“Lunch’s defiantly unfashionable sort of feminism is the main point of interest in this documentary. Viewers will . . . marvel at a woman who, at 60, seems just as fierce as she was 40 years ago.” — John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter
Filmmaker Beth B and multi-media artist Lydia Lunch have been friends since the late ’70s, when both integrated themselves into New York’s “No Wave” movement: Beth B* excelled in film; Lunch drifted towards music. Taking her cues from Patti Smith, Lunch burst onto the scene with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, which reached a national audience when Brian Eno (David Bowie, Taking Heads) included the band on his 1978 No New York compilation.
After her work as a singer and guitarist in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, she fronted the band 8-Eyed Spy, then broke out on her own as a solo artist with the albums Queen of Siam (1980) and 13:13 (1981). During this period, she transitioned into acting, working with the experimental, “No Wave” filmmakers Vivenne Dick, James Nares, and Beth B, for whom she worked with an early James Russo (Beverly Hills Cop, Donnie Brasco, The Postman) and Ann Magnuson (Making Mr. Right with Malkovich) in the noir-homage, Vortex (1982). Lunch also worked with low-budget undergrounders Nick Zedd and Richard Kern (each known for Geek Maggot Bingo, 1983, and Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley 69,” respectively**). Lunch also worked with director Amos Poe (later of the more mainstream-distributed Alphabet City (1985) with with Vincent Spano of Over the Edge; Rocket Gibraltar (1988) with Burt Lancaster) on his early feature, Subway Riders (1981).
First collaborating with Sonic Youth on their album Bad Moon Rising (1985), for that album’s college radio single, “Death Valley 69,” she came to collaborate with that band’s bassist, Kim Gordon, as the guitarist and lead vocalist in Harry Crews. The band released the lone album, Naked in Garden Hills (1987), in honor of the Deep South, dark-noirist author of the same name (his books The Gospel Singer (1969) and The Knock Out Artist (1988) were adapted as songs on the album).
For this first documentary on Lunch’s career, Beth B secured the insights of fellow New York scenesters, and artists inspired by her, such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Donita Sparks from L7, and Henry Rollins. Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over became available in select theaters and national streaming on June 30, 2021, by Kino Lorber. You can also learn more about the film’s virtual screenings at KinoMarquee.
* As part of our “John Doe Week” of film reviews, courtesy of the film starring his ex-wife and X bandmate Exene Cervenka, we reviewed Salvation! (1987), Beth B’s parody on organized religion and the mass communication medium of television. We also reviewed Lydia Lunch’s appearance in Mondo New York(1988), as well as taking a look at The Blank Generation (1976) — a 16-mm black & white DIY documentary co-directed by Lydia Lunch and Patti Smith Group guitarist Ivan Kral with director Amos Poe — in the context of our review for Ulli Lommel’s Richard Hell-starring Blank Generation (1980).
** Richard Kern’s other MTV 120 Minutes-era alternative rock videos include King Missile’s “Detachable Penis” and “Marilyn Manson’s “Lunchbox.”
Other female punk/new wave musicians who transitioned into film that we’ve reviewed are the late Christina Amphlett of the Divinyls in Monkey Grip (1982), Nena in Hangin’ Out (1983), and Nina Hagen in Cha Cha (1979). While we haven’t reviewed them, Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, and later of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), appeared in Amos Poe’s Unmade Beds (1976) and The Foreigner (1978).
There more rock ‘n’ roll on film — including many punk and new wave-inspired films — with our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” blowouts (Part 1 and Part 2). Is there a “Part 3” on the way? Oh, you bet! Join us during the last week of August through the first week of September for thirty more films concerned with rock and radio. Oh, speaking of radio . . . be sure to visit our round up of “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” . . . and we get into Gen X/Grunge films with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurettes.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
“We knew that to make the definitive movie about this icon/unknown, we would need to take the same kind of creative risks that he was famous for. As someone known for breaking down genres and experimenting with form — not to mention playing fast and loose with the truth — we decided to apply the same ideas to our film and try to break new ground with the documentary genre. This resulted in constructing a set of scenes imagining the creative process behind Wasteland, Del’s comic book autobiography.” — writer and director, Heather Ross
When the fans of Saturday Night Live think of that groundbreaking series, they remember Bill Murray and John Belushi . . . then they’ll remember the influential Animal House and Caddyshack*, in short order.
That is, until, you watch this multimedia documentary.
After watching, you’ll come to know that all roads to that iconic, late night NBC-TV comedy series began with Del Close: the actor and writer, comedy teacher and improv maestro who directed at Chicago’s Second City — where he mentored that series’ Bill Murray, John Candy, and Tina Fey — and San Francisco’s The Committee — where Howard Hesseman, later of WKRP in Cincinnati and Head of the Class, got his start.
Of course, comic and graphic novel fans know Del Close, best, for his semi-autobiographical DC Comics anthology Wasteland — a work which serves as the source material for this documentary, with reenactments starring his past pupils, such as Patton Oswalt (Failure to Launch) and Lauren Lapkus (The Wrong Missy). Actors and filmmakers who knew him best, such as Bob Odenkirk (The Solomon Brothers), Tim Meadows (The Ladies Man), and Adam McKay (The Other Guys), also appear with their insights and memories of Del’s work.
If you’ve laughed at any of those above films, or something on television since Saturday Night Live went on the air in 1975, or any of the films connected to the cast of that iconic series — you have the “Where’s Waldo” of comedy, Del Close, to thank for those laughs. And this multimedia piece — that goes beyond the usual “talking heads” trope of most documentaries, inserting a clip here, and a photo there — is a one-of-kind, passionate testament to a man that was everywhere, and nowhere: a true dark man of comedy.
Watch it. And learn where from where the laughter comes.
For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close was acquired for international distribution by Utopia Media, which also brought the British rock document on Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q, as well as the recent WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc, about the Zamibian ’70s progressive-rock band, to the international marketplace. Another of Utopia’s award-winning documents is Martha: A Picture Story, concerned with Martha Cooper, a New York-based, trailblazing female graffiti artist and street photographer.
Utopia is headed by Robert Schwartzman — of the band, Rooney, and a writer and director in his own right — who made his feature film directing debut with the really fine comedy, The Argument, released last September. You can learn more about the launch of Utopia Media with this February 19, 2019, article at Deadline.com.
“WITCH is like the Beatles of Zambia.” — from the film
In the ’70s, Anglo-American-bred heavy-psychedelic progressive rock flourished, not only in the U.S., the U.K, and on the European mainland — but all over the world. The bands were everywhere: even in Japan (Food Brain) and Israel (Atmosphera), to name a few. Even in the landlocked country of the Republic of Zambia in Southeastern Africa. And the nation’s most famous band was the Rolling Stones-influenced, psych-rock flavored (recalling the band’s 1968 to 1974 Beggars Banquet to It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll era), WITCH, the first Zambian band to record and release a commercial album.
As with Malik Bendjelloul — a Stockholm, Sweden, documentary filmmaker who, upon hearing the music from the two-album career of forgotten Detroit musician Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez for the first time in a Cape Town, South Africa, record shop, became obsessed with discovering what became of the mysterious “Bob Dylan of Detroit” to create the film Searching for Sugar Man — Gio Arlotta — a Milan, Italy-based journalist who, upon hearing WITCH for the first time in 2012, became obsessed with discovering what became of the country’s original-influential “Zamrock” band. So Gio Arlotta, along with fellow fan, Jacco Gardner, a Dutch musician, they set out to Zambia to find their idols.
Their search led to finding the band’s sole surviving member, vocalist Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda (an Africanisation of Mick Jaggar) (the filmmakers also find the band’s original engineer at the still-in-existence studio where they recorded/pressed their albums). As with the Sugar Man before him, Jagari experienced a career resurgence with his first-ever European tour — by a revived WITCH featuring an international cast of fan-musicians (the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland). The keyboardist in the band is Patrick Mwondela, who joined in 1980 — long after Jagari’s departure — and remained with the band until their 1984 demise (he appears on their final two albums; 1980’s Movin’ On and and 1984’s Kuomboka).
The golden-era of the band, in my opinion, are the Jagari years from 1973 to 1976, as the later parts of the band’s catalog transformed from ’70s-styled progressive rock — inspired by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and U.S. funk, James Brown, in particular (and, I feel, to critical disagreements: a pinch of Miles Davis and a soupçon of Santana) — into disco and more traditional Zambian material; bass-oriented Kalindula music, in particular. (You can learn more about the traditional African instruments incorporated by the band at the Atlas of Plucked Instruments.)
In addition to his noted work as a journalist, Gio Arlotta is also a video artist. To that end: Arlotta effectively frames his shots and works as a fluid editor; the film’s animations are equally intriguing with a stellar opening credits sequence (assisted by his co-producer and writer, and cinematographer, Tim Spreng; Spreng made his feature film debut with the Czech Republic romantic-drama, 2013’s All the Lost Souls). Arlotta — as with documentarian Liam Firmager in his earlier celluloid tribute to Suzi Quatro — provides WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc with a not just a run-of-the-mill rock documentary or artist preservation quality: it’s a tale about dreams; a tale of how hard work and never giving up hope, eventually, will return bountiful spoils. And that the gift of music is an eternal one.
As with the absolutely stellar The Changin’ Times of Ike White from last year reigniting a rediscovery of the genius of ’70s soul-fusion musician Ike White, this is another time when you drop your hesitations on watching a documentary for your evening’s entertainment — and watch it, as you learn how political upheavals can affect one’s pursuit of music. You also learn that, regardless of borders, musicians experience the same unrealized careers — and are reduced to giving up music for day jobs to support their family; in Jagari’s case: spending long days digging the African wilds for precious stones.
My only reservations with the film is that the African-accent English (remembering Zambia was once a British territory) is difficult to understand. Hopefully, the theatrical and streaming version — unlike the promotional screener I watched — will provide viewers with captioning; captions which will obviously be available on the film’s eventual hard media release. I also feel the film would have benefited from a tighter edit, even at 80 minutes, the proceedings dragged slightly against the hard-to-follow Zambian English. Those personal opinions, of course, vary from viewer to viewer and in no way detract from the power of witnessing a once lost artist rediscovering his past — and experience his forgotten, creative past becoming commercially accepted by the world stage for the first time.
You can enjoy WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc on July 13, 2021, available as a world premiere, pre-order rent-to-own at Altavod. After its premiere on that platform, as well as Apple TV, the film will be available on other streaming platforms and hard media.
The film was acquired for international distribution by Utopia Media, which also brought the British rock document on Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q, to the international marketplace. Another of Utopia’s award-winning documents is Martha: A Picture Story, concerned with Martha Cooper, a New York-based, trailblazing female graffiti artist and street photographer.
Utopia is headed by Robert Schwartzman — of the band, Rooney, and a writer and director in his own right — who made his feature film directing debut with the really fine comedy, The Argument, released last September. You can learn more about the launch of Utopia Media with this February 19, 2019, article at Deadline.com.
You can find the full WITCH discography on You Tube:
* Released as a two-fer CD in 2014 on Now-Again Records. The label — as well as reissuing the remainder of the WITCH catalog in 2011 and 2012 in digital and vinyl formats — also released the 2012 career-spanning compilation We Intend to Cause Havoc.
You can learn more about Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda and WITCH with “We’re a Zambian Band,” a highly-recommended expose written by Chris A. Smith for the Austin, Texas, publication, The Appendix.
WITCH – Live in London, September 2017
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook.He also writes film reviews for B&S About Moviesand publishes music journalism pieces and short stories based on his screenplays, on Medium.
Editor’s Note: On June 26, 2021, we had a “Ron Ormond Day” in tribute to his films. You’ll find the links to the reviews from that day of films — and others — within this review.
This is the one Ron Ormond film that eludes the staff of B&S About Movies. Sure, Sam and I are familiar with the film, as our religious schooling and church youth group years exposed us to all of Ron Ormond’s films — including this lost, final film of the Ormond’s from, as we like to call it, their “Damascus Years.”
Out of the Ormond’s six Fundamentalist films — seven, if one includes their also-lost, hour-long “travelogue/documentary” feature, The Land Where Jesus Walked (1975) — this is the one film (two, including Land) that is not available as a vintage-resale VHS or reissues DVD. As with all of Ron Ormond’s post-salvation catalogue, The Second Coming did not play in rural Drive-Ins or indoor theaters: it was “rented out” (in this case: $100 a showing, as per the one-sheet) as a “roadshow feature” in churches and tent revivals.
The Second Coming served as the directing debut of Ron’s son, Tim. Starting out as an actor in his father’s films: he starred in the family’s secular works Girl from Tobacco Row, White Lightin’ Road, and The Exotic Ones, then the Christian films If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, The Grim Reaper, The Believer’s Heaven, and 39 Stripes. Tim matured to serve as an editor, cinematographer, writer (39 Stripes, The Second Coming), and director (the lost The Second Coming) on several Ormond family productions, which also included wife and mom, June Carr, on the production staff. Tim came to his directing debut through sadness: Ron Ormond died during the pre-production of The Second Coming — in 1981 at the age of 70s — leaving Tim and Ron’s widow to finish the film. June’s other films — under her maiden, professional name in the producer’s chair and as a Second Unit or Assistant Director include not only the above films, but Forty Acre Feud, The Monster and the Stripper, Please Don’t Touch Me, and the lost “jukebox musicals” Square Dance Jubilee and Kentucky Jubilee.
During our analog excavations to find an online stream or trailer to share (we were unsuccessful), we discovered an extensive, November 2007 interview with Tim Ormond, courtesy of Mondo Stumpo: an interview that assisted us in our additional documentation of The Second Coming. (We enjoyed the staff of Mondo Stumpo referring to the genre as “Christian Gore”; if you’re familiar with the Ormond’s “Pirkle” years, you know that’s a perfect analysis.)
We’d also extend our thanks to B. Earl Sink, Jr. — the son of Earl “Snake” Richards — in assisting us in our preserving of The Second Coming. As we’ve discussed in our previous reviews, Richards starred in two of Ron Ormond’s secular films: Girl From Tobacco Row (1966) and White Lightin’ Road (1967). Richards also starred in the non-Ormond “Jukebox Musical,” That Tennessee Beat (1966), by way of producer Robert L. Lippert, who produced many of the Ormond family’s works. It was during the course of that third film review, in which we came to speak with Earl Jr., who tipped us that he (regardless of the IMBb’s incomplete credits; they also have his mother’s credits split as “Carr” and “Ormond”) also acted in The Second Coming. And, as you read on, you’ll come to learn that four generations of the Sinks appeared in or crewed on Ormond productions.
If you’re familiar with the contemporary, Christian-apocalyptic oeuvre of Cloud Ten Pictures, with their B-star-studded Apocalypse series and their better known Left Behind series, as well as the films of David A.R. White’s PureFlix shingle (Jerusalem Countdown), or the ’70s Bible-apoc progenitors of Donald W. Thompson (A Thief in the Night), then you’re up-to-speed on the end-times tale in the frames of The Second Coming. But this is an Ormond film. And it is so much better for it: for Christian-based Ormond films come from the heart and, ironically, none are the least bit exploitative, although they appear on critical lists, i.e., “Christploitation,” as such.
As in the Ormond’s previous Estus Pirkle production, The Burning Hell: we have a similar, wayward youth in love with the world coming to find salvation through dreams, i.e., visions. This time, our scoffing youth, who dismisses his God-fearing mother and the family’s pastor, dreams of missing out on The Rapture. As with any Fundamentalist Ormond production — even the ones void of the crazed “Christian Gore” tutelage of Estus Pirkle — the imaginative creativity of the images presented in the frames is the always thing: God smites a Babylonian statue with a mighty rock (in repetitive, slow motion), dead saints of the past rise up out of their earthen graves, and new saints — the proclaimed 144,000 — vanish on the spot in an eye’s twinkle; then, in a grand, stunning piece of against-the-budget filmmaking (which we’ll get into detail, later): Jesus Christ returns with a phalanx of saints on white horses in the clouds.
Of course, our wayward lad returns to Jesus. As he should: Remember, Estus Pirkle warned us that communist invaders from Cuba would ram sharpened bamboo shoots through our brains via the ear canal, then dump our bodies in freshly bulldozed mass graves. Why would anyone want to stick around for those horrors?
As with the Pirkle trilogy — and the non-Pirkle The Grim Reaper — pastors show up, of course — six, in fact — amid the narrative with words of wisdom. Of course, while guys like Jack Van Impe and Jerry Falwell are committed and honorable in the word, it’s just not the same as having Estus ranting with his statistical analysis on the exact percentages of how many people end up in Hell, daily.
Hey, we can joke about the Pirkle trilogy, but the pastor, however off-putting he may be to secularists, he was committed to the cause. The Ormond family, on the other hand, created honorable, truthful films with a lighter touch. Fans of the Ormond’s Pirkle years may miss the “craze” of those films, here, and dismiss The Second Coming as less effective. We, the cubicle warriors of the B&S About Movies digital divide, do not: we adore all of Ron Ormond’s films.
The Insights of Tim Ormond on the Making of The Second Coming
“After my dad died, I came to the final scene, which was the — and the way we got around things in general — was, someone would say, ‘That’s not the way it’s gonna be,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, this happened as kind of the way this person imagined it or dreamed it: like Daniel would have this dream.’ So that’s the way we would alibi things, [just] in case a theologian would say ‘Well that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen.’
“Anyway, this particular character in The Second Coming was visualizing Christ returning on white horses; wielding the sword, His face aglow. Well, I had to stage this scene. This was, of course, before computer graphics were like they are today. And even so, the cost would be prohibitive. So, I went to Hollywood, along with my Mom, and we looked up old friends; we found the wrangler who did Little House on the Prairie [for NBC-TV], as well as some old friends of my dad who’d worked on the Westerns [with Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter]. And I began to put together a crew and a shoot in Hollywood for staging this last [Christ in the clouds] scene.
“[While this was going on], I made a phone call to my friend in Nashville, Eddie King, who had played my brother in The Grim Reaper, and asked him if he could try to put together the same shoot in Nashville, because it would be much less expensive. So, I guess, just a few days before we were ready to go into production in Hollywood — and I’m just talking about on that one scene — I talked to Eddie, and he had put it together in Nashville. So we came back to Nashville to shoot it, merely from a cost standpoint.
“So, on that particular night, we gathered at the Riverwood Riding Academy, which was a great big field out near a park, not too far from my house, and people began to gather with the horses. We had a searchlight come in from Huntsville, which could basically shine this very bright, illuminating beam of light on Christ’s face: He was wearing a reflective surface so it would reflect the light back as bright as possible. He was dressed in the red robe, all the horses were white and groomed, all of his angels were riding alongside of him wearing white robes, we had fog on the ground, we had lights, we had big blowers running to move the fog. . . .
“And the funniest thing is, right exactly next door — I’m talking about a hundred yards away, but across a fence — was the park patrol. Just sitting there in the dark watching what was going on. And we didn’t know this. They didn’t bother us, but they were talking on their scanner. And one of my crew — actually the wife of the director of photography — was listening to them, and one guy said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to come over and see this! They’re doing a commercial for the Ku Klux Klan!’ So that was kind of a funny incident. But when it was done, it turned out very well. Of course, the ground was fairly dark on purpose, and there was a layer of fog. We superimposed that over the clouds, and it does appear like Christ returning triumphantly in the clouds. Which is a pretty graphical representation of the way it reads in the Bible. So that’s that one little scene.”
The Insights of B. Earl Sinks, Jr. on the Making of The Second Coming
“Ron [Ormond] wanted me to be in the film, as he wanted a 4th generation of our family to be in the film. Of course, my mother and grandparents were in Ormond films from back in California during the Lash LaRue days, as well as Square Dance Jubilee. My mom and grandparents also appeared in Girl From Tobacco Row, while my mom also did makeups for a few of the movies, like Burning Hell, and so on.
“So, Ron had my part written for me prior to his passing. Then Tim took over [as director]. I remember staying with Tim and June, his mom, rehearsing for the role along with Rev. Martin; he was in the movie 39 Stripes, which, as you know, was the story of his life. The reverend was such a Christ-like man that, to this day, I still think of him as such a sweet soul. When we finally got to the day of shooting, I recall when a cloud would pass over, or something wasn’t right, I would hear Tim call ‘CUT’ to end the scene. So, when we were shooting another scene, and I saw a cloud passing, I shouted, ‘CUT!’ like he did. Tim was tickled by that and let me know, jokingly, that he was the only one to say ‘CUT’ to end a scene. We all laughed.
“At the debut of the opening of the film, there was a man who thought my role, my acting, was good enough, so he asked me to read for a stage [production] of On Golden Pond. However, since it conflicted with school, my parents said ‘no’ to my audition. I also has a walk-on part in Tim’s Blood, Friends and Money with Jim Varney [but not as his character Ernest P. Worrell]; as I recall, my scene ended up on the cutting room floor.”
When you follow the links to our other Ron and Tim Ormond film reviews, you’ll understand the staff of B&S About Movies are fans, not only of the Ormond’s secular films, but their Christian films, as well — and we are doing our part to expose their films to our readers and preserve the Ormond’s films for others to discover and enjoy— many for the first time.
To that end, we extend ourthanks to Letterbox’d — and the anonymous uploader — who discovered a copy of the theatrical one-sheet (the only copy of the theatrical one-sheet online), as well as the film journalism efforts of Mondo Stumpo (still active, but ceased publishing in June 2012) and Original Cinemaniac for their previous efforts in preserving this lost Ron Ormond film.
And a special thanks to B. Earl Sinks, Jr. for taking the time to speak with B&S About Movies.
Update: July 14. 2021: Courtesy of film documentarian Brian Rosenquist — who’s currently working on a feature documentary concerning the joint exploitation films of Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle, and who was involved in securing the original camera elements for Estus Pirkle’s three films, for Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon) to complete restorations — we’ve since learned The Second Coming was, in fact, released to DVD ten years ago on a double-DVD with The Grim Reaper. You can watch an online streaming version of The Second Coming on a Ron Ormond tribute page located at the Internet Archive.
In addition to streaming the only online copy of The Second Coming, the page also offers a copy of The Burning Hell, as well as the once lost “Jukebox Musical” Kentucky Jubilee, and Ormond’s pre-Christian film, Mesa of Lost Women.
“Computer’s Log: Star Date 6969: Space, Space, Space. I’m sick of schlepping through space. I though it would be exciting to boldly go where no computer has gone before. To check out strange, new galaxies and kinky, new life forms. But noooo. I’m stuck, here, on this spaceship with three crazy chicks. All they do is snort coke, pop ludes and play with themselves. Its obnoxious.” — Heed the words of the (fey-gay) ship’s computer. For you will not laugh in the year 6969. You’ve been warned.
By the time of the release of this not-funny Star Wars, well, more of a Close Encounters of the Third Kind rip, Norman J. Warren had two sexploitation flicks under his belt with the 1968 pairing of Loving Feeling and Her Private Hell; then he branched into horror with a trio of films: Satan’s Slaves (1976), Prey (1977; which had a sci-fi twist), and Terror (1978). So, after those films, of course, Norman’s next logical step was . . . a space comedy.
Courtesy of Simon Sheridan’s liner notes for the 2008 DVD reissue of the film, we come to know the original script was presented to Warren as “S.E.C.K,” aka Sexual Encounters of the Close Kind. Warren found the script a “funny but very corny” take on Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956), so he agreed to direct, provided he was allowed to do a re-write. His new take on the script was known as Outer Touch, a play on the fact the aliens of the film are “out of touch” with Earth-human customs. The title was later proven as too esoteric, so the title of Spaced Out was used in the international marketplace.
And the studio behind the reimaging: Miramax. In addition to the new title, the Weinstein brothers, Bob and Harvey (the 30-year-old teenager rock ‘n’ roll comedy, Playing for Keeps was another of their early films), re-edited the film with new, sexed-up voice overs (provided, in part by Bob Saget, later of U.S. TV’s Full House fame; for another such, horny computer; see Warriors of the Lost World with its comic-crackin’ smart-cycle). As is the case with most directors-for-hire on a producer’s product: Warren wasn’t consulted on the Americanized changes by Miramax.
So, does this “low-budget humor-comedy” — as the U.S. VHS box claims — parody just about every convention in science fiction from 2001: A Space Odyssey* to Star Wars** — without mentioning its Spielbergian raisons d’être?
Well, Outer Touch certainly tries. But make no mistake: This is no BBC production of Red Dwarf or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. But to its credit: Outer Touch fairs better Galaxina in the comedy department (in my review’s opinion), but fails worse than its fellow Brit space comedy, Morons from Outer Space, in the production department — and that film’s no winner in the comedy department, either.
How cheap is Outer Touch?
Well, space ship exterior sections — when on Earth — were created by stretching sheeting over scaffolding.
Remember when the 1977 Star Pilot recut of 1966’s Mission Hydra 2+5 Cormanesquely raided stock footage from Toho’s ’60s space epics Gorath and Invasion of the Astro Monster to “update” the film — with no care as to the continuity of the spaceships? Remember when 1967-to-1972 mess that was The Doomsday Machine ripped the same Toho footage to an even lesser, mismatched effect?
Well, that’s what we have in the frames of Outer Touch — only Warren clipped all of his spaceship footage from Britain’s ITV’s Space: 1999 — again with no care as to the continuity of the space ship changing from shot-to-shot.
To borrow from Sam Pacino’s review of Galaxina: “Cracked Magazine saw what Mad Magazine did and created a second-rate version that spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out.” And from frequent guest writer Herbert P. Caine‘s own Galaxina review: “Galaxina is a comedy with no laughs, a sex farce with no titillation. . . . as a science fiction movie, it reminds one of nothing so much as a black hole, sucking up all talent and effort that its cast and crew may have thrown at it.”
That’s — with all due respect to the late Norman J. Warren whom we love around the B&S Cubicle farm — is Spaced Out: A second rate version of a film void of laughs or titillation that you plucked off your video store’s rental shelf when copies of Leslie Nielsen’s later Naked Space, aka The Creature That Wasn’t Nice (1983) (itself awfully unfunny) wasn’t available to rent. I can’t believe I am saying this: I’d rather be watching Nielsen’s second sci-fi comedy, 2001: A Space Travesty — at least that film gives me Ophélie Winter to gander upon. (Sorry, there, Jennifer Upton, my fellow Norman J. Warren fan-in-arms. I know that’s sexist to call out an actress like that, but you’re not reviewing this film, now, are you? Can you give me a pass, here, sister-friend? I just need something to hang onto with these inept Not a Space Comedy, comedies.)
Oh, come on, You Tube: this film is not a “youth corrupter” by a long shot. It’s not like it’s an uploaded Russ Meyer movie. An age-restricted trailer that can’t be embedded? Please. You can only watch it direct on You Tube via an account sign-in? Ugh. Making our readers work for their analog noshin’ is not cool.
So, if the back of the VHS — and six minutes of the black leather fetish version of the purple-wigged and silver-suited babes of Space: 1999 (embedded below) — doesn’t sell the analog goods, we’ll make the effort to tell you that we’re dealing with, as the ship’s computer tipped us earlier, three horny alien babes (Partha, Cosia, Skipper) from Betelgeuse whose cargo ship (the Space: 1999 stock footage) crash lands on Earth to the attention of four sexually-hung up humans: the mild-mannered Oliver and Prudence, Willy (our bumbling, porn-obsessed comic relief), and a guy, Cliff, who would never associate with either — but so goes for walking the dog at the wrong time . . . and that’s not a sex pun; he really was walking his dog when abducted (don’t ask about the dog, as I lost interest and don’t remember).
Yes, of course, the aliens kidnap the Earthlings. What movie did you think you were watching?
Then — keeping in mind that an alien-astronaut’s main sources of employment is examining and slaughtering Earth cows — mistakes a heard of stampeding cows as a “hostile force,” so they lift off, regardless of their ship’s damage.
Yes, of course, we are lost in space. What movie did you think you were watching?
Along with way, the alien babes learn about Earth sex from Willy’s porn magazine collection, the uptight Cliff’s scores with Partha; she transforms into a nympho, and, due to their exotic Earth-anatomy, the girls decide to sell Cliff and Willy to an intergalactic zoo. And, as I lazily finish off this review to a film that I’ve given more digital ink than it deserves: sexual intercourse and dirty jokes, (ahem) ensues, in this (ahem) trope-laden and (ahem) cliche-ridden universe. (Yes. Triple word score! All three — not just in one review — but in one sentence! I rock!)
But, seriously, folks. This comedy is not pretty and there’s nothing more to tell. Except we wonder who in the hell paid off the critics at the Monthly Film Bulletin and (GASP!) Variety for those VHS box plugs.
For there is no plot: Outer Touch is just a disconnected collection of soft-sex vignettes that makes David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker’s early “dirty-comedy” mess The Kentucky Fried Movie taste good. And that’s a pile of rank poultry that in no way foretells of that trio’s brilliance with Airplane! and Naked Gun — the very films that inspired this 2001: Not a Space Comedy in the first place. (Okay, well, yeah . . . they came after, but, well . . . oh, never mind. I give up on this review.)
In the 1999 article “Alien Women: The Politics of Sexual Difference in British SF Pulp Cinema” by Steve Chibnall, in the pages of British Science Fiction Cinema, Warren called the film “dreadful in a nice sort of way.
No, sorry, Mr. Warren, as much as I enjoy your works, this is just dreadful. There’s nothing “nice” about it.
Outer Touch, aka Spaced Out, was unavailable on DVD until 2008, when the original, U.K. Outer Touch-cut was reissued — but under the better known U.S. title of Spaced Out. According to Simon Sheridan’s DVD liner notes, prior to its DVD release, Outer Touch never aired on U.K. television. We did, however, experience the film on HBO and Showtime as Spaced Out via Miramax’s distribution of the film, which also issued it on VHS in the U.S.
Thank the cinema lords, Warren saw the sci-ploitation writing on the wall and returned to horror with the offensive-sloppy Alien inversion that was Inseminoid. Then he had to go make the (not a) spy comedy, Gunpowder. But Warren course-corrected with the bonkers horror, Bloody New Year. So goes Norman J. Warren’s nine-feature film career. Sadly, we lost him at the age of 78 on March 11, 2021.
You can watch Spaced Out on You Tube. Since that’s not Bob Saget’s voice — and the original voice of British actor Bill Mitchell — as the Voice of Wurlitzer the Jukebox, the upload is the U.K. version of the film. The film — in its Spaced Out or Outer Touch form — was not, thankfully, included as part of Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J. Warren 1976 to 1987 — even though it is shockingly bad. For that, Powerhouse films, we thank you.
Sam, our Movie-Themed Drink Mixmaster of Ceremonies and overall Chief Cook and Bottlewasher at B&S About Movies, experienced Norman J. Warren’s second foray into the sci-fi genre (his first was the truly awful, HBO-ran comedy Spaced Out from 1979) as a home video release. I, on the other hand, was fortunate (not really) enough to see this mess — and Luigi Cozzi’s Alien cash-in, Contamination — at the local Twin Cinema. Is this as gory and demented — and poorly edited as Cozzi’s? Well, like James Dalton tells the patrons of The Double Deuce, “Opinions vary.” The opinion that doesn’t vary: this movie sucks. Well, we take that back: not if you watch the unsensored version. But still: Think of all of the things that made Alien a “wow moment” film. Think of all of the things that made Mario Bava’s Alien antecedent Planet of Vampires a UHF-TV classic. Now, take all of that all away. Then turn the premise into a (trashy) battle of the sexes, message-we-didn’t-ask-for allegory about the male-powered hierarchy corruption of females.
Thus, unlike with 20th Century Fox being sued by science fiction writer A. E. van Vogt over copyright infringement for using his The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) (you did O’Bannon, end of story) in the creation of Alien, the studio had enough common sense not return a legal volley at Shaw Brothers and company for ripping off what was — regardless of it being of a uniquely layered, superior quality — a ripoff itself.
This movie has been, rightfully, criticized for bad sets, poor acting and bad special effects. However, in truth, these are all things you truly need to make a great genre film. But right there in the title, you know what you’re getting . . . if you want to get it. And you know we do: someone is getting inseminated by something from space. . . .
So, what does £1 million and a two-month production schedule get you?
A British/Hong Kong co-production, this was financed by Run Run Shaw of the famous Shaw Brothers, who would also foist 1979’s Meteor into our theaters, if not our hearts. It’s directed by Norman J. Warren, who was part of a new school of ’70s British horror, pushing the boundaries of explicit sex and violence much further than the Amicus and Hammer studios of the previous decades. Cases in point: the obscure Satan’s Slave (Warren’s third film, but first horror film) and the better-known, also David McGillivray-penned Preyand Terror.
Bottom line: If you’re going to make a movie called Inseminoid . . . and a bunch of censors don’t get upset, you’ve really failed at your job. This was one of the first U.K. movies to quickly be released on home video after its appearance in cinemas, which led to it reaching seventh place on the British video sales charts in November 1981. One of the reasons why this movie was so controversial — I mean, other than the fact that it’s a movie for people who want to see an alien impregnate a human female — is that the producers did a direct mail campaign that featured lead actress Judy Geeson screaming alongside a headline that screamed “Warning! An Horrific Alien Birth! A Violent Nightmare in Blood! Inseminoid at a Cinema Near You Soon!”
Director Norman J. Warren came to regret that exploitation-inspired marketing gimmick, saying “The problem with mail-drops is that you have no way of knowing who lives in the house, or who will see it first. It could be a pregnant woman, and old lady, or even worse, a young child. So it was not such a good idea.”
Concerned with a group of Nostromo-inspired archaeologists and scientists excavating the ruins of an ancient civilization on a distant planet, the screenplay was written by Nick and Gloria Maley, a husband and wife special effects team who worked on Warren’s (very good) Satan’s Slave. The screenplay’s working title, known as Doomseed, was changed to Inseminoid, so as to avoid confusion with the A.I.-rape tale Demon Seed (1977), which makes no sense, as that big-budgeted, Herb Jaffe Productions’ sci-fi programmer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor wasn’t exactly a hit (or remembered much four-years later). (In some mainland Euro-countries, the film was releases as Seeds of Evil.)
Of course, Ridley Scott shocked the world when esteemed British actor John Hurt had an alien rip out of his stomach. So, those scenes of a male impregnated via a “face hugger” had to be one-upped. So, this time, the Xenomorph doesn’t waste time laying eggs in a derelict craft for some wayward space jockeys to stumble into: ol’ Xeno goes straight to the incubator source and (violently) rapes Judy Geeson (who we all fell in love with in her film debut, To Sir, with Love (1970); Rob Zombie honored Geeson with roles in his The Lords of Salem and 31). As would any Earthbound-cum-human rape victim of the I Spit on Your Grave or Abel Ferrara-Ms. 45 variety, Geeson’s raging-Ripley has a psychotic break (or a psychic link with her “attacker,” ugh) and kills the crew — then devours their flesh to nourish her “inseminoid” that soon births as hybrid twins.
Do the twins stowaway on the ensuing rescue ship . . . uh, you really don’t know your Alien ripoffs very well, mijo.
You say you want to buy a copy of all of, well, most of, Warren’s films? The Indicator/Powerhouse imprint released Bloody Terror: A five-film box set of Warren’s films, which includes Satan’s Slave, Prey, and Terror, as well as Bloody New Year, alongside Inseminoid. So, there you go: You have yet another reason to own a region-free Blu-ray player.
Here’s some trivia: The alien planet in the film was shot on the rocky, Mediterranean island of Gozo. And here we are, all of these years later, reviewing a psychological horror film shot on the island, Gozo (2020). That’s how B&S Movies, rolls.
About the Authors: Sam Panico is the proprietor of B&S About Movies. You can learn more about the writings ofR.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet . . . or swallow the gunpowder. This is that one, elusive Norman J. Warren movie that I haven’t seen — and so wanted to. And, in our quest to complete our Norman J. Warren tribute week — and since there’s no online streams of the PPV or free-with-ads stream variety to be found — I bought a beat-to-hell-but-plays VHS copy online. It just arrived in the mail. I watched it. And didn’t disappoint.
Well, it did, pretty much.
Gunpowder is not the action-adventure knockoff of a ’70 Italian Poliziotteschi film that I was expecting: it was the action (bad) comedy I wasn’t expecting. And I can’t believe the guy who made my favorites of Satan’s Slaves, Prey, and Inseminoidmade this. Gunpowder is also known as Explosive Gold (a great title) and Commando Gold Crash (a crappy title that evokes a low-budget Philippines-shot Namploitation flick) in overseas markets, but here, in the U.S., it’s known as Gunpowder — because the two secret agents in this dopey Bond wannabe are named Gunn and Powder. And they’re not named that for the comedy, either.
So, our intrepid Interpol agents (played by David Gillum and Martin Potter; Potter starred in Satan’s Slave, while you’ll recall Gillum from the when-animals-attack classic, Frogs, and the Jaws-rip, Sharks’ Treasure) are assigned by their “M” (which is known as Sir Anthony Phelps, here) to figure out who’s flooding the market with a gold surplus that can ruin the world’s economy. Of course, opposites must attract: Gunn is the dashing, American-bred ladies man and Powder is the proper English gent who files his nails at inopportune times because, well, it’s “funny,” you know, back in the days when insinuating a character was “gay” (for having proper hygiene) was funny.
Uh, dangerous cop? Proper cop? Cue-not Lethal Weapon. And not Austin Powers, either.
But do cue Auric Goldfinger — only not Gert Fröbe, thank you. We’ll take the lower-budgeted Dr. Vanche (David Miller . . . from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!), who’s discovered the formula to manufacture synthetic gold — and he’s selling it on the open market.
This has it all — and it doesn’t: Two martial arts baddies known as “The Cream Twins” (Alan and Brian Fontaine, if you care) who kidnap a metallurgical (lady) scientist/heiress. A super spy lair that puts Bruce Wayne’s joint to cheesy shame (Adam West would have been PERFECT as the American Spy, here; it’s totally in his wheelhouse). Super spy gadgets. A milk factory used as a front to smuggle liquid gold in milk cartons (ugh), which why the scientist/heiress is kidnapped. Then there’s bad dialog. Failed comedic one-liners. And, instead of bullets: vats of liquid gold death traps. Then there’s the stupid (ugh) costumes the bad doctor Vanche’s minions wear — with a big “V” on their chests. And Dr. V’s bad gold hair. And it goes on and on . . . such as our milk heiress having the first name of “Coffee.” Yuk, yuk.
I guess you (well, moi) have to be British to appreciate this one.
Editor’s Note: We planned this Norman J. Warren week on a whim — as result of our February Mill Creek box set blowout featuring two of his films among the celluloid ruins: Prey and Satan’s Slaves. We just lost him on March 11, 2021. You can read up on Warren’s career with his obituaries at The Irish Examiner and Metro UK News.
After Gunpowder, Warren wrapped his career with the mystery-horror Bloody New Year.
For our “Ron Ormond Day” at B&S About Movies, I chose this early hicksploitationer* featuring an early role for Ron’s son, Tim. Tim would grow up to serve as an editor, cinematographer, writer (39 Stripes, The Second Coming), and director (the lost The Second Coming) on several Ormond family productions, which also included wife and mom, June Carr (her 2006 Variety obituary). Tim also acted in Ron’s films — only eight out of forty films — Girl from Tobacco Row, The Exotic Ones,If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, The Grim Reaper, The Believer’s Heaven, and 39 Stripes. So, when in Ormondville, you might as well review White Lightnin’ Road to complete Tim’s acting resume . . . and honor the career of Earl Sinks — also the star of today’s second (non-Ron Ormond) film.
Read on, B&S surfer!
White Lightin’ Road (1967)
This one has it all: Loose n’ tempting femme fatales, red-lining stock cars, driver rivalry, and love triangles between said rivals and femme fatales. So, yeah, the proceedings are just like any red-neckin’ romp with fast cars and faster women. And moonshine. And gangsters. And an illegal auto parts network. And murder. And shotgun weddings. And everything southern fried that we love. (Oh, Tim’s a young lad who hangs around the track that’s befriended by Joe, our ne’er-do-well hero.)
Earl “Snake” Richards — a ’50s rockabilly crooner who also appeared in Ormond’s Girl From Tobacco Row (1966), and a ’50s rock flick, That Tennessee Beat (we’re getting to it), before hanging up the clapboard — stars as Snake Richardson, the rough n’ tumble bad-boy racing rival of Joe (the one and gone Ter’l Bennett): your typical, straight-laced lad who has the need for speed. And, as in other back roadin’, moonshinin’ and asphalt romps, Ruby (the sexy n’ white-trashy, eyeball melting Arline Hunter; Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1954), the bad guy’s girl, has eyes for the good guy. And she — one not to shriek from a good ol’ girl-on-girl catfight — gets Joe mixed up with Slick (played by Ron Ormond), who cons our lad into being the wheelman for a heist, which results in the death of a nightwatchman.
As you watch the trailer, you’ll take note that, unlike the Elvis (Viva Las Vegas) and Fabian (Fireball 500, Thunder Alley**) racing flicks Ormond emulates, there’s no stock footage: everything is staged and shot in-camera by Ron, himself, which makes White Lightnin’ Road superior to many of the racing flicks of the ’60s.
To say we love Ron Ormond’s films is a trope-laden understatement, as we’ve also reviewed Ron Ormond’s pre-salvation exploiters Mesa of Lost Women and Please Don’t Touch Me. And, if you feel like You Tubin‘ or Googlin’, you’ll discover that, after Buddy Holly went solo and left the Crickets hangin’, Earl Richards, aka Sinks, ended up fronting the Crickets. Oh, and did you know, Earl and the Crickets cut the original version of “I Fought the Law” made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four (and later the Clash; just heard it this week on a classic rock station)? True story.
And, in a real treat, there’s a You Tube upload of the Earl Sinks compilation tribute CD The Man with 1000 Names — a super-fine, hour and a half of music featuring his work under the names Sinks, Earl Henry, Sinx Mitchell, and Earl Richards, as well as his work with the Omegas, the Hollidays, the Mar-Vels, and the Crickets. Embedded below, there’s a wonderful slideshow with Earl and the Crickets to the tune of their lost ’50s hit, “Someone, Someone,” to enjoy.
That Tennessee Beat (1966)
The big selling point, here (this is B&S About Movies, after all), is American cinema chain owner and producer Robert L. Lippert, who we’ve waxed nostalgic in our reviews for just a few of his 300-plus films: Jungle Goddess, King Dinosaur, Project Moonbase, and Rocketship-XM. And Ron Ormond — the reason for this review — produced and directed several films for Robert L. Lippert, including many westerns with Lash LaRue. (Ormond also used Lash — as a therapist (!) — in the mondo sex-hypnosis romp, Please Don’t Touch Me. Another western star of old, Tex Ritter, worked with Ormond — as a priest (!) — in Girl from Tobacco Row.)
Star Trek: TOS scribe Paul Schneider — who gave two of the series’ best-known, first-season episodes: “Balance of Terror,” which introduced the Romulans, and “The Squire of Gothos” — pens; he also wrote episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As for our director, Richard Brill: primarily a producer who worked on the TV series The New Steve Allen Show and Dateline: Hollywood, That Tennessee Beat was his only feature film.
This also proved to be the fifteenth and final film for (hubba-hubba) screen beauty Delores Faith, who wowed us in House of the Black Death (1965) with Lon Chaney and John Carradine, the 1966 Drive-In double-biller of The Human Duplicators and Mutiny in Outer Space, and her debut set in the far-flung future of 1980: The Phantom Planet (1961).
Then there’s our leading-lady, Sharon DeBord: During her slight, fifteen credit-career, she was Darrin Stephens’s secretary on TV’s Bewitched for several episodes. Did anyone one see her work in The Hoax (1972) with the recently passed (June 2021) Frank Bonner of Equinox fame? The Halloween rip Killer’s Delight, aka The Dark Ride (1978)?
Okay. Okay. I know. As Sam the Bossman would say: “Hey, don’t we have a movie to discuss?”
Sink — under his then stage name, Earl “Snake” Richards, is our leading man: Jim “The Nashville Kid” Birdsell. An aspiring country-western music star on the run after stealing money to fund a trip to Nashville, he’s subsequently robbed and left penniless by another road bandit. Luckily, Jim meets a brother and sister with a singing group who take him into the band and help him achieve his rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Jim, of course, falls in love with the sister, Opal Nelson (Sharon DeBord), as she and the Rev. Rose Conley (Minnie Pearl) put him on the straight and narrow.
As you can see from the newsprint ad, this film is packed — as is the case with all ’50s and ’60s rock films (see the similar The Road to Nashville; Mister Rock and Roll starring DJ Alan Freed) — with plenty of musical performances.
No disrespect to the ol’ Snake — and it’s not his fault, as he’s just a musician in an acting role — there’s not much of a story here; but again, as is the case with ’50s and ’60s rock films: the whole point is the performances. Remember, there was no MTV back then. And not everyone could afford a television to watch variety shows to see groups perform. And many couldn’t afford to go to concerts. So, it was movies, like That Tennessee Beat (distributed by 20th Century Fox, of all studios), which, for a mere buck a person (sodas and hamburgers were $.30 each*˟), brought the TV — and concerts — to America’s rural Drive-Ins.
You simply can not see a concert line up featuring Earl “Snake” Richards, Peter Drake, Boots Randolph (best know for the huge sax-driven hit, “Yakkity Yak”), the Statler Brothers, and Merle Travis (the film’s title song), not to mention the comedy stylings of the Grand Ol’ Opry’s grande dame, Minnie Pearl, for one dollar. Well, $4.00, if you toss in the sodas and burgers for you and your sweetie. So goes the genre of the “jukebox musicals” of old before Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, ABC-TV’s In Concert, and NBC-TV’s The Midnight Special.
Sadly, I only have White Lightin’ Road recorded on an old VHS taped-off UHF TV. I also had That Tennessee Beat on a tape via UHF-TV, but lost that one to the blue screen of death. In all of my grey-market VHS years, I’ve never come across a copy of either film. And there’s no online streams to share of either film.
If there’s ever an actor-musician who deserves a restored, reissue box set of his films — only three, mind you — it’s Earl Sink. Make it happen, Arrow, Kino, and Severin. Yeah, we’re calling you out, our brothers. You can even toss in a restored greatest hits career-spanning CD of Earl’s tunes in the set.
** If you need more films with romance and burnin’ rubber (of the asphalt variety, dirty mind), check out our “Drag Racing Week,” as well as our “Savage Cinema (box set)” and “Fast and Furious Week” tributes, featuring review links to over one hundred films.
*˟ “Here’s How Much a ‘Cheap Date’ Cost Every Decade Since the 1940s” by Morgan Greenwald for Best Life.
For Henry Earl Sinks January 1, 1940 to May 13, 2017 Your rocked, it, Snake!
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
What a great, three-day rally of films from Bernard L. Kowalski (thanks for allowing me to free range, Sam) as we wrap it up with a TV movie that pays tribute to a great TV series from the ’70s. To say I am stoked to review this BK entry is an understatement: the development of this tribute week to ol’ Uncle Bernie centers on this flick. And we get Kent McCord, who never got the due he deserves, some props.
Let’s roll it!
By the late ’80s, the cable networks began eschewing their UHF-styled, bread-and-butter reruns format by going for the throat of the “Big Three” over-the-air networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC — with their own, original programming. The national “superstations” TNT and USA each began producing their own TV movies (many of which we’ve reviewed at B&S), so why not the all-new basic cable and satellite network The Nashvillle Network?
You don’t remember that logo? It’s okay, most TV viewers — not county-centric — don’t remember it either.
Going on the air in March 1983, the network operated from studios on located on the grounds of the now-defunct theme park Opryland USA in Nashville. But, as with the major movie studios creating competing ripoff films for the marketplace (e.g., Armageddon vs. Deep Impact, White House Down vs. Olympus Has Fallen) The Nashville Network was beat on the air — by two days — by Country Music Television.
After the dust settled: The Nashville Network lost the ratings war.
TNN began its life as a country music alternative to Warner-Amex’s MTV’s rock and VH-1’s contemporary music formats by airing music videos; the programming soon expanded into concerts, game and talk shows, and country-eccentric movies (such as Smokey and the Bandit). By September 2000, the channel dumped their “southern” identity by ditching the “Nashville” moniker for “National” to become The National Network. Then, to the holier-than-thou, law-suitin’ and hissy fittin’ dismay of Spike Lee (“They’re stealing my brand!”), National transformed into the male-centric Spike TV in 2003. Today, you know the channel as the upper-tier cable dumping ground for all things Paramount-produced: The Paramount Network.
So, with that backstory out of the way . . . let’s polish off our three-day tribute to the films of Bernard L. Kowalksi (that began all the way back in 1956 with Hot Car Girl) and dig in to some slip-smackin’ BBQ with Bernard’s last film — and TNN’s first made-for-television movie — Nashville Beat.
Now, if you’ve been following along the Kowalski beat this week, you’ll know that his last theatrical film was the drive-in horror classic, Sssssss (1973). And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm: that turn-man-into-snakes-mad-scientist romp starred Dirk Benedict, later of Battlestar Galactica . . . and Kent McCord ended up on that failed Star Wars TV series ripoff’s second season, aka Galactica: 1980, as the all-grown up Boxey, aka Troy (we reviewed the overseas theatrical version of the series, Conquest of the Earth; look for it).
Anyway, after Sssssss (Who decided the title only needed six lowercase “S”; why not eight?), Kowalski returned to television — where he got his start — with multiple episodes of Perry Mason and The Untouchables, as well as Banacek starring George Peppard (more “Six Degrees”: he was in the fellow Star Wars dropping, Battle Beyond the Stars), and Columbo. In between, Kowalski developed the MGM Studios/CBS-TV series pilot for the Starsky and Hutch-precursor, The Supercops (1974), which aired on March 21, 1975, and continued the adventures of (real life cops) Dave Greenberg and Bobby Hantz. That series was quickly derailed by the (more powerful, due to Charlie’s Angels) TV production powerhouse of (Aaron) Spelling-Goldberg Production’s TV movie-to-series pilot for Starsky and Hutch, which aired on the competing ABC-TV network on April 30, 1975. And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm redux: David “Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson” Soul starred with Kent McCord in the CSI TV series-franchise precursor (and, in my opinion, superior), the all-too-short-lived TV Movie-to-series, UNSUB (1989).
While we didn’t get around to reviewing all them (or finding copies of most of them), other post-Sssssss and The Supercops TV movies Bernard Kowalski directed are Flight to Holocaust (1977), The Nativity (1978), TV’s response to Rocky with Marciano (1979), Nick and the Dobermans (1980), Turnover Smith (1980), Nightside (1980; with Doug McClure, from Kowalski’s Terror in the Sky), and Johnny Blue (1983).
So, if you know if your ’70s TV: You’ll know Nashville Beat is the 14-years-in-the-making reunion of actors Martin Milner and Kent McCord after their successful, seven-season run on Adam-12 that aired on NBC-TV from 1968 to 1975. The final episode of that series ended in a cliffhanger, somewhat: we never knew what happened with officers Pete Malloy (Milner) and Jim Reed (McCord), as the series closed with Reed’s rookie copy readying to take the detectives exam and leave his seasoned, veteran partner and the streets. . . . Instead of NBC-TV giving us a late ’80s TV movie version of Adam-12, we got the closest thing to an Adam-12 TV movie: Nashville Beat, which was developed, produced, and co-written by McCord with the intention of becoming TNN’s first original drama series.
Milner and McCord — while pretty much the same cops, only older-but-wiser and in plain clothes — are Captain Brian O’Neal and Lieutenant Mike Delaney, both who started out like their Adam-12 counterparts: on the streets of Los Angeles. Even after his old partner left for a job as a detective in Nashville, Delaney and O’Neal remained close friends. Upon become a widower, Delaney heads to Nashville to help his old partner on a case with ties back to Los Angeles. And the case works out well, and Delaney’s heart is ready to love again with the sexy, big-haired owner (it was the ’80s, natch) of the honkytonk where O’Neal and his copy buddies hangout. So the movie ends with Delaney deciding that he just might move the kids out to Nashville to start over . . . which would set off the new series that never happened.
Meanwhile, TNN’s faux Adam-12 reunion got the folks at MCA Television (a division of Universal that supplied NBC-TV programming) to reboot Adam-12 in September 1990 to fill the UHF-TV blocks of the new, weekend syndicated programming crazy (ignited by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess). The syndicated revival, The New Adam-12 (1990) was cast-headed by John Wayne’s son, Ethan (who made his debut in his dad’s Big Jake). The series, which ran for 52 consecutive episodes, was cancelled after one year. No one (including moi) cared: Milner and McCord were never invited back to appear. But, we did see Milner and McCord share the screen again in a 1997 episode of Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke, playing, yet again Los Angeles police officers.
And that’s a wrap on our three-day tribute to the career of Bernard Kowalski. Discover his films with our reviews and enjoy!
You can watch a VHS rip of the home video version of Nashville Beat on You Tube. And look for our reviews of Hot Car Girl and Sssssss — this week — as we continue our tribute to Bernard L. Kowalski.
Editor’s Note: We hope you’re enjoying our tribute to the films of director Bernard L. Kowalski. Today, we’re reviewing his first major studio feature film. And in a twist that only a B&S About Movies reader can appreciate: the leads of Maximilian Schell and Brian Keith would later star in their own, respective Star Wars-boondoggles that were The Black Hole and Meteor. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to watch this proto-disaster drama, then we don’t know what will.
Lost somewhere between Arthur Hailey and Irwin Allen igniting the ’70s disaster genre with their respective Airport franchise and the one-two-punch that is The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno (and not forgetting Mark Robson’s Earthquake for Universal), there was ’50s blacklisted and ex-Poverty Row Monogram Pictures and King Brothers low-budget drive-in scribe Philip Yordan’s return to the majors with his proposal of making a film about the 1883 eruption of the island of Krakatoa.
For dramatic effect — as if people running for their lives from an erupting volcano wasn’t enough drama — he concocted a subplot about a band of unsavory characters aboard the decrepit steamer Batavia Queen attempting to salvage a sunken cargo of pearls deep in the island’s watery outskirts, with the bragging rights of a $3 million production budget. Initially, the film started out at Columbia Pictures with Rock Hudson (who eventually ended up in a disaster flick of his own with 1978’s Avalanche; look for our review) as Captain Chris Hanson, the commander of the Batavia Queen. As with most “big” movie plans, the project fell into “development hell,” and came out on the other side under the Cinerama Releasing Corporation shingle, a studio-distributor that did pretty with the John Boorman-directed (Zardoz, The Exorcist II: The Heretic) World War II drama Hell in the Pacific (1968) starring Lee Marvin.
Then, the real disaster erupted.
The then in-camera effects and process shots required to make the volcanic disaster appear convincing on film proved to be difficult; Philip Yordan gave up on his dream project; a new producer, Clifford Newton Gould, commissioned a new script; the film’s runtime ballooned to 130 minutes (two hours and ten minutes); once conceived as a family-friendly adventure, it now had racier, adult-dramatic elements added; the weather, the seas, and animals on the location weren’t cooperating within the budget.
At the time, Bernard L. Kowalski was a young TV director who cut his teeth with Roger Corman on Hot Car Girl, Night of the Blood Beast, and Attack of the Giant Leeches, but he more than proved himself in the more commercial realms of network television directing episodes of westerns (Rawhide, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, Gunsmoke) and law procedurals (Perry Mason, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible). There’s no doubt Kowalski was more-than-ready for a major studio, million dollar-plus project. But the “what ifs” abound: If only Columbia had backed the project (with more money). And, no disrespect to our leads of Maximilian Schell and Brian Keith, both are fine actors — if only Rock Hudson had carried the picture. And you didn’t have bickering I-know-better-than-you-do producers revamping a locked script and adding superfluous, saucy adult drama that left us with a confusing plot rife with a constantly changing adventure-to drama-to romance-to-adventure tone augmented with beyond-the-budget, haphazard special effects.
And, of course . . . there’s that pesky Cinerama Releasing Corporation boondoggle with the title: not only did the producers misspell (insist) the island, known as Krakatau; the island is — while technical part of the Indonesian “Far East” — is actually west of the isle and sea of Java. But how many of us dumb ticket buyers back in 1968 knew that fact? Well, the film critics made sure we knew in their reviews. And besides, “East” is sexier, you know, with Japan and all. In the end, the cataclysmic event that killed 36,000 people referenced in the film isn’t a docudrama: it is merely a (wildly, historically in accurate) backdrop for its family adventure-cum-adult dramatic relationships storyline.
So . . . do we need to tell you the movie was a critical and box office bomb? Not every movie with an overture and intermission (as did Fiddler on the Roof and 2001: A Space Odyssey) can be a success. The 130-minute print that ran in theaters in 1969 was later edited-for-television — with scenes shorted or wholly deleted — into a 106-minute print. Vying for the epic sweep of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which ran near four hours long and cleared $70 million against its $15 million budget to sweep The Golden Globes and Oscars, Philip Yordan’s dream project turned into a box office bomb.
Sadly, as with most directors-for-hire who have no control over the script they’re hired to shoot, nor a voice against those I-know-better-than-you-do producers, Bernard L. Kowalski shouldered the blame. After making two more major studio films for AVCO Embassy Pictures, Stiletto(1969), based on a Harold Robbins paperback best seller (starring Alex Cord and Britt Ekland), and the Civil War western Macho Callahan (1970; stars Gene Shane of The Velvet Vampire and Werewolves on Wheels alongside David Janssen), neither which set the box office on fire, Kowalski made his TV movie debut — and forged a successful TV movie career — with the airline disaster flick, Terror in the Sky(1971).
While Tubi carries the 106-minute TV print, we found the 130-minute theatrical cut on You Tube to enjoy. Moi? Even with its flaws, I stick to the epic — in more ways than one — theatrical print. You can enjoy the trailer on You Tube.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.