Thursday, July 29, 2021


Kelly, Casey and Pet make up an all-girl rock band who are less into feel-good rock & roll and more into somewhat artsy, gloomy music--the chorus of one song refers to "Lunatic skies of red destruction." Their manager Harris is Kelly's boyfriend, in that loose, free-love Sixties way, and in search of fame and fortune, the four head out to Los Angeles where Kelly's rich, eccentric Aunt Susan takes them in and changes her will to give Kelly a big share of her inheritance--against the advice of her square lawyer Porter. Susan takes them to a huge party (which is shot like the "Laugh-In" party sequence) thrown by record producer Z-Man, a flamboyant, neurotic fellow who signs them to a contract and gets them some hits under the name the Carrie Nations. This pushes Harris out of the picture; he becomes estranged and bitter, especially when Kelly starts dating a pretty-boy gigolo named Lance, so Harris has a desultory affair with porn star Ashley. Pet couples up with Emerson, a law student, who gets jealous when he walks in on Pet having a one-night stand with a famous boxer. Harris becomes drug-addled to the point where he can't get it up with Ashley who implies that he must be gay. Casey, in the meantime, has a one-night stand with Harris which leads to pregnancy, which leads to her getting involved in a lesbian relationship in which she seems to find happiness. When the band performs on national television, a distraught Harris tries to kill himself by jumping from a catwalk above the stage. He survives but is confined to a wheelchair for life, and Kelly decides to devote herself to him. When Pet and Emerson get back together, everyone seems to be settled until Z-Man invites the gang to another more private party. The drugged-out Z-Man tries to seduce Lance (pictured below); when he is spurned, he rapes Lance and reveals that he is halfway to becoming a transgender woman, then goes on a rampage which threatens everyone in the house.

I'm not going to rehash the complex history of this non-sequel to Valley of the Dolls, written by Roger Ebert and directed by hard-R filmmaker Russ Meyer--you can find that on Wikipedia or IMDb. Suffice to say that this film has a reputation as king of the bad camp movies, and the first time I saw it, probably 20 years ago, I could barely finish it, I thought it was such a piece of junk. But time has been kind to it and on this watching, I found it to be more interesting and fun than bad, though potentially offensive to viewers on a number of levels. There is still a lot wrong with it. For starters, the music of the Carrie Nations is not catchy enough for commercial success, except for one song, "Come With the Gentle People" which has a nice Mamas and Papas sound. The acting generally feels amateurish, though in some cases, that adds to the effect--in particular, John Lazar as Z-Man is all over the map (is he gay? Straight? Asexual? Friendly? Boorish? Psychotic?) to the point where the character loses any center, so when he flashes his boobs at the end, you just kind of shrug and say, OK. He also has to contend with lines like, "This is my happening and it freaks me out!" and "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!" The central women are all fine, with Dolly Read coming off the best as Kelly (she was married to comedian Dick Martin and retired from the screen by the early 80s). David Gurian is quite appealing as Harris, though he never made another movie. Edy Williams, wife of Russ Meyer, is appropriately sexy as Ashley, and she gives a delicious reading to the line, "You're a groovy boy--I'd like to strap you on sometime"; Michael Blodgett is appropriately sleazy as Lance. 

Random observations: During Z-Man’s first party, we overhear someone say, "Plastics, Benjamin," a reference to The Graduate, and later there's a Midnight Cowboy reference ("Up yours, Ratso!"). During a funny sex scene in a Rolls-Royce, Ashley climaxes screaming the name of another luxury car, "Bentley! Bentley!!" Z-Man's butler wears a Nazi uniform. The character of the lawyer is named Porter Hall, after a ubiquitous 1940s supporting actor. Pet tells someone, "Don’t bogart that joint!" (apparently a steal from Easy Rider).The song "Stranger in Paradise," based on a classical tune by Borodin, plays while Z-Man is trying to give Lance a handjob. In the over-the-top violence of the climax, the 20th Century Fox fanfare theme plays during a decapitation. This is a crazy-ass movie that manages just barely to work, mostly on a camp level. And honestly, even though it has no direct connection to the original Valley of the Dolls, and Jacqueline Susann was well within her rights to sue Fox for pushing it as a sequel (the movie begins with a note that it is not a sequel, but with that title, the damage was already done), it does almost work as a Dolls update set in the music industry. Pictured at top left are two random partygoers. [Criterion streaming]

Wednesday, July 28, 2021


During World War II, two nurses in a Philippines jungle are looking for a legendary "long life" herb. One of them, Francisca, is raped and shot by a Japanese soldier. Exploring in a cave, the other nurse, Lena, is bitten by a rare firebrand cobra. She doesn't die but instead goes through a transformation in which her face briefly becomes snake-like before she turns back to normal. She uses the snake venom to heal Francisca. Some 30 years later, the two live together on the edge of a jungle in Manila. Francisca has aged normally; Lena, thanks to being a cobra woman, hasn't aged a bit. But periodically her skin becomes scaly and she has to shed it. Also, to keep her youth, she has to have sex with young, virile men, after which the men are left pretty much dried out corpses. Joanna, a young biology intern doing anti-snake venom research, hears that Lena has one of the last firebrand cobras in the wild and heads out to investigate. She is chased away by a mutant-looking man named Lopé who turns out to be the adult son of Francisca; as Joanna notes, he looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Back home, Joanna masturbates to thoughts of her boyfriend Duff whom she picks up at the airport later that day. After hearing about Joanna's research, Duff immediately heads out to Lena's place where he is bitten by her snake. Lena saves him by sucking the venom out, but she then keeps him around as a kind of sex slave to keep her young (for some reason, he doesn't get old or die) and uses him as her pimp, bringing her new victims from town. Joanna returns to Lena's and steals some venom which, after Lena's snake is killed, may put an end to Lena's eternal youth. But it might not...

This is one of those crazy-ass Filipino horror films that is not really very good but is oddly watchable, if only to see what bizarre thing will happen next. I haven’t mentioned that Lopé and the soldier rapist are played by the same actor. Nor that for some reason, Duff is compelled to buy an eagle (which eventually kills Lena's snake, which is named Movini, the same one from the WWII prologue). Nor that Joanna and her mentor test an anti-venom serum on a monkey, with bad results. Nor that Lopé's strange physical and mental condition came about after Lena seduced him. Nor that Lena eventually turns into Movini (I think) and back again. Nor that Lena is driven to instant lust at one point by seeing the butt crack of a young man on the street. The rules about snake transformation and skin shedding and humping to keep her youth are very unclear, as though the movie had been mostly improvised along the way. The acting is about as bad as sub-B-movie acting gets, but even that makes for some interesting watching. Joy Bang (Joanna) seems like a 17-year old who was suddenly shoved before the cameras with no experience, or even much desire to act, and tries to make the best of her situation--she was actually 27 at the time and made several movies including, the same year, Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. Maybe the Philippine setting addled her. Or maybe, given the equally bad performance of Roger Garrett as Duff, the director, Andrew Meyer, was at fault. Marlene Clark (Lena, pictured above) is actually pretty good; she sustained a career well into the 1980s and is known for her starring role in the Black vampire cult classic Ganja and Hess. The nicely dreamy score music by Restie Umali is pretty good, giving some of the movie a dark fairy tale feel. But make no mistake, this is only for fans of bad horror movies. [Amazon Prime]

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


Deep in the jungles of Guatemala, the residents of a "lost city" worship an ancient Mayan statue of the Green Goddess, unaware that inside it is a formula for a super-explosive that any number of governments might want to get their hands on. The idol has been stolen but recovered by the British archeologist Martling, working with his buddy Tarzan, but it gets stolen again by the nefarious Raglan whose boss wants to offer it to the highest bidding government. Unfortunately, the Goddess cannot be safely opened without a code—otherwise, it will explode—so Raglan has to try and steal the code book from Martling even as Martling's group is trying to take the Goddess back from Raglan. Because this is a feature film version of a serial, we get a series of short scenes in which our good guys (Martling, Tarzan, an exotic woman named Ula Vale and a comic-relief doofus named George) tangle with the bad guys, getting into and out of some tight scrapes involving a lion, a tiger, a crocodile, a raging waterfall, and a small boat in the middle of a typhoon. The most impressive escape involves a bound Tarzan bursting out of rope by the power of his chest muscles alone (pictured). Of course, the idol is rescued and the explosive formula kept out of the hands of evildoers.

This movie has a complicated history. In 1935, a 12-chapter serial called THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, co-produced by Tarzan's author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was released to compete with the MGM Tarzan series. Most serial chapters run about 20 minutes, but this one had a first chapter that ran an hour, which contained most of the backstory about the idol and the lost city. A version of the first couple of chapters was made available as its own movie, but three years later, this film, an edited version of chapters 4-12 of the serial, was released. Nothing from the first chapter is included—what we need to know is given as exposition—and what is kept is mostly the beginnings and ends of the chapters, in order to keep as many cliffhanger situations as possible. Cutting out the less exciting scenes certainly moves the action along, though I was surprised to hear no background music, which usually heightens our experience of the fisticuffs. Herman Brix (later known as Bruce Bennett) is good as Tarzan; he’s not as muscly as most Tarzans, more slim and lithe like TV’s Ron Ely, and he also speaks perfect English and occasionally wears clothes. 

Because of the slam-bang pace, most of the other actors don’t get to make an impression except for Lew Sargent as the comic relief. You can sense him wanting to be funny, but his material falls flat except for an amusing bit where he chases a monkey that has stolen his yo-yo. Don Castello, who plays Raglan, is actually Ashton Dearholt who co-produced the movie with Burroughs. Ula Holt (playing Ula Vale) was Dearholt's wife. Some location shooting in Guatemala helps dispel the somewhat claustrophobic feel of most jungle melodramas that shoot on sets, though there are plenty of studio sets here. It is claimed that this version of the film has some added footage not in the original serial, but no one seems to know which scenes those might be. Favorite line: Raglan yelling, "Get your hands off that goddess!"  [TCM]

Friday, July 16, 2021


Mike Latimer (Richard Widmark), a famous author and man's man—think Hemingway—has vanished, on purpose. Magazine reporter Katie Connors (Jane Greer) has traced him to San Marcos, a small Mexican village and, posing as a tourist, engineers a meet-cute in an attempt to get a good story. Over several days, he spills his guts to her about his ex-wife's infidelity, and his depression over his writer's block. An attraction grows, and Katie decides to head back to New York but not turn in her story. Mike offers to fly her to Mexico City but a compass malfunction causes them to get lost. When their fuel runs out, they crash land on the wooded, isolated property of an Englishman named Browne (Trevor Howard) and his Dutch brother-in-law Anders (Peter van Eyck) who claim to be archeologists studying nearby ruins. But really, they are Nazis in hiding: Browne was a notorious anti-British radio propagandist and Anders was responsible for the massacre of an entire village. Mike finds out that Katie was writing a story on him and feels betrayed, not quite believing that she had given it up, but when it becomes clear that the two men will not let them rejoin civilization, they join forces to make a run through the jungle to escape. With the two Nazis hot on their trail, how far will they get?

This is billed as an adaptation of Richard Connell's famous short story "The Most Dangerous Game" in which a madman hunts humans for sport, but that plotline is non-existent here—more faithful adaptations were done in 1932 and 1945. This is basically a decent romantic melodrama that turns into an action thriller in its latter half. The characters are much more rounded and interesting than those in the other Dangerous Game movies, and the splitting of the sinister hunter into two people is interesting as some tension develops between them concerning their differing hopes for the future. Widmark isn't my idea of Hemingway but he grew on me; Greer, pictured with Widmark, is attractive but her character is the least developed of the four; Howard and van Eyck take the acting honors here, managing to portray the Nazis as human and not just cardboard villains. The setting is appropriately menacing, though some bad day-for-night photography spoils the tension at times. As a version of the Connell story, not so much, but on its own terms as a melodrama potboiler, not bad. [TCM]

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

THE SHADOW (1940 serial)

The mysterious Black Tiger is striking fear into the hearts of the city's wealthy businessmen by using sabotage against their industries (transportation, communications). Criminologist Lamont Cranston (Victor Jory) is called upon by the police to help out, and he becomes a regular presence at the meetings of the industrialists at the Cobalt Club. No one knows, however, that Cranston is also The Shadow, a caped and masked crimefighter whom the police assume is actually a criminal himself. When he wants to get reliable underworld information, Cranston disguises himself as the Chinese merchant Lin Chang. Aided by his faithful assistant Margo Lane and cab driver Harry Vincent, Cranston flits here and there on the trail of the Black Tiger, usually managing to foil his evil schemes. Soon, it becomes obvious that the Black Tiger must be a member of the Cobalt Club group, and Cranston works to narrow the field down to catch the right man.

The Shadow is a legendary pop culture figure who began on the radio and moved into pulp fiction and movies. He had an ominous chuckle, could "cloud men’s minds" so he would seem to be invisible, and was said to "know what evil lurks in the hearts of men." There is a short series of traditional mysteries done by Monogram in the late 40s in which Cranston is just a variation on the gentleman crimefighter (Philo Vance, The Saint, etc.), and James Patterson has just begun a series of books that "reimagine" Cranston, but this serial sticks closer to the original character. Jory is the perfect type to play The Shadow; he’s got a nicely sinister laugh and a distinctive profile, and he often played bad guys--I know him best as the nasty carpetbagger who drives Scarlett O’Hara to make a dress out of curtains in GONE WITH THE WIND. As Cranston, he exudes calm confidence (needed to counter the nervous industrialists) and as The Shadow, he looks like he might strike fear into people, but unfortunately this movie has terrible day-for-night effects, and every dark and mysterious nighttime scene winds up looking like high noon, making the Shadow’s appearance less effective. He’s even compelling as Lin Chang if you can get past the racist yellowface and dialect. 

After starting off well in the first three chapters, this falls into the usual serial chapter monotony of cliffhangers, escapes, new villainous activity, and a cliffhanger. These cliffhangers are notorious for their lazy escapes--usually a room collapses around The Shadow, burying him in wood and plaster, and in the next chapter, he simply stands up, shakes off the dust and goes on his merry way. The same cheap sets are reused, and the henchmen are largely indistinguishable from each other (and sometimes from the good guys). Margo gets a little more action in than the average serial gal pal, but she also has an irritating high-pitched scream. The Black Tiger walks through a beam of foggy light which turns him invisible and he speaks to his thugs through a tiger head speaker that is sometimes attached to a phonograph which plays pre-recorded speeches. His voice, guttural and peevish--he's constantly berating his underlings for their failures--eventually grows irritating as well. Ultimately the industrialists are not differentiated well enough to make us care about the identity of the Tiger, but the ruse that Cranston uses to expose him in the penultimate chapter is clever. As serials go, I'd rank this a notch above average for Jory's performance and look (at least when he’s shown in shadows--the bright daylight works against him) and also for some effective comic relief there and there. Pictured at top is Jory with the Black Tiger's speaker. [DVD]

Monday, July 12, 2021


We watch what appears to be the usual morning ritual of young British couple Barbara and Bruce in their penthouse apartment: Barbara, who has a job at a dress shop, gets up first to make coffee while Bruce, a real estate agent, lingers in bed. But we soon discover the truth: the two are having an affair, with Bruce making empty promises that he will ask his wife for a divorce, and the fancy apartment they're in belongs to a client of Bruce's who is out of town. The building itself is still under construction and the elevator to the penthouse isn't operational. Soon, Barbara answers a knock at the door to find two men who say they have come to read the meter. She lets them in but their behavior is strange as they dawdle and make the occasional cryptic comment. Sure enough, after a few minutes, it's clear that the two men, named Tom and Dick (who refer to a third named Harry who will be arriving soon), are staging a home invasion. Bruce gets tied up and made fun of (one of the men taunts him by saying, "Sleeping in his underwear--eww, not very civilized, not very hygienic") and Barbara is plied with liquor until she is willing to have sex with Tom, and later Dick. However, despite the hovering threat of physical violence--and the question of how consensual the sex with Barbara really is--most of the pain dealt out is psychological as Tom and Dick seem to enjoy playing mind games and brandishing their potentially threatening presences more than their weapons (at one point, one does pull out a switchblade). Eventually, they leave on their own accord and a horny Barbara starts to flirt with the still-tied-up Bruce--until another knock on the door announces the arrival of Harry, a professionally dressed woman who says she is the parole officer of Tom and Dick, and she wants permission to bring the two men in to apologize--or is this just another mind game?

I'm not really a fan of home invasion movies, though this one is perhaps a notch above the average. The situation, the dialogue, and the performances all make this feel like a Harold Pinter play; if that sounds appealing, I can recommend this to you; otherwise, this probably won't be your cup of tea. No character is particularly appealing, so when the two thugs start going through their predictable home invasion tactics, I found it difficult to work up much identification with the adulterous couple. Suzy Kendall (Barbara) is lovely; she began her career as a model and later was married for a time to Dudley Moore. Her character is the center of the story more or less by default since we know little about any of them, and she's the most vulnerable. Most reviews of this movie mention the two rape scenes, but they (especially the first one) don't play out as rape so much as drunken seduction scenes, though it's clear that, even if physical brutality isn't used, the threat of such is never far from the surface. Terence Morgan as Bruce is a beta male who seems to have lucked into his affair with Barbara. The thugs (Tony Beckley and Norman Rodway, pictured) are physically intimidating, but also seem to function more as symbols in this psychological drama rather than as three-dimensional characters. Most interesting of all, if just for the sheer ambiguity of her character, is Martine Beswick as Harry, though she only has about ten minutes of screen time. As in a Pinter play, don't expect any clearing up of ambiguities or loose ends, though I did find the ending satisfying enough. [YouTube]

Thursday, July 08, 2021


Bill (Dennis O'Keefe) is a saxophone player at the Club Bolero who has fallen head over heels in love with Pat (Florence Rice), a wealthy socialite he sees in the audience. Even though he's never met her, and she's about to marry T. Ames Piermont III (with that name, you know he's as rich as she is), he still thinks he has a chance to sweep her off her feet. Bill finagles his way into her wedding and when the minister asks if there are any objections to the marriage, Bill objects loudly, saying the groom's eyes are too close together. This being a screwball comedy, Pat agrees and the two run off together. Her father, John Lawson (Reginald Owen) is not happy, but Bill and Pat decide to marry, with their vow being, "Love, honor, obey, and always have fun!" Two years later, Bill is an advertising executive with Lawson's company--he's making lots of money, but it seems like the "having fun" of their vow has been forgotten. The breaking point comes when Bill forgets to attend their anniversary party, instead getting a little drunk with his former bandleader and the girl singer from the band. Soon enough, Pat files for divorce, but, this being a screwball comedy, a madcap adventure in Paris soon shows that the couple can still have fun. 

It took me a while to start enjoying this B-comedy, as neither O'Keefe nor Rice (both pictured at right) is charming enough to carry off the improbabilities of the opening sequences. O'Keefe just seems a little simple and Rice is not quite attractive enough to warrant the kind of instant and intense crush that O'Keeffe has for her. But by the anniversary party, I went with the flow, and the final Paris scenes, partly played with no dialogue and at a slightly sped-up speed, are fun indeed. Still, I had to take their love for granted, as the two never really develop much chemistry and we don't see them interact as a couple very much. A decent supporting cast helps: Reginald Owen as Lawson, the epitome of befuddled irritation in the beginning until he comes around to appreciate Bill's whimsey; June Knight as the band singer; Edward Brophy as the band leader; J.M. Kerrigan as a Hansom cab driver; George Zucco in a small role as a psychiatrist--when he tells Owen early on that Bill is mentally fit, Owen shouts, "He’s sane? You must be mad!" Mild fun. [TCM]

Friday, July 02, 2021

ESKIMO (1933)

Mala, member of a Northern Alaskan Eskimo tribe, is a husband and father, and the best hunter in the tribe. When a stranger with two wives shows up, having lost contact with his tribe, Mala takes him in. One of the wives is constantly grinning and chuckling, but the other one, Iva, is younger and sexier, and looks longingly at Mala. Numaka returns from a visit to Tjaranak, an inlet where trading ships dock, in possession of a gun. Mala decides to take his family there to trade for goods. Along the way, they run into Urajak, who lost his wife in a bear attack, and Mala offers him his wife Aba for a night of intimate company. At Tjaranak, trading occurs, and the captain talks Mala into leaving Aba in the ship overnight; he then gets Aba drunk and sleeps with her. The next day, while Mala participates in a whale hunt, Aba is dragged back on ship by drunken sailors and the captain rapes her. When she stumbles out onto the ice, she is shot and killed by a hunter who mistakes her for a seal. In revenge, Mala impales the captain with a harpoon and leaves. Back home with no wife, the stranger offers Mala his wife Iva as a wife and mother to his children. During a caribou hunt, Mala has a vision of the dead captain and is advised to pray to the gods to give him a new name so the captain's ghost cannot find him. He takes the name Kripik. Meanwhile, a couple of Canadian Mounties go after Mala for the captain's murder. They wind up almost dead in the snow and Mala (as Kripik) nurses them back to health. The men form a bond, but when the Mounties discover he is really Mala, they reluctantly do their duty and arrest him. That night, bound in handcuffs, Mala struggles mightily and painfully (and bloodily) to escape and sets off on a grueling journey back to his tribe, forced to slaughter and eat all of his sled dogs. Knowing he's being pursued, he and Iva leave the village via an ice floe just as the Mounties arrive. Sgt. Hunt is torn between his admiration for Mala and his duty as upholder of the white man's laws. Will he shoot Mala or let him float off to an uncertain future?

This was mostly shot on location, using footage of an actual Alaskan tribe as the backdrop for the story (fiction but based on two adventure travel books by Peter Freuchen, who also plays the captain). All the dialog delivered by the Alaskans is in their native language, translated by title cards. The film was touted as a partial documentary, probably the reason they got away with a brief shot of a native woman breastfeeding. Scenes of real seal, whale, and caribou hunts are interesting, though there is some obvious use of rear projection shots for some of the more exciting moments. An onscreen note at the beginning of the film says that the cast is all native and the only actors in the movie are the Mounties, but that’s not quite true. The man playing Mala, also named Mala (pictured), was born in Alaska, but had been involved in the film business in Hollywood since 1925. He went on to a fairly long acting career (see LAST OF THE PAGANS). Similarly, Lotus Long, who played Iva, was of Japanese and Hawaiian background but was born in New Jersey and went on to a solid career in B-movies. The film's director, W.S. Van Dyke, has a small part as the chief Mountie inspector. The actor with the most English dialog is Joe Sawyer as Hunt; Sawyer made almost 200 movies, always in support, usually as a cop or a henchman or a comic relief sidekick, and he's fine here as the conflicted Mountie. At 2 hours, it's a bit too long in its middle sections, but it remains watchable after all these years, both as a novelty and as a unique adventure film. [TCM]