#241 – Death Boat

(1980, US/GB, 105 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Donald Pleasance.

Following firmly in the footsteps of the likes of The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and North Sea Hijack, all of which proved that there was a market in the late Seventies/early Eighties for action films populated exclusively by men who were a bit over the hill, Hank Hogan reteamed with his Pinwheel co-conspiritor Richard Burton and Burton’s fellow goose Roger Moore for this stodgy WW2 maritime yarn. The plot’s simple – in fact it’s so simple it’s been nicked from 1964’s Burt Lancaster starrer The Train but with the artwork stolen by the Nazis loaded onto a boat instead of a train. The best bits of the film are those on the Nazi boat, not the allied one, as the titular Nazi ‘Death Boat’ is helmed by Donald Pleasance who is, as ever, worth every penny, investing his scheming German with more character and, in the end, pathos than a distracted Burton and Moore can muster for their own wheezing heroes. What’s never explained is why the boat transporting all this art is called a ‘Death Boat’ when no death is dealt by it – it’s transporting things, not killing people. It’s a mystery that occupied me the most of this forgettable film’s running time… Not to be confused with the equally pulpy but much more entertaining Hell Boat.

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#241 – Pinwheel

(1974, US/GB, 110 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Richard Burton, Richard Attenborough, Fred Williamson.

Rollicking WW2 action nonsense based on real-life wartime derring-do but seasoned liberally with bullcrap. Richard Burton (distracted) is heading up a crack team to infiltrate the German held Chateau de Moulinsart in occupied France under the moniker Operation Pinwheel. Their target – an encoding device that controls the line of communication directly to the Führer. Taken along is gun-shy boffin Mallory (Attenborough – his speciality freaking out during attack) and violent Yank representative Colt (Williamson – his speciality strangling Germans). To make it through hostile territory Burton and Attenborough disguise themselves as Nazi officers escorting Williamson as their prisoner. Of course this ruse can only work for so long and in no time they are rumbled by a nosey Nazi and all subtlety is lost as they cut a swathe of fire across the countryside towards their target. Though bloodily violent Pinwheel still manages to find the time for some moments of misplaced humour – keep your eyes peeled for Marty Feldman as a confused French villager for example.

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#240 – Dr Chew

(1988, US, 105min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Ernest Borgnine, Rudy Shipman, Alison Price.

An ignominious end for the hard-bitten Hank Hogart, whose career spanned the tail end of the silent era to the dark heart of the family friendly eighties, ending here in the bargain basement of kid’s flicks with Dr Chew, a film about a dog who is also, somehow, a doctor. The film is dreck by the way – just in case my brief synopsis gave the impression that it was anything other than a filmic abomination. At this stage of his career Hogart’s declining health became a serious impediment to his continued employment being blind in one eye (following an accident with an exploding steamroller on the set of The Invalidator) and partially sighted in the other on top of losing his speech following a stroke the year before. According to Borgnine, a long-time friend of the director, the production was understandably prolonged and difficult as a result, with Hogart spending the entire production in his director’s chair (having refused a wheelchair on principal), puffing his way through a seemingly endless supply of black Bolivian cigars and scrawling his instructions onto a flip chart with a felt pen where they would be interpreted by Mitzi Feb, his sixth wife, and passed on to the crew. According to Borgnine, “He couldn’t talk but he could still swear” and as a result he was deemed unfit to direct the child actors who were kept no less than ten feet from him at all times. Hogart and Feb divorced the following year and Hobart died the year after that, three days following his marriage to nineteen year old exotic dancer Alison Flippers.

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#239 – Hell is for the Heartless

(1930, US, 100 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Buddy Kelly, Nelson Carroll, Julie Clayton.

Hard boiled pre-Code proto-noir gangster flick from first time director and future forgotten legend Hank Hogart. Stout, also forgotten leading man Buddy Kelly is ‘Mac’ McCauseland, the grinning gangster with a twinkle in his eye and blood on his hands. The perpetually nervous Nelson Carroll is ‘Hap’ Holburn, his rival for control of all the booze flowing into Detroit, the fantastically and evocatively industrial setting for the film. Not only is turf being fought for but an incandescent Julie Clayton’s Pip is the dancing woman they both love too – furious of foot on the stage and slinky seductress in the boudoir. All roads lead to a violent showdown which marks the halfway point and sees Mac tommy gun Hap’s legs off below the knees. Is this the end of Hap’s indignities? Is it toffee – when Mac sees how much more of Pip’s affections the now crippled Hap commands in his stumped legged state he is thrown into a blind rage and Hap is thrown out of the hospital window. For the law this is the last straw and Mac is gunned down himself outside his mother’s house after she – now frightened of her maniac son – shops him in to the cops herself. Mad, dark, manic stuff, it’s full of the kind of promise that Hogart sporadically fulfilled.

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#238 – Moshi Moshi

(1951, Jap, 125 min, b/w) Dir Haruko Miyaguchi. Cast Setsuko Hara, Kuniko Miyake, Rentarō Mikuni.

Setsuko Hara, lovely as always, is Michiyo, a switchboard operator for a company in Tokyo. One day she receives a call from one of the new young executives, Ken Okamoto (Mikuni), and after a brief conversation she falls in love with him, sight unseen. Before long however her heart is broken when she finds herself juggling calls from both his wife and his mistress. Turning the situation to her advantage she elects to blackmail him with her knowledge so that he will take her out on a date. Once she has laid eyes on him she realises how foolish she had been and promptly leaves. Unfortunately for her the brief meeting was all it took for young Ken to fall head over heels in love with her and before she knows it she is fending off his advances from one side and defending herself against his aggrieved mistress on the other. A typical black comedy from Miyaguchi, often called the ‘Japanese Billy Wilder’, though Moshi Moshi was in fact a rare flop for him upon it’s release, some say due to the fact that the normally pure hearted Hara was cast so far against type.

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#237 – Blood Wild

(1983, Aust, 85 min) Dir Chuck Mallory. Cast Steve Bisley, Joanne Samuel.

Between his spooky debut Hannah Blet and his posting to Hollywood, Chuck Mallory found the time to produce Blood Wild, a turn into Mad Max territory, apparently made just to see if he could. Unlike Mad Max, Blood Wild is set in the present day and owes just as much to Deliverance and Duel in it’s premse – Bisley and Samuel (not accidentally both MM veterans) are JB and Shanny, a big city couple travelling to Darwin where JB has a new job. There is tension between the two, Shanny not masking how aggrieved she is at having to move so far away. Her displeasure only increases when she finds out JB’s plan – his scheme is to travel in a straight line through the vast desert expanse of the interior. Before you can say ’bad idea’ locals are offended and they are forced to drive through the night to the next town for accommodation. From out of the dark, while JB snores beside her, Shanny spots a pair of faraway headlights. Her heart in her chest she watches as they get closer and closer still and before she knows it this mystery car has shot past mere inches from them, waking JB. “What was that?” he splutters but when Shanny points out the window there are no tail lights ahead, only darkness. So far so Deliverance/Duel but by the time the third act wheels around JB and Shanny are racing for their lives against some very real enemies in the form of a racing gang who have gone ‘Blood Wild’ in the desert and are hungry for sport. The creeping dread of the first two-thirds are as effective as you would expect from the director of Hannah Blet and the end shows he has as much talent for unrestrained action as he does for controlled suspense.

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#236 – Herself

(1978, Ire, 100 min) Dir Fergal Kerney. Cast John Conlon, Marina Wheeler, Conan O’Connell.

Young Jimmy’s being brought up by his father in small town Ireland, his mother having died when he was a small boy. Apart from this his childhood is pretty run of the mill – he’s bored in school, fishes in the local river, reads comics in bed by torchlight while his drunk father sleeps in front of the television. Then one morning he comes downstairs to find the Virgin Mary in his kitchen, preparing a fry for Jimmy and his father while in her full blue and white regalia and he can’t believe his eyes. She dispenses a few words of wisdom, a few of encouragement, and once the food is cooked makes off, up through the kitchen ceiling, leaving Jimmy’s dad to come in, impressed with his son for having knocked up breakfast for his hung-over father. Of course Jimmy says nothing and spends his time from then on longing for her to return. He also takes to carrying a picture of her around with him which is of course discovered by his schoolmates who take the mickey out of him for “fancying Jesus’ Mammy”. This gets back to his schoolteachers and there’s a hilarious scene in which the local priest attempts to split the notion of romance and the love of God without mentioning divinity and carnality in the same sentence. A sweet and inoffensive wee film that was nonetheless banned in its home country for some time.

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