Action Adventure movies

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL. RKO Radio Pictures, 1950. Lex Barker, Vanessa Brown, Robert Alda, Hurd Hatfield, Arthur Shields, Tony Caruso, Denise Darcel. Based on the charcaters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Director: Lee Sholem.

   After the first twenty minutes or so, I was all but ready to give up on Tarzan and the Slave Girl. There was a lot of frenetic activity in the jungle, a few tribes running amok, and what not. But it didn’t seem to be leading anywhere in particular.

   But I’m glad I kept watching, because this entry into the Tarzan filmography turned into a rather enjoyable escapist adventure. Directed by Lee Sholem, Tarzan and the Slave Girl is notable for being Lex Barker’s second portrayal of our eponymous hero and actress Vanessa Brown’s sole portrayal of Jane.

   The plot follows Tarzan as he seeks to rescue slave women held captive by a jungle tribe that is suffering from a mysterious health ailment. Tarzan teams up with a somewhat alcoholic game hunter named Neil (Robert Alda) to both find the aforementioned tribe’s hidden city and to rescue Jane and Neil’s would-be girlfriend, Lola (Denise Darcel). It’s a lighthearted little adventure film that, while not particularly memorable, ends up being quite fun to watch.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

ROMULUS AND THE SABINES. Finanziaria Cinematografica Italiana, Italy, 1961. Original title: Il ratto delle sabine. Roger Moore, Mylène Demongeot, Georgia Mool, Scilla Gabel, Marino Masé, Jean Marais, Rosanna Schiaffino. Director: Richard Pottier.

   I was curious. Roger Moore, in an early film role, portraying the founder of Rome in an Italian sword-and-sandal epic? Although I hardly expected a wondrous cinematic experience, I simply felt as if I had to see Romulus and the Sabines. After all, Moore was always my favorite Bond actor and this movie also starred French actress Mylène Demongeot as a Sabine vestal virgin princess.

   What’s not to like?

   Turns out, a lot. It’s not so much that Romulus and the Sabines doesn’t try its best to entertain audience, as it is that reaches for something beyond its grasp. Designed to be a lighthearted take on the mythological “Rape of the Sabine Women,” the film has some comedic moments and a playful historical take on the battle of the sexes, but falls victim to a flaccid, predictable script and unexceptional cinematography and direction.

   That said, Moore in his portrayal of Romulus has a singular, unforgettable screen presence. The facial expressions, from the furrowing of an eyebrow to the classic Moore smirk. It’s all there and it’s great. But it’s simply not enough to make Romulus and the Sabines anything other than an historical curiosity, in both senses of the word.

   Transforming one of the founding myths of Rome into a fanciful romantic comedy of manners is an ambitious undertaking. As much as I generally loathe remakes, I wouldn’t mind seeing an independent director taking a stab at rebooting this one. But would there even be an audience for it? That’s a tough call.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

MOVING VIOLATION. 20th Century Fox, 1976. Stephen McHattie, Kay Lenz, Eddie Albert, Lonny Chapman, Will Geer, Dick Miller. Director: Charles S. Dubin.

   If you’re looking for the type of movie that they simply don’t make anymore, look no further than Moving Violation, a car chase exploitation filmed produced by Roger and Julie Corman. Directed by Charles S. Dubin, who is mainly known for his work in television, the alternatingly thrilling, humorous, and sad film doesn’t have the most complex of plots. But it makes up for it in (no spoilers here) some great car chase sequences.

   The story follows Detroit autoworker-turned-drifter Eddie Moore (Stephen McHattie) and small town girl Cam Johnson (Kay Lenz) as they attempt to flee a corrupt lawman, one Sheriff Leroy Rankin (Lonny Chapman), who’s hot on their trail. It’s the couple on the run trope that we’re all familiar with.

   That Moore is an autoworker is no minor plot point. Rather, it’s instrumental to the pro-labor, anti-authority theme that permeates the film. It’s even reflected in the movie’s theme song, a rather catchy track by Phil Everly which can be heard here:

   Moore, the guitar-playing outlaw is the film’s anti-hero. The cops and the local oil magnate are, to varying degrees, the movie’s antagonists. It’s as if the movie is one giant middle finger to authority. Not the most profound of messages and one that may not have all that much depth, but it’s one that certainly was deliberately constructed and designed to appeal to a working class white audience in the mid-1970s.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

SIGN OF THE PAGAN. Universal International, 1954. Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance, Ludmilla Tchérina, Rita Gam, Jeff Morrow, George Dolenz, Eduard Franz, Allison Hayes, Alexander Scourby. Screenplay: Oscar Brodney & Barré Lyndon. Director: Douglas Sirk.

   I had somewhat higher hopes for Sign of the Pagan. I like Douglas Sirk as a director, and I greatly appreciate both Jeff Chandler and Jack Palance as actors who worked well in different genres. The way the two actors play off each other’s strengths in Robert Aldrich’s idiosyncratic war film, Ten Seconds To Hell (1959), however, simply doesn’t exist in this middling costumer.

   Although it’s an overall forgettable film, Sign of the Pagan does open strongly, transporting the viewer to a mystical past, an era of Romans, Byzantines, and Huns. Palance portrays Attila, whose thirst for power and glory knows no bounds. Opposing him is a Roman centurion portrayed by Chandler. There are costumes a plenty and an atmosphere, although stagey, of intrigue. But the magic doesn’t last.

   For a film whose poster promises a lot of action and adventure, the movie is remarkably talky. One has to sit through a lot of scenes involving court intrigue and Attila’s fretting about whether or not to attempt to conquer Rome before finally arriving at a final battle sequence which, while enjoyable enough to watch, is simply not long or elaborate enough to make up for a lot of empty dialogue that preceded it.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1949. Lex Barker, Brenda Joyce, Albert Dekker, Evelyn Ankers, Charles Drake, Alan Napier. Based upon the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Director: Lee Sholem.

   While I doubt that many people would consider Tarzan’s Magic Fountain to be their favorite Tarzan movie, that doesn’t mean that it’s not perfectly adequate cinematic escapism.

   Directed by Lee Sholem, the movie was Lex Barker’s first appearance as the eponymous title character. As for Brenda Joyce, this would be here final appearance as Jane, having portraying Tarzan’s love interest in four movies with Johnny Weissmuller.

   Tarzan’s Magic Fountain is also notable for featuring Evelyn Ankers, best known for her work in 1940s-era horror films. Ankers portrays Gloria James Jessup, an aviatrix whose plane crashed in the jungle decades before.

   For years, Jessup had been living with a secretive tribe who control access to – you guessed it! – a secret fountain with restorative powers. As in, fountain of youth powers that make her look a lot younger than fifty. But when scheming criminals get word of the fountain’s existence and when some tribesmen decide they don’t like Tarzan mucking around, there’s conflict and when there’s conflict, there’s adventure to be had. It’s predictable, but it’s not bad.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE LAST OUTPOST. Paramount Pictures, 1951, Re-released as Cavalry Charge. Ronald Reagan, Rhonda Fleming, Bruce Bennett, Bill Williams, Noah Beery, Peter Hansen, Hugh Beaumont, Lloyd Corrigan. Screenwriters: Geoffrey Homes, Winston Miller, George Worthing Yates Director: Lewis R. Foster.

   The Last Outpost was Ronald Reagan’s first Western film and it’s a darn good one. Directed by Lewis R. Foster, the movie initially feels like it’s going to be just another B-Western about the U.S. Cavalry in the American Southwest. After all, all the stock-in-trade characters are there: the corrupt white man who runs the local trading post; the beautiful girl from back East who’s out of place in the sparsely populated desert; and the newly arrived U.S. Army officer.

   But if you’re just a little bit patient, you’ll find that The Last Outpost is a surprisingly charming, funny, and action-packed movie with a plot that’s complex, but never convoluted.

   Reagan portrays Confederate Army Captain Captain Vance Britton, a Baltimorean who signed up to fight for the Gray, rather than for the Blue. He’s in charge of a Confederate Cavalry brigade positioned out in Arizona. His task is to harass the U.S. Army posted out in the remote desert country. Things get complicated for the always affable Captain Britton (Reagan) once he learns that not only his brother, Col. Jeb Britton (Bruce Bennett) is now stationed at Ft. Gil, Arizona, but that his ex-girlfriend, Julie (Rhonda Fleming) is there too.

   As if that weren’t enough drama for one man to deal with, the Apaches are about to go on the warpath, threatening Whites from both the North and from Dixie.

   Can our hero successfully win back the girl, make amends with his estranged brother, and defeat the Apache? I think you know the answer to that one, but getting there is well more than half the fun in this altogether financially successful film from Pine-Thomas Productions.

HONG KONG. Paramount Pictures, 1952. Re-released as Bombs Over China. Ronald Reagan, Rhonda Fleming, Nigel Bruce, Marvin Miller, Mary Somerville. Director: Lewis R. Foster

   Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Ronald Reagan.

   That’s the impression I had watching Hong Kong, a rather middling adventure film starring the future President as Jeff Williams, an ex-GI turned arms merchant living in China during the Communist takeover. While on the run from the Reds, Williams takes a young Chinese orphan boy under his wing and teams up with the lovely schoolteacher, Victoria Evans (Rhonda Fleming), as the two make their way by plane to Hong Kong.

   Williams may not carry a whip and he’s no archaeologist, but he sports a leather jacket and has his eye on a priceless work of art. There are a couple of bad guys hot on his trail too.

   But while Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, another film with a leather jacket wearing hero, a Chinese boy, and a girl, had an edge to it, Hong Kong is a rather plodding affair with little tension and even less adventure.

   Reagan is a formidable screen presence, no doubt, but his character is just too nice for his own good. Even when he tries to be rapacious, he just can’t bring himself to go through with it.

   It’s not that I necessarily wanted the character he portrayed to be a bad guy or sell the orphan down the river, so to speak, as much as I wanted him to be a little more hard-nosed. It’s supposed to be Hong Kong in the late 1940s after all.

by Jonathan Lewis

  CAPTAIN AMERICA II: DEATH TOO SOON. Made for TV movie. CBS/Universal Television, 23-24 November 1979. Reb Brown, Connie Sellecca, Len Birman, Christopher Lee, Katherine Justice, Christopher Cary,William Lucking, Stanley Kamel, Ken Swofford, Lana Wood. Based on characters created by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon (uncredited). Director: Ivan Nagy.

   If you want to know why CBS never was able to get a Captain America live-action television show off the ground, look no further than Captain America II: Death Too Soon. This 1979 made-for-TV movie was originally shown in two parts and stars Reb Brown as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

   It’s unevenly paced, clunky, and generally poorly acted. But once you get beyond all that, it’s actually an amusingly cheesy, mindless superhero movie that, whatever its faults, doesn’t rely on CGI for action sequences.

   In perhaps the most unintentional act of subversion ever on the part of a major studio, the character you end up liking the most isn’t Captain America. Patriotism flies out the window, much like Captain America’s motorcycle in the air, for it’s the diabolical criminal mastermind/international terrorist/general badass “Miguel” portrayed by Christopher Lee who’s the star here. (After his portrayal of Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, casting Lee in this role was quite a coup.)

   Miguel, loosely based on Carlos the Jackal, has a plot that defies both credulity and nature. He’s acquired a biological agent that rapidly advances the aging process and he’s going to use it on American cities unless he gets some cold hard cash.

   I can’t honestly tell you Captain America II: Death Too Soon is a good movie or that it’s even worth seeking out. Consider it a curiosity, a quirky obscurity, something that really shouldn’t have been made, a “what in the world were they thinking” in the studio moment. Even so, my seeing criminal mastermind Miguel (Lee) driving a station wagon while fleeing Captain America was enough to put a smile on my face and overlook the whole absurdity of this pleasantly idiotic attempt at bringing Captain America to American living rooms.

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