Saturday, April 1, 2023

"April Fool" by Soul Asylum

It has been chilly for April today and I am feeling the full brunt of my seasonal allergies. For that reason I will simply leave you with a song fitting the day, "April Fool" by Soul Asylum.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Rory Calhoun in Motel Hell (1980)

(This post is part of the Favorite Stars in B Movies Blogathon, hosted by Films From Beyond the Time Barrier)

"It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's Fritters." Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun)

In the Fifties Rory Calhoun was a star. He played secondary male leads in such films as I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951),  Meet Me After the Show (1951), and  River of No Return (1954). He was the male lead in  Rogue River (1951),  With a Song in My Heart (1952), and Way of the Gaucho (1952).  He even played Betty Grable's love interest in How to Marry A Millionaire (1953). He starred in and produced the Western television series The Texan. The Sixties saw Rory Calhoun appearing more frequently on television, as well as in B-movies. Among the B-movies in which Rory Calhoun appeared later in his career is Motel Hell (1980). The black comedy received mixed reviews from critics, but has since become a cult film.

In Motel Hell (1980), Rory Calhoun stars as Vincent Smith, the successful owner of a line of smoked meats, Farmer Vincent's Fritters, alongside his sister Ida (Nancy Smith). Vincent and Ida also operate a motel on their farm, Motel Hello. The "o" on the sign burned out long ago, so that it now reads "Motel Hell."Given this is a horror movie, people travelling roads nearby Motel Hello have a tendency to disappear. It is one of those disappearances that leads Sheriff Bruce Smith (Paul Linke), Vincent's younger brother, to learn the awful truth about the source of his brother's fritters.

Motel Hell was produced and written by Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe. The two brothers were the sons of literary agent Herb Jaffe, who handled such well known writers as  Paddy Chayefsky and Joseph Heller, among others. Robert Jaffe is an actor who had appeared in films as Fuzz (1972) and The Mechanic (1972). He was also one of the co-writers of the screenplay for Demon Seed (1977). Motel Hell would be the first screenplay ever written by Steven-Charles Jaffe, who had served as an associate producer on Demon Seed and Time After Time (1979). It would also be the first screenplay the two would co-write together. According to Steven-Charles Jaffe in an article on the film in Fangoria no. 9 (November 1980), the two brothers decided to write something together and thought of doing a horror movie. They had a working draft of the screenplay finished in four weeks.

While the screenplay for Motel Hell was completed in 1977, it would take some time for the Jaffe brothers to sell it. In the aforementioned Fangoria article, Stephen-Charles Jafee said that the script received two sorts of reactions from studios, "They either hated it or they thought it was the most bizarre script they'd ever read, but were afraid of it and delivered a polite rejection." United Artists was initially among the studios that "delivered a polite rejection." Fortunately, for the Jaffe brothers, there would be changes at United Artists. The studio contacted them and struck a production deal with them.

Motel Hell would be directed by English director Kevin Connor, who had already directed one horror film, the classic Amicus portmanteau film From Beyond the Grave (1974), as well as such movies as The Land That Time Forgot (1974) and At the Earth Core (1976). Kevin Connor had just migrated to Los Angeles when agent Bob Litman directed him to another agent who had received an enquiry for a director for the movie Motel Hell. Kevin Connor then visited United Artists where he showed From Beyond the Grave to the Jaffe brothers. The two loved From Beyond the Grave and so gave him a copy of the Motel Hell script to read. After having read the script, Kevin Connor agreed to direct Motel Hell so long as Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe made it a black comedy and removed all unnecessary crudeness. The brothers agreed and Kevin Connor then directed Motel Hell.

Kevin Connor's first choice to play Farmer Vincent Smith was Harry Dean Stanton. Mr. Stanton turned the part down, and so the role went to Rory Calhoun. It would be Mr. Calhoun's first lead role in years. Nancy Parsons, who played Ida, had appeared in small parts in films as well as guest appearances on television. Today Paul Linke, who played Bruce, may be best known as Grossman on the TV show CHiPs. Before Motel Hell he had appeared in such films as Big Bad Mama (1974), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), and Grand Theft Auto (1977). The role of Bruce was written specifically for Paul Linke, who had attended college with Robert Jaffe.

Motel Hell (1980) premiered on October 18 1980 and received mixed reviews. Indeed, two of my favourite critics held totally opposite views of the film. Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and wrote, "Motel Hell is a welcome change of pace; it's to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Airplane! is to Airport." Leonard Maltin gave it only one and a half stars. Other critics were similarly divided. John Stanley in Rick Chatenever of The Santa Cruz Sentinel did not care for the movie either, writing that it, "...offers precious few tricks, and even fewer treats..." People magazine gave it a fairly positive review, noting, "Calhoun does justice to an often ridiculous script."

Motel Hell made $6.3 million at the box office, more than recouping its production costs. And while it may not have been one of the biggest films of 1980, it would go onto become a cult film through airings on the various premium channels and through home video. Motel Hell has even aired on Turner Classic Movies, cementing its place among cult classics.

Of course, much of the reason Motel Hell maintains a following to this day is quite simply Rory Calhoun. He endows Farmer Vincent with a relaxed, country charm, endearing himself to the viewer even as they know full well what nefarious deeds he has been up to. As Vincent Smith, Rory Calhoun also offers the perfect balance between sanity and derangement that the role requires. Both Nancy Parsons, as Vincent's none-too-bright sister Ida, and Paul Linke, as Vincent's at times naive brother Bruce, also deliver good performances. It's largely their performances that make the film, whose script can at times border on the unbelievable, work.

While the script for Motel Hell does at times border on the unbelievable, it still somehow works. It is a sharp satire of consumerism with a wickedly dark sense of humour. Indeed, more so than other horror movies or comedies of the time, it has several quotable lines ("Meat's meat and a man's gotta eat.").

Motel Hell would hardly revive Rory Calhoun's career. In the last years of his career he continued to appear in such B-movies as Angel (1984) and Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) in supporting roles. What Motel Hell did for Rory Calhoun was give him one last memorable lead role. He may have played Eben in How to Marry a Millionaire and Jesse Hill in Ain't Misbehavin', not to mention many roles in Westerns, but many of us will always remember him best as Farmer Vincent Smith in Motel Hell.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Late Great Comic Book Artist Joe Giella

Comic book artist Joe Giella, best known for inking Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane during the Silver Age, died on March 21 2023 at the age of 94.

Joe Giella was born on June 27 1928 in Queens, New York City. He studied at the School of Industrial Art and the Art Students League, both in Manhattan, and took courses in art at Hunter College in New York City. He began his career at age 17, working for Hillman Periodicals. He freelanced for Fawcett Comics, inking stories featuring Captain Marvel. He joined the staff at what would later become Marvel Comics, working on stories featuring Captain Marvel, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner.

It was in 1949 that he joined National Comics Publications, the company now known as DC Comics. He worked on stories featuring the Golden Age Flash, the Golden Age Green Lantern, Black Canary, and various other characters edited by Julius Schwartz. In the Fifties, as superheroes fell by the wayside at DC Comics, Joe Giella inked Western stories pencilled by Alex Toth and Gene Colan, and the King Faraday stories in the title Danger Trail. During the Atomic Age of Comics, he inked Gil Kane on science fiction stories, Western stories, and crime stories.

It was with Showcase no. 4 (October 1956) that editor Julius Schwartz introduced a new version of The Flash, launching the Silver Age of Comic books and a revival of superheroes. Joe Giella inked Carmine Infantino on the new Flash series and later Gil Kane on the new Green Lantern series. He also inked the earliest Adam Strange stories in the title Mystery in Space. Perhaps the most important story every inked by Joe Giella (or any comic book artist) was "The Flash of Two Worlds" in The Flash (September 1961), which re-introduced the Golden Age Flash and introduced the DC Multiverse.

In 1964, when Julius Schwartz took over as editor of the Batman titles, Joe Giella became the inker for Carmine Infantino on Detective Comics and Sheldon Moldoff on Batman. He stayed with the Batman titles through the Batmania created by the TV series that ran from 1966 to 1968.

Joe Giella continued to work at DC Comics through the Seventies, but also began work on various newspaper comic strips. He began inking on Don Barry on Flash Gordon in 1970. He worked on The Phantom for 17 years, even helping Sy Barry with pencilling. He took over as the artist on Mary Worth in 1991 and continued to work on the comic strip until his retirement in 2016. In addition to his work on comic books and newspaper strips, he also did work for advertising agencies such as  McCann Erickson and Saatchi & Saatchi, as well as such publishers as Doubleday and Simon & Schuster.

In 2001 Joe Geilla worked on issue no. 2 on the mini-series Batman: Turning Points.

Joe Giella will always be most identified with the Silver Age at DC Comics, inking numerous stories featuring The Flash, Adam Strange, Green Lantern, and Batman. Indeed, it was Joe Giella's style that was chosen as the house style at DC Comics during the Sixties. His style was clean, crisp, fluid, and, most importantly, modern. It was Joe Giella who made Sheldon Moldoff's work on Batman look more modern, this after Sheldon Moldoff had been emulating the work of Golden Age artist and Batman co-creator Bob Kane for years. While other comic book fans might not agree with me, I think Joe Giella often made the art of various pencillers look much better. I don't think Carmine Infantino's work every looked as good as when it was inked by Joe Giella. If he was prolific and had a long career, it was because Joe Giella was so very talented.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon

I want to thank everyone who took part in the 9th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon for making it a success. We had several entries, and those entries spanned a time frame from the Sixties to the Naughts. Several genres were covered as well, from science fiction shows to sitcoms to dramas to horror shows to superhero shows. Please check out the blogathon page for the many amazing posts! Barring any extenuating circumstances, I can guarantee there will be a 10th Annual Favourite TV show Episode Blogathon next year.