TRUST ME, alphabetically: M mops muck, mocks mediocrity, manhandles miscreants–you get the picture. Ten mooks are measured below.
#1 MACON COUNTY LINE—–drive-in junk from 1974, cleverly marketed as an exploitation flick, mysteriously took off like a rocket, making $30,000,000, astounding for such a cheese enterprise and a source of delirious amazement to its makers. When the 273rd episode of The Beverly Hillbillies ended the Clampett Era, ‘Jethro’, that is to say, Max Baer, Jr. was by then so typecast that for three years he could not get hired for answering his own door. Desperation rang, so Baer produced & co-wrote this 89-minute grinder for $110,000. Partnering scriptwriter Richard Compton directed. Set in the rural South (several states have a Macon County) in 1954, it has two rowdy brothers (Alan & Jesse Vint) and their hitchhiker (Cheryl Waters) running afoul of a brusque and bigoted sheriff (Baer).
When scuzzy drifters rape-murder the sheriff’s wife, he mistakenly thinks the three young people are guilty. Sold with the idea that it was factual (it was fiction), it looks as cheap as the budget, the script is nasty, needless garbage. The actors give it whatever quality it possesses. With Geoffrey Lewis, Joan Blackman (wasted), Leif Garrett, James Gannon, Emile Meyer and Doodles Weaver. The 70s were prime time for cheapjack sex & violence products that were advertised as based on fact, but were just spun-up fakes. Most of them were set in a stereotypical inhospitable South. Clean off the windshield for The Legend Of Boggy Creek, Jackson County Jail and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some had flair. They all made money. This one held the record for amount expended vs. returns until 1999 and The Blair Witch Project (set in Maryland).
#2 MARINES, LET’S GO! shows how out-of-touch old fogies can be with changing times and mores. In this case 69-year old studio czar Jack L. Warner sent a print of this 1961 noisemaker, directed over at Fox by 74-year-old Raoul Walsh, to the White House, where 44-year-old President John F. Kennedy was mulling approval over who would helm a movie of his WW2 exploits. The sophisticated Kennedy wit and his personal experience with combat were not impressed by the 103 minutes of juvenile hi-jinks and phony action displayed and Jack F. basically told Jack L. he hated it. Warner gave the job on PT-109 to Les Martinson, who muffed it.
Young turks Tom Tryon (coming off 17 episodes as Disney’s ‘Texas John Slaughter’), David Hedison (hoping to live down The Lost World ) and newby tough-guy Tom Reese no doubt wanted a Walsh credit on their resumes, but this did no-one any favors, as they horse around Tokyo getting into brawls and geisha houses, eventually ironing out their aesthetic differences thru battle over in Korea. $1,665,000 worth of Loud & Dumb.
The noisy action scenes fill the screen with acres of free artillery, tanks, and troops, thanks to an enlistment-happy Pentagon. Did they sense ‘something coming’ requiring 18-year old bodies? Walsh’s technicians provide the explosions but it’s all phony as hell—hardly anyone gets hit, a feat considering the men and vehicles are massed in such a way that would gratify any Commie with a seeing-eye dog and a musket. Reese had two tours in the Corps, so he must’ve cringed at the fakery, and any leatherneck who’d been through real flying shrapnel would be rightly incensed. A thumping title tune from Rex Allen hit #21 on the Billboard Country Chart, never mind a lyric mentioning ‘Anzio’, where, uh, the Marine’s didn’t land. Since when does a pesky thing like getting your facts straight have anything to do with a doggone patriotic song?
McQ is forced from the title on, as a 66-year old tries to pull his (considerable) weight in territory designed for Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood. Rule-breaking cop, driving a hot car, this time in Seattle instead of San Francisco, with a beach chase on the scenically soggy Olympic Peninsula. Drugs, police corruption, 70s dialogue, aching like arthritic joints, despite a good supporting cast and production crew. John Sturges, also past his prime, directed with no enthusiasm. Elmer Bernstein scored his 7th Wayne saga perfunctorily.
Gimmick here is a Mac-10 submachine gun, apparently to out-gee Harry Callahan’s .44 Magnum. In a movie that is lazy enough to give a bad guy character a beat-to-death-on-TV name like ‘Manny Santiago’, you need all the gunshots you can muster. Reviews were dismal, and the movie clocked a poor #42 among the moneymakers of 1974.
Pro work to little avail from Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst, Al Letteiri, Clu Gulager, David Huddleston, Julie Adams, Roger E. Mosley and William Bryant. 111 minutes and they don’t even show the Space Needle!
MERCURY RISING—–terrible plotting and dialogue sink this 1998 Bruce Willis cop thriller, directed by Harold Becker, whose dozen features over 29 years ranged in a downward arc from the Very Good (The Onion Field, The Black Marble) to the Decent (Sea Of Love, Malice) to the Lousy (Domestic Disturbance and this turkey). Willis veers all over the map in his career, and this rates in his lower rung, playing an FBI agent (Who Goes His Own Way:yawn) trying to protect an autistic child who cracked a government encryption code and is thus marked for elimination by sinister NSA types (Alec Baldwin phoning it in). 111 most unlikely minutes, with Miko Hughes, Chi McBride, Kim Dickens (always a bonus), Peter Stormare, Kevin Conway and John Carroll Lynch. They sank $60,000,000 into it, making back $93,107,000. Roger Ebert’s spot-on review is quite funny.
#5 METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN—–really, how good do you think it’s going to be with that title? Directed by proliofic schlockmeister Charles Band,(44 features of equal worth), so bad it has a camp following of sorts, so dull it’s hard to see why anyone could stay awake long enough to make fun of it. It does have 3-D, and that gimmick, along with its blatant rip-off of elements from Star Wars and The Road Warrior managed to bring in $5,300,000 from the
naive curious in 1983. Desert planet. Rogue hero. Mutants. Vehicles. Dust. 84 minutes worth. With Jeffrey Byron, Michael Preston, Tim Thomerson, Kelly Preston, Richard Moll and Larry Pennell. The last named was my late, beloved brother-in-law, who at the time was taking whatever job that came along (things got lean). I remember asking him what this one was about. His answer was unequivocal: “Goddamned if I know?”
#6 MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS—–when Disney wandered into historical territory with their features and TV episodes in the 50s and 60s they usually scored. This 1963 fact-based story is one that didn’t come off, despite a pro cast and location filming in Austria. It’s WW2, 1945, and the Soviet Army approaches Vienna. Worried that the prized Lipizzaner performing stallions might fall into the wrong hands and be shot for food has the Austrian-born German officer Col. Alois Podhajsky (Robert Taylor), once head of the riding school featuring the horses, deciding how to get to the beautiful animals into the hands of American Gen. George Patton before either the Russian troops or famished refugees grab them. A daring rescue snagged 1,200 horses. Unfortunately, the movie is leaden, draggy even at a brief 93 minutes, and little suspense is generated. Taylor is stiff. With Lilli Palmer, Curt Jurgens, Eddie Albert, James Franciscus, Philip Abbott and Douglas Fowley. It grossed in the neighborhood of $2,550,000, coming in 39th for the year. Directed by Arthur Hiller.
#7 THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES—–flat 1964 Disney comedy for kids is a chore for any but small frys to get through, and one wonders if today’s little kids would give it a glance at all. Brilliant college boy and inventor Merlin (Tommy Kirk) comes up with a helmet that records mental activity, then he dabbles in hypnotism. It made $4,000,000, enough to greenlight a sequel the following year, the likewise doofy The Monkey’s Uncle. With fave-crush Annette Funicello, Leon Ames, Stuart Irwin, Alan Hewitt, Connie Gilchrist and Norman Grabowski. Directed by Robert Stevenson. Pretty sorry.
#8 MISSING IN ACTION—-stupid, reprehensible Chuck Norris action crap about rescuing POWs held in Vietnam ten years after the war ended. A Reagan Era rah-rah slaughterfest, it came out in 1984 and repaid its $2,550,000 cost with a gross of $23,000,000, spawning two sequels. I avoided those drafts: this was bad enough. Actually this one was intended to be the second (two were shot back to back) but it was released first after being deemed superior, which tells you how crummy the other was. Directed by Joseph Zito, mowing down clumsy, marksmanship-deficient Commies through 101 minutes of avenging j-o fantasy. Get a grip on something other than a gun that you’ll never shoot . With M. Emmet Walsh and James Hong. Made in The Philippines.
#9 THE MONKEY’S UNCLE—–pallid 1965 sequel to The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones brings Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello back again, for each of them the last of their Disney work. This time, Merlin builds a lightweight airplane powered by bicycle pedals. Beyond dated now, it wasn’t much to start with, but it did pull in another $4,000,000 for Walt. Kirk was given this solely for money-making purposes, since he’d been busted for pot the previous year (Tommy Kirk:trailblazer), and his closeted lifestyle choices were not to FantasyLand’s liking. With Leon Ames, Arthur O’Connell, Frank Faylen, Norman Grabowski, Alan Hewitt, Connie Gilchrist and Mark Goddard (about to start 84 episodes of Lost In Space). Disney go-to Robert Stevenson directed; it runs 87 minutes. Don’t bother. We do miss Annette, though. She sings the bouncy-cute title tune backed up by The Beach Boys: it’s got an undeniable silly charm.
#10 MRS. SOFFEL—-–Movie Awful. Crushing girl meets convict boredom from 1984 has Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson in one of the lamest movies in either of their careers. The story is fact-based: in 1901 Pittsburgh, the wife of a prison warden takes it upon herself to charitably visit the interned. She falls for one of two brothers, convicted murderers, and eventually joins in an escape. Whatever scandal-headline drama the truth may have held is bludgeoned from the sluggish pace set by director Gillian Armstrong, the aching solemnity of the performing and the brown & grey visual look, so gloomy you need to be part-bat to appreciate it. Tanking, it earned only $4,385,000, sleepwalking into spot #119 for the year. With Matthew Modine (wasted), Edward Herrmann (stodgy), Trini Alvardo, Terry O’Quinn, Harley Cross and Maury Chaykin. 112 dreary minutes. Watch ice melt instead.