Tuesday, November 27, 2007

5th October 2007: Arch Hall Jr double #2

5th October 2007: ARCH HALL Jr double #2!


Tonight is the second of our Arch Hall Jr doubles, a Sixties rock singer and matinee idol – or at least in his father’s eye, the former stuntman and cowboy extra who formed Fairway International Pictures to bankroll his son’s own starring vehicles. Arch Jr is the most unlikely of teen pinups, with a head like a shrunken pumpkin, and a chin where the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir could park their bicycles. And yet… there’s something transcendent about his movies, that inexplicable Z Factor that makes processed cheese explode from the top of your head. Or is that just me?

First film for Fairway was The Choppers, a tale of car-jacking juvenile delinquents made in 1959 when Arch Jr was just sixteen but not released until 1961. At a final cost of $150,000 it proved so unprofitable, even for the second feature in a drive-in double bill, that Arch Sr cut the budgets of his next five movies to around $30,000. That’s an almost unheard-of figure for a film company wanting a decent release, but the Halls carried on undeterred, and Arch Sr decided to trim the fat even further on his second picture.

The result was Eegah!, Hall’s only time as director, a modern-day caveman rock musical romance listed as one of the Fifty Worst Movies of All Time – and not without reason. It’s the most clunky, awkward, unprofessional and off-kilter of Fairway’s six pictures. Needless to say, it’s also compulsive viewing. Arch is Tom, a poor gas station jerk with a tsunami-style greaser cut and a thing for rich girl Roxy Miller, played by Marilyn Manning. On her way to Daddy’s house, a seven foot caveman suddenly appears in her headlights like a startled giant rabbit. Essayed by gentle giant Richard Kiel, who would later find fame as the metal-mouthed Jaws in two James Bond pictures, he cuts a striking image – beatnik hair, Rasputin beard, wrapped in a fur beach towel and wielding a papier mache club – and naturally Roxy faints dead away. Before Eegah (as they later dub him) can beat her car to death with his club, Arch-Baby just happens to show up and scares him off.

Together they recount the tale to Roxy’s father Mr Miller, played by Arch’s old man under his usual screen screen name “William Watters”. As producer, writer AND director, he’s managed to cast himself in the plum role as an author of real-life adventure books, and the story of a seven foot Cro-Magnon man intrigues him. Before you can say “pre-hysterical” he’s in the first helicopter that comes to hand and heads off to Shadow Mountain near Deep Canyon in search of Eegah. To pass the time, Roxy takes a dip in the pool and doggy paddles in front of Tom as he does what his father believed he was born to do – entertaining a crowd of kids by crooning a song called “Vicky”, and thus proving he’s as good a singer as he is an actor.

Come late afternoon and with no sign of Daddy-O, Tom and Roxy head to Deep Canyon in Tom’s dune buggy. Out in the desert you’d think the two teens would go hog wild, but Tom and Roxy are more into pouting and being petulant, and don’t really seem to dig each other. When it gets dark and clearly sex is the last thing on both their minds, Tom whips out his guitar and rips out a rendition of “Valerie”, complete with full orchestra, to the mounting annoyance of Roxy who’s finally realized not only has he never written a song called “Roxy”, but he’s as good a lip-syncher as he is a singer.

The sound of his overdubbed singing attracts the attentions of the lumbering Eegah, who later throws her over his shoulder (she’s developed an unfortunate habilt of fainting dead away) and hikes over the mountain to his cave, where her prostrate father’s been spending some quality bonding moments with her new suitor. Looking around his humble dwelling, you realize the “plaster idols” from the opening credits are actually Eegah’s long-dead relatives, and that he’s the last caveman of his tribe, kept alive in the Californian hills by the foaming sulphur spring in his cave. When you do the math, you realize hasn’t seen a woman in several thousand years, and his dating skills are, shall we say, rudimentary. He comes back to the cave a courtin’ with a hand full of posies; she responds by giving him a shave, while he tries to communicates his growing affection for Roxy with a complicated series of grunts and burps – all dubbed much later over Kiel’s unmoving mouth. And when “words” are not enough, he simply tries to pull her top off. At this point a pouty Tom turns up and the family flee in Tom’s dune buggy, leaving Roxy’s would-be rapist silhouetted against the craggy skyline.

Heartbroken, the overly amorous giant follows Roxy into suburbia, and somewhat miraculously to a pool party where Roxy is strutting her stuff like a drunken debutante and Tom’s combo The Archers just happens to be playing. Will she choose a caveman over a shaved ape in a two dollar suit? It’s the classic Beauty and the Beast scenario, and when you see Eegah’s only competition in action, you can understand the attraction.

Being a Fairway International picture, Eegah redefines the term “quasi-professional” over and over again. Marilyn Manning was the secretary in the office next to Fairway International; her short-lived screen career saw her pair off once again with Arch-Baby playing his mute thrill killer moll in the much superior The Sadist. Briefly seen at the pool party is husband and wife tag team Carolyn Brandt and Ray Dennis Steckler, the body and the brains behind such classic Z films as Rat Pfink A Boo Boo and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies, who were slated to direct and star in Arch’s next film Wild Guitar. Eegah’s director Arch Sr still manages to get the final word before he hands over the reins, and has the temerity to quote the Bible: “There were giants in those days”, he solemnly intones.

Eegah! is a giant all right – a huge shuffling Woolly Mammoth that crushes most “bad” movies under its hairy feet. Arch-Baby, you never disappoint: he’s the Harem Keeper of the “Huh?”, the Genie of the Filmic Weenie, and this may be his most staggering achievement, making a seven foot caveman look like an intellectual giant. We give you: the 1962 Eegah!

Nasty Rabbit

A few of us over the age of thirty five remember an Eighties spy spoof from the makers of Flying High. In Top Secret, a pre-obnoxious Val Kilmer stars as a pretty boy Sixties rock singer who heads behind the Iron Curtain, and engages in some espionage silliness mixed with fake Beach Boys tracks. Now, if Nasty Rabbit from 1964 wasn’t its direct inspiration, I’ll eat my fake fur hat.

It’s another film from Fairway International, a next-to-no budget production outfit set up to promote would-be rocker and matinee idol Arch Hall Jr. In fact Nasty Rabbit, or Spies-A-Go-Go (its original title, still visible on a road sign during the opening credits) is more of a shameless vanity vehicle to showcase the fading though still ham-flavoured properties of arch-auteur Arch Hall SENIOR as producer “Nicholas Merriweather”, co-writer, and in not one but TWO roles as American government man Dr McKinley and a Russian submarine commander, who sounds like he found his accent in the bottom of a vodka bottle. He dispatches the painfully lovable Mishkin aka Agent X-11 to let loose a little white rabbit with a vial of bacteria around its furry neck to let loose on the Free World. With the bunny disguised as a camera box, he goes undercover on the Killdeer Dude Ranch, perched on the edge of the Continental Divide where the bunny can do the most damage. And, as cowboy “Laughing Moose O’Brien” (see how sophisticated the humour gets?), he believes he has the stupid decadent Americans fooled. Jackie Gavin, the Killdeer ranch owner’s daughter, says to Mishkin “You’re the first cowboy I ever saw who drinks vodka!” “Oh…” he replies, “Because I’m half-breed Indian.” Hmmmm…. Let’s consider the racial implications of that comment for a moment…

At this point Arch Hall Jr rides in on a white charger (read: chopper) as “dreamy” recording star and secret agent Brett Hunter to play a gig with his combo The Archers at the Killdeer Ranch whilst keeping an eye on the damned Russkies. Of course it’s no Fairway picture without Arch-Baby, who tears through a musical number or two to a presumably bribed audience of admirers. But for once he plays more like fifth or sixth banana to a gaggle of fast-aging Vaude-Villians out-mugging each other as an international smorgasbord of agents and counter agents in on the bunny caper. There’s Japanese Colonel Kobayashi, still in his WW2 threads, dwarfish Israeli agent Maxwell Schtump, Senor Gonzalez from South of de Border, Heinrich Kruger Former “nutty Nazi” – that old chestnut - now representing the West German team, and not to forget Chuckle the Wonder Dog. However it’s the boxed bunny himself who gets the best lines of chipmunkish internal dialogue courtesy of his Jewish speech writer.

Like every Fairway picture, it has a family ranch feel: The Sadist’s James Landis is back in the director’s seat, Eegah’s Richard Kiel aka Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, plays a cowboy with gigantism, and the film looks fantastic thanks to Fairway’s future Oscar-winning cameramen “William”/Vilmos Zsigmond and second unit “Leslie”/Lazslo Kovacs, but even they can’t hide the boom mike shadows on the plywood walls. Real life Vegas showgirl, gangster’s moll and perennial sex kitten Liz Renay plays Cecilia Solomon, love goddess in a halo of cigarette smoke, of no fixed alliegence other than the international community of Hopeless Romantics. As memorable as she is in Arch’s final film Deadwood ’76 (1964) and Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Thrill Killers (1965) and John Waters’ Desperate Living (1977), here she’s plain painful, and over-enunciates each line like she’s dictating the Kabbalah to a deaf monk.

It’s as if Arch Sr saw It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World the previous year and tried to copy its “throw in a thousand jokes and a thousand cameos and one of them has to work” approach. Naturally it backfires on the Halls; whilst their earlier films are unintentionally hilarious, Nasty Rabbit has the exact opposite effect. Part of that idiotic pre-post-modern American idea of comedy, alternately described as “zany”, “kooky”, and a grinning buttload of other obnoxious buzzwords, Nasty Rabbit’s like an extended episode of Get Smart written by a small navy of sea monkeys, who moonlight as the creative team behind Laugh-In. Needless to say, I’d be checking those sea monkeys’ credentials, if I wasn’t shaking my head in disbelief over the sheer chutzpah of the 1964 spy-a-go-go saga Nasty Rabbit.

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