Alan Smithee Podcast 83: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967, Roger Corman) / Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

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Love is in the air and An Alan Smithee Podcast will not be spared this February. Our double feature for this month is a pair of love letters from Hollywood to the holiday, albeit obliquely. Roger Corman’s The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is a kind of valentine to the studio system which he worked outside of independently: a big 20th Century Fox movie utilizing a large, talented cast with enormous backlot sets and widescreen photography that’s workmanlike but well utilized. There’s no readily available explanation as to why Corman did work –for-hire on a relatively high profile studio movie like this in between his own low budget productions for American International Pictures, although president James H. Nicholson did move on to 20th Century Fox five years later in 1972. A sweetheart deal? Some romance behind the scenes? Typical to his legend, Corman brought the film in under budget. Unfortunately the margin of money saved wasn’t enough to compensate for the film’s financial failure – audiences in 1967 were way past gangster movies about Al Capone and the roaring twenties. Even The Untouchables had been off the air for four years, and the Playhouse 90 episode which screenwriter Howard Browne had penned was almost ten years old. Adult audiences probably felt such material was old-fashioned and young audiences wouldn’t take an interest in tommy guns until later that Summer when Bonnie and Clyde mythologized gangsterism into a glamorous countercultural myth. The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is conspicuously cynical in its depiction of Al Capone’s Chicago, filtering the strutting violence of the faded Cagney / Bogart / Robinson era through post-noir attitudes about the desperate ugliness of crime. This is especially apparent in supporting performances by Bruce Dern as a hapless mob driver with a family to feed and Frank Silvera as a recent immigrant who’s pathetically eager to please his new mob employers. While the principals are all bigger than life – Jason Robards as Capone, Ralph Meeker as Bugs Moran and George Segal as Moran’s enforcer, Peter Gusenberg – they’re never underdogs the way Paul Muni or Al Pacino came off in their respective versions of Scarface. Corman’s bleak and gritty take on the gangster genre is a real hidden gem.

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Our second film really needs no introduction – if anything, it’s a little overhyped. Some Like It Hot is the kind of film that effete closeted geezers would declare the funniest film ever made, and so they did on June 13, 2000. Their #2 pick for the funniest film ever made? Tootsie (!!!) Of course Mrs. Doubtfire placed at #67 above Caddyshack (#71) and Victor, Victoria placed at #76, just edging out Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (#72.) AFI’s love of cross-dressing aside, Some Like It Hot manages to take the painfully hacky premise of two guys forced to disguise themselves as women and make a funny movie regardless. Billy Wilder and co-scripter I.A.L. Diamond get the most mileage out of the farcical possibilities, and the best laughs come from Jack Lemmon’s weird personal arc of realizing that marriage to the doofy rich guy who’s crushing on him, Joe E. Brown, may not be such a bad thing for a struggling musician with bills to pay. Co-star Tony Curtis isn’t nearly as funny as the ladies’ man of the duo, but gets to shine with Marilyn Monroe in the scenes where he’s leading her on as a similarly doofy rich guy – a farce within a farce.

All this gender-bending identity-swapping romance isn’t the main reason we chose Some Like It Hot for our Valentine’s Day episode, however. By the end of the film’s first 20 minutes, Lemmon and Curtis are on the run from the Chicago mob circa 1929 because they were accidentally in the garage on the day of the massacre and the ONLY way to hide out is by dressing as members of a women’s band en route to Florida, naturally. In Billy Wilder’s world, the St Valentine’s Day Massacre is never mentioned as such, and doesn’t even involve Al Capone or Bugs Moran – rather, it’s the messy result of a minor squabble by fictional gangster “Spats” Colombo, played by gangster movie icon George Raft in the first of many self-parodying gangster roles throughout the next 20 years (reaching a nadir with one of our worst Alan Smithee Podcast movies, Sextette.) Trivia: In order to gain the greatest insight into the gender identity politics of Some Like It Hot for this episode, Andrew and I recorded the second half entirely in drag. We couldn’t think of anything gangster-ish to do for the St Valentine’s Day Massacre portion, but nobody’s perfect.

NEXT EPISODES: M-M-M-MARCH MADNESS! TWO EPISODES, FOUR MOVIES IN THE MONTH OF MARCH! RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN) & MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1953, WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1986, TOBE HOOPER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 82: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Roger Corman) / Please Don’t Eat My Mother (1973, Carl J. Monson)

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The legend of Roger Corman could be entirely summed up by the 50-plus years longevity of The Little Shop of Horrors, a film shot under the most chintzy of circumstances which has nonetheless lived on as a musical adaptation and as a perennial staple of cult horror-comedy. What’s odd is how despite being made by his usual gang of misfits and dope addicts, it’s a real oddity in his oeuvre as a producer because he so seldom made comedies. Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for Little Shop, however, is arguably one of the greatest comedy screenplays ever written and Corman’s few other dark comedies – A Bucket of Blood and Gas-s-s-s are quite excellent. Obviously he preferred more financially reliable b-movie genres, which is our loss.

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It’s easy to take a movie like Little Shop of Horrors for granted, but as we discuss in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, irreverent and even mildly “tasteless” humor was in pretty short supply when the film was made and Griffith’s particular brand of weirdo Beatnik by-way-of Borscht Belt humor is a pretty singular achievement. The film has a unique voice and rather than feeling cramped and slapdash by the nonexistent budget, its comedy feels intimate and casual – which is to say, its flaws become its strengths and that’s the surefire miracle which redeems any film of limited means. The weirdest moments concerning the talking plant Audrey Jr, the sadistic dentist Dr. Farb and a deadpan-ad-absurdum parody of Dragnet have an integrity and conviction which wouldn’t have been present in a more polished film. Little Shop of Horrors paved the way for dozens of weird horror-comedies over the years; its influence can be felt from Spider Baby to Basket Case to less overtly “horror” type comedies that are seemingly populated by genuine crazies – like the films of John Waters or Alex Cox’s immortal Repo Man.

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Of course, for a lot of people the only noteworthy thing about Little Shop of Horrors is that it features one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest, and most twisted roles as a masochistic dental patient named Wilbur Force. His two minute scene is certainly the most important part of the film to home video distributors, who were all to glad to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking he starred as Seymour Krerlboine.

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A lame ripoff of the Addams Family theme begins the 1973 Little Shop cash-in Please Don’t Eat My Mother, which is of all things a pornographic remake. Unlike your straightforward pornographic parody film, PDEMM straddles an uncomfortable line between being awful soft porn and simply an unfunny remake of Little Shop. Amazingly, there’s enough resemblance to the original film to strongly suggest that Carl Monson (or at least the writer) was a genuine fan of the Corman movie. Unfortunately everything run through the ringer of Please Don’t Eat My Mother comes out with a filmy, sludgy residue from which no entertainment value can be wrung, let alone titillation.

NEXT EPISODE: SAINT VALENTINES DAY (MASSACRE) SPECIAL! THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE (1967, ROGER CORMAN) / SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, BILLY WILDER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 77: Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim) / Galaxina (1980, William Sachs)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and I run wild across the universe with a couple of loose space babes. They both start out a little cold – one of them’s made of metal – but after we shove our opinions down their throats regarding how badly their movies suck, they warm up to us plenty. It’s called “negging,” refer to your pick-up artist manual for a detailed explanation. Then, of course, I take things too far and ask Fonda if she’d tortured any POWs with the pan-and-scan version of Barbarella lately, turning the mood. Stratten also cools down a bit once she remembers she’s been dead and murdered for 30 years.

This is one of those times when our nominally “good” movie is only less worse than the “bad” one, but the pairing of these two broads was too good to resist. It’s a head-slappingly silly mistake, because Barbarella is probably one of the more infamous bombs of the 60s; a seemingly imaginative yet actually highly calculated attempt to cash in on several cultural fads of the time: sci-fi adventure, comic book camp, “free” “love” and Henry Fonda’s acting progeny. You can’t blame Dino De Laurentiis for thinking that these gimmicks would mesh together, and perhaps they would have if the story or script had anything remotely interesting about them. Terry Southern and Roger Vadim have a lot of potentially clever ideas that flitter and flame out within seconds, proving that drugs tend to hamper otherwise good writers more than they help them.

Flash Gordon is practically a masterpiece of production design and witty dialogue by comparison, to give you some idea of how badly Barbarella misfires. At least Dino learned something in the interim. Actually, Flash Gordon actually came out the same year as our second feature of the episode, Galaxina – a title inspired by Barbarella, if not the story. Or lack thereof.

Galaxina is just as vacuous and lazy in terms of actual content, but with far less talent involved. Robots learning to love is one of science fiction’s oldest tropes, so Sachs (who wrote as well as directed) wasn’t necessarily in a bind to begin with. You’d think if the star of your film was Playboy Playmate of the Year 1980 Dorothy Stratten and she’s the robot who learns to love, you kind of have your work cut out for you and can simply enjoy peppering the dialogue with double entendres and concocting sexy scenes of awkward robolove between man and machine. Yes, you’d think. Apparently Sachs felt that such material was beneath him, and basically ignores Stratten for the first half of the film while he establishes, re-establishes and re-re-establishes a trio of bumbling space jockeys in what feels like a failed pilot written by someone who couldn’t get a job on Saturday Night Live even after Lorne Michaels left.

The infuriating catch to this lack of Stratten-sleaze is that when she finally makes the scene, we don’t get so much as a side boob and the proto-Spaceballs parodies are only getting worse. The cleverest thing in the whole waste of celluloid is an alien hooker with three boobs, strongly suggesting that at least one person who worked on Total Recall has seen Galaxina. Given how clumsy and rote the predictable parody scene of Alien is, it probably wasn’t Dan O’Bannon’s idea to include an homage in kind. Who did Sachs think he was, not delivering on the tagline that in the 31st century, man finally created a machine…with feelings!(?) This bozo wrote and directed The Incredible Melting Man. If you’re going to make an exploitation film, know your audience.

Galaxina “introduces” Dorothy Stratten as per the opening credits, even though she’d starred in the softcore lesbian erotic thriller Autumn Born, a film which undoubtedly featured her in the nude and was probably better written as well. Stratten belongs to that unfortunate club of actors and actresses more famous in death than life, and will go down in movie history only for this and Star 80 – the 1983 biopic depicting her murder, in which she’s played by Muriel Hemingway. Pairing that with Galaxina as the good-movie counterpoint would’ve been smart, but hey, we’re not all that smart sometimes.

NEXT EPISODE: BLUES BROTHERS SPECIAL! THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980, JOHN LANDIS) / BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998, JOHN LANDIS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 60: Breathless (1960, Jean-Luc Godard) / Breathless (1983, Jim McBride)

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The world of film was rocked in 1960 by Breathless, a film which mostly played either like a home movie or documentary more than its simple story would suggest. In short, a French car thief shoots a policeman and unsuccessfully attempts to convince his American girlfriend to flee the country with him. Directed by Godard, a film critic for the influential Cahiers Du Cinema, the scenario consciously referenced many American crime film tropes, then cleverly removed everything that was exciting or entertaining about them and instead allowed the characters to lounge around talking about their sex lives and the sex lives of others. At the time, this lack of thrilling-ness was amazingly thrilling and Godard rode a wave of acclaim for nearly the entire decade, making more post-modern films in which nothing happens except beautiful young French people droning on about the unfairness of life and whom they’ve slept with lately, all while loosely acting out the motions of American movie musicals, dramas and romantic comedies. When not focusing on the incompatibility of men and women, Godard also devoted his films to the themes of Communism and why Americans are inferior to the French. He wore sunglasses and smoked a lot.

In a 2003 retrospective review of Breathless, the voix du peuple Roger Ebert wrote:

“Modern movies begin here…what is most revolutionary about the movie is its headlong pacing, its cool detachment, its dismissal of authority, and the way its narcissistic young heroes are obsessed with themselves and oblivious to the larger society…You cannot even begin to count the characters played by Pacino, Beatty, Nicholson, Penn, who are directly descended from Jean-Paul Belmondo’s insouciant killer Michel.”

In other words, JLG finally made it OK for movie protagonists to be unmitigated shitheads. The trend has yet to decline.

Besides carrying on the French traditions of pretension and narcissism, Godard has also devoted his career to the French national past time of Jew hatred. In 1968, he called producer Pierre Braunberger a “Filthy Jew” to his face, an incident witnessed by Francois Truffaut and over which he severed their friendship.

In 1973, French-Jewish filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin contacted Godard to be paid for his collaborative work on 1972’s “Tout Va Bien” (“Everything’s Fine”), to which Godard responded, “Ah, it’s always the same: Jews call you when they hear a cash register opening.”

In 1981 he said the following about Moses and Jews in general:

“Moses is my principal enemy…Moses, when he received the commandments, he saw images and translated them. Then he brought the texts, he didn’t show what he had seen. That’s why the Jewish people are accursed.

In 1985 he said the following about moneylending bloodsuckers in Hollywood:

“What I find interesting in the cinema is that, from the beginning, there is the idea of debt. The real producer is, all the same, the image of the Central European Jew. They’re the ones who invented the cinema, they brought it to Hollywood…Making a film is visibly producing debts.”

In 2009, Godard was quoted by Le Monde as saying:

“Palestinians’ suicide bombings in order to bring a Palestinian State into existence ultimately resemble what the Jews did by allowing themselves to be led like sheep to be slaughtered in gas chambers, sacrificing themselves to bring into existence the State of Israel…“Basically, there were six million kamikazes”

And in the same interview:

“Hollywood was invented by Jewish gangsters.”

There are plenty of other quotes and even sequences from Godard’s films in reference to the state of Israel being a crime against all non-Jews in the Middle East, but in deference to the pedantic escape clause of Jew haters that being “anti-Zionist” is not the same as hating Jews for no good reason, we’ll leave out any further evidence. It’s hard to top the “Six million kamikazes” line.

He’s not particularly impressed by black people either, but at least they’re merely a novelty and not a cancer when attempting to share the same planet with him:

“I am generally interested in the ‘other’. It’s the same thing with blacks. First, they were colonised, and later everyone acted as if they were just as we are. Of course, a black person can wear glasses and a watch, but this doesn’t make us the same.”

Between Godard’s Jew bashings, Jewish gangster-run Hollywood acquired the remake rights to Breathless and in 1983 produced a frivolous new version starring Richard Gere, who was probably hoping this film would cement his reputation as the thinking American woman’s sex symbol. He cavorts around LA like a wacky sitcom neighbor, being cooly flippant even in the face of the law closing in after he killed that cop who was after his stolen vehicle. His French girlfriend (geddit?) doesn’t want to leave the country with him any more than the American girlfriend in the original did. So, after visiting a lot of locations, being silly in the face of danger and dispensing cleverness to the ever-watching camera, he meets the same fate as his French counterpart.

Amazingly, Jim McBride and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson manage to fit everything that happened in the slow paced original into exactly the same running time, plus new scenes about Gere’s obsession with Silver Surfer comics, the creation of two filthy JEWS named Kurtzberg (Jack Kirby) and Lieber (Stan Lee). The film has no point, as the point of the original film was pointlessness. In that regard, it’s probably one of the more successful remakes ever made. Thanks for showing us ignorant Jew-brainwashed Americans the way, Godard, and here’s hoping your new Arab population in France is as hip and cosmopolitan towards The Other as you are.

NEXT WEEK: REVENGE OF THE NERDS SPECIAL! REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984, JEFF KANEW) & REVENGE OF THE NERDS II: NERDS IN PARADISE (1987, JOE ROTH)

Episode 53: Sweet Bird of Youth (1962, Richard Brooks) / Bats (1999, Louis Morneau)

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The dichotomy between our two movies in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is as simple as the difference between bats and birds. Both are examples in their own right of movies done by the numbers according to formula. The raw materials at hand make all the difference.

Tennessee Williams adaptations were something of a cottage industry for Hollywood after Marlon Brando’s breakout role in A Streetcar Named Desire, such as Baby Doll (1956), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) also directed by Brooks, and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Sweet Bird of Youth came at the tailend of that cycle, just before ending with Night of the Iguana (1964) as the last popular Williams film adaptation for many years. Brooks made a perfectly serviceable drama here, thanks to the talent at hand. A couple years prior, Williams himself had somewhat written the play for Broadway with his own recent fame in mind, and one feels his security in the recurring elements he knows he does well: Southern gentility, alcohol and drug fueled madness, patriarchy, and as the title implies, faded youth. Sweet Bird is also about the fear of lost fame, beginning and ending with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page reprising their stage roles as a deliriously addled movie star panicked that she’s growing old – and Newman, her pool boy / valet / boy toy. They’ve holed up at a hotel in Newman’s old Flordia hometown, to settle unfinished business with old girlfriend Shirley Knight, her political boss father Ed Begley and an unrecognizably young Rip Torn as Begley’s right hand nephew. Brooks’ direction is flat, but with the acting talent and author at hand it doesn’t matter. While Sweet Bird didn’t set the world on fire, they made a truly enjoyable movie practically on autopilot and that’s commendable.

Bats came out eleven years ago today. Like Sweet Bird, this film also has self-assurance written all over itself, except that they’re all calculated around the soft bigotry of low expectations. Is there an elegance to the simplicity on display? The Williams movie was about the tragedy of youthful beauty being not long for one’s posession, like a bird disappearing to the wind. Bats is about bats. Would you be surprised to learn that the titular bats were altered by science? That there’s a sheriff played by Lou Diamond Phillips? That the lead beautiful Chiropterologist Dina Meyer has a wisecracking black sidekick played by a rapper with one word in his name? That this film was released a week before Halloween?

Bats was destined for calculated success. It may have only made 10 million worldwide on a 6 million budget, but the popularity evidently endured long enough for the 2007 direct to television sequel, Bats: Human Harvest.

Listen on to discover the connection between Bats and Scream 2 (hint: hold your computer screen up to a mirror) among other sweet bits of trivia about these movie-by-numbers kits.

NEXT EPISODE: PLEASE TEACH ME ENGLISH (2003, SUNG-SU KIM) & ZARDOZ (1974, JOHN BOORMAN)

Episode 50: Death Of A Gunfighter (1969, Allen Smithee) & The Birds II: Land’s End (1994, Alan Smithee)

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Why is this Alan Smithee Podcast special different from all other Alan Smithee Podcast specials? Simple! You can only have one 50th episode special, and brother, this is it!

Although the one good movie / one bad movie / one hour format has only been in effect for 37 of our 50 episodes, that’s still 74 good movies and bad ones discussed, minus a few good ones from special episodes like our Robocop or Darkman trilogy retrospectives. To start the festivities we each take a look back at our top 5 favorites and least favorites. As most of our good movies were recommendations from one host to the other, each top 5 list is completely unique from the other. Amongst our bottom 5, there is one film so awful it cracked both lists – so listen to discover what’s agreed upon as the worst movie ever chosen for An Alan Smithee Podcast. (Hint: the director’s name rhymes with “Heaven Myth.”)

The oeuvre of Alan Smithee is a strange one: frequently awful, usually obscure and semi-occasionally brilliant. As a fictional creation himself with many authors standing behind him, this puts him in a category unique to any other amongst the rare pseudonyms in film history. Smithee has lent his name to talent as diverse as Stuart Rosenberg, Kevin Yagher, Sam Raimi and David Lynch, and not once were they proud about forfeiting their own names. Alan Smithee’s career with the DGA ended in 1997 when a man who’d never disown anything, Joe Eszterhas, thought it would be funny to write a comedy about a director named Alan Smithee who goes on a rampage when Hollywood won’t allow him to use his own name.

Alan Smithee’s first credit, the 1969 western Death Of A Gunfighter, is An Alan Smithee Podcast’s first western and probably the best film ever branded with what would later be the infamous moniker. Richard Widmark plays an aging sheriff marked for early retirement by the crooked town council, and by any means necessary. Lena Horne, John Saxon and Carroll O’Connor round out a great supporting cast. Particularly O’Connor, whose character devolves from bemused onlooker to manipulative opportunist to back stabbing murderer by the end of the story. Originally helmed by Robert Totten, a TV western director, the film got reassigned to the great Don Siegel when Totten and Widmark began feuding and delaying production. Siegel refused credit and in compromise, Mr. Alan Smithee was born. Little did anyone know they were creating a monster.

Rick Rosenthal already has a history with An Alan Smithee Podcast, being the director of the first film for which we recorded a commentary track, Halloween II. Not content directing the sequel to one classic horror film, Rosenthal returned to the world of thankless, unnecessary tasks by directing 1994’s The Birds II: Land’s End, which makes Halloween II look like The Birds. His decision to rescind credit is curious: the movie is absolutely awful, but was he planning on ducking responsibility if he took the job just for the work? Did he think it was going to turn out better than it did? Certainly the name Alan Smithee was known amongst genre fans by the time David Lynch wanted his name off the extended TV cut of Dune. In any case, movies like The Birds II are the type of film for which the pseudonym was not made, but destined.

NEXT EPISODE: PIRANHA SPECIAL! PIRANHA (1978, JOE DANTE) & PIRANHA (1995, SCOTT P. LEVY)

Episode 49: Blackmail Is My Life (1968, Kinji Fukasaku) / Dr. Giggles (1992, Manny Coto)

As you may have heard, America’s economy is in a state of deep hurting. This affects professionals of all kinds, especially small business owners and private practitioners. Fortunately for the characters in both our movies this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast business is always booming when your line of work is illegal, and if you’re criminally insane money is just a social construct for meatbags.

Hiroki Matsukata, star of Blackmail Is My Life, reflects early in the film how lucky he is to be living in the economic salad days of 1968 Japan. Everyone’s got walking around money and nothing supplies guilt-ridden vice like disposable income. For Matsukata, nothing supplies steady business like recreational bad behavior and with so many others on the supply side of bad behavior, he can blackmail those who supply the gambling and prostitution rather than their average joe customers. Matsukata and his gang have a lot of fun and games under the colorful lens of director Kinji Fukasaku until our merry backmailers bite off more than they can chew: the trick to trickle down economics is not to squeeze too hard those at the top. The schemes employed aren’t exactly a how-to guide for a new career but there are some valuable tips for swinging boomtown living.

While blackmail has always been a niche market, in 1992 the demand for one-liner spouting serial killers was at an all time low. Oversaturated by the likes of Freddy and Chucky, most consumers no longer were looking for quippy puns after being stabbed and analysts declared the industry dead. Then out of nowhere, ads began appearing in the back of Spider-Man comics for a bold new physician named Doctor Giggles who was producing astounding breakthroughs in the excessive use of medical-related post-mortem one-liners. As the bad guy from Darkman, Universal Pictures gave Larry Drake the coveted once in a lifetime role to immortalize the renowned Doctor Giggles in the film Dr. Giggles, thus inspiring a generation.

Prosperity, perversion and MURDER are just around the corner in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: ALAN SMITHEE PODCAST 50TH EPISODE SPECIAL! TOP 5 BEST AND WORST MOVIES & DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER (1969, ALLEN SMITHEE) & THE BIRDS II: LANDS END (1994, ALAN SMITHEE)

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