Tuesday, November 28, 2017


During the studio’s 1950’s and 1960’s heyday, Britain’s HAMMER FILMS released a wide variety of films in many genres—if you were to look at the studio’s output, I’d gamble that horror (of the Dracula variety, the kind of films for which Hammer was best known) would not be even 50% of it. They were a working studio with international distribution deals in many countries, and all of those countries had a hunger for quality product, professional-looking features with marketable concepts in easily identifiable genres with a star name or two. One of those countries was the United States, and Hammer had deals with different American studios over the years to provide programmer titles to fill the bottom of the bill in those days of double features (the double feature booking practice continued here into the early 70’s, and British product was often used as the “second feature”). Hammer had a long relationship with Columbia Pictures in the US, and in the last decade or two, Columbia-Sony have issued a few excellent multi-film box sets of Hammer’s non-horror features which had a US release via Columbia pictures in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Alas, PASSPORT TO CHINA, released in the US by Columbia in 1961, was NOT included on any of those sets.

In keeping with the bottom-of-the-bill programmer status of these Hammer pick-ups for the American market, PASSPORT TO CHINA was released here in black and white, even though it was made in color (my DVD-R of this seems to be taken from an old TV broadcast someone recorded onto a VHS tape, and it is in color).

The few online references to the film, mostly by Hammer authorities who have covered the studio’s entire output, do not rate it very highly, calling it boring or overly talky or lacking tension (or something similar). Yes, no one would describe the film as full of nail-biting excitement, and it lacks the over-the-top cartoonish feel of the 1958 HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL (with Gene Barry), but when I put myself into the shoes of someone here in the US who wanders into their 1961 local theater after a long work week, with a bucket of popcorn and a large soda and looking forward to 3 ½ hours of escapist entertainment via a double feature, I think I would be relatively satisfied with PASSPORT TO CHINA….although it might not make a strong permanent impression.

Richard Basehart, who blasted into public consciousness as the psychotic killer in the 1948 hard-boiled crime classic HE WALKED BY NIGHT, was an actor’s actor, the kind of person who could play any part, gentle or brutal or solemn or comedic, and who could be either leading man or character actor, whatever was needed, and he was secure enough as an actor to treat every role as equally important, even when he probably knew that it wasn't. He’d also worked in Europe (he did two films for Fellini!) and was married to an Italian woman in the 1950’s, so not only did he have an international following from his American films, but he was an international figure himself. The same year that he made PASSPORT TO CHINA (also known as VISA TO CANTON) for Hammer and producer-director Michael Carreras (who was better known as a producer and directed only a handful of projects), he also made one of the first Euro-westerns for Carreras (who had created his own production company, independent of Hammer, with another Hammer regular, writer-producer Jimmy Sangster), SAVAGE GUNS, which was released in the US by MGM. It is (supposedly) the first Eurowestern to be shot in Almeria, Spain, and is usually discussed in any serious history of the European Western.

Basehart is perfect for PASSPORT TO CHINA as he is charming, he’s got a great speaking voice (which served him well in later years as a narrator of documentaries) which is put to use in the film’s voice-over narration, and he can be convincingly tough when needed. His character is a former military man who fought alongside the Chinese against the Japanese prior to and during WWII, and so he feels as though the Chinese are his people and Hong Kong is his home. In fact, he literally has a Chinese “family” in that the family of his war buddy has kind of adopted him, as he has no ‘family’ of his own. His knowledge of China and things Chinese, along with his contacts in different Asian cities made during his years as a pilot, allowed him to open and operate a successful travel agency, and in the initial scenes in the film, he is shown working out the inevitable problems that arise with visas and the like in international travel, as well as schmoozing with and charming cranky customers at his travel office.

Then one of those anonymous government operatives you see in spy films comes into his office and tries to get him involved in a mission about an airplane that was forced to land in Red China. Basehart politely declines, explaining that he is a businessman and not into politics….and also that he needs to keep good relations with all parties in the area, including the mainland Chinese, because as a travel agent, he works with parties everywhere.

Of course, the film would end right there if that’s all there was to it….so when Basehart visits his Chinese “family” after that encounter, he learns that his “brother” in that adoptive family was on the mysterious plane.

At that point, we’re 20 minutes in to a 75 minute film, and you can figure out where it goes from there. The brother managed to escape from the plane before the Reds get to it, but the other passengers did not….and one of them was an intelligence courier….and certain governmental forces manage to “persuade” (by holding his brother on false smuggling charges) Basehart to help. I won’t give away any spoilers about the rest.

I must say that I don’t agree with those who find the film boring or overly talky. Maybe these people are comparing this to a MISSING IN ACTION or a RAMBO film or some straight-to-video action film where people bust heads and kick ass now and ask questions later. Obviously, Basehart needs to work carefully, ask questions, establish contacts, etc., and all of that is handled well, at least as well as you’d find in any above-average detective or spy film. Oh, and there’s also a woman who needs his help with another issue, and that muddies the water in the second half of the film (and creates the expected romantic interest).

Hammer does not do a bad job in their films set in foreign areas (think Terror of the Tongs)….with a combination of evocative sets and second-unit photography that’s well integrated into the film, they can convince you of the film’s setting without flying the star and crew across the world. I assume that’s what was done here. It certainly feels like Hong Kong and Mainland China, at least a B-movie version of them.

This is Richard Basehart’s show—he’s in pretty much EVERY scene, and he’s a convincing enough actor to carry us along with him from adventure to adventure and also to make us care about his situation. Producers who hired Richard Basehart knew the man could deliver the goods AND bring a touch of class to their project (after all, he’d worked for Fellini TWICE, played Ishmael in an adaptation of MOBY DICK, etc.).

If a Hammer espionage programmer set in Hong Kong and Canton, China, starring Richard Basehart sounds appealing to you (it did to me!), then try to find a copy of PASSPORT TO CHINA. I would not be surprised to see it on one of the streaming services or on a cable channel at 3 a.m., since it’s both a Hammer film AND a Columbia release in the US. It’s not some off-the-wall independent film of murky provenance. I’ve enjoyed virtually every Hammer film I’ve ever seen (even the ones from the “new” Hammer, in recent years), and even the ones which were not great were interesting curios. I particularly like the early 50’s Hammer crime films, which involved Robert Lippert as a production partner (they were released in the US by Lippert Pictures) and included, via Lippert, an American star such as, say, Cesar Romero or Alex Nicol or Lloyd Bridges or Dane Clark. VCI has many volumes of those available, under the slightly mis-leading title HAMMER NOIR. Any and all of the volumes in that series are highly recommended.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

One thing about this life o' mine that I gotta state and gotta state now is...if you consider the span between the day I was first nated and the here and now boy, have things changed. And yeah, they've changed for the worse much more'n they have for the better. True the food we eat here inna late-teens is healthier and we got loads of miracle drugs to gulp and nobody seems to get ghosts on their tee-vee screens anymore, but otherwise people are way more screwed up inna head 'n they were on that sainted day when I first took my peek at a life that might've been better lived had somebody else done it. Face it but most people seen in this world today are snippy snip sniping souls just aching to tear someone else down for totally obscure reasons and not only that but ever since the Pandora's Box o' BE WHO YOU ARE popped open most folk's cheaper, worse attributes have risen to the fore like scum in an Eyetalian bathtub. At least sickos had the good sense to be ashamed of who they were (and rightly so) back then and were more or less kept away from the prying eyes of little children who may have wondered why Aunt Mabel never got married, but thought nothing about the bowling trophies stashed in her den amid the Daughters of Belitis pamphlets.

Tee-vee reflected the greatness of those days I spent in pre-societal care what with such total wowzers as LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and OZZIE AND HARRIET, two bonafeed classics now hated by the revisionists in charge, shining up many a boob tube during those days where it was sure greater to be a kid than it was a creep (and I don't mean Eddie Haskell..the punk of the century!). And the fact that tee-vee westerns were pocking up the pages of TV GUIDE also shown well upon the populace...after all, here was the kind of entertainment that mirrored the image of the tough guy who fought in World War II and was now entering into middle age with a wife and a buncha kids living the kind of life his parents could only dream of, and of course he too hadda be mocked for being too sexist and manly and religious, certainly not the "New Man" ideal that gave us Stephen Colbert that's for sure!

Oh yeah, back to westerns...my dad 'n uncles used to watch 'em all the time and you just couldn't escape the things unless it was Sunday morning and all that was on were shows that more or less told you to GET YOUR ASS TO CHURCH! Whether they were early-thirties crankout features, fifties-era reruns or brand spanking new efforts, they were on and they were being WATCHED!!! GUNSMOKE was a fave and so was BONANZA...dunno if you can call DANIEL BOONE a western but it was outdoors-y adventuresome enough that it coulda passed, and that's not counting the whole slew of other programs that were being aired and gobbled up by lower-mid class blue collar workers putting kids through college and trying to make ends meet doin' it out for a little cheap entertainment via an aged black and white set on its last legs. Of course the kids, once they got their high paying jobs and uppercrust houses did return the favor...they got pop a new black and white tee-vee for Christmas!

I guess you really coulda called it "era's end" when the westerns seemed to exit the network schedules en masse...after all the Golden Age of Tee-Vee which spawned these programs had pretty much lost its pounce during the mid-sixties...I'm sure some people coulda seen it comin' (after all, compare an episode of JACKIE GLEASON or MY THREE SONS from the early-sixties with one of its later counterparts...sad, hunh?) and excepting a few sparkling examples late-sixties television wasn't the same animal it used to be only a few years earlier. Also, and definitely more importantly, it was as the kinda people who were up and front for these western programs were "looked down upon" by the powers that be because well...they're blue collar and unsophisticated and a lotta 'em are ethnic types and besides metropolitan hippies have more money so let's can the hokum and pump loads of relevant and meaningful programs into the system and ooze out that guilt money like pronto! While we're at it, I think the westerns began to die out because of all that retrospective white guilt about the Indians even though hey, some of them could have been violent bastards and besides if white people settled in an area where there was no human life form (and there was plenty of it) what crime was being committed anyway? OK, so I like to root for the Indians and think they're cooler, but what did happen is nothing to damn the entire white race (or even the white settlers) over!

So like, just try finding a western today, or at least one that reflects the neat mid-amerigan grit and energy of the fifties and sixties. Yeah I've seen ads for various modern miniseries that are supposed to be factual and closer to the real spirit of what happened back then, but somehow the intensity and spirit of the late-fifties adult westerns as well as the fun kick up your feet suburban slobdom of the juvenile ones remind me of a time that perhaps was much greater than the days we now spend, what with a world that seemingly did revolve around you as a proud denizen of Ranch House USA fun 'n jamz that nobody 'cept Father Time could take away from you.
So last autumn cyster and I went to this estate sale in New Wilmington PA where some people were selling out the possessions of their parents who were now residing in some old folk's home. They lived in a nice fifties-styled ranch house too, one that I sure woulda liked to have lived in even if there was a huge tree in the front (woulda had it taken down) and a kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms which were a li'l too small to store all my records and comic books in. They had a nice living room which was right next to the New Wilmington High School football stadium which meant that these people sure had a good view of all those post-game fights and the whole thing reeks 1963 fun to the point where you could just feel those MR. ED original run vibes soaking up the entire room.

Managed to get a neat record album rack outta the deal as well as some newer vintage (talking early-eighties revival) Three Stooges wristwatches I managed to make a profit on at various local outdoor antique shows/flea markets (after all, they were early-eighties). But most of all I became the proud owner of a whole slew of tee-vee western Dee-Vee-Dees, some still sealed, and I procured 'em at a pretty nice price at that. (Passed on the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW sampler because well, it was just a collection and beside I can watch that series whenever I can and besides besides it has that episode about the new kid who gets everything he wants and tempts Opie into asking for more money from his dad and I thought the whole thing was just total slander against kids like me who got nothing---and I woulda gone to jail if I were that kid's father too!)

And as far as the westerns went, of the batch featuring titles you might read about on this blog more later than sooner I got this interesting boxed set (in metal mind you!) featuring a selection of various programs from series that are both fondly remembered and forgotten with a vengeance by the sons and daughters of the same people who once gave us such wonderment but now peddle emotionless crap. It's called THE OUTLAW TRAIL and it was put out by Timeless Video who have released some of the series here in their entirety, and for an estate sale find it sure helped me through the past summer's doldrums just about as much as some hotcha tee-vee station rip roaring the fifties and sixties coulda way back when.

From early-fifties cheapies to late-sixties NBC efforts, THE OUTLAW TRAIL is a fair enough cross section of just exactly what the whole tee-vee western genre was about, at least until the hippie generation got some money and ruined everything. There are a few glaring omissions from GUNSMOKE and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL to THE VIRGINIAN (which Don Fellman said should be called THE COMBOVER KID), but with such biggies as BONANZA and WAGON TRAIN present I ain't complainin'. These shows really brought back memories like the time I went with my father to drop cyster off at my grandmother's for a sleepover and BONANZA was just starting (we didn't watch that 'un at our house until THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS started getting too controversial) or those nights when I'd be front and center for the guys huddling around the campfire on WAGON TRAIN...lemme tell ya I'd trade the past fifty years of living if only to experience those days of pure fun and energy once again.

The forgotten faves mostly hold up, the cheaper ones still deliver on that long-lost sense of heroism and frankly most of THE OUTLAW TRAIL consists of television perfection the kind that died out right around the time I was conscious enough to enjoy it! I think I got 'em all down here and did so more or less in chronological order, and I hope that the old people who originally owned this know that there's a somewhat younger bugger out there who loves these old shows and the attitudes they promoted to death!

No, this is not a still from
LARAMIE-The people who put this sampler together pulled a boner bigger'n John Holmes when they listed Hoagy Carmichael as a star of the show...he was during the first season but was long gone by the time this particular episode first aired! Believe it or naught but none other than the December Bride herself Spring Byington had joined the cast when this 'un was tingling the cathodes, and I gotta admit she does add a sorta nice old maid dimension to this rough and tumble series that starred John Smith (not the guy who almost got his head chopped off but the TV western actor who actually killed his sister [accidentally] when he was six-years-old) and Robert Fuller whose TV career spanned quite a few decades as all of you EMERGENCY fans know.

In this hour long 'un filmed in bee-youtiful NBC color some illiterate juvenile delinquent (complete with a nice early-sixties greaser haircut) is trying to go straight like anything, only he's still bound by doody to help a couple of ne'er do wells who once rescued him, the meaner one being played by early-sixties TV/moom regular James Best. Pretty good in that tough one minute yet tender the next early-sixties tee-vee western way, and it won't make you wanna puke the way tee-vee tenderness did by the time the sensitive seventies got into gear!
LAREDO-A lotta these color-era tee-vee westerns tend to be too slick for my tastes, but if I can stand BONANZA I certainly can stand this. Like BONANZA, LAREDO had that comedy/drama mix that made it an ultimo surprise for anybody who'd tune in regularly, and if the beer swillin' guys who went big for the latter could sit still for the former then ya know this series HAD IT MADE! Neville Brand's the gruff but lovable Reese (he basically playing the Dan Blocker role even though he recalls too much David Johansen circa CAR 54) while Peter Brown and William Smith kinda battle it out for the other brother roles. Heading the cast is Phillip Carey as Parmalee, the head of the Texas Rangers and def. daddy figure without the chiseled features of a Lorne Greene.

The most interesting thing about this particular espissisode of LAREDO is not only does it feature longtime baddie Lee Van Cleef, but also a plot that was obviously lifted from HIGH NOON as if the writers had the opportunity to get hold of Van Cleef but wanted to redo the plot their way. It actually works swell too, so if you want to see a rehash of that famous film w/o the likes of Gary Cooper or Grace Kelly you just might want to latch onto this particular 'un and like pronto!
THE TALL MAN-I didn't have any high hopes re. this 'un after seeing the opening credits where Pat Garrett (Barry Sullivan) and Billy the Kid (Clu Galager) give each other slight smiling faces which really must've turned up the double entendre meters in households nation-wide. I guess they're still supposed to be close friends here, which they were until things got a li'l outta hand. Anyhow it turns out that my fears were well-founded if only because this series (at least judging from this particular episode where a grief stricken father of a bandit wannabe is on the hunt for Billy blaming him for his kid's demise) really didn't pack that potent early-sixties tee-vee punch. Watch out for the great GuyWilkerson as the deputy. I understand that this series was actually run in North Korea of all places and went over big with the local tuner-inners. Serves those commanists right!
CIMMARON CITY-Didn't know much about this one-hour NBC western which is probably best known for launching the TV career of Dan Blocker (as...what else..."Tiny") but from what I saw it sure looked like a goodie. Not as good as some of the other series mentioned here but engrossing enough that I woulda been a weekly watcher had I only been alive when this was on (tho I was alive when it was rerun locally on Saturday afternoons). George Montgomery plays the lead in that healthy fifties western way as the mayor and leading light of the city. John Smith plays the best friend/deputy sheriff role while Audrey "Who???" Totter runs the boarding house and plays major love interest for Montgomery. This episode's got Montgomery's past catching up with him as young hothead Robert Fuller heads into town in search of a gunfight to see exactly who is fastest in the West. Expect an elongated flashback scene complete with ripples caused by a tossed stone inna water, something I hadn't seen in ages!
WAGON TRAIN-Ward Bond was gone by the time this 1960 episode hit the tube, but that doesn't mean that WAGON TRAIN was heading into tee-vee obscurity like other shows that lost their big name stars and thus fizzed out. Far from it...the series had at least another six years to go and those Bond-less shows are just as powerful and as top notch tee-vee western as the early ones which it seems most historians (or lat least people who still like to blab about the early tee-vee days) like to remember.

This 'un also really packs a really potent punch. Leslie Nielsen plays this boozed up guy who skedaddled west when it was believed that he actually died a hero rescuing boys from a burning dorm at the school he was once headmaster of. After being hired by Robert Horton to drive the wagons Nielsen discovers that his own wife (now remarried) and the son he never met are on the same train in one of those coincidences that you could only find on old tee-vee shows such as this.

Things seem to be going quite smooth-like what with Nielsen connecting with the kid (who doesn't know Pop's real identity) when one of those less-peaceful Indian tribes kidnap junior after the chief's own kid is killed by a roving band of hide-skinners. Given this particular tribe's the kind that plays for keeps it looks as if Nielsen's character just might have to do something drastic to make amends for his past cowardice and boy, does he in an ending that'll probably creep you out as much as it did me (though not as creeped out as had I seen this age 15...if I did then I probably wouldn't have been able to go to sleep for the next twenny days!).

After POLICE SQUAD became a surprise outta nowhere hit Nielsen's career was re-invented. For years he was floundering in a slew of television appearances that weren't anything special  but now he was considered a rising star of screwball comedy complete with an identity which pretty much eclipsed his earlier more serious roles. But as a serious actor he could play it extremely wrenching as this performance proves. If you can, try to watch this particular WAGON TRAIN if only to prove to yourself that early television wasn't exactly the "Vast Wasteland" that snobbish intellectuals always used to tell us it was.
RIVERBOAT-I gotta say that I always kinda liked Darrin McGavin, perhaps because he reminds me of my father or neighbor I liked as a kid who is no longer with us and well...I still think people were of a better stock back when shows like this were first broadcast as opposed to the saplings that are sprouting up today. He played it tough on MIKE HAMMER and he was even able to portray a typical 1940s dad in A CHRISTMAS STORY a good twenny-five years later, and when he was on RIVERBOAT he played it postwar cool and burning mad even though he was no longer a private eye and was now transplanted into the Old West more or less (actually, the Mississippi River). A pre-GUNSMOKE Burt Reynolds also pops up in the episode dealing with this bigshot in the town who's trying to starve out the locals and a wedding that's being held on the boat, not to mention the fact that the groom turns out to be some guy who stabbed McGavin awhile back and has a price on his head. Great tension-packed entertainment ya got here, though I gotta say that I thought they wimped out by just having McGavin talk about the carnage that one sees in the opening and closing shots rather'n see the massive destruction which woulda cost the studio a bundle but so what!
TALES OF WELLS FARGO-It's doggone amazing to see all of these long-ignored tee-vee series from the oft-loathed pre-hippydippy days and findin' out just how darn intense these things could be. Not really being familiar with this particular series I didn't know what I was in for, but watching TALES OF WELLS FARGO was a beaut and not just a free commercial for the famed investment firm.

Dale Robertson does seem a little too clean as Jim Hardie but he acts swell enough, and he does even great in this particular episode from '60 which features none other'n Hugh Beaumont as a nice and mother-loving Jesse James who may still have an evil streak to him, but deep down just wants to turn his life around and go straight and all that stuff we've heard about bad people for age!

However, his gang is definitely a little too cutthroat for him and it's like James has to watch his back not only with Hardie (posing as a writer who wants to do an "honest" biography of James) but the gang who wants their cut (or maybe more) from a robbery which Hardie wants desperately to get back considering a Wells Fargo agent was killed in the holdup. You know how it is, like when some cop gets offed and everybody on the force is out looking for the killer while important things like cats stuck in trees go unnoticed.

I thought it odd that Beaumont, who was regularly appearing on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER at the time, would be doing double duty by guesting on this show but since both series were made by Revue I guess he could do a little extra duty here and get away with it. Too bad they couldn't've wrangled Ken Osmond in as the psycho member of the gang ready to off James at a moment's notice.

Also be on the lookout for none other than East Side Kid/Dead End Kid/Bowery Boy Bobby Jordan as the gang member who killed James in real life (but not on this episode---drat!).
THE DEPUTY-Henry Fonda's two-season (1959-61) western series that goes to show ya that although the guy was good in mooms he was feh in tee-vee shows such as this and THE SMITH FAMILY. Actually "feh" is the incorrect word...maybe it's the comparatively cranked out script used in this one (where Fonda fakes his own demise to get to the bottom of who it was that wanted him offed in the first place) not to mention the modernesque incidental music which only detracts from the story. Once again, this probably would work better if watched on some distant snowy UHF station in 1974 while sitting nude on a sweated up Naugahyde chair, then getting up real fast and scraping that sunburn right offya!
RESTLESS GUN-Wasn't expecting that much from this '57-59 John Payne television series for some odd reason but this particular 'un had me fascinated like nothing since the time Peggy Lou Puchinski only pulled the shade halfway down. Royal Dano plays this jittery turd of a human being who kills his former boss for the reward moolah, only now the deceased's brother is gunnin' for him and boy is the man a'scared of his own shadow. At first you, like Payne, wanna write Dano off as just another jackoff with an IQ barely hittin' the double digits, but then his inner thoughts and feelings about life start comin' out and like, you actually start to feel sorry for him jerkitude and all. Who knows, the entire series might be worth watching as well.
BONANZA-This show was the big daddy of 'em all 'cept for GUNSMOKE, and it ain't hard to see why given how the series had a steady mix of serious, funny, serio-funny and downright good  (not to mention hideous as the show rammed into the early-seventies) episodes. The later ones you can see on the off cable channels (y'know, the episodes that got all socially conscious with Will Geer hating his daughter who gave birth to a bastard played by Michael James Wixstead) but for the best of the series it's the early years and no one can deny that.

In this one Hoss and Little Joe are mistaken for some hardcore killers and get jailed and then freed by mysterious forces, and as far as spending your Sunday evenings it better had been this 'stead of JUDY GARLAND or the ABC moom pitcher. One beef, a new theme song was used 'stead of the traditional "dum-dadda-dum-dadda-dum-dadda-dum-dadda-dum-duhhhh" making me wonder if this particular episode (undoubtedly PD) could be used in the set but because the theme music was still copyrighted they hadda use something else??? Sure ruins the whole downhome effect, and the guys who put this out shoulda paid to use the original because well, otherwise it's SACRILEGE!!!!
THE CISCO KID-In the O Henry story he was an evil murderer, but the guy proved so popular that when he made it to tee-vee he was one of those bad guys who was kinda good, so he was a good-bad guy instead of a bad-good one and thus it was hokay to like 'im.  Forget the War song...Duncan Renaldo as Cisco is really cool in his latinesque ways while Leo Carrillo as Pancho does a really good sidekick in that you don't think the guy's reformed 100% like way! It's really hard for me to believe that the guy was in his seventies when he acted in undoubtedly the biggest role of his life. Another variation on one of those Cisco plays it bad in order to get the goods on a buncha badskis plots which never fail to bore.
BUFFALO BILL JR.-Another one of those low budget syndication series from the mid-fifties, this has a pushing-thirty Dickie Jones playing the lead role (who I would surmise is supposed to be a teenager given the "Junior" 'n all) who with his spunky little cyster Calamity live with their gruff but lovable caregiver who runs a general store and happens to be the local judge as well. Anyway some guys keep holding up these stagecoaches and taking off with payrolls 'n stuff like that, and nobody knows that these guys are operating outta the local clothing shop until Calamity herself overhears everything in the dressing room! Works well on a Saturday afternoon as long as you pretend it's 1962, you're ten-years-old and watching it on some UHF station after the network cartoons have run their course for the day, and not only that you're gonna go out and ride your bike a bit because some slobbering gushy movie's comin' on right after and who wants to watch that!
THE HIGH CHAPARRAL-When I was a young 'un there was this Hot Wheels car that was called the Chaparral, and naturally every doof who got hold of it just hadda call it the High Chaparral after this series! Being one of them later-on westerns that really don't light my campfire (having run from 1967 to 1971) I wasn't expecting to like this the same way most late-sixties television didn't appeal to me, but I found it snat enough to enjoy in a Spiro Agnew silent majority sorta way. In this one the good guys (consisting of Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell and Mark Slade amongst others) go after some scalp hunters who are hell bent on destroying the peace treaty that was struck up with the Apaches, and for $100 a scalp at that. Kinda dastardly but hey, a hunnerd bucks ain't hay! If this is what Mr. and Mrs. Gung Ho were watching while their kids were out doin' drugs 'n all that then hooray for Mr./Mrs. if I do say so myself!
26 MEN-Tris Coffin takes time out from portraying perennial badboys on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN to play the hero in this series. Not quite an adult western yet not in the usual shoot 'em up Saturday Afternoon Barbershop Kids -styled fashion, 26 MEN plays it sorta in-between and does it good with this particular episode (which, like DRAGNET, is based on actual real-life incidents with the names changes etc. and so forth). In this 'un Coffin's assisted by a local ne'er do well who happens to know who's rustling sheep and how. This guy ain't really a bad 'un, but is kinda like a good guy who's kinda bad but still good enough to work on the side of the law so it's like you can't really loathe him even if he is kinda shady. I used to think this one was a first-run syndicated program (it sure has that kinda look) but it turns out that is was actually aired on ABC, and that must have been back in the days when the network was, like Dumont, considered so low brow in content that various television programs on the other networks and magazine articles (even TV GUIDE!) used to treat it as a weird aberration!
RANGE RIDER-A Gene Autrey production, this series was more in the youth-oriented western vein but don't you dare flip it off to watch PLAYHOUSE 90 onna other channel! It's still a pretty good hold your attention sorta affair featuring one of those kinda suspicious teaming setups which, in the Batman and Robin tradition, probably gotta whole load of snide gigglin' goin' on to even top the Lone Ranger and Tonto rumors flyin' 'round. Anyway, three robbers/murderers pose as soldiers in order to get away with their deeds and Range Rider and Dick (paging Dr. Wertham!) step in to extract a li'l revenge (one of 'em konked RR out!) only some brat from the local outpost snuck away even though he was ordered to stay put and boy did he become the proverbial wrench in the gearshaft! Sure he eventually helps Range Rider capture the hoodlums, but he's such an irritating kid I hope he got strung up for goin' AWOL, the li'l jerk!
ANNIE OAKLEY-I get the feeling that a whole lotta boys onna planet hated the female gender at least until they knew what kind of a purpose they have here on God's Green Earth. But I also get the feeling that if there was any female on fifties tee-vee that the boys out there in the television audience woulda made an honorary male it woulda been none other'n Annie Oakley. Gale Davis plays Oakley cool enough in these typically kiddoid tee-vee episodes. This 'un's got a typical plot 'bout a local bandit who just happens to be one of the nicer guys in town and nobody knows it though it takes Annie's skill and knowhow to uncover the dastard. Yeah I blew the whole episode for ya but so what...by the time you see it you will have forgotten everything!
YANCY DERRINGER-The fanablas who put this package together goofed again sayin' that this show starred none other than Gene Autrey! A one-season cult fave from Desilu, this 1958-59 series actually featured Jock Mahoney as the title character, a Confederate officer returning to his home in New Orleans three years after the War Between the States trying to cope with the big changes that have gone on in the meanwhile. Judging from this particular episode (the Christmas one) there was a lot of sentimentality over the way things were before the war vs. the martial law status of then-current NO which gave the show a touching yet still raw nerve feeling. Nice performance by X Brands as the silent Indian Pahoo which is good because if they had him speak his real-life German accent might have come through.
Special guest star Woody Johnson
THE RIFLEMAN-This 'un's always been a fave the way it distills the best of late-fifties/early-sixties television's gritty intensity, deep down fambly warmth and of course loads of violence into an extremely good half hour of settle back and kick up your feet entertainment. Anyway in this 'un some old-time frontiersman heads into South Paw to challenge Luke to a contest to see who really is the baddest guy in the West, and in the process the ol' coot goes mad and ends up kidnapping Mark which of course doesn't settle well with Luke who's seen Mark kidnapped more times in one tee-vee series than the Lindberghs could possibly stand.

Given star Chuck Conner's legendary extracurricular activities (y'all know about that porno with Rock Hudson as well as some stories told me by various sources who don't even know each other) I wonder how many budding homos got their thrills watching the opening scene where Connors uses his own manhood to steady his firing weapon, the phallic rifle firing itself enough to make a few fragile minds think differently about their own identities ifyaknowaddamean. Good thing I didn't know about these things then or else my name might now be Christopher Street!
SUGARFOOT-Future Dagwood Will Hutchins stars in this late-fifties Warner Brothers series done up for ABC, playing it aw-shucks and rather smooth to everyone's advantage. Thankfully SUGARFOOT follows in that grand tradition which utilized the time-tested WB formula that made watching everything from CHEYENNE to HAWAIIAN EYE one of those cheapo fun thrill experiences you just can't get anymore. It also helps that this particular episode's one of those bad guy lookalike ones where Our Hero goes undercover as his evil twin cousin and does such a good job that when the real badski escapes from prison and rejoins the ol' gang Sugarfoot plays it so real to the point where everybody is stymied as to who is who! Y'know, looking at the 1870's through the rear view mirror of the 1950's is much more appealing that looking at 'em through the distorted lens of the 2010's!
DEATH VALLEY DAYS-In this anthology series as they used to call 'em, David Jansen's his usual cool 'n slimy as a snake oil salesman who travels smack dab inna middle of a town trying to lay enough track to make it to city limits by midnight or forfeit their entire investment and go broke. Jansen has a solution to the problem that would really help out the folk (and wipe the smirk off the corrupt Governor's face), only he wants a cool five thou for it which it seems nobody has. Of course time is ticking away, and after meeting the Gov face-to-fece so-to-speak Jansen has a change of mind and... Well, let's just say that you're gonna get another one of those surprise endings that's gonna make you feel a li'l happier'n sitting through an espisode of any modern day drama and wonderin' just where it all went down the commode.
FRONTIER DOCTOR-Sounds like a weird spoof (FRONTIER DENTIST, the guy who fixes all of the bad teeth on the prairie, would have been a good MAD take off!), but this low-fi show does work typical ranch house kiddie wonders. Rex Allen comes off subdued and too timid to play a Western hero, but who wouldn't want a doc like him the way he lowers fees and goes out of his way to help those in dire need. In this 'un Doc helps out a family who moved westward from Chicago and the locals (led by John Hoyt, making a rare television appearance) hate him especially after Hoyt catches the hotheaded youth of the fambly rustling a calf. And this doc is sooooo nice in each and every way...before the rustling occurred he even approached Hoyt to say that if he hired the young 'un he'd secretly pay for HALF the kid's salary! Either this guy's the most generous person on God's Green Earth, or else he volunteered for too many electroshock and lobotomy experiments to work his way through medical school.
JUDGE ROY BEAN-When I was a teenbo the Judge Roy Bean moom with Paul Newman was big doo-doo with some people. In fact I even remember when my high stool showed it on a Friday evening as part of a series of films that was intended to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble. Well, at least this particular choice was better than the tee-vee mooms that were usually being shown those dank nights, but I didn't attend that or any of the showings for that matter because frankly it was cheaper to stay home and clock rocks to LOVE AMERICAN STYLE. I assume that this series with none other than Uncle Joe himself Edgar Buchanan in the title role was a whole lot different than the more recent movie, but it sure looks good what with Buchanan playin' the role his ol' crotchety self as he goes and gets the best of a coupla bad boys (one played by Western star Lash LaRue) who swiped a magic Katcina Doll from a small Mexican village and held it for ransom.
RED RYDER-The comic strip comes to life once again on this early-fifties tee-vee wonder that I never even knew existed. Features Lyle Talbot in yet another role he didn't turn down, this time as the bad guy everyone thinks is good who of course gives our hero a hard time (good hint). Little Beaver plays himself just like Mr. Ed did, and although he's no Bobby Blake he's a good enough graduate of the Tonto School of Indian Enunciation and a dad burned good sidekick that I'm sure most kids out there did NOT identify with. I mean, we all admired the grown up heroes...the young 'uns were just as annoying as the kids we went to school with! I wonder who gave these comic cretors the idea that kid sidekicks were such hotcha role models anyway!
TATE-Dunno how this 'un got stuck onna same disque which was dedicated to the more kiddie-oriented western fare, for TATE is definitely one of the harder-edged tee-vee westerns around. It really ain't that hotcha either, with David McLean lacking the steel-eyed demeanor of a top notch western hero and a script (at least judging from this particular episode) that tries to be grown up and entertaining at the same time yet just falls flat. Noted for featuring the first ever handicapped hero on tee-vee (Tate lacked the use of his left arm) but that's about it...no wonder it only lasted as a summer replacement on NBC back 1960 way!
DIAMOND JIM-A color pilot that didn't go anywhere and judging from the story presented the blasted thing deserved its sad fate. Of course they had to use the same storyline as the DEATH VALLEY DAYS episode mentioned above---maybe that 'un was goin' 'round back then just like that story about the son who murders his father's attacker only to find out that pop flipped out and thought everyone was the bad guy showed up not only in an EC horror story but ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Still it lacks the verve vim vigor and other "v" words we're certainly looking for in our tee-vee westerns that's fo' sho'!
COWBOY G-MEN-Here's an early tee-vee wonder starring thirties b-moom great Robert Lowrey and the guy who never could escape from Charlie Chaplin's shadow Jackie Coogan as a buncha FBI agents in western duds ridin' the backlot range at the dawn of a new entertainment era for perennial suburban slobs like us. It ain't bad either what with the two tracking down these wolf pelt thieves (one played by top notch craze-o  Timothy Carey) who are out to collect a three-thou bounty on a wolf who's actually a German Shepard! Not bad considerin' how it got pegged as a kiddie type show 'n all.
TUMBLEWEED-This 'un also only made it as far as a pilot and you can kinda see why. Richard Tretter plays Tumbleweed Jones, a guy who is supposed to be a good sorta guy but exactly what kinda good sorta guy we don't know since he's not a sheriff or bounty hunter or pimp for that matter. Just a good guy who, in this 'un, goes out to get back a wayward young 'un who joined up with a gang of Robin Hood outlaws who are led by a guy dressed up like an Old World army officer. A definite try for the adult western market but the thing just doesn't getcha like HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL could every week. Still if this 'un did go into production it woulda been a good Sunday PM filler 'round 1970 way.
SHERIFF OF COCHISE-Dunno why this 'un got stuck on the "forgotten westerns" disque as this series ran four seasons and was even produced by Desilu which ain't hay!  Unlike most of the westerns in this package SHERIFF OF COCHISE (starring John Bromfield) takes place in the fifties and in a pretty modern setting to boot as Sheriff Morgan takes care of problems a whole lot more uppa date 'n the usual old west storylines. Here he goes after a hired killer who offs some sleazy auto mechanic and stuffs his body in the trunk of a Studebaker. Well, if I hadda go I couldn't think of goin' out in a better way! Tension packed, and I sure like the way the wimmen dressed then as opposed to the way they do now (whatever happened to fluffy dresses---whatever happened to dresses anyway?).
FRONTIER-ANOTHER anthology western series. this one running on ABC during the '55/'56 tee-vee season. In this goodie a pre-RIFLEMAN Chuck Connors plays a hired assassin who displays a pretty bloodthirsty streak when killing the various badboys he's assigned to knock off, grinnin' and tauntin' the whole way. The thing is, most of the locals think he's a menace but he's not doing anything that was illegal in those Wild West days and the people he offs most certainly deserve it. But that don't stop the local sheriff, played by John Hoyt (making an even rarer television appearance than Edward Andrews---that's  a variation on an old Don Fellman joke) from chumming it up with Conners, getting him drunk, manipulating what he says and then using the conversation in a successful attempt to get him to the gallows for the murder of a 14-year-old kid that Connors most likely did not off. All the way I'm sticking up for Connors and really felt bad the way he was railroaded by everyone including his school marm galpal which really goes to show you that sometimes the people who produce programs like this need real help in known who the good guys (Connors) and the bad guys (Hoyt) really are. The feelbad show of the entire box set.
JOHNNY MOCCASAN-I wonder if this series woulda gone somewhere had the pilot not ended up in the can. Good enough if hackneyed premise regarding a young white boy raised by Indians who live near a town filled with suspicious cowpoke types who want them all dead, and the kid Johnny kinda falls for the school marm who thinks she can civilize him even though he already seems the most civilized one in the whole batch. Not bad, though I don't think it woulda worked as a series either. Look out for the future Mr. Drysdale Raymond Bailey, the omnipresent Claude Akin and even Iron Eyes Cody, the phony Indian who used to cry on tee-vee alla time.
NIGHT RIDER-Yet another western strangeity, a 1962 pilot for a proposed anthology series called GALLAWAY HOUSE which was to have had none other than Johnny Cash as the only continuing actor. It's obvious as to why this 'un never made it to gestation what with the cheap sets, the musical number padding and the overall lethargy to be found throughout. In this episode Cash plays a traveling gunslinger who shoots local loudmouth kid Dickie Jones and feels remorse. Nothing much more'n that. I think the people responsible shoulda taken more notes from HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL or GUNSMOKE before attempting to waste a whole lotta talent on a turd like this!
STORY OF A STAR-I thought this 'un was an actual mid-fifties tee-vee series for some reason but it turns out to have been a pilot and nothin' but. Too bad because I think this 'un coulda made it given how the acting and performance were up there with the rest of the serious series that were competing for precious western time. Victor McLaglen was the host, a strange one considering his definitely non-western accent (well, his Civil War cap helps!), who is seen at the opening making a tin star and introducing us to the story that was to have been seen, this time one about a bad/good guy who finds a dying marshal (played by Kim's dad Douglas Fowley) and takes his place when the ol' coot dies. Turns out he has a chance to prove he's a good/good guy when he rides into a small town where a buncha crooked cattlemen are planning to take their diseased cows to market before the yokels catch on. Good hotcha action in this 'un and ya kinda wonder if the network and syndication people who wouldn't buy this were a li'l tipsy at the convention because STORY OF A STAR woulda made a good passel o' tee-vee viewing had it only made it out to the general populace!
THE ADVENTURES OF RICK O'SHAY-Closing out this romp back in tee-vee western time's this yet again unsold pilot from the early-fifties which, believe it or not, had nada to do with the western comic strip with a title character of the same name which began in the latter portion of that marvelous decade. Now I can see why this didn't get past the tastemongers at the nets or even the usual syndication packagers considering its low-quality...the outdoor scenes may be fine but the inside shots come off like a stage play being filmed using leftover summer stock props. No real pull or tension on this one (not that I expect any but sometimes it helps) and my guess is that this would even snooze your typical Saturday Afternoon Barbershop Kid type who'd be more'n happy to sit through a program such as this. Not quite the ending I woulda liked for this batch of shows but hey, I ain't gonna complain (that much!).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

These Golden Age Reprints that I've acquired over the past six or so months (maybe even longer!) continue to make my ever-dwindling free time almost as fun as the days when I could actually buy comic books at the local flea market for a nickel each. (Though, as I've been told many-a-time, you just hadda wonder what kind of homes those comics came from ifyaknowaddamean...and Brad Kohler does!). Unfortunately ecomicspace.com is now outta business so I'll have to rely on Golden Age for any further reprint jollies, and sheesh who ever thought that here in the dank blah of the late-teens I could enjoy myself with a buncha old comic book and strip reprints, a bottle of Dr. Pepper and maybe a bowl of munchos just like I could looooong ago when such things were bound to send this adolescent blubberfarm straight into pure SUBURBAN SLOB HEAVEN!

PLASTIC MAN has been a fave read of mine ever since I was given a copy of Jules Feiffer's THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES for Christmas in 1971 (the Christmas which I still refer to as the infamous "Comic Book Christmas" just like 1976 was the "Record Christmas" and 1983 the "Sock Christmas"). Maybe it was that "Giant (hah!) Size" DC SPECIAL featuring old Plastic Man sagas that got my interest in the hero all revved up. Then again, it could have been the infamous Les Daniels comic book history entitled COMIX featuring a reprint of the by-then infamous "Granite Lady" story that done it. Don't quite remember, but whatever the case may be that malleable man was a top notch hero in my book, at least until I hit my mid-teens and there were more interesting things to do like peer at the pics of scantily dressed damsels on the covers of record albums.

It's interesting and perhaps quite confusing considering their copyright-mad reputation that DC let a good portion if not all of their Quality Comics acquisitions slip into the PD. I mean, ya gotta admit that those old Plastic Man, Blackhawk, Midnight and even Spirit sagas were pretty kulturally significant to more'n a few comic book fans and if anybody out there is buck-crazy it's the fine folk at National that's for sure! But I don't care because whereas the fancy-schmancy hardcover and slick paged PLASTIC MAN reprint series at DC has long ground to a halt (at least they got all of their Spirits reprinted for the snobbier than thou comics as aht crowd) now a whole slew of comic reprint dealers can make these titles available even if all they have to rely on are yellowing old beat up titles for source material.

True, Golden Age Reprints, like ecomicspace, don't always have the best comic books at hand and pages can be missing or marred by bleeding colors, but I think of all of the fun I had beck when I was twelve finding some ancient comic and treating it as if it were a special missive from a better world shot smack-dab into the drab existence I was being forced to lead! Personally I don't feel bad about the fact that some of the pages look as if they were spotted with petrified puke made by an asthmatic pudge back 1954 way because you should see some of the gunk that got into my own freshly-owned books, especially during the pollen-infested hefty booger days of spring.

I didn't get the entire PLASTIC MAN series that Golden Age Reprints is offering, but I bought a few that I thought would fill in some of the more glaring gaps in my Plastic Man psyche. Stayed away from the earlier and more famous Jack Cole-era ones since I have a good portion of those via the DC reprints...for now my moolah went towards the oft-ignored post-Cole issues that were being done up right before Quality dumped their comic line. I did this not only for historical "studying" purposes but because hey, I'm always hot for a good mid-fifties superhero romp done up at a time when these comics weren't exactly sellin' up a storm like the horror and war titles of the day. Gotta stick up for the underhero, y'know.

So I got a nice batch of PLASTIC MANs from the Comics Code cusp and hey, these aren't anything to huff and puff in self-righteous indignation over. The artwork sure ain't Cole's but that Cuiders guy who took over managed to capture a lotta the original spirit. The sagas might be more serious now but they're still humorous enough in that slide aside way that the various DC revivals I've read never really could capture. The comedic "Woozy Winks" solo sagas were still going strong and they manage to retain the silliness of the originals and like, I don't care what hurricane some of these books survived they sure sate the inner fanabla in me just like they probably would you!

Quality definitely was grinding to a halt during this time since #64 (November 1956, the last of the Quality line) reprinted two Cole-era sagas which even a pre-adolescent fanabla could tell ya was "End of Era Time". Too bad DC didn't make better use of the guy because like, this was right when the Silver Age was gettin' in gear with the revived Flash and Green Lantern and you'd kinda think that Plastic Man woulda fit in swell with them. It's been said that Julius Schwartz at DC wasn't even aware that the company now owned the rights or else he wouldn't have OK'd the creation of the cheap knockoff known as The Elongated Man, but given just how megaloponian DC is who could blame him?

Nice selection of long-ignored yet top notch reads I got here but what's THIS????? A PLASTIC MAN comic from January 1964, one that was put out by the shady beyond belief Super Comics line that Bill Shute has written about in these "pages" on more than a few occasions?!?!?!? I guess that these sneaks were either unaware just like Schwartz was that DC owned the rights to the Quality line or better yet were operating so far away from the taproot that they knew they could get away with it, but nevertheless an issue of PLASTIC MAN actually appeared under the Super Comics label a good two years before the character's grand return to the comic racks under the DC imprimatur. The cover is up to date professional for sixties standards (even if, as usual, the action on the front doesn't exactly match that in the mag!) which I'm sure woulda fooled more'n a few Saturday Afternoon Barbershop Kiddies out there anxious to part with their precious twelve cents (and don't laugh since as I've said many-a-time Brad Kohler used to think that those Marvel monster reprints of the seventies were first run if only from the super-hero-esque action-packed covers!). At least Super, perhaps in an attempt to show that they weren't exactly neophytes when it came to comic book history and fandom, included reprints of some other Quality era favorites like the Spirit as well as Quality's Manhunter who I understand actually had a feud with the DC version created by Jack Kirby once it was discovered that there were two heroes under the same banner with the same moniker! I guess that the Quality version was so under-the-radar back then that the usual litigious National Periodical people didn't even know it existed until it was way too late!

Hey you sophisticated New York rich kids who like to go "slummin'"...don't head out for the Lower East Side or Harlem in your shabby chic clothes to mingle with the hoi polloi. Just say home, crack open a few cans of Moxie, settle back while the Seeds blare away on your cheap set and read a whole stack of these wild Golden Age comics! You'll get a more accurate idea of how the other half (or at least MY half) really lives and not only that but you might even survive the day without getting raped!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Although the greatest period of film adaptations of the novels of Alistair MacLean was in the 1960’s (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA, WHERE EAGLES DARE etc.), a steady stream of them continued through the 1970’s (Chris reviewed the excellent FEAR IS THE KEY, with Barry Newman, here at BTC a while back), and they were still coming out in the late 70’s, when this South African production was made. It did not get a US theatrical release, but premiered as a “Movie of the Week” on network TV. The problems with the production made the headlines at the time and even today are an entertaining read (director Freddie Francis was replaced; the cobbled-together financing of the film caused a political scandal in South Africa; star Richard Harris was allegedly drinking a bottle of vodka a day….Harris’ classic answer to that charge was that EVERYONE on the film was drinking, not just him!), some will feel more entertaining than the film is, but taken in the right spirit, GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS mixes the conventions of the typical disaster film with a ship-under-siege-by-an-armed-gang plot in a way that should entertain the genre-film fan who appreciates off-shore productions (like the films of Harry Alan Towers).

It's a shame that this did not get released on the drive-in circuit here in the USA as it would have been the perfect fodder for the fuzzed-out drive-in patron more interested in his date or his six-pack or his joints than the specifics of the film, but who wants to be entertained when he comes back up for air and who can re-join the plot at any point and not get lost….you’ve got a cast full of down-on-their-luck but colorful stars who still are worth watching and who are not at all kept in check by the director (unlike, say, in a guest shot on MURDER, SHE WROTE), lots of action and violence, a good amount of humor woven into the first half, a musical score (brash and tacky verging-on-disco synthesizer with a beat) that could telegraph to someone a mile away what’s happening, and a talented cast who play the material just right.

Richard Harris was then in his brief action-film-star period, and Harris was such a multi-talented man that he could read the phone book (if we still had phone books) and be simultaneously mesmerizing and witty and charming and assertive. Surely, the producers felt that they could tap into Harris’ success in films such as JUGGERNAUT and THE CASSANDRA CROSSING by hiring him for this, and to a large extent, they succeeded as Harris does carry this film admirably. In some ways GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS could be called a low-rent version of THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, but set on the high seas.

Besides Harris, you’ve got what could only be called a dream cast of people who’d work in anything, and to a person, they are all EXACTLY what they were paid to be: entertaining caricatures of their usual roles and/or public persona. David Janssen, who usually did a great job playing burned-out characters, has never been more blitzed-looking and out of it. I can’t believe he could have hit his marks and delivered his lines correctly if he’d actually been inebriated, so I will credit his convincing portrayal as a depressed drunk to great acting. Burgess Meredith once again plays a variation on his Penguin persona, as he did so often in the 1970’s. Meredith, a fine, classically trained actor who once played the lead role in Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN (and who once collaborated with John Cage!!!), could always steal any scene he was in, and here as a compulsive gambler who is having a whale of a time blowing his money in the ship's casino, he is a hoot. In fact, when John Vernon (also great, as he always is, and menacing….one of Canada’s national treasures, in my humble opinion) and his ragtag band of terrorists are shooting everything up and threatening to kill everyone, Meredith casually asks if he can finish playing out his hand at the casino card table before they get into their terrorizing! And Vernon says, yes of course….and Meredith plays out his hand! It’s THAT kind of film. John Carradine is usually shadowing Meredith in the casino scenes, and just when you forget that he’s in the film, he shows up and utters some sarcastic aside or humorous observation. Filmmakers ALWAYS got their money’s worth with John Carradine. Even Dorothy Malone shows up, lending her inimitable class to the proceedings. Was John Ireland not available? A part could easily have been written in for him—some of the supporting characters, such as Janssen and Meredith, were not even in the Alistair MacLean source novel, so there would be no excuse for not wedging another colorful supporting character into the script (a script that Harris claimed was being re-written as they went along).

Evidently the MacLean novel, which was published in 1962, had been optioned by Laurence Harvey soon after its publication, and had it been made back then, it would have been a much different film….probably a much “better” film to those who are looking for a serious, well-made project that would get excellent reviews from mainstream critics. However, for the few, the proud, the BTC readers, GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS has the woozy, straight-to-video action film feel, the mindless violence within a cartoon framework, the aggressively cheesy synthesizer score, the star cameos all played quite broadly, and the humor (the scenes between Harris and leading lady Ann Turkel, after their initial mutual hatred, are very entertaining as they insult each other and tease each other at the same time) that we expect and enjoy from such a film….a film which seems to emerge out of some vaguely defined international netherworld into the low-grade genre-film marketplace. Just imagine you picked up a sixpack of Mickey’s Malt Liquor at the convenience store, and you headed to your local drive-in circa 1981 and GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS is playing. Come into it with no real expectations (I had never heard of the film when I first got a DVD-R of it from a friend), and you’ll find yourself entertained and distracted from the drudgery of everyday life for 105 golden minutes. It’s sure as hell going to be more entertaining than some pretentious Sundance-wannabe “indie” feature film praised at Slate or on NPR… or some “edgy” Netflix series that would appeal only to people with an MFA who live east of the Hudson. You won’t find David Janssen as a drunk or Burgess Meredith as a degenerate gambler in those! And they won’t have an in-your-face disco-fied synthesizer score either!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

I'm pecking this 'un out on a particularly rainy and overcast Saturday morning. Frankly I find the entire scene with the dank skies and rather soggy atmosphere beautiful...for some reason overcast rainy days remind me of my fun turdler times when I'd feel so safe and secure in my ranch house while the tee-vee was cranking away just knowing that if I were outside them walls I'd be shivering and soaked beyond belief. Perfect comic book reading weather, quite like that infamous day I always flash back to when I was pouring through that WORLD'S FINEST 35-cent "giant" in my aunt and uncle's warm living room while the rest of the fambly were dealing with a disastrous garage sale out inna cold. It's memories like these that will live on forever in my brain because hey, in my life so-called milestones like high school graduation and all of those other supposed "highlights" do come off mighty insignificant next to your first Tootsietoy or various Halloween hijinx, that's for sure.

Got a pretty snazzy batch this time, some of these via the fine folk at Forced Exposure and others from the fine folk in San Antonio Texas, Waterdown Ontario and Tempe Arizona. A nice snuggle up to batch if I do say so myself. And hey, I gotta say that the up 'n comin' months are starting to look bright what with a few promised reissues and rehashes of classic hard-nailed neo-Velvets seventies-bred items that just might be comin' our way, and for doofs like me who look upon the mid-sixties noise upheaval as the true birth of the BLOG TO COMM aesthetic maybe we all should delay our planned mass suicide if only for a few months, eh?


They (whoever those obscure-o "they" types we always read about may be) have called Battiato Italy's answer to Eno, but I guess that only makes sense if you believe that Lewis Furey is Canada's answer to Lou Reed. Lotsa differences between the two to the point where comparin' 'em would like be comparin' me to Yul Brynner due to our follicle-deprived scalps but hey, if you think that a unique insight into VCS3 synthesizers and various musical mayhem does bond certain artistes together then Battiato just might be ol' Brian with a plate of spaghetti 'n meatballs and don't you think any differently!

The fine folk at the Superior Viaduct label have actually have re-released three of Battiato's earliest efforts and they sure did a spiffy job of it what with the heavy vinyl pressings and thick cardboard covers. I bought 'em all up too not only to discover just what it was that made this guy worthy of a reissue series on such a hot label, but because I'm always on the go for some new musical hook and given that the watertap of flowable faves has been shut off for a good many years it's like I gotta take the chances that woulda scared me (and my wallet) a good ten or so years back!

So what is it about Battiato and his electronic sounds that have the retro-underground rock brigades all a'flutter here in the long-after-the-fact teens???

Well, 1971's FETUS doesn't exactly set my scope on fire even though it seems to have everything good going for in, including a gross-out cover up there with the rest of those sicko sleeves that began making an appearance during that decade. But the music, eh, doesn't sound as beautifully nauseating as I would have wished with the typically seventies synth sounds once again zooming me back to some lonely day during the summer of 1975 where I would be so bored outta my entire life to the point where I'd actually sit through an airing of AVIATION WEATHER or CAPTIONED ABC NEWS on the local PBS station before switching over to the late movie and becoming even more ennui'd than usual. Unfortunately the "local color" once again seeps through just like it did with Le Stelle di Mario Schifano and Les Rallizes Denudes inserting a little too much local folky components to a music I would have hoped was purely seventies driven and like, you can't make a good album on disgusto covers alone!

Next year gave us POLLUTION which as you might already surmise was Battiato's commentary on the whole ecological upheaval that was being hammered into our kiddie heads no matter where you turned back during those more natural than thou days. Sheesh, if I had my druthers I'd CLOBBER all 'em teachers and media magpies who were scarin' me to death with alla that Paul Ehrlich Chicken Little clucking about how we only had ten years left on this planet so we better give up all sorts of things so we can live in a better environment where we call all hunt for grubs with sharp sticks together. Anyway since this is all in Eyetalian I can't make out what is being said, but as far as the music goes there really ain't much to it that would make me wanna go out and collect bottles off the street for the local recycling scam. Other'n a Pink Floyd ca.1969-ish instrumental passage near the end of side one I can't fathom a thing of what went on during the forty or so minutes it took to play this thing.

SULL CORDES DI ARIES is the final entry into this Superior Viaduct trilogy and I must admit that it sure cuts a good swath into the whole Europrog pop movement as it is a marked improvement over the first two efforts complete with an entire side of mesmerizing repeato-dirge sounds akin to various Teutonic takes of Floydian concerns to an extended instrumental which reminds me of those classic Third Ear Band recordings that Imants Krumins used to rave to me about. Thankfully the singing is kept to a minimum and the general feeling is akin to something your lost seventies universe wanderer woulda loved injecting various substances to in the sanctity of his suburban squat. Of course by the time he tried to sell it at the local record emporium the thing was all scratched up and a few hypos were to be found within the sleeve, but think of all the fun he had with the platter and maybe you too will want to osmose it all in your own voyeuristic from afar way.

Dunno what pile of papers the notes to this one lay in, but it's sure a great sampler or whatever it is that Bob Forward sent my way. Reich sounds like a more swinging Philip Glass on many of these numbers, some which could have fit on side two of David Bowie's LOW without sounding out of place. Then there's the next-to-last track (preceding "Four Organs" which I reviewed last year) which for some odd reason or another reminds me of the theme to an early-sixties television drama. When I hear this I am reminded of when I was a teenbo and experimental music like this was a major force in my soon-to-be-twenties life and how I would have loved to have been thin, handsome and well groomed listening to this in some suburban squat along with some equally musically enthralled knockout-looking gal of Japanese heritage, which is much better'n listening to Bon Jovi in a cheap hovel with some Caucasian who learned feminine hygiene in the Balkans!
THE PLASTIC CLOUD CD (Lion Productions)

Not bad for a quick flash late-sixties effort. Still there's no real vim or vigor to separate this one from a whole batch of non-major label quickies that filled out the flea market bins of the early-seventies. A definite San Francisco vibe can be discerned, while the lead guitar of Mike Cadieux does take on some great cheap sitar imitations worthy of the Electric Prunes' Vox wah-wah pedal ad. Still the Cloud fail to reach the great heights of contemporary acts who had not only broken on through to the other side but were hootin' and hollerin' with unabashed glee. Well, they can't all be wowzers!

Like the Cisco Kid, Boston Blackie was a bad guy who just hadda go good because the readers really liked him...kinda like wrestlers back inna seventies and eighties who became crowd pleasers and thus were forced to become nice and wholesome much to our discontent. Never saw any of the Boston Blackie films but this radio show with Chester Morris in the lead's pretty tiptop, what with he playin' a detective who always outsmarts the dumbski if vengeful cops who really would like to see the guy get the chair and keep taggin' murder raps on him. In "Devon Caretaker Murder" Blackie gets blamed for the killing of some yardman at a ritzy estate when his coat is found with blood splattered on it, while in "Spy Ring" he gets blamed for the death of some debutante type who trots off with a guy claiming that he is Boston Blackie. Guy just can't stay out of trouble for one day. Pretty standard formula radio detective drama which I think holds up more'n an entire run of LAW AND ODOR could ever. By the way, do you think anyone could get away with a name like "Boston Blackie" in these overly sensitive times???
Gang War-STREET FIGHTING CD-r burn (originally on Skydog Records, France)

I sure remember the hubbub over this meeting of grinds what with the ever-pocked Johnny Thunders joining forces with radical jailbird Wayne Kramer in a band that was just custom-made for the whole NEW YORK ROCKER-bred rock maniac who was gettin' a li'l tired of all that Athens Georgia coverage. Two live shows to discern, one from Montreal and the other from Boston and both of 'em sound great not only sound-wize but performance-wize as well...Thunders keeps his habit under control while Kramer adds those total-energy guitar lines that even had Ted Nugent drop his egotism for once. If you can find a better example of the high energy game being played during the '79/'80s cusp may I direct you to maybe Von Lmo and MX-80 Sound only???
Cluster & Farnbauer-LIVE IN VIENNA 1980 CD (Bureau B Records, available via Forced Exposure)

I think part of this has been previously used to pad out some other Cluster or Kluster reissues, but if ya wanna hear these live gigs in their entirety this would be the thing to get. Ambient or whatever they call it electronic moosh sizzles its way into your brain in a fashion that might have even shocked LaMonte Young while the addition of drums gives this that primitive beat that maybe does reveal the true Velvet Underground influence that I could only hear on Cluster's more "accessible" efforts. Nothing I would call a must have, but a kinda/sorta have thing it is most indeed.
The Troggs-LIVE AT THE BBC CD-r burn

A lot of this has turned up on previous Troggs bootlegs, at least one of which has been reviewed on this blog some years back. But am I gonna turn down another chance to give a listen to my favorite British Invasion group? No way you fanabla you! Quality is top notch as are the performances complete with acoustic versions of "From Home", "6-6-5-4-3-2-1" and "Wild Thing" that top the unplugged game more'n that MTV series ever did! Excitement personified, and if you really do care you get the chance to hear that weird cover version of "Little Green Apples" which was so anemic they only performed it live like twice! Listen to it and maybe you too will turn green as well!
Chris Gantry-MOTOR MOUTH CD-r burn (originally on Magic Carpet Records)

This 'un used to be found in the record bin at Donofrio's supermarket in Hermitage Pennsylvania back 1973-4 way...I remember seeing this weirdo item scattered amidst the various grownup sorta fare as well as a copy of THE WHO SELL OUT that was goin' for $3.49. Back then I didn't have $3.49 to my name so much to my dismay I didn't get THE WHO SELL OUT...and thankfully I didn't get this schmoozy neo-country pop singer/songwriter-styled emote either which is one of better things in life that could have happened to me. That is, thankfully I didn't buy this 'un unless it's now one of those rare collectors items goin' for quadruple digits which in that case I wish I DID buy it, kept the thing well-preserved and sold it to some dumbo out there for beaucoup bucks!
Various Artists-UNUSUAL ESTONIAN STALACTITLE SEAS CD-r burn (Bill Shute)

Bill has been known to really toss some wild and uninhibited Cee-Dee-Ares my way and as usual this is just one more of 'em! A pretty varied selection of weirdities too featuring three carousel calliope takes on sixties hits that I could never ride a pony to as well as a buncha weirdie things like some mesmerizing pygmy chants, this one's got it all. Some of it is pretty entertaining despite me thinking it was gonna be junkoid toss out (Max Woiski and the song poems of Bob Gerard come to mind) and things like Ukulele Bailey charming kinda in the same way Tiny Tim was, but the one thing that really got my attention is the Great Stalacpipe Organ at Luray Caverns which reminds me of a turdler-era vacation the fambly took there way back when. The reason these organ favorites bring back the memories is because I remember getting WHUMPED by Dad there...y'see there was this one stalagmite that I thought looked pretty phallic (I think it's called "The Wedding Cake" and not "The Wedding Tackle") and I kept bringing this undeniable fact up to everyone's attention until Father in typical Popeye fashion can'ts stands no more and POW! did I get it and but hard! Thanks for dredging up that 'un Bill!