Cheerleaders, The (1973)

“Mom! Dad! I made the team!”

Cheerleaders Poster

Synopsis:
A virginal teen (Stephanie Fondue) with a ho-hum boyfriend (Jonathan Jacobs) is thrilled to join her school’s squad of promiscuous cheerleaders — Claudia (Denise Dillaway), Bonnie (Jovita Bush), Debbie (Brandy Woods), Suzie (Clair Dia), and Patty (Kimberly Hyde) — who will stop at nothing to help their team win the game, and who are determined to help Fondue lose her virginity.

Genres:

Review:
Peary lists many questionable titles in his GFTFF, including numerous hardcore and softcore flicks that should be considered with caution. I’m not reviewing the more explicit films on this site, but I’ll quickly note that this “Camp Classic” (beloved by men-of-a-certain-age who remember it fondly from their youth) is a terribly acted but competently filmed piece of softcore porn that, as noted in Grindhouse Film’s podcast review, “promotes unprotected teenage sexual activities and rape”. These cheerleaders are so over-the-top in every way that it’s impossible to take them or their antics seriously — but certain scenes are still deeply disturbing in their implication that nubile young women are eagerly awaiting any and every opportunity to “get it on”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some creative sets
    Cheerleaders Sets

Must See?
Nope. If you’re nostalgic for this kind of flick, you know who you are already. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

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Terror Train (1980)

“I hate magic. It’s just tricks.”

Terror Train Poster

Synopsis:
Several years after playing a vicious prank on a classmate (Derek McKinnon), a group of pre-med students dressed in various costumes — including a monk (Hart Bochner), Groucho Marx (Howard Busgang), an alien lizard (Anthony Sherwood), a witch (Sandee Currie), and a bird (Timothy Webber) — find themselves serially murdered on a New Year’s Eve train trip featuring a magician (David Copperfield) as a guest performer. While the conductor (Ben Johnson) tries his best to protect the passengers, the lone survivor (Jamie Lee Curtis) is still at risk.

Genres:

Review:
Jamie Lee Curtis developed a well-deserved reputation as a “scream queen” after her starring turn in Halloween (1978), and she lives up to it in this inferior but reasonably shock-filled thriller, set on a train moving through remote and snowy territory. John Alcott’s rich cinematography is appropriately atmospheric, and the presence of real-life magician David Copperfield is an inspired component of the script, contributing to a pervasive sense of tricks lurking around every corner. Otherwise, this is simply standard slasher-fare, with only one likable character (Curtis) and a somewhat inevitable ending (albeit it with a creative twist to the “reveal” of the killer).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jamie Lee Curtis as Alana
    Terror Train Curtis
  • Many effectively scary moments
    Terror Train Scary
  • John Alcott’s cinematography
    Terror Train Cinematography

Must See?
No, though fans of the genre will want to check it out.

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I Dismember Mama (1972)

“My mother’s a whore; in the middle ages, she would have been stoned to death.”

I Dismember Mama Poster

Synopsis:
After attempting to strangle a nurse (Elaine Partnow) and then killing an attendant (James Tartan), a deeply disturbed psychopath (Zooey Hall) escapes from his mental institution intent on murdering his mother (Joanne Moore Jordan), who naively believes a psychiatrist’s (Frank Whiteman) claim that Hall can be “cured”. But when Hall rapes and murders his mother’s personal assistant (Marlene Tracy), then kidnaps Tracy’s naive young daughter Annie (Geri Reischl) and “marries” her in a hotel room, a detective (Greg Mullavey) knows he has no time to lose in capturing “poor Albert” (Hall).

Genres:

Review:
This embarrassment of a psycho-thriller belongs nowhere near a must-see film list. It’s disturbing not only to think about this film being written and made, but to contemplate its hypothetical fan base. The film’s original title — Poor Albert and Little Annie — strongly hints we should remain sympathetic to this monstrous man, who befriends “pure” Annie much like Frankenstein’s monster befriends the little girl he drowns in a lake. (Albert courts Annie by going boating on a lake… Yes, the ‘homage’ is that explicit.) Hall’s other notable role was as a sadistic prisoner in Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1971), so I guess he was riding a convenient wave of stereotyped casting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
None.

Must See?
For goodness’ sake, no. Listed as a Camp Classic, a Cult Movie, and (appropriately) Trash in the back of Peary’s book.

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Las Vegas Hillbillys, The / Country Music U.S.A. (1966)

“My mamma didn’t raise no fools — and I’m gonna give a crack to this nightclub business before I give up!”

Las Vegas Hillbillys Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring country singer (Ferlin Husky) and his buddy (Don Bowman) head to Las Vegas, where Husky takes over a debt-ridden dive bar he’s inherited from his deceased uncle. With help from bar-singer “Boots” Malone (Mamie van Doren) and local phenom “Tawny” (Jayne Mansfield), Husky and Bowman attempt to revive the joint by bringing in top-name country music talent.

Genres:

Review:
It’s unclear why Peary lists this “Hee Haw” precursor in his GFTFF, but my guess is he couldn’t resist including the only film “co-starring” two of the “Three Ms” (Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Mamie van Doren) — though Mansfield and van Doren apparently detested each other enough that doubles were used in the one scene in which they appear together. M&M do what they do best — flaunt their curves, their vocal pipes, and their outsized personalities — but otherwise, this flick is really just an excuse to incorporate a number of singing performances by current country music stars (including Sonny James, Roy Drusky, Del Reeves, Bill Anderson, Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Duke of Paducah, Junior Carolina Cloggers, the Jordanaires, Don Bowman, and Lois Quinn). The slim-to-none storyline utilizes every possible opportunity to make fun of “hillbillys” (dilapidated cars, burning hooch stills, drawling accents) while also demonstrating their tenacity and family ties (“Aunt Clem” — Billie Bird — comes to the rescue near the end). Watch for a “cameo” by Richard Kiel (“Jaws” in Moonraker) as, of course, a hulking bodyguard.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun presence of van Doren and Mansfield (albeit only on screen together once — using doubles)
    Las Vegas Mansfield
    Las Vegas van Doren

Must See?
No; this one’s strictly for fans of van Doren, Mansfield, or country music of the era.

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American Success Company, The (1980)

“I sensed there was something I could learn from him that would save my marriage.”

American Success Company Poster

Synopsis:
A milquetoast (Jeff Bridges) married to the supremely spoiled daughter (Belinda Bauer) of an arrogant millionaire (Ned Beatty) is inspired by an aggressively virile man (David Allen Brooks) he sees at a party, and seeks help from a prostitute (Bianca Jagger) in gaining confidence to take on a new identity and carry out a heist at his father-in-law’s business.

Genres:

Review:
This obscure black comedy — written by Larry Cohen, and directed by William Richert, best known for helming the assassination paranoia flick Winter Kills (1979) — is a surreal ride through a rather simplistic premise, one that seems better suited for a short comedy sketch than a full-length feature. Nothing much happens here other than a man of questionable taste and morals seeking revenge on a raging narcissist; it’s all meant to be madcap and satirical, but falls pretty flat. I’m puzzled why Peary lists this title in GFTFF rather than Winter Kills, which seems to have a much stronger cult following. This one is only recommended for diehard Bridges fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jeff Bridges as Harry/Mac
    ASC Bridges

Must See?
No; this one is simply a curiosity. Listed as a Sleeper and a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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To Have and Have Not (1944)

“You save France; I’m going to save my boat.”

To Have and Have Not Poster

Synopsis:
After the untimely death of his highest-paying customer (Walter Sande), a charter boat owner (Humphrey Bogart) in WWII-era Martinique agrees to help the patriotic owner of a hotel-cafe (Marcel Dalio) by transporting a resistance fighter (Walter Szurovy) and his wife (Dolores Moran) to safety; meanwhile, Bogart’s alcoholic shipmate (Walter Brennan) remains a liability, but a sexy young singer (Lauren Bacall) promises romantic adventure.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary suggests that viewers “forget the Hemingway novel on which William Faulkner and Jules Furthman supposedly based their script” for Howard Hawks’ “reworking of Casablanca,” and points out the many parallels between the two films, noting that once again “Bogart’s an American expatriate… who’s trying to ignore the political situation” but “eventually… becomes inspired by [some resistance fighters] and intolerant of the fascists in power and joins their cause”. In this flick, however, Bogart is less enamored with the beautiful wife (Dolores Moran) of the resistance fighter (Walter Molnar) — i.e., Ingrid Bergman’s role in Casablanca — and is instead smitten by Lauren Bacall’s ‘Slim’, “the husky-voiced singer [who] has no part in the political-action story” but “makes the most of… [her] limited screen time in her movie debut”, “slinking around a room, in control of her sexual impulses but making it obvious what’s on her mind”. Peary argues that while “the film itself becomes confusing and klutzy, the ending is weak, and the secondary characters are poor substitutes for Casablanca‘s memorable cast of heroes and villains”, “every time Bogie and Bacall have a scene together, we feel the romance that was building on and off camera”.

Indeed, Bogart and Bacall’s romantic tension drives the film: it’s impossible to imagine this movie being nearly so memorable without Bacall in her breakthrough role, or the genuine sparks that went flying between the two. With her peekaboo hair and sultry voice, Bacall is simply dynamite. (Click here to see an edited section from the animated “Merrie Melodies” spoof “Bacall to Arms”, re-enacting some of Bogie and Bacall’s most memorable onscreen moments.) Walter Brennan turns in yet another solid supporting performance as Bogie’s “rummy” shipmate, whose extreme drinking problem is played for laughs at times, but also acknowledged for the deadly serious gamble is presents (what will or won’t Brennan do or say for another drink?). Also notable is Hoagy Carmichael’s presence as “Cricket”, a piano-songwriter who accompanies Bacall on several memorable ditties. Thankfully, the film’s more-faithful-to-the-novel remake The Breaking Point (1950) — co-starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal — is differently excellent, and also well worth a look.

Note: See this TCM article for fascinating insights into how and why the locale was shifted from the original Cuban setting in Hemingway’s novel.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lauren Bacall as “Slim”
    To Have and Have Not Bacall
  • Humphrey Bogart as Harry Morgan (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    To Have and Have Not Bogart
  • Walter Brennan as Eddie
    To Have and Have Not Brennan
  • Hoagy Carmichael’s songs
    To Have and Have Not Carmichael
  • Sidney Hickox’s atmospheric cinematography
    To Have and Have Not Cinematography1
    To Have and Have Not Cinematography3
  • A sassy, hard-boiled script: “I’m hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me.”

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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Breaking Point, The (1950)

“What else do I know? What else am I good at? I’m a boat jockey.”

Breaking Point Poster

Synopsis:
A charter boat skipper (John Garfield) struggling to support his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) and kids agrees to take a man (Ralph Dumke) and his mistress (Patricia Neal) to Mexico, but soon finds himself embroiled in increasingly dangerous dealings.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while this “excellent remake of To Have and Have Not… doesn’t resemble Hemingway’s novel any more than Faulkner’s script for Howard Hawks’s 1944 film did, at least it conveys more of its spirit”. He praises the film — directed by Michael Curtiz — for presenting “the WWII veteran as a disillusioned, financially troubled forgotten man” who may long “for some of the excitement of war rather than his life of bills to pay and familiar spats”, and he argues that “it makes sense that, having reached his breaking point, [Garfield] dares get involved with lawbreakers, risks his life to make a bundle of money in a hurry, [and] contemplates an affair with a loose woman”. He concludes his review by noting that the film is “well acted, nicely shot (partly on location)”, “smartly written” and “has an exciting climactic action sequence and classic final shot”. Peary’s review is spot-on, though he neglects to point out the excellent performances all around — not only by stars Garfield and Neal but by Phyllis Thaxter as Garfield’s loyal yet far-from-dull wife (“I can think about you anytime and get excited.”) and Juano Hernandez as Garfield’s doomed right-hand man (the scenes with his son [Juan Hernandez] are particularly poignant and heartbreaking). This one is well worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Garfield as Harry Morgan (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Breaking Point Garfield
  • Patricia Neal as Leona Charles
    Breaking Point Neal
  • Phyllis Thaxter as Lucy Morgan
    Breaking Point Thaxter
  • Juano Hernandez as Wesley Park
    Breaking Point Hernandez
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Breaking Point Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a finely acted and directed adaptation of Hemingway’s novel.

Categories

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Sid and Nancy (1986)

“If I asked you to kill me, would you?”

Sid and Nancy Poster

Synopsis:
Bass guitarist Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) falls for a whining junkie (Chloe Webb) who sends them both on a downward spiral towards lethal violence.

Genres:

Review:
Having recently reread Deborah Spungen’s heartbreaking account of her struggles to raise Nancy Spungen — the chaotically disturbed girl who gained infamy as punk rocker Sid Vicious’s slain girlfriend — I was curious to view Alex Cox’s cult film about the couple (which Spungen insists she’s never watched). (The film was also soundly disavowed by Sex Pistols guitarist Johnny Rotten, who claims he wasn’t consulted and that the film got everything “all wrong”.) Nearly three decades after “nauseating Nancy”‘s death by stabbing in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, the story holds some morbid fascination, but will likely only be of interest to true fans of early punk. On its own, it’s a challenging film to sit through, given its inherently unlikable protagonists: sure, Oldman and Webb give fine performances as the duo Roger Ebert referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet of punk”, but why should we care about their painfully dysfunctional existence?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious
    Sid and Nancy Oldman
  • Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen
    Sid and Nancy Webb
  • Authentically gritty sets
    Sid and Nancy Sets
    Sid and Nancy Cinematography3
  • Roger Deakins’ cinematography
    Sid and Nancy Cinematography2
    Sid and Nancy Cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a cult flick. Peary’s clearly a big fan, given that he lists this title as a Cult Movie, a film with Historical Importance, and a Personal Recommendation in the back of his book. He also nominates it as one of the Best Movies of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, and nominates both Oldman and Webb for their performances.

Links:

Angel and the Badman (1947)

“Only a man who carries a gun ever needs one.”

Angel and the Badman Poster

Synopsis:
A wounded gunslinger (John Wayne) being tracked by a lawman (Harry Carey) falls in love with a naive but sincere young Quaker woman (Gail Russell) who hopes to marry and reform him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “most enjoyable” “high-class ‘B’ western” is “truly delightful and believable”, and certainly “anticipated Peter Weir’s Witness.” Wayne and Russell — “who were lovers off screen as well” — are a “sweet couple”, and “there are some wonderful moments when Wayne [Quirt] looks at Russell [Penny] adoringly, and when Russell feels emotions building inside her as she looks at him”; indeed, they have genuine chemistry together, and both actors give excellent, sincere performances. The cinematography — with much location shooting in Arizona, including Monument Valley — is nicely done, and there are numerous touching and/or humorous scenes, such as when Wayne is stuck holding a baby at a Quaker gathering. The story-line is simple, but filled with genuine tension and many unanswered questions: Is Penny’s love for Quirt simply naive infatuation, or something deeper — and vice versa? Will Penny’s parents (Irene Rich and Stephen Grant) tolerate her love for a gunslinger? Will Quirt be able to evade both his sworn enemy (Bruce Cabot) and the lawman (Carey) determined to catch him? Can — and should — Quirt convince Penny that she’s better off with a steadfast Quaker suitor (Marshall Reed)? It’s a delight to watch and find out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gail Russell as Penny
    Angel and the Badman Russell
  • John Wayne as Quirt Evans
    Angel and the Badman Wayne
  • Archie Stout’s cinematography
    Angel and the Badman Cinematography
    Angel and the Badman Cinematography2
  • Fine use of location shooting in Arizona
    Angel and the Badman Location
    Angel and the Badman Location2

Must See?
Yes, as a fine and charming western.

Categories

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Morocco (1930)

“Every time a man has helped me, there has been a price. What’s yours?”

Morocco Poster

Synopsis:
A sultry nightclub singer (Marlene Dietrich) in Morocco falls for a womanizing Foreign Legion soldier (Gary Cooper) while being wooed by a kind millionaire (Adolph Menjou).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in her second collaboration with director Josef von Sternberg — and “her first Hollywood film” — Marlene Dietrich “is quite an attraction”, “whether wearing a tux and kissing a woman on the mouth (!) or a skimpy outfit that reveals her long, luscious legs”. He notes it’s “refreshing that both [Cooper and Dietrich] play characters who have had numerous affairs”, and that “they are both free to express passion”. In his Alternate Oscars, he names Dietrich Best Actress of the Year for her role here as Amy Jolly, arguing that she’s “perfect because she understood the importance of ‘presence’ on the screen — and knew she had it — and because she conveyed the self-knowledge that her audience was watching a unique star”. He adds that her character’s “ironic wit/nature comes from knowing that she is condemned by the male-dominated society for using sex to manipulate men when even they know she must use her body to survive”, and that “she maintains an air of superiority and startling indifference”. However, while it’s true that “Dietrich, who seems to be followed around by smoke, is at her most likable”, we never learn enough about her to understand her as anything other than a confident yet jaded woman who, over the course of the film, gradually “become[s] less flamboyant” and thinks “of herself more as a typical woman”. (We know even less about Cooper.) Although Dietrich does have impressive star presence and gives a fine performance, I don’t believe the screenplay of this “erotic and exotic” film does her justice.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Beautiful cinematography by Lee Garmes
    Morocco Still
    Morocco Still2
    Morocco Still3

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical relevance and cinematic beauty.

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