March 11th, 2009

THE FROZEN GHOST (1945) **

The Inner Sanctum was a series of mystery novels that eventually became a popular radio program.  It was only a matter of time before Hollywood got a hold of the franchise.  Universal Pictures produced six Inner Sanctum Mysteries in all, with The Frozen Ghost being the fourth in the series.

 

Usual Universal utility man Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Gregor the Great, a famed hypnotist who inadvertently kills a man with his mind during a stage performance.  After all of the negative publicity, he leaves his sidekick (and fiancée) Evelyn Ankers to find solace in a spooky wax museum.  The proprietor ends up dead and of course, Chaney is blamed and has to clear his name. 

 

The Frozen Ghost is a watchable enough hour-long programmer that benefits from a strong cast.  Chaney is a lot of fun and I enjoyed seeing him paired up yet again with his Wolf Man co-star Ankers.  The supporting players were equally fine with Martin Kosleck putting in a great turn as the nuttier-than-an-elephant-turd wax museum worker with a shady past.  Douglass Dumbrille also did a good job as the Shakespeare spouting detective who helps Chaney nab the real murderer.

 

Overall, The Frozen Ghost is pretty atmospheric but it gets far too predictable as it goes along.  Although the wax museum sets are appropriately cool, what happens there isn’t really all that interesting.  Even though the movie more or less shoots its wad early on, if you’re a Chaney fan (like me), his performance alone is enough of a recommendation.

MIDWAY (1976) * ½

Midway is a star-studded account of the famous WWII battle.  In the opening crawl we’re told that “whenever possible”, we’ll be seeing “actual film shot during combat”.  I guess by incorporating lots of stock footage, the filmmakers were trying to sucker their audience into thinking that they were getting an authentic looking movie.  More than likely, using old newsreel footage was a lot cheaper than creating new special effects.  The use of real footage from WWII is somewhat justified in a way, but how come the film is also filled with footage from other WWII movies such as Tora!  Tora!  Tora!, Away All Boats, and Battle of Britain?  Why isn’t there another crawl that says, “Sorry folks; but we were too cheap to film any new action scenes for our movie.  As a small consolation, please enjoy these scenes from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

 

I know I probably should give some sort of plot summary for this flick, but it’s kinda difficult.  Here it goes:  A bunch of movie stars in Naval uniforms stand around on boats and react to stock footage.  There, that about sums it up.

 

Seeing such A List talent such as Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Hal Holbrook (who always wears a robe like he’s Hugh Hefner or something), Glenn Ford, and Robert Mitchum being mingled in with a lot of blurry looking stock footage that looks like it came from one of those Winds of War documentaries is a little discombobulating to say the least.  Also, all the major players get little titles of their character’s names under them when they first appear, so we know who’s who.  Seriously though, do I really need to know that Charlton Heston is playing so-and-so?  Isn’t it just enough to get a kick out of seeing Big Chuck kicking some Oriental ass?

 

Most of Midway is turgid and boring and the stock foot... err… action isn’t all that great either.  There’s also an especially gratuitous subplot about Heston’s son falling in love with a Japanese girl that bogs the pace down and seems out of step with the rest of the film.  I can’t say that I was ever once remotely emotionally invested in what was going on, but the endless parade of familiar faces kept me watching, if only to see who would turn up next.  I mean I can’t find it in my heart to give One Star to any movie that has Magnum PI and Ponch fighting against Mr. Miyagi and Sanjuro the Bodyguard.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (1958) ** ½

Russ (West Side Story) Tamblyn stars as an undercover cop posing as a teenage marijuana dealer (making this the 21 Jump Street of it’s day) who is out to bust the drug trade at an All-American school.  He moves in on the teenage gang (called “The Wheeler-Dealers”) led by John Drew Barrymore and eventually has to shoot heroin to prove he’s a real juvenile delinquent. 

 

Directed by Jack (The Creature from the Black Lagoon) Arnold, High School Confidential is a campy and entertaining juvenile delinquent movie.  It’s got more than its share of lulls and while it’s not great or anything, how can you possibly not like a movie that contains:

 

  • Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano and singing the title tune on the back of a pickup truck.

 

  • Mamie Van Doren as the sexed-up auntie who tries to seduce her juvenile delinquent nephew.  (“Relatives should always kiss each other hello and goodbye!”)

 

  • Marijuana dealers that would look at home in Reefer Madness.  (“I’m grazing for grass!”)

 

  • Terrible beatnik poetry.  (“Tomorrow is Dragsville.  Tomorrow is a King-Sized Drag!”)

 

  • Michael (I Was a Teenage Werewolf) Landon as a drag racer.

 

  • Jackie (Uncle Fester!!!) Coogan as a heroin pusher.

 

  • Lyle (Plan 9 from Outer Space) Talbot as a square-jawed policeman.

 

  • More slang than you can shake a stick at.  (“Can you dig it?”)
     

ORCA (1977) ** ½

When scuba diver Robert Carradine falls overboard, a Great White Shark comes after him looking for a hot lunch.  Luckily, he’s saved by Orca, the Killer Whale who rips that shark a new one.  Man, this scene is great.  What makes it so entertaining is that you can almost hear producer Dino (King Kong) de Laurentiis off screen saying, “Hey folks, did you see that?  Our Orca can eat Jaws!  Aren’t you glad you paid your money now?”

 

Well basically what happens after that is salty seaman Richard Harris kills Orca’s girlfriend and Orca goes all kind of Charles Bronson on poor Dick.  First, Orca jumps up on the boat and eats Dick’s first mate (Keenan Wynn).  Then the whale fucks up all the boats in the harbor, except for Dick’s, which clearly means “Get your ass out in this ocean and fight me, bitch!”  But Dick is too smart for that shit and he wisely stays on dry land to avoid getting turned into Orca Chow.  However, Dick knows what the audience wants to see, and after a lot of standing around and squinting, Harris finally says, “Let’s tussle”. 

 

Everybody claims that this is a rip-off of Jaws but it’s more or less a rip-off of Moby Dick, except that it’s the whale that’s pursuing the sailor.  If anything, it was Jaws the Revenge that ripped off this flick, so Dino should be the one suing Universal Studios.

 

Man this movie is dumber than a can of tuna fish but I got a few of chuckles out of it.  The scene where Orca has a funeral for his girlfriend (complete with whale pallbearers) is some of the most batshit insane filmmaking I’ve ever seen.  And then there’s THE scene.  You know which one I mean.  The one where Orca bites off Bo Derek’s leg.  That shit is classic.  Then there’s the tasteless scene where Harris hangs Orca’s girlfriend upside down and the fetus of her unborn whale baby spurts out her cooch and plops onto the deck.  That’s great, but the reaction shot of Orca roaring in slow motion is what really made me crack up.

 

Yeah, the scenes where Harris (who looks like a disheveled Paul Hogan in this movie) does a lot of contemplating on dry land are excruciatingly slow.  Yeah, Charlotte Rampling’s irritating narration seems like it came out of a Harlequin Romance novel.  Yeah, Will Sampson’s Wise Old Indian shtick is pretty damned annoying.  (I think it’s an unwritten rule that every Killer Whale Movie needs a Wise Old Indian.  Remember the Free Willy movies?  They all had a Wise Old Indian in them.) 

 

You know what though?  All that doesn’t really matter.  You’re not watching a Killer Whale Movie for that shit.  You’re watching it to see Orca fuck people up.  In that respect, the film rocks; it’s just too bad that Harris is only in the water for the first and last 20 minutes of the movie.  Once Orca gets him out on that iceberg though… look out! 

 

And just wait until you hear the closing theme, “My Love, We Are One”.  HYSTERICAL.  And you thought Michael Jackson was the only one weird enough to write love songs for whales. 

 

AKA:  Orca:  The Killer Whale.  AKA:  The Killer Whale.

DETENTION (2004) ***

It’s somewhat comforting to know that even in the 21st century; people can make a good Die Hard rip-off.  It should come as no surprise since the film was co-written by Paul Lynch, the man who directed No Contest, the best Die Hard rip-off ever made.  This one also adds in elements of The Substitute, as the hero (Dolph Lundgren) is a teacher with former military training (yes, there is a flashback) who is trapped in school after hours who must fend off an onslaught of machine gun toting bad guys.

 

The high school setting is put to good use as Dolph makes explosives in chemistry class, builds a makeshift iron chariot of death in metal shop, and when a helpful student steals a car from the auto body class.  Director Sidney J. (Iron Eagle) Furie (who re-teamed with Dolph the next year for Direct Action) really knows how to film the action and gives the flick a pretty big scale, even on an obviously low budget.  I particularly liked the scene where the paraplegic kid in a motorized wheelchair was chased in the hallways by a bad guy on a motorcycle.  Dolph really comes off well here and gives another great performance, although the claustrophobic setting doesn’t give him much of an opportunity to use his trademark Kung Fu skills.

 

What really knocks the flick down a notch is the thoroughly annoying villains.  The main bad guy shamelessly overacts and his henchmen look like they came out of a Troma movie.  They also have an extremely idiotic work method as they usually enter rooms guns-a-blazing, wasting hundreds of bullets.  When they reload, it gives Dolph plenty of time to disarm them and kill them.

 

These shortcomings are easy to forgive because the dialogue is borderline brilliant.  There’s a great scene early on in the film when a drug dealer tries to step up to Dolph.  The cool-as-a-cucumber Dolph says, “I teach Physical Education and History.  This is Physical Education [Punches the dude in the face] and you’re History!”  But it’s the annoying villain who gets the best line of the flick when he tells his underling:  “I’m going to fuck you up the ass with this gun and from the look of things; you’re going to like it!”