have the rare ability to continuously satisfy. Not only does the label re-connect
us to the past with essential CD reissues, but also through re-recordings of
long forgotten and often overlooked classics. Vocalion’s three latest CD releases
continue to exemplify these principles, and all with a certain sense of style.
from The Exorcist (1974) and Flashpoint (1975) are two albums from Ray Davies
and the Button Down Brass. As albums, they formed part of an essential
collective, an audio treasury that would find their way into the hands of young
and enthusiastic kids, particularly of those who displayed an early interest
and love of both cinema and TV. They were usually the affordable route; a few
weeks pocket money would often result in one of these albums making it into the
comforting domain of your bedroom. Sat alongside your Geoff Love compilations, they
would provide countless hours of repeated enjoyment.
from The Exorcist and Flashpoint (CDSML 8526) offer a great twofer pairing.
Originally released on the Philips label, both albums contain a varied and
exciting selection of cuts. Aside from the ‘funky trumpet’ of Ray Davies, his
musicians including Alan Hawkshaw on keyboards, Alan Parker on electric guitar,
Herbie Flowers on bass guitar and Alf Bigden on drums, can all be experienced
here in top form and full flight. Covering the work of composers such as Lalo
Schifrin, Quincy Jones, Michael Small, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein and John
Barry, the selection is varied and vast. There’s a genuine refreshment to be
found in some of these interpretations, take for example Don Ellis’s The French
connection (1972) – Davies takes what could arguably be described as a frenzied
burst of dissonant trumpet sounds and applies a melody, a theme... Yes, it
perhaps lessens the intensity of its original, but instead provides a funky
reinterpretation, and one in which I believe works to a large degree. It’s
important perhaps to remember that these recordings were never in competition,
they’re not competing for supremacy – some are just far too big. Magnum Force
(1973) and its screaming, wordless vocals add so much to Schifrin’s original,
and any attempt to perhaps try and replicate that is left firmly alone, and for
good reason. However, a fresh approach certainly does it little harm, and can
be comfortably enjoyed as a separate listening experience and an addition. As
previously stated, it’s a really wonderful selection which takes in an eclectic
mix from television classics such as Kojak (1973-78) and The Magician (1973-74)
to cult movies of the day such as Mr. Majestyk (1974), Gold (1974), Point Blank
(1967) and even a couple of Bruce Lee Joseph Koo themes – The Big Boss (1971)
and Fist of Fury (1972).
high point of this SACD release is that it also contains both the quadrophonic
and stereo mixes. These titles were only ever previously available in 4-channel
sound through a Japanese release. Vocalion have again produced a dynamic sound
in their mastering process and provided a super set of notes which includes an
exclusive interview with Ray Davies and his recollections of the people and the
places relating to those exciting times. As always, Oliver Lomax provides a
fascinating and detailed journey which captures perfectly the essence of
yesterday. A great package, a great sound and a great journey; let’s hope there
is more of the same to come.
The legendary Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the famed car chase from the 1968 classic "Bullitt" has apparently been found by accident in a Mexican junkyard. Watch video above for the fascinating story.
Olive Films has released the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy "Who's Minding the Store?" on Blu-ray. The film was made at the peak of Lewis's solo career following the breakup of Martin and Lewis some years before. The movie was directed by Frank Tashlin, who collaborated with Lewis on his best productions. It can be argued that, with the exception of Lewis's inspired "The Nutty Professor" (released the same year as "Store"), his work never reached the heights that he achieved by working with Tashlin, a talented director and screenwriter who never quite got the acclaim he deserved. "Store" is one of Lewis's best movies because it's also one of his funniest. He plays Norman Phiffier, a nerdy manchild who fails at even the most elementary of careers. When we meet him he's trying to make ends meet by running his own dog-walking service, which provides some amusing sight gags as Norman attempts to control about twenty dogs at the same time. Despite being a loser in terms of career, he's landed the right girl: sexy Barbara Tuttle (Jill St. John), an heiress to the famed Tuttle department store chain. Barbara shuns her heritage largely because she is estranged from her overbearing and dominating mother, Phoebe (Agnes Moorhead) and wants to make a career on her own instead of relying on her mother's bribes to live life under her terms. Barbara works at a Tuttles store in the innocuous career of being an elevator operator, working under an assumed last name. Her nice guy father John (John McGiver) plays along with the charade though he, too, suffers from his wife's constant nagging and insults. When Phoebe learns that Barbara is dating a common man with no financial resources, she devises a plan to break up their relationship before they can get married. She instructs her sniveling store manager Quimby (Ray Walston) to hire Norman and then assign him a series of humiliating and seemingly impossible tasks with the intention of having him fail and therefore lose Barbara's respect. However, despite a series of chaotic mishaps, Norman perseveres and frustrates Quimby by using some inventive methods of carrying our his assignments. These scenes are the highlights of the film, with Lewis in top form whether he is inching out on a horizontal flag pole on a skyscraper in order to fulfill a minor paint job or dealing with obnoxious customers who make extravagant demands. (Among them is Nancy Kulp as a legendary female big game hunter whose dictatorial demeanor results in Norman destroying an entire department). In the finale, Norman has to contend with an errant super vacuum cleaner that goes out of control and sucks up everything from women's furs to their pet dogs. It's a marvelously funny and inventive sequence that feature some highly impressive special effects work.
"Who's Minding the Store?" finds Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin in top form. The cast of esteemed "second bananas" are all wonderful, especially the great John McGiver who finally gets to find his mojo at the movie's climax. Other familiar faces from the era include Lewis's favorite foil, Kathleen Freeman and Richard Deacon. Francesca Bellini is memorable as Walton's sexpot secretary who is intent on sleeping her way to the top. Most of the comedic scenarios are highly predictable (once you see Lewis handling an appliance, there's no doubt he's going to wreak havoc with it) but predictability is an asset in a Lewis film. Not having seen the movie in many years, I was pleasantly surprised that it still made me laugh out loud.
The Olive Films Blu-ray looks very good indeed but the release continues the company's rather frustrating trend of almost never including any bonus material. C'mon guys, throw in at least a trailer (we'll provide one for you here). Highly recommended.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of "Tough Guys", the 1986 crime comedy that is best remembered for being the final screen team-up between old friends Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. The film had unusual origins. In the early 1980s, Lancaster and Douglas made a very funny joint appearance on an Oscars broadcast and joked about being beyond their years as matinee idols. Up-and-coming screenwriters James Orr and Jim Criuckshank were greatly amused and began to ponder the possibility of pairing both actors for the first time since 1963, when they co-starred in the Cold War classic "Seven Days in May". Both actors were enthused about the project and Disney gave the film the green light. The movie opens at a penitentiary where Harry Doyle (Lancaster), age 72 and his partner in crime Archie Long (Douglas), age 67, are preparing to enter the free world for the first time since they were convicted in 1956 of committing the last train robbery in American history. Upon being released, they are told by their sympathetic probation officer Richie Evans (Dana Carvey) that they are prohibited from seeing each other for a period of three years, an edict that the men promptly ignore. They find a new world has come about during their years of confinement and getting used to the new technologies and more liberal social attitudes takes quite a bit of adjusting. Both men are committed to staying on the "straight and narrow" but things quickly go awry. Archie lands some menial jobs but balks at the abuse he is forced to take by both employers and customers. Harry ends up being forced to live in a senior citizen home where the meek residents are routinely exploited and belittled by the cruel staff. Before long he gets a reputation as a trouble-maker for instigating the residents to stand up for their rights. Both men do have success in resurrecting their romantic lives. Harry reunites with Belle (Alexis Smith), a former flame who coincidentally also lives in the same senior citizen home. Archie gets picked up by Skye (Darlanne Fluegel), a sexy twenty-something who finds novelty in bedding a much older man who is in such superb physical condition. A running gag in the plot finds Harry and Archie being stalked by Leon B. Little (Eli Wallach), a once-feared hit man who is now virtually blind. Leon was hired thirty years ago by a gangster to carry out a contract on the men but he can't remember why. Nevertheless, he's determined to carry out the task. Archie and Harry also have run-ins with Deke Yablonski (Charles Durning), the obnoxious detective who had them jailed thirty years ago and now stalks them like Javert, warning everyone that he suspects they will resort to crime once again. Ultimately, he's right. Fed up with being disrespected, Harry and Archie decide to live life on their own terms- and this includes pulling off an audacious caper by robbing the old time train they had originally targeted in 1956.
"Tough Guys" exists solely for the purpose of reuniting two Hollywood legends. If not for the presence of Lancaster and Douglas it would probably have been made as a TV movie. While the screenwriters deserve praise for bringing this reunion to fruition it must be said that their script is never quite as funny as you might expect it to be. The situations tend to be predictable and some of the scenarios play out in an overlong fashion, such as when Archie ends up working in an ice cream parlor and has to contend with an obnoxious kid. While the entire enterprise is consistently amusing, we never get the belly laughs that the various scenarios seem to promise. There's plenty to like about the film, however. Just seeing the gracefully-aged Lancaster and Douglas, dressed to the nines in their suits and fedoras from the 1950s, is a true pleasure- especially when we realize that both men would suffer terribly debilitating health problems in the years to come. The film benefits from the light touch of director Jeff Kanew, who had previously worked with Douglas on "Eddie Macon's Run". Kanew doesn't go over-the-top in a quest for a yuck and allows the charisma of his two stars to shine brightly. The supporting cast is very good across the board but it's Eli Wallach who steals every scene he is in and provides the funniest moments of the movie. I should point out that the opening credits (remember when movies had them?) are terrific. We see the camera glide over the relics of Archie and Harry's past, frozen in time: custom-made suits, expensive liquor, newspaper clippings of their capers, fine cigars, etc. As the credits unfurl, the sequence is set to a marvelous song, "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To", written by Henry Mancini and Carol Bayer Sager and nicely crooned by Kenny Rogers. It evokes a real sense of past glories even before we're introduced to the characters. The musical score by James Newton Howard is not nearly as impressive, relying on dated synthesizer sounds that sound cheesy today. Some of the more amusing aspects of the movie find our heroes getting used to "modern" society in 1986 when the era looks like ancient history today: girls with big hairdos in spandex involved in the new aerobics craze, not a cell phone in sight, slam dancing and the shocking novelty of accidentally walking into a gay bar.
In 1973 film critic Roger Ebert described Michael Winner’s The Stone Killer (1973) as a ‘superior example of its type - tough cop against the mob - and probably the best violent big-city police movie since Dirty Harry.' The Stone Killer certainly does have a lot working in its favour. The film arrived during a period where the tough cop drama was arguably at its peak. One could perhaps argue that, most would follow a particular formula or style, but they fulfilled a demand. The police vs the mob was certainly nothing new but the subject matter was still trending successfully during the early to mid-Seventies. As a police sergeant proclaims to Bronson’s character, ‘nothing changes, only the names.’
Director Michael Winner had certainly turned a corner after completing the western Lawman in 1971. The decision towards making American movies is one that Winner adapted to well. Bronson was considered by some as an awkward actor to work with, but by the time of The Stone Killer, Winner and Bronson had already completed two films together, the revisionist western Chato's Land (1972) and the action thriller The Mechanic (1972). Clearly there was a happy medium between both director and star and the partnership was also proving to be lucrative.
The Stone Killer doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. If 95 minutes of tough, no nonsense action is something you seek, then Bronson delivers the goods - hard and fast. Bronson plays Detective Lt. Lou Torrey an ex-New York City cop who is side-lined to the L.A. Police Department following criticism over his style of law enforcement. In L.A. he begins investigating a mysterious chain of events involving a violent campaign of murder. The trail eventually leads Torrey to the Mafia and Al Vescari (Martin Balsam). Vescari has hired an outfit of Vietnam veterans to stage an ambush that will wipe out the entire Italian mob leadership, thereby gaining revenge for a series of assassinations of Sicilians on April 10, 1931.
In general, the plot is somewhat thin, so it’s perhaps not worth spending too long examining it or dissecting it to any major degree. In short, it’s Bronson in a cop thriller with plenty of great action pieces, some great stunts and a whole lot of gun play. Winner’s direction is fast-paced and tight and the whole thing is wrapped up in a superb Roy Budd score which undoubtedly provides extra bite and attitude. The supporting cast also seem to relish their roles, no more so than Paul Koslo as Alfred Langley, a super character actor and the bad guy we all love to hate. Koslo had a knack of carving out these niche roles for himself, appearing in Joe Kidd (1972) and cult classics like Cleopatra Jones (1973), Freebie and the Bean (1974) and reuniting opposite Bronson again in Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk (1974).
Indicator’s region free Blu-ray marks its UK premiere and an impressive package it is, too. The Stone Killer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in 1080p. Sourced from Sony’s HD remaster, the picture quality stands up incredibly well, there is an especially well defined and vivid look about the film, especially in the daylight scenes of which there are plenty. It is an extremely clean picture, with a minor amount of original grain. Its colour retains a nice natural and consistent look which works well. It appears that Sony have appeared to resist the temptation of tinkering and adjusting too much and as a result, the film holds on to its 70s taste and texture. The same can be said for the audio department, which is both clean and true. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is punchy and free from any form of distortion or defects.
Indicator’s bonus material is led by an audio commentary from journalist and film programmer Nick Pinkerton who examines the history and production of The Stone Killer. It’s an interesting walk through in which Pinkerton clearly demonstrates he has done his homework and keeps the viewer engaged. Keeping with the audio delights, the disc also includes composer Roy Budd’s complete isolated score in stereo. Licensed by way of the Twilight Time Blu-ray release, Mike Matessino’s efforts to make these scores available is always welcome, and of course, appreciated a great deal by soundtrack enthusiasts in general. Roy Budd’s work here is regarded as one of the great retro scores and its inclusion here is close to essential.
Also included is an audio only recording of Michael Winner’s John Player Lecture. Recorded on September 13th, 1970 and with a running time of 65 minutes, Winner is interviewed by Margaret Hinxman at the National Film Theatre, London. The interview finds Winner in a relaxed, confident and incredibly humorous mood. Always with a plenty to say, he speaks without hesitation and with a ‘take it or leave it’ honesty. He is both entertaining and engaging throughout and often has his audience breaking out in spontaneous laughter. It’s a super find and entirely worthy of inclusion.
Landau (center) with "Mission:Impossible" co-stars (clockwise) Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus and Barbara Bain.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau has passed away at age 89. Landau had originally intended to be a cartoonist before studying at the esteemed Actors Studio in New York City. With his intense looks and persona, he began to be noticed by Hollywood studios. In 1959 he was cast as James Mason's gay henchman in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest". It was Landau who suggested playing the role as a not-so-closeted homosexual, a rather daring strategy for the era. The result made Landau standout in a cast of heavyweights that included Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and Leo G. Carroll. Roles in epic films such as "Cleopatra" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" followed. Landau also appeared regularly on popular TV programs including "The Twilight Zone", "The Untouchables", "I Spy", "The Wild, Wild West" and many others. Between 1966-1969 he co-starred on the hit spy series "Mission:Impossible", playing Rollin Hand, a master of disguise. His real-life wife Barbara Bain also starred in the show. They both left due to either "artistic differences" or salary disputes with the producers. Between 1975-1977, Landau and Bain co-starred in the cult sci-fi series "Space: 1999". Landau's career went into decline although he never stopped working. It was the quality of the projects that had diminished. He had an unexpected renaissance in 1988 when director Francis Ford Coppola cast him in "Tucker: The Man and His Dreams". Landau received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The following year he was nominated in the same category for a brilliant performance in Woody Allen's dark comedy "Crimes and Misdemeanors". Landau finally won the award for his performance as actor Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film "Ed Wood". (Ironically, Landau had played a Lugosi-like character in "The Bat Cave Affair", a 1966 episode of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.").
Landau spoofed Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Dracula in an episode of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" (seen here with David McCallum). In 1994, he would win the Oscar for playing Lugosi in "Ed Wood".
Landau had been nominated for Emmy awards on numerous occasions beginning with "Mission: Impossible" and extending to more recent nominations for "Without a Trace" and "Entourage". Landau had been producer Gene Rodenberry's first choice to play the role of Spock in "Star Trek" but Landau decided to go with "Mission:Impossible". The role went to Leonard Nimoy, who ironically ended up starring in "Mission:Impossible" after Landau's departure from the series. For more click here.
it was actually his second film, 1988’s Stormy Monday marked the big screen debut of Mike Figgis; his
earlier feature, four years prior, was made for television. Given that it
was essentially a debut, though, the cast that the director managed to assemble
was quite remarkable; Tommy Lee Jones, Melanie Griffith, Sting and Sean Bean
(who looks about 18 but was actually 29) headline in a grim tale of corruption
set against the nightclub scene in Newcastle. With almost every frame screaming
1980s – from the neon-tube title emblazoned across the screen to Bean’s
trousers and Griffiths’ hairdo – the blend of jazz and sax-infused score
affords the proceedings a vaguely noir vibe. Unfortunately little of the above
provides sufficient grist to save the resulting film from the morass of
midst of a week of festivities celebrating everything American, drifter Brendan
(Bean) gets a job as a cleaner at the Key Club, a successful jazz nightspot
owned by Finney (Sting). Brendan clicks with his employer who quickly identifies
the lad as someone he can trust, with more worth to him than someone sluicing
vomit off the toilet floor. Finney is currently being harassed by shady
American businessman Cosmo (Jones) to sell him the club. As a man whose first
tactic is to send in the heavies to mete out a little physical persuasion, Cosmo
will clearly stop at nothing to get what he wants. Brendan meets and enters
into a relationship with waitress Kate (Griffith), but he's unaware that she's
affiliated with Cosmo…
Now, I accept
that I’m in the minority, but I should say upfront that I've never been able to
engage with Stormy Monday on any
significant level. Its pacing is just that little too sedate and it's gloomy to
the point of depressing. There’s also a serious dearth of likeable characters;
in a film of this ilk there should always be someone to root for, and the absence of sympathetic characters
completely undermines a climactic sting (lame pun intentional), robbing it of
the dramatic weight and emotional heft it desperately cries out for.
real stumbling block for me is the insipid performances. Sting is a terrific
musician, but I've never found him a particularly compelling screen presence
and his dialogue delivery here is shallow and unconvincing. Injuriously though,
he's only one among a number of surprising offenders. Jones too – a marvellous
actor with a bevy of splendid character performances under his belt – exudes
disinterest and proves frustratingly bland. Most disappointing in this respect,
however, is Griffith, who I absolutely adored back in the 80s; the same year as
Stormy Monday she appeared in The Milagro Beanfield War and Working Girl, the latter for which she
was Best Actress Oscar nominated; such a lacklustre turn sandwiched between two
such outstanding ones is a bitter pill to swallow. It may well be that these
underwhelming performances are a reflection of (what I consider to be) the colourless
narrative that the characters populate. I can’t decide, because Bean – in the
infancy of what would build into an impressive screen career – is decent
enough, with all the signs of a star in the making in evidence and there are
also small but memorable roles for Alison Steadman and James Cosmo (as a
deliciously simmering psychotic). Bond buffs meanwhile will want to keep an eye
open for Clive Curtis, Dulice Liecier (fresh off her glam CIA agent spin in The Living Daylights) and Prunella Gee.
there nothing worth dipping in to Stormy
Monday for? I honestly feel there isn’t. Roger Deakins' cinematography is
suitably moody, and those familiar with Newcastle might glean some pleasure
from the extensive location footage of the great City as it looked three
decades past. But beyond that, this one’s probably for diehard fans of the
actors within and Figgis completists only. Said
completists will doubtless be delighted with the fine new hi-definition Blu-Ray
release of the film from Arrow Video. Supplements are slender but add value; along
with a Figgis audio commentary moderated by Damon Wise, there's a 33-minute
retrospective documentary in which critic Neil Young discusses the film at
length whilst strolling around some of the film's locations, a stills gallery
and the original theatrical trailer. The release includes reversible sleeve art
and a limited edition collectors' booklet.
George A. Romero, the maverick independent filmmaker who changed the movie industry forever with his low-budget, high grossing 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead", has passed away at age 77 from lung cancer. Romero represented the true "guerilla filmmaker" when he and his partners cobbled together the meager production budget for "Night of the Living Dead", which was shot locally in Pittsburgh, where Romero had attended college, and used non-seasoned actors in starring roles. The movie, shot in B&W, quickly became infamous for its unprecedented grisly depiction of flesh eating zombies preying upon people trapped in a remote country house. Most critics were aghast but audiences responded with enthusiasm. Romero's film inspired a generation of young horror moviemakers but although it grossed many millions in profits, a snafu regarding the copyright prevented Romero and his investors from fully capitalizing on the phenomenal success of the movie. It was a mistake he would not make again. Romero would go on to make other zombie movies, all with much higher budgets and the copyright situation carefully paid attention to. He also occasionally directed other horror films for mainstream studios including the cult hit "Creepshow" in 1982 that was inspired by the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s. Romero's manager confirmed that Romero passed away in an almost manner far removed from the world of horror movies: he was listening to Victor Young's score for "The Quiet Man" .
For more about Romero and tributes from film industry colleagues, click here.
Here is the full length feature film "Night of the Living Dead".
The Guardian has rounded up an eclectic group of directors to weigh in on their own personal choices for the greatest film scenes ever shot. They range from the skeleton battle in "Jason and the Argonauts" to the car chase in "The French Connection". Click here to read the justifications for their choices.
The TV series Doctor Who premiered in the UK in 1963 and is still a highly popular cultural institution. Fans were shocked when the news was released that the thirteenth actor to portray the doctor will be a female, actress Jodie Whittaker. As you might suspect, the web is alight with debates between those who welcomed the news and feel that Whittaker's casting will be an inspiration to young female fans and those who are aghast that the traditionally male role has now gone "politically correct". Whittaker will take over the role in January, when the current Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, retires from the series. For more click here.
‘I was there; I was in that picture, fighting
the Cyclops on the beach, running from the dragon! I was enthralled. It's one
of my strongest childhood memories.’ It’s very hard to argue with director John
Landis’s vivid account of his earliest memories and the fantasy films of Ray
Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer. They seemed to touch us all in an
indelible manner and took us into a fantasy realm far beyond our imagination.
Indicator has (for the first time in the UK) combined the three Sinbad
adventures in one very handsomely produced package. It’s a magical box that has
very little trouble in sending us on a journey, and back to a place called
The Seventh voyage of Sinbad (1958) was
something of a revelation back in its day. Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering stop-motion
animation had worked so well in films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
(1953), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and 20 Million Miles to Earth
(1957). However, he was about to enter a new period and face a new set of
challenges. Along with his producer Charles H. Schneer, Harryhausen was about
to embark on their next collaboration, The Seventh voyage of Sinbad, and it was
to be made in full colour.
The story of The Seventh voyage of Sinbad was
quite simple and uncomplicated. Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and Princess Parisa’s
(Kathryn Grant) plans of marriage are interrupted by the evil magician Sokurah
(Torin Thatcher). Sokurah insists that Sinbad return a lamp that he lost on the
island of Colossa. Sinbad at first refuses, which leads to Sokurah shrinking
Parisa and blackmailing Sinbad and his crew on a dangerous adventure in order
to save her.
Exciting as the story was, the real magical
elements were of course in the monsters and creatures the Sinbad would
encounter along the way and was very much were Harryhausen stepped in.
Considering its age and taking into account the combination of early colour
film and special effects techniques, Harryhausen’s work was nothing less than
miraculous. From that startling entrance of ‘the Cyclops on the beach’ that
Landis so excitingly refers to, we as an audience are hooked. The blending of
an enormous, mythical creature and real life people, seemingly in a real
location, was enough to take any child’s breath away and leave them both complexed
and in wonder. There was naturally more to come, the giant Roc, the mysterious
snake woman, the fire breathing dragon and perhaps most enthralling of all
sequences, Sinbad’s sword duel with the living skeleton. The results were not
only seamless, but utterly mindboggling.
The new 4K restoration of The Seventh voyage
of Sinbad (from the original camera negative) really brings it to life. Colours
are both rich and vivid. Certain backgrounds may occasionally look a little
grainy, but nevertheless perfectly acceptable and no doubt down to separate
film elements used in the film’s original production. The high resolution scan
perhaps highlights these limitations to some degree. It’s necessary to also
remember, this production was working to a tight schedule and an even tighter
budget. However, simply look at the level of detail in close-ups and location
shots, and the real revelation of the restoration becomes extremely clear. The
audio also sounds marvellous and is presented in both mono and DTS
Speaking of revelations, Indicator’s
collection of bonus material is exhaustive – ‘exhaustive’ in the most
complementary way I might add. Firstly, we have a commentary track (from 2008) which
not only features Harryhausen at the helm, but a whole host of industry
wizards. Producer Arnold Kunert, visual effects experts Phil Tippett, Randall
William Cook and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith all provide fascinating
insights and their respect towards Harryhausen’s work is undeniable.
Also included are the original Super 8mm cut
down versions. As any serious movie fan of a certain age will recall, these
were essential, especially if you were growing up in the 70s. Before the
introduction of videocassettes, these 200ft spools contained around 8-9 minutes
of film and featured condensed sequences or key scenes from the movie. You
could buy these in different versions such as b/w silent or colour sound (which
were a lot more expensive). Four parts were released for The Seventh Voyage of
Sinbad – The Cyclops, The Strange Voyage, The Evil Magician and Dragon’s Lair –
which was the reel I owned and watched over and over again. Each of these
segments is presented in their raw state, complete with speckles and tram line
scratches, but to be honest, I wouldn’t really want them any other way. They
are a wonderful, retrospective reminder of those glorious days. I should also
point out that parts 1 and 4 are in their colour / sound versions while parts 2
and 3 are in b/w / silent. There is also an option to play individual reels or
The Secrets of Sinbad (11.23) is a featurette
with Phil Tippet (in his workshop) recollecting on how he grew up on
Harryhausen’s films. He talks about the whole period and Forrest J. Ackerman’s
Famous Monsters magazine and how this became a key influence in his own career
Remembering The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
(23.31) has Harryhausen talking about the struggle in getting the film made. He
talks about various elements including the shooting in Granada, Spain, and
Majorca. Kerwin Matthews, the building of giant props, his creature designs and
his disapproval over the English censoring of the skeleton fight are among the
many other subjects discussed.
A Look Behind the Voyage (11.52) is a TV
featurette from 1995. It looks to be from a video source, which was being used
regularly during this period. This short piece features interviews with both
Schneer and Harryhausen and looks back at the early work such as Mighty Joe
Young and his fairy tale films. It also looks at the importance of his parents
and the role they played, the difficulties in moving from b/w to colour and
working to tight budgets. It’s a nice informative, condensed piece.
Music promo (2.34) – Well this is a nice rare
little piece and the sort of thing that really grabs my interest. In 1958,
Colpix (the record division of Columbia pictures), produced this 7” 45rpm
single to be played in cinema lobbies, radio shows and for giving away as kids
competition prizes. The song ‘Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Been Good to Me’
is as cheesy as hell, but oh so wonderful. It’s presented here in beautiful,
clear sound and played over a piece of Seventh Voyage poster artwork.
The Music of Bernard Herrmann (26.52) is a
fascinating essay on composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann biographer Steven
Smith presents an insightful and eloquent account of the composer’s love of
fantasy films. Smith takes us through his early work including CBS radio, Orson
Welles’s Mercury theatre, his innovative instrumentation style and his use of
Theremin, Brass and electronics. All of which is fascinating.
Keeping on the subject of Bernard Herrmann,
Indicator have pulled off a real treat with the inclusion of Herrmann’s full
isolated score. Presented in Stereo, the score is rousing, clean and dynamic,
it is also plentiful as Herrmann leaves very few scenes unscored. I believe
this marks its debut as an isolated score, but 2009 complete score CD (released
by Prometheus) came with a total time of 71 minutes, so expect a lot of great
Birthday Tribute (1.00) features a short
birthday tribute to Harryhausen from Phil Tippet’s studio – complete with
The Trailer Gallery starts with the original ‘This
is Dynamation!’ trailer (3.26). This is a fascinating preview that presents the
process of Dynamation and includes some rare behind the scenes footage, effects
shots and Kerwin Mathews practising with his fencing coach for the skeleton
fight. We then have the same trailer introduced and with a commentary from
Trailers from Hell presenter Brian Trenchard-Smith (4.47). Finally, there is
the re-release trailer which I believe is from 1975 (1.46).
The image gallery is quite comprehensive and
contains approx. 75 steps. This is a little misleading as a great deal of
portrait shots are placed side-by-side, so in reality there’s a great deal
more. Here you will find original promotional material, Harryhausen drawings,
b/w stills, mini lobby cards, comic books and poster art from around the
Joe Robinson, 2004. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Joe Robinson, the estimable stuntman, stunt arranger and occasional actor, has passed away in his native England at age 90. Robinson came from a family of wrestlers and he won the European Heavyweight Championship in 1952. Robinson drifted into the film industry initially as an actor, starring in the 1955 movie "A Kid for Two Farthings". Leading man status eluded him but he found a steady career arranging stunts for films and television shows and occasionally acting in them as well. Like many British and American actors, he gravitated to Italy in the early 1960s to appear in some of the "Hercules"-inspired strongman films that were quite popular during that era. He scored small action roles in "Barabbas" and "Ursus" before returning to England, where he had a supporting role in Tony Richardson's classic "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rnner. He was a noted judo and karate expert and helped train Honor Blackman for her action scenes in "The Avengers" TV series and in the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger". In 1971 he landed his best-remembered role as smuggler Peter Franks in the James Bond movie "Diamonds are Forever". In the movie's best action scene, he has a bruising battle with Sean Connery inside the tight confines of an elevator. This writer and fellow Cinema Retro publisher Dave Worrall met him in 1995 when he participated in recording a laser disc commentary track we were producing relating to the elevator fight along with "Diamonds are Forever" director Guy Hamilton at Pinewood Studios (the track is available on the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film today).
Robinson battling Sean Connery in the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds are Forever".
Robinson was very much a free spirit who would often turn up unexpectedly at events and ingratiate himself with people by discussing his fascinating stories of working in the film industry. He later would appear with the James Bond International Fan Club at various 007-themed events and conventions where he enjoyed meeting his admirers and signing autographs. He once told this writer that many years after filming "Diamonds are Forever", he decided to drop by Sean Connery's estate in Spain. When he rang the doorbell buzzer in the gated community, Connery asked who was there. When he heard it was Joe Robinson, Connery exclaimed "Tiger Joe!", referring to Robinson's nickname in the industry. The two men spent a pleasant afternoon reminiscing about old times. In addition to his other achievements, Robinson and his brother Doug co-authored "Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defence", a 1965 volume that illustrated their training sessions with Blackman. For more click here.
Watch the original trailer for producer Euan Lloyd's superb 1978 adventure film "The Wild Geese". It's as sensational as the movie itself even if it falls into the common problem of divulging too many key scenes and plot points. They really don't make 'em like this any more!
CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE "THE WILD GEESE" BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION
The Warner Archive has released the 1972 MGM thriller The Carey Treatment. James Coburn has one of his best roles as Dr. Peter Carey, a rebellious but esteemed pathologist who moves to Boston to take a prominent position at one of the city's most esteemed hospitals. The charismatic Carey loses no time in gaining friends, alienating top brass and bedding the comely chief dietician (Jennifer O'Neill). However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a politically volatile investigation when a fellow surgeon is arrested for performing an illegal abortion on the 15 year old daughter of the hospital's crusty administrator (Dan O'Herlihy). (The movie was released a year before the landmark Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America.) Coburn believes his friend's protestations of innocence and decides to launch his own investigation into the matter. The case soon unveils a lot of skeletons that some prominent people would prefer to be kept in their closets and Carey finds himself subjected to blackmail and physically assaulted as he comes closer to discovering the shocking truth behind the young girl's death.
TMZ reports that a much-ballyhooed auction of items belonging to the late Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds is causing concern in some areas. On a high profile "Good Morning America" segment, the show took a tour around Fisher's home, guided by her brother Todd Fisher. In the segment, Todd-accompanied by the correspondent and the representative of the auction house, Profiles in History, take a cheery walk through Memory Lane, pointing out various items and relating anecdotes about them. The concerns raised relate to certain "Star Wars" collectibles that were being represented as having belonged to Carrie Fisher. TMZ reports that at least some of them appear to have been purchased by Todd at "Star Wars" auction that took place after his sister's death. Profiles in History had hired a firm, CGA, to verify the authenticity of the items but apparently the company ensured that, while the collectibles were legitimate, they were not actually owned by Carrie. TMZ reports that CGA is now asking to re-examine twenty "Star Wars" items to further examine their provenance. The auction is scheduled for September 23. Todd Fisher has promised that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to charity.
Elsa Martinelli, who gravitated from modeling to a successful acting career in the 1950s, has died at age 82. Martinelli was a popular model in her native Italy when she was discovered by Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne. The Douglases decided to cast the unknown as an Indian maiden in Kirk's 1955 hit Western "The Indian Fighter". The film raised eyebrows at the time for presenting an inter-racial love affair between their characters. The movie helped successfully launch Martinelli's screen career in European cinema but it would be years before she starred in her next major Hollywood production. In 1962 director Howard Hawks cast her as the female lead opposite John Wayne his big budget African adventure "Hatari!". The film was a sizable hit and Martinelli began to appear in more American studio productions. She starred opposite Charlton Heston in "The Pigeon That Took Rome", with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in "The V.I.Ps", which was also a major success and opposite Robert Mitchum in the thriller "Rampage" . From the mid-1960s on, however, Martinelli worked almost exclusively on European film and TV productions. She had a long and esteemed career that ended with her recurring role in the acclaimed Italian TV series "Orgoglio" in 2004-2005. For more click here.
Dario Argento – whose directorial career has
now spanned almost 50 years, positioning him as a genuine icon of terror cinema
– is probably best associated with his clutch of intoxicatingly imaginative chillers,
each of them ornamented with brutal (and increasingly graphic) murder scenarios,
stylishly lurid lighting schemes and wildly inventive camerawork.
Throughout the second half of the 1960s
Argento had found a degree of success in writing stories and screenplays for movies;
he most famously worked alongside Sergio Leone for 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. But it was taught 1970 thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (o.t. L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) that
marked his debut in the director’s chair and set him on the path to becoming
the Godfather of the giallo.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American
writer currently residing in Rome, walks past a brightly lit art gallery late
one night and sees inside a shadowy figure, clad in black, stabbing a woman.
Attempting to intervene, Dalmas manages to get himself trapped in the entrance
between two sets of locked sliding doors, unable to prevent the assailant from
fleeing and helpless to assist the woman left bleeding to death on the floor.
Fortunately, aid arrives and the woman – Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), wife of
the gallery's owner – survives. It transpires that Monica was the almost-victim
in a series of attacks that have left several beautiful women dead. Dalmas becomes
obsessed with the case, replaying what he saw over and over in his head,
convinced that he's missing a vital clue to solving the mystery. But in getting
involved he inadvertently sets himself up as a target for the killer.
Argento not only directed but also wrote The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (basing
it thematically on a 1949 pulp novel, “The Screaming Mimi”, by Frederic Brown).
He would go on to make better movies but for a debut feature this really is an
exemplary piece of film-making, bearing many of the embryonic flourishes – clearly
influenced by the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Mario Bava – that would later
become his trademark; specifically the faceless, black-gloved killer whose
nefarious activities are often shot POV and, on a more cerebral level, the misperception
of a witnessed moment, with characters struggling to retrieve a clue buried in
their subconscious, the significance of which failed to register upon them when
initially glimpsed. These recurrent themes would play out to varying degrees of
success in many of Argento's later films, most significantly Four Flies on Grey Velvet (o.t. 4 mosche di velluto grigio, 1971), Cat o'Nine Tails (o.t. Il gatto a nove code, 1971), Deep Red (o.t. Profondo rosso, 1975, considered by many to be the greatest of all
the Italian gialli), Tenebrae (o.t. Tenebre, 1982), Phenomena (1985), Opera (1987),
Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (o.t. La
sindrome di Stendhal, 1996), Sleepless
(o.t. Non ho sonno, 2001), The Card Player (o.t. Il cartaio, 2004), Do You Like Hitchcock? (o.t. Ti
piace Hitchcock, 2005) and Giallo
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage itself is a masterpiece of sustained
suspense. The escalating tension during a scene in which the hero's girlfriend
(Suzy Kendall) is menaced by the killer – who uses a large kitchen knife to
methodically chip away at the lock on her apartment door – is as perfect an
example as one could wish for as to why Argento is often referenced as the
Italian Hitchcock. The violence – notably an out-of-shot vaginal stabbing – was
transgressive for its day, and in spite of the fact that far more shocking
atrocities have been unflinchingly splashed across the screen in the decades
since, several moments in Argento's fledgling offering still pack quite a visceral
Mark Robson’s 1957 film Peyton Place celebrates its 60th
anniversary with a special screening at the Royal Theatre in Los Angeles. The
film, which runs 157 minutes, stars Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan,
Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Terry More, and Hope Lange.
NOTE: Actress Terry Moore is currently scheduled to appear at the screening as
part of a Q & A regarding the film and her career.
From the press release:
of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
PEYTON PLACE (1957)
60th Anniversary Screening
Wednesday, July 12, at 7:00 PM at the Royal Theatre
Q & A with Co-Star Terry Moore
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 60th anniversary
screening of 'Peyton Place,' the smash hit movie version of Grace Metalious’s
best-selling novel. The film earned nine top Academy Award nominations,
including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also
tied the all-time record of five acting nominations from a single film: Lana
Turner as Best Actress and four supporting nods, for newcomers Diane Varsi and
Hope Lange, along with Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn.
Metalious’s novel exposed the steamy shenanigans in a small New England town,
and even in a slightly toned-down version, the film tackled such once-forbidden
topics as rape, incest, sexual hypocrisy and repression. It opened in December
of 1957 and became the second highest grossing film of 1958 after going into
wide release and then spawned a sequel and a popular TV series in the 1960s.
Leonard Maltin summed up the critical consensus when he wrote, “Grace Metalious’s
once-notorious novel receives Grade A filming.” Producer Jerry Wald (whose
credits included 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Key Largo,' 'Johnny Belinda,' 'An Affair to
Remember,' 'The Long Hot Summer,' and 'Sons and Lovers') bought the rights to
the novel for $250,000 and hired a first-rate team to bring it to the screen.
Screenwriter John Michael Hayes wrote many of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies
of the 1950s, including 'Rear Window,' 'The Trouble with Harry,' and 'The Man
Who Knew Too Much.' Director Mark Robson started as an assistant editor on
Orson Welles’ 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' then directed
such successful films as 'Champion,' 'The Bridges at Toko-Ri,' and 'Inn of the
Sixth Happiness.' Oscar winning composer Franz Waxman provided the memorable
The Hollywood Reporter praised
all the performances but singled out co-star Terry Moore, who “shows what a
forceful and moving actress she can be.” Moore made a vivid impression in
1949’s 'Mighty Joe Young,' then earned an Oscar nomination for 'Come Back,
Little Sheba' in 1952. Her other films include 'Man on a Tightrope' with
Fredric March, 'King of the Khyber Rifles' with Tyrone Power, 'Beneath the
12-Mile Reef' with Robert Wagner, and 'Daddy Long Legs' with Fred Astaire and
Leslie Caron. She made 77 feature films over the course of her career and also
appeared in many TV series and movies.
Royal Theatre is located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los
Angeles, CA 90025. The phone number is (310) 478 – 0401.
Few would argue that George C. Scott was one of the greatest actors of stage and screen. His presence in even a mediocre movie elevated its status considerably and his work as the nutty general in "Dr. Strangelove" was described by one critic as "the comic performance of the decade". When Scott won his well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor in "Patton" (which he famously refused), he seemed to be on a roll. His next film, the darkly satirical comedy "The Hospital" predicted the absurdities of America's for-profit health care system in which the rich and the poor were taken care of, with everyone else falling in between. The film earned Scott another Best Actor Oscar nomination despite his snubbing of the Academy the previous year. From that point, however, Scott's choice of film roles was wildly eclectic. There were some gems and plenty of misfires that leads one to believe he was motivated as much by commerce as artistic expression. One of his worst films, the 1974 crime comedy "The Bank Shot", has been released on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer by Kino Lorber. If only the film itself lived up to the quality of the transfer. It's pretty hard to bungle a comedic crime caper. Alec Guinness used to knock out classics like "The Lavender Hill Mob" , "Kind Hearts and Coronets" and "The Ladykillers" seemingly in his sleep. In the 1970s Hollywood studios were enamored of the works by novelist Donald E. Westlake, whose books provided ample fodder for lightweight caper comedies such as "The Hot Rock" and "Cops and Robbers", both of which had much to recommend about them. Not so with "The Bank Shot". Not having read the novel, it's possible that it had plenty of merits, but suffice it to say that the film's director, Gower Champion, and his equally estimable screenwriter, Wendall Mayes, needed to provide a light hand in transferring it to the screen. Instead, they ended up with a lead foot.
Scott plays Walter Ballentine, a notorious and famous heist master whose last caper went awry. When we first see him he's serving a life sentence in a desert prison camp run by his arch nemesis, a lawman named Streiger (Clifton James, essentially recreating his role as dopey Sheriff J.W. Pepper from "Live and Let Die", with the addition of constantly smoking foot-long Churchill cigars.) Ballentine receives a brief visit from one of his confederates in crime, Al Karp (Sorrell Booke), who informs him that he has a plan to help him break out of the prison camp with the intention of joining his new gang. He sneaks Walter the plans for an audacious caper in which the gang will put a small Los Angeles bank on a set of wheels and literally steal it by attaching it to a truck and driving it away. In the first of many preposterous scenes, Ballentine manages to break out of prison using a Caterpillar earth mover and despite the fact that the vehicle moves about fast as a real caterpillar, the police are unable to catch up with him. He meets up with El (Joanna Cassidy), a bored rich beauty who is financing the caper seemingly out of boredom. She and Ballentine meet up with Karp and several other misfits who will work together to pull off the robbery. In order for even a nutball comedy premise to work it has to have its roots in some sense of believability. However the screenplay asks us to believe so many far-fetched premises that is never remotely believable. As with all similar films, the initial stages of the caper go well only to have unexpected twists of fate threaten to thwart the best laid plans of the lovable culprits. Why George C. Scott chose to be involved in this modest enterprise is anyone's guess but it may have been the rare opportunity to work with director Gower Champion, a legend for his work on Broadway. Champion only directed two feature films in his life (the other being the little-remembered 1963 romantic comedy "My Six Loves") and its equally puzzling as to why "The Bank Shot" lured Champion back to the film industry after a full decade. In any event, Champion is the main culprit for the film's failures. He seems determined to recreate the screwball comedies of the Keystone Cops era. Supporting characters dress absurdly, wear ludicrous disguises and the actors who portray them are encouraged to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. (Among the other talents victimized by Champion's direction is young Bob Balaban.) Even Scott doesn't emerge unscathed- he sports exaggerated eyebrows that make him resemble Leonid Brezhnev. Champion goes for belly laughs but most fall embarrassingly flat, like that drunk at a party who tries to get laughs by dancing about with a lampshade on his head. You desperately want to like "The Bank Shot" and occasionally there are a few genuine chuckles to be found amidst the debris, which is all set to a jaunty score by John Morris. However the only crime worth remembering from this caper is that people wasted their money to see it in theaters.
The Blu-ray release contains an original trailer that features original footage of Joanna Cassidy in a bathtub that plays up the sexual aggressiveness of her character in the film. There is also a trailer for the far superior "Cops and Robbers", which is also available from Kino Lorber. Kudos to the company for retaining the wonderful poster art by Jack Davis for the sleeve.
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” emerged as a surprise box-office smash
in the early months of 1972, studios and distributors hustled to meet popular
demand for more movies about life in the Mob. In New York, a dubbed print of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film “Le
Samourai” was hurriedly retitled and screened as “The Godson” in a masterful
example of bait-and-switch marketing. Melville’s chilly, claustrophobic picture about a hit man portrayed by
Alain Delon is a fine crime drama, but it had no connection to Coppola’s
picture or, for that matter, to any aspect of American Mafia lore at all. “The Valachi Papers,” based on Peter Maas’
bestselling nonfiction book, followed as a more legitimate successor. Rushed through production by Dino De
Laurentiis in spring and summer 1972, the film was scripted by Stephen Geller
and directed by Terence Young. Shooting
largely took place at De Laurentiis’ Rome studio. The producer claimed that he’d originally
intended to film wholly in New York, and some preliminary exteriors were shot
at Sing Sing prison. Then the production
relocated to Europe upon receiving threats from the Mafia, publicity materials
said. It’s a good story, whether or not
it was completely true. (I suspect that
De Laurentiis was motivated less by fear of the Mob than by the expediency of
getting the movie in the can as quickly as possible. That was easier done in Rome than in New York
or Hollywood.) Released by Columbia
Pictures, “The Valachi Papers” opened in U.S. theaters on November 3, 1972. The strategy of riding Coppola’s shirttail
was successful; despite largely mediocre reviews, “The Valachi Papers” earned
healthy ticket sales and became one of the top-grossing pictures of 1972.
movie follows the series of murders, double-crosses, and power struggles across
four decades of Mafia history that Maas chronicled in his 1968 bestseller,
based on accounts by informant Joseph Valachi. As a young man, Valachi (Charles Bronson) is inducted into the Mafia, or
La Cosa Nostra, after a chance meeting in a jail cell with Dominick “The Gap”
Petrilli (Walter Chiari) in 1923. Valachi works first for Gaetano Reina (Amedeo Nazzari) as the Gap’s
apprentice and partner. When Reina is
shot to death by a rival faction in a 1931 gang war, Valachi and Gap are
recruited by the big boss, Salvatore Maranzano (Joseph Wiseman). Later that year, the two join the crime
family of Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura) after the dictatorial Maranzano is
murdered in a Mob shake-up engineered by Genovese and Lucky Luciano. Valachi marries Gaetano Reina’s daughter
Maria (inevitably played by Jill Ireland), acquires a restaurant as a business
front, and dutifully toils for Genovese as a driver, collector, and occasional
hit man over the next two decades.
loyalty begins to fray when Genovese orders other minions to castrate his pal
Gap for unwisely going to bed with Genovese’s mistress. (The real Gap was the victim of a 1953
gangland murder, but not for the reason invented for the movie.) When Valachi is sent to federal prison on a charge of drug trafficking in 1959,
Genovese -- also serving time for narcotics distribution -- begins to suspect
that Valachi will rat him out for other crimes. In turn, Valachi fears for his life once he receives the “kiss of death”
from the boss during a tense meeting in Genovese’s cell. A botched hit follows in the prison shower
room, as Valachi jumps and overcomes a would-be shooter before the other man
can gun him down. Anticipating a further
attack, Valachi believes that he’s being stalked by another inmate in the prison
yard, and beats the man to death with an iron pipe. Later, he finds out that the stranger he
killed had nothing to do with Genovese or the Mafia. Facing additional time for murder and the
ongoing threat of a contract on his life, Valachi agrees to reveal the workings
of the Mafia to an FBI agent (Gerald S. O’Laughlin) and to testify at a Senate
hearing on organized crime.
script efficiently compressed Maas’ sprawling history into two hours of
camera-ready copy and added a dramatic center by focusing on the initially
respectful but increasingly uneasy relationship between Valachi and
Genovese. That it’s essentially a
two-man show revolving around those two characters, and not a solo spotlight
for Bronson, is appropriately reflected in Bronson’s and Ventura’s dual billing
above the title in the opening credits. Dramatically, the strategy of giving Valachi and Genovese nearly equal
prominence compensates for the fact that Valachi himself is largely a passive
character on a low rung in the Cosa Nostra organization. Aside from the opening sequence of Valachi
getting the jump on his would-be killer in the shower room, there’s a dearth of
physical action for Bronson. Genovese’s
Mob ambitions drive most of the plot. Too, the shared billing was probably a shrewd commercial move by De Laurentiis
and Columbia to guarantee strong box-office in the important European market,
where Ventura was immensely popular. At
that, Bronson’s star was still rising, and he’d shared top billing in other
recent movies like “Red Sun” (with Toshiro Mifune), “You Can’t Win ‘Em All”
(Tony Curtis), and “Adieu l’Ami” (Alain Delon). “The Mechanic” (released on November 17, 1972), “The Stone Killer”
(1973), and “Death Wish” (1974) put him on Hollywood’s upper tier, by himself.
Thanks to Nick Sheffo of Fulvue Drive-in web site for alerting us to this 23 minute compilation of American TV ads from the year 1977. It's a fun hodgepodge hawking everything from Ford Pintos (fire extinguishers not included!) to celebrities: Jack Nicklaus pitching American Express cards ("Don't leave home without it!"), Caroline Munro oozing over Noxema shaving cream, George Lazenby as a thinly-veiled James Bond being introduced to Sony hi-tech gadgets in a clever 007 spoof, James Garner and Mariette Hartley in one of their popular ads for Polaroid cameras, inimitable character actor Anthony James giving an endorsement to Mobile 1 motor oil, actor Paul Burke for Radio Shack, Cicely Tyson for RCA color TVs, James Coburn in cowboy gear shilling for Schlitz beer and Ed McMahon endorsing Budweiser (yes, in those days, first-rate talents could promote third-rate beers.) Best of all, there's dear ol' O.J. Simpson, promoting Hertz, dashing through an airport at top speed- well at least faster than he moved in his slow-mo car chase. Coincidentally, another future "Husband of the Year" and murder suspect, the poor man's Brando, Robert Blake, turns up promoting STP auto additive. The ads are chock full of girls with Farrah hairdos, guys with wide colors and polyester suits, the miracles of cassette tape recorders, the Betamax and cars large enough in size to have fit comfortably in the Battle of the Bulge. Too bad they don't feature that other great innovation of the 1970s- canned wine.
is a tough one. On the one hand, Bring Me
the Head of Alfredo Garcia a picture that has gained a cult status and a
reputation among some cinema enthusiasts and certainly Sam Peckinpah fans as a
retro classic. On the other hand, this is one nasty piece of work.
remember immensely disliking the picture in 1974 (as did most audiences and
critics) when it was first released. I appreciated its dark humor and Warren
Oates’ superb study in futility and frustration—it was nice to see the longtime
supporting actor be a lead—but the overall nihilism of the movie left a sour
taste. I was eager to view to new DVD release by Kino Lorber on the chance that
perhaps my opinion would have changed over the last forty-three years, given
the title’s cult acceptance.
afraid my views have not changed.
Sam Peckinpah always had a confrontational relationship with Hollywood studios.
He was a rebel who liked to do things his way. By the time of Alfredo Garcia, he had pretty much given
up on Hollywood and was forging his own path. Luckily for him, United
Artists—known for indulging auteur filmmakers
in those days—gave him enough money to make the picture in Mexico with an
all-Mexican crew, save for a few key personnel. The film is perceived as one of
the director’s most personal statements.
story, by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, and adapted to screenplay by Peckinpah
and Gordon Dawson, follows an American ex-pat in Mexico, Bennie (Oates), as he
attempts to locate the body of deceased Alfredo Garcia, remove the head, and
return it to Mexican crime boss El Jefe.
Apparently, poor Alfredo impregnated El
Jefe’s daughter and ran off, so the boss has placed a million-dollar bounty
for her lover’s head. Bennie and his reluctant Mexican girlfriend, Elita (Isela
Vega), are in competition with various hit men and fortune hunters. Lives are
lost, women are tortured, shootouts occur, and violence (done in trademark
Peckinpah slow-motion) follows Bennie wherever he goes. Once he’s in possession
of the head, which Bennie carries around in a rucksack, flies are his only constant
don’t need Smell-O-Vision for this picture—you can swear the odors of sweat,
death, and blood penetrate the screen.
my biggest objection to the picture is Peckinpah’s treatment of women. Yes,
we’re talking about Mexico here, and we’re focusing on bad guys and prostitutes
and bar girls. But the misogyny and cruelty inflicted on the female characters
is cringe-worthy, especially today, when we’re supposed to be a little more
sensitive to this stuff. The sequence in which bikers (one is played by Kris
Kristofferson) attempt to assault Elita, and her “here we go again, let’s get
it over with” attitude toward it, is disturbing—and not because it’s supposed to be disturbing. I get that.
The problem is that the entire scene is unnecessary.
action bits/shootouts are well-done, and the latter half hour with Bennie
lugging around that head with the flies buzzing around it is grossly comical.
Hit men played by Robert Webber and Gig Young are fun to watch, and Oates’
performance elevates the picture to something that is, granted, watchable… the
same way you might slow down and rubberneck on the highway to gawk at an
Lorber’s transfer looks very good, but there seems to be something wrong in the
mastering with regard to subtitles. A lot of the movie’s dialogue is in Spanish
(for example, the first five minutes, which takes place at El Jefe’s home). There is no default for English subtitles here.
You must go to the main menu and manually turn on the subtitles. That solves
the problem for the Spanish dialogue—but then, the subtitles continue
throughout the picture even when English is spoken. Very annoying.
only supplement is an interesting and insightful audio commentary moderated by
Nick Redman and featuring film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and
David Weddle, all who have written separate books about Sam Peckinpah. There’s
the theatrical trailer, and several more trailers for Kino Lorber releases.
Bring Me the Head of
Alfredo Garcia just
might be your cup of tea—it’s probably beloved by the “Tarantino crowd”—so if
it is, then this DVD is for you.
With all the controversial films that were released in the 1960s it's hard to imagine that "The Sound of Music" (yes, that "Sound of Music") would have emerged as the center of a protest. However, in this case the protests weren't against the film itself but rather that it represented too much of a good thing. Turns out that by the time the film hit its 53rd week at the Moorhead Theater in Moorhead, Minnesota, the students at Minnesota State University had enough of nuns and Nazis-- they just wanted a new movie to play in the town's theater. What's truly remarkable isn't just that "The Sound of Music" instigated a student protest but that there was an era in which a theater could still reap profits from the 53rd consecutive week showing the same movie. Our crack team of researchers hasn't been able to find out if the student's demands were met and if "The Sound of Music" went on to play at the Moorhead Theater. The people we feel most sorry for are the theater staff. Can you imagine being an usher and seeing the same film several times a day for over a year???-
Behind every ghoulish, nightmarish creature
brought to life on the silver screen, there are stories that blur the line
between history and myth. In this grey area of human history, we are forced to
question the limitations of man and contemplate the possibility of the
impossible. Two such stories are explored in the History Channel’s double
feature DVD release of Frankenstein: The
Real Story and The Real Wolfman.
The Real Wolfman (2009) follows a two man
investigation team who’ve traveled to France to search for the truth behind the
accounts of the fabled “Beast of Gevaudan.” The first half of this unlikely
pair of investigators is a cynical, retired New Jersey cop of 25 years. He plans to use modern criminal analysis to
prove it was a flesh and blood human behind 102 killings in the summer of 1764.
His partner is an experienced crypto-zoologist whose deep knowledge of the
myths and lore of lycanthropy lead him to believe that there was a supernatural
element behind the attacks. Together the two investigators suggest an
assortment of hypotheses and arguments, ranging from devil worshippers to a
well trained dog. Their inconclusive findings
ultimately cater to both believers and non-believers alike.
Frankenstein: The Real Story is actually a
collection of three separate documentaries produced by the History Channel. This, in effect, makes this double feature a generous
quadruple feature. The first
documentary, titled In Search of the RealFrankenstein (2006), focuses on the possible real world
inspirations for the character of Dr. Frankenstein as imagined in Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley’s original novel. In exploring four major scientific minds
of the time, historians attempt to piece together how an 18-year-old girl could
create a story encompassing mankind, humanity, and the risks of trying to play
God. The second documentary is simply titled Frankenstein (1997), and explores Mary Shelley’s life and the men
who inspired her to write of a character who would create artificial life
through electricity. It also explores the character of the Frankenstein monster
and how the creature’s persona has evolved over the years. Ultimately, we’re forced to face the
question: is evil born or made?
The last and most inclusive documentary (also the
longest) explores nearly every interpretation of the Frankenstein legend and
the ever-evolving relationship between the monster and the media. It’s Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein (1994)
focuses heavily on the original Universal Studio’s film of 1931 and its many
sequels. But the film also goes on at
some length to talk about the Frankenstein series as imagined by Britain’s Hammer
Studios, the evolution of the monster’s makeup, Mel Brooks’ cult classic Young Frankenstein, and such modern day
spoofs like The Rocky Horror Picture
Show. This documentary also includes an impressive amount of celebrities,
historians, and fans of the Frankenstein legacy sharing their impressions,
including cameos by Eli Wallach, Sara Karloff, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Robert
DeNiro, Roger Corman, and special effects artist Rick Baker… just to name a
few. Although seemingly out of his element, It’s
Alive! is hosted by the late, great Sir Roger Moore. In light of his recent passing, Moore’s
kindly face and baritone voice will undoubtedly bring a heavy hearted sigh to
Sir Roger Moore hosts the documentary "It's Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein".
The History Channel has provided four extremely
well researched and interesting documentaries about two of the world’s most popular
and enduring monsters. Frankenstein: The Real Story and The Real Wolfman are both enjoyable and
educational investigations… but I’m a history major, so I may be a little
biased here in my opinions. With their exploration of both the folklore origins
and real life accounts of monsters and werewolves, these four thoughtful documentaries
are a “must see” for avid fans of horror film and literature… or anyone,
really, interested in the evolution of two of the world’s most famous and
enduring myths and legends.
In an interview with Craig Modderno of The Daily Beast, William Shatner reflects on all matter of subjects ranging from American politics (he claims to be agnostic on the subject) to his long-standing friendship with the late Leonard Nimoy and his disappointment at not having been cast in any of the recent "Star Trek" films. At age 86, Shatner is still one of the busiest stars in Hollywood, writing books, shooting TV series and feature films and hosting charity events. Click here to read.
At its peak, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." was so popular that it spawned eight feature films that were derived from episodes of the T.V. series (often re-edited and sometimes containing some new footage that was deemed a bit too sexy for broadcast). Only the first three films were shown theatrically in the USA but the others proved to be hits in the international market. Here is the trailer for "How to Steal the World", the final film. It was appropriately enough derived from the final two episodes of the TV series, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair" Parts 1 and 2 that were broadcast in January 1968.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE COMPLETE SET OF "U.N.C.L.E." FEATURE FILMS FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
In the old days it was common for movie studios to adapt hit Broadway stage productions for the screen. However, in more recent years the reverse philosophy has been all the rage with countless films being brought to the stage, generally as musicals. In some cases this makes sense, as illustrated by Mel Brooks' musical version of his 1968 comedy film classic "The Producers". However, the cost of staging a show on Broadway is almost prohibitively expensive. Thus, skittish investors know that tourists, who make up the bulk of ticket purchases, want a genial, uplifting experience, which explains why there has been a dearth of new dramas on the Great White Way. Even when dramas and non-musical comedies do show up, they are generally limited runs and powered by the presence of big movie stars in the main roles. The desire to squeeze musical numbers into any production has often reached the point of absurdity with horror and science fiction movies being adapted as song-and-dance extravaganzas. The Guardian takes a look back at some of the most notorious Broadway movie-to-stage flops that includes "Carrie", "Spider-man" and even "The Fly". Click here to read.
Walt Disney’s Bambi, which opened on Friday, August 21, 1942 at Radio City Music
accompanied by a live stage show, is an indisputable animated masterpiece based
upon Felix Salten’s 1923 novel of the same name. The story of a young fawn
growing up in the woods with his mother and cute animals in his midst, ty Bambi is not the sort of film that one
would normally associate with the Walt Disney name. As children, we are
introduced to the requisite characters who are synonymous with Disney and
labeled as “family entertainment” such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, either
through television viewings, theatrical rereleases or VHS/laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray
viewings. The overall general attitude of a Disney film is one of fun and joy,
although there are exceptions as some movies, such as Pinocchio (1940) and The
Rescuers (1977), have moments that are emotionally dark. Bambi is no traditional Disney movie,
and dare I say it’s a film that parents of very young and impressionable
children should honestly think twice about before permitting them to view it,
as introducing the notion of death to a youngster through a cartoon may prove
to be a life-changing event (to say nothing of the constant images of violence
that children are subjected to on television and on the Internet each day).
Bambi experiences the many things in
life that children experience: meeting and taking a liking to new friends
(Thumper the rabbit proves a good companion and teacher and a fellow fawn named
Faline proves to be a fun female friend) and making honest mistakes (labeling a
skunk “Flower” of all things). He is very close to his mother, but does not
realize that the Great Prince of the Forest, who protects the animals from Man,
specifically hunters, and is both revered and feared by the animals, is his real
father. His fortitude is tested when his mother is killed by the hunters and
his father reveals his identity to him. Bambi realizes that to survive one must
As the years go by, Bambi matures,
grows up and adapts to the environment. He now views the equally older Faline
as a potential romantic mate, and wards off a fellow buck, Ronno, who competes
for her affections. His childhood friends also find their own romantic mates,
and Bambi and Faline are blessed with twins as Bambi becomes the new Great
Prince of the Forest. As they said in 1994’s The Lion King, the circle of life.
British silent film period of director Alfred Hitchcock is simultaneously
interesting and frustrating. It’s the former because it allows one to view a
genius at the very beginning of his career—the kernels of motifs and themes, as
well as stylistic choices, can be spotted and analyzed. It’s the latter because
only one or two of the nine silent pictures he made are truly memorable and
most are available today solely as poor quality public domain transfers.
Criterion Collection has just released a bang-up, marvelous new edition of
Hitchcock’s most celebrated silent work, The
Lodger—A Story of the London Fog. The disk also contains one of the rarer
silent titles, Downhill (also 1927),
which might be reason enough for Hitchcock enthusiasts to purchase the package.
bit of history: Hitchcock was working for Gainsborough Pictures under the
auspices of Michael Balcon (one of the major studio heads of early British
cinema). The young filmmaker was sent to Germany in 1925 to make his first two
pictures so that he could “learn” the craft from the then-masters of
expressionistic storytelling. He made The
Pleasure Garden and The Mountain
Eagle, both of which were deemed not good enough to release in the UK
(interestingly, they were both released in the US in 1926, making America the
first English-speaking country to see a Hitchcock film!). Hitch’s third
completed title, The Lodger, almost
suffered the same fate. Balcon and others at the studio didn’t like it, and it
was only after a film critic named Ivor Montagu came in and made suggestions
for changing some title cards and reshooting some scenes, that The Lodger was finally released.
was an immediate success, both critically and financially (prompting
Gainsborough to release The Pleasure
Garden and The Mountain Eagle in
the UK, almost two years after they were made). The Lodger is also considered to be the first true “Hitchcock film”
in that it’s a crime picture that presents many visual and thematic elements to
which he would return (including but not limited to—the notion of the “wrong
man,” blondes, handcuffs, sexual fetishism, and expressionistic lighting and
camerawork). For a silent film, The
Lodger is totally engrossing and fascinating, guaranteed to entertain even the
most jaded viewers who can’t abide movies without talking.
story is loosely based on the Jack the Ripper case (adapted from a novel by
Marie Belloq Lowndes). A serial killer of blonde women known as “the Avenger”
is loose in London. A mysterious stranger (Ivor Novello) rents the upstairs
flat in the home of Daisy, a blonde fashion
model and her parents. Daisy’s boyfriend is a cop, but she’s not really that
interested in him—she’s more attracted to the stranger—the lodger who asks that
all portraits of blonde women be removed from his room. Of course, it isn’t
long before the lodger is suspected of being the Avenger.
who was a matinee idol at the time, is striking in the picture. Granted, in
1927, movies of this ilk were melodramatic, the acting exaggerated, and the
pacing meticulous. Nevertheless, Novello’s good looks and pained expressions
contribute to the building of suspense. The boarding house itself also becomes
a character in the story, as outlined by art historian Steven Jacobs in an
interesting supplement on the disk that discusses Hitchcock’s use of
architecture in his pictures.
and Chong’s Next Movie, which opened on Friday, July 18,
1980, had stiff competition at the box office: Airplane!, The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Friday the 13th,
The Blue Lagoon, The Big Red One, Dressed to Kill, Fame, and The Blues Brothers were all in major
release at the time. While Next Movie
and did respectable business, it went on to gross even more moola when
Universal released is on a double bill with John Landis’s beloved Blues Brothers later. The film picks up
sometime after Cheech and Chong’s maiden cinematic outing, Up in Smoke, left off two years earlier. Written by the slapdash
and seemingly always high dynamic duo and directed by the latter of the two, Next Movie plays out like their comedy
album routines (“Dave” from their self-titled 1971 debut album is one of their
best-known and funniest bits) which is exactly how Abbott and Costello’s early
film appearances were scripted (in their case they were based on their radio
routines). Next Movie was shot in
1979 as evinced by the appearance of North
Dallas Forty and Being There on
Los Angeles movie marquees in the distance and concerns two struggling potheads
who go through a series of (mis)adventures while attempting to start a rock
band. They siphon gas out of a truck into a refuse-filled garbage can with
explosive results. They have an ongoing feud with their neighbor who is fed up
with their antics. Their house has been condemned and they find themselves at a
welfare office. Cheech’s girlfriend Donna (Evelyn Guerrero), one of the welfare
workers, has an off-screen tryst with him while Chong sits next to a very young
Michael Winslow who makes some truly funny sound effects that would make him so
popular later in seven Police Academy
movies. The scene goes on a bit too long, but it’s a great showcase for Mr.
Winslow’s considerable talents. Donna’s boss reprimands her for her momentary
lapse of reason under Cheech’s spell and they make a run for it. Later,
Cheech’s cousin Red (also played by Mr. Marin) blows into town and, while also
financially impecunious, fights with a hotel receptionist (Paul Reubens) who is
carted off by the cops while shouting Al Pacino’s famous “Attica! Attica!” mantra
and ends up jailed after assaulting the men.
The boys are then invited
to a party by a roller-skater (when was the last time you saw one of those
onscreen?) which takes place in a whorehouse in a sequence that elicits
laughter as Cheech watches and reacts to some action outside of one of the
rooms. They scare off the clients by playing back audio on a boombox that they
recorded earlier of the hotel altercation. This is a cute tactic that has
worked to comedic effect in everything from the aforementioned Abbott and
Costello to Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984). The clients spill out onto Sunset Boulevard in a frenzy
and end up at the house of one of the girl’s parents, who are in a constant
state of hilarity, and the action moves to a comedy club wherein a fight breaks
out. Paul Reubens reappears here in a very early appearance as Pee-Wee Herman.
The film eventually ends with a strange bit of “far-out” silliness involving
pot, flying saucers and animation. The message of the film, if there is one, is
that “life’s a party”. If you’re a fan of the titular doofuses who are funny
and amiable, you’ll enjoy the film. Some of the episodes go on a little too
long and it makes one wonder if the filmmakers simply expected the audience to
be stoned while watching the film!
Like Shout! Factory’s
recent release of Universal’s Car Wash
(1976), Next Movie is a film that was
drastically altered for its television airing which included different scenes
and music. While it would have been nice to have had this alternate version on
the new Blu-ray, Cheech and Chong fans will appreciate the new and colorful
transfer which is much clearer than previous home video transfers. Shout!
Factory has done another bang-up job with the image looking very bright and the
colors vivid. Los Angeles, like New York at the time, had a look and feel and
character all its own which is now gone thanks to corporate America. The
brothel that they leave is on a street that has lost its integrity much like
the most memorable and colorful establishments that appear in Martin Scorsese’s
New York in Taxi Driver (1976).
The Blu-ray contains
these extras: a theatrical trailer, radio sports, and a roughly 20-minute
onscreen interview with Cheech Marin,who discusses the making of the film..
Moore as Brett Sinclair with his Aston Martin DBS in "The Persuaders" TV series.
Car and Driver magazine takes a fun look back at some of the super-cool vehicles driven by Roger Moore on television and in feature films from "The Saint" to "The Persuaders" and, of course, James Bond. (They even included "The Cannonball Run"!) Click here to view.
Legendary filmmaker Sam Peckinpah was one of
the true believers—one of the last of the diehards. He believed that a man was
only as good as his word, and if he couldn’t keep his word, he was no good at
all. Just about all of the 14 films he made during his short career centered
around that idea. In most of them there is the man who stays loyal to his
friends and true to his code, contrasted with his opposite, the man who sells
out. “The Wild Bunch” told the story of an outlaw and his gang being pursued by
a posse led by a former friend turned Judas goat. “Pat Garrett and Billy the
Kid” recounts Garrett’s betrayal of his former saddle mate, William H. Bonney,
to the Santa Fe Ring. Even the spy thriller, “The Killer Elite,” is about a security
agent whose friend sells him out for a price.
For Peckinpah, it was more than just a good
theme for a movie. It was a way of life. Oddly enough, the tough-talking,
hard-drinking brawler, who earned the nickname “Bloody Sam,” because of the bloodshed
and violence in his films, was often labeled a cynic. But as somebody once
observed, a cynic is just an idealist who’s had his teeth kicked in too many
time. Peckinpah’s filmmaking career was one long kick in the teeth. He battled
with the suits, the studio execs, who didn’t like him or the way he made
movies. They didn’t like the way he defied them by going over budget and
schedule, or shooting scenes that they thought weren’t necessary (but which Sam
believed were the heart of the story); and they didn’t like the way he wouldn’t
buckle under. He was a man with a vision, and he would not compromise that
vision, no matter what they did to him. His films were often cut and butchered
after he finished them. Nevertheless, he persevered on, bloodied, battered, and,
in the end, clutching self-destructively at alcohol and drugs to keep going. He
came to an early end in Mexico at age 59 after suffering a heart attack.
Peckinpah started in television. He cut his
teeth on TV westerns, writing 11 half-hour episodes of “Gunsmoke,” creating “The
Rifleman,” and “The Westerner” series and contributing scripts for “Trackdown,”
“Tombstone Territory,” and other shows of that era. Even in those early efforts
you could see the embryonic formation of his thematic ideas. In one “Gunsmoke”
episode, Matt Dillon grieves after accidentally killing a friend in a gunfight.
His friend had told him that he didn’t think much of a man who notched his gun
after a shooting. At his gravesite, Matt notches his own gun for the first and
only time, as a reminder.
“Ride the High Country,” freshly released on
Blu-Ray by the Warner Archive Collection, was Peckinpah’s second feature film.
“The Deadly Companions” had preceded it, but suffered from a low budget and the
heavy-handed influence of an amateur producer. “Ride the High Country” was the
first movie where he had control over the material and could shape it the way
he wanted. It also had the added plus of having two western film legends in the
cast—Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. McCrea is Steve Judd, former lawman of
some note in his earlier years, now an old man who hires on to guard a gold
shipment from the Coarsegold Mine. He may be on in years, but he’s still the
same ramrod straight man he’d always been. He teams up with his old friend Gil
Westrum (Scott), who, in contrast, has let time bend his principles a bit. When
we first see him he is running a phony Wild West shooting gallery, posing as a
Buffalo Bill-type character. When Steve tells him about the shipment of gold
and asks if he knows anybody who’d like to sign on with him for the job, dollar
signs light up in Westrum’s eyes. He joins Judd, bringing along Heck Longtree
(Ron Starr), his young sidekick, telling him he’s pretty sure he can convince
Judd to go along with his plan to steal the gold rather than deliver it to the
bank. It’s the classic Peckinpah set-up. During the ride to the mine, Westrum
keeps working on Judd, dropping hints about how little money they had made as
lawmen. Judd admits he doesn’t have much to show for all those years. He even
has a hole in the sole of his boot to prove it. But when Westrum keeps at him,
asking him what keeps him going, Judd utters the line that everybody quotes
when they talk about this movie: “All I
want is to enter my house justified.”
In Nick Redman’s excellent featurette, “A
Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country,” included as a bonus
feature on the disc, Peckinpah’s sister, Fern Lee Peter, provides some insight
into Peckinpah’s upbringing and the hidden, more sensitive side of his
personality. Sam’s father, a lawyer and later a judge, was a huge influence on
him, and there is a lot of his father in the Judd character—a man of uncompromising
moral rectitude. Sam grew up with his brother, Denver, who was eight years
older, and used to tag along with him and his older friends, trying to put on a
tough front. But he was smaller than the other boys and more sensitive, more like
his mother, to whom he was closer. According to Peter, like her, he “was able
to tell when someone hurt.”
There’s a subplot in “Ride the High Country,”
that reveals that hidden, sensitive side. A young girl, Elsa Knudson (Marriette
Hartley), rides with the bank guards up to the mountain camp to meet her
fiancé, Billy Hammond (James Drury), one of the miners. Billy has three
brothers (Warren Oates, John Davis Chandler, and L. Q. Jones), and a father
(John Anderson). A scruffier, more depraved bunch of characters, you’ve never
met. (All the members of the Hammond clan, by the way, were played by actors
who had appeared in various TV episodes Peckinpah had written—an informal Peckinpah
stock company.) A nightmare wedding
scene presided over by drunken Judge Tolliver (Edgar Buchanan) is shot entirely
from Elsa’s point of view, and anyone who says Peckinpah was misogynistic and insensitive
to women, should watch to see how sympathetically he portrays Elsa’s
The trajectory of the plot follows Judd’s
ultimate clash with Westrum and a final confrontation between them and the
Hammonds. The climax is both redemptive and apotheotic. The final shot of “Ride
the High Country” is, perhaps, one of the simplest and yet most moving images
ever put on film.
The Warner Archive Blu-Ray presents the film
in 1080p High Definition with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Sound is DTS-HD Master
Audio Mono. George Bassman’s somber score sounds good. Picture quality is first
rate and Lucien Ballard’s cinematography of locations in and around Inyo
National Forest never looked better. The disc also includes audio commentary by
the Peckinpah Peckerwoods (Paul Seydor, David Weddle, and Garner Simmons), all
of whom possess extensive Peckinpah knowledge, but tend to go overboard ooh-ing
and ahh-ing over every little thing the director did. It’s a tad annoying but
“Ride the High Country,” is a classic that
every fan of westerns must see and see again. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray is a
“must have” for the true believers out there.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
John M. Whalen is the author of "This Ray Gun for Hire...and Other Tales." Click here to order from Amazon.
Kino Lorber has released a new
DVD edition of John Wayne's late-career detective flick "Brannigan".
The 1975 film takes Wayne out of the saddle and deposits him squarely in
central London ("The Duke's in London. God Save the Queen!" read the
tag line on the film poster.). The "fish-out--of-water" crime
thriller concept began with Don Siegel's outstanding "Coogan's Bluff"
(1968), which inspired Dennis Weaver's hit rip-off TV series
"McCloud". Still, the premise works well with Wayne's tough Chicago
Irish cop Jim Brannigan sent to London to extradite a top crime figure, much as
Clint Eastwood's Coogan was shipped to New York to bring a criminal back to
Arizona. Wayne had gone the detective route the year before in "McQ".
He had originally been offered the role of Dirty Harry but correctly assumed
his fans would not stand for him playing such an anti-Establishment character.
Still, the phenomenal success of that movie made him realize that the Western
genre was in decline and that he'd better switch gears occasionally to keep his
loyal fans on board. Wayne was said to loathe "McQ". It was a
downbeat, cynical look at corruption in the police force. Ironically, for many
of his fans, it is regarded as one of the best films from the latter part of
his career. Teaming Wayne with an ace director, John Sturges, the film provided
the Duke with an intelligent script, surprising plot turns and a
less-than-larger-than-life character to portray. The movie did fairly well
despite Wayne's reservations so perhaps that is why he immediately returned to
the crime film genre with "Brannigan". In reality, Wayne had planned
to do a detective film with this title for at least a decade. A 1964 trade
industry story announced he would begin filming it in "the near East".
The project never happened. When it was dusted off a decade later, it was
temporarily titled "Joe Battle" before mercifully assuming its
"Brannigan" is a crime thriller but the two films are far apart in
terms of style. "Brannigan" is directed by the underrated Douglas
Hickox ("Theatre of Blood", "Zulu Dawn") with emphasis on
humor, as we see Wayne immediately learn that the crime kingpin he is to escort
home (John Vernon) has been allowed to escape. His counterpart is Scotland Yard
Inspector Swan, played by Richard Attenborough. This "Odd
Couple"-like teaming of two radically different acting styles is one of
the true delights of the film. Both Wayne and Attenborough are clearly enjoying
each other's company and their good natured "one-upmanship" provides
plenty of genuine laughs. As the two detectives relentlessly track down their
man, there are plenty of memorable action highlights including a well-staged
car chase that includes a jump over the rising Tower Bridge. There's also a
major, well-staged pub brawl that's right out of the John Ford playbook.
Director Hickox makes the most of London's fabulous sites, which adds
immeasurably to the film's pleasures. (This is only one of two movies to be
shot in London's ultra-exclusive private Garrick Club and Hickox makes the most
of it, showing off the elegant facility for a sequence in which Brannigan and
Swan debate police tactics over lunch.) There is also a spirited, lively
performance by Judy Geeson as a young Scotland Yard detective who enjoys a
playful but platonic relationship with Brannigan. The supporting cast is a
strong one with John Vernon and Mel Ferrer providing the villainy. Ralph
Meeker gets relatively prominent billing but his on-screen appearance lasts little
more than a minute, indicating some of his footage may have been left on the
cutting room floor. The film climaxes with an assassin trying to gun down
Brannigan from a speeding car at the old Beckton Gasworks, a ghastly-looking
industrial facility that was memorably used for the pre-credits sequence of the
1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only". All of this is set to a
zippy jazz score by Dominic Frontiere that is off-beat for a film in this
genre. "Brannigan" is not a late-career Wayne classic in the way
that "The Cowboys" and "The Shootist" can be regarded. But
it is a hell of a lot of fun and provides Wayne with a role that fit him like a
glove. Nearing seventy years old, he could still at this point carry off the
action sequences credibly.
The film has been
available for many years through MGM and Twilight Time released a Blu-ray
limited edition that is now sold out. The Kino Lorber transfer is excellent
with a crisp, clean image that does justice to the London scenery. Sadly, no
commentary track but Kino Lorber does provide the original trailer along with a
gallery of trailers for other action
flicks available from the company. The sleeve also eschews the standard U.S.
artwork of Wayne in a pub brawl in favor of more offbeat artwork from the European
campaign showing the Duke firing a pistol. Recommended.
The Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum has opened a special section dedicated to the 50th anniversary of "You Only Live Twice"that includes original props, rare photos and original storyboards. The Bond in Motion displays also include a virtual history of 007-related props and vehicles. Click here for tickets.
2014 interview with Robert Markowitz, Walter Hill stated ‘I think in casual
conversation I would have told anybody I wanted to direct. At the same time I
knew Hollywood was a closed off place...’ Working as a script writer, Hill
began climbing his way up after working on the script for Hickey & Boggs
(1972). He was then asked by Peter Bogdanovich
to co-write The Getaway (1972), a movie he was lined up to direct with Steve
McQueen. Whilst the script was in its early stages, McQueen fired Bogdanovich
from the project and immediately enlisted Sam Peckinpah to replace him. However,
Walter Hill was given the chance to stay on and instructed to begin rewriting
the script fresh from page one. Six weeks later the script was complete and the
film went on to become a major success. A slice of good fortune perhaps for
Hill, but he still maintains that it was the success of The Getaway that
ultimately determined how he came to be a director. Hollywood may had been
closed off, but it provided Hill with a rare opportunity. In 1973, Hill began
writing the script for Paul Newman’s The Mackintosh Man. It was also the same
year he met producer Lawrence Gordon. Following differences during the writing
of The Drowning Pool (1975), Newman’s revival of private eye Lew Harper, Gordon
invited Hill to Columbia in order to write his next film, Hard Times (1975). Gordon
also agreed that should Hill decide to write the script he would also allow him
to direct the movie.
Hill would later come to be known as a great action auteur, he made a rather
wonderful debut with this pulp triumph. Not only would it conjure an evocative
period atmosphere, but also boast memorable performances from both Charles
Bronson and James Coburn.
plays a drifter suddenly caught up in the fight game during the Great
Depression. Chaney, a down-on-his-luck loner, hops a freight train to New
Orleans where, on the seedier side of town, he tries to make some quick money
the only way he knows how - with his fists. Chaney approaches a hustler named
Speed (James Coburn) and convinces him that he can win big money for them both.
Times still holds up extremely well andBronson keeps his performance low key whilst
maintaining the strong, silent tough guy persona. Bronson was in his fifties
when he took on this role, which did concern Walter Hill to a certain degree.
Nevertheless, Bronson’s Chaney still presents an imposing figure - lean,
chiselled and certainly still got the moves. However, it’s Coburn’s Speed that
almost steals the show. It’s a wonderful, if somewhat sleazy portrayal. For
Speed it’s just about the money, Cold and ruthless, he’s a character who likes
to spend many as fast as he can get it. In many respects it is Bronson who
helps elevate Coburn’s performance – simply because he allows him so much.
Bronson was never going to outwit or outtalk Coburn in the dialogue department;
instead Bronson uses his fists or general physicality in order to convey his
talking. It’s a nicely balanced pay off that works perfectly well and shines on
screen. Strother Martin is also worthy of mentioning as Poe, the ‘cut man’ who
completes the team between hustler and bruiser. Always a classy character
actor, Martin seems to provide a magnetic quality every time he appears on
screen. Jill Ireland again plays
Bronson’s love interest, at Bronson’s request as I believe. Her character of Lucy
is rather one dimensional and adds very little to the overall narrative. It
could have arguably been eliminated completely without ever really upsetting
the nicely paced flow of the film. Hill would later comment that he removed a
great deal of her scenes in the final edit, much to Bronson’s disapproval.
There’s nothing I like better than getting
hold of a movie that I’ve been searching over three decades for and adding it
to my collection. At my age, there aren’t many vintage films left that I don’t
own in one format or another, so when I heard that the 1976 cult classic Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw was getting a
Blu-ray release, I was quite enthused. This movie has somehow always managed to
elude me. It never seemed to play on any of my cable stations in the early 80s,
we never had a copy of it at the video store I worked at in the mid-80s and I
was still never able to find a copy of it anywhere throughout the 90s. To be
honest, by the time the 21st century hit, I completely forgotten
about this movie, so I was pretty surprised and even more excited to find out
that it was not only being released on Blu-ray, but also with quite a few
special features. Why? To begin with, I’m a tremendous fan of the director; not
to mention the entire cast and, last, but not least, I just love fun,
action/crime/drama exploitation films from the 1970s.
Produced and directed by Mark Lester (Truck Stop Women, Roller Boogie, Class of
1984), written by Vernon Zimmerman (Unholy
Rollers, Fade to Black) and released by American International Pictures,
modern western Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
tells the tale of quick-draw expert and Billy the Kid enthusiast Lyle Wheeler
(Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake, Food of the
Gods, Viva Knievel!, Starcrash) who, together with waitress and aspiring
country singer Bobbi Jo Baker (TV’s one and only Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter) experiences a dangerous cross country
adventure filled with love, robbery and murder.
So, was the movie worth the wait? I certainly
think so. It may not be in the same league as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but it’s still an extremely enjoyable,
well-directed, written and acted low-budget feature that definitely deserves to
be seen. To begin with, Mark Lester’s direction is not only solid, but he is
just at home directing the quiet, more character-driven and dramatic/romantic
scenes as he is directing a sequence involving heavy action and stunts. Next
up, Vernon Zimmerman’s wonderful writing not only creates an engaging story,
but interesting and likeable three-dimensional characters as well. Lyle Wheeler
aka the Outlaw, seems to live by his own code and has definite ideas of good
and evil; right and wrong. Marjoe Gortner effortlessly and believably gets all
this across and makes his character quite likeable. (This may be my favorite
Gortner performance.) The stunning Lynda Carter gets to show a bit more range
then she did as Wonder Woman and is extremely convincing as the hopeful and
somewhat naïve Bobbi Jo. The rest of the outrageously talented cast not only
add immensely to the film, but clearly came to play. Jesse Vint (Chinatown, Forbidden World) perfectly
plays Slick Callahan; a wild, not too bright cocaine fiend and boyfriend of
Bobbi Jo’s sister, Pearl. Gorgeous Merrie Lynn Ross (Class of 1984, TVs General
Hospital), who also co-produced the film, brings a hardened heart quality
to slightly ditzy stripper Pearl, and the always welcome Belinda Balaski (Piranha, The Howling) shines as hippie
waitress Essie Beaumont. Rounding out the top-notch cast is Gene Drew (Truck Stop Women) as a no-nonsense
sheriff, B-movie legend Gerrit Graham (Beware!
The Blob, Phantom of the Paradise, The Annihilators, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the
C.H.U.D.) as a helpful hippie, Virgil Frye (Graduation Day), who replaced Dennis Hopper, as a macho gas station
attendant with something to prove, Peggy Stewart (Alias Billy the Kid, Beyond Evil) as Bobbi Jo’s alcoholic mom, and
James Gammon (Major League) as a fast
Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three is perhaps the legendary
director’s most underrated film. There are several reasons for this, many having
to do with the impressively high standards set by Wilder’s own prior work. On
the heels of Some Like It Hot (1959)
and The Apartment (1960), this 1961
film seems infinitely more perceptive, but it doesn’t have that “classic
Hollywood” sheen. It is every bit as acerbic as Wilder’s other overlooked
masterpiece, Ace in the Hole (1951),
but the pointed politics of One, Two,
Three make it somewhat less popularly appreciable than the earlier film’s
media reproach (though both are supremely relevant today). More than anything,
the fact of the matter is that by 1961, Wilder’s finest hours did lay behind
him, in part evinced by more than a dozen Oscar nominations and six wins. With
everything considered, maybe One, Two,
Three doesn’t live up to Wilder’s more acclaimed predecessors, but what
films do? Forgoing that delimitation, though, this riotous Cold War comedy
deserves due credit. And now that Kino Lorber has released the picture on an
excellent new Blu-ray, this is as good a time as any.
Set in 1961
Berlin, straddling the border between East and West Germany and sitting at a
precarious cultural and political crossroads, One, Two, Three is the portrait of a divided city, where the communist
side goes about its daily business of parading, while its democratic half grows
under the influence of Western, specifically American, culture—pop (in two
senses of the word) or otherwise. And what could be more American than an
emblematic bottle of Coca-Cola? Hoping to strike a deal that cracks the Iron Curtain
and allows for the East German distribution of this iconic beverage is C.R.
MacNamara, played with great gusto by James Cagney. Balancing family with
business and patriotism with commerce, MacNamara is the quintessential “no
culture, just cash” ugly American. Angling to become a high-ranking executive
in the Coca-Cola company, he is put in the arduous position of babysitter when
his stateside boss gives him the irksome task of keeping tabs on his daughter,
the blustery ditz Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin).
Pining for a
promotion, MacNamara accepts the responsibility while also contending with his
home life—two children and his jaded wife, Phyllis (Arlene Francis)—and his
office life—some overly-disciplined desk jockeys and a sexy secretary named
Fräulein Ingeborg, played by the Swiss Liselotte (Lilo) Pulver. Things go from
better to bad to worse when Scarlett’s nighttime excursions plant her firmly in
the arms, and the bed, of comrade Otto Piffl (Horst Buchholz), an ardent East
German communist who steals Scarlett’s heart and indoctrinates her bubblehead
with anti-capitalist sentiment, something very much in opposition to
MacNamara’s corporate responsibilities and her father’s livelihood. With the
Hazeltine family en route, and a baby on the way (the pregnant Scarlett is just
17, mind you), One, Two, Three
becomes a hilariously rapid race-against-the-clock skirmish over ideals,
politics, family, and, of course, soda.
barreling train on its tracks is Cagney’s MacNamara, a blustering whirlwind of fierce
mannerisms, bold proclamations, and often dubious motivations. In the biting words
of Wilder and his frequent co-writer I. A. L. Diamond, the innuendo between
MacNamara and the voluptuous Ingeborg is unexpectedly risqué (he’s fascinated
by the nature of her “umlaut”), while
the incessant banter gives His Girl
Friday a run for its rapid-fire money. MacNamara declares that the East
Germans are “shifty” people, and he should know; he’s as shifty as they come.
He’s a high-anxiety blowhard and an unscrupulous schemer, and with his terse
delivery, Cagney plays the part in a brisk nod to his wise-guy persona. At the
same time, the relentless verbal pace is amplified by star’s physical dynamism,
revealing Cagney’s dance-driven proficiency as well as his oral aptitude.
the pantheon of recorded and performance comedy, right there on the first
floor, you will find a monument to the Firesign Theater. How they began to
occupy that hallowed estate is the subject of a new DVD called Everything You Know is Wrong --The Declassified
Firesign Theater 1968-1975, released on the Bright Red Rocket label.. Like most enthusiasts, I became acquainted with
their mind-blowing material as a high school and college student who was just
learning to appreciate the wit and wisdom of these modern thespians.
those of you who were not alive in those glorious years, or were distracted by
the British Invasion called Monty Python, the Firesign Theater was our own,
100% American comedy troupe comprised of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David
Ossman, and Philip Proctor. Best known for their comedy albums on Columbia
records (including such unique titles as “Waiting for the Electrician or
Someone Like Him,” “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not
Anywhere At All,” and my personal favorite, “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me
the Pliers.”) The title of this DVD is taken from their 1974 Columbia record,
“Everything You Know Is Wrong.” Defined by many as “surrealistic comedy,” I
don’t think the adjective is necessary. This is comedy that puts a smile on
your face, and a laugh in your heart, and isn’t that what comedy is supposed to
do—regardless of how it gets you there.
from radio performances at KPPC-FM and KPFK in Los Angeles, they excelled in
creating images in your imagination of people, sounds, and situations—absurd,
irreverent, and downright funny. The DVD set fills in the blanks for the fans
who followed them over the years, and creates a need for all those record
albums in those who will discover them through this compilation.
one starts with an audio only program taken from “The Les Crane Show” in April
1968. This Firesign Theater performance was a live re-creation of their “Oz
Film Festival” routine (listed in the LA Times TV listing as an “Art Movie
Put-on”) –based on an improvisation from the first time they worked together on
“Radio Free Oz” in November 1966. There is no known recording of that first
performance which makes this recording hysterically important. While Crane’s
show was televised, only the audio has survived, because it was taped by a
member of the Firesign while standing in front of his television set.
Crane’s interview is especially fascinating because it sounds, at first blush,
like a serious interview with serious film artists. The nervous laughter of the
studio audience demonstrates that they were not sure either if it was an act or
not. I found their unique film techniques quite believable not only for the
time, but even today. I only wish I could have seen the production still which
Jeanclaude Jeanclaude brought with him from his film “2002” which showed golf-balls and a coffeepot in space.
also wish I knew what the viewers thought, when they watched the commercials
the troupe did for the Jack Poet Volkswagen dealership in Highland Park,
California. Wonder no longer, as you can see them for yourself in the second
section of disc one. You can view them all with commentary by the group, but
why would you want to do that? I listened to commentary because I had to. You
can just focus on their message—which was designed to sell something. I’m not
sure it was cars. I guess it only goes to prove that everything I know is
the liner notes for “The Jack Poet Volkswagen TV Ads,” the Firesign Theater
claim partial responsibility for Jack eventually losing his Volkswagen
franchise. I find that hard to believe. Those were some hot cars in those ads. They
must have sold a lot of Love Bugs to those who followed Tony Gomez’s directions
up the Pan American Freeway from South America to Highland Park.
who was the man polishing the Bugs in the background? The unknown member of the
Firesign? Will we ever find out? Well, stand-by readers! Philip Proctor reports
to me that, as this piece goes to press, “That man is Jack Poet,” himself!
Immortalized in this two disc set.
Director John G. Avildsen has passed away from pancreatic cancer. He had an eclectic body of work that began in earnest with his work as a cinematographer on several high profile films of the 1960s including "Hurry Sundown" and "Mickey One". Avildsen graduated to the director's chair with the surprise indie hit "Joe" in 1970 a serio-comic look at an ultra conservative working man (Peter Boyle) whose rage boils over from what he believes are anti-American protest movements against the Vietnam War. Three years later Avildsen directed the acclaimed drama "Save the Tiger" which won Jack Lemmon the Best Actor Oscar. In 1976 he directed the most unlikely of blockbusters, "Rocky", which won the Best Picture Oscar. Avildsen took home the Best Director award. He also scored with the "Karate Kid" franchise and also directed the zany comedy "Neighbors" with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as well as "The Formula" with Marlon Brando and George C. Scott and the 1990 sequel "Rocky V". He was working on new film projects when he succumbed to cancer. Click here for more.
Olive Films has released the now obscure 1941 British film noir "Pimpernel Smith" starring Leslie Howard, who also directed. The movie (known as "Mister V" in the United States) was released in 1941 at a time when England was hanging on by a thin thread as Hitler dominated most of Europe. As with all of the countries involved in WWII, the British film industry relied heavily on top stars appearing in inspiring movies that would boost public morale. This was especially true in England which saw its major ally, France, capitulate to Hitler in a matter of weeks, leaving the island nation standing alone against the Nazi menace. . At the time "Pimpernel Smith" was released in July 1941 (American would not enter the war until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of that year), the Brits were enjoying a spate of good news. After the disastrous experience of the British expedition force in Dunkirk, the nation had been subjected to the Blitz, the daily bombing by the Luftwaffe. London was especially hard hit in what Hitler had hoped to be a strategy that would have destroyed the RAF and led to his massive invasion of England. Instead, after a year of bitter fighting, the RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and Hitler put his invasion plans on hold as he dealt with the consequences of his misguided incursion into the Soviet Union. With the Battle of Britain now over, the Brits could catch their breath and resume normal activities such as attending the cinema without worrying about being bombed into oblivion. Apparently "Pimpernel Smith" was an especially popular boxoffice hit in 1941, though the film's reputation as faded into oblivion in the decades since.
Howard's film production is a modern, loosely-based version of the classic "The Scarlet Pimpernel"- one of the first famous tales in which the dynamic hero hides behind a meek and mild alter ego to keep his identity secret. The story is set in the months before England went to war with the Axis powers following Germany's invasion of Poland. Howard plays Prof. Horatio Smith, a tweedy, eccentric academic who teaches at Cambridge. He arranges to take a group of his male students on a field trip to Germany ostensibly to undertake an archaeological expedition to prove that an ancient Aryan culture had once existed there- a notion that appeals to the xenophobic Nazi establishment. In reality, Smith is the unlikely anonymous hero whose exploits are filling the newspapers with tales of adventure, much to the delight of the British and the consternation of the Germans. Through daring schemes that border on the outrageous, Smith has been able to rescue important political prisoners from jails and concentration camps. His latest foray into Germany is designed to rescue Sidmir Koslowski (Peter Gawthorne), a Polish intellectual who is of value to the Allies. He has been arrested by the Germans on suspicion of being a spy. As the field trip gets under way, Smith plays up his role as an absent-minded professor, much to the amusement of his students. However, when he receives a flesh wound during one of his nocturnal secret missions, the boys catch on and insist that they be enlisted into helping Smith free Koslowski. Smith reluctantly concedes to accept their help. On the surface, Smith is treated as an honored guest by the Germans but the local military commander, General von Graum (Francis L. Sullivan) strongly suspects he is actually the "Pimpernel" and is determined to prove it and arrest him before any more prisoners can be freed. Von Graum forcibly enlists the services of Koslowski's beautiful daughter Ludmilla (Mary Morris) and makes her serve as a spy, holding her father's well-being over her head as collateral. Her mission is to seduce Smith if necessary in order to get proof of his extracurricular activities. Predictably, the two fall in love and Smith now not only has to rescue Koslowski, but his daughter as well.
Despite the fact that Leslie Howard was at the height of his career coming off of his role as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind", "Pimpernel Smith" is a low-budget film that resembles a Poverty Row production. Perhaps resources and funding for films in wartime Britain were scarce even for a movie with strong propaganda value such as this. Virtually the entire film was shot on soundstages- and rather claustrophobic ones at that. City views glimpsed through windows are represented by low-grade matte paintings and there are only a few fleeting shots of actual exteriors. It's to Howard's credit as star and director as well as the screenwriters that the movie overcomes these distractions with a highly engrossing story line that builds in interest and suspense during the two-hour running time. Howard is in top form and he is more than matched by Francis L. Sullivan who makes for a larger-than-life villain in both the figurative and literal sense of the term. Sullivan uses his considerable girth and wry delivery to channel the best characteristics of Charles Laughton and Sydney Greenstreet. The witty script allows some wonderful byplay as Smith and von Graum maintain a superficial politeness even though they both regard each other as mortal enemies engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of strategy. Mary Morris makes for a lovely leading lady though the male actors who play Smith's students are so wholesome as to come across as absurd. It doesn't help matters that the styles of the era make them appear to look older than Smith.
It's a pity that there were no further adventures of Pimpernel Smith. However, real-life tragedy intervened when Leslie Howard was flying back to England from neutral Portugal in 1943 aboard a civilian aircraft. The plane was shot down by German fighters and all aboard were killed. Germany claimed the tragedy was an error but theories persist that his may have been targeted because of rumors that Churchill was aboard. Another theory was that the Germans wanted Howard dead in retribution for an Allied propaganda campaign he had been carrying out in Spain and Portugal. (For full analysis of the conspiracy theories behind Howard's death, read this entry on Wikipedia.) Thus, one of the film industry's most popular leading men had his life cut short due to the war even though he wasn't serving in combat."Pimpernel Smith" is a modest film but one that resonates very well today and gives us a full appreciation of Howard's talents as both actor and director. The Olive Blu-ray is sans any extras, which is a pity because of the aforementioned dramatic elements of Howard's life that would make for a good commentary track. However, the picture transfer is very impressive and does justice to the fine cinematography of Mutz Greenbaum.
Tim Sarnoff Technicolor's President of Production, addresses attendees.
energy was building, the drones were flying and the mood was celebratory as
Technicolor officially opened its brand-new Culver City TEC Center dedicated to
the brave new worlds of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and other immersive
official name is “Technicolor Experience Center”, and it’s been having a “soft”
opening for almost a year, but now the doors are really open... The facility
is a collaborative lab and incubator to develop future content and delivery
platforms in the Immersive media space. “The TEC is really a work in progress,”
explains Marcie Jastrow, Technicolor’s SVP Immersive Media and the executive in
charge of the Center. “It’s a safe place for people to come and learn. It’s part education, part production and part
post-production.” Although Technicolor is the parent company of hot VFX shops
The Mill, MPC and Mr. X, which combined work on fully 80% of Hollywood
blockbusters and 50% of Super Bowl spots, the TEC is agnostic – meaning they
welcome all producers and projects.
“Technicolor” and most people think old time movie color, but as Tim Sarnoff,
Technicolor’s President of Production points out, “We processed our last foot
of film in 2015, we’ve been growing in the digital space for years.” Technicolor owns over 40,000 patents and is
ubiquitous today. “Everyone touches something that involves Technicolor,” says
Sarnoff, “… from your smartphone, TV, set-top boxes, blockbuster movies to
Super Bowl commercials.”
cool item on display was “The Blackbird” a VR vehicle designed by The Mill that
has been transforming auto advertising because it can mimic almost any type of
car and its unique 3D camera rig can capture a virtual version of any
environment. Along with making auto ad
shoots easier, The Blackbird (named because it was built in the very same
hangar where the legendary spy plane, SR-71, was constructed) can also help automotive
designers envision a new vehicle much earlier in the design process.
400 people crowded Technicolor’s new space – designers, directors, executives
from gaming, TV, film studios and technologists, all curious about the night’s other
big announcement: Technicolor and HP’s new collaboration: MARS Home Planet, an
ambitious project to use VR to design a life-sustaining environment for 1
million humans on the Martian surface. Hopefully we don’t have to flee Mother
Earth just yet (!) but this will be a vast experiment where students and
members of the public worldwide are invited to participate.
Blackbird VR vehicle.
wanted to tap into the collective human imagination and inspiration to reinvent
life on another planet…” enthuses Sean Young, HP’s Worldwide Segment Manager,
Product Development. He also pointed out
that while HP is known for its printers, they’ve been working in the film and
media space for 75 years, starting with building a color grader for Walt
Home Planet uses NASA’s research and footage of the Martian surface to create a
realistic backdrop for engineers, creatives, scientists and others to reimagine
what human life on another planet could be. Wanna be an astronaut? Go to hp.com/go/mars. The first 10,000 explorers get a download
code for the Fusion Mars 2030 VR Experience.
All things come to those who wait. Having somehow inexcusably missed actor/writerJim Brochu's award-winning play "Zero Hour" that depicts the controversial life and career of Zero Mostel, I was able to see the show's most recent revival at the Theatre at St. Clement's which is just off Broadway. The show is presented by the Peccadillo Theatre Company, which specializes in staging worthy productions in the prestigious venue that is just off Broadway. For Brochu, the one-man show is a triumph.. He wrote the script himself and the production is directed with flair by three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie. Mostel was a larger-than-life talent and he is played with uncanny skill by Brochu, who somehow makes himself into the spitting image of the iconic actor (he doesn't bare the slightest resemblance to Mostel off-stage). The imaginative scenario finds the entire play set in Mostel's New York painting studio in 1977, shortly before his untimely death at age 62. (It was news to me that painting was his real passion and that he considered acting a sideline that paid the rent.) When the story opens, Mostel welcomes a New York Times reporter who is there to conduct an interview. "Welcomes" is perhaps not the proper word: Mostel addresses the unseen writer with a barrage of insults and quips that appear to be only partly said in jest. As Mostel unveils the story of his life, he is simultaneously busy painting a portrait of his guest. He relates his humble beginnings in Brooklyn and his respect for his hard-working, honest father. His parents were Orthodox Jews and his mother never forgave him for marrying outside the religion. The strained relationship apparently lasted until his mother was literally on her death bed and she refused to greet Zero's young son Josh because he was the product of a mixed marriage. Much of the show covers Mostel's diversified acting career, which came about quite accidentally. He was on a trajectory toward fame and fortune when he had the misfortune of falling under suspicion during the McCarthy era. Called before a committee with a demand to save his career by naming colleagues who were alleged to be communists, Mostel refused. Consequently, he was blacklisted for years with devastating effect on his psyche, not to mention his finances. Mostel airs his grievances against those artists who "named names", such as Elia Kazan and up-and-coming legendary Broadway director Jerome Robbins. Years later, however, he would work with Robbins despite his personal revulsion of the man because he recognized he was an artistic genius.
During the 90 minute production (played without intermission), Brochu's intense performance makes you think you are actually watching Mostel himself. He rails, rants, raves and charms. Mostel was capable of making crowds laugh uproariously but at the same time was known to be a challenge to work with. Mostel addresses these character flaws in the story, admitting some faults but denying others. One must keep in mind that the show is not an objective overview of his career simply because it presents Mostel relating his own version of his personal history. He tells fascinating stories about his most famous roles in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and as the original Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof"- and denounces the film version of the latter because he wasn't asked to star in it (allegedly because he was too difficult to work with) He also dismisses his cinematic triumph in Mel Brooks' "The Producers", saying that he hated the film because "I looked like a beached whale". If all Brochu offered was the Mostel who possessed a volcanic temper, the show would be unbearable. Who would want to spend 90 minutes with such a boor? However, he also shows us Mostel's softer, sentimental side especially when it came to him remaining loyal to the people who stood by him during the blacklisting years. (Burgess Meredith is singled out for praise as is his friend, Philip Loeb, who committed suicide because he was blacklisted). Mostel also proudly embraces his liberal political views, repeatedly pointing out that he agreed to have Jerome Robbins hired for his plays because to not do so would have been the equivalent of blacklisting - something Mostel felt the political left should never be responsible for. Strangely, the play doesn't make mention of Mostel's final film appearance in the 1976 movie "The Front", a scathing indictment of McCarthyism that was created by people who had been blacklisted (director Martin Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and Mostel, among them.)
"Zero Hour" is a remarkable achievement about the life of a great talent whose name is in danger of fading into oblivion. If younger people know who he is it's largely because of "The Producers"- if they even know about the film. However, for now, Mostel's and legend are alive and well on the stage of the Theatre at St. Clementine's. The production runs through July 9. Don't miss it- this is New York theater at its very best.
was a time when movies about the Vietnam War were sparse if non existent,
especially during the years when the war was raging (one of the rare exceptions
being John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” in 1968). Once popular movie genres like the
war movie and western were prolific on television and in cinemas, but were beginning
to fall out of favor in the 1970s. They were being reinvented and metamorphosed
into post modern psychological examinations of the nature of violence and war. Hollywood
commonly referenced the Vietnam War by creating characters in movies depicted
as dysfunctional or they commented on the war by setting the movie during a
different war “The Sand Pebbles” and “M*A*S*H” are outstanding examples of
Vietnam War movies in disguise).
Tell the Spartans” was part of the small tide of movies about that war released
in the late seventies and eighties. The 1978 release features a terrific
performance by Burt Lancaster as well as an interesting supporting cast of up and
coming actors. The film's opening prologue states: "In 1954, the French
lost their war to keep their Indo-China colonies and those colonies became
North and South Vietnam. Then the North aided a rebellion in the South and the
United States sent in 'Military Advisors' to help South Vietnam fight the
Communists. In 1964, the war in Vietnam was still a little one -- confused and
is war weary Army Major Asa Barker, commander of a South Vietnam outpost in
1964. A veteran of WWII and Korea, Barker commands a small group of American
advisors at the outpost on the eve of the American build-up in Vietnam. His
command also includes a few South Vietnamese soldiers and villagers as he
negotiates with the corrupt regional governor to ensure his troops receive
proper artillery cover as they engage North Vietnamese forces.
second in command is Captain Alfred Olivetti (Marc Singer), a capable junior
officer almost as jaded as Barker. They are assisted by the capable Signalman
Toffee (Hilly Hicks) who is always ready with communications to headquarters
before being asked. Replacements arrive at the outpost and they include the
usual assortment of misfits, fence sitters, thoughtful soldiers and a gung-ho
newly commissioned lieutenant. Corporal Stephen Courcey (Craig Wasson) is the college
drop-out eager to serve his country by helping the South Vietnamese. Sergeant
Oleonowski (Jonathan Goldsmith) is an experienced veteran near to reaching his
breaking point. Lieutenant Raymond Hamilton (Joe Unger) is the recently
commissioned officer a little too eager to engage the enemy and Corporal
Abraham Lincoln (Dennis Howard) is the opium addicted stoner. Cowboy (Evan Kim)
is Barker’s Vietnamese scout who is a bit zealous in his methods of enemy
interrogation. Character actor James Hong is also present as one of the
villagers assisting the Americans.
and his men are ordered on an expedition to an abandoned French military
outpost to report on enemy activity. They encounter the fort cemetery with 300
French graves from the First Indochina War where a sign written in French quotes
the Greek historian Herodotus referencing the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.
Greece; "Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient
to their orders." The men soon find themselves engaging an overwhelming
force of Viet Cong. The soldiers realize the similarities between their
expedition and the doomed French soldiers who died there 10 years earlier as
they make a stand against the Viet Cong. Several of the characters succumb to
their fate as happens in all war movies, but the film does this in a sincere
depiction of the futility of war in a way that honors those who serve and
on Daniel Ford’s 1967 novel, “Incident at Muc Wa,” the title was changed to “Go
Tell the Spartans” by screenwriter Wendell Mayes. Ford based the novel on his
experiences covering the war for “The Nation.” The novel covers what is historically
known as “Operation Blaze.” Mayes beefed up the character of Barker in the
hopes a major Hollywood actor could be coaxed into taking the part. After
several years in development Hell, Lancaster accepted the part under the
direction of Ted Post for Avco Embassy. The movie literally had a spartan
budget and was shot on location in California which doubled for the jungles of
Southeast Asia. “The Green Berets” suffered from a similar lack of location
filming and it’s a glaring liability in both films. If the viewer can overlook
this and accept pine trees for jungle palms, the movie works quite well as a compelling
war drama with expertly staged battle scenes.
Scorpion Blu-ray release looks and sounds terrific with a running time of 115
minutes. The new high definition transfer in widescreen is a vast improvement over
the previous 2006 DVD release. Extras on the disc include interviews with cast
members Marc Singer, Joe Unger, David Clennon, Jonathan Goldsmith and director
Ted Post. The interviews include interesting anecdotes on working with Burt
Lancaster and the process of bringing the movie to the big screen. If you own
the 2006 DVD, this Blu-ray is a worthy upgrade and recommended for fans of the
benefit of those unfamiliar with the events that preceded The Amityville Horror’s arrival on screen, I'll start with a little
backstory. In November 1974 one Ronald DeFeo murdered six members of his family
in their home at 112 Ocean Avenue on Long Island, New York. 13 months later
George and Kathleen Lutz, along with her three children from a previous
marriage, moved in; unperturbed by the gruesome events of a year earlier, they
had purchased the property at a bargain price. The family fled the premises
just shy of a month later, claiming to have experienced a succession of
terrifying paranormal events. Their experiences soon became the subject of a
book by Jay Anson, published in 1977. Following extensive studies by a number
of parapsychology experts, many of the Lutzes stories would later be debunked,
but at the time the couple became something of a media sensation. Director
Stuart Rosenberg's film – which, as movies will, played a little economical
with the facts (at least as they were laid out in Anson's book) – was released
in 1979 and not only proved to be a major hit for American International
Pictures but was one of the highest grossing ever independents to that time.
So, did any of those paranormal incidents really take place, or was it all just
canny media manipulation? George and Kathleen are dead, both having passed away
prematurely in 2006 and 2004, respectively, so the true story will probably
never be known. But that house on Ocean Avenue has changed hands five times
since the Lutzes left – with the owners having modified the building's facade
and getting the address legally changed in a bid to dissuade tourists from
pestering them – and there has never been another report of an untoward
occurrence. One can make of that what one will. In any event, back in the 70s
George and Kathleen Lutz appeared to enjoy the attention their alleged
misfortune brought them and considerable monies were generated. And at the end
of the day the possibility that, actually, it wasn't all a hoax affords the whole business an enduring appeal.
Rosenberg's film spawned a dozen spin-offs and sequels and was itself remade in
2005. On a final historical note, in a 1980 episode of the British TV series Hammer House of Horror entitled The House That Bled to Death a family are
driven out of their new home in the wake of a number of paranormal events. They
sell their story for a substantial sum and the tale ends with them living a
life of luxury and the revelation that they fabricated everything for the
money, although there's one final devilish twist in which...well, I won't ruin
it here; those interested in the Amityville phenomenon, on which The House That Bled to Death was clearly
riffing, will find it well worth seeking out.
to the 1979 film itself. I first saw The
Amityville Horror theatrically (twice) upon its initial UK release early in
1980 – six months after its US opening the previous summer. Although its
effervescence has diminished somewhat in the intervening years, back then the
belief that I was witnessing what were supposedly true events added a distinct
frisson to the proceedings.
married George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) move into a
large property on Long Island, the site of a familial massacre just a year
earlier. A succession of relatively minor incidents – inexplicable odours,
toilet bowls ejaculating viscous black gunge – begin to tarnish the happy
household, and George's health plummets. After priest and friend of the family
Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) is driven out by an unseen presence whilst he's in
the process of blessing the house, the abnormal occurrences intensify and it
becomes apparent that the residue of something evil is at work. When George's mood
darkens and his sanity begins to unravel, Kathy starts to fear for the lives of
her entire family.
The Amityville Horror
was co-produced by Elliot Geisinger and Ronald Saland, known primarily for a
number of behind-the-scenes shorts they directed and produced throughout the
60s and 70s. But the name that stands out here is that of executive producer
Samuel Z Arkoff, instantly recognisable to movie buffs from Vincent Price
horrors (Cry of the Banshee, The Abominable Dr Phibes and its sequel,
Dr Phibes Rises Again), through
blaxploitation classics (Coffy, Blacula, Slaughter) to clunky monster flicks (The People That Time Forgot, The
Food of the Gods, Empire of the Ants);
if Arkoff's name was on it you always knew you were in for a fun ride. And The Amityville Horror is nothing if not
Stuart Rosenberg, working from a Sandor Stern screenplay, conjures up an
efficient little creepy embroidered with all the standard haunted house tropes;
bumps in the night, thunderstorms, blood-spattered dream sequences, bricked-up
cubbyholes, tormented babysitters, and at one point the hoariest of them all,
the sudden appearance of a howling cat. But there are also enough genuinely efficacious
jumps and starts throughout to keep viewers on their toes. The whole shebang
gets strong backing from a terrific Lalo Schifrin score, its haunting (no pun
intended) nursery rhyme theme – the sound of chanting children set against low
strings combining to invoke a crawling sense of ill-ease – surely ranking among
the composer's finest works. It was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Score of
1979 but lost out to George Delerue's A
There’s enough cross-plot evidence to suggest that some ideas
woven into World Without End (Allied
Artists, 1956) were based in part on H.G. Wells’ classic 1895 novel The Time Machine.Wells’ immortal tale would, of course, soon follow
the less-celebrated World Without End
as a lavish, big-screen Hollywood feature of 1960.Though director-writer Edward Bernds readily admitted
to familiarity with Wells’ The Time
Machine, he insisted his screenplaywas
a wholly original creation.Though the
similarities between the two works cannot be discounted, Bernds refutation has
merit. Certainly modern science-fiction’s fascinations with time and space
travel were hardly of the abstract, and most certainly predated Wells’ own
literary musings on the subject.
That said, Bernds World
Without End is of its own time and primarily a stereotypical 1950s Cold
War-era vehicle. It’s a call for a
return to reason and détente in the decade following the game-changing horrors
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The real
monsters in this film are neither the over-sized arachnids nor the ambling Cyclops-Neanderthals. Instead it’s the hawkish politicians, generals,
diplomats and scientists who recklessly helped dress the stage for earth’s inevitable
apocalypse. There’s little denying this
is a “message” film. Even before the
credits roll, the film opens dramatically with a grim, red-tinted vision of an
atomic mushroom cloud spiraling heavenward.
It is March of 1957, and the U.S. has sent a spacecraft on
mankind’s first ever flight to red planet Mars. Surprisingly, the four man crew is not scheduled to touch down on the
Martian surface; this flight is purely a reconnaissance mission in which they
are tasked to twice orbit Mars for photo-mapping. In Washington D.C., Pentagon officials,
members of the press, and distraught family members have become increasingly anxious
as contact with the spaceship has been lost. The astronauts onboard are less concerned. They realize this breakdown in communication is
merely temporary, likely the result of their spacecraft entering Mars’ magnetic
Unfortunately and unbeknownst to the crew, on the return
voyage home, the spaceship accidentally wanders into a time displacement vortex. The craft crashes into a snowy region that the
rattled astronauts – all of whom have miraculously survived – not unreasonably
assume is one of Mars’ famed polar icecaps. It’s not, as they soon recognize when exiting the craft without the
assistance of oxygen helmets or pressure suits. Journeying from the snow-capped mountain, they dimly recognize the
outline of the Rockies, believing they might have somehow landed on the border
of Idaho and Wyoming, or perhaps that of Colorado and New Mexico.
They quickly begin to have their doubts when they wander
into a cave and are attacked by giant spiders “as big as dogs!” Surviving that
sticky encounter with the assistance of their pistols, an overnight campout under
the stars is summarily ruined when they’re viciously attacked by – and barely
stave off - a gang of marauding Cyclops-Neanderthals who brandish primitive
hand weapons. Taking supposed safe harbor
in still another cave, the crew is trapped inside when a steel panel
mysteriously descends from above. Their
abductors are, to the great relief of all, friends.
They learn from a panel of paternal, subterranean elders
referred as “The Council,” that they are indeed back on earth. But it’s now the year 2508, some 551 years
since they had first been launched into orbit. They also learn that the earth was almost entirely destroyed in the
“Great Blow” of 2188. This was the year
of Armageddon when “man destroyed himself” through foolish use of atomic weaponry
and the absence of wisdom.
For a film director with
such an iconic resume, there’s a surprising scarcity of scholarly books devoted
to Robert Wise, the man who directed such classics as "West Side Story" (1961), "The Haunting" (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Curse of the Cat People”
(1944), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) and
many other critical and commercial successes. To say nothing of his stature as
the man who edited “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
before taking up decades-long residence in the director’s chair.
Wise brought a self-effacing
approach to directing, one that never drew attention to itself. He may have had
the most “invisible” style of all the major directors from Hollywood’s Golden
Era, which no doubt helps explain why he never had the auteur imprimatur conferred
upon him by French critics who swooned over Welles’ baroque visuals, Douglas
Sirk’s melodramatic excess, and Howard Hawks’ male-bonding thematic.
characteristics of a Wise film were subtler, if no less crucial: the ability to
advance the narrative through visuals, seamless editing, an unfailing command
of pace, the ability to draw consistent performances from his casts. His
adaptability and mastery of all aspects of filmmaking helped him excel across every
genre. Noir, sci-fi, horror, westerns, musicals, romances—Wise made outstanding
films in each of these categories.
In what is surely good news
for fans of Robert Wise and classic films in general, Joe Jordan, film historian
and author of “Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle,” has filled an
important gap in film scholarship with his new book, “Robert Wise: The Motion
Pictures.” As the title implies, this is not a biography, but an in-depth study
of Wise’s films. The book’s length, 500 pages, testifies to the prodigious
research Jordan conducted on his subject.
Jordan’s approach is rather
unique. He provides an extended synopsis and assessment of each film, bookended
by contextual information relating to pre- and post-production issues and interspersed
with relevant dialog exchanges and copious film stills. These analytical
synopses, for want of a better term, are so lengthy and detailed that readers
are likely to find themselves running the films through their heads as Jordan
provides his own running commentary on how Wise achieved certain effects
through camera setups, staging of action, direction of actors, attention to
sound, and so on. Even if one has an intimate familiarity with Wise’s films,
Jordan continually surprises with his insight and observations, and makes one
want to watch them all over again.
Another highlight of the
book are the personal recollections from many of the actors and actresses who
performed in Wise’s films. These oral histories, some of which run to several
pages, are also deftly woven into the overall narrative. The contributors are
an interesting bunch. None of them are superstars per se (not all are actors,
either), and while some names are more familiar than others, all are extremely
talented professionals who made significant contributions to Wise’s films. It’s
refreshing to read fresh perspectives from personalities not often heard from. There’s
an unassuming tone to each of their recollections, which is fitting, given the
modest, self-effacing nature of the man they’re discussing. Their memories are informative
and entertaining, all of them linked by the greatest respect for their subject.
Stunt man Jack Young recalls
doubling for James Cagney on “Tribute to a Bad Man” (1956), and being impressed
by the relaxed yet professional atmosphere on Wise’s set—a recurring claim made
by everyone who worked on his films. Young offers a superbly concise description
of Wise as “a good director who cracked a soft whip.” He also reveals some
interesting facts about the nature of his profession in the 1940s and ’50s,
when stunt men also served as stand-ins and lighting doubles for actors, a
practice no longer allowed.
(1969; U.S. release, 1970), “Adios Sabata”
(1970; U.S. release, 1971), and “Return of Sabata” (1971; U.S. release, 1972)
are often referred to as “The Sabata Trilogy,” thanks to clever marketing by
MGM, which originally released the three Italian Westerns theatrically and on
home video here in the States. Technically, “trilogy” is a misnomer. As I noted in an article review on this site in 2014, “Adios, Sabata” was released in Italy
in 1970 as “Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di...,” with
Yul Brynner as the title character Indio Black. It was rebranded for distribution in the U.S. and some European markets
when “Sabata,” starring Lee Van Cleef, turned a profit for MGM and producer
Alberto Grimaldi. Commercially, it was a
smart move, keeping the Sabata name on marquees until the true Van Cleef
tornato Sabata... hai chiuso un'altra volta!,” followed in American theaters as
“Return of Sabata” in the Watergate summer of 1972. For a longer analysis of the first Van Cleef
movie, not included in the review that follows, see the 2014 review.
Mr. Magoo would mistake Yul Brynner and Lee Van Cleef for each other, but
reviewers had an “Oh, well,” attitude about the casting, simply assuming that
Brynner had stepped in for Van Cleef between the first and third movies. Audiences didn’t seem to notice or care. Anyway, many of the same credits appeared on
all three films, ensuring some continuity of style: producer Grimaldi, director
“Frank Kramer,” actually the Americanized alias of Gianfranco Parolini,
scriptwriters Parolini and Renato Izzo, and supporting actors Pedro Sanchez,
Nick Jordan, and Gianni Rizzo. The
strategy probably benefitted the three films over the long haul, as well. With genre pictures, series tend to have more
staying power than stand-alone titles. On DVD, MGM Home Video released the three movies in 2006 both as
individual discs and as a boxed set under the “Sabata Trilogy” label. Kino Lorber Studio Classics produced a
Blu-ray edition of “Sabata” for the U.S. market in 2014, and now has completed
its set with “Adios, Sabata” and “Return of Sabata,” released simultaneously as
“Adios, Sabata,” Brynner’s title character signs up for a caper to steal the
Emperor Maximilian’s imperial gold from murderous Col. Skimmel (Gerard Herter)
and turn it over to Juarez’s good-guy Mexican revolutionaries. The “inside man” for Sabata at Skimmel’s
military post, and alternately his rival for the gold, is Ballantine (Dean
Reed), a portraitist and con artist. Lots of explosions ensue, along with chases, battles, gunfights, and
trick weaponry (like Sabata’s rifle magazine that also serves as his cigar
holder). As a “gringos south of the
border” action-fest, it’s better than any of the sequels to and reboots of “The
Magnificent Seven,” including last year’s dour remake.
“Return of Sabata,” Van Cleef’s character comes to Hobsonville, Texas, as the
star of a Wild West sideshow in a traveling circus. Sabata tells his old Army subordinate from
the Civil War, Clyde (Reiner Schöne), now the proprietor of a local
gambling house, that he plans to stick around long enough “to collect the
$5,000 you owe me.” Actually, Sabata has
a bigger score in mind, related to his reason for traveling with the circus,
and to the money being raised by town boss McIntock through exorbitant sales
taxes to fund “civic improvements” in Hobsonville. Where Van Cleef’s original Sabata was a
steely man of mystery, his character in “Return of Sabata” is more relaxed, to
the point of mugging for the camera in a couple of scenes, having a gorgeous
hooker girlfriend, Maggie (Annabella Incontrera), and indulging in
what today’s viewers might regard as a couple of sexist comments. Some reviews unfairly conclude that the plot
makes no sense. If you pay close enough
attention, it does, but “Kramer” makes the narrative hard to follow, inserting
details and events in rapid succession and seemingly at random. Only later do they pay off with verbal or
visual punchlines. It’s hard to tell if
he was being intentionally disruptive to keep viewers guessing about Sabata’s
motives along with Clyde and McIntock, or if he couldn’t resist adding every
gag that he and Izzo thought of.
Like “My Name is Nobody” (1974), the next-to-last Spaghetti
produced by Sergio Leone, “Return of
Sabata” indulges in too much noisy, surrealistic circus business for anybody
but the most avid Cirque de Soleil groupie. Where “Sabata” had one acrobat in the protagonist’s entourage (Nick
Jordan), the sequel has two (Nick Jordan and Vassili Karis). An opening “shootout” in a weirdly lit room
between Sabata and a passel of gunmen turns out to be part of the sideshow
act. It concludes as the stage lights
come on, the gunmen get up, wipe off their fake blood, and joke with each other,
and a noisy troupe of clowns runs in. Viewers allergic to clowns may be tempted to punch “stop” or “fast
forward” at that point. The first of the
gunmen “shot down” by Sabata appears to be played by actor and stuntman Romano
Puppo, Van Cleef’s stunt double in several Spaghettis, even though Puppo
doesn’t appear in the cast credits for the picture in IMDB and the Spaghetti
Western Data Base.
Licensed from 20th Century Fox and MGM, the KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray editions of “Adios, Sabata” and “Return of Sabata” have sharp hi-def
clarity and a strong color palette, nice upgrades from the previous DVD
discs. Extras are scanty, limited to
reversible case sleeves with the American poster artwork for the films on one
side and the Italian on the other, and trailers for the Sabata films and “Barquero,”
an inferior 1970 American Western starring Van Cleef. Unfortunately for aging fans, the audience
most likely to remember Van Cleef and Brynner, no SDH subtitles are
provided. The German Blu-ray editions from Explosive Media that
preceded the KL releases are superior in this respect, including both audio and
captioning options not only in English but also in Italian and other
languages. Too, it’s unfortunate that KL
didn’t spring for the rights and the costs to port over and translate the
attractive, informative insert booklets that Explosive Media’s Ulrich Bruckner
included with the German discs. Regardless, fans will appreciate Kino Lorber for making “Adios, Sabata”
and “Return of Sabata” readily accessible in the U.S. market in good hi-def