The American Friend

The last film in my Golden Week of film watching was this 1977 Wim Wenders neo-noir starring Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz.

And it was a good film to end off a week of good film watching.

It told the story of a man who was diagnosed with leukemia and was contacted by a French mafia guy and asked to bump off a rival gang member, and promised big bucks to help support his family when he died. Dennis Hopper’s character was a fake art seller who was involved in organising the hit, but he ended up becoming good friends with Bruno.

There was not a whole lot of action, the story concentrated more on the friendship between Dennis and Bruno, and did it very well. Both actors were most excellent in their parts.

It was fascinating to see late 1970’s Europe, especially the Paris underground (where a hit took place), which was immaculate. Hamburg though looked like a rather depressing place back then.

Wim casted three other directors in the gangster roles.

I did find it a tad long, but overall this was an excellent film to end my week of films.

Date watched: May 5th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2019: 14

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Of the three Monty Python films I watch this one the least, I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but it is still a very funny film.

Perhaps it is because the other films had an actual plot, whereas this was just a series of skits strung together, and there were no consistent characters to follow. But, it was no less funny, and it has more memorable songs than the other films. It was certainly the most disgusting and bloody…

Live liver donor scene

Mr Creosote is one of the more memorable parts of the film…

And one of my favourites is the Grim Reaper scene near the end…

Here is an article by the Pythons about how the film was made. And here is an interview with Terry Jones about Mr Creosote.

So it was funny stuff, and of the three films is the most Pythonesque.

Date watched: December 29th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 88

Sleuth

I did a search on YouTube for “70s films” and found this Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier film.

The story is about a detective novel writer, Andrew (Olivier), and his wife’s new lover Milo (Caine). They meet at Andrew’s big old house and after discussing the business about the wife, Andrew proposes to Milo that they stage the robbery of the wife’s jewelery so that Andrew can claim the insurance money and Milo can sell the jewelery to a fence in Europe. But, actually Andrew and his crime-writing mind has other plans for Milo.

What is obvious about this film is that it was adapted from a play. It was mostly filmed indoors in only a few rooms, and Olivier and Caine are the only two actors in the whole film. Their acting is also very theatrical, and it works well, especially as both fellows are awfully fine actors.

Along with the fancy acting, the story is engaging and full of twists, surprises, and sleuthing. The directing too is top stuff, as is the cinematography and the set design. It is a long film at 138 minutes, but it is so well done that it didn’t feel that long.

A couple of facts from Wikipedia:

When they met, Caine asked Olivier how he should address him. Olivier told him that it should be as “Lord Olivier”, and added that now that that was settled he could call him “Larry”. According to Shaffer, Olivier stated that when filming began he looked upon Caine as an assistant, but that by the end of filming he regarded him as a full partner.

The production team intended to reveal as little about the movie as possible so as to make the conclusion a complete surprise to the audience. For this reason there is a false cast list at the beginning of the film which lists fictional people playing roles that do not exist.

A remake was made in 2007 with Caine returning but this time playing Andrew, Jude Law as Milo, and Kenneth Brannagh directing. Unfortunately though it doesn’t have good reviews, and gets only 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 96% for the original.

Date watched: December 29th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 87

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

This is a 1970 short documentary by Les Blank about Lightnin’ Hopkins, a blues guitarist from Texas.

Les just follows Lightnin’ around as he does his thing, and films him singing the blues. There is no narration at all, just Lightnin’ talking about what the blues means to him, and tells the occasional story. One story he told was of his car breaking down at the side of a road in North Carolina. A policeman turns up and tells him he can’t be parked there, but Lightnin’ says the car can’t move. The policeman takes him to the town butcher, who is also the local judge. Upon hearing his story (with Lightnin’ getting a bit sassy), the judge fines him $500 ($3500 in today’s money) on the spot. Lightnin’ laughed it all off after telling the story, and said black men should never go to North Carolina.

There is great footage of people going about their own business in the dusty old town they live in. There is also footage at a rodeo, and at a BBQ where Lightnin’ entertains.

From Uncut: Although initially keen on the idea, Lightnin’ Hopkins soon tired of the process of documentary film-making. After playing ten songs for Blank and his camera, after only one day’s filming, Hopkins ordered Blank back to California. Whereupon, with the camera off, the men began playing cards. Blank lost, and lost again. The more money he lost to his subject, in fact, the more Hopkins began to see the virtue of keeping the young documentarian around.

Very simple film making, but it is fascinating to watch, and has plenty of blues.

Date watched: December 21st
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2018: 85

The Black Six

My blaxploitation-fest continues with this 1974 outlaw biker film.

As in the previous blaxploitation films I have been watching, there is an American Rugby connection with all six of the main actors being actual players back in the day. They all came from different teams such as the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. Some of them did some other work in film or television, but this was really the high point of their silver screen fame. I must say though that they were all quite natural on screen, sometimes funny, but not quite up to Fred or Jim level.

The story starts out with the murder of a black American Rugby player by a honky biker gang. He was killed because his white girlfriend is also the sister of the leader of the honky gang, and he didn’t like that.

We then meet Bubba and the other members of The Black Six. Bubba is also the brother of the murdered player. The Black Six is a peace loving biker group who roam the countryside on their bikes, working and sleeping where ever they can. They find work on a farm stacking hay bales into the loft of a barn. It was quite funny as they were obviously throwing light wooden boxes with hay glued on the outside…

After finishing the work the nice farm lady invites them in for dinner where they have a good meal, and of course there is a lot of good-hearted banter and joking around. The lady pays them what little money she can, as times are tough, and she hopes they would drop by again someday when she has more money so they can fix the barn wall which needs repairing. They ask if they can sleep in the barn for the night, which she happily agrees to.

The next day the lady goes outside to see that the gang has left, and that the barn has been fixed! A postman comes up to her and says; “I just saw that bunch of Negroes ride out, I just what to make sure everything is all right, you know how they are!”, to which she replies, “Yes…I know how they are!” with a smile on her face.

Mrs. Perkins

This was the actress’ only film, but she did fine.

Bubba (played by Gene Washington of the San Francisco 49ers) finds out in a letter from his mother that his brother was slain, so he decides he must go home and find out what happened. The rest of the gang of course join him. They don’t want to bash heads, they just want to find out who did it, as the police don’t who know did it although they kind of did but they are afraid of the honky gang.

The rest of the story is really quite dull, but the ending is where things get weird. After finding out who did it the Black Six decide to go violent and end up wasting all of the honky white gang in a rumble in a field, quite viciously. Unbeknown to them another even more vicious gang (or motorcycle dudes as the poster says) was waiting nearby, they just wanted to join in on the fun. Part of their attack strategy was to throw lit flares at them. The Black Six picked up the flares and threw them back, so there was a lot of flare throwing which looked like fun. There were dozens of the flare-throwing gang, but the Black Six were doing a good job of wasting them too. The last remaining member of the original gang who fled the carnage at first is ordered by the other gang leader to do something about it, so he lights up a flare, places it in the open gas tank of his hog, then makes a banzai run for the Black Six. He does a jump in the air and explodes, causing all of the other hogs which were strewn about the battlefield to explode. Over the flames we see shots of each of the Black Six like thus…

“Bubba”

We then see this…

From Wikipedia:
Several of the football players were disappointed with elements in the original script, especially that the black motorcyclists would be killed in the end, despite the fact that they stood for truth, justice and the American way. As a result of their protests, an inconclusive ending was shot.

That explains the ending. There was however no sequel.

It was a very cheaply made film and didn’t really have much of a story. But, the six main characters were fun to watch and the actors playing them seemed to be enjoying themselves. The ending too, though bizarre, was a bit of fun. So, it was not too bad, but the Slaughter films are the best of the blaxploitation films I have watched in the last week or so.

Date watched: October 19th
Score: 5/10
Film count 2018: 67

Mean Johnny Barrows

I was about to watch another Jim Brown film when I came across this Fred Williamson flick on YouTube and thought I would give it a go. Right from the beginning it was obvious this was going to be a weird nonsensical and possibly terrible film. Freddo directed it.

It started off with Fred’s character Johnny doing some army training at an army base in California. Johnny, a captain or something, was doing some mine field training with some soldiers, explaining that the mines in the field are fake. He then steps on a mine and somehow instantly recognises that it is in fact a real mine. As he keeps pressure on it another officer comes along, he is obviously a racist and tells Johnny that all he has to do is replace the pin to defuse it, but in a racist manner. Johnny puts a pin in, but for some reason he asks his trainees to put their flak jackets around the mine, then he leaps away and it explodes, hurting no one. He then punches the officer’s lights out. He is discharged from the army. This is all important later in the film.

Next, we see Johnny in L.A., looking down and out in dirty clothes, and roaming the streets looking for work. He goes into a restaurant and the owner (and a mob family member) offers him work as a hitman, right there and then. To cut the story short, Johnny finally accepts the job as hitman about two-thirds of the film in after trying to find honest work, and working at a petrol station with a mean old dude, so goes about wasting some dudes from another mob family, and gets involved with a pretty blond who turns out to be a kind of Juliet of one mob family, with the Romeo being a son in the other mob family (played by Roddy McDowall), who Johnny also kills by slicing his leg open and telling him to jump into the sea from a boat (I presume sharks ate him, even though it was at a dock in the harbour, we didn’t actually see him die).

This brings us to the bizarre end. An assassin is hired to rub out Johnny, we don’t get to see his face until the final fight scene where they meet after a boring car chase, do some lame kung-fu on each other, and Johnny finally kills him with a ninja star to the head (it kills the assassin despite only barely piercing his forehead). It turns out the assassin was the officer Johnny punched out at the beginning of the film!

“ARRGHH! I have been mortally wounded by a ninja star!”

The very final scene is even more bizarre with Johnny taking the blond to a piece of land he was promised by the mob boss for the hits, along with a lot of money. He had fallen in love with her, and he didn’t know she was in cahoots with the rival mob bosses’ son. As he is asking her to shack up with him he moves in for a kiss but is shot by her in the stomach. She is pissed that he killed Romeo you see. She plugs him a few more times, then turns around and walks a few steps, and then realises she has stepped on a live mine, looks surprised at him for a few seconds, looks down, then is blown to bits. Johnny is still alive despite the shots. Quite an ending!

“Oh, sh…”

The film freeze frames on the explosion and the following text is displayed:

Everything in between in the mines is very slow moving. There is a story, but it just plods along until Johnny finally decides to take the hitman job, way too late in the story. The action is sparse and not really all that well done, along with pretty much everything else.

There is one bizarro scene near the beginning involving Elliot Gould. His character, a smooth-talking ex-professor dressed in fancy duds comes up to Johnny just as Johnny is about to take a hotdog out of a trashcan, he is that hungry. Gould’s character convinces Johnny to leave it and to go to a soup kitchen. On the way they go up to some random dude eating a hot dog and drinking a root beer, where Elliot smooth talks him into letting them have a bite and swig. The guy silently lets them and smiles and becomes instant chums with them. It was all very random, but as it turns out it was actually all random…

From IMDB:
Star Fred Williamson’s M*A*S*H (1972) co-star Elliott Gould came in for a half-hour’s work to help out his friend. Gould completely improvised his part on the spot.

That explains a lot.

Elliot and Freddo

Fred, like Jim Brown, was an American Rugby player-turned actor, and he also dabbled in directing and producing. Fred and Jim actually worked together in various films as well as television. And according to Wikipedia he has black belts in Kenpō, Shotokan karate and taekwondo.

Fred is 80 and still going strong.

So this was quite a mess, with the only real good stuff involving exploding mines, and Elliot Gould’s weird cameo. The two Slaughter films did this kind of film a lot better by concentrating on the action and less on the story.

Date watched: October 14th
Score: 3/10
Film count 2018: 64

Slaughter

I just had to see this film after watching the sequel last night. I watched this on YouTube and it was obviously ripped from a video cassette, so the picture was not great, but the sound was fine which was fortunate as the theme song was fabs (see below).

The story involves Slaughter going on a rampage in South America in order to find the mother that killed his parents in a car bomb attack. In the scene directly after the explosion we see Slaughter in the hospital. A doctor walks out of an operating theatre to tell him that his father did not make it, which was quite bizarre as this explosion seems pretty final…

It turns out that he was after Rip Torn (real name Elmore Rual Torn Jr.), and he of course kills him by blowing him up in a fiery car explosion.

Rip Torn as “Dominic Hoffo”, evil b’stard.

To fill in the story between the parents getting blown to bits and Rip getting blown to bits, we had various random characters and plot points thrown in.

There was of course a sidekick comedy-relief guy, played by Don Gordon (he passed away last year aged 90)…

Say hello to my wooden friend!

There was the kingpin gangster played by a fellow by the name of Norman Alfe. Norman was a wealthy furniture manufacturer and was an aspiring actor. This was his only film and he actually died not long after this film was made at the age of 48. There is very little about him on the interwebs, but one site says that his death is a mystery. This may have been his first and only film, but he was actually quite good.

Norman as Mario, the classy kingpin.

The love interest was played by Stella Stevens who appeared in many TV shows and films including Bonanza, Magnum P.I., The Nutty Professor, and The Poseidon Adventure. She had to take her clothes off a few times in the film, each time with Slaughter of course.

Stella and Jim.

The story was quite random and nonsensical for the most part. It just seems as though the writers sat around thinking of good action bits they could add in, then quickly filled in the gaps. The cinematography was a bit random too. Some shots were taken at strange angles, and for a couple of action scenes the cameraman decided a fish-eye lens would be a good idea, and that the camera should be at ground level looking up towards the action, it was quite bizarre.

The director who was a fellow by the name of Jack Starrett. I hadn’t heard of him either, but when I looked him up I found out that he played this very funny character in Blazing Saddles…

Gabby Johnson

The absolute best thing about this film though was the theme song by Billy Preston…just listen to that guitar!

The seventies fashions in this film were lackluster. Looking on the Internet for 1972 fashions though, I did find that there were some far-out designs back then, such as the neat threads these gents are sporting…I quite like the left outfit.

“Dudes! Look over there, is that Leif Garrett?!”

The sequel is better, but I still found this to be a hoot to watch. It is a pity the Slaughter films did not continue beyond just these two gems of 70’s gold, but Jim Brown went on to make plenty more films, one of which I have lined up to watch next.

Date watched: October 13th
Score: 6.5/10
Seventies-O-fashion score: 3/10
Film count 2018: 63