Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ghost of Buddha Manstein!

New thrills, as the Golden Headed Reviewer stalks again!

Rancho Deluxe (1975) A very low key and quirky 70's comedy, this casts Jeff Bridges (Tron) and Sam Waterston (Capricorn One) as two ne'er-do-wells out in Montana who rustle cattle to make ends meet. However, they do it slowly. One steer at a time, in fact, which they then hack up and give out to their various creditors in lieu of cash.

Elizabeth Ashley and the champagne of beers - Schlitz!
All of the livestock they bag comes from the fields of John Brown (Clifton James-Sheriff J.W. Pepper himself!) and his wife Elizabeth Ashley - two goofballs from Schenectady who have started ranching with their profits from a string of beauty parlors back east. Brown and his men Curt (Harry Dean Stanton - Repo Man) and Burt (Richard Bright - Al Neri from all three Godfather movies) can't seem to get a line on who is ripping off the cattle, so Brown finally hires Henry Beige (Slim Pickens - The Howling) a broken down old rustler-turned-detective who comes to town with a gorgeous and innocent (?) niece (Charlene Dallas - The Great Bank Hoax) to put a stop to the slow but steady thievery.

Despite being a very low key movie, there ARE helicopter stunts...
All of these characters prove to be fairly off kilter, and the movie is amusing throughout, with some choice lines of dialogue that you'll think about a moment before laughing. The movie is directed in an understated fashion by Frank Perry from a script by Thomas McGuane. The photography is extremely grainy, not sure if that was the intent from the get-go or if the movie was shot in extreme wide shot and some kind of optic zoom was used in post production to get in closer to the action, but either way the characters at times look like they're standing in a silver nitrate snowstorm. 
See the heavy grain in this shot?
(see picture)
Other bits of note: the twangy and fun musical score, provided by Jimmy Buffett (author McGuane's brother-in-law!) before he found the profits lay more in the "son of a son of a sailor" persona; Buffett's appearance in the movie briefly singing in a bar band in one scene; the cameo by the classic Pong game (as well as a couple of other veterans from the Jurassic period of video games) and the casting of Joe Spinell (Maniac) as Waterston's father, throwing on a little age makeup and giving the usually villainous actor a nice character part. All in all, if you're okay with a slightly leisurely pace and enjoy seeing characters who might have a screw or two loose interacting, you'll enjoy this slice of 70's pop cinema. Also with Patti D'Arbanville (The Boys Next Door).

Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) Here's one of the Big Beastie movies of the 1950's, and this one has the distinction of a script by the great special effects man Willis O'Brien (King Kong '33), although weirdly he did not do the stop motion visual effects for the picture. This was also the first movie to bring to the Big Screen the rather novel concept of Cowboys & Dinosaurs, and it is in color! The story has some ranchers South of the Border facing the worst rustler ever: a Tyrannosaurus Rex, who as Roger Corman once put it "just kind of showed up one day." However, long before we get to see the big lug, we spend almost an hour in a fairly stodgy Western soap opera with only some off camera growls and aftermath scenes to let us know there's a dinosaur nearby. Finally, he does show up, and therein starts a running battle between ranch hand Guy Madison (famed as TV's Wild Bill Hickok) and the T Rex that takes up the last twenty minutes of the movie.

Somebody didn't feel like chicken tonight, chicken tonight...
 This was the kind of movie I always looked forward to on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. I somehow missed this one, though, until decades later when my new BFF MGM/HD turned up with a newly restored widescreen print. Now, I've also always liked the idea of Cowboys & Dinosaurs, and the other film made from O'Brien's story - 1969's Valley of Gwangi - has always been one of my favorites. It goes to show though, that a towering talent like Ray Harryhausen shows through - as both films have the same basic plot, but VoG is a far superior movie. Apparently the producers here bought O'Brien's story with promises to hire him for the effects, then reneged and did the dinosaur visuals themselves (?!) In addition to the usual stop motion, they also threw in some rod puppets and dinosaur feet on an effects guy for closeups.

Here's the Big Guy's entrance at the hour mark...

Rubber feet a go go....

Then the next cut and  - hey! where was that tail
in the previous shots?
 They also had some "replacement animation," where instead of an articulated model moving around, each frame is filled with a different model entirely, in this case sculpted from plaster in a series of successive poses. Seems like more work than building an old fashioned armature and putting some rubber skin on it, but what do I know? I just work here. The T Rex in the movie appears small, not in scale to the surroundings, but just as a small model used, which is extremely obvious and not helpful to the illusion at all. In any case, these effects do not have the stamp of quality of either O'Brien or Harryhausen, and when you're forced to wait an hour to see them, they end up coming off pretty sketchy, and keep the movie from crossing the entertainment finish line for anyone but stop motion completists. Skip it.

And I am finished. Please come back again, and until then, always remember - that's how remember is spelled.


  1. I have to check out Rancho Deluxe. It sounds quirky and off beat, right up my alley. I've seen Beast of Hollow Mountain, on a local access show here in Chitown, Son of Svengoolie. Total Saturday afternoon monster fest. I remember watching this along with Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, or was it Gamera? I can't remember.

    1. Oh, Son of Svengoolie! I was never able to see as much of his stuff as I'd like - as my main time living near Chicago was 1990-1991 - when he was Rich Koz, weatherman and kids show host, and not much horror hosting. *sigh*