<<Seven Second Survey>>
- Movie production stuff
- John Agar: how to get ahead in Hollywood
- Yeah, its bad
- John Agar – Life on the B-Side
- ‘Blubber blown beyond all believable bounds’
- Should we still watch it?
- How John Agar found his Zen
Night Fright (1967, USA)
E.T.N.: The Extraterrestrial Nastie (1983(?), UK)
Matthew at the Movies Rating: ★ (one star-out of 10)
Movie genres: Sci-fi; Horror, B-movie,
- John Agar as Sheriff Clint Crawford
- Carol Gilley as Nurse Joan Scott
- Ralph Baker Jr. as Chris Jordan
- Dorothy Davis as Judy
- Bill Thurman as Deputy Ben Whitfield
- Roger Ready as Prof. Alan Clayton
- Gary McLain as Wes Blau
- Darlene Drew as Darlene Scott
- Frank Jolly as Rex Bowers
- Bill Holly as Deputy Pat Lance
- Janiz Menshew as Carla
- Russ Marker as Mitch
- Toni Pearce as Betty the Waitress
- Christi Simmons as Annie
- Brenda Venus as Sue
- Byron Lord as Government Man
- Ronnie Weaver as Government Man
- Olivia Pinion as Partygoer
- Nancy Mann as Partygoer
- Lewis Helm as Partygoer
- Jeanie Wilson as Mary Bennett
- Rod Paxton as Buddy Williams
- The Wildcats – soundtrack effects and music played in movie
Writers: Russ Marker
Directors: James A. Sullivan
Producer: Wallace Clyce Jr.
Cinematography: Robert C. Jessup
Edited by: Arthur Sullivan
65 m. (UK)
Girl: Good heaven’s I just realized where we are – Satan’s hollar – why did we come all the way here to park?
Guy: Just to be alone (saunters in for another kiss).
Girl: Silly – I know that (in overdone, southern girl accent) Buuut why this spooky place? The lake would have been…more romantic.
Guy: Sure. And busy as a meat market selling 10-cent steaks.
The Most Interesting Man (In This Movie)
The most interesting thing about Night Fright (1967) is probably not the virtually unbearable dialog nor even the movie itself – but rather the one actor that the credits seem to actually highlight in bright, bold letters – both right off the bat and at its end – as if to surreptitiously suggest that this person is exactly why we should even be watching this movie: John Agar. Agar began his career by virtue of being married to a young woman who would be given the cherished title of America’s Sweetheart, Shirley Temple. His sister had gone to school with her and somewhere along the line she had caught both his eye and his fancy – and so when the opportunity came along to be her escort to a big party thrown by then-Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick, who had earned notoriety by directing two pictures; both of which had earned best picture Academy Awards, Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940), he jumped at the opportunity. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind is famous in its own right and Rebecca holds the distinction of being the only Alfred Hitchcock film to earn Best Picture. With these successes under his belt knew not just how to achieve success – but also how and where to find it.
John Agar: Boy Meets Girl / Friends With Benefits
Selznick also no doubt knew how to throw a serious party and the one in 1944 where Agar and Temple met was almost assuredly seriously jumping; he would later be known for his use of amphetamines and shooting movies literally for 22 hours straight at times. It was amidst this Hollywood whose-who and high-energy party-hard socializing that John and Shirley fell in love and soon became an official item. Marriage in 1945 soon followed. And in Hollywood – then as it is now – it’s not what you know but who – and for Agar – being married to a Hollywood starlet meant having a friend with very distinct benefits: a 5 year acting contract that included lessons on how to actually do it. For you see Agar had had his eye on Temple – but it was Selznick who had his eye on Agar. And when all was said and done those who had seen it all go down, knew that it begged the question, just as the song says – ‘who made who?’ In 1946, when then-sergeant Agar resigned from his position as a physical fitness instructor at the the United States Army Air Corp’s March Field in Riverside, he knew he had walked out onto a whole new field of play. The lessons must have worked – because after a while, Agar was acting next to John Wayne and would actually go on to made six movies with him (Fort Apache, Sands of Iwo Jima, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Undefeated, Chisum, and Big Jake).
Relegation To The B-Side
But along with the success and high-energy socializing also came alcohol. And Agar proved not to be as adept with its management; adding alcoholic to his list of personal capabilities. This lead to a fractious marriage – fraught with Agar’s heavy drinking and a subsequent arrest for drunk driving which supposedly drove the two apart. Temple divorced Agar in 1949 citing ‘mental cruelty’ and – for Agar – much of his movie mojo walked out of the door along with her. Although he would go on to make at least two more hits along with John Wayne – he eventually found himself relegated to the B-movie list of which Night Fright (1967) [not to be confused with the hugely successful and beloved 1980’s, vampire flick Fright Night (1985)] is only one among many. He never complained though. For him – if people were enjoying what he was doing – even it if was a small subset of people – he was having fun and being productive in his own eyes. There is something to be said about this self-awareness, existential-realization and self-authentication, as it were. Not many A-listers could make the transition to or back to the B-side of things. But Agar did not just have fun – he thrived on it.
I don’t resent being identified with B science fiction movies at all -why should I? Even though they were not considered top of the line, for those people that like sci-fi, I guess they were fun. – John Agar
Oh, About That Film…
Wait – wasn’t this supposed to be a movie review? Oh, yeah…about that film. In addition to terrible dialogue the movies suffers from disjointed scene transitions that make even the most amateur of movie reviewers wince. The movie genuinely drags along and it seems that the director felt that abrupt scene transitions might actually constitute a startle to the observer – strong enough to perhaps gloss over the overt cheesiness through which the entire escapade seems to melt through.
The film begins with our intrepid lovers who have gone to a remote local somehow named ‘Satan’s hollar’ to get their groove on – only to have their passionate embrace abruptly interrupted by a mysterious creature that kills the girl leaves the boy wounded. Does he die later? – I can’t honestly remember. A reporter starts asking questions about the attacks – you’d think that he could have figured into the progression of the plot – but he does not really. Perhaps the scriptwriter was trying to be original in this regard – but the result is a character that is just kind of awash on the dance floor of a 60’s dance party. John Agar plays Sheriff Clint Crawford, who is the only one who seems to know how to act. There is enough stiffness in this film that it might be confused with the local Lowes’ lumberyard. Sherriff Crawford thinks that there is some kind of animal on the loose and forbids the love-struck gang of proverbially rebellious teens from going back out into the woods to dance, make out or do whatever it was they were doing.
This Doesn’t Need a Monster to be a Mess
Deputy Ben Whitfield is then killed in another attack – and his cries for help go unheeded because nobody was ever in the office to hear his cried of anguish over the CB radio. Again – this could have potentially been used in an interesting way. Aren’t horror films supposed to be scary? Perhaps the most absurd point in the movie is when Sheriff Crawford gives Prof. Alan Clayton a plaster cast of the monsters foot. He agrees to study and examine it and says that he will report back. The next day he spills the beans to the Sheriff Crawford saying that he knows of both the creature and from whence it came. I remember watching the scene and thinking that the real world reaction to this would have been a swift punch to the face from Sheriff to Professor. The intimation is made that the professor knew all along what was up – but needed to check or verify something or other. I mean – lives are at stake right? There is more frustration here than fear or horror. Again – this is bungled on the part of the scriptwriter in my personal opinion.
As he tells the story – the monster is/was actually an earthly animal of some unspecified kind that was placed inside a rocket, along with 40 other kind of animals in a project dubbed ‘Noah’s Ark’ which was designed as an experiment to see the effects of cosmic radiation on live animals. Professor Clayton explains that 300k miles out- they lost contact with the animal-laden rocket ship. That was – as he explains – until the other day, when it had unexpectedly crashed back to earth. Professor Clayton goes on to explain that he had personally inspected the crash – and found all of the animals grotesquely mutated into bizarre unearthly monsters. Many were dead, a few from the crash, but then the remaining had been eaten – presumably from the largest animal, which was both horrifically mutated – and was now on the loose.
…And The Case of The Exploding Whale
You can kind of get the gist of how the movie goes from here; all the college kids rebel and go exactly back to ‘Satan’s Holler’ for more arthritic dancing and the good sheriff goes after the creature. I will save you the time and tell you that they set up a decoy mannequin and load it down with dynamite. After luring the creature out into the open they run past the decoy – which the creature then attacks. Dynamite. Boom. Bad creature dead. Of course there is nothing left of the creature – or at least that we see anymore, save a piece of now blown apart mannequin. Some people reading this may remember a similar situation when dynamite was also used to get rid of a likewise unwanted monstrosity. The case in point took place in Florence, Oregon. It was 1970 and an eight-ton whale had washed up on shore and someone had the bright idea to blow it up with half a ton of dynamite. You have to wonder if they were inspired by this movie. As the newsman who reported it – “the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” I would not expect you to watch Night Fright – but you should definitely take five minutes and watch the real-life grotesque horror, born of good intentions that that mess became. The news of that has become a staple of Internet lore – having become one of the most watched clips ever uploaded to youtube.com (https://www.youtube.com/watch?iv&src_vid=xBgThvB_IDQ&v=uD5sPgV61bw#t=43s)
Bad Prints Abound – and There’s a Reason for it
The copy of the film that I watched (from TGG Direct, 15 Horror Movies) was not a very good transfer. Likewise – copies that I found online were only marginally better in their quality – although not as bad as some that I have seen. This did make me appreciate some of the older movies that I have re-watched that I have been redone and put on Blu-ray – such as the restored James Bond films in the Blu-ray collector’s edition. Dr No (1962) – which was no doubt shot with the best cameras available in the early 60’s has been given a level of restorative detail that you have to wonder if one could have even been able to to see the film with such clarity in the theatres when it was first released – nevertheless even on tube sets prior to the modern flat screen Ultra-HD marvels that we have today. I would wager that what you can now watch on your laptop is a higher quality version then most people who have seen the film have seen it in. The level of quality that has been teased out of some of these older films is simply amazing. In the case of Dr No it was done frame by frame and selection were made from across all available archival prints. Night Fright will likely never ever see that level of attention – and while I am not any kind of authority on film technology – I think that the Bond films probably had the best film running through their cameras that money could buy to begin. And what was used for Night Fright – probably not so much; the budget and the intentions were never to hit the highest marks. According to IMDB, Night Fright had a budget of $18,000 in 1967. Dr. No had racked up an estimated budget of 1.1 million dollars in 1962, although it would go on to gross something to the tune of 16 million in the United States alone.
Exploiting the Success of Others
Sometime in the early 80’s – someone had the idea to re-release the movie with a new title E.T.N.: The Extraterrestrial Nastie and the film was edited from 88 to 65 min. The title was a clear reference to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – which, as you know, is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made – which had come out it 1982. It held the title for highest grossing film for 11 years. I am surprised that they were not sued for it. E.T.N was released in the U.K. – probably in an effort to skirt American copyright laws.
Why Watch Unbelievably Bad Movies
This brings us to a closing point: why watch mediocre movies from the 60’s like this anyway? For one – there is always the issue that to be able to see real money – you have to handle a lot of counterfeit. I’ve heard stories that this is how some banks train their tellers to be able to tell the good green from the bad – however proverbial this may in fact be – regardless – the same is true with cinematography. You should be willing to see your fair share of bad acting to be able to appreciate and call out really good acting when you see it, because it isn’t enough to just always see the best all the time, every time. I will be honest and say that I have often thought that some critics I’ve read were just being too critical in their commentary on some acting or related aspect of a given film.
I’ve heard words like ‘wooden’ or ‘disjointed’ used to describe scenes that I thought were well done. Is it that the critics in these cases were just being cranky because he or she were told and taught that this is just what critics do: that they just criticize everything and everybody endlessly? Maybe so. Or maybe some critics have never actually sat through and watched a movie like Night Fright and actually seen authentically wooden, half-acted out dialogue and scene transitions so disjointed they make your stomach lurch. Should movies like this serve as veritable low-water marks for movie quality? Or is that standard to be fixed somewhere else? Maybe. But regardless- I still think that someone who wants to go from movie lover to movie critic should start watching more bad movies as well as those marked as being generally and/or exceedingly good. It might be an arduous task for some to call themselves to – but it certainly cannot hurt. And one might certainly even develop a certain kind of taste for this kind of cheese. I think I certainly have.
Anyway – as far as I can tell – John Agar is the only person in this film who could have been considered an actual actor – though his own work here lacks the heft that he was able to bring to the screen when he was working alongside John Wayne. The adults in the film seem to somewhat know what they were doing in front of a camera – but the kids – they were juvenile and not just in character but also in theatrical capacity. I have to wonder how many of them were just hired off the street and given lines to say while a camera was rolling. You just have to wonder. The music that they all dance to in several scenes, along with all of the sound affects, were supposedly done by a local music group – The Wildcats. Somehow – I don’t think they are on iTunes anywhere.
How Agar Found Zen on the B-Side of Life
I definitely would not go out of my way to see this film. But I am sure that somewhere, someone is loading up a poorly digitized copy of Night Fright to fill a slot on a late night, bad horror movie marathon. If you are cleaning the house and have nothing better to do then to have it playing in the background – then most certainly you should watch the film – but from only out of the corner of your eye -while you do the dishes or something more important. But have fun with it – regardless of how bad it is; just like one should try to do with most anything in life that one would come up against or experience. It’s here. It’s bad. But lets have fun with it regardless. And if you are trying to hone your skill at being a critic – then go ahead and set the low water mark for seemingly low-skill, amateur acting. And just like John Agar – who himself probably knew very well that his best days were well behind him and who yet continued to enjoy making many movies that only a few enjoyed anymore – we should note that not everything has to be noteworthy to be fun and to be noticed by at least a few. John Agar understood this and he soldiered on without John Wayne by his side, though the B-movie landscape and he continued doing so for many years going forward. John Agar – by the way – remarried in 1951 and stayed married, faithfully, to the same woman – Loretta Barnett Combs (1922–2000) – for 49 years. He said goodbye to a bad, possibly even overtly pretentious marriage and to making A-list movies along with it. And for him – that at least seemed like something he could make a living at and still have a good run at a worthwhile-to-some acting career with. In the end – he was still loved and appreciated by b-movie sci-fi fans everywhere, often attending conventions where he would speak and crack jokes about being the first to ever ‘sock it to’ “American’s Sweetheart”. He was loved – and he loved what he was able to continue to do. Sounds like a wager well played, if you ask me. The camera rolled on – and the monsters to kill and blow up along with it. And so did he.
My whole feeling about working as an actor is, if I give anybody any enjoyment – I’m doing my job, and that’s what counts.
– John Agar
John Agar: http://www.classicscreams.com/Celeb_Pages/John_Agar.html