Song in my Head: Kurgan’s Theme by Queen

Queen composed two soundtracks for cheesy ’80s movies that I adore and champion despite their myriad flaws. The first is FLASH (Ah-AAAH!!) Gordon, a terrific remake of the old serial. Thanks to classic performers Max von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Peter Wyngarde, it rises above the awful beef/cheesecake leads. And the amazing soundtrack keeps it centered.

The other film is HIGHLANDER, which is a running joke in many circles. Where do they hide those swords? Sean Connery is a Scot playing an Egyptian with a Spanish surname carrying a Japanese sword, and Frenchman Christopher Lambert plays the Scotsman. It’s hilarious and bizarre and you really shouldn’t care. The sequels can be safely ignored (WHAT sequels? LA LA LA) but the original is simply one of the best B pictures of the ’80s, better than the ninja flicks and anything by Chuck Norris. It wants to be Blade Runner, but it’s incredibly silly and just runs with it.

Clancy Brown as the Kurgan is an inspired performance, and the over the top swordplay, goofing on Cannon Group fanboys- Kurgan takes out a gun nut with a MAC-10 who plays vigilante, the film begins at a pro wrestling match- it really has a lot to offer and I’ve watched it countless times.

And this song is one of the best. “Princes of the Universe” is a close second. The entire Queen soundtrack is fantastic. This is where “Who Wants to Live Forever?” comes from. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest drinking yourself into a 13 year old’s mental faculties first, and buying a Nerf broadsword to flail around as you cheer the immortals in their quest for the ultimate power.

Zardoz: Happy Birthday Sean Connery

Zardoz, how I love thee. My friend Peter introduced me to this wacky science fiction allegory written and directed by John Boorman. It spins the tale of a distant future where the intelligentsia are idle, decadent immortals called Eternals who toy with the little people they call Brutals, by making a warrior class who worship a floating stone head called Zardoz. He spits out rifles and pistols, and tells them “The Gun is good! The penis is evil!” Yes, the same Mr. Boorman celebrated for excellent films such as Deliverance and Excalibur.

Sean plays Zed, one of the Exterminators, which is why he’s in hip boots with a Webley revolver and his meat & veg in royal red regalia. We see things through Zed’s perspective as he learns the secrets of Zardoz, that he is a pawn of the Eternals, specifically one Arthur Frayn, who wishes to be free of the shackles of immortality. At heart it is a socially updated pastiche of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” with its Morlocks and Eloi evolved into uselessness. But it’s a lot of psychedelic, bizarre ’70s fun as Sean shoots and humps his way through a post-apocalyptic bounty of babes, including Charlotte Rampling. When we first saw it, it was cut for TV, and made absolutely no sense. So we went to the local video shop, Curry Home Video- which had everything from Pink Flamingos to A Clockwork Orange, all the bizarre a growing boy needs- and got the uncut VHS.

Suddenly, the story made more sense, as half the expository scenes have a topless woman in them. So you have to watch it a few times and pay attention. We studied it like scholars. It remains one of my favorite indulgent, psychedelic excesses of the ’70s. You can tell that Boorman, he who made the ghostly, near-surrealist noir Point Blank, wanted to create something like Jodorowsky’s El Topo (full review) but he just couldn’t hack it; it comes off more as an exploitation picture made by a poet. So we have 2069: A Sex Odyssey of sorts. If you like science fiction or Sean Connery, this relic is unique and interesting, and unlike Highlander 2: The Quickening, it can be enjoyable to watch. So it’s perfect for sitting back with on Sean’s birthday.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Oh singin’s no sin, and drinkin’s no crime, if you have one drink only, just one at at a time.

As an adult, The Quiet Man (full review) is my favorite Irish fantasy, but as a kid, nothing could beat Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Sean Connery with fearsome eyebrows as a young man taking over the job of Darby as groundskeeper, because the old feller sees leprechauns a little too often. Well, being a Disney movie he ain’t drunk or crazy. And for the ’50s, the effects are pretty impressive. Enough to keep our little butts planted in front of the boob tube every St. Patrick’s Day.

Darby holdin’ court at the pub

Between this and The Gnome-Mobile (based on a book by Upton Sinclair, of all people) Disney had the short people racket cornered, and we loved it. Darby O’Gill’s story is simple- we’re thrust into a picaresque Irish village, where Darby tells tall tales at the pub every night about the faerie folk while his daughter pines away for a husband. He’s getting on in years and chews the fat more than he cuts the turf, so his employer forces him into retirement, bringing in a young and sturdy replacement as the new caretaker. That’s a job wanted by mean old lady Sugrue for her bully of a son Pony Sugrue, and she begins conniving forthwith against newcomer Michael McBride.

“Marry me, and I’ll stop singing!”

That’s Sean Connery, a few years before Bond, and a perfect catch for Katie O’Gill (cutie Janet Munro, Bertie from Swiss Family Robinson, who died far too young). She’s a bit fiery and distant until she catches him singing while swinging the scythe with his manly arms. It’s almost unfortunate that this is a Disney movie, because Connery looks like he’s barely able to contain his devilish demeanor. With his expressive eyebrows and grin, we expect a shotgun wedding any moment, but he’s a perfect gentleman.

She needs a man, she’s been churnin’ that thing all day.

The story begins in earnest when Darby tells the pub how he once caught the King of the Little People, King Brian, up at the castle ruins on the hill one evening. He even got his wish of a crock of gold, before he was tricked into making a fourth, and forfeit them all. But King Brian hasn’t forgotten him- and when he learns that he’s being put out to pasture, he puts a glamor on Darby’s horse so he knocks him down a well that leads to the land of the Little People. Down there, the King tells him he must stay forever. Thus begins the best part of the story- how the 4,000-year old king of the leprechauns and clever old gaffer Darby O’Gill, as they continually trick each other.

insert Fiddler’s fart joke here

First Darby has to trick his way out to the real world again, and once he does, he needs to keep King Brian (the perfectly cast Jimmy O’Dea) from dragging him back, so they have a whiskey-drinking and rhyming contest till dawn. Once there’s daylight, the leprechaun’s powers are gone, and Darby just needs to sic the barn cat on him to get his way. From then on he’s got the king in a sack, and the battle is on to see if he can get any of his wishes before the King can make him waste them all! It’s great fun, interspersed with the chaste romance of Katie and Michael, set on the Disney backlots with some nice matte paintings reminiscent of Ireland. Having been there, the castles and ruins stood out as unlikely, but I could imagine a ring fort instead.

“I’ll not be yer fancy feast!”

Once we’ve had all our fun with a leprechaun in a sack, it’s time for Sheelah Sugrue and Pony to start their mischief, turning Katie against Michael with chicanery, so she flees on the mountain road on the night the banshee howls. That banshee scared the shamrocks out of me as a kid. Now I have my grandfather’s shillelagh and a belt of Jameson handy to protect me, but back then it was good for a nightmare or two! The story turns true to its fairy tale roots then, as the banshee haunts poor Katie, and the Death Coach comes for her. Darby’s fight for his daughter’s life could be right from the classic deal with the devil, and not even King Brian can save him from his fate- or can he?

The banshee, source of many childhood nightmares

Sure it’s cheesy Disney, but it’s one of their best live-action fantasy films. It takes a while to take off, but it’s good clean fun. The perspective effects are quite good, and when they’re not- such as when it’s an obvious doll being thrown into Darby’s gunny sack, or a hilariously fake little arm fending off the cat- it just makes it even more endearing. The glow effects for the Death Coach and the Banshee are very dated, but work in this case- they’re used sparingly and in misty darkness. And when you see the banshee’s face, it’s still creepy 50 years later. For the adults, there’ll always be John Wayne having to prove his mettle to Maureen O’Hara- a movie with nearly as idyllic a view of Ireland as this one- but for the kids, watching Darby O’Gill play his fiddle for a roomful of leprechauns is still great fun.

Death Coach for Cutie

3 out of four leaf clovers