Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July, 1976

It's July 4th, 1976, and there's a lot of special events planned all over the country. A rodeo at Wild West Park in Dallas, the opening of Enchanted Castle at Funland, Wisconsin, and a beauty contest at Sky's The Limit in Detroit.

But nothing can top the grand opening of a brand new roller coaster at Magic Mountain, Los Angeles... Revolution, the world's first modern coaster with a vertical loop!

They've pulled out all the stops for this event, even hiring a pilot to sky-write the name REVOLUTION in the skies high above the ride.

The parking lot has filled up quickly, but there's a tram to whisk you to the front entrance.

As you might expect, crowds are HUGE...

But don't worry... while we wait for the inaugural ride of Revolution to launch at 4:00 PM, rock band Sparks will entertain the crowd with their hit song "Big Boy".

The coaster has been fitted with decorative bunting for now, which will be removed before the first riders board.

There are even a few workers applying last minute decorations to the track itself. But they almost seem preoccupied, as if they are looking for something hidden along the track. Something dangerous... like a bomb!

Meanwhile, the crowd is enjoying the concert.

Everyone that is, except this one lone weirdo. He's not here to enjoy the park. He's a terrorist, and he's planning to make sure the opening of the Revolution goes off with a bang!

Balloons are released! The ride is about to open! Those holding special golden tickets, please come to the front of the line.

A traditional marching band strikes up as the first riders board.

There go the first lucky riders. I can just tell this coaster is going to be the bomb!

This 4th of July is from the thriller Rollercoaster (1977), in which an unnamed malcontent (Timothy Bottoms) tries to extort one million dollars from amusement park executives by planting bombs in parks across the country.

In a clever tie-in, the climax of the film is set at a fictional July 4th opening of Magic Mountain's new steel looper, Revolution (the coaster actually opened in May, 1976). Rollercoaster was one of four films originally released in "Sensurround", a gimmicky bass-heavy audio format requiring specially installed theater speakers.

As a thriller, Rollercoaster is okay, but it's real draw is the screen time it gives to the targeted amusement parks, including an extended tour of King's Dominion in Richmond, Virginia.

Coaster inspector Harry Calder (George Segal) has been singled out as the bag man for a money drop to occur at the then new King's Dominion park. Here he waits at a toadstool shaped phone for instructions.

All the while, the bomber is keeping watch from the top of this towering park icon, a 1/3 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Hoping to confuse law enforcement officials who are monitoring the transaction remotely (and perhaps have a little fun in the process), the bomber sends Calder on an outright scavenger hunt through the park, requiring him to get his weight guessed by a boardwalk barker, purchase and wear a silly stitched hat...

...and even ride several rides, like this racing wooden-coaster which is still in service today, Rebel Yell.

Meanwhile sharp-eyed audiences will catch glimpses of some of the costumed Hanna Barbera characters roaming the park, including Banana Splits members Fleagal and Bingo...

...and despised Scooby-Doo spin-off, Scooby-Dum.

Magic Mountain's Revolution coaster, incidentally, seemed to be a real draw for terrorists. Just a few years after Rollercoaster, it was occupied in a hostile takeover by a group calling itself "The Griswolds".

Rollercoaster is available on DVD, and can sometimes be found streaming on Netflix.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fourth of July, 1963

It's a beautiful sunny July 4th, 1963, somewhere in Southern California. The roads are choked with traffic headed towards the mountains, lakes and beaches.

The all-American game of baseball is being played at a nearby stadium...

There's a parade downtown, complete with jet fly-over...

And some folks aren't waiting for it to get dark to start setting off fireworks...

Insulated from all the excitement in her little suburban home is Ms. Cornelia Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland).

Normally she might join her adult son Malcolm for a weekend road-trip, but she injured her hip a few months ago and has become a bit of a homebody. She plans to spend Independence Day puttering around her house, reciting original poetry to herself while admiring her collection of knick-knacks.

She can still get around despite her hip injury, but climbing the stairs is out of the question, so she relies on this personal elevator to get up and down.

But wouldn't you know it--after workmen accidentally disturb the power lines to her house, Ms. Hilyard is left without electricity, finding herself trapped in the very box meant to facilitate her freedom and independence! On July 4th, no less! Oh, the irony!

When the phone rings, she tries to knock the receiver off the cradle with her shoe, with no luck.

YOU try to hit a phone with a shoe from this height!

The elevator is equipped with a battery-powered alarm bell, which she eventually gets around to using.

But with all the holiday excitement outside, the alarm goes unnoticed by the passing traffic.

And who can expect a mere ringing bell to grab anyone's attention, when even the body of this poor dead dog, lying on the side of the road in full view, goes ignored by people hurrying to the beach.

But the alarm finally does get noticed by someone who doesn't have a holiday destination to get to--a drunken hobo. Unfortunately he's more interested in looting the house of its fineries than helping poor Ms. Hilyard.

After the hobo grabs a few items to pawn and flees the scene, Ms. Hilyard, desperate to escape, considers jumping from the mid-air cage. But in her semi-incapacitated condition, that just isn't an option.

As the July heat builds, Ms. Hilyard starts to go a little stir-crazy, and has herself a good ol' freakout, singing loudly to herself and composing free-form poetry about man's inhumanity to man.

Here's a sample of Ms. Hilyard's verse:
"We made us cities and towns,
And thought we had beat the jungle back,
Not knowing we had built the jungle in."
Meh--doesn't even rhyme.

The hobo returns from the pawn shop with the intent to clean the place out, but is followed by a group of even nastier thugs, headed by Randall (a young James Caan).

These guys amuse themselves while ransacking the place, intending to kill both the hobo AND Ms. Hilyard, to eliminate all witnesses.

When she appeals to their basic human decency, Randall snaps back "I am ALL animal!" He's out to rattle a few cages... or at least this one!

Ms. Hilyard ends up defending herself from the murderous creep with an improvised weapon. She never did get to see any fireworks on this Fourth of July. And Randall... well, he didn't get to see much of anything after Ms. Hilyard got through with him...!

This Fourth of the July occurred in the cult classic Lady in a Cage (1964), a sometimes corny but utterly engaging thriller, whose nihilistic theme, that our supposedly modern civilization will quickly devolve into dog-eat-dog anarchy if the opportunity presents itself, is delivered with a bluntness that seems ahead of its time.

The cool animated opening title sequence might remind you of the work of Saul Bass.

They even do something I always assumed was a more recent practice... customize the studio logo to match the theme of the film.

Lady In A Cage is out of print as of this writing, but can still be found on the second-hand market.