The road to Hell is paved with Jeanne Crain, Laurie Mock, Dana Andrews, and Jeffrey Byron.
  • The road to Hell is paved with Jeanne Crain, Laurie Mock, Dana Andrews, and Jeffrey Byron.

John Brahm’s Hot Rods to Hell

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Trailer for Hot Rods to Hell

Believe it or don’t, I’ve probably paid more visits to Hell than I have to Citizen Kane’s Xanadu. En route to the motel of their dreams, invalid (pronounced: “een-va-leed) Dana Andrews and his family are terrorized by the cleanest trio of beer can-hurling hooligans ever put on film. Dana was so sloshed during the making of the picture that a plank was slipped up the back of his shirt to keep the actor from lurching forward during closeups. From the slurred line readings to the well-intentioned morality pleas to the sun-drenched day-for-night cinematography to the thudding reminders of Tom’s chronic back pain, plus the performances by the Mickey Rooney, Jr. Trio, here’s one that’s perfectly awful (or is it awfully perfect?) in every way. Originally intended for TV, the MGM lion inadvisedly shat it into theaters. The TCM “restored” print contained on the DVD includes additional dialogue and different music cues than the version we grew up on.

Roy Del Ruth’s The Babe Ruth Story

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Trailer for The Babe Ruth Story

There once was a man named Babe Ruth who played baseball. The truth stops there in this sickeningly maudlin and eminently uproarious junker that holds a high-ranking seat in the Pantheon of Putrescence. William Bendix plays the Bambino from adolescence to death in a tribute that makes Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ look sacrilegious by comparison. Instead of a warts-and-all portrait of a national treasure — the Sultan of Swill was a syphilitic drunk who hit a ball with a stick and was capable of devouring hot dogs and hookers with equal fervor — we are presented with Jesus in a Yankees jersey. According to Hollywood, Babe’s a walking Lourdes, capable of curing “crippled children” simply by saying “Hiya, kid!” or of convincing surgeons to operate on a mutt felled by one of Babe’s foul balls. (When it comes to recreating the dog’s injury, the filmmakers strive for reality by broadsiding the poor mutt with a line drive foul!)

Willie Dynamite

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Trailer for Willie Dynamite

The costumes are unforgettable: imagine an Emerald City sentry outfit (with lapels that seat six) that was buried in Cher’s wardrobe trunk after the superstar found it hanging on the Bed Bath & Beyond sale rack, and you’ll have some idea of the power of this pimp’s dynamite accoutrements. It’s salmon pink felt jumpsuits like this — with Ming the Merciless collars — that made Edith Head’s head explode! An above-average script and fine supporting work by the largely forgotten Diana Sands keep it moving. (Ms. Sands died of cancer at the age of 39, not long after production wrapped.) She plays a “Ralph Nader for hookers” who convinces Willie’s stable that he’s…well, a good for nothing, opportunistic whore master. Unlike its poor relations at A.I.P., Universal’s good-looking (it was shot by Clint Eastwood regular Frank Stanley), relatively non-violent attempt to cash in on the blaxploitation craze was produced by the future Jaws team of Zanuck and Brown. With Roscoe Orman, Sesame Street’s Gordon Robinson, as the Pimpmaster General.

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