UPON FURTHER REVIEW:Your very own DOCTOR of ANCIENT FILMOLOGY says: ‘May the many marvelously mediocre movies be praised…’ by Brad Eastland, Af.D

September 11, 2011
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      our-man-flintWhat exactly is a “B” movie?

     Difficult to quantify.   As are many pop-culture slang phrases.   Let’s just say that a B movie is a 2nd tier or even occasionally a 3rd tier film combining several key elements:  Like a small, shoestring budget.   Like a haphazard, cheesy script.   Poor production quality.   Silly special effects.   Comical, side-splitting belly-laughs where there shouldn’t be belly-laughs at all.   ‘Sure helps if the plot is ridiculous.   And lack of star-power is a must, or at least star-power mis-used and wasted by the tiny budget, horrible script, stupid plot, and slipshod production values.   Some B movies actually have a great script, a great story, but not the budget necessary to elevate it to “A” status.   It helps if the B movie drifts through time essentially unknown.   And in the final analysis, a B movie must be either so good that it’s downright surprising it’s not so bad or so bad it’s good.   ‘Unnerstand?

     Good.   All that said, I thought it might be fun for me to list my own very personal top-20 favorite B movies for you, and offer up a brief commercial for each, so that you might then easily justify seeking them out.   They all pop up on late-night TV from time to time, and you can also obtain most of them CHEAP, on-line, today, if you just can’t wait that long.   I’ve checked.

     I promise you one thing: If the key attribute of any worthwhile B movie is that when it shows up on TV you absolutely must sit down and watch it, these all qualify in spades.

So no more stalling, here’s one reporter’s Top-20 “B” list, in no particular order:
 “FIRST YANK INTO TOKYO”   (1945)   An unknown WWII gem starring Tom Neal (who?) and Barbara Hale, she of “Perry Mason” fame.   Neal plays a blond-haired blue-eyed all-American boy who, after getting word that his nurse fiancée-girlfriend Hale is killed in the Pacific, agrees to have plastic surgery done on his face to make him look like a Japanese guy.   Why?   So that he can infiltrate a military prison camp in Japan and help a leading American scientist escape, a scientist who holds the key to the Americans being able to construct an atomic bomb.   Turns out the nurse-girlfriend isn’t dead after all, and of course she’s in the same prison camp as the scientist and the scientist of course is her new boyfriend and of course she hates the Japanese and so, by extension, she hates her ex-fiancée’s new Japanese face.   And of course Neal can’t tell her who he is because the mission is top secret.   Oh, and just to complicate things further, Neal’s old college roommate, a former Japanese exchange student, is now the prison’s evil Commandant.   That’s it.   That’s the plot.   No, I’m not kidding.   If that’s not the wackiest, the funniest, the most marvelous and ridiculous and utterly improbable story-line in movie history I don’t know what is….I mean can’t you just not wait to see it?
 “GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN”   (1961)   Deborah Walley stars as the quintessential Gidget.   Song & Dance man Michael Callan and the great Carl Reiner (as her dad) come up strong in support.   James Darren (who else?) handles the role of “Moondoggie”.   My kid sister and I still watch this one, together, once every couple of years.   When there are other people in the room we like saying the lines in advance, just to freak people out.
 “MYSTERIOUS ISLAND”   (1961)   A campy Sci-Fi classic.   Based on a Jules Verne story.   Starts with Union prisoners escaping from a Confederate prison camp in a balloon.   Then moves on to a South Seas island.   With really big mutated animals.   With bees the size of cattle.   With Captain Nemo and the Nautilus sub.   Michael Callan—having a big year in 1961, fresh from his “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” triumph—shows up again on another pacific island.   Callan must like islands.   And Herbert Lom, as Nemo, utters one of the most thought-provoking lines ever captured on film: “Contact with my own species has always disappointed me…    Think about it.

“FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG”   (1964)   Take a shady character called “Nifty”, the usual college-life hijinks, a few gangsters, throw in Nancy Sinatra and Claudia Martin (yes, the daughters of Rat Pack buddies Frank and Dino), and then add Woody Woodbury, an Ellen-McRae-long-before-she-was-Ellen-Burstyn, the hysterical Paul Lynde, and an upside-down-and-buried-in-the-sand Bob Denver, as the beatnik “Kelp”, singing “Ho, Daddy!, Ho, Daddy!, Ho Daddy!, Ho Daddy! “, and “For Those Who Think Young” is what you get.   What’s not to like???


 “OUR MAN FLINT”   (1966)   A glorious spoof film featuring James Coburn as the greatest secret agent ever.   This guy makes James Bond look like a Campfire Girl.   Lee J. Cobb is terrific as the head of the Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage (yes, that’s Z.O.W.I.E. for short).   Naturally there are lots of pretty girls with big boobs and without much clothing.   This movie is also the genesis of that peerless 80s catch-phrase, ‘bedele bedele bedele bedele’, which has to do with Cobb’s presidential hot-line red telephone’s distinctive ring tone, and beyond that it’s too hard to explain….
 “THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS”   (1959)   The first and worst horror movie I ever saw, which makes it the best horror movie I ever saw.   Also the movie that I most associate with the short saga of my pre-California youth.   Saw it in Illinois in 1961.   Big holiday gathering.   While I was transfixed in front of the TV my Uncle John went into the refrigerator and stole my vanilla-wafers-with-chocolate-pudding dessert.   Scarred me for years!   But the memory does help make this movie special for me.   It’s a fun monster thriller.   Low budget for sure.   You’ll love the 7-foot lizard wearing pajama bottoms.

“NAVY BLUE & GOLD”   (1937)   The one Jimmy Stewart movie apparently only I have ever seen.   Actually, Robert Young is the top-billed star in this one, a patriotic tale of pigskin-loving midshipmen preparing to meet Army in the big football game.   Look for Billie Burke (better known to you as Glinda, the good witch of the north) in an amusing supporting role.   Stewart displays early vestiges of the volcanic humanity that later made him a national treasure.   This one makes you want to enlist….almost.
 “VIVA LAS VEGAS”   (1964)   Elvis sings, swings, and swivels, Ann-Margret is so hot she’s cool, and don’t forget Cesare Danova as ‘Elmo Mancini, the Italian racing Count!’   Elvis and Ann reportedly had a steamy off-screen affair during filming.   Must be great to be a superstar….
 “SAVAGE SAM”   (1963)   Old Yeller’s pup has better luck than his dad, and also has a much better theme song: ‘We were born in the West in the land that’s best, but folks out here never get much rest—with dogs and boys like me, in the land of the wild coun-try…’   Check out both the song and the opening ten minutes of this Disney hidden classic: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0n2zBsKB5vo .   Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran are still the best frontier brothers ever.
 “STEALING HOME”   (1988)   A kitchen sink of some of my favorite movie themes is crammed into this beauty:  Themes like baseball, baseball history, the Iost loves of Youth, nostalgia, sex, the 60s, golf, family dysfunction, and what in the world to do with somebody’s ashes.   Good performances by Mark Harmon and a young Jodie Foster.   Look for a then-unknown Helen Hunt in a throw-away role as Harmon’s little sister.   This movie always gets terrible reviews.   Don’t know why.   I happen to think this is a really, really good little unknown B movie, but I’ve never read or heard one good thing about it.   Sad.   ‘Guess it’s up to me.
 “RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE”   (1966)   Claude Akins, Bill Bixby, and Michael Rennie decide to burn Chuck Connors in the chest with a branding iron but make the tactical mistake of leaving him alive; and then they pay the price.   I reviewed this movie in detail, in this space, a few months ago.   Here’s the link:

 “SHE’S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE”   (1952)   The presidency not yet even a glint in his eye, handsome he-man college professor Ronald Reagan flips over voluptuous burlesque queen Virginia Mayo (scintillating as “hot garters Gertie”) but somehow ol’ Ron manages to stay loyal to the perennially dry and flagrantly ordinary Phyllis Thaxter.   What a guy!   (‘Guess the Gipper must have been practicing to stay loyal to that old battle-axe Nancy, huh?)
 “JIM THORPE, ALL AMERICAN”   (1951)   Deeply flawed and historically inaccurate.   But wonderful.   Plus they picked the handsomest guy in Hollywood (Burt Lancaster) to play one of the ugliest people of all time.   The perennially dry Phyllis Thaxter is in this one too.  Who was she sleeping with?
 “THE BABE RUTH STORY”   (1948)   Even more historically inaccurate than ‘Thorpe’, but who can ever forget William Bendix bursting and barging into the hospital in his Yankee uniform right before a game—clad in cleats, cap, and all—carrying the injured dog?  (“Don’t let Pee-Wee die, Babe!  Please don’t let Pee-Wee die!” … sob)
 “DUEL OF THE TITANS”   (1961)   Steve Reeves vs. Gordon Scott as Romulus & Remus, twin bodybuilders who battle for the future of ancient Rome… ‘nuff said.
 “PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND”   (1963)   Written by Earl Hamner of “The Waltons” fame, this Easter-week romp is a guaranteed hoot.   And it has virtually the archetypical 60s B-movie cast: Troy Donahue, Stephanie Powers, Jerry Van Dyke, Connie Stevens, Jack Weston, Carole Cook, Andrew Duggan, Robert Conrad, Tina Cole, Billy Mumy, and Ty Harden as “Stretch”.   If you were a young actor and needed a job in 1963, you were in this movie.

“THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET”   (1964)   How does this sound?   Don Knotts as a myopic, miserable, Brooklyn-born milquetoast turned very happy fish, wreaking havoc on Nazi U-Boat operations from beneath the surface with the aid of his irascible hermit crab sidekick “Crusty”?   Works for me!  (And it’s worth noting that Jack Weston, Carole Cook, and Andrew Duggan from “Palm Springs Weekend” are all in this one too.   It’s obvious that some of these people show up in more than one of these movies.   I guess sometimes a good B movie simply means employing good B-movie actors.
 “THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE”   (1956)   Mild-mannered yet inwardly frustrated to the point of blowing a fuse, storekeeper Glenn Ford is secretly the quickest of the quick but doesn’t want the fame.   But even though the whole town swears to keep Ford’s secret a secret, ultra-fast-gun Broderick Crawford passes through town and finds out about Glenn just in time for Glenn to gun him down….oops!   I just spoiled the ending for you.  But there is a very cool twist after the smoke clears, so relax.   Ford’s combustible presence dominates this crackling-crisp Western.   This movie holds a special place in my heart, because Ford is my all-time favorite B-movie leading man.   He was an absolutely brilliant, explosive, multi-dimensional and vastly underrated actor.  The Fastest Gun Alive” also stars my favorite actress ever, in a B, an A, or in any other kind of movie; the beautiful, bewitching Jeanne Crain.

“AMAZING GRACE AND CHUCK”   (1987)   Gregory Peck meets NBA basketballer Alex English and NFL footballer Harvey Martin….the result?   Nuclear disarmament, of course!
 “KENTUCKY”   (1938)   Okay, so Walter Brennan did steal an Oscar for this one.   But it is still a delightfully lousy movie.  I have a soft spot for movies about horse racing; even this Romeo & Juliet meets Bluegrass Country version of Shakespeare’s tale.   And the final climactic scene, where old Walter and Loretta Young scream from the rail to their jockey to “throw the whip away”—and he actually throws the whip away during the race, in the middle of the home stretch, as if he actually hears the frantic pair screaming their last-minute riding orders at him, despite him being hundreds of yards away from Brennan and Young while, oh by the way, the thunder of hooves and 100,000 screaming fans apparently aren’t enough to drown out their pathetic, melodramatic pleas for horsey compassion—gets my vote for most laughable, ludicrous, and delightfully moronic scene in motion picture history.

      There you go!

     Have you seen any of these obscure celluloid jewels?   If not, don’t you just wanna go out right now and rent or buy them all?   If not, what’s wrong with you?   I think you better read this column again….


Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.   (So if you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).    Flashy special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels* and over 20 short-stories.   Scroll through the link below to find some examples of his very best yarns, all of them taken from his “U.K. JOURNAL” collection:

*To pick up a copy of Brad’s recently published, modern-day ‘epic’ novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it (using the author’s full name, C. Bradford Eastland) on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com….published by iUniverse Inc.









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