Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985)

During the peak of Cannon’s exploitation onslaught on theaters (and drive-ins) world-wide, there were a few precious stones that had been left unturned. This troubled Golan and Globus. While they continually tried to attack the problem of superhero films with CAPTAIN AMERICA and the terminal SPIDER-MAN license, they knew there was an area of opportunity in the mighty fedora festooned heroes of yore. With TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983) lining Cannon’s coffers with gold, the light bulb dinged above their collective craniums: why not take the original inspiration for the Indiana Jones movies and re-imagine it as an Indiana Jones knock-off? Brilliant! A few months after cashing in with Tony Anthony, a Frazetta-esque ad hit the trades.

As cool as the art is, it’s surprising that
a) Tobe Hooper was not attached to it.
b) The artwork was never used past this promo ad.
c) They went with the pith helmet instead of a fedora.
As for the choice of headwear, perhaps they feared being crushed by the weight of Lucas and Spielburg’s legal resources, as even Tony Anthony went sans chapeau and any other Jonesian accoutrement entirely in TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS.

Like many of Cannon’s high-concept films, this one took a while to get fully stocked up and ready to roll. By the time it was in front of the cameras The Boys clearly had gotten over their reticence to plunder Indy’s tomb. By 1985, hell, everyone was doing it!

Opening in an antique shop, a sufficiently geriatric professor Huston studies engravings on an ancient statuette that supposedly provide the directions to the legendary King Solomon’s Mines. Two men keenly look on, one is a white man in a suit (the professor’s assistant Rupert), the other (Kassam) you know is going to be a bad guy because he’s wearing a fez. Fez equals badguy, never forget that, it could save your life the next time you are pursuing relics of antiquity or are on a secret mission for your government. Suddenly another fez-wearing man, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies), bursts in and demands to know the location of the mines. When the professor Huston balks, Dogati swings a kukri knife down on a rope and a giant steel plate studded with spikes swings down from the rafters, impaling Rupert and effectively nailing him to a wooden door. At which point Kassam (Shaike Ophir) cries out “my door!” Wah-wah!

The basic narrative is that Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) is looking for her father, Professor Huston, who has gone missing. As always, his reputation precedes him and Jesse figures the legendary Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) is the go-to guy here in North Africa… wait… wasn’t it supposed to be set in South Africa? Of course it would be much harder to poach Indy’s game if you didn’t have the appropriate local, in spite of the fact that Quatermain declares their arrival to be in Tongola! The introduction to our testy pair of bickering villains, Dogati and German Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom), is followed by Jesse being kidnapped in the town market by some natives who roll her up in a carpet to bring to the pair of ne'er-do-wells. Quatermain gives chase, accosting innocent carpets and fighting on a runaway cart in a scene that is but one of many of the most blatant RAIDERS rip-offs imaginable. Hey, where’s the sword guy? I guess Chaimberlain must have had a supply of immodium on hand.

Upon entering the House of Isis, the shop that the opening scene took place in, Jesse and Quatermain find the remains of Rupert embalmed in a sarcophagus, which causes Jesse to holler at Kassam “where’s my father, you cheap-suited camel-jockey?!” I hate to get all politically correct, but it’s pretty damn funny how the KING SOLOMON’S MINES adaptations get more and more xenophobic as they progress. Here Umbopa is now Umbopo (Ken Gampu), and is played for laughs as a dumb native who is scared of “anything that doesn’t eat grass”. In addition Israeli-born producers Golan and Globus never missed an opportunity to take swings at other middle-eastern nationalities and the Allan Quatermain films took full use of that license to ill. If there ever is going to be peace in the middle-east, it sure as hell ain’t going to be on Golan and Globus' watch!

After blowing up the antique shop (no one is even scratched), and making their escape from the town Jesse says “I think you like helping a lady in distress!” to which Quatermain quips “Miss Huston, you are not in distress, you cause distress.” Cue thankfully brief romantic interlude of batting lashes and moon-eyes. Deciding that there has to be a better way to get across the vast country, Quatermain and company leap-aboard a speeding train, that just so happens to be transporting German troops! The creative forces behind this adaptation can be accused of a lot of things, but letting an opportunity for some classic adventure action slip by is not one of them. Here we get fights on top of the speeding train, fights underneath the speeding train and Quatermain being dragged behind the speeding train in a scene that is so obviously pilfered that you expect Quatermain to say “Train? What train?” Oh, and lets not forget the bit where he barges into a car full of German officers and bullshits his way out by yelling “let’s have some fuuuuuun!” and mustering up a rousing chorus of “The Camptown Ladies” with a bugle. Of course this is a song that every German stationed in Africa would know as it was made popular in 1850s New Orleans and is actually about an annual race held in Pennsylvania. Also, no “rescuing a professor from Germans on a moving African train” sequence would be complete without a German officer threatening to bust out his best DELIVERANCE reenactment on the old man before being humorously shot in the groin! Nothing says “hilarious” like attempted homosexual, age-differential rape and subsequent shotgun castration.

If this movie makes one statement, that statement would be “segues are for pussies!” This movie leaps from scene to scene without any need for interstitial drama, which is really fine by me. Leave that for the sequel. Leaping off the train, Quatermain and posse find themselves in a German airbase where they steal a plane and raze Dogati and German Colonel Bockner’s procession where poor Herbert Lom is saddled with dialogue such as “that’s all these primitive natives do! Run away… have you ever seen the German army run away?” (sees plane swooping in causing an elephant stampede) “Let me show you!” and runs off. You can almost hear him mutter “Ted Wass wasn’t so bad… we could do another sequel” as he trundles off.

From there they land in a cannibal tribe’s giant cauldron filled with water and plastic vegetables (if only Quatermain had a Groucho Marx ventriloquist doll) and Jesse, terrified and screaming because she doesn’t realize that they will die of exposure long before that much water can be brought to a boil, hollers “I don’t want to die with dignity!” Not to worry, Sharon, you won’t. In what is possibly the most ridiculous excuse for a make out session ever committed to celluloid, after managing to tip the cauldron over, Quatermain and Jesse find that they cannot escape because a lion has decided to sit in front of the opening. So Quatermain and Jesse decide some serious smooching is in order. Once free of the pot, they are kidnapped by tree people who hang upside down on vines as a protest to the evil in the world. No really. Then are captured yet again, this time by the tribe that guards the mines. Oh shit! The mines! I forgot about them! Umbopa arrives to save the day at the same time the germans decide to shell the natives with mortars. Jesse is kidnapped by the usurper queen (yes it’s a female witchdoctor this time out) providing an excuse for everyone to run into the trap-laden, rubber monster-inhabited, papier-mâché mines. One of the traps is a room with a spiked ceiling that lowers down on Jesse, but at least there aren’t any giant bugs being squashed underfoot. Though we do find out a couple of facts, one of which is that Quatermain isn’t afraid of snakes. Chuckles all around.

Directed by the erratic and dwindling powers of J. Lee Thompson and co-scripted by sprained-brained exploitation maestro Gene Quintano (who gave us everything from Tony Anthony vehicles to POLICE ACADEMY sequels) and Cannon regular James R. Silke (responsible for 1985s AMERICAN NINJA), RAIDERS, I mean, KING SOLOMON’S MINES is pure form of exploitation film. An adaptation of the source material that provided inspiration for the blockbuster that you are now ripping off. There must be some sort of scientific name for that and if there isn’t there should be. Something like “The Cannon Paradox.” In fact, I think it's kind of exploitation genius usually reserved for Roger Corman and makes the film much more fun than it has any right to be.

The production values are pretty top-shelf, even by Cannon’s standards with great location photography, multitudes of extras, plenty of action and a great John Williams-esque score from low-rent alternative Jerry Goldsmith. You could probably argue that it has more to do with Indiana Jones than H. Rider Haggard; Umbopo (in addition to being oddly misspelled) is almost barely in the film and Captain Good and Sir Henry Curtis don't even factor in the equation at all, much less Foulata. The usurper Twala and the witchdoctor Gagool have been merged into a prunefaced witch, who does little but lead everyone into the mines at the end. After cutting all these characters, Quintano and Silke wisely decide to add some back in. Adding additional scenes with the professor drives the plot (or rather the action scenes) along and a pair of villains. Granted our villians could have at least been given a little bit more to do than just run around bickering with each other over the merits, or lack thereof, of Wagner and knackwurst, but having a WWI German army around and reworking the setting for cir. 1914 is actually a great idea and suits the original story well.

So maybe the movie could have been a little less cheesy and have had a little more plot. Even so, it’s a pretty entertaining Indy rip-off that only just misses the mark on greatness. If only Corman had gotten to it first.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: MAGNUM P.I. AND THE LEGEND OF THE LOST ART (1988)

MAGNUM P.I. was one of the defining shows on the 1980s. Before Crockett, Tubbs, Hunter, Matt Houston or your boys Simon & Simon were solving crimes in the land of neon and shoulder pads, Thomas Magnum was busting bad guys in Hawaii. No doubt Dog the Bounty Hunter tuned in every week. MAGNUM P.I. debuted on CBS in December 1980 and was an immediate top 20 ratings hit thanks to a perfect combination of action, exotic locales and personable (and mega 80s hunk to the ladies) lead Tom Selleck. The popularity grew over the ensuing 8 seasons and everybody in the U.S. was sporting a Magnum mustache. It was truly a Magnumnetic time.

“But what the hell does this have to do with Indiana Jones,” you ask. Well, in one of the more well known casting stories, Tom Selleck was originally George Lucas’ top choice to play his archeologist hero. But, in the kind of fate that only happens in Hollywood, then relatively unknown Selleck landed the MAGNUM P.I. gig that conflicted with the shooting schedule of RAIDERS. To make matters worse, there was a TV strike that suddenly opened up Selleck’s schedule, but by that time Harrison Ford had been cast in the role. The rest, as they say, is history. Or so you think. While Selleck did eventually do a Jones-esque turn in the highly enjoyable HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983), he did get the rare chance to show fans his whip wielding adventurer skills in “Legend of the Lost Art,” a RAIDERS send up that aired in MAGNUM P.I.’s eighth and final season.

The episode opens with Magnum, completely decked out in an Indiana outfit, exploring a skeleton strewn cave to look for a scroll. After surviving the requisite spiders and booby traps, Magnum gets the spool only to have boss Higgins (Jonathan Hillerman) tell him it is a fake. Higgins explains that the scroll tells features some ancient unknown writing that can be translated by using the Hannoli prism. Doggedly pursing these items is Peter Riddley-Smythe (Anthony Newley), a nefarious double agent and film buff who loves to pattern elaborate schemes and traps after his favorite movies. The owner of the prism is Connie Northrup (Margaret Colin), a historian who has written about the Lost Art and, of course, has a romantic history with Magnum. From this point on it is 47 minutes of rip roaring action as Magnum gathers his associates, Rick (Larry Manetti) and TC (Roger E. Mosley), and tries to figure out the villain’s stolen film plot twists before they get killed.

This is pretty damn entertaining stuff and reminded me of why I liked MAGNUM P.I. so much the few times I was able to catch it. Lots of action and Selleck is an absolute blast with some really funny delivery. It is easy to see why he was one of the most popular TV stars of the 1980s. He has a great bit where he tells Connie, who he left 7 years earlier, that he missed her several time and even “drove by your house a few times but your car wasn’t there.” Of course, the reason it is here is the RAIDERS copying and the in-jokes and references come fast and furious in this. Fans have always wondered what a Selleck starring RAIDERS would have been like and, while he is jokey here, he definitely could have filled the fedora (he insists he has to wear this outfit to fulfill the villain’s cinematic fantasies). The introduction of Connie has a subtle reference to Marion Ravenwood’s RAIDERS intro with Connie making guys pass out during a dancing contest and the teleplay even works in the “we’re not thirsty” retort when the villains show up. There is a running joke where everyone refers to the “lost art” as the “lost ark” and Higgins always corrects them. Finally, when they find the lost art, Higgins exclaims, “We have found the lost ark!” Magnum corrects him and Higgins says, “No, the lost art is inside that lost ark.” D’oh! For the action scenes, they copy the famous truck bit from RAIDERS and Selleck gets to use the trademark whip. And in the finale our two lovers find themselves trapped in a pit full of snakes. “By the time you figure out what movie this is from, you’ll be dead,” says the giddy villain.

And finding out what movies various bits are from is what makes this episode so enjoyable. There is a great bit where Magnum is rambling off a list of movies while trying to figure out what Riddley-Smythe is stealing from. He mentions NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) before deciding they are copying KING SOLOMON’S MINES (“the Stewart Granger version, not Richard Chamberlain!”). Total movie geek dialogue we love here at Video Junkie. Other movies mentioned throughout the episode include THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) , PERILS OF NYOKA (1942), THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948) and the oft filmed THE PERILS OF PAULINE. The only thing more surprising is that Herr Lucas didn’t sue the pants off them for copying his property. I guess even he has a sense of humor sometimes. Or he missed the episode because he was taking his nightly bath in money. The episode ends with a pretty introspective shot as Magnum hangs the fedora and jacket on the wall and puts on his trademark baseball cap. It is a perfect and satisfying visual metaphor for the legendary casting “what coulda been” scenario that has shadowed Selleck’s career since that fateful year of 1980.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: The Golden Age of KING SOLOMON'S MINES

As much as some misguided people like to think that Indy’s father was a Scottish guy who looks remarkably like a British secret agent, a Russian submarine captain and err... a Spanish peacock, he was not.

The real paternal relation has to go to H. Rider Haggard. Haggard, born in 1856, was an English novelist and poet whose real life experiences in Africa while in his 20s led to a series of novels on his return to England.

Inspired by his own experiences in colonial Africa and the real life adventurers/explorers Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham, Haggard’s brother bet him that he couldn’t write an adventure yarn that would surpass the success of Robert Louis Stevenson's “Treasure Island” (1883), which was the contemporary, literary equivalent of STAR WARS (1977). Haggard wrote the novel “King Solomon’s Mines” intermittently over the next four to sixteen weeks, detailing the adventures of the best big game hunter and explorer in Africa, Allan Quatermain. After being rejected numerous times over a six month period, Haggard’s book finally saw the light of day in 1885 and was released with the humble ad-line "The Most Amazing Book Ever Written". Take that Bible! It was instantly successful, so much so that the publisher was unable to keep up with the demand. The bet was won and Haggard’s book was so influential as to pave the way for an entirely new literary (and subsequently film) genre referred to as “Lost World”, until recent years. Now we just call them “Indy rip-offs”. Cue muted horns.

Haggard’s novel was not only groundbreaking for its approach to the adventure genre, but had the unique perspective of being somewhat sympathetic to the indigenous peoples that he was writing about. His hero, Quatermain, refused to use derogatory slang toward the natives and claimed to prefer some of them to the company of white men. Pretty daring stuff for its day and going forward as well, since none of the film adaptations retained this character trait. Another element that was considered daring and that was excised from every film adaptation was the romantic angle between a rather self-sufficient native girl, Foulata, and one of the main white men that Quatermain is guiding, Captain Good. Even so, the romance is not exactly championed and Haggard kills off her character near the end as a way of solving this perceived moral quandary.

ALLAN QUATERMAIN (1919) was the first film adaptation of Haggard’s novel. Produced by a South African company, the only evidence that remains of the film is a few stills in the South African film archive as well as a few publicity print advertisements. Haggard himself attended a private screening of the film on Halloween (or All Hallow’s Eve) and wasn’t overly thrilled, writing in his diary “it is not at all bad, but it might be a great deal better.” If I had to guess, I would assume that his pushing of the racial envelope was probably dumped wholesale, though it appears from one of the ads, that the Foulata character might actually be in the film.

In 1937, on the 50th anniversary of the first publishing of Haggard’s novel, a second adaption saw the light of a projector bulb. Titled KING SOLOMON’S MINES, Quatermain (Cedric Hardwicke) is portrayed here as a fearless “white hunter”, except he is rather more portly than one would expect but he is graced with a fine set of whiskers, which we all know is the mark of a great adventurer. This version deviates from the novel in several ways, one of which, ironically, is to embrace the popular prejudice of the era; hatin’ on the Irish. Quatermain, while traveling through a small African town before setting out on a safari for Cmdr. John Good (Roland Young) and Sir Henry Curtis (John Loder), runs across an Irish father, Patsy (Arthur Sinclair), and daughter Kathy (Anna Lee), who are down on their luck as diamond miners and are looking for a ride to the next town. After much cajoling Quatermain grudgingly accepts them as travelling companions. When the daughter admits that her claims of having a dying grandmother was a lie, Quatermain replies “I know it was. I’ve met the Irish before.” What?! May your obituary be written in weasel's piss, ye bastrad! (yes, that was my best Irish brogue)

As they continue on their journey they come across a broken down wagon containing a dying Italian explorer ranting about the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. The Italian has a native named Umbopa (Paul Robeson) with him, who as it turns out is not his servant, but a man looking to go near the fabled mines for his own reasons. After Patsy finds the Italian’s map to the mines he decides to run off and find his pot o’ diamonds while Quatermain dismisses it as a fool’s errand. Umbopa and Kathy take off to follow Patsy on foot and after Good gets rather moon-eyed about Kathy and Curtis exclaims several wat ho’s for adventure old chap, Quatermain grudgingly (again) decides to make a day of it… or rather several weeks of it!

Surviving the desert and jungle of darkest Africa with amusing uppercrust English optimism provided by Curtis, the group finally catches up with Kathy and Umbopa and set off to find Patsy. One morning the party is discovered by a tribe of natives who witness Curtis removing his monocle and are so impressed with this that they, naturally assume, he is some sort of white god. Yes, H. Rider Haggard is the man to blame for this well used and embarrassing cliché, though in the novel he had Curtis fiddling with his false teeth. Close enough. After the usual worshiping of the white god we discover that the tribe is under the control of a witch doctor and Umbopa is the rightful heir to the throne. Of course Quatermain must right wrongs and run into the mines to save the ill-fated Patsy, while surviving the treachery of the witchdoctor.

In spite of the fact that it deviates from Haggard’s novel in a rather odd way, this is a surprisingly well aged adaptation. To be sure, some of the mechanics are considered very clichéd, and the several cheery “negro” song numbers (obviously tailored to Robeson's famous singing skills) are really embarrassingly dated, particularly since Robeson himself was one of the first civil rights activists. Even so, the pacing is swift, which is not something the other adaptations are known for, and the acting solid. Hardwicke’s interpretation of Quatermain is rather stoic and begrudging, but the always entertaining John Loder does a nice job bringing some comic relief to the proceedings with his dry satire of the English elite. Interestingly Umbopa is portrayed as an independent masculine figure with maturity and intelligence, unlike the two adaptations that followed. Granted you aren’t going to get multi-million dollar thrills out of this picture and some of the tribal segments go on way too long, but it’s still pretty damned entertaining over all.

In 1945 Columbia Pictures freely adapted Haggard’s novel into a 15 chapter serial titled JUNGLE RAIDERS. When I say “freely adapted,” I mean blatantly ripped off as the plot, characters and settings are all in place but have been tweaked just enough to omit crediting Haggard as the source. Written by the legendary George H. Plympton, this may be a bastard child and a bit backwards to boot, but it sure is a lot of fun.

A woman, Anne Reed (Janet Shaw), is searching for her missing father, Dr. Reed (Budd Buster), who travelled into some uncharted territory in search of a diamond mine. While searching for him she runs into Bob and Joe (Eddie Quillan and Kane Richmond), who have just left the military and were to hook up with Dr. Reed and set out in search of a rare plant that could be used to create a wonder drug more powerful than penicillin (pronounced “penn-IH-sul-un”). Unfortunately for the good doctor, he is being held captive by some ner-do-well’s at a local trading post who know that the plant resides near a hostile tribe of natives who guard the way to cache of treasure. For the most part the serial follows the adventures of Anne, Bob and Joe as they follow Dr. Reed’s presumed path.

Interestingly while the trappings are all African safari, the location is supposedly an island in the pacific and the natives here are idol-worshipping heathens, dressed in a weird pastiche of Arabian, Polynesian and American Indian inspired garb, talking like the Indians in westerns of the era! This last bit leads to some seriously wince-inducing (but damn funny) scenes where in the “hidden village of the lost Arzaks” some translation services are required when the doctor needs to tell the chief’s son that they need to head back to the car to get his doctor kit so that he can try to give the chief an antidote for his poison. The doctor’s assistant does so by saying “send men back to cars, get box, medicine man will help your father.” To which the witchdoctor and his cronies reply “naw, naw, naw” while shaking their heads. Phew! Good thing he is on hand to translate into the native dialect!

The serial uses King Solomon’s Mines as a springboard for all sorts of outlandish pulp silliness, campy cliché and cheap action without being too worried about making it a “serious film spectacle” as the studios would have wanted to do with the same concept in a typical movie format. As a result the episodes move at breakneck speed and are a real hoot in spite of all the obvious budgetary, errr… shortcomings.

Speaking of “serious spectacle;” 1950 saw the next adaptation, KING SOLOMON’S MINES, come to light as a grand epic in full color from MGM. At the time MGM was producing A movies with lots of serious drama or light comedy. With visions of Oscars dancing in their heads, they viewed King Solomon’s Mines as less of a ripping yarn of machismo, bravado and derring-do, but more of a sweeping epic drama with romance and intrigue set against the lush backdrop of the wilds of Africa.

Here screenwriter Helen Deutsch, inspired by the bickering, sexual tension of the screwball comedies of the ‘40s shifts around Haggard’s plot catalyst of Sir Henry Curtis’ search for his brother to boost the romance angle and add a strong (white) woman to the cast of characters. Here Sir Henry Curtis becomes the husband of Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr), a strong-willed woman who is determined to find her missing husband, who went searching for the legendary titular mines in the wilds of Africa. After having heard of the great Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger), she seeks him out and has her brother John Good (Richard Carlson)  implore him to take her on an expedition to find her clearly not-so-better half. Quatermain’s outbursts of “a woman?! On a safari?! No thank you!” fall on his deaf ears as Good manages to talk Quatermain into doing the job and leaving his pet howler monkey at home. Can you see what’s coming? Yep, this here is the trend-setting character device that would influence generations of adventure films to come, from the famous (and far more charismatic) pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) straight through to ROMANCING THE STONE (1984) and erm… JAKE SPEED (1986).

After setting out on their adventure, we are treated to quite a bit of travelogue footage that feels like it was nicked out of the archives of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, except we don’t get to see Jim high-tailing it away from a pissed off rhino with a dart in its ass. Also we get some rather unsettling footage of real safari kills that are pretty unpalatable these days. In between that we have lots of sexual tension between the two leads who, while being fine actors in other films, don’t seem to really muster the sparks of later efforts in the same vein. Granger certainly has the hair and a tan that came from the same bottle that Chuck Heston borrowed for A TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), he is not exactly rugged and the scenes where he’s supposed to look tough and brave while shirtless are pretty much snicker-inducing.

The real weak point of the film is the bizarre, totally xenophobic reworking of Umbopa’s character (here played by Siriaque). Gone is the strapping, whip-smart, exiled king, instead we have his character re-imagined as a painfully skinny, emaciated, seven-foot tall, spear wielding freak with his fro shaved into a crazy cross-breeding of a Mohawk and a pompadour. When the party stumble across him, they treat him with aversion and distrust, but decide to let him tag along because, hey, what could he do to the superior white man?

After a long trek through the desert, they finally come to the village guarding the mines and meet up with the witchdoctor usurper. Everyone in the village is skinny, tall and has the same weird-ass haircut, so you know Umbopa is in the right place. In order to get into the mines Umbopa must prove that he is the rightful heir to the throne by showing his scars and challenging the usurper to a duel. This duel is something to behold. Two of the frailest, tallest weaklings ever to do battle, badly faking it with an undercranked camera. It’s almost painful to watch. I say “almost” because the only thing more painful than that fight scene is the big, long, choreographed musical tribal dance number that follows!

Of course Quatermain and company get into the mines only to find Henry’s skeleton with a sword in its back and jewels in its hands, clearing the way for Quatermain to properly romance Elizabeth. While this entry resonated with audiences at the time and is fondly remembered by many, I feel this is a pretty weak adaptation. In addition to feeling that Granger is badly miscast, there is way too much time spent on stock footage of safari hunts and to make matters worse the film was shot 1.37:1, which doesn’t provide any stunning vistas, though MGM didn’t start shooting in scope until 1953. Even for the time there is little action, lots of talk and it seems far more interested in portraying the natives in a condescending light than even the 1937 version. Quatermain’s preference of some natives to white men is changed to a preference of some animals to men, mainly from the looks of it, his pet monkey.

Clearly Spielberg and Lucas were keen on this film in particular. Both are obsessed with their own ‘50s nostalgia and this film was a big one at the time, nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and winning two, one for editing and one for cinematography. Granger not only sports the necessary hero-shellacked hair, but a snap-brim fedora that looks mighty stylish and is clearly the inspiration for Indiana Jones. So now that we know what inspired them, the circle is about to be complete with Allan Quatermain borrowing a page or two from Indy's well used book...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983)

You knew this one was next, right? It must be safe to assume that HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA was a success as nearly everyone from that film (Warbeck, Steiner, Collins, Margheriti) reteamed to make this modern day Indiana Jones-style adventure the following year. While not a sequel, it might as well be as leads Warbeck and Steiner are basically essaying the same roles. And, hear me out here, I seriously think Lucas and Spielberg ended up ripping this one off (more on that in a bit)!

Cat burglar Rick Spear (Warbeck) arrives in Turkey with his lovely lady Carol (Susie Sudlow). But this vacation is a combination of business and pleasure as Spear is there to steal an artifact from a Prince Abdullah (Aytekin Akkaya). Procuring his tools of the trade from Turkish contact Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios), Spear penetrates the building and safe with ease. What he doesn’t know is this was all just a test by wheelchair bound Lord Dean (Steiner) to see if Rick was the man for the job to retrieve the sacred scepter of Gilgamesh, which – go figure – is desired by a bunch of cultists. And what no one in the rooms knows is Abdullah is listening in on the conversation.

In order to find the hidden temple, Spear must convince Beetle (Collins), who went there with a professor long ago, to join him. This isn’t too hard as Beetle is an alcoholic and loves the sauce. And really, who better to lead you an unknown location in the middle of a Turkish desert than a drunk you find sitting on the waterfront? So Rick, Mohammed and Beetle take off, but don’t count on Abdullah having spies all over the desert. And, thankfully, Abdullah’s men have brought their Trans Ams to the desert so we get in some car chases. When Lord Dean hears Rick & co. are being stalked, he reveals he isn’t paralyzed (“How else did you think I could convince Rick to take the job?”) and sets off to assist with Carol and manservant Rupert (Anthony Berner). Yup, the only thing more pathetic than the initial archeological team is the back up! Will Spear be able to crack the ancient intricate lock system on the temple’s big ass golden door and retrieve the treasure before Abdullah’s men get to him? I think so.

Trading in the Philippines for Turkey, director Antonio Margheriti proves a location switch is no problem as this is just as entertaining as the previous HUNTERS. I’m glad to see they finally gave Warbeck a cool sounding name (Rick Spear vs. Bob Jackson), even if it sounds like a gay porn star sobriquet. One thing that cracked me up is Rick’s test mission is actually harder for him than the actual temple. There he had to whiz down zip lines and disable security systems. He just waltzes into the temple. Ah, I take that back, they do encounter one (ONE!) lousy guard who has some poisonous snakes in a pit and one (ONE!) poor tarantula. Margheriti does slip up once though with the use of easily detectable car miniatures for some of the chases. It is funny because a couple of years ago I was watching Bruno Mattei’s COP GAME (a knock off of the Willem Dafoe vehicle OFF LIMITS) and that damn train yard miniature car chase popped up again! So at least the Italians got double the worth out of that worthless bit. 

The reunited cast is good. Warbeck seems to be aiming for a more suave James Bond approach this go-round, even going so far as to mention a Bond actor (“Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore?”). He tends to overuse the phrase “pussycat” though and even has his own specialty drink (Bacardi with milk and crushed ice!?!). There is also what I believe is a cinematic first where he commandeers a car with the “I need your car” line and then punches the innocent owner (carrying lemons no less). Freshly shaved Steiner, sadly, tones down the Brit shtick and Collins – looking like latter day Orson Welles mixed with Peter Lorre and Lucio Fulci – gets more of a chance to shine as the lovable drunk Beetle (pay attention to how his alcoholism leads to a major discovery). Spanish actor Palacios is the best of the new faces, giving us a rousing Sallah impersonation and even gets his disco dancing freak on. I was actually hoping for a more over-the-top villain, but Turkish actor Akkaya – previously in the mind blowing 3 DEV ADAM as a bootleg Captain America – is fine in the role.

Now, let’s look at my earth shattering plagiarism accusations. I mentioned in my HUNTERS review that there seemed to be an eerie similarity between that film’s lava temple and the one featured in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984). Well, certain things REALLY set off my rip-off radar in this one and, for once, it seems the big budget flick has cribbed from the imitation. When I first saw this one on VHS 15 years ago, I noticed there are quite a few similarities between it and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989). Despite being modern day, ARK features a boat chase with Turkish guys (obviously the CRUSADE one is better). ARK also has a bit where the leads escape a fire via sewer tunnels under the city and encounters dozens of rats (CRUSADE used hundreds). ARK’s temple entrance is carved into the side of a mountain, just like the one in CRUSADE. And, finally, the film ends the exact same way with the temple collapsing and the ground cracking right between the villain’s legs! This is wild because ARK came out in 1983. Do I believe that Lucas and Spielberg saw this film? Absolutely! Someone in their entourage was quick enough to spot GREAT WHITE (1981; aka THE LAST JAWS) and have it litigated onto the shelf so I have no doubt someone watched ARK (hell, that title probably set off their lawyers) and reported back. Crazy to think that a RAIDERS imitation could end up influencing the big boys they were copying.

One final note about the film that irks me is I keep seeing reviews pop up that criticize the film for being cheap/poorly shot/low budget crap. I actually disagree with this. Despite the embarrassing miniatures, Margheriti was no hack and turns in a fine looking production with some nice design, great locations and fine camerawork. The problem is most people are seeing this though some shoddy fullscreen transfers (and probably comparing it to a movie with a $50 million dollar budget). The Italian DVD shows that the film has great colors and nice photography (check out the comparison below). No excuse for those pathetic miniatures though.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pardon the Interruption! The Zombie Rabbit Award

Stop the presses! I know this break in our uh-may-zing Indiana Jones knockoff coverage will result in riots in the interwebs, but this is for good reason. The fine folks at Cinema Arcana and Schlockmania! have been kind enough to mention us with regard to the Zombie Rabbit Award. Thanks guys! We're glad to see someone is actually reading the blog and not just checking out the nekked chicks.

It also just dawned on us that this is a "pay it forward" award where you you list your top blogs. Of course, we don't read blogs but only look at them for the nekked chicks. Ha, just kidding, we are blind like Leo Fong. Seriously, here is our list in alphabetical order. The blogs below rock and everyone should check them out (and check out the two linked above as well):

*BAMBOO GODS AND BIONIC BOYS - Andrew Leavold is hardcore when it comes to Filipino cinema. How so? The man has a Weng Weng tattoo! Check out this amazing resource/database of crazy cinema from the Philippines. And check out his sister blog THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG, which is all about his documentary that has morphed into the upcoming MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED.

*FASCINATION: THE JEAN ROLLIN EXPERIENCE - Pretty much the be all, end all for Rollin enthusiasts. Jeremy Richey runs a fine looking blog there (i.e. nekked chicks!) and is doing a thorough examination of Rollin's storied career film by film.

*HORROR 101 WITH DR. AC - Horror (duh!) reviews abound on this blog by HORROR 101 editor extraordinaire Dr. AC. Definitely check out his Fool's Views Haiku, where he breaks down the latest viewings in 5, 7, 5.

*KITLEY'S KRYPT - Technically not a blog, but a horror fan site on steroids! Mr. Kitley will feed your brain with horror info, reviews and convention reviews (check out his amazing piece on a 1988 Fango show). Then he will give you a good thump on the head with his weekly Mystery Photo. He calls it tough love. :-(

*TEMPLE OF SCHLOCK - A true inspiration! If you want the best ad scans, newspaper archives and obscure film info, this is the blog to hit. Chris Poggiali and Paul DeCirce's blog is filled with amazing stuff. Of special note is "The Endangered List," which profiles films that have fallen through the cracks of time (a feature that inspired our own "Never Got Made" Files).

*UNFILMABLE - Craig Mullins' one stop shop for all things Lovecraft cinema, which will forever be in our hearts for giving us our first internet shout out! Serious Cthulhu minded folk should make this a constant stop for all your news and updates on Lovecraft adaptations, big and small.

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982)

As we mentioned in the RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY review, the Italians were quick to jump on the Indiana Jones bandwagon. To the best of my knowledge, HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA was the first RAIDERS rip off to play in theaters, debuting in its native Italy in August 1982. Directed by proficient Antonio Margheriti (under his reliable Anthony Dawson pseudonym), HUNTERS is one of the best Indy clones to arrive, overflowing with action, humor and thrills from beginning to end.

HUNTERS drops the audience right into the action with a 20 minute prologue in the Philippines during 1944.  American Bob Jackson (David Warbeck) and Brit Capt. David Franks (John Steiner) sneak into a Japanese base to stop double agent Yamoto from absconding with a valuable property. With Yamoto escaping in a bomber, our heroes follow suit in a stolen Japanese fighter plane. When Yamoto’s plane goes down (he shot the pilots midflight – d’oh!), Jackson parachutes down to the wreckage. Once there, he spots Yamoto and the valuable they are after, a golden cobra statue. The glimpse is short, however, as Yamoto is killed by natives shooting poison darts. Jackson is hit by a dart and stumbles down to the river. Passing in and out of consciousness, Jackson sees the natives and their (naturally) gorgeous white queen (Antonella Interlenghi, billed as Almanta Suska), who takes the poison dart out of him before he floats down river.

Cut to a year later. Capt. Franks locates the (naturally) sauced Jackson taking in some cock fights. After a few “thanks for stranding me, pal” fisticuffs (watch for Steiner’s hilarious attempts to throw punches), Franks brings Jackson to a group of politicians who give him the history of the lost ark, er, golden cobra. Their mission – should they choose to accept it – is to locate this “sacred symbol of the Ay-moks” before a dangerous snake worshipping cult gets a hold of it. How dangerous is this cult? They have penetrated the service industry in the Philippines (as exampled by a machete wielding water boy)! Jackson accepts but wants (naturally) double the fee. Along the way, our exploring duo reluctantly pick up Julie (Interlenghi again), the twin of jungle queen April, and her uncle Greenwater (Alan Collins aka Luciano Pigozzi) as they head back into the jungle to find this valuable treasure and (naturally) encounter danger at every turn.

If you are looking to get your Indiana Jones facsimile freak on, this might be the best place to start. This film really moves with barely a lull in the action. Margheriti is the consummate craftsman and knows he won’t be able to match the big budget thrills of Lucas and Spielberg. But he works amazingly well with what he has and tries to set his imitation apart. Instead of getting shot-for-shot replications, we get similar scenes done up Italian exploitation style. For example, wouldn’t it have been better if the guy shot with poison darts in RAIDERS had one sticking out of his detached eyeball? Or when Indy is receiving the lecture about the ark, wouldn’t it have been better if it ended with a machete swinging cult member attacking him before he is shot 10 times? Just the sort of stuff the Italians do to spice things up a bit. The only place Margheriti slipped up is in not recognizing that – per Italian exploitation film law – the white jungle queen is supposed to be topless. One thing I find really interesting is the similarity between the lava surrounded temple in this and the one in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984). Hmmmmm.

The New Zealand-born Warbeck is great in the lead role. Having previously traipsed through the jungle for Margheriti in THE LAST HUNTER (1980), Warbeck is an affable and natural lead who combines the best of Jones with a little bit of James Bond flavor too. You can’t help but laugh at his delivery, like when Steiner saves him from a snake pit in a hilarious hat and he quips, “Where did you get that hat?” Steiner really plays up the stuffy Brit role and is a hoot. You could have a drinking game for every time he said “jolly” or “old chap”, but viewers would die of alcohol poisoning by the 45 minute mark. I also love how he just walks into Warbeck’s room during a fight and shoots everyone dead. How does he know Warbeck didn’t start a fight with some busboys over lousy tipping? Warbeck and Steiner just have a great on screen rapport, which is probably why Margheriti re-teamed them a year later in the similar Jones-infused adventure THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: The "Never Got Made" File #31

As we mentioned in our TV show coverage, the success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK gave long developing projects a new lease on life. Here we look at one unrealized project that was announced before RAIDERS hit theaters that, despite a shift to a more Jones-ian style advertising, couldn’t get made.

TERRY AND THE PIRATES was a popular comic strip created by Milton Caniff in the 1930s. The daily strip followed the Far East exploits of one Terry Lee, who is initially seeking gold and encounters a myriad of villains over the comic’s astounding 39 year run (1934-73). Over this period, the popular panel was adapted into a radio serial (1937-48), a 15 chapter Columbia film serial (1940), and short-lived television series (1953). Naturally a feature film version seemed a viable feature and the following ad appeared from AVCO-Embassy in a 1980 Variety (look familiar?) that even takes a dig at box office hit SUPERMAN (1979):

The company seemed very high on the project with various press releases in Variety touting a budget vacillating between $8 to $11 million dollars. The always present “international cast to be announced soon” invariably showed up, but the only names ever officially associated with the project in print were D.O.A. (1950) scripters Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene (as producers). Both men had not done anything since their late 60s D.O.A. revamp COLOR ME DEAD (1969). What is interesting here is the ads run circa 1981/82 when RAIDERS was getting big that took a more Indiana Jones-esque style:

Sadly, the project never materialized as AVCO-Embassy got sucked into the corporate film world and became Embassy Pictures Corporation. Given the popularity of pirates today thanks to the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN series, I’m surprised no one has opted to make this nowadays. Then again, it is probably a) caught up in some legal mess and b) harder to find anyone who knows what TERRY AND THE PIRATES is.

Box Office magazine article (Sept. 18, 1978):