Thunder Alley was the last movie Annette Funicello made for American International Pictures, purveyor of The Beach Party Movies, and except for a bit part in Head, she didn't appear in another major motion picture until 20 years later when she re-teamed with Frankie Avalon for Back To The Beach. Annette wasn't idle during that period, she made appearances in numerous TV shows. Her appearance in Thunder Alley was her most adult role in any of the AIP films, even more so than in Fireball 500, and like that movie, Thunder Alley has a stock car racing theme. This time out her usual co-star/love interest Frankie Avalon was replaced with Fabian
Like Avalon in Fireball 500, Fabian also tools around in a George Barris customized car. As you can see from the above photo, his Dodge Charger is a pretty ugly piece of machinery. It seems Fabian always gets black-outs when he gets boxed in during a race and his last black-out caused the death of another racer. He finds the only person who will hire him is Jan Murray, who runs a Thrill Show (similar to Joie Chitwood's Thrill Show) and can use another driver.
Annette plays Jan Murray's daughter and she also drives in his Thrill Show. As you would expect, Annette and Fabian, at first, can't stand each other, but eventually fall in love. Both Annette and Fabian did great with their parts, with one exception. Part of the plot called for Annette to get drunk and whether Annette had never been drunk or just didn't have the acting chops to play drunk is undecidable. However, this is the only weak spot in Annette's acting in Thunder Alley.
Fabian has no songs in Thunder Alley and Annette sings only one song, "When You Get What You Want", a very slow and plaintive song, accompanied by The Band Without A Name (who later changed their name to The American Revolution). The Band Without A Name also does the title song to the movie "Thunder Alley".
I found Thunder Alley to be the least enjoyable of any of the Beach Party offshoots. It moved slow and the story was predictable. I would recommend it only to anyone interested in seeing some vintage stock car racing and/or Thrill Show footage.
Back To The Beach opens with an intro blending the world of movies and TV with real life. We are told all about Frankie being a teen idol and that he was once a great surfer and that Annette used to belong to a cult known as The Mickey Mouse Club and has an addiction to Peanut Butter (she once did commercials for Skippy). This was a nice touch and is probably the way those who grew up with Frankie and Annette could actually jumble reality and fantasy in the deep recesses of their minds. On a side note, the name "Frankie" is never used in Back To The Beach due to some legality with the original series. Avalon is always referred to as either The Big Kahuna or some play off that name and the end credits list him simply as Annette's husband.
Back To The Beach's plot is on par with the original Beach Party Movies and pokes gentle fun at all the tropes from those movies. Frankie and Annette live in Ohio and decide to take a vacation. They'll stop in California and visit their daughter for a couple of hours. Of course this visit turns into an extended stay and, as if you couldn't guess, Frankie and Annette wind up becoming jealous of one another, have a spat and, of course, get back together before the end of the movie.
Even with the recycled plot, Back To The Beach is a fun movie. Not only did I get to revisit with Frankie and Annette, but Back To The Beach is filled with cameos: Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr. from Gilligan's Island, Barbara Billingsley, Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow from Leave It To Beaver, Ed "Kookie: Byrnes from 77 Sunset Strip, plus Don Adams of Get Smart fame has an extended role. I should also mention that everyone's favorite football star/convict, O.J. Simpson, makes an appearance spoofing his old Hertz commercials.
On to the musicians: Dick Dale, Frankie, and Connie Stevens sing "California Sun", Fishbone and Annette sing "Jamaica Ska", Stevie Ray Vaughn and Dick Dale perform "Pipeline", Pee Wee Herman rocks out on "Surfin Bird" and Frankie, Annette and the cast all sing "Some Things Go On Forever". Plus, the soundtrack from the movie is loaded with other great "feel good" songs.
I really enjoyed Back To The Beach and I think you will too, if you enjoyed the original Beach Party Movies. So, check out Back To The Beach, I don't think you'll be disappointed and you'll probably have a smile on your face when the movie is finished.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride is what I think you would get if Robert Rodriquez and David Lynch sat down and watched Deadwood and then said "Hey, Let's Make A Western". My brain imagines this scenario because The Last Rites of Ransom Pride has Spanish touches reminding me of Rodriquez's El Mariachi/Desperado, imagery reminding me of David Lynch, and W. Earl Brown from Deadwood has a role in the film....and heck, I might as well include a trace of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is included in my mash-up.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride is about Ransom's lover Juliette Flowers (Lizzy Caplan) trying to bring Ransom's body home for burial. He was in a shootout in Mexico and killed Bruja's (Cote de Pablo from NCIS) brother, the priest, by mistake. Bruja will trade Ransom's body for his other brother Champ (Jon Foster). Sounds simple enough, but oh what a twisted journey this will be. The Last Rites of Ransom Pride was co-written by the great Texas singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, who most people will know wrote "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother" made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker. I'll go on record here saying IF all you know about Ray Wylie Hubbard is the above, you are missing out, check out anything by Ray Wylie, you won't be disappointed.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride features a couple of musicians. The father of Ransom Pride is played by Dwight Yokam, a retired gunfighter who has taken up the ministry. Dwight ain't wearing a hat for most the movie, so you know he going to be a real SOB. I think not wearing a hat just always puts Dwight in the mood for being an ass, at least in any movie I've seen him in, and I might add he's darn good at it too. As a matter of fact, "Hatless Dwight" is so good at being an unlikable person, if I was hanging with him in real life, I would have to insist he always keep his hat square on his head.
Our other featured musician in The Last Rites of Ransom Pride is Kris Kristofferson, whose weathered face and years of acting have made him grow comfortably into a role of a cowboy in any film in which he appears.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride is very well written with a lot of great dialogue, with the best line, in my opinion, being delivered by Peter Dinklage. If you would like to find out what he has eaten while standing up, you'll just have to watch the film.
My only disappointment was that Ray Wylie Hubbard didn't appear in The Last Rites of Ransom Pride. However, he does have four songs on the soundtrack: "Black Wings", "Rooster's Lullaby" with Tiller Russell, "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" with Liz Foster and Lucas Hubbard, and "Enlightenment" with Kevin Russell.
Please check out the comments below to hear what Ray Wylie Hubbard has to say about"The Last Rites of Ransom Pride".
I'll have to give Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow credit because the only actual drag racing in the movie was done by two of the female characters. I thought this was quite unique for 1959. No one in the movie, with the exception of one girl's father, seemed to think there was anything out of the ordinary about female hot-rodders.
The movie begins with the above mentioned drag race through what I assume was "The Los Angeles River" where many years later they filmed the racing scenes in Grease. The Good Girl, Lois, gets away but The Bad Girl wrecks her car. Lois makes it back to the gang's hot rod club but is later confronted by the Police and gets charged with illegal racing. In a plot recycled from many other teen exploitation movies, the gang is going to lose their clubhouse/garage because they can't pay their rent. Connected to the garage is another part of the clubhouse: a small diner/music club ......a garage and a diner....this place is huge!....NO wonder a bunch of teens can't pay the rent!!!
In the diner part of the clubhouse, The Renegades are playing. This band had an interesting line-up, it featured drummer Sandy Nelson (Teen Beat, Let There Be Drums and a slew of drum LPs), Bruce Johnston (future Beach Boy), Nick Venet (who signed The Beach Boys and produced some of their early albums) and Richard Podolor (future producer of Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf). The Renegades play one instrumental, ""Geronimo", which includes firing guns into the air and then are joined by some of the girl members of the club who sing "He's My Guy".
When Lois' parents find out about the trouble she has been in they ground her, but agree to let the gang come over for a party since she can't go out....Ahh, don't you just love permissive parents! In the meantime Lois' crazy Aunt Anatasia arrives with her crazy parrot (Do All Parrots Sound Like Gilbert Gottfried?). She just happens to own a haunted house the gang can use since they got kicked out of their clubhouse.....to clarify, the aunt owns the house, NOT the parrot. Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow even has some social commentary at the party when a couple of the adults talk about how much pressure the kids are under having to live in the atomic age.
After the boys leave, the girls have a slumber party and and play a new record by The Renegades, "Charge". At the same time they are watching an old black and white Western movie on TV, which featured the Calvary charging the Indians...well I assume the movie was in black and white...but it's actually hard to tell since Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow itself is in black and white. The next day Lois, who is still grounded from driving, has her crazy aunt, who doesn't know how to drive, agree to drive her out to the haunted house. This results in a wild ride with the parrot making wisecracks the whole time (listening to the parrot's voice, I'm pretty sure this must have been Gottfried's father or grandfather!).
A lot of spooky goings-on happen at the old house, but the teens aren't deterred and decide to put on a Spook Ball and raise money. The party features The Renegades doing "Ghost Town" and a very square looking dude, Jimmy Maddin (who just happens to be the music coordinator for the movie and must have decided to coordinate himself into the film) sings a song called "Tongue Tied".
Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow really starts to fall apart at the end. There's another drag race between the two girls, but it happens off screen. There's a talking car (all of a sudden I felt like I was having a Disney flashback). The final odd bit is we find out the person who is haunting the house is someone who was let go from a movie studio. The motive as to why he is haunting this particular house is never explained. An interesting footnote: the guy playing this part is actually Paul Blaisdell, a famous special effects guy, wearing one of his own creations from The She Creature. Despite the weak and confusing ending, if you're into 50s teen movies, you'll probably dig Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.
I couldn't find a trailer, but below is a clip from the movie with The Renegades doing "Geronimo".
"World War II has just ended, and young Everett Laidlaw who had joined the battle overseas to avoid jail for Moonshining, returns home and reunites with his kin. But surviving the war will soon seem like a cakewalk for Everett as he deals with his wacky family and struggles with coming of age in small-town America" is how Dixie Lanes was described.
The above description sounded like this would be a pretty decent movie and since I'm a fan of Hoyt Axton I was anxious to see it; however, there were so many things wrong with Dixie Lanes that I really don't know where to begin. The main problem lies in the lack of focus on any certain plot and/or a decision as to what type of movie was being made. Somewhere near the halfway point of Dixie Lanes a plot finally emerged; but in the meantime the movie had meandered from one idea to another while trying to decide if it was a madcap 40s movie, a family drama, or a mystery. I'm not saying it would be impossible to combine all of those elements, but they each seem to be treated as a separate entity and none ever converged with any other. I can only guess the lack of focus in the movie was due to an inexperienced director, this was his first movie (and he only directed one more movie eight years later).
Hoyt Axton, whose own likability shone through his character, did a fine job with the role he was given. Even though the box cover makes it appear that Hoyt and Karen Black are the stars of the movie, the movie mainly revolves around his son, Everett (Christopher Rydell). A brief footnote to Dixie Lanes - although not a musician, but only related to one, Bruce Springsteen's sister Pamela plays Rydell's love interest in Dixie Lanes and appears topless in one scene.
Fireball 500 on the surface appears to be a continuation of the Beach Party movies, since it stars Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and co-stars Harvey Lembeck. Besides featuring those three actors, the film has little to do with the Beach Party series. I say little, since Frankie does sing over the opening and closing credits, along with another song in the middle of the movie and Annette also gets to do one song.
Frankie is a famous race car driver who tools around in a George Barris customized 1966 Plymouth Barracuda, towing his race car behind him. He winds up in a town with a stock car race sponsored by Harvey Lembeck. The racetrack has an attached carnival where Annette works for her father Chill Wills, who runs a "hoochie coochie" show. Fabian (who inexplicably doesn't sing in the movie) is Annette's main squeeze. In a plot throwback to the beach movies, Annette wants Fabian to settle down and quit his wild racing ways. I guess it goes without saying that Fabian and Frankie become rivals, not only for Annette, but also on the racetrack.
Fireball 500 has a subplot about moonshine running (shades of Thunder Road) and while Fabian has no problem running "shine", Frankie gets tricked into taking a moonshine run. When the revenuers threaten Frankie with jail time, he has to help them arrest the suppliers.
Fireball 500 is a lot more adult in theme than the movies normally associated with Frankie and Annette. Annette still maintains her "goody two shoes" image for most of the movie, the exception being when she sings "Step Right Up" for her father's girlie show. Frankie, on the other hand, drinks hard liquor and even though the movie only gives you a hint of what happens, it's pretty obvious he has shacked up with a woman in his hotel room.
While it was good to see some old-style stock car racing footage, as opposed to the boring NASCAR professional racing of today, Fireball 500 wasn't very entertaining. Some of the supporting actors were so good it made Annette and Frankie's acting look pretty amateurish, although Fabian held his own with the rest of the cast. The plot mash-up of beach movie with the previously mentioned Thunder Road was weak and even the songs were insipid. Given the choice I'd watch any of Annette and Frankie's beach movies over Fireball 500.
If I was giving Beyond The Doors a grade, I would have to grade it CRAZY AS HELL. Although I got my copy from a private individual and it didn't include any artwork, I cribbed the following liner notes on the video from the internet: "Jimi Hendrix: The king of rock. A pleasure seeking superstar who blasted his way into college campuses with his music, drugs and erotica. Dead at 27. Janis Joplin: A free spirited symbol of the sixties who was a hard drinking, hard lovin' texas mama who gloried in tearing at her throat as she sang. Dead at 27. Jim Morrison: Founder of The Doors. His performances turned into orgies and his beautiful poetry became dark, eerie rock, protesting against the ravaging of the earth. Dead at 27. Their music got them killed! Why? How? Where? They were too powerful - they had to be silenced! Assassinated for the good of America? Find out why. "
The movie begins with a trio of men out hunting ducks. One of the men is shot by his buddies (shades of Dick Cheney). His son is bequeathed a briefcase and it contains an almost finished book by his father showing the reason he was murdered...he was going to blow the lid off the government conspiracy to silence the "three pipers of Rock and Roll". Most of the rest of the film is told in a flashback style as the movie shows us all three musicians and how they were eventually killed...well except Morrison who faked his death and entered a monastery, where he died a natural death. Why were they killed? It seemed Jimi was sympathetic to The Black Panthers, Morrison spoke out against the Vietnam War....and Janis, I never could get a clear reason they killed her, since she never really did anything political in Beyond The Doors.
Of the three actors, I thought Gregory Allen Chatman did a pretty good Hendrix when he was acting, as far as music ability it appeared holding a guitar was something foreign to him and most of the time the camera captures him only from above the guitar (a trick I guess they took from Ed Sullivan only showing Elvis from the waist up). Riba Meryl as Janis Joplin reminded me of a mix of Stevie Nicks and circa 1980's Elayne Boozler, however her song styling wasn't bad. Bryan Wolf was recognizable as Morrison since he had on tight leather pants, other than that, he looked more like Tommy James and Peter Frampton combined into one person, but once again his song styling was up to par.
Speaking of the songs, there is only "original" music in Beyond The Doors. I put original music in quotes since all of the songs sound similar to the music originally performed by Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison. I actually found this a plus for the movie and commend whoever did the songwriting. One last note on musicians - none of the backing groups looked like any members from the original bands.... one drummer even resembled Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals and one even looked like Freddie Prinze!
The main reason for the elimination of Joplin, Morrison and Hendrix is Richard Nixon wants to be re-elected and is afraid of the youth vote and the power these three could wield if they so chose. This brings us to a small joke in the movie where a photo of Nixon is hanging on the wall and, once straighten, Herbert Hoover asks an agent how it looks and the agent replies "a little crooked".
There's a lot of craziness in Beyond The Doors such as Hendrix playing Woodstock indoors, Joplin being killed by injecting oranges with dope and then staging an overdose scene, and Morrison dying in the monastery due to what I guess old folks would call consumption (what they don't have penicillin in France?). However, the craziest to me was the inclusion of The Plaster Casters. Their appearance had absolutely nothing to do with the film and I assume someone thought it would air some believability to the movie. Sorry filmmakers, it was much to late by the time the Plaster Casters arrived for anyone to think they were watching a documentary.
Beyond The Doorswas badly acted, badly scripted, and badly filmed, but I still enjoyed it for it own unique craziness. However, if you're not a fan of bad movies, you might want to skip this one.
In La Bamba, I didn't see the complete immersion of the actor, Lou Diamond Phillips, with his character, Ritchie Valens, as I did with Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story and Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter. Regardless of my above statement, and the fact Lou Diamond Phillips only bears a passing resemblance to Valens, his acting ability was strong enough to make me so involved with his character that I was wishing there could be a different ending to the movie other than the one I knew was inevitable. A special note should be added that even though Phillips' performances were dubbed, his handling of the guitar playing in La Bamba added another level of authenticity to the film.
La Bamba begins during the period of Valens' life when his brother Bob had been released from jail and had made enough money to have the family move from the migrant fields back to a more stable home-life. A lot of La Bamba revolves around Ritchie and his relationship with his brother Bob. While Bob supported Ritchie, he was also envious of the success of his brother. Since Bob also had a problem with alcohol he made some bad decisions, some of which were detrimental to Ritchie. Not only Bob, but in a refreshing twist of the way a lot of early Rock and Roller's were looked at, Ritchie's whole family was supportive of him. The only thing I found hard to believe in La Bamba was Ritchie Valens carrying his guitar EVERYWHEREhe went. While I have read reports that Valens carried his guitar to school to entertain his classmates, the constant presence of the guitar seemed far fetched --- but what do I know --- maybe it was true.
In La Bamba, Valens crosses paths with a few other musicians: Los Lobos, who appear as a Mexican Bar Band; Howard Huntsberrry does a great turn as Jackie Wilson; Brian Setzer rocks out as Eddie Cochran; and Marshall Crenshaw makes a very credible Buddy Holly [Besides being a musician, Crenshaw also wrote the great reference book Hollywood Rock - A Guide To Rock n Roll In The Movies]