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Reviews

Maniac
(1963)

Let's Do The Twist
Early on in the film Jeff and Annette do the twist. If I were a more astute viewer I would have realized that it was a subtle visual representation of plot foreshadowing. It would not have surprised me if Chubby Checker was brought in to do some punching up of the script for the third act. And there seemed to be plenty of drinking going on prior to the Chubby Checker part of the film. I guess the alcohol kept Jeff's brain kinda fuzzy so he could not see he was being used like a piece of cheese in a mousetrap. I'm not a big advocate for smoking but for some reason I like cops who smoke and have French accents. I thought it was considerate of everyone in the film to speak English since Jeff was an American. My experience with the French is that they like to speak French. Yeah, I liked this movie because it had horses in it.

The Last Voyage
(1960)

That Sinking Feeling
As I was watching The Last Vosyage I got to thinking about different things. Did Dorthy Malone get up every day while working on this film and dread going to work. Did she think: "Another day of acting like I'm pinned under debris. Kinda fun at first, but it gets old. I really got to fire my agent." Speaking of agents, I imagined Woody Strode's agent saying: "Woody will do the picture as long as he doesn't have to wear a shirt. His fan club loves it when he doesn't wear a shirt." George Sanders. You know the ship is in trouble if he is Captain. The passengers were not a high priority for him. He was reluctant to have them abandon ship and he never did announce the cancellation of the ping pong tournament. I found Tammy Marihugh's performance disturbing. Was she really that good at acting hysterical? I wondered if the director induced such an intense performance by ripping the head off her doll or telling her her puppy died.

With Six You Get Eggroll
(1968)

10 Stars
I usually don't rate movies. I'm going to make an exception. Below is a reason for each of my stars. 1. Doris Day in a hard hat. 2. 1968. 3. Brown refrigerators. 4. The Grass Roots. 5. Transitor radios. 6. Color TV - "I wanna watch it in color." 7. Brian Keith's tatoo. 8. The camper. 9. Hippies. 10. Barbra Hershey's hair. 11. Takes my mind off the pandemic for 94 minutes.

The Mod Squad: My What a Pretty Bus
(1968)
Episode 3, Season 1

The Counterfeit Bus
Groovy episode with some heavy stuff going down. There's not one, but two hippie buses. Pete and Julie ride motorcycles without helmets. Not safe, but they look cool. Julie burns a pizza which is kind of a bummer. Pete wets his hair with a hose. The m-squad does a group hug producing good vibrations just before the end credits. PEACE!

Cologne
(1939)

Strong Cologne
I'm watching the DVD collection of 50 preserved films from American Film Archives. When I saw the title of this particular film I thought it might be some type of travelogue shot by Americans in Germany. As a Minnesotan, I was pleasantly surprised to see the film was set in the small town of Cologne, Minnesota in 1939. This amateur documentary was actually made by a doctor and his wife. It is cleverly done given the limitations of having no audio (as the Germans would say, MOS - Mit Out Sound). Despite what another IMDB reviewer of this film mistakenly claims, amateur movie makers in that time period would find the technical difficulties of shooting a film with audio rather daunting. Anyways, I thought the film had a creeping subtlety to it that rewarded the viewer by the time it concluded. When the movie began it seemed like it might be a pleasant Norman Rockwell type portrait of a farming community in the upper midwest, but it becomes more and more nuanced in it's revelation that the town is both fueled by a German and Dutch work ethic, as well as an apparently healthy (or un-healthy) consumption of beer.

Death Sentence
(1974)

What Is Suspense?
I've noticed some IMDB reviewers for this type of film tend to make the following statement: "Seeing who the murderer was in the opening scene ruins the suspense." Uhm...if we don't know who the murderer is then there is no suspense as the plot unfolds. Alfred Hitchcock once said something (and I'm paraphrasing): If we have a character who is carrying a bomb on a crowded bus and the audience knows the bomb is set to go off in three minutes - then we have suspense. If we have a character carrying a box and the audience doesn't know what is in the box and it suddenly goes off - then we have surprise. Structurally, in terms of plot, this movie could have revealed the killer later in the story but that wouldn't necessarily have made it more suspenseful. It actually could be argued that it made it less suspenseful since less time would be spent on suspense and more on the "who-done-it" aspect. The suspense occurs in this story because we know Cloris Leachman is married to a murderer after the opening scene. I'm not arguing that the suspense was handled brilliantly in this movie. But I would argue that if we the viewer didn't know who the murderer was from the get go, the film would be less suspenseful and not more.

The Big Valley: Four Days to Furnace Hill
(1967)
Episode 12, Season 3

A Bunch Of Punches
I was hoping to see Victoria make it to Furnace Hill in this episode. Fritz Weaver gave such a grim and vivid description of the institution that I immediately began pondering Victoria's fate. Alas, it can only be left to ones imagination as to how Victoria would have taken to life in the big house. I also would have liked to have seen Nick in this episode. After seeing Bruce Dern punch Victoria a couple of times in the face, it would have been such sweet justice to see Nick pop Bruce in the kisser a few times. Oh well, you can't have everything, even in the big valley.

The Big Valley: Day of the Comet
(1966)
Episode 15, Season 2

Poetry Of The Ages
In this episode we learn how truly dopey Audra is when she foolishly tumbles off a cliff. The sequence makes for good entertainment as a man-on-the run from his past, played by Bradford Dillman, pulls her to safety and into a fleeting romance. The poetry loving man-on-the run is being chased by a group of men lead by a one-armed man. Fans of The Fugitive will appreciate this irony. Linda Evans shines as Audra in this episode. I like her twisted smile in an early scene with Barbara Stanwyck as she reveals her encounter with Dillman.

Naked City: A Wednesday Night Story
(1961)
Episode 5, Season 3

Mycket Bra!
I like this episode of "Naked City." It is Mycket Bra! I'm not claiming anyone else should like it, or even dislike it. I'm a big fan of David Janssen. It's enjoyable to see him portray bad guys on this episode and his guest appearance on "Route 66." Generally anyone who is a fan of Janssen is a fan of "The Fugitive" and I am no exception. We get to see (hear actually) DJ's character argue with his wife in this episode. She is brilliantly portrayed by Constance Ford. It is unintended foreshadowing to his character, Richard Kimble, arguing with his wife in "The Fugitive" on the night she is murdered. In "The Fugitive" Janssen plays a guy named "Dick" and in this episode of "Naked City" he is a dick. I took a year of Swedish in college. I was impressed by the fact that they had the character played by Ulla Jacobson speak Swedish when she goes into the squad room to express her concerns about the firearm in the Cameron household. It's actually very clever of the screen writer(s) to have Jacobson speak in Swedish and have it translated by the Swedish consulate because it makes it easier for her to talk to the police given that she is not as sincere as we the viewer thinks she is at that point in the story. Perhaps more simply put: If you had to lie to the law enforcement in another country, would you rather do it in your native tongue than in the country's language that you reside in? The B.S. detector that cops might have would make it harder for them to pick up on the fact that you are not revealing the entire truth. I like how at the end of the story Ulla expressed her expectations about a romantic life in America, but how those expectations collided with a cold hearted reality encompassed by the character portrayed by Big Apple resident David Janssen.

Death Valley Days: Self Made Man
(1952)
Episode 6, Season 1

Well Intended, Bad Execution
I like narratives where one armed men figure into the plot. "Bad Day At Rock" is a great movie and The Fugitive is my all time favorite TV series. "DVD: Self-Made Man" certainly contributes to the limited cannon of one-armed man tales in cinema and television. Unfortunately, the script for this story is clunky with a capital "C". I think a bad script can sink any given celluloid ship no matter how great the actors are or who is directing. I offer up this episode of DVD as an example. I kept expecting "the old ranger" to ride into the proceedings with a shotgun and put all the actors out of their misery. I'm sorry to report that didn't happen. Oh, well.

Home from the Hill
(1960)

Head For The Hills
I recently read the novel on which this film is based and was curious about how it was adapted. By the end of the novel everyone dies...well not everyone, but dad, mom, son and the wild boar are all dead. In the film, not everyone dies, plus there is an extra son played by George Peppard. The son from the book is played by George Hamilton. Near the end of the film the two Georges throw some punches at each other. I doubt George Hamilton could beat George Peppard in a fist fight in real life. If the two squared off in a tanning contest, I think we all know who would win that one. I realized when I watched this film that I like movies where the ending involves one of the characters walking off into the sunset with an uncertain future. Hamilton's character dropped out of high school, so he could focus on hunting in both the book and movie. Since he dies in the book, it does not matter that he is under educated. When he wanders off at the end of the film, I'm guessing he'll probably have to get his GED or somehow enroll again in high school if he want to improve his job prospects. We know he is a determined young man because near the beginning of the film he sat in the woods for two hours trying to catch a snipe. I liked the scene where Mitchum was really hung over and he dunks his head in the water trough. Before that Peppard drags him from the floozy's apartment where Mitchum had apparently spent a lost three day weekend. I think I recall reading once that Mitchum said he was hung over for most of the production of The Winds Of War, so maybe he didn't need to act much here. At any rate, he is brilliant and the most perfectly cast character other than Burt Mustin as the gas station attendant.

It Happened in Athens
(1962)

The Modern Marathon Started Here
I was curious about It Happened In Athens because it featured a storyline concerning the first Olympic marathon held in 1896. That race was won by Louis Spiridon who is the main character in this film. At the end of the film it claims that it is not a biography about Spiridon. Like the movie Spiridon, the real Spiridon came from a humble background. According to the book 26.2 Marathon stories by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson Spiridon attained his running prowess because his family had a water transporting business and he would run alongside the cart each day racking up 8 to 16 miles. Unlike the movie Spiridon, the real Spiridon participated in the Greek Olympic trials where he finished 5th out of 38 starters. The actual Olympic race would feature 17 runners and 13 of them were Greek and they had more experience in long distant running than most of the other countries who for the most part featured middle distant runners. These middle distant runners tended to go out too fast and fade during the race which is how it is portrayed in the movie. There is an Irish runner who is shown to imbibe during the race in an apparent attempt at levity via the reinforcement of a tired stereotype. The real Spiridon actually stopped at mile 13 and tipped a glass of wine and announced to the crowd that he would win. In the movie there is a sign at the starting line that reads: 42 kilometers to Athens which is close to the current marathon distance of 26.2 miles. However, at the first modern Olympic marathon the distance was 40 kilometers or 25 miles. Spiridon's real-life girlfriend's cheered him on at mile 23 and her name was Eleni, which is the name of the Jane Mansfield character in It Happened In Athens. If she was half as cute as Xenia Kalogeropoulou who played his girlfriend in the movie, he was one lucky marathoner. Spiridon finished with a time of 2:58:50 (the current world record for men is 2 hours 3 minutes and 38 seconds) and as seen in the movie his victory was an immensely joyful occasion for the Greek people.

Hawaii Five-O: The Flip Side Is Death
(1973)
Episode 15, Season 6

The Trouble With 8-Track
In "The Flip Side Is Death" we find out that Art Walker (Peter Haskell) needs the bank robbery loot because his music business is in trouble. It isn't overtly mentioned, but we learn why when it is revealed that he is a distributor of 8-Track cassettes, a format that, while certainly conducive to portable listening, had a shot lifespan with consumers due to reliability and usability. One of Five-0 strengths isn't fleshing out the characters of the good guys. Al Harrington's Ben, for example, doesn't even have a last name. It is therefore refreshing in this episode to learn that one of the patrolmen is a fan of Santana. It made me wonder what Danno liked to listen to in his free time. He didn't seem to have any qualms about smashing a Bob Dylan 8- Track cassette so perhaps he was one of those die hard folk fans who would have booed Dylan when he plugged in an electric guitar at Newport. And McGarrett seemed to show interest in playing the guitar in earlier episodes, but then apparently gave it up. Don Stroud played drums in "The Buddy Holly Story" but he doesn't get to do anything musical here; he just acts real mean and makes an excellent bad guy. In keeping with the music theme it should be noted that this episode was directed by Paul Stanley. I wonder if he ever directed Jean Simmons in anything?

Beachhead
(1954)

Two Crummy Marines
This movie may be stupid at certain points, but it is never boring. I personally never tire of a well thrown hand grenade, and Frank Lovejoy tosses them with great skill in every other scene. Also, there's a nice twisted ankle moment featuring Mary Murphy. Not only does Mary severely injure her foot in an extremely painful manner while disembarking from a boat, but a true visual delight is seeing her drenched dress cling tightly to her shapely figure as she is assisted from the water. The twisted ankle is fortuitous for Tony Curtis in that he gets to help Mary hobble along across the beautiful Kua'i landscape. Before you know it, there's a little jungle love action going on between the two. How long their love will last is hard to tell because the corpsman at the end of the film seems pretty eager to move in on Tony's action, and as everyone knows, all's fair in love and war.

The Philadelphia Experiment
(1984)

Three Or More Questions
There are a lot of questions surrounding The Philadelphia Experiment. How is it that 1940s era sailors got 1980s haircuts before they even traveled forty years into the future? How could Manfred Mann perform "The Runner" without worrying that a version of himself from 1964 might suddenly appear and rip out his vocal cords for singing such a typically idiotic 1980s type song? Why is that time travelers always make it look so easy to find a love interest? How was it that after screwing up the Philadelphia Experiment, the military still has complete confidence in Dr. James Longstreet to allow him to pursue his misguided experiments for the next forty years?

My rating: 9.7 and one half stars. The Philadelphia Experiment gets an extra half star because the time travelers see punk rockers at a diner out in the Nevada desert. Also, every car chase featured a vehicle flipping over.

Our Winning Season
(1978)

Coming of Age in Track Shoes Flick
I saw this movie at Kmart for $3.99 and it was a price point I couldn't walk away from. I had never heard of it before, but the fact that it was from the 1970s and featured running as an element of the story appealed to me. As an added treat, when the credits began to roll I was pleased to see P.J. Soles was in the cast. Her part isn't big, but she always brings a special spark to her portrayals. Actually, all of the women in Season are appealing; good job casting director!

Scott Jacoby plays David Wakefield, a miler on the high school track meet who we learn from the opening scene, tends to run like a slower version of Prefontaine in that he goes out fast only to fade in the end. He acts as a rabbit for the team's resident jerk and stand out miler Burton (Robert Wahler).

His older sister's boyfriend, Dean (Joe Penny) a former track stand out advises him to start off slower and save it for the end (a.k.a negative splits), but it takes a rendezvous with a hooker with a heart of gold (Joanna Cassidy) and for Dean to go off and die in 'Nam for the advice to really sink in. I forgot to mention the film is set in the Sixties, and so when Dean heads off to Vietnam you know he is going to die. The ever appealing Jan Smithers plays his grieving girlfriend.

The film is sprinkled with teen high jinx, but it doesn't have the anarchy of an "Animal House." It reminded me of a cross between the "Class of '44" and "American Graffiti" but lacked the profundity of the latter film.

I thought it was interesting that the film didn't have a lot of adult figures in it other than some coaches and cops; parental figures are all off-screen. There's no music of the era blaring out of car radios or jukeboxes.

I noticed during the pot smoking scene that Dennis Quaid - and this is no great revelation - can inflate his cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie.

And at the climatic race at the end the stands are filled with extras who look like they are watching a track meet in 1978 given their attire and hair styles. Period pieces with large crowd scenes and limited budgets are always tough to pull off.

Mayday at 40,000 Feet!
(1976)

Trouble In The Sky
If you are a fan of "Zero Hour" "Airport" and "Skyjacked" then you will probably be mildly entertained by "Mayday at 40,000 Fee!" TV movie "Mayday" doesn't quite take off like the theatrical distressed airplane films. Most of the talent in the movie are dependable TV actors. Luckily the "Love Boat" wouldn't set sail for another year, so casting director Marvin Page more than likely had less trouble with potential scheduling conflicts when booking the performers. It seems like Ray Milland spent most of the Seventies acting grouchy. It's nice to see him do this while also reprising his famous performance from "The Lost Weekend." I enjoyed Don Meredith's good old boy performance. He was a real scene stealer. This should come as no surprise since there is an old saying in Hollywood: Never act with children, animals or former quarterbacks of the Dallas Cowboys. Off-screen romances don't necessarily translate to on-screen, but I liked the chemistry between the Georges. In the plot department it wasn't too surprising that Linda's character primary function was to basically end up like Jacqueline Bisset in "Airport."

M Squad
(1957)

Frank Ballinger, Chicago Cop
I recently saw Max Weinberg's Big Band and it was a real treat to hear them play the theme from M Squad - especially since I had just watched all the episodes of the series over the past year or so. Lee Marvin was one cool cucumber of an actor who wore a cool hat during the series run. It's great to see him walk the streets of Chicago in his relentless pursuit of criminal apprehension. Like Joe Friday, we never really see Marvin's Frank Ballinger off the clock, but unlike Friday it seems like when he does get the occasional day off, Ballinger might actually have a good time at a local windy city watering hole. I watched many of the episodes in the wee hours of the night, which was the perfect time to enter Frank's black and white universe of no nonsense crime fighting.

The Paper Chase: Hart Goes Home
(1984)
Episode 14, Season 2

Southern Comfort In The North Star State
Minnesota's favorite law student heads back to the farm in this episode. Looming off in the distance are the famous Minnesota Mountains as noted in the "Goofs" section. This episode also features Cooper Huckabee's "Dooley" and his good ol' boy southern accent. I guess in the Hollywood scheme of things it just isn't the country unless at least one character has an accent that originates from below the Mason-Dixon line. Even the name "Dooley" conjures up images of hound dogs, moonshine and the Darlings singing on The Andy Griffith Show. Still, I like this episode because no one is named Sven and Hart proves that the kids of Minnesota really are above average.

The Pom Pom Girls
(1976)

They Sure Liked To Eat Hamburgers In This One
1976 was a mellow year. And California was the ground zero of mellowness. The main vibe of "The Pom Pom Girls" would seemingly be mellow tunes drifting out from an 8- track player in the back of a mellow yellow van while "getting it on" or even just "takin' it easy." And yet, the mellowness is but a light frosty layering over a nihilistic cake that makes up the brunt of The Pom Pom Girls. Do these kids care about anything other than engaging in behavior inspired by the Greek god Dionysus? It's all sex, beer and mellow rock and roll as far as they are concerned. They steal a fire truck, urinate in public and punch out the football coach. Sure, it's all in good fun, because you are only young once, but somehow the on-screen shenanigans rarely had the liberating stamp of youthful anarchy that the film seemed to be seeking.

Kissin' Cousins
(1964)

Double Trouble
Elvis had to work overtime in this flick because he plays two parts. Did Marlon Brando ever play two parts? Did Montgomery Clift? Did James Dean? Nope, only Elvis could handle such a challenge. Actually I'm not even sure if Brando, Clift and Dean did double duty, but even if they did, there is no way they could be as good as Elvis. In the 1960s seeing double was hot in the television and motion picture business. Hayley Mills, Patty Duke and Bob Denver all took on duo roles in their respective projects. It only made sense to have Elvis do it too. He seems to have fun playing Jodie Tatum since he is liberated from having to play "the Elvis movie character" that he pretty much was forced to do in all his other movies. He's allowed to be a bit of a rascal. Elvis also gets to fight himself which is always fun to see an actor do. The biggest weakness of this film is that Yvonne Craig did not get to play two parts. I wouldn't have minded seeing two of her.

Swiss Family Robinson
(1960)

Book him, Fritz
The only thing this movie lacks is Haley Mills. Apparently she was hanging out at the location with her dad when it was being filmed. Too bad old Walt didn't have her do a cameo as a mermaid or something. Anyways, this movie is way better than the book it is based on. I just finished reading it and all the Swiss family do is kill wildlife every other page. If the movie stayed true to the book there would not be much drive in the narrative. The book has no love interest, no pirates, no savages, no Gilligan. I'm sure in the future they will keep making versions of it, but this one sets the gold coconut standard of tropical island fun.

All Mine to Give
(1957)

Pioneer Cheeseheads
You ever notice how often characters in movies will beat each other up (in this case it is Cameron Mitchell and the Skipper) and then start laughing only to become buddies. I have never seen this happen in real life. Has it ever happened in real life? Not that most movies ever aspire to real life. As a matter of fact, I don't trust movies that aspire to real life. That's why I'm okay with mountains in Wisconsin. I will say that this movie reminded me of a story my grandma once told me. One day one hundred years ago or so, a young boy showed up crying in front of where my grandma lived. Her dad, who was an immigrant from Sweden, asked what was wrong, and the boy said his parents were dead. My grandma's dad said, "You can stay with with us." And so the boy became one of the family. My grandma told me when the boy reached a certain age he just took off and was never heard from again. I sometimes wonder what happened to the kid.

The Invaders: The Innocent
(1967)
Episode 9, Season 1

Excellent Smithers
If I were a character actor I would love playing a character called "Alien #1." I would hoped to be killed by David Vincent and glow red before I vanished from the screen. Unfortunately Alien #1 doesn't die. Nor does Alien #2. They do get to pour three fourths of a bottle of whiskey down Vincent's throat to get him severely intoxicated. Thinnes does the best drunken driving scene since Cary Grant in North By Northwest. And with very few lines of dialog and not many scenes, you can't help feel sorry for Nat Greely as performed by William Smithers. A sad loser of an alcoholic who has the unfortunate luck of getting mixed up with the invaders. Vincent and Greely are bruised and battered after surviving the car wreck. And then they have to endure a tongue lashing from Dabney Coleman who was counting them to help testify about the invaders. I'm surprised Vincent, who must have had one heck of a hangover, didn't throw up his arms at the end of this episode and yell, "I give up!"

12 Angry Men
(1957)

A Little Anger Goes A Long Way. A Lot Goes Even Further.
12 Angry Men is about 12 guys who are all dealing with hostile feelings. The characters played by Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley, in particular, are very angry. These two actors do anger really well. When they are not out right agitated they seem grumpy. It's like they got up on the wrong side of the bed every day of their life. It's fun to watch them get mad too. Lee J. Cobb excels at shouting at people. He yells at Henry Fonda a lot in this film. If John Wayne had played the Henry Fonda part, Wayne would have pulled out his six-shooter and at the very least, clubbed Cobb on the head when he yelled at him. Fonda keeps his cool for the most part even though he too has his moments of anger. It's not easy to be the loan dissenting voice when everyone around you is so gosh darn mad without getting a little hot under the collar yourself.

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