Invaders from Mars: Revisiting 1953

DATELINE:  William Cameron Menzies Masterpiece

 

Hunt v. octopus  Jimmy Takes on Octopus

William Cameron Menzies turned in one of his best efforts as director and set designer on this classic science fiction thriller, entitled Invaders from Mars.

Menzies employed stylized sets, especially barren trees along a perimenter of sand dunes, imposing and overwhelming police offices, and garish color. It created a nightmare scenario for a ten-year old boy thrown into a paranoid delusion.

Actor Jimmy Hunt was the perfect little all-American boy who sees a saucer land in the yard up the hill from his cottage home. There, his parents turn malevolent after being sucked under ground by strange forces that turn dunes into quicksand. It does not help that his parents are well-known  standard villainous actors Leif Erikson and Hillary Brooke. You are also treated to an unusual display of child abuse when Erikson slugs his son.

The music is choral voices mimicking the noise that foreshadows horror when adults are sucked into the alien den and replaced with a probe inserted into the base of their skulls, turning them into automatons. This played on the greatest childhood fear—that parents can become hideous zombies.

Ancient aliens turn out to be robotic slaves to a reptilian octopus in a fish bowl. Yikes, what could be more hallucinogenic? Special effects don’t need CGI to be breathtaking.

At the peak of the Cold War when communists were hiding under every bed, you had an equal paranoid takeover by creatures from another world. The film stands out as one of a handful of remarkable science fiction to emerge from the era.

This holds up to the test of time and remains as creepy as what you might find today in Twin Peaks.

 

 

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Boy Culture in Homestretch

 DATELINE:  Production Deadline Looms

 Darryl    Actor & Author Darryl Stephens
The sequel to the phenomenal hit 2006’s Boy Culture, an extraordinary high-quality movie about gay life, may be about to hit the wall.

With days to go, the project desperately needs backers to reach its Kickstarter goal of $50,000. Nearly 300 diehard fans of the original movie have pledged to help produce a TV series to follow up on the characters and the culture.

Darryl Stephens is signed to reprise his role from the original show. You can pick up his autobiography on Amazon.

Time, in fact, maybe the worst enemy of gay movie culture. With only a few days left, will the gay community–and others– come through to help save the project?

Boy Culture should not be the purview of a few gay men. It should be the interest of anyone who believes the world of LGBT deserves positive presentation.

We saw a similar project come to fruition through this means, which ended with a brilliant little slice-of-gay-life movie called Chasing Pavement with Remy Mars.
Those who appreciate the need of artists to have backing need to step up again–this time for director Allan Brocka to weave his movie magic again.

Perhaps some glorious Angel will fly down to the set and pre-production group like a Deus ex machina and lay on $10,000 (buckeroos, not bitcoin) to the producers, director, and writer.

Perhaps one of those show busy angels does it in the movies, or even in a TV series. However, in real life, perhaps you need to be involved.

We anxiously await word on the fate of Boy Culture: The Series.

Space Children: Jack Arnold Classic

DATELINE:  1958 Gem

brothersPlaying brothers: Johnny Crawford & Michel Ray

One of the great under-appreciated directors of the 1950s is largely forgotten now, Jack Arnold. Among his best known films are Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man and No Name on the Bullet. He transcended genre.

In 1958 he tried another science fiction flick that didn’t quite win the cult following of his earlier movies. That was his interesting examination of a space alien that puts mind control on kids in The Space Children.

Mind you: this was way before sweet E.T. and monstrous Children of the Damned took over the minds of juveniles.

It helped that Arnold was fearless with child actors. He simply found the best and let them play it. In this case he used Johnny Crawford, before the Rifleman, and Michel Ray, before Lawrence of Arabia. As brothers, they are as good as the Hardy Boys.

He also cast some of the well-known character actors of the era:  Raymond Bailey (of Beverly Hillbillies), Jackie Coogan (of Addams Family), and Russell Johnson (of Gilligan’s Island), as his adult problems for the kids.

Michel Ray is particularly effective with eyes that seem to presage Nick Hoult 60 years later. It’s Ray who has the ray-beam power to paralyze adults, through his alien host.

These kids are children of rocket scientists—and their mission is to sabotage their fathers’ prototype Star Wars missile program. Yes, this movie is a tad ahead of its time.

The film is subtle and not given over to the histrionics we have come to expect from puerile space movies.

Perhaps the title misled audiences: this was clearly a movie for adults to ponder, not to titillate the popcorn set.

This lost gem can be streamed on your viewing device and clocks in at 68 minutes: it’s a dreamy entertainment.

Twin Peaks 3: Episode 14 Update

DATELINE:  We See Dead People

bowie

Late David Bowie With Early MacLachlan

If we have learned any lesson this season, it is there is no such thing as a spoiler in Twin Peaks 3.  David Lynch’s surreal series is moving toward its conclusion, and the old characters, however dead they may be, are still viable plot movers.

Old time fans will be glad they have hung on to the lunacy by this time. Lynch now has begun to weave clips of the original show, 25 years ago, into the new plot.

This episode featured old Lynch as FBI Director Cole recounting a dream to Miguel Ferrer as his assistant Albert. In it, we see dark-haired young Lynch in conversation with young, still-dark haired Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. Director Cole’s old partner and friend shows up from 25 years ago, and it is none other than the late David Bowie.

He is in a scene with the late Miguel Ferrer.

Dana Ashbrook is now on the Twin Peaks Police Force, and James Marshall is now a night watchman in the infamous Twin Peaks Hotel. There, he works with a British boy who looks like his son—and has been directed to Twin Peaks by cosmic forces to find his “destiny.”

Lynch continues to be a grand proponent of directing actors to stare blankly at each other. It is both insightful and hilarious. He does it best with Ferrer who notes the absurdity of the universe.

We now learn too the connection between missing agent Dale Cooper, his assistant Diane, and the weird counter-point of Naomi Watts as Mrs. Dougie Jones.

The episode is dedicated to the memory of David Bowie who probably wished he could return to reprise his role in this grandiose season.

The Stunt Man: Rush Job

DATELINE:  Mad Director Meets Madder Stunt Man

otoole

If you ever wondered what it might’ve been like to walk onto the set of legendary superstar Peter O’Toole during filming, your chance came in 1980 with the movie The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush.

The title is two words because Burt Reynolds sued director Rush over the title, wanting it for his movie tribute to stuntmen. They split the difference.

It’s a comedy action thriller drama Hollywood insider movie about the making of an out-of-control World War I epic anti-war movie with more explosions and killings than supports its so-called plot of the movie-within-a-movie.

It also costars Steve Railsback, in a rare heroic role as a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Fleeing from police, he wanders onto the set of O’Toole’s Eli Cross production and is immediately sucked into the ruse of taking up the role of a stunt man who was killed accidentally that day.

O’Toole knows he has a fugitive on his hands, but needs to prevent an investigation into his botched movie stunt.

Railsback was fresh off playing Charles Manson in Helter-Skelter for a movie mini-series. Peter O’Toole based his wacky director on his work with David Lean during the making of Lawrence of Arabia.

Flying around the set on a crane, O’Toole’s ego-maniacal director will risk anything to get his movie on film, including the accidental death of crew-members. Yes, this is a comedy, but not quite like you expect.

This movie probably would never be made today, even with rogue directors and winking cable studios financing the project.  Then, again, we admit that Twin Peaks was given a green-light.

When Railsback asks O’Toole why he is protecting the fugitive, O’Toole answers: “Because I’m in love with your dark side.” It makes perfect sense.

Railsback was never so handsome, and O’Toole was never quite so cuckoo.  It makes for a delicious movie, though it is about a half-hour too long.

In its earlier incarnation, it was given little publicity in its release. O’Toole commented the film was not released, “It escaped.”

 

Unsolved History: Death of Marilyn 1962

DATELINE: Carted Away

carted away

So long, Norma Jean

The old Discovery series holds up as a marvel of scientific accuracy. Take, for instance, their 2003 look at the strange circumstances surrounding the death of legendary actress Marilyn Monroe.

As the third episode of the second season, it may be worth your streaming download to put to bed all those conspiracy theories that she was murdered for threatening the Kennedy brothers (President and Attorney General) that she would reveal secrets about UFOs.

The episode brings together a witness from the original autopsy, a pharmacologist, and a forensic psychiatrist. It also pulls together a brilliant re-enactment and actual photo evidence.

Since the location of her death, a modest cottage in Los Angeles is now a parking lot, they build the room in which she saw her last minutes of life.

Using old mimeographed photos, as the originals are gone, they decorated the room to a minute detail: it was a stark, non-glamorous location filled with clutter. It had no decorations or artwork to express personality. It was the ultimate banal chamber of a drug addict without concern for the world.

Marilyn eschewed her usual sleeping pills and took just about all of Nembutal that she had purchased the day before.

Her body could have been re-arranged, or moved, but the series proved she locked the door—and went about her grim task.

One researcher insists that she was given drugs through an enema to kill her—but the show proved that the drugs would dissolve in her system within 20 minutes, time enough to put her out before death descended within an hour or so.

Occasionally one must view one of these historically and scientifically accurate episodes to sweep away the hysteria and legend.

In under one hour, History Unsolved resolves plenty.

Dr. Strangelove and Nuclear Bombs Away

DATELINE:  Kim Versus Trump

riding the a-bomb

Slim Pickens Rides the A-Bomb into Oblivion

With all the hubbub about North Korea turning its nuclear weapons upon US and using several dozen miniature bombs to hit the major cities, we thought it was time to reconsider Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Mr. Trump is hardly a dead-ringer for Peter Sellers who played the bald Adlai Stevenson-style president of the country, discussing nuclear destruction with his generals in the War Room.

There we find General George C. Scott fighting with the Russian ambassador, issuing the famous order: “Gentlemen, there will be no fighting in the War Room.”

With nuclear annihilation on the doorstep, back in those days, people knew how to deal with the thought of instant evaporation and annihilation in a mushroom cloud. Today friends from California are saying goodbye to loved ones on the East Coast.

We know that Donald Trump will never tell his generals not to fight in the War Room, and we can hear the placid, slightly sad tones of Vera Lynn as she sang the World War II favorite for fatalists:

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day.
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.

So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go,
I was singing this song

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again,
Some sunny day.

Writer(s): Parker Ross, Hughie Charles, Hugh Charles
Lyrics powered by http://www.musixmatch.com

Lucy Meets Bill Holden in TV Classic

DATELINE:  Down Memory Lane

holden William Holden

When a friend bet me that the funniest TV show ever was on Amazon Prime, we could not resist to ask what it might be: she told us it was the old Lucy show with William Holden as guest.

Of course, we remembered it instantly, so indelible was its memory. It had to be fifty years since last we saw it on some endless loop of reruns that the show enjoyed for decades.

And, there it was listed as a 1954 episode on the third season of I Love Lucy. Free on Amazon Prime.

For those youngsters who have missed the wacky moment of one of the biggest stars of the 1950s showing up on a half-hour sit-com, it was something special back then. Holden was big.

William Holden had worked with Lucille Ball several times over the years earlier in their careers—and were good friends off-screen too.

So, his appearance was anticipated as much as John Wayne or Richard Widmark, who also did guest appearances that season—but Bill Holden’s was distinctive and truly the epitome of the crazy red-head’s “Hollywood adventures” when she went with her husband Ricky Ricardo for three months that year into celebrity heaven.

Her encounter with Holden at the Brown Derby restaurant turned into a spaghetti fiasco, with Holden winning a staring contest with the adoring fan. Upon embarrassment, Lucy beat a hasty retreat out of the restaurant, but knocked a waiter with a tray of cream pastry into William Holden.

Later, Lucy’s husband (Desi Arnaz) brings home a surprise guest—none other than Holden. Lucy must don a disguise to avoid recognition. Her putty nose astounds as it twists one way and then another, ultimately aflame up when Holden tries to light her cigarette.

holden & lucy

Yes, we counted about a dozen goodly guffaws, even years after knowing what was about to happen.

We can envy anyone who is about to see this little laugh-fest for the first time. Other episodes have been celebrated, but this Lucy episode was the one we truly loved.

Free e-books

DATELINE:  Is there really a free lunch?

Starting Wednesday on most titles.

Apparently in the world of Ossurworld.  On Amazon.com, this week for the first time you can find a few of Ossurworld’s favorite movie review books available for free. The offer lasts for a few days. Grab’em while they’re hot.

The Menu:

Is It Real? or Just Another Movie

realkindlecover

Movies to See or Not to See

kindlecovermovies.

Movies in the Stream

kindlecoverMoviesStream

Mal Tempo

Malkindlecover

When Jack the Ripper Met Ben Hur

jackcover

 

 

Last Days of Warner Oland: On Anniversary of Death

DATELINE: Charlie Chan & Curry College

WO Oland in character

Ten years ago a little documentary biography was put together on actor Warner Oland. It can be found online.

We have long been a fan of his gentle, Method-acting style, immersing himself into playing (and living life) as the legendary Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Biggers’s famous detective.

Oland, with his exotic name, was the first and best of all the Chans—so much so that many thought he was Asian. His heavy eyelids made him look the part. However, he was born in Sweden, next to Garbo, one of their earliest American immigrants to acting.

Oland loved playing Chan, and even gave interviews in character—but his drinking problem seemed to have exacerbated with a doomed marriage in 1938.  On the set of his last film Charlie Chan Ringside, he simply walked off the studio lot and disappeared.

The movie was shelved, and Oland went back to his native Sweden in the pre-war turmoil of Nazi troubles. There, welcomed home by Swedes, he caught pneumonia and died. His last Chan film was Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo, a delightful performance. His close friend Keye Luke loved him as a Number One son might! Oland was cultured and cerebral.

Oland caught our attention years earlier, of course, on old-TV film festivals—but our real fascination came when we discovered he graduated from Curry College, then located in Boston as an elocution/speech school for actors.

We cut our own teeth at Curry for 30 years as a professor, of film studies, no less.

When we watched a Chan film this week, we went to the ubiquitous Youtube to find all our favorites. To our shock, we learned Warner Oland died 79 years ago the day we found a slight biographical movie called Charlie Chan is Missing: the Last Days of Warner Oland.

Charming and mysterious, Oland preferred his home in central Massachusetts, not far from our preferred home, and his wife had his body brought back to Southboro where his gravestone was the step to his beloved home in that town.

The film is short and chock full of info, but the clues to Warner Oland’s strange character disappeared with him.

Our Town Too Close for Comfort

DATELINE:  Thorton Wilder Classic

the deadDoro Mirande, Fay Bainter, and Martha Scott, stand out among the dead.

With music by Aaron Copland and set design by William Cameron Menzies, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town of 1940 is an emotional wallop, despite Hollywood’s interfering new-fangled ending. It’s the sort of thing that gave Hollywood a black eye for years.

Once the staple of high school reading lists, Our Town has fallen out of favor being the work of a dead white guy. Of course, that was the point of the play: but we now agree that Our Town is wasted on anyone young. And wisdom is never an easy lesson.

If you are beyond middle-age, seeing this again will be chilling. Instead of a homespun tale of Americana, this is a cynical and downbeat tale of birth, life, and death.

Though it starts out with amusing details of a 17-year old boy (William Holden, looking adolescent) and his next door girlfriend Martha Scott, as George and Emily. Set in 1901 until 1913, it seems like a quaint Mayberry in New England story.

Grover’s Corners was fictional, of course, set on the border of New Hampshire. Well, that’s where we live now—which certainly gave us pause. We are in the midst of the world of Our Town (exteriors filmed nearby). Wilder wrote the play while staying in Peterborough at the writers’ colony.

The setting feels more like Rindge or Jaffrey, NH, than artsy Peterborough.

The final third of the film takes place in the graveyard, brilliantly depicted with the dead (most of the cast) standing in solitary, morose fashion. It is a frightful depiction of what death means, and what life becomes.

According to this story, you have one day to re-live, as a ghost in time travel. These are trendy concepts today, let alone in pre-World War II America.

The ghosts debate that you should choose the most unfortunate day to re-live because happy times will be unbearable.

Performances are powerful—realistic and distressing. This is not a story for young people, but in 30 years they may be drawn to the play’s extraordinary insights, even those scornful diverse young critics of today.

Death is a great equalizer. The film is not tragic, only whimsical.

 

Bunuel Takes On Death in the Garden

DATELINE: Signoret & Marchal in the Garden

death in the garden

Director Luis Bunuel’s reputation after he made Robinson Crusoe in the 1950s was an art-house director in the United States, but a film genius elsewhere. He was all the rage at Harvard’s Brattle Theatre crowd.

So, he was sent back to the jungle in 1956 to make a Mexican-French survivors facing the elements, a subject quite popular back in the ‘50s when a spate of these plane crash movies and South American headhunters took center stage.

Death in the Garden differed a bit. It started out as a political rebellion in a small mining town in the Sierra Madre—and threw together a prostitute who is a bit hard-edged, an adventurer, a priest, an old man and his deaf daughter, into the steamy jungles.

They are chased by military police for reasons both right and wrong, depending on the guilty party.

Bunuel had a couple of curve balls in his arsenal. He had a young (mid-30s) Simone Signoret, fresh off Diabolique and not yet the international star, and a French lookalike of Sterling Hayden, the tough guy Georges Marchal.

Bunuel avoided headhunters, but went for the jugular in the jungle. His characters were literally animals:  Shark, Birdie, Father Lizardi, and no one is truly innocent or nice. So, you can expect characters to be picked off, but may have a harder time predicting who will be done in.

Just when it looks like the jungle will do them in, they discover a crashed airplane (from one of those other jungle movies) filled with provisions to give them another chance.

The film is subtler than most American versions of the story circulating in drive-ins of the day—and its cynicism and politics likely keeps it in the sphere of film aficionados, not movie fans. It remains minor Bunuel, but intriguing nonetheless.

 

Peter O’Toole on TV in 1986

DATELINE:  Rare Appearance

Banshee

In one of his rare acting performances on the small screen, legendary Peter O’Toole took a role on a Ray Bradbury Theatre production of a short story called “Banshee.”

This anthology series ran for several years and featured notable stars in a thirty-minute Twilight Zone-style show.

Most of the summaries of the episode with O’Toole are oddly incorrect on various websites.

The man who was Lord Jim, Lawrence of Arabia, and Henry II (twice), plays an eccentric film director living in Ireland on his remote estate. He plays John Hampton, which clearly is a play on the real eccentric legendary director who lived in Ireland on his estate.

That was, of course, John Huston. The dialogue even has that lilt of Huston’s—and O’Toole wears jodhpurs and boots with swagger, to suggest Huston.

He is visited by a nebbish writer played by Charles Martin Smith who comes for a spooky interview with a script that O’Toole shreds to pieces.

Greeting the writer in the dead of night, the flamboyant director is more than a little unsettled by the cry of a banshee, an Irish female ghost, out in the dark, forboding woods around his estate. While he urges the writer to go out to find this creature who cries for death, Smith locates an ethereal beauty near a graveyard who wants O’Toole to come out.

The story was written by Ray Bradbury and seems a trifle, though highly moody and atmospheric. The show falls short of Twilight Zone quality, but who can complain when Peter O’Toole enlivens every scene.

 

 

 

 

Johnny Cash: Up Close with His Manager

DATELINE:  Country Star Revealed

man in black  Director Holiff with Johnny Cash

In the first ten minutes of this documentary, with its realistic reenactments, you might think you are watching some outrageous fiction. But, it’s all true. You are about to enter the world of My Father and The Man in Black.

Saul Holiff was Johnny’s manager for nearly 15 years, through some of the worst moments of his addictions, black-outs, and temperamental snits.

Holiff alienated many people with his brash character, but he loved being in show biz, even on the outskirts. His business ties to Cash, like all personal management ties, were tenuous—and inevitably broke.

Yet, his son Jonathan never knew his father. He left home as soon as he could at age 18—and they almost never spoke. When his father committed suicide in 2005, he left no note.

But Jonathan’s mother said he left something else: boxes of audio diaries of his relationships with Cash and his sons. And herein lies a tale both shocking and fascinating.

Writing, directing, and producing this “tribute” to his misunderstood father seems an extraordinary feat by Holiff.

Even as a child, he often thought Cash was his father because every sentence spoken in front of him always contained father and Johnny Cash. They were inseparable. Saul introduced June to Johnny.

Cash wanted to overcome his drug-addled past and prison persona for being born-again. He became as addicted to Jesus as he was to pills.  He even made a religious film in the Holy Land, but it was cruel to ask his long-time manager, Jewish atheist Saul to play Caiaphas in one scene.

The break between them was not long after.

Using careful crafted re-enactments and voice imitators to read Johnny’s letters to Saul, this documentary seems to have melted into oblivion when it demands to be seen. Don’t miss it.

Boy Culture TV: Sequel for the Ages!

 DATELINE:   Producers Wanted!

 BC

One of the cleverest and surprising films of 2006 is prepping to have a ten-years later style sequel with all the original cast.

If you remember the delightful novella by Matthew Rettemund turned into a top-drawer comedy of manners by Q. Allan Brocka, you may be in for a big treat. Boy Culture wants to return.

They have a deadline of 29 days to find movie producers to contribute to a new Los Angeles production that will be short TV episodes transformed into a feature-length film.

Yes, Derek Magyar will be in the film as X, with Darryl Stephens reprising Andrew, and Jonathon Trent returning with his extra-long tongue. We are being tongue in cheeky, for sure.

If you ever wondered about all those people who are thanked at the end of a movie, here is your chance to join the conga line that passes quickly while most people are ready to hit the remote button. Well, if you are on the list, you may stick around to the utter end.

It doesn’t cost much to become a recognized Hollywood producer on a big production like this. Immortality seldom reaches out to movie fans, but the filmmakers have gone the Kickstarter way. It’s how small budget, big heart movies are put together:  with love of fans.

If you have a big wallet, you might even end up with a walk-on cameo in one of the scenes. Talk about becoming a Hollywood legend. It might repay you with dinner invitations for years to come—as you explain the thrill of it all.

We hate to say what it costs to be one of the co-executive producers but the benefits of being with the cast may be your last chance for groupie rights that only X would appreciate.

Quite frankly, our favorite character was Gregory Talbot in the original: the wonderful actor Patrick Bauchau played the reclusive, well-heeled patron of the extended family of boys.

Yes, we want in on this. But we want to see the movie produced successfully and be part of a legendary hit.

When they call action, Boy Culture TV may be your calling.