Happy Birthday Frank Sinatra: SUDDENLY (United Artists 1954)

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board certainly had a long and varied career, beginning as a bobby-sox teen idol in the Big Band Era, then a movie star at glamorous MGM.  Hitting a slump in the early 50s, Sinatra came back strong with his Academy Award winning role as Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. His follow up film was the unheralded but effective noir thriller SUDDENLY.

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The title refers to the sleepy little California town where the film takes place. Suddenly was once a wild and wooly Gold Rush settlement, now just a peaceful suburb. Sheriff Todd Shaw (Sterling Hayden) is a stand-up guy, in love with local girl Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), a war widow with a son, Pidge (Kim Charney). Ellen’s not ready to stop grieving her husband’s death, and to further matters she abhors guns. Her father-in-law Pop (James Gleason), a retired Secret Service agent, gets exasperated at the way Ellen overprotects Pidge and keeps turning Todd away.

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Todd receives some major news through the wires: The President of the United States will be arriving by train at 5:00pm for a stopover. The news is top secret, and Secret Service agents, led by Carney (Willis Bouchey), descend on Suddenly to secure the area. State police are summoned, streets blocked off, and shops are closed so the disembarkment will go off without a hitch. Three men arrive at the Benson home, which sits on a hill overlooking the train depot. John Baron (Sinatra) and two others (Paul Frees, Christopher Dark) claim to be FBI agents sent to protect the president. They set up shop at the Benson house, but Pop has some suspicions about the whole thing.

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Everything’s been secured except the house on the hill. When Carney finds out his old boss Pop Benson lives there, he goes up with Todd to say hello. They’re met at the door by Baron and his men, who gun down Carney and wound Todd. The truth is now revealed: Baron is a hit man assigned to assassinate the president! Todd and the Bensons are held captive while they wait for the train to arrive so ex-Army sniper and Silver Star winner Baron can do the dirty deed. Baron exerts his will over them all by threatening to kill Pidge first if anyone tries to stop him from his murderous task.

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The tension is unrelenting in SUDDENLY, and the ingenious ending will have you cheering the good guys on (I know I did). The role of John Baron is a total departure for Sinatra, and he pulls it off superbly. Baron is cool, calm, and collected one minute, a raging psycho the next. He’s completely lacking in empathy, his motto is “ace, deuce, craps, it don’t matter”. The only thing Baron’s ever been good at is killing, and he enjoys the power it gives him. A sociopath with no redeeming qualities, Baron brags about his kill rate in the war, and doesn’t hesitate to use violence to get his way. Sinatra nails the role of Baron like he did his many songs, and though he’s a real rat, it’s among his finest performances.

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Director Lewis Allen does a good job here. Allen made his feature debut with 1944’s ghostly THE UNINVITED, followed by a semi-sequel, THE UNSEEN. After making the 1951 bomb of a biopic VALENTINO, his career was up and down. SUDDENLY gives Allen a good showcase, but the rest of his filmography is uninspired. He ended in TV, including episodes of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE and THE INVADERS. Screenwriter Richard Sale got his start in the pulps, and wrote such varied film fare as MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE, GENTLEMEN MARRY BRUNETTES (which he also directed), and the Charles Bronson starrer THE WHITE BUFFALO. His screenplay for SUDDENLY seems to have inspired another Sinatra film, 1962’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, with Frank as the hero and Lawrence Harvey the psycho-shooter. SUDDENLY was allegedly remade in 2013 by Uwe Boll. I’ve never seen any of Boll’s films and from what I understand, I’m not missing anything. I’ll stick to the original with this one.

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Frank Sinatra was always a saloon singer at heart, and my contribution to his 100th birthday bash wouldn’t be complete without a song. Here’s Ol’ Blue Eyes at his mid-60s peak doing one of my personal favorites. “That’s Life”. Cheers, Frankie!

 

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ALIEN Ancestor: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (United Artists 1958)

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Col. Edward Carruthers is the sole survivor of man’s first Mars expedition, the remainder of the crew brutally slaughtered. A second ship is sent to return Carruthers to Earth to be court-martialed for the murders. Unbeknownst to the crew, a bloodthirsty space alien has infiltrated their ship. When members of the crew begin to get picked off, they realize Carruthers is telling the truth. Now they’re trapped in space with the creature and nowhere to run. Bullets can’t stop IT! Grenades can’t stop IT! Gas can’t stop IT! Can anything stop IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE?

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Grab yourselves some popcorn, Raisonettes, and a soft drink for this one, the quintessential 50s Sci-Fi Drive-In movie. It’s a well done B picture that doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, and probably the best film director Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders) ever did. The cast is solid but relatively unknown except for star Marshall Thompson (TV’s DAKTARI) and character actor Dabbs Greer. The screenplay by Jerome Bixby may seem familiar, as it’s said to have been the “inspiration” for the 1979 hit ALIEN. Bixby was mainly a sci-fi short story writer whose “It’s A Good Life” was adapted into the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode starring Billy (LOST IN SPACE) Mumy. He also wrote the story for the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and four STAR TREK episodes, including the doppleganger episode “Mirror, Mirror”. Special mention should be made to Oscar nominated art director William Glasgow (HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) for his contribution to this movie.

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IT itself was actor/stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan, in his last role. Corrigan starred in serials and B-Westerns like the Three Mesquiteers (with young John Wayne) and Range Busters series, but was also one of Hollywood’s greatest gorilla guys. Corrigan and his ape suit were in demand for pictures like the original TARZAN THE APE MAN, serial FLASH GORDON, THE APE (with Boris Karloff), Universal’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, and that all-time clunker Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Crash also owned a ranch called Corriganville which was used in many B-Westerns of the era.

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The alien creature was designed by the one-and-only Paul Blaisdell, responsible for many of those 50s “rubber suited” monsters we all know and love. Blaisdell worked extensively with Roger Corman on B-movies like THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, THE SHE CREATURE, NOT OF THIS EARTH, and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. He occasionally played the monsters himself, and his creations are some of the most iconic in sci-fi filmdom:

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IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE is a fun movie for sci-fi fans, and while no classic, is suspenseful enough to hold your interest. It’s not big on science, but is fantastic fiction that’s still enjoyable to watch today, a fine example of low-budget, low-tech moviemaking magic.

Strange New World: George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (MGM 1960)

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George Pal (1908-1980) made movies full of wonder and imagination. The Hungarian born Pal got his start in film by creating “Puppetoons”, stop-motion animated shorts that delighted audiences in the 1930s and 40s (my personal favorites are JOHN HENRY and TUBBY THE TUBA). Some of these featured the character Jasper, a stereotyped black child always getting in some sort of trouble. Pal saw Jasper as closer in spirit to Huckleberry Finn than Stepin Fetchit, but by 1949 he  abandoned the “Puppetoons” altogether to concentrate on producing features, beginning with THE GREAT RUPERT, a Christmas fantasy starring Jimmy Durante. Pal produced a string of sci-fi hits in the early 50s (DESTINATION MOON, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE), and began directing his films with 1958’s “tom thumb”. Having had his biggest success with the H.G. Wells adaptation WAR OF THE WORLDS, Pal produced and directed another Wells classic, the sci-fi/fantasy masterpiece THE TIME MACHINE.

Four men have gathered at George Wells’ house in London to meet for dinner, but the host is late. His housekeeper Mrs. Watchett hasn’t seen him in five days, but soon George comes bursting in, looking extremely disheveled. The four friends are startled as George relates what happened to him since they last met on New Year’s Eve 1899…

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On that day, George tried explaining his theory of travelling through the Fourth Dimension, through time itself. He demonstrated using a model of a Time Machine, which vanishes before their very eyes! The men are skeptical, believing it to be some magician’s trick, but George is adamant about his theory. When they depart, he goes into his workshop, where sits a full-sized machine. George begins experimenting, slowly at first, and stops in 1917, where he meets friend Filby’s son, who says his dad was killed in WWI. Going forward, he lands in 1940, at the height of the Nazi blitzkrieg. He travels to 1966, and lands in the midst of a nuclear holocaust. George then hits the full throttle, and crash lands in the strange new world of year 802,701.

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George is amazed by the lush paradise, with “natural splendor beyond compare”. Soon he discovers other humans, all very blonde and very young. One of them, a stunning young girl, is drowning in a nearby river, while the rest still by idly. George jumps in and rescues her, and finds out her name is Weena, and they are called the Eloi. It seems the Eloi have no government, no laws, and no motivation to do anything but lounge around all day (the original slacker generation!!). But all is not what it seems, as George finds out the Eloi are controlled by a fearsome underground race called the Morlocks. These brutish, blue skinned mutants breed the Eloi like cattle, then when they’re matured lure them into their cavern to become dinner for the cannibalistic Morlocks. The Morlocks have also stolen George’s Time Machine, and now he’s trapped in a world he never made!

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Australian actor Rod Taylor had his first leading role as George, and became a star because of it. Taylor would go on to headline Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, then went on to a series of action films like DARK OF THE SUN, THE HELL WITH HEROES, DARKER THAN AMBER, THE TRAIN ROBBERS (with John Wayne), and THE DEADLY TRACKERS. Taylor’s last film appearance before his death in January 2015 was as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Costar Yvette Mimieux was only 18 when she made THE TIME MACHINE. The pretty young star was featured in WHERE THE BOYS ARE, TOYS IN THE ATTIC, and PICASSO SUMMER. Never a big star, Mimieux is remembered for the 70s exploitation drama JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, and TV movie HIT LADY, which she wrote. Alan Young, who plays Filby and his son, is known to baby boomers as Wilbur Post, owner of TV’s talking horse MR. ED, and to a later generation as the voice of Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Sebastian Cabot, Whit Bissell, and Doris Lloyd also offer strong support.

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The special effects by Gene Warren and Wah Chang won the Oscar that year, though they’re a bit crude today. William Tuttle’s makeup on the Morlocks, based on Pal’s design, is quite a fright to behold, with their long fangs, blue skin, and glowing eyes. The wonderfully dramatic score by Russell Green is one of the best in all of sci-fi. George Pal’s  THE TIME MACHINE is a sci-fi/fantasy treat guaranteed to please even the most jaded viewer, packed with adventure, humor, and enchantment, and it’s a must-see for kids of all ages.

 

 

 

 

Hunger Games: Charlton Heston in SOYLENT GREEN (MGM 1973)

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Oscar winning actor Charlton Heston (BEN-HUR) ventured into the realm of dystopian science-fiction in the late 60s/early 70s with a quartet of films. He starred in the 1968 blockbuster PLANET OF THE APES and its 1970 sequel BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, then a 1971 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND titled THE OMEGA MAN. The last of these was 1973’s SOYLENT GREEN, a grim look at an overpopulated, polluted future world (set in 2020!) where food is scarce, the climate has changed dramatically, and the rich minority controls everything. (Geez, sound familiar?)

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Heston plays NYC Police Detective Thorn, investigating the murder of powerful, rich industrialist William Simonson (Joseph Cotten in a cameo), who lives in Central Park West, a complex for wealthy males that comes complete with a woman as part of the “furniture” (Leigh Taylor-Young). The killing looks like a robbery attempt gone bad, but Thorn suspects foul play, and has his eye on Simonson’s bodyguard Tab (a rather paunchy Chuck “THE RIFLEMAN” Connors).

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Thorn is assisted by his roommate, the elderly crime book researcher Sol Roth. Edward G. Robinson is Sol, in what was his last film role. Robinson was Hollywood’s OG, having starred in 1931’s LITTLE CAESAR, the movie that kicked off the gangster cycle. His acting chops hadn’t diminished one bit, and Robinson gives us a touching swan song as a man who longs for the days when the world was livable, showing his disgust at the “tasteless, odorless crud” the Soylent Corporation manufactures to feed the masses. The scene where Thorn brings home some plundered “real food” (beef, apples, and a bottle of bourbon) is priceless as we watch the old man’s spirit lift savoring the meal.

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The powers that be put the kibosh on Thorn’s investigation, having him reassigned to “riot duty”, riding herd over the rabble as Soylent Green is put up for rationing. An assassin tries to gun him down, meeting a gruesome death under one of the front-end loaders used to control the rowdy peasants. Thorn keeps digging into the murder despite pressure from his boss (Brock Peters), as does Sol. The elderly former professor goes to The Exchange, bringing along the reference books Thorn obtained from the Soylent Oceanographic Survey. They come to a grim conclusion, and Sol cannot bear to live with the truth. He checks into Home, an assisted death facility, and Thorn arrives just before Sol expires. Sol shares the horrible secret of Soylent Green, begging Thorn to prove it to the world. The death scene is poignant, as Sol drinks from a poisoned cup, then lays down while bathed in orange light, images of nature before him, classical music gently taking him away. Edward G. Robinson, an actor’s actor to the last, died of terminal cancer twelve days after filming this scene.

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I’m about to SPOIL THE ENDING so if you haven’t seen SOYLENT GREEN, keep scrolling. Most of you film fans out there already know, and even those who’ve never seen the movie have heard people imitating Heston’s famous last words: “It’s people…Soylent Green is people!” I’m a huge admirer of Heston, not just for his many great performances, but for always staying true to himself. Charlton Heston was King of the Epics (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY), starred in Orson Welles’ classic noir TOUCH OF EVIL, and made great Westerns like WILL PENNY and THE MOUNTAIN MEN. A liberal politically early in his life, Heston campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, marched with Martin Luther King, and was president of his union, The Screen Actor’s Guild. When he felt the Democratic Party had abandoned their principles, Heston switched to the Republicans, supporting his old friend Ronald Reagan. He served as president of the NRA, making that famous speech about taking our guns away “when you pry them from my cold, dead hands”. It’s not hip to be Heston fan nowadays, but I don’t really care. He served his country in WW2, and stood up proudly for his convictions. Besides, any actor who can do Shakespeare and share a stage with Dame Edna Everage can’t be all bad. Charlton Heston, American icon, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in 2008.

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Other cast members include Whit Bissell, Paula Kelly, Dick Van Patten, and Celia Lovsky. Miss Lovsky was once married to Peter Lorre, and as an actress is perhaps best known to sci-fi fans as Vulcan leader T’Pau in the “Amok Time” episode of STAR TREK. Director Richard Fleischer, son of animation pioneer Max (Popeye, Betty Boop), had an uneven career, batting slightly over .500, with more hits (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, THE BOSTON STRANGLER) than misses (1967’S DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, the abominable MANDINGO, 1980’S THE JAZZ SINGER with Neil Diamond). SOYLENT GREEN is solidly in the hit column, with themes that are still relevant today, and a wonderful farewell performance from Edward G. Robinson.

It’s Meet and Greet Weekend @ Dream Big!! 12/4

Danny’s Meet and Greet Weekend is back!

Dream Big, Dream Often

4It’s Meet and Greet Weekend at Dream Big!!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!  So don’t be selfish, hit the reblog button.
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags (i.e. reblogging, reblog, meet n greet, link party, etc.), it helps, trust me on this one.
  4. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new bloggers to follow.  This helps also, trust me.

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and meet n greet your butts off!

See ya Monday!

Danny

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Keep Watching The Skies!: THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (RKO 1951)

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UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) were making headlines during the late 1940s/early 1950s. The sightings of UFOs in 1947 near Mt.Rainier, Washington, and Roswell, New Mexico brought about a government investigation called Project Sign, later replaced by Project Blue Book. Reports of “flying saucers” were coming in from around the globe, and no answers were in sight. Citizen’s nerves were already frazzled with the threats of “The Red Menace” and potential nuclear holocaust,  and the possibility of an invasion from outer space just added to the collective existential angst.

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Hollywood discarded its Old World horrors of Vampires, werewolves, and mummies and boarded the science fiction rocket ship. By 1951 a slew of space invaders was unleashed on box offices across the nation. That year alone studios released features THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, FLIGHT TO MARS, SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN, The Man from Planet X , and the serials LOST PLANET AIRMEN and CAPTAIN VIDEO: MASTER OF THE STRATSOSPHERE. But the film that stands out as most frightening is Howard Hawks’ production of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

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At an Air Force outpost in Alaska, Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew are sent to investigate a report by Polar Expedition 6 of a mysterious craft landing 48 miles east of their encampment. They fly out to the frigid wasteland, nothing but snow and cold for miles around them and, accompanied by lead scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwait) and his fellow researchers, find a large object embedded in the ice. It’s metal is of unknown origin, radioactivity emits from it, and it’s perfectly round shape lead them to one conclusion…they’ve stumbled upon a flying saucer. Their attempt to thaw it out using a thermite bomb destroys the ship, but not it’s occupant, an eight-foot humanoid encased in ice. The crew bring the body back to examine and discover it’s still alive.

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‘The Thing’ escapes after being thawed, killing some sled dogs but losing an arm in the process. The scientists run tests and believe it’s a highly evolved species of vegetable, with the intelligence of a human. The arm on the examination table moves, and the scientists conclude ‘The Thing’ has fed on the dog’s blood, rejuvenating it. Carrington and his cohorts want to capture and communicate with it, but Hendry and his men seek to destroy it. When the alien visitor kills two scientists, hanging them upside down to drain their blood for nourishment, all but Carrington agree ‘The Thing’ must be stopped for the sake of humankind.

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The ensemble cast isn’t made up of stars, just competent actors who give fine, realistic performances despite the fantastic nature of the script by Charles Lederer (based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by sci-fi author John W. Campbell). Tobey is perhaps the best known, gaining some fame in the syndicated 50s TV show THE WHIRLYBIRDS. Margaret Sheridan represents the love interest as Nikki. Her brief film career includes playing Mike Hammer’s secretary Velda in 1953’s I, THE JURY. Other familiar faces are Dewey Martin, Eduard Franz, Ben Frommer, George Fenneman (Groucho’s sidekick on YOU BET YOUR LIFE), and voice actor Paul Frees in a rare onscreen role. And we can’t forget about ‘The Thing’ himself. If you’re reading this, you probably know it’s James Arness, brother of Peter Graves, and star of the long-running TV Western GUNSMOKE. Yep pardner, that’s Marshall Matt Dillon himself playing the bloodthirsty alien under all that makeup in one of his earliest roles.

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Christian Nyby is credited as THE THING’s director, but rumors abound that Hawks really called the shots. It’s never been proven or disproven, but there are so many Hawksian  touches in the film it’s hard to believe he didn’t direct it. Nyby was editor on four Hawks films before taking this assignment. All I can say is Howard Hawks was one of the most distinguished directors in Hollywood, responsible for classics like SCARFACE, BRINGING UP BABY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, SERGEANT YORK, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, THE BIG SLEEP, and RIO BRAVO (which has a lot in common with THE THING). Christian Nyby had a mostly undistinguished career as a television director, with only four other features to his credit. I have my opinion; you can watch and judge for yourself.

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TEH THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD inspired a remake in 1982 by John Carpenter, an admitted devotee of Hawks. The remake is excellent, but I prefer the original. The black and white cinematography by Russell Harlen makes the frozen North seem so much colder, adding to the feeling of isolation and fear. It’s a true classic of sci-fi, and movies in general. And remember, “Keep watching the skies!”