Blood Money (1975)

Blood Money [龍虎走天涯, Là dove non batte il sole] (1975)
AKA The Stranger and the Gunfighter, La brute, Le Colt et le Karaté

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Julián Ugarte, Erika Blanc, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu

Directed by Antonio Margheriti

Expectations: High. I love Spaghetti Westerns and Kung Fu! This sould be a slam dunk, right?


On paper, Blood Money is the kind of movie I should love. A Spaghetti Western starring Lee Van Cleef, co-produced by Shaw Brothers and co-starring Lo Lieh. When I first heard about this movie a few years back, I imagined it as something similar to My Name is Shanghai Joe, only better since it had a great cast and the power of the Shaw Studio’s martial arts behind it. But man… that honestly couldn’t be further from the truth. Blood Money isn’t a horrible movie, but it’s definitely not taking full advantage of all the greatness at its disposal.

Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) comes to town with one thing on his mind: cracking the safe of Wang, a man said to have his fortune stored within. Dakota gets right to work, finding a sequence of locked doors within, each containing a picture of a prostitute who works for Wang. The safe’s final door requires some dynamite, and the blast not only opens the door but mistakenly kills Wang. Dakota retrieves the contents (another photo… and a fortune cookie), but he is arrested before he can get away. Word of Wang’s death reaches China, so Wang’s nephew Wang Ho Chien (Lo Lieh) is sent to investigate and find the missing fortune. His first stop is to question Dakota in jail, but this is just the beginning of the hunt for Wang’s treasure!

Continue reading Blood Money (1975) →

Shanghai Noon (2000)

Shanghai Noon (2000)
AKA Shanghai Kid, Shaolin Cowboy

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan, Xander Berkeley, Yu Rong-Guang, Jason Connery, Walton Goggins, Adrien Dorval, Rafael Báez, Stacy Grant, Kate Luyben

Directed by Tom Dey

Expectations: Moderate.


From where I’m sitting, the years have not been kind to Shanghai Noon. I initially saw it upon its original home video release, and I remember liking well enough to carry a positive memory around with me in the intervening years. Seeing it in relative close proximity to some truly great Jackie films, though, Shanghai Noon feels neutered and missing so much of the “it factor” that makes Jackie unique. The action is minimal and not satisfying at all, though to be fair Shanghai Noon is trying its best to be a comedy more than anything else. This becomes a problem when you’re not laughing along with the movie, because there’s literally nothing else to carry the film (other than every western genre cliche you can imagine).

Jackie plays Chon Wang, an Imperial Guard who is friendly with Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) and feels responsible when she is kidnapped and taken to America. So along with a trio of uptight guards, Jackie makes his way to the land of cowboys and golden dreams to begin his search. Initially he finds it a bit hard, running into a bumbling gang of train thieves led by Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). But to be honest, the plot of Shanghai Noon isn’t of much concern; it’s more about the comedy of the two lead characters coming together and dealing with situation after situation of bad luck.

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Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 4: Iron Horse – Banner with a Strange Device & The Red Tornado

Once again, I am back with another installment in my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller… but this is the final post! Not just of these TV posts, but for the entire Sam Fuller series! Instead of going out with a bang reminiscent of Fuller’s dynamic opening shots, we’re gonna go out with a whisper from a TV playing in the next room. I casually started reviewing Fuller films in 2010, so to finally finish everything off is a huge source of joy for me. I love Fuller, but I’ll be glad to be moving on to other things.


ironhorse_banner_1Iron Horse: Banner with a Strange Device (1967)
First aired: 02/06/1967

Starring Dale Robertson, Robert Random, Jeff York, Jorja Curtright, Dean Pollack, Anthony Zerbe, Brenda Benet, Roger Torrey, Tony Young, Robert Williams, Charles Horvath, Dean Smith

Directed by Samuel Fuller


Banner with a Strange Device is an episode that ditches the general Iron Horse format and focuses on the orphan Barnabas (Robert Random). The BPS&D train arrives in the town of Banner, where Calhoun has come to collect on a $50,000 wager he made with the namesake of the town, Big Jim Banner (Jeff York), that the railroad could reach his town before the first snow. They make it, but as soon as Barnabas steps off the train — to chase his pet raccoon that, as far as I can remember, hasn’t appeared in any of these Fuller-directed episodes — he is assaulted by a couple of dudes that think he’s a member of the Clayborne family.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 4: Iron Horse – Banner with a Strange Device & The Red Tornado →

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon

In Part 3 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his third and fourth episodes of Iron Horse: Hellcat and Volcano Wagon. According to Fuller in his book, A Third Face, he only remembers one of the six Iron Horse episodes he made, and these ain’t it! I’d think it’d be hard to forget something you made called Volcano Wagon, but this period in Fuller’s career was a definite rough patch. Even though the following years would bring much artistic frustration and strife, they also finally brought The Big Red One to life and Fuller also met his wife Christa in the years following this stint on Iron Horse. So it makes sense if he wiped out this small bit of forgettable work for hire from his memory banks.


ironhorse_hellcat_1Iron Horse: Hellcat (1966)
First aired: 12/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Arlene Martel, Harry Landers, Vincent Beck, John War Eagle, Tony Young

Written by Samuel Fuller & Oliver Crawford

Directed by Samuel Fuller


Hellcat preserves the general structure of the previous two Iron Horse episodes I’ve seen, in that it involves one of the BPS&D (Buffalo Pass, Scalplock, & Defiance Railroad) employees surveying ahead of the train in order to secure the rights to build the railroad through the land. This time it’s Calhoun who’s out on the trail, and he’s also the only main cast member to appear in the episode. Even the train doesn’t make an appearance! Calhoun is out scouting deep in Indian territory when he comes upon a couple of roughneck cowboys attempting to rape a Native American woman. Once again Fuller chooses to favor long shots of stunt people fighting. Modern filmmaking always favors the more visceral up-close approach to bring the viewer in the action, but stepping back and watching these cowboys wail on this struggling woman feels more real to me. It’s like being a powerless bystander, which really enhances the emotional response. I’ve written many times about Fuller using this technique, but it never ceases to impress me.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon →

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago

In Part 2 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his first two episodes of Iron Horse: High Devil and The Man from New Chicago. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller is not shy about how most of his work in television was done for cold hard cash, and I really got the feeling from his book that he despised working on Iron Horse the most. When he quickly discusses the show in his book, he flat-out admits that he only remembers one of the six episodes he made. His heart just wasn’t in it. By this time in the later ’60s, he was really having trouble getting his film projects going so it makes sense that he would finally relent and do a good-sized stint at a TV show.


ironhorse_highdevil_2Iron Horse: High Devil (1966)
First aired: 09/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Gary Collins, Robert Random, Louise Sorel, Charles H. Gray, James Best, Hardie Albright, Dal Jenkins, Fred Dale

Written & Directed by Samuel Fuller


I had never seen — or even heard of — Iron Horse before delving into the work of Sam Fuller, and based on my first episode I’m not eager to know any more about the show. It seems like the basic premise is that Ben Calhoun (Dale Robertson) won a railroad line in a poker game (in the pilot episode, I’m guessing) and is now making his way around the west trying to expand the line. He’s got some photographer buddies traveling with him, but they didn’t stand out to me at all, or even seem to matter much in the episode.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago →

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 1: The Dick Powell Show & The Virginian

fullerWelcome to the third and final phase in my exhaustive look at the work of Sam Fuller! Here I will explore the television episodes directed by Fuller. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller is not shy about how most of his work in television was done for cold hard cash. By the ’60s he was transitioning back to independent films, so a quick TV job paid the bills and didn’t take up too much time. That’s the gist of what I got from the quick passages about it in the book, anyway.

What’s interesting is that Fuller paints the picture of his debut on television as being around The Virginian, making no mention at all of The Dick Powell Show. I suppose production schedules and the like could have forced the episode of The Virginian to release after 330 Independence S.W., but at this point I don’t think it matters one way or the other. The important thing is that It Tolls for Thee was both written and directed by Fuller, and he was approached specifically to create an episode for the show. In A Third Face Fuller states that this episode was to be the show’s pilot, but some shuffling must have occurred because it ended up as the 9th episode aired. He makes no mention at all of 330 Independence S.W., but he does mention receiving a bunch of TV offers that he turned down. Apparently, he didn’t turn down that one! If he truly did forget the episode, I’m not surprised. When he quickly discusses his episodes of Iron Horse in his book, he flat-out admits that he only remembers one of the six he made. His heart just wasn’t in it.


330independencesw_1The Dick Powell Show: 330 Independence S.W. (1962)
First aired: 03/20/1962

Starring William Bendix, David McLean, Julie Adams, Bert Freed, Alan Reed Jr., Yale Summers, Ed Kemmer, Les Damon, Adrienne Ellis, Norman Alden, Michael Harvey

Directed by Samuel Fuller


330 Independence S.W. was Fuller’s first work on TV, and while its subject matter is somewhat Fuller-esque, you’d be hard-pressed to find the director’s stamp on this work. That’s not surprising, TV in those days was a lot more uniform than it is now, but I did hope for a slight glimmer. Especially since this was probably shot sometime between Underworld USA and Merrill’s Marauders, during the prime period of Fuller’s career.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 1: The Dick Powell Show & The Virginian →

Quick Takes: Mark of the Devil, Day of Anger, Blind Woman’s Curse

mark_of_devil_poster_01Mark of the Devil [Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält] (1970)
AKA Hexen

threestar

Starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs
Directed by Michael Armstrong

Set in Austria during the 1700s, Mark of the Devil is a witch hunter film that is surprisingly brutal and graphic for 1970. Although, I guess it probably wasn’t released uncut most places back then. Anyway, Mark of the Devil is one of the ancestors of the torture porn genre, but unlike the Saw films and those that followed, I actually enjoyed Mark of the Devil! A lot of that rides on the shoulders of Reggie Nalder, who is exceptional in the role of the town’s crazed witch hunter. It’s ultimately a hard one to recommend, though, as it’s not much more than a torture-rific exploitation movie. What I can recommend is the newly released Arrow Blu-ray/DVD, which is excellent. I love when Blu-rays manage to retain the general look of watching a film projection (DAT GRAIN). Looks like a million witches burning at the stake.

day_of_angerDay of Anger [I giorni dell’ira] (1967)
AKA Blood and Grit, Gunlaw, Days of Wrath

threehalfstar

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Lukas Ammann, Andrea Bosic, Ennio Balbo, José Calvo
Directed by Tonino Valerii

As if you needed any more evidence that Lee Van Cleef is a total badass, Day of Anger presents him in one of his finest roles. He plays the mysterious and ruthless Frank Talby, who rides into the strange town of Clifton and endears himself to a persecuted street cleaner named Scott (Giuliano Gemma). In their first encounter, Talby teaches Scott that he doesn’t necessarily have to accept the lot that life has given him; he can instead create the life he would like to have. This progression of Scott’s character, and his relationship with Talby, are satisfying enough on their own, but Day of Anger also has some incredible scenes that rank among the best the western genre has to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Talby has a duel mid-film that’s just fantastic. Director Tonino Valerii was Sergio Leone’s assistant director before moving on to his own films, and he clearly picked up some tricks. After watching a number of mediocre Spaghetti Westerns over the last few years, Day of Anger is not only one of the best Spaghettis I’ve seen in a while, it’s also one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while. Genre fans should definitely check it out! The new Arrow Blu-ray/DVD looks absolutely fantastic, too!

Blind Woman’s Curse [怪談昇り竜] (1970)
AKA Black Cat’s Revenge, The Tattooed Swordswoman, Strange Tales of Dragon Tattoo

threehalfstar

Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satō, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirō Otsuji, Toru Abe, Tatsumi Hijikata, Yoshi Kato, Yoko Takagi
Directed by Teruo Ishii

If you were to look at Blind Woman’s Curse critically, you could find many faults with the plot. It is a film that mixes multiple genres and styles together, and it’s not necessarily concerned with doing them all justice. But honestly, I only noticed this after the film had long been over, because while I was watching I was just having a blast. It’s one of those rare films that satisfies my love for both B-Movies and classically well-made cinema. All the the trashiness you’d expect from a multi-genre B-Movie is present, but Blind Woman’s Curse is made with much more grace and skill than these B-elements would normally suggest. There are some seriously great shots and camera work here, and they make me very excited to see some more of Ishii’s work. The film also reminded me a lot of the work of Takashi Miike, and I have a strong feeling Ishii was an influence on him. I don’t know if Blind Woman’s Curse has a cult following, but it definitely deserves one and the elements to attract one are surely all here. The availability of the recent Arrow Blu-ray/DVD should help it find more fans, too.

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