Robert Mandel's F/X is one of the
most entertaining and compulsively watchable thrillers of 1986. I originally
caught up with it on VHS and, while I was impressed with the film, the ending I
found to be both hokey and frustrating, mostly due to the completely
out-of-place 1982 song “Just an Illusion” by Imagination that plays over the
end credits. I felt that it undermined all that preceded it. However, like William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA (1985) and David
Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), F/X is a film that would only grow on me
after subsequent repeated viewings. I learned to forgive the inclusion of this
song as the final minutes should really be viewed as a visual pun on the film’s
overall theme, which begs the question “What is real and what is fiction?”
F/X, which was released on Friday, February 7, 1986, is also
sometimes known as Murder by Illusion. It gives us Rollie Tyler (played expertly by
Bryan Brown) as a master special-effects movie wizard who is approached by a
group of people who claim to be from the Justice Department and have a unique
offer for him. They want him to stage a fake assassination of Nicholas De Franco
(Jerry Orbach), a reputed mobster who is about to testify against his friends
just before entering the Witness Relocation Program. Naturally, they want to
give the impression that De Franco is dead before the real-life mobsters can
get to him first as a contract has been put out on his life. Rollie, whose
apartment is adorned with posters of Zombie
(1979) and Fade to Black (1980) and effects
prosthetics made for movies, is initially very hesitant, and when he refuses
their offer he is told that they will now go back to his biggest competitor to
do the job. He then asks them to give him 24 hours to think about it, and the
carrot at the end of the proverbial stick proves to be a very strong catalyst.
After setting up mobster De Franco, the fake assassination, which is similarly
to Michael Corleone’s hit on Virgil Sollazzo and Captain McCluskey, goes off
without a hitch (the notion of the Witness Protection Program, as it is known
today, is now common thanks to Goodfellas
(1990) and The Sopranos (1999-2007),
but back then it was virtually unheard of). Unfortunately for Rollie, the truth
about what he has just done is about to be revealed to him when he is suddenly
thrust into an unbelievable chain of events that he himself, despite his
stature in an industry that prides itself on make-believe, probably never could
the film may not seem very original nearly 30 years later, it still holds up
remarkably well for the material. One of the things that truly bolsters this
film from its intended origins (a low-budget made-for-TV movie) is the casting.
Bryan Brown is terrific as the special-effects man and Diane Venora, an actress
who is seen far too little these days, is equally likable as his
actress/girlfriend. Mason Adams, best known to American audiences in his role
as the managing editor in TV’s Lou Grant,
shines as the mastermind behind De Franco’s exodus from society. The real
fireworks begin however, with the introduction of Leo McCarthy (the phenomenal
Brian Dennehy), a police lieutenant who, along with his partner Mickey (Joe
Grifasi), is assigned to the case. The banter between Leo and Mickey takes on a
Mutt and Jeff dynamic as they try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Czechoslovakian cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, who sadly passed away in March
of 2015, does a beautiful job lensing F/X,
taking what quite possibly could have been just an average “B” thriller and
elevating it to a highly cinematic “A” feature. Also on board is the late veteran character actor Trey Wilson from Raising Arizona (1987) and Miss Firecracker (1989). Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon on Sesame Street, appears here in the only
role that I have seen him in outside of that beloved children’s show.
F/X was filmed during the summer of 1985 and is a bit jarring
to watch now due to the complete and total absence of cell phones, computer
equipment that looks like it stems from the Stone Age and all of the Titanic-sized
American vehicles on the road. One scene shows a car plow through a series of
posters advertising Rambo: First Blood
Part II, which drives home (no pun intended of course) the make-believe
nature of moviemaking with its tongue-in-cheek in-joke and is also a nice nod
to Brian Dennehy, who fought Rambo in that series’ first film. I cannot say enough about Bill Conti’s score
which is a fully realized work, complete with an orchestra, the sort that you
don’t really see much of in movies nowadays, and it fits this movie like a
glove. From the film’s opening over the
Orion Pictures logo to the love theme to the cat-and-mouse chase through
Central Park to the spectacular car chase through Manhattan, this score can
easily be enjoyed on its own merits.
transfer of this film on Blu-ray is a considerable improvement over the
original VHS tape which was murky and plagued by issues related to the
inclusion of the Macrovision anti-copying code. The multiple laser disc releases and DVD releases were not much better,
but Kino Lorber has done an admirable job of releasing the film this time
around. There is some film gain apparent
in the darker scenes, but nothing terribly distracting. The extras on the Blu-ray consist of an
interview with director Robert Mandel (14:00) wherein he discusses the pleasure
he had in making the film and how he didn’t feel qualified to helm the job due
to his lack of experience directing thrillers or action films, though producer
Dodi Fayed, who died in 1997 in the car crash that killed Princess Diana, felt
otherwise. On the basis of Mr. Mandel’s
1983 drama Independence
which to this day has yet to be released by the Warner Archive, he was hired to
make the characters human and real. The
director comes across as affable and appreciative of those who contributed to
making the film.
The Making of F/X is a featurette that also runs 14
minutes in length and was shot during the film’s production, presumably to drum
up interest at the 1985 San Diego Comic Con , as actor Brown addresses the
camera and makes reference to a “convention”. Behind-the-scenes documentaries and fan conventions abound today, but 30
years ago there was very little information outside of Fangoria magazine that could illustrate how special make-up effects
were actually accomplished. Carl
Fullerton, the special makeup supervisor who now has over 70 film credits to
his name, provides his expertise to convince the audience of Rollie’s
role. John Stears, who won Oscars for
his work on Thunderball (1965) and Star Wars (1977), talks about the four
instances that he himself was approached by reputed mobsters to do what Rollie
does in the film. Apparently, these were
four offers that he did refuse (sorry, couldn’t resist). Terry Rawlings, a veteran of some of Ridley
Scott’s best work, is also on board as the editor and keeps the film moving
along at a brisk pace with great match shots and visual and aural segues.
out the extras are theatrical trailers for F/X
and the sequel from 1991, F/X 2
which, to me, looks like a Hollywood production, and is a film that I have not
Venora utters a prophetic line at the beginning of the film: “Nobody cares
about making movies about people anymore. All they care about are special
effects.” That seems to be true of
movies more now than ever before.
Rydell’s 1979 rock ‘n’ roll drama, The
Rose, made Bette Midler a star. While she had already done theatre, some
television, and live musical acts, as well as uncredited or tiny bits in some
films, Midler broke through to the mainstream with this picture and earned a
Best Actress Oscar nomination. There were many who felt that Midler should have
won the statue (Sally Field snagged the award for Norma Rae). The point is arguable, for Midler indeed displayed top-notch
acting chops as well as singing prowess. She also proved she could rock out.
project was originally intended to be a biopic about Janis Joplin, entitled Pearl. When Joplin’s family refused
permission, the producers morphed the script to feature a Joplin-like character
known as “The Rose”—but it wasn’t Joplin—and turned the story into fiction.
That said, the movie is very truthful about rock ‘n’ roll divas, touring, and
the heavy toll that this business takes on an artist.
the project was about a fictional character and not Joplin, director Rydell
signed on, and he was able to convince Midler to star. This was inspired
casting. Midler struts her stuff and oozes sexuality in the concert sequences in
front of audiences, explodes with violence in the scenes of conflict with her
manager or boyfriend, and she delivers vulnerability and insecurity in the
quiet moments. Addicted to alcohol and other drugs, the Rose is on a fast path
to self-destruction, and Midler brings the tragedy to life with aplomb.
Bates plays her British manager with the appropriate adoration of and frustration
with his talented, but flawed, client. Frederic Forrest turns in an
Oscar-nominated performance for Best Supporting Actor as the somewhat clueless
guy The Rose picks up after a disastrous meeting with a songwriter (Harry Dean
Stanton) who refuses to give her any more of his tunes. Forrest is terrific as
he takes a tremendous amount of shit from the stormy rock star, but then turns
around and gives it back to her with the same intensity.
music is dynamite—the end title song “The Rose” became a standard for not only
Midler, but other torch singers. Rydell’s direction is assured as he stages
both huge, arena-sized rock concerts with thousands of extras, along with
small, intimate scenes between a couple of actors.
Midler and Bates: sheer perfection.
new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Vilmos
Zsigmond, has a 5.1 surround DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that will punch
holes in your eardrums (that’s a good thing for a rock music movie). Rydell
provides an audio commentary. Other extras are new, enlightening interviews
with Midler, Rydell, and Zsigmond. There are also archival interviews with
Midler and Rydell and footage from the set. The booklet contains an essay by
critic Paula Mejia.
The Rose is a brilliant, but sad,
look at the trials of rock ‘n’ roll stardom and the dark side of fame and
The reversible sleeve features the original, magnificent poster art by Frank McCarthy.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW PERTAINS TO THE UK RELEASE
BY DARREN ALLISON
The Train 1964 Directed by John
Frankenheimer, Starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau. Arrow
Blu-Ray release date: 11th May 2015
Frankenheimer ‘s The Train is a realistic and engrossing account of the sabotaging
of a Nazi endeavour to smuggle a trainload of art treasures out of France
toward the end of World War II. Burt Lancaster gives a fine performance as Labiche,
leader of the French railway-workers' resistance – and the man chosen to lead
the sabotage and protect “the national heritage and pride of France!” Paul
Scofield's Nazi, Von Waldheim, is also excellent as the colonel who rants and
rages, almost to the point of obsession, in order to see that nothing stops the
train from completing its criminal mission.
dominates this movie, his strength; agility and sheer gutsy determination
provide a genuine sense of realism. Observing Lancaster (in his sheer physical
capacity) is enough to take one’s breath away. Watch those long (often single)
takes of him sliding down railway gantry ladders, and running along the
trackside before jumping on to the moving train – and you would be hard pushed
to feel anything but respect and admiration for his work. The Train is full of
astonishing action, collisions, and stunning set pieces – take for example the
air strike on the rail yard, an amazing and meticulously executed scene
containing some of the most realistic explosions and carnage.
the thrills and spills, Lancaster also finds time for a little romance with Christine,
a tight-lipped, angry widow who runs a railroad-side hotel and played rather
nicely by Jeanne Moreau. But don’t let
this put you off for a minute, the romance is never given time to dominate or
overshadow the film’s narrative. The Train truly remains one of the great films
of the sixties. Frankenheimer’s camera often gives the film a documentary style
and the stark black and white photography does nothing but enhance the bleak
atmosphere of the times. Maurice Jarre’s
music score also adds extra depth to the movie without ever getting in the way
or overshadowing those realistically essential railroad sounds.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film is quite superb. There
are good, deep blacks where required, often giving the film an almost noir
quality. It is also virtually free of any dust, dirt or speckles, and leaves
the previous MGM DVD looking very poor in comparison. The audio comprises of a
nice clear uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM track. Additional audio delights come in
the way of a commentary by director John Frankenheimer which is both engaging
and informative. In addition to that, Arrow has also gifted us with an optional
isolated score by composer Maurice Jarre. So there is plenty to be had in terms
of audio supplements.
extras include: Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with
Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the
decade. For me, the real winning bonus
material is in the Blu-Ray’s archival footage. This includes a French
television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with
the locals of Acquigny. There is also an
original interview with Michel Simon who was so memorable in the role of the
stubborn railroad resistance fighter Papa Boule. Plus, there is some wonderful
footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles. The original theatrical
trailer is also included and rounds off a tidy and generous collection of extra
consists of a sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by
Vladimir Zimakov. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the new artwork which is a
little too abstract for my taste, especially in comparison to the beautiful
original poster art, which is thankfully contained on the reverse. I do admire
Arrow’s policy of a reversible sleeve, and can’t knock anyone who at least
provides a choice...
is also a very good collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Cinema
Retro contributor Sheldon Hall and is illustrated throughout with original
stills and artwork.
genuine fans of great sixties movies, it’s an essential piece of art for your
Chaplin’s Limelight was not quite the
swan-song for the genius filmmaker (he would make two more pictures in his
lifetime); but of these final three movies, Limelight
is the one that feels like the true farewell. It is more of a drama than a
comedy, and it is perhaps Chaplin’s most personal, introspective movie. The
fact that it is flawed and warrants criticism shouldn’t matter—it’s worth
viewing for a number of reasons.
my money, the director/actor/screenwriter/composer made a much funnier film, A King in New York (1957), after Limelight, but King is not as accomplished or well-known. Chaplin’s disastrous
final picture, A Countess from Hong Kong
(1967, starring Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, with Chaplin appearing only in a
cameo) is best forgotten. Thus, most film historians focus on Limelight as being the conclusive
cinematic statement by the master.
Limelight presents a story
that begins in London in 1914, when the music hall, where Chaplin got his start
in show business, was the equivalent of America’s vaudeville. Chaplin’s own
father had also performed in the music hall circuit, but alcohol eventually
derailed the man’s career. Chaplin taps into this autobiographical history by
creating the character of “Calvero” a once-popular clown, but now an alcoholic
has-been. To be sure, though, there are within Calvero elements of the familiar
silent icon Chaplin once portrayed (at one point Calvero delivers a potent line
of ironic dialogue, “Perhaps it’s the tramp in me!”). Enter Terry, a young
ballerina (played by a nineteen-year-old Claire Bloom in her film debut), whom
Calvero saves from a suicide attempt. The couple forge an awkward friendship
that develops into romance (on her part,
not his—although Calvero’s attraction to her is painfully obvious), but of
course throughout the course of the picture they separate, get back together,
and, at the end, unwittingly and fatefully separate for good. The movie is an apparent
discourse on how the elderly must retreat from the limelight and allow the
young to step forward and carry on.
Calvero, Chaplin is very good, if more than a little melodramatic in the
non-comic scenes (of which there are many). Bloom is fine, if more than a
little melodramatic in nearly every scene (a stand-in ballerina, Melissa
Hayden, performs Terry’s dances). The supporting cast includes old pros like
Nigel Bruce and Norman Lloyd, but also Chaplin’s son, Sydney Earl Chaplin, who
delivers perhaps the most realistic and honest performance in the picture—it’s
a shame that he made only a few more films before deciding that acting was not
for him. Chaplin’s half-brother, Wheeler Dryden, plays a dual role, and, making
the movie a full family affair, six-year-old Geraldine Chaplin has a bit part
along with two of her younger siblings.
Keaton and Chaplin teamed on screen for their first and only time.
highlight, though, and pretty much the biggest reason to take a look at Limelight, is the climactic sketch featuring
Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the only time the comic masters ever appeared on
screen together. Their sequence is classic.
said, Limelight unfortunately comes
off as being overly sentimental. Chaplin palpably tugs too hard at the
audience’s heartstrings. The lush musical score, while beautiful, doesn’t help
tone down the ultimately maudlin proceedings. The film is much too lengthy as
well, clocking in at 137 minutes, making it Chaplin’s longest picture—and it feels interminable. Finally, the romance
between the very young Terry and the very old Calvero is barely believable, but
perhaps in 1914 such a May-December relationship might not have been so icky.
must be noted that at the time the picture was made, Chaplin was practically
Public Enemy Number One in America. He was a victim of the rabid and irrational
Red Scare that was going on in the country; the Hollywood blacklist was a
result of this insane paranoia, and Chaplin—while too powerful to blacklist—was
certainly shunned for his “socialist” political views (hmm, sound familiar?).
Chaplin premiered Limelight in London
in 1952, so the government took that opportunity to deny the artist re-entry
into the U.S. A fine way to treat someone who was arguably the cinema’s
greatest innovator and pioneer! Chaplin, heartbroken and bitter, took up
residence with his family in Switzerland, and didn’t return to America until
1972, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to forgive
and forget and award him with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. And, since Limelight never got a proper release in
the states in ’52, it was re-released in ’72 and was thus eligible for Oscars. Limelight won for Original Score;
ironically, the only competitive Oscar that Chaplin ever won was for music. At
least the audience at the ceremony made him feel welcome—Chaplin received the
longest standing ovation ever at the Oscars.
new 4K digital restoration looks gorgeous, of course, and Criterion’s treatment
of the title is top-notch. Extras include a few that are ported over from the
2002 MK2 release—Chaplin Today: Limelight
(a documentary on the film); archival recordings of Chaplin reading two
excerpts from his own novella, Footlights;
a deleted scene and two trailers; and the uncompleted short, The Professor (1919). New extras include
Chaplin’s Limelight—Its Evolution and
Intimacy (a new video essay by Chaplin biographer David Robinson); new
enlightening interviews with Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd (who is
100-years-old and sharp as a tack!); and a restored short, A Night at the Show (1915). The thick booklet contains an essay by
critic Peter von Bagh, excerpts from an on-set piece by journalist Henry Gris,
and lots of photos of ephemera.
all is said and done, despite its shortcomings, this new release of Limelight does have much to offer. And
suffice it to say that if you’re a Chaplin fan, then it’s essential.
have loved movies pretty much all my life. One of the most integral aspects in
my overall enjoyment of a film is my impression of it through the film's
advertising campaign, usually through the coming attractions trailer but mostly
through the advertising artwork, primarily the movie poster. Growing up in the 1970s,
I had no way of knowing anything about a film other than what was written about
it in Time or Newsweek or newspapers. The movie poster art, referred to as key
art in the industry, was really all I had to go on in terms of getting a feel
for what the movie would be like. Each week I would eagerly await Friday’s
newspaper as it showcased the advertising artwork of the new releases just
coming out in a much more overt fashion that it did from Monday to Thursday. In
those days, the advertising artwork was just that: it was artwork, designed, conceived and actually painted by an artist. This appears to be something that has gone by
the wayside as a result of the new tools that are available to studios, such as
computers and software programs like Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator, which
make it very easy for just about anyone to slap together homogenized key art
for DVD and Blu-ray covers. This new
type of advertising art appears to have been sapped of the most important
first two movies that I ever owned on home video were Star Wars (1977) and Poltergeist
(1982). I bought these on the long defunct Capacitance Electronic Disc system (CED)
which was designed and manufactured by RCA and sold from 1981 to 1986. The
artwork to these two films in particular made an enormous impression on me as
the oversized, LP-like format lent itself perfectly to the display of these
images. Some of my all-time favorite movies, which I first saw between 1983 and
1984, sported some of the most beautiful artwork I've ever seen: Phantasm (1979), Deadly Blessing (1981), Scanners
(1981)…just about anything horror-film related. With CED, you felt like you actually owned
the movie and that it was yours. It was tangible and you could hold it and
look at it.
first video cassette that I ever rented was Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which I watched on Independence
Day in 1985, because it was not available on CED. I had seen the film
theatrically upon its initial release, but there was something about being able
to watch it on video that was enormously appealing to me. From that point on,
the artwork that I saw on the cover of VHS cassettes, in particular horror
movies, left me salivating in the video store aisles. After getting my driver’s
license, my friends and I made innumerable trips to local and independently
owned video stores to both rent movies and gaze at and admire the cover artwork
of all the boxes on display. This was my generation's equivalent of going to
the local drive-in and, just like the local drive-in, the independent video
store, in the year 2015, is nearly extinct.
long overdue and beautifully illustrated new coffee table book, appropriately
titled VHS Video Cover Art, is now
available from Schiffer Publishing. Compiled
by Tom “The Dude Designs” Hodge, it showcases nearly 300 pages worth of VHS
sleeve artwork from movies made in the 1980s and 1990s. The covers are derived
from the British VHS releases of these films and are broken into six genres: action,
comedy, horror, kids, sci-fi, and thriller. Being an admirer of these types of films, which are both cult movies and
forgettable flops (of the “so bad it’s good!” variety), what is truly amazing
to me is the number of films presented that I personally still have never even
heard of. A lot of the titles included have artwork that is very different from
the American VHS releases. Case in point: Searchers
of the Voodoo Mountain (1985), which is better known in the States as Warriors of the Apocalypse. Like a lot
of the schlock movie posters of films of the 1950s and 1960s, these colorful
cover art were sometimes better than the actual movie they were designed to
advertise. Fifty years ago, a movie poster was drawn up and the film was made
on the basis of the title and the poster. I’m sure the same held true for some of these VHS titles as the
availability of home video created a perfect opportunity for studios to make
movies that were released directly to VHS, completely bypassing cinemas
Cinema Retro issue #32 has now shipped worldwide to subscribers. Subscribe or renew your subscription today and help support the world's most unique film magazine!
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #32 INCLUDE:
Ray Morton looks at the revivals of King Kong beginning in the 1960s, with special emphasis on his two-part report on the making of the 1976 big budget remake.
Howard Hughes takes an in-depth look at the making of 100 Rifles starring Raquel Welch, Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds.
Matthew Field interviews iconic producer Anthony Waye about his work on the Star Wars and James Bond series.
Ernie Magnotta goes overboard and analyzes the merits of Orca, The Killer Whale
Tim Greaves goes undercover to examine the Charles Vine spy films of the 1960s and talks with star Tom Adams.
Adrian Smith interviews screen sex siren Caron Gardner and reviews Our Man in Marrakesh (aka Bang! Bang! You're Dead!)
Raymond Benson's Top Ten Films of 1952
Tom Santopietro celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music
Lee Pfeiffer looks back on the underrated British thriller, Val Guest's 80,000 Suspects starring Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom.
Plus Gareth Owen's Pinewood Past column, the latest soundtrack, film book and DVD reviews and much more!
Most of our regular subscribers have already re-upped for this new season. If you still haven't done so, please CLICK HERE to renew or take out an initial subscription and ensure you don't miss a single issue. (Make sure you click on the section for Season 11, as Season 10 is also still available)
While working at the Tromaville Health Club
in 1984, goodhearted, 98lb. weakling Melvin “The Mop Boy” was tricked into
wearing a pink tutu and teased unmercifully until he fell from a two-story
window and landed in a vat of nuclear waste. The toxic chemicals changed little
Melvin, transforming him into a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size
and strength. Melvin became The Toxic Avenger, the first superhero from New Jersey!
Written and Directed by the great Lloyd
Kaufman (and co-directed by his partner-in-slime, Michael Herz), The Toxic Avenger, which is a thoroughly
entertaining and unique combination of the superhero genre, raunchy and over-the-top
comedy, as well as full-on horror movie-type gore,not only became an instant hit, but singlehandedly built Troma
films (Toxie is the company’s mascot much like Spider-man is to Marvel Comics).
The Toxic Avenger character became so popular that, over the years, fans were
treated to Tromatic goodies such as Toxie comic books, action figures, a
children’s cartoon series (Toxic
Crusaders) and even a musical; not to mention three hilarious sequels (with
a fourth on the way). The first sequel, also written by Kaufman, and, again,
directed by Lloyd and Herz, appeared in 1989.
Thanks to Toxie’s past heroics, The Toxic Avenger Part II begins with
the little people of Tromaville living in peace and harmony. That is, until the
evil chemical corporation Apocalypse Inc. comes to town and blows up the local
home for the blind which, incidentally, happens to be where Toxie (played by Ron
Fazio and John Altamura) is working, along with his blind girlfriend, Claire (singer/musician/artist/poet/filmmaker
Phoebe Legere). After Toxie mops up the floor with the corporation’s top
henchman, the evil Chairman (Rick Collins from Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.) and his partner Miss Malfaire (Class of Nuke ‘Em High 2’sLisa Gaye) devise a diabolical plan to
rid Tromaville of the Toxic Avenger once and for all. They convince Toxie to
travel to Tokyo in order to locate his long-lost father, Big Mac (Rikiya
Yasuoka from Black Rain). Not only
will Toxie’s absence allow Apocalypse Inc. to take over Tromaville hassle-free,
but, while he’s in Japan, Miss Malfaire and the evil Chairman will order their
Tokyo contacts to use state-of-the-art Japanese technology in order to rid
Toxie of the Troma-tons within his body which not only give him his superhuman
size and strength, but also act up whenever he’s in the presence of evil. Will
the oblivious monster-hero figure stop the evil corporation from taking over
both Tromaville and Japan or will Apocalypse Inc. reign supreme?
I first saw this film in 1989 at a (sadly)
now defunct grindhouse theater on New York’s famed 42nd street. I
was a bit disappointed as I felt that the sequel didn’t live up to the
greatness of the original. Over 25 years later, I still feel that it doesn’t
come close to the original film, but I do find it a lot more entertaining than
I did back then (probably because this is the Director’s Cut and not the
chopped up, R-rated version I saw on its original release). Like the first
film, it’s still a wild combo of super heroics, raunchy, over-the-top comedy
and excessive gore, and the movie barely stops to catch its breath during the
109-minute running time. The larger-than-life acting is a real joy to watch too.
In particular, Lisa Gaye (who studied under Strasberg) and Phoebe Legere both
shine in their insane roles and these two lovely ladies prove to be extremely
gifted comic actors. Also, for those who enjoy seeing stars before they hit the
big time, the incredibly talented Michael Jai White (Tyson, Spawn, Black Dynamite) makes his film debut as an evil, yet
Although, the film runs a bit too long and
isn’t as focused as the original, The
Toxic Avenger Part II is loaded with enjoyably campy humor and wonderfully
comic bookish situations, characters & performances as well as insane (in a
good way) direction. It also contains a fun, Heavy Metal Toxie song and the
classic theme of good vs. evil.
If you’re a true-blue Tromaniac, you’ll be
happy to know that Lloyd Kaufman and the terrific Troma team have put together
a lovely remastered, Troma-rrific HD transfer presented in its original 1:85:1
aspect ratio. The region free Blu-ray/DVD is also packed with a ton of special
features (most of which have been carried over from previous releases). Along
with the original theatrical trailer, we also get trailers for the remaining
three Toxic Avenger films as well as
several other Troma classics like Troma’s
War and Return to Nuke ‘Em High:
Volumes 1 & 2; not to mention the featurette: The American Cinematheque Honors 40 Years of Troma, two humorous,
retro features: At Home with Toxie and
Toxie on Japanese T.V., a brief interview
with Lisa Gaye who happily discusses her association with the fiercely
independent company, a brand new introduction by the King of Troma himself,
Lloyd Kaufman, as well as a retro DVD intro and, last, but certainly not least,
a full-length, hilarious and informative audio commentary from writer/director Kaufman,
who discusses a plethora of interesting subjects such as filming in New York,
New Jersey and Tokyo as well as his many battles with the MPAA. My only
complaint here is that the commentary is out of sync, as Lloyd seems to be six
minutes ahead of the visuals. Other than
that, it’s over four hours of toxic goodness, so if you’re a Troma fanatic, a
lover of Toxie or just enjoy off-the-wall insanity, this Blu-ray is an absolute
Anne Meara, who along with her husband and partner Jerry Stiller, became a comedy legend, has died at age 85. Meara and Stiller were unlikely candidates for romance in 1950s New York: he was Jewish, she was Catholic. Nevertheless, to the disappointment of both of their families, they married. Like many young couples in show business, they initially struggled to pay the bills. They developed a comedy act that proved to be popular in Gotham night clubs. This eventually caught the eye of Ed Sulllivan, who gave them a coveted slot on his Sunday night variety show. The rest was history. Stiller and Meara became one of the top comedy acts in the country. Their real life marriage lasted 61 years, during which they remained mainstays on the New York social scene. They also continued to perform regularly and even had a popular web-based series. Meara was a familiar face on television and in feature films. She was multi-talented and could play drama as well as broad comedy. She was nominated for numerous Emmy Awards. Among her feature film credits are Lovers and Other Strangers, The Boys From Brazil, Fame, Awakenings and two films in which she appeared with her son, actor Ben Stiller: Zoolander and A Night at the Museum. For more click here.
Remember the days when it seemed as if
every week a new slasher film with a holiday in the title would hit movie
theaters and you couldn’t wait to see it? How about waiting with baited breath
to see if Eddie Murphy would appear as Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live? Or walking around the neighborhood with your
boom box blasting awesome tunes from legendary groups like Blondieor The Police? Well, if you were a
teenager in the 1980s, you remember these things well. You probably also
remember trying to sneak into the local movie theater in order to see R-rated
sex comedies like Porky’s (1982)or hanging out with your friends at the
corner pizza shop and playing now classic video games such as Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. If all this talk (especially the
sex comedy/video game part) is making you nostalgic for those unforgettable
days of fun, then you’re gonna love 1983’s Joysticks.
With the help of his idiotic nephews Arnie
(John Diehl from Stripes) and Max (Newhart’s John Voldstad), uptight
businessman Joseph Rutter (the great Joe Don Baker from Walking Tall, GoldenEye and Mars
Attacks!) does everything in his power to get the local video arcade shut
down. However, arcade owner Jefferson Bailey (Secret Admirer’sScott
McGinnis) doesn’t plan on going out without a fight. Jefferson enlists his
co-worker Eugene (Leif Green from Grease
2), his best friend McDorfus (Night
Shift’s Jim Greenleaf) as well as Rutter’s rebellious daughter Patsy (Corinne
Bohrer from Vice Versa) to help him
thwart the reactionary businessman’s misguided plan. The battle for the
arcade’s future culminates in a Super Pac-Man duel between the video
game-phobic Jefferson and Rutter’s Super Pac-Man champion, King Vidiot (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Gries).
If you don’t remember seeing this mindless,
but deliriously fun film way back when, then you probably at least recall
catching the trailer on TV. Joysticks was
the brainchild of independent filmmaking legend Greydon Clark (Satan’s Cheerleaders, Angel’s Brigade,
Without Warning) who, while at a screening of his 1982 slasher film parody Wacko, noticed a line of kids standing
in front of a video game in the lobby of the theater. Seeing how excited these
kids were over playing this game, Greydon immediately thought that a video
arcade would be the perfect location for a hot, new teenage sex comedy. The
creative director developed his timely idea further, began filming in the fall
of ’82, and by the following spring, Joysticks
was the #1 movie in the country.
The humorous film is filled with solid
direction, extremely loveable characters and fun performances (you may not
recognize most of that incredibly talented cast by name, but trust me when I
tell you that you’ll immediately recognize their faces as they’ve all gone on
to do a plethora of work over the years). Joysticks
also benefits from a simple and engaging story as well as contains enough laughs
to fill its brief 87 minute running time. The lighthearted comedy may not be in
the same league as, say, Animal House (1978)or Caddyshack
(1980), and it’s far from being an accurate depiction of teenage life in
the ‘80s à la Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982), but it’s a harmless and highly enjoyable film. If you were around
during the early ‘80s video game craze, will have you happily strolling down
Joysticks has been released
on DVD by Scorpion Releasing in a brand new 16x9 anamorphic (1.78:1) widescreen
transfer and, although the film shows some scratches and the colors aren’t as
vibrant as, say, Blu-ray, the movie is more than watchable and a huge
improvement over the previous DVD release. The disc also contains the original
theatrical trailer, a very interesting and informative audio commentary with
producer/director Clark who discusses many aspects of the film’s production
and, also, an onscreen interview with Clark who not only talks about several
films from his impressive filmography, but also details directing seasoned
veterans Joe Don Baker (who also starred in Wacko
and Final Justice for Clark),
George Kennedy (Wacko and Clark’s The Uninvited), Jack Palance (Angel’s Brigade, Without Warning),
Martin Landau (Without Warning and
Clark’s second sci-fi film The Return)
and Robert Englund (Clark’s Dance Macabre).
Rounding out the special features are several fun 70s/80s exploitation trailers
(the awesome trailer for 1981’s Kill and
Kill Again is priceless) which are guaranteed to bring back memories.
Whether you’re a fan of Greydon Clark, Joe
Don Baker, retro video games, ‘80s teen sex comedies or just like to sit back,
veg out and feel good, Joysticks is
the DVD for you.
(NOTE: Scorpion Releasing advises that this title has sold out. However, the company may do a re-pressing in the future. For now, it is available on Amazon through third party sources. Click here to order.)
The estate of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has sued Miramax for damages regarding its forthcoming feature film "Mr. Holmes" which stars Ian McKellan as Holmes in retirement. The estate claims that the screenplay has borrowed from elements of the ten stories that are still under copyright control by Doyle's ancestors. A court ruling in the USA declared that all but ten of Doyle's works are in the public domain, meaning the story elements can be used without payment of licensing or royalty fees. However, the Doyle estate jealously guards key elements of the Holmes legend that appear in the ten works that are still under their control. The estate points out in their lawsuit that the producers of the recent Sherlock Holmes feature films and the hit BBC series "Sherlock" have paid licensing fees and accuse Miramax of trying to avoid doing the same. For more click here.
“The series ends on a perfect note.” — The
New York Times
“Absorbing, impeccably produced…(with) the quietly brilliant
Christopher Foyle,” — AP
“One of the
best mysteries you’ll ever see on the telly” — San
“Terrifically entertaining”— NPR Fresh
Air from WHYY
“Michael Kitchen is
superb.” — The Seattle Times
“Like a gift from the gods.” —The New York Times
“A triumph from start to finish” —The Wall Street Journal
FOYLE’S WAR, SET 8 (The Final Season)
Debuts on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn on April 14,
Michael Kitchen stars in the final
mysteries from the universally acclaimed British series;
Set features more than two hours of bonus
It's no secret that we at Cinema Retro consider "Foyle's War" to be among the very best television shows ever produced in England (or anywhere else, for that matter.) Here is the official Acorn Media press release regarding the final season on DVD and Blu-ray.
MD — The final season of Foyle’s War, Set 8 debuts on DVD and
Blu-ray on April 14, 2015 from
Acorn, an RLJ
Entertainment, Inc.(NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. The acclaimed detective
series finishes its long run with three new mysteries set in the
uncertain days at the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 London, former DCS
Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen, Out
of Africa) now employs his unerring investigative skills on behalf of MI5,
assisted by his ever-faithful driver, Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks). The season premiered in the UK in January 2015,
in the US on Acorn.TV, the premier
British TV streaming service in North America, in February 2015, and will air
on public television stations beginning in May 2015. Set 8 guest stars two-time Emmy® and Golden Globe®
nominee John Mahoney (Frasier)
and co-stars Daniel Weyman (Great
Expectations), Ellie Haddington (Life
Begins), Tim McMullan (The
Woman in Black), Jeremy Swift (Oliver
Twist), and Rupert Vansittart (Holy
Flying Circus). The DVD 3-disc set and Blu-ray 2-disc set feature three
feature-length episodes plus over two hours of bonus features including a day
in the life of Foyle’s War and an
interview with John Mahoney. RLJ Entertainment purchased all rights to Foyle’s War in 2010 and has co-produced the last two seasons. The
entire series is also available to stream any time on Acorn TV at www.Acorn.TV.
High Castle—A translator for the Nuremberg trials is killed,
leading Foyle into the world of international oil politics and corrupt Nazi
Trespass—With tensions running high ahead of a high-level
Palestinian conference, Foyle investigates a plot involving murder, espionage,
and a terrorist threat.
Elise—After an assassination attempt on Hilda Pierce,
Foyle examines her Special Operations Executive activities during the war and
rumors of a traitor.
Over two hours of bonus features!
the truth behind the fiction for each episode (52 min.), a day in the life of Foyle’s War (26 min.), an interview with
John Mahoney (21 min.), back in time with Foyle’s
War (27 min.), and a photo gallery.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW A CLIP.
By the early 1970s, America's cities seemed to be on a permanent downward spiral. The middle class was fleeing the inner cities in droves for the safety of suburbia while the major urban centers deteriorated rapidly into an abyss of crime. This trend, of course, was realistically reflected in such films as "Taxi Driver", "Mean Streets", "Death Wish" and "The French Connection". The latter became the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1971 and helped set in motion the "dirty cop" movies that characterized this era of filmmaking. Gene Hackman's performance as New York City detective "Popeye" Doyle seemed to inspire any number of other memorable celluloid cop heroes who didn't waste time worrying about constitutional rights. Instead, they took matters into their own hands in order to bring criminals to justice- by whatever means necessary. Clint Eastwood had a smash hit employing such behavior on screen as Dirty Harry and before long, seemingly every major male star was lining up to play cops who routinely gave the middle finger to police brass as they set out to use vigilante methods to ensure the successful resolution of cases. Producer Philip D'Antoni had struck pay dirt with one of the first maverick cop movies, "Bullitt", in 1968. The title character, memorably played by Steve McQueen, routinely ignored orders from his superiors but wasn't exactly as "dirty cop", as he pretty much respected suspect's rights in the course of his assignment. However, D'Antoni's second crime classic from the era, "The French Connection" was the epitome of celebrating the notion that the end justifies the means when it came to law enforcement. The film was such a major hit that D'Antoni decided to do a follow-up titled "The Seven-Ups".
Released in 1973, "The Seven-Ups" shameless borrows on key elements of both "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", but at least does so with a considerable amount of style. D'Antonio hired "French Connection" co-star Roy Scheider and justifiably cast him in his first lead role. D'Antonio then came up with a winning recipe for another gritty urban crime film: cast numerous actors from both of his previous films in supporting roles then add a spectacular car chase as in "Bullitt", sprinkle in a driving, hard-hitting score by "French Connection" composer Don Ellis, then enlist real-life "French Connection" detective Sonny Grosso as a writer and consultant and - presto!- you have another winner. To make sure the project didn't stray too far from the formula, D'Antonio directed the movie himself. Ironically, despite obviously plagiarizing his own films, D'Antonio did emerge with a winner. Although "The Seven-Ups" is certainly not of the same caliber of "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", it does stand as a highly polished, engrossing action film. More importantly, it proved that Scheider was a credible leading man, a fact that undoubtedly lead to him being cast as the star of "Jaws" a couple of years later.
Scheider, who gives a yeoman performance, plays New York city detective referred to only as "Buddy". He heads up a top-secret four man unit called "The Seven-Ups", so-known because all of the suspects they arrest end up doing at least seven years or more in jail. The squad employs blatantly illegal methods to obtain whatever information they deem necessary from the low-lives that populate the crime-ridden areas of the city. It turns out that prominent, affluent loan sharks are being systematically kidnapped by two rogue cops and being held for ransom. The Seven-Ups are assigned to the case and Buddy relies on information from Vito (Tony Lo Bianco), a childhood friend with a shady past who leaks relevant scuttlebutt to him about the case. In the course of the investigation, however, the kidnappers prove more resolute than Buddy had imagined. Before long, one of his team has been murdered and Buddy finds himself employing increasingly desperate methods to track down the corrupt cops. The film is packed with realistic street-wise dialogue and convincing performances including real life stunt man Bill Hickman, who performed much of the driving in the "Bullitt" car chase; cult actor Joe Spinell, Ken Kercheval and Richard Lynch. Director of Photography Urs Furrer convincingly captures the gritty feel of New York's streets during this era, though much of the film was shot in the outer boroughs. The highlight of the movie (fully exploited in the trailers) is the spectacular car chase. It's a truly thrilling sequence that rivals the chases in "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", though die-hard "Bullitt" fans will recognize certain scenes from that film's chase carried over virtually intact into "The Seven-Ups".
There is a sobering aspect to watching dirty cop movies like this today. With crime rates in America having plunged dramatically over the decades and most of the cities having undergone an amazing Renaissance, the tactics employed by our "heroes" in these films suddenly look especially distasteful today- especially in light of recent high profile cases in which some "bad apple" cops have clearly violated civil rights. The trailers for "The Seven-Ups" rather sickeningly play up the fact that "you can't tell the cops from the killers", as though this was an attribute for a police officer. These "heroes" dispense with due process, break and enter suspects' homes and in one case threaten a man's innocent wife with with disfigurement. It's hard to imagine anyone who has evolved beyond Neanderthal status in these more enlightened times cheering such behavior. Nevertheless, one must view such films as products of their time- and as such, "The Seven-Ups" reminds of a less-than-glorious period in American history, one that has thankfully been replaced by better times.
The Fox DVD is poorly designed. One side of the disc contains the film in widescreen format with two bonus extras: the teaser trailer and full length trailer. The DVD sleeve indicates there is also an original production featurette but you'd have to be Sherlock Holmes to discover that you have to turn the disc over to the apparently blank "B" side (there is no writing or graphics) and deduce that if you insert this into your DVD player, you will get access to the film in cropped, full screen format along with the production featurette. The featurette, though extremely grainy, is quite interesting. It details the considerable logistics of filming the movie's signature car chase sequence, as planned by D'Antoni and Bill Hickman. It's nice that Fox included this but it's puzzling as to why they made it a challenge to locate it.
"The Rape of Europa" is the acclaimed 2006 documentary that chronicles one of the lesser-known aspects of Adolf Hitler's corrupt regime: the widespread looting and destruction of priceless art masterpieces in the territories his conquered. The subject matter had been dealt with has far back as 1965 in John Frankenheimer's "The Train", and more recently in George Clooney's "The Monuments Men". The crimes against the cultural of a nation may pale in comparison to the human toll extracted by the Nazis on their victims. Nevertheless, the loss of historical treasures was a true tragedy tied to the rise of National Socialism. The documentary reiterates the fact that Hitler had been an aspiring artist who traveled to Vienna with the hope of being accepted into the art institute there. Had that occurred, the world would have been a very different place in the years to come. However, while he possessed a degree of artistic talent, he was deemed unsuitable for acceptance by the academy. Hitler's wounded pride, along with his pre-existing shame at Germany's compliance with the oppressive Treaty of Versailles, had helped instigate his rise as as an extreme right wing political leader. Upon taking over the National Socialist Party and ultimately rising to the rank of Chancellor, Hitler managed to turn the position into that of an all-powerful dictator. His first priority was to rearm Germany in violation of the Treaty. The Allies protested but took no action. Simultaneously, he instituted increasingly oppressive sanctions against those who he deemed to be his enemies: Jews, homosexuals, racial minorities and intellectuals who opposed his policies. Using the Nuremberg Laws to deprive Jews of all civil rights, Hitler and his paladins went to work appropriating valuable artworks, sculptures and even furniture from the now-dispossessed and largely doomed Jewish population. He also waged a culture war against what he considered to be the evil influence on German culture of the modern art movement, which he felt was degrading to Aryan culture. Under Hitler's direct orders, museums were emptied of art masterpieces that were either destroyed or sold off. Those works that Hitler approved of were appropriated for the Fuhrer and his top brass, each of whom took great pride in building their massive collection of stolen paintings. (Hitler's second-in-command, Herman Goering was the worst offender.) When Hitler annexed most of Western Europe, the policies were carried out in those territories.
"The Rape of Europa" traces the impact of the Nazi art thefts and their impact on the indigenous populations of the affected nations. Although France had the most modern army in Europe and was confident it could stop a possible German invasion, the staff at the Louvre had enough foresight to move most of the masterpieces into hidden locations, a massive project that was carried out just in time: the nation would fall to Germany within six weeks. The film shows the extravagant methods the Nazis used to locate these hidden treasures. In some cases they succeeded, but thanks to the efforts of many dedicated people, other artwork survived without being stolen and many priceless artifacts were recovered after the war. When Hitler launched his ultimately ill-fated invasion of his former ally, the Soviet Union in 1941, the staff at the massive Hermitage museum managed to remove all the valuable art masterpieces to hidden locations in Siberia. Germany never took possession of the museum, having been finally sent into retreat after a mutually grueling campaign that saw enormous losses on both sides. With the invasion of Italy in 1943, the Americans and their allies were sensitive about destroying the local culture in their quest to rid the nation of German troops. General Eisenhower issued orders to avoid bombing key cultural landmarks. In some cases it worked: American bombers carried out the destruction of rail lines in Florence without destroying nearby architectural landmarks. However, in the bloody battle for the Monte Cassino, the ancient abbey was destroyed in a bombing raid in the mistaken belief that it was occupied by German troops. All of these aspects of the war are covered in this fascinating documentary through rare original film footage and interviews with survivors of the period. Their tales are alternately heartbreaking and inspiring, as they relate the Herculean tasks undertaken by patriots to preserve their nation's heritage in the hope that one freedom would once again prevail. The film also covers the challenge of tracking down missing art masterpieces in the aftermath of the war and attempts by families to reclaim certain pieces which ended up in museums.
"The Rape of Europa" is a spellbinding experience throughout. Highly recommended.
There are no bonus items on the DVD from Menemesha Films aside from the original trailer, which is a pity because a movie of this significance cries out to have a commentary track with scholars furthering our knowledge of this important period in history.
This month, Shout!Factory TV, the free streaming site, presents a number of irresistible offerings including the first season of "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent") starring Patrick McGoohan and the classic British sci-fi show "Fireball XL5". Also: John Cassavettes feature film favorites and "Quadrophenia". Click here to visit the site.
When it was announced that producer Elliott Kastner had succeeded in signing both Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson for the 1976 Western, The Missouri Breaks, the project was viewed as a "can't miss" at the international box-office. This would be Brando's first film since his back-to-back triumphs in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris and Nicholson had just won the Best Actor Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The two Hollywood icons were actually neighbors who lived next door to each other, but they had never previously teamed for a film project. Kastner, whose prowess as a street-wise guy who used unorthodox methods to get films off the ground, had used a clever tactic to sign up both superstars: he told each man that the other had already committed to the project, when, in fact, neither had. With Brando and Nicholson aboard, Kastner hired a respected director, Arthur Penn, who had worked with Brando ten years before on The Chase. He then chose an acclaimed novelist, Thomas McGuane, who had recently made his directorial debut with 92 in the Shade, to write the screenplay. What emerged from all these negotiations was a seemingly "can't miss" boxoffice blockbuster in the making. Alas, it was not to be. Upon its release, critics emphasized the "Miss" aspect of the The Missouri Breaks, with most reviewers citing the opinion that the film was a long, slow slog interrupted up a hammy, over-the-top comic performance from Brando, who Penn apparently exercised little control over when it came to the actor's penchant for improvisation.
The film opens with cattle baron David Braxton (John McLiam) "hosting" a lynching for a rapt audience of his ranch hands. Seems the intended victim has rustled some of his cattle and McLiam is determined to put an end to the thievery, which has reduced his overall business income by 7% per year- a statistic he never tires of griping about. McLiam's hardball tactics against the rustlers don't sit well with his otherwise adoring daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), an independent-thinking young woman who has acted as her father's most trusted companion since her mother left him for another man years ago. The victim of the lynching was a member of a rustling gang headed by Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson), who befriends Braxton on the pretense that he wants to purchase a plot of land on his property to establish a small farm. In reality, he wants to utilize the land to temporarily house stolen horses which his gang has gone to Canada to obtain in a daring operation against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's stables. Meanwhile, Jane- who lives a life of relative isolation on her father's estate-is immediately smitten by the charismatic Tom Logan and when she insists that he become her first lover, he finds it impossible to resist. Thus, Logan is now in a romantic relationship with a girl who is the daughter of a man he is deceiving and stealing from. David Braxton goes all-out in his obsession with thwarting the rustlers. He hires Lee Clayton, a renowned "regulator", which is a polite term for bounty hunter. Clayton is an eccentric man with a bizarre personality who speaks in a heavy Irish brogue, but also at times utilizes other accents. He is at times charming and amusing and at other times fiery-tempered and unpredictable. Upon being introduced to Tom Logan by Braxton, Clayton immediately suspects he is not a farmer, but a rustler. The two men play a cat-and-mouse game, each one employing double-entendres in their conversations. When Logan's men return from Canada empty-handed after being thwarted by the Mounties, Clayton becomes an omnipresent figure, observing their every move from afar through binoculars. One by one, he systematically murders the members of the rustling gang, always preceding their horrendous deaths by chatting with the doomed men in disarmingly friendly tones. Clayton becomes so frightening a figure that even Braxton becomes intimidated by him and attempts to fire him, but Clayton says the money is irrelevant and that once he commits to a job, he sees it through. The stage is set for a mano-a-mano confrontation between Logan and Clayton that both men realize will see only one emerge alive.
Brando and Nicholson on the set in Montana.
It's easy to see why The Missouri Breaks didn't catch on with audiences. Much of the film moves at a glacial pace, but McGuane's script is intelligent and the dialogue often witty. Brando's outrageous antics easily overshadow anyone else in the film, even though his appearances are fleeting and the lion's share of the screen time is dominated by Nicholson. Brando seems to be having a field day and there seems to be no limit to his improvisations. (At one point he is dressed as a Chinese peasant and in another he is inexplicably attired as a woman, complete with apron and bonnet.) He also has a penchant for making some uncomfortably romantic overtures to his horse. Thus, the character of Clayton proves to be a distraction from the otherwise somber, realistic tone of the film. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Brando's appearances are both amusing and somewhat mesmerizing, even if out of place. The movie boasts a first rate supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest and a young and slim Randy Quaid. Kathleen Lloyd holds her own against the considerable star power of Brando and Nicholson, which could not have been an easy feat. Alas, stardom was not to follow for her, though she still occasionally appears as a guest star in popular TV series. Where the movie disappoints the most is in its climax. The audience has been led to expect a memorable confrontation between Logan and Clayton, but when one of them gets the upper hand on the other, it's done very abruptly and rather unimaginatively, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. The movie boasts a low-key but appropriately atmospheric score by John Williams and impressive cinematography by Michael Butler. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational in the outdoor sequences but the dimly lit interiors have a degree of grain to them, which may have been intended by Butler. An original theatrical trailer has been included.
After The Missouri Breaks, Brando seemed uninspired and went on automatic pilot in terms of his film roles. He was paid a relative fortune for what amounted to extended cameos in Superman and Apocalypse Now, and while he was a significant physical presence in both films, no one made the case that he exerted himself dramatically. He would find occasional enthusiasm in certain roles (an Oscar-nominated turn in the little-seen A Dry White Season and a hilarious performance recreating his Don Corleone role for The Freshman), but his enthusiasm seemed to diminish in direct proportion to his increase in weight. Sadly, he would never totally recapture the mojo he once enjoyed as a screen icon. Yet, time has been kind to The Missouri Breaks. The film's literate script and direction are a reminder of an era in which such projects would be green-lit by major studios who appealed to the intellect of movie audiences. Today, the project would never have seen fruition no matter who starred in it.
When Paramount released the "White Christmas" Blu-ray Diamond Edition last fall, it sold out quickly. Happily, there are ample supplies back in stock at major retailers so, if you missed this essential last Christmas, you'll have plenty of time to get for the 2015 holidays.
Continue reading for a complete breakdown of the spectacular, 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD/ CD set.
Cy Howard’s 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers, which stars Bea
Arthur, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Brandon, Anne Jackson, Diane Keaton, and Cloris
Leachman, celebrates it’s 45th anniversary this year. The Royale Laemmle Theater in Los Angeles
will be holding a special one-night-only showing of the 104-minute comedy on Wednesday,
May 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm. Scheduled to
appear in person are actress Bonnie Bedelia, Cloris Leachman and the Oscar-nominated co-writers
Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor for a post-screening Q&A with film critic Stephen
From the press release:
LOVERS AND OTHER
STRANGERS was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1970 and won the Oscar for
best original song, "For All We Know." This sharp and poignant comedy
examines the relationships of a dozen characters involved in preparing for a family
wedding. The superb ensemble cast includes Oscar winners Gig Young, Cloris
Leachman, and Diane Keaton (in her first screen role), two-time Oscar nominee
Richard Castellano, Emmy winner Bea Arthur, theater veterans Anne Jackson and
Anne Meara, and up-and-coming screen performers Bonnie Bedelia, Michael
Brandon, Bob Dishy, and Marian Hailey. Writing in Time magazine, Jay Cocks called the film "a first-rate
showcase for some of the year's best ensemble acting." Leonard Maltin
praised it as a "vividly real, genuinely funny movie."
Joining us will be the film's Oscar-nominated screenwriters, Renee Taylor and
Joseph Bologna, who adapted the film from their own play. Taylor and Bologna
have been active as writers, directors, and performers for stage, screen, and
television over the last 50 years. Cast members will also attend this reunion
screening, including Bonnie Bedelia, whose many credits include They Shoot Horses, Don't They, Heart Like a Wheel, Die Hard, Presumed Innocent, and the TV series, Parenthood.
The Royale Laemmle is located at 11523
Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, CA 90025. The phone number is (310) 478 – 3836.
One of our readers named Peter wrote to us regarding our frustration over the fact that there has been no DVD or Blu-ray edition issued in the USA or UK for director Nicholas Ray's 1963 epic "55 Days at Peking". Peter informed us that he has a French release special edition that is available on Amazon France through the Filmedia company:
"I have the French Blu-ray release. The following is a list of the extras. Note that most of the extras are in French with NO English subtitles. Original interviews with the cast are in English.
Interview with Olivier Assayas and Nicholas Ray (32 mins)
The Boxers in Cinema (6 min)
Boxer Rebellion (12 mins)
Portrait of Ava Gardner (19 mins)
Nicholas Ray documentary (47 mins)
Interviews with Charlton Heston, David Niven, John Moore and Mrs. Heston (30 mins)
The film's restoration (11 mins)
Trailer (French) (3 min)
Cinema Retro has not viewed this release but reviews on Amazon France indicate the quality is very good.
UPDATE! Several readers have notified us that there is a top-notch transfer of the film available in the UK through Anchor Bay....However, it is a "bare bones" release without the aforementioned extras on the French version.
the days before cable, video and on-line streaming, classic movie fans had to
work for their movie watching pleasure by hunting through local weekly
schedules based on what local broadcasters chose to schedule. Adventure movies,
comedies, war movies and westerns have always been at the top of my classic
movie viewing list. “The Password is Courage” is one of those movies discovered
years ago that remains a favorite of mine. Maybe because its a sort of big brother
to the Grand Poobah of all prisoner of war movies, “The Great Escape,” which
was released a year later in 1963.
movie, based on the true story of Sergeant Major Charlie Coward, is a
remarkable yet easy-going tale. One almost feels as though life was not all
that bad in a German POW camp during WWII. If the movie has a fault, it’s that
it treats the subject a little too cavalier at times. It’s a very minor
objection because the humor is always at the expense of the German captors and everything
else about this movie is pure movie watching joy.
Bogarde is perfectly cast as Charlie Coward, a man with an ironic name which
must have played a part in making him anything but a coward. The German
Luftwaffe ran POW camps through most of the war because most allied military
prisoners were aviators and air crew until the Normandy invasion in 1944. The
Germans also commonly segregated their camps by nationality and separated
officers and enlisted men into separate camps. Sergeant Major Charlie Coward
was among the senior enlisted members of one such camp, Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf,
in what is now part of Poland.
movie is based on the popular book of the same name by Ronald Charles Payne and
John William Garrote writing as John Castle. Coward was transferred to
Auschwitz III-Monowitz, a labor camp which was near the infamous Auschwitz II-Birkenau
extermination camp which Coward allegedly infiltrated in a failed attempt to
liberate a Jewish doctor. According to the book, he also aided in the
liberation of hundreds of Jews, but Coward’s involvement in these activities is
Actress Caroline Munro will be a guest of honor at the "O Comic Con!"'s screening of her 1973 film "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" which boasts special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Munro will participate in a panel discussion about her career that is sure to include her role as the villainess Naomi in the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me". The event will take place on May 29 as part of the "O Comic Con!" convention at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The convention itself runs from May 29-31. For more info, click here.
years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
seemingly ended the Australian post apocalypse triptych, director George Miller
is back, with a vengeance (and a much bigger budget). The result could have been an
overdone, bloated production, loaded with CGI and soft on any real thrills…
instead Miller has created a masterpiece that significantly raises the bar of
to begin? From the opening sequence when
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) surveys a vast desert wasteland while eating a
mutant lizard that wandered too close, you know this ain’t your daddy’s Mad
Max. The film explodes from there – Max
is captured by a gang of “War Boys” run by a terrifying character named
Immortan Joe, his face hidden behind a ghastly breathing mask complete with
teeth. Joe is played by Hugh Keys-Byrne who
starred as Toe Cutter in the original Mad
Max. The actor has bulked up and gone gray, but lost none of his swaggering
menace. Our Max is quickly put to use as
a living blood donor for an ailing warrior named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max’s life seems grim and short until he makes
a daring escape, joining up with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has just
committed the most unforgivable of sins – stealing from Immortan Joe. And she didn’t just drive off with treasure
or gasoline, she’s taken his very future – his five alluring slave wives, one
of whom is carrying his child. You can
bet he’ll unleash the hounds of automotive hell to get them back!
film cleverly blends the best of the first three movies – snippets of Max’s
personal tragedy, the hulking villain from 1982’s Road Warrior and a bit of Bartertown, resulting in a full throttle chase
through the irradiated wasteland. Gradually Max and Furiousa learn to trust each other, but that’s as warm
and fuzzy as the movie gets – there’s just no time for more. In fact, if Max has more than one page of
dialogue in the entire film, I’d be surprised. What there IS time for, is an array of
mind-bending stunts as they flee Immortan Joe’s forces, pursuing them in a
fleet of devilishly souped-up vehicles. Throw in the hostile, opportunistic
tribes roaming the wasteland and death is literally waiting around every curve. In terms of pacing, the director really puts
the hammer down, so it’s relentless… and best of all, Miller did everything “Old
School.” Real stunts, flying stuntmen, honest to gawd car crashes and glorious
explosions, all played out against a white hot sky and muted red earth. (The
film was shot off the grid in the Namibian desert when the Australian outback appeared
many of today’s releases can be enjoyed on DVD or any of the over the top
services now available, Mad Max: Fury
Road MUST be seen in a theater and
with an audience. Guaranteed, there
won’t be the usual multiplex hassles of conversation or texting – all eyes will
be glued to the screen. (The preview
audience I saw it with actually applauded various action sequences, a real
all love old movies and constantly lament, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used
to.” This time they did, and Lord
Humongous would approve!
Mad Max: Fury Road Opens May 15th
from Warner Bros.
dark corners of the human mind are the deepest dark, I believe, of anything in
the universe,” once said author, playwright, producer, and director Arch Oboler
in describing his infamous radio plays of the 1930s and 1940s which aired on
NBC under the title of Lights Out! It
is no secret that some of the world's most well-known artists, everyone from
author Edgar Allan Poe to film director Dario Argento, have channeled
nightmarish experiences from their childhood and woven them into the very
fabric of their stories and films. The late great surrealist Swiss artist Hans
Rudolf Giger, known internationally as H.R. Giger, also sublimated his fears
and frustrations into startling and often horrific imagery that coupled man
with machinery as he explored the triptych of existence: birth, life, and death.
Audiences are taken behind the scenes of this master painter in the elegiac
final days of his life in the new film Dark
Star: H.R. Giger’s World, directed by Belinda Sallin, which opens May 15,
2015 in selected cities. Although a documentary, Passagen, was made about his work in 1972 by Fredi
M. Murer, Dark Star showcases interviews with the people closest to
this man who shunned the limelight and preferred to paint on his own
Giger passed away just after filming finished. The film does an expert job of taking us through his life as he imparts
interesting anecdotes, such as showing us a skull that his father gave him as a
boy, which frightened him until he found a way to overcome his fear. This skull indubitably played a huge roll in
his life and work. He meets with friends
and family who are lucky enough to spend their time with him. Much of the dialog is spoken in Swiss German
and subtitles are provided.
Dark Star opens with placid and calm shots of the
artist’s house in Zürich, Switzerland. The camera pans around the grounds and above
the abode and the trees until it zeros in on the front door and, in a maneuver eerily
reminiscent of Dorothy Gale’s journey from black and white into Technicolor,
the door opens to reveal this dark world of surrealistic paintings. These
unbelievable images, which exist in the form of finished paintings as well as
macabre sculptures, date back to the 1960’s. Like most artists, images and emotions fueled Härr Giger’s work, and he
had his own method of painting which incorporated air brushing while listening
to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Not
surprisingly, childhood experiences factored greatly as a catalyst for his
disturbing imagery. A trip to the
Raetian Museum in Chur, Switzerland as a young lad was particularly frightening
when he saw a mummy for the first time.
tumultuous relationship with actress and model Li Tobler, whom he was with from
1966 until 1975, figures prominently in many of the works that populate his Necronomicon books. Härr Giger, enfeebled and walking with a
cautious gait, speaks eloquently about the loss of Frau Tobler who shot herself
at age 27 after suffering for years from severe depression.
this tragedy, Härr Giger’s work caught the attention of film director Ridley
Scott, who was in the midst of pre-production on 20th Century Fox’s Alien (1979), who was by his own
admission bowled over by the creations he saw in Necronomicon. These images
provided the basis for the titular monster, and it was this blockbuster science
fiction film franchise that catapulted an unassuming Giger to superstardom and
into the public consciousness for all-time. The set design is known for its heavy emphasis on sexual imagery. His then-wife, Mia Bonzanigo, was there to
see him win the Oscar for Alien.
Giger’s widow, Carmen Maria Giger, expatiates on her late husband’s sense of
perception and his masterful melding of human anatomy and machines. By his own admission, one of his paintings
came about due to a trip he had on LSD.
his fragile state, Härr Giger still managed to make it to public appearances
when museums mounted exhibitions of his work, such as the Lentos Art Museum in
Austria. The droves of fans who flocked
to see him came from all sorts of backgrounds, and many of them possessed
tattoos of his artwork that covered their arms, legs, and backs.
film leaves the viewer with an interesting overview of an artist who succeeded
in what he set out to do, and was complacent in himself and his work.
Burbank, Calif. May 19, 2015 – On June 2, Warner
Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will release The John Wayne Westerns Film
Collection – featuring five classic films on Blu-ray™ from the
larger-than-life American hero – just in time for Father’s Day. The Collection
features two new-to-Blu-ray titles, The Train Robbers and Cahill
U.S. Marshal plus fan favorites Fort Apache, The Searchers and a
long-awaited re-release of Rio Bravo. The pocketbook box set
will sell for $54.96 SRP; individual films $14.98 SRP.
Born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, John
Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on the Fox lot during
summer vacations from University of Southern California, which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne to director Raoul Walsh
for the male lead in the 1930 epic Western, The Big Trail,
and, although it was a box-office failure, the movie showed Wayne's potential.
For the next nine years, Wayne worked in a
multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger features. Wayne’s
big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as Ringo Kid in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne nearly stole the picture
from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a box-office superstar began.
During his 50-year film career, Wayne played the lead in 142 movies, an as yet
unsurpassed record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®[i],
winning the Best Actor Oscar® in 1970 for his performance in True Grit.
Details of The
John Wayne Westerns Film Collection
The Train Robbers (1973)
NEW TO BLU-RAY!
The action never stops in this western starring
Wayne, Ann-Margret and Ricardo Montalban. Three Civil War veterans team up with
a train robber’s attractive widow to recover a cool half-million in hidden
gold. The widow (Ann-Margret) wants to clear her husband’s name and the three
friends (John Wayne, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson) want to aid her and collect a
$50,000 reward. But the dead man’s ex-partners just want the gold…and will kill
to get it.
The Train Robbers is a rollicking
caper from writer/director Burt Kennedy, a specialist in Westerns with a comic
touch (The Rounders, Support Your Local
Sheriff). Here he sets a mood of amiable adventure among colorful
characters, not stinting on the two-fisted action that’s part of all the best
Special features include:
·Featurette: John Wayne: Working with a Western Legend
·Featurette: The Wayne Train
Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973)
NEW TO BLU-RAY!
Lawman J.D. Cahill can stand alone against a
bad-guy army. But as a widower father, he’s on insecure footing raising two
sons, particularly when he suspects his boys are involved in a bank robbery…
and two killings.
Filmed on location in the high desert of Durango,
New Mexico, this suspenseful saga offers a hearty helping of the stoic charisma
that made John Wayne a long-time box-office champion. Summer of ’42 discovery Gary Grimes – as Cahill’s rebellious older
son – joins a cast of tough-guy favorites (Neville Brand, Denver Pyle, Harry
Carey Jr. and George Kennedy) and such other Hollywood greats as Marie Windsor
and Jackie Coogan in a deft blend of trigger-fast action and heroic sentiment.
Special features include:
Commentary by Andrew V. McLaglen
Featurette: The Man Behind the Star
Fort Apache (1948)
The soldiers at Fort Apache may
disagree with the tactics of their glory-seeking new commander. But to a man,
they’re duty-bound to obey – even when it means almost certain disaster.
John Wayne, Henry Fonda and many
familiar supporting players from master director John Ford’s “stock company:
saddle up for the first film in the director’s famed cavalry trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande are the others). Roughhouse camaraderie,
sentimental vignettes of frontier life, massive action sequences staged in
Monument Valley – all are part of Fort
Apache. So is Ford’s explorationof the West’s darker side. Themes of justice,
heroism and honor that Ford would revisit in later Westerns are given rein in
this moving, thought-provoking film that, even as it salutes a legend, gives
reasons to question it.
released special features include:
·Commentary by F.X. Feeney
·Featurette: Monument Valley: John Ford
The Searchers (1956)
Working together for the 12th time,
John Wayne and director John Ford forged The Searchers into a landmark
Western offering an indelible image of the frontier and the men and women who
challenged it. Wayne plays an ex-Confederate soldier seeking his niece,
captured by Comanches who massacred his family. He won't surrender to hunger,
thirst, the elements or loneliness. And in his five-year
search, he encounters something unexpected: his own humanity. Beautifully shot by Winton
C. Hoch, thrillingly scored by Max Steiner and memorably acted by a wonderful
ensemble including Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood and Ward Bond, The
Searchers endures as "a great film of enormous scope and
breathtaking physical beauty" (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic).
Previously released special features include:
The Searchers: An Appreciation - 2006 Documentary
A Turning of the Earth:John Ford, John Wayne andThe Searchers – 1998 documentary
narrated by John Milius
Introduction by John
Wayne’s son and The Searchers co-star Patrick Wayne
Commentary by director/John
Ford biographer Peter Bogdanovich
Vintage Behind the
cameras segments from the Warner Bros. Presents TV Series
Rio Bravo (1959)
On one side is an army of gunmen dead-set on
springing a murderous cohort from jail. On the other is Sheriff John T. Chance
(John Wayne) and two deputies: a recovering drunkard (Dean Martin) and a crippled
codger (Walter Brennan). Also in their ragtag ranks are a trigger-happy youth
(Ricky Nelson) and a woman with a past (Angie Dickinson) – and her eye on
Chance. Director Howard Hawks lifted the
Western to new heights with Red River. Capturing
the legendary West with a stellar cast in peak form, he does it again here.
Previously released special features include:
Commentary by John
Carpenter and Richard Schickel
Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo
Tucson: Where the Legends Walked
Also available on Digital HD June 2, 2015
-- the JOHN WAYNE 10 FILM COLLECTION.This digital bundle
of 10 titles will include the followingfilms:
Before video became the standard in the adult film industry, movie makers had to utilize conventional- and relatively expensive- methods of bringing their erotic tales to the big screen. That meant shooting on film. Many grindhouse porn flicks were shot on lower-grade 16mm but if there was a big enough "name" involved, investors would shoot the moon (pardon the pun) and go for a 35mm release. Generally, these films boasted production values that were far superior and often had the benefit of directors who were more adept at realizing their visions than the hacks who were simply obsessed with capturing the "money shots" on grainy film stock. One of the more intriguing names to emerge in the porn industry of the 1980s was an exotic beauty named Hyapatia Lee. Ironically, while mainstream Hollywood studios were still enforcing the glass ceiling that kept females from exerting much influence behind the camera, the adult movie industry was affording women the opportunity to take more creative control over the films in which they were involved. Lee was one such woman. She started out as a stripper and scored some name recognition by becoming a two-time winner of the Nude Miss Galaxy contest. She discovered that appearing in adult films paid far more lucratively than stripping for drunk truck drivers and banking executives, so she began to assert her potential as a screenwriter. She married her boyfriend, Bud Lee, and the new power couple began collaborating on porn flicks starring Hyapatia. She built an enthusiastic following back in the era when you could see erotica on the big screen in urban red light districts.
Vinegar Syndrome has released an especially impressive Hyapatia Lee double feature. The main production is "The Ribald Tales of Canterbury", a 1985 film that is slickly produced and features unusually ornate sets and costumes. Hyapatia herself "adapted" (very, very loosely) the Chaucer classic book of bawdy stories told by pilgrims en route to the city of Canterbury. The concept of turning this scenario into a porn film was hardly original, but "Ribald Tales" is a step above most porn productions of the period. Hyapatia appears as the "hostess" who bookends the tales and, of course, appears in them as well. The various short stories depicted herein exploit all the standard scenarios (threesomes, lesbianism, etc.) but with a comic overtone. The movie's direction was attributed to Bud Lee and hubby outdoes Hitchcock by appearing in his own film, albeit in a steamy sequence. The movie features numerous familiar faces from the adult film industry of that time period including Peter North, Mike Horner, Buffy Davis, Debra Lynn and Jesse Eastern. The film is impressive on a number of levels and the erotic sequences are truly erotic. Vinegar Syndrome has provided a terrific transfer from the 35mm original negative. There is also an unusual bonus feature for an adult film: an audio commentary with the director, Bud Lee, conducted by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin. Lee proves to be an engaging personality. He recalls how he first met Hyapatia in a strip club and then went on to marry her. He's fairly self-deprecating when it comes to making his directorial debut with this film, saying bluntly that he was uncertain of what to do and had to rely on his crew members to do the bulk of the directing. The commentary track is not only fun, it also offers a rare insider's view of the adult film industry of the 1980s. Bud Lee, who is still working in the industry today, may not have been able to break through to mainstream feature films but one does admire the professionalism he displays in regard to his work.
The second feature is titled "Tasty" and was filmed back-to-back with "Ribald Tales", utilizing the same studio space. Hyapatia Lee top-lines again but this film is far more conventional and has a "knock off" aspect to it when compared to the ambitious previous movie. The entire action takes place in a failing California radio station. The ratings are in the basement and the over-stressed station owner (Jesse Eastern) finds that even indulging in endless sex sessions with his staffers can't lower his level of anxiety. The situation worsens when his key advertiser (Bud Lee, doubling again as actor and director) gives him one week to improve the ratings or he will pull all of his ads. The staff uses an innovative method to save the station. Ignoring FCC censorship rules, they turn the station into a porn haven, dispensing sex advice and engaging in sex acts while on the air. Predictably, the ratings soar, the advertiser stays on board and the owner is congratulated on a strategic coup that he had nothing to do with. The bare bones production basically offers a few different office sets and a control room where the DJs work and play (with emphasis on play). (t's somewhat amusing to see the use of vinyl records being spun on turntables, this being the 1980s.) Hayaptia Lee is the central character, Tasty Tastums (an "homage" to legendary America DJ Casey Kasem) and she gets to strut her stuff, singing and dancing in an erotic video titled "Hit Me With Your Wet Shot", this "homage" attributable to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot". It seems petty to fault any performance in a porn film because the actors aren't graduates of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but even by this standard, the acting ability of Jesse Eastern defies description. In a filmed interview included as a bonus extra, Bud Lee can't help but admit he could not get a credible performance from Eastern, at least in the non-sex scenes. Eastern is so bad that his temperamental outbursts on screen threaten to eclipse the sex scenes in terms of entertainment value.
Both movies were produced for porn legend Bob Chinn's Caribbean Films. The special edition includes original trailers for both movies. If retro erotic films appeal to you, this double feature is another impressive winner from Vinegar Syndrome.
Here's a blast from the past: Sean Connery as the "mystery guest" on a 1965 episode of "What's My Line?". The clip recalls an era when those who appeared on television tended to be sophisticated, well-mannered and polite. The celebrity participants in the game always wore tuxedos and fine dresses as they played to win token amounts of money that never exceeded $50. The fun was waiting until the end of the show to see if the blindfolded panelists could guess the mystery guest, who would inevitably disguise his/her voice. Here, the "Great Scot" shows a bit of humor as he feigns a high-pitched female voice. Later he seems rather shy engaging in actual conversation with host John Daly. He briefly mentions that he is in New York to film "A Fine Madness" and shows some enthusiasm for his about-to-be-released prison classic "The Hill". He noticeably does not mention the forthcoming release of his fourth James Bond blockbuster "Thunderball", which opened in December 1965. By this point, it's apparent that the bloom was off the 007 rose for Connery.
a cult favorite, actress Edwige Fenech
has numerous movie moments that are ingrained into the minds of many
Italian men who came of age in the 1970’s. Yet there is one particular moment, running topless in slow-motion
through a field of flowers, that is probably more memorable then the rest. Many words come to mind when trying to
describe this scene: Crude. Low-brow. Gratuitous. All of these are
excellent adjectives to use when trying to sum up 1973’s Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Besides giving audiences an (extremely) intimate look at Ms.
Fenech, this was the film that famously
(or infamously) proved that the Italian “sexy comedies” could be commercially
viable. Although not a for
everyone, Ubalda is perfect for fans who wish to delve more deeply into the
overlooked cult titles of Italy’s yesteryear.
(Pippo Franco) is a hapless knight who has just returned home after a long and
brutal war. As can be expected, he wants
nothing more than to eat fresh food, have a nice bath, and find comfort in the
arms of his beautiful wife Fiamma (Karin Schubert). Before he had left, Olimpio had his wife
fitted with a chastity built in order to ensure that she remained faithful. Yet when he returns home, he finds that Fiamma
is less then eager to return his affections (even with the chastity belt, she
has numerous other suitors lined
up). After she steals the key to the
belt (a fact which delights her suitors), she informs Olimpio that she has
taken a vow of “chastity”, and suggests that her husband focus his energies
toward making peace with their neighbor instead of making love. Discouraged, Olimpio accepts his wife’s words
and heads over to the home of Master Oderisi (Umberto D’Orsi) in order to make
amends. Yet as soon as he sees Oderisi’s
new wife, he quickly has other ideas.
it turns out, Lady Ubalda (Edwige Fenech), is as equally unhappy in her
marriage as Fiamma is in hers. Initially, she is only too happy to add Olimpio to her list of secret
lovers, but quickly loses interest after his plan to bed her fails. Frustrated at home, both Olimpio and Oderisi
eventually agree to swap wives. Yet
their plan sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change their lives
in a very unexpected way. By the time
the film is over, neither man has to worry about the other ever trying to bed
their wife again.
with a budget of roughly $50,000, the
film grossed more than $400,000 at the box office, making it a huge success. (Although people under the age of 18 were not
admitted into the theaters, it is interesting to think of all the creative ways
that teenagers concocted in their attempts to sneak in). After Ubalda’s
stunning success, the Italian sex comedies (known in Italy as “commedia sexy
all’italiana”) became a huge sensation. Aside from the medieval setting, these films tended to center around
numerous other cliched subjects, such as: nurses, policewomen, and lady medics. Unsurprisingly, many of these films would
follow Ubalda’sexample and give top billing to Edwige Fenech.
Fenech was, beyond a doubt, the
break-out star of the movie. Already
known for her roles in the giallos, Ubalda
made Fenech an instant sex siren. It
is little wonder; gifted with natural beauty, she could light up any screen,
regardless of her role. (The fact that
the film featured her disrobing probably made the screen shine even brighter
for many in attendance). On top of her
more obvious attributes, Edwige Fenech also possessed a natural flair for
comedy. Throughout Ubalda, her
wry humor proves to be the perfect compliment to Franco's over the top antics.
Although her glamor and comedy would never grant her universal recognition,
Fenech would still make a decent career for herself.
The decline and decay of American urban centers in the 1960s- along with the inevitable soaring crime rates- inspired Hollywood studios to reflect the general mood of society. It was clearly a tumultuous period, perhaps the most divisive era in American history since the Civil War a hundred years before. Race riots, Vietnam War protests, assassinations of high profile figures and soaring poverty rates combined to provide a perfect storm of social unrest. Always a barometer of where society was at at any particular point in time, the major studio releases begat a tidal wave of urban crime movies. Many of these centered on a single "lone wolf" protagonist...the "dirty cop", if you will, who generally had disdain for following constitutional rights in his quest to fight crime, often within the very police department he worked for. From the late 1960s through the 1970s, we saw such memorable cops as "Popeye" Doyle, "Dirty Harry" Callahan, Frank Bullitt and Virgil Tibbs taking on crime kingpins as well as top brass. The actions of these cops would be found to abhorrent today but at the time, the "shoot first, ask questions later" approach clearly had the backing of an American population that was losing faith in their criminal justice system. Sidney Lumet's 1973 film "Serpico" was perhaps the most compelling look at this problem, as it depicted a real life New York City police officer who dared to take on corruption in the highest levels of his own department and discovered that payoffs and back room deals between cops and crooks were systemic. By the mid-1970s, even John Wayne, the most stalwart symbol of political conservatism, had gone rogue by playing "stick-it-to-the-brass" detectives in "McQ" and "Brannigan". The explosion of urban crime dramas provided a great many opportunities for black actors. Sidney Poitier paved the way with his landmark performance in the 1967 film "In the Heat of the Night" and then revived the leading man from that film, Virgil Tibbs, in several sequels. The 1971 release of director Gordon Parks' "Shaft", portraying a slick, cynical black private eye, was a surprise success with mainstream audiences and led to the overnight tidal wave of so-called blaxploitation films, which were, with few exceptions, crudely made productions that merited "guilty pleasure" status with viewers. One of the many benefits of this trend was the emergence of so many fine African American actors who had been performing under the radar in terms of name recognition.
"Across 110th Street", released in 1972, is not a blaxploitation film but it is a hybrid between that genre and the more upscale big studio crime flicks of the era. It boasts an intelligent script by Luther Davis, based on the source novel by Walter Ferris. The film takes place during the period when Harlem was generally depicted on screen as an urban wasteland, characterized by burned out buildings, back lots strewn with garbage and a generation of young black man with no hopes or prospects and, thus, falling prey to the lure of the criminal life. The movie opens with a back room meeting between members of an odd alliance: Mafia guys getting together with their counterparts in the Harlem mob to split up weekly proceeds from shakedowns and other ill-gotten gains. Just as they are counting the loot, they are interrupted by two black police officers who turn out to be small time crooks in disguise. They attempt to steal the money but the plan goes awry leading to the machine gun massacre of all the mob guys. The four perpetrators of the crime against the crooks make a hair-raising getaway, gunning down two legitimate police officers in the process. The NYPD is determined to find the culprits. Ordinarily, it would fall to veteran police captain Matelli (Anthony Quinn) to head the investigation. However, he's ordered to play a subordinate role to Lt. Pope, a young up-and-coming black detective (Yaphet Kotto) who the top brass believe might have more resources within the Harlem community. The notion of taking orders from someone with a subordinate rank infuriates Matelli and he had Pope have a strained relationship at best. "Across 110th Street" is a unique crime movie from this period on a number of levels. For one, the two main police protagonists don't dominate the movie. Most of the screen time is dedicated to the plight of the four hapless thieves who inadvertently caused a massacre. They split up and hope to stay under the radar in the wake of the crime. However, not only are the cops looking for them but so is the Harlem mob as well as Mafia goons headed by their enforcer, Nick D'Salvio. Everyone wants the stolen money and the frightened men who have it are in imminent danger. In some harrowing sequences, D'Salvio and his men track down three of the four thieves and render torturous street justice to them. The last remaining holdout is Jim Harris (superbly played by Paul Benjamin), the smartest of the group who manages to stay hidden thanks to the help of his sexy girlfriend. However, in an intriguing plot twist, his asthma leads to complications that result in a terrifically exciting finale as cops, mob guys and the Harlem crooks all race to get to him first.
The film was directed with admirable style by Barry Shear, who was primarily a TV director of repute, though he did helm the low-budget cult movie "Wild in the Streets" in 1968. Shear presents a flair not only for ambitious action sequences but also for intense dramatic scenes between the main characters. Anthony Quinn gets top billing and gives a fine performance as a world-weary cop who considers himself honest even though he is on the payroll of a Harlem crime king. He also thinks nothing of beating suspects and depriving them of legal representation, tactics that appall the more modern and progressive methods of Lt. Pope. The two men clash constantly and the inevitable racial and generational barriers between them becomes points of contention. This was an important film for Yaphet Kotto. Although he had been a respected character actor for years, this time around he got "above the title" billing with Quinn. His quiet intensity has always allowed him to steal every scene he is in and this is no exception. Kotto always brings dignity to the roles he plays, even if the characters are not very dignified. Anthony Franciosa also has a meaty role as the outwardly charming D'Salvio, who is, in reality, a merry sadist. Although he travels with goons and bodyguards, he enjoys getting his hands dirty and administrating the beatings and tortures himself. There are a couple of other "up-and-comers" seen in supporting roles including Burt Young and Gloria Hendry, who would go on to star with Yaphet Kotto in the James Bond hit "Live and Let Die" the following year. The film captures the look and feel of New York City at the low point in its history. Today, the city has undergone a Renaissance, as has many of the great American urban centers. Gotham routinely posts annual crime figures that are the lowest since the early 1960s. The city is a far cry from the era in which this film is made but one aspect of the movie remains uncomfortably relevant: the relationship between police and the minority community, as evidenced by continuous high profile cases that seem to erupt in the news every other day. Although most of these incidents now seem to take place outside of major urban areas, they provide proof that America has still not completely turned the corner on one of the most divisive aspects of its culture: race relations.
The film has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer has a graininess to it that I believe represents the way the film was originally shot. In any event, it only adds to the grindhouse nature of the subject matter. "Across 110th Street" is a top-notch crime thriller from an era that boasted many top-notch crime thrillers. Essential viewing, if you like films from this era. The only bonus is trailer, which is a work print version that is lacking any on-screen titles or credits. In all, another welcome release from Kino Lorber. (See below for original trailer with credits.)
Cinema Retro Lee Pfeiffer recently moderated a book signing event for authors Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer in relation to their new release "Bob Crane: Sex, Celebrity and My Father's Unsolved Murder", which has been published by the University Press of Kentucky. The event was held at The Coffee House Club, a legendary 100 year-old private venue for the arts in New York that has boasted such illustrious members as Sir Winston Churchill, Robert Benchley, Basil Rathbone and Henry Fonda. The book details the impact that the murder of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane had on his family, specifically his son Robert, who was in his early twenties when the grisly crime occurred in 1979. Bob Crane had risen to fame playing avuncular, sharp-witted "guy next door" types. He was also a highly talented musician who enjoyed moonlighting as an acclaimed drummer. In private life, he was a very complex man. As outlined in the book, he was capable of being a loving, hard-working father and husband who always ensured that his family was provided for. However, he also had many personal demons, most of them revolving around an obsession with sex that he was never able to control.
(L to R: Christopher Fryer, Leslie Crane, Desly Fryer, Robert Crane)
(L to R): Robert Crane, Lee Pfeiffer, Christopher Fryer.
From his first days of stardom on TV in the early 1960s, Crane's unrestrained attempts to satisfy his libido led to great distress in his family. He routinely bedded the seemingly endless array of willing female lovers. When his long-suffering wife finally ended their marriage, whatever structure still remained in Crane's life evaporated. A second marriage to an actress who was a regular on "Hogan's Heroes" led to even more consternation. When "Hogan's Heroes" was finally canceled after a long run, Crane found himself estranged from his second wife. He was trying to support both ex-spouses and his own lifestyle even as his star power dwindled, in no small part due to his personal excesses. Crane had always been interested in the latest video and audio technology. His friendship with a creepy hanger-on named John Carpenter proved to be problematic in the long run. Carpenter, who was in the video technology business, kept Crane up to date with the latest video cameras, which the actor used to document his sex sessions with countless lovers. In return, Carpenter benefited from being included in group sex sessions that were arranged by Crane for the purposes of being filmed. (Contrary to popular legend, Robert Crane told Lee Pfeiffer that he has never found evidence that any of these women were filmed surreptitiously or without their consent.) Ultimately, Bob Crane's fortunes had dwindled to the point that he had to make a living by performing a middling comedy stage play on the dinner theater circuit. He was doing so for a Phoenix engagement when his lifeless body was discovered in his rented apartment there. Crane had been brutally bludgeoned to death with the tripod of a camera. Over the decades, the consensus was that Carpenter, who had had a falling out with Crane, was the likely suspect. He had motive and opportunity but so many years passed before he was tried for the crime that the case was largely circumstantial and he was found not guilty. During the course of the book event, both Crane and his old friend and co-author Fryer, each discussed their own theories about who was likely to blame for the murder, which was the subject of Paul Schrader's film "Auto Focus". (For the record, Robert Crane remains convinced that Carpenter was a culprit but leaves the door open for involvement by another person, whose identity might surprise readers.) The book very effectively interweaves Bob Crane's life and career with the very dramatic life of his son. Robert recounts numerous personal obstacles in a compelling and moving manner. Here was a young man who had to contend with his father's murder at an early age, then the loss of his friend, mentor and employer, John Candy. He would later also lose his beloved first wife to a terminal illness. It all makes for a highly readable page turner.
Possessed,” (1961), a soap opera starring Lana Turner that was her attempt to
have another hit on the order of “Peyton Place,” has two distinguishing
features. First, two of the male leads, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Jason
Robards, Jr., have Jr. after their names, (There may be other films with two
juniors in the top-ranked cast, but I can’t think of them, can you?) and,
second, it may be the worst film that the estimable John Sturges ever directed.
Other than that, there is absolutely nothing noteworthy about this film except
how bad it is.
First of all even
though Lana got star billing, the central character is really the lawyer played
by Zimbalist. He’s partners with Robards in a firm headed by Thomas Mitchell. Efrem is a
cold, unfeeling guy who believes in fulfilling the letter of the law, no matter
who it hurts. (Sounds perfect to play in a TV series about the FBI). To show
the kind of guy he is, Efrem discovers Thomas Mitchell has been screwing up the
law firm’s books. When he first suspects something’s wrong he tells Robards
they’ll have to put the old man on moth balls, because he’s becoming senile. He
plans to take away all his duties, and just keep him around as a lawn jockey.
Jason flinches, telling Efrem to carry out the deed because he couldn’t bring
himself to hurt him that way.
Zimbalist has a
wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) who’s in the hospital with a tennis injury
(presumably tennis elbow!) They have a son (George Hamilton) who hates his
life. It’s rough being wealthy and going to Harvard Law School. George, in
turn, has a girlfriend (Susan Kohner),
but he’s bored with her because she won’t sleep with him. After failing to have
a meaningful conversation about relationships with his father, George decides
to take up with the town tramp, Yvonne Craig.
wifey Bel Geddes in the hospital, and Robards away in New York, Efrem discovers
Lana has eyes for him. You see, Robards is impotent as the result of an
undefined accident. Efrem and Lana start
a little fling. In the meantime, Efrem’s son, George’s date with the easy girl Yvonne turns disastrous when he brushes her off
afterward, and she cries rape. Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Conner) shows up as the
police chief and arrests George. George gets out of jail and skips on his bail.
When girlfriend Kohner finds out about the tramp she kills herself by drinking
cleaning fluid. That’s right. Cleaning
By this time, I
felt like I wanted to take a swig of it myself. But as Everett Sloan as the family
doctor says, while playing gin with
Efrem, “Forces are put in motion that lead to an inevitable end, and sometimes
it’s a bitter inevitablility” or some jazz like that, that makes as much sense
as the rest of the movie. I won’t bore you with the rest of this tedious
nonsense, but suffice to say that, since it was only 1961 and the sexual
revolution was still to come later in the decade, the hypocritical ending lets
just about everyone off the hook, morally speaking.
biggest mystery surrounding this film is how in the world John Sturges came to
direct it. Sturges had already done “The Magnificent Seven” the year before,
and “Gunfight at the OK Corral” before that, and would go on to “The Great
Escape” and other solid action films. Perhaps Sturges’ venture into Douglas
Sirk territory best serves as a reminder that if you want a long career in
Hollywood, you’ve got to be flexible.
Possessed” was a Seven Arts Production with script by Charles Schnee (as John
Dennis) produced by Walter Mirisch, music score by Elmer Bernstein and cinematography
by Russell Metty. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection DVD is presented in 16x9 1.85:1
widescreen format. Picture is adequate, sound a bit flat and tinny. Recommended
for Lana Turner completists and those with a taste for cleaning fluid.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
Brian Wilson, 2008. (Photo copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Cinema Retro's Mark Mawston is among the notable photographers who have donated portraits of famous rock legends for a charity auction being organized by The Print Bank. Mawston's 2008 portrait of Brian Wilson, taken at the Royal Albert Hall, became the rock legend's favorite personal photo. Wilson has a signed a print which is being offered as part of the auction. Among the other portraits signed by the music legends that are being auctioned: Lenny Kravitz, Noel Gallagher, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Nile Rodgers, Paul Weller, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, George Martin, Chrissie Hynde, Sting, Andy Summers, Amy Winehouse and others. For full details about the auction, which takes place at the Royal Albert Hall on 16 May, CLICK HERE.
The incomparable filmography of raven-eyed Barbara Steele
attests to the iconic actresses’ reign as the uncontested Queen of Gothic
Horror cinema. Though a British
national, Steele’s earliest roles for England’s film industry were mostly
unexceptional; she was usually offered roles small and oft-times un-credited. Her most notable work would neatly coincide
with the turn of the calendar page from the prim 1950s to the more robust and
envelope-pushing 1960s. Steele’s finest
and most memorable films were, not without exception, neither productions of
English nor American origin. Though she would work alongside horror-master
Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s highly polished and well- regarded retelling of
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), this big-screen splash was
something on an anomaly. Steele’s
reputation as horror-film goddess was largely advanced by several evocative roles
in a series of hauntingly memorable, modestly-budgeted, and singularly Italian
or Italian-European co-productions. She
worked with the best: several of her most remarkable films were helmed, under
the aegis of such celebrated directors as Mario Bava (“Black Sunday”) and Federico
Fellini (“8 ½”).
Though he would never, perhaps rightfully, be knighted with
the auteur status bestowed upon such contemporaries
as Bava and Fellini, Antonio Margheriti’s resume of film credits – particularly
fantastic film credits - is lengthier
than that of either director. There was
no denying he could deliver, on time and on budget, a marketable - if sometimes
pedestrian and occasionally incoherent - science-fiction or sword-and-sandal epic
to the studio. Conversely, Margheriti’s
sensitive and nuanced handling of the gothic-horror period films assigned to
him in the early 1960s was never less than completely stylish: such entries as “The
Virgin of Nuremberg” (aka “Horror Castle”) (1963), with Christopher Lee in a small
red-herring role, remains a memorable addition to the canon. The director’s immediate follow-up, “Danza
Macabra” (“Castle of Blood”) (1964) with Barbara Steele was, on the other hand,
so much more than the ordinary color-by-numbers ghost story. That black and white film is, in the opinion
of this reviewer, nothing short of brilliant, an atmospheric and haunting masterpiece
of gothic-horror cinema. Undeservedly,
as would be the case with many of his earliest films, this celluloid treasure
was unceremoniously relegated to U.S. markets as programming fodder for the drive-in
theater circuit. Thankfully, many of
Margheriti’s films – including, inevitably, many of his lesser works - would eventually
draw new breath. Many of his earliest films
were ultimately saved from obscurity when several titles became staples of
late-night broadcast TV.
Margheriti is described on Raro Video’s brilliant recent
Blu-Ray issue of “The Long Hair of Death” (1964) as having been totally
“fascinated” by Barbara Steele’s persona, and terribly eager to work with the
actress again on a follow-up project. As
“Castle of Blood” had proven to be a low-budget but world-wide success at the international
box office, Margheriti did his best to assemble the same troupe of actors and
film technicians for his next gothic horror outing. Many of the sets for “The Long Hair of Death”
would be familiar to fans of “Castle of Blood.” The cemetery vaults and imposing Italian castle located some forty miles
outside of Rome were re-visits to the gloomy settings of his previous
collaboration with Steele. He was
comfortable in this surrounding, and there were few gothic-horror tropes not
employed by Margheriti - with great effect – in both films. It’s all there to be found – very atmospherically
presented - on screen: the gloomy old
castle, cobwebs, candelabras, chains and steel gates, labyrinth catacombs, torches,
dark-robed shadowy figures, rats, crypts littered with skulls and bones, secret
passageways, and, of course, the elegant and expansive sitting room outfitted
with large hearths and ancient armaments that adorn the walls.
The plot of “The Long Hair of Death” is simple and
recognizable. Near the end of the 15th
century, a witch, Adele Karnstein, is condemned to die by fire for the murder
of Franz Humboldt, the brother of the reigning Count (Giuliano Raffaelli). In her final moment before succumbing to the
flames, Karnstein chooses to wickedly put a century’s end curse of pestilence on
the village – with a very special retribution to be meted out to the
descendants of those who accused her, wrongly, of the crime. Before dying, she cries out to her estranged daughters,
Lisabeth (Halina Zalewska) and Helen (Barbara Steele), to avenge her murder by
the village royals. In an attempt not to
give too much away, I believe it’s safe to say that the mother’s curse will
bode well for neither the reigning Count nor his scheming and loathsome son
Shakespeare’s Richard III,one of the playwright’s earlier
efforts, is generally classified as one of the great history plays, but it’s
also considered one of the better tragedies. It’s also among the bard’s
bloodier and nastier pieces of work. After all, the protagonist is the
villain—and oh, what a villain Richard III, the deformed and power-mad king of
England who ruled the land for a couple of turbulent years in the mid-1480s,
truly is. Throughout the course of the story, he manages to murder or give the
order to murder nearly the entire supporting cast.
play has been filmed before, most notably by Laurence Olivier in 1955, but director
Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film production, based on the stage production by the
Royal National Theatre, takes the story into a very different universe. It’s
always risky to mess with Shakespeare’s temporal settings, but this particular
experiment works like gangbusters.
an alternate fascist England in the late 1930s/early 1940s, in which the story
takes place within something similar to the world of a Nazi propaganda film,
namely The Triumph of the Will, which
documented Hitler’s rise to power. Here, Richard III, superbly embodied by Ian
McKellen (who was also a producer of the film) is a Nazi-like dictator,
complete with a Nazi-like uniform, SS-like henchmen, and a WW2-era military to
serve his wishes. British landmarks are easily recognizable in the picture, and
the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes brilliantly legitimize the brave
concept. If anything, Richard III is
a sumptuous visual feast.
said, I believe this is a Shakespearean adaptation that is accessible to general
audiences. Those familiar with the play will enjoy what the filmmakers did with
the piece, and those who can’t stand Shakespeare will probably find themselves
totally engrossed. The all-star cast is terrific—Annette Bening, Robert Downey,
Jr., Jim Broadbent, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, and a
who’s-who of other British supporting players join McKellen, who dominates the
film with a bravura performance. They all manage to properly deliver the
Shakespearean dialogue with clarity; when the acting is spot-on in Shakespeare,
it’s not difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the language.
yet, the running time is less than two hours—screenwriters Loncraine and
McKellan cleverly cut the piece (which is the second longest play Shakespeare
wrote) into a tight, fast-moving spectacle of villainous treachery. McKellen’s
breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience adds to the nudge-nudge,
wink-wink factor that gives the film its irony. There is humor, to be sure, and
one of the better laughs is how the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a
horse!” is employed.
Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray is a delight. The transfer is above average,
with sharp images and bold colors. Extras include an isolated music and effects
track and the theatrical trailer.
fans will certainly want to pick up this one, and it’s a good bet that most
cinema buffs will appreciate the thriller aspects, the acting, and the
exquisite look of the inspired and daring re-invention of the play.
Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007), the playwright, television
mogul, and novelist, reportedly sold well over 300 million books in his
lifetime. This is a pretty impressive number
for a man who only turned to churning out books in his early fifties. If I hedged on the word “writing” when
describing the mogul’s working methods, I’m not being coy and
disrespectful. Perhaps taking a page
from fellow television writer-creator-workaholic Rod Serling’s own playbook, Sheldon
would dictate his stories into a tape recorder and later have secretaries type
out his ramblings. With words committed
to paper, Sheldon would then skillfully revise and edit and buffer the
manuscript until satisfied he had a full-fledged novel on hand. Though a number of literary critics - and resentful
thriller-writing contemporaries - would excoriate the creator/writer of The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie for his work method
and hackneyed storylines, readers worldwide made Sheldon one of the most
successful popular-market paperback novelists of all time.
One fan of Sheldon’s books was Roger Moore, also in the
midst of enjoying a great run of wealth and fame as James Bond. The actor would recall in his memoir My Word is My Bond, “Since first reading
Sidney Sheldon’s book The Naked Face
I had felt it would lend itself to a very good film.” Moore was interested in exploring new
projects; he was certain his sixth and most recent outing as Bond, Octopussy (1983), was likely his last. He was, after all, now fifty-seven years old. He could be forgiven for believing his
successful turn as British secret agent 007 had come to its natural end.
Several years prior to the cinema version of “The Naked
Face,” Moore was cast in “Sunday Lovers” (1980), a dismal romantic-comedy of four
vignettes tethered together as a feature-length film. The Franco-Italian production would be
released in the U.S. in the early winter of 1981. Though the film performed poorly at the
box-office on both sides of the Atlantic, critics agreed the movie’s first
tale, a distinctly British farce titled “An Englishman’s Home,” was clearly the
best of an otherwise bad bunch. The screenplay for this segment had been written
by the British playwright and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, and featured a talented
ensemble: Moore, Denholm Elliot, Lynn
Redgrave, and Priscilla Barnes. The
vignette was helmed with modest flourish by Bryan Forbes, a formidable figure
in the British film industry who had only recently stepped down as managing
director of EMI films. Moore enjoyed
working with the director on “Sunday Lovers” as Forbes, a true Renaissance man,
had been an old colleague. The two had been
friends since their earliest training together at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Around this same time a pair of Israeli nationals,
Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, became primary shareholders of Cannon Films, a floundering
company teetering on bankruptcy and desperate for well-heeled investors. The savvy cousins would quickly reinvigorate
the company’s fortunes in the 1980s with a profitable string of teen-horrors
and testosterone-fueled low-budget action B-films starring Charles Bronson and
Chuck Norris. In the interim of such
box-office successes as “Death Wish II” and the first of the “Missing in Action”
films, the producers actively courted Moore for a possible collaboration. The interests of both parties converged when a
window of opportunity opened following the actor’s wrap of Octopussy. Moore’s suggestion
of Sidney Sheldon’s 1970 best-selling novel “The Naked Face” as a possible
project for Cannon was met with enthusiasm. The deal was sealed when the filmmakers agreed to green-light Moore’s
friend Bryan Forbes as director for the project. Golan and Globus announced production of “The
Naked Face” with customary Cannon ballyhoo at the Cannes International Film
The premise of both the novel and film was classic
Hitchcock. A contemplative Chicago
psychiatrist, Dr. Judd Stevens (Roger Moore), becomes entangled as primary
suspect for a series of murders of which he is innocent and seems to have no
connection. As “The Naked Face” was clearly
targeted as entertainment for a sophisticated adult demographic, the producers
cast an impressive roster of middle-to-late-age talent. These were faces familiar to seasoned moviegoers: Rod Steiger, Anne Archer, Elliott Gould, and
Art Carney among them. The casting,
sadly, was not terribly profound. The
producers would cast veteran actor Rod Steiger as Moore’s foil, the
frothing-at-the-mouth, bulldog detective Lt. McGreavy. Steiger’s performance was certainly memorable. Unfortunately, it is memorable for all of the
wrong reasons. The most obvious problem with the actor’s
performance was, as Moore would later lament, Steiger did little to mitigate
his well-deserved reputation amongst his peers as a “scene chewer.” There’s plenty of that charge in evidence
here. The actor’s one-note portrayal is,
in turn, amusing and wearying. McGreavy comes off as a highly-caffeinated
Sgt. Joe Friday, ready to assign even the sketchiest shred of circumstantial
evidence as proof of Moore’s culpability in the murders. The detective’s dogged single-mindedness to
implicate the doctor is explained away as a result of the psychiatrist’s
testimony on behalf of a mentally unstable man who murdered his former police-partner
some years earlier. Elliott Gould is
cast as Angeli, McGreavy’s calmer and more reasonable contemporary partner. He is, seemingly, the better angel of this
traditional “good cop/bad cop” pairing. But
Gould is surprisingly unremarkable here, turning in a curiously flat and remote
performance. Art Carney plays Morgens, an
elderly, eccentric private investigator and collector of vintage clocks, who
briefly allies with Moore. Incredibly,
we’re expected to believe that the contemplative Dr. Stevens would engage this
low-rent private investigator through a listing in the Chicago Yellow Pages.
1975 Stuart Young returned to New York City after graduating from Boston’s
Emerson College with a degree in Mass Communications to begin his career in
show business. Time Warner had just begun laying cable throughout Manhattan and
Young saw an opportunity to produce a show that would air weekly on Public
Access TV and address a growing population of new viewers. The program was
called Inside The Naked City and took a point of view look at nightclubs,
restaurants and social events that were taking place at the time. Through a
mutual friend he was introduced to Herb Graff, the man who would become his
mentor and ultimately change the path his career would take. Monday through
Friday from 9 to 5 Herb was head of sales for the Arrow Shirt Company but that
was just a way to pay for his fulltime passion and hobby…film collecting. In
partnership with critic Leonard Maltin and cinephile Gene Stavis he operated
Film Mavens, a stock footage company specializing in vintage motion pictures.
Additionally he lectured and created thematic evenings around his vast film
collection and invited Young and his crew to attend and shoot one of them. It
was a tribute to Myrna Loy at the Waldorf Astoria and Young, a longtime fan of
the actress and her work in the Thin Man series for MGM, jumped at the
opportunity. That evening would mark the beginning of a lifelong friendship
between the two men and a new direction for both of them.
was an expert in “public domain” footage which was a way of utilizing and
selling material which had either never been copyrighted or had become free and
clear due to either lack of renewal or disinterest by the original owners. His
collection and expertise spanned from the late 1800s to the early 1950s and
stayed locked in that period.
I was a baby boomer”, remembers Young, “I was interested in movies from the
fifties and sixties and asked Herb about adding them to the collection. He
laughed derisively and told me to go out and find my own, which I did, and thus
a business and a website was born.”
then began actively looking for his own special interest films. “The very first
16mm print I bought was from a young collector whom Herb put me in touch with.
I have always had a great fondness for Jayne Mansfield and he sold me a black
& white version of Too Hot to Handle, as it was originally called when
distributed in England. It would later be distributed in the United States with
the more salacious title Playgirl After Dark and was a great find for me at the
time and to this day as I am still selling it both online and in retail stores
via by distributor Allied Vaughn.”
he began researching more titles and hired someone to go directly to the
Library of Congress to determine copyright statuses, he found more and more
movies he considered “orphans” and doggedly searched for existing prints all
over the United States to add to his “orphanage.” Since there was generally no
afterlife for movies during the fifties and sixties in a world where home video,
cable and satellite TV were not yet commercial realities, once a film finished
its theatrical run that was the end of its life cycle. Producers and
distributors, especially those in foreign markets, chose not to waste money on
copyrighting and storing a print in the Library of Congress, and Young
literally found a pot of gold at the end of his personal rainbow.
Young, “I was an avid follower of the ongoing series which appeared in Playboy
Magazine, The History Of Sex In The Cinema written by Arthur Knight and Hollis
Alpert, and those men handed me a virtual map to the treasures I was looking
the original umbrella title package Sex Sirens Of Cinema, he put together a
catalogue of notable legendary ladies who had captured the erotic imaginations
of many an admirer such as himself during their heyday. Sophia Loren, Mamie Van
Doren, Brigitte Bardot, Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, Elke Sommer, Claudia
Cardinale, and Gina Lollobrigida were among the original stars of the movies he
bought, transferred to video, and sold to a global market of enthusiastic
consumers who were either already familiar with these bombshells of the past or
curious as to who they were and why their appeal continues unabated.
made deals both in the emerging retail and broadcast markets”, continues Young,
“and then the world suddenly discovered the previously secretive world of the
internet known only to the military, and voila, a brand new place to display my
now abundantly endowed orphanage emerged.”
2000 he launched Cinemasirens.com as a free site where fans and consumers could
browse the photo galleries, movie memorabilia, and also purchase the rare,
unique and largely forgotten films which were of interest to a population still
desirous of reliving memories of the past but of no interest to the current
studios and entertainment conglomerates who sell their wares in the here and
Young, “When I first opened the site many people including my friends
questioned the decision to populate it mostly with Black & White relics
from the past. They wondered who in the world would buy such stuff! Well, I’ve
sold those relics to both the people who appeared in them, wrote them, produced
them, and couldn’t find them anyplace else and have been doing it for 15 years.
Next to greed, sex is the most powerful force there is when it comes to the
human condition. Add incredibly beautiful and timeless women to the mix and a
decent storyline, and you have the stuff of which dreams and long term
businesses are made of.”
In the humble opinion of this writer, Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" is the best American movie of the 1990s; a virtually perfect witches brew of violence, betrayal, misguided loyalties and a so-called "code of honor" practiced by a select group of criminals who fancied themselves no worse than your average working stiff. The production, which grabs the viewer from that early, amazing tracking shot that goes inside the Copacabana, boasts some of the finest acting ever seen in any film, with yeomen work by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and, most notably, Joe Pesci in an Oscar-winning performance. Add to that some of the best casting ever seen in relation to supporting roles and you have a classic for the ages.
Appropriately, Warner Home Entertainment has released a special 25th anniversary commemorative Blu-ray edition of the film. As outlined below in the official press release, the Blu-ray carries over all previously-released material from other special editions and provides a new documentary produced by Brett Ratner that features most of the principals (and others unrelated to the film) extolling Scorsese's achievement. One cautionary note: despite being referenced in the press release, neither Jack Nicholson -who starred in Scorsese's "The Departed"- or Joe Pesci appear in the new documentary. Nevertheless, add this to your "must-have" list.
On May 5, Warner Bros. HomeEntertainment (WBHE) willreleaseGoodFellason2-DiscBlu-rayfeaturinganewdocumentarywith interviews from Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey
Keitel, Ray Liotta andmore, and a
36-page photo book exploring the film’s far-reaching influence. The bookalso includes a letter written by MartinScorsese.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of GoodFellas, cited by film critic Roger Ebertas “the best mob movie ever,” has been
remastered from a 4k scan of the originalcamera
negative, supervised by Martin Scorsese. The Blu-ray release also includes
DigitalHD with UltraViolet and will
be available for $34.99 SRP. Fans can also own GoodFellason Digital
HD via purchase from digitalretailers.
GoodFellas explores the criminal life like no other
movie. Following the rise and fall ofa
trio of gangsters over 30 years, it’s an electrifying, fact-inspired tale of
living – anddying. Based on the true-life
best seller “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, the film earnedsix Academy Award® nominations, including Best
Picture and Best Director and wasnamed
1990’s ‘Best Film’ by the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film
Critics.In 2000, GoodFellas was selected for
preservation in the National Film Registry by theUS Library ofCongress.
Scorsese was awarded
the Silver Lion Award for Best Director in Venice. RobertDe
Niro received wide recognition for his performance as veteran criminal Jimmy
“TheGent” Conway, and Joe Pesci,
as the volatile Tommy DeVito, walked off with theBest Supporting Actor Oscar®. Academy Award® nominees Lorraine Bracco,
Ray Liottaand Paul Sorvino also
turned in electrifyingperformances.
include all previously released special features alongwith:
Documentary includes interview with the Director, cast andsome of your all-time favorite movie
gangsters! – Join some of MartinScorsese’s greatest gangsters – Robert De
Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey Keitel,Ray
Liotta, Jack Nicholson and Joe Pesci – to discover what it’s like to workfor perhaps the greatest gangster director
has released a three-disc Blu-ray set of Robert Rossellini’s celebrated ‘War
Trilogy’. The three films, Rome, Open
City (1945), Paisà (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) are among the
jewels in neorealism’s crown. Set in Italy during the German Occupation and its
aftermath, the first two films depict Italy wartorn and almost on the brink of
capitulation, while the third looks at a post-war Germany shattered by the
Rossellini had made three fascist propaganda
films during the war: The White Navy (1941
– detailing hospital ships), A Pilot
Returns (1942 – the air force) and Man
of the Cross (1943 – the Eastern Front). But in the immediate post-war
period his War Trilogy told a very different story of the conflict, often from
a civilian perspective. The Allies invaded Italy, first in Sicily in July 1943
and later the mainland in September of that year. As the liberators fought
their way northward, the Germans exacted terrible revenge on their one-time
Set in the winter of 1943-44, Rome, Open City depicts the hunt for
Giorgio Manfredi (Marcell Pagliero), a resistance leader in Rome. Another
member of the resistance, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), is due to marry
widow Pina (Anna Magnani), but on their wedding day the Gestapo and Italian
fascists raid their apartment block. Later SS Major Bergmann (Harry Feist)
captures Manfredi and also orders the execution of a priest, Don Pietro
Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), who has aided the resistance. Rome, Open City is a powerful film about the German occupation,
made on location and with a strong sense of authenticity. The ‘Open City’
epithet is a reference to Rome being declared an ‘open city’ on 14 August 1943,
meaning that the defenders had abandoned all efforts to protect the city. This
tactic was intended to safeguard the civilian population and the historical
landmarks from street fighting and aerial bombing (Paris had made the same declaration
in 1940, as did Brussels and Oslo). Rome,
Open City headlines Anna Magnani’s star-making role and established
Rossellini on the international stage as a leading light of the neorealist
movement. Mangani’s death scene, outside her house in Via Raimondo Montecuccoli
in Rome, is among the most famous moments in international cinema. The BFI’s
release is a newly-remastered presentation of the film. Also included on the
disc is Children of Open City (2005,
51 mins) a documentary about the making of the film with Vito Annicchiarico
(who played Pina’s son in the film), and an illustrated booklet by Jonathan
Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough.
Paisà, my personal favourite of
the trilogy, is perhaps Rossellini’s greatest film. Here the grit and sorrow of
neorealism combines with newsreel combat footage to moving effect. The
six-episode film is set during the Allied campaign to liberate Italy. It begins
in Sicily in 1943 and concludes in the Po Delta in the winter of 1944. In the
first episode, Carmela (Carmela Sazio), a young Sicilian woman, acts as a guide
to a GI patrol on a nighttime patrol. When GI Joe (Robert Van Loon) attempts to
show her a photo of his sister, he strikes a light and a German sniper kills
him. Later the GI’s think Carmela is responsible for Joe’s death. Episode two
is set in Naples. Orphaned street urchin Pasquale (Alfonso Pasca) steals the
boots off drunken American military policeman Joe (Dots Johnson). Later the MP
meets Pasquale again and when he sees Pasquale’s squalid living conditions and
those of other Neapolitan civilians, he realises why the orphan needs to steal
boots. In Rome following the Anzio landings, Sherman tank crewman Fred (Gar
Moore) hitches up with a prostitute. He drunkenly remembers that six months
ago, on his first arrival in Rome, he met a wonderful Roman girl called
Francesca. He is too drunk to realise that the woman he is with is Francesca,
who has been compelled to become a ‘working girl’ to avoid starvation. The film
continues with an episode set during the German retreat north through Tuscan.
In Florence, British nurse Harriet (Harriet White) and Massimo (Enzo Tarascio)
attempt to cross the River Arno: she to contact her lover, Guido Lombardi who
is now heroic partisan leader Lupo (Wolf), he to see his wife and child whose
house is caught up in the fighting. Traversing rooftops and rubble, and
avoiding fascist snipers and patrols, they make contact with partisans in the
German occupied zone. In the next story, at the Gothic Line three US chaplains
– Captain Bill Martin (William Tubbs), Captain Feldman (Elmer Feldman) and
Captain Jones (Newell Jones) – seek shelter in a Franciscan monastery in the
Apennines. The chaplains give the monks Hershey bars and their supplies of
tinned food, but the monks’ attitudes change when they discover that two of the
chaplains are not of the ‘true faith’, but are Jewish and Protestant. In the
final episode, anti-fascist partisans and American OSS operatives fight the Germans
in the Po Delta, south of Venice. This episode is the most actionful and
climaxes with a battle between the partisans and German gunboats on the delta. Paisà depicts the stark reality of war
and its wider impact on society in a way that makes Hollywood and British war
films of the period look inauthentic in comparison. The BFI’s presentation of Paisà includes Into the Future (2009), a 30-minute visual essay on the War Trilogy
by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an illustrated booklet written by
Germany Year Zero (1948) was set and filmed
in Berlin in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat. The film follows a German
family, the Köhlers. The father (Ernst Pittschau), a widower, is infirm: the
victim of a weak heart and poor diet. His daughter Eva (Ingetraud Hinze) works
at night as a prostitute and his eldest son Karl-Heinz, an ex-soldier, is in
hiding and fears being carted off to a prison camp. The film’s principal
protagonists, the Köhlers’ youngest son Edmund (Edmund Meschke), falls in with
gangs of petty thieves and street kid urchins, and hawks wares on the street
for his old schoolteacher, Mr Henning (Erich Gühne). Rossellini’s documentary-like
style and good performances ensure the degradation of post-war life in ruined Berlin
is palpable. Piles of real Berlin masonry, as photographed by Robert Juillard,
are the haunting backdrop to the story. The BFI edition is a restored print and
includes a booklet with writing on Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith,
Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough. The disk also features Rossellini’s
1948 film, L’amore: Due storie d’amore,
a two-part film starring Anna Magnani, which runs 77 minutes. The first part, A Human Voice, is a screen adaptation of
Jean Cocteau’s La Voix humaine while
the second, The Miracle, was based on
a story by Federico Fellini, who was also the film’s assistant director and
appears in the film as a shepherd.
The three films are available on Blu-ray as a
limited edition numbered boxed set or as individual DVDs. The extras are
comprehensive and enlightening. These are superb presentations of three key
Italian films and as a set are essential purchases for anyone interested in
post-war world cinema.
£49.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1193 Certificate 12
in Italian, German and English language, with optional English subtitles/ 301
mins / BD50 x3 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit) / Region B/2
On the weekend of April 24-25, DVD Drive-In and the
Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, PA, hosted the third annual April Ghouls Drive-In
Monster-Rama. This springtime festival
of 1970s and 1980s exploitation horror-films, now in its third year, is the more
recent sister to September’s glorious Drive-In Super Monster-Rama. This latter event, which will enjoy its ninth
incarnation this coming autumn, generally features a slate of more
“traditional” monster movies from the 1960s and 1970s. Neither weekend of programming should be
missed by any horror film devotee with access to an automobile. The intent of the original Drive-In Super
Monster-Rama (first presented at the Riverside in 2007) was to authentically
re-create the ambiance of the all-night drive-in theater spook shows of the
1960s and 1970s. In this regard, the
event succeeds in every possible manner.
Co-sponsored from its inception by George Reis of the
cult-film website “DVD Drive-In” and the Riverside Drive-In, the event attracts
fans from the surrounding area and regions well beyond to celebrate the famous,
the infamous and, occasionally, only the most dimly remembered horror films
from years past. The Riverside Drive-In,
which sits along the wooded banks of the Kiskiminetas River, is a perfect
setting for the weekend’s gruesome entertainment. It was in September of 2009 when I finally committed
to the nearly 350 mile trek out to Vandergrift to attend the third annual
Monster Rama. I passed on the 2nd
annual event a year earlier, having foolishly groused that it was being staged too
far from home. Now, after seven years of
enjoying the hospitality of the enthusiastic and accommodating staff at the
Riverside, I can’t imagine this event taking place anywhere else. The weekend is also a rare bargain. The ten dollar per person admission fee per
night provides not only eight hours (or more) of retro entertainment each
evening/early morning, but a complimentary copy of Monster Bash magazine as well. For an additional $10 per vehicle, the drive-in provides overnight camping
privileges and throws in a very hearty and satisfactory complimentary breakfast
Due to a long-standing personal commitment for which I
was due back in Manhattan on Saturday night, I was only able to attend Friday’s
program. It’s a testament to the sheer
awesomeness of this event that I remained willing to make the six-hour long
drive from central New Jersey to Vandergrift – and back again early Saturday
morning - for only a single-night of lurid, low-budget cinematic pleasure. Of course, it’s best to stay for the entire
weekend, and most fans do; the distances traveled by the event’s most devoted attendees
are impressive. Casually strolling
through the rows of cars in the late afternoon preceding the event, I noted
license plates from no fewer than fifteen different states in the continental
U.S., as well as one tag from Ottawa, Canada. Though eighty-percent of vehicles were understandably tagged with Pennsylvania
and Ohio plates (Vandergrift sits only a little more than an hour away from the
Ohio border), even casual information gathering such as this hardly tells the
whole story. Dedicated monster movie
devotees had reportedly flown into Pittsburgh from as far away as California
for the weekend, presumably sitting in automobiles leased from Pennsylvanian
rental agencies. Yes, it’s that kind of
do-not-miss weekend; a celebration of both American drive-in culture and the all-night
exploitation-horror film programming that were long part of their legacy.
In contrast to last year’s April Ghouls event, this
year’s schedule tilted slightly toward offerings from the 1980s, a decade when
the vast majority of America’s still active drive-ins were on the verge of
breathing their last. The first year of
the April Ghoul’s event, the two nights were balanced evenly between horror and
exploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s. The 2014 event, by design or accident, was nearly an exclusive weekend
of 35mm terrors from the 1970s: John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), Brian
DePalma’s “Carrie” (1976), Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” (1979), Wes Craven’s “The
Hills Have Eyes” (1977), Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977), Charles B. Pierce’s
“The Town That Dreaded Sundown” (1976), and a super rare 35mm screening of Benjamin
Clark’s late-night TV cult-favorite “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”
(1972). Only Philippe Mora’s 1982’s “The
Beast Within,” a werewolf-type creature film, out-disturbed the already
decadent ambiance of the weekend’s otherwise 8-track cassette-era generational
This year, in balance, five of the weekend’s eight
offerings were from the 1980s. This, in short,
meant we got to watch plenty of lustful teenagers (with little acting ability)
meet gruesome and innovative ends: Charles
McCrann’s “Toxic Zombies” (1980), Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” (1981), Lamberto
Bava’s “Demons” (1985), and Kevin S. Tenney’s “Night of the Demons” (1988) were
among the films projected. Two bloody
and graphic Lucio Fulci films successfully bridged the two decades: “Zombie”
(1979) and “The House By the Cemetery” (1981). But each night was anchored with a tried and true classic of 1970s
horror cinema. On Friday, the night’s
festivities kicked off with Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)
which, more than four decades on, remains one of the most grim and disturbing
horror films of the modern era. Saturday’s program began with George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978),
the director’s belated follow-up to his 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead”
(screened at the second annual Drive-In Super Monster Rama event in 2008). Both of Romero’s films enjoy a certain cache
and prestige among horror film fans in the region: both were photographed in
the counties and countryside in and around Pittsburgh. Indeed, many fans attending the drive-in
event this weekend spent a portion of the afternoon’s daylight hours at the
nearby Monroeville Mall, where “Dawn of the Dead” had been photographed in late
1977-early 1978 in the midnight hours following the mall’s closing. On Saturday, local actor Paul Musser, the
“plaid-shirt” zombie featured in the iconic one-sheet poster of the film, was
on hand at the Drive-In to meet fans and sign autographs.
Sony and Eon Productions have released some behind the scenes footage dedicated to the filming of a high speed car chase through the streets of Rome for the forthcoming James Bond film "SPECTRE" starring Daniel Craig.
The Sopranos ended its run on HBO in
June 2007, fans were forced to say goodbye to one of television’s greatest
series. It is a difficult thing to bid farewell to characters you have come to
know and enjoy watching, and Tony Soprano and his extended family and crew were
no exception. Fortunately, most of the people who appeared on the show have
gone on to other projects, some in a similar vein and others one hundred and
eighty degrees removed from the actions of La Cosa Nostra. Actor Tony Sirico, who portrayed Pauley Walnuts
since the series began in 1999, was himself involved in some criminal behavior
and did less than two years in jail prior to becoming an actor. While the Internet Movie Database lists his
first screen credit as appearing in The Godfather Part II (1974) - his
appearance is both unconfirmed and uncredited - his first speaking part might
have been as a car salesman in an episode of television’s Kojak during season five. The
first role I ever saw him in was as Patsy Riccamonza, a mobster who owes money
to Harvey Keitel’s father, in James Toback’s masterful Fingers (1978). Over the
years, Mr. Sirico has appeared in bit parts in dozens of films playing bad guys
and appeared to be typecast. Some of his
work included bits for Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. It’s his role as one of Tony Soprano’s loyal
soldiers on the highly acclaimed HBO drama that made him a household name. Sopranos
fans who have been looking forward to seeing Mr. Sirico in his own movie might
initially be delighted to catch Zarra’s
Law, a 2012-lensed crime drama, which features him in a role that few would
expect him to play: a retired police detective. However, despite this, Zarra’s Law
is not the acting showcase that it could have been for Mr. Sirico, which is a
shame because he deserves to carry a film on his own. He has proven that he can act, and traded
some truly wonderful banter on the rightly acclaimed HBO series for which he is
best known. That being said, Zarra’s Law is a nice try, but doesn’t
come near to reaching the heights that have made Martin Scorsese
premise is hardly new, but the film’s execution (no pun intended, of course) is
more interesting than one might expect. Tony’s
brother, obviously not on the same side of the law, is blown up in a car right
before his very eyes (think of Sam Rothstein in 1995’s Casino). Tony knows who is
behind it, and his nephew Gaetano (Brendan Fehr), a lawyer who lives 18 miles away
in Hackensack but never visits, wants to have more of a presence in Tony’s
life. Along the way, there are run-ins
with former childhood friend and current mobster Frankie Andreoli; unhinged Mafioso
Bobby Stax who is more short-fused than Sonny Corleone; and irresponsibly
negligent Arthur Pascano whom Gaetano is defending in court.
released on DVD, Zarra’s Law also features
fellow Sopranos actors Brian Tarantina
(he played Mustang Sally on The Sopranos),
Burt Young who did Mustang Sally in, and Kathrine Narducci, Artie Bucco’s
animated wife Charmaine. Mr. Tarantina
has got the “cold, calculating and violent scuzzball” act down pat. He also had a small role opposite Al Pacino
in Donnie Brasco (1997) and here he
doles out threats and violence to both sexes.
is a romantic subplot between Gaetano and a woman he meets (Erin Cummings), but
it’s a distraction, and I would have liked to have seen more of Mr. Sirico’s
character. The film’s best scene is
between him and his mother with whom he lives, and they have an argument about
how he gave up his life to take care of her. The scene is an emotionally pivotal moment, with real feeling that rings
true with a veracity that is unfortunately missing from many other scenes in
the rest of the film.
film’s director, Juha Wuolijoki, is Scandinavian and a curious choice to helm a
story like this.
you’re a fan of mob movies and Tony Sirico in particular (and who isn’t,
especially after his lost-in-the-woods act with a confederate in one of The Soprano’s best episodes), give Zarra’s Law a whirl. It ain’t Goodfellas…but
then again, what is?
Founded by producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, American International Pictures (A.I.P.) hit upon a formula of financing and releasing low-budget exploitation films for non-discriminating audiences (translation: the youth market). Specializing in horror films and goofy comedies, A.I.P. occasionally strayed into other genres. In 1963, the company capitalized on the always-popular WWII genre with the release of "Operation Bikini". Ostensibly, the movie's title referred to the obscure atoll in the Pacific where atomic bomb tests were conducted during the Cold War era. However, in true A.I.P. style, the advertising campaign was designed to imply that the title might also refer to the fact that the bikini bathing suit was popularized here by a French designer who conducted a photo shoot on the atoll just days after an atomic blast. (Ignorant of the risks from radiation poison, he merrily pronounced that "like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating!") Still, the sexploitation angle in "Operation Bikini" was saved for late in the film. What precedes its appearance is a fairly routine combat flick made somewhat more interesting by the obvious attempts of the filmmakers to disguise the movie's very limited budget.
Tab Hunter, one of the top heart throbs of the era, had by this point seen his popularity in decline. He nonetheless received top billing over charismatic crooner Frankie Avalon, whose career was ascending and who would find great popularity as the star of several A.I.P. beach movies over the next few years. Hunter plays Lt. Morgan Hayes, the leader of a secret commando team that has been ordered to rendezvous with a U.S. submarine that has been ordered to transport them on a secret mission. The team is supposed to locate and destroy the sunken wreckage of an American sub that was recently sunk off the coast of Bikini by the Japanese. Seems the wreckage contains a prototype of a top secret sonar device that the Allies can't afford to fall into enemy hands. From minute one, Hayes' small group of rough house land-lubbers rubs the Captain of the submarine, Emmett Carey (Scott Brady) and his crew the wrong way. Hayes' men resent being cooped up in a floating "tin can" and the naval crew resents the presence of these brash soldiers who seem to be perpetually eager to provoke a fight. Carey gives Hayes a dressing down about keeping the tension levels low and the two men ultimately gain mutual respect for one another. Upon arriving at Bikini, Hayes and his men must sneak ashore and traverse the dense jungle in search of the area where the sunken submarine is located. They are guided by local partisans who conveniently include a stunning beauty named Reiko, played by Eva Six, a recent winner of the "Miss Golden Globes" honor. (I will refrain from making any tasteless jokes.) Reiko takes a shine to Hayes and gets his mind temporarily off his troubles by seducing him. When Hayes and his men finally arrive at their destination, they are dismayed to see a virtual fleet of Japanese vessels guarding the coast line where the sub is already being salvaged by the enemy. Hayes realizes that they are now probably on a suicide mission. Nevertheless, they persevere courageously, dodging and sometimes engaging Japanese patrols before sending in Hayes and some fellow scuba divers to attach time bombs to the hull of the sunken sub. (The sequence is rather absurd because the team accomplishes this in the dead of night despite not being able to employ any lighting equipment whatsoever.) Detected by the Japanese, Hayes and his heroes take some casualties in their desperate attempt to make it back to Capt. Carey's submarine.
Although I have a weak spot for Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, most can be appropriately evaluated by paraphrasing Longfellow: "When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad, they were horrid." "Blindman" is a curiosity from 1971 that I have always had a desire to see, if only because of the interesting premise and leading actors. It fits rather comfortably into the latter part of Longfellow's famous nursery rhyme. Although the film has a devoted fan base, for this viewer, it's a pretty horrid experience and inexcusably amateurish in execution, given the well-seasoned people involved. As the title implies, it's about...well, a blind man. He's played by Tony Anthony, who did rather well for himself as a sort of Clint Eastwood Lite version, playing the character of The Stranger in two Euro westerns. (Any similarity to Eastwood's Man With No Name must have been purely coincidental). Anthony went on to star in any number of lucrative, low-budget action films, the most notable being "Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D flick that has also built a loyal cult following. His co-star in "Blindman" is Ringo Starr. More about him later. The film was based on a Japanese movie titled "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai hero. As with "The Magnificent Seven", which was based on Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai", the story has been transplanted to the American west. When we first see the Blindman (whose name is never mentioned), he rides into a one horse town and confronts his former partners. Seems they had a lucrative contract to deliver 50 mail order brides to some horny miners. However, a better offer was made from a Mexican bandito named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who has exported them South 'O the Border to force them into prostitution. The Blindman apparently has a sense of honor in terms of fulfilling the original contract. He manages to kill his former partners and sets off to Mexico to rescue the women, presumably so they can sold into another form of prostitution. At first the premise of this film intrigued me. How, after all, can you logically present a story about a blind gunslinger? The answer is you apparently can't. You could get away with it if the film was a satire, but there is surprisingly little overt humor in "Blindman". Yes, in true Eastwood fashion, the hero sometimes makes some snarky quips before, during and after dispatching his adversaries, but for the most part, the film takes itself far too seriously.
How does the Blindman find his way around? Well, he has his own "wonder horse" who seems more like a companion than a beast of burden. The hoofed hero is always at his disposal and seems to be able to do everything but read a map for him. Speaking of maps, Blindman gets to various destinations by running his finger over maps that engraved in leather...sort of a braille system. Given the fact that he has to navigate the state of Texas, then Mexico, one would think he would require maps the size of rolls of kitchen linoleum, but someone he gets by with navigational tools that fit neatly into his pocket. When Blindman arrives in Mexico, he has numerous confrontations with the brutal Domingo and his army of thugs. He suffers the ritualistic beatings of any hero in the Italian western genre, but always manages to get the better hand by his deadly use of the rifle that he uses as a walking stick. Someone the Blindman can use instinct and an uncanny hearing ability to gun down his would-be assassins with uncanny precision, though occasionally he does impose on some allies for advice. He also confronts Candy (Ring Starr), Domingo's equally sadistic brother, who is keeping a captive woman as his mistress. What follows is a seemingly endless series of boring chases, confrontations and the obligatory imitation Morricone score, all of it under the pedestrian direction of Ferdinando Baldi, who has a revered reputation with some fans of the genre and does manage to set off some impressive explosions. (Amusingly, the concept of showing the "50" mail order brides must have taxed the limited budget so we only get to see them in small clusters.). There are only two sequences in the film that have any kind of excitement. One involves the surprise slaughter of a barroom filled with Mexican soldiers. The other has a bit of suspense as the Blindman is served a food bowl that he doesn't realize contains a deadly snake. The finale of the film finds Blindman wrestling with Domingo, who has been blinded by a cigar! (Don't ask...) It's supposed to be a tense confrontation, but the sight of the two blind guys rolling around in the dirt looks like an outtake from a Monty Python sketch. The most intriguing aspect of the film is what led Ringo Starr into appearing in it. He had considerable on-screen charisma that he parlayed into a successful acting career. Here, however, his role is colorless and bland. He doesn't even play the main villain, but rather a supporting character who disappears from the story before the movie even reaches the one-hour mark. Starr supposedly was looking to jump-start his film career and worked with Tony Anthony to develop this production. While Starr acquits himself credibly, he might have at least given his character some memorable lines or characteristics.
We usually cut a lot of slack when it comes to DVD releases from niche market labels with limited resources. However, Mutant Sorority Pictures' DVD of "Blindman" boasts that the film has been "DIGITALLY REMASTERED". If so, one can only ponder how awful the transfer looked before this "improvement". The DVD image is muddy and murky and resembles a VHS transfer. Also, the aspect ratio used seems off because the letters in the opening title credits almost disappear off the sides of the screen. The sleeve also states the movie was released in 1975 when, in fact, it played in most countries in 1971 and was released in America in January 1972. The packaging also says the film runs 95 minutes, but the official running time listed on the IMDB site is 105 minutes. In any event, the Mutant Sorority version clocks in at 83 minutes, indicating this is the standard English-language cut of the film. We appreciate any company releasing obscurities such as "Blindman", which is available on a number of labels that specialize in public domain titles, but c'mon guys, you can do better than this. There are no bonus extras but we've provided the English language trailer below.
Here's another reminder of how great movie-going used to be in the era when a hot dog and Coke didn't require a home remortgage loan. In 1967, the Pasadena Theatre was showing a re-issue of John Wayne's "The Alamo" along with another United Artists classic reissue, "The Pink Panther". If that wasn't good enough for you, "In Like Flint" was the next feature! (Kudos to reader Mike Boldt for sharing the photo).
Throughout history there have been men born to see the
future and to do what they can to make it happen.Without exception they are branded lunatics,
fanatics and most often end up on the wrong side of the law. Such a man was abolitionist
John Brown. In 1856, Kansas was about to enter the Union. The question was
whether it would join as a free or a slave state. At a time when the nation
could not make up its mind about slavery, Brown knew instinctively it was evil
and that the future would prove him right. Brown and his seven sons fought to
make Kansas free.
“Seven Angry Men” (1955) presents Raymond Massey’s
third portrayal of John Brown. He first played the role in “Santa Fe Trail”
(1940) and on Broadway in “John Brown’s Body” (1953). Brown’s seven sons are played by Jeffrey
Hunter (Owen), Larry Pennell (Oliver), Dennis Weaver (John, Jr.), John Smith (Frederick),
Guy Williams (Salmon), Tom Irish (Watson) and James Best (Jake).
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren from a script by
Daniel B. Ullman “Seven Angry Men” is an accurate and thoughtful screen
treatment of Brown’s story. It begins by showing the simmering conflict between
the two sides of the slavery issue. Leo Gordon plays Martin White, leader of
the pro-slavery faction in Lawrence. In the first standoff we see the terrible
costs the Brown family paid for the patriarch’s actions, when we witness John
Jr., (Weaver) starting to crumble emotionally. After White burns Lawrence to
the ground to cleanse it of abolitionists, Brown retaliates by killing several
of the perpetrators in a face-to-face fight with guns and knives. The brutality
of the killings causes John Jr. to lose
his mind. Jake quits the fight and rides off to surrender to the army to get
John, Jr. some medical attention. He is soon followed by Frederick. Left with
three sons, Brown continues the battle, saying they have “planted the seeds of
freedom that will flourish with God’s help.”
Jeffrey Hunter as Owen is the brother caught in the
middle between his loyalty to his father and his fear of where the old man’s
fanaticism will lead. Debra Paget is Hunter’s love interest. When she begs him
to get his father to stop what he’s doing, Brown calls his son a weak coward.
Nevertheless Owen stays with him even after Oliver and Salmon desert him. Brown
fights on regardless and the first half of the movie ends with Kansas’ entry
into the Union as a free state, with Brown claiming victory.
The second half follows Brown on a fund raising tour
that leads him to Boston where no lesser personages than Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Henry David Thoreau contribute $1,000 apiece to the cause. Brown invests
the money in rifles and ammo to be sent to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Brown, now
reunited with three of his sons, and 15 other men seize the arsenal there,
planning to arm the slaves, who Brown believes will march to Harper’s Ferry
once they know he plans to free them. Of course, none of it worked, and one
wonders if Brown wasn’t truly mad to think it would.
He is arrested by Union officers Jeb Stuart and Col.
Robert E. Lee. At his trial for treason, an affidavit is presented claiming
mental illness ran in Brown’s family, but he rejected any attempt to get off on
an insanity plea. He tells the court that he acted on behalf of the poor and
the helpless and if he must give his life “so be it.” He was hanged in Harper’s
Ferry Dec 2, 1859.
Owen, the only son to survive, offers to gather men to
rescue him, saying there are abolitionist leaders all over the country in
support of him. But he refuses, saying he was glad to know there were many in
the nation who did not consider him insane or a murderer. But he believed he
was worth “inconceivably more to hang than any other purpose.”
Overall, “Seven Angry Men” shows us an interesting
slice of history and will probably tell you a few things about Brown and his
mission to free slaves that you didn’t know. It also shows how far a man will go
for what he believes in. In Brown’s case, he went all the way, taking quite a
few people with him. He was a man of passionate beliefs, but strangely the film
itself is very dispassionate. Massey’s portrayal keeps histrionics to a bare
minimum. The entire production, while taking great pains to tell the story in
detail and as accurately as possible, lacks the passion and fire you’d expect. Director
Charles Marquis Warren seemed to deliberately hold the emotional temperature
down with the emphasis more on historical facts. It’s a far cry from the way
today’s filmmakers work. One can easily imagine what Tarantino or Stone would
do with this material.
Warner Brothers Archive Collection presents “Seven
Angry Men” in a no-frills DVD with no extras. The black and white picture is
adequate in widescreen 16x9, and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Worth viewing for its
cast and as a refresher course on the days leading up to the abolition of
slavery. History buffs will enjoy it the most.
Shaft! Superfly! Supersoul Brother? That’s right, boys and girls. There’s a new hero
in town and his name is Steve. Once a down-on-his-luck, homeless wino, Steve,
thanks to a freaky scientific experiment, has been transformed into an
incredible being who is faster than a…well, he’s actually not faster than much
of anything , but he is more powerful than your local wino and able to bag
chicks who are way out of his league!If
you’re a fan of the funky ‘70s Blaxploitation genre, you can rejoice as a real
rarity has been dug up for your viewing pleasure.
When speaking about Blaxploitation cinema,
most film buffs immediately think of classic action flicks such as Foxy Brown or Three the Hard Way (and rightly so), but there were plenty of other
wonderful genres covered. For instance, horror quickly comes to mind. Blacula and The Zombies of Sugar Hill are not only two solid entries in
Blaxploitation cinema, but in horror cinema as well. And then there’s comedy. Who
can forget Rudy Ray Moore’s uproarious classics like Dolemite or Disco Godfather?
Supersoul Brother sort of fits into
this last category as, like Dolemite,
it’s a spoof of crime/action movies; not to mention comic book superheroes (it
was originally going to be titled The
Black Superman) and the then enormously popular Six Million Dollar Man television show.
Directed by Rene Martinez who also co-wrote
with Laura S. Diaz, Supersoul Brother aka
The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger (I kid
you not) concerns small time hoods Bob (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) who
pay evil Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad) six thousand dollars to create a super
strength serum that will enable them to easily rob a safe filled with diamonds.
There’s only one small problem: whoever takes the serum dies in six days. Enter
Steve (played by comedian Wildman Steve Gallon), a wino who has hit rock bottom.
The hoods inject the unwary Steve with the serum, convince him to carry out the
robbery (which Steve thinks is just a practical joke) and plan on keeping all
the diamonds for themselves once Steve croaks. However, Super-Steve catches
wind of their nefarious plan, hides the diamonds and, with the help of Nurse
Peggy (the gorgeous Joycelyn Norris), tries to elude the hoods and find an
antidote before it’s too late.
youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Actor Hugh O’Brian became an icon of American
television through his long-running series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. O’Brian
also became a popular fixture in feature films as well as stage productions. At
age 90, he’s still going strong. His autobiography “Hugh O’Brian or What’s
Left of Him” has just been published and his Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership
group is continuing to inspire American teenagers to become productive adults. Additionally, O’Brian has been promoting the
SFM Entertainment’s release of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: The Complete Series”
We caught up with O’Brian recently for a phone
interview from his home in Los Angeles. O’Brian’s wife Virginia, who co-authored his autobiography, also
contributed some anecdotes. Hugh O’Brian
possesses a marvelous sense of humor and makes self-deprecating jokes at the
drop of hat. However, the main characteristic that comes across is that he is a
true class act.
Cinema Retro: Can you give us some background on how
you became involved in “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”?
Hugh O’Brian: I really was a fan of Wyatt Earp before I
got the role. I was in the Marine Corps and before my time, he had spent some
time in the San Diego area. Every two or three weeks, he would go over to the
Marine Corps base , which is where I enlisted in 1943 when I was seventeen
CR: You ended up being named the youngest drill
instructor that the Marine Corps ever had…
HO: Yes, they made me a drill instructor at age
seventeen. I don’t know if you’ve ever met any drill instructors, but it would
be very difficult for any of them to believe that. My grandfather was a Marine and my dad was a
Marine. He worked for a company called Armstrong Cork. Cork, at the time, was
the main thing you would use for insulation in homes and so forth. Dad became
the captain in charge of the Marine Corps in the Chicago area and he made a
wonderful recruiting effort there. Every summer from the time that I was four,
I would go with my dad for the two week training period up at Great Lakes,
Wisconsin. I had my own little pup tent and so you could say I was involved
with the Marines since the age of four. Anyway, Wyatt Earp loved the Marine
Corps because of the discipline and what they stood for. There was a guy by the
name of Stuart Lake, who wrote the book on Wyatt (“Wyatt Earp: Frontier
Marshall”- Ed.) I made a point of
meeting him. He became very became very instrumental in my finally getting the
role of Wyatt. He liked the fact that I did all my own stunts, which was a
stupid thing to do! On one film I had
done, I jumped off the roof of a 36
story office building in New York City. These guys with guns were chasing me I broke loose and there was only
one way to go: up. They were following me and I went over to the edge and as
they came towards me, I went over backwards and came through a window
below. There wasn’t any way you could
practice that! I did my own stunts, not because of ego or anything like that,
but because when you look at a film or a TV show, they usually have a stunt man
or a double to do the fight scenes. I insisted from the very beginning that,
while obviously they could lay out action scenes so they could get paid, but I
would do the stunts myself. It helped the filming tremendously because they
didn’t have to cut to a longer shot in which they would have used a double. If
there was something that I thought was much too risky, then, of course, I would
let the stuntman do it. I think appreciated the fact that I tried to do my own
stunts. It was like Wyatt Earp being alive and doing it.
We've often written about the shameful conceit of movie studios that used to cast caucasian actors in leading roles pertaining to ethnic minorities. Sure, it was fine to have actual minority actors playing supporting roles (often for comic effect) but the most important characters were generally always portrayed by white actors or actresses (remember Rex Harrison as The King of Siam???). Sadly, this blatant policy of racial prejudice often extended to films that were sympathetic to the very races they were portraying. Case in point: Geronimo, a 1962 Western that purports to tell the story of the legendary Apache leader who stood virtually alone against the U.S. government, even after most of his tribe was browbeaten into surrendering. The logic at United Artists at the time was that there was no actor more appropriate to play a famous Native American other than Chuck Connors, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for the Aryan race. Connors was riding high at the time as the star of the popular TV series The Rifleman, and he certainly possessed an imposing physique as well as more-than-adequate acting abilities. However, even with contact lenses and a black Morticia Addams wig, there is no doubt he was completely miscast as Geronimo. This was also the case with fellow cast members Kamala Devi, a gorgeous flash-in-the-pan actress who worked on several projects with Connors before fading into oblivion and Ross Martin (!), the fine actor primarily known for playing Artemus Gordon in the Wild, Wild West TV series. Not only are all these folks woefully wrong for their roles, the characters talk in modern vernacular that makes you think they must be part of the obscure Apache tribe from Bayonne, New Jersey.
With American crime TV series now an almost indistinguishable jumble of action-oriented plots featuring calendar model-type male and female leads, it's nice to revisit an era when the pace was slower, the plots were more intelligent and the stars resembled everyday people. Case in point: the old "Columbo" series starring Peter Falk, a product of the late 1960s that became so phenomenally successful that its lifespan into the early 2000's. The show would appear regularly- and later occasionally- in the format of a 90 minute TV movie when such fare was all the rage on network TV. The show premiered as a "one-shot" production titled "Prescription: Murder" in 1968 but the character of Columbo became so popular that he became a mainstay of the NBC Mystery Movie", a weekly program in the 1970s in which popular actors were seen as sleuths. The format allowed each star (Falk, Rock Hudson, Dennis Weaver and Richard Boone) to be seen on alternating weeks. "Columbo" became Falk's signature role as the frumpy, seemingly idiotic L.A. police detective who used these characteristics to intellectually disarm his adversaries. Every episode allowed the viewer to see precisely who committed a presumably perfect crime. Inevitably, the culprit would be an elitist, well-established snob- predominantly a male, but occasionally female. The principal villain was also generally played by a major star, thus allowing viewers the delight of seeing actors who generally portrayed heroic figures to engage in some mustache-twirling as bad guys. The most delightful aspect of the series, aside from the intricate plot lines, were the sequences in which Columbo slowly closes the noose around his prey. Both detective and suspect know what is going on but they engage in civility toward each other as the culprit goes through the motions of pretending he is helping Columbo solve the crime. Columbo was unlike any of the slick, sophisticated TV detectives audiences had grown accustomed to. He was generally clad in a crumpled trench coat and drove a laughably battered 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible with the only apparent accessory a working police radio. Falk's inimitable New York mannerisms and speech patterns gave him a "fish-out-of-water" quality no matter who he interacted with, including his fellow police officers. Finishing off his unsophisticated appearance was his omnipresent cheap cigar, which he would smoke everywhere, including mansion houses where he was investigating crimes. (Like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, we never quite see him with a fresh cigar in his mouth, only a half-stogie that appeared to be as much chewed as smoked.)
Patrick McGoohan as Col. Rumford
Netflix is now presenting the various seasons of "Columbo" that were aired on NBC. (The show's revival in the late 1980s was seen on ABC.) One standout episode in a history of standout episodes is "By Dawn's Early Light", which was originally telecast in October, 1974. (The show can be found in the Season 4 category on Netflix.) Patrick McGoohan is cast as Col. Lyle C. Rumford, a gruff, spit-and-polish career soldier who is in charge of an illustrious military school. When we first see him, he is painstakingly disassembling the shell for a ceremonial canon and modifying it so that it will be an instrument of murder. We soon meet the intended victim: William Haynes (Tom Simcox), the grandson of the school's legendary founder. Haynes has a confrontational meeting with Rumford in the colonel's office. They discuss the fact that enrollment in the school has plummeted dramatically in recent years due to the aversion of boys who want to pursue a military career. (Keep in mind the episode was shot during the period in which the United States still had a presence in Vietnam.) Haynes has developed a plan to ensure the school's economic survival by making it a coed institution. Rumford is appalled by the idea and intends to thwart its implementation by having Haynes killed when he fires the canon at the school's Founder's Day event. He will achieve this by adjusting the explosives inside the shell canister then stuffing a rag into the barrel of the weapon. The ploy works: when Haynes fires the canon, it explodes and kills him in front of hundreds of horrified on-lookers. Rumford thinks he has gotten away with murder and ensured that the school will continue as an all-male institution with him in charge. But, as they say in detective films, the plot thickens when Columbo arrives on scene. To state any more specifics would ruin the enjoyment of the episode, which is one of the best. The sheer pleasure of seeing Falk squaring off on camera with McGoohan is a true delight and the episode was so well received that McGoohan won an Emmy for his performance. Adding to the pleasures are the high production values. The episode was filmed on location at The Citadel military college in Charleston and this allowed the producers a degree of authenticity that would have been difficult to replicate on a back lot. The episode also benefited from the inspired direction of Harvey Hart, who also directed such feature films as "Bus Riley's Back in Town", "The Sweet Ride" and "Fortune and Men's Eyes." If you're going to engage in some binge-watching, you would be hard-pressed to find a better companion than Lt. Columbo.
(Trivia note: keep an eye out for young Bruno Kirby, who plays one of the cadets.)
For an essay about this episode, visit the How Sweet It Was site by clicking here.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "COLUMBO: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON" FROM AMAZON
I mentioned in last month’s review of The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release of The Palm Beach Story,
Preston Sturges was a rare breed in Hollywood in the early 1940s. After
Chaplin, he was the only working screenwriter/director in that he wrote
original scripts alone and then directed them, and he put an auteur stamp on each picture in terms of
style and themes. Naturally, the bigwigs in Hollywood resented the guy, and
Sturges often had a tough time at Paramount, where his most prolific and productive
five-year-reign took place. He was a flame that burned very brightly for a
short time. This brief career arc of a genius filmmaker is aptly presented in one
of the supplements on this new release—Preston
Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, which originally
appeared on television’s American Masters
Sturges’ best work, Sullivan’s Travels was
released as a DVD from The Criterion Collection over a decade ago. The company
has seen fit to upgrade the film to Blu-ray with a new high-definition digital
restoration. Naturally, it looks magnificent, and I think by now we can take
for granted that Criterion will do a bang-up job on any digital restorations
has been written about Sullivan’s Travels
and there is no question that it is a remarkable piece of work. It premiered in
late 1941 but wasn’t released to the public until early 1942; nevertheless, it
received no Oscar nominations and at the time wasn’t as popular as Sturges’
previous pictures. Why? Possibly because it made audiences think. Yes, it’s a comedy, but that’s really only the first half.
After that, the picture becomes pretty serious, with a very sympathetic and
almost-sentimental social commentary on poverty and the Great Depression. It’s
true that the writer/director’s signature fast-and-witty dialogue is present
throughout, but the belly laughs are few in this particular title. Maybe
audiences in 1942 were wondering what happened to the Preston Sturges they
knew. Ironically (and Sturges was very big on irony), the film is now
considered a classic and Sturges’ masterpiece.
McCrea plays Sullivan, a popular Hollywood movie director who specializes in
comedies. What he really wants to do, however, is make a serious and
responsible Capra-esque picture about human suffering, entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou? (And, yes,
this is where the Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from 2000.) After
much haggling with the studio bosses, Sullivan dresses as a “tramp” and hits
the road in order to undergo first-hand what the American people have been
experiencing during the Depression. Along the way, he meets beautiful Veronica
Lake, and Sully unwittingly allows her to tag along. The movie is then made up
of the couple’s various misadventures, including a hard left turn in which Sullivan
is sent to a hard labor prison with a mistaken identity. One of the most
striking scenes in the picture is when an African-American church opens its
doors to the prisoners for a field trip to watch movies projected on the wall.
It is there that Sullivan has an epiphany about his work and life—and it’s a
very good lesson for us all.
watched The Mississippi Gambler (1953) DVD from Universal while recovering from
a root canal, hoping a good rousing Tyrone Power flick and three fingers of
Kentucky bourbon, would cure my ills. Boy, was I wrong. Watching this slow,
soap opera-ish movie, with a cast of characters that belong in an old Carol
Burnett Show sketch, was like having a root canal all over again.
the Technicolor was good, and Julia Adams was great (which she always is) but
the script by Seton Miller was a complete turnoff with one of the worst endings
I’ve ever seen. The characters were mostly boring and despicable. The plot was
ham-fisted melodrama served with a mint julep. Direction by Rudolph Mate was
lethargic and unimaginative.
it’s one of those stories about four people all in love with the wrong person.
But Miller added some very weird touches to the familiar story line. Piper Laurie
plays Angelique Dureau, a snooty, neurotic iceberg who is way too close to her
brother Laurent (John Baer) for comfort. She uses him as a shield against intimacy
with any other man, as Tyrone Power, playing the titular gambler Mark Fallon,
explains to her. For no comprehensible reason at all, other than the plot
demands it, Fallon falls madly in love with her. Why, oh, why? She’s a pouty,
petulant, porcelain imitation of a woman.
Laurent is a miserable weasel, a man with no honor – and
thus a perfect foil for the upright and honorable Fallon, who is not only a
good man with a deck of cards, he’s also the son of one of New York’s finest
fencing masters. (Zorro rides again!). The three of them meet on a Mississippi riverboat
named The Sultana. Pardon a digression
while I note that this was the same paddle boat on which Yancy Derringer (Jock
Mahoney), a few years later, would ply his poker skills in the CBS television
goal is to run an honest gambling table and eventually open his own casino. He
teams up with Kansas John Polly (John McIntyre), a seasoned veteran of many a
three card Monty game. In a game of poker, Laurent loses his sister’s diamond
necklace to Fallon. Fallon tries to give it back to her later, but she pretends
she told her brother to wager it. In the next scene she confronts the weasel
and cries, “How could you do it without asking me?” This obviously gets the
“star-crossed” lovers off on the wrong foot.
wins big that night but he and Polly barely escape being killed by a gang of
crooked gamblers and have to jump off the boat when the captain gets near the
river bank. They walk to New Orleans, after losing all their winnings in the
river. But they have a good laugh about it.
about the second act mark, enter Julia Adams as Ann Conant. She’s the member of
another weird brother/sister duo. Her brother, Julian (Dennis Weaver, believe
it or not, with a sort of New York high society accent) sits down to play with
Fallon, saying he heard he played an honest game. He quickly loses every cent
he brought with him, then goes out on deck and shoots himself. The Captain and Fallon discover he has a
sister on board, and Fallon feels responsible and wants to help her. She says
he must have gambled away the money his company gave him to take to New
Orleans. Fallon, noble fellow that he is, lies and says no he gave that money
to the captain for safe keeping. He takes Ann to New Orleans where and sets her
up in a hotel. It complicates his plans to romance Angelique but what’s a story