#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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