Category Archives: Imaginary US Cinema

#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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#235 – Butter Bandit, The

(1976, US, 39 min) Dir Leck Mitchum-Arsch. Cast Bob Flash, Joey Fantastic, Gorey George, ‘Fantasy’ Simon Fenchurch.

An early short from the notorious gay punk filmmaker Leck Mitchum-Arsch here riffing on Last Tango in Paris with Brando stand-in Bob Flash as the dairy lubricator on the rampage, greasing his victims good before having his way with them. This is just the first five minutes – soon Flash has wandered into a petting zoo and makes his way around the enclosures (don’t worry the alpaca, for example, is played by Gorey George) before repairing to church. Of course the tables are eventually turned and the Butter Bandit is taken into the care of the law where he is deprived of all lubricant when disciplined by a station house full of truncheons. Ouch. A scrappy, ramshackle production that has more charm and humour than one would expect from a film about a rampaging anal rapist. This was not the opinion of the real life police at the time of the films festival appearances though and Mitchum-Arsch was before long enjoying his first (but not last) appointment before a judge. 

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#232 – Sometime Stewart, Maybe

(1992, US, 98 min) Dir Jackson Harvey. Cast Phillip Milk, Angela Patrick, Leslie Sophie.

The US indie world pre-Tarantino was the land where deadpan reigned – think Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman. But none panned deader than Jackson Harvey – his characters were rendered so inert by their ennui that they could have woken in bed next to an expired alpaca without troubling their eyebrows for a raise. The titular Stewart in this his feature debut (following his acclaimed short Whoopee) has just graduated from University and has moved back home to live with his parents toting nothing but a black bin bag full of soiled clothes and an already framed degree in ‘Applied Philosophy’. When he’s not sleepless in bed, staring disconsolately at his bedroom ceiling (an activity he pursues a lot), he’s down at the local drugstore mooning over Olivia (a statuesque, striking and scary Patrick) and hoping that his persistence will transmute into her affections. Despite possessing what he believes to be a soaring intelligence he’s not above having his adoration abused as he becomes, over time, Olivia’s unquestioning slave. Of course there is a second woman, the timid and mousey Frances (Sophie), who watches all this sadly, her declarations varying from subtle to hilariously obvious throughout the film but consistently met with obliviousness by Stewart. Rough around the edges and generic enough in it’s day, …Maybe still marked Harvey out as a director to watch.

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#230 – Roman by Polanski

(2010, Fr/US, 130 min) Dir Marina Zenovich. Cast Mathieu Amalric, Blake Lively, Christian Slater.

In retrospect there doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate choice to play Polanski than Amalric (who is himself a director) – the physical resemblance alone makes him a lock for the role and his performance in this, an adaptation of the 1984 autobiography, confirms the choice. His performance is also the best thing about the film which would make for a fine double bill with the same years equally uneven biopic Gainsbourg – much like that film Roman by Polanski is more a catalogue of incident than realised portrait but both are slick and entertain for their run time. While the film is also at pains to assure audiences that the incidents depicted in the film are being viewed through the director’s telling rather than a record of fact, Zenovich (also the director of the documentary Polanski: Wanted and Desired) is obviously beholden enough to her source to dwell for too long on the more insalubrious decisions in his life. Blake Lively makes for a fine Sharon Tate but  it has to be said that whoever convinced Christian Slater to play Jack Nicholson here deserves an Oscar to themselves!

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