Nashville Beat (1989)

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.

Put some good ol’ down home twang in your life.

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.

Courtesy of the Hannah archives, the writer of the film.

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 Productions’ 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).

Image courtesy of the Kent McCord Archives (with more pictures and article on the show.)

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.

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

Krakaota: East of Java (1968)

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 Hollywood majors with his proposal of making a film about the 1883 eruption of the island of Krakatoa. Yordan’s “blacklisting” was actually a blackballing, due a script mix up that brought forth a contractual dispute between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Unable to work in Hollywood, Yordan ended up in Spain working for Samuel Bronston, where Yordan incorporated Security Pictures. However, when it comes to “blacklisting”: he did, before his own ouster, front for ’50s blacklisted writers.

Now, back in 1965: Yordan began his “come back” with the man-screws-up-the-Earth disaster epic, Crack in the World. (Yeah, it was made on the cheap in Spain for Yordan’s Security Pictures, but Paramount gave it a U.S. release.) However, for the B&S crowd, Yordan pumps our VHS-lovin’ hearts with his final films, ones that we go on and on about: Cataclysm (1980), The Nightmare Never Ends (1980), Savage Journey (1983), Night Train to Terror (1985), Cry Wilderness (1987), Bloody Wednesday (1987; which we need to review), and the The Unholy (1988). Oh, and how can we forget Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992), aka Scream Your Head Off (sometime in the ’80s).

I know . . . let’s move on from my Yordan geek-dom. Back to the mountains of Krakatoa, we shall go!

So, for dramatic effect — as if people running for their lives from an erupting volcano wasn’t enough drama — ‘ol Phil 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) 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.

Sssssss (1973)

Oh man, this movie. I can’t even believe some of the things that happen in it, to be perfectly honest with you. It’s another PG-rated 1973 movie — hello, The Baby — that is absolutely berserk.

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and written by Hal Dresner (Zorro the Gay Blade) and Daniel C. Striepeke (who also produced this film and did the creative makeup design*; he also did makeup work on everything from Planet of the Apes and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to Myra BreckinridgeJaws the Revenge and Can’t Stop the Music before doing make-up for several Tom Hanks-starring movies), Sssssss tells the story of Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin), a man who we first meet as he sells a mysterious creature to a carnival.

Beyond being a herpetologist, Dr. Carl has gone completely and utterly crazy, believing that man is about to undergo an ecological apocalypse and would be better served if we all became amphibians. He brings on David Blake (Dirk Benedict) as his assistant, slowly injecting him with medications that he claims will make him immune to snake bites. Obviously, Blake is a moron because such a vaccination does not exist**. He is not so dumb that he doesn’t instantly start pining for Dr. Carl’s daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies, who was Louisa in The Sound of Music and would appear nude in Playboy the very same year this was made in a pictorial all so creatively titled “Tender Trapp”).

And before you know it, David is having wild Keir Dullea dreams of reptiles when he isn’t turning green. The doctor keeps feeding people to snakes and sending snakes to kill people in showers and one wonders, how has he gotten away with all of these shenanigans in such a small town for so long? Also, the end of this movie is completely off the rails — and the movie is never normal, not for a second, so for it to get weirder is an accomplishment — when David transforms into a king cobra and battles a mongoose before the cops come in blasting with shotguns.

I kind of adore this movie because at once it’s a movie that has an incredibly scholarly take on snakes and how they actually operate while also being a movie with numerous sideshow scenes and two people — the other is Tim McGraw the Snake Man who is played by Noble Craig, a Vietnam vet who lost lose both of his legs, his right arm and most of the sight in his right eye and used that handicap to become a living special effect in movies like this, Poltergeist II, the remake of The BlobBride of the Re-AnimatorA Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Big Trouble In Little China — are transformed into snake men.

In case you think that this movie was safe to make, the venomous king cobras in it were not defanged. Instead, they were kept at their full potency and milked of their venom every day.

This movie has some great alternate titles, like O Homem-Cobra (The Snake Man) in Brazil, SSSSKobra and Ssssnake in Finland — and Sssssnake Kobra in Germany — as well as Ssssilbido de Muerte (Whisper of Death) in Mexico and Hissssss and SSSSnake in the U.S.

Honestly, drop what you’re doing and watch this movie right now.

*The actual effects are by John Chambers, who created Spock’s ears, and Nick Marcellino.

**I take that back. My research has show that there is a rattlesnake vaccine, so there you go.

The Woman Hunter (1972)

The CBS Movie of the Week on September 19, 1972, The Woman Hunter has what I consider an all-star cast, what with Barbara Eden in the lead, alongside Stuart Whitman, Larry Storch and Robert Vaughn. Like I said — it’s what I say is an all-star cast.

Dina Hunter (Eden) has two things that most giallo heroines do: lots of money and plenty of potential mental problems. So when she survives a fender bender and decides to go to Mexico with her husband (Vaughn), who is surprised that the artist she hired to paint her portrait (Whitman) just might be a jewel thief and murderer?

This was written by written by Brian Clemens (Captain KronosAnd Soon the Darkness) and Tony Williamson (Adam Adamant Lives!The Avengers), with this being Clemens first U.S. work and Williamson’s only script made over here. It’s directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who stepped in for John Peyser (The Centerfold Girls). I assume that everyone enjoyed shooting this on location in Acapulco.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Two for the Money (1972)

Thanks for joining us as we wrap up our second day of our three-day tribute to all things Bernard L. Kowalski!

He had to go through Roger Corman with Hot Car Girl, Attack of the Giant Leeches, and Night of the Blood Beast, then do TV series for the rest of the ’60s to get his shot at the major studio brass ring with Krakatoa: East of Java and Stiletto. But both of those films — as well as the David Janssen-starring western Macho Callahan — flopped at the box office, so it was back to TV for Bernard L. Kowalski. However, instead of the TV series of the ’60s, he now was in the TV movie business, in which he gave us Terror in the Sky, Black Noon, and Women in Chains. For his fourth TV movie, Kowalksi directed this script by TV series and TV movie scribe Howard Rodman (best known for the series Route 66 and the later Harry O, also the TV sci-fi flicks Exo-Man and the first Six Million Dollar Man TV movie). Was this a TV movie pilot film? Yep, you bet.

If you spent any time in front of the TV watching reruns of series from the ’60s and ’70s, and even into the ’90s, you’ll notice character actors Robert Hooks and Steven Brooks as our two cops who quit the police department to become private detectives — and come to hunt down a serial killer who has eluded the law for years. And they’re against the clock because notable western character actor Walter Brennan (John Wayne’s Rio Bravo) is out for vigilante justice to avenge the murder of a family member by the killer. And the always welcomed character actor-ness of Neville Brand as a racist, small town sheriff isn’t helping matters.

Yep, that is Richard Dreyfuss (Two Bernard L. Kolwaski flicks with future Jaws stars? Roy Scheider was in Stiletto, remember?) starting out his career. And that is the voice of the devil, Mercedes “Pazuzu” McCambridge, from The Exorcist. (Plot spoiler: she’s the killer and she’s off-the-hinges-great here; not that you don’t see that plot twist coming.) Also be on the lookout for Oscar actors Anne Revere (Supporting Actress winner for National Velvet) and her “sister” Catherine Burns (Supporting Actress nominee for Last Summer). Shelley Fabares, who did her share of car racing and Elvis flicks*, is the town’s pretty librarian girlfriend of Brooks that’s caught the creepy eye of Brand.

You can watch Two for the Money on You Tube. Grey market DVDs are easily available. It’s not that bad of TV movie thriller. Definitely not engaging TV series material in the manner of say, Starsky and Hutch (gotta go watch The Supercops from 1974 with my youth-buddy, Ron Leibman), but a serviceable TV flick, none the less.

* Of course we did all off the King’s — well, all three — racing flicks. What ensuing, trope-laden cliched movie site did you think your were surfing, here? Check out our “Drive-In Friday: Elvis Racing Nite” 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.

Women In Chains (1972)

The ABC Movie of the Week for January 25, 1972, Women In Chains brings Ida Lupino to TV for her first made-for-TV movie, as well as bringing her back to the WIP genre that she made such a mark on with 1955’s Women’s Prison.

She plays prison guard Claire Tyson (Ida Lupino), a woman who can get away with anything that she wants to, as long as its within the prison walls. Parole officer Sandra Parker (Lois Nettleton, who was on the TV series form of In the Heat of the Night) gets the idea to make herself over as junkie Sally Porter to the protests of Assistant District Attorney Helen Anderson (Penny Fuller).

Helen is the only one who knows about this undercover work, but when she’s shot and killed by the boyfriend of one of her cases our heroine is stuck in the big house. Her goal is to save an innocent girl named Lemina (Belinda Montgomery, Dooger Hauser’s mom) but she runs into Tyson’s henchwoman Leila (BarBara Luna, who was in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of the original Star Trek). After asking so many questions, the word comes down. Helen/Sally is going to get killed, so she makes a daring escape that brings her directly into physical combat with Tyson.

Written by Rita Lakin (who wrote 464 episodes, eight movies of the week and two miniseries in her career, as well as the  Gladdy Gold Mystery book series) and directed by Bernard L. Kowalski (Night of the Blood BeastSssssss), don’t go into this movie expecting the normal WIP hallmarks. After all, this aired on broadcast TV. That doesn’t make this a bad film, however.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Repost: Black Noon (1971)

Editor’s Note: We reviewed this on May 22, 2020, as part of one of our many “TV Week” tributes.  It’s back again for our second day of our three-day “Bernard Kowalksi Week” tribute of his drive-in features and telefilms. He directed this CBS film after working on numerous episodes of TV’s The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible, as well as the westerns Rawhide and The Wild Wild West.

Bernard L. Kowalski has a decent horror pedigree, directing Night of the Blood BeastAttack of the Giant Leeches; Krakatoa: East of JavaTerror in the Sky and Sssssss. Here, he puts the occult terror on a slow boil and puts Reverend John Keyes (Roy Thinnes, always battling the occult) and his wife Lorna (Lynn Loring, The Horror at 37,000 Feet) against an unseen force bedeviling a small Western town named San Melas.

There’s voodoo, devil worship and a mute young girl and a gunslinger possessed by the Left Hand Path. Ray Milland shows up, proving that Old Hollywood is never to be trusted. Plus there’s Gloria Grahame (Blood and Lace), Henry Silva (Almost HumanMegaforce, the epic Escape from the Bronx), stuntman Stan Barrett, Joshua Bryant (Salem’s Lot), a young Leif Garrett (Thunder Alley) and Jodie Foster’s brother, Buddy.

70’s made for TV horror neglects the Old West, so this is a strange film to start with. Then again, it also plays the Troll 2 trick of a town with a backward name and a connection to witches, but it doesn’t telegraph that.

The ending — which moves to 1971 — more than makes up for the slow moving last 68 minutes. Actually, I love dreamy TV movies that seem to take forever to get anywhere. If this played on the CBS Late Movie, it would have probably taken two hours and forty minutes with all the commercials.

Actually, it did, on August 29, 1972 and March 6, 1975.

You, however, can just watch it on YouTube:

Repost: Terror in the Sky (1971)

Editor’s Note: This review ran on December 28, 2020, as part of another one of our “TV Week” tributes — dedicated, in part, to TV airline disaster movies (see our end of the week Round Up). We’re bringing it back for our our second day of our three-day “Bernard Kowalski Week” tribute — a great director!

CBS-TV got its start in the airline disaster sweepstakes in September 1971 with this tale about transcontinental flight struck with food poisoning. To save the aircraft, the cabin crew locate a passenger with enough flying experience so that he can be coached by an experience pilot on the ground. Doug McClure, it goes without saying, is very good in his role as a Vietnam war ex-chopper pilot who’s called into action to safe the day.

While many write this off as a rip-off of ’70s airline disaster flicks — and, in a way, it is (which we will get to) — Terror in the Sky has it roots in an Alex Haley-written Canadian telefilm starring James “Scotty” Doohan, Flight Into Danger (1956). The CBC-TV screenplay was quickly rebooted as the Paramount Pictures features film Zero Hour! (1957) starring Dana Andrews — each deal with a “food poisoning” premise. Haley then took the premise and retooled n’ tweaked it again for the novel Runway Zero-Eight (1958), then again as novel Airport (1968), which, in turn, became the Burt Lancaster-starring Airport (1970). So, officially, Terror in the Sky is a bigger-budget TV remake of Zero Hour! and a loose cousin to Runway Zero-Eight. which aired on CBS-TV in September 1971.

As for Zero Hour!: Interest in the film was renewed in the ’80s when it was revealed that the Abrahams-Zucker Brothers’ (The Kentucky Fried Movie) Airplane!, which spoofed the Airport series of movies of the ’70s, was actually an almost verbatim comedy-remake of the film.

Yeah, you know why we love this, as it’s another airline disaster TV movie with bonkers casting: assisting Doug McClure are Roddy McDowall and Kennan Wynn, along with ’50s gents Kenneth Tobey (The Thing) and Leif Erickson (On the Waterfront).

Is the name of director Bernard Kowalski ringing any bells? It should. He gave us the Alien precursor Night of the Blood Beast, The Fast and the Furious precursor Hot Car Girl, and the giant monster mash classic Attack of the Giant Leeches, and the mad scientist romp Sssssss. Oh, and the western-horror about devil worshiping voodoo cowpokes, the most awesome TV movie ever, Black Noon (1971). And let’s not forget he closed out his career with TV’s Colombo, Airwolf, Knight Rider, and Jake and the Fatman.

You can watch this on You Tube.

Stiletto (1969)

Our three-day tribute to Bernard L. Kowalski continues!

Well, even after the abject failure of the intended, sweeping epic that wasn’t Krakatoa: East of Java (reviewed this week), Bernard L. Kowalski was still in the game with this AVCO Embassy-backed adaption of a Harold Robbins (a big deal novelist in the ’60s and ’70s) novel produced by Joseph E. Levine, who brought us the successful box office epics of Zulu and A Bridge Too Far.

The then A-List Alex Cord, Britt Ekland, and Patrick O’Neal, and an up-and-coming Roy Scheider, six years away from his huge, influential shark-based horror movie, star in this then de rigueur Bond-inspired flick. We also get the familiar character actor skills of M. Emmett Walsh and Charles Durning. Why, yes, that is Raul Julia (Eyes of Laura Mars and The Addams Family franchise) in his film debut. (For me: It’ll always be Frankenstein Unbound for my Raul fix.) And if you’re a fan of Danger: Diabolik (1968), and aren’t we all, Britt Ekland was a last minute replacement for that film’s Marisa Mell as Cord’s co-star. But that’s okay, since we got Marisa in Seven Blood-Stained Orchids.

Count Cesare Cardinali (Cord, of Genesis II fame) has the perfect cover for his secret life as a profession mob hitman-for-hire: he’s a famed jet-setting playboy. Of course, as with all of those hitmen before and after him, he decides it’s time to retire and enjoy the spoils — but when you know too much, you’ll have to be “eliminated” as well.

Courtesy of the Bondness-meets-The Godfatherness of it all, there’s lots of (stylized) scenes in casinos and on yachts with Cord and Elkand in Speedos and string bikinis in exotic places like Puerto Rico. Then the tux and dripping-with-jewels gowns are taken off the hangers for the usual New York penthouse sets. And while there’s an Italian connection in here, Puerto Rico doubles for Sicily — when it’s not being “Puerto Rico.”

Stiletto certainly isn’t awful, but the cops-chasing-robbers set-up is all very TV movie flat, which is why this received an early appearance on CBS-TV. And don’t forget: this all comes from the while successful, but cheesy, melodramatic pen of Harold Robbins. If you’ve never read one of his books or seen a movie based on his books, then maybe you know Robbins as result of his being named-dropped by the English new-wave band Squeeze in the lyrics — “a Harold Robbins paperback” — in their song “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell).” Or, since we are all Roger Corman fans around here, you know Harold Robbins by way of Corman’s 1970 post-apocalyptic Gas! – Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It, as a young couple uses a public library’s copies of the successful but critically-derided collected works of Jacqueline Susann (her books became the movies Valley of the Dolls, The Love Machine, and Once Is Not Enough) and Harold Robbins as kindling to keep warm.

Sadly, there’s no online streams to share, but DVDs are easily available, the best versions are from Kino Lorber, who also issued Stiletto on Blu-ray.

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

Repost: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Editor’s Note: We reviewed this third drive-in feature from television director Bernard Kowalksi on January 6, 2020, just because, no Mill Creek inducement required. We’re bringing it back as part of our three day “Bernard Kowalksi Week” tribute. For when you’re dealing with Bernard Kowalksi, you repost reviews of old to make readers aware of his greatness.

Gene Corman broke into the film industry before his brother Roger, working as an agent before becoming vice president of MCA, representing such clients as Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Richard Conte, Harry Belafonte and Ray Milland.

By the late 50’s, he moved to produce his own films before starting his own producing unit at MGM. and then becoming vice-president of 20th Century Fox Television.

This film is directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who also created Night of the Blood Beast and Sssssss. It was written by Leo Gordon, who had hundreds of roles as an actor, as well as being the author of movies like The Wasp WomanThe Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl.

Did you know that there are larger than human intelligent leeches that live in the Florida Everglades? Yep. There sure are.

Those leeches love nothing more than dragging human beings down into their underwater caves and slowly feeding off their blood.

Liz Walker (Yvette Vickers, who was Playboy‘s July 1959 Playmate of the Month in a centerfold that was photographed by Russ Meyer; she’s also the girl who starts all the trouble by cheating with the husband of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) is the first victim. Again, she plays a loose woman who is cheating on her husband, so she and her new man must pay.

Game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark, who was Dick Malloy in the Agent 077 series of films), his girlfriend Nan Grayson and her doctor father are the heroes here and they deal with the leeches in the way that we all knew they would: they use dynamite to blow them up real good.

So yeah. Giant leeches. Wanton women. Dynamite. Cheap film making.

How cheap? Corman didn’t want to pay the grips the extra money for pushing the camera raft in the water, so at first, the director did it, then his brother and finally Corman himself. The cold water led to Corman getting pneumonia and ending up in the hospital. And yes, that is the same music from Night of the Blood Beast. The exact same music is also in Beast from the Haunted Cave.

This movie had some legs. In 1959, it played a double bill with A Bucket of Blood. Then, a year later, it ran alongside Corman’s brother’s film House of Usher. It was also remade in 2008 by Brett Kelly and written by Jeff O’Brien in a film that starred no one you’ve ever heard of.

You can watch this on Tubi with and without commentary from Mystery Science Theater. It’s in the public domain, so you can also grab it from the Internet Archive and watch it on Amazon Prime.