A motor yacht at the Marina (you enter through a caboose in honor of late lamented mater, lover of trains). A Texas dick with a certain resemblance to Thomas Magnum, the original Cody Abilene (“don’t let that cowboy charm fool ya, he graduated summa cum laude from Texas University”), has to deal with Russians stealing Yankee computers, a family with ties to the industrial front for the operation, and a blackmailing chauffeur (“I believe you Texans call it laying pipe”) whose bookie won’t wait. It opens by parodying Death Wish and whatnot at the pistol range, “it’s these hands, they’re the lethal weapons.”
“Yeah, just be careful when you play with yourself.” It’s all corralled in The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks or Michael Winner). A work of genius (the two “little ladies” in the slip next to him magnify Chandler by a factor of Antonioni).
Cobra’s house in Beverly Hills (Day of the Warrior) here serves for the Contessa, home from “a wonderful vacation in the south of France” on this assignment. An ancient feud over stock cars, the Abilenes and the Buffingtons, “fair? You wan’ fair, go to church, boy!”. Lady Chamberlain of Bel-Air with a bullhorn in a wheelchair “because she had broke her leg in a skiing accident” just one step behind Sissy Goforth in Losey’s Boom. The computer import-export man and his three goons, Matthew, Mark and Luke, “you know, we have worldwide computer investments for those people who’ve trusted us with their finances, we’ve made enormous profits for them, things look even better in the future.”
“Boy, that was really a horseshit trip to Palm Springs! I got my ass whipped, m’ borrowed car shot up, and I was raped. Y’ know, time to see just what the hell’s goin’ on around here.” Lady Chamberlain’s nephew, drag queen at a bar on the Strip called The Screaming Cockatoo (homage to Orson Welles). “Let’s have some champagne and toast my art-selling trip tomorrow,” says the Contessa, very nearly barefoot.
“I’ll toast,” replies Abilene, “but I better stay alert tonight,” a thirsty man with a long row to hoe. “Can I have some designer water?” The maid, whose name is Marian, figures in the joke of the decade, “did you hear that she got raped this afternoon by two homosexuals? One held her down and the other one did her hair!” Industrial phone sex out of Eastwood’s The Enforcer (dir. James Fargo). “Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel,” as they say at the Richard J. Riordan Central Library.
The director and screenwriter drives a mobile home through Russ Meyer’s desert landscapes, “I guess we must be near Hollywood!” The conclusion and departure (Hard Ticket to Hawaii) is filmed with The Last of Sheila (dir. Herbert Ross) evidently in mind. A masterpiece in the strictest sense of a certification by the guild, shit-kickin’ score by Henry Strzelecki with a certain resemblance to Henryk Górecki (cinematography Howard Wexler, “no relation to Haskell”).
He drinks his whiskey straight,
the only thing he likes to chase
is bad guys and ladies of the night.
Eleanor Mannikka (All Movie Guide), “routine erotic spy tale”.
Hard Ticket to Hawaii
“We got trouble in paradise, amigo.” Local weed turns industrial, cp. Cherry, Harry, & Raquel! (dir. Russ Meyer). The trade pays in diamonds from Mr. Chang, Losey’s Modesty Blaise is not without influence in these parts, far from it. Kwan Hi Lim, a favorite actor in many and many a Hawaii Five-O role, plays an H.P.D. officer near retirement, hung by his heels and shot in the back with his young replacement, cp. Dogboys (dir. Ken Russell).
The director at Edy’s, “Charlotte, I’m not just some fast-talking New York television director, I care for you a great deal, trust me, Charlotte.”
“You practically raped me last night.”
“That was last night, Charlotte, this is today.” This early work of Sidaris has genius enough for ten films, with all the elements of his style and very nearly the sweet perfection of his camerawork and editing.
Part of the pun in the title is an arduous satiric lift from the San Fernando Valley to the Sandwich Isles via cruiser Malibu Express, a great accomplishment in itself, “so tell me, waddayou feel?”
“One man’s dream is another man’s lunch.”
“You son of a bitch.” Executive-level mobster to a couple of very dumb thugs, “if brains were birdshit, you’d have a clean cage.” Death of a shotgun-wielding skateboarder using an inflatable doll as a shield, blasted by a “bazooka”. A transvestite behind the bar at Edy’s with an extensible phone bug. A sumō school, for using the pay phone.
A film with the tang of suntan lotion. “Well, the Health Department hasn’t found the snake yet, but according to their calculations the snake’s own toxins will kill it within the next thirty-six hours,” cp. The War of the Worlds (dir. Byron Haskin). From the torturesome bodybuilder in her bikini manipulating a pair of numchucks statuesquely for the camera, to the razor Frisbee butchering a casual armed guard on the beach in Olympic slow motion, the invention is tense and very amusing.
The second finale is stupendous. A girl is put in the situation of Broken Blossoms (dir. D.W. Griffith) and The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick), but responds with a hastily-loaded speargun and escapes, the scene continues as an invocation of Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (switchblade, refrigerator) until, sitting wearily on the floor beside the bathroom bowl she is surprised when a greenish glow erupts from it at one flush as the angry snake, which kills the greatly bloodied mobster and is defanged by the girl with two studied shots from a small pistol before a motorcyclist crashes in to behead the beast neatly with a rocket gun. “In a pig’s arse,” says Chang in the third, brandishing a samurai sword against defenestration.
TV Guide, “the plot here is secondary”.
“A multimillion-dollar endowment bridges the gap between outlaw and philanthropist.” Question of vengeance for the killing of a gangster’s brother by Federal agents. Cf. J. Lee Thompson’s Death Wish 4 (The Crackdown).
Sidaris has certainly found a charming way to make movies. The exhilaration of Hal Needham and the refinement of Russ Meyer aren’t lost on him. There’s more than meets the eyeful in these beautiful pictures with an offhand grandeur of settings like the terrace of a Hawaiian home along which an operative tensely walks while the breeze stirs the houseplants in a take just long enough to introduce sun and wind as co-stars (cp. Big Jim McLain, dir. Edward Ludwig). That’s the whole charm of it, an equable vision of able girls and brave men and droll action and gizmos, vehicles, boats, skyscapes, etc.
You could watch Picasso Trigger for the editing alone, it’s an equal participant that’s exemplary in making the most of any gag or scenic arrangement, satisfyingly laid out as a perfect allocation of resources from shot to shot.
The director taps a 93-foot putt, smokes a leisurely cigarette while it takes the high ground on the periphery of the green, and is there to collect when at length it drops in to win a wager.
Two cowgirls dance onstage for a passel of mobsters at the Sands, pull out guns and start firing, one thug shoots back, a girl falls wounded, the other is in peril when a he-man rescues her in the end.
A he-man karate fighter takes on large adversaries in a small room, he prevails, bullets pierce the wall behind him, a bloody-eyed brute smashes through the drywall and blazes away, one of the girls enters after him and blasts the brute.
A constant stream of amusement, derring-do and whatnot with no slackness and a sense of humor as fulsome as the girls, as knowing as the guys, as beautiful as the locations, and as clever as the title. A mob soldier observes, “it’s another bitchin’ day in paradise, huh?”
“You bet, dude,” says a colleague. Crutch gun by Salvador Dali.
The Legion to Ensure Total Harmony and Law face international criminals dealing in white slavery and snuff films out of Dallas and Las Vegas, the title character endows the new Paris Museum of Contemporary Art with cocaine money and a painting of the Picasso triggerfish worth three million dollars just before being shot by his own valet (a man in black who wears the Iron Cross on a necklace) from the sidecar of a motorcycle parked outside.
TV Guide, “silly, picturesque... an undemanding diversion”.
This fairly early Sidaris film is closer to his series work, so the very divergent style is seen close at hand, as it were. His two agents at the beginning are models in mufti who raid a dockyard warehouse full of pineapples stuffed with drugs. A cross-theme from The Third Man (dir. Carol Reed) sends the agents to the Marshall Islands with serum in a storm.
A region described as “remote” and “violently unstable” in the meteorological sense gives the locale of the title, “about six hundred miles northeast of Molokai” by chart and sextant.
There is a good deal of Japanese plunder from the Philippines lost to sight after World War II, some Navy men are after it privately but there’s a dragon guarding it, an old soldier of the Imperial Army who has a samurai sword and an abiding sense of bushido (cf. Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan, Fuller’s Tinikling, or the Madonna and the Dragon). “It will provide arms for a Japanese military government after the war.”
“Heh-heh-heh, in my opinion General Yamashita wishes to steal this gold for his own benefit.”
“General Yamashita would not betray the people of the Rising Sun.”
“I envy your devotion, and I pray for your safety.” The construction is very close to the manner of Hawaii Five-O in several instances, “Savage Sunday” (dir. Reza S. Badiyi), “The Ninety-Second War” (dir. Bob Sweeney), “Murder: Eyes Only” (dir. Michael O’Herlihy), “Legacy of Terror” (dir. Bruce Bilson) etc. “Finally, after nearly half a century, we are ready to reap the spoils of the great war.”
“What a coup. This fortune will support the revolution.”
“We will be revered by our party. Our names will be in the history books.”
“My ideology means far more to me than fame and adulation, the good of the party is my reward.” This is not the sort of thing meant by critics when they repine for want of “drawing room comedy”, which really is a matter of empty outlines in a book you fill in yourself amongst your colleagues, with crayons, critically speaking.
On the return from Knox Island, “damn it, this storm has got us so locked in I can’t even see the stars! Ain’t this a bitch? Whadda we do now?”
“All we can do is fly all night and hope we spot a place to crash-land at dawn.”
“If our fuel holds out.” Meanwhile on the political front, “together there are no boundaries for us.”
“Together we will endow our people with a new pride.”
“I could not do it without you.”
“There are a lot of things you could not do without me.” Stranded with the old soldier, man or beast, a note is adduced from Lord of the Flies (dir. Peter Brook), “who else knows you’re here?”
“My entire sorority, and they’re gonna be real pissed if I’m not back by Hell Week.” From Michael Ritchie’s remake The Island, even.
The conspirators literally bedraggle the place with metal detectors, suggesting in their mad impatience Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Freelance guerrillas (“with our own set of loyalties”) play a part in the brilliant finale. A senseless act of butchery on the shore, remembered in death, cf. Herbert Coleman’s Battle at Bloody Beach.
TV Guide, “just all wet.”
“Fortunately the war I’m waging is not governed by the Geneva Convention.” Red Chinese combat weapons, smuggled through Molokai to South America by a Las Vegas mobster (“Degas—the ‘s’ is silent”) holed up at the Rio. He kidnaps the Attorney General of Nevada, Donna’s mother. A great and brilliant work, with a brief history of London Bridge (at Lake Havasu) to crown it. “What’s the difference between a magician and a terrorist,” asks Abe The Great, “you, uh, can negotiate with a terrorist.” A specimen of the latter, top goon to the mobster, reports, “bitch is uncanny, we didn’t even know she was there.” A touch of Mickey Spillane, “those two men came out of the women’s room!” The Detroit assassins are by way of The Rockford Files (“Just a Coupla Guys”, dir. Ivan Dixon). “Unfortunately the forces we’re up against are not tied to legal obstacles such as the United States Constitution!”
The Rio’s Copacabana certainly echoes Scorsese’s Goodfellas, if only by a hair. “My love, do you still wish to kill for me?”
“I want to feel the power of controlling life—and death.” For Abe’s act, cf. Dreyer’s Vampyr, Woody Allen’s Scoop, even Roy Del Ruth’s Topper Returns. The assassins’ end is by way of Freebie and the Bean (dir. Richard Rush).
TV Guide, “assembled according to a strict formula that mixes equal parts skin, explosions, chases over land, sea and air, and cornball humor.”
Do or Die
“Six teams of assassins” sent by Kane like the elements of a Chinese hexagram, to underwrite his “six-figure donation” to the Molokai Children’s Hospital Fund in the names of Donna and Nicole, “posthumously”.
A highly characteristic shot from Hawaii Five-O places the ocean waves behind a car driving toward the camera, and adds a helicopter in pursuit. James Bond’s Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice, dir. Lewis Gilbert) even littler. Cowboys and Cajun cuisine, “lémon, y’all!”
Kane’s game, “risk tolerance”. Kane’s plan, “manipulating the American stock market.” Kane, master of shiatsu, he puts the suck in success. On the other hand, will Col. Esteban get his bird back, or “can this be the end of little Rico?” A John Ford rider (Straight Shooting, Hangman’s House) slips off his motorcycle and gets back up again.
The casual-seeming art of Sidaris is what John Singer Sargent would probably describe as a “Vulcan’s net” to catch the wriggling, elusive beauty of his locations and the formal elements of each scene. The lackluster frigorific of his icy models (Nicole’s Ninotchka lovemaking is “no frills” but tequila, salt and lime), sumptuous as the autumn landscape of the climax, plays a joke on itself as two dummies in a duck blind invaded by ninjas. Littlest Nellie (“this is a scale model of a UH-1B Huey helicopter”) launches two missiles, the wooden structure is blown to smithereens in a gust of flame, boards and studs float to the ground beside the pond. Cut by degrees to the girls in gold or pink sequins like the scales of fabulous creatures, blue sharkskin or black, toasting victory with champagne.
TV Guide, “gets off to a strong start before settling down to the usual exhibit of blazing bullets, squealing tires and luscious bodies.”
After dinner and drinks on the beach
we sit and watch the sunset,
then it’s off to party all night long—
tell me how high can one get?
We play and dance and we make romance,
tonight I’ve got the mike—
and as for tomorrow, well I never met
a zombie that I didn’t like.
A Red Chinese nuclear trigger secreted in a jade Buddha, snatched and ready for shipment to the Middle East or any Third World battlefront (cf. Polanski’s Frantic). Russ Meyer gets his due at Edy’s and “just north of Sedona, Arizona, where the magnetic vortex of Cathedral Rock is a site of great regeneration” (in Hawaii, KSXY transmits coded signals like the Maquis against the criminal mastermind Kane, belled in Do or Die). Sublimely filmed on location, with Little Nellie herself à la John Badham’s Blue Thunder (“damn,” exclaims a deputy out of Rocky and His Friends, “there’s sump’n you don’t see every day!”) and Doris Wishman’s ear for a good song.
On and on my heart keeps pounding,
on and on the sea keeps rolling on.
Down and down my love keeps drowning,
you’re the sea and I keep going down.
“Fuck,” says Kane foiled by Donna, “an astonishing woman.” The smuggler chief is vexed by men with “no manners”, nevertheless he “could sell a woman like that for big money.” A couple of hirelings with an Acme hovercraft, “when we are finished wid her she will be singing de song of death, and Lucas will applaud her from hell.”
LUCAS: You wouldn’t have any explosives on you, would you?
EDY: Yeah, but you’re gonna have to carry me home.
“How you wanna plan this?”
“We just go in, and kick ass.”
“That’s a plan.” The revamped Little Nellie and her bearded banzai pilot Raven are neatly and rather spectacularly exploded.
TV Guide, “the familiar Sidaris roster of superagents,” which is to say “the usual gang of idiots.”
Fit to Kill
New Las Vegas, autre affaire de Chang (cp. Hard Ticket to Hawaii). The opening titles suggests Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron, the opening sequence Terence Young’s From Russia with Love. The director, who resembles Fellini the way Sydney Pollack resembles Pinter, crosses beautiful deserts of Meyeresque hommages (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, also Motor Psycho and Supervixens, etc.) to end in the sea of E la nave va.
All the poetry of Sidaris’ films is here in separate scenes that, taken individually, are quite remarkable for their speed and eloquence (the editing, particularly of the finale, is once again a thing of beauty). Take the great statuesque brunette in miniskirt and Wellingtons and fingerless black gloves (even breastplates later) who inexpressively loads a remote-control toy helicopter with palm-sized explosive rockets. This is a Dieterle specialty, Mallarmé’s “Other Fan”,
O dreamy one, so I may dive
Into pure delight unplanned,
Know how to, by a subtle lie,
Keep my wing within your hand.
Or the lady with a microphone in a radio studio (KSXY, “The Voice of the Friendly Isle”) at night, nearly bare under her wrap, accosted by a burly masked marauder whom she fends off with numchucks until he draws a knife and is confronted by a man in a white shirt (Mikael Petrov, emissary of the C.I.S.) who almost gains the upper hand when the brute pulls a small pistol from behind his back and gets away. The man wonders who he was, but the lady doesn’t know. “I had no idea that people’s deputies are trained in combat.”
“Well, yes, we’re being trained in almost everything now.” The beautiful technique in counterpoint with these shenanigans is in a suite at the Aladdin, a magazine couple (the brunette assassin and her victim) are having a candlelight supper, the camera curves around each one to see the other reflected in the windows as they converse (cf. Losey’s Boom) on matters pertaining to Hard Hunted and the revenge of Kane, “my former associate Mr. Genghis Po hired you to kill me. Tell me, is he still masquerading as a Red Chinese agent?” Or it’s in the final approach of a jetliner down the length of a Honolulu breakwater. “Think about it, Mr. Chang. Would Red Chinese agents on a covert mission in the United States run around with red stars on their uniform?”
A Sidaris film is like a two-hour vacation in Hawaii, which is fairly what Haydn had in mind. A handsome couple are picnicking on the beach, he takes out his Canon while she poses easily and the scene becomes a figurative photo shoot. Two comical goons in a nearby tent send a remote-control toy car to blow them up, but it returns home and fires their tent into the air. Miraculously, they are only singed.
The MacGuffin is the Czarina’s diamond, stolen in Stalingrad by Nazis (“the Germans penetrated the heavily-guarded museum area where the Alexa diamond was kept... it was to be given to Hitler in celebration of victory on the Eastern Front”) and again in South America, destined for the Commonwealth of Independent States. A mirror to the action is a wild goose chase after a purloined bauble that is a homing mechanism on the very man who stole the diamond on Maui, “notorious arms dealer” Kane and so forth. A dogfight of toy helicopters decides the issue when the brunette on her motor yacht is blown to smithereens.
TV Guide, “seems to be slumming more than usual.”
Day of the Warrior
“Fine art smuggling... diamond-pirating scam... porno operation.” He has a cabin on Lake Dallas and until “the Cold War ended” was an agent for the CIA in Russia. “Let’s face it, we reek as investors,” the two Malibu “hitters” Smith & Barney are “Harvard Business School grads—well, give or take a class or two.” Cobra in her mirrored bathroom undoubtedly recalls Gen. Turgidson’s secretary in Dr. Strangelove (dir. Stanley Kubrick). “The S.O.B.” is furthermore “involved in furnishing women for clients in the Mideast—white slavery, if you will” (cf. “Our Man in the Harem”, dir. E.W. Swackhamer for McCloud).
“That damn owl again! Shut up!” Far be it from anyone to accuse Sidaris of anything like a satire here. He means to be dazzling, and is so. Still, even in so fast-moving and epical a work, one can find comforts here and there that satisfy a taste for japes at things overtaken by seriousness as a result of ad campaigns and wishful thinking, such as the remodeled Rodeo Drive into which the fulsome superagent Cobra strides so fantastically (cp. The Taking of Beverly Hills, dir. Sidney J. Furie). It’s a fantastic place, a sort of Disneyland town architecture, and there’s no surprise in discovering what’s behind the façade, on the contrary. The pleasure of recognition also accompanies Willow Black in Las Vegas, where another L.E.T.H.A.L. agent undercover as impressionist Elvis Fu is inadvertently knocked to the floor by her enormous superstructure in a single turn from the waist (cp. The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, dir. Piers Haggard). And there are Washington, D.C. and LAX.
“This used to be a sleepy little town, now look at it!” A fine parody of The Fighting Seabees (dir. Edward Ludwig) has Smith & Barney blazing away on a bulldozer. What did the Chief of Operations, Dallas Texas Division, do in her former job at Disneyland? “I was one of the rides.” Sidaris is so inspired he rigs up a video shoot so the artistes may be seen in harness, as it were. Charming fashions are worn by the ladies, miniskirts in black openwork or gold lamé, and of course Willow Black’s Old Glory two-piece for the dramatic fight in the ring with the Warrior. A jet landing in fog makes two pretty contrails. The inexpressible sense of Lichtenstein is multiplied by example (Dan Flavin is perhaps evoked around the ring). Cobra lights up a cigar, the camera pulls back to reveal she’s sitting on her beau hunk’s chest as she puts a cellphone to his ear. Longwood General Store makes a cameo appearance in the style of Walker Evans.
“We leave tonight, on my private jet for South America,” cf. Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Julie Strain is magnified in a red vinyl two-piece combination by a low angle, statuesque (her lovely face receives the homage of a close-up in slow motion, Sidaris demonstrates the height of good taste by eschewing “slo-mo” for the genuine article as a rule). The agency mole is nicknamed Hard Drive and paid off à la Savage Beach with interest, him and a “cheesy blonde” moll. The great naval battle on the bayou (our side is the VIP Vindicator, cp. Picasso Trigger) replicates Jutland, one feels certain. The Warrior is played to the very hilt by Marcus Bagwell (unrecognizable as Buff) and is of course the character invented by Rod Serling in Ralph Nelson’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, “rah!!”
TV Guide, “it's hard to imagine what he considers the real raison d’être of these films.” Sandra Brennan (All Movie Guide), “this actioner features plenty of exposed mammary glands, erotic dancing, fighting, explosions and gunfire.”
Return to Savage Beach
“Through the years, political bandits ordered stolen treasures to be hidden on a remote island in the Pacific.” The beautiful feint is on Lake Dallas terrorists armed through Mexico by Red China, cf. “The Best Laid Plans” (dir. Alan Crosland, Jr. for Peter Gunn). “It’s OK, Fu,” short for Fujitaka, “the Warrior’s on our side now.” Ninjas with painted faces, “kabukis”. If Lichtenstein, then Warhol... Aboard the Atlantis out of Maui for an undersea voyage to Savage Beach.
Interpol Berlin and a Swiss Army knife, Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton) and The Andromeda Strain (dir. Robert Wise). A sort of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” with Officer Naughty (cf. Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!, Frankenheimer’s The Holcroft Covenant), “Prisoner of Love”. All of this with a sense of Donovan’s Reef (dir. John Ford) in the imperturbable background. Perhaps, after all, the ægis of Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, certainly Matt Helm. A tale to tell out of Savage Beach, “I was contacted by corrupt politicians who were stealing the Philippines’ national treasures, the nation’s gold reserves, jewels, precious stones, and a priceless Buddha filled with diamonds.”
Charlie the Tuna taught us the difference between what Frost and Nabokov mean by æstheticism, and what on the other hand Beckett means by it. Watching “Degas and the Dance” on Great Performances is unmistakably a case of tuna with good taste. Frank Langella narrates with those elongated tones that on latter-day Broadway suggest elegance and cultural refinement. A curatrix points out her favorite pastel. Return to Savage Beach is the real article, here is the real boredom of pretty people enlivened by color that Peebish mummery cannot simulate, the “time between” that makes Uncertain, Texas a very touching location shot. Models and amateurs (and Buff Bagwell) go through their motions with armaments and jet skis and whatnot, and with all due respect to TV Guide, if Baywatch and Miami Vice were capable of this cinematic experience, they had every resource available to them. Sidaris is not so foolish as for a moment to think of replacing the joy in operatic abandon of Russ Meyer, but he carries the mantle nonetheless in a style that is very different yet conveys the smile of ineffability throughout. The villain wears a Phantom of the Opera mask (Webber-style) and dances with a lingerie model, a willowy blonde in a low-cut two-piece pantsuit of red vinyl who skates into a L.E.T.H.A.L. security installation with pizza and soft drinks that are Mickey Finned, finds the secret file containing a computer disk and must cross the room to the computer, which she does in a medium shot just indicating she still has her skates on. These are small things. Much of the film is the fun of playing soldiers. All of it is exquisite.
“It seems that way on the surface, yes... but alas, she turned out to be an Interpol spy working for M1, a female James Bond who loved money more than honour.” A Mission: Impossible mask (Geller-style).
Which ending does this story have?
Can I believe what I see?
TV Guide, “merely meant to be tongue-in-cheek, campy fun.” Sandra Brennan (All Movie Guide), “stuffed with the trademark busty beauties, explosive low-budget special effects, flesh-thumping martial arts and unintentionally goofy dialogue that Andy Sidaris movie aficionados have come to expect and love.”