Cold Warrior Spy: Richard Burton

DATELINE: Don’t Make’em Like This Anymore

 Dazzling Burton!

The extraordinary 1965 film of John le Carré’s classic,The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, has been listed on Prime as an action thriller. Of course, it is neither. It is a bleak, sober, cold and dreary film about moral turpitude among the espionage community.

John le Carré himself was an agent of MI-6 who turned into a novelist.

This was a seminal Richard Burton performance: and no one ever, even today, can convey the dissipation and ennui as he can. To watch him staggering around (as a double agent) in rainstorms and walking around bleak streets, avoiding a tail is in itself remarkable. We even see him in a Volkswagen, as an M-6 agent pretending to defect to the East.

George Smiley, the most famous of all the LeCarre agents, is here in the form of an unimpressive figure (actor Rupert Davies) working for Control. We believe it is the first Smiley appearance in a movie, as he later became known for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyin several movie incarnations (Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman, notably). Here he is a plot key, but mostly as a spoken name.

Claire Bloom is the female lead. It was one of the few movies that Elizabeth Taylor simply could not play with her then husband. She would not make a convincing demure librarian—and had to pass on the role when director Martin Ritt put his foot down and said, “NO!”  Bloom is perfect. Burton was peeved and Taylor hung around the set causing mischief.

Oskar Werner has the other smallish but central part as the nemesis to the British secret agent. He is the elusive and dangerous East German spy that has hamstrung MI-6—and must be discredited to the Soviets.

That’s Burton’s job: not glamourous or exciting, but could mean his life is up for Cold War grabs.

Climax is at the Berlin Wall where double-crossing takes on a double meaning.

 

Burton’s angry speech near the end is worth the entire film.

 

 

Blue Maximum for the Blue Max

DATELINE: Chess in the Sky  

 Real Stars Fly High!

We missed this little forgotten gem back in 1966, and today it is just a delicious extravaganza from the over-the-top studio system on its last legs. It is another faux epic but it is as big as the sky.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, The Blue Max was an important war movie for the Vietnam era. It told the story of chivalry in Germany during World War I. There, a common infantryman rises to air corps—and is ambitious enough to rival Von Richtofen.

The film has the benefit of George Peppard as his most unpleasant rogue antihero. However, the picture does not take off for forty minutes. That’s when James Mason and Ursula Andress take to the air as a German general of some sort and his countess wife.

Suddenly the movie comes alive. And Mason and Andress steal every scene they’re in. Elegant, aristocratic, and disdainful, you could not have two more delightful actors to change the pace of a war movie.

When Mason calls Peppard as “common as dirt” and a hero for the masses, you have the new era of movies entering on a biplane that could only shoot down King Kong in the movies.

There are long stretches of dog fights between Peppard and British planes, which are spectacular, but we can’t help but think this is nasty combat and is meant to kill the other pilot, not merely shoot him down. It dampens the undercurrent of a fun war.

A large cast also displays ugly hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, interspersed with Jeremy Kemp and Peppard’s rivalry over their extra-marital interest in Kemp’s auntie Ursula.

Scenes of glorious air flight are contrasted with uninspired ground troop massacres. We know that the chess match between Mason and Andress will result in Peppard having his Blue Max match his blue eyes at any cost, but he will end up the patsy of the villains. It’s worth watching two great film stars (Mason and Andress) in full throttle.

Charlie Chan from 1936

DATELINE: A Cursed Movie?

 Unlikely Swedish Hawaiian

We really don’t see the hubbub over an actor playing ethnic or racial roles if there is dignity and nothing racist in the situation. Apart from taking a key role in the payroll department away from an actor of Chinese Hawaiian extraction, there seems only minimal harm.

In Charlie Chan’s Secret, you have the peak of a respectful Chan movie. He has no comic sidekick son and characters call him “Mr. Chan” out of respect. Fifty years later a black actor playing a detective insisted they “call me Mr. Tibbs.”

Swedish actor Warner Oland is about as far as you can go from being Chinese American. And, that so-called accent is actually a cadence without using certain words. It doesn’t seem offensive, but we are laid back on this movie, turning us into an offensive apologist unfortunately.

You would never make this movie today, but that’s the point. It was made over 80 years ago. And, it has a certain charm in its sociological innocence. Within a few years, the role became a racially offensive joke, which may show the cycles of racism.

Charlie Chan’s Secretfeatures sunken luxury liners, missing persons, a center for psychic research, fake mediums, and assorted red herrings among the rich in San Francisco.

The usual suspects all have reason to kill the heir to the fortune of the Colby family: lawyer, psychic researcher, greedy cousin, all benefit from his death. Comic relief is provided by an overly nervous butler (marvelous Herbert Mundin who died young in a car crash a few years later).

Yet, there were other curses on the movie. Within a few years, the prime suspect actor Arthur Edmund Carewe died by suicide shortly after the movie’s release when he learned of health problems.

And, of course, Warner Oland went on vacation to Sweden and died there of bronchial pneumonia. Several other actors found their careers at dead ends after this picture. It really was the Curse of Charlie’s Secret.

Many Years Ago at Marienbad

DATELINE: Classic Movie Requires Another View

 

The amazing classic French “art” film called Last Year at Marienbad was a tremendous influence on TV commercials. It was too esoteric to do much else for dumb audiences.

Well, the film has been re-mastered—and is stunning to see. The rococo corridors we saunter for long ambling walks are fresh with elegant details.

The narrator with ennui seems even more parfait for the job. And, you cannot find a more stylized actress than Delphine Seyrig. She couldn’t follow up this act with any other film performance, which is a career defining acting job.

You soon are staggered by the actors who wander the hallways making the same comments repeatedly. They never blink. It is rather disconcerting, but Resnais never let them blink in a scene, and most of the time they are moving at a snail’s pace.

We loved the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock to set the tone in the first 15 minutes.

Is it Marienbad or Frederiksbad? The grounds outside the hotel are so bizarre as to fit the nature of the tale.

And, the tale is a ghost story. Long before Stephen King took us to a Colorado haunt, the Marienbad location is even more horrific without one shred of blood. However, there are mysterious deaths. Who shot whom? And who fell off the balustrade?

The game with matchsticks is maddening—and fate.

The characters often refer to seeing phantoms or not being alive. Well, yes, they are all dead, reliving that hideous season when the lake frozen over in 1928, or was it 1929? They have lost track of time for good reason. They keep reliving every creepy moment.

This is a hypnotic and truly overwhelming movie that will be beyond the attention-deficit audiences of today. Watch in small doses. You will fall back under its influence almost immediately—and you will re-live every moment at Marienbad forever. Years will not matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic & Night Wire Exposed!

DATELINE: Connections!

 Henry Ferris Arnold.

When I looked at the various reviews of “The Night Wire” on Goodreads, I felt it was my duty to add. what I have learned during research for my book, Titanic’s Forgotten Movie.

Yes, there is a creepier theme in the story that relates H.F. Arnold’s little horror tale to the infamous sinking of the luxury liner in 1912.

Published in the heyday of short story writing when magazines were devoted to the art, now basically lost to writers, were genre-periodicals as well as major magazines that published stories. Of course, in those days, you had H.P. Lovecraft, J.D. Salinger, and B. Traven.

Then in the 1920s, out of nowhere came a young writer graduated from a mid-Western college. He only wrote three stories in his life, all of the supernatural vein. You may well ask why.

Arnold’s background has been called mysterious and murky, some even questioning whether he used a pen-name. No, he was Henry Ferris Arnold. And, he went to Hollywood upon graduation from college to work in the publicity and movie advertising business. He was not necessarily a denizen of tabloid journals where he worked the graveyard shift in the Morgue (old newspaper term for the library).

He actually started out in the Goldwyn Studios and quickly rose to the exalted position as Sam Goldwyn’s Director of Publicity. He was also elected to various positions of importance at WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers).

His sister Pauline Arnold, aka Polly, moved to New York in 1926 and became a pioneer woman in the advertising business—and the east coast tie-in with her brother. She founded a company called MRCA, and it was a press agency that handled people who wanted their name dropped into columns of Walter Winchell or Ed Sullivan.

Polly soon became partners with a man called Percy White, Jr.

What has this to do with “Night Wire” and Titanic?

It is the backstory.

Percy White’s father and brother died on Titanic in 1912. He was a man haunted by their ends. Polly then married Percy—and she told her brother about his family history.

“Night Wire” emerged when H.F. Arnold started to use details from Percy as the basis for a story that kept the family’s name out of it, but might be a sellable story to movies. He knew many people in movies who wanted to make a Titanic movie.

After all, one of the famous stories of wire operators centered on the two heroic Titanic men who sent out distress calls for two hours. It is the basic plot of the story.

Where are they? In a place called Xebico. If you are a cryptographer, you may have done your homework. Most have not. Xebico is an anagram for Icebox.

The fog washing over the victims might well be the frigid North Atlantic as the ship sank, becoming an icebox containing hundreds of souls.

The narrator observes the wire operator named John Morgan. IN some Titanic circles, one of the controversial figures is John Pierpont Morgan, who had a first-class suite on Titanic—and bailed out of sailing at the last moment. Some said he knew something bad was imminent.

So, that is a little background information.

 

Blue Book Kidnappings & Mutilations

 DATELINE: Date Night at Drive-In

 

Richard Carlson in a cameo.

If you wonder how realistic theProject Blue Book episodes are, you only have to watch Dr. Hynek and his wife out at the drive-in (without their kid who has disappeared in season 2).

They are watching Richard Carlson in one of those 1950s movies. She knows about which crash it is supposedly depicting, and he hardly watches at all. It is not exactly the kind of concentration you expect from the government leading investigator.

The show also features on this episode a trip to Area 51 that is under CIA control, though our heroes do not know what this agency is. When the captain in civilian clothes meets them, they are taken aback that he is a black man. It allows Mike Malarkey’s character now to display some classic 1950s racism, but muted.

As the black agent notes, the CIA picks people for positions that you would least suspect: and he was such an example taking Dr. Hynek and Captain Quinn into the fenced in desert with snipers everywhere.

Ths episode also features something beyond an alien abduction. One young corporal who has gone missing is found in a state usually reserved for cattle mutilation victims. He is eyeless, and has been eviscerated systematically.

We also have our traditional heroes finding a mountain open up and a base within, allegedly under the control of the Air Force. Trying to escape, they are pursued by orbs—and are pulled up into a craft with a beam.

Of this they have no memory, and it likely will be a plot device over subsequent shows. They are also summarily kicked out of Area 51.

In the meantime, the Russian spies are ending the show at the drive-in. This time it is not It Came from Outer Space, but a western with Brandon de Wilde called Shane. The Russians (or whatever they are are beautiful cold women). They are planning some dastardly stuff.

It’s not too often the guest stars on TV are Richard Carlson and Brandon de Wilde.

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.