Damien: Omen II 1978 A Movie A Day Day 51

This is the first time I have done a sequel back to back with the original for the summer film blog. Doing so both strengthens the film and weakens it. This movie sequel came out in 1978, two years after the very successful predecessor. In those days, there was not a video store to go to if you wanted to catch up or remind yourself what had happened in the first film. It is doubtful that the original had yet been on network TV and very few people had cable programming in 1978 that might have allowed them to see the first film again, immediately before the second. With easy access these days, an immediate comparison is inevitable. Let me start by pointing out a few things that make the sequel work well by viewing it so quickly.

We know immediately what the background is, and the opening scene featuring the burial of the archeologist/exorcist Pogenhagen, makes a lot more sense. We quickly establish the ominous circumstances without having to rely on a bunch of flashbacks or exposition. The quality of the production appears to be up to snuff so that should belay any worries the audience has about this project being cheap schlock made just to drain a couple of more dollars from our pockets. It is actually expensive schlock, featuring another older distinguished Academy Award winning actor, a stronger female lead and a bigger cast. Also, we immediately notice that the music is very much in the style of the first film and once again composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith. His score here is no match for the original, but that is in keeping with the rest of the movie as well. It is all polished, and professional but lacks the sinister foreboding the original provided. This may be because the story makes some big character jumps and focuses on the grotesque deaths rather than the suspense or horror elements leading up to those deaths. The drawbacks of the movie are more obvious watching it a day after the original. We didn’t always know what was coming in the first film because we are discovering the true nature of the evil faced by the protagonists as they are becoming aware of it. Here we already know what’s going on and we are waiting for what is going to happen, not why is it happening or what does it all mean.

In the original story, there is one apostle of Satan in the wings, waiting to protect little Damien. She is frightening in attitude and appearance from the first time we encounter her. In Damien: Omen II, he is surrounded by evil supporters, anxious to protect him and set up his future empire. They usually have the sinister look of an accountant. The only one that might spark a little anxiety in the audience is a military school officer, played by Lance Henrickson, that is just not given enough to do. All of the people that might stand in the way of Damien or hurt him in some way are knocked down like bowling pins, without much character or suspense. Crows substitute for hellhounds in this movie. A raven, even one pecking at the face of a hapless victim, is just not as intimidating or frightening as a slobbering Rottweiler. Basically all this movie has going for it are the death scenarios, some of them are very clever but not startling or surprising. The death of the photographer in “The Omen” was sudden and there had been some set up of the threat earlier in the movie. Here we just see invisible mechanisms start the process of the next victims doom and we hope for a money shot. We are rewarded with three strong death images, two sudden and visually shocking. The third one is haunting in showing a man drown under the ice of a frozen river as men and boys try to follow his trek through the currents and fail to reach him despite the fact that he is merely inches away under the ice. Most movie horror fans of today will find the shocks here mild compared to the visceral dismemberment in movies like “Saw” that are so prevalent today. In 1978, the segments in Damien were state of the art. They got the effect without the drama to go with it.

For many years the standard business model for Hollywood when it came to sequels was simple. The follow up films did half the business of the original, so be careful in investing too much time and money. Each subsequent follow up was expected to drop off another third to fifty percent. There were occasional exceptions but the Omen series followed the pattern. This movie was a success but not the kind of success that you could milk for good. I would have to look at it again, but my recall of Omen III is that there was a big drop off in quality and production value. I don’t think it had the same producers and I know it did not have the same financial success. I saw Omen II, with Dolores and Jon Cassanelli on it’s opening day, at a theater on Hollywood Blvd., I think it was the Vogue. I saw Omen III by myself, as part of a double feature at the Alhambra Theater, well after it had opened.

The makers of this movie hit many of the right notes for a film of this type but there are a lot of clunkers along the way. Too often, someone that has key information that could alert Uncle Richard to the danger, is written poorly and then played shrilly by the performer. Aunt Marion comes across as senile with her manipulative attempt to drive a wedge between the two boys and their family. The journalist that is supposed to be the sister of David Warner from the first movie, seems like a lunatic from the first moment she shows up. The museum curator, who is friends with the family is not speaking like a reasoned professional to his boss and friend, but like a scared little rabbit. Damien accepts much too quickly the mantle of Anti-Christ and never confides in his closest friend, his cousin, until it is time for the cousin to be out of the picture. I don’t think this is a bad movie, it is an OK shocker, but that is all. I read that William Holden turned down the part in the original making way for Gregory Peck, but after the success of the first picture was glad to come on board for the sequel. That’s actually the second time he takes the wrong train in these movies.

The Omen 1976 A Movie A Day Day 50

This was a series of movies that actually made sense to develop. There is a pattern implied by the concept that should draw us in. Once the first movie is done, it makes perfect sense that there would be followups. The first two films both opened in summer, and I saw both of them with at least one of the same people. So I have decided that for something different in the blog, I will post about the first movie today and make the sequel the subject of tomorrow’s movie a day posting. The third movie falls out of the parameters of the blog and I never saw the fourth. So tonight let us proceed with “The Omen”.

It is odd that Gregory Peck was past his prime as a movie star when I was seeing the movies I’m doing in this blog. I remember seeing him in movies as a kid and always thought of him as a relatively vital actor. By the time the seventies were on the down side, he was not really a box office draw. He was still a star but did not command the place in the food chain that he’d had in the 1960s. The Omen changed that. This was a big box office success. The next year he starred in MacArthur, portraying the famous and controversial general. Right at the end of the decade he did “The Boys From Brazil” another big box office hit, but by that point the star of the movies he was in was the concept. He added plenty but the studios were probably right in thinking it was the idea that was bringing people in. So although The Omen was a hit, five years later he began a slide from high profile movie star to elder statesmen of the film industry.

I do think he contributed a lot to the Omen, you need his dignity and gravitas to believe in a story about the spawn of Satan being groomed to take over the wealthy family name and pursue starting Armageddon. The movie is also helped by a slow build up with some strong sustained scenes as well as just the shock value. For instance, the sequence at the animal park begins innocuously enough, with Mom Lee Remick buying the little boy some ice cream. Something seems to disturb the giraffes, but it is not frightening, just a little creepy. By the time the baboons show up however, we are a ready for some bigger frights and they start coming. A lot of people seem to remember the creative deaths found in the series, and there are two or three in this first one, but it really is the second film that goes into high gear trying to juice us with unusual death scenarios. There are at least two big screams in the film, as well as another strong suspense scene set in a creepy Italian cemetery.

An earlier post mentioned my love of Jerry Goldsmith as a composer. He is the only celebrity I ever wrote a fan letter to. After I saw Gremlins in 1984, I had to let him know how much I admired his versatility and the compositions. The Omen is one of his masterpieces. He was nominated more then a dozen times for Academy Awards, this movie is his only win. The music is quite innovative, It uses chants and discordant combination of notes. I saw a video clip in which he mentioned how much Richard Donner the director of the Omen, admired the simplicity of the main theme from JAWS. Goldsmith acknowledges that one sequence he scored in the film tries to do the same thing as John Williams famous score. He succeeds admirably in the scene that builds up to Damien having a fit about going into a church.

The summer of 1976 was a busy one, but my freshman year at U.S.C. I made a pretty good friend in Jon Cassanelli. He would have a tough life after we got out of school, and the story of his death is a little too depressing to discuss here, but he was vital and energetic during our college years. He was dating his debate partner Gleam Davis that year, and I went with the two of them to see this movie at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. (As I think about it, it may have been a theater that was located where Ripley’s Believe it or Not is now located,just a couple doors down from the Egyptian but I can’t recall the name). The theater was packed and people ate this movie up. I especially remember how all the women screamed at the last shot of our smiling star. I later saw the film with Dee, and she pretty much had the same reaction. The Omen is a suspense style horror film, tomorrow, when we look at Omen Two, the suspense shifts quite a bit to graphic horror, but it is still plenty disturbing.

Star Wars – (original 1977) A Movie A Day Day 49

Today is the 41st anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest achievements. The desire to travel to space, to know what is out there to find what is next,took a giant step on July 20, 1969. Eight years later, the fantasy of space was realized in the most effective Science Fiction/Fantasy film of all time. I chose this day to watch and comment on Star Wars, as a tribute to all the American Heroes that took us to the Moon on the summer day in 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are the names that people remember, but there were thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians and laborers that built the American Space program. To all of them I say a heartfelt thank you for inspiring the world. Film makers draw us in with imagination, you made reality more compelling then our imaginations.

Star Wars (A New Hope-as it was subsequently retitled) opened on May 25, 1977. Dolores and I had gone to a screening of an animated fantasy film called “Wizards” at Bovard Auditorium on the U.S.C. campus in early December of 1976. Before the film started there were a couple of trailers including the one you see above. I know many people in the theater that night had mixed reactions. Some laughed and thought it looked cheesy, some cheered as if it was a firework exploding in the sky above us. My heart soared with the phrase “The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.” When Luke and Leia swing across the chasm escaping their pursers, I knew this movie was for me. If you are not aware of it, my favorite movie is “The Adventures if Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn. I love a swashbuckler and Star Wars looked every inch the modern equivalent of a heroic adventure story, including sword-fights with lasers. This was the first we had heard of the movie, so we put it in our heads for the next Summer. There was not a lot of promotion of the film in the next five months. A couple of posters appeared, but no big stories in the papers, no guests showing up promoting on TV shows. I don’t remember seeing an ad for the movie other then the trailer in movie theaters. I think the day the movie opened, it opened on a small number of screens. In the Los Angeles area, it was playing on only one screen. The one screen that really mattered in those days, Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

I don’t think it was on Dee’s radar as much as it was on mine, and frankly, I had not focused on it much since that December evening. John DeBross was the Coach of the Trojan Debate team, a man I admired with all my heart and to this day still inspires me to be a good person. He and several other people from the team decided to go over to Hollywood on opening day and see the movie. I went with them because I desperately wanted to be part of the group and I did not have a lot in common with everyone else on the team. Movies, though, that was my domain, and I was deep in the mix. We got there for the second show of the day, bought tickets and walked right in. You read that right, without advance planning, on opening day, we went to see Star Wars and got right in. The theater was not even completely full. It was maybe two thirds to three quarters full. The phenomena that was about to take over popular culture for the next thirty years had not yet started. It felt like the breath one takes before diving off the high platform into a pool. A long intake of air that will be expelled with force but only after the surface of the water is broken. We sat about in the middle of the theater, a little more then halfway back. I don’t remember everyone who went with our group but I do remember everything I felt for the next two hours.

The opening fanfare was loud, and thrilling. The title scrawl of story set up was exciting. Nothing prepared us for the opening shot of a space ship flying across the screen over the audience. It was a huge ship, a space vehicle that would be our escort into this new world, but we were wrong. That first ship is actually being pursued by an even larger ship, the bottom of which consumes the whole screen and moves slowly so that we can take in the immenseness. This is the first surprise in Star Wars, twenty seconds into the movie. There had never been anything like this, and if that was the start of the film guess what was coming. If you are reading this and you have never seen Star Wars in a big theater, I am afraid I have to pity you. A home screening on a big TV is OK but it will never match the sheer audacity of that opening and the impact that it had on the audience. Later on in the movie there are space battles and aliens and robots and heroes and villains, but for that one moment there is just your mind asking you what the hell am I about to see? Holy Criminey this is AWESOME!!!

The story of Star Wars is well known, and there are a hundred other moments that will stand out to different people. I have no intention of writing an analysis or criticism of the movie. Today I’m simply sharing an experience with you that really defined me as a person. That summer, was the year that Dolores and I bonded and were deeply in love enough to know that it was going to stick. We were between our sophomore and junior years in college. We lived in Southern California, the weather was great, we had enough money from working that we could enjoy our leisure time and we were in love. This movie exploded after that first day and for the rest of the summer, if you wanted to see Star Wars, you stood in line, usually for several hours. Friday nights for nearly the whole summer, we did just that. We made the trek down to Hollywood, bought tickets for whatever showing we could get into and waited in line. We held hands, necked, made jokes, and visited with friends and strangers. It was a magical summer.

I have been in theaters for screenings where audience reaction has been amazing, “The Dark Knight” at the midnight show was great. We saw Robocop at a sneak preview and at the end of the movie I thought the audience was going to tear the theater down, they loved it so much. Nothing has ever compared to the audience reaction the first few times I saw Star Wars. The roar of the crowd at the end was like a freight train careening down the tracks at a speed well above what was safe. The first five or six times we saw it, there were standing ovations, and for the rest of the summer there was continuous applause at the credits for the actors, the special effects, the music and every technical category you can think of. This was a movie that was for the most part critically well received, but nothing any critic could say would change the love the audience had for this movie. Late in the summer, I took my Mom, Dad and my brother Kirk, to see the movie , finally at another theater, the Fox Theaters in Century City. Those were showplace movie houses for the 20th Century Fox studio which was basically across the street. We watched the movie, sat in awe at then end, and then my Dad said something I would never have imagined would come from him. He said, “Let’s stay and watch it again.” I don’t know if my brother has seen more then a dozen movies in theaters since then. I can only remember one other time that my parents wanted to to that. That night the four of us sat through Star Wars twice in a beautiful theater, with a gigantic screen and fantastic sound system. It is a great family memory for me.

Over the years there have been sequels, and prequels and I have always wanted to be a part of the experience. When we saw the trailer for the re-release of Star Wars in 1997, with our kids, you don’t have to guess what happened. They knew the movies from home video, but back on the big screen, it was almost like reliving that feeling from the summer of 1977. The feeling of falling deeper in love with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, the feeling of friendships and youth that make us older folks long for our younger days. And the feeling of falling in love with a film, that changed the way you saw the world.

"They Might Be Giants" A Movie A Day Day 48

(The Above is a Clip From the Movie, Not the Trailer)

This is an example of a film that you don’t see much anymore. A small comedy featuring a straight story, based on a play. Today it would be turned into a musical, an animated film, or it would be “re-invented” for a different actor or time. This movie succeeds on three things really; the two lead actors, the whimsical story and a beautiful score. In the 1970s, Neil Simon plays were turned into movies like this on a regular basis; “Plaza Suite”, “Same Time Next Year”, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”. These were basically two person plays expanded into a movie format. “They Might Be Giants” would have been great to see on stage but I’m sure I would have missed the sequence near the end set in a grocery store. I suspect it was added to make this more of a movie. Those kinds of additions don’t always work but in this movie it helped sustain the fantasy really well.

I have looked for this movie for several years. It was once available on VHS and DVD but those copies must have been rare. A used copy was being offered for $60 on Amazon. Even a VHS copy was selling for $40, and I could not give away VHS tapes at our yard sale a month ago. I secured my copy for the blog project by trolling the satellite channels we have coming into our TV. A number of movies have been obtained that way for me to talk about this summer. I will try to post a video cast for you, so you can hear a little bit more about this. Back to our current movie.

They Might Be Giants Features George C. Scott in his first theatrical film after winning and turning down the Academy Award for Patton. If you were to see these two movies back to back, you would understand how much he deserved the award. The two characters are very different in temperament and tone. There are a few grandiose moments in each movie, where the characters are acting out fantasy, but it is clear that although he is charming, Mr. Holmes in this movie is nuts. The story involves a respected Judge going off the deep end after the death of his wife. He loses all real connection to his past life and has assumed the persona of Sherlock Holmes. It would appear that he is doing this as a way of continuing his quest for a better world and for justice, but in a guise that avoids the reality of his loss. His brother is being blackmailed and wants him committed so that he can gain control of a sizable estate. There are some fun scenes where he performs deduction in the same manner as the fictional character. The psychiatrist that has been asked to examine him for the commitment process, is a woman (JoAnne Woodward) who happens to be Dr. Watson. In trying to help him she becomes caught up in his fantasy.

There are a ton of people in this movie that were in the early part of their careers. Rue McClanahan, who died just a few months ago plays his sister-in-law, Oliver Clark who played Mr. Hurd on the old Bob Newhart show is another patient. M.Emmet Walsh is a garbage man, Jack Gilford, nominated for best supporting actor two years later in Save the Tiger, is best remembered as the sad faced man from the Cracker Jack Commercials of the Time, here he is Holmes one true friend and it is revealed, an equally big romantic. I recognized James Tolkan as the blackmailer, from the Back to the Future movies, and future Academy Award winner from Amadeus, F.Murray Abraham plays an usher at a movie theater. The characters in the film are all lost in some way or another, and the shared fantasy of fighting Moriarty and pursuing justice brings them together and sustains them for at least a period of time. The movie has a strange but lovely story of romance between Holmes and Watson. The two stars play it straight and it feels real even though it is fantastic.

I have included for you at the bottom of this post, a video that features the main theme from the movie. It gives a very accurate reading of what the feel of the movie is. Warm with a bit of adventure and romance. I said before that the music was one of the strengths of the film, there is an invigorating march that accompanies the walk to the final confrontation with evil (Reality), and as Holmes and Watson are joined by various lost souls they have encountered throughout the story, the music builds. Their small army is ready to take on Giants if that is what they turn out to be. I saw this film at the Gold Cinema that I have mentioned before, but I remember it best from a TV screening I saw in the late 70s. Watching it today, I had only a vague recall of images and concepts. I was quite pleased to be able see it again as if I was seeing it for the first time. If any of you who know me are interested in seeing it, let me know, I can save you sixty bucks, because I’ll bet you won’t find this at Blockbuster.

"Frenzy" 1972 A Movie A Day Day 47

This movie came out twelve years after Psycho and repeated some of the horror from that film although it has a much different tone. The use of black and white in Psycho seems to me to make the film more stylized than Frenzy. The murders that occur are disturbing in both films but they seem more mundane and at the same time horrifying in Frenzy. Alfred Hitchcock was the greatest director of cinema thrillers ever. Horror was often a part of the work but he did not really make traditional horror films (although he might be credited as the father of the slasher film). As has often been said, he repeatedly made films about the wrong man in the wrong place being wrongly accused of a crime. When that man runs, the question becomes how will he clear himself or stop an additional crime?

We are given very sympathetic women in this film to fear for. Richard, the wrongly accused has an ex-wife that still cares for him and a casual girlfriend who is falling for him as the plot unfolds.Neither of the women are classic beauties,like Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedrren. They are nice looking English women that anyone in the audience can see are salt of the earth types. These are two of the links that point the finger of justice at our main character. Hitchcock’s heroes are usually flawed; Janet Leigh was a thief, Jimmy Stewart was subject to heights, even Cary Grant drank too much in North by Northwest. One of the weaknesses of Frenzy is inherent in it’s structure. Richard is the man we are asked to identify with, but he is an angry and bitter man. He drinks too much and becomes abusive of those that try to help him at various points. He needs to have a reputation for violence or a mean streak, to build police suspicion of him. This tendency to lash out though distances him from us as an audience, more than is probably wanted. At the end, when he breaks out of jail, he is not searching for exoneration like Richard Kimble, he is looking for vengeance on a truly evil figure that has put him in prison for the crimes he actually committed himself. This means that he is a lot less sympathetic and the suspense of whether he succeeds is undercut by that.

The first murder we see is extremely unpleasant. More recent films have gone even further in showing the viciousness and degradation and horror of a rape-murder, but in the confines of a mainstream picture from a big time director, this was really unusual. The close ups of the victim and the frenzied whining of the killer of the word “Lovely” as he assaults her is stomach churning for people with a moral conscience. It is needed to show the killer’s depravity but also to spare us from having to witness it in subsequent murders. We will be haunted by those events later on. The second murder in fact is not really shown in any detail except in brief storyboard flashbacks. Instead of repeating a sequence that is harrowing, we see the victim innocently being lead into the apartment that she will not emerge from alive. Then the camera pulls slowly back, descends a narrow winding staircase and pulls out onto the street. An everyday street scene is taking place with produce being moved, shop girls going to lunch and business men walking to meetings. The camera pans up to the exterior window of the apartment we just left and we all know what horror is going on there while everyday people walk by unaware. A victim would be tortured just by knowing that outside the window and door are people that might have saved her if only they had known.

Previous Hitchcock films had touches of humor but none as morbid as those found here. There is a terrifically suspenseful sequence in which the killer tries to recover a clue from the body of one of his victims. He ends up wrestling with a body in rigor mortise in the back end of a truck full of potatoes. It is a sick little joke that makes the movie more tolerable, despite this grotesqueness. This terrible circumstance is happening to our villain and although the girl is dead she extracts a little bit of retribution on him. The detective following the murderer has several sequences of unappealing meals that he must somehow get through, while his wife plants doubts in his head about the suspect Scotland Yard is pursuing. These comedic sequences puncture the murder and aftermath at different times. The horrid meals she prepares mean that he is going to focus on something other than the food, and that is the guilt or lack thereof of our titular hero. The closing line of the film actually makes the story sound like a long set up for this punchline. So although it is a pretty violent film, it has more humor in it than many of Hitchcock’s other works.

I remember this film from two distinct showings. Neither of the times I saw this in a theater were part of the original release of the movie. The first time I saw it was during the U.S.C. Summer debate workshop. The movie was screening late one afternoon in a large auditorium style classroom in Founders Hall. There was probably a fee to get in but I went in after the movie had started so no one bothered to charge me. This was the summer of 1973 so it was a year after the movie had been released. Later that same year or early in the next, I saw it as a second feature at the Gold Cinema in Alhambra. It might have been playing with one of the sequels to the Magnificent Seven, probably a cheap rental for the theater at that point because that would be an odd pairing. I was too young to have seen Psycho,or The Birds in theaters in the 1960’s. So this was my first exposure to Hitchcock in a true theater setting. I also saw his last work,”Family Plot”, at the same complex in the much larger Alhambra Theater just a few years later. It was not a summer release so it is not on my list for this project, but I will say that the tone of that movie is starkly different from “Frenzy”. I’m just glad I got to see a couple of the great ones’s films in a theater while he was still alive.

The Neptune Factor 1973 A Movie A Day Day 46

The above is a long clip from the film not the trailer.

If you watch any of the above clip you will know that this is not a great film. It is not a good film. It is not a mediocre film. It is a pretty sad excuse for a movie. There is a little bit of hope in the first third of the picture, but the drama dissipates quickly and there is very little reason to hold on until the end. So you can easily bail out on it then, that is unless you want to see the most laughable special effects in the history of cinema. This movie has an OK set up, a lazy middle and the most ridiculous resolution of science fiction adventure ever invented. Let’s save all that for a short while because there are other things to talk about.

I remember where I saw this film and who I was with very clearly, because it was a young teenage boys dream to meet girls at the movies. I saw this with Russ Weiner, who was my debate partner my first year of competition in high school. At Alhambra High in those says, it was a little like the NCAA of the time, freshman were not allowed to compete. A year late they changed the rule but it did apply to me at the time so I did not get involved in Speech Competition until my second year of high school. I was randomly paired with Russ which was fine by me, but it turned out that he had very little interest in Debate. We basically went 3 and 15 in debate rounds that year. He had had enough and one year met the speech requirement we had. He was pretty much done with forensics, but we stayed friends for another year or so. During the summer of 1973, before I went the the U.S.C. Western Forensic Institute, I hung out with Russ at his Dad’s apartment, at the Aquarium shop that he worked at, and we went to some movies. We saw the Neptune Factor as a second feature that was playing with “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”.

Almost everything in this movie was new to me because the whole time the movie was on, Russ and I were trying to hit on a couple of girls seated down in front of us. I remember moving down and sitting near them, and then asking if they wanted some of our Jujyfruits (or whatever we had). We kept making small talk and ignoring the movie while it ran on. I was actually a pretty outgoing guy, but my experience with women was very limited. I don’t know that Russ was any more expert but he took the lead and we had an OK time. No phone numbers were exchanged and I don’t remember anything about the girls at all, names, hair color, nothing. I do know that when we said goodbye in the lobby after the show, one girl kissed me on the cheek and said it was nice meeting us. Whoo hoo! Then we went back in and saw the Apes picture. I don’t think I went to a movie again with Russ ever. He was actually friends with Jim Bolton, who was Sheryl Bolton’s brother. Sheryl dated my best friend at the time Don Hayes. Later they were married for about six months. Anyway, Jim was older, about 300 pounds and a mean piece of work. He did things that were hurtful and painful to others. I probably stopped hanging out with Russ because he spent time at Jim’s. Don ran interference for me but I was a little guy next to all of them so I was a target and it made sense to avoid the scene. I have no idea whatever happened to Russ.

Now if you thought that story was boring, you clearly have not seen this movie. My brief description of those events is ten times as interesting as anything that happens in this movie. Walter Pidgeon is one of the stars, he was in another film that year called “Harry in Your Pocket”, about pickpockets, that was where all of his acting energy for the year went because he does nothing memorable at all in this movie. He was in pictures back to “How Green Was My Valley”, so he was well aged at that point and he was typecast as playing well aged types. Yvette Mimieux was the female lead. She had a wooden expression that served her well in The Black Hole a few years later. Her character is supposed to be in love with one of the men lost on an underwater research station, but you would be hard pressed to know she ever loved anyone from this performance. Ben Gazzara, plays the captain of a rescue vehicle named “Neptune”, thus the title of the film. Gazarra plays his whole part with a southern accent and a face of stone. The only actor in this movie with any life in him is Ernest Borgnine. You know what, he made a lot of odd films over the years, some great like “Marty” and “The Wild Bunch”, some not so great like Convoy”,”The Black Hole” and this. Regardless of the movie Borgnine was always a professional, doing his best not just there to get a paycheck.

I’m going to finish this post by telling you the climax of the picture. If it keeps you from seeing the movie because I give anything away, you can thank me for saving a couple hours of your life. The team goes down in the rescue sub one last time, because it is unsafe to search for the lab in the trench for too long due to aftershocks of the original quake that caused the lab to fall off the edge in the first place. They are tethered to the surface ship for safety. At the first chance she gets, Mimieux’s character busts them loose and they plunge deeper into the abyss then they had planned. Here is where the special effects show up, they encounter enormous versions of fish and plant life at the floor of the ditch. These consist of blown up shots of fish from someones aquarium. The people in the rescue sub and the stranded researchers are menaced by clown fish, seahorses and catfish. There are shots of the sub in the movie that look like a plastic toy that a kid would play with in the bathtub, and then we cut back to close ups of fish in an aquarium. This was less suspenseful then an episode of Jacques Cousteau. It is really hard to believe that anyone thought this would cut it even in 1973. The researchers are able to escape because one of them sacrifices himself by distracting the catfish that are probably there to clean the floor of the tank, and letting himself get eaten. The plastic toy rises to the surface, and then everyone on the main boat heaves a sigh of relief. “THE END”. Look, the director of this was Daniel Petrie, who a couple of years later made “Lifeguard” a nice little picture that I wrote about earlier. Everyone made it out of this picture and continued to work, which just shows how many chances someone can get sometimes.

The Frisco Kid 1979 A Movie a Day Day 45

Boy did it get complicated finding a post-able version of this trailer. Please watch it so that I feel the effort was worth it. I don’t know why someone doesn’t have it on youtube, because this movie stars Harrison Ford, the biggest movie star on the planet for 20 years, and Gene Wilder one of the best loved comic actors of all time. Even though it features these two big stars, I don’t think many people know of or have seen The Frisco Kid. This is another gem from the summer of 1979. There were quite a few other films out that summer so maybe it simply got crowded out of the marketplace. This movie was directed by Robert Aldrich, one of the great tough guy filmakers of the sixties and seventies. He brought us “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Longest Yard”. So it was not put together by amateurs.

We saw it at the Gold Theater in Alhambra; that was the small second screen at the site of the main Alhambra Theater. They claim to be the first multi-plex in the country or at least on the west coast. That theater was heavily damaged by the Whittier narrows quake in 1987, and it never reopened. Four years later the Edwards Atlantic Palace opened and it was the most beautiful theater in the world for a couple of years. Now my kids that went there with me when they were little, think it is creepy. If they had ever seen the Gold Theater they would have freaked out. It had a small screen, maybe 150 seats and a pretty low ceiling. That was the experience we had when we saw this movie. It was on a double bill but I can’t recall right now what the other feature was. We loved Gene Wilder and if you look at the trailer, you will see he was the selling point for the film. Harrison Ford had been in Star Wars but not yet the sequel where he really shined and this was two years before Indiana Jones. He was co-billed but definitely the second lead.

The movie is populated with familiar faces from westerns and TV shows of the day. There is a an Indian chief played by the guy who was John Travolta’s father in Saturday Night Fever; you know the one who hits his hair. The head of the Jewish group in San Francisco is someone I’m sure I saw on TV a million times in the 1970s. I want to give special notice to William Smith however, because this may be the most memorable role I saw him in in a theatrical film. He is the heavy, and that was the part he usually played. I remember him best from the two Rich Man, Poor Man Mini-series of the 70s. People who have grown up in a world of cable series that had short runs, may think that this was a normal way to tell a story. In the 1970s, when most people had only the three main networks to choose from, and a series might run several nights in a row or over the course of a few weeks they had huge ratings. William Smith was the scary bad guy in the Rich Man, Poor Man series, so he was seen by huge numbers of people and he was quite memorable in the role. In the Frisco Kid he plays the bad guy that tries to get the Rabbi in a gunfight at the end of the movie. He might be hard to find since the Rabbi took San Fransisco and the bad guy gets everywhere else.

Harrison Ford plays his part for laughs for the most part. He is not doing slapstick but he is often the straight man in the comedy duo. He does get a few choice lines and gets to play some very nice emotional moments with Wilder. The heart of the movie is the friendship that springs up between Ford’s bank robber and Wilder’s Rabbi. It is a buddy picture with a nice twist. It is also a fish out of water story, with the Rabbi encountering con men, Amish, posses, and Indians. For a nice Jewish boy from Poland, it would appear to be overwhelming, but the spirit of the Rabbi is a good one. He is a man trying to live up to expectations, and he doesn’t always have the skill but no one would ever doubt his heart. When he telegraphs back the money that Ford stole from a bank in a small town they went through, you know this is a guy with his heart in the right place.

Gene Wilder carries the movie with his spot on accent and hangdog expressions. He puts more emotion in his eyes then ten other actors could muster. True his lines are sometimes delivered like a stereotype, but that is part of the humor from being out of place in the old west. If you don’t laugh at the whole sequence when he is chasing a prairie chicken down to when he finally meets up with Ford, there is nothing you will find funny in the movie. I laughed hard at the line”If you had been here yesterday, we could have had chicken.” I think the movie was sold as a Mel Brooks style comedy, but it is actually much more gentle and sentimental. Allison said today that this was her favorite Gene Wilder Character, and she loves Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein. The movie could be a little tighter. It feels about fifteen minutes too long. It is not a bad fifteen minutes, and I want to be honest, the extra time with the two characters is not going to hurt anyone.

Moonraker 1979 A Movie A Day Day 44

As far as I’m concerned, every James Bond Film is a classic. James Bond is my favorite character in movies and fiction and has been since the time I discovered the novels when I was ten years old. We had most of the paperbacks that I found on a bookshelf in our house on Kendall Ave in Los Angeles. I saw the lurid covers and the cool titles and I dove right in. They were a little racy for a ten year old, but the reading level was fine because, well frankly I was an advanced reader. The more sophisticated might say that my reading level would be retarded by spending time with these novel. Anyone who believes that, has not shared a meal with James Bond in an exotic hotel, or played a high stakes game of cards with a desperate villain. I saw my first Bond films before I read the books and was pleased as punch that I did not have to wait another two years to get the next story. Moonraker the film shares almost nothing with the book. The villain’s name is just about all they have in common. This movie was moved up after the success of Star Wars, and the 007 franchise decided to cash in on the space craze. The seventies Bond films seemed to be more locked into film trends then a dozen other media put together. Blaxsplotation films led to Live and Let Die, Kung Fu epics featuring Bruce Lee meant that The Man with the Golden Gun would be set in Asia and feature martial arts as a subplot, and then Moonraker jumps on the Science Fiction bandwagon. Many have criticized Moonraker as the worst 007 movie ever. It’s not the worst but it did pander the most. There is a set of three musical cues used in the movie for a joke. The opening strains of Also Sprach Zarthura, the Close Encounters communication theme and the Theme from the Magnificent Seven are all used as punchlines. That seems a little excessive.

There are some big set pieces in the movie that work very well on their own, even if they are not essential to the story telling. The pre-credit sequence features a great parachute stunt and looks pretty good. There was only one Bond film in the seventies that did not have a boat chase of some type, that was the last one with Sean Connery. I guess the producers decided Roger Moore looked great on the water. In fact, Moonraker features two boat chase sequences, both are spectacular. In Venice Bond has a gondola that tuns into a speedboat and he maneuvers around the canals until he runs out of room, then it turns into a hovercraft that allows him to float across the piazza and get double takes and slapstick reactions from the crowd. In the Amazon, his vehicle is equipped with counter measures that allow him to destroy most of the enemy speedboats chasing him, and again he has a slick exit when he runs out of room. The writers might be accused of dipping into the same well in this one movie, but I doubt most people noticed because it was so fun.

There are a few technical glitches in the story telling that get glossed over. The hijacking of the Moonraker is a good looking sequence but it makes no sense since the Shuttle that is stolen only flies in free fall, and the engines on it would not allow someone to hijack it like a car on the streets. The explosions in space have to look spectacular, the the film makers ignore that in the absence of oxygen, there would be no huge flames to look at against the black background of space. Even if you have more money than Bill Gates, you could not restore a glass factory in a few hours and replace a laboratory with a renaissance library, complete with art work by the masters, overnight. I don’t know anyone who wants to get too wrapped up in that, but it is an illustration of how the series was becoming dislodged from reality. The space marines in the American shuttle that battles Drax’s forces, seem to come out of nowhere. I will say that the execution of the launch sequences of the six Moonraker shuttles, closely resemble the real shuttle takeoffs, which would not occur for two years after this movie was released.

This was the very first movie I recorded with the $1100 VCR we bought in 1981. Bond films up through the seventies were lucrative films in re-releases, but cable programming was making all kinds of movies available. It was a huge event when the Bond Films came to TV in the late seventies, and Moonraker was one of the new 007 adventures that would not get a second chance to get an audience in the theaters but would be embraced by those with a good color TV. I suspect that is one reason that Roger Moore’s Bond portrayals were widely embraced, they were seen by more people more quickly because of the different TV windows of the day. I am not saying Moore wasn’t deserving of praise, but it always surprised me that there were people that preferred his Bond to Sean Connery. At the end of this movie, is the promise that James Bond would return in “For Your Eyes Only”. I liked it when we got that promise and there was a particular title to look forward too. Now a days, the promise seems more hollow because they don’t really know what the next Bond will consist of and there is uncertainty in the studio. The death of United Artists in 1981, meant that the franchise would be in the hands of the producers but not always backed by a reliable studio. This is why we may not get another Daniel Craig Bond film, and maybe no Bond film for years to come.

There is an interesting personal story about our first screening of this movie. We went with Kathy and Art, a year before they got married and we got married. We saw this at a theater in Westwood, which was the only place it was playing when it first opened (those days were disappearing rapidly). We got there a couple hours before or screening and lined up in front of the theater to wait. While we were waiting, some incident occurred that led me to make a joke about Art being henpecked. Kathy got a bit irritated, but we shrugged it off, it was just an innocuous smart ass comment. While Dolores and I waited in line, holding our place, Art and Kathy walked off to get a drink or some ice cream. They were gone nearly an hour and we got a bit worried. Right before the doors opened to let us in they came back and we all went in and had what I thought was a nice time. It was only later that we found out that Kathy was infuriated about the joke and wanted Art to go with her and take her home. We had ridden with them in Art’s little yellow Opal sedan, out to see the movie. Kathy had wanted to abandon us there, she was so mad. We would have been stranded in Westwood, forty miles from my house and without any way of knowing what had happened, remember, no cell phones. It turns out that most of that hour they were gone was spent by Art trying to convince her not to do that. My best friend Art passed away in 1993. He and Kathy were close friends for the length of their marriage. Kathy moved on and seemed uninterested in staying a part of our lives. It hurt a great deal but for five years after his death we basically only got a Christmas card a couple of times. We reconnected in 2000, and actually had a pretty close friendship again, but in 2001, with her kids in tow, she bailed out on us at another movie.We have not seen or heard from her at all in nine years. We sat watching the first Harry Potter movie, wondering what the hell had happened. The answer was simple, Art wasn’t there to talk her out of it that time.

Amityville Horror 1979 A Movie A Day Day 43

Amanda watched this with us, and she said it didn’t frighten her except for a few jump shots and gotcha moments. Of course she watched this from behind a blanket curled up in a corner of the couch. Even if it didn’t get to her, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it got to me. This movie in no way has the intensity or impact of a film like the Exorcist or Alien, but the creep factor was quite high from my point of view. There were several scenes that made me jump and almost a dozen that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It works very well as a fright film, and I thought the intensity at the end was a satisfying finish for the movie.

Haunted House movies usually work for me. I have already written about the Legend of Hell House earlier in the summer. If I ever repeat this project for films of the 1980s, you can bet that Poltergeist will be on the list. We are big fans of the Television show “Supernatural” and my favorite episode usually involve some kind of haunting. It may be that Amanda is such a fan of the show that she is a little jaded in regard to the traditional creaky/spooky house bits. I on the other hand respond to the usual suspects the way the film makers usually are looking for. When I noticed the name of the Director tonight as I was watching the opening, I was not surprised that the movie works. Stuart Rosenberg directed the fantastic Cool Hand Luke in the 1960s, and in the seventies he did a couple of very nice Paul Newman movies and a thriller called the Laughing Policeman that I had always liked. This movie is very competently put together.

Let’s start with the script. It is based on the bestselling book of the time. I know there have been a number of follow up stories that debunk the story as being true. It has even been suggested that the whole thing was a hoax. I have never read the book and I did not follow the rebuttal stories very closely. I never went into this thinking it was a documentary. I guess those who did were hoodwinked the same way that people who thought the Blair Witch Project was real were taken in. I just looked at it as a good story. It has all the needed parts to pull us in; a young couple newly married with kids from a previous relationship buying a dream house, a background story that sets up the drama and horror before our main character even take the stage, and several subplots about satanism, Indian burial grounds and just weird local history. There are not a huge number of special effects and the three that stood out might seem a little cheesy. At one point we see a set of glowing eyes, then there is the image of the lead character that floats into a hidden room, and what looks like a giant creepy rat in the little girls room at the end of the film. Two of these worked well despite being a bit iffy. The floating head image of James Brolin is the one photo effect that just falls flat. I’ll tell you what image of Brolin does work scaring us, his face staring up at the audience from the year old newspaper photo of the murderer in the opening sequence.

The actors are fine, Margot Kidder did this movie between the two Superman movies she was featured in. She is a nice looking woman that is not beautiful per say but comes across as sexy and appealing in an everyday kind of way. I have not seen the remake that came out a few years ago, but my guess is that it is populated with pretty people. That kind of casting takes us out of the reality of the story. Sure James Brolin is a good looking man, but we see him deteriorate in front of our eyes. The kids are cute but not model cute. And all the supporting players are plain, they were hired for the roles they were playing not their looks. This was a low budget film made by American International Pictures, but they spent the money to make a film competently and to make it creepy. They did not try to sell us on the movie based on how fantastic everything looked. The music was by Lalo Schifrin. He did the music the year before for yesterdays movie “The Cat From Outer Space”. Also Rollercoaster, Enter the Dragon and a couple more films on my list for the summer. He is best known for writing the greatest TV theme this side of Hawaii Five-0, The Mission Impossible theme. For this movie he really did a great job, the eeriness kept going even when conventional story elements were on the screen. I thought this evening while I was watching it, that this was one of the better scores I had heard this summer. When I looked it up, sure enough he was nominated for an Academy Award for this score.

Dolores and I went to this movie with Kathy and Art in the legendary summer of 1979. We saw it at the Rosemead Four theater. This was one of the first of the AMC style multiplexes, the theaters were small, the lobby smaller, but the popcorn was good. This theater is long gone and they don’t have a screen in the area anymore at all. We all enjoyed it and the girls were particularly creep-ed out. Maybe as I have gotten older, I have lost some of my nerve and I am now easier to scare. I just thought this movie worked. OK, maybe going back for the dog seems tired and stupid to moviegoers today, but that is only because they did it here first and a thousand others followed (Don’t forget, Ripley went back for the cat).