I didn’t have any big plans for The Stop Button in 2018 other than blogathons and whatever came up. Comics Fondle I was reading all of Love and Rockets, which took more than 2018. But Stop Button… well, marathon training. It was going to take up a lot of time.
Of the 157 feature films… the three best films I watched were Seven Samurai, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Best Years of Our Lives. I’d seen all those films before (though it’d been a long time on each of them); the best films I saw for the first time were Get Out, Frances Ha, Sunset Blvd., Only Angels Have Wings, and Jour de fête. No order on any of these lists.
However, when it comes to the worst films I watched this year? I’ll give it to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which I truly loathed, Great Monster Varan, which broke the cardinal rule of kaiju–it was boring–and The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I remembered from childhood and felt great shame. Not for the “Incredible Hulk” TV show, but for that first TV movie. I haven’t been able bring myself to watch the other two yet.
Speaking of superheroes… most of the recent movies I watched were comic book movies. Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Thor 3, Ant-Man 2, Avengers 4, Venom, Aquaman, (ugh) Guardians 2, also Darkman, which I’d watched since starting the blog for the Alan Smithee Podcast but never written about. And the long-anticipated Superman: The Movie: The Extended Version, which is a mess but rather informative about how narrative editing works for a film. Also the second “Hulk” TV pilot movie. Oh, and two Superman serials, one Dick Tracy one, one Batman one.
Best comic book movies I watched were Black Panther and Avengers 4.
Sequels I watched a bunch. Five total Puppetmaster movies (one and the four sequels). Westworld and Futureworld. Star Wars: Episode 8. Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (the first Leone Western I’ve written about). Mission: Impossible 6 and 5. Magic Mike 2 (haven’t seen the first). Die Hard 3 (after meaning to watch it again for, you know, a decade). Creed II (it might be the only Stallone movie on the blog this year, which is something). And then some Halloween movies. I watched the Joe Chappelle travesty again, then the crappy Rob Zombie ones in their theatrical cuts for the Sum Up post I really didn’t want to do. After seeing H40, I decided to scrap that post. Not worth editing, even though I had it fully drafted. That one killed Sum Up enthusiasm even more than Godzilla Showa.
Then there were the sequel serials. The aforementioned Batman and Superman ones. Also Flash Gordon 2. I also watched Judex, which is actually good (the first actually good serial I’d seen in ages), The Clutching Hand, which was godawful and stopped me watching serials, The Phantom Creeps, which was godawful but no Clutching Hand, and Dick Tracy, which was godawful but no Phantom Creeps. When I tried to keep the interest with Flash Gordon 2 and it disappointed… well. I can’t do the serials for a while. I think I might have watched the first chapter of The Shadow and not even posted it because the serial was such a noodle.
As usual, there was more horror than one would think. The Puppetmaster series, House, DeepStar Six, Shadow of the Vampire, Stepford Wives, Babadook, Quiet Place, Let Me In, Sleepwalkers, The Descent, The Witch. Some major disappointments; I expected too much from House and Six though. Those two are on me. The biggest surprise was probably that one good Puppetmaster movie.
Foreign movies I didn’t watch anywhere near as many as I always mean to watch. Worse, the two Bergman’s disappointed (to various degrees)–AutumnSonata and Through a Glass Darkly. Aforementioned Jour de Fete was excellent. And Delicatessen held up. I’d been meaning to watch it again.
My highly anticipated first viewings not including the aforementioned “best of”) were Giant, Blade Runner 2, The Gay Falcon, The Other Side of the Wind, Lonelyhearts, The Cheap Detective, Sometimes a Great Notion, Quiet Place, The Witch, and–to some degree–All That Heaven Allows. Most disappointing is of course Other Side of the Wind, but worst is Gay Falcon.
Highly anticipated repeat viewings (also not including the aforementioned “best of”). Goodfellas, Delicatessen, Street Smart, Naked Alibi, Vivacious Lady, You Can’t Take It With You, Die Hard 3. Goodfellas was kind of a shock but also inevitable (whereas Naked Alibi and Street Smart were just inevitable). Vivacious Lady was a pleasant surprise.
Now, of those forty-four short films, the big focus was the “Peanuts” television specials. I managed to keep going on those ones even after it became clear it was going to be rough at times. I made the only video I made this year because of one. It’s Snoopy but Wicker Man, get it?
I also watched all of Cheryl Dunye’s early short films, which was awesome. Around twenty years after first reading about Dear Diary I finally saw it and, wow, no. The Edison Frankenstein is great though. I also finally finished up the forties Superman cartoons; most of them are bad. I’d been meaning to watch those cartoons since I started writing about shorts; they really weren’t worth the wait.
Best shorts are Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, Greetings from Africa, Meshes of the Afternoon, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? Almost in order of publication, which I should’ve been doing from the start for the best of lists. Next year.
I think the decade with most films written about is the fifties, which seems weird because I didn’t think at all about focusing on it. Just happened.
A month into 2019, it certainly seems like I’m going to keep going with blogathons to “schedule” Stop Button. I’ve got a bunch of short films I’m interested in but the only thing really connecting them is that interest. No scheduling themes for the foreseeable future, other than long form posts. Next month I’m doing an Eleanor Parker post about the Oscars. Then I think I’m alternating monthly between Stop Button and Comics Fondle.
The 2019 blogathon schedule has some movies I’m really looking forward to writing about finally: Primrose Path and Incredible Shrinking Man being the standouts so far. I remember loving both those films. Long ago.
And scheduling a weekly group movie night has lead to some long dreaded repeats (Unbreakable) but also excellent ones (Sugarland). Films I’ve already got scheduled I’m really looking forward to watching (or watching again)–Sorry To Bother You, Mighty Quinn, Crooklyn, To Die For, Lizzie, Duel.
Given I’m not training for a marathon again, I hope this summer I do something more focused–there’s a lot more Bergman in the box set, there’s Aki Kaurismäki, there’s still Buster Keaton (if just the shorts), there’s those restored Hal Hartleys, there’s plenty. There’s too much.
So I’m keeping my 2019 Stop Button ambitions just as low as 2018’s, only without the marathon excuse. But am confident I’ll see some good things. Maybe even Sixth Sense again, because I have to know.
Since 1954, Japan’s Toho Company Limited has made over thirty Godzilla films. There are three distinct eras of Toho Godzilla movies–the Showa, the Hensei, and the Millennium. Most of the films, at least during Showa era, got dubbed theatrical releases in the United States. If they didn’t get theatrical releases, they aired on television. What started as an intense, metaphorical rumination on the atom bomb–a giant radioactive lizard monster attacks Japan, brought to life by American nuclear testing–would become rubber monsters wrestling on sets of miniaturized Japanese countrysides. The fifteen Showa Godzilla films frequently had the same directors, screenwriters, technical crew, and cast members (always as different characters, with one exception). They had a single producer–Tanaka Tomoyuki–who came up with the idea for Godzilla while on a plane ride over the Bikini Atoll, where the Americans had recently tested A-bombs (and irradiated nearby Japanese fishers), imagining what could be lurking beneath the ocean’s surface.
The result was Godzilla, released in November 1954. Directed by Honda Ishirō, the film recounts the discovery of a giant monster and its eventual attack on Tokyo, causing mass destruction and civilian casualties. Takarada Akira plays the lead, a salvage captain who just happens to know government scientist Shimura Takashi (through his romance with Shimura’s daughter, Kōchi Momoko). Hirata Akihiko is the young scientist who holds the secret to destroying the monster and saving Japan, but he’s also jealous of Takarada’s romance with lifelong crush Kōchi.
Honda is able to increase the scale for the giant monster sequences while never losing track of the characters’ emotional realities. Kōchi and Takarada ground Godzilla, which is important given Hirata’s a little too histrionic as the third leg of their love triangle. Honda and the crew keep a deliberate narrative distance as the film recounts terror and tragedy. Outstanding production values–especially Tamai Masao’s photography and Ifukube Akira’s score.
The film was a massive hit with audiences but not so much with critics, who found its imagery and content exploitative. It’d take thirty years or so, but eventually Japanese film critics did positively reevaluate Godzilla. About a year and a half months after the film’s Japanese release, Jewell Enterprises adapted it for American audiences, with dubbed dialogue and new footage featuring Raymond Burr as the lead, an American reporter. That version, Godzilla, King of Monsters!, released in April 1956, helped establish the Godzilla franchise worldwide. A subtitled version of the Japanese original would be shown on the American film festival circuit in the early eighties, but with no home video release. For fifty years, Godzilla, King of Monsters! was the only version of the film readily available to English-speaking audiences.
In May 1955, just five and a half months after Godzilla’s late fall 1954 release, Toho unleashed Godzilla Raids Again. The original film wasn’t made with a sequel in mind, but the film’s popularity rushed one into production. In the cast, only Shimura Takashi returns, playing the same character (the only time a character would repeat between films). This time his scientist has less to explain–the new creature is just another Godzilla animal. And this Godzilla brings along an adversary–Anguirus. Koizumi Hiroshi and Chiaki Minoru play the fish-sighting pilots who happen across the giant monsters and get involved in some of the government’s response. Oda Motoyoshi directs.
Despite an eager lead performance from Koizumi and a strong introduction to the “new” Godzilla and Anguirus, Raids Again is a constant disappointment. The rest of the cast is middling at best, with Oda having little interest in directing the actors (or much else). The script is utterly lacking, the editing falls apart, as does the cinematography.
At least the special effects are solid.
The film was nearly as popular as the original Godzilla; it was Japan’s tenth highest grossing film of 1955. Initially, the American producers who bought the film rights had hoped to just reuse the monster footage while shooting a new, English language film around it. It was going to be called The Volcano Monsters; they were even going to shoot new giant monster footage with the original kaiju suits. That plan didn’t work out.
Instead, the eventual dubbed version, Gigantis the Fire Monster (Godzilla’s new name so as not to confuse American viewers who thought the monster died) came out in 1959–distributed by Warner Bros.–and then disappeared for almost thirty years. The American version’s producers weren’t interested in selling TV rights. Gigantis didn’t get any home video release until eighties, when the rights reverted to Toho.
Following Godzilla Raids Again’s 1955 release, Toho took a break from Godzilla films. At least in original films (Raids Again had completed its Japanese theatrical release before the American Godzilla even came out). During that time, Toho made other kaiju movies like Rodan, Varan, and Mothra. The studio also produced a number of sci-fi films with giant monsters (or giant robots) playing a part. It wasn’t until after Godzilla returned, Toho began working to unify many of their monsters into a “kaiju universe.”
The third Godzilla movie, 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, arrived seven years after Godzilla’s last appearance. It is the first in the series to be in color (it’s also Kong’s first color appearance) and widescreen Tohoscope. Honda Ishirō is back directing, with Sekizawa Shin’ichi scripting. The plot involves opportunistic TV producers, Takashima Tadao and Fujiki Yū, who want to exploit the monsters for advertising potential. In addition to Godzilla and Kong’s clashes, there’s also a giant octopus Kong has to fight. Hama Mie is the eventual female object of Kong’s (brief) attention. Back from the first Godzilla is Hirata Akihiko, again playing a scientist (this time one without much plot consequence).
King Kong vs. Godzilla declaws its monsters. There’s destruction but no casualties. Sekizawa’s script tries for humor–giving Hirata some good moments, but director Honda misses all the comedy beats. He also can’t compose for the wide Tohoscope aspect ratio, (presumably unintentionally) framing his shots for the eventual pan-and-scan version. The acting’s very uneven; while Takashima’s not good in the lead, Sahara Kenji’s solid as Hama’s boyfriend. And Arishima Ichirō, doing a Groucho Marx impression as Takashima’s boss, is all right.
Overall, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a giant-sized disappointment.
Contemporary Japanese moviegoers, however, embraced King Kong vs. Godzilla; the film was the biggest hit of 1962 and remained one of the ten most attended films in Japanese film history until 2008. It’s still in the top fifteen. The American version of the film–released in April 1963 by Universal Pictures–added dubbing, of course, but also stock footage from another Toho film, library music from a variety of sources, and altogether new footage; it’s a very different picture.
Kong vs. Godzilla’s outstanding success convinced Toho to turn Godzilla into a franchise. After a couple failed starts–including a Kong sequel and one where Godzilla would fight a giant Frankenstein monster–the studio settled on Mothra vs. Godzilla. Mothra–a giant moth charged with protecting a Japanese island populated with doll-sized natives–was one of the kaiju Toho created during Godzilla’s post-Raids Again hibernation. Mothra has the distinction of being one of the few kaiju with a definite gender; she was a she. Godzilla, for instance, had none. Anyway. Her solo movie had a 1961 release in Japan (and a 1962 one in the United States).
Mothra vs. Godzilla came out in April 1964, almost two years after Kong. Director Honda and screenwriter Sekizawa return from Kong vs. Godzilla (they had also done Mothra). Mothra vs. Godzilla is a sequel to both films. A giant Mothra egg washes up on shore; Takarada Akira (the lead from the first Godzilla) and Hoshi Yuriko play reporters covering the story. Then it turns out Godzilla has also been washed ashore, which inevitably leads to a kaiju battle. Sahara Kenji’s back from Kong as the human villain and Koizumi Hiroshi (from Raids Again) is Takarada’s scientist sidekick.
Mothra vs. Godzilla has some good special effects, some fine narrative twists, and a great final battle. Unfortunately, Takarada and Hoshi have zero chemistry. Sahara and his fellow villain, Fujiki Yû (also back from Kong), do bring some energy, however. Once again, one of the big problems is Honda; he relies on bad composite shots when trying to give Godzilla scale. He also doesn’t do anything to help his cast’s performances. It’s too bad; the movie always seems like it’s just about to get better.
Mothra vs. Godzilla was just under half the hit King Kong vs. Godzilla had been, but still very successful for Toho (who successfully rushed a sequel into production for a December release that same year). American International Pictures distributed the American version–entitled Godzilla vs. The Thing–which featured new footage the studio shot for the international market. It also utilized the Toho produced English dub, which the studio had started doing with King Kong vs. Godzilla (although that dubbing wasn’t used).
The December 1964 Godzilla movie–the only calendar year with two releases in the entire franchise–is Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, released in December. Honda and Sekizawa are back from Mothra to direct and write, respectively; some of that film’s principal cast returns as well. Hoshi Yuriko is again the female lead, Koizumi Hiroshi is again a scientist. The lead is Natsuki Yōsuke, a cop assigned to protect princess Wakabayashi Akiko. In his final Godzilla, Shimura Takashi returns as a scientist–not the one he played in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, however. Hirata Akihiko shows up again too.
Ghidorah, the Three-headed Monster is about a monster from outer space arriving to destroy Earth; Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan (returning from a 1956 solo outing) team up to save the day.
Ghidorah has similar problems to Mothra. Natsuki is a weak lead, but it’s not like he gets any help from Honda, who’s not good at the action scenes or the interior scenes or directing his cast. Hoshi’s good but underutilized. The best ideas in Sekizawa’s script–like Wakabayashi as doomsayer–don’t get developed. Almost half the movie is dedicated to the giant monsters wrestling each other, which doesn’t end up solving any of the narrative’s problems. Still, it’d probably have worked out better with more monster time.
Ghidorah was a hit, but six months after Mothra only seventy-five percent of that movie’s audience showed up for the sequel. The film had nine minutes lopped off for its dubbed, American release, which came out in the States almost a year later, courtesy Continental Distributing.
Almost a exactly a year later–one day short–Toho released 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster. It was a co-production with American producer Henry G. Saperstein, who wanted more aliens and an American actor for his investment, so Nick Adams has one of the lead roles. Otherwise, Astro-Monster brought back the standard sixties Godzilla creative team of director Honda and writer Sekizawa. Takarada Akira is again the hero, with Mizuno Kumi the villainous female lead. The film is set in the future, with Takarada and Adams astronauts exploring a newly discovered planet. Its inhabitants say they need Godzilla and Rodan to protect them from Ghidorah… but then it turns out the aliens aren’t friendly and have designs on Earth.
Despite good direction from Honda, who does well with the space stuff, the script’s a stinker. Plus the acting’s wanting. Takarada and Adams are both bad, Tsuchiya Yoshio’s awful as the villain. The monsters aren’t in it enough. Once again they don’t even show up until halfway through; this time Godzilla, pretty much completely transitioned into being a heroic monster at this point in the series, does a little boxing and some dancing. Sadly neither can save the film.
Astro-Monster was popular with Japanese audiences (though not as popular as the previous entry). Co-producer Saperstein had his own English dub done, eschewing the Toho-produced one. While the Godzilla franchise had been trendy enough in the U.S. for Ghidorah to get a big American marketing campaign, it took Saperstein four years (his version, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero was completed in 1966) to find a distributor–Maron Films finally released it theatrically in 1970.
For the next Godzilla, Toho would change up the creative formula a little, bringing in Fukuda Jun to direct December 1966’s Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Sekizawa Shin’ichi writes, with lead Takarada Akira back again. This time he’s a bank robber stowing away with some teenagers who stumble upon a terrorist organization (one of the leaders played by Hirata Akihiko no less) who’ve enslaved the people of Mothra’s home island… and then moved them to a different island. Also on the island is Godzilla. In the sea around the island is another monster–the titular Ebirah. Mizuno Kumi is also returns, making Ebirah the only Godzilla movie with consecutive male and female lead actors.
In terms of direction, Fukuda doesn’t bring much new to the giant monsters. Bad monster suits and cramped landscape sets don’t help. But Fukuda doesn’t do too bad with the James Bond-esque half of the film, with Takarada and his teen compatriots taking on Hirata’s flying terrorist squadron. It’d also help if the acting were better; Takarada (in his last Godzilla movie for twenty-six years) and Hirata both disappoint. The script’s also weak. Some great editing and music though.
Ebirah lost almost twenty percent of the previous film’s theatrical attendees; still a hit but it’d be the last Godzilla film before the series sunk to a lower attendance plateau. Continental Distributing bought the American distribution rights and released it straight to television in 1968 under the title, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. They used the Toho created English dub.
Fukuda returned to direct the next Godzilla, December 1967’s Son of Godzilla, with screenwriter Sekizawa also back (and getting his first ever co-writer–Shiba Kazue). Kubo Akira plays the lead, a reporter who ends up a cook for a group of scientists studying the weather on “Monster Island” (where Godzilla and the other monsters live). Lots of familiar Godzilla faces for the scientists–including series mainstay Hirata Akihiko, Tsuchiya Yoshio (Astro-Monster’s villain), Takashima Tadao (King Kong vs. Godzilla’s lead), and perennial supporting player Sahara Kenji. Beverly Maeda plays the female lead, an island native who goes from saving Kubo at every turn to being second-fiddle.
The film introduces some new kaiju, the adorable Minilla (the Son of Godzilla) and the giant insects who terrorize him when big daddy (or mommy) Godzilla isn’t around.
Despite Fukuda’s directorial ineptness and a herky-jerky pace, Son of Godzilla is something of a success. Kubo’s a good lead, even though Maeda should’ve had that role in the narrative. Maeda’s more appealing than good. The monster stuff is a success–Godzilla and son prove constantly endearing and the giant mantises and spider are great villains. Plus an enthusiastic, wild score from Satô Masaru. Fukuda doesn’t (always) mess up the good stuff–he does mean well–and the end is downright fantastic.
Contemporary Japanese moviegoer attendance had another sharp drop on Son of Godzilla. Toho had hoped to appeal to couples–girls would like the baby Godzilla, wouldn’t they–but if the film did get some date night viewings, they weren’t enough to curb declining interest. Continental Distributing again released the English dubbed version straight to TV, airing first in 1969 (with a couple minutes cut).
Toho had noticed the decreasing theatrical attendance and planned the next Godzilla to be the last. While most of the sixties films had two or three monsters alongside Godzilla, the next film, August 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, would have ten monsters in addition to Godzilla. Destroy brought back all the recent monsters–Minilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan–as well Anguirus (after thirteen years away) and some kaiju from not-Godzilla-related Toho productions. To direct the intended finale, Toho brought in Honda Ishirō.
Destroy All Monsters is set thirty years in the future, when all the monsters have been successfully rounded up and confined to the single, “Monster Island.” Unfortunately, a race of female aliens show up and mind control all the monsters, loosing them on the capital cities of Earth. The humans–led by spaceship commander Kubo Akira (back from Son of Godzilla)–have to contend with the rampaging monsters on Earth and the aliens’ base on the Moon.
The film proves a somewhat inglorious return to the series for Honda. He has some good filmmaking moments, but never any good content. The monsters play far less a part than Kubo and his crew trying to stop alien queen Ai Kyoko. The acting’s fine (not female lead Kobayashi Yukiko, but everyone else). And the Ifukube Akira music is great. Pluses aside, Destroy All Monsters is a tedious ninety minutes.
Despite all the monsters and a bigger budget, Destroy All Monsters attracted less than one percent more moviegoers than the previous year’s Son of Godzilla. The American version of the film did not utilize the Toho-produced international dub; American International Pictures, who released Destroy All Monsters in the United States in 1969, contracted Titan Productions for an English dub.
The less than one percent boost was enough to convince Toho to keep Godzilla going, albeit with some adjustment. For 1969’s Godzilla entry, Toho targeted their dedicated juvenile audience with All Monsters Attack. Most of the monster action in All Monsters Attack is stock footage from other Godzilla movies. The film is about bullied latchkey kid Yazaki Tomonori overcoming hardships thanks to his love of Godzilla and the imaginary friendship of Minilla (who appears alongside Yazaki, shrunk down to kid-size) and becoming more popular with the schoolkids, as well as foiling bank robbers. While the subject matter is nothing like any previous Godzilla movies, the script’s from regular writer Sekizawa Shin’ichi, directed by Honda Ishirō and series (supporting) regular Sahara Kenji plays Yazaki’s dad.
All Monsters Attack has some potential, thanks to director Honda, but Sekizawa’s script is way too flat. Yazaki is bad. And then when Minilla shows up, the movie veers into some weird territory about manliness as Minilla has a female voice (because of course the monster talks to Yazaki). Toho does a fine job at making a commercial for its own properties, but Monsters is aimed at kids who are already invested; it doesn’t encourage new interest.
Attendance for All Monsters Attack dropped forty percent from Destroy All Monsters, which Toho bean counters presumably realized said more about All Monsters Attack than Destroy All Monsters; it has the inglorious distinction of being the first Godzilla film to sell under two million tickets. In 1971, Maron Films distributed the dubbed version in the United States as Godzilla’s Revenge, a title just as unrelated to the content as All Monsters Attack.
It would be a year and a half before the next Godzilla film. Toho released Godzilla vs. Hedorah in July 1971. Hedorah brought a new director to the franchise–Banno Yoshimitsu. Hedorah is about a microscopic alien life-form melding with Earth’s pollution and becoming a giant monster. Seven year-old Kawase Hiroyuki plays a scientist’s son who has visions of Godzilla defending Earth from Hedorah. Yamauchi Akira and Kimura Toshie play his parents.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah is the first serious Godzilla movie since the first one, with Banno making an admonitory statement about the dangers of pollution. Just in a Godzilla movie. More, Banno is ambitious in Hedorah‘s narrative presentation; he wants the film interpreted very specifically. Even with the tough subject matter–and graphic, from Yamauchi’s opening disfiguring to Hedorah flinging toxic poop at Godzilla–Banno’s enthusiastic. The Hedorah suit is bad, but the special effects are otherwise quite good. It’s a fine film.
While not a huge hit on release, Hedorah did arrest the decline in franchise attendance. Hedorah even saw an eighteen percent increase in moviegoers. It also either enraged producer Tanaka (who either was or was not hospitalized during production) so much he fired Banno and banned him from Godzilla movies. Or it didn’t. Banno denied rumors of the conflict (as well as his rumored sequel plans for Hedorah). However, Banno never came back for another Godzilla and co-writer Kimura Takeshi did take a pseudonym on the script. The American version, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, came out in 1972, with American International Pictures once again hiring Titan Productions to do an English dub.
Given the troubled (or not troubled) Hedorah production, Toho returned to a more regular form with the next Godzilla movie, 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. Fukuda Jun, the only series director besides Honda Ishirō to direct more than one entry, returned. Sekizawa Shin’ichi was back on script. The monster costars are a mix of old and new–Ghidorah and Anguirus regulars, Gigan new. The story once again involves evil aliens, who this time take over a theme park and plot the annihilation of the human race. Luckily, Godzilla and eclectic hodgepodge of humans (including a mangaka… and a hippie) save the day. None of Gigan‘s principals appear in any other Godzilla films; a franchise singularity.
Godzilla vs. Gigan is a silly, strange, wonderful bit of giant monster movie. The human story isn’t important, the monsters battling it out is important. The film’s achievements are in the choreography and execution of these kaiju battles on the sound stage, filming them, cutting them together. Gigan makes heavy use of old footage, which doesn’t help the film, but it mostly works out. The human stuff is fine too, just not the point.
Toho bringing back an experienced Godzilla crew resulted in a whopping two and a half percent increase in moviegoers. In the United States, Cinema Shares released Gigan as Godzilla on Monster Island in 1977, utilizing the Toho English dub–with some slight cuts to get a G rating.
Fukuda would return for the next film, Godzilla vs. Megalon, released just over a year later in March 1973. The underwater kingdom of Seatopia looses giant monster, Megalon, to wreck havoc on the surface world. It’s up to Godzilla and super-robot Jet Jaguar (who originally was going to solo a movie) to save the Earth. Sasaki Katsuhiko plays Jet Jaguar’s inventor, with Kawase Hiroyuki (back from Hedorah) as his little brother. Notably Megalon has no female characters (outside some dancers in Seatopia) and an American, Robert Dunham, playing the villain.
Once again, Fukuda delivers a successful giant monster movie. The three humans–there’s apparently no one else in Japan at this point except them–are appealing. Technically, Megalon is solid too. Fukuda and his crew do good work on both giant monster battles and the human stuff, which works out to be an espionage thriller. The film does well casting Godzilla as a tough guy. A good guy, but a tough good guy. It’s important since Jet Jaguar is a wimp. Megalon’s a lot of well-executed fun.
The film was a new series low as far as attendance, the first time a Godzilla movie dipped below a million moviegoers; attendance dropped fifty-five percent from Gigan. In 1976, Cinema Shares released the Toho-produced English dub version of the film in the United States, cutting out a few minutes to secure a G-rating. It would go on to get a prime time showing in the United States on NBC, cut down to a fit a one hour time slot. John Belushi, dressed in a Godzilla suit, hosted its 1977 broadcast.
The next Godzilla, March 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, would be Fukuda Jun’s last. The film opens with lead Daimon Masaaki–back from Megalon–discovering an Okinawan prophecy about two monsters stopping a third from destroying the world. Soon after, Godzilla emerges and starts wrecking havoc. Turns out bad Godzilla is actually a robot–Mechagodzilla–creation of the evil, apelike aliens from the Third Planet of the Black Hole. The real Godzilla arrives to save the day, aided by King Caesar, an Okinawan mythological creature. Mutsumi Goro plays the leader of the aliens. The film would also be the first seventies Godzilla to have some of the series’ most familiar faces back–Sahara Kenji, Koizumi Hiroshi, and Hirata Akihiko all have parts.
The film is nearly a success. Fukuda does well throughout, only for the finale to completely fall apart. Even with the well-executed giant monster stuff, Fukuda (as director and screenwriter) doesn’t have the human story to accompany it. Enthusiastic performances, inventive editing–Fukuda and editor Ikeda Michiko do wonders with expressions–Mechagodzilla just can’t overcome the disastrous third act. It’s a big disappointment after Fukuda’s two (successful) previous entries.
Contemporary audiences were ready to give Godzilla another chance. While attendance didn’t to back to the higher levels, or even meet Gigan’s numbers, it did significantly bounce back–thirty-five percent more theatergoers than showed up for Megalon. The American release came again from Cinema Shares, who again had to cut out a few minutes from the Toho-produced English dub to secure the G rating. Cinema Shares initially retitled the film Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster, but Universal Television threatened to sue (“bionic” was their word for the “The Bionic Woman” television show); so Bionic Monster became Cosmic Monster.
The following March, both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla returned in Terror of Mechagodzilla. Also back are Hirata Akihiko, Mutsumi Goro, and Sahara Kenji. Sahara has another bit part, while Mutsumi plays the exact same part–alien leader–but a different character. Hirata is also a different character; this time a mad scientist who keeps an evil pet dinosaur–Titanosaurus–and helps the aliens rebuild Mechagodzilla to destroy mankind. Sasaki Katsuhiko plays the lead; he’s investigating Titanosaurus and falling in love with Hirata’s daughter, Ai Tomoko. She’s a cyborg occasionally controlled by the evil aliens. Godzilla manages to figure into the story too. Honda Ishirō directs.
Terror of Mechagodzilla is mostly bad. Honda doesn’t direct the giant monster stuff well. The monster battles are unimpressive. So is the human story. Hirata is bad. Sasaki is bad. Ai is better than she ought to be, given the material. There’s a lot of absurdly silly content done straight-faced because Honda has no self-awareness and even less of a sense of humor. If Terror were camp, it might be glorious. Instead, it flops; albeit with some solid technical efforts (none of them Honda’s).
Not only did Terror of Mechagodzilla lose all the attendance gains of the first Mechagodzilla, it lost a little bit more to be the lowest attended Godzilla movie to that point (and, as of 2018, ever). Unlike the previous three films, Cinema Shares did not release Terror in the United States. Instead Henry G. Saperstein acquired the distribution rights for the Toho-produced English dub. Saperstein then sold the theatrical rights to Bob Conn Enterprises, which released the film as The Terror of Godzilla three years after its Japanese release, in March 1978. The film needed severe editing to get a G-rating. After that theatrical release, Saperstein prepared a television version, reversing most of the film’s cuts and inserting a prologue introducing Godzilla (made up with stock footage from the other Godzilla films). That television version kept the title Terror of Mechagodzilla.
While Toho never officially gave up on Godzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla would be the last in the Showa series of Godzilla films. Twenty-one years after they started the series, director Honda and actor Hirata participated in its impromptu conclusion. Of the fifteen Showa films, Honda directed eight. Hirata appeared in seven. Both Takarada Akira and Koizumi Hiroshi starred in four. Always supporting player Sahara Kenji was in nine. Most of the crew did multiple films–Sekizawa Shin’ichi wrote eight films and contributed stories for two more. The series, which started with the one kaiju–Godzilla–introduced another fifteen monsters (as well as providing other Toho kaiju film appearances after their solo entries). The series sold over sixty-seven million movie tickets in those first twenty-one years, with some of the films still Japanese box office record holders.
In the years after the last Showa film, Godzilla stayed in the public consciousness on both sides of the Pacific. The last four Showa films didn’t start releasing in the United States until 1976, a year after the series’s de facto conclusion; it was 1978 before Terror of Mechagodzilla finally got a release.
But even before that release, Godzilla movies would start appearing on home video in Japan, the United States, and the rest of the world. First on Betamax, then on VHS; LaserDisc would soon follow, then DVD and Blu-ray a couple decades later. While Toho released the entire series on a variety of home video formats–Beta, VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray–none of their releases have ever had English subtitles. In fact, Toho went out of their way to block subtitled releases of the Godzilla films for the franchise’s first fifty years (which lead to a pervasive bootleg market throughout the 1990s at American comic book conventions).
Starting in 2005, Toho finally began allowing English subtitles to accompany original Japanese audio. Classic Media, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Media Blasters (through their Tokyo Shock label) released DVDs featuring both versions of the films, the original Japanese and the dubbed Americanized ones. Some of the original DVDs have gone out of print, with rereleases coming from Kraken Releasing and the Criterion Collection. Criterion is even preparing for a major release of the Showa Godzilla films on DVD and Blu-ray; they currently offer a number of the films streaming.
The single film without an original Japanese language release? 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. Even with DVD and Blu-ray releases, the English dubbed version is the only one available to non-Japanese speaking audiences.
Over twenty-one years and fifteen movies, Godzilla went from being a force of malevolent destruction to the planet Earth’s guardian. The monster had a kid, had a clone, made friends, fought aliens; Godzilla created an entire genre–the Japanese giant monster movie–the kaiju movie. When Godzilla walked into the Sea of Japan at the end of Terror of Mechagodzilla (as the monster had at the end of many of the movies–if not most of them), it was the start of an unexpected–and temporary–retirement. And Godzilla would return from that retirement a very different monster.
When she starred in Eye of the Cat, Eleanor Parker had been in more than forty theatrical films. She was forty-seven years old. She had just been in the biggest movie of all time–1965’s The Sound of Music. When Eye of the Cat came out in June 1969, Sound of Music was still playing in theaters in its original, four and a half year theatrical run. Eye of the Cat would Parker’s last theatrical release for ten years. With the exception, of course, of The Sound of Music, which got a rerelease in 1973.
After Cat, Parker had committed to her first regular role on a television series, “Bracken’s World.” She’d quit halfway through the first season, but still got a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Drama Actress.
But she’d never play another lead. She was forty-seven. Hollywood had no use for a forty-seven year-old female lead; not even the TV side. Parker returned to the theater, where there were better parts, and she started regularly appearing in TV movies. At least at the beginning of the seventies.
Parker had two television movie appearances in 1971; first was ABC’s Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, which stars Sally Field as a teenage runaway who returns home. Parker plays Mom, Jackie Cooper is Dad, Lane Bradbury is Field’s younger sister. Meanwhile, Field’s old man (David Carradine) is traveling cross-country to rescue her from her parents’ square, suburban–functionally alcoholic and dysfunctional–household. Turns out Bradbury is showing all the pre-runaway signs, something Field can’t convince her parents. Joseph Sargent directs.
Although a little short–seventy-four minutes–and it takes Sargent a while to get comfortable with the television framing on his establishing shots, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring is a spectacularly acted “family in crisis” drama. Sargent and writer Bruce Feldman use flashback to reveal Field’s story, juxtaposed against Bradbury in the present. Great parts for Cooper and Parker. They start the film, with Field coming into it gradually; Field’s excellent, assuming the protagonist role through her performance alone; she gets little help from Feldman’s teleplay.
Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring first aired in February and ABC reran it before the end of the year. It aired every few years for at least a decade. The film was a budget VHS mainstay–the first EP edition arrived in 1991–and it’s been on DVD, from one label or another, since 2001. Spring is now available streaming as well.
A few weeks after Maybe aired, Parker was on television screens again, appearing in the first “two part TV movie” (they weren’t called miniseries yet). Vanished aired on NBC in March, with Richard Widmark top-lining as the President of the United States. It was his first TV venture. Scientist and presidential pal Arthur Hill disappears. Then other scientists worldwide start disappearing. Is it a Soviet plot? Parker plays Hill’s wife, who gets investigated by FBI agent Robert Hooks and his roommate, White House press secretary James Farentino. Vanished has twelve major starring credits; in addition to Parker, Widmark, Hooks, and Farentino, there are Tom Bosley, Murray Hamilton, E.G. Marshall, Larry Hagman, Skye Aubrey, Robert Young, and William Shatner. Then there are all the supporting players. Huge cast. Buzz Kulik–reuniting with Parker from 1967’s TV movie turned theatrical release, Warning Shot–directs from a teleplay by Dean Riesner.
Vanished is a tedious three hours and ten minutes. The cast enters and exits as needed–Hooks goes from playing a major part to a nothing one, Parker ends up disappearing as completely as Hill, Widmark is scenery for the first half and then takes over the last quarter. The movie’s got a lot of moving parts and Kulik keeps them functioning. It just never gels into anything. The reveals are never good enough to excuse the cheap, sensational teases.
Despite a snide, dismissive review from John J. O’Connor in The New York Times, Vanished went on to get Emmy nominations for Widmark and Young. The movie, in its two parts, got rerun occasionally over the years, sometimes in the middle of the night, more recently on cable television. It’s never had any home video releases. There’s seemingly no notoriety in being the first two-night television movie.
It would be a year and a half before Parker appeared in anything again. In early November 1972, she starred in an episode of NBC’s horror anthology “Circle of Fear,” Half a Death. She plays mom to Pamela Franklin, who plays twins. One twin is haunting the other. The series is out on DVD from Warner Archive; it’s Parker’s only TV series appearance until 1978. She’d stick with TV movies until then (with a sort of exception).
TV movies such as Home for the Holidays, which aired on ABC just a few weeks after her episode of “Circle of Fear.”
Home for the Holidays has a spectacular cast; in addition to Parker, there’s Jessica Walter, Sally Field (playing Parker’s younger sister this time), Julie Harris, and Walter Brennan. Brennan is the cranky, rich, sickly dad. Walter, Field, Parker, and Jill Howarth plays his daughters. Harris is his new wife (and the prime suspect in the sisters’ mother’s death). There’s a lot of unpleasant backstory to the sisters, who reunite on Christmas Eve at Brennan’s request. And then they have to deal with a mad killer. John Llewellyn Moxey directs from an original Joseph Stefano script. Stefano wrote Parker’s last horror movie (and, at this point, last theatrical film), Eye of the Cat.
The movie’s fairly successful. Most of the acting is excellent, particularly Harris, Walter, and Parker. Field holds her own. Haworth doesn’t. Brennan is barely in it. Moxey relies way too much on zooming his shots, but otherwise he directs the movie pretty well. There’s a great chase sequence. Stefano’s script is thin; the actors gets the movie to the finish line. The end–featuring the big reveal–is problematic. Zooming does play a part.
Holidays didn’t make any critical waves–Howard Thompson dismissed it in the New York Times, definitely not a fan of the “ABC Movie of the Week” thrillers. It had its first VHS release in the late eighties, then another, budget (i.e. EP) release in the early nineties. It’s also been released on DVD–by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment–but only in their horror movie compilation sets, which they don’t market or index well. The only way to spot a Home for the Holidays inclusion is to read the back cover; a time consuming process seeing as how Echo Bridge has dozens of horror compilations. It also appears to be out of print.
Parker’s next TV movie was again for ABC. The Great American Beauty Contest aired in March 1973, starring Parker as a former winner, now hostess. Robert Cummings plays her sidekick. Louis Jordan is one of the judges (a scummy, blackmailing one). JoAnna Cameron, Farrah Fawcett, Tracy Reed, Kathrine Baumann, and Susan Damante play the main contestants. At least the ones Stanford Whitmore’s teleplay showcases. It’s a behind-the-scenes story of the contest. Robert Day directs. Contest is an Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg production; they also produced Home for the Holidays.
While Parker’s all right–and even manages to get a decent character arc in Whitmore’s jerkily paced script–Great American Beauty Contest is pretty bad. Day’s direction is bad, Whitmore’s writing is bad. Cummings provides okay support for Parker and Jordan’s a great villain. None of the actors playing the contestants give notable performances. Reed and Baumann are better than the rest. Damante is worst. Fawcett’s little better than Damante. Still, somehow–probably thanks to Jordan’s odiousness–Contest stays engaging. Or maybe it’s just agitation from dreading a Fawcett or Damante win.
The Great American Beauty Contest got a not terrible write-up from Howard Thompson at The New York Times when it aired. He liked Whitmore’s writing. And Fawcett’s performance. The movie has rerun occasionally over the years but, Fawcett or not, it’s never had a VHS release or a DVD one.
Parker didn’t have any 1974 acting credits, at least not film or television, and when she returned in 1975, she was once again going to try series television. She starred in a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner sitcom pilot, taking over the Katharine Hepburn role from the film. Richard Dysart plays the Spencer Tracy part, Bill Overton the Sidney Poitier, and Leslie Charleson the Katharine Houghton part. Madge Sinclair and Madge Sinclair played Overton’s parents. The sitcom would have dealt with the turmoil related to Overton and Charleson’s interracial marriage, if ABC had picked it up. They did not, however; the pilot only aired once in July 1975. ABC apparently had cold feet over the interracial kissing, which should’ve been an obvious result of an interracial marriage. The pilot’s never had a home video release of any kind.
Following Guess Who, Parker took 1976 off from filmed work. In 1977, she resumed guest starring on regular television series. That year she appeared on “Hawaii Five-O” and the first episode of “Fantasy Island.” Parker would do two more appearances on “Fantasy Island,” one in 1979, another in 1983. She also did “Love Boat” in 1979, then an episode of “Vega$” in 1980.
Amid those guest spots, Parker did a couple more TV movies, a pilot, a miniseries, and her final theatrical appearance.
The Bastard is the miniseries, a big budget adaptation of John Jakes’s novel; it aired on NBC in May 1978. Parker is one of the twenty-one credited stars. Andrew Stevens plays the lead, a French bastard who comes to the Colonies and ends up an instrumental figure in the Revolutionary War. Lee H. Katzin directs. William Shatner plays Paul Revere. Parker plays Stevens’s father’s widow, a duchess. She doesn’t want to let him have his inheritance. Patricia Neal plays his mother. Neal and Parker, reunited thirty-eight years after Three Secrets, are in scenes together (but only share the screen in long shot). Keenan Wynn, who appeared with Parker in A Hole in the Head but never alongside her, is another of The Bastard’s twenty-one stars. They again don’t share any scenes. And Tom Bosley. He was in Vanished. He’s Ben Franklin.
Could The Bastard be worse? Sure. It’s a relentlessly simple period piece, with Southern California not just standing in for the American East Coast, but Britain and France as well. Parker’s cameo is good. Neal’s part isn’t. Stevens is annoying–though he gets better for a while during the second half. Katzin’s direction is bad. Guerdon Trueblood’s script is bad. The bit parts for seventies television actors amuses a little (I mean, Bob Newhart‘s Peter Bonerz in a costume drama is something else). But it’s bad.
While The Bastard didn’t get glowing reviews, it was well-regarded enough to get a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Movie and a couple art direction Emmy nominations. And sufficient viewers to warrant watched NBC going ahead and finishing the adaptations of Jakes’s the series–The Kent Chronicles–with two two-night sequels. Parker didn’t return for either of them. The Bastard had a VHS release in the nineties from Universal, along with its two sequels. Acorn Media has put all three out in a Kent Chronicles DVD set.
In August 1979, Parker would make her final theatrical appearance in Sunburn, a Farrah Fawcett vehicle. The film stars Charles Grodin as an insurance investigator who goes down to Acapulco to investigate a claim. Fawcett’s the model he hires to be his pretend girlfriend (so no one knows he’s an insurance investigator). Art Carney plays Grodin’s sidekick. There’s an assortment of suspects, including Joan Collins (who’d also been in Warning Shot, the aforementioned 1967 Buzz Kulik film Parker costarred in), John Hillerman, William Daniels, even Keenan Wynn. No, Parker still doesn’t get a scene with Wynn (after Hole in the Head and Bastard). Parker doesn’t even get a speaking close-up. She’s usually in some kind of long shot. Richard C. Sarafian directs for Paramount.
Sunburn has a lot of problems, like Sarafian’s direction. He can’t do any of the things Sunburn wants to do like being a noir spoof. Most of the cameos are too thin. Fawcett’s a reasonably affable star in her (second) star vehicle. Grodin goes all out with a caricature of himself. Joan Collins is awesome. If it were made better–it’s not just Sarafian, the film’s a technical turkey–and written a little better, there might be something to Sunburn. But it could also be a whole lot worse.
The film got a tepid endorsement from Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Maslin found it was an improvement over Fawcett’s previous post-“Charlie’s Angels” vehicle, but didn’t care for Collins in particular. Audiences didn’t care for the film in general and it quickly bombed. Parker apparently only did the cameo because Sunburn was filming near her Palm Springs home. It had a VHS release in 1980 from Paramount and has been absent home video since then, save a Japanese DVD release.
Parker was back to TV a few months later. Her next TV movie, She’s Dressed to Kill, aired on NBC in December. Parker plays a drunken fashion designer declining in affluence who mentally abuses her models. John Rubinstein is the lead, a photographer who gets caught up with a murder mystery after Parker invites a bunch of people out to her private mountain to show her new line. Jessica Walter (who appeared in Home for the Holidays with Parker) plays Rubinstein’s boss. Connie Sellecca is one of the models, Gretchen Corbett is the “plain girl” Rubinstein romances. Gus Trikonis directs from a George Lefferts teleplay.
She’s Dressed to Kill is a diverting ninety minute thriller, plus commercials. Parker’s great, chowing down on all available scenery, and Walter’s excellent. Shame Walter’s barely in the movie. Rubinstein’s an okay lead, Corbett’s good, Sellecca’s bad. The writing never helps the actors. And the movie ditches characters too often (i.e. Walter). Better direction from Trikonis wouldn’t hurt either. But it’s far from bad.
For repeat airings, the movie sometimes got retitled, Someone’s Killing the World’s Greatest Models, but it was always She’s Dressed to Kill for home video. USA Home Video first put it out on VHS in the eighties and it had at least two releases; one giving Parker top-billing. It came out on DVD in 2008–a “grey” market release.
It was almost a year before Parker’s next appearance. She tried another pilot, Once Upon a Spy, a two-hour movie; ABC aired it in September 1980. A resulting series would have featured the adventures of computer scientist turned spy Ted Danson, his beautiful handler, Mary Louise Weller, and their boss, an M-type character only called “The Lady.” Parker plays “The Lady.” Christopher Lee plays the villain, who kidnaps a scientist with a shrinking ray. Ivan Nagy directs from a Jimmy Sangster script.
If it weren’t for Nagy, Sangster, and Danson, Spy would be a lot better. Weller’s likable, Lee’s good, there’s a genial tone–and a nice Bond knock-off score from John Cacavas. Parker doesn’t get anything to do. She sits in a room by herself and frequently says “bloody,” possibly because Welsh Sangster didn’t know how Americans talk. Nagy’s direction is bad. Danson’s got the physicality for the role, but his performance is the pits. Still, it’s not terrible for a TV movie.
Once Upon a Spy’s ratings didn’t get it a series order from ABC. The movie got rerun over the years, but never had a home video release in the United States. Columbia put it out on VHS in the UK. In 2013, the Sony Pictures Choice Collection DVD label put it out on DVD.
Parker’s next TV movie–her last of the eighties–was Madame X. The seventh version of Madame X. NBC aired it in March 1981. Tuesday Weld plays the lead, a shamed woman exiled to Europe by her sinister mother-in-law (Parker). Granville Van Dusen plays the mama’s boy husband. Weld kicks around Europe (filmed on set in Hollywood Europe), meeting various men–including Jerry Stiller and Jeremy Brett–all while getting progressively drunker. She ends up on trial, with her defense attorney (Martina Deignan) the daughter Weld had to abandon. Très dramatique. Robert Ellis Miller directs, Edward Anhalt adapts from the original Alexandre Bisson play as well as the 1966 theatrical version’s screenplay.
Madame X is bad. But not because of Weld, who never gets to be protagonist and is mostly second-fiddle to the guest stars in her scenes. Second-billed Brett’s good, but barely in it. Anhalt’s script is a lot of the problem; Miller’s direction is so detached it can’t even be part of the problem. Van Dusen’s bad. Parker’s pretty good in the handful of scenes she has without Weld (not much of a Return to Peyton Place reunion for the pair). Len Cariou’s good for a while. The script fails him. The script fails everyone.
The movie’s never had a home video release, which is kind of surprising considering Tuesday Weld’s the lead and there’s some Madame X brand recognition. It has aired on television occasionally over the years, but infrequently. And certainly more in the eighties than since.
Over the next few years, Parker did some more guest spots. She appeared on “Love Boat” again in 1982, then her third and last “Fantasy Island” along with a “Hotel” in 1983. All of those episodes are available on DVD. In 1984, Parker guested on “Finder of Lost Loves,” an Anthony Franciosa series on ABC; it lasted half a season. Nothing in 1985, but in 1986 Parker made it to Cabot Cove for her requisite appearance on “Murder, She Wrote.” But for most of the eighties, Parker was retired.
Her final screen appearance came in 1991, with her only foray into cable television–TNT’s Dead on the Money. The movie’s a spoof of romantic thrillers, with lead Amanda Pays visiting slick, wealthy beau Corbin Bernsen’s family estate. Parker once again plays wealthy matriarch. John Glover plays her other son, the goofy one. Kevin McCarthy is the father. Nothing is as it seems with the family and Pays might be in real danger. Will she figure out what’s going on in time to save herself? Mark Cullingham directs, with Gavin Lambert adapting a Rachel Ingalls novel.
Dead on the Money is a fun time; the implied danger works well with the humor. Money is a spoof on itself–a TV movie romantic thriller joshing the idea of TV movie romantic thrillers. Real-life couple Pays and Bernsen aren’t as good as everyone else, but both are likable. Glover’s great, McCarthy’s outstanding and strange (he’s barely in the movie). Parker has her moments, including some particularly good ones with McCarthy when they don’t have to be concerned about moving the plot forward.
When Dead on the Money aired in 1991, TNT was only three years old. They heavily promoted the movie, one of their first “originals.” Critical response was mixed–Variety didn’t like it, The New York Times wasn’t thrilled but appreciated Parker, McCarthy, and Sheree North. Subsequent video guides gave it decent capsule reviews. Money came out on VHS in the fall 1991, from Turner Home Entertainment, and even got a LaserDisc release the next spring. It’s never had a DVD release and doesn’t seem to have aired in decades, making it a lot rarer than it should be.
A few stinkers aside, Parker’s television movie appearances have a lot of charm to them. She didn’t get a lot of great roles but she got a handful of good ones, not just in the TV movies but also as a series guest star. It was a quiet, graceful second half to Parker’s fifty year career as an actor.
Still, it’s too bad some of this work isn’t more accessible–particularly Dead on the Money.
Going into the nineteen sixties, Eleanor Parker’s acting career seemed to have regained some of its recently lost momentum. Home from the Hill, released in March 1960, brought Parker into a genre she’d long avoided–the all-star soap. And–in addition to Parker being outstanding in the film, Hill had been a big hit. At the same time, Parker was beginning to do television (the medium had become less embarrassing for movie stars). Her only other 1960 project was a Hemingway adaptation, The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio, for the “Buick-Electra Playhouse” on CBS. Sadly, the series (all Hemingway adaptations) has never had any home video releases; it might not have even had repeat airings, making it one of Parker’s rarest films.
The sixties would end up giving Parker her most recognized role, along with at least one more potentially great part. But those roles would come in the second half of the sixties; as the decade started, Parker would be doing less film and more television.
At least after she got done suffering through a pair of poorly produced–yet potentially successful (not to mention potentially good)–Fox melodramas.
Parker’s first Fox melodrama was 1961’s Return to Peyton Place, which reunited her with a forties Warner alum, producer Jerry Wald. He’d produced three of her films at Warner Bros., including her best picture there–1950’s Caged. It’d been Parker’s first Oscar nomination. Wald and Fox had been planning the sequel film to Peyton Place since novelist Grace Metalious released the ill-advised and poorly received sequel novel in 1959. Fox, smarting from Cleopatra’s budget overruns, decided to go cheap and not bring back the original cast (though some of the original crew came back, including composer Franz Waxman). Parker took over Lana Turner’s part. Return to Peyton Place centers around Carol Lynley (replacing Diane Varsi) and her Peyton Place-esque expose novel and its fallout back home. Lynley’s also having an affair with her married New York City book editor Jeff Chandler. José Ferrer directs. Mary Astor and Tuesday Weld (replacing Hope Lange) costar.
Return to Peyton Place is one of those soapy, CinemaScope melodramas Parker smartly avoided in the 1950s. Turner had been the lead in the original, but third-billed Parker gets nothing to do in the sequel (paired with an ineffective Robert Sterling–in for Lee Phillips). Lynley and Chandler are awful. Astor’s got her moments. Weld’s somewhat likable. Besides the bad acting–and there’s a lot more–Ronald Alexander’s script is terrible (though Metalious’s source sequel apparently isn’t any better). It’s an unfortunate, but predictable failure.
Shockingly, contemporary critical reception to Return to Peyton Place was mild. Astor’s performance got some appreciation. The film did well at the box office too (though only thirty-six percent of what the original made). It also did not get any Oscar nominations (versus the original’s nine). Fox released the film on VHS–pan and scanning the CinemaScope–in the early nineties and it no doubt played on Fox Movie Channel over the years. Stretching the credulity of the label, Fox put out a DVD in 2005 as part of their “Studio Classics” series. The film is now available streaming as well.
Parker’s next failed Fox melodrama arrived a year later–Madison Avenue (filmed in 1960, released overseas before Return to Peyton Place) came out in January 1962. Costarring Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, and Eddie Albert, Madison Avenue is all about advertising Young Turk Andrews (fifty-one playing thirty or so) disrupting the dairy industry and, just maybe, the White House. Parker’s the rival ad woman who Andrews seduces (personally and professionally). Crain’s the earnest reporter Andrews manipulates. Albert is the seeming stooge who Andrews props up. H. Bruce Humberstone directs.
Madison Avenue’s actors try–though Andrews and Parker are able to hide their contempt for the film better than Crain–and, even though the film misfires, it does so gracefully. To an extent. Humberstone’s direction is wanting, but Norman Corwin’s screenplay has some good points. The film’s CinemaScope, runs ninety minutes, with a present action of three years, yet is way too little. It doesn’t help the cast is all too old, in one way or another, for their parts. Parker has a bad arc, but does get some decent material at the start.
On release, The New York Times’s Howard Thompson enjoyed deriding the film utilizing its milk content as fodder (i.e. it’s a milksop). He does take the time to say Parker has “never looked more ravishing” (he similarly complemented her appearance and ignored her performance in his Escape from Fort Bravo review nine years before). The film never got a VHS release, though it did play–occasionally letterboxed–on the Fox Movie Channel. Fox released Madison Avenue on its Cinema Archives DVD label with a terrible pan and scan transfer in 2012. The film is third of the four Andrews and Crain made together; it’s unfortunate Parker never got to costar with either in a better picture.
Following Madison Avenue’s domestic release in January 1962, it would be over two years before Parker appeared in another film. She stayed busy during that time on television. Parker made five television appearances between 1962 and 1964. The first, an episode of CBS’s “Checkmate,” aired a few weeks after Madison Avenue came out. Then it’d be a year before her next appearance–an Emmy-nominated turn on “The Eleventh Hour” in February 1963. That October, she appeared on “The Chrysler Theatre” in Seven Miles of Bad Road, costarring Jeffrey Hunter and Neville Brand. “Eleventh Hour” and “Chrysler” both aired on NBC. In January 1964, Parker guest-starred on ABC’s “Breaking Point.” Then in March, she did an episode of the “Kraft Suspense Theatre,” opposite Roger Smith. “Checkmate” and “Eleventh Hour” have been released on DVD, but none of the others have official releases.
In April 1964, producer Ron Gorton–through his own Gorton Associates–released Panic Button, starring Parker, Maurice Chevalier, Jayne Mansfield, Mike Connors, and Akim Tamiroff. The film had been done since 1962–domestic distributor Warner Bros. decided against releasing it–when it premiered in Italy (where it was filmed). Connors plays a Hollywood producer who needs to make a bomb to get his dad’s company out of tax trouble. Chevalier is a washed-up actor, Parker’s his ex-wife and manager, Mansfield is the pretty face, Tamiroff is the incompetent movie-in-the-movie director. George Sherman is the real director.
Panic Button is far from a success, but nowhere near an abject failure. Parker is great–even though the script does her character no favors (mostly in the character arcs for her costars, Chevalier and Connors). The film wastes Tamiroff, which shouldn’t be possible. The big comedy sequences don’t work, the little moments don’t work. Somehow the cast’s professionalism keeps it somewhat afloat (even if Chevalier, in one of his final roles, isn’t good). And Venice is pretty.
The film was not a success on domestic release and soon faded into obscurity, “saved” only by cheap VHS releases–their covers emphasizing Mansfield’s cleavage–until Warner Archive (surprisingly) put out a nice widescreen DVD a few years ago. Just like Madison Avenue, the film foreshadows Parker’s sexy older woman parts, which she’d start getting stateside in a few years.
But first would be Parker’s most successful film, 1965’s The Sound of Music.
Based on a true story turned smash hit Broadway musical and filmed on location in the Austrian Alps, Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews as a young Austrian postulant (pre-nun) in 1938. She’s sent to be a governess for widower Christopher Plummer, who has seven children and a fiancee, Parker. Andrews (and her singing) helps the children mourn their mother’s passing; she also catches Plummer’s eye, making Parker rather displeased. But only for the first half of the three hour film. After intermission, Parker’s gone, the Nazis are on the way, and the family’s in trouble, happy singing or not.
Sound of Music is usually outstanding thanks to lead Andrews. Great songs, great music. Andrews’s charges are all adorable. Plummer’s good as the stern father with the heart of gold. Parker spends most of her time plotting with Richard Haydn; that plotting leads to some decent scenes with her and stars Andrews and Plummer. The second half of Sound of Music is lacking compared to the first, but it’s still an outstanding musical.
Contemporary critical response was mixed–New York critics greatly disliked it, West coast critics and the trades loved it. So did audiences. The Sound of Music, released in March 1965, had a theatrical run of four and a half years; it became the highest grossing film of all time a year and a half into its release. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. After a single 1976 airing on ABC, in 1979, NBC started broadcasting Sound of Music annually. They usually cut the film down to 140 minutes. NBC showed it for twenty years, including a special letterboxed airing in 1995.
The film was one of the first three VHS releases in 1979. It was out on LaserDisc and CED soon after; the first letterboxed release was the 1989 LaserDisc rerelease. The first DVD arrived in 2000, followed five years later by another edition, then Blu-ray in 2010. And now it’s available streaming as well, of course.
The Sound of Music has been a (pop) cultural phenomenon since its release over fifty years ago. And Parker, no matter what else she did before (or after), is forever “The Baroness” to generations of audiences. But instead of returning Parker to A-pictures, the latter half of the sixties relegated her to camp. The bad camp.
Parker’s next film opened a year later in March 1966. The Oscar, directed by Russell Rouse, based on Richard Sale’s novel. It’s another of the “all star” melodramas Parker never did in the fifties. Stephen Boyd is the lead, a snotty actor nominated for Best Actor–The Oscar’s refers to the Academy Award. The film recounts Boyd’s backstabbing his way to the top, mostly in flashback. Parker plays his first agent and his jealous, older lover–she’s fourth billed of nine. The film also stars Elke Sommer, Joseph Cotten, Milton Berle, Jill St. John, and Tony Bennett. Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison cowrote the script.
The Oscar is indescribably godawful. Terrible direction, terrible writing, terrible lead acting from Boyd and Bennett. Tony Bennett never acted again. Thankfully. Some of the cast tries–St. John, Berle, and Parker all to varying degrees–but there’s nothing they can do. The Oscar’s a smorgasboard of terrible and really has to be seen to be understood. There are some great Edith Head gowns though. They even got nominated for an Oscar. A real one.
While Embassy Pictures released the film domestically, Paramount put out The Oscar everywhere else. One has to wonder if they dumped it for domestic release. Critics rightfully savaged The Oscar on release–with Parker getting the only good notices. Audiences stayed away. The film’s gone on to earn notoriety as a terrible film, but not one easy for people to see. It’s only had a single home video release–VHS in the eighties. TCM has aired the film as well, though still in an old pan and scan transfer. These airings are sparing.
No one wants to see The Oscar. Even if they think they do.
Parker’s other 1966 release, An American Dream, came out in October. Adapted from a Norman Mailer novel, the film stars Stuart Whitman as a war hero turned television blowhard who runs afoul of the mob after murdering his estranged wife (Parker). Along the way he reunites with ex-girlfriend Janet Leigh. Robert Gist directed the Warner Bros. release (Parker’s first time back since 1950) with Mann Rubin handling the screenplay.
An American Dream ranges from terrible to unbearable. Gist’s direction and the script are both bad, as is much of the acting–Whitman especially. Leigh’s not good either, but at least its the writing doing her in. Whitman’s just acting poorly. Parker’s got some amazing hysterics and maybe if she’d lasted the entire run time American Dream would at least be tolerable. She doesn’t though. And it goes from bad to worse. The first five minutes, however, are deceptively well-executed.
The film was such a disaster on release, Warner pulled it and put it back out with a new title, See You in Hell, Darling, desperate for any success. The new title didn’t help. Contemporary critics compared it, in its badness, to The Oscar. So both Parker’s 1966 films were fiascoes. But more An American Dream, which had a distinct advertising campaign–initially–based around Parker’s character (sometimes her hysterics, sometimes her sex appeal). If it’d been a good movie, if it’d been a good script, American Dream would’ve given Parker an easy Best Supporting Actress nomination. Except it was terrible.
An American Dream never had a VHS release. It aired on TCM occasionally. Warner Archive put out a DVD in 2010 and the film’s now available streaming too. In case anyone wants to suffer.
Parker’s next film also had a script from Mann Rubin–January 1967’s Warning Shot, directed by Buzz Kulik. The film, a Paramount release, was originally supposed to be a TV movie but it turned out too violent. David Janssen is a cop who kills an armed suspect only for the suspect’s gun to disappear. He works his way through an all star cast of bit players–including Ed Begley, Keenan Wynn, George Sanders, Stefanie Powers, and Lillian Gish–while trying to find out the truth. Parker plays the suspect’s flirtatious widow.
Warning Shot is a perfectly serviceable mystery. Kulik and Rubin make it engaging. Janssen’s a great lead. Many of the cameos are good, including Parker and Sanders. They both get a scene. The film’s a little uneven–Janssen’s investigation has to wait for his police inquiry to resolve, which Kulik directs quite differently from the rest of the film–and the finale is a disappointment, but Warning Shot is always involving.
The film didn’t make much impression on release. Critics concentrated on its television pedigree. Warning Shot doesn’t seem to have ever gotten a VHS release, though Paramount put it out a widescreen DVD in 2005. That release has since gone out of print.
Warning Shot would be Parker’s last vivacious “older” lady part in features (she was only forty-four). None of the three or four (Panic Button sort of counts) roles led to anything, as American Dream’s part was theoretically the most promising and the film is such an exceptional stinker.
In her next film, The Tiger and the Pussycat, Parker again plays the “older” woman but she’s no longer vivacious. At least not according to the film. Tiger’s another Italian production; Parker is married to Vittorio Gassman, who’s cheating on her with ingenue Ann-Margaret. The film is set in Rome, directed by Dino Risi. It had an April 1967 release in Italy, with Embassy putting it out domestically that September.
Tiger and the Pussycat is fairly awful, with Risi’s two directorial interests misogyny and male gaze. Ann-Marget’s bad. Gassman–who has to carry the film himself–might be good if the script weren’t so bad. And if Risi weren’t so lousy. Parker’s got a dreadful part. Alessandro D’Eva’s photography is good. Rome’s pretty? Tiger and the Pussycat is indistinctly lousy.
In Italy, The film won two David di Donatello awards–best producer and best actor–but its domestic release seems to have been lackluster. Risi, Gassman, and Ann-Marget would go on to make another film together (1968’s Mr. Kinky). Tiger and the Pussycat had quite a few VHS releases, from a variety of independent video labels, starting in the early nineties. It also had a (now out of print) DVD release in 2001.
The next year, 1968, Parker didn’t have any theatrical releases in the United States. She’d only done one television guest appearance in 1965 and none the two years following. The 1965 appearance was on NBC’s “Convoy,” which isn’t available on home video. Parker returned to NBC in early 1968 for the last two episodes of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” She plays a vivacious older U.N.C.L.E. widow and spends the majority of the episodes in flagrante with villain Mark Richman. In September 1968, MGM released the episodes combined as one of the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” theatrical movies overseas, entitled How to Steal the World. It’s been available on video and now DVD (the movie version from Warner Archive, the TV show episodes from Warner).
Parker only had one more theatrical release in the sixties–1969’s Eye of the Cat. It was Parker’s first straight horror film–she’s wealthy aunt to lead Michael Sarrazin, who decides he’s going to murder her. Gayle Hunnicutt is the girl who convinces Sarrazin, though given how long Parker’s been abusing Sarrazin and brother Tim Henry, it doesn’t take much. Parker’s relationship with Sarrazin is physical (in the gross way). The film’s an original script from Joseph Stefano (Psycho), with David Lowell Rich directing.
Eye of the Cat is uneven and unsuccessful. Stefano’s script needs some work, Rich’s direction is entirely lacking, but Sarrazin and Parker do keep the movie going. Hunnicutt and Henry don’t help things. Rich even manages to bungle the San Francisco location shooting. Stefano just wants to do a thriller, Rich can’t direct thrills. Still, it could be a lot worse. Parker and Sarrazin taking it seriously makes the difference.
The film made it onto television by the early seventies (with a less violent, simultaneously shot ending) before fading into obscurity. Like everything else Sarrazin ever did. Cat didn’t have a home video release on VHS, LaserDisc, or DVD. Out of nowhere, Shout! Factory put it out on Blu-ray in 2018, forty-nine years after its theatrical premiere.
While Eye of the Cat was Parker’s only theatrical release of the year (though Sound of Music would still be in theaters until November), 1969 is when she decided to give series television a go. Starting in September, Parker was top-billed on NBC’s “Bracken’s World,” airing Friday nights at nine. She’d only stick around for sixteen episodes, quitting by the end of January 1970. The show, set at a fictional movie studio, had Parker as the executive secretary to the unseen Bracken. Before Parker parted ways with NBC on “Bracken,” she would also top-line their Hans Brinker television movie.
Airing in December 1969, Hans Brinker is a musical adaptation, partially filmed on location in the Netherlands. Parker plays Hans’s mother and even has two songs, which she did not sing (uncredited Sandy Stewart did). Robin Askwith plays Hans. Roberta Tovey is his sister. The majority of the cast is the kids, with the billed stars doing extended cameos. Richard Basehart, for example. He’s second-billed but an extended cameo. Robert Scheerer directs, Bill Manhoff did the teleplay adaptation.
Hans Brinker is a fairly intolerable hundred minutes. The songs (by Moose Charlap) are terrible. Sheerer’s direction is bad. Askwith’s performance is equal parts obnoxious and terrible. Tovey’s a little better. Parker’s part is thin (at best). Hans has nothing going for it. It’s not clear if Manhoff’s teleplay is responsible for the plodding, bad story or if it’s just the source material (by Mary Mapes Dodge, an American author fancifully imagining Hans’s Netherlands setting).
The contemporary reaction to Hans Brinker appears lost to time. Though the Detroit Free Press’s Lawrence Laurent opined–in a piece about the pitfalls of musical adaptations (he hadn’t seen Hans yet)–NBC expected to have a hit on their hands. Based on the movie’s obscurity, it seems unlikely they did. Warner Home Video put out a VHS in the mid-eighties and there was at least one sell-through VHS release in the nineties (not from Warner). Kultur Video put out a DVD in 2003, which is since out of print. It was on the back of that release where Stewart finally got credited for her singing.
With the exception of The Sound of Music, which didn’t even give Parker a good part, there aren’t many bright spots in Parker’s sixties filmography. Her nine theatrical releases are easily some of her worst. Even when the parts were a little better (or implied they could be better), the directors and screenwriters weren’t up to the task. Parker’s flirtation with television–starting in the early sixties and giving her occasional good parts–had slowed down after Sound of Music.
But even as audiences flocked to that film, seeing The Baroness for four and a half years, there apparently just weren’t any good parts for Parker anymore. She fell victim to Hollywood’s hate relationship with its older female stars. She was offered four parts in the sixties–martyr, sexy wife, cuckquean, pervy aunt. And baroness. “Bracken’s World” could have offered some better material–Parker still got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Drama even if she skipped out on the series–but it’s no surprise she went into the seventies concentrating on theater.