Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Hacksaw... Not the tool, not Jim Duggan.

Hacksaw reviewed

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Hacksaw" (Disney, 1971). This is another "Wonderful World of Disney" made for TV movie from the disco decade. Tim Andrews (Tab Hunter) is taking big city businessman Olney Curtis (George Barrows) and his daughter Sue (Susan Bracken) on a fishing trip.


Daughter of Fisher-man.

Tim is a man of many skills: Bush pilot, cowpoke, classically trained concert violinist, wilderness guide, fish and wildlife expert, tracker, expert horseman, field surgeon, racing driver, computer expert, and game trapper. I only made two of those up (I'll leave it to you to figure out which).
The talented Mr. Dripley.

While exploring, Tim and Sue come upon a beautiful horse which Tim explains is a wild stud named "Hacksaw" by the locals.
Film star.

Sue notices that Hacksaw is interested in the mare that she is riding (Twinkle Toes), and talks Tim into trying to catch the wily horse by using the mare as bait. Thus begins a series of events that leads to Tim bonding with Hacksaw and eventually competing in a championship chuck wagon race.

Wait, what?

Confused by that last sentence? Good. I have opinions…

I don't know that I have ever watched a more rambling movie than this one. It's not boring, exactly; it's more like a series of five to ten minute shorts that chronologically connect to one another shown back-to-back over an hour and a half. It's sort of like Richard Linklater's "Slacker" if you just stayed with a couple of characters throughout. While the bond between Tim and Hacksaw is the primary driver of the film, it's not really deeply explored in any real emotional capacity. Even when the movie tries to elevate the stakes by showing a daring rescue or by putting Hacksaw in jeopardy there's no "edge of your seat" suspense. Let me see if I can sum up the plot of this film from memory:

  1. "The Rancher" (Ray Teal), our narrator regales us with the tale of how Tim Andrews got into chuck wagon racing.
    Our omniscient guide.

  2. Tim flies the Curtises to the Rockies.
  3. Tim and Sue try to catch Hacksaw but accidentally snag a grizzly.
    Hilarity ensues.

    Hilarity ensues... Again.

  4. Hacksaw follows the mare to Tim's ranch where they catch him.
    More believable than the human love story.

  5. Everyone tries to ride Hacksaw to no avail.
    Here we meet our bad guy.

  6. Tim uses Hacksaw as a pack horse while Sue goes back to the city.
  7. Tim discovers that Hacksaw can pull a sled while gathering firewood.
  8. Winter comes, and Tim and Hacksaw rescue a pilot from a crashed plane.
    Seriously not suspenseful.

  9. Sue returns and Tim enters Hacksaw into a sled race, which he loses.
    If at first you don't succeed, just cry about it.

  10. Sue goes home while a rancher offers to teach Tim how to race a chuck wagon, where *cough* "The big money is."
  11. Spring comes and Tim trains for the chuck wagon races with his business partner, Cascade Joe (Victor Millan).
    There is a "musical" interlude here. Yes, that is in quotes.

  12. Tim's rival sabotages him by bringing another stud to the ranch where the horses fight.
    Horses "acting."

  13. An injured Hacksaw is missing, everyone looks for him.
  14. A healed Hacksaw returns just in time for the big chuck wagon race.
  15. Sue and her father come back to watch Tim and Hacksaw win the big race.
    Got it on the first try!

  16. Inexplicably, the movie keeps going for a little while longer.

It's like a vignette film smooshed with a "sports film." You've all seen sports films: There's a passionate and skilled individual or team who tries to win but is beaten by an evil cheating rival (in this case Russ McCubbin as "Dusty Trent"), but overcomes their failings through pluck and training and eventually beat the evil bastard(s). The problem with this film is that there's multiple sports and Tim Andrews just falls ass-backwards into them. He loses the first race he ever tries and seems DEVESTATED. He doesn't even have any interest in chuck wagon racing until the last quarter of the film and wins the first championship race he ever tries. How is that an underdog story? And chuck wagon racing. CHUCK. WAGON. RACING. Seriously, how is this a sport, let alone a "big money" sport?!

I have family that are heavily into horses. I have been to rodeos and fairs. I have never heard of this sport.

Not dressed up

It looks like an old TV movie, and that's not a compliment: Film transfer with overblown colors, 4:3 aspect ratio, and even some interlacing artifacts visible during scenes of motion (if you're watching it on a modern television).

Should I watch it?

Unless you're really keen on horse movies I would give this one a pass; The transfer hurts the majesty of the scenery, the acting isn't what I would call "top notch," and the story would be cliché if they would just pick one cliché and stick with it.

Where can I find it?

"Hacksaw" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Cloak & Dagger (not the Marvel one)

Put on your cloak, and grab your dagger

Cloak & Dagger? Stranger Things have titles...

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Cloak & Dagger" (Universal Pictures, 1984). We're introduced to Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman) AKA "Agent X," a super-spy during the cold war with the Soviet Union that occupied much of the 20th century.

"Jack Flack always escapes!"

He's everything you could want in a hero: Clever, quick, deadly, with spy gadgets galore. But there's a catch…

Flack is the imaginary creation of Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas, after his debut as "Eliot" in "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial"), a kid who is coping with the loss of his mother by immersing himself in military role-playing and video games with his friends Kim (Christina Nigra) and mall game store owner Morris (William Forsythe).

Jack Flack is Davey's OP character

Pictured: Super friends!

When Morris sends Davey and Kim to pick up a product catalog from one of his suppliers, things take an unexpectedly deadly turn; Davey witnesses a murder, and the victim passes him a video game "tape" with a secret message.
"5200?! How the heck am I supposed to use this?!"

Of course, by the time he gets people to listen, the murderers have scrubbed the evidence. Taken home to his dad (also played by Dabney Coleman), Davey quickly learns that they bad guys know where he lives.
Dual roles for Dabney

Can Davey and his imaginary construct of Jack uncover the conspiracy, retrieve the top secret plans, and save the people they love from the cabal of spies that are gunning for them?

Lots to love

I love this movie. It's an adult spy thriller starring a child and his cheesy imaginary friend, and yet it still somehow remains gripping, thoughtful, and even a bit scary throughout. The acting is superb, even the worst actor in the film (a very young Christina Nigra) is absolutely hilarious and believable when she needs to be. The movie doesn't pull its punches: The consequences of violence are in full force, and even though the kids have "plot armor," the people around them are decidedly not immune. Things get quite emotional towards the end (for a multitude of reasons).

Not without problems, however

Is it perfect? Oh no. Not by a long shot. 

I got 5200 problems...

It's a bit funny that they were banking on the Atari 5200 and its notoriously defective controllers as the video game platform of choice in the film, as almost no one in the 80s owned one.

I'm not going to lie: This game looks dope as hell.

The "Cloak & Dagger" game featured in the film is actually an arcade game named "Agent X" which was going to ported to the 5200 as "Cloak & Dagger," but it was 1984 when this movie came out, and if you know anything about video game history you know why this is problematic…

Smile, you're on tape

I've heard a lot of speculation online that the film mistakenly refers to video game cartridges as "tapes," and as a kid who played and rented video games in the 80s let me just say that is was common terminology at the time (in much the same way that all video games in the latter half of the 80s were collectively referred to as "Nintendo") and is in no way an inherent error by the screenwriters. I have many memories of my Dad taking us out for dinner on a Friday night, then stopping by the video store to rent a movie and a "Nintendo tape" for the weekend.

What's a pee-gee?

Is it appropriate for children? That's a tough call. It only has a PG rating, but note that it's a strong "80s PG." On the one hand it stars kids and does not in any way patronize them or pull its punches.

Typical 80s bad guy is... quite scary, actually.

Jack Flack is a cool character and his advice to Davey throughout the film is both humorous and exciting.

On the other hand, there is very realistic death and consequences in the film (with very little gore), and the bad guys are genuinely scary with descriptive threats of violence and the means to carry it out. This dichotomy makes it a tough call, but one should also consider that this film is firmly a product of the 1980s, meaning that the norms of the time were quite different in regards to unsupervised children,

"In my day, you'd be drafted into the war!"

and the "cutting edge" and "futuristic" technology of the time is incredibly dated by today's standards in a way that tech savvy kids might not be able to wrap their heads around.
Pictured: Cutting edge.

Where can I find it?

I watched "Cloak & Dagger" on DVD, but it is available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime Video, and nowhere else that I could find.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Worth your time!

Broomsticks, Bed Knobs, and Such

What's it about?

In honor of Angela Lansbury (who recently passed away), tonight's nostalgic pic is "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (Disney, 1971).

All of the young men are at war, you see.

During the London Blitz of World War II, Rawlins siblings Carrie, Charlie, and Paul (Cindy O'Callaghan, Ian Weighill, and Roy Snart, respectively) are sent to stay in the British countryside in the north of England.
Corr! We's Bri'ish, we is!

Assigned to stay with a Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) in her spacious home, the trio are disheartened to learn that she has strict rules about hygiene, a weird diet of strange plants, and a ratty old cat she calls "Cosmic Creepers."
They try to make him look creepy, but he's still cute!

Disaffected and preparing to run away back to London that night, they discover that Miss Price is more than she appears, flying on a broom in the moonlight!
Not very lady-like.

When Charlie decides that they can leverage their newfound knowledge into better accommodations, it turns out that the eccentric Miss Price is taking a correspondence course in witchcraft, which she demonstrates by turning Charlie into a white rabbit, temporarily.
Chuck hare.

She explains that she's trying to use her practiced magical skills to aid the allies in their fight against the Germans, but she's waiting on one last spell lesson from The Professor Emelius Browne School of Witchcraft, only to get a letter that the school has closed due to the Blitz. Deciding it would be better to work with the children, Miss Price enchants a bed knob for the diminutive Paul to use to turn her big brass bed into a transport vehicle.
The "knob" in the title.

Three turns transforms the bed into a conveyance.

Thus begins their quest to find the last spell. Along the way they meet and team up with the shifty Professor Browne (Disney stalwart David Tomlinson),
Far more likable than Mr. Banks, IMHO.

travel to an island populated by animals,
Furries unite!

and eventually repel the Germans from their sleepy small town using the ultimate magic spell!

Some background

This film supposedly shared a lot of production overlap with the much more well-known "Mary Poppins" (1964), and it's easy to see that the two are somewhat joined at the hip, with both films featuring live action mixed with animation, both with songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, and both starring David Tomlinson in prominent patriarchal roles.

Rumor has it that the underwater scene was reworked from "Mary Poppins."

This is also Angela Lansbury's first movie with Disney, a relationship that would last decades afterward (this film also was the last "Walt Disney" movie to be awarded an Oscar until "The Little Mermaid" came out eighteen years later).

Musical mehs

I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but I find this one tolerable. For one thing, the first song (outside of the old soldiers singing at the beginning while marching) doesn't even show up until 27 minutes into the film (rather unexpectedly at that point, and you wouldn't even realize that it was a musical until that point). There's only a few songs after that, and they're entirely benign, from the lamentable sadness of "Portobello Road" to the goofy ballroom dancing of "The Beautiful Briny Sea."


The movie does have a habit of wasting some of its acting talent, though. Veteran actors like Sam Jaffe and Bruce Forsyth are only on screen for a few minutes,

They do make pretty scary villains, though.

and even one of the cast headliners (Roddy McDowall) is barely in the film at all.
One of two short scenes with Roddy Mcdowall.

Still, the children are decent enough actors, and Lansbury and Tomlinson have a great chemistry throughout.

My thoughts

For me, if I have to choose between this movie and "Mary Poppins," I'll pick this one every time. I find the story a little bit more grounded, and the fantasy more connected to the rest of the plot. Mary Poppins is basically just a series of vignettes where Burt introduces some situation, Mary drags the kids off to deal with it, and then the sequence ends. In this film, each step of their adventure leads into the next, and often Miss Price is just as much a protagonist as any of the children. The sequence on the Isle of Naboombu is a fantastic piece of anthropomorphic animation, well worth a watch by any aficionados of funny animals.

This is by far the funniest part of the film.

This is that sketchy 70s style Disney that we know and love.

It's made even better by the variety of creatures playing the game.

Let's face it: This movie probably created a few transformation fetishists as well...

Capping the whole thing is the German U-boat raid at the end, where Miss Price uses her ultimate spell to animate the armor, clothes and weapons of centuries past in a spooky battle for Britain.
U-boat, we-boat, they-boat...

I don't mind telling you that this last scene gave me no end of nightmares as a child, and even seeing it today as an adult with a better understanding of what's going on it still seems ghostly and eerie, and I'm here for it!
This sequence is still a bit eerie today.

The special effects are entirely passable and creative.

This one still haunts my nightmares.

Where can I find it?

"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The House On Haunted Hill -- worth a watch!

A house. On a haunted hill no less!

The plot of it all

I know that Halloween is technically over, but as someone cursed to work all major holidays I feel compelled to squeeze in one last Spooky Movie Tuesday. Tonight's film is "The House On Haunted Hill" (Allied Artists Pictures, 1959). Five strangers are driven in a funeral procession to a giant abandoned mansion in the countryside. Each has been promised $10,000 by eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) if they will stay the entire night at the "most haunted house in America" for a party in honor of his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart).

The only chemistry between these two involves arsenic.

Loren invites a diverse cast (of all white people) including test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long),
Original character name: "Stud Manley."

psychotherapist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal),
Meet Dr. Sensible.

columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum),
Robert Mitchum's sister. That's not a joke.

and secretary Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig).
Hysterical, because she's a woman.

With seven brutal and unusual murders committed under its roof, its reluctant heir (and party guest) Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.) acts as a guide to the other guests, showing them the crime scenes and trying to convince them to leave before it's too late.
Not hysterical, because he's a man.


Meanwhile, Loren and Annabelle seem to be having a falling out; he is convinced that she is up to something while she accuses him of unreasonable jealousy. Once midnight arrives the guests will be locked in for the night with no chance of escape.
Mansion's caretakers... or partygoer jailers?

Why has Loren invited total strangers to the party? Is everyone who they say they are? Is there murder afoot, or will the strangers succumb to the ghosts in the house on Haunted Hill?
Pictured: Probably murder.

The start of a legacy.

This is one of the many horror and thriller films directed by William Castle, who is also known for "The Tingler" (1959) and the original "13 Ghosts" (1960). It is another example of a 'dark house' film; a movie with an ensemble cast set in a single location (usually a mansion) that involves a murder mystery or the supernatural (see my previous review of "The Gorilla" for another example). Castle's films for the time were also known for their theatrical gimmicks. This used "Emergo," whereupon a plastic skeleton would be flown over the audience in the theater once the skeleton in the film emerges from its grave.

Eek! A skele-man!

While you won't have this experience at home (at least not without some effort on your part), that doesn't mean that the film isn't capable of delivering a fright or two.

The bad

There isn't much of a plot. The acting is effective but the dialog isn't stellar. There's not much in the way of gore, and some of the effects might seem laughable to modern audiences.

This is all the goriness you get. It's still scary, though.

Up to speed? Good.

The good

I love this movie. It's become a staple of my Halloween viewing selection. Ironically, the rather dated gimmicks used in its filming and production make it timeless in my opinion. The film starts with a dark screen with some rather terrifying sounds that will make you jump if you're not expecting them (or if your sound system defaults to an unreasonably loud volume every time you turn it on like mine did). There are only a few ghostly scares in the film, but they are absolutely memorable and otherworldly. At the same time, the film leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether they're all staged or if some are real.

One suspect down, six to go.

Even if you think that it's campy and a little goofy, the film's incredibly short runtime (clocking in at about one and a quarter hours) the pacing of dialog and scares ensures that you won't be bored while watching it.
You'll want to do this yourself before the movie's done.

There are choices, but are they really choices?

Please note that there is a (laughably) colorized version floating around (as well as a few experimental color overlay versions), but the film was originally presented in black and white, and honestly I feel that it works best that way.

I mean, it's mostly dark anyway.

Where can you watch it?

While the film is currently distributed by Warner Bros., the copyright was allowed to expire, meaning that it is now in the public domain. This means that you can watch if for free (legally) at a variety of sources. For this review I streamed it on Amazon Prime, but you can also watch it here.