Thursday, May 26, 2022

Roger Corman Blogathon--Ski Troop Attack



SKI TROOP ATTACK is one of two movies produced in 1959 on the same South Dakota location with mostly the same crew and cast, one right after the other. BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE came first, a ten-day wonder produced by Gene Corman and directed by Monte Hellman. As it wrapped up, Gene’s always cost-conscious brother Roger moved right into production and direction on another ten-day wonder, SKI TROOP ATTACK. 


The picture plays like an ultra-low budget episode of TV’s COMBAT—itself still a few years away. It’s 1944 in Germany and a small, diverse band of American soldiers on skis (that way no army uniforms necessary) are on a reconnaissance mission in snowy German forest country. Although under orders to avoid conflict with Nazis, they keep running into them anyway and have to engage. In one early scene, Corman has lots of gun sound effects while onscreen we see only one man sneaking around behind the enemy. Ultimately, the four Americans are tasked with blowing up a railroad bridge, HOGAN’S HEROES-style, and slowly work toward that goal.


While probably 70% of SKI TROOP ATTACK consists of just watching all the actors skiing, the atmospheric musical score composed by jazz musician Fred Katz—a Corman regular—carries it along nicely. 


Most of the Germans are played by members of local high school ski teams, although there’s lots of grainy stock footage of real tanks and soldiers from 15 years or so earlier. Corman himself pops up as a Nazi skier in one scene, replacing the lead “German” skier who broke his leg skiing the day before. As Corman pointed out in later years, he himself couldn’t ski at all. 


The screenplay—such as it is—comes from another Corman mainstay, Charles B. Griffith, hailed in recent years by Quentin Tarantino as “the father of redneck cinema.” The highlight of the picture is the bickering chemistry between its stars, Michael Forest and Frank Wolff, respectively the Lieutenant and the Sergeant. Both men were good, trained actors with charismatic screen presences and their lives and careers would intertwine from that point on. 

As actors go, tall, muscular Forest has had an absolutely fascinating career and, as of this writing, seems to be still working at age 93. A veteran of acting teacher Jeff Corey’s training, he appeared on all sorts of episodic TV in the late ‘50s and all through the ‘60s, as well as starring in some Italian sword and sandal flicks and spaghetti westerns. His most memorable live-action role was probably as the god, Apollo, on a classic STAR TREK episode, a role he repeated nearly half a century later on an episode of STAR TREK CONTINUES. In more recent years, Forest has become a cartoon voice actor, particularly for anime, and IMDB shows him with a hundred or more credits just for that alone!


Frank Wolff was the definition of a character actor. He, too, started in episodic TV but after following Forest and Corman to Europe for a movie, Roger convinced him he might have a better career if he stayed there…and he did. Throughout the 1960s, Wolff appeared in spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, lowbrow comedies, and even some softcore porn. He could go easily from being a staid businessman, to a fascist police commissioner, to a wild-eyed western outlaw, to a cool spy. Sadly, Wolff committed suicide in 1972 in Italy. His longtime friend Michael Forest dubbed Wolff’s final role.



Although it received mixed reviews at best, SKI TROOP ATTACK played around in theaters and drive-ins for several years and is a great early example of how a bunch of talented and clever people could make something out of essentially nothing—a template that would end up defining the entire career of Roger Corman. 


Thursday, May 12, 2022

1940s Superman Ads



Hollywood Party-1934

It seemed as though every major studio felt compelled to put out an all-star production int he early days of talking pictures, featuring as many of their contract players as they could fit in. By their very nature, these were episodic but HOLLYWOOD PARTY is one of the best. The basic story deals with Jimmy Durante acting a Tarzan-like role opposite Lupe Velez--real-life wife of the "real" MGM Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller--but the real highlights of this one are appearances from Laurel and hardy and, as unlikely as it seems, a color sequence from Walt Disney, featuring Mickey Mouse--arguably the world's most famous star at the time!


Monday, May 02, 2022

1939 Radio Catchphrase Contest

Say! This is fun! From an online scan of a 1939 comic book, here's a radio catchphrase contest that the original purchaser of the comic actually tried to answer! I'll grant you some of these lasted better than others but I only missed # 4--which is one Miss or Mr. X actually got 83 years ago!


Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Bookstore Film Festival 2022--April

Another slooooow month, at least for movies. A lot going on behind the scenes but I did still manage to get in a few. 

The last starring comedy vehicle for the man who was my favorite movie star growing up. Although not without its moments, Jerry seems to be phoning it in for the most part. There are even a few slightly blue gags! Not a good movie by anybody's standards but diehard Jerry Lewis aficionados will likely get something out of it.

I had never heard of this 2007 thriller but I watched it on a  whim and it was pretty entertaining. AZ little slow and the killer was predictable pretty early on but good performances all around.

We got Netflix back for the first time in 2 years because my wife wanted to watch BRIDGERTON. Me, I immediately gravitated to this. I'ma  sucker for a good twisty time travel flick and this one hit all the right buttons! Even made me cry a couple times.

I know, I know. I was late, okay. Actually a much better film than its so-so trailer indicates, but Florence Pugh--whom I already knew from HAWKEYE--steals every scene she's in. 

A decidedly odd '60s comedy presaging Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS in its plot of a mob plan attempting to make a movie that can't possibly succeed in order to launder money, but accidentally making a bug hit! Chevalier shamelessly chews the scenery, as does Tamiroff. Jayne's basically window dressing and never once wears that bikini.

The biggest big-name cast ever assembled...even if they were all assembled in the editing room! This French action-comedy is made up of reduced and re-edited scenes from a score of other releases starring Paul Newman, John Wayne, Dean martin, Robert Redford, Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, and more! Hilariously NSFW!

Friday, April 29, 2022

R.I.P. --Neal Adams


I never met Neal Adams but I saw him in person at cons twice, about 20 years apart. I transcribed three separate late-in-life interviews with him that were recorded by others, and I worked on a book Craig Yoe did with him. I wasn't the biggest fan of his work since about 1980 but I am the first to admit that he was the best in the business from about 1967-1979, both on paper and behind the scenes in his staunch desire to wield his industry power to champion lost causes. 

 Here's a 1973 Chicago Tribune Magazine piece on Neal. Rest in peace.





Tuesday, April 26, 2022

R.I.P.--Justin Green


The great underground cartoonist Justin Green passed this weekend. Here's an expanded version of the piece I wrote about my 2004 encounter with him in the early days of this blog. This one’s adapted from a blog post from 2005.

In 2004, at the Barnes and Noble where I was an Assistant Manager, my Manager, Jennifer, got a call from a "Justin Green" asking us to stock his latest book. He said he’d like to do a booksigning. She handed me a note with his phone number telling me to deal with him and set up a signing or not as I pleased but that she had more important things to do. I was, like, “Is this THE Justin Green?” She was clueless and told me to ask him when I called him back. 

Do you know Justin Green? Along with R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Vaughn Bode, S. Clay Wilson, Spain, Trina, Jaxon, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Frank Stack, and Dan O'Neill, (among many others) Green was one of the pioneering writer/artists of "Underground Comix." If you're under a certain age, you've probably never even seen an Underground. Birthed in the early sixties, they flourished briefly a decade later, not just pushing the envelope on controversial subject matter but tearing that envelope open, chewing it up, and setting the leftover bits on fire! The sex probably shocked Larry Flynt, the violence perhaps curdled the stomach of Charles Manson, and the political sentiments were decidedly left-wing, much to the chagrin of the Republicans in power at the time! 


The undergrounds also invented the autobiographical comic. You know, the type that wins all the awards these days and gets reviewed in TIME. Justin Green's BINKY BROWN MEETS THE HOLY VIRGIN MARY was easily the most prominent and influential of these. Based on his Catholic upbringing, it remained in print from Last Gasp for many years, more recently collected as a graphic novel itself along with some of the artist's other works.

It turned out that yes, it was indeed THE Justin Green I called, a spectacularly modest, soft-spoken white-haired man who now lived in Cincinnati and made his living doing freelance design work and signs for businesses. 

This was a man whose work I had discovered in THE BEST OF BIJOU FUNNIES back when I was still too young to be reading Undergrounds. He is a living legend, featured in 2004’s NEW SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF COMICS (along with his wife, Carol Tyler!) and even cited by reluctant media darling Robert Crumb in interviews as a major influence! 


Needless to say, I arranged the autographing for his book, MUSICAL LEGENDS, for an upcoming Saturday afternoon. He arrived on time and I had a table all set up for him in a prominent storefront area but, sadly, few people stopped to chat with him, let alone buy his book. Thus, I hung out as much as possible with him myself, talking comics and getting him to sign a copy for me at least. He seemed very surprised that I was so familiar with his work for some reason. He invited me to come see his studio here in town but I was too awed to take him up on that.  

Justin Green deserves to be celebrated because he started something new and he did it better than just about anyone, directly or indirectly inspiring hundreds or thousands of others over the years. Thank you, Mr. Green! And thanks for allowing me to spend a memorable afternoon with you at B&N that day.

Rest in Peace.