SATURDAY MATINEE: ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1988)

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ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1988)

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This light, sweet and fun Christmas comedy may be one of the most underrated Christmas flicks around. Flick has the late Jim Varney starring as his popular Ernest P. Worrell character, this time a cab driver who has a very special fare in his cab…Santa Claus (Douglas Seale)! A man claiming to be Santa Claus is in town looking for recently fired children’s TV show host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark). It seems Santa is ready to hang up his red boots and hat and Joe is the perfect replacement. Things go askew and Santa winds up in jail, his magic sack stolen by precocious runaway, Pamela (Noelle Parker), who wants to be called Harmony Starr, and Joe balancing both the offer to be St. Nick and a horror film role, leaving only one person to right it all and save Christmas…the bumbling Ernest!

While the film’s story is nothing new or special, the script by Ed Turner and B. Kline is imbued with loads of heart and Christmas spirit by director John R. Cherry III. It’s the little touches that really make this work, like children recognizing Santa right away, despite being surrounded by doubting adults and two bumbling airport storage clerks (Gailard Sartain and Bill Byrge) dealing with crates containing Santa’s reindeer and sleigh. There are also a pair of Santa’s little helpers (Buddy Douglas and Patty Maloney) who come to get Santa out of trouble and Santa getting a cell full of inmates to join along in Christmas carols. Cherry also seems to restrain Varney’s over-the-top, motor-mouthed handyman just enough to keep him from getting tiresome and Ernest’s sincere love for Christmas, also comes across nicely. The flick has a lot of fun scenes…you know Ernest is getting behind the reins of that sleigh…and the characters all are appealing save for Robert Lesser as Joe’s slimy agent, Marty, who is supposed to be a jerk. It all works well and is filled with holiday spirit and charm, with a tone that is not too childish as to alienate adults and not too adult to bore the kids.

Another reason this works so well is the cast. Varney has his Ernest character balanced well between his babbling monologues, legend in his own mind ego and child-like love of Christmas. The bumbling Ernest also gets to don a few disguises to spring Santa from prison and help Mr. Claus convince Joe to saddle up as jolly old St. Nick and it’s fun to watch Varney have a good time with it, which the comedian obviously is. Douglas Seale makes the perfect Santa. A somewhat naive and innocent view of the world, yet with a passionate love for Christmas and a ‘never give up’ spirit when it comes to people. He is not overbearing, which is all the more fun when he gets the most unlikely folks in the Christmas spirit. A charming actor. Noelle Parker is pretty and feisty as rebellious teen “Harmony”. She and Varney work well together and she even gets in on the disguise fun with her co-star. The character works well as the troubled teen who has a grudge against Christmas, but is slowly won over by the spirit of the holiday. Oliver Clark is also solid as a man trying decide between a possible movie career, or believing the fantastic notion that this old man is really who he says he is and that Joe is destined to be the next Santa Claus. The rest of the cast are fine and fun as an assortment of eccentric and cartoonish characters in support. The whole cast seem to be having a good time and it translates to the audience.

This is a fun holiday flick that may have gotten overlooked by some of the more popular classics, but really deserves to be recognized for it’s spirit and charm. It’s an entertaining movie that makes good use of Jim Varney’s classic Ernest character in just the right doses and has plenty of Christmas feel despite it’s Florida location. It’s story of Santa in trouble and Christmas in peril is nothing new, but pulled off nicely here with a lot of heart and zero pretensions. It’s cast gets the tone and has a good time and along with John Cherry’s directorial touch deliver a fun and spirited Christmas comedy that is perfectly balanced for kid and adult alike.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Christmas trees.

fred clause rating

 

 

 

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SATURDAY MATINEE: DINOSAURUS (1960)

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DINOSAURUS (1960)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

With Jurassic World tearing up box office records, I revisited this childhood favorite and it still is a lot of fun and now with a load of added nostalgic charm. The FX may be cheezy by today’s standards but, they still work on a camp level and the fact that the director and actors approached this with just the right level of seriousness, really made its work.  This was my Jurassic World when I was a little kid and they played it on channel 9 quite frequently…

Story has an American contstruction crew on a remote Caribbean island digging underwater and discovering not only two dinosaurs perfectly preserved by the nearly freezing temperatures of an underwater river, but, a caveman (Greg Martell) as well. When during a fierce storm the carcasses are struck by lightening, we soon have a living breathing Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex and cave dude running around the island…we also said goodbye to science during the opening titles. Can heroic construction chief Bart (Ward Ramsey) save the day and get the girl (Kristina Hanson)?

Despite completely pissing on countless scientific facts and theories, this flick is a lot of charming fun as directed with complete seriousness by Irwin Yeaworth (The Blob) from a script by Dan. E. Weisburd and Jean Yeaworth. There are so many 60s movie clichés here that I completely bought into as a kid but, chuckle at now, such as the greedy local (Fred Engelberg), the precocious orphaned kid (Alan Roberts), the funny fat guy (Wayne Treadway) with the cute/insulting nickname and the quintessential bubble headed housewife type (Hanson) who runs from a prehistoric carnivore in heels 55 years before Bryce Dallas Howard. The dinosaurs are cheesy animatronics mixed with some B-level model animation and, of course, our two dinosaurs are going to fight…gotta have a dinosaur fight to make it complete. The film is fast moving and goes from one action set piece to another, after a brief character introduction to all the stereotypes of the era, then we are off for prehistoric fun leading up to our T-Rex vs. steam shovel finale. Scientifically it may be a lot of hooey but, as entertainment this kept me riveted as a kid and gives me plenty to chuckle about now. A lot of fun and has charm these new CGI epics never will.

The cast all perform this with a straight face. Ramsey is the perfect 60s hero with slicked back hair, puffed out chest and little tolerance for the antics of silly women. As such Kristina Hanson is the perfect 60s heroine…pretty, always looks like she came from a salon and is willing to swim in a blasting area to make sure her man gets his lunch. Engelberg is dastardly as the slimy/greedy villain who see dollars signs in our prehistoric guests and is the caretaker of the before mentioned precocious kid. Roberts makes for an annoying and possibly extremely stupid kid who sees no folly in playing house with a caveman…played with some over the top hi-jinx by Greg Martell, who also instills some nobility in the brute.

Not only a favorite from my childhood, but, a very charming, if not extremely silly, rubber monster movie. There is still loads of fun to be had and the cheesy critters add some nostalgic fun to all the 60s stereotypes that populate the film. A perfect Saturday Matinee of nostalgic dinosaur entertainment!

3 rubber critters.

Dinosaurus rating

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SATURDAY MATINEE: THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977)

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THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977)

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The Rankin/Bass people, along with Japan’s Tsuburaya Productions, co-produced this cheesy, fun, 70s flick about billionaire big game hunter Maston Thrust (Richard Boone), who’s oil drilling team discovers a lost world filled with dinosaurs, including a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex, in a volcano basin at the North Pole. What then ensues is 106 minutes of campy fun as Thrust and his team enter the prehistoric oasis by way of a ‘polar borer’ and encounter dinosaurs played by men in rubber suits on miniature sets and cave people played by Japanese extras as the egomaniacal hunter tries more and more ludicrous ways to bring down the prehistoric predator at any cost. This is one trophy that is not going up on the mantle easily… if at all.

Richard Boone acts as if he played the entire part drunk or hung-over as Maston Thrust… which sounds more like a porn name then a character in a kid’s movie… and extra kudos go to co-star Joan Van Ark’s reporter for wearing mom jeans and a knit hat on a hunting expedition to a lost world. If that’s not enough, the “Last Dinosaur” lounge style theme song (sung by Jazz singer, Nancy Wilson) should have you in tears… of laughter.

Fun, fun fun as this entertainly cheesy flick is co-directed with dead seriousness by Alexander Grasshoff and Shusei Kotani and acted with the same seriousness… sort of… by it’s cast. A rubber monster blast.

Available from Warner Brothers Archive Collection in a bare bones but, nice looking uncut print as the American version was truncated from 106 minutes to 92 minutes for TV airing.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Watch closely in this clip and you can see a member of the film crew in a blue shirt ducking out of the way after pushing a boulder that is supposedly being pulled by the T-Rex.

3 rubber critters.

last dinsaur rating

Here’s another fun scene…

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SATURDAY MATINEE: THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

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Going to try a new column to be rotated with my Saturday Night Double Features simply called Saturday Matinee. While all theaters still have matinee showings, when I was a kid, many theaters like the Fairview Cinema in Fairview, N.J. used to play old movies as children’s matinees on Saturday afternoons in the early 70s. It was a one time early showing of a more kid friendly film and my mom or grandfather used to take us. It got us out of the house and when we were old enough to go by ourselves, afforded my mom 90 minutes of quiet shopping time in the nearby stores. So this column will look at more lighter toned genre films that would certainly have fit at such a matinee or possibly been one I actually saw such as this 1973 fantasy adventure! Enjoy!

 

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THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

15 Years after 7th Voyage, Ray Harryhausen returned to the world of the Persian sea captain with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. A chance encounter with a strange creature leaves Sinbad (John Philip Law) in possession of a gold amulet that is being pursued by dark prince, Koura (future Dr. Who, Tom Baker) as when joined with it’s other parts, it can give the bearer unlimited power. The pursuit of the final piece brings Sinbad to a mysterious island and in the company of a beautiful slave girl (legendary genre hottie, Caroline Munro) who may be key to the proceedings. Along the way there are the numerous Harryhausen critters to complicate the voyage and the usual magic and derring-do.

Director Gordon Hessler doesn’t bring the fun as well as Nathan Juran did in 7th Voyage and he also doesn’t give the film the lively pace that flick had either but, it is still an enjoyable fantasy adventure and the cast do take their parts serious enough to make them believable even if Law can’t really work the Middle Eastern accent that he tries to imbue the heroic captain with. The stop-motion creature effects… billed here as Dynarama… are typical Harryhausen quality, although the designs aren’t as memorable as the cyclops or dragon from the last film… the standouts being the centaur and the griffin featured at the climax and Koura’s flying spy. The rest of the FX are fine for the time period but, are a tad cheesy by today’s hi-tech standards… though I still find them very charming.

All in all, it is an entertaining adventure yarn and filled with nostalgic charm at this point, though, not quite the classic that 7th is. Obviously when I saw this film as a 9 year old it was the best thing ever…till the next movie came along. Also has an uncredited cameo by Jaws and Black Sunday actor Robert Shaw as The Oracle Of All Knowledge.

Followed by one more film, Sindbad And The Eye Of The Tiger in 1977 which was a sadly disappointing and weak installment that was unfortunately the last time Harryhausen would revisit the character. There was talk of a rumored Sinbad On Mars but, that film never materialized and Harryhausen would end his legendary career with Clash Of The Titans in 1981.

3 sexy slave girls.

Golden_Voyage_of_Sinbad rating

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