Suspense & espionage films


MRS POLLIFAX – SPY. United Artists, 1971. Rosalind Russell (Mrs. Pollifax), Darren McGavin, Nehemiah Persoff, Harold Gould, Albert Paulsen, John Beck, Dana Elcar, James Wellman. Screenplay by Rosalind Russell (as C.A. McKnight), based on the novel The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. Director: Leslie Martinson.

   I have a small confession to make. I’ve never read any of Dorothy Gilman’s books about the genteel elderly lady spy, Mrs Emily Pollifax, of which there are 14 of them, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax being the first. The combination of a cozy mystery with a serious spy story was just never anything I wanted to follow up on, even though I’ve had many an opportunity to do so.

   The good news is that in spite of some television-level production values early on, Mrs. Pollifax – Spy turned out to be an enjoyably amusing way to spend two hours. To back up some, though, Emily Pollifax is a widow living in Montclair, New Jersey, who has always wanted to be a spy, and now that her children are grown and living far across the country, she decides to offer her services to, where else, the CIA.

   And believe it or not, they have just the right assignment for her. She’s to go to Mexico as an ordinary tourist – no great difficulty there! – and bring back a book in which vital information is concealed. There’s a rough patch in the story line right along here, as it was hard to follow exactly what goes wrong,, but of course in a movie or book such as this, something indeed is guaranteed to go wrong.

   So wrong indeed that Mrs Pollifax ends up in a ancient citadel of a prison in Albania, handcuffed to a fellow spy, but a real one, named Farrell (a delightfully exasperated Darren McGavin). Well, pluck being Mrs. Pollifax’s middle name, the first thing she decides to do is to work out a plan to escape.

   I am not telling you anything you will not be surprised to know, but the ever resourceful lady does just that. At two hours in length, the movie is longer than it really should have been, but watching the fantastically talented Rosalind Russell in action will get you through the parts that sag just fine. (And as a closing note in that regard, this was evidently a pet project of hers, and at the age of 64, she carries on in her inimitable and consistently irrepressible fashion, in this her final theatrical film.)

   

   I’ve not seen a James Bond movie since Casino Royale, the first one in which Daniel Craig had the starring role. I don’t see anything in this one that appeals to me, either, but there’s plenty of time for me to change my mind about that.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


RUSSIAN ROULETTE. Embassy Pictures, 1975. George Segal, Christina Raines, Bo Brundin, Denholm Elliot, Richard Romanus, Gordon Jackson, Louise Fletcher, Peter Donat, Nigel Stock, Val Avery, Screenplay by Stanley Mann, Jack Trolley, Arnold Margolin, and Tom Ardles, based on the latter’s novel, Kosygin is Coming. Directed by Lou Lombardo.

   I was halfway into this late Cold War, early Glastnost, thriller set in a wet grungy version of a Vancouver so unattractive Canada should have boycotted the studio that made it when I realized I had seen it before. I’m not sure why I so roundly forgot it, but I surely did.

   In retrospect I suspect PTSD (no, I am not making light of PTSD, I have PTSD) from having seen it the first time.

   George Segal is Corporal Shaver of the RCMP, a plainclothes cop with an attitude and a life vaguely falling apart because he is on leave for punching his superior, Peter Donat, in the eye. As we meet him he is meeting with seedy Special Branch agent Denholm Elliot in a bar for Veterans with amputations (just why Elliot and Segal are members is never quite covered, nor is why if both belong to a small club neither knows the other).

   Elliot has the good sense to play the whole film as if he can’t quite figure out how to get out of it.

   Anyway, Elliot has a job to offer Shaver, one that might save his police career, and at the minor cost of his conscience. Rudoplph Henke (Val Avery) is a deviant Russian dissident living in Vancouver, a pain in the ass to everyone, and the Canadian government would like him out of the way during an upcoming diplomatic visit by Soviet Premier Kosygin — something the KGB, in the person of an insistent Soviet security expert (Bo Brundin) is pressing.

   All Segal has to do is kidnap the unpleasant Henke and keep him on ice for a few days. Hey, it’s Canada, no pesky Constitution to deal with, no big deal, right ?

   Meanwhile a flashy American, Richard Romanus, has arrived in Vancouver with a gun and a photograph of Henke. Obviously things are going to get complicated.

   And there lies the problem, aside from the grungy look of the film. The plot is absurdly complicated, and a film that builds up some real suspense toward the end with a race to save the target, is burdened by questions that don’t get answered and a Rube Goldberg construct of complications that really don’t seem necessary.

   If the Soviets had operated like this, we wouldn’t have had to wait nearly twenty years until they failed.

   So when Segal goes to kidnap Henke, only to have him snatched under his nose by someone else, rather than go to Elliot or his superiors, he decides to play private eye and find out what happened to Henke. This involves the receptionist at the RCMP he has broken up with (Raines) and her friend, a totally wasted Louise Fletcher. Because obviously a scene indicating Henke was violently kidnapped doesn’t need reporting to the authorities, who blithely assume Segal did his job.

   Later he doesn’t bother to report when his friend, another policeman, is murdered and left in Raines bathroom for information Segal already got somewhere else (and if it is that easy to find why kill … well, this film doesn’t bother to think these things through). Nothing had happened since Segal made a bad guy walk the plank off a railroad bridge and a body always picks things up. At least it does in better movies than this.

   We however pretty much know why Segal’s character is on suspension. He’s a lousy cop, he punched a superior, bungled a simple job and lied about it, drowned a suspect and claimed his new expensive sports car, and failed to report the death of a policeman.

   It doesn’t help that at several points Segal’s Shaver just suddenly knows things, like that Romanus, who offers him a lift when his car is towed (from a ski resort Segal has driven all the way to so he can speak to colleague Gordon Jackson who is coming back to town anyway), is trying to kidnap him. Just out of nowhere, because he’s the hero and Romanus character is about to be written out of the story, he knows the American giving him a lift is out to kidnap him.

   He doesn’t recognize him, Romanus hasn’t been following him, there is nothing suspicious about his car being towed (until later when it is, and meanwhile Segal hasn’t tied his car being towed to the coincidence of his being nearly kidnapped), and he doesn’t learn anything valuable from Romanus, though he does get Romanus nice Jensen Interceptor rather than the clunker he’s been driving.

   As far as I can tell, Romanus’s whole point in the film is so Segal’s character gets to drive that car.

   I had a Jensen in the seventies. It is worth at least a Richard Romanuses, I promise you.

   Of course. as you might imagine, Elliot and everyone is lying to Segal, and he begins to piece it together. Henke isn’t a Russian dissident, but an American CIA agent (why in the hell a CIA agent would pose as an anti-Soviet and live in Vancouver to spy on the Soviets is one of the bigger holes in the plot), and everyone but Segal knows that including the KGB Colonel who promptly kidnaps Segal and Raines and reveals his plot to assassinate Kosygin, for getting too friendly with the West, using the drugged CIA agent covered in explosives (and no, they never do explain how he is supposed to get close enough to blow up Kosygin since he is stoned out of his gourd) sitting in the doorway of a phony police helicopter (because the RCMP would never notice a stray helicopter while trying to protect a world leader or stop a staggering man wearing explosives from getting near a world leader).

   Raines and Segal escape from the farm where they are being held, and at least some suspense (about mid-film the director spends a pointless ten minutes as Segal goes from one Chinese restaurant to another looking for Elliot) kicks in as a race/chase ensues with cars zipping everywhere, quick cuts to the helicopter and drugged Henke, a whole Road Runner thing with Segal and the Soviet Colonel, and rooftop shootout between Segal, the Colonel, and the helicopter in downtown Vancouver, that, true to the quality of work Segal’s Shaver has shown up to now, ends with him murdering a CIA agent he could have stopped with a bullet to the knee.

   At one point he and Raines escape by causing a car wreck. He then takes the keys to the handcuffs from the dead driver and frees them, but does he take the gun the man almost certainly has — no, because if he had a gun, he could just shoot a couple of bad guys who are about to chase him. It’s that kind of brainless plotting that sabotages this at every turn.

   When he hands his boss Donat the rifle he confiscated from another policeman at film’s end, I half expected Donat to shoot him. The man is a menace. Clouseau is more capable.

   Did I mention this movie makes some of the worse music choices in the history of suspense movies that work to sabotage an already confused and confusing story?

   I’m not sure what anyone thought they were doing. The whole movie is ugly. Literally they cannot find one attractive thing is all of Vancouver and the surrounding countryside. Even the ski lodge is photographed ugly.

   Segal is better than the material, but wasted, and the amateurish confused direction and screenplay are frankly terrible. Good actors are given underwritten dialogue with no motivation and much of what does happen in the film is stretched to the breaking point where it could have been covered in a few lines of decent exposition.

   About fifteen minutes of suspense at the end doesn’t excuse the fact that nothing, including the big chase, makes any sense at all. They don’t give the viewer the chance Russian roulette (that’s another problem, the title gives too much away) does in real life. They load this one with duds and fire them all at the unsuspecting audience.

   But other than that, I liked it.


HOPSCOTCH. AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1980. Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty, Herbert Lom, David Matthau, Lucy Saroyan. Screenplay by Brian Garfield and Bryan Forbes, based on the novel by the former. Director: Ronald Neame.

   It wasn’t intentional, but I saw this right after after watching Spy Game (reviewed here ), another film based on what happens after men in the spy business are about to retire, or in this case, unwillingly bounced out of the job. This is what happens to Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) when he lets his counterpart for the Soviet Union (Herbert Lom) go free when caught red-handed just doing his job.

   Matthau’s rationale is that it’s better to know who’s who on the other side rather the wait to learn who the new guy might be. But furious, Ned Beatty as Matthau’s new inexperienced boss, boots him out, permanently.

   What is there for Matthau to do but a little revenge, which comes in the form of writing his memoirs, which he starts sending out to publishers one chapter at a time, and staying ahead of Beatty and his former co-workers one jump at a time.

   It is but a game to him, and it is a lot of fun for the viewer too, but the viewer (this one, anyway) begins to realize that the game is all too easy for Miles Kendig. The game is far too one-sided. Ned Beatty, for all his profanity and foot-stomping, doesn’t stand a chance.

   The remaining pleasure therefore lies in watching Walter Matthau, he of the lugubrious, lived-in face, as an old pro at work. Glenda Jackson as his long-time lady friend, doesn’t have all that much else to do, but whenever the two of them are on the screen together, the chemistry between them makes sparks fly.

   All in all, though, when compared to Spy Game, the only category for which I would rate Hopscotch more than second best is light comedy, at which there was none better than Walter Matthau, that and the additional presence of Glenda Jackson.

   As a movie, it’s a lot of fun to watch, I grant you, but when what’s happening on the screen starts repeating itself, you know the movie’s over, and way too soon. And worse, there’s never a sense of urgency or tension in the story that’s told. Even if played as a comedy, which this one is, stories of a master spy at work should never be as relaxing as this one.


SPY GAME. Universal Pictures, 2001. Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, David Hemmings. Director: Tony Scott.

   One of my favorite subgenres of the spy film or novel is that of the grizzled old field agent (figuratively speaking) who’s approaching his last day on the job is approaching quickly, whether voluntarily or (in some cases) being shoved out the door in a quiet but efficient bum’s rush. This one’s the former, but it makes no difference. When a small crisis comes up, Matthew Muir (Robert Redford) gets quite a bit of satisfaction in knowing that he’s really still at the top of his game.

   On his last day at the CIA, it helps that he still on contacts around the world who can give him a full warning that something has happened in China that he needs to know about, well before he’s called into a meeting with his superiors, men in suits all, with no particular expertise in the field.

   What has happened is that one of Muir’s former proteges, a fellow named Bishop (Brad Pitt), has gotten himself captured trying to free another prisoner, and unless the US makes some concessions on an trade agreement still being negotiated, Bishop will be executed. Muir has only 24 hours to clean things up.

   Much of the film is taken up by flashbacks to show how Muir developed Bishop as an agent, starting back in the Vietnam War. The relationship, while generally friendly, was also very often a prickly one, and of course it was a girl Bishop is attracted to that causes a serious rupture in their relationship. But in the present, Bishop has to somehow be rescued, and it is the wiles of Muir that are needed, while at the same time keeping the brass at the top off his back.

   It’s a neat trick if he can do it, and it is Robert Redford who is perfect in the part of the visibly aging Muir, who shows us all that you should never count out older guys when it comes down to getting things done, and that experience matters too.

   So as I say, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. Adding to the verisimilitude of a story taking place in wartorn Middle Eastern locale, much of the movie was filmed in Lebanon, with lots of well photographed action to go along with the tricks and chits that Muir is able to call in. I enjoyed this one.


REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


THINK FAST, MR. MOTO. 20th Century Fox, 1937. Peter Lorre, Virginia Field, Thomas Beck, Sig Rumann. Based on the novel by John P. Marquand. Director: Norman Foster. Shown at Cinevent 27, Columbus OH, 1995.

   The first of the Moto series, several of which I have on tape but have never watched. I will have to remedy that, since this was a charming 70 minutes, with Lorre in fine form.

   Odd to see Sig Rumann as a villain. I remember him best as the manic impresario in A night at the Opera.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #108, July 1995.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


ALEXANDER KLEIN – The Counterfeit Traitor. Henry Holt & Co., 1958. Permabook M4122, paperback, 1959; Pyramid, paperback, 1967.

    THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR. Paramount, 1962. William Holden, Lilli Palmer, Hugh Griffith, Eva Dahlbeck, Carl Raddatz, and Klaus Kinski. Adapted for the screen and directed by George Seaton.

   An interesting effort, both for the story it tells and the way Klein — and later Seaton — tell it. But first a word of Background:

   Some of you may have already heard about World War II. If not, you should Google it and let us know what you think, because it’s been mentioned in these pages before. But to make a long story short (SPOILER ALERT!) Germany lost.

   But when Nazi Germany was at the height of its power, before America entered the war in ’41, generals and statesmen on what would be the Allied Side were already mapping their strategy. And a major element was to cripple the German Oil industry.

   The effectiveness of this approach cannot be overstated: as allied planes bombed refineries over and over, oil supplies dwindled, and Hitler could no longer use his heavy gas-guzzling tanks with the speed and mobility that made the blitzkrieg possible. Troops and artillery that once would have sped along the autobahn had to march or go by rail. Fighter planes that might have stymied the allies at Normandy stayed in Germany, and the pilots of these planes had their training severely reduced to save gas for the actual fighting. In short, when the allies crimped the flow of oil, they pinched off the lifeblood of the German war machine.

   Okay, that’s the background. One element in accomplishing this strategy was to find out where the oil refineries were, how they were camouflaged and defended, and, later on, how badly they were hit. To do this, the allies recruited one Eric Ericson, an American expatriate oil broker who, in the late 30s, married a Swede and adopted neutral Swedish citizenship in order to do business with both sides during the war.

   Working (reluctantly?) for the Allies, Ericson wangled himself into a position to visit German Oil suppliers on a regular basis throughout the early 40s, where he reported his observations back to American Intelligence and even recruited disaffected Germans to assist him. Later, when Germany was no longer selling oil, he cooked up a phony scheme to start a synthetic oil refinery in Sweden that would (a) supposedly supply oil to the Reich, and (b) actually provide an investment opportunity for wealthy Nazis who wanted to move their assets out of a now-losing Fatherland.

   With this as a cover, Ericson actually gained repeated access to Germany’s most highly-classified refinery sites, and reported their locations — and later, the progress of their destruction — to the allies.

   This is a fascinating bit of true-life espionage, and Alexander Klein’s telling is… well, it’s almost up to the challenge. Klein does a nice job of parsing his story out bit by bit, the way Ericson lived it, gradually building the suspense as his hero ventures into Nazi Germany, flirts with discovery, courts the favor of influential Nazis, and more than once heads straight for disaster.

   He also has a nice way of catching the small details of day-to-day life in a war-weary Germany, with off-hand details about the stench of a subway filled with working people whose soap was rationed, the weary air of sexual license, or the prevalence of bad teeth in a land where toothbrushes were a luxury and dentists pressed into service as doctors.

   Unfortunately, Klein’s gift for dialogue is much less compelling; he reconstructs conversations where characters don’t talk so much as they explicate, saying just enough to move the story along across a background of highly unconvincing small talk. As a result, his characters come off as a bit two-dimensional, real people who are never quite real to the reader. Klein himself seems aware of his weaknesses as a writer, though, and thoughtfully avoids these scenes as much as possible to concentrate on a story I found ultimately quite involving.

   When George Seaton adapted this for the movie in 1962, he overcame Klein’s expository problems very neatly indeed. With the aid of William Holden, playing a cynical businessman pressed unwillingly into the Allied Camp, he created a character who may not have been the real-life Ericson, but seems very plausible to the viewer.

   Holden’s voice-over narration replaces the functional dialogue of the book, and Seaton imparts a sense of realism with skillful playing by a talented cast: notably Hugh Griffith as an obdurate “recruiter” for British Intelligence, whose knife-like smile betrays his complete ruthlessness — this in dramatic contrast to Lilli Palmer’s conscience-stricken German informant, with Holden perched uneasily between the two as his own better feelings begin to surface.

   There are few actors who could have managed this as well as Holden and not many writer-directors who could have evoked it more ably than George Seaton, who could get more drama out of a bottle of cough syrup (The Country Girl) than most filmmakers could do with a disaster at sea. He also plays well on our expectations: When Holden volunteers for “one last trip” into Germany, we know things are going to go bad, but instead of seeming clichéd, it builds the suspense and segues into a dandy chase that goes on for some time but never feels protracted.

   Book and movie are well worth your time, and I recommend them both. But I recommend the film more highly.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST. Paramount, 1967. James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington, Barry McGuire, Jill Banner, Will Geer, William Daniels and Joan Darling. Written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker.

   This will open with a rant, so skip the first few paragraphs and scan down till you see the words “The President’s Analyst” again. Got that? “The President’s Analyst.” I mean the next time you see it. Not now, further down. Okay? Now the rant.

   Last month I cut the cable with ATT DirecTV and switched internet services. Getting the new service hooked up and my TV set switched to Antenna was fairly simple. Getting away from ATT was not.

   Working on instructions from ATT, FedEx handled the return with aplomb, ATT acknowledged receipt of the Modem — but not the Cable stuff.

   My “whuzzah?”call to ATT began an acquaintance with “Brian,” “Jessica,” “Donald” and others (American names must be popular in India.) who said my ATT service was “concert” but they couldn’t credit me for the equipment until the end of the “birring cykor.”

   Turns out ATT policy said I’d be charged for the next month for the very good reason that it was ATT policy to cancer (?) service at the end of the month following notice. After some telephone pinball, someone — “Trixie,” I think — allowed me to speak with a supervisor about this, and after 10 minutes on hold, cut me off.

   To make a long story a little less long, I went through this a few more times, with “Larry,” “Moe” and “Aditya” before reaching a supervisor (“Bonnie”) who said she couldn’t alter ATT “Pohsee” and anyone who could was by definition too important to talk to me.

   So anyway, I related all this to a friend, who responded “Three words, Dan: The President’s Analyst.”

   Aha!

   It took me back to my Senior Year of High School, when adulthood beckoned with a coy wink, and the World was falling apart. Somewhere in the midst of this gaudy chaos, James Coburn was emerging as a movie star, and The President’s Analyst solidified his image as a somewhat off-beat persona in a film that never quite makes up its mind what it wants to be about — and is all the better for it.

   It starts out as a one-joke movie: Coburn is retained as the POTUS’ on-call shrink, and finds himself growing paranoid — or is he really being watched? Well of course he is. What kind of movie would you have if he wasn’t?

   So when he cracks under the strain and goes on the run, TPA shifts from Political Comedy to Spy Spoof as our hero finds himself pursued by the Secret Agencies of every government on Earth and takes cover: first with a family of militant liberals (deftly played by William Daniels and Joan Darling) then, less amusingly, with Barry McGuire’s hippie band.

   I should pause here to mention Godfrey Cambridge and Severn Darden as an American agent and his Soviet counterpart, both roles well written and feelingly played, notably in a fractured and melancholy reminiscence about departed enemies. Later on, Daniels and Darling do a hilarious bit of suburban self-defense, then there’s a balletic sequence of Coburn plucking the gowans fine with a fair young maiden in a field of wildflowers — while being stalked by scores of assassins, agents and assorted men in black.

   All that though is just writer/director Flicker showing off his stylish wit as TPA changes course once again. Finally captured by Darden’s Russian Spy, Coburn realizes that his best weapon is the one he was trained to use, and he sets about escaping from Darden by understanding him — a ploy used earlier in films like Blind Alley and The Dark Past, but never to such humorous effect.

    Whereupon (you guessed it) the movie bounces off a wild wall, and the sinister agency behind the whole thing is revealed as… Well if you didn’t guess it, I won’t reveal it now, but Pat Harrington plays the PR man for Artifice Trapping & Treachery with a cozening cheerfulness just wonderful to watch. Even better, his little show is followed by a noisy burst of gunfire, explosions & derring-do just as satisfying in its own brainless way.

   The President’s Analyst is no classic. It’s just a little too trendy for its own good. But it’s also unlike any other film you’re likely to see, and worth a look.

   And by the way, I found out that BBB trumps ATT, and got a Happy Ending all my own.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR. GO. Ross Film Productions, UK, 1970. James Mason, Jeff Bridges, Jack McGowran, Irene Tsu, Peter Lind Hayes, Clarissa Kaye(-Mason), Broderick Crawford and Burgess Meredith, who also wrote & directed.

   People ask me why I spend time on bad movies. “Dan,” they ask me, “Why does a good-looking, intelligent man like you spend time on bad movies?”

   Funny you should ask that.

   Most bad films are simply bad, and you won’t read about them here. But now and again, a film is strikingly, memorably, bad, and these I think should be appreciated on their own terms. I mean, when you watch a good movie, or even a competently-made one, you and the filmmaker share common assumptions, and you have some idea what to expect. Here, I was on my own, adrift in a film that could go anywhere.

   I’d like to think this was not the film Burgess Meredith envisioned when he started making it. Word around the ’net is that it was plagued by financial problems, beset by internal strife, and some scenes were clearly added post-production. How else to explain scenes of Brod Crawford acting alone in a room, intercut with scenes of other actors supposedly conversing with him — and none of them even in the movie proper!

   But the fact is, the more I got into this cinematic fever swamp, the more I wondered how anyone could have thought any of it could have made a watchable movie. The cheap color, bad sound and choppy editing don’t help, but they can’t hide the fact that Mr. Go was misconceived and born to calamity.

   Needless to say, I was spellbound.

   For starters, this film is narrated by Buddha. Not some guy named Buddha, THE Buddha: Gautama. Siddhartha. Shakyamuni. The guy with all the statues sitting cross-legged. That’s the one, and every so often we cut to a picture of him and he fills in the narrative gaps in voice-over.

   Said narrative involves Yin Yang Go, a Chinese-German master criminal played by James Mason, in his usual Bored-British manner, headquartered in Macao or Hong Kong (the script is never sure which) and out to get the secret of a new advanced super-weapon from Scientist Pete Martin, played by Peter Lynd Hayes—who will always be Mr. Zabladowski to me.

   To this end, Mason recruits draft-dodger Jeff Bridges to exploit Martin’s weakness for the Rough Trade. Bridges doe his bit in a mildly shocking scene, Mason gets the secret plans, sells them to the bad guys (who are led by his wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason) who kidnap Bridges’ girlfriend for some reason. Then Brod Crawford’s man (Jack McGowran) shows up and starts chasing everybody. Mason, Bridges and some of the bad guys escape on a helicopter while Clarissa Kaye-Mason tortures Jeff’s girlfriend on a boat, and then….

((!SPOILER ALERT!! MAJOR PLOT TURN REVEALED AHEAD! NOBODY WILL BELIEVE IT, BUT I’M WARNING YOU ANYWAY!))

    …and then Buddha shoots a magical ray from his forehead and turns James Mason into a Good Guy.

   You heard it here, folks. James Mason & Jeff Bridges, still being chased by McGowran, go after the bad guys. And then comes something else I’ve never seen before: Bridges overacts outrageously — in the fight scenes! No kidding, every time he bursts through a door, throws a punch or leaps off a balcony, he strikes a pose like Mighty Mouse.

   By this time I was thoroughly dazzled. And then….

   And then someone apparently took the trouble to tape over this commercial VHS copy, replacing the ending with one of those programs where an artist shows the viewer how to paint awful paintings. And it is a tribute of sorts to The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go that it took me a minute or two to realize I was no longer watching it.

   I suppose I should seek out a complete DVD or VHS tape of Mr. Go and see how it ends, but I like to remember it like this: Disjointed, misbalanced, completely unpredictable and — and I haven’t even mentioned Director Meredith playing a Chinese herbalist Doctor, or the Loveboat music that jumps and prances in the background, whether it fits or not — no, I like to think that Mr. Go is supposed to end with everybody learning to paint badly.

   And even if that’s not the director’s cut, it’s the version I will cherish.


SPLIT SECOND. RKO Radio Pictures, 1953. Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, Keith Andes, Arthur Hunnicutt, Paul Kelly, Robert Paige, Richard Egan, Frank de Kova. Director: Dick Powell.

   A large ensemble cast portraying a group of strangers, mostly, being held captive in a Nevada ghost town by am escaped killer (Stephen McNally) and his two confederates, one of whom (Paul Kelly) is seriously wounded. Others include a journalist (Keith Andes) and the female hoofer (Jan Sterling) he had picked up earlier as a hitchhiker. Also trapped are a woman (Alexis Smith) doing in Nevada what women with unwanted husbands did in the 50s, along with her current male companion (Robert Paige).

   Adding considerable stress to the situation is the fact that a nuclear bomb test is scheduled to take place at six the next morning, and they are less than a mile from ground zero.

   The movie has a good many fans, but unfortunately I found it far less intense and suspenseful than I was supposed to, even with the time of the blast moved up an hour. As the crazed murderer in charge of his small gang, Stephen McNally is over the top when it comes to the “crazed” part of his role, while Keith Andes holds back a little too much. Perfect in her role, however, is Jan Sterling, caught between her attraction to Andes and diverting the crude advances of McNally.

   While the camera work is fluid and very effective, the direction itself (Dick Powell’s debut) is often stagey and in effect calls attention to itself more than pleased me. Worse are the holes in the plot. Here’s one of them that puzzled me throughout the movie: How do so many people manage to avoid the roadblocks into the area to begin with?


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