Ricardo Montalban

Wonder Woman (1974, Vincent McEveety)

Wonder Woman doesn’t work out, but it should. And lead Cathy Lee Crosby is so serious about her performance and the role, even when it’s underwritten, it’s hard not to be sympathetic. John D.F. Black’s simultaneously awful and inventive teleplay recasts Wonder Woman as a spy, only one who works as a secretary. Her boss knows she’s a superpowered James Bond, but he lets her be his secretary. Possibly because he’s incompetent, but affable, which also describes Kaz Garas’s performance in the role.

When Wonder Woman has Crosby globe-trotting in pursuit of criminal mastermind Ricardo Montalban and his gang of moronic but successfully evil henchmen, it’s at its best. Crosby gets a lot to do. Director McEveety is more than competent when it comes to directing a television movie–he does have exceptional problems during the action sequences–and there’s just something kind of cool about the first part of the movie. Crosby’s just doing James Bond and outsmarting the bad guys. Once Black has to come up with a bunch of intrigue and then McEveety has to try to direct it, that point is when Wonder Woman starts slipping.

It’s also when Crosby shows up in the questionable Wonder Woman costume. It seems functional–she has gadgets and so on–but it’s really silly. They probably should’ve just skipped it.

Crosby gives a strong performance. In the action-packed finale, which usually has Montalban affably aping for the camera, it takes the promise of Crosby showing up and having something to do to keep any interest going. Wonder Woman doesn’t have the budget for Black’s plot ambitions and McEveety doesn’t even try. Instead, he does get some good moments out of Montalban. Campy, sure, but still good. And there’s something appealing about Andrew Prine’s scheming sidekick. He and Crosby have great banter; he goes for double entendres and so forth and she shuts him down every time. Their timing is perfect. It’s like someone else wrote it, since the way Black writes for Crosby and Garas’s scenes is terrible.

There’s a lot of goofiness to it as well. Not to mention the awful handling of the Paradise Island stuff (and a really bad turn from Charlene Holt in an important role). Gene Ruggiero’s editing is weak, Artie Butler’s music is weak (except when it’s Crosby’s soulful introspective moments, then it’s weak but amusing). Wonder Woman barely gets by, but it does. Crosby’s so game for it, her enthusiasm pulls it through.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent McEveety; teleplay by John D.F. Black, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Artie Butler; produced by John G. Stephens; aired by the American Broadcasting System.

Starring Cathy Lee Crosby (Wonder Woman), Kaz Garas (Steve Trevor), Andrew Prine (George Calvin), Ricardo Montalban (Abner Smith), Anitra Ford (Ahnjayla), Richard X. Slattery (Colonel Henkins) and Charlene Holt (Hippolyte).


The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988, David Zucker)

Oh, okay… it’s less than ninety minutes. I was wondering why The Naked Gun felt so fast. It’s because it’s short.

That observation isn’t a negative one—the film is a constant delight, with Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker (and Pat Proft) coming up with a good laugh or gag every thirty to forty seconds. Someone should sit down and figure out how the humor’s paced. Some of the gags get amusing because they keep them up (Leslie Nielsen being a terrible driver) as opposed to being particularly original, but then there are these fantastic inventive gags….

About halfway through, I realized Zucker (the directing Zucker) let the camera sit on his actors. His composition isn’t great—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly dynamic—but his direction is excellent. He has these long shots in this one exchange between Nielsen and Ricardo Montalban where he holds the shots to give each of them the maximum opportunity. While Nielsen’s amazing—his performance in Gun is sometimes unbelievably good, he even holds it up as the script’s approach shifts (from other people realizing he’s a dimwit to the film’s reality being slightly conked)—Montalban is great too. Zucker gives his best actors—Nielsen (obviously), Montalban and George Kennedy their own segments. Montalban and Kennedy’s both involve food.

Unfortunately, even though she’s not bad, Priscilla Presley is out of her league acting-wise.

Nancy Marchand is excellent in a smaller role and John Houseman’s cameo is wonderful.

The Naked Gun is a superb comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Zucker; screenplay by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Pat Proft, based on a television series created by Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Michael Jablow; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Leslie Nielsen (Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), Ricardo Montalban (Vincent Ludwig), George Kennedy (Ed Hocken), O.J. Simpson (Nordberg), Susan Beaubian (Mrs. Nordberg), Raye Birk (Pahpshmir), Jeannette Charles (Queen Elizabeth II), Ed Williams (Ted Olsen), Tiny Ron (Al) and Nancy Marchand as The Mayor.


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, J. Lee Thompson)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is about a bunch of ape slaves overpowering their human masters. Any film with a thirty second recap of the previous sequel by Ricardo Montalban has to be at least amusing, but Conquest is actually better than amusing (until the actual revolt begins). Since the film didn’t have any real budget, it shot entirely (I think entirely) at Fox’s then-new Century City complex–because it looked future-like. The film opens with a great fifteen or twenty minute, almost real-time sequence of Ricardo Montalban walking around with Roddy McDowell’s talking ape. Bruce Surtees shot Conquest and it’s a beautiful looking film. Director J. Lee Thompson does well in the confines too, making Century City’s stark impersonality look interesting. Montalban owns those first twenty minutes and sets the film up better than it turns out.

The problem is the eventual slave revolt. The acting is excellent across the board–Hari Rhodes as the sympathetic black guy (since Conquest is from 1972, there’s a lot more racial honesty than I’ve seen in a film in years), Severn Darden as the bad guy, and Don Murray as the sort-of bad guy. Murray’s got a few mouthfuls of exposition to get out and, while he doesn’t get them out as well as Montalban, he still does an admirable job. Paul Dehn wrote Conquest (he also wrote the unspeakably awful Beneath and the superior Escape) and he does layer some complexities into the characters, Murray’s especially. Unfortunately, Dehn doesn’t give McDowell as the ape leader any complexity. Once the revolt starts, the film becomes visually dynamic–to a point–the scenes of the revolt are good, but the dramatic thrust of the film is gone. Since the ending is predetermined for a large part, there’s not much interesting going on.

McDowell’s the film’s second biggest problem. His character makes a huge transition in addition to going from being the protagonist to being the subject of Conquest and he doesn’t pull it off. That failing isn’t really McDowell’s, but the script’s. There’s only so much one could do with a film like Conquest–first, that predetermined outcome, second, the single talking ape (as opposed to… I don’t know, two. Two would have done it), and then the cast of human characters. Conquest doesn’t pull many punches about whose side it’s own either. There are a bunch of white guys in jack-boots and SS outfits giving black people shit and beating defenseless animals. There’s a visual metaphor, but it doesn’t go much further, which is kind of nice. Conquest needed to embrace what it had more, instead of working blindly toward its ending. Still, it’s a great looking film. Thompson’s use of the limited set, along with Surtees’s lighting, is beautiful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by Paul Dehn; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Marjorie Fowler and Alan Jaggs; music by Tom Scott; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century-Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Caesar), Don Murray (Breck), Natalie Trundy (Lisa), Hari Rhodes (MacDonald) and Ricardo Montalban (Armando).


Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971, Don Taylor)

I occasionally–or often, depending on the films I’m going through–start a post saying how much I was dreading the film and how well it turned out. Usually, these are films I used to love and haven’t seen in ten years and was worried about them. I wasn’t dreading Escape from the Planet of the Apes, I was wholly anticipating suffering for ninety minutes. I rented the Apes box set from Nicheflix and, after the first two–especially the second one, since Paul Dehn wrote both it and this film–I was desperate to avoid Escape, to avoid continuing the series. I rented it on a lark anyhow, just because Nicheflix’s price was great for six movies.

For those who don’t know, who somehow missed Escape on TV every other weekend throughout the 1990s, it takes place in modernity (1973), and features Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter (as the apes from the first two movies). They travel back in time. Nicely, the film doesn’t even bother getting into the “science” of it, not even wasting time on that sort of puffery. Not to say Escape is a lean film. The first couple acts are lean, but towards the end it starts to drag. Roddy McDowell really impresses in this film, while Kim Hunter doesn’t quite work. She has more to do and the audience is supposed to be sympathetic towards her because of the other movies. McDowell isn’t treated so nonchalantly and he provides a funny and touching performance.

But Escape doesn’t work because of the apes, it works because of the people. This film is not a serious rumination on time traveling apes. It’s a somewhat serious film, but it knows how to get the audience going, but engaging their expectations for future apes in modernity. There’s a hilarious montage of the two going around and getting dressed up (speaking all the latest colloquialisms too). It’s got a playful 1970s Jerry Goldsmith score, probably the most playful thing I’ve ever heard from him (and the best) and a lot of the film is just about having fun. Maybe not laughing out loud, but being amused. The serious parts come when the filmmakers realized they needed a conclusion, so some scientist decides the apes need to go. The scientist, played by Eric Braeden, gives the best performance in the film. Escape introduces some real internal conflict into the film series–because the scientist goes nuts and he gets it. He recognizes he’s lost it.

There are some other good performances, mostly smaller ones (Ricardo Montalban has a fun cameo and William Windom is good). The secondary male lead, Bradford Dillman, is good too, but his character is nice and nothing more.

The direction (by Don Taylor) seems bigger than the first two films in the series, which it shouldn’t. It feels more epic, but it’s really just in that early 1970s style, when extreme long shots were big in mainstream movies. A lot of it looks like a TV show, but a good one. Taylor also gets the humor and knows how to direct the audience’s attention to it without having to bonk them over the head.

I’m not sure at what point during the film I realized it was actually successful and good, but it didn’t take too long. From the opening credits, it becomes obvious it’s going to be entertaining, and while Kim Hunter’s failure to create a truly sympathetic character hurts it, Braeden makes up for that absence but giving the film a great antagonist. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’d be understandable to anyone who hasn’t seen the first two films… However, it might actually be worth it for Escape.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Taylor; written by Paul Dehn, based upon characters created by Pierre Boulle; director of photography, Joseph Biroc; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Bradford Dillman (Dr. Lewis Dixon), Natalie Trundy (Dr. Stephanie Branton), Eric Braeden (Dr. Otto Hasslein), William Windom (The President), Sal Mineo (Milo), Ricardo Montalban (Armando) and Marshall Stewart (Arthur, the zoo keeper).


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

Layers. Star Trek II has a lot of layers. I couldn’t decide if, as a sequel, it had the time to work so many layers in (it runs two hours). It’s the human heart, in conflict with itself, others, and its environment. There’s so much going on and some of it is purely cinematic. The Star Trek films, for a while anyway, were the only “science fiction” films to show space with any sense of wonderment, post-2001. Star Trek II‘s layers are incredibly aided by the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the situation. But the audience doesn’t need to know too much, only the general specifics one would get if he or she asked another person about the TV show. And the other person wouldn’t have needed to see it, maybe only heard of it. Star Trek II establishes itself very quickly.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Shatner lately, not just on “Boston Legal,” but in the fan-edit of Star Trek V last week, and it’s incredible how good he is in this film. Not incredible because he’s bad today, but incredible because it’s such a good performance. Star Trek and Shatner have both been devalued in modernity–Shatner because he lets himself be and Star Trek because of the new TV shows. Star Trek II would be best appreciated by someone unconcerned with a grand sense of “continuity,” because watching or reading with such a concern immediately makes the reader totally full of it. The toilet is overflowing in fact. Star Trek II is about what it does to you in two hours and it does a lot. It propels you through a range of emotions–I’ve seen the film six or seven times since I was six and it effected me more this time, when I was watching it most critically, than ever before. Nicholas Meyer directs a tight film. He doesn’t have a lot of sets, but all of them make a lasting impression. Besides the set design and the cinematography–you can watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture to see how else the same sets can be shot–there’s James Horner’s music. It’s as effective as the pieces Kubrick picked for 2001, it really is….

I read somewhere, a few months ago, that most people identify themselves as–generally–Star Trek fans. I imagine it’s that the geeks have taken over popular culture (Lord of the Rings), leaving intelligent folks almost nothing in the mainstream… since, what, 2000? Being a fan of something in no way means it’s good–quality doesn’t enter into it, since “fans” frequently argue that art is subjective. Well, Star Trek II is sort of an innocent victim in all this hubbub. It is, objectively, excellent (I think 1982 is probably the only year three “sci-fi” movies, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, and The Thing are in the top ten). Unfortunately, its excellence is assumed to be subjective (remember, the even number Star Trek films are the good ones?), doing the film an incredible disservice. It’s an achievement in filmic storytelling, nothing else.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, based on a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards and the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by William P. Dornisch; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph R. Jennings; produced by Robert Sallin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh), Leonard Nimoy (Captain Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Judson Earney Scott (Joachim Weiss), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ike Eisenmann (Midshipman Peter Preston), John Vargas (Jedda) and John Winston (Cmdr. Kyle).


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