Saturday, December 19, 2015

Closed for the Holidays

The Midnite Drive-In is closing up for the holidays.  Getting ready to take a much needed vacation.  I'll put at least 1500 miles on the old Plymouth before it's said and done, kiddies.  Expect the next review sometime after the 1st.  As always, drive safe, folks!


Gun Crazy

The 50's were the heyday of the western.  Sure you had westerns dating back to the silent era.  And John Wayne made his mark in early Republic westerns.  But those were generally one and two reelers with lots of action, but very little character development.  The good guys wore white, the bad guys wore black, and no one had any real depth.  Of course, many of those were for the Saturday morning crowd, which usually consisted of kids, who, let's face it, generally like their heroes with no discernible flaws.

The so-called "Golden Age" of the western movie (also referred to as "adult western") was the 1950's.  According to one blogger I read in researching this subject, the first "adult western" was a 1947 Robert Mitchum flick called Pursued.  I haven't seen this movie, or for that matter even heard of it, but it sounds intriguing.  The western movie genre gravitated towards more adult themes over the next few years.

By comparison, most of these golden age westerns are much more entrancing and eminently watchable.  For a comparison, watch one or two of John Wayne's Republic movies from the 30's and 40's and then watch The Searchers.  This is as good a comparison as I can make because the early Wayne characters were as one-dimensional as those Saturday matinee characters the kids of that day loved, but Ethan Edwards (Wayne's character in The Searchers) is complex and nuanced.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

3:10 to Yuma is a character piece more than anything else.  There is, by comparison to a lot of other Westerns of the day, very little gun play.   The movie starts out with a bunch of bandits who have commandeered the cattle of a local rancher to use to stop a stagecoach.  The leader of the gang is Ben Wade (played by Glenn Ford), probably the most unconvincing gang leader, but as the movie goes on it becomes more evident this characterization is intentional.  But it's still hard to imagine Glenn Ford as a bloodthirsty cutthroat.  His second in command is Charlie Prince (Richard Jaeckel) who is much more convincing as a killer, but his baby-faced looks (coupled with the fact that his most prominent role in my mind is the tough, no nonsense, but gentle sergeant in The Dirty Dozen )  threw me off for a bit.

Ben Wade (Glenn Ford)
Charlie Prince (Richard Jaeckel)

Dan Evans (Van Heflin) observes the stagecoach robbery from a safe distance, but Wade notices him and after the robbery goes up to him and takes his and his sons' horses from them to keep them from riding to get the law before the bandits can make a getaway. Wade is not as bloodthirsty as you might expect a bad guy to be in one of these films, because he tells Evans he will leave the horses near Bisbee, where the outlaws are heading.   Evans and sons make their way back home on foot, where they are met by  mother/wife Alice (Leora Dana).  Alice is a fresh sight for anyone who has watched a lot of this movies.  Usually the wife is a pretty actress and nothing is really done to make her look anything like she would be if she had really been living all this time on a ranch.  But Dana looks the part.

Alice Evans (Leora Dana)
Dan Evans (Van Heflin)

Dan tells her about the robbery but claims he couldn't do anything to stop it because it would have been one against twelve.  In Bisbee, Wade and his men have a few drinks in a saloon, where Wade becomes friendly with the barkeep, Emmy (Felicia Farr, a pretty girl, but you can't have them all show the wear and tear of country life)  Meanwhile we have learned that Evans is broke and needs money to acquire rights to use a neighbor's water for six months.  He rides into Bisbee to get his horses, where Wade was supposed to have left them for him.  Wade, meanwhile, has told Emmy the stage was robbed, conveniently NOT telling her it was him and his gang.  She goes to tell the marshall, who rounds up a posse to give chase, but is suspicious of this group of men and hangs around until they leave town.

Upon arrival at the stagecoach, it becomes apparent to everyone that the group of cowboys they left behind in town were he real culprits, and they race back to town.  But wade has dispersed the band, vowing to meet them all together further down the road.  But Wade stays behind, it seems he has really taken a liking to Emmy.  This is his downfall, as it always is with women, he is captured.  Worried that the rest of the gang will come looking for him they arrange for two men, each to be paid $200 to take him to Contention where they will board the 3:10 to Yuma to take him to the authorities.  Evans, needing the $200 for the water rights volunteers, but no one else seems to be willing except the town drunk, Alex (Henry Jones).

The rest of the movie plays out in nail-biting suspense as, one, the ruse is discovered and two, the gang is rounded up to try to stop them from taking their boss to jail.  Meanwhile the character play is hammered out as Wade tries to convince Evans it is a suicide mission or even tries to bribe him to let him duck out.  The ending, which I won't spoil, is one that is well worth the wait.  Suffice to say that Glenn Ford is not entirely all the bad guy you'd expect from a bad guy.

Warlock (1959)

Warlock is a town besieged by a rough band of outlaws headed by Abe McQuown (Tom Drake), who are supposedly cowboys on a ranch, but seem to make a better time of it carousing in town, and killing or terrorizing the law enforcement.  This has been going on for some time and at the beginning of the movie the gang runs out of town the current deputy marshal.  Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark) is a member of the gang, but you can tell from his facial expressions that he is tired and abhors the situation he is in.

Richard Widmark

Several familiar faces are in the McQuown gang, including DeForest Kelley (Star Trek's Dr. Leonard McCoy) and Frank Gorshin (Batman's The Riddler).

DeForest Kelley
Frank Gorshin

These guys have become the terror of the town, and the city council decides something must be done.  They agree to hire a mercenary named Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), famed for his marksmanship as well as his gold-plated handle Colts. Blaisedell arrives in town with his right hand man Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), a cripple who walks with a limp, but is definitely no slouch with a gun himself.

Henry Fonda
Anthony Quinn

The two set up shop inside the local saloon, which they have renamed "The French Palace".  This is apparently something they do in  every town because the marquee arrives on a wagon bringing their equipment.  Blaisedell tells them he makes the lion's share of his income as a faro dealer, because the money the town is paying him would barely cover the ammunition he uses in practice.

The first showdown is relatively bloodless as Curley (DeForest Kelley) taunts the marshal, but is only humiliated.  The outlaws decide it would be wiser to leave town.  One of them is getting a shave and is accidentally nicked by the barber.  In the ensuing ruckus, the outlaw kills the barber.

Blaisedell arrests the culprits, but (offscreen) they are found not guilty, apparently because McQuown can throw a lot of weight around.  Johnny, in the meantime, has decided to take the job as deputy marshal and declares that Blaisedell's services are no longer needed.  He wants the town run by law, not by the whims of the mercenary.

There are two love interests to make this movie a bit more deep.  Blaisedell has a liking for one of the town's prettiest women, Jessie (Dolores Michaels).  A former lover of Tom Morgan, Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone) shows up in town, and Johnny takes a liking to her.

Dolores Michaels and Dorothy Malone

Lily comes on the scene because she has been following Blaisedell and Morgan.  She wants revenge on Morgan for betraying a former lover that Blaisedell ending up shooting.  To that effect she wants Blaisedell dead.  Not so much for him, but to devastate Morgan, who would then be without a friend in the world.

As usual, there is an ultimate showdown in the streets between the bad guys and the law.  But this movie has a couple of extra twists that may surprise you. I saw this movie on a cable westerns channel several years ago, and it had such a profound effect on me that I spent years talking about it, detailing little bits and pieces from just that one viewing.  Luckily, fortune smiled on me and I was able to pick up a DVD of it a few months ago.  It still has the ability to move me.

Well, that wraps up the view from the back seat this time, kids.  Drive safe going home.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reefer Madness

(Note:  Sorry for the delay of a week on this post.   Been busy trying to get my blogathon up and running.  Q.)

Cheech and Chong were the 70's answer to Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis.  The two met in the late 60's and developed a skit comedy routine that usually centered around the counterculture of the time, especially dealing with drugs.  They became very popular among the hippie crowd, and beginning in 1971, began making albums.

Most of these albums had one or two single releases, due to the duos growing popularity.  Basketball Jones, Sister Mary Elephant, and Earache My Eye all managed to crack the top 40, and a smattering of other came close in the mid-to-late 70's. It took a while longer for Hollywood to come calling, however.

The transition from skit and album comedy to film began with the release of Up in Smoke in 1978.  I was just a naive young buck hanging out with my less scrupulous cousin when we picked up a couple of girls  and went to see this movie.  I had several new experiences over the course of that night, but the main one I remember was being so buzzed on beer that I could only remember one (actually two) scenes where the cop complains that some guy pissed on his leg.

Cheech & Chong went on to do several more movies before spending a long breakup period in which each did their own thing for about 20 years.  But recently the two made amends and began a new skit comedy tour.  Aging hippies that they are, they still manage to find new audiences, as their drug culture material is not all that dated.

Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)

The first Cheech & Chong movie begins by showing the two separately, prior to their first meeting.  Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin)  is in a house overrun by family, especially children.  Man, briefly called Anthony (Tommy Chong) in contrast appears to be the delinquent scion of a well-to-do couple (played hilariously by Strother Martin and Edie Adams).  While Pedro rides around in his low rider, a 1964 Chevy Impala with a different colored door, Man's Volkswagon  breaks down and he has to spebd the night on the beach.

At this point the movie essentially becomes a series of vignettes culled from their albums and stage shows, expanded for the movie, but still holding to the themes of two stoners just coasting through life.   As the scene above shows, one involves a hilarious scene with a monster sized joint, which has "Maui Wowie" ( a variation of marijuana) mixed with the doo-doo of Man's pet Labrador.

In the meantime, Sgt. Stendanko (Stacy Keach) is a narc trying to score a big bust.  He and his fellow officers bust a drug party, barely missing nabbing Man.  Later he will be trying to score a big bust trying to catch smugglers at the border.

There are several other dope-infused scenes, one of which involves a woman mistakenly inhaling Ajax detergent, thinking its cocaine, and another where Curtis ( Christopher Joy), an African-American friend gives them some high-powered pot that incapacitates them.  At this point, the INS "la migra" invade the place and deport everyone including Pedro and Man.

The two end up in Tijuana where they are going to go to Pedro's uncle's  upholstery shop to smuggle a van which has had the upholstery done south of the border to save on labor.  But the two go to the wrong place and end up with a van that has been made from fiberweed.  Essentially the van is a joint on wheels...

Sgt. Stedanko tries to catch them at the border, but due to incompetence and mistaken identity, they arrest a station wagon full of nuns rather than the two stoners.  They resume chase, but it's Keystone Kops time in the police car as Stedanko seems to have been saddled with the most addled officers on the force.  Meanwhile, Pedro and Man pick up two hitchhikers who are on their way to a concert.  The concert is a contest in which the best band will win a prize of a recording contract.

While Stedanko tries to locate the van, Pedro and Man go to enter the contest.  We are entertaineed by Pedro dressed in a tutu ad Man totally zonked on drugs and the rest of Pedro's band, performing as Alice Bowie doing their classic Earache My Eye. 

The first movie managed to make a bunch of money at the box office, and convinced the execs who saw dollar bills in their eyes to green light several sequels, to varying levels of success.

Cheech & Chong's Nice Dreams (1981)

Nice Dreams was actually the third Cheech & Chong movie.  (The second, aptly title Cheech & Chong's Next Movie, was released in 1980.)  The two, now called Cheech and Chong within the movie,  have become entrepreneurs,  hawking pot disguised as ice cream from a  truck.  The truck is a converted ice cream truck with an N before the word "ice" aan a "D" painted over the "C" in "cream".

Two bumbling police officers, Detective Noodles (Tim Rossovich) and Detective Drooler (Peter Jason)  are actively trying to nab the two dealers, but are only able to get samples of the weed they are selling.  Sgt Stedanko (Stacy Keach reprising his role from Up in Smoke) is now a stoner himself, and smokes some of the weed.  It has a bizarre side effect of turning him gradually into a lizard.

 The source of this hybrid weed is Weird Jimmy ( Jimmy Fame), a friend from whom they steal the pot.  He has a lab underground, which has been disguised as a swimming pool above ground, to avoid detection.  The pair have apparently been making a mint off the weed they steal, because they are now rich.

Cheech and Chong go to a Chinese restaurant where they meet all sorts of weirdos, including a very early appearance of Paul Ruebens (of Peewee Herman fame), playing an escapee from a nut ward.  Chong ends up giving the nut all the money.

Cheech meanwhile tries to make out with a former girlfriend, who has a huge muscular husband who has just broken out of jail.  Chaos ensues when he shows up to the apartment, with Cheech hanging out the window, seven stories up, naked.  Chong rescues Cheech and they go after the money, breaking into the nut ward where the nut is back in now.

But they are mistaken for fellow inmates.  Dr. Timothy Leary shows up to free Cheech, but the "key" he gives him is a pill, probably LSD.  Cheech goes on a weird trip, but in the end both are freed with apologies from the real doctor and warden of the nuthouse.

This one is by far the most bizarre of C &C's output.  Just the scenes where Stedanko is gradually turning into a lizard will give you the willies.  Cheech & Chong made three more movies together, and were also involved in several other side projects.  One you really should check out is Yellowbeard, which was Monty Python alum Graham Chapman's last theatrical movie before his untimely passing.

Well, that's the view from the back seat this time, kiddies.  Be sure to buckle up and drive safely.  And save the weed until you get home...


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Announcing The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon

Well kiddies, I'm having fun in these blogathons, so I decided to get my feet wet and do a blogathon of my own.  Well not entirely on my own.  The ladies at Silver Scenes  have graciously stepped in to co-host and help me do some of the more complicated aspects of the event.

Announcing The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon!  (Feb 26-28, 2016)

It happens every year.  Until recently 5 nominees vied for such varied categories as Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director, among others.  We as fans are not part of the process of choosing, and sometimes we think our choice was better.  This is a chance to make your case heard.

Think Double Indemnity should have beaten out Going My Way for Best Picture in 1944?  Was Rex Harrison really the Best Actor of the bunch in 1964, or were either Richard Burton or Peter O'Toole more deserving?  And, really, seriously?  Was  Marisa Tomei  really the Best Supporting Actress of 1992?

The rules are simple here.  You can pick any category.  You can pick any year.  The only stipulation is the picture (or person) must have been one of the other nominees in that category for that year, but didn't win.  Otherwise I'd be getting some quack choices like " Plan 9 from Outer Space should have won Best Picture of 1959..."

I'd like to have variety so only one person can do a specific movie or an actor in a movie, but I will stretch a point.  If someone wants to pick, say, The Hustler as Best Picture of 1961, someone else could still pick Paul Newman as Best Actor  in The Hustler , and make an entirely different case.

Let's have some fun with it.  The blogathon will be scheduled to go live on Oscars® weekend 2016.  (Feb. 26-28)  You can pick any of those three days.  Post your choice in the comments below and let's get the ball rolling!  Then grab one of the banners below to post to your blog.  (Banners courtesy of the ladies at Silver Scenes . Thanks, ladies)


Disclaimer:  Oscars® is a copyrighted name.  This blogathon has not been approved by the Oscars® committee.  No such authorization should be construed.

Blog List:

A Person in the Dark  Robert Preston as Best Actor in Victor/Victoria (1982)
A Shroud of Thoughts  A Hard Day's Night as Best Song? (1964)
Angelman's Place Rosalind Russell as Best Actress in Auntie Mame (1958)
CineMaven's Essays from the Couch  Gloria Swanson as Best Actress in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Crítica Retrô Peter Sellers snubs
Defiant Success  Sidney Lumet snubs
Girls Do Film  Judy Garland as Best Actress in A Star is Born (1954)
Little Bits of Chaplin Charlie Chaplin snubs
The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog Barbara Stanwyck snubs
In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood  Alfred Hitchcock as Best Director for Rebecca (1940)
In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood  Katherine Hepburn as Best Actress in The African Queen (1951)
Le Mot du Cinephiliaque Fargo as Best Picture (1996)
The Love Pirate Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as Best Picture (2003)
Margaret Perry Katherine Hepburn snubs
Mildred's Fatburgers Agnes Moorehead as Best Supporting Actress in The Magnificent Ambersons (1943)
MovieFanFare Thelma Ritter snubs
MovieMovieBlogBlog Gordon Hollingshead for Best Live Action Short Film-One Reel So You Think You're Not Guilty (1949)
Movie Night Group's Guide to Classic Film  Charles Laughton as Best Actor in Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies  William Powell snubs
shadowsandsatin  Double Indemnity as Best Picture (1944) 
Silver Scenes How the West Was Won  for Best Cinematography, Color (1963)
Silver Scenes Debbie Reynolds as Best Actress in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
Silver Screenings  It's A Wonderful Life (1946)  All categories
Sometimes They Go to Eleven Mildred Pierce as Best Picture (1945) 
Wide Screen World Magnolia as Best Original Screenplay (1999)
Wonderful World of Cinema  The Elephant Man as Best Picture (1980)
The Midnite Drive-In  Peter O'Toole as Best Actor in The Stunt Man (1980)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Top of the World

James Cagney was the Hollywood everyman, he played both dramatic and comedic roles, he was an excellent dancer, and could even sing.  Although he is most remembered for his gangster and tough guy roles, his highest acclaim came playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy for which he was awarded an Oscar.

I first saw Cagney on Saturday afternoon movies, when the local TV station would run old movies.  It was where I saw the old Universal monsters, and where I watched guys like Humphey Bogart, George Raft and Cagney burn up the screen with tough guy roles like Sam Spade, "Hood" Stacey, and Tom Powers.

Cagney was always great because he had that grin that was at times either enchanting and disarming, or volatile and malevolent.  Which is why he could play both George M. Cohan and Cody Jarrett equally believably.

The Public Enemy (1931)

This movie is a chronological look at the rise and ultimate fall of a gangster from a kid to an adult in the Prohibition era.  Tom Powers and Matt Doyle (played here by younger counterparts) present a fence/hood by the name of Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) with some stolen watches.  You get an idea of how weaselly Putty Nose is early on when he tries to bilk and short change the pair on their ill-gotten gains, but promises to look out for them when something big comes up.

A few years later, the pair are invited to participate in a robbery of a fur storehouse (now being played by Cagney and Edward Woods).   Putty Nose presents them with guns for use in the heist.  But things go wrong, and a policeman shows up.  The policeman is killed, and the two have now graduated to harder criminal activity.  But Putty Nose's promise to help them out turns to dust, when he has taken it on the lam and leaves them high and dry.

Meanwhile Tom has problems on the home front.  He's got a big brother Mike (Donald Cook), who is sure his little brother is involved in the crime world and begs him to turn over a new leaf.  He's got a mother (Beryl Mercer) who is blissfully unaware he is a in the crime syndicate.

 And he's got a girlfriend (Mae Clarke) who is just a bit on the sassy side.  The girlfriend is on the receiving side of one of the most infamous images from the early days of movies, the grapefruit to the face.

 Tom and Matt eventually team up with a bootlegger friend, Paddy Ryan  (Robert Emmett O'Connor) and become enforcers for his mob.  Ryan allies with "Nails" Nathan (Leslie Fenton) who is a bigger boss in the mob.

 He starts bringing in big money, which he tries to give to Mom, but big brother confronts him and rejects his blood money. Familial matters don't improve much after that, although Mom still thinks her son is a saint.

At this point there is what was probably not meant as funny, but a scene which elicited snickers from me, nonetheless.  The boys' boss, "Nails" Nathan is killed.  He was thrown from a horse.  The boys go to the stable and (off screen) execute the horse.

Needless to say all this underworld hijinks  puts Tom in bad straits.  The ultimate ending is just how Hollywood would have been forced to end it, by pressure from the censors.  But this being a so-called pre-Code picture, you still get a feel of a genuinely moral-less man trying to make a name and big money.

An interesting side-note.  Cagney and Woods were originally cast as the opposite roles, with Woods to be Tom Powers and Cagney to be Matt Doyle.  But the producers and director saw Cagney in a previous film called The Millionaire.  Cagney was just a supporting character in it, but he stole the show.  The powers in charge knew they had something and switched the parts.

Cagney became typecast as tough guy/gangster for a while because of this movie.  But it was after a string of non-gangster roles that he gave what was his bravura performance in...

White Heat (1949)

Cagney played Cody Jarrett with maniacal glee.   Jarrett makes Tom Powers look like a pantywaist, in my opinion.  He takes a kind of euphoric ecstasy out of killing and hurting people.  And behind every man is a "good" woman, in this case "Ma" Jarrett.  Cody suffers intermittently from headaches, probably brought on and encouraged by Ma as a way of controlling him.

The movie starts with a train robbery.  Cody and his men get away with a large bundle of cash, after killing several people on the train,  but one of Cody's men gets his face burned by steam from the locomotive.  Later while hiding out, we meet Ma, the driving force behind Jarrett, and a polar opposite of the Mom in The Public Enemy.  This Ma (played by Margaret Wycherly) is as equally evil as her son.  When the gang are escaping, Ma suggests to Cody that they kill Zuckie, the injured man, rather than leave him and send help.

While hiding out in a motel, a policeman figures out that they are there, but is gunned down by Cody.  Because he is a prime suspect in the train robbery, he and Ma hatch a plan where he will confess to a robbery in another state (where no one was killed, so the sentence will be light).  In the meantime, the officer in charge of the investigation of the train robbery is convinced that Cody and his gang were at the heist and doesn't believe a word of the "confession"  But he allows the conviction to go through so he can put a man under cover in the prison to find out the truth.

Hank (Edmond O'Brien) goes under cover as Vic Pardo and is jailed in the same cell as Cody, where he works hard to get on Cody's good side, even managing to save him from being killed by falling metal bin.  An event engineered by Cody's second man in his gang who wants not only Cody's job, but his girl (played by Virginia Mayo).  Ma visits him in prison and tells him about the whole affair and says she'll take care of it.

Hank plans an escape from prison in an effort to get on Cody's good side, but fate throws a monkey wrench in the works when Cody finds out Ma has died, and goes berserk.  He is put in the infirmary and plans are made to move him to a mental institution.  Hank engineers a different escape.  After exacting revenge on his former second man, Cody plans a new heist at a chemical plant. The plan goes awry when the police get wind of it and surround the plant.  But Cody ends up "Top of the world" just like his Ma had promised, and Cody goes out in a blaze of glory.

Cagney was Academy Award material for this role.  I'm sure his being left out had something to do with the prevailing censorship and sentiment of the time.  It wouldn't have done to give an Oscar for a character who had no redeeming social values and was a psychopathic character like Cody Jarrett.  20 years later, maybe, but in 1949 the Production Code still held sway.  The same goes for the conspicuous lake of a nod to Wycherly for Supporting Actress.  In fact, the only nom garnered by the movie was Virginia Kellogg for Best Story (which she lost to Douglas Morrow for The Stratton Story)

That's it for this show, kiddies.  Be sure to buckle up and drive safe.