Burgess Meredith

Golden Needles

1974

American International Pictures

Directed by Robert Clouse

Produced by Fred Weintraub

Written by S. Lee Pogostin and Sylvia Schneble

“In China during The Sung Dynasty; a single golden statue was cast for the use of The Emperor. It indicated seven forbidden acupuncture points. Used in correct sequence they brought about extraordinary sexual vigor and youth. Used incorrectly they brought instant and painful death. Stolen, hidden, lost and rediscovered through the centuries, the statue has come to be known as The Golden Needles of Ecstasy.”

There are some beginnings to movies and books I so wish I had written because they encapsulate perfectly in a few lines what the thing you’re about to read or watch is all about. And those lines of dialog I quoted at the beginning of this review tells you everything you need to know about GOLDEN NEEDLES. There’s this statue. Everybody wants this statue. Everybody is perfectly willing to double-cross, lie, cheat, steal and kill to get possession of same statue. And for 92 minutes that’s exactly what the cast of this movie does.

GOLDEN NEEDLES has been described as a Martial Arts Movie version of “The Maltese Falcon” and that’s valid. Joe Don Baker is Dan, a professional gambler/ex-thief hired by Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley) to steal the statue from gangster Lin Toa (Roy Chiao.) Felicity had a deal with Lin Toa to buy the statue from him but he reneged and so Felicity has no choice but to rely on this somewhat eccentric adventurer. Dan’s partner Kwan (Tony Lee) is killed as a result of the theft so now it’s become personal for Dan. The hunt for the statue takes him all over Hong Kong, with Felicity sometimes on his side, sometimes not. He even has to travel to Los Angeles and hook up with his old buddy Jeff (Jim Kelly) and then back to Hong Kong, dogged by Su Lin (Frances Fong) who has shadowy ties to the police and who also wants the statue.

GOLDEN NEEDLES is one of my favorite 70’s movies for a number of reasons. One: it’s directed by Robert Clouse who directed the classic “Enter The Dragon” “Black Belt Jones” “Gymkata” and “The Big Brawl.” Say what you want about Mr. Clouse but for my money, he was a director who knew how to keep a story moving. GOLDEN NEEDLES hits the ground running and never slows down. The story and characters keep moving as Clouse knows how to do characterization while still advancing the plot.

I really enjoy Joe Don Baker in this one and I think the smartest movie in this movie is to not have him do any kind of martial art. His character is a barroom brawler and it really makes the fight scenes interesting to see him take on karate killers and kung fu masters with his barroom brawler style. He’s a big guy and in the fight scenes he uses that to his advantage, taking a number of hits and kicks from his opponents to get in close where he can do his damage.  Joe Don Baker is also an eccentric actor and he shows it off here. It’s a lot of fun to watch him. Especially in his scenes with Jim Kelly who he hooks up with when the action shifts to Los Angeles. He and Kelly have good chemistry together and the only problem I have with this movie is that when the action goes back to Hong Kong, Jim Kelly is left behind.

This is the movie that made me fall in love with Elizabeth Ashley. She has such a wonderful voice and expressive eyes she owns ever scene she’s in. Burgess Meredith plays The Bad Guy in this movie who wants The Golden Needles and he chews every piece of scenery in sight.

Old School Actress Ann Sothern shows up here as the madam of the gambling joint Dan hangs out in. There’s some fine action sequences such as when Dan breaks into Lin Toa’s place to steal The Golden Needles, a karate battle Jim Kelly has in a Los Angeles health spa and near the end when Joe Don Baker is pursued by a bloodthirsty mob who mistakenly thinks he has killed a child. It’s actually a pretty harrowing scene and one that Joe Don Baker sells as he honestly looks scared shitless as he’s trying to escape from the crowd screaming for his blood.

So should you see GOLDEN NEEDLES? Absolutely yes. Get yourself ready with the snacks of your choice and GOLDEN NEEDLES. Then just sit back and enjoy. GOLDEN NEEDLES is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

92 Minutes

Rated R

Clash of The Titans (1981)

1981

MGM

Directed by Desmond Davis

Written by Beverley Cross

Produced by Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer

 

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s us movie lovers didn’t have the CGI laden epic  motion pictures that you see nearly every week opening in the local cineplexes nowadays.  In fact, back then the success of a science fiction or fantasy movie largely rested on how good the special effects were.   Special effects back then was truly an art.  Especially stop motion animation which was time consuming and took patience that we attribute to saints.   Or the acknowledged master of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen.

Today, Ray Harryhausen’s films are rightfully acclaimed as masterpieces of the stop motion animation techniques.   The classic sword fight between three men and eight skeletons in “Jason and The Argonauts” is regarded as the finest stop motion animation sequence ever committed to film.  What makes Mr. Harryhausen’s work even more remarkable is that he did all the stop motion animation in his movies by himself.  He never employed assistants until the movie we’re now discussing.   Mr. Harryhausen retired after he made CLASH OF THE TITANS and I like to think that he saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that the sophisticated special effects techniques that were being developed by studios such Industrial Light and Magic were being embraced by movie audiences and not his hand crafted stop motion.  By the time CLASH OF THE TITANS hit theaters, we’d already seen “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” and movie audiences wanted to see movies in futuristic settings and so Mr. Harryhausen’s mythological based movies were no longer popular.  But if he had to go out, he did it in style.

CLASH OF THE TITANS is a retelling of the legend of Perseus, Harryhausen style.  As a baby, Perseus and his mother Danae are thrown into the sea locked inside of a wooden ark by his grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos.  Turns out Acrisius has made a really bad call here as Danae was impregnated by none other than The King of The Gods, Zeus (Laurence Olivier) himself.  Zeus doesn’t take kindly to his baby mama and his son being treated in such a manner and orders Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) to release the last of The Titans: a fearsome creature of tremendous rage and power called The Kraken.  The Kraken destroys Argos, the kingdom of Acrisius while Perseus and his mother are brought to a safe shore where Perseus grows up to become Harry Hamlin.

And here’s where we get to the best part of the movie; where the gods of Olympus start meddling in mortal affairs.  The goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith) in revenge for Zeus transforming her handsome son Calibos (Neil McCarthy) into a hideous man-beast dumps Perseus half a world away in the kingdom of Joppa.  But to be fair to Zeus, Calibos did kill almost Zeus’ entire herd of winged stallions with only Pegasus escaping.

Perseus catches just a glimpse of the supernaturally beautiful Princess Andromeda of Joppa (Judi Bowker) and vows to marry her.  But because of a curse laid on Andromeda by her would-be suitor Calibos, Perseus has to first solve a riddle or be burned at the stake.  With the help of his new found friend, the playwright/poet Ammon (Burgess Meredith) a helmet of invisibility and the winged Pegasus, he manages to find the answer to the riddle and that only makes things worse.  See, he had to cut off the hand of Calibos to do so and that really pisses off Thetis who demands the life of Andromeda in thirty days or The Kraken will be released to destroy the kingdom of Joppa.  And so Perseus sets forth on a quest to find the only thing on Earth capable of destroying The Kraken: the head of Medusa the Gorgon which can turn anyone or anything who looks upon it into unliving stone.

I oughta say up front that I have no patience with those CGI junkies who refuse to watch a Ray Harryhausen movie because the special effects are ‘cheesy’ and the stories are ‘corny’.  The special effects of a Ray Harryhausen movie are nothing less than a true labor of love of a master who gave up time he could have been spending with his family and friends to provide the world with entertainment and I for one appreciate it.  Is CLASH OF THE TITANS his best work?  Well, to be honest, no.  But it is a whole lot of fun if you approach it in the right way and watch it the way it should be seen: on a Saturday afternoon with a whole lot of snacks and friends.

Laurence Olivier has a great deal of fun playing Zeus and his “Release The Kraken!” line is one delivered with a gusto that you can only get from Shakespearean actors playing Greek gods.  Claire Bloom almost fades into the background as Hera and while the idea of casting Ursula Andress as Aphrodite, Goddess of Love is an inspired one, she is given nothing to do with the role.  Maggie Smith as Thetis is the real opponent to Zeus in the movie as she tries to thwart Perseus at every turn.

Which leads me to my major problem with the movie: Perseus really isn’t much of a hero.  He’s got all the breaks right from birth.  He’s the son of Zeus, which makes him half-god.  He’s handsome and he’s given magical weapons to accomplish all of his deeds.  Weapons which he treats with utter carelessness and either loses or is destroyed.  There really isn’t anything Perseus does to deserve being the hero outside of the fact he happened to have the right daddy.

In fact I actually felt sorry for the bad guy in this one.  Yeah, Calibos messed up and should have been punished for his misdeeds but when his own mother even turns his back on him after Calbos has humbled himself and pleads on his knees for forgiveness and justice…it’s a powerful scene and one you wouldn’t expect to find in what has been dismissed as ‘a kiddie movie’.  It’s a scene that’s just as good as the one where Perseus confronts Medusa.  She’s stalking Perseus and his men in a ruined, dimly lit temple, picking them off one by one with her bow and arrows.  All they can hear is her slithering along the ground and the deadly twang of her bow as she fires the arrows.  And Moly Hoses, whatever you do, don’t look her in the face…

So should you see CLASH OF THE TITANS?  By all means, yes.  If you call yourself a movie fan then you should have already seen this movie and if you haven’t, put it on your Netflix queue or wait for it to show up on Tuner Classic Movies.  Ignore the annoying metal owl Bubo and the plastic acting of Judi Bowker and just take the movie for what it is and you’ll have a good time.  Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated: PG

 

 

 

Batman (1966)

1966

20th Century Fox

Directed by Leslie Martinson
Written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

Based on BATMAN created by Bob Kane

Most moviegoers today are mostly familiar with the Tim Burton film version of Batman in which The Caped Crusader was re-invented as the grim and somber guardian of a Gotham City that looked as if a lunatic designed it. That version was inspired by Frank Miller’s legendary ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ which in itself was inspired by the revolutionary reworking of the character back in the ‘70’s by Denny O’Neal and Neal Adams, who took the character from his campy ‘60’s incarnation and brought him more back in line with what Batman’s creator, Bob Kane had envisioned.

And more recently Christopher Nolan has done his version of Batman in three movies that have given us what is the most realistic film version of the character to date.  Nolan wanted to do a ‘real world’ Batman and I think that he may have done too good a job. His “Dark Knight Trilogy” did a good job of pointing how how Batman could not work in the real world.  “The Dark Knight” was the first superhero movie to sell a billion dollars worth of tickets at the box office and rightly so.  The story, the characters, the performances and the direction were all so on point that “The Dark Knight” elevated the superhero movie to a new level. It’s my favorite of Nolan’s three movies and the only one I feel works solidly as a Batman movie.

However, it’s the ‘60’s version of BATMAN that has been playing on my DVD lately.  I recently watched it one Saturday afternoon.  Which for me is the best time to watch it, along with the largest bowl of potato chips I can find and a 3 liter bottle of Coca-Cola.  Thus armed I relived one of my childhood pleasures with a great deal of fondness and fun.

Y’see, I was there when Batman was originally shown on ABC and like every other kid (and more than a few adults) I went absolutely nuts over the show and watched it faithfully. It was shown two nights a week and the first episode always left off with a cliffhanger than forced you to come back the next night to see how Batman and his trusty sidekick, Robin The Boy Wonder would escape. Batman was always a hot topic at school the next day and the TV show was also my first exposure to Bruce Lee, who appeared as Kato in a legendary two-parter that guest-starred The Green Hornet. Kato and Robin had a memorable fight that ended in a draw when realistically, Kato would have handed The Boy Wonder his ass in two seconds flat. But I digress…we’re talking about the movie here….

BATMAN: THE MOVIE has The Dynamic Duo up against Underworld United, which is an alliance of four of their greatest enemies. The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler have all joined forces to once and for all destroy Batman and Robin and take over the world. They mean to achieve world conquest by kidnapping the members of The World Council and using an experimental dehydration machine to reduce them to dust and hold them until the nations of the world capitulate. Meanwhile, they spend their time thinking up increasingly bizarre traps to kill Batman and Robin and good googlymoogly do they spend a lot of time doing that.  There’s about five deathtraps they think up that take an amazing amount of time, money and sheer wasted energy when somebody could have just taken a gun and shot The Dynamic Duo dead.

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Some of these deathtraps have become cult favorites among fans of the movie. Right at the beginning there’s a trained exploding shark that tries to eat Batman’s leg while he’s hanging from The Batcopter. Luckily he’s got a can of Bat Shark Repellent handy. Don’t even ask why he would have a can of Shark Repellent in a helicopter, okay? He’s Batman. And then there’s the big black bomb with the world’s longest fuse which Batman is trying desperately to get rid off but he keeps running into innocents in the way of him throwing it (A mother with a baby carriage, a group of nuns, a Salvation Army Band) which causes Batman to mutter the film’s most memorable line; “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” But he does manage to get rid of it. How? Need you even ask? He’s Batman.

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The fight scenes in the movie are extremely entertaining and downright exhilarating in their sheer destructiveness. Clearly inspired by Saturday morning serials, they’re huge set destroying melees in which not a stick of furniture is left standing. There’s no blood, nobody gets hurt and the actors (it’s pretty obvious that they’re not using stunt doubles) all are incredibly energetic and lively. Two of the best fights is one in which Bruce Wayne (!) has to fight his way out of the United Underworld hideout and at the end where Batman and Robin take on all the villains and their henchmen in a sea battle aboard The Penguin’s submarine. Batman and Robin fight something like two-dozen bad guys at one time and everybody is thrown and knocked into the water and climb back aboard the sub for more good-natured ass-kicking mayhem.

Okay, how about the performances, you ask? It’s pretty clear to me at least that everybody was having a good time making the movie, especially the actors playing the villains. When Tim Burton gave the character new life in 1989, every actor wanted to play a Batman villain.  And why not? The only fictional character with better bad guys is Dick Tracy.  And it was the same way back in the 60’s. Quite a lot of talented actors actively sought out roles as villains on Batman and four of the best are in this movie. Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero are just fine as The Penguin and The Joker. Romero especially had the kind of manic energy that The Joker needs. I only wish that Eartha Kitt had played Catwoman in the movie because she was the one Catwoman who really turned my crank. Lee Meriwether is fine in the role but hell; Eartha Kitt could make me turn to crime any day. And I’ve always loved Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. He’s the only villain with more than one outfit. When he’s in action, he wears a skin-tight green jumpsuit, but he also has this cool double-breasted green suit complete with a derby, spats and tastefully placed black question marks. Gorshin also has one disturbing scene aboard The Penguin’s submarine where he horrifyingly shows the sheer psychotic insanity of The Riddler, as well as a blood thirst for Batman’s death.  Wait for the scene where he screams at The Penguin to stop fooling around and kill Batman without delay. Make sure you look at the reactions of the other villains. They are clearly aware at that moment that this guy does not have all the spots on his dice. It’s a great moment in the movie and it shows that Frank Gorshin perfectly understood what made The Riddler tick and more importantly, he understood what made a Batman villain tick.

Batman-Robin-1966-TV-Riddler

And what else can be said about Adam West and Burt Ward that hasn’t already been said? The two of them made the perfect Batman and Robin for this more innocent and light-hearted version of the characters and part of the fun of the movie is that West and Ward know they look ridiculous but they give it their all and even in the silliest of situations they play it with straight faces.

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And to give Adam West his due, there’s a scene near the end when Batman discovers that his emotions have been played with by Catwoman and it’s perhaps the finest acting West has ever done as Batman since he has to communicate his thoughts and feeling with only his eyes and his lips and it’s an effective scene, indeed.

In recent years the movie has been derided by comic books fans who claim that the movie “ruined the character” without taking into account that the Batman of the comic book at that time was even wackier than the TV version.  At least the TV version never had Bat-Mite.  But it did have Yvonne Craig as Batgirl.  Yowsa.  And y’know, I really feel sorry for those who can’t get into this movie and enjoy it for what it is.   I really enjoy watching BATMAN: THE MOVIE.  It’s an innocent movie, designed for nothing else than to entertain and make you feel good. And maybe that’s its true charm: It’s simple, good-natured fun and if you stick that part of you that’s become oh so sophisticated and worldly in the closet and access your inner 10-year old, you might find yourself enjoying it. Catch it in the right mood on a Saturday afternoon.

105 minutes

And this isn’t the original theatrical trailer for the movie. It’s fan made and so much fun I had to share