Never Weaken

Lloyud 5In the silent movie Never Weaken, Harold Lloyd plays a peculiar kind of protagonist. By turns duplicitous, suicidal, and cowardly, there is little about his character that endears him to the audience. He doesn’t confront his disastrous fate with the stoic optimism of a Keaton, the charming aplomb of a Chaplin, or even the boyish all-American spirit of…well, a Lloyd. All he does is survive until the end of the movie.

However, at the start, even if his methods are questionable, Lloyd has nothing but the best intentions. Determined to help his fiancée (a receptionist for an osteopath who will soon find herself unemployed if business doesn’t pick up), Lloyd takes to the streets, accompanied by an acrobat who has agreed to fake a series of spectacular, bone-shattering falls. After each staged accident, Lloyd administers violently bizarre twists and stretches to the limbs and torso of his accomplice. When the acrobat springs up and walks away good as new, Lloyd hands out the business cards of the osteopathic specialist, an impressed crowd of onlookers snapping them up.

Later in the film, convinced his fiancée no longer wants to marry him, Lloyd attempts to take his life. When poisoning, stabbing, gassing, and jumping out a window don’t work, he decides to shoot himself, tying one end of a length of string to the trigger of a gun–propped up on a desk and pointed at his chair–and attaching the other end to a doorknob. A blindfold tied over his eyes, he calls the janitor on the phone and tells him to coLloyd 1me “Quick!”—unaware that a light bulb is teetering on the edge of a nearby bookcase. It tumbles to the floor, explodes, and Lloyd melodramatically grabs his chest. Simultaneously, a girder swings through the open French windows behind him, under his chair, and then out again, taking him with it.

Clueless, suspended above the city, Lloyd hears heavenly harp music (coming from a nearby window where a music teacher instructs a student) and removes his blindfold.  He is amazed to find himself face to face with an angel (actually a winged statue on the side of a building), and for a moment, not only accepts his fate but seems to embrace it. Then he looks down and sees the street—thirty stories below. His life in imminent danger, all thought of suicide vanishes, and Lloyd clings to the girder for dear life.

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10,000 BC or 10,000 Blah, Blah, Blahs

10 1Unwilling to pause even for opening credits, 10,000 BC gets right down to what it does best and just keeps on doing it.

AERIAL SHOT of men wearing animal furs, walking, making their way across rocky snow-covered mountain tops. VOICE-OVER, a narrator tells of a legend about a girl with blue eyes. He follows this up with the observation that the details of a legend can become hazy or lost over time.

On this point, I tend to agree with him since what he has to say is already becoming a little hazy for me. He did say blue eyes, right? Is the narrator really still talking?

In the first few minutes of 10,000 BC, the film boldly establishes two main themes: people walking — and stupid dialogue. Old Mother, the wise woman of a caveman tribe, picks up where the narrator leaves off and pads out the legend/prophecy with some mumbo-jumbo of her own.

Old Mother: Four-legged demons will arrive one day and put an end to our world. But a hero, a warrior will rise and lead us to a new land.

Marauders on horses (the four-legged demons foretold in prophecy) eventually do turn up. The village is burnt to the ground, the young and healthy are taken captive, and the surviving cavemen are force-marched to the marauders’ homeland and made slaves.

In an effort to give credibility to the standard-issue bad guy dialogue, the marauders don’t speak caveman (which sounds a lot like belabored, broken English). Instead, they have their own language, which, unfortunately, means it must be read in subtitles.

The following is a close approximation of marauder-speak and its translation:

Marauder: Kash-nook noodock nic tay!

Translation: Blah blah blah blah blah.

While admittedly not a word-for-word translation, it captures the spirit of what’s being said.

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Blood Freak

Blood 1Early on in Blood Freak, the following scene takes place. Hershel, the film’s hero/victim/turkey-man, sits in a leather chair, talking with two women.

Hershel: Mumble. Mumble. (Unintelligible) Mumble.

Even though it’s difficult to understand what Hershel is saying, it must be fairly interesting since the two women seem to hang on every word he has to say or, anyway, mumble. He might even be talking about something that’s important to the film’s plot. As the scene drags on, however, this seems less and less likely, if for no other reason than there doesn’t seem to be a plot.

Woman #1: (Unintelligible) Garbled. Garbled.

Hershel: Mumble. (Unintelligible) Mumble.

Hershel shifts in the leather chair, and the CREAK OF LEATHER is almost DEAFENING.

Woman #2: (Unintelligible) Garbled. Garbled.

What is actually being said may never be known, but the combination of the drug party in the background and Hershel’s phobia of someone suggesting he might be afraid to do something makes the following dialogue a likely possibility:

Woman #1 offers Hershel a hit off a joint.

Hershel: No, thanks. I do it the natural way. I get high on life.

Woman #1: What are you? (Pauses) Afraid?

HersheBlood 2l: No, man. I march to my own drummer. Dig. I don’t mess with that shit. But say I’m afraid, and yeah, I’ll throw all my values right out the window. I’ll ignore everything I stand for. Me? Afraid? I’ll show you who’s afraid. Come on, let’s slam some junk. Or snort a little white horse. Anyone into freebasing?

Then again, given the way the story plays out, an exchange like the following can’t be ruled out either:

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High and Dizzy

H&D 1Drunks are not funny.

Accepting and confronting this truth has reduced traffic fatalities, enabled families to face a problem once swept under the rug, and encouraged people to take that first shaky step on the road to sobriety.

Still, if we’re completely honest, it has to be admitted a heavy cinematic price has been paid for this enlightened attitude. No one bemoans the loss of a Foster Brooks or even Dudley Moore in Arthur, but silent comedy drunks, when done by the likes of Chaplin or Keaton, well, it’s like watching a wonderfully shitfaced ballet.

Harold Lloyd’s two-reeler High and Dizzy is definitely a high point in drunken pantomime (OK. OK. Puns about drinking aren’t funny either, but that’s not because of a societal shift in attitudes. It’s because they’re puns). After getting completely blotto, Lloyd and a friend end up at a hotel where they can sleep off their afternoon drinking binge. Throw in a sleepwalking love interest, and you’ve got 26 minutes of near disasters, perfectly choreographed mayhem, and visual comedy that depends on split-second timing.

Admittedly, joke-wise, there’s not a great deal that’s new here. You get bits where two guys put on the same coat at the same time, each with an arm in one sleeve. There’s the always-reliable loading lift that arbitrarily goes up and down in a city sidewalk, rising as an inebriated Lloyd is walking down the street and about to step forward into an empty shaft, or descending and taking Lloyd out of sight just as a policeman rounds a corner.

The drunk routine is like the performance of a virtuoso piece of music. Difficult but appearing effortless. Complicated but precise and simple in execution. The drunk has three emotional gears that he can shift between: happy camaraderie, confusion, and belligerence. That’s more than enough comedic range to provide variety for a two-reeler.                                             H&D 2

Toward the end of High and Dizzy, there’s even a hint of things to come as a drunken Lloyd pursues his sleepwalking love out onto a building ledge. The sequence plays very much like an initial run-through for the high-wire antics in Safety Last! a few years later.

High and Dizzy even manages to set up and pay off a completely screwy ending, which, while both abrupt and unlikely, is still thoroughly satisfying.

Look. I know no one wants to hear this, but drunks are funny. Sometimes.

Just look at Harold Lloyd.

Harold Lloyd.  High and Dizzy.

It! The Terror from beyond Space

itDarkness.  Flare of acetylene torch—revealing a man sitting on the floor, wedged in between two pieces of bulky equipment.  The headgear he is wearing has been ripped open, revealing his face, a single stream of blood trickling down his forehead.  He waits in the darkness, the only light the glare from the torch.

By the age of nine, I’d seen more than my share of movie heroics, usually featuring A-list actors portraying courageous characters risking all, being selfless, and “doing what a man’s gotta do.”  Many of these actors were undeniably talented, but it’s also true they starred in studio films with big budgets, had top screenwriters providing the dialogue, and often featured some of Hollywood’s best directors overseeing the action.

From a speaker inside Lt. Calder’s damaged headgear, a voice is heard:

Voice: Can you hear me?

Calder: Loud and clear.  Nice to have company.

Voice: Are you all right?

Calder: I’m alive, if that’s what you mean.                                                                                                   It 2

Paul Langston—playing a supporting character in a B science fiction film, outfitted in what looks like a satin space suit with a squared-off helmet—helped define for a nine-year-old boy the idea of courage and how it is expressed.  The character Langston plays has a broken leg, is unable to move, and has an acetylene torch as his only weapon.  There’s one more thing—an indestructible Martian creature is trying to kill him.

Calder: I picked a good spot right between the induction pumps.

Voice: You mean it can’t get at you?

Calder: It could if I didn’t have this torch.  To reach me, it has to stretch down in.  Every time it does, I give it the torch right in the eyes.  (pause)  Here he comes again!

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Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

Mecha 1In 1966, the Anti-Megalosaurus Force (AMF) was established to defend Japan from monsters. Not just a bunch of flummoxed army guys wearing white gloves but an élite force—4,072 members strong. But talk about a thankless job. When Godzilla makes landfall, the only profession taking a bigger beating than the AMF is the home insurance industry, which has been busy pushing policies in between monster rampages.

Although the AMF is up to the challenge of a Mothra (yup, they can take on a giant . . . well, moth) or a Gargantuan (sure, it’s big, but it’s difficult to take seriously a monster that eats people–and then spits out their clothes), the AMF, even with it’s flatbed-transported maser guns, is still not up to the challenge of a Godzilla. During their first battle with the Big G, events take a turn for the worse, and the order “Pull back!” is given. I’m guessing this is the first maneuver learned by any new AMF recruit.

Mecha 2Godzilla against Mechagodzilla presents a home front take on giant monster movies. As people run for their lives, a man screams, “My house! My house!” Soon after Godzilla’s first rampage, the prime minister meets with her science advisor and admits that “after 40 years, the people are weary of always rebuilding.” If there’s a growth industry in Tokyo, it’s definitely in construction, and as far as job security goes, Godzilla’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Japanese carpenters.

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Bazooka Joe: The Movie? (Plus audio rant)

BazookaListen, the problem isn’t that Hollywood has run out of ideas. It ran out of ideas a long time ago. The problem is Hollywood doesn’t even know what an idea is anymore.

Michael Eisner’s office. He is speaking to his personal assistant.

Eisner: Last night. I was taking off my shirt — and I noticed in my belly button — this fuzzy stuff.

Assistant: Really?

Eisner: Yeah. Spontaneous fuzz. I think there might be a story in it.

Assistant: What direction were you thinking of going in with the… fuzz. Horror? Sci-fi?

Eisner: More along the lines of an environmental cautionary tale. Every man, woman, and child in America wakes up one morning to discover that their belly button has become a toxic dump site for…

Assistant: Lint?

Eisner: Sends a shudder down your spine, doesn’t it.

The assistant looks confused.

Eisner: Maybe Julia Roberts could star in it.

Assistant: Erin Brockovich 2?

Eisner: Why not?

Long silence from Eisner.

Eisner: Christ. I hope she doesn’t have an outtie.

Another morning.

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