July 14th, 2009

ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953) **

John Wayne stars as the captain of an airplane flying over Greenland.  When the wings freeze over, Wayne is forced to make a crash landing on the uncharted frozen tundra.  Exposed to subzero temperatures and low on supplies, Wayne and his men fervently try to reach their base to order a rescue but since they are in the middle of nowhere, their signal is much too faint to be heard.  Pretty soon, the men start losing their marbles (one guy goes out hunting and never comes back) and it’s up to Wayne to keep everyone sane.

 

Like most movies that involve people awaiting a rescue, Island in the Sky loses a lot of tension whenever it cuts away from the stranded passengers.  I suppose we HAVE to see the rescue team try and do their thing, but the drama on their end isn’t nearly as involving as the drama concerning Wayne and his crew.  (Seriously, did we really need the protracted scene where the fat dude spends time swimming with his kids before going off on the rescue mission?  Look, there’s a bunch of guys who are going to freeze to death and all you can think of is doing laps at the YMCA!)  There’s also some really stupid comic relief involving a rescue pilot that doesn’t want to get out of bed that seems out of place given the desperateness of the situation.  Not to mention the superfluous Rod Serling-esque narrator who gets on your nerves PDQ.

 

Although fatally flawed in several areas, Island in the Sky benefits from a stellar performance by Wayne.  His mannerisms aren’t as broad and showy as they usually are and he essays his role in a realistic way.  In short, he’s actually “acting” in this one and not just playing himself like he normally does.

 

Assistant Director Andrew V. McLaglen later went on to direct Wayne in five movies including Chisum and Cahill:  U.S. Marshal.  

KELLY’S HEROES (1970) **

During World War II, a private named Kelly (Clint Eastwood) learns about a secret Nazi bank filled with $16 million in gold bars from a drunken Kraut.  He goads his tough-talking superior (Telly Salvalas) into getting their outfit together to blow up the bank and swindle the loot.  Meanwhile a glory hungry general (Carroll O’Connor) learns about the team’s illegal mission and follows in hot pursuit.

 

I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this movie.  On one hand the war scenes are solidly done and lots of stuff blows up real good.  On the other hand, Kelly and his Heroes never really become fully fleshed out characters so it’s difficult to root for them.  The movie is also way too long for it’s own good.  An inflated running time can be good for a star-studded war movie (like The Great Escape or The Dirty Dozen), but that’s because it gives you time to care about the characters.  In Kelly’s Heroes, director Brian G. Hutton (who also directed Clint in Where Eagles Dare) spends more time on unfunny gags and bizarre side business.  I was able to down a few beers while watching the flick and that didn’t even help. 

 

Even though the opening scenes hold potential, Hutton’s pacing is slower than a constipated turtle and the flick wears out its welcome pretty quickly.  Hutton tries in vain to be irreverent and goofy (at one point Clint walks into a gunfight while fake Fistful of Dollars music plays) and fails miserably.  I guess he was trying to go for a MASHy kind of vibe but it doesn’t really work.  All of this would’ve been worthwhile had the flick actually been funny but Kelly’s Heroes is woefully short on laughs.  I guess that makes it the 1941 of its day.

 

I like just about all of the cast members… in other movies.  Telly Savalas probably fares the best but that’s mostly because he just more or less plays himself.  Don Rickles is OK I guess but he’s never allowed to really shine.  Although I like Donald Sutherland, he’s pretty annoying in this movie.  He basically plays a hippie, which is kinda odd because THEY WE’RE INVENTED FOR ANOTHER 25 YEARS!  (The hippie theme song is also perplexing considering the time frame of the movie.)  Harry Dean Stanton, Stuart Margolin, and Jeff Morris are also in there too; it’s just a shame that they are never given enough screen time to become real characters.

 

Clint ekes by on his considerable charisma but I think the real problem lies with the Hollywood studios.  With this flick and Paint Your Wagon, Hollywood was seemingly trying to tame Clint by putting him in cutesy/goofy/weird movies that (I can only imagine) would soften his edge and show his “range”.  Clint’s steely eyed performance is just about the only thing worth a flip in this flick, so die hard Eastwood fans may still enjoy it.  For everyone else, it’ll be a chore to sit through the film’s bloated running time.

 

Future director John Landis was a production assistant and stuntman for the film and frequently uses actors from the flick for his movies.

CAREER BED (1969) **

A loathsome stage mother (Honey Hunter) will do whatever it takes to make her luscious daughter Susan (future porn star Jennifer Welles) a star.  When Susan’s boyfriend comes and tries to elope with her, Mom promptly seduces him so she won’t have anything to do with him.  She also arranges for Susan to go on dates with slimy agents but won’t let them go all the way with her until she gets a contract.  Finally, Mom trades Susan’s virginity so she can have a screen test.  In the end, Susan gets fed up with Mother and finally stands up for herself.

 

I know awhile back I told you that you should kill me if I ever rented another Something Weird movie from Netflix but I kinda forgot this one was on my Queue.  As it turns out, it’s not halfway bad.  Although it’s clunky and doesn’t know when to wrap things up, it definitely has its moments.  What puts Career Bed a notch or two above most Something Weird sex flicks from the 60’s is the twisted mother-daughter relationship.  The scenes where Mommy cruelly manipulates her would-be starlet daughter are pretty memorable and give the flick SOMETHING to hang the stilted sex scenes on.

 

I think a lot of credit must be given to writer/director Joel M. Reed.  He really wrote some truly hateful dialogue (“If you say you love her, I’ll vomit!”) and knows how to put his characters in degrading predicaments.  If he only focused as much attention on the sex scenes as he did on the plot; Career Bed could’ve been a contender.  I’m willing to give him a Mulligan on it though because it was still early in his career.  (Reed went on to direct the immortal Bloodsucking Freaks nine years later.)

 

The performances are better than the film deserves.  Hunter is suitably nasty as the bitchy mother and Welles plays the innocent virgin nicely.  In addition to Welles, you should also get a kick out of seeing a young Georgina Spelvin four years before she starred in the classic Devil in Miss Jones.  Their sex scene together is the best of the bunch.  Spelvin also appeared in Reed’s Sex by Advertisement the previous year.