Friday, March 26, 2010

Stuff I Burned From TCM, Part 9

A number of movies I’ve written about for the past few years have finally seen the light of day on DVD: Overexposed, Rancho Notorious, The Glass Wall, and a few more, so I’m pretty sure this will be the next to last installment of “Stuff I Burned From TCM”. I’ll probably move on to something else movie-related, but until then here are a few more movies that need to see a proper DVD release:

Heat Lightning (1934): Classic hard-boiled Warner Bros. crime film about a pair of sisters working at a motel in the Mojave Desert. Olga’s a frilly girl waitress and her older sister, Myra, (Ann Dvorak) ia a pretty butch auto mechanic. Her cover as a mechanic’s blown once her ex-boyfriend, a sleazy gangster on the run exposes her glamorous gun moll past. Similar in tone to “The Petrified Forest”, but I actually liked this better. A lot of stock Warners players, like Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, and Lyle Talbot are on hand giving their usual great support. Ann Dvorak is brilliant, and this film deserves a decent release.

Ladies of The Chorus (1948)
: One of the few Marilyn Monroe movies that still hasn't been released to DVD, this low-budget B picture clocks under an hour at 57 minutes. In spite of its brevity it still has tons of padding with several music numbers, some which have Marilyn crooning. Many people have laughed at the casting of Adele Jergens as her mother, probably three years older than Monroe with an unconvincing gray streak dyed into her hair. The plot basically consists of Monroe and Jergens playing a mother and daughter showgirl team and Mom’s reluctance at having her daughter date a millionaire’s spoiled son. The film has all the production values of an old Three Stooges short, no surprise because Columbia Pictures released this film.

The Unholy Three (1930): Lon Chaney’s last film and the talkie version of the Tod Browning silent classic. The talkie version is similar in tone to “Freaks” and Harry Earles is even on hand to play Tweedle Dee the midget. Chaney plays half the film in drag disguised as a kindly old lady pet shop owner, and it’s always amusing watching him tear off his wig, pop a cigar in his mouth and chew out Goliath the strong man. The last line in the film would be his last, “That’s all there is to life… a little laugh, a little tear”, while waving goodbye from a departing caboose. It was as if he’s waving goodbye to the audience, because he died a week after the film wrapped.

Primrose Path (1940): Just like "Heat Lightning" this movie was originally a play, but it moves fast and doesn't seem too talky. Ginger Rogers is a shack-living tomboy from Venice who falls for Joel McCrea, a motorcycle-riding burger flipper down PCH way. He likes the "Portuguese gals" (is Mexican a dirty word?) but falls for the tough dogtown girl. Ginger's mom and stinkbug grandmom, however, are sleazy gold diggers who want Ginger to carry on the family tradition of banging rich bums for their dough. Rogers turns in a performance reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck in "Stella Dallas" and McCrea turns in another great big galoot performance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Out Sound of Psych Jazz

During the late Sixties/early Seventies the psych music scene opened up a jazz underground featuring bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority, who unraveled into some of the worst music ever recorded. One listen to a piece of dump like “Spinning Wheel” is as good evidence as you can get. Fortunately the European music scene had a much more exciting take on psych jazz that spawned many cool bands that only lasted a few years, but left us with some remarkable records. The fact that psych jazz has remained a virtually unheralded genre is a mystery to me, so let’s take a quick look at the best of the beast:

1. Chapter Three – Manfred Mann helmed this big band in between his English Invasion group and the Eighties-driven Earth Band. They only released two albums but the music has a seething, quiet intensity that’s compelling. The horn charts are simple to the point of being linear, but when they stretch out and solo all hell breaks loose. Recommended tracks are “Time” and “One Way Glass”. The whispery vocals wear thin after awhile, so it’s no surprise they had such a short shelf life.

2. The Flock – The only American band in the bunch (from Chicago, even), but pretty cool. Their big gimmick outside of having a badass biker looking-horn section was introducing Jerry Goodman on electric violin to the world. Fred Glicksman’s superfuzz acid-rock guitar is pretty amazing, too, but they veer into comedy territory when they employ opera falsetto backing vocals delivered with a scary earnestness. For coolness listen to “Store Bought Store Thought”, for comedy listen to “I Am The Tall Tree”. They also had the balls to take composing credit for The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting” (complete with operatic falsetto backing vox!). Another band that lasted for two albums.

3. If – This band consisted of a bunch of session guys gone wild, so their music occasionally sounds like an orange juice commercial, but when they tear loose on “What Did I Say About The Box, Jack?” the horns twist and unravel like a bed of snakes. Their first album cover showing a bold, iron “IF” will forever be imprinted in my mind and sold the band for me. After two albums they went kinda snoozy fusion with the ugliest New Age LP artwork ever designed, so I recommend the first album only.

4. Nucleus – Ian Carr, ace British trumpeter, put together this great jazz band featuring Chris Spedding (!) on guitar. They’re heavily influenced by the new electric sound Miles Davis was toting in 1969 with a slightly rockier edge. Sans vocals, the band’s horn charts alternate from linear to complex. The great thing about the bands mentioned here is that they’re very democratic and allow every player to stretch out, a true rarity in these days of massive rock egos, so the soprano sax player gets to rip some scorching solos, too. “We’ll Talk About It Later” is the recommended album, actually once Chris Spedding left the coolness left with him. Big surprise.

5. Colosseum – Love the early records by Colosseum. If you can imagine Cream with a screeching organist and a wiggy sax player you get a basic idea of what these guys did. The Cream connection was completely intentional as their lyricist Pete Brown wrote many of their lyrics (the amazing “Jumping Off The Sun”) and they even covered Jack Bruce’s “Rope Ladder To The Moon” before he did. The band included the Ginger Baker-sounding Jon Hiseman (from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and the legendary Dick Heckstall-Smith (from the Graham Bond Organisation). Their version of “Bolero” is the only one I can listen to, and once you hear their art school meets carnival fairground sound you’ll be hooked.

6. John Mayall – For a few years John Mayall got tired of losing drummers, and they were too loud, anyway, so he dispensed with them for a few years. He added the excellent John Almond on sax and flute and created a completely original style of electric jazz-blues that was compelling. Around that time his lyrics were about fucking chicks in Laurel Canyon, fires in Laurel Canyon, getting stoned in Laurel Canyon, so imagine this weird, spooky music with hedonistic hippie words floating around, sort of a hippie Suicide. Guitarist Jon Mark and John Almond later formed a band with the same sound, but Mayall did it better. Because he’s John Mayall. Recommended is “The Turning Point”, and “California” is the best song, and there are many tunes about Laurel Canyon you can listen to, heh!

Several bands became famous and made millions playing their take on psych jazz but pretty much descended into blatant progressive rock, like Jethro Tull, The Soft Machine, and King Crimson, but for my money the marginal ones provided the best sounds you’ll hear. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dead Eyes of Hollywood (crash WALKER Chapter 4)

2:00 pm. Liver. Crash Walker hated liver, and he hated it even more when he smelled it on someone's breath. He was in the shit hole when he had to do a kissing scene with Kitty the Dance Hall Gal, sweet 38" bust, red hair like the burning Hollywood Hills, and the smelliest dog shit breath on the planet. She couldn't help it of course, the scene had to be wrapped after lunch. He saw her out of the corner of his eye at the commissary piling into a plate of liver and onions and thinking, "You bitch. Your mouth will taste like dog turds on a hot summer pavement." She wouldn't think about popping a few breath mints, no, that's a man's job. Bitch.

Mister Method Director, Bartholomew Friedbaum, was still earning his oats helming this horse opry, and positioning everyone in their places. "Okay, this is the bumper where you tell Kitty what happened in the past episode. The scene ends with you grabbing her by the hair and kissing her brashly, passionately. Give me lust!"
"I'll give her puke if I have to breathe in her stinky vapors. Yuck!" Walker thought.

"Aaaaand, action!!" CLICK!
"Kitty, honey, it's been a coon's age since I've held you in muh arms, and-"
"BRAAAPPPP!" A booming fart ripped from behind the camera, stinking of sauerkraut and wieners. Stage hands laughed uproariously. Crash Walker's face turned green, coughing hard. Kitty fanned herself with her dance hall fan.
"I am zo zorry, de lunch iss too heavy", Gabor the cameraman apologized.
"-and too smelly. Rats!" some redneck grip cursed.

Crash turned around to see who said that, and saw a man in an ill fitting suit standing in the shadows towards the back staring at him. The man made him nervous, and he never got nervous on set. He looked to the other side of him and saw another man in a suit with a hat staring at him. "Who are these guys and what the fuck do they want?" he thought.

"Let's pick it up from the top! Actors take positions, quiet on the set, lights, camera on, aaaaaand action!"
"Kitty, honey, it's been a coon's age since I've held you in muh arms, and -"
BREEEEAAAATHE. The liver and onions vapors crawled into his nostrils like an atomic turd bomb.
"Gag!" The words wouldn't come out of Crash's mouth because he was dry heaving on Kitty the Dance Hall Gal.
"Cut! Cut! What's the problem this time?" Friedbaum cursed, his young, tortured face getting beet red. It was only three minutes of footage but it was going to take three days getting that bullshit done.
"Sorry, I need a little air", he gasped.

One of the men in the shadows stepped on set and grabbed Crash by the collar. "Yeah, kiddo, let's get some air, huh?"
Friedbaum stepped up, pissed at this intruder. "And who are you, pal?"
The plainclothes man whipped out his LAPD badge. "Police. We're going to give Roy Rogers some air here for a few minutes. Take a fuckin' coffee break, jerk yourselves off, we don't care."
The other plainclothes man from the shadows joined him by the side of Walker and they practically dragged him out of the sound stage.

They dragged him around the corner to an isolated passageway with tall weeds growing out of the pavement.
"Walker, I'm Sergeant Mason of the LAPD, this is my partner Sgt. Kurlich. Where were you on the night of July 17th?"
"That was two nights ago, I was at a party. What's this about?"
Kurlich, the fat slob in the hat and suit moved in on him. "Hey, swinger, did you ever get a taste of that ginger cooze in there? I'll be she'll suck off a big-dicked dog."
"Fuck you, you fat slob!" Walker sneered, and quickly got a punch in the gut. He doubled over and really retched this time.
"Big TV star, thinks he's a tough guy. We piss on tough guys until they love the taste", Kurlich sneered.
"This guy's not gonna tell us shit. Cuff him and throw his ass in the car", Mason mumbled.
"Let's dump him in the trunk. He's too pretty to ride in my back seat."
"Fuck you, asshole, I'm running this shit. He goes in the back seat. What are you doing?"
Kurlich reached over and felt Walker's pecker. "My wife thinks these bastards are hung bigger than regular guys like us. Just checking."
"You look like you're checking a little too much. Besides, his puke's all over your hand now."

Thirty minutes later, in a little tiny room on Hill Street, Walker still in cowboy garb sat in an interrogation room. The door opened and Sgts. Mason and Kurlich entered with an older man in short shirt sleeves following them. The older man sat down while the other two stood against the wall simply staring at him with pure disgust on their faces.
"Walker, I'm Captain Edmonds of the Wilcox Station of the Los Angeles Police Department. We've brought you in for questioning."
"What is this about? That fat slob rubbed my peck-"
"SHUT UP, COWBOY, OR I'LL-" Kurlich jumped at him.
"Settle down, Kurlich, or I'll throw your ass out of here. Walker, you were last seen at a party on 2600 Laurel Canyon Drive, were you not?"
"Well, yeah, a lot of people were."
"Uh, huh, you got into an altercation with Mr. William Flagg, kicking him and threatening him, correct? We have witnesses to the scene, don't even think of denying it, son. Serious threats, wouldn't you say?"
"I don't even remember."
"I can make this fucker remember everything, just give me five minutes with this creep", Kurlich jumped.
"Kurlich, I'm warning you", Edmonds yelled, getting impatient. "I ought to let him have his way with you. I'm sick of movie stars pissing all over my fuckin' beat and acting like they're cleaner than an nun's panties. I say bullshit!" he pounded his fist against the table, which made everyone jump.
"I wish I was big enough to be a movie star", Walker looked at the badged clowns around him. "Bill Flagg's an asshole and picked a fight with my buddies. And yeah, I kicked his ass, and I'd do it again."
Mason raced right up to him and threw a right hook at his mouth like a runaway locomotive. Walker flew out of his chair. "Get up, Cowboy Bob", Mason grunted, picking him up and throwing him back into his chair.

"Look familiar to you?" Edmonds threw a few 8 x 10 glossy photographs in front of him. They were pictures of a naked man with puffy eyelids on a bed, his nose broken, and needle marks all over his arms. "Shortly after your little Hollywood sex party, we got an anonymous phone call from the Sunset Siesta Motel reporting Mr. Flagg dead on the scene, his nose broken, neck broken holding a 20-dollar bill in his hand with needle marks all over his arms. He'd been injected with massive amounts of heroin. He didn't have an enemy in the world, Flagg". Edmonds pointed his finger in Walker's face. "All except you. You threatened him. And you killed him."
Kurlich burst into tears. "The greatest TV star in the world, an upstanding Christian and a credit to the Los Angeles Police Force, and you killed him!" he punched his fists in the air with grief until his hat fell off his head.
"You killed him because you were jealous of his popularity. He was a bigger star than you so you had to kill him. You broke his neck, you broke his nose, you ripped up his arms with junk, what the hell do you have to say to that?"

"I want to speak to my lawyer", Walker blurted.
"TAKE HIM AWAY!" Edmonds cursed. Walker was cuffed and taken to his cell, all the while wondering if F. Lee Bailey would take his case on spec.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It's A Happening Thing (crash WALKER Chapter 3)

Showing up to a cool Hollywood party in a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair is no major embarrassment, but showing up alone sure as hell is. No equally cool stud co-stars would go to the party with him (they flaked - three different guys), no foxy beach blonde ingenue starlets ("a '64 Corvair - what kind of girl do you think I am?"). Crash Walker sheepishly pulled his car over against a hunk of Hollywood Hills mountain and quickly combed his hair in the rear view mirror. He breathed against the back of his left hand to catch shit breath, not bad, a shot of brandy will kill poop smelling germs. Leaving the car a quarter mile from the party house, he trudged slowly up the hill.

As he climbed higher up the hill by the sleepy, expensive homes with their long driveways and low ceilings stretching out over the canyon he saw the bright colored lights at the top of the hill, voices, mostly female laughing like sirens beckoning him. Valet parkers gunned their Cadillacs and Jaguars past him, narrowly missing his right leg by inches. He walked through the open front door, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 playing "Mas Que Nada" louder than it was intended.

Script girls were flirting with location scouts, key grips were bragging to wardrobe girls about their strenuous jobs on set, electricians were networking for jobs, and in the distance you could see the swimming pool with skinny dippers through the sliding doors. In the distance you could hear a dog barking, over and over again, never stopping.

"Crash Walker!" an excited guy who looked like Al Martino wearing sunglasses in an already darkened house leaped at him, giving with the drunken party hug. "Where've you been? The party ain't shit until you show up!"

"You finally dragged your tired ass up here, outtasite!" Humble Harve ruffled Crash's hair, automatically ruffling his feathers for mussing up his comb job. "Hey, hold my drink a second, willya?"

"Thanks", Walker walked off with his drink, sipping half of it in the process. He tried to focus his vision at the darkened room, picking out people (mostly chicks!) drifting around the brightly colored lights. Standing in the corner, laughing and gesturing animatedly in her platinum blonde hair, deep suntan and black dress was Jodi Powell.

Jodi Powell, that "Golden Goddess" suntan lotion girl from the TV commercials, all 6 feet of her. "I wonder how many drinks she's had so far tonight?" he thought. "She's talking to some nebbishy bald guy with glasses who keeps coughing nervously. That can't be her date. He's probably boring her to death".

Walker pushed his way closer to the corner, luck be his lady tonight, the nerdly bastard excused himself, either to cough his stupid ass off or get her a fresh, new drink. "Here's my big chance, move it or lose it, Walker", he mumbled to himself. Swiping a drink from the coffee table right by him, he approached Powell. "Got a new drink with your name on it", he smiled. "Mine's Crash Walker!"

"Thanks!" she smiled, sipping her new drink. "That's so nice of you. I'm Jodi, the-"
"I know, I know. You're the Golden Goddess on TV commercials. Don't be pale, Don't be hopeless", he sang the insipid jingle, her chiming in, "Get a splash of Golden Goddess". They laughed together. "Terrible song, isn't it?" she laughed.

"Are you kidding? I was singing it in the shower just this morning!"
She laughed harder. "Liar, but you're so nice I'll take your story on credit. Besides you're tall like I am, thank God".
"Where's your friend?"
"I don't know, but I just spent the past fifteen minutes looking down on the sunburn peeling off his bald head".
"Why don't we escape to the swimming pool and I'll get you another drink?"

Pushing and shoving through the crowd to the patio, her blue eyes shining in the darkness, she asked, "So what do you do, Smash Walker? Are you a stunt man?"
"No, I'm the star of 'Wrangler's Canyon', the best western on TV", he boasted in spite of the fact she got his name wrong. With her gorgeous long legs she can get his name wrong any time.
"What did you say? 'Wrangler's Canyon'? What's that, a cartoon show?" She made a confused face and began losing interest, scanning the patio for bigger fish. Five minutes and he was already losing her.
"No, I'm on 'The High Chaparral', I play Cameron Mitchell's saddle pal", good save.
"'High Chaparral'? That's one of my favorite shows! They show my commercials on 'High Chaparral'. Did you know people are more likely to buy 'Golden Goddess' for the weekend if they see my commercials on Friday night? Isn't that the wildest?" he smiled excitedly, her full breasts heaving up and down inside her small dress as she spoke.
"Yeah, groovy", he grinned, signaling two fingers to the bartender for drinks.

A cranky voice began piping into the house by a very buttoned-down man with a crew cut and a tightly-fitting suit. His voice was grating, probably from smoking too many menthol cigarettes.

"I don't know why you talk me into going to these things. Too many drunks, the girls are too loud, and the music's lousy. No Frank, no Dino, Gimme some Harry James any time", groused Bill Flagg, star of "Roadblock", the highest rated show on television.
"Come on, Bill, it's good for your image", some fat guy in a turtleneck pushing its way out of a small blazer whined, "You got to be seen having fun with other stars".
"C'mon, Bill", whispered his companion, "Just make an appearance, and we'll be gone in half an hour."

Back at the patio, "Tell me some cool cowboy talk, the kind you guys say on the show", Jodi's bugging Crash.
"Oh, man, what a drag."
"No, come on, I want to talk like a cowboy, come on!"
"Okay, let's see, there's slap leather".
Jodi's eyes got big. "Slap leather? Sounds kinky!"
"Ha, not the way we do it. Just a bunch o' smelly guys drawing guns."
"Why do they call it slap leather?" she screwed up her face, looking drunker and drunker.
"Because their guns slap their holsters before they draw 'em out of the big showdown."
"I don't get it", she shook her shoulders and threw her arms up. Walker grabbed her by the waist and kissed her slowly. She licked his lips.
"Let's go somewhere quieter", he whispered in her ear. She smiled sweetly.

They both drunkenly stumbled down a dark hallway towards a closed bedroom door. They passed by a highly disgusted Bill Flagg and agent. "The Byrds, The Turtles, The Turds, it's all Commie faggot junk to me", Flagg cussed.
"Bill, Bill, Bill, it's gonna be okay", he whispered quietly trying not to arouse too much attention with his volatile charge in tow.
"They should pass out ear plugs as party favors. If this ever gets back to Dick Nixon", Flagg stopped, and winced disgustedly. "Is that Crash Walker with a hooker trying to use the bedroom? I think I'm going to get sick!"

Actually, Flagg and Jodi walked by the den, where a TV was blaring loudly with voices laughing hysterically. As they crossed the doorway, a voice yelled into the hallway, "Crash Walker! Get the fuck in here and check out this shit! Heeheeehohaw!"
Very stiff horns blared out of the TV set with the dullest speaking voices ever heard. Jodi smiled at the hilarity but Crash wanted to know who had the balls to interrupt his attempt at seduction. It was Billy Bell, the new stunt man from the drugstore, passing a joint around the sofa with his friends.
"Don't you remember, Billy from Schwab's? C'mon, sit down and have a drag with us and check out the Square City Show."

"Oh, shit, it's 'Roadblock'", Crash mumbled to Jodi. She sat down, crossing her long, well-suntanned legs and took a drag, but Crash stayed where he was standing, watching America's favorite program.

Bill Flagg's character, Sgt. Jim Davis, was standing in a groovy, fake hippie-morre beatnik styled apartment, grilling an old woman in horn rims and a homemade knit cardigan.
"You know, Sargeant, he seemed like such a nice boy, he always does his homework, takes out the trash, mows the lawn, goes to church, I don't like to pry in his business, and what not, but lately he's been acting awful strange."
"Go on."
"But lately he's been missing pep rally and I've been smelling the oddest things around the house, like burning rope."
"Burning rope, ma'am?"
"Burning rope".
"Do you have any rope on the premises, ma'am? Burning or otherwise?"
"None that I know of, Sargent." The set was so overlit you could see shadows of the boom stand against the wall.
Sgt. Davis walked over to an ashtray with three carefully placed roaches, the camera zooming into his face, gritting his teeth as he put the broke the roaches under his nostril. "Just as I thought! Marijuana cigarettes!"
"Oh dear!" the old woman lost consciousness and dead fainted on the floor.

Bell and his friends exploded into stoned laughter, Bell leading the pack by screaming hysterically, kicking his legs in the air. Even Walker had to laugh at the corny hijinx. "This show sucks, you guys."
"Are you kidding, man, this show is comic gold, shit gold!" Bell roared with laughter. Even Jodi was ripped and laughing. Walker could hear somebody storming into the room.
"Alright, you peckerheads, that's enough!" Bill Flagg blew his cool and yelled at Billy and his friends. "You worthless drug addicts, I'll call the cops right now and have your asses dragged into night court!"
"OMIGOD IT'S HIM, HOOHOO HAHA!" Bell's laughter doubled at the sight of Flagg.
"Billy, that's some powerful shit, the show just flew out of the TV!"

Flagg grabbed Walker by the collar, "And I just knew you were behind this pot party, aren't you, Mister Crash Walker? You'll be the first person I'll see to getting put behind bars, you worthless, no talent reprobate!"
Walker pushed Flagg off him. "I wouldn't talk about talent if I were you, Flagg, if you didn't have your shitty TV show you wouldn't even be working at all."
"Read it and weep, pal, I've got a number one show, not a piece of jackoff shit like 'Wranglers' Canyon', Mister!"
"Hey!" The Golden Goddess yelled, drunk and doped to the gills, "You said you were on 'High Chaparral', you lied to me!"
"Siberia's closer to the top of the ratings than your Romeo's dead-end cowboy show", Flagg scowled. "Didn't you know? He's colder than Kennedy!"
Walker punched Flagg square in the face, Billy Bell jumoping up and holding him back. "Easy, Buddy, no flying off the handle now, you hear? Forget about him!"
Flagg's agent grabbed him, "C'mon, Bill, no scenes this time, let's go grab a drink somewhere else, c'mon."
"Nothing doing! Get me a phone, Phil, I'm calling the cops. I'm going to practice my civic duty, doggone it."
"You'd better leave, TV Cop", Billy spat at Flagg, "Or I might lose my grip on Mister Walker here."
"You're trash, kiddo", Flagg cursed, "You're all trash. I'm going to leave alright, but I'll remember each and every one of you. The cops are going to hear about these drug parties and they're going to flush every one of you down the toilet".
"Come on, Bill", Phil the fat agent pulled him away, but not before Walker jumped up from his restraint and kicked Flagg square upside his ass, sending him stumbling down the hallway. Every body laughed hard, and Billy asked quietly, "Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, man, I'm fine. Let me go." Walker felt his arms, now free but numb, and he rubbed them. "You've got quite a grip there, kid."

He turned to find Jodi gone from the sofa. "Look, I gotta find my girl."
"Sure, man, you take care, maybe we'll see each other soon on set or something."
Walker walked down the dark hallway, the house tilting. He slowly approached the swimming pool, which spun up and down too quickly. He doubled over and took a deep breath of chlorinated air. A red-haired girl smiled up at him from the water.
"Isn't this the grooviest party ever?"
Walker's eyes rolled up in his head and he threw up into the pool.