Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Candy Tangerine Man (1975)

Ron Lewis (John Daniels) is a pillar of the African American community, a mild mannered businessman with a nice house in the San Fernando Valley, a beautiful wife and two loving kids.  But at night Ron travels to downtown L.A. and adopts his alter ego of the Baron, the most feared pimp on the Sunset Strip.  However, as Three Six Mafia was to teach us more than thirty years later, it's hard out there for a pimp.  His ladies are holding out on him, the mob doesn't want him trespassing on their turf, and he's being hounded by two racist cops who want him put out of commission for good.  It's up to Ron to engineer one last big score so he can put his Baron persona to rest permanently.

Thus begins Matt Cimber's THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN, one of the wildest and most entertaining of the short-lived blaxploitation genre.  Logic and believability were never essential components of blaxploitation films bu they were popular because they gave black audiences a chance to see themselves on screen in positions of power while they brought The Man to his knees (even though most of these films were made by white filmmakers, like this one).  However, by the mid 1970s the genre was running on fumes and many of the remaining films descended to the level of self parody.  CANDY TANGERINE MAN manages to straddle a very fine line between drama and comedy.  While Cimber throws in a few touches that clue the audience in to the ridiculousness of the premise (such as the Baron's car, which is equipped with retractable machine guns to more effectively dispose of his enemies), most of the film is played straight so we end up genuinely involved in the Baron's plight.

Most of the credit for the success of the film has to go to the committed, sympathetic performance of John Daniels.  The script doesn't do the film any favors in that is almost completely sidesteps the question of why a normal guy like Ron would choose to live a double life as a pimp.  However, Daniels manages to silently convey during his scenes at home that while he loves his family he feels stifled by suburban life and needs to live a more exciting existence.  Still, he chooses to become a pimp, a career choice not every audience member is going to be able to get behind.  The character does manage to show his moral center in a nicely played early scene where he attempts to buy an underage runaway from another pimp in order to put her on a bus back home.  As far as pimps go, he's one of the nicer ones.  He even gives his hookers the weekends off.

Cimber keeps the film moving at a good clip, never allowing it to overstay its welcome and giving it a genuine sense of period flavor.  This is surely helped by the "hookers and blades of the Sunset Strip," who are credited as playing themselves in the film, as well as a terrific score by the funk band Smoke.  CANDY TANGERINE MAN was a sizable hit in 1975 but has fallen into almost total obscurity since then.  A shame, since it's a classic of the genre and deserves to be discussed  along with better remembered entries like SHAFT and SUPERFLY.  Of course those films had major studios behind them while CANDY TANGERINE MAN was released by the now defunct Moonstone Entertainment.  It had a brief release on VHS in the mid 1980s but has since become very hard to see.  If you're at all interested in checking out a wild example of 1970s exploitation it's worth the effort to track down a copy.

For more overlooked films and TV visit Todd Mason's blog.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Forbidden World (1982)

"If it is intelligent, have you thought about trying to communicate with it?"
That's about the stupidest damn idea I've heard all day.  No offense, Barb."

Let;s get one thing straight right way: Allan Holzman's FORBIDDEN WORLD is a work of pure genius. One of my fondest moviegoing memories is going to see  this mangy mutt of a science fiction thriller with a good friend back in 1982 in a theater along with five or six other unsuspecting moviegoers (on a double bill with Paul Schrader's CAT PEOPLE remake, of all things).  We knew we were in for a special experience right from the pre-credits sequence which consists of a flashforward montage of almost every bit of nudity and gore in the film followed by a space  battle made up almost entirely of stock footage from BATTLE BEYOND THE EARTH.  It was at this point that one of my fellow theatergoers, a gentleman sitting a few rows away from us, yelled in his loudest voice, "No wonder it's forbidden, it sucks!"

The film follows interstellar troubleshooter Mike Colby (b-movie veteran Jesse Vint), who is awakened from suspended animation along with his faithful droid companion SAM 104 to investigate some strange goings on at a scientific research station on the plant Xarbia.  It seems that one of their test subjects, Subject 20, has mutated into something angry and hungry.  It seems that Colby's unique view of interspecies relations ("If it moves and it's not one of ours, shoot it") is just the ticket to save the day before the station's crew becomes lunch.

FORBIDDEN WORLD was one of the last of producer Roger Corman's  attempts to cash in on the success of STAR WARS and ALIEN and in my opinion it's clearly the best.  It's missing the saccharin qualities of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and the pacing issues that plagued GALAXY OF TERROR.  FORBIDDEN WORLD is a lean mean little movie that realizes exactly how ridiculous and unoriginal it is without ever succumbing to the level of parody.  This may not have been intentional since reportedly Corman was unhappy with the amount of humor in the film and forced Holzman to remove almost all of it, the result being that scenes that may have once been played for laughs are now played completely straight, making them even funnier.

There's much to love in this movie including a genuinely good performance by the late Fox Harris as the station's chain-smoking, cancer-ridden head scientist.  Harris specialized in playing oddballs and would later turn up in another '80s classic, REPO MAN, playing the irradiated driver of the car that everyone in the film is chasing after.  Also of note is the final method of disposing of the monster.  I won't spoil it here but suffice it to say that you probably haven't seen anything quite like it before.  From it's nonsensical opening to the philosophical ramblings of SAM 104 ("They switch you off when life is good and switch you back on when they're up to their noses in life's bitter droppings") to the jaw-dropping, bloodsoaked finale, FORBIDDEN WORLD is a joy from start to finish.  I've seen this film more times than can possibly be healthy since that evening at the much missed College Theater in Swarthmore, PA.  I never get tired of it and it always puts a smile on my face when I'm up to my nose in life's bitter droppings.

For more overlooked films and video visit Todd Mason's blog.