Action Adventure movies

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.


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.


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.


KING OF THE JUNGLE. Paramount, 1933. Buster Crabbe, Frances Dee, Sidney Toler, Nydia Westman, Robert Barrat, Irving Pichel, Douglas(s) Dumbrille. Based on the novel The Lion’s Way, by Charles Thurley Stoneham. Directors: H. Bruce Humberstone & Max Marcin.

   King of the Jungle was one of the earliest and best of the flood of sequels, ripoffs and imitations that followed the success of MGM’s Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and while it doesn’t have much going for it in the Originality Department, it’s a lively and inventive little film well worth a look.

   The story (in which Philip Wylie had a hand) chronicles the adventures of a shrill little brat raised by Lions (sound familiar?) after his father — played in a short scene, back carefully to Camera, by Douglass Dumbrille, who turns up later in a different part altogether — is killed on Safari.

   The lad grows to strapping manhood in the form of Buster Crabbe, who would later play every pop culture hero known to kids in the first half of this century, becomes leader of the tribe pride, gets captured by Circus Folk and eventually travels to San Francisco, where he (WARNING!) successfully resists the lures of the Big City, gets the Girl, sets his adoptive family free and returns with the lot of them to Africa. (END OF WARNING!)

   Admittedly, it’s all pretty damsilly, but Crabbe is fun to watch, Francs Dee makes an intelligent heroine, and Sidney Toler turns up as a sympathetic Sawdust Impresario. There’s also a spectacular Circus Fire (re-used in Road to Zanzibar and godknows where else) an impressive Elephant Stampede through Downtown Frisco, and even a touch of Artistry here and there, as in the opening when the hero’s father gets his Safari Permit: the camera pans in on the document, then dissolves to a tracking shot, still moving, of the tattered document blown listlessly past dead bodies strewn about a ravaged camp site.

   MGM spent more and went further with Tarzan, but they never surpassed the charm and energy of this shaggy-dog one-shot.


HOLLYWOOD MAN. Intercontinental Releasing Corporation, 1976. William Smith, Jennifer Billingsley, Ray Girardin, Jude Farese, Mary Woronov, Tom Simcox, Don Stroud. Director: Jack Starrett.

   As a straightforward 1970s exploitation film, Hollywood Man leaves a lot to be desired. Apart from leading actor William Smith, whose omnipresent physicality permeates every scene he is in, most of the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Although there are some hilarious moments, there’s also a palpable absence of vitality in the movie. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted the audience to slog through their movie, rather than allow it to pull them in and envelope them in the narrative.

   But as a meta-movie, a movie about movies, a film about filmmaking, Hollywood Man is a surprisingly ambitious project. Smith portrays Rafe Stoker, an actor-director determined to complete his biker film. Because he’s both short on cash and fully committed to seeing the project through, he turns to a rather unsavory source of financing: the Mafia. Rafe soon learns that when you make a deal in the dark, you’re not exactly sure you’re going to get.

   Because in no time at all, a real group of outlaw biker types are on the way to the small Florida town where Rake’s shooting his film. They’ve been sent there by the Mafia to slow down production, so that he will have to part with some of his collateral. Soon enough, however, it’s revealed that the Mafia’s henchmen have their own nefarious agenda, one that includes raping and killing. Adding to the combustible mix is a local cop who seems to be playing all sides, never quite showing his cards. In the midst of all this chaos, Rafe is trying to motivate his cast and crew to finish the picture.

   All told, Hollywood Man seems to be, as much as anything else, a filmmaker’s reflection on the process of making exploitation films. Sure, the obstacles in Rafe’s path are greater than those faced by your average filmmaker. But as a meta-movie about a fictional director’s gritty determination to complete his film at any cost, this highly uneven action movie is a rather bold testament to just how far some directors will go for the love of cinema.

THE EQUALIZER. Columbia Pictures, 2014. Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis. Loosely based on the CBS television series (1985-89) created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim and starring Edward Woodward. Director: Antoine Fuqua.

   Well, the name’s the same, and by time the movie’s ended, you can see the new Robert McCall going into same business as the original one did. In that regard, you might call this the prequel.

   This the film version is a delight for the eyes of any action thriller fan, much flashier than the one I watched many years ago on TV, and naturally a lot more violent. Everybody loves to get revenge, no matter not small the slight, and everyone who does will love this movie.

   It starts very slowly, depicting as it does the life of a dedicated foreman at a home improvement warehouse store, living a life of quiet, spending evenings in a diner eating and reading alone. But in so doing he makes the acquaintance and a small friendship with Elena, a young local hooker, played to perfection by an actress previously unknown to me, Chloë Grace Moretz. They are close enough that when she is beaten up by a gang of Russian pimps, he takes it upon himself to avenge her.

   Here is where the action (finally) begins. A confrontation in their lair ends up with all five of the thugs dead within an interval of time that seems like less than a minute. There are secrets, the viewer quickly realizes, that the mild-mannered McCall had not revealed until now.

   All well and good, but is it possible that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. It so happens that the five pimps were just the tip of a Russian mafia iceberg. One man against a huge East Coast operation, headquartered back in Moscow? Seems impossible, but true.

   But to me, without a challenge — and there is none — there is also no movie. No matter how beautifully filmed and choreographed, it’s all movie fakery, with no more depth than the pages of a comic book. What I’d liked to have seen is some weakness in McCall, enough that he could have used Elena’s assistance, for example. She doesn’t show up from the time she’s in the hospital until the end of the movie, a character and performance on the part of Chloë Grace Moretz that’s utterly wasted.


ADVENTURE IN SAHARA. Columbia Pictures, 1938. Paul Kelly, C. Henry Gordon, Lorna Gray, Robert Fiske, Marc Lawrence, Dwight Frye. Screenplay by Maxwell Shane; story: Samuel Fuller. Director: D. Ross Lederman.

   With a story written by Samuel Fuller, who went on to far bigger and better things, Adventure in Sahara is more of an historical curiosity than anything else. A surprisingly gritty programmer, the film features Paul Kelly as an American who joins the French Foreign Legion to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of the sadistic Captain Savatt (C. Henry Gordon).

   Kelly isn’t exactly Gary Cooper, but he gets the job done. Gordon’s character, Savatt, borders on the cartoonish. I imagine he’s sort of what American filmgoers might have expected a cruel French officer to act like; nothing more, nothing less.

   When the desert sun sets, however, Adventure in Sahara remains remarkably forgettable. There’s no particularly captivating dialogue and the characters are never fully fleshed out. But that’s not to say that it’s not watchable, if mindless escapism.

   Personally, I’ve always enjoyed films involving France’s role in the world, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East. Granted, I’m part of a niche audience that could probably have meetings in a phone booth (not that they really exist anymore), but films like these serve more as time capsules than anything else. After all, how many people would choose to make — let alone rush to see — a movie about the French Foreign Legion today?


THE BLACK CASTLE. Universal, 1952. Richard Greene, Boris Karloff, Stephen McNally, Rita Corday, Lon Chaney Jr. and Michael Pate. Written by Jerry Sackheim. Directed by Nathan Juran.

   A ripping yarn from producer William (Tarantula, Creature from the Black Lagoon…) Alland, this was marketed as a horror film, but it’s more like a swashbuckler with a few creepy elements.

   Richard Greene, who will always be Robin Hood to me, stars as an English aristocrat going undercover as a guest of Count Von Bruno (Stephen McNally) the tyrannical lord of a castle in the Black Forest, who had a somewhat checkered past in Africa (he still keeps an alligator pit to remind him of the good old days) and may have murdered two of Greene’s friends.

   And that’s pretty much all the plot there is here: Greene sneaks around trying to get the goods on McNally, romances his countess (Rita Corday) crosses blades with his toady (Michael Pate) and generally plays the doughty swordsman to the hilt (see what I did there?) as he exposes McNally’s villainy…. and gets coffined alive in the process.

   Boris Karloff has a supporting part here, but it’s an interesting one: the Castle Physician, whose loyalty (or disloyalty?) to the Count forms the linchpin of the story, as sundry poisonings, mysterious deaths and other nonsense peppers the plot. But it’s rather sad to see Lon Chaney Jr. lumbering around fat, drunk and grunting, particularly when I recall him playing so effectively off Karloff in House of Frankenstein (1944) a memory more poignant because most of the background music in Black Castle was lifted from the earlier film.

   But the show here really belongs to Stephen McNally, one of the best bad guys of his day, and he carries it off wonderfully, alternately baleful and leering, laughing maniacally when the occasion demands, and generally carrying on in the best Lugosi tradition. It’s the sort of part that’s hard to take seriously unless you’re a little kid (or a kid at heart) but McNally plays it without a trace of condescension, aided enormously by director Nathan Juran (7th Voyage of Sinbad, Attack of the 50′ Woman…) who keeps things moving and puts the action scenes across with inventive camera angles and an infectious sense of fun.


THE BURMA CONSPIRACY. French, 2011. Released in France as Largo Winch II. Tomer Sisley, Sharon Stone, Uklrich Turkur, Napskpaha (Mame) Nakapraste, Olivier Bartelemy, Laurent Terzieff, Nicholas Vaude, Clemens Schick, Dimitry Nazarov, Nirut Siridranya. Screenplay by Julien Rappeneau, Jerome Salle, and Jean Van Hamme. Based on the bande dessinees Largo Winch by Jean Van Hamme and Phillipe Francq. Directed by Jerome Salle.

   If you tire of endless superheroes, spies, and cop buddy movies in your blockbuster action movie fare, The Burma Conspiracy, aka Largo Winch II, may be just what you are looking for.

   A sequel to Largo Winch, which introduced the character of the Bosnian-born son of Yugoslav billionaire Nerio Winch, who inherits his father’s vast wealth and the W Group with over four hundred thousand employees worldwide, this French action film picks up where the first film left off.

   Based on the international hit Belgian bande dessinees by writer Jean Van Hamme and artist Phillipe Francq we pick up as Largo (Tomer Sisley) is planning to sell the W Group and use all his wealth in a planned charitable foundation named for his father, and no sooner has he signed the papers to enable the sale than his yacht is invaded by UN investigators accusing him of involvement in the slaughter of a Karen tribe Burmese village, Kaipu, by war criminal General Kyaw Min (Nirut Siridranya) so that his father could buy their nickel rich land.

   Now Largo, with a small band of loyal friends, his lawyer Dwight Cochrane (Ulrich Tukur), his valet Gauthier (Nicholas Vaude), Alexandre Jung (Laurent Terzieff) an old friend of his father, and Simon (Olivier Barthelemy) a ne’er-do-well friend he once saved in the Burmese jungle, has to get to the bottom of the conspiracy against him while evading prosecution by Francken, a vengeful billionaire businessman Nazatchov (Dimitry Nazarov) who is trying to buy the W Group, and a murderous mercenary Lazarevic who wants to kill him. And in a game like this, can anyone be trusted?

   As Largo’s favorite Bosnian proverb goes: “A man with no enemies is no man at all.”

   Packed with action, intelligent characters who nevertheless don’t always act in their own best interest, and a surprising amount of heart for an action movie, the film is both picaresque and sharp. The hero is no superman, and needs rescuing as often as comes to the rescue. Tomer Sisley manages to be both strong and vulnerable as Largo, believable in the most outrageous action scenes.

   The film is filled with spectacular action and stunts and extremely handsome locales from Geneva to Hong Kong, with action in the jungles of Burma and the streets of Bangkok, and set pieces including a jungle prison camp escape and a breathtaking skydiving battle and rescue. But unlike so many action films, this one takes time to develop characters, to allow for actual human beings to emerge, for humor and a touching romance, and actual suspense that for once waits until almost the last moment to reveal the villain behind Largo’s problems, whose motive is actually quite strong.

   It’s nice for once to see a movie where the hero and not the entire civilized world is at stake, particularly one as stylish and smart as this. If this is the sequel, I’m even more anxious to see the first one. If you are looking for a fast moving action film with a big budget that neither insults your intelligence nor sprains your suspension of disbelief beyond repair, this may be the film for you.

THE PARK IS MINE. Made for TV: HBO, 1985. Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver, Yaphet Kotto, Lawrence Dane, Peter Dvorsky, Gale Garnett. Based on the novel by Stephen Peters. Original music by Tangerine Dream. Director: Steven Hilliard Stern.

   Perhaps of some note as being the first movie made for HBO, this is a movie also made for its time, but one that has had such a cult following over the years that it has recently had a recent release on DVD (December 13th). Not many made-for-TV movies make the grade, not with official releases, they don’t.

   Most of what makes the movie worth watching today is the performance of Tommy Lee Jones, no surprise there. He plays a Vietnam War veteran who is still having difficulty adjusting to civilian life. He cannot keep a job, he is separated from his wife, who won’t let him see his young boy, and most of all, he is totally burned up by the fact that no one cares for what sacrifices any of his fellow soldiers made during the war.

   So what does he do? Thanks to another vet who has just committed suicide but before that secretly mined Central Park and fortified it with all kinds of heavy ammunition, he takes over the park, literally. A one man operation that keeps the police and, most particularly, the city administration, at bay. A three day period before Veterans’ Day that the park is his, that’s all he wants. No hostages, no ransom, just three days of respect.

   Causes like this, especially with plenty of gunfire and bombs going off, make for movies that attract attention. Luckily no one is killed — only minor injuries — until the deputy mayor left in charge escalates matters too far, as well as over the top, when he sends in a couple of ex-mercenaries, one a former Viet Cong, with orders to kill.

   This is an act that ends in disaster, and it changes what could have been a minor league protest into one of over the top comic book proportions. Helen Shaver, who is very easy on the eyes, provides more than capable support as a TV news photographer whose quest for a story lands her right in the middle of it.

   There is an obvious moral to stories like this, and if done well, they can sweep the viewer along with them. This one isn’t likely to escape its cult-only status, however. The story, while it hints at more, just isn’t up to it.

Audio Bonus:   Here’s the complete soundtrack recording, very effectively done by the group Tangerine Dream:

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