Cool Cinema Trash: Making of a Male Model (1983)

Cool Cinema Trash

Model15The glitzy soap Dynasty (1981- 89) reached the heights of international popularity in the early 1980s. Aaron Spelling and the creative team behind the show crafted this made-for-television gem as a showcase for its star Joan Collins. Making of a Male Model (1983) is a glamorous peek into the dog eat dog world of modeling… male modeling to be exact.

What it’s all about: While en-route to a photo shoot, superstar modeling agent Kay Dillon (Collins) is nearly run off the road North by Northwest-style by some yokel in a crop dusting plane. The pilot turns out to be Nevada ranch hand Tyler Burnett (Jon-Erik Hexum) the soon-to-be male model of the title.

“Have you ever considered a career in modeling?” Kay asks, looking him up and down with her expert eye.

“Huh-uh, should I have?”

When a local gal passes Tyler over, one has to question her sanity. Giving up Jon-Erik Hexum for a guy who drives a Trans Am? Some people need to get their priorities straight. With no place and no girl to call his own, Tyler heads to the big city.

Arriving in New York dressed in his finest Stetson and sheepskin coat, Tyler meets his new roommate. Chuck is a bitter, emotionally crippled, washed up fellow model. Noticing Chuck’s black eyes, Tyler asks, “You get into a fight or somthin’?”

“Yeah,” he answers, “with my plastic surgeon.” In an over the top performance by Jeff Conaway, Chuck is a veritable walking billboard for the evils of fame, fortune and excess.

Meanwhile Kay must turn her diamond in the rough into a polished gem. “He’s got that natural raw sex look.” But Tyler hates all the primping and preening and wants to go on his first job interview just as he is.

At a casting call the next day, photographer Arte Johnson shouts at Tyler, “Take off your shirt. I wanna see your body.” Tyler is rejected, despite the fact that Hexum has the face and body of a Greek god.

Perhaps Kay was right. Tyler relents and is soon being plucked, dyed and trimmed in a make-over montage that transforms Tyler from a handsome bumpkin to an even more handsome metrosexual-type. The song used to score the scene is pretty memorable too. The funky R&B/disco tune is reminiscent of the type of music they use in porn. Bum-chicka-bow-wow.

Back at their apartment, Tyler pumps some iron and waits for word on his first job while Chuck drinks like a fish and throws himself a pity party. “It’s a strange apple this Big Apple” he muses. Thankfully the phone rings with news that Tyler got the catalog job after all. Just wait until he sees the clothes he has to wear, which might be described as 80’s republican chic.

After his first successful job, Kay takes Tyler to a costume ball. Dressed as a rhinestone cowboy, Tyler sneers at the industry types around him, “A bunch of weirdoes and queers.”

“You know of course that Chuck is gay.”

“It’s different he’s a friend of mine.”

“Then why are you so damn judgmental about all the others?” Kay asks. “Why don’t you just accept the fact that we are all free to live our own lifestyle and do exactly as we please.” Quite a progressive attitude for 1983, but the life lessons are put on hold when ad exec Kevin McCarthy accosts Kay. Tyler does his costume proud by coming to her rescue and roughing up the drunken McCarthy. Impressed by his gallantry, Kay finally bursts the bubble of sexual tension between them and beds Tyler in her ritzy Central Park West apartment. A romantic at heart, Tyler wants them to live together, but Kay is a modern career-driven gal and insists on remaining unattached.

Tyler’s next audition happens to be for the same ad exec that he manhandled at the costume party. Not even McCarthy is immune to the charms of Jon-Erik Hexum. Tyler lands the commercial for Fever cologne and instantly becomes a huge star.

“Try it…and let her catch the fever”, he sexily intones.

While Tyler’s career soars, Chuck’s has landed in the gutter. A scenery-chewing, drunken mess, he bemoans his fall from supermodel grace when he doesn’t get a gig standing next to a car at an auto show. He’s too old. Waving his drink around like he’s in a road show production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Chuck berates Tyler’s success. “What do you care? Mr. Sex Symbol of these United States.”

For Tyler, fame has begun to loose its luster. After returning from a job in L.A. he finds that Kay has been seeing someone else and that his roommate Chuck has died of a drug overdose. “They didn’t give you much time on the yellow brick road did they my friend?”

On a shoot in Acapulco, Tyler hooks up with blonde model and smokes some post-sex pot. Reefer is a gateway drug. Did living with Chuck teach you nothing Tyler?

Soon he’s boozing and partying and missing jobs. “You can be unmade as quickly as you were made.” Kay warns.

“Just like a bed huh? Well you should know all about that.”

Tired of the fast lane, Tyler heads back home to Nevada where he fulfills his dream of owning his own farm. Kay finds him working on the ranch and begs him to return and finish the job he walked out on. If Tyler doesn’t come back the ad agency could sue for breach of contract. Threatened with the loss of his land, Tyler returns to the city for one last commercial.

After the shoot, Tyler stops by Kay’s office to say goodbye. She tries to talk him into a television series he’s been offered, but his mind is made up. Our attractive cowboy/supermodel borrows a horse from a hansom cab driver and rides off into the proverbial sunset… down 5th Ave.

In conclusion: Joan Collins’ portrayal of Kay could never be described as low-key, but compared to the outrageous antics of Alexis on Dynasty, she seems almost saintly. Fans of Collins won’t be disappointed though. There’s enough shoulder-padded glamour (courtesy of designer Nolan Miller) and sex in Making of a Male Model to satisfy any Dynasty fan.

Unfortunately, Jon-Erik Hexum is best remembered as a morbid pop culture footnote. He died after an on-set accident (Cover Up 1984-85) with a prop handgun. He had a breezy charm that made him instantly likable. Hexum’s goofy grin gave the impression that, despite his hunk status, he didn’t take it too seriously. It was those looks and charm that made him ideal for television. It would have been interesting to see how his career could have grown.

Cool Cinema Trash: When Time Ran Out… (1980)

Cool Cinema Trash

when_time_ran_out_xlgCaught in a game of power. Playing time: 24 hours. Prizes: Untold wealth. Rules: None.

Filled with actors from other disaster movies and packed with clichés that producer Irwin Allen himself originated, When Time Ran Out (1980) was a fitting title for the film that proved to be the last hurrah of the 70’s disaster genre and the final theatrical film for Allen.

What it’s all about: As his private jet arrives at his newly opened tropical resort, William Holden presents Jacqueline Bisset with a diamond engagement ring. It’s obvious that Holden has been round the block more than a few times. “What would I be now,” she asks him, “Sixth… seventh?” It seems her heart is set on working man Paul Newman who has his hands full drilling the islands rich oil fields. Though May/December onscreen romances are nothing new, it’s unsettling that Bisset must choose between two such, shall we say… mature suitors. Holden is twenty-six years her senior and Newman nearly twenty.

Various subplots are introduced as guests arrive at the luxury hotel. Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortese play the prerequisite elderly couple. They’re retired high-wire performers and she continually pops pills for her ailing health. Ernest Borgnine is an NYC police detective on the trail of white collar criminal Red Buttons who may or may not be guilty.

Every disaster movie needs a smarmy scapegoat, the one guy who could prevent (but doesn’t) all the death and disaster to come. When Time Ran Out has lying businessman James Franciscus. He’s married to beautiful socialite Veronica Hamel but is having an affair with island beauty Barbara Carrera. She’s been “promised to” native boy Edward Albert. Since Carrera had mainly played “exotic” types up to that point, it’s easy to see her (to a certain extent) as a Pacific Islander. Believing blue-eyed Albert as a South Seas native is a bit of a stretch.

Newman is concerned with some unusually high pressure readings, so he and Franciscus visit the scientific observation center, a monitoring facility that has literally been built on the rim of the island’s active volcano. In an Irwin Allen movie, science fact often becomes science fiction. Hence, everyone hops into the zany glass bottomed viewing chamber, a pod that can be lowered into the crater so its occupants can get an up close peek at the volcano!

As they slowly make their decent, a volcanic explosion causes a malfunction (a flashing button tells us so) and the glass bottom blows out, leaving them dangling over a miniature pit of bubbling goo. Once the capsule is brought back up, Newman’s assessment of the situation is that, “This things a powder keg!”

Franciscus, twitchy and desperate to gloss over the severity of their eminent doom, clashes with Holden over the possibility of a volcanic eruption. With everything that he’s built threatened by Mother Nature’s cruel fate, Franciscus (who has obvious daddy issues) throws a lava rock paperweight at a creepy portrait of his deceased father.

Meanwhile, Newman and Bisset share a romantic picnic on a remote beach. Newman regales her with stories about his school days teaching faculty wives needlepoint, which inexplicably sends Bisset into stitches. “I don’t need the wine,” she breathlessly giggles, “You get me drunk.”

“Come on over here,” he commands. As they lean in for a big smooch the earth moves… literally. Their ridiculous dialog is interrupted by the volcano which begins to rumble right on cue. They hop into their helicopter and watch as the observation platform is destroyed by the volcanic eruption. Oddly inserted into the mayhem are scenes of an airport tarmac buckling and a sports car careening over a hillside. Since none of the main characters are at the airport and we don’t know who’s inside the car, these images are hilariously superfluous.

Newman and Bisset airlift Hamel from her horse ranch, saving her from the oncoming flow of lava stock footage. Two ranch hands are forced to brave the helicopter ride by hanging on outside, riding on the struts. Not surprisingly, one of them loses his grip and falls to a fiery death.

Franciscus assures his hotel guests that there is nothing to worry about, but Holden considers him responsible, “We have contingency plans for anything that can possibly go wrong…except the volcano.”

Except the volcano?! Frankly, if they’re that stupid then they deserve to die.

“The lava is coming directly for the hotel.” Bisset warns. Panic ensues and several stunt extras die trying to escape in the helicopter.

A fishing village on the other side of the island is rocked by tremors. The camera shakes as pieces of buildings fall and extras scurry around the Hollywood set. It’s all so wonderfully false and rehearsed that you expect a back lot tram tour to pass by. The town and its inhabitants are eventually engulfed by a gigantic tidal wave. The only people who manage to escape are bar owners Pat Morita, his corpulent wife Sheila Allen and two of their “working” girls.

The entire cast watches as the matte painting mountain spews forth giant fireballs that explode on hotel grounds. An ignited Borgnine is saved by the quick thinking of Red Buttons. Newman is determined to lead everyone to safer/higher ground but Franciscus, with his tremendous ego and hubris, insists that they all stay where they are. So, Newman punches him.

After some pre-trip melodrama, most of the films stars leave the hotel in a caravan. They drive and drive and drive. The endless footage of traveling down tropical roadways is exacerbated by the plodding orchestral march that accompanies it. As they journey onward, we’re treated to the thrilling sight of characters drinking apple juice! Burgess Meredith also mentions for the thousandth time that he’s a retired circus performer.

Their first obstacle comes in the form of a blocked roadway. They must continue on foot. A frail Cortese welcomes the challenge of shimmying along a narrow ledge which is all that is left of the collapsed jungle road. “It wasn’t long ago I was walking a high wire.” We know, we know!

Everyone shuffles along the matte painting edge. Borgnine, whose face and hands are bandaged, stumbles along with Buttons leading the way. The second ranch hand, who cheated death by surviving the earlier helicopter ride, isn’t so lucky now. He slips and falls to his death, leaving behind his adorable children.

Night comes and despite all the chaos around him, Franciscus can’t keep his hands off Carrera. When Hamel walks in on them, she realizes that standing by her man may not have been the best idea.

The next challenge for our intrepid band of movie stars is to cross a rickety bridge over a river of hot lava. With plastic jungle foliage and forced perspective mountains built into the island backdrop, this outdoor obstacle course is an obvious soundstage set.

After Newman checks the stability of the bridge, Borgnine, Buttons and Albert are the first to cross. For some reason, the lava they’re traversing continually explodes. A plank gives way and they almost fall as fireballs erupt around them. They eventually make it safely to the other side. Holden escorts Mathews and they make it across as well.

Despite making it this far together, the adorable geriatric couple must say their final goodbyes to one another. As her heart gives out, Cortese insists that her beloved return to the circus. Bisset, Morita and the two girls are next, but the railing collapses and Morita does a hilarious slow-motion tumble into the lava. A fiery explosion then destroys most of the bridge. All that is left is a narrow trestle.

“Years ago in the circus I used to do something special, I walked a high wire,” Meredith tells Newman, “I carried somebody on my back.” Gee, what a convenient skill to have. With a giant bamboo stick for balance and a little kid holding on tight, Meredith makes the treacherous crossing. As Newman makes his way across what is left of the bridge, an explosion leaves him holding on for dear life. As he and the little girl dangle over the fiery river, Meredith comes to their rescue.

Our rag-tag group of survivors watch the volcanic pyrotechnics from the safety of an island cave. It’s difficult to say just how close the hotel was built to the bubbling volcano. Depending on the effects shot, it could be miles away from, or right next to, eminent disaster. Inconsistencies aside, a final massive fireball hurtles towards the resort. The destruction of the hotel and deaths of several main characters should’ve been the spectacular finale to this disaster melodrama. Instead, it’s over in mere moments with sloppy fire footage substituting for anything truly remarkable. At daybreak, Newman and the rest of the survivors make their way to the cove where two rescue boats await them.

In conclusion: Deleted scenes and additional footage found their way back into the movie when Earth’s Final Fury (the film’s TV title) made its debut on network television. This extended 143 min version was released on VHS as the “expanded video edition” with some of the additional scenes retaining their tell-tale “fade to black” commercial edits.

Among other things, the love triangle between Franciscus, Carrera and Albert received more screen time. Before the caravan leaves the hotel, Albert not only learns that Carrera has been unfaithful, but that Franciscus is his half brother! This revelation helps explain why Albert was cast as a Pacific Islander. Without these scenes his part isn’t much more than an extended cameo role. Scenes featuring Alex Karras and a cockfight at Mona’s bar/whorehouse were added as well as a moment where Pat Morita gets to smack a hysterical Sheila Allen. Knowing that Allen is the producer’s wife only makes the slap more enjoyable.

The theatrical version of When Time Ran Out runs at a comfortable two hours. The cuts that were made help sharpen the pace and don’t interfere with the story too much. The cockfighting subplot is nearly gone and the painfully long caravan sequence has thankfully been trimmed to a more agreeable length. Unfortunately, Cortese’s death scene near the end of the movie was also trimmed out. Her character dies off camera.

The theatrical version also includes some scenes that didn’t make it to the longer video edition. The introduction to the Franciscus and Hamel characters is longer. Their scene in the hotel suite ends with a sensual shower-time tryst. A scene where a winded Borgnine chases after a jogging Red Buttons is included. It’s a comical moment that draws attention to the fact that the two played similar characters years earlier in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). The precarious ledge sequence also is slightly longer. The body of the dead ranch hand is shown at the bottom of the ravine and reaction shots from each of the main characters are shown. A few shots of them hiking through picturesque island wilderness before nightfall are also included.

An occasional disaster movie makes it to the big screen nowadays (Into the Storm  in 2014, San Andreas in 2015) but, for the most part, the genre has been relegated to the CGI enhanced world of lackluster TV movies. When Time Ran Out should be cherished and appreciated because it truly was the last of its kind. A wild and crazy all-star fight for survival amid marginal special effects. For lovers of cool cinema trash it’s a pity…because they simply don’t make them like this anymore.

Cool Cinema Trash: The Concorde – Airport ’79

Cool Cinema Trash

concorde_airport_79_72At twice the speed of sound, can the Concorde evade attack?

The Concorde: Airport ’79 (1979) is the third sequel to Airport (1970), the only disaster movie to spawn its own franchise. Following the ‘bigger is better’ school of thinking, this installment features a faster plane and more mayhem than all the pervious films combined. Still, after nearly a decade, the formula has begun to wear thin, very thin.

What it’s all about: Trouble for the supersonic passenger jet starts right away. A “radical” environmental group (really, is there any other kind?) hopes to prevent the Concorde from landing in Washington D.C. by floating a hot air balloon above the runway. First, what do they have against the Concorde? Second, how is a balloon going to solve anything? The jet could simply use another landing strip. Also, one would assume that the Concorde, which would begin its decent miles from the airport, would notice something as large as a hot air balloon blocking the runway. Evidently, common sense has been jettisoned in favor of high-flying high-jinks as the Concorde barely misses the intellectually challenged activists.

Following the familiar disaster movie formula, we are next introduced to our all-star cast of characters. In the case of Airport ’79, the term “all-star” is very loosely defined.

Concorde pilot Alain Delon romances stewardess Sylvia Kristel while Russian gymnast Andrea Marcovicci and reporter John Davidson engage in a hot-tub tryst under the nose of stern chaperone Mercedes McCambridge. It’s difficult to decide what’s funnier, her goofy Russian accent or the fact that McCambridge spends the entire movie dressed in a voluminous smock with a scarf tried in an oversized bow. A beret would complete the look of a chic Parisian artiste circa 1952.

Avery Schreiber plays the Russian coach who travels everywhere with his hearing impaired daughter. This is where another disaster movie rule comes into play. The only thing better than a cute kid in peril is… a cute, handicapped kid in peril.

A Harrison Industries whistleblower is shot in newscaster Susan Blakely’s townhouse. She escapes the same assassin by dangling from her rooftop high above the streets of Georgetown. The next day, Robert Wagner assures mistress Blakely that, as the president of Harrison Industries, he knows nothing about the illegal arms sales or the attempt on her life. As Blakely boards the Paris bound Concorde, the whistleblowers widow hands her the documents proving Wagner’s evil doings.

Kristel comments to her flight crew that, “You pilots are such men.”

Co-pilot George Kennedy answers, “They don’t call it the cockpit for nothing, sweetheart.”

Kennedy, as Patroni, has the dubious honor of appearing in all four Airport films. At least this time around, his character gets to fly the plane. In a nod to his Airport heritage, Kennedy made a brief cameo as a passenger in the flight attendant comedy View from the Top (2003).

The wife of airline president Eddie Albert is played by Sybil Danning (Eva Gabor would’ve been a much better choice). Cicely Tyson accompanies a Styrofoam cooler containing a heart for her child’s transplant and Martha Raye plays a passenger whose only defining characteristic is that she has a bladder condition.

Monica Lewis (wife of producer Jennings Lang) plays a retired jazz singer who is joined by her jive-talkin’, pot smokin’, saxophone playin’ friend Jimmie ‘JJ’ Walker. After an impromptu jam session, she worries, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

“You’re like fine wine, you get better with age.” He assures her, “And you’re gonna get those Russians drunk.”

With the incriminating documents in Blakely’s hands, Wagner does the only logical thing. He reprograms his experimental attack drone to target the Concorde. In a sequence that inspires giggles when it shouldn’t, the Concorde takes evasive action to avoid the missile. Military jet fighters eventually come to the rescue.

With his first plan a bust, Wagner does the next logical thing. Using his French connections, he soon has his own jet fighter gunning for the Concorde. More slapstick mid-air acrobatics ensue. As the plane barrel rolls, the passengers are tossed about the cabin. It should all be terrifying, hair-raising stuff. Instead, it’s the goofiest and most unintentionally hilarious stuff in the entire series.

Kennedy opens the cockpit window (!) and fires a flare in hopes of deflecting the heat-seeking missiles. When the gun jams, Delon shuts down the planes engines. That solves the missile problem, only now, they’re plummeting towards the sea. French air force pilots shoot down the fighter and the Concorde is able to restart their engines. Now there’s another problem. The reverse thrusters were damaged which means that they’ll have to land in Paris without any brakes!

As the Concorde touches down, barrier nets are threaded across the runway. It breaks through one net… and then another. With only inches of runway left, another net snaps into place catching the plane and bringing it to a stop. Kennedy announces to his passengers, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Paris.”

That night, as repairs are hurriedly being made to the Concorde, a crewman (Wagner’s third logical choice) sabotages the plane. At his hotel suite Kennedy relaxes by the fireside with French tart Bibi Andersson. When Kennedy recounts his fabulous night with his pal, Delon answers, “For 2,000 francs she better have been special. As you Americans say… a real pro.”

Amazingly, everyone from the day before re-boards the plane and, in a comedic cameo that pushes the film ever closer to Love Boat territory, Charro attempts to smuggle her Chihuahua onto the plane. Kristel tells her it’s against airline policy, but Charro explains, “Don’t mis-con-screw me. You see, this is not an average dog. This is my seeing eye dog.”

“Seeing eye dogs are usually German Sheppards.”

“You mean he’s not?” Bah-dum-bum.

The saboteur panics after going through a standard security check and makes a mad dash through Charles De Gaul Airport. In an effort to escape, he runs out onto the runway where he’s nearly run over by the taxiing Concorde.

While the Concorde comfortably cruises en route to the Moscow Olympics, the carefree passengers act as if the past 24 hours hadn’t happened. More chaos ensues when a preset timer opens the cargo bay hatch. At such a high altitude, the rapid decompression rips a hole in the bottom of the aircraft. Our heroic pilots must try an emergency landing in the Alps where the ski patrol has set up a temporary runway.

As the plane shakes apart around them, Marcovicci and Davidson declare their undying love for one another and perform an impromptu wedding ceremony. Even the cold Russian heart of McCambridge melts at such a sight. “God bless you both,” she cries.

Delon and Kennedy stoically attempt a landing, the Concorde skidding along the alpine pass. When the plane comes to a stop the ski patrol frantically try to dig out the passengers before the jet fuel ignites.

Robert Wagner watches a live satellite TV report from the crash site where Blakely gives an audio account of the disaster. Realizing that the third time is not the charm and that Blakely must have nine lives, Wagner does the last logical thing, he shoots himself.

Once the stars are free of the wreckage, the plane erupts into a ball of flame. The final shot of the movie is of the Concorde flying majestically through the clouds, implying that the Concorde is indeed perfectly safe and that there may be yet another installment in the Airport series.

In conclusion: Alas, some things aren’t meant to be. In 2003 the fleet of Concorde aircraft were decommissioned and there hasn’t been an official Airport film in over 35 years.

The Concorde: Airport ’79 shows all the signs of a genre whose popularity had begun to fade. With a story that stretches plausibility paper-thin and a cast filled with actors of questionable star-status, this is one of the loopiest disaster flicks to come out of the 70’s.

The four movies in the series are available on DVD as part of the 2-disc Airport Terminal Pack. This “franchise collection” is nicely packaged and features crisp widescreen prints of the films, but only the original Airport has remastered surround sound. The only special feature on each disc is a trailer. Where are the extended and deleted scenes?

The trailer for Airport ’79 is a simple assemblage of scenes from the movie with no voice-over narration. What’s so strange is that it looks as if the studio purposely chose to showcase the most ridiculous moments in the movie. If the title didn’t come roaring across the screen, you’d swear you were watching a trailer for Airplane! (1980). Hmmmm, perhaps they realized that they had a comedy on their hands.

Cool Cinema Trash: The Swarm (1978)

Cool Cinema Trash

The-Swarm-1978-posterThe Swarm is coming!

Satanic cults, the energy crisis and roller disco were all part of the national consciousness in the 1970’s. Let’s also not forget the panic over the impending arrival of killer bees from South America. It seems silly in retrospect, but The Swarm (1978) exploited a genuine fear of the time.

What it’s all about: After a missile base is mysteriously attacked, General Richard Widmark and Major Bradford Dillman encounter the only person left alive in the facility, entomologist Michael Caine. Honoring cinematic conventions, the scientist and military General instantly mistrust one another. Director Irwin Allen, an expert at action sequences, seems to give his cast free reign in their acting choices. Consequently, this is just the first of many moments where Widmark and Caine engaging in an over-the-top shouting match.

Katherine Ross, playing the worst military doctor in history, corroborates Caine’s story that the base was attacked by a swarm of African killer bees. Two military choppers (well, helicopter models) are soon brought down by the same swarm that attacked the base.

In the pastoral countryside, a stunt couple and their son set up a picnic lunch while a bee watches them closely. Really. There’s even a shot of the bee’s segmented point of view. Paul watches from the safety of the family car as his parents are covered by the killer insects. Barely escaping and delirious from a bee sting, Paul crashes the family car in the town square of nearby Marysville, where the local citizenry are preparing for the annual flower festival. An inordinate amount of time is spent setting up the love triangle between retiree Ben Johnson, school marm Olivia de Havilland and Mayor Fred MacMurray. Young Paul is taken to the hospital where, as if on a bad acid trip, he hallucinates about giant bees.

Caine begins to round up his scientific team, “The war that I’ve always talked about has finally started.” When a wheelchair bound Henry Fonda confirms his worst fears, even Caine finds it hard to believe, “I never thought I’d see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friends.”

At the gates of the missile base, Widmark must confront angry hick Slim Pickens, who demands to see his son. Pickens weeps over the body. The scene manages to be somewhat touching, but quickly turns ridiculous when the bleary eyed yokel picks up the body bag with every intention of carrying it home. Incredibly, Widmark lets him walk out the door with it.

In another shouting match between Widmark and Caine, Widmark bellows about airdropping poison on the swarm. The fight ends with Caine screaming about the ecological ramifications of such a plan. In this round of scenery-chewing it’s Caine 1, Widmark 0.

Recovered from his earlier bee attack, Paul goes out looking for the swarm. He and his two friends succeed where the military search operation has failed. They find the swarm and firebomb the hive, but only manage to anger the bees. The swarm heads for Marysville.

Sleazy reporter Lee Grant watches from the safety of her news van as the bees attack helpless townspeople. The camera grotesquely lingers on a group of schoolchildren as they are stung to death in the school yard. But try to suppress your laughter as de Havilland watches her dying students through a bee covered window and acts, Acts, ACTS! “Nooooooo!” she cries, all in hilarious slow motion.

Caine and Ross take cover with pregnant waitress Patty Duke in the local diner. Ross is stung on the neck and soon she’s all sweaty, glassy-eyed and hallucinating giant bees. After the incident, Widmark suggests evacuating Marysville in order to spare its inhabitants from another attack by the vengeful bees. “I always credit my enemy, no matter what he may be, with equal intelligence.”

Before she can board the evacuation train, Duke (of course) goes into labor. As the train gets under way, de Havilland has a premonition, “I got a sudden feeling I’ll never see Marysville again … I can’t shake this feeling that something is closing in on all of us.” This is of course an open invitation for the bees to attack, which they obligingly do. The train careens out of control and jumps the track. Johnson and MacMurray (well, their stuntmen) get tossed out the window as the train tumbles down a cliff and blows up.

Duke gives birth and, mere moments after delivery, flirts with Doctor Alejandro Ray. “I guess it’s true what they say…that a woman sort of falls in love with her doctor at this time.”

The swarm, now an unstoppable force, is headed straight for Houston. Caine attempts to drop eco-friendly poison on the bees. He reports back to headquarters that, “They’re not touching the pellets. They seem to sense that it’s something that will kill them.”

Ross displays her bedside manner when young Paul relapses and dies. She makes no attempt to save him, but ineffectually calls another doctor for help. In her own stiff and halting style Ross lashes out at Caine with a tried and true “angry at God” speech. “Why this one?” she cries, “In the whole damned world, why this boy? My God, Brad. What good is all that science? All that equipment at the base? All those doctors? What good are you?!”

Proving that Hollywood legends are just as capable at hamming it up, Fonda self injects his experimental bee venom antidote and vividly dictates the results as they occur. Ross joins Fonda after what appears to be a successful trial run, but he quickly relapses. Once again Ross upholds her Hippocratic Oath by running to get help. Even though Fonda is obviously stone cold dead, Ross administers oxygen, as if it might help. Where did this woman receive her license to practice medicine? M.D.’s “R” Us?

A nuclear power plant is directly in the path of the oncoming swarm. Richard Chamberlain tries to convince Jose Ferrer to shut down the facility. “The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical.” Ferrer insists.

“Is there any provision against an attack by killer bees?” Chamberlain asks. Before Ferrer can answer, the alarm sounds, the bees attack and the plant inexplicably blows up!

Our scientific team gathers at the new command center in Houston. As the bees blanket the city, the military sets Houston (in reality, only a small portion of the Warner Bros. back lot) ablaze with flamethrowers.

While Ross gives Caine a back rub, she relapses from her earlier bee sting and is soon picturing giant bees outside her door. With Houston burning outside his window, Widmark wonders, “Will history blame me or the bees?”

After analyzing tapes from the military base attack, Caine realizes than a systems test may have caused the problem. Widmark finds this hard to believe, “Then you’re saying our alarm system attracted the bees into the complex.”

“We’ll use this very sound to pull them out of Houston.” But before Caine can initiate his plan, the swarm invades headquarters. Widmark, brandishing a flamethrower, helps clear the way for Caine and Ross to escape.

As tankers flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil, sonically outfitted helicopters lead the bees, pied-piper style, out to sea. Ross and Caine watch from shore as the gulf is set ablaze and the swarm is destroyed.

“Did we finally beat them,” Ross questions, “Or is this a temporary victory?”

Caine gets philosophical when he answers, “I don’t know, but we did gain time. If we use it wisely and if we’re lucky, the world might just survive.”

In conclusion: In case you hadn’t laughed enough already, this disclaimer appears in the end credits.

The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation.

What exactly were the producers trying to prevent? A series of honey bee hate crimes or a backlash from supporters of the honey-nut Cheerios bee?

The Swarm DVD is nicely presented in its widescreen format with crisp, bright hues that bring to mind the colorful campy atmosphere of Allen’s television work. A trailer is included along with the vintage featurette Inside the Swarm, which contains some nice behind the scenes footage of the more memorable action sequences.

With its utter disregard for believability and scientific fact (a thesis could be written on the countless errors) and an all-star cast that takes every opportunity to chew the scenery, The Swarm is one of the zaniest disaster movies to spring from the fertile mind of producer/director Irwin Allen.

Cool Cinema Trash: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

Cool Cinema Trash

beyond_the_poseidon_adventureBefore her fate is sealed by the deep, the superliner Poseidon will reveal one last secret…

In the disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the ill-fated passengers of a luxury ocean liner must endure a stormy day at sea before the boat is capsized on New Year’s Eve. In the sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) a new cast of characters hop aboard the overturned ship for another round of disaster movie adventure.

What it’s all about: Tugboat captain Michael Caine bravely battles the elements as his tiny boat is tossed on the stormy seas of a Hollywood soundstage. His crew includes salty sea dog Karl Malden and comic relief sidekick Sally Field, whom Caine not so affectionately calls “Monkey”. After the storm has passed, they spot the rescue chopper carrying the beleaguered stars from the first film.

With the coast guard so far out at sea, Caine ascertains that, “Some ship must be in big trouble.” The salvage rights to a ship the size of the S.S. Poseidon will leave Caine and his crew set for life.

Telly Savalas, with his henchmen in tow, also arrive under the pretense of rescuing any remaining passengers. They board the overturned ship through the escape hatch that was cut in the hull. As they traverse the fiery remains of the engine room, Malden warns Caine, “I’m telling you it’s a floating time bomb.”

He’s overstating the obvious and it only serves to point out the giddy implausibility of the films premise. Even with the pretense of pillaging loot or finding survivors, no one in their right mind would willingly crawl through the wreckage of a sinking ship.

But crawl they do, down a vertical hatch that leads them deeper into the ship. An explosion (the first of many) rocks the boat and injures one of the henchmen. While Savalas tends to the wound, a group of survivors are found hiding in the steam room of the ship’s gymnasium. There’s glamour-girl Veronica Hamel, loudmouth Peter Boyle and ship’s nurse Shirley Jones.

The group continues onward with the help of a handy deck plan. As the rising seawater rushes in behind them, another explosion rocks the boat. With the camera shaking Star Trek-style, our hapless stars encounter another obstacle, a gaping hole that they each have to leap across.

Once everyone has taken their turn at the standing long jump, they find the purser’s office. Another helpful explosion cracks open the ship’s safe. As Caine packs up the cold hard cash, they are joined by southern boozehound Slim Pickens, Boyle’s daughter Angela Cartwright and young hero Mark Harmon.

While everyone is otherwise occupied, Hamel slips away with a copy of the ship’s cargo manifest. When she gives the information to Savalas and then plants a wet one on him, it’s obvious that these two are more than partners in crime. Hamel is desperate to find a way out and no longer wants any part of Savalas’ scheme. For her betrayal, he orders her shot. Mortally wounded, she continues to search for a way to the surface.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast continues down an inverted staircase. An explosion dislodges a concrete post that impressively smashes through several floors of a multi-tiered set. All this excitement is too much for poor Malden. A tender moment passes between Malden and Caine as they discuss the undisclosed illness that has left him so weak. “I know what you’ve got,” Caine tells his old buddy. “I’ve been to that doctor you’re always sneaking off to. As of this morning we have all the money we need for an operation.”

As if this gaggle of all-stars didn’t already have enough to deal with, they’re next joined by blind Jack Warden and his seeing-eye wife Shirley Knight. Crass Boyle suggests that the duo will only slow them down, but Caine insists that they join in the search for a way out.

They continue on to the ship’s galley where everyone pauses for a mid-adventure snack. As Caine and Field explore some ductwork, their unlikely romance blossoms. Field indulges in a tearless crying fit. “This is not a good day for me,” she bawls. To get her to shut up, Caine tells her she’s beautiful.

“You gonna kiss me now?”


“Well then, let’s just get the hell outta here.”

While Savalas and his men search the cargo hold, Caine and his group stumble across Hamel, who’s finally expired from her gunshot wound. Caine adds another wacky layer to the proceedings by casting doubt on who could have killed her. In addition to everything else, it seems they have a homicidal maniac to deal with.

They continue on to their next obstacle, climbing up a makeshift ladder. Since an inordinate amount of screen time is spent on this relatively simple task, a moment of false jeopardy is added to spice things up. Warden loses his grip and dangles precariously for a few moments. Knight dislocates her shoulder while saving her husband. “It’s gonna hurt a great deal,” Shirley Jones apologizes as she promptly pops it back in place.

Everyone finally makes it to the cargo hold where they discover what Savalas so desperately covets. A weapons cache that, believe it or not, includes a crate full of plutonium. “I can’t let you go now,” he sneers.

Another well timed explosion gives the good guys enough time to grab some guns and engage in a wild west shootout with Savalas and his goons. Whether it’s wise to fire guns near ammunition stockpiles and weapons grade plutonium seems to be the furthest thing from anybody’s mind.

Caine and the rest of the group make a run for it while Boyle holds off the bad guys. Since he’s been a jerk for the majority of the film, this is his one chance at redemption. Predictably, his martyrdom is made official when he is fatally wounded. A tear-filled and touching good-bye from Cartwright follows. A weakened porthole gives away and the compartment begins to flood. Though a convenient door is found, Knight perishes in the rising waters.

Just when Beyond the Poseidon Adventure should be racing towards it’s thrilling climax, the movie comes to a grinding halt as Field takes time out to ask Jones for romantic advice. Jones, Pickens and Malden each share more of their backstories while the romance between Cartwright and Harmon is explored.

Caine reveals that the only way out is through an underwater obstacle course. Coincidentally, there’s some scuba gear on hand, so our all-star survivors don masks and tanks for their swim to freedom. Most of the cast makes it to the surface, but complications from Malden’s mysterious ailment leave him at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

Though they’ve made it free of the sinking ship, they still have Savalas to contend with. As Savalas and his men load their precious cargo, Caine and Field swim to the tug and ferry the boat closer so the rest of the group can safely escape. Pickens isn’t so lucky and is shot dead.

As the tug pulls away, the Poseidon gives a last mighty rumble. The overturned ocean liner (an obvious miniature in a studio tank) along with Savalas, explodes in a giant fireball.

Caine, Field and the remaining cast members literally sail off into the sunset. When Field shows him the uncut diamond she’s managed to smuggle off the Poseidon, she once again asks, “Gonna kiss me now?”

This time Caine happily obliges. It seems that diamonds are a tugboat captain’s best friend.

In conclusion: In the 1960’s, television producer Irwin Allen entertained millions of viewers with escapist fare like Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a series developed from the 1961 film he also produced. With bigger and better projects always in mind, Allen longed to return to the big screen in a big way. He did that in 1972 with The Poseidon Adventure. The film was a phenomenal success and jump-started the disaster movie craze of the 1970’s.

Allen continued his box-office winning streak with The Towering Inferno in 1974. The films that followed relied more and more on genre conventions and became increasingly ridiculous. The Swarm (1978) combined an all-star cast with a rampaging horde of killer bees. When Time Ran Out (1980) featured an all-star cast battling Mother Nature and volcanic eruptions in a tropical resort. By the end of the decade, audiences had caught onto the formulaic genre approach to action and had moved on.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure tried to recapture the success of the original, but sank at the box-office. Movie enthusiasts with a taste for the absurd will no doubt revel in this sequel’s clichéd plot devices and colorful art design that seems more influenced by Allen’s TV work than the original Poseidon.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for production problems on the original film. As originally scripted, the S.S. Poseidon sank beneath the waves after the original survivors were rescued. A shot of the sinking vessel was created using a miniature, but the final results were so unconvincing that the shot was scrapped. With no time or budget left for new effects work, The Poseidon Adventure ended with a final shot of a rescue chopper airlifting the all-star survivors to safety. Seven years later a new cast would arrive to seek one more adventure on the grand old Poseidon.

Part of the fun of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is watching otherwise respectable actors engage in utterly ridiculous situations. It’s had to believe, but Beyond counts no less than four Academy Award winners in it’s cast! Field and Caine faired the best. After starring in this silly sequel, they each went on to win the best actor and actress award twice!

Cool Cinema Trash: Grizzly (1976)

Cool Cinema Trash

poster218 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!

“This is the largest post-season crowd we’ve ever had,” Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) informs his staff in the opening moments of Grizzly (1976).

What it’s all about: As they head out on patrol, one of them comments that, “There’s no way we can keep an eye on all of those backpackers.” In other words, it’s going to be a smorgasbord of campers for some lucky killer bear. It’s not long before spooky point-of-view camera angels menace two lovely ladies. While packing up camp, the first girl is surprise attacked by a giant furry paw. Her arm is ripped off and she’s vigorously tossed back and forth. It’s not too surprising that this first bear attack is similar to the first shark attack in Jaws (1975), the movie that served as “inspiration” for Grizzly.

The second girl makes a mad dash through the woods and finds shelter in an old shack. Her salvation is short lived. The bear (once again, only it’s paw is visible) smashes through the walls as if they were cardboard and quickly dispatches his victim.

Ranger Kelly and perky wildlife photographer Allison Corwin (Joan McCall) find the first body at the shack. They continue the search for her friend even after night falls. While acting as an impromptu crime scene photographer, Allison literally stumbles across the second body. According to the DVD commentary track, a portion of this scene was re-shot inside a roller rink. Even with the clarity of DVD, the scene is often so dark that it’s impossible to tell if they’re in a faux forest/roller rink or on the moon.

After the remains have been examined, Kelly theorizes that a protective mother bear might have attacked the girls. He quickly discounts his own theory, “Bears don’t eat people.”

The examiner offers a less than helpful assessment. “This one did.”

Next, a pretty young park ranger is stalked by the bear-cam as she strips down for a refreshing swim. Duh-dum Duh-dum. With a blatant rip-off of the John Williams score playing on the soundtrack, she is attacked underneath a waterfall.

Over drinks at the lodge, Allison lends a sympathetic ear to Ranger Kelly’s troubles. He has the feeling that there is, “Something I’m not doing.”

“Sure, you’re not killing the bear.” Okay. Maybe she’s not so sympathetic, though it doesn’t really matter. Despite the fact that Allison has clearly been set up as Kelly’s love interest, she disappears from the film after another brief scene.

Under pressure from the National Park Supervisor to do something about the deaths, Kelly enlists the help of local chopper pilot Dan Stober (Andrew Prine). While searching for the killer grizzly from the air, they spot a bear, but it’s only environmentalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) communing with nature. “We got a Grizzly,” he tells them, “and then some.” According to the evidence he’s found, the bear is over 15 feet tall and an ancestor of “the mightiest carnivores in the prehistoric era.”

Later that night, a camper excuses herself from the campfire to slip into something more comfortable. While preparing for bed, the Grizzly strikes, attacking the woman in her tent. She’s swung violently around, an odd effect that’s achieved by flipping the film upside down. The moment is strangely surreal. While in her final death throes, her hair defies gravity and falls up.

Hunters scour the forest looking for the killer bear. One hunter narrowly escapes becoming the bear’s next victim by falling in the water and being swept down river. Kelly and the Park Supervisor continue to clash over the handling of the situation. “Kelly, you’re a maverick. We don’t have room for mavericks.”

That night, the bear sneaks up on a group of hunters. Anyone who’s dumb enough to stay out past nightfall and sleep out in the open while a killer Grizzly is on the loose, gets what they deserve. Luckily, it’s only a cub that stumbles into their camp. They get the bright idea to use the baby bear as bait. “Old mom will come by… Pow.” The Grizzly comes by and eats the little bear. Ranger Kelly, Stober, Scott and the three hunters set up strategic posts in hopes of catching the bloodthirsty beast.

While they lay in wait, Stober entertains them with a story about a pack of grizzlies that once ate an entire Indian tribe. In the DVD making-of documentary, Andrew Prine fondly recalls working on the film with director William Girdler. It was while shooting this scene that Prine improvised the Indian tale, a story lifted directly from the classic Robert Shaw speech in Jaws. Despite Stober’s storytelling skills, Scott would rather capture than kill the beast, “I can look like him, I can smell like him, now gimme a chance!”

Come daybreak, young Ranger Tom (Tom Arcuragi) stands high atop a remote watchtower. You would think that a 15-foot Grizzly would be kind of hard to miss, but the devious critter sneaks up on him and tries to shake Tom loose. The watchtower eventually folds like a house of cards and poor Tom is killed in the fall.

The park supervisor reacts predictably and fulfills the requirements of his stock character, “There’s no need to close the park!” It also seems that he believes in the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. When he invites the press to cover the ongoing story, Kelly has an amusingly righteous exchange with a reporter, “You and your cameras make it so exciting, so attractive.”

A mother and her young child become the next victims of a bear attack. While playing in the yard with his pet rabbit, the little boy is suddenly (and graphically) torn to shreds by the grizzly. Mom attempts to fend off the beast, but she also becomes bear chow.

Kelly and Stober load up their helicopter and fly out over the forest. They land and manage to lure the bear close, but their trap fails and the bear runs off. For some reason, after chasing him across the rugged terrain on foot, Kelly seems genuinely surprised that they weren’t able to catch up with him.

Night comes and goes. Scott, who’s been riding a pony through the woods, is attacked while tracking the beast. The Grizzly takes a swipe at the horse (decapitating it) and claws at Scott. The bear partially buries him, saving him for a snack later on. When Scott awakens in a shallow grave, he finds that the Grizzly wants his dinner sooner rather than later. Kelly and Stober eventually find what is left of their friend.

Continuing their search from the air, they spot the Grizzly and chase it. Our heroes eventually land in an open field where the stage is set for the final confrontation. Jaws set the gold standard for the ubiquitous man vs. beast finale and Grizzly doesn’t veer far from the successful formula. The Grizzly immediately attacks the chopper and the men fend it off with riffles. They each manage to get several good shots into the growling monster, but Stober succumbs to a great big bear hug. Up until this point, the bears and the human actors have never appeared together in the same frame. Prine is briefly shown next to one of the trained animals, but it is a stunt man in a bear costume that gives him the squeeze of death.

Kelly pulls out a rocket launcher…yes, a rocket launcher. If they had a rocket launcher lying around, why didn’t they just use it on the bear in the first place? At any rate, Kelly fires and the Grizzly explodes in a massive fireball.

A lone harmonica plays a melancholy tune on the soundtrack as Ranger Kelly kneels over the body of his fallen friend. If Stober were still alive, he’d undoubtedly wish that Kelly had thought of that rocket launcher just a little sooner.

In conclusion: Auteur William Girdler cranked out several low-budget gems in the seventies. Some of his most memorable titles include Abby (1974), Day of the Animals (1977) and The Manitou (1978). Though Grizzly was by far his most successful film, Girdler never saw a dime thanks to a legal dispute that arose after the film was released.

A novelization of Grizzly was published to coincide with the film’s release. According to the folks at, the book not only features first-person accounts from the bear’s perspective (he’s just misunderstood) but it also offers up the points-of-view of Scott’s horse and the pet bunny rabbit! The book also presents a slightly different ending than the one that appears in the film. Ranger Kelly uses a flamethrower (which makes about as much sense as a rocket launcher) to destroy the grizzly. Also in the novel, Stober survives his bear attack. It’s possible that this ending may have once been part of the final film. As the credits begin to roll, Kelly kneels by his fallen friend whom we assume is dead. If you look closely, Andrew Prine’s fluttering eyelids don’t exactly give the impression that Stober is truly down for the count.

An often talked about, but seldom seen sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator, was shot sometime in the early eighties. With a script by the man who penned the original, the movie was apparently shelved when problems with the special FX bear arose while filming in Hungary. It is said to feature Charlie Sheen and George Clooney in their earliest film roles.

The 30th anniversary double-disc special edition DVD of Grizzly presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and features a commentary by actress Joan McCall and producer David Sheldon. A short vintage promo titled Movie Making in the Wilderness contains interview footage with the director as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the difficulties of shooting while on location in Georgia. Jaws With Claws includes interviews with producers Sheldon and Harvey Flaxman and stars Andrew Prine and Joan McCall. Sheldon relates how, early in the production, the mechanical bear (constructed by an L.A. taxidermist) was accidentally left out in the rain. It became impossible to match the look of the matted animal fur to the shots of the live bear. Consequently, the mechanical grizzly is only seen fleetingly in the final film. The disc also includes a short fanboy segment, Reflections of Grizzly, a small poster/photo gallery and two radio spots.