Recently Rated Movies: Catching Up with Christopher Lee (the actor, not my brother…) Pt. 4

Safari 3000 (1982)
Dir: Harry Hurwitz
TC4P Rating: 3

My first true experience with the car racing madness which gripped the entertainment world in the mid-to-late ‘70s was getting to see The Gumball Rally in a school gym. (This is not to discount my youthful love of Wacky Races in any way, but that was a previous iteration of the same madness.) I don’t remember the context of why we were allowed to see the film, but just that it made its way to our school and my friends and I all got a much needed break watching what we thought then was a hilarious film. (Honestly, it could have been The Diary of Anne Frank, and we still would have had a good, riotous time, as long as we got out of class.) I have heard from others in the Anchorage area who were around my age at that time that Rally played at their schools, so perhaps some enterprising exhibitor decided that if the kids weren't going to come to the movie theatre, bring the movie theatre to them. Regardless, Rally brings back memories of those days just before the home video crazy hit our household, when I had to take in every film I could when given the opportunity. Even an average film like Rally was cherished dearly for what it represented to me at the time. [Don't get me started on Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.]

Safari 3000 is not even close to The Gumball Rally. Safari 3000 is a film that is more directly tied in influence to the wild Hollywood success in 1981 of The Cannonball Run, the Burt Reynolds starrer which used as its inspiration the same real life transcontinental race that begat The Gumball Rally and another film from 1976, Paul Bartel's Cannonball. Safari 3000 is also about a drastically elongated race, this time across Africa, and goes for an even broader comic style than the Reynolds film (itself barely reigning it in at all). The difference is that The Cannonball Run gave us numerous, clearly delineated teams and took the time to... I wouldn't say develop the characters, but did give many well-known (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Roger Moore, Jamie Farr) and soon to be well-known (Jackie Chan) comics and actors the time to do their respective schticks. Safari 3000's budget is much lower, and as such, while it is sometimes certain that teams from several countries are taking part in the event, only two teams -- that of the good guys (David Carradine and Stockard Channing) and the baddies (Christopher Lee and Hamilton Camp) -- are really given anything substantial to do in terms of the film's plot or even at least seem like they have a chance of winning the race.

Because of this, there is another obvious influence for this film: Blake Edwards' The Great Race (1965), one of my personal favorites. The relationship between Christopher Lee's character -- the flamboyant, Darth Vader-style helmet-wearing Count Borgia -- and his buffoonish henchman, Feodor (played with utter annoyance by Hamilton Camp) fully reminds one of Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate and Peter Falk's Max from The Great Race, except that Max could be counted on in times of crisis (the castle escape) and was really less of a klutz than Fate. I said Camp is annoying, but he does provide the one moment where I genuinely smiled during the movie, and that was the song he sings in one of Safari 3000's better moments, Baboons on the Road. I may have been smiling chiefly because it reminded me of Leona Anderson's execrably wonderful Rats in My Room (please look it up), but I smiled nonetheless. 

Also, just as the hero and heroine in the Edwards' film played it, Carradine and Channing do the "diametrically opposed partners who are obviously smitten with each other" routine as they bicker endlessly and struggle to get past whatever hijinks Lee and Camp lay in their path, and the film likewise struggles to convince the viewer it is all supposed to be a lot of fun. As for the car action, I got very little enjoyment out of the rally scenes, and never really believed any of these racers (even Carradine) could win such a race, let alone drive this film out of the mud in which it is clearly mired. And I'm not sure seeing this film in a school gym at the age of twelve would have helped me enjoy Safari 3000 any more either.

Eve (1968) [aka The Face of Eve]
Dir: Robert Lynn & Jeremy Summers
TC4P Rating: 4

I was only able to find a YouTube version of this jungle girl picture (cut into several small sections), which is sad because if I am going to spend 96 minutes wandering about a jungle with Celeste Yarnall in her skivvies, I would like to do so with a print that is not nearly as desaturated of color as this one was. Regardless, film watching on my behalf did commence, and if I squinted enough, I was able to enjoy the charms of the pulchritudinous Ms. Yarnall as long as they didn't include actual acting.

Due to my upbringing as an Edgar Rice Burroughs fanatic, I have little resistance to jungle pictures, and Eve is not as dull and cheap as many I have seen. It is certainly faint praise, because neither does this hack itself out of the thicket to crawl onto the heap of the slightly good. 

The cast is decent enough. Once again working under producer Harry Alan Towers and co-director Jeremy Summers, Christopher Lee portrays the title character's grandfather, who is having a long con pulled on him by his supposed friend, played by the reliably villainous Herbert Lom, and is unaware that the girl he believes is his lost granddaughter is an imposter. Steady Fred Clark plays a greedy saloon owner who wants to cash in on Eve's fame, even though he already has Maria Rohm (Towers' real life bride) as his songbird in keeping. And Robert Walker, Jr., who astounds me by how much exactly he looks like his more famous father, is merely OK in the hero's role.

I wish that I was able to see a better print of this film, though I doubt it would make it more exciting. It's workmanlike and inoffensive enough for a matinee visit, but there is nothing special to be discovered in this jungle.

Five Golden Dragons (1967)
Dir: Jeremy Summers
TC4P Rating: 4

I am not really a Bob Cummings fan. I found him pleasant enough in some films from the 1940s such as Hitchcock's Saboteur, The Devil in Miss Jones, Moon Over MiamiKings Row, etc. (I will admit I have never seen any of his early television work, for which he was nominated for several Emmys, winning one). But his light, mannered style doesn't always work for me, and I often feel he is miscast. (I still feel he is miscast in Saboteur, but the film works regardless.) Here he is 25 years later, still doing his light comedy schtick as the lead in the Bond/Hitchcock pastiche, Five Golden Dragons, yet another Harry Alan Towers/Jeremy Summers collaboration.

Christopher Lee is here again too, as one of the titular Dragons, but he only appears in this film fleetingly, and only when he is with three of the other Dragons, played by three other older film icons, George Raft, Brian Donlevy, and Dan Duryea. The Dragons are international businessmen who have formed a cabal intent on taking over the world's economy, and use Hong Kong as their base of evil. If you want to know the full extent of what these four renowned film stars do in this film, it goes in this order: 1) enter room wearing a cartoonish dragon mask and robe, 2) sit down, 3) put key in lock in center of table and hope that a gun doesn't shoot them, and 4) take off cartoonish dragon mask and discuss business. The four Dragons do this three times in the film, and nothing more, exciting for some varied emoting and eyebrow arching. Must be nice to get a paycheck.

Cummings' character is a middle-aged playboy who ends up smack in the middle of the 
Dragons' plans (and who knows... might even be the fifth Dragon?). He gets all the fun in the picture, being surrounded, toyed with, tortured, and teased by the likes of the omnipresent Maria Rohm, Maria Perschy, and Margaret Lee. Klaus Kinski is there too as the main toady for the Dragons, though he gets to do little but look exactly like Klaus Kinski (which is evil enough for some).

I am tempted to rate this film slightly higher because I actually did have a lot of fun watching small chunks of it. Five Golden Dragons looks gorgeous, chiefly because of the eye candy, but also for the Hong Kong locale. If you are looking for a groovy '60s flick for a party, this one might work, especially for the costumes and the swingin' nightclub scenes (of which there are several). But the movie itself is just really dopey, the whole Dragon angle fizzles completely as something on which to hang a plot, and any dialogue not involving good guy Bob talking to one of the female characters is strictly dullsville. 

As for Bob, he acquits himself well in what I believe was his last feature film role, and knows he is in a piece of dreck from the start, saying everything with his tongue as deep in his still handsome cheek as it would go. He was still miscast for the part (by about a chunk of twenty years), but at least he hit his marks and delivered his lines... with a knowing wink.


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