Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Thursday, April 4. 2013

American World War II propaganda movies tend to have an aroma of predictability, but this makes them an effective way to nod off after the 11 o'clock news. More often than not, Americans are portrayed as open-minded, freedom-loving, racially tolerant beacons of global prosperity, while Germans are all brainwashed, empathy-deprived robots who slap women around and listen to accordion music. Of course, the reality is that immediately after the war, the American public told their returning black soldiers that they still couldn't use a public rest room, and the depravity of the Germans turned out to be much, much deeper and fucked up than anyone could have imagined for at least another forty-five years, when it became obvious that Céline Dion wasn't going away.

Tomorrow the World doesn't exactly raise the bar for historical accuracy, but for sheer, relentless and unintentional batshit hilarity, it's definitely a horse or two ahead of the propaganda pack. Fredric March is a scientist with a high-level security clearance, living happily behind a white picket fence with his young daughter and his sister (Agnes Moorehead). He's planning to ask his Jewish girlfriend (Betty Field) to marry him so that he can short-circuit her teaching career, and set her mind to more womanly activities like ironing shirts and squeezing babies out of her vulva with a predictable frequency.

Everything's idyllic until Fredric announces that his nephew, played by a young and impressively irritating "Skippy" Homeier, is coming over from Germany to live with the family. Emil seems a little stuff-shirted at first, clicking his heels mechanically with each introduction, but everyone does their best to warm up to him, assuring each other that Germans really don't have much of a sense of humor. Unfortunately, day two proves a little more challenging when Emil comes down the stairs sporting a brown shirt and Nazi arm band, and proceeds to wield a knife while launching into fascist tirades which may well have served as philosophical templates for a young and impressionable Glenn Beck. The family is taken aback at first, but decides that with a little patience, their eleven year old Nazi kinfolk can be socialized and won over to hamburgers, apple pie, and Bob Hope movies.

Even after Emil calls Betty Field a "Jewish tramp" everyone continues to act as if there's nothing going on here that can't be turned around. Agnes Moorehead, an initial skeptic, even seems to be warming up to his creepily flirtatious overtures. So Emil, like any Nazi worth his Salz, sets to sabotaging inter-family relationships to suit his ulterior motives. It's not until he tries to steal government secrets and subsequently takes a heavy fire poker to the back of Cousin Pat's skull that Fredric March decides that maybe a line has been crossed, which he demonstrates by chain smoking and pacing around the living room in his bath robe.

Homeier, as the snotty, spoiled Nazi lad steals the limelight with his transparent underhandedness and Hitleresque temper tantrums. You might remember him from his Star Trek appearances, once reprising his Aryan goose stepper persona, and more notably as Sevrin the Space Hippie, who colluded with Charles Napier to undermine professional discipline on the Enterprise. Memorable moments to be sure, but for my money, what he brings to the barn in Tomorrow the World contributes just as much to his firm and respected standing in the Bulldada Hall of Honor. Thank you, Skip Homeier for all that you do.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Thursday, May 10. 2012

I'm sure that like me, you're fascinated by sandwiches and their evolutionary history. Wikipedia defines the sandwich as "a food item, typically consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them, or one slice of bread with a topping or toppings, commonly called an open sandwich". Indeed, there are "open sandwiches" and there are also variations with three slices, most notably the club sandwich. But for the purpose of this film review, I'd like to dispense with the less common variations and focus primarily on the classic configuration consisting of no more and no less than two pieces of bread, be they slices or halves of something more substantive, such as a kaiser roll. Furthermore, I would ask that we temporarily defer any debate about wraps and burritos vis-à-vis whether they constitute sandwiches until a future review of 70s soft core Italian pornography.

Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould once proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, asserting that the evolution of species toddles along at a fairly boring clip most of the time, only to be interrupted by chronologically brief eruptions of new branches in the evolutionary tree. I would argue that Gould's observation also holds true for sandwiches, and that we are currently living in a period of punctuated sandwich equilibrium. As with evolution, I make no claims to the "worthiness" of a given sandwich, any more than I would attempt to predict which biological species will survive the imminent scourges of influenza mutations, climate change, solar flares, or Jennifer Aniston films. But I do argue that today, whether we find ourselves in Boston or Topeka, the number and diversity of available sandwiches towers majestically over our options from days of yore, like a smoky pile of black pepper turkey breast, grilled vegetables and swiss cheese ensconced within freshly baked herb ciabatta, slathered with chipotle mayonnaise and olive tapenade.

Consider the sandwich consumed by Edmond O'Brien in Shield For Murder. Very little information is provided about it, aside from the fact that he must pay a $10 extortion fee to Richard Deacon in order to purchase it. But from all appearances, it seems to be a distasteful offering of cheap cold cuts inside two slices of Wonder Bread. So we see that in 1954, the sandwich had not evolved much beyond its state in the late 1700s, when Earl John Montagu of Sandwich first placed his meat within the staff of life. If the truth be told, the sandwich presented by Richard Deacon to Edmond O'Brien could represent a genuine regression from its distant ancestor, given its inferior ingredients. But since O'Brien is on the lam from multiple murder charges, Richard Deacon understands all too well O'Brien's vulnerability and the ease with which he can demand top dollar for a mediocre sandwich. Even so, had Deacon been inclined to do business in a more equitable manner, I remain skeptical that a sandwich purchased at any price in 1954 Los Angeles would have impressed today's sophisticated sandwich aficionados.

Surrounded by a stellar cast that includes John Agar, Stafford Repp, William Schallert, and Claude Akins, O'Brien and Deacon masterfully render the wistful plight of a 1950s sandwich scenario, drawing us into the stale muskiness of Richard Deacon's pedestrian and unkempt bachelor apartment. It is a stark realism that left this viewer feeling as if I myself were eating the wretched meal comprised of the two limp slices of bread flopping unappetizingly from O'Brien's fist, along with their indeterminate filling. While the rest of the film is not quite as compelling, it does provide a tightly paced police narrative winding inexorably toward the defining juncture of the existential sandwich. Notably, there is also a scene involving Carolyn Jones and a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, but I will postpone that discussion to a future review of industrial employment training films.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Thursday, January 26. 2012

In 1980, President James Earl Carter reached the dubious decision to reinstate draft registration in the United States. This was in response to the Soviet Union's military aggression in Afghanistan, and was intended to demonstrate America's "resolve" by requiring a few hundred thousand scrawny and stoned young males such as myself to schlep their asses to the post office and sign a form which would facilitate their legalized kidnapping should Jimmy, or some other asshole subsequently occupying the Oval Office, decide that America's security was sufficiently threatened. Of course, there hasn't been a point since that time that any President has seriously considered drafting anyone, primarily because doing so would be politically unpopular, but perhaps more so because war has become a more high-tech endeavor, requiring fewer boots on the ground, and allowing a disinterested public to view it on cable news as one would normally gawk at a video game. The idea of a draft might have flitted through what one could generously call Bush's "mind" when General Shinseki broke the news that he didn't have enough bodies to quickly stabilize Iraq, but if so, I doubt it tarried for long. After scaring a gullible public into signing up for the dumbest foreign policy move since Vietnam, the genius of Bush's technique was that he succeeded in temporarily insulating the masses from the consequences of war. Bush Jr. traded in the Second World War's widespread self-sacrifice for tax cuts that would exacerbate today's debt problem, and appeals for everyone to go out and shop. With a complicit U.S. press corps all too ready to sanitize the unpleasantries, who could resist Bush's bold stratagem? Here's some money. Go buy shit. A month or two later, President Chimpy McJumpsuit strutted like a peacock on an aircraft carrier declaring "Mission Accomplished" for a war that would not end for more than another eight years, at which point the U.S. economy would lie in a smoldering heap.

But I digress. To get back to 1980 and Amy Carter's pappy, his pathetic attempt at striking fear into the Soviets' hardened Commie hearts was no doubt the source of unbridled hilarity at the Kremlin, since they probably knew that Carter's threat depended on guys like me, most of whom possessed the physical prowess of an overweight, medicated basset hound. Unfortunately for our Commie pals, the Afghans were inflicting an unexpected dose of American subsidized whoop-ass, which most likely muted their giggles a bit. But what Carter did succeed in doing was pissing me off big time at the indignity of being forced by the government to participate in this silly-assed ritual, in what was purported to be the land of the free. My petulant outrage now seems quaint when contrasted with the fates of many of my countrymen whose only crime was to have been born ten to fifteen years before me.

One such ill-fated wretch is H. T. Brown, a.k.a. Tom Brown, who spent the better part of two years trapped at great expense in the U.S. Army's maze of bureaucratic insanity. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Tom is a friend of mine, and that he and I were briefly band mates in 1992 as part of Zoogz Rift's Amazing Shitheads. But in all honesty, had we never met, I'm sure his recent book would have had exactly the same effect on me. Summer of Love, My Ass! is Tom's meticulously detailed memoir describing the extreme unpleasantness of being unwillfully sucked into America's monumental fuck-up, the Vietnam War. Because in case you didn't know, in those days an annual draft lottery was held using a convoluted system that "randomly" determined, based on birth dates, which unlucky sons of bitches would be required by their government to report for "duty."

Unfortunately, Tom's number came up in June, 1967, just when his life was swimming along very well as a drummer in a successful top 40 cover band in Southern California. Fresh off a four-day binge of sleep deprivation and awe-inducing drug ingestion, designed to convince the Army that he wasn't their guy, a twenty-two month nightmare ensued, despite Tom's Herculean efforts to make it clear to the powers that be that under no circumstances would he be willing to participate in a war that he believed to be depraved and morally repugnant. As you might expect, a failure to communicate quickly developed, producing a dizzying sequence of mostly disagreeable interactions with bewildered and abusive military personnel, FBI agents, cops, prison guards and inmates. Not to mention an unbelievably faithful girlfriend, who made weekly trips to the Ford Ord stockade to furnish contraband reefer and the occasional furtive handjob under the table.

Tom's account of his ordeal is a veritable page-turner, even for a guy like me who admittedly isn't an avid reader. His diary of perpetual humiliation and fear is rendered in excruciating detail, interspersed with enough levity to make it bearable. Having one's freedom stolen is one of those things I imagine to be unimaginable unless it happens in the first person, but to experience it against a backdrop of injustice and the pent-up violence and sadism that permeated military prisons in those days would tax any normal person's sanity.

1968 was not a particularly wonderful year for race relations in the United States. With riots erupting in many major cities after decades of institutionalized racism, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., American life was as far removed from the freeze-dried, flower power horse shit nostalgia that gets barfed up today as Sha Na Na's faux doo wop was from "Work With Me, Annie." This racial conflict made its way into the military prison system, and predictably the Army did little to control it, other than when it chose to exploit it for its ulterior purposes. So imagine being jailed for a cause you consider to be just, only to be thrust into a situation where at any moment you could be beaten, raped or killed by a fellow inmate simply because of your skin pigment. Combine that with a hopelessly opaque judicial process that not only gives you as little information as possible, but also bends and breaks the rules at will, almost by caprice, rendering the expression "Kafkaesque" completely obsolete. Anyone naive enough not to be concerned by the affronts on civil liberties perpetuated in post-9/11 America in the form of the Patriot Act and the detention bill recently signed by Obama would be well served to read Summer of Love, My Ass!, and to then imagine themselves before a purportedly fair military tribunal.

The book winds its way through the induction center, boot camp, multiple trips through jails and military stockades, escapes and AWOLs, all punctuated with horrific defining moments that I won't go into here. What gets extruded from the Army's psychological meat grinder is a 21 year old with wisdom regarding the human psyche that most people living to a hundred couldn't claim. How this guy remained the kind, affable fellow he is today baffles me. It's a truly gut sickening book to get through, but even if you're still one of those who buy into the notion that Bob Hope's and John Wayne's assessments of the Communist threat were on target, I think you'd be well served to give this a read if only to challenge many of your preconceptions about how the military operates, and how that jibes with America's purported values. It seems like the least you could do for the 58,000 Americans and 1,000,000+ Vietnamese who were butchered for ultimately no good reason.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Wednesday, January 11. 2012

Ah, rebellious youth. What red-blooded, penis-carrying American adult didn't engage in a little hell raising during his adolescence? Culturally, it's expected of us, in the same way that a salesman at Best Buy is expected to ask if you'd like an extended warranty on a $25 rabbit ear TV antenna. So why is it that so few of us take advantage of these extended warranties? I'm not really sure, but I do know that it's probably not the same reason why so many of us are pissed off when a carload of post-pubescent brats unfurls twenty rolls of Charmin in our cottonwood trees. Or perhaps you have Japanese maples at your house. After all, they're much sturdier and the fall foliage is beautiful. But try explaining that to these goddamn kids who are leaving burning sacks of dogshit on your front porch or calling at three o'clock in the morning to ask if you have Prince Albert in a can. And how many stations can you pick up with a $25 TV antenna anyway?

My rebellious teenage period bore many similarities to that of Frankie Dane, the central figure in Crime in the Streets, played by John Cassavetes. For example, I also wore V-necked sweaters and avoided social workers, attributes which I carry with me to this day. But perhaps the similarities begin to fade at that point, because while Frankie spends his leisure hours planning homicides, beating other juvenile delinquents with chains and two-by-fours, and applying untoward peer pressure on Sal Mineo to participate in all of the above, my most rebellious acts involved the aforementioned toilet paper dispersed among the upper branches of neighbors' trees, and leaning against a wall in front of the bowling alley, smoking filter tipped Swisher Sweets, while listening to Foghat blaring from the 8-track player of a nearby Plymouth. If I had been given access to Sal Mineo, I'm skeptical that I would have had any influence over him. And by the time I was 27, as Cassavetes happened to be when this film was made, I wasn't threatening my relatives with a switchblade, but rather filing my first Schedule A to take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction. Still, I feel a kindred bond with Frankie, and I suspect that had he known there is a 7.5% income threshold which must be met before any medical deductions can be claimed on Schedule A, he also might have elected to simply listen to Foghat when he wanted to annoy his parents.

Anyway, it's probably worth mentioning that this is a pretty good movie with an excellent cast, including Cassavetes, Mineo, Virginia Gregg, James Whitmore, Will Kulava, Malcolm Atterbury, and Mark Rydell, who as "Lou" gives Frankie a run for his money in the sociopathic asshole sweepstakes. And goddamn, as if that weren't enough, fans of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla will also find the uncredited Duke Mitchell, as "Herky," a guy who enjoys a gang beating as much as anyone, but who draws the line when Cassavetes decides to orchestrate a murder to settle a grudge. James Whitmore plays the concerned 24/7 social worker who tries with limited success to encourage them to enjoy more fountain drinks. As a central character, he's surprisingly impotent, but it's not for lack of trying, since he's just as likely to pop up at 2 A.M. in a dark alley as he is during normal working hours.

For 1956, it doesn't pull many punches, and it's a well paced, worthwhile diversion from Don Siegel, better known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry. There are obvious comparisons to West Side Story, but the characters are nastier, the script is better, nobody bursts into song, and the run time doesn't challenge my increasingly limited bladder capacity. It's in a Film Noir box set, but sometimes it pops up on TCM, so even the mildly curious should be able to find it.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Tuesday, October 11. 2011

Good character actors are a dying breed, given the inexorable trend toward replacing all of them with interchangeably boring pretty people. One of the good ones died recently, so it was in Charles Napier's honor that my wife and I recently pulled Alien Species out of the Mill Creek 50 Movie shitpack entitled Nightmare Worlds. Normally, we'd pass over 90s sci-fi schlock like this in favor of lower budget fare like Night Fright with John Agar. But the fact that Napier was listed as the featured star motivated me to queue it up, while my wife stared blankly at the drapes with a sense of dread.

Napier frequently played heavies and tough guys, and was memorable for his manly, square chin. (Wikipedia defines "chin" as "the lowermost part of the face.") But when the subject of cinema chins comes up, as it so often does, Kirk Douglas is usually the first name that pops up:

Dinner guest #1: Hey! How about chins? You know ... Hollywood chins! Got any thoughts about that?

Dinner guest #2: Boy, I sure do! How about Kirk Douglas? Now there's a guy who had quite a chin, wouldn't you say?

Dinner guest #1: Amen, brother! You've got that right! Kirk Douglas! Now that guy had a chin, I tell you what!

Dinner guest #2: These bulgur squares are delicous! Is that cardamom I'm tasting?

Assuming everyone at your social event isn't an asshole, it is at this point that dinner guest number three calmly tips scalding bowls of soup into the laps of dinner guests one and two, and unleashes an indignant, profanity laced rant on the matter of Charles Napier, with specific emphasis on the merits of Napier's chin relative to the lowermost part of Kirk Douglas' face. And if your guest is well prepared, he has also brought along visual aids, such as the images to the right which contrast what U.S. President William Howard Taft might have looked like in alternate chin universes.

Of course, no such outburst would be necessary had dinner guests 1 and 2 seen Russ Meyer's Supervixens, in which Napier stabs and stomps Shari Eubank into a bloody pulp, climbs out of the bathtub (with chin protruding), and then tosses in a live electrical appliance, leaving Eubank writhing in a warm, bloody stew. Kirk Douglas? Oh, he had his moments I suppose, but please, let's maintain some proper historical perspective, shall we?

Fortunately, my wife was completely wrong about Alien Species, because it, like, totally rules. Napier is, like, only in the first half hour of the movie, but he gets to call his brother-in-law a dumbass and get pestered by a TV news reporter, and later on there's a bunch of other less talented people getting chased around a cave by aliens who have landed to use humans for food and labor, and one of them looks a little like Johnny Depp, and says really hilarious things like "We must not be in Kansas anymore" and "I feel like I'm in a really bad episode of the X-Files!" Then a nerdy guy somehow manages to decode the aliens' remote control unit with his laptop even though he totally doesn't have any, like, USB ports, so he can, like, disable the alien defense shield, and the Johnny Depp guy can blow them up with the bazooka that just happened to be in the nerdy guy's car. So the other aliens freak out and just leave, but the Johnny Depp guy is pretty sure they'll eventually come back, so they'd better get the nerdy guy's laptop over to the Defense Department, but they're, like, worried that, like, the Defense Department might, like, not be there anymore. The End.

Filmed entirely in Clovis, California, Napier's absence from the bulk of the film is most likely explained by an urgent dental cleaning appointment back in Los Angeles, or perhaps some disturbing linen stains in his room at the Clovis La Quinta. Although he'll likely be better remembered as the space hippie on Star Trek, or as the guard who gets strung up by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, he always raised the bar a little wherever he showed up, even when cast with high school drama troupes in bowel movements like Alien Species. He will be missed.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Sunday, April 24. 2011

Everyone loves crucifixion movies, and with this being Easter weekend, I thought it might be a good time to mention one that I recently picked up at Yankee Dollar, paired in a double feature with God's Gun starring Lee Van Cleef and Sybil Danning. A Town Called Hell (aka A Town Called Bastard) is a mind numbing morcel of early 70s Euro-schlock, with an impressive cast that might lead the naive to believe that something remotely representing entertainment might be included. I'm proud to count myself among that group.

Film buffs all have their favorite crucifixion moments. For the whimsical, there's Life of Brian, for the devout The Passion of the Christ, and for the even more disturbed, there's Cannibal Holocaust, assuming you're willing to stretch the definition of "crucifixion" to include shoving a pointed stake up somebody's rectum until the sharp end slides out of his or her mouth. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I do so for the purpose of this discussion, since there really is no purpose to this discussion, other than to say that my new preferred crucifixion scene occurs in A Town Called Hell. It grabs my prix d'or not because it is particularly graphic, but because it has none other than Telly Savalas receiving the Calvary mallet job, and Telly Savalas is probably as close to a deity as I'll ever get, Gabe Kaplan notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot more going on here. Or if there is, it's completely obscured by Robert Shaw mumbling most of his lines, and by the quality of the transfer, which bumps the bar down a couple of notches from the ignoble standards already established by the esteemed folks at As always, the image is blurry to the point that one wonders whether they used a $75 digital camera to capture it from a projection on a crusty motel sheet. And as expected, the aspect ratio crops out about a third of the "action," to the extent that the word applies. Fill in those two check boxes with confidence. But what puts this one over the top is that the soundtrack is rendered unlistenable by a repetitive mechanical sound, which I can only guess must be the noise produced by a film projector. I've always considered myself an aficionado of shitty dollar store movies, but I must admit, I've never run across this particular transfer technique before. Kudos to all concerned.

Highlights include a guy picking his nose, a string of saliva between Robert Shaw's incisors, a Stella Stevens flashback which may have served as inspiration for several dozen Stevie Nicks videos, and the aforementioned crucifixion. There's also a lightly surreal saloon scene which anachronistically tosses in Johnny Horton's 1950s country/pop single "The Battle of New Orleans," while a band with completely different instrumentation makes no effort whatsoever to synchronize with it.

To summarize the story, Martin Landau and Robert Shaw lead a horde of sadistic bastards into a church where they terrorize everyone and kill a priest. Ten years later, Stella Stevens is pretending to be dead in the back of a wagon, and Telly Savalas is a sadistic shirtless bastard running some sort of desert hellhole. Robert Shaw is now a priest, but other than that, there is nothing to link any of this with what happened ten years ago, the principle characters having been swapped, and everyone speaking in non sequiturs. My wife and I take turns falling asleep, and both of us wake up to the harsh glare of the DVD menu, and the attendant emptiness of knowing our lives are slowly trickling away while wiser men read The New Yorker or pay for genital piercings.

Since neither of us have any idea if anything just happened, I resort to searching the reviews at, where the consensus seems to be that this movie makes no fucking sense whatsoever. This is reassuring, since I was hoping to last at least another ten years before senile dementia sets in.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Tuesday, November 30. 2010

My wife and I became permanent residents of Canada three years ago, and now that enough time has passed, we've applied for citizenship. To bone up for the test that we'll need to take in a few months, we downloaded the study guide: Discover Canada, The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. In it, I've found a treasure trove of information about Canada that I was never aware of. For example, did you know that Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, and that female genital mutilation is prohibited here? This all came as a huge relief, but then I started wondering why male genital mutilation wasn't mentioned. Should I be worried? So I called the information desk at the Parliament building for clarification, and they assured me that there really are just three territories.

Even so, I'm skeptical of their spin on history. Why all this fuss over Samuel de Champlain and Mackenzie King while not a word about illustrious Canadians like William Shatner or Alex Trebek? Would you write a fifty page summary of American history and not mention Larry Storch and Sammy Petrillo? Of course you wouldn't. And that's why I have to wonder whether these Canadians have their antlers on straight. You might ask, assuming you aren't already comatose from reading this, why would anyone want to be a Canadian citizen? Well, it's because there are some advantages that you don't get with mere permanent residency.

First of all, you get to vote, which for an American immigrant means you get to choose from a list of dishonest imbeciles who aren't quite as dishonest or imbecilic as the people usually found on an American ballot. Sure, they're still imbeciles, but a lot of them happen to speak French, which means I have a really hard time understanding them, making them substantially less annoying than their American counterparts.

Second, Canadians can take a vacation to Cuba. Since Americans live in the land of the free, they can be fined $10,000 for taking a vacation in Cuba. But if Americans still want a nice getaway, the State Deparment will let them visit friendly allies like Saudi Arabia, where they can witness public decapitations. Unfortunately, the arroz con pollo isn't as good, and if you have a beer, you'll probably be flogged in public. Bon voyage.

Third, once you're a Canadian citizen, you can come and go as you please without losing your residency. Practically speaking, this isn't a big deal, since you only need to spend two out of every five years on Canadian soil to remain a permanent resident. But suppose I wanted to spend 1,096 consecutive days meditating in a Norwegian yurt, retaining my urine for unnatural durations as a spiritual rite of passage? Now I think you can understand where I'm coming from.

So I was reading my study guide, trying to figure out what questions might be on the test, when the sad news hit that Leslie Nielsen, one of Canada's many great film stars, had just passed. I've always liked Nielsen, more for his pre-comedic roles than for the Naked Gun movies he became better known for. Although he moved to the United States like most Canadian film stars, not many people know he enlisted as an aerial gunner in the Royal Canadian Airforce, while John Wayne was using his movie star status to get a draft deferral from World War II. These facts are also suspiciously absent from the Discover Canada citizenship guide, but they do mention that there's a beaver on the Saskatchewan coat of arms. Since Leslie Nielsen hailed from Regina, Saskatchewan, I interpret this as an encoded subliminal message from the Canadian government: "We think Leslie Nielsen kicked major ass."

So in his honor, I got out one of my favorite Leslie Nielsen films, Dayton's Devils, a low budget, late 60s action thriller that probably seemed like a good gig around the time he was doing guest shots on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Gunsmoke. Strangely, Rory Calhoun gets top billing even though Nielsen plays the lead role of Frank Dayton, a sociopathic, woman slapping, military reject with anger management issues, who wants to take revenge on his former employer by robbing an Air Force payroll office. To do this, he puts together a peculiar group of professional criminals, played by Calhoun, Georg Stanford Brown, Lainie Kazan, Eric Braeden, and Sergeant Barry Sadler. Brown you might recognize from Roots, and Sadler was best known for his creepily nationalistic pop single The Green Berets, which managed to dislodge The Beatles from the top of the Billboard charts for five weeks in 1966. In the late seventies, Sadler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and in the eighties he was himself murdered in Guatemala City amidst rumors that he was helping to train Nicaraguan contras. I mention this only because it's not in the Canadian citizenship guide.

An absurd sexual tension develops between Calhoun and Kazan, providing a good chunk of the film's more delightfully inane dialogue. Kazan is also a nightclub singer, and she inflicts a painful version of Sunny in a sleaze pit of a bar while aping Barbra Streisand and flaunting her intimidating cleavage. There's lots of brief montage sequences of the menfolk in gray sweatsuits doing jumping jacks as part of their "brutal" training regimen, and a pre-M.A.S.H. Mike Farrell appears in one scene as a suspicious air force officer. Nielsen's fool proof heist also involves everybody fleeing to the ocean to put on scuba gear and hiding in the water, as if the authorities would just give up looking for a couple million dollars of stolen money after an hour or two. If any of Dayton's Devils complain that maybe his plan isn't really fool proof, and is, in fact, incredibly fucking stupid, Leslie gets really pissed off and says he's sick and tired of everyone's belly-aching. It's all dumb, badly written, and badly edited, but it's exactly the kind of drive-in era schlock that always floats my boat, the cinematic equivalent of a Stouffer's chicken pot pie.

A few years later, before his career took off with the comedy schtick in Airplane, Nielsen made another action drama called Project Kill that shows up from time to time in dollar movie bins and is also worth a look. It was made in the Philippines and has people like Vic Diaz, so it's probably a few notches higher on the weirdness scale. I used to have a copy, but it's mysteriously missing, and I can't help but wonder whether the Canadian government is already testing me with cruel psychological experiments. Perhaps my commitment to Leslie Nielsen is being used to gauge my commitment to Canada. If so, I think they'll soon learn that they've got themselves one very faithful new Canadian.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Sunday, October 24. 2010

Although it may be less well remembered than the purported causes of the Spanish-American War, for at least a week and a half in 1957, the United States was caught up in a calypso music frenzy. Its sexually charged rhythms seized the tropical passions of a nation fresh into the second term of the Eisenhower administration, forcing them to dress like pasty-skinned tourists, shove aside their coffee tables, and humiliate themselves in front of whatever misfortunates had assembled in their homes. More often than not, a meal of ham garnished with pineapple rings awaited, segueing into a lime papaya Jell-o salad, generously spiked with miniature marshmallows. It isn't by coincidence that this cultural phenomenon dovetailed with the "exotica" fad, which led to millions of suburban ranch homes having their basements remodeled with wet bars, simulated wood paneling, vinyl flooring, and tiki masks. Today, combing through the sad remnants of this hysteria, the disheveled breed of archaeologists known more commonly as estate sale vultures snicker with knowing irony at Martin Denny album covers, quarrel with other junk dealers over a leaping gold swami wall hanging, and chance upon an occasional can of tiki torch fuel while rummaging through the workshop.

Enter Bobby Troup, a C-grade jazz composer who had scored a huge hit with Route 66, and who would eventually marry Jack Webb's ex, Julie London, and star with her for several years in Jack's TV drama Emergency! It's hard to know what provoked Troup to create this astounding cluster fuck of weirdness; perhaps Robert Mitchum's peculiar success with his Calypso Is Like So... LP; perhaps a looming balloon payment on a mortgage. But whatever the cause, I am forever in its debt.

It's rare to find such a compelling train wreck of brain raping awfulness, stirred together with moments of jaw dropping brilliance, like diamonds in an eighty gallon drum of livestock excrement. The awfulness comes in the form of the script and the principal characters, featuring the distressingly unendurable Judy Tyler in the lead role of "Bop Girl," belting out a merciless string of Les Baxter penned faux-calypso abominations, many of which offer some contrived hybridization of musical styles for novelty effect. Gosh, those calypso folks down Treeneedad way sure do love to boogie woogie all of dee time in dat tropical sun. Capiche? But Mr. Baxter most assuredly should not shoulder all of the blame for the pain inflicted here, because Judy Tyler spiritually possesses his dulcet diarrhea and sells it with an obnoxious, grating delivery that melds Yma Sumac, Martha Raye, and Susan Molinari into one hip wriggling organism. Each time she takes the stage to punish us, her hands flail in repetitive gesticulations that make an Al Jolson "Mammy" routine seem like a magnum opus of subtlety.

If that were it, this would be just another annoying, thinly plotted romantic tale serving as glue for a series of musical acts. But trust me, it's much more. First of all, some of the secondary musical acts are fantastic, and this bizarre and rarely seen cinematic flatus provides some of the few surviving video artifacts of their existence. After the opening credits, an underappreciated L.A. doo wop vocal group called The Titans nail one of their (very) minor hits for Vita Records, So Hard To Laugh, So Easy To Cry. There's some actually good calypso music performed by Lord Flea, and later on, there's a fucking insane act called The Goofers, featuring a dancing/singing trio who do splits and play stand-up bass and trombone while swinging upside down from ropes. And I'll be dipped in shit if the drummer's not Buddy Rich. They also do a memorable number called "I Wanna Rock and Roll Until I Die," with five of them lying in coffins. If they still had acts like this in night clubs, I'd probably get out more.

But what puts this one over the top is the premise of the story, which is that a brainy genius from the university (Troup) has invented a device which can predict musical trends with uncanny precision by measuring audience reactions. This device consists of a metal box with a meter on the front, and a jack for plugging in a microphone. Of course using this reasoning, downloads of Keiji Haino and sawmill field recordings should be overloading the servers at iTunes, but the denizens of Bop Girl's night club still take note of Troup's fad detector, to the point that friendships are imperiled when he announces that calypso will soon replace rock 'n' roll as America's preferred musical entertainment. Mind you, this isn't a passing absurdity in just another forgotten bad movie. It's the fundamental premise of the film, just like the searches for Harry Lime or the Maltese Falcon. Layer on top of that the oatmealish sexual tension created when Bobby Troup begins falling for the Bop Girl, threatening his relationship with a university colleague who specializes in eugenics. Yes, you read that correctly, I said eugenics. And there's even a department for this at the university, because they have a sign on the door that says so. The conversations between Bobby and his Social Darwinist sweetheart are hysterical, most of them centering around her desire for Bobby to stop fiddling with his musical fad prediction dissertation, and start pumping her full of his high-IQ sperm so she can commence to popping out some first rate über-kindern, which she can then use to finish her eugenics thesis. Keep in mind this was made twelve years after the concentration camps were liberated.

I strongly recommend this one with the principal reservation being the overabundance of Judy Tyler numbers. What is at first a mildly amusing absurdity deteriorates into a full blown irritant about halfway through the movie. If you could toss out two or three of her caterwauling sessions, and throw in another Titans tune, plus more prolonged powwows on the wonders of selective breeding, you'd have a five Waldo film. But it is what it is, and since I don't think it's available on DVD, you might have to wait until TCM shows it at four o'clock in the morning to bask in its dubious splendor.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Saturday, September 18. 2010

For those of us old enough to experience urine flow impairment at 3 A.M., there was a time when television was simpler but much more entertaining. In the 1960s, there weren't 600 channels of home shopping, batshit insane religion, neanderthals yammering about professional athletes as if they were Nobel laureates, or 24/7 sewers of shouting, political propaganda, and infotainment disguised as "news." In those days you could usually count the number of available channels on one hand, and in most American cities, that meant local affiliates for CBS, NBC, and ABC, plus maybe PBS or some syndicated/independent channels. There were also about half as many commercials, and a lot more opportunities for unique, locally produced weirdness to peek out of the cracks, like Mr. Peppermint in Dallas, Hoolihan and Big Chuck in Cleveland, or Doctor Sanguinary in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sure, it was still mostly crap, but it was much more endearing crap, because it felt like somebody was actually trying to have fun in addition to just selling you something that you didn't need. One notable seeping fissure of endearing 1960s TV crap was Dark Shadows, a horror soap opera blessed with the technical execution of Ted V. Mikels, and a lethargic pace that made The Ray Conniff Singers seem like Norwegian death metal.

In 1966, ABC was being righteously bitch slapped in the ratings, particularly during the daytime hours. That's probably why they took a chance on Dark Shadows, which began as a gothic drama and almost bit the big one during its first year. But right before ABC swung the axe, producer Dan Curtis hit on the idea of injecting a strong supernatural element into the series, and introducing an obscure Canadian actor named Jonathan Frid as a vampire. Within a couple of weeks, Barnabas Collins posters were showing up in bong shops, the ratings spiked, and Dark Shadows would be spared for another four or five years. Unlike most shows of the day, every episode but one was preserved in one form or another, and the whole mess has been vomited up for your viewing pleasure by MPI in twenty-six DVD box sets, excluding the earlier episodes that bored the shit out of the half a dozen housewives who bothered to watch.

I've made it to box nine of the series, and if the flying spaghetti monster is willing and the creek don't rise, I'll probably get around to watching it all, even though I can't offer an unqualified endorsement. To say that Dark Shadows has flaws is like saying that Long Dong Silver has a penis, or that Sarah Palin is an idiot. For example, if it gets on your nerves when a writer uses hypnosis to twist his way out of every dead end he backs himself into, Dark Shadows will make you want to push baby strollers off a suspension bridge. Or if you aren't charmed by actors who constantly fuck up their lines and glance nervously at cue cards, then you might want to consider mainlining with industrial solvents as an alternative. Fortunately, I love these things, and the ever shifting cast contains so many quirky eccentrics that I'm willing to grit my teeth through the slow parts, even when the insufferable Lara Parker dominates an episode.

There's Louis Edmonds as the persistently indignant Roger Collins, always with a bug up his ass and running out of patience. Jerry Lacy, who switch hits as a psychotic 18th century, witch burning, religious psychopath, and as a 20th century lawyer who can't decide whether to stick with a Humphrey Bogart impersonation. Grayson Hall as the perpetually squinting Dr. Julia Hoffman, whose medical credentials mutate to suit any situation, and who somehow manages to permanently move into the Collins family's home with a stupid pretext which conveniently, everyone eventually forgets. Thayer David as a self-appointed expert in the supernatural, who waxes eloquent about a platter of sharp cheddar cheese while the forces of evil conspire to kill him. Fortunately for Thayer, all of these characters are completely incompetent at whatever it is they do, even Humbert Allen Astredo in the role of Satan. This widespread ineptitude proves essential in keeping the story plodding along, a confusing jumble of Dracula, Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe, All My Children, The Time Tunnel, and the Salem witch trials, with a generous splash of Harriet Craig. Plot threads are introduced then quietly abandoned. Personalities change and characters shift alliances over time, often with no explanation. In an attempt to spackle over this, actors disappear for weeks at a time, then suddenly drop in again, with no apparent motivation for their disappearance or changed behavior. Paying attention will only hurt you.

I prefer consuming Dark Shadows in one or two episode intervals, usually with an alcoholic beverage to heighten my affection for the inane. But I've found that viewing three or more episodes in a single session induces the kind of existential emptiness that I felt as a twelve year old when I would plow through an entire bag of candy corn or Ruffles, while watching The Match Game and Tattle Tales in succession, followed by a Hogan's Heroes rerun. The short term rush of Charles Nelson Reilly and Patti Deutsch exchanging uproarious barbs sadly gave way each weekday to the stifling blandness of Bert Convy and Larry Hovis, leaving me with homework assignments not yet contemplated and the smell of pot roast and root vegetables wafting from the kitchen.

But each of us must explore that fine line between pleasure and pain for ourselves. For some, it's dinner at Appleby's with an obligatory salad bar visit. For others, it may involve driving to a trailer park on the outskirts of town, where a woman in a plastic rabbit suit will insert a greased riding crop into their rectums for sixty dollars an hour. For me, it's an occasional controlled dose of Dark Shadows, and comfort in the knowledge that the television has an off switch, and that I still need to go buy eggs before the supermarket closes.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Sunday, July 4. 2010

I suppose I've always had a soft spot for severed head movies, in the same way I still like to put on a comfy old cardigan, spin some Perry Como vinyl, and break out a box of Ritz crackers and a can of aerosol cheese. And for me, the golden era of severed head films overlapped neatly with my adolescence, kicking off with a bang in 1962 with The Brain That Wouldn't Die, then building to a frenzied climax ten years later in The Thing With Two Heads. The latter blended the cut and dry hand wringing over medical ethics with the racial tensions of the day, producing a glorious orgasm of stupid that would arguably not be challenged until Pink Lady and Jeff hit the airwaves in 1980.

Along the way, one such film may have escaped the attention of many, and undeservedly so, in my view. The Frozen Dead, filmed just twenty years after World War II, explored the possibility of Nazis being revived from a suspended state so that they might reorganize and finish their business. The premise seems a bit far fetched to me. After all, aside from giving Fox News a small ratings bump, I'm skeptical these reanimated Nazis would have much of an impact on the modern world once their juices were flowing. Their résumés would have a huge gap to explain, and they would have missed out on key technological advancements like the Russian sputnik and the Popeil Pocket Fisherman. Worse, outside of some parts of Idaho and Alabama, most people tend to look askance at Nazis, and not without good reason. Sure, they gave us Volkswagens and some of the worst swing jazz in recorded history, but just ask any 80 year old from the rest of Europe how they feel when a German tourist asks for directions.

But Dana Andrews, as Dr. Norberg, has no time to consider their assimilation potential before applying jumper cables to old frozen Nazis, because as Tom Lehrer observed:

"Once zee rockets go up, who cares where they come down? Zat's not my department," says Wernher Von Braun.

Dana's already got some organs wiggling around in glass jars, and even better, he's got a bunch of switch-activated, flopping human arms connected to a wall with wires and sheet rock spackle. He's also got a few Nazis that are sort of working, but the problem is getting their brains to run smoothly. For some reason, they all know how to do exactly one thing, and that one thing varies on a per Nazi basis. One Nazi just combs his hair and looks kind of sad, and none of them can do anything as complicated as a Sudoku puzzle. Sadly, there's little potential for a Fourth Reich in the existing crop. No, what Dana needs is a human brain to experiment with, so he can squirt the proverbial frosting on his Nazi reanimation theories. Enter his assistant, Karl, who is all too eager to help out. So when Dana's niece brings a college pal home for a weekend, Karl goes proactive and snuffs her before she's had her first cup of coffee, then blames one of Dana's reanimated Nazi zombies. Dana's not happy about it, but goddamn it, she's got a fresh brain in her head, and it's not like she's going to be doing anything with it. So Dana borrows her head, hooks it to a bunch of tubes and wires, props it up on a cribbage table, and then the real fun begins. It's not really clear why the head needs to be severed in order to study the brain, but who am I to question Dana Andrews? The Nazis gave him a few million Deutsche Marks to look into this, so he obviously didn't just fall off the turnip truck, assuming they ship turnips that way in Germany.

Eventually things go sour for Dana, but not before he blurts out loads of hilarious pseudo-scientific gibberish, with a German accent that wouldn't get him hired as a Three Stooges extra. And unfortunately he hadn't reached the most desperate point of his career, as anyone who has maintained consciousness through Hot Rods From Hell can attest. But The Frozen Dead stands turgid in the noble echelons of badfilm, predating They Saved Hitler's Brain by a couple of years, and actually seeming somewhat polished in comparison. If by some chance you've never spent a Sunday afternoon lying half asleep on a beer stained sofa, gawking at this with a bewildered stare, I'd say go for it, mach schnell.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Sunday, May 23. 2010

As you probably know, the ethical issues surrounding scientific research are in the news again. J. Craig Ventner and his team have created a synthetic life form in their laboratory, reportedly by combining computer generated DNA strands with pre-existing microplasma cells, presenting the imminent possibility of manufacturing microbes significantly more complex than Wolf Blitzer. Arguably, I've done the same on any given morning after eating at Taco Bell, so I'm not particularly impressed. However, being just a layman, I suppose I'll have to defer to the scientific journals.

But more pointed questions are being raised by the Vatican, which has served as our moral compass for centuries as it has overseen the world's most prolific pedophilia racket. And even for non-theists there's a delicate balance worth pondering as humans cross this forboding cognitive threshold. If species with genomes fine tuned with computer software are to be produced, then who will produce them, and what will be the intent? Will the requirements be defined by the highest bidder, or by governments with dubious political agendas? And even with the best intentions, will there be unexpected catastrophic outcomes, like in that one Three Stooges episode where Curley saws a table in half while Moe is standing on it? I don't think there's any doubt that we're all Moe standing on the table. The question we must confront is: Who is Curley and what does he have in that toolbox?

Maybe man would be better served by drawing lines in the sand which simply cannot be crossed. For example, maybe we could decide that no technological research is allowed if it doesn't expand our cable lineup, induce spontaneous orgasms, or cause a million barrels of raw crude to be puked directly into the Gulf of Mexico. Everything else is gravy, which is fattening, and only keeps you from noticing little chunks of things in your meatloaf that you'd rather not eat.

I can't assume to hold the answers to any of these questions, but I can warn you that my recent viewing of Diabolical Dr. Z has only muddied the water, to the point that I'm much less sure how mankind ought to proceed. For example, what if there were a way to insert metal spikes into the brains and spines of hardened criminals, and with a few "Z-rays" applied at the appropriate frequencies, convert them into the cast from Eight is Enough? Wouldn't that be a good idea? And what if, instead of just flopping their bodies on a table before poking the spikes into their brains, you had this big complicated robotic contraption that grabbed them by the wrists and lifted them up, making a bunch of loud beeping noises, while you twiddled some knobs on an oscilloscope? Wouldn't that be an even better idea?

It may be that director Jess Franco wanted to unravel these conundrums in Diabolical Dr. Z, but if so, his objectives were irrevocably hijacked in the first fifteen minutes when the title character drops dead from a heart attack after being ridiculed by a panel of eminent scientists. With his dying gasp, he urges his daughter Irma to continue his work, and her interpretation of this request is to hunt down and kill every one of the motherfuckers who mocked his theories, along with some collateral damage in the form of a Dutch hitchhiker in a two piece bikini. Clearly, Jess Franco did not set out to make the case for leading edge scientific research, but he did succeed in producing one of his rare story lines that can be followed without the assistance of hash brownies or paint fumes. And anyone who has managed to sit through some of Jess's other films (e.g. Venus in Furs) will recognize that this is no small feat.

There's also a trippy soundtrack with lots of jazz trumpet and atonal treated piano, plus a protagonist scientist guy who resembles Sean Connery with a dash of Leslie Nielsen, and his girlfriend, Miss Death, who seduces a mannequin on a giant fake spider web in a tight see-through body stocking.

By Franco standards, it ranks low for gratuitous nudity and graphic violence, but I'd still recommend it for anyone who likes 60s women's hairstyles and experimental jazz, or who wants the unvarnished, worst case scenario for scientific hubris left unchecked. After all, these are difficult questions to grapple with, and we'd best enter into them with a full complement of tesla coils and paranoid hallucinations.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Saturday, March 27. 2010

One of the endearing traits of late 70s American cinema was the unholy convergence of producers and directors with dubious talent, and aging Hollywood stars in the abyss of their careers. The fact that Ida Lupino wrapped things up with My Boys are Good Boys is almost as depressing as watching your own grandmother unable to reach her orange juice from a hospital bed. This fibrous cinematic stool, which recently floated to the surface of my stagnant perceptive swimming pool, serves as a pristine example of this convergence. A big shout out to my wife for noticing the Ida Lupino double feature during our recent visit to the Yankee Dollar store, and throwing it into our cart, along with our off brand strawberry scented shampoo and a tube of hydrocortisone ointment. One of dozens of quality releases from, this disc also includes a made for TV crapfest with Lupino and Andy Griffith, Strangers In 7A. But I'll save that one for the prep night before my next colonoscopy.

My Boys Are Good Boys is directed by Bethel G. Buckalew, who previously had worked on assorted Harry Novak smut offerings, such as The Pigkeeper's Daughter and Country Cuzzins. What this one lacks in gratuitous sex and nudity it makes up for with its schizophrenic hesitation over whether it wants to be an Al Adamson movie or an ABC After School Special. And in addition to Ida Lupino, you also get Lloyd Nolan and Ralph Meeker, plus David Doyle from Charlie's Angels. Lupino and Meeker are irremediably awful, but Lloyd Nolan somehow manages to salvage his dignity from this mess by slapping a band-aid over a few of the dozens of problems in a script that makes less sense than a Scientology tract proffered by a grinning idiot on a public sidewalk.

And I haven't even mentioned the soundtrack, which much to my amazement is attributed to Joe Siracusa, a former drummer for Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Imagine the most annoying fucking sounds you've ever heard come out of an analog synthesizer, and then imagine what they would sound like coming out of your dog's ass, and you're getting close. And it's always there, like an ear infection that requires a triple round of antibiotics. The title theme is delivered by rockabilly asterisk Dorsey Burnette, and because there is no God, it's available on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

Oh yes, there's also a fat kid named "Chunky." He eats a lot. He likes candy bars. It gets funnier every time they mention it. And don't miss David Doyle's over the top rant near the end, in which he passionately defends the honor of the juvenile delinquents in his custody with the coherence of an Al Qaeda training video. Or the hilarious closing punchline, in which a teenage girl realizes that the cop who is arresting her is the guy who tried to rape her earlier in the movie. Really, does it get any funnier than that?

EastWest Entertainment has graciously unearthed this jewel and presented it after a painstaking restoration process. I would guess this involved ripping the video from a sharing website, converting it to the shittiest mpeg available, then blowing it up into a glorious, low resolution mess, with lots of compression noise anytime there's more on-screen action than in a typical Bela Tarr movie or a National Geographic documentary on snails.

Oh what the hell, maybe I'll go ahead and watch Strangers in 7A. Why wait for a colonoscopy?

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Saturday, March 13. 2010

My parents moved us around a lot when I was a boy, and for a couple of years we lived in a small town in Ohio, where I befriended another kid named Wyman. My friends were usually a bit weird, but Wyman's principle claim to abnormality was his father. About a couple of months after I met Wyman, I spent an afternoon that seemed like a geochronological eon listening to his Dad talk about his recent interest in a 19th century Polish opthalmologist named L. L. Zamenhof.

Zamenhof was the guy who invented Esperanto, a language which he intended to be a universal communicative bridge for helping mankind achieve mutual understanding. Even in my youth this seemed a bit of a reach, but I felt pressured to hear out the full sales pitch. Wyman's Dad always wore a turtleneck and glasses with thick, black frames. He'd puff on his pipe, blowing rancid tobacco smoke over us while aimlessly muttering in a low, reverential tone about his new idol. I was too young to pick up on the depth and breadth of the weirdness, but a few weeks later Wyman gave me some news that finally registered on my fruitcake meter.

Wyman's Dad had decided to create his own language, and Wyman told me that from then on, he wouldn't be able to talk to me unless I learned to use it. He told me it was going to be called Uvantitian, and that it would be based loosely on Romanian, and some alien shit that Wyman's Dad heard one time on The Outer Limits. I kind of liked Wyman, but there was no way in hell I was going to waste time learning his Dad's goofy language just so we could hang out at the drug store and look at smut magazines together, so I stopped going over to his house.

The next time I saw him was at the monthly neighborhood pot luck dinner. Wyman's Dad walked up with his smelly pipe sticking out of a broad grin, and a styrofoam cooler full of ice cold root beer. He set down the cooler and immediately started babbling some incoherent shit that nobody understood, then made eye contact with as many people as possible, as if anticipating a lively rebuttal. Everyone just looked around awkwardly for a few seconds, then began talking to each other as if they hadn't been listening. Pretty soon, some older guy with gray hair and a red flannel shirt walked up and introduced himself as Wyman's uncle, and told us that he was there to translate for Wyman's family so that we could carry on a conversation. About half of the people began moving to some picnic tables closer to the park exit, but my Mom was in an adventurous mood, so we had to stay there and strike up some banter. The first thing we noticed was that Wyman's Dad was only speaking in sentence fragments. He'd say something to Wyman's uncle, and Wyman's uncle would chew on it for a few seconds and then look at us and say "that blue car over there," or "hot charcoals," or "horse shoes," then wait for us to respond. It took her a few minutes, but eventually my Mom figured out that Wyman's Dad had forgotten to invent any verbs with his new language. When she told him this, he looked really pissed off, pretended to not understand what she was saying, and looked over at his uncle to interpret for him. But his uncle wasn't particularly bright, and wasn't even sure what a verb was, so he started mixing English with his Uvantitian, which only made Wyman's Dad even more furious. Pretty soon all of the other families started walking back over to our table and laughing at Wyman's family, and it all ended with Wyman's Dad throwing a bottle of root beer at one of our neighbors, and the high school English teacher yelling jokes about Uvantitian not having a subjunctive mood.

Wyman's family moved away to a suburb shortly after the lamentable pot luck episode, and I rarely thought about it again until by chance I ran into him at a hardware store when we were both teenagers. He confided that his Dad never really gave up his dream, but eventually loosened the familial prohibition against English. He also told me that his Dad had begrudgingly added verbs for mowing the lawn and telling the paper boy to not throw the newspaper in the bushes, but he refused to acknowledge that these were verbs and considered the matter closed.

But what about Esperanto? Would it be fair to judge it based on the fact that someone inspired by it ended up throwing a root beer bottle at one my neighbors? Of course not. That would be like blaming accordions for The Lawrence Welk show. And for that matter, The Lawrence Welk Show is pretty goddamned hilarious if you're drunk or stoned enough. Let he who is without embarrassing personal associations cast the first sxtono, as L. L. Zamenhof might have warned us.

Besides, there's really no need to make excuses for Esperanto. First of all, it has verbs for any occasion. For example, "Des gnomo glutas des gulasxon" means "The gnome swallows the goulash." But it doesn't stop there. You can also say "Mi fikis des gubernatoron", which means "I fucked the governor." With just those two sentences, you could probably get through a job interview at CNN.

The second thing that sets Esperanto apart from Uvantitian is that it has its own William Shatner movie, which is a claim that not even Chinese or German can make. And to be honest, it's not bad. Somehow they managed to get some actors to learn a script in a language that damn near nobody speaks, then drove them up to Big Sur to shoot it, and what popped out is actually kind of creepy in its own way, once you get past the obvious frivolity of Shatner speaking in Esperanto. On top of that, the camera work is inventive, and the score is better than most films being barfed out of Hollywood these days. Maybe the "Evil Has Never Been So Seductive" tagline is a reach, particularly for anyone who ever saw Julie Newmar on the old Batman TV series, but that's a minor quibble.

Given the subject matter, an obvious comparison would be with a later Shatner film, The Devil's Rain, but this is much more watchable despite being much less over the top. As in The Devil's Rain, The Shatmeister represents purity and goodness locking horns with the forces of evil, in this case personified by Milos Milos as The Incubus, and a blonde seductress who wants Shatner to get naked with her on the beach. Milos Milos turned out to be a good choice, because in real life he would later be involved in an adulterous murder/suicide with Mickey Rooney's wife.

By the way, do you know what Mi fikis Mickey Rooney means? That's okay, because his wife didn't know either.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Sunday, January 24. 2010

This is a peculiar and ultimately laughable piece of mildly entertaining dreck directed by Anthony Mann, whose output ran the quality gamut from the nail scrapingly bad Glenn Miller Story to the solid and memorable gonad stomper The Naked Spur. Strange Impersonation lands somewhere in between, much more watchable than the former, but consistently dumb, unlike the latter. A misleadingly high billing for Lyle Talbot on the DVD case is what pulled me in, but his contribution is unfortunately brief. I'm mildly surprised that there must be other Lyle Talbot fans out there, since I would have estimated our numbers to be slightly fewer than those who claim to be Floyd Cramer groupies. I'm guessing this is due more to his appearance in Ed Wood films than his supposedly more legitimate work, but personally I've always been partial to his portrayal of an evil pornographer in a 60s Dragnet episode.

Brenda Marshall stars as a bespectacled blonde babe scientist working on a revolutionary anesthetic, after which she has promised to marry her fiancé (William Gargan). Another archetypal 40s blonde, Hillary Brooke, works in the same lab and, unbeknownst to Marshall, is also hot for William Gargan. This central plot premise is sneer worthy, since William Gargan has the looks and sexual charisma of a castrato Howard Sprague immersed in a month long Star Wars fan convention. In the opening lab scene, he sends Hillary Brooke down to the library to fetch a book on osmosis so he can grab some quick nookie from Brenda Marshall. After he slides his tongue into her mouth, she pulls back and admonishes him:

Steven! Remember! Science!

Well, why did I fall in love with a chemist and a smock?

Later, at her apartment, they peg the erection meter with this steamy exchange:

To begin with, I like your hair.

It's a woman's crowning glory. Did you know that hair grows at the rate of one fiftieth of an inch a day?

Amazing! (they kiss) You have wonderful eyes.

The eyes are a very interesting mechanism.

Oh, really?

The outermost coat of the eyes is sclerotic, a strong, white, fibrous structure, covering about four-fifths of the eyeball. And eyes are practically indispensible for seeing. They can also be winked.

Your nose is out of this world. (winking)

Now in mammals, the nose varies in size and shape. Take elephants. The nose is likely to be... long as an elephant's nose.

Oh, Steven!

Ha ha ha. Leave the science in the laboratory. Ha ha ha.

Normally you'd have to find an 8mm stag reel at a garage sale to witness conversational foreplay of this caliber, but fortunately in this case it ends without any genitals being exposed, since Marshall needs to get rid of her beefcake boyfriend and experiment with her ground breaking anesthetic. Hillary Brooke shows up to help, but sabotages things by torching Marshall's face with a chemical reaction while she is sedated, rendering her undesirable and leaving Brooke with a clear path to Gargan's turgid phallus.

Eventually Marshall has her face fixed by a plastic surgeon, who miraculously makes her look exactly like another woman seen earlier in the film, who I won't get into for fear of giving away too much. But instead of having the other woman take over the role, they just stick a black wig on Brenda Marshall, and for the rest of the film nobody recognizes her, even though it's obviously her with a wig.

And then there's the dreadfully stupid "trick" ending that delivers the emotional punch of a protracted seventy minute squat on a whoopie cushion. Lyle Talbot also livens things up a bit toward the end as a dim witted and belligerent police inspector.

It's worth a look if you enjoy film noir with no brains, questionable casting, and awful writing. But you'd be much better off renting The Naked Spur.

Rudy Schwartz's Reviews
Wednesday, January 6. 2010

No one loves America bashing more than me. Okay, that's probably not true. I'd probably get an argument from anyone who had their apartment blown up by a stray cruise missile or who had the misfortune of being collateral damage in Fallujah during a "legal" dispersal of white phosphorous. So what? Those people probably don't even own a DVD player.

Given that, if anyone is going to enjoy some laughs at America's expense, it should be me. Hell, I even thought The Smothers Brothers were almost funny, so it's not like I've set a lofty benchmark. That's why I was all over this one, particularly when I looked at the cast and saw Donald Pleasance as Doctor Freedom, Yves Montand as Captain Formidable, and Serge Gainsbourg as Mr. Drugstore. Throw in my naive assumption that Criterion would never waste time with a piece of frozen dog shit as ill conceived as Mr. Freedom, and all the dominos were in place for a wasted evening.

It didn't take long for apprehension to plop its ass down next to me on the sofa and prop its feet up on the coffee table. Generally, the use of wall hangings in movies which imply political context is a signal that somebody didn't want to bother writing a script with more narrative heft than a Clutch Cargo episode. You know the routine. Rednecks have Bigmouth Billy Bass singing fish. Lesbian sculptors have have framed Frida Kahlo prints. In this case, Mr. Freedom is a sheriff with Playboy centerfolds and a photo of Lyndon Johnson hanging behind his desk. There's also a poster accusing JFK of treason, since we all know Kennedy had absolutely nothing to do with U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The sheriff opens a closet and reveals his Mr. Freedom costume, kind of like Yvonne Craig in Batman, only with hand grenades, daggers, and a rubber LBJ mask instead of a vanity and a wig. He puts on his uniform and then goes to an apartment where some black people are having a party. They have Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali posters, and they're listening to Aretha Franklin, so we can be sure that they're black. They also have a framed JFK in velvet, since he had nothing to do with Vietnam. Mr. Freedom jumps on the table, shoots their television, sings an annoying song about freedom, and kicks some soft drinks on the floor. Just then he receives a call on his television wristwatch from Donald Pleasance. He wants Mr. Freedom to go to France to save it from Communism, since they're white and therefore worth saving, even though they're French. Need I go on? To director William Klein, the word "subtle" is two syllables, one of which represents a sandwich, and the other containing three arbitrary letters which might someday be useful in other words if needed.

Donald Pleasance only appears on TV screens, which makes me wonder if he was even required to leave his apartment to participate in this cluster fuck. But to his credit, he doesn't just phone in a half assed performance, and manages to muster more enthusiasm for his role than is warranted. Serge Gainsbourg is completely wasted, and it's not even clear why he's called Mr. Drugstore, although the fact that he's called Mr. Drugstore is by far the funniest gag. Yves Montand receives approximately two seconds of screen time as a corpse. And oh yes, there are also loads of gratuitous tits to distract you from the fact that the script appears to have been constructed by a tenth grader with an addiction to shoe polish.

I suppose if I were to compare this to something, it would be Ray Dennis Steckler's Rat Pfink and Boo Boo, if you made it significantly less funny, tripled the costume budget, and stirred in a few gallons of the sort of knee jerk leftist drooling one normally encounters in the comments section on Huffington Post. It all makes me wonder whether Henry Kissinger really didn't sabotage the peace talks in Paris. Maybe he flew there to work behind the scenes, making sure this film was completed. Maybe he was crawling around with Irving Kristol in the giant inflatable dragon used to represent the Chinese government. Maybe I shouldn't have rented this movie. It's the kind of social protest that makes John & Yoko's bed-in for peace seem as ballsy as the guy standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square, and if it's truly representative of the satirical wit brought to bear against America's foreign policy in the 1960s, then it's amazing that the Vietnam War ever ended.