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 →

Downhill They Ride (1966)

DownhillTheyRide+1966-4-bDownhill They Ride [山賊] (1966)
AKA The Highjackers

Starring Pat Ting Hung, Paul Chang Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Man Ling, Ou Wei, Wang Hsieh, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Zhang De-Liang, Shum Lo, Ma Ying, Got Siu-Bo

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Low.


First things first: I was led to believe that Downhill They Ride was an early martial arts film from the Shaw studio, but instead it’s more of a drama with a lot of horses and guns. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for some twisted expectations. On top of that, it is the first film in my small effort to mop-up some early, previously unavailable martial arts titles for my “I’m never going to finish this” chronological Shaw Brothers review series, so there’s part of me that wished I knew what it was beforehand so I could have just moved on to the next film.

Downhill They Ride may boast a screenplay from martial arts maestro King Hu, but this carries none of the usual gravitas or intense drama typical of his films. Perhaps it was on the page and director Pan Lei didn’t translate it, but I’m more of the mind that King Hu was simply still honing his skills. But considering that Downhill They Ride released only two months prior to Hu’s landmark martial arts film Come Drink With Me, that probably isn’t the case either. Whatever the truth is, I’d say that fans of King Hu’s work should definitely view this film as a stepping stone instead of a lost gem.

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Persona (1966)

persona_6Starring Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jörgen Lindström

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Expectations: Low.


I haven’t been brave enough to watch an Ingmar Bergman film since I was a teenager. At that time I watched The Seventh Seal and I didn’t know what the hell to make of it. I pushed on and watched it again… same result. So I decided that Bergman was a filmmaker that just wasn’t for me. As the years have moved on, this decision has gnawed at me. I surmised that it wasn’t necessarily Bergman’s fault that caused The Seventh Seal to be incomprehensible, but instead it was my age and general naivety. I decided that my early 30s was a fair time to reassess this decision, so that’s how Persona made its way to this year’s Blind Spot list.

Persona is about Elizabet (Liv Ullmann), an actress that suddenly stops talking. She is admitted to a hospital where they determine that she is completely healthy and without issue, but because she continues to refuse to speak she is assigned a personal nurse to attend to her needs. For reasons I forget, the doctor sends the pair to her seaside summer home in hopes that the fresh air and being out of the city will help with Elizabet’s recovery. But in actuality, Persona isn’t really about any of this specifically.

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Batman (1966)

Batman (1966)
AKA Batman: The Movie

Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson

Expectations: Moderate. I expect to have fun.

I’m sure that anyone sitting down to watch the 1966 Batman film based on the TV series knows what they’re getting into, but just in case you don’t, Batman is pure camp. It’s ridiculous, over the top, and going directly at the laughs. When Batman runs around the pier searching for a place to dispose of a bomb, it’s not nail-biting, it’s hilarious. It’s important to know this going in, because you must leave all expectations and logic at the door. The filmmakers immediately acknowledge this as well, with a rather funny dedication that opens the film.

The plot is somewhat inconsequential as you’re really here for the laughs and the crazy Batman hijinks. I tried my best to follow it through its many twists and turns, but by the end I found myself completely lost in a sea of exploding sharks, dehydrated pirates and Robin shooting a giant raygun into the sea. That’s not to say the film is incoherent, just so overboard and ridiculous that it becomes mind numbing and easy to lose track of exactly what’s going on. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that the major Batman villains have teamed up so our caped crusaders must face off against not one, not two, but four supervillains!

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Mini-Review: Princess Iron Fan (1966)

Princess Iron Fan [鐵扇公主] (1966)

Starring Ho Fan, Yueh Hua, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Cheng Pei Pei, Pat Ting Hung, Lily Ho Li Li, Cheng Miu, Shen Yi, Ng Wai, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Man Sau

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first film.

Princess Iron Fan is the second in the Shaw Brother’s four film series of Journey to the West films. It’s not nearly as episodic as the first film, this time only containing two stories, with most of the runtime dedicated to the second one. It’s interesting to me that this got titled after Princess Iron Fan, the subject of the first and much shorter tale, instead of after the film’s main villain and trickster the White Bone Demon (or the Lady White Skeleton depending on the translation) played wonderfully by Cheng Pei-Pei. No matter though, let’s get to what matters… is it a competent sequel?

The answer is a resounding yes. Princess Iron Fan doesn’t deal out anywhere near the amount of amazing FX and crazy visuals as The Monkey Goes West, but it does remain enjoyable throughout. Don’t worry though, you get your fair share of crazy shenanigans going on too. One of my favorite of these moments is when Monkey has to infiltrate Princess Iron Fan’s home to retrieve the only thing that can quell the flames impeding their journey, her iron fan. First he transforms into a three-inch tall version of himself and tickles his way through the serving girls to create a distraction. Then as the princess receives her scrumptious ginseng soup, he transforms into a fly and jumps in the bowl. He travels inside her stomach and then announces his presence. When the princess refuses to relinquish the fan, he hits her tender stomach walls with the end of his staff and performs ulcer-inducing somersaults. Her only recourse is to give in and my only option is to enjoy the shit out of this scene. I’ve seen tons of amazing and inventive sets from the Shaw Brothers, but the interior stomach is something completely fresh and very enjoyable.

Princess Iron Fan is a strong enough film on its own to win anyone over, but taken as a sequel it builds on The Monkey Goes West very well. It doesn’t flesh out the character of Sha Wujing (Sandy) at all though, but there’s still a couple of sequels to do that. I don’t need anything deep, but some explanation of him or a show of his powers would be nice. As of now he’s only the dude with the beard and the crescent moon staff. In any case, it’s clear that Monkey is and always will be the main character of these films. Even though he’s only a disciple to the Monk Tang on his quest for the Buddhist scriptures, it is Monkey’s journey that is the most interesting and easily relatable.

The Monkey Goes West (1966)

The Monkey Goes West [西遊記] (1966)

Starring Yueh Hua, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kao Pao Shu, Nam Wai-Lit, Lee Ying, Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Chiu Sam-Yin

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m insanely interested in this movie and the novel it’s based upon.

Journey to the West is one of the most influential and famous Chinese works of literature of all time. I’ve never read it myself, but years of watching Chinese cinema introduced me to the character of the Monkey King and the basic theme of the work. My knowledge of the actual book is vague, and a vague understanding of a 2,400 page book isn’t really understanding at all, is it? Due to my enjoyment of the Monkey King character, I’ve always been curious to see where he comes from and read the book. Then I found out that in the late 60s the Shaw Brothers and director Ho Meng-Hua cranked out a series of four films based upon the seminal work. It seemed like just the thing to dip my toes into the work without sitting down for the next couple of years trying to read my way through the over five hundred-year-old tale.

A Buddhist monk begins a perilous journey to the West, in search of important Buddhist scriptures. The only problem is that all the denizens of the dark, the demons and the undesirables, want one thing. To eat the flesh of the monk, as they believe it will provide them everlasting life. Along the way the monk Tang picks up three protectors to thwart these flesh-eating attackers: Monkey, a mischievous and magical creature that must learn to control his powers for good; Pigsy, an overweight glutton concerned primarily with any fine young females that come his way; and Sandy, a banished general of Heaven who now lives underwater. And let’s not forget the evil Dragon Prince transformed into the monk’s horse for the journey!

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