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A record of sorts, I guess

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Well, it looks like I'll be getting just under the wire for my 2004 New Year's resolution to watch my 100th Roger Corman movie. Netflix had Saint Jack and Targets which are, far as I can tell, numbers 98 and 99.

Targets is a bit of an oddity. It was Peter Bogdanovich's first theatrical movie, predating The Last Picture Show by three years. Apparently Corman had a contract with Boris Karloff for a certain number of days of filming, no matter how many movies they made. Karloff still had two days remaining in his contract, so Corman gave a young Bogdanovich a chance to get a running start with an established (albeit very old) actor. Since Corman figured you couldn't get a full movie's worth of material out of two days of filming, he required Bogdanovich to use Karloff footage from The Terror to pad out the film.

Instead of using the footage in yet-another "evil castle makes people do bad things" movie, Bogdanovich decided to make a film with two independent subplots that converge at the end. Since only one would involve Karloff, you'd only need him for half of the movie. In the one half, Karloff plays an elderly actor who decides to retire upon the release of his last movie (which is where The Terror footage comes in). The other plot is all unknowns and involves a young everyman who snaps and becomes a mass-murderer.

Unfortunately the film only half works. And, ironically, the half that doesn't work is the Karloff half. While Karloff is an excellent actor and it's interesting to see him playing "himself", there's really very little going on other than him repeatedly stating that he's retiring while producers beg him to stay on for another film.

The mass-murderer subplot, however, works extremely well and rescues the movie completely. It starts slowly, but by the end of the movie it's got you totally hooked. The scene where the guy's hiding on a water tower shooting at passing cars on the highway belongs up there with the shower-scene in Psycho as one of the most disturbing movie clips ever. If they'd have let Karloff's contract slide and made the entire movie about the mass-murderer, it would've been a classic thriller. As it stands, it's only halfway there.

Saint Jack is another Bogdanovich/Corman co-production. This one was done in 1976 after Bogdanovich had become a hot property with The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, then squandered his success with a couple of really big bombs. Anyway, Ben Gazzara plays Jack Flowers, an American pimp working in Singapore catering to Western clients. He's well-liked by both his girls and his clients but is on the run from Singaporan organized crime. After several adventures and run-ins with dotty characters (including a Chinese midget pimp --did I mention Corman's a genius?), he's eventually reduced to a job that he considers beneath his station, namely working for the CIA procuring girls for Vietnam vets on weekend passes. He eventually sinks even lower than that, but I won't give it away.

Speaking as a movie-buff, Saint Jack is a real gem. It's occasionally hampered by a story that's not told well by its actors (mainly because 75% of 'em are Chinese and barely speak English) and I found myself occasionally playing "catch up" with the plot. It's a great ride, though. It actually reminds me a bit of The Big Lebowski not only because both feature Ben Gazzara playing "the likeable sleaze", but also because just about every character in the film is interesting enough to have a film unto himself. You feel like you're only getting a tiny glimpse of a much bigger and more colorful picture.

On the whole, both were nice surprises. Targets features a top notch B-story hampered by a dull A-story, and Saint Jack is definitely a forgotten gem of the 1970's. Neither feel like a typical Corman film, which isn't necessarily a bad thing :)

I still need to watch Corman Film Number 100. I've got a 99-cent copy of Ski Troop Attack that I've been meaning to watch. I've heard it's pretty bad, but I'll watch it just for completeness' sake.

Oh, and if you ask why I want to see 100 Corman films, it's because I want to unreservedly state that I've done something that I know nobody else to have done. I know people who can recite pages of dialogue from Monty Python films. I know people who have filmed cheapo horror films of their own. But I don't know anyone who's seen 100 Corman films.
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