Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 30, 2021

SAVAGE PAMPAS (Spain-Argentina,1966), starring ROBERT TAYLOR

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(my review, originally published online in 2018)

SAVAGE PAMPAS is an original and complex and gritty and well-acted and visually striking Argentinian-Spanish-American co-production, shot in Spain, from 1966. It’s usually considered one of those Eurowesterns with an asterisk next to it, in that it’s not a solely European co-production and it’s set in the pampas frontier of Argentina.

Director Hugo Fregonese is well-known to fans of 60’s international co-productions, having directed one of the OLD SHATTERHAND films, the downbeat spy drama LAST PLANE TO BAALBECK, and the final entry in the 60s Dr. Mabuse films, THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DR. MABUSE. He was originally Argentinian, but went to Columbia University, and was married to American actress Faith Domergue. Since he had worked in Argentina, Europe, and the United States, he would seem to be the perfect choice for this Argentinian-Spanish-American production. When I think about those three films mentioned above, I remember how visually creative and memorable each is. With the OLD SHATTERHAND film, the incredible panoramic vistas of the faux-West (probably Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia) are breath-taking….in fact, that film was issued in 70mm in Europe, and SAVAGE PAMPAS was also filmed in 70mm and exhibited in that format in Argentina (one wonders if the producer of this film gave the gig to Fregonese based on his work in SHATTERHAND?). How I wish that in this lifetime I could actually see a 70mm theatrical screening of either film (or both). Alas, I doubt that will ever happen. If I had Jeff Bezos money, I could make it happen, but I don’t. I guess the best I can hope for realistically is a quality Blu-Ray viewed on a large TV screen (I have 27” presently, so I’ve got a way to go there).

The amazing cast—the kind of cast you find only in these off-shore productions, bringing together people you might not expect to have seen in the same film, in roles you would not expect them to be in—is headed by the great ROBERT TAYLOR, in one of his last roles. I love Taylor’s 1960’s work. Some people criticize him for looking older, looking tired, looking uninterested, etc., but he used his age very well, never attempting to look younger, and bringing an understated gravitas to his roles. Taylor understood how much he could communicate with his face and his body and his mannerisms. He’d been a major star for 30+ years at this point, and he knew exactly what the camera would do with every blink of the eye or hand gesture or slight curl of the lip. Taylor plays an Argentinian military officer on the massive frontier, the Pampas, who is faced with inadequate supplies, not enough men, Indian attacks, and rampant desertion. He’s beaten down and burned out, but has an inner toughness and strength that radiates from within. When a new officer, a graduate of the military academy, is offered to him to replace a deserter, and the new man is praised as being “the 2nd in his class of 48 at the academy,” Taylor barks out, “why didn’t I get number 1?” Watching the 50’s and 60’s Robert Taylor, especially the post-1955 work, is to me a master class in acting….and his cigarette-scarred voice gives authority to anything he says.

Pitted against Taylor is Australian-American RON RANDELL (presumably, no relation to Buddy Randell of The Knickerbockers!), who had an interesting career both in films and on the stage. B-movie fans might know Randell from being in the last Lone Wolf feature, THE LONE WOLF AND HIS LADY (1949), replacing Gerald Mohr in the role—a film I have always enjoyed and have watched 4 or 5 times in the last 20 years. Randell is having a blast as the over-the-top outlaw leader of the deserters—strutting and delivering his lines with the gusto of a Richard Burton or Orson Welles. I can imagine how entertaining Randell would have been on stage (he had some fine roles, including two Terence Rattigan plays). He even played Cole Porter (!!!) in the film KISS ME, KATE (which I have not seen). Hmmm, I’d love to compare that with Kevin Kline’s quirky performance as Porter in De-Lovely (which I have seen). Randell has allied himself with the local Indian tribe, figuring that they are united in their hatred of the Army forces (the Indians, especially their older leader, quickly realize what a slimeball they’ve allied themselves with). Obviously, that alliance begins to unravel.

If that’s not enough, former TV western star and future Eurowestern star TY HARDIN plays an anarchist (!!!) journalist who is embedded (as they said during the Iraq War) with Taylor’s military unit. He’s quite convincing and charismatic, and he and Taylor build a kind of strange alliance as they are both principled men, but with very different principles. Still, each sees something he recognizes in the other.

The plot, which I have not really mentioned and which by today’s standards is somewhat distasteful, deals with marginalized women who are given the choice of going to jail or “comforting” the soldiers….and Randell’s outlaw crew also have their own “comfort women.” To say that the presence of the women on the frontier affects the men’s behavior would be an understatement.

When you take the female element, the fact that there are multiple sides in operation here, each with differing agendas, that Taylor’s men are close to deserting at any point (and a number do), and that you really don’t know what is going to happen or who is going to survive, and then at the end you get quite a surprise, I’d have to say that SAVAGE PAMPAS delivers the goods. The three leads all give it their best, the Argentinian element should be a breath of fresh air to most viewers, and there is a fatalistic tone that rings true. And I can’t stress enough how impressive this film looks, with the endless and dry and ravaged Pampas plains so beautifully filmed in a desolate part of Spain. If you can find a copy, or watch it online, you should do it.

Perhaps what connects with me most about this film is that you have burned out but professional-in-spite-of-it-all characters (Taylor) and idealistic-but-beaten-down characters (Hardin) against a crazy power-mad psycho (Randell), all having to continue to fight battles which were started by previous generations and that nobody, save the power-mad psycho, want to fight and would give anything to not fight, but they all have their pre-ordained roles, and they have to play them. And in the end, there will be no heroes, many losers, and no one will win. Just like life….

September 28, 2021

Edgar Wallace’s DEAD EYES OF LONDON (Germany 1961), starring Joachim Fuchsberger and Klaus Kinski

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September 26, 2021

Dean Jagger in C-MAN (1949), with John Carradine

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offbeat but interesting indie crime-noir film

The few who know this film are probably either hardcore film-noir completists or hardcore John Carradine fans who must have every film “the master” appeared in. I’m glad I recently had an opportunity to view the film, because it is a fascinating independently-made crime-noir film with a number of unique touches. Most of the film is shot either on location on the streets of New York or in VERY small low-budget sets. The location shooting is quite interesting, using unexpected camera angles and giving the film a kind of documentary feel–one suspects that director Joseph Lerner and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld were familiar with the Italian neo-realists. I could watch hours of this kind of footage, capturing 1949 New York, as it was experienced by people on foot, through great low-angle shots. And the musical score, by Gail Kubik, is quite avant-garde–sections of it sounding like early John Cage or Stan Kenton at his most atonal. Ms. Kubik was obviously a fine composer who adapted her avant-garde music well to a crime film–I’m anxious to hear some of her other work. Dean Jagger is not the most convincing tough guy, but he is a good enough actor to handle the expository dialogue and unnecessary voice-overs and make them sound SOMEWHAT natural! Lottie Elwen, playing a woman from Holland whom Jagger meets and who gets the mystery, such as it is, in motion, is quite seductive and was an excellent choice for the role. John Carradine can create a distinctive supporting character in his sleep, and once again he does that here as a fallen, now-crooked doctor who has had his medical license revoked (he’s only in a few scenes). We should, with hindsight, give credit to the filmmakers who were obviously working on a VERY low budget, yet created a distinctive looking film and a film with lots of atmosphere. Fans of obscure noir-crime films should seek it out; although it’s certainly not a flawless classic, there’s something real and raw and spontaneous about it, and that quality transcends any other limitations the film has.

(review originally published in 2002)

September 24, 2021

Ralph Forbes in I’LL NAME THE MURDERER (1936)

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1930’s newspaper gossip columnist solves whodunit

Florid, over-confident newspaper gossip columnist Tommy Tilton (Ralph Forbes) turns sleuth when his friend is blamed for the murder of an ex-girlfriend with a taste for blackmail. We’re introduced to a number of colorful supporting characters, with Tilton gradually figuring out the nature of the crime through a combination of bluff and insight. He also uses his column to “smoke out” the guilty party, even when he doesn’t yet know who the guilty party is! Director B.B. Ray was an old hand at low-budget action films and westerns, and with minimal sets, and dialogue that describes actions that would be too expensive to film, Ray keeps the action moving at a swift pace. Forbes plays the part of Tilton as something of a dandy, with a lot of empty bravado. When Tilton proclaims “I’ll name the murderer” in the next day’s paper, even though he doesn’t yet have any proof, we audience members pull for him, WANTING him to crack the case. I’ll let you see the film yourself to see how all this is resolved… Overall, a solid 1930s poverty-row murder mystery from Puritan Pictures, best known for their 1935-36 series of interesting Tim McCoy westerns, including the classic MAN FROM GUNTOWN.

(review originally published in 2002)

September 22, 2021

Kasnat & Katz Fighter Squadron, ‘Pickin’ Up Sticks’ (1971 single)

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From 1971, here is another gem from the Jerry Kasenetz/Jeff Katz empire, this time from the mind of Ritchie Cordell. I recently reviewed the massive 6-cd Tommy James and the Shondells box set for Ugly Things magazine, and Mr. Cordell looms large over a number of the Shondells’ best tracks and was involved with hundreds of fine records over a few decades. 1971 is kind of late for the classic bubble-punk era, but the formula was too good to discard, and the aggressively throwaway nursery-rhyme lyrics (Bill Haley was a master at that also) mixed with a killer riff and the interesting sound textures we associate with K&K mix together to create an anthem that would still command a dancefloor full of Le Beat Bespoke fans. Released in the US on Super K, the record also got issued in Germany, France (see sleeve above), and Turkey. There was another single credited to the Squadron too, “When He Comes.”

50 years after it was released, PICKIN’ UP STICKS still puts a smile on my face and gets my foot tapping, so thanks to Mr. Cordell, Mr. Kasenetz, and Mr. Katz. I just listened to an hour-long interview with two members of the Music Explosion, and after hearing them discuss K&K, I thought I’d share another “deep cut” from them. Enjoy….

September 20, 2021

Will Bradley/Ray McKinley Orchestra, with Freddie Slack, BOOGIE WOOGIE (1950s reissue of their classic early 40s sides)

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A1 Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)
A2 Down The Road A Piece
A3 Celery Stalks At Midnight
A4 Flyin’ Home
A5 Boogie Woogie Conga
B1 Strange Cargo
B2 Scrub Me, Mama, With A Boogie Beat
B3 Basin Street Boogie
B4 Chicken Gumboogie
B5 Rock-A-Bye The Boogie
B6 Rhumboogie

Will Bradley, trombone and leader

Ray McKinley, drums and vocal

Freddie Slack, piano

September 18, 2021


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September 16, 2021

Donald Woods in DANGER ON THE AIR (A Crime Club Mystery, 1938)

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September 14, 2021

Peter Martell in TWO CROSSES AT DANGER PASS (Spain-Italy 1967)

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September 12, 2021

Ozzie Nelson Orch.- ‘Oh, What An Easy Job You’ve Got All You Do Is Wave A Stick Blues’ (from 1940 Vitaphone film short)

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September 10, 2021

Shane Fenton & The Fentones, “Why Little Girl” (UK 1962)

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September 8, 2021

Jet Harris, “Some People” (UK 1962)

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September 6, 2021

I’m With Busey (Episode 1)

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September 4, 2021

Ravi Shankar – Live in Patras, Greece 1987

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Ravi Shankar, live at the 2nd Festival of Patras in 1987.

September 2, 2021

Guy Madison in EXTRA GUNS (1960)

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