actor, musician, Maxton Gig “Max” Beesley, Jr’s destiny as an actor was firmly
set when his mom was inspired by American, Academy Award® winning
actor Gig Young, in choosing her son’s middle name. Beesley, born and raised in his beloved
Manchester, England, was raised in a family steeped in the arts. His father, Max Beesley, Sr. is a venerable
jazz drummer and impressionist, and his mother Chris Marlowe was a jazz singer. His step-brother Jason Milligan is also an
actor and Jason’s wife Angela Griffin is an actress.
first, American audiences may not easily recognize Max Beesley’s name, but in
fact, many are far more familiar with his esteemed CV of work, which includes
numerous acclaimed acting roles in many stellar films, TV series, and also a
supreme music career, than they realize.
has garnered considerable praise and is most well known here in the States and
in the UK for his role as the unflappable Woody on all 3 seasons, (and now
filming Season 4) of the British black comedy, thriller TV series, “Mad Dogs”
which just premiered its third season June 4, 2013. The series is broadcast Tuesday nights at 9pm
on Britain’s SKY TV. U.S. and global
audiences can watch Episode 1 and new weekly episodes on SKY TV’s website at http://sky1.sky.com/sky1hd-shows/mad-dogs
also just co-starred in the nifty and thoroughly riveting indie crime thriller
film, “Pawn”, which was co-produced by the film’s star, actor Michael
Chiklis. “Pawn” was also helmed
by Chiklis’s own film production company,
Extravaganza Films, and was released direct to Blu-Ray and DVD on April 23,
2013. The film focuses on a seemingly
easy to pull off robbery by some small town hoods, (Beesley’s character Billy,
being one of the baddies) at an all night diner. But in actuality the details behind the heist
involve a delectable smorgasbord of intelligent, multi-layered, plot
complexities and jaw dropping twists. The job goes south quickly, escalating
into a tense hostage situation with dirty cops and crooks alike manipulating
and double crossing one another and the outcome. The unfolding events are told
from various different perspectives by the many characters, who recall different
key elements that reveal the many surprising and well thought out plot twists
and turns. Think “Roshomon” meets
Beesley is a prominent fixture across the pond in England via his many starring
turns on some of British TV’s biggest hit series, here in the States, many
people know of him and often first discover Beesley and his many stellar film
roles, as well as his sterling TV work and luminous musical talents, from his starring
role in the 2001 motion picture “Glitter” opposite Mariah Carey in her film
actor Beesley authentically and convincingly portrayed street smart New York
music producer and club DJ, Julian “Dice” Black, co-starring as Carey’s romantic
interest, who discovers and mentors the musical talents of Carey’s character,
Billie Frank. While the film was panned
by critics and fans alike at the time, Beesley’s gritty and charismatic
performance, however, was a stellar knockout and all but saved the film.
“Glitter”, has, and continues to attain, a growing, appreciative audience and
in retrospect holds up well as a very entertaining, dark, and realistic take on
the downsides of stardom and the music industry.
first garnered critical acclaim in the lead role on the 1997 BBC British TV mini-series
“The History Of Tom Jones: A Foundling”, which was broadcast here in the states
many diverse film roles reflect the multifaceted depth and range of his acting talents. He starred as Wullie Smith in director Mick
Davis’s inspiring and charming tale of a Scottish town’s two pub soccer teams
who play one another to settle an old grudge in 1999’s “The Match”. He’s worked with such prestigious indie, art
house directors as Mike Figgis, portraying Antonio in the offbeat and disturbing
2001 film “Hotel”, and with director Tamar Simon Hoffs, in the 2003 screen
adaptation of the award winning stage production “Red Roses and Petrol” which
won first prize at the Avignon Film Festival.
“Red Roses and Petrol”, Max starred opposite Malcolm McDowell to great acclaim as
the angry, damaged, rakish Johnny Doyle, attempting to come to terms with his
dysfunctional relationship with his family and his deceased father in this poignant
and raw character study.
worked with “Blade” and “The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman’s” cult director
Stephen Norrington, starring in the vividly dark, bleak, and shocking gothic
thriller, 2001’s “The Last Minute”. Beesley
also starred with Selma Blair in the 2001, emotionally charged drama and crime
thriller “Kill Me Later” as Charlie Anders. Max transformed into the tattooed baddie Luther, a member of the
Hellions biker gang and henchman to the Hellion’s leader Henry James played by
“The Fast & The Furious’s” own Matt Schulze in the 2004 action film “Torque”,
starring Martin Henderson and Ice Cube, and produced by Neal H. Moritz who has
produced all six of “The Fast and the Furious” films and which was also
produced by Brad Luff (who also co-produced “Pawn”).
become a lauded mainstay of the British TV airwaves starring on such hit shows
as “Bodies” from 2004 to 2006 as Dr. Rob Lake and on the post apocalyptic
science fiction series “Survivors” from 2008 to 2010 as the amoral and
remorseless Tom Price. U.S. fans will be
happy to know that Beesley also crossed the Atlantic pond, here to the States
to guest on an episode of “CSI” in 2011. But it was from 2006 to 2009, that Beesley starred in the role that
would make him a beloved icon on British television, as the roguish romancer
with a checkered past, yet utterly likable rapscallion, hotel general manager,
Charlie Edwards in “Hotel Babylon”.
before Beesley embarked on an esteemed acting career, he had already made his
name as a successful and talented musician. A gifted pianist, percussionist, and solo jazz artist, Max is also a songwriter,
producer, arranger, and film composer, (scoring two of the films he’s acted and
starred in, 2003’s “The Emperor’s Wife” and 2005’s “Her Name Is Carla”). He’s recorded, written for, produced, arranged, played, and toured
with Robbie Williams, Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Paul Weller, George
Michael, James Brown, The Brand New Heavies, Omar, Earth, Wind & Fire,
Jamiroquai, and many more. Max was a member of the jazz band Incognito, as
well as releasing several records with his own sparkling acid jazz project, Max
Beesley’s High Vibes.
Beesley’s creative path changed, when he was first bitten, or rather smitten,
by the acting bug in 1995 after renting director Martin Scorsese’s 1980 landmark
film “Raging Bull”. The young Beesley was blown away by Robert De Niro’s Oscar®
winning performance. Max’s immediate
dedication and commitment to his craft included his then taking time to study acting
in New York, honing his skills, then returning to England where his acting
career took off with his casting in 1997 in “The
History Of Tom Jones: A Foundling”,
and the rest as they say is history.
as Max and I were doing this interview, he had been cast in, and is now filming,
his first major role on American television, as new recurring character Stephen
Huntley in Season 3 of the USA Cable Television Network’s legal drama,
“Suits. Beesley’s character will be part
of the “British Invasion” of Attorneys involved in last Season 2’s merger of
law firm Pearson/Darby. Season 3 of
“Suits” premieres July 16, 2013 and airs Tuesday nights on the USA TV Network.
this interview, Max Beesley discusses how he was cast and prepared for his character
in “Pawn”. Max also expounds about his
own independent film project currently in development, “Mr. Goodnight”, which
he wrote, produced, and will star in, helmed under the auspices of his Los
Angeles based, film production company, Patricia Jean Films, Inc. Max also enthusiastically discusses what we
can expect in Season 3 of “Mad Dogs”, film composing, and the craft of acting.
Tall Texan (1953) (MMM-1974) was another low-budget B Western movie and starred
Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb and Marie Windsor. It was directed by Elmo Williams,
(the Oscar-winning editor of High Noon). The basis of The Tall Texan was a familiar
one, a collection of five travellers set out in a wagon through Comanche
territory. The group includes a tinhorn and his woman, a sheriff escorting an
accused murderer, and a sea captain. After a renegade Indian tells them about a
virgin gold field as thanks for saving his life, the group becomes fixated on
the gold and greed becomes their main objective. Bert Shefter, this time
working without his collaborator Paul Sawtell, took a thematic approach to this
rather rich sounding score. Shefter provides themes to several of the central
characters, including a menacing (if rather traditional) woodwind and native
drum rhythms for the Indians. Shefter also and makes good use of a couple of
traditional standards, Yankee Doodle Dandy can be heard, and is gently woven
into the fabric of Luther Adler’s character Joshua Tinnen. The composer also
introduces the old sea shanty Blow the Man Down which works surprisingly well as
a dramatic motif. So, is there anything that makes this stand out from any
other B movie western score of the time? Well, yes, actually there is. The Celesta
is an instrument that conjures up numerous magical memories. Today, it is
probably more associated with the Harry Potter themes or perhaps traditional
arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. However, Shefter
took its distinctive sound and applied it to the film’s silent character, the gold.
The Celesta was certainly an inspired choice of instrumentation by Mr Shefter.
If rousing western scores from the 50s are your thing, you are sure to enjoy
this nugget. Another excellent 20 page booklet (written by David Schecter) is
included with the CD.
fascinating collection from David Schecter’s Monstrous movie music continues to
reiterate their place in the soundtrack market. Their tireless efforts,
attention to detail and commitment to explore new genres, continue to feed our
high expectations. Check them out for yourself at: http://www.mmmrecordings.com/
Douglas Dunning, actor, producer,
film authority, radio show host of “How Do You View” and director of
acquisitions at Cinema Epoch, has acquired the rights to the following titles
for release on DVD:
“The Return of Captain Invincible”
(1983) with Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee, directed by Philippe Mora
“Hundra”, the 1984 Laurene Landon
“How Do You View” is the name of a
new Internet radio show hosted by Dunning. The show can be heard daily at 1:00 am, 5:30 am,
11:00 am & 5:00 pm Pacific Standard Time (that’s 4:00 am, 8:30 am, 2:00 pm,
and 8:00 pm to us on the Eastern Seaboard). It can be heard on the Prodigy Media Network. This week, Mr. Dunning interviews director
Richard Rush (pictured), best known for 1980’s The Stunt Man.
to listen to “How Do You View” at the respective times.
Retro movie lover Steven Thompson has put together a marvelous web site that pays tribute to his favorite year: 1966. It's hard to argue with his logic, especially if you were growing up then. The Beatles, James Bond, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., British invasion rock, great comic books, and so much more all at your fingertips. The site features vintage ads for movies, TV shows and products of the day, as well as vintage comic strips and film clips. Click here to view
On June 18 at 4:15 AM (EST), Turner Classic Movies (North America) will present the 1968 Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film How to Steal the World starring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll and Leslie Nielsen. The feature film was comprised of the two-part episodes titled The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, which represented the final broadcasts of the show in January, 1968. The film was not released theatrically in America, but was a hit in international markets. The TCM broadcast will be immediately followed by an MGM production short for the 1966 film Around the World Under the Sea starring David McCallum, Lloyd Bridges, Brian Kelly and Shirley Eaton.
Sacrifice (1959) (MMM-1973) starred David DaLie as Samson, an American hunter
on a safari in Guatemala. While tracking game, Samson encounters a strange
ceremony in which a young woman named Morena (Angelica Morales) is to be
sacrificed at the bidding of her father to appease the gods following a vicious
animal attack. Morena is able to escape, and Samson gives chase, hoping to
rescue her before the tribesmen can capture her and complete the ritual. Sound
like drivel? Well… you’d be right. So let’s waste little time and talk about
the finer side of Virgin Sacrifice, the team of Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. Sawtell
and Shefter are no strangers to Monstrous Movie Music soundtracks, with
previous releases including Kronos, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and The
Last Man on Earth. For collectors of Sawtell and Shefter, this rarely seen
exploitation film contains a rather unique and satisfying score from the pair.
Diverse and subjective in its approach, the score leads us through the beauty
and dangers of its Guatemalan jungle setting. The music is peppered with
expressive and melancholy cues. The film’s main title is both tranquil and
dramatic, before both male and female chanting is applied, perhaps in order to
remind us that this is a jungle movie. Tracks such as Medal of Death make
clever use of keyboard tricks (provided by Jack Cookerly’s ‘magic box’ organ)
and work to startling effect. Flittering clarinets and brooding flutes maintain
that the majority of score is designed to hold us in suspense whilst providing
a sense of mystery throughout. However, it is the use of Hammond organ that
really provides the pay-off, used sparingly in tracks such as Through the Cave,
it makes a wonderfully spooky touch. At 54 minutes, Virgin Sacrifice is a
generous score that benefits from some fine orchestration. Collectors of
Sawtell in particular, might well be reminded of his music from the Tarzan
films he wrote for RKO. Again, an excellent 20 page booklet provides a unique
and well researched written history of the production.
A long-standing award to STARZ Entertainment pertaining to rights to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series has been reduced on appeal. The case by STARZ against Lindsay Dunlap, who claimed to have obtained rights to the series from its creator Norman Felton, resulted in STARZ incurring costs for a planned video release of the show. That fell apart when Warner Brothers presented evidence that they owned video rights to the series. STARZ then sued Dunlap for damages and was awarded almost $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages. A judge has reduced that figure by half, eliminating the punitive damages but letting stand the compensatory damages of $1.5 million and asserting that Dunlap's claim of ownership of the series did not take into consideration Warner Brothers' rights. Warners ultimately released the entire series on DVD, as well as the spinoff The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and eight feature length films derived from the show. For more click here
Adam Ferrara with Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie. (Photo: Ken Regan/SHOWTIME)
By Eddy Friedfeld
Adam Ferrara used to fight fires with Denis Leary on Rescue Me. He now drives way too fast on Top Gear. This season he is trading witty banter and love
scenes with Edie Falco. As New York City
Police Sergeant Frank Verelli, his scenes with Falco are as funny and even hotter
than those with the crew of the fictional “62 Truck.”
the superb Showtime comedy drama about hospitals, addiction, friendship, and
family, with the former Carmella Soprano, the brilliant Edie Falco, leading a
magnificent cast and guest stars including Merritt
Wever, Paul Schulze, Dominic Fumusa, Anna Deavere Smith and Peter Facinelli, Bobby
Cannavale, Morris Chestnut, Stephen Wallem, Betty Gilpin, and Ferrara.
As the fifth
season wraps up this Sunday night, the show is still smart, tight, and
interesting and has just been renewed for a sixth season.
“When I got the
Nurse Jackie gig I called my Mom,” Ferrara said. “‘Ask Carmella if she got to keep the
jewelry,’ she told me.”
He commented on
the different energy on his new gig, responding to my observation that Rescue Me
was working with a baseball bat, versus Jackie where the comedy and drama
require a scalpel-like precision: “Rescue Me-was all percussion- every one banging away on their own
instruments. Jackie is an orchestra-
it’s all woodwind. The first day I got to
the Jackie set- there was a juicer. Rescue Me was a guy show. We
would smoke cigars. There was so much
smoke billowing out of Dennis Leary’s trailer one day it was like we were
electing a new pope!”
The Long Island
born actor always loved comedy. “I loved
The In-Laws, Animal House, Smokey and the Bandit, The Sunshine Boys, and
anything else by Neil Simon. When I was
growing up, I kept [Mel Brooks and Carl Reiners’] 2000 Year Old Man and George
Carlin and Richard Pryor albums under the mattress with the Playboy Magazines.”
He is a literate
and thoughtful comedian and performer- the more you studied in school, the
funnier you will think he is. And there
is a lot of thought that goes into the comedy and the drama.
“The comedy and
drama feed off each other. I studied
with Stephen Book. His approach to
breaking down a script is a technique called ‘purpose of scene,’ which helps
you become a better writer as a standup comedian. It lets you look at what the joke is
about. I’m a confessional comic, and a
lot of my material is scenes. I interact
with characters I create on stage in a standup capacity. I don’t have to get the laugh, one of the
other characters in the scene can get the laugh and it colors the presentation
of the standup in a particular way. It’s
about crafting the comedy.”
acting and hit a line, you can’t hit it the same way you hit it in
standup. In standup you’re winking at
the audience, in drama you’re connecting with the other person. I look at the audience as one person. In standup, you’re in control of the entire
process. In acting, you’re one person
who is part of a larger scene. You’re
serving your part of the whole. You can
play the scene the way you want, but you have to hit the story beats, you have
to react to the other characters and story points, and character
revelations. It’s like playing nine
ball, you gotta hit the balls in sequence.”
keenly aware of the challenge of mixing comedy and drama into a careful blend
that generates both laughter and pathos, and the risks of not getting it right: “In my Rescue Me training, just because the
words are done- doesn’t mean the scene is over. “Denis used to say- there’s no pop in this scene. He would yell: ‘Make me laugh, Ferrara!’”
When asked about
the challenge of being funny and poignant, he said: “You get the chance to be an actor, not just
carrying pipe. You’re not the wacky
neighbor walking in and saying ‘this was my toast!’”
‘trouble’ of doing the Jackie show- is watching Edie work. She is so amazing, she’s distracting. She can break your heart and piss your off
with just a look. I was just doing my
job. But people are talking about our chemistry.”
The challenge is
great for Frank, who despite their palpable chemistry, is still not fully aware
of the depths of Jackie’s complexity and addiction, which will hopefully be
developed next season.
“The Jackie set
is a happy house. It’s nice to create
with that kind of group. It’s a joyful
birthing process. Sometimes there’s
kicking and screaming, but we’re having a good time making it. Rescue Me was like that too. We laughed our asses off. When I came back after hiatus it was like we
never left. Denis created, wrote,
starred in it, and then sold it. After I
got the Jackie gig, I sent Denis an email thanking him for giving me a place to
learn. He sent me an email back that
said ‘Go f-yourself.’”
I pointed out
that most of Ferrara’s characters are working class and that the articulate and
educated Ferrara chooses a regional accent for most of his characters, the way Michael
Caine kept the Cockney accent because he wanted to preserve it. The earnestness, authenticity, and heroism of
his working class characters, including Frank Verelli, goes back to his Long
Island roots: “I know who this guy
is. I come from working class people. People who shower after work. When Frank has to take care of Jackie, I saw
my father in this character. He was full
of insight and advice. He said: “If you ever get jammed up, pay off your
car. They can never tow your house.’”
He recalled his
role in Definitely Maybe, where he co-starred with Ryan Reynolds (“I don’t care
where your mail is delivered, that is one handsome man,” comes the almost
involuntary joke). “I played a
professional character, but I lumbered when I walked and I put a pencil behind
my ear out of respect for my roots.”
He also talked
about his role on Top Gear, where he gets to drive the world’s most amazing
cars, his favorite being a Lamborghini Gallardo. “I did 180 and change- it tops out at 202
miles per hour.”
When asked how
much training he was given, he said: “They didn’t even ask to see my driver’s license! I did go to stunt school on my own. I trained with Danny Aiello III, God rest his
seasons of his two shows wrap, he will continue to develop a new one-man show-
a comedy drama about dealing with his father’s death from cancer.
lucky. I got the support. My Dad wanted to do a lot of things with his life
that he didn’t get to do. When I told my
Dad that I was thinking about being a comic, he said- do it now and give it
your best shot, before life gets complicated. I realized that he had unfulfilled dreams and he was encouraging me to
chase mine. When I got an Olive Garden
commercial I was unsure whether to take it. He said: ‘you can be an artist, you don’t have to be a starving
artist. Otherwise, go rent a loft and be
misunderstood. You have to eat.’ When he saw the restaurant, he said ‘no self-respecting
Italian is going to eat at a place with a window that big so someone can come
by and aim.’”
Retro Contributor Eddy Friedfeld teaches comedy and film history at NYU and
There were some terrific made for TV movies broadcast in the 1970s that have yet to see the light of day. Among them were the wonderful ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" broadcasts that often boasted first rate actors under the direction of up and coming talents like Steven Spielberg. For whatever reason, precious few of these shows have made their way to DVD. However, some TV movies of the era are slowly being released as burn-to-order releases. Among them is A Matter of Wife...and Death, a 1976 TV movie that can be ordered as one of Sony's new titles. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad...neither had I. Still, the film has Rod Taylor in a starring role, so that's good enough to merit any retro movie fan's attention. On the surface, the film seems to hold a good deal of promise, with Taylor playing the role of Shamus McCoy, an L.A. private eye. The role was originated by Burt Reynolds in the hit 1973 feature film Shamus. Although Taylor has the prerequisite good looks, charisma (and hairy chest), the McCoy of the TV movie bears little resemblance to the character played by Reynolds. In the theatrical feature, McCoy was a wise-cracking cynic who made jokes in the face of certain death (a la 007). Although Taylor certainly had the same ability, he is hobbled with a rather confusing script that doesn't allow him much playfulness. He lives in the standard sub-par apartment all private dicks have to reside in (the other option being to live aboard a small boat, as with Frank Sinatra' Tony Rome and John Wayne's Lon McQ). There is also a superfluous love interest (in this case, the running gag - which is straight out of Tony Rome- finds McCoy being called away on an emergency before he can satisfy his would-be lover, played by future Wonder Woman Lynda Carter). However, the very ordinary script doesn't allow enough byplay between Taylor and his co-stars, with the exception of Joe Santos, who is amusing as a local L.A. police lieutenant who engages in some on-going ball-busting humor with McCoy. Beyond that, the plot finds McCoy trying to track down the killer of a down-on-his luck character who used to act as an informant for him. McCoy is outraged when the man is blown up in an apparent gangland assassination and promises the deceased's widow (Anita Gillette) to bring the culprits to justice. The film makes good use of L.A. locations but the overall plot is fairly pedantic, as McCoy checks out one red herring after another, getting beaten, bruised and threatened in the process.
Shamus McCoy wasn't the only big screen man of action to get sold short when brought to TV...(remember Ray Danton as Our Man Flint and Tony Franciosa as Matt Helm????) The film does have a pretty neat twist at the end that I didn't see coming and that, plus Taylor's considerable screen presence, makes the flick worth watching...though it's strictly mid-range entertainment. The DVD contains no extras, but as with all Sony burn to order titles, it is region free so it can be played on any DVD system worldwide, a nice plus for collectors.
Perseverance Records to attend huge soundtrack
Our friend Robin
Esterhammer of Perseverance Records will be hosting a signing event at Dark
Delicacies of Burbank at 2pm on July 28th. The list of composers is
certainly looking impressive and names are still being added.
already are: John Debney, Richard M. Sherman (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Elia
Cmiral (The Deaths of Ian Stone, Journey to the End of the Night), Edwin
Wendler (Escape), John Massari (The Puppet Master Soundtracks Box, 5 CD box),
Brian Ralston (Crooked Arrows), Dennis Dreith (The Punisher, Gag, Creep Van),
Craig Safan (Remo Williams, Fade to Black, Circus, Lesser Known Favorites),
Donald Rubinstein (Martin, Pollock, Knightriders), Romina Arena (Morricone
Uncovered), Peter Bernstein (The Puppet Master Soundtracks Box), Mader (The
Wedding Banquet, Cinemusica), Phillip Lambro (Chinatown - The Rejected Score,
Crypt of the Living Dead, Murph the Surf, The Film Music of Phillip Lambro),
Richard Band (Mutant, The Puppet Master Soundtracks Box), David Williams (The
Prophecy I & II).
guests may include: Charles Bernstein (Deadly Friend), Christopher Young
(Unforgettable), Frank Harris (No Retreat, No Surrender), Mark Isham (Nowhere
to Run), Nick Glennie-Smith (The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne), Simon
Boswell (Jason and the Argonauts, Lord of Illusions), Gary Chang (Death
Warrant), David Newman (The Runestone, Animals United) and filmmakers George A.
Romero, Tom Savini and Gavin Scott.
informed me that a service is available for people to phone or email their
orders in and have them signed at the day of the event. An ideal opportunity if
you can't make it there in person.
Although Britain's legendary Hammer Films is almost exclusively associated with having redefined the horror movie genre, there were other genres explored by the studio ranging from film noir to crime and even Robin Hood sand pirate adventures. One of the more unusual entries is The Camp on Blood Island, a riveting WWII drama released in 1958. The black and white production was shot entirely in the UK, but, as was the norm for a Hammer production, creative locations and production design allow the viewer to believe they are watching events unfold in a Japanese POW camp in Malaya. The plot centers on the long-suffering British prisoners who are at the mercy of a brutal Japanese camp commandant and his equally brutal guards. The POWs learn through surreptitious means that the war has ended with Japan's surrender. Aware that the commandant had threatened to massacre all of the prisoners in the wake of such an occurrence, the senior officer among the prisoners, Col. Lambert (Andre Morell) concocts an audacious scheme to keep the news from the Japanese until he can organize plans for an insurrection and escape. Under the direction of the criminally underrated Val Guest, the film's scant 82 minute running time packs in a good deal of suspense, fine performances and intelligent dialogue. Barbara Shelly is thrown in as window dressing for some sex appeal as a fellow prisoner, but this is basically a male-oriented production that was aimed squarely at male audiences. The film's treatment of Japanese characters is predictably racist (many are portrayed by British actors including Michael Ripper!) but one must look at the movie in the context of the era, only a little over a decade after the end of WWII. There were millions of people who were still harboring nightmarish memories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army. In typical Hammer tradition, the movie boasted a marketing campaign that emphasized gore and blood even though the film is relatively restrained in these areas. It's basically an intellectual cat-and-mouse game between prisoners and their captors that leads to quite an exciting and well-staged conclusion. The movie illustrates how Hammer Films could overcome meager production budgets to produce highly watchable, very entertaining movies.
Sony has released The Camp on Blood Island as a burn-to-order DVD. The film transfer is crisp and clean and the sleeve features the original, exploitation-oriented movie poster.
Any retro movie lover would be forgiven for thinking there would be a multitude of pleasures in The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, a 1976 Western comedy top-lining such considerable talents as Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed, Robert Culp, Kay Lenz, Elizabeth Ashley, Sylvia Miles and the always watchable Strother Martin. Sadly, the film is a complete misfire with nary a true guffaw to be found throughout. The movie is directed by Don Taylor, who helmed some fairly good films including Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Damien: Omen II and The Final Countdown. However, comedy is not Taylor's strong suit, as evidenced by the over-the-top elements of the movie. The quasi plot finds Marvin as Sam Longwood, an eccentric plainsman who is partnered with Indian Joe Knox (Oliver Reed) and Billy (Strother Martin) in an attempt to track down their former partner Jack Colby (Robert Culp) who fled with the haul the gold hoarde the four men had discovered years before. Colby has used the stolen loot to establish himself as a respectable politician. Sam, Joe and Billy concoct a scheme whereby they will blackmail Colby into returning their share of the money by kidnapping his wife Nancy Sue (Elizabeth Ashley), a loud-mouthed and obnoxious woman who has had romantic ties to Sam in the past. For reasons far too labored to go into, the trio of men are also accompanied by a seventeen year-old prosititute named Thursday who is seeking to escape the clutches of her former madam (Sylvia Miles).
The film has boundless energy but the non-screenplay leads the characters to dead-ends. Taylor inserts numerous slapstick comedy bits that bring out the worst in Marvin, as he goes into his over-acting mode routinely. Most embarrassing is the bizarre casting of Reed as a Native American. Cursed by having to wear a mop-haired wig and grunting "Me Tarzan, You Jane"-style dialogue, Reed does the most harm to the image of the Indian since the massacre at Wounded Knee. The film lurches from extended fistfights to boring chase sequences, all designed to mask over the fact that the script is a bland, pasted together conconction. There is also a jaunty musical score by John Cameron that is played so incessently, you'll be tempted to keep the remote on "mute" mode. The only people to emerge relatively unscathed are Lenz, Culp and Martin, who provided whatever wit and charm the film boasts. On paper, the project probably looked promising, but in terms of any genuine laughs...well, they went that-a-way.
Primarily remembered as a footnote in James Bond trivia (more about that later), the 1963 comedy Call Me Bwana has been released by MGM's burn-to-order program. The film stars Bob Hope as Matthew Merriwether, a con man who has built a reputation as a courageous African explorer despite the fact that he has never visited the continent. When an American space capsule accidentally lands in the African jungle, the government is frantic to recover it before a team of Soviet spies does. U.S. agents coerce Merriwether into making a heroic trek into the area where the capsule has landed to see if he can locate it and return it safely to the government. In an amusing scene, Merriwether delays leading his safari into the heart of darkness long enough to pick up some tourist-themed maps of the country, as he has no idea where he is going. Complicating matters is the fact that he is accompanied by a sexy U.S. secret agent, Frederica (Edie Adams) and a faux father daughter team, Ezra and Luba (Lionel Jeffries and Anita Ekberg), who are, in fact, Soviet agents.Predictable but amusing sexual situations occur every couple of minutes with Merriwether's near seduction of both women interrupted by extraordinary events.
Along the way, Merriwether encounters every comical cliche the jungle can provide, from close encounters with dangerous animals to barbaric tribesmen who speak perfect English. The film's primary pleasures are simplistic but plentiful, topped by Hope's inimitable machine gun-like delivery of quips. There is also an infectious score by Monty Norman and some delightfully cheesy studio shots blended in with the limited second unit footage of Africa. (It appears that the closest the cast and crew ever got to the Dark Continent is the suburbs of London, as most of the film was shot at Pinewood Studios.) Somehow it took four credited screenwriters to bring this trifle to the screen, but it is a pleasant time-killer with an inspired cast.
As for the James Bond connection, Call Me Bwana is memorably featured on the side of a billboard advertisement that features in From Russia With Love. A SPECTRE assassin is shot and killed as he climbs through a window located in Anita Ekberg's "mouth". The film also represents the only non-Bond movie jointly produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The 007 producers enlisted a stock company of talent from the Bond series including special effects man John Stears, editor Peter Hunt, screenwriter Johanna Harwood, cinematographer Ted Moore, associate producer Stanley Sopel and production designer Syd Cain, among others. Fortunately, the entire team was capable of far greater achievements or we wouldn't be discussing them today in relation to this sitcom-like production. Call Me Bwana generates some frequent laughs, but remains primarily a curious footnote in the history of Eon Productions.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Park Circus film distributors (UK)
Michael Cimino’s notorious epic, Heaven’s Gate is back in cinemas from 2nd August. Thanks to a new director’s cut and digital restoration, audiences will be able to see Cimino’s original, ambitious vision of a film that has lost none of its grandeur on the big screen. Heaven’s Gate remains a breath-taking eulogy to the American Western, featuring an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt and many more. Get your dancing skates on, it’s time to unlock and swing Heaven’s Gate open again.
Heaven’s Gate tells the story of a Harvard graduate lawyer, Averill (Kris Kristofferson), and his attempts to help a community of European immigrants out West in their struggle with a brutal cattle owners' association, depicting the real-life bloody conflict of the Johnson County War in 1892. At its heart lies a fraught love story between rogue Federal Marshal Averill, local madam Ella (Huppert) and association mercenary Nate (Walken), all led by fantastic performances.
Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography provides as much dramatic pull, capturing a spectacular dust-filled, snow-peaked setting that evokes not only the enormity of Cimino’s Western tale but the awesome nature of America’s landscape and its historical significance in the film’s post Civil War era.
Michael Cimino’s 1981 follow up to The Deer Hunter divided critics and the public alike on its initial release when it was shown in a shorter version (148-minutes). Over the last decade the film has been broadly reassessed, with many critics citing the film as one of the key American films of its period.
MGM Studios’Heaven’s Gatewill open in the UK on 2nd August at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas nationwide.
Warner Brothers and Paramount will combine forces to co-producer Interstellar, a new sci-fi flick that will be directed by Christopher Nolan. The project was originally being developed for Steven Spielberg, but when he dropped out, Nolan eagerly took over the production. According to Deadline, the story "will depict a heroic voyage to the farthest borders of scientific understanding." It is known that when Spielberg was involved with the film, he was exploring scientific theories about time travel. A November 2014 date has been set to open the movie, which will star Matthew MConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine. For more click here
Justly acclaimed as one of the greatest film noir movies ever made, director Don Siegel's 1958 thriller The Lineup has been reissued by Sony as part of their burn-to-order DVD collection. The DVD carries over the bonus extras from the film's initial release in a Sony noir boxed set from 2009. Siegel makes the most of his modest budget, eschewing studio sets for actual San Francisco locations that add immeasurably the authenticity of the story and the action sequences, which are among the most ambitious of the era. The film derived from a popular TV series of the same name and features the star of the show, Warner Anderson, as a San Francisco detective, Lt. Ben Guthrie. His sidekick, Inspector Al Quine was originally played in the show by Tom Tully but the part in the film is played by Emile Meyer, a non-professional actor whose mug perfectly suits the style of the movie. The "Mcguffin" of this caper movie is an ornate doll loaded with heroin that has been carried into the United States by an innocent tourist (Raymond Bailey). The doll ends up in the hands of an equally innocent little girl and her mother who were on the same cruise ship. However, this is just a necessary plot device to present a fascinating character study of a team of criminals who are assigned to fly from Miami to San Francisco to claim the doll and deliver the drugs to a mysterious crime lord. Things go awry from the first few frames of the movie when an attempt to steal the tourist's luggage goes wrong, resulting in the death of a crime syndicate courier who bungles the first attempt to get the doll. The resulting action follows the desperate attempts by the Miami crooks to secure the missing drugs, as their lives depend on it, as the mob will suspect they have double-crossed them and kept the heroin for themselves. The criminal team is among the most psychotic ever seen on film. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is the younger man being groomed by his older mentor, Julian (Robert Keith) to be his heir apparent. The two men are outwardly charismatic and friendly, but as the story progresses, we realize they are merciless sadists who will stop at nothing to get what they want. When they kidnap the young girl and her mother, we get a glimpse at exactly how devoid of human emotions they are.
The caper story, expertly penned by the great Sterling Silliphant, follows the efforts of the detectives to get to the drugs first-- but the cops are mere window dressing, as Siegel is clearly saving the best scenes for his hit men. Wallach and Keith rival that great pairing of Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the creepy criminal team in Siegel's memorable 1964 remake of The Killers. On one level, Keith is acting as a father to a younger man who might be seen as an adopted son. However, it doesn't take much to see that Siegel has introduced a very clear homoerotic element to the story which becomes even more apparent when the pair end up in a "social club" and hotel that very obviously caters to homosexual men. In case there is still too much subtlety for the viewer, the place is named the Seaman's Club! (In one of the film's best remembered sequences, Wallach "offs" a would-be lover in a steam room.) The film is packed with inventive sequences that are still somewhat shocking today. It's rather amazing that some of these scenes were not diluted by squeamish studio executives. A helpless woman and her young child are kidnapped and menaced, a man in a wheelchair is thrown to his death and any number of innocent people are put in harm's way by the relentless criminal's quest to secure the missing dope. Most impressive is the climax of the film wherein Siegel films an exciting car chase that culminates on an unfinished stretch of freeway. It will have you on the edge of your seat (look for an amazing bit of stunt work in which a car is driven at high speed within feet of dropping off the end of the construction site.) All the earmarks are evident for what would become trademarks of Siegel's films: the story moves quickly, there isn't a wasted frame and the performances are terrific.
Sony's DVD boasts an excellent transfer and some very interesting extras, though the studio once again undermines the latter features by not even bothering to mention them on the packaging. There is an interview with Christopher Nolan, who discusses the influence of noir films on his own work. There is also a feature length commentary track hosted by Eddie Muller of The Film Noir Foundation and bestselling crime novelist James Ellroy, whose work includes L.A. Confidential. Muller is extremely informative, conveying fascinating information about the film and the San Francisco locations. However, Ellroy, who describes himself as "The White Knight of the Far Right" wears out his welcome pretty quickly. His efforts to come across as politically incorrect become blatantly pretentious, as he peppers his comments with expletives and makes homophobic jokes with regularity. Even Muller seems a bit taken off balance by him. Nevertheless, Sony deserves kudos for allowing Ellroy's controversial commentaries to remain intact. If you can put up with Ellroy, you'll get some great insights into the film and Siegel's methods of working.
The Lineup is American film noir at its best.
(This DVD is "all region", meaning it will play on any international system).
It was June 6, 1944 when the greatest military operation in history took place. American, British and Canadian forces landed at Normandy to liberate Europe. The amazing courage of the Allied forces not only saved democracy on the continent but also made it possible for Germany to re-emerge as one of the great nations of the world. No film has ever better captured the overall epic nature of the battle, as seen from both sides, than Darryl F. Zanuck's The Longest Day. Why not watch it today with your kids and grandkids to remind them of how unimaginable courage made it possible for us to have the freedoms we enjoy today? It's also a hell of a good movie!
Warner Archive has released four more pre-code gems as their latest entry in
their FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD series (Volume
7). These films are deliciously delightful to view. When this series was
started by M-G-M/UA video in the 1990s, I collected them on laser disc. When
they went out-of-print I paid some premium prices to get used copies. I was
thrilled when Warner Home Video started releasing them and now that Warner
Archive has continued to do so, I’m
happy to know that these otherwise neglected films will continue to be
available through the burn-to-order market. This being Volume 7, one can see
that there is a market for this genre, and I look forward to further entries in
this valuable series. The bulk of the films released thus far under the
FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD series have been from the WARNER BROS. & FIRST NATIONAL
STUDIOS and nobody did pre-code films any better. Cagney, Robinson, Blondell,
et. al. sizzled in these gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines films. There are the
occasional entries from M-G-M that came close, but pre-code was WARNER
BROS./FIRST NATIONAL’S stock in trade. The films in this volume are wonderful
HATCHET MAN (1932) Stars Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young in Max Factor
Asian makeup. Robinson plays Wong Low Get, a hatchet wielding hit man for a
warring San Francisco Tong (clan). When the film opens, I sniffed at the bad
makeup job they gave Robinson in typical 30s Hollywood fashion. I felt that the
racially stereotyped taping back of the corner of Caucasian eyes must be one of
the reasons these films are pre-code. But, Robinson is such a great (and underrated)
actor. He brings depth to a role that would have been one-dimensional in any
other actor’s hands. And what hands they
are! One of my cinema gurus – Tom Dillon, The Sage of 20th Street – once
pointed out to me that Robinson is always using his hands. Not just flailing
them, but utilizing these appendages as true masterstrokes of physical emoting. Robinson
is always fascinating to watch. His physical movements do not distract – they draw
you in. As the hatchet man for his tong crime family, he is sent to execute his
oldest and most trusted friend. When he arrives to carry out the hit, his
uneasiness with his assignment is made all the more difficult by the fact that
his friend understands and forgives him for what he has to do. The intended victimtells him that he is
leaving him his money and his young infant daughter to raise and eventually
marry. Fast-forward twenty years and this little girl has grown into Loretta
Young. As Sun Toya San, Young does not pull off the Asian makeup as well as
Robinson. Young is married to Robinson
only out of a sense of duty for she loves another, Harry En Hai played by evil
Leslie Fenton. When Robinson discovers this, his initial fury turns to
resignation and he allows Young to leave with her lover. Later, Robinson finds
out that Fenton has sold Young into white slavery and before you know it, he’s
back wielding his infamous hatchet. A run-of-the-mill San Francisco Chinatown potboiler
is raised a few notches by by Robinson’s moving performance. We can all name
the great pictures and roles he has been in (LITTLE CAESAR, DOUBLE INDEMNITY,
ALL MY SONS), but it is little throwaways like this that demonstrate what a
powerful performer he was. William Wellman directs. (First National &
SOULS (1932) This is the M-G-M entry in this volume. As I said above, M-G-M’s
forays into the pre-code genres were classy in comparison with Warners/First
National’s gritty, gutter-based
storylines. This was the studio’s pre-code version of their recent all-star
film GRAND HOTEL from the same year. Warren William stars as David Dwight,
president of the Seacoast Bank, which is the main tenant in this newly opened
skyscraper building. William will stop at nothing to eventually gain sole
ownership of the building. The actor
made for a charming, debonair leading man from the 30s who was known as the
poor man’s John Barrymore, complete with pencil-thin moustache. He was adept at
playing lovable, charismatic society men as well as ruthless scoundrels. In
this film he blends all of these traits and crafts a character you find
yourself rooting for, but don’t know why. He is a womanizing robber baron who
tramples over anyone who gets in his way. e William could do this and get you
to like him because his charm overcomes the natural ruthlessness of the
character and almost inspires you to want to emulate him. Tapping into our
hidden desire for power was part of the naughty appeal in these Depression era
films. This film abounds with swindles, scandals, adultery, murders and
suicides. Actress-turned-gossip-columnist Hedda Hopper plays William’s wife who
doesn’t really seem to mind that her husband is sleeping with anything that
moves, so long as he pays for her high maintenance life style. Maureen
O’Sullivan plays the young, naïve secretary who is the latest object of
William’s desires, all to the distress of William’s long suffering personal
secretary, played by Verree Teasdale. And what good is a film set in a
skyscraper without a jumper? Who is it? Get the set to find out. The art deco
sets are as much characters in this film as are the actors. You will notice
that the film opens with the first of many matte shots of the Dwight building
standing out against the New York skyline towering over the neighboring Empire
State Building in all its art deco glory. The interiors (by M-G-M art director
Cedric Gibbons) look like Radio City on crack! You know…as I think of it…I
guess watching Margaret Dumont snorting coke is more shocking then seeing Joan Blondell waking up with Jimmy
Cagney…Maybe M-G-M pre-codes are
dirtier… Directed by Edgar Selwyn (M-G-M)
ENTRANCE (1933) This is one of my all-time favorites and I had secured a copy
back in the VHS era. Thus, the film’s release on DVD delighted me. I believe it
best represents the freedoms of the the pre-code genre. Warren William andLoretta
Young are again teamed in the leading roles. William plays Kurt Anderson, the
General Manager of Monroe’s Department Store in Manhattan. His motto is:
“Smash, or be smashed!” He is basically the same character he played in
SKYSCAPER SOULS, but in a cheaper suit, on a lower floor and in a lower-paying job.
He’s also even more ruthless. He tells both employees and the store’s pompous
board of directors to go to hell whenever his heavy-handed business methods are
questioned. In one of the most memorable scenes he summarily fires a thirty-year
employee on the spot because the employee questions one of his new innovations.
The employee later jumps to his death from a 9th story window out of
shame. When told of the ex-employee’s suicide William answers: “When a man
outlives his usefulness he ought to jump out a window!” This kind of writing
reminded me of Rod Serling’s PATTERNS from 1955 written for KRAFT TELEVISION
THEATER. I am sure Serling must have seen this film and was inspired by it.
William is training an employee who he feels has the fire in his belly to make
it in this “smash, or be smashed” world. The young protégé is shocked at his
view, but William shows him that softness has no place in the cutthroat world
of business. This film puts forth complex questions that must be rationalized and
manages to do it in a concise 75 minutes without a wasted frame. That is the
beauty and wonder of the WARNER/FIRST NATIONAL films. They are tight, taught
and intense. Directed by Roy Del Ruth (First National & Vitaphone)
(1933) This film stars a young Bette Davis as a free living fashion illustrator
who is “living” with an up-and-coming business executive, Gene Raymond. He
wants to marry her, but she feels that marriage is unnecessary and that matrimony
kills romance. Eventually she gives in and all her premonitions turn out to be
true. Even at this early point in her career, Davis is portraying a character who
wants to stand on equal footing with men. In this film she is a successful businesswoman
who basically does not need a man in the traditional sense, something that
broke with the social mores of the era. This story was a remake of a film from
two years prior; ILLICIT that starred Barbara Stanwyck (another pre-code sex
symbol). WARNERS/FIRST NATIONAL was not
above remaking films within a short
period of time. WARNERS filmed THE
MALTEST FALCON in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. Five years later
they remade it as SATAN MET A LADY with Warren William and Bette Davis. Then,
five years after that, they filmed the classic version directed by John Huston
with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. In this film, Davis shows the strength of
character that would come to be the earmark of her career. The film is filled
with great pre-code dialog: (Raymond): "I'm
just about fed up with sneaking in...Let’s get married so I'll have the right
to be with you." (Davis): "What do you mean 'right'? I don't like the
word 'right'." (Raymond): "Let's not quibble about words." (Davis):
"No, I'm not quibbling, 'right' means something. No one has any 'rights'
about me, except me." As in most of the WARNER/FIRST NATIONAL films, a lot of
juicy stuff happens in a taught 67 minutes. Once married, Raymond tires (as
Davis predicted) and begins to philander. In order to even the score, Davis
starts her own affair with Raymond’s business rival, played by lovable WARNER
stock player, Frank McHugh. By the end of the story, Davis and Raymond
reconcile…for the moment. Directed by Robert Florey (First National &
4 films are presented on a disc a piece. THE HATCHET MAN, EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE
& EX-LADY include their original theatrical trailers, which are a lot of
fun. It is a study in itself to see how the spicy little numbers were sold to
the public. Image quality is quite good – about the same as you would see on
TCM. Even without digital re-mastering, these films jump out at you and drag
you into an era before purity ran amuck.
In perfect timing for Father's Day, Warner Brothers has the perfect gift for your dad...(or "Godfather")...two superb Blu-ray collections of classic gangster movies.
The "Classics" collection features Blu-ray editions of Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest and White Heat. A superb way to enjoy legends such as Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.
The "Contemporary" collection unsurprisingly showcases Martin Scorsese with The Departed, Mean Streets and Goodfellas...plus there is also Heat and The Untouchables.
The sets are jam-packed with exciting documentaries and an abundance of bonus extras. Each set is also packaged in lavishly illustrated hardcover book format.
So forget that cashmere bowling ball bag you were gonna get dad, and concentrate on these gems...It's an offer he won't be able to refuse.
Click here to order the "Classics" collection from Amazon and save $10
Click here to order the "Contemporary" collection from Amazon and save $10
The Alamo Drafthouse Theatres in Austin will present the 1963 classic The Great Escape on the big screen, Father's Day, June 16. Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence and David McCallum star....but you already knew that. Click here for info
British Cinema's Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems
by Julian Upton
so often a book comes my way that I wish I had written. 'Offbeat' is one such
title, the byline of which succinctly describes a large proportion of my film
viewing since childhood. The book is a collection of film reviews, with titles
ranging from 1954 (the animated adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm) to 1985 (sci-fi dud Lifeforce). With a cover illustration
taken from Kenneth Rowles' infamous hitchhiking shocker Take an Easy Ride (1977), the book is clearly aiming for cult
credentials, which may explain why the hundreds of forgotten gems before 1954
have been totally ignored. To be fair to the editor, a book which attempted to
cover the entirety of Britain's lost and maligned movies would be the length of
several encyclopaedias. Indeed, this book does not claim to be definitive. In
many ways it perhaps tells us more about the predilections of the various contributors
than it does about the decades it covers.
does raise one fairly depressing point, which is that although there are
literally thousands of films at our fingertips these days, there are still
titles which are tantalisingly out of reach. Whole swathes of homegrown movies
have been shoved to the back of dusty shelves in forgotten archives never to be
seen again except in grainy, third generation VHS copies dating from the one
terrestrial broadcast thirty years ago. It's a pity that so many of the films
in here suffer from a lack of availability, as I guarantee that you will be
reading this book in one hand whilst browsing online for DVDs with the other.
the book contains dozens of fascinating, occasionally outlandish titles, if you
have any experience in the obscurities of British cinema you will still be able
to argue about the final selection. Donovan Winter is notable by his absence,
and having given the world incestuous lesbian twins in Some Like It Sexy (1969), he surely deserves a nod. There is
perhaps the inevitable focus on Hammer, who get several mentions and one begins
to wonder whether anyone else was actually making films in the 1960s. There are
however plenty of titles in here which even I, a seasoned British cinema fan,
was not familiar with. The director whose name seems to arise the most often is
Val Guest, one of the unsung heroes of British cinema. Perhaps the time is now
right for a full reevaluation of his work. In a career covering sci-fi, horror,
social realism and sex comedies, his filmography IS the British film industry
from the mid-1950s through to the 1970s in microcosm.
the reviews are scattered several essays covering various aspects of British
cinema, including the swashbuckler, the pop musical, underage sex and the
demise of the industry in the 1970s; as scattershot an approach to film history
as one could hope for, with the emphasis firmly placed on the psychotronic.
Amongst the film titles jostling for attention are classics such as Horrors From the Black Museum (1959), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), The Birthday Party (1968), a rare
excursion into British filmmaking from The
Exorcist's William Friedkin, and Eskimo
Nell (1975), the finest sex comedy this country has ever produced. The
BFI's current Flipside range of DVDs and blu rays gets good coverage also, with
Herostratus, Privilege (both 1967), Permissive,
Bronco Bullfrog, Deep End, (all 1970) and The
Black Panther (1977) all coming highly recommended. At least some of the
films discussed in 'Offbeat' are not as obscure as they once were.
with all recent Headpress books the imagery is reproduced in black and white,
which is a pity as so many of these films feature wildly colourful, bordering
on psychedelic, imagery. The poster art for long-forgotten musical mega-flop Toomorrow (1970) is far more exciting
than the film itself! This complaint is quickly forgiven once you discover that
'Offbeat' has a thorough index, something often ignored in similar books. This
means you can use this as a great reference book, and each film title includes
production details and credits alongside a thorough analysis and review. One
may not agree with every opinion shared (Sarah Morgan's dismissal of Hammer's Captain Clegg as "a decent
potboiler" is woefully off the mark), but the book does serve its purpose
which is to encourage the reader to discover the hidden gems of British cinema.
If you can find them that is.
Harryhausen with one of the legendary skeleton warriors he created for Jason and the Argonauts.
On June 8, the landmark movie palace, The Loew's Jersey City, will honor the life and career of Ray Harryhausen with two of the special effects master's greatest films: 20 Million Miles to Earth and Jason and the Argonauts (which played at the Loew's during its initial release). Also, on June 7, the original Men in Black will be shown. For details click here
has been a gradual yet inevitable demise of analogue formats over the last
decade or so, with wax cylinders, eight track and the chrome cassette tape all
now relegated to the scrap heap. Yet vinyl is making a comeback. Despite the
supposed superiority of the CD and the mp3, there is nothing as satisfying as
sliding your 12” LP out of it's card sleeve, carefully placing it on the
turntable, and the slight crackle when the needle first makes contact. And many
argue that the sound quality remains superior to digital reproduction,
particularly when listening to older recordings that were made using analogue
equipment in the first place.
company to truly embrace the vinyl collector culture is Death Waltz Records,
founded by Spencer Hickman of Rough Trade in London. They produce exclusive
vinyl reproductions of a massive array of cult film soundtracks and accompany
them with sleeve notes, newly commissioned artwork and coloured vinyl, and most
come with screen prints and posters too. They have recently put out the bizarre
electronic scores of Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the
Witch, both limited to 300 copies. This release coincides nicely with the
recent rerelease of both films on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout Factory.
Halloween III in particular has
been much maligned over the years, thanks in no small part to screenwriter
Nigel Kneale's much publicised dislike of the film. However you feel about it,
the soundtrack is superb. Both of these Halloween releases have
splendidly eerie scores which should on no account be listened to in the dark.
Both were composed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth and build on the tones
and style that Carpenter developed on the first Halloween movie. Halloween
II also delivers a surprise when The Chordettes burst through the
synthesised shivers with “Mr Sandman”, an incongruity which fits well with the
ending of the movie. Halloween III contains the horrifyingly catchy
“Silver Shamrock” jingle, reminding children to make sure they are wearing
their new Halloween masks when the 'Horrorthon' starts later that night. Of
course, if you have seen the film you will know those are no ordinary Halloween
masks, and it is a night that will not end well.
you are a collector who wants everything in mint condition, the dilemma as to
whether you can actually play your vinyl once it arrives is a difficult one.
Even if you decide not to play it, each Death Waltz release makes a unique
piece of memorabilia.
recent development at Death Waltz Records will be of particular interest to
fans of British horror. They have gone into partnership with Hammer Films and
are intending to release several soundtracks on vinyl, some of which have never
been released before. Amongst the first will be Twins of Evil (1971) and
The Devil Rides Out (1968), Hammer's most successful Dennis Wheatley adaptation. The latter will
feature extensive sleeve-notes by James Bernard and all new exclusive
artwork. The package will come as a limited edition coloured vinyl with an A2
poster and 12 x 12 lithograph print . It will also contain a download link for
an interview with Christopher Lee and two unreleased cues. If you are a vinyl
collector, or a fan of Hammer horror, you had better start saving up now!
Media reports indicate that Sam Mendes will indeed return to the James Bond franchise to direct not only the next installment but another Bond film after that. The announcement has yet to be formally made by Eon Productions but it is known that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have been lobbying Mendes to stay with the series, given the enormous world-wide success of Skyfall. Mendes initially said he was unable to do the next Bond film due to other committments but he has apparently been made an offer he can't refuse. Click here for more.
“How Do You View” is the name of a
new Internet radio show hosted by Cinema Epoch’s Director of Acquisitions,
Douglas Dunning. The show can be heard
daily at 1:00 am, 5:30 am, 11:00 am & 5:00 pm
Pacific Standard Time (that’s 4:00 am, 8:30 am, 2:00 pm, and 8:00 pm to us on
the Eastern Seaboard). It can be heard
on the Prodigy Media Network. This week,
Mr. Dunning interviews director Richard Rush (pictured), best known for 1980’s The Stunt Man.
to listen to “How Do You View” at the respective times.
Once again I must tip my hat to Twilight Time for inspiring me to watch a movie I had heard of but never had the slightest inclination to experience. I always assumed that the 1945 Fox flick Leave Her to Heaven was just another soap opera romance. However,the new Twilight Time Blu-ray release presents this film in its all its Technicolor splendor-- and it seems safe to proclaim this complex drama as a true classic. In fact, according the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, the film really tested the boundaries of the dreaded motion picture "Code" that ensured most adult subject matters had to be watered down. Not so with this movie. Kirgo describes it as a true "film noir" despite the fact that its gorgeous Technicolor cinematography won an Oscar for Leon Shamroy. The point is that, if a movie is "noirish" enough in all other aspects, it does not have to have been photographed in black and white in order to be included in the genre. The story opens with a dashing but mild-mannered young novelist named Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), who is on a train traveling to New Mexico to visit an old friend, Glen Robie (Ray Collins), who has invited him to stay at his impressive home in the desert. He finds himself seated opposite a beautiful young woman (Gene Tierney) who just happens to be reading his latest book. After meeting cute, the two engage in some suggestive banter and flirting. Richard is pleasantly surprised to find that the young woman, Ellen Berent, is also going to be a guest at Robie's home. After disembarking from the train, Robie is at the station to greet them, along with Ellen's mother (Mary Philips) and vivacious younger sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain). Turns out the family has come to the Robie house for a rather somber undertaking: they are spreading the ashes of Ellen's father in the desert, in accordance with his wishes to keep an old family tradition alive.
During the course of their stay at the ranch, Richard and Ellen continue their flirtation, even though he notices an engagement ring on her finger. The ring suddenly disappears and, before Richard can get his thoughts together, Ellen announces to one and all that she and Richard are getting married. Too smitten to resist the offer of bedding his gorgeous bride-to-be, Richard relents. However, an uncomfortable moment comes about with the unexpected visit of her fiancee Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), a prominent Boston attorney who is about to embark on a political career. Quinton is outraged at being snubbed and humiliated and leaves for Boston in a huff. Ellen is dismissive of her treatment of him and in the blink of an eye, she and Richard are married. The first few weeks are blissful, as the couple spends time in a backwoods cabin at a resort where Richard is writing his next novel. Soon, however, Ellen becomes disgruntled at the amount of time Richard's writing takes away from their time together. She tempts him to give us his writing career and live off of her sizable bank account, but Richard refuses. Tensions grow as it becomes apparent that Ellen is a total narcissist who can only find happiness when she is the center of a man's attentions. Things worsen considerably when the couple arrive in Georgia to visit Richard's teenage brother Danny (Darryl Hickman), who is in a sanitarium where he is combating physical ailments that have left him unable to walk. The younger boy idolizes his big brother, who does all he can to motivate Danny to continue with therapy in the hopes that he will one day be able to become mobile. At first, Ellen displays a loving and compassionate concern for the young boy...but she soon resents the amount of time Richard spends with him. Her jealousy of their relationship leads to one of the most chilling screen moments I have ever seen-- a plot device that is quite shocking, so I won't reveal it here. However, it only opens the door to the gradual deterioration of the Harland's marriage. Ellen tries to ensure Richard's affections by "accidentally" becoming pregnant, then, on a whim, concocts a plan to lose the baby because she is unhappy with the change in her physical appearance that the pregnancy is bringing. This is an equally shocking sequence, one that must have resulted in plenty of debate among the self-censors at the Code office. That the scene survived ensured that Leave It Heaven could take its place among the great dramatic screen stories of the era. As Ellen becomes more paranoid, she begins to unjustly suspect her own sister of bedding her husband-- a suspicion that leads to the film's very dramatic conclusion that features Vincent Price is a truly impressive performance.
The entire cast performs very ably under the assured direction of John M. Stahl, but it's clearly Gene Tierney's triumphant showcase. Nominated for an Oscar for her performance, Tierney must certainly go down in movie history as one of the screens' great villains. The scene in which she allows an unspeakable horror to take place in front of her eyes while she sits like an iceberg watching the tragedy unfold will haunt viewers long after the film has ended. The movie also benefits from a great score by Alfred Newman, that is alternately romantic and threatening. Leon Shamroy's cinematography- particularly in the desert sequences- adds to this juxtaposition between romance and menace. He photographs Ellen as though she were a goddess- but does so in a way that also hints at the menace in her character.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) boasts a superb transfer that does full justice to the film's rich production design. The release features an audio commentary by Darryl Hickman and Richard Schickel as well as a trailer and short bit from Fox Movietone News. A terrific release of a terrific film.
the late sixties, William Atherton has starred in motion pictures, on Broadway
and television. He first achieved international prominence as the lead in
Steven Spielberg’s first feature The Sugarland
Express, and followed that with starring roles in
John Schlesinger’s classic The Day of the
Locust, Robert Wise’s TheHindenburg
and Richard Brooks’ Looking
for Mr. Goodbar. Atherton is known around the world for his memorable
roles as the antagonistic anchorman in the action blockbusters Die
Hard and Die Hard 2, as
the relentless government bureaucrat in the iconic Ghostbusters
the conniving professor in the cult classic Real
Genius. Among his more than 30 feature films are
co-starring roles in John Landis’ Oscar,
Bill Duke’s Hoodlum,
Richard Pearce’s No Mercy,
Alan J. Pakula’s The Pelican Brief,
Costa Gavras’ Mad City
and Ed Zwick’s The Last Samurai.
television, Atherton has starred in numerous mini-series including Centennial
Some of his many TV films include leading roles in TNT’s production of Joan
Didion’s Broken Trust and
his portrayal of Darryl F. Zanuck in HBO’s Golden Globe-winner Introducing
Dorothy Dandridge. Atherton was also a
recurring series lead opposite Damian Lewis on NBC-TV’s Life
and, as Principal Reynolds, resolved some of
the vexing questions in the final season of Lost.
honored for his work on the stage, Atherton has created roles on and off-Broadway
for many of America’s leading playwrights. These include the title role in Joe
Papp’s original production of David Rabe’s The
Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, the role of Ronnie in
John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves and
Bing Ringling in Guare's Rich and Famous. Atherton
also starred in the Broadway premiere of Arthur Miller’s TheAmerican
Clock and in the Tony-winning revival of Herman
Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.
His repertoire of more than 20 well-known productions also includes the
acclaimed New York premieres of Franz Kafka’s The
Castle and Kressman Taylor’s Address
Unknown. For his work on the stage, he has received
the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Circle Critics Award, the Theatre World Award
and nominations for an Obie and Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award.
Recent feature films include the thriller The
Kane Files as well as Tim
and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, which premiered in
2012. Atherton appears on an upcoming season of Childrens Hospital this summer.
This interview focuses on Atherton's
work since 2005. We began our talk with The
Girl Next Door (2007), based
on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name... it follows the unspeakable
torture and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt... and
the boys who witness and fail to report the crime. Then we discussed Headspace (2005), the story of the
mysterious metamorphosis of 25-year-old Alex Borden, a handsome, charming and
intelligent young man with the world by the tail. Alex becomes alarmed when his
intellect mysteriously begins to grow, and so do the horrors that invade his body,
his nightmares and his waking hours.
said Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door
is "a film that has legs." Could you elaborate on this?
Atherton: From what I know, it has legs in that it's
still around and people still talk about it. It was a very difficult subject
and I thought they did it very well. I bookend it, which is great. As an actor,
I don't participate in anything in it like that (of a graphic nature). I don't mean that necessarily in a negative
way. My position in it was kind of like the conscience of the film. It gave the
film a spiritual edge. I mean, it's recounting a childhood but at the same
time, the weight of that childhood is enormous and so bookending it like that,
even though the scenes are very short, gave it a lot of substance and it was
mine for each moment and meant something important in terms of the whole film.
thought your role as Adult David was absolutely heartbreaking, as he is a man
who has contemplated the loss of his young love for over 50 years. I watched
those bookend scenes several times and they are profoundly moving. I especially
like the scene where you rescue a homeless man (Mark Margolis).
Girl Next Door is based on a true story (of monstrous child abuse). It happened in New Jersey in the 1950s.
Andrew van den Houten, the producer, got onto it and he was the one who really
marshalled it along. I had done Headspace
So van den Houten had you in mind for the role of
Adult David after working with you on Headspace.
I guess he's a big fan of yours.
WA: Yeah. And then we crafted those scenes together and figured out what to
use, what not to use, how much of the voiceover to use, to try and keep it as
spare and as evocative as we could to save time.
that was it. It was a very quick shoot. This friend of mine would tell me that
it was very difficult to shoot the kids since they couldn't see certain things
because they were under 18. The girl who was being abused (Blythe Auffarth) was 21 by that time. But the younger kids couldn't
see what was being done to her. It was a real ballet in terms of how to orchestrate
that. I wasn't present at the shooting of the more intense scenes.
I was doing a play... Address Unknown with the English actor Jim Dale, directed by Frank
Dunlop from the Young Vic. We were doing that at the Promenade Theatre in New
York and Address Unknown was a very
big issue in the thirties. It came to be because this woman who was in
advertising in San Francisco (Kressman Taylor) had some friends in advertising in
Germany and went there in the 1930s and came back to San Francisco. So she
wrote this book which is a very small, slight book.
The play is just these letters sent back
and forth between these two men, who were partners in an art gallery. The one who stayed in Germany became a real
Nazi. He was responsible for the death of the sister of the guy who was in San
Francisco, who was Jewish. What Kressman Taylor did was, she made up this story
along those lines and she had it in the letters back and forth and you see how
the two men change. The theatrical evening was reading these letters essentially
and performing them as dialogue. So the revenge that the guy in San Francisco
ultimately had was that he started writing letters with stuff like "a
Picasso Red 3" in the text. It sounded like a code and the Nazis in
Germany arrested the Nazi gallery owner and shot him. (laughs) That's Address Unknown.
What this has to do with the Headspace movie is that I met Andrew van
den Houten a couple of months beforehand through a friend of a friend of mine
in New York. A very young kid, very talented and he asked me to do this movie
when I was doing the play. I shot on my days off for about a month in New York
on the dark days in the theatre. That movie did very well for Andrew and it got
him started. I'm the doctor who finds the guy who finds the kid (whose intellect begins to grow). Dee
Wallace and I have a couple of scenes at the beginning of the film. Andrew
marshalled a very good cast. Sean Young, Olivia Hussey and Udo Kier are in it.
It's a very interesting movie and it did very well. Andrew was ambitious in
terms of the technical thing. He did some nice stuff (with monster makeup and special effects).
2010, you appeared in Re-Animator: The
the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood. Critics said you and George Wendt knocked
it out of the park in your respective roles as Dr. Carl Hill and Dean Halsey.
We did a stage reading for it here in L.A. and we did a couple of nights of it
for director Stuart Gordon. And then they did a permanent production of it. I
didn't do the permanent production. I just helped them out in the stage reading
but it was a lot of fun. There weren't any special effects in the stage reading
– just the music and playing the scenes. Kind of like a description of what
might happen, but there were no special effects in what I was involved with.
Bedtime, a star-studded episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, you
play a disreputable public official who abuses his position to prey on women
who come to him for assistance.
Yeah, and all the women got the Emmys! (laughs)
thought you walked away with the show, but why is a classy guy like you so damn
good at playing these sleazy characters?
The reason is because the characters that I play are far more interestingly
written than the nice guys. Nice guys kind of take care of themselves, but
there's not much conflict usually, particularly in television. You come and
play a character and you can have all kinds of dimension which is very hard to
keep up week to week. And so they bring you in for color and the writing was
terrific and that's really how that all happens. The writing is often
interesting for the villain. You can kind of play around with it. And it makes
was a real Seventies reunion episode of Law
and Order: SVU. I suppose this was deliberate, right?
Yes, the Seventies! Shit, the Sixties. Some
of those gals – Ann-Margret... I mean, wow!
Atherton in Headspace
Getting Back to Zero, you play a
professional gambler who goes by the name of Box Car Joe. Your performance was
described by a crew member as "stellar." Can you tell us about your
role in this film set in the world of underground casinos?
It was the moving casino thing. This is a
picture I did about three years ago; it was about the underground world of
gambling and how they move from one place to another and the stakes can get
very high and it's entirely unregulated. There's an enormous industry in
underground gambling. So that was kind of the scenario of the picture and you
have people who are really addicted to gambling who get into that world and
become part of the fabric of that world. Box Car Joe is one of those people who
is addicted to gambling. He's arrogant, rich. They kind of run on the
electricity of the moment in order to keep from essentially collapsing into a
black hole. That's why they keep the gambling going, because there really is
nothing else. So the gambling becomes a whole force unto itself and brings them
along. Getting Back to Zero came onto
Netflix about two months ago.
The whole world for indies has changed in
the last four or five years. It's become a lot more difficult for different
films. Tonight I'm going to a movie I did a year and a half ago called The Citizen which was about one of the
guys – it's a fictional picture, but it's about one of the guys who got caught
in 9/11. Simply because he was Middle Eastern, he got into trouble in New York.
It's with me and Cary Elwes and we went to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in the
fall and tonight it's a screening for the Hollywood Film Festival with a
Q&A afterwards. It's a lovely picture and it stars Khaled Nabawy, who is
the George Clooney of the Middle East. He's enormous over there in the Arab
world. The film festival in Abu Dhabi was incredible. We had a great time and
the movie was very well received.
me about your role as Winston.
He's a prosecuting attorney trying to
deport Ibrahim (Nabawy). It gets
pretty intense. I'm in a courtroom and so what I'm trying to convey is that at
the time, people were suspicious of people and you couldn't really take
anything for granted. Everybody had to toe the line in a way. That's just the
way the world changed. It was not necessarily a personal thing against this man
so much as it was saying: "This is the scenario now. You have to account
for yourself in ways that you wouldn't have had to before, but that is the way
of the world now. So it may seem to you
to be unfair and perhaps in the long run it is unfair, but that's the reality
of the moment and we all have to address it."
would you say The Citizen is one of
your better recent films?
Yeah, I think so. The
Citizen won Best
Ensemble Acting at the Boston Film Festival. They're in the middle of doing a
distribution deal for it now in the U.S. The
Citizen is a great picture. It also stars that lovely young actress Agnes
Bruckner who is playing Anna Nichole Smith for HBO. The Citizen will go into general release in the summer. I don't
always stump for everything that I'm in but I do stump for this one because I
think it's a terrific picture.
are you working on next?
I have an offer for a movie but I'm not
sure if the deal is going to work out. I've been involved in that process for
two movies in the past two months. On one of them I said, "No, we'll see
what happens with the other movie." I also just came back from Palm
Springs where I did a big musical benefit for Jewish Family Service of the
Desert. I used to do music in New York years ago. So it was a big musical
extravaganza for a couple of thousand people and was filled with artists like
James Barbour, Michelle Lee, Kate Ballard, and other great people. It was a big
musical evening for the Jewish Home Services Charity in Palm Springs, held at
The McCallum Theater, a big musical venue out in the desert. It was called Michael Childers Presents One Night Only.
I sang Isn't It Romantic?, which was
used in The Day of the Locust.
How did you feel about taking on the role of Honoré
in Gigi – the recent stage revival at
the Reprise Theater in Los Angeles?
I loved it.I had a fabulous
time. Millicent Martin and I did the enormously popular song Yes, I Remember It Well. We were a huge
success. Gigi sold out. Millicent was
great. The whole production was great. It was the most successful show they've
had (at the Reprise Theater). That was when I was asked to perform at the first big do
in Palm Springs. So Millicent and I also performed Yes, I Remember It Well at the McCallum Theatre's annual charity
event. And then they brought me back this year.
So you're edging back into musicals all these years
after singing What'll I Do? in The Great Gatsby (1974 version).
I'm still around
and I'm still doing it and I can still do it and I've had the most eclectic
career I can imagine. You have to go through the easiest door. All of a sudden
there was a door that opened to musical comedy. I can do a dance routine but
I'm not a "dance dancer" the way Christopher Walken is an acrobatic
dancer – even now. I'm a hoofer. I can do a routine, a soft shoe shuffle and
stuff like that.
Jinn sounds like a very intriguing picture.
I shot Jinn
about two or three years ago and I did some more on it last summer. It's really
a film-in-progress. The director of Jinn
is a very talented guy.
It's really a Middle-Eastern Exorcist.
A jinn is one of the spectres of Arab folk tales, a ghost essentially and part
of Middle Eastern lore and it's a very interesting kind of sci-fi slash horror
picture. So we'll see what happens. They're still in the midst of editing Jinn and putting that together so we
should see Jinn in a month or two. My
role as Father Westhoff is kind of like the Max von Sydow character in The Exorcist.
an episode of The Unknown series, you
again worked with Martha Coolidge, the director of Real Genius, in which you played the douchebag professor Jerry
directed Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (a 1999 TV-movie in which Atherton played 20th
Century Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck).
I understand Yesterday
is a horror story. What can you tell me about it and about your role as Jim
It's an episode
of a series on the Web called The Unknown...
a series about a guy who has a website and he collects stories of the Beyond
and puts them on his website. So he's uploading the Yesterday episode. I play the priest who has somebody come and
confess to him. The person he sees at the end is already dead. And Martha shot
it very well. Yesterday is very
classy. And it's been quite successful as a webisode on Crackle.com.
Can you give me your honest opinion of Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, in
which you play a gangster by the name of Earle Swinter?
opinion is that it made money and did well and that's all you'll get out of me.
(laughs). I think it made money overseas. It's very hard to say what does make
money and what doesn't make money. But it did better than people thought, which
is always important. I think Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are very talented
and they're going to find their niche.
Did you have a blast working with Robert Loggia?
Oh yeah. I love
Bob. He's always terrific. Tim and Eric's
Billion Dollar Movie is not for us. It's a kid's picture. It's not the kind
of thing we'd be interested in. Their audience is the hip kids on the internet.
Their audience is like the one for Childrens
Hospital or Workaholics (Atherton recently guest starred in an
episode of each series). Those are very hot internet cable comedies. That
is their milieu and that's Tim and Eric's audience.
So the new generation knows who you are basically
because of your guest appearances in these productions.
Yes, I'm happy
How do you feel about present-day Hollywood? You
have an international reputation from Ghostbusters,
the first two Die Hard films, and the
incomparable excellence of your performances. How do you fit in to this new
Hollywood of Marvel Comics summer blockbusters, Internet movies...
Well, I don't
know about that. Ghostbusters was one
of the first summer blockbusters, where it was really designed for that kind of
thing. That's almost 30 years ago now. Pictures I began with like The Sugarland Express and all that –
they belong to a different era. But no, I think it's about the same now.
Everybody is trying to figure out the best way to do it. Everybody is trying to
figure out the best way to get good product out there. It's always been a
business and the summer blockbuster thing has been going for a long time. Look
at the Die Hards. They were
positioned to be summer blockbusters. And that's 20 years ago. And Real Genius the same way. So nothing has
changed very much. What's changed is that things come and go more quickly.
Perhaps that's how I see it now. The attention span is less now than it used to
be, but not because of Hollywood. It's the culture's attention span that's
What can you tell me about your participation in the
Sci-Fi Channel Creature Feature Ghouls.
WA:Ghouls was very ambitious for
Sci-Fi because they wanted to see how much they could do technically with the
CGI stuff for television. It was all shot in Romania, so Erin Gray and I went
over there for a month and that was fascinating because you were shooting in
Romania which was a hot location for a number of years until it got too
expensive. It was very cheap to be in Romania back then. They had finished
shooting a big Civil War picture there – Cold
Mountain with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. We were in Romania a couple of
years later. There were a lot of pictures being shot in and around Bucharest.
We worked in the big studios in Bucharest. A lot of American production
companies were buying or leasing space in them. The crews were very good and
very cheap. It was just cheaper to bring a lot of people over there from the
States to shoot the picture. That changed after SAG's Rule 1 became official.
And that is, if you're an American actor and you're in SAG, if you shoot a
picture in Romania for international distribution, you have to have a SAG
contract. If you go to Romania to shoot something for Romanian television, they
don't care. But if you shoot something in Romania for international
distribution, it has to be a SAG contract. So SAG's Rule 1 slammed into the Romanians.
But the fun part of it was that you could go there and visit beautiful little
towns... Sibiu and university towns like Brașov – these little Baroque gems in the middle of the Carpathians and
you were shooting in some really lovely places. So that's what we did for a
Ghouls is what it is. It was a
horror picture for the Sci-Fi Channel. I think they were trying to shoot as
many things as they could for all the distribution that they could get. So I
was there with Erin Grey (Buck Rogers in
the 25th Century) and that's really all I can say about it. I was not part
of the overall viewing of it or the overall putting it together as much as I
was with Andrew's stuff like Headspace
and The Girl Next Door.
you were called upon to play another bastard in Jersey Shore Shark Attack, a Syfy Channel production.
WA: That was just a hoot. I did
that because Paul Sorvino was in it. Paul and I have known each other for many
years. It just seemed kind of fun and stupid and I guess it was fun and stupid
and so that's why we spent four or five days down in El Segundo and we just had
a very good time and it's one of those things you do just for the hell of it,
because it's silly and stupid and we had a good time doing it and that was
didn't feel that you had to bring a different element to your portrayal of
another villain – a ruthless developer intent on demolishing a seedy boardwalk
frequented by Italian-Americans?
WA: No, you try to reel it up as much as you can because the more you
ground it, the funnier it can be. You can't riff on a riff. (laughs) Somebody's
got to be the straight man so you try to do it that way and hopefully it'll all
What was it like to be crushed by a ferris wheel?
WA: Again, I watched that from afar. Paul and I just looked up and yelled
"Oh my God" and that was that (laughs).
What role do you play in Childrens Hospital, Adult Swim's hit comedy series?
WA: I play an official who is kind of like the Inspector-General. Shooting
that episode was a lot of fun. I worked with Henry Winkler. Henry and I have
known each other for a thousand years, all the way back to New York and The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in
Cushing, seen here in Frankenstein Created Woman, adorned the cover of Cinema Retro issue #25. (See our back issues section)
Stephen Whitty, film critic for the Star Ledger newspaper in New Jersey, recently ran wrote a major article commemorating Peter Cushing on what would have been his 100th birthday. The actor who personified class and style in British cinema left a remarkable legacy that, happily, is now being rediscovered by film scholars. Click here to read.
Despite assertions to the contrary, Sam Mendes may not be able to resist returning to the 007 series in the wake of the enormous success of Skyfall. Mendes initially turned down the producer's offer to direct the entry in the legendary series, but Deadline now reports that Mendes may be having second thoughts. Click here for more
In the history of Eon Productions, there has only been one non-James Bond film: the 1963 Bob Hope comedy Call Me Bwana. Eon's founders, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, did produce independent productions (Broccoli made Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Saltzman produced the Harry Palmer films and Battle of Britain) but these were not under the Eon banner. Since Broccoli's death, Eon Productions has been in control of his daughter Barbara and his stepson Michael G. Wilson. They have made an occasional foray into non-Bond territory including an acclaimed HBO film about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the successful stage production of Chitty. Now, however, in the wake of the company's greatest success, Skyfall, Eon have announced that they will produce a rare non-007 film, The Silent Storm which will be shot in Scotland this summer. Click here for more details.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center resumes its annual "Midnight Movies" program commencing June 7 with John Carpenter's super remake of The Thing. Every Friday night throughout the summer, another cult or horror flick will be shown. Other titles for June are Big Trouble in Little China, The Omen (1976) and Deadly Blessing. Click here for more
Ok, James Bond fans...you've probably watched the 2006 version of Casino Royale until you memorized virtually every line of dialogue. (Although you're really a Bond fanatic when you can say the same about the 1967 spoof version of the Ian Fleming novel!) Here's a new spin: Buzzfeed has linked to a brilliant remake of the film's opening sequence- which is done entirely with Legos, accompanied by the original dialogue. They should have titled it "Lego Let Die" Click here to view.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Sir Roger Moore, the legendary film star who played the iconic role of James Bond, is to play a series of exclusive dates at theatres around the UK.Following the huge success of his tour last year, Sir Roger will return with ten new dates in Autumn 2013, opening at the Leeds Grand Theatre on Sunday 27 October.
Roger will be discussing his astonishing life and career, with inside stories and exclusive anecdotes ranging from his internationally-renowned TV series The Saint and The Persuaders, through to Hollywood blockbusters and, of course, the 007 films, in which he starred as JamesBond between 1973 and 1985.
Gareth Owen will interview Roger. Gareth is an author of nine books and has worked with Roger Moore on his autobiography My Word Is My Bond and his latest book Bond On Bond. Gareth has interviewed Roger previously at the BFI Southbank, the Barbican Centre and at various UNICEF fundraisers throughout Europe. The show will be followed by an audience Q&A.
Presented by Jeremy Meadow & Suzanna Rosenthal, by arrangement with Pollinger Limited.
For further info, please see www.aneveningwithsirrogermoore.com
2013 Tour Dates:
An Afternoon with Sir Roger Moore An Evening with Sir Roger Moore
Sunday 27 October 2.00pm Wednesday 6 November 7.30pm
LEEDS GRAND THEATRE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
There have been so many false starts in the attempt to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E to the big screen, we've given up trying to summarize them all. Suffice it to say that fans believe there is a curse on any such attempt. The latest development won't do anything to dispel those beliefs. Tom Cruise, long rumored to be starring in the role of Napoleon Solo originated on the TV series by Robert Vaughn, has formally bowed out. Ironically, he's bypassed the U.N.C.L.E. project in order to do yet another installment of the Mission: Impossible series. So Cruise has dropped one film inspired by a classic 1960s spy franchise in favor of another. Still, Warner Brothers remains keen on making U.N.C.L.E. a new franchise and Guy Ritchie is still attached as director. Arnie Hammer is also still with the film, presumably to play the role of Illya Kuryakin that was originally played by David McCallum. However, at this rate, we can assume the curse will strike again. Maybe the only way U.N.C.L.E. will ever make it to the big screen is in the form of the two part feature films that were derived from the TV show in the 1960s. For more click here
Actor Steve Forrest has passed away at the age of 87. The brother of famed actor Dana Andrews, Forrest had a successful career in films and television. A WWII veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Forrest was discovered by Gregory Peck and appeared in numerous films including Flaming Star, Spies Like Us, The Longest Day, Heller in Pink Tights, North Dallas Forty and Mommie Dearest. He was also a proficient vocalist and golfer. On TV, Forrest enjoyed his greatest success, starring in the short-lived, but fondly remembered British adventure series The Baron. As the titular character in the 1965 show, Forrest played an American antiques dealer living in London who would secretly undertake dangerous international missions in the service of British Intelligence. Forrest also had the lead role in the 1970s hit TV series S.W.A.T. For more click here
It's been quite a while since a film starring Robert Redford got a lot of positive buzz at film festivals. However, his offbeat starring role in a new film called All is Lost got a great reaction after its premiere showing at Cannes. Directed by JC Chandor, the movie depicts Redford as a lone sailor who finds himself in jeopardy on the high seas. The film is said to be masterfully directed and acted and its predicted Redford may score a Best Actor Oscar nomination even though he has no dialogue in the one-character adventure flick. For more click here
Ernest Borgnine's final film, The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vincente Fernandez has been released on Blu-ray on the Indican video label. The following is my review of the film's recent theatrical release:
The independent production is a modestly-budgeted family comedy/drama that presents the legendary Oscar-winner with the kind of showcase role that actors in their nineties almost never have. Borgnine makes the most of it, too, giving a terrific and moving performance that earned him the Best Actor award at last year's Newport Film Festival. Written and produced by Elia Petridis, Fernandez centers on Rex Page (Borgnine), a cantankerous old coot given to griping about every aspect of life. He seems oblivious to the fact that he has an adoring wife (June Squibb), a devoted middle-aged daughter (Dale Dickey) and and a worshipful granddaughter (Audrey P. Scott). Rex is frustrated by his failure to fulfill his dream of becoming a big time actor on the silver screen. He once came close to landing the leading role in a spaghetti Western, but lost out to a competing actor. He's spent a lifetime in self-imposed hell, obsessed with watching this B movie and learning every line of dialogue, which he repeats to anyone in his presence. When a health crisis sees the fiercely independent Rex move into a nursing home, a series of incidents motivate him to reevaluate his life. The nursing home is a money mill for corrupt bureaucrats who use the patients as cash cows. It doesn't take Rex long to figure this out and he quickly wears out his welcome by insulting and chastising fellow elderly patients who are part of a click belonging to the corrupt family that owns the facility. He also is abrasive towards the largely Hispanic staff of nurses and orderlies, often referring to them in unflattering racial insults.
The relationship between Rex and his caregivers gradually softens, however, when the young staff members learn that Rex, a former popular DJ, once briefly met and shook the hand of the film's titular character, Vincente Fernandez, a "Mexican Frank Sinatra" who enjoys mythic stature in the Hispanic community. Rex transfixes the staff by telling and retelling his account of this brief meeting in the 1970s. This common bond allows Rex and the staffers to form a mutually respectful relationship that grows stronger by the day. Rex particularly takes a shine to his nurse Solena (stunningly beautiful Carla Ortiz)- and he comes to her defense, saving her from the clutches of would-be molester Dr. Dominguez (Tony Plana), the chief administrator. In a scenario that is a clearly geriatric version of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Rex inspires his young friends to stand up for their rights and take on the oppressive bureaucrats who exploit them. He must also deal with challenges in his own life when his family feels he's been alienating them in favor of his adopted family at the nursing home.
The film contains more than its share of sugary scenes and corny cliches. (The villains are so lacking in any redeeming qualities that they practically twirl their mustaches.) Nevertheless, director Petridis offers Borgnine the finest role he's had in more years than I can remember. He dominates every scene and, ironically for his final film, looks like the picture of good health. Petridis, who must clearly be obsessive about spaghetti westerns himself, cleverly manages to intertwine many aspects of Western movie lore into this contemporary story so that even a card game between Borgnine and a nursing home nemesis is drenched in Leone-like imagery and music. This homage extends to the brilliant title credits which are cleverly derived from the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood "Dollars" trilogy. This is a feel good family film that is marred by one easily correctable misjudgment: the insertion of a completely unnecessary expletive said from a mother to her young child. It's wildly out of place in an otherwise uplifting tale for all ages. If director Petridis is wise, he'll exclude this from the video and pay-per-view versions of the film.
I only had the pleasure of meeting Ernest Borgnine once several years ago for an interview for Cinema Retro magazine. He struck me as a warm, honest and kind individual. Thus, perhaps I had a bit more of a personal outlook when viewing Borgnine's final sequence in this film, which Elia Petridis handles brilliantly. It's so touchingly filmed and directed that I was moved to watch this scene several times. Not since John Wayne's final scene in The Shootist has a legendary actor had a more appropriate on-screen send off.
The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez is not high art, nor does it pretend to be. However, it is an enjoyable film that refreshingly extolls family values. The supporting cast members are all very talented and a pleasure to watch, but is Ernie Borgnine who justifiably dominates the movie and your memories of it.
The Blu-ray release, which boasts an excellent transfer, includes commentary track by director Elias Petridis and producer Darren Brandl, who both enthusiastically share their memories of making the movie. They both acknowledge that the film has been praised for its superb title sequence, but bizarrely don't seem to be aware of the fact that it is a brilliant homage specifically to Sergio Leone's Man With No Name movies. Instead, they simply imply it is based on traditional Westerns. Come on guys, watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and you'll see exactly why everyone loves the credits to Vicente Fernandez. Even the film's ad campaign is creatively based on that classic. The Blu-ray also contains the original trailer and other trailers for Indican video releases, most of which are films centered on themes of social significance. There is also a bonus supplement of raw footage shot by Brandl on his cell phone of the behind the scenes aspects of the production. While the footage doesn't shed much light on how the movie itself, it does illustrate how the production team had to cope with a very limited budget (everyone is crammed into a small work space). There is also a good deal of reverence in seeing young Petridis return from his first meeting with Ernest Borgnine and speaking incredulously about how the legendary actor promised to defer to him as director and call him "sir". It's nice to see how much respect this new generation of filmmakers had for the revered star.
considering the scores for movie Westerns, film music collectors often refer to
classics such as Max Steiner's The Searchers, Dimitri Tiomkin's Rio Bravo or Victor
Young's Shane, all of which are, of course, fabulous scores. Monstrous Movie Music
have again, (and in keeping with their refreshing style), ventured into new
territories with the release of Paul Dunlap’s Western score to Hellgate (1952)
(MMM-1972). Rather surprisingly, this CD marks the first full release to
feature Dunlap’s film music. The composer was incredibly prolific throughout
his career scoring diverse projects which spanned from many of The Three
Stooges movies to the cult classic AIP horrors including the Teenage
Frankenstein/Werewolf series of films. For a B movie western, there was something
a little different about Hellgate – it was really rather good! Hellgate was
directed by Charles Marquis Warren, a tough all-rounder who would go on to
produce the popular TV series Rawhide. The film boasted a strong, testosterone
fuelled cast featuring Sterling Hayden, James Arness and Ward Bond.Hayden plays a veterinarian who is wrongly
convicted of guerrilla activities shortly after the Civil War. The prison camp is tough and he has to survive
the sadistic commandant (Bond), a cruel guard (Robert Wilke), and deceitful
prisoners like Arness. Throw in some Pima Indians (who patrol the canyon walls)
in order to catch any escapees for a reward, prisoner punishment that involves
being baked in metal coffins or whipped within an inch of their lives and you
have a Western story that is well above the expected standard of Poverty Row
Lippert Pictures. Dunlap’s music is incredibly dramatic throughout, but it
isn’t your regular western score. His main theme begins with heavy brass and
drums, but slips into a more solemn, string based theme before it builds gently
and provides a sense of hope. It sets the tone perfectly and emphasises the
film’s opposing themes of hatred vs. forgiveness. Tracks such as “Kearne Makes
Lunge at Nye” illustrate Dunlap’s ability to create genuine excitement by
employing his full range of brass and string sections. Quality, for the best
part of this score, is highly acceptable. MMM took the decision to release
Dunlap’s original recordings in place of re-recording his score, which I
believe was the correct option. Whilst there is some minor noise (from the
surviving acetates) evident on a handful of tracks, it does not detract or
spoil the acoustic soundscape and naturally maintains the composer’s original
work. As a bonus, Monstrous movie music has generously included Dunlap’s excellent
score for The Lost Continent (1951). A simple enough story, The Lost Continent
successfully merged two fantasy elements, combining rocket ships with roaming
dinosaurs on a south pacific island. Making good use of an increased budget,
Dunlap was able to employ a 47 piece orchestra, and it was warranted – given
the enormity of aircraft, rockets, natural disasters and battling monsters that
confronted the composer. The result was a highly enjoyable score, and whilst
some of the music has been lost in time, the 28mins of music included here make
this a CD that is hard to ignore. We can only hope that there is a lot more of
Paul Dunlap’s music to come. Included is a great 20 page booklet that covers
just about every aspect of the music, composer and the film, all written (in
exquisite detail) by David Schecter.
Branded to Kill is among the Nikkatsu films to be screened.
The BFI will showcase a month long London film festival tribute to Japan's legendary Nikkatsu Studios during the month of June. Below is press release information:
The oldest of Japan’s film studios, Nikkatsu was established in 1912 as the Japan Cinematograph Company (Nippon katsudo shashin kaisha). Home to ‘father of Japanese cinema’ Shozo Makino, it fostered early directors like Kenji Mizoguchi, Daisuke Ito and Tomu Uchida, until restructuring of the industry by the wartime government in 1942 saw its production facilities hived off to form the new Daiei Corporation, with Nikkatsu surviving only in an exhibition capacity.
In 1954, Nikkatsu resumed production, rising phoenix-like under the guidance of studio head Kyusaku Hori to carve out a unique identity in the highly competitive market of the postwar Golden Age. Its breakthrough came with the 1956 double whammy of Takumi Furukawa’s Season of the Sun and Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit, kicking off a boom in so-called ‘Sun Tribe’ (taiyôzoku) movies. Such films, with their controversial youths-on-the-loose narratives and sunny beachside settings providing a Japanese mirror to Hollywood titles like Rebel Without a Cause and Blackboard Jungle, were emblematic of a new era of carefree hedonism and sexual liberation for a generation of postwar baby-boomers, and were soon emulated by other studios.
In the 1960s, Nikkatsu cultivated its ‘Borderless Action’ (mukokuseki akushun) brand – the onscreen worlds drawing from American and European cinema and bearing little resemblance to contemporary Japanese reality. Produced at a conveyer-belt pace by directors including Koreyoshi Kurahara, Toshio Masuda and Takashi Nomura and featuring the company’s ‘Diamond Line’ roster of matinee idols like Yujiro Ishihara, Hideaki Nitani, Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido, these gaudy mash-ups of genres including musicals, film noir, gangster movies and even American Westerns defined the company’s product against its rivals. While the playful populism of most of its productions saw them fall beneath the radar of international critics, Nikkatsu’s output as a whole remained eccentric enough to spawn talents such as Shohei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki.
With the steady loss of innocence across the decade marked by the collapse of the Japanese studio system at its end, an era in Japanese cinema came to an end, although it would be Nikkatsu, arguably, who defined the new one too, when from 1971 onwards, it launched its new Roman Porno erotic line.
its heavy percussion based main title, She Demons (1958) (MMM-1971) opens with
a sense of heart pounding excitement and sets the tone for what is to follow.
Nicholas Carras’s jungle-based score is threaded with dramatic cues of which
the composer makes impressive use of his 22 piece orchestra. Whist She Demons
(as a movie) was never going to attain the title of ‘classic’, Carras’s music,
as is often the case, promotes the film to a higher level. Cues such as Escape
and Nazis in Pursuit make excellent use of the orchestra’s brass and string
section. Carras provides a hopeful, triumphant end title that runs concurrent
with a few lonesome drum beats which provides continuity with the film’s
central themes. For an isolated island movie (occupied by scantily clad girls,
caged mutant women and Nazis) they probably don’t come any better than this.
MMM have previously delighted us with a couple of superb Carras scores such as
Missile to the Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. Their commitment to the
composer’s work has proven to be a fruitful decision as She Demons is certainly
one of his most accomplished scores.
Doubling up very nicely with She Demons is
Guenther Kauer’s score to another low budget slice of sci-fi, The Astounding
She-Creature (1957). If Carras’s score for She Demons was impressive, Kauer’s
is simply enlightening. Granted, Kauer’s score was recorded using a 45 piece
orchestra and as a result, the sound is a great deal richer. Perhaps more
remarkably, Kauer sent his 33 minute written score to a friend in Germany who
conducted and recorded the music (performed beautifully by The Stuttgart
Symphony Orchestra) without screening the actual film. Cue timings were sent,
but it often meant that final cues were not always precise. However, what emerged
was a wonderful sounding score. Ronnie Ashcroft’s rather poor film succumbed to
many edits and, as a result, the final music mix suffered. Thankfully, all of
Kauer’s score is delivered here and is an orchestral delight. It is a
beautifully crafted and intelligently written composition that really has no
right to accompany such a lacklustre movie. Like many sci-fi classics, there is
an undeniable ambiance that is certainly Herrmannesque in its delivery, and
that can’t be a bad thing. Included is a super 20 page booklet that covers just
about every aspect of the music, composer and the film, all written (in
exquisite detail) by David Schecter.
CINEMA RETRO ISSUE #26, THE SECOND ISSUE OF SEASON 9, HAS NOW SHIPPED TO ALL SUBSCRIBERS WORLDWIDE.
DON'T MISS A SINGLE ISSUE OF THIS SEASON. IF YOU HAVEN'T SUBSCRIBED,DO SO TODAY!
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #26 INCLUDE:
Lee Pfeiffer interviews comedy legend Mel Brooks, who reflects on his long career in TV and feature films
Mike Siegel takes you to the set of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, the 1971 classic starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George; rare production photos and international ad campaigns.
Howard Hughes examines the Spaghetti Western classic The Five Man Army starring Peter Graves, Bud Spencer and Tetsuro Tamba
Dean Brierly pays tribute to the great French crime films of the 1960s and 1970s
David McCallum recalls the making of Oakmont Studio's 1969 WWII film Mosquito Squadron
Cinema Retro attends the 40th anniversary cast and crew reunion of Bob Fosse's Cabaret and gets interviews with JoeL Grey, Michael York, Marisa Berenson and Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. Plus we cover the "re-premiere" at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre, attended by Liza Minnelli herself.
Don R. Stradley looks at Sextette, the bizarre cinematic swan song of Mae West
Raymond Benson's ten best films of 1985
Gareth Owen examines the making of the 1969 spy flick The Chairman (aka The Most Dangerous Man in the World) starring Gregory Peck
Dave Worrall covers the new restoration of the Hammer horror classic Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula)
Remembering the brilliant, cynical comedy of Paddy Chayefsky in The Hospital starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg
Plus the latest DVD, soundtrack and film book reviews
With Superman about to be revived (again) for the big screen, the Geeks of Doom site looks back at the entry that put an end to the Christopher Reeve Supey franchise. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was to be the most ambitious entry in the series. However, despite the presence of Reeve and Gene Hackman (reviving Lex Luthor), the 1987 film was a disaster on all levels. The article includes extensive comments from actor Jon Cryer, who was initially thrilled to be in the film but later learned from Reeve that the final cut would be a major disappointment, thanks to penny-pinching producers who reduced the budget by about 2/3. Click here to relive the unhappy memories.
Sony has released the 1955 crime drama 5 Against the House as a burn-to-order DVD. The little-remembered film is interesting on a number of levels and boasts an impressive, eclectic cast. The low-budget flick depicts four young ex-G.I.s who fought in Korea who return to the States and enroll in college. Al (Guy Madison) is a straight-as-an-arrow type who is engaged to sultry nightclub singer Kay (Kim Novak). Ronnie (Kerwin Matthews) is a brainy upstart with delusions of grandeur and a superiority complex. Roy (Alvy Moore) is an affable joker who is very much a follower, not a leader. Brick (Brian Keith) is the most troubled of the group. He bares psychological problems from his combat experience and has a hair-trigger temper. The guys' only vices are taking an occasional trip to Reno, Nevada and engaging in some minor gambling and womanizing. However, Ronnie concocts an audacious plan to prove he can outwit the authorities and rob a casino. He suggest that the plan be put into operation with the intention of returning the money to the casino after the fact. Ronnie wants to build his ego, not his bank account. Roy and Brick sign on to the plan, but when Al balks, Brick's anger comes through. He threatens his friends with a gun and forces them to pull off the incredible scheme. The film, deftly directed by Phil Karlson, makes effective use of on location shooting in Reno at a place called Harold's Casino. The movie works best as a character study and the performances are all first-rate, with the exception of Madison, who is a bit of a stiff in the lead role. Novak is her usual sexy self and Keith, long-underrated for his dramatic capabilities, gives a powerful performance. The film is one of the earliest to take a sympathetic look at the emotional toll war takes on returning veterans. 5 Against the House is engaging throughout and although it is unremarkable in the long run, it represents the kind of overlooked gems that the burn-to-order DVD format is rescuing from complete obscurity.
Mel Brooks is profiled
in a superb American Masters documentary entitled Mel Brooks: Make a Noise,
which premieres nationally on PBS stations on May 20th. One of 14 EGOT
(Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winners, he has earned more major awards than
any other living entertainer, and shows few signs of slowing down. With new interviews with Brooks, his friends
and colleagues, including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Joan
Rivers, Tracey Ullman, Rob Reiner, and his close friend, with whom he created The 2000 Year Old Man, Carl Reiner. A
DVD with bonus material will be available Tuesday, May 21 from Shout Factory.
"When they called me to say I had been
chosen as the next 'American Master,' I thought they said I was chosen to be
the next Dutch Master. So I figured what the hell, at least I'll get a
box of cigars. When I realized my mistake I was both elated and a little
disappointed at losing the cigars," Brooks said.
The comprehensive film takes viewers from
Brooks’ early years as Melvin Kaminsky in the Catskills (“I became a drummer
because I wanted to make a noise,” Brooks said. “I could have been a floutist, but there was not enough noise”), to his
work with Sid Caesar (“that SOB held me back because of his Promethean talent”),
to finding his own voice. He knew he had
something, he didn’t know how to peddle it, ultimately realizing that his “job
was to spot the insane and the bizarre in the commonplace.”
has a unique and a decidedly different feel. “You get a view of the participants being seen on monitors,” said
filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg.
a photographer by trade so I usually shoot my documentaries in studios to
achieve a consistent look (and be able to get more people interviewed per day).
Because Mel is a filmmaker, I thought it was appropriate to show the milieu -
the edges of the set, the monitors, etc. I didn't want the interviews to exist
in a vacuum, and I flat out refuse to have a vase of flowers or a lamp behind
“Mel was different from anyone else I've worked with because
.... he's Mel! It's a pleasure to talk with someone who is so bright and has
such command of the language - you don't want it to end. The most fun was being able to throw out
questions that he hadn't heard before - or approach topics from an angle that
was new to him. As Rob Reiner says, he's at his very best when he's put in a
asked him deep, probing questions for four months, and he got to keep the shirt
we bought for him. So I think we both made out pretty well."
for my conversation with Mr. Brooks earlier this week, I spent two weeks
calling close friends with whom I shared an eternal love and reverence for
Brooks and his works and sought their input as to what made him better and more
enduring than anyone else who does what he does. It was the joyful conversations themselves
that provided the obvious conclusion: No
one else could have gotten me to make those calls to other busy people who took
the time to think and laugh. Each call reflexively
elicited dialogue from his films (including my favorite, “What’s a dazzling
urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”), which over the years
has become the shorthand of our affection. Brooks’ comedy is the currency of our friendships.
While it is well-settled that he is a genius
at comedy, he is also a genius at collaboration and friendship. Infused in his work is his love for comedy
teams and the journey: The Marx Brothers
and the Road Pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. At the core of every one of Brooks’ films
there is a partnership and a friendship between at least two characters that
are on an adventure. It is the well-defined characters that launches and
sustains the comedy and makes the stories enduring. “Unconsciously I was a pup in a cardboard box
with three other pups, my brothers, and we tumbled about with each other,” Mel
Brooks insightfully said, recalling his modest Brooklyn roots. “That’s why my films are almost always two
guys on a journey,” he said.
“When you parody
something, you move the truth sideways,” Brooks said. However in developing the on-screen
friendships, Brooks built foundations of truth and drilled down deep into the
I invoked Sid
Caesar, Brooks’ friend and former boss, who said: “Great comedy is stories with
beginnings, middles and ends. And its
best version is combining comedy with pathos. In City Lights, Chaplin’s little tramp character falls in love
with a blind girl. He takes out his last dime and gives it to the blind girl to
buy the violets she is selling. When she goes over to the water fountain to
rinse out her cup, Chaplin follows her with love in his eyes. She rinses the
cup and then throws the water in his face. There was a hush in the audience
because they didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. That to me was a great
piece of comedy because Chaplin captured that bittersweet moment, and was truly
working both sides of the street.”
While most of
the interviews analyzed the comedy penthouses of his skyscraper classics, I
challenged him to analyze the foundation of Brooks’ work: The Da Vinci “science of the art,” the sub-textual
pathos of his work- comedy as the currency
and engine of friendship, defining the essence of the characters that define
and drive the comedy, and a comparison of his fictional friendships with his
real-life counterparts. Brooks’ understanding and creation of screen
friendships mirror his real-life friendships which go back decades.
Early days: Mel and Sid Caesar (Photo courtesy Mel Brooks/PBS)
Brooks’ 1974 masterpiece is a satire of Western films and a brilliant social
commentary on race and government. The two
heroes- Black Bart (Cleavon Little), the Sherriff of Rock Ridge and The Waco
Kid (Gene Wilder), are overtly friendlier than Newman and Redford’s Butch and
Sundance, on which they are based. When
it comes to character development, the Brooks films take the attendant
characters and make them more passionate, compassionate, and affable. The
comedy is buttressed by friendship, heroism, and honor.
interchange in the film occurs after Bart has killed Harvey Korman’s villainous
Kid: “Where are you going?
Kid: “Nowhere special… I’ve always wanted to go
As the two ride
off into the sunset, and then into a town car, the scene is as poignant and
heartfelt as it is anachronistically funny, with the best friends not knowing
where they are going next, and not concerned because they are going there
friendship mirrors the relationship Brooks has with Carl Reiner, his comedic
and creative partner in crime for over 60 years. “When I first joined The Admiral Broadway
Review, the predecessor to Your Show of Shows, I was so unsure of myself I was
throwing up between parked cars. I came
from South Third Street in Williamsburg [Brooklyn]. I thought I was destined to work in the
Garment Center and work my way up from shipping clerk, to salesman, to maybe a
partner. I thought that any minute I
would be fired. Sid fought for me, but
[Show of Shows producer] Max Liebman didn’t want me.” According to legend the stern and staid
Liebman would throw lit cigars at the young and animated Brooks.
With Carl Reiner, 2001 (Photo courtesy Robert Trachtenberg/PBS)
“Carl came to
the show and thought I was really talented- he supported me at every turn. Carl was a little older and had been on
Broadway, he starred in Call me Mister. I
was leaning on him for the first two years until I felt I could be there and
had my own sense of confidence. If I
said I was the best, he said “’you are.’” He created the 2000 Year Old Man with
his tape recorder having faith that I could become any character he threw
out: From a submarine commander to an
Israeli psychiatrist or a Cockney English director.”
portion of my life Carl was my rock. Christ said on this rock I will found my church. On this Jew from the Bronx I founded my
In public from
across a room he looks at Carl not only affectionately and for artistic fuel,
but often protectively, to make sure his friend is okay. To anyone with close friendships of their
own, their rare and enviable bond is apparent and palpable. There is purity to it. They are the Butch and Sundance Kid of
comedy, both comedic alchemists, creating funny lines, images and situations
literally from the air spinning their golden wit and entertaining and
energizing everyone around them, endeavoring to make everyone in the room not
only entertained by but engaged in the comedy. “We have a talent for that-
turning a room into a community and we enjoy doing that,” Brooks said.
“He’s not a kid anymore
and I still love him,” Brooks said of the now 91-year old Reiner. Things turned
around. 60 years later Carl leans on
me. We’re both very lucky we’ve survived
the storms of age and loss. It’s the
son’s duty to take care of the father. He
just called to ask whether I want the marinated lamb chops or the baby lamb
chops- I said get the baby lamb chops thick.”
In 1967’s The Producers,
Brooks took the name of Gene Wilder’s character Leopold Bloom from James Joyce
Ulysses, and undertook the challenge of making the audience root for two
characters that are crooks. It is because
of the affection and friendship between Bloom and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)
that the story works.
“You can’t help
yourself, you want them to succeed,” Brooks said. “I try to explain it all in the lovely speech
that Bloom makes in the courtroom trying to protect his friend, Max.”
After the jury
foreman (Bill Macy) announces that the jury finds the pair “incredibly guilty,”
Leo: “Ladies and Gentleman of the jury, Max
Bialystock is the most selfish man I ever met in my life.”
Max: “Don’t help me.”
Leo: “Not only is he a liar and a cheat and a scoundrel
and a crook who has taken money from little old ladies, he has talked people
including me into doing things that they would never have done in a thousand
year… this is a wonderful man who made me what I am today. And what about all the women: Max made them feel young, attractive and
“It’s the father
taking care of the son,” Brooks said. “And
then the young guy is taking care of the old guy. I also had that in The Twelve Chairs. The young streetwise guy is dealing with the
“’out of it’” privileged aristocrat, who never had to worry about life until
the revolution set him back on his heels.”
Frankenstein, which director Brooks co-wrote with Wilder has Wilder’s Victor
Frankenstein nurturing Peter Boyle’s monster. In none of the other 200-plus versions of the genre did the creator ever
risk his life to save his creation. Boris Karloff never sang and danced when he portrayed the monster, nor
did he sit on his creators lap. “In no
other version did anyone say: “This is an angel- this is a good boy,”” Brooks
Producers and Young Frankenstein are metaphors for Brook’s friendship with Gene
Wilder. In accepting his Oscar for Best
Screenplay from Frank Sinatra for The Producers he thanked Wilder three times, with
both men fighting back tears. “Gene
Wilder came from nowhere, unknown. Just
like Carl spotted the talent in me ten years before that, I spotted the talent
in him. I knew there was no more
talented actor in comedy or drama than Gene Wilder.”
“He was so grateful
to me for supporting him emotionally and bringing the best out of him. I have a great wine collection because of
him. I was drinking Manischewitz until I
met Gene. He really understood
wine. Anne [Bancroft] and I went over to
his apartment in the [Greenwich] Village one night. A real dump. But he had a rotisserie, a barbequed chicken. I didn’t know how he did
it. He servedChâteauneuf-du-Pape, a Rhone wine, and
I said “What the hell is this liquid?”
So I began buying that wine and then he served NuitsSaintGeorges, a burgundy. I
had not yet hit gold, a claret or Bordeaux. At the next meal he ordered LynchBages, a French Bordeaux, which I began to collect Bordeauxs,
including Sassicaia. I now send Gene something I don’t think he
can afford and he’s always happy to get it.”
Cinematic legends meet: Mel, Alfred Hitchcock (who he used to call "Al"!) and Anne Bancroft during the production of High Anxiety. (Photo courtesy of Mel Brooks/PBS)
Favorite Year was Brooks’ love letter to Sid Caesar and early television, and
was based on his own experience as the youngest writer on Your Show of Shows. Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned to
chaperone the less than reliable movie-star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is
scheduled to appear on King Kyser’s (Joseph Bologna) Cavalcade of Comedy. The film made me fall in love with Sid as
well. I told Brooks that it was 20 years
to the week after I saw My Favorite Year that I was writing with Sid. The affection between the two is still
strong. “If Sid Caesar was in a coma and
you walked into the room, Sid would get up, say “’hello Mel,’” and drop back
into the coma,” I said.
acknowledges the connection he still has with the 90 year old Caesar, whom he
visits regularly. “I’m one of the few
people who can get his synapses to fire in that special way. And I’m proud that I can do that. Because if there was no Sid Caesar there
would be no Mel Brooks.”
Brooks of an evening at New York’s Pierre Hotel in 2000, where Caesar was
honored and Brooks presented him with an award. He moved the capacity crowd of the great ballroom to near tears. “And it’s not the chicken,” the choked up
Brooks said at the time, praising his friend. “Life takes you on different paths. I got on the right road when I went with Sid- and it never went wrong.”
He recalled the
now fabled “Writers’ Room,” still one of the most romantic metaphors in history
for creativity and comedy and arguably the greatest collection of comedic
talent ever assembled.
“It was very
stressful to be that creative. We had an Olympic level of comedy height and had
to get over that crossbar. We knew when we
were settling for cheap standup material and when we were exalted in terms of
the human condition and being genuinely funny. We always aimed for that. Max
Liebman was a master- he put on live Broadway review every week for 39 weeks a
year. Sid wanted me- I could come up
with bizarre things- all kinds of crazy things that distinguished Sid from
other comedians. I came up with material
for the German Professor character and foreign movies.”
“There were only
a few of us in the beginning. Max
supervised the writing with Sid and Carl sitting in. There was Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen and then
myself. Tony Webster was brought
in. The later incarnation of the
Writers’ Room included Doc and Danny Simon, Mike Stewart, Aaron Ruben, Woody
Allen, and Larry Gelbart. We’d work
separately and all meet and complete each other’s tasks. Unless there was a big movie parody where we
all sat in a room together. It is still
the only show where the writers became as famous as the stars.”
He recalled meeting
another young writer whom he is still close to, Rudy DeLuca, who along with
Steve Haberman is part of Brooks’ inner circle. “Rudy is a real pal- he was working on the Carol Burnett show with his
partner, Barry Levinson. Rudy has such
a funny personality- he was crazy board member in Silent Movie. In High Anxiety, Rudy played the hit man with
the aluminum teeth. Who came up with the
idea of putting a little Japanese umbrella in his drink when he was stalking me
in the bar.”
wrote with me on High Anxiety. He would
tell me stories about growing up with his friends in Baltimore. I took him to Il Vitelloni, Felini’s first
film- which is about a group of friends who grow up together in Italy. I said, this sounds like what you’re talking
about. Take your stories put them
together and take out the ones that don’t work. He wrote the script to Diner in three weeks.”
I explained to
Brooks that two people shaped my creative life and influenced what I wanted to
do more than anyone else: Larry Gelbart
and Mel Brooks. “Including me, he could
have been the best writer in the Writers’ Room,” Brooks said.
I told him that
1974 was my “favorite year,” Gelbart’s MASH was on TV and Blazing Saddles and
Young Frankenstein were in the movies. The intellectual driven comedy made the smart kids feel hip and
ambitious. “You have to know a little
bit about the world and the history. All
the references are critical- if you don’t get them you don’t get the essential comedy
and what we’re trying to do.”
In 1982- I
bought 10 copies of The High Anxiety Soundtrack, the flipside of which included
the songs from all of the other prior Brooks’ films, to give as holiday gifts
to friends. When I presented it to one
of my college friends, he clutched the LP to his chest and ran off eager to
play it. Flash forward to 1995, I get a
box in the mail- it was The 2000 Year Old Man Boxed Set that had just been
released on CD with a note from that friend thanking me for the LP 12 years
a similar experience: “I screened High Anxiety for Alfred Hitchcock. He didn’t say a lot, turning to me a few
times, when the newspaper ran down the drain, he said “’brilliant,’” which was
very nice. He said he had less showering
[in Psycho] than I had. At the end he
got up and left without saying a word. I was so worried. I thought this is no good. I guess he didn’t
like the picture.”
“The next day on
my desk in my office at 20th Century Fox there was a beautiful wooden
case of 1961 Château Haut-Brion. Six
magnums. Priceless. Unbelievable to this day. There was also a little note: "Dear Mel: I have no anxiety about High Anxiety,
it’s a wonderful film. Love Hitch.”
“The only two
people who ever said I was a good director were Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. I
never heard from anyone else in the business. Until the AFI called me. Last October, the AFI named Brooks the recipient of the 41st American Film
Institute's Life Achievement Award,
which will be presented in June, joining Shirley MacLaine, Tom Hanks, John Ford,
James Cagney, Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier
and both Kirk and Michael Douglas.
been saluted as a comedy force but never as a film director. I always explained the movie clearly so that
the story worked. My dream was to get
over the Williamsburg Bridge and get to Manhattan ever since I was three years
old. Me and my childhood [and lifelong]
friend Gene Cogan, formerly Eugene Cohen, would walk over the bridge to
Delancey Street and get a knish and a root beer. I knew there was something great over that
Kaminsky got his knish and root beer. And Mel Brooks crossed the East River Rubicon and journeyed to entertain
millions as a masterful storyteller and continues to entertain new generations
of grateful fans with big noises that get even bigger laughs.
Retro Contributor Eddy Friedfeld teaches comedy and film history at NYU and
Yale and is the co-author of Caesar’s Hours with Sid Caesar
Can't get enough Mel? Check out Lee Pfeiffer's extensive interview with him in the latest issue (#16) of Cinema Retro.
Artist Pete Emslie of the Cartoon Cave web site provides yet another impressive tribute to a pop culture favorite- Batgirl herself, Yvonne Craig, who celebrates her birthday today. Keep 'em coming, Pete! Click here for more of Pete's tribute to Yvonne.
You don't have to be gay to admire John Schlesinger's 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday, but it probably helps in terms of appreciating just how ground-breaking the movie was in its day. As a straight guy of high school age when the film was released, I do remember it causing a sensation, although it would literally take me decades before I finally caught up with it. Gay friends always spoke reverently of the movie and expressed how the most refreshing aspect of the story was how "normally" a loving relationship between two adult men was portrayed. In viewing the film as a recent Criterion Blu-ray release, I feel I can finally appreciate that point of view. Gay men have long been portrayed in movies, of course, but for the most part they have been depicted as objects of ridicule or as sexual deviants. There were the odd attempts to present gay characters as sympathetic in films such as The Trials of Oscar Wilde and the brilliant Victim. Yet, even these fine efforts present homosexuality as a burden those "afflicted" must bear. Stanley Donen's 169 film Staircase offered fascinating and bold performances by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as two aging queens. However, the studio marketing campaign over-emphasized the oddity of two of the film industry's great lady's men playing a gay couple. In fact, the ad campaign showed Burton and "Sexy Rexy" giddily dancing, thus falsely conveying that the film was a comedic romp instead of a poignant and intelligent look at loving homosexual relationship. Schlesinger, one of the first unapologetic directors to come out of the closet (if, indeed, he was ever in one) decided that the most daring aspect of this highly personal film would be in its very ordinariness. The story covers a complicated love triangle between three disparate people. Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is a middle-aged, Jewish London doctor who is involved romantically with a much younger man, Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Hirsh doesn't flaunt his homosexuality, nor does he attempt to painstakingly deny it. He just lives his life as a respected member of his community, although it is clear his family thinks he's straight. (In one amusing, though uncomfortable sequence, Hirsh attends a Bar Mitzvah and has to endure attempts by nosy female relatives to set him up with his "dream girl"). The relationship between Hirsh and Bob is fairly intense, but is compromised by one uncomfortable fact: Bob is bi-sexual and is carrying on an equally intense love affair with an older woman, Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson). Both Hirsh and Alex know about each other and (barely) tolerate the triangle as the price of having Bob in their lives. For his part, Bob is a rather self-absorbed young man who seems to have genuine affection for both of his lovers, but is also either oblivious or uncaring about how the uncertainties of the relationship are affecting their psychological well-being.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was released a time when the gay rights movement was moving into high gear in the post-Stonewall period. It illustrates why the 1970s is regarded by many as the most liberating decade in film history, with old line directors like Hawks, Welles and Hitchcock working at the same time young turks like Schlesinger were shaking things up in a way the old masters never had the opportunity to do, thanks to the restrictive motion picture code. Sunday is primarily remembered for an eyebrow-raising scene in which Hirsh and Bob engage in a romantic kiss. There's nothing sensational about the tasteful way in which this rather routine gesture between lovers is presented on screen. In fact, it was the sheer lack of sensationalism that drove home Schlesinger's primary message: that loving gestures between gay men can be every bit as routine as they are between husband and wife. The fact that the kiss was enacted by two straight actors did add considerable gravitas to the moment and must have caused more than one straight viewer to think "Well, if they don't care about enacting such a scene, why should I feel uncomfortable watching it?" Schlesinger also dared to film tasteful but passionate bedroom scenes between Bob and Hirsh. Nevertheless, nothing much actually happens in Sunday Bloody Sunday. The story was based in part on real-life experiences and people from Schlesinger's own life. The story merely traces the ups and downs in the love triangle as Bob causes panic in both Hirsh and Alex by announcing he is thinking of moving to America. Hirsh and Alex do have an unexpected face to face meeting during this crisis and their sheer civility and inability to engage in more than light banter only adds to the dramatic tension.
The primary attribute of the film, aside from Schlesinger's spot-on direction, is the brilliance of the performances. Glenda Jackson was then emerging as a national treasure for the British film industry and the little-known Murray Head acquits himself very well indeed. However, it is Peter Finch's performance that dominates the movie as we watch his character go from loving acceptance of Bob's youthful self-absorbing actions to downright fury as his realization that Bob will never have the same passion for him. It's a superb performance on every level. Some viewers find the film's bizarre final sequence in which Hirsh addresses the viewer directly about his philosophy of life, but I found it to be a distraction and somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, this is a fine film, worthy of the praise it has generated over the years, and one that remains remarkably timely today.
The Criterion Blu-ray is right up to the company's top-notch standards. The transfer is beautiful and there are the usual informative extras including:
New interviews with Murray Head (who says that, as a young actor, he found his character to be rather despicable), cinematographer Billy Williams (who supervised the Blu-ray transfer), production designer Luciana Arrighi, Schlesinger biographer William J. Mann and the director's long-time partner, photographer Michael Childers who shot many of the great production stills for the film.
A 1975 audio interview with Schlesinger
Screenwriter Penelope Gillatt's original introduction to the published screenplay (there is plenty of coverage throughout the Blu-ray concerning the tense working relationship between Gillatt and Schlesinger, who accused the writer of taking the lion's share of credit for a screenplay he had extensively rewritten.)
The original theatrical trailer
Extensive liner notes by writer Ian Buruma, Schlesinger's nephew who appeared as an extra in the film.
In all, an outstanding tribute to an outstanding work by one of the era's great filmmakers.