Saturday, July 25, 2015

Scalawag (1973)

Choppy, episodic, and saccharine, the family-friendly adventure Scalawag represented an ignominious directorial debut for actor Kirk Douglas. The movie features such maudlin devices as crying children, cutesy musical numbers, sentimental monologues, a talking parrot (voiced by Mel Blanc!), and a weak subplot about a bad man finding redemption by serving as surrogate father to a child. Yet even these offenses would be tolerable if Scalawag was a rip-roaring action picture. It is not. Filmed on an insufficient budget in a singularly unattractive mountain region of Serbia, the movie looks cheap and ugly, a problem exacerbated by Douglas’ dodgy camerawork. Some scenes don’t cut properly, others have such profound screen-direction problems that it’s difficult to parse spatial relationships, and some scenes just look drab. The tone of the piece is just as chaotic. Set around the middle of the 19th century, Scalawag takes place in the deserts of California. Peg (Douglas), a one-legged pirate, leads a rough gang including twins Brimstone and Mudhook (both played by Neville Brand), Fly Speck (Danny DeVito), and Velvet (Don Stroud). Through convoluted circumstances, the pirates join forces with Latin stud Don Aragon (George Eastman), as well as the beautiful Lucy-Ann (Lesley-Anne Down) and her preteen brother, Jamie (Mark Lester). Together, the characters search for gold. Each character is either anonymous or trite, the plotting is amateurish, and the double-crosses and lies that are supposed to generate dramatic conflict instead produce confusion. Douglas is a terrible ham throughout, Stroud is wasted in a nothing role, DeVito plays a cartoonish imbecile, Down is ornamental, and Lester comes across like a lab-generated child-star robot. Plus, why bother to make a pirate picture if nearly all the action takes place on dry land? Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of dumb.

Scalawag: LAME

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