Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: 31 Days of Horror

#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Nature of Shame:
It’s been a loooooong time since I last revisited the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies. I’ll try to remove my nostalgia goggles.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1940’s
Anniversary Film

The second Universal horror wave had pretty much run its course by the end of the 1940’s — which made finding a horror film from 1948 a little trickier than I anticipated. Oddly enough I had the same problem with 1938 (because it fell between Universal horror cycles, but we’ll get back to that when I discuss The Black Doll. 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Elevator Pitch

Bumbling freight handlers deliver boxes containing priceless artifacts to a wax museum only to discover the boxes contained Dracula and Frankenstein. Then the “cargo” goes missing and they’re going to need the Wolf Man to help them sort it all out. Obviously.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein? Just Frankenstein?

At the end of the 1940’s Frankenstein remained Universal’s most bankable movie monster. After 1939’s Son of Frankenstein (the last with Karloff as the Monster), the series devolved into B-movie oblivion. Universal ultimately turned to monster crossovers to breathe new life into the sagging franchise with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), followed closely by House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945).

Meanwhile, over at MGM, the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had been experiencing their own professional difficulties. In 1943, Costello came down with rheumatic fever after a tour of U.S. army bases and six months later his infant son died when he accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool. Shortly after Costello returned from his sabbatical, a rift developed between the two when Abbott hired a domestic servant who had been fired by Costello. The duo only spoke when performing and only appeared in films as separate characters rather than as a team.

It wasn’t until 1947 when Abbott and Costello reunited properly for Buck Privates Come Home (1947). In 1948, they signed a new contract with Universal. With their careers lagging and Universal’s monster cycle running out of box office mojo, the studio crossovered their crossover and put Abbott and Costello in a monster movie.

House of Abbott & Costello

Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man — the big three monsters from the “House of” menagerie all feature prominently. Bela Lugosi reprises his role as Dracula for the first time since Browning’s 1931 film and Lon Chaney, Jr. again plays the Wolf Man. Glenn Strange lumbers around as the monster in his third feature.

Most believe that Karloff wasn’t approached about being the monster. (Or that he was and just believed the material to be rubbish — famously he agreed to promote the film for Universal as long as he didn’t have to watch it.)

Though the film boasts an ambling structure more reflective of the Abbott and Costello vignette-style of filmmaking, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein also contains a healthy stable of Universal’s well-established horror tropes. The spooky castle, mad scientist shenanigans, full-moon transformations. No monster legacies were harmed in the making of this movie.

Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein has become such a formative early horror-comedy, essential in equal measure to the Universal horror canon and Abbott and Costello’s lasting legacy. It’s therefore easy to overlook the film’s remarkable, rambling narrative. Most remember the classic scenes that open the film as Costello attempts to convey his monster sightings to a skeptical Abbott in the wax museum. Unless you’d just watched the film, however, I’m willing to bet you couldn’t say how they wind up at the “House of Dracula” during the final act.

I just watched it and I’m hazy on the details. The answer is, of course, it doesn’t really matter. The joy of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies derive from the absurdist vignettes that somehow shoehorn the comedy duo into situations with the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man and eventually Boris Karloff, the Invisible Man and the Mummy.

The Nostalgic Things that Go Bump

I watched most every Universal horror movie over the course of about two Halloweens, circa age 8 or 9. AMC; back when it was a no-commercial, all movie channel like TCM; showed all of these movies. I diligently recorded each and every one onto SLP VHS tapes. And despite my sincere love for some and nostalgic devotion to others, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has always held the greatest power to immediately revive the sense of discovery associated with those horror movie marathons.

Of course, you’ll always have those naysayers who’ll complain that Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein is just another Abbott and Costello vehicle and that it has no place in the legitimate Universal horror cycle and blah blah blahbity blah.

Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein is, if nothing else, reverent to the monsters themselves. The stories that had come before boasted very loose or nonexistent logical continuity and Abbot and Costello’s outing does nothing to tarnish the previously established universe where Dracula/Frankenstein/The Wolf Man all occupy the same time and space. In many ways, Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein provides a *more* satisfying conclusion to that story.

Final Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Thoughts

During this viewing I started to pay more attention to the connective tissue. How Abbott and Costello “fit” into Universal horror. Narratively, Bud Abbott wasn’t wrong about his daughter being capable of writing a better script, but a script could never truly reflect what works about the film. Personality and novelty. You can script the relationship between Abbott and Costello any more than you can dictate the emotional attachment to Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney, Jr. in their monster makeup. These things just are, and neither time nor tide can erode their unlikely place in cinema history.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Rating:

Availability:

abbott and costello meet frankensteinUniversal has given you dozens of opportunities to own Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein on Blu-ray and DVD. There’s the standalone release — which also included an HD code (bonus). It’s also included on The Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection, The Dracula Complete Legacy Collection and The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection.

If you’d like a complete collection of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies, that’s more difficult. There’s the brilliant (but OOP) 28-film Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection steamer trunk. The Meet the Monsters DVD set contains Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which is currently not available on Blu-ray), but is missing Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff because… I have no idea. In order to get that one, you’d need to purchase The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 3 DVD. Got that? 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add Deep Rising to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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The Mist: 31 Days of Horror

#2. The Mist (2007)

Nature of Shame:
Unseen Frank Darabont / Stephen King collaboration that King believed bested his own source material.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 2000’s
Flying Things Will Kill You

Tapping another entry in my Netflix queue for this second Hooptober entry. I fast-tracked some horror titles to jumpstart the horror movie proceedings. I took this next statement right off an SAT test.

Frankenstein : Lightning bolt :: Hooptober : Netflix queue

The Mist had never been high on my Watchlist despite warm buzz — something that speaks to the fact that there’s a heap of movies to watch and only so many hours in the day. The likeliest explanation? Computer-generated curmudgeonry. I’m the old fart on my porch yelling at all the computer generated children to get off my lawn.

the mist 2007 netflix

The other ding against The Mist‘s appeal was that I’d knew all about the supposedly great ending. (I only say “supposedly” because I’d yet to see it — I’m only now about to cast judgment.) I must have osmosed it via movie talk. Now that I’d committed to watching The Mist to help fulfill the “Flying Things Will Kill You” requirement this Hooptober, however, I thought about the potential to once again test my “No Such Thing as a Spoiler” Theory.

Ahem.

I believe — with few exceptions — that a truly great movie will stand on its own, no matter how much you know about it. Like how I eye-roll so hard it hurts every time someone tells me that they don’t want to watch Citizen Kane because they know the ending. Like Rosebud is the whole point of Citizen Kane and there’s nothing else interesting about the entire movie. ARRGGHHH. If you want to know more about my thoughts on Citizen Kane, I’ve got an entire podcast to which you can listen.

It’s the different between The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Others (2001). And now I’ll commence a 12,000 word side-by-side analysis of the twist finales of both these films to prove conclusively my theory that one is great and one is nonsense.

Or I’ll just carry on with a few hundred words about The Mist and let us all get on with our lives.

The Mist Elevator Pitch

New England locals become trapped in a local supermarket when a mysterious fog rolls through town dealing uncertain death in the form of Lovecraftian beasties. While the innocents endure the siege, the community splinters into warring factions as the citizens come to terms with whatever lurks out there in… the mist.

the mist

Did you say… the Mist?

I did, and there’s lots of it. It’s not the creatures in the mist that make The Mist a movie to watch. You’d think that the mist would be the main attraction in The Mist, but you’d be wrong about the mist. Though I have to admit that the creatures take on fascinating and unexpected forms… in the mist.

(I hear that repeating a page’s keyword works wonders for online search rankings. So let’s all try adding “…in the mist” to the end of every sentence to see if it works as well as “…in bed.”)

Unfortunately the creature effects are once again a mixed bag of CGI and practical effects techniques. Considering, however, that the film boasted only an $18million dollar budget I’m prepared to give them a passing grae — especially considering that Darabont, inspired by The Night of the Living Dead and pre-color Harryhausen (who clearly inspired aspects of this production), had intended to release the film in black and white. MGM balked at a wide release for a mainstream black and white horror movie (GOD FORBID). Meanwhile, Darabont still prefers the black and white version of The Mist. 

I watched the color version only. I’m sorry to say I’ll be unable to weigh in properly on this debate. I’m sure, however, that the creature effects would have worked so much better in black and white and that color only calls attention to their binary birth canal… in the mist.

Speaking of the “Flying Things Will Kill You” theme of this particular Hooptober.

Society Deconstructed

As I suggested a moment ago, you’ll enjoy the horror elements inherent to a movie about unseen monsters picking off innocents trapped in a supermarket. The monsters come in tentacled, winged and gargantuan varieties. You’ll remember The Mist not because of the monsters but because of the horror of a Marcia Gay Harden scorned.

As the townspeople (Thomas Jane, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Andre Braugher, etc.) face the uncertain haze lingering outside the supermarket, they’re faced with a series of conundrums. At first they must choose whether or not to believe in the danger lurking outside. Some people said things, but those people seemed certifiably bananas, so… As more and more people wind up dead, the survivors are forced to reconcile their reality versus what’s actually in the mist. Characters come to represent the varied means by which individuals approach the unexplained.

Some choose to take the mist and the monsters at face value. It’s a test of survival. This is an unprecedented problem; but still we must find a solution. Others respond with fervent denial. Logic and reason state that none of this can be happening. And then there are those that derived a very peculiar lesson from the book of Job.

Christian zealot, Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), interprets the mist and the monsters as the wrath of God. When more and more people become paralyzed with fear after having witnessed events that cannot be understood by the human experience, her legions grow in size and fervor. Anyone who dares confront the mist further tempts the wrath of God. They must be stopped otherwise God will further unleash his judgment upon all of us.

Marcia Gay Harden takes it upon herself to consume all of that supermarket scenery. She delivers an over-the-top performance to make Nicolas Cage blush and put any belligerent televangelist to shame. Too much? Hardly. By the time she’s screaming at her faithful to do away with the sinners amongst them, she’s become so full of her own power and conviction that anything less would fail to convey the seething hate and monstrous rage befitting a character symbolic of the world’s wrongheaded religious zealotry.

The Monster of The Mist

While The Mist presents a traditional war between a small band of survivors and the uncertain monstrous outside, the real threat to survival remains the monster inside all of us. The human tendency to destroy as it is brought out by fear and anger and thirty-foot tentacles devouring a stock boy through the bay doors.

Fear and our reaction to fear can become our greatest strength (courage under unimaginable circumstances), but also represent our greatest human weaknesses.

The Mist lays down a scathing indictment of the worst tendencies of human nature and organized religion cloaked in atmosphere and mystery. Ultimately the mystery behind the mist never becomes clear. Some viewers might find that lack of closure off-putting because there’s a substantial side-plot that concerns who or what caused the mist.

The characters want to know because they want someone to blame. The notion of “fault” or “blame” becomes a central preoccupation. They want to deal with the crisis by punishing those at fault, but that doesn’t ever matter to the narrative itself. Punishment does not cause the mist to recede nor does it improve their current situation. The Mist offers this darkest side of human nature as the real monster of the film.

Final The Mist Thoughts

You’ll notice I didn’t specifically mention the ending. True. While I don’t believe Spoilers! would tarnish your experience, I do believe that a comprehensive discussion about the ending would direct your reading. So watch first, and then we’ll discuss.

Frank Darabont had first tried to make a movie out of The Mist as his directorial debut. He instead went ahead with The Shawshank Redemption. His interest in the project dates back to the 1980s. It’s easy to see why Darabont felt so passionately about The Mist, a story he considered a throwback to Paddy Chayefsky and Shakespeare. It’s every bit as accomplished as The Shawshank Redemption. Only the latter film raises your spirit while the former tosses it into a blender and sets the machine to devastate.

 

The Mist Rating:

Availability:

the mist blu-ray

Alliance released a two-disc Collector’s Edition of The Mist back in 2008 that contains both the color and black and white versions of the film.

Buy The Mist on Blu-ray from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add Deep Rising to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad

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Deep Rising: 31 Days of Horror

#1. Deep Rising (1998)

deep rising posterNature of Shame:
Unseen Treat Williams? Is that a thing? How about unseen Famke Janssen?

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1990’s
Anniversary Film (’98)
Aquatic Menace

This rose from the depths of my Netflix queue to satisfy multiple categories this Hooptober. You’ve got to start Hooptober strong because sooner or later, you’re just going to toss in that new box set of Invisible Man movies and have a go — but that won’t satisfy any of those requirements. You don’t want to put yourself in a pickle on October 31st.

Deep Rising was released the January of my Freshman year at college, so I wasn’t exactly on top of the new box office releases. Plus, look at that poster art. Just dreadful. You have no idea what’s going on there. Still, it doesn’t hold a candle to the suckage that is the next attempt at selling Deep Rising.

deep rising poster

What the fresh hell is that? A movie about undersea tentacle creatures on a cruise ship and you get Treat Williams riding a jet ski with a barely visible Famke Janssen on his back. “They’ve Seized The World’s Richest Ship… But No One’s Onboard!”

I’ll make my point brief. I’m going to tell you why nobody went to see your movie. If you want to sell a movie about undersea tentacle creatures don’t give me Treat Williams on a jet ski and no sight of said tentacle creatures. As far as I know this is time traveling Treat Williams escaping the Titanic. And guess what? This came out immediately after Titanic.

Deep Rising Elevator Pitch

Evil hijackers hijack Han Treat Solo Williams and his Millennium Catamaran and board a luxury ocean liner in the South Pacific because they smelled cash. Except it wasn’t cash but a collection of massive, tentacled man-hungry Sea-Gee-I monsters. Seeeee what I did there?? Sea-Gee-I??

Deep Rising

Did You Say Monsters?

I’m ahead of myself. You shouldn’t get to see monsters right away. Let’s rewind to these folks — your Deep Rising stars, a veritable who’s who of 90’s budgetary casting because we spent all the money on soon-to-be-dated, but not ineffective special effects.

deep rising 1998

Stephen Sommers has a knack of marshaling CGI nonsense into some brand of imaginative matinee entertainment. Hrmmm… that didn’t sound quite right. Let me rephrase that a bit. Stephen Sommers, during a brief two-year period in the late 90’s, marshaled a bunch of CGI nonsense into two particularly entertaining monster movies called Deep Rising and The Mummy.

Waterlogged

Before The Mummy‘s blockbuster success spawned a franchise and a spinoff, Deep Rising grossed $11million on a $45million budget. Ouch. Deep Rising‘s biggest faux pas was blending in with the other gaggle of undersea creature features such as Deep Blue Sea and some other stuff I’ve surely forgotten because they all seem like the same movie. Undersea monster movies have a look.

deep rising 1998

Deep Rising holds up better than most. Some might call it atmosphere. Some might call it claustrophobia. I’ll just call it awareness. It’s aware of its own limitations and for the most part plays to its strengths. Treat Williams doing a Han Solo impersonation works. Famke Janssen in a tight red dress — fun for the whole family. Engaging cast of familiar players in supporting roles. And a smattering of gory practical effects to enhance the monstrous binary code.

deep rising 1998

Sidenote: I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t take a moment to direct you to watch Below (2002), David Twohy’s under-sea(n) masterpiece about strange happenings on a WWII submarine. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself even though that’s a massive reach for another water-based pun. That said, Deep Rising and Below are also connected by supporting actor Jason Flemyng — a good “that guy” with 120+ credits to his name.

Jason Flemyng in Below (2002)

Monster Mash

It’s easy to dismiss Deep Rising as just another Alien clone — because really aren’t all of these creature-infestation sci-fi horror films based on the Alien DNA? It’s unavoidable, but because we’re so well versed in the genre we know when these films strike a sour note. The downside is that because we’re so familiar with the formula, it’s easier to look beyond a movie that gets it (mostly) right.

Some of those one-liners definitely caused me pause, but it’s the 90’s — what are you going to do? Sacrifice Famke Janssen for a few more bits of choice dialogue? I hardly think so.

Famke Janssen should have been a bigger deal.

The monsters become the best and biggest problem with Deep Rising’s premise. They seem like a kitchen-sink beast filled with anything and everything available. As George Lucas demonstrated in the Star Wars prequels, CGI’s permissiveness when it comes to scope and scale can ultimately be a detriment. The octopus/shark/xenomorph things mingle and menace according to the needs of the scene.  As computer generated creatures, that lack of weakness or definite shape becomes a limitation and only calls attention to their weightlessness. Forced creature creativity and a greater use of practical effects would have gone a long way towards making this more than a silly (but fun) creature feature.

Final Deep Rising Thoughts

If you like your Alien with a side of corn, Deep Rising offers plenty of simple genre pleasures. If you weren’t a moviewatcher in the 1990’s these special effects might rip you out of the adventure — an adventure I might add that culminates with Treat Williams on a jet ski flying through the wreckage of a modern day Titanic.

Deep Rising Rating:

Availability:

deep rising kino blu-ray

Kino Studio Classics has released Deep Rising on a new Blu-ray with a far more effective cover than that old nonsense.

Buy Deep Rising on Blu-ray from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add Deep Rising to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad

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Hooptober / Cinema Shame 31 Days of Horror 2018

31 days of horror 2018

As the ions change and the leaves consider when to launch thousands of aimless country car rides to “view the foliage,” the Cinemonster (@ElCinemonster on the Twitters) is posting his directives for another round of Hooptober Horror Moviewatching.

Once again I will be participating in watching an unhealthy slate of horror movies in the name of personal growth, watchpile erosion and general FOMO. I tie this into my Cinema Shame project because I’ll do my best to watch 31+ movies I’ve never seen before. Not all of them will be “Shames” because, let’s be honest here, I’m not feeling any kind of remorse about not having watched The Dark (1979) — but it helps fill one of this year’s criteria and it’s unwatched and on my shelf.

You can listen to last year’s Cinema Shame episode in which The Cinemonster and I discuss the joys of Hooptober and I finally watch Friday the 13th

Hooptober / Cinema Shame 31 Days of Horror 2018 Ground Rules

Let’s lay down some quick rules for like-minded lunatics that want to play the home version of the Cinema Shame / Hooptober Challenge for 2018.

Pick 31+ never-before-seen (or unwatched DVD purchases) horror movies — “horror” is broadly defined as anything containing elements of the horror genre. So, for example, I’ve counted the Abbott & Costello monster films in the past because of the classic movie monsters. Watch as many as you can stomach during your “month” of October.

I’m air-quoting “month” because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m borrowing The Cinemonster’s notion that we’re busy goddamn people and 31 days is just not a reasonable duration for busy people to watch 31 horror movies. He’s beginning his “month” on September 15th. I plan to do the same.

I’m going to pluck as many movies as possible from my Watch Pile (any film I already own that hasn’t been watched). I’ve been making a more concerted effort to watch more movies than I buy. The worthy remain. The ones I don’t see myself watching again hit eBay. I’ll note the outcome of each disc in my blurb.

And speaking of blurbs… after each movie, I’ll toss up a mini-review and a 30Hz rating that will correspond to my review on Letterboxd.com. The review may or may not contain any actual insight. The reviews are the part of this project that will leave you a quivering pile of bloody goo. And now for the more specific 2018 Hooptober demonic hurdles, courtesy of The Cinemonster. Here’s the original post on Letterboxd.com.

  • 10 Anniversary Films (release years ending in an 8, excluding 2018)
  • 6 countries of origin
  • 6 decades of release
  • 6 films made before 1970
  • 6 films from the following directors: Romero, Cronenberg, Clive Barker, Terence Fischer, Sergio Martino, Bill Lustig (mix-and-match, or all one)
  • 2 flying things that kill you films
  • 1 silent film as a tribute to A Quiet Place
  • 1 aquatic menace film as a tribute to The Meg
  • 2 films directed by women
  • 1 inanimate-object-comes-alive film
  • 1 film featuring Barbara Crampton
  • 2 Tobe Hooper films (there must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)
  • ***Extra Credit: Watch Tales from the Hood and Tales from the Hood 2, which drops Oct. 2***

Clearly one film can satisfy multiple criteria. Viewing and reviewing will begin at 12:01am CST on Sept 15th.

31 Days of Horror 2018 Roster

I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 31 Days Of Horror 2018 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.

31 days of horror 2017

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 2 | 20162017

*rewatch

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)*
The Black Doll (1938)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)*
Dracula (1958)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Blood Bath (1966)
In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
Death Laid an Egg (1968)*
Count Dracula (1970)
She Killed in Ecstacy (1971)
Torso (1973)
Messiah of Evil (1973)*
Hannah, Queen of the Vampires (1973)
Inquisition (1978)
The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
The Swarm (1978)
The Dark (1979)
The Hearse (1980)
Alligator (1980)
Possession (1981)
Scanners (1981)
Chopping Mall (1986)
Invaders from Mars (1986)
Blood Diner (1987)
Brain Damage (1988)
Maniac Cop (1988)
Deadly Games (1989)
Nightbreed (1990)
Tales from the Hood (1995)*
Deep Rising (1998)
Medousa (1998)
The Mist (2007)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Tales from the Hood 2 (2018)

What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hooptober challenge, I’ll link you in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in the comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the loser pumped off in the first act to establish indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.

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80s Flashback: The Jewel of the Nile

the jewel of the nile french poster

Rekindling my love for Romancing the Stone propelled me onward. My wife and I tossed in the much maligned sequel Jewel of the Nile, a movie I remembered as trite but entertaining. An innocent lark that didn’t live up to expectations. Or was that just widespread popular consensus encroaching on personal taste? I ordered up the Blu-ray from Netflix and hunkered down to complete the Turner/Douglas/DeVito trilogy.

jewel of the nile
Obligatory proof of physical media because PHYSICAL MEDIA.

Jewel: What are you doing?

Joan Wilder: In my last novel, ‘Angelina and the Savage Secret’ Angelina used a nail file to chip away at the bars of her cell to remove them and escape to freedom.

Jewel: How long did this take?

Joan Wilder: Two pages.

Jewel of the Nile Elevator Pitch

Romance novelist Joan Wilder sails the seas, explores exotic ports of call with newly-minted man of leisure Jack Colton until the restless, writers-blocked Joan sets off for North Africa with the first man who takes her seriously as a writer. It just so happens he’s a cruel authoritarian dictator who wants her to write propaganda or die so he can put on a Laser Floyd show and convince everyone he’s some sort of mystical cleric. Meanwhile Jack and his new partner-in-crime Ralph set out to maybe rescue Joan but definitely find the mysterious and fabled Jewel of the Nile.

No Sheep is Safe Tonight!

Foggy images of Danny DeVito in a makeshift turban. The only trace memory left about Jewel of the Nile. Much of it came flooding back during my viewing, but not exactly as I’d recalled.

Director Lewis Teague carved out a niche in the horror genre during the early 1980s having directed Alligator, Cujo and Cat’s Eye. When Teague attempted to break away from the genre and prove he was more than just another hack horror director from the Corman filmmaking machine, he displayed the hammer-fisted nuance of someone who hadn’t apprenticed under Sydney Pollack or edited films for Monte Hellman and Jonathan Demme.

the jewel of the nile
Lewis Teague proved capable of showcasing extraordinary vistas, but little else in this big-budget misfire.

Robert Zemeckis had abdicated the director’s chair, presumably because he’d already begun production on Back to the Future. Not that Jewel had ever been a desirable property for the up-and-coming director. 20th Century Fox had been blindsided by the $115million international success of the $10million Romancing the Stone and immediately rushed Jewel into production. By giving an 18-month start-to-finish turnaround time for the sequel, Fox alienated its writer and stars and made Zemeckis’ return an impossibility.

Once More Into the Breach (of Contract), Dear Friends!

Fox exercised the sequel option embedded in the contracts of both Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Douglas approached Stone writer Diane Thomas about penning the sequel. Due to some combination of money, timing and/or commitments to Steven Spielberg (her script for him would become Always), Thomas wouldn’t come aboard this anti-pleasure cruise.

Douglas, stuck in the dual roles of reluctant star and reluctant producer, had to carry on with Jewel pre-production while filming A Chorus Line for Richard Attenborough. Douglas approached writers Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner — a writing duo that had nothing but TV credits to their names. (They would go on to write scripts for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace an Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country.

[Insert audible groans here.]

Despite her contractual obligation, Turner tried to back out of the project, calling the script “terrible, formulaic, and sentimental.” Fox threatened Turner with a $25million breach of contract lawsuit, and Turner returned only after Douglas promised rewrites on the script.

Douglas and Turner attempted to cobble together something resembling an acceptable script from various drafts while in their Moroccan hotel as The Jewel of the Nile prepared to shoot. In her Vulture interview, Turner indicates that she never found any comfort in their efforts to resuscitate the dead fish penne by Konner and Rosenthal.

When the Going Gets Tough

From there the production went further downhill. First, there was the oppressive heat. The production also had to bribe local officials to push filming equipment through customs. A plane crash killed production designers Richard Dawking and Brian Coates while scouting locations. Even Douglas and Turner had an air scare when severe winds made for a tense a landing in Morocco.

And now we’ll return to Lewis Teague. Teague, who’d been weened on small, tightly controlled productions found the demands of a rushed Hollywood blockbuster unwieldy. After hours of staging and preparing a complicated night scene, the director discovered that they’d neglected to put film in the camera. The shoot had to be rescheduled entirely as the film crew scrambled to find more film stock.

Despite tepid reviews and unhappy fans, The Jewel of the Nile’s ($75.9million) domestic box office rivaled that of Romancing the Stone ($76.5million).

Bonus Points for Timeliness?

Some of the spirit of adventure and banter remains, but The Jewel of the Nile is a desperate, tiresome movie shadowboxing its far superior predecessor.

The Jewel of the Nile

Like Romancing the Stone, Jewel opens with a scene from Joan’s novel in progress, a swashbuckling pirate adventure on the high seas. The scene in Stone developed the hopeless (and gullible) romantic inside Joan Wilder and set our expectations for the inevitable arrival of Jack Colton (only to have them undermined by the less than chivalrous reality of a treasure-hunting mercenary).

The Jewel of the Nile uses this scene as a gag that fails to propel or inform anything that subsequently happens in the story. It’s an empty recall. The writers failed to grasp how the scene served the film. This, unfortunately, becomes a common theme.

Jack Colton becomes a Budweiser swilling, woman-ignoring man of leisure while Joan reverts back to cat-lady Joan with sunscreen plastered on her nose, slaving away all day on a book she can’t finish. Somehow, the writers of The Jewel of the Nile managed to transpose the moldy, 1950’s “man of the house” relationship onto these exotic adventurers.

While the narrative certainly proves problematic, Turner could have used a rewrite on this dress.

The movie takes liberties with the characters in the name of narrative convenience. Jack catches a case of petulant jealousy. Joan seizes her latent need to become a serious writer and, rebelling against Jack’s condescension, accepts the first offer that comes her way.

Obvious fascist potentate: Hi. You don’t know me. I’m a great admirer of your work, Joan Wilder. I’m also a great great great great man who is not entirely dangerously full of himself at all. Won’t you write my biography?

Joan: YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

Jack: Maybe you should rethink this.

Joan: YOU JUST DON’T THINK I’M GOOD ENOUGH.

Jack: Maybe that’s the way it came out because the movie needed to manufacture artificial drama by making me the ignorant man, but I honestly, really, truly think that you’re making a poor decision running off with this man that is clearly a dictator.

Joan: GOODBYE, JACK. Dick.

Jack: FINE. I’LL JUST COME GET YOU IN A MINUTE, THO. WE’LL ENJOY SOME AWKWARD POTENTIALLY RACIALLY PROBLEMATIC ADVENTURES THROUGH NORTH AFRICA!

[/scene]

The Tough Get Going

Some spoilers ahead.

Much of The Jewel of the Nile fills me with disinterest, but there’s a creative spark that prevents me from dismissing it. The hook that the Jewel isn’t actually a gem, but a person, elevates the film over the pusillanimous goings-on. Avner Eisenberg, the American vaudevillian/magician/mime, steals the show. He’s a gifted comic performer and the only reason (other than Turner’s spirited performance) to endure the final third of the film.

There’s such a cacophony of noise and destruction in the wake of Jack and Joan’s travels that the mild-mannered clowning performed by Eisenberg feels refreshing and earnest. A grounded plane levels a city, Jack makes stuff explode for the fun of it (showing none of the guile that allowed him to survive the Colombian wilds), and armadas of camel-born insurgents blast Whodini’s “Freaks Come Out at Night” on a boombox. (Where do they get all the batteries?)

I’ll admit to enjoying the last part.

But this criticism highlights the major problem with The Jewel of the Nile. Like Romancing the Stone, the pleasures are to be found in the smaller moments. Barbed dialogue, the wit and charm of its actors, and comfortable genre familiarity. The Jewel of the Nile amplifies the aspects of the original that had been limited by budget at the expense of creative ingenuity and the chemistry between Douglas and Turner. In other words, all the worst tendencies of a sequel.

Cue Billy Ocean.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add The Jewel of the Nile to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad

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A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick