40 Years Ago: The TWILIGHT ZONE Tragedy–In Memory of Renee Chen, Myca Dinh Le, and Vic Morrow

23 Jul

Forty years ago, in the early hours of July 23, 1982, a horrible, preventable tragedy occurred on the outdoor set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, a Warner Bros. production being filmed at Indian Dunes, California. Actor Vic Morrow was playing a soldier who has to cross a river carrying two Vietnamese orphans in his arms while a helicopter is shooting at him and explosions are going off around him. Instead of using a stunt double and two dummies, the director insisted that Morrow film the scene with the two children actually in his arms in a shot that would include the helicopter and the explosions. At 2:20AM, “Action!” was called, the explosions went off and shook the copter so badly that it crashed into the river killing Morrow and the children, a six-year-old girl, Renee Chen, born in Taiwan, and a seven-year-old boy, Myca Dinh Le, the son of parents born in Vietnam. Neither child was an actor. I want you to remember those names. Whenever this tragedy is recalled, usually only Vic Morrow is mentioned, sometimes accompanied by the phrase, “and two children.” The children had names and they had parents who have names also.  Two of them were on the set that night and watched the horror unfold in front of their eyes. Those parents were Dr. Daniel Le, father of Myca, and Shyan-Huei Chen, mother of Renee. The other parents, Kim-Hoa Le, mother of Myca, and Mark Chen, father of Renee, had attended the filming the night before and had to work a full day afterwards, so they opted not to join them the second night when the tragedy occurred.

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Three Toho Classics and the Work of Sci-Fi Illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki

22 Jun

 

I’d heard of Japanese science fiction illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki before, since he’s mentioned in Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, as well as in the audio commentary the two authors did for the Sony DVD release of Honda’s BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959). He’s also mentioned in the subtitled translations provided for the audio commentary done in Japanese by noted special effects supervisors and film directors Koichi Kawakita and Shinji Higuchi on the Tokyo Shock DVD release of Honda’s THE MYSTERIANS (1957).

However, it wasn’t until I read some passages on him in a new book by J.L. Carrozza that I was actively compelled to look up the work of Komatsuzaki and find remarkable examples of his stunning illustrations of futuristic scenes of spacecraft, high-tech transports, military hardware, giant robots, and alien invasion. The book is Japanese Special Effects Cinema: Godfathers of Tokusatsu, Vol. 1 (Orochi Books, 2022) and it credits Komatsuzaki with production designs used in THE MYSTERIANS, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and ATRAGON (1963), also from Tokyo Shock.

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Hibari Misora and the Last “Sannin Musume” Musical

29 May

Japanese actress and recording star Hibari Misora made a series of four musicals with two other singing stars, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura, who were known collectively as “Sannin Musume” (girl trio). I have previously written blog posts on the first three of these films, JANKEN MUSUME (1955), ROMANCE MUSUME (1956) and, their first in Tohoscope, ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957). To honor Misora on what would have been her 85th birthday, May 29, 2022, I’d like to finally cover the fourth musical they made together, HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA, 1964. (Misora died in 1989). For the occasion, I’ve taken a review I wrote for IMDB and revised it with additional notes based on a new screening of it.

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National Classic Movie Day: In Celebration of National Screen Service

16 May

May 16 is National Classic Movie Day. I thought I’d pay a little tribute to an organization called National Screen Service that used to supply movie posters, still photos and trailers to movie theaters across the country. I got enormous thrills as a youth passing movie theaters and gazing at all the images on display. Sometimes I even got to see the movies inside. The images didn’t always match what I’d just seen on screen so I quickly learned that many of these shots were staged and taken apart from the actual filming.

From THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING. Notice the dummy hanging from the church tower in the background even though the boy hadn’t yet fallen when the action in this staged shot took place.

All the posters and photos had a caption on them in small print declaring that they were “Property of National Screen Service Corp.” In high school, I even visited the offices of National Screen Service at 1600 Broadway to see if I could get free stills from them. (I couldn’t.) Theoretically, all such material was supposed to be returned to the offices of National Screen Service, but quite a lot of them got into private collections. I have a number of such stills in my collection, so I’m celebrating this day by posting some of them here. Most are black-and-white, but a few are in color. (As I recall, it was extremely rare for a theater to post color stills.)

First, some films I actually saw in theaters at the time, so I might have seen some of these images on display:

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In Memoriam: Jimmy Wang Yu, Pioneering Kung Fu Star

24 Apr

Jimmy Wang Yu died in Taipei on April 5, 2022. (He was 78, 79 or 80, depending on different sources.) He was an international kung fu star in the 1970s and turned out quite a succession of hits, many of which he wrote and directed, as well as starred in. THE CHINESE BOXER (1970), the first he directed, is considered by fans to be the first true kung fu film, focused entirely on fighting techniques involving hands and fists and training in special methods to overcome more powerful opponents. When kung fu films first hit big in the U.S. in the spring of 1973, it was released in an English-dubbed version under the title, THE HAMMER OF GOD.

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RISE AGAINST THE SWORD (1966): When Toshiro Mifune No Longer Needed the Seven Samurai

1 Apr

On what would have been Toshiro Mifune’s 102nd birthday (I covered his centennial in three blog posts in 2020), I look at a lesser-known historical drama starring Mifune, RISE AGAINST THE SWORD (1966), directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, who’d directed Mifune in several earlier samurai films. While I will always consider Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) one of the greatest films ever made, I do have a point of contention with it. The more I’ve read about Japanese history, the more I’ve learned about how farming communities in feudal Japan were fully capable of defending themselves against rivals, brigands, and power-hungry lords. As RISE AGAINST THE SWORD shows, there would have been no need to hire “seven samurai” or even 70 or 700 when the farmers themselves knew how to use weapons and protect their land and livelihood.

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In Memoriam: Akira Takarada, Godzilla’s Favorite Co-star

20 Mar

Japanese actor Akira Takarada passed away in Japan on March 14 at the age of 87. He had a long career stretching back to 1954, ending only with his death (a 68-year career!). He was under contract to Toho Pictures during the 1950s and ’60s and starred in some of their best-known films, including many Godzilla and other giant monster and sci-fi films. At the age of 20, he starred in the very first Godzilla film, GOJIRA (1954) and would be seen in its American re-edit, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956). He would appear in several more films by the same director, Ishiro Honda, including MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, KING KONG ESCAPES, and LATITUDE ZERO. Toho Pictures otherwise treated him as a light leading man and put him in several comedies and musicals, as well as at least one gangster picture where he sings some tunes. He was a staunch hero in the sci-fi films and an amiable, likeable handsome young lad in the other films. However, he revealed a wider range of acting ability when he did dramatic roles for directors Mikio Naruse and Yasujiro Ozu.

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Artwork in Hong Kong Movies, Part 1: Shaw Bros.

16 Mar

The Shaw Bros. studio in Hong Kong made the most lavish productions to come out of the Hong Kong film industry in the 1960s and ’70s. Whether they were swordplay adventures, historical dramas, Huangmei Operas, ghost stories, kung fu, musicals, or modern romantic comedies, the films boasted impressive production values, including elaborate sets, beautifully designed costumes and exquisite background décor. What I like to find in these films are examples of traditional Chinese artwork adorning the walls of the palaces, villas, taverns, brothels, parlors and other settings employed. We see all kinds of paintings, screens and scrolls with intricate designs, portraits, landscapes, flowers, trees or magnificent animals on display.

I often wonder where they got these works. Do they have studio artists employed to turn them out for film after film? Do they have a stockpile in their warehouses to take out and polish up when they’re needed? Is there a local manufacturer which produces art to order for the studio? I’m guessing these are most likely reproductions rather than original works, especially since they’re often in proximity to furious fight action and can easily be damaged if struck by actors’ kicks, punches or sword thrusts. In at least one of the films covered here, an actor’s spurting blood stains one of the paintings.

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Ten Years of Blogging: A Journey through My Passions

11 Mar

Last month marked the tenth anniversary of this blog. I’ve viewed hundreds, if not thousands, of films, TV episodes and documentaries for it and covered a wide array of topics, so I decided to pick 15 categories with the largest number of entries to illustrate my range of interests. The topic title contains a link to the archive for each subject. Hopefully, this will help newer readers discover some of my older pieces on areas of interest to them. The categories are listed alphabetically.

Actors

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Mikio Naruse: Adventures on Harumi Island

27 Feb

I got a pleasant surprise recently when I watched Mikio Naruse’s AUTUMN HAS ALREADY STARTED (1960). At a key point in the narrative, the two child protagonists living in Tokyo, sixth grade boy Hideo and fourth grade girl Junko, having embarked on their own on a Sunday afternoon adventure after difficulties with their mothers, decide to fulfill the wish of Hideo, a recent arrival from a land-locked mountain town in western Nagano Prefecture, to see the ocean for the first time. Junko asks a friendly cabdriver where the nearest ocean is and he says Harumi waterfront and the girl, telling a little white lie, entreats him to take them there.

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