FILM REVIEWS, COLLECTION UPDATES, COMMENTS ON CINEMATIC CULTURE

Saturday, April 23, 2022

GORILLA AT LARGE (1954)


 Some very strange things happened to Anne Bancroft during the years before she achieved stardom and won an Oscar for Best Actress for THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962). As a contract player at 20th Century-Fox in the 1950's, she was cast in a variety of supporting and leading roles in B movies. In GORILLA AT LARGE she found herself cast as a trapeze artist in an amusement park side show performing a daring routine with a rather insipid looking gorilla. When her character, Laverne, isn't consorting with her hairy cohort, she's busy managing all the men in her life. One of them is her husband, Raymond Burr, the owner of the park. Another is top-billed Cameron Mitchell, sporting an orange-colored hairstyle, as a young guy Laverne recruits into her act, while also attempting to recruit him into her bed. There are other assorted gents mixed-up with Laverne, including a disgruntled ex-husband who happens to be the trainer of the aforementioned gorilla.

Anne Bancroft's initial reaction to the script of Gorilla At Large.

As the story progresses, and Lavere's overactive pheromones unleash all manner of aggressive male reactions, various cast members began dropping dead with broken necks. The logical culprit appears to be the gorilla. However, there is also someone running around the park in a gorilla suit, which tends to complicate matters. But don't worry. Cynical cop Lee J. Cobb arrives on the scene to harass everyone unmercifully until he nails the killer. He is ably assisted by detective Warren Stevens and bumbling cop Lee Marvin.

Lee Marvin looking justifiably perplexed.

Pay close attention here. The "real" gorilla in the film is played most of the time by someone in a gorilla suit. The killer is someone in a gorilla suit who is pretending to be the "real" gorilla...someone in a gorilla suit. You may need a drink right now.

Miss Bancroft is slinky and sexy, while Mitchell does a good job as an overaged Boy Scout. Burr is his usual intense pre-Perry Mason self. But the acting honors go to the various gorillas, real or otherwise.

Directed by Harmon Jones. In Technicolor. Originally released in 3-D.




 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

THUNDER ALLEY (1967)

 With the release of THUNDER ALLEY, American-International Pictures was continuing its movement toward more adult themes and characterizations. Since its inception in the 1950's, the studio had made millions by producing films geared toward the youth culture. In the 1960's, the studio found huge success with its colorful horror film series, mostly directed by Roger Corman, and its series of inane but entertaining Beach Party movies.  As social and sexual mores began to change rapidly in the 1960's, AIP once again changed its focus. They left behind the dark, Gothic castles and the sandy California shoreline and headed for the mean highways of Corman's THE WILD ANGELS (1966). While the biker films were becoming popular, AIP also took its cameras down to the racetrack with FIREBALL 500 (1966), recycling their two iconic Beach Party thespians Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, now fully clothed and trading in the suntan lotion for motor oil. And they added yet another former teen idol from the 50's, Fabian, who was under contract to AIP for several years, beginning in 1965. The racetrack films, like the biker films, were not made as a series, but as stand-alone productions. With THUNDER ALLEY, Frankie and Annette's long, difficult relationship was finally ended (the horror!) and her new leading man was Fabian, at least for one picture.


Annette received top billing for the first and only time with this movie. It was also the end of her career as a star actress. She had been in show business since the age of twelve, first under contract to Walt Disney and then to AIP. For a while she was working for both studios at the same time. Now twenty-four, married, and the mother of a little girl, Annette was more dedicated to her family life than life as a movie star. THUNDER ALLEY fulfilled the requirements of her AIP contract. What's fascinating about that particular development is that this film gives her the chance to do some serious acting and she does a surprisingly good job. In fact, she gives the best performance of her career, perhaps even better than her likable comedic turn in BEACH PARTY (1963). Of course, it must be said that the concept of "serious acting" had a different meaning in an AIP racetrack epic than it did for more mainstream Hollywood movies. Still, Annette shows considerable promise as an adult actress, and her fans can only wonder what her career may have been like if she had chosen to continue making films. 

She is joined by a good cast of actors. Fabian, now retired from his brief career as a pop singer, had a natural, masculine, easy-going acting style. Beautiful Diane McBain had a sexy kind of sophistication all her own. And Warren Berlinger, another young actor associated with teenage roles like BLUE DENIM (1959) and BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUNG (1960) was also very intense and energetic. The cast is rounded out with comedian and sometime actor Jan Murray, who had been quite impressive in the cult classic WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?
 (1965).

Fabian plays racer Tommy Callahan, who is troubled by blackouts during races. One such incident causes the death of another driver, and Tommy's career is seemingly over. He takes a job with Pete Madsen's (Murray) stunt driving show and gets to know Madsen's daughter, Francie (Funicello) and her boyfriend, Eddie (Berlinger), both of whom are drivers in the show. Tommy has brought along his latest girlfriend, Annie (McBain), a "track tramp" he has picked up along the circuit. As Tommy and Francie began to be interested in each other, he is given a chance to resume racing. He tries to find out what is causing his blackouts, finally realizing they are associated with something that happened when he was a child. Meanwhile, there are romantic conflicts, a few fights, and more racing footage than most people could possibly ever want.

That's about it, story wise. There's nothing terribly profound going on in this unpretentious B-flick, but for the most part, the movie is well-made. The director, Richard Rush, also made THE SAVAGE SEVEN (1968) and the excellent PSYCH-OUT (1968) for AIP. If there are any drawbacks, they have to do with the script. As good as Annette is, she is letdown by some of the dialogue she has to deliver. When her father asks Francie if she wants Tommy for herself, her response is: "I want him so bad, I ache." It's difficult to imagine even Bette Davis being able to get by with a ridiculous line like that. There is another scene where Francie has gotten herself drunk and is driving recklessly around the track until stopped by Tommy. The scene doesn't come off well, and it's a little uncomfortable for those of us who love Annette to see her doing something so embarrassing. She fares much better in a confrontation with McBain where the two women are discussing their mutual interest in Mr. Callahan. McBain is much more suited for this kind of thing, having played bad girls in films like PARRISH (1961), but Annette makes a formidable adversary. The movie also features some very lame "comedy" relief from bit players like Maureen Arthur, cast as a supposedly sexy track tramp. Most of these moments could have been cut from the movie with no sense of loss. 


One only has to look at the posters and lobby cards for THUNDER ALLEY to see what AIP was trying to promote with the film. "Days of Screaming Wheels...Nights of Reckless Pleasure." "Their God is Speed...Their Pleasure an 'Anytime' Girl." Not exactly the kind of details usually associated with an ex-Mouseketeer. Nothing explicit is shown during the film's 89-minute running time, but there are some things that tend to push the envelope beyond Beach flick standards. Tommy and Annie are obviously involved in an intimate relationship. And there is an extended wild party scene where things get, well, pretty wild. And there is a scene where Eddie, jealous of Francie's obvious attraction to Tommy, gets rough with her when dropping her off from a date and refers to her as a track tramp. Who knows? Maybe doing scenes like this played a part in Annette's decision to drop out of acting. She does get to sing one song when the party scene is just beginning. It's called "When You Get What You Want" and was composed by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner.  It was without a doubt the best singing performance she gave since her pop princess days with Disney. It's a lovely moment for her, fashionably dressed and interacting with the musicians. A fitting swan song. It's interesting to note that Annette virtually disappears from the party scene as it goes from wild to crazy and beyond. Seeing her in such an atmosphere would have been as uncomfortable and inappropriate as her attempted drunk driving scene.

Despite a few negative points, THUNDER ALLEY is another fun watch from the good folks at American-International. And the incessantly played title song, also composed by Hemric and Styner, will remain in your head for quite a while after the movie ends. Be forewarned!








                                  


                                              

Friday, April 15, 2022

FILM DIARY FOR MARCH 2022: GARBO TALKS AND DENNIS HOPPER LOSES HIS HEAD

 The cold, dark, rainy month of March provided an ideal environment to relax in the movie room and indulge in cinematic fantasy. I focused on three very dissimilar show business legends: Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart and Elvis Presley. The fact that these three legendary figures have absolutely no connection to each other shows how "all over the place" my interest in films has become. I sometimes wish I could be fanatically devoted to only one genre, like horror, for example. That would save me a lot of money, not to mention shelf space. I have the complete collection of Elvis' theatrical features, and most of his concert films as well. This is a little bit strange, considering that during my teenage years in the 1960's I saw only a few of his movies when they played in theaters. To be honest, I started collecting his films because they were so cheaply priced in the catalogs I received every month from Oldies.com. Most of them sat on the shelves unopened for quite a long time before I was curious enough to watch them. I always liked Elvis Presley, but I've never been a diehard fan. His early films were his best, not just for the quality of the music, but because they gave him a chance to do some serious acting. Elvis had a lot of potential as an actor. But it would seem that his manager, the infamous Col. Tom Parker, had other plans. After G.I. BLUES and BLUE HAWAII came out and made tons of cash, most of Elvis' films fell into a pattern of general mediocrity for the remainder of the decade. I decided to watch a few of his movies after all these years. HARUM SCARUM (1965), KISSIN'COUSINS (1964), FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963), and GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! (1962) were all first watches. Each one was as somniferous as the one before it. I was almost relieved to have found a cure for my chronic insomnia. SPEEDWAY (1968) was one of the Elvis flicks I saw at the show, and I remembered liking it. Watching it again after all this time was less than exciting. The two best things about it were the hit song "Let Yourself Go", which I had owned as a 45 RPM single back in 1968, and the refreshing presence of Nancy Sinatra, one of Elvis' more interesting leading ladies. 


 The one pleasant surprise in my Presley experience was the 1962 release KID GALAHAD, with Elvis playing a prize fighter. A very loose remake of the 1937 classic starring Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis, this gave Elvis one of his last opportunities to do some serious acting, and he does a good job. And he's supported by a decent cast of actors: Lola Albright, Gig Young, Joan Blackman, and Charles Bronson. There are still too many totally forgettable songs, but the film makes a good dramatic point. It's light years away from something like KISSIN' COUSINS.


My interest in the Divine Garbo had intensified after reading the wonderful biography by Robert Gottlieb. (See my review posted 3/31/22.) After getting deep into the book, I sent away for several of Garbo's films, most of which I'd never seen. A Garbo marathon that began in February continued in March, beginning with the star's sound debut in ANNA CHRISTIE (1930), which I had seen before. This was followed by her silent classics: JOYLESS STREET (1925), and TORRENT (1926), her American debut.

Garbo in her MGM film debut, TORRENT.

Other Garbo films that I watched this month: SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE (1931), in which she worked with Clark Gable, the man who would soon be known as the King of MGM, ROMANCE (1930), THE PAINTED VEIL (1934), and her final film, TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941). The latter film has taken a lot of criticism over the years as the movie that ended Garbo's career. But after this re-watch, I found myself appreciating it more than I had previously.

Greta Garbo and Clark Gable in SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE in 1931.




Humphrey Bogart has become one of my favorite actors in the last few years. As I've had the chance to see more of his films, I've come to realize how versatile he was, and how totally unique he was, and still is to this day. I've had a copy of THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) sitting on the shelves for quite a while, and decided to finally watch it. He gives an incredible performance, as do his co-stars Fred McMurray, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Robert Francis. I decided to send away for more of his films from Oldies.com. Some of them arrived this month, and I'm waiting for several others. One item I purchased was the SILVER SCREEN ICONS box set containing four of his best films: THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940), ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942), ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943), and PASSAGE TO MARSIELLES (1944), all first watches and thoroughly enjoyable. I also picked up a Bogart title I'd never heard of, YOU CAN'T GET AWAY WITH MURDER (1939), in which he plays one of his most evil gangster characters, and plays it to the hilt.



While I was having a great time being immersed in Hollywood's Golden Age, I suddenly found myself in a Mario Bava frame of mind. It must have been the cold, dark weather. I decided it was high time to re-watch one of his classic Gothic horror films, KILL, BABY...KILL (1966). This film is so overflowing with atmosphere and color, it's a visual feast. A triumph of style over story, it proves that Bava was every bit as masterful at using color film as he was with black & white. 


And, finally, we get around to Dennis Hopper losing his head. SPEED (1994) is another DVD I've had on the shelf for years, unopened, and gathering dust. I actually saw the movie on cable a long time ago and remember liking it. Action movies with little more than explosions and gratuitous violence are really not my thing. In fact, I like them less and less as I get older. But if I have to choose one film in this genre that best combines all of the noise and destruction with a likable, well-written human story, SPEED would have to be it. Dennis Hopper was already in my thoughts because I had just received the Severin Films release of his 1980 cult movie OUT OF THE BLUE. So I decided to give SPEED another watch. I have to admit I had a great time. Talk about guilty pleasures! Seeing Hopper play crazy as no one else can was a perfect way to wind up the month of March.


Dennis Hopper in SPEED. Not the kind of guy you want to meet on the subway.



Friday, April 8, 2022

KINO-LORBER SPRING 2022 SALE

 


The fine folks at Kino-Lorber are at it once again, extending their cinematic tentacles into my wallet. Here is my most recent journey into Blu-ray hoarding.

THE ROAD TO SALINA (1970)
Starring Mimsy Farmer, Robert Walker, and Rita Hayworth.







THE OSCAR (1967)

Starring Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Tony Bennett, Jill St. John, Eleanor Parker, and Joseph Cotten.




THE BLOODY BROOD (1959)
Starring Peter Falk.











PRIVILEGE (1967)
Starring Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton.









NOT WANTED (1949)
Starring Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, and Leo Penn.









FATHER HOOD (1993)
Starring Patrick Swayze and Halle Berry.









NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943)
Starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.









LARCENY (1948) 
Starring John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, and Shelley Winters.









DOUBLE DOOR (1934)
Starring Evelyn Venable, Mary Morris, Anne Revere, and Kent Taylor.







BROKEN LULLABY (1932)
Starring Lionel Barrymore and Nancy Carroll.









THE MIND BENDERS (1963)
Starring Dirk Bogarde and Mary Ure.











I AM HEATH LEDGER (2017)










THE HOMECOMING (1973)
Starring Paul Rogers and Ian Holm












WAY DOWN EAST (1920)
Starring Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess.







EXPRESSO BONGO (1959)
Starring Laurence Harvey, Cliff Richard, and Sylvia Syms.










THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923)
Starring Lon Chaney.








THE NIGHTCOMERS (1971)
Starring Marlon Brando.











DIABOLICALLY YOURS (1967)
Starring Alain Delon and Senta Berger.









ENDLESS NIGHT (1972)
Starring Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, and Britt Ekland.









DESIRE (1936)
Starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper.









DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985)
Starring Rosanna Arquette, Aidan Quinn, and Madonna.








FOOL FOR LOVE (1985)
Starring Sam Shephard, Kim Basinger, Randy Quaid, and Harry Dean Stanton.








ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO (1964)
Starring Barbara Barrie and Bernie Hamilton.








DRAGNET (1954)
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, and Ann Robinson.









DALEK'S INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D. (1966)
Starring Peter Cushing.









SUSPECT (1944)
Starring Charles Laughton and Ella Raines.









THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980)
Starring Rock Hudson.









YELLOW SKY (1948)
Starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, and Richard Widmark.