A Public Service Announcement

That mysterious respiratory ailment I had a couple weeks ago is back with a vengeance, with my fever spiking at times to 102. In order to beat this thing once and for all, I’ll be taking a (hopefully very brief) hiatus from the blog and it’s Facebook page. While I’m gone, feel free to scroll around the site – with 762 posts to choose from, I’m sure there’s something that’ll grab your interest!  –  Gary Loggins

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Remembering Cheyenne: RIP Clint Walker

At six-foot-six, Clint Walker certainly rode tall in the saddle. The actor, who died yesterday at age 90, was television’s first cowboy hero developed for the medium, and his popularity opened the floodgates for a slew of TV Westerns to follow. Walker also fared well on the big screen, and while not in the same stratosphere of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, his movie career deserves a second look.

As Cheyenne Bodie (1955-63)

Born in Illinois in 1927, the seventeen year old Norman Walker joined the Merchant Marines for a spell, then worked a series of blue-collar jobs before being discovered by talent agent Henry Willson, who got him a small part in the 1954 Bowery Boys comedy JUNGLE GENTS, playing an ersatz Tarzan. Bit parts followed, until his burly presence and rugged good looks landed him the lead in a new TV series called CHEYENNE. Cheyenne Bodie was television’s first original Western character, raised by the Cheyenne tribe until the age of 18, when he struck out on his own, wandering the  West in search of adventure. The series was part of WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS, a rotating show featuring three different series (including a TV version of CASABLANCA – blasphemy!!). The sagebrush saga proved the most popular of the trio, and CHEYENNE was a huge hit. But by 1958, Walker had grown tired of the role, and went on strike for better pay. Ty Hardin stepped in as Bronco Layne, a character similar to Cheyenne, and when Walker returned BRONCO was added to the rotation, along with Will Hutchins in SUGARFOOT.

Clint with Edd Byrnes in “Yellowstone Kelly” (1959)

After his strike, Walker was allowed to star in some Western films for Warners, all directed by veteran Gordon Douglas , with two written by Burt Kennedy . The first, 1958’s FORT DOBBS, is a minor effort, but the next is a personal favorite. Originally written by Kennedy as a John Wayne outing to be directed by John Ford, 1959’s YELLOWSTONE KELLY casts Walker as a fur trapper who helps avert a war between the Sioux and the Cavalry. Along for the ride are Familiar TV Faces Edd Byrnes (77 SUNSET STRIP) and John Russell (LAWMAN), Ray Danton, Claude Akins, and making his film debut, Warren Oates. While no classic in the Wayne/Ford mold, it will satisfy any Western buffs. The third Walker/Douglas film, 1961’s GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS, finds Clint teamed with Roger Moore in a tale of gold and greed.

On the golf course with Tony Randall, Rock Hudson, and Doris Day in “Send Me No Flowers” (1964)

Walker showed off his comedy talents in 1964’s SEND ME NO FLOWERS, with hypochondriac Rock Hudson, thinking he’s on the verge of death, trying to pawn off wife Doris Day to millionaire Texas oilman Walker. Clint is big and boisterous in the part, and plays off the two stars well. His next, 1965’s NONE BUT THE BRAVE, is a flawed but interesting war film directed by star Frank Sinatra. MAYA (1966) served as the pilot of a TV series about an elephant and his two young friends (Jay North, Sajid Khan). The same year’s NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY returned Walker to the saddle, as a Marshall threatened by land grabbers, a vengeful outlaw, and a killer grizzly on the loose.

Don’t piss off Posey! With Lee Marvin in “The Dirty Dozen” (1967)

1967’s THE DIRTY DOZEN is probably Walker’s best screen role, as the gentle giant Posey. Posey doesn’t want to hurt anyone anymore, but he’s goaded into fighting by tough Major Lee Marvin. It’s a different take on Walker’s screen image, and he surely fits in with the rough-and-tumble ensemble cast. Next up were a trio of Westerns released in 1969: the bizarre MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE co-starring Vincent Price, the Burt Reynolds vehicle SAM WHISKEY, and the comedy Western THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY, featuring Zero Mostel, Kim Novak, and Larry Storch, that isn’t half as bad as some critics will tell you.

Clint vs aliens in the cult classic “Kildozer” (1974)

After a cameo in the execrable THE PHYNX , Walker was involved in a skiing accident in which a ski pole went right through his heart! Rushed to the hospital, he was officially pronounced dead, but a quick-thinking doctor did more tests and performed emergency heart surgery, saving the big man’s life. A grateful Walker went back to work in television, starring in the brief 1974 series KODIAK, and a pair of TV Movies: SCREAM OF THE WOLF cast him and Peter Graves as big game hunters tracking a werewolf, with surprising results, and KILDOZER is a cult classic with Clint a construction foreman menaced by an alien possessed bulldozer! Walker slowed down some, making appearances in the 1977 Charles Bronson epic THE WHITE BUFFALO, the TV Miniseries CENTENNIAL, and reviving his Cheyenne Bodie character for the TV Movie THE GAMBLER RETURNS: LUCK OF THE DRAW (along with RIFLEMAN Chuck Connors, BAT MASTERSON Gene Barry, THE WESTERNER Brian Keith, MAVERICK Jack Kelly, and WYATT EARP Hugh O’Brien) and an episode of KING FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. His last screen role was as the voice of Nick Nitro in 1998’s SMALL SOLDIERS before retiring to his ranch. Clint Walker may not have been a great actor, but his imposing presence made him ideal for the Western genre, and he proved when given the right material he could shine with the best of them. Rest in peace, Cheyenne.

A Quickie with The King: Boris Karloff in DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (AIP 1965)

All you Cracked Rear Viewers know by now my affection for the King of Monsters, Boris Karloff . His Universal classics of the 30’s and RKO chillers of the 40’s hold an esteemed place in my personal Horror Valhalla. Karloff did his share of clunkers, too, especially later in his career. DIE, MONSTER, DIE! is one such film, it’s good intentions sunk by bad execution.

It’s the second screen adaptation of a story from the fertile mind of author  H.P. Lovecraft; the first, 1963’s THE HAUNTED PALACE, was a mash-up of Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe as part of the Roger Corman/Vincent Price series. Corman’s longtime Art Director Daniel Haller made his directorial debut, and the film certainly looks good. Veteran sci-fi writer Jerry Sohl contributed the screenplay, which was then tinkered with by Haller. Therein lies the problem; Haller’s changes drag down what could have been an exciting little horror tale to junior high level.

 Boris plays Nahum Whitley, a wheelchair bound curmudgeon living in a creepy old mansion in the English town of Arkham. Nick Adams is Stephen Reinhart, summoned by Nahum’s bedridden wife Letitia (Freda Jackson) to take daughter Susan (Suzan Farmer ) away from the strange happenings occurring at the house. Nahum keeps demanding the young man leave., as he’s been experimenting with a weird, radioactive meteor and tampering with forces beyond his control.

This all leads to Steve and Susan sneaking into Nahum’s mysteriously glowing greenhouse, where they discover giant vegetation growing – Susan is even attacked by a strangling plant! The ill Letitia becomes a monster, and attacks the two, then Nahum takes an axe to the meteor, unleashing horrors from the Other Side, and turns into a mutated demon out to kill. He is then killed himself and the movie ends with the obligatory Cormanesque conflagration as the house burns down.

Karloff at age 77 still commands power as Nahum, even though he’s confined to his wheelchair through much of the film. The King was still The King, an actor of great presence dominating every scene he’s in. Unfortunately, he’s not given a lot to do except skulk about and looks mysterious. His mutant monster is actually a stunt double, as arthritis and emphysema had taken their toll on his body, but even without much mobility, Karloff’s the best thing in this one.

Nick Adams was Oscar-nominated just two years before for TWILIGHT OF HONOR, but personal problems had caused his star to swiftly fall; from here, he went on to star in kaiju eiga movies in Japan. Farmer has nothing to do but look pretty and say “Oh, Steve” about ten times too often. DIE, MONSTER, DIE! goes for cheap chills (a tarantula, bats attacking Adams, weird noises) instead of Lovecraftian horrors, and winds up as just another “old, dark house” movie with a radioactive twist, falling far short of its source material. Haller made another Lovecraft-inspired film, 1970’s THE DUNWICH HORROR , before turning to TV; it took twenty years and Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR to finally do cinematic justice to H.P. Lovecraft on the screen. For Boris Karloff fans, DIE, MONSTER, DIE! stands as a flawed failure, interesting only because of The King.

 

Bond Goes Deep!: THUNDERBALL (United Artists 1965)

THUNDERBALL, the fourth 007 adventure, will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the first James Bond movie I saw at the theater, released at the height of the Secret Agent/Spy craze, and I was totally hooked! I even had all the toys that went with the movie, including Emilio Largo’s two-part boat the Disco Volante, with which I engaged in mighty battles in the bathtub against VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA’s Seaview (hey, I was only seven!).

SPECTRE is at it again, this time hijacking a NATO jet loaded with two nuclear bombs, and holding the world hostage. Bond, sent to recuperate at a health spa, stumbles on to trouble related to the crisis, and is sent by MI6 to investigate Domino Derval, sister of the NATO pilot. This leads 007 to Domino’s “guardian” Emilio Largo, a rich and powerful man who’s Number Two in the SPECTRE organization. Bond and Largo play a cat-and-mouse game with each other before Largo looses sexy assassin Fiona Volpe on Our Man Bond. 007 escapes her clutches, but not before being wounded, and Volpe and her crew follow a trail of Bond blood through the island’s Junkanoo parade and into the Kiss Kiss Club (a segment that ranks high on my all-time 007 list).

After Volpe is dispatched, 007 and his CIA pal Felix Leiter search for the hidden nukes, taking Bond into some dangerous waters (including Largo’s pool full of killer sharks!), and a lavish, bad ass underwater battle between SPECTRE and the U.S. Navy. These underwater scenes are stunningly well-staged by none other than Ricou Browning, who knew a thing or two about life beneath the deep blue sea… he was the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!  As of this writing, Ricou Browning is alive and well at age 87, the last Universal Monster standing. The film also won an Academy Award for John Stearns’ Special Effects.

Sean Connery is once again the epitome of cool as 007, whether romancing the ladies, battling the bad guys, or winning at the tables. Adolfo Celi, like Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger , is an imposing presence, and like Frobe had to have his heavy accent dubbed. Luciana Paluzzi impresses as the steel-nerved killer Fiona, Claudine Auger makes a sexy Domino, and Rik Van Nutter steps into the part of Felix Leiter. Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), and  Desmond Llewelyn (Q) are all back, as is Martine Beswick, making her second series appearance as 007’s doomed assistant Paula Caplan.

THUNDERBALL was intended to be the first Bond film, but due to some copyright contrempts DR. NO was made instead. You’ll notice Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman are listed as Executive Producers here, and Kevin McClory gets sole producer credit. McClory held the rights to the story and characters, and later remade the film in 1983 as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. But it wasn’t the same, with a 53-year-old Sean Connery not quite the same as he was when he was 35. For me, THUNDERBALL is the only version worth watching. That’s probably got a lot to do with seeing it on the big screen at age seven… and nostalgia for that toy Disco Volante boat!

Before we leave 007 behind for a while, I can’t forget to mention that bombastic theme song by the great Tom Jones! Take it away, Tom:

“So he strikes/ like Thun-der-baaaaaallllll”! Can’t beat that!

The Secret Batman-James Bond Connection – Revealed!

FLASH! This breaking news story is brought to you by Cracked Rear Viewer, serving the film community since 2015!

It’s the story America (and the world) has been waiting for – the hitherto secret link between The Caped Crusader and Secret Agent 007. Proving once again this blog will go to any lengths to create some content  bring you the truth behind the Hollywood scenes! Our trail begins in the year 1943. WWII was raging across both oceans, and America needed heroes to defend the homefront. Columbia Pictures secured the rights to the popular comic book BATMAN, and presented a 15-chapter serial starring one Lewis Wilson (1920-2000) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, battling the evil Japanese saboteur Dr. Daka, played by the villainous J. Carrol Naish:

Wilson was married to the former Dana Natol (1922-2004), and in 1942 they had a son named Michael. Though the Wilson’s film career went nowhere, they did manage to costar in the 1951 camp classic WILD WOMEN (also known as BOWANGA BOWANGA) :

The Wilsons divorced a year later, and Lewis dropped out of show business. (The two events had nothing to do with WILD WOMEN!) However, Dana remarried in 1959 to a film producer named Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who with his partner Harry Saltzman brought James Bond to the screen beginning with 1962’s DR. NO :

In fact, it was Dana’s recommendation that helped secure the lead for a semi-unknown Scottish actor named Sean Connery . Her son Michael, Cubby’s stepson, has produced or executive produced every 007 film since 1979’s MOONRAKER, and wrote the screenplays for FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and LICENSE TO KILL. That’s right – the son of the original movie Batman is now the producer of the still-successful James Bond series!

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know….. the rest of the story!”.

Bond Is Back!: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (United Artists 1963)

The Cold War got really hot when James Bond returned to the screen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, second in the film series starring Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s Secret Agent 007. Picking up where DR. NO left off, the film is popular with Bond fans for its more realistic depiction of the spy game, though there’s still plenty of action, romance, and quick quips, along with the introduction of several elements soon to be integral to the series.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE has Bond falling for Soviet defector Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who’s willing to help steal a Russian Lektor decoding machine for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But both she and Bond are just pawns in a larger game, with the international crime cartel SPECTRE making all the moves. Their goal is to not only posses the decoder and ransom it back to the Russians, but to eliminate 007 for taking their operative Dr. No out of circulation. The complicated story involves double-and-triple crosses, and two of the best villains in the Bond canon – Lotte Lenya as the sinister ex-Soviet spymaster Rosa Klebb, now working for SPECTRE, and Robert Shaw as the cold as ice assassin “Red” Grant, whose job is to protect Bond from harm while the machine is being stolen, then kill him for his transgressions against SPECTRE.

It’s the first film we get a look inside SPECTRE and the first appearance of SPECTRE’s Number One, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and his white cat), soon to become James Bond’s Number One Nemesis. His face is never shown here, though British actor Anthony Dawson is seen in body (his voice is dubbed by Austrian Eric Pohlman). Also making his debut is Desmond Llewelyn as “Boothroyd from Q Branch”, the gadget man later known as just Q. Other Bond firsts are the pre-credits opening sequence, a theme song (sung by Matt Munro at the movie’s end), and the presence of Martine Beswick as a Gyspy girl. Miss Beswick later appeared in THUNDERBALL, though as a different character (and her name is erroneously spelled in the credits as ‘Martin’… how anyone could mistake lovely Martine for a Martin, I’ll never know!).

Despite being more grounded in reality than most Bonds, playing more like a traditional spy saga, there’s still lots of action going on, including a battle at the Gypsy camp, a perilous train ride aboard the Orient Express featuring an extended fight between Connery and Shaw, a dangerous journey to freedom that includes a helicopter scene intentionally reminiscent of NORTH BY NORTHWEST’s crop duster, and an exciting boat chase, followed by a final confrontation with the evil Rosa Klebb in Bond’s hotel room. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was another box office smash, cementing 007 as a cinematic force to be reckoned with, and led to a third sequel, 1964’s GOLDFINGER. Since I’ve already covered that film (follow this link ), next up will be the fourth entry… THUNDERBALL!

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James Bond Begins!: Sean Connery as 007 in DR. NO (United Artists 1962)

 

Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, James Bond, was introduced in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and was a smashing success, leading to a long-running series of books starring MI-6’s “licensed to kill” super spy. No less than President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of Fleming’s books, and since the early 60’s were all about “Camelot”, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to cash in and bring James Bond to the big screen (the character had appeared in the person of Barry Nelson in an adaptation of CASINO ROYALE for a 1954 episode of TV’s CLIMAX!, with Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre).

DR. NO was the first Bond movie, and the producers wanted Patrick McGoohan, star of the British TV series SECRET AGENT, to play the suave, ruthless Bond. McGoohan declined, and Richard Johnson was considered. He also turned them down, leading Broccoli and Saltzman to hire Scottish actor Sean Connery, then not a well-known commodity, to portray 007. The part fit Connery like a tailored tuxedo, and launched his career into the stratosphere. Connery struck the right balance of charming, intelligence, and menace as James Bond, and starred in the next four entries (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER , THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE), returning to his iconic role later in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

After Maurice Binder’s cool opening  credits play over that soon-to-be familiar theme by Monty Norman (orchestrated by John Barry), we meet Bond playing high-stakes chemin de fer in a casino, where he’s summoned to MI-6 headquarters by his boss M. It seems there’s trouble in Jamaica, as an agent has vanished, and Bond is sent to investigate. Here Bond meets CIA agent Felix Leiter, who clues him in on some nefarious goings-on involving the disruption of U.S. rocket launches, and endures numerous attempts on his life. All signs point to Crab Key, where the mysterious Dr. No lives, his island fortress protected by a “dragon”. Bond heads out to the isle with Leiter’s operative Quarrels, discovering they’re not alone… the beautiful Honey Ryder is there, collecting sea shells by the sea-shore! The three face danger at the hands of No’s minions, Quarrels meets a fiery death by the dragon (actually an amphibious tank), and Bond and Honey are taken to the lair of Dr. No, a criminal mastermind working for a secret world-dominating cartel known as SPECTRE…

DR. NO introduces us to the world of James Bond, and most of the familiar characters and tropes that follow. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell begin their reigns as M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively. Felix Leiter makes his first appearance in the person of Jack Lord (HAWAII 5-0); later Leiters include David Hedison and Bernie Casey, among others. Since Quarrels is killed in DR. NO, his son Quarrels Jr. pops up in another Jamaican-themed Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE . Bond introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond” for the first time, and is issued his trademark Walther PPK. His preference for martinis, martial arts skills, and way with women are all here, and his reputation as a deadly assassin is established.

Speaking of women, Ursula Andress makes a spectacular entrance as the bikini-clad Honey Ryder:

Miss Andress, the first ‘Bond Girl’, became as much a 60’s sex symbol for the male audience as Connery was to females. Veteran Joseph Wiseman makes a  serene and cerebral adversary as Dr. No, though the actor always stated he hated being remembered as 007’s first villain. Dr. No gives us (and Bond) the first inkling of that evil organization SPECTRE – which stands for SPECIAL EXECUTIVE for COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE, TERRORIZISM, REVENGE, and EXTORTION, in case you were wondering!

What’s missing is the pre-credits opening scene; that wouldn’t come until 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Besides a few quick quips, the comedy prevalent in the Roger Moore Bond’s is absent, instead presenting Connery as a more serious secret agent with a hell of a mean streak. That seriousness would continue in the next outing, 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE….