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A DOUBLE SCOOP OF HYPE

 

              Posters for 'Look Down and Die,' aka 'Steel.'

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 6, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: TV ads for ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ have been touting it as the ‘Marvel’s funniest movie yet.’ Maybe. The audience will be the judge of whether it’s really funnier than the first ‘Ant-Man’ or the first ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ That’s a pretty high bar. But hyperbole is nothing new and movie ads are often exaggerated and sometimes downright false. In early 1980, back when my byline was ‘Christopher Hicks,’ I wrote a cover story headlined ‘Those misleading movie ads’ for the Friday entertainment section of the Deseret News about this very subject. Are things any different in the 21st century?

A short time back a movie played in town that you probably overlooked for two very good reasons — the title, “Look Down and Die,” was dreadful, and the ads, with a steel worker hanging from a girder many stories up and the words “One slip and you’re dead!” made it look like nothing more than another cheap, violent exploitation picture.

But “Look Down and Die” really wasn’t a bad picture. On the other hand, it wasn’t a great picture, either — but it was without question given a raw deal by World Northal Films, which released it.

“Look Down and Die” is a Canadian film originally titled “Steel,” and it tells the story of a young woman who takes over a large construction company when her father is killed in a work accident. She assembles a group of independent, multi-ethnic steelworkers from around the country (a sort of “Dirty Half-Dozen”) to finish nine floors of a building in three weeks or she will lose the business.

That’s basically the plot, and it’s not a bad one. There are two very fine actors in the film — Art Carney and George Kennedy. And two dreadful stars — Jennifer O’Neill and Lee Majors (as the Six Million Dollar Ramrod). But more than anything it’s a director’s movie.

Director Steve Carver includes some amazing camerawork in “Look Down and Die,” and some of the stunt work is equally exciting. It’s not a movie for those who can’t stand heights but for those of us who have always wondered about some of the intricacies of high-rise construction work (though great license is no doubt taken in this example), “Look Down and Die” is an interesting enjoyable movie.

Obviously, the releasing company felt a drama about construction workers with a simple title like “Steel” would not draw as large an audience as their subsequent campaign.

That’s not a problem exclusive to small releasing companies, however. Most of the major studios have the same trouble with some of their pictures each year.

      

The best recent example is “Resurrection,” a very interesting movie with a superb performance by Ellen Burstyn as a woman who finds, after a near-fatal car accident, that she has the power to heal by touch. Rather than become a tent evangelist, however, she maintains her independent lifestyle while helping those around her.

It’s not an anti-religious film but it’s not a religious film either. Not really knowing what it had, Universal Pictures began an ad campaign that made it look like a science-fiction thriller and the wrong audience was drawn into the theaters. As a result, word-of-mouth killed the film.

The difference between the two examples, of course, is that one is seemingly deliberate in its misleading campaign and the other is merely miscalculation.

Newspapers are replete with examples of both all year long, however. Along with poor taste, overselling and the just plain ridiculous:

— “Close Encounters of the Third Kind – The Special Edition,” was, of course, merely “Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Re-edited.” The ads encouraged the 100 million fans who saw it the first time to return and “share the ultimate experience of being inside.” Translated, that meant that for another $4 you could see two minutes of new film inside the ship at the end of the picture.

     

— For “Oh Heavenly Dog,” a vulgar Benji movie with little appeal for adults or children, we had newspaper ads of the dog using a magnifying glass to peer into Jane Seymour’s cleavage.

— “Can’t Stop the Music” was billed as the “movie musical event of the ’80s.” Those of us who had to sit through it know how much of an overstatement that was — not to mention a rather presumptuous suggestion for the first few months of the decade.

Sometimes the studio doesn’t realize how close it comes to being more accurate about a picture than they want to be.

“Where the Buffalo Roam” was billed as “The Strangest Comedy of the Year.” Not necessarily untrue but strange does not mean funny.

And last year’s “Running” was advertised as “The movie that will bring you to your feet.” That was very true; the audience came to its feet before it was over and then only to leave the theater.

Perhaps my favorite, however, is the logo that accompanied one of the many schlock horror flicks of 1980. Over the title, “Don’t Go in the House,” it read “You Have Been Warned!”