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Your August Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: The Great War's Most Explosive Moment!

Pizza: 2 For 1



A few months ago when we watched THE ROCKETEER, I confessed my love of blimps and dirigibles, collectively known as airships. I have salt and pepper shakers, cards, banks, posters, a piece of actual Goodyear blimp skin, a dozen inflatable ones and (almost) countless hours of footage. I was inside the ones in Houston and Los Angeles. I've been fascinated and obsessed since I was a child. Hell, it just may be the reason I'm a Led Zeppelin fan.


In the movies, there are airships in THE HINDENBURG (duh), BLACK SUNDAY and TWO MINUTE WARNING. I can also tell you they've made appearances in tons of films, like SCARFACE (1982), ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH, MURDER IN THE AIR, INDY AND THE LAST CRUSADE, and a 1932 western I saw called HIDDEN VALLEY, where the day was saved by a mail-carrying Goodyear blimp! So imagine my glee when the Random Movie Generator selected ZEPPELIN (1971). I've had this movie for years, and now, finally, I got to see it. So...rock and roll!

ZEPPELIN features three things of extreme beauty - Michael York, Elke Sommer and a Zeppelin. The movie starts out kind of cool. A couple making out hear it first. Then the patrons of a bar. It's the distant hum above the clouds. Englanders knew what that meant. As if ascending a stairway to heaven, the giant beast, which flew higher than planes and was therefore untouchable (hard to believe, but true), was overhead...and it can drop bombs on you. Zeppelins were indeed great weapons of mass destruction back in World War I. These sky monsters could puncture a town, then turn back to Germany. Because of Zeppelins, Britain was royally screwed.

So what better plan than to convince Geoffrey (Michael York), a half-German now living happily in England, to go back to Germany with the pretense of spying for them. But he's really spying on Germany for England. Personally, I would have had a back-up plan, as even though Geoffrey is loyal to England, he was once loyal to Germany. What if, while he's there, that loyalty returns? Anyway...he's now a spy, out to learn about the LZ-36, the new Zeppelin that the Jerries are building. And it's fortuitous, because, unknown to Geoffrey (and us), the Germans need his expertise in identifying British, particularly Scottish, terrain from the air. All for a plan both preposterous and cool, and involving the film's title character.

With all this wartime posturing and betrayal of allegiances, you'd think this would be a boy's club movie, but as luck would have it, Professor Altshul's (Marius Goring, as if you cared) is spearheading the Zeppelin project and he is married to a hottie! Erika (Elke Sommer, now you care!) is no trophy wife, but instead, a scientist. You know, like nuclear physicist Denise Richards in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

And before they know it, all three find themselves on board the Zeppelin...and airborne. But is it possible this flight is more than just a test voyage? Uhhh, yeah, it is. It's a secret mission that not even Altshul and the hottie (New! This Fall on Fox! "Altshul and The Hottie!") know about. All three have been railroaded, and although Erika suspects Geoffrey of spying, the truth is that he too has no idea what the mission is. They eventually learn that it involves mustard gas, and Altshul wants no part of it. Sadly, there's nothing he can do. He's an old guy and he's outnumbered nein to one. This character was surely modeled after Hugo Eckener, the WWII Zeppelin company honcho who took over after Ferdinand Zeppelin died. Eckener detested Hitler and the Nazis' use of his dirigibles for wartime purposes. Okay, okay, I won't ramble on about airships anymore.

Before the movie ends, there will be betrayals, murder, and a 40 foot model of a zeppelin soaring over the ocean during a night flight, through awful looking smoke that doesn't quite pass as clouds. And there'll be a storm-the-castle climax that includes actually storming a castle that is over the hills and far away, on the black mountain side. And radioing for help won't work because they cut the wires, causing a communication breakdown.

I like Michael York. He's always good, right? And his (kind of) recent visibility on shows like CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and GILMORE GIRLS makes me happy, as does his funny turn in the not so funny AUSTIN POWERS movies as Basil Exposition. We've seen him here at RMC in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, his first movie. Teen au pair(simmer down, guys)-turned-actress Elke Sommer is lost in a role any actress would be lost in. It's a silly bit of casting for such a serious picture, but I suppose even back then the studio mandate was "either you put a hot chick in it or we're not making it."


ZEPPELIN was directed, a bit weakly, by some frog named Etienne Perier, and written by Arthur Rowe (who wrote TV shows like GUNSMOKE and FANTASY ISLAND) from a story by Owen Crump, whose name sounds like some sort of Michael Cera indie character. It was shot by Alan Hume, who would shoot more blimp footage in the Bond film A VIEW TO A KILL. Sadly, Hume died just 24 days before tonight's screening. Also sad, five people were killed while making this movie when a biplane crashed into a helicopter. Shouldn't people die on good movies? At least there's some sort of contribution. Why're people always dying in the crummy ones (VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, GONE FISHIN', TWILIGHT ZONE)?

Though ZEPPELIN is slow at times, there were some really good moments, like when the airship can't climb fast enough to get away from the lower altitude planes and they must jettison everything they can, even the dead. Also cool, the biplanes circling and shooting at the LZ -36 as if it were Kong on the top of the Empire State Building (NOTE: the building's spire was originally a mooring mast for dirigibles to dock on, but high winds ended up making this impossible).

But ZEPPELIN really missed the mark with the poor job they did with Michael York's character. After all, he's a half-German who left Germany, losing some adoration from friends and family in the process. Now loyal to England and pretending to defect back to Germany, he'll surely lose more friends, this time on the English side. Plus, and this is a big plus, he's not a spy, and they are putting him in a spy position. So he's got all that to deal with, which equates to a ton of inner conflict that should be boiling over. Yet the movie barely touches on this. What's going through his head? Just where are his loyalties? How is he being ripped apart?

Also odd, a scene at the beginning where Geoffrey is on a balcony facing the street, where he sure seems to have some major acrophobia (I think Major Acrophobia may have been his commander). Yet it seemed to go away once he got up in the old Zep. We even joked "remember that for later!" And we did...but they didn't.

I love the way all of the information, be it from the English or the Germans, is explained to Geoffrey and us. They just talk, without the usual movie snark, condescension or attitude. It's all very real and natural. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not, you know, like real life. And because of this and other things like the pacing, I found ZEPPELIN somewhat earnest and entertaining. Sure, it's easy to make fun of it, and I don't have a whole lotta love for it, but despite all that, I kinda/sorta enjoyed watching it. If only the stupid marketing department didn't put pictures on the back of the box (we watched this on VHS, as there is no mass market DVD, just a burn-on-demand version from Warners) which give away little moments, like the end of the movie. If I did that, it would be nobody's fault but mine, thank you very much!

Zeppelin Movie Poster2



ONE GOT FAT is a short, perhaps one of the oddest shorts I've ever seen. It's a bicycle safety film from the early 60s. But...

All the kids have monkey faces and tails. And not funny ones, scary ones. You see, all the kids die, one at a time, because they're not following safety rules like not stopping at stop signs and poor bike maintenance. There's only one kid who survives, because he obeyed all the rules. So he got to eat the lunches of the seven dead kids, so there you go - one got fat.


Narrated by Edward Everett Horton, the short has characters with names like Mossby Pomegranate and Stanislaw Hickenbottom, which may have been cute storybook names... if they weren't wearing those freaky, freakin' masks and tails.



I suppose the reason they're all in masks is because they didn't want to show children getting hit by cars (they didn't really do that with the monkey-kids either). But man, did they have to look so grotesque and Stephen King-y? If I were a kid, I would have had nightmares for months and never ridden a bike again. This thing is a creepshow. See for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/22majc

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