Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Quick Look: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974 - color)


   One of the very last films of the spy cycle, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was also the first James Bond movie to under-perform at the box office. While not a total flop or anything, the film did far less business than did the previous entries. Following this, the producers re-trenched and made sure the next entry delivered everything fans expected. Meanwhile, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN became the unmentioned middle child of the series until it would find an audience on television. Personally, I rather like the film, and it remains one of my favorite Moore episodes. Agent 007 finds himself on the hit list of Scaramanga, the world's top assassin. The killer is known for taking out his targets with a golden bullet, fired from his custom-made golden gun. Scaramanga sees himself as cut from the same cloth as Bond, and dreams of the ultimate showdown between himself and the British agent. The climax of the film takes on the familiar territory of a THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME take-off, which may partly be why the film was received so coolly. Audiences had come to expect much more originality from 007. At any rate, this is a good vehicle for Roger Moore, and showcases him in a much more typical Bond adventure. Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga, and the part benefits from the actor's imposing physical presence and powerful voice. The girls this time around are Maude Adams as Scaramanga's kept woman and Britt Ekland as a fellow agent who serves much the same function for Bond as Sharon Tate's character did for Matt Helm in THE WRECKING CREW. Adams, of course, would break James Bond tradition by being cast in another Bond vehicle, as the titular character of OCTOPUSSY. And of course, Clifton James returns as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who runs into Bond while on vacation in Thailand! I always forget about this until he shows up. That aside, the film is pretty nifty. The main theme song is one of the series' best. Still, the film's comparatively poor reception spooked the producers into holding back the next adventure, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, until 1977. Though basically an aquatic re-imagining of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the film was so handsome and exciting that it drew fans back in droves and set the stage for even more adventures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Quick Look: LIVE AND LET DIE (1973 - color)


R.I.P. Sir Roger Moore. You were iconic, and leave behind a legacy of tremendous fun and good humor. God bless you, sir, and thanks for everything.

In light of Mr. Moore's passing, allow me to post over the next week or so my thoughts on his tenure as the world's most famous secret agent...

   Following his return to the role of 007 for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, Sean Connery again vowed he was done with the franchise (although he would play James Bond once more in Kevin McClory's 1983 film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). LIVE AND LET DIE introduced a new James Bond, and Roger Moore would go on to define the 70's Bond as much as Connery had the 60's Bond. This adventure finds 007 investigating the connection between a Harlem drug lord and the cultured leader of a tropical island nation. Although the film has it's strong points, it also has some weaknesses -the main one being Clifton James' hick Sheriff J.W. Pepper. This cartoonish parody of redneck lawmen monopolizes a good stretch of the movie's middle, but the character was such a hit with audiences that he would be brought back for the next Bond film! Roger Moore effortlessly breezes through his initial mission as 007, in a film that tosses in some supernatural elements to the usual espionage and intrigue. This might sound like a strange direction, but it should be noted that by this time the spy genre had been experimenting with elements of the fantastic to stay distinctive. DIMENSION 5, for example, included a working form of time travel amid it's gadgets. The Japanese film ESPY involved secret agents with paranormal talents. Here, Jane Seymour plays a voodoo priestess with a knack for telling the future. She's employed by the commanding Yaphet Kotto (sp?) but she quickly finds herself siding with Bond -although this means the loss of her powers. The Wings perform the title tune, which remains mysteriously popular despite being the weakest Bond theme until the dreary "Die Another Day" came along at the turn of the century. By the time of LIVE AND LET DIE, the spy craze had largely played itself out (by the 70's, detectives were again the heroes of choice). Only Bond would really survive the craze he started, his series still operating today. Despite the spy craze being over by this time, Roger Moore's initial showing as Bond was a hit. EON quickly turned around and produced the better-but-not-as-solid-financially THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, cementing Moore as the new 007.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Quick Look: THE LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN (1965 - color)


   Here's a movie you'll probably never see. I have a thing for regional 60's monster movies, and THE LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN is probably the 2nd or 3rd most obscure movie in my library. It's a weird one, too, being a straight horror movie that has as it's main character what I can only describe as a 50's burlesque comic. They seem to've shot the film thinking the guy by himself was funny, and just let the camera roll without really giving him anything to do. The second reel, in fact, is spent watching this guy listening to the radio, eating cookies in bed, and then having an utterly pointless dream sequence in which he does absolutely nothing. This bit of film is easily the most pointless filler material I have ever laid eyes on, which is a truly staggering statement! Once things get moving, though, it turns into a technically-crude-but-charming monster movie. Said monster is possibly the most unique movie monster I've ever seen, being part suit, part prosthetics, and part body paint! Always a plus, the film doesn't skimp on pretty girls in 60's Summer attire. One reel is missing from the only version ever released on video, saddled with the title "Demon Hunter" for some reason. Strangely, the film was re-edited and issued a decade later as a bogus Bigfoot documentary titled BLOOD BEAST OF MONSTER MOUNTAIN. This version does have some footage missing from the 60's print, but lacks the originality and charm of it's first incarnation. It replaced the screen's most intriguing monster with a typical sasquatch, and then tried to pass itself off as a dramatization of an actual event! If one had the equipment to do so, a fella could probably edit footage from both versions into a fuller print of THE LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN. Of course, the problem the original film had was that it's first two reels (following the pre-credit sequence) are insufferable. Removing that mess, you'd be left with a fairly entertaining (if you're like me, anyway) little regional monster picture. By the way, there is an actual bleeding mountain in the movie, which is left unexplained in either version!






Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Quick Look: THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950)


   When it comes to 50's B crime thrillers, I think Columbia made the best ones (RKO a very close second). In 1950 they gave us THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK, about a woman who unknowingly brings smallpox into the city in '47, and the authorities trying to prevent the outbreak from spreading. As she's being hunted, she's hunting down her rat fink husband who has double-crossed her by stealing some diamonds she smuggled into the country for him. Evelyn Keyes is the titular, unknowing killer, and she's supported by numerous familiar character players. The same year, 20th Century Fox produced PANIC IN THE STREETS, in which Richard Wydmark and Paul Douglas desperately search for the killer of a man discovered to be carrying plague. They make for an interesting double feature, having similar themes but wildly different approaches.