A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The most over-rated of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees is director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread", a bizarre, off-putting drama that succeeds in presenting unusual characters in offbeat situations. It's a film saturated in atmosphere and intriguing plot scenarios that ultimately never delivers on presenting satisfactory conclusions to any of them. Daniel Day Lewis, in what is his self-described final screen appearance before entering retirement, is Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker who has become a legend in his own time. The House of Woodcock designs top-line dresses for the international jet set as well as royals from around the globe. He prides himself on his obsession with his work and he runs the business with his humorless, equally dedicated sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their design house is run like a military base with discipline and dedication expected of their devoted, if not too happy, employees. The only vices Reynolds allows himself are short-term relationships with women, which he enters into with charm and intensity only to inevitably discard his lover when he tires of her. The film opens with the story's leading female character, Alma (Vicky Krieps) relating in flashbacks how she became the object of Reynolds' desires. He meets her in a small country bed and breakfast where she is working as a nondescript waitress who he finds charming. That evening, he takes her to a lavish dinner and then brings her back to his house where she understandably presumes he will attempt to bed her. Instead, the quirky Reynolds immediately orders her to stand for a fitting in order for him to make her an exquisite dress. More bizarrely, this promising first date is further detoured by the arrival of Cyril who begins to assist in the measurements of the dress, though it's clear she resents the younger, more attractive woman. Why? The implication is that she might have an unhealthy sexual interest in her own brother but, like so many of strands of this "Thread", nothing concrete is ever presented regarding the origins of Reynolds' and Cyril's strange relationship. It's one of several promising story scenarios that are presented in a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible manner, while others are hinted at but dropped altogether. At times it feels as though Anderson simply tore up the last twenty pages of his script during production.
Over their courtship, Reynolds proves to be a charming, highly intelligent beau. Alma is obviously from humble origins but the script fails to tell us anything about her life, background, or even nationality (she speaks with a rather exotic accent that is difficult to pin down). Soon, she moves into Reynolds' apartment building, which doubles as his design studio. She begins to learn the clothing trade from the bottom up, resenting after a while that her status as the boss's lover doesn't get her any perks. She's treated the same as the rest of the obedient staff. Soon, Alma begins to see disturbing personal traits in her lover. He has many eccentricities. He requires complete silence at breakfast while he contemplates his design work The slightest deviation from his standards can result in him erupting in anger. The film traces these outbursts and how Reynolds and Alma alternate between having a fractious and loving relationship. Ultimately, they marry- but that is only the beginning of the psychological agony they will both endure before finding a bizarre scenario that pleases them both, based on the "Munchausen syndrome by proxy" (Google it) that involves a peaceful coexistence established through poisoning by mushrooms. If it sounds weird, the premise seems even weirder when played out on screen.
Throughout most of "Phantom Thread" I was duly impressed by the superb production design (the film is set sometime in the 1950s but doesn't specify exactly when) along with the wonderful classical/original score provided by Johnny Greenwood. Then there are the mesmerizing performances. Lewis is predictably superb but the real find is Vicky Krieps, of whom much more should be heard in the near future. Like Woodcock's design creations, every aspect of the film looks perfect so it's disappointing that director/screenwriter Thomas never allows the plot to come together in a satisfying manner. The key plot point involving mushrooms is a bit wacky and doesn't fit in with the general tone of the movie. It's like having Godzilla appear at the finale of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and there's no getting around the fact that poisoned mushrooms makes this feel like a watered down premise of that seen in "The Beguiled".
There's much to admire in "Phantom Thread" including the lush cinematography (also provided by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson). Anderson enjoys a loyal following among critics and film fans who enjoy the quirkiness of his scripts and direction. Consequently, I wonder if that devotion extends to overlooking the obvious flaws and tangled, unsatisfying aspects of his work, of which there are plenty in "Phantom Thread". This may not be the case of the emperor having no clothes, but at a minimum, he is scantily clad.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a DVD of two Dean Martin romantic comedies from the 1960s, "Who Was That Lady?" and "How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
Of the two features, "Who's That Lady?" is the far superior entry. Based on Norman Krasna's play "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?", the modestly-budgeted B&W production offered an undemanding role for Martin, who was coming off acclaimed dramatic performances in "The Young Lions" and "Some Came Running" following his breakup with Jerry Lewis. Tony Curtis gets top billing in the film playing David Wilson, a chemistry professor at Columbia University in New York City. Before the credits finish unspooling, we see him caught in a compromising situation when his wife Ann (Janet Leigh) catches him in the act smooching with one of his students. She storms out and makes preparations to file for divorce. David pleads with her to reconsider but she won't hear of it. In desperation, David turns to his best friend Mike Haney (Dean Martin), a charismatic bachelor and serial womanizer. He also happens to be a screenwriter for CBS television and possesses a fertile imagination. Mike hatches an audacious scheme to get David off the hook. He gets a pistol from the CBS prop department as well as a custom-made faux F.B.I. identification card made with David's photo on it. The two men then tell Ann that both of them have been secretly moonlighting as F.B.I. agents for years and that the girl David was kissing was a suspected spy who he had been ordered to flirt with in order to win her confidence. Ann is initially skeptical but the appearance of the gun and I.D. card changes her mind. Suddenly, she is greatly impressed with her husband, who she now regards as a macho man. However, the lie turns into a giant headache when a real F.B.I. agent (James Whitmore) gets a tip that David has a phony ID from the agency. Adding to David's woes is Mike's insistence that they play upon Ann's gullibility by going out on more "missions" that involve seductive women. The house of cards eventually comes crashing down in a frenzied climax set in the bowels of the Empire State Building where David and Mike are mistaken by Soviet spies as real agents and kidnapped.
"Who Was That Lady?" is a pleasant time-killer that relies primarily on the deft comedic performances of the three leads, each of whom delivers the goods. There's great chemistry between Curtis, Martin and Leigh (the real-life Mrs. Curtis at the time) and the film boasts an impressive supporting cast aside from the always-impressive Whitmore. John McIntire is there along with Simon Oakland and Larry Storch as the commies. Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing add some laughs as a couple of busty, bubble-headed Marilyn Monroe-type who Mike earmarks as dates for him and David- a plan that ends disastrously. The film, directed by George Sidney, is best in the first half when the action and characters are set in the real world. However, the film delves into slapstick elements that prove to be more distracting than amusing. Still, "Who's That Lady?" is a generally funny effort, even if it's an undistinguished one- and you get to hear Dino croon the catchy title song.
Sam Fuller is one of these iconic directors that
independent film makers like Quentin Tarantino andRobert Rodrigues idolize for being a maverick
who frequently got away with making movies his own way, even if the studios
that employed him didn’t always like it. But even though he preferred to make
hard hitting, semi-expose movies like “Shock Corridor” and “The Naked Kiss,”
Fuller also knew which side of the bread was buttered and could make a movie
that both he and his studio bosses knew could be a commercial success. “Hell
and High Water” (1954), released by 20th Century Fox, is one of those. Made at
the height of the Cold War, it capitalized on America’s fear of the atom bomb,
the Red Menace, and catered to the belief that private individuals can sometime
be more effective than government at solving the world’s problems.
A group of such individuals, scientists from around the
world, want to investigate suspicious activities on an island in the North
Atlantic by the Chinese communists (though their nationality is never
mentioned).They hire former submarine
commander Capt. Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) to take them to the island in a
rebuilt Japanese sub (the kind that Captain Jones calls “a sewer pipe”). The
scientists suspect that the island is being used as the site for the building
of an atom bomb and are scheming to start WW III. Fuller had a hand in writing
the screenplay as well as directing and so Capt. Jones is your typical Fuller
hero. He’s tough, he’s brash, he’s honest, and he’s cynical. He agrees to take
the idealistic scientists to their destination but only because they’ll pay him
50 G’s to do it.
He assembles some of his old crew, including Gene Evans
(a Fuller regular), and Cameron Mitchell, the sub’s sonar man. The lead
scientist in charge of the expedition is Professor Montel (Victor Franken), who
is fond of saying: “Every man has his own reason for living, and his own price
for dying.” Just for the sake of spicing things up a bit, the old professor
brings along an assistant-- a sexy young French female scientist played by
Bella Darvi. Darvi’s personal story is both interesting and tragic. She was
discovered in Monaco by Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Zanuck
thought she had star potential and even created Bella’s screen name. Darvi is a
combination of Darryl and Virginia. She made only three Hollywood movies before
a sex scandal involving Zanuck broke out, causing Virginia Zanuck to split.
Darvi’s career never really took off and after the scandal she returned to
Europe where she eventually committed suicide at age 42.
But to return to our story, of course, the presence of a
woman on board a salvaged Japanese sub manned by a bunch of horny, sweaty guys
is a totally believable thing and isn’t going to cause any sort of plot
complication. But then believability isn’t a word you’d associate with “Hell
and High Water.” Especially not when the sub encounters another submarine, (Chinese?
I guess, who knows for sure) demanding to know what the hell they’re doing
there. What follows is the usual cat and mouse sequence you find in most
submarine movies. After a torpedo is fired at them, they dive for the bottom.
The torpedoes on Jones’s sub don’t work because they didn’t have time to get
them in working order before they started out. They stay there trying to not
make any noise so they don’t get pinged by sonar. The other sub lands a few
hundred yards away and they try to outwait each other. Finally, Jones and his
men have had enough and the captain orders the ship to make a break for it.
He’s got a new plan. He rams the “sewer pipe” into the other sub and sinks it.
Hooray, the good guys win. But wait. This is supposed to be a peaceful
scientific expedition. What about all the Chinese sailors (or whatever they are)
killed on the other sub? Wouldn’t that be like an international incident?
Wouldn’t that actually be an act of war itself that might lead to WWIII, just
the very think they were trying to prevent?
“Junior Bonner,” (1972) may not be director Sam
Peckinpah’s greatest film, but in many ways it’s one of his most honest. There
are no outlaws with guns blazing in a suicidal battle with the Mexican army (“The
Wild Bunch”) . No down and out tough guys scrounging their lives away in
Mexican dives on a quest to get the head of a dead man worth $1 million (“Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”). No CIA contractors skulking around San
Francisco’s Suisan Bay with telescopic rifles (“The Killer Elite”). None of that.
Instead “Junior Bonner” is the story of a modern day, every day rodeo cowboy
fighting an honorable and impossible battle against the forces that are
changing the people and the land that he knew—changing them for the worse.
Steve McQueen, in one of his most realistic, understated
performances, plays the Arizona cowboy who’s been riding the rodeo circuit a
little too long, and he knows it. He’s the son of former rodeo star Ace Bonner,
and he returns to his Prescott, Ariz., home in time for the town’s annual
Fourth of July rodeo festival. At the last stop on the circuit he got “throwed”
by a bull named Sunshine and his goal is to have a rematch with Sunshine in
front of his home town crowd. In a way he’s fulfilling one of the precepts of
the Peckinpah canon laid down in “Ride the High Country,” in which Joel McCrea,
as an aging former lawman, says “All I want to do is enter my house justified.”
Peckinpah rather brilliantly presents the theme of
changing times in the early scenes of the film, when JR drives his big old
white Cadillac convertible and horse-carrying trailer to his father’s home and
finds it is now a tumble-down shack about to be demolished by a wrecking crew.
The land it is on is being bulldozed into a gravel pit. After going inside the
house and finding nothing but an old picture in a busted frame of Ace in his
heyday, he drives out to the pit and asks if they know where Ace is. “Never
heard of him,” they tell him. And, in a scene reminiscent of “The Grapes of Wrath,”
when he tries to drive out of the pit he gets into a head-to-head confrontation
with a bulldozer operator who won’t let him pass. For a minute it looks like JR
might take him, but instead he’s forced to back up.
We next meet JR’s young brother, Curly (Joe Don Baker), a
real estate developer who’s selling off his father’s land to build a trailer
park. When JR finds out he only paid $15,000 for four sections of land, he’s
not too happy about it. And when Curly offers to bring him into the business because
he doesn’t want his older brother to “end up like the old man,” JR does what
any good Peckinpah cowboy would do. He knocks him through a picture window.
The film features two veterans playing JR’s parents,
Robert Preston as Ace and Ida Lupino as Elvira Bonner. Ace in his old age, is something
of a clown, a dreamer and the town drunk. His current ambition is to go to
Australia to punch cows. Elvira is the disillusioned wife and mother who knows
the best days of their lives are over and is just trying to hold on to what’s
left. Preston had just the right amount of charm and personality to make Ace a
convincing character and Lupino, who had been working steadily in TV after
years as a successful actress and director, is both touching and beautiful in
her return to the big screen. Also on hand are Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, the
man who runs the rodeo, as well as familiar faces such as Bill McKinney (“Deliverance”)
and Don “Red” Barry (in westerns too numerous to mention).
Peckinpah filmed the movie on location during the actual
Prescott Rodeo event, utilizing the local color and many non-actors, giving the
picture an authenticity that can’t be duplicated on studio sets. It’s that
direct simplicity that makes “Junior Bonner” work. In the end, it’s the story
of people coming to terms with the truth of who they are and facing the consequences
It's no secret that director Christopher Nolan is a major league James Bond fan. However, the Oscar-nominated "Dunkirk" director has put the kabbosh on rumors that he will be directing the next, as yet untitled, James Bond film which is scheduled for release in November, 2019. Appearing on BBC Radio 4, Nolan expressed his admiration for the series and its producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, but said that he felt the series is in good shape and that it wouldn't be the proper time for him to take the helm of one of the productions. However, he did reiterate his desire to direct a Bond film down the road. There is speculation that Nolan wants Daniel Craig to complete his final film in the series before he considers joining the franchise. It is presumed that Nolan would only come on board when its time for the next dramatic reboot of the Bond series, which occurs after the next film, which Craig has vowed will be his last mission On Her Majesty's Cinematic Secret Service. Click here for more.
UPDATE: Danny Boyle said to be on short list to direct next Bond film.
in 1977, Scalpel is one of only two films bearing the director credit John
Grissmer. A decade apart, the other is 1987’s marginally less satisfying Blood
Rage. Which isn’t to suggest that Scalpel itself is particularly good, because
it’s not. It is, however, the better of the pair.
surgeon Dr Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is in a bit of a quandary. His
wife is some while dead and his father-in-law, who despised him, has just
passed away bequeathing a fortune to Reynolds’ daughter Heather (Judith
Chapman). The problem is that Heather disappeared after witnessing Reynolds
committing a dreadful crime and she hasn’t been seen for over a year. And
Reynolds wants that money! A solution presents itself when he’s out driving one
night and almost runs over Jane, a stripper who’s been savagely beaten up and
is laid unconscious in the road. Whisking Jane off to the hospital where he
works, Reynolds hatches a scheme to refashion her smashed face to replicate that
of the missing Heather. As she recovers he makes her a proposal: successfully
pass herself off as Heather until the cash is signed over and they will split
it down the middle. It sounds perfect. But with $5 million at stake there’s
trouble ahead and Reynolds’ cunning plan is about to be derailed by an
circulating under the title False Face – which arguably has less exploitation
value plastered across a marquee than Scalpel, but is technically more
pertinent – John Grissmer’s debut film is a bit of an oddity. Although on first
run it feels mired in a pervasive grubbiness, when you step back and analyse it
that’s more down to the sickly yellow glaze that bedecks the entire movie (the
artistic intent of cinematographer Edward Lachman) than anything particularly
disturbing content-wise. In fact, a fleeting flash of nudity and a splash or
two of graphic bloodshed aside, Scalpel could almost pass as a TV production. This
impression is enforced by the headlining presence of prolific actor Robert
Lansing, whose work on television (in a fistful of made-for-TV movies, but
mostly in episodes of a myriad of series) outweighed his big screen appearances
14 to 1. Nevertheless, he’s on excellent form here as the nutty surgeon with as
much of a fixation on his daughter – the manifestation of incestuous desire may
be fairly tame but it’s scarcely subtle – as he has on lining his pockets with
ill-gotten millions. Judith Chapman meanwhile is every bit his equal in the
contrasting roles of Jane and Heather and there’s some very efficient split
screen work served up on those occasions that she’s called upon to share the
screen with herself.
Grissmer also penned the script, based on an original story by Joseph
Weintraub, and if it’s not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff it certainly manages
to keep one engaged enough through a number of (mostly predictable) twists,
although for my money it badly fumbles the ball in the penultimate act with a
daft sequence in which one of the main characters descends into gibbering
you don’t go in expecting to be wowed, you shouldn’t come away too
disappointed. But the bottom line is that it’s always pleasing to see a movie
brought back from the brink of obscurity – for every naysayer there’s always
going to be someone else rejoicing – and for that reason alone Scalpel is well
worth a look.
this instance it’s the ever reliable Arrow Video breathing new life into the
borderline obscure and the package they’ve put together for Scalpel is very decent
indeed. There are two versions of film to choose from, one faithfully retaining
the original, rather off-putting yellowish-green hues of the
aforementioned cinematography, the other being Arrow’s own newly tweaked version
with the colour grading adjusted to attain a more naturalistic look; although
staunch traditionalists will favour the former, the latter makes the film more
palatable by far. Whichever you select, there’s the option to watch in the
company of a commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. 45-minutes’
worth of all-new interviews with director John Grissmer, DOP Edward Lachman and
star Judith Chapman, a slideshow gallery of stills and artwork, plus a vintage
trailer combine to constitute the bonus goodies. A reversible sleeve and
collector’s booklet may be par for the course now with Arrow releases, but
they’re never less than welcome.
Cinema Retro's Mark Mawston takes you on the red carpet for the 2018 BAFTA Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London with some up close and personal photos of the celebs. (All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved).
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the festivities.
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" took the top honors for Best Film and Best British Film at last nights BAFTA awards. The film also won best original screenplay for writer/director Martin McDonagh. Frances McDormand was awarded Best Actress and Sam Rockwell received Best Supporting Actor. Allison Janey won Best Supporting Actress for "I, Tonya". Gary Oldman, the odds-on favorite, won Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour". Guillermo del Toro received Best Director for "The Shape of Water". For complete list of winners, click here. For coverage of the ceremony, click here.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a Jerry Lewis triple feature consisting of "3 on a Couch" (1966), "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1968) and "Hook, Line and Sinker" (1969). The films represent a mixed bag as Lewis entered middle age and tried to blend a more mature screen presence with his traditional persona of a lovable goofball.
"3 on a Couch" is leaden farce directed by Lewis, that presents him as Christopher Pride, an aspiring artist who wins a contest sponsored by the French government that will afford him to spend a month in Paris to contribute to a high profile project that could greatly enhance his career. Christopher is understandably over the moon about the prospect and shares the good news with his fiancee, Elizabeth (Janet Leigh), who he wants to join him on the trip. However, Elizabeth has a problem: she is a psychiatrist who is overseeing three emotionally vulnerable young women who are trying to cope with romantic relationships that have ended in heartbreak for them. They are completely dependent on her to cure them of their fear and loathing of men and Elizabeth can't justify taking off for a month because they have become so dependent upon her as both a mother figure and a confidant. Frustrated, Christopher devises an outlandish strategy in conjunction with his best friend Ben (James Best). He decides to adopt disguises as three different men, each of whom will attempt to woo one of the vulnerable young women and therefore restore their faith in the male of the species, thus allowing them to sever the ties to Elizabeth's therapy sessions. If you think it sounds absurd, wait until you see it all play out on screen. Christopher's alter egos consist of a fitness fanatic who will appeal to one of the patients who jogs and works out non-stop. Another is Ringo, a Texan who wears a ten-gallon hat and who perpetually chews on an unlit cigar while acting like a case of arrested development. The third persona is a fey, Truman Capote-type who lives with his protective sister (which also affords Lewis to play that role in drag.) The preposterous scenario doesn't hold up for a second, especially when each of the young women falls head over heels for these zany types, including the guy who appears to be gay. Go figure. The farce allows Lewis to indulge in his obsession with playing roles in various over-the-top disguises, none of which are the slightest bit amusing. The sight of Lewis in drag trying to shimmy out of stockings and corset is more disturbing than funny. The climax finds Christopher and Elizabeth being feted at a bon voyage party in her office as they prepare to sail for Paris. Predictably, all three young women decide to show up to see Elizabeth off, which ensures that Lewis has to frantically keep switching disguises to interact with each "girlfriend" so they don't catch on the ruse. The scene is ridiculous on several levels, the most obvious being that hundreds of people seem to be able to miraculously fit into this tiny office space. Lewis seems to have been inspired by the famed stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera" but despite the frantic goings-on, the whole shebang falls flat as a pancake. Lewis plays it straight when in the role of the artist but chews the scenery mercilessly as the alter-egos. Likewise, James Best, who Lewis directs as though he is also on steroids. The three young women- Gila Golan, Leslie Parrish and Mary Ann Mobley- are reduced to air-headed females who define their entire lives by finding the right man. Only Janet Leigh retains her dignity and seems to be acting in a completely different film. The whole enterprise is excruciating throughout.
"Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" seems to afford more promise. For one, it's based on a source novel by Max Wilk, who also wrote the screenplay. The film was also shot in England, which gives a Lewis production a refreshing change of pace. The movie's highlight is its opening credits sequence in which a nattily-clad Lewis jauntily walks through the streets of London, thus affording some good views of the city while a sappy title song unspools. Lewis plays George Lester, a self-made rich guy, who encounters a pretty young woman during his walk. She's Pamela (Jacqueline Pearce), who is quickly wooed by George and ends up marrying him. We then see a montage of what married life is like for her as George squanders his money taking them to exotic locations around the world in hare-brained schemes designed to develop new products that ultimately end in failure. Pamela decides to file for divorce, claiming that George's obsession with his business has left her feeling lonely and neglected. She's also being wooed by her divorce attorney, Dudley (Nicholas Parsons), a swanky, Savile Row-type who wants to succeed George as her next husband. Distraught, George decides to please his wife and win her back by converting their beloved country manor house to a combination Chinese restaurant and swinging discotheque. She is appalled, even though the place becomes a sensation and allows George to earn some much-needed money. The rest of the film centers on George's frantic and incredible strategies to win back Pamela and thwart his rival Dudley at the same time. Suffice it to say that Lewis once again gets to dress in outrageous disguises but, as in "3 on a Couch", none are amusing. The promising pairing of Lewis with Terry-Thomas as a con man he enlists in his scheme also falls flat as the plot meanders and plays out boringly under the leaden direction of Jerry Paris, who fared far better as a sitcom director. The only bright spots are a fine performance by Jacqueline Pearce and the occasional appearances of two of England's best comedic actors, Bernard Cribbins and Patricia Routledge. "Goldfinger" beauty Margaret Nolan appears as a dental assistant but is given nothing funny or memorable to do.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
They was great trepidation in the film industry about whether director Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" would be able to attract large enough audiences to recoup its considerable production costs. After all, most movie-goers are young people and the most popular kinds of features are superhero epics and gross-out comedies, not historical epics. To the surprise of many, "Dunkirk" did indeed prove to be a major hit, grossing over $500 million worldwide.This proves that the intelligence and taste of younger movie-goers should not be underestimated and also that Nolan himself enjoys the kind of loyal following that few directors can brag about. His name on a film will draw audiences that might be immune from a certain movies if not for his involvement. "Dunkirk" has also won critical acclaim and is nominated for numerous Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It's to Nolan's credit that he sought to bring this story to the screen during an era in which the average person is probably unacquainted with its historical significance, at least outside of Europe. That may be a sad reflection on society but it's all the more reason why Nolan should be commended for bringing the heroic saga to the spotlight.
"Dunkirk" relates the ominous period of time early in WWII when the British sent the bulk of its army as an expeditionary force into France to help stem the German invasion. At the time it was assumed that France had the strongest army in Europe. The recently -constructed heavily fortified Maginot Line was designed to be an impenetrable barrier to the German forces. Hitler decided to outflank the Allies by invading France through the back door in Belgium, plowing his tanks through the seemingly impassable Ardennes Forest, thus completely bypassing the Maginot Line and rendering its heavy artillery useless. The result was a rout for the Alllies and the bulk of the British army, along with French units, found itself trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. German forces could have moved in for the kill but made a major mistake by giving their exhausted units some down time, feeling that the Allies had no way to escape. Churchill issued an edict that called up any available vessel to make a desperate journey across the Channel under heavy fire and air attacks to rescue as many soldiers as possible. These gallant civilians pulled off the impossible by doing just that and rescuing the bulk of the 300,000 British troops on the beaches. French troops also made it out and joined the Free French units stationed in England under the command of DeGaulle. All of this makes for a highly compelling story but only fragments of it end up in Nolan's often admirable film. He provides virtually no historic context to the action seen on screen, which covers the battle from the viewpoint of individual soldiers as well as a small boat captained by an every day middle-aged Brit (Mark Rylance, in excellent form), his teenage son and his good friend. Aside from an opening series of captions informing the audience of the bare bones facts, no other overview of the dramatic occurrences is provided.
The film presents the battle scenes in spectacular and intense detail. You can feel the fear and confusion among the stranded troops and individual soldiers who attempt to use any means necessary to hitch a ride on the few overcrowded British Navy vessels that were available prior to the arrival of the civilian "fleet". The scenes inside the cockpit of the British Spitfire, one of only a few available in the battle to combat the constant German air attacks, are especially riveting. When a pilot has to ditch his plane in the ocean, he finds his cockpit is jammed and he may well drown. It's this type of harrowing scene that allows Nolan to ratchet up the suspense. However, it's Nolan the scriptwriter who undercuts the production on numerous occasions by failing to provide any emotional core to the film, with the exception of the scenes involving Rylance, which are genuinely moving. The rest of the characters are just relatively anonymous combatants of which we know nothing about personally. We can relate to their dilemma but unlike the similarly-themed "The Longest Day", we have little emotional resonance in them beyond the fact that we simply want them to survive. Nolan also fails to capitalize on the arrival of the civilian fleet, one of the most inspiring moments in military history, as it not only spared 300,000 lives, but also saved England- and thus the world- by allowing its fighting men to be able to resist Hitler's aggression. Nolan provides only a few fleeting shots of numerous boats approaching the Dunkirk beaches but the type of soaring emotional moment you might expect is rather watered-down.
There's much to admire in "Dunkirk". It's a big, ambitious war movie the likes of which we rarely see today. The aerial combat scenes are extraordinarily exciting and frightening. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is outstanding and Hans Zimmer provides a thundering, impressive score. More importantly, it attempts to commemorate a battle in which the British people turned a massive defeat into a tremendous victory. It's good filmmaking, but it never soars as high as you might expect and want it to.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" has been winning plaudits from critics and has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The lyrical love story between two closeted gay men is set in Italy in 1983.Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17 year-old Jewish-American high school student who is also of Italian heritage. He lives a seemingly idyllic life in a villa located in rural Italy. He's a brilliant student, able to converse in multiple languages and also displays stunning musical talents.His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archaeology who annually invites a graduate student to spend six weeks at the villa to assist in cataloging materials pertaining to excavations of historical finds. This year's student is Oliver (wonderfully played by Armie Hammer), a hunky, charismatic American who arrives at the villa and takes over Elio's bedroom, thus evicting Elio to an adjoining room. Whatever resentments Elio is feeling about being summarily moved from his own bedroom vanish when he lays eyes on Oliver. Elios, we learn, is hiding a secret: he's gay. Despite the fact that he is a popular figure in the small, intimate circle of his high school friends, he is actually a lonely, frustrated person with seemingly no outlet for romantic desires. He plays the game of acting straight and even has an attractive French girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel) but he only has eyes for Oliver. Elios suspects Oliver may also be gay but ponders whether certain subtle gestures are actually acts of flirtation or just figments of his imagination. His doubts grow when Oliver predictably becomes the object of desire among local young women- and Oliver seems to be enthused about capitalizing on their intentions. Much of the early stages of the film concentrate on Elios trying to decipher Oliver's sexuality and whether he should make an overt pass at him. Ultimately, his question is answered when the two spend an afternoon together in the countryside. What follows is a carefully choreographed scenario in which the two try to maximize their time together without raising suspicions of those around them. Within a short time both realize that their relationship is one of genuine love, not just lust. They also realize that it is inevitably doomed as the clock ticks down to the day Oliver must return to America.
"Call Me by Your Name" (which boasts a grand total of twenty producers/executive producers) is a highly emotional love story that unspools over a leisurely running time of 132 minutes. That would ordinarily seem overlong but the laid back pace keeps in-synch with the lazy atmosphere of the Italian setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry and everyone is enjoying la dolce vita. The running time also allows director Guadagnino to fully develop not only the two main characters, but the supporting figures as well. It's a marvelous collection of diverse people, thanks to screenwriter James Ivory and source novelist Andre Aciman. The film succeeds on all levels. The acting is superb throughout with even minor roles expertly portrayed. The real triumph is that of Chalamet, who delivers a finely-tuned portrayal of a teenager who not only has to cope with the usual psychological challenges of being on the verge of adulthood, but who also must suppress his sexuality. Both his father and mother (Amira Casar) defy stereotypes in scenarios such as this by being progressive and sympathetic to their son. Both can instantly see the mutual attraction between Elios and Oliver and conspicuously try to afford them the maximum amount of time together. The film has numerous scenes that are highly moving and emotional, one of which is a long talk between father and son in which Elios's dad delivers a life-affirming talk to Elios that makes it clear he is accepted and loved for who he is. It's superbly enacted by Michael Stuhlbarg, who probably should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There is also a wonderful score that incorporates classically-styled works with contemporary rock. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is tantalizing enough to make you book the next flight to Italy. What is refreshing about the film is the lack of contrived crisis points one would expect to see pretentiously introduced into the story. Instead, everyone in the film is a good person. No artificial crisis is introduced aside from the inevitable parting of the lovers, which does pack a tremendous punch in a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of way. The film's haunting final image of Elios is extraordinary. You must stay through it and not leave the theater, even as the credits role over the image.
After decades of gay characters being either ignored completely in films or used as objects of ridicule or derision, it's satisfying to see we've finally reached a point where a same-sex love story can be presented in a mature, intelligent manner that will appeal to mainstream audiences. "Call Me by Your Name" is the epitome of an art house movie but with the strong reviews and word-of-mouth it is generating, the film is exhibiting significant cross-over appeal. Highly recommended.
1980s were a decade of many cultural phenomenon such as the teen angst film,
the splatter horror film, the zombie films, and of course the teen sex comedy.
Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981) was a huge
success both financially and artistically. To this day it’s still one of the funniest
movies ever made. Many of today’s best-known actors cut their teeth in such
fare: Tom Hanks attended an out-of-control Bachelor
Party (1984) and even Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow checked into a Private Resort (1985). Stanley Donen,
best known for directing Singin’ in the
Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), Charade (1963), and Arabesque (1966), followed up the boring and disastrous Saturn 3 (1980) with Blame It on Rio, a peculiar entry in his
otherwise illustrious career. Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) is a pulchritudinous seventeen-year-old
who lusts after her father Victor’s (Joseph Bologna) best friend Matthew
(Michael Caine), a man roughly twenty-five years her senior (in reality there
is a thirty-two year difference between Caine and Johnson). The situation can
only be characterized as “creepy” and “inappropriate” since she has known him
her whole life and refers to him as “Uncle Matthew”.
the start we know that Matthew and his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) are
estranged when Karen drops a bombshell that she’s going on vacation by herself which
forces Matthew and their daughter Nikki (Demi Moore) to fly to Rio by
themselves with Victor and Jennifer. Almost from the outset Jennifer is pining
for Matthew, hitting the beach in nothing but a bikini bottom, her abundant
assets in full display to the dismay of her father. Despite Matthew’s vehement
protests, she insists that she loves him and only wants to be with him. Men her
own age simply don’t appeal to her. It becomes obvious by the film’s end that
Matthew is starting to fall for her (he’s still married to Karen), but one of
the biggest problems with the film is its characterization of Jennifer. Ms.
Johnson, who was hired by Mr. Donen following his discovery of her in W magazine, portrays Jennifer as she was
written: immature and unstable. By the film’s end, Jennifer commits a truly
awful act that is glossed over in the standard Hollywood fashion. It turns out
that she may be a little more dangerous than Matthew ever would have imagined.
Rio, which opened on Friday, February 17, 1984 just after
Valentine’s Day (yes, 34 years ago, Good Heavens), boasts a fairly provocative
advertising campaign featuring a woman’s rear view donning a bikini and it
became frequent viewing on cable television following its theatrical run. The
film is a loose remake of the 1977 French film Un Moment D'égarement (In a Wild Moment) by Claude Berrie, made years
before he made Jean de Flourette and Manon des Sources, which director Donen
and his then-wife Yvette Mimieux had seen and decided to option for a remake. Ironically,
it was made yet again in 2015 with Vincent Cassel and François Cluzet and
directed by Jean-François Richet and retained the original titre français.
Michael Coate of the Digital Bits website has once again assembled film historians, including Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer, to weigh in on a classic movie: in this case, the original "Planet of the Apes", which marks the 50th anniversary of its initial release. Click here to read their observations about the film and its legacy.
Time/Life has been releasing a treasure trove of golden oldies relating to classic TV series. The latest comprises of four episodes of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that have been unseen since their original air dates in 1968-69. Gleason had become an icon by the early 1950s. His variety show for CBS was a national sensation and it was on there that he introduced "The Honeymooners" as an occasional sketch of varying lengths. He would later turn the scenario into a classic stand-alone sitcom that lasted for thirty nine glorious episodes. Gleason had numerous incarnations of his variety series. By the mid-1960s, he was still as king at CBS, which also laid claim to Ed Sullivan's equally popular variety show. Gleason used his clout to relocate his show to Miami Beach ("The sun and fun capital of the world!", he would assure his audience every week.) Gleason's love affair with the city helped increase tourism and paved the way for a burgeoning film and TV industry there. He always assured his audience that they were the greatest in the world, and it's hard to argue with that. Even his lamest sketches and jokes on the variety show bring down the house. A one man show business powerhouse, Gleason also succeeded on the big screen, in stage productions and also as a composer and conductor of romantic tunes that saw his albums improbably sell millions. Gleason revived "The Honeymooners" in the latest incarnation of his variety series, albeit with the roles of the female characters were recast. Gone were the beloved Audrey Meadows who played Alice, the wife of Gleason's Ralph Kramden. So too was Joyce Randolph replaced as Trixie, wife of Ralph's best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney). In their place were Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean. Again, the "Honeymooners" sketches would vary in length but were a key ingredient in maintaining Gleason's high ratings.
The Time/Life release showcases "The Honeymooners" in three of the episodes. Gleason, like Howard Hawks, was unapologetic about recycling plots from his earlier works. Thus, one of the "Honeymooners" sketches is a loose remake of an episode from the 1950s in which Ralph mistakes a dog's dire health report from a veterinarian for his own diagnosis. The sketches are reasonably funny but the recasting of they key roles of the wives simply doesn't work very well, as we are so used to seeing Meadows and Randolph in these roles. Also, the cramped Kramden apartment looks cavernous on a Miami soundstage in color. The rest of the variety show episodes follow a pattern: Gleason is introduced and strolls on stage, dressed to the nines and looking like a million bucks. He chain smokes cigarettes as he jokes with the audience, then participates in bantering with his first guest. On these programs, Red Buttons appears in three of these opening acts with Gleason. Other guests include Frankie Avalon singing a kitschy version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", Milton Berle in a long, belabored comedy bit with Gleason that seems endless and unfunny, Phil Silvers in a rare stand-up appearance, future "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, Morey Amsterdam, Jan Murray, and, most amusingly, Nipsey Russell and an impossibly young George Carlin. The humor is clean and mainstream. Despite the tumultuous political situation going on during this period, there are just a few lightweight cracks about outgoing President Johnson and incoming President Nixon. The most politically incorrect jokes pertain to Gleason's penchant for self-deprecating remarks about his girth Today, he wouldn't be allowed to refer to himself as fat, but would probably have to say he's "vertically challenged." The episodes don't have consistent running times because the famed June Taylor Dancers, who performed on every show, are nowhere to be found, presumably due to rights issues- although they are mentioned in every introduction. The quality of the episodes is very good and one is impressed to realize just how few commercials viewers were subjected to in the good old days. Today, a show seems to consist primarily of ads with a few breaks for entertainment content. Although much of the humor in this set is rather dated and predictable, it is admittedly irresistible to watch all these great talents at various stages of their careers. We don't have variety shows any more in the traditional sense and we certainly don't have anyone of the stature of Jackie Gleason, who was a true "Man for All Seasons".
The late Joe Sarno was a pioneer in the "art" of producing, writing and directing New York sexploitation films. What set Sarno apart from many of his peers is that he attempted to bring a degree of integrity to his work by providing reasonably compelling story lines. This was especially true in the 1960s when the mainstreaming of adult films was becoming the norm in big cities, even as rural America was seemingly in a frenzy to do battle with the people who made them. Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of one of Sarno's most ambitious projects, "Red Roses of Passion". Filmed in New York in late 1966, the film had a checkered theatrical release over the next couple of years. The B&W film is unusual for adult fare of the era because it delves into a plot that centers on the supernatural. Carla (Patricia McNair) is a rebellious young woman who is living with her cousin and aunt. She is bored to death by her aunt's conservative lifestyle and her cousin's plain vanilla boyfriend, who is always held up as the epitome of the responsible man to have in your life. Carla certainly wants a man in her life...seemingly any man but each time she sneaks a potential lover back to her room, her aunt thwarts her plans for an erotic evening. Carla's friend Enid convinces her to visit a fortune teller she has been frequenting, Martha. Carla complies and is suitably impressed when Martha is able to divulge personal information about Carla she could not possibly have known otherwise. Still, Martha is a strange one: humorless, dominating and demanding. Carla realizes that Martha is the mistress of the Cult of Pan, an erotic secret society that meets to engage in sex rites. A group of young women don see-through lingerie and indulge in all sorts of exotic rituals culminating in sipping "The Wine of Pan" and rubbing roses on each other. The combination of the two rituals brings the women to orgasmic pleasure before they offer themselves to "Pan"- who is, in reality, Martha's creepy brother who hides behind a curtain until it's time to preside over an orgy in which he is the only male. When no other women are around, Pan considers his own sister to be fair game.
In a scenario worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode, Carla asks Martha if she can do anything to mitigate her aunt and cousin's prudish behavior. Martha instructs her to put some drops of Pan's Wine into their tea, which she does. Soon, a mysterious messenger arrives delivering a single rose to her aunt, who immediately begins rubbing it all over her body in a sex-crazed frenzy. Her daughter is appalled- until she gets the urge to do the same. Before long, the women are bonafide nymphomaniacs. Worse, they compete with each other to seduce the delivery man, who is, in fact, Pan. At one point mom and daughter engage in a rolling cat fight, clad only in their bras and panties. Before long they are having threesomes with men and trawling the back alleys to have sex with any available male. The action spills over back into their home where orgies become regular occurrences in their living room, giving an all new meaning to what a shag rug really means. Carla, meanwhile, is suffering pangs of guilt. She tells Martha she never meant to ruin the women's lives and pleads to have the spell broken. Martha said she can do so- but only if Carla agrees to be one of Pan's sex slaves forever.
After falling under Pan's spell, mother and daughter are compelled to compete with each other for lovers.
"Red Roses of Passion" isn't a hardcore sex film but it's content was pretty edgy for 1966- especially with scenes of mom and daughter both seducing the same lover (even "The Graduate"'s Benjamin didn't manage that with Mrs Robinson and her daughter at the same time.) The Satanic aspect of the script makes for a genuinely entertaining experience, thanks in no small part to the crisp cinematography of Anthony Lover (that's his real name. Honest.) One must view a film like this in context. Sarno had virtually no money, no professional actors and had to confine most of the shooting to interiors because the complications of filming on the streets of New York were too fraught with difficulties. Some of the performances are predictably amateurish but others are surprisingly effective. Sarno kills plenty of time by lingering too long on some of the rituals of the scantily clad women flaying each other with single stem roses but in the aggregate the movie is an impressive achievement. I should also mention that the music (not credited) also adds to the atmosphere with a strain that sounds similar to "The Third Man Theme" used sporadically to good effect.
The only bonus feature is a video interview with Sarno biographer and friend Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of interesting detail about Sarno's prolific career and the early days of shooting adult films in New York.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent and it's too bad Sarno isn't around to enjoy seeing a first class presentation of his impressive "B" movie.
This is a limited edition of only 2,000 units. Click here to order from Amazon.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Raymond Benson
"Pray for Rosemary's Baby..."
tag line for Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic is an example of brilliant
marketing.Until it was created,
Paramount’s head of the studio, Robert Evans, admits not knowing how to sell
the picture.Yes, it’s a horror film,
but not like anything we’ve seen.Yes,
it’s produced by William Castle, the schlock-meister who was famous for B-movie
scare flicks utilizing gimmicks such as the selling of insurance policies in
the theater lobby for patrons who feared they’d be scared to death.But the film is also an ingenious thriller
outside of the horror genre; a crime story, in many ways, about a cult that
drugs and rapes a woman for fiendish purposes.The subject is taken seriously, despite an undercurrent of dark
humor.It was also very adult and frank
for its time, and it had the potential to offend some audiences.Indeed, how does one sell that in the late
sixties?The tag line intrigued enough
people that it worked, for Rosemary’s
Baby was a hit and the picture still resonates today.
was Polanski’s first American film, and it remains an essential entry in his oeuvre.His early trademark style was doing a Hitchcock but taking it a few
steps farther into more bizarre, creepy-crawly, and supernatural territory.That’s on full display in Rosemary’s Baby.We’d had devil movies before, but nothing as
realistically-portrayed as this one.It
certainly held the reign of Satan movies until The Exorcist came along five years later.In my book, it’s the better of the two.AFI is well justified in naming Rosemary’s Baby in their “Top Thrills”
top ten list.
brilliantly directed and written, a good deal of credit for the success of the
film goes to the excellent cast.Mia
Farrow has never been better as Rosemary.John Cassavetes is dead-on as the frustrated actor/husband who literally
makes a deal with the devil.Ruth
Gordon, the multiple award winner for the picture, is a revelation.She brings much of the necessary comic relief
to the proceedings, for the film is an exemplary model of tension-building to a
usual, the Criterion Collection does a magnificent job.Polanski approved the new, restored digital
transfer, and it looks marvelous. Extras include a new documentary featuring
interviews with Polanski, Farrow, and Robert Evans.Original novel author Ira Levin is showcased
in a 1997 radio interview and original drawings and other prose in the enclosed
booklet.Also of interest is a
feature-length documentary about the film’s talented jazz composer, Krzysztof
John Gavin, a long-time Hollywood star who gravitated into a career in politics, has died at age 86 following some bouts with ill health. Gavin, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, entered the acting profession in the mid-1950s, an era in which Hollywood studios were looking for beefcake type leading men. Gavin fit the bill with his handsome looks and impressive physique. It wasn't long before he was scoring prominent roles in major films such as "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" and "Imitation of Life". Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the heroic leading man in his 1960 "Psycho" and he was seen on screen the same year playing Julius Caesar in "Spartacus". Despite his good looks and competent acting skills, however, the major roles began to dry up. Gavin would still score some prominent parts in major productions like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" but most of his leading roles were increasingly found in "B" movies and low-budget European films. Gavin seemed to land a major break when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman signed him to play James Bond following George Lazenby's departure from the series after only one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969. The plan was for Gavin to star in the next two 007 films, "Diamonds are Forever" and "Live and Let Die". However, United Artists head of production David Picker had second thoughts about the deal and against all odds convinced Sean Connery to return to the role for "Diamonds are Forever". When Connery made it clear he had no interest in continuing in the role beyond the one film, the producers bypassed Gavin again and offered Roger Moore the role of Bond in "Live and Let Die".
Despite his near-miss with the Bond franchise, Gavin had a fascinating second career in the offing. He was partially of Mexican heritage and had followed U.S-Mexican political and trade relations closely. When Ronald Reagan took the office as President in 1981, he was impressed by Gavin's background and the fact that he had served for two years as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union that Reagan once served as president of. He appointed Gavin as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The move was met with derision in Mexico and America, with concerns being cited that Gavin's background as an actor meant he would simply be attractive window dressing instead of a legitimate diplomat. It mirrored concerns Reagan had to endure from critics who felt his career in Hollywood would make him a lightweight President. In his role as ambassador, Gavin was criticized by the Mexican government for his frequent absences from the country. He also caused stirs by calling on the government to crack down on the drug trade, corruption and the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. He was championed in conservative circles in America for doing so. He received high marks for some of his economic policies with Mexico even though he was still often a lightning rod for controversy. Gavin left politics in 1986 to enter private business, where he enjoyed considerable success. He is survived by his wife, actress Constance Towers, and children, stepchildren and grandchildren. For more click here.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Who would have imagined that amid the debris of over-produced super hero movies, Winston Churchill would emerge as a major figure in films released in 2017? The woefully underrated "Churchill" (click here for review) was first out of the box, chronicling the British Prime minister's tumultuous inner-grappling with the pending D-Day invasion, which he supported but dissented from Eisenhower and Montgomery as to where and when the great armada should land. (History happily proved his instincts wrong.) Brian Cox gave a magnificent portrayal of Churchill that was largely overlooked by critics and the public. Churchill's specter also looms largely over Best Picture nominee "Dunkirk", as it was he who ordered the evacuation of stranded British troops by an improvised "fleet" of private vessels, small and large. The second Churchill biopic, "Darkest Hour", has won raves for Joe Wright's direction, Anthony McCarten's script and the towering performance of Gary Oldman as Churchill. The role is one that any fine actor would relish but there are dangers in portraying the man, as the line between accuracy and playing a cartoon version is a thin one. Oldman succeeds brilliantly, capturing Churchill's many character flaws as well as his strengths. The movie confines itself to Churchill's uneasy ascension to being Prime Minister, a lifelong dream achieved under less-than-optimum circumstances. His successor, Neville Chamberlain (a superb Ronald Pickup, who bears an astonishing resemblance to the man) has been removed from office for failing to adequately stand up to Hitler's advances through Europe. (It was Chamberlain who had met with Hitler and proudly waved a meaningless treaty that promised "Peace in our time.) Churchill is no one's first choice to lead the nation in the coming struggle. He's regarded by his peers as temperamental, eccentric and questionable in terms of wisdom, with his disastrous WWI campaign at Gallipoli still haunting the nation. Furthermore, King George VI had little confidence in the decision to elevate Churchill to PM, but relented and gave approval only when it became clear that there was little choice.
The film traces Churchill's dilemma in those early days of the war. Things looked grim, indeed. Churchill knew it was essential for America to enter the conflict but, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation was in isolationist mode. In one of the most poignant scenes in "Darkest Hour", Churchill pleads over the phone with FDR for assistance, but the president explains his hands are tied by a congress that wants to remain neutral. The biggest crisis he faces is that France is rapidly falling to advancing German forces, leaving the cream of the British army stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk and awaiting annihilation. The movie painstakingly chronicles Churchill's inner struggles in dealing with the crisis. His first instincts are to resist until the end, giving his famous speech that the British people will fight on no matter where the enemy confronts them. However, he is under severe pressure from Chamberlain and Halifax to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, an alternative that disgusts him but which seems practical to Parliament. The film gains tension even though we know how it all played out in the end. Churchill comes up with a desperate plan to enlist every available ship in the private sector to form a mini armada across the Channel to rescue the stranded troops. Before the operation can be completed, however, Churchill begins to cave and consider the option of a peace plan. This is where the script goes off kilter with a completely fictional scene in which Churchill gets a sudden desire to read the will of the people about their resolve to fight on. He jumps out of his limousine and makes an impromptu ride on the London Underground, chatting with astonished passengers and being reassured they support his strategy not to negotiate with Hitler. The scene is emotionally moving, but preposterous and more than a bit corny. Making matters worse, Churchill is only supposed to be on the train for a single stop but the journey seems longer than the one experienced by the people traveling to Siberia in "Doctor Zhivago". Bolstered by the resolve of the public, Churchill walks straight in to Parliament and gives an impassioned speech that rallies friends and foes alike. His judgment is ratified by the ultimate success of the Dunkirk operation, which turned a bitter defeat into a triumph.
The historical hokum presented in "Darkest Hour" is frustrating because it undermines the entire film. Why create a scene that so simplifies history when the real life scenario was even more dramatic? Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the film aside from Oldman's superb performance. Every supporting actor delivers the goods, with Ben Mendelsohn particularly good as King George. Unfortunately, Kristin Scott Thomas is largely reduced to a figurehead as Churchill's wife Clemmie. In "Churchill', the character, played by Miranda Richardson, engaged in constant contentious situations with her husband, which mirrored their real-life marriage. In "Darkest Hour", Clemmie simply smiles a lot and reassures ol' Winnie that things will be just fine. Despite the film's flaws, "Darkest Hour" is an engaging and admirable effort that should be seen. It has many virtues aside from the fact that it's probably sent the sale of cigars soaring.
("Darkest Hour" is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture).
The Daily Mail has a fascinating feature that explores the film sets still standing in the desert region of Almeria, Spain, where countless movies were shot over the decades. Although the region is largely associated with the "Spaghetti Western" genre that came into full bloom in the 1960s with Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, many other major films were shot in the area. They include "Lawrence of Arabia", "Cleopatra", "Play Dirty", "100 Rifles", "El Condor" "How I Won the War", "Patton" and "The Hill", to name but a few. While some locations have faded due to abandonment and neglect, others are still thriving and host hoards of film-crazy tourists.
a film that’s been in public domain for decades and is available on dozens of
different poor-quality DVD labels and free to download from Internet, it’s
somewhat surprising that The Criterion Collection would pull out the stops to
offer an undoubtedly pricier option to own the movie with this lavish 2-disk
extravaganza of gore. (There is a precedent, however—Criterion did the same
thing with the out-of-copyright Carnival
get me wrong… this is a very welcome roll-out. What’s unique about Criterion’s
excellent package is that it features a new 4K digital restoration of the
original theatrical release (not the previously go-to “30th
Anniversary Edition” released years ago and that had been recut a little), and
it’s supervised by co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R.
Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner (sadly, director George Romero is no
longer with us, or there’s no doubt he would have been involved). There’s also
a new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, that was supervised by Romero, and Gary Streiner, and presented
uncompressed. There are also two separate audio commentaries from 1994
featuring Romero, Russo, actor Judith O’Dea, and others.
this means is that you’ll be viewing the most pristine, best-sounding,
razor-sharp edition of Night of the
Living Dead that you’ve ever seen.
you don’t know the film, where have you been? It’s one of the most iconic
low-budget, independently-produced horror films ever made. The shoestring
budget was $114,000, and Romero utilized unknown stage actors, as well as
extras from nearby Evans City, Pennsylvania, where the exteriors were shot. It
basically kick-started the “walking dead” genre, although that term and the
word “zombie” is never used in the movie. They’re referred to as “ghouls.”
1968, the picture was ground-breaking, daring, and controversial. Many critics
trashed it for being too gory, even though it’s in black-and-white. Some
countries banned it. Released just prior to when the MPAA ratings were unveiled
in the USA, it was exhibited unadulterated to kids at a Saturday matinee—which
most likely provided a lifelong set of nightmares for these poor individuals.
After the ratings were instituted, the film was rated “X” for some time, until
eventually this was downgraded to “R.”
envelope-pushing aspect was the casting of African-American Duane Jones as the lead. This was unheard-of in those days
unless it was a Sidney Poitier Hollywood movie. This gave the film a
not-so-subtle subtext about racism, since Jones is battling all-white ghouls as
well as his all-white fellow survivors trapped in an abandoned house. Romero
always said he didn’t intend it that way—he cast Jones simply because he “gave
the best audition.”
story is simple—due to radioactive fallout from a satellite that exploded in
space, the dead are rising and feasting on the living. It’s a national
emergency. A small group of very frightened and often irrational men and women,
and one young teenaged girl, are holed-up in a farmhouse while the ghouls spend
the run-time of the movie trying to get at them.
yes, it’s scary, suspenseful, and contains many scenes daring you not to turn
your head away.
release contains a treasure trove of supplements. The crown jewel of these is
the early 16mm work print edit of the film, originally titled Night of Anubis. There are several new
features, including interviews with directors Guillermo Del Toro, Robert
Rodriguez, and Frank Darabont about the movie, of John Russo discussing the
genesis of the picture at the industrial film company where the filmmakers were
working, and pieces with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner. Particularly
interesting are the new interviews with some the ghoul-extras as they are
today, a piece on the film’s style, and—particularly instructional for film
students—a documentary on how Romero and team turned low-budget inadequacies
into assets. There are archival interviews with Romero and actor Judith O’Dea,
and others. An audio interview with the late Duane Jones is exceptionally
poignant and enlightening. Then there are the trailers, the radio spots, the TV
spots, and an essay in the booklet by critic Stuart Klawans.
again, The Criterion Collection has rolled out a red carpet, this time for
living dead people, and the results are outstanding. Highly recommended.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as an interview with the late Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
Kino Lorber has released a DVD of the acclaimed 2014 German documentary "From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses", based on the book by Siegfried Kracauer and directed and written by Rudiger Suchsland. The film traces cinematic achievements during Germany's brief fling with democracy between the two world wars. In the aftermath of the nation's disastrous defeat in WWI, the Weimar Republic was established, bringing democratic reforms to the country. It was a tumultuous period. Germany was virtually bankrupt after the war and the Allies, particularly France and England, soaked the nation with onerous damages that made it seem almost impossible for the country to ever recover. A dual-class system arose with those who were economically well-off and those who were the working class tradesmen and women who would toil for long hours often under inhumane conditions just to survive day-to-day. It was during this troubled era that German cinema rose to grand heights with a new generation of filmmakers who advanced the medium from being one of mere entertainment to being a reflection of social problems and values. For the first time, the impoverished lower classes were being championed. Ultimately, things began to turn around and a middle class emerged but fate was to intervene. A banking crisis and massive inflation, combined with the shock effects of the 1929 Great Depression, took its toll on the workers. Socialist and communist filmmakers made stirring movies that advocated a rising of the masses in protest, much as Russia had done in 1917. Meanwhile, the rich remained largely unaffected and Berlin became the center of a creative renaissance the likes of which modern Europe had never experienced. The city drew millions of visitors from around the world to revel in the new-found freedoms. Seemingly everyone was partying and there were major achievements in the theater and film. Progressive values were reflected in those films, as Germany was now a society in which females were suddenly liberated to live lifestyles that would have previously been considered Hedonistic. Homosexuality was out of the closet and gays and lesbians could live openly. The new freedoms would not last for long, however. The economic turbulence reflected by "the masses" would cause the population to veer to the hard right and National Socialism. The rise of Hitler would result in the repression of artistic freedoms and being gay meant imprisonment or death. The tumultuous era was chronicled by Christopher Isherwood in his "Berlin Stories", which, in turn, would form the basis of "Cabaret".
Rudiger Suchsland's remarkable documentary (German language, English sub-titles) chronicles the rise and fall of the one brief shining moment in which such talents as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, Robert Siodmak and others revolutionized cinema and having it emerge as a major art form. The documentary affords us generous samples of the kinds of eye-popping visuals that are even more impressive today, given how primitive the tools were that these directors had to work with. Movies suddenly dealt with realistic issues, often in surrealistic ways. Some of the movies proved prescient regarding the fate that was in store for Germany. "Metropolis" chronicled the angry rise of oppressed masses in a futuristic society while "M"- ostensibly a crime thriller about the hunt for a serial killer of children- displayed brutish justice meted out by gangs who put the accused on trial in kangaroo courts. Not all cinematic fare was grim during this era, however. Hollywood-style musicals became popular and there emerged a new genre that was distinctly German: the "Mountain Films", natured-based stories that capitalized on the nation's vast beauty and the obsession with physical fitness. With the rise of National Socialism, many of the most talented German filmmakers saw the writing on the wall and emigrated to America, where they had long, fruitful careers. When Hitler assumed power, he engaged in the same tactics dictators and would-be dictators follow today: attacking and later controlling the free press and then turning the media over to propagandists who immediately quashed the great cinematic achievements of the Weimar era. Now films would reflect the state-run point of view and would be used to suppress and oppress society's "undesirables". The documentary only briefly covers the ascendancy of Hitler and his henchmen, instead concentrating on the movies made in the Weimar years. It's a remarkable film that serves not only as warning about the fragility of freedom and democracy, but also as a vehicle to experience these great works of art, most of which are fortunately available on home video.
The Kino Lorber release has an excellent transfer and contains the trailer for the documentary.
The following news items were found in The Hollywood Reporter on January 24, 1968:
Director Peter Yates, assistant director Tim Zinneman, cameraman Bill Fraker and several key crew operators to San Francisco for final pre-production on Warner-Seven Arts' Bullitt
Lee Marvin will star in Monte Walsh, based on the Jack Schafer novel. Marvin will reportedly receive $1 million against 10% of the gross.
Sammy Davis Jr. set to portray a key figure in the Rhythm of Life musical number in Universal's roadshow production of Sweet Charity. Assignment marks the first screen song and dance role Davis has played since he appeared in Porgy and Bess. (Note: this was not true. Davis performed song and dance numbers in the Rat Pack films Oceans Eleven and Robin and the Seven Hoods-Ed.)
David Karp yesterday turned in the first draft screenplay of Viva Che!, 20th -Fox's forthcoming drama based on the life of revolutionist Ernesto (Che) Guevara. (The film was released under the title Che!- Ed.)
MGM has set an April starting date for the King Brothers production of Heaven With a Gun, a big scale western starring Glenn Ford to be shot at the Culver City studio and on location.
MGM's The Dirty Dozen rolls into its seventh consecutive month of performances in Los Angeles this week when it moves to the Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard.
Director James Goldstone has set May 1 for start of filming on his next Universal feature, Winning starrig Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Picture was originally slated to begin production in March, but start date has been pushed back to accomodate Newman, currently editing A Jest of God which he directed for Warner Seven-Arts. (A Jest of God was released under the title Rachel, Rachel- Ed.)
James Caan getting his choice of roles after appearing in Games
John Wayne used to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day before his operation; now he chews tobacco.
Richard Burton and Audrey Hepburn rumored to appear in Song of Norway in 1969. (They didn't- Ed.)
Premature Burial (1962) is the third of Roger Corman’s eight
film cycle of Technicolor extravaganzas loosely based on the writings of the
legendary masters of literary mysteries Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.Corman had previously successfully partnered
with Samuel J. Arkoff and James Nicholson of American International Pictures, the
trio having mutually enjoyed a tidy profit on their relatively modest
investment on two earlier Poe efforts, Fall
of the House of Usher (1960) and The
Pit and the Pendulum (1961).Corman
and the producers would eventually come to loggerheads regarding a fair and
equitable split of the The Pit and the
Pendulum box-office receipts – a not unforeseeable dispute as Arkoff,
Nicholson and Corman were all notorious for their penny-pinching proclivities.
In Corman’s recollection both Usher
and Pendulum brought in nearly two
million each in rentals on a “negative cost of some $200,000.”Corman was rankled by AIP’s tough contract clauses
so, as a true independent filmmaker, decided to finance his third Poe adaptation
through Pathé Lab who, in Corman’s own words, had “helped back some AIP
productions and did their print work.”
This time around Hollywood’s most industrious maverick would
lose his gambit.Upon learning of
Corman’s brash decision to leave the fold, AIP chose to leverage some economic
muscle.They contacted Pathé and threatened
to pull all of the company’s subsequent lab work from them should the deal with
Corman proceed.Arkoff and Nicholson then
brazenly and effectively bought out Pathé’s interest in Corman’s new project, this
time a liberal retelling of Poe’s short story of 1844, The Premature Burial.
Premature Burial is a visually stunning film and a worthy
successor to Corman’s two earlier efforts.There’s absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be as all three films share
several key behind-the-camera talents.The
most notable returnee is Director of Photography Floyd Crosby, on hand for his
third atmospheric rendering of a Poe film.This time around he works in perfect tandem with the Goth styling’s of
set designer/art director Daniel Haller.There are also some fresh faces on set as well.Film editor Ronald Sinclair took the cutting
reins from Anthony Carras on Poe film no. 3, with the lush orchestrations of
Ronald Stein replacing the more avant-garde and jazzy styling of Les Baxter.Corman’s assistant director on this new
project was a young and ambitious transplant from the east coast, Francis Ford
The single most crucial element missing from The Premature Burial is, of course, the
most obvious: Vincent Price.Stories
vary on Price’s non-participation in the project.Corman recollects that, upon learning he was
about to go rogue, “AIP, aware of my intentions, locked Vincent into an
exclusive contract.”Other film
historians discount this, noting that Price’s three film contract with AIP had already
ended with The Pit and the Pendulum.Price and his wife took off for Europe in the
spring of 1961 where he was to appear in two Italian peplums – a genre all the
rage in 1961.Though Milland turns in a
worthy, professional performance as the emotionally wrought and self-haunted Guy
Carrell in The Premature Burial, he
wasn’t able to capture the elegant, self-tortured mania that Vincent Price
easily brought to similar roles.When The Premature Burial brought in only
half the rentals following its release in the spring of 1962 – this extreme
financial fall-off despite having enjoyed the same budget as the two earlier
Poe adaptations - AIP wisely chose to bring Price back into the fold.The independent Price was happy to return as
he was offered a long-term, non-exclusive contract by AIP, thereby allowing him
to keep his options open.
Lorber has released Mario Bava’s “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” (1970) in a
handsome, restored Blu-ray edition as part of its extensive “Mario Bava
Collection.”The disc will please
devotees of the late Italian director, whose wide range of genre work is
evident in this and the fifteen other Blu-rays that Kino Lorber has released in
its series, from the celebrated Gothic trappings of “Black Sunday” (1960) to
the Bond-era burlesque of “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” (1966).Bava is revered by his enthusiasts as one of
the pre-eminent directors of horror and giallo in the 1960s Italian cinema, but
like other workaday filmmakers in the busy European studios of the time, he
made pretty much every kind of picture there was to make, riding successive
surges of popularity for horror, sword-and-toga epics, westerns, thrillers, and
sex comedies. “Roy Colt and Winchester
Jack” was the third of Bava’s three Italian Westerns -- a genre that paid the
bills, but one that Bava wasn’t especially fond of, as Tim Lucas notes in his
audio commentary for the Blu-ray.Of
Bava’s approach to “Roy Colt,” Lucas relates: “On the first day of shooting,
when he learned that no one was particularly enamored of the script, Bava threw
his copy into the nearest mud puddle and said, ‘Screw it, let’s have fun
the film, Roy (Brett Halsey) and Jack (Charles Southwood) are leaders of an
outlaw gang.The two partners split up
when Roy decides to try his fortune on the right side of the law.Going straight, he pins on a sheriff’s badge
and agrees to retrieve a cache of buried gold for Samuel (Giorgio Gargiullo), a
devious banker.In the meantime, Jack
continues to rob stages and saves a pretty Indian woman, Manila (Marilu Tolo),
from bounty hunters after she kills her abusive husband.Manila encourages Jack’s romantic advances
but shrewdly charges for her favors.Another outlaw, the Reverend (Teodoro Corra), follows the trail of
Samuel’s gold, and the storyline eventually settles into a familiar Spaghetti
Western pattern.The three rivals --
Roy, Jack, and the Reverend, with Manila as a fourth wild card -- alternately
help and double-cross each other to reach the promised riches first.
commentary suggests that “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” began as a
straightforward action script by Mario di Nardo, and then turned into a comedy
when Bava suggested that he and the actors “have fun instead.”Bava’s decision to send up his material may
have been partially influenced by the success of 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid,” but it also coincided with a fundamental change in the genre
itself.With the success of another 1970
Italian Western, Enzo Barboni’s “Trinity Is My Name,” the genre began to skew
from violent, sometimes operatic stories of revenge and betrayal to lowbrow
farces that were geared (it’s said) to the tastes of working-class audiences in
the poorer sections of Italian cities and towns.The staple elements of these Spaghetti
lampoons included slapstick brawls, rather cruel visual jokes ridiculing
physical and mental infirmities, childish sexual innuendo, and infantile
delight in gastric embarrassments.Dubbed prints of Barboni’s movie, its sequel, “Trinity Is Still My
Name,” and other comedy Spaghettis traveled overseas to drive-ins and
small-town theaters in the U.S., arguably preparing the way for Mel Brooks‘
wildly popular, fart-laden Western parody, “Blazing Saddles,” in 1974.“Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” incorporates
the usual characteristics of the comedy Spaghettis, notably in a rudely
gratuitous scene built around a gunslinger’s extreme facial and verbal
tics.More sophisticated audiences are
likely to squirm, but at that, thanks to Bava’s sure visual sense and a capable
cast, his film is easier to bear than most Spaghetti farces.Pictures like “It Can Be Done, Amigo” (1972),
“Life Is Tough, Eh Providence” (1972), “The Crazy Bunch” (1974), and “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975) are guaranteed to try the souls of all but
the most dedicated genre fans.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” features a
superlative 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative.Other extras include the original Italian
voice track with English subtitles, a partial English track, and the
aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas with a wealth of information about the
film, Bava, and Italian cinema in general.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
This year is a special anniversary for fans of classic film
& British comedy as it’s 60 years since the first classic Carry On
production, “Carry On Sergeant”, was released in 1958.
The Carry On films have their own distinct style that is
totally unique, beloved by many, and an important part of Britain’s comedy, film,
and cultural heritage, and 2018 marks 60 years since the first Carry On film.
"Carry On Sergeant" laid the groundwork for the
most prolific British film series (yes, more than James Bond). Without this
successful first film, there simply wouldn’t have been all the films that
followed in its path.
British film company Anglo Amalgamated distributed the first
12 Carry On films starting with "Carry On Sergeant" in 1958 and
ending with the much-loved Hammer Horror parody "Carry On Screaming"
To celebrate the British comedies, Art & Hue has created
a stylish pop art collection featuring the classic films and their stars.
Along with the classic film posters, Sid James, Kenneth
Williams, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, and Barbara Windsor (Dame
Babs) have all been transformed into pop art icons by Art & Hue, in a
choice of three sizes and 16 colours.
Blue Underground’s double-feature Blu Ray issue of Code 7… Victim 5 and Mozambique is a generous release considering
the company chose to simultaneously issue both films as standalone DVDs.Both films are among the earliest big screen
efforts of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers.Both were adapted from Tower’s own
semi-original scenarios (under his usual pseudonym of “Peter Welbeck”) and both
were penned by the Australian screenwriter Peter Yeldham with British director Robert
Lynn at the helm.
Both men had been working in television and, like Towers,
were now gingerly testing the waters of the international movie business.The films, modest thrillers financed by
Tower’s UK Company “Towers of London,” nonetheless share a continental roster
of technicians and actors.The films are
serviceably entertaining as thrillers, but are most ambitious in conveying a
jet-setting ‘60s ambiance.The fact that
Towers brought his international crew to southern Africa to film is the most
notable feature of both efforts.
“Africa is changing,” the ruthless drug smuggler Da Silva
sighs to a shady Arabian client in Mozambique
(1964).“The best days are
gone.”Indeed they were… or soon would
be.Just as location shooting was being
completed on this fictional thriller set in the tiny, East African province of
Mozambique, a coalition of real-life indigenous anti-colonialists and communist
guerilla fighters were combining to upset centuries-long Portuguese rule.As a decade-long bloody civil war would soon
follow in the wake of the filming of this Technicolor/Technoscope drama, it’s unlikely
that any subsequent team of filmmakers from British or continental Europe would
be warmly welcomed in the years going forward.
The South African locations of this disc’s companion film
Code 7… Victim 5 are cosmopolitan and
glittering in presentation; conversely the photography of the plaintive Mozambique
countryside captures a far more sober and undeveloped region.Aside from breathless images capturing
beautiful oceanside views - sightlines unblemished by tourist constructions -
the countryside of Mozambique circa
1963 is revealed as poor and agricultural.
The two films offered on this disc do share similarities
aside from their exotic African settings.Not the least of these is that both films open with very public
assassinations of characters mostly tangential to the film’s plotlines.Code 7
opens with the daylight murder – by a team of menacing clown-faced assassins –
during Capetown’s New Year’s Eve Carnival parade.Mozambique
opens similarly with a mysterious assassination atop the winding, ancient stone
stairwells of old Lisbon.
American actor Steve Cochran plays Brad Webster, a down-on-his-luck Cessna
pilot.We first encounter Webster as he
trawls about Lisbon’s bleak waterfront in search of employment.His blacklisting as a pilot-for-hire is
understandable as his previous assignment didn’t go all that well.Both of his passengers were killed in a crash
of his piloted small craft, leaving Webster the lone survivor.
For better or worse, his fortunes change following a
desperate, alcohol fueled fight in a waterfront saloon.Faced with a probable sixty day jail sentence
for vagrancy and public fisticuffs, Lisbon authorities mysteriously offer Webster
an alternative.A certain Colonel Valdez
residing in Mozambique is looking to hire a small-craft pilot on the down
low.The police offer Webster one-way airfare
from Lisbon to their colonial territory should he choose to accept the deal.
He does.Once aboard
his Lufthansa flight to Mozambique,
the sweating heavily, PTSD-afflicted Webster meets the comely blond Christina
(Vivi Bach).Christina too,
coincidentally, was also sent a one-way ticket at the behest of the mysterious
Colonel Valdez.So begins an improbable
romance between this middle-aged and craggy American and a beautiful young
woman in her twenties.In truth, actor
Cochran is perhaps a bit too long-in-the-tooth to pull off this charade as a
dashing hero and paramour.
It has been reported that Steven Spielberg will remake the classic Oscar winning 1961 film adaptation of the Broadway smash "West Side Story". Not many facts are known except that Spielberg is currently working with a casting director to find young talent for the starring roles. The original version won ten Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Wise). For more click here.
In the opening scene of Republic Pictures “The Man Who
Died Twice,” (1950) a car drives along a mountain road and two cops in a patrol
car remark that it’s nightclub owner T. J. Brennon (Don Megowan) passing by.
Next thing you know the car goes off a cliff and explodes in flames. Then a
woman (Vera Ralston) gets out of a cab in front of her apartment building and
looks up at the balcony where two men are fighting. She shrieks in horror as
one of the men comes plummeting down and lands on the sidewalk at her feet. Splat!
She watches as the other man climbs up a fire escape ladder to the roof. But
not before a third man appears on the balcony and the guy on the fire escape
shoots him. Vera Ralston faints from all the excitement and falls on the
pavement next to the fallen corpse.
The cops show up almost immediately, revealing that the
two dead men are members of the narcotics squad and the unconscious woman (whom
they just leave lying there on the concrete until the ambulance arrives) is
none other than Lynn Brennon, wife, now widow, of T. J. Brennon, the guy who
went over the cliff. All this in just the first few minutes of this low-budget
70-minute crime movie directed at a frantic pace by Joe Kane, veteran of
countless Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies., and penned by Richard C. Sarafian,
who would later be best known as the director of “Vanishing Point” (1971), the
ultimate car-chase movie.
“The Man Who Died Twice” is a pulpy story that borrows a
lot from other crime and gangster movies of that era. It’s a coincidence, I
suppose, that this film was released the same week as Don Siegel’s “The
Lineup,” but the similarities in the two films are pretty striking. The
McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everybody’s after) in both films is a missing
stash of heroin. In both films, dangerous drug dealers want their drugs back
and will stop at nothing to get them. In both films two of the more interesting
characters are a couple of gunsels who arrive from out of town to get the goods
back for their employers and in both films the heroin is stuffed inside a doll.
It makes you wonder if Serafian and Stirling Silliphant, who wrote “The Lineup,”
had some kind of competition going to see who could turn out the better script
using the same story elements. Silliphant wins that one hands down.
The gunsels In “The Lineup,” are played by Eli Wallach
and Robert Keith. Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan handle the roles of Hart and
Santoni in “The Man Who Died Twice.” While not quite on a level with Wallach
and Keith, they do a good job as the two killers. Milton is particularly nasty in
a casual kind of way in a scene in their hotel room when he hears a cat meowing
outside the door. He goes out in the hall, picks it up and puts out on the
window sill and then shuts the window. Karlan yells, “Hey, what’s the matter
with you. It’s three stories down.” Milton keeps calling his wife back home only to be disturbed by the fact
that she’s never there when he calls. He tells Karlan that one time a bartender
pal gave him the number of a hot babe, if he ever wanted a good time. Half-drunk
he put the number in his pocket and didn’t look at it until the next day and
found it was his home phone number!
Vera Ralston as Lynn Brennon was only 35 at the time this
film was made but she looks tired and bored. She was an ice skating star back
in her native Czechoslovakia when Republic Studios chief Herbert J. Yates
brought her to the U.S. and tried to make her a star. She made over 20 features
for Republic but despite Yates’s efforts audiences did not really accept her, and
she quit acting after “The Man Who Died Twice.”
The leading man in this B-movie extravaganza is Rod
Cameron, who has about as much charisma as a side of beef. Better known for his
westerns, he plays Bill Brennon, T.J.’s brother, who had sent him a telegram
asking for help, which was unusual because he and Bill hadn’t spoken in 15
years. But you know how it is, when your brother sends you a wire saying he’s
in trouble, you gotta do something about it. Right?
McQueen and the Mustang graced the cover of Cinema Retro's first issue.
For the iconic car chase in the 1968 classic "Bullitt", two Mustangs were used. The first was known as "The Hero Car" because it was the one driven by Steve McQueen in the iconic film. The second car was known as "The Jumper Car" because it was utilized for the amazing stunt scenes. The latter car was located last year in a Mexican junkyard. However, the vehicle driven by McQueen remained elusive until recently when it was revealed that it had been purchased by a New Jersey insurance executive in 1974 for a mere $6,000. McQueen made two attempts to buy it from the owner, Robert Kiernan, but the offers were refused. Kiernan as he drove the Mustang locally until 1980, putting 30,000 miles on the odometer. Kiernan died in 2014 and the car, which had been kept in the family garage, has been restored by the family and is estimated to be worth millions today. For more click here and here.
Kino Lorber has released the 1968 espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" on Blu-ray. The film, which was titled "Nobody Runs Forever" in it's UK release, is significant in that it paired two charismatic leading men- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer- in a low-key but well-scripted tale that sustains interest throughout. The film is based on John Cleary's novel and presents some offbeat and refreshing elements for a spy movie made at the height of the James Bond-inspired phenomenon. Most refreshingly, the two protagonists are Australians, a rare instance in which heroes from "Down Under" are showcased in a non-Australian movie of the era. Taylor plays Scobie Malone, a tough-as-nails police officer in the Northern Territory who is content to fulfill his job of keeping order in the Outback and arresting small-time trouble makers. He is reluctantly assigned to travel to London for an unusual mission: to bring back the Australian High Commissioner, Sir James Quentin (Plummer) and have him stand trial on charges that he murdered his first wife many years before. When Scobie arrives in London, he realizes that the timing of his mission could not be more sensitive: Quentin is hosting an important diplomatic conference with African leaders in the hope of finalizing a major treaty that could affect the balance of power in the African continent. The world is watching as Quentin tries to iron out details to make the treaty a reality. When Scobie informs him of his assignment, Quentin seems curiously nonplussed about the nature of the charges against him- but he is quite concerned by the fact that his sudden absence from the conference would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. He imposes on Scobie to give him a few additional days to sort out the final details on the treaty. Scobie takes an instant liking to Quentin and his adoring wife Sheila (Lilli Palmer), and agrees with the request. Scobie's cover story to Sheila is that he is simply acting as a bodyguard to Quentin, but she seems to suspect his real motive is more nefarious. When an attempt is made on Quentin's life, Scobie is instrumental in thwarting it. The two men ultimately bond as friends and Scobie begins to suspect that Quentin could not have possibly murdered his first wife. Why then is the Australian government convinced he had? More pressing is solving the problem of who is behind the assassination attempt on Quentin and who in his inner circle is a mole. It appears a shadowy organization feels threatened by the chances of the treaty succeeding- and wants to thwart it by killing Quentin.
"The High Commissioner" is a film that plays best if not examined in detail because there are plenty of loosely-developed plot points. It's never quite explained why Scobie was taken all the way from the Outback for this particular assignment. Surely the government could have found one equally capable law enforcement officer who was a bit more accessible. It also becomes clear that the plot to thwart the conference is just the "MacGuffin" in that it's never thoroughly explained who the bad guys are or why they feel threatened by Quentin's peace conference. Nor do we learn precisely what is being negotiated at the conference. What we do have are some intriguing characters including two of the most glamorous actresses of the period: Daliah Lavi, in full dangerous femme fatale mode as a seductive enemy agent and Camilla Sparv as Quentin's loyal secretary who holds a not-so-secret crush on him. While on assignment, Scobie allows himself to be seduced by Lavi (who wouldn't?) but remains chaste with Sparvi's character, so as to not impede his professional standing with the Quentins. The film moves along at a brisk pace under the direction of Ralph Thomas, who had recently helmed two other spy flicks- "Deadlier Than the Male" and "Agent 8 3/4" (aka "Hot Enough for June". ) Thomas showcases Taylor's rugged good looks by giving him Bondian opportunities to wear tuxedos and engage in plenty of mayhem. The film's climax takes place at Wimbledon, where the villains intend to assassinate Quentin by using a gun placed inside a television camera. The murder charges against Quentin come to a head in an emotional discussion Scobie has with Sheila, though her explanation for his innocence seems rather weak. The film builds to a fiery and explosive final scene that is undermined only shoddy special effects.
The best aspect of "The High Commissioner" is that it provides a good role for Rod Taylor, one of the most charismatic leading men of the 1960s. Taylor was usually cast as American or British characters because he had mastered both accents, but here he is allowed to talk like a native Australian, which, in fact, he was. Equally at home in posh cocktail parties or flailing away at the bad guys, Taylor was the epitome of the charming tough guy. Plummer also gets an interesting role though the character is never fully developed and plays second-fiddle to Taylor's. Nevertheless, he embellishes the much-besieged Quentin with quiet dignity even when narrowly dodging bombs and bullets. Lilli Palmer is especially poignant as Quentin's ever-faithful but long-suffering wife who is harboring a terrible secret that figures in the explosive climax. There is also an impressive supporting cast that includes Clive Revill as a butler whose allegiance may be in question, Calvin Lockhart as a handsome international man of mystery and an unrecognizable, black-haired Derren Nesbitt as a villain. The lush locations begin in Australia before moving to London, where director Thomas capitalizes on them. Interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual fine standards and includes the original trailer. Recommended.
Vintage trade photo of Paul Newman receiving the World Film Favorite award from the Hollywood Foreign Press, which is today known as the association that gives out the Golden Globe awards. Newman accepted the honor in March, 1964. In other movie news that week, it was reported that Becket was doing standing room only business in its engagement at the Loews State Theatre in New York and Patricia Neal and Paula Prentiss were signed as female leads for Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way. (If you enjoy vintage movie news such as this, don't miss our That Was the Week That Was column in every issue of Cinema Retro).
Michael Coate of The Digital Bits web site once again compiles the thoughts, memories and analysis of several James Bond scholars, including Cinema Retro's own Lee Pfeiffer, this time to analyze the controversial legacy of the 1967 all-star spoof version of "Casino Royale". Love it or loathe it, the movie occupies a unique place in the 007 film canon. Click here to read.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is an
often-quoted line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And if director
Walter Hill had stuck to that idea, his “Wild Bill” (1995) would be a great
movie, instead of a near miss. Unfortunately, he mixed legend with pure hogwash
and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of scenes connected only by the fact
that James Butler Hickok (Jeff Bridges) hated it when somebody messed with his
You know a director intends to make a “serious” western
when he starts the film out by showing the central character’s funeral. “Wild
Bill” begins not only with a funeral, but a funeral shot in high-contrast,
grainy black and white. In fact the film keeps switching from color to black
and white for numerous flash back scenes, depicting “events” from Bill’s early
life, some of which are complete fiction.
Attending the funeral are his on-again-off-again
sweetheart Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin) and Charlie Prince (John Hurt), an
Englishman who has drifted out West for the excitement. Prince narrates the
story. The first act of “Wild Bill” is the most interesting section of the
film—a series of famous episodes from Hickok’s life shown very briefly in quick
tableau. We see Bill shoot it out with half a dozen buffalo hunters intent on
robbing him of his hides. The fight is triggered when he steps up to the bar
and one of them lifts the hat off his head. He turns and smashes him with the
back of his hand and next thing you know, guns are blazing. When it’s over and
the buffalo hunters are all dead Bill goes back to the bar and says: “They need
to understand. You never touch a man’s hat.”
Another scene depicts the famous incident in Abilene, Kansas
when Hickok as sheriff tried to stop roundup revelers from tearing up the town
and accidentally killed his own deputy. (For a nice treatment of that true
incident check out the half-hour “Gunsmoke” episode called “The Roundup,” with
Matt Dillon killing an old friend who had substituted for an ailing Chester). Another
scene shows Hickok giving an embarrassing performance in Buffalo Bill Cody’s
(Keith Carradine) Wild West show.
Problems with the story really start soon after Hickok
arrives in Deadwood Gulch, Dakota Territory, where, as we all know, it’s just a
matter of time before he stares down at those aces and eights (the Dead Man’s Hand),
and gets shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. In Deadwood he’s reunited
with his old flame Calamity, Charlie Prince and an old traveling companion named
California Joe (James Gammon). The reunion with Calamity is a sad one, however.
Bill no longer has any interest in rekindling the flame. In another flashback
we learn he is going blind from glaucoma that was probably caused by syphilis. Their
relationship is a portrait of sadness, anger and frustration.
Hill’s screenplay is based on Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood”
(the basis of the HBO series) and “Fathers and Sons,” a play by Thomas Babe. Where
it goes wrong is in the fabrication that Jack McCall (David Arquette) was the
son of a woman named Susannah Moore (Diane Ladd), whom Hickok had loved and abandoned.
McCall wants to kill Hickok out of revenge for his cold-hearted treatment of
his mother. There are more flashback scenes showing what happened between Bill
and Susannah, but none of it ever happened in real life. It makes for
interesting, if sentimental, drama but it’s unnecessary and only muddles the
story. The fact is that McCall was just a tinhorn drunk who had lost all his money
to Wild Bill in a poker game and was humiliated when Bill took pity on him and
gave him some money to get something to eat. The next day he came back in the
saloon in a drunken rage, called him a name and shot him from behind. McCall,
in one of two trials that were held on the case tried to argue that Wild Bill
had killed his younger brother, but the truth of that allegation was never
With the untimely death of Peter Sellers in 1980, his long-time collaborator, writer/director Blake Edwards decided to create a "tribute" to his iconic star of their "Pink Panther" series by filming not just one, but two sequels simultaneously. The decision was not without controversy as virtually everyone in the film industry was aware of the fact that the two men had long ago come to loathe each other but continued to work together because of the success of the "Panther" franchise. The first sequel, "Trail of the Pink Panther" was a cut-and-paste job incorporating clips from Sellers' original films as Inspector Jacques Clouseau along with unseen outtakes that were cobbled together to form a plot in which Clouseau goes inexplicably missing in the second half of the film (only because Edwards had run out of outtakes.) The film sets the premise for the second sequel, "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983) which was designed to introduce a suitable replacement for the Sellers/Clouseau persona in the form of a new character. Edwards originally approached then red-hot Dudley Moore, who declined to be tied to a film franchise. He then went in the opposite direction and hired Ted Wass, a veteran of the TV sitcom "Soap", to take on the challenge of establishing himself as Sellers' successor. It was a tall order especially for a young actor who had never made a feature film and who was completely ignorant of the process. Still, it represented an offer he couldn't refuse. The script picks up where "Trail" leaves off with the world galvanized by the authorities' attempts to find what happened to "the world's greatest detective". Leading the frantic investigation is French Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), Clouseau's long-suffering boss and a klutz in his own right. Dreyfus is secretly thrilled that Clouseau has gone missing and may be dead but he's forced to oversee the search efforts. In a scene that seems inspired by "Our Man Flint", he utilizes a computer to come up with the name of the sleuth who is most qualified to take on the mission. Through a quirk, the resulting answer puzzles everyone: it turns out to be Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass), an inept New York City police officer who, like Clouseau, has gained a reputation for efficiency despite his constant bumbling. Sleigh's own harried boss is thrilled to send him packing off to Paris to take on the investigation. Sleigh's first meeting with Dreyfus quickly crushes the latter's hopes that he might finally be working in alliance with a capable detective. The simple act of crossing room and shaking Dreyfus's hand results in Sleigh stumbling and knocking the French lawman out of a window, resulting in being hospitalized, as he had so often been due to Clouseau's ineptness. Lom's comic timing was always a major asset to the series and he's in top form here.
The story then finds Sleigh on hunt across exotic European locations in search of Clouseau. It's a journey that rapidly becomes wearying despite Edwards' attempts to liven the proceedings with frequent scenes of slapstick humor. Sleigh meets up with Cato (Burt Kwouk), Sellers' longtime man servant, who has now established their apartment as a museum in honor of his employer, replete with wax figurines representing Clouseau's greatest disguises. The scene seems more like another desperate gimmick on the part of Edwards to summon the presence of Sellers, even if its in the form of a wax model. Along the way, Sleigh also encounters characters from the early "Panther" films including those played by David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine (all of whom filmed their reunion scenes for "Trail" with the understanding that some of the footage would be utilized in "Curse"). The assemblage of these notable stars is one of the few inspired aspects of "Curse" and it's a joy to see them together, even though the ailing Niven had to be re-voiced by impressionist Rich Little, who did a very commendable job of it. A gangster played by Robert Loggia is introduced into the convoluted plot that takes on an "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" aspect and another character from Clouseau's past, Prof. Balls makes a couple of brief appearances to little effect despite the fact that the role is played once again by the great comedic second banana Harvey Korman. The proceedings drag on through flat and completely predictable sight gags, some of which go on interminably (i.e Sleigh in drag as an undercover cop in New York and later using a blow-up sex doll in an attempt to convince bystanders she is his girlfriend. There's also a seemingly endless fight scene in which Sleigh takes on the baddies with the help of a sexy female martial arts expert). What is most shocking about "Curse" is how the timing is off on almost every comedic set-up, which is rather surprising given the fact that Edwards originated the series and professed to care about it immensely. It would be easy to blame Ted Wass for the film's failure but in reality the young star gamely performs his required duties with admirable skill. However, he's hampered by a poorly-developed character and Edwards seemed convinced that the mere intention to name him as Sellers' successor would immediately win over audiences. However, Wass's Sgt. Sleigh is merely a klutz with none of the fabled eccentricities of his predecessor. The fact that he wears over-sized eyeglasses that make him look remarkably like Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent only adds to his burden. The film only comes alive in the final act with an extended and clever cameo appearance by Roger Moore (amusingly billed as "Turk Thrust II", a reference to Bryan Forbes' screen credit in "A Shot in the Dark"), who was simultaneously filming the James Bond movie "Octopussy" on another sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Moore's deft comedic timing steals the entire latter part of the film and left this viewer pondering that, had he been the star of the production, the movie might not have been so ill-fated. It must be said, however, that the film does boast one other positive aspect: the traditional, wonderfully animated opening credits that make it all the more apparent how frustrating movies seem today in the sense that they usually eschew opening credits all together. An entire art form is vanishing from the industry in the urge to "cut to the chase" and get immediately into the story.
Blake Edwards originally envisioned that the Ted Wass series of "Panther" films would be moved to New York City, partly to accommodate MGM's insistence that the franchise become more budget-oriented. The unpromising prospects that scenario afforded were circumvented by the failure of the movie. But the problems didn't end there. Edwards accused MGM of intentionally low-balling the film's release and not marketing it aggressively enough. The suit was settled out of court in 1988. The title "Curse of the Pink Panther"s seemed eerily prophetic for all concerned.
Woody Allen’s 1990 film Alice after
all these years brought on many emotions. I instruct the students in my Film
History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that one must
always judge a film within the context of when it was released. These days,
it’s difficult to do so with the formidable filmography of Woody Allen. Can one
put aside the context of when this film
was released? Alice was made while the
writer/director’s relationship with his star, Mia Farrow, was supposedly still rosy,
less than a couple of years before the familial scandal erupted that has dogged
the filmmaker ever since. Can one ignore the presence—throughout the film—of
young Dylan Farrow, playing the role
of Alice’s daughter? Or, ironically, the small role played by James Toback in the film? (Readers
familiar with what’s been going on in Hollywood lately will understand that
the same time, Cinema Retro’s
editor-in-chief recently said, “What, are we to pretend that Allen’s entire
career never existed? Our job is to evaluate the artistry, not the personal
morality. Otherwise we’d quickly run out of people to write about.”
I couldn’t help examining Alice as an
omniscient behind-the-scenes spectator. Oddly, I’ve reviewed several new
Blu-ray releases of Allen’s movies for Cinema
Retro over the past few years, and I’ve never felt this kind of discomfort.
That doesn’t mean I can’t critique the movie’s merits, it’s just that Woody
Allen’s oeuvre now comes with baggage.
One must simply unpack it and look at what’s there on the screen.
Alice is actually a pretty
good entry in the director’s work. Considering that he’s made nearly fifty
films, this one probably belongs in the lower half of the list in ranking, but
certainly nowhere near the bottom. It’s a solid 2-1/2 or 3-star effort (out of
4), mainly due to Mia Farrow’s excellent performance as the mousy but rich
Manhattan housewife who desperately wants to change her life—but doesn’t know
is married to wealthy, but stuffy, Doug (William Hurt), who has a high-powered
job. This leaves Alice to tend to her two small children (when they’re not
cared for by nannies and maids), hang out with her socialite friends, and get
her nails and hair done. It’s a very superficial life until she meets Joe (Joe
Mantegna), a divorced father, at her children’s school. Another hard left turn
is when Alice visits a mysterious Chinese doctor (Keye Luke), who hypnotizes
her, gives her strange herbs to take, and pushes her into a fantasy world that
turns her own upside down.
many ways, Alice is a companion piece
to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985),
another of Allen’s more whimsical pieces that deals with fanciful situations.
In Alice, Farrow’s character can
become invisible and spy on people, she can meet up with her deceased first
boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) and fly over the city with him, and she can recreate
childhood memories involving her parents and sister. It’s these elements that
make Alice a fun, if fluffy, romp. It
is also in many ways somewhat an homage to Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965), in which a
bored housewife ventures into fantasy sequences to escape the doldrums of her
philandering husband and to better her own life.
owns the movie. For most of it, Alice is timid, nervous, and hesitant to try
new things—but Farrow infuses these qualities with a great deal of charm. She
literally lights up the screen with beauty and a winning pathos. Then there are
the moments when she breaks out of this “shell”—such as when one of the
doctor’s herbs makes her suggestive and flirtatious, notched up to eleven. Her seduction scene with Joe in
the school waiting area is not only hilarious, but her transformation is masterful. One comes away from it
thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know Mia Farrow could do that!” (Farrow was nominated
for a Golden Globe—and she won the Best Actress award from the National Board
of Review—for her performance.)
Actor Peter Wyngarde passed away last Monday at age 90. Although not well known in America, Wyngarde was a very popular actor in the UK thanks to his roles in the iconic TV series "Department S" and "Jason King". Wyngarde also guest starred in such iconic British shows as "The Avengers", " The Saint" and "The Prisoner", in which he appeared as Number Two in the episode "Checkmate". He also appeared in the cult horror film "Burn, Witch, Burn" and made an eerie silent appearance as the ghostly Peter Quint in the classic 1963 film "The Innocents". For more on his career, click here.
Chances are you've never heard of "Hollow Creek" (or "A Haunting in Hollow Creek", per the UK release title). It's a low-budget ($500,000) indie film that was made under the auspices of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre, an admirable venture that encourages film industry professionals to mentor promising younger talents in the hopes that they will be able to create inventive new feature films. "Hollow Creek" was written by an alumnus of the Institute, director Guisela Moro, who also has the female lead. The film was co-written by the male star, Steve Daron. It's an ambitious crime thriller by way of supernatural elements that looks more expensive and polished than its budget might indicate. The film, which sat on a shelf for three years, was released in 2016 and was recently made available on DVD and Amazon Prime streaming service. The plot starts off in a leisurely manner: bestselling horror novel writer Blake Blackman (Daron) arrives at his agent's vacation home located in the deep woods of rural West Virginia. He's accompanied by Angelica Santoro (Moro), who we initially presume to be his wife. Blackman is there to write his next novel but he's secretly harboring an obstacle: a severe case of writer's block. Not helping matters are the sexual distractions afforded him by Angelica, who we learn is actually his mistress. Blackman's marriage has been fragile for some time and he relishes the time spent with Angelica- but their bliss will be short-lived. While Blackman is preoccupied by trying to fill blank pages for his next book, Angelica becomes unsettled by some eerie and inexplicable events including indications someone or something is lurking in the nearby woods. She also has a brief glimpse of the ghostly apparition of a young boy. She later learns that the area has been on edge for the last few years due to the unsolved disappearances of three boys. When she thinks she recognizes one of them in the back seat of a dilapidated old vehicle, she gives chase in true Lois Lane fashion. She discovers that two of the boys have been held captive and literally kept in cages in a hidden chamber in house owned and occupied by a crazy, sadistic couple. Angelica, who has just learned she is three months pregnant with Blackman's child, is captured and imprisoned with the expectation that her child will belong to her insane captors. Meanwhile, the frantic Blackman's life begins to unravel. He's released from contract by his publishing house, his wife files for divorce and due to circumstantial evidence, he is the police department's prime suspect in Angelica's disappearance. Nevertheless, he doggedly pursues finding out what happened to Angelica and rescuing her if he can.
Were it not for some of the more sordid elements, "Hollow Creek" would have fit well into the ABC Movie of the Week productions that were telecast on TV in the 1970s. That's meant as a compliment, not a knock. The film isn't without flaws. It has a primary plot loophole in that, when Angelica goes missing, it's never explained what happened to her SUV, which was parked near the villain's house. Additionally, the film's chaotic but exciting conclusion incorporates elements of the supernatural that seem somewhat superfluous since the film succeeds on the level of being a compelling real-life crime saga. Nevertheless, it's an extraordinarily accomplished work for the aspiring director and her cast. Moro certainly doesn't give herself an easy time of it. In addition to having written and directed "Hollow Creek", she puts her character through the ringer, having to endure torture and death threats from her sadistic captors. Although the film has unsettling aspects to it, Moro refreshingly doesn't bleed into slasher territory and shows restraint when it comes to crossing the line into showing repulsive imagery. She gives a terrific performance, as does Steve Daron. The supporting cast is also exceptional with not a false note to be found. Burt Reynolds makes a brief but effective appearance in an obvious gesture to lend the credibility of his name to the film. The movie is impressively scored and shot, though cinematographer Jon Schellenger can't resist being a bit gimmicky by utilizing a distracting technique of filming some scenes inexplicably in a garish blue hue. The finale packs in some cliches and predictable action scenes but there is an imaginative and moving finale.
The FilmRise DVD boasts an excellent transfer, but frustratingly there are no extras. It would have been interesting to hear the perspectives of the principals regarding how the film was made. "Hollow Creek" is an impressive, often spellbinding thriller. If there's any justice, we should be hearing more from Guisela Moro and Steve Daron.
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
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Attention, Cinerama fans! The Museum of Modern Art in New York City will present a lecture about the history of the format on Sunday, January 21. Here is the official press release:
Cinerama was a screening system created on Long Island
and introduced to audiences on Broadway in the 1940s; its unparalleled success
launched the widescreen revolution of the 1950s. The Cinerama, Inc., digital
restoration team of David Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch will discuss the history
of the Cinerama and the Cinemiracle process, including its motion pictures, and
the unique problems they faced in restoring their three-strip format legacy
There are countless film
noirs meriting Blu-ray treatment, but perhaps none so deserving as T-Men (1947), arguably the best of the
documentary-style noirs of the late 1940s, distinguished by its uncompromising
tone, stylish direction and brilliant cinematography. While many individuals
contributed to its success, the film was above all a triumph of creative
collaboration between two of Hollywood’s greatest visual artists: director
Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. The two capitalized on the film’s
narrative—government agents infiltrating a counterfeiting ring in an underworld
of sudden cruelty and shifting allegiances—to push the noir/crime film to new
extremes of stylized violence and subjective intensity.
Although better known for
his dark psychological westerns of the 1950s, Mann honed his craft in the even
darker waters of forties film noir. Like many directors of his generation, Mann
cut his teeth in the demanding arena of B movies, churning out a dozen
bottom-of-the-bill programmers for Republic, RKO and PRC between 1942-1947. Although
he made several musicals during this period, Mann was much more at home
directing noirish films like The Great
Flamarion (1945) and Strange
Impersonation (1946), which gave scope to his thematic obsession with conflicted,
desperate characters navigating through a world of moral ambivalence and
Mann was the thinking man’s
director par excellence, equally adept at staging dynamic set pieces as probing
his protagonists’ inner responses to narrative stimuli, usually in the same
scene. His sensitivity to characters better able to cope with physical rather
than psychological roadblocks made him right at home in the existential
uncertainties of noir. Relentless pacing, kinetic visuals and an intense focus
on the emotional and psychological dissonance of his characters were among his
hallmarks. T-Men, made for Eagle Lion
Films, was the fullest realization of his aesthetic to date.
Helping Mann transfer his
dark vision to the screen was legendary cinematographer John Alton, whose
chiaroscuro photography recalled the glory days of German film expressionism.
The Hungarian-born Alton was among the most daring and experimental of
Hollywood cameramen. His work sometimes bordered on the abstract, but only when
it served the needs of the story. Often stuck with directors unreceptive to his
ideas, his pairing with the open-minded Mann was a match made in noir heaven. Alton’s shadowy, half-lit urban
environments provide the perfect visual correlative to Mann’s thematic emphasis
on paranoia and emotional crisis. Known for his minimal use of lights—he got
better effects with a handful of lights than cameramen who used dozens—Alton
succinctly summed up his photographic philosophy: “It’s not what you light,
it’s what you don’t light.”
marked the appearance of another significant creative partner for Mann in the
person of John C. Higgins, who had penned the director’s previous film, Railroaded (1947). Higgins was one of noir’s
more prolific and dependable screenwriters. In addition to the five films he did
with Mann, he also scripted the iconic noirs Shield for Murder (1954) and Big
House, U.S.A. (1955). While T-Men’s
accolades are typically reserved for Alton’s chiaroscuro and Mann’s
nerve-shredding mise en scène, Higgins’ tough, pungent dialog shouldn’t be
overlooked. He was arguably the first quality screenwriter Mann worked with.
Higgins’ tight scenario
centers on treasury agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro
(Alfred Ryder), who go undercover to break up a counterfeiting operation working
out of Detroit and Los Angeles. Posing as members of a once-prominent Detroit
gang (O’Brien adopting the moniker Vannie Harrigan, Genaro becoming Tony
Galvani), the pair gain conditional access to the organization through a
low-level middleman called The Schemer (Wallace Ford), offering as bait an
engraving plate of exceptional quality. Having fallen from favor with his
employers, the Schemer hopes to redeem himself by brokering a deal between his
felonious new pals and the organization’s top brass. The latter are interested
but wary, and as negotiations proceed keep O’Brien and Genaro under close surveillance
by the gang’s enforcer Moxie (Charles McGraw).
Steve McQueen with co-star Tuesday Weld on location in New Orleans in this rare behind the scenes photo for "The Cincinnati Kid". The film was directed by Norman Jewison, who stepped in after Sam Peckinpah had been fired after incurring artistic differences with producer Martin Ransohoff.
Warner Archive has released the little-remembered 1969 adventure film Kenner. Although we'll watch Brown in virtually anything, this film is pretty much a klunky, under-scripted misfire, directed by Steve Sekely, who specialized in B movies. (His greatest success was Day of the Triffids.) Brown plays the title role of Roy Kenner, a rugged, no-nonsense seafarer who arrives in Bombay ostensibly to locate an old friend who has gone missing. In fact, he's trying to track down a ruthless criminal named Jordan (Charles Horvath), a one-time partner whose double crossing ways resulted in the death of Kenner's best friend. The film's misguided premise is to show the touchy-feely side of Brown when virtually no one went to his films looking for his touchy-feely side. Within minutes of arriving in Bombay, he encounters Saji (Ricky Cordell), an adorable child of the streets who longs to see his American father. His devoted mother Anasuya (Madlyn Rhue) keeps a terrible secret from him: she is a prostitute who doesn't even know who fathered the boy. Saji helps Kenner escape harm at the hands of an angry mob and, as a result, the two become inseparable. Kenner romances Anasuya, but both mother and son become unwitting participants in Kenner's dangerous attempts to track down Jordan. The film meanders from one chase to another, and director Sekely does the best he can to capitalize on the exotic locations in old Bombay and provides a few exciting, well-staged chase scenes. However. everyone seems to realize they are participating in a bottom-of-the-double-feature production. Brown is uncharacteristically bland, phoning in his performance and performing the requisite action sequences with something less than zeal. There is one surprising plot development that does pack some emotional impact, but the film is, in the overall sense, a misfire. The former footballer-turned-action star was overexposed at the time, with six movies released between 1968-1969 though he would later redeem himself with more successful films than this. The supporting cast of Kenner contributes some admirable performances, with old hand Robert Coote as a devious English aristocrat providing a few interesting moments. However, the performance of Charles Horvath as the villain is poor enough to make viewers grateful that he has limited screen time. Unless you have an urgent desire to see what Bombay looked like in 1969, this Brown title will be only for the actor's hard-core fans. The DVD contains the original trailer, which plays up the exotic locations and action elements, while pointedly avoiding the attempts to soft-soap Brown's character.
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The blurb above ran on November 15, 1963 in the Film Daily trade magazine. Carl Foreman's expensive and ambitious WWII drama "The Victors" was screened in advance for war correspondents. The film was a dark and cynical look at the experiences of everyday soldiers in the WWII European campaign. An impressive cast of established stars and up-and-coming talent appeared in the film but the movie had a tortured history. Released during the Christmas season, the movie's downbeat, anti-war message didn't resonate with audiences. The movie was severely cut with different length versions appearing in various areas of the globe. The full director's cut has never been reconstructed. Additionally, the movie has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the USA, though it is available in the UK and European markets. Even in a truncated version, Foreman's film still packs a punch.
(The fascinating story behind the making of "The Victors" is covered in detail in Cinema Retro's tribute to films of WWII issue. Click here to order)
it would be a wait of 15 months before it hit British screens, Phenomena –
Dario Argento’s ninth feature release – was first unveiled to Italian audiences
early in 1985. It had been three years since Tenebrae (which despite stiff
competition is my favourite Argento) and at the time Phenomena was broadly
considered his weakest offering. It’s narrative core, which concerns a young
girl communing with insects in order to identify a maniac killer, was indisputably
a shade bananas (rather apt given the significant involvement of a vengeful
primate!), but for me it was by no means his least interesting film to that
point and considering the mixed bag of cinematic fodder bearing his name that’s
appeared in the years since, I’d not hesitate to cite it as one of his more
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous movie star,
arrives at The Richard Wagner International School for Girls in Switzerland
where she learns from her new roommate that a number of girls in the area have
gone missing, the possible victims of a serial killer. Jennifer suffers from somnambulism
and one night she wakens to find herself lost in the woods, whereupon she
encounters a friendly chimpanzee which leads her to safety at the nearby home
of its owner, wheelchair-bound entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald
Pleasence). Jennifer is fascinated by insects and when she tells McGregor she’s
able to communicate with them telepathically the two become firm friends.
McGregor has been assisting police on the serial killer case in an advisory
capacity and believes that the corpses of the missing girls can be tracked down
by the Great Sarcophagus, a species of fly that can detect rotting flesh. He
duly convinces Jennifer she can help solve the case by using one that he has
captive to guide her to the refuge of the killer.
(with Franco Ferrini), produced and directed by Argento, it’s obvious from the
above précis that Phenomena is structured upon some pretty outré ideas. But
even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying, I applaud the man for
attempting to do something beyond playing safe and recycling the same old
giallo formula. Besides which, overlooking its inadequacies – not least of
which is a run-time that overstretches the narrative’s ability to fully engage –
there’s some really good stuff going on here.
of that run-time, if ever proof were needed that it’s possible to have too much
of a good thing then Phenomena is it. There exist three versions of the movie:
the 116-minute Italian cut, a 110-minute international edit, and an American
theatrical cut (retitled Creepers and which, at 83-minutes, had almost a third of
the Italian original’s run-time sheared off it); against all expectation it’s
the latter tightened-up version that arguably plays best.
I digress. The Swiss locations are breathtaking and in terms of set-up, Phenomena’s
opening sequence – which finds a young girl on a class trip into the mountains
being inadvertently left behind when the coach departs (they used to count us
aboard in my day!) – is terrific. The girl, played by his teenage daughter
Fiore, goes looking for help and happens across a chalet nestled in the
hillside where someone (or something!) tries to kill her. She flees but is
pursued by the grunting, scissor-wielding maniac to an observation platform
overlooking a waterfall. All the pieces are in place for the film’s first
murder sequence and with almost lascivious relish the camera observes a
stabbing, followed by a slo-mo backwards lurch through a plate glass window and
finally a decapitation. There’s graphic mayhem aplenty peppered throughout the
remainder of the movie (including a protracted wallow in a vile stew of rotting
cadavers), but for sheer style this opener is never quite matched.
Connelly was 14-years-old when she shot Phenomena and given that it was only
her second feature film appearance (following a small part in 1984’s Once Upon
a Time in America), it’s remarkable just how confidently she carries the film;
not only a budding beauty but already exhibiting the talent that would carry
her on to great acclaim (including an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) in the years
ahead. Donald Pleasence showed up in a fistful of Italian chillers of varied
worth during the 1980s and he’s as reliably entertaining as ever here, adopting
a Scottish accent as the academic whose closest chum is a chimp. Argento’s
long-time partner and go-to leading lady (cf. Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, Opera)
Daria Nicolodi delivers with elan, so too for that matter does gorgeous Flesh
for Frankenstein star Dalila Di Lazzaro, present as Jennifer’s chaperone and
school headmistress respectively. It’s good to see prolific player Patrick
Bauchau on hand too, although he’s a tad underused as the investigating police
inspector, very much relegated to the sidelines of the action.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were immortalized as big screen anti-heroes in Arthur Penn's 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde". However, as an article in the Daily Mail indicates, their string of notorious bank robberies and sometimes fatal shoot-outs led to them being media sensations in the 1930s- but also resulted in a rather miserable existence. The basics of the movie's screenplay kept most of the main facts historically accurate, but as you'll see from the article there was also plenty of artistic license as well. Unlike Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the real life Bonnie and Clyde were far from sex symbols. They did capture the imagination of the American public at a time when the country was grappling with depression from the Depression. It was an era in which the most notorious gangsters flourished, though all met inglorious demises, as did Bonnie and Clyde who were lured into a fatal ambush on a country road. The article presents a wealth of historical photographs of the couple as well as some morbid shots of their dead bodies, which were put on display as though they were carnival attractions. Also featured is a newly-found photograph of the couple embracing that has never been published before. Click here to read.
sports films are ubiquitous in the movie world today, this wasn’t always the
case. The ability of a sports story to
transcend its roots in a game and become a triumphant story of the human spirit
was arguably first done in the 1942 film The Pride of The Yankees. A new book
about this film came out in June of 2017 from Hachette Books, written by
Richard Sandomir: The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic. This work is an impressive look at not only the making of the
film, but also its cultural impact.
of The Yankees is an ultimate hero story: the immigrant son who has a natural
ability in a truly American past time only to be cut down in his prime by a
fatal disease. It may sound like a natural for the film studios to develop, but
as Sandomir points out in his book, this wasn’t always the case. Sam Goldwyn
had to be convinced to make a movie about baseball. What finally moved the
mogul to go ahead with the project was seeing film of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest
Man” speech on July 4, 1939 in Yankee stadium. The connection was with the
human side of the story, never with the sport.
reading the making of chapters of any book that discusses a film in detail,
it’s always interesting to see who emerges as the main characters in the story
behind the story. Since this film was about Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” ball
player takes center stage. His strong-willed, independent widow Eleanor
Twitchell is just as an important character, if in fact not more so than Gehrig
himself. As the author lays out, it is Eleanor who made sure that Lou’s memory
stayed alive after his death. Another star that emerges behind the scenes is
Paul Gallico. Although Gallico is best known for his later career as the author
of The Poseidon Adventure and other novels, he was a sports writer during the
1930s and as such became a chronicler of Lou Gehrig’s career. His 1941 book
about the athlete, Lou Gehrig: The Pride of The Yankees became the official
source material for the movie.
as the makers of the movie had to deal with the conundrum of trying to figure
out how much actual baseball to have in the film, the author of a book about a
baseball movie has to balance those two seemingly opposite entities. Sandomir
does a good job in striking just such a balance; the book is much more about
the movie and it’s impact than it is about America’s favorite pastime. This is
an impressive accomplishment when one realizes that the author was a sports
reporter for the New York Times for many years and must have had to resist the
impulse to discuss in heavy detail the intricacies of the sport. When reading
the book, one need only have a very basic knowledge of baseball, and even if a
reader doesn’t possess this information, they should take comfort in realizing
that they still probably know more about baseball than Samuel Goldwyn, the
producer of the movie.
Other sections of this book discuss Babe
Ruth’s career on film and playing himself in Pride; whether or not Gary Cooper,
a natural right hander, actually batted left handed in his baseball scenes or
if the filmmakers reversed the negative; the real life friction between
Gehrig’s widow and his mother and how this was tapered down for the film. An interesting later chapter describes Gary
Cooper on a USO tour in late 1943 in the South Pacific and, after a big demand
from the troops, re-created Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech to the best
of his memory.
The Pride of The Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary
Cooper, and The Making of a Classic is an excellent book and a great look at
the making of what may just be the greatest sports movie of all time.