The Gang's All Here, Gas Food Lodging, and a few more films

Gandahar (1987)
a/k/a Light Years (but not really)
Available on DVD from your local library

Gandahar is from French animator René Laloux, who made the trippy whispered sci-fi cartoon Fantastic Planet. If you liked that you'll like this, and I suppose if you hated that you'd hate this. I'm in the 'liked it' crowd, but not the 'OMG it was amazing' crowd.

This story is set on a planet at peace, utopia basically, but nobody wants to watch a movie about peace and utopia, so there's an invasion of black-clad cyborgs turning people to stone and hauling the bodies away like so much granite. 

#284  [archive]
APR. 30, 2024

Decisions in utopia are made by a Council of Women, so you know they'll be wise decisions, and because it's utopia, the Council walks around with boobies hanging out.

In response to the invasion, the Council sends a prince to discover the who what why and weaknesses of the brutal cyborgs, and much lyrical spacey animated mayhem results.

Same as Fantastic Planet, I'm in the 'liked it' crowd, but didn't love it. Any story about a prince (or kings, queens, princesses) is unlikely to really wow me, sorry, but the movie looks great and I don't want my hour and a half back.

Verdict: YES. 

Gandahar was imported to America by Miramax chief rapist Harvey Weinstein, who re-titled it Light Years, re-edited it, had Isaac Asimov re-write it, and in a grand gesture of smelly balls, credited himself as director.

That's not the movie I saw, nor do I have any interest in it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Gang War (1958)
Streaming free at YouTube

Before becoming an icon of crappy action movies, Charles Bronson was an actor, and he's acting in this B-movie gem. After seeing him in so many tough guy roles, it's odd seeing him as a guy who doesn't beat people up.

Bronson plays a math teacher who witnesses a murder, and being a good citizen, he calls the cops from a phone booth, swears out a statement and promises to testify.

It was no ordinary murder in a parking lot, though. It was a gangland hit, so the bad guys are looking for that math teacher, and he'll be easy to find, since his name and photo are all over the newspapers' front pages.

This is more violent than you'd expect, nearly lurid by 1950s standards, and the bad guy (John Doucette, from Cleopatra '63 and True Grit '69) is terrific at being bad. He watches an old gangster movie on TV and critiques the criminals' technique. "It's a professional interest I got, baby. I don't like to see bad workmanship." But he wants to be 'cultured', so he makes his girlfriend read books. 

Directed by Gene Fowler Jr (I Married a Monster from Outer Space).

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Gang's All Here (1943)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

The very concept of musicals is kooky — people suddenly burst into song and dance? Busby Berkeley made musicals that were kooky even by the standards of musicals — people sing and dance, and the camera dances with them, almost singing along. Berkeley's been dead fifty years, and he's still a synonym for especially dizzy camerawork.

He both directs and does the choreography for The Gang's All Here, and it's a laugh when the actors are talking, and beautiful, bizarre, bonkers mental ice cream when they sing and dance. Brace yourself for three dozen undulating ten-foot bananas, a crowd of disembodied heads on a greenscreen, the whiplash leg-over-head dance...

"If you don't cut that out, the censors will."

If you insist on a plot, there's a man two-timing two dames, and also gosh-let's-put-on-a-show, but the story is the movie's least important ingredient. It's about the singing, dancing, jokes, and insanity — this is the movie that gave Carmen Miranda her famous fruit salad hat, and everything here is tutti frutti.

The songs, hyped by surreal dancing, are "Brazil," "You Discover You're in New York," "Minnie's in the Money," the untoppable, unstoppable "Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat," "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," and "The Polka Dot Ballet."

Another song, "A Journey to a Star," was clearly supposed to be the big hit here. It's forgettable, but sung and reprised half a dozen times, until it accidentally becomes another of the movie's many laugh-out-loud jokes.

Several of my old-movie favorite character actors are featured — the sly woman of a certain age Charlotte Greenwood (The Perfect Snob), the always flustered Edward Everett Horton (Top Hat), and the steamshovel-voiced Eugene Pallette (My Man Godfrey). And here's Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, and everywhere Goodman goes he brings the band, and they toot their horns as they walk along.

I hope to but haven't yet seen all of Berkeley's movies. Of the ones I've seen, this is my favorite — a brilliant blending of comedy, show tunes, and hallucinations.

A journey to a star would not be very far
as long as I'm alone with you...

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Garage (1920)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is the best Fatty Arbuckle short I've seen — he's funny, sidekick Buster Keaton is funny, cockeyed and musclebound Molly Malone is funny, everything is funny. 

In 25 minutes of energetic shenanigans inside, outside, and around a gas station, there's no scene that doesn't yield laughs.

This was Keatons's last supporting role with Arbuckle, before he graduated to making his own brilliant comedies, and it's a hilarious adios.

Verdict: YES. 

That's the end of my review; the rest of this is random:

There's a billboard for someone named Harry Lauder, which made me wonder — yup, Lauder was a Scottish comedian of the era, so the movie removes his kilt for comedic effect. 

In addition to the comedy, I'm intrigued by the business archaeology of this century-old flick. The gas station is branded "Red Crown" and offers "Zerolexe" oil and grease, both of which Google suggests were subsidiaries of eternal arch-villain Standard Oil. There's also a Firestone sign, and that company's logo seems unchanged in a century.

What's strangest is a sign in the garage that says, "No smoking: park your snipes outside," but with some research I've ascertained that 'snipes' was slang for cigarette butts, so the sign is saying to grind out your butts before coming in.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Garden of Eden (1954)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

After auto trouble, a passing man offers to bring a young mother and her daughter to stay at the "Garden of Eden," and Mom doesn't bat an artificial eyelash. She's pretty relaxed about it the next day, too, when she discovers that Eden is actually a nudist colony.

This is a movie full of naked people, but with no old folks, certainly no fat folks, and only boobies and butts — all other body parts are always discreetly blocked by table tops or whatever's nearby.

"Not so long ago, I had only one interest — the stock market. All I ever thought of was money. I was a hard-bitten, narrow-minded grouch."

Well, what changed him, drove his grouchiness away? Nudity, of course!

If not for the lack of clothes, this might be rated 'G'. It's quaint, lackadaisical, wholesome, and quite boring, since almost nothing happens except people take off their clothes.

In its time, though, this was pornography.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Garden Party (1973)
Streaming free at YouTube

This was not what I'd expected. I sought it out because I'm an enormous fan of Jack Sholder's action-packed sci-fi space alien shape-shifter film The Hidden, and this was written, directed, and co-produced by Sholder.

It's ever-so-slightly different, though — a tea-cup clinking drama about a high-class society event that might, but probably won't, be postponed because a neighbor has died. It's a short film, based on a story by New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, and despite the lack of any space aliens or shape-shifting, it's rather poignant.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Gargoyles (1972)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

A giant but previously undiscovered species of birds are living in the deserts of the American southwest. Bernie Casey plays the main gargoyle, and inexplicably, dirt bikers are involved. A nosy motelier at a scummy motel always has a glass of whisky in her hand, even when she drives to the police station.

For a surprisingly long time, Gargoyles hovers exactly at par, not quite stupid enough to click it off, but never good enough to stop wondering why you're watching. Toward the end, it nosedives toward dogpoopitude. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gas, Food Lodging (1991)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Nora (Brooke Adams) works as a waitress, lives in a trailer court in a small southwestern town, and struggles with raising two daughters without a daddy. The daughters, Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk) navigate growing up, which is of course what all of us do, all our lives.

You rarely see people in movies who seem to be living lives that could really happen, but that's everyone in Gas, Food Lodging — a rare movie that's about women, and even more rare, doesn't end with a kiss. 

I liked this a lot when I first saw it thirty years ago, and it's better than I'd remembered. Nothing's ratcheted up to heighten the tension, which is unusual for a movie so it might seem boring on the surface, but it's anything but. The film meanders like life, that's all.

Can't say whether this was writer-director Allison Anders' intent, and it's never directly mentioned in the script, but to me there's a moral to the story: All three of these women would be happier and get along better, if they opened up and told each other what's in their heads and hearts. Again, that's just like real people, real families.

Only one thing bugs me, and it's not the movie's fault, not a criticism of Anders or anyone in the cast; it's simply The Way Movies Work. If they'd done what I wish they'd done, they couldn't have gotten the funding to make the movie, but…

The only unreality here is that Nora, Trudi, and Shade are all played by gorgeous movie stars. Their stories would be rougher and more relatable if they not only talked and thought and lived it, but looked like ordinary people, too.

Verdict: BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Gates of Heaven (1978)
The Gay Divorcee
Geek Maggot Bingo
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Germany Year Zero

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting recommendations for movies,
starting with the letter 'G'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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