InterVision is releasing the vintage Australian Ozploitation films of director John D. Lamond, whose modestly-budgeted works turned enormous profits with the angle of showing what was going on down under Down Under. Following their release of Lamond's first movie, Australia After Dark (click here for review), the company now presents his second effort, The ABC's of Love and Sex- Australia Style, in an uncut version. (The film had been censored in various countries to conform with censors.) Curiously, although the DVD sleeve refers to the titles as The ABC's..., the film itself is titled The ABC of Love and Sex. Like the previous movie, this 1978 feature uses the guise of being an educational film to explore sexual habits among Aussies, though one would assume there is nothing so unique about Australian sex practices that can't be found in any other country. Perhaps to minimize interference from censors, Lamond mingles humor with surprisingly graphic (if somewhat clinical) presentations of willing couples doin' the dirty deeds. The film starts rather bizarrely with clay animation figures informing us of what we're about to see. Lamond uses the old ploy of interviewing doctors and researchers to give the feature a semblance of intellectual credibility when, in fact, it is clearly designed to titillate. Lamond takes every letter of the alphabet and presents a vignette to illustrate a sexual practice, fetish or deviancy relating to each letter. The prejudices of the era are in full view, with homosexual men being dismissed as catty queens bitching behind each other's backs at a party. However, lesbians are depicted as beautiful, naked and sexually voracious. There are also plenty of tips about masturbation techniques, in case you need some advice in that area. (Remember, it's sex with someone you love...) The film presents food as a sexual aid in a sequence that is obviously inspired by the dining sequence in Tom Jones. Lamond doesn't shy away from some touchier topics such as rape, and was ahead of his time in presenting it as an undeniable act of violence that leaves a woman brutalized. (Though he can't resist pointing out that some women have rape fantasies.) Lamond does provide equal time in terms of showing both sexes in full frontal nudity mode and some of the scenes are surprisingly graphic, given the era in which the film was made. The film is more amusing than erotic and contains some catchy songs played against images of attractive models dancing. This benign approach seems like a clever way to disarm critics and ensure the movie wasn't regarded as outright pornography. The film is crude but fun and provides an interesting time capsule of how we viewed sex in the 70s.
The DVD contains an audio commentary track by Lamond and filmmaker Nick Hartley that is quite entertaining. However, the packaging promises a gallery of his film trailer that isn't on the DVD.
VCI Entertainment have released the 1952 B Western Hellgate as a burn-to-order DVD. Viewing it is a worthy experience, as this film is representative of so many fine features that have largely been lost to time. Sterling Hayden plays Gil Hanley, a quiet veterinarian living in post-Civil War Kansas. The place had been terrorized during the war by marauding parties of renegades fighting on both sides. These raiders often killed and tortured indiscriminately (see The Outlaw Josey Wales). With the war over for two years, the U.S. Army is trying to track down these criminals and bring them to justice. Hanley's life changes for the worse when he treats an escaped criminal for injuries without knowing his identity. Circumstantial evidence leads the army to arrest him and, in a kangaroo court held by a military tribunal, he is sentenced to hard labor at Hellgate Prison. The place is appropriately named, as it's set in the middle of the desert and prisoners are housed underground in dank, dark cells carved out of the stone. Life consists of senselessly breaking rocks in the blazing heat, all the while on a limited diet with and sparse water provisions. Making matters worse, Hanley is singled out for abuse by the warden (Ward Bond), who harbors a grudge because his own family had been killed by marauders and he believes Hanley is also a terrorist. Hanley's cell mates are plotting an ambitious escape. He's reluctant to join them, but after being virtually baked alive in a torture device, he throws in with the lot. This sets in motion a well-scripted series of events that are genuinely interesting and occasionally suspenseful. The film even delivers a meaningful message about the dangers of rushing to judgment, abusing prisoners and the appropriateness of having civilians tried by military courts (a timely matter even today). The movie begins with a notice that indicates the film was based on fact, though I couldn't find any historical record of the case.
The film was written and produced by Charles Marquis Warren, who went to create several popular Western TV series, most notably Rawhide. Hayden makes for a solid leading man, though it's amusing to see that in early films like this his performance was somewhat bland when compared to his classic roles in later movies such as Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather. Ward Bond is particularly effective, cast against type as the prison's Captain Bligh-like warden and James Arness makes an early screen appearance as Hanley's fellow prisoner. Other future notables associated with the movie are editor Elmo Williams, who went on to become a major producer and Andrew V. McLaglen, who has an early Assistant Director credit.
Hellgate is by no means a classic or high art, but it is an intelligent, well-made Western that holds the viewer's interest throughout.
(UPDATE: reader Peter Hogan advises the film is an unofficial remake of The Prisoner of Shark Island.)
Last year, when I interviewed actor Stuart Margolin for Cinema Retro's Kelly's Heroes issue, we spoke about shooting the film on location in Yugoslavia. Stuart mentioned that he had shot another movie immediately prior to Kelly's there, an obscurity called The Gamblers. It sounded intriguing but it appeared as though the movie was relegated to those curiosities that had become lost over the decades. I don't even remember it having an American release, though IMDB does say it opened in the States in January 1970. The film has been rescued and put out on DVD by VCI Entertainment as part of their burn-to-order line. The movie was written and directed by Ron Winston, who had done some high profile TV series episodes and a few feature films before he died in 1973 at the young age of 40. The movie was shot entirely on location in Dubrovnik, which is now part of Croatia in the post-Yugoslavian era. At the time, dictator Marshall Tito had been luring filmmakers to his country, using subsidies and tax incentives. The Gamblers is a modestly-budgeted enterprise but it makes full use of the gorgeous coastal locations and eschews any use of studio settings to capitalize on them.
The film follows two con-men, Rooney (Don Gordon) and his friend Goldy (Stuart Margolin) as they embark on an Adriatic cruise in search of victims to bilk out of gambling money. Rooney, who masquerades as a sophisticated psychiatrist, is actually a card shark who uses a seemingly foolproof system to ensure he wins big money from gullible people during poker games. The pair meet another pair of con men working aboard the ship: an Englishman named Broadfoot (Kenneth Griffith) and his partner, the Frenchman Cozzier (Pierre Olaf). In a high stakes poker game, the Europeans are impressed with Rooney's system. They know they have been conned but are not offended. Instead, they propose joining forces. They reveal they are en route to tempt a local aristocrat with a weakness for gambling to join them in a major poker game. If Rooney and Goldy will enlist with them and use their secret methods to ensure a win, they will split the ill-gained winnings with them. Along for the ride is Candace (Suzy Kendall), a free-spirited English girl who is intoxicated by these con men and their exotic methods of duping their "marks".
At first glance, The Gamblers is a bit crude. The beginning sequences are more confusing than engrossing and it takes a while to for the characters to develop. However, the viewer should stick with it because there are many unpredictable twists, turns and cons to entertain. What is most enjoyable about the movie is the fact that it offers rare leading roles to actors who are ordinarily known for being reliable second bananas. Gordon is familiar to many retro movie goers, having appeared in several movies with his old friend Steve McQueen. Similarly, Margolin and Griffith did yeoman work over the decades, largely in comedic roles. Here, they all get a chance to shine, along with Olaf, who is equally impressive. The biggest star of the lot at the time, Suzy Kendall, is, ironically, included for window dressing and her primary contribution is to be seen in mini dresses and bikinis. (We're not complaining). The film features an infectious score by John Morris and some nice camerawork- and the ending is a true "sting-in-the-tail" surprise.
VCI's master print for the transfer is dark and grainy, but viewers should understand that, in order to make rare movies like this available, companies have to sometimes settle for whatever prints they can find, often from private collections. In any event, a less-than-pristine print is a small price to pay in return for the delightful experience of watching The Gamblers.
Man Bait is an engrossing, low-budget British film noir that represents an early Hammer Films production in the years before the studio turned to producing their legendary line of horror movies. Several soon-to-be-big Hammer icons worked on the production: it was directed by Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras was the casting director and Jimmy Sangster was assistant director. The claustrophobic drama takes place mostly inside offices and homes with only a few sequences shot outdoors. Perhaps because the producers thought the movie needed some Hollywood gloss, the leading roles went to George Brent and Marguerite Chapman, though both Yanks are overshadowed by a far more intriguing cast of British thespians. Brent plays John Harman, the prim and proper manager of an upscale London antiquarian book shop. He's happily married to an invalid wife with whom he is anxiously looking forward to traveling with on an exotic cruise. His staid, predictable existence is about to be shaken to its foundations by in an unlikely way. Harman employs a number of people at the book shop, including Ruby Bruce (Diana Dors), a somewhat wayward but vivacious teenage girl. When she falls under the influence of a local cad and thief, Jeffrey Hart (Peter Reynolds), she attempts to seduce Harman as part of a scheme orchestrated by her new lover. The awkward attempt never gets beyond a rather chaste kiss, but Harman soon learns that it has opened the door to a blackmail plot that will have dire and unpredictable consequences, including the unintended deaths of two people. Soon, Harman finds himself under police investigation as a suspected murderer.
The film was deceivingly marketed in the United States as Diana Dors' first movie, when, in fact, she had been making films for years. The ad campaign also played up the word "Stacked!" next to a photo of Dors clad in a bikini top. Sadly, the famous femme fatale of British cinema is dressed rather demurely throughout the film, save for a slightly sexy off-the-shoulder number she uses in the seduction sequence. However, the attempt to market this film as a cheap sexploitation movie undermines its merits. It's a thoroughly engrossing story, well-directed and smartly paced throughout its 78 minute running time. Dors would go on to be known as a British Jayne Mansfield, rarely getting a role that stretched any dramatic talents she may have had. (She died in 1984 at age 52). Yet, her performance in Man Bait is impressive and indicated there was real talent that could have been exploited, had producers ever looked above her bust line. The primary weakness is the presence of George Brent in the lead. He's stiff and boring and his performance is at odds with the far more natural acting styles of the excellent supporting cast (Peter Reynolds is exceptionally good as Dors' manipulative older lover).
VCI has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD with a first-rate transfer that accentuates the atmospheric camerawork of Walter Harvey.
Netflix has shelled out $4 billion in contractual payments to continue to secure the rights to rent and stream hit movies. The pressure on the company is severe, as the upfront costs of these licenses will result in a loss for Netflix this year. The act of streaming a movie or renting a DVD may seem benign to consumers, but it's actually the end result of highly complex and somewhat intrusive marketing methods Netflix uses to try to stay out in front of its rivals such as Amazon and Wal-Mart. The company depends heavily on learning viewer's movie preferences so it can recommend other rentals or downloads. This is the backbone of Netflix' business plan. However, DVD rentals require customers to fill out a rating evaluation in order to learn about their viewing habits. Not so with downloads- a computer tells Netflix what you are watching and when. (Many people rent DVDs and return them without getting around to watching them.) The company views downloads as the wave of the future and sees the time when the bulky, labor-intense method of mailing DVDs becomes a thing of the past. Click here for more
While most film historians consider She Wore a Yellow Ribbon to be the best of John Ford's fabled "Cavalry Trilogy", for my money Fort Apache was far and away the strongest of the films. Ribbon and Rio Grande are certainly excellent films but they are primarily compromised by Ford's penchant for overt sentimentality. Fort Apache, however, is a far more sinister look at the West, one that was decades ahead of its time in terms of presenting the case of the Native Americans in a sympathetic fashion. It's ironic that people like Marlon Brando, who extolled the cause of Native American rights, would cite Ford's films as having been detrimental to the Indian cause. In fact, Ford was so highly regarded by the Navajo that he was made an honorary member of the tribe, primarily because of his consistent efforts to improve their lives. Ford became enamored of the Navajo when he was first lured to Monument Valley in 1938 to shoot Stagecoach. He fell in love with the area and the Navajo who inhabited it. Over the years, Ford insisted on shooting many of his films there and, by doing so, pumped large sums of money into the region. He insisted that Indians who worked on his films be paid equally to everyone else, a novel concept during that era. With Fort Apache, Ford dared to do the unthinkable: present the Native Americans as victims in a nuanced manner that evokes sympathy from the viewer.
The story clearly takes its origins from the legend of General Custer, with Henry Fonda portraying Lt. Colonel Owen Thursday, a strutting martinet who is assigned as commanding officer of Fort Apache, a remote U.S. cavalry outpost deep inside territory that has been characterized by raids led by the legendary Apache chief Cochise. It isn't long before Thursday locks horns with his second in command, Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne). York tries to convince Thursday that his heavy-handed philosophies might be appropriate for West Point, but are hopelessly out of touch with commanding an outpost in this region. Thursday will have none of it. He runs a tight ship, tolerates no dissent from his edicts and alienates any hope of striking a truce with the Apaches by intentionally breaking his word and personally insulting Cochise. Yet, screenwriter Frank S. Nugent never makes the character of Thursday a stereotype. He's a fascinating, multi-faceted person with attributes as well as faults. He can be charming and charismatic. His stubborn traits may be self-defeating but he believes his actions are in the best interest of the Army and his country. The film boils over with tension when York confronts Thursday over his methods. Because he is the senior office, Thursday always prevails- even when he ignores York's advice and betrays the Apaches, a move that leads to the film's stunningly filmed climactic battle.
As much as I love B&W movies, I generally always wished that Ford's Monument Valley stories had all been shot in color. The stunning vistas literally jump off the screen in color films such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers. However, Fort Apache is an exception. The B&W cinematography is unlike anything seen in any other Ford movie. (Cameraman Archie Stout used a complicated process of utilizing infra-red film to secure images that linger in the mind like paintings.) The performances are all first-rate, but despite having top billing, this isn't Wayne's film as much as it is Fonda's. He dominates his every scene with a mesmerizing performance, making Thursday one of the most memorable, and tragic, of all the characters that have come to life in a Ford production. Like Wayne in Yellow Ribbon, he is made up to look far older than his actual years and he carries off the gimmick with great skill. The love interest is provided by Shirley Temple as Thursday's daughter and John Agar as her beau. There are also all those wonderful Ford "stock company" actors including Ward Bond, Guy Kibbee, Victor McLaglen, Jack Pennick, Anna Lee, Pedro Armendariz, as well as George O'Brien.
Warner Home Video's Blu-ray edition presents the film magnificently. Extras include a commentary track by film critic F.X. Feeney and an original trailer. There is also a short documentary about the legacy of Ford at Monument Valley and his friendship with the Goulding family over the decades. (The Gouldings still run the legendary hotel within the Valley). It's informative and leaves one wanting to see even more.
The Scorpion label has brought the 1972 film version of Alistair MacLean's best-selling spy novel Puppet on a Chain to DVD. The oft-requested title had only been available in certain parts of Europe. Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer is joined by columnist Todd Garbarini and contributor Paul Scrabo on the commentary track, which not only discusses this film, but the spy movie genre in general. The film was not successful financially or critically at the time, but its merits have been re-evaluated over the years. In particular, the spectacular boat chase in the canals of Amsterdam was very obviously the inspiration for a similar sequence set in the bayous of Louisiana in the James Bond flick Live and Let Die. Scorpion has also included some other bonus extras on this DVD release. Since it would a conflict of interest to review the merits of the DVD, we'll link to critic Paul Mavis's review on DVD Talk.
(For Dean Brierly's coverage of the making of Puppet on a Chain, see Cinema Retro issue #14)
Will the Blu-ray go the way of the dodo bird and The Bay City Rollers?
Moviefone has pronounced the DVD and Blu-ray formats dead. The only problem is the victims don't know they are deceased. According to the article, digital downloads will soon make the ability to own a disc of your favorite movie impossible. Although the studios make far less in profits from downloads than they do from DVDs and Blu-ray sales, there are upsides that include a tremendous reduction in overhead costs. The studios don't have to press, package and ship goods or deal with returns. Wal-Mart is already prepping for the changeover, partnering with studios to allow consumers to buy digital download versions of movies that can be enjoyed on almost any hi tech mobile device. Costs will be as low as $2. If Moviefone is right, we can say goodbye to all those great aspects to DVD collecting that classic film lovers enjoy, including those shelf-bending special boxed sets loaded with books, souvenirs, toys and other collectibles. However, there are some serious concerns regarding the digital format, including the fact that you don't actually possess your movies and you have to entrust them to a third party site to store them on-line. For more click here