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Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert Colon’

One of the things I’ve hoped to do with my new “What I’ve Been Watching” posts is to entertain readers with the eclectic nature of my viewing habits, and although I won’t devote separate posts to the individual items, this weekend’s programming achieves that objective admirably. Kicking off my research on a new project for Cinema Retro (which recently gave such a nice presentation to the William Peter Blatty interview I did with main man Gilbert Colon), I reread Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, on Saturday. While I was at it, I took another look at the 1954 adaptation done as an episode of the live CBS anthology series Climax!, even if it seemed a bit superfluous to watch the love-it-or-hate-it 1967 spoof, which I adore, for the umpteenth time.

Fleming’s primary narrative thrust is retained, as Bond survives several attempts on his life and defeats Le Chiffre (a subdued Peter Lorre) at baccarat in the eponymous gambling house, thus preventing him from replacing the funds he has embezzled from his Soviet bosses. The teleplay by Anthony Ellis and Charles Bennett (the longtime collaborator of Hitchcock and Irwin Allen) does monkey around with the characters and their relationships, e.g., Bond’s American friend, Felix Leiter, is now Clarence (Michael Pate). To accommodate the casting of the decidedly non-British Barry Nelson as “Jimmy” (!) Bond, their respective employers are reversed, with Leiter reporting to the British Secret Service and Bond to the U.S. “Combined” Intelligence Agency.

More important, they have conflated Bond’s Secret Service colleague and love interest, Vesper Lynd, and his French ally from the Deuxième Bureau, René Mathis, into Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian). Here she is an old flame rather than a new acquaintance, and instead of an unwilling Soviet double agent whose suicide ends the novel, she is a crony of Le Chiffre’s who is revealed as a Deuxième operative and survives to enjoy the final clinch with Bond. It’s easy to mock the casting of Nelson, but the novel was only published the previous year, so 007 was not the iconic figure we know today, and his final confrontation with Le Chiffre (restored in the video version hosted by Retro’s own Lee Pfeiffer) avoids Fleming’s long, and rather melodramatic, anticlimax.

More on Casino Royale.

Just for fun, Madame BOF and I have been slowly working our way though a budget 50-movie pack from Mill Creek Entertainment called Horror Classics, a misleading moniker if ever there was one, since many of the films fail to meet one or both criteria. On Saturday night we watched a film that I didn’t remember ever hearing about, Maniac (1934), and while it wouldn’t rank as a classic of anything other than Bad Cinema, it was certainly an unforgettable viewing experience. Unlike The Mad Monster, which I slept through in its entirety on Friday night (and although I did go back and watch it mostly in its entirety, I will direct you to the review by the ever-entertaining El Santo for that little lycanthropic opus), Maniac held me riveted—in jaw-dropping amazement.

Immediately following the credits, I realized why I’d never heard of Maniac, because its horrific goings-on are intercut with pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, which purports to explain that these scenes exemplify various types of mental illness. Yes, children, we’re in the realm of that special kind of exploitation movie in which all sorts of unsavory stuff is given socially redeeming value, so-called, by being “educational” or a cautionary tale, sort of like a sex-hygiene film without the hygiene. Suffice to say that director Dwain Esper and his wife, screenwriter Hildegarde Stadie, were also the perpetrators of Narcotic, Marihuana (“Weed with roots in hell!”), and the immortal How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, to which she presumably brought real-world insights.

Vying for the scenery-chewing honors are Dr. Meirschultz (Horace Carpenter), a Depression-era Herbert West who has invented a serum that can raise the dead, and his assistant, Don Maxwell (Bill Woods), an impersonator on the lam whose special abilities come in mighty handy. They revive and steal a chick from the morgue, with Don posing as the coroner, and then Meirschultz wants to go to the next level: he produces a gun and urges Don to kill himself with it, so that he can replace Don’s heart with one he has beating away in a jar. Perhaps understandably, Don is less than keen on this plan, so he grabs the gun and shoots the doc instead, but is forced to cover this up by assuming his identity after Mrs. Buckley (Phyllis Diller—no, not that one) barges in.

Seems Madame B is a bit distraught because her hubby (Ted Edwards) thinks he’s the orangutan from Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and if you think that’s the last we’ll hear of Poe, you have another think coming. Intending to give Buckley a harmless injection of “sedatives” (i.e., water), Don shoots him up with “super-adrenaline” by mistake, and Buckley joins the overacting derby as he goes totally off the deep end, carrying away the attractive revenant for unspeakable purposes. Don, meanwhile, gets a rude shock when he finds the lab’s black cat, Satan, nibbling on that experimental heart; taking a leaf from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” the incensed Don pops out one of Satan’s eyes (which he then eats), inadvertently walling him up in the cellar with the doc.

Things get really weird when Don’s estranged wife, Alice (Thea Ramsey), learns that he’s just inherited a fortune from a distant relative, and decides this might be a good time to patch things up between them. The increasingly paranoid Don hits on the idea of pitting Alice against Mrs. Buckley, who has her own poorly defined evil schemes afoot, and locks the two of them in the cellar, where they proceed to start beating the crap out of each other. All of this ruckus finally draws the attention of the cops, and the final resolution, if nothing else, is faithful to Poe, despite the fact that in his wildest nightmares, ol’ Edgar could never have conceived of anything like this film’s indescribably bizarre plot, impoverished production values, or over-the-top performances.

Interspersed among this other viewing, since my schedule often forces me to see films in bits and pieces, was The Informers, about which I knew little more than its stars, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger, and alleged genre (per the usual minimalist description in the satellite-dish guide), crime drama. In contrast to Did You Hear About the Morgans?, I would have been less likely to watch it if I’d known that it was co-written, and based on the book, by 1980s literary “Brat Pack” member Bret Easton Ellis. I absolutely loathed the adaptation of his novel Less Than Zero (thus permanently souring me on stars Andrew McCarthy, Jamie Gertz, and Robert Downey, Jr.), and although American Psycho made a slightly more interesting film, they both defied any empathy.

The Informers returns to the style and drug-soaked ’80s milieu of Less Than Zero, epitomizing what I call the “turning over a rock” film, in which we gaze at the vermin squirming underneath like some kind of alien life-forms. Hollywood mogul William Sloan (Thornton) tries to reunite with wife Laura (Basinger), despite having no intention of giving up newscaster Cheryl Moore (Winona Ryder). Meanwhile, Peter (Mickey Rourke in full slimeball mode, making us long for his wholesome international terrorist in Double Team) kidnaps a boy for unspecified nefarious purposes; Les Price (Chris Isaak) tries vainly to connect with son Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) on a trip to Hawaii; the lead singer of the titular rock band behaves badly; sex is had; AIDS looms…

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In the grand tradition of the late, lamented Sunday Drax, here’s a BOF buffet of unrelated items:

  • Those of you who, like me, enjoy fond memories of the immortal comic strip Pogo (written and drawn by Walt Kelly from 1948 until his death in 1973), and won’t rest until there is a Complete Pogo to accompany the volumes of The Complete Peanuts gradually accumulating on my shelf, will appreciate this.  The other day I stumbled across the “online reading journal” Hal’s Quotes & Notes, which has a whole section devoted to Kelly.  Those unfamiliar with the strip may find its Southern-fried dialogue a little perplexing at first, and of course you need the visuals for the full experience, but it’s a great way for Pogophiles to relive some of those memorable moments.
  • For decades, people have entertained themselves by looking for connections between Patrick McGoohan’s great series Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) and its maybe-kinda-sorta sequel The Prisoner, especially as they apply to the whole “Is John Drake Number Six?” parlor game.  I’ve recently resumed working my way through my complete collection of Secret Agent DVDs and, by a curious coincidence, in both of the first two episodes I watched, “That’s Two of Us Sorry” and “Such Men Are Dangerous,” Drake used the omnipresent Prisoner catchphrase “Be seeing you.”  Make of that what you will; for myself, I’m of the belief that Number Six is indeed Drake.
  • Matheson completists, take note!  For years, one of the Holy Grails of elusive items was “The New House,” his pilot for the William Castle-produced anthology series Ghost Story, which left a conspicuous hole in Richard Matheson on Screen until my main man Gilbert Colon saved the day—as usual—by acquiring a crappy gray-market DVD for me.  Yesterday I finally got a copy of its legit release as an extra on the Mr. Sardonicus disc in The William Castle Film Collection (much as I resent having to pay through the nose for the entire set just to get that, since it’s not on Columbia’s stand-alone Sardonicus DVD), and can’t wait to see a decent copy of this thing.
  • Last but far from least, it’s a crime that Sutton Foster isn’t a household name…although, to be fair, our showbiz-savvy choir director tells me that she IS one in Broadway circles.  Last night, Madame BOF and I had the pleasure of attending Roundabout’s revival of Anything Goes, part of a package we signed up for this season, which I expected would be piffle punctuated by great Cole Porter songs.  Well…it is, but with Foster’s outstanding singing, dancing, acting, and looks headlining a cast that includes Joel Grey and Jessica (Play Misty for Me) Walter, we were mighty glad of our second-row orchestra seats; this review by Ben Brantley is absolutely on the money.

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Any pleasure I would have taken in reporting this news has been largely dampened—in every sense of the word—by the discovery (literally as I sat down to begin writing) of a new leak, in our bedroom ceiling this time, followed by the resurgence of an old leak in the basement, and a fruitless session of chopping away at the ice in the gutters.  Madame BOF and I were left feeling utterly hopeless, with two more months of winter yet to come and the second storm in a double-header hitting tonight.  Be that as it may, however, issue #19 of Cinema Retro, that outstanding magazine devoted to the true cinematic Golden Age of the ’60s and ’70s, is a veritable goldmine for those who follow the careers of yours truly and my main man Gilbert Colon with any interest.

The cover story is a ten-page “Film in Focus Special” occasioned by the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist (1973), most of which is devoted to pertinent passages from the 1996 interview Gil and I did with its original author, screenwriter, and producer, William Peter Blatty.  Portions of said interview were published in Filmfax, but Retro will supposedly publish the whole enchilada over a series of issues; this installment is beefed up with color photos, sidebars by editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer, and Gilbert’s preview of Bill’s new novel from Tor, Crazy.  And, as if all that weren’t enough to entice you, Lee was able to squeeze in a last-minute review of Richard Matheson on Screen, opining that, “If you admire Matheson’s work, this book can be considered as essential.”

Meanwhile, as if this year didn’t suck enough already, John Barry has left us at the not-terribly-advanced age of 77.  Since his name will be familiar to BOF readers, I will not regurgitate what I’ve already written here about his place among my top ten favorite film composers, his seminal contributions to the James Bond series or, most recently, his work on the late Peter Yates’s The Deep (1977).  I will mention his Academy Awards for Born Free (1966)—for song and score—The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances with Wolves (1990), as well as his nominations for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992), because even though none of them is a personal favorite, they surely display the length and breadth of his extraordinary career.

My choices are, as usual, a bit more eclectic, like Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File (1965), from the novel by Len Deighton.  Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman intended to establish Deighton’s nameless and bespectacled spy (dubbed “Harry Palmer” and brilliantly played by Michael Caine in the film) as the anti-Bond, and despite Barry’s already strong association with the Bond series, Saltzman wisely allowed him to score the film.  One need only contrast the moody, world-weary main title theme from The Ipcress File with the dynamism of, say, Barry’s first full Bond score, Goldfinger (1964), or his pulse-pounding instrumental main title from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) to see how, even within the espionage genre, he could vary his work accordingly.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Barry composed a theme of suitably heartbreaking beauty for Nicolas Roeg’s solo directorial debut, Walkabout (1971), a unique tale of two children forced to undergo a coming-of-age odyssey through the Australian Outback.  With his seemingly effortless artistry, Barry captures both the lyrical majesty of the film’s setting and the bittersweet ache of its storyline.  Finally, as the author of the Matheson tome cited above, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Barry’s work on Somewhere in Time (1980), a lush, romantic score that incorporates Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43, Variation XVIII), proved to be one of his biggest-selling soundtracks, and was born out of the pain of losing both his parents.

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Damn, the Reaper appears to be working overtime so far in 2011, having taken British director Peter Yates last Sunday at the age of 81, and even if I would never have ranked him among my favorite directors, attention must be paid by BOF because he did do one of my all-time favorite films.  In fact, I’ve just learned—courtesy of the mighty Turafish—that he was also an assistant director on another, The Guns of Navarone (1961), and it seems Yates received Academy Award nominations as both the director and producer of Breaking Away (1979) and The Dresser (1983).  As a director, Yates will probably best be remembered for Bullitt (1968), yet in my mind he will always be associated first and foremost with The Deep (1977), from the novel by Peter Benchley.

Yates’s resume may have had more minuses than pluses (despite points for several episodes of Danger Man), although I liked The Hot Rock (1972) very much and enjoyed The Dresser, which my wife loves.  In my opinion, Bullitt was overrated (but then I’m not a big McQueen fan); The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) was just too damn depressing; Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) was disappointing, considering its crazy cast (Cosby, Welch & Keitel); and Breaking Away was also overrated (except for one funny scene with Paul Dooley as the father).  I hated For Pete’s Sake (1974; Streisand and Sarrazin—strikes one and two!), had major script problems with Eyewitness (1981) and Suspect (1987), and thought The House on Carroll Street (1988) was, at best, so-so.

With social venues a wee bit lacking in our semi-rustic Connecticut environs, the future Madame BOF and I attended a lot of movies during our courtship, including Krull (1983).  I may not have seen it since, so I won’t presume to call it a guilty pleasure, but I think we enjoyed it at the time, especially the cool giant spider that for once wasn’t a tarantula, and that’s certainly on our list for another look, marking as it does an early appearance by Alexandra-fave Liam Neeson.  The point is that despite my reservations about some of his work—and it should be noted that many of said reservations had nothing to do with his directorial abilities—Yates did know how to put a picture together, which brings us back to The Deep, one of those films I champion in a decided majority.

All my life, water—and more specifically the ocean—has inspired mixed feelings of fascination and dread within me; I do love snorkeling, and hope someday to scuba dive, yet I have a fear of drowning (indeed, any kind of suffocation), and what might lurk in that vast and silent expanse can be just as terrifying.  For most people, the first Benchley adaptation, Jaws (1975), is the go-to reference point for such fears, yet while I am second to none in admiring Spielberg’s movie, I noted in my obit for David Brown that I remember the circumstances under which I hadn’t seen it better than I do my first viewing.  But I sure as hell remember when Dad took me to The Deep (which, perhaps not surprisingly, I think he liked less than I did), and the impact it made on me.

If need be, you can refresh your memory with my B100 review of the film, but I will elaborate a little on its effectiveness, especially the quantity and quality of its underwater photography (UP for short).  Say whatever you want to about other aspects of The Deep, but if you like UP, I don’t think you’re gonna find a more satisfactory helping than here and in my favorite James Cameron film, The Abyss (1989); in fact, I believe they set respective records for the amount or percentage of UP in fictional features.  In those days before Imax and the resurgence of 3-D, seeing that on a big screen was perhaps the closest you could come to being underwater, and John Barry’s superb score somehow gave one an underwater feeling, as he did in the Bond film Thunderball (1965).

Special thanks to my main man Gilbert Colon for excavating my earlier Yates roundup from his invaluable e-mail archives, thus saving me a lot of time reinventing the wheel with this new post.

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The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been.  Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon.  Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.

Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00.  In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.”  In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.

The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88.  Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film.  Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).

I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards.  Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them.  I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.

Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny.  This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart.  And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.

Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis:  Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off.  Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962).  I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.

The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb.  The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself.  It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.

Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof.  I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts.  But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).

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Tor.com has posted the latest installment of my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series today, and it was quite a challenge tackling his miniseries The Martian Chronicles, because despite its many detractors, I think he did a superb job adapting Ray Bradbury’s book.  In other Matheson news, the first trailer for Real Steel (a remake of his Twilight Zone episode “Steel”) is making the rounds and getting raves for the filmmakers’ wise decision to use motion-capture—coached by Sugar Ray Leonard, yet—to create its robot boxers.  Finally, I’ll hold off on a formal publication alert until it’s in my hot little hands, but the official word is out from Cinema Retro that the cover stories in their Exorcist issue include the William Peter Blatty interview I did with Gilbert Colon.

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The Park Is His

I’m posting live from our annual year-end festive holiday Movie Night, now in our Host with the Most’s new Ozone Park digs.  Even on our first visit here a couple of months ago, he had already comfortably made the setting his own, down to the last spaghetti Western poster and neon Molson sign.  Having established it almost literally from the ground up, he has left his delightful and distinctive stamp all over it, which is well to the good for those lucky few who are honored with an invitation.

We’re kicking off with one that I know will please my friend Fred, Blood and Lace, which brings back voluminous memories of the 4:00 afternoon movie on channel 9 in my youth.  It has the lurid sleaziness I so readily associate with WOR-TV, one of the qualities that distinguished a given independent from another back in the day.  It also marked one of those unfortunate latter-day roles for a fading leading lady, in this case Gloria Grahame, whom I’ve never particularly liked, especially after seeing this film before her earlier vehicles.

We’re kind of a skeleton crew tonight, just Tom, my main man Gilbert and myself, three out of a possible six Musketeers, some of whom we hope will be able to join us for a January redo.  As always, this particular mix is an especially congenial one, and we’re looking forward to some exciting programming:  Blood Freak, Night of the Juggler, Tarkan vs. the Vikings and/or The Big Lebowski are all on the list, depending on what we get around to and what other ideas present themselves in the meantime.  Many a memorable Movie Night viewing experience has sprung from just such an “Aha!” moment, like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Tom’s asked me to include his joke:  “Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a remake of Blood and Lace with an all-black cast.”

Tarkan is apparently some sort of Turkish Conan rip-off, straight from the bottom of the barrel, but with no basis of comparison (other than a partial and largely forgotten viewing of its DVD co-feature, The Deathless Devil, some time ago), I can’t say whether or not it’s typical of Turkish cinema, be it genre or otherwise.  “If nothing else, it’s at least enthusiastic,” opines Tom in between howls of laughter at some over-the-top scene.  The bizarro sound effects and plagiarized soundtrack would of themselves be amusing, blaring from an ear-level speaker as I pen these words, grateful to be here after an arduous three-and-a-half-hour trip, almost as long as it takes to get to Cornell.

Add to that list of things for which I am grateful:  the prospect of some down- and/or viewing time with my daughter, who will get a break from distinguishing herself in multiple fields, be they academic or artistic.  I’m so proud of that kid I could bust, and I don’t care who knows it, especially mindful of how lucky I am to have a college-age daughter who still likes to hang out with her old man, thank God.  I don’t think anything will ever change that, however important anybody else in her life may be…my Maudlin Man persona asserts itself even as cuts from 2001 and Morricone bleed forth from the screen.

We’ve just had a character “killed” by the phoniest FX octopus since Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, but without poor Lugosi to wrestle it to a draw, reminding me of the low-end Lugosi titles seen in the 50-horror-film boxed set Tom recently lent us.  Proving my point once again, they’ve just stolen one of John Barry’s tracks from You Only Live Twice, which I know intimately since I own the damn soundtrack, one of his better ones (and that’s saying a lot).  Meanwhile, in terms of the trip itself, at best it’s a schlepp and at worst it’s a headache, but being here is always, always eminently worth it at the literal and metaphoric end of the day.

Blood Freak, believe it or not, has the thinnest of Matheson connections when one character compares her situation to an episode of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, two series to which he contributed.  The movie has far more than its share of screaming, and some cheesy gruesome low-budget effects, but its papier-mache turkey-head monster is unforgettable, as is the loopy plot, in which leading man and co-director Steve Hawkes mutates from eating Frankenfood. This lurid narrative is periodically punctuated by hilarious scenes of co-director/narrator Brad Grinter lecturing us about the evils of drug use…while chain-smoking behind a studio desk.

At this point, Tom slips me a Mickey by interpolating Antonio Margheriti’s (aka Anthony M. Dawson) Cannibal Apocalypse, but I take one for the team, especially since I did interview pleasant and patient star John Saxon for Filmfax several years ago regarding that and other roles.  The gore is legendary and the story familiar from various Romeroesque films, especially those of the Italian model, but the overall level of quality is average at best.  In my opinion, Margheriti did much better on his two films with Barbara Steele, Danse Macabre (aka Terror Castle) and The Long Hair of Death.

Well, we’re going to treat (?) ourselves to viewing some of my musical Movie Night performances.  Bradley out.

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A few random thoughts as we celebrate Harvest Home:  first, while I was working on last night’s obituary for Ingrid Pitt, I went to insert a link to my B100 review of Where Eagles Dare, only to discover that there was nothing to link to.  That’s right, I must have been so busy doing whatever the hell I was doing in the aftermath of posting “Bradley’s Hundred #81-90” back in May that I plum forgot, and the sad thing is that nobody noticed, not even me.  So, one of my first orders of business when time permits (“Aye, there’s the rub”) will be to rectify this shocking oversight and treat you all, if that is the word, to the final installment of my 100 more-or-less favorite movies.

Second, on a seasonal note, I have, as always, much to be thankful for throughout the year.  I am grateful for our wonderful friends and family (both two- and four-legged), gainful employment, relatively good health, and a home I love, even if its perennially chaotic condition does drive my long-suffering spouse to distraction.  I am grateful for the long-awaited publication of my book, although I wish it had made more of a ripple; for this humble little weblog and its “small, deeply disturbed following” (per William Hurt in The Big Chill); and for the legacy of those wonderful authors and filmmakers who ensure that I might run out of time to write this, but never material.

Finally, Bruno’s puckish comment on my recent Thriller post—yes, I’ll wait while you go and check it out—reminds me that I never did recount the story of this blog’s abortive original title, obliquely promised back in March, so, as the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.  You will be unsurprised to learn that my home-video library is vast indeed, requiring me to catalog its contents.  Possibly inspired by my Penguin pal Tom (I forget the chronology here), I wanted said catalog to be much more than a mere list of titles, but a collection of capsule reviews, written in a customarily off-beat, in-joke-laden style for the benefit (?) of the few who would actually read it.

Thus was born an ever-expanding document known as “Holdings of the Bradley Video Library” or, less formally, The BVL Catalog, which I (never one to waste good material) sometimes draw upon when creating posts for BOF.  The need for such a catalog became increasingly acute as the BVL grew exponentially, and I could no longer remember all of the riches it contained.  For that, I am eternally thankful to have known my friend Brian G. Ehlert, and although he did not live to see this blog, which I fancy myself he would have richly enjoyed, he is integral to this story, and indeed, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that without him there might be no story.

Brian was, shall we say, a compulsive giver, and as compulsions go you could do a lot worse; we used to call him “the gift that keeps on giving” and Santa Ehlert.  He had a home-video library to dwarf any I’ve seen before or since, including not only professional releases but also stuff he had been taping from TV for ages, with many rarities that were—and perhaps remain—commercially unavailable.  Because he subsisted on an annuity, he didn’t work, which left him all day to make me (and my friends) copies of countless films and television episodes, first on VHS and then on DVD when burners became available, refusing reimbursement for blank tapes, discs, or postage.

Needless to say, we gratefully bombarded him with gifts at every available holiday, but nothing could equal his relentless generosity.  As a result of various upgradings and downsizings (he and his surviving significant other relocated a lot), he even gave us a laserdisc player, with more than a hundred discs, and our very first DVD player.  We had many interests in common, and we met through a personal ad courtesy of the now-defunct Movie and Entertainment Book Club, which I had posted in search of The Beat Generation, one of at least two Richard Matheson movies that, to the best of my knowledge, has never gotten a legitimate release…but of course he had a copy.

So I ended up with a document approaching 200 pages, complete with cross-referenced alternate titles, and the longer it got, the more often it occurred to me that this might make a book of some sort, kinda like Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide on acid, but what to call it?  It had to have a title that was catchy and hip and irreverent, while giving the reader some idea of the recurring elements that characterized many, if not all, of the films covered therein.  The genres most often represented were, naturlich, horror, science fiction, war, Westerns, mystery/noir, and exploitation, and after pondering what several of the categories had in common, I came up with Guns, Monsters, and Naked Women.

Obviously, that book never happened—or has yet to happen?—yet fate intervened when my friend Gilbert urged me to launch a website, which might serve both to promote Richard Matheson on Screen when it was released, and as a vehicle for some of my material that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day, except to a [smaller] handful of people.  My natural impulse was to retain the GM&NW title, which would have pleased me mightily, but I was afraid that “naked women” might give people the wrong idea (I don’t exactly review porno films here) and scare them away from what is, essentially, a family blog, so I wimped out and went with BOF.  And that’s the long of it, as Gilbert would say.

Bradley out, wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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I was saddened to learn this morning that Kevin McCarthy had gone to that great Green Room in the sky—saddened but not shocked since he was, after all, 96 and had enjoyed, by any standard, what could conservatively be called a good run.  His screen career stretched over more than sixty years, and got an early boost with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as Biff in Death of a Salesman (1951), which by a bizarre coincidence I just saw on stage with Christopher Lloyd.  He also had the honor of starring in a genuine Classic of the Cinema, Don Siegel’s original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which led to my becoming acquainted with Kevin a few years ago.

Prior to that, my friend Gilbert Colon and I had been invited to contribute to “They’re Here…”: Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, edited by McCarthy and the redoubtable Ed Gorman, and published by Berkley Boulevard Books in 1999.  I interviewed W.D. Richter, screenwriter of the 1978 version; Gil tackled Abel Ferrara, the director of Body Snatchers (1993); and Kevin was represented with a lengthy interview by my sometime mentor, John McCarty.  When Ed planned a new and somewhat different version of the book, released by Stark House Press as Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute in 2006, I was again asked to contribute, and therein lies the tale.

Ed retained our Richter and Ferrara pieces, but wanted a new interview with Kevin, which was kinda cool because it meant that between us, Gil and I would speak with participants in all three versions made at that time (and if you’re listening, Nicole Kidman, I’m ready for our one-on-one to talk about 2007’s The Invasion).  Naturally, I didn’t want to rehash what John had done in the first edition, so I tried to come up with a new angle.  With Gil as my able research assistant, I interviewed Kevin regarding what we called his “second career as a genre icon,” particularly his work with Joe Dante in the likes of Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981), and InnerSpace (1987).

Of course, McCarthy figures in Richard Matheson on Screen for his role as Uncle Walt in “It’s a Good Life,” Dante’s segment of Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983), and he made another notable genre appearance in the original Zone episode “Long Live Walter Jameson.”  No less impressive, his mainstream credits include John Huston’s The Misfits (1961), written as a vehicle for spouse Marilyn Monroe by Salesman playwright Arthur Miller, and Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976).  But it is Dr. Miles J. Bennell in Body Snatchers, a role that he repeated in a cameo for Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version, for which Kevin will inevitably be best remembered.

Having known him, I can attest to the fact that there never was a man less like a pod person than Kevin, full of energy and enthusiasm well into his nineties, and when we did the interview it was not so much a question of interrogating him as simply of unleashing him to tell his anecdotes of Montgomery Clift and Stanley Kubrick.  The hardest thing was to get him to stop tinkering with it and approve it for publication, so I finally just gave him the transcript and let him run with it.  Siegel’s preferred title for Body Snatchers was Sleep No More, since the pods took people over while they were sleeping, but now, at last, Dr. Bennell can rest in peace; we’ll miss you, Kevin.

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I Dream of Geena

The recent death of baseball player Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, one of the inspirations for the character of Dottie Hinson in Penny Marshall’s fine film A League of Their Own (1992), prompts me to ask, “What the hell happened to Geena Davis?” Since she, like David Lynch, has had the dubious honor of multiple screwings by ABC, first with her eponymous sitcom and then with the grossly mistreated Commander in Chief (despite her Golden Globe Award and Emmy nomination), I envision her lying in an alley somewhere with a big ol’ knife protruding from her shoulder blades. Her 2009 IMDb credits, Exit 19—a TV outing that featured Matthew Lillard (strike one!) and apparently didn’t even credit a director (strike two!)—and Accidents Happen, flew right under my radar, and that’s a damn shame, because Geena’s been one of my favorite contemporary actresses since…well, that requires some reflection.

Let’s not mince words here: she’s smart, she’s hot, she’s tall, she’s talented, she’s funny, she’s charming, and she’s an archer, so what the hell is not to like? It’s tough to pinpoint just when Geena showed up on said radar, but since I may not have caught David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) on its release, probably put off by his usual yuckiness, I’m guessing it was in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), in which she was cast opposite the equally appealing young Alec Baldwin. I’m not normally a big TV guy, so I never saw Geena’s appearances on Knight Rider, Buffalo Bill, Riptide, Family Ties, Remington Steele, or Sara, and don’t remember her originally making a big impression on me in Tootsie (1982), even if she does now; of course, I forget an awful lot.

Two more dissimilar films than The Fly (in which Geena uttered the immortal line, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”) and Beetlejuice could scarcely be imagined, but each ranks among my favorite ’80s films and gave her a chance to shine. Having overcome my initial squeamishness, I now recognize the former as one of the best remakes around, and its gene-splicing premise strikes me as much more plausible than the head-switching one in the 1958 original, although that’s setting the bar pretty low. One of the reasons I like The Fly more than most Cronenberg films is its romantic relationship, rendered all the more affecting by the protagonist’s fate, and all the more believable by Geena’s on- and offscreen chemistry with leading man and future second husband Jeff Goldblum.

Since I love both Davis and Goldblum—who also co-starred in Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) and Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)—and they seemed so well suited to each other, I was always sad that they didn’t stay together, but hey, that’s their business. She then nabbed a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Accidental Tourist (1988), a film that appears on my mental “Need to Revisit” list, not least because it reunited William Hurt and writer-director Lawrence Kasdan from BOF favorite The Big Chill (1983). Along with Stephen Frears’s Hero (1992) on that same list is Cutthroat Island (1995), directed by soon-to-be-ex #3, Renny Harlin, who showed conclusively that Geena could kick serious butt in the superior spy thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight (1966).

I have vaguely favorable memories of Angie, Speechless (both 1994, the latter reteaming Geena with Beetlejuice co-star Michael Keaton), and Stuart Little (1999), which as I recall was significantly altered from E.B. White’s beloved book, but right before A League of Their Own—in which, thank God, she reportedly replaced the dreaded Debra Winger—she made two films that really stand out in my memory. Quick Change (1990) is a brilliant caper movie with an excellent cast headed by Bill Murray (who co-directed with Howard Franklin), Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards. And Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), which I believe was one of the first films I saw with my main man Gilbert Colon, is an inspiring, albeit tragic, tale of two beautiful women (Geena and Susan Sarandon, both justifiably Oscar-nominated) unexpectedly empowered but ultimately doomed by circumstances.

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