Sunday, July 3, 2011

Buddha Manstein!

A Golden Headed Movie Reviewer Science Created - But Could Not Destroy!

Me, not so much. You, maybe...

The Villain  (Columbia Pictures, 1979)  If you ever wondered what a live action Warner Bros Road Runner and Coyote cartoon made in the late 70's would look like - here you go! Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas - The Fury) is the titular baddie, an all around jackwagon always looking to rob, cheat or shoot somebody if it'll make him a buck.

Cactus Jack Slade. Villain.

"You'll remember me when you're governor, right?"
 When prospector Parody Jones - subtle name there - (Strother Martin - Sssssss) sends for his daughter Charming (Ann-Margaret - Murderer's Row) to collect a large sum of money, the handsome stranger named Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Expendables) offers to ride along and protect her. Good thing, because scuzzy rich guy Avery Simpson (Jack Elam - The Cannonball Run) hires Cactus Jack Slade to stop them. His usual methods all seem borrowed from our old buddy Wile E. Coyote - with boulders poised to drop, fake tunnels painted on stone walls, and his horse Whiskey not a lot of help.  Throw in brief appearances from Mel Tillis (The Cannonball Run), Ruth Buzzi (The Being), Foster Brooks (Oddballs), and in his last film Paul Lynde (Beach Blanket Bingo) as Indian chief Nervous Elk and you have a pretty danged silly comedy going on.

Paul Lynde decides to go out on a subtle note...
The actors seem to be having fun in this Cat Ballou knockoff, and director Hal Needham brings in lots of his trademark stunt work and keeps things moving fairly well, but this one really comes down to your fondness for the cast and really lowbrow slapstick. This was another movie I missed seeing back in the day, and finally catching up with it over thirty years later - it wasn't likely going to fulfill my expectations. Sure enough, it didn't. There's some fun to be had here - including gorgeous location work, solid stunts, a very funny horse, and a committed Kirk Douglas - I just expected it to be a little more of everything. Still, it's by far not director Needham's worst - that honor is reserved for 1982's Megaforce. So if you think it sounds cute or funny, give it a try - not bringing three decades of expectations to it might mean more entertainment value for anyone who isn't me.

Vampyr (1932) While I enjoy a lot of movies both new and old, sometimes there are films that I watch and end up appreciating more than enjoying. This is one of those films. Director Carl Theodore Dreyer wanted to experiment with light and shadow effects in a film to create an atmosphere of dread. The movie that resulted is more visual than aural; a nearly silent affair with only some synchronized sound. For his story Dreyer credits the vampire tale Carmilla, but what's onscreen bears little resemblance to that novella. Instead we get young Allan Gray (Julian West), a kind of a supernatural investigator whose delving into the netherworld has left him in a tenuous state between the real world and the world of dreams and nightmares. He comes to the small town of Courtempierre at the request of the village's lord of the manor to see what has befallen the lord's daughter. Her health is draining away, and our hero discovers the entire village is awash in evil all tied to an ancient vampire lurking there.

Thanks to his rampant allergies, Ralph was constantly scraping
wax off his walls.

However, I've actually lent this plot more coherence and credence than even the film does as the viewer is quickly swept up in a series of nightmare images and effects that were obviously far more important to the director than story or character. And there are some truly striking visuals, with a constantly moving camera and wild ideas like shadows that move independent from their casters. These are all the more impressive when you consider how big movie cameras were at the time and how much light was needed for even the most basic movie scene. And that is why I appreciated the movie more than I enjoyed it. It's only 73 minutes long, but with no real story to follow, just scene after scene of Allan Gray wandering around seeing weird stuff it seems longer and kind of wears out its welcome before the end comes around. Interestingly audiences at the time of release agreed with me and did not much enjoy the movie. It ended up being considered a failure, both artistically and financially. It has been rediscovered since then and is now regarded as a masterpiece. However, I find it more than a little hypocritical that the same critics who call this a masterpiece and forgive the movie's complete lack of logic and plot and character development in the interests of visual effects will rail at every single movie that comes out of Hollywood now that is effects driven, whining like little girls that those effects come at the cost of plot or character development. I am going to need a lengthy essay from each and every one of them telling me the difference. While I'm waiting, I'll wrap this up-if you're a true student of cinema I would recommend this as an important touchstone in the development of the art, everyone else, not so much.

And we close out with one last thing - always remember, according to some rock singers, 66% is adequate.


  1. Oh wow! A young Arnold. I've never seen The Villain. Thanks for the cool tidbits. I'll be on the hunt for this movie.

  2. Matty - glad to see you! Yep, Ah-nuld in full 70's awesomeness - with niceps threatening to burst from his sleeves at any given moment, and a much thicker accent. The movie is DEFINITELY worth a look for him at least - but it does have other virtues as well - not a terrible movie, just not able to make to the bar I'd raised it to in all those years of not watching it...

  3. Talk about a fabulous cast of comedians -- Paul Lynde, Ruth Buzzi, Foster Brooks. Oh yes! And Kirk Douglas was amazing back in the day. Son Michael is his spitting image! Arnold S. ? WOW! Just a baby! Who would have thought he would become the Terminator!

  4. Luana - yeah - it's wild in this century to go back and look at the 70's Schwarzenegger - just a lil baby Austrian Mr. Universe, washed up on shores and destined for so much! And sidenote - in my comment reply to Matty V, I of course meant biceps, not niceps! Thanks for the comments, guys!