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Manor On Movies--Latitude Zero

  Latitude Zero (1969)

The year 1969 evokes many memories: the love-drenched air of Woodstock and the hate-filled atmosphere of Altamont; Broadway Joe Namath sticking it to that square Johnny Unitas in the Super Bowl; the afternoon your cat Fluffy got squished under the trash truck tires; and, discovering "the greenhouse effect" firsthand by suffering second-degree sunburn after falling asleep beneath the gargantuan rear window of your brother's Plymouth Barracuda fastback.

As the body count in the Vietnamese "conflict" continued to rise, anti-Asian sentiments began to once again surface in a certain segment of the U.S. population. Nehru-jacketed flower children knew bigotry was wrong. After all, Jefferson Airplane was due to release "We Can Be Together" in November. And such animosity could adversely affect the sale of this record, lowering the value of RCA stock and forcing Airplane’s “voice of the people” Grace Slick to compose anti-capitalism slogans in the back of a used limo.

To whom does the world turn when it needs spiritual guidance and salvation? Why, to those compassionate, unselfish beacons of altruism, the members of the film community. Moviemakers are far more concerned with righting the ills of the world than lining their own pockets. If anyone could rise to the challenge of creating greater understanding among cultures, it would be the bastions of equality in the motion picture biz.

A divided globe anxiously awaited the forthcoming plea for social harmony. Their prayers were answered with the release of Latitude Zero. So convinced were they that all citizens should see this love message, it is said the producers actually had to be persuaded to charge admission. They reluctantly agreed.

While it is true LZ lacks a little in the relative overall quirkiness department--in some people's eyes--the movie, nonetheless, makes up for its shortcomings in a variety of ways, the most prominent compensation being the inclusion of what in all likelihood will be the LEAST horrifying (most hysterical) "monsters" viewers will ever see. These things are about as scary as Snoopy! Seriously, you’ll find more “terrifying” creatures handing out jelly beans in the Easter parade. So credible is the griffith costume, the first time it comes into view, you expect the actor inside it to extend an open bag and shout "Trick Or Treat!"

The second big plus is the cast. Inarguable classics such as Hangar 18 and The Navy Vs. The Night Monsters may have had a greater number of recognizable faces; however, Latitude is the clear-cut champ when it comes to handprints-in-cement, tour-guides-point-out-their-homes, bona fide legends.

First up, we’ve got always-excellent Richard Jaeckel, who worked with everyone from Paul Newman to the Three Stooges. Top-seeded villain is Best Batman Joker Ever, Cesar Romero; his accomplice, Patricia "Funky Gold" Medina--no featherweight in her own right--whose husband takes the male lead.

And just who would that fella be? THE Joseph Cotten! Yes, the Citizen Kane Mercury Theater Third Man Joseph Cotten!!! Not since the studio contract-player days and the release of Bogie’s Return Of Dr. X (1939) has a film in this genre been headlined by a marquee-topper of such magnitude--nor has one post-Latitude.

(Nitwit nitpickers taking exception to the last phrase will cite Alec Guinness in Star Wars and Laurence Olivier in Clash Of The Titans--which might hold water if Sirs Al and Larry had starred in said fantasy films. They didn't.)

Compensatory Factor Three has to do with the final minutes of the pic. You’ve already sat through well over an hour of the lunacy that is the Lat Zero central storyline. Relaxing in the safety of knowing the bizarreness will soon be over, kapow, an honest-to-goodness "woooo, spoooky" ending coming from the Twilight Zone via One Step Beyond the Outer Limits. Whether or not the epilogue makes much sense is open for debate, but, hey, it was the late Sixties. Not to give too much away here, but once you witness this screwy twist, you’ll be laughing and scratching your head at the same time …and what could be a better final reaction to a flick? Okay, to a non-porn flick.

Latitude Zero was the perfect antidote to the growing yellow/white hostility noted above, for several reasons. On the surface, it told the tale of open-minded people triumphing over their corrupted counterparts. A noble sentiment in and of itself.

But it is not so much what the movie is about but rather what it is that makes LZ so very special. First off, the flick's a joint effort between Americans and Japanese (and directed by Inishiro Honda, the man who helmed the very first Godzilla, as well as six spin-offs), bitter rivals in the last East/West battle of the races. Putting aside past Pearl Harbors and Hiroshimas, the crew led by example, creating art in unity instead of snuffing each other. They were shouting, "We CAN be together; so, DON'T sell that RCA stock."

Secondly, ethnic distinction among cast members is not recognized even when couples pair off for l'amour. For a refreshing change, the pretty blonde is not automatically matched with the handsome Yank. She, in fact, falls for a Frenchman--being portrayed by an Asian actor!

In the LZ universe, goodies and baddies alike look upon each other simply as people, regardless of skin tone or eye shape. And that's the way it should be. Remember these words from Sly Stone, author of the era's most compassionate pleas for peaceful coexistence: "BOOM, shockalockalocka, BOOM, boom, BOOM, shockalockalocka."

Latitude Zero obviously did its job. Within two years, U.S. military forces were withdrawn from Southeast Asia. And, today, our culture is a melting pot of brotherhood, mutual respect and understanding; stereotyping epitaphs, now a thing of the distant past.

This is the part of the column where I ordinarily go into a synopsis of the plot. In this instance, however, a written description will not begin to do the film justice, its magic being so much about the way the screenplay was presented. Besides, contemplating how L-Zero changed the entire world for the good of all humanity has me too choked up to continue writing about it, the tears of joy already having shorted out two laptop keyboards. Instead, I present a special Stately Salute to an actor who was a mainstream staple--as opposed to the usual suspects found in Manor On Movies subjects--yet never seems to get the adoration he warrants. Lays and genitals, boils and girdles, I give you...

WHY RICHARD JAECKEL IS SO COOL Jaeckel might be considered a “perennial second banana” by some and, consequently, not given the respect he deserves—as if high-profile stars would be where they are without strong supporting players. But one of Richard‘s outstanding qualities was his ability to play both sides of the good/evil coin with great conviction.

Short, with a compact frame and boyish face, Richard could come off as the dependable industrious facilitator, just like he does in Latitude Zero. But by adding a trace of a smirk and some cockiness to his gait, Jaeckel became a jackal, the arrogant punk hiding behind a gun, a worm you’d give anything to see catch an uppercut square on the jaw.

Many actors are able to constantly deliver as the saint or the sinner, but it takes a very special talent to be equally adept at both. Because he possessed that skill, Richard was able to pull off one of the all-time top creep lines in a western.

It occurs in the original 3:10 To Yuma (1957) as gunslinger Jaeckel is waiting to bushwhack Glenn Ford, the man who captured his outlaw-gang ringleader. The hellbound gunman and a hotel barkeep are comparing notes, bewildered as to why their womenfolk have continuously run off on them. Empathizing with his new friend, oblivious Richard knocks one out of the park with his matter-of-fact, almost soft-spoken delivery of the classic couplet, “I always treated (my wife) all right. Never hit her too hard."

Is that golden or what? Never hit her too hard. What a gentleman. Here’s the kind of rotten egg who would casually claim, “Well, yeah, I clanged you over the head with a frying pan…but I did use a small one."

And now, some bonus footage. Speaking on behalf of Manormaniacs everywhere, it takes no effort at all to despise U2 front man, Bono. From the "We're a band for the working people--the ones who can afford a hundred dollars a ticket, that is” posturing to the "It's imperative the hungry be fed" pleas despite no record of the self-righteous Celt selling off his castles to provide meals to starving musicians who may eventually threaten U2's position on the sales charts. I for one would gladly welcome a termite infestation within the soapbox Bono seemingly never steps down from.

Owing plenty, no doubt, to the shamefully high percentage of listeners driven tone deaf by commercial radio stations' Eighties play lists, PU2 sold millions of CDs, making it impossible to avoid exposure to their hits, no matter how diligently a person tries. One such especially offensive cut was an up-tempo number encouraging listeners to rump-shake in celebration of New Year's Day.

What is so appalling about that? January first (1994) is the date on which Cesar Romero passed away, and when you combine that information with the celebratory tone of the aforementioned tune, it's clear Bono is saying, "Hey, kids, let's all dance on the grave of this fine gentleman"!!!! What's next from the Buffoon Of Belfast, "Write Something Rotten On The Headstone Of Joe Cotten" or maybe "Take A Wee Wee-Wee On John Carradine's Crypt"???

To see this review--and dozens of others along the same lines--with full photo illustrations (oooh!), visit www.ManorOnMovies.com
Author: Stately Wayne Manor


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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006