Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


THE DIRTY OUTLAWS
It's too bad Franco Rossetti didn't make more westerns; this is his only oater and it's a pretty good spaghetti western. I liked Chip Corman (Andrea Giordana) as Steve, El Desperado, who spends much of his screen time in a Confederate soldier uniform masquerading as a blind man's returning son. He's not, of course, he's really after a stash of gold the blind man has been saving, hidden in a ghost town that's right out of Django, all mud and muck. Pretty soon a gang shows up to waylay a Confederate payroll that's rolling through the town. The only negatives are the obligatory fistfight/barroom brawl and a scene where Desperado gets kicked around in the mud which goes on too long. The finale is great and makes up for quite a bit of the typical spaghetti hi-jinx which leaves non-fans of the genre cold. If you like pasta you'll dig this almost unknown gem. Recently released by Wild East, this has a good widescreen transfer and looks great!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Favorite Places


LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
Sometime in the 1970's I read a paperback about Jacob Waltz and his mysterious cache of gold. In the 1880s he would come into town, Apache Junction in Arizona, and spend gold nuggets like he had an unending supply. Speculators who followed him either got lost or turned up dead. On his deathbed he left a map of his "mine" to the lady who cared for him during his last illness; she spent the rest of her life trying to decipher the map with no success. The book I read focused on the many deaths in the area since then; men driving to the area with a map left to them, or given to them, or bought by them, all looking for the untold wealth of the lost mine and finding only death. Many of them losing their heads in the process. It was a spooky book that sent chills down my spine, and I decided to quit my job, find a map, and go look for the piles of gold nuggets laying on the desert floor within sight of Weaver's Needle.
I never went looking; I still have my head, but on our various sojourns to the desert we discovered this state park just north of Apache Junction. We've been there in summer, not too hot, and virtually deserted. You can hike around, but be sure and take plenty of water, and watch out for rattlesnakes. Unfortunately the city is closing in, and you can't find true darkness here anymore, but for the moment it's still wonderfully quiet and the solitude is palpable. Another of my favorite places.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


As far as I know, this one never got a release in the USA. It's got a great score (used often in commercials), good action, and kind of a soap-opera plot, but the actors do a good job and production values and sets are top notch. Leonard Mann and Peter Martell play two young gunmen who share a tragic past; childhood friends, they were separated when Mann's father was killed by his mother's lover. He was spirited away by a faithful servant while his sister (the lovely Pilar Velazquez) remained to be raised by the two murderous lovers. Rafael ( a brooding Martel, very good here), childhood friend and servant also remains, but is practically a prisoner of the household until he grows up and escapes, searching for the missing Sebastian. The evil Pierro Lulli is sent to bring him back. Complications ensue. This one has a bit more heart than most spaghetti westerns, and if you are a fan of the genre, you'll enjoy it. It's certainly one of my favorites! Also on this excellent Wild East release is THE UNHOLY FOUR aka Chuck Mull, so it's a terrific bargain!

Spaghetti Western Review


Chuck Connors stars in KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE!, not to be confused with GO KILL AND COME BACK by the same director. He's assigned, along with his hand-picked team, to make off with a huge sum of Yankee dollars from an impregnable fort, to thwart the Union buying weapons to defeat the south, Connors' employers. Among his team, the usual: a knife thrower, dynamite expert, the Kid, the strongman. Along for the ride is the Captain (Frank Wolff) who dreamed up the whole scheme. The expected treachery occurs and when the dust settles not too many of the characters are still around to divvy up the loot. Connors is very good in this, although he was never, as one of the prints in the poster gallery boast THE SUPREME American ACTION STAR! Most of the team is played by stuntmen like Ken Wood and Alberto Dell'Acqua and seeing them leap and tumble is part of the fun. Nicely produced, with sweeping panoramas of the Spanish countryside, and with a great score by Francesco de Masi, this one is a lot of fun and one of the best. The Wild East version is widescreen and in English for the first time, and has an interview with Ken Wood that reveals many interesting facts about the Italian cinema of the 60s and 70s

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Favorite Places


MESCAL, ARIZONA is a movie set owned by Old Tucson Studios. It's open to the public for guided tours but best to call in advance as occasionally the set is closed for use by companies doing commercials or the rare movie production.
It stands alone now, abandoned except for Frank Brown, a seventy-something caretaker who heads up the tours. You couldn't ask for a better GHOST TOWN, as the storefronts are weathered, some windows broken, tumbleweeds treading the streets where once Wyatt Earp and friends strode. It's a great venue for picture taking, and if you go in costume you can reenact the famous walk to the O.K. Corral. Among the movies made here (entirely or in part) are THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES, TOMBSTONE, TOM HORN, MONTE WALSH (the original), SEVEN MUMMIES, and too many others to mention.
The town is twenty or so miles south of Tucson, but the suburbs are closing in, and in ten or twenty years it will surely come down so that condos can be erected. In the meantime, it's a good chance to see an old western town as it was. Forget Old Tucson Studios (although it's a fun day on its own), Mescal is uncorrupted by the theme park mentality that has somewhat ruined the parent company. So go now, and go often.

Spaghetti Western Review


This star-studded British/Spanish co-production looks great, what you can see of it. I have three versions, two VHS, one DVD, and all are terribly cropped, so badly that it looks as if buildings are having conversations with each other. Sometimes you can see Telly Savalas' nose protruding from one corner of the screen. Few films suffer as badly from pan and scan as this one, as director Robert Parrish seems to have been so enamored with the widescreen process that he tended to use both sides of the screen at once, neglecting the middle. Another viewer comments that we see the entire inhabitants of a church massacred at the beginning; not in any of the copies I have. There are some abrupt cuts of peasants firing their rifles, one Mexican officer is shot, Shaw and Landau celebrating, and that's it. We never find out why Shaw has become a priest (if he really is), we never find out what happens to Don Carlos (Savalas) although I suspect he was called home to star in Kojak, as his departure seems arbitrary. And there is a strange flashback sequence where Michael Craig (Mysterious Island) is dancing around in a bowler hat and bad suit in the great old English music hall tradition to the 1960 hit BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, not sung by Johnny Horton here but with some lyrics I've never heard before. On the plus side, the location is great, a huge old ruined fortress with Escher-style stairs leading nowhere, some nice scenery-chewing by Robert Shaw, and good performances by Stevens, Landau, Lettieri, and Telly Savalas as Telly Savalas. I didn't really like this film, but I haven't exactly seen it. I will seek the widescreen version and make my decision then.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK (VIVA LA MUERTE...TUA!) 1971 d. Duccio Tessari
Eli Wallach, Franco Nero, Lynn Redgrave, Eduardo Fajardo, Victor Isreal, Dan Van Husen
This one really needs a good DVD release. To my knowledge it's only available on an old VHS tape called DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, with animated asses (donkeys) wiggling their behinds, totally out of character with the film, which is an action filled Eurowestern by the director of the popular Ringo films, Duccio Tessari. Franco Nero plays another of his European adventurers, this time a Russian, who is seeking a lost treasure. Eli Wallach portrays another version of his popular "Tuco" character, this time once more a Mexican after playing the Greek version in ACE HIGH. Throw in Lynn Redgrave (slightly out of place in a spaghetti) as an Irish revolutionary and you have a film that is reminiscent of Sergio Corbucci's two popular political westerns THE MERCENARY (1968) and COMPANEROS (1970), both of which are superior to this. However there's a lot to be said for LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH, especially since it's so hard to find; you'll find the search worthwhile, and in the meantime let's hope Anchor Bay, Wild East, or Blue Underground release a definitive DVD version! UPDATE: Wild East has just announced a widescreen release in English, coming soon!

Inglorious Basterds


I'm looking forward to this; note the Spaghetti Western motif on the poster: Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France! QT has said this is his sw/World War II flick.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Favorite Places


KELSO in the heart of the Mojave, used to be an important train depot on the Las Vegas to Los Angeles route. In the thirties this was a great looking building where you could chow down at a restaurant, sit in shade (always important in the Mojave) or just enjoy a cold beer while waiting for your train. We first visited Kelso in the early '90s when the building was in disrepair. Closed for years, you could look in the windows, peek in the doors which sometimes were slightly ajar, or rest in the shade while your car cooled off. Signs proclaimed that Kelso was going to be the visitor center of the Mojave National Preserve with an opening date of several months ago. Apparently the funding was slow to come, and we all got tired of the promises over the years. Kelso became kind of a joke; whenever anyone went through the Mojave we'd ask "Is Kelso open yet?" The answer, inevitably, was no.
Then a couple of years ago, well into the new millenium, the miracle occured. Kelso was finished. My daughter and I routed a trip to Joshua Tree through the Mojave, out of our way, just so we could finally say we'd been to Kelso. When we got there it certainly lived up to expectations. Very sparsely visited, it was big, cool inside, and informative, everything a visitor center should be. The rangers did such a good job of selling the beauty of their park that we changed our plans and spent the remainder of our trip in the Mojave, at an area called Hole-In-the Wall, which evoked memories of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, but actually was inhabited only by range cattle who wandered placidly through our campsite looking for edibles. The aforesaid Holes are naturally occuring gas pockets which exploded centuries ago creating hand holds for climbers. Even at my advanced age I was able to do some climbing. My advice is go in high summer when you can experience the Mojave in its natural state: HOT! It's a great place, not my favorite desert perhaps, but one of the Great American Deserts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


I have some film reviews I wrote in the past couple of years that appear on IMDB. Thought I'd reprint them here.
ANDA MUCHACHO SPARA (1971) Fabio Testi, Jose Calvo, Eduardo Fajardo, Charo Lopez. Directed by Aldo Florio
This is a wonderfully competent spaghetti western made at a time when the Italian film industry was cranking them out at the rate of five or six a month, and this is one of the best. You may recognize the main town as the same one Clint Eastwood cleans up in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and this film shares some of the qualities of that prototypical spaghetti; the hero appearing out of a cloud of dust at the end, poncho-clad, facing six villains, and also the presence of Jose Calvo who appeared in FOD. Fabio Testi is good as a prison escapee with a mission, and we find out in flashbacks just what that mission is, what it has cost him, and what his ultimate payoff will be. Charo Lopez plays Jessica, somewhat more important to the plot than most women in these films, and the film features quite a lot of her. A ton of action and one of Bruno Nicolai's most beautiful scores add to the enjoyment. Beautifully directed in the best Leone style by Aldo Florio, this makes me want to see the same director's FIVE GIANTS FROM Texas. Recommended.

NIGHT OF THE SERPENTS (1970) Luke Askew, Luigi Pistilli, Chelo Alonso
Giulio Petroni directed some very good spaghetti westerns during his short career, among them DEATH RIDES A HORSE, TEPEPA, AND FOR A ROOF A SKYFULL OF STARS, and this very obscure 1970 story of intrigue and murder, NIGHT OF THE SERPENTS (NEST OF VIPERS, RINGO KILL) starring the little known American actor Luke Askew and genre regulars Luigi Pistilli and William Bogard. Luke plays Luke, a gringo saved from death in the desert by bandit leader Bogard, whose men treat the Americano like the drunken fool he is. He's been inside a tequila bottle for a long time (later on we find out why) and is chosen to be a sacrifice in a plot hatched by Federale Lieutenant Hernandez (Pistilli). The plot? Kill Manuel, a kid who stands to inherit 10,000 dollars, and all of Manuel's relatives want a piece of it. Askew is good as the drunk, nervously rubbing his lips and eyeing bottles of tequila he can't afford. When he decides to sober up and take a stand the hair on your neck will stand up. The drunk fights like he's ten feet tall, says one of Bogard's men. Chelo Alonso is along for the ride as Manuel's immoral aunt, and the entire cast is good, as is the music by Riz Ortolani. The English track for this was very elusive, finally surfacing in a nice South African widescreen print released by Global under the nonsensical title RINGO KILL. Definitely worth a watch by fans of the genre

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Sad Fate of Perelandra

In response to a question posted in one of the comments about my Comic Book store, here is what happened...
I of course left out some details about the whole Bag End/Perelandra exchange. Chuck the hippie had taken on a partner named Dennis. Dennis' role in Bag End was never too large; he worked sometimes when Chuck wasn't available, but was never too friendly or willing to talk comics. Frankly he was rarely around, and most people didn't know he existed.
When Bag End folded he lost his investment, which hadn't been too large to begin with. He wrote it off and would occasionally come into Perelandra and buy a few comics. He got friendlier as the months passed and finally approached me about becoming a partner in the new store. I said no, I wasn't interested in diluting my share of Perelandra. Wes's fifty percent was still floating around out there somewhere, although he had sold or gifted parts of it to some friends and customers so that they could say they were silent partners. Eventually they drifted away, but Dennis persisted, to the extent that one day he rode up on a new Honda 550 cc. motorcycle and told me it was mine if I took him in as a partner. That was awfully hard to resist. I thought about it for maybe thirty seconds, then said "Yeah!", grabbed the keys and rode off, leaving him to watch the store.
I remained the operator of the store for some years, with Dennis organizing things, helping out, working when I had other things to do, and doing some conventions. We put out a comic called Perelandra Comics and Stories, with me writing, Dennis drawing and writing, and local fans who had talent pitching in. Steve Mills was one of these talented fans who contributed to PC&S. He was a young comic fan who began hanging around and eventually became a partner after working for us for years for credit. He managed to build quite a collection of Spiderman comics in this way, picking up comics for fifty cents in trade that now are worth hundreds of dollars.
Eventually I needed more money than Perelandra could provice, so I sought an outside job and turned running of the comic shop over to Dennis. He shared a business sense with good old Chuck, wasn't real good at paying rent or paying for comics, and soon the distributors cut us off. His theory was that if you owed a corporation money they'd extend you credit in order to get their money back. Bad theory.
I was distancing myself from the store by this time. I was married, we had a new baby, and it just didn't seem cost effective to boot Dennis out and take over. I was making more money waxing floors than I could in the comic store, so I sold my share out to Dennis' younger brother for a pittance. About this time, the Honda 550 was returned to the bank for non-payment of the monthly loan. He promised to get me another, but never came through. I can't say I was surprised.
Dennis kept the store going for another year or so, running up debts and a bad reputation for not paying them off. When no comic distributors would deal with him he moved into gaming and did okay for awhile, but I heard complaints from old customers and business acquaintances to whom he owed money. They would go in the store and nobody would be there! Dennis would be in the back playing video games on his computer. He'd grudgingly come out and take their money if they insisted, but he didn't really seem to care. Soon Perelandra was gone, emptied overnight, abandoned with months of rent owing. He relocated to San Rafael, 35 miles south, and opened under a different name. It would be nice to report that the store failed, but he kept it going for another six or seven years with little success.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Still more Adventures in the Comic Trade

Lower Fourth Street in Santa Rosa in 1974 was still largely unimproved. Winos and whores, old derelicts with colorful alcoholic pasts, young hustlers with no prospects and bad judgment. A perfect place for a comic book store.
One day an older lady came in. She was the spitting image of the Aunt character on Sanford and Son, a black lady of sixty-something, floral dress, fake pearls, face like that of Redd Foxx. "Honey," she said, "Can I use your rest room?" I said "Of course you can," and waved her around the front counter. I got a little disturbed when she went into the bathroom and didn't close the door. Ever the gentleman I faced front and paid attention to my customers. Time passed. Finally I couldn't stand it. I said "Ma'am?" and peeked around the corner. She was sitting on the toilet, still fully dressed, with a hypodermic syringe hanging out of her tied-off arm. She'd nodded off. She awoke with a start, said "Oh, excuse me." I gave her her privacy and in a minute she stepped out of the bathroom, thanked me, and left.
Another time a young wino came in. He was a hulking native American, zombified by booze years before, living now only to alter his mind as much as possible. Usually he was non-responsive, but today he wandered in, waited until I wasn't busy, and came to the counter. "Can I get a dollar or two?" he asked. I shook my head. It was store policy to deny requests like this. "I can't start giving people money," I said. He looked blearily around, then reached up and snatched a comic off its display tack. "Y'know, I could rip up this comic book!" he said. I reached down and pulled out a little league baseball bat I kept below the counter. "Yeah, and I could beat your head into pulp," I said, and I banged the bat down on the counter which made a startlingly loud bang. He dropped the comic and ran, and I chased him down the street, pounding the bat on the sidewalk. For a wino he moved pretty well and I soon lost interest. The next day he wandered by me in a daze and showed no hint of recognition. He'd forgotten the entire incident.
Then there was the hooker who one day asked if she could use my phone. I said sure and she proceeded to use it to crack a walnut and eat it.
Perelandra also carried the largest selection of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks in the county. One day an older man wandered in, bypassed the rows of comics and went straight to the books, stopping only to introduce himself as Philip K. Dick. He was kind of in a daze, and soon his handler showed up, acknowledged that it was indeed Dick himself. He looked at books for awhile, then left.
That was abut the same time (1977) that a Marin County model-maker named Matt Cavanaugh asked me if I wanted to go to a movie preview in San Francisco with him. He was acquainted with some guys who made models for this upcoming science fiction film called Star Wars. I went with him to the Northpoint Theater in SF, saw Francis Ford Coppola introduce the unfinished print that was minus some sound and some special effects. It was also about ten minutes longer than the finished product. This was a month or so before the movie debuted.
A local high-school kid was one of my customers. He was into gaming and tried unsuccessfully to get me interested in Dungeons and Dragons. One day he brought in his pretty girlfriend, who I found I knew...she was the little girl who lived down the street. She'd grown up, and was eighteen. I hired her to help out in the bookstore part time, and before you knew it we were living together. Then we were married, had a kid, and separated, although we're still living together, me, her, her boyfriend, and our daughter, one sometimes big happy family.
But that's another story.

More adventures in the Comic Trade

We contacted Chuck at his house and he admitted the store was no more. Our moment was at hand! Bag End had occupied a small storefront that was part of the Oliver Hotel, a fleabag flophouse which catered to the wino trade. We went to the desk in the Oliver and talked to Mr. Patel, the owner. He kindly allowed that if we paid Chuck's back rent and agreed to give him $60 a month we could take over. We could do that.
So we moved in to the old Bag End store. It took us a few days to clean the place up, but eventually we got the trash out, sprayed disinfectant here and there, burned some incense to clear out the dope smell. Chuck, opportunistic as ever, sold us his remaining stock for a hundred bucks and asked if we'd let him work for us for awhile so he could say goodbye to his valued customers. Free help! Yeah! A few days before we opened there was a knock on the door. A bespectacled young man stood there. He introduced himself as Steve Oliff, he lived up in Point Arena, and had come all that way to visit the comic store which no longer existed. We welcomed him and a long friendship began. He was interested in exactly what we were interested in, kindred spirits, you might say. Later on he would basically re-invent coloring for comics, be the first to use computers to color, and become a major player in the professional ranks. But now he was just another fan, like us.
We named the store Perelandra, after a volume of C.S. Lewis' trilogy, and opened our doors in late November 1973.
Success was slow to come. Steve soon discovered that retail was not for him. He couldn't take the constant begging we encountered, bums coming in and asking for handouts, tramps sleeping in our doorway, or pissing against our window. After a few weeks he opted out. We amicably divided the comic stock into thirds, and then it was just Wes and me.
Wes had become good friends with Chuck. Chuck had stuck around, working very well for us. Later on I would find out that he was selling dope to his valued customers. And not just marijuana. One day a clerk from the hotel wandered in. He spoke very little English,but made it clear that he wanted the little white powder (indicating the inside of his elbow as he did so. I shook my head, and he left, disappointed. I began to wonder about Chuck. Anyway, Chuck had a plan to go back to his hometown in Virginia and open a Comic Shop/Coffee Shop. He got Wes interested, and soon they set off in Wes's truck for Virginia, and then it was just me.
I ran Perelandra by myself, opening up at 10 am every day but Sunday, closing around 5pm. Business was slow; I can remember sitting behind the counter in 1974 figuring out a budget, and thinking that if I could just sell $20 worth of comics and books every day I could make a living out of it. How times have changed! (Continued)

Adventures in the Comic Book Trade

In 1973 I was a skinny twenty-one-year-old kid who liked comics. I didn't love them, didn't live to collect them, but there were a few I never missed. I got into them through my good friend Steve who was a Spiderman fan. He tried various times to interest me in that character, but it never really took. I preferred CONAN THE BARBARIAN, artwork by Barry Smith, which meshed better with my interest in Science Fiction, Sword and Sorcery, and writing the same. I'd read Robert E. Howard's original version of the character, and all the imitators, some good (Michael Moorcock, L. Sprague DeCamp),some bad (John Norman, Lin Carter), and lots of the in-betweens.
Steve and I had gone on various excursions to the bay area, where they had comic book stores. We weren't so interested in Gary Arlington's shop in San Francisco. He had lots of OLD comics, E.C.s, Dells, Atlas etc. but he didn't have much in the way of recent back issues. And he was a bit surly. He was an old guy (in his 40s at the time, I expect), and understandably had little patience with kids who raved about the current state of comics, when he knew better. And Bob Sidebottom had a good shop in San Jose, which was a bit far for us to drive. Berkeley had just acquired Comics and Comix, run by Bud Plant and Jon Barrett (for whom I later would work) and it was the best of the stores. They carried everything.
In our daydreams we envisioned our own comic book store in Santa Rosa...
Finally we decided to make that dream a reality. Storefronts were still cheap. We could find one down on skid row for very little money. What we needed was stock. I had a small pile of comics I didn't really care about. Not my Conans, those were special, but I donated my Daredevil comics, westerns (so long, Jonah Hex), my Neal Adams Avengers and Batmans. Steve wasn't ready to part with his Spidermans, but he tossed in about twice as many books as I had. We started haunting second hand stores, paying a nickle to a quarter per book, and one Sunday out at the flea market we hit a bonanza. A guy selling several bags of comics that he just didn't want. We got them all for five bucks. So stock wise we were set!
We had talked about our plan with some friends, among them a classmate of Steve's named Wes. Wes was old for his age. He had a job in construction and casually remarked that if we wanted, he had $800 bucks set aside to go into business with. We embraced him and his money and now there were three of us.
But a bit crestfallen, we discovered that someone had beaten us to it. A small store called Bag End had opened in Santa Rosa, down on skid row. We checked it out and found out it was run by a hippie named Chuck who sat smirking sardonically with his companion dog, with whom he had a close relationship. That pooch went everywhere with him (even into the bathtub, I believe). Anyway, Chuck had a few new comics and several boxes of back issues (none bagged) for forty to fifty cents each. The store was casual, dirty, reeked of reefer, and heading for a fall. Chuck was a lousy businessman, and didn't pay attention to minor details like paying rent. Eventually, a couple of months after he opened, we went to Bag End and the door was locked. (Continued)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Early days of TV

My friend Jangoz commented here about his family's first tv, how they had one channel, but there was always something good on, as opposed to today with hundreds of channels and very little worth watching. I can always find something worth watching, usually documentaries about war or history, but there is not much on network tv I look forward to. LOST, FAMILY GUY, MY NAME IS EARL, and SOUTH PARK are about the only shows I seek out.
When I was little in the fifties one of my earliest memories is of neighbors coming over to our house to watch I LOVE LUCY on our tiny tv screen. There is a foto of me as a baby being held by my dad looking at our pride and joy; it looks like it had about an 8 inch screen. I guess size didn't matter in those days. Once we moved to California our tv viewing got more sophisticated; ED SULLIVAN, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY (in its various incarnations) and wrestling were all part of the menu, and I can remember laying in bed trying to go to sleep while my parents were in the living room enjoying THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and BEWITCHED. I could hear the shows but never got to watch them, as they came on after my bedtime.
One night though, my parents went out barhopping, and my sisters, twins who were eight years older than me, decided to stay up late and watch the late show, and figured they'd better let me stay up too, or else I'd fink on them. I was a little brother, and prone to do this. I think they assumed I'd get bored and fall asleep, but I stuck it out. The movies that night were REBECCA, which I liked and made me into a lifelong Hitchcock fan, and KILLERS FROM SPACE, which terrified me and gave me nightmares! Cheesy movie, but those aliens with the ping-pong ball eyes got to me!
Another significant event was in June of 1957, when we were just settling into a new house, and my mom harangued my dad into putting up the antenna under a deadline; KING KONG was going to be on Channel 5, San Francisco, and I remember him on the roof with less than an hour to spare, cursing and dropping tools, but he got it up! I was six and what scared me about KING KONG was not the dinosaurs or KK himself, but the scene where he's looking in the window. Nothing was scarier than eyes looking in a window at you!
My mom was odd, though. She wouldn't let us watch Bugs Bunny cartoons because she hated the way he'd smack his lips while eating carrots. She didn't like Groucho Marx, because when he hosted YOU BET YOUR LIFE he'd waste too much time joking around. She was there for the quiz, not Groucho! She hated Jackie Gleason, but would watch his show just to see Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim. And one year James Drury was supposed to be the Grand Marshall of the local Rose Parade, but it rained and he didn't show up. That ended our watching THE VIRGINIAN, which she liked, but she couldn't forgive him for slighting our town.
Nowadays, with Tvo, whole days can go by without the tv being switched on. The shows I want will be there when I want to watch them; even so, often, I just get in bed with a good book and read.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Crazy Kids at the Drive In Movies

The year must have been about 1969. I was eighteen and a fan of monster movies (and westerns, but mainly monster movies!) and so was my best friend Steve. Steve was more than a friend. A couple of years younger than me, his brother had married my sister. And his sister was divorced from the man who married my other sister (!), so we had some family connections. Steve was a big fan of monster movies and monster magazines too. We'd trade Famous Monsters back and forth, covet each other's rare copies of Castle of Frankenstein, Monster Mania. It's a good bet that most of our money was spent on either monster mags or going to see monster movies.
So when we saw an all-night horror movie marathon at a local drive-in, we just had to go! Well, it wasn't TOO local, it was in Petaluma, eighteen miles south, but close enough! We were both big fans of Hammer Films of England, and this show was to be five big hits from Amicus, a studio which had borrowed Hammer's formula to good success. The movies were THE PSYCHOPATH, THE SKULL, THE DEADLY BEES, DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and I forget the other one, because we didn't get to see it. You see, we had no car. No access to a car, either. Everybody was either disinterested, busy, or laughed in our faces when we asked to borrow a vehicle. Finally I said, "Screw it, we'll take the motorcycle!"
Steve looked nervous. I had a spindly old Honda 90 with lots of miles on it. But we really wanted to see these movies, so we set out soon after dark and finally got to Petaluma an hour later. The Honda wasn't big enugh to go on the freeway, so we had to take back roads, and by the time we got there the first feature had already shown, which is why I can't recall it, and THE PSYCHOPATH was on. We paid, found a spot and put the bike on its center stand. We draped the speaker from the handlebars, and settled down with our backs on the bike.
And the movies were great. Particularly THE SKULL and DR. TERROR. They almost made the whole thing worth while. THE DEADLY BEES, ehh. We liked the scenes of the girl in her bra swatting at bees with her shirt. About the time she was bending over to swat some bees right in the camera's face, the Honda tipped over backwards. The speaker stretched out as far as it could, then recoiled and banged off the door of the car next to us. I peeked over to see if there were big guys in the car who would presently come out and beat on us for awhile, but luckily it was a just a family who were cowering against the far window! So we picked up the bike and finished watching the flicks. Then we had to drive home.
It was summer, but in northern Caifornia, the days are hot, the nights are cold. We hadn't realized this. I had a windbreaker, no gloves, no helmet (these were the good old days!). To say I froze on the ride home is putting it mildly. I was pre-beard, but if I'd had a beard I'd've been combing icicles out of it. Steve huddled behind me sniveling and it was the longest ride of my life. I just wish we had drive-ins nowdays, although in my maturity I'm much too smart to go to an all-night monster movie marathon. Three movies would be about my limit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I HATE WINTER!

No, not Johnny or Edgar Winter (although ablinos do creep me out a bit), I mean the season. The last couple of mornings it's been down to thirty degrees! Ice on the windshield when I go out to go to work. I've been wearing a tee-shirt, a sweatshirt, a hooded sweatshirt, and gloves just to survive. It's like living on the ice planet Hoth. And to top things off, by noon it's warmed up to the extent I'm down to my tee shirt! It got up to 75 or so today, it's so schizo!
(That was mainly to piss off John and Raymie back east where they have REAL winters! Ha)
THE DARK KNIGHT was pretty good. Lots of cool action, and of course the Joker is in it. I've been hearing how great Heath Ledger is in it, and yeah, he was good, but a bit over-hyped perhaps. Put any actor in the makeup, doing the Joker schtick, and you'd have a winner. All he had to do was hunch over, roll his eyes, and lick his lips like his tongue was too big for his mouth. The Academy Awards are largely trivial, but for what it's worth I think Robert Downey Jr. was more impressive in TROPIC THUNDER as the Australian white guy playing the black guy in the movie. So DK was worth watching, but not something I'm looking for, for the shelf.
VANTAGE POINT was a good, mindless action movie. It has a nice THE KILLING style to it, taking you through twenty some minutes, then rewinding and starting the action again from a different point of view. It had some good surprises, a nice car chase, lots of local color (Spain from the air, Mexico down on the ground). I kept flashing on Dennis Quaid's performance, thinking of the film as a quasi-sequel to IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Some of Quaid's scowls reminded me of Clint's scowls. Liked it well enough to watch twice, once alone then again when my housemate was persuaded to watch it. Again though, don't want it for the llibrary. Twice was enough.