The Hustler (1961)

In another example of the “Mr. Braddock classics,” I originally saw The Hustler a few decades after its 1961 debut as my dad recorded it from the Turner Classic Movies channel, a network that shows films uncut and unedited, and had the name of the movie written in blue pen on the VHS tape. A side note, my uncle, the late legendary, Willie Visconti actually ran a pool room in Braddock, PA in the 1970s. The Braddock Free Press once ran a note about his birthday, January 7th, describing him as “the popular proprietor” of the Braddock Recreation Center. As mentor to my dad in many ways, Uncle Willie let him run the hall when he was busy, despite the fact that my dad was still in his teenage years. Between the Pepsi machine, pool tables, and some concessions, the venue remained popular for most of that era before Uncle Willie decided to sell the building and take part ownership in a small convenience store in Braddock until he passed in the early-90s. To this day, my dad really enjoys telling stories about his late mentor and it’s always comical when he recounts the many times that Uncle Willie would “randomly” show up to visit when he knew my dad was cooking. “Oh, Jim, you cookin?” “Yeah, Will, why don’t you come in and eat?” “Oh well, I guess so, I’m here now.” I have to say up front that this film is really an incredible example of American cinema and those much better versed in the interpretation of film have done much better analysis of the movie, but after I saw it in my middle school years, my appreciation for the complex narrative has only grown since that time. Initially seeing it more than half my lifetime ago, the Robert Rossen-directed drama went from just a cool movie about pool with charismatic characters to an example of some of the resounding themes of life as I watched it through older eyes. Based on Walter Tevis’ 1959 novel of the same name, the film unites an all-star cast to chronicle the turbulent travels of “Fast” Eddie Felson, a pool hustler brilliantly played by the legendary Paul Newman. Before he had a “Cool Hand,” made sauce for charity, or buckled up as a race car driver, Newman took aim with a pool stick to portray “Fast” Eddie, who some have speculated was based on real-life pool shark, Eddie Parker, but even before this iconic role, Newman, who has dozens of notable titles on his resume, was already considered a major name in the industry with roles in A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus, and other films.

The opening scene is simplistic in its presentation, but reveals the theme of the film to the audience, it’s all about the hustle. Fast Eddie and his backer Charlie, played by Myron McCormick, stroll into a small bar that has “pool” advertised in the windows. The pair of pals claim they are appliance salesmen on their way to a convention in Pittsburgh the next day, but stopped off on their drive for a drink and some retreat from the muggy weather before they complete the final two hours of the trip. They start a friendly game, with Felson indulging in an occasional whiskey between shots before the supposed salesman wants to wager a few dollars against Charlie. The games continue as the two exchange wins before an apparently intoxicated Felson makes an incredibly difficult shot to finish a game. Charlie wagers that Eddie can’t hit the shot again and his near staggering pal misses before protesting that he wants to make another bet. Charlie, not wanting to take advantage of his bumbling buddy, declines and heads to the car. However, the spectators in the bar are more than eager to take some easy cash, including the hard-nosed bartender. The stumbling Felson empties his pocket of $105, a week of commission for the biggest bet of the afternoon as the bartender matches it right from the cash register, not wanting to let the chance at easy money pass him by before Felson sobers up. With the cue ball and the eight ball in place, “Fast Eddie” gives up a slight smile before he connects on the trick shot, taking the cash with him. The next shot shows Eddie with a smile as he hands Charlie his portion of the winnings, inviting the audience in on the game, the partners worked the spectators into believing that Felson was drunk, but the facade was only to get them to put their money on the table before he took them for the most money possible. It’s all about the hustle.

In a direct contrast, the next scene finds the two pool partners at their actual next destination, the next pool hall on the road to find some action. However, this particular establishment has “Billiards”  printed on the windows instead, the proper name alone suggesting it’s a more serious venue. Upon their arrival, a sign at the front desk ironically says, “no gambling allowed” and the gruff manager informs them, “no bar, no pinball, just pool” as the gullible onlookers from the previous day are replaces with unimpressed viewers around the room this time. Without booze as a potential set up, the two have to look for another angle and Felson finds it as he begins to confidently brag about how much money he’s going to win, proclaiming a goal of $10,000 in one night. One of the locals walks over and lets Fast Eddie knows the patrons of this pool room are well aware of his hustling reputation, and that if he’s there to play Minnesota Fats, the kingpin with legendary status among the smokey nine-ball tables, he should think twice about it. The gritty guy attempts to insult Charlie, who Felson fiercely defends, setting the record straight that Charlie is an equal partner, an aspect that provides some insight into their friendship. But with Felson’s pride insulted with the notion that he can’t defeat Minnesota Fats, he becomes determined to show up the well-known player.

As promised, Jackie Gleason struts into the pool hall at exactly 8 PM with a lavish overcoat and his hair slicked, nothing out of place to distract from the presence he brings to the smoke-filled room. After introductions are made, the terms of the game are agreed upon and Fast Eddie gets to square off with Minnesota Fats. Gleason’s work here is top-notch because with Fats’ introduction to the film, his lines aren’t anything profound, but the way he presents the character brings depth to the persona. When he glides around the table, finding the perfect angle for each shot and calling them in the process, his body language projects that pool isn’t a game for him, it’s a serious business. As he focused in on a shot, he put down his lit cigarette because it’s not a leisure time for him, it’s his work as he precisely dust the cue stick with chalk to ensure a clean shot.

With an upbeat jazz tune to accompany it, a montage shows the hours wear on with the shots, the racks, and the money exchanged. Gleason has the advantage before his opponent gets a chance to take over the game, but “Fast” Eddie begins to spout about his skills while he aggressively sinks shots in each pocket, suggesting this exhibition is more about ego than business for him. The jazz rejoins us and the montage continues, this time with odds tilting in Felson’s favor. When Charlie tells Eddie that he won $1,000 so far, the hustler wants to up the bet, asking Fats’ if they can wage a thousand a game. Gleason accepts, calling for a drink and the arrival of his financial backer, George C. Scott’s Bert Gordon, who arrogantly sips a glass of milk in the pool room as he viewers the game. More jazz brings along another montage of called shots, racks, and Charlie nervously chain-smoking from the sidelines. After 25 hours and $18,000 of profit, a weary Felson is slumped in a chair. Fast Eddie refuses to conclude the game until Minnesota Fats says it’s over. Despite Charlie’s pleas, Eddie angrily grabs his cue stick while he chugs more whiskey. On the flip side, Gleason is diligently washing his hands and getting cleaned up before he slips the suit jacket back on to continue the game. Felson ignored the most important rule of gambling, you have to known when to walk away. Bert Gordon smirks from his chair, knowing that Eddie is in over his head and he looks to take joy in Felson’s downfall.

Not surprisingly, Felson loses everything except his original $200 start up cash. Ironically, the actual intoxicated Felson couldn’t keep pace with the pro that Gleason was. As Eddie stumbled around the table, Minnesota Fats looks on with a combination of concern and disappointment while Bert gleefully enjoys the foolish display. Gleason rejects the offer to play a final game for the remaining $200, mercifully sparing Felson some money and leaves the pool hall. Still drunk and almost delirious from the lack of sleep, Eddie collapses, prompting Charlie to check on his fallen protegee. Back at the hotel, Eddie stays true to his word, leaving his partner half of the remaining cash and goes to the bus station, where he meets Sarah Packard at the diner. Still hung over, Felson falls asleep in the booth, but when he goes to the bar at the bus station he runs into Piper Laurie’s character again. With booze to replace the coffee from earlier, the two actually get to know each other, revealing that they both ended up at the bus station that morning simply because they had no where else to go. Sarah explains she enjoys a drink and attends a few college classes during the week, sounding as if her plan was more to pass the time than to pursue any higher education.

Without much in common other than a lack of direction in life, the two lonely souls decide to get a bottle of scotch and go to Sarah’s apartment. They kiss at her door way before she reconsiders the plan, and Eddie leaves quietly, finding a cheap dingy hotel room for the night. He hustles a few dollars at a low-end pool hall the next day before he goes back to the diner for coffee when he’s reunited with Sarah. This time they go back to her apartment and the next scene finds them discussing their plans the next day. Again, they seem to be brought together more by desperation than anything since Eddie is too embarrassed to meet up with him mentor and Sarah seems to be hopelessly lonely. With her school books, groceries, and booze in tow, Sarah arrives home the following day and we find that Eddie has brought over his belongings from the shady motel room. Despite barely knowing him, Sarah allows Eddie to stay with her. Eddie insists on paying for his share of the groceries, providing a level of depth to the character. He might be pool shark, but he believes in fairness for those not involved in the hustle. He even suggest that Sarah shouldn’t drink and get help before a knock at the door reveals that Charlie found Eddie.

A tense discussion shows that Felson wanted a rematch with Minnesota Fats while Charlie wants to go back on the road. Charlie explains that he doesn’t care about the money Eddie lost in the game, showing that their friendship isn’t just about dollars and cents. Charlie reveals that he saved some of the winnings for him, but Eddie refuses his offer to return to the road, ending their partnership in the pool rooms. With sadness in his eyes, Charlie leaves the apartment, a sign of the end of their friendship as well.

A few weeks later, we find Sarah next to a half empty bottle of scotch and as Eddie gets ready to go to the next local dive bar to find some action, even intoxicated, she finally makes some realistic statements about their relationship and the fact they don’t really know each other. Instead of finding pool, Eddie runs into Bert Gordon at the bar, who offers to become his new money backer with the proposition that takes a hefty portion of the winnings for fronting the cash. When Bert won’t budge on the percentage of the offer, Eddie refuses before Bert gives him a warning about walking into the wrong pool room. That night, Felson goes to hustle at the wrong place and a group of thugs breaks both of his thumbs, taking him out of the pool scene indefinitely.

The next scene finds Eddie at the door and when Sarah answers, she finds him bruised with the broken appendages. The next few weeks show her finding stability through caring for Eddie, as she opts not to get a drink when she writes an assignment for class. The two enjoy a picnic and Eddie discusses the possibility of defeating Minnesota Fats if he stays focused. After that we see him approach the apartment door with his hands out of the casts and his thumbs healed as he surprises Sarah with the news of his recovery. He thanks her for caring for him through the injury. She might be an alcoholic, but this sequence shows that a flaw instead of necessarily someone’s defining trait. The same way Eddie’s mishaps in the game against Fats didn’t define him as a pool hustler.

Speaking of the game with Fats, Eddie is back at the bar where the original game took place to practice, attempting to get some flexibility back in his hands. He runs into Bert Gordon, who heard about the incident at the dive bar. Bert emphasizes the importance of character in winning, offering again to back him on the road and eventually in another game with Gleason. This time, Felson accepts and tells Sarah that he will be traveling to Louisville with Bert to hustle some games against wealthy businessmen at a lavish party. Sarah gets drunk and hysterical, as she fears Eddie will decide to leave her. In the drunken rant she reveals that her father left the family when she was young and now sends her money to make up for it, but won’t be involved in her life so she has financial security, but feels completely unwanted by her family. This scene reveals just how flawed and fractured she is from the trauma in her life.

To reassure Sarah, Eddie makes arrangements for her to take the trip with them. Upon their arrival, while Eddie is practicing, Bert takes the opportunity to tell Sarah that he only tolerated her on the trip because of the money to be made from Felson’s pool hustling. After they attend some horse races, the trio meet up with Findley, played by Murray Hamilton, who famously had the role of Mayor Larry Vaughn in the 1975 classic, Jaws. Bert arranged the game with Findley, who invites his guests to the party that evening. Knowing that Eddie is being exploited, Sarah gets drunk at the party while Eddie loses, by design, to the snarky businessman. She begs him to leave, but after Eddie sends her back to the hotel, Bert agrees to back him for $1,000 a game. At the end of the night, Findley owes $12,000 and Bert looks satisfied while Eddie seems disappointed because of the argument with Sarah earlier in the night. Even getting his share of the cash, Eddie is disgusted with himself because he argued with Sarah just to win money. Despite the arrival of a cab, he opts to walk to the hotel, which meant Bert arrived first. Finally showing what a coward he is underneath the tailor-made suit, Bert takes a drink before he enters Sarah’s room and fabricates a story that Eddie wants her to leave. When Felson gets back to the hotel, he finds the authorities in his room and that Sarah committed suicide in the bathroom because she thought she was abandoned again. Bert sheepishly tries to explain what happened before Eddie jumps at him, pummeling the shady businessman before the police restrain him.

Back at the billiards hall, “Fast” Eddie shows up to challenge Minnesota Fats in a rematch at $3,000 a game, his share from the Louisville trip that led to Sarah’s death. With Bert watching from his usual spot, Eddie, focused more on a form of self redemption than proving anything to anyone else, takes Bert to task. As he sinks each pool ball with precision, Eddie tells the businessman that his lavish lifestyle doesn’t make up for his lack of character, as he only knows how to exploit others for his own personal gain without knowing the true value of anything. Eventually, Minnesota Fats hauls the games, acknowledging that Eddie is the better player on this occasion. As the pool shark puts his stick back in its case, Bert Gordon has the audacity to attempt to collect a percentage of the winnings, referencing their deal in Louisville. Gleason looks concerned for Eddie’s safety when Bert reveals that he was the one who had Felson’s thumbs broken in the dive bar. Newman does an incredible job in this scene with lines where Eddie explains that Bert could get his thugs to break his thumbs again, but he would come back to kill Bert if there was anything left of the broken pieces. Knowing the hustler was serious, Bert agrees to let Eddie walk, but cautions him that his career as a pool shark is over.

Eddie’s run as a hustler was finished anyway because he realized the value of friendship and companionship were much more important than his reputation as a pool hustler or the money that came along with it. In some ways, Eddie has to lose everything to understand what was actually important in the first place. Almost 60 years after its original release The Hustler remains one of the most stellar examples of character development, storytelling, and drama in the history of American film.

Spellbinder (1988)

Janet Greek is best known for her TV work and for directing the first Weird Al video, “Ricky.” This is one of her few theatrical films and it’s very much of the 1988 video store get five movies for five nights era, which is by no means a bad thing.

Los Angeles attorney Jeff Mills (Tim Daly, Wings) and his friend Derek Clayton (Rick Rossovich, Top Gun) rescue Miranda Reed (the gone before her time Kelly Preston) from an abusive boyfriend who spouts Satanic epithets before running into the night. So Jeff does what any of us would — he lets her move in and take over his life. The sex is, one expects when sleeping with a witch, astounding. But then, in the cold light of day, things start to be quite frightenging.

Along the way, there are appearances by Diana Bellamy (who knows something of video store rentals with credits like Critters 3My ChauffeurD.C. CabThe Nest and Stripped to Kill), Sally Kemp (The Glove), Audra “Mrs. Roper” Lindley, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (the Mortal Kombat movies) and Karen Baldwin, who along with her husband, Penguins owner Howard Baldwin, would make Pittsburgh’s second favorite movie, Sudden Death.

This movie was supposedly difficult to find for years, as the Church of Scientology kept it hidden due to Preston’s nude scenes — I call B.S. on that one, no one was keeping Mischief from anyone and that goes way further — and the fact that she plays a witch, a fact that I can more than see them being upset about.

Glory (1989)

Yeah, we sometimes watch movies that win actual awards and are seen as substantial pieces of art. You can bet your sweet bippy that Sam has nothing to do with the selection of those movies, as he often says things like, “You know, I’d like to watch Human Lanterns,” and Becca just rolls her eyes.

The spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down? This movie’s cinematographer is Freddie Francis. Yes, the very same person who directed Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, Tales from the Crypt and Son of Dracula. Before he made any of those movies, Francis had already won an Oscar for 1960’s Sons and Lovers. He won major acclaim for being the cinematographer for The Elephant ManDuneCape Fear and this movie, which he won an Oscar for in 1989.

Based on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, as well as the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (who is played in the movie by Matthew Broderick), this is the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s first African-American regiment in the American Civil War.

While Glory was the first major motion picture to tell the story of black U.S. soldiers fighting for their freedom from slavery during the Civil War and even has Shelby Foote — who was a major part of Ken Burns’ The Civil War — as a technical advisor, it still takes massive liberties with history. For example, a major scene has Private Trip (Denzel Washington) being flogged for running away, a punishment that was stopped two years before when this movie takes place. The reason behind his insubordination — the lack of shoes for the black soldiers — was also untrue, as on the day the recruits arrived at Readville (way after Christmas 1862, so that’s wrong) they were given new uniforms and boots. There are many more issues — the direction of the actual attack, the fact that most of the 54th were free men and not slaves, the fact that Fort Wagner really was taken over by Union forces in 1863 and that General Charles Garrison Harker never served around Charleston — but why let them get in the way of the story?

There’s a great quote from Roger Ebert about this movie: “Watching Glory, I had one recurring problem. I didn’t understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th’s white commanding officer. Why did we see the black troops through his eyes — instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor?”

I feel that if this movie had been made in 2020 and not 1989, it would be a completely different story.

That said, Morgan Freeman is great as Sergeant Major John Rawlins. It’s still an important movie, if you’re aware of the historical changes. What has not changed is that the Civil War was fought for many reasons, but the fact that we could be all equal has always been the lesson that I’ve taken. I rarely get political in my writing here — how can I when mostly I discuss Shaw Brothers, Turkish ripoffs and Mexican pro wrestling movies — but make no mistake, anyone that flies a rebel flag today is the most baseless moron there can be.

All This and World War II (1976)

Russ Regan, president of both UNI Records and 20th Century Records and vice-president of A&R at Motown, was a recording industry success story. He’s one of the few record executives to have a number one record in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

He has plenty of moments that place him at the center of rock and roll history, like promoting the first Motown song to go to #1, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes. He suggested that The Pendletones change their name to the Beach Boys. He helped produce Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” He helped start the careers of Elton John, Neil Diamond, Barry White and Olivia Newton-John. Four of the films he did music supervisor for — The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Flashdance and Chariots of Fire — won Oscars for best song.

He also had a dream about World War II, an era he grew up in, constantly seeing the horrors of war through newsreels. He wondered, “What if The Beatles provided the soundtrack?” And then he thought on it further and wondered, “What if we did a soundtrack with tons of 1976’s best-selling music artists and made some money?”

Imagine: 20th Century Fox films and newsreels of World War II, scored in a satirical way by The Beatles. Or their songs, at least. Tony Palmer, who directed 200 Motels with Zappa and All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music, would fit it all together (Susan Winslow is also credited as director). And The Bee Gees would record all of the music.

Well, the brothers Gibb did record six songs. Three of them, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Sun King” are in the film, but they also did versions of “Lovely Rita,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “She’s Leaving Home.” We’ll get back to them in a bit.

The album was put together by Lou Reizner, who produced the first two Rod Stewart albums, brought Bowie to America and created the orchestral version of Tommy. And you know, the music is the best thing about this.

Here’s a breakdown of the artists and the songs they covered:

“Magical Mystery Tour” by Ambrosia, who may not be remembered today, but they had some monster hits between 1975 and 1980, including the top 5 hits “How Much I Feel” and “Biggest Part of Me”, and top 20 hits “You’re the Only Woman (You & I)” and “Holdin’ on to Yesterday.” All four original members played on the Alan Parsons Project album, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” as Parsons had been the engineer of their first album and producer of their second. It’s also where Bruce Hornsby got his start.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by Elton John and Dr. Winston O’Boogie on lead guitar and backing vocals. The esteemed doctor is actually John Lennon.

“I Am the Walrus,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” by Leo Sayer, who was pretty much the mid-70’s soft rock king with songs like “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and “When I Need You.”

“She’s Leaving Home” by Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, who is no stranger to soundtracks, with “Slave to Love” appearing in 9 1/2 Weeks and Kingsman: The Secret Service, “Crazy Love” in She’s Having a Baby, “More Than This” in Lost In Translation, “Love is the Drug” in Casino and the Baz Luhrman The Great Gatsby, “Same Old Scene” in Times Square and many more.

“Lovely Rita” and “Polythene Pam” are by Roy Wood, a member and co-founder of The Move, Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard, who are best known for the song “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.” He also covered ABBA’s “Waterloo” in 1986 with Doctor and the Medics, reaching #45 on the UK charts.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” was covered by Keith Moon, who sadly only lived to see half that age. As for movies, Moon appeared as J.D Clover, the drummer for the Stray Cats — not the later rockabilly band — in That’ll Be the Day and Stardust. He’s also in Sextette.

“Get Back” is by Rod Stewart, whose songs have been in tons of movies. Just off the top of my head, I can pick “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in Zodiac, “Every Picture Tells a Story” in Almost Famous, “Maggie May” in Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing, “That’s What Friends Are For” in Night Shift, “Love Touch” in Legal Eagles and “Twistin’ the Night Away” in Innerspace.

“Yesterday” was recorded by David Essex, whose “Rock On” was a worldwide success. He’s gone on to act in EastEndersSmashing TimeSilver Dream Racer and other films.

Speaking of ELO, “With a Little Help from My Friends/Nowhere Man” is by Jeff Lynne. Known alternatively as Otis and Clayton Wilbury, he also produced the soundtrack for Xanadu.

“Because” is by Lynsey de Paul. Who, you ask? She represented the UK in the Eurovision contest in 1977 with “Rock Bottom” and her song “Sugar Me” led to her becoming the first British female artist to reach #1 on the charts with a self-written song. She died unexpectantly in 2014, leaving behind plenty of broken hearts like Dudley Moore, Chas Chandler, Roy Wood, Ringo Starr, James Coburn, Bill Kenwright, Dodi Fayed, Sean Connery, George Best, Bernie Taupin and David Frost.

“Michelle” is by Richard Cocciante, a French-Italian singer whose lone English language album “When Love Has Gone Away” made it to #41 on the U.S. Billboard chart. He also recorded several songs for the Italian version of Toy Story.

“We Can Work It Out” by The Four Seasons was a major song on this soundtrack. Along with the Beach Boys, they’re the only American pop group to enjoy substantial chart success before, during and after the  British Invasion.

“The Fool on the Hill” by Helen Reddy? Yep. I always thought she was Canadian, but she was born in Australia. She was the queen of 70’s pop, with 25 singles charting. If you don’t know her, you probably know her song “I Am Woman.” She also appeared as the singing nun in Airport 1975.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was Frankie Laine’s last chart appearance. He was a big influence on the band and also starred in several Blake Edwards-directed musicals.

“Hey Jude” was covered by The Brothers Johnson, the American funk and R&B band best known for “I’ll Be Good to You”, “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Stomp!”

“Getting Better” is by Status Quo, who in addition to recording “Pictures of Matchstick Men” opened Live Aid with “Rockin’ All Over the World.”

“Help!” is by Henry Gross, a founding member of Sha Na Na who also recorded the song “Shannon.” John Lennon said that this version of the song is closer to what he intended it to sound like.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” was covered by Peter Gabriel, who had left the band Genesis just the year before. His songs are all over popular culture, from seven of them being used on Miami Vice to “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything and even a compilation of songs he wrote for soundtracks entitled Rated PG.

“A Day in the Life” is by Frankie Valli, which is an odd pick that works. Valli is, of course, from the Four Seasons.

“Come Together” is by Tina Turner, who played The Acid Queen in Tommy and, of course, Aunty Entity in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” is by Wil Malone (who produced the scores for The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” arranged the orchestra for Tommy and composed the music for the movie Death Line. Metalheads know that he produced Iron Maiden’s self-titled album and arranged the strings on Opeth’s Sorceress and Black Sabbath’s “Spiral Architect”) and Reizner.

The last song on the album, “The End” is by The London Symphony Orchestra.

The soundtrack outperformed the movie, reaching #23 on the UK Albums Chart and #48 on the Billboard Top 200. Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” went to #1 in the U.S., Ambrosia’s “Magical Mystery Tour” hot #39 and Frankie Laine’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” got to #86. The entire album was re-released in 1979 as The Songs Of John Lennon & Paul McCartney Performed By The World’s Greatest Rock Artists.

The results of the movie? Well, it was in theaters for all of two weeks and has never been released from the vaults of 20th Century Fox. Gonzo Multimedia released a bootleg called The Beatles and World War II in 2016, but this is a revised version with a slightly different soundtrack.

If you’re interested in seeing “Sun King” juxtaposed with kamikaze pilots and “Fool On the Hill” with German leaders at Adolf’s mountain hideaway in Berchtesgaden, this would be the film for you. There’s nothing quite like it, to be perfectly honest. I can see why people hated it — the world was not yet ready for culture jamming mashups in 1976 and probably still hadn’t gotten over the breakup of the Fab Four.

But if you can find this, wow. It’s something.

Record City (1977)

Record City is no High Fidelity, Empire Records, or even FM. Not even Trax in Pretty In Pink. Nope, Record City is a huge story filled with way too many people that all meander around with no story whatsoever, but if you’re interested in film as time capsule of an era, this is certainly one worth opening and looking inside.

DJ Gordon Kong (Rick Dees, the creator of “Disco Duck,” which along with “Dr. Disco” appear in Saturday Night Fever; Dees also wrote the theme for Meatballs, plus hosted Solid Gold and the late night show Into the Night Starring Rick Dees) has a fake gorilla arm and is hosting a talent show in the parking lot while we watch the records get sold inside.

This is an American-International Picture, believe it or not, but it comes at the end of a great run. Get ready for 1978’s best — or worst depending on your point of view — cast, replete with pop culture bit players, the kind we love most around here. There’s Jeff Altman, two years away from The Pink Lady and Jeff (the kind of culture clash that we really would write about if we covered television series, as an engineer. Altman’s in a ton of stuff that I love, like American Hot Wax and Easy Money, as well as some stuff I downright hate like Wacko and Highlander II: The Quickening. Familiar faces include Ed Begley Jr., Sorrell “Boss Hogg, but he’s also in Devil Times Five” Booke, Ruth Buzzi, Pittsburgh native Frank Gorshin, Ted “Isaac the Bartender” Lange, Gallagher, Harold “Oddjob” Sakata, Larry Storch, Tim Thomerson and Wendy Schall (who is in everything from Innerspace to CreatureMunchiesThe ‘Burbs and Small Soldiers; you’ll also recognize her voice as Francine on American Dad).

But the film excels at presenting those on the fringes of relevance, even in 1978. Like Dean Martin’s dancing uncle Leonard Barr. Sylvia Anderson, who was in She Devils In ChainsAngels’ Brigade and Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. John Halsey, who was Barry Wom in The Ruttles. PSA star Joe Higgins. Russell Howard, a skateboarder who also ends up in two Andy Sidaris movies, Hard Ticket to Hawaii and Seven. Nadejda Dobrev from Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead. Alan Oppenheimer, the voice of Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, Beastman, Cringer, Inch High Private Eye, Vanity Smurf and more. Alice Ghostley (Bernice from Designing Women and Mrs. Murdock in Grease). Tony Giorgio, Satan in Night Train to Terror! March 1974 Playboy Playmate of the Month Pamela Zinszer. And weirdest of all, one-time leader “The Texas Jewboys,” writer Kinky Friedman.

I can’t stop you from checking this out for yourself. I can only tell that this is a total mess. But sometimes, those are the movies we love best, right?

You can watch Record City on Amazon Prime.

Prey for Rock & Roll (2004)

In 2002, long time L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog found critical acclaim for her stage play Prey for Rock & Roll which had a successful run at New York’s famed rock club CBGBs. This caught the attention of film producer and music consultant Alex Steyermark (Hedwig and the Angry Itch), who was searching for a film to break him as a first time director. Lovedog’s self-professed “rock n’ roll love letter” to the L.A. club scene stars Gina Gershon (who got her start in Girls Just Want To Have Fun with Helen Hunt, found acclaim in Bound, and while great in it, deserves better than Showgirls) as a 40-year-old tattoo artist and rocker deep in a mid-life crisis, wondering how much longer she can deal with the struggles of keeping her band together.

Starring as the Clam Dandies (since it’s an all-girl band, read into it) are Drea Dematteo (HBO’s The Sapranos) as terminally-stoned bassist Tracy, Laura Petty (Tank Girl) as Faith, and (the awesome; yeah he’s from Pittsburgh, baby) Marc Blucas (TV’s Buffy) as “Animal” the roadie. Shelly Cole (Madeline Lynn from TV’s Gilmore Girls) impresses with her drum skills; she hits all the right notes as one of the best “film” drummers out there. Petty fakes it well, while Dematteo knows her way around the neck and Gershon, who didn’t play a note before the film, blows the doors off with her power chords. The soundtrack composed by Cheri Lovedog — and sung by Gina Gershon — features an alternative-rock super group of the Lunachick’s guitarist Gina Volpe, bassist Sara Lee of Gang of Four, and later of the B-52s, and Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.

To promote the picture on the festival circuit, Gina took to the road with the Washington D.C. punk outfit Girls vs. Boys (aka GvsB, they provided “Kill the Sex Player” to Kevin’s Smith’s Clerks) as her backing band, which was chronicled in the IFC Cable Series Gina Gerhson: Rocked. Cheri Lovedog compiled the feature documentary Hollywood Trash & Tinsel on the making of the film. Musician Stephen Trask, who also worked on Hedwig and the Angry Itch alongside Alex Steyermark, produced the soundtrack.

Astute viewers will notice the footage of X in the film’s opening refrains originates from The Decline of Western Civilization. Fans of the Lunachick’s can watch Gina Volpe’s bandmate Theo Kagan in Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a seriously f’d up animated puppet movie where, in a distant future, a cult forms around the Manson Family and Charles Manson is mistaken as a Jesus-messiah; the film also stars the voices of the members of Green Day and the Go-Gos). Lovedog’s other films include 2010’s All American Gender Outlaw and Go Hard or Go Home, a 2012 document on the indie band Devil Dolls MC. Alex Steyermark made another rock n’ roll flick, the indie ’80s rock tale, Losers Take All, which, despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, failed at the box office and VHS shelves.

During the film’s initial stages, Joan Jett was involved in the soundtrack’s production, but left early on due to the usual “artistic differences”; Linda Perry of Pink and 4 Non Blondes (“What Going On?”; their cover of Van Halen’s “I’m the One” appears in Airheads) stepped in (it is also said Jett was to star in the Gershone role, but had issues with the script). However, as you can see from Gina Gershon’s look and tone, Joan definitely left her mark on the film — in many ways Gershon’s Jacki harkens Jett’s own Patti Rasnick in 1987’s Light of Day.

As with any rock flick that isn’t a splashy, A-List bioflick of the Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles variety, the critical — both professional and general movie goer — response was, as with Light of Day, lukewarm. Many reviews, while praising the costuming and set design, and calling out Gershon’s dead-on portrayal of a failed, disillusioned rocker, dropped the word “soap opera” in their reviews in regards to the endless stream of bad luck befallen the band (e.g., a band member’s rape; another’s death by car accident; a recording deal falling through because Jacki didn’t “put out” for the record executive) that came across as “phony.”

As someone who experienced this life as radio jock dealing with local bands, as a roadie for said bands, and bassist myself, I can attest that Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is a commendable first effort that ranks up there with Paul Schrader’s Light of Day as one of the most accurate portrayals of a struggling rock band; Steyermark pulls back the curtain on a musician’s love of rock ‘n’ roll clashing with their family and relationship obligations. Yes, most struggling musician’s lives are a hot mess — just like in this movie.

The film’s soundtrack has also taken its share of critical hits; many critqued the music as “awful.” Personally, I enjoyed Lovedog’s music for the film, which serves as a sort of “greatest hits/best of” compilation of her life’s work. Not to say that the music was purposefully composed as “bad” for dramatic effect or that Lovedog can’t write — but isn’t that the point? It is one thing to love music: it’s another thing to be able to write it . . . and yet another to write it successfully. So, if you’re watching the film for the first time, and you think the music “sucks,” it should only lend to your appreciation of the film as a whole and in your understanding of why many, many local bands — no matter how hard they try — never make it.

This film is a must watch. The soundtrack is a must listen. Do it. And stick around for the band flyer-inspired end credits. The film — as well as the soundtrack — is readily and easily available in the online marketplace with VOD streams on a wide variety of platforms. Vignettes from the film and its music abound on You Tube to enjoy.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll (2009)

We briefly touched upon this feature film writing and directing debut by Scott D. Rosenbaum during our tribute week of reviews to the works of Mark L. Lester and his 2010 rock flick, Groupie.

The connection came courtesy of Tayrn Manning, who stars in this indie rock flick alongside the always awesome Peter Fonda (of Easy Rider; here, he is the wise ex-rocker, natch), along with Jason Ritter (the son of Three’s Company John, as the troubled rocker) and Lucas Haas (of Last Days, here as the intrepid journalist).

The inclusion of Fonda is no accident: This is a “road movie” where the legends of the “27 Club” meets Eddie and the Cruisers — only with a dramatic arc and production quality that rises it to the level of Almost Famous (based on the downfall of Humble Pie) and British-made Still Crazy (based on the ’80s Animals reunion) — in tale about a a gothic-rocker (with a heavy Cobain influence) whose sophomore album for his band The Lost Soulz flops; he returns to his hometown to make amends (i.e., suck up) with the incognito-music teacher responsible for writing the songs for the first album.

Lead actors Kevin Zegers (Damian Daalgard in TV’s Gossip Girl and Mel in AMC’s Fear of the Walking Dead) and Jason Ritter star and provide the vocals to the original songs “Turn Me On,” “Sweet Rock Candy,” “Without You,” and “Lonely Planet Boy.”  The soundtrack also features atmospheric songs by Nirvana, Aerosmith, Violent Femmes, and Jane’s Addiction. Both are stunning in their dual-duties.

The script displays Rosenbaum’s keen knowledge of the Grateful Dead: Lukas Haas portrays a rock journalist named “Clifton Hanger,” which was the name late Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Myland used when checking into hotels. Peter Fonda appears as road manager “August West,” which is a character in the Grateful Dead song, “Wharf Rat.”  Making his acting debut: blues great Pinetop Perkins.

You can also find this in the overseas marketplace under the title, Coda, which also serves as the title for the 2005 short film in which this is based. Sorry, no freebies on this one, kids. You can check it out as a VOD on Amazon Prime (where it pulls 4 to 5 stars and a 91% approval), Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.

Great stuff. Watch it.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Border Radio (1987)

Was it worth waiting a few years before finding a copy of this poorly-distributed VHS in a cut-out bin at an old Sound Warehouse?

Oh, yeah.

Fans of the cult film existentialism of Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, and Two-Lane Blacktop — or any art film that finds a reissue on the Criterion Collection — will enjoy this grim, black and white film noir homage (shot on Super 16mm) to the French new-wave films of old; to that end, the film employs a disjointed, non-linear narrative. Do you enjoy the films of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), and Mystery Train (1989)? Did you enjoy the later Clerks (1994) by Kevin Smith? Do the “mood pieces” of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni — such as 1975’s The Passenger — appeal to you?

Then you’ll enjoy Border Radio — although this UCLA student film by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss (Down and Out with the Dolls) doesn’t possess the “slickness” of those films, as you can see from the trailer.

Border Radio is a noirish tale of three southern California punk rockers — two musicians and a roadie (Chris D. and John Doe) — who decided a club stiffed them on a gig, so they rob the club. Chris D. subsequently abandons his rock journalist wife and crosses the border into Mexico with his split of the caper, leaving her holding the bag in repaying the debt of their robbery; she sends John Doe into Mexico to find him.

The caveat of Border Radio: this is not a punk film.

U.S.-issued VHS by Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts Video courtesy of 112 Video/Paul Zamarelli of VHS Collector.com.

There are punk rockers cast in the film as actors, but the music and punk aesthetic is void from its frames. The film’s stars, Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters and the Divine Horsemen, and John Doe of X, do not perform any of their music in the film. At the time Allison Anders (1992’s Gas Food Lodging, 1999’s Sugar Town, 2001’s Things Behind the Sun) completed the four-years-shot film begun in 1983, L.A.’s punk scene — with the musicians she cast as actors — was over.

The Flesh Eaters disbanded and the Divine Horsemen (lead singer Julie Christensen stars in the film) were set to release their first recordings; Billy Zoom left X; Phil and Dave Alvin (Dave co-stars in the film) disbanded the Blasters, and Texacala Jones (who also appears in du-Beat-eo) split from Tex and the Horseheads. Green on Red (they appear on stage at the Hong Kong Cafe), who got their start on Slash Records with Gravity Talks (1983) and wrote the soundtrack for Anders’s Gas Food Lodging (1985), also folded up the tents after their three, pre-grunge albums for Mercury: The Killer Inside Me (1987), Here Come the Snakes (1988), and This Time Around (1989) failed to expand beyond college rock airplay and connect with the burgeoning, commercial alternative rock scene. The film’s theme song, “Border Radio,” is performed by The Tonys, aka L.A.’s the Dils, aka Rank n’ File, led by Chip and Tony Kinman; by the time of the film’s release, they formed the synth-based Blackbird project.

You can learn more about the out-of–print Enigma Records soundtrack — never released on compact disc — on Discogs.com. The film is not currently available on PPV and VOD platforms, but DVDs can be purchased direct from Criterion.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.


Hey, you want to write for us? We have a “John Doe Week” coming up in December. You can get all the deets, HERE.

Eat the Rich (1987)

Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister
December 24, 1945 – December 28, 2015

If you’re not a fan of the late Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead, you’ll hate this movie. If you’re a fan the late Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead, you’ll hate this movie.

Yes, I love Motorhead. And I hate this movie.

Image of U.S.-issued VHS courtesy of Videonut324/Paul Zamarelli of VHS Collector.com

Why? You love all of this f’up, obscure stuff, R.D.

The MTV video for the film’s title song, “Eat the Rich,” from Motorhead’s ninth studio album, 1987’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, was in heavy rotation (complete with “BEEPS”), with featured clips from the film that led us to believe Lemmy starred in the film. Yep, you guessed right: we ended up with very little Lemmy — who we rented to see — and a whole lot of British comedian-comedienne-cum-drag queen Al Pellay, aka Lanah Pellay — who we didn’t rent to see. And while the MTV video put focus on the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and the Beatles’ Paul McCartney to the forefront (Hugh Cornwell from the Stranglers and Jools Holland of Squeeze show up), they’re in the film less than Lemmy.

Again, as with A Matter of Degrees and The Runnin’ Kind, the distribution on this was nil; I didn’t see the film until the mid-90s, when a Blockbuster Video-absorbed Sound Warehouse — all which were converting into Blockbuster Music outlets (remember those shiny, commercialized shiteholes?) — dumped their VHS inventory ($2.00 bucks: sold, along with John Doe of X in Border Radio, $2.00: sold).

I was over the moon. Then the moon crashed.

Yeah, I hated this movie. I watched it once, bulked it, and copied a behind-the-green curtain Jenna Jameson porn over it. In fact, skip this movie. Watch the Motorhead video instead — and call it a day. Then find a Jenna Jameson porn online. You’ll thank me later.

In fact, don’t even finish reading this review of this movie that you shouldn’t watch and just read Lemmy’s sexual innuendo word smithin’, for his lyrics are more entertaining than the actual script that served as his lyrical inspiration.

They say music is the food of love
Let’s see if you’re hungry enough
Take a bite, take another
Just like a good boy would
Get a sweet thing on the side
Home cooking, homicide
Side order, could be your daughter
Finger licking good

Come on baby, eat the rich
Put the bite on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess up, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich

Sitting down in a restaurant
Tell the waiter just what you want
Is that the meat you wanted to eat?
How would you ever know?

Hash browns and bacon strips
I love the way that you lick your lips
No fooling, I can see you drooling
Feel the hunger grow

Come on baby, eat the rich
Put the bite on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess up, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on honey, here’s your supper
Come on baby, bite that sucker

I’ll eat you, baby, you eat me
Eat two, baby get one free
Shetland pony, extra pepperoni
Just pick up the phone
Eat Greek or eat Chinese
Eat salad or scarf up grease
You’re on the shelf, you eat yourself
Come on and bite my bone

Come on baby, eat the rich
Bite down on the son of a (BEEP)
Don’t mess around, don’t you give me no switch
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Come on baby, and eat the rich
Sitting here in a hired tuxedo
You wanna see my bacon torpedo
Eat it baby, eat the rich

Lemmy. Friggin’ genius. And MTV is stupid. A song that talks about “bacon torpedoes” and implores listeners to “bite the bone,” and you’re worried about the word “bitch” tainting young ears? And we haven’t even got to the lyrics of “Orgasmatron,” which also appears in the film.

The film’s genesis was in the writing room of The Comic Strip, a Saturday Night Live-styled ensemble of British comedians that hosted a successful series The Comic Strip Presents . . . on the BBC’s Channel Four. After five years of ratings success since the show’s 1982 inception — with a cast featuring Adrian Edmonson, Rik Mayall, and Nigel Planer (of MTV’s The Young Ones), along with Dawn French (of The Vicar of Dibley) and Jennifer Saunders (of the French and Saunders comedy team and Absolutely Fabulous) — it was decided the time was right to do a “racier,” feature film — one with a message about Britain’s Thatcherism welfare state and the nationalism of the U.K.’s tightly-regulated economy.

Yeah, this is going to be comedic gold.

Eat the Rich was written and directed by Peter Richardson (aka Spider Webb of the very funny, late ’80s metal parody band/TV series Bad News with Rik Mayall) as a follow up to the comedy troupe’s feature film debut, The Supergrass (1985). Richardson set his Pythonesque, black comedy in a future, fascist London concerning a terrorist faction looking to derail the upcoming Prime Minister elections and overthrow the Conservative Party.

Involved in the political intrigue is Alex (Pillay) a fired, disgruntled server at Bastards, an exclusive restaurant. Finding refuge in the Party, Alex strikes back at the cultural elite with a ragtag group of Robin Hood-styled anarchists who return to the restaurant and kill the clientele and staff — and serves up the bodies of those dead Yuppies to Yuppies, as the rechristened Eat the Rich becomes the talk of London. (For those who care: Lemmy is Spider, the sidekick of a Russian double agent, who learns of the eatery’s secret menu and plans to stop the Conservative-cannibal carnage.)

Yeah, this is going to be comedic gold. Not.

However, in the film’s defense, the politically uncorrect religious, political, and social classes humor is totally British — and even my own personal, steady dozes of U.S. Public Television-broadcasted Brit-coms, such as Doctor in the House, The Goodies, Are You Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, and The Young Ones wasn’t enough to prime my inner joke box. Sure, the story’s literal take of Conservatives “eating” the non-Conservatives for their own person gain is an interesting approach — but it’s just not funny. Reflect back on some of the SNL-bred movies of the ’80s: Corky Romano, Night at the Roxbury, Superstar. Yeah, it’s like that: a well-made, affably-acted effort that, never the less, falls flat. BURP!

Why New Line Cinema opted to bring the film to U.S. shores for a theatrical release is anyone’s guess (surely not for the Motorhead connection; did they think they had the next RuPaul on their hands with Lanah Pellay?). But after pulling in just over $200,000 on four screens in Los Angeles and New York, the film was pulled and dumped onto the home video market via RCA/Columbia. Again, British humor works, for U.S. audiences, in a half-hour format on public television — not in an hour and a half film.

And it didn’t work in Britain either: Eat the Rich is rated as one of that country’s “50 Greatest Cinematic Flops.” Channel Four subsequently kiboshed plans for The Comic Strip’s third feature film, Five Go To Hell. And there hasn’t been a film since. The troop folded up the tents in 2000, reactivating from 2005–2016.

But it’s not all awful, for there are a few magical moments . . . when the Motorhead kicks in, natch: A DHSS office is stormed and robbed to the beat of “Nothing Up My Sleeve”; Lemmy, aka Spider, and his Russian boss ride their cycles through the British countryside while the title track from Motorhead’s seventh studio album, 1986’s Orgasmatron, plays in the background; at a dinner party, Motorhead takes to the stage and plays another cut from Orgasmatron, “Doctor Rock.” (“Built for Speed” and a live version of “On the Road” also appears in the film). Pillay’s cabaret-parody, which hit the British Top 100 and Australia Top 20, “Pistol In My Pocket,” also appears.

In the wake of revisiting this film all these years later — an after reviewing the Sex Pistols in 1980’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle this week as part of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” — perhaps if Eat the Rich was made during punk’s heyday, with Johnny Rotten in Al/Lanah Pellay’s disgruntled waiter role recruited by a political terrorist group . . . and with, say, Adam Ant instead of Lemmy, and a couple guys from the Clash — with them beating up Billy Idol as the Prime Minister to-run (as an in-joke for selling out to American radio) — we could have had ourselves a twisted, politi-punk version of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, instead of an unfunny, dead-in-water Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel.

Where’s Roger Corman when you really need him?

Lemmy followed up his acting debut in Eat the Rich with a role as an aquatic taxi driver in Hardware (1990), as an ex-school newspaper reporter in Airheads (1994), as the narrator in Lloyd Kaufman’s Tromeo and Juliet, and as Joe in Down and Out with the Dolls (2001).

You can readily stream Eat the Rich on Amazon Prime and You Tube Movies. You can roll the full albums of Orgasmatron and Rock ‘n’ Roll on You Tube, as well. Clips from the film abound on the platform as well.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls (2004)

Captain Maximus Powers (B&S About Movies mainstay Eric Roberts) and co-pilot Mike Saunders (Charlie Schlatter, 16 years after 18 Again!) have crash-landed with a planeful of beauty pageant winners. The island they’re on? Well, it has a monster on it called Jurassic Pork — a gigantic pig — and Wahlberg-era Planet of the Apes who are making their own Ark.

This also has Playboy’s Fiftieth Anniversary Playmate Colleen Shannon, Miss Puerto Rico 1998 Joyce Giraud, Allie Moss, Janna Giacoppo, Popi Ardissone (Vampyre Femmes), Blythe Metz (Jacqueline Hyde), Baywatch’s Brande Roderick, Price Is Right model Gabrielle Tuite, Stuart Pankin as Noah, Evan “Joe Millionaire” Marriott, a Pope John Paul the Second impersonator and cameos from Pat Morita and Bernie Kopell from Love Boat.

Wait — so why is this article running during a week of music movies? Read on.

That’s because Michael Jackson — yes, the real one, not an effect or someone in makeup — appears as Agent MJ of the Vatican, who appears as a hologram out of a droid. All of his scenes were shot in his Neverland Ranch home and his appearance is why this movie went unreleased for so long.

How was this movie made? Why was this movie made? Why would Michael Jackson appear in what is essentially a Scary Movie level movie about a reality dating show?

Who can say? All I know is that I’ve watched it. Experience it. And decided to tell you about it. It’s not good, trust me. But it’s definitely something to talk about.