Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

Adventures of the Wooden Woodsman.

Please note: I reviewed this film once before, but I'm giving it the "modern" treatment.

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier" (Disney, 1955).

"Gosh Davy, I wish I were as good as you at everything, including expression." "Yep, George."

Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) is the penultimate frontiersman: He's wise beyond his years, always right, the best in a fight, the best with a gun, he makes his woman swoon, and has the fear and respect of his enemies.
Not shown: Picking the splinters out of her teeth after this scene where she's making out with a wooden post.

"I don't like him, but he has my respect!"

The film follows Davy as he and his partner George Russel (Buddy Ebsen) are scouts in the employ of the United States Army, under the eye of the lovable and likable (and totally historically accurate #sarcasm ) General Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael) and his by-the-book, ineffective, bumbling right-hand man Major Tobias Norton (William Bakewell).

"Why, I respect all people despite their race, color, or creed. Now let me call my TOTALLY PAID BLACK MANSERVANT to serve us drinks."

"I may be a detestable, bumbling coward, but I sure will stab you in the back later in the movie, Davy (wait, why did I say that out loud?)"

"You ever think about the slow, inevitable creeping approach of the frozen hand of death, Davy?" "Yep, George."

We follow his adventures as he fights a bear, and almost single-handedly defeats the army of indigenous warriors (referred to in the film as "Injuns").
"Only Davy Crockett can solve Injun' problems!"

After that we follow his exploits in law enforcement and politics, as he becomes the last honest politician in Washington, D.C., whose career is cut short by… Defeating a bill that he was opposed to… Somehow.
"I don't know nothin' about how them politickies is supposed to work, but even though I am 100% effective my career is over!"

The film ends with Davy and his troupe of friends heading to Texas to defend its independence at the Alamo mission in San Antonio. This does not end well.
Pictured: 100% historical accuracy. Probably. Maybe. Okay, not at all.

A bit of backstory

This film is a partial compilation of several made-for-television movies aired by Disney in the 1950s. It was quite popular at the time, in part because the film was in color and the television presentation was not. It has a rather soft and painterly feel to the color, an unmistakable hallmark of 1950s film production. This film and the television programs that it spawned from were a phenomenon in the 1950s, even having a version of its theme song chart number one on the Billboard top 10. The popularity of this film later landed Fess Parker a role as Daniel Boone, largely playing the exact same character in the exact same costume and leading to the average American's inability to distinguish between either historical character.

"Look Daniel, alligators!" "Yep, George -- wait, what did you call me?"

Good for all the bad reasons

I love this movie, but not because it's good; in actuality, it's quite bad. Fess Parker has all of the charisma of a block of wood, and this is accentuated by Buddy Ebsen's equally deadpan performance. Every scene has the same amount of emotion from Fess Parker, from his victory against the Native Americans, to the death of his wife, to his anger at the American political system, and that amount is NONE. All of the fights are badly choreographed, which really isn't out of step for the era of cinema that it was produced in, but it's still funny to see characters fall down seconds after the killing blow is delivered.

So thrilling! No, wait, that's not the word... Awkward. So awkward.

The biggest natural dangers in the movie are presented as badly shot stock film that doesn't even begin to match the tone of the rest of the production, which never ceases to be funny; basically it boils down to, "Look Davy -- alligators," then cut to a totally disconnected alligator video).
"Look Davy, baby alligators!"


The film's historic events are skewed through the lens of 1950s American Patriotism, meaning that only a red-blooded American like Davy Crockett is able solve the nation's problems and every fight he takes up is on the right side, even the highly dubious prospect of Texas independence is presented as a heroic act fought by patriots with none of that pesky historical accuracy or context.
"I totally lived till the end of this standoff. Yep. No reason to doubt the movie, I'm a hero!"

This is one of the most epically expansive bad films I have ever watched, and it is gloriously terrible.

Not necessarily good for kids

To reiterate, there is a lot of questionable history, overt racism (without it being acknowledged as such), casual (but bloodless) death, and badly aged cinematography in this production, so you might want to reconsider if you're watching with kids.

It's also odd to see well-known voice actors like Hans Conried acting in real life, but modern kids won't recognize his work.

Where can you find it?

"Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Love Bug

Love in the time before seatbelts

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Love Bug" (Disney, 1968). Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is a race driver with a string of recent spectacular losses, and is on the verge of aging out of his sport.

He's basically crap.

After his latest loss he finds himself wandering the streets of San Francisco until he finds himself in the European supercar showroom of Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) and his assistant Carole Bennett (Michele Lee).
The love interest.

When Thorndyke begins assaulting a small Volkswagen Beetle that had been returned that morning, Douglas steps in to defend the little car…
WAIT... Is that... Joe Flynn? AGAIN?

Which follows him home on its own power. Suspected of grand theft auto, Douglas is forced into an arrangement to purchase the car from Thorndyke in lieu of charges. He soon discovers that the little car seems to have a mind of its own -- and the heart of a champion! Soon after Douglas begins winning races in the little car (who becomes affectionately named "Herbie") as he starts to build a relationship with Carole. Thorndyke, a seasoned race car driver in his own right, soon begins to suspect that there may be more to the little "Bug" and soon becomes obsessed with defeating it!
Also: Revenge for getting covered in gunk in every scene.

A brief background

This movie is loosely based on the Gordon Buford book "Car, Boy, Girl," and was allegedly the last film that studio founder Walt Disney authorized for production before his death in 1966, and is largely considered one of the last films of that era.

The races are obviously trickery, but still quite good!

A lot to love, bug!

I love this movie. It has a small central cast of Disney staples (including Joe Flynn, who has been in almost every single movie I've reviewed of late. Weird) and features smutty adult comedian Buddy Hackett as Jim Douglas's roommate Tennessee Steinmetz, a lovable good-natured family friendly goofball, which he excels at and has many of the funniest lines in the film. David Tomlinson is at his peak here, as a slimy mustache-twisting rat-like villain, whose antics provide much of the laughs in the third act.

"Muttley! Do something!"

But the film isn't just laughs, it does so much more with the material. It takes an object, in this case the little white Volkswagen Beetle, and turns it into an animate creature, who is loveable and feeling, long before movies like "Toy Story," and arguably even better here.

"Drunk Herbie" is a sight to behold!

There's a point in the film where Jim Douglas, high on the success that Herbie's wins bought him, tries to replace the little car, and you can feel it's pain.
It's never explained how he pays for the destroyed Lamborghini (played by a Jaguar in this scene).

Once Douglas realizes what he's done, he runs the foggy, haunting streets of San Francisco in a scene that is both heartfelt and dramatic.
These scenes still give me chills.

This little goofy film about an anthropomorphic racecar is quite epic, and in my opinion, one of the best Disney films ever made.
If you don't feel anything here, you might actually be dead inside.

Think of it as a period piece

Is it perfect? No. Of course not: It is dated by today's standards. The cars are of their time, and there are also references to finances that are laughable in our time of hyper-inflation and low wages. Of course, this was less palpable when I was a kid watching this movie in re-runs back in the 1970s and 1980s, but there's no getting around it now. There are also some culturally insensitive scenes involving Asian-Americans and Mexicans, but the former is central to the film's endgame and the latter is thankfully brief.

Benson Fong as "Tang Wu." No Engrish (thankfully), but still something of a stereotype.

It has a lot of soundstage, matte painting, and green screen effects, but it is pretty well done for the time and doesn't come off as cheap.
This totally unnecessary gag is still pretty good.

Where can you watch it?

"The Love Bug" is currently streaming on Disney+. Give it a watch: It's a great film for the family.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Million Dollar Duck

I seriously doubt that this dud cost $1,000,000

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Million Dollar Duck" (Disney, 1971). Hapless Professor Albert Dooley (Dean Jones) isn't happy.

"I'm not happy."

He's behind on his bills, his house is falling apart, his car is a clunker, and his wife, Katie (Sandy Duncan) seems to be trying to poison him with her home cooking.
Betty Crocker, she ain't.

He can't even afford to buy a puppy for his son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery) let alone feed one.
"But dad, I'm pulling on your heartstrings!"

Things take a turn when one of his behavioral science experiments, a duck his contemporaries believe is stupid and weird, gets zapped in a radioactive experiment.
"This duck is stupid. And weird."


Bringing the duck home and giving it to Jimmy, who affectionately names the female duck "Charlie," Albert inadvertently discovers that the waterfowl has been gifted to lay eggs that have a solid gold yolk on command (the trigger is a dog barking).
"My precious!"

Enlisting the help of his friend, a semi-sleazy lawyer named Fred (Tony Roberts),
It's like a legal drama, for kids!

Albert must try to find a way to solve his monetary problems with his newfound windfall while avoiding the watchful eye of his unfriendly neighbor and U.S. Treasury Agent, Finley Hooper (played by Joe Flynn, who has been popping up in a lot of my reviews of late)

and his hardnosed boss, Rutledge (James Gregory).
"Ha ha ha! I'm so unlikable."

In summary

This is yet another goofy late 60s and early 70s film from the Walt Disney company.

Welcome to duck hell!

It has all the hallmarks of the time: Dean Jones, an animated intro credit, Dean Jones, a very low-budget production, Dean Jones, green screen matte effects, Dean Jones, an animal costar, Dean Jones, an ending car chase, Dean Jones, a family friendly moral of the story, Dean Jones, and all of it starring Dean Jones!
"Seat belts? Where we're going, we don't need... Seat belts!"

Interesting bit of trivia. This is the last movie filmed by Sandy Duncan before she had the surgery that cost her the sight in her right eye. I don't know why I find that interesting.

A lot of bad to go around

This movie is undeniably a bust. It doesn't have enough of the cute animals doing cute things that these films usually rely on: The duck is more of a prop than a character, the actual characters have little more to do than act in their own selfish self-interests, the moral of the story is painfully obvious from the first golden egg, and the whole thing seems like a pointless waste of your time.

Hitchcock's "Vertigo," this isn't.

Think I'm being harsh? This is allegedly one of the three films that famous movie critic Gene Siskel (a guy who watched THOUSANDS of films in his career) walked out on.
He probably didn't stay for the (tacked-on) car chase at the end.

You can watch it with your kids, but they will probably be bored any time the duck isn't on the screen -- there's just not a lot here to like.

"I'm radio*QUACK*tive, radio*QUACK*tive!"

Where can you see it?

"The Million Dollar Duck" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Strongest Man in the World

Now You See The Strongest Computer in Tennis Shoes in the World

What is it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Strongest Man in the World" (Disney, 1975). Medfield College is in dire financial straits yet again. We join Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) as he is being informed by Regent Dietz (Harold Gould) that he is to be replaced with someone who can bring the school back in the black.

Pictured, Harry Gould, classy as ever.

The slimy Higgins convinces Dietz that he has a plan and needs thirty days to bring it to fruition.
Our hero. Seriously.

Meanwhile, the science class of Professor Quigley (William Schallert) is busy trying to create a dietary supplement for cows to increase their strength, appetite, and milk production.
Can confirm: Cows are very pet-able animals, but not very lap friendly.

A formula being developed by Richard Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) doesn't seem effective…
The brains of the operation. You would be forgiven for thinking it was the dog.

until a lab accident laces his vitamin-enriched cereal with another formula developed by his fellow seventh year student (at the four year college) Dexter Riley (Kurt Russel) -- then whoever eats the cereal becomes superhumanly strong for a brief time.

Suddenly, Higgins gets the idea to sell the formula to the Crumply Crunch cereal company, headed by the powerful Harriet Crumply (Eve Arden) and her nephew, Harry (Dick Van Patten).
Yeah, and keep those legs crossed!

Harry Crumble: Totally innocent and not the bad guy. Probably.

After a demonstration Harriet is keen to purchase Higgins' formula, but warns him of corporate spies from the Krinkle Krunch cereal company, headed by the devious Kirwood Krinkle (Phil Silvers).
Is Phil Silvers ever actually not funny?

A bitter spy game ensues, resulting in a weightlifting competition between the two cereal companies' chosen teams. Can the Medfield college misfits rediscover the secret formula and save the college?
Will Medfield beat the state team?

Not without some disturbingly disfiguring injuries at least.

This is the third and final film in Disney's Dexter Riley trilogy. It's notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was actor Joe Flynn's final role (he died of a heart attack a year before the film was released). It has a lot of callbacks to the two previous films, "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (1969) and "Now You See Him, Now You Don't" (1972), and much of the cast (although the college students around Russel and McGreevey rotate every film).

Can confirm: Tennis shoes! Or maybe trainers. Whatever, I'll take it.

Not positively positive

It's your typical goofy 1970s teen film, with nary a scent of bad language or sex to be found (well, there is one "it's not the size but what you do with it" joke, but that's as raunchy as it gets here). There is a bit of violence near the end with a rather well-choreographed fight between a superhuman Dexter Riley and the gang of returning villain A.J. Arno (played once again by Caesar Romero).

I never realized just how tall Romero was in the "Batman" show.

It's not bloody or anything, but it is surprisingly action movie violent for such an otherwise benign film, so if you're trying to wean small children away from that, don't watch it with them.
Dick Van Bowling Ball.

It has problems

There's other problems with the narrative, most glaringly, for a film in the "Dexter Riley Trilogy," there's surprisingly little of Dexter Riley.

"What am I doing with my life?"

I can't find any information on why Kurt Russel is absent throughout MOST of the film, but he's basically just there for the inciting incident (as with all of these films) and shows up to save the day at the end.
Less of a car chase and more of a race against the clock.

As such, there's no direct hero in this film, unless you count Dean Higgins, whose antics we follow throughout most of the film. I welcome this, as Joe Flynn is hilarious, and watching his skeevy dimwitted character bumble his way through much of the film is a nice change of pace. Also, shouldn’t Dexter and Schuyler be doctors or professors by now? They've been in college since at least 1969 (at least there's a joke to this effect in the movie if you catch it).
Dexter Riley... Not the hero we need.

Where can you watch it?

If you want to watch the Dexter Riley Trilogy, well… You're out of luck. But if you want to watch the first film and the last film, both "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" and "The Strongest Man in the World" are streaming on Disney+. As for "Now You See Him, Now You Don't?" Well… you don't.