Tag Archives: Victor Buono

Brenda Starr (1976, Mel Stuart)

It’d be nice if there were anything good about Brenda Starr. Stuart’s direction is–at its best–mediocre. It’s always predictable, it’s sometimes bad. He has familiar patterns–over the shoulder, close-up, walking two shot. He repeats them, every time with a bad cut from James T. Heckert and Melvin Shapiro. Sometimes the sound doesn’t match, always when cutting to one of Stuart’s awkwardly framed one-shots of lead Jill St. John. They’re hard to explain–St. John doesn’t get close-ups the same way the other actors in the scene do, instead something like a medium shot with empty space around her. St. John doesn’t do anything with that space; she just delivers her poorly written dialogue like everyone else.

George Kirgo’s teleplay has St. John’s Brenda Starr a headstrong reporter who runs into dangerous situations then waits around for one of the guys to save her. One of the guys is cheesy TV news anchor Jed Allan. He’s in love with St. John–or at least a very intense lust–but she’s still waiting for her mysterious Basil to return. Basil’s not a character in the movie, rather the source comic strip. He gets a “cameo” here in a framed picture, but he’s a MacGuffin. Not sure why Kirgo thought Allan’s news anchor would be a better rescuer for St. John. Other than if her lost love returned, St. John might have to have some character stuff. She gets none. It’s a TV pilot where the title character has no character setup–other than she’s waiting for her mystery man but is willing to mock seduce for news scoops. The rest of the cast doesn’t really get any character depth either, but… if the thing’s called Brenda Starr, shouldn’t it be about her? Or at least, shouldn’t she be doing things?

Because St. John works entirely at the behest of editor Sorrell Booke. He’s apparently supposed to be a lovable boss, but Booke can barely get out Kirgo’s attempts at comic strip dialogue–he writes banter like it’s a middle school skit–and the rest of the time he’s just chastising St. John for not scooping Allan on a story. Except it’s immediately after St. John tries to give Booke a story, he refuses, then Allan scoops them. Maybe if St. John and Booke had an ounce of chemistry–or better dialogue or better direction or better production values–it might be better.

But it’s not. It’s bad.

St. John’s investigating odious rich guy Victor Buono. He’s sick and in L.A. getting treatment. Eventually, St. John’s investigation takes her to Brazil. There she meets cute rich Brazilian guy Joel Fabiani. He takes her out to dinner, where he gets further along than Allan, which is fine–Fabiani at least gives a likable performance. Not even St. John manages to be likable throughout. She’s never unlikable, but she also never gets any sympathy for her participation. She never rises above the material. Someone needs to rise about this material. Anyone.

No one does. In fact, some people get worse as it goes along.

The Brazil stuff looks like it was shot either in California or a sound stage. There’s this really bad action sequence on a river where at one point it looks like they’re in a stream not two feet deep. Production values aren’t good on Brenda Starr; Stuart doesn’t have any tricks up his sleeves to compensate either. It starts charmless, it ends charmless. In between there’s some bad acting, some mediocre acting, some bad lines, some oogling of St. John (the first act has most of it), and some lousy editing.

There’s even weak Lalo Schifrin music, which is maybe the saddest part. He’s hacking out a personality-free TV score.

The biggest compliment for Brenda Starr is Buono’s performance is nowhere near as bad as his first scene suggests it will be.

All together, sure, the script’s bad, but Stuart’s direction doesn’t get anything out of the actors, not even when they’re obviously better than the material. Maybe if Stuart were excited about the material? Like if he really embraced the crappy attempts at comic strip banter only on TV? But he doesn’t. He’s bored by it. Rightly so, sure, but he should be able to pretend.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Stuart; teleplay by George Kirgo, based on a story by Kirgo and Ira Barmak and the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ted Voigtlander; edited by James T. Heckert and Melvin Shapiro; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Bob Larson; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jill St. John (Brenda Starr), Jed Allan (Roger Randall), Sorrell Booke (A.J. Livwright), Victor Buono (Lance O’Toole), Joel Fabiani (Carlos Vegas), BarBara Luna (Luisa Santamaria), Marcia Strassman (Kentucky Smith), Arthur Roberts (Dax Leander), and Tabi Cooper (Hank O’Hare).


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Dick Tracy (1967, Larry Peerce)

“Dick Tracy” is shockingly all right. About half the pilot plays like a bad James Bond movie–villain Victor Buono is ludicrous and in it way too much, even if there’s an amusing revelation at the end. But the other half, with Ray MacDonnell as Dick Tracy, is pretty good.

He’s got a house full of gadgets–sadly, his entire family doesn’t appear in the pilot; it would have been nice to see how the pilot portrayed them–and many of them are absurd, but it’s Dick Tracy. He’s always had absurd gadgets.

MacDonnell does great in the role. He takes it seriously, even during his scenes opposite Buono. He’s got particularly good support from Jan Shutan as one of the cops. She’s a lot more proactive than her male colleagues.

It’s too bad this one didn’t go to series. Astoundingly bad theme song though. Knocks off the Goldfinger song!

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Peerce; teleplay by Hal Fimberg, based on characters created by Chester Gould; director of photography, Frederick Gately; edited by Bill Mosher; music by Billy May; produced by James Fonda.

Starring Ray MacDonnell (Dick Tracy), Jan Shutan (Lizz), Ken Mayer (Chief Patton), Monroe Arnold (Sam Catchem), Jay Blood (Junior Tracy), Victor Buono (Mr. Memory) and Allen Jaffe (Hook).


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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, Ted Post)

On rare occasion, I watch (and on even rarer occasion, finish watching) an utter dreg of a film. A film so bad I misuse the word dregs, which apparently–since it refers to a liquid form–must be used as a plural. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is just such a film. Immediately, with its use of footage from the first film’s conclusion (with a few added shots and different dialogue and music) and terrible opening credits, I knew Beneath was going to be bad. When “star” James Franciscus (it’s his real name too) shows up, I noticed he was better than Heston. Even though I just watched the first film, there was that lovely reminder of Heston’s craft tacked on to the beginning on this film. Since he has a lot of the same dialogue as Heston does in that film, one gets to see how nice a measured performance can be. Still, I put star in quotation marks because he’s not really the star of the film. In fact, the film’s such a failure of a narrative, such a waste of celluloid, I could put that last ‘film’ in quotation marks too.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes loses any hint of competence, adequacy, concern, once Linda Harrison shows up. Linda Harrison doesn’t talk. But she does flashback and we get to see her flashbacks, which are filled with Heston acting and bad special effects and stupid ideas. While Planet of the Apes was dumb, the filmmakers there at least were bipedal. Whoever concocted the story to this film must have had trouble chewing gum. So, once the Harrison shows up, the viewer is left with little to do but marvel at the film. I couldn’t believe audiences back in 1970 actually went to go see this film and go they did… the film made enough money warrant a sequel, which is funny, considering how it ends. And a viewer has to finish watching this film, I’m very adamant on that point. Its ending is so unbelievable, it has to be seen. I couldn’t believe it.

As far as the technical side of things, there are some great matte paintings. I’ve seen a documentary on the Planet of the Apes franchise and remembered the discussion of the paintings and when their scenes showed up, I hoped it’d go on for a while. Instead, the film pushed on through them and got to the dumbest religious cult in the history of cinema. Beneath tries to be a metaphor (which Planet of the Apes did not), featuring anti-Vietnam protesters–rather amusing since the apes aren’t really at war–and comparisons of the war-hungry gorilla (a new invention in this film, which has no reasonable continuity to the first) to American soldiers. I’m not sure if the cult is supposed to be the Russians. Probably (it doesn’t work though).

But still, one has to see it for that ending. Oh, and James Gregory is quite good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Post; screenplay by Paul Dehn, from a story by Dehn and Mort Abrahams; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James Franciscus (Brent), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Paul E. Richards (Mendez), Victor Buono (Fat Man), James Gregory (Ursus), Jeff Corey (Caspay), Natalie Trundy (Albina), Thomas Gomez (Minister), David Watson (Cornelius), Charlton Heston (Taylor), Don Pedro Colley (Negro), Tod Andrews (Skipper), Gregory Sierra (Verger) and Lou Wagner (Lucius).


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