Category Archives: MovieZoot Blog Posts

DON JOHNSON – “A Boy and His Dog”:
Acting Family Legacy by
Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Don Johnson Head ShotEveryone knows this actor’s tall, dark blonde hair, blue-eyed good looks, the smoky, graveled voice, and his self-deprecating humor. Known more for his TV roles than his films, Don Johnson is the man who literally helped put Miami on the entertainment map with his breakout starring role of undercover detective James “Sonny” Crockett in Michael Mann’s ground-breaking, ”Miami Vice.”

2. Miami Vice logoAfter four failed TV pilots, Johnson finally landed the role that would define his acting career — a gruff, hard-living cop chasing drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes and arms dealers on the South Florida coast. He even directed four highly regarded episodes, including one co-starring long-time love Melanie Griffith. From 1984 to 1989, Johnson’s character typically wore $1,000 designer suits over pastel colored cotton t-shirts, drove Ferraris, sported expensive Rolex watches and RayBans, and lived on a 40’ sailboat with a pet alligator named Elvis. Defining 80s television like no other show of its time, “Miami Vice” was famous for its revolutionary use of music cinematography, lavish imagery and popular music soundtracks.

3. Miami Vice Art posterDuring this peak in his acting career, Johnson also appeared in several films, including the critically acclaimed TV film, “The Long Hot Summer” in 1985, adapted from the William Faulkner novel, and the 1988 film “Sweet Hearts Dance” with Susan Sarandon. After “Miami Vice” ended he concentrated solely on his film career for many years, starring in “Dead Bang” (1989), “The Hot Spot” (1990) and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” (1991). While many films did not meet critical expectations, some have obtained a considerable cult following with his fans. During his career, Johnson worked with several legendary filmmakers including John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet and Dennis Hopper.

In 1996, Johnson returned to his first acting love, television. He developed and starred in the CBS police drama Nash Bridges with Cheech Marin until 2001. He played the title role of Nash Bridges, an inspector (later captain) for the San Francisco Police Department. In “Nash Bridges,” Johnson drove a flashy bright yellow 1971 Plymouth Barracuda convertible. In 2010, he appeared in the HBO series “Eastbound and Down.” He later was cast in ABC’s 2015 series “Blood and Oil.”

4. Don Johnson and Melanie GriffithJohnson personal life has been rocky one, checkered with failed marriages, sexual indiscretions, substance use, and legal issues. He was born in Flat Creek, Missouri, the son of beautician Eva Lea (Wilson) and farmer Freddie Wayne Johnson. He originally wanted to be a professional bowler, but after run-ins with the law at a young age, Johnson discovered acting. His big break came with the controversial off-Broadway play “Fortune and Men’s Eyes”, which was directed by and starred Sal Mineo. The play, with its realistic prison rape scene, generated significant press due to its subject of homosexuality in the arts.

After working on the stage for a while he ventured into films and television, starring in the sci-fi kinky, black comedy “A Boy and His Dog” in 1975. A MovieZoot watchlist film of the week, “A Boy and His Dog” is set in 2024 in an apocalyptic wasteland in the Southwest following WWiV. Johnson’s sex-starved main character, Vic, is accompanied by his telepathic dog, Blood, a “rover” that searches for women (to serve Vic’s carnal needs), supplies and enemies. It is based on Sci-fi writer, Harlan Ellison’s story. Even though the plot is stranger than strange, this cult classic ends up consistently on lists of the top science fiction films of all time. It is said to have served as inspiration for “Mad Max.”

Don Johnson with Demi MooreDuring the late 1960s and early 70s, Johnson had two short-lived marriages that were annulled. Johnson lived a bit of “Lolita” story with his love, Melanie Griffith. Her mother, Hitchcock “It” girl, Tippi Hedren, who co-starred with him in “The Harrad Experiment” (1973), gave Johnson permission to date her daughter despite the fact that she was only 14 and he was 22. When Griffith was 15, they began living together in a house in Laurel Canyon. On her 18th birthday, they became engaged, and in January 1976 they married for the first time, but divorced in July. In the 1980s, Johnson lived with actress Patti D’Arbanville and they had a son. He was also romantically involved with Barbara Streisand, with whom he recorded a chart-topping duet, “Til I loved You” in 1989. He even recorded his own marginally successful album, “Heartbeat.” Johnson and Griffith reunited in 1989 and had a daughter, actress Dakota Johnson, who was born October 4, 1989. He remarried Griffith in 1989, but they divorced in 1996 when she fell for Antonio Banderas. Johnson and his current fifth wife Kelly Phleger married in 1999 and they have three children.

Dakota JohnsonDaughter Dakota Johnson seems to have inherited the family legacy for acting, most recently appearing in the highly successful 50 Shades screen trilogy. She is known in the industry for her beauty, talent and professionalism. In 1999, she made her film debut in “Crazy in Alabama,” with her half-sister, Stella Banderas, playing daughters to real-life mother, Melanie Griffith. The film was directed by her stepfather, Antonio Banderas. 2010 brought her brief film recognition in “The Social Network.” Since then she has had many roles with some of Hollywood’s sexiest leading men. It is her sex-charged BDSM role of Anastasia Steele (playing opposite Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey) though for which she is most well-known, appearing in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker,” and the soon-to-be-released “Fifty Shades Freed.”

It looks like sexual subjects are part of the Johnson family acting legacy.

Watch “A Boy and His Dog” on MovieZoot.com here.

SO BAD, IT’S GOOD
Andy Warhol’s “Bad”
by John Francis

1. Andy Warhol's Bad PosterThe impact of iconic American artist Andy Warhol on today’s art, film, fashion and music can’t be overstated. Google his name alone and you’ll get more than 2 million results. He has his own page on Amazon. In fact, calling him a mere “artist” seems an injustice. He was so much more than that.

Film theorist and writer Peter Wollen described Warhol as “A filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a bandleader (if that’s the word to characterize his involvement with the Velvet Underground), a TV soap opera producer, a window designer, a celebrity actor and model, an installation artist, a commercial illustrator, an artist’s book creator, a magazine editor and publisher, a businessman of sorts, a stand-up comedian of sorts, an exhibition curator, a collector and archivist, the creator of his own carefully honed celebrity image, and so on. Warhol, in short, was what we might loosely call a ‘Renaissance man,’ albeit a Pop or perhaps post-modern Renaissance man.”

It’s hard to imagine any other artist living or dead with such an imposing resume. And Warhol didn’t just dabble in his many professions. For example, as a filmmaker he’s credited as director on almost 100 films, albeit many of them shorts or screen tests. But he did produce a number of feature films that became part of his filmmaking legacy, “Chelsea Girls,” “Heat,” “Flesh,” “Trash,” and his final film, “Andy Warhol’s Bad.”

“Bad” benefitted from a million dollar budget and a fairly known Hollywood cast, but suffered from a bizarre, over-the-top script and a neophyte director (who happened to be Warhol’s companion at the time). Critics savaged the film at the time (The Los Angeles Times film critic called it “morbid and depressing”), but it has raised its status over the years. It is a piece of Warhol art, after all. Warhol’s Brillo boxes and Campbell soup cans didn’t sell well at first either.

The film review website rottentomatoes.com gives it a 71 out of 100 rating, while IMDB rated it 6.7 out of 10.

2. Andy Warhol's Bad Carroll Baker“Bad,” rottentomatoes says, “retains its sense of underground credibility thanks to a wild story line that trashes every taboo in arm’s reach to create a memorably bizarre satire.”

Critic Dennis Schwartz, writing in Ozus’ World Movie Reviews, describes “Bad” as “This sicko black comedy is a near masterpiece in outrageous schlock shock.”

Directed by Warhol companion and film editor and Jed Johnson, “Andy Warhol’s Bad” is the story of Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker), a New York housewife who, in order to support herself, not only operates an electrolysis service out of her home. On the side she also operates a hitman-for-hire business using only women, all of whom have no hesitation in killing children and household pets.

Because of the unsavory business she’s in, she has to deal with a corrupt cop (Charles McGregor), who wants her to sacrifice one of her hit-women and arrest her so he can show that he’s actually doing something on the job.

Enter L.T. (Perry King), a good-for-nothing layabout who wants to join Hazel’s hit squad. The bodies pile up, L.T. is assigned to kill an autistic boy and a crying baby is tossed out of an apartment to splatter on the sidewalk below and Hazel realizes, too late, that her bloody business has a high price to pay. As in art and other pursuits, Warhol liked to push the envelope.

3. Carroll Baker Perry King in BadKing and Baker, being professional actors, unlike the amateurs and other hangers-on of his other films, were concerned with the script (or lack thereof) and the freewheeling, improvisational nature of the shoot.

King, told the Los Angeles Times that Warhol “makes no effort to communicate his concept of the film, but it’s a strong concept. You begin to feel it. There is a short-hand among these people. There is a very special Warhol world view here and it’s hard to define. But it will lose its edge in the professional technique.”

King went on to say, “It sounded insane to me, but you know, she was absolutely right. If you’re working on an Andy Warhol film you can’t approach it like it’s a conventional film with a beginning, middle and a end. You had to forget about the character arc. This was an Andy Warhol movie. You had to give yourself over completely to that world. You had to embrace that world and one of the things you did was to improvise everything. They didn’t want to do anything conventionally.”

Baker told Le Cinema Dreams that appearing in a Warhol film it was “like working on the moon,” and King told the Times, Warhol wanted to make a film about “bad women and incompetent men.” At this he was wildly successful.

Watch “Bad” on MovieZoot.com here.

“BARE KNUCKLES”:
When Posting “#metoo” Is Not Enough
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. #MeTooWe are living in empowering times! Since its battle cry rang out on social media in October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo has empowered millions to take back their personal and professional lives, sharing real stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Following last year’s high profile downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein amid a firestorm of sexual allegations, women in all industries from media to entertainment, education to politics, and technology to the culinary arts are finally supporting each other, speaking up and making a difference in the inequalities and injustices of the workplace.

Everyone is weighing in on this hot topic, including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a recent CNN interview, she stated she thinks the #MeToo movement is a good thing, but is worried. “Let’s not turn women into snowflakes. Let’s not infantilize women.” Rice doesn’t want us “to get to a place that men start to think, ‘Well, maybe it’s just better not to have women around.’ I’ve heard a little bit of that. And it, it worries me,” she said. When asked about her own personal experiences, Rice answered, ”I’ve never had anyone do anything that I would consider assault. But I don’t know a woman alive who hasn’t had somebody say or do something that was inappropriate at best and aggressive at worst.”

2. Harvey Weinberg photoThe entertainment industry is still rocking from recent allegations and accusations against directors, producers, actors, comedians, and newscasters alike. Pay parity also still remains an issue in Hollywood as in the rest of the world. Recently actor Mark Wahlberg decided to show his support by putting his money where his mouth is. After discovering his film co-star Michelle Williams earned a tiny fraction of his salary on reshoots for the “All The Money In The World,” he donated $1.5 million in her name to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Time’s Up, started with $13 million in donations for its legal fund, aims to lobby for legislation that creates financial consequences for companies that regularly tolerate harassment without action.

3. girl with tearsFear and ignorance are no longer an acceptable standard for behavior in the workplace or society in general. Educational institutions are getting onboard as well. The New York Times reports that “an M.B.A. education is no longer just about marketing, accounting, and economics. As topics like sexual harassment dominate the national conversation and chief executives weigh in on the ethical and social issues of the day, business schools around the country are hastily reshaping their curriculums with case studies ripped straight from the headlines.” At Stanford, they are studying sexual harassment in the workplace, while Harvard students are debating sexism and free speech. Studying psychological research, Stanford students found that more people are willing to challenge the powers that be if another person joins them. Hence, the popularity of #MeToo.

Social activist and community organizer Tarana Burke first created the phrase “Me Too” on MySpace in a 2006 campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who experienced sexual abuse. The phrase was then popularized by actress Alyssa Milano when she encouraged women to tweet it to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Millions spoke up! So there really is power in numbers!

4. Me Too SignTime Magazine recognized “the Silence Breakers” as its “person” of the year. Oprah Winfrey summed up the impact of these whistleblowers recently in a moving speech at “The Golden Globes,” which even encouraged rally cries for her possible future presidential candidacy. “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up … So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women … and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”

5. Bloody fistsWanting a better life and literally “fighting” hard for it brings us to a kick-ass film pick this week, “Bare Knuckles,” starring stuntwoman/actress Jeannette Roxborough. Based on an inspiring true story, the film follows single mom, Samantha Rogers, a stuntwoman by day and cocktail waitress by night in a rowdy, dank club. Samantha is struggling to make ends meet for her and her disabled young daughter, Milla. Facing sleazy customers and a dead-end future, she is forced to use some deft fighting skills to stop a two-woman drunken bar fight, only to be recognized by a down and out fight promoter. Martin Kove plays Sonny Cool, the fight manager, who offers Samantha a chance at “the show.” He invites her to train for the underground, illegal bare knuckles all female fight circuit where brutality and elegance mix with high stakes and deception.

6. Bare Knuckles movie posterIf you’re looking for an empowering female lead, who thrives on strength and determination and who won’t be saying #MeToo, then check out 2013’s “Bare Knuckles” on MovieZoot.com here.

JACKIE CHAN MAKES AN IMPACT EVEN WITH HIS ABSENCE
Chan’s Trademark Fight Choreography Saves “The 36 Crazy Fists”
by John Francis

1. Jackie Chan PosterMartial arts superstar Jackie Chan made (or produced, directed and choreographed fight scenes) literally hundreds of films in his native Hong Kong and other Asian countries before trying to make his mark in America.

It took Chan several years and many attempts to break into Hollywood with his films. His first Hollywood film was “The Big Brawl” in 1980 and then a minor role in 1981’s “The Cannonball Run.” The former was a flop, the latter a hit that didn’t have anything to do with Chan, but its big American stars such as Burt Reynolds, Deam Martin, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, and Farrah Fawcett.

It wasn’t until 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx,” which starred Chan and featured his trademark dazzling fight choreography mixed with his winsome, almost-slapstick humor. The film attained a cult status, especially when it was released on VHS.

What “Rumble” did was introduce audiences to this extremely charismatic figure, his incredible fight and action sequences, many of which he did himself (he did start out as a stuntman, after all), and a certain formula that Chan was able to ride throughout his successful career. The formula goes like this: star power from Chan, great action sequences, and so-so plots, character development and direction.

2. Jackie Chan's 36 Crazy FistsRoger Ebert summed up Chan’s unique appeal in his review of “Rumble” for the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Any attempt to defend this movie on rational grounds is futile. Don’t tell me about the plot and the dialogue. Don’t dwell on the acting. The whole point is Jackie Chan — and, like Astaire and Rogers, he does what he does better than anybody. There is a physical confidence, a grace, an elegance to the way he moves. There is humor to the choreography of the fights (which are never too gruesome). He’s having fun. If we allow ourselves to get in the right frame of mind, so are we.”

That mixture was fully evident in Chan’s biggest box-office successes, the three (so far, talks are under way for a fourth) “Rush Hour” action comedies with comedian Chris Tucker. The first in 1998 made $130 million at the American box office alone. “Rush Hour 2” in 2001 was an even bigger hit, grossing $347 million worldwide. The third was also a big hit, grossing $255 million in the U.S.

3. jackie_chanHe also teamed with another Hollywood star, Owen Wilson, for the comedy-action Westerns “Shanghai Noon” in 2000, and its sequel “Shanghai Knights” in 2003. Chan was a bonafide Hollywood star who could sell a movie on his own or paired with an American star.

But what Chan’s success also brought was his hundreds of action films he made in Hong Kong, India and Thailand. Many of them were throwaways, barely worth the film they were made on. And these films hit video store shelves in waves, many of them taking advantage of Chan’s star power, even if he was barely in the film, only directed the film or choreographed the fight scenes. The VHS boxes prominently featured his name and image.

One of those films is 1977’s “The 36 Crazy Fists,” which features Chan’s image prominently on the box/poster and his name in large letters at the top, even though Chan has a cameo role at best. He also served as fight choreographer.

IMDB’s synopsis goes like this: “A young man decides to learn Kung Fu to avenge the death of his father, a peaceful shopkeeper who was murdered by Manchurian gangsters for not paying protection money. At first he is rejected by his teachers because he is weak, but through persistence, and some help from other students and a mysterious drunk, he learns the skills he needs to avenge his father.”

Reviewers weren’t so kind to “Fists,” especially given Chan’s blink-it-and-you-miss-it appearance. But not all reviews were unkind. David Lee Andrews of www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com, who gave it a B-, said it was “so-so,” but liked it overall.

“Now underneath the surface of ‘36 Crazy Fists’ is a very cleverly constructed film that’s taken some of the characters from Jackie Chan’s early kung-fu flicks, and then amalgamated them all together into one fairly cohesive storyline. Moreover, it’s funny in places; Jovial in others. And by and large the kung-fu on show isn’t that bad either. However — as you might have guessed — where this film falls flat on its ass, is in every other department thereafter. It isn’t a bad movie. Granted, it isn’t the best one either.”

“The 36 Crazy Fists” doesn’t nearly rise to the level of Chan’s best, such as the “Drunken Master,” “Police Story” or even the “Rush Hour” series, but it can be a pleasant diversion if you don’t mind Chan’s absence.

Watch “The 36 Crazy Fists” on MovieZoot.com here.

“FISTS OF FURY”:
Anger Can Be Power
by Chris Hoey

Anger debuted as a force of human nature as one of the seven deadly sins. In opposition to peace, happiness, and joy, it seemed fated to be one of the villains of our nature. How did anger and fury rebrand itself from a vice to a virtue as civilization matured? The origins of this transformation in film and music in the past decades show anger may be more moral hero than sinister sinner.

Fist of Fury Image 1In ancient Greece, the furies tortured mortals with frustration and anger, often dooming hopeless humans to their own demise. Later anger and fury became something to rouse when you’ve been wronged. Grief is often summoned to rouse anger in order to fuel revenge so that justice can be served to the evil-doer — only then will the wronged find peace. Anger became the path of reasonable response by the innocent victims of the violence and misfortune to which humans are subject.

Fist of Fury Image 2In 1990’s “Ghost,” starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, each of the villains responsible for Sam Wheat’s (Patrick Swayze) demise are carried off to the terrors of the afterlife by shadowy creatures that seem to embody the anger of those they wronged. The furies here are friends to the fair and just, not the enemy. The audience finds satisfaction in this rough justice served to those who have done wrong. The villains know that terrors await them, but they also are helpless to fight back. They get what they had coming to them. The tables are turned.

Fist of Fury Image 3Anger as a vehicle for justice features prominently in Bruce Lee’s “Fists of Fury.” When his master dies unexpectedly, and a neighboring dojo disrespects his friends, Chen, played by Lee, sets off a series of anger-filled retribution that is the hallmark of this film. Simple insults and outright racism are among the wrongs that Lee’s furious fists right. Lee dismisses his rivals with a superhuman quality that seems to feed on the anger he feels for being mistreated.

Fist of Fury image 4Today’s cinema is also filled with superheros who conquer evil by harnessing and controlling anger. The best example of anger’s ability to bring about justice may be revealed by The Hulk. Like the characters brought to life by Bruce Lee, anger itself transforms Bruce Banner into the indestructible force for justice. Heroes who harness anger to serve justice are not sinners, but they are clever tacticians who tap into the supercharged emotion to achieve their ends.

Fist of Fury image 5Much-aligned punk rockers of the late 70s seemed to be angry for little reason. One of the most iconic bands of this breed was The Clash, who’s lyricist, Joe Strummer, wrote “let fury have the hour / anger can be power / d’you know that you can use it.”

In “Fists of Fury,” Chen knows how to use fury to restore the honor of his dead master. Bruce Lee has played an important role in anger’s evolution from a deadly sin to a force for good and justice.

Watch “Fists of Fury” on MovieZoot.com here.

LIFE LESSONS FROM THE ICONIC CELLULOID BITCH
The One and Only Bette Davis
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Iconic Bette DavisWhat can you say about Bette Davis and her devilishly entertaining career that spanned some 50 years of Hollywood’s golden age? She was called the “First Lady of American Film” and while only 5’3”, her personality was larger than life. Bold, brash and ballsy both on and off-screen, Davis became known as much for her scandalous affairs and bitter feuds with Hollywood rivals like Joan Crawford as for her Academy Award-winning acting. It was rumored she had affairs with George Brent, William Wyler, and billionaire Howard Hughes, among others. She was married four times, three of which ended in divorce, and always said that her career always came first. Her large, piercing trademark eyes inspired a #1 song in 1981, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.” She had numerous biographies written about and even penned her own story, but it was her daughter Barbara “B.D.” Hyman 1985 tell-all book, “My Mother’s Keeper,” that painted her as a ruthless bully who faked attempted suicides for sympathy.

2. Davis and HowardDavis once said “old age is no place for sissies,” though no one would’ve ever dared call her such a timid or fragile creature no matter her age. On-screen she played up her deliciously evil, sarcastic, and sardonic personality. Her powerful, outspoken, unapologetic, go-for-it-all female roles were just as devious, scheming and selfish as any male. Davis earned star status with “The Man Who Played God” (1932), known as the actress that could play a variety of very strong and complex roles. But it was the role of Mildred Rogers in “Of Human Bondage” in 1934 that would finally give her major acclaim from the film critics, but resulted in a Best Actress nomination snub.

Davis sought the part of Mildred aggressively, feeling that it could be her breakout role after years of starring in Warner Brothers films that weren’t furthering her career. She begged studio chief Jack L. Warner to let her out of her contract so she could make the film. He relented, misguidedly thinking she would fail. When her standout performance sparked Oscar buzz, Warner went on the offensive with a spite campaign encouraging academy members not to vote for her.

3. Davis and MerrillDavis fans and supporters protested though and she garnered significant write-in votes for the Best Actress nod though she lost to Claudette Colbert for “It Happened One Night.” After that incident, write-in votes were never allowed again and the academy handed over the counting of the results to PriceWaterhouse, who still does the official counting.

Davis finally received her first Oscar for her role of Joyce Heath in 1935’s “Dangerous.” The one role that got away from her was Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Warner Brothers wouldn’t allow David O. Selznick to use her unless Errol Flynn played Rhett Butler.

4. Of Human BondageAdapted from W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel, “Of Human Bondage” was a meaty role for Davis who reveled in the trashy, selfish waitress, playing opposite Leslie Howard’s Philip Carey, a club-footed young man who leaves art to study medicine. He is obsessed by the vulgar, low-class Cockney-accented blonde. He is smitten, even though she shows him nothing but disdain, repugnance and cruelty. Mildred is a manipulative, exploitative, two-timing, shrewish woman who distracts him from his studies and later more sympathetic love interests. When he proposes, she refuses and tells him that she will instead marry a salesman named Emil Miller (played by Alan Hale). The self-centered Mildred vindictively berates love-struck Philip with nasty insults proclaiming, “You dirty swine! I never cared for you, not once. I was always makin’ a fool of ya. Ya bored me stiff. I hated ya. It made me sick when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me. Ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! Wipe my mouth!”

5. Another Man's Poison PosterThe bumpy ride continues in “Another Man’s Poison,” based on a play by Leslie Sands. On the heels of their success and newfound love in “All About Eve,” Davis and husband Gary Merrill made this independent film noir feature set in an isolated house on the English Moors. Adulterous mystery writer Janet Frobisher is involved in murderous relationships. “Another Man’s Poison” is a sordid tale of murder, deception, and desire masterfully played by Davis and Merrill, one of three feature films the husband and wife made together.

Ironically, Davis’ Janet Frobisher kills her estranged husband with poison. When his bank robber partner, George Bates (played by Merrill) comes calling, Janet confesses the murder to George. As they are trying to dispose of the body, George conveniently passes himself off as the Himalayan-traveling husband to Janet’s nosey neighbor, her illicit lover and his fiancé (who just happens to be her secretary). Plot twists and turns and plenty of deception keep both Davis and Merrill on their toes. Finally, when George kills Janet’s beloved horse Fury, the only thing she truly loves, Janet plans to get rid of him once and for all. The dialogue is fast-paced and edgy, reinforcing the cat-and-mouse game the leads are playing. It’s Bette Davis at her bitchy and brutal best!

Check out both Davis films now on MovieZoot.com here.

CAN STORIES OF DEATH BE HEALTHY?
“Death in Small Doses”
by Chris Hoey

1. Lead Image Death in Small Doses image 1Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his Lady longed for power at any cost. They set the bar very high for notorious couples seeking shortcuts to the top. “Death in Small Doses” provides another twist on tales of taking the easy way. What is it that captures our attention about the idea of a trusted partner, providing the deadly poison that defeats the soul and spirit before delivering a deadly blow? Is it he betrayal? What do we love about stories of those who risk it all to get more than their fair share? What happens when a person finally finds their soulmate, but knows nothing of the darkest shadows of that mate’s soul?

History is filled with true stories of betrayal and murder. A man in Boston was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife with antifreeze-laced Gatorade. The 2000 death sentence of a California woman was upheld by the California Supreme Court when they found that her sentence was fair for the murder of her husband. She carried it out with a concoction of oleander tea and antifreeze. He was her fourth husband. There must be more to these stories than the satisfaction of justice being served. There is always an element that somewhere, someone has “gotten away with it.”

2. Norman Mailer - Death in Small Doses image 2Norman Mailer, reportedly quipped “Let’s get out of here. I think this guy is innocent. I thought we were going to be having dinner with a man who actually tried to kill his wife. This is boring,” when Alan Dershowitz described how Claus Von Bulow had not actually attempted to murder his wife with a lethal dose of insulin. Sunny Von Bulow’s story was depicted in 1990’s “Reversal of Fortune,” with Jeremy Irons playing the husband who seems so likely to have done it. By the end of the film, you are not relieved to find that he was innocent. Instead, you wonder how justice could be blind to Von Bulow’s obviously oozing guilt. Irons won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for his portrayal of the innocent man who seemed so rightly accused.

3. Richard Thomas - Death in Small Doses image 3“Death in Small Doses” adds another twisted tale of deception and disloyalty to these stories we love. Richard Thomas, of “The Waltons” plays the husband accused of killing his wife. The film plays with his fame as “John Boy,” perhaps one of the most trusted and upstanding characters in American television.  He is perfectly cast as the husband who presents evidence that his wife, who conveniently suffered from clinical depression, committed suicide. Tess Harper, plays the Assistant D.A, who is determined to uncover the truth. Harper went on to play roles in “No Country For Old Men”, 1986’s “Crimes of the Heart,” and 1997’s “The Jackal,” with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere.

4. Cain & Abel - Death in Small Doses image 4From the first fatal betrayal by Cain to the political betrayals that emerge daily from Washington DC, nothing captures the public’s attention like the intrigue of the treacherous former friend and lover. Our stories explore the depths to which greed can drive us. Maybe we love these stories because they reinforce, ultimately, our sense of what’s right and wrong. We love our stories of death in small doses to keep our sense of morality healthy.

Watch Death in Small Does on MovieZoot.com here.

MARLENE DIETRICH IN “THE BLUE ANGEL”
When She’s Just Not That Into You
by John Francis

1. Marlene in The Blue AngelCalling the great German actress Marlene Dietrich merely a temptress in “The Blue Angel” is like calling Donald Trump a divisive man.

The 1929 film, the first major German “talkie,” was directed by acclaimed German director Josef von Sternberg, who took a chance on the young actress and essentially made her (or perhaps more correctly, gave her the opportunity to become) a major international star. Sternberg later claimed that he had “discovered” Dietrich. They also became romantically involved and eventually made six films together.

“The Blue Angel” was actually supposed to be a star vehicle for German actor Emil Jannings, who was a silent film star and won the first Academy Award for Best Actor for two films, the Sternberg-directed “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”

But it was Dietrich’s magnetic personality and overt sensuousness and sexuality that took over the film and made her a star. Jannings’ career actually took a nosedive after that, particularly since his heavy German accent didn’t translate well to sound motion pictures and his later embrace of the Nazis made him a pariah in Hollywood.

2. Marlene and Emil JanningsIt didn’t help that in “The Blue Angel,” his character, Professor Immanuel Rath, at first a steadfast and self-righteous teacher and keeper of morals, especially those of his students, becomes a downtrodden, obsessed, jealous and humiliated shell of a man due to his love and obsession for Dietrich’s seductive and wanton cabaret performer Lola Lola.

His Prof. Rath goes from being a respected and admired academician to basically a roundly scorned and humiliated clown working in a cabaret, The Blue Angel of the title. Sternberg described the story as “the downfall of an enamored man,” calling the professor “a figure of self-satisfied dignity brought low.”

Lola, despite or perhaps because of, her almost callous indifference to him, takes a shine to the chivalrous educator, who doesn’t seem to care that she’s a lowly cabaret performer with loose morals and a seeming disdain for men who lust for her nightly. He’s besotted, which, of course, will lead to his eventual sad demise.

Dietrich is said to have been the prototype for the sleek and deadly “femme fatale” (fatal women) that became popular in the film noir genre of the 30s and 40s. While later femme fatales used their wiles and sexuality for nefarious ends, such as gaining money or favors, Dietrich’s Lola is not out for money or property, in fact, she doesn’t seem to have an endgame other than to string the hapless professor along and use and abuse him. Against all rationality, they actually get married, which doesn’t exactly go the way the good professor had imagined.

The late renowned film critic Roger Ebert, perhaps like many viewers of the film, found this puzzling.

“There are times when she seems fond of him, times when she is indifferent, times when she is unfaithful, and yet she has a certain stubborn affection for this pathetic figure,” he writes in his 2001 review of the English language version. “Perhaps he acts as a front for her shadow life of discreet prostitution; perhaps, in a world that regards her as a tramp, she values the one man who idealizes her.”

3. The Blue Angel PosterMatthew, a blogger with classicartfilms.com, came to the same conclusion, that “she probably was fond of him and had some form of sweet affection towards him. I also believe it was because he was one of the few men in her life who regarded her less as a tramp or a prostitute and more as a human being. There are times in which she seems to care for the professor’s feelings and then the next minute she can coldly be indifferent to them by being openly unfaithful.”

He also says that the song that Lola sings at the end of the film, “sums up her character perfectly and how she embodies the perfect all-dominant female sexual creature; a dangerous woman who can naturally move from one male victim to another, always feeling completely indifferent about it.”

The song is “Falling in Love Again,” which is used in the finale of the American version of the film because it wasn’t as dark as the German language version, which has the professor, destitute and filled with remorse, dying at the desk he used to teach from at his former school.

In it, Dietrich sings, “I can’t help it … Men swarm around me like moths round a flame … And if their wings are singed, surely I can’t be blamed …Falling in love again …Never wanted to … What’s a girl to do?”

What’s a girl like Lola to do, indeed?

Watch The Blue Angel on MovieZoot.com here.

“GOD’S GUN”:
Corralling Three Tough Cowboys to Make One Helluva Film
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. cross1976 saw the release of “God’s Gun” (also known as “Diamante Lobo”), an Italian–Israeli Spaghetti Western filmed in Israel and directed by Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer). The film starred several veteran stars famous in the Western film genre, most notably Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance and Richard Boone. Any Western that corrals the talents and charisma of these three popular actors just has to be a memorable one.

2. Lee Van Cleef 1Van Cleef plays a dual role of twin brothers, a priest-turned-vigilante named Father John and his reformed gunslinger brother Lewis. Palance plays Sam Clayton, the leader of a sadistic group of Wild West bandits and rapists, who terrorize the town of Juno City. Boone portrays an aging, drunk, ineffective Sheriff in the small town, who is unable to protect his townspeople from the Clayton gang.

The story follows Father John, who is killed trying to uphold some semblance of justice in his sleepy little town, following the invasion of Clayton’s band of criminals. One of his young parishioners vows to avenge his death, by traveling to Mexico to seek the help of Father John’s brother. Together, they return to clear the town of all the violence once and for all. Great plot executed by a great cast!

3. God's GunA Cast of Characters Like No Other
During his career, the steely-eyed, hawk-nosed Van Cleef was revered as one of the all-time great movie villains, first in Westerns and then later in action films and martial arts. He began his career as an accountant after serving in the U.S. Navy aboard minesweepers and sub chasers during World War II. He became involved in amateur theatre. His performance in the touring company of “Mr. Roberts” was seen by Stanley Kramer, who cast him as henchman Jack Colby in “High Noon” (1952), a role that brought him considerable recognition despite the fact that he didn’t speak a word of dialogue. Rumor has it that Kramer wanted him to originally play deputy Harvey Pell, but first Van Cleef would to have his trademark nose fixed. Van Cleef declined to alter his looks and played the silent gunslinger instead. In the mid 1960s, Sergio Leone cast him as Col. Mortimer opposite Clint Eastwood in “For a Few Dollars More” (1965). A new career as a western hero (or anti-hero) was launched, and Van Cleef became known as an international movie star. His career culminated in 1966 with Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” In his roles in “God’s Gun,” Van Cleef demonstrated his acting chops and ability to juggle two demanding parts with skill and finesse.

4. Jack PalanceAnother memorable character actor on television and on the silver screen, Palance was a two-time Oscar nominee and Oscar winner for “City Slickers.” Proving his vitality and humor at the ripe old age of 73, Palance took to the floor, performing a series of one-armed push-ups on stage as he accepted the Best Supporting Actor Award in 1992. The son of a Ukrainian immigrant coal miner, he was born Volodymyr Palahnyuk. His career included stints as a miner, professional boxer, short-order cook, fashion model, lifeguard, and radio repairman. During WWII, he piloted bombers in U.S. Army Air Corps. His bomber crashed, knocking him unconscious and giving him severe burns. These injuries led to extensive surgery on his face, resulting in his characteristic gaunt, pinched look. Despite the haggard and hollow-cheeked appearance of a villain, Palance always had a bit of a comical, hammy edge to his acting prowess which was even visible in his role in “God’s Gun.”

5. Richard Boone 1After being expelled from Stanford University, Boone worked as an oil-field laborer, boxer, painter and freelance writer before becoming an actor. After WWII, Boone used the GI Bill to train at the Actors’ Studio, making his Broadway debut at 31 in “Medea.” Signed to a 20th Century-Fox contract in 1951, Boone’s first feature was “Halls of Montezuma.” From 1957 through 1963, Boone portrayed Paladin, an educated western soldier of fortune, on the popular western TV series “Have Gun, Will Travel.” A master of over 50 films and numerous TV series, Boone was cast in a pretty minor role as the drunken sheriff in “God’s Gun.” While he adds a brief bit of snarling menace to the film, his performance was affected by his late-career health issues. He later died in 1981 from throat cancer. Film insiders claim that after a drunken argument he walked off the film set and left the location before he had recorded all his dialog. Hence, his voice was dubbed.

Watch God’s Gun now on Moviezoot.com here!

AMERICA’S HEROES ON HORSEBACK
Randolph Scott in “Rage at Dawn”
by Chris Hoey

1. Rage at Dawn poster copyFollowing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans felt a loss – a loss of loved ones and the brave first responders, but also a loss of the sense of our vulnerability, a loss of our identity.

Americans have always identified themselves as the strongest, the best, the owners the high moral ground. When we face a loss of identity, to whom do we look to find our national persona? We seem to have rediscovered ourselves in the Western. If there is an American identity, it can be found sitting astride a leather saddle in films like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Tombstone, Last of the Mohicans” and 2018’s “Hostiles,” as well as “Rage at Dawn,” featuring Randolph Scott.

Heroes on horseback are not new to national identities. The Bedouin warriors of the famous 1001 Nights, or Odysseus’ famous horse used to win the battle of Troy seem embedded in the human DNA. King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table provided a code for western civilization to follow. Where do we find our Knights in Shining Armor? American celluloid heroes on horseback hold a special place in our national identity.

2. Randolph Scott 2We look to the model set by the Lone Ranger when we find a righteous member of an enemy tribe – accept and form a strong partnership toward share goals. We admire the cowboy who takes on the impossible task and succeeds – giving up is not an option. We borrowed “pistols at dawn” from our British ancestors and we made it a showdown in the dusty town square outside the saloon. Our cowboys hold a mystical quality, like Curly from the film “City Slickers,” who reminds us all to focus on the “one thing.” Mel Brooks irreverently celebrated our national identity as well as our love of baked beans in “Blazing Saddles.” Our Marlboro Man helped prop up the tobacco industry in the U.S. for decades as the ideal American Man.

3. Randolph Scott 3“Rage at Dawn,” featuring Randolph Scott, highlights all the ideals of our national identity. There’s a tight family bond, but a belief in justice that trumps all. It’s a classic tale of the lone lawman versus the corrupt gang of outlaws. One lone cowboy, resolute in his righteousness, is able to infiltrate the gang that terrorizes this southern Indiana town soon after the Civil War.

4. Randolph ScottWhen the chips are down we can be sure that our hero will appear, take care of the black-hatted villain and ride off into the sunset, leaving behind a strong sense of who we are. Who was that masked man? It was all of us, more interested in seeking justice than we are of seeking celebrity and fame.

While the hero on horseback may be in the DNA of people the world over, Americans find their heroes in jeans.

Watch Rage at Dawn now on Moviezoot.com here!