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Rocky Horror Picture Show,
and six other movies

Black Belt Jones (1974)

Jim Kelly can beat down a dozen men without even mussing his afro, and he does, several times. Gloria Hendry is almost as tough, and almost as pretty. Scatman Crothers owns a karate school that sits right where the Mafia-backed city government wants to build a new development.

Sadly, Scatman is only in the film long enough to die and launch a plot of revenge, and while he's alive he's barely in a fight scene, and mostly uses a glare instead of his fists.

Kelly and Hendry are enough, though, accompanied by music you could fight or dance to, and of course that exaggerated whip-cracking sound effect for every punch and kick all through the movie.

Karate funeral! Karate train! Karate balloons! Karate car wash! Groin chop followed by (literal) ass-kick! Belly bounce! Red polyester leisure suit with stylish black, white, yellow and pink shirt! Shoot the dishes instead of washing the dishes! Trampoline ninja! "Let's go to McDonald's!" 

'Blaxploitation' action flicks came from major Hollywood studios in the early 1970s, and they were popular and presumably profitable, so why did the genre fade away? It's hard to believe there wouldn't be an audience here and now for well-made movies like this, wherein a hunky black man chop-sockeys bad guy honkies.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Neverending
Film Festival
#52

Frenzy (1972)
and Family Plot (1975)

Frenzy is a late and minor Hitchcock I hadn't seen previously, which should've been a tip-off. I've spent years of my life watching old movies, and the Master of Suspense is a staple at revival houses and video stores and now online, so if there's a Hitchcock movie that's unfamiliar to me, maybe there's a reason.

Yeah, Frenzy sucks. It's the worst thing I've seen with Hitchcock's name on it.

At a press conference announcing that the polluted River Thames will be "cleared of industrial effluents, cleared of detergents, cleared of the waste products of our society…" a droning politician is interrupted when a woman's strangled and naked body floats ashore. It's just another corpse in an ongoing series, courtesy of the Necktie Strangler, and it's the only cleverly-staged scene in the 1/3 of this movie I watched.

After that it's boring, then more boring, then still boring, but it's Hitch so you're waiting for it to get interesting. Then there's a surprisingly long and vivid rape and murder scene, and you know what? There's a ball game on the radio I'd rather be listening to.

Next is Family Plot. This was Hitchcock's last movie, and it's been on my watchlist for about twenty years, long-delayed because it's not highly regarded. After Frenzy I wanted to get Family Plot over and done with, so here goes.

No time is wasted in the opening credits, and no actors are listed, because Hitch didn't think much of actors. It's simply:
    Alfred Hitchcock's…
    Family Plot
    Screenplay by Ernest Lehman…
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
And that's it.

An old lady regrets forcing her sister to give up her bastard child forty years earlier, and hires a fraudulent psychic to find the family's exiled heir. The script is almost adequate, the story is touch-and-go interesting, and Hitch was right that the cast merits no mention.

Nothing here is scary or thrilling or suspenseful, and I failed to find a protagonist — everyone's up to no good. Family Plot's not embarrassing, but it's not top-flight or even second-tier Hitchcock.

And not to get all puritanical here, but I'll stick with the subtle Hitch of the 1930s-1960s. Given more freedom in the '70s, he added nudity and profanity, but for him they're subtractions, and it feels clumsy. Bruce Dern joking about his balls, and later rubbing his crotch against Barbara Harris's butt? Instead of stylish, it's pedestrian. Instead of witty, it's rapey.

Verdict: BIG NO to Frenzy, and NO to Family Plot.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

J. C. (1971)

Like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, this is the legend of Jesus re-imagined with rock'n'roll. Unlike the other two, though, the music is all bubble-gum pop, and the story is boring, with some clumsy Biblical allegories and stoner Jesus on a motorcycle and babbling on a hill.

"JC and his disciples were a gang of broads, bikes, and blacks," we're told, but they're mostly white men. Slim Pickens is in the credits, but if he's in the movie it was after I'd given up and turned it off.

Written, directed, produced by, and starring Bill McGaha. I don't know who he was, but my wild guess is that the McGaha family funded this movie, maybe as a birthday present for Bill.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Libeled Lady (1936)

After a newspaper prints a bogus story written by a drunken reporter alleging inappropriate conduct by a wealthy woman, the libeled lady sues for five-million dollars, which was a lot of money back then. Spencer Tracy runs the paper, and rings William Powell to frame the libeled lady, which would belatedly make the story true. Tracy postpones his wedding to Myrna Loy, and she's furious. Powell asks Jean Harlow to assist him in the ruse.

That's certainly an all-star cast, and Libeled Lady wants to be a grand screwball comedy, but it doesn't quite work. Everyone's game except the scriptwriter — all the rapid-fire delivery isn't worth a giggle if the jokes aren't funny.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

RHPS is an homage to great Hollywood science-fiction and great Hollywood musicals. Young innocents Brad & Janet (Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon) find themselves guests at the cobwebby but wondrous castle of a mad scientist and sweet transvestite, Dr Frank N Furter (Tim Curry). With the late great Meatloaf as Eddie, the delivery boy. 

It feels idiotic describing those basics, because if you haven't seen Rocky Horror Picture Show, I don't know who you are. Everyone ought to know this movie — it's based on a British play, but Rocky Horror is Americana, part of pop culture no less than baseball and The Wizard of Oz.

Only an inch under the surface of its story about the joy of sex and perversion and all that, RHPS is about accepting yourself, embracing life's bizarrities, and not judging others until you've walked a mile in someone else's skirt and high heels.

I was barely post-adolescent when I bought a ticket and saw a midnight screening at Seattle's marvelous Neptune Theater, and for me that message was needed.

From a few acquaintances I'd heard that it was supposed to be sordid, scandalous, and sexy, and that the audience was part of the show. With no internet, though, there were no easily-accessible clips, and I don't remember a review in the stately Seattle Times, so I didn't know what to expect.

Spoiler: It's astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll…

Many years later it's a different experience, watching this movie at home. I still know exactly the moments and lines to shout back at the screen, but even without the raucous crowd at the theater, it's still astounding.

Richard O'Brien wrote the play, the music, the lyrics, and plays Riff Raff (a handyman), which has to be one of the great quadrifectas of all time. According to legend, he wrote it while he was an unemployed actor, in hopes of giving himself a paid role on stage.

The music is seriously beautiful. Not every number is marvelous, but damned near, and a week after watching it the tunes are still playing in my head. "Time Warp," "Over At the Frankenstein Castle," "Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me," "Science Fiction Double Feature," on and on. If we're nominating the best albums in rock'n'roll history, there's Sgt Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon, but the RHPS soundtrack is right up there.

I've probably seen this movie 50 times, which adds up to three days of my life, and now that I have it on a thumb drive, I'll watch it more often. Sure, it's singing and dancing and kooky costumes and camp, but it's so much more. "Don't dream it, be it."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Three Steps North (1951)

Lloyd Bridges plays a tough-talking small-scale black marketeer and maybe murderer in this story of treasure buried in the wrong place. It's not much of a movie — not bad but also not good. It's also not much of a treasure — a few thousand dollars.

The movie is set in Italy but clearly wasn't filmed there, and Bridges tries but he's never quite believable as a scoundrel. Inexplicably, the soundtrack includes a serious classical guitar rendition of "Yankee Doodle Came to Town."

Verdict: NO.

— — —

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6/18/2022 
 
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.  


2 comments:

  1. Rocky Horror Picture show. Man, you may or may not remember this about me, but I hate musicals. Stuff 'em all. Except for this one. Everything you said is true. It is unironically one of my favorite movies. I saw it in college, when I was maybe 18-19. I was not really who I am now, 30 years later. I pretty much loved it straight away. I ran out and bought the soundtrack box set of 4 CDs. One was the film soundtrack, one was the original theater cast, and a couple more. They were fine, but all I ever really listened to in depth was the movie soundtrack.

    I swear, if CDs had physical contact with a stylus, like a vinyl record, I'd have worn the grooves out. It is without question my favorite soundtrack. Like you, I still know all the words, all the audience lines.

    Great stuff!

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Frenzy - I saw it when I worked at Video Wave, maybe late 90s. I remember feeling dirty, the movie was trashy garbage. Agreed that it's the worst Hitchcock I've seen, by a mile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I won't try talking you into liking musicals, but you know I love a lot of them. I will drop everything and watch The Music Man any time it's on TV, but since I don;t have a TV I don't know what time that might be.

      Delete

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