Action Adventure movies

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

TREASURE ISLAND. National General Pictures, US, 1972. Filmed in Spain with a Spanish crew. Orson Welles, Kim Burfield, Lionel Stander, Walter Slezak, Ángel del Pozo, Rik Battaglia. Directors: Andrea Bianchi (as Andrew White), John Hough (English language version), Antonio Margheriti.

   I had somewhat high hopes for Treasure Island, but I probably should have known better. It’s probably one of Orson Welles’ least known films and it’s most certainty that way for a reason. Produced by Harry Alan Towers, this somewhat genial, but ultimately unsatisfying adventure yarn based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel features the legendary Welles as Long John Silver.

   Welles, whose pirate voice may or may not have been dubbed by another actor, grunts and slurs his way through this plodding affair. Even Walter Slezak, who ordinarily is a standout actor, falls somewhat flat – pun intended, if you’ve seen the movie – as Squire Trelawney.

   Young actor Kim Burfield, who portrays Jim Hawkins, is somewhat more of a presence, portraying the narrator/protagonist with wide- eyed charm and glee. Jim’s sense of wonder and excitement is, at the end of the day, what propels this somewhat tired affair. But to no avail. Overall, the movie leaves the viewer with the distinct impression that at another time, with another director, Welles really could have thrived and shined as the legendary fictional pirate cook.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

THE EIGER SANCTION. Universal Pictures, 1975. Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McKee, Thayer David, Jack Cassidy, Heidi Brul. Screenplay by Hal Dresher, Warren B. Murphy, and Rod Whitkaker based on the latter’s novel as Trevanian. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

   On paper this sounds like a dream project; in reality it is a total mishmash, devoid of suspense or much in the way of humanity, and famously hated by its own writer, University of Texas professor Rod Whitaker writing as Trevanian who actually worked on the screenplay, to the point he wrote a footnote complaining about it in his bestselling novel Shibumi. To add insult to injury, it was a critical and box office failure that pleased no one watching it or involved in making it, and cost a man his life.

   Ironically the film is almost slavishly faithful to the plot of the novel it is based on, about art professor Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood), a freelance government assassin who kills to pay for additions to his art collection under the aegis of a loathsome albino government functionary called Dragon (Thayer David). In Sanction he is given the commission to kill a traitor who will be one of the members on an attempt to climb the notorious north face of the Eiger in Switzerland, a job Hemlock as a world class Alpinist is ideally suited for, having been the only survivor of an earlier unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit.

   Although it comes late in the 60s and 70s spy craze, it was based on a huge bestseller, had a popular star and gifted director, and the screenwriters included the author as well as Destroyer co-creator and suspense novelist Warren B. Murphy (who died only recently). There is even a score by John Williams.

   None of that mattered.

   The film falls flat on Clint Eastwood’s deadpan face.

   First there is the matter of casting, and it is a major problem. Whatever his gifts, George Kennedy was not subtle on screen and even though his role as Hemlock’s friend and trainer would seem ideal for him, he plays it so heavy-handedly that he kills every word of dialogue he speaks. Then add Jack Cassidy as a murderous homosexual played just to the right of outright camp, and Vonetta McKee and Heidi Brul as the least attractive and appealing female leads you can imagine — in a film where their roles could have been written out entirely without harming the plot — and you have a huge chunk of the problem.

   Then there is Clint Eastwood himself.

   Eastwood is a man of rare talent and taste, but the role of Jonathan Hemlock was created with Paul Newman in mind, and at this point in his career Eastwood’s skills as a director and an actor simply were not up to the role of an existentialist Nietzschean with a nihilist streak who kills so he can possess art he feels is too good to be viewed by an unappreciative public. The role desperately needs an actor whose face could give humanity to the cold and unappealing character, not Eastwood whose youthful face made Rushmore look expressive. No one was willing to accept him in that role, and he himself seems deeply uncomfortable playing it.

   He may have seen Hemlock as another of his cool headed killers like the man with no name and Harry Callahan, but that isn’t who the character was, and Eastwood’s wrongheaded casting of himself is made worse by his own direction, which lacks any real suspense, with the mountain climbing sequences the only moments the film even vaguely breathes.

   There is also a bit of irony, that which was chillingly bitter in the novel just seems callous and psychotic on the screen.

   My sympathy is with Professor Whitaker on this one and that footnote I mentioned earlier in Shibumi on this one. It is a flat film that never engages the viewer, marred by not one but five major bits of miscasting and weak direction, and a diffuse script that never becomes cohesive on film. It may well be the worst film of Eastwood’s distinguished career. It is somehow galling if not intolerable that someone actually died to get this film made. I suppose it would not really be more meaningful if it had been a better movie or a good movie, but that the film is this bad and cost a man’s life is somehow even worse.

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.

Next Page »