Extreme Cinema! A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

Extreme Cinema episodes are released once-per-month. This is because when we record, we usually wind up spending two to three hours discussing these movies. We have to watch the movies first, that takes about two weeks. We’re busy guys and Andrew and his wife just had a baby. After we record, I listen to the episode twice to figure out edit-points, sound effects, and where to put the clips. After that I start cutting for dialogue. I run the episode again to place clips and sound effects. I put the clips in and find the right spot for the intermission. I go through the episode again to take out the “uhs” and “ers” and gaps in the audio for piss breaks and diaper changes, and then I add in the intro and outro music and voila! A brand new episode of Extreme Cinema! So it’s a three-week process for me from recording to editing; add in an extra week for Bronwyn’s art and there you have it. I pride the show on having Bronwyn’s episode-specific artwork.

Tonight, we’re talking about John Boorman, an excellent often underrated filmmaker with a phenomenal body of work, again an eclectic mix of different genres, everything from cop movies to science fiction and fantasy. We have two movies we’re looking at in-depth directed by Boorman and starring the great Lee Marvin. Lee Marvin was an early champion of Boorman. He used his star power to get Boorman hired.

In Point Blank, a desperate John Vernon has a plan to get some loot.  He gets buddy Lee Marvin in on the heist, and the idea is to tell the story in a modified flashback, or at least to get the back-story.  He remembers Vernon’s words in a great out-of-context kind of way, but five minutes in, it’s obvious Vernon double-crossed him.  He told Marvin they weren’t going to kill anybody, but when they see their marks, he fires his gun and kills everybody.  Vernon shoots Marvin and leaves him for dead.  Marvin wants his cut, and he also wants a little revenge!

I watched Payback again to compare it with Point Blank; I wasn’t aware that Point Blank was an early adaptation of Richard Stark’s book, The Hunter, or that Payback was also an adaptation of the same source material. Bronwyn and I saw Payback back when it came out. It was unusual for us, in that it was a movie we were both very interested in seeing, even though it’s kind of a down and dirty action exploitation movie with the familiar beats of a revenge fantasy. This was Mel Gibson at his best, before he got all loopy. His Icon Productions made the movie, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for his L.A. Confidential script). It follows the same story as Point Blank, but executed differently – a kind of a straight line narrative, we start with a flashback and then go to the beginning.

We move on to Hell in the Pacific – great title and again directed by John Boorman, shot in beautiful Panavision, photographed by Connie Hall, who photographed Marathon Man among other classics.  We have the quiet, contemplative Toshiro Mifune meditating on an island, I surmise Guadalcanal with the breaking of water on the shore.  He searches with binoculars – perhaps he’s looking for a rescue boat, who knows?  We don’t know yet.  We’re not supposed to know.  We see Lee Marvin under a lean-to, some kind of a shelter, talking to himself.  Toshiro stalks the jungle.  I don’t know if Toshiro knows Marvin is near.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:33:15

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Vintage Cable Box: “Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, 1981”


“Absence of suspicion often denote presence of danger.”


Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, 1981 (Peter Ustinov), American Cinema

Peter Ustinov puts on the spirit gum to play the immortal Chinese Sherlock Holmes. Richard Hatch (Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica) plays Charlie Chan’s Number One Grandson, Lee Chan. He is about to be married to the very beautiful Cordelia, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Lee Grant, as Hatch’s mother, is concerned that the girl he intends to marry is neither Chinese nor Jewish. Hatch is infuriatingly clumsy. He slices through his tie trying to cut a bagel in half, and he wreaks general havoc everywhere he goes.

Unusual murders have been occurring in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Brian Keith is the stressed-out, ulcer-ridden detective on the case. Charlie Chan arrives to offer assistance. There seems to be a connection between the recent killings and the titular curse of “The Dragon Queen” (Angie Dickinson) she bestowed upon the Chan family for three generations (Why not four? Or forever?) when Chan accused her of a murder in the past, but the curse doesn’t make much sense given that “The Dragon Queen” has been present at all of the locations where the recent killings have occurred, so it really isn’t a curse, is it?

Created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1926, Charlie Chan was played by four different actors before Peter Ustinov, and only one of them was Asian. These serials and movies were serious and often intense mysteries with some humor, but not enough to overpower any existing narratives. The decision to make Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen almost a spoof of the character is haphazard; especially since the filmmakers try too hard to make it funny. There’s so much chaos and slapstick, you’d think it was less Clive Donner and more Mel Brooks, but there is one crucial difference. Mel Brooks would’ve been funnier.

There is much to commend, however. The cinematography is gorgeous and the set design and wardrobe are impeccable. It’s unfortunate that the technical aspects of the film (not to mention the casting) were wasted with a ridiculous and incompetent script.


Michelle Pfeiffer is almost distractingly beautiful, and she makes it very difficult to concentrate on the movie. Roddy McDowall is wasted in the role of a handicapped butler. How practical is it to have a servant confined to a wheelchair? There is one funny gag in the movie that made me chuckle. Lee Chan and Cordelia are tied up in an attic, with the old candle burning through the rope trick that would send an anvil down on their heads. Further, they’re being watched by a big guard dog. So they come up with the idea to sing “Happy Birthday” to the dog to get him to blow out the candle before the rope can snap, and it works!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.