Madman & Rebel: Dennis Hopper

DATELINE: Don’t Forget Drunkard!

 He’s Not in this Doc!

Dennis, Our Favorite Menace!

A semi-interesting documentary on James Dean contemporary, Dennis Hopper, whose career went through many incarnations, is allegedly told by his “co-conspirators”! The film on his life is called Along for the Ride. With friends like the intense Hopper selected, he was in for a long run toward Doom.

Hopper underwent many transformations in his life—and it mirrored his career, or vice versa. He started out as an All-American wholesome-looking boy, became a slimy and bushy-bearded druggie and drunkard, and ultimately became a haggard and highly respected character actor. He survived, which is the truly amazing fact.

Like most under-educated people in Hollywood, Hopper was sensitive to his intelligence and self-education. The film ignores his youth and early years—and picks up with his personal assistant in 1970 who owns most of his correspondence and memorabilia. He is the power behind this portrait, which really puts emphasis on his directorial ability in The Last Movie, a big flop. Having made a fortune with Easy Rider,his counter-culture friends and attitudes were given free-reign in the 1970s Hollywood-in-transition.

Hopper was never helped when friends like Satya keep telling him he’s a genius. Inevitably, his Last Moviebecame Waterloo in Peru. Hopper was a colorful show-biz personality, but he was notOrson Welles. The low-lifes and sycophants around him convinced him otherwise.

You won’t have to see The Last Movie to know from this picture that it is an unmitigated disaster. When working on Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando refused to do any scenes with him. He had told the most powerful Hollywood moguls to go “f” themselves. He was on Ruination Row in a self-constructed prison.

There is a passing nod to his mentor and progenitor, James Dean, but really he was on his own trip far from his rebel youth movies.

Blue Velvet resurrected him. He always felt he was personally difficult, but not professionally so. In the end he made so many movies that any idea that he was blackballed cannot be believed.

Hopper’s right-hand man and behind-the-scenes acolyte does his job to the bitter end.

 

Merlin Among the Stars!

DATELINE: Jan Merlin’s Final Book!

Hand-made card drawn by Jan at Kilimanjaro during film Woman & the Hunter.

My dear friend and coauthor Jan Merlin died a few months ago. He lived a long and creative life. That does not lessen the effect of a hard loss, and I have managed to complete something that was brewing for decades.

Jan knew that I kept all his letters, copies of his emails, and took notes on many of our conversations over the course of thirty years. He steadfastly said he did not want a biography in any traditional sense. But, as the years passed, he often gave me a flood of memories about his years on Broadway, in early TV, and later in movies. I have completed a memoir in his own words.

He worked with so many famous—and he was one of them, knew their foibles and secrets. If I learned anything, it was a secret society—and they all kept their privilege sacred. Yet, he provided me with anecdotes with people from stage like Josh Logan, from movies such as Marlon Brando, from literature like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, from TV like every Western TV star over 15 years (from Chuck Connors to Michael Landon).

So, I have compiled his memories to provide some amazing insights into the profession of acting and the business of movies. It did not take long to do—as I had been adding bits and pieces after each chat or text.

Now, I have for you a record of an era: the star of two TV series, Tom Corbett and Rough Riders,who played mostly the bad guy on TV westerns, committing every dastardly act and finding come-uppance weekly in a variety of ways.

His voice is clear and direct on every page; he never pulled punches, never played the social game, and he felt he damaged his career with projects like The List of Adrian Messengerwith Kirk Douglas, and he felt John Huston misused him. Even today, he is the man under the masks—but Douglas takes credit for the performance (even in an Oscar compilation clip!).

He gave me a title:  We Were All Six Feet Tall,which I have kept with the main focus, Merlin Among the Stars.It is now available on Kindle as an ebook and the paperback will soon be out for his fans and friends.

When I re-read his letters, there was so much I had forgotten—and never followed up. One example was his friendship with noted crypto-scientist Willy Ley who was tech advisor on his show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

There are gems from the era—and can only be appreciated by those with a grand sense of the past.

 

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0831S1RVZ

 

Paint Whose Wagon?

DATELINE: Don’t Fence Clint In!

  A couple of song and dance men?

Back in 1969, Clint Eastwood had just returned from his stint on the spaghetti western circuit. He wanted to break molds—and went on Mr. Ed,then made a musical Western. It’s not easy to turn Clint into Tab.

Paint Your Wagonhad credentials to stagger into a gold-digging mode. Josh Logan directed another 1951 classical musical from Broadway. Paddy Cheyevsky (urban TV legend) wrote the screenplay—another unlikely figure out West.

The only true singer in the cast allegedly was Harve Presnell who stops the movie with his stunning rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.”  Even Logan in his inepti director style could not screw that up.

As far as Clint singing, we had forgotten that in 1962, on the heels of every TV and movie actor with heart-throb fan clubs made a musical album:  as we recall, Sal Mineo, Richard Chamberlain, Tab Hunter, and even Clint Eastwood sang.

The big difference was that Clint’s album of country-western tunes was actually a hit. You need to hear his version of “Don’t Fence Me in.”

Lee Marvin also sings in the style of Rex Harrison—and he is witty and delightful. He also dances cheek-to-cheek with Ray Walston, which certainly puts Fred and Ginger to the test.

The film is an all-male homoerotic gold rush until Jean Seberg shows up: beautiful and damaged. We cannot imagine what off-screen between-takes conversations went on during this production.

There are enough offensive ethnic stereotypes to make this film about as incorrect as any Western of the 1960s. And, in a true 1960s mode, the film is nearly three hours long—really.

If you like surprises and changes of pace, you cannot go wrong with this Western that seems to be the exclamation point and end punctuation to the era of Hollywood westerns.

 

 

 

 

Making Montgomery Clift

DATELINE: Extraordinary Film

The man who turned down the lead in Sunset Boulevard and East of Eden made it possible for other stars to have their great moments. Montgomery Clift played down his refusal to do those films, but we think he would have reached latitudes and heights later denied to him.

Monty Clift’s nephew Robert has made a biographical film documentary to correct decades of misinformation and misjudgments. It is better late than never and tries to address the legend that he was a self-hating, self-destructive homosexual.

The charges against Clift, salacious and mean-spirited, may have been vestiges of homophobia he constantly encountered, even from sadistic directors like John Huston (our late friend Jan Merlin who made List of Adrian Messenger with Huston confirmed this—and we have been dunned for saying it).

Robert Clift interviews those still around so many decades later—like Jack Larson (Superman’s Jimmy Olson) and his mother Eleanor Clift. They report Monty was a funny creative man with a giving personality. He was an actor and used life experiences all the time in his art.

Brooks Clift, Monty’s brother, collected and kept everything about his brother to the point of obsession and taped conversations. Yet, it was he who was duped into providing info that would disparage the man he most loved and admired in life.

Robert Clift is to be highly commended for sorting through all this data to give us a more balanced, kindest view. Robert was born long after his uncle died, and he does not have the benefit of a personal relationship. Yet, the trove of collectibles, never seen or heard, provide insights that might only come from sitting down with Monty.

Most people looked at his later performances as biography, not art. He loved being alive and enjoyed being artistic, but it was a world of cruelties and harsh realities.

This is a brilliant work, worth your time and should send you scurrying for any Montgomery Clift movie you can find.

Oak Island Treasure Map Revealed!

DATELINE:  Cartography Lunacy

 Skull Island

                             

Templar Island                                   Oak Island

Can it be possible that Abbott and Costello found the treasures of Oak Island with Charles Laughton?

In 1952’s silly trifle about Captain Kidd, the Oscar-winning actor (Laughton, not Costello) owns an island where he has buried treasure and loot, though it is not stated whether the Ark of the Covenant, Spanish dubloons, or Montezuma’s coffin, are among the pickings.

We feel like the Money Pit is within reach!

For reasons beyond ridiculous, Lou Costello manages to confiscate the map and then must be abducted to lead the way to the treasure on the island.

Only a funny thing happened on the way to Skull Island…no, it did not belong to King Kong. It was, in fact, a copy of the notorious Templar map of 1398 that happens to resemble the actual island off Nova Scotia.

Back in the 1950s, long before the Lagina brothers bought the island and made it a hit TV series, it was known as a pirate lair with secrets. Among those interested were President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, swashbuckler Errol Flynn, and cowboy John Wayne. Also interested was Vincent Astor whose father died on the Titanic.

Is this someone’s idea of a joke? It is funny beyond Montezuma’s revenge.

 

Captain Kidding a Kidder

DATELINE: William Kidd

Laughton the Kidd!

 

When Charles Laughton, once Captain Bligh on the Bounty, was given the lead role as the despicable Captain William Kidd, he was both at once perfect for the role and utterly out of his element as a real figure from history.

Like many of his roles of biographical people, he always took on the most notorious. Even in the one movie that was shut down before he finished, he was to play Claudius, the successor to Caligula. He was so associated with Henry VIII that he repeated that role several times.

So, the silly and fictional version of Captain Kiddseemed a bit off, even in 1945. However, by today’s Oak Island buried treasure standards, we have to look at Laughton’s movie villain in a new light.

You must remember this: he was surrounded by great film stars like Gilbert Roland, John Carradine, Reginald Owen, Henry Daniell, and every workable Randolph Scott. He had to be on top of his game to avoid having scenes stolen under his nose.

Scenes are simply juicy confrontations between actors, each more earnest in his biting delivery. Of course, at the eye of this storm of melodrama is Charles Laughton, lending his powerful, clever, sly, obsequious villain. Whether Kidd was ever like this matters not. He should be the way Laughton presents him. Oh, you Kidd.

With a gentleman’s gentleman hired for the task of smoothing out his rough edges, Kidd tries to refine his crudeness with an overlay of charming evil. You might well think that a boy’s adventure movie never had it so good.

Women are not central to this story. You have here a testosterone contest with the mugs mugging.

Laughton’s ship seems only slightly smaller than the Queen Mary—and they spend nearly all their time heading to Madagascar. Kidd’s plan is to take over the estate of a nobleman and show off more than a sow’s ear.

Before you can say double-cross, you may find you have been crossed in quadruple fashion. What an absolutely delightful discovery from the vaults of forgotten black and white movies of 1945.

Ghost of Bogart

DATELINE: Not Again? 

  Jerry Lacy as Bogey

We went back in our time machine to the time machine of 1972 who brought us back to 1942. It is Play It Again, Sam,which features Humphrey Bogart advising Woody Allen.

No, Sam never appears once yet again, even in the actual film clips from the movie Casablanca. Dooley Wilson seems to be discriminated against. He sings part of “As Time Goes By,” at film’s end.

This astral route brought us face to face with legendary tough-guy star, Humphrey Bogart. He returned in 1972 in the guise of Jerry Lacy, an impersonator who had a decade of roles as the iconic man in trench coat with Borsalino.

Alas, to see Bogart’s best scenes in Casablanca, you had to endure Woody Allen as Allen Felix, movie critic before the Internet and blogs, who adores Bogie and has an apartment decorated like a 1942 teenage boy. Those collectibles are worth big bucks today.

Though Allen wrote and starred in this vehicle, it was directed by Herbert Ross which gives it some grounding as a ghost story.

The appearances of Bogart dispensing advice to nudnik Allen is appalling, as he speaks sexist and violent attitudes that he never expressed in his movies or real life a generation earlier. If you see this film as homage to Bogart’s Rick and his romance with Ilsa, you have been sold a bill of goods by shyster Allen.

The film comes alive when Bogart and/or Lacy appear, and the film goes down the chute when Allen’s nutcase New Yorker takes center screen.

The Sam “again” part has more to do with Allen re-enacting the Rick role with Bergman in a climactic scene. This was before Allen became Bergman (Ingmar, not Ingrid).

Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts take on thankless roles in Allen’s world, which Keaton was able to transcend by slipping over to The Godfather at the same time she did this film. Roberts and Lacy were not as lucky.

Though the Bogey ghost appears with more frequency in the final 30 minutes, it is not enough to save the story from itself.

Whether Bogey conjures his personality as a dream, an hallucination, or the actual spirit of a movie icon, may be in the eyes of the beholder. We like to think Lacy channeled the real star, but taking it in again decades later, we see this is not a ghost, but a frightful excuse for Allen to behave badly and perform even worsely.

 

 

 

Ten Dared, Disney Style!

DATELINE: Cliffhanger!

 John Beal Dangles by his one arm!

In 1960 Walt Disney studios took on an unusual adventure story for them: the true historical tale of John Wesley Powell who explored the Colorado River in 1869.

As Davy Crockett proved a few years earlier, there was no historical truth that Disney could not whitewash. Powell’s misfit crew of tough guys has been turned into a second-banana costar cast of familiar faces and comfortable stereotypes. Ten Who Dared is satisfying emotional comfort food. It falls short of classic, but will do in a pinch.

That’s not to say it isn’t a solid entry in biographical adventure.

You do have a bunch of scene-stealers around John Beal, the 1930s leading man now in late middle-age playing the one-armed Powell. His younger brother could be his son: James Drury in a pre-Virginianemesis role, complete with handlebar mustache.

Our money is on the grizzled Brian Keith, long before his TV comedy stuff, he could always be counted on to give an accounting worth watching. Up against Ben Johnson and R.G. Armstrong, you have marvelous performers. Throw in the spoiled rich kid from the Spin and Martyseries, David Stollery did one more Disney film before leaving acting entirely.

Those Disney moments feature Stollery being ordered to shoot his dog, and James Drury as a villain tormenting everyone.

By modern CGI effects, the rapids and the actors together are less than effective, as the disgruntled men begin to think Powell is searching for gold—and cutting them out of the process.

Other character flaws, amid greed and impatience, lead to more problems, making it your less than happy Disney film.

In true Disney fashion, the most hideous events are left for narrator explanation.

Yet, there is something of an experiment here for a later style of Disney movie. You cannot go awry with the Grand Canyon and notable character actors at the acme of their careers.

 

 

 

 

Space Cowboys Ride Into the Sunset

DATELINE:  Elder Stars Shine

  Maverick and Rowdy Yates with Tommy Lee!

How did we miss this action comedy directed by Clint Eastwood with an assemblage of geriatric stars?

Space Cowboysfrom 2000 unites a few genuine TV and movie cowboys (Eastwood and James Garner), but there are ringers in the bunch:  Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland. It does not matter: it is pure golden agers.

They were old then, but it was almost twenty years ago. Yet, only one has passed away since–James Garner.

Starting with a black and white prologue, you have the distinctive voices of the stars superimposed on younger, lookalike actors, which is effective. In the pre-NASA days, they are washed out of the space program and replaced by a monkey (not a first for Clint).

Even a dated late-night show host (Jay Leno) makes an appearance.

What is ineffective is the screenplay, all rather formulaic. Clint also does the story by the numbers: there are some old feuds and fights. He must reunite the old team.

And then in a plot twist that is cruel and nasty, the NASA honchos try to wash out the oldsters by killing them with physical training. Meant to be funny, it is simply unpleasant to watch. The charm of the actors is sorely challenged by the script. But, Clint as director is, as always, pure no-nonsense.

The enemies include William Devane and James Cromwell, which is not exactly chopped liver. This is an actors’ delight. Yet, the actual space trip in the shuttle is almost anti-climactic, and also rekindles the old Cold War.

Old, broken down space shuttles never die.

 

 

 

Wildest Bill Hickok

DATELINE:  Madison, Olyphant, and Bridges

Somewhere between the TV series Deadwood version of Wild Bill Hickok (limned by Keith Carradine) and the TV series Wild Bill(limned by Guy Madison), you have the version from Walter Hill and played by Jeff Bridges as the wildest Hickok of all.

As a Western on the tale end of movie westerns, this one is a classic mostly undiscovered. Wild Bill has a wonderful cameo cast and is filled with comedic violence.

In this version, Keith Carradine is Buffalo Bill. Ten years later he would join Timothy Olyphant in the HBO series for a few episodes as Wild Bill.

Here, the rootin’ tootin’ Calamity Jane is Ellen Barkin, and one of Bill’s Brit friends is a biographer played by John Hurt.

The bad guys lining up to be dispatched in colorful fashion include such as Bruce Dern and David Arquette.

Wild Bill traipsed through the litany of Western venues from Abilene to Deadwood, making appearances as a ruthlessly violent marshal who’d shoot you in an instant if the matter called for breaking lawbreakers.

James Butler Hickok found himself trapped in celebrity and became Wild Bill as a profession, requiring certain behaviors and attitudes.

The film, utterly timeless depiction of a Western legend, provides us with a conspiracy theory behind the tale. It would seem that the sniveling coward Jack McCall was, perhaps, hinted at an illegitimate son of Hickok.

You may find that the Olyphant-McShane profanity laced TV series owes much to this film—and it’s done with a modicum of the bad language of bad guys.

Tenth Victim: Futuristic and Dated

DATELINE: Murder in the 21st Century

 Andress in Undress?

The expiration date on using The Tenth Victim probably ended in the 20thcentury.

A social satire about murder in the future, this Italian film has all the earmarks of Fellini and Antonioni. It is excessive, flamboyant, and beautifully filmed. Its main conceit was that in the 21stcentury America, violence would be rampant and institutionalized as a game.

You would have hunters and the hunted. Alas, nothing racial or insulting to minorities occurs. In fact, there is not a minority to be seen in a colorful landscape meant to be the United States.

The male victim is a highly successful hunter with a dozen kills to his credit, but now the computer system has turned the tables and sent a stunningly beautiful woman out to get him. He does not know her identity, and that is part of the game. Everyone dresses in eye-popping fashion, and the future is squeaky clean, streets bright and cheery.

The cast is exemplary for the time: Marcello Mastroianni bleaches his hair blond (it was big that year as Terence Stamp did it too), and he is pursued by the American killer Ursula Andress. Hunh? You mean it’s not Anita Ekberg? Or Sophia Loren?

The sets are spectacular, and the music is jazz out of the classic Fifties mode, what you’d expect in a Euro-entertainment of the period.

As for the plot, it is neither violent enough, bloody enough, or shocking enough to make it controversial. It is played for light-hearted satire, and there is not a drop of blood to be seen.

Other touches indicate that comic books are great literature in America in the 21stcentury, collected like first-edition Francis Bacon.

In 1965, this flashy film grabbed them at the art house. Today it is more akin to a flash in the pan, though we are reluctant to pan something that is original, singular, and cute.

Pasolini Undone

DATELINE:  Last Days of Sodom? 

Dafoe as Paso

Willem Dafoe tackles the infamous Italian director of the 1960s. Next to Fellini and Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini is the darling of avant-garde cinema. His highly-charged political movies seemed to blame scandal and scandalizing on media and right-wingers. 

The movie is Pasolini,about a man who was the ultimate socialist on film. His movies from 120 Days of Sodom to Teorema were puzzling allegories that combined sordid sex and overblown intelligentsia. He wanted to offend audiences with pictures likeThe Gospel According to Matthew and succeeded wildly.

So it is with Abel Ferrara’s version of the film-maker’s life. With multiple languages, and layers of story-telling, this is Cinema with a capital C.

Dafoe seems to be nearly as outrageous as Pasolini as he was as Nosferatu.

The film is blatant in its crossovers, using a fictional version of Pasolini in a “novel” he visualizes with his actual life. This technique spares your major star from doing embarrassing sex scenes.

Dead at a premature age, it seems even Dafoe might be a bit long in the tooth for the role, but Terence Stamp, another good choice who worked with Pasolini, was definitely too far along.

The film tries to extract the genius of a director out of the chaos of politics, anarchy, and religion, that made up post-war Italy. It remains chaos theory.

Pasolini was the victim of senseless gay bashing murder in Rome in 1975, though the movie is far less graphic than the real killing.

Gothic Lunacy: Lord Byron’s Party

DATELINE: A Dark & Stormy Movie

 

Polidori, Shelley, and Byron, aka Spall, Sands, and Byrne

 

If you want to learn about the dark and stormy night in 1816 that resulted in the creation of Frankenstein and Dracula by Lord Byron’s pals, you might look elsewhere.

Ken Russell’s hothouse and nuthouse movie about Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron is pure Gothicnonsense. As was the style of Russell back in 1987, you had a psychedelic version of biography and history. It is not satisfactory.

The cast is somewhat exemplary:  Gabriel Byrne as lame Byron, Julian Sands as pretty Shelley, Timothy Spall as off-putting Dr. Polidori, and Natasha Richardson as demure Mary! Wow, you almost expect the acting alone will carry the film.

However, the director hijacks every moment and even has cast members chewing on rats. We thought the film turned into that rat-festival moviel, Willard.And, inexplicable pythons wrap around suits of armor. Yep, it’s Ken Russell.

Instead of a dark and stormy night where these highly creative people choose to write great books, we have a literal ghost story. The demons are really around every corner. You almost feel sorry for the servants who basically take a powder during the latter part of the movie to avoid these koo-koo birds.

The summer without sun inspired the writing of Frankenstein and Dracula. Byron took credit for Polidori’s work, and Byron couldn’t write prose. The stepsister of Mary is around for crazy moments in which the sexual peccadilloes of the characters is tested.

We have more than your usual homoerotic connections between the men, including some fairly passionate kisses, but Julian Sands was never prettier. Gabriel Byrne seems to have bigger breasts than the women stars. Timothy Spall is actually slim.

The film becomes increasingly erratic and difficult to watch, as befits what did in the style of Ken Russell ultimately. We had hoped to see something truly fascinating, but not quite on the level of a train wreck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air Force One is One Fat Half-Wit

DATELINE: Ford Trumps Lincoln

 Prez Ford Shoots from Hip

Can it be that Trump thinks he is Harrison Ford in the hilarious presidential/terrorist movie called Air Force One?

Delusion takes many forms: for a fat old man to see himself as an idealized President Harrison Ford may not be a stretch for Mr. Trump. Here’s a president who goes off script in public speeches, much to the shock of his aides.

Ford’s president is no Gerald and no Lincoln. He orders outrageous tactical attacks on the Ukraine in conjunction with the Russian president! In 1997’s now sentient movie about the future of the American presidency should give everyone a nightmare.

Gary Oldman shows up with a suspicious crew in Moscow who plan to board Air Force One and do mayhem. Back at the White House, Vice President Glenn Close and Secretary of Defense Dean Stockwell are at loggerheads. The U.S. government is run by buffoons. Most of the movie takes place in mid-air: They are on a jet flying around, but there is not even the hum of an engine in this aircraft.

Within a matter of moments, the terror team has fairly much wiped out the highly trained and highly touted Secret Service aboard the aircraft. Hmmm. This is not a high recommendation for American protection service. We suppose most people tell themselves that it’s only a movie meant to give Harrison Ford some heroic moments.

Since this film takes place in the years right before 9-11, there is something creepy about a stolen plane filled with hostages about to fly into some kind of explosive crash.

Of course, the POTUS here is a Medal of Honor winner who was a hero in Vietnam: no, it’s not John McCain, but it isn’t exactly Trump. However, the President is surrounded by a bunch of cowering bureaucrats or power-grabbing traitors.

In one ridiculous moment, the President must cross fuel line wires to dump fuel: we figure this is realistic because Trump crosses wires daily. As a stable genius, we presume Trump can also fly Air Force One.

It is a cynical view of entertainment.

 

 

Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest

 DATELINE: More Like Twin Peaks?

 

Is it Joan or is it Memorex?

 

Where does one begin? Where does one end up? You could put this movie on the end of Joan’s long career—or did that happen when Feud hit the miniseries on TV forty years later? Mommie Dearest is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Mommie Dearest is child abuse taken to levels not seen until Jeffrey Epstein chose to play the role in a Manhattan playhouse.

The twisted tale of Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother is one for the cautionary ages.

You may half expect the dead Joan Crawford to jump out of her coffin and continue to terrify the world. Was she a monster?

Bring us the axe but leave the wire hangers. We want to be objective.

Suffering the strains and stresses of aging would destroy any movie queen but being fired by Metro and re-inventing herself as a tough, savvy career woman, Joan Crawfish seems to deserve all rotten tomatoes that are tossed at her.

Our dear friend Jim Kirkwood, actor and writer of novels like Good Times/Bad Timesand There Must be a Pony, took a role in the movie as the MC who gives Crawford an award: he later had nightmares that his movie star parents would come back to haunt him for participating in this hallucinogenic version of Sunset Boulevard.

The film cannot be viewed on any normal level today, nor could it back then! It had transmuted and altered itself into a zombie of movie history.

Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford were the same height. It was the movies that got small.