Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy 25th, THUNDER RUN!

Twenty-five years ago today: May 30, 1986.  Having already given us new releases starring Lee Marvin (THE DELTA FORCE) and Charles Bronson (MURPHY'S LAW) earlier that year, Cannon further cemented its credentials as the home of the geezers of action with the great Forrest Tucker's final theatrical film, THUNDER RUN.

Reviewed here at The Horn Section for its 20th Anniversary back in the early days of our blog, THUNDER RUN remains unavailable on DVD in the U.S.  It's still a shame. 

True, THUNDER RUN had plotholes Tuck could have driven "Thunder" through.  For example, no one noticed the pickup truck in the back of the 18 wheeler while loading the cargo?  Director Gary Hudson also spent way too much time on the unrelated hijinks of his more youthful cast members before giving us what we really wanted: Tuck taking on scar-faced, heavily armed terrorists on a lonely desert road.

Doesn't matter.  The gloriously goofy and action packed second half more than makes up for the flaws.  Where else will you see an 18 wheeler jumping a train, or VW dune buggies armed with heat seekers?  Enjoy the trailer full o' cheese above, and hope that THUNDER RUN either finds its way to DVD or Netflix Instant soon so we can all rediscover it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Film Review: HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL (1959)

No DVD yet?  Why I oughta....

"Why the Hell isn't This on DVD Yet?" -- Number 60

HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL (1959 Columbia) Starring The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita), Jerome Cowan, Anna-Lisa, Robert Colbert.  Directed by David Lowell Rich.

Inept NASA janitors Moe, Larry and Curly-Joe decide to help scientist Anna-Lisa after her latest failure at developing a fuel formula.  The bumbling custodians wreak havoc on the mission rocket and end up accidentally launching themselves as America's first space travelers.  After landing on Venus, they encounter a friendly talking unicorn, a fire breathing tarantula, and the planet's computerized leader. The latter clones our heroes, setting up a battle with their evil robot replicas.  Finally the maintenance men make it back to Earth, returning to a hero's welcome and a high society party.  Uh oh.

With short subjects no longer in production and the Three Stooges hotter than ever in 1959 thanks to television, Columbia fulfilled one of Moe's longtime wishes--a legitimate shot to make full length features.  HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL was obviously rushed out to capitalize on the Stooges' resurgence and perhaps as a result many longtime Stooge collaborators are nowhere to be found.   The sci-fi spoof is written by Rafael Hayes and directed by David Lowell Rich (A LOVELY WAY TO DIE); both specialized in westerns and crime dramas and neither had much of a background in any comedy, much less Three Stooges comedy.

At a short 76 minutes HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL feels more like three different two reelers shown in sequence than a standalone feature.  Specifically, it's as if two slightly below par Curly shorts are bookending one of the better Joe Besser sci-fi efforts.  The opening third at the space center is reminiscent of any number of Curly/Shemp shorts with the trio being employed as handymen, with particular homage paid to A PLUMBING WE WILL GO.  It's familiar but executed well enough.  The Venus section is loaded with cheesy charm if lacking in fresh gags.

The film is topped off with a truncated celebration much like the party in HOI POLLOI, which was already long past its first remake (HALF WITS' HOLIDAY, Curly's 1947 swan song), and it had to be disappointing to kids in 1959 to see this setup without the obligatory "pie fight" payoff.  Despite this oversight (gotta keep the running time short enough for a double feature, eh Columbia?) there's more slaps and headknocking in HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL than the aging Stooges would have in their subsequent movies (Moe was 62 and Larry 57)--in fact, this film probably contains the very last eye poke from Moe, as that part of the routine was soon retired due to fears of children imitating it. 

Curly Joe DeRita
This was Joe DeRita's debut as the third Stooge.  While his attempts to imitate Curly's vocal mannerisms are ill-advised, they are brief and would (thankfully) be missing from the rest of the team's comeback efforts.  DeRita was still settling into his role at the time of HAVE ROCKET and while he's no Curly (who could be?) he proves to be a solid old vaudeville pro who fits well overall with this more mature version of the Three Stooges and reestablishes some of the chemistry that was lacking in the Besser shorts. 

With Anna-Lisa
The Three Stooges took a couple of tries to really hit their stride in the Curly Joe era.  After the big-budget misfire SNOW WHITE AND THE THREE STOOGES (1961), longtime Stooge collaborators such as director Edward Bernds, screenwriter Elwood Ullman and ace utility player Emil Sitka were brought aboard and the stories became more appropriate for feature length while continuing to liberally lift gags from the team's heydey.  None of these films quite reached the level of the Curly two reelers (and the boring romantic subplots continued), but the four flicks from 1962 to 1965 are all worth watching, with the 1965 finale THE OUTLAWS IS COMING! being probably the best of the bunch and allowing the legendary comedians to go out on a high note.

So---why isn't this on DVD yet?

This one is a puzzler, because virtually everything Stooge related is available, including all of the Columbia shorts and the other five Curly-Joe full length features. HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL stands alone, undeserving of its isolation.

Why it should be on DVD:

Okay, so there's the creative missteps, the rushed quality and the lack of longtime Stooge cohorts. On the plus side HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL also has the least intrusive romantic subplot of the Curly Joe era.  Neither the best nor the worst latter-day effort from the team, it would certainly be welcomed to DVD by Stoogemaniacs--much more than the awful and demeaning "Fake Shemp"/Joe Palma concoctions and the mostly subpar Besser two reelers.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Film Review: THE BIG BOODLE (1957)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 59

THE BIG BOODLE (1957 United Artists) Starring Errol Flynn, Rossana Rory, Gia Scala, Pedro Armendariz, Louis Oquendo.  Directed by Richard Wilson.

Flynn is a blackjack dealer in Batista-era Havana who unwittingly accepts phony pesos from player Rory. He is late realizing the error, and she leaves him high and dry, holding the funny money and fully responsible for it under casino rules.  Flynn's bad night gets worse: he is attacked on his way home, and cop Armendariz accuses him of counterfeiting after finding the boodle on him.  Now unemployed yet prohibited from leaving the country, Flynn attempts to clear his name with the help of banker's daughter Scala---who, it turns out, is also Rory's sister.

THE BIG BOODLE is often cited as "feeble", "emphasizing Flynn's career decline" and "sad", with various reviews describing the star as "flabby", "indifferent" and "wasted".   Okay, it's no classic.  The story is as predictable as it gets, and direction by Richard Wilson (AL CAPONE) is strictly routine despite his fine lensing of the locale (the film was shot entirely on location in Cuba).   But while the film is mostly forgettable, it's nowhere near as disastrous as you've been led to believe, and while Errol Flynn is given some sadly ironic dialogue ("For me to reach 67, it's going to take a lot more than Jai Alai") he wasn't in grave condition just yet.

It is sad to see the former Captain Blood requiring a very obvious stunt double for an undemanding hotel struggle.  But after watching this film, I can't imagine anyone (well, okay, maybe the always hyperbolic Charles Higham) describing Flynn using the terms above.  He looks battered for much of it, but hey, he's supposed to--he is attacked repeatedly and also beaten during an interrogation.  Taking that into account, Flynn merely looks his age (47) here; Charlie Sheen looks worse in recent photos.   If his days as a matinee idol are over, it only makes him more convincing as an everyman. Looking the part helps a great deal as Flynn gives a professional but not terribly inspired performance: he's clearly coasting on his considerable screen presence here.

Okay, so there's nothing special about the script, direction or performances, and there's no freak show attraction either, since Flynn's Brave Last Days were a couple of years away (in fact, a Hollywood comeback in THE SUN ALSO RISES was just around the corner).  So who's going to be interested besides Errol Flynn diehards?   Well, for fans of Rory and Scala, two lovely Italian actresses, THE BIG BOODLE is a must.  Striking blonde Rory had only a few opportunities as a leading lady and made barely a dozen films before retiring.  The equally beautiful Scala (who sadly suffered from depression and committed suicide at 38) was a few months away from her breakthrough role in DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER.  Flynn personally chose both for his film, and it's easy to see why.

THE BIG BOODLE also offers late-Batista era Havana itself, with plenty of beach scenery and a little bar and casino hopping too.  It is one of the last opportunities to see a U.S. picture filmed there, as the embargo was only three years away.  Ironically, THE last U.S. picture filmed there was an embarrassment to Flynn and everyone else involved: CUBAN REBEL GIRLS, in which the star truly is on his last legs physically and the entire project is as amateurish as can be.  Perhaps reviewers are confusing the two films when they savage this one.  THE BIG BOODLE is ordinary, but it's an acceptable little flick that is a painless watch for Flynn's fans.

So...why isn't this on DVD yet?

Well, it finally will be on May 17th, so I'm cheating a bit on this one.  MGM Screen Archives has it available for pre-order.  With Warner Archive starting to get to Flynn's post-World War II output for his longtime home studio, one of the biggest stars of the 1930's and 1940's is finally getting his due and his long-neglected later vehicles renewed visibility.

Why it should be on DVD:

The opportunity to get a good, 90 minute look at scenic (and in parts, seedy) Havana, the "The Latin Las Vegas" prior to the Castro revolution.  THE BIG BOODLE also boasts an interesting cast, with the rare opportunity to see beautiful Italian actress Rory (who retired at 35 after barely a dozen films); the stunning, but troubled Scala; and of course, Flynn.  If you're a fan of any of them or the locale you'll want THE BIG BOODLE in your collection.   If you'd like a sneak preview, it's currently available on Netflix Instant.