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Ed Driscoll

Mystery Seventies Theater 3000

October 16th, 2013 - 5:22 pm

connery_quinn_10-16-13-1

In 1970, the movie industry was in big trouble. The moguls who built the industry and guided it through its golden era of the 1930s through the 1950s were dying off; older audiences were feeling alienated by the industry’s current product, and the industry’s fortunes suffered dramatically. There was a group of young Turks who were working their way through the industry, but it would be a few years before they fully established themselves — and their most lasting contribution, via George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, would be to return Hollywood to its tradition of big budget family friendly entertainment, ironically enough.

But in the late ‘60s, outside the walls of the studio, the country was in turmoil. LBJ had declined a second term, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were dead. Vietnam was in the headlines constantly — and frequently being misreported.

Add to it all the industry’s schizophrenia regarding Richard Nixon — the old guard generally liked him; the young Turks hated him with the white hot force of a thousand exploding suns — and you had an industry that was deeply confused.

We remember films from that period such as hippie favorite Easy Rider, and 20th Century Fox’s bipolar trilogy of war films — Patton, Tora, Tora, Tora, and Robert Altman’s countercultural anti-Vietnam parable M*A*S*H – but most of Hollywood’s product from 1970 dated very quickly.

Which is why I felt more than a little like the crew of the “Satellite of Love” on Mystery Science Theater 3000 this past weekend, as I watched a pair of cinematic bombs from 1970 that summed up the year perfectly. These were two films that I had read about years ago in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, but never caught on the late show, or purchased on laser disc in the late 1980s, during my obsessive NYU film days, so I felt obligated to see what I had missed. Don’t everyone thank me for taking one — actually two — for the team, all at once.

Workin’ in a Coalmine

My first trip back to 1970 was via the Molly Maguires, which had recently gone up on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris, and directed by Martin Ritt, the film was about the group of Luddite-ish 1870s-era coal miners, who fought back against the poor working conditions and low wages of their employers by sabotaging equipment and blowing up mines and trains.

Paramount sunk ten million dollars into the film — which was a very big budget for the era; about equal to the final bill Stanley Kubrick handed MGM for his epic 2001 two years earlier. Given the production values and stars, Paramount was convinced they were about to mine box office gold. Connery was just coming off his initial retirement from the James Bond series, and Harris from 1967’s smash Camelot. The film’s director, Martin Ritt, had overcome ’50s-era blacklisting to score a big hit in 1965 with another British superstar, Richard Burton, in another morally ambiguous film, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. 

But the first half of the Molly Maguires is largely set in a coal mine in 1870s Pennsylvania, and the oppressive blackness of the mine creates a remarkably claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s both a testament to the film’s production designer and its cinematographer, the great James Wong Howe, that the filmmakers were able to create such a realistic atmosphere. Particularly given that while the exteriors were filmed in the coal mining town of Eckley, Pennsylvania, the subterranean coal was filmed on a set in Hollywood, both for lighting and particularly for safety reasons. Obviously, “CONNERY DIES IN MINE COLLAPSE WHILE SHOOTING PARAMOUNT PRODUCTION” was not a headline the studio wanted to see on the front page of Daily Variety that year.

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1970 was the year I decided it was time to grow up, time to, as the saying went, get a haircut, get a job. Wife v. 1.0 and I got married that year and, unusual for the time, she wasn't pregnant and our daughter was born more than nine months after our wedding date. In those days most health insurance wouldn't cover much related to pregnancy and childbirth, but that had quite an effect on the price and with the proceeds of a no more than decent job I could handle it all out of pocket while still living pretty well. By '72 I was making $800 - $1000/month as a manger for a big retailer and in Atlanta that was picking pretty high cotton for a twenty-something.

The '70s were fine if you bore down, put the '60s behind you never to be looked upon again, and figured out by the middle of the decade that there was not likely to ever be any of the sort of stability in life your parents had come to expect and had taught you to expect. My then-wife's parents were stereotypical corporate America, he the man in the gray flannel suit, she the educated woman, an RN, who'd given up a career to be a stay-at-home wife and mother and they lived in a very nice neighborhood full of people just like them. They and most of their friends and neighbors never got it that the Earth had moved under their feet and the disillusionment in those people by the late '70s was palpable as they suffered from what inflation was doing to what once looked like very secure nesteggs. Her father died in the early eighties, I think because he could.

We left Atlanta in '74 mostly because we were tired of carrying a pistol all the time and of my wife being addressed as, "Hey, white b**ch." Alaska just at the ramp up of Pipeline construction was a scruffy, Godawful expensive place full of bearded, blue-jeaned men looking to get by and high, but you could be and do anything you could make yourself be and do. You either adapted to the wild inflation and the boom and bust or you didn't and left Alaska; lots left, we stayed. You learned that if the price of stuff went up, the price of you had to go up. You learned to take advantage of others' misfortune; there's no better time to buy something than when the other guy HAS to sell it to survive. The oil price crash of the mid-'80s caused me to bail to the federal government because they get the money first. The marriage that should have ended about ten minutes after we said "I do" ended in '87. She left Alaska soon after but I stayed and found Wife v. 2.0 in '90. We've had the stability and prosperity that my parents only dreamed of and Wife v. 1.0's parents thought they had but saw mostly dissolve before their eyes in the '70s and early '80s.

My retirement system requires that I enroll in Medicare and Social Security next year and Medicare/ObamaCare will become my primary health insurance though I'll still hopefully have a good plan as a secondary and, thus, real doctors will actually make real appointments with me. Our retirement pay is enough that we're just seen as cash cows by the federal government and most state governments, so we've decided to live out our days in Alaska, or at least I have, my wife is nine years younger, so she may do something different when I'm gone.

The irony is that back in the '70s when I was young and smart and strong, I really couldn't find much empathy for my parents and in-laws as they saw life not work out like they'd planned. I thought they'd placed way, way, way too much faith in what they considered the natural order of things in America. Now I find myself facing old age fearful of what another feckless Democrat federal government is going to do to me, and I'm not young and smart and strong anymore.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was a grad student at USC in "Cinema" in 1970, washing up on
Venice Beach after a couple of years in SEA. As a vet I got rushed hard by the lefties trying to get me to "speak out" against the war. While I had some sympathy with them then. I was under 30 after all, the price for the conversion they wanted was too high.

Some good memories though: A screening of "Easy Rider" with a manic Dennis Hopper taking us through the production until well into the morning (wonder what he was on), sitting against a wall at 3 AM sharing my last Lark with Julie Christie, her brand too, and, prophetically, as a locust stomping Donald Sutherland to death in "Day of the Locust."

Bad memories include my time as volunteer in the Tom Hayden Senate campaign. I had lent my portable electric typewriter to the Santa Monica campaign headquarters. One of the managers there decided to keep it after the election. I never had a chance to confront the guy, but someone told me the manager's credentials and position in the hierarchy meant that he could use the typewriter to support the "Cause" better than I could. After all, "Property Is Theft." That one incident wised me up quicker than anything else to Liberalism's core principle.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (29)
All Comments   (29)
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my roomate's mother makes $87 hourly on the laptop. She has been fired from work for five months but last month her payment was $13386 just working on the laptop for a few hours. more information....WWW.Rush64.COM
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now that I think of it, I saw both films in 1970 or (more likely) 1971, at post theaters on Army installations. Yeah, like watching "The Triumph of the Will" on base in 1942. America was already brain-dead.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
This article caused me to remember the movie "Getting Straight" released in 1970 starring Elliott Gould and Candace Bergman, who were two of my favorite actors at the time. The movie tried to capture the campus unrest of the 60's, but missed badly. The ending was intended to shock or amuse as the main characters make it on the campus hallway steps while students are rushing past them to protest something.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sometime in the 70's I decided to stop going to movies, it was when I saw the movie "Joe" it was some classic liberal piece of trash, but as a movie it was horrible and I was offended by the plot and the invidious intentions of the writers. Still dislike the actor in the movie, crazy.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
One of the funniest, and at the same time most revealing, scenes in "R.P.M." has the aging Quinn, in attempting to establish his street cred to a young coed (Ann-Margaret) telling her "I fought against McCarthy..." (meaning Sen. Joe) and her being shocked "You fought against McCarthy!' - thinking Sen. Eugene, and having no knowledge of even recent history, like most campus radicals of the time.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Didn't the 1970's run from about 1964 to 1972?
Molly McGuire's was cool in that it was a period movie that took an accurate look at the lives of hard nosed miners. Connery and Shaw were both excellent.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The blow-up-the-campus-computer subplot may have been inspired by a real-life event here in Canada. There was a student occupation of a campus building at Sir George Williams University in Montreal early in 1969 which involved extensive damage to their mainframe computer by the occupiers. (Sir George Williams University merged with another college to become Concordia University a few years later.) Wikipedia describes the events here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_George_Williams_Computer_Riot

Among the more interesting aspects of the incident is some of the protesters had - or acquired - rather high profiles: one became the prime minister of Dominica, one was the son of the prime minister of Guyana and one is currently a Senator here in Canada. (Canadian Senators are appointed, not elected, and she's been a senator since 1984.)

I wonder if anyone involved in RPM ever acknowledged those events as inspiration?
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
1970 was the year I decided it was time to grow up, time to, as the saying went, get a haircut, get a job. Wife v. 1.0 and I got married that year and, unusual for the time, she wasn't pregnant and our daughter was born more than nine months after our wedding date. In those days most health insurance wouldn't cover much related to pregnancy and childbirth, but that had quite an effect on the price and with the proceeds of a no more than decent job I could handle it all out of pocket while still living pretty well. By '72 I was making $800 - $1000/month as a manger for a big retailer and in Atlanta that was picking pretty high cotton for a twenty-something.

The '70s were fine if you bore down, put the '60s behind you never to be looked upon again, and figured out by the middle of the decade that there was not likely to ever be any of the sort of stability in life your parents had come to expect and had taught you to expect. My then-wife's parents were stereotypical corporate America, he the man in the gray flannel suit, she the educated woman, an RN, who'd given up a career to be a stay-at-home wife and mother and they lived in a very nice neighborhood full of people just like them. They and most of their friends and neighbors never got it that the Earth had moved under their feet and the disillusionment in those people by the late '70s was palpable as they suffered from what inflation was doing to what once looked like very secure nesteggs. Her father died in the early eighties, I think because he could.

We left Atlanta in '74 mostly because we were tired of carrying a pistol all the time and of my wife being addressed as, "Hey, white b**ch." Alaska just at the ramp up of Pipeline construction was a scruffy, Godawful expensive place full of bearded, blue-jeaned men looking to get by and high, but you could be and do anything you could make yourself be and do. You either adapted to the wild inflation and the boom and bust or you didn't and left Alaska; lots left, we stayed. You learned that if the price of stuff went up, the price of you had to go up. You learned to take advantage of others' misfortune; there's no better time to buy something than when the other guy HAS to sell it to survive. The oil price crash of the mid-'80s caused me to bail to the federal government because they get the money first. The marriage that should have ended about ten minutes after we said "I do" ended in '87. She left Alaska soon after but I stayed and found Wife v. 2.0 in '90. We've had the stability and prosperity that my parents only dreamed of and Wife v. 1.0's parents thought they had but saw mostly dissolve before their eyes in the '70s and early '80s.

My retirement system requires that I enroll in Medicare and Social Security next year and Medicare/ObamaCare will become my primary health insurance though I'll still hopefully have a good plan as a secondary and, thus, real doctors will actually make real appointments with me. Our retirement pay is enough that we're just seen as cash cows by the federal government and most state governments, so we've decided to live out our days in Alaska, or at least I have, my wife is nine years younger, so she may do something different when I'm gone.

The irony is that back in the '70s when I was young and smart and strong, I really couldn't find much empathy for my parents and in-laws as they saw life not work out like they'd planned. I thought they'd placed way, way, way too much faith in what they considered the natural order of things in America. Now I find myself facing old age fearful of what another feckless Democrat federal government is going to do to me, and I'm not young and smart and strong anymore.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can remember leaving the theater after seeing Easy Rider. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts - quietly and profoundly angry in most cases. But soon thereafter I asked myself what there was to be so angry about. That some criminals beat up and killed the lovable character played by Jack Nicholson? That southern law enforcement resented long hair and flags painted on motorcycles? That a backwoods Southerner stereotype character with a gun rack shot Dennis Hopper through his truck window? No, it was just cool and self satisfying to be angry at the so-called establishment and this was manipulated brilliantly by Hollywood then just as it manipulates political opinion now. However, since the people who made and swallowed those films are responsible for the "establishment" we have now, you will not anytime soon be seeing a version of Norma Rae as a small conservative business women attacked and persecuted by the IRS and the EPA.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
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