Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Warner Archive - LADYHAWKE on Blu-ray

LADYHAWKE (1985; Richard Donner)
This movie takes me back to my drive-in heyday. I know I saw movies at our local four-screen drive-in during years other than 1985 and 1986, but I have such a concentrated memory of seeing certain films there during that time. I specifically remember us leaving the drive-in as the last bit of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF was playing out. I wouldn't get to see Matthew Broderick deliver his wonderfully quippy final lines to camera about the movie being over until later. And speaking of Broderick, LADYHAWKE was most likely the first film I saw him in. I remember being aware of WARGAMES around the time it came out, but I have this feeling that I didn't see it in the theater. I think there are a ton of movies from 1983 and 1984 that I didn't see theatrically because my family wasn't going to the movies as much then. In '85 and '86 I recall that my family went to the movies more. We went to the drive-in many weekends. I know a lot of folks associate the drive-in with schlocky genre and exploitation fare, but I always remembered it is this place where I saw big Hollywood movies. I saw BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE and others that would become the classics of my own personal lexicon. I would even seen Richard Donner's second 1985 film (GOONIES) at the drive-in during that summer too. So anyway, Matthew Broderick. At the time I found his cowardly character with a penchant for talking to himself to be quite funny. He really impressed me. Like I think I can recall him being the big standout thing about the movie for me (and this is a film with Michelle Pfeiffer mind you). I had a sense of how good he was and that feeling you get when you see someone who is going to be a star. I mean he already kind of was at that time, but I had no idea who he was. It wasn't until recently that I realized how much of a huge stage actor he was early on and how that was what led to his movie career. To me he was this nebbish dude in LADYHAWKE and the next year, the complete opposite as Ferris Bueller. For anyone who hasn't seen LADYHAWKE, just a quick warning that I'm going to spoil slightly here. I'm not sure how I must have felt about medieval films as a rule when I saw this, but this one had a kind of a twist that totally hooked me. At the beginning, we see Rutger Hauer's character introduced as a guy with a hawk (and a killer crossbow btw, which I also dug as a kid). That's during the day. When night fell, suddenly he vanished and Michelle Pfeiffer appeared an so did this scary black wolf. The next morning, Pfeiffer is gone and Hauer is back with the hawk. See where this is going? The day/night lover's curse thing was an interesting novelty to me at the time and the wolf gave the film the air of something more horror-like and obviously supernatural. I think I also enjoyed seeing such a distinct lack of bravery as one of the defining things about the film's main character. That kind of thing had been done before, but this was one of the first times I was seeing it. When I watch it now I see a little bit of Woody Allen in Broderick's performance (though that may or may not actually be there). When I was a kid though this kind of subversion of the hero of the movie was fascinating to me. It also made me feel like maybe this weakling could be killed or something and that probably pulled me into the move even more. So when I watched the film again on this new Blu-ray (which is gorgeous by the way), I had all these sensations come rushing back to me. It was like putting on a familiar album I used to listen to when I was younger and surprisingly being able to remember all the lyrics, even after not having heard the songs for twenty years. There were scenes and bits of dialogue that were as fresh to me as if I had watched the film only a week ago. This tells me a couple things. One is that, as I said, this movie really made some kind of imprint on me for one reason or another. And two that I must have watched it several times as a youngster. One thing I did NOT remember though was the score. Holy smokes. It certainly feels a bit out of place now. It is this synthy 80s near-rock at times and though I understand it was most likely done to make a period piece feel more modern, it is hard not to snicker at when hearing it now. I mean, it stands out so much that I can't believe it didn't stand out to me back then. But then I think to myself that this style of music was clearly in vogue in movies of this period so it probably just seemed more "energetic" than most but not out of the ordinary. That said, my nostalgia for this movie overrides any issues and I can easily get lost in it which is what happened this time. Warner Archive's  Blu-ray turn towards the 1980s is a welcome one and with the upcoming WOLFEN disc I do hope it's a trend that they continue straight on through the rest of this year. LADYHAWKE is a bit of a cult item now and I love to see a company like WAC give loving HD releases of 8os cult favorites. That is truly fighting the good fight.

Bonus: Matthew Broderick on working in the theatre - circa 1985:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Underrated '75 - J.T. Lindroos

JT Lindroos is a Finnish-American designer and writer. He currently reviews mostly european comics for Bookgasm, and designs book covers and occasional dvd releases. Formerly the owner of Point Blank Press, he published two volumes of Glenn (DVD Savant) Erickson's writings, as well as three books by film director Josh Becker (or Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except 'fame'). His portfolio on pinterest, hosting sharpie caricatures of Barbara Stanwyck, Warren Oates and Sam Fuller among other work, is as good a place to start as any:
Dersu Uzala (1975; Akira Kurosawa)
Much as I love Yojimbo, Rashomon and all his other magnificent work, Dersu Uzala remains my favorite Kurosawa title. It takes what’s wonderful in his work and combines it with what’s wonderful in much of Russian cinema, and exponentially magnifies both to what might not be underappreciated except within the body of work of Kurosawa himself. Gorgeously moody masterpiece.

Report To The Commissioner (1975; Milton Katselas)
This is a film I haven’t seen in 25 years or so, but after getting hooked on Larry Cohen’s films back in the day, I moved quickly through what was available in Michael Moriarty’s back catalogue, and this Warner Bros. VHS tape knocked me out. Moriarty is fantastic, the storyline fascinating, the support in cast spectacular. I watched it three or four times within a couple of months after seeing it for the first time, and am happy to see it making its bluray debut in the US this summer.

Lisztomania (1975; Ken Russell)
This is hardly a great film, but it is all kinds of spectacular. And it was the first Ken Russell film I ever saw, so it holds a dear place in my heart. Made in the same year as TOMMY, this completely mad musical (of sorts) wallows in its own weirdness, stars Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt, Rick Wakeman as Thor and Ringo Starr as The Pope.

Night Moves (1975; Arthur Penn)
I rented this Warner VHS not because of the director or the star, although I had certainly been a longtime fan of both when I did, but for the fact that James Woods appeared in it in a small early role. He’s fine, but the rest of the film is mind-bogglingly wonderful. It’s a fine modern private eye film until the truly magnificent ending which makes me think there is an enigma machine somewhere capable of deciphering it from the screenplay clues, while being fully aware that it doesn’t reside inside my head.

The Land That Time Forgot (1975; Kevin Connor)
Perfect exemplification of that wonderful “Lost World” genre whereupon modern man stumbles accidentally upon a prehistoric spot littered with dinosaurs and other mortal perils. The screenplay is co-credited to the great Mike Moorcock, and it is for the most part functional and engaging, but the parade of colorful action set pieces and thrills on a fairly meager budget is exactly what the poster promises. In the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard, this is fun for the whole family.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


"It's better to be dead and cool than alive and uncool."

Gosh, this film takes me back. Not to date myself too much, but I turned seventeen in 1991 which meant R-rated movies were a wide open opportunity for entertainment. HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN opened in late summer (close to my birthday), so it was a perfect "because I can" R-rated movie for my good friend and I to go and see. We'd probably seen a TV commercial for it or something, but it was by no means a flick that everyone we knew were talking about. That said, we loved it. It was the perfect thing for that time and place. Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke were a great dynamic duo (or Butch and Sundance stand-ins). The movie had a certain immaturity to it and so much machismo that it was practically dripping off of every line of dialogue. I mean, the movie opens to Rourke riding his Harley while Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" plays in the background.
Set in the dystopian future of 1996 (wherein gas costs a then unthinkable $3.99 a gallon), the film presents Los Angeles as a city akin to ROBOCOP's Detroit. Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man are old friends. When they find out that their favorite old Hollywood-themed bar in Burbank is being forced out of business, they hatch a plan to save the place. This movie has "cult film" written all over it. From the somewhat futuristic setting and quasi-western genre trappings to the eclectic cast (including Giancarlo Esposito, Tom Sizemore, Daniel Baldwin and pro wrestler Big John Stud) it feels all-around like something that may not connect with a wide commercial audience. And it didn't. It took in only about $7 million on an estimated $23 million budget and was panned by critics at the time. It's a situation very reminiscent of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (one of my very favorite films), STREETS OF FIRE and many other movies that have proven to be much beloved over the years. Somehow though HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN never reached the same cult status as those others. It certainly has a cult, but I've never understood why it wasn't bigger. I'm quite pleased to see Shout Factory give it the old Blu-ray treatment as it is right in line with a lot of the cult movies that they've made it their mission to keep alive and kicking.
Special Features include the original theatrical trailer and a vintage promotional featurette.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Underrated '75 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He barely remembers what it's like to watch a well-regarded movie anymore. He writes all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.
Check out his Underrated '85 list here:

Darna vs. The Planet Women (1975; Armando Garces)
It’s a little surprising to me that Darna never got to be much of a thing in America. I’d certainly never heard of her until I stumbled upon this movie, but she’s been a big-time superhero in her native Philippines since the 1950s, complete with comic books, cartoons and a couple of long-running film franchises. 

Darna vs. The Planet Women makes it easy to see why. It’s a charming, light-hearted bit of nonsense about an underwear-clad superheroine fighting off an invasion by a force of multi-colored, equally clothing-averse space women, with occasional sidebars to get her dimwitted boyfriend out of jams. Darna’s super-power skill set seems to be roughly analogous to Captain Marvel’s (or maybe Captain Marvel, Jr’s, since her alter-ego also walks with a crutch) and her battles are staged with a sloppy energy typical of low-budget ‘70s Filipino action movies. Considering that most of the primary characters are played by gorgeous, nearly naked women, this movie has a surprisingly feminist bent. Both Darna and her nemeses are consistently underestimated, objectified and patronized by men, and both use that sexism to their full advantage, to the point that women seem to be the only remotely competent denizens of the Darnaverse. Darna vs. The Planet Women is far from a perfect film - it’s longer than it ought to be, and occasionally hampered by its budgetary restrictions - but it’s fun in a way most superhero films could only hope for.

Pick-Up (1975; Bernard Hirschenson)
Two hippie chicks - one a giggly free spirit, the other probably a major Pentangle fan - hitch a ride with a hot young dude driving a fully furnished tour bus across Florida. If that sounds like the set-up to a porno, you’re not far off. Technically speaking, Pick-Up is a softcore skin flick pitched at the trenchcoat crowd, but it clearly aspires to something greater. 

After the bus gets stranded in the Everglades, most of the movie consists of the trio wandering among the palmettos with frequent pauses for sex, traumatic childhood flashbacks and/or nightmarish hallucinations. Gorgeous scenery shots and rambling stoner conversations mingle uneasily with evil clowns, lusty sun gods, lecherous priests and other sundry horrors and delights. Infused with a vibe of hazy, tripped-out weirdness and peppered with moments of shocking violence, Pick-Up is an overachiever in a genre notorious for aiming low. Neither the director nor any of the three lead actors ever worked in that capacity again, which only adds to the film’s haunted aura. Watching it made me feel like I was seeing something that shouldn’t have existed, and when it was over I wasn’t entirely certain it ever did. 

The Candy Tangerine Man (1975; Matt Cimber)
The big hook of The Candy Tangerine Man is “Street hustlers: They’re just like us!” That’s an intriguing angle, but honestly the glimpses at bad-ass pimp and crime boss Baron’s secret life as a suburban family man are the least interesting bits of this movie. The real delight comes in watching director Matt Cimber crank up the sleaze of Baron’s underworld existence for contrast. Virtually every character and situation outside Baron’s home drips with nastiness for the sake of nastiness. Cops, criminals and civilians alike engage in torture, mutilation, humiliation and murder. Everybody’s on the make and happy endings are few and far between. Cimber has the good sense to play the ugliness mostly straight, making this one of the most attractively repellent bits of blaxploitation I’ve yet seen.

Deadly Hero (1975; Ivan Nagy)
1975 was kind of a watershed for intense, mentally ill white guys pushed to the breaking point. Deadly Hero would make a great first course in a double-bill with Taxi Driver - quite possibly my favorite film, so that’s not a comparison I make lightly. Don Murray’s seething New York cop serves as a less charismatic counterpart to Travis Bickle, a short-fused zealot who believes in his ideals to a terrifying extent. It’s a part that could easily slide into Bad Lieutenant-style grotesquerie but instead remains on the distressingly believable side of the scale.

Of course, director Ivan Nagy was by no means Martin Scorsese. (Although Mr. Nagy’s biography could make a heck of a Scorsese film - look him up!) For all its visceral energy and Murray’s should-be-iconic lead performance, Deadly Hero suffers from poor pacing and a disappointingly cliched finale. What truly elevates this movie is its sadly timeless relevance. This is the story of a white male cop who believes in “Justice” as religion, has no qualms about shooting an unarmed black man or terrorizing a female witness, and is quick to cast himself as the real victim when his sins come to light. If you made this movie today, you’d be accused of being too on the nose with your social commentary, but seen through the filter of four decades it comes across as a tragically realistic document of a system that’s as broken today as it was back then. After years of obscurity, this feels like a film whose time has finally come.

Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975; Jamaa Fanaka)
This movie is remembered primarily for the insane, out-of-nowhere plot twist revealed in its final act (I won’t spoil the surprise here, but if you’re interested there are plenty of reviews elsewhere online that do), and justifiably so. It’s a startling and surprisingly effective flight of fancy in what’s previously been a relatively sober film. 

Thing is, Welcome Home, Brother Charles would easily qualify for this list even without that shock value. Directed by underground legend Jamaa Fanaka, it’s a grimly realistic story of a reformed pimp and pusher trying to stay on the straight and narrow after a prison stint and an attempted castration at the hands of a racist cop. Part gritty street-hustling slice-of-life, part melancholy story of redemption deferred, part gonzo revenge fantasy, the movie never quite gets its three pieces to cohere, but it doesn’t really need to. It’s a fractured, soulful, occasionally freaky portrait of truth, justice and the American way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Underrated '75 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.
Check out his Underrated '85 list too:

Jaws. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Nashville. Dog Day Afternoon. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Barry Lyndon. Also consider the quality of the B-pictures and exploitation flicks also released in 1975. Rollerball. Death Race 2000. A Boy and His Dog. Argento's Deep Red. Just a massive list of amazing films, a banner year for fans of cinema. As I was scouring the list of films from 1975 I found it rather difficult to assemble a list of movies that weren't highly regarded by some faction or another. Would another vote for Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze as a guilty pleasure really matter in the grand scheme of things? Rather than stare at this list any longer I settled down in front of my own DVD shelves, checking dates, searching for some 1975 gems without the aid of some arbitrary movie site's rankings to help me decide which films were underseen or undervalued. I found about 12 that fit the bill. I whittled that list down to these following five... plus some bonus picks all the way down at the end because I just can't help myself. 

Rancho Deluxe (1975; Frank Perry)
"I don't know what they shot this steer with, but they blew a hole in him big enough that you can throw a cat through.

Rancho Deluxe has all the makings of a cult film without any of the ballyhoo. This is the decadence of the traditional cinematic Western. Why doesn't Rancho Deluxe get its due hyperbolic praise? Perhaps the film lacks a specific genre. It's part teen comedy, part satire, part Western dystopia viewed through the sepia-colored nostalgia that still romanticizes the ideologies of the Old West. 

Through the perspective of two young Montana misfits (Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston), Rancho Deluxe views the West as a comedy of overidentified ways and means. The cattle farmers and ranchers living high on the hog from merely "showing bulls" and reveling in their pre-existing wealth (without actually doing any farming). So bored that they're hunting petty cattle rustlers because they've got no other way to fill their days. The youth growing up in this modern frontier without education or potential employment torment the cattle barons "for sport." There's a brothel scene, pot smoking, very un-PC bits of dialogue (Mexican Overdrive = neutral), the old steer in the motel room gag, and a conversation filmed only in the reflection on the glass of a Pong video game machine. 

In addition to the cracking dialogue and clever cinematography, Rancho Deluxe boasts sweeping Big Sky landscapes. The clear testament to this film's underratedness: the dark and muddy DVD is now only available via a BOD service through Amazon and there seems to be no hope for a Blu-ray. This movie begs for some tender loving restoration and a high-definition presentation. Those mountain ranges should really pop when they're not smeared with the Vaseline tears of forgotten cinema.

The impressive ensemble of character actors includes Clifton James (the infamous Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the James Bond films Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun), Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright, and Elizabeth Ashley among other familiar faces. Even Jimmy Buffett and Warren Oates stop by for a brief bar band performance.

When the film strays from the central hijinks of rustlers vs. cattle barons, the melodrama briefly taxes the film's forward progress, but that's hardly enough to saddle Rancho Deluxe for long. Roger Ebert hated Rancho Deluxe. Reading his review, I can't help but think he, like many other contemporary critics, missed the point of the film. Maybe Rancho Deluxe was a little too jokey at times to see clearly the depth and sly wickedness, but it's precisely that blend of contrasting humor and melancholy that sets it apart. 

Zorro (1975; Duccio Tessari)
I'm not quite sure when I first saw Duccio Tessari's 1975 version of Zorro starring Alain Delon. I do know a few things for certain: I was pretty young. Was it on TV? Did my parents have a VHS? I went on a fact-finding mission. They don't remember this film at all. Nonetheless, I'm quite convinced this my first version of Zorro and my first Alain Delon film. These facts led to some interesting realizations over the course of my ongoing cinematic education. 

Upon first watching Le Cercle Rouge: "Is that Zorro?" 

Upon first watching Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro: "This movie takes itself far too seriously."

The average human with even a moderate cinematic IQ would have questioned what the hell Alain Delon was doing playing Zorro and most likely considered the reincarnation of Zorro in the 1990s to be a broad m√álange of genre tropes that boasted no greater aspirations that being really good at selling popcorn. In other words, not especially serious at all. That's how much 1975's Zorro warped my perception of the character. 

Tessari's Zorro remains an odd duck in the masked hero's lineage, which began all the way back with Douglas Fairbanks in 1920's The Mark of Zorro. It seems as though Tessari set out to make a similarly thrilling adventure film. Swash is buckled, and women are wooed and rescued, but somewhere along the way, Tessari ended up making a kitschy, foppish, joke of a movie.  

Zorro is not a prime example of filmmaking prowess. On a number of occasions Tessari had to insert bizarre, unplanned jump cuts. I can only assume he had to make up for poor coverage or horrendous dubbing. He also often shoots through foregrounded objects that obscure the actors. (Did he have no better options in post?) Add into the mix a series of mickey-moused pratfalls, a mute sidekick who communicates with bizarre squeaks and gesticulations, and a bumbling antagonist less fearsome than your average unmasked Scooby Doo villain. In case you missed where I was going here, this is undoubtedly a plug for Awesomeful cinema. While Martin Campbell's 1998 Mask of Zorro managed to entertain with a wide birth but without much filmmaking derring-do, Tessari and Delon have created such a confounding mess that I can't help but enjoy myself. Without irony even. 

Fans of Alain Delon, thespian, will marvel at how he found himself in such a film (and clearly having a grand time of it all). He leaps from rooftop to rooftop and dispatches legions of inept soldiers with a flick of his wrist. Even more fun was had prancing around as his alter ego, the grandly bewigged and positively fabulous governor. 

Then there's that theme song. Composed by Oliver Onions, aka Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, "Zorro Is Back" enjoyed some more modern notoriety in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. The tune is a jarring, out-of-place/out-of-time slice of contemporary (and repetitive!) puffery that cannot really be contextualized outside the whole bizarre enterprise that is 1975's Zorro. I can't recommend Zorro to everyone, but if you read all of that and remain intrigued, maybe you can be a fan of bonkers Zorro too. 

Smile (1975; Michael Ritchie)
While Michael Ritchie's Smile might be well regarded, it's definitely underseen. This gem deserves to be mentioned not only in the great comedies of the decade but also among the great comedies of all time. As a satire of the beauty pageant industry, Smile resists the temptation to point and laugh at the witless contestants and instead turns the lens on the America that fosters such an absurd display of prancing, preening and pretension. 

While more recent attempts to update the genre such as Drop Dead Gorgeous and Miss Congeniality have focused largely on the bad behavior or vapidity of the contestants and their families, Smile allows the female contestants to be real, three-dimensional characters with dreams (although misdirected). The bite of the satire therefore comes from the malicious and deviant characters that host the pageant competition, aka everyone. A trademark of 1970's cinema was the willingness to indict the viewer in the conspiracy. Smile performed this feat so deftly that the viewer is left laughing while feeling this measure of guilt. 

Bruce Dern, as he tends to do, turns in a pitch-perfect performance alongside Barbara Feldon and Michael Kidd as contest coordinators. Melanie Griffith makes one of her earliest big-screen appearances as a Young American Miss contestant. Screenwriter Jerry Belson had his hand in seemingly every major television series of the 1960's including The Lucy Show, I Spy, The Dick Van Dyke Show and later the Odd Couple and The Tracey Ullman Show. Though his film resume doesn't nearly compare (unless you count Smokey and the Bandit II), Smile remains the one brilliant cinematic feather in his cap.

Hustle (1975; Robert Aldrich)
I couldn't submit an Underrated list to Rupert Pupkin Speaks without a Burt Reynolds flick now could I? (I even had a choice between Hustle and At Long Last Love!) Robert Aldrich's 1975 neo-noir is antithetical to our idea of a Burt Reynolds movie... and as a result perversely entertaining. Contrary to its title, Hustle proceeds at an almost languid pace, focusing on character and motivation as Burt skirts and evades our expectations.

Co-starring Catherine Deneuve as a high-class prostitute (and as hot and steamy as ever), one might expect the pairing of the sultry French actress and Burt Reynolds' American everyman to be an oil-and-vinegar situation. The result of this coupling, on the other hand, is a low and slow smolder. Burt Reynolds plays a cop (of course) investigating a dead girl washed up on the beach. Oh, I know what you're thinking: "The old dead-girl-on-the-beach routine again?" It's not the facts that make Hustle worth watching - it's the way it all unfolds, oozing with cynicism and modern malaise that still resonates. We didn't leave that malaise behind with the plaid slacks of the 1970's. This is a flawed character struggling towards resolution in a world that would rather thwart even the most righteous. 

Frank De Vol's (4-time Academy Award nominee) excellent score pairs well the offbeat rhythms, and a sublime list of supporting actors rounds out the cast. Familiar faces include Ben Johnson, Paul Winfield (always a solid supporting player), Eileen Brennan, Eddie Albert and Ernest Borgnine. Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) even shows up briefly as a porn star. Her appearance left me stammering "It's... it's... it's..." without being able to procure either "Daisy Duke" or "Catherine Bach" from the scattered neurological filing system. Robert Englund and Fred Willard even show up for bit parts. Their names I remembered.

The Reynolds/Aldrich pairings in Hustle and The Longest Yard brought out Burt's most nuanced performances. The only exception might have been Boorman's Deliverance. The takeaway here is that the right director could get gold from Burt Reynolds, one of our most underrated but still overexposed movie stars. While it's true that Burt had a "schtick" (by which I'm admittedly also terribly entertained), he often reached beyond expectations and crafted terrific and now overlooked performances. These expectations, I believe, helped facilitate his late career decline into offensively bland comedies. We'll always have his films from the 1970's - we just need to appreciate them more. Kino has started to give Burt's film the treatment they deserve, but we need to do more. We need Hustle on Blu-ray. At the very least because visions of 1970's Catherine Deneuve should never be marred by poor picture quality.

Dogpound Shuffle (1975; Jeffrey Bloom)
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Fagin and Hutch walk into a bar... Hutch starts playing the harmonica and Fagin begins a soft shoe/tap routine. Okay, so that wasn't funny, certainly no punchline - merely the premise of this good-hearted dramedy about Steps (Ron Moody, Fagin in Carol Reed's Oliver!) and Pritt (David Soul, pre-Detective Hutchinson in Starsky and Hutch) busking with a harmonica and fancy footwork in order to rescue Steps' much beloved mutt from the dog pound. As it turns out, Moody first made a name for himself in vaudeville doing a very similar act. Consequently the tap/harmonica routines amply entertain despite their off-the-cuff simplicity.

Dogpound Shuffle, a Canadian-produced TV movie, is an old-fashioned forgotten man story. Steps, once a successful performer, now lives on the streets. He places no specific blame for his career trajectory. But we can infer that the world decided his specific set of skills was no longer necessary, and consequently he pretty much blames everyone for the cultural degradation.

When animal control picks his dog up, the jaded and angry Steps finds himself without the $30 in fees to spring his pooch. When he sees Pritt (a drifter and aspiring boxer) playing the harmonica, he ropes the younger gentleman into a busking scheme. After a few minor successes and an aborted show in an upper class cocktail lounge, they're offered a gig as entertainment at a millionaire's birthday party. Pritt must figure out how to use an amplifier. Steps must resist the temptation to swindle a pair of shoes. Or must he? Would the upper crust even notice? Wouldn't they want their entertainer to wear classy shoes? To look the part?

Writer/director Jeffrey Bloom had a short film career before going on to a slightly more prolific career in TV movies, culminating in the 1987 adaptation of Flowers in the Attic. By 1991 Bloom dropped off the planet, which seems a shame. I hate to toss out the term "sweet" as a reason to see a movie because "sweet" without substance is merely saccharine. In Dogpound Shuffle, that "sweet" is undermined perfectly by Moody's crotchety, world-wise forgotten man and a late narrative twist that temps Steps' worst tendencies. Laced throughout the film there's also a commentary about the societal safeguards put in place to restrict social mobility and feed Steps' simmering rage. 

Scorpion released the now out-of-print DVD of Dogpound in 2011. I actually learned about this movie through Scorpion's OOP announcement last year. I picked up a used copy and found myself charmed by this low-budget family-friendly ditty about a man trying to bust his dog out of the clink. Pick up a copy before they disappear; there's no telling when or where you'd be able to see this film again.


Day of the Locust (1975; John Schlesinger) - as a huge fan of Nathanael West's source material, I didn't initially care for the film version. But then it grew on me. Different... but the same. I dig it now and wish it would get a new release to top that old OOP Paramount DVD. 

Bite the Bullet - a recent Twilight Time release with little fanfare. Like Rancho Deluxe, Bite the Bullet re-examines the Western myth, but with decidedly different conclusions. I bought it blind because of the cast. Gene Hackman. James Coburn. Candice Bergen. Ben Johnson. Jan-Michael Vincent. That should be enough to sell you. 

At Long Last Love - There's considerable charm in Peter Bogdanovich's tone-deaf musical starring Burt Reynolds, Cybil Shepherd, Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan. The recent Blu-ray release should garner the film some redemptive reassessment. I find it an absolute joy of a screwball comedy/musical despite the voice talent that, well, really isn't all that talented. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Underrated '75 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn is an institution here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. He is always Mr. Johnny-On-The-Spot with a great list of truly underappreciated cinema from a man who clearly adores it. I love his blog, The Horn Section( and give it my highest personal recommendation, so get thyself on over there!
Also, check out Hal's Underrated '85 list right here:

Before I start, I’m also a big fan of DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (one of the Horn Section’s earliest reviews) and POOR PRETTY EDDIE, which have already made other underrated ‘75 lists.  Along with FRIDAY FOSTER, those would be my honorable mentions.

The second and last Cleopatra Jones adventure, this odd mix of Bond, blaxploitation and Run Run Shaw (shot in Hong Kong) isn’t as much fun as the first film overall, but it is still a fascinating blend of influences.  Cleo again faces a blonde lesbian drug lord, but this time it’s Stella Stevens, who is definitely easier on the eyes than Shelley Winters. In other improvements, Tamara Dobson appears to be really enjoying the role the second time around, Norman Fell is amusing as her boss, and the always welcome Tanny is Cleo’s partner in busting crime.   Soundtrack by Dominic Frontiere (BARQUERO).  Available on DVD now from Warner Archive.

THE McCULLOCHS (a.k.a. THE WILD McCULLOCHS) (1975; Max Baer Jr.)
Max Baer Jr. followed up his wildly successful MACON COUNTY LINE with this period piece set in 1949 Texas.  In addition to producing, writing and playing a key role, Baer made his debut in the director’s chair.  Forrest Tucker stars as a two-fisted self made millionaire and trucking magnate who raises sons Don Grady, Dennis Redfield and Chip Hand in his image (with tragic results).  Meanwhile, he forbids trucker Baer to date his daughter, something that both rebel against.  All the while, one can see a showdown brewing (a la THE QUIET MAN).   Baer probably wore one hat too many, and the sprawling family drama/character study was a little disappointing to fans of the producer’s earlier effort.  But THE McCULLOCHS is not without interest.  Tucker (Baer’s original choice to play deputy Reed in MACON COUNTY LINE) has one of his best latter-day roles as the prideful, aging brawler.  Vito Scotti, Harold J. Stone, Julie Adams and William Demarest have good supporting parts, and while a few hairstyles seem anachronistic, Baer does a pretty good job recreating the era, as he did in his other efforts (ODE TO BILLY JOE and HOMETOWN U.S.A. were next for the filmmaker, in 1976 and 1979 respectively). 

W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975; John G. Avildsen)
Perhaps the most obscure Burt Reynolds vehicle from his heyday.  But at first glance, W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS looks like the quintessential Reynolds mega-hit of the era.  The film is set in Georgia and Tennessee, with frequent collaborators Jerry Reed, Ned Beatty. Hal Needham and James Hampton co-starring.  Anticipating SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, Burt is being pursued by an ex-HONEYMOONER playing a lawman.  Only this time it’s a pious Art Carney instead of a hilariously profane Jackie Gleason, and the film is set in 1957 instead of 1977. 

Carney’s after Burt because he’s been sticking up Standard Oil gas stations for side income while managing the titular band.   As Carney closes in on this would-be Robin Hood (who idolizes Errol Flynn), Reynolds butts heads with band members Reed and Don Williams and woos singer Conny Van Dyke.  Directed by John G. Avildsen, W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS is certainly lightweight, but much harder to find than it should be.  It occasionally turns up on Fox Movie Channel. 

HUSTLING (1975; Joseph Sargent)
The first of two made-for-TV movies to make my underrated ‘75 list, HUSTLING is a grim look at prostitution in New York City, with hard nosed reporter Lee Remick learning the ’industry’ from street hooker Jill Clayburgh.  Needless to say, Clayburgh’s pimp is less than pleased to hear she’s talking to the press and thinking about leaving the business.  Directed by Joseph Sargent (TRIBES), HUSTLING is fairly gritty considering the medium and era, with a great supporting cast: Alex Rocco, Melanie Mayron (as Clayburgh’s hapless fellow escort), Burt Young, Paul Benedict, Monte Markham, and Mr. Woodman himself, John Sylvester White.

SOMEONE I TOUCHED (1975; Lou Antonio)
Prime time examination of venereal disease in the pre-herpes/AIDS years, with Cloris Leachman and James Olson stuck in a blah marriage when Leachman discovers she is pregnant.  She also discovers the baby may be in danger, since hubby Olson’s been seeing the much younger Glynis O’Connor on the side--and has contracted syphilis in the process.  While it is riddled with the usual statistics, SOMEONE I TOUCHED isn’t exploitative at all--but it is campy as Hell, with the weepy theme song (sung by Leachman!) setting the tone.  Also with Kenneth Mars, Andrew Robinson and Allyn Ann McLerie.  Directed by Lou Antonio.  Lots of fun, and interesting.  Has been streaming on Netflix.  Originally aired on February 26, 1975, just four days after HUSTLING.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


FOOD OF THE GODS (1976; Bert I. Gordon)
Who do you get to direct your giant-animals-attack movie if you're Samuel Z. Arkoff? Why Bert I. Gordon of course. He of such classics as THE BEGINNING OF THE END (with giant grasshoppers) and THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.
How would I sell this movie to you? So many ways. "Marjoe Gortner fights a giant chicken", would be one place to start. Or "Watch as Ida Lupino screams in pain as a bunch of giant maggot worms bite her in the arm". At one point in the film, an old man is besieged by giant rats and retreats to his VW Bug. In the next shot, live regular sized rats can be seen pouncing on a toy car. It's just the way Bert I. approaches special effects. Back in THE BEGINNING OF THE END when he was placing grasshoppers on postcards of buildings to appear as though they were scaling them, he was establishing his style. It's silly, but I kinda love it I must say. There are different ways to go about this kind of thing (or there were, pre-CGI). Another giant killer rat movie that I adore is DEADLY EYES (also a Scream Factory release by the way). In that production the filmmakers chose to dress dachshunds as rats and I've always found that pretty effective (if also silly). Bert I. Gordon prefers to use toys and I can't fault him for it. All these approaches to effects are rather quaint now and endearingly so as far as I'm concerned.
Also, casting Marjoe as your lead is an interesting choice. Definitely an "only in the 1970s" phenomenon. And I enjoy that sort of thing, especially in comparison to the model/statuesque leads we're subjected to nowadays. Marjoe's just an odd-looking dude with a near-Afro mop of fiery-red curly hair. He also has a proclivity towards making strange faces when in the throes of physical strain (type "Marjoe Gortner" and "MASOLEUM" into google for some of his best). Don't get me wrong I like the guy despite his flailing charisma. I should mention that this movie is based on H.G. Wells and that this wasn't the only time AIP and Bert I. and said author would cross paths (see below).
Special Features:

FROGS (1972; George McCowan)
Sam Elliott is a freelance photographer grabbing some shots for a pollution spread in a magazine when his canoe is abruptly overturned by a drunken speedboating rich dude (played by cult actor Adam Roarke). After some feather unruffling, Elliott is invited back to the rich fella's stately manor which is overseen by a grumpy Ray Milland. From there unspools one of the more unlikely (but still fun) animal attack movies ever made. What's funny is I couldn't remember how the frogs killed people in this flick. In fact, I couldn't recall how anybody died. To my surprise (SPOILER) there is very little frog-related death in the movie at all. There's lizard, snake and alligator related death and even spanish moss/spider related death, but not much from the frogs. They do hang around a WHOLE lot though. There are ever-present and always in good sized groups. Not that any of this is an issue for me really, I always enjoy the ambience and general mood of the nature-gets-revenge movies of this era. I gotta hand it to AIP's marketing department though (not that they probably even had one). That image of the frog with the hand hanging out of its mouth is truly a keeper and I'm sure sold a ton of tickets when the film was released. What I'm saying here though is that there is a remake to be dug out of all this and it better have frogs eating people. I'm just saying.

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977; Bert I. Gordon)
Meanwhile, back in Bert I. Gordon-land, Joan Collins was trying to sell some island-front property called "Dreamland Shores". Unfortunately, some toxic waste dumped at sea ended up washing up on the beach and the local ants got all covered in it. And what happens when you have radioactive material in a Bert I. Gordon movie? Stuff gets big of course! And in this case it's the ants that  grow to annoyingly large,people-chomping kinda size.
I have to give Bert I. Some credit on this one. The effects, though still a little silly, look better than in FOOD OF THE GODS. He's able to incorporate matte shots and whatever puppetry they use for the live-action shots to make for better and more "realistic" looking terror. This movie takes an interesting and somewhat unexpected turn in the last third that I had totally forgotten about. It's a little Twilight Zone-y and silly, but it's fine. EMPIRE OF THE ANTS is not on par with THEM!(which is one of my favorite sci-fi films of all-time) as far as giant ant movies go, but it's an enjoyable Bert I. Gordon effort for sure.

Special Features:
-This disc features an audio commentary from Director Bert I. Gordon, which I liked. Hearing thoughts on filmmaking from an old-school guy like him is always a pleasure.

JAWS OF SATAN (1981; Bob Claver)
Of the Four films that encompass these two sets, this is the one that was the hardest to see for quite a long time. This film has a few titles that it goes by and the print Scream Factory used has "King Cobra" at the head. It is interesting to me that there aren't more killer snake movies. I mean snakes were used all the time at many points in the history of movies to create a sense of dread and certain death. I mean think of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for instance and you'll remember how snakes used to be treated with great fearful respect. You don't see them as much in films today unless they are some giant, mutated cross-breed that shows up as the monster in made for Sy Fy channel movie. What happened to good old-fashioned hordes of them as a means of generating terror? Anyway, JAWS OF SATAN doesn't deal with hordes of snakes, but rather one big scary one and a few of his minions. And this snake has a bit of a secret, but he is certainly hard to stop. He opens padlocks and doors by himself so as you can imagine, it's hard to keep him locked up and on top of that he seems to have a power over other local snakes which brings about many attacks. There is a religious angle to this story that is a bit unexpected for an animals attack film, but nonetheless interesting. The movie also has some JAWS-esque plot underpinnings (a small town mayor, a big event, an outside animal expert, wanting to keep the snake bite deaths under wraps) which is kinda fun. I always love a decent JAWS-knockoff. And of course it's quite neat to see lots of live snakes in scenes with real actors (often the leads). They'd be all CG now of course. The powerful thing about snakes though is their unpredictable, could-strike-at-any-moment behavior. It makes for highly suspenseful, cringe-inducing scenes and that makes for good-time cinema.

By the way - A very young Christina Applegate makes an appearance a few times in the movie and Dean Cundey is the cinematographer (both of these things are cool).

Both of these double features can be purchased via Shout Factory's site or Amazon:
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