Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: His Kind of Woman (1951)

Also known as: Smiler with a Gun (working title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1951 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, Richard Fleischer
Written by: Frank Fenton, Jack Leonard, Gerald Drayson Adams
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Tim Holt, Charles McGraw, Marjorie Reynolds, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Philip Van Zandt

A John Farrow Production, RKO Radio Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“This place is dangerous. The time right deadly. The drinks are on me, my bucko!” – Mark Cardigan

This has been in my queue for awhile, as I’ve spent a significant amount of time watching and reviewing just about every film-noir picture under the sun. It didn’t have a great rating on most of the websites I checked but it looked to be better than average.

Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t know what the hell most people were thinking. This film is absolutely great! I loved it but I also have a strong bias towards Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, Raymond Burr and Charles McGraw. I also love Jane Russell, even if she didn’t star in films within the genres I watch the most.

His Kind of Woman is a stupendous motion picture and it really took me by surprise.

This is just a whole lot of fun, the cast is incredible and bias aside, I thought that Vincent Price really stole every single scene that he was in. I’ve seen Price in nearly everything he’s ever done and this might be the one role, outside of horror, that I enjoy most. He starts out as a bit of a Hollywood dandy, shows how eccentric he is as the film rolls on and then shows us that in spite of all that, he’s a friggin’ badass, ready to go out in a blaze of glory just to save the day.

I also love that this is set at a resort in Mexico, as it has a good tropical and nautical feel, which should make Tikiphiles happy. But really, the picture has great style in every regard.

I love the sets, I love the cinematography, the superb lighting and how things were shot. There are some key scenes shot at interesting and obscure angles that give the film a different sort of life than just capturing these fantastic performances in a more straightforward manner. One scene in particular shows Mitchum talking to a heavy and it’s shot from a low angle with shadows projected onto a very low ceiling. It sort of makes you understand that something potentially dreadful is closing in on Mitchum.

Out of all the film-noir pictures I’ve watched over the last year or so, this is definitely one that I will revisit on a semi regular basis.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures starring Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, Raymond Burr or Charles McGraw.

Film Review: Follow Me Quietly (1949)

Release Date: July 7th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Lillie Hayward, Anthony Mann, Francis Rosenwald
Music by: Leonid Raab, Paul Sawtell
Cast: William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva

RKO Radio Pictures, 60 Minutes

Review:

“I always wanted to throw something out of that window. Ha, I didn’t know it would be me. ” – J.C. McGill

Follow Me Quietly was put out by RKO Radio Pictures, a major studio in its heyday, but it feels more like a noir from one of the Poverty Row studios.

I think part of the reason is that this was definitely a B-movie, it had a very scant running time and didn’t have any big marquee players. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, however, and he was certainly a top director but maybe more so after this picture.

It’s an okay movie but there is nothing about it that sets it apart from the slew of late ’40s film-noir pictures. It’s pretty pedestrian, if I’m being honest, but it still has some interesting stuff within its slim 60 minute running time.

But I guess what captivated me most wasn’t the story or the characters but it was nuances within the film. While it’s a pretty standard police procedural for most of the film, the scenes where people try to identify suspects in the police lineup were really neat. Some of the characters posed with blank faces very similar to the character called The Blank from the 1990 Dick Tracy movie. Maybe that character was inspired by these moments in this film.

I enjoyed the police procedural shtick in this but it also felt ridiculous in how they came to conclusions in a few key spots.

In the end, this was an okay way to spend an hour but other than the strange police lineup proceedings, there’s not much to write home about.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s from RKO Radio Pictures or some of the stuff from Poverty Row studios.

Film Review: Armored Car Robbery (1950)

Also known as: Code 3, Code 3-A (working titles), Criminal Brigade (Portugal)
Release Date: June 8th, 1950
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Gerald Drayson Adams, Earl Felton, Robert Leeds, Robert Angus
Music by: Roy Webb, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman

RKO Radio Pictures, 67 Minutes

Review:

“You should see her workin’ clothes. Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride… the naked and the dead.” – Ryan

Richard Fleischer would go on to have a heck of a career. However, he first rose to prominence in the late ’40s and early ’50s when he turned his attention towards directing a string of film-noir pictures.

Armored Car Robbery is just one of four really solid noirs that Fleischer did. The other three being The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman (he was uncredited for this one) and The Narrow Margin. I’ve reviewed all of these except for His Kind of Woman but I plan to revisit it soon.

This film teams up two classic noir heavyweights: Charles McGraw and William Talman. It also features Adele Jergens, who isn’t the most alluring femme fatale in noir history but still has a very strong presence and a certain beauty that seems more authentic and real than just some insanely beautiful dame slithering around her prey.

The plot sees a criminal named Purvis (Talman) recruit Benny to help him rob an armored car at Wrigley Field (the old Los Angeles one, not the famous Chicago one). Benny’s wife has been two-timing him and the man she has been sleeping with is Purvis, although Benny doesn’t know this at the time. The robbery goes sideways due to a passing police patrol. A cop is murdered in the getaway and the criminals escape. The dead cop’s partner, Lt. Jim Cordell (McGraw), makes it his personal mission to bring these criminals to justice. With all the pressure, the criminals become paranoid and things start to fall apart.

Armored Car Robbery is very typical of the RKO visual style in regards to their crime pictures. It feels like a gritty and edgy RKO picture, which for fans of classic film-noir, should be a very strong positive.

One problem with the film is that there was a better armored truck robbery a year earlier called Criss Cross. The stories themselves are different but it is hard to not review this film without citing the earlier one. That one was a Robert Siodmak picture and starred Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea. While that film shouldn’t take anything away from this one, if you’ve seen Criss Cross first, this movie can’t help but feel a bit derivative.

The things that make this film work though are the talented cast, the direction of Fleischer and the crisp, high contrast visual style.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Richard Fleischer’s The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: The Clay Pigeon (1949)

Release Date: March 3rd, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Carl Foreman
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine

RKO Radio Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

I’ve heard a lot of praise in noir circles about The Clay Pigeon. However, I found it to be pretty dry and run of the mill.

The story is about an ex-POW that wakes up from a coma to discover that he’s been accused of murder. Confused and uncertain about this discovery, he escapes from the Navy hospital to search for his best friend, who was also a POW that was with him.

For me, a lot of the script seemed like it was a bit nonsensical and that certain things were too convenient and that the writing was a bit lazy. However, this was a 63 minute B-movie simply used to beef up a double bill. For RKO Pictures, it was probably an afterthought and not as lot of care was given to it.

Also, the acting is very bland and there just isn’t much excitement or energy in the film.

Still, this is Richard Fleischer’s first foray into film-noir. It’s not a bad attempt and it is watchable but it definitely doesn’t measure up to his far superior film-noir, The Narrow Margin.

I don’t know, there just isn’t much I can say about this. It’s not terrible but it just sort of exists. At least it led to better pictures for Fleischer.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Richard Fleischer film-noirs: Armored Car RobberyHis Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: The Narrow Margin (1952)

Also known as: The Target (working title)
Release Date: April 25th, 1952 (Cincinnati premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton, Martin Goldsmith, Jack Leonard
Music by: uncredited stock music
Cast: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White

RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“[opening her compartment door in the morning and seeing Brown strap on his gun] What’re you gonna do, go out and shoot us some breakfast?” – Mrs. Neall

When talking about film-noir with others, The Narrow Margin has always been highly recommended as something worth watching. I finally got around to checking it out and it exceeded any expectations I had for it.

To start, it’s a short movie at just 71 minutes but that’s fairly common with classic noirs of the ’40s and ’50s. Also, it mostly all takes place in a confined space: the interior of a train.

The plot is about a cop that has to transport the wife of a mob boss on a train to the where she is going in an effort to testify against her vile husband. The cop must protect her from the possibility of mob hitmen who could be gunning for her. Well, they are gunning for her and they also try to bribe him into stepping out of their way.

This film is a real nail biter and incredibly suspenseful. It does a lot for its scant running time and it makes great use of its environment.

Frankly, this may be one of, if not the best, suspenseful train movie ever made. Everything feels cramped and the film even goes as far as including a fat character to make its point. The fat guy isn’t used in a disrespectful way but just to show that there isn’t a lot of room for moving around. Since this picture moves around in the confines of the train a lot, there had to be some natural roadblocks.

This is well shot, well directed, well executed and features maybe the best performance that Charles McGraw ever gave. He was stellar in this, as the cop trying his damnedest to protect himself and the woman he’s guarding while doing things by the book and not succumbing to the lucrative offers made by the mob.

I loved this movie and it is definitely something I’ll revisit again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures like On Dangerous GroundCrossfireThe Set-Up and Angel Face.

Film Review: Red Sonja (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Clive Exton, George MacDonald Fraser
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Brigitte Nielsen, Sandahl Bergman, Paul Smith, Ronald Lacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Company, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 89 Minutes

red_sonjaReview:

Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to this film as the worst of his career. He’s wrong. In fact, I can name many of his films that are worse than this picture and if you don’t think that Jingle All the Way isn’t a complete abomination, than you have no taste.

Is this as good as Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian? Well, no. It is, however, better than the lackluster Conan the Destroyer.

Red Sonja introduced the world to the talent of Brigitte Nielsen. Now that isn’t too exciting but she had a very short run of appearances in mid-80s action films. She went on to be featured in Rocky IV, Beverly Hills Cop II and the often panned Cobra. I like friggin’ love Cobra.

This film also featured little martial arts bad ass Ernie Reyes Jr. who is most famous for playing Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, as well as starring in Surf Ninjas and having smaller roles in Rush Hour 2, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Ronald Lacey, who most famously played the evil Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows up to play the evil queen’s top henchman. The evil queen is played by Sandahl Bergman, who was Conan’s love interest in Conan the Barbarian.

The cast was good enough, the film was straightforward and most importantly, it was action-packed. This film follows the well-established sword and sorcery genre pretty solidly. It felt like an extension of the Conan world and its mythos, which was already well-known at the time this came out.

Red Sonja is often times trashed. I don’t see why though. People don’t watch these movies for acting prowess or to be pristine works of art. Films like these are made to be fun escapism and this one does a great job of that. It runs short at around 90 minutes and that is the perfect amount of time to jump in, like a few characters and enjoy the sweet battles and even sweeter decapitations. Yes, this film has some sweet decapitations.

The effects are decent for the mid-80s and the sets are pretty well-made. Also, they somehow got the legendary Ennio Morricone to score this picture. There really isn’t a lot to dislike about Red Sonja unless you go into it expecting The Return of the King.

Is this movie a great fantasy epic? Not really. What it is though, is a shit load of fun. And it has sweet decapitations. And Arnold.