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“Decoy” (1957): A Policewoman in New York

16 Oct

“Decoy” is a TV cop show that aired from 1957-58. There were 39 half-hour episodes and they were all filmed on location in New York City. There is only one recurring character in every episode and that’s Policewoman Patricia “Casey” Jones, played by Beverly Garland. Yes, this is the first of only a handful of cop shows with a central female protagonist. I knew very little about this series until I read J. Hoberman’s review of it in his Video column in the Sunday New York Times of Sept. 3, 2017. I had no idea it was filmed in New York, a full year before the much more celebrated and much longer-running “Naked City” TV series. I learned that the series was available on Amazon Prime, so I watched the first two episodes. I was so intrigued by them that I immediately ordered the complete series box set (for $11.99!) from Amazon.com. One of the things that excited me in the first episode was the use of Times Square and 42nd Street and the generous views of some of the theater marquees in 1957.

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Happy Birthday, Angela Mao–Kung Fu Diva Supreme

20 Sep

Within the last two years, some of the best Hong Kong movies starring Angela Mao Ying have come out on DVD from Shout Factory, remastered, with cleaned-up soundtracks and new subtitles. My earlier VHS and DVD copies had all sorts of problems, so I’ve been wanting to sit down and watch these new editions and thought I’d use the occasion of her 66th birthday today, September 20th, to offer a write-up on them. I watched what I consider her four best films for this piece: HAPKIDO (1972), WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES (1973), THE TOURNAMENT (1974), and BROKEN OATH (1977). I didn’t have time for the fifth of her top five, LADY WHIRLWIND  (1972)

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The B-Movie Returns to Theaters: DANCIN’ IT’S ON

6 Nov

Once upon a time, B-movies regularly ran in movie theaters on double bills with studio releases that were bigger-budgeted and better-publicized. I saw quite a few of them in theaters when I was a kid. Some of them were more fun than the main feature (Mario Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, anyone?), but often they were cheap, indifferent potboilers turned out on low budgets. They were often black-and-white and, in those days, often from other countries. PAYROLL, seen on a double bill with DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and THE MURDER GAME, seen on a double bill with OUR MAN FLINT, were both English-produced crime dramas that I remember very little about other than that they were short on stars or thrills. The Rat Pack vehicle, ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS, played on a double bill with RAIDERS FROM BENEATH THE SEA, a weak thriller about a team of bank robbers who wear scuba diving outfits to rob a bank on Catalina Island (hence the title) and make their getaway underwater(!).

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VHS Discoveries: Classic Kung Fu

4 Jun

 

Back in 1998 to 2003, my revived interest in “Old School” kung fu films from Hong Kong and Taiwan happened to coincide with a phenomenal outpouring of these films in low-cost VHS editions, usually bootleg or “gray market,” with many available in mainstream video stores (e.g. Suncoast, Virgin, Tower and FYE), but more often found at discount dealers like Record Explosion and Entertainment Outlet. A company called Xenon (with various subsidiaries) released quite a number of these films as part of the “Wu Tang Collection,” often given new titles designed to appeal to hiphop fans and fans of the rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, which took its name and a significant amount of its content from kung fu films its members had seen on 42nd Street back in the day. One of its members, Ghostface Killah, even took his name from the villain of a 42nd Street hit called THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (aka NINJA CHECKMATE). Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the name applied to another member of the Clan.

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MAKE YOUR MOVE: K-Pop star BoA takes the lead in American-South Korean musical

19 Apr

MAKE YOUR MOVE opened in New York theaters yesterday (April 18, 2014), after circulating in other countries around the world last year. It’s an American-South Korean co-production (shot mostly in Canada) starring Derek Hough, from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” and BoA, a Korean pop star who’s had her most significant success in Japan over the past ten years or so. The film is a musical centering on dance (making it a “dancical,” to use a term my daughter introduced to me), and is set primarily in Brooklyn among a subculture of underground dance clubs and assorted acts employing a wide range of dance styles. It was written and directed by Duane Adler, who’s credited with the screenplays for two notable teen dance movies, SAVE THE LAST DANCE (2001) and STEP UP (2006) and two additional dance-themed movies, THE WAY SHE MOVES (2001, TV) and MAKE IT HAPPEN (2008). I went to see this (at a 42nd Street multiplex) without having seen much in the way of this genre (other than the Disney Channel HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and CHEETAH GIRLS franchises), so I don’t know how closely it hews to the teen dance formula. I came to this film as a onetime fan of BoA and happen to have a couple of her albums containing song CDs and music video DVDs in my collection. I’ve dabbled a little bit in K-pop (Korean pop music), although my main interest is in J-pop (Japanese pop music). (The BoA albums I have are sung in Japanese.) In any event, MAKE YOUR MOVE is the first American movie with an Asian female pop star in the lead. (NINJA ASSASSIN, 2009, had a male Korean pop star, Rain, in the lead but it wasn’t a musical.)

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VHS Discoveries: Italian Genre Films from Hercules to Bronson

14 Apr

My first exposure to English-dubbed Italian genre films was when I saw TV commercials for “sword ‘n’ sandal” movies when I was a child, including HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES. I didn’t get to see any of these in theaters at the time but would eventually see all of them on TV. The first film of this type I would see on the big screen was GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, starring “Hercules” himself, Steve Reeves, and it played on a double bill with JET OVER THE ATLANTIC, a low-budget black-and-white American thriller set on an airplane, in January 1960, when I was six years old. Two years later, I saw several more Italian mini-spectacles when I began patronizing the Tremont Theater, which offered triple features of movies that had already played every other theater. Among the films I saw there were THE TROJAN HORSE, also starring Reeves; THE MONGOLS, starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg; LAST OF THE VIKINGS, starring Cameron Mitchell; and THE MINOTAUR, starring American Olympic athlete Bob Mathias. On March 10, 1963, I saw my first all-Italian double feature, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD and WARRIORS FIVE, chronicled here on March 10, 2013 in my blog entry entitled, “March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff.”

(Steve Reeves as Aeneas in THE TROJAN HORSE)

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In Memoriam: Sir Run Run Shaw, 1907-2014

12 Jan
Run Run Shaw, Chinese movie mogul, in a picture from the early 1970s

Run Run Shaw, Chinese movie mogul, in a picture from the early 1970s

This past Tuesday, January 7, 2014, Sir Run Run Shaw died in Hong Kong at the age of 106. Shaw was a mogul who built a movie empire in Asia, with the Shaw Bros. movie production and distribution company, based in Hong Kong, as its centerpiece. The company was Hong Kong’s biggest movie studio from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, when it shifted its focus from movies to television, creating numerous popular series under the company name, TVB, the dominant television network in Hong Kong, with distribution throughout Asia. Shaw patterned his movie studio in the style of the old Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. and MGM. His counterparts in Hollywood were men like Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor and Harry Cohn. He had numerous stars and production personnel under contract, an array of soundstages with lavish sets for interior scenes, and sprawling backlots filled with standing sets for the numerous historical dramas and adventures the studio made. Many of the top directors of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s and ’70s worked at Shaw Bros., including Chang Cheh, King Hu, Chor Yuen, Li Han-hsiang and Lau Kar Leung.

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