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Weekly Mishmash: May 16-22

poster_codetwoCode Two (1953). Fun, documentary style flick about L.A.’s motorcycle cops. This film follows three men (Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton and Jeff Richards) as they go through arduous boot camp at the police academy (look fast for the same roadway from the Charlie’s Angels opening credits), make their way through office gruntwork, and finally earn their badges as motorcycle patrolmen. This film is awfully backward in its portrayal of manly men and their worried wives and girlfriends, and the many straightforward shots of people driving hogs around might make you reach for the nearest gun. It’s still fascinating from a historical point of view, however, with plenty of gritty footage straight out of an industrial training short. The film picks up a bit once the dramatic stuff gets under way, with rogue cop Meeker chasing down an underground cattle thieving ring. There’s also a scene where the hunky leads relax in bathing wear — nice!
Dead Again (1991). This is the third time I’ve seen this Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson thriller (it’s one of Christopher’s all time faves). It is one of those films that people either love or hate. Despite the film’s ludicrousness, I always fall for it, even to the point of not seeing the many “twist” plot points that get thrown at you like so many ham-handed scissor references. I think it’s because Branagh and Thompson are so committed to their characters, and they seem to be having a grand time playing both 1940s lovers and a contemporary pair who are not at all freaked that they physically resemble said 1940s couple.
Niagara Falls (1941). This breezy Hal Roach production was the latest offering in our cheap-o public domain comedy film fest. The print on our DVD was surprisingly crisp and clean looking, matched by comedy that was actually quite enjoyable on its own modest terms. The plot concerns a pair of young strangers (Marjorie Woodworth and Tom Brown) thrown together under unpleasant circumstances. When the two seek lodging at a Niagra Falls hotel, they are mistaken for newlyweds and booked in the same room. Although the two seem to have an easy way out (why don’t they just say they’re not married?), they are forced together via a zealous country hick (Slim Summerville) — much to the dismay of his long-suffering bride (ZaSu Pitts in full-on “oh dear” mode). A short, silly farce made watchable by a pleasant cast and slick production which could almost be mistaken for an MGM b-movie. The falls themselves appear through the magic of rear screen projection, by the way.
Night of the Comet (1984). I rented this expecting some good ’80s cheese; well, it’s cheesy alright but not so good. A comet hits earth, turning most of humanity to rust colored dust save for two vapid L.A. teens. The girls (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) make their way to a neon-lit radio station, where they and a handsome stranger (Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager) must elude zombies and mysterious agents who are coldly monitoring the trio. Interesting concept, but the production’s cheapness and plodding pace are a huge bummer. The film couldn’t decide whether the comet made people into dust or zombies, so they went with both and apparently hoped no one would notice. On the plus side I dug the ’80s shopping montage and the many shots of an empty downtown L.A. (shot at 5 a.m., perhaps?), and Stewart made for a nice, level-headed heroine.
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Another relic of Disney live action musical cheeriness from the ’60s. I find these flicks fascinating, but this 1880s-set opus left me puzzled. For one, the movie doesn’t really revolve much around the title band, preferring to stick with crusty grampa Walter Brennan’s political convictions (he’s a Democrat and Grover Cleveland supporter; son Buddy Ebsen is a Republican). Much time is also devoted to a romantic subplot with Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson serenading each other to indistinct Sherman brothers songs. The family itself has too many kids who don’t have enough screen time to make an impression (even 14 year-old Kurt Russel gets lost in the shuffle) — a symbol of this pleasant yet overlong production. The one thing I did enjoy was the crafty “Ten Feet Off The Ground,” which can be better heard here on the great Café Apres Midi Meets Disney compilation.
album_essentialbarbraBarbra Streisand — The Essential Barbra Streisand. Being a proper music loving queer, I decided to explore the rich catalog of Barbra Streisand on eMusic. At first I only wanted to get her first two “Greatest Hits” albums from 1970 and ’78, but then I realized that the same credits could be used on this 2002 compilation with twice as many tracks. This set covers her first forty years in the biz in an even-handed fashion. Babs’ earliest stuff is the highlight, of course. From the opener “A Sleepin’ Bee” one can tell what a breath of fresh air she was, and old style singer’s singer with uniqueness and vitality. I’m delighted they put in the wonderfully sung “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” but my favorite tune of hers is the rendition of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End” — a song that by all rights could have been a hippie-dippy mistake, but Barbra’s enthusiasm makes it a joyous romp. From there on out, her music got more formulaic and overproduced as ironically her singing improved. I can admire the virtuosity in a “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl, but it’s missing the spark of something like “Lover, Come Back to Me” from 1963. Whoever compiled this tended to pick vocal virtuosity over hits (a nice tactic), which means entire albums are sometimes omitted. For example, I kinda wish they included something off 1984’s pop-oriented Emotion, but then again it would have destroyed the flow between the Yentl and Broadway Album selections. And there’s also the matter of everything post-’85 being such a crashing bore. It really says something that even when doing a snoozy ballad, though, the woman is like buttah.

4 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: May 16-22

  1. Oh man, my sister and I LOVE “Night of the Comet.” It’s pretty crap, as you point out, but for some reason our parents rented it (or taped it off HBO or something) in the 80’s, and it scared the crap out of us. My favorite part is the nightmare-within-a-nightmare fakeout. I also love that the mysterious dude from the video game high score list also survived. I’m sure if I watched it now it would suck.

  2. Big fan of “Stoney End” here too, from that early 70s moment when Barbra was flirting with being a rock singer. From that same approximate moment is her version of Carole King’s “Where You Lead,” which stomps the original all to pieces, but in a good way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh2Lty8triM

  3. Kris, I didn’t even notice the guy with the Tempest high score survived! He must’ve been the guy in the convertible.

    JB – as a kid I remember back when my mom played Barbra’s “Greatest Hits Vol. 2” over and over, the only two songs that I loved were “Stoney End” and her live medley of “Where You Lead” and “Sweet Inspiration”. They just seemed more fun. Now I know they were earlier tracks from when she was going for looser and funkier “rock” vibe.

  4. There was a conspicuous shot of his initials on the license plate of the car: DMK, I think? Which also doesn’t really make sense, because I think he also makes a joke about owning lots of cars (presumably ones he looted after the comet-pocalypse). But at any rate, it’s a definite reference to the video game score!

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