Posts Tagged ‘Lloyd Bochner’

Dunwich_Horror

Next up in our mini-round-up (we’ve got one more to go) of films based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft in honor of his 125th birthday we come to 1970’s The Dunwich Horror, a reasonably faithful take on its “source material” filtered through a distinctly late-’60s/early-’70s psychedelic lens that hard-core Lovecraft fans might view as little more than a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the original story but that nevertheless manages to capture at least some small frisson of New England Gothic horror in between all the dated (but in a fun way, I assure you) trappings and references.

A lot of that is down to the superbly OTT creepy job Dean Stockwell does as Wilbur Whateley, the villain of the piece — we all know he’s the master of cut-rate disturbed characters, and he’s certainly in fine form here, chewing up the entire screen whether he’s positioned in long range from the camera or staring right the fuck into it with his narrow-but-somehow-still-beady eyes. Modern audiences aren’t likely to take him as much of a serious “threat,” of course, but so what? This is a guy who knows his gig and does it well, never moreso than here. He’s worth the price of admission (which these days is free, given that this flick is streaming on Netflix — it’s also available on DVD from MGM should you wish to go that route) alone, and if you can’t have any fun watching him work his “occult lothario” bit, well — maybe you just can’t have any fun, period.

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This Roger Corman production isn’t simply a one-man show, however, and the rest of the cast do a pretty nice job with the admittedly limited jobs they’re tasked to perform, as well, whether we’re talking about Sandra Dee as mesmerized college girl Nancy Wagner, Donna Baccala as concerned best friend Elizabeth, Ed Begley (Sr.) as professor of ancient lore Dr. Armitage ( the only guy who might be able to piece together why Wilbur has taken Nacy under his wing), Lloyd Bochner as kindly country doctor Cory (who apparently has no concept of doctor-patient confidentiality, but whatever), or Sam Jaffe as Wilbur’s ailing grandfather, everybody comes up trumps. And be on the lookout for a pre-The Godfather and Rocky Talia Shire (credited here under her actual last name of, as I’m sure you already know, Coppola) as Dr. Cory’s nurse.

Oh, and since playing the game of “scanning the credits for names before they became famous” is a key component of any Corman movie, it’s probably worth noting that future “A-list” director Curtis Hanson (of L.A. Confidential and The Wonder Boys fame) is among the gaggle of screenwriters whose job it was to bring Lovecraft’s other-worldly vision in line with his paymaster’s always-slim budget. I’m sure he did what he could.

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The same can also be said for director Daniel Haller — yeah, the Cthulhu monster looks like something out of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, and the dialogue can get a bit clunky and expository, and we won’t even talk about the thoroughly unconvincing “thunderstorm” at the end, but in addition to coaxing some fine (if occasionally  camp) performances from his cast, Haller’s film also has some genuinely impressive set designs and does a splendid job of capturing the “town trapped in time” setting that the story requires to be (admittedly only partially) successful. All in all, it’s a job well done from a guy who probably couldn’t even be too sure that his paycheck would clear the bank.

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Obviously, The Dunwich Horror is far from a masterpiece, but given who was backing the project, that was never in the cards, anyway. All you can ask of some films is that they do more or less the best  they can with what they’ve got, and measured by that scale, Haller and company deserve, as Roger Ebert would have said, a fairly enthusiastic “thumbs up.” The entire production feels more like a 90-minute episode of Night Gallery than anything else, I suppose,  but around these parts that’s definitely a compliment.

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Truth, my friends, is always stranger than fiction. Case in point : the movie under our metaphorical microscope today, 1979’s Mr. No Legs (also released under the slightly more verbose title of The Amazing Mr. No Legs), a rather standard issue cops-vs.-the mob “thriller” that just happens to feature a tough-guy “enforcer” type who’s a paraplegic,  was the one and only feature film directorial effort for one Ricou Browning, the guy who probably had the single weirdest/most-varied career in Hollywood history.

Who was he, you rightly ask? Browning was a former champion swimmer who went on to co-ordinate underwater stunt work for TV shows like Flipper (which is where he presumably met this flick’s screenwriter, Jack Cowden, since he’s the guy who created that series) and several of the James Bond films, and oh — along the way he also found time to “star” as the guy in the rubber suit himself in Creature From The Black Lagoon and its various and sundry sequels. You just can’t make a path that convoluted up.

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I gotta be honest, though — out of the water, our guy Ricou struggles a bit. It’s not that the Tampa, Florida-filmed Mr. No Legs doesn’t have a nifty premise — obviously, it does — it’s just that it’s criminally under-utilized. Oh, sure, our titular legless one, a low-level thug named Lou (played  by one Ted Vollrath), has a kick-ass wheelchair fitted with a couple of shotguns for arms, and yeah, he’s allowed one memorable scene where he gets to show off some Crippled Masters-style martial arts (after getting out of the hot tub he’s sharing with his “mob moll”-type squeeze), but he’s really just a side character in his own movie, with most of the (decidedly slow-burn) action here cnetering on a ticking-time-bomb cop named Andy (portrayed with minimal zeal and effort by Ron Slinker,  who really should have waited about a decade to show up for work so Mel Gibson could show him how it was done in the first Lethal Weapon flick), who’s pissed off because his sister was accidentally killed by her semi-connected dope-pusher boyfriend that she was in the process of walking out on before meeting her demise in the least-convincingly-staged domestic violence scene in movie history (she literally falls backwards limply and next thing you know we see that her head has smashed through a TV that wasn’t even in the path of her fall). Said boyfriend is then disposed of by Lou and his sidekick who also administer a lethal does of heroin into the dead woman’s corpse in order to make it look like she OD’d on her old man’s junk.

All of this is done at the behest of local mob boss D’Angelo (Lloyd Bochner, who always seemed to get saddled with similar parts), but Lou is tired of the lack of respect his paymaster is giving him and sets about trying to assume control of “the operation” himself — which would make for a pretty decent little subplot, I suppose, if Browning and Cowden decided to pay much attention to it.  Instead, though,  we’re saddled with what amounts to a pretty dull police procedural as Andy and his new partner, the straight-laced Chuck (Richard Jaeckel,  of Dirty Dozen fame), under the watchful eye of their captain (B-movie legend John Agar),  endeavor to find out who offed bright,promising kid sister and her junk-slingin’ woulda-been-ex-had-she-lived. That investigation will eventually put them on a collision course with Lou and D’Angelo, of course, since they’re both higher up on the drug biz “food chain,” but damn if it’s not a bit of a drag getting from Point A to Point B in this one, even if the line is a fairly straight one.

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There are definitely some nice period touches here and there — Andy sitting in a cocktail lounge and enjoying the mellow sounds of “that million-selling record group, the fantastic Mercy” (think of Tony Orlando and Dawn only with just one chick and a dude singer with a weight problem) definitely being one of them, as is the “love” scene a minute later at the pad of Andy’s “exotic foreign girlfriend,” who’s evidently earned enough money as a hostess at the club to buy a fucking mansion covered in thick shag carpet — but they’re few and far between, as is any actual action.

Still, the all-time classic exploitation “hook” here can’t be denied, despite the film’s slow-as-molasses pace and Browning’s uninspired, “point-and-shoot” directorial “style,” and the promise of actually being able to see Mr. No Legs do his thing was enough to keep this armchair critic reasonably involved in the proceedings. The pay-offs for the investment of my time and attention may have been few and far between, to be sure, but they were generally worth it, since Vollrath manages, as you’d expect, to steal every scene he’s in.

I just can’t for the life of me figure out why they didn’t try to work him into the script more — after all, he’s the guy you’re paying to see, and his shit attitude, constant sneering, and seeming embrace of his handicap show that the filmmakers were determined to broaden his character beyond the usual “freak show” appeal. Why they don’t go “all the way” and turn the movie over to him entirely is mystery lost to time, I guess, but it’s definitely a wasted opportunity.

Mr. No Legs is, to date, only available on VHS for those “old school”-types who like to have a physical copy of the movie they’re watching, but if you’re cool with doing things electronically, you can check it out at the YouTube link below. It coulda/woulda/shoulda been so much more awesome than it is, but it’s nice to see Vollrath get at least a few scenes to prove that you don’t need legs when you’ve got balls.