Stagecoach to Lordsburg, Re-Take Three or So

DATELINE: Where’s Bing?

merritt  Merritt Shortly Before his Untimely Death.

 You may think you already saw a great, classic western with John Wayne as Ringo and directed by his mentor and most brilliant collaborator, John Ford.

Actually, you haven’t if you tune into the color, 1986 version that manages to remake the film. Unlike most revisions of the better original, this film is truly a curio, interesting on its own level.

If the first great Western had not been made with Duke Wayne, and you never heard of it, this little film might actually have been an amusing vanity project by well-known performers.

Actually, Stagecoach of 1986 is a television movie and could be better called a Country-Western. Yes, pardner, the stars apparently felt the story held its own without Wayne and Ford. So, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, take on the key roles. No, they do not sing. Nelson did the title tune over the credits, but we guess they might have hummed a few notes between takes. That might have been more interesting.

Since singers were the motif, they also brought in Anthony Newley—and Bing Crosby’s daughter, Mary.

The cast is not bad—and you can throw in John Schneider with a perfectly coiffured beard. Anthony Franciosa plays a corrupt banker, and Elizabeth Ashley sounding like a ghetto girl, and even the under-rated Merrit Buttrick as a cavalry officer.

The story has something to do with a stagecoach making a desperate and dangerous trip with Geronimo on the warpath.

Kristofferson takes on the thankless role played by John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Cash is some kind of marshall, and Willie Nelson is Doc Holliday.

These guys are pros—and their fans will hoot and love every scene, but we kept thinking: wait a second, wasn’t there another remake—with Bing Crosby??? It also starred Ann-Margaret, Mike Connors, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Robert Cummings, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens.

We don’t think Bing was the Duke, but we had to go to IMDb as our memory banks are corrupt lately. And, yes, there was such a film in 1966—made with old TV stars in the key roles! It is not generally available, but we will search hither and yon to find it.

 

Nobody’s Name Is More Well-Known

DATELINE:  Somebody is Big!

somebody Fonda Somebody!

When Terrence Hill, a pretty-boy actor from Italy, received top billing over Henry Fonda in the spaghetti Western, My Name is Nobody, you know the pasta won’t stick to the wall.

Though Sergio Leone’s name is pinned to this comedic western mess, he is not the director: but his style is shamelessly copied to the point that even scenes of Clint and Lee Van Cleef from A Few Dollars More are repeated here.

It is a western territory that has nothing to do with the West, except horse pucky and dust. It’s a social milieu that is a fun-house version of the noble Western. Indeed, much action takes place in a fun house with mirrors, a la Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai.

Stealing from the best seems to be the motto of this unfunny occasional slapstick, or burlesque, movie. It’s more Fellini than John Ford.

This Western comes several years after Fonda made a spectacular villain in Once Upon a Time in the West. Here he is Jack Beauregard, aging gunfighter wanting to retire, and Nobody is Terence Hill, an unfunny stalker who deserves to be shot for his shameless mugging. His pretty eyes notwithstanding.

We could not figure out their real relationship, but suspected it was father/illegit son. Each encounter is filled with some kind of oddball paternal bond.

R.G. Armstrong, Leo Gordon, Steve Kanaly, and Geoffrey Lewis are names you may not know, but their faces will strike you immediately for their Western roles. Here they lend their faces.

The humor is on a level of finding “Sam Peckinpah” on a tombstone in one desert cemetery. It mirrors Eastwood finding Leone’s name on a marker in one of his movies. Nothing original survives here.

However, this is ultimately Henry Fonda’s movie, a farewell and ode to the Old West, where he ends the movie with writing a letter about how it is all disappearing. He steals the movie by being Henry Fonda. Well, if this movie is the evidence, the West not only has gone with the wind, but was pushed out of the picture by bad jokes.

 

 

 

 

Slaughter-House 5: Major Disappointment

 DATELINE: So it goes!

michael sacks    Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim. 

It sounds like a sequel to itself, and that’s how it goes. Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novella is a man unstuck in time.

Slaughter-House 5 goes nowhere repeatedly and quickly.

It might have been a traditional sci-fi fantasy, but author Vonnegut achieved some kind of immortality by dealing with timeless repetitive living by a man abducted by aliens—and “forced” to randomly re-live his hideous life, from surviving plane crashes to surviving the horror of Dresden’s bombing in 1945.

Michael Sacks plays Billy Pilgrim, an all-seeing optometrist and is the epitome of what you’d want in the actor: he is timeless and can play callow youth, and middle-aged crazy. Yet, Sacks provided mostly promise unfulfilled. He never rose above this, his greatest role. He became stuck in the mud as much as anything else.

Other names in the 1972 film became more household:  Valerie Perrine, Perry King, Eugene Roche, Sorrell Booke, Ron Liebman, John Dehner, and on and on. The film is a litany of familiar faces of the age.

Music provided by Glenn Gould is Bach on harpsichord and limited to the alien scenes, which seems par for the course of the universe.

This was meant to be a great film based on a great book, but it’s not.

You might forget the movie if you don’t realize what the stakes were:  Michael Sacks borders and teeters in his lead role from wide-eyed innocent to bewildered twit. He seems perfect for abduction and living in a zoo on another planet.

Billy goes from hapless POW to hapless toy for creatures from a fourth dimension. He slips from a Lion’s Club speech to a POW camp assembly in a blink. He goes from here to there in a hop of time travel that Einstein would envy.

“So it goes” was the existential motto and motif for the book Slaughter House 5, but you will never hear it once in this film. That may tell you the failings and inadequacies of the movie. So it goes, indeed.

Khartoum: Muslim Conundrum

DATELINE:  Not Much Has Changed Since 1880 or 1966

Stars Apart

Be warned: this movie starts its streaming with a four-minute overture over black screen, as if to prove its pedigree as an epic.

Then, it contains a four minute entr’acte from the old Cinerama days when they had reserved seat showings of the feature—and needed a popcorn break to make more money from the viewers.

Laurence Olivier in 1966 darkened his face and played the Mahdi, the Muslim leader who nearly conquered Europe. He took on General Charles Gordon, as his match, along the banks of the Nile, much to his doomsday fate.

His nemesis in this film is Charlton Heston, playing a stalwart hero with barely a sign of being British. The film was a Cinerama extravaganza called Khartoum, about a British version of the Alamo.

Or, perhaps Lawrence of Arabia: several scenes of camels riding in the desert are echoes of the greater film of 1962.

You might wonder how the greatest English actor wound up playing a leader relying on the Koran for inspiration and how an American wound up playing a British general. So do we.

They could have switched roles. Both the Mahdi and Gordon were religious fanatics: they never met, but in this movie there is one scene in which the stars spend a few moments in banter.

The film has another question: do you portray the Muslim warriors as fanatics and proto-typical terrorists?

Olivier is utterly overwhelming in black/brown face. It was the second role in which he smeared greasepaint on his pale skin. Today this activity wins him condemnation, for tackling roles like Othello and the Mahdi as a white man playing color. His accent is nearly as over-the-top as Heston’s chopped Brit accent.

We were also puzzled as to whose mellifluous tones served as narrator. It sounded like Sir Cedric Hardwicke, but rather, un-billed, the voice turns out to be Leo Genn, another of those Brits in Hollywood.

Ralph Richardson is Gladstone in several scenes, and he practically steals the movie with his wry and comic snide turn.

The film hints that the Mahdi would have preferred that Gordon escape and that death to a world-hero of myth was an unfortunate emblem of doom. He was right, and the movie is overblown at making the point.

 

Life After Death Project, Volume 2

 DATELINE: More Forry, 4-E from Beyond!

paul davidsFilm Auteur et Artiste Paul Jeffrey Davids

Paul Davids is an interesting associate of the film business—from his days as a whiz kid for the American Film Institute and writing a documentary titled, She Dances Alone, about Kyra Nijinsky. He has also written a book called An Atheist in Heaven.

Lately, a self-professed disbeliever, he has become overwhelmed with messages from a dead friend, film aficionado Forrest J. Ackerman. The man who coined sci-fi befriended Davids—and won’t let go since his death in 2008.

Indeed, many friends of Ackerman have experienced great beyond moments that Harry Houdini promised but never delivered.

So enchanted with life after death, Paul Davids has directed a second film on the topic, Life After Death Project 2. It features selective interviews, with highly credible witnesses, and few of those “evil” demonic ghost stories. These are benign spirits who often visit family or friends.

It is our own experience with the ghosts who continue to populate our home on the property of the former owners who died on Titanic.

Davids interviews doctors, nurses, and some Hollywood people whom he obviously trusts. It is also spiced with experts grounded in science, not your local ghost hunters with empirical info.

The film is compelling, if only because of its preponderance of evidence. And, the director goes before the camera in the final sequences to follow up on his after death experiences with old friend F-4 Ackerman, noted sci-fi figure.

Of course, vanity knows no expense. Calling up expensive scientific tests likely was held under budget when friends in academia were summoned.  Several tests required high tech and hours of lab time—to prove there is unknown out there.

The odd experiences are not frightening, but compelling and beyond coincidental, as we can testify in our own experience. If you are a disbeliever in contact from beyond, you may not be convinced. If you have an open mind that dimensions exist at the tip of your nose, you may find this film more than haunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truly Miss Marple: Rutherford Murders?

DATELINE:  Murder Most Foul!

Dames Margaret & Agatha

Dames Margaret Rutherford & Agatha Christie!

A little British documentary about character actress Margaret Rutherford is shocking, surprising, and ultimately saddening. If you have forgotten her dotty old ladies, she was the first movie Miss Marple.

The film has the overwhelming title: Truly Miss Marple: the Curious Case of Margaret Rutherford. The actress died in 1972 after a rapid decline in health at the height of her popularity

Agatha Christie was appalled at the folly of turning her aged detective into an eccentric comic actress, but they later enjoyed each other—to the degree that Christie dedicated The Mirror Crack’d to Rutherford.

Her acting career did not fully reach success until after age 40: she was always the costar, whether it was for John Gielgud or Edith Evans. When success came, she played old ladies who were NOT battle-axes. It was an unkind comment by interviewers. Dame Margaret was always a gentle figure of fun.

Her biggest break came with Noel Coward in Blithe Spirit, a role she almost refused because she thought it might demean spiritualists (as she was a believer).

Her indomitable English grand dames gave way in old age to the Christie character, though Margaret hated the word “Murder” in the titles of the four grand Miss Marple movies. There was a reason for her sensitivity: her father murdered her grandfather, and later, likely as a result, her mother committed suicide.

Yet, Rutherford herself was the ultimate woman of kind hearts and coronets. If there was a downside, it was her growing periods of depression. It was a losing battle, especially when dementia added to her woes.

She briefly went to Hollywood with Burton and Taylor in The VIPs and won an Oscar as a supporting actress. The Oscar disappeared after her death, stolen and on the black market, sold by a conniving housekeeper.

Miss Marple’s little murder mystery movies remain delightful, owing to Rutherford’s charismatic personality.

 

Commemorating Titanic after 107 Years!

DATELINE: Connections to the Past?

Harper & Clifton Father & Son Face Fate on Titanic (1953 version).

The 1953 version of Titanic and re-telling of the horrific night that is unforgettable and must be remembered was pure Hollywood spectacle. It had an all-star cast, and it ended with masterful special effects for its age. It had to be a black and white movie to heighten its impact literally with the iceberg and figuratively with the horror.

The central family of the movie plot bears a startling resemblance to the real family that became subject of my biographical history, Tales of a Titanic Family.

Rich Americans, the father is a prig played by Clifton Webb, and his stunning wife is Barbara Stanwyck. They have two children, the younger a boy (Harper Carter) at odds with his father. Their mettle would be tested by an iceberg.

So, not having seen the movie in dozens of years, we were not prepared entirely for what other coincidences and frightful similarities might turn up. The theory did not take long to prove itself.

The 1953 movie was released in April, on the 41st anniversary week of the Titanic’s sinking. Almost immediately upon introducing the mother figure in the movie, played by Barbara Stanwyck, she was identified as Julia. This stunned me a bit, as Julia was indeed the name of Richard White’s grandmother, and the name of his aunt, his father’s sister (His father died with him on Titanic).

Then, Clifton Webb showed up as the father: his name, of course, was Richard Sturges.

They have two children also on board the ship. The elder here is a daughter, and the younger son is only about 14. However, in a key moment, Stanwyck recites the A.E. Housman poem, “When I was one and twenty,” about fate. Richard was 21 when he was aboard the ill-fated ship.

Clifton Webb cannot buy a ticket in first-class because it is all sold out: which wasn’t true. White Star Lines tried to give away cabins that remained empty.

Though he was a world traveler, a man among many New York millionaires. Clifton Webb’s character has greetings for all his friends, from Guggenheim to Strauss to Astor.

Robert Wagner played a 21-year old college man from Purdue. He is a Richard White stand-in.

Among the delightful actors in this film are Richard Basehart as a defrocked priest, and there is also Thelma Ritter as the hard-talking, unsinkable Molly Brown. Brian Aherne seems to be ship’s captain in every movie version. Director Jean Negulesco is adept at weaving together an hour of soapish stories before the heavy business of sinking the liner.

In a key moment Barbara Stanwyck tells her husband that their second child is not his. They plan to divide up the spoils, each child going with one parent. It is a haunting parallel to the real family.

The final minutes of the ice-berg’s damage and sinking of the ship is done quickly and without any noticeable panic among the men left without lifeboats. They are all gentlemen, singing as the ship seems to blow up and rapidly spirals into oblivion.

There is no bad behavior, or messy deaths, as occurred in real life. We think the smoke stack fell from the ship and onto those who jumped off the ship, like Richard White. The unbilled narrator at the end of the movie is Michael Rennie.

Seeing this version of the story seemed to be fitting, as it became tailored to Richard White’s actual life experience. Watching was not easier, and not pleasant, no matter how purified the events. Richard apparently jumped off the ship, like Wagner’s character. Richard may not have been his father’s son, and Richard haunts this writer.

The ghost of Richard Frazar White brought me face-to-face with Robert Wagner a dozen years ago—and only now do I know why. Richard

 

Penultimate Sixth Season Episode

 DATELINE: The Gary Drayton Show!

Gary and JackGary Talks to Jack.

We are turning the seasonal clock to another chance the show will end here and now out of frustration. Perhaps only for a few fans.

Somehow, we doubt it if there is money to be discovered, or something akin to ratings popularity. You know when Rick Lagina calls the devastating work stoppage “a minor set-back,” and when his brother says, it’s time to make lemonade from the lemons, you have a grandiose problem.

North Atlantic weather is never entirely reliable, and even in these last few weeks of the season, you seem to have extremely cold days, and then they doff their jackets in mid-day sun.

However, time is the enemy of finding anything of value. So, they again bring in another in the litany of amateur historians who tells them there is half a billion dollars of loot somewhere on the island. Buck up, my Buckos.

This expert has done study of Scottish barons who came to the Canadian land over two centuries, and they came with tons of secret family treasure. Yup, these guys were descendants of the Knights Templar.

It takes Gary Drayton again to save the show, if not the season. With his acumen at high level, he finds more Brit uniform gold buttons—and even is the one who must go down into a leaky, pumped out cold well near the money pit. The local archeologist now is merely phoned–and he instantly acquiesces. Gone are the drawn-out legal matters.

We found it interesting his clothes were soaked and dirty whilst the two Lagina brothers were reasonably clean. Who goes on strike next?

Drayton finds more stuff in the old well, which he theorizes is important.

With only one show left, we think the bait is set to keep audiences riveted and wanting more.

 

 

Our Man in Havana: Cuba Before Fall

DATELINE:  Greene for Thrills

ready for bed Guinness Doth Make Coward!

Would lightning strike twice? Throw in a Graham Greene novella, director Carol Reed, and a hotbed of political activity in the 1950s, and voila, you have an instant spy thriller, called Our Man in Havana.

The novella and screenplay were written by Greene himself, which may or may not be good, considering his lofty and singular opinion of what a good film should be. He respected Carol Reed enough to trust him again after The Third Man. And, with his lukewarm anti-American streak, the pre-Communist Castro lent his blessing to the project.

The result is a last-ditch look at the charm of old Havana before it underwent a lifetime of rot. To see it like this may sadden any self-respecting tourista.

Add in a delicious cast:  Alec Guinness as a would-be spy, Ernie Kovacs as a Cuban military leader, Maureen O’Hara as an officious colleague, Noel Coward as a Home Office Boy, with Ralph Richardson as his boss, and Burl Ives, hot off his Oscar, as a German expatriate, and something’s gotta give. The story concerns a British vacuum salesman who gives off airs of an obsequious secret agent who riles up the Cuban dictatorship before Castro. You mean there was no role for Errol Flynn who was there for the Cuban rebel girls?

At one point, Guinness notes that his daughter has an American accent for some reason. We suspect it has to do with the producer hiring his girlfriend, but we may be too harsh.

Burl Ives advises Guiness to take a job as a secret agent for Noel Coward and send it fake secret reports by fake secret agents. Alas, reality bites: everything he makes up is actually true.

The humor is so dry in this film that it almost seems arid. Greene rakes the James Bond ilk over the coals, with its bird-dropping invisible ink and codes taken out of a Dickensian book of Lamb to the slaughter sayings.

Kovacs and Guinness play a game of drinking checkers as a mental match.

Today’s audiences may be more befuddled by the intelligence of yore. Some of the actors are clearly in a straitjacket with not much ado. Yet, the overall effect is high-dudgeon Cold War spy thrills.

Our Man in Havana is simply amazing when not overwrought with super-suction.

Stan & Ollie: Imitation or Acting?

DATELINE: Bittersweet Docdramas

Stan & Ollie

The resemblance to Laurel and Hardy is uncanny.

Stan & Ollie has a resurrection quality to its stars.

You might credit makeup masters, but there is also the subtle posture and gesture of the two stars as they mimic the familiar comedic personalities of the great movie team of the 1930s.

You have likely seen these two stars doing star turns in popular movies with tepid reviews: this is their best work and may end up being their least viewed movie. Laurel and Hardy belong to aficionados of film. Young people (meaning anyone under 40—or even 50—may be in the dark about the great comic duo).

John C. Reilly plays Babe Hardy, Mr. Oliver Hardy to you. And Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel. A Brit and a Southern gentleman were an unlikely partnership but were created by studio chemists. It was a team that clicked so well it became legend.

The movie starts in 1937 at their pinnacle of success, doing Way Out West and their amazing little dance routine. It is repeated several times for good measure. Badly paid, with little artistic credit, Stan Laurel feels slighted as Chaplin and even Buster Keaton received more accolades.

By 1953, on the down-slide with age and television co-opting their earlier films, they embark on a tour of the British Isles to re-kindle their magic. Alas, the movie turns bittersweet, with far more bitter than sweet. Breaking up is never easy.

Bad blood, old age, and festering antagonisms, seem to dog the two stars. The movie replays their famous routines as if it is part of their real lives. And, they are pure show busy folks: the show must go on, and they are always on. Poor, dear souls.

Fans may find this hard look harder to take than a Hal Roach (Danny Huston) cheapskate contract. As oldsters, they had to work; no fortune followed fame.

Younger viewers may well be advised to go back to movies like Way Out West, or shorts like Their First Mistake, for seeing comedy genesis. This movie, like old age itself, is anticlimactic.

 

 

 

 

Pirates on Oak Island: Deep Digging

DATELINE:  Extra-curricular Episode!

Matty Blake  Matty Blake: Out in the Rain Again!

The subset of the Curse of Oak Island is a series of a half-dozen shows that look at issues around the history and research of Oak Island.

This annotated bunch of episodes, on topics like paranormal and pirate history, is hosted, not by Robert Clotworthy, but by some cheerleader named Matty Blake, a radio personality.

Someone should tell this guy he has the job. He seems overly exuberant, hugging and high-fives all around. His exaggerated excitement seems to even rankle the Lagina brothers who show up for an interview on various topics he raises—usually for the negative.

His latest show was on Oak Island pirates. He interviewed various show people, like Charles Barkhouse and Gary Drayton. They give him insights because they usually are secondary figures without any limelight. After all, this is Marty Lagina’s production. No one elbows him out of the camera.

Apart from Matty Blake’s constant cheerleading patter, he shows elements of a lack of sense. He does one segment in pouring rain at the “smelly swamp,” and boasts that it is all part of the Oak Island experience. Sounds more like a production overrun.

 

Blake does raise some interesting points, and his latest on pirates looked at everyone from Sir Francis Drake to Captain William Kidd.

We must tell you up-front that our great-aunt Belle Walters grew up in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and with her husband, my father’s uncle John, they went there each summer from the 1920s to the 1960s. Uncle John was also a 33rd degree Mason, quite a big deal, and they firmly believed the treasure belonged to Captain Kidd. Even as a kid, we heard this theory.

Blake spent a great deal of time trying to find locals who knew who Captain William Kidd was, without much luck. How the times have changed.

He also raised the issue of Captain Anderson, another privateer of the late 1700s who actually lived on the island for a time and may have built a ramp from his land to the ocean front. Gary Drayton felt this was important—and we always pay attention to what Mr. Metal Detector Detective states.

The show always ends with the Lagina brothers throwing cold water on Blake’s theories—and he thanks them profusely. We know who signs his paycheck.

 

Enquiring Minds: Pre-Pecker-Pabulum

DATELINE: Checkbook Journalism to Kill-Fees

Dead King Biggest Issue Tease of Enquirer!

The Untold Story of the National Enquirer was not killed by a Pecker kill-fee, but by anthrax. This movie is a breath-taking trip down tabloid history.

You have to admire a documentary by Ric Burns that starts off with Herman Mankiewicz’s stunning film score for Citizen Kane, and then matches with a camera slowly moving up over a chain-link fence like the opening shot of Orson Welles’ classic.

The story of the National Enquirer and its original founder, Generoso Papa (an Italian immigrant who changed his name to Generoso Pope) actually laid groundwork for the Godfather Don Corleone (whom he resembled in character). Pope was pals with the Mob but claimed never to belong. He was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and Benito Mussolini.

However, this film is really about his genius and ruthless and cold-blooded son, Gene Pope, Junior. Any resemblance between this Pope and the Vatican is strictly distinctive. Pope went through several wives, disowned and was disowned by his mother, and found himself the apple of his father’s eye—thereby cut out of the will by his brothers.

The man who made the National Enquirer a scandal sheet of influence predates the present kingpin and Trump ally, David Pecker, who has killed stories to help his president. A young Trump is seen in a clip, disparaging the National Enquirer.

The original owner, Pope, would never have condoned such a mad idea.

His son, Gene Junior, went to MIT and finished in two years. What? College entrance hanky-panky back in the 1940s? It seems so.

Gene borrowed money from his mobster godfather in real life, Frank Costello, and bought the New York Inquirer, like Citizen Kane. A marketing genius, he soon tried the “gore” story approach and made it work. You had horror that made the Enquirer’s bad rep and took years of new marketing to alter.

Gene transformed his newspaper two or three times but found the notion of supermarkets to coincide with his “gossip” approach. The inquiring minds of America were hooked in the check-out line.

Pope moved to Florida and made it tabloid heaven. He created checkbook journalism and used ruthless and inventive methods to spy on celebrities. His pinnacle was the notorious Elvis in his casket photo.

A three-pack cigarette addict and workaholic Type A personality, he didn’t last long. A massive heart attack seemed to stymie the Enquirer, but it took terrorism in 2001 with anthrax to destroy everything, including archives.

The film ends with the bouncy music of Brasil, which is fitting. This is a complete documentary, completely satisfying in every way.

Easter Island: Not On Ancient Alien Map

DATELINE: Moai, Moai!

Moai

Like most TV viewers, we know misinformation and disinformation may be far more prevalent than we care to admit.

To watch a documentary, internationally produced with French and American scientists, on the notable “discovery” by a French ship in the mid-1700s on Easter day,  refutes almost everything you think you know in Easter Island: The Truth Revealed.

Indeed, truth may be far more unsettling than an episode of Ancient Aliens who have regularly called the large stone statues Moai (Mo-eye) as the gift of the gods of outer space.

The Rapa Nui were the indigenous tribes (four or five Polynesian groups) that created them. They have taken a bad Rapa in history, being thought too dumb to carve and to move these monoliths several miles over harsh, rocky terrain.

Controversy has dogged the Moai. Were they rolled on their stomachs, or walked along the roads? Well, among the debunkers, scientists dismiss both theories. It seems the giant faces were brought to a location only partially carved out. They were made in place.

The other big controversy is the disappearance of the population. They have been blamed for de-forestation, starvation, and tribal wars. It seems that none of these are options with studies of the flora and fauna, DNA tests on bones, and lack of weapons on the island.

The small population was captured to work as slaves on the South American mainland. Later a few were returned—with diseases that wiped out all but a hundred or so.

The documentary is chock full of the real story and the terrible history that befell an isolated group in the Pacific. They were actually closer to South America that we thought, and the brave people who sailed to Easter Island likely had no idea what it was or if they should remain after landing there less than 1000 years ago.

They suffered their accidental arrival for centuries.

 

 

 

Robin and Marian: Aged in the Woods

 DATELINE: Sherwood Denizens Return

shaw as sheriff Nottingham, not Cape Cod!

The idea looked brilliant in pitch phase: Robin Hood and Marian re-unite after 20 years and are older, but not necessarily wiser. You call it Robin and Marian and the critics will go wild. Throw in a cast to salivate over: Richard Harris and Robert Shaw stand out.

The script is by James Goldman who gave us The Lion in Winter, a rather pedestrian and witless look at Henry II and Richard the Lion-hearted. That, of course, was a sequel of sort to Becket, wherein Peter O’Toole played Henry and Richard Burton was the meddlesome priest.

The level of writing descends with each period drama. Now, you have Richard Harris as the Lion-Heart king, fresh off being King Arthur in Camelot.

We presume Anthony Hopkins and Peter O’Toole were unavailable.

Goldman does not botch the tale, but his legend is soggy-bottom stuff. Alas, the youth market of the mid-1970s wasn’t quite ready for middle-age.

The notion of a stellar cast gained traction with the actors: put Sean Connery looking to shed his James Bond image as an older bearded Robin, and Audrey Hepburn would come back as Marian after a film hiatus. Throw in with equal billing, the villain of the decade: Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws) as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wow. If you present off-beat director Richard Lester (3 Musketeers, etc.) as the man behind the camera, you cannot lose. It did not work out perfectly but is an adventure for sure.

If you compare this to Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas producing The Vikings, you have something less fun and less successful. Oh, it’s highly watchable, but not a romp. Shaw as usual runs off with the movie as the deadpan, time-worn Sheriff who knows Sherwood Forest and its foibles all too well.

Lester tries to steal the movie with his standard atmospheric shots of Medieval times, including people with physical deformity and mud-caked urchins everywhere.They stand out, but not in a good way.

Connery and Hepburn are, well, Connery and Hepburn, acting older. Throw in some choice character actors like Ian Holm as King John and Kenneth Haigh as the Sheriff’s rival, and you have top-drawer performers.

A pleasant time-killer is the least to be expected. What you actually have is a James Goldman version of a geriatric Romeo & Juliet, which does not satisfy.

 

 

 

Jamie Marks is a Ghost

DATELINE: Dead Boyfriends?

Dead Boyfriends

Carter Smith’s 2014 film is a mystery thriller, not a horror picture as Amazon streaming likes to call it. Jamie Marks is Dead may well be one of the most arresting and underplayed tales of a ghost in recent memory.

Of course, this starts off as an homage to David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Like Laura Palmer, Jamie Marks is a nearly nude corpse as the movie opens.

Though this is not the great world of Douglas firs, the setting is upstate New York, which seems fairly cold, remote, and unpleasant.

A girl, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) finds him and finds him stalking her in death. He is more interested in the varsity track star Adam (Cameron Monaghan), a cute red-head who soon starts to see dead people everywhere.

Suspicions seem to haunt the high school, as Jamie was bullied by the jocks prior to his death. And an ominous, and inexplicable dead deer carcass hangs next to Adam’s bleak home.

It doesn’t help that his mother is Liv Tyler who takes up with a drunk driver who put her in a wheelchair.

Thank heavens that Jamie (in an ethereal performance by Noah Silver) can offer Adam a considerable line of protection from the Great Beyond. We know something about spirits who are willing to offer their guardianship; our own protecting spirit is over our shoulder now, most interested in this review. He thought the movie was fairly accurate.

Alas, Jamie has a problem: he appears to be a murder victim.

Adam hopes to help his dead pal who takes up residence in Adam’s closet, which should have sparked more jokes. Without the usual cliché of special effects, Carter Smith presents a chilling picture of ghost appearances. Don’t look for pop-ups, fades, or objects moving on their own.