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April 05, 2007

"A Christmas Story" Director Bob Clarke And Son Killed By Drunk Driver

Killed by a drunk Latino driver with no license. The LAT pretty much has an
embargo on using the word "illegal immigrant," so don't take the lack of mention of that to be proof of that he was a citizen.

Tuesday was usually family night for film director Bob Clark — best known for "A Christmas Story" and the "Porky's" movies — and his grown sons, Ariel and Michael.

Ariel, 22, who had been studying music composition at Santa Monica College and was a part-time card dealer at a casino, would typically join his father and brother at the condo they rented in Pacific Palisades. They were night owls, said Lyne Leavy, who headed Clark's production company, Film Classic Productions.


They had just driven a few blocks and were heading south on Pacific Coast Highway near the Bel-Air Bay Club at about 2:20 a.m. when a GMC Yukon swerved across the lane, striking their Infiniti Q-30 sedan head-on. Father and son were pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the sport utility vehicle, Hector Valazquez-Nava, 24, of Los Angeles and passenger Lydia Mora, 29, of Azusa were taken to UCLA Medical Center and treated for minor injuries. Valazquez-Nava was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, operating a motor vehicle without a driver's license and gross vehicular manslaughter.


"He was a nice guy, good to everybody, a quiet guy," Dodier said of Bob Clark. The producer-director had lived at the Edgewater complex since he relocated to Pacific Palisades from New England after his divorce. Starting out in a one-bedroom unit, he moved into a two-bedroom, second-floor condominium a few years later to make room for his sons, Dodier said. He had rented the larger unit for more than a decade.

"He was a gentleman, one of the nicest people I knew," said his New York business manager, Stuart Ditsky. "He always kept his word. He would never hurt anybody or put in anything in his movies to embarrass anyone."

Clark produced, directed and co-wrote "A Christmas Story," which was released in 1983; more than two decades later, it remains a holiday favorite, shown on television and racking up big DVD sales.


Clark also made darker, more brooding pictures. His seminal horror film, "Black Christmas," was recently reissued on DVD. Though hardly the first slasher film, some fans credit it with influencing other horror films.

"Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, we never would have had films like 'Friday the 13th' without 'Black Christmas,' " said Paula Haifley, who in December saw Clark introduce a screening at the New Beverly. "He was funny and friendly, had true respect for the horror genre and its fans, and seeing him was an experience I will never forget. He will be sorely missed by his fans."

He also directed a movie no one ever mentions: Murder By Decree, the best Sherlock Holmes movie I've ever seen (most of them are just plain crappy, if not godforsaken), which features Holmes pursuing none other than Jack the Ripper. It was the film introduction of the now-passe Royal Conspiracy theory of the murders. Christopher Plummer as a tough Holmes (no queeny posturing and whining about how bored he is by the world), and James Mason hilarious as Watson. Also features other great actors like Donald Sutherland (as a mystic/psychic, and there really was one somehow connected to the Ripper case) and John Gielgud.

When Martin Scorcese directed Age of Innocence, he said he wanted to become a "real pro" as a director, which, he explained, was not a joke at his own expense, but a description of the sort of director who could take on pretty much any material whatsoever and do it right. No one ever thinks of Bob Clarke when they think of great directors, but he was definitely a real pro. From A Christmas Story to the terrific period mystery Murder By Decree to seminal (ahem) high school sex comedy Porky's to even, errr, Black Christmas, the guy pretty much directed (and often wrote or co-wrote) in pretty much every genre out there.

Seriously? If you've never seen it, Murder By Decree. Give it a rent. The only knocks are 1, there's a little too much exposition as they rush to explain the somewhat convoluted Royal Conspiracy, and 2, given that this is a Royal Conspiracy movie, you have the same problem you always do -- you're just not going to get to see real justice for the perpetrators, as, um, we know from history that the monarchy was not in fact brought down by the Ripper murders.

Still, a really good Sherlock Holmes pic. Victorian London looks great, and the Ripper killer(s) look very creepy.

Thanks to Dan Collins who used to comment here until he became a splitter.

Holmes As Pulp Hero: Just an aside. The source material supports depicting Holmes as either a forerunner of pulp heroes -- he's good with his fists and a pistol -- or as a comical individual, extraordinary in one way, but otherwise just a collection of odd quirks and annoying mannerisms, like the later Hercule Poroit.

I'm annoyed by the latter, which is why I hate the BBC Jeremy Brett version of Holmes.

Murder By Decree depicts Holmes as the tough detective sort of pulp hero. He even has a cool weapon -- an absurdly long scarf, which he explains is actually a disguised weapon that used to be carried by Thuggee cultists. The ends of the scarf are filled with lead ball bearings, so the scarf is really a whip/bludgeon. Not quite as cool as Indy's bull-whip, but (to me) it's the perfect weapon for Holmes. (Apart from a pistol in the pocket.)

If you've seen the lame From Hell, be on notice that that's virtually a remake, or direct swipe, of Murder By Decree, just a much inferior version. The Hughes brothers even swiped Clarke's use of big black contact lenses for the Ripper killers, to make their eyes appear to almost all black pupil -- a subtle but spooky effect that lets you know somethin' ain't quite right with these boys. The graphic novel From Hell was based on didn't even feature the Royal Conspiracy as the solution -- the Hughes brothers rewrote it to feature that -- so it's pretty clear they saw Murder By Decree and just wanted to remake it.

Getting back to Clarke. Here's a clip (from Olbermann, alas) about the world's biggest Christmas Story fan. He bought and restored the house the movie was shot in, and now sells Leg Lamps. In a life imitates art twist, his wife is a little chagrined by his obsession with Leg Lamps.

digg this
posted by Ace at 09:51 AM

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