It’s Movie Night at the Villa in Ozone Park, and we’re kicking off with an excellent choice that I provided: Phase IV, the sole directorial effort by Saul Bass, famed for his title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock, e.g., Psycho. It’s kind of like The Andromeda Strain meets The Naked Jungle, with a dash of 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in, as scientists Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy grapple with the threat to humankind from ants that are, for once, not giant but super-intelligent. The only other main character is a young woman who might be considered collateral damage, and is played by Peter Sellers’s sometime wife, Lynn Frederick.
Besotted with the ’70s as I am, I argue that a film like Phase IV seems unlikely to be made today, and it’s worth watching for the microphotography by Ken Middleham (The Hellstrom Chronicle) alone. But our follow-up film, Night of the Lepus, is quintessentially ’70s in a rather different way, featuring a dubious collection of pseudo-stars (Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley) alongside the still-luminous Janet Leigh. We chuckle over the challenge posed to MGM’s marketing department by a film involving giant killer bunnies (someday I’d love to track down the novel on which it’s based, Russell Braddon’s The Year of the Angry Rabbit), and the hilarious special effects involving blown-up shots of real rabbits meant to look menacing.
During our affectionately raucous evening, there is considerable debate over the degree, if any, to which I dislike films specifically due to downbeat endings; Tom is asking Gilbert and me for examples fitting that description and, amusingly enough, all that keep coming up are downbeat films I DO love. There are, naturlich, exceptions to the I-don’t-like-unhappy-endings rule, but right now it looks like more exception than rule! This forms a pattern repeated with slight variations all night long, as my increasingly porous memory is consistently unable to exemplify various tenets of my cinematic likes and dislikes, which Gil and I know exist.
The less said about the lowbrow comedy Gentlemen Broncos the better, but Tom really knocks it out of the park with his next pick, Kelly’s Heroes, and as anyone who knows me well can tell you, for me, there’s just no bad time to watch Kelly’s Heroes. We marvel yet again over the indomitable force of nature that is Clint, and remark upon the film’s interesting place in the Eastwood oeuvre, coming at a time when he had already made Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy but not yet become the iconic Clint of the Dirty Harry films. He exhibited a fun and funky dynamic while willingly sharing the spotlight with Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, and Don Rickles or—as he did in director Brian G. Hutton’s other BOF favorite, Where Eagles Dare—Richard Burton.
This, by the way, is what Bugs Bunny would call “a momentous hysterical occasion,” because for the first time in my memory, instead of ordering in takeout, The Host with the Most is treating us to a homemade meal of spaghetti and meatballs, a hearty and scrumptious change of pace. At least partly out of courtesy to our late arrival, Chris, whose work schedule obligated him to come around 10:00 (Gilbert was already there when I showed up at 7:45, after a door-to-door trip of three hours and ten minutes from MBI), the pasta does not make its appearance until very late in the game. Not surprisingly, though, it is well worth the wait, and of course we’ve had Tom’s usual snack spread—plus Madame BOF’s walnut chocolate-chip cookies—to tide us over.
Tom attempts to entertain us with some DVD extras from a recent documentary on his main man, Motorhead mainstay Lemmy Kilmister, but then appears to have second thoughts, and fortuitously hits on the beginning of BOF underdog fave Strange Days. Unfortunately, Gil has to get up in the morning, and I don’t want to keep him awake, so shortly before 4:00 AM we reluctantly shut off Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett. I sleep better than usual (when not in my own bed) for a few hours before Tom’s freakish-looking alarm clock gets Gil going, and gives me the opportunity to kick back for a bit before I have to begin the long journey home from the Villa.