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?

A Classic TV Thursday Bonus – The Frito Bandito

Today, of course, a character like the Frito Bandito likely wouldn’t be allowed to be a commercial spokesman, because he would be considered racist. However, back in the day…

Oh, and if the voice in that commercial sounds familiar, it’s because yes, it is the ever-popular and extremely talented Mel Blanc, doing a variation on another voice he did for a different character who has also been pretty well relegated to the past for the very same reason…

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #37 – Amos and Andy (Part One)

aa1So coming off a couple of weeks where we looked a classic television shows from the 70s, I thought we’d go a bit of a different route for the next couple of weeks and head much further back, to a show that began on radio in the 1920s, but ran specifically on television from 1951 to 1953. It’s also a show that should provide a very interesting contrast to last week’s Sanford and Son.

For those of you who may not have guessed yet (which again, I suspect will be most of you) I’m talking about The Amos and Andy Show.

The history of Amos and Andy is quite a complex one, and it was mired in controversy from almost the very time of it’s debut on the radio. We’ll get into a lot of that history next week, but for now I just wanted to give you a chance to watch a few episodes of the television show, perhaps comparing and contrasting the depiction of African-Americans in it and in Sanford.

Ok, keeping it short this week, but I’ll be back next Thursday with more on Amos and Andy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes It’s Hard To Tell The Good Guys From the Bad – Bandolero! (1968)

***SPOILER WARNING! Yeah, the movie is almost 50 years old, but as I’ve often noted, if you haven’t seen it before, then it might as well have come out yesterday. Plus, it’s not one of those that’s well enough known that the plot twists (and there are a few) would be popularly known, and this is the kind of movie that does depend on bringing a couple of twists to the table. Plus, I’ll be discussing, at least in vague ways, the ending of the movie, so the warning, while perhaps not necessary, does seem appropriate. SPOILER WARNING***

band1Flipping through Netflix a couple of nights ago, trying to find something quick and easy to watch, (nothing foreign, nothing too complex, nothing that would be too much of a downer) I ran across the 1968 western Bandolero!. (Yes, the onscreen title does include the exclamation point.) Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, and starring Dean Martin, James Stewart, Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy, Bandolero! is the kind of relatively light western movie that I really tend to enjoy.

(Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if a western stars either Jimmy Stewart or Dean Martin, then it’s probably going to be right up my alley. Put them together, and well…)

The story opens with Martin’s character Dee Bishop and his gang arriving in a small Texas town with a plan to rob the local bank. Unfortunately, they are noticed by sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) who immediately goes on guard. When things go wrong during the robbery and the just arriving Maria Stoner (Welch)’s husband is killed, the gang is arrested by Johnson, locked up and sentenced to be hanged.

Word of the gang’s capture quickly spreads, and Stewart, upon hearing it immediately heads toward the town. In a seeming coincidence he just happens to meet the hangman who is scheduled to perform the hangings, and finds out all he can about the gentleman and his profession. That evening, the hangman arrives in town, but it turns out to be Stewart in disguise. It turns out that Stewart and Martin are actually brothers, and Mace (Stewart) has come to rescue the gang.

band2After a dramatic escape, Dee and his gang come upon Mrs. Stoner and take her hostage as they flee across the Mexican border from Sheriff Johnson and his posse. Unfortunately, they have escaped right into bandolero country so not only do they have to deal with the lawmen behind them, but the bandits all around also.

Finally arriving at the small town they had planned to use to gather supplies and refresh themselves before moving further into Mexico, the outlaws find themselves instead in a ghost town. Nonetheless, they decide to hole up there for the night. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the posse catches up to them and then the bandoleros also enter the fray.

I started this review calling this movie a relatively light western, and while that’s true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film has a happy ending, nor that everyone one might want to comes out unscathed or even alive.

band3One of the most interesting things that the film does is to use the natural and easy-going charm of both Martin and Stewart to get the viewer to root for them even though they are nominally the “bad guys”. This is also achieved by making the rest of Dee’s gang even worse than they are, and by Kennedy’s portrayal of Sheriff July as single minded in his pursuit of the gang not so much in order to bring them to justice, but because, as Mrs. Stoner notes, they have taken the one thing that he has always wanted: her.

So in the end, while Bandolero! may not have the “gravitas” of many of today’s westerns, nor is it filled with special effects and explosions, opting instead to explore its characters and give them some depth and dimension beyond simply being stereotypical “good guys” and “bad guys”, it is definitely a very entertaining way to spend 106 minutes on an otherwise quiet evening, and it’s a movie I would highly recommend for those of you just looking, as I was, for exactly that.

Here’s the trailer:

By the way, I have never read the book nor watched the mini-series that it inspired, but according to Wikipedia,

Larry McMurtry, the author of the novel Lonesome Dove, reportedly paid homage to Bandolero! by using similar names for the characters in his book. Both tales begin near the Mexico border and involve bandoleros. Both have a sheriff named July Johnson and a deputy Roscoe who travel a great distance in search of a wanted criminal and the woman who has rejected the sheriff’s love. Both stories have a charismatic outlaw named Dee, who is about to be hanged and who wins the love of the woman before he dies. In the Lonesome Dove miniseries, the main characters twice pass directly in front of the Alamo—or at least a set built to replicate the Alamo.

Hmmm… sounds like there might be just a bit more than simply “paying homage” to me, but I’ll let those of you who have seen it form your own opinions.

The Old Order Changeth – Avengers: Age Of Ultron And Avengers Vol 1 #16

***Spoiler Warning!!! This article deals with the very end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, So if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, I advise you to turn back now. Seriously, I’m literally dealing with the last shot in the movie (no, not the mid-credit Easter egg, but the last shot of the movie proper). Okay, you have been warned.  Spoiler Warning!!!***

a165Not long after its release to theaters, I was listening to a podcast in which the two hosts were discussing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and one of the hosts, almost as an afterthought asked the question (I’m paraphrasing here): “So what now? How do you handle this new crop of Avengers and what do you do with the old ones?”

The reason for the comment, of course, is because the “official” Avengers line-up at the end of the movie is very different than the one we have at the beginning of it. In the last few scenes we see the departure of Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Hulk, and as their replacements we have a new team led by Captain America and the Black Widow, along with new recruits War Machine, The Falcon, The Vision, and The Scarlet Witch.

This immediately made me think of the original run of the Avengers comic, way back in antediluvian times when Stan Lee was still writing the book (along with almost every other book that Marvel was putting out at the time), and especially Avengers Vol 1 #16.

That particular issue, entitled “The Old Order Changeth”, is the first time in the comics that we actually see a full scale change in the make-up of the Avengers team, and at the end there is even a press conference where the new line up is announced.

a161Not that a fluidity of the line-up hadn’t been a primary feature of the comic from the start. Heck, at the end of the second issue, the Hulk, realizing how little his teammates trusted him (as a result of his being manipulated and imitated by the Space Phantom) took off in a huff, leading to an issues long subplot called “The Search for the Hulk”. Then, in issue 4, we had the “resurrection” of Captain America who had been presumed dead since the end of World War II but who had actually been frozen in a block of ice leaving him in pretty much a cryogenicly-preserved state. (Hey, it’s 60’s Marvel science where the bite of a radioactive spider can give a high-schooler spider powers and exposure to gamma radiation turns a scientist into The Hulk. Just go with it. Plus, this is the inspiration for the opening scene in the first Avengers movie where Steve Rogers’s body was found in a very similar state.)

That’s right, gang. Despite what you may have been led to believe subsequently, Cap wasn’t even one of the original founding member of the comic book version of the Avengers. Instead, we had Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (who quickly became Giant-Man – don’t ask), The Hulk, and The Wasp.

The problem with this line-up, quickly became apparent to Stan. Because each of these characters also had their own solo titles, and he felt that any real changes made to those characters should be made there rather than in a team book that not all of the character’s readers might be following, he felt ham-strung by the very nature of the team.

a164So what was the solution? Promote some lesser characters who didn’t have their own books to the majors by making them Avengers and at the same time, give him some heroes that he could do more with.

Of course, Stan being Stan, who at the time was in a mode where he really was trying to challenge himself and his fellow creators, (and also because even if he took some of the lesser heroes and included them in the roster, most of them also had their individual titles, so he would still be stuck in the same boat) he didn’t exactly take the easy way out.

Instead he decided the way to go was to take a few villains, give them a chance to reform, and reshape them into Avengers. To this end, he selected two characters who had previously appeared in the X-Men as members of the Magneto-led Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (by the way, just an aside here – it’s always struck me as odd that Magneto decided to kind of give away the game there by naming his group that. I mean, once you’ve outed yourselves as “Evil Mutants”, it seems like you’ve pretty much got to live up – or is it rather down? – to that moniker.), Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Also, he chose one of Iron Man’s villains, the archer known as Hawkeye, who claimed that he really didn’t want to be a baddie, but he had been seduced and turned to the dark side by evil Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as The Black Widow. (Yep, at this point the Widow was a bad gal too.)

a162Of course, this left not only Cap but the public wondering just how this motley crew, subsequently nicknamed “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” could possibly live up to the legacy of the teams founders. Fortunately, Captain America, having trained and led troops into battle in the 40s didn’t have too work too long to teach these disparate characters how to be a well-oiled machine. Eventually, of course, the original Avengers began to return – the first one back full time being Giant-Man, at that point going by the name Goliath, and new cast members were continually added, and eventually even the title “The Old Order Changeth” or some variation thereon became something of a tradition whenever a new formal grouping of Avengers was being announced.

a163So the change in line-up at the end of Age of Ultron is really just a part of the Avengers tradition going back to the very first. And by the time we get to the next Avengers movie, having made it through Captain America:Civil War, Thor:Ragnarock, and whatever solo movies might impact the makeup of the team (for instance, the upcoming Black Panther movie, though the character is supposed to be introduced in Civil War) who knows who may or may not be Avengers.

I suppose in a way it just goes back to that old saying: “The more things changeth…”

 

 

 

 

Why I Blog About Movies – Soldier In The Rain (1963)

sitr5There are a number of reasons that I decided to start this particular blog. Soldier in the Rain is one of them.

Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. This is one of those movies that until a relatively short while ago I had never even heard of, and I’m going to bet that most of you out there haven’t either, but that’s exactly the point. I mean, yeah, I love going to see movies like Ant-Man or It Follows or looking at the S&S Top 250 films and then writing about them, or sharing the latest movie news or trailers or whatever, and those little snippets that catch my eye. But really all of those are things that plenty of other people will be or have been writing about, and in many ways when it comes to them, my voice is just one of the many joining the choir.

No, it’s times like this, when I find these little gems and get a chance to write about them and share them with other people that goes farther than just going to my friends and saying “You should watch this!” that I am reminded of why I do all of this.

Okay, enough of that. What about the movie itself?

sitr1Released in 1963, Soldier in the Rain stars Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. Gleason portrays Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter, a lifelong army man who has learned over the years just how to game the system, and has made for himself a home (and a very comfortable one at that) in the peace-time army. McQueen’s Sergeant Eustis Clay, on the other hand, is something of a rube, a big-dreaming country bumpkin type who is constantly coming up with new get-rich-quick schemes and dreaming of the day when he will be able to return to civilian life so that he can make his fortune. Like many things in this film, the relationship between Slaughter and Clay is at first very deceptive. Initially one might think that the movie is going to go one of two ways with the relationship between the two men: either Clay is going to be such a pain in Slaughter’s rear that we’re going to see him constantly yelling at Clay, or Slaughter is going to be constantly taking advantage of Clay’s slow wits and desire to please his superior to make his own bed just all that more cozy. As a matter of fact, the opening scenes of the film, which see Clay, who is also his company’s supply sergeant bartering with Slaughter for a fan – a trade which eventually sees Slaughter coming out way ahead and at the end of the day leaves Clay empty handed – definitely lead one to expect this kind of portrayal, the relationship between the two men actually runs much deeper than that. It’s actually more of an older/younger brother relationship in which we eventually see that Gleason’s Slaughter has taken the much younger McQueen under his wing, and as is the case in many such relationships, though Maxwell himself may very well take advantage of his protegee, anyone else who does had better be careful where they tread.

Now, to call the acting of either Gleason or McQueen here a “revelation” would probably be overselling things, while at the same time diminishing the other roles that the two actors have taken on. However, for anyone who only knows Gleason as the screaming and cursing Buford T. Justice of the Smokey and the Bandit movies, or for that matter, solely from reruns of “The Honeymooners”, and for anyone who only knows McQueen from his later action-hero movies, their portrayals of Slaughter and Clay may come as a surprise. Gleason gives the character of Slaughter a certain subtlety of portrayal that those unaccustomed to his more dramatic work may not be used to. For instance, the first glimpse that we get of the idea that Maxwell actually respects the army that he’s serving in and is not just out for himself comes when he stops a soldier who is rushing to get to the mess hall before he has to stop and wait for the bugle to sound retreat and makes him face the flag and salute until the call is over. He does this not by yelling at the man or being at all physical, but simply with a couple of words and his sheer presence.

McQueen, on the other hand, with his almost constant smile and look of profound… well, I called Clay a country bumpkin above and that’s pretty accurate, though not to the point of say Gomer Pyle, does seem to have a bit of a harder time handling the more downright comedic aspects of his role simply because it’s hard not to see the harder edge underneath coming through, but he still manages to give Clay a charm and restraint that keeps the character from straying into outright parody.

Of course, so far I’ve really only spoken about the film’s two stars, but they are not the only reasons this movie is such a treat to watch. Tuesday Weld, at this point only 20 years old, and really only beginning to show the signs of becoming the star who would be later nominated for an Oscar, an Emmy, and a BAFTA award, but who had already won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Female Newcomer in 1960, certainly shines in her role as Bobbie Jo Pepperdine,, a local teenager who Clay sets up with Slaughter on a double date in order to show him the benefits of civilian life. At first portrayed as an fluff-headed blond (upon first meeting, Slaughter actually calls her an “imbecile”) again, we see her role evolve over the course of the film until she too has become a part of Maxwell’s ‘family”.

I should also note that the cast includes other stalwart actors, or those who would go on to become such, such as Tom Poston and Adam West in smaller roles.

The film’s pedigree doesn’t end with the people in front of the camera, however. It actually begins with the screenplay, which was based on a novel written in 1960 by William Goldman. Goldman would, of course, go on to win two Academy Awards of his own, as screenwriter of All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but is probably best known today as the author of another novel, The Princess Bride, which he also adapted into the screenplay for what is, justifiably so, recognized as one of the best action-adventure romantic-comedies of all time.

In this case, though, Goldman did not adapt his own screenplay. That task, was instead taken on by Maurice Richin and Blake Edwards  Now, I realize that the name Blake Edwards may not mean much to today’s audiences, but Edwards was the director and screenwriter of the much loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s, most of the Pink Panther movies, Operation Petticoat, 10, and many, many other movies. Certainly not someone who would be considered a Hollywood outsider or who did not know how to turn in a top-notch screenplay.

Edwards did not, however, direct this movie. Instead, that task fell to Ralph Nelson, a man who began his career as production manager for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, and from there went on to direct a number of acclaimed and Academy Award winning pictures such as Requiem for a Heavyweight, Charly, Lilies in the Field, and the Cary Grant starring Father Goose.

So with this much talent both in front of and behind the camera why isn’t this a better known film? Why is it one that even some of my most avid film fan friends seem to have no knowledge of? It’s a good question, and, again according to Wikipedia, the answer may come down to three letters: JFK. You see, the film was released to theaters on November 27, 1963. If that date seems to ring a bell, it’s because it was only five days after the assassination of the president, and America was still in a state of shock and mourning, and simply wasn’t in the mood to go to any kind of movie, and especially a comedy drama like this one which actually ends on a rather somber and thoughtful note as opposed to some kind of comedic razz-ma-tazz that would have drawn in audiences looking for a hilarious escape from what was going on in “the real world”.

Which is unfortunate, because it means this little gem seems to have  simply become lost as time has gone by, possibly never to really be discovered by the wider audience that it should be. Fortunately, it has been made available as a print-on-demand release from the Warner Archives, and it’s also, at least as of this writing, available for viewing in full for free on YouTube.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a good embeddable trailer, for the movie, but here’s a short clip featuring Gleason and McQueen to give you a taste of it.

Covering Comics #1 – Avengers Vol. 1 #54-60, King-Size Special #2

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Today’s selection of covers is a result of watching the two latest Marvel movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. (BTW, while I did enjoy Ultron, I really liked Ant-Man, which I’m willing to argue – and probably will in an upcoming post- may turn out to be the best heist movie out this year.) Coming out of those movies it’s easy for a long-time comics reader like me to note just how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has diverged from the comic stories hat form the basis of these two movies, a topic I suppose I could rant about, as I’m sure others have, but really, in this case it doesn’t matter because a) I’m simply not that much of a purist that I’m not willing to accept the two “universes” as their own separate entities, and most importantly b) as long as the movies continue to be entertaining and well-written enough, I’m willing to just let that go.

I do suppose, however, that I should go ahead and throw up a quick ***SPOILER WARNING*** for those who might not hve ever read these comics before, or who may not have yet seen these movies, because although i don’t intend to do a lot of commentary here, preferring to let the covers speak for themselves, I will be providing quick notes about why they are relevant to these two movies, and the way the stories played out in the comics as opposed to the movies. so consider yourselves forewarned.

(BTW, all of these covers are from the first series of The Avengers, and were originally published from late 1968 to early 1969.)

First up is Avengers #54 which sees the Avengers attacked by “The New Masters of Evil”, who are led by a mysterious figure known only as The Crimson Cowl.

av54

Next, in #55, it’s revealed the The Crimson Cowl is in reality a robot who calls himself Ultron 5.

av55

#56 takes us on a bit of a diversion, as Captain America and his fellow Avengers use Dr. Doom’s time machine to go back in time to seek out the truth behind his WWII sidekick Bucky’s death.

av56

Avengers King-Size Special #2 follows up from #56, in a story that finds the Avengers diverted in time (sort of) to fight an earlier version of the team (well, maybe… I’ll leave it to those of you interested enough to seek out the issue to see what the truth really is).

ava2

In #57 we’re finally back in the present, and Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp (who in the comics universe at this point is the girlfriend of Giant-Man – the original Ant-Man who has quit shrinking and instead now grows to gigantic proportions – Hank Pym) terrorized by a mysterious new character, The Vision. It is eventually revealed that The Vision has been sent by his creator – the returning Ultron 5 to fight the Avengers and lead them to his (Ultron’s) lair where he can destroy them.

av57

#58 continues this story as we learn the secrets behind the origin of the Vision.

av58

#59 sees the appearance of a new, extremely cocky hero (?) who calls himself Yellowjacket who, after capturing a few criminals to prove his worth, takes on the Avengers in their own mansion in order to prove that he should be allowed to join the team. The issue ends with a surprising revelation by Janet, who declares that she intends to marry Yellowjacket. (BTW, I should note that YJ also claims to have killed Hank Pym, making the Wasp’s declaration all that much more surprising.)

av59

Finally, issue 60 brings us the wedding of the Wasp and Yellowjacket (yes, they do go through with it) which, as was tradition in those days, could not take place without some kind of supervillain interruption. Eventually, of course, the villains are defeated, and evrything is explained, including the secret identity of the Yellowjacket, and the true story behind Hank Pym’s death. Oh, and yes, all of this does tie back into the creation of Ultron, too.

19059

So there you go. A series of iconic covers (the one for #57 especially has to be called out) and the stories they contain. So what do you think of their effectiveness? Do they make you want to read the story inside? And how do you think they compare to the current crop of covers seen in comics shops – especially those used by the”Big 2″ comics companies? Lemme know in the comments below.

A Classic TV Thursday Bonus – It’s The Real Thing

While we’re celebrating the 70s in the regular Classic TV Thursday posts, I thought I’d throw in this classic commercial for Coke. Trust me, gang, you really don’t get much more early 70s than this. It was an earworm before anybody’d even thought of the word “earworm”. Plus, it embodies everything that was right about the time period: Peace, Love, Harmony, and Coke.