P-Bog’s first (official) feature is a doozy, following two stories and expertly building tension until they collide at the end. I’d seen P-Bog’s latest movies, She’s Funny That Way and the Tom Petty doc and The Cat’s Meow, but none of his most famous work, so I checked this one out for Shocktober.

Cranking out a cheapie thriller with Boris Karloff, P-Bog himself plays film director Sam who cranks out cheapie thrillers with Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) – although the Orlok pictures look like more generic costume/castle/monster flicks (Corman’s The Terror, specifically), while Targets is up to something else entirely. After his latest screening, Sam is plotting something new, a more self-reflexive movie which will use Orlok’s star power in a different way, but Orlok is sick of it all and decides to retire immediately (Sam: “I’m gonna go offer it to Vincent Price”). Orlok will go back and forth over the next day, finally agreeing to read the new script and un-canceling his speaking appearance at the local drive-in.

Meanwhile, Bobby (a clean-cut Matt Damon-type) has a bland life with his mom, gun-nut dad (James Brown of Objective, Burma!) and inattentive wife (he tries to tell her he “gets funny ideas”, but she fatally doesn’t listen). After calmly scouting locations, he shoots his wife and mom, leaves a note for the police then heads out on a murder rampage, first targeting highway drivers then positioning himself behind the drive-in screen. He starts shooting spectators – real violence erupting from behind/inside a horror film – until Orlok marches over and slaps him down.

Long takes, unusually naturalistic movie, complete with stumbled lines and people talking over each other. Orlok/Karloff watches himself in Howard Hawks’s The Criminal Code and Sam comments “all the good movies have been made.” Fascinating blend of P-Bog’s cinephilia and realistic violence (based on a California sniper attack a couple years prior). Uncredited script work by Sam Fuller, apparently, and shot by the great Laszlo Kovacs.

K. Uhlich:

Struck this time by how mercilessly this Corman-produced quickie portrays the banality of evil. One of the finest treatises on the subject, in addition to how viewing movies as an escape is an outright denial of their much more ambiguous function in society.

Felt like a good time to watch this since I’d recently seen Purple Noon, and The American Friend is more or less a sequel. I don’t know how things worked in the book series, but besides some art forgery at the beginning, I’d easily believe that they’re unrelated and Dennis Hopper’s character just happens to be named Tom Ripley.

Movie connection #2: Joe vs. the Volcano. Bruno Ganz, who’s the real star of the film over Ripley/Hopper, is sick and short on money, but it turns out his doctor is exaggerating Bruno’s health problems so he’ll be desperate enough to accept a mission as assassin. This despite the fact that Bruno works in a frame shop and is not normally a killer (naturally, the working title was Framed).

Bruno, making it literal:

Movie connection #3: Barton Fink. Bruno takes an instant dislike to Hopper at a (fraudulent) art auction at the beginning, refuses to shake his hand. At the end, Hopper confesses this is why Hopper put Bruno through it all, the doomed medical prognosis and three murders.

Movie connection #4: Rushmore, via the Kinks song “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl”.

Cool movie, with real suspense to the spy/murder proceedings, and a visual theme of magic lanterns and other illusions. Terrific lighting, color and cinematography (by Robby Müller, natch), as far as I could tell on my DVD copy. And of course it features both Nicholas Ray (as Hopper’s painter of fakes) and Samuel Fuller (as head target “The American”, eventually thrown down stone stairs).

Ray:

Fuller:

Hopper:

Can’t say I fully understood Ripley’s involvement in the whole plot, nor why Bruno has to die at the end (Wenders loves when everyone dies at the end). Ebert says it’s not important. Dave Kehr says that’s the whole idea: “The plot, laid out baldly, gives only a thin impression of the film itself. For one thing, Wenders has systematically eliminated most of the purely expository scenes (purposefully, after shooting them). … We already know the story, having seen its variations in a hundred films.”

Film Quarterly says it cost more than Wenders’s previous five films combined. Won best editing and direction in Germany and played at Cannes along with 3 Women, The Duellists and Padre Padrone.

Hopper’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, which wouldn’t be released for two more years. Bruno was between The Marquise of O and Nosferatu. As his wife: Lisa Kreuzer of Radio On and Alice in the Cities. Gerard Blain (star of Chabrol’s Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge) is the guy who gives Bruno his assignment, and Lou Castel (star of Fists in the Pocket and Beware of a Holy Whore) is his driver/overseer. Semi-remade a couple times, once with Malkovich as Ripley and once with Barry Pepper.

Striking-looking square, b/w western with loads of great close-ups. Gary Cooper plays a cop on his last day on the job before retirement… and just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in! Years earlier the town had come together to defeat an outlaw and his gang – today, the gang returns, rides through town to meet the outlaw, who has been released from jail and is obviously aiming for revenge. But now that the town has been peaceful for a while, nobody feels compelled to fight. Anyone with a personal stake in the matter (sentencing judge Otto Kruger and love interest/hotelier Katy Jurado) skips town and everyone else backs down from helping Gary, leaving him to face the killers alone. Actually, Gary’s anti-violence quaker wife Grace Kelly (married to him earlier that day) helps out. Gary and Grace finish off the bastards then drive away from the ungrateful town.

IMDB: “This film was intended as an allegory .. for the failure of Hollywood people to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.”

A character named Sam Fuller who’s a huge coward, has his wife pretend he’s not home when the sheriff comes to the door. Wonder how the real Fuller felt about this. The only interview I can find where he mentions the film, he just complains about the ending, “where the heavy grabs the girl and holds her in front of him, putting the hero in a hell of an embarrassing situation. Always, at the last minute, she pushes him away, and the hero kills him. I don’t like that in any Western. It doesn’t make sense.” Fuller would correct this ending in his Forty Guns a few years later, where given the same situation the hero shoots the girl.

Written by Carl Foreman, blacklisted by the time the movie came out. Being one of the most beloved westerns, it earned a 2000 Tom Skerritt/Michael Madsen remake and a couple of 1980 TV sequels with Henry Fonda and David Carradine. Gary Cooper won an oscar, lost best picture to The Greatest Show On Earth and director to John Ford. The movie has a nice opening credits theme song, but it didn’t keep “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” from remaining stuck in my head.

“Making movies is suicide.”

Watched this right after Ruiz’s The Territory.

Alexander Graf quoted by Michael Goddard: “The story is based on the situation [Wenders] found when he visited [Ruiz] in Portugal to charitably bring black and white film stock to a stranded film-crew whose finances were exhausted: their story became the background to the story for The State of Things, in which he films the crew – some of whom were borrowed from the real stranded crew – in the act of waiting.”

Opens as a sepia-toned post-apocalyptic sci-fi film starring The Territory cast, and after a few minutes turns to silvery black-and-white behind-the-scenes, with Sam Fuller playing the cinematographer, and Patrick Bauchau (Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse) as the director Fritz. After a close-up shot, Fuller tells Fritz they’re out of film. The crew gets down time, hangs around their hotel, everyone assuming the producer can send more film soon, but after a few days Fuller hears that his estranged wife has died and returns to the States, soon followed by Fritz who wants to find their producer Gordon.

Sam and Fritz:

This first half is great, from the sci-fi stuff to the beautifully shot (by Alekan again) boredom and cast/crew artistic hobbies. Then in the States, Wenders thinks we need a pulp plot. Gordon’s lawyer (Roger Corman, who supposedly helped produce The Territory) won’t say where Gordon is, but Fritz finds his mobile home and goes for a ride, finding out Gordon (Allen Garfield, a Gene Hackman type, of Hi, Mom! and Putney Swope) is broke, never paid for the movie in the first place (the screenwriter did), and owes money to gangsters, who inevitably catch up and kill both men. The very ending is a highlight, Fritz pulling out his camera, holding it like a gun while searching for the shooter.

Movie references about. Fuller himself makes a Forty Guns reference, pointed shots of a marquee with The Searchers and Fritz Lang’s star on the walk of fame. Billboards for 1980-81 movies like Caveman, The Jazz Singer and Ordinary People. Wenders was in his classic American cinema phase, having just worked with Nicholas Ray and made a couple of detective movies.

Corman:

Fuller’s driver: “I take pictures, photographs, but I never really thought in black and white before I saw our rushes. You can see the shape of things.”
Fuller: “Life is in color, but black and white is more realistic.”

Organ doom music (by Wenders regular Jürgen Knieper – not Jim Jarmusch as IMDB states) sometimes overloads the scene. Nice use of X’s Los Angeles when they arrive in Los Angeles.

Fritz complete filmography:

Artur Semedo, the other man on the dam in The Territory, plays the production manager:

I read that Joaquim Pinto’s new movie What Now? Remind Me has behind-the-scenes footage of The Territory. I would’ve made this a triple-feature, but it’s not out yet.

As Nathan Rabin might say, this film is quite poor.

But look who co-stars:

It opens, as all respectable horror films do, with a tribal ritual sacrifice. Maverick tough guy journalist Michael Moriarty (star of Q: The Winged Serpent) is called back to the States and saddled with his neglected son Jeremy. They head to the country where Mike has inherited a family home in a town full of vampires led by Judge Andrew Duggan (Merrill’s Marauders). Jeremy falls in with the vampires, is sweet on a very young Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski). The movie’s specific vampire mythology seems unclear, especially where it concerns Jeremy and Tara, even though the Judge tries to explain it to us. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention cuz I was wondering where the blue rubber-mask demon had gone, when Sam Fuller would appear, and what was going on with Moriarty. Mostly he and the movie seem resigned to their crappiness, the straightforward genre plot, but occasionally there’s a spark of life, some Cohen attitude in the dialogue, some fire out of Mike.

Finally, Fuller arrives as a nazi hunter turned game vampire killer. The two guys pretty quickly and easily start slaughtering the townsfolk, killing bunches as they sleep before getting cornered. Fuller fakes suicide – I wouldn’t have advised laying bloody and prone in a room full of vampires, but it seems to work out for him. The kid awakens from his pre-vamp haze and stakes the judge with an American flag.

Bunny:

Shooting the judge in the head does not work:

Great movie, not badly dated except for Kristy’s 1980’s headband and boyfriend (Jameson Parker of Prince of Darkness). Written by Romain Gary, based on a true story (his wife Jean Seberg found and took home a “white dog”). After Kristy McNichol finds the “insane” dog and bonds with it, she realizes she’s got a racist killing machine on her hands and gets an obsessive Keys (Paul Winfield, couple years before The Terminator) to deprogram the dog. Things go wrong: a man is killed at church, finally the dog injures Keys’s partner Carruthers (Burl Ives) and has to be shot. Best scene is when Kristy confronts the original owner, a pleasant old man with two sweet daughters, the deceptively gentle-looking face of racism.

Cameos by Sam (though there are also Sam-surrogates, cigar-chomping old men), Christa (as a capitalist veterinary nurse) and Dick Miller (as a trainer working for Carruthers and Keys). Nice, long interview on the DVD with cowriter Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), producer Jon Davison (a Joe Dante and Paul Verhoeven associate) and Christa.

J. Rosenbaum:

As in the fables of Aesop and La Fontaine, the hero of Fuller’s parable may be a dog, but the subject is the human race. .. The dog is a tragic scapegoat, neither racist nor antiracist in any human sense. .. Close-ups and subjective camera movements repeatedly place us in intimate proximity with the physical world as the dog perceives it, so that he’s not merely “a four-legged time bomb” (as Julie’s boyfriend puts it, in characteristic Fuller-ese) but also an animal whose perceptions we’re invited to share. .. Like the children in Fuller’s war films, he’s the ultimate metaphor for the world we engender and nourish and ruin and try to redeem, a cause for some hope as well as despair.

One of Fuller’s final-shot ruminations – that the moment a war ends, killing turns from a heroic act into a criminal one. Feeling oppressed by the North and betrayed by his own losing side, an Irish-Confederate soldier (Rod Steiger, warmonger general of Mars Attacks!) joins a Sioux tribe against all whites. He gets guidance from doomed scout Walking Coyote (Jay Flippen, father-figure crook in The Killing), falls for a girl called Yellow Mocassin (Spanish superstar Sara Montiel, overdubbed by Angie Dickinson), and tricks suspicious Sioux warrior Crazy Wolf. A bunch of whites-vs-natives twists and betrayals later, Steiger and Moccasin leave the tribe, deciding to try their hand with the new USA instead.

Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker plays the Union officer shot twice by the same bullet (long story), and “newcomer Charles Bronson” plays a Sioux chief. There were actual Sioux players in the film, but relegated to smaller roles.

Sam:

The boys at RKO loved my yarn and gave me a green light to produce the picture the way I wanted. Indians would be depicted as a community of people with their own rules and rituals, not – as in most studio movies – like a pack of marauding killers. .. I think [Rod Steiger] earned more on that picture than I did. After all, I was only the writer, director and coproducer.

Dancer Sugar Torch is surprised in her dressing room, then chased down and shot to death in the street. Enter the cops: Glenn Corbett (star of Homicidal) and James Shigeta (of the musical Flower Drum Song). Delightfully drunk artist Mac (Anna Lee of Hangmen Also Die) points Corbett to painter Christine (Victoria Shaw of Edge of Eternity), who knew about Sugar’s new act, The Crimson Kimono, a geisha thing.

Corbett and Mac:

Lots of twisty witness-questioning ensues, and it turns out the killer is a wigmaker who thought her husband was cheating with Sugar. More interesting is the rivalry stemming from both cops falling in love with Christine the painter, which explodes when Joe beats his partner senseless during an official police kendo match. She ends up with Shigeta, the interracial thing being a pretty big deal for 1959.

Shigeta and Christine:

I always remember this wrong: in 1944, Merrill’s 3,000 U.S. troops join soldiers from other countries, launching a mission from India to reclaim Burma from the Japanese. It opens with narration aplenty, stock footage and even animation, all to set up the plight of these anonymous-looking soldier-actors led by silver-haired Jeff Chandler (in his final film, dead at age 42 from surgery complications). It’s a long slog for the soldiers, ordered to march across Burma with not enough food or rest, all sick and short-tempered, but the movie tries to keep things lively for us with its relentlessly boisterous soundtrack. Fuller says the studio convinced him to make this film as a dry run for The Big Red One. He had an actual Marauder hired as technical advisor, and was excited to have Gary Cooper play Merrill, but Cooper was too sick and would die before the film’s release.

The guys win a decisive battle near the start, think they’ll be relieved by the British, but are ordered to keep moving. Nicely shot battle at a railroad – only the aftermath is shown, a survivor standing above hundreds of casualties.

Standing on what looks like giant 3-D coffins – creepy:

The first woman in the entire movie isn’t glimpsed until an hour in, as they crash at a village to recuperate. The doctor reports: “from a medical viewpoint, they’re finished as a fighting unit.” But orders are orders, and Merrill pushes them forward, to another battle, forward again to the next one. Most of the film is the drudgery of pushing wearily forth to the next battle (Fuller: “For cryin’ out loud, the work of GI’s at war is nerve-racking and frustrating, not glorious!”), and that’s how it ends, Merrill dropping (not dead) of a heart attack while ordering them to rise from the mud and move on, and the men moving. The narrator tells us that they achieved their mission, but that only 100 of the 3,000 remained in action.

It’s not all trudging through mud and dropping dead from hunger.
There’s some good action and ‘splosions, too:

Weird for a war film to focus on the dull parts and resign the climactic battle to a mention by the voiceover. Fuller explains:

To my surprise and anger, the studio decided to cut my final scene in the editing room. Right after Merrill’s collapse, they spliced in footage of a victory parade of soldiers marching down Fifth Avenue. Jack Warner and his executives wanted an overt patriotic ending, and they decided to end the picture what that propaganda-like crap and a pompous narrator bragging about the American victory at Myitkyina. … Merrill’s Marauders got good reviews. Critics for Time and Newsweek remarked that the film had a documentary flavor, giving realistic depictions of war’s simplicity and death. The only thing they said was ‘Hollywood’ was the ending. Ironically, the opposite was true. The ending that Jack Warner’s boys tacked on was real documentary footage of a military parade. In the context, it seemed phony. My film was fiction. But it smelled of truth.

Lt. Stockton, surrogate son of Merrill: Ty Hardin of I Married a Monster from Outer Space

Doc: large-headed Andrew Duggan, a star of Larry Cohen’s Bone. Jeff Chandler was best known (and oscar-winning) for playing head Apache Cochise in three movies.

Bullseye: Peter Brown, a crimelord in Foxy Brown. At right, Chowhound: Will Hutchins, comic hero of The Shooting

Sgt. Kolowicz: round-headed Claude Akins, the jailed killer in Rio Bravo

Muley: Georgia native Charlie Briggs

Not pictured: Taggy (Pancho Magalona), a Filipino with the movie’s best comic scene, “I will wear my shirt out until all tyrants are dead!”