Action Adventure movies


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE RIFT. Trimark Pictures, 1990. Also released as Endless Descent. Jack Scalia, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Wise, Deborah Adair, John Toles Bey, Ely Pouget, Emilio Linder. Director: Juan Piquer Simón

   Judging from some of the comments that exist online, The Rift (aka Endless Descent) seems to have its fair share of detractors. In the DVD commentary at the end of the movie, one learns that even R. Lee Ermey seems to have a negative feeling toward the movie. To be honest, I think a lot of this scorn is undeserved. True, it’s a low budget feature. That much is obvious. And there are also the unescapable comparisons with much higher end creature features like Alien (1979) and Leviathan (1989).

   But do you know what? For a cheapie made in an old movie studio on the outskirts of Madrid and that was never released in the theaters, The Rift is actually a solid and downright enjoyable action-adventure movie with science fiction and horror themes running throughout. The plot is compelling, the action never lets up, and there special effects really aren’t half-bad. And the music by Joel Goldsmith, who went on to do the music for the television show Stargate, definitely adds to the suspense and the general air of creeping dread.

   Jack Scalia portrays Wick Hayes, an American scientist/engineer tasked with a mission. He’s to assist the U.S. Navy in a rescue and retrieval mission for Siren 1, a submarine he designed. Apparently the vessel has been lost at the bottom of the sea. With a crew lead by Captain Philips (R. Lee Ermey) and the scheming Robbins (Ray Wise), along with his ex-wife, scientist Lt. Nina Crowley (Deborah Adair), the Siren 2 gang embarks upon a daring rescue operation.

   The crew, along with Hayes, will soon discover that what caused the Siren 1’s disappearance wasn’t an accident at all, but rather the result of a grotesquely botched attempt to conduct biological warfare experiments underwater. Cue the monsters, animals and plants alike!

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


SABAKA. United Artists, 1954. Originally released as The Hindu in 1953. Nino Marcel, Boris Karloff, Lou Krugman, Reginald Denny, June Foray, Peter Coe, Jay Novello. Several sources say that The Hindu was an outgrowth of the “Gunga Ram” episodes originally seen on TV’s Smilin’ Ed’s Gang (later known as Andy’s Gang). Written produced & directed by Frank Ferrin.

   A real cut-and-paste job by a guy who also wrote, produced & directed two episodes of Andy’s Gang featuring this film, and how’s that for street creds?

   Actually Sabaka isn’t all that bad. Not very good either, but… well we’ll get to that later. For now, just to dispense with the preliminaries, the story such as it is, is about young elephant jockey Gunga Ram, played by Nino Marcel, a young actor in the Sabu mold, who gets involved with a cult of fire-devil worshipers. When the baddies kill his sister and her husband he vows to track them down — does some of this anticipate The Searchers? — which he (SPOILER!) manages with the aid of his loyal elephant and pet tiger.

   On the plus side, this was photographed in color, entirely in India amid some splendid scenery and a few rather tacky sets. The costumes splash gaudily across the screen, crowd scenes loom truly epic in scope, and the animals seem to actually interact with the people around them. Someone took care too to make the fake forest fire seem not-quite-so-fakey, and Boris Karloff as a sinister-looking police type delivers his lines with accustomed relish — unlike many cheap foreign films, this one features the actual actors saying their lines.

   Also to its credit, Sabaka offers some obscure bit players doing their thing skillfully as usual. Lou Krugman, Peter Coe (in his 2nd film with Karloff) and Jay Novello aren’t exactly household names, but they pitch right in there along with better-known Reginald Denney and Victor Jory, strutting their stuffy and evil acts respectively.

   But alas, there’s a movie to contend with here, and Sabaka ain’t much. The story moves in fits and starts, pausing frequently for the characters to stand around and explain the plot to each other, and it stops dead still for several minutes whenever a parade goes by.

   Sabaka, however, offers one unique treasure to delight in: a rare live screen appearance by the remarkable June Foray, in a meaty role as the evil high priestess of the Flame Devil. She gets to kill Victor Jory, gloat at the hero, preach violence to her minions and try to immolate an elephant, all with enthusiasm that far outstrips the meager movie around her.

   I can’t really recommend Sabaka, but I have to say I enjoyed it.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE. Warner Brothers, 1953. Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey, Anthony Steel, Beatrice Campbell, Yvonne Furneaux, Felix Aylmer, Mervyn Johns. Screenplay: Herb Meadow, based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Director: William Keighley.

   I didn’t go into this one with the highest of expectations. After all, the Errol Flynn of the 1950s was a far cry from his earlier more exuberant self. Similarly, while I can appreciate costumers for what they primarily are – escapist entertainment – I can’t say that I find many of them to be among my favorite movies. Still, with a script loosely adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel of the same name, there were reasons to be hopeful that this feature would surpass some of Flynn’s other movies from the same era.

   So consider me pleasantly surprised. For The Master of Ballantrae happens to be an entertaining, fun, and thrilling adventure film that has something to offer everyone apart from the most jaded cynic. Flynn, despite being significantly older and heavier than he was when he portrayed Robin Hood, is in top form. He’s charming, daring, and yes, has a thing for a lady. Or ladies.

   Flynn portrays Jamie Durie, the titular Master of Ballantrae. He’s a Scottish nobleman who decides to fight for the Scottish side in the Jacobite rebellion. It’s also the losing side.

   Forced into exile in the West Indies along with his right-hand man, Irishman Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey), Jamie plans his return to Scotland wherein he will seek revenge for his brother Henry’s (Anthony Steel) alleged betrayal. He also has his mind set on reuniting with his fiancée, Lady Allison.

   Although the plot is rather formulaic and predictable, it nevertheless moves forward at a steady pace. Flynn’s character is a totally likable rogue, one the audience will be rooting for throughout his many escapades. As I said, it’s a fun escapist adventure that benefits greatly from its own location photography, especially in the Scottish Highlands.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


ESCAPE TO ATHENA. ITC Films, UK, 1979. Roger Moore, Telly Savalas, David Niven, Stefanie Powers, Claudia Cardinale, Richard Roundtree, Sonny Bono, Elliott Gould. Director: George P. Cosmatos.

   In the past several years of writing movie reviews, I’m more than certain I’ve used the word “uneven” to describe a movie. In fact, I’m sure I’ve used it fairly often, because let’s face it: a lot of movies are uneven. Some are even “highly uneven.” But nothing prepared me for the unevenness exhibited in the comedy/war film/adventure film mash-up that is Escape to Athena.

   Take the first half hour of this movie, for example. It’s a cross between a gritty WW2 thriller and a lighthearted imitation of Hogan’s Heroes.

   A bunch of Americans, as well as an Italian cook and British scholar, are being held captive in a German prison camp on a Greek island. The stalag commandant, Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore) utilizes his prisoners’ free labor to dig up ancient Greek artifacts. Soon enough, he’s got two more prisoners on his hands: two recently captured USO performers, the wisecracking Charlie (Elliott Gould) and his traveling companion Dottie (Stefanie Powers). Gould plays it for laughs, more than once speaking in Yiddish. Mel Brooks was able to pull this type of balancing act off. It simply doesn’t work here.

   As far as the gritty thriller aspect, that’s also a focal point of the film’s first half-hour. Those scenes feel as if they were set in a different cinematic universe entirely. In the local town on the same Greek island, local resistance leader Zeno (Telly Savalas) is hoping to prevent the SS from executing more civilians. The contrast between these rather downbeat sequences and the lighthearted humorous (although decidedly not funny) moments in the stalag could not be greater.

   But somehow, despite all expectations on my part, the two distinctly different films eventually mesh into one somewhat enjoyable action film, following Zeno as he begins to work with the escapees from the prison camp to stop the Nazis from repelling an Allied invasion. Unfortunately, it takes about an hour until there’s a consistent tone to the movie. At that point, Escape to Athena becomes a standard action film, albeit one with an extraordinarily well-filmed motorcycle chase through the narrow alleyways of Rhodes.

   A couple of final thoughts. (1) Roger Moore, while always a delight to see on the screen, is not well cast in his role as a German officer. His faux accent isn’t convincing anyone and (2) Lalo Schifrin’s score, which includes Greek influenced renditions of American patriotic tunes, works quite well. It is one of the things that is consistently good in this otherwise extremely uneven film.

THE WRATH OF GOD. MGM, 1972. Robert Mitchum, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth, John Colicos, Victor Buono, Ken Hutchison, Paula Pritchett, Gregory Sierra. Screenplay by Jack Higgins, based on his book of the same title, but written as by James Graham. Director: Ralph Nelson.

   To tell you the truth, I liked this movie more than I thought I would, but if Robert Mitchum hadn’t been in it, and if it hadn’t been the last movie Rita Hayworth ever made, I wouldn’t have watched it at all. The story takes place in an unnamed Central American country (circa 1930?) currently plagued with generals, revolutionaries, gun runners and hordes of poor peasants whose only role is that of beng raped, taken hostage or simply getting underfoot.

   What my problem is, though, is that I don’t care much about seeing priests with machine guns, whether they’re fake priests, excommunicated priests, or whatever. That’s Mitchum’s role, his task that of killing the leader of a band of renegades who have taken over a town, which he does, with a bloody vengeance.

   Rita Hayworth, who plays the mother of the outlaw leader, seems confused about her part; she certainly should be. On the other hand, Paula Pritchett is very pretty as the mute Indian girl. What other movies was she ever in?

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990.



UPDATE:   When I wrote this review, I did not know that when she made this movie Rita Hayworth was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so that line about her being “confused about her part” is now very unfortunate. It is not what I intended — only that her part as written and filmed was not well established.

   As for Paula Pritchett, in those pre-IMDb days, questions such as the one I ended this review with often went unanswered. Now all one has to do is to click here to discover that she made two movies before this one, and none afterward.

HURRICANE SMITH. Paramount Pictures, 1952. Yvonne De Carlo, John Ireland, James Craig, Forrest Tucker, Lyle Bettger, Richard Arlen. Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on the novel Hurricane Williams by Gordon Ray Young (1922).

   Yvonne De Carlo was a special kind of beauty, the kind that turns men’s minds to mush. (If not lust.) She is the only woman in this movie, and when she wears a low-cut of-the-shoulder blouse, there is very little mystery as to what keeps it up.

   And watching her stay inside her clothes provides for about 95% of the suspense involved. This sailing adventure of the South Seas is filled with slavers, sharks, mutineers, and a fortune in buried gold, but of actual story, there is very little.


— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990. (very slightly revised).


Editorial Update:   Of the book this movie is said to be based on, I have not been able to find an actual copy for sale, only several Print on Demand versions. Hurricane Williams appeared in several short stories and serialized novels in the pulp magazine Adventure between 1918 and 1931, but none with this specific title.

WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL. J. Arthur Rank, UK, 1971. Cinerama Releasing Corp., US, 1971. Anthony Hopkins (Philip Calvert), Robert Morley (‘Uncle Arthur’), Nathalie Delon, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Derek Bond. Screenplay: Alistair MacLean, based on his own novel. Director: Etienne Périer.

   From what I’ve read about it, this one was produced with the idea of creating a film franchise to compete with the James Bond films. The hero was to be a young and rather fit-looking Anthony Hopkins as a secret agent named Philip Calvert. (The book was his only print edition appearance.)

   But the resulting product turned out so badly, and apparently the box office receipts as well, than any thoughts of further adventures of Hopkins as Calvert disappeared very quickly. The story is confusing, to begin with, and even worse, it’s dull. It’s not clear on a first viewing, but it has something to do with a series of hijackings of cargo ships in the Irish Sea, the most recent one carrying a fortune in gold bullion.

   The trail leads Calvert to the port town of Torbay somewhere along the coast of Scotland, where he snoops around a lot, gets into trouble a lot more, and after the grand finale (with a bit of surprise for anyone still awake), the movie’s over.

   Only the presence of Calvert’s boss, Sir Arthur Arnford-Jones, also known as “Uncle Arthur” (Robert Morley), livens up the proceedings. He’s his usual prim and proper (prissy?) self, humorously so, but he shows he can still do what he needs to do in a pinch.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. TriStar Pictures, 1991. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong. Director and co-screenwriter: James Cameron.

   OK, I agree, The special effects are everything everyone has said they were. But I didn’t see the first film, and I still don’t have much of an idea of what the story is about. (Two killer cyborg robots come from the future, one to protect a young boy, Linda Hamilton’s son, the other to destroy him.)

   There’s lots of shooting for the juvenile gun-freaks in the crowd, but since both Schwartzennegger and his nemesis are essentially indestructible, most of the shooting pretty pointless. If you like to see trucks smashing into everything in sight, and buildings being blown up, and people being shot, stabbed, dismembered and thrown away, this is certainly the movie for you.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993.


[UPDATE.]   Within the past year I’ve seen the first movie of the series, and while I now understand the story, I don’t think I’d change anything else in what I said about this second one.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


RAGE. Warner Brothers, 1972. George C. Scott, Richard Basehart, Martin Sheen, Barnard Hughes, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Walden, Dabbs Greer. Director: George C. Scott.

   Both starring and directed by George S. Scott (his directorial debut), Rage is an uneven thriller about a man at his wits’ end. Scott portrays Dan Logan, a widowed Wyoming rancher raising his young son as best he can. After a night spent outside camping, Logan wakes up to find both his son and his sheep extremely ill. Although the viewer soon learns that Logan’s son was accidentally poisoned by a military chemical weapons project gone wrong, Logan himself is kept in the dark as to what is afflicting his son.

   It seems as though no one can be trusted, a hallmark of the paranoid, political thrillers which were commercially released in the late 1960s and early 1970s. No one except Logan’s personal physician (Richard Basehart) who, truth be told, doesn’t prove particularly useful when Logan needs him the most.

   After Logan learns not only that his son has died, but also that the military and the public health service are doing their best to cover up what transpired, he begins a course of action which is supposed to be the ‘rage’ part of the film. Unfortunately, there’s just not that much rage and, for the most part, Logan ends up targeting people who really didn’t have much directly to do with his son’s death.

   Instead of targeting the hospital staff, including one young physician (Martin Sheen) who repeatedly manipulated him and lied to his face, Logan kills a cat owned by the local public health official, targets the chemical manufacturer for destruction, sets a cop on fire, and shoots an MP at an Army base.

   To be sure, Logan is at war and there are always casualties of war. But the more Logan’s rampage continues, the less sympathetic a character he becomes. Maybe that was the filmmaker’s whole point: that no one is innocent and that righteous rage has the capacity to consume an individual. If that was the case, it just doesn’t gel correctly in this particular movie. Or maybe the film is about the futility of rage in the face of the military-industrial complex.

   When all’s said and done, you might expect that a movie entitled Rage would have just a bit more of it. Scott’s portrayal of Logan is less of a man burning up with rage than a man who, despite being sickened by the same chemical weapon that killed his son, acts rather calmly and methodically. And when it eventually becomes clear how very little revenge ends up being inflicted upon the wrongdoers, it leaves the viewer wondering what the point of the whole proceedings was meant to be.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


WILD WOMEN. Norman Dawn Productions, 1952. Re-released as Bowanga Bowanga and White Sirens of Africa. Lewis Wilson, Dana Wilson, Mort Thompson and Don Orlando. Written and directed by Norman Dawn. (Note: Not to be confused with Wild Women of Wongo, Captive Women or Mesa of Lost Women. Beware of substitutes!)

   A modestly enjoyable bad film if you’re in that kind of mood, but if you’re not, I recommend you stay away from this preposterous collage of mismatched stock footage and cheap-jack filmmaking.

   Mort Thompson and Don Orlando start out the film as Bwanas of a rather threadbare safari, who run across a wandering explorer (Lewis Wilson, the screen’s first Batman) who recounts how he came to be wandering.

   Whereupon we flash back to his childhood, and it seems he must have grown up in the 1920s because this part is taken from an old silent film (possibly one of Director Dawn’s early efforts; he was a pioneer of the silent film, introducing technical innovations like rear projection and matte shots) with something about an abusive jungle dad and a grass hut besieged by lions. There’s also some newer footage of a woman clad in animal skins, sometimes accompanied by a guy in a gorilla suit, but the ersatz ape is apparently just dropping by for a Guest Spot, as he has no further part in the story.

   A couple of flashbacks later, Thompson, Orlando and Wilson are off in search of the lost tribe of wild women, and shortly thereafter they all get caught by the vanished vixens and dragged off to a part of Africa that looks suspiciously like Bronson Canyon, the stomping grounds for generations of cheap movies, from the silent days to Robot Monster.

   I’d like to tell you more of the plot, but there isn’t any. The girls dance a lot, they take turns fighting over the guys, sometimes they fight the guys for a change, and sometimes we just look at mismatched stock shots of jungle animals, including a moose who seems to have wandered into this picture by mistake.

   Well, I never said it was a classic, but everyone keeps a straight face throughout and the actresses even put a bit of energy into the dancin’ and fightin’ parts. I had to admire their commitment, even while shaking my head at the silliness of it all.

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