ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – Tarantino’s 9th Film Enters Fairy Tale Territory

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At first glance,  ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD (2019), the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino, seems to be an exercise in style over substance.

It takes place in Hollywood in 1969, and Tarantino masterfully captures the look, feel, and very essence of the time, with impeccable costumes, set design, and a killer soundtrack. Watching this movie, I really felt as if I had been transported via time machine back to 1969. The experience was that authentic.

Tarantino also gets top-notch performances from everyone involved, especially his two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie.

The style, the filmmaking expertise, it’s all there.

But the substance? The story?

That’s harder to find because ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD takes its sweet time, and for most of its two-hour and forty-one minute running time, it’s not in a hurry to get anywhere, and so it tells its multiple stories with as much urgency as two guys sitting inside a saloon drinking whiskey. In short, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

And yet it’s told with an affection that clearly shows this time period and these characters and their stories were a labor of love by Tarantino. And it’s all light and funny, in spite of the fact that it’s built around one of the darkest chapters in Hollywood history, the brutal murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends by Charles Manson’s insane minions. There is a strong sense of dread throughout the movie, knowing what’s to come, and then— well, then Tarantino decides to have some fun at our expense.

ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD is mostly the story of two men, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Dalton is somewhat of a “has-been,” as his last major starring role in a western TV series was from a decade earlier. Now, he’s reduced to playing the villains on 1960s TV shows like MANNIX and THE FBI.

This is clearly wearing on Dalton and is one of the prevalent themes in the movie, of how quickly success can pass one by, and how artists of a certain age need to work harder and be open to reinventing themselves if they want to remain relevant. There’s a lot of truth to this part of the movie. As we age, we have to make adjustments. One of the ways Dalton eventually reinvents himself is by going to Italy to make “spaghetti westerns,” and so it’s easy to see here how Dalton’s story is inspired by the real life story of Clint Eastwood, who did the same thing in the 1960s.

Stuntman Cliff Booth’s best days are also behind him, but he’s taking it much better than Dalton, because, as he says, he was never a star to begin with and so as far as he is concerned he’s still living the dream. He enjoys being Dalton’s “gofer,” driving the actor wherever he needs to go, being a handyman around Dalton’s home, and just hanging out.

Dalton, who lives in a Hollywood mansion, is miserable, while Cliff, who lives in a trailer behind a drive-in movie theater, is happy, but this doesn’t stop the two men from being best friends. They truly like each other and care for each other, and the dynamic between DiCaprio and Pitt in these roles is a highlight of the movie.

And while Dalton and Cliff Booth are fictional characters, their famous neighbors, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, are not. They are real, and tragically, Sharon Tate’s life was cut short on August 9, 1969 by the insane groupies of Charles Manson.

So, ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD also tells the parallel story of Sharon Tate, and the film really allows its audience to get to know Tate as a person.

These parallel stories move forward until that fateful night in August 1969, and in spite of the comedic elements of this movie, there is a sense of dread throughout, that builds as the film reaches its conclusion, a conclusion that suddenly introduces a major plot twist allowing the film to keep its light tone. I have to admit, for me, this was a head scratcher.

As a result, I’m not so sure ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD works as a whole, but it does have a lot of little parts that work very well.

The best part by far are the two performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They work really well together, but this isn’t a buddy movie, and so they’re just as good if not better in scenes where they are not together. Some of DiCaprio’s best scenes are when Rick Dalton is acting as the villain in a 60s TV western, trying to prove that he still has what it takes. DiCaprio also enjoys a couple of outstanding scenes with a child actor played by Julia Butters who at one point tells him sincerely that his performance with her was some of the best acting she had ever seen.

Pitt’s Cliff Booth is the livelier of the two characters and the one who is larger than life. Cliff, as we learn later, lives in a veil of infamous secrecy as rumor has it that he killed his wife and got away with it. Cliff also enjoys a fun scene in which he tangles with Bruce Lee, one of the more memorable sequences in the movie. 

Cliff is also one of the connections to the Manson family, as he befriends a young woman Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) who’s part of the Manson clan. And a quick shout-out to Margaret Qualley who steals the few scenes she is in with one of the most energetic performances in the movie. She’s terrific.

The scene where Cliff drives Pussycat back to the ranch where the Manson family resides is a perfect microcosm for the entire movie. Cliff brings Pussycat to the ranch, a place he worked at years earlier. Concerned that this group of hippies may be taking advantage of the ranch’s elderly owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern), Cliff wants to make sure the man is all right.

In an extremely long and meandering sequence, a lot like the entire movie, Cliff gradually makes his way through the various members of the clan, learning where George is supposed to be “napping.” He eventually makes his way to George’s room, and in a scene where you fully expect George to be dead, it turns out he is only napping, and what follows is a highly comedic banter between Brad Pitt and Bruce Dern, which is the route the film ultimately takes.

Which brings us to Sharon Tate. As I said, Margot Robbie is excellent in the role. On the surface, Robbie makes less of an impact than DiCaprio and Pitt because she has far less screen time than they do, but underneath the comedy and the drama Tate’s quiet spirit drives things along, and Robbie’s performance makes this happen.

Unfortunately, people can be defined by their deaths, especially if they were murdered. Tarantino seems to be pushing back against this notion with Sharon Tate. In ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD, Tarantino lovingly crafts Sharon Tate as a real person and not just as a footnote to the Manson murders. The film paints a portrait of Tate as a beautiful person, and really allows that persona to sink into its audience. I liked this. A lot. However, I would have liked it even more had Margot Robbie been given more screen time as Tate. She largely plays second fiddle to main characters Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth.

The entire cast is wonderful. I’ve already mentioned Bruce Dern and Margaret Qualley, but the film also has key contributions from Kurt Russell and Timothy Olyphant.  Also present are Dakota Fanning and Al Pacino, and look fast for Maya Hawke who is currently starring in Season 3 of Netflix’ STRANGER THINGS.

So, you have this meandering movie, which looks terrific and features powerhouse performances by lots of talented actors, with a fairly funny script, although the dialogue is somewhat subdued from the usual Quentin Tarantino fare, and it’s taking its sweet time, taking its audience for a pleasant ride with the knowledge that tragedy awaits. All of this, I didn’t mind and mostly enjoyed.

But it’s the ending of ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD that I find most problematic and is the part of the movie that is the least effective. To avoid spoilers, I will not get into details, but what happens here is the film enters into the realm of alternate reality, and once it does that, well, all that came before must now be looked at with a different lens, and a new question arises, which is, why did we just watch all this? 

In other words, for me, one of the reasons the movie had worked so well up until the ending was it was a piece of historical fiction. Fictional characters were appearing in a real setting (1969 Hollywood) with a canvas of real events in the background. Once these events are changed, the film enters the world of fantasy, of historical reimagining, and once this is done, I don’t think the film possesses the same impact.

In short, to turn this tragic story into a comedy, even with the best intentions, is something I’m not sure entirely works.

At times, ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD seems to be a love letter to Sharon Tate. I liked this part.

At other times, most in fact, it’s a take-no- prisoners shoot-em-up dramedy about an aging movie/TV star and his laid back infallible stunt man. I liked this part, too.

But the last part, the punch line, seems to be Quentin Tarantino’s desire to do what he did to the Nazis in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) to Charles Manson and his “family.” It’s this last part that, while good for some laughs, seems the most out-of-place.  While there are hints in the film that this is where this story is going to go, it still feels jarring to watch the events unfold, events that change history, and thrust the movie head first into fairy tale territory, appropriate I guess for a movie entitled ONCE UPON A TIME— IN HOLLYWOOD.

—END—

 

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BATMAN (1966) – Adam West’s Portrayal of the Caped Crusader Defined a Generation

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To honor Adam West, who passed away on June 9, 2017, here’s a review of the movie BATMAN (1966).

I started watching the BATMAN TV show (1966-68)  in earnest during its syndication run in the early 1970s and would watch the show nearly every day.  I spent many a summer day as a kid coming home from the beach and then watching BATMAN followed by LOST IN SPACE.

I would also look forward to the movie BATMAN, and back in the day, it was on TV quite a bit, nearly once a month, it seemed, usually on Saturday afternoons.

BATMAN pits Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) not only against one of their supervillains, but four!  That’s right, in this film, Batman fans got to see the Joker (Caesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).  Their evil plot?  Why, to control the world, of course!

Holy Fantastic Foursome, Batman!

Indeed, Robin.

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The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), and the Joker (Caesar Romero) work at taking over the world in BATMAN (1966).

BATMAN, now called BATMAN:  THE MOVIE, was originally planned to be released before the TV show aired, but when the show went into production ahead of schedule, plans for the movie changed.  The show aired first, and then to capitalize upon the enormous success of the first season, the movie was released in theaters that summer.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE is every bit as fun and as campy as the TV show. It shares the same strengths as the TV series:  the hilariously campy script, and the superior acting  by the players involved, especially Adam West as Batman.

The script here was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who co-created the TV show with William Dozier.  Semple would go on to write some other campy screenplays as well, including KING KONG (1976), FLASH GORDON (1980), and the final Sean Connery Bond flick NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).  Semple, Jr. also wrote more serious stuff, screenplays for movies like PAPILLON (1973) and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975).

Here in BATMAN Semple, Jr. captures the camp perfectly, and the film contains many memorable lines.  Some of the best are when Batman and Robin are trying to decipher the Riddler’s riddles.   Like this exchange, for example:

BATMAN (reading a message written in the sky by one of Riddler’s missiles):  What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?

ROBIN:  An egg!

BATMAN (reading another skywritten message):  How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?

ROBIN:  Make applesauce!

BATMAN:  Apples into applesauce.  A unification into one smooth mixture. An egg—nature’s perfect container. The container of all our hopes for the future.

ROBIN:  A unification and a container of hope? United World Organization!

BATMAN (Excitedly):  Precisely, Robin!

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Solving the Riddler’s riddles.

And one of my favorite lines, when Batman tries in vain to dispose of an ignited bomb, but can’t, says exasperatedly into the camera:  “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Of course, the humor works here because the actors play it straight.  The running joke of the series is that Batman doesn’t realize he’s funny.  He says all these lines with a straight face.  And while the villains ham things up and then some, they’re not joking around or acting silly.  They really are trying to take over the world.

For a generation, Adam West defined Batman, and when you watch him in this movie, you’ll understand why.  His comedic timing is impeccable.  Granted, this interpretation of Batman isn’t the traditional one, but in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, it worked.

I also think it helped propel Michael Keaton’s darker interpretation of the Caped Crusader in BATMAN (1989) to higher levels of success because for so many, it was the first time they were seeing a darker interpretation on-screen.  Not to take away anything from Keaton’s performance, because he is excellent in the role, but the fact that before Keaton we had West made audiences all the more eager to accept a more serious version. And likewise, becoming a fan of Keaton didn’t take away from being a fan of West.  It wasn’t like “Oh, now the 1960s Batman is outdated.”  Not at all.  It was simply a matter of going forward.

Burt Ward, who before BATMAN had no acting experience, is pretty darn good as Robin as well. His high energy alone is enough to win over legions of fans.  And he really is the Boy Wonder.  His youthful exuberance is infectious, and he always defers to his elder mentor, Batman, with lines like, “Gee, Batman, I didn’t think of it that way,” and “Golly, Batman, when you put it that way.”

And the villains here are out of this world.

Lee Meriwether is terribly sexy as Catwoman/aka Ms. Kitka.  Yes, she poses as a Russian journalist Ms. Kitka to strike up a relationship with Bruce Wayne in order to kidnap him, which sets up one of the more memorable moments in the film for Adam West when at the end of the movie Batman discovers that Catwoman and Ms. Kitka are one in the same.  See, Bruce Wayne had developed quite the crush on Ms. Kitka, and when he sees that she is really the Catwoman, we witness Wayne’s expression from underneath the Batman cowl as the lights go out of his eyes for a moment, only to be replaced by the calm, logic of Batman who sees to it that he’s above this sort of thing.  It’s a great moment for Adam West, the type of thing which made him stand out in both this movie and the series.

Now, Meriwether did not play Catwoman in the series.  She took over the role in the movie from Julie Newmar, who had played Catwoman during Season 1, but was unavailable to do the movie because of a conflict with another project.

Caesar Romero is hilarious as the Joker— a far cry from the later and superior interpretations of the character by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger— even with his painted over mustache, which he refused to shave for the role. Seriously!

Frank Gorshin remains the definitive Riddler with his high octane giggling and skipping. While Gorshin played the Riddler in Season 1 of the series, he skipped Season 2, but would return in Season 3.

Burgess Meredith as the Penguin is the glue which holds the other three villains together in this film.  The Penguin is the one who seems to be pulling the strings and more often than not takes the lead in the villainous proceedings.  Meredith is quite good in the role, and I prefer his interpretation of the Penguin over Danny De Vito’s in BATMAN RETURNS (1992).

Other cast members from the show also appear in the movie.  Alan Napier returns as Alfred, Neil Hamilton is back as Commissioner Gordon, and Stafford Repp once more plays Chief O’Hara.  Madge Blake also returns as Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet Cooper, although she doesn’t have any lines in the movie.  Aunt Harriet is an interesting character.  Reportedly, she was featured prominently on the TV show because TV executives feared that two men living together (Bruce and Dick) would give audiences the wrong idea about their relationship, and so Aunt Harriet was written in to live in the same house with them.  Bizarre.

BATMAN was directed Leslie H. Martinson., a director with mostly TV show credits.  He does a nice job with this move.  It’s colorful, full of the signature Batman fight sequences complete with the superimposed “POW!” and “THWACK!” signs, and is well-paced.

There are also plenty of Bat gadgets in this one.  In addition to the Batmobile, there’s the Bat Boat, the Bat Helicopter, the Bat Cycle, the Bat Bazooka, and of course the infamous Bat Shark Repellant in the very famous shark scene, where Batman is attacked by a very fake looking rubber shark.  And there’s also the Penguin Submarine which wreaks havoc under the seas.

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Batman meets Jaws?  A famously silly scene from BATMAN (1966).

Martinson himself passed away only last year, on September 2, 2016, at the age of 101.

There’s also a high-octane music score by Nelson Riddle, although noticeably absent is Neal Hefti’s signature Batman opening theme song.

But the main reason to watch BATMAN is the same reason to watch the TV show, and that is Adam West’s performance as Batman.

I was fortunate to have met Adam West a couple of times at some comics and collectibles shows back in the early 2000s, and his humor in person was very apparent. It seemed to ooze out of him with ease.

Adam West is to Batman as Sean Connery is to James Bond.  Other actors have played the role, and some have put their definitive stamps on the character, but West and Connery took their characters and made them embodiments of a decade.  Like the Beatles, Bond and Batman helped define a generation.

I’ll leave you with Batman’s final line from the movie, as Batman and Robin, after a job well done, prepare to leave the United World building, a line delivered with impeccable timing by Adam West.

Let’s go, but inconspicuously, through the window. We’ll use our Bat Ropes.  Our job is finished.

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Preparing to leave, inconspicuously, through the window.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: GOLDFINGER (1964)

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Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at fun quotes from the movies.

Today we look at GOLDFINGER (1964), the third Sean Connery James Bond movie, and one of my all-time favorites.  When looking at memorable quotes in the movies, you really can’t go wrong with a James Bond flick.  GOLDFINGER is one of the best.  Let’s have a listen to some of these quotes from GOLDFINGER, screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn.

As with so many of the James Bond movies, GOLDFINGER is loaded with double entendres, like this one in the exciting pre-credit sequence, where after a violent fight, Bond knocks his foe into a bathtub and then electrocutes the man by tossing in an electric fan after him.

After the man has died, Bond (Sean Connery)  says:

BOND:  Shocking! Positively shocking!

 

Later, after Goldfinger has disposed of the body of a dead foe by placing him inside a car and then having the car crushed at a junkyard, he gestures to the car and comments, setting up this Bond line:

GOLDFINGER:  Forgive me, Mr. Bond, but, uh… I must arrange to separate my gold from the late Mr. Solo.

JAMES BOND:  As you said, he had a pressing engagement.

 

And towards the end of the movie, after Bond kills Oddjob by electrocuting him:

FELIX LEITER:  You okay, James? Where’s your butler friend?

JAMES BOND:  He blew a fuse.

 

GOLDFINGER contains one of Sean Connery’s most playful performances as James Bond.  It’s the first of the Bonds that really rises above the straightforward spy thriller, following the more serious and restrained DR. NO (1962) and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963).  The third time is the charm for Connery, as his Bond here is more confident, more relaxed, and he exudes far more sex appeal this time around than in the first two movies.

As such, he enjoys many fine little moments in this movie, like in this scene early on, when he’s seeking out Goldfinger’s hotel room.  He charms a maid into letting him use the key to open the door.  Horrified, she says:

MAID:  But that’s Mr. Goldfinger’s room!

To which Bond smiles at her and says warmly:

JAMES BOND:  I know.

 

GOLDFINGER also contains one of the earlier scenes in the series where Bond interacts with Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and discusses the various weapons and gadgets Q has prepared for him.  In GOLDFINGER, they discuss perhaps the most famous car in the Bond series, the Aston Martin DB5, specifically, the ejector seat.  Let’s listen:

Q:  Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.

JAMES BOND:  Yeah, why not?

Q:  Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!

JAMES BOND:  Ejector seat? You’re joking!

Q:  I never joke about my work, 007.

 

And of course, GOLDFINGER includes one of the most famous female characters in the series, famous mostly because of her name:  Pussy Galore.  It still amazes me today that the movie was able to pull this off and get away with having this name in the film.  But they did.

Bond’s reaction to first learning Ms. Galore’s (Honor Blackman) name is classic.  He had been drugged, and when he awakes from his stupor, he finds himself looking at a beautiful woman.

JAMES BOND:  Who are you?

PUSSY GALORE:  My name is Pussy Galore.

JAMES BOND:  I must be dreaming.

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Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) introduces herself to James Bond (Sean Connery).

 

With apologies to Blofeld, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is arguably the most memorable villain ever to appear in the Sean Connery Bonds.  In this classic conversation, Bond and Goldfinger discuss the villain’s supposed plan to rob Fort Knox of its gold, a plan Bond thinks is ridiculous until he learns the truth behind Goldfinger’s plot:

BOND:  You’ll kill 60,000 people uselessly.

GOLDFINGER:  Hah. American motorists kill that many every two years.

BOND:  Yes, well, I’ve worked out a few statistics of my own. 15 billion dollars in gold bullion weighs 10,500 tons. Sixty men would take twelve days to load it onto 200 trucks. Now, at the most, you’re going to have two hours before the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines move in and make you put it back.

GOLDFINGER:  Who mentioned anything about removing it?  (Pauses to let this revelation sink into Bond’s mind.)  The julep tart enough for you?

BOND:  You plan to break into the world’s largest bank, but not to steal anything. Why?

GOLDFINGER:  Go on, Mr. Bond.

BOND:  Mr. Ling, the Red Chinese at the factory, he’s a specialist in nuclear fission… but of course! His government’s given you a bomb.

GOLDFINGER:  I prefer to call it an “atomic device.” It’s small, but particularly dirty.

BOND:  A dirty bomb? Cobalt and iodine?

GOLDFINGER:  Precisely.

BOND:  Well, if you explode it in Fort Knox, the… the entire gold supply of the United States would be radioactive for… fifty-seven years.

GOLDFINGER:  Fifty-eight, to be exact.

BOND:  I apologize, Goldfinger. It’s an inspired deal! They get what they want, economic chaos in the West. And the value of your gold increases many times.

GOLDFINGER:  I conservatively estimate, ten times.

BOND:  Brilliant.

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James Bond (Sean Connery) mulls over Goldfinger’s plot.

James Bond’s favorite CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) also appears in GOLDFINGER, and he and Bond share this humorous exchange near the end of the film:

BOND:  Special plane, lunch at the White House… how come?

FELIX:  The President wants to thank you personally.

BOND:  Oh, it was nothing, really.

FELIX:  I know that, but he doesn’t.

BOND:  I suppose I’ll be able to get a drink there.

FELIX:  I told the stewardess liquor for three.

BOND:  Who are the other two?

FELIX:  Oh, there are no other two.

 

And of course Goldfinger gets the most famous line in the movie, and perhaps the most famous line in the entire series.  It certainly belongs in the conversation.  Bond is strapped to a table, and a deadly laser beam is aimed at his body, sparking this question and Goldfinger’s infamous answer:

BOND:  Do you expect me to talk?

GOLDFINGER:  No, Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die!

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“No, Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die!”

And there you have it.  Some memorable quotes from the classic James Bond movie GOLDFINGER.  Hope you enjoyed them.

Join me again next time when we’ll look at more quotes from another cool movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the science fiction flick ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964).

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

We venture into the realm of science fiction today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT as we pay a visit to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964).

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is not the best science fiction movie to come out of the 1960s, but it is certainly one of the best intentioned. Think THE MARTIAN (2015) with a smaller budget and less science.  A lot less science!

Two astronauts on a mission to Mars, Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) and Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) run into trouble with an asteroid and are forced to jettison from their ship in escape pods which land on Mars.  Draper survives, along with a monkey, but McReady is killed.

With only the monkey for companionship, Draper has to find ways to survive on the desolate planet while at the same time trying to find a way to get home.

One of the first things Draper does once he steps out of his escape pod is take off his space helmet.  Hmm.  Not a good idea!  But  like I said, the science isn’t exactly strong in this movie.  Draper discovers that he can indeed breathe on Mars, but only for brief periods of time, so he still he needs his oxygen supply, which obviously is limited.  But  lucky for Draper, he discovers certain rocks on the planet that provide him with air!  How about that!  Air from rocks!  Just hold up a stone to your nose and mouth and breathe in!  Hmm. This is starting to sound like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND ON MARS!  Gee, Professor, how does the air come from these rocks?   Well, Gilligan, the oxygen inside these stones is released when—.  

Y—eah.  Riiiiight.

Draper also has a limited food supply, but not to worry, he soon discovers an edible plant that looks an awful lot like a sausage.  Even better, there are plenty of these for him to eat.  But then again, he needs water.  He can’t survive without water.  But alas!  He discovers an underground cave that is full of water!  Drinkable water to boot!

He sure is lucky.  Maybe this should be called BUGS BUNNY ON MARS.

One day, Draper’s peace of mind is interrupted when spaceships descend upon his Martian neighborhood, spaceships that deposit a bunch of humanoid slaves on the ground so they can mine Martian ore.  One of these slaves escapes and befriends Draper.  Draper promptly names his new friend Friday, after the character in the Daniel Defoe novel ROBINSON CRUSOE.  Together, they continue the fight for survival.

Now, I poke fun here at ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS because the science in this film is laughable, but that’s about it.  The rest of the movie is surprisingly good.  Sure, it has low budget special effects, but its color cinematography is nothing to laugh about.  There are actually some nifty looking and very colorful scenes of the Martian landscape.  So, visually the film is fun to look at.

And Paul Mantee, who spends most of the film alone and thus talks to himself throughout, is very good and makes for a likeable hero who you really root for and want to see survive.  He pretty much carries the movie and does it with ease.  He remains entertaining throughout.

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Paul Mantee in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.

The real culprit in this one is the writing which comes off as science fantasy.  There’s nary a realistic bone in this one’s body.

The screenplay was written by Ib Melchior and John C. Higgins, based of course on Daniel Defoe’s novel.   Melchoir is no stranger to genre movies.  He penned the screenplays to THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959), REPTILICUS (1961), JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962), THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964), and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965).  Plus he also wrote the screenplay for the American version of the second Godzilla movie, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN! (1955).

Higgins’ genre credits include the all-star low budget shocker THE BLACK SLEEP (1956) which starred Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, and Bela Lugosi, and DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (1972), starring Tom Selleck, which was Higgins’ final screen credit.

The special effects are cheesy and cheap, yet somehow they don’t look all that bad.  You may notice that the alien spaceships here resemble the Martian machines from George Pal’s classic production of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).  That’s because they are the Martian machines from George Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS!  The ships are leftover models from that movie, and director Byron Haskin had access to them because he also directed THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Producer George Pal’s name is always so closely attached to the 1953 classic, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t direct it, that it was in fact Byron Haskin calling the shots.

robinson crusoe ships

While the spaceship effects throughout the movie are cartoonish and certainly do not hold up today— they were subpar even by 1960s standards- they’re still fun.  And the ship zooming through space in the film’s opening is clearly reminiscent of the way the starship Enterprise zipped across TV screens in the opening credits of the original STAR TREK television show, and it pre-dated STAR TREK by two years.

There are also some pretty cool looking fireballs which streak across the Martian landscape whenever they feel like it.  And that Martian landscape is as colorful as it gets.  Think STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE sets, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect from this one, in terms of its production values.  Low budget, but respectable.

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is also notable for featuring a pre-BATMAN Adam West in the cast, even if it is only for a few minutes.  West became typecast so quickly, that seeing him play someone other than Batman is a rare treat indeed.

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is not the most realistic science fiction movie you’ll ever see, but it is certainly one of the more entertaining.

Doing any stargazing this summer?  If you point your telescope at Mars and look closely, and you see a man sucking air from a rock and eating plants shaped liked sausages, that’ll be ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.  I hear he’s mighty lonely up there.  Why don’t you drop by and pay him a visit?

Just watch out for low flying fireballs.

–END—

—If you enjoyed this column, you might enjoy my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns, available as an EBook at neconebooks.com, and also as a print-on-demand edition.  Check out the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.—