(L to R) Louise Quick, Marisa Berenson, Robert Osborne, Joel Grey, Nicole Fosse and Michael York. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
Warner Home Video has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bob Fosse's film adaptation of Cabaret. Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer was invited to a press junket held yesterday at the Trump Towers hotel at Central Park and Columbus Circle in New York. Among the dignitaries present were cast members Joel Grey (an Oscar winner for his performance in the film), Michael York, Marisa Berenson and Louise Quick, who was a dancer in the Kit-Kat Club sequences, Nicole Fosse, daughter of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne.
Joel Grey discusses his memories of the film.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
The event afforded journalists to interview each of the attendees and hear some fascinating anecdotes about the making of the movie and the reasons why its impact resonates decades later. The promotions continue with Warner Home Video's release of the Blu-ray special edition release of the film leading up to tonight's star-studded "re-premiere" of the restored movie at New York's legendary Ziegfeld Theatre, where the original premiere took place in 1972. In addition to the aforementioned dignitaries, Liza Minnelli will also be attending. It should be a great night in Gotham.
(L to R) Legendary movie poster designer Bill Gold next to the commemorative WB 90th anniversary poster that honors his designs; Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer and contributing writer Doug Gerbino.
The creative team behind the 90th anniversary documentary: (L to R) producer Bill Gerber, director Gary Khammar, moderator and Oscar winning sound man Christopher Newman and Jeff Baker, Exec VP of Warner Home Video.
Cinema Retro was invited to attend the world premiere of the new documentary Warner Brothers 90th Anniversary: Tales From the Lot on January 29th at the Paley Center for Media in New York City. The festivities included a champagne reception pre-screening party and the opportunity to interview the creative team behind the documentary: producer Bill Gerber, director Gary Khammar and Jeff Baker, Executive Vice President of Warner Home Video. Remarkably, the 145 minute documentary doesn't utilize any film clips from classic Warner Brothers films. Baker said he wanted the story told through people who have worked for and with WB over the decades. Thus, we get fascinating insights into the physical studio itself as well as enlightening anecdotes from artists, technicians, directors such as Richard Donner and Christopher Nolan, producers Joel Silver, Jerry Weintraub, David Foster, studio executives and actors including Mel Gibson, Paul Rubens, Morgan Freeman and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The film also features interviews with Clint Eastwood, who is simply and appropriately described as "Icon". Also present for the festivities was legendary film poster designer Bill Gold. Bill's career extends back to creating the one sheet poster for The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1939. Bill's other classic poster designs include Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Wild Bunch, Bonnie and Clyde, Bulllitt, Dial M for Murder and each of Clint Eastwood's films over the last 35 years. At the event, WB unveiled a new poster commemorating Gold's poster designs for WB. It is available in select boxed sets of DVDs and Blu-rays pertaining to the 90th anniversary.
A one-hour version of Warner Brothers 90th Anniversary: Tales From the Lot airs on Turner Classic Movies (North America) this Saturday and Sunday, February 2-3.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary, Warner Home Video has released the largest boxed set of DVDs ever produced, featuring 100 classic movies either produced by Warner Brothers or now owned by the studio. (Click here for publicity clip about the set)Click hereto order from Amazon and save 36%
The studio has also released a 50 disc classic Blu-ray set. Click here to order from Amazon and save 39% off retail price.
Both boxed sets include the full, 145 minute version of the 90th anniversary documentary as well as the special Bill Gold commemorative poster. Both sets also include commemorative post cards based on classic Bill Gold movie posters.
Given all the controversy about the movie poster for the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only that depicted Agent 007 as seen through the open legs of a bikini-clad model, you would think it was the first time that concept had been used for an ad campaign. In fact, there are plenty of precedents including this Australian daybill poster for Dean Martin's first Matt Helm film, The Silencers (1966).
In his column on the Sound on Sight web site, writer Bill Mesce makes the case for "Seven Anti-007 Movies You Haven't Seen", which is a bit misleading considering several of his choice are not obscure oddities but major studio releases. At least two- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Ipcress File- are considered classics. Nevertheless, Mesce makes a good case for catching up with these thrillers, if you haven't seen them before. Click here to view his list of worthy "anti-Bond" (i.e gritty, realistic) spy flicks.
Scottish fans of the legendary 1960s TV series The Prisoner will want to flock to the stage production Magic Number 6, to be performed at the Space on the Mile: Theatre One in Edinburgh, August 19-24. The play examines the trials and tribulations between the show's star and creator Patrick McGoohan and producer Sir Lew Grade in bringing the unique series to TV. For more info click here
Warner Brothers is getting cold feet about their next potential big budget comic book adaptation, Justice League. The studio seems to be a bit nervous about the fate of the forthcoming Man of Steel, the latest attempt to revive the Superman franchise. While word of mouth on the movie is good and red-hot Christopher Nolan executive produced the film, the track record of its director, Zack Snyder, is mixed, having overseen some big budget disappointments. Warner Brothers has made it clear that it is taking a wait-and-see attitude and will evaluate how Man of Steel performs before deciding whether to proceed with Justice League. Click here for more
Hollywood devours its older, most respected filmmakers. Take acclaimed director Paul Schrader, the man who wrote memorable films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Yakuza, Obsession and The Mosquito Coast. (He also directed Hardcore and Affliction). Schrader has other stories he wants to tell, but can't find financing for them despite the fact that the productions he has in mind can be produced for amounts that total less than Brad Pitt's coffee budget. Schrader has used innovation to his advantage, however, raising private funds on-line for his new film, The Canyons, a daring look at modern sexuality and depraved behavior in troubled relationships. He not only cast a male porn icon in the lead role, but has given the female lead to Lindsay Lohan. In an extensive piece on the making of the film for the New York Times, writer Stephen Rodrick lays bare the amount of trials and tribulations that Schrader has gone through to deal with Ms. Lohan in his obsession to bring this small film to the screen. Those trials included having to deal with Lohan's insecurities, her penchant for taking off on a minutes notice and having to direct naked in order to make her feel comfortable filming a sex scene. Click here to read
Impulse Films has released two vintage erotic titles, Serena: An Adult Fairy Tale and Same Time Every Year. The most surprising element of both titles is that they are hard-core porn, but they are being accorded mainstream status through an aggressive promotional campaign by the DVD label, which is a division of Synapse Films. What is enjoyable about the Synapse catalog is the sheer diversity of their releases, ranging from classic and cult horror films to the notorious Nikkatsu Japanese soft-core titles (which are accorded Citizen Kane-like treatment, complete with extensive liner notes and poster reproductions.). These new titles don't get the same tender, loving care, but they are accorded "respectable" status nonetheless.
Serena: An Adult Fairy Tale- is a 1980 spin on the Cinderella legend, albeit of a kind that would have dear old Walt Disney spinning in his grave. Serena (played by an actress known as Serena), is a teenage sexpot who is sold into modern slavery by an evil stepfather. In her new "home", she is abused both sexually and psychologically. In between doing back-breaking housework, Serena is routinely called upon to satisfy her new mistress and her other female household guests. She's also used for sexual pleasure by a string of male visitors to the house. There isn't a social message being made here about the horrors of modern sex slavery, as Serena seems even more perturbed when she is left out of the action. The razor-thin "plot" finds the females of the house preparing for a big party for some hunky males (in this case, "grand ball" takes on an entirely different meaning.) Serena has been banished to her room as the other girls enjoy the orgy. She is visited by an equally sexy female supernatural presence who grants her wish to be able to attend the festivities. Presto! Serena suddenly appears at the party and predictably steals all the attention away from the egotistical women who have long mistreated her. Familiar faces from the era appear in the movie, including China Leigh and Jamie Gillis. Perhaps not coincidentally, the running time of the film is 69 minutes.
Same Time Every Year- was shot in 1981 and centers on an amusing scenario in which a group of male friends pretend each year that they must leave town for a business convention, leaving their wives back home. In fact, they are meeting their mistresses for wild sexual encounters. Meanwhile, the not-so-desperate housewives are all too happy to go along with the scenario, as it gives them an opportunity to get it on with a string of male and female lovers of their own. That's pretty much it. As with Serena, the movie was remastered from original 35mm film elements. (The opening and end titles show a lot of wear, but we have to remember these were not preserved in the Library of Congress) and, for the most part, quality is very good. The cast in this one includes the omnipresent China Leigh, Loni Sanders, Herschel Savage, Holly McCall and an impossibly svelte Ron Jeremy, before he indulged in the Marlon Brando dietary plan. There is also a credit for Boo, The Wonder Horse, but don't panic- the action never gets that kinky.
Both films are "directed" (so to speak) by one Fred J. Lincoln, whose apparent "legit" claim to fame is having appeared in Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left. A look at his IMDB credits shows Mr. Lincoln must be the hardest working man in the porn industry, having cranked out many dozens of titles right up through today, including some with some name recognition such as Dallas Does Debbie the infamous 1970s flick The Defiance of Good that preceded the Traci Lords scandal when it was revealed that the movie's female lead, Jean Jennings, was under age.
I suppose that one's ability to wax nostalgic about porn movies very much depends upon your receptiveness to the genre itself, as well as the era in which you grew up. Back in the pre-home video day, it was considered an upscale experience when a porn film was shot in 35mm. These "expensive" productions drew large audiences and sometimes played for years in the same theater. The quality still exceeds today's boring adult fare in the sense that, at least some degree of film making skill was required behind the camera. There are also some hints of production values, with occasional glimpses of opulent homes and settings. Probably the biggest difference between then and now is that the actors actually resembled real people in those days. There's an abundance of hair and sweat, but the cast members actually look real people, as opposed to the Botox and silicone-injected, indistinguishable robots who populate today's boring erotic videos.
There are no extras on the DVDs, which is too bad because it would be interesting to hear Fred J. Lincoln's insights on how the porn business has changed over the decades. Nevertheless, if you're not offended by these types of things, the Impulse releases will bring back some good (and naughty) memories.
Richard Klemensen’s Little
Shoppe of Horrors is a stellar magazine.If you like Gary Svehla’s Midnight
Marquee and similar publications that are well-written and polished, you’ll
love the beautiful Little Shoppe of
Horrors.In 2012 it entered its 40th
anniversary with the most current issue, number 29.Cinema Retro is a mere youngster by
comparison!Subtitled “The Journal of
Classic British Horror Films,” Little
Shoppe of Horrors is chock full of exclusive images of the glory days of
the Hammer horror films.It is obvious
that Mr. Klemensen has a true love for these films.In this issue you’ll find a wonderful look
back at the life and work of Vincent Price.The front and rear covers of the latest issue feature beautiful images
by Jeff Preston and Mark Maddox, respectively, of Vincent Price, and the inside
covers feature artwork by Dean Ormston and Paul Watts.
Issue #29 includes:
·An exclusive interview with film and television
director Frank Darabont and film director Tim Burton, whose love of Vincent
Price can been seen through much of his work over the past thirty years, going
back to the very beginnings of his career with his short film, Vincent, which is about a young boy who
wants to be Vincent Price and can be seen here (it’s even narrated by Vincent Price!).Both directors talk specifically about The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
·Justin Humphreys gives readers an
in-depth look at the making of The
Abominable Dr. Phibes in a nearly 30-page article (take that, Cinefantastique!) about the making
of the film.He also profiles the late Dr. Phibes set designer Brian Eatwell.
·David Taylor writes about the late model-turned-actress
Virginia North who played Vulnavia in the film.
·Author Denis Meikle provides an inside
look on the set of The Abominable Dr.
Phibes when he interviewed Vincent Price.
·Sam Irwin and David Taylor create a chronological
history of the treatments and script ideas related to what was to become a Dr. Phibes franchise, in addition to a
look at how Dr. Phibes has lived on in novels and comic books.
And much, much more in its 108 pages.
Little Shoppe of Horrors
has a beautifully designed and easily navigable website
that permits readers to see what’s coming up in the next issue, in addition to
ordering copies of back issues.
All in all, this is a beautiful-designed and printed
publication, published first and foremost by the only people who should be
publishing it – die-hard fans with a true love for the subject matter.A must for horror fans!
As an aside, there is also a wonderful audio interview that
was recently conducted with Mr. Klemensen, and you can click here
to listen to it.He explains how he was
such a fan of these movies and how they differed from other horror films from
the time in that they were in color and featured classically-trained actors
such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who both starred in innumerable roles
for Hammer.He also talks about how he
contacted people in the British film industry who were more than willing to
talk to him about their work, and how he managed to visit Pinewood Studios in
Definitive Document of the Dead
is the latest incarnation of director Roy Frumkes’s insightful
behind-the-scenes look at the making of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), a film that has achieved a level of
adoration and cult status that is truly amazing given that it was released
unrated at a time when such a maneuver was considered box office poison.No doubt increasing in popularity after its
release on VHS (this is where Yours Truly first saw it in the summer of 1985), Dawn has become the zombie film by which
all others are measured.What this 16mm documentary
illustrates brilliantly is the creative process that a director must go
through, and it conveys it extremely well to the average moviegoer who may not
have the slightest idea as to how a movie is made. It looks at its subject from
the standpoint of filmmaking as an art form, and at one point director Romero,
with omnipresent cigarette in hand, even compares the process to painting, and
how an artist uses watercolors and “accidents” in their final work.Dawn went
into production in October 1977 at the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville,
Pennsylvania and lasted approximately six months (if you believe the Internet
Movie Database) and thankfully Mr. Frumkes actively sought and was given access
to the mall set over a weekend in January of 1978 (my guess is that this was
the third or fourth week of that month as the archival footage shows the entire
exterior of the mall blanketed in snow; the entire Northeast had suffered a snowfall
of one to nearly two feet at that time).
Most documentaries that appear on DVD
and Blu-ray nowadays are nothing more than self-promotion pieces. The Definitive Document of the Dead, on
the other hand, actually takes you behind the scenes of the film and enlightens
the viewer on the creative process, specifically the teamwork and the
collaborative nature of the people working on the film.Mr. Frumkes talks to Tom Savini, Michael
Gornick, John Amplas, Richard Rubenstein, the cast of Dawn, and of course director Romero himself (it’s interesting to
note that filming had to be suspended from Thanksgiving until just after
Christmas as decorations populated the mall. Of course, nowadays Christmas
starts being promoted as early as the end of August, something probably
completely unheard of 35 years ago!). The
documentary gives us a great look into Mr. Romero's creative methods of
filmmaking; he is quite candid about how he makes movies and discusses how he
feels about being compared to Alfred Hitchcock with his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. The comparison probably stems from the fact
that the opening scenes look like a throwback to silent cinema storytelling,
and that is an area that Night excels
at, giving visual information to the audience and pulling us into the movie. There is mention of Howard Hawks’s film
version of The Thing, released in
1951, as the movie that introduced Mr. Romero to horror and the idea of
confined spaces made him want to make movies. Another pivotal film that is not touched upon
in this documentary (but is mentioned on the newly-recorded commentary provided
by Mr. Frumkes) is Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann, also from 1951, a
film that was an enormous influence on Mr. Romero and aided in the creation of
his own personal visual style.He also
talks about how actor Duane Jones, the lead black actor in Night, was chosen simply because he was the best actor who
auditioned for the role, squashing rumors that he was making a statement about the
black man’s struggles in a white man’s world. Naturally, this draws comparisons
to Ken Foree’s role in Dawn. Richard
Rubenstein also weighs in and discusses the European style of producing, and
how Dario Argento and his brother Claudio co-financed Dawn. Dawn was originally
a much darker picture with a very down and bleak ending. As shooting
progressed, the film took on a comic bookish feel and there is an obvious
lightening up of mood. Whereas Mr. Romero had a crew of about eight people on Martin (1977), Dawn has a cast and crew
in the hundreds. The most fascinating part of the documentary has Mr. Romero
describing the rhythms created by editing and spatial design. Prior to his
foray into feature filmmaking, Mr. Romero honed his editing skills by making many
30-second commercials (like Sir Ridley Scott who made roughly 3000(!) prior to The Duellists (1977) and Alien (1979).
After a discussion about the
distribution of the film and leaving it unrated with a running time of just over
two hours, the documentary switches gears to the 1989 summer filming of Two Evil Eyes (1991). Mr. Romero
discusses how he wants a family atmosphere on the set without any of the political
Hollywood nonsense.There is also a
follow-up segment on Land of the Dead
(2005) which focuses on Mr. Romero's daughter, Tina Romero, who discusses how
she got involved in filmmaking. Be
warned: there is a trailer for a hard-core sex parody of Night, and I'll let your imagination guess what the title of this
film is! While this trailer does not
contain any overt sex, there is much nudity.
There is also footage of the Chiller Theatre
convention in 2005 which features a reunion of the cast of Day of the Dead, discussions with Greg Nicotero, Bill Lustig, and
some of the cast and crew of Dawn.
The final segments, all of which are shot on standard definition video, ends
with Mr. Frumkes heading to the Toronto set of Diary of the Dead in the fall of 2006.While these last few segments are nowhere
near as incisive as the footage shot for Dawn,
they still are relevant, fun to watch and make The Definitive Document of the Dead a worthy addition to the libraries
of Romero fans.
This documentary has been available on
home video several times before. It first made the rounds in 1985, and I first
time I saw it was four years later when it was released on VHS. It also appears
on Dawn of the Dead: the Ultimate Edition,
which was released on DVD in September 2004.Synapse Films then released it on DVD in 1999 with some nice extras,
including a commentary with Mr. Frumkes and some cast and crew members.This latest version, The Definitive Document of the Dead, goes further than its previous
incarnations.In addition to the extra
footage that has been added, it begins with a slightly different beginning than
its predecessors: a very humorous introduction by Mr. Romero for the audience
at a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX and segues into a little
bit of a discussion that he had in 2006 in Huntington, Long Island.
The documentary is available in two
flavors: as a single, stand-alone standard definition DVD with a newly-recorded
commentary provided by Mr. Frunkes running 102 minutes that covers Dawn up to Diary, and as a limited edition DVD/Blu-ray combo set that includes
a standard definition DVD with the aforementioned extras, plus a Blu-ray of Mr.
Frumkes’s original, 1978 documentary Document
of the Dead, which runs 66 minutes and was scanned in high definition from
the 16mm master.If you have a Blu-ray
player, it is worth spending the extra cash to get the limited edition, which
also contains a fold-out poster of Wes Benscoter’s beautiful new cover art for
the DVD and Blu-ray.Have a look at this
artist’s website.His work is brilliant.
NOTE: It has come to our attention that the Blu-ray edition of this title sold out immediately. The DVD edition is still available from Amazon. Click here to order
THE FILM MAGAZINE is a bi-annual print publication that covers classic film,
radio, TV, books and stage plays – especially in the mystery, fantasy and
“SCARLET is a scholarly look at
classic mystery, horror, science-fiction and fantasy, minus the stuffiness,”
explains publisher Kevin G Shinnick. The East Coast publication covers all eras
of English-language films (foreign productions are considered in a companion
magazine – VAN HELSING’S JOURNAL).
our writers take the films seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,”
adds managing editor Harry H Long, who co-authored American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929.
SCARLET has covered a wide range of bizarre and esoteric topics:
Christian themes in the Hammer Horrors; Lilian
Gish’s horror film The Wind (1928),
previously categorized as a drama/romance; Murdered
Alive – a look at a play Bela Lugosi performed in the early 1930s,
about a man who hopes to achieve success as a sculptor by embalming victims
while still alive and turning them to stone; an interview with Beverly
Washburn, star of Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider
Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1964); a history of the making of Bride of the Gorilla (1951) starring
Barbara Payton, Raymond Burr and Lon Chaney, Jr.; the Creature from the Black
Lagoon's tragic inability to be a Babe Magnet; neglected horror titles
from Republic Pictures; and the last interview given by the late Robert Quarry,
star of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Deathmaster (1972) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972).
The articles are extremely
informative, well-researched and entertaining, written by such noted genre specialists
as Frank Della Stritto, author of The Mythology and History of Classic Horror Films; John
Soister, author The Films of Conrad Veidt;
and Paul Legget, author of Terence
Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion.
In the relatively short amount of time Daniel Craig has played James Bond, the entire series has been reinvented in a dynamic way, as evidenced by the $1 billion+ international grosses for Skyfall. Yet, in 2002, the year Die Another Day was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences, many of us 007 purists were just about ready to throw in the towel despite the fact that the movie was a boxoffice smash. We had suffered through The Man With the Golden Gun, Moonraker and A View to a Kill, but each of those was followed by a strong entry in the series that kept the films from falling off the precipice. Pierce Brosnan was always a good Bond, but he never quite had a film that truly made the most of them. Die Another Day was an overstuffed, over-budgeted and over-produced bit of nonsense littered with cringe-inducing sexual puns that would be over-the-top in a high school locker room. It left even those of us who had the privilege of attending the premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of Queen Elizabeth muttering to ourselves, "Well, at least the after-parties are always fun." I remember discussing the film later with producer Michael G. Wilson and telling him that I found it very disappointing. I can't speak for Wilson, but I truly believe he was in agreement, as evidenced by he and Barbara Broccoli's bold move in revitalizing the series with the next film, Casino Royale. DAD was the last Brosnan Bond...he deserved better, but, as Clint Eastwood says to the doomed Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, "Deserves got nothing to do with it." The film does boast some admirable aspects: Toby Stephens' excellent portrayal of the villain and the brilliantly-staged fencing sequence, partly shot in London's famed Reform Club are probably the best elements. But the movie does have at least one ardent admirer: Entertainment Weekly writer Darren Franich, who posts a passionate, extensive and amusing defense of the film. (Notice I didn't say it was a convincing defense of the film). Franich pulls out all the stops to analyze why he believes this is the most underrated Bond ever. Click here to read and see if you agree.
Cinema Retro contributor and copy editor Sheldon Hall contributed this impressive advert showing the wealth of great movies showing in the same week during 1962 in London's West End. Those were the days! Keep 'em coming, Sheldon!
Andy Griffith, an American acting and comedy icon, seen here receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005. (Click here for video of the ceremony)
Film critic Rex Reed pays his annual tribute to the great artists lost in the previous year. Among the great talents who left us in 2012: Whitney Houston, Ernest Borgnine, Phyllis Diller, Andy Griffith and so many more who will never be replaced. Click here to read the tribute article.
Adele will perform her Oscar-nominated theme from Skyfall at this year's Academy Awards on February 24. It will mark the first time she has performed the song in front of a live audience. The theme from Skyfall won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song earlier this month. James Bond fans will anxiously await to see this becomes the first 007 theme to win an Oscar. (Themes from Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only had been nominated previously.) Click here for more
Lovelace, the bio pic of porn legend Linda Lovelace, premiered this week at Sundance. Amanda Seyfried plays the title role of the tortured Lovelace, a woman whose peculiar sexual talent resulted in Deep Throat grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1970s. Lovelace saw none of the profits, however, beyond the paltry sum she was paid to perform in the film. The fame and notoriety did elevate her to a household name and put the debate over government censorship into high gear. Lovelace's personal life was also defined by controversy and destructive relationships. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 53. Click here to watch a clip of Seyfried as Lovelace.
Director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook deserves praise, if for nothing else, overcoming the seemingly incomprehensible title and becoming a major box-office success. The film is typical of today's "rom-coms" (romantic comedies, for the uninitiated.) Troubled, attractive young guy. Troubled, attractive young woman. Both meet cute. Both have to interact with lovable, eccentric friends and family members before overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles in achieving great goal. Bradley Cooper, progressing very well from low-brow comedies, gives a very fine performance as Pat, a charismatic Philadelphia school teacher who goes bonkers when he discovers his wife getting on in the shower with one of his school colleagues. He goes on a rampage and almost beats the man to death. When we first see him, his mother is checking him out of a psychiatric institution after 8 long months- and against the advice of his doctors. Seems Pat has been bi-polar all along but never knew it, something that strains credibility given the fact that emotionally, he carries more baggage than a cruise ship. (In a completely unbelievable but "cute" plot device, he is sent into a rage every time he hears Steve Wonder singing "My Cherie, Amour"- you know, sort of like that old sketch in which the Three Stooges go ballistic upon hearing "Niagara Falls"). Pat tries to readjust to his dysfunctional family life but it's a rocky road. He is obsessed with winning back his gorgeous wife, who he mistakenly believes is equally determined to revive their marriage. In the process, he has to frequently lock horns with his father (Robert De Niro in very fine form), a reckless gambler and bookmaker who is always only seconds away from financial disaster. The old man is betting the ranch on the outcome of football games in the hopes of fulfilling his dream of opening a small, local restaurant. In the midst of all this chaos, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a vivacious but equally troubled young widow with a history of mental illness. Before you can say "When Harry Met Sally", the two enter a combative relationship that all -too predictably results in a gradual attraction. All of this leads up to a crisis-filled night in which Pat has promised to be Tiffany's dance partner in a local contest that they have to score well enough on to prevent Pat's dad from losing everything he has and, instead, win the bet that will allow him to open his restaurant.
The script of Silver Linings Playbook contains every cliche except, "Hey kids, we can put the show on in a barn!" Yet, it's a feel-good, crowd-pleaser that is just off-beat enough to rise above the level of most romantic comedies. The scene-stealer is Jennifer Lawrence, who fully deserves her Oscar nomination as the bitchy-but-lovable head case whose emotions run up and down like a roller-coaster. She and Cooper make for a fine on-screen couple and watching them deal with their respective eccentricities is one of the film's delights. Director Russell also makes good use of the suburban Philly locations and the cast (particularly De Niro) is especially convincing at making you believe you are intruding on an actual middle-class family's intimate moments. Still, as the movie nears its climactic dance competition sequence, I found myself praying that the script would refreshingly forgo what was shaping up to the be most predictable of endings. Sadly, Russell (who also wrote the screenplay) goes for the low-hanging fruit and employs every mothballed romantic cliche imaginable, complete with love-crazed young guy running after heartbroken girlfriend down a city street adorned with Christmas decorations. There's enough moss on these story elements to make penicillin.
The film is refreshing in the sense that it's one of the few youth-oriented comedies that doesn't rely on vulgarity and gross-out humor. It's definitely a good date movie, but certainly undeserving of a Best Picture Oscar.
Despite its exploitive title, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING
CANNIBAL (2012) is an old-school horror/comedy, a 21st century
variation on Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), with its odd mix of
ghoulish fun and satiric jabs at the artistic community and the creative
Lars, a famous artist from Denmark (Thure Lindhardt) suffers from “painter’s block” and signs
on as a teacher at a small art school in the backwoods of Canada. Lars meets
Eddie (Dylan Scott Smith), a traumatized mute – a simpleton, really – who is
allowed to attend classes and finger-paint because his aunt is a wealthy patron
of the school. When the aunt dies, Lars is coaxed into sharing quarters with
the silent, hulking but seemingly harmless Eddie, keeping an eye on him for the
good of the school, which will continue to receive financial support from the
aunt’s estate. This display of altruism is also Lars’ way of impressing a
pretty colleague, sculpture teacher Lesley (Georgina Reilly).
But Eddie is still troubled, and at night, in a
somnambulistic state, ventures out into the snow and ice clad only in his
underwear and (seemingly impervious to hypothermia) lurches about like a
zombie, ripping apart and devouring small animals. Lars witnesses the aftermath
of this carnage and is inspired by the blood and guts to paint his first
masterpiece in a decade. To the strains of David Burns’ symphonic score, Lars
is transported into a hallucinogenic world where the addictive rush of painting
is all that matters.
While Lars develops a genuine bond of friendship with
Eddie, he begins to encourage the mute’s nighttime forays when the painter’s
block returns, justifying his Caligari-like control of Eddie’s nocturnal
activities because the gore stimulates his creative juices. Lars is no longer
tormented by the blank canvas as a result of Eddie’s strange sleepwalking
behavior. Eddie has, in a sense, become
The tension escalates when Lars has words with an
obnoxious neighbor (Peter Michael Dillon) whose barking dog keeps him awake at
night, and sends Eddie on a mission to eat the dachshund. But Eddie takes his
habit to a new level, chowing down on the dog and its master. Oblivious to the bloodbath, Lars immediately takes
paint brush to easel and produces another masterpiece. Soon, his dealer
(Stephen McHattie) shows up, sensing that Lars is entering a productive new
phase of unstifled creativity – and reassuring the artist that he does not
judge whatever means justify this end, pointing out that Lars’ last period of prolonged
productivity was sparked by a terrible car accident.
Overriding his genuine fondness for the childlike Eddie,
Lars continues to send him out at night, literally guiding the brawny sleepwalking
mute to fresh prey, justifying his actions because the victims are evil people
(racists, drunk drivers and the like). Lars – seemingly unaware that he is sinking
into a level of barbarism equally as profound as Eddie’s – attracts the
suspicions of the town cop (amusingly portrayed by the dour Paul Braunstein).
Eventually, Lars becomes as addicted to the rush of
painting as Eddie is to the taste of human flesh, and the blood flows ever more
freely until the film’s genuinely moving denouement, in which an injured Lars
paints his final masterpiece, helped by star-crossed lover Lesley.
A clever touch is that the audience never sees the
works of art that justify the horrific murders and dismemberments of man and
Director Boris Rodriguez – whose work I am completely
unfamiliar with – balances the humor and the horror perfectly, never allowing
his characters to mug for the camera. The humor is very understated, in
contrast to the viciousness of Eddie’s superhuman atrocities while
sleepwalking. Rodriguez also shoots his scenes in an elegant style, reminding
one of the balanced compositions of Stanley Kubrick. Hand-held camerawork is
kept to a minimum, restricted to Lars’ frenzied scenes of splattering paint
onto the canvas. And even these scenes have a certain elegance. At last, a
contemporary horror film with no “found footage” or reality television tropes!
Key to the success of this picture is the brilliant
acting of lead players Lindhardt (Into the Wild) and Smith (Immortals, 300) and the welcome presence of renowned character actor McHattie (Watchmen) in a small but vital role.
EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL is a Canada-Denmark
coproduction from Mongrel Media, and easily the best film (horror or otherwise)
ever made in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. EDDIE does not strike one false
note. I strongly recommend you check it out.
The DVD is available in Canada only. Click here to buy from Amazon Canada.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, which present contemporary and classic films at their unique restaurant/theaters, have delved into the DVD business- and retro movie lovers can thank their lucky stars. One of the most prominent of the Drafthouse releases is Wake in Fright, a 1971 Australian film classic by Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian born director who had never previously set foot Down Under prior to making this movie. Based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright is unknown to many film scholars who pride themselves on being acquainted with worthwhile, little-seen films. (I must shamefully admit that I fall into this category myself, having never even heard of the film prior to reviewing the Blu-ray release). Based on the title, I assumed this was a suspense thriller or a horror film. It is neither. In fact, it is virtually impossible to pigeon-hole this movie into a specific genre. Suffice it to say that is one of the most visually arresting and mesmerizing movies of the 1970s- one that will haunt you long after viewing it.
The film opens with a panoramic shot of a tiny one room schoolhouse set against the expanse of the Outback desert. We are introduced to John Grant (Gary Bond), a handsome young teacher who seems curiously out of place in this environment in his jacket and tie. Grant is trying to maintain the universal standards of school teachers but we soon see that he is frustrated at having been powerless in choosing his designated school district. Thus, he has been assigned to one of the most remote places imaginable, teaching a class that is so small that teenagers are compelled to share the room with first graders. As the story begins, Grant is bidding his students farewell as he eagerly anticipates a six-week school holiday. He longs to return to Sydney and the loving embrace of his attractive girlfriend, whose well-worn bathing suit photo adorns his wallet. En route home, however, Grant's train makes a fateful stop in a small city of Bundanyabba (known to the fiercely territorial locals as "The 'yabba"). Grant is initially bored at being stranded for 24 hours in this unattractive mining town where the residents are either openly hostile to strangers or overbearingly friendly. He becomes acquainted with the local constable, Jock Crawford (the wonderful Aussie character actor Chips Rafferty, in final, and perhaps, best performance.) Crawford is an eccentric but he takes Grant under his wing and escorts him to a cavernous bar where hoards of local men are carousing and drinking alcohol with almost superhuman abilities. Grant is at first repulsed, but he finds himself accepted by the locals since he is vouched for by Jock. Soon, he's pretty inebriated himself and he becomes fascinated with a game of chance that dozens of men are participating in. The simple premise involves a toss of a coin and you win or lose based on whether you bet heads or tails. The sheer emotion of the participants intoxicates Grant and he tries his hand. He soon wins a small fortune. Tempted by the fact that winning even more money will allow himself to be freed from his undesirable teaching position, he makes the fatal mistake of returning to the game and gambling one more round. Within seconds, the drunken Grant loses every penny he has. By the next morning, he can't afford a train ticket to continue to Sydney and has to rely on the kindness of strangers (in the words of Tennessee Williams) to find housing and food.
This is where the film becomes completely compelling, as Grant rapidly meets a succession of overbearing- and potentially dangerous new "friends". They include Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), a friendly but consistently drunken elderly man who introduces Grant to his mates: two obnoxious and crude musclemen, Joe (Peter Whittle) and Dick (Jack Thompson in his screen debut). He also discovers Tim's attractive daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay), who can hardly stand the deplorable life she leads in having to serve her sexist father and his misogynistic friends. She is drawn to Grant's sensitivity but his attempts to satisfy her repressed sexual desires go awry. He is next introduced to Tydon (Donald Pleasence in brilliant form), a one-time doctor who has lost his license because of alcoholism. He lives a threadbare existence, trading medical advice to townspeople in return for a spartan diet and all the booze he can handle. Before long, Grant is coerced into joining Tyson, Joe and Dick on a brutal hunt for kangaroos. The drunken Grant becomes as savage as his out of control companions and he reaches bottom when he willingly kills and tortures these lovable, harmless creatures for mere amusement. As the story progresses, Grant devolves even further and goes off an alcohol-fueled abyss that culminates in a most unexpected homosexual encounter.
Wake in Fright startled audiences in Australia when it was first shown, leading to some audience members screaming at the screens "That's not us!" in objection to the way the Outback dwellers were portrayed. In reality, there are no overt villains shown on screen. These are just hard-bitten people who live in an inhospitable part of the land where you have to be tough in order to survive. The film was an entry at Canne but had a limited release before fading into obscurity. It was virtually impossible to market. The Alamo Drafthouse Blu-ray does justice to the film's astonishing cinematography by Brian West, as well as the unique and atmospheric score by John Scott. Kotcheff's direction is letter-perfect right up through the final frame. Kotcheff is interviewed on the Blu-ray and he expresses gratitude for the team of film historians who searched the world in order to find the elements that have made the restoration of the movie possible. He also recalls how, when the film when was shown at Cannes, one young man sitting behind him kept gushing about his enthusiasm for the film. When Kotcheff asked who the young man was, the dismissive answer was that he was an unheard of new director named Martin Scorsese! The Blu-ray includes vintage interviews with Kotcheff at Cannes in 1971, audio commentary with Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley, an extensive interview with Kotcheff at a 2009 Canadian film event, a vintage TV obituary for Chips Rafferty, a documentary about the restoration of the movie, theatrical trailers and an absorbing 28 page collector's booklet.
Wake in Fright is now justly regarded as the first "adult" Australian movie. It instilled pride and confidence in a generation of Aussie filmmakers and its legacy lives on through their works. Kudos to Alamo Drafthouse for presenting this moody and haunting cinematic experience through this first-rate Blu-ray release.
Unless you've been living on another planet yourself, you're probably familiar with the premise of Mystery Science Theater, the legendary TV series that involves a stranded astronaut and two robot friends who are subjected to watching an endless array of bad movies. Each 90 minute episode involves showing a B movie as the trio toss out hilarious wise cracks at the expense of all involved in the making of these cinematic embarrassments. The latest boxed set release from Shout! Factory features three (relatively) upper crust duds and one of the more traditional entries, a low-budget sci-fi flick. Here is a break down of the 4-DVD set:
OPERATION KID BROTHER- Ironically, whoever holds the rights to this 1967 Italian spy movie could make a fortune by simply releasing it "as is" on DVD. However, the only pseudo-release comes through the Mystery Science Theater set. As with all the titles, the film is edited down dramatically to fit a 90 minute slot that also includes another mainstay of the show: comedy vignettes featuring the bizarre characters who are regulars on the series. Still, half a water-down Kid Brother is better than none at all and if you haven't seen this infamous travesty, you're in for a treat. The film was cobbled together during the height of the spy movie rage to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films. Nothing unique about that. Seemingly every actor in the world sent word to their agents that they wanted to play a spy. The novelty behind this film is that the producers cast Neil Connery, brother of you-know-who, as a Scottish plastic surgeon with the power to hypnotize at will (don't ask!). Connery had no acting experience prior to finding himself in this rather lavish production that boasted exotic locations and an inspired supporting cast that included Bond regulars Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee as well as other high profile alumni from the series including Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi. The blatant attempt to exploit the Connery name is apparent by the fact that the catchy, guilty-pleasure title theme song is called O.K. Connery (it was composed by Ennio Morricone!). Additionally, Neil Connery plays a character creatively named Dr. Neil Connery. There are all sorts of cryptic references to the notion that he is the brother of 007, which of course doesn't stand up to scrutiny because 007's name is James Bond, not Sean Connery. Nevertheless, the funniest aspect of the movie is the most unintentional: the dubbing. It appears everyone but Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee are dubbed, including (inexplicably) Neil Connery himself. He's supposed to be Scotsman and is even seen wearing a kilt in one sequence, but is dubbed with a baritone American accent! The film is goofy fun throughout. I recently met Neil Connery in Scotland and he maintains a good sense of humor about the production, saying it was a pleasant experience even though he was appalled to find his voice had been dubbed. It's fine to have Kid Brother released as an MST 3000 edition, but let's hope there's a legit release in the works of the entire movie. The kitsch value alone would ensure brisk sales.
Kitten With a Whip- The inclusion of this mainstream entry as an MST 3000 edition is outside of the genres the series generally worked with, as related by series star and creator Mike Nelson, who explains the show generally concentrated on B horror and sci-fi flicks . However, the movie is so over-the-top bad that it merited inclusion in the show's Hall of Shame. Ann-Margret, then an up-and-coming star, had already had major success with State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. Good thing, too, because it's doubtful we would have heard much more from her had this guilty pleasure been the vehicle for her screen debut. The 1964 B&W film stars John Forsythe as David Stratton, a straight-laced, pillar of the community family man living in San Diego. He's being groomed by local politicians as a likely candidate for office and is expected to vie for the nomination in a forthcoming state senate race. With his wife and kids away on a vacation, Stratton becomes embroiled in a bizarre situation when he finds a scantily-clad, rain-soaked young woman named Jody literally sleeping in his bed, having broken into his house. Jody explains she was being abused in a home for teenaged girls and had to flee for her life. Stratton makes the mistake of trying to assist her, but soon realizes she is actually wanted for burning the home down and attempting to kill a matron there. He finds himself being set up in a blackmail scheme that would destroy his family life and political ambitions, with matters complicated by the fact that Jody will accuse him of rape, which is even more damaging because she is under-age. Defenseless, Stratton has no choice but to allow Jody and a trio of bizarre and potentially violent delinquents take over his house, wreaking physical and emotional damage. The whole enterprise goes hilariously off-the-charts when the gang ends up driving to Tijuana where Stratton coincidentally runs into virtually every possible person who he does not want to encounter, with the possible exception of The Three Stooges. In more skilled hands, the basic premise could have been an effective one, but director Douglas Hayes (who was a well-regarded screenwriter) encourages Ann-Margret and her young co-stars to go over-the-top at every possible opportunity. The string of coincidences, bad judgment calls and overall ineptness on the part of Stratton only emphasizes how incredibly frightening he would be in political office. Only Forsythe emerges relatively unscathed and the ironic end does pack a bit of a dramatic wallop but the film can generally be regarded as an embarrassment for all concerned and well worth the MST 3000 "tribute".
Revenge of the Creature- This 1955 monster flick is acknowledged as another off-beat entry for inclusion in the show, as it was produced by Universal and boasts relatively upscale production values. The sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon finds the titular monster captured and put on display in a Florida aquarium where he is gawked at by scientists and public alike. The fish-faced fiend ultimately breaks free and terrorizes the locals, including the prerequisite teens on Lover's Lane. The film is noted primarily for providing young Clint Eastwood in a bit role, but as these streamlined versions of the films are edited severely to make room for comedy sketches, I don't believe the Eastwood footage made it into this version, or I blinked and missed it. The film is goofy fun but nowhere near as enjoyable as those truly bad B movies turned out by other studios. John Agar is the hunky leading man and Lori Nelson is the sexy girl who the monster inevitably ends up carrying into the drink.
Robot Holocaust- This 1986 title is far more the norm for the MST 3000 crowd. A micro-budgeted howler about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans serve as slave laborers for the Dark One's power station. I'm not sure what the Dark One is, exactly, but he's apparently non-human and he's a humorless dude who arranges for gladiator-like fights to the death among the slaves. Into this mix comes a rebel from the outside world who attempts to stir up a revolution. There are the usual Star Wars-inspired robot clones, all of which look like someone you might see at a Halloween party. New York locations include Central Park, probably because it's a place where people who look like aliens from another world wouldn't draw much attention from passers-by. The film's 79-minute running time feels like that of Doctor Zhivago after you get past the first half-hour's worth of unintentional giggles but the performance of the "actress" who plays the villainess helps the climax attain a certain greatness in the annals of bad movies in that it is perhaps the worst performance ever committed to celluloid. For that reason alone, the entire set is worth adding to your library.
This release is packed with extras including interviews with the show's Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson and cast members Bill Corbett and J. Elvis Weinstein. An unexpected gem is the documentary Jack Arnold at Universal, a serious tribute to the director who brought to life some of the studio's most enduring monster movie classics. It's unusual to see such respect paid to a filmmaker in an MST 3000 release, but it's certainly warranted.There are also the usual cool mini-posters created by artist Steve Vance.
Remember that scene in Mel Brooks' The Producers when the first performance of Springtime for Hitler has just been performed for an opening night crowd on Broadway? The camera pans around the silent audience to show people sitting slack-jawed, mouths agape at the travesty they have just witnessed. I had a similar experience watching Sextette for the first time. Mind you, as a long time retro movie analyst, I was well-aware of the film's reputation as a notorious misfire. However, no criticism can quite prepare anyone for the experience of actually watching this bizarre spectacle unfold before your eyes. Scorpion Video has made that possible with a special edition DVD release of the 1978 musical comedy that was to be Mae West's second attempt to make a big screen comeback. (The first, the notorious 1970 bomb Myra Breckenridge, outraged her when she saw the final cut.) Sextette went into production in 1976, produced by "Briggs and Sullivan", a headed-for-oblivion duo whose pretentious billing perhaps unwittingly brings to mind circus masters Barnum and Bailey. The producers had acquired the rights to West's play Sextet, which apparently resulted in legal and censorship problems for the great screen diva way back when it was first presented. By the time it was dusted off for audiences in the 1970s, we were already living in an era in which Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice could comfortably slip between the sheets together, thus rendering the sexual humor in West's farce seem about as daring as a Disney production.
The film, directed by the generally admirable Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), presents West as Marlo Manners, a legendary diva of the cinema who still causes hearts to flutter whenever she makes a public appearance. When we first see her (a full 8 minutes into the movie), she is checking into a London hotel to enjoy her honeymoon with her latest (and sixth husband), handsome young Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton). It isn't long before Barrington realizes that Marlo has a fanatical fan base and a seemingly endless string of former and would-be lovers clamoring for her attention. Among them, some ex-husbands including a crazy movie director (Ringo Starr) and a gangster who was presumed dead (George Hamilton). Then there is a Soviet diplomat (Tony Curtis) who is the central figure in a world peace conference that coincidentally happens to be taking place in the same hotel. Add to the zany mix her hyper-active business manager (Dom DeLuise), a singing waiter (Alice Cooper!) and a fey dress designer (The Who's Keith Moon) and you probably have to admire whoever managed to get this eclectic group of talented people together, even if they all should have known better. West's old pal George Raft even shows up and rides an elevator with her. The razor-thin plots involves Marlo trying to consummate her marriage to Barrington, who is a naive virgin who inadvertently implies to Hollywood gossip guru Rona Barrett that he is gay. In fact, just about the only audience that might derive any visual pleasure from the film are gay males, due to the abundance of scantily-clad muscle men who flex their abs every time Marlo walks by. To make matters even more bizarre, the cast occasionally breaks out into songs as though this was some old Busby Berkeley musical. The nadir of this is when an understandably embarrassed Dalton is forced to sing the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together to his on-screen bride. (Presumably, Dalton left this achievement off his resume or he probably wouldn't have ended up playing James Bond.) In the midst of this madness, Marlo also barges in on the peace conference and convinces all the diplomats (including Walter Pidgeon!) to engage in some kumbaya moments of diplomacy.
West was certainly a screen legend in her time and one of the most liberated women in show business. You have to admire her for promoting women's lib and sexual freedom in an era in which most people were tone deaf to such sentiments. However, knowing when to quit was obviously not one of her attributes. As Marlo brings twenty-something men to states of sexual frenzy in Sextette, you keep waiting for at least one joke regarding the fact that the woman was in her 80s when the film was made. Unfortunately, throughout the entire movie, no such realization is apparent. Men salivate over her, as West creaks stiffly from frame to frame looking like the Marie Antoinette figure from Madame Tussaud's wax museum. West had parlayed her limited schtick of tossing off sexually suggestive one-liners into a full time screen career, not so much acting as merely quipping. It may have worked great in her prime opposite Cary Grant and W.C. Fields, but it's a sad spectacle to see Ringo Starr try to control his urges in her presence. The only cast member to emerge unscathed is DeLuise, who gives an energetic and amusing performance that even sees him jumping atop a piano and engaging in an impressive tap dance.
The Scorpion DVD transfer is excellent and includes an extensive and spellbinding interview with Ian Whitcomb, who served as a music consultant on the film. A good friend of Mae West's, he relates affectionate tales of their relationship and provides some uncomfortable details about the filming. (West would periodically seem to lose her powers of concentration and often had to have her lines read to her through an ear piece.) He also reads entries from his diary that were written during production. There is also a very informative on-screen essay by film critic Dennis Dermody that explores the film's disastrous reception by critics and the public. An original TV spot is also included.
Sextette easily manages to gain that rare status of being so bad, it's good. You must add this DVD to your collection.
(Look for an article about the making of the film in Cinema Retro #26)
Cinema Retro's Eddy Friedfeld fulfilled his life's dream by taking the Batmobile for a spin a few years ago.
George Barris, the man who turned a 1955 Lincoln Future concept car, into one of the most iconic vehicles in screen history is $4.2 million richer today. His original Batmobile, driven by Adam West and Burt Ward in the 1960s smash hit Batman TV series, sold for that eye-opening price last week at auction. Click here for details
Director Michael Winner has died in his native England at age 77. Winner's star rose in the early to mid 1960s with a string of innovative comedies such as The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's'isname, that perfectly tapped into the emerging London "mod scene". His eclectic range of movies covered many genres, from Westerns to WWII to urban crime thrillers. Among his more notable titles were Lawman, Chato's Land, Scorpio, Hannibal Brooks, The Games, The Sentinel, The Nightcomers, The Mechanic and The Stone Killer. His greatest and most unexpected success was the 1974 film Death Wish starring Charles Bronson which was released at a time when societies worldwide were bristling at an explosion of urban crime and the perception that the current laws were not protecting them. The film tapped into a vigilante sentiment in its depiction of a New York liberal who takes the law into his own hands after his wife is brutalized by a gang of thugs who also rape his daughter. Response to the film was unnerving to many, with audiences screaming in approval with the death of every bad guy. Director William Friedkin told Cinema Retro that the response of the audience in the theater where he saw the film was the most "visceral" he had ever witnessed. Death Wish and the controversy surrounding the film afforded Winner a second career as a political pundit in England. Ironically, it also marked the high water mark of his screen career. His work got lazier and less inspired in the years to come, resulting in forgettable duds such as Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, Dirty Weekend and Bullseye. He also directed two sequels to Death Wish that were financial successes but critical disasters. He was accused of grabbing for the low-hanging fruit and directing both films in order to make a fast profit. Winner's star eroded in America but he had remained a high profile personality in England, often making outrageous statements that offended seemingly everyone. Denied a knighthood, Winner scorned the offer of being honored with an OBE by saying it was suitable for people who "clean toilets". His political punditry in favor of the Tories made him a regular fixture on British TV where he would rail against the perceived dangers of liberalism. His long-running restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times also caused controversy and instilled fears in chefs whose creations he disapproved of. Ironically, it was his fixation on exotic gastronomical delights that hastened his death. Winner had suffered from a series of terrible health complications relating to certain dishes he had dined on. He never fully recovered. For more on his life and career click here
While it's progress that James Bond, the ultimate symbol of capitalism and democracy, can have his exploits now shown in Chinese cinemas, old totalitarian habits die hard. Skyfall - the Chinese version- has undergone some judicious editing, eliminating a scene in which 007 kills a Chinese security guard. In another scene, the English language dialogue was left intact, but the Chinese sub-titles were altered to change the meaning of the conversation. For more click here
The international rollout for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln will differ slightly than the version seen by American audiences. It will feature a special prologue that is designed to inform foreign audiences about the historical context of what was going on in America during the period of the Civil War. The film centers primarily on Lincoln's obsession with getting the 24th Amendment to the Constitution passed by Congress so that slavery would be banned throughout the entire United States once the country was reunited. For more click here
Frankenweenie (2012) is an animated big-screen expansion
of Tim Burton's own 1984 live-action short film of the same name and utilizes
the Frankenstein monster tale by Mary Shelley to tell a clever and ultimately
moving story about a young boy, Victor Frankenstein, and how he copes with the
loss of his beloved dog.This is a
universal scenario that every child who grows up with a pet must face at some
point.I have only seen a handful of
films tackle this subject, and Don Coscarelli’s 1975 outing Kenny and Company is notable for its
depiction of a young boy who must take his dog to the vet to be put to
Victor loves making 16mm movies with
his dog, Sparky, in his hometown of New Holland, which is constructed to look
like Everytown, USA.Sparky stars as the
“Sparkysaurus.” After all, what young
boy doesn't love dinosaurs?Mixing
footage of Sparky with self-made animation, Victor's movie illustrates an
imagination no doubt inspired by The
Twilight Zone and The Beast from
20,000 Fathoms (1953).Victor,
obviously an alter-ego for director Burton, is an awkward child who keeps a low
profile from his classmates and his neighbor Mr. Burgermeister (a nice nod to
Rankin and Bass) who brandishes a hedge clipper.During a baseball game, Victor hits a home
run, but Sparky chases the ball into the street and is killed by a car.Devastated, Victor mopes through school until
his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a grotesque caricature of a man, shows the
class how to use electricity to move a dead frog’s legs.Experiencing a “Eureka!” moment, Victor is
filled with a new sense of purpose, and converts his parent’s attic into a
makeshift laboratory.Following his
teacher’s instructions, he reanimates Sparky with the help of lightning.
Victor does his best to keep Sparky’s reemergence
a secret.A creepy, overzealous kid from
the neighborhood, Edgar, wants to know how Victor did it.Word gets out about Sparky, and other children
competing for a science project attempt similar experiments until things get
out of control: a rat becomes a crazed monster; a turtle is made enormous and
stomps among a town square carnival like a mixture of Godzilla and Gamera; sea monkeys
run amok through the streets; a cute, next-door poodle who fancies Sparky is
made to resemble Elsa Lanchester. (There are some cute inside jokes here: the
name "Shelley" appears on a tombstone and Bambi is displayed on a local theatre marquee, perhaps as much a
nod to the classic short film Bambi Meets
Godzilla as it is an homage to the Disney film.)The climax is a loving homage to James Whale’s
1931 classic that started it all and fueled nightmares for years to come.
Thematically, Frankenweenie shares many similarities to Henry Selick's 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas (produced
by Burton) in that a protagonist compelled to do a good deed ends up making a
mess of things.Most of the characters,
particularly the children, have predominantly large eyes, as if they stepped
out of a Margaret Keane painting (it’s no wonder that she is the subject of the
director’s next film, due for release later this year).
Filmed on Canon EOS 5D Mark II single
lens reflux cameras and printed in black and white, Frankenweenie looks lovely and is easily one of the year’s best
films.It should win the Oscar for Best
Animated Feature.It would be nice to
see black and white return to the screen as an art form as it truly looks beautiful.Danny Elfman provides yet another memorable
score to a Tim Burton film.
There are a few nice extras included on the Blu-ray disc:
·We get a short film starring Sparky called Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers,
the in-movie that appears at the start of the film and runs roughly two and a-half-minutes in
length (no relation to Siskel and Ebert’s Sparky the Wonder Dog of PBS’s Sneak Previews from the early 1980s.).
·Miniatures in Motion: Bringing
Frankenweenie to Life is
an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary featurette that runs about 23 minutes
(I wish it was longer) and takes us to the massive 60,000 foot soundstage in London
where the film was shot and contains comments from the many animators who
worked on the individual scenes – they all averaged about two minutes per week
of screen time! What is truly
extraordinary about this piece is seeing the astonishing level of detail and
attention that is made to even the smallest of items. You get a new appreciation of the film and all
the hard work that went into making it. Absolutely nothing in this movie has
been computer-generated. It was all designed, built, and manufactured for the
·The Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit is enough to make one jealous if you
don’t live in one of the cities that it comes to.
Burton's original 1984 featurette, Frankenweenie,
upon which this film is based. This wonderful live-action film was financed by
Disney and the producers were reportedly shocked at how frightening it would be
for children, so much so that they fired Burton and shelved the project.It runs 30 minutes and stars Barret Oliver (The Neverending Story) as Victor, the
young son of Ben and Susan (Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall).Sofia Coppola, inexplicably using the name
Domino, appears as a friend of Victor’s.
It would have been nice to have a
running commentary with Tim Burton or from the animators as I love commentaries
and eagerly listen to them whenever they appear as extras.However, this is a minor quibble.The film looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray
and is a worthy addition to your collection.
Click here to order order 4 disc deluxe edition with DVD and digital copies included.
It's hard to believe that Pixar Animation
Studios’ Finding Nemo, which was
released on Friday, May 30, 2003, is now ten years-old. One of the most popular
animated films of all time, Finding Nemo
is a delightful excursion into the world of undersea life with plenty of
colorful characters to go around. Employing the voice talents of some of
Hollywood's best-known and most respected performers, Finding Nemo aims to not only entertain us but educate us, as well.
It succeeds extraordinarily well in
Despite the years of science that I've
accumulated under my belt by way of elementary, intermediate, and high school,
I must plead ignorance and admit to never having heard of a clownfish (scientifically
known as Amphiprion ocellaris) prior
to Finding Nemo.Director Andrew Stanton reportedly saw these water
dwellers in an aquarium in Florida and their vibrant look helped provide
inspiration for the film. The
aptly-named Marlin and Coral are two such fish, parents just starting a family.
Unfortunately, a barracuda attack leaves Marlin alone except for one remaining
fish egg out of roughly one hundred which he decides to name Nemo, a name that
his wife Coral liked prior to her untimely demise. As a result of this attack, Nemo suffers from
a malformed right fin, making him the runt of the litter, so to speak.Due to this perceived limitation, Marlin
becomes just a tad overprotective and overbearing and follows Nemo wherever he
goes, looking out for him. When Nemo
goes off to school to learn the ways of underwater sea life, his father finds
it very difficult to let him go off on his own.This frustration leads Nemo to rush off into unchartered waters where he
is swooped up by humans, possibly to never see his father again.Marlin sets out to rescue him, and is
befriended by Dory, a well-intentioned regal blue tang who suffers from
short-term memory loss.They join forces
to locate Nemo after a clue that reveals he is in Sydney, Australia.Along the way they encounter some crazy
characters, such as a shark who is swearing off eating fish; a group of
jellyfish; a group of sea turtles caught up in the East Australian Current; and
a pelican who is trying to help Nemo. Added
to this mix are a few human characters, specifically a dentist whose fish tank
is home to a motley crew of sea life all trying to help Nemo (who is now a
prisoner in the tank) get home.One of
his patients is his niece, Darla, a pre-prepubescent nightmare sporting metal
braces and is the film’s answer to Toy
Story’s Sid, the kid down the block who loves to destroy toys.
The film is beautifully animated. Pixar
has certainly come a long way from its early days; more money, of course, means
better technology and the underwater world of Finding Nemo really comes to life here in a way that 1989’s The Little Mermaid only hinted at.The nuances in the plant life are exquisite,
and the banter between the characters is laugh-out-loud funny.The underrated Albert Brooks, whom I liked so
much in Taxi Driver (1976), Broadcast News (1987), and Drive (2011), voices Marlin with a
fatherly exuberance and concern.Ellen
DeGeneres is his equal as Dory, the forgetful fish.Also on hand are Willem Dafoe, Allison
Janney, Austin Pendleton, Geoffrey Rush, and Elizabeth Perkins.In the same way that Jaws (1975) made oceanographers and marine biologists out of
wide-eyed children in the audience fascinated by the Carcharodon carcharias, Finding Nemo his more than likely inspired
more than a few future Jacques Cousteaus.
As to be expected, the Blu-ray is a
revelation, and Finding Nemohas
never looked better on home video.There
is a clarity, sharpness and depth that truly amazing to see.The film comes in two flavors on disc: a
three-disc set and a five-disc set (this contains a 3D version of the film).The first Blu-ray disc extras contains the
following extras in high definition: a cute, three and-a-half minute short from
1989 called Knick Knack; a
five-minute loop called “Aquarium” that allows you to run continuously on the
monitor; “CineExplore,” a feature that
allows you to view the complete film while hearing comments from the filmmakers
with superimposed storyboards on the screen; “Finding Nemo: A Roundtable Discussion” is a seventeen-minute discussion
among the filmmakers reminiscing ten years after the film’s release; “Reinventing
the Submarine Voyage” at Disneyland, runs roughly fifteen minutes and looks at
the underwater sea rides; alternate opening (three minutes); and “A Lesson in
Flashbacks” which runs eight minutes wherein the director recalls how the film
was originally conceived. The second Blu-ray contains the following extras all
ported over from the original 2004 DVD release, which are all in standard
definition with the exception of “Aquariums” and “Art Review” (an eight-minute discussion
of concept design); “Making Nemo” is a 25-minute documentary on the making of
the film; “Exploring the Reef” is exactly what the title entails; “Studio Tour”
which takes the audience behind the doors of Pixar for five minutes; several
outtakes, deleted scenes, and publicity pieces; and “Mr. Ray’s Enclyclopedia.”
It is interesting to note that Pixar
was more focused on The Incredibles (2004)
during the making Finding Nemo,
believing that the former would be the huge hit and the latter would do minimal
business.Universal Pictures did the
same thing in 1974 when they were making The
Hindenburg and gave the green light to Jaws,
thinking that the star-studded disaster film by Robert Wise Allen would be the box
office champ while the film about a Great White Shark was their “little
Nemo is a big picture of the little
clownfish that could.
Click here to order Blu-ray 5-disc set from Amazon
In the wake of unexpected critical acclaim for director Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night in 1964, studios scrambled to emulate the success of that first feature film starring The Beatles. Over a period of a few years, many bands found themselves top-lining major feature films. Most were mindless exploitation films, a few others more ambitious in their goals. Fitting snugly into the latter category was Having a Wild Weekend (released in the UK under the title Catch Us If You Can.) The film represents the only movie starring the Dave Clark Five, one of the more popular bands to emerge during that marvelous era in the 1960s when Great Britain shed its post WWII doldrums and came to dominate international pop culture. The band was one of many who rode the coattails of The Beatles to the top of the charts, but they had their own unique style of songs and music that resulted in some memorable hit songs that still hold up well today. At one point, the DC5 was so popular that they appeared on The Ed Sulllivan Show more than any other British band. Their feature film debut is impressive only in the sense that it afforded a young documentary maker named John Boorman the opportunity to make his feature film directorial debut. There is scant evidence that Boorman possessed the kind of unique vision that would result in Point Blank only two years later and Deliverance five years after that, but Weekend is different from most teen idol movies of the era both in terms of its visual content as well as its message. The script is also unique in that the DC5 don't appear as themselves, thus its the only film of its kind that doesn't showcase the band members playing music on screen. In fact, they don't even play musicians, but rather, stuntmen who are employed to appear in an expensive nationwide British ad campaign designed to encourage meat eating. This rather uncommercial message is prettied up by having the campaign center on a perky, sexy young blonde named Dinah (Barbara Ferris), who is an omnipresent force in London, appearing on billboards and TV ads to promote the meat industry in a fun way. The DC5 appear with her as window dressing, always in the background of the ads. During the shooting of a particularly frustrating TV commercial taping, Dinah and her boyfriend Steve (Dave Clark) engage in an abrupt act of rebellion by stealing a sports car they drive in the ad and absconding to an island that Dinah hopes to retire to. This sets in motion a massive search by the advertising agency executives that becomes a nationwide obsession. Rumors circulate that Steve has kidnapped Dinah, something that turns out to be an unexpected boon for the ad agency since it results in a great deal of free publicity for "The Meat Girl". Steve and Dinah's directionless meanderings around the island prove to be less joyful than expected. They encounter a colony of hippies but find they are as shallow as the Establishment types they are rebelling against. They also blunder into the middle of military war games in the film's zaniest and least credible sequence. Ultimately the other members of the DC5 join them but even they are being pursued by agents for the advertising agency as well as local police. Steve brings them to a farm run by a boyhood idol who he used to visit as a child only to find he has "sold out" too and is looking to use Dinah as a tourist attraction. Disillusioned, Steve and Dinah ultimately come face to face with their employers and Steve gets a downbeat life lesson on how shallow even Dinah's principals can be.
Having a Wild Weekend is a strangely humorless film with the DC5 songs rather awkwardly interwoven. Even a sequence (filmed in Bath) that depicts a massive, wild costume party doesn't deliver the amusement you might expect. However, it does offer the unique opportunity to see people dressed as Stan Laurel, the Marx Brothers and Frankenstein cavorting in the ancient Roman baths. Dave Clark has movie star looks and admirable screen presence. He should have pursued a career as an actor. However, the other band members have scant opportunity to present themselves as individuals. This includes lead singer Mike Smith, who sang most of the group's hit songs even though Clark would lip synch to them in live appearances to appear as though he sang them on the recordings. Plot angles appear promisingly but get dropped abruptly including a potentially promising sequence in which Steve and Dinah are invited home by a middle aged couple (excellently played by Robin Bailey and Yootha Joyce) who turn out to be setting them up for some sexual swinging. Director Boorman eschews studio sets for actual locations and this gives the movie a sense of vibrancy it might otherwise have lacked. Manny Wynn's black and white cinematography does justice to the British countryside and he presents the action through some interesting camera angles.
The downbeat storyline won praise from critics at the time because it so deftly avoids emulating the ridiculously cheery productions that were generally aimed at teens. It holds up well as a curiosity and affords some nostalgic insights into a time when the counterculture movement was on the verge of exploding. The DVD presentation by the Warner Archive presents a crisp, clean transfer sans any extras. One hopes that someday, Dave Clark might be asked to participate in a special edition of the movie.
Jerry Lewis' big screen comeback film, Max Rose, is finally going into production this week in Los Angeles. However, if you look for Nutty Professor-like antics from the 86 year-old comedy legend, you won't find them in this indie film written and directed by Daniel Noah. It's a dramatic tale about a widowed pianist who is haunted by a revelation about his late wife. Lewis played it straight before, leaving the laughs to Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's underrated classic The King of Comedy (1983). For more click here
Here's a real gem from MGM showing the beauties of Italy as a guise for promoting their upcoming slate of films. You can see rare footage of Man From U.N.C.L.E. stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum meeting up in Venice during the shooting of their separate feature films The Venetian Affair and Three Bites of the Apple. The promotional short even features footage of them together on a gondola. (Vaughn was supposed to make a cameo appearance inthe McCallum film, but it never came about.) Kudos to the Warner Archive for finally releasing The Venetian Affair (click here for our review) and we hope they get around to Three Bites of the Apple which is an amusing comedy featuring McCallum in especially fine form as a tour guide taking around a zany group of tourists. The great supporting cast includes Sylva Koscina, Tammy Grimes and Harvey Korman.
A recently released (but heavily redacted) FBI file shows that the agency began investigating the personal life of sex siren Marilyn Monroe in 1955. The Bureau was then under the command of J. Edgar Hoover, who was a rabid anti-Red. Hoover also ensured his longevity at the Bureau -despite being despised by a succession of Presidents- because he deftly used FBI resources to gather potentially scandalous information, often of a political or sexual nature, that could be brandished as "incentives" to keep him on the job. During the anti-Communist paranoia of the 1950s, Hoover had Monroe investigated because of her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, who was deemed a communist sympathizer. The FBI feared that the popular Monroe could be enlisted as a propaganda tool for the Reds. For more click here
The Humphrey Bogart Estate, run by the legendary star's son Stephen, is holding the first annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo (where else?), Florida on May 2-5, 2015. There will be theatrical screenings of Bogie classics as well as other crime-related movies. Stephen Bogart will be attending along with Leonard Maltin. There will also be an opportunity to ride on the original African Queen and view Bogart memorabilia. Click here for more
President Bill Clinton's appearance provided evidence of the Golden Globes' increasing clout in the film industry.
Jodie Foster: mesmerizing but often incomprehensible.
By Lee Pfeiffer
The Golden Globe Awards are generally criticized for being incomprehensible for most viewers in that they are selected by a relatively tiny group of people known as the Hollywood Foreign Press. There have been jokes on the telecasts themselves that the awards can generally be "purchased" if a studio or nominee invites the right people to the right kind of parties. Despite the criticism, in recent years everyone agrees on this: the Golden Globes telecast is generally a lot of fun and never as dull as the Oscars often are. Unlike Oscar, the Globes cover television as well as motion pictures. Last night's award ceremony was breezy, fast-moving and actually funny, thanks to some good lines delivered by hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. There were some dud jokes, of course, and the usual presenters/winners who pretentiously drop obscenities to prove how hip they are but there was also the novelty of seeing a former President- Bill Clinton- make a surprise appearance to introduce a clip from Lincoln. The main value of the event was to prove that the Globes now serve as more than a forerunner for Oscar winners. They have their own identity, as evidenced by the fact that some of the most deserving artists were nominated for Globes but were snubbed by Oscar. Additionally, while Oscar sometimes trims their honorary awards down to ludicrously short time slots (Jerry Lewis received shabby treatment in this regard a few years ago), the Globes blissfully ignore the stop watch. This was evidenced by the lifetime achievement award given to Jodie Foster, who has spent her entire life in the film business. Looking wonderful at age 50, the accomplished actress and director gave a mesmerizing but often incomprehensible speech in which she joked about "coming out" as a lesbian (she is), explained her obsession for privacy and seemed to imply she was retiring from some aspect of show business, but no one could figure out exactly what she was referring to. Among the surprises was the fact that no one film emerged as a dominating factor, thus ensuring a good deal of suspense across all categories.
Click here for more coverage and a complete list of winners.
Writer Graham Milne, a true blue James Bond fan, is delighted that Skyfall has racked up five Oscar nominations. However, in a detailed analysis, he dismantles any hopes the film will win in any category except for Best Song. Click here to read and see if you agree.
THIS PAGE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION AND WILL BE COMPLETED SHORTLY.
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #24 (SEPTEMBER, 2012):
Major celebration of The Poseidon Adventure's 40th
anniversary with articles by David Savage, Tom Lisanti, James Radford and Chris
Poggiali. Includes many rare photos, international movie posters and interviews
with Carol Lynley and Mort Kunstler, the legendary artist who created the movie
poster. Kunstler also provides his original sketches for the ad campaign, reproduced
in this issue for the first time.
40th anniversary tribute to Deliverance. John
Exshaw visits director John Boorman at his home in Ireland for exclusive
interview about working with author James Dickey on the landmark film.
Gary Giblin takes an in-depth look at another classic film
celebrating its 40th anniversary: Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, complete
with rare stills from sequences that the Master cut from the final version of
Matthew R. Bradley looks at one of the screen's legendary baddies, James
Bond nemesis Blofeld in both literature and cinema. The title of the
article: The Importance of Being Ernst.
Remembering Ernest Borgnine: a tribute to the legendary
Raymond Benson's ten best films of 1983.
Lee Pfeiffer pays tongue-in-cheek tribute to the 1976 B
movie cult "classic" Grizzly starring Christopher George,
Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine.
Gareth Owen revisits the early days of director Michael
Winner's career at Pinewood Studios.
Mark Mawston's new column Desert Island Flicks covers
underrated gems like John Frankenheimer's Seconds, Frank
Perry's The Swimmer and Don Siegel's Coogan's Bluff.
Adrian Smith titillates readers with part two of his
extensive look at the history of British sexploitation films in More Sex,
Please. We're British.
Dean Brierly's Crime Wave International covers British
classic crime movies of the 60s and 70s including Get Carter, Payroll, The
Long Good Friday, Robbery, Villain and Sitting Target.
Plus the usual reviews of the latest film books, DVDs and
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #25 INCLUDE:
James Bond at 50: Cinema Retro interviews Daniel
Craig, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and Skyfall director Sam
Mendesabout the screen legacy of Agent 007.
Dr. No cast and crew reunion at Pinewood Studios,
England: Gareth Owen reports
Matthew R. Bradley covers the Blofelds of screen and
literature in The Importance of Being Ernst: Part 2
Major coverage of Hammer Films events:
convention report, Hammer horror film locations then and now and coverage of the
latest Blu-ray releases.
In-depth look at the new restoration of David Lean's
masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia and exclusive interview with Sony's
Grover Crisp, the man who spearheaded the restoration process.
Best-selling author Robert Sellers provides a
fascinating look at the life and career of the ultimate "bad boy" of
British cinema, Oliver Reed.
Dean Brierly looks at the best Italian crime movies of
the 60s and 70s.
Tribute to the creator of master of British film
posters, artist Tom Chantrell.
Michael Davey interviews British sex symbol Liz
Sands of the Kalahari starring Stuart Whitman and Susannah
York: Lee Pfeiffer revisits an underrated classic adventure
Nicholas Anez pays tribute to Burt Lancaster's
controversial The Swimmer
The"B" British war film Attack on the
Iron Coast starring Lloyd Bridges- part one of Howard Hughes'
history of Oakmont Studios
Raymond Benson's top ten films of 1984
Plus the latest DVD, soundtrack and film book
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #26 INCLUDE:
Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs: Mike Siegel provides in-depth
coverage of the legendary director's controversial 1971 classic starring
Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. Includes extensive rarely seen behind the
scenes production photos and rare international ad campaigns.
Lee Pfeiffer interviews
comedy genius Mel Brooks, who reflects on his long career
in TV and feature films.
Howard Hughes examines the
1969 spaghetti Western classic The Five Man Army starring
Peter Graves, Bud Spencer and Tetsuro Tamba
Dean Brierly pays tribute to
the great French crime films of the 1960s and 1970s
David McCallum recalls the making of
Oakmont Studio's 1969 WWII film Mosquito Squadron
Cinema Retro attends the
40th anniversary cast and crew reunion of Bob Fosse's Cabaret and
gets interviews with Joel Grey, Michael York, Marisa Berenson and
Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. Plus we cover the
"re-premiere" at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre, attended by Liza
Don R. Stradley looks at Sextette, the
bizarre cinematic swan song of Mae West
Raymond Benson's ten best
films of 1985
Gareth Owen examines the
making of the 1969 spy flick The Chairman (aka The
Most Dangerous Man in the World) starring Gregory
Dave Worrall covers the new
restoration of the Hammer horror classic Dracula (aka Horror
Remembering the brilliant,
cynical comedy of Paddy Chayefsky in The Hospital starring George
C. Scott and Diana Rigg
Plus the latest DVD,
soundtrack and film book reviews
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #27 INCLUDE:
Don L. Stradley examines the dramatic life and career of Lolita star Sue Lyon
John Exshaw's unpublished interview with screen legend Peter Cushing
Adrian Smith interviews Hugh Hudson, director of Revolution and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Dean Brierly looks at classic Japanese crime movies
Stephen C. Jilks celebrates the Hammer horror flick Curse of the Werewolf
David Savage examines Liz Taylor's little-seen, late career bizarro cult movie The Driver's Seat
Howard Hughes continues his history of Oakmont Productions with Submarine X-1 starring James Caan
Paul Thomson provides in-depth coverage of the Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs film adaptations The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth's Core and The People That Time Forgot and reviews the long-forgotten electric rock Western Zachariah
Remember Ray Harryhausen
Raymond Benson's top ten films of 1986
Lee Pfeiffer's Take Two column looks back on The Valachi Papersstarring Charles Bronson
Burt Reynolds underrated dark comedy The End is re-evaluated by Tim Greaves
Gareth Owen's Pinewood Past column features Reach for the Sky starring Kenneth More
Plus the latest film book, soundtrack and DVD reviews.
The Cohen Media Group is a relatively new company that, over the last four years, has produced and distributed primarily highly acclaimed international art house films. The company's latest release on DVD and Blu-ray is Farewell, My Queen, director Benoit Jacquot's French-language 2012 period costume drama that centers on the outbreak of the French Revolution, as experienced by Sidonie (Lea Seydoux), a young woman who has the seemingly enviable position of being "The Queen's Reader". Her primary responsibility is to literally read books to Marie Antoinette (that's right, the nobility didn't even have to strain their eyes). Sidonie, a twenty-something country girl, is in awe of the Queen and is slavishly devoted to her needs. As played by Diane Kruger, Marie Antoinette is presented as the undeniably spoiled wife of Louis XVI, but the portrayal humanizes her. Marie Antoinette, like so many famous (or infamous) historical figures, has often been reduced to a caricature on the silver screen. In Jacquot's film, however, she is allowed to show an intelligent and softer side, as evidenced through the respect she shows Sidonie. The film, based on Chantal Thomas' 2003 novel, constrains the action to four pivotal days in French history. When we are first introduced to Sidnonie and her Queen, the palace staff is living comfortably in the lavish palace of Versailles. The story makes it quite clear that Sidonie's interest and devotion to the Queen extends beyond her duties as a household servant- she is clearly sexually attracted to her. The screenplay capitalizes on long-standing rumors that Marie Antoinette was a not-so-closeted lesbian. (Pamphlets were distributed in Paris during the day satirizing Marie's alleged participation in lesbian orgies.) Historically, this was never proven, but the rumors seem to have been inspired by her marriage to a disinterested monarch who slept in a separate bedroom and all but ignored her. Marie also undoubtedly had very close relationships with other women that helped keep the rumor-mill going. In Farwell, My Queen, Marie Antoinette comes out of the closet to Sidonie, but the girl's romantic fantasies are crushed when it is revealed that the Queen's true love is Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), a married duchess with an independent streak who has engaged in a lesbian relationship with Marie. The lives of the aristocracy and those who serve them are abruptly sent into turmoil when news arrives from Paris that the peasants have stormed the Bastille. Panic sweeps through the palace, and chaos reigns as the King's guards desert, leaving the pampered royals to fend for themselves for the first time in their lives. In the midst of the madness, King Louis (a peripheral figure in the story, but well-played by Xavier Beauvois), opts not to flee along with his "loyal" staff and agrees to go to Paris to meet the dissidents in hopes of retaining the throne. Left to her own devices, Marie Antoinette believes she is doomed and enlists Sidonie in a high-risk plan to secure the safety of Gabrielle, whose excesses have made her particularly reviled by the populace.
This is a lavish, big-budget production that brings to mind the visual splendor of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Romain Winding's cinematography is an inspiration, turning the opulent backdrops into cinematic "paintings". Director Jacquot defies the odds by successfully telling a female-driven story from a female point-of-view. The character of Sidonie is our protagonist, but she remains an enigma and we never do understand how a peasant girl became employed by the royal court. Her sexual obsession with the Queen is also complicated by the fact that she is clearly bi-sexual, as evidenced by an aborted sex act with a hunky palace servant. It's as though these ambiguities are intentional, designed to lead the audience to ponder what other mysteries lie behind the lead characters. Where the film excels is in the scenes that show just how abrupt life and politics changed with the storming of the Bastille. In days when communications were not instantaneous, the rumors prevailed and one can sympathize with the characters who hang on for any sliver of information that might indicate if they will share the same fate as the warden of Bastille, who was decapitated with a pen knife. The movie is about unrequited love in several relationships. The marriage between Louis XVI and Marie is one of convenience, a complete sham designed to produce heirs to the throne. The love affair between Marie and Gabrielle is distinctly tilted in the latter's favor, as evidenced by Gabrielle's immediate acceptance of Marie's offer to allow her to flee France with her husband, thus leaving the Queen to face her fate alone. The romantic desire by Sidonie to be Marie's lover is not fulfilled, as the Queen sees her only as a useful tool to help protect the woman she really loves. If there is a drawback to the movie, it's in the fact that that the ending, which finds Sidonie gamely being used as bait to smuggle Gabrielle and her husband to Switzerland, comes a bit abruptly and doesn't follow through on the fate of our heroine. Similarly, some viewers might be frustrated by the fact that the fates of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are never explored after Sidonie leaves the palace. This is understandable, not only because the film is about a young woman, not the monarchy, and also due to the fact that, as a French production, it is assumed its intended audiences knows full well about the unspeakable fate that befell the royals. Still, it shouldn't have to be said that viewers would benefit from having at
least a modicum of knowledge about the historical references made in the
film, as this is clearly not a production designed to appeal to the Transformers crowd.
The Blu-ray release is gorgeous on every level. Extras include a post-premiere interview with Benoit Jacquot, conducted by Kent Jones of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and on-set interviews with the director and cast members. There is also a theatrical trailer that slightly exaggerates the lesbian angle, which seems to be used to market everything other than potato chips in recent years. In all, however, it's an outstanding presentation of a very worthy film that many would not otherwise have been exposed to.
Much has been stated about the glory days of European film-making having been relegated to the post-WWII period through the 1970s. However, intelligent movies such as Farewell, My Queen, which boasts excellent performances by all as well as impressive direction, prove that there are substantial talents working in the European cinema. Perhaps these films don't benefit from the kind of sensational, world-wide publicity that was accorded to the works of Fellini and Bunuel, but there is a vast array of productions that are well-worth viewing, as evidenced by this release.
This is a trying time for all labor unions. Once the backbone of the American workforce, unions could point to so many quality of life issues they negotiated for that now benefit most working Americans, from the 40 hour work week, overtime, health benefits, family leave and many other progressive policies. However, the recent trend against employing union members has now extended to the entertainment industry. Variety's music critic Jon Burlingame reports that studios are balking at using union musicians for film scores, preferring to have the music recorded overseas where musicians make more money up front but don't get residual payments. The work in L.A. for musicians is drying up fast, but ironically, the American Federation of Musicians points out that it has brought in the highest total of residuals ever last year. The problem is that the work and money is going to a smaller and smaller pool of musicians. There is a movement afoot to try to convince the AFM to offer studios an alternative to the residual programs, which would make Hollywood more competitive with overseas orchestras. There is also criticism of the studios, which take major tax incentives from the U.S. government to shoot films on American soil but use a loophole to outsource the music. For more click here
Jon Finch, star of stage and screen, has been found dead in his home in England. He was 70 years old. He had been suffering from from a variety of health issues and friends became concerned when they had not heard from him for a time. Finch never became a bonafide star but was respected for being an outstanding supporting actor in films such as Lady Caroline Lamb, The Vampire Lovers, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Horror of Frankenstein. He did land leading roles in two high profile film productions in the 1970s: Roman Polanski's controversial screen version of Macbeth (in which Finch played the title role) and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy in which Finch was cast as an innocent man suspected of being a serial killer. Over the decades, he continued to act both on television and in feature films. Finch preferred to stay out of the spotlight and kept a low profile. He had been living in Hastings since 2003. For more click here
(For more about Finch and the making of Frenzy, see Cinema Retro issue #24)
The Warner Archive continues its string of burn-to-order releases of "Poverty Row" B movies that were originally produced by other studios. The latest release, I Escaped From the Gestapo, is a real hoot that was originally produced by Monogram Pictures, which afforded budgets to directors and producers that were only slightly more extravagant than those spent on home movies. The film is primarily remembered as a would-be vehicle for actress Frances Farmer, who was not able to continue filming due to her legendary mental breakdown that resulted in her being institutionalized. Beyond that tragic association, however, the movie is a relentlessly upbeat, over-the-top propaganda film that afforded a rare leading role to Dean Jagger. The opening plot device is actually rather clever. It finds Jagger as Torgen Lane, a master forger and counterfeiter who is doing time in a federal prison. He finds himself the center of an audacious and dangerous plot to break him out of "stir" (to use the jargon of the era.) The plan succeeds and Lane is brought to meet his mysterious benefactors. It turns out they are a ring of counterfeiters themselves and they make their headquarters in an administrative office of a bustling amusement arcade. The head of the ring is Martin (John Carradine), a seemingly friendly but business-like man who explains to Lane that he's now working for them. Lane suspects he has just been sprung from prison in order to become a prisoner of sorts once again. Martin tells him that the ring needs his talents to spread counterfeit money and that he'll be handsomely rewarded, but it means being confined for much of the day in a small room and under constant supervision. Lane soon discovers that the ring has a more nefarious purpose: it's actually a front for Gestapo agents who are using the phony money to flood the national economies of the Allied nations in the hopes of wrecking their economies. They also use the novelty booth in which servicemen can record greetings to their families and sweethearts in order to gain information about troop and ship movements that they use to devastating effect. Upon hearing this, Lane does what all truly stupid movie heroes do: instead of playing it cool, he let's them know he is on to them. Not surprisingly, the Nazis are unswayed by his threats and immediately promise to kill his elderly mother if he doesn't continue to cooperate. It will spoil nothing to tell readers that, in the end, Lane emerges triumphant. He may be a no good, counterfeiting scoundrel but dammit, he's a patriotic American no good, counterfeiting scoundrel who isn't about to let these goose-stepping goons lay a finger on Uncle Sam.
The film, directed by one Harold Young, moves at a brisk clip through its abbreviated 76 minute running time. The wise-cracking Jagger makes for an amusing leading man and Mary Brian is thrown in as attractive window dressing, playing a girl who works in the arcade who establishes a flirty relationship with Lane. In the film's most unintentionally funny sequence, Lane uses psychological tactics to persuade a young German agent that Brian represents everything that is pure in America, from its women to its music. He even plays records of classical German symphonies that were banned under Hitler. After a few short hours of this persuasion, the young Nazi is practically vying to be the next John Wayne. Half the fun is watching the inimitable John Carradine in full stock company villain mode. There were few actors who could do so much with such lame material and dialogue, but he's a delight to watch. It's also a good deal of fun to relish the scant production values. Most of the "action" is confined to two rooms and the amusement arcade doesn't seem to extend beyond 25 square feet.
The film was re-issued under the title of No Escape, and notes on the DVD sleeve explain that it why this print bares that title. We have no idea why the title was changed except, possibly, because it was somewhat misleading. Gestapo agents were generally seen as menaces within Germany and occupied territories, not as foreign spies. The title clearly implies a thriller set within the German sphere of influence and this is reinforced by a misleading poster that shows a character clad in a Gestapo uniform that never appears on screen.
The fact that such B movies are now being made available in pristine DVD editions is something to celebrate. Although these modest productions afforded modest pleasures, they represent a bygone era of film-making that is, fortunately, now being preserved for posterity.
The Warner Archive has released the 1961 low-budget Allied Artists production of Operation Eichmann on burn-to-order DVD. The film was clearly rushed into production in order to capitalize on the recent capture of the infamous Nazi war criminal who enthusiastically took up the assignment of how to orchestra the logistics of carrying out the Holocaust as part of Hitler's evil scheme to rid occupied Europe of Jews and others deemed undesirable by the Third Reich. The film opens with a chilling (but fictitious) statement by Eichmann, who threatens to oversee a revival of world Naziism. The movie's cheap production design undermines the emotional impact of the story. (The scenes in Auschwitz are no more expansive than those seen in contemporary TV dramas at the time.) The B&W cinematography, however, is suitably stark and provides an appropriate downbeat atmosphere. The film strays so far from the facts regarding Eichmann's life on the run that you wonder how producers felt it could be sold to contemporary audiences who were mesmerized by Eichmann's capture by the Israeli Mossad in Argentina. The movie skips over such controversies as Eichmann having been placed in custody of American forces in the aftermath of the war, only to be released due to a blunder about his identity. There is no mention of the cover-ups American intelligence engaged in so that Eichmann would never be found or arrested. (The fear was that Eichmann's arrest might reveal the fact that the American government had willingly hired prominent Nazis for intelligence purposes during the Cold War era.) Nor is there a nod to the fact that Eicmann successfully lived undisturbed in Argentina thanks to an assist from a Catholic bishop who sympathized with the plight of Nazis on the run. Although Eichmann lived in Argentina with his wife and children, the movie presents him as a bachelor who is accompanied by a ditzy and greedy girlfriend, a fictional character named Anna (Ruta Lee). The cinematic Eichmann has a tempestuous relationship with his paramour, but can't seem to leave her. He routinely offers her bribes to stay with him during his life on the run. Finally, the film embellishes Eichmann's daring capture on an Argentinian street by adding a sub-plot about other ex-Nazis who are planning to kill him for making his plans to revive the Third Reich too blatant.
Where the film, directed by R. G. Springsteen, deserves some admiration is in its determination not to sugar coat the atrocities that Eichmann and his cohorts engaged in. Nazis were not the wild-eyed monsters often depicted in propaganda films. Rather, most were distinguished by their sheer banality. Eichmann considered himself simply a bureaucrat who cited the usual defense that he was "just following orders." Likely, he believed that to be the case. Countless bankers, lawyers and accountants eagerly put their talents to use for Hitler with nary a distinction about the larger consequences of their actions. It was Eichmann, however, who rose to the challenge of orchestrating the logistics of transporting millions of poor souls to their deaths. He had not a shred of compassion and treated human beings as he might cattle. The film features Werner Klemperer in a rare starring role as the titular fiend. He delivers an outstanding performance that never sinks into parody or over-acting. Curiously, one of his co-stars is John Banner, who would play Sgt. Schultz opposite Klemperer's Emmy-winning portrayal of Col. Klink on Hogan's Heroes several years later. It is morbidly fascinating to see these two future icons of TV comedy on screen in such a somber tale. Banner plays the commandant of Auschwitz and wines and dines Eichmann at his family dinners even as the ovens are being constructed and the gas chambers are running at full capacity. It serves as a reminder that both Klemperer and Banner were well-regarded as dramatic actors prior to their comedic achievements on television.
Operation Eichmann is a flawed, but compelling look at a Nazi technocrat who personally caused the demise of millions of innocent people. The film could have been so much more impressive, had the story not been relegated to a factually-flawed script and a routine director. Nevertheless, the fascinating performance by Werner Klemperer is reason enough to recommend this release.
Click here to view clip and to order from Warner Archive.
Oscar favorite: Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.
The Oscar nominations have been announced- and the biggest surprises came with the directors who were not nominated despite having been considered to be shoo-ins for the honor. Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck and Tom Hooper were all denied nominations for Best Director and long-shots Ang Lee, Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke did receive nominations. The "James Bond Curse" was also lifted, with Skyfall nabbing five nominations, none in the major categories. However, it did get nominations for Best Song, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Cinematography- the most nominations ever accorded a 007 film. For more click here
Twilight Time has released the 1959 Fox film adaptation of William Faulkner's classic novel The Sound and the Fury as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The film was a follow-up venture between producer Jerry Wald and director Martin Ritt to their screen version of Faulkner's The Hamlet, which was released the previous year under the title of The Long, Hot Summer. That movie was a boxoffice smash that helped elevate Paul Newman's status as one of the industry's most promising leading men. Good fortune did not smile on The Sound and the Fury, however. Ritt's screen version made dramatic changes to the acclaimed source novel, eliminating much of the plot and eschewing much of the drama that extended over a period of many years into a segment centering on a few days. Ritt and the screenwriters also chose to tell the story through the eyes of a teenage girl who is only a secondary character in the novel. The result was scathing reviews from disappointing critics, though the film has been more favorably re-evaluated in recent years.
Faulkner, like his contemporary Tennessee Williams, excelled at dramatizing the plight of dysfunctional people in the modern South. The story focuses on the Compson family, a once prominent staple of a backwater Mississippi town. They've fallen on hard times. The deceased father ran up debts prior to drinking himself to death and left it to his son Jason (Yul Brynner, sporting a full pate of hair) to salvage the family mansion. He's done so by selling the family store to someone else and he has to suffer the daily indignity of working for the new owner. On the surface, he's a hard-nosed, humorless man whose only vice seems to be chain smoking cigars and cigarettes. In truth, he has little to be joyful about. The mansion is in decay and he is stuck caring for an alcoholic brother (John Beal) who doesn't work at all, as well an aging, constantly griping mother (Francoise Rosay) and a younger brother, Ben (Jack Warden) who suffers from a mental disability and cannot speak. His biggest challenge is raising his step-niece Quentin (Joanne Woodward), a wayward teen grappling with issues of self-esteem and raging hormones. She's heading to the wrong side of the tracks and is in a constant state of rebellion. She hates Jason because of his disciplinary measures and takes up with a no-good but hunky carnival worker (Stuart Whitman) who is gearing up to relieve her of her virginity and any family savings she can pilfer so they can run away together. Tensions rise even further when Quentin's mother Caddy (Margaret Leighton) returns home, ostensibly to finally get to know the daughter she abandoned at birth. She gets a cold reception from Jason, who reminds her that while she was sleeping her way through the state, he was raising her illegitimate daughter and trying to overcome the social stigma so Quentin will have some self-esteem. Nevertheless, seeing she is desperate and homeless, he invites her back home. Quentin initially welcomes her estranged mom but quickly sees her as the selfish and vain woman she really is. Tensions in the household are brought to the boiling point and are sometimes only diffused by the family's long-time cook, Dilsey (the great Ethel Waters in her final screen role.)
The episodic screenplay meanders quite a bit, never reaching any kind of dramatic conclusion other than Quentin's ultimate acceptance that Jason has been acting in her best interests. This gradual realization leads to a couple of rather daring sequences in which it is made clear there is a sexual attraction between them. (The script emphasizes they are not technically related by blood, but there is an uncomfortable feeling to these scenes that reminds one of the similar relationship between Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn in John Huston's The Unforgiven. The studio shamelessly capitalized on the incest angle, creating a misleading poster of Brynner standing above Woodward, who is laying prone on her bed. The tag line even proudly proclaimed that the story broke "the unwritten commandment!") The movie is more satisfying in parts than as a whole, but is consistently engrossing thanks to the uniformly fine performances. Brynner is especially good, playing against type as an everyday man trying to cope with leading a middle class existence. Woodward is excellent in terms of performance but she is ultimately miscast for one reason: she was 29 years old at the time and simply isn't entirely convincing as a teenage girl for obvious reasons. Margaret Leighton is in full Blanche Dubois mode as the faded and sullied Southern belle and Whitman provides fine support as the transient heel with seduction on his mind.
Ritt, like Faulkner, also always excelled at making films about deeply troubled people having to interact with each other and The Sound and the Fury is no exception. Aside from his fine direction, the movie boasts a terrific jazz score by Alex North that alternately evokes romance and suspense. The fine Blu-ray presentation doesn't have any extras but there is that mainstay of Twilight Time releases: the collector's booklet with excellent liner notes by Julie Kirgo. (Read it after you view the film, as it unavoidably contains spoilers.)
Skyfall, the blockbuster James Bond film, has already earned more than $1 billion worldwide. Now it's also reaping critical accolades, having received 8 BAFTA nominations including Outstanding British Film and acting nominations for Judi Dench and Javier Bardem. Beginning with the 2006 version of Casino Royale, the 007 franchise has managed to shake the long-time practice of ignoring the franchise when it comes to nominations for major film awards. The Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow. Bond fans wait anxiously to see if Skyfall will break the "Bond Curse" on nominations, as the last 007 movie to receive an Oscar nomination was For Your Eyes Only way back in 1982. For a complete list of BAFTA nominations, click here.
One of Our Spies Is (Usually) Missing: Will Sean Connery end his boycott of 007 tributes and make it possible for all six Bond actors to appear together?
The Oscar snub of all things 007 has ended. We don't know yet if the critically-acclaimed Skyfall will have the distinction of being the first Bond film to score a nomination in any category since For Your Eyes Only was nominated for Best Song in 1982, but the Academy is planning a major tribute to Bond's 50th cinematic anniversary. (The 1982 show combined a performance of the song within a major Bond tribute, followed by the Thalberg Award presentation to Cubby Broccoli by Roger Moore.) The telecast will be shown worldwide on February 24. No further details were given, but the announcement immediately fueled speculation on the web that this would seem to be the last, best hope to get all six Bond actors together on one stage. Five of them would probably participate, but Sean Connery sat out all of the 50th anniversary celebrations and it may be a long shot to get him to participate. For more click here
HBO's forthcoming telepic Behind the Candleabra will deal with the controversial relationship between two gay men in a straightforward manner. The film is based on the memoirs of Scott Thorson, the young man who shared the aging Liberace's life and bed in the twilight of the legendary entertainer's career. The film has caused a lot of buzz because the two men depicted will be played by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, two actors who feel that their reputations as straight romantic leads will ensure that their careers aren't jeopardized. In the past, straight actors who were courageous enough to play gay men in a sympathetic manner often saw their efforts eviscerated by critics and their box office power called into question. Douglas concedes he wouldn't have been courageous enough to take on such a role when he was Damon's age. Director Steven Soderbergh and his actors promise that, despite the over-the-top elements that characterized every part of Liberace's life and career, his story will be handled in a dramatic and dignified manner. Click here for more.
Sony has released the 1969 film adaptation of John Le Carre's 1965 Cold War novel The Looking Glass War as a burn-to-order DVD. The movie has been largely forgotten and relatively unseen since its release, which is odd given the consistent interest in all things Le Carre. Christopher Jones plays Leiser, a twenty-something Polish illegal immigrant in London who has the goal of being able to live there with his pregnant girlfriend, Susan (Susan George.) Although prone to bad habits and unpredictable behavior, Leiser is intent on taking his future role as a father seriously. He is arrested for immigration violations, however, and an MI6 boss LeClerc (Ralph Richardson) concocts an audacious plan to manipulate Leiser into spying for the West. Using a legal immigration status as a carrot, LeClerc gets Leiser to reluctantly agree to the scheme. The young man is given a crash course in spying by another MI6 agent, Avery (Anthony Hopkins). He proves an adept enough student when it comes to handling the physical requirements of the job. (The film's best sequence finds the two men engaged in a knock-down, extended brawl when a training exercise gets out of hand their personal animosities take over.) However, Leiser sneaks away for a brief romantic interlude with Susan but he is emotionally distraught when she tells him she has aborted their baby. Although having lost the main goal of his life- fatherhood- Leiser agrees to go on a secret mission into East Germany to search for evidence of deadly missiles that MI6 feels could tilt the Cold War in the direction of the Soviets.
Director/screenwriter Frank Pierson took considerable liberties with the source novel, but it still retains LeCarre's trademarks: a highly complex plot peppered with all sorts of extraneous characters who epitomize the author's cynical view that, when it came to espionage, there was little moral difference between East and West. Still, the film is far less confusing than the over-rated 2011 big screen version of LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which won international acclaim although seemingly no one I have discussed the film with can begin to explain what it's all about. One of the main problems is that Leiser is an unsympathetic protagonist. As played by Jones, fully in his James Dean/Marlon Brando mumbling mode, he is a fairly unlikable character, routinely lying, breaking his word and abusing those around him, including Susan, who he physically assaults. It's pretty hard to consider him one of the good guys. Nevertheless, Jones, who was always underrated as a screen presence, uses his good looks and charisma to full advantage so you can't help but hope he survives his seemingly suicidal mission. The film does pick up steam once Leiser makes it under a barbed wire fence and is forced to reluctantly kill an East German border guard. The scene is quite suspenseful, as is another fine sequence in which the desperate and wounded Leiser accepts a ride from a predatory farmer who unexpectedly tries to goad him into performing a homosexual sex act- with tragic results. Leiser also picks up a hitchhiker himself, but- this being a 1960s spy movie- she's a drop-dead gorgeous blonde (played by flash-in-the-pan starlet Pia Degermark), who later reemerges in the story in a not-too-convincing plot twist.
The DVD quality is top notch and the film boasts a hip jazz score by Wally Stott, that nevertheless seems out of place in this dark espionage tale. The performances among the supporting actors are all first rate, with Hopkins particularly impressive in an early screen role. The Looking Glass War is by no means the best of the LeCarre film adaptations (nothing has really equaled The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. ) However, it is an intelligent thriller with exotic locations and an impressive cast. Retro spy movie lovers will certainly enjoy it.
PETER GUNN: THE COMPLETE SERIES is now available for
the first time ever as a 12-DVD box set from Timeless Media Group… all 114
episodes, with a running time of over 58 hours.
PETER GUNN – created and produced by Blake Edwards – ran
for three seasons – from 1958 to 1961. This classic detective show was a
delightful blend of film noir and fifties
cool, featuring a modern jazz score by Henry Mancini (a bonus CD of the soundtrack is included in the set), outbreaks of the
old ultra-violence, a gallery of
eccentric and sleazy characters (usually informants, gangsters and Beat
Generation bohemians), and great acting by series leads Craig Stevens (as
Gunn), Lola Albright (as his squeeze, sultry nightclub singer Edie Hart) and Herschel
Bernardi (as Gunn’s friend and competitor Lieutenant Jacoby, who seems to work
all by himself 24 hours a day in the 13th Precinct headquarters).
Gunn can morph from suave private eye to tough guy handy with his fists in a
nanosecond, but it’s refreshing to see how often he is taken by surprise or
beaten up and knocked unconscious.Gunn
operates out of a nightclub, Mother’s, where Edie Hart is the featured singer. No
lonely neon-lit office in the Bradbury Building for him. (And he doesn’t pay
Mother, the big tough old broad who runs the joint, any commission for helping
him find clients!)
Gunn is that rarity… a wealthy shamus, and his services
don’t come cheap, unless he’s in a charitable mood. His standard fee is $1,000,
and his sterling reputation precedes him, keeping the clients streaming in through
Mother’s door. Gunn is a hepcat with expensive tastes. He wears $200 Brooks
Brothers suits and resembles an American Cary Grant (which is the pivotal
reason why Edwards cast Stevens in the role). Gunn drives around in a cool
two-tone Plymouth Fury convertible, equipped
with a mobile phone! (This is 55 years ago, folks!) He seems to know just
about every high-society type and low-life specimen in town. Stunningly
attractive women find Gunn irresistible, but his heart belongs to Edie and he
never succumbs to temptation.
PETER GUNN is set in a waterfront city on the Universal
and MGM back lots – a city where it is almost always night. Interior scenes are
lit in such a way that one can sense the darkness outside. For sheer smoky noir
cinematography, this series can’t be beat.
Episodes were directed by Edwards, Robert Altman and Jack
(The Incredible Shrinking Man) Arnold,
as well as top TV directors of the era. Guest stars include such familiar faces
as Stanley Adams, Joe Besser , Whit Bissell, Walter Burke, Jean Carson, James
Coburn, Russ Conway, Jackie Coogan, Elisha Cook, Henry Corden, Norma Crane, Patricia
Donahue, Norman Fell, Myron Healey, Alan Hewitt (who bears an uncanny
resemblance to James Gregory), Sterling Holloway, John Hoyt, Roy Jenson, George
Kennedy, Ted Knight, Anna Lee, Ken Lynch, Theodore Marcuse, Ross Martin, Murray
Matheson, Frank Maxwell, Gavin MacLeod, John McIntire, Howard McNear (Floyd the
Barber on The Andy Griffith Show), Jeanette
Nolan, J. Pat O’Malley,Edward C. Platt,
William Schallert, Vito Scotti, Harold J. Stone, Nita Talbot, Joan Taylor, Lawrence
Tierney, Mel Welles and Jack Weston.
Notable musical guests include trumpet virtuoso Pete
Candoli, drummer Shelly Manne and singer Diahann Carroll (in her first major
role). Jazz pianist Bill Chadney is also a series semi-regular, ideally cast as
Emmett, Mother’s resident piano stylist. (Chadney
and Lola Albright were married in 1961.)
Berman should receive a special retroactive Emmy Award for his towering
dramatic performance in THE COMIC (1959), maybe the best – and certainly the most chilling – PETER GUNN
episode, with the series regulars playing secondary roles to Berman, who is
absolutely incredible as paranoid nightclub comic Danny Holland.
Image quality on the
12-pack DVD set is for the most part excellent, although several episodes from
Season Two are substandard (with harsh, grainy black-and-white tones), but
still acceptable. Audio quality is good to very good.
Finally!After years of sub-par and downright bootleg
quality transfers of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 British classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, we now have a
presentation.Thanks to The Criterion
Collection, the film has undergone a new digital restoration, and it looks
great.We can finally see a clear
photographic image!Peter Lorre is no
longer blurry and in soft-focus.And the
sound!Thanks to an uncompressed
monaural soundtrack, we can now actually hear the dialogue and understand it,
whereas on previous releases everyone sounded like they were speaking from
inside a barrel.
The Man Who Knew
Too Much was
Hitchcock’s first hugely successful talkie.In fact, Man was the number
one picture in the UK in 1934, and it more or less introduced America to the
Master of Suspense when it was imported across the pond.So, in many ways, The Man Who Knew Too Much was Hitch’s breakthrough to a worldwide
audience.And it’s such a good story
that he decided to remake it in Hollywood twenty-two years later.Film historians like to argue about which
version is better.As the director
himself said, the first one was the work of a “talented beginner” and the
second version was that of a “professional.”Regardless, the 1934 edition is hugely entertaining and a worthwhile
addition to any cinema buff’s collection.
picture also marks the first English-language appearance by Peter Lorre, who
had recently escaped from Nazi Germany.While making Man, he was
learning English and legend has it that he recited his lines phonetically
without truly understanding their meaning.If that’s truly the case, then his performance is remarkable; he’s one
of Hitchcock’s best villains.Leslie
Banks and Edna Best are the protagonists, and while they are no Jimmy Stewart
and Doris Day, they carry the film along marvelously.
include a terrific hour-long 1972 British TV interview with Hitchcock conducted
by Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom and film historian William K.
Everson.The disk is worth the price for
that alone.There’s a new
interview/appreciation from Guillermo del Toro, audio excerpts from Francois
Truffaut’s classic interview with the master, a new audio commentary by film
historian Philip Kemp, and the usual thick booklet full of photos and an essay
by Farran Smith Nehme.