Saturday, April 3, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, March 2021

Well, I managed seven in March. Actually, I didn’t watch a lot of movies in March in general. I felt like I had a lot going on otherwise, so rather than cram forty or so movies into the month, I watched fewer than twenty. Still, this was a good, random selection of what’s on the list of suggested films—I went in a lot of directions.

What I’ve Caught Up With, March 2021:
Film: A Shot in the Dark (1964)

I genuinely held out hope that A Shot in the Dark would be funnier than The Pink Panther and it genuinely wasn’t. Somehow, Clouseau (Peter Sellers) has managed to get out of prison and is somehow back on the police force. This time, he’s investigating an open-and-shut murder case involving a maid (Elke Summer), who he has immediately fallen in love with. The bodies continue to pile up and everything points to the maid. Clouseau, as per the character, is clumsy and only ever correct by accident. It’s mostly unfunny slapstick, and I don’t know why it doesn’t work or why other people think it does.

Film: Robot Monster (1953)

A good filmmaker can do a great deal without much of a budget. A terrible filmmaker can’t do much regardless of the budget. That being the case, it’s probably a good thing that no one really funded Phil Tucker more than the $16,000 he got for this (although the damned thing grossed $1 million). The eponymous robot monster—a space helmet mounted on a gorilla suit—destroys all life on Earth, save eight people. He attempts to kill them, possibly aided by a bubble-making machine. This is as ridiculous as you’re going to find, but it’s fun in spite of itself, and it sports an Elmer Bernstein score, which is like having Alton Brown show up and make food at a really embarrassingly tacky wedding.

Film: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

I didn’t love the first M:I film, and liked the second one less. Since then, though, they’ve only gotten better and better. M:I Fallout brings back a lot of the crew from the whole series and continues to build on the Ethan Hunt mythology. It’s a smart series, since each film is very much its own contained thing, but there are continuing stories that tie them all together. The action pieces are solid, and the characters are continuously engaging. The Bourne movies may seem like an American James Bond franchise, but M:I is the real deal. Say what you will about Tom Cruise being a nutter, he makes a damn fine actioner.

Film: This Gun for Hire (1942)

This is a solid little noir with a damn fine cast that could really stand to be another 10 minutes or so longer. Alan Ladd plays a heartless assassin hired to steal a chemical formula for a high-powered executive played by Laird Creegar, who double-crosses the assassin. Meanwhile, a singing magician/entertainer (Veronica Lake) gets mixed up in all of this and does what she can to assist her cop boyfriend Robert Preston. Toss in the possibility that the chemical company is actually working with the Axis powers, and you’ve got something that hits on a lot of cylinders. It’s a lot more clever than expected, and a dandy role for the always under-used Lake. Loved seeing Ladd playing a straight-up killer as well, and Laird Creegar is always a welcome sight.

Film: Fort Apache (1948)

Movies of this era seemed to want to shoehorn a romance into everything. Ship a martinet officer (Henry Fonda) from the American Civil War out west with his almost-adult daughter (Shirley Temple) and, despite any potential trouble from the Apaches, we’ve got to have her immediately fall in love with one of the officers, played in this case by her real-life husband, John Agar. There’s also some comic relief from a quartet of drunks. The real story, though, is John Wayne acting on behalf of the natives while Henry Fonda demonstrates his acting chops by playing against type. It’s a good Western, but it’s not going to match up with the true greats of the genre.

Film: The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Essentially, 90 minutes or so of sketch comedy from the guys who made Airplane! and directed by John Landis. There’s enough talent here (including weird cameos from George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland, and Henry Gibson) that some of it is going to work, but far from all of it does. The centerpiece is actually a pretty good parody of Enter the Dragon with Evan C. Kim as the Bruce Lee stand-in. While this has its moments, parts of it have not aged very well. Undoubtedly, this was a lot funnier 40+ years ago, and it’s not really worth a second watch.

Film: The Hateful Eight (2015)

It’s not going to be a surprise when I say that yet another Quentin Tarantino movie is ridiculously self-indulgent. For many a year, Tarantino has not told a movie in two hours when he could tell it in two-and-a-half instead. The Hateful Eight is Taratino going full Western instead of halfway as he did with Django Unchained. The cast is good, and I’m always happy to see Walton Goggins in anything. As usual, this would be better with 20% trimmed from it. This write-up is shorter than average as an example.


  1. I’ll start with the two I like best.

    I love This Gun for Hire! After I Married a Witch it’s my favorite Veronica Lake film and one of the few that used her to her best advantage. She and Ladd are just so right together onscreen, they have a similar guarded vibe to their screen personas and with her being so petite he never seems ill at ease as he could at times with taller leading ladies where the disparity caused limited movement within their scenes. The picture could have used a bit more fleshing out in parts but with a high-class villain like Laird Cregar I was fine with its trim runtime.

    Fort Apache is a very solid Western and it’s interesting to see Fonda playing such a bastard this early in his career. With Shirley and Agar, I’m sure RKO got lots of mileage out of their pairing, never mentioning that the marriage was starting to come apart at the seams by this point I’m sure. They didn’t distract me too much; the film is at heart a rugged Western and belongs to The Duke and Hank Fonda though they are surrounded by some topflight supporting actors who add much to the picture.

    I wasn’t crazy about A Shot in the Dark either, but Elke Sommer certainly was a beauty in her youth and at least George Sanders was in there to class the joint up.

    I like a really bad 50’s creature feature as much as the next guy but Robot Monster was a step too far! I’d hear it was dreadful but it was the only Selena Royale picture I hadn’t seen (this is what she was reduced to after being blacklisted during the McCarthy era) so it was a duty watch, and that’s how it felt. Terrible, poor Selena!!

    Having seen The Kentucky Fried Movie when it originally came out, I can honestly say it wasn’t much funnier in ’77.

    I quit the Mission Impossible series after the first. The combo of Cruise, who irks me, my loathing of what they did to Jim Phelps’ memory and to reducing something that relied on both cleverness and action into an overblown CGI mess turned me off.

    I’m variable on Tarantino and while I like Westerns The Hateful Eight looked too blood drenched for me.

    As far as my birthday project goes March wasn’t the greatest month. Nothing really knocked my socks off but there were two that were interesting views.

    The first-Tomorrow at Ten-is a kidnap drama with a very British bent and an unusual set-up. After taking the child the kidnapper shows up at the father’s house and both he and the police inspector on the case parry over details with him as the clock ticks. The acting is good, the kidnapper is played by Robert Shaw, and there’s some pointed commentary on bureaucracy but it has a stagy feel.

    The other is The Hard Way which belongs to the “one last job” genre where a professional killer is enticed into a final contract with troubling consequences. It was fine but with Patrick McGoohan and Lee Van Cleef as the two leads it really had the potential to be much better than it is. Still, it was worth the watch.

    1. I agree on This Gun for Hire, and I like Lake as well. She'll always be the star of Sullivan's Travels for me, but I did enjoy I Married a Witch, which is very much a showcase for her. You like Fort Apache more than I do.

      I had the same reaction to you with the first M:I film. They are a lot of fun once they get going, though, and the last two are especially good.

      I'm happy to see I'm not the only one a bit nonplussed by the whole Pink Panther idea. They're just...not that funny. The Kentucky Fried Movie has moments, but it's an average episode of SNL at best. Robot Monster, of course, is unintentionally funny.

      I have a feeling you'd dislike The Hateful Eight.

  2. I haven't seen a lot of the Pink Panthers movies except the last few with Peter Sellers, the one with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's son, and that one awful one that did feature a hilarious cameo from Roger Moore as Clouseau (I wouldn't mind having him as Clouseau). It's a franchise I hope to get to real soon.

    I have no interest in the Mission: Impossible movies. I liked the first one but didn't like the last 2 and I have no interesting in some aging whacko dinosaur do stunts that are just small potatoes compared to what Jackie Chan, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton did.

    Fort Apache is a film I liked while I loved The Hateful Eight though the version I saw was a three-hour roadshow version of the film which is different from theatrical version as I loved it. It felt like the kind of film that my dad would've liked as he's a sucker for westerns as one of the last films he saw before he died was Django Unchained which he fucking loved.

    1. I get the attitude regarding Cruise (he is absolutely a whackaloon), but some of the stuntwork really is pretty great. Hanging off a plane in Rogue Nation, I would say, ranks pretty high.

      Until Tarantino makes a new film that tells a complete story in in 90 minutes, he'll always be too self-indulgent for my tastes. Even Death Proof is more than two hours long, and it didn't need to be longer than 85.

  3. Some of my favorite parts of Robot Monster is the dialogue. Like when the daughter tries to negotiate asking for “peace with honor” years before Nixon did.

    1. Everything about it is ridiculous, which is exactly what makes it so great.

  4. The Hateful Eight was fine, but self indulgent is a great way to describe it. I've never had any desire to revisit that one.

    1. Yeah, it's not one I would choose to watch again. I feel like I can cut 20-30 minutes from every Tarantino film after Pulp Fiction and lose nothing.