Savage Hippie Podcast Episode 60 – More Like Lords of GAYos If You Ask Me!

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Rachel, Elya, and I talk about the Lords of Chaos movie, which if the title isn’t a dead giveaway, I thought sucked ass. Then we talk about the recent John Wayne controversy. And then in the second half, we answer listener questions.

For Sounds of Marshabaloosh, we play a “Nekromantia” by Horna, both because I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal lately, and because I’m seeing ’em live on March 30th. Woot!

Rachel did the artwork, and the song at the end is “The Diet Has Failed” by the Yesticles.

Ten Things I Will Always Find Funny About Old Movies

dvdsA couple days ago, I once again enjoyed Howard Hawks’ 1959 western Rio Bravo, in which John Wayne plays sheriff John T. Chance, who is trying to keep a gang of thugs from running roughshod all over his dinky little town, while only having help from an alcoholic named Dude played by Dean Martin and a cripple named Stumpy played by Walter Brennan. There’s so much to like about the movie; the budding romance between an awkward and possibly virginal John T. Chance and the super hot gambling huckster babe Feathers (Angela Dickinson); Dean Martin’s struggle with the bottle; the comic relief from Stumpy; the gun slinging action; baby faced Ricky Nelson proving his chops to the older guys… what a GREAT movie, right?

Well, yeah, except if you’re not used to watching these kinds of movies. For one thing, at two hours and twenty minutes, Rio Bravo doesn’t exactly BREEZE by. On top of that, for being a western, it’s actually pretty low on action. It’s a CHARACTER driven movie, rather than one based upon a lot of fast paced gun play. Thirdly, I can picture young people finding Ricky Nelson incredibly annoying with his “yes sir”/”no sir”/”gee wiz sir” persona. Okay he doesn’t say “gee wiz”, but he does look like an overly wholesome little boy, not a rough and tumble gunslinger. And fourth, you have to suspend your disbelief since nobody bleeds when they get shot, and John Wayne gets knocked out rather easily when he trips over some wire. I’ll talk about those below, but my point is that, unless someone regularly watches old films and is used to suspending his or her disbelief, which is what audiences had to do before better special effects were created, a movie like Rio Bravo might seem dated and downright silly.

So, the other day, I read an article from LA Weekly called “Stop Laughing At Old Movies, You $@%&ing Hipsters” in which the author complained that hipsters laugh at old movies because of the hammy acting, outdated special effects and cheap set designs. While, in principle, I agree this is a stupid thing to do, especially if you shelled out the money for the movie in the first place, I also feel that the author was using the wrong movie with which to make her point.

She had attended a screening of Mario Bavo’s 1961 fantasy epic Hercules in the Haunted World, for which the theater provided a 23-piece orchestra and nine singers to accompany the soundtrack. What the fuck for? Hercules in the Haunted World is one of hundreds of Italian peplum films that came out in the late 50s though the early 60s; sword and sandal adventure epics where shaved and greased down, half naked body builders of questionable acting ability fight atop foam rocks and coliseum backdrops either in historical reenactments or purely fantastical plots against giant puppets or stop motion monsters while attempting to save unbelievably gorgeous women, who are most likely supermodels, not professional actresses. Do you see where I’m going with this? Hercules in the Haunted World is not exactly high art. So the fact that people laughed at the melodrama, cheesy special effects or the fake looking sets is NOT necessarily because of their philistinism, but possibly because the movie was legitimately funny at times.

That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, but COME ON. Some things just DO NOT age well. And considering the other examples of films the author gave- 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, The Exorcist – it make me wonder if she’s not talking out of her ass or just happened to be in the theater on a particularly bad day. So I decided to give the “hipsters” the benefit of the doubt and compile a list of items from old movies which will always evoke at least a smirk out of me, if not outright laughter. Lighten up guys, they’re just movies.

1.) When people get knocked out cold by a single, ineffectual hit

Either people were much weaker in the past, or people used to hit a lot harder, but it’s funny to note how easily people can just get knocked out in old movies. I’ve taken the kinds of hits and spills that have knocked out some of the characters in these old movies and not gotten knocked out; am I then to believe that I’m tougher than John Wayne? Case in point; Rio Bravo. The nogoodniks in the film stretch a string across the base of a stairway, John Wayne goes running down it, crashes to the ground and is out like a light. Now, that’s just ridiculous; I’ve actually drunkenly tumbled down concrete stairs and stood up unaffected. Scott Rosendall, my wheelchair confined buddy, went speeding down a flight of stairs, sat up and crawled into his awaiting wheelchair. Is wheelchair using Scott Rosendall then tougher than John Wayne? Another example that immediately comes to mind is when the monster in The Thing from Another World (1951) pushed the scientist over, and he was out cold. Seriously, the monster just pushed him, and he was out. If people got knocked out just from being pushed, then every single mosh pit would quickly turn into a mountain of unconscious bodies laying one atop another.

2.) When people get shot, but don’t bleed

Howard Hawks’ 1932 gangster classic Scarface, which stars Paul Muni as a prohibition era liquor peddling thug named Tony Comanti, was once considered one of the most violent movies of all time. But how violent is a movie where nobody expels any actual blood? We see lots of smoking guns and people clutching their chests and/or bellies either out of pain or to hide the fact that there is no actual bullet hole, but NOBODY BLEEDS!!! Now, in old fashion Westerns, this is somewhat excusable considering that cowboys were using pea shooters that often couldn’t even break skin, but for cryin’ out loud, these gangsters are using TOMMY GUNS to fill rival gangsters and the occasional innocent bystander full of holes. What’s even more problematic is that this wasn’t fully alleviated until WELL into the 60s. Although Hammer studios introduce blood and gore via Dracula (known as Horror of Dracula in North America) to the big screen and a surprising amount of it considering it came out in 1958, and Hitchcock’s Psycho had “blood” in the form of chocolate syrup going down a shower drain during the infamous Janet Leigh stabbing scene, and John Ford’s 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance showed a tiny bit of blood dripping from John Wayne’s arm, Sergio Leone’s 1964 western A Fistful of Dollars had a scene where some banditos disguised as Union soldiers gun down a bunch of Mexican soldiers, and NONE of the Mexican soldiers bleeds a single drop. Thank God for the invention of the squib!

3.) When monsters can do nothing but push or throw people

In real life, if you pick up a little girl and throw her into your local pond, and she drowns, you’re one sadistic son of a bitch! However, if you do the same thing in a movie, such as the 1931 classic Frankenstein, you’re pretty much stretching the boundaries for the amount of violence you’re allowed to inflict on other people on a movie screen. Wait, no, there is the part where Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz is found hanging on a noose, but in general, the movie monsters couldn’t really DO anything, and you had to REALLY use your imagination. Probably the most annoying culprit is the creature in Creature from the Black Lagoon. It screeches, it stomps around, it kidnaps the girl, it pushes people and well, it pushes more people. Hey, did you see that super crazy, violent horror movie where the monster pushes people? Okay, old horror movies did have some surprisingly grizzly scenes – the human head hunting trophies in The Most Dangerous Game, the scene where Bela Lugosi skins Boris Karloff alive in The Black Cat, the scene at the end of Island of Lost Souls where the mutants revolt and mutilate Charles Laughton with surgical tools, the scene in Freaks where we see Olga after she’s been turned into a duck woman – but none of the actual violence happens ON screen; one noteworthy exception is in the 1933 British horror film The Ghoul, where a corpse played by Boris Karloff carves an ankh into his chest with a knife, and I suppose you can count the scene in King Kong when the gorilla steps on a baby’s head, but these are the exception. Do we get to SEE the werewolf in Werewolf of London or The Wolf Man mutilate people? Did we actually SEE Count Dracula suck anyone’s blood? Of course not (at least not until Terence Fisher’s 1958 adaptation of Dracula); we have to pretend these monsters are hurting people! One point of interest is that, in 1938, when Frankenstein had a theatrical re-release (on a triple bill with Dracula and Son of Kong), censors in various cities snipped the part where the monster throws the girl into the water, cutting right as the monster leans in on her and grins, unintentionally implying something far more sinister than what actually took place in the excised footage.

4.) When people replace swear words with words that you hear in kids cartoons

Imagine you’re watching a detective or gangster picture, and a character gets really angry, and he says, “you better watch it, buster!” BUSTER? Did people actually say BUSTER back then? Not even “you bastard”, but “BUSTER”?! Somehow seeing Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer or Little Ceasar Rico or Tom Powers or whoever else say “buster” just doesn’t make them seem as bad ass as they once seemed. And everyone knows that, when people think of “bad ass”, they think of an adorable, diminutive  Jewish man named Edward G. Robinson.

5.) Any black actor prior to Sidney Poitier, Woody Strode or that one guy in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing

In the 1950s, liberal directors of the era all of a suddenly began casting blacks in relatively respectable roles. When I say blacks, I mean Sidney Poitier, Woody Strode and that one guy that was in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing; and by “respectable”, I mean you’re supposed to feel bad for that guy – okay, fine, his name is James Edwards, and he was in such noteworthy films as Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (1949) and Samuel Fuller’s The Steel Helmet (1951) – when Timothy Carey tells him, “you’re wrong, nigger.” But before that, hooo boy… You don’t want to laugh because you’ll be looked at as an asshole, but hey, back then the roles given to black actors weren’t exactly the most empowering, talking like completely illiterate, recently freed slaves with their “suh, suh, I’s dint know, suh suh.” To be fair, Clarence Muse, the coach driver in the 1932 horror film White Zombieand I guess he was in a bunch of other stuff, like the b-picture Invisible Ghost (1941) and Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945) –  wasn’t too, how shall I say it… well, he shouts, “ZOMBIES!!!”, not “SUH! SUH! I SEES ZOMBIES, SUH!!!” However the same can’t be said for Mantan Moreland in King of the Zombies (1941) or Napoleon Simpson in  The Mummy’s Curse (1944). Oh, and check out the hilarious maid roles played by Butterfly McQueen in Gone with the Wind (1939), Mildred Pierce (1945) and many others. Quoth McQueen: “I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business. But after I did the same thing over and over, I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid.”

6.) All white people pretending to be non-white people

I’m definitely going to hell for this one… from Walter Long as the freed slave Gus in Birth of a Nation to Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer to Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the “yellow menace” Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to all of the Spaniards and Italians who played Indians in John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn… in our modern times, it’s seen as ugly, tacky, grotesque and unpleasant the way many a white actor has portrayed blacks, Asians, Americans Indians and even Arabs – Stanley Donen’s 1965 film Arabesque f’rinstance –  but the clumsy and ham-fisted delivery of these characters causes me to giggle, and to suppress your laughter in the face of political correctness is to die a slow death.

7.) When people act overly scared by stuff that isn’t very scary

Once again, to be fair, one could say this about the majority of old horror films. However, sometimes  an actor or actress’s delivery is so melodramatic, and the fear he or she evinces is so over the top when compared to what he or she is experiencing in the movie, that it becomes comical. The funniest example off the top of my head is the woman shrieking as though she’s being raped as a puppet skeleton approaches her in William Castle’s 1959 schlock fest House on Haunted Hill.

8.) People in rubber monster costumes destroying miniature cities

Everyone who knows about Godzilla knows that each Godzilla movie got progressively sillier, as Godzilla himself went from being a symbol of atomic horror to a downright adorable, lovable dinosaur that, in spite destroying entire cities, had a buddy in the form of a ten year old boy in Godzilla’s Revenge (1969). But even in the original 1954 Gojira, the one where it’s a straight up horror movie without any of the cutesiness, he’s still just a guy in a suit throwing around toy cars and walking over miniature model cities between cuts of freaked out Tokyo citizens. And let’s face it; in a lot of these films, the buildings just look like milk cartons with squares painted on them. In the case of the 1962 Swedish monster film Reptilicus, a miniature monster destroys other miniatures and, since no rear screen projection is even used to put people on screen with the monster, the film ends up looking like a glorified puppet show.

9.) Scrolling backgrounds you see from car windows

Driving sequences in old movies just don’t look very realistic, ya know?

10.) REALLY vague allusions to sex 

The film noir pot boiler Kiss Me Deadly, adapted from the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name, directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Ralph Meeker as the sleazy private dick Mike Hammer, is a remarkably modern, unflinchingly violent and hard edged film for something that came out in 1955; the torture sequence alone is rather chilling. Yet even it suffered from the censorious confines of the era in which it was conceived. It’s remarkable how intimidating both Meeker and the underworld thugs he encounters can be in spite nary a single cuss word being uttered. But what I found rather odd was how, when Hammer spoke with his lovely secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper), he asked her, “did you date him?” This is code for, “did you seduce him and/or sleep with him in order to snag him in an extramarital affair?” Now, come on, he asks her “did you date him?” She could just as easily say, “Yep! We went to the movies last night, and it was great!” At least that’s how I would have interpreted such a question. Another example of this type of vague sexual allusion is in Fritz Lang’s 1952 drama Clash by Night, in which Jerry D’Amato(Paul Douglas) finds out that his wife Mae (Barbra Stanwyck) had been cheating on him with Robert Ryan’s character Earl Pfeiffer. The line they used to reveal this was, “we spent all afternoon together.” WE SPENT ALL AFTERNOON TOGETHER?! Doing what? Playing cards? Watching TV? Picking our bellybutton lint? We’re just supposed to KNOW that when a man and a woman spend the afternoon together – not the NIGHT, mind you – they were necessarily fucking?!

Let’s Raise a Toast to John Wayne!

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Let it be known that, while what you get caught saying on camera or online can cost you your job and tarnish your reputation, that what you said nearly half a century ago under an entirely different context, will also forever tar and feather you.  Therefore, if you do want to have a legacy in American or Western history, your best bet is to never have said anything then, that would be considered unthinkable now.  Since time machines have yet to be invented, we’re not likely to get an apology and recantation out of John Wayne.  Therefore May 26th will not be John Wayne Day in Sacramento, CA.

For you see, California lawmakers voted 35-20 to not honor John Wayne’s birthday because he made the following statement in an interview with Playboy magazine back in 1971:

With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.

Whoopdi-fuckin’-do!  This piece of “hate speech”, which was said back in an era where civil rights/women’s lib/hippie long hairs/soon to be future leaders were clashing with old timey hard hats, who remember the good ol’ days, is the sole reason that Sacramento won’t honor American film icon John Wayne.  I don’t agree with this statement; I don’t think any group should have supremacy over another, but does that alone warrant not honoring one of America’s most enduring cultural icons?

By all accounts, John Wayne represents an America which is all but long gone, existing in little pockets of the country that get laughed at by “enlightened” urban elites.  Hell, as mentioned by Jim Goad in his latest piece for Takimag, which I more or less ripped off, Wayne and cowboys in general are used as a symbol for all that was wrong with America.  The hardcore punk band Millions of Dead Cops even have a song called “John Wayne Was a Nazi.”  This was their way of saying that he represents racism because a lot of his film characters fought Indians, who were bad guys.  I’d put the blame on directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks or their screenwriters, but that’s just me.  It’s also ironic to call John Wayne a Nazi when he was in several World War II movies, fighting for the Allies.  But, I highly doubt Millions of Dead Cops were concerned with any of that.

The point I’m making is that John Wayne and Westerns in general are not liked by very many young people these days.  Most old films aren’t liked by young people these days.  I get it; they’re slow moving, the acting is old timey, the dialogue is often corny since the actors weren’t allowed to swear and had to use words like “buster” instead of “bastard” and you never actually saw anyone bleed when they got shot.  But, of all the genres, Westerns get shit on the most.  Millennials can totally eat up classics like Psycho, with the violence, pathos and psychosis and they have no problem sitting through 12 Angry Men, in which one juror tries to convince the other eleven to acquit a wrongly accused youth, who it was implied was being accused almost entirely due to racial prejudice.

Hell they’ll watch Spaghetti Westerns since the characters are all a bunch of ambiguous assholes out for their own personal gaines – though I wonder how they feel about Sergio Leone’s sympathetic treatment of the confederacy in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  But the classic Westerns, in which John Wayne plays the all-American, gun-slinging hero are looked at as corny, representing values that most young people simply can’t relate to.

Personally I love John Wayne’s films.  In Red River, he and Montgomery Clift guide a herd of cattle across the rugged countryside, facing whatever dangers that come their way.  In Rio Bravo, Wayne plays a sheriff of a town and helps his buddy Dean Martin kick his drinking habit, after which, the two of them, along with Ricky Nelson, have a wild shootout with some bandits.  In The Searchers they genocide Indians… juuuuuuust kidding, but that’s what my friend Brian said during the climactic shootout when he, Kristen and I watched it.

If you want to trace how I got to where I am today, blame it on the movies!  That’s right; blame it on liberal ol’ Hollywood.  In 2005, I was an overnight film convert.  At first, I watched nothing but old monster pictures, the horror classics of the 30s and 40s – I literally watched The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse in a single evening – then moved into old science fiction films with the flying saucers and the giant rubber monsters that crush cities, then onto the gangster pictures and film noir and lastly onto the Westerns.  And of course I’ve seen the what’s what of classics; Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, etc.

I basically viewed old cinema as a window into another time and another world.  Nothing too surprising there; old cars, old buildings, old streets, old sidewalks, old etc. etc..  And, man oh man, did I enjoy the exploits of the private dicks Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and Philip Marlow in The Big Sleep.  I got a kick out of watching Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo double cross a gangster played by Dan Duryea in Criss Cross.  I enjoyed watching Paul Muni become the biggest and most violent gangster in Chicago, only to get his comeupponce when he gets his brains blown out by the cops in the original, 1932 Scarface.  I enjoyed watching Richard Widmark and a bunch of underworld scum going after a piece of mircofilm in Sam Fuller’s cold war thriller Pickup on South Street.  And wowee, did I like watching Mike Hammer grab the one guy who was tailing him by the collar, slam him into a wall and slap him around a few times in Kiss Me Deadly.

I enjoyed watching the American military blast down the flying saucers in the surprisingly titled Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.  I felt bad for three explorers watching all of their gold dust blow away in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  I can’t honestly say I was frightened by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I can say it was disturbing watching the people of that little town being replaced by zombified replicas of themselves; I think the fright factor was removed by the fact that the movie was framed as a flashback, so you know that it ends well.

That one’s always a trip; liberals and conservatives are always arguing about what that movie is actually saying. Liberals say it’s about conformity in middle America brought on by consumerism.  Conservatives say it’s a red scare warning, that you never know who might be a commie fink.  I say, “who cares?”  It’s a great, compelling little thriller.  The fact that Don Siegel went on to direct Dirty Harry still doesn’t indicate anything; after all, you could be against middle class conformity, yet still believe there’s a class of criminal that doesn’t deserve due process.

But this piece is supposed to be about John Wayne and why young people don’t like him.  He represents old timey values and traditional masculinity, but what’s interesting to note is that many of the above movies have plenty examples of those values as well.  Who is Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer) if not an alpha male?  Or Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade, Philip Marlow)?  My thinking is that, though these characters are still tough guys who settle their scores with a bullet or a fist, the movies throw them into morally ambiguous situations, and young, nihilistic liberals love that.  Good guys and bad guys?  Fuck that shit; everything’s relative.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these young dipshits calls The Thing from Another World racist because the crew stationed at the arctic decided to defend themselves against the creature, rather than capturing and studying it.

In John Ford’s 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne goads the city boy lawyer Jimmy Stewart into punching him in the face.  He laughs it off, but the implication is that he made the lawyer throw his first punch, making him settle things the old fashion way, and thus turned Stewart into a real man.  After all, what kind of man are you if you haven’t thrown a punch or two in your life?  Sometimes I think the same about shooting a gun, and I wish I could take one or two of my liberal friends with me to the range, and help man them up a little more.

Anyway, Cheers John Wayne, I’ll have a drink for you on May 26th.