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



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.


Episode 43: Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch) / The Net (1995, Irwin Winkler)



Do actors still matter? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have you believe so. Sandra Bullock’s recent Academy Award for Best Acress is essentially a recognition of lifetime achievement in mediocrity. Ever since Speed (1994, Jan De Bont) Bullock has been filing the quota for inoffensive white women in uninspired product, from thrillers with politically correct gimmicks or sermons about race to “chick flicks” to inspirational dramas like the fim for which she was nominally commended. The actual commendation is for being a reliably undistinguished cipher with name recognition, a pretty face with just enough acting ability to be blandly adequate in blandly adequate entertainment.

The Net was Sandra Bullock’s first actiony-thriller after Speed. As usual, she acquits herself, and is something of a perfect match for director Irwin Winkler who shoots every scene as predictably as possible. Even his attempts at stylish flourish – like crane shots – seems to come out of a manual. The biggest disappointment of the film from modern ironic hindsight is the relative lack of amusing Hollywood ignorance regarding computers. Gross exaggerations of the personal computer’s abilities have been a grand tradition at least since Matthew Broderick hacked into the Pentagon to play nuclear war games against a sentient program on his IMSAI 8080. As the title implies, The Net was at the forefront of extending that ignorance to the era of AOL. Unfortunately 1995’s Hackers was the camp champion of absurdity while The Net merely uses computers and their techspeak as a springboard to get Bullock running from terrorists who want to kill her. They’ve deleted (look it up) her identity from government records, you see, and now her identity has been stolen a good ten years before online identity theft became a cultural meme and burgeoning e-surance industry.

Exceptionally convoluted and wasteful of its few genuine assets (why bring Dennis Miller in as comic relief and then not-so-comically kill him?) The Net is at almost two hours a needlessly long and cumbersome bore which in the grand scheme of things existed only to move Miss Bullock’s career to its next destination. To her credit, she obviously knew how to pick ’em.

Johnny Depp probably couldn’t be any more different in his chosen career path than Sandra Bullock. Tim Burton’s favoritism toward him in the last decade has drawn some deserved ire lately, and while he has shown an unhealthy predilection to playing foppish or pasty faced dandies, there is something admirable in his refusal early in his career to coast by on good looks as an interchangeable leading man in forgettable romantic comedies and action-thrillers. Were but all talented actors so adventurous! The same years that Bullock was working with Winkler, Depp accepted the lead in yet another black and white movie (having just played another pale fop for Burton in Ed Wood) in the Jim Jarmusch directed Western, Dead Man.

The greatness of Dead Man does not hinge on Depp as the nucleus, which is more or less the point of his praiseworthiness as an actor: he’d rather be in a good movie than be expected to carry a bad or mediocre movie and make it bearable. As with Jarmusch’s other films, Dead Man actually has a constantly engaging array of talented actors in roles as short as one scene, including among others Crispin Glover, Alfred Molina, Lance Henrickson, Robert Mitchum, and John Hurt. Among many brilliant features discussed in this episode, Jarmusch brings to this film the same poetic, naturalist take on an established and mythical genre that he would to crime films with Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai four years later.

Years from now, or maybe today, this film will most likely be reassessed as a “Johnny Depp movie” given that he is today the most celebrated famous person of the production and like so many of his other willfully eccentric roles, he wears fanciful costume and makeup throughout to distract from his movie star handsomeness.

By contrast, Sandra Bullock plays a “hacker” whose shut-in lifestyle is an integral detail of that film’s stolen-identity plot, yet has a trim enough waistline and healthy enough skin to go sunbathing in a bikini. So, who “deserves” an Oscar?