It seems that the phrase "makes me want to throw up" is all the rage. A few weeks ago, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that President John F. Kennedy's famous speech in which he assured the American public that he believed in a strict separation of church and state made him want to "throw up" because he believes religious beliefs should be central factors in governance. They say politics makes strange bedfellows, so you can now add actress Kate Winslet on to the list of those who have jumped on the vomit bandwagon. She says that she is so sick and tired of hearing Celine Dion's Oscar-winning song from Titanic, that each rendition makes her want to "throw up". Winslet wasn't knocking the song or the performer, but just says she's fed up with having it played every time she walks into a bar. Point taken, but can't people in public life find a classier way of referring to their frustrations?- Lee Pfeiffer For more click here
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Bradford Dillman: A Compulsively Watchable
By Harvey Chartrand
a career that has spanned 43 years, Bradford Dillman accumulated more than 500
film and TV credits. The slim, handsome and patrician Dillman may have been the
busiest actor in Hollywood
during the late sixties and early seventies, working non-stop for years. In
1971 alone, Dillman starred in seven full-length feature films. And this
protean output doesn’t include guest appearances on six TV shows that
Dillman first drew good notices in the early 1950s on the Broadway stage and in
live TV shows, such as Climax and Kraft Television Theatre. After
making theatrical history playing Edmund Tyrone in the first-ever production of
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956, Dillman landed the role of blueblood psychopath Artie
Straus in the crime-and-punishment thriller Compulsion (1959), for which
he won a three-way Best Actor Prize at Cannes (sharing the award with co-stars
Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles).
On the And You Call Yourself a
Scientist! Web site, Dillman’s Artie Straus is described as “all brag and
bravado, contemptuous of everything but himself, with his
bridge-and-country-club parents, and his vaguely unwholesome relationship with
In the early years of
his career, Dillman starred in several major motion pictures, picking and
choosing his roles carefully. He was featured in Jean Negulesco’s romance A
Certain Smile (1958) with Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine; Philip Dunne’s
World War II drama In Love and War (1958) with Robert Wagner and Dana
Wynter; and Tony Richardson’s Sanctuary (1961) with Lee Remick and Yves
Montand, a rancid slice of Southern Gothic based on the novel by William
Yet in the early sixties, Dillman started
taking any part that came along to support his growing family. From 1962 on, he
guest starred in dozens of TV series -- among them Espionage, Kraft
Suspense Theatre, Twelve O’Clock High, Shane, Felony Squad,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Marcus Welby, M.D., The Streets of San
Francisco, Bronk, How the West Was Won and FantasyIsland.
In 1975, Dillman won an Emmy Award for
Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Special for his performance as Matt
Clifton in Last Bride of Salem (1974), an excellent tale of modern
witchcraft. The 90-minute Gothic horror movie aired on ABC Afternoon Playbreak and was so well received that it was
rebroadcast during primetime.
Over the years, Dillman appeared in scores
of made-for-TV movies and theatrical releases, such as Walter Grauman’s drama A
Rage to Live (1965) with the late Suzanne Pleshette; John Guillermin’s war
story The Bridge at Remagen (1969) with George Segal; Hy Averback’s satire
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970) starring Tony Curtis; and
Jud Taylor’s horror-thriller Revenge (1971), with Shelley Winters.
Dillman also played a psychiatrist who goes ape for Natalie Trundy in Don
Taylor’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and a scientist battling
firestarting cockroaches in Jeannot Szwarc’s Bug (1975) — the final film
produced by legendary horror schlockmeister William Castle.
now 81. After retiring from acting in 1995, he took up a second career as a writer. He is excellent at his new avocation,
requiring no ghostwriters to tweak his prose. Dillman’s autobiography Are
You Anybody? is a series of amusing anecdotes about his Hollywood
years. He has also written a harrowing adventure tale entitled That Air
Forever Dark, set in Papua New Guinea
“It’s a terrifying account of the Jet Age meeting the Stone Age – Deliverance
in a jungle setting,” the actor-turned-author says.
Dillman’s latest book,
published in 2005 by Fithian Press, is a comedy of errors entitled Kissing Kate. “The novel is about an
amateur production of Kiss Me Kate,”
Dillman relates. “An out-of-work professional actor is hired to play the male
lead opposite a wealthy community icon. Ultimately, of course, they end up
in bed together, where a ‘catastrophe’ occurs and all hell breaks loose. I
assure you that Kissing Kate is not in the least bit autobiographical!”
Fifty-two years after
appearing on stage in O’Neill’s landmark theatrical event, Dillman is now a
playwright as well. His Seeds in the Wind
made its debut in May 2007 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California.
The play is set in 1939 in Santa Cruz,
California, during a weekend
celebrating the 40th birthday of a society hostess' daughter. The interaction
of the houseguests is both humorous and dramatic, and all manner of unexpected
events occur, Dillman assures us.
veteran performer spoke to Cinema Retro
from his home in Santa Barbara,
Retro: You achieved
international prominence in Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, in which you
were unforgettable as the frightening and magnetic Artie Straus, a wealthy
law-school student on trial for murder in this taut
retelling of the infamous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s. You had been playing
romantic leads up until then, so this leap into villainy was quite a daring
career move on your part.
Bradford Dillman: I had a commitment to Twentieth Century Fox to do two pictures a
year and, as fate would have it, the timing of the filming of Compulsion coincided.
Nothing to do with the moguls’ belief that I had talent. It was just dumb luck,
pure and simple.
Compulsion (1959) with Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles
Following Compulsion, you were often cast in villainous roles. In 1964,
you co-starred with B-movie cult figure John Ashley (The Mad Doctor of Blood
Island) in an episode of Dr. Kildare with the intriguing title Night
of the Beast. What was that one about?
BD: I was the beast. I was such a bad guy I had my
thugs hold Kildare down while I raped his girlfriend in front of his very eyes.
When we came to the comeuppance scene, I learned that Richard Chamberlain had
obviously never been in a fistfight in his life. The stunt men couldn't teach
him how to throw a punch; I couldn't teach him. So we had a gentle comeuppance.
He's a nice, sensitive man who has since come out of the closet.
With Carol Lynley, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film The Helicopter Spies (1968)
CR: In 1967, you were the guest villain on The
Prince of Darkness Affair, a two-part episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E,
later repackaged as a theatrical release – The Helicopter Spies (1968).
You were great fun as Luther Sebastian, the Third Way cult leader who steals a
rocket.Did you have any scenes with
lovely Lola Albright?
BD:The Helicopter Spies has disappeared in
the vortex of remaining brain cells. I don’t remember if I exchanged words with
Your recent piece on inept screenings of old movies reminded me of a couple of horrific screenings I have been to.
I once saw The Third Man where the projectionist couldn't understand the Academy ratio of the film so expanded the picture so it filled the width of the screen. This caused the top of the picture to be projected onto the ceiling of the cinema and the bottom to spill over the first few rows of the stalls with only the centre of the picture hitting the screen. This had the effect in medium shot of everyone having their heads cut off, or in close-up just showing their nose. Needless to say it was money-back-time.
But even worse because it was my local art house cinema I saw Hitchcock's '39 Steps' expanded from academy to widescreen with the resultant distortion. When I complained they told me it was the new digital projection and they couldn't alter it. But the really scary thing I was the only one that did complain. Oh the sad lonely life of a suffering film buff.
All the best
Retro responds: We all have similar war stories, Mark. When I was working in a theater during my high school days, we had a very old projectionist named Mandrake who tended to doze off inside the locked projection booth. One time he didn't wake up in time to start the main feature. The theater wasn't in the best area and the local populace began screaming. The theater manager and I kept pounding on the projection room door...Startled, the projectionist awoke suddenly and presented The Valachi Papers without remembering to bring back the curtains. Thus, the entire first reel was shown on the curtains themselves. This Mandrake was no magician!- Lee Pfeiffer
Issue #14 of the terrific James Bond magazine MI6 Confidential is now shipping. Highlights include a celebration of the Timothy Dalton Bond films, the Royal premiere of The Living Daylights, the Bond in Motion UK auto exhibition, the legacy of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, James Bond directors reflect back on their films and much more. Available by mail order only. Click here for info
The James Bond producers have been known to file away ideas for action sequences for a period of years until an opportune moment comes to use them in a film. Case in point: an elaborate sequence originally planned for the 1995 007 film GoldenEye is finally going to see the light of day in the new movie Skyfall. Click here to read about it on the Mi6-HQ web site.
Twilight Time has released the 1961 film adaptation of Jules Verne's classic adventure Mysterious Island as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The story was Verne's sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, although the only recurring character is the reclusive genius Captain Nemo (played in this version with great dignity and charisma by Herbert Lom). Nemo doesn't appear until late in the movie and to say too much about how he fits in with the story would spoil the film's many delights. The movie starts with a daring escape by Union POWs from a Confederate prison during the final days of the Civil War. The escapees utilize a hot air balloon, that they successfully launch under gun fire in the midst of a hurricane. The newly-freed men are Capt. Harding (Michael Craig), fellow soldiers Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb Nugent (Dan Jackson), as well as a war correspondent, Gideon Spilitt (Gary Merrill). They are also accompanied by an unwilling passenger, Pencroft (Percy Herbert), a Confederate guard who knows how to operate the balloon. The disparate group endures the savage winds of the hurricane and fly for thousands of miles over a period of days before crash landing near a remote tropical island. They all survive the ordeal and discover their new home affords them to opportunity to avail themselves of food and water. As in the tradition of most castaway movies such as Swiss Family Robinson, the survivors manage to use crude tools to outfit themselves with the comforts of home, virtually overnight. Providence also provides a solution to the lack of female companionship when two attractive British women wash ashore from a convenient shipwreck. They are the aristocratic Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her gorgeous niece Elena (Beth Rogan). The two seem rather undisturbed about the predicament of being trapped on a remote island with a group of desperate men. Before long a social order is formed with the women doing womenly things while the men hunt and gather. Lady Mary also manages to whip up a gift for Elena: the first mini-skirt in history, much to the relief of her new beau Herbert (as well as every teenage boy in the audience).
As the group explores the island, they must endure an attack by a pirate ship and an even greater threat: inexplicably gigantic animals and insects that pose a constant hazard. (In one memorable sequence, Herbert and Elena find themselves imprisoned in a gigantic honeycomb by colossal bees, thus making this the biggest "Bee" movie in history.) More immediate danger comes from a volcano is on the verge of erupting, thus blasting the small island into oblivion. It's at this point where Captain Nemo makes a dramatic entrance and his presence on the island is related to the large animal life.
The film was shot entirely in England, mostly at Shepperton Studios, and represents a teaming between producer Charles H. Schneer and SFX master Ray Harryhausen, who employed his SuperDynamation stop-action animation process. Compared to their other collaborative efforts, the matte paintings and rear screen projection effects in this film look cheesy, though apologists point out that Harryhausen may have made them that way intentionally in order to convey the sheer fantasy of the storyline. (Hitchcock fans often cite the same theory for the poor effects in Marnie). Where Harryhausen lives up to expectations is in the realm of the exotic creatures, which are magnificently rendered. The set designs are also impressive, especially in sequences showing Captain Nemo's legendary vessel, The Nautilus. This leads to an underwater sequence where our heroes are attacked by a giant squid. (Verne was not adverse to using elements of his previous stories.)
The performances are all satisfactory, with Percy Herbert's British accent occasionally slipping through his Southern drawl. Refreshingly (for the era), the role of Neb presents a rare black character who is heroic, intelligent and not compromised by stereotypical humor. One of the most impressive "stars" of the film doesn't even appear on screen: composer Bernard Herrmann, who provides a suitably ominous and bombastic score that elevates the movie on every level.
Mysterious Island is a consistently entertaining fantasy film and Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation looks great. This release includes the original theatrical trailer with the type of over-the-top narration typical of a Charles H. Schneer production. A cool B&W TV spot is also featured and Herrmann's score is presented on an isolated track. As usual, film scholar Julie Kirgo provides interesting facts in the illustrated collector's booklet.
Having recently emerged from bankruptcy, MGM announced it has regained the rights to develop films under the legendary United Artists brand. The studio has also gained the rights to UA feature films made in recent years. The studio expects 21 Jump Street to be profitable but the company's highly-touted release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo resulted in a modest loss despite having grossed $231 million to date. The studio is seeking better terms to develop sequels to the movie. It's a sign of insanity in the film industry when a movie can gross almost a quarter billion dollars and still lose money. For more click here
Audrey Hepburn is iconic. Her image has
perhaps eclipsed her performances in the many movies she starred in before her
early retirement to focus on UNICEF. This new collection from Taschen
(previously available only in a limited art edition) demonstrates just why this
happened. The camera simply loved Audrey Hepburn. These photographs, taken by
Hollywood photographer Bob Willoughby, show that whether she was relaxing at
home, posing for stills or working on set, she was a radiant, mesmerising
presence. After first meeting at Paramount Studios in 1953 to promote Roman
Holiday, Willoughby and Hepburn became close friends. The way she was able
to relax in his presence clearly comes through in so many of these fabulous
Although the book does serve to reinforce Hepburn's visual impact, it
also reminds one that first and foremost she was an actress. Plenty of
commentary is provided on the films covered here; Green Mansions, The
Children's Hour, Paris When It Sizzles, My Fair Lady and Two
For the Road. One fascinating collection of pictures shows how Hepburn
developed a close relationship with Ip, a fawn that was to co-star with her in Green
Mansions. Ip lived with her for three months before shooting started. Mel
Ferrer, Hepburn's husband and director of Green Mansions, commented that
Ip treated her like it's mother, and professional animal trainers were amazed
at how it followed her around, even going shopping!
Some of the best photos show Audrey off
guard, showing her true character rather than posing for a publicity still. She
plays with her children, she exercises, in one touching photo she appears to be
upset and is being calmed down by Anthony Perkins. This is another beautifully
high-quality book from Taschen and any reader will want to spend hours
examining the detail in these photos before seeking out all of these movies
The Warner Archive has released the 1970 counter-culture drama The Strawberry Statement. The film was released in an era of increasing unrest, sandwiched between the 1968 Chicago riots at the Democratic convention, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University (which, in a nightmarish example of unintended "good timing" occurred one month after the release of this film.) Although the movie was honored at the Cannes Film Festival, the general consensus was that, like Antonioni's more notorious failure Zabriskie Point, the movie was an unfocused and unsuccessful attempt to play upon the unrest among young Americans during this era. Looking at the movie today, that criticism still holds up. The story centers on Simon (Bruce Davison), an apolitical student at a San Francisco university (it was actually filmed at Berkeley) who gradually becomes interested in the protest movement. Students are on strike and are occupying the dean's office (a not uncommon practice of the day) to protest the closing of a community playground for inner city children. The university, which owns the property, intends to put in an ROTC office temporarily, and then lease the land to big business. The students have succeeded in virtually closing down the university and Simon becomes more enamored with their cause. Before long he is occupying the dean's office, too, and begins a romantic relationship with a more radical protester, Linda (Kim Darby). The film meanders between their encounters, life on campus and anti-Establishment rallies. However, a clear depiction of the characters or their motivations is never provided. Simon is charismatic, but rather hollow. Linda is never presented in anything but a superficial manner. We know nothing of her background or motivations. There are no other major characters, though reliable supporting actors like Bud Cort, James Coco and Bob Balaban contribute positively.
The film's director, Stuart Hagmann, had a brief and rather undistinguished career, primarily highlighted by this MGM production. He relies on fast cuts, inventive camera angles and a score filled with rock and folk music provided by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Thunderclap Newman to compensate for the weak screenplay that had been based on a recently-published novel. The script by Israel Horovitz does provide some nuance in assessing protest movements. This was filmed during an era in which the military was draft was going full force, even as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular. Adding insult to injury, the young people who fought that war weren't allowed to vote at the time because the voting age was 21. (Even today, with a voting age of 18, soldiers who are deemed old enough to drive tanks into combat can't legally enjoy a beer.) Consequently, presidential candidates who had run on a Vietnam withdrawal policy in 1968 (Senators Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy), had enormous support from a base that could not vote for them. The war that had been started by Democrats and escalated by the newly-elected Republican President, Richard Nixon, seemed to be a quagmire that would go on forever. (Curiously, our Afghanistan quagmire was started by a Republican president and escalated by a Democratic president, so not much has changed in terms of the political Establishment.) Where The Strawberry Statement succeeds is in its depiction of the various motives those who comprise a protest movement might have. Some are true believers, some are idealists, some are just weak-willed followers, and others just want to get laid in the name of upholding democracy. Radical protesters complain about a lack of freedom and rights, even as they ironically decorate their dorm rooms with posters of Che Guevara, a man who sacrificed his life in an attempt to tear down dictatorships even as he courted the totalitarian state of Fidel Castro. There are rather pretentious uses of film clips of key political figures of the day including H. Rap Brown and President Nixon, who is seen serenading White House guests while playing Home on the Range on the piano. There must be significance to this somewhere, but it comes across as bizarre. The film does show how even the most sincere political protest movements, from the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left, inevitably become defined by the crazy fringe element that often negates the validity of their message. (In this film, protesters assail police officers, using their "Peace Now" signs as instruments of destruction.) The film succeeds in capturing the craziness of the era in the final, harrowing sequence in which an army of policeman brutally assail students at a sit-in, who are peacefully signing "Give Peace a Chance." Here, director Hagmann finds his stride and provides a truly mesmerizing sequence. However, despite the fine performances of the cast, the film falls short of its overall potential.
The 2 DVD edition is impressive. Warners has included an extended "international" cut of the film that includes six minutes of additional footage. Although this version is murkier and somewhat grainy, it does contain a humorous sequence in which Simon receives oral sex in the dean's office from a topless blonde who tries to justify her actions with a pretentious political motive. ("Lenin liked big breasts!", she coos before dropping to her knees.) The release also contains the theatrical trailer. Retro pop culture lovers will enjoy a scene shot in a record store in which the wall is adorned with posters of Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, while the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible can be glimpsed. Amazingly, those references are still in vogue today.
Orson Welles liked to relate the tale
of how one evening he headed home after a long day directing Touch of Evil,
whilst also playing corrupt cop Hank Quinlan, to find his wife was throwing a
dinner party. Still in his full costume and make-up, looking bloated, haggard
and on the point of collapse, guests who had not seen Welles for some time
remarked, “Orson, it's great to see you looking so well!” Hank Quinlan does not look like a
well man. He's an American trying to solve a bombing in a small Mexican border
town. He seems to be tired of police work. He just wants to get the job done,
and he is not above manipulating the truth or faking evidence. After all, the
guy is probably guilty anyway. Reluctantly he is aided in his investigation by
Mexican super-cop Mike Vargas, played by Charlton Heston, who knows that even
the police aren't above the law. He's taken down some of the worst gangsters
and mobsters in town, and now he has Quinlan firmly set in his sights. Throw in
a new bride (Janet Leigh) and a mysterious gypsy woman (the enigmatic Marlene
Deitrich), and you have the makings of one of the best thrillers ever made.
This is arguably Welles' finest film since Citizen Kane, and it was also
the last he made in Hollywood. He was cast as Quinlan before Charlton Heston
suggested to the studio that he ought to direct the picture too. Welles cast
aside the potboiler crime plot and focused on the corruption of the man at the
centre of the film. Who committed the bombing is not interesting or important.
The heart of the story is one style of policing against another, old versus
new, corrupt versus clean, and perhaps most shockingly for its time, American
The treatment of the film by a
confused Universal Studios is now legendary. Unhappy with the way Welles edited
the film they waited until he was out of the country (raising funds for his
next project, the unfilmed Don Quixote) before re-cutting and
re-shooting whole sections of the movie. In their eyes they made it easier for audiences to
understand. Universal wanted a simple crime story, not a treatise on the fall
of man. When Welles finally saw this new version, he was distraught. He
produced a lengthy memo detailing everything that needed to be changed, which
was duly ignored. When the film was released in 1958 it was a huge hit despite
Universal's butchery, and Welles went to Europe, unhappy but unable to do
anything about it. Sadly he died before the film was revisited with more
sympathetic eyes. In 1998 his memo was studied and followed as closely as possible
with the remaining film elements. The result was a film far closer to his
original vision and proved that he had been right all along. This new version
was a truly great experience, confirming Welles' status as one of the best
directors of all time.
This new Blu-ray release from Eureka
gives audiences the opportunity to see the film in its 1958 version, the 1998
“restoration” edit and a 1957 preview version, which is longer and contains
some differences from both other versions. The picture quality for each is
stunning. The option is also available to watch the film in either 1.85:1 or 1.37.1.
There is still some debate, as explained in the fifty-six page booklet, as to
which was Welles' preferred aspect ratio. Each version is accompanied by a
separate commentary track, featuring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, a collection
of Welles scholars and the producer of the restoration edit. Also available are
documentaries on the making of the film and the restoration, which shed some
light on how Welles worked, and how challenging it was bringing the film back
to his vision (these documentaries have previously been screened on television,
and are not new productions). The booklet contains essays from Welles alongside
Francoise Truffaut and film theorist Andre Bazin. The most fascinating extra of
all is available to
My friends find it ironic that, as someone who makes my living writing about movies, I actually go to very few theaters to see new releases. Unless a film motivates me enough to attend an advance screening, most of my movie-going experience is relegated to attending screenings of classic movies in art house venues where they are shown with proper reverence by a management that reveres the films. Why don't I enjoy seeing movies at my local neighborhood theater? For starters, while movie theaters have certainly become more grandiose and exotic, there has not necessarily been a corresponding respect for how movies themselves are shown. I've been to so many movies where films are shown out of focus or with the sound too low or too high, that it virtually guarantees I have to speak to management about making a correction. There's also an unwillingness to do something about audience members who blithely ignore those pre-screening ads begging them to turn off their cell phones and not talk during the showing. However, the main problem is inept presentation of the films themselves. Some years ago when the much-vaunted restoration of Gone With the Wind came to a state-of-the-art local theater in New Jersey, I brought my young daughter to see it for the first time. As the audience entered, the film was already playing because someone had started it at the wrong time. Despite complaints, management wouldn't start it again from the beginning. Thus, we were already into life at Tara before everyone had taken their seat. The film was murky and disappointing, and that probably wasn't the fault of the theater. However, the strand of hair that permeated every sequence of the movie certainly was. I went to management to complain and was told to see the "projectionist", who turned out to be a pimple-faced teenager who had to simultaneously run the popcorn stand. When I told him that there was a hair on the lens, he said that was the way the film was supposed to look because he had been told this was a very old movie. Ultimately, a small crowd of similarly disgusted audience members joined me and we convinced him to remove the hair from the lens, but in doing so, the film went out of focus and he wasn't quite sure how to fix it. At no time during this process, was the film actually stopped so God only knows how this looked from the standpoint of people who were still watching in the audience. After the problem was "fixed", the sound later fluctuated to the point you couldn't hear the dialogue well, which required another trip to the popcorn stand by angry movie fans who were now resembling the villagers who stormed Dr. Frankenstein's castle. Ultimately, everyone who complained received a complimentary pass to the theater, which was deemed the ultimate in wasted compensation. It's like complaining to the management of a restaurant that every menu item you tried was terrible and then getting a certificate for a free meal as compensation.
You might think that the digital age of film might alleviate such incidents. After all, digital projection guarantees a crisp, clear picture. However, as writer Will McKinley of the CineMentals web blog relates, a badly-run theater can still ruin the experience, as evidenced by his attending the recent TCM-sponsored digital restoration of Casablanca, coincidentally also shown in a New Jersey theater. (Hey, maybe it's just us residents of the Garden State who seem to be destined to suffer these fates.) Click here to read it and weep.
Any fan of British cinema must celebrate Criterion’s deluxe
packaging of David Lean’s first four films as a director. These collaborations
with writer, performer, and “personality” Noël Coward are exemplary examples of
the fine work made by the Two Cities Unit production house, which was formed
during the Second World War. In each case, the films are presented in beautiful
new high-definition digital transfers from the 2008 BFI National Archive’s
restorations. And, as this is a review for Cinema
Retro, the readers of which include many 007 fans, it must be pointed out
that there is indeed a connection between the films (three of them, anyway) and
Bond. Actress Celia Johnson was Ian Fleming’s sister-in-law (her husband was
Ian’s older brother, Peter Fleming), and her daughters Kate Grimond and Lucy
Fleming are currently on the Board of Directors of Ian Fleming Publications
Ltd., which of course guides the Bond literary franchise. And if you’ve never
seen Celia Johnson perform, you’ve been missing something. She is arguably one
of the greatest actresses the UK
has ever given us.
In Which We Serve,
co-directed by Coward and Lean, and starring Coward as a naval captain (not his
usual persona), John Mills, Bernard Miles, and Celia Johnson, is pure war
propaganda stuff, but it’s well done and compelling. The 1942 picture was made
was fighting for her life, and it was the year it seemed the Axis might win.
Lean was plucked from the ranks of clever film editors to handle the technical
aspects of the production whilst Coward concentrated on acting. According to all
accounts, Lean ended up actually directing most of it because Coward grew bored
with the process. It’s a surprisingly good picture, despite its sentimentality.
Look for a very young Richard Attenborough in his first film role—he’s just a
This Happy Breed,
1944, stars Robert Newton,
Celia Johnson, Kay Walsh, and John Mills, and it’s a poignant drama about a
working-class family’s life between the two world wars. Coward rarely wrote
about anyone that wasn’t upper-class, so in many ways the film is a novelty.
Like How Green Was My Valley, it is
an honest and wonderfully-acted ensemble piece about a people, based on Coward’s stage play of the same name. It’s the
second-best picture in the set.
1944, stars Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, and Kay Hammond, but the film is
stolen by Margaret Rutherford, who displays so much verve and energy as the
medium Madame Arcati that the rest of the cast seems asleep. Based on Coward’s
hugely popular stage play, the film won an Oscar for Visual Effects (namely creating
apparition). It’s pure fluff, but it’s entertaining and whimsical in a way Lean
never explored again.
1945, is the jewel in the crown here. Based on Coward’s short play, Still Life, the picture features the
performance for which Celia Johnson is primarily known (she was nominated for a
Best Actress Oscar). Paired with Trevor Howard, she displays a truthfulness and
believability not often found in 1940s cinema. Brief Encounter is the often sentimental yet profoundly effective
tale of two would-be adulterers who take an affair to the line—but do not cross
it. The picture deservedly provided Lean with his first Oscar nomination for
Extras abound. Each disk includes a video interview with Coward
scholar Barry Day about each respective film; an episode of The Southbank Show from 1992 examines
the life and career of Coward; and a couple of vintage documentaries on Lean
are among the more interesting features. A booklet of essays rounds out the
The 1960 version of Where the Boys Are may look laughably quaint today, but at the time of its release, it was quite a groundbreaker in terms of reflecting the primitive days of women's lib in the cinema. The tale of a group of college girls who head south to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break resonated with teens across America. The film was primarily squeaky clean, but it did have some scenes and premises that were considered shocking in the day: young girls who dare to suggest that sex can be enjoyed by females prior to marriage. It also addressed the dilemma of a girl "getting in trouble" in the days before abortion was legal and the only choice was a back alley surgical operation or motherhood at an early age. In 1984, flamboyant producer Allan Carr updated the premise with a new version of the film, Where the Boys Are '84. The film has just been released on DVD on the Scorpion label as a special edition. In terms of comparing the two versions, what a difference a two-and-a-half decades can make. The '84 version reflects how far women's views on sex had progressed. This time around, one of the girls advises her friend on how to pack for the trip: "All you need is a diaphragm and a bikini!" Before long, a convertible packed with sex-crazed coeds is cruising toward Florida. Once in the midst of madness in Fort Lauderdale, they find their hotel is a dump, virtual orgies take place in the hallways, one of their group is arrested and their hard-earned savings go to bailing her out, etc, etc. Naturally, love and sex become immediate components of their stint in the sin capital of American's East Coast. They also become tight with a hunky hitchhiker they had picked up along the way (Russell Todd, who bares an almost uncanny resemblance to young John Travolta). At other times, they are wooed by Camden Roxbury (Daniel McDonald), a world-acclaimed concert pianist who disdains their hedonistic lifestyle even as he tries to romance the more conservative of the group, Jenny (Lisa Hartman) The film is only loosely based on the original, but follows the central plot premise of having each of the individual girls learn life lessons from their experiences in Fort Lauderdale. One learns that her long time boyfriend has more qualities than she realized, especially when contrasted with some of the egotistical beach boys and married men who woo her. Another reevaluates her treatment of sex as a recreational tool. Unlike the original, there are few moments that approach real drama. They are quickly discarded in favor of scenes of wild parties and sun-tanned bodies.
Lorna Luft's memorable turn in the "hot bod" contest.
Where the Boys Are '84 is like cinematic cotton candy in that it's pleasurable but those pleasures evaporate quickly. The movie is clearly designed as a chick flick, though producer Carr obviously realized that there had to be plenty of T&A to keep boyfriends in the audience from dozing off. Consequently, there are many gratuitous shots of college girls in itsy bitsy bikinis jiggling like Jello, as well as a hot bod contest that goes topless in the final moments. Compared to the original film, this version looks like a scene from Caligula. However, over the ensuing years, it might be confused with a Disney flick when held up against today's stream of gross-out teen comedies. The primary pleasure of the movie is the engaging female cast headed by Lisa Hartman, Lorna Luft, Lynn-Holly Johnson and Wendy Schall as the adventurous coeds, with Louise Sorel and Alana Stewart playing upper crust, pretentious cougars. The direction by old pro Hy Averback, primarily known for his work on television, is competent enough, and he stages a ludicrous but ambitious scene in which countless kids use a makeshift armada to descend upon a mansion for an anything-goes style party. The film's climax is a cringe-inducing concert that drips with so much sugary syrup that it makes the Archies look like The Sex Pistols. Purists will be relieved to know that Connie Francis' chart topping title song is played over the end credits, capably crooned by Lisa Hartman.
The DVD includes new interviews with Wendy Schall and Russell Todd,. Both are very charming but neither presents much in the way of insights beyond "he/she was a pleasure to work with" in reference to their stars. However, they do extol the virtues of Allan Carr, whose madcap determination to make a blockbuster had him convinced this would be another Saturday Night Fever. He was wrong. The film under-performed at the boxoffice, but looking at it in retrospect, it has a certain charm for those of us with fond memories of the bygone era of the 1980s. (An original theatrical trailer is also included).
The Huffington Post provides an informative guide to some of the worst money-losers in Hollywood history. However, the list is far from complete. Films such as the remakes of Mutiny on the Bounty and Cleopatra almost sank their studios despite critical acclaim and grossing significant amounts at the box-office. This was due to extravagant production cost over-runs. The list also doesn't include such major musical bombs as Hello, Dolly! and Star! (Watch out for musicals with exclamation points in the title!) Nevertheless, such relatively recent bombs as Pluto Nash and Town & Country make the once disastrous grosses for Ishtar seem like the good old days when a major flop would be defined by losing "only" $41 million. For more click here
Actress Jessica Biel has been confirmed to play the role of another actress- Vera Miles- in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Anthony Hopkins will portray the legendary director and Helen Mirren will play his wife, Alama. Vera Miles was the female lead in Psycho, playing the sister of Janet Leigh, who was stabbed to death in the cinema's most legendary murder sequence. For more click here
Another gem from the limitless files of the Cinema Retro Archive! If you think its a fairly new trend for anxious movie fans to go to extremes to get opening day tickets to a specific movie, think again. This student from Southern Methodist University in Dallas decided to camp overnight to ensure his fraternity brothers were able to get the first tickets to go on sale for the Burton-Taylor epic Cleopatra in 1963. The irony of the film's fate is that it was one of the highest grossing movies in history and should have been a blockbuster, but it was compromised by horrendous cost over-runs. (Note the posters on the wall for Jackie Gleason's Pappa's Delicate Condition.)
It's one of the all time great comedies, and certainly the biggest in scope. Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was the first Cinerama production to use a single lens format instead of three separate cameras. The star-packed comedy epic was a world wide hit. Here is a rare ad from its opening engagement in London.
Surtees with director Don Siegel shooting Coogan's Bluff in New York, 1968.
Bruce Surtees, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, passed away in late February at age 74. Surtees was the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Robert Surtees. His penchant for shooting in low-light conditions earned him the nick name "The Prince of Darkness", but he was championed by director Don Siegel and his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood. He would work on numerous films with these Hollywood legends including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Surtees earned an Oscar nomination for his superb B&W cinematography on the 1974 film Lenny. Surtees also did the cinematography on John Wayne's last film, The Shootist. For more click here
Everyday is Christmas at Cinema Retro, at least in terms of mail delivery. We get all sorts of quirky DVD screeners from niche-market labels. Some are grotesque home-made horror flicks that we generally ignore but others have real entertainment value for lovers of anything retro. Apprehensive Films (we love the name!) is a small DVD distribution company that has released 420 Triple Feature that is comprised of three vintage public service announcement short films designed to warn teenagers about the dangers of pot. The fact that the master prints look like they were run through a blender only adds to the appeal of this package, along with the groovy psychedelic packaging. Short # 1 is a 1969 gem titled Keep Off the Grass (get the dual meaning?) A housewife is doing a routine cleaning when she discovers her teenage son's stash of reefers. Dad is quickly brought in to straighten out junior, who inexplicably must be the only American teenager to look as old as his father. Dad tries to get down with junior by addressing his protestations that adults indulge in cigarettes and booze. However, he comes across like Jack Webb in one of those episodes of Dragnet '67, in which his attempts to identify with young people come across as unintentionally hilarious. As junior makes the rounds to visit his fellow pot smokers, he begins to see the errors of their ways as he observes fellow teenagers laughing wildly and making out passionately. (These scenes probably recruited teenagers to the drug scene.) Eventually, of course, dad's words come to haunt him, as he appears in a dreamlike state that reminds one of Brando as Jor-El. Soon, junior is noticing how his pot-smoking friends have become slackers and beggars. He also gets some info from a helpful member of the LAPD that makes him realize that a boy's best friends are mom and dad. Before long, he's washing dad's car while the old man loads it up to go golfing. Once again, conformity triumphs.
The second installment is a 1951 short imaginatively titled Drug Addiction. In this slice-of-life B&W cautionary tale, a teenager with a doting single mother is lured into trying pot. Before you can say "Timothy Leary!", he's graduated to snorting and shooting heroin. Soon, he's dealing junk just to make enough money to pay his heartless supplier. His appearance suffers, he can't hold a job, he begins to steal and he ingests glass from drinking from broken Coke bottles. (The latter occurs when he's still in the pot stage!) The film is packed with unintentional laughs but the greatest example of child abuse is dispensed by the actress who plays his mother, in what might well be the worst performance committed to film in the 1950s.
Rounding things out is the equally imaginatively-titled Marijuana, a 1968 short hosted by Sonny Bono, who is clad in guru gear and appears to be stoned himself. This one strives for a bit more realism, as the teenagers actually look and sound somewhat normal as they are busted by police at a pot party. They scream the standard objections that are still heard today, pointing out that there are many other more harmful substances than marijuana. Bono tries to avoid overtly lecturing kids by presenting both sides of the issue, but since it's pretty clear the United Pot Growers of America did not fund this movie, the evidence is stacked in favor of keeping the drug criminalized. While Bono says there is no evidence that pot smoking causes kids to go insane, he sticks with the old fear that it provides a stepping stone to harder drugs. Of the three shorts, this is the least hokey but it still provides plenty of nostalgic giggles.
The DVD also includes trailers for such niche market releases as Hardware Wars, the acclaimed Star Wars remake that utilizes kitchen appliances, along with trailers for a Asian kung fu series starring handicapped martial arts experts (one has "fins" for arms and the other has no legs. We're not making this up, folks). As for the bizarre title, Amazon tells us "420 is an internationally recognized holiday and daily excuse for Stoners, Pot Heads and even the recreational marijuana user to light up, toke up and blaze a blunt on their way to the euphoric High-Way of mental freedom. Or is it an evil path to mental anguish, despair, desperation, crime and even death? The 420 Triple Feature takes on a trip down memory lane with some of the best, most idiotic, hilarious and downright absurd ""educational"" films on the subject of marijuana use." So there.
The 420 Triple Feature serves as a reminder of those Cold War shorts with titles like Duck and Cover! that we love to watch today. We hope they have plenty of others in the archives of Apprehensive Films.
Fox's plans to adapt the late author Jacqueline Susann's blockbuster novel Valley of the Dolls into a TV series has resulted in Susann's estate suing the studio, claiming violation of copyright. Susann's expose of the sleazy side of Hollywood has sold over 30 million copies to date. It was adapted by Fox into a critically-scorned but highly successful 1967 motion picture. That film also boasted a hugely successful title song by Dionne Warwick. The Susann estate claims that Fox has no rights to pursue a TV series based on the novel and points out that the estate had already exercised those rights previously by authorizing a 65 episode syndicated TV series. For more click here
With some financial support from Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have acquired one of the pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. The acquisition by the Academy ensures the precious film props will be safely protected and will allow A.M.P.A.S. to display them for movie fans to enjoy. There were actually four pairs of slippers used in the film. Click here for the fascinating background story about their individual fates.
Christmas has come early for Jim Brown fans: the Warner Archive has just released four of his titles for the first time on DVD. The least-heralded or remembered among them is probably The Slams, a 1973 gritty prison film set in Los Angeles. Produced by Gene Corman (you know who's brother) and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the film casts Brown as Curtis Hook, a tough petty criminal who, like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, is only nominally a hero because the people he associates with are so deplorable. (When we first see him, he is force feeding cyanide gas into a room to suffocate some Mafia goons!) Hook becomes part of a heist team that steals over $1 million from some mob thugs. The plan succeeds at first but goes awry when Hook correctly suspects his confederates intend to kill him. He gets the drop on them and absconds with the loot, which he hides in an abandoned amusement park. However, he is captured by police and sent to a prison that resembles an American version of Devil's Island. The place is an urban jungle run filled with racial tensions, corrupt officials and sadistic guards. When word gets out that Hook knows where the missing money is, everyone tries to pressure him to bring them in on a deal to split the money. Hook steadfastly refuses and endures attempted mob hits, beatings and harassment from other prisoners. He concocts an ambitious plan to escape with the help of his sexy girlfriend (Judy Pace) and an aristocratic crime boss (Paul E. Harris). Hook is under pressure because, in a clever plot twist, he learns the amusement park is about to be demolished, thus insuring his loot will either be discovered or destroyed.
The Slams is typical of crime movies the period: it's tough, uncompromising and filmed on a tight budget that gives it the feel of a grind house flick. It was clearly made for audiences on 42nd Street and at drive-in theaters, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's an efficiently-made thriller and its crude aspects only enhance one's enjoyment of watching it. Brown probably never aspired to winning an Oscar, but there aren't many leading men around today with his combination of macho self-assurance and sexual confidence. Brown was from the era when audiences weren't interested in leading men who were in touch with their feminine sides. The supporting cast in this film is particularly eclectic with Harris providing a very amusing performance as a sleazy criminal who fancies himself royalty because he owns a Rolls Royce. The film also presents two stalwart cast members of comedy TV classics: Frank DeKova of F Troop and Ted Cassidy of The Addams Family, both of whom give fine dramatic performances. The dialogue is sometimes unintelligible due to machine-gun fire delivery of street slang, but in the aggregate, The Slams is an enjoyable thriller that Brown fans will want to add to their collections.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer which, perhaps misleadingly, markets the movie as a Blaxploitation flick.
Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park will be retroactively enhanced by 3-D technology and re-issued to theaters on July 19, 2013- approximately 20 years from the date of its original release. The film stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough and a whole lot of dinosaurs. Click here for a gallery of on-set photos from Spielberg movies.
Retro movie lovers may recall that, with the release of Dracula A.D. 1972, Hammer horror fans went ballistic, complaining that the campy film wasted the teaming of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Hold on to your fangs because another campy vampire movie set in 1972 is about to be unveiled and it looks truly awful. The much-anticipated Tim Burton/Johnny Depp big screen adaptation of the goth soap opera Dark Shadows looks like it was thrown together to make a few fast bucks. Cheesy CGI effects and yet another over-the-top performance by Depp combine to alienate die-hard fans of the TV series. The trailer plays like a sequel to Beetlejuice. There was a time when a Depp/Burton teaming was reason to anticipate an off-beat and exciting film (i.e. Sleepy Hollow). Sadly, those days appear to be gone, though hopefully like a vampire, they might be able to rise again if they actually concentrate on a worthy project. Click here for the trailer
On March 16, The Friars Club presented an 86th birthday celebration honoring Jerry Lewis. The sold-out event saw hundreds of Lewis fans packed into the fabled 92nd Street Y on Manhattan's upper East Side. The show was hosted by actor/comedian and fellow Friar Richard Belzer (Lewis is the club's "Abbot"). Belzer waxed eloquently about the impact Lewis has continued to have on generations of comedians. He then showed some truly fascinating clips from director Gregg Barson's recent documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis. Then Lewis was introduced to a standing ovation. At 86 years old, there were few signs that age had taken its toll on the comedy legend. He walked a bit more cautiously and his hair was flecked with gray, but he cut a fit figure for a man of any age. Lewis and Belzer indulged in some predictable shtick, with Belzer taking most of Lewis' acid-tongued insults. Lewis covered many topics during the course of the interview, which was followed by an extended Q&A session with the audience. As usual, such opportunities seem to result in most normal people remaining in their seats while various nutcases take to the microphone to ask questions. The ratio here was about 50/50,which is certainly light years better than one usually finds at such events. Lewis made mincemeat of some of the people, though he admitted his hearing is not what it was and he came down hard on some people who asked sane questions, quite possibly because he misheard them. Lewis begged the audience not to use their time extolling their love for him and their childhood memories of his films, as he said the rest of the audience would become bored. Nevertheless, some hams and opportunists couldn't resist the lure of the spotlight. An aspiring standup comic insisted on shaking his hand, and Lewis conceded. However, a name-dropper in the audience kept reminding Lewis of some ties between their families and presented Lewis with what he claimed to be a photograph of his daughter at the man's house many years ago. "Bullshit", said Lewis, who claimed he didn't know the man or his family. In a cringe-inducing moment, he tossed the photo on the floor. A young woman who introduced herself as an aspiring director presented Lewis with a birthday card, saying that she wasn't out "drinking" like other people her age, preferring instead to concentrate on studying filmmaking. (This desperate plea for praise showed her ignorance of the fact that everyone else in the audience was at least temporarily refraining from drinking. Was Lewis supposed to praise us all?) Lewis was effusive in his praise of his fans and audiences, which helped offset some of the crueler instances of his dismissal and public humiliation of some of those who had addressed him. One person who escaped Lewis' wrath was fellow Friar Jerry Stiller, who greeted Lewis fro the audience and received a warm response.
A wide variety of topics were covered. Here are some highlights:
Lewis said that Dean Martin was the most underrated man in show business because he had to endure being regarded as window dressing, as Lewis would gain the lion's share of praise from critics and audiences. He said Martin gamely pretended it didn't bother him, even though Lewis said he knew that it did.
He recalled being terrified at starring in his first post-Martin & Lewis film, The Delicate Delinquent, fearing that audience interest in him would wane in the wake of the team's break-up.
Lewis confirmed the rumor that he had indeed been fired from the annual telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. He had hosted the show since the mid-1960s. The audience gasped at the revelation and he said the new management of the charity disagreed with him on some concepts so they dismissed his services. He did not expand on the reasons behind the dispute but said he took satisfaction that the telethon still raised a great deal of money for those afflicted with the disease.
When Paramount wanted to move the release of Cinderfella to the summer, Lewis insisted that he had created the film with a Christmas release in mind. When the studio begged him for a summer film, Lewis wrote the entire script for The Bellboy in a matter of days, then shot the movie in an amazingly abbreviated period of time. It went on to be a huge boxoffice success.
Lewis spoke about making The King of Comedy with Martin Scorsese. Originally his character, a Johnny Carson-like TV icon, was named Robert Langford. Lewis insisted that Scorsese change the character's name to Jerry Langford. He told the puzzled Scorsese that this would help him gain some valuable footage in a scene in which Langford is shouted to by fans as he walks through Times Square. Lewis demonstrated this by simply taking Scorsese on a walk through the area they would be filming in. Immediately, passersby started shouting out, "Hey, Jerry!" Scorsese realized instantly that he could simply film Lewis walking through the area and not have to hire extras to shout the name, "Robert". Lewis also recalled being somewhat nervous about Scorsese asking him to direct a scene in the film while he observed.
Lewis is making a new movie Max Rosen but was most enthused about discussing his forthcoming Broadway musical adaptation of The Nutty Professor. The show is geared to open in November with a score by Marvin Hamlisch and a book by Rupert Holmes. Lewis will direct.
Lewis said the worst film experience of his career was Slapstick of Another Kind, a 1982 bomb that he said "I never should have done." Lewis explained he wanted to help the film's young director (who he mercifully didn't name. It was Steven Paul). He said the film emerged as such a disaster that Lewis is disturbed to even think about it even today. However, he said, he had given his word that he would do it and "when you shake a man's hand, you don't back out."
Lewis expressed satisfaction that his 1960s book about the techniques of film directing is still widely used in schools and that Scorsese regarded it as so vital that he kept on the set of his films. He also said that when he got into an argument with Scorsese about how to film a scene, Scorsese got the upper hand that by showing Lewis a paragraph in his own book that dispelled his argument. Lewis had to concede and Scorsese got his way.
He spoke very highly of his mother and father, both stage performers, who got Jerry into their act at age five in order to get a $5 increase in their paychecks. On his first night on stage, Jerry was taking a bow when he slipped and knocked out one of the stage lights, causing a mini-explosion. When the audience roared with laughter, Jerry was determined to continue to perform in front of audiences. He said the memory is still so vivid it seems like it was yesterday.
He talked with pride about his technological achievements, specifically in popularizing the Video Assist camera system that became widely used in the industry.
Lewis choked up a bit when talking about other comedy legends. He paid homage to the largely forgotten comedy genius Harry Ritz and recalled a particular anecdote regarding Charles Chaplin. Lewis had befriended jim legend in the 1960s. In 1971, Lewis opened his stage act in Paris to much acclaim. On opening night, his performance in front of European show business royalty lasted almost three hours. The following morning, he was having breakfast with Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charles. She revealed to him that Chaplin had attended the performance and greatly enjoyed it. Lewis was astonished. "But I didn't see him in the audience", he said. Geraldine explained that Chaplin had stood in the hot projection booth for the entire performance because he knew that if he was spotted, the attention would be diverted from Jerry's achievement on stage. Lewis is still moved by the fact that the elderly Chaplin stood for almost three hours in an uncomfortable environment, then sneaked out rather than detract from Lewis' performance.
Most moving was Lewis' recollections of his friendship with Stan Laurel, who he still regards as a prince among men. He said Stan told him about the day he received a telephone call telling him that Oliver Hardy had been diagnosed as terminally ill. Laurel recalled that his arm that held the telephone literally froze up as though it were made of stone and he could not move it, as he was so shaken by the news. Lewis said Laurel refused to leave his house for a period of time because he could not hide his depression and thought it would be too upsetting for young children to see him in anything but a happy mood. Most fascinating was Lewis' stories about trying to hire Laurel as a script consultant on his films. Laurel knew that Lewis was only trying to make him feel relevant in the new age of comedy and refused his offer of a $150,000 fee per movie. Nevertheless, Laurel did contribute some opinions. He sent one script back to Lewis with a red marker through a scene and wrote, "Don't shoot this!" Lewis felt it was one of the best scenes in the movie, and he had written it himself. Regardless, he wasn't about to second-guess Stan Laurel when it came to comedy and he never shot the scene. He said that one day he was at Laurel's house and he noticed a small ID card laying on a table. It was Laurel's studio pass card dating from 1920. Laurel gave it to him and Lewis still carries it to this day. (He produced it from his wallet and showed the audience.)
Following the Q&A, Belzer was joined on stage by David Letterman's band leader Paul Shaffer, who played the piano as the audience sang "Happy Birthday" to Lewis. This was followed by some very amusing video tributes from stars such as Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, Steve Martin and a joint appearance by Letterman and Martin Short who expressed their disappointment at not being at the event but said they couldn't attend because they were at least "four or five blocks away."
Lewis was effusive in his thanks to his benefactors and to the audience. Toward the end of the night, a young man in a wheelchair, James Lacerenza, addressed Lewis, telling him he suffers from cerebral palsey and that he had once been on Lewis' telethon with him. He told Lewis how much his efforts to eradicate the disease meant to those who are afflicted by it. Lewis, clearly moved, said he would meet the man backstage and talk with him personally.
In all, a memorable night for a true comedy legend. On a personal basis, I have been pursuing Lewis for an interview for Cinema Retro for the last couple of years. He's personally called me a couple of times and promised it will happen. I hope it will - but it will require him to stop working for an hour or two, and right now that doesn't appear to be in the cards any time soon.
(Following publication of this article, we were contacted by James Lacerenza, who asked us to publish the following: James Lacerenza has cerebral palsy but has been an MDA volunteer for the last 12 years, due in part to Lewis' tireless dedication. He has raised nearly $110,000 since 2005 for MDA's Summer Camp Program and has just added a second camp, run by the Jett Foundation for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, known as Camp Promise East to his fundraising efforts. Please visit James' site, and feel free to give whatever you can at www.mdactkids.org)
A golden oldie that finally caught our attention is Warner Home Video's release of The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts in his first starring feature film role. The year was 1964 and Knotts was one of the biggest stars on American television due to his role as inept Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts would win multiple Emmys for his performance on the series but was still tempted to try his hand in a starring role on the big screen.Warner Brothers sought to capitalize on his popularity by offering him the titular role of Mr. Henry Limpet. The story finds the protagonist a mousey bookkeeper in Brooklyn who has a strange obsession with owning and studying fish. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurs, Limpet tries to enlist to fight for his country but is turned down because he can't pass the physical. Weak in body and virtually blind without his peculiar eye-glasses, Limpet feels ashamed of his apparent lack of masculinity- a weakness reinforced by his nagging wife Bessie (Carol Cook) and his best friend George (Jack Weston), who shamelessly brags that he has been accepted into the U.S. Navy. Given all his troubles in the world of humans, Henry openly wishes he could be transformed into a fish. An accidental plunge off a Brooklyn pier results in him being presumed drowned, but, in fact, Henry has achieved his wish- he is turned into a fish (amusingly with his distinctive, over-sized eyeglasses in place). Henry befriends a grumpy Hermit crab named Crusty and soon finds himself a chick magnet for the nubile Ladyfish. However, Henry has more important activities to attend to: he uses his human intelligence and his ability to emit tremendous, sonar-like roars to help the U.S. Navy thwart German U-Boat activities. He makes his presence known to his incredulous friend George and before long, Henry Limpet is the Navy's top hero and secret weapon.
It goes without saying that The Incredible Mr. Limpet isn't the equivalent of an American version of Das Boot. However, its low-brow charms are quite endearing beginning with the depiction of the animated Limpet that perfectly captures the mannerisms of Don Knotts. The rest of the animation pales in comparison to Disney work, but the film was among the first to successfully merge live action with cartoon characters. It's clear Warner Brothers gave the movie a bare-bones budget. Sets are skimpy and most of the production funding obviously went to the few scenes actually shot on U.S. Navy vessels. Knotts gives a wonderful performance and his popularity in the film led to him leave The Andy Griffith Show and establish himself as a popular leading man in family-oriented comedies such as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Reluctant Astronaut. The film also boasts some fun performances by respected characters Jack Weston and Andrew Duggan, with Carol Cook giving a sympathetic portrayal of Henry's once shrewish wife who learns to love and respect him in his new persona. As silly as the premise is, the movie makes a profound plea to children to resist bullying and accept people for who they are. Surprisingly, the movie also has some relatively blatant sexual content. "Limpet" is the name of a German mine used against Allied ships but it also very obviously is a reference to the protagonist's sexual prowess. As a fish, Henry is constantly pursued by Ladyfish, who wants to surrender her virginity to him in the "spawning" area. Okay, it's not exactly Russ Meyer, but it's fairly racy for a kid's film made in the 1960s.
The DVD includes an original trailer with a bizarre last-minute intro by Arthur Godfrey, who blatantly plugs one of the film's catchy songs that has been released as a 45RPM record. There are also some DVD-ROM features for kiddies and a wonderful original vintage featurette showing the film's "underwater" premiere in central Florida as part of an ambitious press junket. (Amusingly, the pre-Disney depiction of central Florida is that of a remote area located far from "the outside world". )
The Incredible Mr. Limpet is by no means a classic, but its a sweet-natured movie that extols timeless values. Pardon the pun, but I was hooked.
The film adaptation of John Carter of Mars as been widely derided, but reader Jason Lenzi defends its attributes.
Hey Cinema Retro (and Lee Pfeiffer in particular!)-
Jason Lenzi here, I wanted to drop a note and tell you how much I continue to enjoy the CINEMA RETRO website. I check in on it every other day or so.
Something's stirring at the multiplex right now that's right up CR's alley: JOHN CARTER. Being the classic pop culture experts you are, I don't need to tell you about the history of CARTER, it's inspiring storytelling as we know it for the past 100 years, and the dozens of false starts a JC movie has had over the years. But it finally got made, and then subsequently ignored. Doomed from the start, there has already been miles of coverage given to all the ways the promotional department at Disney messed up, from the shortening of the title to the loathsome ad campaign. Before it's release, all the naysayers started calling it "the disaster of the year", or something to that effect. Which is a shame, because the deck became remarkably stacked against a great movie.
The kind of movie that DOES NOT get made anymore. Bursting with creativity, intelligent, action packed and beautiful to look at, for all it's faults and horrible marketing, JOHN CARTER is a refreshing throwback to the blockbusters of yesteryear, like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. And I feel it's going to go down like THE ROCKETEER from the same studio, 20 years ago: it will become a classic that the world will catch up with a decade later.
But something very interesting is happening. The box office is great overseas, and while it had a tepid opening weekend (which in itself was a miracle considering how poorly it was promoted), the Hollywood Reporter is reporting that box office has increased from Monday to Tuesday. And a new website, www.thejohncarterfiles.com, has been launched, and this weekend they're urging everyone to hit the theater again for a 'Take a Friend to Barsoom' weekend. There's even a Facebook page urging the studio to make a sequel.
I'm writing to CR about all of this because I felt this is the kind of film you guys would get behind, and thus would get behind the fan campaign. I've been part of a podcast, called 'Geek Shall Inherit', and for the past several weeks I've been preaching the gospel of JC, and now that I've seen it and love it, will be doing more of the same. Because the world needs more movies like JOHN CARTER.
Just thought you'd like to get to Barsoom with the rest of us!
Retro responds: Jason, we always have a soft spot in our hearts for courageous movie fans who stand up and defend movies that are widely derided by others. Frankly, I haven't seen the film, nor do I intend to, but that's primarily due to a lack of time. I share your respect for The Rocketeer, which remains an underrated gem that is just aching to be rediscovered.
CLICK HERE FOR THE WRAP'S COVERAGE OF THE FILM'S PROSPECTS FOR PROFITABILITY
The reality show featuring Clint Eastwood and his family will be titled Mrs. Eastwood and Company. It will debut on the E! network on May 20. The show's focus will be Eastwood's wife Dina and their daughters. The program will cover Dina's career as manager of the South African vocal group Overtone. The normally publicity-shy Eastwood claims he's enthused about the program which will look at life inside his household over ten episodes. The Oscar winning director will only make occasional appearances in the program. For more click here
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES. (FROM NOVEMBER 2009)
By Nick Thomas
Best known for his
swashbuckling roles in films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain
Blood, and The Sea Hawk, or as the dashing hero in war adventures and westerns,
Errol Flynn appeared in some 50 movies during his short 16 year career in
Hollywood. This year is the centenary of Flynn’s birth in Tasmania, the southern island
state of Australia. So you can bet Errol Flynn fans are whooping it up big,
down under. In fact, a chunk of June and July was set aside in the city of
Hobart, Flynn’s home town, to celebrate Tasmania’s most famous Hollywood son.
Special guests at the celebrations were Flynn’s daughter, Rory, and grandson
Rory Flynn was just 12 when her father died which, as it turns out, was exactly
50 years ago this year too. She recently wrote about memories of her dad in
“The Baron of Mulholland: A daughter Remembers Errol Flynn.” Rory inherited
just a handful of items from her father, as most of Flynn’s estate went to his
third wife. But earlier this year, Rory visited Tasmania and gave all her Flynn
memorabilia, including love letters from her dad to her mom, to the Tasmanian
museum for display.
Since any discussion of the Flynn clan is complicated by three marriages, let’s
sort that out first: Errol married three times. First to French actress Lili
Damita (one son, Sean, a photojournalist who went missing during the Vietnam
war, and was never found); second to Nora Eddington (two daughters, Deirdre and
Rory who had one son, also named Sean); third to actress Patrice Wymore (separated
from Flynn but never divorced, and lived on Flynn’s old plantation in Jamaica;
one daughter Arnella who died in 1998 who had one son, Luke). So the Errol
Flynn lineage lies with two grandsons, Sean and Luke.
CR: How did you get involved in the centenary festivities?
There’s a big fan club down there, the Errol Flynn Society of Tasmania. They
started organizing this a couple of years ago and asked me to come down.
CR: Nice to see that Errol Flynn was recognized by the Aussies!
It’s great that Tasmania - and Australia - are honoring their native son this
year, because Hollywood isn’t. They’re much more involved in their current
stars, whereas Europe and other parts of the world are very considerate towards
the older stars.
CR: What did it mean to you to visit Tasmania?
Well, I actually feel like I’ve brought my dad home. That’s where his roots are
and they love him and honor him there. I think the people there understand that
my father was an extraordinary man. I have also learned more about my roots. My
grandfather was a very interesting man and is still well-known down there.
There’s a street named after him, he was the curator of the museum for 6 years,
and he was a professor of biology. They say my grandmother was a direct
descendant of midshipman Edward Young, of the HMS Bounty. So I feel like I’ve
come home too.
CR: What are some of your earliest memories of your father?
When I was around five, I used to lie on a bearskin rug in his den and I would
fall asleep to the sound of his writing - the scratching of his pen. He was
always writing. He was writing his autobiography from a very early age, and
other books, documentaries and newspaper articles. I grew up with him until I
was about 7, then after my parents separated I would see him several times a
year. Those visits became huge. He was really big about spending quality time
with us when he could.
CR: Did you know how sick he was towards the end of his life?
No, my mom didn’t tell us about it. We know now that shortly before he died, he
told my mother that he was only given a year to live, but he only made it three
more months. His liver was shot, he had tuberculosis, malaria, terrible back
problems - and there he was, still swashbuckling all over the place to the end.
CR: What do you think made your dad stand out as an actor?
I think he bridged the gap between actors playing the tough American cowboy
type who were simple and direct, and the European actors with sophisticated
dialogue, like Leslie Howard. My dad was able to be that action hero, and still
hold an intelligent conversation. No one had really done that before.
CR: In his 20s, Flynn sailed up the east coast of Australia to New Guinea where he
had all sorts of real-life adventures, as recounted in his book, “Beam Ends.”
Did that period of his life influence his acting?
Absolutely. This early period formed who he was.He was who he was by the time he got to
Hollywood - he was that “Tasmanian Devil” and he brought that to his films.
Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell web site presents the original theatrical trailer for Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood. Even better, there's an option to hear a commentary on the trailer by director John Badham. Click here to view
This is old-fashioned marketing from 1963. The Fine Arts Theatre in Los Angeles hired two young women to ride around on scooters in front of the theater to promote Jessica, a new film starring up-and-coming starlet Angie Dickinson as a free spirited girl with a penchant for driving a scooter. If you're old enough to remember these types of promotional techniques, you probably also remember "Ladies Nights" where female patrons were given free dish ware (we're not kidding!)
The year was 1963 and United Artists had bragging rights that two of their stars had just won major BAFTA awards. Burt Lancaster was honored as "Best Foreign Actor" for his performance in Birdman of Alcatraz and Ann Bancroft was awarded the Best Foreign Actress for The Miracle Worker. This article is from the United Artists house newsletter, UA World from May 1963.
Tom Cruise is in talks with director Clint Eastwood about playing the male lead in the remake of A Star is Born starring Beyonce. It apparently doesn't bother Cruise that he wasn't the director's first, second or even third choice for the role, having approached Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Leonardo DiCaprio previously. All declined the offer, a truly surprising development given Eastwood's status in the industry. Cruise has made a career comeback following years of middling successes and outright bombs. His latest Mission: Impossible movie is the highest grossing film of his career. This will be the fourth screen version of A Star is Born. For more click here
Woody Allen rarely appears in films that he doesn't direct but he's going to make an exception to star with John Turturro in the independent film Fading Gigolo. The movie is a sex comedy set in the New York Jewish Hasidic community with Turturro playing a male prostitute and Allen playing his pimp. This is so bizarre, it has to work. For more click here
Julie Taymor, the director and co-writer of the original version of the Broadway production Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark, has filed suit against the show's producers and her former collaborators claiming that she was misled, deceived and blamed for the show's now legendary mishaps in its early days. The production is the most expensive in Broadway history but a number of mishaps involving accidents became the stuff of legend on the Great White Way. Critics were also scathing, leading the show shutting down temporarily while massive rewrites were performed. It has emerged as a major hit but behind the scenes intrigue still lingers. Taymor is a Broadway legend herself, but in court papers, she claims she was blamed for the show's initial failure. She alleges secretive plots to keep her working on the production even while her collaborators secretly schemed behind her back. She also claims her work was rewritten without her permission and that she has not been properly compensated. Predictably, the show's producers deny any culpability. Click here for more
New Zealand film director Peter Jackson is a favorite among
genre fans most notably for his early, off-the-wall gross-out comedy/horror
films.Anyone who has seen Mr. Jackson's
early work – specifically Bad Taste
(1987), Meet the Feebles (1989), and Dead Alive (1992) – cannot help but
wonder how in the world he managed to score the director’s chair for the film
versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive epic about hobbits and Middle Earth.These three films, while highly entertaining,
are exercises in excess and were not embraced by the masses, although they have
all since developed cult followings.Bad Taste, about aliens who invade a
fictitious village in New Zealand in order to harvest human beings for their
outer space franchise of fast food, took four years to make on weekends and was
a gross-out success.It permitted Mr.
Jackson to secure financing for Meet the
Feebles in 1989, a black comedy about the entertainment industry, akin to The Muppets on acid.Like Bad
Taste, Meet the Feebles was shot
on 16mm.The film is comprised of
puppets and adults in oversized puppet suits and details a troupe of performers
called The Feebles, the antithesis of Jim Henson’s lovable group of which
Kermit and Ms. Piggy are the most recognizable members.The Feebles is a vulgar group of two-timing,
backstabbing performers who are caricatures of the worst people the business
world has to offer.A hilarious satire
with terrific music by Peter Dasent, the film is woefully in need of a deluxe
His next film, Dead
Alive, was his first 35mm outing and is an over-the-top, cartoonish
gorefest that needs to be seen to be believed, and is now available on Blu-ray
from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.The
plot involves a creature known as the Sumatran Rat-Monkey who goes nuts and
bites people, spreading disease and contagion, resulting in one of the goriest
and messiest endings in film history involving limbs and a lawnmower.The style of the film is that of an
uproarious horror comedy and is by no means meant to be taken seriously, much
like Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator
(1985), and once again Peter Dasent is on board to provide a wonderful film score.
Timothy Balme and Diana Peñalver are
wonderful as Lionel and Paquita, respectively, two lonely souls who find one
another in a New Zealand town.Lionel
lives with his overbearing mother, brilliantly played by Elizabeth Moody.She is bitten by the rat monkey and the
contagion begins to spread.Despite his
best efforts, Lionel is unable to stop the spread of the virus and his house
becomes a battle ground of blood and guts as the townspeople turn into ravenous
The late publisher Forrest J. Ackerman
makes a funny cameo and there is enough comedy and gore to go around to satisfy
the appetites of the genre’s most discriminating followers.The Blu-ray is a significant improvement over
the film’s previous home video appearances on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD and is a
worthy upgrade.The de rigueur trailer constitutes the disc’s sole extra; English and
Spanish subtitles are a welcome addition, too.
Filmed in 2009 in San Juan and Vega
Baja, Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary
(2011) feels much the way that Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) felt in that it seems like two movies in
one.In Mr. Kubrick’s Vietnam War film, the
opening boot camp scenes took the audience through the Marine Corps Recruit
Depot on Parris Island, SC to see the demoralization process in action that
makes killing machines out of the marines.The combat scenes, which were shot
before the aforementioned training sequence, takes the audience out of the boot
camp and puts them into the heart of the action.In the The
Rum Diary, the first half of the film follows an alcoholic, Kemp (Johnny Depp), through his exploits in
Puerto Rico after he lands a job as a journalist for a dying newspaper in the
years prior to the Kennedy assassination; the second half almost feels like the
hangover and the after effects of too much self-indulgence.This is not a swing at the film, which is an
accomplished cinematic work and not the desultory meanderings of an idealistic
writer that the film’s detractors have intimated. Rather, it is a regard for
the differences in tone and style the film takes as the protagonist makes his
way through the underbelly of society which is bifurcated into the incredibly
wealthy and the outright dirt poor, with crooked politicians and corrupt police
Based upon the
novel by Mr. Depp’s longtime friend Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the novel in
the 1961 and had it published in 1998 after Mr. Depp’s urging, The Rum Diary
depicts Kemp, writing
BS-stories and horoscope for a newspaper that is on the verge of failing.Lotterman
(Richard Jenkins), the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, knows the end is near and hires
Kemp, knowing full well of his romance with the bottle and; Sala (Michael
Rispoli), a staff photographer who runs cock fights on the side, philosophizes
about life in Puerto Rico and lands in deep dung with Kemp and what passes off
as The Law. The perpetually inebriated Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi in arguably the
film’s best performance), who mouths off to Lotterman, is another of the
paper’s staff members – he gives Kemp and Sala a drug that causes trips they
won’t soon forget.Hal Sanderson (Aaron
Eckhart, in a two-faced role not nearly as nefarious as his turn in Neil
LaBute’s In the Company of Men (1997)
but still crooked nonetheless) is a wealthy local aristocrat who takes Kemp
under his wing and asks him to write about a proposed hotel that he is involved
with. Kemp’s assignment is to paint Sanderson and his business partners in a
positive light even though the beautiful landscape would be severely
compromised by the deal. Sanderson's fiancé Chenault (Amber Heard) catches Kemp’s
eye, and before long she is out of Sanderson’s arms and into Kemp’s bed.Ms. Heard plays Chenault with the same aplomb
she has brought to her previous onscreen characterizations, most notably as the
AIDS-infected Christie in Gregor Jordan’s underappreciated The Informers (2009).
reaction to The Rum Diary reminds me of another of Mr. Depp’s films, Blow
(2000), which was unfairly overlooked upon its initial release, as it drew
comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s admittedly superior Goodfellas (1990),
with the former somehow being the bastard stepchild of the latter.Blow was as entertaining as is The
Rum Diary, and who better than Mr. Depp to bring it to the screen after his
collaboration with Mr. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in
The Blu-ray looks terrific, with
minimal film grain and manages to capture the dark and light aspects of Puerto
Rico quite nicely.Extras-wise, the disc
contains: A Voice Made of Ink and Rage:
Inside The Rum Diary in high definition, which runs about twelve minutes.Mr. Depp talks about his friendship with Mr. Thompson,
while other members of the cast and crew discuss the story in general and
working on the film.The Rum Diary Back-Story is in standard
definition and runs about 45 minutes, discussing how the film got made.
The surviving members of The Monkees, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork, have announced they will not be attending Davy Jones' funeral in Florida this week. The reason given is that they didn't want to distract from the privacy of the event by causing a media sensation. The three say they may attend a future family memorial service in New York or Jones' native England. It's well known there were feuds among the group members even extending to reunions in recent years. However, taken at face value, Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork may well be looking out for the best interest of Jones' family. For more click here
Although never regarded as a musical classic, Pal Joey gets better with time. The (very loose) 1957 film adaptation of the 1940 Gene Kelly Broadway show represents genuine Hollywood star power: Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak all together in one production. Sinatra plays Joey Evans, a small time hustler who, in between run-ins with the law, makes a living as a crooner and emcee in nightclubs and strip joints. He arrives in San Francisco and bullies his way into a job, where he casts his eyes on show girl Linda English (Novak). He rents a room adjoining hers in a nearby boarding house and romance inevitably blossoms- despite the fact that Joey is flirting with and presumably bedding seemingly every other girl in the chorus. Linda is different, however...she's brainy and classy and makes it clear she won't settle for being Joey's latest flash-in-the-pan sexual conquest. Opportunities - and problems- arise for Joey when he meets Vera Simpson (Hayworth), a one-time stripper who is now a rich widow and the epitome of class and style with the Nob Hill crowd. Before long, Joey is involved in a menage-a-trois, trying to keep both women at arm's length from each other. As Vera's boy toy, Joey gets a taste of the good life-especially when she offers to bankroll his lifetime dream of opening his own night club, Chez Joey. Predictably, the jealousy between the two women jeopardizes his plans- and he is forced to make a difficult choice about the price of leading a life of entitlement.
The film, directed by George Sidney, boasts a wonderful score by Rodgers and Hart and include such gems as My Funny Valentine, Betwitched, Bothered and Bewildered and The Lady is a Tramp. The sequence in which Sinatra serenades Hayworth with the latter song is pure magic. The three leads exude plenty of genuine chemistry and the costumes by Jean Louis are eye-popping enough even without being so magnificently filled out by Hayworth and Novak, both of whom epitomize the kind of sex siren image virtually absent from the film world today.
The Twilight Time label has now expanded beyond releasing only Fox films and has brought Columbia's Pal Joey to its full glory via a Blu-ray edition. The transfer looks wonderful and the bonus extras include a recent interview with Novak that shows tantalizing glimpses of her on her country estate. (The interviews were previously released in Sony's Novak boxed set). Novak provides many insights into the film and the industry during that era. The Blu-ray also includes the original theatrical trailer, with original footage featuring Sinatra. Julie Kirgo provides the informative liner notes in the accompanying booklet, explaining that some of the key songs weren't in the Broadway original. She also informs us that Hayworth was cast as the older woman, even though she was younger than Sinatra!
Star power doesn't get any more genuine than this- and I found Pal Joey to be totally irresistible.
Click here to order the limited edition (3,000 units) from Screen Archives.
Richard and Robert Sherman on the set of Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
Song writer Robert B. Sherman has passed away in London at age 86. Sherman and his brother Richard worked as a team to create some of most memorable film songs of all time including the Disney classics "Chim Chim Cher-ee", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "A Spoonful of Sugar". They also wrote the song "It's a Small World (After All)" for the legendary Disney theme park ride. The Sherman brothers also wrote the songs for the classic 1968 musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and worked on the recent stage production of the film. Sherman also created memorable songs for such hit Disney films as "The Jungle Book", "The Parent Trap", "The Gnome Mobile" and "The Happiest Millionaire". He was nominated for nine Oscars and won two for "Mary Poppins". In 2008, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. For more and clips from his top films click here
Scarlett Johansson has been signed to play actress Janet Leigh in the forthcoming feature film Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, based on the 1960 film. Hitchcock eschewed the studios to finance the film himself, a bold decision that ended up paying off financially and artistically. Anthony Hopkins will play Hitchcock and Helen Mirren will portray his wife and collaborator, Alma. This is shaping up as something to get excited about! For more click here
It's easy today to dismiss Love Story as some sort of guilty pleasure. Every year, Harvard students engage in a ritual screening of the film on campus, where it is mocked and derided by attendees on the basis that it's corny and overly-sentimental. (Click here for story) Certainly the film shows its age in some respects but younger viewers might want to dig a little deeper below the surface to appreciate that the film and its source novel played an important role in the kinds of freedoms they enjoy today. Erich Segal's razor-thin novel was a publishing sensation when it appeared in 1969. The tearjerker story centers on Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal), a pampered jock whose wealthy father (Ray Milland) uses his money and legacy at the school as a benefactor to try to pave the way for his slacker son to get into Harvard Law. Oliver's life changes dramatically from a chance encounter with Jenny Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), a tough-talking, independent Radcliffe student who delights in witty put-downs of Oliver's wealth and status. She's from a middle-class background and her father (John Marley) earns his living by running a neighborhood bakery. Romance blossoms: the ultimate example of opposites attracting each other. Before long, the two are making love in Oliver's dorm room and planning to marry. However, an awkward meeting with Oliver's parents makes it clear she will never be accepted- and the elder Barrett threatens to cut off Oliver's financial support should the marriage take place. Emboldened by the opportunity to stand on his own, Oliver rejects his father's threats in favor of working part time jobs to pay the rent and help support his new bride, who is actively trying to conceive a child. Oliver ultimately lands a job at a prestigious law firm but happiness is short-lived when it is discovered Jenny has a terminal illness.
The soap opera elements of Segal's script are not subtle but, under the direction of Arthur Hiller, the film remains consistently engrossing and even moving.Younger viewers who mock the film today don't realize that it spoke in very personal ways to the 60s generation. Life and social mores were changing at breakneck speed. While Easy Rider has retained its status as a hip representation of personal freedom, in reality most young people of the era didn't abandon their lives to take cross-country, drug-fueled motorcycle journeys. In reality, the signs of their rebellion were more subdued: dressing in jeans, questioning authority, adopting shaggy hair style and not feeling guilty over pursuing sexual satisfaction. These are the middle-class rebellious attitudes reflected in Love Story. Within days of their first date, Oliver and Jenny are happily shagging away with no regrets, much to the disdain of his roommate who finds himself virtually outcast from his own dorm room. For a generation weened on complacency, seeing this type of behavior on screen was liberating for millions of young people. Few thought it was corny back in 1970 and the film was a huge boxoffice hit internationally. It was also critically acclaimed, though many of those reviewers who might still be with us would probably like to bury their initial critiques. The film was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture.
There is a tinge of sadness in watching the young, vibrant MacGraw and O'Neal, as we are all too aware that their seemingly promising careers would be derailed due to their tumultuous personal lives and demons. On screen, they make for an engaging couple you come to care about, especially as they try to establish a life of their own. Granted, that generation didn't have to deal with the type of staggering debt today's students have to contend with, but the transgression from college into adult life is still rather terrifying for most young people. Watching the film today, one is inspired by the superb cinematography of Dick Kratina- and it would be impossible to imagine the movie without Francis Lai's achingly beautiful score, which probably deserves co-star billing. Director Hiller creatively utilizes the Boston and New York locations and benefited greatly from an abundance of snow, which adds immeasurably to the movie's atmosphere. The film's melodramatic conclusion may come abruptly (Jenny doesn't linger in a way that might endanger a commercial running time), but I'll be damned if I still don't find the final scenes genuinely touching. A special mention should also be made of the fine supporting performances by Milland and Marley.
Paramount's Blu-ray contains previously-released extras such as a 2001 interview with Arthur Hiller, who relates he turned down directing The Godfather to do the film. He also contributes an audio commentary and there is the original theatrical trailer, that conveys the mood of the film through the use of still photos.
Click here to view 2010 reunion between Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal on Oprah Winfrey's show
A revealing report in the Independent sheds light on a bizarre facility operated in virtual secrecy by the British Film Institute- all with government grants financing the project. While many Americans decry government financing of virtually anything (until they need it themselves, that is), the British public isn't griping about a £22.5m expenditure to help preserve the core of the nation's film heritage. Over 400,000 canisters of rare movies, many of them from the silent era, are stored in a remote, dreary, super-secure facility that has been likened to a Bond villain's HQ. However, there is no megalomaniac planning to take over the world on the premises. The facility preserves the nation's rarest films, which we shot on nitrate stock- a highly combustible substance that is considered so dangerous to project that only one theater in the UK is approved to do so. One ill-fated attempt to project a rare Fred Astaire reel resulted in a potentially disastrous fire breaking out in the projection booth. In addition to feature films, the facility also preserves incredibly rare historical footage ranging from arctic expeditions to Queen Victoria's funeral. The BFIU is painstakingly working to transfer and preserve each of these films into safer mediums. For more click here
The Warner Archive has recently been releasing films made by Ivan Tors' production company during the 1960s. Tors specialized in underwater and animal-themed adventure movies and TV series and he had a number of major successes including Sea Hunt, Flipper and Gentle Ben. Tors also had a knack for turning feature films into TV series. Flipper began as a theatrical released and morphed into a TV show. Gentle Ben began as a TV show and later inspired the feature film Gentle Giant. The Warner Archive has released another of these cross-over productions, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion which would serve as the feature length pilot for the TV series Daktari. Marshall Thompson stars as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian who works in the jungles of Africa to aid injured animals and help thwart poachers with the aid of local government authorities. The film's subject matter has something in common with John Huston's 1958 film The Roots of Heaven (click here for review) in that both were extolling the merits of conservation in an era before environmental protection had become mainstream. All other similarities between the films end there, which should be obvious from the title of the Tors movie. The plot finds Dr. Tracy as a widower trying to raise a teenage daughter, Paula (Cheryl Miller, who would reprise her role in Daktari), in a dangerous environment while also training her as his assistant. There is some flirtation with a local widow, Julie Harper (Betsy Drake), who undertakes dangerous solo missions into the jungle a la Jane Goodall to observe and photograph gorillas. The titular beast, Clarence, is indeed an amusing oddity, as no camera tricks have to be employed to obtain the effect of his being cross-eyed. However, the furry protagonist is sort of the Col. Kurtz of the animal kingdom- making only fleeting appearances in the heart of darkness until the end of the movie. The script is so squeaky clean it makes The Brady Bunch look like a Bergman movie and the only real danger comes near the end when a virtual army of ruthless poachers are thwarted by Dr. Tracy and his allies, including local police authorities, a chimpanzee and Clarence himself, who somehow commandeers a jeep for a wild ride through enemy forces. (You have to see it to believe it.) There are also fleeting appearances by noted character actor Richard Haydyn, mercilessly going over-the-top as a dapper English tutor who fears the local environment and Clarence. Predictably, the two are constantly encountering each other in rather silly comical sequences. (It's never explained why a man who fears the jungle and animals would decide to reside in the wilds of Africa.)
The film was designed strictly for the younger crowd. Thompson makes for a sufficiently stalwart hero, Drake (in her last film role before retiring) provides the chaste love interest and the overly-perky Miller does get to toss in a bit of sex appeal by slinking into a party dress in a scene designed to keep awake older brothers who had to bring younger siblings to the film. The best performance comes from Alan Caillou as the charismatic leader of the poachers. The film is directed by Andrew Marton, who was primarily known for presiding over major action sequences in films such as Ben-Hur and The Longest Day. He would go on to produce and direct the far superior Around the World Under the Sea for Ivan Tors. Clarence has a rather chintzy feel to it, owing to the fact that the film was all-too-obviously shot in an American game preserve (in Florida). Second unit footage from Africa is rather unconvincingly blended in to give the movie an exotic appeal. Nevertheless, the movie is likable enough and will probably be most appreciated by Daktari fans who can now enjoy the series' origins as a feature film. An original theatrical trailer is included.
Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973) was originally recommended to me on VHS at a Chiller
Theatre horror film convention in 1999.I caught up with it later when DVD supplanted the inferior videocassette
format as the primary method of home video viewing and while that transfer was
a considerable step up, it was nothing compared to the new Blu-ray from Blue
Underground, which is absolutely gorgeous.The image is pristine and bright.Derived from the original camera negative, Torso, succinctly and mercifully truncated from the jaw-breaking I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza
Carnale (Italian for The Bodies Show
Signs of Carnal Violence), falls into the category of the Italian giallo thriller.The word giallo
(pronounced gee-AL-oh), like the term splatter
films which is used for the brutally violent American horror thrillers released
in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), describe an Italian genre of film and literature
which possess elements of both mystery and crime fiction.Giallo
in Italian translates into the word “yellow” in English and refers to the series
of paperback novels, better known as “penny dreadfuls,” which had yellow
covers.Gialli (plural) generally refer to films directed by Mario Bava and
Dario Argento, and these two gentlemen are certainly responsible for some of
the genre’s best outings.However, there
are other Italian directors who have produced such work and based upon Torso, this is a genre that horror fans should
familiarize themselves with if they have not already done so.
Shot primarily in the Perugia section
of Italy in the spring of 1972, Torso
is a tale of sexual violence seen in unusually graphic detail.A spate of brutal murders occurs in this
university town and young women are the target. The only clue appears to be a red and black
scarf used by the killer to off his victims, and just about every man in town
is a potential suspect.A quartet of
young female friends, one of whom is played by Suzy Kendall who previously
appeared in Dario Argento’s stunning debut film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), leave town and stay at a
mountaintop retreat until the killer is caught.Naturally, instead of fleeing from the killer, they unexpectedly lure
him right to their front door.
Torso is by no means original in terms of
plot or narrative structure, but it is head and shoulders above similar yarns from
a cinematic standpoint.The final reel
of the film is masterfully photographed and edited, literally with no dialog,
and really keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.As director Eli Roth quite correctly states
in his introduction to the film, this sequence is pure cinema.The films falters slightly during its denouement, as it contains a scene where
the killer reveals the reasons for killing, a device derided in many movies,
even Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho
(1960).However, don’t rob yourself of
the experience of viewing this nifty thriller due to this minor quibble.
The disc extras consist of:
·Murders in Perugia – an interview with Sergio Martino
and Still Gallery
Choice of Watching the Uncensored English Version or the Full-Length Italian
Hopefully, we will soon get to see a
Blu-ray of Giuliano Carnimeo’s Perché
Quelle Strane Gocce di Sangue sul Corpo di Jennifer? (What Are Those Strange Drops
of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?), better known as The Case of the Bloody Iris, starring French actress Edwige
Author and Cinema Retro contributing writer Howard Hughes has a new book: When Eagles Dared, a major history of 150 WWII film classics and the historic events that inspired them. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
"When Eagles Dared" tells the stories of the historical events of World
War II and the films that have depicted these events on cinema screens,
presenting a guide to history through cinema that compares the cinematic
myth with the historical reality. Illustrated with rare posters and
stills, it gives us a unique view of this war through the lenses of over
50 diverse films that have shaped our perceptions of the conflict,
including "Downfall," "Patton," "Tora! Tora! Tora!, ""Anzio," "The Thin
Red Line," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Stalingrad," "Battle of the Bulge,"
"Cross of Iron, " and "A Bridge Too Far." The book portrays the men and
women who participated in World War II, from the evacuation of the
Allied forces from France ("Dunkirk") through to the battle for Berlin
and beyond. Each chapter discusses historical events as they unfold and
illustrates how these episodes subsequently have been portrayed onscreen
by filmmakers. Events discussed include the war in the skies ("Battle
of Britain" and "The Dambusters"), the sea ("Sink the Bismarck!), " and
the North African desert ("The Battle of El Alamein" and "Tobruk").
There are "special mission" movies, including "Where Eagles Dare" and
"Inglourious Basterds, " classic tales of ingenuity ("The Great
Escape"), and human endurance ("The Bridge on the River Kwai").
Click here to order from Amazon USA (available in April)
FYI…”The Poseidon Adventure”
(1972) is FINALLY coming to blu ray on April 4th, as are several
other ship disaster movies around the same time. No doubt these are a tie-in
with the Titanic 100th Annivesary and Titanic (1997) re-release to
Anyway…thought I’d pass on the
news about TPA….hopefully you guys will do a special issue for “The
Poseidon Adventure” in the future…Dec. 12th will be the
40th anniversary since it’s release and this film has a huge
cult following…would love to see a whole magazine devoted to it (just a
wish and suggestion…haha) I believe there is to be a 40th Anniversary
showing on the Queen Mary in Long Beach California and hopefully lots of the
former stars of the film will be there…and of course the die hard fans of
Take care and look forward to more great
Thanks so much,
Retro Replies: Thank YOU, Todd, for the kind words and support. You'll be happy to know that we're all Poseidon fans here at Cinema Retro and although we won't have a special issue dedicated to the film, we are already working on major coverage for later this year. We've got some super images for the issue and some rarities including the Poseidon Adventure Viewmaster set. We're glad it's due out on Blu-ray- should look magnificent. Can't wait to hear Ernie Borgnine scream "My Linda!" in hi def format! - Lee Pfeiffer