Remember the worst date of your life? Was yours ruined by a lurking and creepy Raymond Burr slugging you unconscious, stealing your car and kidnapping your girl? I thought so. We've all been there. Pretty rough. What about when you met your girl’s dad at the police station after he found out she was taken? That was really awkward too. Especially because you wanted to marry her and were just waiting for the right time for her to introduce you to the folks. What sounds like the makings of a truly awful evening makes for a delightful noirish procedural thriller and casting Natalie Wood as the girl who gets grabbed makes it better than it should be. She's only a year off of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and looking cute (if frightened most of the movie). Also, I am always amused to see Raymond Burr in these kind of roles as I (like many of us) know him so prominently as Perry Mason. There was just a time when Hollywood thought of him when they were on the lookout for an menacing lunatic. Interestingly, Burr has these odd shades of Jerry Lewis within his man-child psychopath performance here. Not the funny Jerry, but just some whiny vocal things that he does. Totally coincidence I'm sure, but I really like to picture Raymond Burr watching like ARTISTS AND MODELS or THE CADDY over and over to prepare for the role. Adding to the solid cast of this lesser-known film are Edmond O'Brien and Brian Donlevy as cops. O'Brien is Natalie Wood's dad too so you know that Raymond Burr is in for a hard time. Decent tension throughout.
RHINO! (1963; Ivan Tors)
Ivan Tors may or may not be a name that rings a bell for you. You know how it's always said that you should never work with children or animals? Well Tors ignored that rule - big time when it came to the animals part. You see he was the producer (and often director) of movies and television programs dealing with lots of different critters. He made the FLIPPER TV show (as well as a couple movies), DAKTARI, GENTLE BEN and more. He also worked on the cool underwater filming in things like THUNDERBALL, AROUND THE WORLD AND UNDER THE SEA as well as one of my "wtf" movie favorites - HELLO DOWN THERE. So the guy was used to rugged filmmaking. Filmmaking on location in exotic locales. I've said that DAKTARI reminds me of a TV show version of Howard Hawks' underrated HATARI! and RHINO! is a somewhat comparable extension of a similar world. Robert Culp plays a zoologist working in Africa to try to protect the rhino population there from poachers. He doesn't believe in hunting and the only gun he will carry shoots heavy-dosage tranquilizer darts. Enter Harry Guardino - a season guide (and hunter) that Culp's zoologist wants to hire to help him with his project. They immediately butt heads over the idea that no real guns with real bullets should be used during the expedition and Guardino bows out. He doesn't bow out gracefully though and makes it known that he thinks Culp is an idiot and will soon be dead at the hands of wild animals as no tranquiler will save him in a pinch.
I miss movies like this. There's lots of real life wild creatures running around and often interacting with actors here in a way that would never be done these days. I'm by no means in favor of endangering people for the purpose of a film, but there is certainly a difference when you watch something like this. There is a natural exhilaration inherent to watching a film with real animals as opposed to CG creations. I just recently watched the new JUNGLE BOOK from Disney and as much as it is an enjoyable film and as much as I understand that there are different creative needs for the characters (almost all of whom can talk) therein, it's quite clear that none of them are real. Perhaps one day we will have absolutely seamless computer generated characters that feel and move like the real thing, but we aren't quite there yet. That said, it is refreshing to watch the living, breathing beasts themselves in the context of a narrative adventure film. The story is a touch on the familiar side, but all in all it's still an exciting watch. I really would like to do a double feature of this movie and HATARI! at some point. Oh and I love how films used to have exclamation points in their titles. Maybe films today just don't have what it takes to get that kind of punctuation. This movie really earns its "!" though - lots of rhino action! Also, Shirley Eaton is worthy of an "!" or two herself.