First The National Film Board of Ivanlandia screened one film this month, and then it screened some more…
Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971; Burt Kennedy) A comedic Western remake of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest—which of course was the inspiration for Yojimbo, and thus A Fistful of Dollars— but one where no one gets killed!
This is a “G”-rated companion piece to Blazing Saddles (because Support Your Local Gunfighter is almost as much a meta-Anti-Western as Mel Brooks’ classic—although admittedly not as funny or smart), gushing with very hokey humor and many faces that became extremely familiar on 1970s TV, including headliners James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette (RIP, foxy lady), as well as co-stars Harry Morgan and Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton), and heck, everybody else in this flick, too: it’s overloaded with “Hey! It’s that guy—whatzisface!”
It’s a very screwball comedy that feels as if some really smart people sat down in a room and made a list of the dumbest jokes possible, and then gave it an impossible pace and a very charming veneer—structurally, every character is frustrated routinely by someone or something, with the comedic situations piling up until it literally explodes. If you study comedy, this flick is a good lesson in “call-backs,” so many asides and throwaway lines in this movie are references to something we’ve seen already.
Of course, I’m sure that part of my current excitement for Support Your Local Gunfighter stems from my love of it as a kid. Not to say that it’s a classic, or always funny, or bats 1.000, but Support Your Local Gunfighter moves so fast, that with a friendly six-pack, it will be quite enjoyable.
And I love the movie’s last line, delivered by goggle-eyed saddle-vet Jack Elam (who’d been in Sergio Leone’s indomitable Once Upon a Time in the West just two years earlier): “And me? I go on to star in Italian Westerns.”
[BTW, Support Your Local Gunfighter is not a real sequel to Garner/Kennedy’s 1969 Support Your Local Sheriff!, but of course is highly influenced by it. Support Your Local Sheriff! had been produced by star Garner to help kill his very successful image as a Western hero—from the TV show Maverick and other horse operas—and essentially recreate himself into the “Jim Garner” persona that would give him so much success in the 1970s with The Rockford Files and his series of ads for Polaroid, where he essentially played himself in both.] A Serbian Film (2010; Srđan Spasojević) just tries too damn hard to shock. Like I noted in my review of the similar—but better (because, if anything, it’s consistent)—The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009), the sexual madness portrayed is only truly disturbing if you’ve never seen a real hard-core porno flick before. And I’m talking PORNO not erotica—I mean films by dudes like Rob Black, Greg Dark and John Stagliano. (Sorry if I’m out of date with my porn auteurs; I haven’t been following the jizz biz like I used to…)
A Serbian Film is a flick made so that college sophomores can impress their roommates with how “hard” they are. I suppose the filmmakers are trying to “say” something—but it’s tiresome, at best. The Mighty Peking Man (1977; Ho Meng-Hwa; produced by Runme Shaw) Honestly, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s commentary to the trailer of this film at Trailers From Hell is better than the film itself. BTS is, for me, one of the best commentarians at Trailers From Hell—and while I can disagree with him on a film’s worth, I can’t fault any of the flicks that he has chosen to highlight—mainly because BTS is such a knowledgeable, sardonic and erudite host/narrator, always bringing historical as well as personal info into the equation. You can tell he’s having a blast, and it’s infectious.
The Mighty Peking Man, meanwhile, has all the right ingredients for perfection: monster, cities being smashed, old-school effects, blonde Tarzana chick, all of it! But there’s just something off about this rip-off of 1976's King Kong remake, especially the pacing: even the scenes of model cities being crushed didn’t have that certain oomph that Japanese monster flicks have. The movie is ripe for being ripped apart, and I had to watch a chunk of it at fast-forward to make it through to the end. Not recommended—stick with Mighty Peking Man’s Trailer From Hell. The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968; Robert Aldrich) The last two minutes helps completely redeem this mess, hurling it into hyperspace and transforming it into a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film that essentially condemns the entire “consumer-entertainment complex:” you, me, the studios, the filmmakers, the actors, the audience, everybody!
That’s the best way I can describe it, honestly. It’s the best ending ever—not to say without it you wouldn’t have had a supercharged melodrama that never realized how crazy it was in the first place—The Legend of Lylah Clare was already perfect camp because of its lack of self-awareness. But with its ending? Whew, then The Legend of Lylah Clare becomes something else.
So why did Robert Aldrich choose this movie as his follow-up to his mega-hit The Dirty Dozen? Not that he shouldn’t have tackled “controversial” material (I think Aldrich’s subsequent The Killing of Sister George is fantastic; and I’m a big fan of his neo-agitprop Twilight’s Last Gleaming—and is that ever going to be available for home-viewing?), but why this unoriginal story (a mash-up of Vertigo, Sunset Boulevard and one of William Castle’s rip-offs of Aldrich’s own Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?)? The actors all devour the scenery, but with the utmost grim seriousness—it’s like a John Waters script for a Divine film played straight. Or Douglas Sirk on lithium. Whatever it is, I blame the script—which never seems to have been polished, or even revised: there’s a very “first draft” feeling to the flick’s scenario and dialog.
That’s why I made the Fassbinder reference—because the ending is incredible: coming absolutely out of left field, mutating and metastasizing what’s come before into something utterly bizarre and new.
The Legend of Lylah Clare is a must-see for fans of The Cinema of Weirdness, but be warned—you have to slog through some extremely theatrical thesping first. (Sure, you could peek at the end—whatevs—but how can you then appreciate the weirdness it brings to the whole shebang? Whaddya do, eat yer dessert foist?)
As of Spring 2012:
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That was my original idea for the title of this blog, a sort of summation of nearly everything I'd ever wanted cinematically: regularly playing on the ABC Channel 7 4:30 movie--or on WOR-TV Channel 9's 4 O'Clock Movie--the greatest monster movie in the universe, and incredible combo of miniatures, men in suits and stop motion, with entire continents destroyed!
But then there was a coup d'etat, and Tzar Ivan I of Ivanlandia took charge.