Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 28 May 2021

Burl reviews Jet Pilot! (1957)


Up up and away, it’s Burl, here to review aeronautical derring-do! Ha ha, we’re all familiar with the Duke, which is to say John Wayne, and his many horse operas, from Randy Rides Alone to Rio Bravo! But in today’s picture he’s bestride a different sort of saddle: the pilot’s seat of the latest in jet fighter technology! The picture in question is titled, with admirable prosy, Jet Pilot!  

The Duke stars as Jim Shannon, one of the Air Force’s top wingsmen! When a pretty pilot called Anna, played by Janet Leigh from Halloween H20 and The Fog, drops into the Alaskan air base run by General Jay C. Flippen (an actor we may recall from Thunder Bay) and requests political sanctuary, Shannon is enlisted to keep her company! They fly around together and of course fall in love! Ha ha, but is she truly sweet Anna, wholeheartedly wanting to defect, or is she the duplicitous Olga, sent in order to lure the lovestruck Duke back to Mother Russia?

The answer, it turns out, is “both!” But there’s a lot of back and forth along the way, and plans within plans, and chumps made on both sides! Ha ha, Anna and Shannon even get married, and you know what that means - blanket hornpipe! Considering the political leanings of both the Duke and of Howard Hughes, who produced, or anyway “presents” the picture, we can be pretty sure from the start which side will prevail! In the meantime, some fun is made of Anna’s socialist values, as when she notes that a hotel suite is far too large for just two people, so invites a number of other, including Paul Fix from Night of the Lepus, to bunk with them!

Ha ha, the picture was released in 1957, but a little research taught me that it was shot in 1950, so that all the cutting-edge technology it wanted to show off had long passed its sell-by date! At this remove of course that doesn’t matter much, and so we’re left with a whole heck of a lot of excellent flying footage, with the pilots doing little rollover tricks, and voiceover radio chat between “A for Anna” and “S for Shannon!” But the aeronauts seem to fly everywhere all the time, and it eventually gets tiresome!

When the Duke follows his bride back to Russia, he finds Hans Conried from Summer Stock, The Monster that Challenged the World and The Twonky running the show, and that Anna has reverted to her more Soviet persona, Olga! She flips back and forth between these identities, even seeming to change her hair colour sometimes, and I found it as confusing as the Duke did! Leigh’s character is as split as that of her later co-star in Psycho, ha ha, and when she starts casually murdering people at the end, by tricking them into pulling ejection seat handles at inopportune moments for example, she seems more a narrative instrument than a character at all!

A funny thing about Jet Pilot is that it was directed, nominally at any rate, by Josef Von Sternberg! Ha ha! It really doesn’t seem like his sort of picture, and the picture itself doesn’t seem much like it was directed by von Sternberg! Still and all, that’s a pretty interesting fact! Hughes was the real auteur here, I suppose! But the overlapping part of a Hughes/von Sternberg Venn diagram is eroticism, and somehow this is a strangely sexy movie! Leigh looks great in her flight suit; she loses her harem pants at one point and is almost spotted trouserless by a marching band; and after their marriage, there are several references to the notion that Leigh and Wayne are doing nothing besides bohankie all the day long! It starts right from the beginning, as the Duke observes Leigh warming her bum at a stove and musing “This might be some new form of Russian propaganda!”



The flying scenes are impressive, but too long and too numerous; the geopolitics are childish and binary of course; and the characters are little more than blank figures moved around the landscape like quoits! It’s entertaining in its 1950s way, but seems more an interesting relic than a piece of cinema! But if you like watching jets fly around, this is the motion picture for you! I give Jet Pilot one and a half barrel rolls!

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Burl reviews Marked for Death! (1990)


With a hapkido hello, it’s Burl, here to review midbudget action! I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Steven Seagal Three Word Title series, inaugurated by Above the Law in 1989 and maintained through to the year 1991 by equally dopey movies like Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, and today’s picture, Marked for Death!

Now, as you might guess, I don’t hold Seagal in terribly high regard, either as an action hero or as a person, based on what I’ve heard! But of course it’s not always the best idea to form an opinion based on rumour and innuendo! Such rumour and innuendo as there is insists that he’s a big blowhard who treats people terribly and plays up some kind of mob connections! Ha ha, I don’t know how much of that is true, but the personal qualities it implies are clearly detectable in his screen presence!

Marked for Death opens with Seagal’s character, John Hatcher, in Mexico, running down good old Danny Trejo of Con Air fame, shooting up a drugs den, and acting like even more of a jerk than he usually does, even to his putative partners! It turns out that at least some of this jerkiness is part of the performance, as we next see Hatcher in a confessional, telling the priest he doesn’t want to be such a knob any more! Ha ha, then he quits his job with the DEA, though his boss, played by good old Peter Jason from Prince of Darkness, doesn’t want to hear about it!

Next the ponytailed ex-cop heads for his home territory of Chicago, where he visits his sister and her family and hooks up with his longtime buddy Max, played by good old Keith David from They Live! He finds, to his dismay, that the old neighbourhood has been taken over by Jamaican drugs gangs, or “posses,” and Max is already prepared to take them on! A dread mon called Screwface, played by Basil Wallace from Return of the Living Dead III, is behind it all, and is much feared in the drugs gang community for his brutality and his voo-doo!

Seagal struts around looking ridiculous in dumb clothes he designed, or anyway chose, and speaking dumb words that he wrote, or claimed to, and wearing just the dumb expression you’d expect from, say, a caveman being shown a flashy card trick! In most of his movies, thanks to the crushing insecurity he feels every day, Seagal’s slapfight style involves mainly him delivering beatings on people and twisting limbs here and there, while never so much as feeling the brush of his opponent’s fingertips ‘pon his cheek! Here he at least gets a few bonks, and finds himself in a couple of sticky situations, as when the drugs gang crushes his beautiful Mustang with him inside, then tosses a Molotov cocktail in with him, or when they tie him down and prepare to sacrifice him to Damballa or someone similar!

Other characters include Joanna Pacula from Gorky Park and Black Ice, playing some kind of ill-defined expert who gets a crush on the kung-fu blockhead and is completely forgotten about by the end of the movie; and Tom Wright, the hitchhiker from Creepshow 2, playing a Jamaican cop on the hunt for Screwface so the movie can claim not to simply be a 90 minute anti-Jamaica slur! Other attempts to ward off criticisms the filmmakers clearly expected include a small speech about the tough lives led by the underclasses of Kingston, a little note at the tail end of the credits reading “The posse phenomenon is estimated to be a fraction of one percent of the Jamaican population and should not detract from their country or the contributions Jamaicans have made to this country,” and a cameo appearance by Jimmy Cliff of Club Paradise fame! But it all still seems a little bit mean!

It’s a pretty poor show, but it has a few pleasures! Seagal and his awful outfits have camp value of course, and the action is sometimes okay, sometimes ho-hum, but there are Special Makeup Effects, which I always like to see in an action movie! Ha ha, some of them, like a fake head for an eye-gouging scene, are a bit ropey, but that somehow makes them even better! Lots of early-90s action pictures seem coughed in from the 80s, and this, with its Reefer Madness-like sophistication about drugs and its hero who forswears violence only to renege immediately his loved ones are threatened, is certainly one of them!

It’s full of Jamaican accents and patois that are as phony as the bad guy’s blue eyes, and while it might be one of Seagal’s goriest movies (there’s a hand chopped off, a head chopped off, the requisite broken limbs and of course the eye gouge), it’s also one of his stupidest, and that’s really saying something! I give Marked for Death one inscrutable hand signal!

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Burl reviews Stray! (2020)


Woof woof, it’s Burl, gone to the dogs! I’m here to review a pooch picture that tells the true-life tail of bowsers on the streets of Istanbul and the people who love them: a new documentary by the name of Stray!

The picture mainly follows two four-footers as they travel the streets and harbor areas of this polyglot city on the border of Europe and Asia! West and East are the warp and weft of this town, and even in its less glamourous quarters, where these dogs and their human pals mostly roam, this unique admixture is evident!

The starring hounds are named Zeytin and Nazar, both bitches of indeterminate breed! They roam the town looking for chow, stare balefully around at the tourists, poop on the grass, lounge on the roadway, fight over meatbones, eavesdrop on couples at outdoor cafes, and spend time with some glue-huffing street kids from Syria! There’s a group of construction site security guards who treat the dogs more kindly than they do the kids - the homeless immigrants are kicked out of their construction site squat, while the bowsers are given heaping bowls of tasty slops!

In Istanbul, it seems, it has lately become illegal to put down street dogs, and so the people there have a unique relationship with the canines who roam the city! In their turn, the doggies don’t seem to have become the ravening killers we see in movies like Dogs or The Pack or Wolfen, but do their best to go about the business of survival with the least possible amount of fuss!

The camera spends a lot of time cruising around at the dogs’ level (there’s a lot of dog anus in this picture, ha ha!), and one must admire director/camerawoman Elizabeth Lo, whose lower back must have needed great slatherings of Rub A5-35 after each day’s shoot! The footage she shot has been assembled into a film that never really coalesces into a story, but manages something rarer and more nuanced! It exudes a spell that’s very minor, and which doesn’t stay with you long after the movie is over, but is quite enchanting while it lasts, particularly for dog lovers!

The more sentimental dog lovers may find the picture unsatisfactory for a different reason, though! The movie avoids both anthropomorphizing and over-romanticizing its canine characters - they’re simply animals in the world, and while their big brown eyes give them a soulful look, they’re not particularly cute or clever! I myself think this was the right approach, and it should go without saying that the lack of narration was also the correct choice here!

The picture is spotted with quotations from Ancient Greek philosophers, mostly the dog-loving Diogenes, but frankly they don’t add much to it! It’s not a movie that will live for a tremendous long time in my memory or my heart, but I admire it for its moxie, its technical acumen, and its intelligence! I give Stray two government ear tags!

Friday 21 May 2021

Burl reviews Rambo: First Blood part II! (1985)

Fighting the battle for cinema, it’s Burl, here to review a continuation of the saga that began with First Blood and apparently ended, in a pretty pedestrian way, ha ha, with Rambo: Last Blood! The installment I’ve got in mind today is the one that was the biggest hit of all, Rambo: First Blood part II! Ha ha, it was a true phenomenon back in 1985, though I ignored both it and all the flying-bamboo-splinter pictures* that followed, like Missing In Action and such stuff!

As the picture begins, our unkempt hero is breaking rocks in the pokey, where he was put after busting up a town and traumatizing its police force in the original picture! Good old Colonel Trautman, played as ever by Richard Crenna from Summer Rental, appears as though out of a dream and offers the taciturn convict a chance to do a mission back in ‘Nam, to discover and photograph any P.O.W.s who’ve been left behind! (Or is that abbreviation pluralized as “P.s O.W.?” Ha ha!)

As ever, our compact, shag-headed hero is played by Sylvester Stallone, known from pictures like Cliffhanger! He’s as clam-lipped as ever, and when he gets to the Far East base of operations, which is an airplane hangar outfitted with all sorts of communications equipment, he finds it staffed by Charles Napier from Last Embrace, assisted by Martin Kove from White Line Fever and Steele Justice, and Andy Wood from The Annihilators! Napier wears a tie and complains about the heat a lot, ha ha, and I think it was a canny decision to cast a tough-guy actor like Napier rather than some pencil-neck to play the duplicitous bureaucrat who has no interest in finding the lost men, and in fact wants to keep the whole problem buried! One assumes a fellow tough customer will be on Rambo's side, but nope!

The action begins when our bandanna-wrapped tousle-head finally makes it into the jungle, after a spot of bother parachuting from his plane, ha ha! He meets his contact, a Vietnamese lady who seals her fate by expressing a desire to make this her last resistance job and move to America in search of the quiet life! From then on, once Rambo discovers a rat-infested cage filled with barely-alive American soldiers, it’s budda-budda this and exploding-arrow that! We get the famous scene where our muscle-bound sweat factory is captured by Russians, who are coloneled by Steven Berkoff from Beverly Hills Cop, dipped in a pigpoo pit, and electrocuted on a homemade bedspring torture mat; and the even more famous scene in which he smears himself with mud Predator-style and camouflages himself against an embankment on the remote chance that an enemy soldier will pause right at that spot for a smoke or a bite of candy! Ha ha, and guess what - it happens!

There are explosions and helicopter chases and bazookas going off and more budda-budda-budda, and it’s all captured in high 80s style by Cobra director George P. Cosmatos, and photographed, if you can believe it, by Jack Cardiff, who shot The African Queen and Ghost Story and many other marvelous-looking pictures! It’s a supremely ridiculous movie, displaying all the subtlety of a Sgt. Rock comic, but apparently in earnest! Its moronic jingoism and crepe-paper warmongery are so cartoonish as to be dismissable with a laugh and a slight wave, and really, so far as I’m concerned, the final word on the picture may be granted to Gremlins 2!

Rambo: First Blood part 2 is deeply dumb and occasionally irritating, but brisk and entertaining too, and so long as you watch it with wallpaper eyes and a frosty mug in hand, I think we can grant it one and a half machoman bucknives!


* A coinage, I believe, of Mr. Ebert’s!

Monday 17 May 2021

Burl reviews Dawn of the Mummy! (1981)


Grooving to the the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet, it’s Burl, here to review a walking mummy movie! But it’s not a genteel Hammer walking mummy movie like The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb though, nor an old classic from the Universal cycle, though I should get to reviewing those soon! No, this variant is actually a genuinely Egyptian take on the subject, the only one I’m aware of; but if the viewer imagines some extra sheen of verisimilitude typically absent in the genre coming as a result of this, she or he will be disappointed! The picture I’m talking about is that old Thorn/EMI staple Dawn of the Mummy!

You would be forgiven for assuming the movie is not Egyptian at all, but Italian; for indeed several Italian names appear in the credits and the general atmosphere is very like any of the lower-rung zombie gutmunchers churned out by our friends in the boot-shaped pastaland! But it turns out that the director, Frank Agrama, which after all sounds like a pseudonym, is indeed Egyptian, and was merely heavily influenced by the Italian zombie pictures!

Here is the dramatic situation: A group of New York photomodels and their major league jerk of a photographer are on assignment in Egypt! Meanwhile a small gang of treasure seekers, made up of two dim-bulb locals and a gangly blond American called Rick, bust into the tomb of Sefiraman, whom we saw being buried with much pomp and circumstance, as well as with his treasures and his legion of servants, in a prefatory flashback! Rick is experienced enough to know the tomb is full of poison gas to eliminate would-be graverobbers and must be allowed to air out before ingress, but another small gang is not so clever and they end up with a bad case of lumpyface! The photomodels show up and bully their way into the tomb, commandeering it from the hapless Rick for use as a backdrop to their snapshots!

Speaking of Rick, he’s quite a character! He starts out a pretty keyed-up fellow, and seems to be driven freshly insane by every new thing that happens to him, though one must give him points for his undimmable optimism! If the treasure doesn’t turn up in the place he and his pals had hoped it would, nary a flicker of disappointment shows on Rick's face: he’s already roaring with gleeful laughter because he’s certain it’ll turn up in the very next place they look! He’s driven not by greed so much as by relentless hope!

Eventually Sefiraman and his entourage wake up, but it takes quite a while, ha ha! In the meantime, the photomodels keep discovering bodies, or parts of bodies, or else they get injured by oozing slime; indeed, even before the walking mummy becomes a problem at least a half dozen horrible things happen to this group, any one of which would in real life send any supermodels scampering back to New York! But these stalwarts stick around, and are murderized by a walking mummy and his zombie pals for their trouble!

The big finale is the walking mummy and his buddies running roughshod over a wedding party! It’s the old story: gut munching, eye poking and flesh chomping on a par with Corpse Eaters or Zombie Lake, or other similar pictures! It’s not a very elegant movie, but the walking mummy is at least a bit scarier than the one in Time Walker - the shot of the mummy sitting up for the first time is even a little startling! His killing methods are more varied, too: he strangles, yes, but at one point he busts into a pantry and gives the chop to a poor meatsman with his own cleaver! His servants, who are not walking mummies but only lowly zombies (which establishes a perhaps heretofore unacknowledged hierarchy in the monster world) eat people, as zombies will, but Sefiraman is only interested in plain old killing!

I guess my point is only that the movie is not a complete loss! It is indeed poorly made, and there’s no aspect you can really point to that’s well done, except maybe some of the makeup! It manages to completely ignore all the ways the actual Egyptian locations might have been used to create eeriness and atmosphere, or any feeling of genuineness! It takes a real lack of interest to mess that up, and it’s a hard mistake to forgive! But parts of it are effective, or at least amusing, and it’s sure worth seeing Rick’s crazy performance! I’m going to give Dawn of the Mummy one and a half hookah binges!

Sunday 16 May 2021

Burl reviews It Came From Outer Space! (1953)


Ooo-wee-ooo, cried the theremin! Yes, it’s Burl with a 1950s sci-fi classic under review, and one from one of my favourite directors of that form, Jack Arnold! Mr. Arnold seems to have loved the desert, and as I don’t live anywhere near a desert, or at least not one of any size, my own love for the desert is really a proxy love, constructed and prosecuted not by me but by Arnold! That may seem a lot to lay on a talented director of monochromatic genre movies, but I think it’s so! At any rate, like Tarantula, this fits right into the beloved sub-sub-sub genre of Sci-Fi Movies By Jack Arnold That Are Set In A Desert, and the picture is It Came From Outer Space!

The story begins in a terrific little desert house that contains article-writer and amateur astronomer John Putnam, played by Richard Carlson from The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Hold That Ghost!, and his visiting girlfriend Ellen, as portrayed by Barbara Rush from Bigger Than Life and When Worlds Collide! Ha ha, they see a fiery object crash land out of the sky, and when they investigate, John observes a strange spherical ship embedded in the crater! There’s an open portal in the side, but as he approaches the door closes up, as though the inhabitants were saying “None for us today, thanks!” Then a big earthslide covers the orb!

Well, ha ha, nobody else has seen the thing but John, and most of the next hour of the picture is people doubting John’s story, scorning him as a publicity seeker, or just relentlessly making fun of him! He’s dismissed in the popular press as a crank or worse, and Sheriff Matt, the local law played by Charles Drake from My Brother’s Wedding, who already seems to have something against our overearnest hero, possibly fueled by romantic jealousy, almost considers him a threat to the town’s moral health!

Finally events take place which at least slightly mute the snarky comments and side-eye! An oddball creature with fish-vision floats about the desert kidnapping people and occasionally adopting their forms, as might the alien from The Thing! But fortunately these are not malevolent aliens, though they don’t hesitate to rattle their sabres a bit to make sure they get their way!

When two telephone linemen of Putnam’s acquaintance - a pair of mugs called Frank and George, played by Joe Sawyer from The Killing and Russell Johnson from Rock All Night - are snatched by the aliens, matters reach a boiling point! The sheriff has had enough, an anti-alien mob is formed, and things look dire for all concerned! Ha ha, I won’t give away the end, but those who like images of awestruck townsfolk won’t be disappointed!

It goes without saying that the desert atmosphere is great here, and represents a major part of my appreciation for the picture! I was less taken with the character of John Putnam, who seemed too often in the helpless thrall of his own urges and emotions! He’s one of those characters who never quite say what you want them to say, but don’t surprise you either! It’s a Ray Bradbury story, and his touch seems evident; that’s all to the good as well! It’s a minor key story, told well, very theremin-flavoured, steely black-and-white with the best desert atmosphere since Them! How can you go wrong? You can’t! Ha ha, I give It Came From Outer Space two and a half Joshua trees!

Friday 7 May 2021

Burl reviews Galaxy of Terror! (1981)

By grimbus and by garr it’s Burl, here with a review of one of Roger Corman’s early-80s sci-fi/horror hybrids! You all know about such gems as Forbidden World and Humanoids From the Deep, and you may even know about Space Raiders, but the picture I’m reviewing for you today, Galaxy of Terror, is in many ways the most special of them all!

Ha ha, when this one came out I tried to go see it with my friend Dave! We were both little kids, but we loved horror movies; and, as Galaxy of Terror was showing in a multiplex and was rated R of course, we bought tickets for a Rocky Horror Picture Show revival then tried to sneak across the hall into the cinema where the movie we really wanted to see was playing! But halfway through the opening credits we felt strong hands clamp on our shoulders, and two burly ushers hoisted us up, marched us to the door, and tossed us out into the street to roll in the gutter! It's too bad, because what a victory it would have been to see this beauty on the big screen!

It’s a Alien knock-off, of course, but only to a point! We open in the office of The Master, a fellow with a glowing red head and the voice of that fine gent Ray Walston, famous for his roles in Silver Streak and Johnny Dangerously! He’s talking to an old space witch played by Mary Ellen O’Neill from Van Nuys Blvd., and he decides the thing to do is to round up a spaceship crew and head to Morganthus, a mystery planet where a previous spaceship crew has disappeared! Thanks to the enthusiasm of spaceship captain Grace Zabriskie, whom we recall from Drop Zone and many fine David Lynch pictures, the characters find themselves on the nightmare planet in no time flat!

Our hero is an upright fellow named Cabren, played by Edward Albert from When Time Ran Out and Getting Even! Ha ha, everybody has lame space-names, like Baelon, the mildly antagonistic character played by erotic film director Zalman King, or empathy-lady Aluma, played by Joanie herself, Erin Moran! Bernard Behrens from The Changeling and The Man With Two Brains is an old man along for the ride; Taafe O’Connor from Hot Chili is the buxom lady with a fear of worms; Robert Englund, Freddy himself from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, is a little guy called Ranger; and Sid Haig, whom you surely remember as the Righteous Brothers’ drummer in Beach Ball, is the virtually mute Quuhod! Ha ha, Quuhod! And Ray Walston is along as the cook, who by an amazing coincidence has the same voice as The Master!

It turns out the planet, and in particular a big pyramid located there, is a place that makes manifest the worst fears of anyone who enters! The first to go is a whinyman played by Jack Blessing from Summer School, who gets eaten by a big doodlebug and we’re glad to be rid of him! The old commander guy goes down a wormhole and is sucked dry by vermiforms; Sid Haig has his beloved crystals turn on him and his own severed arm delivers the death-stab; Zabriskie’s Captain Trantor is incinerated; and poor Erin Moran ends up getting crushed by cable snakes in a crawlhole! Ha ha, yikes! But the worst and the goofiest of all is of course the famous maggot assault, which makes neither psychological nor physiological sense but was intended only as an over-the-top outrage designed by Corman to attract daring or depraved viewers!

There’s some good squoochy gore in here, and mixing this together with ambitious low-budget special effects, James Cameron’s tenpenny production design (and his shock-dancing maggots, ha ha), that stellar oddball cast, and some gloriously dumb metaphysics, we get a heady brew indeed! The movie cares not a fig about making sense, but it does deliver a parade of trick effects you will surely enjoy! I don’t care for the maggot rape, nor for the sensibility that concocted it, but it’s outlandish enough to be more or less ignored, and I’m only glad the actress escaped being crushed by the giant worm prop! Galaxy of Terror is not a movie for everyone, but it’s got a strange hold over me, so with some reservations I award it three redheads!

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Burl reviews GoldenEye! (1995)


With a cocktail in one hand and a lady in an evening gown in the other, it’s Burl, here to review a bit of Bondery for you! This was the first of a millennium-ending series with new Bond Pierce Brosnan, whom we know from Dante’s Peak and The World’s End, taking over after Timothy Dalton’s abbreviated but perfectly competent run of two pictures, The Living Daylights and License to Kill! The picture I’m talking about is of course GoldenEye!

The other major newcomer is Judi Dench playing M, who would outlast Brosnan and assume the role until Skyfall! She plays it crabby here, and also is the character used to call out Bond’s superannuated sexism, which was a much remarked-upon aspect of this picture at the time of its original release! (Other characters, including Miss Moneypenny and the main bad guy played by Sean Bean from How to Get Ahead in Advertising, mine this rich vein as well!)

The plot: typical Bondism! The opening involves the double-nought hero infiltrating a Russian weapons facility (ha ha, the fall of the Soviet Union is another update the picture must grapple with) and escaping thanks to a spectacular but frankly impossible stunt! Unfortunately he’s left behind his compadre, Sean Bean’s 006, whom Bond believes to have been killed! But it’s all part of a plot by Bean, in conjunction with a hatchet-faced strongman general played by Gottfried Johns from Fedora and an erotic thigh-killer called Xenia Onatopp (ha ha!) played by Famke Janssen from Taken 2, to take control of a Russian satellite weapon that will shoot electromagnetic rays to wipe out computer systems on Earth! Ha ha, pretty much the usual stuff - I think The Man With the Golden Gun had a similar space weapon in it, for example!

Bond hooks up with a Russian lady played by Izabella Scorupco, and then with Joe Don Baker from Fletch, who’d played a bad guy in The Living Daylights but here is a CIA guy emphatically not named Felix Leiter! There’s a nice tank chase in St. Petersberg and a steam room fight with Onatopp in which Bond burns her bum, and much of the movie seems to be captures and escapes! It all ends in Cuba in and around a big giant radar dish that stands as one of the Bond team’s finest miniature trick effects jobs!

The picture is brisk and fun, the script is occasionally clever (though its understanding of mid-90s geopolitics seems a little shaky), and there are some engaging action sequences! Brosnan acquits himself well and was clearly a solid choice for the role! Unfortunately the picture is burdened with a substandard score and a terrible end-credits song, and the opening credit sequence, also with a mediocre song, is dull and cheeseball! But these are minor afflictions, and the ultimate impression is of a Bond movie solidly somewhere in the upper middle of the pack! I’m beginning to think that Tomorrow Never Dies might have been an improvement on this one, but certainly GoldenEye is still streets ahead of the cornliquors that came later, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day! Ha ha, pee-yew! I give GoldenEye two Canadian admirals!

Monday 3 May 2021

Burl reviews A Lawless Street! (1955)


Boy howdy, it’s Burl, here to review a pistol-packin’ oater for you! This one features that cowboy non compare Randolph Scott, whose long career in Westerns ended with the great Ride the High Country! In today's duster he plays the legendary Marshal of Medicine Bend, and indeed the book the picture is based on was titled just that, The Marshal of Medicine Bend! But in its journey to the big screen, the title was changed to A Lawless Street!

Now, I’d seen A Lawless Street before, being as how it was made by a director I admire, Joseph H. Lewis! I watched it again the other day, having just found a used DVD of it, and afterward realized that I had the book around somewhere, so I found it and over the next day or so I read The Marshal of Medicine Bend! So I’m well steeped in this particular story at the moment, though there are still one or two things I can’t quite figure out about it, even after reading the book! I’ll get to that in a moment!

Scott plays Calem Ware, whose assiduous marshalry has helped the Colorado town of Medicine Bend on its way to peace and respectability and the sort of long life and steady growth that places like Dodge City, Deadwood, and Tombstone never got! He has a fearsome reputation as a gunfighter and is the sort of peacemaker who won’t hesitate to spill blood all over the floor! He doesn’t have many friends; his only buddies are the local doctor, played by Wallace Ford from Freaks, and his landlady, played by perennial fussbudget Ruth Donnelly, who of course appeared with Ford in Scatterbrain!

But trouble’s a-brewing in Medicine Bend! A local badman rides into town looking for trouble, but before he can gun down old Calem Ware (and he is old - in the book he’s thirty-six, but Scott here was pushing sixty!), the Marshal, draped in a sheet getting a shave in the barber’s chair, pulls a High Plains Drifter on him! There are more badmen where he came from, however, and it transpires that a pair of sharpies, played by Warner Anderson from Bad Bascomb and Week-End at the Waldorf, and John Emery from Spellbound and Rocketship X-M, are in some strange and ill-defined way hoping to take advantage of the town’s impending boom status by taking it over by killing the Marshall and keeping it lawless, and this in some way will hugely enrich them! Ha ha, I never did figure out the precise workings of their scheme, though it also involved terrorizing the local rich rancher, played by James Bell, who played doctors for Val Lewton in pictures like I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man! Ha ha!

Calem Ware’s life is further complicated by the arrival in town of his estranged wife, a songbird played by Angela Lansbury, whom we know so well from The Manchurian Candidate, The Company of Wolves, and The Mirror Crack’d! She warbles a tune or two, but the reunion is fraught because she doesn’t want to be married to a man who might be killed at any moment! The risk of this worsens still when Calem first has to fight a scarred Mongo figure played by Don Megowan from The Werewolf and Truck Turner, and then must battle hatchet-faced gunman Harley Baskam, played by Michael Pate from Howling III! And let me tell you, it looks bad for Calem Ware!

A strange thing is that the characters say Calem Ware’s name over and over again: everybody from the landlady to the doctor to the bad guys and the hired guns and a widow played by Jeanette Nolan from The Manitou and Cloak & Dagger seem to want to say his name, usually in full, as many times as they can! Calem Ware, Calem Ware, Calem Ware! And yet the plot synopsis on the back of my DVD earnestly explains that the movie is about the tribulations of a Wild West Marshal by the name of “Coleen Wave!” Ha ha! How they got that one wrong, I do not know!

That aside, A Lawless Street is a strong little horse opera! It moves at a good pace, and Scott, despite being twenty years older than the character is meant to be, does his usual upright job; and the plot, no matter the confusion it invites, is compelling! And while we think of Joseph H. Lewis as an artiste du noir, with moody pictures like My Name is Julia Ross, The Big Combo, and of course Gun Crazy to his credit, he was originally a thoroughgoing oatsman! Ha ha, after all, he made The Man From Tumbleweeds! He did a terrific job here, anyway, and I very much enjoyed A Lawless Street! I give it three flaming tar barrels!