Vintage Pulp Aug 10 2023
IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY
The people who got burned the worst were the movie's investors.

As we mentioned back in the spring, we started watching Sunburn, but stopped ten minutes in to backtrack to Stanley Ellin's source novel first because we thought the concept of an investigator hiring a woman to pose as his wife might be fun in written form. It was that, but the book wasn't perfect, as we discussed. Returning to the movie, above you see a painted promo poster, uncredited, though pretty nice, even if the central figure doesn't look as much like the star attraction as she should. But you recognize her anyway, right? That's Farrah Fawcett, or supposed to be, who headlined along with Charles Grodin, the latter of whose presence immediately marks the movie as a non-drama. But we forged ahead anyway to see what he, Fawcett, and co-stars Art Carney and Joan Collins could provide.

Sunburn, it must be said right off, flopped at the box office. That isn't definitive proof of a bad movie, but it's suggestive. The novel's premise and plot were retained: insurance investigator Grodin needs to get close to a rich Acapulco family in order to prove fraud, therefore he rents the villa next door and hires Fawcett to smooth his cover story by playing his wife. What's added that wasn't in the book is a thick layer of slapstick and Grodin's “comedy.” Fawcett is sunny, ingenuous, and sexy without guile, which was basically her brand, and it works as expected—wonderfullybut there's definitely no spark between her and Grodin. We don't think we've seen a woman's lips that tightly closed for a kiss since PI-1 lost a bet and had to smooch a friend's slobbery German boxer. As for the other participants, Carney finds himself in a wise old advisor role that fits, but Collins is wasted as a farcical nympho cougar.

Basically, the movie can be summed up this way: Grodin stumbles and bumbles his way through an investigation, Fawcett gives unsolicited and unappreciated help, and the plot veers inevitably toward reliable woman-in-danger tropes, buttressed by a standard cheeseball car chase that ends up going through a random fruit stand, round the inside of a colonial fortress, and into a bullring. The chase is capped by Fawcett's capture, which naturally leads to a chaotic rescue and a pat conclusion. From beginning to end the filmmakers whiff on all the good music of the late ’70s, which means the too-present soundtrack consists of only the worst pop hits of the era. Unhelpful, to say the least, and a lesson on the downside of using popular music on soundtracks.

We don't watch many movies from the late 1970s that aren't hard dramas, and Sunburn reminded us why—comedic acting from that time can be very idiosyncratic, and Grodin in particular hadn't yet perfected his distracted deadpan superior-attitude schtick. But if you get the feeling we disliked the movie, you'd be wrong. Its very obviousness makes it worth a smile. And we liked it a lot better than did our new consulting critic, Angela the sunbear, who'll mostly be advising us behind the scenes but may occasionally make a public appearance or two, depending on her mood. Today, she's feeling social. Give the Pulp Intl. readership a wave, Angela.

Very good. And nice work standing on two legs. You look almost human, if that isn't offensive to say. Anyway, we could ask Angela to enumerate her many qualifications and credentials to critique cinema, including her degree from the Beijing Film Academy, but we assume you trust us to collaborate with only the most experienced and educated professionals. Also, it's 100 degrees where she lives, so she won't suffer an entire film unless it's really good. In this case, she waited about twenty minutes to see if any of her favorite fruits or wild berries made an appearance, discoursed on the tradition of comedians becoming actors (somehow tying in the Greek muses of comedy and drama—Thalia and Melpomene—which was way over our heads, if we're honest), pondered whether Grodin might get mauled at some point, then went for shade and water. So there you have it: Sunburn gets one reluctant thumbs up, but one definitive claw down. It premiered today in 1979.
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Vintage Pulp Apr 26 2023
BOUND TO HAPPEN
Lines in the sand have a way of getting crossed.


Considering our website's focus on beautiful art, you must be asking how we came to read Stanley Ellin's 1970 novel The Bind, with its beige post-GGA cover treatment by Joe Lombadero. What happened was we decided to watch the 1979 Farrah Fawcett movie Sunburn, but stopped during the opening credits when we saw that it was based on a novel. We'd decided to see the movie because it was helmed by cult director Richard C. Sarafian, and also because its premise interested us, but we figured that premise was probably more fully and interestingly developed in the source novel. We won't know for sure until we watch the film, but it's pretty much a given when you compare literature to cinema.

Here's the premise: insurance investigator Jake Dekker needs to get close to a secretive family to disprove a verdict of accidental death and save his employers a $200,000 payout, so he rents a house in their tony Miami enclave and hires an actress to pose as his wife. The family would be suspicious of a single man, but not a married couple. He's carried out similar scams and worked with the same actress over and over, but when she can't make the gig she instead sends down-on-her-luck colleague Elinor Majeski as a replacement. The fake wife aspect of Jake's scheme immediately gets complicated, both because this new actress is smarter and more curious than is convenient, and because she's unusually lovely. Uh oh. Professional comportment—out the window.

Ellin pushes his ripe premise for all it's worth. Jake insists on realism, which involves he and Elinor getting comfortable around each other, whatever intimate circumstances might arise. The only line they aren't to cross is sleeping in the same bed. Heh. How long do you think that lasts? Actually, it lasts a long while. Jake's shell is hard. He's borderline mean to Elinor, and therein lies the balancing act in the narrative. He's mean, but occasionally charming. Ellin's writing treads that crucial line well, but the book is overlong and its climax goes in a direction we didn't like. But we'd read him again. In any case, now we'll have to see what the filmmakers did with Farrah in the role of Elinor. Charles Grodin co-stars, so we expect the movie to be a bit silly, but who can resist Farrah?
 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 30
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
November 29
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
November 28
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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