Monday, August 23, 2010

“I've never seen so many trying to cover so much with so little.”

Movie trends are an interesting thing to consider. (For about five minutes. Once every twelve years) You’ll have a period of time where a genre will be incredibly popular for a span of time, then fade. Science Fiction & Fantasy bounce back quickly from slumps, but other genres just shrivel up. If they’re lucky like film noir, they’ll spawn periodic revivals and remixes (like Chinatown and Blade Runner) or like westerns there’ll be a trickle of them as various bankable directors give it a shot. The unlucky ones dry up and blow away like tumbleweeds. Like the Teen Beach Movie genre!

Which segues into today’s little exercise in badness, 1967’s Catalina Caper, one of the last Beach Movies made.


Well, we’re on/around Santa Catalina Island in sunny Southern California, and some fat guy sneaks into an art gallery and with ridiculous ease steals an ancient scroll. The next morning, two teenage students (our heroes) arrive on the island with the stated goal of finding chicks. Looks like the two plots are setting a collision course for 84 minutes of wackiness in this Catalina caper (DUN DUN DUN)!

Don Pringle: Tommy Kirk (who starred in several beach movies and was also, get this, the kid Travis in Old Yeller) plays our hero. Not much to the character aside from he’s from someplace like Arizona and this is the first time he’s seen a body of water as big as the Pacific.

Charlie Moss: Brian Cutler plays Don’s blonde buddy. He’s a native of Catalina Island and pretty much has three girls surrounding him at all times.

Katrina Corelli: Ulla Strömstedt plays Don’s love interest. An attractive girl traveling to the Island to see her jerk boyfriend Angelo (Lyle Waggoner) who is of course working for the bad guys. She’s a hottie, but has a kind of creepy monologue when first introduced. On the island, she seems to have the uncanny ability to turn every guy’s head when she walks by, which I guess makes her the film’s badass.

Tina Moss: Venita Wolf plays a friend of Charlie’s that also takes a liking to Don.

Arthur & Anne Duval: Del Moore & Sue Casey play a couple of “gentleman thieves” (well, more or less). They arranged for the theft of the Magoffin, but then decide they don’t want to hand it over to their client for…some reason.

Larry: Jim Begg plays the chubby henchmen of the Duvals. He actually does the stealing in the beginning and aside from wearing a stupid hat loves him some baseball.

Tad Duval: Peter Duryea plays the Duvals teenage son who is curiously oblivious to their shady careers.

Lakopolous: Lee Deane plays our, for lack of a better term, Villain. He’s bald and has henchmen in scuba gear.

Fingers O’Toole: Robert Donner plays a tall, gangly Monsieur Hulot-like character spying on the Duvals. (see, this project taught me useful film connections!). Turns out he’s an undercover investigator trying to find the missing Magoffin, but is so ridiculously clumsy that he takes a pratfall in every scene he’s in.

Directed by Lee Sholem, there’s really no substance to this movie. It’s competently shot and aside from a few physical gags and an underwater fight scene, pretty much all that the movie has going for it are bikini clad women, which all things considered, isn’t so bad.

Original story by Sam Pierce and screenplay by Clyde Ware. The initial idea of the heist plot on a warm, touristy island isn’t a bad one, but it gets relegated to sublot status hard and we get Don & Charlie hanging around with chicks for the most part.

Original music by Jerry Long which is a standard 60s kind of soundtrack. There’s also a number of on-screen musical numbers from The Cascades performing “There‘s A New World” Carol Connors singing “Book of Love” and Little Richard (who looks a little…“medicated”) singing the “timeless” classic “Scuba Party.” Then there’s the movie’s theme song “Never Steal Anything Wet” sung by Mary Wells over the beginning and end credits.

There’s no real substance to Catalina Caper. None. It’s light and fluffy and pretty much mindless. Not unwatchable but certainly not a good bad movie either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“I could sure go for a charbroiled hamburger sammich and some french-fried potatoes.”

So, who’s up for a little “white man’s burden”? Well, too bad, because you’re going to get some anyway. Today’s low budget entry from 1948, Jungle Goddess stars future Superman George Reeves and is chock full of racism and offensiveness both intentional AND unintentional.

So we’ve got two ex-army air force pilots chillin’ in Africa after WWII. One is the womanizing, hard-drinking captain (like a good many actual pilots) and the other is a clean-cut, not-drunk, polite co-pilot (and very unlike the pilots I’ve drunk with). They run a small passenger plane but get word that some rich girl got lost somewhere in Africa when her plane went down right before the War. Hoping to cash in on the reward for finding out what happened to her, they go into the jungle, cause an incident when one of them shoots an African tribesman and are taken before their “goddess” who is, not surprisingly in the least, the missing woman. And there’s some bullshit about how she’s worshipped by the tribe and how if they found out she wasn’t actually a real deity they’d be (understandably) royally pissed. Can they make it back to their plane in time??? Yeah, this one’s…not at all deep.

Mike Patton: George Reeves plays our hero, the second banana of the duo. Nice enough guy, just quite patronizing. Finds Uranium near the village and wants to come back with an expedition which I’m sure wouldn’t piss off the natives one bit.

Bob Simpson: Ralph Byrd (who played Dick Tracy a bunch of times) plays the mustachioed pilot. Certainly drinks like a pilot. When they land in the jungle he shoots a native who happens to stumble upon them. Generally a sleazy, paranoid jerk.

Greta Vanderhorn: Wanda McKay plays the missing daughter of a South African rich guy. Called “Mata Greta” by the tribe because she’s blonde and white and bowed down to worship her immediately upon seeing her, which sounds farfetched to say the least.

Wanama: Armida plays Greta’s servant who is learning English from her. A nice enough girl that Bob shamelessly tries to seduce but not too bright. Nor is she African by any stretch of the imagination, with the actress being born in Mexico. (there’s also a villager played by a Filipino actor)

Oolonga the Witch Doctor: Smoki Whitfeld plays the tribe’s witch doctor who, oddly enough doesn’t think the white woman in their midst actually IS a goddess. And he’s somehow the antagonist. He’s the badass of the film out of sheer spite.

Directed by Lewis D. Collins (who had a long directing career), this movie would wear it’s budget on it’s sleeves, if it could afford them. The sets are obviously fake, there’s a lot of stock footage used, and the models for the airplanes don’t synch up with each other from scene to scene. There are animals on set, but a good number of them are not native to jungle areas and the whole thing just looks and feels cheap. This was definitely one of the many, many low budget b films cranked out by the studios in the 40s regardless of quality, only this one feels like it was much lower quality than most.

“Idea” by William Stevens (who was also the producer) and written by Jo Pagano. The story is virtually non-existent. Characters are ill-developed, Bob turns into a backstabbing villain for no reason whatsoever and you can tell that the script was pounded out as soon as possible without any care going into it. The plot itself feels like it might factor in as a subplot to some Adventure Serial, but to carry a whole movie by itself? It doesn’t work.

Original Music by Irving Getz and an original song, “There’s No One In My Heart But You” by Irving Bibo. That song gets used in the very first scene in a cantina/nightclub, which seems like an odd place to put the one and only musical number.

Jungle Goddess is the kind of movie that was cranked out as a means to keep the actors and crew employed until the next film came along through the studio pipeline. This looks like it was cranked out as soon as possible and nearly as quickly forgotten. It’s boring, it’s quite racist, and everyone looks like they’re phoning it in. However, considering it was 1948, it does feature a large cast of black actors, which, considering the general “whiteness” of movies at that time, at least provided them with a paying gig. An offensive, degrading gig, but a gig nonetheless. Not at all recommended.

Shockingly, there are not a lot of clips for this movie online. Suffice it to say that this is little clip is more than enough.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

“Is there any intelligence in that head of yours?”

Sports Films! Yeah, that’s a genre that isn’t overwhelmed by clichés. But today’s entry in the bad movie canon avoids a lot of sports clichés in favor of crime and biker movie clichés.So…I guess this is Sportsploitation then. Here’s 1969’s Five The Hard Way, AKA The Sidehackers. A movie so bad they named it twice.


So apparently side-hacking is/was a real thing, as the opening credits hammers home. Apparently you take a motorcycle and add a little sidecar platform with a few handrails to hold onto and then drive around a dirt track at high with a guy dangling on the side for dear life.

Anyway, after winning such a race, our hero and his fiancée spend five minutes or so frolicking through an idyllic hillscape in the most saccharine way imaginable. Sort of like the meadow scene in Attack of the Clones only more convincing. The Villain shows up, gets some maintenance on his bikes, asks the hero to ride with him and gets turned down. The villain’s girl hits on our hero, then gets rejected and falsely accuses Hero of doing naughty things, which then prompts the villain and his crew to beat the shit out of our hero and rape and murder his fiancée.

…Um. Remember when this was about the sport of side hacking?

Anyway, our hero decides to go on a murderous revenge spree to avenge his dead lover which culminates in a big shootout with the villain’s gang.

Spoiler….And then everybody dies. No, really.

You know, maybe this isn’t the best way to advertise a new sport.

Rommel: Ross Hagen plays a gravely voiced anti-hero with a shady past. Now he runs a small bike repair shop and side hacks on the weekends. Then he gets really mad (for good reason) and decides to kill the bad guy, but he tells the gang “no guns” which…well…I guess this Rommel isn’t a magnificent son of a bitch who’s book I should read.

Rita: Diane McBain plays Rommel’s ill-fated girl. Nice enough for a two-dimensional love interest.

Luke: Dick Merrifeld plays Rommel’s buddy/teammate. Luke’s a happily married family man and tries to dissuade Rommel from his murderous course of action. Being the only sensible character in the movie makes him the film’s badass.

J.C.: Michael Pataki plays the Villain with a great deal of scene chewing. He comes to Rommel’s shop to get his bikes maintained and then takes an interest in side hacking. Wears ugly medallions has tremendous mood swings and beats his girlfriend. He’s a complete ASSHOLE.

Paisley: Claire Polan plays JC’s abused and not very smart girlfriend that falls for Rommel, gets rejected and accuses Rommel of assaulting her, which causes the whole ugly snowball of the plot to roll down the hill. Kind of hard to feel sympathy for her.

Directed by Gus Trikonis. We get some scenes of side hacking that aren’t very interesting and this happens twice during the film. And only twice. They side hack twice in the entire movie. Which is about side hacking. And one is the opening credits. Then there’s the infamous “meadow scene” that is nothing but padding. It’s a fairly ugly film.

Larry Billman on story and Tony Huston as writer and I can say very little in their defense. Let’s see. There’s, uhhhh, tertiary characters with memorable nicknames like Nero, Crapout and Cooch/Gooch (varies depending on who’s talking). Yeah. I’ll settle with that.

Original music by Mike Curb, Guy Hemric & Jerry Styner. The song, “Five the Hard Way” plays over the credits. I have no idea what is the “five” in question or why it can’t take “the easy way.”

The Sidehackers/Five The Hard Way is pretty damn awful. It’s a bleak downer of a film where nothing good happens to anybody, and there isn’t a whole lot for the audience to do for the running time. Not exactly the most thrilling endorsement for the obscure motorsport of side hacking.

No trailer, just a clip of really, really bad dialogue to give you a taste of the hurting.

Monday, August 09, 2010

“You can't be arbitrary about imposing your will when these people's lives are at stake, don't you realize that?”

Dateline 1950. The Space Race was in its infancy and rocket-propelled B Movies were getting their start. Rocketship X-M was rushed through production to beat Destination Moon as the “FIRST!” of a new breed of space-based ADVENTURE! films. If this sounds like a bad movie, you’re right.

So we’ve got a crew of five scientists preparing for the launch of the Rocketship Expedition Moon, or RXM (DUN DUN DUN!) for short. They hold a press conference, then board the rocket with the Moon as their destination and then things go horribly wrong. Through a rather complicated mishap with the fuel, they go way, WAY off course and end up in orbit around Mars. Deciding to land on Mars since they were in the neighborhood (because clearly they have enough fuel for THAT), they encounter the ruins of a civilization, get attacked by primitive locals before returning to the ship.

Then the survivors get back to Earth but they all die because somebody screwed up the math for the fuel supplies and they crash and die. No. Really.

Colonel Floyd Graham: Lloyd Bridges is the ship’s pilot and not really a scientist at all. He tells lots of very boring stories that are only tangentially related to what’s happening and hits on the one female member of the crew constantly.

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: Danish actress Osa Massen plays the lone female on the crew, and she’s described as a kind of “ice queen” that turns down paramours left and right. Obviously, she and Graham get together at some point.

Dr. Karl Eckstrom: John Emery plays the mission commander and most of what goes wrong is his fault. He’s arbitrary about imposing his will, completely browbeats Dr. Van Horn’s calculations (while his own turn out to be fatally wrong) and he’s pretty condescending about his own figures. Kind of an ass.

Major William Corrigan: Noah Beery Jr. plays the ship’s engineer and he’s from Texas! He won’t hesitate to stress the fact that he’s from Texas and that Texas is wonderful, Texas is large and Texas is the greatest state there is. Look, I realize people like this exist, but this is the best they could do for comic relief. Texas-sized comic relief! From Texas!

Harry Chamberlain: Hugh O’Brian plays an astronomer who serves as the ship’s navigator. He’s my pick for the badass of the film since he doesn’t talk much aside from some fatalistic grumblings and largely keeps to himself.

Dr. Ralph Fleming: Morris Ankrum plays the guy in Mission Control. His job is to look concerned all the time and be worried when the Rocket goes off course.

Directed by Kurt Neumann, the visuals are…quite low budget. We get some meteor shower stuff, some sight gags with random objects floating in not-quite-zero-gravity. Visually, there’s not much going for this movie since the props, sets, locations and so on were all dictated by the low budget. The movie is also quite proud of its effects of having a coat and some other small items "floating in weightlessness."

Written by Kurt Neumann and (uncredited) Dalton Trumbo with “additional dialogue” by Orville Hampton. The writing is the real culprit for badness here. Dialogue isn’t good, characters are poorly developed, the science is atrocious (though space science was still pretty new) and the whole sequence of events is pretty damn contrived. I understand that they wanted to stress how dangerous space travel could be, but the rocket should’ve been named Murphy’s Law for the amount of things that went wrong on the journey. And then the movie has the neurotic stones to have Eckstrom, a man of science say that they were forced off course by supernatural intervention. Yes, supernatural intervention brought them to Mars so they could find the shattered remains of a once-great civilization brought low by nuclear war and then after reestablishing contact with Earth on the trip home, the rocket crashes into Nova Scotia and everybody dies. That’s not ADVENTURE! That’s just bad melodrama.

Original score by Ferde Grofé, the guy who composed “On The Trail” (which appears in a bunch of movies that aren't this one) among other orchestral pieces. He worked on a few movie scores and this was one of them. Well, can’t fault the score for not being quality.

Rocketship X-M is one maudlin piece of cinema. Characters are badly realized and make insanely bad decisions to suit the plot, dialogue is bleh, and the whole plot is so grimly melodramatic about getting to the message that nukes are bad (because they wrecked Mars) that it sucks any possible fun out of the experience. Talk about schlock.

Friday, August 06, 2010

“We're scientists! Is the mayor here?”

You know what we haven’t had in a while? A low budget B Movie filmed in Mexico! 1957’s The Black Scorpion (filmed in English) doesn’t have robots or mummies, but it does have stop motion effects by the guy that did King Kong.


So seismic activity causes a volcano to sprout up overnight in Mexico and two geologists are sent to investigate. Why the rest of the scientific community doesn’t care, I don’t know. Anyway, they find some ruined buildings, a dead cop and an abandoned baby and take the kid to the nearby town of San Lorenzo. The villagers think some kind of demon is at work, but being men of Science, our heroes don’t believe it. Then the MUCH more plausible culprits are revealed: Giant, Prehistoric, Nigh-Invulnerable Scorpions awoken from their ancient, uh…slumber, I guess. Anyway, things go wonky and we get a giant scorpion tearing up Mexico City and knocking down helicopters by the end.

Dr. Hank Scott: Richard Denning plays our American Scientist Hero (Ahh, the Fifties). For all intents and purposes, he is your standard 50s Scientist Hero, complete with a tacked on love interest.

Dr. Arturo Ramos: Carlos Rivas plays the Mexican scientist buddy of Hank’s. Despite being more familiar with local everything and also having a doctorate, he is relegated to sidekick duty. (Ahh, the Fifties).

Teresa Alvarez: Mara Corday plays a rancher in San Lorenzo that meets our Scientist heroes. She’s competent enough, but kind of gets shoe-horned in as Hank’s love interest and sticks around even when the movie leaves San Lorenzo.

Major Cosio: Arturo Martinez plays the military officer who tries to bring the scorpions down with no success.

Dr. Velasco: Carlos Muzquiz plays a renowned entomologist (not etymologist) that our heroes consult with at a few points. They talk about scorpions. And tequila. No joke.

Juanito: Mario Navarro plays the annoying kid who tags along and tries to help but only causes more unnecessary trouble. You know the kind: Where the kid has no real business being there but tags along for a bit, then gets told not to follow the heroes into the dangerous underground caverns but stows away anyway, then proceeds to wander off to be threatened by a monster causing the heroes to go and rescue him in a blatantly annoying attempt to stretch out the tension of the scene even though you know in practical terms the little rascal would’ve been compost a while ago and are kind of rooting for him to bite it? Yeah, that kid.

The Scorpions: Formed in 1965 in Hannover, Germany, they are probably best known for their hit “Rock You Like A Hurricane”--- Oh. Wrong scorpions. Um… These are giant and (presumably) black arthropods that like killing everything they come across and there is one in particular that is larger, stronger and more aggressive that is the “alpha.” The Alpha Scorpion is our badass for the film.

Top of the world, ma!

Directed by Edward Ludwig and stop motion effects supervised by Willis O’Brien. The normal, non-effects shots are all standard B Movie fare with not a whole lot of interesting scenes. The stuff O’Brien pulled off, considering the low budget, is actually pretty good. Well, sort of. The close ups of the scorpions consist of just zooming in on a terrible model of a “scorpion’s” face with drool coming out that they use a bunch of times. However, the actual stop motion critters are actually pretty kickass and there are some cool set pieces, like two guys getting attacked in the desert, a Lionel train (no really) getting derailed by a mob of scorpions, and the fight in Mexico City. And it’s not just scorpions: there’s a spider and some worms too!

Story by Paul Yawitz and written by Robert Blees and David Duncan, and it is pretty damn bland. Nobody and nothing is memorable and the actors are completely outshined by low-budget effects.

Original music by Paul Sawtell which is your standard Monster Movie fare and it’s fine for the bombastic action sequences. Then there’s the sound effects that make the scorpions growl and chirp and make other sounds that I’m pretty sure actual scorpions are incapable of making.

Well, The Black Scorpion is a pretty bad movie across the board that manages to do one, and only one, thing right: Giant Stop Motion Scorpions from the guy who basically pioneered the craft. Even late in his career, Willis O’Brien pulled off some great effects scenes with a tiny budget. The rest of the movie is kind of crap, but those scorpions, man. Those scorpions.

Monday, August 02, 2010

“Don't hit me in the mouth again, you'll break my dental plate.”

Teensploitation. No, it’s not about working long hours for low pay on a golf range for the summer. It’s a film subgenre that tells scandalous stories about teens, starring teens in movies geared toward teens and inexplicable musical numbers. In Fifties terms I suppose that translates to being a bit like Blaxploitation only with white kids, less violence and less nudity. Anyway, I am not at all thrilled to review 1957’s Untamed Youth.


So we’ve got two sisters hitching toward LA that stop to skinny dip in a pond and get picked up by a local cop for indecency and vagrancy. They get taken before a judge who sentences them to 30 days either in prison or a community service-like work program. They opt for the labor and get taken to a cotton farm where they and other untamed youths (DUN DUN DUN!) begin to work off their sentences for long hours and low pay (no golf courses in sight though). Guess what? It’s bad there and the teens are forced to work under all sorts of unfair and unsanitary conditions. Can our lovely ladies survive long enough to get to LA?

Penny Lowe: The lovely Mamie Van Doren is the elder of our hero sisters. She wants to get to LA to be a singer and performer. And she sings a lot during the movie and is the more impulsive of the two. There’s not a whole lot to the character, though she provides a bit of the comic relief here and there, but the real important thing here is that she looks good doing it.

Because I like you, audience.

Jane Lowe: Lori Nelson plays the younger Lowe sisters who is arguably the actual main character. She plays guitar, gets a love interest and has a bunch of scenes that are important to the progression of the plot. She also looks good, just not as…impressive.

Russ Tropp: John Russell (who made a bunch of Westerns) plays our Villain, and what a colossal douchebag Tropp is. Tropp worked out a deal with the judge (with his, er, little combine harvester, if you know what I mean) that gets him dirt cheap labor for his farm and he makes a giant profit off of it. It’s not a very ambitious scheme compared to a lot of the stuff that passes through Castle RMWC’s walls. Still, Tropp’s a big fish in a small pond, and is a total asshole about it.

Bob Steele: Don Burnett plays the square-jawed hero. He’s recently home from the military and happens to be the judge’s son. The judge uses her connections to get him a job with Tropp and Bob quickly realizes two things: The teens are suffering much more than their petty crimes warrant, and Jane is hot. For what it’s worth, he’s the badass of the film because he isn’t afraid to call people out on bullshit and is a friend of JUSTICE.

Jack Landis: Glenn Dixon plays one of Tropp’s main henchmen, though he’s a drunkard and a really ineffective foreman.

Judge Cecelia Steele: Lurene Tuttle plays the government employee who’s been seduced by Tropp. She’s instrumental in his big scheme but is really just being manipulated.

Lillibet: Jeanne Carmen plays one of the teens that’s been there for a while. She was working as a “housekeeper” for Tropp (if you know what I mean), but was booted back into the fields after she let someone else do the vacuuming (if you…okay fine. Of course you know what I mean).

Baby: Yvonne Lime plays a character who gets ill a couple of times in the field and then dies (because Pathos, that’s why). Honestly though, until she died the character was just there and little more than an extra.

Bong: Eddie Cochran (yes, the “ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” guy) in one of his only two acting roles. It’s not much of a part and he sings a song. Cochran didn’t get a chance to do more onscreen stuff because he died in a car crash in 1960 only three years later. Bummer.

Pinky the Cook: Wally Brown is really on in the movie for one scene, as a loquacious cook who jovially banters with the teens during a late night party. He just comes out of nowhere and starts laying out a Christmas Ham of a performance for the movie and then he’s gone, and would’ve been my pick for badass of the film, but then I realized that he’s working for Tropp and knows that he’s serving the kids slop made from dogfood and also recommends Penny go up and “personally audition” for Mr. Tropp, who also owns a local TV station. This guy’s actually rather creepy when you think about it…

Directed by Howard W. Koch (who went on to become the producer of films like Dragonslayer and the two Airplane! movies, so…good career change) The visuals are. They just are. It’s difficult to make farming exciting and this movie is not exciting. Though Mamie Van Doren’s outfits often are, in a 50’s girl-next-door sort of way. Yowza!

Story by Stephen Longstreet and John C. Higgins. The script is quite mediocre. Dialogue isn’t great, the plot moves rather predictably and the whole thing is a kind of paint-by-numbers affair. Dull & Boring by modern standards.

Original music and songs written by Les Baxter with most songs performed by Mamie Van Doren and one by Eddie Cochran. The songs are somewhat subpar 50’s pop songs, but they’re inoffensive enough, though with names like “Cottonpicker” and “Oobala Baby” you really can’t expect much.

Untamed Youth has very few bright spots, but it does have some high points (if you know what I--shit, sorry). It’s a low budget musical drama and nothing more. It’s not really memorable, certainly not good, and there’s no sea monsters or werewolves or space invaders to really justify watching it for crazy guilty pleasure fun.