Archive for the Cowboys and Desperados Category

THE URANIUM CAFE NECROFILES/VALDEZ IS COMING/THE DEVIL DOLL/THE GRANNY/WOMAN EATER/MOTHER OF TEARS

Posted in Cowboys and Desperados, Eurohorror, Necrofiles on October 11, 2011 by Bill Courtney
VALDEZ IS COMING

1971/Director: Edwin Sherin/Writers: Roland Kibbee, David Rayfiel

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Susan Clark, Frank Silvera, Jon Cypher, Richard Jordan, Barton Heyman, Hector Elizondo   

I love a good western. I saw this at a cinema matinee actually when it first came out for like .35 cents if you can believe that. The film has the edgy violence a lot of action films had at the time and seems influenced not only by Sam Peckingpah but spaghetti western directors as well. In fact the film was shot in Spain using some of the same locales that Sergio Leone used for his westerns. Bob Valdez is played by Burt Lancaster and is a local constable who feels driven to collect a small amount of money to pay the widow of a man he was tricked into killing. The ruthless rancher Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher) will not hear of it and has Valdez essentially crucified. What tanner does not know is that the life weary and soft spoken Valdez was once a skilled tracker, marksman and Indian hunter and he is now pretty pissed off and is out to get even. Richard Jordan does good as the big mouth coward Davis and forgotten beauty Susan Clarke is Tanner’s wife Gay Erin who gets kidnapped by Valdez and is drug through the mountains and wilderness as Tanner’s posse pursue them and are picked off one by one with Valdez’s Sharps long rifle. All this over $100. From the book by Elmore Leonard.

THE DEVIL DOLL

1964/Director: Lindsay Shonteff/Writers: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith

Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain,     Sandra Dorne, Karel Stepanek, Francis De Wolff   

Most ventriloquist movies, like Magic with Anthony Hopkins, have the dummy as the villain who drives the ventriloquist insane. In the not too bad Devil Doll the dummy is actually the victim and the ventriloquist the tormentor. The great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday) is not only a gifted ventriloquist but a master hypnotist as well who has earned some degree of success with a stage act. On top of all this he also dabbled in the black arts at one point in his life and learned how to transfer souls from a human body to his dummy, which he did n the case of his old assistant Hugo. A spat of murders is happening in London and American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester) soon suspects Vorelli though he always has an alibi. Vorelli becomes infatuated with rich girl Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romaine) and sets out to so some soul transferring with her but first needs to get rid of his clingy assistant and former lover Magda (Sandra Dorne). There are some spicy scenes of Dorn that revel more butt cheek than you were used to seeing in those times, especially from plump near middle aged gals. In the middle of this is the tormented dummy Hugo who has to do the bidding of Vorelli but has his revenge in the end of course. The movies is not great but, as I said, is not too bad. I saw the MST3K version and it was pretty funny. Not sure how it should stand up with on the comedic onrunning commentaries.

THE GRANNY

1995/Director: Luca Bercovici/Writers: Sam Bernard, Luca Bercovici

Cast: Stella Stevens, Shannon Whirry, Luca Bercovici, Brant von Hoffman   

Granny stars former sex kitten Stella Stevens (The Nutty Professor) as an aging and rich woman whose family is hovering her like a bunch of vultures waiting to collect on her will. She is close to one of her granddaughters Kelly (Shannon Whirry) whom the rest of family ridicules and mocks. Kelly has tended compassionately to Granny in her last years and asks for and expects nothing in return. Which is good since that is what she gets later. Granny drinks an elixir of youth that was exposed to direct sunlight and thus goes bad. Rather than regaining her youth Granny turns into a demon that set abut exacting revenge on all her family members, including nice girl Kelly for some reason. The action and acting is pretty campy but this is a fun little piece of trash. The movie went to VHS pretty fast and there is ample nudity and violence to make up for the whacky script and direction. Everyone seems to playing it tongue in cheek.

WOMAN EATER

1958/Director: Charles Saunders/Writers: Brandon Fleming

Cast: George Coulouris, Robert MacKenzie, Norman Claridge, Marpessa Dawn, Jimmy Vaughn   

Probably the horror sub-genre I have always had the hardest time with is the man-eating plant one. I had some of the same issues with this film but it is pretty good. The problem I have is the plant is usually immobile and some evil doctors has to continually lure victims to feed the plant. The doctor here is Dr. James Moran (George Colouris) who discovered a plant in South America that produces an elixir that will return the dead to life but the plant, naturally, must be fed a diet of beautiful girls to produce the proper serum which he finds in plentiful supply in a quit London suburb. The obligatory odd assistant is Tanga (Jimmy Vaughn) who plays bongo drums with a frenzied look on his face which hypnotizes the gals allowing the doctor to escort them to the tree of doom. Lots of complications after the doctors hires a new and attractive keeper he gets the hot for upsetting his former housekeeper and, we assume, lover. I wound up liking the film and my only complaint might be that the tree creature looks cool but in only on the screen for a total of about five minutes. Great to watch the socially inept and unattractive Dr. Moran pick up some female plant food in a pub with all the ease of a Casonova.

MOTHER OF TEARS (LA TERZA MADRE)

2007/Director: Dario Argento/Writers: Jace Anderson, Dario Argento

Cast: Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Moran Atias, Udo Keir, Jun Ichikawa

 Mother of Tears is supposed to be the final part of a Dario Argento trilogy that began with Supirira and then continued with Inferno. I have Inferno but have never watched it and hope it succeeds in tying the films together as I see no connection to Suspiria in this film yet. Aregento struggles to make a single coherent film and I have doubts about his pulling off a trilogy story that spans three decades. Asia Argento plays an American studying art restoration in Rome. She and her and her friend decide to forget the boss’s rules and they open an ancient urn and then figure reading some ancient inscriptions in the dark would be nice as well. Of course this moves the plot along as a ridiculously fast pace and we are treated to demons and a brutal death in less than ten minutes into the film. Soon Rome is plunged into a crime and suicide wave and Sarah (Asia Argento) must work alone to save the world from some sort of apocalyptic nightmare that I never quite understood. Udo Keir has a brief role as a priest and the deaths are fairly explicit. A woman tosses her baby over the railing of a bridge in one strange scene that rated a replay or two. The usual Argento confusion for the most part but filmed nicely with enough good moments to get a recommendation from me it but it is mostly for Argento fans.

All Necrofile selections are candidates for a more thorough article at a later point in time.

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EROTIC AND ADVENTEROUS PULP MAGAZINE ART FROM MEXICO/RAFAEL GALLUR

Posted in Cheesecake and Femme Fatales, Comic Books-Magazines-Fanzines, Cowboys and Desperados, Rafael Gallur on September 21, 2011 by Bill Courtney
Much like Oscar Bazaldua, whose work was featured here a while back, Rafael Gallur is know mostly for his work in the area of Mexican Ghetto Librettos, or Sensacionales, comics. The emphasis in these comics is on sex and violence and the drawing are typically over the top and graphic. Unlike Bazaldua however Gallur demonstrates a degree of restraint in his drawings in the areas of explicit violence and sexual posings of the subjects. The drawings are still pretty erotic but not as unnervingly so as in the works of Bazaldua and other pulp style Mexican illustrators. The drawings here are simply a bit more heroic in context than the drawings I presented before. There is still the politically incorrect chauvinistic atmosphere that may offend some people with larger than life muy macho men looming over scantily clad females who are often presented in some compromising position or another. The women themselves appear tough and dangerous but they are still frail compared to the male characters who all seem fairly lethal. Almost all of the drawings here are western themes and are finely detailed and rendered. I am not sure if he is working alone here or with somebody else helping with coloring chores and if anybody has more info I will pass that on in a future post. The drawings seem to show more of an influence from American pinup and magazine cover art than some of the other Ghetto Librettos drawings I have seen but the liberal use of vivid primary colors and lurid subject matter is something that you just don’t see that much of north of the border. I have not seen the inside of one of these magazines and if anybody has scans of the interior work I would love to see them. I used to live in San Antonio Texas but to be honest I never saw anything like this there, and now I am in China and it is simply impossible to find western comic books of any sort here. Spiderman is subversive enough here.

VERA CRUZ/1954/BURT LANCASTER

Posted in Adventure-Action, Burt Lancaster, Cesar Romero, Charles Bronson, Cowboys and Desperados, Ernest Borgnine, Gary Cooper, Robert Aldrich on August 15, 2011 by Bill Courtney
VERA CRUZ

1954/Director: Robert Aldrich/ Writers: Roland Kibbee, James R. Webb

Cast: Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Sara Montiel, George Macready, Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)   

I love a good Western and some of my favorites types of Westerns have to be what I call the Mexican Westerns. These sorts of Westerns become popular during the sixties and typically featured mercenary types from America who travel into Mexico for purposes that usually revolve around nothing more than money and gold. The backdrop is one of the many periods of revolution in Mexico during the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. Typically there is some sort of transformation in the motives of the mercenaries towards the end of the film away from gold and wealth to some sort of cause, or to something the men once believed in before life made them cynical and ruthless. The best examples are films like The Wild Bunch, The Magnificent Seven and The Professionals. One could also include the handful of legendary and influential Westerns by Sergio Leone and many other Spaghetti or Italian-Westrns as well some lone cowboy films – as opposed to a band of mercenaries –like Two Mules for Sister Sara with Clint Eastwood and Valdez is Coming with Burt Lancaster. While 1954’s Robert Aldrich (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charolette, The Dirty Dozen, Flight of the Phoenix)  film Vera Cruz is not as violent or cynical as Sam Peckinpah’s classic of slow motion blood spatter it can still regarded as a transitional Western and the first of the Mexican Westerns of the sixties. The action takes place during the period of Mexican revolt against the French during the brief and troubled reign of Emperor Maximillian. Seems Austrian born Maxillian was none to keen on heading off to Mexico to manage the situation there but its hard to say no to repeated requests by Napoleon III. And he had good reasons for reservations since his short reign was marked by constant revolt by the rebels led by Benito Jaurez (the Jauristas) and his eventual overthrow and execution by firing squad. Most of these films do not try to historical dramas and use the backdrop of Meixico’s civil unrest for the conflicts between the gringo fortune seekers and whoever stands in the way of their loot and booty.

The film stars Hollywood legends Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster – who made the film under his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster – in what is almost a, as some reviewers note – a buddy film. I would go along with this to a degree but it drifts away from the buddy film formula towards the end. Typically a buddy film has the two buddies at odds with each other during the first half of the film and then it has them bond or come together towards the end. The buddy situation in Vera Cruz is a little more of the opposite storyline I feel. Cooper plays Ben Trane, a former Confederate Colonel who lost everything he had after the Civil War. By everything I mean, of course, his convictions and beliefs as well as his southern mansion and place in society. Trane drifts south of border in hopes of selling his ‘skills’ to the highest bidder in the conflict there between Mexico and France. Along the way he runs into the black clad outlaw Joe Erin whose character is played by Lancaster with not only his patented charm and comedy but also with an uncommon streak of sadism and cruelty. His flashing wide smile is usually followed with some cowpoke being killed or a woman getting slapped around. Cooper wanted his character Ben Trane’s character toned down in the scoundrel department from the way his was originally written and Lancaster and producer Harold Hecht did all they good to oblige the star. This even included giving Cooper star billing over Lancaster. Though it was Lancaster’s production company he had no issues with being cast under Cooper. Erin’s character is distinctly bad and untrustworthy from the beginning to the end, while Ben Trane never seems to be all that bad though he is as greedy and self-serving as Joe Erin. Trane’s sudden complete turnaround at the very end of the film is not unexpected but is still a little inconsistent with his earlier motives and actions. Erin’s ruthlessness was a little too much for the critics of 1954 and are little out there even by today’s standards, which is way the film stands apart from some of the other Westerns of the period which were still mostly patterned after the old ‘white hat vs. black hat’ films of the 30’s and 50’s. In one scene in order to escape capture by the Juaristas Erin has some of his men take some children into a mission and threatens to kill them unless he and his men are set free. Cesar Romero’s character, the Marquis Henri de Labordere, makes a questioned comment to Ben Trane about what a great bluff it was, but both men seem a little relieved the rebel leader decided not to test Joe Erin.
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It is also during this sequence that Erin and Trane show that their loyalties go to the highest bidders and the men select to go into the employment of the Emperor Maximillian (George Macready) instead of the Jauristas rebels, led by General Ramirez, who only offer fighting for a just cause as payment. It is not long before double crosses abound and one never knows who is up to what but it clear what the motives are: about four million on gold hidden in the bottom of the coach of the Countess Maria Duvarre (Denise Darcel) the two mercenaries are hired to escort to the port city of Vera Cruz. The other female lead that gets into the mix along the way is Nina – affectionately called ‘Papayas’ for a coupe obvious reasons – played by Sara (Sarita) Montiel. Montiel seemed to not get on Gary Cooper’s better said he made remarks about her smell and unkempt hair though their characters share some sparks on the screen. Also in the cast are Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson and Jack Elam. One story has it that one day Borgnine and Bronson rode into town for cigarettes on their horses in full costume and were stopped by Fedarales who mistook them for bandits and held them at gunpoint until the matter was cleared up. The film was the first motion picture shot in Superscope, an early and unsuccessful competitor to Cinemascope, and filmed in grand Technicolor. I have actually read bad criticisms about the way the film looks but it looks just fine. To be hoest some of cinematographer great Ernest Laszlo’s fine shots seemed muddled and grainy and it does, as I have read, seem to be a matter of the then new post-production – rather than photographic process – Superscope process. But over all there are more fine moments than grainy ones. I also read harsh reviews of the films violence, stereotyping of Mexicans and misogyny but as far as The Uranium Café goes those are all recommendations. The Mexican government seemed very upset with the way the Mexican characters were presented in the film and future Hollywood productions shot in Mexico had a list of rules to abide by. Actually I do not see what the problems are since the American fortune seekers and the European colonizers are portrayed in the worst light and the Jauristas are noble and honest peasants who are fighting for a just cause. One complaint seemed to be that the clothes the peasants wore looked too dirty. 1960’s The Magnificent Seven had the peasants wearing sparkling white rebel pajamas the way poor, peasant Mexican rebels actually did I guess. 

The look of the film and some of the story motifs would certainly appear again in the anti-hero Westerns of the sixties but for a time Vera Cruz would be the odd puppy in the still safe Westerns of the fifties. There is even a Gatlin Gun sequence though not as well done and brutal as the one The Wild Bunch. The inevitable show down between Ben Trane and Joe Erin was a little rushed and anti-climatic I felt. And as in the case of many films of the time, horror, Westerns, crime dramas etc., after the climatic scene the film typically ended a bit too quickly. Compare the ending here to the slightly more drawn out conclusions of The Wild Bunch or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where the drama continues long past the last action scene. But it is not that big a deal and the film is a good western epic if you like that sort of thing. Lancaster would go on to play in a few more Mexican Western epics like The Professionals and Valdez is Coming. He was always one of my favorite actors and it is fun to watch him be so bad in this one.
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