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Post by cinemalover »

Thanks Bogie.
That's interesting trivia. I suspect Gabby was a much deeper person than his screen personna will ever acknowledge.

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A Stranger in Town #543

Post by cinemalover »

TCM recently showed a Stranger double feature that made my must-record list…

Date watched: 7/2/2008
Title: A Stranger in Town (A Dollar Between the Teeth/Un Dollaro Tra I Denti) Made: 1967
Genre: Spaghetti Western Studio: Allen Klein Production/Primax Italiana
Format: DVD-R Source—TCM Details—Letterboxed, Dubbed.
Number of times viewed: First

Director: Luigi Vanzi

Tony Anthony—The Stranger
Yolanda Modio—Chica
Gia Sandri—Maruca
Frank Wolff—Aquilar
Raf Baldassarre—Corgo
Aldo Berti—Marinaro
Fortunato Arena—Captain Cordoba
Enrico Capoleoni
Arturo Corso
Antonio Marsina
Salvatore Puntillo
Rosella Bergavionti
Giovanni Ivan

Tempt him….whip him….brand him….break him….but make damn sure the Stranger doesn’t crawl out of town alive!

Killer take all! If you’ve got guts….the gun….and the gold you can make women beg….men die….and a town crawl!

Plot: The Stranger (your generic substitute for the Man With No Name aka Clint Eastwood) arrives in a small Mexican town in the middle of an upheaval. A group of bandits, led by the sadistic Aquilar (Wolff) has just taken control of the town by funning down the attachment of Mexican soldiers that were on assignment, waiting for a gold shipment to arrive. They don the uniforms that they strip form the corpses and pretend to be soldiers on duty. The American government has sent a shipment of gold, supposedly in secret, as a loan to Mexico. The soldiers were to receive it and then escort it to its destination. Instead, Aquilar intends to intercept the shipment form the American soldiers that will be delivering it, without bloodshed if possible, with it if necessary. Either way, he’s not leaving without the gold. (Aquilar is a larger than life figure who wears a pink shirt, flaunting his manhood, under his jacket and chest crossing ammo belts).

The Stranger (Anthony) is made to feel very unwelcome in the town as one of the bandits tries to kill him in the bar when he’s just quenching his thirst. Big mistake for the bandit, as he’s the one who ends up eating the floorboards. The Stranger approaches Aquilar with a proposition to benefit both of them. He says that he knows the American officer that is in charge of the delivery and that he’ll be able to convince him to turn over the gold without asking any questions. The Stranger also possess a Captain’s uniform which he’ll don to communicate with the soldiers when they arrive. Aquilar likes the idea of simplifying the process, as long as he ends up with the gold. He agrees to let the Stranger handle the negotiation, but he has no intention of giving the Stranger his share when the job is finished.

The Stranger calmly meets the arriving soldiers in the middle of the street and out of ear distance from the bandits. He lied about knowing any of them, instead he takes a different take to take possession of the gold. He quietly informs the lieutenant in charge that there is a machine gun poised behind him (there really is) to cut them all in half if they don’t leave the gold…and then just leave. The lieutenant insinuates that they’ll meet again under less disadvantages conditions, but still follows his commands and departs without the gold.

So far so good in the plan to get the gold, but now people will start to get greedy. Instead of paying the Stranger his percentage as agreed , Aquilar now promises him only his life. And that’s if he leaves town quickly and doesn’t bother them any more. The Stranger is not one to be slighted and this begins a deadly war between the Stranger and the bandits.

The dozens of bad guys can’t seem to outwit or out-power the Stranger as he uses guerilla tactics to keep them off balance. This is a prolonged sequence that features some rather brutal violence and cold-blooded killing. Remorse is not on the menu and the Stranger vows that for their sins he won’t settle for anything less than all the gold.

Eventually the numbers betray him and the Stranger falls into the vindictive hands of Aquilar. He turns the Stranger over to his moll, Maruca (Sandri), who is a real piece of work. She requested the pleasure of the Stranger’s company, for her own demented needs. Maruca begins by whipping the Stranger frantically, apparently her idea of foreplay as she works herself into a lather. She then pounces on the Stranger as though he were a T-bone steak with all the trimmings. He repays her kindness by cracking her head succinctly against the unforgiving floor. Her wide-eyed look of surprise was not delivered via pleasure as she falls to the floor dead. Our “hero” has just violated the number rule in the western hero guidebook, you never kill a woman, regardless of how evil she is. If there was any doubt about the mood of the film, this certainly clarified it.

To continue to be considered a hero in the hearts and minds of most the Stranger will now have to commit a redemptive act, which he promptly does. Aquilar has targeted the mute Chica (Modio), one of the women that lives in the town. She is very beautiful and also has a baby that she is caring for. Aquilar has been undressing her with his bloodshot eyes for quite some time, visually raping her at every turn. He’s just been waiting for the right moment to make his conquest. In the scheme of these this mute girl has only slightly less dialogue than our “stoic” hero, who prefers action over words. His next action is to taking the girl and getting out of town before the gang realizes he has escaped the horny clutches of Maruca.

The Stranger gets the girl safely out of town, but she must have her baby. Only a tough guy like the Stranger would think that any woman would leave without her child, even if it meant putting her life at risk again. Under the cover of darkness they sneak back into town that night to retrieve her baby. The Stranger gives her some gold and tells her to get away, as quick as she can, to start a new life. Unfortunately, the gang captures her before she is even able to get past the city’s borders. They threaten her, trying to get her to betray the Stranger’s whereabouts. She resists until Aqilar starts waving his switchblade around. Then he twirls it around the baby’s face and says, “It would be too bad to have to kill him, heh, heh, heh…”

At this point shots ring out from the Stanger’s newly acquired shotgun distracting the villains. They leave the girl and the baby to concentrate on their target. The battle is on as the Stranger will try to exterminate the vermin before they can plant him. The Stranger keeps popping up (one time from under the floor boards of the walkway) and picks off the bandits one at a time as they struggle to figure out where he keeps disappearing to. Of course, you’d think that every time he blasts that shotgun of his that it would generate enough noise to betray his location. These criminals are either deaf, or just plug-dumb. Once all the minions and extras have been delivered to Hell via the shotgun express our two primary protagonists are left to square off. Once the bullets have all been dispensed it comes down to a good round of fisti-(and foot) cuffs. In a pasta western there is only room for one to remain standing.

There are long stretches with little or no dialogue, but they are effectively staged and continue to carry the story forward without interfering with the flow. The Stranger is a man of few words, but lots of bone-crunching action. Director Luigi Vanzi is no Leone and Anthony os no Eastwood, but they use the same formula to create a decent, if overly mean-spirited western. Even the Stranger’s wardrobe mimics the Man With No Name with his wrap around blanket and stogie. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery than Leone and Eastwood should be proud. Tony Anthony (which I assumed to be a name created for American audiences is his real name) lacks the screen presence to make this a must-see , but he’s better than the majority of imitators. He actually gets much more comfortable with the role in the sequel, The Stranger Returns. That film was smart enough to use humor as a counterpoint to the violence, a trick that was missed in this film.

The score, by Bendetto Ghiglia, is not in Ennio Morricone’s class, but it is unique enough to comfortably fill the long speechless segments with some energy.

6* (out of 10) Most of your prototypical clichés from the spaghetti western genre are present and accounted for. Some of them almost too obvious as it seems the director worked off of a checklist of required ingredients for this western stew.

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Post by cinemalover »

Did anyone else watch this (A Stranger in Town) when it was on TCM a couple of weeks ago? If so, did you also stick around for the sequel, The Stranger Returns? Which did you prefer?

There is a very different feel to the two films even though they were filmed within months of each other.

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Mr. Nice Guy #544

Post by cinemalover »

Jeremy and I had some father son time and wanted to watch a movie. Since it was his turn to choose, it is no surprise that we ended up watching a Jackie Chan flick…

Date watched: 7/5/2008
Title: Mr. Nice Guy (Yat Goh Hiu Yan) Made: 1998
Genre: Martial Arts/Comedy Studio: Golden Harvest/New Line Cinema
Format: DVD Extras—FS/WS, Jackie Chan Bio and Filmography, Trailer.
Number of times viewed: 2

Director: Samo Hung Kam-Bo (a huge martial arts star himself)

Jackie Chan—Jackie
Richard Norton—Giancarlo
Miki Lee—Miki
Karen McLymont—Lakisha
Gabrielle Fitzpatrick—Diana
Vince Poletto—Romeo
Barry Otto—Baggio
Emil Chau—Ice Cream Vendor
Samo Hung Kam-Bo—Cyclist
Peter Houghton—Richard
Peter Lindsay—Grank the Demon’s leader
David No--Victor

Fight first. Apologize later.

Nice guys don’t get mad, they get even!

Story: In Melbourne, Autralia Jackie (Chan) is a famous television chef with his TV partner and close friend, Baggio (Otto). One day he is walking home from the market and he witnesses a woman being attacked by a gang of men. In inadvertently gets involved when she runs into him while trying to flee and he finds himself engaged with the gang. He is merely defending himself but soon finds himself on the run from the gang with the woman. The gang assumes that he knows her, since he is helping her, and that puts him in the line of danger. The woman is Diana (Fitzpatrick), a TV journalist who has been working on an expose of drug lord Giancarlo’s (Norton) illegal activities. She is carrying a video tape that catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. She is trying to get back to her TV station so she can broadcast it and expose Giancarlo as the scum he is. Giancarlo discovered what she had and has sent all of his goons out to stop her at any cost.

A rival gang, the Demons, led by Grank (Lindsay), becomes involved with the chase too as there is evidence on the tape that would also crucify them in the courts. The two gangs beat on each other and try to catch both Jackie and Diana but the two narrowly elude capture. Jackie gets to his car and uses it to flee with Diana. The car happens to have a box filled with tapes of his TV cooking show, one of which gets mixed up with Diana’s tape. She ends up returning to the TV station with a copy of Jackie cooking while he unknowingly has her expose tape. Jackie takes the tape into his house where he has visiting relatives. His young nephew takes the tape and stuffs it into his backpack when he leaves for home. Jackie has no clue that his nephew has the targeted tape.

Giancarlo’s thugs and the Demon punks are still relentlessly pursuing the tape. They terrorize Diana at her home only to learn she doesn’t have the tape. They turn their attentions to Jackie. When they can’t catch him they kidnap his girlfriend, Miki (Lee), to use against him. The chase scenes drone on, punctuated by inspired pieces of comic action. There is a definite humorous feel to the proceedings that overrules the violent themes. It is not always a comfortable mix as the villains are really despicable and their actions don’t always compliment Jackie’s comic escapades to avoid their intentions.

Near the end of the film, when both Jackie and Miki are prisoners of the evil drug lord Giancarlo, Jackie is challenged to a one on one martial arts match against the boss. Giancarlo fancies himself quite the martial arts stud and is anxious to prove his mettle against someone of Jackie’s caliber, but a slime like Giancarlo isn’t about to fight fair. He has each of Jackie’s limbs tied with a rope and held by one of his flunkies. So every time Jackie tries to punch or kick the head man his minions restrict the ropes so that the blow doesn’t make contact. Giancarlo has no problem making contact with the bond Jackie and feels good about his accomplishments.

When Jackie eventually gets free he’ll pay back Giancarlo. He drives a GIANT Caterpillar truck (the size of a house!) over lines of the villains expensive car and runs it right through the walls of his beautiful house, leaving only wreckage in his wake. An impossibly ridiculous sequence, but at least it’s funny in an over the top way.

The martial arts border on slapstick as Jackie’s actions are more Buster Keaton than Bruce Lee. The completely non-sensical plot allows Jackie to do what Jackie does best….string together multiple action sequences that allow him to show off his incredible athletic prowess.

Director Samo Hung Kam-Bo has a cameo as a cyclist that gets knocked around pretty badly when trying to help out. He receives a black eye for his trouble before he is run over. He does come back to get some revenge on the offenders. Samo is a great martial arts star and director himself, as well as a close friend of Jackie’s. Samo is a chunky guy, but if you’ve ever seen him perform you know he has incredible, cat-like speed and reactions despite his girth. His films usually contain large amounts of humor and that carries over to this film. Considering these two superstars were collaborating on this film the overall results have to be considered a disappointment.

Jeremy meter 7* (out of 10) Jeremy is a HUGE Jackie Chan fan and will find any excuse to watch (or endlessly re-watch) most Jackie Chan films. I don’t even know how many numerous times he has watched Rush Hour. He liked the goofy action and the quick pace of the film and the plot holes, that you could have driven a semi through, didn’t bother him a bit. It won’t rank among his favorites, but he really got a (martial arts) kick out of it!

5* (out of 10) I’ll give it a 5 solely based on Jackie’s amazing acrobatic talents, which are always a thrill to watch. A score based on the overall movie would be lucky to score a 3. Put your brain on cruise control and just enjoy the creative action. If you need a plot go read a good novel.

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Post by cinemalover »

I've been a Jackie fan for almost 30 years. It started when I would go to great lengths to obtain crappy looking bootleg tapes from dubious sources just to get a glimpse of Jackie Chan, whom I had heard so much about from my Asian friends. His work was almost impossible to find in this country. In 1980 I watched The Big Brawl when it was released here. It was far from his best work, but it just whet my appetite even more. The first time I saw Police Story I was completely blown away. His current work is just a shadow of his prime, but it's still worth watching.

As for Jeremy, he hasn't seen all of the classic works yet, but he's seen a healthy percentage of them. We own about 40 of his movies on DVD.

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Post by cinemalover »


One of the problems of falling in love with Jackie Chan's work is having to acknowledge that he has never been able to make the "perfect" Jackie Chan film. There are parts of each of his movies (especially the work from the middle of his career) that are mind-bogglingly spectacular, but each work suffers from some phase of weakness. Jackie literally puts his life on the line (and almost paid the price) when creating and performing the amazing stunts that he does. I'm not sure if the casual fans realize that up until a few years ago he performed every one of his stunts, which include some very dangerous work.

As for recommendations, I like 1978's Drunken Master (Jui Kuen), a role he played tribute to in the recent Forbidden Kingdom. I enjoy 1983's Project A ("A" Gai Waak) and parts of the confusingly named Wheels on Meals (1984 Kuai Can Che). Shouldn't it be MEALS on Wheels?

When you ask about Operation Condor I'll assume you're referring to the 1991 film (Fei Ying Gai Wak aka Armor of God II). This is a very entertaining film, though I prefer 1987's Armor of God (Long Xiong Hu Di also known as Operation Condor 2 even though it was made 4 years earlier than Operation Condor). Armor of God is the film that Jackie almost dies performing a stunt. The film has an incredible start and a strong finish, but the middle of the film suffers as they had to film around Jackie's recovery from injury. I will probably always hold the original Police Story nearest to my heart based on my reaction to it the first time I was lucky enough to see it. I only wish I could have seen it in all its glory on the big screen and not via a mediocre quality VHS tape.

Another challenge of tracking down Jackie's works (especially the early ones) is that the films have been re-titled so many times in an effort to sell more copies that I've mistakenly bought films that I already had because they were misleadingly re-titled. There are also multiple cuts of most of his films from the 70's and 80's. Anytime you can get the full length HK cut you'll always prefer it to the slimmed down international cuts.

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The Master Key #545

Post by cinemalover »

We now turn our attention back to the Saturday afternoon matinees of the past where every young buckaroo anxiously waited to catch the latest chapter of the current cliff hanger playing before the feature. This time we turn to Universal Studios and their 13 chapter version of The Master Key, filled with evil Nazis and multiple intrigue….

Date watched: 7/6/2008
Title: The Master Key Made: 1945
Genre: Serial Studio: Commonwealth Pictures/Universal
Format: DVD Extras—Trailers, Bios.
Number of times watched: First

Directors: Ray Taylor/Lewis D. Collins

Milburn Stone—Tom Brant, Federal Investigator
Dennis Moore—Detective Jack Ryan
Jan Wiley—Janet Lowe
Byron Foulger—Professor Elwood Henderson, Mineralogical Scientist
Sarah Padden—Aggie
Addison Richards—Garret Donahue
Maris Wrixon—Dorothy Newton
George Lynn—Herman
Russell Hicks—Police Chief O’Brien
Roland Varno—Arnold Hoff aka Hoffman
Alfred La Rue—Migsy
Jerry Shane—Dan
Neyle Marx—Spike
John Eldridge—Walter Stark

Tagline: 13 chapters of terrific thrills!

Premise: The mysterious Master Key runs a band of Nazi agents working within the U.S. in 1938. Their mission is to take over as much American industry as they can. They will generate enough income to buy it so that it can’t be used against the Motherland when war breaks out, as though know it will. Professor Henderson (Foulger) has invented the Orotron, a machine able to separate gold from sea water. The Master Key has targeted this invention as their primary target, to be stolen and then used to generate the money needed to carry out their plan. It will be up to Federal Investigator Tom Brant (Stone) and Police Detective Jack Ryan (Moore) to foil the master Key’s schemes and keep America string and safe. The serial was released in 1945 as WWII was winding down, but it is set in 1938 prior to our involvement in the war.

This was Universal’s 64th of 69 sound serials that they produced.

Chapter 1: Trapped By Flames

A long table is surrounded by 8 chairs and 7 men. They each pull up their high-backed chair and place a key in a designated spot around a circle that sits on the middle of the tabletop. The chair at the head of the table is of a different design than the rest and is left unoccupied. A Nazi flag is mounted on the wall behind the chair. Each of these 7 men are designated M-2 through M-8. M-2 is Garret Donahue (Richards) and serves as second in command. He calls the meeting to order, “Fellow Nazis, the Master Key will now address us….”

The lights are dimmed and we see that a circle of the chair back of the empty chair is lit up. The voice of The Master Key is transmitted through a receiver built into the chair. These men may never see their master, but they are well aware of the penalties of disappointing him. He explains to them about the invention of the Orotron and how it is capable of extracting gold from the ocean and how it may benefit their goals.
Master Key, “One of Germany’s major obstacles to world domination is the industrial might of the United States. We need billions to subdue that might and now we have the means of getting them, the Orotron! With this machine we can produce unlimited gold. With that gold we shall buy control of the key industries of this nation! And so the industrial might of this nation will never be used against us when war comes…”

He then orders them to carry out his plan against the inventor Professor Henderson and his creation, the Orotron. That plan leads to the headlines seen in the next morning’s newspaper, “Professor Elwood Henderson Killed in Freak Plane-Train Collision!” But Henderson is not really dead, he’s just been taken prisoner by the master Keys band of merry men. They have also taken Henderson’s assistant, Arnold Hoff (Varno). They reveal that Hoff is really Hoffman, an German agent who has been spying on Henderson for the Master Key. They have taken Henderson to an exact replica of his lab that is located somewhere underground. Hoffman had enough knowledge that he was able to recreate the Orotron in full, except for the critical Orotron tubes, without which the machine won’t work. Henderson will be forced to reproduce those tubes. M-& is in charge of this operation and he is given a 12 hour deadline by the Master Key to accomplish his task.

Tom Brant, a Federal Investigator, has been sent to investigate Professor Henderson;’ death and to protect the Orotron. Brant suspects that Henderson may not really be dead, he suggests that Henderson may either be the captive of a foreign power or he’s setting himself up to get rich off of his own invention. A man named Jake Brown is caught trying to elude the police and killed. In his dying hand he was clutching a tube. Brant now possess that tube that he’ll learn is the critical missing Orotron tube. Brown had been an agent of the Master Key, sent to steal the tube from Henderson’s laboratory. Brant is showing the tube to Police Chief O’Brien (Hicks) inside of O’Brien’s office when two men, suspended by a rope from above, shows up at the office window with a gun leveled at our heroes. They demands the tube and then are lowered to the ground below.

Brant is unable to stop them before they escape, and now must try to find their trail. Clues lead him to the Flamingo Club and its owner, Walter Stark (Eldredge), who knew the dead man, Jake Brown. The Master Key ahs called to warn Stark that Brant would be paying him a visit. When Brant arrives he forces himself past the bouncer and into Stark’s office to confront him. One of Stark’s men sets the club on fire to cause a distraction. Stark uses the panic to knock Brant down and escape out the back door. Brant is semi-conscious and groggy. He finds himself surrounded by flames as this fire-trap has been quickly consumed. Parts of the ceiling begin to collapse on top of Brant as he coughs and covers his face….

Chapter 2: Death Turns the Wheel

Detective Jack Ryan (Moore) has been assigned by Chief O’Brien to help out Brant with his investigation and to help stop the Master Key and protect the Orotron.

We learn the ace reporter Janet Lowe’s source of inside information, which often confounds the police, is none other than Walter Stark, who is her half brother. If she’s working with Stark does this mean that she’s bad, or just using him to advance her career by getting these scoops?

Brant and Ryan decide to tail Hoff(man) on the correct assumption that he must know something about Henderson. While they are watching Hoff’s apartment on a stakeout they witness petty criminal Flash Faust break in to the apartment. They circle in, attempting to catch him in the act. Flash is working under the orders of the Master Key and was sent to retrieve a notebook of Hoff’s that they need for the Orotron. The Master Key didn’t want Hoff to go and take a chance of having the cops pick him up.

Brant and Ryan enter the front and the back of the building to trap Flash, but the crafty crook manages to elude them and finds himself near their car where he spies Janet sitting. He jumps in the car, with gun in hand, and takes her hostage, forcing her to drive him away. Ryan calls in the details to the police department who promptly dispatches all the cop cars in the area to track down Flash. As the police vehicles close in on him he forces Janet to ride on the running board next to him so that the police won’t shoot for fear of hitting her (so much for chivalry). Flash spots a police roadblock up ahead and turns sharply to avoid it, the momentum takes him through the railing of an overpass as we see the car crash to the busy road below….

Chapter 3: Ticket to Disaster

O’Brien, Brant and Ryan are discussing Janet’s propensity of not telling them everything she knows. They openly question whether she could be working with the Nazis. Brant decides that the safest course of action is to follow her and see what he can learn.

Cut to an abandoned theatre where an elderly woman named Aggie (Padden) has a gang of juvenile delinquents gathering information for her. These teenage boys seem dedicated to her. She orders them to discover where Flash Faust’s hideout is and report back to her. We don’t know yet who Aggie is working for or what her purposes are.

Brant has captured Stark and is going to transport him to Washington D.C. for questioning. His chosen method of travel is the Nightflyer train. The train will nbe passing through Riverton, which is where the Master Key has sent his men to intercept Brant and Stark. Detective Ryan learns of the Nazis’ plans and drives to Riverton as quick as he can to prevent the ambush. Unbeknownst to Ryan, that snoopy Janet is hiding in his backseat.

At Riverton Herman (Lynn), under instructions from the Master Key, attacks the station master to take control of the booth. The two struggle during which time Ryan aarrives and joins the fight. During the tussle a lever is pushed down which switches the track that the Nightflyer is connected to. This new track leads to a bridge that is under repair. The Nightflyer whizzes by the station and chugs off the incomplete track, heading straight to the bottom of a valley and a date with a rocky surface…

Chapter 4: Drawbridge Danger

Aggie is sending her boys out on another manhunt, this time she wants them to locate Stark, who escaped in the confusion of the Nightflyer crash. She tells them that it is imperative that they find him. Migsy (La Rue) appears to be the leader of the boys. We are still not given enough clues to deduce what Aggie is up to.

The Master Key also has his men searching for Stark, only they have orders to kill him so that his knowledge can’t damage their organization. Donahue, aka M-2, has a phone number to contact Stark with, when he gives that number to the Master Key he knows that the phone number belongs to Janet Lowe. Why he knows that is not explained. Donahue dispatches one of the men to Janet’s apartment. He sees Stark sitting in an arm chair with his back to him and fires, presumably killing him. He then turns his attentions to the startled Janet, he can’t leave any witnesses. As he prepares to pull the trigger a shot rings out and he drops dead. Stark only had his hat ventilated and he kills the intruder, saving his half sister.

Donahue and Herman are going to transport the Master Key’s gold supply to a new hiding place in case Stark has revealed the location. Stark is snooping around after having been dropped off by Janet and overhears their plans. Herman drives the car, loaded with gold, and Stark jumps on the back, clinging to the spare tire. Everyone is spying on each other as Migsy witnessed Janet helping Stark and Brant was also in the shadows and witnessed the exchange.

Herman stops his car on a side road where other agents are waiting for him. They unload the gold and transfer it to another vehicle. They spot Stark and shoot at him. Migsy, Brant and Ryan are together in a car and are closing in on the Nazis agents. Herman and another agent get into the now empty car and take off to ditch it. Ryan is driving our heroes’ car and they speed up to pull alongside Herman and his pal. Brant leaps from his car into the convertible Nazi-mobile and wrestles with the passenger which distracts Herman. Ryan slows his vehicle down as Herman with his accomplice and Brant in tow doesn’t notice that the drawbridge ahead is ascending to the upright position. You’d think he’d apply the brake when the car started climbing the upgrade, but no such luck. The car flies over the end of the raised bridge and falls towards the water below…

Heavy duty action with multiple plotlines. Some of the characters are only defined in shadows at this point and we’re unable to determine their true allegiances. Milburn Stone makes a decent lead, though he hasn’t been allowed to cut loose at this point. He is portrayed in a very straight forward manner so far, with Dennis Moore, as Detective Jack Ryan, coming across as the younger, more dynamic, member of the team. The boys that are helping Aggie haven’t been fleshed out yet though seem to be setting up as “East Side Kid” wannabes. There have been no clues as to the Master Key’s identity yet as many of the puzzle pieces are still in the box. As we learn more about his identity that will help add some layers and depth to the storyline.

The pace is frenetic and has yet to lag. The 4 cliffhangers so far have been very well constructed, but all have been very standard and have been seen before multiple times in many different serials. The problem for the serial is that by 1945 just about every variation on the cliffhanger has been used to redundancy. Perhaps they should be called Cliché-hangers.

6* (out of 10) A solid and entertaining chapter-play, it just hasn’t done anything to really distinguish itself from so many others yet. There are still 9 more chapters to hope and cheer for.

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Post by cinemalover »

Everybody have fun these next few days. I'm going to be away from a computer until next Tuesday. I'm taking Jeremy and heading to the San Juans in a boat with my dad, uncle, brother and his son. If I don't fall overboard I'll be back with the next batch of reviews.

I do love summer!

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Stripes #546

Post by cinemalover »

Date watched: 7/7/2008
Title: Stripes Made: 1967
Genre: Comedy Studio: Columbia Pictures
Format: DVD Extras—18 minutes of deleted scenes, Commentary, Documentary, Extended Version plus Theatrical Version, Anamorphic WS.
Number of times viewed: 4

Director: Ivan Reitman

Bill Murray—John Winger
Harold Ramis—Russell Ziskey
Warren Oates—Sgt. Hulka
P.J. Soles—Stella Hansen
John Candy—Ox Oxberger
Sean Young—Louise Cooper
John Larroquette—Captain Stillman
John Voldstad—Corporal
John Diehl—Cruiser
Lance Le Gault—Col. Glass
Roberta Leighton—Anita
Judge Reinhold--Elmo

Taglines: The story of a man who wanted to keep the world safe for democracy…and meet girls.

Story: John Winger (Murray) is a weisenheimer cabbie in NYC. His loftiest ambition in life seems to be to creatively insult his passengers. He is roughly loading the luggage of a snooty lady into the trunk of the cab.
Lady, “Would you be careful with those?!”
Winger (under his breath as only Bill Murray can), “Madam, perhaps you’d like to EAT your luggage!”
She continues to nag at him on the drive to the airport as he pretends to be drunk to scare her. Finally he just stops the car on the bridge, tosses the keys over the rail, and walks away, leaving the passenger faced with lines of honking horns and verbal threats. He knows he’ll be fired but doesn’t care. He gets in home just in time to see his car being repossessed for lack of payments. When he goes up to his apartment his girlfriend has had enough of his loser outlook and tells him she’s leaving him.
This leads to the immortal plead, “You can’t leave! All the plants are gonna die!”

After a couple days of pondering the meaning of life, and a lot of drinking, a series of television commercials convince him that he can get s fresh start on life by joining the Army. He drags his best friend, and fellow loser, Russell Ziskey (Ramis), along with him. They both report for boot camp at Fort Arnold.

Sgt. Hulka (Oates) is the tough-as-granite drill sergeant assigned to make this latest batch of lemon recruits into lemonade. The group of rejects that comprise this latest batch would be enough to test anyone’s patience, let alone someone like Sgt. Hulka who has no patience whatsoever. Winger’s smart-aleck persona immediately earns him a front seat in the sergeant’s doghouse, but that doesn’t slow down his tongue. When the sergeant is about to lead them on a 5am run in a torrential downpour Winger has a suggestion, “I don’t think we should march today. It IS the flu and cold season!”

Winger’ s attitude results in him performing an awful lot of push-ups for the Sarge. The rest of the squad’s screw-ups aren’t developing into quality soldiers either, much to the Sarge’s dismay. When a training accident lands the Sarge in the hospital the squad must find a way to take their performance to the next level without him, just to pass basic training.

Winger and Ziskey step up and take command. They hold an overnight “cram” session just to get the squad’s basic drill skills up to an acceptable level. The next morning, with no sleep and ragged looking uniforms, they pull off a “razzle-dazzle’ performance in front of General Barnacle to pass the test. Or as they would say, “That’s a fact, Jack!”

Their stylish display earns the General’s admiration and to reward them the General assigns them the plum task of traveling to Italy to work on the top secret EM-50 Project. The EM-50 is an Urban Assault Vehicle, read: a big fat RV with multiple weapons. Sgt. Hulka has recovered enough to join his squad in Italy and once again take charge. His first decision is to send the entire squad on an enjoyable leave for the weekend in Italy, the entire squad EXCEPT Winger and Ziskey, whom he assigns to guarding the EM-50. Winger and Ziskey, poster children for adult attention deficit disorder, quickly get bored and decide to drive the EM-50 to Germany, where their MP girlfriends, Stella (Soles) and Louise (Young), are stationed. The fact that they will be AWOL and are stealing a very valuable military vehicle doesn’t seem to factor in their decision at all.

When Sgt. Hulka discovers that they and the EM-50 are missing he sends out his troops to bring them back, and not necessarily in one piece. On their way to intercept the EM-50 party wagon the squad is taken prisoner by Russian troops in Czechoslovakia. When Winger learns of their plight he wants to go Rambo on them and rescue his fellow squad members. When he suggests his plan to Ztskay the reaction is luke warm at best.
Ziskey, “There’s two things I promised myself I’d never do, kill and die!”

But Winger isn’t one to give up once he makes up his mind. He continues to extol the virtues of his plan and give Ziskey and the girls words of encouragement, “I mean, the Iron Curtain, it’s gotta look great! I’d love to take a picture of it!”

And, “I have a plan!”
Ziskey, “Great! Custer had a plan too!”

Winger is also allowed to give the big inspirational speech of the film, “We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi, we’re not Spartans, we’re Americans! With a capital “A”, huh! And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world! We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts!”

That’s almost as inspiring as Bluto’s famous speech in Animal House.

The film features a bevy of young comedic actors caught very early in their careers. Bill Murray was coming off the success of Caddyshack, and Ramis was known as a writer, not an actor. Other performers catching an early break include John Larroquette, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty and John Candy. That’s a lot of comedic beef in one film. The premise is mindless and silly and played strictly for laughs. Is it stupid? Absolutely! But is it funny? Yeah, and it still makes me laugh.

Bill Murray gets to insert many mumbled one-liners as he is so good at. How many of them were scripted vs. how many were ad-libbed? I have no idea. But he’s still funny in an obnoxious sort of way.

In the extras director Ivan Reitman states that the film was actually pitched…and GREEN LIT….as Cheech and Chong Join the Army. When that collaboration fell through they just substituted Bill Murray and Harold Ramis and cut out some of the drug jokes.

6* (out of 10) Everyone could use a little dumb fun now and again….and this qualifies.

The only bad movie is no movie at all.
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Blood Alley #547

Post by cinemalover »

Date watched: 7/10/2008
Title: Blood Alley Made: 1955
Genre: Action/Adventure Studio: Batjac Productions
Format: DVD Extras—2 Behind the Scenes Featurettes, Newsreels, John Wayne Trailer Gallery, Anamorphic WS.
Number of times watched: 2

Directors: William A. Wellman

John Wayne—Merchant Marine Captain Tom Wilder
Lauren Bacall—Cathy Grainger
Paul Fix—Mr. Tso
Joy Kim—Susu
Berry Kroger—Old Feng
Mike Mazurki—Big Han
Anita Ekberg—Wei Ling
George Chan—Mr. Sing
W.T. Chang—Mr. Han
David Chow—Boat Man
Chester Gan—Ferry Boat Captain

Tagline: Adventure on the dangerous waters of the Orient!

Captain Wilder (Wayne) of the Merchant Marines is a prisoner in a Communist China jail near Amoy. He’s been there long enough that he talks to his imaginary female friend “Baby”. He says that these “conversations” are the only thing that have prevented him from cracking up during his lengthy imprisonment. Some unknown friends help him escape by smuggling him a military uniform and a gun, whith these tools he is easily able to get out. Outside he meets the muscular Big Han (Mazurki), who says little but guides him to a rendezvous at a small village where he meets Mr. Tso (Fix) and American Cathy Grainger (Bacall) and others. They insist that he rest up before they fill him in on the details of why they helped him escape.
Cathy comments, “You’re younger than I expected Captain Wilder to be. I’m glad!”

After catching his breath Wilder is full of questions, “What’s this all about?”
Mr. Tso (the elder who leads the village), “We require 300 miles of experience.
Cathy, “The villagers put up the bribe money for the escape. I think we’re entitled to find out what kind of skipper you are.”
Wilder, “Well, I’ve knocked around these waters from Port Arthur to Singapore in every kind of ship, under half a dozen flags.”
Mr. Tso, “Could the illustrious take a ship to Hong Kong, without maps?”
Wilder, “Well, I’ve never tried it without maps. But this coast is littered with wrecks that have tried it with them!”
Mr. Tso, “Our people have chosen to leave Red China. We ask you to guide us through the Formosa Straits to freedom.”

The plan is to move all 180 residents of the village (including pets and livestock) on a stolen ferry boat. They will have to do a lot of traveling in these dangerous waters at night and in the fog to avoid the commie gunboats that patrol the straight. This strip is called Blood Alley. The preparations for this scheme have been ongoing for ages and are very elaborate and complex. Their plan works to perfection until Cathy’s father, the only doctor in the area who is often whisked away on a moment’s notice to attend to some big-wig, is killed when he loses a patient. Wilder has to reveal a sliver of care cast through his bronzed personality. He convinces her that her father would’ve wanted her to continue. The villagers consider Wilder as the one who will lead them to their new freedom, he is “One of God’s footsteps.”

Wilder gets to survey his new ship, the stolen ferry. He sums its condition up, “The rudder’s sluggish, the turnbuckles won’t turn, the capstan’s busted. The decks are warped, she’s stubby and high in the water. God help us in a rough sea! But you know something, baby (his imaginary friend)? I kind of like her!”

Then the chase begins as Wilder tries to safely navigate these treacherous waters and get his passengers to freedom in one piece. The dangers will melt, will Wilder, Cathy, Big Han and the rest be able to arrive at their destination unscarred?

This is enjoyable escapism sans realism or depth. It’s a tad hokey and a pinch unbelievable, but there’s enough studio produced excitement to maintain interest. It won’t earn any standing ovations, but it’s a decent enough piece of fluff.

Paul Fix makes for a very unconvincing oriental as he heads the villagers in their quest. Bacall doesn’t get much more than crumbs when it comes to the snappy dialogue that we all enjoy seeing her use when she’s verbally tangoing with her male leads. The chemistry between Wayne and Bacall seems forced and unnatural. They each do their parts with zest, but no sparks fly when their moons collide.

The film’s history is almost more entertaining than the film itself. Robert Mitchum was original cast as Captain Wilder, but when he pulled a “bad boy” act on the transportation manager and pushed him into the San Francisco Bay they had no choice but to fire him. The role was then offered to Gregory Peck, who turned it down, and then Bogart, who wanted too much money. Just think, we could’ve had another Bogie and Bacall movie. No chemistry problems there! Mitchum also would have been a superb choice to play Captain Wilder. When none of those studs worked out the producer (this was a Batjac production) had to step in and wear the Captain’s shoes. Fortunately for the movie Mr. Wayne was well versed with motion pictures. If he hadn’t of stepped in Warner Brothers was threatening to pull the plug on their distribution deal. John Wayne also did a guest shot on I Love Lucy to promote his new film.

The Formosa Straits were played by northern California locations.

5* (out of 10) Not the best, not the worst. It’s reasonably entertaining for the indiscriminate.

The only bad movie is no movie at all.
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McQ #548

Post by cinemalover »

Here is one of the Duke's lesser entries...

Date watched: 7/5/2008
Title: McQ Made: 1974
Genre: Cop Thriller Studio: Batjac Productions
Format: DVD Extras—Featurette
Number of times viewed: 2

Director: John Sturges

John Wayne—Detective Lt. Lon McQ
Diana Muldar—Lois Boyle
Eddie Albert—Captain Ed Kosterman
Al Lettieri—Manuel Santiago
William Bryant—Sgt. Stan Boyle
Colleen Dewhurst—Myra
Clu Gulager—Franklin Toms
David Huddleston—Pinky Farrow
Jim Watkins—J.C. Davis
Julie Adams—Elaine Forrester
Roger E. Mosely—Rosey
Richard Kelton—Radical

The cop no one can stop. Even the cops!

McQ—He’s a busted cop. His gun is unlicensed. His methods are unlawful and his story is incredible!

Story: A man is driving around the streets of Seattle in the wee hours of the morning, obviously looking for someone or something. He ambushes two cops who are walking the beat, shooting them dead. Then he pulls into a customer empty diner and freshens up in the restroom. When his jacket is pulled back it reveals a cop badge affixed to his belt. When a car pulls up outside that he appears to have been waiting for, he walks outside. The driver of the car shoots him in the back with a shotgun and peels out. The victim is Sgt. Stan Boyle (Bryant) and he’s in critical condition when he is taken to the hospital. We are given no clues as to why he shot two cops, or as to why he himself was shot. I’m guessing it involves more than a parking ticket.

Boyle is the partner of grizzled veteran Detective Lt. Lon McQ (Wayne, and yes, McQ is listed as his full last name), who receives the call while sleeping on the boat that is his home. He heads up the dock to grab his sporty green Firebird to go see his partner. As he’s walking a man appears and starts shooting at him. McQ turns and fires, instantly killing the would-be assassin. McQ gets a look at the man and recognizes him as the professional hitman named Patty Samuels. Someone is going to a lot of trouble to kill cops.

McQ wants to be assigned to investigate Stan’s shooting but his boss, cranky Captain Ed Kosterman (Eddie Albert), whose temperament implies he suffers from a bad digestive tract, won’t allow it. McQ has a well-deserved reputation for bending the rules to the point of breaking laws. He won’t let the Captain’s orders interfere with what he feels he owes his partner. McQ starts his investigation on the assumption that Manuel Santiago (Lettieri), a Teflon villain that they’ve never been able to get the goods on, is behind the killings. McQ starts to shadow him, trying to learn anything that might connect him to the crimes. Unfortunately, McQ and patience have rarely been uttered in the same sentence and he tires of waiting. When Santiago uses the men’s room in the restaurant he’s dining at McQ follows him in and confronts him. Conversation quickly turns to violence and Santiago and his expensive suit end up unconscious in the urinal. When Santiago files a formal complaint against McQ for police harassment Captain Kosterman pulls him out of the field and assigns him to a desk. McQ responds by quitting and walking out, tossing his badge and gun behind him.

Stan doesn’t survive the hospital. His widow, Lois (Muldar), is a close friend of Lon and he consoles her while trying to figure out how to nail Santiago without the police force to back him up. He goes to his friend Pinky Farrow (Huddleston) who runs a detective agency. He asks Pinky to add him to the firm, just so he can apply for a private detective’s license, which gives him some privileges. McQ then starts rounding up all his and Stan’s old snitches, trying to gather dirt on Santiago. Most of them don’t want to cooperate since McQ is no longer a cop, but he can be quite persuasive when pressed. At least none of them take a nap in a urinal.

McQ learns that Santiago had been putting together an A-team of hitmen with the intention of making a huge drug heist….from the police evidence lock-up. The police have catalogued $2 million in drugs and are set to secretly destroy them. This information turns out to be not so secret as a hit team ambushes the cops just as they were about to toss the shipment into a blazing incinerator to destroy it. McQ had been on the scene after following the shipment and gets in a high speed chase as the villains are disguised as men from a linen service and are driving a linen van. We get to watch McQ do his geriatric Bullet imitation in his green Firebird, chasing the van through the streets and hills of Seattle. But they elude him when he accidentally follows an identical van.

Later McQ breaks into Santiago’s office to find the stolen drugs, or at least a clue to there whereabouts. He hardly gets there when Santiago and his men bust in on him and hold him at gunpoint. Santiago laughs at McQ and then confesses that he has to laugh at himself also. It seems the drugs that he went to so much trouble were all fakes, substituted for the real thing. This means someone on the inside of the police force stile the drugs and replaced them with worthless fakes to be burned, assuming no one would ever know th difference. An almost perfect crime, until Santiago’s men showed up.

Captain Kosterman’s actions up to this point cast a shadow of suspicion on him as McQ is determined to get the rat out of the department. Someone knows that McQ is zeroing in on the truth as one of his snitches is murdered. Next they try to kill McQ while in his car, trapping him in an alley between two semis that act as a trash compactor. The poor Firebird getting smashed like an aluminum can in a trucker’s fist. McQ is scraped and bruised but survives to fight another day. He suspects that there is something in his car that the thieves want, so he goes to the impound lot late at night to inspect his wrecked car. He finds a big bag of cocaine planted under the passenger seat. Suddenly Captain Kosterman and three squad cars show up in response to an anonymous tip. Not wanting to get caught by some trigger happy cops McQ manages to hotwire one of the cars on the lot and drives past the surprised boys in blue before they can react.

In the process McQ has learned that his partner, Stan, had been a dirty cop. Stan was in on the inside drug heist, but he wasn’t working alone. Now McQ must determine which other cops were also in on the job before he gets a bullet in the back of the head. There’s at least a couple of surprises left in the chamber before the resolution is revealed. The film closes on a high note with an amped up car chase on a beach through wet sand and surf. The action gets your adrenaline flowing, but by this point you may have already moved on to other endeavors.

A routine cop film in the vein of Dirty Harry. The Duke was not physically up to the task at this point in his career, and honestly, looks embarrassing as he’s cruising around in his sportscar. You can see that even normal walking is painful to him as he tries to hide the winces. He still looks nice and rugged in the head and shoulder dialogue shots, but the full body action shots (when he’s not being doubled, which is also pretty apparent) showed that his mind had the right idea but the body just wasn’t cooperating.

Eddie Albert’s record of playing mean S.O.B.s was used to advantage as his character becomes a red herring while we are left trying to decipher the evil elements. Al Lettieri makes for a wonderfully wicked, if somewhat stereotyped, villain. His scenes with Wayne as the two go back and forth are one of the few strengths of the film. Diana Muldar can hold her own with the Duke while the scenes with the Duke and Colleen Dewhurst as Myra, especially when she seduces him would rank up there among the “Eeeeewwwww, why did I need to see that” moments. Though, it’s more realistic than having him shack up with some perky co-ed as so many movies have there aging heroes do.

My favorite parts of the movie are all things that most would have no reason to appreciate. The movie was filmed in Seattle (and in 1974 that was a rarity indeed) and since this is my city it’s great to see everything how it was 30+ years ago. There is even a scene at the beginning of the movie that was filmed in the parking lot of the office building my Dad worked in at the time, so again, nothing that will be meaningful to anyone else but kind of cool for me. But there is a ton of actual footage filmed in and around Seattle, including many outdoor scenes with the Duke, so it was much more than just a few exterior shots to establish the setting and the rest was filmed in the studio.

4* (out of 10) Not terrible, but not up to the Duke’s standards. He was just too old at this point to make this believable and entertaining.

The only bad movie is no movie at all.
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The Train Robbers #549

Post by cinemalover »

I seem to be on a John Wayne terror of late and here is the third Duke picture in a row….

Date watched: 7/10/2008
Title: The Train Robbers Made: 1972
Genre: Western Studio: Warner Brothers
Format: DVD Extras—John Wayne Trailers, 2 Featurettes, Anamorphic WS.
Number of times viewed: 3

Written and Directed by Burt Kennedy

John Wayne—Lane
Ann-Margret—Mrs. Lowe
Rod Taylor—Grady
Ben Johnson—Jesse
Christopher George—Calhoun
Ricardo Montalban—The Pinkerton Man
Bobby Vinton—Ben Young
Jerry Gatlin—Sam Turner

Cursed gold, a vanished train and a thief’s widow. He’d do better walking into Hell!

The gold or the grave. The young widow could lead them into either!

Story: The widow of a train robber, Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margret), wants help recovering the hidden gold from one of her husband’s robberies. She says she wants to find the $500,000 in gold to turn it back over to the rightful owner to clear up the family name so that her son won’t have to be raised in shame. Her husband had a partner who is also searching for the gold and has picked up a posse of bandits to help him recover the treasure. They’ll be watching Mrs. Lowe with great interest, hoping to follow her to a big pay day.

Mrs. Lowe has hired Lane (Wayne) to round up a group of men to help her with her quest. His choices include Grady (Taylor, Jesse (Johnson), Calhoun (George) and a couple of others. When Lane introduces his crew to the curvaceous Mrs. Lowe they can’t help but notice that she is one fine looking woman.

Calhoun is not shy about sharing his opinions, “How’d you like to draw to a pair like that?!”

Mrs. Lowe insists on accompanying them on this treacherous journey, even though she knows her life may be at risk. She just doesn’t trust them to come back with the gild once they find it. Lane agrees, “Gold has a way of bringing out the larceny in all of us, Mrs. Lowe.” This will turn out to be a very prophetic statement.

The gang of nogoodniks that is trailing them has grown in proportion to the size of the gold stash and now numbers close to 20. Lane tries to cover their tracks but there are just too many of the opposition. Mrs. Lowe’s information of the hiding place leads them to a wrecked train in the sand dunes of Mexico. The train is almost completely engulfed by the sand and the boys have to dig it out, but the gold is where it’s supposed to be. They find what they’re looking for but realize that the human vultures are circling the train, and aren’t planning on letting them get out with the gold. They know a violent confrontation is inevitable.

Jesse, “Hell. A man can’t live forever!”
Grady, “Not around Lane he can’t!”

The bandits charge the boys who have what’s left of the train to use as coverage. The first round of attacks stamps an expiration date on ten of the villains. Lane’s men escape unscathed and make preparations for what may come next. Instead of staying on the defensive they decide to take the game to the opposition. Lane anticipates their next move and makes a late night visit to their tied up horses, sending them all scurrying for the hills with the aid of some noisy dynamite. Once the bandits are temporarily grounded Lane has his men mount up and move out under the cover of darkness. They are able to sneak past them but they’ll be able to recover enough horses by morning to be hot on their tails once again.

During the course of events Mrs. Lowe has developed a fondness for Lane and invites him to return home with her when their adventure is over. Lane is a drifter at heart, “because that’s what I’m good at” and politely declines in his own way.
Lane, “I’ve got a saddle that’s older than you, Mrs. Lowe.”

The chase continues until a climactic showdown which lights up the screen and includes a hasty exit from town on a hi-jacked train. The ending has an amusing twist that involves Ricardo Montalban’s character whom has been in and around the fringes of the action without ever revealing his purposes.

Bobby Vinton’s role as Ben Young, one of the men working for Lane, is very small but he does get one good dialogue exchange with Wayne. He continues a trend of singers who are not known for their thespian skills appearing in minor roles in John Wayne pictures (Glen Campbell, Ricky Nelson). Vinton also appeared in Big Jake.

John Wayne is…well…. John Wayne, and is as comfortable in this role as your favorite pair of slippers. He commands the screen whenever he’s present and doesn’t even have to try to draw attention to himself, his bigger than life persona can handle that all on its own. He seems relaxed and is enjoying himself. This may have been the last picture he made before his health issues really started taking their toll on his vitality. Ann-Margret adds the va-voom factor to the proceedings and I think her acting abilities often get overshadowed by her physical beauty.

Rod Taylor seems drastically underused for an actor of his talent. I was left wondering how much of his stuff ended up on the editor’s floor. What we see of him is solid support, it’s too bad he wasn’t used more. Ben Johnson, one of the ultimate support players, is the rock whose character is usually harnessed with all the expositional dialogue. He comes through like the trooper he is.

7* (out of 10) Solid entertainment if not incredibly groundbreaking. Just a fun popcorn western to pass the time of day.

The only bad movie is no movie at all.
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Post by movieman1957 »

Hi Chris:

You remember it more fondly than I do. I'll give it another try as it has been years. The one thing I wish Wayne had quite doing was the popular singer of the month in supporting roles. I'm sure it made good financial sense at the time (which may be all that matters) but I thought those characters were rather lame.

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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