Friday, May 31, 2013

Bela Lugosi in London -- Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

By Doug Gibson

LUGOSI'S FINAL BRITISH FILM ... is NOT THAT GOOD ... BUT it's not as bad as many claim. In fact, it's the final film Bela Lugosi made where he looked healthy and in charge of the production. Its main weakness is that it's a unique bit of very low-brow British comedy that was popular from the 20s to the early 1950s. "Old Mother Riley" was an ugly, cockney, ignorant widow (played by actor Arthur Lucan in drag) who muddled herself into various ridiculous situations, dragging around her fatherless daughter, Kitty, played by Lucan's wife, Kitty McShane.

Lucan and McShane gained a reputation in music halls within the British provinces. They made a string of "Mother Riley" films that earned small profits in England but were not released in the U.S. By 1952, the series was about kaput, and Lucan and his wife were separated. Renown Pictures, which was producing Mother Riley films, noted the success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and used a Renown executive, Richard Gordon, to get Lugosi to make "Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire." Gordon, a frend of Lugosi, had arranged a Dracula stage tour for Lugosi in England. For $5,000, Lugosi, well past his prime, was eager to make the film.

The plot involves Mother Riley getting her mail mixed up with a mad scientist named Von Housen (Lugosi) who thinks he's a vampire. Mother Riley gets a killer robot, Von Housen gets a bed warmer. Von Housen uses the robot to kidnap Mother Riley to his mad scientist house, with sinister servants and secret passageways, etc. Von Housen, delighted to find out Mother Riley has his favorite blood type, serves her lots of rare beef and liver. Von Housen, also seeking uranium to build more robots, has kidnapped a young lovely (Maria Mercedes) and her boyfriend. The girl's dad apparently knows where to find uranium, or something.

It's often not too clear because this movie is not really a Lugosi film. It's a showcase for Lucan's manic Mother Riley, with her rapid dialect that is hard for Americans to understand. Lugosi plays well in the film. As he did in every film, he gave it his all. Lucan's humor is very corny and not too funny. The final half of the film is comprised of Mother Riley trying to get the cops to believe her, a very unfunny battle with the robot, and a wild chase through London. As many critics have mentioned, "Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" fails because it makes the bad guys, the "monsters," look ridiculous. "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" succeeds because the monsters stay scary, and only the comedy stars do comedy. The director of the film was John Gilling, who later directed better films, including Hammer's "Plague of the Zombies." The role of a helpful maid, that might have gone to Lucan's estranged wife, Kitty McShane, was instead played by Dora Bryan, who later gained a measure of fame as a serious actress.

Gordon tried to pitch the film in the U.S. as "Vampire Over London," but there were no buyers. Lucan's Mother Riley comedy was too unique to British provinces for the U.S. market. Gordon considered taking out all Mother Riley scenes and shooting new scenes with Lugosi for a film called "King Robot," but Lugosi's soon-declining health killed that idea.

In the early 60s, it was eventually released as "My Son the Vampire," with comedy singer Allan Sherman singing a song with that nonsensical title in the opening credits. That version, which omits a dark Lugosi chuckle at the beginning as well as the actor's screen credit, is what is sold in the U.S. today and plays on Turner Classic Movies. The original British version, which might be interesting for Lugosi completists, can be purchased at AmazonUK as a Region 2 DVD. Sinister Cinema sells a print with the little-used "Vampire Over London" title. The credits at least include Lugosi's name, although there is no Lugosi chuckle.

A footnote: For many years a myth endured that Lugosi's 1952 British Dracula stage tour failed and the actor and his wife were left stranded and broke in London. The myth further states that he made "Old Mother Riley ..." just so he and his wife could have transportation fare to return home. That myth is still repeated in books and on Web sites. It's a fun tale but completely untrue. As authors Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks recount in their book, "Vampire Over London," the Dracula tour provided steady work for Lugosi -- who enjoyed good reviews -- in England for several months. It played the English provinces and suburbs of London. Its only failing was that it was not of enough overall quality to make the West End, Britain's Broadway. The "Old Mother Riley" film was in fact a bonus for Lugosi, a nice windfall -- he and his wife had already earned enough money to easily make it back to the states. Above, watch via YouTube a version of this film titled "Vampire Over London."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Mexican remake of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

By Doug Gibson

I came across a film, released via DVD by Image Entertainment Latino, called Frankestein (sic), El Vampiro, y Compania," made in 1962 by Cinematografica Calderon S.A., a Mexican film company which still exists. The movie is a comedy and a blatant remake of the Abbott & Costello classic "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." That is about the only admirable quality of the film. It's bottom-of-the-barrel low and the comedy is of the crude, unfunny type where the "funny man" screams and mugs his face up and generally does a sixth-rate imitation of Huntz Hall.

And this is a bad film. Frankly, it's very obscure and there is no English dubbing available. On IMDB it declares the dubbed version lost, but I wonder if the film was never dubbed because the producers were worried they'd be sued by Universal, which produced the Abbott and Costello film. My DVD is of course only Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish but the film can be followed by anyone familiar with Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein. In that sense it can be fun to watch, but boy it's mediocre and unfunny.

The original film has Bud and Lou as inept shippers of big packages and crates. While unloading crates containing the original Dracula and Frankenstein monster for a spook show owner, it turns out the monsters are genuine. They escape and Bud and Lou are arrested for having lost the merchandise. They are bailed out by a sexy insurance investigator who hopes the boys can lead her to the merchandise. Rotund Lou is being romanced by a sexy doctor who is helping Dracula resurrect the Frankenstein monster. The wolf man contact the boys, hoping to stop Dracula. It all ends in a party and then a castle where Dracula and Lou's paramour hope to place Costello's brain in the head of the monster. There's a subplot involving a romance between the insurance investigator and Dracula's assistant at the castle (he doesn't know about the nefarious plans) and the usually funny gags with Abbott being frustrated at Costello's "success" with the women.

The remake, Frankestein, El Vampiro, y Compania," stays pretty faithful except for these changes, which were probably due to budget constraints. There is no insurance investigator. Her role is instead played by a new character, the daughter of the spook show owner. And Dracula has no assistant. The daughter makes eyes at the Mexican version of Bud Abbott. Also, the wolfman has little to do, which is not too bad because his mask is pathetic. It looks like a $9.99 mask one could find at any store.

The "funny man" in the film, the Lou Costello character, is played by a Mexican comic named Manuel "Loco" Valdez. His name is Paco As mentioned, he's more Huntz Hall than Lou Costello. The Abbott character, not really comic, is played by Jose Jasso and called Agapito. The best part of the film is the healthy amount of attractive, dark-haired, voluptuous Mexican starlets. They look healthier than the monsters, particularly El Vampiro, played by a painfully thin, noodle-necked seventh-rate John Carradine named Quintin Bulnes. The Frankestein monster is adequate for a college film and as mentioned, the Wolfman is an ill-costumed afterthought.

One of the problems with low-budget poorly scripted, badly acted spooks comedies is that the monsters are played as ridiculous and worthy of being laughed at. The vampire in this film tries to be funny and ridiculous, mugging and jerking around. In Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the monsters retain their dignity and the comics are funny solely by their reactions to the monsters.

Other stars include Nora Veryan as the sexy doctor who entices Paco to the castle. It's worth a look, particularly if you want to see what other filmmakers did with the famous Abbott and Costello. As mentioned, no English dubbing is known to exist, but if you can get this cheap, enjoy. The IMDB page is here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book review: Harry Langdon: His Life and Films

Review by by Doug Gibson

I'm overdosing on Harry Langdon the past couple of weeks. Besides reading William Schelly's excellent biography of the silent comedy star, "Harry Langdon: His Life and Films," (from McFarland) I've watched about all the films I can find. There's a lot on YouTube (I'm listening to one of his talkies as I pen this review) and Kino offers a DVD with three of his best silent films, The Strong Man, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp and Long Pants. (I've snuck in a YouTube of Tramp ... above).

As Schelly notes, Langdon -- and his first wife Rose -- honed skills in the first-decade plus of the 20th century as a comedy burlesque team, and later a top vaudeville act. One of Langdon's specialty acts was a Night on the Boulevard, where he was a timid, comic driver. Langdon was a talented artist, and used his art in his acts. He even had a comic strip for a time. He was big as Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd ... But today, while their works appear often on Turner Classic Movies and casual film fans know their names, Langdon still often draws a blank stare. It's past time that changed. We need to lift Harry Langdon back into the film history spotlight.

 Langdon and  Rose made it to the top in vaudeville, appearing in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. This is important to note because as Schelly notes, both Frank Capra and Mack Sennett, who both worked with Langdon during his rise as a comedy star, later wrote autobiographies that contained inaccurate accounts of Langdon, claiming he had garnered very little acclaim prior to working in silent comedies. They also claimed that Langdon's career had completely collapsed with the advent of sound, and that he was a failure afterward. Again, completely false, and those accounts -- which many believed -- speak more to Capra's and Sennett's inability to forgive and forget after their highly publicized splits with Langdon in the 1920s.

Langdon honed his silent comedy skills working with the greats, Sol Lesser and then Mack Sennett, usually in shorts and sometimes in two reelers. While at Sennett, he managed to create a unique comic persona -- the little elf. A mild character whose comedy is created from his reaction to the world around him, the elf was not a physical character, or a natural brute. He usually got the girl in the end, one of his co-stars was a very young Joan Crawford, but the little elf, with his powder-white gentle face, could be considered asexual. He was a fantastic caricature for the silent star, who used bewildered expressions and a dogged, quiet, slow determination to achieve his goals. He could do physical slapstick when the script occasionally called for it.

As Schelly notes, one of the best Sennett/Langdon efforts is "Saturday Afternoon," which can be seen via YouTube here. As Schelly notes, Sennett was not a producer that stars stuck with forever and eventually Langdon moved to First National Pictures, where he established relationships with directors Frank Capra and Harry Edwards. Capra, of course, later achieved fame with a series of dramas starring Jimmy Stewart. He also developed a relationship with a writer named Arthur Ripley.

While at First National, for a couple of years, Langdon achieved super-stardom, earning several thousand dollars a week. His first two films, "The Strong Man," and "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," were very successful. "The Strong Man" carries much of the themes of Capra's later films, with honest reformist folk overcoming greed that has created anarchy and riotous lifestyles. The first was directed by Capra, the second by Edwards. Langdon's third film, "Long Pants," was directed by Capra but it was during the production of that film that the two split, with  Langdon wanting to direct his future films.

During that period Schelly notes that Langdon's marriage to Rose had collapsed, which no doubt contributed to the pressure of constantly staying a star. As Schelly notes, First National wanted two films a year and constant film success would be tough for anyone to maintain. Langdon's next two films, "Threes a Crowd" and "The Chaser," produced mediocre box office returns. Another film "Heart Trouble," was little publicized by First National and in fact is now presumed lost. During the second half of Langdon's rise and fall with First National, Sennett, who held rights to earlier unreleased Langdon shorts, released them to coincide with the release of the First National films. That act likely siphoned some of the box office proceeds from Langdon's new releases.

Now, if one believes Capra and Sennett, when his First National contract ended along with the start of the talkies, Harry Langdon's career essentially ended, and he spent 16 bleak years before he died at age 60 in December 1944. But, as mentioned, that's not true. The last 16 years of his life Langdon was constantly working in show business, films and the occasional stage act. He married twice more -- the third time being the successful one that produced a son. Until the end of his life, Harry Langdon still saw his name at the top of the credits in films he starred in. It matters little that the starring roles were for poverty row studios such as PRC and Monogram or for Columbia Studios comedy shorts department. For any silent comedy film star, that was frankly the best to be hoped for. Langdon's talkie career -- until his death -- can arguably be tagged as more successful that Keaton, Lloyd, Ben Turpin, Andy Clyde, Charlie Chase, Billy Bevan and others.

In the talkie era, Langdon made comedy shorts for Hal Roach studios, Educational Films, RKO, and Columbia's dominating department. Edwards directed many of them. He was paired often with Vernon Dent, a frequent comedy antagonist. Late in his life he was paired with the comic El Brendel. He made 47 shorts and starred in several films, directed a few, and also had small parts in bigger-budget A productions. He had money problems, usually as a result of having to meet financial obligations for his earlier failed marriages. However, the final five years of his life, Langdon appeared in 24 films, many with Columbia, which demanded physical comedy. The last five years of his life, Langdon began to age and it was no longer practical to attempt the "Little Elf" persona. It's a tribute to his skill that he was easily able to adapt his talents to the "harried businessman/husband" or "inept employee" or "unlikely, oafish hero" roles.

Langdon was good friends with Stan Laurel, and frequently wrote for Laurel & Hardy. In 1939, while Laurel was having a tiff with Hal Roach, Langdon received his last big-time. It was a great opportunity. He co-starred with Oliver Hardy in the big-budget "Xenobia." Langdon is great in the film, as the owner of an elephant that falls in love with Ollie. Harry's character sues Hardy, and it's resolved in a funny court scene. It's a funny film and is well reviewed, but the film tanked at the box office. It seems movie-goers only wanted Hardy with Laurel. Langdon, who idolized Laurel, had been told that he would get a second starring role with Hardy, but the poor returns for "Xenobia" killed that. It was a disappointment, but as Schelly notes, Langdon never had any intention of trying to break the team of Laurel and Hardy and a second film would have been his last.

After "Xenobia," and the move of Laurel and Hardy to a bigger studio, Langdon seemed to have started a frenzy of acting and writing in Columbia shorts and poverty row films. As Schelly notes, he also made many "soundies," musical numbers that played at arcades in which viewers paid a small fee to watch the act. In 1943 he toured the country in the stage act, "Out of the Frying Pan." And he earned money as a gag writer for RKO in 1944. It seems his financial situation improved for his young family, but it must have been a physical strain for the aging star, in his mid-50s. Langdon's father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage and in early December, after working on a physical, slapstick comedy for Columbia, "Pistol Packin Nitwits," Harry came home and complained of a very bad headache.

His doctor put him to bed but his conditioned worsened. He had suffered the same malady that had killed his father. He died on Dec. 12, leaving his wife, Mabel, and their son, Harry Jr., who had just turned 10.

As Schelly notes, in his later career Langdon's fate was that his great talents, creating very funny comic scenes, were too often surrounded by dreary long, plotting hacked out by mediocre talents in an assembly-like atmosphere. Langdon was a perfectionist, and that caused rancor in the 1930s as the former big star, who had taken his time setting up comic scenes, was told to get it done and quickly by budget-conscious low-budget directors. But he seemed to finally adapt to it, and even became a fixture at Columbia. It was no doubt gratifying for him to be on the top of the movie poster for the shorts and the PRC and Monogram films. In many ways, Langdon's career echoes Bela Lugosi's. Both enjoyed a short time on top, floundered for a while trying to maintain a starring role in A films, and eventually settled down to starring in lesser productions with occasional A roles.

As Schelly notes, it's unfair to target Langdon as a failure in the 1930s as many other comedy stars, including Keaton, were having lesser success trying to adapt to a new form of talking cinema comedy, with heavy emphasis on dialogue (think the Marx Brothers or Hepburn and Tracy) and more emphasis on physical slapstick (think the Three Stooges). Langdon's "The Little Elf" was heavy on quiet characterization, a sometimes melancholy personality and eager yet timid expressive eyes. Although Langdon's voiced matched what would be an appropriate tone for "the little elf," his type of comedy had passed.

A bigger question is why does Langdon remain obscure today. Just watch the film above and you'll see a master on par with Chaplin's "The Kid" or Lloyd's "The Freshman." Schelly opines that besides the public criticism from Capra and Sennett, Langdon's relatively brief time as a super-star in the 1920s makes his era seem like a blip, rather than the consistent success during that decade of Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton. It's true Langdon made too many films to quickly. Another reason may be he died before the 1950s and 1960s, where television and future acting opportunities would have brought him newer, and younger fans. That was a positive development for Keaton, for example.

In any event, Schelly's book is a treasure; well worth the steep price. Harry Langdon needs to have his comeback. I'll be pestering TCM to have a Langdon night on Silent Sundays. Hope the rest of you will, as well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nosferatu (1922) – A Symphony of Horror

Nosferatu is the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel. Stoker’s widow Florence was unhappy with the similarity of the film to the novel, so prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Fortunately, the film remains in print today, and has been digitally remastered by various DVD distributors with filtered colored scenes and music scores to select from. Many worn public domain prints with missing intertitles are also in circulation.

Real estate agent Thomas Hutter is assigned to travel to the Carpathian Mountains to sell a house to Count Orlok, a strange pale recluse with fangs and elongated fingers. At Orlok’s castle, Hutter is bitten on the neck by the count and held captive in the castle. Hutter escapes, but discovers that Orlok has traveled to Wisborg, Germany with coffins filled with his na├»ve soil and rats to spread the plaque. 

Director F. W. Murnau creates an eerie, dreamlike world where much is left to the imagination of the viewer. Blood is often mentioned, but never shown on screen. A carriage ride sequence shows the film negative in reverse as fog travels through the forest and around the carriage. Other scenes show Orlok’s shadow cast on walls to suggest imposing doom as the count approaches his victims. The count rises from his coffin on board a ship like an erect, phallic symbol. 

After Universal Studios made the 1931 version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, the count was forever changed as a handsome, sophisticated and aristocratic man. Max Schreck’s characterization of the count, however, portrays him as a rat like creature with claws that repels anyone who encounters him.  In fact, Schreck’s name means “horror” in German. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu has never been matched, and remains the best of all vampire films in the history of cinema. German director Werner Herzog remade the film in 1979, with Klaus Kinski in the role of the count. Happy viewing! 

Steve D. Stones

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Johnny Sokko and Giant Robot in a movie! Voyage Into Space

  By Doug Gibson
Voyage Into Space is an absolutely bizarre 1970 or so Japanese monster-rama that involves a young boy, Johnny Sokko, having control over a crime-fighting, flying Giant Robot. Sokko and Giant Robot work for the Unicorns, a UN-type spy ring trying to save the world from the extraterrestrial evil, Guillotine, his various sidekicks, including "Spider" and Dr. Botanus. The "army" of Guillotine is "the Gargoyle Gang," a group of military types who resemble Nazis. (Watch the clip below)
This is a weird movie but unbelievably entertaining for young kids and nostalgic adults who recall seeing it when they were young kids. I saw this film when I was 7, 8 or 9 and we used to talk about it on the playground in school. It stars no one you ever heard of, the special effects are pretty bad, the acting terrible, the dubbing weak, but it's strangely cool. There's a 1960s' counterculture aura to this film. Several of the baddies dress like they stepped out of a Roger Vadim film. Guillotine raises a whole host of monsters and some are pretty interesting. One is a giant plant; another is a giant eyeball (I kid you not).
But still, this film, released by American International Films to TV only, is woefully cheap. The battling monsters don't match up to the same size in close ups and far-away shots. In one scene, Johnny Sokko and a Unicorn agent wash up on the beach with their clothes fully dry and pressed and their hair neat. Johnny Sokko's dubbed voice sounds a little like Bea Arthur of The Golden Girls. The Giant Robot hero is very cool, though, and the film's theme song is catchy. My son, who like his dad loves the film, hums the theme song daily.
Here's the big secret to Voyage Into Space. It's actually about four episodes, including the first and last, culled from a 30 or so-episode series from the late 60s called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. That show also aired on TV, including on long-forgotten Channel 52 in Southern California when I was a kid. You can catch Johnny Sokko episodes today on For more than a generation, you couldn't find Voyage Into Space on VHS or DVD. I spent decades wondering what had happened to my favorite Japanese color monster film. Finally, last year Sinister Cinema started selling the film. Since that occurred the floodgates have opened and Voyage Into Space, a public domain film, has many sellers.
It's a great film, particularly if you have a fondness for the Japanese monster genre, and your kids will love it. ALSO,ENJOY THESE GIANT ROBOT CLIPS!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Amazing Mr. X -- Turhan Bey as a spiritualist

By Doug Gibson

"The Amazing Mr. X," a 78-minute 1948 release from Eagle-Lion films, is likely the best chance to fully observe the talents of Turhan Bey, a charismatic contract actor of the late 1930s early 1940s who found his major-studio work had dried up after World War II. "The Amazing Mr. X" was a fortunate opportunity for Bey.

The plot involves two sisters who live in comfort by the sea. The elder sister, played by Lynn Bari, is obsessed with her late husband (Donald Curtis) and thinks she hears him calling. The younger sister, played by Cathy O'Donnell, is worried about her sister. Eventually, they meet up with a smooth, charismatic psychic (Bey) who promises to help Bari make communication with her late husband. Eventually, the younger O'Donnell becomes more obsessed with Bey than her older sister. Character actor Richard Carlson plays the good guy, Bari's fiance, in this flick, working to expose Bey as a fraud. Although the B-movie's longer-than-needed running time causes the action at times to drag, it moves toward an effective climax.

One interesting facet of Bey's spiritualist is that although he's obviously a phony, he's a sympathetic character. That was a smart move from director William Wyler. Bey's charisma has also preserved the film's iconic cult status. It is occasionally shown at revival film festivals. The scenes of Bari being "haunted" by her "dead husband" are spooky. The Austrian-born Bey enjoyed a long life, dying last Sept. 30 at age 90. Watch the film above.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Laurel and Hardy at their best in 1931 short 'Our Wife'

I recently watched "Our Wife," a very funny Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy short from 1931. Produced by Hal Roach Studios, the plot involves rotund Ollie wanting to marry his equally rotund sweetheart, Dulcy, (played by Babe London). Unfortunately, Dulcy's dad, played by comedy short legend James Finlayson, absolutely forbids his dumpling to marry Hardy. So, with the help of mild-mannered Stan, the comedy pair ineptly plan to spring Dulcy from her home and elope.

This is my second-favorite Laurel and Hardy short. Only "The Music Box" is better. The comic timing is superb and the cast is an iconic dream. Besides Ollie, Stan and Finlayson, the minister who married Ollie and Dulcy is played by cross-eyed silent and early sound comic Ben Turpin. Turpin, born in 1869, was a genuine pioneer of the comedy silent era. One of his early, early films, 1909's "Ben Gets a Duck and is Ducked," filmed in Chicago, had him going into a public duck pond. He was arrested by police officers not amused at the film company's permit-less filming efforts!

The best scene in "Our Wife" involves Ollie, Dulcy and Stan trying to fit into an impossibly tiny getaway car, procured by the hapless Stan. The film is easy to find as part of collections offered via amazon, etc. It also pops up on Turner Classic Movies once in a while. But, thanks to YouTube, you can watch the film above. More info is here.

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Early John Ford film, "The Lost Patrol" features Boris Karloff as a religious fanatic

This early John Ford film from 1934 may have served as partial inspiration for later films, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now and even El Topo. It tells the story of a lost British Army unit in the Mesopotamian desert, slowly being killed, or picked off one by one.

Ford's opening scene is a classic. A lone British soldier on a horse, at first looks superior, surveying the landscape. Suddenly, he slumps off his horse, dead, victim of an unseen Arab assassin. The anxiety and feelings of deadly claustrophobia stay with the soldiers as they die in Ten Little Indians style. Victor McLagen, Wallace Ford, and Reginald Denny are among the soldiers under siege during World War I, but the best acting comes from Boris Karloff, who plays a religious soldier under stress who turns fanatical. This is a great ensemble film, made just before the Hayes Office made soldiers in the heat of battle all be angels.
-- Doug Gibson

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dennis Hopper's 'The Last Movie' is as bad as you've heard it is

By Doug Gibson

I finally got a chance, via YouTube, to see the infamous "The Last Movie," the 1971 Universal bomb that starred directed Dennis Hopper. I'd always wanted to see it after reading about it almost 30 years ago in the Medved brothers book, "The 50 Worst Films of All Time." The film, which barely got a VHS release and has never been released on DVD, damaged Hopper's career for about 15 years.

Although, there is a small contingent of film fans who claim "The Last Movie" is a misunderstood genius, don't believe it. It's an incomprehensible, pretentious, expensive ego trip for the star, who had become a hot property due to "Easy Rider." Given $1 million by Universal to make a film, Hopper and many friends, hopped to a small town in rural Peru and shot a film. Purposely not shot in sequence (one waits almost 30 minutes before the title "The Last Movie" is shown, it stars Hopper as "Kansas," a stunt man for a Hollywood western film production. Kansas is shacked up with the town whore and decides to stay after the western filmmakers go home.

At this point, locals, egged on by a Catholic priest who hates Kansas and the others western film people, decide to make their own film. They use fake cameras (made of wood) and worse, real weapons and violence, that kill and main people. The priest blames Kansas, and he's wounded and on the run from the filmmaker villagers, who want to finish the film with Kansas as the villain.

This sounds mildly interesting but the film is shot out of sequence and with little coherence. The film "begins" with a wounded Kansas being hunted by villagers ... and so on, back and forth. At one point, the plot goes away and Kansas and a buddy visit a degenerate couple with plans to invest in a mine. The degenerate is played by Julie Adams, star of Creature of the Black Lagoon and once a girlfriend to "Andy Taylor" in The Andy Griffith Show. She's very fetching as a 40sh trophy wife but her performance is so bad it has to be seen to fully comprehend how bad it is. As poor as Hopper is in the film, Adams is beyond belief. The film has a couple of "erotic" scenes, including a voyeuristic one involving staged lesbianism.

The rest of the film flies back and forth sequentially. At one point is seems to settle with a climax of Hopper facing death in the villagers' "film," but then everything goes out the window and we're subject to what looks like outtakes from director Hopper. Then the film just ends, and the people of Chinchero, Peru are eventually thanked. ...

The backstory of the film is more interesting. As mentioned, Hopper was provided a million plus to make the film from Universal execs, who did not oversee the filmmaking. There are rumors, and from viewing the film I'd tend to agree, that drug use was frequent on the set. Apparently, Hopper did prepare a conventional, sequential version of a film. However, it was mocked by "El Topo" director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Hopper, humiliated, tore apart the film and attempted to make a "deep" "metaphysical" "spiritual" incomprehensible adaptation that allegedly poked fun at materialism. Some of the co-stars include Adams, Tomas Milian, Sylvia Miles, Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law, James Mitchum, Dean Stockwell, Michelle Phillips, Russ Tamblyn and Kris Kristofferson, who sings.

The film horrified Universal execs. Despite winning a minor award at a Eiropean film festival, after it played in NYC, LA and a few other major cities, it was dumped into general release as a second or third feature on the drive in circuit, often titled "Chinchero." The film bombed, Hopper's career was harmed. Defiantly, he took the film on the road during the 70s, showing it on college campuses. After Hopper's career returned, he regained rights and before his death spoke of getting a DVD release. That never happened, although I'm sure one day there will be an art house label DVD release. When that occurs, don't expect much, but it's worth a peek just to experience the pretentious banality. Maybe it will pop up on TCM Underground some day. Watch it above.