Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Lady Godiva" and a working-class approach to fame

Title: Lady Godiva of Coventry
Released: 1955
Genre: Technicolor epic with the illusion of nudity
Notable because: Clint is in Medieval England!
Clint's subliminal message: "Wait. Was I really in this picture?"

Lady Godiva is famous for riding naked (hubba, hubba m'lady) but we knew better than to expect much on that score. This movie was made in 1955, when even a glimpse of side boob was scandalous. Scandalous, we tell you.

Here is how Hollywood's image-makers beat the nudity problem. They built a body suit covered with a thatch hut of hair. This thoroughly concealed all the female bits of star Maureen O'Hara in a way that looked odd and vaguely repulsive. Good work, men!

Despite their disappointment, flesh-wise, Andrew and Brad both were surprised to enjoy "Lady Godiva" (called "Lady Godiva of Coventry" in the title sequence), even though Clint is nearly invisible.

It's a movie with deceit, betrayal, growth and redemption, all set in castles with occasional sword fights and crossbow attacks. Men fight for honor and say things like "the ancient boundaries of my earldom."

"Classic drama," Andrew said by way of praise.

For Clint, this was his first appearance in a top-of-the-bill picture meant to be taken seriously. It was his first color film, too.

But he was given an uncredited role with just two barely noticeable lines. One line -- "30 men from Ludlow" -- was spoken with only the back of Clint's head visible. For all we know, they might have filmed a coconut with a wig and dubbed his voice later.

This film was made when Clint was paid $75 a week to be a contract actor for Universal.

Figuring for inflation from 1955, that translates today to an annual salary of $31,219 a year. School teachers make more.

Clint came from a laboring family and took a low-paying, entry-level job at a movie studio. He stuck to scut work for four years, helping churn out whatever the studio assigned him. Only in 1959 did he make it big on the "Rawhide" TV show.

Four years may not sound very long, but it must have felt like an eternity for a guy hoping to break through in movies while getting "30 men from Ludlow" to show for it.

No wonder Clint was always a working man's actor.

Next up: "Tarantula."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Francis in the Navy" and the absurdity of people who lived before us

Title: Francis in the Navy
Released: 1955
Genre: Nonstop comedy with a talking mule
Notable because: The imagination is staggered by the concept that anyone ever found this funny
Clint's subliminal message: "Hey! My name is in the credits!"

The best thing about this movie is it gives the Flory family a Kevin Bacon-like degree of separation from Mr. Clint Eastwood.

Donald O'Connor is the human star of "Francis in the Navy" and Donald O'Connor gave a drunken and indifferent performance at the 1975 Chesaning (Michigan) Showboat. Look it up if you suspect we are bold enough to lie. At the risk of being name-droppers, Brad and Andrew both know Captain Bob Rhode of showboat fame. So we need two links to Clint. It's almost like we exchange Christmas cards.

Humiliating as it sounds to be upstaged by a mule, Clint was probably pleased with his career progression in this, his second film. He appeared in eight or 10 scenes, had several lines and was for the first time listed in the credits. His name came one notch below Jim Backus (aka Thurston Howell III) and one notch above David Janssen (aka The Fugitive).

Clint's acting is forgettable and not funny. He is "Jonesy," one of several Navy buddies who show up onscreen primarily to be confused about O'Connor's hi jinks. If you would like to see a Clint-free example of said hi jinks, click here. Clint says things like: "A little rest, Slicker, and you'll be your old self." Sadly, he has no dialog with the mule.

Poor Andrew watched with bemused disgust. O'Connor plays a double role which leads to 1 hour and 21 minutes of dumb and impossible situations of mistaken identity. The climax involves military maneuvers that make no logical sense. The story is punctuated by bad jokes from a mule, a cinematic hook that spawned seven movies.

"I imagine those dweebs in the 1950s sitting in the theater and laughing so hard," Andrew said. Then he used a mocking voice: "Oh my God! Francis is singing 'La Cucaracha.' Stop! My side is splitting!"

Forgive him. Andrew is 15 and still enjoys the certainty that his time is normal but earlier eras were absurd. One day he will look back and believe the past was better, not dumber. That will be the day he is no longer young.

"Do you think everyone in the 1950s was an idiot?" Brad asked.

"No, but I think they didn't know what was funny," Andrew said. Based on "Francis in the Navy," it is impossible to argue.

Next up: "Lady Godiva."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Revenge of the Creature" and an artistic dispute at Subway

Title: Revenge of the Creature
Released: 1955
Genre: Bad science fiction
Notable because: It's Clint Eastwood's first film appearance
Clint's subliminal message: "Check out my hair."

By-laws of The Clint Eastwood Project decree that every movie must be viewed while eating fast food in front of the TV. This led to the first artistic dispute.

Being easily swayed by advertising, Brad insisted on Subway for the new pastrami sandwich he's seen on TV. Being 15 and without economic power, Andrew had no choice.

"What do you want on that sub?" asked the guy working behind the counter.

"Make it just like they show it on TV," said Brad.

Hearing these words, Andrew became so horrified a casual observer might assume his father just released a rolling fart and simultaneously scratched his balls in public.

"Oh my God," Andrew said. "What a redneck." Then he changed his voice to supply a hillbilly accent. "Jes give me that-there sandwich I seen on the TV box."

"Do you want me to take you down right here in front of all these people?" Brad asked. "Because I'll do it."

"Try it, old man," Andrew said.

This is the tone of many of our debates.

Luckily, we found little reason to disagree on "Revenge of the Creature."

It is one of those 1950s horror movies with bad acting, a silly story line and a monster, Gill Man, that is more funny than scary. Gill Man did not even kill anyone until 53 minutes into the film.

Clint appears about 15 minutes into the movie, and only for a few seconds. The role is so small he is not listed in the credits. Clint supplies what passes for comic relief in this film.

Playing a laboratory assistant, Clint speculates that a cat has eaten a lab rat. Then he finds the rat in his own pocket! Isn't that a hoot?

Clint's hair is the most memorable part of his performance. Then 25 years old, he looks like a James Dean wannabe but his hair is piled into an impossible poof pushed to the side of his head.

"He looks like a Flock of Seagulls prototype," Andrew observed with insight beyond his years.

Watch Clint's entire breathtaking performance, in the "Mystery Science Theatre" treatment of the film, by clicking here.

As we settled into the flow of the film, our attention focused on whether the hot leading lady, Lori Nelson, would appear in a swimsuit.

We were not disappointed. We counted four swimsuit scenes, one glimpse of bra and panties, and one discrete shower scene. Once we thought we saw protruding nipples, but that may have been wishful thinking.

Next up: "Francis in the Navy."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting started with Clint, or good-bye $184.13

Watching every Clint Eastwood movie is not as easy, or as cheap, as God intended.

What stings most is the certain knowledge that the most expensive movies in the Eastwood Film Library of Grunts and Spitting are also the worst ones.

At the start of his career, Clint was a Hollywood unknown who had bit parts in 11 obscure movies released from 1955 to 1958. These are forgotten films with titles like “Lafayette Escadrille.” Eastwood himself — according to the unimpeachable source Wikipedia — called one of them the worst western ever made.

Movies so bad and so forgotten usually cannot be rented. Even with the Internet, finding them all for purchase is difficult. Prices can be outrageously stiff because of rarity.

Two of these movies — bad science fiction, which evidently always has a market — were found on Netflix. The other nine cost $184.13, with shipping.

Andrew gasped when he saw the $47.82 price tag for the most expensive cinematic turd on our viewing list.

“Why?” he asked. “Why?”

Because The Clint Eastwood Project has no shortcuts. That’s why.