Category: Forgotten Classics

Steven Spielberg’s lost film SOMETHING EVIL

Published December 24, 2011

As I have stated elsewhere on this site, I have a passion for the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.  More than any other storytellers, these two gentlemen have not only provided me with thousands of hours of entertainment, but greatly influenced my own writing and kept me sane during a youth spent around crazy people (… some of whom could have stepped out of a King novel).

While I have probably written more about King here (the man does have his own category), this post deals with Spielberg, and one of his lost works.

As I write this, on Christmas Eve 2011, Spielberg has two movies coming out to theaters: War Horse and The Adventures of Tin Tin.

After directing the acclaimed TV movie DUEL in 1971 – a thriller which put Spielberg on the map – the man worked a bit more in television before making his theatrical debut with The Sugarland Express in 1973, and, of course, JAWS in 1975.  But what of that TV work?  Spielberg made two more TV films during this period, Something Evil and Savage, neither of which have ever received any kind of home video release.

After wondering about these films for years, I recently watched Something Evil (1972) on YouTube, and I must say I was pretty impressed.  No, it is not as good as DUEL, but it is better than most of the offal that is passed off as telefilms.  The movie stars Sandy Dennis and Darren McGavin as a couple who buy a Pennsylvania farmhouse, and soon discover that the house is haunted by either ghosts, or demons, or … well … something evil.  Johnny Whitaker (Jody from Family Affair) plays their son (ironically named Stevie), who may or may not be influenced by these forces.

For a looooow-budget telefilm made in ‘72, this thing still packs a little wallop.  Especially considering that it was made before The Exorcist.  Also on display here are many deft Spielbergian touches – including a shot of Sandy Dennis (quite good here) as she stares through her kitchen window, and we see what she is staring at reflected in the glass.  Spielberg has used this shot quite a few times in his films, but this could be the first.  A decade later, Spielberg would expand on this story with Poltergeist.

So, in fine, rather than wax cinematic on what this all means, I will simply let you watch the film yourself.  It is posted below.  You didn’t think I was gonna write about this and not embed the thing, did ya?  Take a look – it only runs about 73 minutes – and let me know what you think in the comments section when you’re done.

FORGOTTEN CLASSICS – DEATHTRAP (1982)

Published September 9, 2010

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This series features reviews of some of my favorite films, many of which – while not forgotten – have been out of the mainstream so long, they’ve been neglected.  If I can introduce someone to a great film they’ve never seen before, my work will not be in vain.

Michael Caine is one of my favorite actors.  While James Brown was often referred to as “the hardest working man in show business,” I would argue that Michael Caine – with over 100 movies over his 60 year career – lays true claim to that title (… William Shatner runs a close second).  Among the Cockney actor’s many classic films, is the 1972 mystery/thriller SLEUTH – costarring Lawrence Olivier.  SLEUTH is not only one of Caine’s best, it is one of the best films of that particular genre ever made.  (Its 2007 remake, directed by Kenneth Branaugh, and adapted by Nobel-Prize-winning writer Harold Pinter, with Jude Law taking over Caine’s old role, and Caine stepping into Olivier’s, was one of the biggest cinematic disappointments I have ever had – what an epic waste of talent.)

Ten years after the original SLEUTH, Michael Caine returned to the mystery genre with another film based on a hit stage play: Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP.  Directed by Sidney Lumet, DEATHTRAP is a charming and intricate little thriller, one that is too often dismissed as Sleuth-Lite.  No, it is not as good as that earlier film, and never quite escapes its stage-to-screen roots, but definitely has its own unique charms.

With a plot that makes even the briefest description SPOILERIFIC, I will simply, and safely say that it involves a once-hot, but currently down-on-his-luck playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), who is in dire need of a hit.  When he is sent a new play by a former student, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), he realizes that this new manuscript is not only perfect, but that the circumstances have been laid for him to steal this play, off Anderson, and make the play his own.  When he discusses this admittedly insane idea with his ill wife (a delightfully giddy and high-strung Dyan Cannon), she is understandably dubious.  To give away more would be criminal.

Christopher Reeve, hot off the first two Superman films (and the underrated Somewhere in Time), has arguably never looked better, and actually proves himself quite adept and charismatic in this difficult part.  Watching this performance, one forgets the actor’s famous Kryptonian role, and is also reminded of why this young actor was chosen to play such an iconic superhero.  Reeve works well off of Caine, and their chemistry  … oh, but now we’re getting into spoiler territory again.

Jay Presson Allen’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s play is so good that, as a character in the movie says, “even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it.”

Michael Caine has said of his role in this film: “He’s a very successful mystery writer, with expensive tastes and a sick wife, whose macabre muse has deserted him.  He has always assumed that committing crime on paper siphons one’s hostilities.  But now, after a lifetime of vicarious murder, Bruhl finds himself fantasizing the real thing.  Even so, I kept asking myself – how do you explain his strange behavior?  Childhood trauma?  A deep-rooted compulsion?  The stigma of a name like Sidney?  No, that’s all too simple.  The answer is that he’s mad – stark raving mad!  It’s a lovely role.”

The film is available on DVD, but sadly, in a woefully bad, pan-and-scan-only 1999 issue, with NO bonus content.  This is one of the few full-screen films that I have in my library, simply because it’s THAT good, and this is the only version available.  Amazon.com is currently showing a widescreen version on their Video On Demand page.  I highly recommend checking it out.

DEATHTRAP is a definitely a forgotten classic – if you are a fan of intricately-plotted, blackly-humorous thrillers, you could do a lot worse than to spend a couple of hours with Caine and Reeve, surrounded by ancient weaponry in a spooky old windmill.

FORGOTTEN CLASSICS – TIME AFTER TIME

Published July 26, 2010

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This series features reviews of some of my favorite films, many of which – while not forgotten – have been out of the mainstream so long, they’ve been neglected.  If I can introduce someone to a great film they’ve never seen before my work will not be in vain.

In 1979, three years before director and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer saved the Star Trek franchise with his masterful second film incarnation, The Wrath of Khan, and five years after his debut novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (where Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud), he made his directorial debut with a nifty little time travel thriller called Time After Time. Meyer also wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Karl Alexander and a story by Steve Hayes.
Time After Time DVD
The story posits that British science fiction author H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds) actually created a real and functioning time machine, and intended to use it to visit what he believed would be a Utopian future. Before he can do so, however, the machine is stolen by one of Wells’ distinguished colleagues who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. When the machine returns to its place of origin, 1893, Wells pursues this deadly enemy into 1979 San Francisco.

The story isn’t much more complicated than that. While such a magical mix of reality, fantasy, and fish-out-of-water shenanigans is, of course, a great deal of fun, where this picture really shines is in the performances of its three leads. Malcolm McDowell is excellent as H.G. Wells, and one gets the idea that he is relishing the opportunity to play anything other than a villain. His “Herbert” Wells is sweet, smart, and a bit befuddled by the 20th century, never more so than when he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), a liberated currency exchange manager. The love story between this mismatched couple is quite touching and believable probably because McDowell and Steenburgen were actually falling in love on the set (they married in 1980, had two children, and later divorced in 1990). British actor David Warner portrays Jack the Ripper with the same gravitas and intensity that he has brought to many of his other roles (The Omen, The Island, Tron, Star Trek VI, Titanic, etc ).

MALCOLM McDOWELL AS H.G. WELLS
Malcolm McDowell
Since this was his first directorial effort, director Meyer stumbles a bit while staging crowd scenes and other complicated plot devices. Also, after 30+ years, some of the special effects no longer hold up. And yet this story is so winning, and the performances so charming, one can easily overlook these quibbles. Meyer chronicles the making of this movie in his very entertaining memoir The View From the Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood (highly recommended). Time After Time also received its first DVD release in the fall of 2008. While there isn’t a whole lot of bonus content on the disc, it is nice to be able to see this film in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. There is also an entertaining commentary by Meyer and McDowell.

On a side note, there is some weird synchronicity going on with this film. Meyer, McDowell, and Warner all had Star Trek in their future, but didn’t know it. Meyer, who in addition to directing Star Trek’s II and VI, cowrote Star Trek IV, which also involved time travel in modern day San Francisco. Steenburgen would also find herself in another time travel romance when she met Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, another Star Trek vet) in Back to the Future III. I don’t know what it all means, but I do find it of interest.

The original theatrical trailer is posted below – unfortunately, it is one of those trailers edited by a moron who didn’t know what the film was supposed to be about. It gives away too much, features too much slapstick, and damn near spoils the ending. Watch if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While not a perfect film, Time After Time is a little gem whose charms far outweigh its flaws – connoisseurs of time travel stories will love this Forgotten Classic. Seek it out.

FORGOTTEN CLASSICS — DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID

Published January 5, 2010

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: I’m going to start featuring reviews of some of my favorite films, many of which — while not forgotten — have been out of the mainstream so long, they’ve been neglected.  If I can introduce someone to a great film they’ve never seen before … my work will not be in vain.

When Steve Martin made his leap from the stage to the Big Screen with 1979’s The Jerk, he did so with the help of legendary writer/director Carl Reiner. These two would make three more films together, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man With Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). While all of these movies are entertaining and have their diehard fans, perhaps the most underappreciated is their sophomoric sophomore effort Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
Meant as an homage/spoof of hardboiled detective stories and the film noir classics of the 1930s and 40s, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was initially written off by many critics as a “one joke movie.” True, but when the joke is this funny, the film so lovingly crafted, the hero so charismatic, and the femme fatale (or is she?) so drop dead gorgeous, it’s hard to go wrong.

Martin stars as Rigby Reardon, a detective who has fallen on hard times, who must help a damsel in distress, Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward – never more lovely) solve the mystery of her father’s murder. Any plot description beyond that would miss the point entirely.

Twelve years before director Robert Zemekis would insert Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump into old news footage using CGI, Reiner did the same thing using only editing, old fashioned photographic techniques, and brilliant set design. Martin’s gumshoe interacts with a slew of Hollywood’s elite, including Edward Arnold, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, William Conrad, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, Edmund O’Brien, Vincent Price, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lana Turner, among others. Using clips from Johnny Eager (1941), Deception (1946), Humoresque (1946), The Big Sleep (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Dark Passage (1947), The Bribe (1949), White Heat (1949), Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), I Walk Alone (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Whirlpool (1949), and In a Lonely Place (1950), Martin is ingeniously grafted into these scenes to great comedic effect. Gimmicky? Sure … but the effect is seamless and very entertaining.

It is also very silly. Like the line that Juliet flings at Rigby, aping Lauren Bacall’s classic line from To Have and Have Not. “You know how to dial, don’t you? You just put your finger in the hole and make tiny little circles.”

RACHEL WARD AS JULIET FORREST … HUBBA, HUBBA
Rachel Ward
Or Martin’s deadpan narration with lines like:

“I hadn’t seen a body like that since I solved the case of the murdered woman with the big tits.”

“All dames are alike: they reach down your throat and they can grab your heart, pull it out, and they throw it on the floor, step on it with their high heels, spit on it, shove it in the oven, and cook the shit out of it. Then they slice it into little pieces, slam it on a hunk of toast, and serve it to you, and then expect you to say, ‘Thanks, honey, it was delicious.’ “

“Her lips were warm, and my arm wasn’t the only thing that was throbbing. Our hearts were, too. My plan was to kiss her with every lip on my face … then slowly move her to the next room, maneuver her next to the bed, marry her, and start the whoopee machine.”

There are waaaay too many others to list here.

This was also the final film of legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head. Somehow, this was an appropriate sendoff.

With four extremely entertaining films between them, it’s a wonder Martin and Reiner haven’t reunited for more. I would certainly lay down cash to see another.

For a film that is nearly 30 years old, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid has not only stood the test of time, but has seemingly improved with age. As far as Steve Martin movies go, this one remains my personal favorite.

Never seen it? If you are a fan of old film noir, or that wild and crazy guy himself, seek it out. And get ready to laugh. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is truly a forgotten classic.



FORGOTTEN CLASSICS — VICTOR/VICTORIA

Published July 16, 2009

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: It’s been a little while since I wrote up an official post for the category The Best Damn Movies EVER — originally intended to highlight forgotten classics that younger film lovers may have overlooked — yet that category has been filling up with miscellanious entries anyway. Here, however, is a true forgotten classic, one of my favorites …

After the one-two punch of 1964’s Mary Poppins (Best Actress Oscar) and 1965’s The Sound of Music (Best Picture), British actress Julie Andrews’ career struggled a bit to find its footing. Even distinguished fare like Torn Curtain, Hawaii, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Star! did little to convince audiences that Julie was more than a prim and proper nanny … a point which those first two classic films drove home. But in the late 70s/early 80s, Julie’s husband, writer/director Blake Edwards, redfined her image in three remarkable films: 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981 – infamous for a brief flash of Julie’s bosoms), and Victor/Victoria (1982). That last is the one I want to highlight here.
Victor/Victoria
Victor/Victoria, based on a 1933 German film entitled Viktor und Viktoria, tells the tale of Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews), a struggling singer in 1930s Paris who is so broke she nearly compromises her virtue for a meatball. When she meets Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston), a gay singer who is, himself, inbetween gigs, the two eventually stumble upon an idea which could solve both of their financial problems and make Victoria the toast of Paris. Since “gay Paree” is home to many female impersonaters, why not jump on ze bandwagon? Toddy convinces Victoria to disguise herself as Count Victor Grezinski, a gay, polish, female impersonator. She will, in essence, be “a woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman.” To sell the ruse, Toddy will act as her (his) gay lover.

After landing an agent (John Rhys Davies) and a gig at a popular Paris nightclub, their opening night goes splendidly. In attendance for this show are a Chicago gangster named King Marchand (James Garner), his bodyguard “Squash” (Alex Karras), and King’s moll, Norma (Lesley Ann Warren), a feisty, jealous, New Yawk-voiced, peroxcide-blonde who damn near steals this movie. King is at first very attracted to the singer onstage, much to Norma’s chagrin, but after the conclusion of the opening number, where Victoria removes her wig and reveals herself to be a man, he is horrified and Norma is thrilled. (See the entire first clip below to see what I’m talking about … hilarious!)

To reveal more would be criminal.

JULIE ANDREWS
Julie Andrews
I first saw this film during its initial theatrical run in the spring of 1982, while working at a local Denver-area theater. This was one of my first jobs and, alas, did not last long … my breaktimes were spent watching movies and time would often slip away, go figure. But even at such a young age (16 going on 17, ironic huh?) I knew this was a remarkable piece of work. Great script, great Oscar-winning soundtrack by Henry Mancini, and great performances — as much as Julie Andrews and James Garner shine in this film, and they do, I cannot praise enough the work of Robert Preston (that erstwhile Music Man) and Lesley Ann Warren. Their brief scenes together are the stuff of Hollywood legend. Sadly, we lost Robert Preston in 1987 to lung cancer. Also, Lesley Ann Warren was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role — Jessica Lange (Tootsie) robbed her of the statue.

JAMES GARNER AND LESLEY ANN WARREN
James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren
In 1995, Victor/Victoria was transpalnted to Broadway as a return vehicle for Julie Andrews — however, though running for over 700 performances, the show was much changed from the original film and received mixed reviews. Julie was also forced to leave the show after a botched surgery on her vocal chords left her without a singing voice … one of the great tragedies of our time.

But we still have the film. If you’ve never seen it, seek it out — I envy your opportunity to experience it for the first time. If you have seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is classic moviemaking and only Blake Edwards and this exceptional cast could pull it off so well. To coin a cliché, they truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Victor/Victoria is a sure-cure for the doldrums, and one of the funniest, cheeriest, most well-constructed musical comedies ever made.



The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan – Lindsay Wagner stars in a time travel classic

Published July 14, 2009

I’ve made no bones about my admiration for author Richard Matheson, and further, his indelible (and often unappreciated) influence on popular culture over the last 50 years.

I’ve also spoken of the wild crush I had in my youth for Lindsay Wagner. (For a detailed biography of her, please visit my Celebrity Profile page at Examiner.)

How am I going to tie these two together? Easy. The 1979 TV movie, The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan, was a time-travel love story regarding a woman struggling to keep her marriage alive after her husband’s infidelity. When Jennie (Wagner) and her unfaithful hubby (Alan Feinstein) move into a old Victorian house, Jennie finds an old dress in the attic. When she puts the dress on, she is transported back to the year 1899, where she meets a grieving widower, David Reynolds (Marc Singer) who mistakes her for his dead wife, Pamela. As Jennie flips back and forth between the past and the present, her husband becomes increasingly worried about her sanity, and Jennie realizes she must choose between these two worlds, before death chooses for her.
The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan
I will give away no more, save to say this story, based on the book Second Sight by David Williams, published in 1979, was obviously influenced by Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel, Bid Time Return, later filmed as and retitled Somewhere in Time. It is also obvious that writer/director James Cameron watched both of these films — the parallels to 1997’s Titanic are numerous. Regarding that, in my article Richard Matheson – a Legendary Influence, I mention that the film Somewhere in Time has its own fan club, INSITE, The International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts, that meet every year at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. On their website, is a looooong list of eerie parallels between Titanic and Somewhere in Time. I only mention this since Jennie Logan is so weirdly tied to these other two. Even Gloria Stewart, old Rose from Titanic, has a cameo as Roberta in this film.

Although I loved this movie the first, and only, time I saw it 30 years ago (yeah, it’s a chick flick, so sue me), I have searched in vain for it over the ensuing decades. Other than bootleg versions on eBay, it is not available on video or DVD. However, leave it to the miracle of YouTube to change that. I just stumbled on the entire movie (posted in 10 parts) over there, each of which was available for embedding. So, of course, I HAD to bring it over here. The video quality is not great, but it is certainly watchable. I am curious, however, whether viewers today will find this corny or trite. Regardless of its more polished and bigger-budgeted imitators (or wait, this one is an imitator, too), this is still a solid story well told. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Never seen it? A fan of time travel love stories like Somewhere in Time or The Lake House? You are bound to enjoy visiting The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan.

UPDATE 11-20-2010: Good news and bad news here, kids.  As with most good things (especially on YouTube), they pass.  This film was yanked offline, and so I deleted my video embeds.  However, Amazon now has The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan for sale under their new “burn on demand” DVD program – cover art below.  You can purchase it HERE.

THE FAMILY MAN

Published December 26, 2008

Although technically this is the day after Christmas, I just saw that one of my favorite holiday films was available for embedding — what’s a blogger to do?
The Family Man
Like a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (and I don’t hesitate for a second to mention this movie alongside those other classics), 2000’s The Family Man is one of the funniest, warmest and most entertaining holiday films of all time. (Especially of late — Elf not withstanding, do we really need more seasonal slop like Fred Claus, Four Christmases, Deck the Halls, Jingle All the Way, Christmas With the Kranks, The Santa Clause 2 & 3, and too many others humbugs to mention? Don’t even get me started on Ron Howard’s The Grinch.)

Jack Cambell (Nicolas Cage) is an investment banker who has everything. He is not a Scrooge and does indeed have a pretty wonderful life. But on Christmas Eve — not to mention the eve of the biggest business deal of his life — he has a run in with a rogue angel who decides to give this “man who has everything” a glimpse of the life he could have had if he hadn’t left his college sweetheart 13 years earlier. Waking up in a Jersey suburb with a wife, Kate (Téa Leoni) and two kids, Jack must discover the reason for this glimpse before he can be returned to the life he knows. But after learning said lesson, will he want to go back?
Nicolas Cage and Mackenzie Vega
This is probably my favorite Nicolas Cage movie — his performance here is touching, nuanced, hilarious and as over-the-top as you want it to be. As for Téa Leoni, I defy any man not to fall in love with her in this film. Fine support is offered by Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Harve Presnell and Mackenzie Vega
Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni
If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for something special.

If you have seen it, I’m preaching to the choir.


THE FAMILY MAN
Sorry about the commercials — it’s Hulu