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Day 2 of TCMFF 2016 Goes Out With a “Roar”

Friday, April 29

Roar 1981

One of the things I always look forward to seeing on the TCMFF schedule every year is what the midnight movies will be. I don’t always stay awake for the whole movie, but it’s always fun to go to them anyway. In the past, they’ve shown classic midnight movie staples like Eraserhead and Freaks and last year, we got to see the spectacularly odd and terrible Boom! This year’s midnight movie selections did not disappoint. Although Gog was fun (more on that tomorrow), it was awfully hard to top Friday night’s screening of Roar.

Roar is a movie I’d heard a bit about, but never actually seen, so I was intrigued when I saw it made this year’s TCMFF schedule. It’s a movie that has a level of infamy for being a movie that was plagued with production problems (it spent 11 years in production) and for using live, untrained animals, some of which actually lived with stars Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, Noel Marshall, John Marshall, and Jerry Marshall. Many of the cast and crew were injured by the animals over of the course of production. For everything I’d heard about it before, nothing could have truly prepared me for the sheer insanity of what the movie is actually like.

Roar 1981

Roar is pretty thin on plot. Noel Marshall stars as a man who has decided to go off to Africa so he can study lions, tigers, leopards, and other big cats by living with them in this big house out in the middle of the wilderness. Tippi Hedren plays his estranged wife who brings their kids (Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, and Jerry Marshall) out to see him. But is he home when they arrive? Nope! So the wife and kids arrive to this house full of big, wild cats who begin terrorizing the family and they all have to avoid the cats by doing things like hiding in cabinets and iceboxes. This goes on for quite a while, then they all fall asleep and wake up with a whole new perspective on the situation. They figure that if the animals really wanted to kill them, they would’ve done it while they were sleeping and the movie ends with a big montage showing the entire family living in peace with the cats. I’m not kidding, the family just sort of gets over the whole being terrorized by wild animals thing and it suddenly ends in a happy montage.

Roar 1981

In most cases, when you see dangerous stunts and acts of violence in films, it’s pretty easy to understand that it wasn’t real. Roar, on the other hand, perpetually lulls you into a false sense of security. When you see these people actually interacting with the animals (and occasionally being injured by them), you have that moment of thinking, “It’s just a movie.” But then you remember that these were not trained animals and that actor who is bandaging themself up on screen is bandaging themself up because they were actually injured by an animal and you’re simultaneously horrified and amazed that this movie even exists. It truly is like a completely deranged version of Swiss Family Robinson with a little bit of Grey Gardens thrown into the mix.

Not to mention that there are a lot of moments that are kind of hilarious, but you’re not entirely sure you should be laughing at this movie. While watching actors get attacked by wild animals in and of itself isn’t funny, the fact that this movie has a paper-thin plot, a ridiculous musical score, and terrible dialogue that’s made even funnier by Noel Marshall’s hilariously bad line delivery makes it comedy gold.

The whole thing is just so completely and totally off the rails and incomprehensible, it’s one of the most genuinely unforgettable movies you’ll ever see. Not to mention, it’s probably one of the most OSHA-unfriendly movies ever created. If it’s been a while since you last saw a movie, you might say, “Yeah, I think I might have seen that one once a while ago.” Roar is not one of those movies.

One of the first things I did when I got home after the festival was order a copy of Roar on blu-ray. Not only will I always remember the experience of watching this with my friends, but I now feel compelled to tell as many people as possible about this bit of cinematic insanity. When the blu-ray arrived, I noticed that one of the bonus features was a Q&A session with some of the cast and crew, which I figured would be a good thing since I had a whole lot of questions about that movie. The Q&A session didn’t answer any of my questions, but it actually made the whole thing seem even more insane than I already thought it was. A lot of the Q&A session covered what it was like living with/working with the animals and includes tales of things like Noel Marshall distracting the people from Animal Control when they showed up at their house while Tippi and Melanie were in the backyard shoving lions into neighboring yards.

If you ever have the chance to see Roar on the big screen, I totally recommend going. Or get the blu-ray and watch it with some of your friends. In any case, it’s got to be seen to be believed and it’s way better to watch it with other people.

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The Phynx (1970)

Before I get into this review, let me just say one thing about what I am about to describe: I’m not making any of this up. I’m well aware of how bizarre this is all going to sound, but I promise you, all of this actually does happen.

When several influential world figures such as Colonel Sanders, Butterfly McQueen, Dorothy Lamour, Xavier Cugat, Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), and Johnny Weissmuller are kidnapped to Albania, a band of secret agents gets together to find a way to bring them back. This band of secret agents is led by some guy with a box on his head and the band of secret agents includes hookers, the KKK, some guys who work on Madison Avenue, and some boy scouts. One of the boy scouts suggest they ask a computer named MOTHA (Mechanical Oracle That Helps Americans) what she recommends. MOTHA comes up with the elegantly simple and failproof plan of manufacturing a rock band and have them become successful enough be invited to perform in Albania so they can free these world figures.

MOTHA also gives the names of the people she has chosen to be in this fake rock band, which she has decided will be named The Phynx. Once they’ve all been officially recruited, they start training to be rock stars. Naturally, they end up being a huge success in America and in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, other world figures like Joe Louis, Busby Berkeley (and the original Gold Diggers), Maureen O’Sullivan, Patty Andrews, and Pat O’Brien have also gone missing. Luckily, by then, the band has gotten successful enough for the Albanian Minister of Culture to want them to perform at their national flower day event.

Once in Albania, the band sneaks into a castle where an Albanian leader and his wife, played by Joan Blondell, are keeping all these world figures. They’re also treating Colonel Sanders like a servant. It turns out they kidnap these stars because Joan Blondell’s character is American and misses American culture, so they bring it to Albania. In addition to all the stars already mentioned, they’ve also kidnapped George Jessel, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, Ruby Keeler, Cass Dailey, Rudy Vallee, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, just to name a few.

The Phynx decides to play a song for all the stars in hopes of inspiring all the stars to return to America. The plan is a success and the stars are moved by this song. First, George Jessel says they should leave and Butterfly McQueen seconds the idea. But how will they get out? Huntz Hall suggests they all sneak out by hiding in carts full of radishes and I guess nobody else had any other ideas, so they went with it, leading to a moment where Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan reprise their famous “Me Tarzan, Me Jane” lines in a radish cart. The plan is a success and all these influential figures return to America!

…No, really, I did not make any of this up. This actually is what happens in The Phynx. I have absolutely no explanation as to why this movie was ever made. I have no idea why all these people agreed to be in this movie. (In addition to all the kidnapped stars, people like Richard Pryor, Dick Clark, and Ed Sullivan all make cameos. Why? I don’t know.) It’s one of the most completely incomprehensible movies I’ve ever seen, but the fact that it exists at all absolutely delights me.

The Phynx didn’t have much of a release back in 1970 (now that, I can understand) and was never officially released on home video until Warner Archive released it on DVD a few years back. It’s kind of dull in the beginning, but if you stick with it to the end, it goes completely and totally off the rails with this cavalcade of movie stars and other celebrities. Some of the stars make total sense to have together like Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller; Pat O’Brien, Leo Gorcey, and Huntz Hall; and Busby Berkeley, Ruby Keeler, and Joan Blondell (alas, there were no scenes where Berkeley, Blondell, and Keeler actually interact with each other). But somehow, it all seems so incredibly thrown together and random. As a fan of so many of these stars, I loved getting to see them all together, even if it was in such a nonsense movie. If nothing else, I was excited to see that Ultra Violet makes an appearance in this because it means The Phynx is a movie that appeals to my interests in Busby Berkeley musicals and Andy Warhol’s factory scene. Because, really, how often do I get to combine those interests?

I’m just going to leave you with a few screencaps of my favorite moments from this movie, if for no other reason than to prove that these things actually happened. This is definitely a movie that needs to be seen to be believed.

The Phynx Leader Box Guy

The leader of the band of secret agents.

Joan Blondell Colonel Sanders The Phynx

Joan Blondell with Colonel Sanders, which is my new favorite picture.

Joe Louis Johnny Weissmuller Colonel Sanders The Phynx

Joe Louis and Johnny Weissmuller looking serious with Colonel Sanders in the background.

Maureen O'Sullivan, George Jessel, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy The Phynx

Maureen O’Sullivan, George Jessel, and Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy

Ruby Keeler and Busby Berkeley The Phynx

Ruby Keeler and Busby Berkeley reunited

The Phynx Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Phynx Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller

Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller having a Tarzan reunion in a cart full of radishes.  (OK, this moment was cute.)

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall The Phynx

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall

Shout out to Danny from pre-code.com for bringing this movie to my attention and inspiring me to write my most baffling review ever.

Sextette (1978)

Sextette 1978Marlo Manners (Mae West), world-renowned screen siren, has just married Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton), her sixth husband. The world adores Marlo and her marriage is making headlines all over the world. But when they check into the hotel for their honeymoon, they’re faced with endless intrusions from the media, Marlo’s manager Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise), dress fittings with her costume designer (played by Keith Moon), an entire team of athletes, and her former husbands Laslo (Ringo Starr) and Alexei (Tony Curtis). Meanwhile, Marlo has been working on her memoirs by recording scandalous tales of her many, many lovers on an audio cassette. She then tells her manager to destroy the tape, but it falls into the wrong hands and its contents could have major implications for a meeting of international delegates going on at the hotel.

Oh, Sextette. Where does one even begin with a movie that opens with the line, “Hello to you, this is Regis Philbin,” and (almost) ends with Alice Cooper singing a song at a piano while hotel maids and bellhops dance behind him? And in between, there’s a baffling list of guest stars, Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano (yes, there is Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano in this movie), and a whole lot of 80-something year old Mae West doing her typical Mae West schtick. Oh, and there’s also Timothy Dalton singing “Love Will Keep Us Together” along with Mae West.

It’s not a conventionally good movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when I bought this DVD, the clerk looked at me and said, “You do realize this is not a good movie, right?” If you can appreciate really bad movies, then Sextette is the kind of movie you could definitely have some fun with. While it is definitely a “so bad it’s good” type of movie, I’m kind of obsessed with it just because of the sheer fact that this movie even exists. Because when it comes down to it, trying to describe Sextette is kind of like describing some bizarre, star-studded fever dream.  “…And Mae West was there…and Ringo…and George Raft…and then Keith Moon showed up playing a fashion designer…oh, and Tony Curtis talked with a bad Russian accent and threw a cake out the window!”

Absolutely everything about Sextette makes it sound like such an incredibly unlikely film that the fact that somehow all of these things came together to make this movie a reality absolutely delights me.  I mean, who would have thought that Mae West, Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, Regis Philbin, Alice Cooper, George Raft, Keith Moon, and Timothy Dalton all appeared in the same movie together? That fact alone was enough to sell me on the movie. Then there’s other gloriously insane moments like Tony Curtis hamming it up so much you’ll be looking for a “Honeybaked” label on him and the fashion montage that consists of Mae West trying on dresses and saying her famous quips while Keith Moon, who plays her fashion designer, looks on. I mean, this movie just made it possible for me to write a sentence that mentions both a fashion montage and Keith Moon in the same sentence! It’s all just so incredibly unlikely that I can’t help but love it in a very odd way.

The Happening (1967)

The Happening 1967

After an all-night party they had been attending is broken up, hippies Sandy (Faye Dunaway), Sureshot (Michael Parks), Taurus (George Maharis), and Herby (Robert Walker, Jr.) head off on a boat looking for adventure. Along the way, they stop to play soldiers with some kids they see and in the excitement, they all run into the home of former mafia kingpin turned legitimate businessman Roc Delmonaco (Anthony Quinn). When Roc wakes up to all the commotion, he fears some of his old enemies have come to kidnap his children and insists they take him instead.  The hippies figure, hey why not, and decide to hold Roc hostage.

But there’s one little problem the hippies never considered — nobody wants to pay the $200,000 ransom they’re demanding. Roc tries getting the money from his wife Monica (Martha Hyer), his business partner Fred (Milton Berle), his old mob cohort Sam (Oskar Homolka), even his mother, but nobody is willing to come up with the money. Angry that his dearest friends won’t pay his ransom, he decides to kidnap himself and blackmails his wife, friends, and mother into giving him $3,000,000. Roc takes control of the whole gang and teaches them everything they need to know to have a successful life of crime.

The Happening is only really noteworthy for two reasons: being Faye Dunaway’s first film and for its theme song by The Supremes.  This is the sort of movie where I saw the description “A kidnapped gangster joins forces with the hippies who abducted him,” saw that the cast included Faye Dunaway, Anthony Quinn, and Milton Berle, and decided I needed to see this movie just because it sounded so insane. Pretty much the only reason to watch The Happening is just for the pure ridiculousness of it all. Definitely don’t watch it for the plot; it’s an hour-long story that got dragged out to an hour and 40 minutes. It might be tempting to watch it for the cast, but it will just leave you thinking that everybody in this movie deserves so much better. (And I’ve really got to hand it to Faye Dunaway because she made The Happening very shortly before doing Bonnie and Clyde and The Thomas Crown Affair. Faye knows how to upgrade fast.) But at least it has a good theme song, I’ll give it that.

Liz & Dick (2012)

Liz & Dick opens with the title appearing over this picture, the movie’s one and only decent publicity photo. It’s all downhill from there.

If you’re pressed for time, I can sum up my thoughts on Liz & Dick in five seconds:

Now, on to my real review.

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Santa Claus (1959)

There have been a lot of epic battles throughout history.  The Union versus the Confederacy, Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston, Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader.  But I don’t know if you’re ready for the battle of Santa Claus versus Satan.  Yes, that’s right: the movie Santa Claus is all about Santa’s struggles to outwit the Devil.  The movie opens with Santa in his workshop, which is located in outer space above the North Pole, with his multi-cultural child helpers.  It’s Christmas eve, so you’d think that Santa has a lot to do, but rather than load up his sleigh, he takes the time to have all his helpers perform songs from their home countries.  This scene goes on for about seven minutes and really doesn’t have much to do with anything.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan demands that his head minion Pitch (who is very fond of wearing pantaloons) travel to Earth and turn children against Santa.  And if he doesn’t, Pitch will be forced to, horror of horrors, eat chocolate ice cream.  One of the children Pitch targets is a young girl named Lupita, who is from a very poor family.  Lupita desperately wants a doll of her own, but her parents can’t afford one, so Pitch tries to convince her to steal one.  But eventually, Lupita decides to stay on the good side and doesn’t steal the doll.  Instead, Pitch manages to convince three brothers to join his ranks.

Before Santa embarks on his big journey, he sees his old pal Merlin, who gives him some dreaming powder (in case anyone wakes up and sees him), a flower to disappear, and the blacksmith gives him a key to open any door.  Once his robotic reindeer have been wound up (yes, robotic reindeer), Santa is finally ready to head to Earth and deliver presents.  Meanwhile, the three brothers are hard at work planning a way to capture Santa and Lupita is praying for two dollies (one to give to Baby Jesus).  There’s also Billy, a kid from a rich family, who only wants his frequently absent parents to be with him on Christmas.

Once Santa comes to Earth, he has to deal with Pitch’s Home Alone-esque efforts to stop Santa from bringing everyone presents.  But once he gets to Billy’s house, he realizes that Billy is left at home alone, so Santa takes the form of a waiter at a restaurant his parents are at.  He gives them a special Cocktail of Remembrance, which helps them realize what is most important to them, and they hurry home to be with Billy.  The three brothers still want to capture Santa and take all his toys, so they wait for him on the rooftop.  But when they see Santa’s sleigh fly by overhead, they run back inside to see what they got.  Realizing they were given coal, they start fighting with each other.  Even though Puck didn’t succeed in getting the kids to capture Santa, he does manage to cut a hole in Santa’s bag of dreaming powder and sets it up so that someone calls the fire department while Santa is cornered by a dog.  Realizing he needs help getting out of this mess, Santa calls his dear friend Merlin again for advice and manages to escape.  Before he heads back to his workshop, he makes one last stop at Lupita’s to give her the doll she so desperately wants.

Oh, my.  Where to even begin with this movie?  I guess I’ll start by trying to defend it a little bit.  This movie was produced in Mexico, where the whole concept of Santa Claus wasn’t as widely celebrated then as it is in the United States, so that would explain why the movie doesn’t really represent Santa Claus as Americans know him.  This movie definitely set out with good intentions, but there are so many misunderstandings that it just didn’t work out.

But things that can be explained by cultural differences aside, a lot of things in this movie are just bizarre.  Things like those robotic reindeer, Santa laughing maniacally while looking at a manger scene, and Pitch mincing around in pantaloons are all just hilariously weird.  And I can’t forget the bad dubbing in the scene where Lupita’s mother says that Christmas is a time to remember Craig or the awful special effects like the listening device that was clearly just an oscillating fan with a plastic ear glued to it.  One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the Santa Claus episode.  This movie was definitely perfect fodder for the MST3K crew, they did a brilliant job of providing commentary.  It’s one of those episodes that makes me laugh until I hurt.  The MST3K way is definitely the best way to watch it.

The Big Cube (1969)

A while back, I bought the book Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies by Cheryl Crane and while reading it, I came across something about a movie Lana was in called The Big Cube.  The book didn’t say much about it, but all I knew is that there was a movie about Lana Turner on LSD.  And since I love crazy drug movies from the 60’s, I knew I had to see this movie.  I was in luck, because not too long after reading about it, TCM played it as part of TCM Underground.  I told my friend Nikki about this movie and she was equally intrigued by the idea of a movie about Lana Turner on acid.  Next thing I know, it’s 2:00 AM on a Friday night, and Nikki and I are having a blast on Facebook making fun of this completely insane movie.  It’s chock full of bad acting, strange accents, inexplicable stripping, questionable fashions, and loads of crazy psychedelic goodness.  At times, I felt like I was watching an episode of Dragnet.  I kept waiting for Friday and Gannon to come barging in and for Friday to start making one of his famous speeches. So all in all, The Big Cube was everything I could ask for in a 60’s drug movie.

In The Big Cube, Lana Turner plays Adriana, an actress who marries Charles Winthrop, a wealthy tycoon.  Charles has a daughter Lisa, who is not at all pleased with her new stepmother and she starts hanging around with the wrong crowd.  Lisa’s closest friend is a woman named Bibi.  Why Lisa hangs out with her is beyond me, since it seems Lisa and Bibi have nothing in common. One night, Bibi brings Lisa out for a night at a psychedelic club and she meets Johnny, a med student and fan of LSD.  Johnny knows Lisa comes from a rich family and gets close to her to get her money.  Shortly after Adriana and Charles are married, the two of them go boating and in an accident, Adriana suffers a concussion and Charles dies.  When the will is read, Lisa finds out she can only inherit her entire estate if she gets married to someone Adriana approves of.  Of course, Adriana doesn’t approve of Lisa marrying Johnny so they do what any normal young couple would do and plot to make everyone think Adriana is crazy by spiking her  medicine with acid and making her think they are trying to kill her.  Sure enough, their scheme works and Adriana is deemed mentally incompetent and Lisa and Johnny are free to marry.  But the marriage is short-lived and Lisa discovers Johnny actually did want to kill Adriana.  Lisa starts trying to help Adriana recover and when all is said and done, the two end up becoming friends.  Johnny, on the other hand, doesn’t fare as well.  The last we see of him, he’s in his apartment high on acid, putting an ant in his pocket and descending into madness.

When I was in school, I had to go through the D.A.R.E. program, so I already knew all about why drugs are bad.  But I think The Big Cube taught me a few new valuable lessons about why drugs are bad and why you should stay away from people who do them:

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