Action Adventure movies


SKYJACKED. MGM, 1972. Charlton Heston, Yvette Mimieux, James Brolin, Claude Akins, Jeanne Crain, Susan Dey, Roosevelt Grier, Mariette Hartley, Walter Pidgeon, Ken Swofford, Leslie Uggams. Based on the novel Hijacked by David Harper. Director: John Guillermin.

   Sometimes films with all-star casts, no matter how stellar, end up falling a bit flat. That’s the case with Skyjacked, a Hollywood disaster film about a deranged American soldier (James Brolin) suffering from post-traumatic stress who hijacks an American airliner.

   That’s not to say that there aren’t some genuinely tense moments in the movie, or that Charlton Heston doesn’t give a solid, eminently believable performance as the airplane’s captain. It’s just that, despite the presence of veteran actors and actresses such as Brolin, Yvette Mimieux, Walter Pidgeon, and Claude Akins, the whole production ends up feeling rather languid, as if all the characters were going through the motions, behaving in the most stereotypical manner possible. (See, for instance, the pregnant woman who goes into labor mid-hijacking, and the laid back African-American jazz musician who ends up seated next to the overwrought hijacker).

   From what I can tell, however, Skyjacked was the first major Hollywood production where an airline hijacking was central to the plot. In that sense, the movie was the template for things to come. Unfortunately, it’s now all but impossible to watch this John Guillermin-directed work without one’s mind drifting and thinking about Airplane (1980), the Paramount comedy that successfully mocked and played homage to the numerous airline disaster movies such as this one that Hollywood churned out during the 1970s.


THE WHITE GORILLA. Fraser & Merrick, 1945. Ray Corrigan, Lorrain Miller, Charles King and Francis Ford. Written, produced & directed by Harry L. Fraser.

   Dammit, I felt like watching a Killer Ape movie, and this time it was The White Gorilla, made in 1945 and 1927. No, that’s not two versions, it’s actually one movie made nearly twenty years apart.

   To better understand The White Gorilla you need to know something about its auteur, Harry L. Fraser, who also worked under the names Arthur Borris, Wayne Carter, Harry P. Christ, Harry S. Christ, Harry C. Crist, Harry P. Crist, Harry Crist, Miller Easton, Weston Edwards, Harry Frazer, Clint Johnson, Harry O. Jones, Harry Jones, Timothy Munro, Monroe Talbot, Munro Talbot, Victor von Resarf and Edward Weston. Those who profess to enjoy the films of Ed Wood need to take a look at Fraser’s oeuvre and recognize him as the spiritual father of bad movies. Fraser worked in film from the silent days to the 50s with only the faintest glimmer of talent, and most times not even that, but he brought his films in on time and under budget, which kept him gainfully employed at studios where they wanted it done Tuesday.

   According to Fraser’s memoirs (I Went That-a-Way, Scarecrow, 1990) it took three and a half days in 1945 to film White Gorilla, and looking at it today, one can only wonder how he spent three of them. Most of the footage shot in ’45 consists of Ray “Crash” Corrigan sitting around a cardboard mock-up of a Jungle Trading Post telling Charles King and Francis Ford what happened to “the Rogers safari.” Every so often we flash-back to scenes of Crash walking through the woods behind somebody’s back yard, which is supposed to be the African jungle, looking off-screen and seeing… well, whatever grainy old footage of wildlife happened to be handy at the time, including tigers and new world monkeys.

   But it gets better. As Crash continues his story, the movie flash-backs to old footage from Perils of the Jungle, shot in 1927. And this footage is so blatantly mis-matched as to provoke disbelieving laughter from anyone who sees it: the actors are all made-up in classic silent-movie style, with rouged lips and eye shadow, they mime their parts with pre-talkie emphasis, and they seem to move at the wrong speed. So we get these 1945 shots of Ray “Crash” Corrigan standing in somebody’s shrubs, saying voice-over, “…as I watched, the lions surrounded Rogers’ camp…” and then we cut-away to the hilarious footage of what he’s supposedly watching. And of course, since all this was filmed eighteen years earlier, Corrigan can’t interact with anyone in the Rogers safari, so he – or the writer — has to keep coming up with excuses like, “…with no ammunition, I could only watch helplessly while the natives…” or “…with the river between us, I could only watch helplessly while the crocodile…”

   Well, he’s not the only one watching helplessly, but White Gorilla gets better still. Sometimes we cut away from Crash to more recent footage, filmed that same weekend, of someone in a white Gorilla outfit lumbering through the woods. Eventually the guy in the white Gorilla suit runs into someone in a black Gorilla suit and the two mimic fighting for a few minutes. Then the camera simply seems to lose interest and we cut back to Corrigan or to the silent movie for a few chapters till the refrain starts in again: someone in a white Gorilla outfit lumbering through the woods, running into someone in a black Gorilla suit, whereupon the two mimic fighting for a few minutes, till the camera loses interest and…. It’s like being caught in a time warp. I have it on good authority that Crash played at least one of the battling apes, so this film was quite a stretch for him dramatically.

   White Gorilla, in short, is one of those films so jaw-droppingly awful as to be truly fun to watch, and I recommend it to anyone who can approach it in the proper spirit. While we were watching it, I happened to mention to my wife that the writer-director had written a memoir, and she responded, “Because those who forget the past have to repeat it?”


ALLEGHENY UPRISING. RKO Radio Pictures, 1939. Claire Trevor, John Wayne, George Sanders, Brian Donlevy, Wilfrid Lawson, Robert Barrat, Moroni Olsen, Eddie Quillan, Chill Wills. Director: William A. Seiter.

   If you’ve ever wanted to see John Wayne sporting a coonskin cap and carrying a rifle, then Allegheny Uprising may be the movie for you. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d go in for, then there’s probably no real reason for you to watch this rather dated, and poorly edited, RKO film set after the end of the French and Indian War.

   Wayne, not yet the movie star he was yet to become, portrays the historical figure James Smith, the leader of the Black Boys Rebellion in 1765 in which some Pennsylvania colonists rose up against their British overlords. In many ways, the British title for the film, The First Rebel, does the movie more justice. (Incidentally, the film did not do well in a Great Britain. No surprise there!)

   Although there’s quite a bit of American patriotic fervor embedded into the script, Allegheny Uprising ends up feeling stale. It’s almost as if you’re watching an historical reenactment rather than a cinematic representation of an historical event. That’s not to say that the exceedingly talented George Sanders isn’t well cast as a British captain, or that Brian Donlevy can’t play a conniving villain, it’s just that the whole thing seems so formulaic, as if no one in the studio fully had their heart and soul invested in the project.

   With the notable except of Wayne, who looks as if he did his best to transform what would have been an otherwise completely forgettable Revolutionary War era film into what I’ll grudgingly admit is a somewhat entertaining costumer.


ANGEL UNCHAINED. American International Pictures, 1970. Don Stroud, Luke Askew, Larry Bishop, Tyne Daly, Neil Moran, Jean Marie, Aldo Ray. Director: Lee Madden.

   You might find this a bit surprising, but Angel Unchained is a minor, if not completely kitschy, gem. Based on the premise of “what would happen if a biker outfit and a bunch of hippies teamed up against a bunch of rednecks,” you might think that this American International exploitation film would be yet another completely forgettable biker film. Solid performances by stars Don Stroud and Larry Bishop as biker buddies, a cameo by veteran character actor Aldo Ray as the local sheriff, and a genuinely heartfelt ending all ensure that this movie roars right along.

   Soon after Angel (Don Stroud) decides to leave his biker outfit and set out on his own, he runs into a situation at a gas station when he witnesses townie rednecks harassing a couple of hippies. Angel decides he’s going to side with the hippies. After all, they weren’t doing anything wrong.

   This leads him straight to the hippie agricultural commune on the outskirts of town, where he falls for Merilee, a local hippie girl (Tyne Daly) and forms a bond with commune leader, Tremaine (Luke Askew). When the townies threaten the commune with annihilation, Tremaine urges Angel to enlist the help of biker leader Pilot (Larry Bishop) and his old crew in order to stave off the redneck horde. So the bikers and the hippies have to learn to work together for a common purpose!

   Add in some both comedic and tragic moments, an Indian medicine man with a penchant for peyote-laced chocolate chip cookies, and some action sequences and you’ve got yourself one genre bending biker-themed, “hippiesploitation” film.

   For those skeptics out there, I’d recommend watching this movie, if for no other reason, for the scene in which Pilot has a polite conversation about the weather with the sheriff (Aldo Ray) right as the bikers and the townies go at it in a parking lot. It’s one of those quirky, completely mesmerizing little scenes that dot so many 1970s low budget productions and one that makes the occasionally overly formulaic Angel Unchained worth seeking out.


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. Shown at Cinevent 31, Columbus OH, May 1999.

   I saw this on TV several years ago and was not impressed by it, but this time I found it a pleasant diversion, with Buster Crabbe as Kaspa, raised in the jungle after the deaths of his parents, and brought to the states with his lions to perform in a circus.

   Frances Dee, a teacher who’s hired to teach Kaspa English, teaches him a couple of others things as well before the predictable fade-out in the studio backlot studio set.

   This doesn’t give the first couple of the first MGM Tarzan films any real competition (Frances Dee, while attractive, is not Maureen O’Sullivan), but a spectacular circus fire provides some genuine excitement and the animals are magnificent specimens and out-act some of the supporting players.


SECRET OF THE INCAS. Paramount Pictures, 1954. Charlton Heston, Robert Young, Nicole Maurey, Thomas Mitchell, Glenda Farrell, Michael Pate, Yma Sumac. Director: Jerry Hopper.

   Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Charlton Heston in Secret of the Incas. A lackluster action movie filmed on location in Peru, the movie features Heston in khaki pants, a leather jacket, and a fedora. He portrays scheming smart aleck Harry Steele, a would-be adventurer and treasure seeker unhappily giving wealthy Americans tours of Cusco, Peru. Even more than women, Harry has one thing on his mind. Money.

   All that begins to change when Romanian exile, Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) arrives in town, the communist authorities hot on her trail. When he and Elana steal a private plane and head to Machu Picchu to steal an Incan treasure (his plan, not hers), it feels as if you’re about to take part in a great adventure and a character’s radical moral transformation.

   Except you’re not.

   Truth be told, Secrets of the Incas is, with a few exceptions, an epic bore. The on-location photography, including some truly breathtaking mountain vistas, is wasted on a lackluster script and strikingly unoriginal direction.

   Heston, who was more than capable of portraying men with villainous streaks, does his best with what he was given. His character, thought by many to be the basis for Indiana Jones, hardly has Indy’s rapscallion charm. Harry Steele isn’t a particularly interesting character; indeed, when he finally realizes that there’s other things in life other than money, it’s with the type of bitterness Heston was so capable of emoting. But truthfully it’s difficult to care all that much: another day, another modernist epiphany.

   All of which leaves the viewer with the question: if it weren’t for Indiana Jones, would anyone anywhere care about Harry Steele?


THE GOLDEN ARROW. MGM, 1962. Originally released in Italy as L’arciere delle mille e una notte. Tab Hunter, Rosanna Podesta. Directed by Antonio Margerhiti. There are a lot more names in the credits, but they won’t mean much to you unless you speak Italian.

   Director Antonio Margerhiti had a few films released here under the nom-du-fake “Anthony Dawson” (not to be confused with the actor so memorable in Dial M for Murder), including War of the Planets and Web of the Spider, and he earned a mild reputation as a visual stylist whose films are sometimes fun to look at, if not to watch.

   The visual flair serves this film well, because The Golden Arrow is simply stunning: vast palaces, exotic cities and golden deserts done up in storybook Technicolor, set off with colorful costumes and lovely ladies… or the chiseled features and manly chest of Tab Hunter if your tastes run to that sort of thing.

   Tab Hunter was never as bad an actor as his reputation would suggest — he’s quite good in Gunman’s Walk — but he’s dubbed here, so it’s hard to evaluate his thespic accomplishments. In fact, the whole cast is dubbed, with some voice-actors clearly taking several roles, lending a comfortable feel for those of us who grew familiar with Italian movies in the 1960s, from Hercules to the Man With No Name.

   The story is a bit far-fetched perhaps, but once you accept Tab Hunter as an Arabian Bandit Chief, you can swallow the rest fairly easily. Princess Rosanna Podesta is being pressured by the evil Grand Vizier (you know the type) to marry one of three rather miserly Princes when she’s abducted by Tab and the Arabs. Not to worry though; it seems he’s really the son of the murdered sultan and rightful heir to some throne or other, and before we know it, Princess Rosanna has been returned to the palace (and the three Scrooges) while Tab goes off in search of the Golden Arrow that will restore him to his throne.

   Fairly standard so far, but here’s where things get whacked-out. Rosanna prays to Allah to help Tab, and Allah sends down three goofy angels to help him out with sundry miracles and magic tricks. No kidding, Allah sends three angels. At this point I began to wonder how this would have played in a Biblical epic if Jesus had gone around reuniting happy young lovers, and it gave me pause.

   But only for a minute. Next thing I knew, Tab had wandered into the Underworld, doing battle with fire monsters and resisting the advances of a kinky queen. Then the three pesky Princes got sent off on some kind of quest, each to find the rarest gift in the world to win Rosanna’s hand. Then Tab entered a city of ruins lorded over by an evil wizard. Then the evil Vizier poisoned Rosanna. Then Tab beat up the Wizard, returned a bunch of dead folks to life and resisted the advances of a grateful queen. Then… well you get the idea: just one damn thing after another here, with magic, treachery, pitched battles and the obligatory flying carpets thrown around like insults at a Friars Roast.

   In all, a film you can switch off your brain and enjoy without feeling guilty the morning after. Or not very guilty, anyway.

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