KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF BATMAN (1966-1968), PART THREE

Before resuming Season Two of “Batman”, we’ll cave into the crave of batmania with one of the biggest chunks of studio-backed cinematic cheese ever conceived: 1966’s Batman, the Movie. For years, this was the only Batman vehicle available on home video. Batmaniacs have reason to rejoice, because this gloriously dated, souped-up big screen treatment of the series is an “it has to be seen to believed” extravaganza. The hopelessly dippy plot and dialogue may throw off angsty fanboys, but it’s all about our merry villains: Lee Meriwether in her sole performance as Catwoman, as the Riddler, as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker,  and the most color-saturated array of (inflatable) henchmen in cinema. After the sexiest psychedelic credits you’ll probably ever see comes Batman infamously fending off a rubber shark with his “Bat-repellent Shark Spray.” That gag’s almost topped with later with the “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” routine. It only gets loopier from there.

Among the toys on display is the Batcopter, Batboat, and Penguin submarine (with flippers!). Even cooler are the fight scenes. Here’s where the multi-hued henchman get to show their mettle, withstanding the dynamic duo while an arsenal of “Kapow, Zlopp, and Touche!”s fills the screen. Each of the four primary villains is at their maniacal best, and all take turns stealing their scenes. Watching Romero’s Joker today, his influence on is blatantly obvious. Of course, Gorshin (a tad underused) twitches with caffeine; there’s a reason he was the sole actor from the series nominated for an Emmy. Meredith’s Penguin is delightfully obnoxious, and Meriwether’s Catwoman is a walking pheromone . Meriwether is criminally underrated, but they’re all so damned animated that you don’t care one bit that their goal is to turn the United Nations into colored sand.

If we weren’t so close to completing the List, I’d plead with the admin here to at least include Batmanas a List Candidate. It’s a rarity in being both weird and absurdly entertaining. Like the series, it’s bound to be considered as blasphemy to modern-day Bat toddlers, who erroneously believe the darker version of the Caped Crusader is truer to the comics. Yes, it is: to the later comics from the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore. But Batman didn’t start that way. The comics of the 40s and 50s were pure camp. Originally, “Batman” series producer William Dozier planned to create something more serious, akin to “The Adventures of Superman,” but after reading the comics he went high camp instead. That is what the series, and movie bring to life in a way that has never been replicated with such energy and dated style (the Blu-ray edition is a must, with Robin’s hot colors popping against Joker’s cool pinks and greens and Batman’s blue and grey).

Back to Season Two. In “The Impractical Joker/Joker’s Provokers” (directed by James Clark, written by Jay Thompson and Charles Hoffman, airing 16 and 17 November, 1966) the Joker is obsessed with keys; so obsessed that he rips up a copy of the novel “Keys of the Kingdom” and smashes an LP of “You’re the Key to My Heart.” The Joker’s henchbabe is Cornelia,[1] clad in skintight purple. She’s pure decor, and she knows it. There’s a big skeleton key, and we learn that Joker was a hypnotist in his youth when he attempts to revive his old talent on the Caped Crusaders. Robin throws a bat-wrench into Joker’s plans with counter-hypnosis bat-pellets! Cue the “Kapow!” Howard Duff does the bat climb cameo, and there’s a quick plug for us to watch “The Green Hornet.” Apart from the purple decoration, this episode only kicks in near the finale of Part One, when Batman (about to get his goose cooked) has to get in the last word: “Evil only triumphs temporarily, but never conquers!” It turns out Batman has a key too and uses it to get out of his predicament in Part Two. There’s also a magic box that stops time, and Alfred gets a piece of the action in two roles.

“Come Back Shame/It’s How You Play The Game” (directed by Oliver Rudolph, written by Stanley Ross, airing 30-31 of November 1966) is one of the most off-kilter episodes, which is quite an accomplishment. Old West shootist Shame (Cliff Robertson) is back, and he’s stealing parts from hot rods! “Why wouldn’t he steal the entire auto?’ Robin asks. “That,” Batman waxes, with pointed finger, “…is the question!” Shame has a duo of dunderhead henchmen in Messy James (Timothy Scott) and Rip Snorting (John Mitchum) along with gal pal Okie Annie (“Playboy” model Joan Staley). An ordinary lead bullet …with platinum paint is no help at all for the world’s greatest detective. Nor is the lame Shane ripoff tyke Andy (Eric Shea) who screams “Shame, come back” again and again and again and again. Like the kid in the overrated George Stevens “classic”,  Andy’s a good argument for birth control; but don’t give up yet, because there is a cow, by golly. “What’s a nice cow like you doing in a place like this?” youthful ward Dick Grayson asks. To the batcycles, but lo and behold there’s a stampede a-comin’, pardner, and I’m gonna turn you boys into some good ol’ hamburger helper. “Will Batman and Robin bite the dust? Is this the Last Roundup? Find out tomorrow, Shame time, shame Channel!” Part Two gets the batprize for most preposterous escape from a cliffhanger. “Holy Guacamole!” Then it’s Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) from “Hogan’s Heroes” (the comedy about Nazi concentration camps!) for the bat climb cameo! Andy gets a moral lesson, Shame runs outta ammo and, sigh, the kid lives. Not all endings can be happy.

“That Darn Catwoman/Scat Darn Catwoman” was directed by Oscar Rudolph and written by Stanley Ross and aired on the 25th and 26th of January, 1967. Pop singer Lesley (“It’s My Party”) Gore shows up as a pussycat, belts out a couple of tunes, and not only bewitches Catwoman’s pussypatters, but the Boy Wonder himself. Batman falls prey to the pussy succubus too (“Yeah, Cat-Baby, we’re gonna wail, doll”); but it’s a trick! With a sip of Bat-sleep, the cat is conked and carried to the cave. “I’ll do everything I can to rehabilitate you.” “Marry me.” Everything, but that.” Well, there goes life number two when the cat falls to her death and the tears of a Batman get shed. Luckily, he has his bat-kerchief handy.

“Batman’s Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy”(directed by James Clark and written by William D’Angelo) aired February 8-9, 1967. It features John Astin (better known as Gomez in “The Addams Family”) as the subtsitute Riddler. Smartly, Astin doesn’t mimic Gorshin, instead making the part his own with subdued menace and a question mark cane, but the episode itself lacks the lunacy of those with his predecessor (who will return in season 3).

“A Piece of the Action/ Batman’s Satisfaction” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Charles Hoffman, first aired March 1st and 2nd, 1967) is the crossover episode with “Green Hornet” which, like Batman, was struggling in the ratings. “Hornet,” which was darker in tone, only lasted one season. Batman was a pop phenomenon for a year, but was so original that its novelty was quickly fading by the second season.  Luckily, this twofer is a stylish change of pace, and a hoot to boot, with the Green Hornet (Van Williams) and his trusty kung fu sidekick Kato (the legendary Bruce Lee) arriving at the Pink Chip Stamp Factory in search of a counterfeit stamp ring. Owner Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBain—she has pink hair and a pink puppy) mistakes Green Hornet and Kato for villains and soon the Dynamic Duo are summoned. You guessed it, it’s the Batmobile vs. the Black Beauty. There’s a real villain afoot by the name of Col. Glumm (Roger C. Carmel, best knowns as Harry Mudd in “Star Trek”) who, with the focus on the guest heroes, gets short-shrifted. That’s unfortunate, as he has personality aplenty.  Glumm is a stamp-themed menace who perforates the Green Hornet and Kato, turning them into wallpaper: “Holy human collector’s item!” Batman and Robin aren’t ignored, of course, threatened with an undetachable “Holy flypaper, Batman!” glue pad. Solving an alphabet soup puzzle and feeding noodles to the bat-computer (!) will set things straight in Gotham for sure. Character actor Alex Rocco proves a colorful henchman. Angelique Pettyjohn (who will soon appear in “Star Trek” and get mauled by alien-loving Captain Kirk) is the lingerie-modeling babe, but our chaste hero isn’t moved. “I smell pink,” he intones (don’t go there). In the hippest bat cameo since Ted Cassidy (Lurch from Addams Family), Little Cesar legend Edward G. Robinson shows up for the bat climb to bitch about ! Yeah, if you can’t see the coolness of Batman, you just need to go away.

Michael Rennie as Sandman, Walter Sleazy as the Clock King, and Maurice Evans as the Puzzler are a few of the lesser-known, underrated villains of Season Two.

However, the Batbank was quickly drying up. For Season Three, producers dispensed of the two-episode format (holy no-more-cliffhangers!) but brought in a potential ratings booster with Batgirl (Yvonne Craig). “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Stanford Sherman) aired on 14 September, 1967, with Commission Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Craig) kidnapped by the Penguin because he wants a bride. Alfred gets kidnapped, too, finds out Barbara is Batgirl and, trusty guy that he is, keeps her identity secret, even from his masters Bruce and Dick. With her Batgirl cycle, batkicks (she doesn’t punch) and batpartment, Batgirl is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Batman and Robin are barely present and get their batasses saved by BOTH Alfred and Batgirl (what a series that would have made).

Joan Collins made a wonderfully hammy villainess in “Wail of the Siren” (she has henchmen named Allegro and Andante). Both King Tut and Shame surpass their previous appearances in this season. , Anne Baxter, Rudy Valle, Milton Berle, and Zsa Zsa Gabor were colorful fillers in lesser entries. In addition to Batgirl, we are introduced to Eartha Kitt’s delightfully idiosyncratic take on Catwoman in the episodes “Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill” and The Joke’s on Catwoman (teaming her with Romero’s Joker). She was set to make additional appearances, but publicly criticized the Vietnam War and was sacked (!) “Batman” was fortunate in having three exceptional actresses essaying the role of Catwoman. Through no fault of her own (Kitt commands the scene for every second she is present–she truly is EEEEEEVIL), neither of the actress’ episodes quite match the scenes with Newmar, or Meriweather in the movie.

I want to end this survey by discussing one of the most bizarre episodes of the entire series. Joker made three appearances in the final season of “Batman.” In his second (“Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under”), both Joker and the caped crusader go a-surfin’, but the sheer insanity of that cheesy green screen gets blown to smithereens by “The Joker’s Flying Saucer.” Allegedly, it was directed by Sam Strings and written by Charles Hoffman (airing on leap year 1968), but I swear those are pseudonyms for . This literally feels like it’s written and directed by our favorite cross-dressing freak. For most fans, it’s the nadir of the series, but for a weird movie site, it may be the crowning achievement of “Batman.”

Surrounded by henchmen  (Shamrock, Chartreuse, and Green) wearing various shades of green, a Martian, and a babe (Emerald) adorned in a green mini, the Joker is going to be doing something with a flying saucer. I think he’s planning on an invasion of some sort. He kidnaps Alfred, believing the butler to be a mad scientist, and he kidnaps Batgirl too. “I’ve thrilled many a woman, Batgirl, but I’ve never sent one completely into orbit before,” the Joker says as he ties her to a rocket. There’s a professor Greenleaf, too (he’s a Joker plant), and a Mrs. Green who swears she saw a little green man. The Batcave is bombed and there’s a fight, and that’s about as a good a synopsis as any, because this is a mess, which doesn’t stop Romero from overdosing with glee. Take his cue.

  1. Played by Kathy Kersh, who briefly became Mrs. Burt Ward. It should have been a match made in bad bat-acting heaven. []                                                         *reprinted from 366 weird movies 

A JAW-DROPPING ELVIS DOUBLE FEATURE: LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (1968) & EASY COME, EASY GO (1967)

As a pop music star, Elvis Presley had an unparalleled career (although it is questionable whether his music is much listened to today outside of Memphis). His film career, although financially successful, was a different story altogether—remarkable only in the thirty-plus (mostly wretched) films produced in a scant dozen years. Among the worst, which is saying a lot, are two near the end of his film run. Itching to get back into live performance, Presley was merely fulfilling his MGM contract at this point and, barely mastering any enthusiasm, took whatever script was handed him.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968, directed by frequent Presley collaborator Norman Taurog and scripted by Dan Greenburg from his novel “Kiss My Firm but Pliant Lips”) is a like the Rankin and Bass cartoon “Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974) in that it contains a single scene of naive surrealism at its most jaw-dropping, “WTF were they thinking?” level, which almost makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

The Pelvis is a photojournalist here named Greg, working at a “Playboy”-like outfit. Of course, that means he’s going to be taking lots of pinup pics. The blatant sexism would seem woefully dated, except we’ve elected a lot of Neanderthal politicos lately (from both sides), and that unfortunately renders the film more contemporary than it was a few years ago. Greg’s practically stalked by a wacky, bikini-clad gal who might be named Bernice… or Alice… or Suzy…don’t ask. I’m still not sure, but whoever she is, she’s played by Michele Carey, one of those anonymous eye-candy actresses you may recall seeing a lot. (Carey is primarily known for this and the 1967 John Wayne/Howard Hawks oater El Dorado). Bernice also has a Great Dane named Albert who will become for this film what Mr. Heat Miser was for “Year Without A Santa Claus.” Rounding off a weird cast is prolific character actor Sterling Holloway (whom we recently saw as Professor Twiddle/Professor Quinn in “ The Adventures of Superman”) as a milkman (don’t ask—I still don’t know why), Rudy Valle as a Hugh Heffner type (?), and Dick Sargent (best known as Darren #2 from “Bewitched”), who might be Bernice’s husband (just don’t ask).

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1968 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, AND SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

night-of-the-living-dead-1968

In 1968 George Romero released one of the most relentlessly frightening movies ever made in Night of the Living Dead, but it took a couple of years for the midnight movie crowd to make it into an epic cult phenomenon. Seen today, it holds up effectively, even with our sensibilities jaded from countless hack imitations. Its grainy black, white, and gray palette serves its otherworldliness well during a late night viewing on big screen, which I how I first encountered it. Even Romero could never quite match it, although he continued to try for forty years.

night-of-the-living-dead-1968

The argument can be made that Romero’s best post-Night of the Living Dead films were outside the zombie genre (The Crazies, Martin, NightRiders, and Creepshow). Still, no one does zombies like Romero (as Tom Savini proved with his 1990 NotLD remake), and the movie closest to the impact of the original was its immediate sequel, Dawn of the Dead(1978), which was a shock satire on Western consumerism, brutalizing in its late 70s comic book colors and deliberate plays on banality. Some claim Dawn is Romero’s masterpiece, although it lacks the original’s reinventing-the-wheel, rough-edged freshness. In 2004, Dawn was remade by Zack Snyder who completely missed Romero’s acerbic wit. The underrated Day of the Dead (1985) was the third in Romero’s original zombie trilogy, but did not attain the cult status of its predecessors. Its financial disappointment seemed to render it a finale to Romero’s zombie oeuvre. However, Romero, who has always been a sporadic filmmaker, returned with The Land of the Dead in 2005, which was followed by Diary of the Dead (2007) and what looks to be his last film, Survival of the Dead (2009). Each of Romero’s zombie sequels has its equal share of fans and critics, but at the very least, he has tried to say something new with each entry.

night-of-the-living-dead-1968

None have attained the compact rawness of that 1968 yardstick, however. Duane Jones became a cult icon as the doomed protagonist Ben. Previously an English professor, Jones was the first African-American to have a starring role in a horror feature (the script does not specify Ben’s ethnicity). Judith O’Dea, as Barbara, is the eternal victim ( in Savini’s remake, the character is recast as a feminist femme fatale). Together, they hole up in a farmhouse and fight off the marching dead, but are inevitably at the mercy of hayseeds with guns. The shot-on-the-cheap crudeness and novice acting actually add to the mundane horror. It was riveting enough to create an entirely new genre, but predictably, its unique qualities have eluded pale imitations.

wild-in-the-streets-1968

Elsewhere in 1968, AIP’s Wild In The Streets (directed by Barry Shear) was both hippie exploitation and a political satire starring that fifteen minute idol, Christopher Jones, along with Shelley Winters, Hal Holbrook, and Richard Pryor. It became an instant cult hit and received predominantly good reviews. The Mini-Skirt Mob (directed by Maury Dexter), on the other hand, was a biker exploitation that was as bad as its title indicated. Not to be left out, Herschell Gordon Lewis contributed She-Devils on Wheels. It’s about (drum roll)… biker chicks. It’s pretty damned entertaining.

inga-1968

Joseph Sarno began his famous series of arthouse erotica with Inga, starring Marie Liljedahl, who became a very short-lived sensation. Sarno followed this with two more Inga films (minus Liljedahl) before going into actual pornography.

the-blood-beast-terror-1968

Back on the Gothic end of the spectrum, Boris Karloff barely made it through his last three films:  Fear Chamber, House Of Evil, and  Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar.  It was on the set of Curse that Karloff caught pneumonia and died shortly after. Sewell fared no better directing Peter Cushing in The Blood Beast Terror. John Carradine continued a downward slide with Ted V. Mikel’s The Astro-Zombies, which justifiably makes a lot of “worst movie” lists. Shockingly, it reaped quite a profit on the drive-in circuit, but one has to image it was merely an excuse for rubber-necking or a nap, because it’s a wretchedly dull endurance test.

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THE PRISONER (1967-1968) EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

The Prisoner

The British series “The Prisoner” (1967-1968), starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan, is the model for cult television. It is an indirect sequel to a previous series, “Secret Agent” (AKA “Danger Man,” 1960-1962), which also starred McGoohan. By general consensus, “The Prisoner” ranks as one of the best, if not the best, example of science fiction as a television genre. The consensus, for once, is probably accurate, because “The Prisoner” is far more than science fiction, dispensing with genre expectations. We could also describe it as being psychological, surreal, allegorical, existential, countercultural, satirical, Kafkaesque, psychedelic, nightmarish, absurdist, comic bookish, supernatural, born from the spy genre (in a far more interesting breed than 007), and enigmatic. It’s still enigmatic today, with enthusiasts and critics compelled to attempt to express its mystification in the absence of creator McGoohan, who steadfastly refused to ever explain it. Even its reputation is aptly enigmatic; it’s heard about more than actually seen. “The Prisoner” often causes polemical arguments among many who have seen it and debate the chronological order of its seventeen episodes. It was created smartly and contrary to our priorities and agendas regarding television. To many of us, the series should be ongoing. In its blueprint stage, the goal of “The Prisoner” was always to end, and yet in its (for us) brief run, McGoohan crafts a saga that feels narratively and aesthetically accomplished. Comparatively, many series, after being cancelled prematurely, will feel unfinished, cheating its dangling audience. At the other end of the spectrum, many ongoing series have trekked on well past the point of what should have been a well-developed beginning, middle, and satisfying climax. “The Prisoner” was originally intended to be even briefer, but was extended in order to ensure an American market. In hindsight, “The Prisoner” might even be seen as an advance metaphorical commentary on that puerile abomination known as reality television: elastically taunting and playing with our concepts of reality, daily humdrum, juxtapositional narrative, and cryptic completion.

THE PRISONER opening sequence

What we do know is the idea for “The Prisoner” sprang from McGoohan’s exhaustive workload on “Secret Agent.” In “The Arrival” (directed by Don Chaffey), its unnamed protagonist (McGoohan) quits the British Secret Service with no reason cited; but as we know, departing an intelligence position is hardly a done deal. Drugged and abducted by arcane forces, he  awakens …

Where Am I?

In the Village.

What Do You Want?

Information.

Whose Side Are You On?

That Would Be Telling. We Want Information.

You Won’t Get It.

By Hook, or By Crook, We Will.

Who Are You?

The New No. 2.

Who Is No. 1?

You Are No. 6.

I Am Not a Number, I Am a Free Man.

The Prisoner THE VILLAGE

As the Prisoner soon learns, the Village is a facade, seemingly populated by affable occupants, located on a remote island. And, as our protagonist will further discover, resistance is futile. Or so the Fascist state will try to convince him.

From this first episode, The Prisoner established its aggressive editing.  A series of village inquiries take the Prisoner nowhere. From the Green Dome, No.2 (Guy Doleman) invites the Prisoner to breakfast, which becomes an interrogation: “Why did you resign, No. 6?” The Prisoner is warned that he only has a short amount of time to cooperate before the information is extracted.

The Prisoner %22Arrival%22 Guy Doleman

After taking in the village, the Prisoner witnesses the fate of a fellow nonconformist who, upon trying to escape, is engulfed in an organic, white mass called the Rover. What is it? It is never explained, but its function is to capture and return potential escapees.

Undeterred, the Prisoner refuses to be identified by his number or fill out a questionnaire. He throws out the maid, and, in rage, destroys a radio, which continues playing music.

The Prisoner %22Arrival%22 Patrick McGoohan and %22The Rover%22

After an encounter with the Rover, the Prisoner wakes up in the village hospital and is reunited with a former colleague named Cobb (Paul Eddington) who also talks of escape. However, that plan is put to an end with Cobb’s suicide by jumping out the window. At Cobb’s funeral, the Prisoner meets No.9, Cobb’s girlfriend (Virginia Maskell, who actually committed suicide shortly after filming on the series ended).

The Prisoner %22Arrival%22 Patrick McGoohan and Virginia Maskell

Together, the Prisoner and No. 9 plot an escape via a helicopter, but with a new, more hostile No. 2 (George Baker) things are not as they seem: “Trust no one.” Even maps lie and villagers can take on multifarious incarnations. The end result is a hopelessly circular one.

The Prisoner %22Arrival%22 George Baker

“The Arrival” stands as a well written, acted, directed and edited pilot, one of the most memorable in television. Yet, apart from the pilot, each episode can be a standalone (which renders arguments about its chronology as pointlessly silly).

In “The Chimes Of Big Ben” (again directed by Chaffey), a new No. 2 (Leo McKern) emphatically states that he does not want No. 6 broken into fragments. The Prisoner, on his end, awakens to the sound of an announcement for the Village Arts and Crafts Exhibition, which he responds to by placing the loudspeaker in the refrigerator.

The Prisoner The Chimes Of Big Ben Patrick McGoohan & Leo McKern

A new Number 8  (Nadia Gray) has arrived in the Village and is placed next door to No. 6. No. 2 is delighted to see that she and the Prisoner are hitting it offThe outcomes seems to be a softening of the Prisoner’s resolve. However, a sequence of  events, some of which utilizes the Crafts exhibition, lead to a daring escape attempt by both the Prisoner and No. 8. Fragments are indeed heartbreaking.

Both McKern and Gray are superb guest stars in this psychologically complex and entertaining episode. McKern is so good, he will be one of only two actors to reprise the ever-changing role of No. 2.

The Prisoner %22A. B. AND C.%22

In “A. B. and C. (directed by Pat Jackson, who also worked on “Secret Agent”) the new No. 2 (Colin Gordon) believes that the Prisoner’s defection was part of a plan to betray the agency. His belief is so steadfast that he subjects the Prisoner to a drug interrogation, performed by No. 14 (Sheila Allen, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Thus, the episode take us securely into the dream realm. The end result is surrealism-lover’s paradise, which does not mean (as is often the case with surrealism) emotional bankruptcy. At the heart of it is McGoohan, guiding us through a topsy turvy state where choices are never simple. This is a standout episode, which is saying a lot.

The Prisoner FREE FOR ALL

In “Free For All,” McGoohan steps in as both writer and director in this political manifesto in which the Prisoner chooses to run for office in the Village. The new and humorless No. 2 (esteemed character actor Eric Portman) assigns the Prisoner a maid, the non-English speaking No. 58 (Rachel Herbert).

Although the spy element is naturally retained, “Free For All” is more of a political parable (making it rather apt in this American election season, especially with delusional paranoia about fixed elections being bandied about). As a matter of fact, the Prisoner here could actually be in the predicament that a certain narcissistic candidate today likes to fancy himself in. Fortunately, the Prisoner is devoid of both demagoguery and rhetoric. He’s too inherently broken for that.

The Prisoner “The Schizoid Man”

Does 6 plus 6 really equal 12? So asks the aptly titled “The Schizoid Man” (directed by Pat Jackson). After a seemingly innocuous trifle about bonding with a psychic villager and a bruised thumb, the Prisoner lies down for a good night’s sleep, but it appears that the room night light has a faulty bulb.

Drugged once more, the Prisoner is taken by men in white coats who wheel him into the hospital, turn him into a southpaw (via electroshock, in a moment of karma for all us lefties who were at the mercy of brainwashing status quo teachers with rulers back in first grade), throw away his razors, and give him a new do.  After an indeterminate amount of time on the gurney, the Prisoner awakens with a new look in a new surrounding, as pawn of an elaborate scheme composed by the new No. 2 (Anton Rodgers), a surprisingly young administrator.

“You are Number 12,” the Prisoner is told at the Green Dome, “and you are to break Number 6.” “But I am Number 6.” And so he is, or at least his double is. And if you think that in addition to being an attempt at uncovering the reason for the Prisoner’s resignation, this is also a ploy to get him to own his number, you would be right.  See Number 12 fence with Number 6. See them box. See them duel with pistols.

Now actually, Number 6 is Number 12 , Number 12 is Number 6, and Number 12 is in cahoots with Number 2. Of course, No. 6 (12) knows this is a feeble scheme hatched by No. 2. Of course, No. 2 knows that No. 12 (6) knows that No. 6 (12) knows. But, what if No. 12 pretends to be No. 6? Perhaps then he could escape. And the helicopter circles back, as it always does. And the psychic is remorseful over having cooperated with No. 2, but neither she nor No. 2 counted on a bruised thumb. Ah!

The script for “The Schizoid Man” so impressed McGoohan  that he hired its writer, Terence Freely, to join the production company’s board of directors. In contrast, for years director Pat Jackson claimed to have been utterly confused by the script, but simply directed it as written. His confusion was an honest one and shows in one of the series most legendary episodes. McGoohan responds with a tour de force performance.

The Prisoner “The General”

Director Peter Graham Scott was reported to have been equally confused by the script for “The General.” Again, that turns out to be a plus (and undoubtedly an astute choice by McGoohan and company).

The Prisoner cannot even enjoy his coffee without Village trauma drama when he hears an announcement ordering history students to immediately return to their dwellings, which is followed by his witnessing the Professor being caught and manhandled (by his students) while attempting to escape.

The Village is obsessed with a new fad, Speed Learning: “Learn a three-year course in three minutes.” “It’s not impossible,” says No. 12. The Prisoner finds the Professor’s tape recorder, which has “information” that may prove damaging to the General and No. 2 (Colin Gordon, this time out). However, before he can listen to it, the Prisoner is forced to bury it and attend the very same history course subliminally taught by the Professor.

No. 2 actively searches for the tape recorder, which he believes is in the Prisoner’s possession. After finding no incriminating evidence, No.2, still convinced that No. 6 has it, hints at offering a ticket out of the Village.

After losing the tape recorder, and retrieving it via No. 12, the Prisoner hears the Professor’s message: “Speed learning is slavery,” and learns it is the General who is behind it all. Allies are hardly that, and this No. 2 underestimates the Prisoner’s cunning, as does the General who is asked an unanswerable question.

This episode is a chillingly contemporary one with commentary on mindless trends and shades of a Big Brother Fox Network appealing to and manipulating their sycophants.

The Prisoner “The General”

Gordon makes for a winningly effective No. 2 , who, along with Leo McKern, will be the only returning administrator to play the role.

McGoohan himself returns to direct “Many Happy Returns,” where he awakens quite alone. The Village is entirely deserted. Even the rover is missing. Apart from the Prisoner, the only sign of life is the No. 2’s black cat. Building a raft, he finally escapes and, after a tumultuous journey at sea, the Prisoner makes his way back to London.

The Prisoner “Many Happy Returns”

Sharing his incredible story, the Prisoner is accused of lying by his superiors, and that barbed wire fence he comes across isn’t just a prop. But, in the blink of an eye….

“Many Happy Returns” is often listed as an archetypal episode. Despite the multiple altercations, including a physical one at sea, this is a minimalist episode, sparse in actual dialogue.

The Prisoner “Dance Of The Dead”

“Dance Of The Dead” (directed by Don Chaffey), is, as its title indicates, is one of the bleakest episodes, with a female No. 2 (Mary Morris) who could probably give Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbridge a good run. She leads likeminded merciless, bloodthirsty women who the Prisoner will face, in a trial, after having found and stolen a transistor radio attached to a dead body. The ending is awash in harrowing despair, making this an episode that is often ranked as quintessential Prisoner.

The Prisoner “Dance Of The Dead”

Director Chaffee returns to helm “Checkmate,” and again shows a flair for suffocating gloom. This is one of the episodes whose chronology is debated, since it was actually filmed before the pilot. Regardless, in a human chess match played on the Village green, the Prisoner discovers a potentially useful ally in the Rook.  But, nonconformity necessitates therapy as this week’s No. 2 (Peter Wyngarde) is apt to remind us.

The Prisoner “Checkmate”

A distress signal, a pawn (brainwashed to fall in love with the Prisoner), would be rescuers, and guards who will be pawns are all symbols in this highly expressionistic episode that is one for connoisseurs.

The Prisoner “Hammer Into Anvil”

“Hammer Into Anvil” (directed by Pat Jackson) is an adrenaline rush tale of revenge against No. 2 (Patrick Cargill), whom the Prisoner blames for the suicide of No. 73. The revenge is psychological as the Prisoner searches for and finds flaws in his nemesis. It’s an episode of reversals as the Prisoner mercilessly begins his campaign to destroy No. 2. With the Prisoner slightly less sympathetic than before, our empathy for No. 2 rests on Cargill’s performance, which he succeeds in soliciting. Such shrewd emotional manipulation requires a degree of absurdity, which is bounced straight off a trampoline into a paradox of a finale. This is one of the most visceral and wily episodes that lingers well past its compact running time.

The Prisoner “It’s Your Funeral”

“It’s Your Funeral” (directed by Robert Asher) involves an assassination plot against the current No. 2 (Andre van Gyseghem) before a new No. 2 (busy and acclaimed character actor Darren Nesbit) steps in, although, he may or may not be be No. 2 after all.

The Prisoner’s preoccupation with freedom is relegated to the back burner as he and Monique  join forces to thwart the plot. Paranoia is the weapon of choice in a Village mutiny, but the lingering question lies with the mutiny itself: is it to be avoided or desired?

The Prisoner “A Change Of Mind”

 

“A Change Of Mind” (directed by Patrick McGoohan) opens with the Prisoner confronted by thugs from the gymnasium (which is fairly typical for workout fundies). Seeing that No. 6 would rather exercise in the woods, they accuse him of being “unmutual” (not status quo) and ferociously pick a fight with him. The Prisoner reacts by beating the hell out of them. Then, like all bullies who get whupped, they go and tattle. Of course, No. 2 (played by John Sharp this week) and his gang threaten a spanking,  in the form of a lobotomy for No. 6—a literal change of mind. Unfortunately, they haven’t found out yet what they need from No. 6: why the Prisoner resigned as an agent. The solution? Make the Prisoner believe he has been lobotomized. The episode uses Rod Serling circularity, with another confrontation in the woods and a table-turning that leads to the charge of “unumutuality” going much higher.

The Prisoner “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling”

“Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” (directed by Pat Jackson) is a genuine oddity in a genuinely odd series. Its contrasting textures are off-colored, with the presence of “star” McGoohan kept to a minimum. He’s hardly even in it, as he was busy filming Ice Station Zebra (1968). Of course, the production team could have simply waited for McGoohan’s return. Instead they found an opportunity for a change of pace. Whether they succeeded or not is intensely debated.

On paper, the plot sounds fatigued. Yet another mind-swapping thriller, the type that “one idea” Universal hack Curt Siodmack wrote repeatedly.  When the Colonel (Nigel Stock) arrives in the Village, he is informed by No. 2 (Clifford Evans) that a professor Seltzman (Hugo Schuster) has invented a mind-swapping machine. Unfortunately, Seltzman is missing and, apparently, once done, the process cannot be reversed, which is hardly going to stop No. 2, if it means obtaining information from the Prisoner.

Yet again, the Prisoner is abducted and drugged, only to awaken in the body of the Colonel. It doesn’t take him to long to do the math and go looking for Seltzman. Along the way, No. 6 has his only love scene in the entire series, played by Stock (because the hyper-Catholic McGoohan refused to ever do a love scene). Stock plays the Prisoner throughout most of the episode without resorting to impersonation. His performance is an effective one, matched by Evans’s charismatic No. 2.

Apparently, the script was loathed by almost everyone, and many “Prisoner” fans rank it as the low ebb of the series. There’s no denying that it doesn’t quite come together, but it is a compelling effort.

The Prisoner “Living in Harmony”

“Living in Harmony” (directed by David Tomblin) is another episode which sounds wretched and could be dubbed “the Prisoner goes west.” However, as when the original “Star Trek” crew relived the gunfight at the OK Corral (in “Spectre of the Gun,” also from 1968), the end result is among the most refreshingly ludicrous in the show’s run.

The Prisoner finds himself in the guise of a recently resigned sheriff in the town of Harmony, which has a corrupt judge (David Bauer as No. 2) and an upstart trigger-happy gunslinger, known as The Kid (energetically played by Alexis Kanner).  The Kid, of course, wants to challenge the Sheriff’s reputation. Every western genre cliche is tapped: from an unruly, hysterical mob, to a trial, to a brutal beating of the pacifistic protagonist. There’s even a Wyatt Earp-like call for gun control, a damsel-in-distress saloon girl for the Sheriff to protect, and a despicable murder, which forces a reluctant hero to put his guns back on. The real question, after a heterodox resurrection, is: “why did the sheriff resign?” The answer is hardly going to be located in acid-induced visions of cardboard cut-outs.

The Prisoner “The Girl Who Was Death”

“The Girl Who Was Death” (directed by David Tomblin) is yet another mind-boggling episode that plays silly putty with formula writing. We are taken away from the Village to (apparently) the Prisoner’s past as a “Secret Agent.” This episode is in full satire mode, with a femme fatale Lady Death (Justine Lord, looking like a prototype from the modish 60s) and her mad scientist father Schnipps (Kenneth Griffith, AKA No. 2) wanting to blow up London with his big rocket. Death could be a dominatrix villain straight out of Adam West’s “Batman” series (or any Fu Manchu plot): threatening our hero with spikes, trapping him in a room of exploding poisoned candles, and locking his head in a fish bowl.

The macho spy, detective, and serial genres are all mercilessly parodied, and references abound to Sherlock Holmes (McGoohan in comical mustache), “Mission Impossible,” “The Avengers,” and even the Prisoner’s predecessor “Danger Man.”  It’s delightfully corny and kinetically paced, like any good children’s action book should be.

The Prisoner %22Once Upon A Time%22

Leo McKern returns as No. 2 in “Once Upon A Time” (directed by Don Chaffey), which usually makes every fan’s top ten list. In addition to  pop/abstract editing and sumptuous visuals, one major reason for this episode’s broad acclaim is a tour de force performance from McKern (who reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown due to the role’s intensity). No. 2 has sworn to “Degree Absolute,” meaning that he will engage in a battle of wills, to the death, with No. 6. McGoohan also gives one of his most determined, sustained performances in this despair-laden entry.

Drugged again, the Prisoner finds himself regressed to a childlike state with an unwanted paternal figure in No. 2, who fatally discovers, through the seasons of life, defiance and resistance accompany knowledge in his contentious student. The cruel secrets and dark purpled heart of the Village lie dead on the floor in the Embryo Room.

The Prisoner %22Once Upon A Time%22

As the new No. 2, the Prisoner is finally asked:

“What do you desire?”

“Number One.”

The Prisoner “Fallout”

Aptly, the two-part “Fallout” (directed by McGoohan) is a “Looney Tunes” finale that, in hindsight, couldn’t have been anything else, which is why it was nominated for a Hugo award. A tying up of loose ends or satisfying narrative conclusion would have rendered the entire series hypocritical. Fortunately, McGoohan is too vital an artist to solicit any kind of applause for the ending.

For the last time, we are subjected to the opening ritualized credits, but the Prisoner has evolved. He is no longer even No. 2. He is a cool-toned rugged individual. McGoohan throws in the allegorical kitchen sink with his Prisoner facing the temptation to become the Village idol.  As a simian No. 1 is blasted into outer space, the previous No. 6, with the resurrected Kid from “Living in Harmony” (Kanner) and No. 2 (McKern) rumba to “Dem Dry Bones.”  It’s a final image that ingeniously provokes even its most rabid fan base: paradoxically of its time and relentlessly contemporary.

THE ACID EATERS (1968) RIP Buck Kartalian (1922-2016)

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Plot-spoiler police beware!

The Acid Eaters (1968)…

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

up the pyramid of white blotter.

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock goes the white clock and…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

a man climbs down a tree and then climbs up another tree.

Tick Tock… telephone operators at work, Tick Tock…man stamps checks, Tick Tock… man paints pictures, Tick Tock…man pours booze for shaking, hungry awaiting hands, Tick Tock…

Whistle blows… man eats sandwich with mouth open, Whistle blows…toilet flushes…woman eats McFries with mouth open, toilet flushes, 60s chicks do … well, something, toilet flushes…Whistle blows…  TickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTock

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Peopledowalk. Carsdodrive. Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive…Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive… boomchickaboom, boomchickaboom,boomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchicksintightminiskirtshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomguysintightjeanshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomboomchickaboom…wahwahwah…rusty trumpet….wahwahwah…dudes and chicks on harleys…adoo ado dodo… sniffle, sniffle…awah…dowah…do d…d…rahdowah…acid eaters skinny dip…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Mumblemumble…I’m ready for another crash drive.”

“Take a deep breath Ally baby, I got 4 packets full!!!”

“You ready to fly?”

“Let’s crash drive once more.”

“SAVE IT FOR LATER SAILOR.”

Splishsplashboobsa’flashin’.

The Acid Eaters (1968) Pat Barrington

“Have I got the colors ! I’ll make a masterpiece. What’s your pleasure, treasure?”

“reD, RedHot.”

W…wwwwwwahwwwwah

runredpaintdownflabbyside… Wwwwwahhh. Gasp.

Chinkachongtototototototwahboomsplashsplishsplashtakinabathwahwahawahahramatamtam…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Plane flies.

GO LSD. See your travel agent.

splishsplash.

Primary colors. Smokin’ ceegarettes  before da Lawd invents boob jobs.

Vince Guaraldi’s white blotter pyramid.

Theblondebabedoeshaveboobs. Yellowstripe. Bluecircle. Greenstripe. Redsomething.

VinceGuaraldi’swhiteblotterpyramid.

splishsplashvinceguaraldiswhiteplotterbyramid.

crepepaper streamers and a red balloon.

“High Five!”

boomchickaboomwahwahwah….duhduhratatattat…splishsplash…rubberneckin’

WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH. Paintswirl.

dodododododododododododo.

nekkedrubberneckin…

“That little beotch. I’ll chop it off.”

Hahaha.

Wahwahwahawahwah.

The Big O face.

Smacksmacktoplesscatfightwithstick.

Runrunrun. Clapclapclap

Blankstare

toplesscatfightsgalore

blankstareblankstareblankstareblankstare

toplesschikinquicksand

He’sgotbiggerboobsthanshedoes

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Man, I really never saw quicksand before.”

“Good bye girl,” says the man with big boobs. “I guess I’ll paint you dead.”

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“I’ll see you all downstairs. Soon , I hope,” says girl sinking in quicksand, before flipping the bird.

“Sorry I hit you so hard, Smiley.”

“That’s okay, chicky.”

It’scalledRubberneckinbabyandthat’salrightbyme

Beotchslap!

Hahaha!

“Just don’t do it again.”

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“That’s enough laughs. Let’s get on our search for the white pyramid.”

Moon Equipped.

“Let’s roll.”

Vroom, vroomvroomvroom.

 

Hmmm, white man easy to beat thinks big chief playing checkers.

“You know dang good and well, Injuns ain’t suppose to win ’round here.”

“Me no win ’em?”

“Dat’s right…no win ’em.”

topless go-go girl descends ladder.

Alululu…hand on knee….alululu.

bombombombombomisthatthebatmantheme?

The Acid Eaters (1968) Pat Barrington

boomchickaboomwahwahwahvroomvroomvroomvroomvroom

deflatedrussmeyerchicks:

“Hey honey, ya got room for some sex starved females?”

licks lips

two batman villain rejects sneak up to car

 

wimpy Marlboro man (in white shirt and tie!!!): “Hey baby, you wouldn’t happen to have a match in that breast pocket, would ya?”

KAPOW!

KABLAM!

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Here Lies A Man Who Lost His (insert mule pic) So We Could Buy Some Grass

batmantheme

vroomvroom

topless picnic

batman villain throws tantrum

“C’mon guys. C’mon out. Didja forget bout me? First, I lose my bike, then I lose my chick in the quicksand. I’m bored.”

“Take a cold shower, Arnie.”

Hahahahahahaha

“Take a cold shower, Arnie. Who needs goils anyway? There’s more excitin’ things in life than goils. D’eres ….”

HahahahahahahaHahahahahahahaHahahahahahaha!

“D’eres… and D’eres….. ooooooohhhhhh. Wah, wah, wah.”

HahahahahahahaHahahahahahahaHahahahahahaha

Bbbbbbbbllllbbbbhhhhhh

Take a cold shower, Arnie.

wahwahwahwahboomchickaaboom a do do ado ado tum de tum

COLD SHOWER

“Well, I’ll be damned. Will ya look at that? A tree shower!”

Skip to the loo in black briefs

“La da de de,” Caruso in briefs

Calgon, take me away to a cold shower

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Hello ’em, white man.”

“Uh, hello ’em kemo sabe. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a towel, would ja?”

“Mmmhmmm. Why you take ’em cold shower?”

“Well, ya see, I’m with this buncha guys, see….and day all have goils, ‘cept me.”

“Kemo sabe goils?”

“Kemo sabe, goils! Mmmhmmm! You want ‘e m goil?”

“Ya got one?”

“How much $ you got ’em?”

“I got $27.00 and one trading stamp.”

“Goil cost $27.00 and one trading stamp.”

“Wait a minute, Chief. That’s a lotta dough for a short timer.”

“No short timer. Ya getta keep ’em.”

“Keep ’em? Hey wait a minute, You no Indian giver?”

“Me do Indian dance. Bring goil.”

It’scalledRubberneckinbabyandthat’salrightbyme

boomchickaboomvroomvroom

Arnold Schoenberg orgy on Vince Guraldi pyramid  of white blotter. Sun Ra blushes. Call the Pharoahs. Call Donald Wildmon.

boomchickaboom

Interracial mixing. They weren’t born that way! It’s a choice! Call Donald Wildmon.

Wahwahwahwahwah

LSD

boomchickaboomvroomvroom

THE SWIMMER (1968)

THE SWIMMER (1968) theatrical release poster

When Burt Lancaster began his career as an actor, it appeared this was going to be a career in the mold of Errol Flynn or Randolph Scott. In films like The Flame and the ArrowJim Thorpe-All American,The Crimson PirateVera CruzTen Tall MenFrom Here to EternityThe KentuckianTrapezeGunfight at the OK Corral, and Run Silent, Run Deep, Lancaster seemed to personify and embody the American ideal hero.

THE SWIMMER (1968) theatrical oster. Burt Lancaster

However, behind those swell guy teeth and that brandished chest was a shrewd actor, who, as he seasoned, made increasingly interesting choices.  In the second half of his career, Lancaster often played off that earlier, heroic persona with admirable risk taking.  If  Elmer Gantry and Seven Days in May might be aptly described as loudly presenting the dirty underbelly of Americana, then The Swimmer intimately one-ups them.

Continue reading

TARGETS (1968)

Target (1968) Movie ad . Karloff

Although Targets (1968) is not quite the masterpiece debut film of Peter Bogdanovich, as some have claimed, it is a compelling, near-valedictory film for star Boris Karloff. Being an almost autobiographical story, it should have served as a near-perfect coda for the actor. Instead, Karloff wanted to die acting, and for the first time in his career since 1931’s Frankenstein, he did not have a plethora of offers. Producers knew that the horror icon was almost literally on his last leg, and the cost of insuring him was undoubtedly a problematic casting factor. The final offers came from Jack Hill to make a series of low budget Mexican horrors, but it is best to conveniently imagine those under the rug.

Targets (1968) Karloff Bogdanovich

Targets serves more as a last, satisfactory glimpse at the Karloff screen persona, as opposed to being a successful film on its own terms.  It also is the film debut of director Peter Bogdanovich, who miscast himself in the film in order to save money. In part, this was due to having Roger Corman as his tight-fisted producer. Pragmatic in his business approach as usual, Corman  wanted to use clips from his previous film with Karloff, The Terror (1963) as filler, and granted Targets a twenty-three day shooting schedule and $125,000 budget. From this simple instruction, Bogdanovich crafted a surprising, awkwardly innovative narrative, which the artist in Corman responded to, advising Bogdanovich: “Shoot it like Hitchcock.” Continue reading

HOUSE OF EVIL (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

HOUSE OF EVILHouse of Evil (1968) lobby card. Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff`s series of Mexican films is anything but routine. Of the entire ill-reputed group, House of Evil (1968) has something that most resembles a traditional plot. It is orthodox only in that it is a retread of the old dark house scenario. However, that genre is filtered through such bizarre ineptness that it would be an incredulous stretch to claim House of Evil is a film bordering on coherency. The movie is available via that valuable distributor, Sinister Cinema. Their brief assessment of House of Evil is telling: “not bad.”

house of evil video

As with Fear Chamber, House was co-directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez and co-stars south of the border sexpot Julissa. A murdered girl has been found by local villagers and, just like another recent victim, her eyes have been torn out. Upon hearing the news, Matthias Morteval (Karloff) is mightily upset. His friend and doctor, Emery (Angel Espinoza), tries to simultaneously caution and calm Matthias. Dr. Emery reminds Matthias of similar murders in Vienna, involving Matthias’ brother Hugo. Before a painting of his late father, Matthias pulls himself together and vows to rid their garden of the evil weed that has sprung up. The camera pans, revealing that the eyes have been cut out of the fatherly figure in the painting. Continue reading

FEAR CHAMBER (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK

FEAR CHAMBER BORIS KARLOFF MOVIE AD

A lot of people have expressed the wish that horror icon Boris Karloff could have ended his career with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968). But Karloff, on his last leg, pushed himself through six more movies, four of which were the Mexican films for producer Jack Hill and director Juan Ibinez. This last six pack of films is, by consensus, godawful. Why did Karloff do it? According to his biographers, the actor said that he wanted to “die with his boots on.” And he nearly did just that.

FEAR CHAMBER LOBBY CARD BORIS KARLOFF

Karloff’s final and bizarre six pack are indisputably awful within the accepted meaning of the word. Several of them, however, are downright bizarre products of their time, which now might be looked at as examples of naive surrealism. The films are: House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), Cauldron of Blood (1970), Isle of the Snake People (1971), and Alien Terror (1971). Continue reading

WILL PENNY (1968)

Heston actor's journalsWill PENNY (1968) LOBBY CARD

From 1956 on, actor Charlton Heston kept an actor’s journal, which he published in two volumes, in 1976 and 1996. These are some of the most fascinating and valuable behind-the-scene writings published on the subject of studio filmmaking. In addition to these writings, Heston was also an exceptional and underrated visual artist. Often, when actors turn to painting, the result is less than memorable, and can even be downright painful. One thinks of Henry Fonda’s vapid watercolors or the recent, execrable “world leader” portraits by George Bush as painful examples. Heston’s visual art was an extension of his journals. His pen and ink drawings of makeup artists, stuntmen, cameramen, and technicians celebrated the unsung blue-collar workers. I was fortunate enough to attend a small showing of Heston’s extensive work and it remains of the most compellingly unique exhibits I have attended to date.

Will Penny still

The story of the making of Will Penny (1968) is a standout entry in Heston’s “The Actor’s Life: Journals.” Heston was handed an incomplete script. Under normal conditions, the actor would have refused to read an unfinished screenplay, but Heston was so taken with the fragment that he immediately expressed interest in taking on the role of the aging, illiterate cowboy Will Penny. Heston was then informed that the writer, Tom Gries, was insistent on directing. When Heston inquired on Gries’ directing experience, he found it consisted of “a couple of television programs.” Heston put up a mild protest, but quickly changed his mind upon learning that Gries’ demand was unconditional. While it is fortunate that Heston compromised in what turned out to be one of his best and most underrated roles, his skepticism about Gries’ lack of experience had some validity.

Will Penny one sheet

The central performances and an intelligent, sensitive script are the strengths of Will Penny; however, Gries’ television-like visual direction and an embarrassingly melodramatic performance from Donald Pleasance are noticeable flaws. As excellent as Heston’s work is here, Joan Hackett is even better. She imbues her part with an unglamorous freshness (Heston amusingly related that several actresses turned down the role upon reading the description of Catherine as plain). Heston later counted Hackett as the best of his leading ladies, and for good reason.

Joan Hackett Will Penny

Will Penny is not a Wyatt Earp type. He does not bravely face down the enemy to clean up a corrupt town. Rather, he is a fifty-year-old cowhand who works with cattle. It’s all he knows. He doesn’t even know how to write his name. When he gets into a fight with a younger co-worker, Penny uses a frying pan “because I use my hands to work.” When a trail job ends, Penny finds himself traveling with a young Lee Majors and Anthony Zerbe in hopes of finding work. Majors is a bit of a nonentity here, but Zerbe gives a very good performance as a recently transplanted, thickly accented European immigrant who awkwardly shoots himself and then milks every ounce of sympathy he can. Continue reading