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ron dellums and me

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee ... I'm 65, I do that several times every night. Being a modern guy, I checked Twitter while I was up, and saw that my cousin had tweeted that Ron Dellums had died. He noted that there was no confirmation anywhere but social media ... I took a few minutes to check for myself, saw nothing to corroborate the news, went back to bed, and turned the local news station on my radio. I fell back to sleep without hearing any more about the Congressman.

Over the past several years, I have extremely vivid dreams, several a night (waking up to pee means I go back to sleep and another dream kicks in). I usually don't know I'm dreaming until the last seconds when I wake up. In this dream, I was at a ballgame and saw the actor Erik Todd Dellums, Ron's son. I asked him if the news about his father was true, and Erik told me a long story about how his dad was fine, these stories get started, you know how it is. I was relieved, and headed back home. At that moment, I woke up to the radio reporting that Ron Dellums had indeed passed away.

People's Park

In 1969, I was living in Antioch, California, a suburb-in-name-only of San Francisco that was close as the crow flies to the big city, but far away in any useful description. I had spent my entire life in this factory town, and until my senior year of high school, there were no black people in Antioch. If you were black, you lived in Pittsburg, right next to Antioch. My parents were politically moderate. During the People's Park battles of 1969, KQED, the local PBS (then NET) station, televised some Berkeley City Council meetings. There was one councilman in particular who got my attention. As I recall, he spoke passionately on behalf of the people being attacked by the police. My parents thought he was dreadful, which only made me like him more. He was a 33-year-old ex-Marine named Ron Dellums.

Dedication of a sculpture

It would have been in the late 70s/early 80s. A friend who was a sculptor had some work installed at the Macarthur BART station. At the unveiling, Ron Dellums, by then our representative in the House, came to say a few words. I had moved to Berkeley in 1974, and was proud to be able to vote for Ron every two years. I brought my movie camera to that event to take some footage, and when I saw the Congressman, I went over to express thanks for the work he was doing in Washington. Looking like a random guy with a movie camera didn't appeal to the Secret Service guys, who closed in on me immediately, which freaked me out enough that I still remember the incident. As I recall, Ron instructed them to let me through so I could shake his hand.

Taking a leak

It was 1988. I was in my first semester as a grad student at Cal. Congressman Dellums was visiting campus ... this was during the Bush-Dukakis presidential campaign. I went to take a leak ... Old Blues will know where I mean, the bathroom off of Lower Sproul by the bookstore. I don't remember who entered first, but at some point, I realized that standing at a nearby urinal was Ron Dellums. Ron, I said, I'm so proud to have you representing me, and I respect your opinions. Tell me why I should vote for Dukakis. 

Ron, an admitted Socialist in the Democratic Party, began a conversation littered with good cussing ... no big deal, except I remember being naive enough to think, hey, the Congressman says fuck! His argument was pretty basic, Dukakis wasn't any good, but he was better than Bush, we gotta get the Republicans out of the White House. (Two years later, Dellums was one of 54 congress members who sued Bush's actions building the military presence in the Middle East, a case that became known as Dellums v. Bush.) We left the restroom together and were joined by his Secret Service men. It happened that Ron and I were headed in the same direction, so we walked up campus together as he made the case for Dukakis. He could be quite persuasive, although I was, then and now, pigheaded and so I never was convinced to vote for Dukakis. But it was a memorable few minutes for me, as the Congressman took some time to talk to a friendly constituent about an important issue.

Ron Dellums' "son"

There was this guy, a friend of a friend, who would come by our house and visit for a bit, usually looking for a couple of bucks. He was a raggedy fellow, but friendly, and we would talk for awhile. His story, as he told it, was that Ron Dellums was his father. He said he was told this by his mother, and that everyone "knew" this was true because he looked so much like Ron. Understand that Ron Dellums was a handsome man who got more distinguished looking the older he got, and that my friend, god love him, was not the handsomest man alive. Nor did he look a bit like Ron Dellums. But he was convinced that one day, Ron would admit the connection, and he would be set for life. While it was kind of loony, I loved the idea that being Ron Dellums' son was something to aspire to.

Those are my anecdotes. Dellums remained in the House from 1971 to 1998 ... every two years, we'd vote him back in. There was something called The Dellums Machine ... don't know if it amounted to anything, but during elections, we'd always get a flier on the front door on election days with Ron's endorsements. After he left the House, he was replaced by Barbara Lee, who is still going strong, having been our representative for the last 20 years. It's nice to have a representative doing you proud, and here in Berkeley, that's been the case in the House for almost 40 years. Dellums was around so long, he was able to take advantage of seniority rules to get some important roles, even serving for a while as Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He went into lobbying, which I admit was disappointing, and later became Mayor of Oakland, which by all accounts wasn't the highlight of his career. To me, he'll always be the first person I was glad to vote for, and the only politician who would spend time talking to a guy he met at a urinal.

Ron dellums


miami vice (michael mann, 2006)

I am not a big fan of the movies of Michael Mann. I was a fan of his 1980s TV shows, Miami Vice and especially Crime Story with the great Dennis Farina. But the Mann movies I've seen mostly leave me feeling "meh". I did like The Insider, but the rest all fall into the "OK but nothing more" category. The film version of Miami Vice isn't any better or worse than Ali or Collateral ... I'm not sorry I've seen them, but I don't have a desire to see them again. The cast is interesting, but most of them are buried ... there are three main characters, played by Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li, and for once the woman is more than just a trinket. But I didn't notice Justin Theroux until the movie was half over, John Hawkes barely had any screen time, Naomie Harris was a trinket except near the end. Some of the other characters were cast by good That Guys like Ciarán Hinds, John Ortiz, and Dominic Lombardozzi, plus there was Elizabeth Rodriguez of Orange Is the New Black.

The movie looks great, as Mann's films usually do. And the look is what matters ... I doubt Mann gave much of a shit about the confusing plot. The result was a movie that was better to look at than to think about. #646 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Matt Zoller Seitz is a favorite critic of mine, because while he likes stuff I don't care for, he is brilliant at explaining why he finds greatness where I find emptiness. After watching Miami Vice, I tweeted, "Just watched the movie version of Miami Vice, and I kept thinking to myself, I bet liked this movie." He replied, "Loved it." He also reminded me of one of his excellent video essays (he is a master of these), "Zen Pulp", on Michael Mann. I highly recommend following that link for a smart, detailed response to Miami Vice and other Mann works.

 


music friday: 1996

The Prodigy, "Firestarter". Kim Deal got a songwriting credit for this.

Blackstreet, "No Diggity". Ended a 14-week run of "Macarena" atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Fugees, "Ready or Not". Barack Obama's favorite song, was #1 in Iceland.

Patti Smith, "Summer Cannibals". Video directed by Robert Frank.

Jay-Z, "Dead Presidents". Jay-Z's first charting single.

Fiona Apple, "Criminal". Won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance.

Iris DeMent, "Wasteland of the Free". Living in the wasteland of the free, where the poor have now become the enemy.

Busta Rhymes, "Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check". Chuck D gave him his name.

Erykah Badu, "On and On". Won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

Beck, "Where It's At". I got two turntables and a microphone.

Here's a favorite 1996 song of mine that happens to also have a great video. Check out that backwards dancing!

No Jay-Z on this Spotify playlist.


taking throwback literally

On this date in 1988, the Giants and Dodgers played a doubleheader at Candlestick before 50,000 fans. The first game started at 5:35, so you knew it was going to be a late night ... and it was, beginning on Tuesday but not ending until the wee hours of Wednesday.

As is always the case, my memories are hazy, but looking through Google, I find those memories mostly supported by evidence. Those of you who remember Candlestick will understand that it was cold. Fans regularly came dressed in layers, and as I recall I wore shorts (it was July, after all) but had warmer clothes, including long pants, in my backpack. At some point during the first game, I announced that I wasn't going to put on my long pants until the Giants won. Since the Dodgers won both games that night, I never managed to get my long pants on. The temperature for the second game was 49 degrees. It didn't end until 1:21 AM ... I don't know what the temperature was by then.

The first game was a pitchers' duel between Terry Mulholland and Orel Hershiser, tied at 1-1 until Rick Dempsey hit a 2-run homer to put the Dodgers ahead. The Giants grabbed a run back in the bottom of the 8th, but it all fell apart in the top of the ninth. Craig Lefferts, pitching his second inning, started the inning giving up a home run to Jeff Hamilton, after which he put the next two batters on. Scott Garrelts came in to pitch, and gave up a 2-run triple to Steve Sax. Finally, to pile on the embarrassment, Garrelts was then called for a balk, with Sax trotting home with another run. (To understand about balks and 1988, check out "Balks: The Story of the 1988 Major League Baseball Season" by Theron Schultz.) The Dodgers ended up winning, 7-3.

The second game began at 9:10. The Dodgers scored four runs in the 4th inning, but the Giants slowly came back to tie the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the 9th, leading to extra innings. (Did I mention it was cold? That I had on short pants? That we had now moved into Wednesday?) No one scored in the 10th. In the top of the 11th, Garrelts (back for his second appearance of the night) gave up a lead-off double to Franklin Stubbs. A ground ball moved Stubbs to third base with one out, bringing Dave Anderson to the plate.

Garrelts was called for a balk. Stubbs crossed the plate. Dodgers 6, Giants 5.

After the balk, Giants manager Roger Craig and pitcher Mike Krukow, who was on the DL, were ejected. The Dodgers ended up winners by that 6-5 score. The elapsed time between the first pitch of Game One and the last pitch of Game Two was 7 hours and 46 minutes. It was cold. I had on short pants.

Accounts vary, but there were around 30 arrests and 100 fans were escorted out of the park. I've always had one memory that I assumed must be false, but according to the book 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Jon Weisman, that most amazing of all my memories was true. A fan in the lower deck, close to home plate, caught a foul ball and threw it at the home plate umpire.

A lot of stuff was thrown on the field. That foul ball was the one that looms largest in my memory ... he gave up a souvenir! ... by throwing it at the umpire! But there were more infamous items being thrown. In particular, batteries. Dodger left-fielder Kirk Gibson was a popular target ... this is when Candlestick had that empty space between the left-field fence and the bleachers, a space that was filled with joyous kids when a home run came their way, but on that night, the space allowed unruly, pissed-off, drunken fans to climb on the fence, the better to locate the target of their missiles.

Gibson was later quoted as saying, "I've got to go out there again tonight. I'm not saying anything."

The best quote, though, came from Giants president and general manager Al Rosen. Rosen won an MVP award as a player, and was remembered as a bad ass who was Jewish and was always ready to fight opposing players if they offered up anti-Semitic insults. Rosen had spent four years in the Navy during World War II, and was a part of the initial landing on Okinawa during that war. He knew what he was talking about. After the doubleheader, Rosen said, "The beach at Okinawa was safer".

Little kids never again flooded the space in left field after home runs ... the Giants filled the space with barriers for the next game, and never made the space available again. The Giants, who at the time were the defending division champions, ended up in fourth place, while the Dodgers went to the World Series, where Kirk Fucking Gibson hit one of the most memorable home runs in the history of baseball (the fucker). There was some good news ... after 1988, the Dodgers didn't make it to the World Series again for 29 years (and when they finally made it, they lost), while during the same time period the Giants won three World Series. In a new park. Candlestick itself served as the home of the San Francisco 49ers for many years. It was demolished in 2015.

In 1999, as the Giants played their last season at Candlestick before moving to their new park, the Chronicle interviewed some people about their memories of the old dump. One of the best was a guy named Jesse Stirling:

My most vivid Candlestick memory would have to be the twi-night double-header against the Dodgers: an evening so rowdy, it ended the phenomenon of everyone jumping out of their seats to catch home run balls hit beyond the left field fence.

In a move never to be repeated by Giants management, a doubleheader was scheduled against the Dodgers on July 26, 1988, with both games taking place after nightfall. This meant 18 solid innings of drinking for the Giants faithful. Throw in two Scott Garrelts blown saves in a span of four hours, and you have a recipe for disaster. In the middle of all this was a young lad (me) and his dad. 

I saw no less than seven fist fights around me. Every curse word imaginable was hurled at the few Dodger fans who dared to brave the cold Candlestick night. Trust me, those Dodger fans weren't making a peep by the second game. The crowd was screaming "Beat L.A." so loud, it sounded like a rock concert at college.

A drunk guy sitting two seats away from me caught a foul ball, and the crowd started chanting, "Throw it back!" The mob mentality prevailed, and with a beer in one hand, the drunk proceeded to whistle a throw toward home plate that barely missed the home plate ump.

In left field, Kirk Gibson was getting pelted with everything from batteries to empty whiskey bottles. Fans were running out of their seats, climbing the chain-linked fence, and throwing stuff at Gibson's head. This is while the game is going on!

It was out of control. They put the barricades up in left field the very next game. The drunk who threw the ball onto the field was cuffed and escorted out of the park faster than you can say, "Humm baby."

The evening even made its way to the Urban Dictionary:

battery chucker
No-Cal, (Northern California) Fan, for his perceived tendency to throw batteries at opposing players, especially those from So-Cal. Mostly Giant's Baseball Fan.
 
Here is the game played the previous night (Giants win!):


what. (bo burnham, 2013)

It's not really a movie, just a TV stand-up special by, as the IMDB calls him, "the famous Internet musician," Bo Burnham. I'd never heard of him, but he's getting raves reviews for his first feature as writer/director, Eighth Grade, so I gave this a try.

Burnham's show is more than simple stand-up ... he uses recordings of voices and music, he mimes, he plays music live, and he runs around a lot. It's all quite inventive and energetic, if not my own cup of tea. A lot of the material is hit or miss, and he seems to build this into the show, rather like when Johnny Carson would tell a dud joke in his monologue just so he could respond to the groans in the audience. He adopts a faux-confessional mode, broken up by songs like "Beating Off in A Minor" ... as he explains, "'A Minor' the key not the felony." There is a healthy dose of shock humor that sneaks up on you because he looks a bit like a choirboy.

He's still in his mid-20s, and his influences are clear, especially the frantic pace of Robin Williams. My favorite parts were the brief non-sequiturs that reminded me of Mitch Hedberg ("My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said 'No, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah'.") or Steven Wright ("I spilled spot remover on my dog and now he’s gone."). Like them, only with the energy level ramped up to a 100. It gets tiring keeping up with Burnham, even or especially when he's clever.

There's a lot of talent here, and I can imagine Eighth Grade could be a good movie. But I've probably seen enough of his stand-up.




the lion in winter (anthony harvey, 1968)

If you feel the urge to see a Peter O'Toole movie, try Lawrence of Arabia or My Favorite Year. They are both better than The Lion in Winter.

If you feel the urge to see a Katharine Hepburn movie, try Bringing Up Baby or The African Queen. They are both better than The Lion in Winter.

If you feel the urge to see a movie about Henry II, try Becket ... it even has Peter O'Toole. It's not as good as the movies I mention above, but it's better than The Lion in Winter.

At one point in The Lion in Winter, Henry says, "There's a legend of a king called Lear, with whom I have a lot in common." He's not wrong, but, in case you hadn't noticed, James Goldman, who wrote The Lion in Winter, is not Shakespeare. If you feel the urge for similar dramas, watch any of the versions of King Lear out there. Anthony Hopkins stars in a new one I haven't seen, nor have I heard good things about it ... it runs under two hours, which should be right up my alley, but Lear needs the extra time, like Olivier's version that ran 2 1/2 hours. Hopkins is in his 80s, now ... you can't have a young Lear. Hopkins actually makes his feature film debut in The Lion in Winter, as Richard the Lionheart. If you feel the urge to watch a movie where Richard the Lionheart shows up, try The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

I could go on, but why bother? The truth is, The Lion in Winter is a perfectly satisfactory movie. Peter O'Toole yells a lot, Katharine Hepburn does Katharine Hepburn, there's even a James Bond connection (Timothy Dalton also made his film debut in this one). The movie was nominated for seven Oscars and won three (Hepburn, adapted screenplay, and score, by John Barry ... another 007 connection!), because it's the kind of movie that got Oscar nominations in those days. (Hepburn actually tied with Barbra Streisand, which I think is still the only time this has happened.) It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Oliver!, a film I like that has seen its reputation fall over the years. Still, you know the drill ... if you feel the urge to watch an Oscar-nominated Best Picture of 1968, try Oliver!.




two by antoine fuqua: the equalizer (2014) and (by request) the equalizer 2 (2018)

In 1982, I saw The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) for the first time. The early 80s were a great time for watching action movies. The first two Indiana Jones movies ... The Terminator ... the first Mad Max. It was such a good time that I would often go to see more marginal action movies, because even when they were dumb, they offered a good time. Escape from New York was one. I saw the first Rambo movie (First Blood) ... I even paid to see a much lesser Stallone film, Cobra. And we can't forget the King of all of these movies, Arnold, who had a great decade, and was the epitome of "even when dumb, they were great". Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, Total Recall, Terminator 2, and others ... what a run!

It's not that my tastes have changed all that much, but I don't have a desire to revisit 1980s action. Of course I'll always watch Road Warrior, and the better Arnold movies (not just the Terminators, but Predator and Total Recall). But while I still love great action movies, I'm not so big on the mediocre ones anymore. Something like Mad Max: Fury Road is simply a great movie, but it's not alone ... it is once again a good time for action movies, especially if you move outside the USA. The Raid films of Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais ... Korean horror classics like Train to Busan and anything by Joon-ho Bong. Attack the Block. Black Panther.

Who knows why I no longer have patience for the fair-to-middling action movies? Just because I loved Road Warrior didn't mean I avoided all the other action movies ... on the contrary, that movie probably had a lot with why I went to the lesser films. But Korean horror movies mostly make me watch more Korean horror movies. (It's like when I first discovered Hong Kong action movies ... I'd watch a couple of HK films a week, not just action, either.)

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I wasn't impressed with the two Equalizer movies from Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. Both films have things to offer, most importantly Denzel himself.

Fuqua is a solid director who rarely goes wrong (his first film, The Replacement Killers, was an unfortunate stinker, unfortunate because it was Chow Yun-Fat's first American film and thus was a real letdown). I told my wife that Fuqua is the ultimate in what I called "Robin Is Knitting" movies, where she knits and watches movies and TV where she doesn't need to pay attention: Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Magnificent Seven, the two Equalizers. His movies are usually successful at the box office, starting with Training Day, the one of his movies that really stands out. Not overwhelming box office smashes, but, to use The Equalizer as an example, that film made $192 million on a budget of $55 million (if you're wondering why they made a sequel.) Fuqua pleases audiences more than he pleases critics ... his last five features (including EQ2) have received CinemaScore grades of A-, A-, A, A-, and A, while Metacritic assigns those same five films within a range of 41-57 on a scale of 100.

Denzel Washington is great in the two Equalizer movies. You don't think too much about him being too old to play an action hero, because he doesn't move around that much to begin with ... and it's not like Big Steve Seagal limiting his movements because he can't get around anymore. No, Denzel's acting in these movies is like what Clint Eastwood does, i.e. not much. Clint squints his eyes and the combined power of every role he ever played lends weight to those squints. Yes, Denzel is like Clint, except where Eastwood never seems to be acting, Denzel is always acting. Not in a showy way, but just enough so we understand his character is always thinking three steps ahead. And if, like Eastwood, Washington rarely shows emotion in these movies, nonetheless he is expert at showing the emotion just beneath the surface. It's a master class from a master.

As for the rest? I would have loved these movies in the 1980s. Now I can take them or leave them. The Equalizer 2 was especially obvious ... characters turned up for a few minutes, and their only purpose was either to be a victim so Denzel could get revenge, or be the bad guy that Denzel revenged on. Orson Bean (Orson Bean!) turns up, gets a decent amount of screen time, and his part could have been eliminated and no one would have noticed. The Equalizer 2 kept me awake for two hours, even if my attention started fading near the end. But it was no Training Day.


music friday: 1995

Pulp, "Common People". Named the greatest Britpop song of all time by Rolling Stone. Later covered by William Shatner.

Alanis Morissette, "You Oughta Know". Spent 5 weeks at #1 on the Alternative charts. Later covered by Britney Spears.

2Pac, "California Love". Joe Cocker also knows how to party. No one covered this that I know of, although since there are at least 7 2Pac versions, covers aren't really needed.

Oasis, "Wonderwall". According to ChartMasters, Wonderwall is the most streamed pre-2000 song on Spotify. Later covered by Paul Anka.

Tricky, "Black Steel". In this case, we're looking at the cover version. The original, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" by Public Enemy, is from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back".

PJ Harvey, "Down by the Water". Her biggest hit in the U.S. No covers I'm aware of, but it was featured on Beavis and Butthead.

Bruce Springsteen, "The Ghost of Tom Joad". To an extent, this video represents Bruce covering himself. The original was mostly acoustic. Later it was covered by Rage Against the Machine. Finally, Rage guitarist Tom Morello joined Bruce and the E Street Band for this version, which to my mind is easily the best.

Coolio, "Gangsta's Paradise". This is something of a cover version itself, given how heavily it samples Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise". Wonder even gets a songwriting credit. According to the inescapable Wikipedia, there are no profanities, because Wonder wouldn't have it.

Jewel, "Who Will Save Your Soul". At last, my cover version conceit is defeated ... I don't think anyone ever covered this. So I'm left with this anecdote: in 1995, I saw Jewel open for the next act on this list.

Liz Phair, "Whip-Smart". She headlined a show I saw in 1995 that featured Jewel as the opening act. Borrows from Malcolm McLaren's "Double Dutch".


seven days in may (john frankenheimer, 1964)

The plot (a potential military coup in the United States) is carried along with a useful momentum that prevents boredom. It is also busy enough that we don't have time to think of the holes in the plot while we are watching it. The truth is, while the plot is what keeps Seven Days in May seem fresh to this day, its successes are largely in the acting and writing. Frankenheimer isn't much for straightforward presentation of scenes, but he knows when he has something special, and there are a couple of scenes that crackle because of the all-star cast, Frederic March, Burt Lancaster, and Kirk Douglas being the leads. (Ava Gardner, on the other hand, is wasted, and she's the only woman of note in the movie.) The pleasures of the cast go down to the secondary roles, as well, with a plethora of "That Guys" including a personal favorite, Whit Bissell. John Houseman even turns up with an uncredited appearance, his first in front of the camera. Seven Days in May falls short of its predecessor, The Manchurian Candidate, but delivers as solid entertainment.


by request: hell is for heroes (don siegel, 1962)

Don Siegel is a solid director who knows what to do with certain projects. He made Riot in Cell Block 11 for $300,000. My favorite of his films, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, went for a bit over $400k. Sam Peckinpah was involved in those films and others, and he considered Siegel a mentor. Siegel directed a movie starring Fabian. He directed one of Elvis' more highly-regarded films, the western Flaming Star (that came just before Hell Is for Heroes). He directed five movies with Clint Eastwood, who is the clearest example of a Siegel-influenced director.

He wasn't the kind of director who knew what to do with every project, though. His last movie, Jinxed!, is known for the rancor on set between Siegel, Bette Midler, and Ken Wahl. Siegel had a heart attack and never directed again. (And really, there isn't anything you can do with a Fabian movie.)

Hell If for Heroes is one of his better films. Star Steve McQueen was, well, Star Steve McQueen, but the movie got done without anyone killing each other, although McQueen and Siegel might have been tempted. (Add Bobby Darin to the list of pop stars Siegel directed, and also actors who quarreled with McQueen. Overhearing someone saying that McQueen was his own worst enemy, Darin famously replied, "Not while I'm still alive".) Once again, Siegel was working with an insufficient budget ... the ambiguous ending came mostly because they ran out of money.

The war action is intense, and Siegel doesn't make the common mistake of presenting his actors in such a way that their heroism overcomes any anti-war sentiments in the film. McQueen is a bit nuts, there's no real outcome to the soldiers' mission, some people die, war goes on. It mostly works ... Hell Is for Heroes is Don Siegel at near his best.

There is one particularly odd big of casting. Bob Newhart had become all the rage for his comedy albums, and the studio wanted him in this movie, which would be his first. His presence is rather like Ricky Nelson's in Rio Bravo ... give the kid a couple of songs and keep him out of the way otherwise. Newhart's character quickly ends up with a phone, and he spends much of his screen time concocting fake telephone conversations to fool the Nazis. Since his comedy act was almost entirely Newhart pretending to talk on a phone, these scenes turn out to be hilarious for the wrong reasons ... you can't help but laugh at the idea of Bob Newhart in a war film, talking on a fake phone.

Hell Is for Heroes isn't great, but it's a cut above other similar films, which is about the best you get from Don Siegel: a cut above.