Category Archives: VINTAGE MOVIES

Vintage Movies: “Amadeus”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Amadeus

Amadeus 1984 (151 minutes)

Tom Hulce hit the jackpot early in his career with key roles in a splashy pair of movies. He was Larry Kroger, one of two wide-eyed pledges to Delta Tau Chi in 1974’s Animal House, which absolutely nailed an out-of-control, keg-swilling, early ’60s college fraternity. It was done so well nobody has even attempted to do it since. Then there was Hulce’s career zenith as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus, a lavish costume drama depicting the young man who was at once a baroque musical prodigy and a foul-mouthed womanizer. With the titles of both movies filed under the letter “A,” Hulce’s career, unfortunately, never made it to “B” and “C,” let alone “X, Y or Z.” But it was a hell of a start.

Amadeus, meaning “one who loves God.” opens with Mozart’s musical rival, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), now an old man near death living in an insane asylum after a failed suicide attempt, confessing the murder of the brilliant young composer to a priest, after which Salieri begins a winding narrative.

The highlight of Salieri’s early encounters with the “boy genius” is Mozart’s arrival at the court of “the musical king,” the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II. “Young man,” says the emperor (Jeffrey Jones), ‘we’re going to commission an opera from you. Have we decided whether it will be in German or Italian?” the monarch asks the kapellmeister and other musical dignitaries. “I believe it was to be in Italian, sire,” says one. “Oh, German, please let it be German,” begs Mozart. “I’ve already found a libretto that is quite amusing.” His interest piqued, the King commands, “Tell us the story.”

Mozart stammers, then emits an insane cackle, “Well, well, it’s, it’s, it’s…It takes place in a harem, Majesty.” The gasps in the room feel as though someone has opened a window. “You really believe that subject quite appropriate for a national theatre?” asks the monarch. “It’s not indecent, it’s full of German virtues,” responds Mozart. Salieri, the court composer, asks what those might be. “Love,” Mozart responds. “Ahh, of course, we know nothing of love in Italy,” quips Salieri, a transplanted Italian, to much laughter. “Ah, well, let it be in German,” decides the emperor, a native German as is Mozart.

Salieri has written an homage, a welcoming march, to the precocious musician and plays it perfunctorily on the keyboard. When Mozart critiques the melody, the King asks him to play it on the harpsichord and hands him Salieri’s transcription of the piece. “It’s all up here,” replies Mozart, pointing to his head. He sits down to play the simple tune as the Italian has written it, then proceeds to embellish the work with every show-stopping element in his arsenal, leaving Salieri feeling like a horsefly squashed by a coach’s windscreen.

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Vintage Movies: “Apocalypse Now”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

ApocalypseNow

Apocalypse Now (1979, 153 minutes)

You have to remember one important difference between harrowing recent film portrayals of Middle Eastern combat, such as The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, and Apocalypse Now, a terrifying look at the Vietnam War. Troops seen in the first two films all volunteered for service, but most of those sent to Vietnam were there against their will, victims of a hungry, ever-expanding American draft. With this war’s reason for being getting murkier by the year, one thing was perfectly clear: President Lyndon Johnson refused to be the first American chief executive to lose a war. As it turned out, he, himself, would die in 1973 before this insane conflict would finally end in 1975 with the fall of Saigon.

The first thing you hear as you awake from a self-induced coma is the “thwip thwip thwip thwip” of those damn helicopter blades, cruising the jungle all day, dropping tons of napalm bombs on the Viet Cong in a fiery barbecue that would rival hell, itself. Then it’s Jim Morrison singing the first chorus of “The End,” the Doors’ addictive death knell: “This is the end, my only friend, the end, of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end, I’ll never look into your eyes again.”

The helicopter blades have turned into the insistent ceiling fan of a steamy, cheap Vietnamese hotel. Lying on the bed, staring upward, is Captain Benjamin Willard, a U.S. Army officer recently returned for another tour of duty, who’s beginning to regain his senses after a rough night. “Shit! I’m still only in Saigon!” says Willard (Martin Sheen), waiting for a special-ops mission. “Every minute I stay in this room, I get softer,” says Willard to himself. “And every day Charlie squats in the jungle, he gets stronger.”

Willard’s mission comes sooner than expected when two soldiers report to his hotel room with orders to transport him to the air field to meet Lt. General Corman. “It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I’d never want another,” says Willard, narrating the scene. Col. Lucas shows Willard into the general’s office where Corman rolls a tape of the voice of Col. Walter E. Kurtz, a maverick Army officer now operating without authorization in Cambodia.

“Walt Kurtz was one of the most outstanding officers the Army’s ever produced,” says the general (G.D. Spradlin). “But in this war, things get confused. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Every man has a breaking point, and Walt Kurtz has reached his.'” Col. Lucas (Harrison Ford) steps in, “Your mission is to proceed up the Nung River to infiltrate the colonel’s team and terminate his command.” A man in civilian clothing addressed only as Jerry, adds gravely, “Terminate with extreme prejudice.”

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Vintage Movies: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

OneFlewOverTheCuckoosNest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, 133 minutes)

It’s funny how things can fall into your lap just because you write for various indie-rock magazines—MAGNET being top of the heap. In 1994, I got a free pass into an all-star benefit concert for storied San Francisco rock promoter Chet Helms, the Texas transplant who ran the Avalon ballroom back in the ’60s, in competition with Bill Graham’s Fillmore auditorium.

While sipping a beer in the dressing room of Big Brother & The Holding Co., 25 years after their lead singer, Janis Joplin, flew the coop, a grizzled, muscular guy walked up to me and introduced himself. It was Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, as well as the former leader of a loose-knit entourage calling themselves the Merry Pranksters, a vital part of the early SF rock scene, before LSD was declared illegal. I didn’t think to ask Kesey if he liked Jack Nicholson’s performance in Cuckoo’s Nest, but I can’t imagine he didn’t dig it.

In an opening sequence, parodied five years later by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining, a car is seen in the distance far below, winding its way through rugged, dew-soaked Oregon back country early in the morning. Instead of a luxurious ski resort, the car pulls up in front of a mental hospital just as the morning shift is reporting for work, and the driver opens the door for a handcuffed man in a knit cap. “OK, my friend, let’s go,” says the driver, leading the man inside.

A sugary female voice over the hospital PA announces, “Medication time,” as if instructing a kindergarten class. The stupefied inmates line up to take their morning meds under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). A crazy half-laugh reverberates from the rotunda stairs above as a few of the inmates observe the new arrival, J.P. McMurphy (Nicholson), as he’s signed into the joint for what he believes will be a short stay. One of the uniformed guards removes the manacles from McMurphy who promptly jumps up and down, screeching like a baboon, then grins at the other guard and kisses him squarely on the cheek.

McMurphy is brought to the office of Dr. John Spivey (Dean Brooks) for evaluation. “What a pleasure it is to meet you,” says Mac. “Sure, pull up a chair and let’s talk,” replies the doctor. “That’s a helluva fish, there, doc,” says Mac, noting a photo on Spivey’s desk. “It took every bit of strength I had to hold it while they took the picture,” says Spivey, reviewing McMurphy’s rap sheet. The doctor says, “You’ve got five arrests for assault. What can you tell me about that?” Running his fingers through greasy hair, Mac answers, “Five fights, huh? Rocky Marciano’s got 40, and he’s a millionaire.”

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Vintage Movies: “Laura”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Laura

Laura (1944, 88 minutes)

Otto Preminger’s Laura fits squarely into film noir’s pigeon-hole, but it’s done with a more lyrical touch than usually seen in this genre. Not to say it doesn’t have a hard-boiled mug as Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), the cop assigned to investigate the grisly shotgun murder of socialite Laura Hunt. Maybe it’s the haunting David Raksin melody bearing the film’s name that sands off any rough edges.

“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” intones NYC newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), musing aloud about the death of his friend. “A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. I felt as if I was the only human being left in New York City. With Laura’s horrible death, I was left alone. And I was the only one who really knew her.”

Lydecker’s reverie, trying to soak away this devastating event while sitting chicken-chested, pecking away at a manual typewriter set up on the side of his bath tub, is interrupted by McPherson’s arrival. Aided by his notes, the columnist begins to repeat the statement he’s already given to two investigating officers. “Laura phoned and canceled our dinner engagement at precisely 7 o’clock. After that I … ” McPherson finishes the alibi for him: “You ate a lonely dinner, then got into the bath to read. Why did you write it down? Afraid you’d forget it?” Lydecker’s story lies limp, like a washcloth on the bathroom floor. “I am the most widely misquoted man in America,” he sputters, fishing for a valid explanation.

The journalist dresses quickly as McPherson plays a kid’s game, trying to get four tiny ball bearings to settle into holes in the four bases of a pocket-sized baseball diamond under glass. “Something you confiscated from a raid on a kindergarten?” Lydecker snipes. “Takes a lot of control,” says McPherson. “Would you like to try it?” “No, thanks,” replies the older man.

Out of the blue, McPherson asks, “Were you in love with Laura, Mr. Lydecker? Was she in love with you?” As he inserts a carnation into his lapel, Lydecker answers, “Laura considered me the wisest, the most interesting man she’d ever met. I was in complete agreement with her there. She thought me also the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.” “Did you agree with her there, too?” asks the cop. “Let me put it this way,” says the writer. “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.” On that cryptic note, Lydecker asks if he can accompany McPherson on his round of interviews with possible suspects. “I should like to study their reactions,” he says. “You’re on that list, yourself, you know, ” reveals the detective. “Good. To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.”

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Vintage Movies: “Monkey Business”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

MonkeyBusiness

Monkey Business (1952, 97 minutes)

A slight adjustment to the suave character he always played finds Cary Grant fumbling distractedly at his own front door. He’s pondering the lab experiment that occupies his working hours instead of carrying out the simple instructions his wife has given him. Edwina (Ginger Rogers) will warm up the car while Barnaby (Grant) turns off the hall light, then turns on the porch light and locks the front door of their lavish home.

The prototype of the absent-minded professor, Barnaby gets it all wrong, wandering back inside the house while stroking his chin, then locking the front door from inside. Patiently, Edwina knocks on the door until Barnaby opens it. “Oh, it’s you. Come on in,” he says, peering at his wife through horn-rimmed glasses with lenses as thick as a Coke bottle. “Barnaby, we’re going to a dance, and we’re going to be late if we don’t hurry,” she scolds him lovingly. Nowadays, this might be diagnosed as a sign of the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Sixty-five years ago, it was just lovably eccentric behavior of a brilliant mind.

“Barnaby, are you thinking?” she asks in their darkened hallway. “It’s a test we made in the lab today,” he says. “We proved that only 23 percent of the formula is being assimilated by the chimpanzees we’ve been using.” “Oh, the formula,” she says. “Now, you know that means that 73 percent is absolute waste,” he says. “Seventy-three, what happened to the rest of it?” “No, not 73, it’s 77,” he says. “What did I say?” “Seventy-seven,” she confirms. “Being a chemist doesn’t allow you to think,” he says. “Things are not going well at all.”

“Well, what about that one monkey you told me about?” she asks. “Oh, you mean Rudolph. He’s about the equivalent of 84 years old in a human,” he says. “But didn’t you tell me the formula has cured his rheumatism and made his coat much glossier?” she asks. He shakes his head. “Theoretically, it should have had a much greater effect by now.” Jolted back to reality, Barnaby looks lovingly at his wife and says, “Oh, is that a new dress? I like the way it sticks out in the back. Or is that you?” “Well, you ought to know,” she replies, removing her husband’s evening jacket. “You should be going somewhere in a dress like that,” says Barnaby.

Not all sweetness and light, Rogers’ character gets off one of film’s great put-down lines after Barnaby takes the rejuvenating formula, himself. He immediately purchases an MG sports car, gets a trendy college-boy crew cut and spends the afternoon roller-skating with Oxly Chemicals’ secretary Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe). Edwina pops her cork, confronting Miss Laurel: “You peroxide kissing-bug, I’ll pull that blond hair out by its black roots!”

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Vintage Movies: “Help!”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Help

Help! (1965, 96 minutes)

Hidden deep within an underground cavern before a statue of the beloved eight-armed deity Kaili (this picture was originally titled Eight Arms To Hold You), the sacrifice of a virgin is about to take place. Before the membership of this strange Eastern cult, a chanting Clang (Leo McKern), dressed in golden armor, is about to strike the death blow. “Hold!” shouts out Ahme (Elinor Bron) before the shimmering assegai can be plunged into the girl. “The ring! She’s not wearing the sacrificial ring! She cannot be sacrificed without the ring!” Dazed, Clang removes his helmet and shouts, “Search her!” to his scrambling minions who, of course, find nothing.

Yes, it’s the second feature-length film by the Beatles, again directed by Richard Lester. But this time, it’s in color, as is made perfectly clear by the multi-hued darts being thrown into a movie screen showing a black-and-white film of the Fab Four crooning the movie’s title song. The man flinging the tiny arrows is Clang, furious at the Beatles’ drummer, Ringo Starr, who is now wearing that same sacrificial ring missing from the virgin. Not much more required for a story line than Ringo being hounded world-wide by this loopy cult, from the chilly Swiss Alps to the lush greenery and warm sands of an exotic Caribbean island.

A black limousine pulls up next to four adjoining London flats, each one’s door painted a different color: red, blue, green and white. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo each enters one of the doors, only to reveal that all four dwellings have been hollowed out inside to become one cavernous maxi-flat. “Lovely lads and so natural,” says a middle-aged neighbor lady as the boys wave back. “Still the same as they was before they was,” replies her companion.

John spins around a fake shelf of fake books only to reveal real books on the other side. He chooses his current fave read, a slim volume of his own verse and sketches called A Spaniard In The Works (a play on the cliché “a spanner in the works”; that’s what you’d call a “monkey wrench”). He hops into his sunken bed and begins to read. George asks his gardener to mow the grass, planted where you’d expect a carpet, with a pair of novelty-store fake teeth. Paul plays a music-hall flourish on an electric organ, and Ringo heads for his own personal automat-style sandwich machine.

As he tries to extract a sandwich, Ringo shouts, “Hey, someone’s got ahold of me finger!” He screams in pain when the girl inside tries to bite the famous ring from his famous finger. “She had me finger, y’know,” he says to a disinterested Lennon. Next stop, Scotland Yard to see if something can be done about these miscreants.

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Vintage Movies: “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

FearAndLoathing

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, 119 minutes)

That’s the trouble when they make a movie out of one of your life-changing books. I’d had a similar problem with seeing The Grapes Of Wrath and On The Road for the first time after revering the print versions. The characters I’d envisioned weren’t much like those on the big screen. It took a third trip through Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas before I came to terms with Johnny Depp’s somewhat guttural voice of the main character, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson—and the lack of the book’s beyond-visionary, ink-smeared illustrations by Ralph Steadman.

Like the novel, the movie opens with Raoul Duke (Thompson) and his “attorney” (Benicio Del Toro) roaring through the Nevada desert, headed toward Las Vegas in a powerful 1971 Chevy Impala convertible. The top’s down and the trunk’s loaded with weed, mescaline, coke, blotter acid, amyl nitrate, assorted uppers and downers, booze and a tank of ether, all purchased with the cash advance from a magazine for Duke to cover a big motorcycle race in Vegas. It’s an assignment, they must have reckoned, in keeping with Thompson’s first book where he tried to imbed himself with the Hell’s Angels.

“I feel a bit light-headed. Maybe you should drive,” says Duke, squinting into the sun through aviator sunglasses and swatting away at a swarm of Mesozoic era-sized bats, dive-bombing the car. He performs a full-speed, gravel-spewing stop, worthy of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and gets out as small reptiles scurry for cover. There’s no reason to tell his attorney about the bats, Duke concludes. “The poor bastard will find out soon enough.”

As the car tops out at 100 miles an hour, a blond, long-haired kid in a T-shirt carrying an overnight bag appears on the side of the road, standing next to a giant saguaro cactus and thumbing a lift. The attorney mutters, “Let’s give him a ride,” and slams on the brakes. Jolted into semi-coherence, Duke screams, “What?! No!!” It’s too late. The kid is already running toward the car, in utter delirium. “Hot damn! I’ve never rode in a convertible before!” he shouts. “Get in,” smiles Duke, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and floppy golf hat, his teeth gripped around a cigarette holder. Janis Joplin And Big Brother wail away on the FM radio, and the kid is already having second thoughts as he sits down in the back seat.

“How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy?” ponders Duke. “What will he think when he realizes this is the same desert that was the last-known home of the Manson Family? Would he make the connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats? If so, we can’t turn him loose. We’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere in the desert.”

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Vintage Movies: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Wonderful

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946, 130 minutes)

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without returning to Bedford Falls, the home town of Frank Capra’s three-hanky gem, It’s A Wonderful Life. It revolves around the family of its noblest money-lender, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who sacrifices his college education to step into his late father’s shoes as the driving force behind Bailey Bros. Building & Loan, the tiny outfit that invigorates his town by giving home loans to those who have nowhere else to go.

Bailey Bros. has always been hot ashes in the eye of Potter (Lionel Barrymore), the unscrupulous tycoon who runs his business like he’s acquiring property in a game of Monopoly. With its factory shut down by the Great Depression, Bedford Falls is as vulnerable as any other town for a bank with insufficient funds to cover the balances of its customers to have to close its doors.

Just as George and his new bride Mary (Donna Reed) are driving to the train station for their honeymoon in New York City, he notices an unhappy crowd lined up in a torrential rainstorm outside Bailey Bros., demanding their funds. George hops over the counter of his office and delivers a Gettysburg-like speech to quiet down what threatens to become an angry mob.

“I beg of you not to do this,” he pleads with his customers. “If Potter gets hold of this company there will never be another decent house built in this town. He’s already got charge of the bank, the bus lines and all the department stores. And now he’s after us. He wants to keep you living in his slums, paying the rent he decides. Now, Ed,” he says to one of his oldest customers, “last summer when you couldn’t make your payments, you didn’t lose your home, did ya? You think Potter would have let you keep it? We don’t have the money on hand to repay you. Your funds are being used to build the house of your next-door neighbor. Listen, we can get through this thing. We’ve just got to stick together.”

In the back of the room, Mary waves the wad of cash they’d saved up to use for their honeymoon that weekend. Thinking fast, George offers to pay back a portion of each patron’s savings with his own funds to tide folks over until the bank re-opens. As the office clock is about to strike six, George counts it down: “Three, two, one … Bingo! Bailey Bros. is still open!” He ceremoniously walks his last two dollars into the safe and raises a glass in toast, “To poppa dollar and momma dollar. And you’d better have a family, real soon.” Immediate crisis averted, certainly, but what could cause such a good man, a few years later, to want to throw himself into a raging river on Christmas Eve?

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Vintage Movies: “The Kennel Murder Case”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Kennel

The Kennel Murder Case (1933, 73 minutes)

The Kennel Murder Case is the fourth and final entry in a series of films starring William Powell that brought the popular Philo Vance crime novels of S.S. Van Dine to life. The first, 1929’s The Canary Murder Case, co-starring the enigmatic, helmet-haired Louise Brooks, was initially shot as a silent. When the studio decided to re-cut the movie to cash in on the “talkie” craze, Brooks refused to return from Europe to dub her dialog. When informed she would never work in Hollywood again if she didn’t play ball, she replied, “Who wants to work in Hollywood?”

Upper-crust with excellent powers of deduction, Powell would later co-star with Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in the even more popular Thin Man series. Powell’s mastery of patrician behavior was perfect for Vance, whose character is not far removed from Conan-Doyle’s archetype of the private detective, Sherlock Holmes.

The Long Island Kennel Club is buzzing with serious canine competition among New York’s high society, and no one is more eager to win than the cantankerous Archer Coe (Robert Barrat). “Great Scots in ring number two, please. Have your dogs ready,” announces the public address system. Vance’s Scot’s Terrier, Captain, finishes out of the money, prompting Coe to offer two-sided consolation. “Tough luck, Vance. I was looking forward to beating you tomorrow.” Vance soothes his dog, saying, “Don’t be too down-hearted, Captain. You’re still a champion with me.”

In a serious dig at her despised uncle, Coe’s niece, Hilda Lake (Mary Astor), brings his terrier into a grooming station to compare him with the dog of her fiancée, Sir Thomas MacDonald (Paul Cavanagh). “Well, what do you think?” she asks. “I think it’s a pretty close thing when these two get into the ring tomorrow,” he chuckles.

Just then, Coe storms into the room, demanding an explanation for removing his dog from its cage: “What the devil do you think you’re doing, Hilda!?” She replies, “I wanted to prove you’re going to lose tomorrow. I want you to loan me $2,000 to place on Ghillie, Tom’s dog.” Coe sniffs, “That’s cheek for you. She wants to bet against me with my own money.” Hilda bristles, “I wasn’t asking for your money. I merely wanted you to loan me some of my money.” Coe brushes off her request and leaves. “You know how much I hate him, Tom,” she says. “The things he’s done to me.”

Later that night, with the kennel grounds drenched by a summer storm, a frantic MacDonald notices Ghillie is missing from his cage. Two kennel attendants burst into the room, saying, “Sir Thomas, we’ve found Ghillie. He’s out back in the alley.” Hilda gasps, fearing the worst. As they bend over the mangled pup, a red-eyed MacDonald swears, “I’ll kill the man who did this!”

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Vintage Movies: “The Buddy Holly Story”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

BuddyHolly

The Buddy Holly Story (1978, 114 minutes)

It’s obvious by their early body of work which original American rocker meant the most to the Beatles. It was the brash-yet-melodic, workingman’s rock ‘n’ roll of west Texas legend Buddy Holly that seemed to fit the Liverpool foursome the best. They even pinched their band name from Buddy’s backup combo, the Crickets.

Although he’s become a punching bag these days for late-night TV hosts, Gary Busey was born to play Lubbock’s favorite son here, needing no pinch-hitters to nail the roll of Buddy Holly, both on and off the stage. Anyone who’s familiar with how Holly’s career was cut short, bear this in mind: When the film was first released, Southwest Airlines was showing it on their in-flight TV screens.

It’s the summer of 1956, and the nation’s airwaves have been inundated with something disc jockeys are calling “rock ‘n’ roll.” Seminal platters by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins and Little Richard are blaring from the tinny speakers of transistor radios, given last Christmas as stocking-stuffers. This heart-pumping sound has not been lost on recent high school grad Charles Hardin Holly who’s enlisted two of his pals to accompany him on upright bass and drums.

Buddy’s band even has a gig every Saturday night at the local roller-skate palace, playing rinky-dink stuff to accompany grandma and grandpa as they coast around the concrete oval. A DJ in the studio sets the stage for Buddy’s remote broadcast by announcing, “You’re in tune with KDAV, 1310 on your dial! And now, brought to you by Verti-grow, we take you live and direct to Parker’s Roller Rink for this weekend’s Holly Hayride!” Buddy and the boys open with a soporific reading of “Mockingbird Hill” by Les Paul & Mary Ford. “Hey Buddy, c’mon, play some bop!” shouts a teenager afterward from the sidelines. And Buddy decides to take a chance.

“We’d like to do this one for the boppers—those of you who bop,” the bespectacled frontman slyly announces. “Hey Buddy, I don’t think we should,” warns bassist Ray Bob Simmons (Charles Martin Smith) while drummer Jesse Charles (Don Stroud) just grins and readies his sticks for a real workout. The tune’s blistering, rockabilly-style guitar intro has the heads of a dozen teenage girls, lounging around the hot-dog stand, snap in perfect unison toward the bandstand, while adult chaperones cover their ears in agony. As Buddy belts out the lyrics to “Ollie Vee,” the roller rink is engorged with teenagers skating to this wild and crazy stuff. “Ollie Vee says she’s gonna do me right tonight/Gonna put on my blue suede shoes tonight/Cuz tonight we gonna rock around with Ollie Ollie Vee!” It’s this thrilling live reaction that convinces Buddy Holly, more than ever, that he’s onto something special here.

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