Sunday, May 28, 2017

Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident (1979)



Out of deference to the fine folks at IMDb, I’m going with their title of choice for this multinational coproduction, which has been released by so many different monikers that some artwork bears the title The Tehran Incident, while other ads have the alternate spelling The Teheran Incident. By any name, this one’s a dud. Curd Jürgens stars a super-wealthy psycho whose operatives steal an experimental missile, then conspires to shoot the weapon into Iran, thereby derailing a planned Middle East peace summit. Don’t hold your breath awaiting explanations of doing so would benefit the villain financially or ideologically; this is one of those hopelessly murky international thrillers in which bad guys do bad things simply because it keeps the plot moving forward. Peter Graves costars as an American spy tasked with finding the whereabouts of the missile and preventing its use. While tramping around (pre-revolutionary) Iran, he aligns with his Soviet counterpart (Michael Dante). Although there are shades of 007, notably because Jürgens played the heavy in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), this schlocky picture exists a world apart from the razzle-dazzle of the James Bond franchise. Graves is almost laughably wooden, and it’s a gross understatement to remark that he lacks heat in scenes with various starlets. He’s so dull throughout this movie that the filmmakers might as well have hired a stand-in. The other notable player in the cast, Hollywood survivor John Carradine, phones in a non-performances as scientist in the villain’s employ. As for Jürgens, he gets the most interesting material simply because his character evinces ambiguous sexuality. He’s got the requisite female arm candy, but he’s also got a one-handed henchman, and in one scene Jürgens’ character implies he wants a three-way. Kinky! In every other respect, this movie is confusing, dull, and pointless.

Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident: LAME

Saturday, May 27, 2017

El Super (1979)



          While the term “independent film” can be taken to mean any picture that was financed outside the Hollywood system, truly independent movies present viewpoints from beyond the mainstream. The charming character study El Super is a fine example. Exploring the life of a Cuban expat who endures an unglamorous existence as the superintendent of an apartment building in New York City, the film—adapted from a play by Iván Acosta—explores a host of meaningful topics. Beyond the familiar travails of a blue-collar worker, the story explores notions of national and political identity while working its way toward the existential question of what constitutes happiness. Yet even though El Super engages with heavy subject matter, the movie is never oppressive. Most scenes are amusing and lighthearted, and whenever the narrative goes dark, there’s an edge of satirical humor because sad-sack protagonist Roberto is all of us, railing at the way people impose on his time, complaining about the drudgery of repetitive tasks, and bitching about the weather.
          Roberto (Raimundo Hidalgo-Gato) and his wife, Aurelia (Zully Montero), live with their 17-year-old daughter in a basement apartment at the building he maintains. He’s had the job for 10 years, the same span of time he’s spent in the U.S., so his daughter is thoroughly Americanized, even though he and Aurelia still consider themselves Cubans. Life at the building is a drag, with residents banging on pipes early in the morning because they don’t have hot water, garbage perpetually accumulating in snow banks out front, and city officials showing up unannounced to see certifications that Roberto does not possess. Roberto hates the winter in New York, so he dreams of joining the Cuban expat community in Miami, and he constantly vilifies Castro for making life in the old country intolerable. Exacerbating Roberto’s angst is his best friend, Pancho (Reynaldo Medina), a self-proclaimed hero who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion and pontificates endlessly about his hatred of Communists.
          Roberto can’t get away from his problems, no matter how hard he tries, and one of the subtler aspects of El Super is the observation that Roberto has limited himself by not learning English. To a certain degree, he’s trapped in a prison of his own making. Yet the filmmakers never judge the character, instead putting his moments of happiness and hardship onscreen in an unvarnished fashion.
          El Super is a simple film, so the narrative is well served by documentary-style camerawork and the presence of actors who will seem unfamiliar to most viewers. Directors Leon Ichaso and Orlando Jiménez Leal create an immersive sense of reality from the first frames, with the tonal variety of the source material and the lived-in quality of the performances adding to the verisimilitude. We feel as if we’re experiencing a symbolic period of Roberto’s life, so we share in his gloom, his hope, and his thoroughly understandable flashes of pent-up rage. El Super isn’t just a story about a Cuban adrift in America—it’s a story about anyone who feels like a better life is out there somewhere, just beyond reach.

El Super: GROOVY

Friday, May 26, 2017

Swamp Girl (1971)



As an artifact of independent rural filmmaking, Swamp Girl is of mild interest, backwoods flavor infusing everything from the soggy locations to the theme song that costar Ferlin Husky croons onscreen. (The biggest name in the cast, he’d been a Nashville star since the ’50s.) As a piece of filmmaking, Swamp Girl is of considerably less interest. The story is contrived, dull, episodic, and far-fetched, with much of the screen time comprising aimless shots of people drifting through swamps, either by boat or on foot. The acting is dodgy, though Husky effects a pleasant Andy Griffith-type quality, and it’s hard to buy into the central premise of a wild girl untouched by society, since the actress playing her, Simone Griffeth, has bleached hair, impeccable skin, and perfectly trimmed eyebrows. Anyway, the story begins with Janeen (Griffeth) delivering a wounded man to civilization, then fleeing. Rednecks wrongly assume that Janeen, who lives in Georgia’s sprawling Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, compels wild animals to attack interlopers, hence the wounded man’s myriad cottonmouth bites. Among those sent to investigate is a park ranger (Husky), who eventually meets Janeen and learns her story. Enter such random themes as human trafficking, racism, and the rights of individuals to live off the grid if they so choose. Because the film’s action scenes are sporadic and unsatisfying, viewers mostly get dialogue scenes and goofy flashbacks. (A good 20 percent of the picture dramatizes Janeen’s origin story.) So while the picture’s attitude is palatable, pitting the earnest Swamp Girl against various creeps and crooks, the texture of the movie is almost intolerably bland, notwithstanding scenes in which villains fall victim to ravenous reptiles.

Swamp Girl: LAME

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Where Does It Hurt? (1972)



          Whereas the Paddy Chayefsky-penned satire The Hospital (1971) presented a conscientious doctor being driven insane by corruption and incompetence within the medical community, Where Does It Hurt?, released a year later, takes a less nuanced approach to similar themes. Starring Peter Sellers as a morally bankrupt hospital administrator, this broad and occasionally vulgar comedy takes one comic notion—crooks inventing ailments for patients as a means of inflating hospital bills—and grinds it into the dirt. Thanks to Sellers’ enjoyably odious characterization and the somewhat twisty machinations of the plot, Where Does It Hurt? isn’t quite as tedious as the one-joke limitations might suggest, but none will ever mistake this picture for sophisticated cinema. Director and cowriter Rod Amateau, who adapted the picture from his own novel, achieves and maintains the desired nasty tone. Moreover, since public distaste for the usurious practices of the medical industry is so entrenched, most viewers will find themselves growing more and more excited for the villain’s comeuppance. That said, among the many weaknesses keeping Where Does It Hurt? from soaring is the lack of an interesting protagonist—the better version of this movie would have pitted Sellers’ character against a formidable opponent, rather than some random everyman whose experiences inspire rebellion.
          Unemployed construction worker Lester Hammond (Rick Lenz) shows up for routine tests at the hospital run by Dr. Albert T. Hopfnagel (Sellers). Upon learning that Lester owns a home, Hopfnagel persuades Lester to undergo even more tests, resulting in a protracted hospital stay and, eventually, unnecessary surgery. Realizing he’s trapped in a madman’s fiefdom, Lester gets word to authorities, who already have Hopfnagel in their crosshairs, and he gains allies among doctors, nurses, and patients who resent the administrator’s corruption. The biggest X factor is sexy hospital worker Alice Gilligan (Jo Ann Pflug), whom Hopfnagel assigns to seduce Lester—even though she’s romantically involved with Hopfnagel. You get the idea. Many of the film’s jokes have aged poorly, such as the racist bits with Pat Morita as a lab technician, but offbeat touches like the secret passageway behind a vending machine remain amusing. Elements of farce and slapstick notwithstanding, the main focus is Sellers, who hits just the right note of oily charm playing a self-serving crook. He’s sharp and sly in every scene, giving one of his most disciplined comedic performances of the ’70s.

Where Does It Hurt?: FUNKY

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Eye for an Eye (1973)



Whenever I discover one of the myriad low-budget shockers hidden in the darkest corners of ’70s cinema, I find myself asking which population the filmmakers envisioned as their target audience. Superficially, An Eye for an Eye, also known as The Psychopath, is a straight-up killer thriller, featuring a deranged character preying on folks who trigger his special pathology. Yet the picture has a touch of campiness. In one scene, the murderer surveys the contents of a suburban garage for possible killing implements, then chooses a lawnmower; pity the victim, who wakes up just in time to see the blades approaching her face. However, An Eye for an Eye is also a social-issue picture, seeing as how the killer targets parents who abuse their children. And then there’s the whole business of the killer’s day job—he’s the upbeat host of a kids’ TV show, operating puppets and speaking in silly voices. So is An Eye for an Eye camp, is it legit horror, is it melodrama, or is it satire? That the picture tries to be all of these things at once reveals the problem. Cowriter-director Larry G. Brown cant seem to pick a lane, and he isn’t good at navigating any of the pathways he explores. The suspense scenes are routine, so they only generate minor visceral responses (thanks to overwrought music on the soundtrack), and the serious scenes are ridiculous. Vignettes of Tommy a/k/a “Mr. Rabby” (Tom Basham) speaking with his mother feel like Psycho Lite, and Brown’s habit of cutting to extreme close-ups of Tommy’s eyes while he stalks his prey is more goofy than gruesome. By far the movie’s dorkiest scene is the one during which Tommy repeatedly snaps a towel in the direction of a woman’s face—but never actually strikes her—until she inexplicably faints. Assault with a deadly washcloth? Seriously?

An Eye for an Eye: LAME

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sir Roger Moore, 1927–2017



While the recent deaths of actors Don Gordon and Michael Parks have not gone unnoticed (see today’s post about the oddball Parks movie Love and the Midnight Auto Supply), the loss of Sir Roger Moore merits special mention.
Without going into the sort of long recitations of his career highlights that will rightfully emerge in the next few days, suffice to say one cannot imagine ’70s cinema without Moore, if only for his debut and great success as James Bond. In Live and Let Die (1973), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), he quickly shifted from Sean Connery’s comparatively grounded interpretation of the role, bringing one-liners and silky charm to the fore, sometimes to the detriment of the franchise’s credibility but often to the delight of audiences. There’s no question the 007 movies got sillier as the ’70s progressed, culminating with the awful Moonraker (1979), but Moore’s obvious joy at playing the role was contagious during this period. It was the quintessential example of an actor being in on the joke and inviting viewers to play along. That he could anchor key scenes with respectable dramatic moments made the portrayal work as well as it did.
Although Moore’s non-Bond performances of the ’60s are more widely celebrated, especially his turn on the British TV series The Saint, I have boundless affection for two pictures he made in the ’70s with director Andrew V. McLaglen. In The Wild Geese (1978), Moore joins Richard Burton and Richard Harris to form the core of a mercenary unit, and in ffolkes (originally titled North Sea Hijack, released overseas in 1979 and here in 1980), he essays perhaps his most dimensional and unique non-Bond role. Playing an underwater-tactics expert foiling the takeover of an oil platform, he eschews women and favors cats, demonstrating bitchery and eccentricity instead of 007’s casual cool.
While speaking of those recently lost, I would be remiss in not mentioning Powers Boothe, even though he didn’t achieve notoreity till the 1980s. From his stunning performance as cult leader Jim Jones in The Guyana Tragedy (1980) to his work as Philip Marlowe to his turns in Southern Comfort (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985), and so many other projects, he demonstrated colorations of grace, menace, poise, and wit with singular presence.

Love and the Midnight Auto Supply (1977)



          Entertaining in a brainless sort of way, Love and the Midnight Auto Supply is partially the story of a redneck Robin Hood who contrives a scheme for funneling profits from his various criminal enterprises to a group of oppressed farm workers. Yet it’s also a sex comedy about the main character’s relationship with a madam, a love triangle involving a rich kid torn between a good girl and a hooker, and a political story tracking the adventures of a activist. These parts hang together about as well as the disparate elements of the soundtrack, which toggles between discofied riffs on “The William Tell Overture” and swamp-boogie grooves, some of which were generated by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Tom Fogerty. The picture bombards viewers with just enough car chases, intrigue, rebellious rhetoric, and sex to keep things interesting, but it’s fair to say writer-director James Polakof hadn’t the faintest idea what sort of movie he was making. Is Love and Midnight Auto Supply a drive-in flick for the southern audience, a with-it counterculture story for the college crowd, or straight shot of exploitation nonsense? The answer to all of these questions is yes, because, with apologies to Donny and Marie, Love and the Midnight Auto Supply is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.
          Michael Parks, enjoyably rural and bitchy with his cowboy hat, leather jacket, and snide remarks, stars as Duke, proprietor of Midnight Auto. He and his boys sneak into parking lots, strip cars belonging to rich folks, and re-sell the stolen parts. Midnight Auto adjoins a brothel operated by Duke’s girlfriend, Annie (Linda Cristal). Through convoluted circumstances, Duke gets involved with Peter (George McCallister), son of a local bigwig, and Peter’s revolutionary pal, Justin (Scott Jacoby). Together, these unlikely allies develop the aforementioned Robin Hood scheme. Explaining the details is pointless, since Polakof doesn’t worry much about consistent behavior or narrative logic, opting instead to rush from one colorful scene to the next. The picture is best when Parks occupies center stage, dispensing a darker hue of the good-ole-boy charm one normally associates with Burt Reynolds. Whether he’s barking at his sidekick (“C’mere, Stupid!”) or romancing Annie in a bathtub, Parks epitomizes southern-fried swagger. Those around him mostly flounder in search of roles to play, though everybody gets to do something cartoonish or nefarious or sexy. Long on vibe and short on everything else, Love and the Midnight Auto is a mildly enjoyable mess.

Love and the Midnight Auto Supply: FUNKY

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973)



Although there’s enough amateur-hour weirdness in Blood Orgy of the She-Devils to tickle pleasure centers in the brains of bad-movie fans, the picture never quite achieves catastrophic wrongheadedness. Sure, it’s dumb and incoherent and schlocky, but it’s quite restrained for a horror picture with a sexy title—thanks to the PG rating, the promise of an orgy goes unfulfilled—and for the most part, the picture is simply boring. Things get off to a good start with some groovy mechanized music and psychedelic FX during the opening titles. Then writer-director Ted V. Mikels shifts to a ritual scene featuring scantily glad dancing girls, a high priestess festooned with glitter, and bizarre cutaways to a beardy dude wearing a furry hat. The fun fades once Mikels commences storytelling, because the film quickly devolves into dull, incomprehensible nonsense. Patient viewers can eventually discern that the high priestess is up to no good, and that two young people—together with a professor of some sort—wish to derail the high priestess’ schemes. Scenes with the villainess, Mara (Lila Zaborin), have some camp value, especially when she goes into trances and speaks like a stereotypical Native American: “You take big shiny bird across big water! You come make little white squaw happy!” Also good for an occasional laugh are the cheaply superimposed effects, such as laser beams emanating from the professor’s hands. Yet even the one scene that almost works dramatically, a horrific flashback to Mara’s abuse in a previous life, gets undercut by anachronistic costumes and silly acting. On the plus side, those who soldier through to the ending get another ritual scene, and this time the dancing girls add spears to their routine.

Blood Orgy of the She-Devils: LAME

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fear on Trial (1975)



          Whereas the following year’s theatrical feature The Front (1976) memorably explores the tragic impact of the Hollywood blacklist on avowed leftists, the excellent 1975 telefilm Fear on Trial dramatizes the parallel horror of people whose lives were damaged by groundless accusations. Specifically, the movie adapts a memoir by John Henry Faulk, a broadcaster accused of being a communist in 1957. Despite the absence of evidence against Faulk, he was fired by CBS and became a pariah in the broadcasting industry, so he spent several years mired in litigation against Vincent Hartnett, the self-appointed public watchdog who “named” Faulk. With the counsel of elite attorney Louis Nizer, Faulk won a huge libel judgment against Hartnett, though Faulk was never able to reclaim his previous stature in his chosen field. According to Faulk’s book, he was targeted because of his involvement with AFTRA, a broadcasters’ union, reaffirming that busting trade guilds was a principal motivation of showbiz companies who hid behind the socially acceptable façade of an ant-communist crusade.
          Driven by David W. Rintels’ Emmy-winning script, which luxuriates in beautifully crafted dialogue, Fear on Trial benefits from excellent work on both sides of the camera. The skillful Lamont Johnson directs a sterling cast, led by William Deavne as Faulk. George C. Scott infuses the role of attorney Nizer with indignant fire, and some of the standout supporting players are Judd Hirsch, John Houseman, John McMartin, Lois Nettleton, Ben Piazza, and Dorothy Tristan. Production values are impeccable, re-creating 1950s New York in meticulous detail, and Bill Butler’s stately photography creates just the right somber mood. (Also notable is the absence of a musical score, because in this project, the words—some inspiring, some venomous—provide the melody.)
          The first half of the picture illustrates the insidious means by which an accusation could upend an individual’s life during the blacklist era. One day, Texas native Faulk is popular with coworkers and fans for his amiable personality and folksy storytelling, and the next, it’s as if he’s caught some terrible disease. The moment his name escapes Hartnett’s lips, Faulk encounters iciness from his employers, hostility from his wife, and warnings from friends who’ve already been blacklisted. Even issuing a humiliating declaration of innocence does nothing to impede Faulk’s downfall, because in the fraught Cold War climate, a Red whisper carries more weight than the truth. Faulk’s marriage breaks under the pressure of the situation, and the embattled broadcaster must accept handouts from friends to pay for legal fees and living expenses.
          The second half of the picture depicts the trial during which Nizer exposes Hartnett’s craven enterprise of selling names for profit, despite not having legitimate research with which to support his accusations. In one scene, a TV executive reveals he was told not to hire an eight-year-old child actor simply because Hartnett had smeared the child’s father.
          Fear on Trial starts out as a full-blooded drama before shifting into polemic mode during the trial scenes, so the talking-head stuff is less cinematically interesting. What keeps Fear on Trial vital from start to finish is the crispness of the writing and the impassioned nature of the acting. Devane is fantastic, charting a man’s evolution from a cheerful populist to a hardened veteran of the culture wars. Scott steals every scene he’s in thanks to his masterful way with complex dialogue, and every single player—no matter how small the role—rises to the level of the superlative material.

Fear on Trial: RIGHT ON

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979)



          Movies along the lines of Unidentified Flying Oddball underscore why Walt Disney Productions was in need of fresh ideas just prior to the studio’s first experiments with slightly more grown-up fare. A goofy riff on Mark Twain’s classic novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the movie imagines a nerdy scientist flying a spaceship back through time to Camelot, where he helps King Arthur repel an attempted coup by the treacherous Sir Mordred. Not only had Disney already explored Arthurian mythology with the animated feature The Sword in the Stone (1963), but everything about Unidentified Flying Oddball is enervated. The characterizations are thin, the FX are rickety, the jokes are tepid, and the performances fail to impress. Some very young viewers might find the picture’s compendium of medieval settings, sci-fi concepts, and slapstick comedy distracting, but most viewers with ages in the double digits will grow restless quickly. Even though this movie ticks a few important boxes for live-action children’s entertainment by presenting a brisk and eventful storyline within a compact running time, nearly everything that happens onscreen is contrived and dumb, and it’s plain that Disney allocated a B-level budget for the production. One can literally see the strings on the protagonist during a climactic flying scene, a sure sign no one felt compelled to put forth their best efforts.
          The jam-packed storyline begins with a U.S. Senator refusing to finance an experimental NASA spaceship because flying the vessel would take an astronaut into space for decades. Clean-cut scientist Tom Trimble (Dennis Dugan) is tasked with creating a lifelike robot, so he produces Hermes (also played by Dugan). Thanks to a ridiculous set of circumstances, both Tom and Hermes are inside the vessel when it launches, so both find themselves in medieval England. Evil sorcerer Merlin (Ron Moody) conspires with Mordred (Jim Dale) to dethrone aging King Arthur (Kenneth Moore), but Tom and Hermes ally themselves with local lass Alisande (Sheila White) and others to help the king retain control over the Round Table. Typical of the movie’s gentle humor is the way Alisande carries around a goose, mistakenly believing the fowl is actually her father, transformed by one of Merlin’s spells. For the most part, Unidentified Flying Oddball is harmless, a barrage of misunderstandings and physical comedy peppered with the occasional clever gag. But, man, does this picture lack that beloved Disney magic. By the time the action climaxes with Tom flying in a suit of armor while Hermes uses the spaceship’s giant magnets as weapons, the picture shows the strain of trying to create spectacle without spending big money. This film promises Camelot and delivers Camelittle.

Unidentified Flying Oddball: FUNKY

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Sea Gypsies (1978)



          Arguably the best of many films actor Robert Logan made in the late ’70s about brave men protecting children from the dangers of life in the great outdoors, The Sea Gypsies benefits from a fairly lavish budget, which allows for not only impressive scenes depicting a storm at sea but also extensive location photography in coastal Alaskan wilderness. Like the Wilderness Family movies that Logan made with independent producer Arthur C. Dubs, this film borrows many qualities from live-action Disney fare while avoiding excessive sentimentality. While it would be exaggerating to call The Sea Gypsies gritty, it’s a great-looking adventure film expressing worthy themes, not least of which is respect for the natural world. Logan’s easygoing persona helps put the thing over, because he works a quintessentially ’70s sensitive-guy mode without seeming preachy or wimpy.
          The story begins in Seattle, where widower Travis Maclaine (Logan) and his two young daughters load their yacht for a six-week voyage into the Pacific. Since a magazine is helping bankroll the trip, Travis reluctantly accepts reporter Kelly (Mikki Jameson) as a passenger. Unbeknownst to the crew, young African-American orphan Jesse (Cjon Damitri Patterson) slips onboard just before castoff, only to be discovered once the boat is out to sea. A horrific storm causes the boat to sink off the coast of Alaska, so the group makes camp and hunts for food during several harrowing weeks before discovering, by way of a broadcast they hear on their precious radio, that the search for their yacht has been suspended. This prompts the dramatic question of how Travis and his people can possibly escape their temporary refuge before winter arrives.
          As should be evident by now, nothing in this story is fresh or surprising, but that’s not the point of a movie like The Sea Gypsies (later re-released as Shipwreck). Per the template established by a zillion similar Disney flicks, The Sea Gypsies is all about the idea that danger strengthens family bonds. It’s a quaint homily, no question, but it goes down smoothly when it’s presented well, as happens here. None of the actors are standouts, though Logan seems so comfortable in the wild that he creates the persuasive illusion of a born naturalist. Some of the inevitable animal scenes veer toward cuteness, thanks to a pelican whom the kids name “Pinnochio,” a friendly seal, and so on, but vignettes featuring near-fatal encounters with bears, orcas, and wolves have real tension. Moreover, the means the castaways use to survive seem thoroughly believable. Logan and director Stewart Raffill were into a solid groove, having previously collaborated on the Dubs productions The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1975) and Across the Great Divide (1976). They ended their run on a high note.

The Sea Gypsies: GROOVY

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Student Teachers (1973)



Roger Corman’s New World Pictures made so many iterations and variations of its sexy-nurses franchise that it’s challenging to keep straight which events occur in which movie, especially with motifs such as Dick Miller playing a sleazy coach appearing in more than one film. Nonetheless, I feel confident classifying The Student Teachers as the most befuddling installment. Amid the familiar tropes of feminist rhetoric, lingering sex scenes, and raunchy comedy, the movie churns through a grody subplot about a serial rapist, then concludes with a bizarre heist sequence featuring one of the leading ladies dressed as a nun—while she drives the unlikely getaway vehicle of a school bus. An early credit for director Jonathan Kaplan, who eventually graduated from drive-in schlock to mainstream pictures, The Student Teachers begins with the usual formula. Three hot women who work at the same place have experiences related to sex, and the experiences eventually interrelate. Tracy (Brooke Mills) moonlights as a nude model and gets involved with a peeping tom. Rachel (Susan Damante) takes a bold approach to teaching sex ed, sanctioning her students to make their own stag film. And Jody (Brenda Sutton) has the oddest adventure, pretending to become a drug dealer in order to help authorities capture a supplier. Naturally, each of these storylines includes an epic-length topless scene—or, in the case of Tracy’s subplot, several epic-length topless scenes. Yet it’s hard to reconcile the disparate elements. The Tracy vignettes are innocuously erotic, scenes of Rachel clashing with Miller’s character are semi-comedic, and the rape sequences—during which the assailant wears a plastic clown mask—are horrific. So by the time the campy finale arrives, the movie has become hopelessly muddled in terms of theme and tone. The unfortunate viewer who soldiers through this flick is left only with a bitter aftertaste and the sure knowledge that 90 minutes have been wasted.

The Student Teachers: LAME

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)



Incompetent sludge of interest only to bad-movie addicts, Invasion of the Blood Farmers was filmed somewhere in the wilds of downstate New York on a reported budget of less than $25,000, and it’s fair to say that cowriter, producer, and director Ed Adlum overspent. For while this painfully boring and stupid excuse for a horror picture has almost certainly delivered a return on the original investment thanks to its inexplicably long life on home video, the film itself looks as if it cost $25, not 1,000 times that amount. Continuity is virtually nonexistent, editing mistakes are rampant, the storyline is nearly incoherent, and the acting ranges from bad to nonexistent, which is to say that some players simply stand in place and recite dialogue without anything resembling intention or intonation. Online remarks suggest that some of the cast members were paid in beer, and it’s not difficult to imagine they imbibed their paychecks before appearing on camera. At least then the performers would have legitimate excuses for their embarrassing work. In any event, as the title suggests, Invasion of the Blood Farmers concerns a cult whose members kidnap people, hook them up to homemade intravenous tubes, and drain the victims’ blood for nefarious purposes. Maybe they’re aliens or maybe they’re Satanists, but it doesn’t really matter. The characters are so dippy that you won’t care who survives, and you won’t care why the killings are happening in the first place. Hell, good luck even staying awake while the main villain, a queeny young guy wearing ridiculous gray flourishes in his hair to appear wizened, gives campy monologues about the principles of his cult, the “Sangroids.” Whatever. Thanks to its PG rating, Invasion of the Blood Farmers doesn’t have much blood, so even those seeking a straight shot of no-budget gore are likely to be disappointed.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers: SQUARE

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971)



          “That’s the main drawback of this particular hobby,” notes Bill Alren. “The feeling of shame.” Alren’s hobby is spying on women in various states of undress, whether that manifests at peeking up a coworker’s skirt while she bends over or using binoculars to ogle bikini-clad ladies on a beach near his house in Los Angeles. As you might imagine, Bill’s hobby is a source of friction in his marriage to the beautiful but anguished Lisa (Joanna Shimkus). Even though Bill makes a good living as a stockbroker and provides her with a comfortable home, she’s frustrated by the mindless rhythms of a childless housewife’s lifestyle, so the discovery of Bill’s proclivity for peeping is the final straw. Since she leaves Bill within the first half-hour of The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker, the bulk of the movie concerns Bill’s attempts to gain control over his lascivious impulses and to woo Lisa back into his life. Created by two of the key players behind The Graduate (1967), novelist Charles Webb and producer Lawrence Turman, this picture lacks the sociological heft of its predecessor, but it’s a respectable hybrid of comedy and drama with a few pithy observations about modern relationships.
          Among the film’s strongest elements are Richard Benjamin’s leading performance and the intelligent (if occasionally glib) screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. Benjamin and Semple operate on the same level, articulating melancholy from the safety of a sarcastic remove, but because the central character is in some ways experiencing his own life from an outside-in perspective—he’s aware of the damage he inflicts but can’t or won’t stop himself—the arm’s-length style works. Turman, making his directorial debut, generates unhurried pacing that allows the gently plaintive textures of Fred Karlin’s score to add emotional dimensions. Yet Turman misfires a few times, especially during the climax, so there’s a reason a decade elapsed before he helmed another film: His work is adequate but not special. The same could be said of the film overall. It’s a little bit amusing, a little bit insightful, and a little bit sexy, but one strains to define any area in which the content or execution is superlative. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and the cast is colorful: Elizabeth Ashley plays Lisa’s sister, Adam West plays the husband of Ashley’s character, and B-movie queen Tiffany Bolling plays a mysterious seductress.

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker: FUNKY

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Manhandlers (1974)



If you can wrap your mind around the concept of a movie in which three women strive to bring integrity to the massage business despite interference from mobsters, then, congratulations, you’re the target audience for The Manhandlers. While not nearly as sleazy as its premise might suggest, this lighthearted drama has an unavoidably leering quality, since the comely protagonists stroke men’s bodies for a living. The notion that they draw the line as to which areas they’re willing to stroke is what kicks the threadbare plot into gear. Katie (Cara Burgess) inherits a massage parlor after gangsters kill her uncle, the previous owner. Katie is shocked to discover that the ladies working at the parlor use massage sessions as come-ons for—well, let’s just stick with retail terminology and call it “upselling.” After dismissing the working girls, Katie recruits two friends, an actress bored with doing commercials for products including “Madonna Vaginal Spray” and a secretary tired of dodging her handsy boss, then re-opens the massage parlor without the prostitution component. This aggravates local gangsters, who demand a slice of her profits, but Katie somehow becomes romantically involved with a young mobster and—oh, never mind. The Manhandlers is relatively inoffensive, insomuch as it could have been cruder, but the movie is painfully dull and predictable; although some of the performances are acceptable, nothing much happens. The producers deserve some measure of respect for resisting the temptation to stock The Manhandlers with gratuitous nudity and salacious happy-ending scenes, but they didn’t replace the missing sensationalism with anything of commensurate interest. And if there’s a quasi-feminist statement here, something about women taking control of their destinies, it’s obscured by the titillating nature of the premise.

The Manhandlers: LAME

Sunday, May 14, 2017

3 Million Page Views!


Once again, thank you to the intrepid readership of Every ’70s Movie for pushing the blog past another significant milestone. As of this weekend, the blog has been viewed over 3 million times, and the monthly readership numbers continue to humble me. Now that the blog is into its final year of daily publishing, it’s a thrill to see that so many people remain passionate about a subject that I find endlessly fascinating. What happens once I complete watching and reviewing all the ’70s movies I can find is a discussion for another day, so for now I’ll simply encourage loyal readers to consider donating via the PayPal button on the home page. Tracking down the most obscure titles from the ’70s incurs expenses, and I want to get as close at I can to achieving the mission statement baked into this unique project’s title. Readers are also encouraged to scan posts from recent weeks asking for information about the availability of hard-to-find titles, as any and all help finding such films is greatly appreciated. Meantime, enjoy the daily reviews, months of which are still on deck, and as always, keep on keepin’ on!

Tail Gunner Joe (1977)



          While not an outstanding biopic, the made-for-TV Joseph McCarthy saga Tail Gunner Joe has many virtues, not least of which is a fundamental lesson the American people still haven’t learned. After all, McCarthy was a blustery fearmonger who destroyed people’s lives based on nothing but hearsay and innuendo—if not outright falsehoods—and he built his political career not on his own ideals and accomplishments, but by promising to rid America of enemies that, conveniently, only he had the power to identify. Sound familiar? Trade Congressional hearings for televised campaign rallies and Twitter rants, and the parallels between McCarthy and Donald Trump become apparent. They’re very different men following very different trajectories, but they align in the areas of hubris, recklessness, and strategy. Moreover, both McCarthy and Trump fall well below the average in terms of conscience and shame. As McCarthy did, Trump succeeds by aggrandizing himself and victimizing those with less power. All of which is a way of saying that even though Tail Gunner Joe is completely respectable in every important regard, from acting to scripting to technical execution, it’s ordinary except as a cautionary tale with echoes that continue to resound well into the 21st century.
          The movie opens with the Army-McCarthy Hearings of the mid-1950s, which culminated in lawyer Joseph Nye Welch’s famous condemnation, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Between the introduction of the hearings and the delivery of that condemnation, the movie uses the contemporary framing device of a reporter investigating the McCarthy era, thereby connecting flashbacks tracking McCarthy’s rise and fall. The reporter is Logan (Heather Menzies), assigned to the story by an unnamed veteran editor (Charles Cioffi) who covered McCarthy back in the day. Her angle is determining how and why McCarthy aggregated so much power with a witch hunt ostensibly designed to discover communists hiding in American government and private-industry jobs. Peter Boyle plays McCarthy in the flashbacks, which comprise most of the picture’s running time. The portrayal is all bluster and smoke, conveying the idea that McCarthy struck his early supporters as a charming scamp, only to lose favor as he devolved into a hate-spewing demagogue. The implication is that McCarthy got lost in his own rhetoric, gravitating toward his witch hunt because it was the platform that got him the most attention, then dooming himself to political oblivion by pressing the issue past the point of reason. The filmmakers also stress that, like Richard Nixon, McCarthy had a long history of smearing political opponents with bogus accusations.
          The title stems from a colorful sequence depicting McCarthy’s WWII service in the Pacific theater. Frustrated at being grounded, “Tail Gunner Joe” climbed into a plane on the tarmac and wasted nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition blasting coconut trees. His antics won him widespread news coverage, so McCarthy began his first Senate campaign while still in uniform—even though it was illegal to do so.
          Writer Lane Slate and director Jud Taylor do a workmanlike job of presenting their interpretation of McCarthy’s psychological makeup, though the film almost inevitably slips into mechanical rhythms once the endless cycle of scenes depicting legal proceedings begins. Not helping matters is a cast largely comprising B-list actors—Andrew Duggan, John Forsythe, Henry Jones—because the film sparks whenever someone powerful appears, such as Ned Beatty or Burgess Meredith, then lags when they disappear. Boyle’s deliberately repellant performance needs more counterpoint than it gets until the climax, when Meredith, portraying Welch, beautifully delivers the “decency” monologue. In a clumsier moment of speechifying, Logan—the reporter—laments that her peers in the Fourth Estate gave McCarthy his agency by providing free press every time he said something outrageous. “McCarthy calls Truman a traitor,” she says. “That's not news, that’s madness.” Again, in the era of Donald Trump launching one baseless accusation after another at Barack Obama and countless other targets of his unhinged invective, all of this sounds depressingly familiar.

Tail Gunner Joe: GROOVY

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Medicine Ball Caravan (1971)



          Watching the hippie-era documentary Medicine Ball Caravan, it’s plain that Warner Bros. threw a bunch of money at the project, elaborately filming a counterculture group’s colorful trek from San Francisco to the heartland, then enlisting Martin Scorsese, credited as the film’s executive producer and post-production supervisor, to jazz up the footage with creative editing and ironic musical counterpoints. Yet all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t enough to make this film anything more than a tacky attempt at exploiting the popularity of Ken Kesey’s “magic trip” escapades of the ’60s, which were documented in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 nonfiction book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Since no feature-length film emerged from Kesey’s exploits, the plan at Warner Bros. must have been to point cameras at the next group of drugged-out adventurers departing from the Bay Area for parts unknown. Unfortunately, hoping that documentarians will capture something important is not the same as actually capturing something important. Notwithstanding some decent musical performances, by random acts including Alice Cooper and B.B. King, Medicine Ball Caravan is a forgettable slice of Woodstock-era life.
          Comprising about 150 people in more than a dozen vehicles, the titular caravan traveled to various cities over the course of 21 days, ostensibly to spread the peace-and-love ethos. Concerts were staged in various cities to draw locals, and the hope, one assumes, was to create educational encounters between hippies and straights. A few such interactions happen, as when the film’s French-born director, François Reichenbach, chats up an old cowboy who says he digs the hippies’ rebel spirit. Showing a flair for the overdramatic, Reichenbach then gushes, “You’re the most wonderful man I ever met!” Pleasant as it is to see a cosmopolitan artist leave his bubble, moments like this one don’t resonate, especially since Reichenbach (and/or Scorsese) devotes so much screen time to nonsense. In one scene, a guy whacked out on dope spews motor-mouthed gibberish, and in another, longhaired dudes—as well as Reichenbach’s camera—ogle hippie chicks while they take a group shower. Editing gimmicks including split-screen imagery do little to enliven the material.
          Still, it’s not as if Medicine Ball Caravan—sometimes known as We Have Come for Your Daughters—is a total waste. As one of the caravan participants says, “Half of this is groovy and half of it is rotten—we’ll groove on the groovy part of it and try to make the rotten part better.” Fair enough.

Medicine Ball Caravan: FUNKY