July 13th, 2009

PSYCH-OUT (1968) **

Jack Nicholson stars as a hippie named Stoney who along with a couple of pals (biker movie staple Adam Roarke and The Mack’s Max Julien) helps a deaf girl named Jenny (Susan Strasberg) find her drop-out acid-head brother (Bruce Dern).  Another hippie (Dean Stockwell) gives Jenny a powerful form of LSD called STP and it causes her to trips balls and wander around Haight-Ashbury.  That means that Stoney has to go find HER while she’s looking for her brother.


So basically the whole movie is just a bunch of stoned out of their gourd hippies looking for other stoned out of their gourd hippies.


I have a low tolerance for hippies as it is so the soft focus scenes of hippies frolicking around while being high as a kite didn’t do much for me.  The barest minimum of plot didn’t help matters any either and the hippie characters were all thinly sketched.  The cheesy kaleidoscopic faux trip sequences were pretty annoying and mostly just served to pad the running time.  Also, the random ass downbeat ending is more or less just there to remind you that “Drugs are bad”.  (The flick was produced by Dick Clark after all; not the kind of guy who would condone illegal substances.)


The music is also pretty lame.  At one point Jack plays some fake Jimi Hendrix music; which is kinda hilarious.  Oh well, at least you get to hear Strawberry Alarm Clock sing “Incense and Peppermints” two years before they were in Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.


The only real reason to watch this flick (unless you’re an old hippie trying to remember what the heck happened in the 60’s) is the cast.  Nicholson (who also helped concoct the story) is decent in the starring role and it’s funny just to see him wearing a ponytail.  Psych-Out may reek of hippie bullshit, I still say any movie that features Nicholson, Dern, AND Stockwell is worth checking out at least once.  I also had fun spotting future directors Henry Jaglom, Bud Cardos, and Robert Kelljan in small roles as well.


There is one great scene however.  It comes when Jaglom takes a bunch of acid and has a major freakout and imagines all of his friends are zombies.  Then he tries to hack off his own hand with a band saw.  If director Richard (The Stunt Man) Rush put a couple more of these cool touches into the flick, Psych-Out might’ve kicked a little ass.  Unfortunately, it’s just kinda whatever.  Rush also directed Hell's Angels on Wheels the previous year, which featured a lot of the same people.


John Wayne plays a hardass squadron leader with a heart of gold that leads his men into a bunch of dogfights against the Japanese during WWII.  In the air, he battles a bunch of blurry stock footage.  On the ground he butts heads with his second-in-command (Robert Ryan).  Meanwhile, his ragtag team of pilots…


Fuck it.  Flying Leathernecks is just like every other goddamn John Wayne WWII movie, except it’s not as good.  It features every single goddamn war cliché in the goddamn book and features more goddamn stock footage than you can shake a goddamn stick at.  Producer Howard Hughes probably thought that by filming this flick in eye-popping Technicolor that no one would notice all the tiresome clichés and predictable goings-on.  Boy was that rich fucker ever wrong.


The flick was directed by Nicholas Ray, who went on to helm the immortal Rebel Without a Cause.  His heart must’ve not have been in this one because it’s dramatically flat as a pancake.  Even Wayne seems to be on cruise control.  Wayne sleepwalks through his all too familiar role and never imbues his character with the brawny machismo you’d expect from The Duke.  No one else in the cast has half the screen presence that Wayne does so he’s pretty much the whole show. 


That said; bad John Wayne flicks are still better than good flicks starring lesser movie stars.  I’m a Wayne completist, so despite the film’s many, many, many flaws; it still managed to keep my interest for the most part.  The Duke went on to star in The Quiet Man the next year.  

ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) ***

Tumak (Victor Mature) is a member of the warring “Rock People” who gets separated from his tribe after he gets conked on the head.  He gets taken in by the “Shell People”, a peaceful lot of folks and adopts their ways.  Tumak also falls in love with a hot Wilma Flintstone looking chick (Carole Landis).  Eventually Tumak brings both the Rock People and the Shell People together and they learn live in harmony.  Their bliss is short lived however once a volcano erupts nearby.  The catastrophe causes them to run for their lives and find a new place to call home.


I’m not going to say that One Million B.C. is a classic or anything but it’s definitely goofy fun.  I have an admitted weakness for movies in which the entire cast is draped in fur pelts, eat big slabs of meat roasting over a spit, and speak in inarticulate grunts and growls so I may like this one more than most of you out there.  I’m also a sucker for a good rubber dinosaur movie too.  There are also REAL lizards that are photographed to look like they’re enormous so if you like those kinds of dinosaurs, you’ll dig this movie as well.  (Don’t you just love it when a movie has something for everybody?)


The effects are really good and must’ve wowed them back in ’40.  Although the giant lizards are pretty funky looking, the special effect dinosaurs look fairly convincing.  We get a very cool baby triceratops and a decent T. Rex in there too.  The Wooly Mammoth is basically just an elephant wearing arts n’ crafts hair but that’s okay.  I mean YOU try to apply fake hair to an elephant. 


The scenes of natural disasters are equally impressive.  I particularly liked the scene where the lizards got trapped in an earthquake.  The coupe de grace though was the scene where the cave people got engulfed in the cascading lava flow.  Man that was cool.


One Million B.C. isn’t all sunshine and roses though.  There’s a blatantly stupid opening scene where some schmuck in a fake beard tells an idiot in ridiculously short shorts all about the cave people before the movie starts.  The flick also takes its sweet time to end too.  (The volcano erupting should’ve been the climax.)  All of that really didn’t bother me too much because One Million B.C. gave me enough cool dinosaurs for my dollar to make me happy.  Plus, you also get the great Lon Chaney Jr. as a hideously scarred caveman, so how can you possibly go wrong?


AKA:  Battle of the Giants.  AKA:  Cave Man.  AKA:  Man and His Mate.  AKA:  The Cave Dwellers.


The Duke himself, John Wayne stars in his first film as Stony Brooke, the leader of The Three Mesquiteeers.  This time out Stony, Tuscon Smith (Ray “Crash” Corrigan), and Lullaby Johnson (Max Terhune) are riding on the range trying to put the kibosh on some dirty spies who are trying to smuggle deadly poison gas.  Stony naturally finds time to romance a purdy little lady, who also happens to be an undercover government agent trying to nab the criminals.


I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again:  I love these old school John Wayne B Movie westerns.  They usually run just under an hour and pretty much get right to the point.  Most of these flicks generally have the same plot (Wayne is wrongly accused of murder and has to clear his name) but this flick is unique among these low budget oaters.  Yeah, sure Wayne gets wrongly accused of murder and has to clear his name, but Pals of the Saddle is still the only western that I can think of that mixes cowboys and foreign spies, I’ll give it that.


Now Pals in the Saddle has its share of faults to be sure.  The middle portion of the flick is draggy despite the scant running time and the love interest isn’t nearly as interesting as most of Wayne’s leading ladies.  Luckily, the climax is explosive (literally) and features some solid stunt work.  


The young(ish) Wayne carries the film nicely and his star power is evident.  Corrigan lends fine support and Terhune provides the so-so comic relief, which means he unfortunately carries around a ventriloquist dummy a lot.  Wayne went on to play Stony seven more times; the next being Overland Stage Raiders.


Pals of the Saddle lands itself on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1938 at the Number 5 spot; sandwiched in between The Invisible Menace and Terror of Tiny Town.