Posts Tagged ‘Strother Martin’

Movie Reviews 303 – The Wild Bunch (1969)

June 16, 2017

The western was once a Hollywood staple, born in the silent era at the nascence of the film industry itself, it reigned supreme along with the romance and crime mysteries from the 40’s on through the 60’s. It competed with Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the form of the weekly serials used to entice kids to return for Saturday matinees. Legendary stars including John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and even director John Ford were synonymous with the format. But somewhere along the late 60’s it began to lose it’s lustre and fell out of favour, and the genre has been only sporadically revisited since.

The popularity of westerns in it’s heyday could be attributed to one factor: the promise of some action  But while those old westerns featured gunfights, showdowns and Cowboy and Indian war battles, the inflicted wounds were moderated to keep them mostly family friendly – well as family friendly as a gunshot or piercing arrow can be – bloodless and without realistic injuries. Director Sam Peckinpah changed all that with The Wild Bunch, throwing the sugar coated oaters a dose of reality.

The story is about a band of grizzled outlaws who roam along the periphery of the Mexican border as they pull their heists. The movie begins with the gang disguised in cavalry uniforms entering a small town and staging a bank robbery. But just as they are about to make their getaway they notice guns poking along the nearby rooftops. But the lawmen, forewarned and waiting for them, have not planned well. Evident that they are about to be ambushed by the waiting posse the outlaws take advantage of a badly timed celebratory parade including women and children leading right up to the bank porch. The outlaws exit the bank with guns blazing, instantly barraged by return gunfire. What follows next is a prolonged scene of frenzied carnage that leaves casualties on both sides, but mostly with the young and innocent bystanders. This opening scene clearly establishes the realism to follow.

The ragtag group of outlaws keep one step ahead of their pursuers while at the same time try to get one last good robbery with visions of a comfortable retirement dangling before them. Their trail is hindered not only by the lawmen and bounty hunters hot on their trail but also by a former gang member who got caught and coerced into cooperating with the gangs capture. Their escape plans are further complicated by the Mexican revolution, rebels, corrupt authorities in both factions, arms dealing, gang infighting and another thwarted heist.

Amid much soul searching and questioning the meaning of life, the grim outlook is inescapable leading to both desperation and eventual resignation. The gun battles are palpable and with blood red flowing freely along with bits of body and flesh. The handguns and shotguns are reinforced with a prized machine gun with becomes the centerpiece of a bloody finale. Other brutal acts which include a slit throat and a man dragged within and inch of his life are just as authentically portrayed.

The stellar cast is led by William Holden as the gang leader, Robert Ryan as the former member leading the hunt, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and even Strother Martin as one of the feckless bounty hunters.

Not for the faint of heart, the brutality in the film still stands as a benchmark today. The film also pushes the realism and ruthless boundaries in other ways such as showing kids torturing scorpions engulfed in ants and how ragged Mexican women would prostitute themselves for a few gringo coins, subject matter that would normally be hinted at and not explicitly shown on camera.

Peckinpah would once again adopt this ultra-violence format in Straw Dogs, another film that was proved to be controversial, but just as great cinematically.


Movie Reviews 242 – Sssssss (1973)

November 4, 2015

SssssssWhat we’ve got here is a failure to think logically about a solution to the world’s problems”. Imagine that in a southern drawl as only Strother Martin can utter in his classic Cool Hand Luke prison captain role.

Nutty ophiologist Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin) believes that the world’s inevitable ecological downfall is at hand with all the smog and pollution and that his clandestine research at his remote reptile lab will be the answer. Sadly, for newly hired hand David Blake (Dirk Benedict of original Battlestar Galactica fame), a student just looking to make a bit of coin, this means that he will be the next attempt to be a human-snake combining the intelligence of man with reptilian resilience to weather and climate extremes. I guess poor crazy Stoner (how apropos a name) never gave much thought of the loss of hands, arms, and legs as utile accoutrements that may actually be helpful for survival.

Blake naively believes Stoner’s explanation for giving him the injections as a way to build up immunity to venom and other perils he may encounter working alongside the doctor. Meanwhile  Stoner’s daughter and fellow researcher Kristina (Heather Menzies) is slowly falling for Blake. The transformation is slow at first with only sensitivity to temperatures and such, but just as the changes become drastic and Blake finds himself a prisoner, just as Kristina also stumbles upon the truth when she encounters the results of one of her father’s past failures being exhibited as a sideshow freak in a travelling carnival.

I loved this movie when I first saw it on the now defunct Scream satellite channel. It oozes chintzy 70’s horror but at the same time delivers some freaky transformation effects. There are a few side plots that include nosey cops and bullying school jock, but all you really care about when watching a movie like this are the reptiles, and there are plenty of them here, including a few real freaks of nature. I rate this a close second to my all time favorite herpetology movie: The Reptile, a Hammer studios film that is much darker, gothic and really scared the bejesus out of me when I saw it as a preschooler.

On a side note, Planet of the Apes enthusiasts and fans (such as myself) will be familiar with a number of the crew credits. Makeup and prosthetics master John Chambers, celebrated for creating the original classic PotA apes, provided some of the snake effects, while his fx partner in crime Dan Striepeke co-wrote the script here. There is a “blink and you’ll miss him” moment where Felix Silla who played the role of Gorilla Child in the scene where Taylor is being chased through an ape funeral in a simian house of worship is now one of the circus freaks in the travelling carnival. Finally, Richard Zanuck was a producer for both movies.

Movie Reviews 193 – Slap Shot (1977)

August 11, 2014

Slap ShotBet you’d never thought you’d be reading a review for a 1970’s hockey movie here. But then again, I never thought I’d ever see an actor like Paul Newman in crude comedy about a minor league hockey team vying to remain afloat by putting on a carnival show of fights and other nefarious distractions both on and off the ice.

When team captain Reggie Dunlop (Newman) learns that the local steel plant and main town employer are shutting down he realizes that The Charlestown Chiefs may be folding up. With no prospective buyers lining up and an elusive owner that keeps to the shadows Reggie decides to turn the team’s fortunes on his own. First he concocts a rumour that there are buyers interested by planting false information in the local paper. But the fun really starts when he notices that the local fans have a taste for bloody brawls, especially when the distractions lead to actually winning games. As luck would have it, the team has just signed the Hanson brothers, three young bespectacled goons whose idea of game preparation include wrapping tin foil and tape over their knuckles.

Most of the focus is on Reggie who’s stoking the fighting flames in the locker room and Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) the lone standout player who refuses to bow to the low brow tactics. But the show stealers are the Hanson brothers played by real life minor leaguers Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson. (That’s right, they were more Carlson brothers than Hanson brothers). From the moment they are greeted at a train station by Reggie who finds them battling with a vending machine which stole their quarter, the audience just waits for their next appearance. The fun includes a French speaking goalie trying to master the English language, a crude womanizing lounge lizard, the one good looking player with buxom twins constantly in tow, and the finale that pits a bevy some of the most notorious hockey hit men who are amassed to put the Chiefs in the penalty box for good.

Directed by George Roy Hill (who also directed The Sting, The World According to Garp, and a host of other great movies) the film is laden with reverence to old time hockey and invocations of the ghost of coach “Toe” Blake. It’s a surreal peek at semi-pro sports, hockey lifestyles, fandom and economics but it made this offbeat comedy something of a sleeper hit especially here in Canada. Even the French speaking public loved it because of it’s authentic Quebecois slang and swearing. Cool Hand Luke fans will also be glad to see Newman reunited with his former co-star Strother (“What we’ve got here is a failure to Communicate”) Martin.

If that wasn’t enough the soundtrack featuring Maxine Nightingale’s one-hit-wonder “Get Right Back Where We Started From” will get you right back to the 70’s.