Sunday, August 30, 2015


I have a vague memory of seeing BIG JAKE (1971) in the theater when it was first released. Hell, starting with THE ALAMO (1960), I saw almost every movie John Wayne made up until his death in 1979. I watched it again this afternoon (thanks to a recent airing on TCM, which I recorded). It's an utterly routine western but who cares when you've got the lovely Maureen O'Hara (with little screen time, alas), Richard Boone as the bad guy and the Duke himself riding tall in the saddle.

The year is 1909. John Fain (Boone) and his men attack the McCandles ranch at the beginning of the film. They kill many and take Little Jake, the young McCandles boy, hostage. They demand a million dollars in ransom to be delivered to them in Mexico. McCandles matriarch Martha (O'Hara), realizes that "a harsh and unpleasant kind of business will require an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of person to see it through." She sends for her estranged husband, Big Jake McCandles (Wayne), a man who has been gone from his family for so long that most people think he's dead. Oh, and he doesn't know that he has a grandson, the kidnapped Little Jake.

Jake sets out to deliver the money along with his two sons James (real-life son Patrick Wayne) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum), his faithful Indian companion Sam Sharpnose (Bruce (KING KONG) Cabot!) and his dog, Dog. They have some troubles along the way before the final deadly gun battle in which Little Jake is rescued, the bad guys dispatched and the McCandles men head for home. Remember kids, in a western, when the main villain is dead, the movie is over.

BIG JAKE was the last of five films that John Wayne made with Maureen O'Hara. The others are RIO GRANDE (1950), THE QUIET MAN (1952), THE WINGS OF EAGLES (1957) and McLINTOCK! (1963).

Directed by George Sherman, with a screenplay by Harry Julian and Rita M. Fink (who also wrote DIRTY HARRY), BIG JAKE is a solid piece of genre work. The cinematography by William H. Clothier is nice (the film was shot in Durango, Mexico) and Elmer Bernstein's score is well done. Director Sherman was an old friend of Wayne's and he was 63 years old at the time the film was made. While in Mexico, Sherman's health prevented him from going to some of the more remote locations so Wayne filled in behind the camera.

There are no surprises here. It's a typical John Wayne western which looks old fashioned compared to the groundbreaking films of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969). But at this stage in his career, with a Best Actor Oscar on his shelf, Wayne had nothing to prove and he wasn't about to upset the apple cart that made him an icon. You want a routine John Wayne western? BIG JAKE fills the bill nicely.

 I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


For our movie night last night, Judy and I watched THE CANDIDATE (1972), a film that neither of us had ever seen. It's a very good movie but I cannot discuss the film without posting this SPOILER ALERT.

Robert Redford stars as Bill McKay, the son of former California governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas). Bill is a lawyer working on social justice causes and has no real ambition to enter politics. But opportunistic political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), convinces him to run as the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator against Republican incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). Lucas tells McKay he can't win so he can remain true to his core values and not sell out. He can say and do whatever he wants.

But as the campaign goes on, media specialist Howard Klein (Allen Garfield), starts crafting an image of McKay that finds widespread appeal. McKay wins the primary and becomes the candidate for the general election. As election day draws closer and closer, the polls show McKay gaining ground just as he starts to question the whole enterprise. He starts to sell out, make compromises and before you know it, he wins the election.

On election night, McKay's father tells him "son, you're a politician", which is just what he didn't want to hear. The film ends with McKay asking Lucas "what do we do now?" Since no one had ever actually believed that McKay could actually win the election, he's thrust into office totally unprepared to assume the title of United States Senator.

THE CANDIDATE is as fresh, topical and relevant today as it was 43 years ago. The media depicted in the film may be a thing of the past but the politics, campaigns and manufacturing of candidates are not. Redford is terrific as McKay, with solid support from Boyle and Douglas. Don Porter's Crocker Jarmon sounds just like any one of the eleventy-seven Republican presidential candidates who are currently in the race.

The film is capably directed by Michael Ritchie with an Oscar winning screenplay by Jeremy Larner,  One minor quibble: an extra-marital affair between McKay and an unnamed young woman (who is seen several times throughout the film) is implied but never actually shown. It's a potential source of drama and conflict that's never developed and has no bearing on the narrative so why bother to drop those hints?

THE CANDIDATE is a top notch film that is well worth seeing, especially as we head into an election year. Highly recommended.


Pictured above is page 12 of THE SHADOW #18, published by Dynamite Comics in 2013. This is one of many comics I purchased last week when Judy and I took a day trip to San Antonio. We stopped at the Alien Worlds comic book shop and I spent way too much money of back issues of THE SHADOW, THE SPIDER, DOC SAVAGE and JUSTICE, INC. (all published by Dynamite) as well as the first CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION, a hefty trade paperback that reprints (in color), early 1960s Captain America stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and a few others).

THE SHADOW comic is set in the 1930s. You can tell that by the vehicles pictured in the top two panels. But somehow, inexplicably, when Margo Lane gets into the rear of Shrevvy's taxi cab, she is suddenly transported to the year 2015. How do I know this? Look at that interior. Bucket seats? Head rests? I'm sorry, but taxi cabs in the 1930s didn't look like that.

Artist Giovanni Timpano must have used photo references for the exteriors of the vintage automobiles and I assumed he used photo reference for the panel depicting the cab's interior. He somehow mixed the two eras up. Honestly, I don't blame him for this mistake.

I blame the editor. Oh, wait, that's right. Modern comic books don't have editors, a truism I've long posited. There's no editor listed on the inside front cover of this issue. The writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and cover artists are listed as is Shadow creator Walter B. Gibson. But there's no editor's name.

I know this book didn't magically put itself together but whoever the editor of record was, he or she did an extremely lousy job. A mistake like this jarred me out of what was otherwise an enjoyable Shadow adventure. Did it totally ruin the book for me? No, but it's inexcusable nonetheless.

Gee, do you think I could get a No Prize for catching this mistake?


Congratulations to my buddy Kelly Greene who provided the correct answer to the recent trivia question posted here.

Cliff Robertson played the guest-villain Shame on the BATMAN television series. He made two appearances, the first in 1966, the second in 1968. That same year, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in CHARLY. In 2002, he played Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN. He also appeared as Uncle Ben (in flashbacks) in SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) and SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007).

Thanks for playing Kelly and congratulations on winning. Your No Prize is on the way!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Here's a head scratcher for you. Name the Academy Award winning actor who first appeared on screen in a DC comics superhero series and later, appeared as a supporting character in a movie based on a Marvel comics super-hero.

Answer tomorrow!


Last night, Judy and I watched an excellent documentary about the making of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). The film, originally produced in 1988, ran on TCM the other day when their star of the day was Vivien Leigh. We learned quite a bit about the film and a lot of the material that was used was from the Harry Ransom Center here in Austin, where the David O. Selznick collection resides. In fact, there was a terrific GWTW exhibit at the Ransom last year which we saw and loved.

While watching the doc, I couldn't help but think that if some industrious producer, say, David O. Selznick, or some major studio like MGM, had wanted to mount a film in 1939 based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, this guy would have been a perfect choice for the lead:

British actor Leslie Howard, who played Ashley Wilkes in GWTW, looks more like Lawrence than Peter O'Toole did, in my opinion. Who knows, maybe somebody had the same idea way back when and the project just never got off the ground. Personally, I'm glad it didn't because when the story of Lawrence of Arabia finally made it to the screen, it was perfect and ranks in my book as the greatest film ever made.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT the other day. It was the first time for both of us to see this 1946 film noir.

John Hodiak stars as George Taylor, an amnesiac WWII soldier who returns home to Los Angeles in search of his true identity and a mysterious man named "Larry Cravat".  He's aided in his search by Christy Smith (the lovely Nancy Guild), nightclub owner Mel Phillips (Richard Conte) and police detective Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan). Taylor soon runs afoul of a small gang of crooks taken right out of the MALTESE FALCON playback. It seems there's two million dollars in cash missing, cash that the elusive "Cravat" knows the location of and thus, everyone is searching for him.

It's not too hard to figure out what the twist is here. I saw it coming from a mile away and you probably will too. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz from a screenplay by Howard Dimsdale and Mankiewicz (from a story by Marvin Borowsky), SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT begins promisingly enough but it stalls out in the second act and never quite regains its' momentum. Taylor follows a lot of false leads, there's lot of talk and the pace slows to a crawl. There's not much tension generated by the story which seems to take forever to get to the payoff. The running time is 110 minutes but I could swear it seemed much, much longer than that.

A big part of the problem is that John Hodiak has little to none screen presence. He's just not a good enough actor to carry a film like this. The fetching Nancy Guild is okay but it's the supporting cast that really shines here. Genre icon Conte is solid as usual while character actors Whit Bissell and Harry Morgan have small, but effective scenes.

SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT is worth seeing at least once, especially if you're a noir fan. If this film is your first exposure to film noir, you may wonder what all the fuss is about.