Action Adventure movies


   

BLACK MOON RISING. New World Pictures, 1986. Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel. Based on a story by John Carpenter, also one of the co-screenwriters. Director: Harley Cokliss.

   The “Black Moon” in this movie is a car, and not just any car. It’s an experimental car, one that’s designed to travel at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. Valuable? Yes, no doubt about it. And when it’s stolen, by an organized gang of thieves not knowing exactly what they have, do the owners want it back>? I’m repeating myself. No doubt about it.

   This is not a “car movie,” though, as many many movies in the 80s were. It’s really about Quint, Tommy Lee Jones’ character, a thief himself. He’s stolen a cassette of important evidence that the owners want back, and he’s hidden it for safekeeping in the car that’s been stolen. Now he needs to find the car too.

   And just by the way, I said the gang of thieves did not realize what they had stolen. This is not exactly true. Their leader on the street and a whiz with cars, especially at stealing them, is Linda Hamilton, and even though it thoroughly displeases her boss (Robert Vaughn) upstairs in a tall tower of a building, she wouldn’t mind the idea of being able to drive off with it.

   It was toward the beginning of Jones’ movie-making career when this one was made, still in the stages of making movies for TV and other ones almost no one ever saw, but does he have screen presence?

   The answer, as succinctly as I can made it, is Yes. He fits my mental picture of a tough-as-nails thief-for-hire perfectly. And tough as nails is exactly what he has to be. He takes one of the more brutal beatings in this movie that I can imagine – and is still able to get up the next day to finish the operation that he has in the works to reprieve the car.  (What this is, you see,  is a double heist movie.)

   Most movie such as this I am always content to sit back and enjoy the flow. Linda Hamilton is always a plus, as easy as the eyes as she is, but this is Tommy Lee Jones’ movie all the way. Even after seeing Black Moon, the car, really do its stuff when it needs to.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF

   

GYPSY WILDCAT. Universal Pictures, 1944. Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Peter Coe, Nigel Bruce, Leo Carrillo, Gale Sondergaard, Douglass Dumbrille. Director: Roy William Neill.

   Last month AMC ran a bunch of those “Arabian Nights” Movies, which I blush to admit I watched and enjoyed while other, worthier tapes, languished on my shelves.

   It doesn’t help a bit that these movies were mega-hits in the 40s, catapulted Jon Hall and Maria Montez to dubious stardom, and launched several mostly cheap and inferior imitations. I noted that Cobra Woman was directed by Robert Siodmak, in the bland, expressionless style that would become his trademark in the 60s, after all those wonderfully stylish films nour, and Gypsy Wildcat was done by that James-Whale-of-“B” -Movies — Roy William Neill — with all the panache poured into Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and the Sherlock Holmes series.

   Of course, in Gypsy Wildcat, the plot kind of got away from the writers: First the Gypsies sing, then they get taken prisoner by Evil Baron Douglass Dumbrille (who at least always managed to have a good time with his villainy) but Jon Hall escapes. Then he joins them and they’re all caught, so they decide to sing. Then Jon Hall escapes again and comes back for Maria Montez and they both escape, but then they get caught. One of the Gypsies escapes, then they all decide to escape, and to cover up the noise of their escape, they sing.

   Having escaped, they prison the Guards, but then Douglass Dumbrille escapes with Maria Montez, so they chase after him, but while they’re gone, the guards escape and start chasing after the gypsies, who catch Doug just as the guards catch them and …

   Well, I guess that’s why they call it Escapist Entertainment. But Damn, that Movie sure moves around a lot!

— Reprinted from Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE TRAP. Paramount Pictures, 1959. Richard Widmark, Lee J. Cobb, Tina Louise, Earl Holliman , Carl Benton Reid, Lorne Greene, Peter Baldwin. Director: Norman Panama.

   After about ten minutes, I was about to give up on The Trap. That would have been a big mistake. What first appears to be a middling family drama slowly gives way to a gritty and violent desert noir. There is something just so stagy about the opening sequences that makes me wonder whether other people have dismissed this rather obscure crime film out of hand. Because it certainly doesn’t seem to have wide appeal, let alone be referred to very often by noir or crime film enthusiasts.

   While it’s by no means a masterpiece and has more than its fair share of limitations, The Trap is an overall taut and enjoyable little thriller. Richard Widmark, always enjoyable in my book, portrays Ralph Anderson, a shyster lawyer tasked by the mob to arrange for an airstrip in his small California hometown to be operational.

   Why is this such a big deal, you might ask yourself. Well, it’s because fugitive mob boss Victor Massonetti (Lee J. Cobb) needs an airfield to flee the country. So, Ralph shows up in his small desert hometown for the the first time in ten years and pleads with his father, the town sheriff, to keep the airfield open. His brother Tippy (Earl Holliman), who is now married to his high school sweetheart Linda (Tina Louise), would rather just collect the reward. There’s a longstanding feud between the two brothers which plays out over the course of the film. It’s an important part of the plot, but nothing you haven’t seen repeated time and again in westerns.

   Overall, The Trap is successful in its storytelling. The movie moves at a fairly rapid clip and whenever it does seem to be slowing down or going in circles, it picks itself up and charges in a new and often surprising direction. Widmark and Cobb give solid performances, even if the latter’s rendition of what a mob boss should sound like gets repetitive and downright grating.

   What’s distinctly lacking in the movie is any real cinematic sense. Although the movie is set against harsh desert vistas, neither the director nor cinematographer seemed interested or willing to fully capture the landscape in any meaningful sense. Rather, we often get a made for television aesthetic. Not bad, by any means. But just not something visually intoxicating. One wonders whether the movie would have actually been better had it been filmed in black and white.

   Nevertheless, The Trap is worth a watch. It may not be among Widmark’s best films from the era, but if you like him as an actor, you will surely mind much to appreciate in this one. One final note. Lorne Greene, who I always enjoy, has a supporting role as a mob enforcer.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE FILE OF THE GOLDEN GOOSE. United Artists, UK/US, 1969. Yul Brynner Yul Brynner, Charles Gray, Edward Woodward, John Barrie, Adrienne Corri, Graham Crowden. Director: Sam Wanamaker.

   I was skeptical at the beginning. Very skeptical. For the first ten minutes or so, The File of the Golden Goose has that cringeworthy voice-over narration found most often in second rate crime and science fiction pictures from the 1950s. Here, it is not merely grating, but downright unnecessary. Any viewer paying even the slightest bit of attention would be able to follow the proceedings without a narrator’s most unwelcome assistance.

   But a few things happen pretty quickly that make this thriller far more enjoyable than it has any right to be. First of all, the casting. While Yul Brenner may have been a bit of a fading star by 1969, his presence here as Peter Novak, a tough as nails treasury agent is most welcome, even if his character’s go-it-alone persona is more than a bit over the top. It’s the supporting, cast, however that makes this work.

   Edward Woodward, years before he got top billing in The Wicker Man (1973), portrays Arthur Thompson, a Scotland Yard inspector assigned to work alongside Novak to crack a deadly counterfeiting ring. And who might just be among the leaders of the forgery network? Well, Walter Gotell for starters. You might remember him as General Gogol in some Roger Moore-era James Bond films. Then, there’s Charles Gray who portrays Harrison, a flamboyantly gay gangster with a predilection for gamblers, bath houses, and drug-induced parties in swinging London.

   There is, to be sure, nothing remotely cinematic about The File of The Golden Goose. Sam Wanamaker, who may be more known in England today for restoring the Globe Theater than for his acting and directing, lends this movie a middling made-for-TV quality. There isn’t much in here that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a typical The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode, some of which were turned into theatrical releases. That’s the aesthetic style at work here. Yet, there is something undeniably charming about the clunky, haphazard direction. It’s never amateurish and it’s always imbued with a certain misguided passion.

   What the film lacks in cinematic merit, it more than compensates in storytelling. It does what a thriller is supposed to do. It keeps you guessing. If you allow yourself to immerse yourself in the proceedings, you might find yourself genuinely impressed by Wanamaker was able to do with his actors. None of the characters, however minor, the viewer encounter along the way are remotely the same. Each has some unique characteristic that makes them stand out from all the rest, be it the sleazy Liverpudlian hotel manager or the counterfeiting gang’s hitman.

   Now, don’t get me wrong. This movie is not remotely comparable in quality to the best thrillers of the 1970s. Not at all. In fact, I found myself to be quite surprised that I ended up enjoying The File of The Golden Goose as much as I did. Perhaps it’s the isolation recently engendered by the Coronavirus, but I found this movie to work in one particular way that genre movies are intended to do. As escapism pure and simple. It may not be overly memorable as a cohesive film, but there are most definitely scenes in the movie that I will remember fondly.
   

RUN FOR THE SUN. United Artists, 1956. Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard, Jane Greer, Peter van Eyck. Loosely based on the story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. Director: Roy Boulting.

   It was my choice to use the phrase “loosely based” on the Connell story, or I wasn’t paying enough attention, because, in all honesty, I didn’t realize there even was a connection until the movie was over and went online to read more abut it. Should I be embarrassed? You tell me.

   In any case, I had a good time with this one. I think it was the first time I’d seen Jane Greer in a color film, and to say she was stunning is the understatement of the year. Even on the run and wading through the swamps of inland Mexico she looks better in this movie than anywhere you go but the streets of Hollywood California where the wannabe young starlets hang out. If they still do, and even so, I think Jane has the advantage over almost all of them, and more. She could actually act.

   In my humble opinion, of course.

   This 90 minute movie comes in three acts of approximately equal length: Act I. a female reporter (Jane Greer) from Scene magazine “accidentally” meets a reclusive author (Richard Widmark) in Mexico on the hunt for a story. Why did he stop writing? Where has he been hiding? This of course leads to complications and a huge understanding. The two head for the coast, but as fate would have it…

   Act II. They crash land on the isolated estate owned by two men (Trevor Howard and Peter van Eyck) who have, shall we say, secrets. Putting their differences aside, the pair (Act III) try to escape. More easily said than done, and naturally this leads to the very suitable climax to the story.

   In this case, the viewing experience is not so much the story. It’s the players. This may sound strange to you, but to me, no matter his age, Richard Widmark always had a sort of boyish charm to him, and he has it in abundance as the writing-blocked expatriate author in Run for the Sun, Not only that, he and Jane Greer make a most compatible pair; they made me smile whenever they were on the screen together. A what better villain than stolid and solid (if not reptilian) Trevor Howard?

   My advice: see this one if you can. Assuming you haven’t already, of course, but then you’d be like me: ready at any time to see it again.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


JAMAICA INN. Mayflower Pictures, UK, 1939. Paramount, US, 1939. Charles Laughton (also co-prodcuer), Leslie Banks, Maureen O’Hara, Robert Newton, Marie Ney, Horace Hodge. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

   I recently had the chance to watch the 75th Anniversary 4K restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn on the Cohen Media Channel. And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a lovingly crafted, atmospheric thriller that moves along at a steady clip, immerses you in a cinematic landscape of danger, and propels you into a seedy, sweaty, windswept world filled with thieves and cutthroats.

   Adapted to the big screen from Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous 1936 novel, Jamaica Inn hinges on Charles Laughton’s lead performance as Sir Humphrey Pengallan, a dissolute local official who moonlights as the ringleader of a group of marauders.

   Upon his orders, innkeeper Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks) and his gang of lowlifes deliberately wreck ships off the Cornish coast, then looting the goods aboard and murdering any survivors. It’s apparently a lucrative operation for Pengallan, a bloviating drunkard who has built quite a life for himself in the far southwestern corner of England.

   All that changes when Joss’s niece, Mary Yellen (Maureen O’Hara in her first major screen role), shows up at the Jamaica Inn. She has come from Ireland and has no place to stay apart from with her aunt. It doesn’t take long for the seemingly innocent Mary to realize that something sinister is afoot.

   After accidentally witnessing Joss and his men’s attempt to hang Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) for betraying their gang, she becomes caught up in a whirlwind of deceit and mortal danger. By her side is Treherane, who turns out to be something more than a mere criminal.

   What makes Jamaica Inn so enjoyable to watch is not merely the exceptional performances from the cast – notably Laughton’s scenery chewing villainy – but also the ways in which Hitchcock utilizes the still nascent medium of film to portray a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. Throughout the movie, one gets the sense of how entrapped all of the characters – heroes and villains – alike feel.

   The heroes know that danger is all around them. The criminals know they know they can only outrun the law for so long. Much as in in Notorious (1946), which I reviewed here, Hitchcock places great emphasis on how various objects – a rope designed for hanging, a knife uses to set someone free from captivity, a musket, a lantern – are integral to the plot.

   It is my understanding – and correct me that I am wrong – that Hitchcock himself later on did not think highly of his film and that the critics at the time were not especially keen on it. But no matter. It remains an elegantly crafted film, subdued in tone, without a lot of fanfare. Kudos to the Cohen Film Collection for restoring this classic. I plan to rewatch it again sometime in the years ahead.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST. Allied Artists, 1958). Charlotte Austin, Lance Fuller, Johnny Roth, William Justine, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan as “Spanky.” Written by Adrian Weiss and Ed Wood Jr. 2nd Unit/Assistant director: Harry Fraser. Photographed by Roland Price. Directed by Adrian Weiss.

   A classic in the annals of bad movies, with screen creds to go with it.

   Readers here recognize Ed Wood’s name at once, but how many can recall Roland C. Price “the Vagabond Cameraman” who made Lash of the Penitentes (1936) at some risk to his life? Likewise, Ray Corrigan made his name in B Westerns and Jungle movies, but Harry Fraser wrote, produced and/or directed scores of them – all terrible.(See my reference to both gentlemen here. And speaking of credits, I just wish I could name the old tiger-hunt movie that died so this film could live.

   Let’s get the plot out of the way first — which is more than the movie does. As the story opens, newlyweds Laura (Charlotte Austin) and Dan (Lance Fuller) indulge in some circular, pointless dialogue (a trademark of Ed Wood’s prose style.) en route to his castle/menagerie where the only animal seems to be a gorilla (Ray “Crash” Corrigan”) kept in a cage in a dungeon-like room — there’s a refrigerator, but it’s lit by torches; architecture for Ed Wood was more about mood than function.

   Anyway, Laura finds herself strangely attracted to the ape, and he to her. So much so that he breaks out of his cage, invades the nuptial chamber (with its twin beds) and is quickly shot dead by Dan.

   The next day, Dan calls in his Psychologist-buddy (named Dr Carl Reiner, and yes, her name is Laura, but the Dick Van Dyke show was still a few years away.) to see why his bride is so upset (!), and the Doc immediately suspects it has something to do with a past life. Before you can say “Bridey Murphy,” he hypnotizes Laura and regresses her to a past life where she was a gorilla running through scenes from old jungle movies.

   Next thing we know, Dan & Laura are on their Honeymoon, on safari in Africa (“Get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll be in Gorilla country.”) and….

   …And then the Gorillas go on sabbatical or something so we can watch another movie. Producer Weiss, an old hand with stock footage, throws in a line about tigers escaping from a shipwreck, the extras start wearing turbans and saris, and we spend the next half hour with Dan hunting tigers and trying to look like the guy in the other movie. Getting back to this movie, the gorillas don’t return till the last ten minutes, when they abduct Laura and carry her off to Bronson Canyon, that elephant’s graveyard of cheap movies, where Dan catches up and….

   …and I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say that Charlotte Austin is a much better actress than one should expect in a mess like this. There are times she even convinces me that she’s haunted by her inner ape, just like it says there in the script. I’m not saying she’s another Ethel Barrymore, but I will observe that it’s easier to be convincing amid the splendor at MGM than in the squalor of Bronson Canyon.

   Maybe Ms Austin’s to blame for it, but Bride/Beast just misses slipping easily into the so-bad-it’s-good bracket. Or perhaps I expected too much from a film with this pedigree. At any rate, Bride is firmly in the fun-if-you’re-in-the-mood rankings, and on that level I can recommend it highly.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


GET MEAN. Italian-American, 1975. Tony Anthony (also wrote the story and produced), Lloyd Battista. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi. (Pther names of those involved are withheld to protect the innocent who were only collecting a paycheck and are otherwise blameless)

   Bad is, of course relative (like your brother-in-law), but when it comes to movies there are different levels of true cinematic incompetence.

   There is the most obvious kind of bad film, the low budget badly made and poorly acted film. Among the most famous of that breed are Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Robot Monster, and the hands down winner Manos: Hands of Fate. They wear their badness as a sort of badge of honor. We made a bad film, yes, but we would have made a better one if we had talent.

   Then there is the “what went wrong” category, when big stars, directors, writers, and even bestselling books somehow get to the screen in a form audiences simply cannot believe turn out so bad. Otto Preminger late in his career seemed to specialize in these with Hurry Sundown and Rosebud, Michael Cimmino made cinematic bad movie history with Heaven’s Gate, millions of dollars and Laurence Olivier couldn’t save Inchon. A book by Alistair MacLean and a cast that included Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, and Franco Nero could not save Force 10 From Navarone. The less said about adaptations of Harold Robbins’ The Adventurers and The Betsy the better, but even they couldn’t come close to the one with Pia Zadora. (I won’t even write the name, there may be curses involved and malign spirits, besides Ms Zadora’s acting).

   But there is another kind of bad film, one so bad, so gonzo stupid and inept that it plays as if you were smoking something funny even when you see it cold sober. Get Mean is that kind of film.

   We begin as a typical Spaghetti Western. Tony Anthony, our hero, is being dragged through the dirt by a galloping horse through some unnamed Southwestern canyon, and to add to the mystery he is being observed by a crystal ball sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

   Let me be clear, Anthony, who starred in a number of Spaghetti Westerns, is largely to blame for this film. He not only stars, but he wrote the original story and produced the film. If there is anyone to blame it is him.

   It’s only a shame the audience and not him who suffers the most from this fact.

   Soon his exhausted horse wanders into a ghost town and promptly drops dead (and never have I seen a hammier performance by a horse). Anthony frees himself, and sees smoke rising in an abandoned building. He follows his nose and inside finds a group of Romany and an old seeress with the crystal ball we saw earlier. They offer him wine and food, and proceed to explain that he is expected.

   They dump ten thousand in gold in front of him and produce the Princess Maria, who he is told he must escort to Spain where she can free her people from the barbarians.

   Our Tony, however, has already been established as an untrustworthy mercenary type and bargains his fee up to $50,000 in gold, which they quickly agree to, when a Viking replete with furs, blonde beard, and horned helmet bursts in with three sailors dressed like escapees from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

   Having dispatched them we are shown a map as Tony and the Princess cross the United States and the Atlantic to Spain. We learn from the map also that there seems to be desert canyons in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior, because that’s where the animated map starts our journey.

   So after a brief sojourn on the shore after they land in Spain we are in the Spanish desert (at least they actually have them there) resting and arguing because Tony is so rude to royalty and thinks she is full of hot air, when we hear many men and horses approaching.

   A great battle is about to be fought between the evil Barbarians (still Vikings, but looking more like Attila’s huns) and the Princess’s allies — the Moorish army — which were driven out of Spain by El Cid around the eighth century, save for some incursions in the South and nice architectural touches.

   The good Moors are soon wiped out thanks to the Barbarians secret weapon, Leonardo’s turret, with multiple cannons that can be rapidly fired, and Tony and the haughty princess are captured by the Barbarian chief, his Valkyrie bodyguard, and his two allies; a rather gay Prince dressed like Hamlet, and the hunchback Richard II. Yup folks, that Richard II, War of the Roses, nephews murdered in their cell, old twisted back himself.

   My kingdom for a … but I’m getting ahead of the plot. That comes later.

   For no real reason the Valkyries tie Tony up and hang him upside down from a pole. then they all ride off happily with the Princess to their castle. Sadly Tony Curtis in not present to say ”Yonda lies the castle of my fadda.” Come to think of it that was a much better film even with Tony’s accent.

   Eventually more Romany types show up and rescue Tony and the wounded leader of the Moorish army. It seems as if it is up to Tony now to rescue the Princess and collect his money, so Tony, after a brief recovery, goes and gets himself captured by the Barbarians by offering his services.

   The Chief and the Prince aren’t to sure of this, but Richard II never saw an ally he couldn’t betray and persuades them that Tony could be useful. After all, the Barbarians aren’t too smart and worship a live horse in gold plated armor known as the Stallion of Rodrigo since they live in El Cid’s castle, and it turns out are desperate to find the treasure of Rodrigo.

   Tony proves to come in handy here and is sent on a mystical quest for the treasure, which involves a strange ceremony in what appears to be a Russian Orthodox church and a semi-mystical quest which ends with him being turned black (“Everywhere,” he assures us after checking his pants), and returning with no treasure but the Scorpion Necklace which curses the bearer to die.

   At this point the Barbarian chief is tired of messing with him and has him trussed up like a pig and put on a spit over a slow fire. At least he’s white again. The Princess, seeing this, grabs a sword, duels Richard II, and is promptly killed when he throws a sword between her shoulder blades.

   Well, that plot point wasn’t going anywhere fast, and now there is a treasure worth more than the reward for delivering the Princess to interest Tony — if he doesn’t cook too soon.

   But the treacherous Prince has other things in mind and frees Tony, who turns the table on him and forces the Prince to swallow the Scorpion Necklace, which the Chief and Richard II have since learned is key to Rodrigo’s treasure.

   Still hanging in there? If not I can hardly blame you.

   The Prince is returned to the castle and force-fed until he returns the missing necklace while Tony invents some sort of four barreled hand held cannon and prepares to challenge the Barbarian horde, but before he can, the Valkyries confront him, and after briefly considering cutting off some important parts of his anatomy, instead decide to make use of them in a gang assault that Tony manages to elude and instead throw the Prince in as a very reluctant substitute.

   There are by now so many things about this film to be offended by, it is hard to focus on just its use of stereotypes and casual prejudice.

   The Prince survives without changing sides, and as Tony assaults the castle, is killed. Tony then puts scorpions down the Chief’s armor and has a chuckle or two as the Viking leader spends more time dying than the ham horse earlier in the film, but just about as boring.

   Now only Richard II and Tony are left to face each other down in a gun fight. Tony’s Colt against Richard’s six barreled revolving cannon all as Richard recites the “My kingdom for a horse” speech from Shakespeare. This film is not kosher; ham is on the menu.

   Unluckily for the viewer Tony wins that one and even finds Rodrigo’s treasure, then we are shown in animation him sailing back to America and riding into the screen, past another mysteriously placed crystal ball …

   I’m am happy to say, though, that this one does not prove accurate in its predictions, and we never have to see Tony or this movie, or anything half as stupid again unless we smoke or ingest something we shouldn’t.

   As bad films go, it is hard to rate this. Ken Russell would have thrown up his hands in despair. Ed Wood would have cried himself to sleep, the movie even has bisexual cross-dressing Valkyries. Andy Warhol would have shredded his soup cans.

   Get Mean is not the worst movie ever made, but it bows to none as the stupidest most gonzo Western in history, and I include Terror in a Tiny Town in that mix.

   If Tony Anthony gets dragged into your town behind my horse, my advice is to aim low and shoot first.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


ROBIN HOOD AND THE PIRATES. Finanziaria Cinematografica Italiana, 1960,as Robin Hood e i pirati; Embassy Pictures, US, 1964. Lex Barker, Jocelyn Lane, Rossanna Rory, Mario Scaccia, Edith Peters, Walter Barnes. Written by Edoardo Anton and Leo Bomba. Directed by Giorgio Simonelli.

   My DVD of this seems to be missing the first 10 minutes or so, where Robin is on his way to or from the Crusades, gets kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. It opens, in obvious homage to The Tempest, with the ship in a violent storm and Robin washed overboard to land on the beach… close to a sign that says SHERWOOD COUNTY (in Italian) and so he’s home.

   Well that sure saved a lot of film.

   But as usual in these things, Robin Hood’s estate has been taken over by usurpers (Scaccia and Lane) and all his friends are locked up, sending Robin fleeing into the woods. The parallels with King Lear are obvious, but there are no woods here because this was filmed on the Mediterranean coast, which looks as much like Nottinghamshire as Sicily looks like Picadilly Circus.

   Fortunately, the Pirates were washed ashore too, along with some Saracen women, led by Edith Peters, who speaks with a southern drawl and sings in her own inimitable style when they form an impromptu singing group —

Edith Peters (April 14, 1926 – October 28, 2000) Con Lino Patruno rievocano il grande “Satchmo” Dai tempi della …

   –and Robin Hood and the pirates and the Saracen Supremes all team up to… well write the rest yourself.

   The discerning reader has discerned from reading so far that Robin Hood and the Pirates is no ordinary film. It isn’t actually bad enough to be funny, but it offers a cheerful disregard for Reality and Legend I found consistently amusing, as Barker and the baddies chase each other around Sherwood-on-the-Beach and indulge in spirited, if not terribly proficient, swordplay.

   And that’s my qualified recommendation: amusing if you’re in the mood. As I watched it though, I got to thinking how many notable heroes Lex Barker’s career encompassed. Besides Tarzan and Robin Hood, he was at various times: Mr. Lana Turner, Old Shatterhand, Mr. Arlene Dahl, Mangas Coloradas, and Natty Bumpo. Sounds like quite a life.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


DONALD HAMILTON – The Steel Mirror. Rinehart & Co., 1948. Paperback reprints include: Dell #473, 1950; Gold Medal d1617, 1966.

FIVE STEPS TO DANGER. Henry S. Kesler Productions/Unoted Artists, 1957. Ruth Roman, Sterling Hayden, Werner Kemperer, Jeanne Cooper and Karl Lindt. Written & directed by Henry S. Kesler, from the novel by Donald Hamilton.

   A tightly-written post-war mystery with the times reflected in small details and a plot that kept surprising me right to the end.

   Even without the surprises, this would be a fun piece of nostalgia, but Steel Mirror hooks the reader quickly with John Emmett, vacationing everyman, whose car breaks down somewhere west of nowhere. He gets a ride from Anne Nicholson, an attractive, well-dressed young woman in a new car, driving across the country, and congratulates himself on his good fortune.

   Until he stows his gear in the trunk and sees no luggage….

   Hamilton builds nicely from this. Our hero and the young lady without luggage are being followed… by what turns out to be her Doctor and a nurse. It seems Anne worked with the French Resistance in WWII, got captured and tortured by the Gestapo – and may have betrayed her husband and friends; she can’t remember, and she’s driving across country to meet the one man who can tell her.

   And oh yes: the good Doctor adds that she’s subject to mental breakdowns, has tried to kill herself, doesn’t trust him (the Doc) and it would be a big help to everyone if Emmett would stay with her and check in when she gets where she’s going.

   Okay at this point the savvy reader has spotted the Bad Guy, and as the pages turn will guess the truth about the one man we’re after. This is because Donald Hamilton has let us spot and let us guess; this plot has more twists than a box of candy canes — near-arrest by a county sheriff, a visit from the FBI, and a helpful passer-by packing heat—and it soon occurs to Emmett and that savvy reader I mentioned that there are a lot of people who don’t want Anne to get where she’s going.

   Eventually the journey reaches that point where all thrillers must inevitably arrive — Anne & Emmett on the run from a Murder charge, posing as husband & wife till they can get to the one man who can clear the whole thing up for them — whereupon it simply takes another turn and then another, all predicated on the people acting like grown-ups and not like characters in a paperback. Even when the chips are down and guns drawn there’s none of the “Very clever, Mr. Bond!” stuff, just everyone playing their cards close to the vest and me trying to figure out who’s got the Joker.

   But what I shall remember from The Steel Mirror is an underlying theme of characters trying to define themselves. Emmett spent the War in a vital civilian job and he’s always wondered if he did it from convenience or cowardice. Anne is trying to find out if she’s a heroine or a traitor. And The Steel Mirror resolves both issues by letting the characters grow and understand each other.

   Nice job, that.

   I only started reading Donald Hamilton in the last few years. I was always put off by the Matt Helm thing, but he did some decent stuff. Like the novel basis of The Big Country and The Violent Men, and in between those two fine Westerns, Henry S. Kesler made a modest little film from this.

   Kesler is hardly a name to conjure with, but he worked on some memorable films (5 Graves to Cairo, In a Lonely Place, Lured …) and Five Steps to Danger is competently done. Even quite good at times. Stars Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden play well off each other, and the bad guys (Werner Klemperer and Richard Gaines) strike just the right note of stuffy disdain: not so much evil as arrogant, and it works well here. If you ever met a doctor too interested in himself to listen to you, then you know Klemperer’s character. And Richard Gaines (the Insurance Executive in Double Indemnity) as a duplicitous dean is so politely unhelpful as to seem maddeningly sinister.

   That’s director Kesler. Writer Kesler simplifies and updates Hamilton’s book. Maybe too much so. No more Gestapo. Now Anne has (or had) a brother in East Germany working against the communists who died trying to get valuable information to a German Rocket Scientist, now working for the U.S., who was an old friend of the family before the war, and it’s up to Anne to complete the mission.

   Rocket Science. I wonder how long it took to think that one up? Kesler treats it more seriously than it deserves, and maybe I’m being too hard on him. If I hadn’t read the book first, I might have thought more highly of this. But I remembered the human element in the book, and I missed it in the movie.


Next Page »