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Posts Tagged ‘Phil Karlson’

Framed (1975) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 11th, 2017


Stars – Joe Don Baker, Gabriel Dell, John Marley, John Larch, Connny Van Dyke
Director – Phil Karlson

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Phil Karlson had a reputation for making tough pictures. His crime films rocked a little harder than most. His Film Noirs were not about the lovely satin moonlight that fell at twilight but more about the crashing of garbage cans on concrete sidewalks because the garage truck guys came before sunrise again. He worked in a wide variety of films and TV including a Bowery Boys film. Framed was his last movie. He had a significant piece of the one before this, Walking Tall which became an incredible runaway hit that practically invented the southern crime and car chase genre. Joe Don Baker starred in Walking Tall and Karlson brought him back for this one. The cast is one of the neatest things about Framed. John Marley who played the studio boss who woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather is on hand as a mob boss who runs the action in the prison that Baker winds up in. Gabriel Dell who was in seemingly dozens of Bowery Boys films plays a vicious hit man with a very cool sense of humor. Anyone who ever liked Gabe at all will love him in this one. John Larch is easily recognizable from his roles in Dirty Harry and dozens of TV appearances including The Twilight Zone. Larch worked with Karlson in his legendary Phenix City Story (1955). There is a nice air of familiarity amongst the cast. This is a rugged crime tale that feels nice and comfortable.

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Baker plays a gambler who gets set up by the local crooked politicians. His little bag full of hard won cash is stolen and he is framed for the murder of a cop. When Conny Van Dyke his jazz singer girlfriend tries to hire detectives to help his case a couple of thugs come over and put the screws to her. Baker simmers in prison until he winds up playing card games for incarcerated mobster Marley. He and Gabe Dell play a cut throat game of cards for the kingpin. Once they all get out we have this home made network of ex cons to help Joe Don Baker get even with the people who set him up and abused his girl.  Throughout the picture it seems that Joe Don Baker is either beating the hell out of someone, sitting in a hospital bed covered in bandages or just sweating with a barely contained fury. He’s like a tea kettle that boils over only to be returned to the fire to start it all over again. The first fight scene with him has two big guys going at it. Their punches and kicks really hurt. They take turns getting slammed into the concrete floor of a garage. Karlson does not use any music to support this. All we hear are the visceral grunts and painful moans of the two till one can no longer carry on.

f seven

f five

While the film is absolutely engaging and filled with a fun cast it never achieves the necessary level of pent up rage that usually fuels these kind of films. The plot is paper thin. The corruption doesn’t get under your skin and make you want to scream out for justice. There is solid action but not quite enough behind it. After this film Joe Don Baker continued on with a successful career. For me though his role as Molly the enforcer in Charley Varrick was one of his best. Karlson on the other hand retired from the business in presumed comfort thanks to the Waling Tall proceeds. Framed may not work as well as we want it to but it still hits hard. Karlson is capable of better but it is still a must see for seventies crime fans.

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Video – 1.85:1
Colors and black levels all look fine here. The materials used look to be in good shape. The colors have that particular texture that is so distinctive of many films shot in the seventies.

Audio – Digital track with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easy to follow. We are treated to at least three pop jazz songs played by Conny Van Dyke and her band in the lounge. Some may bump the volume on these while other will reach for the fast forward.

Extras – Commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson., Trailer gallery.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

99 River Street (1953) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 21st, 2016


Actors – John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Peggie Caslte, Frank Faylen
Director – Phil Karlson

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Director Phil Karlson was at his best with a combination of brutality and working class guys that are pushed too far. In this one John Payne enters every scene like a tea kettle that’s been left too long on a hot stove. Things don’t simmer too much here, they boil over. The film starts with Payne making a valiant effort in the boxing ring before he gets the snot knocked out of him. The crowd goes nuts and then we pull back to see it is on TV and a rebroadcast of an old fight. Payne is watching looking like a dog who just lost his bone. Then his beautiful wife Peggie Castle lays into him. She could have been a star if it weren’t for him. Why isn’t he the winner instead of some washed up fighter who drives a cab. You just feel for this guy. He also knows his wife has been running around with someone else. Payne stops off for coffee with the only real friend he has in the world, Frank Faylen. He’s the dispatcher at the cab company where he works. Faylen was also Payne‘s manager when he was in the fight game. Then there is this other girl, Evelyn Keyes. He knows her from the coffee shop. She’s so nice and pays attention to Payne. But in this Noir world we know that nice always comes with a price.

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This film takes place over one long night. Evelyn Keyes needs a favor, desperately. She’s been auditioning for a part in a big Broadway show only the producer put the make on her and she may have killed him. She needs Payne to come to the theater now! His wife’s beau Brad Dexter was involved with a jewel robbery that left one man dead.. Brad takes her along to get the payment for the big score only the hoods he’s involved with don’t want any dames around. So guess who winds up dead in the back seat of Payne’s cab? While the noose tightens around Payne he gets more and more frustrated lashing out at anyone around him. He fights with Faylen. He lays into the producers and writers at the theater knocking them senseless. Each time he seems to be reaching for that one moment back in the ring when he could have won the championship. Karlson cuts brief flashbacks of the fight into these scenes.

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99 seven

The film has plenty of noir style shadows and angled shots but Karlson also makes the most out of the depth on the screen. He’ll put something important way back in the frame or run an actor’s movements from right next to us to way deep into the shot. He also sets up a good fight scene. The last one in the film taking place in the shipyards with Payne and Dexter is terrific. There’s a great collection of actors in the film, too. Bad guy Brad Dextor was the gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven who kept thinking Yul Brynner knows about a secret stash of gold. He plays the smarmy but good looking villain to a T. Frank Faylen played Dobie Gillis’s father on the popular TV series as well as a host of lovable average Joes you’d be proud to call a friend. Evelyn Keyes (Seven Year Itch) and John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street) did lots of well known films. They each shine brightly here. This is one of Payne’s best roles. It shows how well he and Karlson worked together. He also starred in Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential.

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99 four

Phil Karlson is a solid B style director whose work is definitely worth catching whenever one comes by. He’s got what appears to be an economic down and dirty style but he really does show a lot of solid technique that’ll just flow right by you if you aren’t looking for it. He’s known for hard hitting films like Phenix City Story and Walking Tall. Joe Don Baker literally swings a big stick at southern small town corruption in Walking Tall (1973) which became a huge hit when it was released. When you get mad as Hell and can’t take it anymore Karlson is your man to get it done. He made several solid westerns, a few of the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin and even did one of the classic Bowery Boys movies. He’s got a well deserved cult following. 99 River Street is one of his best. Just look at John Payne in that cover poster. He‘s got Evelyn Keyes clinging to one arm and is holding a lethal looking length of chain in the other. To me it looks like he is smiling. You will, too.

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Video – 1.37:1
“Newly re-mastered in HD!” The film looks great. Black levels are strong. There is good detail. At no time do we get caught up in any distortion or smudgy black crush. There is a picture of a ship matted in at the end that looks incredibly out of place due to the HD process. You really can’t hold that against the film. The commentary points this out too in case you missed it.

Audio – Mono
All dialogue comes across fine. Sound effects and music blend well in the mix.

Extras – Commentary from film historian Eddie Muller, Trailers for other Film Noirs from Kino

Popular Film Noir historian Eddie Muller has loads of great stories about this film. He lets us in on many of them in an engaging enthusiastic way. We learn that he got to know Evelyn Keyes pretty well while doing some research. She says she took this film because there are two tour de force scenes written for her part. Both scenes are easy to spot and Eddie takes you through them wonderfully. Although he does stop during the second one for a bit saying Keyes would never forgive him if he talked over her best scene. Since this is a film about a cabbie Muller puts the flag up at the start and snaps it down telling us to exit the cab and have a nice night at the end. His commentaries are always good but this was one of his most enjoyable.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Walking Tall Trilogy DVD Review

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Walking Tall Trilogy (1973, 1975, 1977)

Stars: Joe Don Baker, Bo Svenson, Elizabeth Hartman, Bruce Glover, Forrest Tucker
Directors:  Phil Karlson, Earl Bellamy, Jack Starrett

Released by Shout Factory


Reviewed By Steven Ruskin
When Walking Tall came out in 1973 it was a huge hit. One of the advertising lines claimed that audiences stood up and cheered. The TV trailer showed people actually standing up in the movie theater and applauding. Truth be told, that did happen. There was something in the air just beginning to brew and Walking Tall tapped right into it. It was partially an update on the old western movie staple of the town tamer. It also blended in a strong dose of the vigilante as hero theme, that would later become a juggernaut for Charles Bronson thanks to Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel, Death Wish. It was among the first to ride the resurgence of interest in the American South that what would become an entire subgenre unto itself. Deep fried southern films like Macon County Line, Buster and Bille, Jackson County Jail and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase all revved onto screens starting in 1974. Walking Tall even beat the terrific Burt Reynolds vehicle, White Lightning out of the gate by a few months. What’s more this was based on a true story.

The exploits of real life Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser struck a nerve with the country. This man took no crap, carried a big stick and was not afraid to use it. He cleaned up a corrupt and decadent rural county almost single handedly. Walking Tall also tapped into that model that Billy Jack established in 1971. This was a people’s picture. Though this one was not aimed at the hippies. Walking Tall proudly played to the core middle American values that had had it with crooked politicians. It may have driven down the same roads as Robert Mitchum’s moonshine runner in Thunder Road, only this time the moonshiners were the bag guys and they had to go! This was for the balcony, the cheap seats, the drive-ins and the real people. It was populist entertainment that aimed to please. Who wouldn’t want to see a film about this big tall sheriff who actually busted up moonshine stills and threw crocked politicians out on their ass.

The man who directed this was Phil Karlson. Karlson had made a string of tough as nails crime and film noir pictures in the fifties that all packed a whallop featuring some of the most brutal action sequences to date. He had a down and dirty no nonsense style that was a perfect match for this rural vigilante tale. Joe Don Baker was also the kind of tough tight-lipped laconic actor that he made shine on the screen. He’d also made a very similar movie before with The Phenix City Story (1955). That was based on another true story of a corrupt rural town that elects a man to office who has to defeat the sleazy politicians and clean up the gambling in a series of bloody confrontations. This was his most popular film and he delivers a good strong action picture.  Joe Don Baker has the formidable look that fits the character. He’s very affable on screen and easy to like. He needs to carry what is essentially a pretty low budget picture. Sets are dressed with a minimal look. The gambling infested clubs have cement floors, cheap tables and chairs and a few rock posters on the wall. There are a few pool tables and juke boxes. Any offices seem thrown together in minutes. This truly has the feel of a cheap exploitation picture. It’s heavy on the action and strong on tough confrontations. That style suits the material and drives the film very well. Occasionally the sentimentality gets out of hand. The overly melodramatic scenes are plentiful and don’t always fit well. Poor Buford is always getting beat up, sliced up and shot up. It does get a bit much when his nine-year-old son totes his birthday rifle into the hospital to stand guard over his dad as he brushes back tears. There are plenty of recognizable characters actors to be spotted like Gene Evans (Giant Behemoth), Kenneth Tobey (the Thing, Billy Jack), Judo Gene LeBell, Bruce Glover (Diamonds are Forever, Chinatown) and future teen idol Leif Garrett as Buford’s son (the one with the rifle).

At 125 minutes, Walking Tall does overstay its welcome. There is repetitiveness to the sheriff being left for dead and making miraculous recoveries more than a few times. The last one leaves Buford in a cast that covers him from the eyes down with little holes for his ears and mouth. He spends a lot of time in that get up and when you think the film is over there is yet another epilogue followed by a coda. Forgiving that, Joe Don Baker walks tall here and you’ve got a pretty solid southern action film. While it never quite makes up its mind whether it wants to be an exploitation, action or Hallmark TV movie style biopic, there is more than enough here to enjoy and have a great time with.

Walking Tall Part Two (1975) Watching these three back to back is a little like watching the same movie over and over again, only it gets worse each time. This one is easily the worst of the bunch. There is a paucity of action this time around. The film picks up where the first one ended and kind of tells the same story over again. We see the same streets, sets and many of the same exact cars. Grandpa and Grandma and the kids are back for the sequel, only this time Buford is played by Bo Svenson. Bo is one huge guy, who looks pretty tough, only he can’t act all that well. Much of the film has to ride on his shoulders and they are not up to it. The other two are rated R and this one is only PG that means the even balance between exploitation and wholesomeness rests maybe too far in the wrong direction this time out. It’s a dull outing with nothing much to recommend about it.

Final Chapter: Walking Tall (1977) Bo Svenson, Grandma and the kids are back but there are a couple of changes this time out. Forrest Tucker (F Troop, Crawling Eye) plays Grandpa and he is very good, as always. We get to see Buford do a bit more sheriffing around town. The film’s rating is back up to an R rating which provides another uneasy mix of sadism and sentiment. At one point a hooker who is suspected of aiding the sheriff is stripped, tied to a chair and shocked to death with car battery cables. That tough sordid scene never balances with the family values tone that permeates most of the picture. One interesting aspect in this one is that we get to see how the fame from the first film affects Buford the person in the rest of his life. There is a movie premier right in town and Hollywood is set to star Buford in the sequel. He dies in a very suspicious car accident. That this one has a bit more punch than its predecessor is likely down to director Jack Starrett who did the Cleopatra Jones films and the Warren Oates devils in the dessert flick, Race with the Devil. For those fans of the hops, the first two films are loaded with cans of Miller. There are hundreds of them in the first one alone. In the last installment, only one paltry can of Bud stands out on the bar.

All Three films are 1.78:1 and look excellent. Shout has done a fine job here. Earlier editions have been chopped into full frame or cropped in the wrong ratio. Walking Tall gets a striking upgrade and is likely the best the film has ever looked. The sequels look fine, too. Grain is present and all three still look like films. None of these will ever be a candidate for best looking film of the era, however if you are going to look this is by far your best bet. There are no chapter stops. Each film gets its own disc.

All three sport a mono track in English with no subtitles. While dialogue is always clear the mix on each varies. Music is sometimes overwrought but never that distracting. It gets the job done.

Vintage featurette for The Final Chapter, trailers and TV spots. The TV spots show people standing and applauding the screen. Definitely worth a look. The featurette is dull. There is a booklet with poster reproductions.

The main extra here, Walking Tall, The Buford Pusser Story is on the second disc though it has much more to do with the first film. It is pretty useless. We see several members of the cast taking turns all basically saying the same thing. No matter who they are asked about the answer is, “He was great to work with, a sweetheart. We still keep in touch.” Joe Don Baker, though not seen, does a very stiff reading of his thoughts about the film. Phil Karlson is not mentioned once. For shame.

On a scale of Poor, fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

DVDs – Good/Excellent

Movies – Walking Tall – Good, Walking Tall part 2 – Poor, Final Chapter: Walking Tall – Fair