Robert Nichols, 1924-2013

Robert Nichols at right, with Rex Reason in This Island Earth (1955).   Noted actor and all-around neat guy Robert Nichols has passed away. He was 88. Nichols is a favorite character actor of mine, someone who, without fail, charmed me every time I saw him on screen — and he had a habit of showing up in the oddest, most delightful places. He achieved his most notable screen successes in the 1950s, with one of his earliest and best roles as Mac in The Thing From Another World (1951). He was one of the members of the Olympic team sailing with Lorelei and Dorothy in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Pinky in Giant, and had uncredited but notable parts in films such as Julius Caesar and Monkey Business. Starting in the 1960s, he began to get smaller, odder roles, especially on television. His hard-drinking Seal — the Seals being an analogue for the Shriners — in a 1966 episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was surprisingly complicated, a funny role with more than a hint of edge to it. One sensed that Nichols wasn’t asked to play the part that way but simply did, because he could, and because he wanted to. The same could be said for many of his later film roles: His travel agent in The Yellow Rolls Royce, the airplane passenger in the original Out-of-Towners, and the inexplicably small role of a desk clerk in the similarly inexplicable Wicked, Wicked. He most famously appeared as Joe … Continue reading

Raiders of Ghost City #4: Ghost City Terror

A sincere apology to my faithful Raiders of Ghost City followers for putting this series on the back burner for three whole weeks. I had several concurrent deadlines at Spectrum Culture and another place which I hope I can finally reveal soon, plus an unexpected article for Press Play, thus the blog had to wait. Last week on Raiders of Ghost City! The real masterminds behind the gold robberies, Alex and Trina, arrive in Oro Grande and take up their roles as saloon owner and chanteuse, respectively. Meanwhile, Confederate Capt. Clay Randolph starts to clash with some of his henchmen as well as Alex and Trina. Steve’s little brother Jeff-Jim has been wounded in a shootout with the gold robbers who are looking to finish the job to keep Jeff-Jim from talking, so Steve distracts the bad guys while Idaho Jones puts his wounded brother into a wagon and speeds to a nearby town for medical care. In a confrontation with the robbers, the wagon falls off a cliff! Suspense! As always, feel free to follow along on YouTube here. *** Raiders does a lot wrong, but the serial has a nice conceit of postponing the reveal of last week’s cliffhanger by a few minutes, which I think helps the whole thing flow better than serials that try to pick up where everything left off. When Raiders opens each chapter, we see a brief scene or two of war footage from another film with a blurb telling us where on … Continue reading

Elsewhere This Week (Or Two)

Today at Press Play, The Three Burials of No Country For Old Men, a compilation of three essays challenging the critical acclaim of the Coen Brothers’ 2007 film. I am absolutely delighted to have been asked to contribute to Press Play, especially for an essay on the Coens, filmmakers I find aggravating and compelling in equal measure. My recent articles at Spectrum Culture: Criminally Underrated: Bringing Out the Dead (1999): On Martin Scorsese and the selfishness of artistic consumption. I’m pretty proud of this article and would be delighted if you took a few moments to check it out. Rediscover: Seems Like Old Times (1980): Where I reminisce about how much I truly loathed Chevy Chase’s performance but adore the film anyway. The Silence (2012): One of the highest ratings I’ve given a film during my time at Spectrum, though with a caveat: The film relies on some tired pedophile tropes that weaken the rest of this compelling film. Some day, hopefully in my lifetime, we’ll see less of these “complicated men dealing with one-dimensional female characters being raped and killed” story lines. Eden (2012): Most films that explore issues like sex trafficking — or any sort of sexual abuse, frankly — inadvertently veer into exploitation when depicting the crimes. Well, some films deliberately choose to portray sex crimes because they want a veneer of respectability over their base exploitation, but that’s a whole ‘other post. Eden tries, at least for a while, to avoid indulging in anything salacious, which … Continue reading

Happy Birthday, El!

El Brendel Born March 25, 1890 Pictured here with Janet Gaynor in Sunnyside Up (1929)

Elsewhere on the Web: Sadomasochism, Swingers and Scarface

A quick note for Raiders of Ghost City fans: I’m writing for a couple of other outlets now and have, between today and March 20th, ten deadlines to meet. Raiders is going to have to wait for a couple of weeks while I get everything else squared away. Thanks for your patience. Speaking of other outlets, one hasn’t yet gone live but should soon. Meanwhile, here are some of my recent articles at Spectrum Culture, followed by other items of interest I think you might enjoy: *** The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012): Originally released on the festival circuit as Jeff, this documentary of the serial killer is no ordinary examination into the warped mind of a murderer. Focusing on interviews with three people close to the case — a neighbor, the lead detective and the medical examiner — The Jeffrey Dahmer Files presents an almost tongue-in-cheek take on the horrific crimes. Several reviewers found the film too hipster-pretentious to bear, though I felt that the juxtaposition of Dahmer as a cult figure to entertain the masses with the nauseating reality of his crimes was the whole point. The Sweeney (2012): The modern movie reboot of the classic 1970s British cop show. When I gave it two stars out of five, I was being generous. Re-Make/Re-Model: The Killer Inside Me (1976) vs. The Killer Inside Me (2010): “…by the time Lou Ford (Stacy Keach) saunters into the prostitute’s home, he is an animal on the prowl. Joyce (a terrific Susan Tyrrell) … Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Henry Daniell!

Henry Daniell March 5, 1894 – October 31, 1963 (Photo: Daniell and Greta Garbo in Camille (1936))