Category Archives: Movies

Lloyd Rowe – Another Varney Yarn

“Lloyd Rowe…”

Jim squinted like he could glimpse the man in question on the far horizon.

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.”

I was impressed with the solemnity of the moment until I reminded myself that the “far horizon” was the Green Room wall beneath the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky about eight feet in front of Jim, and just how many “ages” can a 20-year-old have actually seen?

My friend and fellow student, Bob Perkins had suggested to me that I might want to ask Jim Varney about Lloyd Rowe if I had sufficient time for a good story. This seemed like just the moment to pose the question.

It was September, 1970, and like clockwork, here was Jim, not a UK student – hell, he hadn’t even graduated from high school according to local legend, lurking in the Green Room at UK. This was a September tradition…like mums at the Saturday football games. Jim would drop in and loiter in this theatre department lair in hopes of broadening his life experience by meeting and “mentoring” the hopeful freshman actresses newly arrived on campus…or, as Jim referred to them; “sweet young things.”

This “mentoring”, to outward appearances, seemed to last a couple or three weeks until the young lady would reappear, a generally gladder but wiser girl devoted to catching up on classes missed.

Hey.

It was a freer time.

We spoke freely. We dressed freely. We undressed freely.

AYDS was still just a dietary supplement candy advertised on Paul Harvey’s radio show.

On this particular afternoon in the Green Room, the requisite young lady was present filling out some requisite semester-starting forms, I was present killing time until some rehearsal started – any rehearsal, and Jim loped in. He sized up the prospect (singular), and turned to me with a normal greeting; “Well, Goddy-dam, it’s Leasor. Howya doin’ Podge?”

I could have just let things follow their inevitable course…but no-o-o-o-o-o-o. I thought if I got Jim started on a saga it might disrupt the day in an entertaining way.

“Tell me about Lloyd Rowe.” I ventured.

That’s all it took. We’ll let Jim tell it from here.

Lloyd Rowe…

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.

Lloyd Rowe was mean.

He was a mean, mean man.

He was the meanest man in the world…and he knew it…he was proud of it. He got up every morning expecting to receive an award for mean-ness.

He didn’t bother to spit nails, he just digested ‘em. The only salad he would eat was poison ivy.

He took little petite little small-ass Donnie’s cake away from him and ate it. (Whatever that means.)

The laws of physics and medicine bowed to his hateful will. One day he was shot by a bullet in the chest. He whistled sharp and growled “Git back here.” That bullet backed up, healed instantly out of pure spite, and gave Lloyd a written apology.

Mean.

He was driving to Louisville one day and ‘long about Waddy/Peytona he had four simultaneous flat tires and he ran out of gas. He said; “This’ll not do.” He removed the gas cap, pissed in the tank, and crooned; “Go-o-o-o.” That car reached the White Castle in Downtown Louisville in two minutes flat and was a molten heap when it arrived. Lucky it was still under warranty.

He once lived on spite and nothing else for five months just to hurt himself.

He started campfires with small animals as kindling.

MEAN.

He decided one day to visit the mountains in Eastern Kentucky. His aims were two;

  • He wanted to broaden his life experiences by paying court to the Low-Life Sisters. There were three Low-life Sisters; Bunny Jeanette, Juanita Dean, and the little baby Nylon. Miz Low-Life had given birth to Nylon in a drugstore and named her after the first product she saw. Other naming possibilities spr-r-r-r-ing-g-g-g to mind. It would make an intriguing parlor game.
  • And two. He wanted to spend a serious moment with Greenbury Deathridge.

Greenbury Deathridge was the meanest man on Earth…and he knew it.

You perceive the problem, n’est-pas?

Lloyd wanted to settle the issue and establish harmony on the planet.

Well, he wanted to settle the issue.

He climbed mountains for thirty days through heat, humidity, snow, cyclones, tsunamis, baseball strikes, plagues, earthquakes, and “Gunsmoke” reruns. When he got to Greenbury’s cabin, he learned that the man he was seeking had died seven days before. Lloyd took that personally. He knelt at Greenbury’s grave…for three days…in abject disappointment and holy resentment. Finally, he dug up the corpse and carved it into a bar of soap. That seemed to bring closure.

He sought solace in the arms of Bunny Jeanette Low-Life, but at a crucial moment in their relationship, she cried “Oh, sweet Jesus!” Lloyd froze, appalled. He extricated himself, dressed freely, and marched back to Lexington on foot (his car being a molten heap at the time).

At this point in Jim’s narrative I cried enough.

Jim was jarred out of his fake memory rapture.

The requisite young lady? Oh, she was in love.

 

Oh, sweet Jesus.

The Clan Assembles

Unbeknownst to Lexington, a Clan assembles for an evening of mayhem.

The South is renowned and mostly disowned for its Klan. Dividing and judging people by the shades of their skin…foolishness. Politically and physically acting on that foolishness…shameful. We know better.

Dividing and judging people for what’s going on voluntarily in their bedrooms…foolishness.

Dividing and judging people……foolishness.

We have important and glorious things to do with our days and we need the talents of everyone to do them. Could we please keep our eye on the ball here?

But…

…this is not that kind of clan.

Instead of the KKK, one could call this group, the CCC (Classical Cinema Clan).

One could.

To avoid confusion, one should reveal that “Classical” refers to the age of the members rather than the quality of the films. This octet has amassed over 500 years on this planet. I can’t accurately speak to their whereabouts before then, though I harbor suspicions.

One would assume that in 500+ years, some wisdom would have also been amassed and perhaps it has, but that’s not what this assemblage is about. No, the CCC is probably about as foolish as the KKK, but much more benign. Their foolishness is much more centered on good pizza and happily bad movies than lynching and gerrymandering. Their rants tend to be more about the uselessness of ubiquitous standing ovations on the theatrical stages of Lexington rather than Hillary’s emails or Stormy’s career choices.

While I personally believe our country is diminished by the hijinks of the KKK, I can’t honestly assert that Lexington is in any way enhanced by the activities of the CCC. Who is made better by our devouring (inhaling?) of an “Ultimate Warrior” from Puccini’s Smiling Teeth or a “Hudson” from Big City Pizza, followed by a double-feature of War Gods of Babylon and Carry on Cleo?

Well…of course WE are…but the pleasures are ephemeral at best and the digestive dreams that ensue rival those of Dickens’ Scrooge.

Be that as it may, no damage is done by the CCC. No animals are harmed – in fact, Chloe the wonder pup and the only female in the group, scores big from “pizza bones” slipped to her clumsily and surreptitiously by the easily charmed clansmen.

We assemble in the kitchen, munching on beer cheese and chips, drinking wine, bourbon, beer, and herbal tea, filling the time until the pizza arrives with stirring accounts of various physical ailments (500+ years, remember?). That sounds deadly dull and it is but it doesn’t last long. The discussion morphs quickly into passionate descriptions of current projects of the clansmen. Here, I should point out this group is comprised of a painter, a director, an attorney, a writer, an actor, a teacher, a critic, and a junesboy…all occupations that our current governor would consider useless. The members of the group always have something going on; a script, a play, a showing, a concert… And every one of this group has performed on stage. Thus, there is always much to discuss.

 

The Writer has just finished a new play and, not being averse to a little self-promotion, offers; “Richard III got a bum rap.”

The Lawyer; “So…you’re sayin’ Shakespeare was puttin’ out fake news?”

The Teacher; “Maybe he’s a victim of the Deep State.”

The Actor; “Oh yeah. I got yer Deep State right here.”

The Critic snorts and giggles ominously.

The Director; “I remember one day in Montana I drove 836 miles to watch some Udder Pagans play baseball and do some unmentionable things to local cows. I remember thinkin’ that Montana was a Big State and perhaps an Odd State, but I never remember thinkin’ it was a Deep State…and I don’t think I ever met anyone named Dick there.”

This was met with a significant pause as we pondered all the images and possibilities sparked by that pronouncement.

Finally the painter summed it all up; “What kind of pizza did you order and what are we watchin’ tonight? Any pulchritude on deck?”

Junesboy answered; “I ordered copious pizza – the best kind. As for the flicks, I thought we’d start out with some old trailers, followed by an old local commercial featuring The Actor talkin’ ‘bout a rubber ducky, and then move on to the Ed Wood rarity; Devil’s Night Orgy.”

The Painter replied; “I’m very happy.”

Two Sharp Knives

Movie night!

Tonight’s opus gruesome is TWO SHARP KNIVES.

This is a 1950’s made-for-TV dramatization of a story by Dashiell Hammett.

Aha!

That’s why I watched it. How bad could something written by the author of THE THIN MAN and THE MALTESE FALCON be?

Well…

It was part of the Westinghouse Studio series. Westinghouse’s slogan at the time was; “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse”.

Sure of what?

You certainly couldn’t be sure of a quality piece of entertainment.

No.

No sir.

However there were points of interest;

  • A very young Abe Vigoda plays a very young cop. I’m stunned that such a thing was possible as a very young Abe Vigoda.
  • The commercials for Westinghouse washers and dryers feature a Westinghouse store owner inviting you to bring your dirty clothes to his store for a free demonstration. Now there’s a gig.

I came away thinking (to paraphrase George Kaufman); Westinghouse should close the studio and keep the store open late at night.

I watched this…so you don’t have to…you can owe me.

Dinner With Nick and Nora

Movie Night!

Didja ever play the mental game of planning the guest list for an ideal imaginary dinner party? I do it all the time. Most of the time I include Nick and Nora Charles from THE THIN MAN.

If Nick and Nora are among your guests, you’ll feel secure in the success of your dinner party as long as the bar is amply provisioned and a stylish cocktail shaker is at hand. You know there’ll be no awkward gaps in the table chatter and there could quite possibly be some fascinating party crashers named “Rainbow” Benny, “Face” Morgan, or “Spider” Webb.

Warning: there could also be gunplay.

Throw in some weepy drunks, a befuddled police detective or two, a crooked bookkeeper, a murderous jockey, an inscrutable Asian, a socialite grande dame with sleepy siblings, a bitter rejected lover, a gardener with or without his mustache, and you’ve got a shindig that Anita Madden would covet.

I would even let them bring their dog. Our Chloe would totally ramble through the house with their Asta. The pups could swap tips on expanding their respective household dominance which is already near total.

I could pretty well watch “Thin Man” movies forever.

Another Hamilton?

Neil Hamilton…Whatta Career!

Let me pose a question for all my geezer theatre friends. If I offered you an acting career that included roles;

  • As Beau Gest’s brother
  • As Nick Caraway in THE GREAT GATSBY
  • In two Fu Manchu films
  • And two Tarzan films
  • TV appearances in MAVERICK
  • ZORRO
  • 77 SUNSET STRIP
  • THE REAL MCCOYS
  • THE OUTER LIMITS
  • PERRY MASON
  • THE MUNSTERS
  • And MISTER ED
  • Oh wait…and then you get to play Commissioner Gordon in the TV show BATMAN.

Would’ja take it?

Well, that was Neil Hamilton’s career and he’s starring in tonight’s 1941 cinematic delicacy; DANGEROUS LADY. It’s a “Thin Man” knock-off and not great, but Hamilton’s not bad and it ends with a frozen-in-place “THE END” kiss – well worth the price of admission (in this case; free).

Did I mention an appearance in MISTER ED? Whoa!

Casting the Runes

We live in a golden age of things to watch.

There’s the addictive Trump Reality Show broadcast 24/7/365 by CNN, MNBC, and Faux News.

HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. are producing their own wonders.

The Oscars might have suffered a decrease in viewers, but THE SHAPE OF WATER deserved every good thing that has come its way. When Sally Hawkins offered that egg to her new amphibian friend I was filled with wonder and trepidation.

That being so, why spend time on 40-50 year-old film adaptations of 100 year-old ghost stories?

Perhaps, because at times they also fill me with wonder and trepidation.

The ghost stories of M. R. James are erudite, they are a luxurious read, and if read thoughtfully, they are scary as hell.

Page-turners? No.

Sleep disturbers? Oh-h-h-h, yeah.

Two of his stories; “O’ Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “Casting the Runes” are not only effective as stories but seem particularly useful for film treatment.

The multiple times I’ve watched the 1968 BBC Omnibus production of “O’ Whistle” featuring a remarkable performance by Michael Hordern (mumbling, insular, soaked in intellectual hubris), unseat my ease every time.

Jacques Tourneur directed CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) based on James’ “Casting the Runes”. I am unabashedly of the legions of film fanatics that revere Tourneur’s work with producer Val Lewton; CAT PEOPLE, THE LEOPARD MAN, and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

<<  Let’s take a quick time-out here. I hear the snickering over I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. You could not be more wrong. It’s a voodoo rendering of JANE EYRE and totally mesmerizing to watch…though, admittedly the appearance of Sir Lancelot, a calypso troubadour is a head-scratcher.  >>

Tourneur’s treatment of James’ story is not faithful, but who cares? Dana Andrews captures our interest and sympathy. We tag along breathlessly as he un-puzzles the situation. Niall MacGinnis is charmingly and gleefully evil. I would considered it a life well-lived if I never met the man. Séances, mysterious storms, hypnotism, curses on parchment, trains, planes, and automobiles in Britain – what’s not to like?

Thanks to my receiving another box of delights today from my friends at Sinister Cinema, tonight I watched a 1979 British TV production of “Casting the Runes” featuring Iain Cuthbertson and Jan Francis. Once again the adaptation is loose, but once again, who cares? The premise is plausible, the threat is real, the mechanisms are eminently difficult but doable…and the outcome is troubling. I’d call that; “mission accomplished”.

As loose as these adaptations are and as gifted as the adapters are, I can’t help thinking if the original story had not been so very fine…

Perhaps one more mosey through the M. R. James canon might be in order.

All the President’s Men

Notes on a re-screening (#9, I believe) of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

Rotary phones, paper slips at the Library of Congress, typewriters, walkies-talkies, real taxis with lights on the roof, phone booths and phone books, Rolodexes, legal pads, smoking in an elevator…these give such texture to a story untamed by 21st century whitewashing filters.

I enjoyed THE POST, but it’s not ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

The journalism depicted in ATPM is sharper, harder earned, elbows are pointier, and the stakes are higher. That resonates with me these days.

Jane Alexander’s anguish is palpable. It also resonates with me these days.

There is hope expressed;

“The truth is these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand.” –Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat.

After a day of Sam Nunberg, this is what hope sounds like.

A Close Encounter Revisited

Movie Night!

We cling to and cherish what constants we can find in our lives.

Well…..maybe not death and taxes…but most of ‘em.

For example, these are some of the verities upon which I depend;

  • Melinda Dillon will forever be Ralphie’s mom, possessor of all wisdom concerning the ocular hazards of Red Ryder BB guns.
  • Richard Dreyfus will forever haunt the drive-in restaurant and eat popsicles with Wolfman Jack and just miss appointments with Suzanne Somers.
  • Francois Truffault will forever make films about making films with Jacqueline Bissett and the exquisite Valentina Cortese in the totally sunny South of France.
  • Terri Garr will forever be Buck Henry’s befuddled date in the Steve Martin comedy short; THE WAITER.

I sleep better knowing these things are forever true.

Then along comes CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

Everything I thought I knew about these people…forget it.

Plus, there are visitors from outer space pickin’ up hitchhikers.

Double plus, I can hum the alien theme song.

I love it.

“Sometimes you do…”

I was lucky enough to work on the stage version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for about eight weeks one summer. There were so many moments of inspiration in the text it would have been easy to slip into the creative trap Peter Brook refers to as “holy theatre”. Fortunately, we had a fiercely intelligent director that kept us out of danger.

Of all those inspirational moments, I think my favorite was Atticus’ explanation of courage;

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Sometimes you do…

That phrase has gotten me through a few difficult decisions.

It seems useful to turn to it again just now.

Thank you, Ms. Lee.

Don’t Just Move…Stand There!

I’ve been pondering mobility, or rather the lack of it, as an important element in some horror films.

Normally, we’re a lot more a’feared of a terror whose current location is uncertain and moves mysteriously and quickly (ala the alien in ALIEN or Zika-carrying mosquitoes) than we are of a known and fixed enemy like…say…a patch of poison ivy. I don’t fear poison ivy, I avoid it like the plague that it is. I can’t outrun much on this planet, but I can outrun poison ivy. It can’t “cut me off at the pass”. Mosquitoes however…those little suckers are everywhere! This is the stuff of most horror flicks.

But there are a number of horror films that feature stationary menaces or menaces that move at glacier-like rapidity. I happen to have viewed a couple of these recently; THE LIVING HEAD (Mexican), and THE HEAD (German). Two other previously viewed films; THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN and DONOVAN’s BRAIN (both USA), would also fall into this sedentary and thus far inadequately studied category; films about living heads with no bodies (no legs, arms, wings, or driver’s licenses). The writers of these films are required to strive mightily to make these threats plausible since anyone could escape by simply falling down and crawling.

So, how do they do it?

Well, in THE LIVING HEAD and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN, we are shown mesmerized worshipers of the head toting it about from place to place. No one seems to notice or care until it’s too late.

In DONOVAN’S BRAIN the title brain (aka the leading lobe) enforces its desires through emanations (wouldn’t that be a great name for a baseball team or a doo-wop group?) In THE HEAD it’s as if the writers don’t even try. The threat simply exists as a sideshow to be gasped at. Meh.

Until Brendan Fraser, mummy films had much the same problem. Bandage-bound Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee were not precipitous critters. Writers on these films worked hard to either trip or trap. They would trap their victims in a corner, or just trip them repeatedly, or paralyze them with fear. Fainting was a popular and useful (to the script writer) response. Plausibility fled as the mummy shuffled.

Two films come to mind that actually turned this lack of mobility into a positive. In THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, those malevolent pods can’t move, but are placed where they are most effective by previous victims of the pods. This is effective because of the mathematics of the situation. One victim begets two. Two beget four. Four beget eight. Eight beget… You see the problem. The rapid and devastating multiplication of zombie-fied neighbors and public officials is completely plausible and scary.

I hate pods to this day. I look at sugar snap peas and tremble.

In the beginning of the film THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, the title plants apparently cannot move. But after the Earth’s population is blinded by a handy meteor shower, the plants pull up their roots and reveal their slow, but inexorable mobility. The fright factor soars. Kudos for the writer! BUT, look how hard it was to make effective – handy meteor shower? Please.

And that’s my point. Writing is hard work. Why make it harder? Writers should unleash their terrors, not nail their feet (or whatever might pass for feet) to the floor.

Indulge me one more example.

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS featured mountains that grew quickly (stay with me, now) and fell on you if you were foolish enough to stick around and watch.

Let that sink in…but don’t let it fall on you.

This film reminded me of my one and only visit to Phoenix, Arizona. I looked out the window of my hotel room and saw, not too far away, a butte. Is that the correct term? There were two impressive houses built snugly into the base of the butte. I remarked to the bellman that I would be fearful of living in those houses because of the possibility of gigantic rocks falling on me. He replied that the rocks never fell.

Let that sink in.

I gazed again at the butte surrounded by the Greyhound-Bus-sized boulders that formed the 60-70 foot high slopes of the butte. It reminded me of my California-living friends who blithely dismiss earthquakes as a factor in their lives with; “But the weather’s so nice all the time.”

Blissful denial…perhaps that’s the key to the monolith monsters’ path to success. Well, it might work for malevolent mountains but it’ll never get you elected president…or…

Give me a moment, I’m letting that sink in.