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A GRITTY BAGFUL OF ARCHIVE MOVIE REVIEWS

1969 ***1/2
SUPERCOOL: Film Noir/Gumshoe/Private Eye films have a main character wandering from one location to the next in search of something, or someone... What they get along the way are a lot of names, mostly red herrings. Sexy women. Fights. Psychedelic drugs and...

Okay that last aspect didn't fit the Bogart-era films, in which this was inspired, but in SUPERCOOL aka BODY FEVER aka DEADLOCKED aka THE LAST ORIGINAL B MOVIE, we have an urban/suburban odyssey of a scrawny P.I., played by Ray Dennis Steckler, who also starred and directed in, among many low budget cult titles, THE THRILL KILLERS, as he tries to find a missing dame who stole a ton of drugs. The best elements pit Stecker's Charlie Smith against Frankie Roberts, played by Steck's stock heavy Gary Kent, who not only keeps women addicted to smack but smacks them regularly. And like those mazy Noirs of the forties and fifties, the plot is purposely convoluted (so the audience is as confused as the snoop)... But the flat conclusion seems a bit forced: ending a breezy jaunt that could've gone on forever.

year: 1961 rating: ***1/2
THE LITTLE SHEPARD OF KINGDOM COME: Jimmie Rodgers, pop singer from the fifties, shifts into acting about as comfortably as Elvis Presley, and that's not such a bad thing.

Rodgers plays Chad, a wandering young man from the mountains, without a family or last name, who happens upon two families: one of humble-means up North... including reliable Robert Dix... the other of great importance down South, headed by Chill Wills... prior to the Civil War.

Rodgers seems very genuine and soft-hearted, and even sings. The plot is more-or-less a journey into two regions that'd soon be at war, shown during the final act where the battle scenes are involving but never too intense. But it's the first half, where Chad settles into each domestic setting, that stands out: seemingly tailor-made for Rodger's easygoing performance. And George Kennedy makes for a terrific heavy, providing a sporadic black cloud to this sun-soaked, and quite relaxing, portrait of 19th Century America.

year: 1965 rating: **1/2
MAJOR DUNDEE: Early Peckinpah Western has the title-bearing Major, played by Charlton Heston, gathering up troops for a mission to destroy a band of killer Apaches.

Richard Harris and Warren Oates are Confederates that reluctantly join the posse. After a somewhat rushed set-up, we ride from location to location, providing a decently filmed action scene along the way, but within each camp are lulls of stagey conversation... Ride, stop, and talk... again and again till the bloody climactic battle that doesn't last as long as the long bouts of campfire chat, or painfully corny scenes involving romance, and lots and lots of dancing, in Mexico.

Jim Hutton, Timothy's father, is embarrassingly cliched as a by-the-book military man. Peck stock actors Warren Oates and Ben Johnson are all but wasted. But Richard Harris is effective as the proud Confederate and, ever-challenging the main character, provides Heston with his best scenes: mostly reaction. Meanwhile, James Coburn, as a one-armed half-Indian, advises Heston to not stay too long in the Spanish town because he doesn't look like a Mexican. Thank God someone didn't tell Orson Welles that eight years earlier, because TOUCH OF EVIL provides the icon one of his best (that is, most understated) performances.

year: 1957 rating: **
FORTY GUNS: One of the great opening shots has three brothers, Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry and Robert Dix travelling by stage as forty mounted horses with armed men, led by Barbara Stanwyk, thunder past.

It's after the credits, and the trio reach a small town, where things go downhill slowly as a man walks around singing out loud, and a few fights occur which, while filmed creatively, seem out of an adolescent melodrama, during which a plot slowly unfolds: HIGH NOON without the suspense.

1967 rating: **
THE REBEL ROUSERS: Nice guy husband Cameron Mitchell and pregnant wife Diane Ladd are in some serious trouble...

Three actors, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Harry Dean Stanton, who in only a few years would become highly successful, sought-upon, iconic movie stars, play troublesome bikers that kidnap the couple, and then race up and down the beach to see who can "marry" the bride while Mitchell, after getting beaten to a pulp, escapes and, while seeking help, the ruffians continue having a much better time than the audience. Made in 1967 and released in 1970 after Jack hit it big (the others would soon follow), this futile biker outing is a curio-piece strictly for the cast... Bruce Dern in particular: as the hellion with a conscious, he's exceptionally fun to watch.

year: 1975 rating: ***
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS: Part of an autograph series DVD presented by exploitation and Jack Hill fanatic Quentin Tarantino, the movie starts off cool enough as a gang of dagger-wielding chicks led by Lace, played by Robbie Lee, and their boyfriend/counterpart gang, Asher Brauner's Dominic, rule both the town and their high school.

Throw in a new girl named Maggie... tougher than Lace and therefore respected... and after a brief stint in lockup, a nifty friendship ensues as both gals deal with the splendidly villainous Dominic, whose lethal bravado all but steals the show. Too bad a side-plot about the politically-motivated revolutionary leader of a rival gang, who resembles a geeky accountant, takes things to a level that, although ending with a nifty shootout in the streets of an abandoned city, turns a simple exploitation into something that tries for everything.

1970 rating: **
ZABRISKIE POINT: This searing counterculture film by arthouse guru Michelangelo Antonioni is like watching paint dry, although some of the colors are nice, mostly provided by filler-music from Jerry Garcia, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd... and then a horribly dull title song by Roy Orbison after a literally explosive climax. 

The acting between the two young leads, Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, is liken to that of a artistic porno while the plot, as it were, has our two great looking revolutionaries... one in a stolen airplane and the other in a cool old car... meeting in the desert whilst silently plotting something against the only real actors in the film, Rod Taylor and G.D. Spradlin, who are, for some unexplained reason... perhaps because they like making tons of money... very bad people. Looks and sounds nice but dulls the other senses. And Harrison Ford plays an imprisoned hippie in a jailhouse scene, but this reviewer just can't spot him.
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