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!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Brainstorming an Icon

For those who are really obsessive about interesting info and trivia on the genesis of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), this is probably the ultimate in uber-nerd cool.

An overview of the marathon brainstorming meetings between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan who developed the film over a series of meetings. This overview also contains links to the actual transcripts of those meetings.

Amazing stuff.

The Indiana Jones Story Conference

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: JEWEL OF THE GODS (1988)

I’m sure there have been good films made in South Africa. I mean, it’s a law of averages thing. Science doesn’t lie, right?

After the international success of THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY (1980) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and subsequently Cannon’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1985), if you were a South African film mogul and were sitting around for three years waiting for the fluorescent bulb above your head to flicker to life, what would you come up with? Well it’s obvious, get the cast from THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY and put them in a ramshackle knock-off of KING SOLOMON’S MINES and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK! This forehead slapper was so ingenious that it could only be foiled by one thing: bad production and bad script. Ok, two things: bad production, bad script and lack of budget. Ok, three things! Bad production, bad script, lack of budget and horrible acting. Four things! Oh, never mind…

Set during an unspecified point during WWII, JEWEL OF THE GODS starts out with a bang, literally! A white guy in a safari getup clandestinely takes pictures of a native sacrifice (bizarrely set to cheery steel drum music) in which a witchdoctor perched atop a boulder wields a jerry-rigged bat-head crucifix with a purple gem set in the middle. The witchdoctor holds it up and a purple laserbeam shoots out of the gem and causes the sacrificial victim to explode! Dude, this totally has to rule, right?

The basic cruxt of the plot is the hunt for the fabled “Purple Diamonds” (yes, that’s the best name they could come up with) which are purported to be in the fabled Mines of King Solomon. The Nazis figure they would be invincible with an army wielding the gems, the British send their… ummm, not-so best, agent out to foil the German ambition and then there’s our Aussie Indy-wannabe, Snowy Grinder (Marius Weyers). Yes, someone thought that was a good heroic name.

Snowy has written a book on the subject and apparently this has led to several disappearances, this time of one Dr. Jim Hartwell. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking where’s the comic sidekick, man? Not to worry, we have one in the form of Archie (Taylor Negron’s long lost twin Joseph Ribeiro), a Calcutta-born, Texas-bred mechanical engineer who squeals like a girl while in danger and has moments of implied homosexuality. And wears an '80s foam baseball cap with a silk-screened picture of Texas... in the '40s. One character, three groups offended and time period anachronisms be dammed! That’s got to be a record. Anyway, Archie finds Snowy attempting to mine gold in a desert and when Snowy asks if he’s looking to get his copy of Snowy’s book autographed, Archie says “I don’t give a cow’s fuck for your autograph!” and explains that he wants Snowy’s help to find the lost Dr. Jim and shows him a purple diamond to prove that they exist. Of course Snowy is on this info like ugly on an ape.

Meanwhile, the Nazis discover Snowy’s book and hear tell that Archie knows someone who has a map to the fabled mines and it doesn’t take them too long to figure the pair can lead them to the purple diamonds. The running joke here is that Nazis bump their heads on things and commit painfully unfunny mixed-metaphors, such as “ze rolling stone catches ze early worm!” Oh, make it stop!

One Mr. Crow (Richard Cox) of special branch is also set out to find Snowy with the advice “chin up, don’t drink too much and don’t rape anyone important”. Yikes! Just like the warnings “do not drink” on windex bottles, if you have to say it, that means someone has done it. Moments like these pop-up every now and then and seem rather jarring against what is obviously trying to be an amiable, family-friendly adventure romp with bumbling Nazi stereotypes pulled straight out of “Hogan’s Heroes”. Matter of fact the movie is loaded with condescending stereotypes such as brothel owner Abdul (who looks like Roger E. Mosley in a fez) who is mad when the Nazis open fire on his boat because “this is costing me money!” Not to mention the fact that all the black characters are either loin-cloth clad spear-chuckers or are pigeon-English talking, wide-eyed, common clay of South Africa… you know… morons. In one scene where Snowy is at the Red Cross camp, he asks a patient where Dr. Hartwell’s room is. The patient looks confused so Snowy translates into coherent gibberish, “great white med’cine man, where he do dreaming?”, and is promptly pointed in the right direction.

As it turns out Mr. Crow is a mercenary and a black market dealer who wants to get the purple diamonds so he can sell them to the Nazis. He may wear a white suit, but Belloque he ain’t. He does however provide a rather uninteresting villain to chase around Snowy and Archie for a while, giving more opportunity for Archie to do his bug-eyed girly-screaming thing some more. By the time this is over you will be ready to club Archie like a baby seal, and that is long before the “hilarious” scenes where he falls asleep in a tree and dreams that the snake that is crawling on his arm is his lover’s caress only to awaken, screaming his head off to fall out of the tree into a pit filled with tarantulas… which he is scared of too, leading to more screaming. Seriously? Someone thought this would be funny? I wonder what the screenwriter was thinking when hammering out the script?

Snowy meets up with Dr. Hartwell only to find out that the doctor is *gasp* Ally Hartwell (Sandra Prinsloo)… a woman! What is the world coming to? Sheesh! They now let women play “doctor” with real people! God forbid we let them drive automobiles! Ally lets Snowy spend the night in her house, on the sofa, and clearly she has been in the bush too long as her attempt to seduce him consists of pretending to sleepwalk into the living room where she opens a book and the map to the mines falls out. Naturally Snowy, buying into Ally’s cheesy sleepwalking routine, ignores her silky negligee, jumps on the map and heads out to the mines in the morning with Archie and Ally in tow. Of course this is not before Ally gets gussied up in a gown to keep the commandant “busy” while Snowy sneaks around to get the lay of the land, so to speak (ummm... why didn't she try the evening gown and champagne trick on Snowy?). The Nazis now have the witchdoctor and his purple diamond crucifix and demonstrate its powers on an insolent Afrikaner (whose acting is so stunning that he is either a random farmer or a member of the crew). At this point our group decides to perform the raid at night as the purple diamonds are powerless in the dark as their lasers are created by sunlight!

As it turns out the “mine” is actually a high-tech, trap-laden installation ala OPERATION CONDOR (1991) and there is some musings that it might be of alien origin, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s simply the old favorite of cheap producers everywhere: an abandoned refinery. In an attempt to work in more “King Solomon’s Mines” plot devices, the witchdoctor gets in a slow, poorly choreographed fight with the presumed lost Dr. Jim causing the whole place to start exploding with purple lasers shooting everywhere. Wait, I thought the diamonds needed sunlight? Wtf? The group make their escape from the mine in a scene where they clearly wanted to do the mine car sequence from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984), except that their mine car is freakin’ tiny, made of wood and you could easily catch up with it by simply walking. What follows is a scene in which some Nazis in a motorcycle and sidecar chase the truck containing our heroes at breakneck speeds of up to 10 miles an hour! Seriously, I really don’t like seeing chase sequences undercranked, but this is pretty embarrassing. The film ends with a direct rip-off of the train sequence from Cannon’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES right down to the dialogue “The train will stop”, “it’s not stopping”, “it has to stop!” Of course once on the train, the mimicry ends as presumably they didn’t have the funds to stage another action sequence.

There are a couple of interesting things about the film, not the least of which is the name of the gaffer, Fuzzy Skinner. One is that the cast is well versed stage actors. Sandra Prinsloo has the distinction of causing a political uproar in 1985 during a stageplay titled “Miss Julie” in which she caused the audience to walk-out on the production because she kissed a black man (yes, I said 1985 not 1895). Joseph Ribeiro is a Fulbright scholar who has won awards for his stagework in Northern California where he teaches theater. Marius Weyers has been in everything from GHANDI (1982) to DEEP STAR SIX (1989) and while he’s no Harrison Ford, he is plenty competent when given something slightly better conceived to do. Also, there are a few moments in the film that make you wonder if Lucasburg saw it. The truck/motorcycle-sidecar chase from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) is extremely reminiscent of the one found here, except here they shoot a purple laser at the sidecar and it detaches from the motorcycle and slides across the ground into a river where the irate Nazi is humorously deluged with water. Also, they mention that the artifact that they are after could be of alien origin and what was the last idea Lucasburg had for Indy? Yeah, that last sequel was so bad that I could totally believe that they stole the idea for it from this bastard child of a movie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


David Keith has had an odd career. The Tennessee native made a name for himself in the late 70s/early 80s with memorable supporting bits in films like THE GREAT SANTINI (1979), BRUBAKER (1980), TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT (1981) and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982). Lead roles in THE LORDS OF DISCIPLE (1983) and FIRESTATER (1984) had him poised for stardom. But it never happened and – be it personal choice or the Hollywood system – Keith never became the leading man he was positioned for. Maybe casting agents always thought he was Keith David? A dumbass goof like that is expected from Hollywood knownuthings. I’d like to think an individualistic streak kept him honest (check out his amazing lead performance in Donald Cammell’s serial killer flick WHITE OF THE EYE [1987]; definitely not a “safe” role) and his decision to direct in the late 80s backs that up. We are unapologetic fans of his Lovecraft adaptation THE CURSE here at VJ, so it is with sad news we report that his sophomore feature isn’t as gooey, goofy or good.

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TENNESSE BUCK tells the story of young yuppies Kenneth and Barbara Manchester (Brant von Hoffman and Playboy playmate Kathy Shower) taking a safari “somewhere in Borneo” (yes, that is what the title card says). Ken and Barbie (haha, get it?) find their plans in disarray after their guide is killed by a rampaging elephant minutes after they arrive at the village. What to do? Well, you hire Buck Malone (Keith), a local croc hunter who Ken just happened to see give a lecture at college (!) once. Buck is – of course – a drunken womanizer who’s initially resistant to the idea of taking them tiger hunting because the location is close to an area populated by cannibals. And Buck should know since he spent time with the flesh-eaters years ago (his plane crashed and they considered him a God who fell from the sky) and wears a protective amulet they gave him. But the allure of having free booze proves too much for our lush hero and off they go in his seaplane.

Cue the scenes of Buck telling Barb she can bring only one Gucci trunk (heathen!) and Buck mocking Ken’s ridiculously expensive firepower. The group finally spots their tiger prey, but Buck calls off the hunt because it seems the cannibals have expanded their territory. How does he know this? His assistant Sinaga smells a pile of crap on a log and says it smells of human flesh. Oh, and they find two guides strung up and beheaded. Before they can escape, the cannibals are upon them and the group is captured. Buck says that they eat their enemies but consider white meat evil. Of course, not too evil as all the men become entranced by the white woman (apparently their subscription to Playboy ran out in 1984) and they take her off to a hut to be oiled up (which she seems to enjoy). Buck tells Ken they have decided not to eat him. Yay, good news! They have decided to hunt him instead. Bummer. As Ken and Sinaga are released into the woods, an elder tribeswoman informs her chief son about how Buck saved them all back in the day and his dad gave him that medallion. He refuses to listen and, while everyone is asleep, the old woman releases Buck from his cage. He gets Barbara and they head off into the jungle to escape.

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TENNESSE BUCK is Jonesploitation alright. Hell, just read that title and look at the poster. The filmmakers obviously enjoy the wisecracking aspect of the Indiana Jones character and mimic it here. Keith is good in the role and comes off a little like Jack Burton too. Unfortunately, this is the film’s big problem because director Keith subverts actor Keith’s jovial efforts about an hour in with the biggest tone switch I’ve seen in a while. How big? This amusing adventure grinds to a shocking halt when a fully nude Shower has a tribesman come into her hut, throw her husband’s decapitated head at her and then proceed to graphically rape her! Wow. Later, Keith even has the gall to insert a Buck/Barb make out session mid-escape (which is brought on by a fire ant attack!). Just too many WTF? moments going on and the movie never fully recovers from moments like these.

Not that there was much movie there anyway. Screenwriters Barry and Stuart Jacobs offer such a thin plot that I’m surprised this could fill a 88 minute movie. There is also a truly awful 80s synthesizer score that is heavy on the drum machine. It is a shame because Keith was shooting in some beautiful places in Sri Lanka. I guess he did the best he could. Keith certainly knows the target audience well enough as he offers bloody deaths and plenty of nudity from Shower. As an actress, Shower is decent, certainly better than other Playboy progeny like Anna Nicole Smith. But TENNESSEE BUCK is not the best of movies to be showcasing her, uh, talents. The film is like the traveling montage in RAIDERS – it is all over the map! The final scene really sums up the movie’s schizophrenic nature perfectly. As Buck, Barb and Sinaga safely fly away, they bring up her now deceased husband, which Buck dismisses with basically an “oh well” and shrugs of his shoulders. “Now let’s get the hell out of here,” he says as the plane flies off into the horizon and the shot runs on long after the plane is out of view. My sentiments exactly! But since you stuck around to read this review, here is photo of Shower topless with a parrot to show my appreciation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1951)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: THE MINES OF KILIMANJARO (1986)

Once in a lifetime, comes a motion picture that changes the face of literary adaptations... Wait, let me rephrase that: Once in a while you come across a low-rent corker that was banged out so fast and furious that the phrase “giant plot holes” demands to be replaced with “wtf?!” Here, I think it would be far easier to talk about the things in this movie that actually make sense. Well, maybe not easier, but definitely quicker!

I have to give credit to writer-director Mino Guerrini, who’s career never really made it out of Europe. Guerrini goes all out with his rip-off of a rip-off of a movie that was inspired by the original source material for the film that they are plagiarizing. Man, I need a Ross Perot chart to track this tangled web of “inspiration”. Guerrini rushed out this rip-off of Cannon’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES so fast and dirty that I’m not sure if even he knew what the hell was going on in the film!

The bare essence of the plot concerns a search for an African diamond mine located in the shadows of Mount Kilimajaro. Oh, but there is so much more…

As we learn from flashbacks, in 1917 a group of German soldiers took off to find the legendary mines and were massacred by the Zetwan tribe who guard the mines. The only survivor, Schmidt (Chris Connelly), now 10 years later, is professor Tom Smith at Cal Berkeley (go Bears!). A mysterious man with forged introduction papers that tells him of a flood of diamonds into Amsterdam, and that he knows that Smith knows the truth about their origins, his origins and, oh yeah, people are going to try and kill him. Smith promptly calls up his assistant, Professor Ed Barclay (Tobias Hoesl), and tells him that he must go to Africa in his place because of the fact that people are trying to kill him (ummm, thanks boss!). No sooner than the sucker – err, I mean, Ed, agrees to the trip, Professor Smith is killed by a hyper-blond assassin with yellow glasses and a cane-gun, who simply walks into Smith’s office and shoots him. Apparently Arian assassins do not require letters of introduction, forged or otherwise. As Smith dies he scribbles the word “Zetwan” in chalk. The plot thins…

Immediately following this, the mystery man falls for the old “broken down car filled with assassins” ploy and is machine gunned down as the Arian assassin looks on. Wait, he was just at the college and the mystery man had something like a half an hour head-start! How the hell did the assassin get from the college to some back road to cut off the mystery man? Wtf? Of course in the grand scheme of this movie, that “wtf?” moment is a mere trifle.

Enter the Dutchman Rolf (Gordon Mitchell). Who is he? Beats the shit outta me, but he and his bitchy assistant are after the diamonds too, so they head off to Africa! Good, so now you think you know who the villains are. But wait, there's more! Enter the Chinese! Tai-Ling, a rotund white-guy in bad “chinaman” make up and even worse “engrish” (Franco Diogene) and his skinny sycophant are after the diamonds too! Now the hunt can begin in earnest.

After fighting off a couple of random goons in his hotel while the Arian assassin looks on, Ed is kidnapped by the only Chinese henchmen to not know any martial arts. This fact could be because they are white guys with fake “manchu” mustaches and eye-liner! When the “Chinese” wiseguys smugly bring in a laundry basket that is supposed to contain Ed, they are shocked to find only “raundry” and Ed strolls into the room cool as a cucumber claiming it was a bit too cramped in there. What is he freakin’ Houdini now? Who knows? Who cares, we gotta keep this train moving! After threatening Ed with torture (a slave is force-fed live mice who will allegedly eat out his stomach), he refuses to talk, so Tai-Ling exclaims he will get the “number twelve” to which his henchman replies “goodie!” After the ridiculous, but rather nasty sounding death by mice, number twelve it turns out is simply tying Ed to a chair and releasing a poisonous snake into the room. Does that really even deserve a number? I suppose if you are the type to catalog all of the atrocities that you could possibly visit upon someone, I guess that would have to be in there somewhere, but not at number 12, that's all I'm saying.

After Ed is rescued (what kinda hero is this guy anyway?), he joins Lord Kilbrook’s expedition (via instructions from an eye-patch clad Al Cliver) which is apparently off to the only point in Africa where you can see a total eclipse of the sun, and get in a few rounds of golf. I know, I know, but there’s so much crazy shit coming up in this film, don’t even bother to stop and question this, just go with it. Here is where Ed meets Kilbrook’s daughter Eva (Elena Pompei), the strings swell and while gazing fondly in her eyes tells her of his good luck charm that he keeps on him at all times… a baling hook left over from his days as a dockworker! What? First off, who keeps a sharp, heavy piece of steel  as a good-luck charm, second, who mentions that during romantic banter and third, this guy weighs 98 pounds soaking wet and could make Kate Moss want to join Jenny Craig! The only work this guy would be doing on the dock is picking up sailors.

Anyway, Ed and Eva are captured by a hostile native tribe (are there any other kind?) and watch in horror as a victim is drawn and quartered. Well, sorta. The US video release on the Imperial label has some pretty heavy edits. It’s kind of hard to say what scenes are just sloppy editing in a rush to get this into theaters, but it’s pretty obvious when scenes of graphic violence begin and are cut away from and never seen again. Particularly here as there is a fair amount of bloodletting left intact. Hands are lopped off (though the actual chopping has the gore cropped off screen), shootings are bloody and there are plenty of nasty moments that are cut away from abruptly. There are some other moments that are abruptly cut away from as well which makes me wonder if the US distributors didn’t do a little pruning to bring down the running time.

But wait! We aren’t finished yet! Cue LAW rocket attacks (yes, in 1927), African Greek orthodox monks (who actually have a picture of Professor Smith from his 1917 expedition), drama in the depths of darkest Africa (with a modern highway visible in the background), a white native queen in glamour make-up who runs an all female tribe and needs Ed’s “services”, a truck that contains a time bomb for no reason whatsoever, threats of inter-racial rape, and oh, yeah, a diamond mine run by the very same German army guys that we saw massacred in the flashback! Wtf?!

I’ve always gotten a kick out of this movie because of its completely off the wall attempt to shovel so much shit on the viewer that it might even take extra viewings to pick out all of the inconsistencies, inaccuracies, plot holes, screw-ups, and just plain boneheaded moments. Plus, Elena Pompei (last seen in Luigi Cozzi’s 1989 classic PAGANINI HORROR) is easy on the eyes and runs around in a button-up shirt and white panties for most of the movie. Unfortunately the US version leaves a lot to be desired. In addition to the aforementioned edits, the movie desperately needs to be presented widescreen. One scene in particular has the actor completely cropped out of the frame while the image focuses on an inanimate object. If these issues are ever corrected, this movie would be a classic of prosaic adventure. And maybe we’d find out who the hell the guy is on the poster and why he is not in the movie!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Parody, thy name is Indiana

Outside of knock offs, the other true measure of success is the parody. Dr. Jones and his adventures quickly became known worldwide and so that meant the character was ripe for the parody picking. Here we look at a few of the flicks that looked to exploit the good archeologist through humor.

CROCODILE JONES: THE SON OF INDIANA DUNDEE (1990) – Wow, this Filipino action-comedy looked to kill two 80s staples with one (big rolling) stone. Very little is known about this Vic Sotto vehicle and I can’t even find art for it. But I did manage to find this clip online and, if this is any indication, this is the greatest movie ever made!

HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (1987) – Robert Townsend became a critical darling with this comedy about the experience of a black actor in Hollywood. One segment called “Sneakin’ into the Movies” offered a Siskel & Ebert style show by two black dudes who, duh, snuck into the movies. The Indiana Jones offering is CHICAGO JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM with our two reviewers arguing over his ability to survive a jump off a cliff. “I know he’s a bad mutherfucker and all, but jumping off mountains with his mother and all? That’s bullshit,” argues negative reviewer Tyrone (Jimmy Woodward). Speed (Townsend) disagrees and retorts that Tyrone doesn’t know anything about how Jones survived because the hero knows something about the “levels of gravitivity and polarity.”

Sadly, this movie introduced us to co-writer Keenan Ivory Wayans. Or, more appropriately, unleashed him onto the cinematic world. Now he is not a bad guy and I like his early flicks, but his 90s SCARY MOVIE output directly led to the crap parody movies like DATE MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE, WHATEVER MOVIE clogging up the movie going publics arteries. And we come full circle as DISASTER MOVIE (2008) featured Tony Cox as a pint-sized Indiana Jones who I’m sure gets thrown into a wall or kicked in the nuts (no, I haven’t seen it as even I have standards).

HYSTERICAL (1983) – Ah, boy, start sharpening those knives because I will totally bag on the terrible current parody trend but then stick up for the Hudson brothers HYSTERICAL. This was SCARY MOVIE before semen jokes! Think AIRPLANE but with a horror slant. This gets a mention because 2 of the 3 Hudsons, Mark and Brett, essay the roles of Indiana Jones clones Dr. Paul Batton and Fritz through out the movie. Their intro scene has them spelunking in a tomb and confronting Dracula, who proceeds to turn into a bat and hump Fritz. See, dick jokes are alright and this film has plenty of them. It was the best movie ever for a 7-year-old kid obsessed with horror movie and is, well, hysterical. Don't take my word for it, watch the hysterical HYSTERICAL clip below:

Interestingly, lead Bill Hudson was married to Goldie Hawn for three years in the 1970s and is the father of Kate Hudson. After he divorced Goldie, Bill married Cindy Williams (got a thing for funny chicks, Bill?) and the Hudson brothers planned to do another flick spoofing the Indiana Jones image called BOOMERANG with Williams in the lead. This trade ad ran in 1983, but the flick never got made. Deep down I am truly saddened.

NIGHT PATROL (1984) – This raunchy parody doesn’t actually have any Indiana Jones riffs in it, but the filmmakers did see fit to mention the film in a trade ad that spoof various hits at the time ("Even more action packed than RAIDERS OF THE LOST PATROL").

UHF (1989) – This is probably the defining send up of Dr. Jones to anyone from my generation. As a master of pop parody, “Weird” Al Yankovic made a career off of mimicking music culture. So the promise of a Weird Al movie made fans giddy with anticipation of what films he would skewer. Well, he delivered by opening with a pitch perfect satire of the opening of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. From the Oscar statue idol to the endlessly chasing boulder, it is as fine scene as anything the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker guys gave us. Revisit this classic bit below:

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.