SEPTEMBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE TERROR
"The Terror of Tiny Town" is like any other western from the 1930's: the good guy wears white, the bad guy wears black, the hero goes for a ride on the range with his sweetheart and plays the guitar as they sing songs, the villain rustles cattle and holds up the stagecoach, and, at the end of the film, the good guy and bad guy have a fistfight in a cabin as the fuse on a bundle of dynamite slowly burns. Here's the twist: every single person who appears in this film is a midget.
Quite frankly, that little plot twist is pure genius. If I ever become a millionaire film producer, you will see the same twist used to make midget versions of "Rocky," "Predator," "Top Gun," and even "Star Wars" (forum regular Burgomaster was the first to suggest "Star Wars," and I am deeply in his debt for such a beautiful idea).
To make sure that the audience notices the cast's stature, several tricks were used. Something anyone will notice is that the characters ride Shetland ponies. The choice was probably functional as well as "artistic," because I doubt that Buck could vault atop a normal-sized horse without a trampoline (trampolines were not common in the Old West). Another amusing point is that tough cowboys entering the saloon are forced to reach up and swing the doors open. The diminutive cast members could easily walk under the doors, but swinging them open and swaggering inside is mandatory in a western. Of course, the thirsty saloon patron is then forced to step up onto a bench just to see over the bar...
In fact, what is up with all of the buildings? They are hardly the correct size and dimensions for the populace. Was the town built by giants and then subsequently abandoned, to be eventually repopulated by the townsfolk we see now? What happened to all of the tall people? Why were midgets the only survivors? Perhaps Earth was attacked by piranha birds that flew five feet above the ground, decapitating anything in their way!
Yes, I know that they used an existing western town movie set. Don't you have any inherent suspension of disbelief? The world of "The Terror of Tiny Town" is one entirely populated by midgets. You explain why everything is built for people who are six feet tall.
The Preston and Lawson ranches are experiencing mysterious losses from their herds. The rustling is being committed by Bat Haines and his gang. However, the evil desperado is after more than a few calves; he wants to own both of the ranches. Buck finds a branding iron with the Preston mark after chasing the rustlers off of the Lawsons' land. On the other side of the valley, Bat informs Tex that he happened upon a Preston cow that had been shot to death. Near the dead cow was a calf with a Lawson brand on it. The two ranchers blame each other for the cattle rustling and trouble is a-brewin'.
With the Sheriff in Bat Haines' pocket, you would expect the situation to quickly lead to bloodshed, but both of the ranchers show considerable restraint when they run into each other at the barber shop (the barber tries to avert catastrophe by dropping a steaming towel on Preston's face, too). The only thing that the two men sling at each other is insults. Their shooting irons stay slung.
Elsewhere, the stagecoach is attacked by Bat Haines and his gang. Riding on the stage is Preston's niece, Nancy. The stage's driver and the guard riding shotgun (literally) are both killed, leaving no one in control of the horses. Nancy bounces around inside the stagecoach as it races toward certain peril. Just then, Buck and a couple of men from the Lawson ranch ride up. Though they are outnumbered, the good guys sound the charge and urge their ponies forward. Because the good guys are coming, Bat Haines and his men turn tail and run! Then Buck tells his cowboys to chase after the outlaws while he goes after the runaway stage. The bad guys escape, but Buck successfully rescues Nancy.
How does the previous scene work for you? Probably pretty good, since you are not one of Buck's posse. He sends them after the men with guns, while he chases down a pretty girl. Put in his situation, I would probably make the same choice, sugar over bullets, but you have to admit that the cowboys must have taken off after the bad guys and then realized, "Wait a minute, what are we doing?"
Though Buck has an inkling someone besides a Preston is behind the cattle rustling, his main concern is romancing Nancy. Only after the impending range war threatens to cut off his access to the cowgirl (and her picnic basket) does Buck seek out Tex to talk some sense into the old rancher. Unfortunately, Bat Haines watches the parley and shoots Tex Preston in the back. The villain returns to the Preston ranch and blames the murder on Buck. Nancy does not believe him, but the Sheriff arrests the younger Lawson.
A fair trial is the last thing that Bat Haines wants for Buck Lawson. Instead, he incites the saloon regulars into storming the Sheriff's office. The only thing shorter than Buck's trial might be the tree the lynch mob will use to hang him. At the last minute, the Sheriff finally decides that enough is enough - he cannot watch an innocent man hang. The villain shoots the Sheriff (but not the deputy) and flees, like a Bat out of Hell, to his secret hideout. Buck rides off in hot pursuit. The two men have unfinished business - the type that can only be solved with fists or a six shooter.
Ha! This whole time you were waiting for me to make a short pun and, instead, I opted to use the villain's first name as the comic foil! (In case you were wondering, not making a single midget pun was nearly the death of me. I actually had seizures.)
This is a classic "What in the heck?" cult film. Whether it tickles your funny bone or outright horrifies you is a gauge of your mental health. Though, unfortunately, I am not certain which reaction is the sane one. What keeps me up at night is wondering if you need a special permit to maintain a private stable of midgets. Jed Buell had a herd of midgets, but that was back in the 1930's. There were fewer laws then. Nowadays, I bet that you need a license and stuff.
SEPTEMBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE HANOI HILTON
LEAD: ''THE HANOI HILTON,'' written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd, is an earnest but clumsy tribute to the heroism of the American servicemen - mostly officers - who were captured and held prisoner by North Vietnam during the long, desperate undeclared war we now refer to simply as Vietnam.
''THE HANOI HILTON,'' written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd, is an earnest but clumsy tribute to the heroism of the American servicemen - mostly officers - who were captured and held prisoner by North Vietnam during the long, desperate undeclared war we now refer to simply as Vietnam.
Mr. Chetwynd is aware that these men faced physical and psychological hardships unlike those faced by any other group of P.O.W.'s in the nation's history. The increasing unpopularity of the war at home obscured the prisoners' plight and confused the country's sense of loyalties. In many of the home-front debates over the war itself, the prisoners were, indeed, forgotten.
It's a big, tough, sorrowful subject, but Mr. Chetwynd finds no way to dramatize its singularity.
The movie, set mostly in a Hanoi prison, looks and sounds like something out of World War II, with American servicemen being cruelly abused by their small, sadistic, yellow captors. One new wrinkle: the presence in the prison of a Cuban interrogator - more vicious than even his North Vietnamese colleagues - who talks in the street jargon of Spanish Harlem in the 1980's, though the film is set in the 60's and early 70's. Without meaning to be, the movie comes across as racist, if only by default. * * *
The drama itself, about how the individual prisoners react to their torture, depends so much on the pain of these scenes that it ultimately has the effect of exploiting the spectacle of torture. ''Aha,'' says the sadistic, Jesuit-schooled Vietnamese captor, ''it's time for you to experience Room 18!''
Unlike ''Platoon,'' in which the enemy remains vague and unseen, ''The Hanoi Hilton'' tries to characterize the Vietnamese, but only comes forth with secondhand stereotypes. It must be admitted, however, that the movie does no more justice to the characters of the prisoners than to those of the Vietnamese. Along the way, the movie also finds time to send up American peaceniks as represented by a bubble-headed actress wearing Jane Fonda's ''Klute'' haircut.
Though the film contains scarcely any action and though it's as sincere as a pledge of allegiance to the flag, its point of view is no less narrow than that of ''Rambo.''
Prominent in the cast, and doing as well as the simple-minded material allows, are Michael Moriarty and Paul Le Mat as captured American officers, Aki Aleong as the Vietnamese prison keeper and Gloria Carlin, who stands in for Miss Fonda.
''The Hanoi Hilton'' opens today at the Coronet theater. Sorrowful Subject THE HANOI HILTON, written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Penelope Shaw; music by Jimmy Webb; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films Inc. At the Coronet, 59th Street at Third Avenue. Running time: 130 minutes. This film is rated R. Lieutenant Commander Williamson...
Michael Moriarty; Captain Hubman...Paul Le Mat; Major Fisher...Jeffrey Jones; Colonel Cathcart...Lawrence Pressman; Capt. Robert Miles...Stephen Davies; Major Oldham...David Soul; Captain Turner...Rick Fitts; Maj. Ngo Doc...Aki Aleong; Paula...Gloria Carlin.
SEPTEMBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE HANOI HILTON
For a movie that tackled such an important part of America’s struggle with Vietnam, it is quite surprising at how few people have seen this movie. The Hanoi Hilton was released in 1987, right on the tail end of a decade that saw the release of several Vietnam movies. Perhaps the American people just had enough of the subject matter.
Either way, this film is definitely worth seeing, although I did not particularly care for the much of the acting.
This is the story of the Hoa Lo prison camp, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the inmates, and their treatment of American prisoners captured in Vietnam. It also brings up the amount of French prisoners also there, as that country was in a similar struggle as the United States before their war.
Suffering though disgusting conditions, and continuous brutal torture, this story focuses on Michael Moriarty, who is the SRO of the group. Every movie I have ever seen him in, he has such a calm demeanor, and that does not change here. At first I found it rather annoying, but by the time the film ended, I felt it worked well.
The first half of this movie is brutally slow, and several times I felt like getting up and shutting it off, but when it got about half way through, I am glad I kept it on.
There is one scene devoted entirely to talking about hockey, as Moriarty’s character was a hockey player back home. There is even a mention of going to see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden when they get out of prison. Later on, when the prisoners are allowed letters from home, Moriarty reads one saying that his favorite team, the Flyers, no longer play the National Anthem before games, but God Bless America.
This changed my whole outlook on the movie, because it gave the audience a chance to find out about the private lives of the soldiers.
That and the fact that Jeffrey Jones gives a great Christmas dinner sermon, telling the men how they must hang tough to survive, and citing biblical references of Isaac and Abraham. These two moments, that some may deem insignificant, changed the tide of the entire movie for me.
It is also noteworthy to mention the acting of Aki Aleong, who plays the camp’s commander. He does a great job in showing both sides; the ruthless and the honorable. It is sometimes hard to figure out whether he is being kind to prisoners on occasion because he genuinely feels sorry for them, or if he just wants them to break down further.
There is also one scene of dialogue that I feel is so important to mention, because it directly shows that Vietnam was not a war, but a conflict. When Moriarty is captured early on, whenever asked a question in interrogation, he just responds with his name, rank, and unit, because under the war-time rules of the Geneva Convention, that is all soldiers are required to disclose.
Aleong then tells him that because the United States never declared war on Vietnam, all captured prisoners are to be treated as criminals, and not prisoners of war, and therefore can receive much harsher treatment. Although it will anger the audience, the dialogue is correct, because the US never declared war for the entire decade they occupied North Vietnam.
This movie is highly effective in showing the torture suffered by captured Americans. It is not for the faint of heart because of several scenes showing this brutality. I will also assume that this is historically accurate because many prisoners that were detained there helped out the director, including Senator John McCain. My final rating for this movie will be 6 out of 10, and even with it’s flaws I can only hope that it will get more exposure.
SEPTEMBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE HANOI HILTON
The year is 1964. A military officer (Michael Moriarty, Shiloh) is captured in Hanoi and placed in prison. An urbane North Vietnamese commander informs the officer that he will be freed quickly if he is willing to condemn the actions of America. The officer refuses and is thrown into solitary confinement. Over time, numerous other American soldiers are thrown into the Hoa Lo Prison, aka The Hanoi Hotel. These men will face many hardships and many forms of torture and abuse. However, they have determined to stick together. Either everyone leaves at the same time, or no one leaves. How many of these men will break, and how long will it be before they are released?
If you look at the resume of producer/director/writer Lionel Chetwynd, you will notice a trend. Most of the films he has been involved with tend to focus on subjects like the military and terrorism. Titles such as American Valor, We Fight to Be Free, and The Heroes of Desert Storm are some of his efforts. Chetwynd is a conservative activist who has an endless supply of admiration for the U.S. Military, and Hanoi Hilton is perhaps the most controversial effort of Chetwynd's career.
The film focuses on the torture of U.S. Soldiers during the Vietnam war, which is inherently a somewhat moving subject. Unfortunately, Chetwynd undermines his passionate attempts to pay tribute to these men with his sloppy political statements and his even sloppier filmmaking. The Hanoi Hilton is a well-intentioned misfire, a very dull and surprisingly uninvolving effort that just doesn't have anything new or interesting to say about the subject of torture. Chetwynd makes it known that these men are brave, and that they have sacrificed a lot. Yes, but are those well-known facts enough to sustain a two-hour film? No. Certainly not in this case.
The villains of the film are one-dimensional. We meet a polished North Vietnamese commander who runs the prison. He struts around like a Bond villain most of the time, occasionally bursting into belligerent fits of rage to remind us of just how evil he is underneath all that fancy talk. There are some terribly-written scenes involving a Cuban man who takes great pleasure in torturing soldiers. The worst offender is a moment in which the Cuban mocks a Hispanic soldier for feeling such strong bonds with a group of white cell mates. The Hispanic man responds by declaring that, "Not all trash is white!" The film obviously thinks it is dispensing great thoughtfulness and insight here.
Oh, and those liberals. Those doggoned liberals are the worst of all. Chetwynd simply can't contain himself when it comes to his portrayal of the liberal-elite-evil-communist-Hollywood-media. An incredibly obnoxious journalist comes to interview prisoners and seems positively determined to write nothing but praise for the North Vietnamese. When a soldier shows the journalist his wounds, the journalist covers them up and demands that the soldier be taken away from him. Jane Fonda is mocked via a cornball caricature of the actress (played by Gloria Carlin). I'm not saying that these subjects shouldn't receive some criticism. However, Chetwynd's attack tactics are cheap and painfully simplistic. War protesters are dismissed as mindless idiots who are just trying to win the war for the North Vietnamese. That's hardly a fair point.
Beyond all of this, the film is just plain boring. This two-hour film could have been made just as effectively in 45 minutes. I understand that the slow, repetitive nature is partially intentional. Chetwynd wants us to get a feeling for the never-ending agony of the soldiers. Unfortunately, actually sitting through the movie is a seemingly never-ending agony. There is not a single complex or original scene over the course of the entire film. We have noble, brave, frightened American soldiers being tortured for two hours by evil North Vietnamese sadists. That's pretty much it. This sort of thing has been done so much better elsewhere. For evidence, I point you to Werner Herzog's recent Rescue Dawn, which so beautifully tells the story of P.O.W. Dieter Dengler.
The transfer is not particularly good. The film is grimy and lacks focus visually. The movie has certainly endured some significant wear and tear over the years. Plenty of scratches, flecks, and smudges can be found, and there is some noteworthy color bleeding. The audio is also underwhelming, as the original score seems particularly flat at times. There is only one supplement on the disc, but it's an interesting one. Chetwynd sits down with Senator John McCain for 20 minutes to discuss the subject of real-life torture. It's engaging stuff, and probably would be even more compelling if we hadn't already heard this stuff repeatedly over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign. There is one oddity I noticed. All of Chetwynd's questions manage to include a mention of the film, but McCain never specifically acknowledges The Hanoi Hotel during his answers. I know McCain is something of a movie buff, I would have been curious to hear his thoughts on the film. Still, this is a solid bonus.
The Hanoi Hotel is a disappointing effort. It is as one-dimensional and lacking in complexity as a WWII propaganda war movie, but contains the violence and brutality of most war films of the 1970s and 1980s. Various scenes in the film inevitably conjure up memories of Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Platoon. It never comes close to equaling those efforts. The Hanoi Hilton is an unnecessary and uninteresting film. Guilty.
SEPTEMBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : INTO THE WEST
Into the West is the touching story of two young boys in search of an easier and simpler life.
John Rielly, who's wife, Mary, dies while delivering their second child, has been forced to bring up the two boys, Tito and Ozzie, by himself. This has become an increasingly difficult task as John has turned to the bottle to help drown his sorrows. The young boys basically fend for themselves, spending a lot of time with their grandfather, a "Traveler". Their whole family has stemmed from Travelers, who are similar to Gypsies, but when Mary died, John decided to settle down with the boys.
One day the grandfather returns to camp with a beautiful white stallion following him and his wagon. No one is able to come close to the animal except for Ozzie, the youngest boy. Around the campfire that evening the story of Teninok is told. Teninok is an old myth about a land of eternal youth, with the hero having a beautiful white stallion. Ozzie believes this story and names the white horse Teninok. That evening the boys bring the horse home to their apartment. It isn't long before the authorities come and take the horse away from the boys, as horses are not allowed in the building. When John goes to the courthouse to get his boys' horse back, he is denied the horse and is threatened by one of the policemen. We soon find out that the policeman that threatened John has actually taken the horse and sold it to a wealthy horseman. Ozzie and Tito are crushed when they realize that their horse is gone and are determined to get him back.
One day as the boys are in the local store, they see their Teninok on television being groomed for a prestigious upcoming event. The boys take off to the stables where their horse is being held and proceed to steal him back. Unfortunately, they have been video taped in this act and now the whole town is turned up-side-down in search of the boys and the prized horse.
Animal action is throughout this period piece as the story revolves around the horse, who is ridden much of the time. In the beautiful opening and closing scenes Teninok is seen galloping up and down the waters edge on the beach at dusk. In one scene several riders are trying to get their horses to jump over a bonfire in the campsite. All of the horses approach the fire but refuse to jump. Teninok, who has been standing at a distance, suddenly bolts towards the fire with Ozzie on his back. He gallops across the campsite, jumping and clearing the bonfire.
When the boys take Teninok to the apartment, they ride the horse into the elevator and transport him to the second floor, where he exits the elevator and enters the apartment. One of the neighbors calls the authorities on the Riellys' and reports them for having a horse in the apartment. When the authorities arrive, they storm in and try to take the horse. They also try to administer a tranquilizer to the animal. Teninok goes wild. He runs around the small room in circles, whinnying, rearing, jumping up on the furnishings and breaking them, and finally kicking out one of the walls with his back feet. Ozzie is finally able to control the animal, who is lead out of the apartment building to the waiting police transport vehicle. Teninok gets half way up the ramp, then turns around and runs in the opposite direction, jumping over a police car that is in his path. Again, Ozzie sooths the horse and he is taken away in the police vehicle.
In one scene the boys are riding through the countryside on Teninok when they see several fox hunters on horseback with their dogs on the horizon. The boys take off, believing that the men and dogs are after them. They run in and out of the trees, jumping and leaping, finally stopping to hide in the branches of one of the trees. The dogs approach the tree and begin barking excitedly. The camera pans to the left where we see that the dogs are actually barking at a fox in the very same tree. The fox crawls out on a branch and darts off, escaping immediate danger from the hounds and allowing the boys and Teninok to escape also.
As the boys continue on their journey, they stop in a small town for some rest and nourishment. They aren't old enough to rent a room so they come up with a plan to sneak into the movie house after it has closed and sleep there. Ozzie goes into the movies, leaving Tito and Teninok outside until everyone has gone. While Ozzie watches the movie, a storm moves into town forcing Tito and Teninok to weather the elements as they wait for their relief. Ozzie is finally able to let the waiting pair into the theater. Once they are inside they proceed to raid the snack bar. The three of them eat popcorn and watch movies until they fall asleep. When morning comes, a woman opens the theater. This awakens Teninok, who is lying on the floor asleep. He whinnies and nudges the woman who screams, awakening the boys. Tito and Ozzie jump on Teninok's back and they flee the movie house. As they run down the streets of the town, they jump over a baby carriage being pushed by a woman.
They make it out of town safely, only to find that they are being pursued by men with tracking dogs and men on horseback. A chase ensues and the boys and Teninok find a hiding place under a waterfall at the top of an incline. The boys stay there until the men retreat.
They sneak out of the waterfall only to realize that they are being searched for via helicopter. The helicopter circles the wooded area where they are hiding and finally catches a glimpse of them. Teninok bolts out of the woods and up a steep ridge. They are surrounded by a steep drop. The helicopter moves away and Teninok heads for the ocean. The chase is now on. Police cars, helicopters and men with dogs are all after them. Teninok, with Ozzie on his back, heads straight into the water. He swims out until he can no longer be seen. You see a woman's hand in the water saving Ozzie and you realize the spirit of the boys' mother had been in the horse. In one closing scene Teninok is seen through the flames of a burning wagon like a vision. Other animals are seen briefly throughout the film.
This was an Irish production shot in Ireland, so American Humane had no jurisdiction in this production and was not on the set. All of the stunts in this production have been done sucessfully in American films without harm or discomfort to the animal. However, we were particularly concerned about the ocean scene and, while we know it is possible to do these stunts humanely, we were never able to verify how they were accomplished, despite our many attempts. Therefore, we are rating Into the West "Questionable."