Movies Till Dawn: Saturday Dusk-to-Dawn Marathon

6 p.m. – “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon”Documentary

91VvIk3XykL._SL1500_(2014, Anchor Bay/Radius) Frothy but entertaining documentary from Mike Myers about talent manager and chutzpah machine Shep Gordon, who guided the careers of Alice Cooper, Blondie, Luther Vandross and Anne Murray to superstardom. Along the way, Gordon also bedded a vast array of women – including Sharon Stone – befriended Groucho Marx and Peter Sellers, got decked by Janis Joplin and founded Alive Films, an early independent production shingle that oversaw “Koyaanisqatsi,” “They Live” and “Betty Blue,” among others. Myers enlivens Gordon’s story through amusing re-enactments, a breezy movie score and anecdotes from admirers like Michael Douglas and Emeril Lagasse, one of several chefs elevated to celebrity status by Gordon. The picture works best when Gordon himself is front and center, spinning stories that alternate between crass publicity stunts and some extraordinarily benevolent gestures. The end result rises no further than Myers’ own initial assessment of his subject – an exceptionally nice guy with a wild past – but Gordon’s trove of stories keep things engaging.

7:30 p.m. “We’re in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking”Documentary/Silent

81yYax+Yw5L._SL1500_(2014, Flicker Alley) Fascinating collection of modern and silent documentaries, along with a pair of sound features, which focus on early grass-roots efforts to make and preserve features outside the studio system. “Palace of Silents” (2010) profiles Los Angeles’ venerable Silent Movie Theatre (now home to Cinefamily) and founders John and Dorothy Hampton, who screened silent films with live music accompaniment to patrons for more than 30 years, as well as the Hamptons’ friend, Laurence Austin, who re-opened the theater in 1991, drawing new crowds as well as controversy before his murder in 1997. Slightly more genteel but just as intriguing is “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose” (1983), a newly re-discovered documentary which discusses itinerant filmmaking in the early years of the 20th century. Cameramen and photographers would travel throughout the United States and United Kingdom, enlisting small town residents to enact dramatic scenes or appear in documentary footage that would later be screened for their fellow townspeople. “Tulip” focuses on the making of “The Lumberjack,” a 1914 silent romance featuring the citizens of Wausau, Wisconsin, as well as director Stephen Schiller’s efforts to restore the film. Two short documentaries from 1918 – “Our Southern Mountaineers” and “In the Moonshine Country” – and a color effort without sound from the ‘30s called “Mountain Life,” provide equally intimate looks at rural life from the past, while “Huntingdon’s Hero” (1934) and “The Kidnappers Foil” (1937) represent the itinerant film as community project. Directors Donald Newland and Melton Barker traveled throughout the United States, offering town residents their chance to star in a short sound movie; both would essentially shoot the same pictures – low-budget adventures with plenty of action and slapstick –over and over with different regional casts, who would then enjoy their antics when the picture screened at local moviehouses. The two versions included here are among the only surviving examples of these unusual efforts, and provide a rarely seen look at a sort of proto-independent cinema in its most democratic form.

9:30 p.m. – “The Bridge: Episode 1” Suspense/Drama

81q5K7Cr9+L._SL1500_(2013, MHz Networks) Debut episode of the engrossing Swedish/Danish crime series that served as the basis for the FX drama of the same name here in the States. The mystery at the core of the series is essentially the same – here, it’s the bisected body of a Swedish politician that’s’ found on a bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark – as are the detectives from each country investigating the case (brusque Swede Sofia Helin and likable Danish slob Kim Bodnia). But there’s a chilliness (entirely separate from the locations) to the performances and the cinematography that settles over the series and gives it a morbid, gloomy quality that somehow makes the program a more disquieting experience than the American version (which, it should be noted, is a pretty grim affair unto itself). The icy atmosphere also imbues “The Bridge” with the slow-motion dread of a bad dream, which is the ideal pace for midnight-to-morning viewing. The MHz Networks set compiles the entire first season in anamorphic widescreen over four discs.

10:30 p.m. – “Bait”Thriller

61k2EndELiL._SL1500_(1954, Sony Choice Collection) Satan himself (a very dapper Sir Cedric Hardwicke) introduces this seedy potboiler, one of a dozen-plus low-budget crime dramas directed by and starring Czech actor Hugo Haas. As Arthur Lyons noted in his excellent “Death on the Cheap,” Haas’ career behind the camera was devoted to turning out poverty-stricken variations on “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” all starring Haas as a middle-aged sap whose unbridled lust for a young, icy-veined blonde leads to his undoing. “Bait” is no exception: here, he’s a crackpot miner who talks farmhand John Agar into looking for his lost vein of gold. Naturally, the whole arrangement goes south when the gold is found, prompting Haas to hatch a ill-conceived scheme to ice out his new partner by feigning ignorance when Agar makes time his new wife (Cleo Moore); things get ugly in a hurry when winter sets in and traps the trio in their ratty cabin. Small flourishes of noirish style boost the picture out of the B-grade swamp, but the main selling points are the unbridled acting and overheated suggestions of carnal obsession. Co-starring a cute dog, Bronson Canyon, character actor Bruno Ve Sota (a familiar face from ‘50s science fiction), and a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon (in bottles).

11:45 p.m.: “Detour”Thriller

81qkp2WN90L._SL1500_(1945, Film Chest) Surreal anxiety nightmare disguised as bargain basement noir, and a bona fide classic of the genre. Piano man Tom Neal makes the first of many terrible decisions by hitchhiking across the country to meet his girlfriend in Hollywood. Broke and exhausted, he runs afoul of Edmund MacDonald, an utter creep who promptly drops dead from too many pep pills; afraid of being pinned with a murder beef, Neal takes MacDonald’s car and ID to continue his trip. The off-handed and ill-considered criminal act pulls him into the orbit of Ann Savage, a consumptive psychopath who blackmails him into a scheme to con MacDonald’s dying father out of his millions. Neal and Savage fairly drip with hatred and ugly lust for each other as he attempts to escape from her, but it’s clear from the get-go that there’s no getting away; blind, crazy fate has put its bony finger on him, and all he and we can do is watch as they spiral an inevitable and awful conclusion. Directed with Edgar G. Ulmer, an astonishingly prolific filmmaker who made everything from Universal’s “The Black Cat” (1934) and “Bluebeard” (1944) to Yiddish- and Ukrainian-language pictures, “Detour” perfectly sums up the bewildering and intoxicating experience of both noir and late-night movie watching: dreamlike, carved from vague shadows, and fueled by base emotions and blurry morals. Neal’s off-screen life was equally grim: he torpedoed his career in B-pictures after mauling actor Franchot Tone in 1951 over their mutual girlfriend, actress-turned-call girl Barbara Payton, and later served ten years for murdering his third wife.

1 a.m.: – “The Midnight Special: September 6, 1974”Music

91YyikyQPjL._SL1500_(Time-Life) Producer Burt Sugarman’s long-running late-night music series deviates from its usual format to present Marvin Gaye in concert at the Atlanta Stadium in 1974. Surprisingly, the musical portion is the least entertaining part of the episode – a head cold robs Marvin of his upper register (“It’s hard to sound sexy with this voice”) on the featured songs, “Let’s Get It On” and “What’s Going On.” More interesting are snippets of interviews filmed at the time of the concert, which provide a rare glimpse of Gaye’s complicated personality. Swarmed by reporters at his hotel, Gaye appears both energized by his recent return to performing and itching to disappear from public view; later, he sits dutifully, like a small and impatient child, before his mother Alberta, whose approval he still clearly seeks. We also briefly see Gaye’s second wife, Janis Hunter, who gave birth to their daughter, Nona, two days before the original broadcast of this episode. The odd mix of stage show bombast and Gaye’s reluctant offstage persona make for compelling viewing; those looking for the “Midnight Special’s” regular barrage of pop and rock can skip to the bonus songs, a trio of high-testosterone radio anthems culled from the show’s archives. A leotard-clad Ted Nugent leers a through an off-the-rails take on “Cat Scratch Fever” from 1974, while AC/DC works themselves into a lather over “Sin City” before a confused (or shell-shocked) audience (watch the female fan in front, who appears gripped by Pentecostal fervor for Angus) in 1978. And Ray Davies, resplendent in a florid bow tie and “Schoolboys in Disgrace” jacket, leads the Kinks through “You Really Got Me” from 1974. Time-Life’s six-disc set includes about 80 more performances culled from 20 episodes; there’s also an eleven-disc set that includes comedy performances by Richard Pryor, among others.

2 a.m. – “Godzilla 2000”Science Fiction

91AN9ZWm7NL._SL1500_(1999, Sony Pictures) The first title in the second reboot or “Millennium” series of Toho’s enduring Godzilla franchise ignores the iconic monster’s death in the previous entry (“Godzilla vs. Destoroyah”) and pits him against a slug/snake-like creature called Orga, which emerges from a UFO buried for millions of years in the Pacific Ocean. It’s nothing that both casual and ardent Godzilla fans haven’t seen before, but it’s done well and delivers everything one might want (citywide destruction, concerned scientists making dire pronouncements, major pyrotechnics during the final face-off and lots of awestruck shots of Godzilla himself) by hewing closely to the most immediately enjoyable elements of the franchise and not getting bogged down in unnecessary and illogical revamps (a problem for most of the subsequent Godzilla titles). The Sony Blu-ray includes both the Japanese and English versions of the films – the latter runs around 10 minutes shorter and has decidedly tongue-in-cheek dialogue – as well as commentary by the American writing/editing team and a making-of featurette.

4 a.m. – “Without Warning”Science Fiction/Horror

918RdWxPQtL._SL1500_(1980, Scream Factory) Goony but fun monster-from-outer-space movie from director Greydon Clark (“Black Shampoo,” “Satan’s Cheerleaders) that evokes the micro-budget charms of ‘50s era creature features. A bulb-domed alien (designed by an uncredited Rick Baker) hunts humans in a remote wooded location with tiny, snaggled-toothed frisbees (a la “It Conquered the World” and “Zontar, The Thing from Venus”). Standing in opposition to are an incredible array of character actors in grizzled coot mode, including Jack Palance, Martin Landau (as a shell-shocked Vietnam vet), Neville Brand, and a visibly pickled Ralph Meeker; Cameron Mitchell and Larry Storch (!) also turn up briefly, while a quartet of teens, including a very young David Caruso, spend an inordinate amount of time crisscrossing the same tiny stretch of wilderness. The end result has the same sort of bald-faced no-logic as its Eisenhower-era predecessors, but the pace rarely bogs down and the cast of old pros give their all to the proceedings, no matter how silly the scene (like pretending to writhe in agony in the grip of those flying doodads). The Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD includes commentary by Clark, interviews with cinematographer Dean Cundey and special effects creator Greg Cannom (who, like Palance and Landau, won Oscars long after signing off on this picture), and the original theatrical trailer.

5 am – “Companeros”Western

A1rDk10pOIL._SL1500_(1970, Blue Underground) Rollicking and frequently funny Italian Western with Franco Nero – Django himself – as a smartly dressed Swede who reluctantly teams with a crude peasant (Tomas Milian) to rescue a pacifist professor (Fernando Rey) held by the American army. Both men have ulterior motives – Nero wants the combination to a safe held by Rey, while Milian just wants a little respect, and maybe the affections of the professor’s dewy-eyed follower (Iris Berben) – which underscore the picture’s sly, subcutaneous riff about the capitalist that lurks in every Marxist, and the revolutionary heart beating beating in every profiteer. Directed with tremendous verve by Sergio Corbucci (“Django,” “The Great Silence”), who neatly folds the humor and political undertones into terrific action set pieces, and featuring one of Ennio Morricone’s most rousing scores; there’s also a completely unhinged supporting turn by Jack Palance (again!) as Nero’s vengeful former partner, a pot-addled psychopath with a wooden hand and a faithful pet hawk. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray includes both the English and Italian language versions of the film, as well as lively interviews with Nero, Milian and Morricone and commentary. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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