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My Favorite Volcano God

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moira finnie
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My Favorite Volcano God

Postby moira finnie » June 4th, 2007, 2:02 pm

Yep, I agree, that's an arresting heading for a thread. But, if, like me, you've seen the cinematic lives of characters flung to kingdom come on screen for decades and enjoyed every moment (as long as it's not likely to happen here, mind you), then these movies, whose real star is a sulfurous mountain with bad breath and hiccups, might just be the kind of escapist fare to amuse you in the coming dog days of summer. Besides, volcanoes seem to be the least analyzed feature of disaster movies, and heaven knows, they're among the most dramatic.

Some of the prominent actors who've found themselves co-starring with the god Vulcan are Preston Foster, Louis Calhern, Delores Del Rio, Joel McCrea, Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Debra Paget, Louis Jourdan, Ingrid Bergman, Mario Vitale, Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra and even Hope, Crosby, Lamour, Abbott and Costello, and in a latter day, Maxmillian Schell, Brian Keith, Sal Mineo, Paul Newman and even the serene Jacqueline Bisset, not to mention the imperturbable Pierce Brosnan, Mrs. Terminator herself, Linda Hamilton, Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche. Hey, even Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan caught volcano fever in one of their lesser movies before hitting the big time. The emoting of that high-powered bunch of thespians over the decades was disrupted by the burps of the earth's heaving core in movies of dubious dramatic merit, though this natural-disaster-as-plot-device cleans up the messiness of multiple story skeins rather neatly.

Nothin' beats the sheer drama and the opportunity afforded for the special effects boys to show their stuff by depicting a bloviating mountain popping its cork on screen. It's a grand, not so little costar that has often made sheer heck out of little island paradises disturbed by a vengeful god, crying out for a (hopefully, or so the production code, says), virgin sacrifice. Or better yet, an Old Testament Yahweh wiping the slate clean and giving the happy heathens and the pious persecuted the release that they've been asking for during the blithely sinful first hour and a half of a flick.

Here's a list of sizzling volcano movies that I found to be particularly enjoyable, just in time for the silly season, in case it's not hot enough for ya this summer in your corner of the world:

Bird of Paradise (1932): Joel McCrea & Delores Del Rio push the envelope, "miscegenationally" speaking. Even if their activities in this movie aren't responsible for the eruption of Delores' native people's volcano god, it sure did get the attention of the nascent production code lads.

Last Days of Pompeii (1935): Preston Foster, Louis Calhern & Basil Rathbone make like ancient Romans in a movie that cries out not so much for Mount Vesuvius to blow, but for the inspired melodrama and dangerous sexiness of that sanctimoniously pious yet prurient showman, Cecil B. DeMille. However, we're stuck with Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper here. These guys certainly proved they could blend spectacle with a little sex, sorrow and pity in King Kong, but here they were hampered by the stalwart presence of Preston Foster, who doesn't want to sin so much as become the head of the Pompeii Chamber of Commerce, just so his son, (prissy John Wood), can be one of the boys, and hang out with "in" guys like "to the manor born" Basil Rathbone. Basil, who's very good as Pontius Pilate, seems to be one of the few characters prescient enough to see what's coming, culturally and disaster-wise.

White Savage (1943): Okay, the boys at Universal got the comely Maria Montez & Jon Hall together nicely, then threw into the technicolor stew such spicy actors as Turhan Bey, Sabu, Sidney Toler & Thomas Gomez, et voila: a disaster movie about the search for Vitamin A via shark fishing amid a paradise fraught with palace intrigue and an island a-heaving with shifting passions and tectonic plates. Amusingly, an early scriptwriting job from the manly pen of later burly Hollywood "intellectual" director Richard Brooks' oeuvre. Not shown nearly enough on the tube in recent years, this movie, which helped to put the camp into classic, was seen very often when I was a lass.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961): with a plot and production values as shaky as the island terra not so firma in this flick, this may just be the single worst Hollywood movie starring Spencer Tracy, (as a frail priest with faith issues), and Frank Sinatra (as a convict with a heart of you-know-what). Oh, and just in case the movie didn't hold the interest of a 1961 audience, the filmmakers threw in a few references to leprosy. Hey, it worked in the wildly successful Ben Hur (1959), right? The real star of the show, the volcano, looks more like a smoldering butt in a distant, large ashtray than a threat to life and limb in this cheesefest.

Bird of Paradise (1951): Yes, a remake of the '32 film, but filmed in lushly beautiful technicolor Hawaii by good moviemaker Delmer Daves with equally lushly beautiful Debra Paget & Jeff Chandler as Polynesian siblings, and Louis Jourdan as Paget's French boytoy. Really quite beautiful, easy to get swept up into, and the presence of mischievously evil Jack Elam and mysteriously troubled Everett Sloane (who's outstanding in an underwritten role that seems to have been cribbed from Melville's "Typee"). The cultural issues and romantic entanglements of the leads are far more compelling than the volcano, though this is probably the best volcano flick I've ever seen.

I hope that you'll toss your favorite volcano flick and/or comments into the fire for discussion too, now that I've "overflowed" with my personal lava of enthusiasm for this lighthearted topic celebrating a natural disaster that I hope no one reading this ever experiences firsthand.

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Postby knitwit45 » June 4th, 2007, 6:25 pm

Moira, I have to disagree about one of the "lesser" movies.."Joe Versus the Volcano" is a fun, mindless entertainment for the summer. It gives a hint of the wonderful chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and the exit line of hers sums up their whole relationship: "It's always going to be something with you, isn't it?"

Guess this qualifies as one of my summer "guilty pleasures"
"Life is not the way it's supposed to be.. It's the way it is..
The way we cope with it, is what makes the difference." ~ Virginia Satir
""Most people pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it." ~ Soren Kierkegaard

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Joe vs. The Volcano (1981)

Postby moira finnie » June 4th, 2007, 11:16 pm

Well, Nancy,
Of course I was being facetious about the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano (1981). I've actually have watched this at least 3 times, not least because of the "sacrifice to the volcano" scene or the presence of Abe Vigoda as a native, but also because of the movie's overall goofy charm, which seems to have eluded audiences completely when it was initially released.

In addition to this, I particularly like the madness of Lloyd Bridges' character and the buzzing fluorescent lighting in Hanks' "charming" workplace, (I think this setting rings the bell for me 'cause I once toiled in such an office). The jumping into the bubbling lava sequence is just icing on the volcano cake. Thanks for chiming in.


Postby klondike » June 19th, 2007, 7:10 pm

I know I'm probably stretching the premise a bit thin, here, but what about Ernst Stavro Blofeld's hidden space-piracy lair in You Only Live Twice?
I know it's supposedly an extinct volcanoe, but it still feels plenty sinister!

:roll: :roll: :roll:

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Postby nightwalker » September 12th, 2007, 2:34 pm

Another one would be another Maria Montez-Jon Hall starrer, COBRA WOMAN (1943). Who could ever forget the "Fire Mountain's" fury when queen Mary Nash is murdered by evil prime minister Martok (Edgar Barrier)?

And just why is it that the "Fire Mountain", worshipped as a deity by the Cobra Islanders, seems to be squarely on the side of Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu and the other "unbelievers" in the film, not only erupting in protest at the Queen's death at Martok's hands, but also during the film's already action-packed conclusion (just in time to help the good guys)?

Nevertheless, these "deep" questions aside, the film remains an all-time favorite and remains, sadly, little seen these days.

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