‘Secret Weapons’: David Cronenberg’s made-for-TV dystopian sci-fi biker movie, 1972
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David Cronenberg

In 1972 David Cronenberg’s resume as a filmmaker consisted of Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970)—both of those movies, incidentally, are available quite affordably if you order the 2-disc Fast Company DVD set. The latter title, Crimes of the Future, would also function pretty well for Secret Weapons, a 22-minute movie Cronenberg directed for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1972. Secret Weapons appeared on some kind of anthology show called Programme X. His friend Norman Snider wrote the script; he would work with Cronenberg again much later, on the screenplay for Dead Ringers. That’s Snider as “The Wise Man”—so IMDb has it—but in all honesty I’m not sure which character that refers to. More recent pics of Snider would make you think that Snider played the main character, but I’m just not sure.

Secret Weapons is some kind of a tossed-off dystopian movie; it’s a mite overdetermined. It cribs liberally from both Huxley and Orwell and probably Kubrick too, and its scary countercultural attitudinizing probably had the identical flavor as a lot of sci-fi of that moment. The premise is that we’re five years into the future—1977—and the United States is embroiled in a civil war. A company named General Pharmaceutics runs society—as the voiceover states, “This gigantic producer of medicines and drugs succeeded in its takeover of technology and soon after, all of society.” General Pharmaceutics has developed mind control drugs and is desirous that a talented young researcher accept their party line, but he’s far too apathetic to care either way. They send him out for some indoctrination and he meets with the leader of the only thing that passes for a resistance, some biker gangs that operate outside of organized society which are, intriguingly, headed up by a woman.

To call this a biker movie may be going too far—motorcycles are on the screen for just a few seconds. This was Cronenberg’s first movie with synced sound, and it shows. What Secret Weapons mainly is is talky, and the voiceover chimes in frequently just in case you hadn’t absorbed enough desultory chatter (actually, there are two voiceovers). Cronenberg has made so many fascinating movies that an early short about mind control can’t help but be interesting, but really my takeaway is that he had a ways to go. His first feature, Shivers, would be released three years later.

You have to admire Cronenberg for wanting to cram so many ideas into his movie, though—even if they were a bit clichéd for the era, a bit half-baked. My favorite thing in it is whatever was brushing and prodding the protagonist’s interviewer around five minutes in. We’re given the impression that the interview is happening in the same room as some committee, but we never see them, we just see objects occasionally intrude into the frame and stroke or otherwise touch the interviewer.

Did I mention this is pretty low-budget?

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Firearms are a girl’s best friend: Handguns beautifully embellished by Tiffany’s
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Smith and Wesson .44 New Model No. 3 Single-Action Revolver, serial no. 25120, sent to Tiffany’s in November of 1888
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany that would make your head spin—lighting, jewelry, furniture, stained glass landscapes—all manner of lux design with those trademark Tiffany saturated colors and organic shapes. It was a family business. It was only after the death of his father Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1902 that Louis Comfort Tiffany start really focusing on jewelry design and more romantic pieces.

Prior to Louis’ redirection of the brand, the Tiffany name was associated with luxury glass and silver goods of a much more robust variety, like the collection of handguns you see here from the Met. There is art nouveau, distinct middle eastern and Japanese influences, and ornate engraving reminiscent of scrimshaw. Some of the pieces were displayed at exhibitions to demonstrate Tiffany’s gorgeous work, the others were commissioned for wealthy patrons. One would imagine such finery would be kept somewhere in a glass case as a conversation piece, but you’ll notice some wear and tear on some of the pieces that may be evidence of use.

Detail from the 25120

Detail from the 25120

Detail from the 25120

Smith and Wesson New Model No. 3, .44 Caliber Double-Action Navy Revolver, serial no. 23060, shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago,1893

Detail from the 23060
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Keanu Reeves wants to blow your face off
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Keanu Reeves

When John Woo’s The Killer first hit American shores in 1990 its impact on hardcore film buffs was a bullet to the head. His influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez is undeniable. Woo didn’t invent the “bullet ballet.” He admittedly took huge inspiration from Sam Peckinpah’s stylized death throes and slo-mo action sequences, but the Hong Kong director added a shitload of his own firepower and over-the-top choreography into the mix than film buffs had ever seen before. Woo absorbed and re-imagined the tropes of American westerns and gangster flicks and shipped them back to the States much in the same way the Brits took American rock and roll and revived it via The Beatles and The Stones.

Woo, like Sergio Leone, didn’t romanticize violence as much as poeticize it, transforming action films consciously into art from his own distinct perspective. He also injected the gangster genre with operatic soulfulness and a kind of cosmic existentialism. The results are thrilling, bloody, gorgeous and riddled with lead. Woo’s love of American musicals also gave his films a physical grace and energy that serves well the kinetics of violence. But unfortunately his influence became so pervasive and his style so re-cycled that film goers became jaded again. Tarantino did justice to his sources but most of those who followed in his tracks were hacks. After the umpteenth knock-off of Pulp Fiction in the form execrable turds like Boondock Saints and 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, the thrill was gone. Even Woo couldn’t find a new angle.

In the past decade, the bullet ballets have been replaced by the slow shuffle of the living dead or the languor of the undead. While the zombies and vampires have taken over our TV screens, the fastest guns in the East have run out of lead. A few directors still occasionally deliver the goods – Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park and the venerable Johnny To – but the great wave of Hong Kong action movies has crested and film buffs in search of a next wave looked to be stone cold out of luck…or maybe not. With the arrival of John Wick we may have something to get excited about again.

John Wick may be the best Hong Kong-style gangster movie to be produced since Chow Yun Fat went hardboiled on our ass. Keanu Reeves is one bad motherfucker in the role of hitman/assassin John Wick. Little Buddha has gone ballistic. Ted’s newest adventure involves delivering 84 kills in 96 minutes…most of them direct shots to the face.

John Wick succeeds on just about every level. It looks great, has an amazing cast and not a single ounce of fat on its lean, mean celluloid body. If last night’s Fantastic Fest audience is any indication, this is the film that could reignite Reeves career big time and may very well kickstart a very cool movie franchise. A contemporary noir spin on Lone Wolf and Cub with Wick on an endless journey to clean up his ever-expanding bad karma. 

First-time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have taken a comic book approach to what is B-movie material and created an extraordinarily violent feel-good movie full of giddy energy, laugh-out-loud outrageousness and a glossy 90s vibe. In the center of it all is the silent but deadly Reeves, a Zen killer in Gucci suits who drives a fuel-injected ‘69 Mustang in Manhattan (!), has a soft spot for puppy dogs and a predilection for blowing people’s faces off.

But Reeves does a lot more than just sling guns. He’s a fighter and he’s amazingly agile in tightly choreographed scenes that obviously require actual martial art skills. Many of the fight sequences are filmed in long shots and Reeves is clearly doing his own stunt work. There’s no close-in quick editing to create the illusion the actor has fighting skills. And in what the directors humorously describes as “gunfu,” Reeves handles blue steel with the precision of a Benihana grill master.

As I watched John Wick, I thought of Reeves evolution from surfer dude/FBI agent Johnny Utah in Point Break to something closer to the relentless killing machine Lee Marvin played in Point Blank. It’s a transition that suits him. Reeves is no longer the cute and cuddly goofball with the I.Q. of a ham sandwich. In middle-age, he’s developed the cool, brooding intensity of a classic existential action hero. He may not be as brutal as Marvin, more like Clint Eastwood in the Leone films, but you still don’t want to fuck with him. This is an actor that used to be easy to make fun of. His apparent cluelessness invited it. But as John Wick, Reeves is someone you really don’t want to make fun of. Really. He just might blow your face off.

In addition to Reeves, John Wick has some stellar performances by Ian McShane, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe and David Patrick Kelly. Marilyn Manson and Tyler Bates supply the soundtrack with an appropriately 90s retro feel. And it’s very cool to see a movie that takes place in New York City actually shot in New York City.

John Wick opens in the USA on October 24. I have a feeling it will be among my 10 favorite films of the year. It may not be great art, but it’s great entertainment and the kind of movie that I would have loved to have seen in a 42nd street grindhouse with a packed audience of people screaming at the screen: “Oh shit! Oh my fucking god. That motherfucker just blew the dude’s face off!!!”

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Spy-Fidelity: Dean Martin and the sexy ladies of the ‘Matt Helm’ films
04:09 pm


Dean Martin
Lalo Schifrin
Matt Helm

When I was a little boy, I used to love the Matt Helm films. Of all the sub-Bond spy movie imitators of the Sixties, I liked the Matt Helm series the most. They were flashy, colorful, cartoony and quite frankly, they were simple enough for a bright five-year old to more or less understand them. That’s how old I would have been when I discovered them. I thought Dean Martin was an actor who played Matt Helm, agent of I.C.E. (Intelligence and Counter Espionage), first, and a singer second. “He sings, too?” was kinda where my kid’s brain took it, it was even more confusing for me when “Matt” would listen to Dino’s records in the films.

The Matt Helm movies were fairly frequent “Movie of the Week” fare on network television in the early Seventies. I’d watch them each time they aired. I even read some of Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels which you could always find at garage sales for a dime. They were much more serious than the Matt Helm films’ decidedly light-hearted approach. There were a LOT of them, here are some of the titles:

The Removers
The Shadowers
The Ravagers
The Devastators
The Betrayers
The Menacers
The Interlopers
The Poisoners
The Intriguers
The Intimidators
The Terminators
The Retaliators
The Terrorizers
The Revengers
The Annihilators
The Infiltrators
The Detonators
The Vanishers
The Demolishers
The Frighteners
The Threateners
The Damagers

There’s been a rumor for some time that Steven Spielberg wants to revive the series. I kinda hope that doesn’t happen. What’s the point after Austin Powers?

Dean Martin, as he pretty much did in nearly all of his movies, played a fictionalized version of himself—see Billy Wilder’s jaw-dropping Kiss Me, Stupid for the best (and most lurid) example— but in this case he was a jovial charming rogue of an alcoholic playboy super spy and not a jovial, charming rogue of an alcoholic playboy cowboy or a nightclub singer or airplane pilot, etc, etc. He was Dean Martin in James Bond drag, basically. And it worked. The Matt Helm films were some of the top grossing motion pictures of the Sixties. Even if they do seem dated, politically incorrect and sexist, they were really popular in their day.

The ladies of the Matt Helm films were truly impressive, let’s not forget about them. Some of the finest grade-A Sixties pulchritude to be found on the planet—Ann-Margret, Stella Stevens, the ultimate MILF Cyd Charisse (who was a very va va va voomish 45-year old when she made The Silencers), Sharon Tate, Tina Louise, Elke Sommer (how I adored her!) and Nancy Kwan (ditto!)—were all on the, uh, Dean’s list. You could certainly make the case that the Helm films rivaled the Bond films as eye candy for the male members of the audience. The ladies had Dino…

These pages are scanned in from Matt Helm promotional calendars from 1968 and 1969.


Tina Louise

Sharon Tate

Elke Sommer

Jann Watson

Alena Johaston

Penny Brahms

Marilyn Tindall

It’s interesting to note that although the Matt Helm series obviously grew out of a desire to copy the success of the Bond films with a home-grown Hollywood version (producer Irving Allen had fumbled the ball on Bond, having insulted Ian Fleming about his books potential as television projects), the James Bond franchise took on a decidedly Matt Helm-esque flavor during the Roger Moore years.

To get Dean Martin to star as Matt Helm, Allen was obliged to make him a partner in the film franchise. Martin ended up making more on The Silencers than Sean Connery made for playing James Bond in Thunderball. Soon after hearing of this, Connery renegotiated his deal.

Japanese Murderer’s Row poster

Below, Murderer’s Row with Ann-Margret and Karl Malden. Dig the FAB opening credits with a typically great score by spy-fi maestro, Lalo Schifrin.

Here’s a trailer for the film that is typical of the whimsical attitude of the Matt Helm films. Clearly the man don’t give a fuck!

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The time I met Dean Martin…’: A True Story

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment