and her parents, who think she’s too young to date. Connie dares Joyce to ask high school punk Rip to a party on Saturday night, and against her better judgement she does.


The kids break into a house where the owners are on vacation, and there’s lots of drinking, dancing, and heavy necking going on. Virginal Joyce shies away from all the action, but the boys start a game where the lights are turned out. Afterwards, someone discovers Connie face down at the bottom of a staircase, dead. All the kids freak out and split the scene. Rip and his friend drive Joyce home, but are concerned she’s gonna go to the cops. When they see Mike pull up, they follow, and a fight ensues. Mike gets the best of them, but he’s pretty banged up, and Joyce goes to his apartment to tend to his wounds.


She falls asleep on his couch and comes home late for curfew, causing more parental meltdowns at home. Monday morning comes, and Lt. Manners is at school asking questions about the missing Connie. The Hellcats all clam up, but new Hellcat leader Dolly loses it, arousing Manners’ suspicions. Dolly calls for an emergency meeting that night at Hellcat HQ, an abandoned movie theater. But  Joyce doesn’t know she’s the only one invited, as Dolly tells her she’s the one who pushed Connie down the stairs, pulling a switchblade on Joyce. The other Hellcats find out about the secret meeting and alert Miss Davis, who alerts the police. Crazy Dolly lunges at our heroine, who ducks, causing Dolly to fall from the balcony. The cops arrive, confessions are made, and Miss Davis explains the whole thing to Joyce’s neglectful parents. Mike brings Joyce home and the family is reunited.

There’s nothing new here, just a well done take on the standard JD theme. The cast is mostly unknown, but all have interesting resumes. Yvonne Lime (Joyce)  was in a few teen flicks (DRAGSTRIP BABY, UNTAMED YOUTH , I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF) before marrying TV producer Don Fedderson (MY THREE SONS). Bret Halsey (Mike) costarred with Jack Nicholson in Corman’s CRY BABY KILLER before moving to Italy and starring in Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospy movies, sometimes under the name Montgomery Ford. Once married to actress Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL), he also has the distinction of acting in four Lucio Fulci films, including  A CAT IN THE BRAIN. Jana Lund (Connie) gave Elvis his first screen kiss in LOVING YOU, and also appeared in FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and HOT CAR GIRL. Three cheers go out to Suzanne Sydney for her role as Crazy Dolly (who tells Joyce, “Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that!” as she approaches Joyce with the switchblade). Ms. Sydney was in a couple of biker flicks, MOTORCYCLE GANG and ANGELS FROM HELL. Rhoda Williams (Miss Davis) supplied the voice of wicked stepsister Drizella in Disney’s CINDERELLA. Robert Anderson (Lt. Manners) was young George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Don Shelton (Joyce’s Dad) had roles in sci-fi films THEM! and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, while Viola Harris (Mom) is still active, recently appearing in SEX AND THE CITY 2 and THE OTHER GUYS. Martin Braddock (Rip) was in GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW and tons of episodic TV. The biggest name in the credits is probably Executive Producer Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, who starred in the first Oscar-winning movie WINGS, and was married to America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford.

Three Stooges fans will certainly recognize the name of director Edward Bernds. Originally a sound tech at Columbia, Bernds got his directorial break on Stooges shorts with both Curly (MICRO-PHONIES) and Shemp (BRIDELESS GROOM ) as third Stooge. He even directed them in a feature, GOLD RAIDERS, with Western star George O’Brien. After a shakeup in Columbia’s shorts department he moved to Allied Artists and made Bowery Boys features. Freelancing when that series ended, Bernds made some interesting low-budget flicks (REFORM SCHOOL GIRL, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, RETURN OF THE FLY). Returning to the Stooges in the 60’s, with Curly Joe DeRita now third Stooge, he did THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES and THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, then filmed the live-action scenes of their TV cartoon series before enjoying a life of retirement until his death in 2000.


HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS isn’t a groundbreaking movie by any stretch. The familiar plot holds no surprises, but for fans of 50’s Juvenile Delinquent films, it’s an entertaining way to spend 69 minutes. I dug it, and I think you will too, if you give it a shot.


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


Before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, before Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper , the worlds of professional wrestling and the movies had long been entwined. After all, they’re both show biz! Grapplers like Nat Pendleton , Mike Mazurki, Tor Johnson , Harold Sakata (GOLDFINGER’s Oddjob), and Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi in THE GODFATHER) made the successful transition from the squared circle to Hollywood, not to mention Mexican luchadores like El Santo and Mil Mascaras, who starred in the ring and in their own series of movies south of the border. Even early TV wrestling phenom Gorgeous George had his own feature film, 1949’s ALIAS THE CHAMP.


1981’s …ALL THE MARBLES was made just before the Hulkamania craze started a boom in pro wrestling’s popularity. It’s a serio-comic character study centering on small time manager Harry Sears and his two young charges Iris and Molly,  better known as tag team The California Dolls. Harry and Iris have an on-again/off again relationship, while Molly pops pills to bolster her self-esteem. The trio traverse the highways and back roads of American trying to make a name for themselves, working in front of small crowds for low pay. When sleazebag promoter Eddie Cisco stiffs them over twenty bucks, Harry takes a baseball bat to Cisco’s Mercedes, making a big enemy in the insular wrestling world.



Harry manages to get the girls a non-title match against the champs The Toledo Tigers, a match they’re supposed to lose. But the Dolls, tired of third-rate paydays, pull a double-cross and pin the Tigers, earning them more animosity. When Harry can’t land his team a lucrative spot on a big card in Chicago, he books them in a mud wresting match at a small town fair. Iris and Molly are irate, refusing at first to participate in a “freak show”, prompting Harry to lose his temper, screaming “Every time you walk into a ring, you’re a freak. That’s what a wrestler is!”


After the humiliating fracas almost ends the partnership, the girls discover they’ve been ranked number three by a national magazine. Harry uses this leverage to get them that coveted Chicago spot, where they face their rivals the Tigers, losing this time around. However, Eddie Cisco’s in attendance, and wants the Dolls to appear at his big Christmas show in Reno against the Tigers for the title. He offers a $10,000 winner-take-all purse, with a catch… he wants to sleep with Iris. She takes one for the team, earning a smack from Harry for her degradation and betrayal, but the deed’s been done, and the California Dolls are in the big time.

Harry and Cisco place bet over who will win. Harry lays out dough to get the Dolls publicized, and gives them a grand entrance dressed as showgirls, carried on the shoulders of some muscular hunks. But what he doesn’t yet know is Cisco’s hired a crooked referee to ensure victory. Can the Dolls overcome the stacked deck and win the championship? Well, I don’t want to spoil the ending but, if you’ve seen sports movies like this, you can probably guess the answer.


Peter Falk’s  charm makes the character of  Harry work. He’s a walking contradiction, spouting Clifford Odets and Will Rogers quotes, listening to his favorite opera (Pagliacci, of course) in the car, while being tight with a buck and cheating on Iris. He’s “a lousy human being” as Molly says, but you can tell he genuinely cares for Iris and Molly, and at heart only wants the best for them. There aren’t many actors that could make a louse like Harry likeable, but Falk’s acting ability pulls it off.


Vicki Frederick (Iris) is good too, and was a dancer who worked with Bob Fosse. She was in the Broadway and film versions of A CHORUS LINE, and should have had a better career. Instead, she got stuck in junk like CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMIETOWN. Laurene Landon (Molly) had some good roles too, including Velma in I, THE JURY and the first two MANIAC COP films. The girls trained for this movie with wresting legend Mildred Burke, who held the women’s wrestling title for twenty years, and did their own wrestling in the film. The scenes are well choreographed, with moves that are still used in the wrestling business today (the more things change…). Burt Young’s appropriately sleazy as Cisco, aided by his bodyguard, the dimwitted Jerome (Lenny Montana). Mike Mazurki cameos as a referee, and L.A. sportscaster Chick Hearn appears as himself. Others in the cast you may recognize include Tracy Reed, Claudette Nevins, Clyde Kusatsu, Angela Aames, and footballer Mean Joe Greene.


When I saw Richard Jaeckel playing the crooked ref, I wondered what the hell is he doing here? The answer’s simple: he was doing a favor for his old friend director Robert Aldrich. …ALL THE MARBLES was Aldrich’s last film, after a career that saw him work on everything from film noir (KISS ME DEADLY, THE BIG KNIFE) to action epics (THE DIRTY DOZEN , EMPEROR OF THE NORTH) to horror (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, HUSH.. HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) to comedy (THE LONGEST YARD). While this one’s far from his best, it’s certainly a unique addition to the Aldrich filmography, and worth watching for fans of both  “rasslin'” and action movies.

(…ALL THE MARBLES is my contribution to the ” Athletes in Film Blogathon ” hosted by the wonderful Once Upon A Screen and Wide Screen World! Now playing at a blog near you!)






I’ve never seen any of those FAST AND FURIOUS movies with Paul Weller, Vin Diesel, and The Rock (yeah I know, Dwayne Johnson, but he’ll always be The Rock to me). Nope, not even one. I just never had much interest in them. I’d heard of the 1955 THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, an early Roger Corman production, but never watched it either, until now. Seems I wasn’t missing anything.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is Corman’s second film as producer, and first release for American International Pictures, under the moniker American Releasing Corporation. It’s an inauspicious debut for the company, to put it mildly. The story concerns escaped con Frank Webster, who kidnaps sports car racer Connie Adair and her white Jaguar (which is a nice car, by the way). They bicker with some tough-talking dialogue, as Frank plans on crossing the border to Mexico by driving the Jag in a road race to Mexico. The movie only comes to life during the racing scenes at the end. Otherwise, it’s pretty dull going.


Corman wrote the story because of his love for racing. Allegedly, he does the driving of the car racing neck and neck with Webster. Corman got John Ireland to star as Webster by promising him the chance to codirect. Ireland handled the dramatic scenes, while editor Edwards Sampson did the racing action. It’s Ireland’s second stint as a director. Not surprisingly, he didn’t get a third. Roger Corman figured he could do much better, and took the director’s chair for his next film FIVE GUNS WEST, beginning a long and prosperous career.


Dorothy Malone  adds sex appeal as Connie, if nothing else. Not her fault, as the script isn’t all that good. Iris Adrien, the poor man’s Joan Blondell, as a bit as a brassy diner waitress. Corman regulars Bruno Ve Soto and Joanthan Haze appear, as does Roger in a Hitchcockian cameo as a state trooper. Silent comedy star Snub Pollard has a role as a caretaker. Hmmm, what else… oh, did I mention the racing scenes are cool?

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t very impressed with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. It’s historically important as AIP’s first film, and Roger’s second, but it’s lackluster thanks mainly to Ireland’s uninspired direction. Maybe I should give those newer FAST AND FURIOUS flicks a chance. What do you think, Rock?

Make Mine Marvel! CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Disney 2016)


I haven’t reviewed a new film here since last year’s BLACK MASS , but since all the characters in CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR are classics, I feel the movie fits right in with the blog’s theme. Plus, I simply love the Marvel Super Heroes! I grew up in the Marvel Age of Comics, devouring monthly issues of Spider-Man, Captain America, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the rest of the costumed cavorters. I had stacks and stacks of them, which I regrettably sold as a young man to finance a move to the bayous of Louisiana. But I remember them well, and how much fun the Marvel titles were.

Apparently, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely remember too, because this movie is a whole lot of fun. Sure, there’s an underlying political theme here, the will of the collective vs the will of the individual. But it’s handled well through the characters of iconoclastic Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). The film doesn’t bash you over the head with it, giving both points of view. (As for me, in case you were wondering, I’m on Team Cap!)


CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR is the third of the Cap trilogy, but could easily be considered the third Avengers film. Everybody’s in this one. Well, almost. Conspicuous by their absences are Hulk and Thor. Some new characters are introduced, including T’Challa, aka The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). He’s central to the plot here, as the Wakandan prince whose father is killed in an attack on a UN summit where some (but not all) Avengers are signing an accord to give up their autonomy and work strictly for the world governing body. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) joins the fray on Captain America’s side, and he adds a welcome comic presence to the film. He also gives us a cameo as Giant-Man… shades of Bert I. Gordon !


By far, the most anticipated new addition to the MCU is teenage Peter Parker, better known as Spider-Man! Tom Holland dons the long-johns as everybody’s favorite neighborhood web-slinger, and he certainly does Steve Ditko proud. The scene where Tony Stark recruits Spidey is hilarious, and Holland captures the spirit of the comic book Spider-Man better than anyone since Tobey Maguire. Maybe even better! His wisecracks while battling Cap and company are priceless, and I’m looking forward to his upcoming solo film. I just can’t wrap my head around Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, though…. she’s far too sexy for the role!

And as much as I rail against CGI on this blog, I didn’t mind it so much here. It’s a comic book movie, and as such isn’t supposed to reflect the real world. The fight scenes are handled well with the CGI, so I won’t piss and moan about it. Instead, I’ll compliment the fine ensemble cast. Sebastian Stan reprises his Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier role, and he’s solid as usual. His banter with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is great. Paul Bettany (The Vision) and Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda/The Scarlet Witch) work well together, and is it me, or is Viz showing some human emotion coming through? Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo is a villain with a believable motive, not your typical bad guy. William Hurt plays Hulk’s nemesis Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross, elevated here to Secretary of State. And of course, Smilin’ Stan Lee gets his usual cameo as a FedEx delivery man.


CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR is a fast paced film, despite its 2 hour, 27 minute running time. It’s not only enjoyable as a stand-alone movie, but sets up what will happen next in the MCU. The audience I watched it with at the soon to be defunct Flagship Cinema stayed until the last credits rolled, waiting for those clues of things to come. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously (are you listening, BATMAN VS SUPERMAN?). Superhero fans will love this one, as box office receipts are already showing. Like I said, Make Mine Marvel! And Go, Team Cap:

Darkness on the Edge of Town: WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (20th Century Fox 1950)


I recorded WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS way back in June, and haven’t watched it until just recently. It was well worth the wait, for this is one of the finest noirs I’ve seen yet. Director Otto Preminger reunited with the stars of his film LAURA, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, to give us a bleak crime drama that more than holds its own with the best films noir of the era.

Police Detective Mark Dixon (Andrews) is a proto-Dirty Harry cop, a tough SOB not above laying the smackdown on New York City’s criminal element. Another assault charge leads to Mark being demoted by his superiors. Mark’s got a reason for his brutality tactics, though: his father was a criminal, and he’s psychologically compelled to clean up the corruption in his city.


He’s particularly got a hair across his ass about gambling czar Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), who was set up in business by Mark’s father. When a murder occurs at one of Scalise’s floating crap games, Mark wants to pin it on the gangster, but new Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden) warns him not to fly off the handle. Suspect Kenneth Paine (Craig Stevens) is tracked down by Mark, and a scuffle breaks out. Mark kills Paine accidentally, and covers it up by making it look like Paine’s left town. Paine’s ex-wife, model Morgan (Tierney) was also at the crap game, and Mark questions her. Things take a wrong turn when Morgan’s cab driver dad Jiggs (Tom Tully ) winds up implicated for Paine’s death, and now Mark has to prove the old man’s innocence without letting the truth about himself be known.


WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS is a classic example of the “downward spiral” in noir. The web of lies Mark’s spun causes things to rapidly spin out of control. Preminger keeps things moving at a fast clip from a taut screenplay by Ben Hecht. DP Joseph LaShelle’s black & white photography is appropriately stark and as good as his Oscar-winning job on LAURA, as is Louis Loeffler’s editing. Cyril Mockridge’s score set just the right tone.


Andrews and Tierney made a solid screen team, and Merrill is surprisingly good as a gangster type. Besides those previously mentioned, Familiar Faces in the cast are Bert Freed, Ruth Donnelly, Neville Brand, Robert F. Simon, and Harry Von Zell. And Tierney’s then-husband, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, has a bit as (what else?) a fashion designer. WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS may be no LAURA, but it compares favorably to genre titles like THE BIG HEAT and THE KILLERS. It’s an underrated treat noir fans won’t want to miss.

On the Border: BANDOLERO! (20th Century-Fox 1968)


BANDOLERO! was made at an interesting time in the history of Western movies. Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy had begun to exert their influence on American filmmakers (HANG EM HIGH, SHALAKO). Traditional Hollywood Westerns were still being produced (FIRECREEK, 5 CARD STUD), but in a year’s time, Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH would change the Western landscape forever. Andrew V. McLaglen’s BANDOLERO! is more on the traditional side of the fence, though it does exhibit a dash of Spaghetti flavor in its storytelling.

Outlaw Dee Bishop and his gang attempt to rob a bank in Valverde, Texas. The heist is going well until rich Nathan Stone walks in with his beautiful Mexican wife, Maria. Stone tries to break it up, and gets shot for his troubles, thus alerting the attention of Sheriff July Johnson and his deputy, Roscoe. The lawmen successfully catch the gang as they’re leaving the bank. Stone dies, and Dee and his men are now sentenced to hang. By the way, this all happens before the opening credits!


Dee’s brother Mace gets wind of his wayward brother’s plight and, after ambushing the hangman, helps Dee and his crew escape the noose. July forms a posse to track down the Bishop gang. While everyone’s away, Mace finishes what Dee started and robs the bank himself! Dee and his men ambush the posse, and take Maria hostage. The Bishop brothers, with newly widowed Maria in tow, head across the Mexican border, with the posse doggedly pursuing them. To get free, they must cross “territoria bandolero”, a lawless stretch of desert where bloodthirsty bandits rule, men who take pleasure in “killing every gringo they can find”.

The film then essentially becomes a chase through dangerous territory, with the Bishops trying to stay a step ahead of both the posse and the murderous bandits. July’s posse, amateur townsfolk, get picked off one by one, while the gang’s infighting threaten to do them in. The posse finally captures the outlaws in the deserted town of Sabinas, but must free them when the bandoleros attack. This part of the movie echoes RIO BRAVO, with the protagonists trapped surrounded by killers. It was actually shot in Alamo Village, a set built in Brackettville, Texas for another stand-off Western, John Wayne’s THE ALAMO.


Dean Martin and James Stewart star as Dee and Mace Bishop, brothers who fought on opposite sides during the Civil War, and chose paths on opposite sides of the law. Both actors were comfortable in the saddle, Stewart well noted for his 1950’s oaters with director Anthony Mann (WINCHESTER ’73, BEND OF THE RIVER, THE NAKED SPUR), while Dino had worked with both John Wayne (RIO BRAVO, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER) and Robert Mitchum (the aforementioned 5 CARD STUD). Martin’s cavalier attitude contrasts well with Stewart’s laconic, stuttering screen image, and they make a believable pair of brothers.


Raquel Welch is Maria, and she’s a vision of both beauty and strength. I’ve talked before about my life-long obsession with Raquel , and she gets a lot of close-ups here (part of the Leone influence, no doubt). Her Mexican accent is passable, and BANDOLERO! gives her a chance to show off her acting chops rather than just her body. The late George Kennedy plays Sheriff July Johnson, while Andrew Prine (the cult classic SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES) is Deputy Roscoe. If those character names sound vaguely familiar, thank author Larry McMurtry, who appropriated them as the sheriff and deputy who chase an outlaw named Dee in one of my favorite books, LONESOME DOVE.

The supporting cast is a Familiar Face lover’s dream, starting with Will Geer as the mean, ornery outlaw Pop Chaney, a long ways from his role as Grampa on THE WALTONS. The chuck wagon-full of Westerns vets includes (take a deep breath and hold on to your Stetson), Don ‘Red’ Barry , Roy Barcroft, Harry Carey Jr, Pat Crenshaw, Big John Hamilton, Jock Mahoney, Sean McClory, Denver Pyle , Guy Raymond, Clint Ritchie, and the ever-popular Dub Taylor.

Andrew V. McLaglen was the son of Oscar-winner and John Ford stock player Victor McLaglen . Andrew cut his Hollywood teeth as an assistant director, then graduated to directing the B-Western GUN THE MAN DOWN. After spending years as lead director of the TV show HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, McLaglen’s Western features included MCLINTOCK!, THE RARE BREED, SHENENDOAH, CHISUM, CAHILL US MARSHAL, THE LAST HARD MEN, and the TV movie THE SHADOW RIDERS. DP William Clothier was a favorite of both Ford and Wayne, and his camerawork here enhances the picture with great shots of the Texas background. Clothier was a veteran camera operator (he worked on WINGS and KING KONG) who made the leap to DP in the 1950’s. He won two Oscars for his work on Westerns, THE ALAMO and CHEYENNE AUTUMN. Some of his other films were TRACK OF THE CAT, THE HORSE SOLDIERS, THE COMMANCHEROS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB, and his last, THE TRAIN ROBBERS.


James Lee Barrett’s screenplay is both literate and adult in its themes. Maria tells of being a pre-teen whore in Mexico, while Dee is unrepentant in his ways until the very end. Hollywood was changing, and the Western film was changing along with it. That “dash of Spaghetti flavor” I mentioned earlier is in those themes, as well as the use of gore, with people getting brutally hacked to death and onscreen blood (though not nearly as graphic as what’s on screen today). Hollywood Westerns were growing up, and BANDOLERO! serves as a bridge between the West of John Ford and the West of Sergio Leone (and to an extent, Sam Peckinpah).



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