The Babe Ruth Story (1948)

The Babe Ruth Story (1948) movie poster

director Roy Del Ruth
viewed: 04/05/2018

“He cured a crippled child by simply saying ‘Hiya, kid.’”

The Babe Ruth Story is an old school bad movie. In fact, it’s the second oldest on the ever-evolving Wikipedia page of “films considered the worst”, a list that I feel compelled to work through, though hewing much more to the earlier than the more recent.

But really, it’s not nearly as bad as you might think. Mostly.

It’s a chipper sports legend life story, adapted from Ruth’s own ghost written autobiography, released as the Babe was dying from cancer (he died three weeks after release). It’s goofy and good-natured, if hardly trying to portray reality. And starring William Bendix, Claire Trevor, and William Frawley, it’s not light on talent.

That said, its most hilariously ridiculous moments are legendary for good reason. The Babe didn’t die for our sins, but does have a Christ-like ability to cure others by just saying hi to an invalid, or rescuing a dog he hit with a foul ball (“Please don’t let Peewee die, Babe. You said you wouldn’t.” ), or hitting a home run for a kid too weak to open his eyes (“Babe, don’t forget Johnny!”).

Even as he is dying from cancer, the Babe also risks his life to try the newfound treatment of chemotherapy to save the lives of other sick kids for all times.

I kinda liked the big lug. The movie, I mean.

 

Black Magic (1975)

Black Magic (1975) movie poster

director Ho Meng Hua
viewed: 03/17/2018

My first thought while watching 1975’s Black Magic was “Not very sanitary putting that blade in your mouth when flaying a corpse.”

Oh but Black Magic is all kinds of unsanitary. And plenty of that weird and wacky Hong Kong sleaze and mysticism that delivers imagery more incongruous and odd than expectation could allow.

For my money, Tien Ni steals the show as the conniving (and connived upon) Luo Yin, millionairess who gets what she wants, and by that token, I suppose, gets what she deserves in the end. The love potions bought and sold here are indeed costly affairs.

Thoroughly enjoyable and influential but not as out-and-out crazy as others to follow.

Zaat (1971)

Zaat (1971) movie poster

director Don Barton
viewed: 03/04/2018

Was ist Zaat?

“Filmed enitrely on location in Florida.” Florida trash is the best trash.

It takes a truly mad Nazi scientist to transform himself into a half-human half-walking catfish creature that doesn’t look a bit like a catfish. And then to look in the mirror and recognize that he doesn’t really look how he thought he would but to be still okay with it and then go and try to mutate all aquatic life into something new with his formula.

Of course, it’s a lonely life for the world’s only walking catfish-man, so he needs to abduct pretty girls to try to mutate into a mate for himself. And kill people at random as well.

Zaat is a notoriously bad movie, a “best worst” movie truly among the pantheon of bad. From concept to execution, it’s super silly and strange, in an utterly Floridian sort of way.

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge (1970) movie poster

director Michael Sarne
viewed: 03/04/2018

Myra Breckinridge is a hot mess, maybe the original hot mess.  Hot, however,  like an unevenly microwaved potash might be.

In its day, it was a spectacular car wreck of a movie, a big budget adaptation of a touted novel by Gore Vidal, called at the time a novel that could never be filmed. This no doubt had more to do with its story about a man who undergoes a sex change operation and then comes back to Hollywood to upend the traditional male identity in as many ways possible.

In the film, Rex Reed becomes Raquel Welch (a scenario that if medicine to actually perform, a lot more folks would be up for sex changes). It plays out as knowing modernist comedy, arch, though not really camp, or maybe it’s more of an imitation of camp?

More than anything, it’s a mess. I don’t know how the novel plays out but in the film, Myra’s politicized and erudite criticism of the movie industry, patriarchy, sexism, a whole spectrum of topics, culminates in her raping a bland, good-looking actor with a strap-on. That scene is pretty horrific and played for laughs?

Most people wound up blaming director/co-writer Michael Sarne for the box office bomb. Sarne was thrown into the deep end on the picture, a cavalcade of drama and craziness on set. But he manages some interesting stuff as well, using classic movie images and sequences to comment comically on the story.

To my mind, Myra Breckinridge is indeed a mess, but an interesting one. For one, I thought Raquel Welch was great. Mae West’s rendition of “Hard to Handle” might be second place in the nadir race next to the rape scene.

An interesting spectacle and a hot mess.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Invaders from Mars (1986) movie poster

director Tobe Hooper
viewed: 02/03/2018

Invaders from Mars, in which Tobe Hooper directs a 1986 B-movie remake of a 1956 B-movie. I give it a B minus.

Invaders from Mars may not be Hooper’s finest moment, though it captures him in a very conscious homage to Atomic Age science fiction. In fact, it draws some visual elements directly from the 1956 flick by William Cameron Menzies. In fact, the whole film is very in keeping with the original’s perspective, a space loving kid (Hunter Carson, here in 1986.)

Carson stars alongside his mother, Karen Black, who in the film is actually his school’s nurse. But when Carson’s parents (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) get taken over by aliens, Black surrogates him in what otherwise seems a vaguely odd and cozy fashion.

Even with Stan Winston and John Dykstra designing critters and Dan O’Bannon helping with the script, it’s hard not to feel somewhat cynical as the film devolves into truly child-like (child-ish?) fantasy towards the end.

Best scene: Louise Fletcher swallowing a bullfrog.

 

The Battle Wizard (1977)

The Battle Wizard (1977) movie poster

director Pao Hsueh-li
viewed: 01/19/2018

As a kid, I was never won over by martial arts flicks. They were almost nutty enough for me, but I never saw one that really blew my mind or even fulfilled whatever it is I needed fulfilling in such fare.

I guess that is because I never saw one with laser fingers, lobster-armed villains, snake projecting women, or guys with stilt chicken feet. Once you start getting into the more phenomenal fantasy stuff, that’s when I start looking around for a martial arts studio that can teach me to fly.

The Battle Wizard may not be the best of the wacky fantasy martial arts stuff, but it’s certainly got enough of it to endear itself to one. That and a breakneck pace that will have your eyes all aflutter.

The Oily Maniac (1976)

 The Oily Maniac (1976) movie poster

director Meng Hua Ho
viewed: 01/19/2018

Plastic Surgery Disasters

Halfway through The Oily Maniac, the subtitles cut out. While you may think that losing the nuance of language wouldn’t necessarily harm my understanding of the movie, it did muddy the full sense of what was driving Mr. Oily Maniac as he committed the later murders. And given the readings of the film that I’ve been poring over, the evolution of the vengeance skews a lot of people’s reaction of the film.

I did notice that Mr. Maniac, who originally incarnated himself to effect revenge for a rape suddenly started to focus on female victims. The amount of misogyny the film evokes probably does depend on exactly what is being said.

I’ll give credit to Uncle Jasper at Silver Emulsion for his Freudian reading of Ah Yung (Danny Lee)’s emasculated polio victim turned misogynist rage machine when rejected by his lady love. You don’t need to travel that far down the rabbit hole to get there.

Overall The Oily Maniac is silly Exploitation fun. Minus the misogyny. Unless you take it as a critique of impotent masculine rage.

 

Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of Echoes (1999) movie poster

director  David Koepp
viewed: 01/14/2018

I didn’t have the fondest recall of 1999’s Stir of Echoes, but having just read the book, I thought it might be worth a re-visit.

Richard Matheson might not have been a great novelist, but he was certainly one of the cool horror-sci-fi idea men of his generation  and lots of great stuff emanated from his work. I became keened in on him through TV’s The Twilight Zone, and I still hold him in esteem.

Unsurprisingly, the book is better than the film. Not that the film is bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. The book develops the main character as having developed all kinds of psychic ability as a result of hypnotism, but writer-director David Koepp, probably to try to hone in, focuses the story on the ghost that starts haunting him. That, and adding the psychic powers of his kid, winds up giving Stir of Echoes a poor man’s The Sixth Sense, though that also came out the same year.

Koepp employs some visual effects that I liked: the Hitchcockian flares of red when Kevin Bacon senses something amiss with the babysitter. But the film suffers a bit from some computer-developed effects, like the ghost movement, an effect that hasn’t aged well.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) movie poster

director  Richard Quine
viewed: 11/25/2017

A cool, comic analog to Alfred Hitchcock’s VertigoBell, Book and Candle is a another darkened romance starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak from the very same year. It’s also a story of obsession and possession, of love’s darker recesses.

In some ways, the shoe is on the other foot, with Novak the enchantress and Stewart the possessed. In other lights, perhaps it’s just as bleak for Novak, though it ends with a more traditional “happy” ending if you don’t read between the lines.

As a comedy, maybe it’s not quite hilarious, though it’s urbane. And maybe its darker soul keeps it from being quite the lark it aspires to.

The cast is sublime, featuring the adorable Elsa Lancaster, Hermione Gingold, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs. And Pyewacket the cat, “as himself”, though possibly played by up to 12 different felines. And lets not forget The Zodiac Club, a beatnik-witching haven.

Bell, Book and Candle is said to have inspired TV’s Bewitched, which makes sense. It is, after all, the story of a lovely young witch who pines for something more than her magical life. The built-in metaphor of the female having to sublimate all of her inherent skills and character, wit, and abilities in order to succeed in human society is both a critique of patriarchy as well as ceding to patriarchy (for the happy ending).

It’s probably not quite as magical a film as it strives to be, but it’s totally enjoyable, charming, and packed with texts and subtexts, as well as cool character. I did find myself thinking that Billy Wilder could have probably elevated this further, but it’s perfectly fun on its own.

My 13 year old daughter was nonplussed, however.

It Conquered the World (1954)

It Conquered the World (1954) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 09/24/2017

It Conquered the World (spoiler: It didn’t)

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World is really a half-decent 1950’s sci-fi alien invasion picture. It’s undermined (or alternatively enhanced), however, by a classically comical schlock monster that is almost impossible to take seriously.

In the 1950’s it’s always about Communism, isn’t it?

The film starts with a nice opening shot following cool, low budget title sequence. More than anything, it features a cast of folks who perform well and would go on to bigger, better things. Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, and Peter Graves perform nobly.

It features some quintessential 50’s sexism, what with women not understanding stuff like science and whatnot, though also winds up having the wife take on the monster with a shotgun towards the end. So, feminism?

“The world is full of fat heads, full to overflowing.”

Charming.