Cool Cinema Trash

Cool Cinema Trash: The Concorde – Airport ’79

Cool Cinema Trash

concorde_airport_79_72At twice the speed of sound, can the Concorde evade attack?

The Concorde: Airport ’79 (1979) is the third sequel to Airport (1970), the only disaster movie to spawn its own franchise. Following the ‘bigger is better’ school of thinking, this installment features a faster plane and more mayhem than all the pervious films combined. Still, after nearly a decade, the formula has begun to wear thin, very thin.

What it’s all about: Trouble for the supersonic passenger jet starts right away. A “radical” environmental group (really, is there any other kind?) hopes to prevent the Concorde from landing in Washington D.C. by floating a hot air balloon above the runway. First, what do they have against the Concorde? Second, how is a balloon going to solve anything? The jet could simply use another landing strip. Also, one would assume that the Concorde, which would begin its decent miles from the airport, would notice something as large as a hot air balloon blocking the runway. Evidently, common sense has been jettisoned in favor of high-flying high-jinks as the Concorde barely misses the intellectually challenged activists.

Following the familiar disaster movie formula, we are next introduced to our all-star cast of characters. In the case of Airport ’79, the term “all-star” is very loosely defined.

Concorde pilot Alain Delon romances stewardess Sylvia Kristel while Russian gymnast Andrea Marcovicci and reporter John Davidson engage in a hot-tub tryst under the nose of stern chaperone Mercedes McCambridge. It’s difficult to decide what’s funnier, her goofy Russian accent or the fact that McCambridge spends the entire movie dressed in a voluminous smock with a scarf tried in an oversized bow. A beret would complete the look of a chic Parisian artiste circa 1952.

Avery Schreiber plays the Russian coach who travels everywhere with his hearing impaired daughter. This is where another disaster movie rule comes into play. The only thing better than a cute kid in peril is… a cute, handicapped kid in peril.

A Harrison Industries whistleblower is shot in newscaster Susan Blakely’s townhouse. She escapes the same assassin by dangling from her rooftop high above the streets of Georgetown. The next day, Robert Wagner assures mistress Blakely that, as the president of Harrison Industries, he knows nothing about the illegal arms sales or the attempt on her life. As Blakely boards the Paris bound Concorde, the whistleblowers widow hands her the documents proving Wagner’s evil doings.

Kristel comments to her flight crew that, “You pilots are such men.”

Co-pilot George Kennedy answers, “They don’t call it the cockpit for nothing, sweetheart.”

Kennedy, as Patroni, has the dubious honor of appearing in all four Airport films. At least this time around, his character gets to fly the plane. In a nod to his Airport heritage, Kennedy made a brief cameo as a passenger in the flight attendant comedy View from the Top (2003).

The wife of airline president Eddie Albert is played by Sybil Danning (Eva Gabor would’ve been a much better choice). Cicely Tyson accompanies a Styrofoam cooler containing a heart for her child’s transplant and Martha Raye plays a passenger whose only defining characteristic is that she has a bladder condition.

Monica Lewis (wife of producer Jennings Lang) plays a retired jazz singer who is joined by her jive-talkin’, pot smokin’, saxophone playin’ friend Jimmie ‘JJ’ Walker. After an impromptu jam session, she worries, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

“You’re like fine wine, you get better with age.” He assures her, “And you’re gonna get those Russians drunk.”

With the incriminating documents in Blakely’s hands, Wagner does the only logical thing. He reprograms his experimental attack drone to target the Concorde. In a sequence that inspires giggles when it shouldn’t, the Concorde takes evasive action to avoid the missile. Military jet fighters eventually come to the rescue.

With his first plan a bust, Wagner does the next logical thing. Using his French connections, he soon has his own jet fighter gunning for the Concorde. More slapstick mid-air acrobatics ensue. As the plane barrel rolls, the passengers are tossed about the cabin. It should all be terrifying, hair-raising stuff. Instead, it’s the goofiest and most unintentionally hilarious stuff in the entire series.

Kennedy opens the cockpit window (!) and fires a flare in hopes of deflecting the heat-seeking missiles. When the gun jams, Delon shuts down the planes engines. That solves the missile problem, only now, they’re plummeting towards the sea. French air force pilots shoot down the fighter and the Concorde is able to restart their engines. Now there’s another problem. The reverse thrusters were damaged which means that they’ll have to land in Paris without any brakes!

As the Concorde touches down, barrier nets are threaded across the runway. It breaks through one net… and then another. With only inches of runway left, another net snaps into place catching the plane and bringing it to a stop. Kennedy announces to his passengers, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Paris.”

That night, as repairs are hurriedly being made to the Concorde, a crewman (Wagner’s third logical choice) sabotages the plane. At his hotel suite Kennedy relaxes by the fireside with French tart Bibi Andersson. When Kennedy recounts his fabulous night with his pal, Delon answers, “For 2,000 francs she better have been special. As you Americans say… a real pro.”

Amazingly, everyone from the day before re-boards the plane and, in a comedic cameo that pushes the film ever closer to Love Boat territory, Charro attempts to smuggle her Chihuahua onto the plane. Kristel tells her it’s against airline policy, but Charro explains, “Don’t mis-con-screw me. You see, this is not an average dog. This is my seeing eye dog.”

“Seeing eye dogs are usually German Sheppards.”

“You mean he’s not?” Bah-dum-bum.

The saboteur panics after going through a standard security check and makes a mad dash through Charles De Gaul Airport. In an effort to escape, he runs out onto the runway where he’s nearly run over by the taxiing Concorde.

While the Concorde comfortably cruises en route to the Moscow Olympics, the carefree passengers act as if the past 24 hours hadn’t happened. More chaos ensues when a preset timer opens the cargo bay hatch. At such a high altitude, the rapid decompression rips a hole in the bottom of the aircraft. Our heroic pilots must try an emergency landing in the Alps where the ski patrol has set up a temporary runway.

As the plane shakes apart around them, Marcovicci and Davidson declare their undying love for one another and perform an impromptu wedding ceremony. Even the cold Russian heart of McCambridge melts at such a sight. “God bless you both,” she cries.

Delon and Kennedy stoically attempt a landing, the Concorde skidding along the alpine pass. When the plane comes to a stop the ski patrol frantically try to dig out the passengers before the jet fuel ignites.

Robert Wagner watches a live satellite TV report from the crash site where Blakely gives an audio account of the disaster. Realizing that the third time is not the charm and that Blakely must have nine lives, Wagner does the last logical thing, he shoots himself.

Once the stars are free of the wreckage, the plane erupts into a ball of flame. The final shot of the movie is of the Concorde flying majestically through the clouds, implying that the Concorde is indeed perfectly safe and that there may be yet another installment in the Airport series.

In conclusion: Alas, some things aren’t meant to be. In 2003 the fleet of Concorde aircraft were decommissioned and there hasn’t been an official Airport film in over 35 years.

The Concorde: Airport ’79 shows all the signs of a genre whose popularity had begun to fade. With a story that stretches plausibility paper-thin and a cast filled with actors of questionable star-status, this is one of the loopiest disaster flicks to come out of the 70’s.

The four movies in the series are available on DVD as part of the 2-disc Airport Terminal Pack. This “franchise collection” is nicely packaged and features crisp widescreen prints of the films, but only the original Airport has remastered surround sound. The only special feature on each disc is a trailer. Where are the extended and deleted scenes?

The trailer for Airport ’79 is a simple assemblage of scenes from the movie with no voice-over narration. What’s so strange is that it looks as if the studio purposely chose to showcase the most ridiculous moments in the movie. If the title didn’t come roaring across the screen, you’d swear you were watching a trailer for Airplane! (1980). Hmmmm, perhaps they realized that they had a comedy on their hands.

Cool Cinema Trash: The Swarm (1978)

Cool Cinema Trash

The-Swarm-1978-posterThe Swarm is coming!

Satanic cults, the energy crisis and roller disco were all part of the national consciousness in the 1970’s. Let’s also not forget the panic over the impending arrival of killer bees from South America. It seems silly in retrospect, but The Swarm (1978) exploited a genuine fear of the time.

What it’s all about: After a missile base is mysteriously attacked, General Richard Widmark and Major Bradford Dillman encounter the only person left alive in the facility, entomologist Michael Caine. Honoring cinematic conventions, the scientist and military General instantly mistrust one another. Director Irwin Allen, an expert at action sequences, seems to give his cast free reign in their acting choices. Consequently, this is just the first of many moments where Widmark and Caine engaging in an over-the-top shouting match.

Katherine Ross, playing the worst military doctor in history, corroborates Caine’s story that the base was attacked by a swarm of African killer bees. Two military choppers (well, helicopter models) are soon brought down by the same swarm that attacked the base.

In the pastoral countryside, a stunt couple and their son set up a picnic lunch while a bee watches them closely. Really. There’s even a shot of the bee’s segmented point of view. Paul watches from the safety of the family car as his parents are covered by the killer insects. Barely escaping and delirious from a bee sting, Paul crashes the family car in the town square of nearby Marysville, where the local citizenry are preparing for the annual flower festival. An inordinate amount of time is spent setting up the love triangle between retiree Ben Johnson, school marm Olivia de Havilland and Mayor Fred MacMurray. Young Paul is taken to the hospital where, as if on a bad acid trip, he hallucinates about giant bees.

Caine begins to round up his scientific team, “The war that I’ve always talked about has finally started.” When a wheelchair bound Henry Fonda confirms his worst fears, even Caine finds it hard to believe, “I never thought I’d see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friends.”

At the gates of the missile base, Widmark must confront angry hick Slim Pickens, who demands to see his son. Pickens weeps over the body. The scene manages to be somewhat touching, but quickly turns ridiculous when the bleary eyed yokel picks up the body bag with every intention of carrying it home. Incredibly, Widmark lets him walk out the door with it.

In another shouting match between Widmark and Caine, Widmark bellows about airdropping poison on the swarm. The fight ends with Caine screaming about the ecological ramifications of such a plan. In this round of scenery-chewing it’s Caine 1, Widmark 0.

Recovered from his earlier bee attack, Paul goes out looking for the swarm. He and his two friends succeed where the military search operation has failed. They find the swarm and firebomb the hive, but only manage to anger the bees. The swarm heads for Marysville.

Sleazy reporter Lee Grant watches from the safety of her news van as the bees attack helpless townspeople. The camera grotesquely lingers on a group of schoolchildren as they are stung to death in the school yard. But try to suppress your laughter as de Havilland watches her dying students through a bee covered window and acts, Acts, ACTS! “Nooooooo!” she cries, all in hilarious slow motion.

Caine and Ross take cover with pregnant waitress Patty Duke in the local diner. Ross is stung on the neck and soon she’s all sweaty, glassy-eyed and hallucinating giant bees. After the incident, Widmark suggests evacuating Marysville in order to spare its inhabitants from another attack by the vengeful bees. “I always credit my enemy, no matter what he may be, with equal intelligence.”

Before she can board the evacuation train, Duke (of course) goes into labor. As the train gets under way, de Havilland has a premonition, “I got a sudden feeling I’ll never see Marysville again … I can’t shake this feeling that something is closing in on all of us.” This is of course an open invitation for the bees to attack, which they obligingly do. The train careens out of control and jumps the track. Johnson and MacMurray (well, their stuntmen) get tossed out the window as the train tumbles down a cliff and blows up.

Duke gives birth and, mere moments after delivery, flirts with Doctor Alejandro Ray. “I guess it’s true what they say…that a woman sort of falls in love with her doctor at this time.”

The swarm, now an unstoppable force, is headed straight for Houston. Caine attempts to drop eco-friendly poison on the bees. He reports back to headquarters that, “They’re not touching the pellets. They seem to sense that it’s something that will kill them.”

Ross displays her bedside manner when young Paul relapses and dies. She makes no attempt to save him, but ineffectually calls another doctor for help. In her own stiff and halting style Ross lashes out at Caine with a tried and true “angry at God” speech. “Why this one?” she cries, “In the whole damned world, why this boy? My God, Brad. What good is all that science? All that equipment at the base? All those doctors? What good are you?!”

Proving that Hollywood legends are just as capable at hamming it up, Fonda self injects his experimental bee venom antidote and vividly dictates the results as they occur. Ross joins Fonda after what appears to be a successful trial run, but he quickly relapses. Once again Ross upholds her Hippocratic Oath by running to get help. Even though Fonda is obviously stone cold dead, Ross administers oxygen, as if it might help. Where did this woman receive her license to practice medicine? M.D.’s “R” Us?

A nuclear power plant is directly in the path of the oncoming swarm. Richard Chamberlain tries to convince Jose Ferrer to shut down the facility. “The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical.” Ferrer insists.

“Is there any provision against an attack by killer bees?” Chamberlain asks. Before Ferrer can answer, the alarm sounds, the bees attack and the plant inexplicably blows up!

Our scientific team gathers at the new command center in Houston. As the bees blanket the city, the military sets Houston (in reality, only a small portion of the Warner Bros. back lot) ablaze with flamethrowers.

While Ross gives Caine a back rub, she relapses from her earlier bee sting and is soon picturing giant bees outside her door. With Houston burning outside his window, Widmark wonders, “Will history blame me or the bees?”

After analyzing tapes from the military base attack, Caine realizes than a systems test may have caused the problem. Widmark finds this hard to believe, “Then you’re saying our alarm system attracted the bees into the complex.”

“We’ll use this very sound to pull them out of Houston.” But before Caine can initiate his plan, the swarm invades headquarters. Widmark, brandishing a flamethrower, helps clear the way for Caine and Ross to escape.

As tankers flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil, sonically outfitted helicopters lead the bees, pied-piper style, out to sea. Ross and Caine watch from shore as the gulf is set ablaze and the swarm is destroyed.

“Did we finally beat them,” Ross questions, “Or is this a temporary victory?”

Caine gets philosophical when he answers, “I don’t know, but we did gain time. If we use it wisely and if we’re lucky, the world might just survive.”

In conclusion: In case you hadn’t laughed enough already, this disclaimer appears in the end credits.

The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation.

What exactly were the producers trying to prevent? A series of honey bee hate crimes or a backlash from supporters of the honey-nut Cheerios bee?

The Swarm DVD is nicely presented in its widescreen format with crisp, bright hues that bring to mind the colorful campy atmosphere of Allen’s television work. A trailer is included along with the vintage featurette Inside the Swarm, which contains some nice behind the scenes footage of the more memorable action sequences.

With its utter disregard for believability and scientific fact (a thesis could be written on the countless errors) and an all-star cast that takes every opportunity to chew the scenery, The Swarm is one of the zaniest disaster movies to spring from the fertile mind of producer/director Irwin Allen.

Cool Cinema Trash: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

Cool Cinema Trash

beyond_the_poseidon_adventureBefore her fate is sealed by the deep, the superliner Poseidon will reveal one last secret…

In the disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the ill-fated passengers of a luxury ocean liner must endure a stormy day at sea before the boat is capsized on New Year’s Eve. In the sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) a new cast of characters hop aboard the overturned ship for another round of disaster movie adventure.

What it’s all about: Tugboat captain Michael Caine bravely battles the elements as his tiny boat is tossed on the stormy seas of a Hollywood soundstage. His crew includes salty sea dog Karl Malden and comic relief sidekick Sally Field, whom Caine not so affectionately calls “Monkey”. After the storm has passed, they spot the rescue chopper carrying the beleaguered stars from the first film.

With the coast guard so far out at sea, Caine ascertains that, “Some ship must be in big trouble.” The salvage rights to a ship the size of the S.S. Poseidon will leave Caine and his crew set for life.

Telly Savalas, with his henchmen in tow, also arrive under the pretense of rescuing any remaining passengers. They board the overturned ship through the escape hatch that was cut in the hull. As they traverse the fiery remains of the engine room, Malden warns Caine, “I’m telling you it’s a floating time bomb.”

He’s overstating the obvious and it only serves to point out the giddy implausibility of the films premise. Even with the pretense of pillaging loot or finding survivors, no one in their right mind would willingly crawl through the wreckage of a sinking ship.

But crawl they do, down a vertical hatch that leads them deeper into the ship. An explosion (the first of many) rocks the boat and injures one of the henchmen. While Savalas tends to the wound, a group of survivors are found hiding in the steam room of the ship’s gymnasium. There’s glamour-girl Veronica Hamel, loudmouth Peter Boyle and ship’s nurse Shirley Jones.

The group continues onward with the help of a handy deck plan. As the rising seawater rushes in behind them, another explosion rocks the boat. With the camera shaking Star Trek-style, our hapless stars encounter another obstacle, a gaping hole that they each have to leap across.

Once everyone has taken their turn at the standing long jump, they find the purser’s office. Another helpful explosion cracks open the ship’s safe. As Caine packs up the cold hard cash, they are joined by southern boozehound Slim Pickens, Boyle’s daughter Angela Cartwright and young hero Mark Harmon.

While everyone is otherwise occupied, Hamel slips away with a copy of the ship’s cargo manifest. When she gives the information to Savalas and then plants a wet one on him, it’s obvious that these two are more than partners in crime. Hamel is desperate to find a way out and no longer wants any part of Savalas’ scheme. For her betrayal, he orders her shot. Mortally wounded, she continues to search for a way to the surface.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast continues down an inverted staircase. An explosion dislodges a concrete post that impressively smashes through several floors of a multi-tiered set. All this excitement is too much for poor Malden. A tender moment passes between Malden and Caine as they discuss the undisclosed illness that has left him so weak. “I know what you’ve got,” Caine tells his old buddy. “I’ve been to that doctor you’re always sneaking off to. As of this morning we have all the money we need for an operation.”

As if this gaggle of all-stars didn’t already have enough to deal with, they’re next joined by blind Jack Warden and his seeing-eye wife Shirley Knight. Crass Boyle suggests that the duo will only slow them down, but Caine insists that they join in the search for a way out.

They continue on to the ship’s galley where everyone pauses for a mid-adventure snack. As Caine and Field explore some ductwork, their unlikely romance blossoms. Field indulges in a tearless crying fit. “This is not a good day for me,” she bawls. To get her to shut up, Caine tells her she’s beautiful.

“You gonna kiss me now?”


“Well then, let’s just get the hell outta here.”

While Savalas and his men search the cargo hold, Caine and his group stumble across Hamel, who’s finally expired from her gunshot wound. Caine adds another wacky layer to the proceedings by casting doubt on who could have killed her. In addition to everything else, it seems they have a homicidal maniac to deal with.

They continue on to their next obstacle, climbing up a makeshift ladder. Since an inordinate amount of screen time is spent on this relatively simple task, a moment of false jeopardy is added to spice things up. Warden loses his grip and dangles precariously for a few moments. Knight dislocates her shoulder while saving her husband. “It’s gonna hurt a great deal,” Shirley Jones apologizes as she promptly pops it back in place.

Everyone finally makes it to the cargo hold where they discover what Savalas so desperately covets. A weapons cache that, believe it or not, includes a crate full of plutonium. “I can’t let you go now,” he sneers.

Another well timed explosion gives the good guys enough time to grab some guns and engage in a wild west shootout with Savalas and his goons. Whether it’s wise to fire guns near ammunition stockpiles and weapons grade plutonium seems to be the furthest thing from anybody’s mind.

Caine and the rest of the group make a run for it while Boyle holds off the bad guys. Since he’s been a jerk for the majority of the film, this is his one chance at redemption. Predictably, his martyrdom is made official when he is fatally wounded. A tear-filled and touching good-bye from Cartwright follows. A weakened porthole gives away and the compartment begins to flood. Though a convenient door is found, Knight perishes in the rising waters.

Just when Beyond the Poseidon Adventure should be racing towards it’s thrilling climax, the movie comes to a grinding halt as Field takes time out to ask Jones for romantic advice. Jones, Pickens and Malden each share more of their backstories while the romance between Cartwright and Harmon is explored.

Caine reveals that the only way out is through an underwater obstacle course. Coincidentally, there’s some scuba gear on hand, so our all-star survivors don masks and tanks for their swim to freedom. Most of the cast makes it to the surface, but complications from Malden’s mysterious ailment leave him at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

Though they’ve made it free of the sinking ship, they still have Savalas to contend with. As Savalas and his men load their precious cargo, Caine and Field swim to the tug and ferry the boat closer so the rest of the group can safely escape. Pickens isn’t so lucky and is shot dead.

As the tug pulls away, the Poseidon gives a last mighty rumble. The overturned ocean liner (an obvious miniature in a studio tank) along with Savalas, explodes in a giant fireball.

Caine, Field and the remaining cast members literally sail off into the sunset. When Field shows him the uncut diamond she’s managed to smuggle off the Poseidon, she once again asks, “Gonna kiss me now?”

This time Caine happily obliges. It seems that diamonds are a tugboat captain’s best friend.

In conclusion: In the 1960’s, television producer Irwin Allen entertained millions of viewers with escapist fare like Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a series developed from the 1961 film he also produced. With bigger and better projects always in mind, Allen longed to return to the big screen in a big way. He did that in 1972 with The Poseidon Adventure. The film was a phenomenal success and jump-started the disaster movie craze of the 1970’s.

Allen continued his box-office winning streak with The Towering Inferno in 1974. The films that followed relied more and more on genre conventions and became increasingly ridiculous. The Swarm (1978) combined an all-star cast with a rampaging horde of killer bees. When Time Ran Out (1980) featured an all-star cast battling Mother Nature and volcanic eruptions in a tropical resort. By the end of the decade, audiences had caught onto the formulaic genre approach to action and had moved on.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure tried to recapture the success of the original, but sank at the box-office. Movie enthusiasts with a taste for the absurd will no doubt revel in this sequel’s clichéd plot devices and colorful art design that seems more influenced by Allen’s TV work than the original Poseidon.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for production problems on the original film. As originally scripted, the S.S. Poseidon sank beneath the waves after the original survivors were rescued. A shot of the sinking vessel was created using a miniature, but the final results were so unconvincing that the shot was scrapped. With no time or budget left for new effects work, The Poseidon Adventure ended with a final shot of a rescue chopper airlifting the all-star survivors to safety. Seven years later a new cast would arrive to seek one more adventure on the grand old Poseidon.

Part of the fun of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is watching otherwise respectable actors engage in utterly ridiculous situations. It’s had to believe, but Beyond counts no less than four Academy Award winners in it’s cast! Field and Caine faired the best. After starring in this silly sequel, they each went on to win the best actor and actress award twice!

Cool Cinema Trash: Grizzly (1976)

Cool Cinema Trash

poster218 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!

“This is the largest post-season crowd we’ve ever had,” Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) informs his staff in the opening moments of Grizzly (1976).

What it’s all about: As they head out on patrol, one of them comments that, “There’s no way we can keep an eye on all of those backpackers.” In other words, it’s going to be a smorgasbord of campers for some lucky killer bear. It’s not long before spooky point-of-view camera angels menace two lovely ladies. While packing up camp, the first girl is surprise attacked by a giant furry paw. Her arm is ripped off and she’s vigorously tossed back and forth. It’s not too surprising that this first bear attack is similar to the first shark attack in Jaws (1975), the movie that served as “inspiration” for Grizzly.

The second girl makes a mad dash through the woods and finds shelter in an old shack. Her salvation is short lived. The bear (once again, only it’s paw is visible) smashes through the walls as if they were cardboard and quickly dispatches his victim.

Ranger Kelly and perky wildlife photographer Allison Corwin (Joan McCall) find the first body at the shack. They continue the search for her friend even after night falls. While acting as an impromptu crime scene photographer, Allison literally stumbles across the second body. According to the DVD commentary track, a portion of this scene was re-shot inside a roller rink. Even with the clarity of DVD, the scene is often so dark that it’s impossible to tell if they’re in a faux forest/roller rink or on the moon.

After the remains have been examined, Kelly theorizes that a protective mother bear might have attacked the girls. He quickly discounts his own theory, “Bears don’t eat people.”

The examiner offers a less than helpful assessment. “This one did.”

Next, a pretty young park ranger is stalked by the bear-cam as she strips down for a refreshing swim. Duh-dum Duh-dum. With a blatant rip-off of the John Williams score playing on the soundtrack, she is attacked underneath a waterfall.

Over drinks at the lodge, Allison lends a sympathetic ear to Ranger Kelly’s troubles. He has the feeling that there is, “Something I’m not doing.”

“Sure, you’re not killing the bear.” Okay. Maybe she’s not so sympathetic, though it doesn’t really matter. Despite the fact that Allison has clearly been set up as Kelly’s love interest, she disappears from the film after another brief scene.

Under pressure from the National Park Supervisor to do something about the deaths, Kelly enlists the help of local chopper pilot Dan Stober (Andrew Prine). While searching for the killer grizzly from the air, they spot a bear, but it’s only environmentalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) communing with nature. “We got a Grizzly,” he tells them, “and then some.” According to the evidence he’s found, the bear is over 15 feet tall and an ancestor of “the mightiest carnivores in the prehistoric era.”

Later that night, a camper excuses herself from the campfire to slip into something more comfortable. While preparing for bed, the Grizzly strikes, attacking the woman in her tent. She’s swung violently around, an odd effect that’s achieved by flipping the film upside down. The moment is strangely surreal. While in her final death throes, her hair defies gravity and falls up.

Hunters scour the forest looking for the killer bear. One hunter narrowly escapes becoming the bear’s next victim by falling in the water and being swept down river. Kelly and the Park Supervisor continue to clash over the handling of the situation. “Kelly, you’re a maverick. We don’t have room for mavericks.”

That night, the bear sneaks up on a group of hunters. Anyone who’s dumb enough to stay out past nightfall and sleep out in the open while a killer Grizzly is on the loose, gets what they deserve. Luckily, it’s only a cub that stumbles into their camp. They get the bright idea to use the baby bear as bait. “Old mom will come by… Pow.” The Grizzly comes by and eats the little bear. Ranger Kelly, Stober, Scott and the three hunters set up strategic posts in hopes of catching the bloodthirsty beast.

While they lay in wait, Stober entertains them with a story about a pack of grizzlies that once ate an entire Indian tribe. In the DVD making-of documentary, Andrew Prine fondly recalls working on the film with director William Girdler. It was while shooting this scene that Prine improvised the Indian tale, a story lifted directly from the classic Robert Shaw speech in Jaws. Despite Stober’s storytelling skills, Scott would rather capture than kill the beast, “I can look like him, I can smell like him, now gimme a chance!”

Come daybreak, young Ranger Tom (Tom Arcuragi) stands high atop a remote watchtower. You would think that a 15-foot Grizzly would be kind of hard to miss, but the devious critter sneaks up on him and tries to shake Tom loose. The watchtower eventually folds like a house of cards and poor Tom is killed in the fall.

The park supervisor reacts predictably and fulfills the requirements of his stock character, “There’s no need to close the park!” It also seems that he believes in the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. When he invites the press to cover the ongoing story, Kelly has an amusingly righteous exchange with a reporter, “You and your cameras make it so exciting, so attractive.”

A mother and her young child become the next victims of a bear attack. While playing in the yard with his pet rabbit, the little boy is suddenly (and graphically) torn to shreds by the grizzly. Mom attempts to fend off the beast, but she also becomes bear chow.

Kelly and Stober load up their helicopter and fly out over the forest. They land and manage to lure the bear close, but their trap fails and the bear runs off. For some reason, after chasing him across the rugged terrain on foot, Kelly seems genuinely surprised that they weren’t able to catch up with him.

Night comes and goes. Scott, who’s been riding a pony through the woods, is attacked while tracking the beast. The Grizzly takes a swipe at the horse (decapitating it) and claws at Scott. The bear partially buries him, saving him for a snack later on. When Scott awakens in a shallow grave, he finds that the Grizzly wants his dinner sooner rather than later. Kelly and Stober eventually find what is left of their friend.

Continuing their search from the air, they spot the Grizzly and chase it. Our heroes eventually land in an open field where the stage is set for the final confrontation. Jaws set the gold standard for the ubiquitous man vs. beast finale and Grizzly doesn’t veer far from the successful formula. The Grizzly immediately attacks the chopper and the men fend it off with riffles. They each manage to get several good shots into the growling monster, but Stober succumbs to a great big bear hug. Up until this point, the bears and the human actors have never appeared together in the same frame. Prine is briefly shown next to one of the trained animals, but it is a stunt man in a bear costume that gives him the squeeze of death.

Kelly pulls out a rocket launcher…yes, a rocket launcher. If they had a rocket launcher lying around, why didn’t they just use it on the bear in the first place? At any rate, Kelly fires and the Grizzly explodes in a massive fireball.

A lone harmonica plays a melancholy tune on the soundtrack as Ranger Kelly kneels over the body of his fallen friend. If Stober were still alive, he’d undoubtedly wish that Kelly had thought of that rocket launcher just a little sooner.

In conclusion: Auteur William Girdler cranked out several low-budget gems in the seventies. Some of his most memorable titles include Abby (1974), Day of the Animals (1977) and The Manitou (1978). Though Grizzly was by far his most successful film, Girdler never saw a dime thanks to a legal dispute that arose after the film was released.

A novelization of Grizzly was published to coincide with the film’s release. According to the folks at, the book not only features first-person accounts from the bear’s perspective (he’s just misunderstood) but it also offers up the points-of-view of Scott’s horse and the pet bunny rabbit! The book also presents a slightly different ending than the one that appears in the film. Ranger Kelly uses a flamethrower (which makes about as much sense as a rocket launcher) to destroy the grizzly. Also in the novel, Stober survives his bear attack. It’s possible that this ending may have once been part of the final film. As the credits begin to roll, Kelly kneels by his fallen friend whom we assume is dead. If you look closely, Andrew Prine’s fluttering eyelids don’t exactly give the impression that Stober is truly down for the count.

An often talked about, but seldom seen sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator, was shot sometime in the early eighties. With a script by the man who penned the original, the movie was apparently shelved when problems with the special FX bear arose while filming in Hungary. It is said to feature Charlie Sheen and George Clooney in their earliest film roles.

The 30th anniversary double-disc special edition DVD of Grizzly presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and features a commentary by actress Joan McCall and producer David Sheldon. A short vintage promo titled Movie Making in the Wilderness contains interview footage with the director as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the difficulties of shooting while on location in Georgia. Jaws With Claws includes interviews with producers Sheldon and Harvey Flaxman and stars Andrew Prine and Joan McCall. Sheldon relates how, early in the production, the mechanical bear (constructed by an L.A. taxidermist) was accidentally left out in the rain. It became impossible to match the look of the matted animal fur to the shots of the live bear. Consequently, the mechanical grizzly is only seen fleetingly in the final film. The disc also includes a short fanboy segment, Reflections of Grizzly, a small poster/photo gallery and two radio spots.

Cool Cinema Trash: Hot Rods to Hell (1967)

Cool Cinema Trash


Call them punks… call them animals… but you better get out of their way! They’re souped-up for thrills and there’s no limit to what they’ll do!

What it’s all about: Hot Rods to Hell (1967) begins with a perfect Christmas Eve for a perfect suburban family, until traveling salesman and stalwart father Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews) is injured in an auto accident. After an extensive recovery period, Peg Phillips (Jeanne Crain) worries about her husband’s mental condition. “The accident did something to him Bill,” she explains to her brother-in-law, “It’s his attitude about things. I’m afraid he’s become a… a very frightened man.”

Once Tom is comfortably ensconced at home with his wife and two children, teenage Tina (Laurie Mock) and young Jamie (Tim Stafford), he must consider his family’s future. With his bad back, Tom can no longer cover the territory his old job required. Bill proposes a new business opportunity, owning and operating a desert motel.

The heavily made-up Andrews (who wears nearly as much make-up as co-star Crain) is terrorized by recurring nightmares of his accident. He decides that a fresh start is in order. “As soon as I’m able, we’ll make the trip. Just the four of us. Everything is going to be brand new.”

As the Phillips family makes their way through the California desert in their station wagon, they encounter a group of hot roding teens. Their bad driving understandably upsets papa Phillips but Tina has a different perspective, “All the kids drag, Dad.”

“What kind of animal are those?”

They’re the kind of animals that wear button down shirts and freshly-pressed slacks. Only in 1967 could these kids, who dress like young Republicans, be considered outside the norm. Duke (Paul Bertoya) the de facto leader of this wild bunch, can’t keep his hands off freaky chick Gloria (Mimsy Farmer). She asks the eternal question, “What’s left for kicks?” After some swell hot roding antics (close-ups are achieved using old-school rear projection techniques) Duke and Gloria engage in some heavy social recreation.

When the family car has a blowout, everyone is a bit rattled. “Let’s not go being too dramatic,” Mother quips, despite the fact that it’s all they’ll be doing for the rest of the movie.

At a nearby service station, Tom gets to talking with the station attendant about the motel and his plans for the future. Ernie (Gene Kirkwood as another well-dressed “hoodlum”) overhears their conversation and fills Duke in on the situation. It seems that the motel and its adjoining roadhouse, The Arena, are the only places for disenfranchised local teens to hang out. There’s no telling what a square like Tom Phillips will do to their favorite juke joint.

Tom, who’s chosen this particular moment to try and overcome his fears, takes the wheel of the family car only to be terrorized by Duke and his pals. The kids taunt and tease the Phillips family with their vehicular antics along vast stretches of uninhabited desert highway. What makes the scene so enjoyable isn’t the impressive stunt driving, but the reactions from Hollywood veterans Andrews and Crain. While his family is being menaced, Andrews is stony-faced but sweaty while Crain shrieks, gasps and overacts wildly. Accompanied by frenzied go-go music, the teens literally drive circles around old man Tom.

“Tom, we’ve got to get away from them,” Peg pleads, overstating the obvious.

They find refuge at a particularly verdant picnic area that has trees, grass and even a lake! Just the kind of place you’d expect to find in the middle of the desert. The family is able to eat their lunch in peace while dad rests his back.

Duke takes in an interest in Tina who is relaxing by the lake. She is repelled, yet intrigued by his freewheeling ways. “You almost killed us… for kicks.”

“Do you think I’d wanna hurt anybody who looks like you?” After giving her a kiss, Duke lays down the law, “Now tell your father that he’d better not try to change things because if he does… nobody around here… is going to have any fun. Not even you.”

A lunkheaded local (whose on screen wife is played by Hortense Petra, the wife of producer Sam Katzman) engages in some dangerous driving around the lake, which catches the attention of a highway patrolman. Tom and Peg report the earlier hot rod incident, “They have to be stopped officer, they’re going to kill somebody.”

With a stoicness that rivals Joe Friday, the patrolman gives them a mini sermon on modern troubled youth. “These kids have nowhere to go but they want to get there at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Giving them cars like that is like putting guns in their hands.”

With Duke and his gang long gone, the Phillips family continues their trip. They arrive at the motel to find the adjoining “coffee shop” really jumping. They quickly get settled in for the night but Tina sneaks out her bedroom window. It seems she can’t resist the siren song of Mickey Rooney Jr. and his combo. She finds Ernie and Gloria, who Duke refers to as “stale bread”, getting groovy on the crowded dance floor. Gloria makes a scene when she sees that Duke is interested in Tina, a girl who is apparently bakery fresh.

Though The Arena obviously sells alcohol, Duke and his underage pals seem to make due with soda pop. In a brief scene where Duke sits at a table, an awkward black bar obscures the brand name on the bottle he’s drinking from. It seems that a certain national bottling company didn’t care to be associated with the immoral hooligans of Hot Rods to Hell.

On the dance floor, Duke and Tina shake and shimmy and stare at each other longingly. In the parking lot, she insists that she’s “not like Gloria”. But Duke doesn’t take no for an answer, “It’s what’s happening around here.”

Tom defends his daughter’s virtue and chokes Duke, but a back spasm prevents him from finishing the job. “Any girl would want Duke!” Tina confesses, “You think I’ve never kissed a boy before?”

With talk like that it’s definitely time for a mother/daughter heart to heart. But their little talk turns into a hysterical screaming match when Peg questions Tina about her youthful yearnings, “Is that what you want? To wind up in a motel room with any man?”

“All you think about is me getting married! What if something happens to the man I marry? What if he gets to be like dad?!”

This hits a little too close to home for Peg. She gives her daughter a well-deserved slap before dispensing some motherly advice, “Tina, there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t want a man, but you’re young enough and desirable enough to demand that a man love you if he wants you.” In other words, get a ring before you give up the goods.

For Tom Phillips the motel deal is definitely off. He packs up his family and is back on the road in no time. On their way out of town they encounter a traffic accident. It seems the yokel from the picnic spot has met with a bad end. With all the subtlety of a “Blood on the Pavement” driver’s ed. film, the stoic policeman sermonizes, “The law doesn’t just belong to the cops, it belongs to them too.”

It isn’t long before Duke and Ernie catch up to them on a lonely stretch of highway. The boys continue to terrorize the Phillips family, each of whom indulge in their own unique style of histrionic overacting. A deserted roadside diner offers them a respite from the games of chicken. After a brief confrontation with the hooligans, Tom realizes that if he’s going to fight back, it has to be on their terms. Tom parks the car on a narrow bridge and, under the cover of night, hides his family in the desert away from any danger.

Duke and Ernie speed toward the family car for one final game of chicken. They realize too late that the car isn’t moving and swerve to avoid a collision. They roll their rod off the road and into a ditch.

Tom waves a tire iron like a crazy man, but soon has a dramatic epiphany. He realizes that he had the fortitude to stand up to these punks all along. In a speech reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s vow to rebuild her ancestral home, Tom tells the boys, “I’m not going to run anymore. I’m going back to my motel and I’m gonna clean up all the slop and garbage and the smell and it’s gonna be like it should be. And I won’t even need the police.” The police show up anyway and take Duke and Ernie away.

It may have been a deeply traumatizing experience for them all, but the Phillips family is closer and more wholesome than ever. “Peg,” a newly liberated Tom tells his wife, “I wouldn’t even mind if you drove now.” Everyone piles into the station wagon for the drive back to their own little piece of the American dream, a roadside motel in Mayville, USA.

In conclusion: Hot Rods to Hell was originally made for television in 1966. It was shot quickly (about two weeks) on the MGM backlot and in the areas surrounding Palmdale, CA. The producers were so pleased with the end result that they changed the title (it was originally called 52 Miles to Terror) and released the film theatrically.

The same year that Hot Rods to Hell was released, Gene Kirkwood, Laurie Mock and Mimsy Farmer appeared in another teen flick, Riot on Sunset Strip (1967). In that film the girls got to switch roles. Mock played a groovy beatnik chick while Farmer played a naive daddy’s girl who goes on an outrageously entertaining acid trip.





Cool Cinema Trash: Mahogany (1974)

Cool Cinema Trash


Mahogany – the woman ever woman wants to be… and every man wants to have.

Movies that prominently feature fashion as part of their plotlines are prime candidates for Cool Cinema Trash status. The Diana Ross melodrama Mahogany (1975) is a perfect example. It’s the rags to riches tale of a girl who works her way out of the ghetto and into the spotlight as a famous international fashion model and designer.

What it’s all about: During the “Kabuki Finale” of a chic European fashion show, insane kimono inspired gowns (with glowing trim) are paraded in front of an appreciative audience. Ross makes her dramatic entrance and takes center stage where she is surrounded by the wacky creations that she designed. After soaking up the adulation of the crowd, she returns backstage. Though the show is an unqualified success (go figure) she yearns for simpler times.

In flashback, the camera sweeps past dreary student sketches in a fashion design class. But plucky young dreamer Tracy Chambers (Miss Ross) thinks outside the box. When the instructor gives the assignment for next week, she warns Tracy, “No sequins, no rhinestones and no ostrich feathers.”

If you couldn’t already hum the melancholy theme from Mahogany, don’t worry, you’ll soon be able to. The Oscar-nominated hit song “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” plays as the opening credits roll. It’s just one of the many times the song in used in the film.

Tracy proves to be streetwise as well. When she’s threatened by a dangerous looking thug one evening, she scares him off by pretending to be a fast-talking ‘ho. Outside her Chicago tenement building, she finds hopeful politician Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams) loudly preaching social responsibility. When she spots Brian the next day, she plays a practical joke on him by pouring milk into his bullhorn. Assuming that some construction workers are to blame, Brian begins to knock some heads.

Tracy writes a bum check to spring Brian from jail. “I’m the one that turned that trumpet of yours into a horn of plenty,” she explains, “I felt guilty that’s all.”

“Why don’t I come by tonight,” Brian suggests, “and see if we can come up with something we can feel guilty about together?”

Despite this lame come-on, Brian continues to lay on the charm (this is Billy Dee Williams after all) and they get to know one another over a game of air hockey. As they take a walking tour of the ghetto, Tracy justifies her need to get out, “I can see there’s a much better life than this.”

Brian earnestly explains that, “Somebody’s got to stay and do the marching and the politicking and make this a better place to live.”

“And that’s you?”

“That’s me.” What woman could resist a man that noble?

At the posh department store where Tracy works as a secretary, hot shot photographer Sean McAvoy (a hammy Anthony Perkins) mistakes her for a model. “Making like a clothes hanger seems like a silly way to earn a living,” she tells him. But he believes that Tracy has what it takes. He snaps pictures of her as she dances among nude mannequins in a rainbow hued gown of her own creation. Later, she assists Sean as he shoots a fashion layout with the Chicago slums as his backdrop. Brian visits Tracy on the set and condemns the fashion biz as exploitative and pointless.

Tracy is turned down repeatedly when she tries to sell her designs to several windy city manufacturers. With so much of her time spent on her high-fashion dreams, she is fired from her department store job. While on line at the unemployment office, she runs into Brian, who is eliciting votes from the disenfranchised.

In a memorably corny exchange, Tracy harasses him. “I’m a widow from the South side,” she shouts. “My old man left me with six kids and all the kids got the flu. What’re ya gonna do about that?” Though he tries to charm his way through it all with inspiring political sound bites, she continues to bust his chops, “Help me get my old man back!”

Back at her apartment, Tracy sings an impromptu campaign jingle and suggests that he needs more “pizzazz”. As their relationship develops, she begins to spend more and more time on his campaign. “Flash that grand piano of yours you call a smile,” she tells him. Brian rather cruelly begins to take her support for granted. When Tracy receives a phone call from Sean, she is on the first flight to Rome.

Cue that theme song. The montage of Tracy’s Italian cab ride features every possible statue, fountain and tourist attraction in Rome. At Sean’s apartment, Tracy examines the eerie shrines erected in honor of his past supermodel discoveries. “I give all my creations the names of inanimate objects,” Norman Bates, um…Sean explains. “There’s only one word that describes rich, dark, beautiful and rare. I’m gonna call you … Mahogany.”

Tracy, now christened with her supermodel moniker, must strut her stuff in front of the representatives of the Gavina modeling agency. When they make disparaging remarks about her lack of cleavage, she tells them where to get off, “They want a dummy, or better yet, a couple of basketballs and a smile.” Carlotta Gavina (Marisa Mell) admires her spunk and hires her on the spot. Tracy has made it to the big time. Despite the fact that less than ten minutes of screen time have passed since the last montage, she is transformed into Mahogany in another visual medley. As the theme song plays, Ross prances about in more memorably atrocious fashions.

After Sean makes a pathetic attempt to seduce her, their personal and professional relationship takes a turn for the worse. While filming a commercial, Mahogany petulantly decides to wear one of her own ridiculous designs instead of the approved wardrobe. Sean tries to rip it off her…and who could blame him?

At a charity fashion auction, Mahogany wears an orange beaded kimono of her own creation. When no one bids on the dress, Sean demeans her by placing an insulting bid of 500 lire. Laughed at by the glitterati, Mahogany is about to make her humiliated exit when Christian Rosetti (Jean-Pierre Aumont) comes to her rescue. “Twenty million lire!” he shouts.

Afterward she tells Christian that, “I’ve waited a long time for this night. This is my first sale. You can have whatever you want.” Sean interrupts them and tries to make amends with his supermodel meal ticket. When Brain shows up in Rome she gives him a glimpse of her glamorous life. “It’s a whole new thing here,” she tells him.

Gigantic portraits are projected on the walls at a party thrown in Mahogany’s honor. Brian unwisely agrees to look at Sean’s gun collection. Sean continues his downward spiral into Psycho territory when he holds Brian at gunpoint. They wrestle each other to the ground. When Brian gains the upper hand, he pulls the trigger, but the chamber is empty. “What are you trying to do?” a googly-eyed and crazed Sean asks, “Kill me?”

After anointing herself with candle wax, Mahogany wonders why Brian can’t seem to get with it. She shifts into ultra diva mode when she shouts, “I’m a success and you can’t stand it. Me… Mahogany.” She calls him a loser and pours champagne on his head.

Before walking out the door, Williams delivers the movies cornball tagline, “Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with.”

As the orchestra swells on the soundtrack (one guess which song is played) Ross goes apoplectic and screams. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!”

In the middle of another commercial shoot with Mahogany, Sean gets into the drivers seat of a sport car and completely flips out. Speeding down the highway, they wrestle for control of the car. As they swerve across the asphalt, Sean snaps pictures of the petrified supermodel. Ross and Perkins continue to battle hilariously until the road ends and they crash into a construction site. While recovering at Christian Rosetti’s estate, Mahogany looks at the photos of Sean’s death drive. “He wanted to see death and that’s what he saw.”

As soon as she’s fully recovered, Miss Ross is back to her old ways and is screaming at the seamstresses in the couture workshop that Christian has purchased for her. At the showing of her premier collection, it appears that Tracy has achieved everything that she’s ever dreamed of. As the crowd cheers, Brian’s parting words ring in her ears. Could he have been right? At what price has she achieved her success?

Back at the villa, Christian intends to collect on his investment. When it becomes apparent that Tracy has no love for him, he asks, “Where do you want to go from here?”

Under a bleak and dreary Chicago sky, Congressional hopeful Brian delivers a speech to boisterous listeners. Suddenly, a female voice rings out from the crowd, “I’m a widow from the south side!” Resplendent in a white fur coat, Tracy steps forward and taunts Brian with the same recitation from the unemployment office. “I want you to get me my old man back!”

“Are you prepared to stand by him when the going’s gettin’ rough?” he asks. “Madame, would you be willing to put your imagination to work on behalf of the cause he’s fighting for? Madame, would you love and cherish him for the rest of your life?” As if bearing witness, Tracy eagerly answers yes to all of his conditions. “If you’re willing to do all that…I guarantee you, I’ll get you your old man back.”

“Then mister,” she coos, “you got my vote.” After their hopelessly hokey declarations of devotion, Brian and Tracy seal their reunion with a kiss. The crowd cheers as that song plays one last time.

In conclusion: When Mahogany was released during the height of the feminist movement in the 1970’s, the ending ruffled a few feathers. Many labeled it sexist. Mahogany, despite its contemporary urban settings, is in essence an old fashioned women’s picture. It’s the same kind of shop girl romance that Joan Crawford popularized in the 30’s and 40’s. The ending simply remained true to the story’s melodramatic roots.

Though the end seems to suggest that Tracy has sacrificed her dreams to be with her man, who’s to say that she became a mousy housewife after returning to Chicago? If Brian achieved his congressional aspirations, she could have become a powerful and influential politician’s wife. Even though her success in Europe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, why couldn’t she create a new business stateside? Americans love crazy fashion too. So, is it sexist? It’s all in how you look at it.

Motown maestro Berry Gordy received final credit (after Tony Richardson was fired) for directing this fashionable camp classic. Gordy’s only other foray into filmmaking was as producer of The Last Dragon (1985). When Mahogany failed at the box office, Ross’ film career suffered. After starting off promisingly with Lady Sings the Blues (1972), it only took the urban musical flop The Wiz (1978) to end her big screen career.

In an online review of Mahogany, an IMDB user says that this was the film that inspired him to become a fashion designer and a drag queen! Truly, what higher praise could there possibly be? It just goes to show… bad movies do, in fact, have the power to change lives.