Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Phynx!

I had never heard of the movie The Phynx until I stumbled across its description at Turner Classic Movies. It described the movie as a spoof of spy films and hearkening from 1970 I thought it might be worth my time. It was and it wasn't.

I am not going to waste a lot of my time writing up a detailed summary of the movie. This review does it quite nicely with a good level of detail if you don't mind spoilers. But I do want to comment generally on what stood out from this bomb of a movie.

It seems to be a film shout out to The Monkees, a pop band is conscripted by the United States secret services to infiltrate Albania to rescue a mob of vintage celebrities who have been kidnapped for exceedingly unclear reasons. The movie purports to be a farce and perpetrates some of the most unfunny comedy I've seen on the screen in some time. Off and on through the movie The Phynx (the band itself) sing some of their music and it as listless and lifeless as any pop music you've ever encountered. There is much jumping about and even an implied orgy or two, but eventually the band get to Albania and encounter the "celebrities" who are held captive. It's gaggle of old fogies but salted in among them are a few who are of interest to this writer and folks with a pulp sensibility.

Johnny Weismuller is on hand as is his old jungle mate Maureen O'Sullivan and the pair do a shout out to their olden days as the number one jungle couple which comes across as one of the few genuinely sweet moments in a dreary movie. Also of note is the Lone Ranger (John Hart) and Tonto (Jay Silverheels) and Silverheels gets off my favorite line of the movie when he retorts to the Ranger's decision to sally forth and protect the mob that it's the stupidest dang thing he's heard. Great stuff and Silverheels steady and reliable voice is at once recognizable and still able to carry off a choice bit of sarcasm. For all the inherent flaws in the relationship between the Ranger and Tonto, it was always the dignified way Silverheels carried himself which made the thing work as well as it did and limited the cringe-worthy moments even in the modern day.

But aside from these brief highlights this is a dumbfounding mess of a movie which apparently was so obvious at the time of its impending release that it got a a very limited one and has been held hostage itself for decades, escaping to dvd only a few years ago. It's truly an awful movie, but as a curiosity it has some interest.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Seven Golden Vampires!

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is one of those movies I have long wanted to catch. It's the last of Hammer's classic Dracula series because of the appearance of Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing who is drawn to the mysterious land of China to battle an ancient threat which it turns out is more familiar than he at first suspected.

This movie is known by several titles, one of which is The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.The movie was made in 1974 in a partnership between the waning Hammer Films and the Shaw Studios of Hong Kong. As a consequence it has the flavor of both the vintage Hammer horror shows and the then-current popular martial arts films.

It could be argued that the movie, despite its robust and attractive title fails to satisfy either of the genres it seeks to please. There's not enough vintage horror for the Hammer fans and not enough classic fighting for the Shaw regulars. The movie does seem to wander around a bit and despite some interesting settings it doesn't seem much interested in establishing creepy mood.

The plot is pretty simple. An acolyte of Dracula, a Taosit monk named Kah seeks out the vampire and is possessed by him. He then goes home to China and establishes his vampire rule with the help of seven vampire who have ravaged the villages around them for many years. The Seven Brothers (and one sister) seek out Van Helsing for advice and with his son and a right lovely English dame in tow they travel to the distant villages to face the threat.

It's one of those that won't make sense if you shine too bright a light upon it, so it's best to simply ride along with the adventure as the Brothers and Van Helsing's gang take on the vampires and their ghoulish army in a series of battles which seem destined to destroy them all. This movie is notable in that it is the only Hammer flick of the classic era which features Dracula but doesn't star Christopher Lee in the role.

It was less of a movie than I expected, but it was an entertaining romp nonetheless.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ripper Street!

I watch a lot of television, but truth told much of it is of passing interest. That said there has been a trend in recent years for shows to appear and disappear after a handful of episodes. I grew up in the era when a series arrived dutifully in late summer or late fall and stayed around for many months unless ratings were truly abominable. I grew up used to shows which cranked out thirty or forty episodes and lasted four or five years before moving on into the great TV graveyard. Now it's different, as shows appear and disappear with not even a dozen episodes each year, they appear for a few months then shuffle off to be replaced by something maybe as good, but often just different.

It is in that landscape that several years ago I chanced upon Ripper Street, a BBC production which told the tale of cops of Whitechapel in 1889, a few months after the notorious murders of Jack the Ripper. These are conflicted but essentially noble and passionate men who seek a modicum of justice in a grimy and dangerous and tragic world where justice is often a luxury. We have Edmund Reid, an erudite Detective Inspector who is moved by the plight of those in his precinct and who is himself plagued by the seeming death of his daughter. He is assisted by Inspector Bennet Drake, a ferocious fighter and stalwart policeman who admires his boss and who himself seeks love in all the wrong places. The third member of the team is Captain Homer Jackson, an American surgeon and scientist who lives in a brothel with his one true love the madam of the joint Susan, a powerful savvy woman.  These three men work together and apart to use modern techniques to discover the sources of crime which plagues the painfully poor denizens of Ripper Street.

Later seasons see mysteries solved and lost children found and loves consummated. Along the way this trio of law officers defeat a menagerie of villains who prey upon the hapless and desperate. Things change in the series and after the third season it seemed the story had reached a conclusion of sorts, but with the fourth and current season events have reignited these men to work together once again. Time passes and the current season is set in 1897 amid the waning days of Queen Victoria. The nature of police work has changed as technology and other younger men adept at its uses come to help the original trio who pioneered the way forward.

The real strength of Ripper Street is the remarkable dialogue which has its characters sounding like they just walked out of a Dickens novel. No real attempt is made at naturalism here, but there is a sense of idioms of the day finding regular purchase in the speech. It's not a show you can watch with one eye, it demands your complete attention and earns that attention with compelling stories.

I read that a fifth season is in process though I also read it will be the last. I hope not.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Law Against Crime!

Here are a trio of exceedingly compelling covers by the great L.B. Cole for Essankay's series Law Against Crime which took it upon itself at the height of the crime boom of the post-war years to offer up "true" stories of mayhem, murder, and punishment.

The first issue showcases the execution of Raymond Hamilton of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde Gang. The second offers up the strangling murder of an unfortunate woman. The third issue tells the notorious tale of William Heirens the infamous Lipstick Slayer from Cleveland. 

Crime as entertainment is nothing new, but it is curious to see Cole's craftsmanship bring a lurid elegance to the depravity. Something unnerving about that. 

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sinbad Junior!

Sinbad Jr. and His Magic Belt came up at another online location I frequent (Golden Silver Bronze Ages Message Board if you must know) and it got me to musing about this vintage syndicated cartoon. I have fond memories of this showing up weekdays on local television, a wacky updated variation on the classic Arabian Knights character bonded with what passed for superhero tropes of the time.

Sinbad had a magic belt that when he tightened it would give him superpowers. He'd do pretty much what Popeye used to do, put with the nonsense for a bit then resort to his super strength to mop up the threat. Sinbad had a partner named Salty, an obligatory nautically cliched parrot who functioned as comedy relief.

My research on the cartoon suggests it had a rather complicated development, first beginning in 1960 but falling in the face of possible litigation from others who already had some claim to the Sinbad name, at least in specific formulations. Eventually the cartoon originated by Sam Singer (called the "Ed Wood" of animation by some) was dusted off by Hanna-Barbara and recast with Tim Matheson (Jonny Quest's voice) taking the role and the ubiquitous Mel Blanc as Salty.

Here's a sample.

Dell Comics managed to crank out three issues of a comic inspired by the cartoon. The first two issues which dropped in 1965 and 1966 were done by Charlton stalwart Tony Tallarico. The third issue is not credited to Tallarico, at least not the GCD.

Fun stuff!

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The TV Stories Of Batman!

Picked up this collection on a lark a few weeks back. Batman - The TV Stories is just what it purports to be, a small and highly readable collection of vintage Batman stories, those stories in particular which debuted significant villains who appeared on the famous 60's TV show or stories which inspired episodes of the show or both.

The Riddler as portrayed by Frank Gorshin is my favorite of the Bat-TV villains, his antic behavior and cackling laugh are downright demonic. Apparently The Riddler wasn't much of a Batman staple until his TV notoriety. He debuted in this comic from 1948. John Astin who did a turn as Riddler when Gorshin was in a contract dispute was much less impressive alas.

The Joker as played by Cesar Romero is the villain many folks first think of. Joker was almost always a part of the Bat-mythology, but has had many tones much like the Dark Knight himself. His more whimsical side is seen in these stories from the late 40's.  I often found myself staring a bit at Romero's mustache.

The Mad Hatter appeared a few times during the Bat-TV show, and was delightfully and skillfully played by David Wayne. This comic from 1956 has him featured.

Perhaps the most curious Bat-villain of the the TV show was Mr.Freeze who went on to be a big part of the comics, but who himself based on a villain named Mr. Zero who debuted in 1959. Three actors played Freeze, and none of them repeated in the role - George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach. Freeze was a different kind of personality each time he showed up on TV.

The Penguin performed by Burgess Meredith has become one of my favorites. I used to take his performance for granted, but seeing them again recently has made me appreciate what great shenanigans he was getting away with in the role. The Penguin was a part of Batman's Golden Age, but is seen in this 1965 Silver Age story.

And the collection ends where it began with the infamous Riddler. This is a fun light-hearted collection with some great artwork from across several Bat-eras. A fun Bat-brew indeed under a sleek Amanda Conner cover.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Copping Out!

Spent a lazy afternoon recently enjoying some classic movies, which much to my surprise had some exceedingly similar themes, police corruption. Much is discussed in the media today as we yet again find ourselves as citizens called upon to choose between the police and the folks they are hired to protect and serve. All too often abuse by police is swept away, hidden in plain sight, as the majority of folks go on about their daily doings. When crisis points are struck, the choice is often suggested that you either support your local sheriff or you side with the barbarians who want to reduce civilization to rubble. It's a false choice, designed to evade tough questions and hard bargains. We usually as a society want order, we generally tend to need law, but we will always have a tension with those we hire specifically to bring us to account, especially if there is evidence in some quarters that those so selected are sometimes dangers to that order we originally desired.

Serpico is a 1973 flick which follows the travails of a New York City police of that name (Al Pacino) who begins as a raw recruit in the early 60's and becomes over the next decade a dedicated and iconoclastic detective who rankles his comrades because he refuses to take bribes. We presented in this movie with a culture of law enforcement in which bribery is a normal order of things and the relationship between the law and the lawbreakers seems to be one of mutual financial reward. The graft is so ingrained in the culture that many of the cops don't even seem aware of the conflict of interest to their duties that it presents. From small favors of free meals to large bribes of thousands of dollars from drug interests, the gamut of corruption is on display as Frank Serpico tries to find a precinct in which he can just do his job and not fall under the suspicions of his fellow officers for being honest. While Serpico is presented as a sometimes emotional fellow with significant failings he is clearly a guy who just wants to do his work and his bosses are shown quite often to be deaf to his complaints. There are some, but by and large the film is an indictment of a large system which tolerates corruption, so much so that it fails to see that it is corruption any longer.

The Beast of the City from 1932 has ironically enough pretty much the same theme, though with a much more direct and moralistic approach. This is a pretty rough and tough shoot 'em up movie with some surprisingly brisk car chases and a finale which is violent by any era's standard.

The movie stars Walter Huston as "Fightin' Jim Fitzpatrick, a police man who wants to take a hard approach to crime in general and the local mob boss Sam Belmonte in particular. He's presented as a man of standard family values who loves his wife and dotes on his kids but who marches without qualm into the dens of crime which seem to percolate across the unnamed city. His brother Ed (Wallace Ford) is a man of less stern character who falls under the sway of the vivacious moll played by the totally sexy Jean Harlow. We see the system try to fight back against crime but see also that society becomes squishy when that enforcement begins to hit home. We all want cops when we need them, but rarely do we like cops in our business when we don't feel threatened. It's the nature of the role sadly, but human nature is what it is. This flick ends with a rather strange statement on the nature of man and society when it is shown that law fails and the vigilante is needed to quell the threat of crime.

In a strange way 1973's Serpico paints a less bleak picture of society than does the seemingly more moralistic 1932 The Beast of the City. At least in Serpico, despite the fact that he himself withdraws from his job as a cop the reforms he fights for do seem to find purchase. In the Walter Huston movie, the system seems unable to cope with the challenge it is confronted with. Both films though suggest that it is less about systems and more about individual integrity and that those traits are what will in the final analysis win the day, despite the costs.

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