A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Throwback Thursday – The Outlaw (1943)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Since the big movie opening this past weekend was the remake of The Magnificent Seven, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look back at one of the most notorious westerns of it’s time. Thus this post from The Professor’s page from 2010. I should note that the original post had a different clip, and I’ve edited the text slightly in introducing the new one. Other than that, it remains as written then.

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Monday Oaters – The Outlaw (1943) – Starring Jane Russell

out1bHiya, kiddies! Your ol’ host with the most Professor Damian here. Y’know, when you’ve got a western that features Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and Pat Garrett, you’ve most likely got a winner. But, when you’ve got a western where all three of those gunslingers are overshadowed by their love interest’s outrageous endowments well, then you’ve not only got a winner, but you’ve got a lot of controversy. And that’s the story of today’s feature.

Produced in 1941 by famed recluse Howard Hughes, on paper, The Outlaw is actually a fairly typical B-grade western. In the movie, Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) is the newly appointed sheriff of the town of Lincoln, New Mexico. One day he is visited by his old friend Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) who is tracking down a stolen horse. It turns out that the horse was stolen by none other than Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel). When they meet up, the two become fast friends, and when Billy is subsequently shot Doc decides to take him to recover at the home of his (Doc’s) girlfriend Rio (Jane Russell). Unfortunately, that’s where the real trouble begins, both for the characters and for the production itself.

Rio, you see, is played by Jane Russell. Now, Hughes, realising where the real draw of the picture was, decided not only to feature Ms Russell, but to do so in the most provocative ways that he thought he could at the time. Therefore we see the definitely full-figured Ms. Russell in a number of low-cut or open-necked blouses. and in a number of “damsel in distress” type situations, including at one point being bound between two trees.

out1aUnfortunately, this envelope-pushing by Hughes and Russell was more than those in charge of enforcing the Hays Code could tolerate. They insisted on Hughes cutting at a number of scenes, most of which featured Ms. Russell’s bosom. Even with the cuts, however, Hughes had trouble finding distributors willing to handle the film. Finally Hughes decided to stoke the flames of controversy himself, and the resultant outcry caused the film to finally be booked in New York. It only played for one week, however, before the censorship board exerted more pressure on the theaters and it was withdrawn. Finally given a wide release in 1946, the film, likely due in large part to its scandalous reputation, went on to be a box-office success.

For viewers today, of course, considering some of the images that are projected onto the silver screen in our local multiplexes, it may be hard to see what all the fuss was about. However, there is one thing that definitely stands the test of time in this film, and that is Ms. Russell’s beauty.

Once again, I wasn’t able to track down a proper trailer for the movie online, but here’s a series of clips that… well, I suppose you could substitute the word “bust” for “best” and it would work just as well. Anyway, it should give you a pretty good feel for the flick:

Ok, I guess it’s time for the skinny:
Title: The Outlaw
Release Date: 1943
Running Time: 116 min.
Black and White
Stars: Jane Russell
Directors: Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Producer: Howard Hughes

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

A Very Special Time Of Night – The Midnight Special

ms1On August 19, 1972 a special program appeared on NBC urging younger voters to get out and vote in the upcoming presidential election. Sponsored by Chevrolet, the special feature live acts performing their own music, something rather unique at the time since, like many appearances by acts on TV today, most of the time when acts like these appeared on television shows, they were lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks.

The special was produced by Burt Sugarman as a pilot for an idea he was trying to sell to the network. It proved such a hit that NBC decided to buy the program to run after Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show on Friday nights, and thus The Midnight Special was born.

The Midnight Special ran for 450 90-minute episodes and featured hundreds of musical acts during that run. It ran until May 1, 1981, when it was finally replaced by SCTV (short for Second City Television) as part of a negotiation by Dick Ebersol to take over the reigns of Saturday Night Live, which was floundering at the time.

Here are some highlights from the show which will give you a taste not only of the diversity of the acts presented, but for you younger readers a taste of the music of the time.

Enjoy!

Saturday Double Feature – Pete’s Dragon (2016) and…

p1Yep, it’s the return of what use to be a regular feature here on the blog, the Saturday Double Feature. the idea is to pair a movie that is out in theaters now with one from the past. The reason for the pairing can vary – sometimes it will be pretty obvious, for instance if the movie in question is a remake (though I generally try to avoid those if they’re particularly well known) or it could be thematic, or perhaps an aspect of the title that I just think could be use to connect the two, or at times it’ll just be something that occurs to me as I’m thinking about the new movie. Basically anything that makes me think that the two films would make a good pair for viewing together.

Usually fir the second film I try to choose one that was released in the 80s or before, but I’m making an exception in the case of this week’s duo.

So let’s start with the new movie for this week. Pete’s Dragon is, of course a remake of the 1977 Disney semi-animate adventure/comedy film, about a boy who is friends with… well, a dragon.

Rather than go with he obvious, however, and pair it with the original version, I thought I’d go with a lesser-known film that I feel deserves more attention: The Secret of Roan Inish from 1994. Like Pete’s Dragon, Roan Inish deals with the relationship of a young child an a mythical creature, however in this case the creature is one from Irish legend known as a selkie. According to legend, selkies are seals who can shed their skins and become human on the land.

Thee Secret of Roan Inish was produced by Sarah Green an Maggie Renzi, and was directed by John Sayles. It’s based on a children’s novel called Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry written by Rosalie K. Fry.

Here’s a trailer:

Like I said above, though it breaks the pre-90s rule that I usually try to follow, I really like Roan Inish, and truly think it should have more than the cult following that it seems to now.

So, have you seen The Secret of Roan Inish? If so, what did you think about it, and what do you think of it as a pairing with Pete’s Dragon? Is there another film that you think would make a good double feature with it? Let me know in the comments below.

Anime Entryway – They Were 11 (1986)

tw111I don’t write much about anime here, simply because I don’t watch that much of it nowadays. However, back in the 90s, when it was seeing its first real American boom thanks to a home video market that was desperate for all kinds of content, I did watch quite a bit and found a lot to like about the genre.

Recently, in a conversation with a younger co-worker, the topic came up, and I got to thinking about some of the various titles that I enjoyed from back then, and one of those was They Were 11, known in Japan as Jūichinin Iru!, so when I found that it was actually available on YouTube I decided to give it a shot and see how well it held up against my reminiscences.

I suppose the easiest way to describe the plot to an American audience is to suggest thinking of it as a movie focused on a group of cadets facing an entrance exam to Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. We get a mixed-bag group of characters from different planets/races who are put together on a spaceship to test their abilities to survive an work together as a team. However, upon arriving on the ship, instead of the expected ten team members, they fin that there are eleven on them. This, of course, sets up the first mystery: who is the unexpected 11th crew member? Since none of them knew each other before, an they were assigned seemingly at random, there is really no way to tell.

tw112To make matters worse, the team soon discoverers that the derelict ship to which they have been assigned is filled with a poisonous plant which, at a certain temperature will release poisonous spores, an after an act of sabotage throws the ship out of orbit causing it to rift nearer to the sun it is currently orbiting, the team must find a way to work together to save all of of their lives.

Of course, there is a way out. On the ship there is a red “panic button” which will sen out an S.O.S. message, calling in a recovery team to rescue them. However, pressing the button means that the entire team will fail the exam, which they cannot then take again for three years, a choice most of them are reluctant to make.

tw115The movie is a nicely plotted sci-fi mystery/action adventure. The animation is on par for the time, an while I really can’t speak for the translation of the script, the dubbing in the version I watched was very well done, with one exception. While I can understand the decision to use a strong southern American accent to emphasize the backwoods/planet on the outskirts origin of one of the characters, it is nonetheless quite jarring against the other character voices, an really the kind of thing that can draw one out of the film.

Beyond being just an adventure film, however, the movie also tackles some interesting questions about race, genre identity, group dynamics, and class issues. At the same time, it never loses sight of the fact that above all else, a movie like this is meant to be entertaining, and at times, such as as during a food fight which breaks out and serves as a tension reliever not just for the crew but for the audience as well, breaks down into almost outright slapstick.

tw114I’ll also admit that there is one aspect of the ending that may irk some viewers considering the way attitudes toward genre representation have change in the ensuing years, but for myself, I think it’s handled quite well.

Overall, I’d say if you’re a sci-fi or anime fan, They Were 11 stands up well to the test of time. Or, if you’re not familiar with the gene an ae looking for a way in, it makes a good choice, as an entryway, as it has just enough familiar elements to make it easily accessible, while still showcasing what makes a good anime movie.

Since the movie may prove difficult to find (I’m not sure that it’s had a proper disk release in years), I’ve posted the entire film in its dubbed version below and encourage you to give it a look.

Quickie Review – Haunter (2013)

hau1Every once in a while I’ll be scrolling through my queue on Netflix or Hulu and run across a movie that I don’t really remember putting on there but know there must have been a reason. Sometimes it turns out to be who is in it, sometimes it’s because it’s one that is suggested by the service itself, sometimes it’s just because the trailer caught my eye or because I’ve seen or read a review of it that made me think it might be interesting. That’s what happened last night when I ran across 2013’s Haunter.

I still can’t really say for sure what made me put it in the queue, but I’m glad that I did. The film turned out to be a breezily atmospheric haunted house movie with just enough jump scares to make it unsettling, but also enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing as to just what is going on. This is one of those flicks that starts out looking like it’s going to be one thing but before long turns into something completely different.

I’m not going to say that it works completely, and I’m not going to say that it would hold up under a lot of in depth scrutiny, but the ending is satisfying, as is the journey getting there. As a way to pass a couple of hours on a quiet summer night, I found it to be just what I was looking for.

The Return Of The Epic? – Ben-Hur (2016)

So a “featurette” focusing largely on the chariot race has been released to promote the upcoming Ben-Hur movie. I’ll admit I’m looking forward to this, largely because I’m curious how Hollywood is going to handle this kind of epic historical film today.

Of course, a big part of what this preview does is make me want to take a look back at some of the earlier incarnations of this film and compare them not only with the new one coming out, but with each other.

For instance, the first adaptation of the novel was released in 1907, runs 10-15 minutes (depending on the cut) and definitely centers around the climax. What makes this version especially interesting is that it was the film that established the concept that movie makers had to pay the original creators for the material they were adapting.

Then there’s the 1925 (or 1926) version which ever so slightly expands the film to a running time of 143 minutes. This still silent version was produced by MGM, directed by Fred Niblo, and stars Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. Interestingly, though for the most part, the movie is in tinted black and white, there are some scenes (especially those featuring Christ) that were shot in two-color Technicolor, and though those color scenes were considered “lost” for a long time, they were recovered in the 80s and have since been restored to most restoration prints.

Then, of course, there is the most famous adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel, 1959’s Charlton Heston starring version. Directed by William Wyler, the film garnered 12 Academy Award nominations and took home 11. Shot in CinemaScope, the movie had the largest budget ($15.175 million) as well as the largest sets built of any film produced at the time and reportedly employed more than 10,000 extras. With a running time of 212 minutes, it made over $146 million upon its initial release, against a budget of 15.2 million, and of course has gone on to reach a certain legendary status.

So the question facing the release of the latest version of this classic is actually, I suppose, two-fold: Can Hollywood actually make this kind of epic without resorting to multiple explosions and CGI creatures threatening everyone, and will modern American audiences actually turn out to see such a movie in the kind of numbers that will make it profitable? For my part, I’m hoping the answer to both questions is “yes”.

Throwback Thursday – More Nero Wolfe

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct soon. Last week for Throwback Thursday I reposted that original post, so I thought this week I’d use this space to post my original follow-up to that, dealing with one of the novels that I had just finished reading.

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My Favorite Detective: A Novel Interlude – A Family Affair

nero208Back before Christmas I posted an article about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe introducing the character and talking about the concept of the armchair detective. In that article (which focused mostly on the radio adventures of the character) I noted that while I could probably find all of the original novels and short stories online either through Amazon or Ebay or downloading them as e-books or whatever, I’m just old school enough that I enjoy having the print editions (yep, there are some things that I just enjoy having hands-on copies of) and tracking them down individually either through going to old booksellers or getting them as gifts. Well, thanks to my mom, I received a 1st edition hardback copy of Stout’s last Wolfe book, A Family Affair.

One of the things that I noted about Stout’s Wolfe stories that I really like is that though he first introduced Wolfe and his associates and various supporting characters in 1934 in a novel entitled Fer-de-Lance, and wrote them to be contemporaneous with society then. as the years passed, though the characters never actually aged and their basic relationships didn’t change, the world around them did, and that was something that Stout acknowledged in his stories. For instance, when America entered World War II, Wolfe became an occasional consultant for the War Department. During the 50s and 60s, Wolfe noted and commented upon the civil rights movement, and some of his cases sprang from that, and so on. As a matte of fact, Stout stated to his biographer John McAleer

“Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can’t or won’t do the same should skip them. I didn’t age the characters because I didn’t want to. That would have made it cumbersome and would seem to have centered attention on the characters rather than the stories.”

That particular aspect of the stories was never more in evidence than they are in A Family Affair which was first published in 1974 and deals heavily with Wolfe’s reaction to the Watergate scandal which was engulfing the nation at the time. As a matter of fact, a central part of the mystery has to do with if, and if so how, the events that take place might be related to that ongoing scandal.

nero201Another theme of the novel, and the part that gives it its title, has to do with just who constitutes one’s “family”. Is family merely a relationship of blood, or are there other relationships that can also be considered family? This is especially called into question when a character who has been peripherally seen before in the Wolfe stories is killed in a rather gruesome manner under Wolfe’s own roof, which is the event which sets the rest of the story in motion.

I’m not going to give much more of the plot away here, as to do so would deprive the potential reader the fun of following the twists and turns which it takes, except to say that for those who have read previous stories and have come to know and love these characters over the years, the climax does come as something of a gut-punch.

fa1A Family Affair is also one of those stories in which Wolfe breaks, as happens from time to time, some of the established rules that he has set up for himself, and which define him as unique from other characters in the genre, but there is always a good reason for that when it occurs, and that is true here.

I have to say that I don’t recommend A Family Affair as an introduction to Wolfe’s world. There are many other stories and books that would serve that purpose better. On the other hand, though I wish that Stout, who passed away in 1975, not long after the publication of the novel, had been able to write many more stories, if there does have to be a last Wolfe novel it is fitting that this is it.

And fortunately for me, since I’ve made no strict rules about the order I’m reading the stories in, simply devouring each one as I find it, there are still some new adventures out there for me to find, and that is something that makes me very happy. And anxious to head out and see if I can find any more today.

(I’ll also be back soon with the “official” part two of this series, in which I’ll write more about Wolfe himself, and my favorite television adaptation of the character.)

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.