You can have all your fancy foodie artisanal cheeses, I’m a Gibbsville guy. Pure Wisconsin cheese. And though a Wisconsinite completely weirded me out the first time I was ever offered one, I came to adore cheese curds. They remained a mystery to me, though, I had no idea how they came to be. Are they some off bi-product of cheese making? Do they fall upon Gibbsville like manna from heaven? Maybe it’s a high tech technology. Something as impenetrable as Sheepshead, full of digital tuffets and industrial weigh. Way. Whatever.
Then wow…I come across actual photographic evidence of the Gibbsville cheese curd machine! I’ve never seen it before. I’ve been to Gibbsville many times–it’s just past Sheboygan, by the big tree–but the cheese curd machine was hidden from view. I always figured it was huge and top secret, like the Hadron Collider. I guess not. Still, this picture is exciting. It’s so atomic age. Not a cow to be seen. Not even a bratwurst. Nor an unsmiling Norwegian working a butter churn. Maybe it’s Friday night and they’re all at Fish Fry. Even the Norwegians go to Fish Fry. They turn off the Lutheran for the night and join the Poles observing Lent. Another round for Olaf here! And ya still got some of dat schnapps dere? Schnapps? You betcha!
Sometimes I really miss Wisconsin, and I never even lived there.
Hoodlum Saint, a rather worthless William Powell flick that he somehow got suckered into making. The script appears to have been written by committee, by several committees, none of them on speaking terms, and Powell and a good cast of character actors–Frank McHugh, James Gleason, and Angela Lansbury among them–are totally wasted on insipid dialog, silly gags and plots twists so random that if you leave the room for a minute and come back you’d think that someone changed the channel and found another William Powell movie you’d never seen before. Powell is stuck with Esther Williams as his lead, a hopeless mismatch for an actor used to sparring with Myrna Loy, Carole Lombard, and Jean Harlow. Not only is it hard to tell how he’d be hopelessly drawn to her–hell, she never even swims–but you can tell he’s going easy on the repartee, slowing down so she can keep up. Oddest of all is the role of Angela Lansbury, who probably a few dozen rewrites ago had been a saucy, purring femme fatale but now was a saloon singer sleeping with William Powell. Powell is all set to break the news of he and Esther’s impending nuptials to Angela but Esther insists on meeting her first. They go to the nightclub. Angela is singing. Bill and Esther sit down at a table. He orders champagne cocktails. She has milk, with a straw. (OK, she has a cocktail.) Angela finishes her song and joins them. You have a beautiful voice, Esther says. Angela purrs “Thanks, but that’s all his doing–deep in the throat.” I stare. Blink. Blink. “Resonance”, she adds. Though there’s not a chance in hell that people in 1946 didn’t think what I thought. Hell, there’d been a war on. Lauren Bacall telling Bogie it depends who’s in the saddle. Besides, that was the best line of the movie. It was all downhill from there. And it had all been downhill till then too. Thought I’d never see a William Powell film I couldn’t recommend if only because William Powell was in it. I was wrong. Skip it.
OK, that’s enough writing today, the fog settles in.
Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast.
There is about four hundred times as much narration as dialog in The Beast of Yucca Flats and yet there’s very little narration either, just lots of very slow action footage, with random atmospheric moments, all of it shot silently, with sound dubbed in later. Characters talk with their back to the camera so you won’t notice. Cars run. Sometimes you can hear them. Sometimes you don’t. A man runs. Someone shoots at him. The utter lack of continuity gives it the same sense of time as the aliens in The Arrival, a thought that actually occurred to me while watching The Beast of Yucca Flats, I am embarrassed to admit. I mentioned it to my wife and she just stared at me. As the narrator says, nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers (not that there are any flying saucers in The Beast of Yucca Flats). The result is that each dollop of narration stands out like a random snip of a 1950’s pulp murder mystery intoned like bad beat poetry, always on the prowl, looking for something or somebody to kill. Quench the killer’s thirst. Instead of bongos and saxophones we get Tor Johnson’s occasional growls and wails (he is the noted scientist turned into a beast by an unexpected atomic blast), plus a weirdly musical score (they must have spent the budget for sound on the score.) The words themselves become addicting. There is a theme: Yucca Flats. The A-bomb. Joseph Javorski, noted scientist. Progress. Especially Progress. It’s pops up at random times, like a cop trapped in the wheels of Progress, or as boys from the city, not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress, feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs. Or even metaphorically: flag on the moon. How did it get there? It’s what gives this film its intellectual cachet above and beyond, say, Attack of the Giant Leaches, with which this shares a DVD. It’s what turns this from being merely an incredibly bad science fiction movie into an appallingly bad use of the English language, those pseudo deep hard boiled snippets of narration full of meaning and heaviness. You have to resist dropping them into your own writing, it’s so easy. Find the Beast and kill him. Kill, or be killed. Man’s inhumanity to man. Reading this review it’s hard to tell what I wrote and what I copped from the script. I am ruined.
Today’s super market review, from an email written on the first rush of the morning’s caffeine and before the seizure meds kicked in:
Also, Sprouts. You ought to check one out sometime. Sort of a cross between Gelson’s and Trader Joes, sort of, and maybe of Whole Foods without all that asshole Wholefoodsiness and obnoxious prices. Our favorite is the one up on Foothill in La Cañada, but that’s probably because the 2 Freeway is kind of like a ride at Disneyland, you go up and up and there’s all these great views and it’s still kinda new and magically freewayish and you get on the 210 for a minute which is LA’s most exotic freeway skirting the mountains as it does (no mountain range in the world rises as dramatically as the San Berdoos, from just above sea level to over ten thousand feet in an instant, rising almost like The Monolith Monsters, forced skyward by the fearsome pushing and scraping of two continental plates trying to pass by each other like two big men in a small hallway) and La Cañada has pine trees and is cooler temperaturistically than us (and drier) and almost looks not real it’s so new and clean. It’s the altitude, just enough to put it in a whole other ecosystem. Different flowers, different trees, different birdsongs. Plus the people are nice and there’s an unusually high babe content for a fucking grocery store.
Never saw this before, a fantastic C’mon Everybody by the great Eddie Cochran. This was 1959, and white boy rock’n’roll had morphed from raw and visceral rockabilly into something heavier, tougher, meaner. Alas Eddie was not going to be around to see what he helped bring about, which is a shame, but in another five or six years, after all the yeah yeah yeahs and pretty boy acts were dispensed with, rock’n’roll would finally get to the point where Eddie Cochran left it, and it would explode in all directions.
Still mining the Mill Creek 50 flick SciFi Classsics collection while waiting for the cable box to arrive so I can watch news 24/7 like everyone else. But in the meantime I’m finding occasional gems like the obscure Phantom Planet (1961). It was either written or directed or produced by a guy that used to write arrangements for Fred Waring but something must have happened, some bad booze, maybe, or some early LSD, as this flick is about as far removed from Fred Waring as Sun Ra. It’s not art, sure, but it’s wildly imaginative with some very striking effects–and concepts–for 1961. Surely Kubrick and Roddenberry loved it, as they both copped ideas, and not just sorta copped them either but flat out lifted whole scenes. The flick is sort of a cross between a very low budget Forbidden Planet, space opera Outer Limits, and any number of 1950’s science fiction radio shows (such as Dimension X or X Minus One), as radio allowed for just about anything, as long as listeners could imagine it. Here they tried to apply that to the silver screen (or a drive in screen anyway) and the result is no Zontar the Thing From Venus but some occasionally dumb but very entertaining science fiction. I suppose that stoned out of your mind it’s even better, but I was high on life. Well, life and coffee. Oh–that’s Richard Kiel in the solar monster suit, his first role, I think, and Francis X Bushman is the wise old alien. Plus enough alien babes to satisfy your inner Kirk.
So They Came From Beyond Space (which they didn’t, they came from the moon) is not 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor is it Five Million Years to Earth or Day of the Triffids. But it’s not an English Zontar the Thing From Venus either. It’s fast moving, bizarre, at times idiotic, even utterly idiotic, yet at times sort of inspired too and the plot twists about enough to keep you wondering and not wandering. The hint of a romantic subplot is mercifully quashed and all in all it’s more like a rejected Avengers pilot meets early Dr. Who meets a 1960’s Flash Gordon had there been one with scattered momentary pretensions to James Bondishness. It’s an Amicus production and, though no Hammer, they had their moments. So this wasn’t one of those moments. Still, in the context of the wasteland of this Mill Creek SciFi Classics fifty flick box set, it was thoroughly entertaining. Then again, you’re talking to a man who just wrote an essay on The Wasp Woman.