The Girl Hunters, and six more movies

Today: Mickey Spillane plays Mike Hammer, Cate Blanchett plays a spider, a movie star plays with real lions, a bastard cop tracks a crazed killer, a farmer loves his pig (but it's not Babe), a model might be trapped by fame and beauty, and did anyone even know there's a sequel to Repo Man?

Futz (1969)
The Girl Hunters (1963)
Hell is a City (1960)
Red (2017)
Repo Chick (2009)
Roar (1981)
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966)



The best of these must be The Girl Hunters, because that's the one I already want to see again. 

Futz is the one I wish I'd never seen in the first place.

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Futz (1969)

Roger Corman is still alive but semi-retired, so nobody's making little movies these days, except amateurs and first-timers and schlock studios. That's sad, because little movies can be so fabulous. Not everything has be Marvel or Leonardo DiCaprio.

I used to daydream about running a Corman-style movie studio, and my biggest imaginary innovation was that we'd find well-written local or regional plays, buy the rights, and simply film the plays on stage. What could be cheaper than that? Pick the right play, bring in cameras instead of an audience one night or two, and there's your movie.

I'd love to see The Book of Mormon, but I'm not flying to New York and buying a $79 ticket.

Mostly, though, I'm thinking of smaller plays. In Seattle, for example, there was a local stage hit in the 1980s called Angry Housewives, about a bunch of pissed-off moms who form a punk rock band. It was delightful, ran for six years and I saw it twice, but now it's gone. They should've filmed it, and released it as a movie. I'd buy that DVD.

So I was intrigued to read about Futz.

It was a successful off-Broadway play, filmed and made into a movie. It's directed by Tom O'Horgan, who directed Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, and co-written by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the script for Psycho. Andy Warhol's fave Baby Jane Holzer has a key role. The camerawork is by Oscar-winner Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). There's talent dripping off the walls here — but this movie is awful.

It's the story of a farmer who loves his pig, and obviously it's a broad farce, but it's unfunny, uninteresting, and technically watchable but completely un-enjoyable. I made it about 2/3 through, but gave up when everyone started kissing each other and making barnyard sounds.

Google says that the stage version of Futz had a long run in New York and even toured the country, so this material must've worked in a theater, but weirdly and stupidly, they didn't film it in a theater. They shipped the whole cast kit and caboodle from New York to Stockton, California, and filmed most of this in the open air, with everyone prancing and dancing around an elevated stage amidst grass and cow turds. Why?

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Girl Hunters (1963)

Mickey Spillane wrote a bunch of novels about private eye Mike Hammer, a sonovabitch who has no patience for anyone's rights, and usually solves cases by belting people and then, maybe, asking questions.

I'd hate Hammer in real life, but in books and movies he's a very enjoyable punch in the nose. In this movie, the author himself plays Mike Hammer. He's good, and so's the movie.

Here's the set-up: There's a man dying in the hospital, and he won't tell the cops who shot him, but he says he'll tell Hammer. So the cops go looking for Hammer, and find him hammered, dead drunk in an alleyway. They drag him, unwilling, to the dying man's bedside, where soon-to-be-dead guy says he was shot by "The Dragon, no name, terrible tooth and nail."

The mystery is afoot, so Hammer gets serious and swears off the bottle, but ten minutes later he calls a buddy and tells him to come over, and "bring a sandwich and a couple of beers."

Hammer is an obnoxious ass, clearly a Republican, and maybe not Sherlock Holmes smart, but smart enough. Spillane seems to understand the character, and he's the best Hammer I've seen.

The Girl Hunters is in gorgeous widescreen black-and-white, though it comes from a company called Colorama Features. Spillane wrote the screenplay, with some co-writers, based on his novel. I read this one a few years ago, but didn't remember the twist ending. There's also cool, brassy music by Philip Green. 

Verdict: YES. Maybe even BIG YES, if you like this kind of stuff.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Hell is a City (1960)

From writer-director Val Guest at Hammer Films, this is a sharp, terse drama about an escaped prisoner who's a real bastard. Stanley Baker plays the cop, and he's a bastard, too — a hardened soul who barely tolerates his wife, or anyone else. He's clever enough, though, to guess where the prisoner will hide, and tracks him all across Manchester, ending with a great rooftop chase.

Guest is one of my favorite old-time moviemakers. His stories are British, so there's an Atlantic Ocean of culture between us, but his characters are fleshed out and feel human.

With Guest in charge of a crazed-killer-on-the-loose movie, vulnerable, sympathetic people are as likely as anyone to be killed, and maybe the movie's asshole cop will get his man, but he's not going to have a phony sentimental moment of redemption.

Never boring, never stupid.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Red (2017) 

Cate Blanchett plays a spider that mates with, then kills, male spider Alex Russel, because that's what females of the species do. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, and I don't usually even like spiders, but I liked this. It's totally weird, but it's good weird, not stupid weird like Futz.

Written and directed by Del Kathryn Barton, a newcomer but a name to watch for. Hyper but perfect music by Tom Schutzinger.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Repo Chick (2009)

This is the almost unknown sequel to Repo Man. It's far sillier and has none of the original's foreboding mood or characters. Maybe it's a mistake to even consider it a sequel. It's more a parody. 

A dim blonde from a wealthy family will be disinherited unless she gets a job, so she becomes a repo chick, and then a bunch of weird stuff happens, which may cause the President of the United States to take the whole nation vegetarian.

The story swoops around dizzily, and there's nothing I could write to make it make sense so I'm done trying. Most people will probably hate this movie, so if you're most people, stay away. But I liked it. Repo Chick unspools like a series of loosely interconnected sketches, two of which are seriously funny, but most are just WTF.

Writer-director Alex Cox is fucking with the audience, and with all your assumptions about movies. It's entirely filmed on green screen or with cheap model trains or other obviously unreal backdrops, which gives Repo Chick a homemade feel. It adds to the movie's point, that everything in modern society is built around money and big-scale bullshit and small-scale fakery. 

Rosanna Arquette and Karen Black are among the featured players, and Olivia Barash is funny as a communist who's unafraid to say it. Chloe Webb wears her hair twice as big as her head.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Roar (1981)

People are idiots, and movie stars are technically people, only with lots more money, which lets them be bigger idiots.

Tippi Hedren loved big wild animals, and imported dozens to live at her massive estate in California. That's not nuts enough, though, so she also funded and stars in this feature-length fictional film about people and wild animals living peacefully together.

Hedren's husband, Noel Marshall (badly) plays a researcher hobnobbing with lions, leopards, tigers, panthers, and elephants, but mostly lions. Wandering through a few dozen of the furry mankillers, he says, "For my studies, I have to get as close to them as possible, and actually, the closer you get to them the more they like you, and the safer you'll be." Moments later, five of them pounce on him, playfully, and he struggles to his feet, but still — you already know better than this. 

In another scene, Marshall explains things to a wisely wary black ranger, telling him implausibly that a particular lion is the nicest cat in the world.

Here's Marshall, Hedren, and their children scampering and screaming inside the house, as it's overrun with lions. Their teenage son hides in an ice chest as lions approach the kitchen. Their daughter (Melanie Griffith) hides in a cabinet. Not for fun. From terror.

All through the movie, scenes like that are played for laughs, but of course, you can't play with lions, even lions that know you and like you, without getting battered and bloodied. It's not mentioned in the movie, because it would break the illusion, but just about everyone involved in making Roar was seriously injured. Quoting a New Yorker article:

Melanie Griffith, mauled near the eye, needed plastic surgery. Hedren contracted gangrene and needed skin grafts. Marshall, mauled repeatedly, had blood poisoning. The cinematographer Jan de Bont — who ultimately directed Speed and Twister — had his scalp torn off and needed a hundred and twenty stitches...

The movie is a very strange thing to watch. All the dialogue feels fake, the story is absurd, and Marshall, the movie's leading man, is godawful as an actor. No matter what the animals do, no matter the blood everywhere, the buoyant music and direction insists that it's good clean fun, like a Disney nature travelogue. It's actually not much fun at all, unless you enjoy laughing at the sizable stupidity on display. 

I enjoyed laughing at the sizable stupidity on display.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966)

William Klein was a fashion photographer and also a moviemaker, so when this starts with the most bizarre fashion show you've ever seen, you might wonder whether it's fact or fiction. It's fiction. 

"Find the truth behind the makeup."

Polly Maggoo is a leggy supermodel, and the media can't get enough of her. Reporters follow her around, hoping to score an interview, or just hoping to score. Fans approach her on the street. A foreign prince or pervert becomes obsessed with her, sends spies to follow her, then starts following her himself. The producers of a reality-type show shadow her everywhere she goes, hoping to reveal the real Polly Maggoo. 

The real Polly is never revealed, and that's probably the point. She's a woman caught in a whirlwind, and everything about her is a blur even when it's perfectly focused, framed, and lit. The movie is a surreal satire of fashion, celebrity, modeling, the media, advertising, and et cetera.

"Hello! Why, here's famous cover girl Polly Maggoo! What's the matter, Polly Maggoo? Tired? Run down? Headaches? Do the crowds, the subway, the roar of the big town get you down? What to do, Polly Maggoo? Why, Polly eat a cracker, a Yankee Doodle Cracker! Chew that vitamin goodness. Now you can get back to work, refreshed, full of new energy! Put on your eyes. Put on your mouth. Put on your lovely face. And now, look at yourself. Don't you feel better? Yes sir, Yankee Doodle Crackers give you a shot in the arm! Right, Polly?"

"I'll say! Yankee Doodles are dandy!"

Whether the satire is successful is a judgment call. I found the first scene's fashion show amazing, but the rest of the film doesn't really build on it. It deconstructs it instead, and deconstructs itself, becoming a bit tiresome and repetitive.

Of course, I'm someone who has no interest in any of the things Klein is mocking. Someone who gives a damn might find this more interesting. 

Verdict: MAYBE. If you're in doubt or even slightly curious, check out the first five minutes, though.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions:

A Man Called Adam (1966)
The Beach Bum (2019)
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)
Murder by the Book (1971)
Star Trek (1966-69)
Toys (1992)
The War Game (1966)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. Interesting Karen Black was in Repo Chick (which I haven't seen), for some reason Repo Man and Day of the Locust are the only two films I have seen that sort of captured LA the way I saw it when I first visited. It was grimy, like everything was coated in a layer of that gummy, greasy dust that sticks to the back of a TV.

    1. I only visited, too. Do you remember what parts of that huge sprawling place you were in? Downtown was always grimy, and yeah, exactly like TV fuzz. Not physically, but it felt that that. Take a shower, walk outside for ten minutes, and you'll need to take a shower again.

      And everything outside of downtown is a blur to me, just endless palm trees and chain stores into eternity.

    2. I've been to LA a few times and I've never even FOUND downtown. What I noticed is that you need a car to go anywhere. Even to the store a block and a half away. Everything is designed and constructed for motor vehicles. Every curve is dead man's curve.


    3. The older and grumpier I get, the less I want to drive. I hate cars. Not sure what to do with mine. Guess I'll get it running and sell it, but it's just a ton of rust.

      I've visited L.A. a few times. Stayed at a cheap chain hotel way way way out in the valley once, and stayed in a flearoom downtown the other time. Guess which was more fun?

      We stayed near the Million Dollar Theater, and about a thousand cheap burrito and hot dog places. Lots of cheap people in the neighborhood. It felt homey, but I was there with a couple of buddies who hated it.


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