Ron Marchini Week Wrap Up!

Phew. We did it! Twelve Ron Marchini films in two days. You know the drill! Yee-haw, let’s round ’em up!

Born in California and rising through the U.S. Army’s ranks to become a drill sergeant, in his civilian life, Ron Marchini earned the distinction as the best defensive fighter in the U.S.; by 1972, he was ranked the third best fighter in the country. Upon winning several worldwide tournaments, and with Robert Clouse’s directing success igniting a worldwide martial arts film craze with Enter the Dragon (1973), the South Asian film industry beckoned.

After making his debut in 1974’s Murder in the Orient, Marchini began a long friendship with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi, who directed Ron in his next film, the epic Death Machines, then later, in the first of Ron’s two appearances as post-apoc law officer John Travis, in Omega Cop.

Ron also began a long friendship with Leo Fong (Kill Point) after their co-staring in Murder in the Orient; after his retirement from the film industry — after making eleven dramatic-action films and one documentary — Ron concentrated on training and writing martial arts books with Leo, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. Today, he’s a successful California almond farmer.

In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion.

You can learn more about Ron Marchini with his biography at USAdojo.com. An interview at The Action Elite, with Ron’s friend and Death Machines director Paul Kyriazi, also offers deeper insights.


Ron, second from right, with Chuck Norris, shaking hands, 1965. Courtesy of Ken Osbourne/Facebook.
Courtesy of USADojo.com.

The Flicks!

The Reviews!

New Gladiators (1973)
Murder in the Orient (1974)
Death Machines (1976)
Dragon’s Quest (1983)
Ninja Warriors (1985)
Forgotten Warrior (1986)
Jungle Wolf (1986)
Return Fire (1988)
Arctic Warriors (1989)
Omega Cop (1990)
Karate Cop (1991)
Karate Raider (1995)

Black tee-shirt image courtesy of Spreadshirt. Art work/text by B&S About Movies.

We love ya, Ron!

The Review Authors: Sam Pacino is the publisher of B&S About Movies and can be visited on Twitter. R. D Francis is a staff writer and can be visited on Facebook.

New Gladiators (1973)

During these past two days, we’ve reviewed the films of martial artist Ron Marchini — from his 1974 debut in Murder in the Orient with Leo Fong, and up through to his eleventh and final film, 1995’s Karate Raider, aka Jungle Wolf 3 (in some quarters), which he also directed. But Ron has one more film, a twelfth film — a documentary released prior to his feature film debut, known as New Gladiators (now Elvis Presley Gladiators in its digital reissue format).

New Gladiators was a film that was believed to myth; a film mentioned in passing in the many tomes on Elvis Presley and martial arts history books; a film that Elvis produced — but no one ever saw. It was believed the 16mm-shot film was an unfinished project, the reels lost amid the many legal skirmishes after Elvis’s death in August 1977.

Image courtesy of ElvisDVDCollector.com from the 2009 DVD reissue.

At the time, with Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon igniting a new, worldwide interest in karate, the film’s concept of chronicling the world tour of the U.S. Karate team — a team which starred Ron Marchini — was presented to Elvis’s karate instructor, Ed Parker. Initially, Elvis, who bankrolled the production, was to serve as the film’s host and narrator. But due to his Las Vegas entertainment commitments and ongoing medical issues, he was only able to make a brief appearance in the film for a practice and demonstration session.

In addition to Ron Marchini, keen eyes will notice Professional Karate Association middleweight champ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, who made his acting debut as “Sparks” in A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris and co-starred alongside Jackie Chan as “Benny Garucci” in The Protector (1985); he also made a brief appearance in Leo Fong’s Killpoint (1984). During the course of the film, Elvis is part of a ceremony when Wallace is promoted from a 3rd to 4th Degree Black Belt. You’ll also notice Benny Urquidez, who, among his many film credits, is best remembered for his role as assassin “Felix La PuBelle” in John Cusack’s Grosse Pointe Blank. But since these past two days were in tribute to the film and acting career of Ron Marchini, we have to call out his spotlight bout with German champ Geert Lemmens in the film.

From the film: Elvis with his longtime friend and “Memphis Mafia” member, Red West.

Contrary to opinion, Elvis did not write or direct the film, and was only a producer in the financial sense of the word. The film was shot by cinematographer Allen Daviau, who would go on to earn five Oscar nominations as “Best Cinematographer” (E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Avalon, and Bugsy). Producer and editor Isaac Florentine became a director in his own right, with the Undisputed franchise, and his most recent film, Seized (2020), stars Kickboxing Champ Scott Adkins.

The film was discovered amid other Elvis personal items stored in a West Hollywood, California, storage facility in 2001; the 16mm footage was restored and released in August 2002 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death. It has since been reissued — with more Elvis karate footage not related to the original film — in 2009. DVDs of New Gladiators — as well as many of Elvis’s other films — can be purchased direct at Elvis DVD Collector. Several extended clips can be enjoyed on You Tube.

Thanks for joining us these past two days for our tribute to the films of Ron Marchini (he’s featured in the trailer, seen above). Stream ’em and enjoy!

Mystery solved! The Norris-Marchini fight we’ve pondered these past two days, did happen, in 1965. That’s Ron, second from left, then Chuck, shaking hands. Courtesy Ken Osbourne/Facebook.

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

No, the Case Is Happily Resolved (1973)

Between the giallo and the poliziotteschi, No, the Case Is Happily Resolved is all about what happens when a rich man gets away with murder. After all, the eyewitness won’t even testify, so the actual killer claims that the witness is the murderer and that he saw it all.

Professor Eduardo Ranieri (Riccardo Cucciolla, Rabid Dogs) made eye contact with common man Fabio Santamaria (Enzo Cerusico, The Dead Are Alive) after killing a woman with a metal bar. The poor man decides that going to the police isn’t worth the effort and how it would tear his life apart, so he just goes home to his wife (Martine Brochard).

Only reporter Giuseppe Ferdinando Giannoli (Enrico Maria Salerno, the brother of the director and also Inspector Morosini in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) thinks that something is wrong, but in Italy, as in the U.S., the system is not made to protect the innocent. It’s there to protect those that can afford it.

The film’s distributors wanted a more upbeat ending than the ambiguous one that the director (who also made Savage Three, which is also in the Arrow Video Years of Lead set) preferred.

Savage Three is one of five movies on Arrow Video’s Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977. These films are great examples of the Italian poliziotteschi genre and the set includes high def versions of this movie, Savage ThreeColt 38 Special Squad, Like Rabid Dogsand Highway Racer. There’s also an interview with director Vittorio Salerno and this movie’s alternate ending. You can get it from MVD.

The Amusement Park (1973)

Originally produced in 1973 and re-discovered and restored in 2017, The Amusement Park was commissioned by the Lutheran Society, which had commissioned it as an educational film about elder abuse and ageism. However, they had issues with the content of the film and it wasn’t seen until 2019 (and now it’s running on Shudder).

People seem to be falling over themselves to proclaim this a lost classic and a definitive artistic statement instead of what it really is — an interesting curio from a director who has a celebrated run of films. It has more interest to Pittsburghers yearning to see West View Park one more time, as well as celebrate the weird fact that a film about an amusement park being used to show the perils of ageism would soon be destroyed for retail stores and now is a mainly empty parking lot where a K-Mart once stood.

In fact, I once did a marketing survey at a beer distributor out there and the bubbly account expert I was working with asked an older man if he drank Iron City Beer. He answered, “Oh, I used to. My friends and I all used to drink Iron City.” She asked back, “Why don’t they drink it anymore?” The reply still haunts me as much as her horrified reaction amused me: “Oh, honey. All of my friends are dead.”

The lead in this, Lincoln Maazel, would play Tata Cuda in Romero’s best-realized film — in my opinion — Martin. Other than him, most of the cast are volunteers and not professionals. This — and the reasons for the making of this movie — make it unfair to rate against Romero’s other films.

Go into this with the intent to see a curiosity and the opportunity to see lost parts of Western Pennsylvania. That’s really what it is, not a lost film per se. It feels very much like the parts of Romero’s films I dislike, like There’s Always Vanilla and, well, everything after Creepshow. But as someone who respects the director as someone who helped create modern horror and put Pittsburgh on the map (well, until he didn’t film Land of the Dead here, but sour grapes and that was probably more due to the city’s film office no longer offering tax breaks), this was still worth watching. I just kind of refuse to blindly accept any artists’ work as universal genius, even people whose work I adore such as Argento, Fulci and, yes, George Romero.

Also, as a denouement, this RogerEbert.com review makes it sound like Romero was living hand to mouth until Dawn of the Dead was made. To wit: “Broke and hungry, he shot low-budget features in the early ’70s and directed eight episodes of a sports documentary series called “The Winners,” profiling the likes of OJ Simpson and Reggie Jackson at the height of their popularity.” Now, I wasn’t around and can’t speak to that, but Romero was shooting tons of commercial work for companies like Calgon, got movies made and The Winners was a pretty big show. I’ve spent twenty-five years or more in Pittsburgh’s marketing community and know that directors back then — from other people in the industry and those with similar roles — were working steadily and hardly starving. Perhaps artistically he was hungry, but this review makes Romero’s life into a great tragedy when I see it as a success. Then again, this same review refers to “Rob Zombie’s marvelously outré Americana” as an actual thing, so there you go.

That said — even after pretty much saying I didn’t enjoy this — I recommend supporting The George A. Romero Foundation and their mission of preserving and promoting Romero’s legacy, as well as creativity within the horror genre and independent filmmaking in general. Here’s hoping that they can help us discover new heroes and not just comb through the past for bits and pieces of what once was, or Romero’s message in The Amusement Park truly will be lost.

Drag Racing Week: Wheels on Fire (1973)

Image Courtesy of Vectezzy.
Image courtesy of Letterboxd.

Wheels On Fire is a classic motor sports documentary — and also one of the most obscure and hard-to-find (as you can see, it’s even impossible to find a decent image of the theatrical one-sheet). But not in the land of Oz, since this was filmed in Liverpool, Sydney. This one kicks ass because of — before there were web-cam and fiber optics — has the first ever “race cam” strapped onto the drag car, which takes you behind the wheel at speeds above 300 kilometers (miles in the States) per hour.

Again, this one is near impossible to track down on VHS and DVD — and the DVDs are grey market VHS-rips. And there’s no trailer or clips. But if you have a family or friend connection in Australia, or you’ll willing to search that country’s online marketplace, you may get lucky finding hard and digital copies to purchase or stream.

And caveat emptor: Do not confuse Wheels On Fire from Australia with the U.S. drag racing documentary Wheels of Fire (1972).

We previous featured this film as part of our weekly “Drive-In Friday” feature.

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

Bruka: Queen of Evil (1973)

When Hong Kong and the Philippines team up, things will not be normal.

In Devi Woman, a young orphan returns from her parents’ grave and, oh yeah, she just so happens to have hair like Medusa, long flowing snake locks. She falls down a hillside, which is kind of a good thing for her, as she soon meets a sorceress with the body of a snake and the face of an old woman. She reveals that she is the girl’s ancestor and pledges to make Manda into a Queen of Evil.

Well, at the end of that movie, she was set on fire and died, but in this movie — a sequel that many felt was just a remix of the original for a long time — her witch grandmother brings her back from the dead. But more than that, she also gives her the power to call snakes to her side, an empress with power over bat people, demons, stone men, living trees and so much more.

To keep on being the Queen of Evil, Manda must destroy virgin women, which brings martial artist Shu Wen to the rescue.

Both of these films were inspired by the Filipino comic Darna, which was written by Mars Ravelo and drawn by Nestor Redondo. One of Darna’s villains is her former friend Valentina, who becomes the snake-haired Serpina.

Yeah, this movie is absolutely wonderful.

You can watch the first film on Tubi and the sequel on YouTube:

The Blood Brothers (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Three men, who are as close as brothers are forced to endure the ultimate test of friendship as one of them gives in to corruption and his love for his brother’s wife. Based on a purported true court case, the epic story is told via flashback.  Chang, (David Chiang) is on trial for murdering General Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung.) Chang tells his story to the court of how he and his brother Huang Chung (Chehn Kuan Tai) met Ma during their days as bandits on the road. Unable to defeat Ma, the three of them quickly bond and become best friends. As the story progresses, Ma falls in love with Huang’s wife Mi Lan (played by Ching Li ) who reciprocates. Ma then leaves the group to join the Imperial Army. 

Three years later, Chang, Huang and Mi Lan are called by Ma to join him in the field. During their time apart, Ma has changed. He’s become a corrupt, power hungry General who, following a successful battle, commences a secret love affair with Mi Lan. Who could blame her? Her husband Huang is a drunken boar who cheats on her regularly. Ma is educated and disciplined. When he takes his shirt off, he could charm the eyes of a rattlesnake. 

The friendship of the three men soon takes a turn for the worse as Ma plots the death of Huang. Nothing will stand in his way. The film continues on to the end with a  series of betrayals and wonderfully executed fight scenes ending with the death of Ma at Chang’s hands. 

 The film is a showcase for Ti Lung’s exceptional acting ability. Ma starts out charismatic and loveable but transforms into a man blinded by his own ambitions. 

Blood Brothers was shot during the glory days of Shaw Brothers Studios and has all the markings to show it. It is lavishly photographed using a rich color palette and fantastic outdoor locations. The interior sets and costumes are strikingly detailed. 

Chang Cheh was Shaw’s Spielberg While this is largely considered his best work, during his time for the studio, he created one masterpiece after another for future generations to emulate. 

Thematically speaking, John Woo’s Bullet in the Head owes a lot to this film. The comparisons are undeniable. Slow motion bloody death scenes abound in the work of both directors. Notably, Woo served as apprentice under Chang Cheh before moving on to direct his own films. 

Ti Lung was one of Shaw’s greatest starts of the ‘60s and ‘70s along with frequent co-star David Chiang. He was born in 1946 and began studying Wing Chun under Master Chu Wan as a boy. In 1969 at the age of 23 he appeared with Jimmy Wang Yu in Chang Cheh’s Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. Shaw Bros. studio saw potential in the earnest young man and trained him in the arts of swordplay, acting and horseback riding. The investment paid off, as Lung’s relationship with the studio remained fruitful for many years to come. At the 11th Annual Golden Horse Awards, Lung won he Special Award for Outstanding Performance for his work in Blood Brothers. Following a career lull in the early ‘80s when Kung Fu films fell out of fashion, John Woo cast him in A Better Tomorrow which served to introduce him to a whole new generation of filmgoers. Blood Brothers is not to by missed if you are even a little curious about the Shaw Brother’s Kung Fu catalog. Amazon has the Celestial Pictures transfer which boasts a beautiful widescreen transfer. While I prefer the Cantonese version with English subtitles, the English soundtrack for this title is pretty decent compared to some. The true scope and beauty of a movie like this cannot be fully appreciated in a cropped, poorly dubbed version.  

Watch the final fight scene here.

Trailer:

Celestial Pictures DVD Trailer:

Isn’t It Shocking? (1973)

John Badham would one day make StakeoutShort CircuitBird on a WireWarGamesSaturday Night Fever and the 1979 Dracula, but early on in his career he made this made-for-TV movie.

Dan Barnes (Alan Alda) is the police chief of Mt. Angel, Oregon. He’s trying to live a quiet life and all the senior citizen deaths and a motel owner trying to get him to marry her is keeping that from happening. And every one of them is found in the nude, smelling like turpentine.

Louise Lasser, who would play Mary Hartman in just three years, shows up as Barnes’ receptionist Blanche. And Magenta herself, Patrica Quinn, is in this, as is Edmond O’Brien from Dream No Evil, Dorothy Tristan from Rollercoaster, Ruth Gordon (and you better know who she is) and Will Geer (Bear Claw from Jeremiah Johnson).

It tries to be a black and white romantic whodunnit from the past and does a decent job along the way. You can watch this on YouTube.

 

The Girl Most Likely To… (1973)

My acting career pretty much begins with an appearance as Sergeant-Major Morris in The Monkey’s Paw and ends with my role as Dr. Green from this story. No, I was not in the movie. I was in a stage play version and the kiss that gave me a fatal heart attack was the first kiss I ever had from a non-family member girl. She said I tasted like a chili dog. A much cuter blonde girl offered to give me lessons after the play (and some mints).

Inspired by The Second Face, this was written by Joan Rivers and Agnes Gallin It was directed by Lee Phillips, who starred in Peyton Place and also made The Stranger Within and The Spell. It was the ABC Movie of the Week, first airing on November 6, 1973.

It’s also Stockard Channing’s first movie and she’s Miriam Knight, an intelligent young lady who is overlooked because of, well, her looks. Her roommate grows jealous when Miriam gets the lead in a stage play, so she sneak attacks her with roses. Miriam’s allergies send her running from the stage and into an accident which changes her looks and life forever.

Once the bandages come off her face, she’s a totally new girl. One who is now willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge — murderous revenge — on everyone who has ever wronged her.

The Girl Most Likely To… has a great cast, such as Ed Asner, Jim Backus, Joe Flynn from McHale’s Navy, Chuck McCann (a voice of a ton of animated characters), comedy magician Carl Ballantine, Fred Grandy from The Love BoatCHiPs star Larry Wilcox, future director Dennis Dugan and the man who would be Captain America and Yor Hunter from the Future, Reb Brown.

This is a comedy, but man, it’s a really dark one. How was my school allowed to put this play on?

Lee Majors Week: The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)

Well, this TV sci-fi’er really is the whole enchilada when discussing the career of Lee Majors, isn’t it?

Colon’d and suffixed as “The Moon and the Desert” when it aired as a two-part episode during its syndication run (and served as its overseas title in some quarters), we meet Steve Austin, an astronaut that’s made three moon landings. During a test flight crash in a space plane prototype, he looses his right arm, left eye and both legs. His friend and personal physician, Dr. Rudy Wells (played by Marin Balsam, who did not return for the subsequent films or series), recruits Austin for an O.S.O project (O.S.I in the series) overseen by Oliver Spencer (played by Darren McGavin; the character and actor did not return for the subsequent films or series): creating a cyborg through the installation of bionic parts onto a human body. As the reluctant astronaut deals with his new body and recruitment as a government agent (he returned to space in few series episodes), he accepts his first mission to rescue a valuable hostage asset in Saudi Arabia.

Overseas VHS repack courtesy of Video Collector UK.

The TV movie’s high ratings and overseas success quickly justified the production of two more prefixed U.S. telefilms (again, theatrical features overseas): Wine, Women and War and The Solid Gold Kidnapping. The concept then went to series and ran for five seasons from 1974 to 1978. All three telefilms would be reedited into two-part series episodes for its syndication (with scenes being re-filmed with Martin E. Brooks, who portrayed Rudy Wells in the series, and Richard Anderson, who portrayed O.S.I head Oscar Goldman).

Upon the 1978 dual-demise of The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman, Majors returned for three more U.S. telefilms/foreign theatricals: The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1987), Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1989; starring wheelchair-and-bionic Sandra Bullock!), and Bionic Ever After (1994).

Multiple Sites.

It all began back in 1972 when Cyborg, Martin Caidin’s best-seller, was optioned for a film adaptation by Harve Bennett for Universal Pictures — and, at first, the film retained the book’s title. Elements of Caiden’s subsequent sequels of the continuing adventures of Steve Austin — Operation Nuke, High Crystal, and Cyborg IV — while not directly adapted, had various elements worked into the subsequent series. (You can read an in-depth review of the book-to-film translation at ManaPop and get the lowdown on all of the wonderful toys inspired by the series at Toys You Had.)

Bennett’s first choice for the title roll was Monte Markham, who worked on Bennett’s previous sci-fi telefilm, 1972’s The Astronaut. To ease the sting of losing the part due to studio executive interference — in preferring Majors’s more experienced pedigree courtesy of his work in the well-received and highly-rated series The Big Valley and Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law — Markham appeared in two episodes as race-car-driver-turned-into-new-and-improved-cyborg Barney Miller/Hiller: “The Seven Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Criminal.”

After the 1978 series cancellation, and prior to their production of the three 1987 to 1994 U.S TV movies, Universal cut another another foreign-only theatrical in 1980 from the two-part 1976 episodes, “The Secret of Bigfoot” and “The Return of Bigfoot.” As with Battlestar Galactica before it, which was also cut into three foreign theatrical sequels, Universal licensed several paperback tie-ins based on the series’ episodes. (You can watch the series version of “Secret” at NBC.com with Part 1 and Part 2, as well as “Return” Part 1 and Part 2.)

During our “Lee Majors Week” review of Starlight One, we named dropped the 1969 Gregory Peck sci-fi’er Marooned. So we should mention that film was also based on Caiden’s 1964 novel of the same name. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fans may have picked up Caiden’s 1995 Rogers sidequel/adaptation, A Life in the Future, in which Buck was refitted with bionic parts.

A big-budgeted theatrical — not only for Steve Austin, but Colt Seavers’s adventures in The Fall Guy — have been ballyhooed for years, with Mark Wahlberg as Austin. This Screen Rant article from May 2020 wraps up the film’s production history. Lee has stated that, if he’s given a significant part with substance, and not just a cameo walk on, he’s willing to be involved in both productions. So, it’s fingers crossed for Lee!

You can watch the 1973 theatrical cut of The Six Million Dollar Man on the FShareTV platform. In 2010, upon the release of the 40-disc, 100-hour DVD box set of the series (hey, it’s only $239.95!), Lee sat down with Vanity Fair for an extensive interview about the series and its lasting pop culture status.

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