Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Richard Fleischer Brings It On

The obituary headline in the New York Times said "Richard Fleischer, Director of Popular Films, is Dead at 89". He was not a name director but when you look back at his career it's mindboggling how all over the map he was - he made some popular films, true, and some of them were good (10 Rillington Place and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), some haven't aged well but were well-regarded in their day (Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green and 1967's Doctor Dolittle - nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture!) and some...well, it's a staggering list... I present them here, more or less in order of jaw-droppingness.

Amityville 3-D (1983): Starring Tony (Annie Hall) Roberts and the young Meg Ryan. Some of the 3-D effects in this film include someone spitting a gob at the lens and a pipe going through a car's windscreen and right up to the audience's collective nose - these effects seem especially pointless when watched in 2-D, which is the only way it's been available on home video. How hard is it to put a 3-D movie out in 3-D on video? Oh, by the way, it turns out there's a doorway leading straight to hell in the Amityville house.

Conan The Destroyer (1984): One of the funniest films I have ever seen, with one of the weirdest groups of adventurers ever assembled this side of The Wizard of Oz: Schwarzenegger as the titular Destroyer, Grace Jones & Wilt Chamberlain as warriors, Olivia D'Abo as a pouty princess, Tracey (Repo Man) Walter as Conan's lackey and Mako as an amazing wizard who can find out where things are hidden by closing his eyes and muttering to himself. Just the sight of this motley team roaming across mountainous ranges or inching their way down cavernous hallways made me laugh. When this came out, I think I saw it about 12 times in the theatre.

Million Dollar Mystery (1987): Towards the end of Dino DeLaurentiis' ill-fated DEG studio venture, he had the amazing idea to release a wacky It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World ripoff wherein a wacky gaggle of characters race across the country on a search for a hidden treasure - a treasure that was actually hidden somewhere in the country, with clues to its whereabouts strewn throughout the film for audience members to try to puzzle out and claim. The contest was sponsored by the studio and Glad garbage bags, and the money was actually hidden in the nose of the Statue of Liberty (100% True). By the way - the movie bombed.

The Jazz Singer (1980): Neil Diamond's legendary remake of the first "talkie". I think he was trying to end the "talkies" as well to create some nice bookends, but alas. This film contains no jazz, but does contain
a) Neil Diamond in blackface
b) Sir Laurence Olivier as a rabbi
c) Sir Laurence Olivier as Neil Diamond's father
d) Sir Laurence Olivier loudly renouncing his parentage of Neil Diamond
e) Neil Diamond showing a glam-rocker how to sing 'Love on the Rocks'
f) Neil Diamond walking away from his promising singing career, growing a giant beard and thumbing his way across the highways and biways.

Mandingo (1975): Incredibly hard-to-find potboiler about slavery that I've actually never seen - hard to find; except for a VHS release a long time ago, it has been virtually unseen since its release. This film, the missing link between Gone With The Wind and Caligula, pretty much ended the Blaxploitation era single-handedly. It starred boxer Ken Norton as a powerful slave and James Mason as a sleazy plantation patriarch. Whippings, beatings, incest and full-on bigotry culminating in pitchfork-and-boiling-cauldron-related ultra-violence, yet all intended as a critique; perhaps it should be shown in a double-bill with Von Trier's Manderlay.

Che! (1969): Incredibly, incredibly hard-to-find - never seen it myself, as I've been waiting in vain for either a one-off theatrical screening or a widescreen disc to come out. This is the legendary "What were they thinking?" bomb, a studio picture from 20th Century Fox aimed at "the kids" with Omar Sharif as Che Guevara and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro (sic). It has been SUPRESSED big-time. Not even the vault-clearing of the DVD age has provoked its unleashing (you can buy a DVD-R of it, for the time-being, here). The Saturn International Film Festival will program this one, sight unseen. You listening, Fox? Sight unseen!


cineguy said...

Going through the man’s CV you can find a few more bright/dim spots: His Kind of Woman is an entertaining little one-off, featuring Vincent Price as a ham actor quoting Hamlet as he shoots people; The Vikings and Barabbas both look great on drugs at 2:00 AM; The New Centurions has a wonderful George C. Scott performance (boy, I miss him); but after about 1972 F. seems to have become a filmmaker a prospective producer might vaguely remember as a reliable action director who would take on any project. You go with what your name can get you, I guess.
Oh, and I’m sorry, but Doctor Dolittle was never well-regarded in any day...

Jesse said...

Fleischer was a mechanic - other spots on the CV include Bronson's Mr. Majestyk (speaking of mechanics), the original Narrow Margin, and Red Sonja, a quasi follow-up to Conan the Destroyer with Arnold and Brigitte Nielsen (on which he was curiously credited as Richard O. Fleischer)... He must have been a guy who knew how to bring a movie in on time and under budget.

Dolittle made money, though, and if you talk to the animals, they'll tell you it even won a couple of those Oscars - guess that's what I meant by well-regarded...