Dark Carnival: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (20th Century Fox, 1947)

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Swashbuckling matinee idol Tyrone Power was cast against type as a self-centered con artist who gets his comeuppance in  1947’s offbeat noir NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Power and director Edmund Goulding teamed the previous year for the hit THE RAZOR’S EDGE, and the star desperately wanted his next movie to be based on the dark novel by William Lindsay Gresham. Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck didn’t like the idea, but since Power was 20th Century-Fox’s biggest star, he agreed to greenlight the film. Turned out Zanuck’s instincts were right: audiences rejected the handsome Power in the role of a heel, and although he received good reviews for his performance, NIGHTMARE ALLEY bombed at the box office. Today it’s regarded as one of the genre’s best, its unique backdrop and theme setting it apart from other noirs of the era.

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Stan Carlisle (Power), the type of guy who could talk a cat off a fish wagon (as my grandmother used to say) loves everything about the carny life. He’s particularly fascinated by ‘The Geek’, who bites the heads off chickens and drinks their blood. Stan  works as the barker for Mlle. Zeena’s mindreading act. Zeena and husband  Pete used to work the big time until she did him wrong and Pete hit the bottle hard. Stan’s got a thing going on with Zeena, and also has the hots for Molly, who does an electric-woman act. Strongman Bruno sees through the slick-talking Stan, and is protective of the young girl.

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Zeena and Pete had a secret code they used to use in their act, but Pete’s too drunk now to be able to pull it off. She’s been weaning Pete off the booze slowly so she can send him for ‘the cure’. Stan sees Pete with a bad case of the shakes, and gives him a bottle of moonshine. But he’s mixed up the bottles, and gives the old lush wood alcohol, causing Pete’s death. Stan uses the opportunity to get Zeena to teach him the code, assisted by Molly. Stan finally seduces Molly, and when the carny folks find out, they force the two to get married. But now that he has both Molly and the code, he leaves the carny for the bright lights of Chicago and bigger and better things.

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The couple begin appearing at a swanky nightclub as mentalist ‘The Great Stanton’, using the code to wow audiences and  become toasts of the town. Psychologist Lilith Ritter catches the act and tries to trip him up, but Stan sees through her ruse  and turns the tables. Lilith is as big a phony as Stan, recording her patient’s sessions without their knowledge. Stan and Lilith use that knowledge to their advantage when Stan reinvents himself as a spiritual medium, bilking rich folks who long to hear from their dear departed dead ones. They set their sights on wealthy Ezra Grindle, coercing Molly into playing his dead love. Molly refuses to go along with the charade at first, telling Stan, “You’re going against God…just laughing your head off at these chumps”. Stan talks her into it, but Molly, upon seeing the elderly Grindle on his knees praying at the sight of her, blows Stan’s cover and runs. Stan knocks Grindle down and, back at their hotel, tells Molly to meet him at the train station.

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Stan goes to Lilith to get his $150,000 and flee town. But the devious psychologist rips him off (giving him a suitcase with bundles of ones), and the master con discovers he’s been conned himself. Returning to Lilith’s abode through the window, she stalls for time while the maid calls the cops. When Lilith threatens to tell the police he’s an unstable patient with wild delusions, Stan realizes he’s beat, and has to take it on the lam. He tells Molly to go back to the carny, while he hits the booze and lives in fleabitten hotels and hobo jungles. Destitute and desperate, Stan becomes a shell of his former self. Stumbling on a carny, he tries to get work, but the boss says there’s no openings for magicians or fortune tellers. There is one position available however, and alcohol soaked Stan becomes what he dreads…the carnival Geek! (“Mister, I was made for it!”‘)

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This being Hollywood, the ending finds Molly at the same carny, and there’s hope for Stan. The book version is apparently much darker, with Stan resigned to his lowly fate. The Geek looms large throughout the film, as we hear his wailing and see him only in longshot, making The Geek all the more enigmatic. Edmund Goulding and DP Lee Garmes create a dark carnival indeed, and the movie reminded me a lot of Tod Browning’s FREAKS in its depiction of carny life. Goulding doesn’t get much recognition as a filmmaker, though he’s responsible for gems like LOVE (1927), GRAND HOTEL (1932), THE DAWN PATROL (1938), and DARK VICTORY (1939), as well as the aforementioned RAZOR’S EDGE. Screenwriter Jules Furthman began in the silent era, and some of his best contributions to cinema were the scripts for two Marlene Dietrich vehicles (SHANGHAI EXPRESS and BLONDE VENUS, both 1932), MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935), Howard Hughes’s then-controversial THE OUTLAW (1943), and the Bogie & Bacall starrers TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946). His last was the John Wayne/Howard Hawks Western RIO BRAVO (1959).

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Tyrone Power shows he’s more than just a pretty face as Stanton Carlisle. Whether he’s telling tales of his early life at an orphanage or pouring on the charm to his latest female conquest, we’re never sure if Stan’s telling the truth or not. Power took a big risk in taking this role, and shows great range as an actor. Coleen Gray never quite made the leap from ingénue to major star, but she’s good in the sympathetic role of Molly. Her credits include KISS OF DEATH, RED RIVER, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (which is on my review list), Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING, and the underrated horror film THE LEECH WOMAN. Joan Blondell (Zeena) needs no introduction to movie fans, having been a star at Warners since the early 30’s. Blondell was one of the screen’s finest character actresses. Helen Walker (Lilith) had a promising career going when a car accident, in which a serviceman was killed, led to her being accused of drunk driving. Her films after that were few and far between. Ian Keith (Pete) is one of those actors you know but can’t quite name, usually in villainous supporting roles. Mike Mazurki (Bruno) however is well known for his long film career. The ex-wrestler played in everything from noirs (MURDER MY SWEET, NIGHT AND THE CITY) to comedies (SOME LIKE IT HOT, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World), to episodes of THE MUNSTERS, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, and THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, to Rod Stewart’s 1984 video “Infatuation”. NIGHTMARE ALLEY gives us a gritty look at the fringes of showbiz, where grifters and carny cons ply their trade, looking to make a quick buck off the rubes. It’s unlike any other noir, there’s no private eyes or femme fatales here, and it’s well worth your time.

Now, just for the hell of it, here’s Rod Stweart’s 1984 dance hit “Infatuation”, featuring Mike Mazurki, the beautiful Kay Lenz, and Jeff Beck on guitar, from the days when MTV actually played MUSIC!:

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 4: B-Movie Roundup!

It’s time once again to make room on the ol’ DVR! Here’s five films that have their moments, but don’t quite make the “full review” cut.

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KING OF THE UNDERWORLD

(Warner Bros 1939, D: Lewis Seiler)

Mediocre entry in Warner’s gangster cycle. Humphrey Bogart had the tough guy hoodlum thing down to a science by this time; here, he plays it mainly for laughs as vain gang boss Joe Gerney. Bogie was definitely on his way up, but co-star Kay Francis (she of the Baba Wawa speech impediment) was on her way down, playing a doctor whose hubby was involved with the gang, now out to prove her own innocence. Plenty of colorful 30’s slang, but not worth wasting your time on. Fun fact: Listen for the scene where Kay calls Bogie “mowonic”!

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GO WEST YOUNG LADY

(Columbia 1941, D: Frank L. Strayer)

Cornball comedy Western starring Penny Singleton (on break from her BLONDIE films) and a very young Glenn Ford. Glenn’s the new sheriff of Headstone sent to rid the town of “Killer Pete”, while Penny’s an Easterner with a knack for trouble. Penny also sings and dances, as does Ann Miller as a saloon girl (the two take part in a great catfight towards the end). Veterans Charlie Ruggles, Allen Jenkins, and Jed Prouty mug it up in supporting roles. Nothing special, but fairly entertaining. Fun Fact: Western Swing band Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys perform their hit “Ida Red”.

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BAYOU

(United Artists 1957, D: Harold Daniels)

Having lived in Louisiana for five years, I dug this sordid little tale of a New York architect (Peter Graves) who falls in love with Cajun Queen Marie (Lita Milan). Eccentric character actor Timothy Carey plays Ulysses, bully of the bayou and rival for Marie’s affections. Carey’s odd shimmying dance has to be seen to be believed! Interesting B with Roger Corman vets Ed Nelson, and Jonathan Haze (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) in small roles. Worth checking out, especially for Carey fans. Fun Fact: Lita Milan was married to ousted Dominican dictator Ramfis Trujillo.

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TWELVE HOURS TO KILL

(20th Century Fox 1960, D; Edward L. Cahn)

This minor crime drama tries hard, as a Greek visitor (Nico Minardos) witnesses a gangland slaying and goes into hiding in a small town, pursued by the killers, a crooked cop, and a dogged detective. Barbara Eden is an attractive love interest, but Cahn’s lazy direction and Jerry Sohl’s rather obvious script do the movie in. Close, but no noir. Fun Fact: Supporting actors Gavin McLeod and Ted Knight reunited ten years later as cast members of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

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WANDA

(independent 1970, D:Barbara Loden)

The gem of this roundup! Actress Barbara Loden wrote and directed this character study about Wanda Goronski, an alcoholic, poverty stricken woman from West Pennsylvania coal country who leaves her husband and kids and hooks up with an abusive petty crook (Michael Higgins). Wanda is uneducated and has no self esteem, just drifts along the backroads of life with no plan, and will definitely hold your interest. Shot on location, this ultra realistic film was Loden’s only directorial effort. Sadly, she died from breast cancer in 1980. If you can only watch one film on this list, make it WANDA. Fun Fact: Loden was the wife of Oscar winning director Elia Kazan.

Now here’s Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys doing “Ida Red”. Take it away, Bob!!

Highway Star: VANISHING POINT (20th Century Fox, 1971)

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VANISHING POINT is one of the best films of the 1970s. Much more than just an extended car chase, the movie explores the eternal struggle between the individual and the system. Though a product of its time, it still resonates as an exploration of the rejection people have for the establishment and the desire for liberty.

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The film starts at the end, as we see the police setting up bulldozers to block the road. News media are arriving, people are gathering in the streets, and helicopters fly overhead. A white Dodge Challenger, driven by a man only known as Kowalski (Barry Newman), is heading straight for the dozers at full speed. He bangs a U-turn, only to have three cop cars coming at him in the other direction. After smashing through a barbed wire fence to avoid the cops, he stops for a moment near some junked cars, then turns back on the road and heads toward the bulldozers….

The movie then switches gears to two days previous. Kowalski drops off a car in Denver and decides to immediately take another one to San Francisco. He stops at a biker bar to cop some speed from his dealer. Telling the dealer he’s going to make it to Frisco by tomorrow at 3:00pm, they make a bet that Kowalski won’t make it. He cruises down the open road at breakneck speed, when two motorcycle cops tell him to pull over. Kowalski runs then both off the road and the chase is on. Blind DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little of BLAZING SADDLES) acts as his eyes and ears, guiding him past the police by monitoring their radio frequency. When some local yokels crash Super Soul’s station, beating up the DJ and his engineer (John Amos), Kowalski discovers he’s truly on his own, as police in three states try to hunt him down.

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We learn Kowalski’s background through a series of flashbacks. He’s a Vietnam veteran (and Medal of Honor winner) who became a cop. Discharged form the force on trumped up charges, he raced motocross and stock cars. His girlfriend (Victoria Medlin) died in a surfing accident, and Kowalski dropped out of society altogether, trying to outrun life itself by swallowing copious amounts of speed and delivering cars at a fast pace. He’s always on the move, restless, dissatisfied with the world as he knows it. Kowalski represents the last of the rugged individualists, a free spirit who’s decided to create his own world unencumbered by the restraints of establishment standards.

There are short vignettes through the picture highlighting Kowalski’s brief encounters with other humans. While driving through the desert to elude the cops, he gets a flat tire. A rattlesnake threatens him, but an old man (veteran actor Dean Jagger) appears and captures the snake, putting it in his basket with others. He’s also a societal dropout, trading the snakes for coffee and beans. The old timer helps Kowalski hide from police helicopters under some tumbleweeds, then takes him to some hippie “Jesus freaks” (led by character actor Severn Darden) to get some gas. The old man has what Kowalski longs for…total freedom from the world at large. But Kowalski always has to keep moving, unwilling to put roots down in one place.

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A biker named Angel (Timothy Scott) passes him on the highway, giving him the thumbs up. Kowalski is now a media sensation, thanks to Super Soul and the public’s hunger for sensationalism. Angel invites Kowalski to his shack and gives him more speed, when they hear Super Soul broadcasting the only way out is through Sonora. But the DJ’s voice sounds “mechanical, square” according to Angel’s completely nude (and uninhibited) girlfriend (Gilda Texter). Angel heads down the highway to check. Sure enough, there’s a roadblock waiting for Kowalski, so Angel devises a way for the Challenger to get through. Kowalski continues to the California border, as we see scenes of the ultra-efficient California Highway Patrol machine determined to stop him. The film circles back to the beginning now, as Kowalski heads towards the bulldozers. Putting the pedal to the metal, he rams head-on into them, going out his own way in a final, defiant blaze of glory.

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Director Richard C. Sarafian made some good movies (this one, MAN IN THE WILDERNESS, THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING) and some clunkers (SUNBURN, STREET JUSTICE, SOLAR CRISIS). VANISHING POINT is his best, from a script by Guillermo Cain. The beautiful Western scenery was shot by cinematographer John A. Alonzo, who cut his teeth on documentaries, then went on to lens Roger Corman’s BLOODY MAMA, HAROLD AND MAUDE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, CHINATOWN (Osacr nominated), FAREWELL MY LOVELY, and SCARFACE. Editor Stefan Arnsten got his start with Hugo Haas (HIT AND RUN), then did mostly television; his film credits include HARPER and KID BLUE.

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The soundtrack features Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (who also appear as the Jesus freak’s hippie band), Mountain (doing their classic “Mississippi Queen”), Big Mama Thornton, Jerry Reed, Kim Carnes, and the Doug Dillard Expedition. VANSHING POINT was an influential film, inspiring Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. The movie’s iconic ending was paid tribute in the series finale of SONS OF ANARCHY. I first saw it at the drive-in, and wanted a Dodge Challenger bad (I still do)! And I still want that elusive freedom sought by Kowalski, still elusive to many in this uptighter than ever world.

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 3: Those Swingin’ Sixties!

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The 1960s were turbulent times, and nowhere was that more evident than in the decade’s pop culture. Hair was longer, skirts were shorter, music was louder, and The Silent Majority was pissed! Rock and roll, superspies, and sexual swingers ruled the screen. Here are five short looks at five films from The Swingin’ Sixties:

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VIVA LAS VEGAS! (MGM 1964; director George Sidney)

Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret sing and dance their way through this romp set in America’s gambling capital. Elvis is a race car driver, Ann’s an aspiring singer, and Cesare Danova plays Elvis’s rival on the race track and in Ann’s heart. Veteran musical director Sidney helps make this one of Presley’s better vehicles. Lightweight fluff for sure, but damn entertaining! Fun Fact: Danova was MGM’s first choice to play the title role in their 1959 epic BEN-HUR.

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WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT? (United Artists 1965; director Clive Donner)

Peter Sellers is a lecherous German psychiatrist, Peter O’Toole a fashion magazine editor who’s irresistible to women, and Romy Schneider is the one girl O’Toole’s in love with in this zany sex farce written by Woody Allen. Woody also makes his screen debut as O’Toole’s pal who also loves Romy. Woody’s his usual neurotic self, and his screenplay skewers his usual targets (relationships, sexual mores, therapy). Still fresh and funny, with songs by Dionne Warwick, Manfred Mann, and that great Tom Jones title tune. Fun Fact: Watch for Richard Burton in a quick cameo at a strip club!

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MODESTY BLAISE (20th Century-Fox 1966; director Joseph Losey)

A colorful but minor spy spoof based on the British comic strip. Thief turned adventuress Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti) and her partner Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp) are hired by the British Crown to stop a diamond heist by archvillain Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde). Rossella Falk and Clive Reville add to the fun as Gabriel’s criminal cohorts. Campy piece of pop art from overrated director Losey. Bogarde does make a marvelous bad guy, though. Fun Fact: One of only two English speaking films for Italian icon Vitti (the other being 1979’s AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR)

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IN LIKE FLINT (20th Century-Fox 1967; director Gordon Douglas)

More spy camp with supercool James Coburn as superspy Derek Flint. This sequel to OUR MAN FLINT finds our hero battling an organization of females bent on world domination. Lee J. Cobb is back as Lloyd Kramden, head of intelligence agency ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage), and a chance to see him in a comedic role…not to mention in drag! Full of gadgets, girls, and improbable situations, IN LIKE FLINT is okay, but not as good as its predecessor. Fun Fact: The late Yvonne (Batgirl) Craig has a small role as a Russian ballerina/spy.

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THE SWEET RIDE (20th Century-Fox 1968; director Harvey Hart)

THE SWEET RIDE tries to be too many things – a surf movie, a biker flick, a mystery, a love story, a comedy – and fails on all counts. I liked it when I first saw it years ago, but on rewatching, it just didn’t click with me. It does have some good points: Jacqueline Bisset’s hot, Bob Denver’s pretty cool, and psychedelic rockers Moby Grape make an appearance. But Tony Franciosa is just annoying in his role as an overaged tennis bum, and the rest of the cast is so-so, except for the great character actor Charles Dierkop as biker ‘Mr. Clean’. Fun Fact: Dierkop also played the Killer Santa in the exploitation classic SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT.

Now here’s a link to  the bombastic Tom Jones singing his hit, the theme from WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?:

https://youtu.be/VBdSqk78nHw

More in the series:

  1. Cleaning Out The DVR Pt 1
  2. Cleaning Out The DVR Pt 2

Little Girl Lost: Marilyn Monroe in DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK (20th Century Fox, 1952)

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Marilyn Monroe’s status as America’s #1 Sex Symbol saw her cast in lots of light, fluffy roles during the course of her career. But when given the chance, she proved she was more than just another pretty face. Marilyn’s acting chops shine like a crazy diamond in the 1952 film noir DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK.

Marilyn plays Nell Forbes, a young woman new to New York. She’s obtained a babysitting job through her uncle, an elevator operator at a ritzy hotel. Nell’s an attractive woman, but right from the start we can tell there’s something slightly off about her. She seems haunted, her voice and mannerisms have a wounded quality. After putting her little charge Bunny to bed, Nell begins trying on the mother’s jewelry and kimono. She goes to the window when she hears a plane fly by, strangely attracted to the sound.

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In the hotel lounge, singer Lyn Leslie has broke off her relationship with pilot Jed Towers. Lyn wants more than Jed’s willing to give. Jed is a commitaphobe, the kind of guy who wants to have his cake and eat it, too. She calls him cold and callous, and she’s right. Jed’s a humorless, uptight male, and a bit of a prick. He goes to his room to drink alone, when he spies Nell across the way. Feeling frisky, Jed calls the room and strikes up a conversation, finally wrangling an invitation from her. As Nell applies lipstick, we see the scars on her wrists from an apparent suicide attempt. Jed goes over, and Nell tries to act sophisticated. She becomes infatuated when he tells her he’s a pilot. Bunny wakes up ,and Nell’s ruse is spoiled.

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Things go steadily downhill, as Jed leaves, and Nell becomes more and more unhinged. Her boyfriend had been a pilot that was killed on a flight to Hawaii. The suicide attempt led her to three years in an institution, and we discover she’s only recently been released. Nell’s tenuous hold on reality comes crashing down after Jed rebuffs her, and the film kicks into high gear as Nell sinks deeper and deeper into her madness.

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I won’t spoil the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it. Instead, I’ll just tell you Marilyn Monroe is outstanding as Nell. Her vulnerable qualities at the film’s beginning give way to a creepy yet heartbreaking performance that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. Nell is in turn clingy, violent, a practiced liar, and ultimately pitiable. Her loose grip on reality, coupled with her obvious bipolar traits, make Nell a danger to both herself and those around her. It’s a bravura showcase for Marilyn, one she rarely got, and she takes the ball and runs with it as the tragic Nell.

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Richard Widmark (The Swarm) is unlikable at first as Jed, but softens during the events of the movie. It’s a tricky role, but Widmark pulls it off. His ex-girlfriend Lyn is played by Anne Bancroft in her film debut. Elisha Cook Jr (Born to Kill, Blacula) is back in noir territory as Nell’s Uncle Eddie, giving another fine performance. The supporting cast features Jim Backus, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton, Don Beddoe (The Face Behind The Mask), and Donna Corcoran as Bunny. British director Roy Ward Baker is better known for his Hammer horrors (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, SCARS OF DRACULA, DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE) than film noir, but does a good job leading the cast through a solid script by David Taradash (Oscar winner for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), based on the novel Mischief  by mystery writer Charlotte Armstrong.

But it’s Marilyn Monroe’s show all the way. DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK is, along with 1953’s NIAGRA and 1960’s THE MISFITS, a chance to see her in a rare dramatic role. As much as I love her in musicals and comedies, I admire her even more in films that show her depth as an artist. It’s no wonder that, over fifty years after her untimely death, Marilyn is still popular from one generation to the next. She was THAT talented, and DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK is a must-see for fans of both her and the film noir genre.

But Could He Act?: Elvis Presley in FLAMING STAR (20th Century Fox, 1960)

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Elvis Presley left this Earthly building on August 16, 1977. The King was undoubtably one of the greatest entertainers of his (or any) generation. He brought rock’n’roll into the mainstream, recorded country and gospel albums, and his stage shows were legendary. The movies, however, were another story. Critics complained about him being a ‘one-note’ actor in a series of formulaic musicals. But Elvis’s early films tell another story. Case in point: the 1960 Western drama FLAMING STAR.

Directed by Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, DIRTY HARRY, THE SHOOTIST), Elvis gives a well-rounded performance as Pacer Burton, a half-breed youth caught in the middle of a war between white settlers and Kiowas in 1878 Texas. Pacer’s father Sam (John McIntire) is white, his mother Neddy (Dolores Del Rio) Kiowa. He has a half-brother, Clint (Steve Forrest), who chooses family over factions. When the neighboring Howard clan is attacked by a Kiowa war party led by bloodthirsty new chief Buffalo Horn (in a pretty violent for its time scene), the local townsfolk shun the Burtons. Buffalo Horn wants Pacer to renounce his white heritage and join with the Kiowas, but the youngster refuses. Neddy and Pacer go to the Indian camp to talk with their relatives, but they’re shunned by the tribe as well.

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When the two are escorted back to their ranch by Pacer’s friend Two Moons, they’re ambushed by the lone Howard survivor, who kills Two Moons and mortally wounds Neddy. The brothers race to town to get a doctor. The townsfolk refuse to help until Pacer grabs the doctor’s little girl and forces the doctor to accompany them. But they arrive too late, as Neddy sees “the flaming star of death”, and wanders outside to die, where she’s found by her husband in a heart wrenching scene well-played by veterans Del Rio and McIntire.

Pacer blames the doctor for wasting time back at town and goes after him with a knife. Clint restrains him, but the headstrong Pacer has had enough. Tired of dealing with white prejudice, he leaves to join the Kiowa, bring the body of Two Moons with him. Pa Burton is killed by marauding Indians, and Clint goes after them alone. He kills Buffalo Horn, but gets shot by arrows. Brother Pacer saves him, hiding him under a tree, and draws the Kiowa away. He ties Clint to a horse and sends him to the white town while vowing to fight the Kiowa alone at their ranch. Later we see Pacer ride into town, bloodied, shot, dying. He too has seen “the flaming star of death”, but wanted to see his brother one last time before going to the hills to die.

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Director Siegel was noted for his violent action movies, and FLAMING STAR doesn’t disappoint. Siegel, who guided young Clint Eastwood early in his career, gets a good performance out of Presley. Elvis shows a wide range of emotion as the conflicted half-breed torn between the whites and the Kiowas. The rawness of his reaction to the death of his mother was probably real, as Elvis’s own mother Gladys had died just two years previous to the making of this movie.

Given a sure-handed director like Siegel, a well written screenplay (by Nunnally Johnson  and Clair Huffaker), and surrounded with seasoned pros like Del Rio, McIntire, and the rest of the cast (Forrest, Barbara Eden, Richard Jaeckel, Rodolpho Acosta), Elvis proves he had what it takes to be a fine dramatic actor. In films like this,KING CREOLE, and WILD IN THE COUNTRY, Elvis more than holds his own in the thespic department. It was only later, in fluff like PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE and SPEEDWAY, that The King chose to sleepwalk through his roles. Can you blame him? He must have been bored to death with the lame scripts. It was rumored Presley was up for the part of Joe Buck in 1969’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY, but it was nixed by his manager, the carny con man Col. Tom Parker. That’s a shame, because Elvis could’ve done so much more with his film career. At least we’re left with his terrific showing in FLAMING STAR and a handful of others.

Long Live The King!!

Beach Blanket Bummers: SURF PARTY and WILD ON THE BEACH

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American International Pictures created a whole new film genre with the release of BEACH PARTY (1964). The formula was simple: take a group of attractive youngsters and put them on a beach with plenty of sand, surfing, and singing. Add in some romance and comedy. Sprinkle with veteran character actors and the latest pop idols and voila! Hollywood took notice of AIP’s success and studios big and small grabbed their surfboards trying to ride the box-office waves. 20th Century Fox was the first to jump on the hodad-wagon with SURF PARTY (1964), followed quickly by WILD ON THE BEACH (1965).

Continue reading “Beach Blanket Bummers: SURF PARTY and WILD ON THE BEACH”

An Oddball Bit of Americana: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? (1945)

fred     I’d never heard of this musical fantasy until running  across it while scrolling through channels looking for movies to review. The premise caught my attention and I decided to DVR it and take a look. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? is definitely dated, with it’s World War 2 slang and constant references to Brooklyn, but is charming enough to merit at least a look.

Continue reading “An Oddball Bit of Americana: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? (1945)”