Let’s Get Harry (1986)

letsgetharry_1Let’s Get Harry (1986)
AKA The Rescue, Operation Harry

Starring Michael Schoeffling, Thomas F. Wilson, Glenn Frey, Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, Rick Rossovich, Ben Johnson, Mark Harmon

Directed by Alan Smithee (Stuart Rosenberg)

Expectations: None.

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An American ambassador and a plumbing engineer, Harry (Mark Harmon), are kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas and when word gets back to Harry’s brother, Cory (Michael Schoeffling), he’s not about to let Harry rot away in the back of a Colombian shack in the middle of the jungle. Cory first attempts to appeal to the proper channels, taking a trip to Washington with his buddy Pachowski (Thomas F. Wilson), but the politicians are all, “Sorry, son, we just can’t help you.” So Cory decides to ask himself WWHD (What Would Harry Do?), and he finds that the only answer is that Harry would board a plane to Columbia and do his best at being Rambo. And that’s exactly what Cory, Pachowski, Spence (Glenn Frey) and Kurt (Rick Rossovich) do. Let’s Get Harry is one of the many ’80s action films with a Colombian drug lord villain, but how many of those films feature his civilian buddies attempting a rescue mission?

But what the hell do four plumbers know about assaulting a Colombian drug lord’s camp patrolled by armed guards? Well, they know their limitations — not that they need to in an ’80s action film — so they hire Shrike (Robert Duvall), a no-nonsense recipient of the Medal of Honor who agrees to help them traverse the treacherous terrain. And because they can’t get to Columbia on gusto and skill alone, they enlist the help of local car dealer/big game hunter Jack Abernathy (Gary Busey). He refuses to fund their little excursion unless he comes along, so now their party is up to six members and they are ready to roll. (And really, if they cast Gary Busey in this and didn’t take him along…)

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Klansman (1974)

klansmanStarring Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, Cameron Mitchell, O.J. Simpson, Lola Falana, David Huddleston, Luciana Paluzzi, Linda Evans

Directed by Terence Young

Expectations: None.

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Klansman is an abysmal experience. It’s a race relations film, so you’d expect it to take some stance against racism. Instead, the film, like the lead character, is hesitant to come out in favor of a side (and not in a through-provoking ambiguous way). In fact, the film actually feels like it’s saying you shouldn’t interfere with the unstoppable juggernaut of the Klan, and that the races should just mind their own and stay segregated. Yeah. W. T. F.

Klansman began its life as a 1967 novel by William Bradford Huie, which was subsequently optioned and offered to Sam Fuller to write and direct as a film. Fuller jumped in head-first, delivering a script that sought to show the KKK in a brutally realistic manner. Production started to roll forward and Lee Marvin was cast as the Klan leader, the film’s lead. But before the cameras rolled, Paramount got cold feet about Fuller’s vitriolic version, replacing him with British director Terence Young and having his edgy script completely re-written. Fuller had taken the novel’s story as a starting point for his own socially charged yarn, and in the rewrites his villainous Klan leader character was changed back to the novel’s lead: a mild-mannered town sheriff caught in the middle of a race war.

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The Deadly Trackers (1973)

deadlytrackers_2Starring Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand, William Smith, Paul Benjamin, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Isela Vega

Directed by Barry Shear

Expectations: None.

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The Deadly Trackers opens with a few minutes of still images introducing us to the town of Santa Rosa. Sometimes dialogue plays over these images, creating the feeling of recalling a memory through a series of photographs. The images also carry the texture of a painting or an old photograph. This intro drags on for quite a while, eventually introducing a group of bandits robbing the bank. If there was ever an opposite to the slam-bang, ball-grabbin’ Sam Fuller-style intro, this would be it.

Where the motion begins, though, becomes all the more jarring because of this slow run-up of still images. The leader of the bandits, Brand (Rod Taylor), shoots a bank clerk in the forehead and the film almost literally explodes into action. Is it possible to assume that if Sam Fuller had been allowed to make the film he would’ve just opened here? Probably not, but it would definitely be closer to his style than anything Barry Shear decided to do in The Deadly Trackers.

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The Cape Town Affair (1967)

The_Cape_Town_Affair-256914667-largeStarring James Brolin, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Trevor, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley, Gordon Mulholland

Directed by Robert D. Webb

Expectations: None.

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The Cape Town Affair is a beat-by-beat remake of Sam Fuller’s wonderful noir thriller Pickup on South Street, and it’s just painful as all hell to get through. But this is a bad movie unlike any bad movie I’ve ever seen. Remakes are always tricky business when the original is a well-loved film, but the choices here are truly strange. Based on the film’s opening credits, you might be persuaded into thinking that Sam Fuller had actually been involved with this remake, but that was not the case. No, Fuller’s screenwriting credit comes by way of his original script, which was used here almost word for word.

Pickup on South Street is a late-period noir film, and it carries with it a style of hard-edged dialogue that usually typifies the genre. Within the confines of the original film it works; the actors inhabit their characters fully and deliver the lines with conviction and passion. Not so much with The Cape Town Affair. The actors in the remake feel like they’re just passing the time until the catering truck arrives with only mildly interesting food. The once-edgy dialogue now seems out of place in 1960s Cape Town; it’s as if all the film’s characters were scooped up from 1950s New York and dropped into 1960s Cape Town without any knowledge or self-awareness. It’s such a strange thing to watch and try to make sense of. I can understand why you’d want to use Fuller’s original dialogue because it’s often bristlin’ with great wit, but to ignore the passage of time and place is a glaring oversight.

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The Command (1954)

thecommand_3Starring Guy Madison, Joan Weldon, James Whitmore, Carl Benton Reid, Harvey Lembeck, Ray Teal, Robert Nichols, Don Shelton

Directed by David Butler

Expectations: None.

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The Command features an interesting premise for a fairly standard “Cowboys & Indians” western: after the Captain of the cavalry unit is killed, the unit’s doctor is given command of the company until they reach Ft. Stark and a hard-earned rest. But along they way, the cavalry runs into an Infantry Unit escorting a wagon train of civilians through Indian country. The infantry commander requests the cavalry unit to provide support on their journey, so now what was to be a short career in command for Dr. Robert MacClaw (Guy Madison) becomes a test of the doctor’s ability to save lives on a massive scale through strategy and confidence, instead of healing.

This kind of story, where an unlikely hero rises to the occasion, is nothing new (even in 1954, I’m sure), and The Command doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the pack. Guy Madison has a great presence as the doctor turned commander, evoking the sensitivity of a caring doctor well. The only problem is that he begins the film nearly as confident as he ends it, so his struggle to find strength is more of a red herring than it initially seems. The film is actually more about MacClaw proving himself and earning the respect of the men he’s leading through dangerous territory. This is further complicated for MacClaw with the introduction of the infantry, who apparently have a long-standing rivalry with the cavalry, so the Doc must also convince these infantrymen and their commander that he’s worthy of their trust and respect.

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The Tanks are Coming (1951)

tanksarecoming_6Starring Steve Cochran, Philip Carey, Mari Aldon, Paul Picerni, Harry Bellaver, James Dobson, George O’Hanlon, John McGuire

Directed by Lewis Seiler

Expectations: Moderate.

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The Tanks are Coming is the epitome of a middle-of-the-road film (and no, that’s not intended as some dumb attempt at a tank pun… although if you laughed, I’ll take it!). This is a shame because there are a lot of great scenes of tank action that really deserve to be in a better movie. Many of the characters also show potential, but none of them ever fully realize it. So when it’s all over, and you realize that the whole she-bang is kinda mediocre, it’s more disappointing than it would normally be because you can almost see the better movie it could have been.

The plot is one of the film’s main issues, because there really isn’t one. OK, there is one, but it’s incredibly brief. Here it is… ready? A few tanks from the Army’s 3rd Armored Division (nicknamed Spearhead) attempt to bust through Germany’s Siegfried Line and into Germany. As you can see, that’s more of a general goal than it is a plot. The Tanks are Coming is largely episodic in nature, but because of the clearly defined end-goal, the episodes feel more directly connected than in a traditional episodic film. In this way it’s kinda like an adventure across the countryside in tanks (not that war should ever be considered an adventure). Anyway, this episodic structure has been done effectively in war films, but in The Tanks are Coming the elements never congeal. We’re watching these guys go through many different situations, yet everything still feels somewhat disjointed and glossed-over. For me, this frustration is further compounded by the fact that the film’s story is credited to Sam Fuller, the man I consider to be not only the master of the realistic war film, but also the episodic, survival-based war film.

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Shockproof (1949)

shockproof_2Starring Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight, John Baragrey, Esther Minciotti, Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Charles Bates

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Expectations: Moderate.

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Sam Fuller’s stories are known for their interesting story hooks that immediately take hold of you and demand your rapt attention, usually defying what you generally expect a movie to be about. Shockproof is no different, and while I’m sure the finished film was diluted from his original draft, it still bears much of Fuller’s known style. The dialogue sparkles with his wit, and the premise is as “Sam Fuller” as any premise ever was; there’s even a character named Griff! The dilution does come with a price, though, as the ending is far too contrived and happy for the story that came before it. It’s not quite as bad as “…And it was all a dream,” but it’s definitely cut from a similar cloth.

Shockproof opens on Hollywood Blvd. A beautiful woman in black walks into a shop and purchases a new set of clothes. She also bleaches her hair blonde and soon emerges ravishing and ready to take on the world. We follow her into an office building, where she’s told by a secretary that the man she’s here to see is just behind the next door. Surely this is the beginning of a nice little film where the girl gets a quiet bookkeeping job for an executive and falls madly in love, right?

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