Weekly Mishmash: September 6-12

Big Bad Mama (1974). Trashy, sloppily made but endearing seventiesploitation flick made better by star Angie Dickinson (who seems to be having a ball). As Depression-era ma Wilma McClatchie, Dickinson only wants the best for her two teen daughters. So she turns to a life of crime, picking up Tom Skerritt and William Shatner along the way. It’s Bonnie and Her Two Boyfriends, basically. All told, this is a stupid movie filled with a bevy of cliché dumb hicks, but it does have a few interesting elements. One is the quasi-Democratic tilt of the screenplay, with bad guys bellyaching about taxes on the rich and encroaching Socialism (gee, that sounds familiar). Another is the amount of playful sex and nudity on display. Not only does Dickinson expose lots of flesh, looking great for a gal in her forties, but Skerritt and Shatner drop trou as well. A definite time capsule of its era, worth a peek for those who enjoy campy trash.
book_damatoThe Last Good Time: Skinny D’Amato, the Notorious 500 Club & the Rise and Fall of Atlantic City by Jonathan Van Meter. A fascinating book that Christopher bought earlier this year, then passed on to me. This chronicles the rise and fall of Atlantic City in the mid-twentieth century through the person of Skinny D’Amato — who ran the city’s most popular hot spot, the 500 Club. D’Amato’s hard rolling career included teaming Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin for the first time, befriending Frank Sinatra, and being involved with the Mob. An interesting book — more a bio of the city itself than of D’Amato, who survived long enough to witness legalized gambling and megacasinos in his town. I had no idea there was so much corruption going on back then, with surreptitious police and politician payoffs, secret gambling rooms, prostitutes, etc.
No Questions Asked (1951). Bland Barry Sullivan stars as an insurance agent who becomes a go-between in some shady dealings with big city thugs. He also gets caught in a love triangle with sweet co-worker Jean Hagen and fiery Arlene Dahl. Despite having the novelty of a pair of cross-dressing jewel thieves, this was a thoroughly okay noir with very little to distinguish it. Hagen’s performance as Sullivan’s world-weary onetime flame is the best thing going here. Aside from her, the film desperately needed to be better cast. Sullivan is a genial but bland lead, and having the white bread George Murphy as his cop adversary doesn’t help matters at all (Edward G. Robinson would’ve been perfect in that part!). I liked the atmosphere and a few of the smaller players were great, but as a whole this film didn’t jell. Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear also saw this movie recently; his review is here.
book_comptonThe Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image by Joyce Compton and Michael Ankerich. A brief but fascinating read on one of my personal fave classic movie actresses. Author Michael Ankerich befriended Joyce Compton later on in her life and encouraged her to write her memories down. Although he couldn’t find a publisher at the time for her memoirs, luckily he persisted and The Real Joyce Compton is the satisfying result. Although Compton doesn’t go into a lot of detail with individual films, she writes extensively on the workaday existence of being a supporting player in ’30s and ’40s Hollywood. This non-glamorous side of the movie business isn’t covered often in books, and it’s fascinating to read. Throughout the book, she has a straightforward, non-sugarcoating attitude toward her career that is refreshing to behold. This carries over to her reflections on her personal life. For me, it was most insteresting to find out about the close ties she had with her parents and how they affected her many failed attempts at finding romance (including one short-lived marriage in the early ’50s). Most of all, she comes across like a fun person who lives life to the fullest. Ankerich used a lot of images from The Joyce Compton Shrine here (with my permission) — it’s pretty neat to see my name in print within these pages.
Sleep Dealer (2008). Mexican indie with a sci-fi bent asks a thought-provoking question: namely, what effect will future advances in telecommuting and robotic technology have on the current Mexican-U.S. labor problem? In a not too distant future, water shortages force a young laborer (Luis Fernando Peña) to a Tijuana firm that employs specially equipped people to virtually control robots in menial U.S. jobs. While searching for the implanted nodes that will enable him to work this way, he befriends a woman (Leonor Varela) who sells their visualized memories (unbeknownst to him) on a computer network. Although suffering from one subplot too many and borderline cheesy CGI effects, it’s the human element that drives this film. I liked the way it blends a current issue into a science fiction framework. Nicely acted and directed, too — seek this out.

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