On the same double bill as THE WIND AND THE LION exactly a week ago was THE DEVILS 8, a screenplay co-written by John Milius and one of the folks who wrote HOWARD THE DUCK... hmm. I had never done the bicycle/subway to the New Beverly Cinema before, always driven. But my thing now is to try to ride the bike everywhere possible - because that car habit is an easy one to get into. When I was at Monsterpalooza, a bunch of people who basically only see me twice a year - at Fango and Monster - mentioned that I looked like I’d lost a bunch of weight, and I probably have... but never weigh myself, and if I accidentally see myself in the mirror I look pretty much like I did the day before. So the bike thing is a good thing, and I don’t want to blow it and go back to driving a block to my corner Starbucks.
I always bike/subway to Hollywood - which is just over the hill (actually, 2.5 miles as the mole burrows through the mountain - the joys of research!) - but riding through the Cahuenga Pass is akin to Polish Roulette (which is Russian Roulette with 5 bullets and one empty chamber) - the road is ultra narrow and the cars do 40mph on hairpin corners. I have actually done that ride a couple of times and was so happy to be alive afterwards that I figured a $1.25 subway ride was probably much safer. I’d be going to the same station - Hollywood/Highland - then zip over to La Brea, and zoom down to the Fairfax District. That always seems like a long way, because usually it is bumper to bumper traffic. I had no idea how long it would take me, but I’ve done some epic bike rides lately and I’m in okay shape. I might end up tired by the time I got home, but you want to be tired before going to bed, right?
Well, my first problem was at the Universal subway station - it was a complete mess because the North Hollywood station had some power problem or something, and *everyone* had to get on and off at Universal. Add to that, it was around rush hour. After fighting that crowd, and a bunch of confusion, we zipped through the mountain those 2.5 miles to Hollywood... and I was running a little behind schedule. I still needed to eat dinner before the movies or I’d be eating a New Beverly hot dog with popcorn as my veggie.
But the Fairfax District really isn’t that far - I zoomed past traffic and got there in no time. I grabbed some BBQ pork fried rice at the strip-mall Chinese place across the street from the cinema and watched the people line up for the movie. All 8 of them. Hmm, 8 for THE DEVILS 8? Nine after I 8. A few more people joined the others milling around in front of the cinema, including Clu Gulager - who is a regular at the cinema. I know Clu from the Thursday Night Drinking Group (which I have not attended for *months*!) and had just seen him a couple of days earlier on the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD panel at Monsterpalooza, and a couple of days before that at Duane’s double feature. I am kind of starstruck by Clu, because he was one of the stars of THE VIRGINIAN when I was a kid. Whenever I see him, the VIRGINIAN theme starts playing in my head. Here’s the opening titles from the show.
WIND AND THE LION & DEVILS 8
Though I own WIND AND THE LION on DVD, it’s one of my favorite films so I want to see it on the big screen again. The problem with DVD is that you just can’t see old movies on the big screen anymore. THE DEVILS 8 is *not* on DVD at all, so the only way to see that film is to head over to the New Beverly Cinema or head over to Spudic’s Video Emporium in Van Nuys and buy a copy on VHS - Spudics is one of the only stores specializing in VHS movies. If you ever want to see one of the hundreds of movies that have yet to make it to DVD (think about it - AFRICAN QUEEN, one of the most popular films of all time, *just* got a DVD release!) head on over to Spudics and see if he has it on VHS.
Well, more people filter in, and the cinema has a respectable audience. The row behind me is 100% WIND AND THE LION virgins - none have ever seen the movie. It’s a *whole row* of people who know each other, and just before the movie starts a guy around my age and his wife (or girlfriend, or nurse, or whatever) takes the last two empty seats in the row - they are the reason why all of these other people are there. The guy played the boy in the movie!
The print of WIND AND THE LION was pretty good considering it was one of the original prints from the 1970s... for all I know, the exact same print I watched when I saw the film on opening day way back then. The film still holds up, and is still exciting and beautiful and romantic and made me want to sword fight during intermission.
All of the trailers between the films were from other movies John Milius wrote - and that’s the great thing about the New Beverly - this is a cinema run by movie lovers who actually know that somebody wrote that. We got to see the trailers for every single film Milius wrote, plus some other trailers for movies similar to WIND AND THE LION, including LION OF THE DESERT which was produced by the guy who produced all of the HALLOWEEN movies.
Then they started DEVILS 8... great opening scene, very much like the opening of 48 HOURS, chain gang somewhere in the South with prisoners doing backbreaking work (though, none of it made much sense - one guys was breaking rocks and another guy was throwing them in a lake! One guy was just sawing boards. But its was all hard work stuff) - then a fight breaks out between prisoners: one of them is our star Christopher George from RAT PATROL. Just like in 48 HOURS, the fight is a way for the prisoners to overpower the guards and escape. George grabs a bunch of prisoners - 8 of them - and says he has an escape route. They run through the woods, coming out at a clearing... where a huge helicopter lands! There are *military guys* with guns in the helicopter! George tells the guys not to worry - this is part of the plan. What plan?
Cool flashback to George and some hottie making out in a car when his carphone rings (when this film was made, that was sci-fi or James Bond) and it’s a mission. George has to stop making out and go to do some spy work. In this case - it’s breaking up a huge moonshine operation run by this GODFATHER-like guy named Burl, played by some fat old guy. Seems that Burl’s organization has Senators and Congressmen and Police and maybe even FBI guys on his payroll. He’s a big fish, and George is supposed to find some way to take him down.
We get out of the flashback in another cool screen-bending dissolve...
And here’s where we begin to run into trouble. Because DEVILS 8 has some serious structure problems. Because it’s kind of a knock off of THE DIRTY DOZEN, it kind of steals the way that film worked - where about half of the film is training a bunch of anti-authority criminals to become good enough soldiers to complete the mission... and all of the conflicts involved in having a dozen guys with bad attitudes who hate each other living under the same roof. Then, the last half is the mission against the Nazis - and how it goes wrong but they still manage to blow the hell out of the place. Okay, that works for DIRTY DOZEN because the mission is complicated and the guys are a major challenge to train. But in DEVILS, even though the guys are escaped prisoners and have all kinds of conflict with each other - including racial: Henry (Robert DoQui) is pretty much hated by everyone because he’s black - there isn’t a single psycho like Telly Savalas or a real hardcase like John Cassavetes. These 8 convicts may all be lifers, but they are reasonable guys. So the conflict between them is not as intense as it is in DOZEN. Plus, the training is, well, mostly lame. They wrestle. All at once. No one is trained in karate or something, they just all wrestle. They learn to shoot guns, but it’s kind of boring target practice without any tension. They learn to drive crappy cars through a slalom course of cones - wow! Though there are some car wrecks here that really help this section of the film - there aren’t enough crashes and they aren’t very cool and they aren’t *story related*. Just a car crashing in the middle of nowhere.
This half of the movie ends with some crazy stuff - throwing grenades out of cars for no apparent reason. Well, actually, by the end of the film they will have to do this, but in the training camp it makes no sense. And there isn’t any clear set up in this that pays off in that later scene - it’s just a scene where they get to blow up garbage cans with grenades - kind of false action.
After their training is over, they go out to somewhere in the South where Burl’s moonshine gang rules the roads.
ROSS HAGEN - THIEF
And here’s the crazy part about this film - the star is Christopher George from RAT PATROL, but the great role in the film - the “lead” in a way - is Ross Hagen playing Frank Davis, ex-moonshine runner and ex-member of Burl’s Gang. Part of this may be Ross acting the hell out of his role, and part of it is that this is the most interesting character in the film once we get to moonshine country. Though Frank was an important character in the training scenes, when we get the ex-gang member back into gang country he becomes the center of the conflict. Ross has been in a couple of films I’ve written, and is one of those actors that can turn the line “How are you?” into two dozen different things - he comes to the show with interesting line readings you’d never considered or ever knew existed. He’s a great actor for low budget movies because you just hire him and he gives a good performance. He’s got a bunch of low budget films and a whole bunch of TV guest star stuff on his resume...
But in DEVILS 8 he steals the film from Christopher George.
Steals it from the star.
In order to get him to work against his old gang, George tells him that it wasn’t cops who killed his brother, it was Burl. Now, we don’t know if that’s true or not at that point, and that’s a good technique to use in a script because it turns one moment into several moments. He tells Frank (Ross) that Burl killed his brother, and Frank has to deal with being betrayed by his own gang. Then Frank wonders if George lied to him in order to get him to work against his own gang - and there are some mistrust moments. Once they get to town, Frank discovers that Burl *did* kill his brother, and this confirmation takes us back to Frank feeling betrayed... and then angry... and then grabbing a weapon and going after Burl! Which will blow the whole operation!
George’s plan to take down Burl doesn’t make any sense, but here it is: The 8 are going to hijack whisky shipments until Burl comes to them and makes a deal that they should work together, and show them where the stills are, and tell them who all of the crooked cops and politicians are. Wouldn’t it be easier for Burl to just kill them all? Oddly enough, the plan works...
Frank hooks up with his old flame Cissy (Leslie Parrish - super hot - Laurence Harvey's love interest in MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) and they have that tender passionate sex that people in movies who are in love have... completely under the sheets... and then we get waist up backal nudity of Cissy as she gets out of bed and looks out the door at the beautiful view of some Southern mountain area that was really Big Bear - just a few miles from Los Angeles. A couple of scenes later, Frank and George show up at Burl’s place... and guess who the gang boss is sleeping with? Cissy! And Frank has to just take it and not do anything when the man who killed his brother is also sleeping with the woman he loves! That *situation* makes Frank the most important character in the film. On a message board someone asked why we need a character arc, and I said my usual: that I like to think of it as the “emotional conflict” rather than the character arc because it covers more ground. This is a great example of an “emotional conflict” - Frank’s character doesn’t really have much of an arc. Sure, he goes from being a convict to a guy working with the feds, and he becomes more cooperative with George, but his plan is pretty much to kill the guy who killed his brother, and that plan doesn’t change. He wants revenge, he will get revenge. No real arc, there. But he goes through all kinds of emotional hell in this film. He goes back to his home town and is ostracized and has to watch Burl put his fat hands all over the woman he loves and wants to kill the sucker but can’t because it will blow the mission. Compare Ross Hagen’s role of Frank with Christopher George’s cool spy guy who has no emotional conflicts at all, and you wonder why Chris George didn’t demand to play Frank.
Oh, somewhere along here I recognized the far actor who played Burl... as 1950s pretty boy actor Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY) - man, he got fat!
THE OTHER 7
While Ross Hagen is stealing the film from the star, the other guys on the team kill time until the big ending by skinny dipping with hot girls from town and getting into bar room brawls. This stuff all seems like padding - and the big structure problems is that it *is* padding - the film has prison break in scene one and a big action scene at the end and the rest is mostly filler material. Some of it is entertaining filler material, but it kind of slows down the pacing because nothing *important* is happening.
One thing I should mention are the characters of the other guys, because they are much better than most low budget exploitation flicks. Singer Fabian is one of the guys, I think the mechanic, and Ron Rifkin is one of the guys - but I have no idea which one because I did not recognize him. Rifkin is on BROTHERS & SISTERS (I have never watched that show) and was the even Sloane on ALIAS (Okay, I have watched that one) and I know him as a middle aged man... and this film was made in 1969 - it was his very first film! I have no idea which one of those young guys was Rifkin. But he may or may not have been the drunk one. One of the guys has been on the chain gang for a while and the first thing he thinks of when they escape is finding himself a drink. When they hijack Burl’s runners, he swipes some bottles for himself and gets really drunk... and becomes a problem because he’s an alcoholic working undercover as a rumrunner - and keeps getting drunk and screwing up. Except - while searching for something to drink, he spots a truck full of booze and climbs in... and the truck goes to the secret stills compound. Now he is not only so drunk he can’t stand, he has the information the team needs for that big action ending.
And we get a big action ending where that throwing hand grenades from a moving car training comes in handy, and most of the 8 die glorious deaths. But the big end action scene is much simpler than the end scene in DIRTY DOZEN and shorter, too. So where DIRTY DOZEN has that big killer action end that is at least a full third of the film, DEVILS 8 has a good action ending but not good enough to make up for the padding that has come before it. Still, they blow up 3 or 4 big stills in towers and wreck any car they have not yet wrecked.
I should mention the music - there’s a theme song that’s okay, but the score was just awful. Mike Curb was to blame. It’s kind of SMOKEY & THE BANDIT funny good old boy music, when this film is not a comedy at all. There are scenes where characters are getting *hurt* and this goofy music is playing in the background. It did not work. The theme was fine - one of those ballad things.
So, now that the film was over I had to ride my bike back - but not to the subway, which closes at midnight - I had to ride to the homeless bus stop just north of Hollywood Blvd. In Los Angeles, public transportation shuts off early. If you stagger out of a bar at 10pm, there’s a good chance there is no bus to take you home so you will have to drive. Most of the busses shut down around 10pm, others shut down at midnight... leaving a handful of buses running after midnight in a danged huge city. I’ve done the bike/bus ride to the NuArt on the Westside - and when the film lets out I’ve had to haul ass to ride back to Westwood to grab the 1am bus that parallels the 405 through Sepulveda Pass and dumps you on Ventura Blvd - where there is a bus that runs every hour (I think) all night long. If you miss that 1am bus in Westwood, it will take you all night to get back to Studio City on the couple of buses that run once every hour all night long.
But what happens on these handful of buses that run all night long - they fill up with homeless people and their belongings. The buses are warm, and they sleep on them. I hate the homeless bus. Imagine a bus filled with really stinky people and their really stinky stuff. They often take up 4 seats - 3 seats for their junk, one seat they are sleeping on. I have to pop my bike on the front of the bus and then find someplace to sit (or just stand) and try to only breath through my mouth. But I kind of worry about germs. At least I’m not on the bus very long - just over the hill.
So, I am waiting on the homeless bus to take me over the hill.
Outside The Powerhouse Bar just north of Hollywood Blvd.
The place stinks.
People come out of the bar and piss behind bus shelter.
Men and women.
When I was here after Duane’s films a really hot woman in tiny blue dress staggers out of the bar and tries to flag down a cab.
Falls off her heels...
and I catch her...
I try not to touch any good parts.
I’m a gentleman.
My elbow is pressed against her breast.
My elbow has no feeling... too bad.
She gets her footing and thanks me...
Then falls into the gutter.
I help her up even though she smells like pee...
Sit her down on bus bench.
That’s when bar doorman comes over and says he will take of it from here. I have no idea what that means, but I’m a little worried. Then the bus comes, and whatever happens to the hot woman so drunk she can not stand up is in the rearview mirror.
I throw my bike on front of homeless bus and try to hold my breath as we go over hill.
The bus is full of sleeping Homeless people with all of their belongings. They have not bathed recently and some smell as bad as that bus stop. Can I hold my breath the whole way over the hill? I feel sorry for bus driver. When we get to my corner, I pull the bike off the front of the bus and pedal home. I can breath again...
FRIDAY’S WITH HITCHCOCK is already up and triggered to run on Friday!
TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Flow - one scene should flow into the next scene.
Bicycle: Short ride Monday so that I could take a longer ride Tuesday - except it rained and I did not ride.
Movies: Friday night I saw a Noir double bill at the Egyptian, was supposed to see one on Saturday night, too - but ended up seeing KICK ASS instead due to peer pressure. Damned those over 40 guys I hang out with!