From Billy Graham movies to nudie flicks.

Three years ago, I wrote an article on the history of World Wide Pictures, the movie studio founded by Billy Graham. In the course of researching that article, I watched a couple dozen Billy Graham movies — and I quickly grew tired of the overly mannered acting done by a woman named Georgia Lee, who starred in at least six of those films, from Oiltown, U.S.A. (1953) to The Restless Ones (1965).

All of those films were directed by someone named Dick Ross. And after The Restless Ones, Ross, Graham and Lee all apparently went their separate ways: the Billy Graham organization continued to produce movies, most of which were now directed by James F. Collier (the writer on The Restless Ones); Ross went on to produce or direct a handful of films without Graham’s backing, most notably The Cross and the Switchblade (1970); and Lee pretty much stopped acting in movies altogether, at least if the IMDb is to be believed.

She did, however, have bit parts in three movies that came out in the mid-1970s. And all of those movies featured her daughter Robbie Lee in a, shall we say, morally compromised role. Different websites disagree on the precise order in which these films were made, but here they are in the order that the IMDb says they were released:

Big Bad Mama (1974) is a Roger Corman film that stars Angie Dickinson as a woman who robs banks with her two daughters (one of whom is played by Robbie Lee) and her two lovers (played by Tom Skerritt and William Shatner). Nude scenes abound, as does some typical-for-the-era mocking of religion, and Robbie Lee gets pregnant by Skerritt, who sleeps with both of Dickinson’s daughters while Dickinson is distracted by Shatner. Georgia Lee, for her part, appears briefly as a high-society woman whose daughter is abducted by Dickinson’s gang; Georgia herself never does anything that would have seemed untoward in a Billy Graham film, but it is still kind of curious to see her chaperoning her daughter, as it were, by agreeing to appear with her in a film of this sort.

Then there is Linda Lovelace for President (1975), in which the star of the porn film Deep Throat (1972) runs for office. The film itself is not what I would call hardcore, as such, but it’s still pretty skanky, and I’d advise everyone to avoid it if they can. This time around, Georgia Lee has a bit part as a woman in an elevator who rattles off a bunch of numbers — flight numbers, departure times, and so forth — that distract the assassin standing behind her, who cannot remember which hotel room he is going to. (The photo above comes from this scene.) Again, Georgia doesn’t do anything that compromises herself in any way — except for the fact that she actually deigned to appear in this movie. Robbie Lee, meanwhile, appears briefly in an entirely different scene, as an incestuous hillbilly. (The photo below comes from this scene.)

Finally, the real-life mother and daughter appeared on-screen as a fictitious mother and daughter in Switchblade Sisters (1975), which happens to be one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films; he sponsored a theatrical re-release in 1996 and discusses the movie on its DVD. This time, Robbie Lee is basically the main character, the leader of a female gang whose position within the group — and whose relationship with the leader of the local male gang — are threatened by the arrival of a new girl in town. Once again, Robbie Lee’s character gets pregnant. And this time, Georgia Lee’s one scene — performed with all the patently fake, manipulative earnestness of her Billy Graham roles — consists of telling the landlord that she hopes he’ll “roast in hell.”

Compared to the first two films, Switchblade Sisters is pretty tame. And according to the IMDb, Robbie Lee went on to do some TV work before specializing in children’s cartoons, where she contributed her voice to shows like Rainbow Brite and The Get-Along Gang before apparently calling it quits in the late ’80s. So she may have left her exploitation-movie days behind her fairly quickly.

But still, it’s weird to see that an actress who specialized in evangelistic films for so long — I’m referring to Georgia now, not Robbie — would come out of retirement to appear in movies like these. If Georgia were simply another actress who, for whatever reason, happened to get a lot of gigs working for the Grahams, that would be one thing. But this website says her husband, Ralph Hoopes — he’s the one she’s talking to in the shot from Linda Lovelace at the top of this post — was “a noted preacher” and founder of a congregation called Valley Presbyterian Church, and that their daughter Robbie went to Los Angeles Baptist High School. This other website, by an Australian who apparently spoke to Georgia by phone for ten minutes, also testifies to her “Christian beliefs”, though it gets some of its information wrong by claiming that Robbie was her “son” rather than her daughter.

At any rate, it would appear that Georgia Lee stayed “on message” with the Grahams off-screen as well as on-screen, at least for a while. It’s kind of weird, then, to see her — and her preacher husband! — appearing with their daughter in films of this sort. Maybe it was a form of outreach to their daughter’s friends. Who knows. But I assume there is some sort of story behind all this, and I am curious to know more about it.

Madagascar Pyjamas — the reviews are up!

My review of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (or Pajamas, as it is called in North America) is now up at CT Movies, as is my review of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Click here for my comments on the original Madagascar (2005).

Newsbites: Ben-Hur! Obama! Dollhouse! Graysons! Wanted! Santa!

Just some random bits and bites, this time.

1. Long before it became three precedent-setting movies — released in 1907, 1925 and 1959 — not to mention an upcoming three-hour mini-series, General Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur was dramatized for the stage. It premiered on Broadway in 1899 — with live horses for the chariot race, among other spectacular sights — and it toured the world before closing in 1921. Now the story is being adapted for the stage again, in a production that will feature “a cast of more than 400 people and 100 animals” — as well as “considerable nudity” during an orgy sequence. The show will premiere at The O2, the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome, in London next September. — London Times, BBC, WENN

2. President-elect Barack Obama may be a Trekkie. He is certainly the first president young enough to have grown up watching re-runs of the original series on TV. —

3. Fox, having left one Joss Whedon series to die on Friday nights, i.e. Firefly, is now poised to do the same to another Joss Whedon series, i.e. Dollhouse. Fox is also moving Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — which features Firefly alumnus Summer Glau as a butt-kicking she-robot — to Friday nights as a lead-in to Dollhouse. — Hollywood Reporter

4. Remember The Graysons, that TV series about the young Dick Grayson and the life that he led before his parents were killed and he became Batman‘s sidekick as Robin the Boy Wonder? Ain’t gonna happen, now that Warner has pulled the plug. — Variety

5. Angelina Jolie has revealed that one of the more interesting plot twists in the film version of Wanted was her idea. — MTV Splash Page

6. One day after it was revealed that John Boorman would direct a computer-animated adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it was announced that a few other studios will produce a computer-animated adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which was also written by Baum. The story “follows Santa’s formative years, including a battle against the heart of evil that establishes the Santa mythology.” — Variety

Newsbites: The myth and fantasy edition!

A fair bit of news today, on these fronts.

1. Clash of the Greek-mythology movies! Henry Cavill, who plays Charles Brandon on The Tudors, is in talks to play Theseus in War of the Gods, while Sam Worthington, who co-stars in Terminator Salvation, is in talks to play Perseus in the remake of Clash of the Titans. — Variety, Hollywood Reporter

2. Jack Black will star in a “contemporary reimagining” of Gulliver’s Travels, in which the title character becomes a travel writer who is sent on assignment to the Bermuda Triangle. — Variety, Hollywood Reporter

3. Russell Brand — a British comedian who made a splash Stateside as a scene-stealing rock musician in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and who has since been plagued by a controversy or two — is reportedly in talks to play Johnny Depp’s brother in Pirates of the Caribbean 4. That’s inspired casting, if true. — Daily Mail

4. John Boorman will direct a computer-animated adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. — Variety

5. Producer Gale Ann Hurd comments on the rumour that her adaptation of Magdalena will water down the source material’s potentially offensive religious elements: “I don’t think you can separate ‘Magdalena’ completely from the legacy of her descent or the fear of destiny or many things that are connected with her as part of the comic book franchise. But at the same time, it’s not a religious movie in that respect.” She says the film will be like The Da Vinci Code (2006) and The Omen (1976-2006), where religion was mainly relegated to the background. (It was?) — MTV Splash Page

6. Screenwriter Chris Morgan says the sequel to Wanted will probably take the story in a “more global” direction. — MTV Splash Page

Single men, young kids, and ELO.

They say you need three examples of something to isolate a trend. And I believe I have spotted just such a trend, now.

The Game Plan (2007) is a family-friendly Disney movie about a single man who suddenly finds himself spending quality time with the daughter he never knew he had.

Martian Child (2007) is a mature, but still PG-rated, drama about a single man who adopts a troubled child and spends quality time with him.

And now, this week, comes Role Models, an R-rated comedy about two single men who are ordered by a judge to spend quality time with a couple of boys as part of their community service.

And what do all these films have in common, besides single men spending quality time with children of one sort or another?

They all feature a montage in which part of this quality time is set to the Electric Light Orchestra‘s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’.

I’m not entirely sure what this means. But it must mean something.

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Newsbites: The history and religion edition!

Here are a few more items that came up in recent days.

1. Steven Soderbergh says Cleo, his recently-announced 3-D musical about the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra, will be inspired on some level by the classic film noir Gilda (1946). — Anne Thompson, Karina Longworth

2. Malek Akkad, whose father directed the Mohammed biopic The Message (1976), says the recently-announced Mohammed biopic The Messenger of Peace will not be a remake of his father’s film, despite earlier reports that suggested it would be a remake. — New York Times

3. Dante’s Inferno continues to attract filmmakers, and others. A 2007 film made with puppets came out on DVD a couple months ago, and Universal has just bought the rights to an upcoming Electronic Arts video game that will be based in some way on Dante’s “journey through the depths of hell.” — Soul Food Movies, Variety

4. Max Allan Collins has written and will direct two sequels to The Road to Perdition (2002; my review). Collins wrote the graphic novel on which the original film was based, and he also wrote the novelization of the film, which departed from his graphic novel in significant ways. It sounds like the sequels — called The Road to Purgatory and The Road to Paradise, and presumably based on the novels of those names — will imagine a different future for the Michael Sullivan Jr. character than the epilogue to the graphic novel did. — The Hollywood News, Variety