Apr 20

OK, it’s been a few weeks since I posted about our regular Sunday Night Classic Movie. Let me get up to date by quickly running through our last four films.

Electric Dreams (1984)

A piece of mid-’80s tripe from director Steve Barron. Nerdy architect Miles Harding buys a computer with a mind of its own. The computer, named Edgar, somehow manages to interface with every appliance in Miles’ apartment, and also falls in love with neighbour Madeline, a cellist (played by the delightful Virginia Madsen). Miles’ budding relationship with Madeline leads to a bizarre love triangle, with human-to-human love thankfully winning out in the end. The only saving grace of this cinematic disaster is the occasionally fantastic soundtrack, most notably the title track “Together in Electric Dreams”, performed by Philip Oakey (ex-Human League).

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

John Sturges’ classic Western remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was Gum’s inspired choice for Sunday Night viewing. A poor Mexican village is under the thumb of a gang of nasty bandits. An emissary from the village heads off to find some good guys willing to help. They bump into ace gunslinger Chris (strange name for a gunslinger) played by Yul Brynner, who decides to help out, bringing with him six others including Charles Bronson, James Coburn and the one and only Steve McQueen. The eponymous Seven return to the village and lay in wait for the Mexicans to return so they can kick some bandit ass. Eventually good prevails, although not all seven make it out alive. Brynner and McQueen are left standing of course, and ride into the sunset as the soundtrack swells.

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

Absolute rubbish. Young karate student Jason Stillwell watches as his karate teacher father cops a beating from some gangsters set on taking over his dojo for money laundering purposes. The family moves to a distant city, the father a broken man. Jason struggles to fit in to his new environment, quickly getting on the bad side of local karate hoods. Taking inspiration from his love for the late Bruce Lee, Jason works night and day to improve his karate technique, with the aid of Bruce Lee’s ghost and some very unusual (and occasionally homo-erotic) training methods (see clip below). As with many other films that follow this same path (Karate Kid anyone?) Jason has his shot at redemption when the gangsters arrive in town, bringing with them Russian karate expert Ivan Krushensky (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Of course, good wins out in the end, with Jason gaining respect and the girl.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Way before Michael Keaton or Christian Bale there was Adam West as the square-jawed millionaire crime-fighter Bruce Wayne. This barely watchable film is the distillation onto celluloid of every implausible, stupid, camp moment from the TV series, stretched out to a mind-numbing 105 minutes. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman have banded together in an effort to take over the world. It is up to Batman and Robin to stop them. Every imaginable bat-device gets an outing here: the bat-copter, the bat-boat, the batmobile and other bat-related technologies too numerous to mention. The scene where Batman dangles from the bat-copter with a large, rubber shark attached to his leg is one of the great moments of cinema (see below). I forget what happens at the end, but needless to say the day is saved.

Jan 27

The full title of this ridiculous disaster movie from 1979 is The Concorde … Airport ’79, making it one of the few films to have an ellipsis (…) in its title. And that’s about all this pile of trash has going for it.

This is the fourth film in the Airport franchise, which began in 1970 with what is perhaps the archetypal disaster movie, called – you guessed it – Airport. Next came Airport 1975 and then Airport ’77 hot on its heels. (I remember seeing Airport ’77 at the Tuncurry Cinema with my sister during Christmas holidays when I was a kid. This was the one in which the plane crashes into the ocean and sinks to the seabed with all passengers trapped alive.) These first three films were fairly serious dramas, but for Airport ’79 they decided to take a slightly different approach.

For starters, the movie is essentially an extended advertisement for Concorde. Which is strange when you consider that the plot revolves around repeated attempts to blow it out of the sky, culminating in a crash landing in the Swiss Alps. Not exactly the positive image of air travel that you’d expect from an aircraft manufacturer.

Anyway, to the plot … Jesus, I can’t even be bothered explaining it. Let’s just say that there’s a bad guy who wants to blow up the Concorde, which is on some sort of good will trip from Washington to Paris and then on to Moscow as a lead-up to the 1980 Olympic Games. The passenger list is your typical disaster flick fare: desperate mother transporting a new heart for her terminally ill child; doobie-smoking jazz saxophonist (played hilariously by Jimmie Walker, aka J.J. from Good Times); group of stereotypical Russian athletes; and so on.

One of my favourite moments is when Captain Joe Patroni (played admirably by veteran George Kennedy) attempts to distract an incoming missile by firing a flare gun out of the open cockpit window … while the plane is upside-down and travelling at Mach 2.

The dialog is often hysterically bad. When a female flight attendant makes a comment about the male chauvinist attitudes of the flight crew, the Captain replies: ”Why do you think they call it the cock pit?”

To be honest, it’s likely that Airport ’79 was never intended as anything but a self-parody. Indeed, it wasn’t long after that we got the hilarious Flying High. And that put an end to the Airport series once and for all.

Jan 8

If there’s one thing I learnt from watching our most recent Sunday Night Classic Movie, The Silencers, it’s that Dean Martin loved a drink. Apparently it was a condition of Dino’s contract that alcohol not only be constantly available on set, but that every scene in the film include an open bottle of booze, even when he’s tooling through the desert in his quite amazing 1965 Mercury Colony Park station wagon:

That’s a well-stocked travel bar you can see peeking out from behind the driver’s seat as our male lead accepts a glass from his female companion. One for the road, Dino?

The Silencers, released in 1966, is a tongue-in-cheek spy romp based on a novel by Donald Hamilton. Responding to the James Bond craze then sweeping the world, The Silencers was the first of four films to feature crooning “Rat Pack” alumnus Dean Martin as government agent Matt Helm.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around an evil individual called “Big O” (or perhaps it’s an organisation, it’s hard to tell) who plans to divert an American nuclear test missile so that it crashes back into a large underground cache of other nuclear weapons. Helm is called out of retirement to put a stop to this, with the resulting course of events often totally mystifying.

For some reason Helm keeps finding beautiful women in his bedroom, or in his car, or in other places. One beautiful woman tells him something about a mysterious “computer tape”, crucial to Big O’s plan. Helm drives to a desert resort hotel, the location for the drop-off of the tape to a Big O henchman. While watching a semi-erotic dance routine in the hotel lounge, Helm somehow ends up in the company of another beautiful woman, who through a strange and unfathomable series of events has acquired the tape. The pair take off into the desert in his enormous station wagon, stopping overnight in a swamp where the car converts magically into a swanky bachelor pad. Here’s Dino in the back, assisting his friend with the removal of her wet clothes:

The plot doesn’t really go anywhere after that. Helm saves the world in the end of course, by diverting the missile into Big O’s own headquarters. On the way he meets a variety of strange characters, most of whom he kills, including one old guy who wanders around draped in an electric blanket. Of more interest than the plot are the hilarious props: a circular bed that moves across the floor and tilts to 90 degrees, bath robes that descend from the ceiling, some sort of automatic towel system, a gun that fires backwards into the stomach of the unwitting shooter.

Dean Martin was in his late forties, and already a hugely famous singer and actor, when The Silencers was made. He had been playing nightclubs for decades, and was a legendary boozer. The cracks are beginning to show by 1966. Dino’s face is leathery and coarse. He sweats 100% alcohol. His lower lip is permanently creased from contact with glass. He sways and slurs his way from one scene to the next, delivering his lines with almost no inflection or nuance. At times his leading ladies seemed almost repulsed to be kissing him.

Nevertheless, The Silencers comes highly recommended by me. It’s truly hysterical from start to finish. Do yourself a favour and track down a copy.

Dec 22

Last weekend we watched the first in the Sunday Night Classic Movie series. Rach’s mother Margaret (aka “Gum”) got first pick, and chose a favourite from her youth, Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley.

Released in 1961, Blue Hawaii was Presley’s eighth film, and followed a pattern common to most of Elvis’s movies: a loosely connected series of songs interspersed with lots of pretty girls and occasional narrative elements.

Let me give you a quick run-down of the tissue-thin plot. Chadwick (“Chad”) Gates, played by Elvis, is a young GI returning to Hawaii after two years of military service in Europe. Chad is happy to be re-united with his French-Hawaiian girlfriend, Maile (pronounced “my-lee”), and his gang of eccentric yet musically gifted beach buddies, but he quickly reveals an underlying restlessness and uncertainty about his future.

Also waiting for Chad are his somewhat overbearing parents, whose deepest wish is that their son make a career in the family’s flourishing pineapple business. (Chad’s mother, a domineering Southern dame, is played by the venerable Angela Lansbury. This despite the fact that Lansbury is English and only ten years older than Presley.)

Chad’s desire to strike out on his own leads to the central conflict of the film, an ideological clash between himself and his parents regarding the importance of career success, financial independence, and so on. Furthermore, when Chad lands a job as a tour guide to an attractive American school teacher and her four amorous female pupils it’s clear that this temptation will test the strength of his commitment to his beloved Maile.

I won’t spoil the film for you by giving away the ending, but I will comment briefly on some of the more noteworthy or otherwise mystifying scenes:

  • early in the first reel a Corgi appears on the beach and is brutally rough-housed by Chad and his pals before making off with Maile’s bikini top
  • Chad’s parents’ butler is a bumbling young fellow of Asian appearance whose name is “Ping Pong”
  • a young girl, one of Chad’s clients, driven temporarily insane by a combination of unrequited love and long-term parental abandonment, steals a pink jeep which she proceeds to crash into a grove of palm trees before attempting suicide by drowning. Chad drags her from the water and dispenses his unique brand of psycho-therapy, a good old-fashioned spanking!
  • the use of greenscreen technology is woefully bad, as in the “picnic” scene, where the waves of distant Waikiki Beach are seemingly frozen in time

The songs are nothing to write home about either. The only one you’re likely to know is “Cant’ Help Falling in Love”, which is sung by Elvis to Maile’s grandmother on the occasion of her 78th birthday. Other musical interludes include “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, “Slicin’ Sand” (a beach dance party rave-up), and the classic Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe”. As luck would have it, we own a copy of the Blue Hawaii soundtrack album, purchased from a recycle centre for 20c. We’ll be sure to give it a spin on Christmas Day.

This was the first of three Elvis films to be filmed in Hawaii and makes good use of the local scenery. A number of scenes are shot around Waikiki, with Diamond Head dominant in the background. I was delighted to learn that the early “beach shack” scene was filmed at Hanauma Bay (shown below), a popular swimming and snorkelling beach about 15km from Honolulu. I swam there when I visited Hawaii in 1997, and it’s a gorgeous spot, with a crystal clear lagoon surrounded on three sides by the sheer walls of an ancient volcanic crater.

In summary:

Blue Hawaii is a harmless beach romp, suitable for the whole family. Blissfully free of plot and characterisation, with the occasional double entendre (delivered with Elvis’s trademark wry grin) to keep things spicy. Three-and-a-half stars.