Armored Command - 1961
Armored Command - Released July 9, 1969. Directed by Byron Haskin
I felt sorry for Howard Keel while watching Armored Command. For the most part, it seems like he's in a completely different Armored Command (a better one) than the one which features Tina Louse, Burt Reynolds and Earl Holliman (in the not so good one). The fragmented story-telling keeps these two separate movies apart, though they do cross-paths at places, but Keels' no-nonsense Colonel Devlin who uses step-by-step detective skills to build a case to predict an imminent German Panzer attack 1 moves along like a pretty-good war film, but the other Armored Command bogs down in melodrama about a army platoon with a female German spy in their midst. 2
Director Haskin treats Tina Louise pretty well with a lot of carefully-lighted and directed scenes to show off her beauty and acting, but the script (from Ron Alcorn) is loaded with predictable dialogue (some of it kind of laughable). Earl Holliman (as good-natured Sgt. Mike) has the thankless task of being cuckolded by Burt Reynolds (as Skee) who is a rapist (but is given compensating values by the script, Skee is apparently a good cook and skilled with a 50-calibre), but in the end Burt gets shotgunned by his victim.
The script just isn't up to dealing with the human element of the platoon and its tragic story of betrayal, and when Colonel Devlin's prophesied German assault finally arrives 3 it is a welcome diversion from the other Armored Command which can't make up it's mind whether Tina Louise's spy is to be pitied or loathed, whether Mike is too naive or too thick-headed, and whether Burt is a vicious rapist or a regular soldier who lost his way due to the rigors of war. Director Haskin and cinematographer Ernest Haller make the confusion look good on screen, but that's not enough.
The stunt work and the battle scenes are well done, though after a little while there's repetition in footage (the same tank formation and muddy soldiers pass before our eyes doing the exact same movements) and the sound effects take on the character of a stuck vinyl LP. If you like Patton tanks there's plenty here to look at (this same anti-historical use of the M-48 shows up in the later 1970 film titled, ironically, Patton). Filming in Germany for Armored Command gives the film's scenery and combat sections authenticity (and Director Haskin is very good at lining up a camera). It looks cold out on the wintery landscape filmed with a moody black and white chiaroscuro. I certainly enjoyed looking at Armored Command more than listening to it.
Howard Keel's clever Colonel Devlin saves the American flank but he can't save this movie. Holliman, Louise and Reynolds are badly served by the script and editing.
1. [Actually, repainted Patton tanks]↩
2. [Tina is the spy, and the character isn't German, but Alcasian, from that strip of land that France and German fight over periodically century after century]↩
3. [Devlin's superiors listen to his carefully constructed and logical reasons for why the Germans are coming through his sector, but in the end they always respond "it's impossible!" and "Stop telling us!"]↩
Armored Command is currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.
Born Reckless - 1958
Born Reckless - Released November 1958, Directed by Howard H. Koch
Mamie Van Doren (as rodeo "trick rider" Jackie Adams) meets itinerant rodeo bull and horse rider Kelly Cobb (actor Jeff Richards) and his buddy, a wizened veteran rodeo hand "Cool Man" (actor Arthur Hunnicutt) and the three end up travelling together from rodeo to rodeo. Frequently she is accosted by men who are too eager to invade Jackie's personal space (basically they grab her) and repeatedly Kelly comes running to the rescue. Soon an unsaid romantic interest is growing between the two, but wealthy rodeo fan Liz (Carol Ohmart) intervenes and distracts Kelly not only from Jackie, but from his original goals for following rodeos in the first place: to scrape together enough money to buy a piece of land to settle down on.
Van Doren sings several numbers in Born Reckless ("Home Type Girl," "A Little Longer," "Separate the Men from the Boys," and "Something to Dream About") and usually hits her notes, but not always, and this seems to indicate a lack of training or lack of time on the part of the production company to get it right. The script from Richard Landau leans heavily on double entendres more or less in the same mode as some Marilyn Monroe films, but Landau goes a step further with rodeo language and it certainly becomes tedious. Director Koch follows suit with camera positions that seem intended to record the biggest possible visual statement about Van Doren's torso.
There are plenty of perfectly banal scenes in which Van Doren, Richards and Hunnicutt struggle to survive while on the rodeo circuit, crisscrossing the rural United States and living off bad food and dealing with dangerous animals, double-dealing rodeo business people and loneliness, and the question is why didn't Landau and Koch build-up and sharpen this human part of the film versus the laughably exploitive parts? Van Doren is quite good in some places, as is Hunnicutt everytime he's on camera, but Richards is doomed to play a male love interest that inexplicably goes from kind-hearted, hard-fisted country boy to seedy, washed-out and jaded for a long segment, and then back to patient and sincere, which doesn't make a lot of sense except its how the mechanical plot requires him to go when Carol Ohmart pulls him from the Hollywood straight and narrow.
There are pieces here and there of a pretty good film interspersed throughout the 80-minute runtime, but too much of Born Reckless is predictable, and at it's worst it becomes a smarmy cartoon. Stunt work is good, and the rodeo segments are good, too. But in the end, Hunnicutt deserves better, Van Doren needed better, and Richards probably would have been better, too, with a different production emphasis.
Born Reckless is currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.
You Were Never Lovelier, 1942
Backfire - 1950
Backfire - Released Feb 11, 1950. Directed by Vincent Sherman
Barbara Stanwyck 1961
The Golden Acres - Broadcast March 13, 1961 - The Barbara Stanwyck Show
The siblings Avis (Stanwyck), Collins (John McGiver) and Ben (Robert Emhardt) are all unmarried and living in a modest Midwestern town, circa 1905, when Dexter Willis (Kent Smith), a former childhood friend, returns to the area for a visit from his law office in Chicago. He is recently widowed and particularly desires to visit with Avis. We soon see that the two had a past infatuation that each are keen to pick back up again, however, the original issue that drove them apart in the past looks like it may do it again.
Avis thinks the hurdle is that her family comes from a far more humble background and that she simply is not moneyed enough to be in Dexter's social class, but she's got a solution for that, and pressures and blackmails her way toward executing a clever land purchase for a future factory site that will pay off spectacularly. Dexter is peripherally involved in the land deal, much to Avis' ignorance, and the two will soon collide on opposite sides of the bargaining table.
More than a bit like the 1941 Bette Davis film The Little Foxes, this episode of the Barbara Stanwyck show (script by Jerome Gruskin) stirs the elements of the original Lillian Hellman story around with an ending that is entirely of 1961 American television.
Stanwyck modulates only slightly from playing a hard-edged middle-aged woman who is relentlessly trying to overcome the disadvantages she imagines her social station represents, and Kent Smith does what he was known for over several decades of performing, playing a steady and patient fellow who usually perseveres.
Three Musketeers - 1974
Three Musketeers - Released March 29, 1974 (a few releases in Dec 1973 in Europe). Directed by Richard Lester
The Twonky - 1953
The Twonky - Released June 10, 1953. Directed by Arch Oboler
A living television set takes over the life of a University Professor (Hans Conried) when his wife leaves on a trip and he is left alone to care for himself, which never exactly happens as the TV takes over these duties and increasingly consumes the decisions and actions of the frightened man.
Laced with a lot of humor and a Twilight Zone sense of unreality, The Twonky is a very early jab at describing the totalitarian results from lighted electronic devices (the TV set in The Twonky marches about listening to martial music, generates money when needed, fights away distracting people from the professor's life, and believes itself entitled to rule everything within its reach). A low budget and a lack of cinematic structure hurts the film, but Hans Conried and the rest of the cast (including William Lynn, Janet Warren and Gloria Blondell) make it work (usually) well with their funny character portraits. The writing is the high point of this film, and though it is sometimes like a comedy sketch that goes on a bit too long, there is an actual horror and sci-fi mentality down among the words about a future in which technology runs amok.
Michael Constantine - 1964
Case of the Blonde Bonanza - broadcast Dec 17, 1964. Perry Mason TV Show
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck [Illustrated with 310 Photographs] - amazon.com
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