The Quiller Memorandum and six more movies

I've been watching lots of movies, when I ought to be looking for a job, procuring a Washington driver's license, reaching out to old friends, or writing the great American blog post (this isn't it), so movies are all you get from me today.

Some of them are pretty good, though...

♦ ♦ ♦

Alien Private Eye (1990)

Some movies are so bad they're good, and this one starts very bad indeed, with a tough pretty-boy in a ridiculous all-white 1980s jump suit coming slowly to the rescue of a damsel in almost-comically bad-acting distress.

Everyone in the cast pulls a gun on everyone else, one gun at a time, and inexplicably there's a background actor who's pretending to be Peter Lorre, reciting dialogue swiped from The Maltese Falcon.

This was written, directed, produced, edited, and cast by Viktor (just Viktor). It's about space aliens with weird ears selling drugs, and indeed it's quite bad, but sadly it's not bad enough to be any good.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Date Bait (1960)

There's a bunch of very white kids at a root beer nightclub, but one of them is trouble and pops a switchblade. That boy is a punk and has the shakes from heroin, but he also has a tough older brother, so it might not be happily ever after for the world's whitest white boy and his pretty blonde girlfriend.

The baddies are too tough and the goodies are too wholesome, so nothing here feels believable, and the high school kids' G-rated elopement to ancient Las Vegas is just plain weird. Also, there are two original rock'n'roll songs, neither of which rocks even slightly.

Verdict: MAYBE, but only for accidental laughs.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fly by Night (1942)

This opens with an escape from the sanitarium, by a maniac who hijacks a random car, and tells the driver, "I did escape from that place, and I had to strangle a man to do it, but I am not a maniac." Then it's just one thing after another, a series of extraordinary events that happen so quickly there's no time for common sense.

It's an action-adventure that's relentlessly serious but so loony it feels like a screwball comedy. Is "screwball thriller" a genre?

I won't dangle many plot points, because the fun here is wondering what the hell could possibly happen next, but a Nobel-Prizewinner is involved, and there's time for smoochin' while we're on the lam from the cops and voluntarily headed back to the sanatorium. Why, it could happen to anybody. And remarkably, by the time it's over it all sorta makes sense. 

Co-written by Sidney Sheldon, a name associated with trashy fiction, but this ain't that. Directed by Richard Siodmak, who could make almost anything watchable; see Criss-Cross, The Killers, The Spiral Staircase, etc.

Memorable moments:

• "Alterations while you wait."

• "I'm sorry, lady, but I'm on duty."

• "I don't like to shower alone."

• "A cousin of my wife's once thought he was a chocolate eclair."

Verdict: YES indeedy do.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Get Outta Town (1960)

Notorious safe-cracker Kelly Olesen is back in town to bury his dead brother, Tommy. Kelly has never been convicted of anything and actually seems like a nice guy, but the police hate him and tell him to… Get Outta Town

He's had a change of heart and gone straight, but everyone expects the worst from Kelly. His mom hates him, he's not welcome at his brother's funeral, and when his ex-girlfriend sees him she runs in the other direction.

The mystery here is Tommy's death. The official story is that he cracked his skull in a drunken stumble, but Kelly thinks he was "cheated out of his life by some two-bit rat," and he's looking for trouble, or justice, or vengeance, but first he's gotta find the right two-bit rat, and there are so many to choose from.

I'd never heard of this movie, nor of anyone in the cast, the writer, the director… so there was simply no reason to expect anything from Get Outta Town, but old movies can surprise you, and damn if it doesn't deliver.

There's a snappy score, shadowy scenes, believable background characters, cruel cops, hard-boiled dialogue, and a bartender with a heart of gold. The lead actor, Douglas Wilson, is likable — he kinda reminds me of Jeff Bridges twenty years ago — and the movie's almost as old as I am, but it feels fresh.

Verdict: YES, on the edge of a BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Invasion from Inner Earth (1974)

A low budget for a movie isn't really a problem, if imagination and give-a-damn makes up for the missing money. Sadly, I'm not seeing either of those in this lowbrow 1970s science fiction.

People walk around like quick-footed zombies. A plane crashes. Several tough guys are quarreling, though it's unclear what they're all on about. Red lights bounce around on the walls, we're told, but I was watching and didn't really see it. Stranded in the wilderness, we make radio contact with a man who says, "It's all over. There's just a few people left, and they're going fast," which ought to get your attention, don't you think? But no follow-up questions are asked.

The acting is quite bad, the script is confusing, and the music is Ennio Morricone's classic score for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, slightly rearranged for a synthesizer instead of a symphony.

I stuck with it to the end because I'm stubborn, and because it often seemed on the verge of making sense, but the hairy guy doesn't even kiss the girl, and then there's a cosmic twist I won't reveal because I don't understand it.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The October Man (1947)

The October Man opens with a bus crash, filmed very unconvincingly. After seeing the death of a child as the bus hit either a train or a brick wall (it's not clear), one of the survivors (John Mills) lands in a mental hospital. Then, after lengthy counseling, he's discharged, and we're about five minutes into the film.

So it's a drama about a soft-spoken, rather fragile man re-learning the difficulties of dealing with pesky humans. "It's my head — I'm not sure that it's right yet." Of course, this makes him a prime suspect when a woman of his acquaintance turns up dead.

It's very British, so everyone is 'sir' and 'miss' and 'ma'am', and we're 2/3 through the flick before anyone even raises their voice. It's never dull, but takes its time getting interesting, and of course there's a nice young lady (Joan Greenwood) who believes in our not-quite-right-in-the-head hero.

Not-Quite-Right himself, though, is a rather boring nonentity — until he decides he's had enough. After that, The October Man becomes a low-key but thoroughly watchable action movie, and earns a thumbs up from me.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

A worried-looking man walks the streets of West Berlin late at night, alone. He nervously lights a cigarette, then a gunshot rings out and he's dead. George Segal plays a guy named Quiller, and he's going to write a memo about it.

This is one of those movies that intrigued me when I was a kid, but back then movies were only at the theater, when Dad took the family. It's emphatically not the kind of movie Dad took the family to see, so it waited until 2022.

It's been a generation since World War II, some young Germans are sympathetic to the Nazi view, and they're organizing. "Nobody wears a brown shirt now, you see. No banners. Consequently, they're difficult to recognize. They look like everybody else."

Alec Guiness plays a good guy, and Max Von Sydow plays a bad guy, but it's a spy movie so you can never be sure. Günter Meisner, who played Slugworth, the bad guy in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, plays a Nazi — or does he? The biggest surprise is Segal — in my recollection, he usually played light material with a smirk, but he's quite different here — serious and smart, but capable of making a mistake.

Of course, there's a beautiful woman to be seduced, but if you're not a Nazi, "You're so white" seems like an odd thing to whisper in her ear. Other than that one awkward line, though, everything hits the right note.

It's smartly adapted from a novel that must've been a page-turner, and includes several tense sequences unlike anything I've seen in Bond or other spy films. Engrossing from beginning to the thoughtfully but troublingly ambiguous end.

Verdict: BIG YES.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. I hope you can find a free way to see Gasper Noe's directorial debut, 1998's I Stand Alone. It's brutal and nihilistic but so very truthful to human nature. I mentioned it to you awhile back, so I figured I'd mention it again while you are on this movie-watching jag before real life interferes (again). Cheers, Linden Arden (still stealing the Highlights)

    1. Thanks, and on your say-so I've sought out and downloaded I Stand Alone. Haven't yet watched it, but goodness wow, the description doesn't sound like the movies I ordinarily watch. Maybe that's a good thing. Let's get out of that 'ordinary' rut...

      "The Butcher (known from Noe's short film Carne) has done some time in jail after beating up the guy who tried to seduce his teenage mentally-handicapped daughter. Now he wants to start a new life. He leaves his daughter in an institution and moves to Lille suburbs with his mistress. She promised him a new butcher shop. She lied. The butcher decides to go back to Paris and find his daughter."

    2. It's not a toe-tapper. Very dark but I found a lot of truth in the nihilism.

    3. A lot of the butcher's grousing resonates with me, but I didn't care for the follow-through.


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