As Cinema Retro gets inundated with DVDs to review during the course of any given year, it's virtually impossible to keep up with all of them in a timely manner. Here are some notable titles you should be aware of:
Cabaret Blu-ray (Warner Home Video): Warner Home Video has inherited the rights to Bob Fosse's classic 1972 film adaptation of the stage production that, in turn, was based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. The Blu-ray comes packaged in one of those irresistible hardback book formats that is loaded with wonderful photos from the movie. The movie itself holds up superbly even after 40 years. The decline of Germany's Weimar Republic amidst the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s is seen through the eyes of nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and her constant companions (Michael York, Helmut Griem) . Fosse's decision to emphasize the sleaze elements of the Berlin of this era helped to elevate this to the status of one of the most intelligent musicals ever put on film- and Joel Grey's eerie Emcee serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for for the moral destruction of a great nation. The set is packed with extras including recent and previously-released interviews with cast and crew members, a new documentary about the making of the film, an audio commentary track by author Stephen Tropiano, who wrote a book about the making of Cabaret and an original trailer. This title should be deemed as essential for any classic movie library.
I'M DICKENS, HE'S FENSTER COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Lightyear Video/TV Time Machine): This 1962 sitcom lasted but one season but remains one of the more intriguing programs of its era. The show had the misfortune of being up against the popular Mitch Miller program and Route 66. Ratings suffered initially and ABC decided to cancel the series. However, ratings began to climb as positive word of mouth and good reviews began to spread. Ironically, the series began to gain more viewers than its competition but by then the leading actors had moved on to other projects. The show languished in Bootleg Heaven with no official DVD release until this 16 episode set was unveiled last year by TV Time Machiine and Lightyear Video. It features half of the show's episodes, 16 in all, each beautifully remastered. The series presents John Astin and Marty Ingalls as best friends who are also business partners who own their own handyman service. Although many people call the show a lost classic, I find only moderately amusing. In fact, the show's demise resulted in John Astin going on to star in a true TV classic, The Addams Family and left its creator, Leonard Stern, free to work with Mel Brooks in developing Get Smart! Nevertheless, the show is a pleasurable experience on all levels with the two leads demonstrating the deft comedic timing that would lead them to greater stardom in the years to come. What is outstanding is the love and care that has been put into this set. They include audio commentaries by Astin and Ingles along with guest stars Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether, Dave Ketchum, Chris Korman (son of Harvey Korman) and Leonard Stern, who passed away shortly thereafter. There are also any number of featurettes about the series and a wealth of vintage network TV ads. In all, a truly superb presentation of a show that few people are even aware of. The video company is said to be hoping to raise enough funding to release the second half of the show's only season.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Warner Archive): Director Tony Richardson's acclaimed 1962 film is the epitome of the British "kitchen sink drama", a genre that revolutionized film making in that country and reflected the concerns of the economically disenfranchised. Britain may have been on the winning side in WWII, but the financial repercussions of the conflict lingered for decades, resulting in a stagnant, class-driven society in which those on the bottom rungs found it very difficult to climb out of their impoverished situations. Consequently a generation of troubled youths emerged. Richardson's film poignantly shows the consequences of having young people come of age in a society that offers them little hope for advancement. Inevitably, many will take the wrong turn in life. The story follows a young man, Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in a remarkable, star-making performance) as he is sent to a borstal, which is a juvenile corrections facility. Here, he finally finds something of value to center his attention on: his skills as a long distance runner. The facility's warden (Michael Redgrave) nurtures the young man until it becomes apparent that he is using him for his own personal aggrandizement. This leads to a suspense-laden, shocking conclusion centered around an all-important long distance race. Richardson's direction is flawless and the black and white cinematography only adds to the appropriately sullen look of the film. Superb supporting performances by all. (James Bond fans should keep an eye out for future 007 villain Joe Robinson as a track coach). This film is a true classic of British cinema.
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (Shout! Factory): This is the complete American Masters PBS broadcast of a documentary that chronicles the remarkable life and career of Mel Brooks. As Brooks is very much alive and well, he is able to relate the highs and lows of his life as only he can relate them in his inimitable style. The 2013 shows finds Brooks reminiscing about working for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, where Brooks was considered to be too manic even by the likes of Caesar. He also relates funny anecdotes about his childhood and WWII experiences. Most of these stories have been told by Brooks for decades but his sheer exuberance and energy are infectious. The documentary by Robert Trachtenberg includes testimonials from such key comedic figures as Rob Reiner, Joan Rivers, Tracey Ullmann and Brooks' long-time collaborator Carl Reiner. The DVD also contains a number of out-takes from the PBS special. Well worth a viewing if you have any love for classic comedy.
The Blue Hour/ One Naked Night/ Three in a Towel Triple Feature (Vinegar Syndrome): This is a triple feature of obscure retro erotica films. The main feature, The Blue Hour, is not really a sexploitation film in the traditional sense as it is far too pretentious in its attempt to emulate art house movie fare. The 1971 production begins with opening credits that take so long to unspool they almost need an intermission. It's a sign of how boring even a film that features an abundance of nudity can be. The story centers on a young Greek woman who is now living in America and married to a successful therapist/businessman. However, she is haunted by images of sexual atrocities that she has endured at various stages of her life including a confusing scenario in which she may have murdered a young Greek priest with whom she was romantically involved. The film boasts some exotic photography but it lumbers along to a completely abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The acting ranges from passable to atrocious. Far more interesting is One Naked Night, a 1965 B&W "quickie" that chronicles the exploits of another troubled young woman who moves from a small town to New York City. She ends up rooming with some party girls and is corrupted along the way leading to a conclusion that is rather shocking. The film is a virtual female version of Midnight Cowboy with mean ol' Manhattan proving to be a devil's playground of corruption for innocent young newcomers. The real appeal of the film is not the occasional flashes of nudity but the fact that it presents tantalizing glimpses of the Big Apple during the mid 1960s including Times Square, the infamous Playland arcade, the Latin Quarter and other hot spots of the era. There is also a quaint feel to even the sex sequences including a tender seduction of our heroine by a lesbian roommate, chain smoking swingers, stag movies shown on 16mm and guys who get dressed up in jackets and ties to attend orgies. The cast of unknowns tries hard but you are aware they are strictly amateur. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining look back at a bygone era when films such as this were deemed shocking. The final entry in the triple feature is titled Three in a Towel. Shot in 1969, it's basically a glorified home movie shot in color in various sections of San Francisco. The movie focuses on a young man's erotic dreams of being a sensual version of Walter Mitty and bedding many nubile young women. The film was obviously shot as a silent feature with narration and sound effects added later. It's a crude production played strictly for laughs and the sex is relegated to an abundance of female nude shots but the action never gets beyond soft core. A "highlight" of the film is a scene in which three hippie chicks eat a banana in a suggestive manner while groping each other. Bizarrely, the narrator uses Shakespearean quotes throughout....At least the filmmakers didn't take it all very seriously. The opening titles read a "A Miracle Production-- If It Turns Out to be a Good Movie, It's a Miracle!". The only other credit is "Produced by The Saint" but it seems pretty obvious we're not talking about Roger Moore here. The film is an utter waste of time aside from some interesting visuals of San Francisco in the late 1960s and ends up being about as erotic as a wet noodle. The transfers vary in quality based on the crude source materials but The Blue Hour has undergone a restoration process. In all, an interesting package of largely forgotten films that would otherwise have been lost to time. Their entertainment value is debatable but from a sociological standpoint, they may bring back some interesting memories if you lived through this era. There are no extras other than a trailer for Three in a Towel that promises a lot more sex than it actually delivers.
Nichols: The Complete Series (Warner Archives): The Warner Archives has released all 24 episodes of the little-seen TV series Nichols that starred James Garner. The show aired in 1971-72 but, despite Garner's star power, it was canceled after one season. Garner was just one of the Hollywood superstars who, by the 1970s, felt they should move to television. This was in direct contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the early days of TV in which it was regarded as a second rate medium for name actors to appear in. Among the other shows that failed in the 1970s were ones top-lined by the likes of Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Nichols presents Garner in his most popular on-screen alter-ego: a likable, laid-back anti-hero. Set in 1914, the pilot episode finds him as a career soldier in the U.S. cavalry who resigns due to his increasingly pacifist nature (an obvious nod to the anti-Vietnam War movement that was raging at the time). Nichols makes his way back to the small home town that bears his family name expecting to live a life of leisure. Instead, he finds his parents are dead and his estate has been swindled away by con men. The town has degenerated into a raucous place where a small group of corrupt citizens call the shot. Nichols is reluctantly enlisted to be the new sheriff and, a la Andy Griffith's Sheriff Taylor, he refuses to wear a gun and uses his wits to thwart his adversaries. The show boasts fine production values and some impressive cast members and guest stars (Margot Kidder is the love interest, playing a local saloon owner.) As with any TV series, the episodes vary in terms of quality, but watching Garner at this point in his career is certainly an entertaining way to pass some hours. Although audiences didn't warm to this show, they certainly didn't lose their affection for Garner, who went on to star in the smash hit series The Rockford Files a few years later. (That show's co-star, Stuart Margolin, also appears in Nichols.)
Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series (Mill Creek): The Mill Creek video company has repackaged and re-released Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series. The show made a star of young Steve McQueen, who played a bounty hunter in the old West. The series premiered in 1958 and ran for 94 30 minute episodes, all of which are presented in this collector's edition on multiple DVDs. McQueen shows the charisma and self-assured manner that would help elevate him to big screen superstardom a few years later. The show was also a training ground for upcoming directors, writers and other actors including Lee Van Cleef, Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn and DeForest Kelly. The writing and acting hold up extremely well, a reflection of an era when intelligent Westerns ruled the roost in terms of TV ratings. The boxed set also includes 4 colorized bonus episodes (which look surprisingly good), a photo gallery, some featurettes about various aspects of the show including McQueen's famed sawed-off shotgun that he carried in a holster and a digital reproduction of a comic book based on the show. There is also the complete public domain feature film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery starring McQueen. In all, an outstanding value.
Twilight Time has released director/writer Walter Hill's 1978 thriller The Driver as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The film is intentionally antiseptic when it comes to development of characters. They are deliberately opaque. In fact, not one character in the movie has a name. The credits refer to them by their professions or physical characteristics. Ryan O'Neal stars in an almost wordless role (he speaks literally 350 words according to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo) as a legendary Los Angeles wheelman who gets paid big sums of money to drive getaway cars in the commission of crimes. The Driver doesn't know the people he is in league with and sentiment plays no part in his decision as to whether to accept an assignment. It's strictly based on the money to be earned and his confidence in the people pulling off the caper. The film opens on the robbery of a gambling den in Los Angeles. The crooks bungle their time table, leading The Driver to have to enact death-defying stunts in order to outrun a fleet of police cars in rapid pursuit. He succeeds in doing so but curtly informs his confederates that he will never work with them again because of their lack of professionalism. Meanwhile an arrogant detective (Bruce Dern) is excited by the challenge of finally capturing and convicting The Driver, a man he has been pursuing with a Javert-like zeal for years. He recovers a piece of evidence that leads him to The Driver. The Detective is blatantly breaking the law by setting up a crime and forcing some petty criminals to approach The Driver to be the wheelman. If they succeed in enlisting him for the job, they will walk away from jail sentences. The Detective doesn't want them: he only wants them to lure in the big fish so he can have the ultimate victory. To say that things go wrong across the board would be an understatement but the scenario allows Walter Hill to stage some of the most spectacular car chases in the history of the medium. He was clearly inspired by the success of Bulllitt, which he worked on, and he replicates that film's effective method of mounting a camera inside each speeding car. The result is thrilling. The caper aspect of the story is less impressive largely because of the vaguely-defined characters. Each one is unlikable and somewhat obnoxious. We root for The Driver only because The Detective is so egotistical and morally ambiguous. Isabelle Adjani is thrown into the mix as sexy window dressing but she saunters around wearing a glum, depressed expression and the script does not provide any opportunity for her to develop on screen chemistry with O'Neal. O'Neal, always a competent but bland and unexciting actor, is actually in his element in this role, as it seems to suit his real life personality. Dern steals the show because his character at least has some interesting eccentricities to play off of. There are some fine sequences aside from the chase scenes, with Dern's pursuit of a suspect aboard an Amtrak train especially exciting, even though it seems based on a similar sequence in Peckinpah's The Getaway. Ronnee Blaklee gives a fine performance as a southern woman caught up in the L.A. crime scene who pays a terrible price for that affiliation in the film's most disturbing sequence. The Driver is an imperfect film but it is an exciting one.
The Twilight Time release boasts a first rate transfer, an original trailer that shows a snippet of a kiss between Adjani and O'Neal that I don't believe ended up in the final cut and a deleted original opening sequence that gives a bit more depth to the characters but which drags along at a snail's pace. Hill was right to eject it from the film.
In all, another fine Twilight Time release and one that is highly recommended.
George Stevens' acclaimed 1953 Western blockbuster Shane finally gets the Blu-ray treatment from Paramount. The release is identical to a previously-issued DVD special edition. Alan Ladd stars as a mysterious drifter who comes to the aid of a struggling couple (Van Heflin, Jean Arthur) who are trying to hold together a shaky coalition of besieged farmers who are being terrorized by a greedy cattleman who is determined to drive them off their land. The silent, slow-to-anger Shane also becomes an idol to the couple's young son (Brandon De Wilde) who is mesmerized by the fact that the family's new friend is an ex-gunslinger with a notorious past. Shane explains that he has put violence behind him and is now determined to live a peaceful life. However, as the danger to the farmers intensifies, he inevitably feels he must take action one more time in the interest of justice. Stevens' masterful direction made this film one of the great entries in the Western genre and the Blu-ray does justice to his painstaking detail for production design and cinematography. (You can clearly see that notorious blooper of a pickup truck driving in the distance over Alan Ladd's introductory shot in the film.)
The movie would be a career high for Ladd and although he acquits himself well, I always felt that he was too much of a gentle screen presence to completely convey a gunfighter with a sordid past. The role probably would have been better suited for John Wayne. Having said that, the production benefits from superb supporting performances with Heflin particularly good as a man of peace who feels compelled to fight for his family's survival. Most memorable is Jack Palance in a stunning performance as Shane's antagonist, a fast-gun mercenary named Wilson. The other fine supporting cast members include such stalwarts as Elisha Cook Jr., Ben Johnson and Edgar Buchanan. The film remains compelling to this day and the suspense-packed finale still hold great emotional impact.
The extras include a commentary track by George Stevens Jr. (who worked on the film) and associate producer Ivan Moffat. A theatrical trailer is included but one would have hoped that a film of this importance would have merited a "making of" documentary. Nonetheless, this is the best video release of Shane to date.
(Note to Paramount's marketing team: please remove the ludicrous photo of Ladd that has adorned the back of the sleeve since the film's initial DVD release. It depicts the actor in a preposterous sheriff's costume that makes him resemble a member of the Village People and is from an entirely different movie. It would be nice if the people in charge of packaging were actually required to watch the film first.)
Those naughty folks at Impulse Pictures have done well by digging up and marketing retro European and Japanese erotic films from bygone eras. Among the more popular releases are the "Schoolgirl" titles that were very popular in Germany during the 1970s. Each release presents several short stories relating to the sexual escapades of German high school girls. (The fact that most of the actresses look a bit long in the tooth to be playing 16 and 17 year old girls becomes less bothersome once the clothes are shed.) Impulse has just released volume 10 in this series which consists of a film originally released in 1976. The thinly-plotted script features story lines that are erratic in content as well as execution. The story opens with a female teacher addressing an all-girls classroom in a discussion on contemporary sexuality. As the girls debate social mores, several of them relate personal experiences. The first tale involves a middle-aged male teacher who is accused of raping a student he was tutoring. The man professes his innocence to a local prosecutor who is interviewing him about the case. (In a bizarre tactic, the prosecutor breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the viewer directly, though this element does not appear in any other segment of the film). His young student claims she arrived at his apartment for her first lesson and that she was plied with liquor and was seduced by the teacher, who deflowered her. In an anemic conclusion, one of her fellow students comes forward with information that exonerates the teacher. This yawn-inducing scenario seems a mere pretense for showing the young girl disrobing and getting it on. In fact, the story presents flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. The second story revolves around a gorgeous virgin who is desperate to make love. The rather flaccid scenario finds her learning a life lesson by cheapening her own values through having sex with a series of cads and suffering being gang raped (never shown, but implied). The next tale is somewhat more engrossing with a snarky teenage girl in conflict with her sexy stepmother. She induces a would-be lover to engage in an elaborate plot to discredit the stepmother so that her father divorces her. In return for the young man's cooperation, she promises to finally have sex with him. The plan involves the young hunk actively courting and seducing the stepmother while the daughter secretly documents the adultery by taking photos. The whole scenario comes to an ironic conclusion that sees the deceitful daughter getting her just desserts. The most amusing segment finds two young lovers who are frustrated by their lack of privacy. Inspired by William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the couple concocts a crazy scheme to finally get them into bed together in her parent's house. This is accomplished by having the girl pretend she is possessed by a demon. The over-the-top slapstick humor has the young woman walking around cross-eyed, rolling about the landscape and engaging in obscene behavior. In one scene she enter the family kitchen, drops her panties and exclaims to her mother, "I own this pussy and it's burning!" (And you thought Linda Blair had some rough dialogue to get through...) With their daughter's "possession" out of control, the family engages the services of an exorcist, who turns out to be her lover in disguise. Behind closed doors, he performs a loud and very violent exorcism, but its really just the two of them having wild sex. The goofy premise is actually fairly amusing. The final tale has another gorgeous high school girl pampered by her middle-aged, married lover. When his wife finds out, complications ensue and she ends up becoming involved with the man's nephew (who somehow looks as old as his uncle).
The series definitely caters to female sensibilities. Women are generally presented in an intelligent manner and the sex scenes are fairly vivid but softcore and tastefully done. (Nothing too kinky here.) One of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of the film involves the English sub-titles which show that Germans must have felt at the time that the word "bang" was used constantly in American society. (One girl greets her would-be suitor by saying, "You want to bang me, right?") This misconception is an amusing reminder of how no one could convince director Sergio Leone that the phrase "Duck you sucker!" was not a common part of the American vernacular. He was so convinced that it was that he titled one of his most prominent films with this bizarre phrase. This latest Schoolgirl entry (pardon the pun) has relatively rich production values in that there are an abundance of sequences shot in actual locations as opposed to bedrooms. An enjoyable aspect of the movie is that it allows the viewer to relive the 1970s for better or worse. We see young people's bedrooms adorned with posters from Easy Rider. There are tacky fashions, high school girls with hairy armpits and the kind of grainy cinematography that was a mainstay of the era.
The movie is definitely a guilty pleasure but it's painless and largely inoffensive to watch- and it does boast some genuinely erotic moments.
The judge's ruling on the Holmes copyright is important but not very elementary.
By Lee Pfeiffer
In a landmark ruling, an Illinois judge has ruled that Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to 1923 are now considered public domain under U.S. copyright law. The ruling stems from an author's suit that protested what he felt were unnecessary licensing fees paid to the Doyle estate in relation to a new book based on the characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson. The judge ruled that any elements of the stories contained in published works prior to 1923 can now be used without permission of the Doyle estate. These include key elements of the stories and the character of the villain Prof. Moriarty. However, in defending the copyrighted elements of the later stories, the judge cautioned that any elements of the Holmes legend that were introduced in those published works are still considered under copyright. The Doyle estate said it may appeal the ruling but also expressed confidence that the primary aspects of the characters that are routinely used in popular culture and new versions of the stories would be protected by copyright law. They assert that, under the judge's rulings, ten of Doyle's Holmes stories would be subject to copyright protection- but this is debatable and depends upon how many specific personality traits and relationship changes can be said to be defined in those post-1923 stories. Such legendary aspects of the series as Holmes' address at 221 B Baker Street would be in the public domain, as would the essence of the character as the world's greatest detective- as well as his friendship with Dr. Watson. Elements that expand and better define those aspects of the stories in the post-1923 writings would not be available in the public domain. Nevertheless, the judge's ruling opens the gates for anyone to create their own Holmes projects and stories as long as they are based on elements of the early books. The Holmes character is one of the most enduring and popular in literay history. Today a recent film series starring Robert Downey Jr. has proven to be a major success, as have various TV series based on the Holmes stories.For more click here
After decades of languishing in relative obscurity, the 1966 Italian Western The Big Gundown seems to be all the rage this year with both Grindhouse Releasing and Explosive Media's special collector's editions of the Sergio Leone-inspired film that starred Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian. This review deals with the Grindhouse release (the Explosive Media special edition is primarily being marketed to European viewers.) Grindhouse, which was co-founded by the late Sage Stallone and Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker), is dedicated to preserving films that have built a cult following or have suffered from lack of mainstream exposure. Consequently, the company has built up a loyal following of grateful retro cinema fans. After a two-year hiatus following Stallone's untimely death in 2012 at age 36, Murawski is carrying the torch and has recently resumed releasing some very interesting titles on Blu-ray. The Big Gundown has generally been acclaimed as the best of the non-Leone Italian Westerns. In fact, it's so good in comparison to the often awful other films in this genre, that it was said Leone himself was somewhat jealous of the movie's success. One reason for Leone's bitterness may have been that the movie starred Lee Van Cleef, whose career he had saved through the starring roles afforded him in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Gundown was shot after the former film and before the latter, but not released in the USA until after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The delay only enhanced the film's appeal to American audiences, as GBU had proven to be a boxoffice smash and had made Van Cleef a household name. The movie was directed by Sergio Sollima who co-wrote the script with Sergio Donati, a collaborator of Leone's. The story concerns a bounty hunter named Corbett (Van Cleef) who is hired to track down and kill a Mexican peasant named Sanchez (Tomas Milian) who allegedly raped and killed a 12 year-old girl. Corbett is pressured into taking the job by Brokston (Walter Barnes), a rich and influential rancher who convinces Corbett that slaying Sanchez would pave the way for a successful political career. Corbett realizes that Brokston simply wants a crony in the state house to do his bidding, but nevertheless agrees to take the assignment. Tracking down Sanchez proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. The charismatic and self-reliant wanted man engages Corbett in a cat-and-mouse chase across the countryside, narrowly avoiding capture at several points. When Corbett does manage to get the drop on him, Sanchez manages to outwit his captor and escape. When he is finally cornered, Brokston and a small army of men turn up to ensure that Sanchez is executed- but Corbett reveals some startling information that leads to unexpected and violent developments.
Director Sollima presents a visually arresting film with an intelligent script, better dubbing than most Italian Westerns of this period and fine performances with Van Cleef and Milian playing well against each other in the manner that Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood did in their collaborations with Sergio Leone. The film is enhanced by yet another great musical score by Ennio Morricone, who composed the music for so many films of this period that he must have perfected a way of doing so in his sleep. The production rises above other films of this genre and if the movie never quite reaches the level of Leone's work, it can certainly be compared favorably. I would rank it, along with The Five Man Army, as the best non-Leone work to be found among the European Westerns. Sadly, when the film was released by Columbia in the USA, studio executives butchered the original cut. Some of this was to do with pacing and emphasizing action over dialogue-heavy scenes. There was also concern that Sollima's penchant for heavy-handed left wing political analogies to contemporary society. In any event, the result was that there have been numerous hybrid bootleg versions of The Big Gundown circulating for many years.
The Grindhouse release is superb on every level beginning with a stunningly beautiful transfer that presents the film in a nearly flawless state. The Blu-ray special edition affords Citizen Kane-like analysis and presentation to the film. The mammoth 4 disc collector's edition would require an entire day of binge viewing in order to properly appreciate all the variations of the film that are presented here. In fact, it would be too confusing to attempt to explain all the nuances in this space. However, here is a sample of the highlights:
Blu-ray presentation of the original uncensored English language edition of the film that includes three scenes which were originally edited out.
Blu-ray of Sollima's original director's cut under its original title, La resa dei conti
DVD of a 95 minute "expanded U.S. cut"
Bonus CD of Ennio Morricone's original soundtrack recording of the score.
A fascinating selection of in-depth interviews including Sergio Sollima and Tomas Milian, both of whom provide very interesting perspectives on the film and their careers in general. The Milian interview, shot last year, makes it clear that this is a man who has attained great respect in the international film industry, as illustrated by clips from some of his other major movies including the Oscar-winning Traffic. Milian tells very amusing stories about working in the Italian cinema during its glory days and mingling with the likes of Fellini and other major forces in the industry. There are also interviews with Sergio Donati who regards Sollima with affection even though he says they eventually had a feud that led to them parting ways professionally. Donati also discusses his relationship with Sergio Leone and why the famed director had resentment toward The Big Gundown.
There is also a wide variety of original trailers and TV spots plus a major selection of original production stills and international advertising materials. If you're as big of a geek for this type of material as I am, you'll be most grateful for its inclusion.
There is a also a feature length commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, both of whom do yeoman work on describing interesting insights into the making of the film and the the personalities involved. The only drawback is that neither man introduces himself at the beginning of the commentary track so it becomes a bit confusing as to who you are listening to.
Joyner also provides excellent liner notes in the accompanying collector's booklet in which he comprehensibly lays out the differences in the various versions of the film. The booklet also contains an essay on Morricone's score by Gergely Hubai.
In summary, Grindhouse Releasing has outdone itself with this presentation of a very esteemed cult Western. For my money, its the best independent video release of 2013.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Acorn
Silver Spring, MD; December 19, 2013 — After a highly competitive bidding process, Fox has acquired film rights to the iconic mystery novel “Murder on the Orient Express” from Acorn Productions Ltd/Agatha Christie Ltd, the UK based rights holding production arm of RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE). With more than two billion books sold, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, and “Murder on the Orient Express”is one of her most popular novels. The 1934 novel features her internationally renowned detective, Hercule Poirot, investigating a murder on the Orient Express.
Though no decision on writers or casting have been confirmed yet, Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator), Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan) and Simon Kinberg (X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes) will be producing the film.
Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment, said,“Since acquiring a majority share of Agatha Christie’s literary estate in February 2012, we have worked closely with Mathew Prichard, Agatha’s grandson, to find the right studio and filmmakers to grow the Christie brand. We are excited to be working with Fox as well as Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon and Simon Kinberg to produce a new, star-studded adaptation of one of the most well-known mystery novels of all time.”
Founded by Robert L. Johnson, RLJ Entertainment owns a 64% share in Agatha Christie Ltd, which manages Christie’s extensive literary works including more than 80 novels and short story collections, 19 plays, a film library of nearly 40 TV films, and iconic characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, is Chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd.
“Murder on the Orient Express”was previously made into a 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet. The film received six Oscar nominations, including best actor for Albert Finneyas Poirot, and winning best supporting actress for Ingrid Bergman. The all-star cast of suspects also featured Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, Colin Blakely, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael York.
Additionally, David Suchet portrayed the popular Belgian detective in all 70 television adaptations of Christie’s Poirot stories, including “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2010. The final five Poirot television mysteries aired in the U.K. in 2013 and will debut in the U.S. in 2014. In Sept. 2013, Agatha Christie Ltd and RLJ Entertainment announced the first fully-authorized new Agatha Christie novel to be released in September 2014. Bestselling author Sophie Hannah is writing the novel featuring Hercule Poirot.
Hilary Strong, Managing Director of Acorn Productions, and WME negotiated the deal for RLJ Entertainment.
Warner Home Video has released a Blu-ray special edition of William Wyler's 1946 classic. If Wyler's greatest hit was his 1959 remake of Ben-Hur, it can be said that The Best Years of Our Lives is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film. (At the time of its release it became the second highest grossing film of all time, behind Gone With the Wind.) The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, winning eight. The film relates the story of several U.S. servicemen and the challenges they face in re-entering society in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Al (Fredric March) easily resumes his career as a successful businessman. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes from the other side of the tracks and finds his homecoming a lot bumpier, both financially (he can't find a decent job) and emotionally (he has to deal with a greedy floozy of a wife played by Virginia Mayo.) Most challenging of all is the plight of Homer (Harold Russell) a U.S. Navy vet who lost both of his hands in combat and who must cope by his expert use of hooks as faux "hands". The screenplay expertly intertwines the stories of these friends with diverse backgrounds and personalities and their situations spoke to a generation of servicemen who found their readjustment to society to be anything but smooth. The film features remarkable performances by the above actors with Oscar winner Russell (a real-life amputee who had never appeared in a film before) stealing the show. The poignant sequence in which Al's wife (Myrna Loy) has a sudden recognition that her husband has returned home is probably waiting for her in the hallway of their apartment is one of the most emotional scenes ever filmed. The Blu-ray is a recycling of a previous DVD special edition but it isn't quite special enough for a film of this importance. The extras are relegated to interviews with Teresa Wright, who played Loy and March's teenage daughter in the film, and Virginia Mayo who discusses how her role as a "bad girl" defied her squeaky clean image. There is also a trailer. Still, this Blu-ray release is most welcome. Click here to order.
The DoubleHeaded Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power 1918-1933,a 1973 documentary by German filmmaker Lutz Becker, is not really a documentary in the traditional sense. There is no narration or point of view expressed, nor is there any original footage. Rather, the film consists entirely of rare historical German newsreel footage that loosely documents the descent into chaos that Germany experienced in the wake of its defeat in WWI. You would have to know a lot about the history of the period because the documentary makes no attempt to present a comprehensive look at how Adolf Hitler assumed power in one of the most civilized nation's on earth. (Contrary to what many people think, he did not seize the government by force.) What is rather fascinating is that Becker opts to present speeches by Hitler and his paladins in uncut format with English sub-titles. Presumably Becker doesn't need to editorialize about the content of those speeches as the effect should be self-evident to any rational viewer. The film begins with Hitler's first national address to the German people after having assumed the powers of a dictator (he would convince the reichstag to voluntarily give up most of its powers and become a body of rubber-stamping bureaucrats.) We see Hitler amid the pomp and splendor of the rallies he so favored. Grim-faced, he assumes the podium following an introduction by his loyal Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels who sets the tone with chilling warnings to the Jews that they are in danger of "pushing us too far" and hinting at the plans the National Socialists intended to initiate in terms of ethnic cleansing. It's frightening to see all of this taking place even in retrospect. Hitler begins his speech slowly and deliberately, but-as was his habit- would gradually assume an an almost fanatical fervor in his pronouncements. The camera pans across the packed auditorium and finds thousands of ordinary people shouting their approval of the new Fuhrer. The film then jumps back in time to newsreel footage from 1918 and Germany's struggle in the post-WWI era. However it also covers the fact that during the 1920s Berlin was thriving as a destination for the international jet set. We see clips of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, privileged people dressed to the nines and on the town and even Buster Keaton on a tourist visit. Yet, the stock market crash of 1929 threw all of Germany into the depths of the Depression. From such desperate times often arise dictatorial leaders.
Becker does not address a major cause for Hitler's rise to power, namely the outrageously expensive sanctions and financial burdens placed on Germany by Britain and France as war reparations. These were do draconian that the German people were left in a hopeless state of affairs. Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist party were deemed to be the cure. A master speaker, strong and assured, Hitler found the people all too willing to give up civil rights in return for financial security. Hitler delivered in spades, rebuilding the economy through government-funded jobs that saw the country's infrastructure rebuilt. He also reignited national pride and built a vast army in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. (By the time the British and French decided to do more than send angry protests, the damage had been done and Hitler preside over superior armed forces.) Soon Hitler's bizarre and sick theories about racial inferiority and superiority would have enormous consequences but most of these had not been initiated during the period of time the film covers. Again, Becker is therefore somewhat restricted because he is confined by presenting what is contained in the newsreels. They are fascinating and show Hitler from the perspective of his early rise to power. As the film ends in 1933 with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor by the aging Von Hindenberg, there is no coverage of the WWII period. There is no doubt, however, that with his appointment, Hitler was the real leader of the nation.
Becker's film is primarily of interest to hardcore history buffs. Viewers who are ill-informed about this period of history will be confused, bored or both. One would have hoped that the documentary would have provided at least a modicum of historical perspective but it is devoid of it, save for the final haunting images of Nazis burning books over the superimposed warning by the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, "Where they have burned books, they will burn people", a sad prophecy that was to become all-too-true.
(This review is based on a screening of the film on Netflix, where it is currently available for viewing. It is also available on DVD. Click here to order from Amazon)
Twilight Time has released the acclaimed Sexy Beast as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray edition. The film is regarded by many as a modern day classic of the British crime genre and while it may not equal the impact of Brit gangster flicks from bygone eras like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, the movie stands head and shoulders above most of the dumbed-down, similarly-themed movies of more recent years. Ray Winstone stars as Gary 'Gal' Dove, a one time heist artist who is now comfortably retired in a remote Spanish villa living the good life from his ill-gotten gains. He and his wife (Amanda Redman) are enjoying their middle-aged years partying hearty with another married couple (Cavan Kendall, Julianne White) with whom they enjoy an almost inseparable relationship. Into every life a little rain must fall, however, and in their case it comes in the form of a human hurricane named Don Logan. As played by Ben Kingsley in one of his most revered performances, Logan is a terrifying figure even before we see him. When the couples learn that Logan is en route to see them, the sheer terror on their faces tell us all we need to know about this crime kingpin. When Logan does arrive, he is arrogant, irrational, sex-crazed and unpredictable-- friendly one moment and threatening the next. He orders 'Gal' to return to London to help orchestrate one more heist. When 'Gal' objects, Logan becomes completely unhinged and wreaks havoc on the close-knit group of friends. As played by Kingsley, Logan is easily one of the more memorable villains in recent screen history, a totally psychotic character whose unpredictable nature and vile mannerisms make him mesmerizing to watch. Kingsley so dominates the film that it's easy to overlook the brilliant performances of the other cast members, which includes Ian McShane as another London mobster who is part of the caper. Winstone is particularly impressive here and his scenes with Kingsley tingle with real tension.
Director Jonathan Glazer made a promising directorial debut with this film. The fact that he hasn't had any other major successes is somewhat frustrating because the man shows a flair for a unique visual style. The cinematography threatens to become a bit too pretentiously artsy at times but there is no doubt that the film contains many haunting scenes. Likewise, although the story relies on dialogue rather than violence, Glazer's penchant for fast-cutting and jumping back and forth in time can be a bit distracting. Nevertheless, this is a bold reinvention of a time-worn genre and Sexy Beast is well worth a look.
Bonus extras include a commentary track by Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas, a short production featurette, a trailer and and isolated score track.
The Library of Congress continues its tradition of adding 25 films a year to the National Film Registry. In addition to being preserved by the Library, the status ensures that the films cannot be edited for television viewing. This year's list is typically eclectic, with titles released in the silent era through 2012. Among the more iconic titles on the list are Pulp Fiction, Mary Poppins, The Quiet Man and The Magnificent Seven. For the entire list click here
Warner Brothers has released another magnificently packaged packaged “Blu-ray Ultimate
Edition” boxed set. ‘The James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition” features the Blu-ray debuts of the legendary
actor’s three motion picture classics: Rebel
Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant.
The set is jam-packed with bonus extras including three feature length
documentaries, an all-new featurette titled Dennis
Hopper: Memories From the Warner Lot, five vintage documentaries and other
programs relating to the making of East
of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. If
that isn’t enough, there are also audio commentaries, premiere footage,
trailers, vintage TV shows and a wealth of collectibles including a
commemorative book, poster reproductions, rare studio production memos and a
selection of wonderful 8x10 photos.
(The following review pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B format)
Acts of Annihilation
Dario Argento is the most famous Italian horror
director to be associated with the ‘giallo’ style murder mystery films that
emerged from Italy during the 1970s and early 1980s. The films were notable for
their point-of-view camerawork, their unsettling atmospherics and
nerve-jangling, claustrophobic scenes of terror. Argento is one of those
directors you either love or hate, and his work has often been accused of being
a case of style over content. His detractors cite his implausible plots, illogical
loopholes, deafening soundtracks, overacting casts and over reliance on
stylistic flourishes that float his slim narratives. His films are just too
contrived and stylised, too gimmicky, to succeed. By contrast, Argento’s fans
love his implausible plots, illogical loopholes, deafening soundtracks,
overacting casts and an over reliance on stylistic flourishes. Argento’s colour
cinematography is exquisite, with visual effects achieved via ingenious angles,
complicated set-ups, wire-guided cameras, vivid lighting, garish colour schemes
and seemingly impossible cinematic arabesques, to present moments of extreme
shock and overtly choreographed violence, often unflinchingly in close-up.
Argento virtually invented ‘gialli’ with his impressive
directorial debut. The murder mystery ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’
(1970) benefited from Vittorio Storaro’s widescreen images in Cromoscope, Ennio
Morricone’s spine-tingling score and a collection of good performances – Tony
Musante and Suzy Kendall as the amateur sleuths, Eva Renzi as the gallery
murder victim, Mario Adorf as a anchorite painter and Enrico Maria Salerno as
the police investigator. Argento continued in a similar vein with ‘The Cat ‘o
Nine Tails’ (1971) and ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ (1971) – the three films
became known as his ‘Animal Trilogy’ and all were scored by Morricone.
Argento’s 1970s psychological thrillers reached their zenith with ‘Deep Red’
(1975), which had David Hemmings’ jazz pianist puzzling his way through a twisted
whodunit. Argento then explored the supernatural with the first of his ‘Three
Mothers’ trilogy, ‘Suspiria’, released in 1977. This gory cataclysm of witchery
and murder remains his biggest success and finest achievement, a tour de gore.
Argento has only grasped at this magnificent malfeasance occasionally since,
which has left his fans expectant and frustrated in equal measure.
‘Tenebrae’ (1982) is one of Argento’s better post-‘Suspiria’
films and certainly holds its own within the ‘giallo’ canon. Written and
directed by Argento, it begins with New York horror fiction writer Peter Neal
(Anthony Franciosa) arriving in Rome on a promotional tour for his new
bestseller, a novel called ‘Tenebrae’ (which is Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’).
Pretty soon Neal finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation. Captain
Germani (Giuliano Gemma) is seeking the killer of serial shoplifter Elsa Manni
(Ania Pieroni), who was murdered with a cutthroat razor and is found with pages
from Neal’s novel stuffed in her mouth – a modus operandi deployed in the novel
itself. Asks bemused Neal of the inspector: ‘If someone is killed with a Smith
& Wesson revolver, do you go and interview the president of Smith &
Wesson?’ The killings continue. Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), a journalist who is critical
of Neal’s ‘sexist bullshit’ horror stories, and her on-off lover Marion
(Mirella Banti) are slain in their apartment block with a razor, again in
imitation of Neal’s horror fiction. Tilde’s criticism of Neal’s books parallels
the charges occasionally levelled at Argento himself, as beautiful victims die
beautiful deaths in the name of Argento’s artful darkness. The prime suspect in
the ‘Tenebrae’ case is Cristiano Berti (John Steiner) a daytime TV book
reviewer for Channel One, who is also Neal’s superfan. When an axe is planted firmly
in Cristiano’s skull, he drops off the ‘wanted’ list. John Saxon played Neal’s
literary agent Bulmer, Daria Nicolodi (from ‘Deep Red’) was Neal’s PA Anne,
film director Enzo G. Castellari’s brother Enio Girolami appeared briefly as a
store detective and Veronica Lario was Neal’s estranged, slightly unbalanced wife
Jane McKarrow. Captain Germani tells Neal that he guessed the killer’s identity
in the novel by page 30, but he’s not so quick on the real case. In the end,
with the police stumped, Neal himself turns detective – as did Musante and
Hemmings – to track down the ‘Peter Neal Tribute Act’ who is leaving a trail of
corpses littering Rome.
Neal’s book is modestly described by an advert in a
Rome bookstore as ‘Il giallo dell’anno, forse del deccennio’ – ‘The giallo of
the year, perhaps the decade’ – and the film isn’t bad either. ‘Tenebrae’ gives
Argento’s fans exactly what they want. With its gratuitous bloodletting and
stylised choreography of murder, this is over-the-top, comic-book Argento, a
partial return to ‘realism’ after the phantasms of ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’. The production’s backroom staff was of an
excellent calibre. Horror directors Lamberto Bava and Mario Soavi were the
film’s assistant directors, and the murders, involving razor, knife and axe,
were staged imaginatively by Giovanni Corridor. ‘Tenebrae’ was photographed by
Luciano Tovoli in Technicolor and 1.85:1 screen ratio (rather than Argento’s
earlier preferred format of 2.25:1 widescreen). Some of the cinematography –
pills resting on a glass tabletop, or water rinsing blood from an open razor
blade – is starling in its clarity. In a terrifying sequence, a woman Maria
(Lara Wendel) is chased through a park by a guard dog and inadvertently bumbles
into the killer’s basement lair. Before Tilde and Marion are murdered,
Argento’s camera glides up the outside of their apartment building, peeping
through windows, then sweeps up over the slate roof and swoops down to the
block’s stair landing, in an intricate camera take that seems inspired by
Sergio Leone’s gliding Chapman crane shot at Flagstone City railway station in
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968), a film Argento worked on with Leone
during the treatment stage. Another victim is stabbed in broad daylight in a
busy municipal square and ultra-weird flashbacks from the killer’s traumatic past
depict the murder of a woman (played by transsexual ‘Eva Robins’/Roberto
Coatti) who is wearing a white dress and bright red high heels. The film’s pulsating
synthesizer fugues – the pumping adrenalin of the killer or the fearful,
fleeing victims – were provided by Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio
Pignatelli, who as members of the band Goblin had such success with the
soundtracks for ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’. The film’s murders are graphically
staged with zeal – the movie ran into trouble on its first release, being
prosecuted as a ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK and appearing in the US in truncated
form as ‘Unsane’, shorn of 10 minutes. The killings are very gory – seemingly
even more so in this pristine blu-ray edition – and the house of horrors
bloodbath that climaxes the film offers plenty of the red stuff and some good
Arrow Film’s new steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is
the most comprehensive and impressive edition yet released. There are various
prints of the film out there on DVD. One has the onscreen title as TENEBRAE and
the credits and the ‘Tenebrae’ page extracts in English. Arrow’s print (running
time: 1:40:53) has the onscreen title TENEBRE and the credits and pages in
Italian text. I’ve never been mad about ‘Tenebrae’, but this Blu-ray release
has made me re-evaluate the film as one of Argento’s superior gialli –
certainly in visual terms. The colours are bold and tremendous, the cinematography
in moments as delicious as anything in ‘Suspiria’ or ‘Inferno’. Those red heels
have never looked so, erm, red. The feature itself is blu-ray Region B and DVD
Region 2, and as well as the English language dub it is available to play with Italian
audio and English subtitles. It was shot in English and Franciosa, Saxon,
Steiner and Gemma voiced themselves in the English version. A wealth of extras
include a collectors’ booklet with writing from Alan Jones and Peter
Strickland, and an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Copious disk
extras include two audio commentaries (one by Alan Jones and Kim Newman,
another by Thomas Rostock), interviews with co-star Daria Nicolodi, composer
Claudio Simonetti, and author Maitland McDonagh (‘Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds:
The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento’). There’s also 16 minutes of Simonetti’s band
Goblin performing tracks from ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ in person at a gig at
Glasgow Arches. All in, this is a definitive release of what is a strong contender
for Argento’s finest 1980s movie.
The steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is available
now from Arrow Films.
Poppins (1964) was a
first for me in two ways: one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a
theater (I was five years old when it was reissued in 1973 and the Rialto
Cinema in Westfield, New Jersey, the theater where I saw it, is actually one of
the few remaining theaters from that era that is still in business) and one of
the first movies I saw played back on a VCR (in 1980). I could hardly believe my eyes at age 5 and
wondered just how in the world Mary Poppins (she is never, ever to be called
just “Mary”), the chimney sweeper, and her two young charges managed to make
their way into the sidewalk paintings with all of the colorful characters. 40 years later, I could pretty much figure it
out for myself having seen many behind-the-scenes documentaries. And yet even
though the man behind the curtain has been exposed, it still does not detract
from the sheer magic that is this now 50-year-old film, and certainly one of
the longest Disney outings at two hours and nineteen minutes. The songs are pure magic and there is not a
dull one in the entire film, another rarity.
Julie Andrews is positively radiant as
the titular heroine who comes to save the day when Jane and Michael Banks (Karen
Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively, of course), the young children of the
too-busy-for-children parents George Banks (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks
(Glynis Johns), want a new nanny after they drive off their last one (Elsa
Lanchester) in a fit of aggravation. Their
ripped-up-by-their-father classified ad makes its way to Mary Poppins who appears
to be just what the children ordered. She
takes them on several adventures, the most colorful of which involves the
aforementioned jaunt into the colorful sidewalk chalk drawings. Animation and live action match in this
sequence to produce some truly remarkable sequences. The music is infectious and you cannot help
but find yourself humming along with the characters.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end, and the long and short of it is that Mary Poppins, who successfully brings
the children together with their parents, must leave after a job
well-done. While it becomes apparent
that the children now no longer need Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins indeed has
needed the children…and it shows as she flies off.
The film is a great showcase for the
considerable talents of Julie Andrews who was 28 when she made the film and
also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Dick
Van Dyke is a complete joy, bouncing around with reckless abandon. Karen Dotrice and the late Matthew Garber are
very good as the children.
The sesquipedalian jawbreaker Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is
perhaps the film’s most well-known song simply because of its ability to
challenge even the most seasoned logophile. A Spoonful of Sugar and the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee are additional delights.
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of
the original Mary Poppins stories upon which this film is based, reportedly
gave Walt Disney a hard time as he attempted to buy the book rights from her – he
spent over roughly 20 years courting her. This story has come to light and is featured in the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, and it is receiving a
lot of publicity as it stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary
Poppins has been
released on DVD for its 40th and its 45th anniversaries. The new release features a combination
DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and ports over all the previous extras (which are
considerable, though they are only presented in standard definition) and adds
two new ones in high definition: a 14-minute piece called Becoming
Mr. Sherman which features Richard Sherman, one of the writers of
the film’s music, speaking with actor Jason
Schwartzman (who actually portrays Richard Sherman in the
aforementioned Saving Mr.
Banks)talking about the making of the film. The other extra is a Karaoke supplement.
The film looks gorgeous and sounds
terrific on Blu-ray and is a must for Disney aficionados.
The forthcoming Criterion Blu-ray/DVD special edition of Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won't be released until January 21 but you can pre-order it now on Amazon and save $10. The set will contain a combined five discs, making this Criterion's most ambitious release to date.
Here is breakdown of what you can expect from the press release:
Stanley Kramer followed
his Oscar-winning Judgment at Nuremberg with this sobering investigation of
American greed. Ah, who are we kidding? It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, about
a group of strangers fighting tooth and nail over buried treasure, is the most
grandly harebrained movie ever made, a pileup of slapstick and borscht-belt-y
one-liners performed by a nonpareil cast, including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar,
Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, and a boatload of
other playing-to-the-rafters comedy legends. For sheer scale of silliness,
Kramer's wildly uncharacteristic film is unlike any other, an exhilarating epic
of tomfoolery. DUAL-FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES New,
restored 4K digital film transfer of the general release version of the film,
with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray New high-definition
digital transfer of a 202-minute extended version of the film, reconstructed
and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the
longer original road-show version-including some scenes that have been returned
to the film here for the first time-with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack
on the Blu-ray New audio commentary featuring It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo New documentary
on the film's visual and sound effects, featuring rare behind-the-scenes
footage of the crew at work and interviews with visual-effects specialist Craig
Barron and sound designer Ben Talk show from 1974 hosted by director Stanley
Kramer and featuring Mad World actors Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan
Winters Press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and members of the film's
cast Interviews recorded for the 2000 AFI program 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs,
featuring comedians and actors discussing the influence of the film Two-part
1963 episode of the CBC television program Telescope that follows the film's
press junket and premiere The Last 70mm Film Festival, a program from 2012
featuring cast and crew members from Mad World at the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, hosted by Billy Crystal Selection of humorist and voice-over
artist Stan Freberg's original TV and radio advertisements for the film, with a
new introduction by Freberg Original and rerelease trailers, and rerelease
radio spots Two Blu-rays and three DVDs, with all content available in both
formats PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick
We've plugged this release before, but if you are really stuck for a last minute holiday gift, forget those plans to get the guy in your life one of those neckties that lights up and says "Let me kiss you in the dark, baby!" Instead, go for the Dark Knight Ultimate Collector's Edition, which was recently released by Warner Home Video. It's one of those hernia-inducing boxed sets that is packed with goodies including:
Blu-ray editions and Ultra Violet access to all three Batman flicks directed by Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises
A special bonus disc that includes "the complete IMAX sequences from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises" that allows you to view these scenes in their original aspect ratios; a fascinating conversation between Christopher Nolan and veteran director Richard Donner about the challenges of revitalizing the Batman legend, a new documentary titled The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Nobody does boxed set collectibles better than Warners and this set is no exception. You get a souvenir program of images from the films, a set of separately packaged villain art prints, a letter from Christopher Nolan and even some toy replicas of three vehicles.
Each boxed set is individually numbered and the release is limited to 141,500 units. Grab it while you can. To the Bat poles!
Maverick actor and filmmaker Tom Laughlin has died at the age of 82 after a long illness. Laughlin was just another hunky actor in small roles in films like South Pacific and Tea and Sympathy. However, in 1967 he successfully rode the wave of popularity attached to biker flicks by writing, directing and starring in The Born Losers. (He used the named T.C Frank for his non-acting credits). The film starred Laughlin as a half-Native American named Billy Jack who takes on seemingly insurmountable odds to help oppressed people. The film was a hit and Laughlin revived the character in 1971 in the film Billy Jack. However, he was angry with Warner Brothers' lukewarm marketing of the film. He engaged in a high profile battle to win back distribution rights and finally prevailed in court. In 1974 Laughlin took the bold step of investing millions of dollars in re-marketing a movie that had not been a major success. This time, however, he used an innovative distribution method called "four walling" which centered on renting a wide number of theaters across the country and keeping all of the boxoffice revenues. Laughlin's plan worked so well that it permanently changed distribution patterns of major films which had once been centered on the premise of rolling out releases in slow, methodical manner. Suddenly "wide" releases became the norm and the strategy helped make Jaws the top boxoffice attraction of all time. Laughlin repeated his success with The Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. Critics scoffed at the script's ham-handed embracing of left wing political causes but the public responded especially in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate crisis that saw President Richard Nixon resigning from office shortly before the film was released. Laughlin found that the third time was not the charm, however, and his third film in the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) barely saw release in 1977. A high profile Western, The Master Gunfighter, released in 1975, was also deemed a boxoffice disappointment.
Laughlin's obsession with political activism alienated him from many in the Hollywood community. Unlike John Wayne and Jane Fonda, who successfully weathered criticisms of their high profile political pronouncements, Laughlin seemed to irk the people in power. Laughlin never ceased in expressing his distrust for whoever was irunning the show in Washington. At various times he was seen as a radicial leftist but at other times he seemed to extol beliefs of the right wing fringe movement. In short, he annoyed both sides. By having taken on the studio system, he was deemed toxic by the big money people in the industry. Working with his wife and co-star Delores, he tried repeatedly to get other film projects off the ground without success. He made three quixotic attempts to run for President as a Republican but was ignored by the party establishment. Nevertheless, in death, Laughlin is finally getting the credit he was often denied in life for reinvigorating the motion picture distribution business. For more click here . For comments from Laughlin's daughter click here
Joan Fontaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 classic Suspicion, has died in her California home at age 96. Fontaine began her film career playing attractive but nondescript characters until Hitchcock cast her as the female lead in his 1940 film version of the bestseller Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier. The film earned her an Oscar nomination and elevated her to one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses. In 1943 she received a third and final Oscar nomination for The Constant Nymph. Fontaine also won rave notices in the film version of the Gothic novel Jane Eyre, starring opposite Orson Welles. In both films she played an innocent woman whose husband is harboring a shocking secret that is unveiled within the walls of a stately but foreboding country manor. Fontaine's other major films include Ivanhoe, The Emperor Waltz, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, This Above All, The Women, Gunga Din, Casanova's Big Night, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Tender is the Night. She retired from feature films in the 1960s after being offended by being asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. However, Fontaine did continue to appear in TV shows for another twenty years. These included Ryan's Hope, Hotel and The Love Boat. Fontaine was the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland but the two sisters engaged in an on-going feud that extended back to their childhood years. For more click here
Acclaimed actor Peter O'Toole, star of stage and classic cinema, has passed away in a London hospital after a long illness. He was 81 years old. O'Toole shot to international prominence when director David Lean cast the largely unknown actor in the title role of his 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. O'Toole proved he was not to be a "one hit wonder", earning 8 Oscar nominations throughout his career, though he was frustrated at not winning the award in a competitive category. In 2003 he accepted the Academy's consolation honor: a lifetime achievement Oscar. O'Toole, Irish at birth, benefited from the explosive emergence of young method actors in the British film industry of the 1960s. His drinking exploits with friends like Richard Burton and Richard Harris were the stuff of legend and were chronicled in Robert Sellers' best selling book Hellraisers. O'Toole's career was not comprised of all hits. He went through dry spells as early as 1965 with the failure of his big budget adventure film Lord Jim and the flop 1969 musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips followed by another ill-advised venture into the musical format with the 1972 film of Man of La Mancha. . Yet, he would always surprise critics and audiences with an unexpectedly inspired performance in films that were often somewhat mundane. Among his most memorable cinematic achivements: Becket, My Favorite Year, The Lion in Winter, The Stunt Man, How to Steal a Million and What's New Pussycat? Fiercely private and disdainful of publicity and interviews, O'Toole generally proved to be quite charming when he would let his guard down. Although he said he had retired from the film industry, he was coaxed out of retirement for a historical film that is awaiting release.- Lee Pfeiffer For more click here
If you love director Richard Brooks' slam-bang 1966 Western The Professionals as much as we do, you should click here to gaze at some great international posters from the film that starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Claudia Cardinale (at her hottest!), Jack Palance, Woody Strode and Ralph Bellamy. It's part of Steve Thompson's blog celebrating his favorite year: 1966, and what baby boomer could argue with him?
Personal letters written to his friend and colleague Dennis Hamilton of the Sunday Times reveal a great deal about the nature of their relationship. In some letters, Fleming expresses his gratitude to Hamilton and at other times chastises him for using insulting verbiage and even wasting his time tending to his garden, an activity Fleming apparently disdained. The James Bond author's letters also reveal that he was once struggling to get through a business meeting without realizing that he was undergoing a major heart attack. The letters are being put up for auction. For more click here
Over the years, Friday the 13thhas been called many things. Upon its
release in May of 1980, critics who reviewed the low budget, independent wonder
called it everything from a blatant Halloween
clone (which director Sean Cunningham never denied it was) to an overly
violent dead teenager movie made with no apparent talent or intelligence.
Gene Siskel was so outraged by the film
that he called Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest
the movie business.” Siskel even went so far as to publish the home address of
actress Betsy Palmer (who gives a magnificent performance in the film) and he
encouraged fans to write to her and express their disappointment in her taking
a role in such a ghastly film.
Why did this creepy little horror film
strike such a negative chord in critics all over the country? To answer that
question, we must go back to 1978. The Alfred Hitchcock/Italian giallo-inspired
Halloween was released that year and
was not only loved by the movie-going public, but the near perfect film was
universally praised by critics including Roger Ebert, who rightfully called it “A
film so terrifying that I would compare it to Psycho.”
Critics and audiences alike were in awe of
the way director John Carpenter masterfully built suspense and the amazing film
became an instant classic as well as a box office phenomenon.
Fast forward to 1980; Director Sean
Cunningham decides to make a horror film and very wisely comes up with the idea
to combine two of the most current and successful scary movies: Halloween and George A. Romero’s classic
1979 zombie epic, Dawn of the Dead.
Cunningham would use Halloween’s structure (he would also borrow from Mario Bava’s
groundbreaking 1971 giallo film, A Bay of
Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve)
while adding Dawn’s amazingly graphic
and realistic gore effects. He would even engage the talents of the man
responsible for Dawn’s innovative gore,
special FX maestro Tom Savini.
This is primarily what outraged critics of
the time. In their eyes, Cunningham could not match Carpenter in masterfully
building terror and suspense (and there is much truth to that), so, instead,
the filmmaker would rely solely on realistic and bloody effects in order to
scare his target audience. The film was also accused of equating
sex/drugs/alcohol with death as well as being both misogynistic and illogical.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it
comes to the art of filmmaking, Friday
the 13thcannot hold a candle to Halloween, but I refuse to agree with anyone who calls Friday worthless, misogynistic and
illogical junk whose only talent can be found in its gore content.
Yes, the blood flows and Savini’s effects
are still as astonishing now as they were 33 years ago, but the entertaining
film works for many other reasons which I’ll list right now.
First of all, just like Halloween, the film has a
documentary-like feel to it. Cunningham simply shows us a likeable group of teenage
counselors (one of whom is a young Kevin Bacon) who are hard at work fixing up
Camp Crystal Lake a few weeks before the noisy children are due to arrive. The
characters have no Hollywood-esque dramatic motivations or conflicts. They are
just a very normal, happy and realistic group going about their daily business.
As viewers, we almost feel as if we’re eavesdropping on their lives.
This technique is greatly aided by the more
than competent writing of Victor Miller who wisely avoids stereotypes such as “the
jock” or “the bitch” and creates a pleasant group of normal and realistic kids.
The wonderfully natural acting of the kids themselves also helps. We like this
group and when the killer’s POV shots interrupt these normal, quiet scenes, it
really has an impact.
Next up is Sean Cunningham’s directorial
style. (For those who have said this film is little more than a gore-fest,
listen up.) Cunningham uses tried and true techniques such as showing us early
on the horror that the killer is capable of, then showing us exactly where the
killer is and, finally, having his likeable characters enter the killer’s space
one at a time. Naturally, this technique produces a fair amount of tension,
suspense and scares.
I won’t reveal the killer’s identity, but I
will say that it’s not our hockey masked pal, Jason. (Jason’s reign of terror
begins in part 2 and he doesn’t don his iconic mask until part 3.) However, once
you know who the killer is and learn the motivation behind the murders, you
will be petrified by the killer’s terrifying personality. Not only that, but upon
repeat viewings of the quieter, early scenes, knowledge of the killer’s
personality creates even more eerie, goose bump-like scares.
Cunningham also creates a nice moody
atmosphere by having half of the film take place during a nighttime thunderstorm.
Combine that with the quiet, isolated camp location and a moving POV camera
which suggests a creepy, violent and vengeful presence always lurking nearby
and you have not only a very scary little film, but a real feeling of almost
I can’t go on about the film’s scare factor
without mentioning the frightening musical score by the great Harry Manfredini.
His instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” has become a part of horror
music history and now stands tall alongside other immortal horror themes such
as Bernard Hermann’s magnificent score for Psycho,
John Williams’ often imitated, but never duplicated score for Jaws and John Carpenter’s iconic and
terrifying Halloween theme.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final
scare of the film. Without giving away too much, I have to say that it is one
of the most shocking and unexpected scares in horror movie history and second
only to the brilliant ending of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). It’s a magnificently crafted scene that can be
credited to Sean Cunningham’s solid direction, Victor Miller’s imaginative
writing, Adrienne King’s subtle and naturalistic acting, Tom Savini’s
magnificent makeup work and Harry Manfredini’s frightening music all working as
one to give audiences the fright of their lives.
Australian release poster.
And that’s just the final scene. All those
elements work together throughout the entire film and help to create a fun,
scary rollercoaster ride. The gore effects work more as a punctuation mark at
the end of a sentence. It usually caps off a tense and frightening scene. It is
not the only technique at work here. As a matter of fact, take the very minimal
amount of gore out of the film and you still have an extremely eerie,
claustrophobic and terrifying film.
As far as being misogynistic, equating
sex/alcohol/drugs with death and being illogical goes, critics couldn’t have
been more off base.
Let’s start with misogyny. First of all,
there is an equal amount of male and female deaths, and Kevin Bacon’s death is
probably the best and most graphic death scene in the film. Second of all, and
don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film, the killer is female. So, if the
filmmakers hated women, the killer would’ve been a man. Saying that this film hates
women is ridiculous.
Next up is the idea that the kids were
punished by death for engaging in sex, drinking and smoking pot. Well, if that
were the case, then why does the final girl survive? Midway through the film she
indulges in both beer and marijuana. It is also revealed that she was in a
relationship with the head of the camp and, although it isn’t shown that they
had sex, the dialogue strongly suggests it. Much like Halloween (the female survivor of that film also smokes pot and
clearly wants to be in a relationship with a boy), this idea of
sex/drugs/alcohol being punishable by violent death is not a part of Friday the 13th, but would be
misinterpreted by future slasher filmmakers thereby beginning that slasher
Lastly is the ridiculous idea that all of
the characters in this film do completely illogical things before getting
killed. This never happens. First of all, the characters are silently killed
off one by one in a Ten Little Indians manner.
The remaining characters have no idea that there is a killer among them, so it
makes sense that they would go about their business as if everything is normal.
Also, once the last two characters sense that something is wrong, they both do
completely logical things. Unfortunately, they are thwarted by the intelligent
killer who is always one step ahead of them.
For example, when they can’t find anyone,
they try to call for help, but, unbeknownst to them, the line has been cut.
(They believe that it’s just out of order due to the storm.) Next, they find a
bloody axe in one of the cabins and immediately decide to leave, but their car
has been sabotaged. Their last idea is to just hike the ten miles to
civilization and get help, but it’s pitch black outside and a thunderstorm is
With the exception of the heroine knocking
out the killer a few times and then either not continuing to pummel her or
throwing the weapon aside, the characters all act logically/intelligently in
every situation, but still get killed which is one of the reasons why the film
is so scary.
So, is it a masterful piece of cinema like Halloween or Psycho? Certainly not. However, it’s far from worthless junk and it
totally works without the effects which, by the way, take up less than sixty seconds
of the film’s 95 minute running time. At the time, those amazing gore effects
were the only things that were new in this type of film, so that’s what critics
mainly became fixated on. Unfortunately, they missed much of the wonderful
craftsmanship that went into the rest of the film.
Friday the 13th may be a dead
teenager movie, but it’s one of the best of its type. While not in the same
league as its predecessors, it’s a much better film than it’s been given credit
for. It’s also an important film in that, along with Halloween, it created a very successful subgenre/formula of the
horror film and, due to being released by Paramount Pictures and becoming a
huge financial success, it gave up and coming filmmakers a chance to break into
the Hollywood system by producing their own low budget slasher films which
utilized the same structure and similar techniques.
To date, the film has spawned ten sequels,
one remake, countless imitations and the character of Jason has become an icon
of fright. Entire books have been written about the series and at least one
book was wholly devoted to the groundbreaking first film. There have also been Friday the 13thcomic books,
novelizations, video games, action figures and conventions. Not bad for a little
movie that has been wrongfully dismissed as an illogical, misogynistic, incompetent
spectacle of gore.
issue #27 of Cinema Retro, writer John Exshaw presents a remarkable, previously
unpublished interview with iconic British actor Peter Cushing. The following
companion piece was not included for reasons of space but we are very proud to
run this as a web site exclusive.)
to interviewing Peter Cushing, in May, 1993, I arranged to speak to Christopher
Lee at the Carlton Towers Hotel in Knightsbridge, where he kindly shared the
following thoughts on Cushing as actor, colleague, and friend.
didn’t meet him until we did the first Hammer movie. I’d seen him. Of course
the thing which I’d seen which impressed me most, understandably, was 1984, which was remarkable. He was
wonderful in that. . . . Live TV! [shudders]
dedication; and this is the answer to why Peter Cushing is an actor. Total
dedication. Total! The most professional actor I have ever worked with. And I’m
not going to say underrated, because he isn’t underrated. He’s highly regarded
all over the world as a brilliant actor, and deservedly so. The record shows
that. . . . Also, one thing that we do share, I think, more than anything,
which is more important than anything else – I think we share the same
dedication, I think we share professionalism, I think we share the same
feelings about doing the best we can – one thing we certainly share is the same
sense of humour, which, of course, the general public is totally unaware of. If
they knew what we got up to on the set in every film we’ve made . . . the
imitations that I used to do, the dances that he used to do. . . . Oh, we used
to dance together in the rushes, yes; me made up as the Frankenstein creature,
a sort of, a sort of, what do you call it – buck-and-wing dance, you know. And
in years and years and years he and I have shared this idolatrous love of the
Warner Brothers’ cartoons, you see, and Sylvester, and Tweety Pie, and Yosemite
Sam. And I’ve always imitated them, you see, and he does the same. And we used
to do that on a set; people used to think we’d gone out of our minds, and we’d
make each other laugh. Sometimes it’s so important – in a way, it’s absolutely
essential – but we’re both of us ice-cold when it comes to doing it, even if
we’ve been laughing a few moments before. Again, that’s a thing we also share,
what can I say about Peter Cushing that I haven’t said before? I mean,
consummate actor, brilliant technician, and a marvellous human being. I’ve
always said, you know – I’m sure you’re aware of this – that he should have
been a priest. . . . Because there is a great love for his fellow man. There’s
an almost superhuman loving kindness in Peter, and it’s always been there. I’ve
never heard him say anything harsh about anyone. He’s also a deeply religious
man. Those are the two things we don’t have in common. I’m afraid I do say what
I think. I’m not tactless but I am a more direct person than he is. I don’t
have his tolerance. I don’t have his gentleness. I don’t have his faith; I wish
I did. . . .
is not an easy person to get to know, believe you me. There’s a lot about Peter
that I don’t know. . . . But of course, as you know, Helen died in the 1970s
and that is his only desire left in life. And it’s genuine. He has stayed alive
because he’s a man who would never take his own life because that would be a
great sin, and he has stayed alive through some pretty terrible experiences,
you know. He’s had cancer, and problems with his legs, his hips, breathing, and
all sorts of medical problems – but the spirit is unquenchable and the speed of
thinking and the mind haven’t changed at all. I mean, it’s another cliché – the
spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The same thing with Vincent [Price];
mind like a rapier, both of them. Only the physical disabilities of getting
old. . . .
he’s certainly one of a kind, and of course this business of staying alive,
simply existing, which is how he looks at his life – existence. He’s only
waiting for that moment; only waiting for it. And he’s been waiting now for
twenty-three years. It must be terrible to be so admired and so loved and so
respected but to impose, I feel, on yourself, deliberately, a sort of monastic
seclusion which he seems to prefer. He seems to; I mean, you wouldn’t think it
if you saw him with a group of people but I think he prefers to be alone. I
don’t think the house is full of people. I don’t think there’s many very, very
close, intimate friends – but nor have I, and nor have many people.
Acquaintances, yes; admirers, yes – scores of thousands all over the world,
people who feel they know him, people who feel that he’s a friend – all that.
That’s on a professional basis; I think on a personal basis, I get the
impression that he’s a person who keeps his life and his relationship with his
wife very much to himself. It’s locked up in a cupboard of which he has the
key. He doesn’t open that cupboard and release anything unless he chooses to.
But I don’t either.
To order issue #27 of Cinema Retro with John Exshaw's exclusive interview with Peter Cushing click button below
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Far Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but I had problems discerning some of MacGraw's dialogue and found myself having to constantly raise and lower the volume. There are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
From the rumored suicide of a Munchkin to debates about how many dresses Dorothy wears, there are still controversies attached to the beloved 1939 MGM screen version of The Wizard of Oz. Click here to find the facts behind the legends.
this month from the Criterion Collection is Elio Petri’s 1970 international
hit, Investigation of a Citizen Above
Suspicion, which won the Oscar that year for Best Foreign Language Film. It
stars Gian Maria Volonté, whom most Americans will recognize as the
heavy in two spaghetti westerns, A
Fistful of Dollars and For a Few
Dollars More, but this time clean-shaven and wearing a tailored suit. He is
sharp, handsome, and volatile—the perfect personality to portray a high-ranking
detective in Italy’s (then) corrupt police force.
politicized, Investigation uses sly
dark humor to make its point—that corruption has become so bad that an official
can commit murder but can still be above the law. Here, Volonté, who enjoys rather kinky sex with his mistress, decides to
kill her to prove he can get away with it under the very noses of his fellow
officers. In short, he is a mad, over-the-top narcissist whose fantasy is to be
coerced into confessing his “innocence.” It is a sly crime thriller with a nudge-nudge,
wink-wink jab in the ribs.
The world in the year 1970 was very
different than it is now. Revolution was everywhere, and it was hip to question
authority and rebel against conformity and complacency. Investigation is one of the many pictures from that era to attack
the “establishment”—and manage to be entertaining at the same time. The jury is
out on whether today’s audiences will find relevancy in the picture, but as I
tell my students in Film History, “always judge a film within the context of
when it was released.”
of the movie are definitely Volonté’s
performance, as well as the iconic Ennio Morricone score. In a recent interview
included as an extra on the disk, Morricone explains that his approach to the
music was to use unusual, “grotesque” instrumentation. The recurring, playfully
sardonic main theme perfectly captures the film’s mischievous stance.
The new 4k digital film restoration is
sharp and crystal clear, and the colors punch out in that singular 70s fashion.
An abundance of extras include an archival interview with director Petri, a
90-minute documentary on Petri’s career, an excellent 60-minute documentary
about actor Volonté, the interview with Morricone, and a booklet featuring an
essay by film scholar Evan Calder Williams and excerpts from a book by
co-screenwriter Ugo Pirro.
Recommended for aficionados of Italian
art house cinema, Investigation of a
Citizen Above Suspicion is a cult relic of the early 70s that begs for
Altman enjoyed a successful and critically-acclaimed run as a director in the
1970s, and for my money, Nashville is
the pinnacle, the quintessential Altman Film. Along with M*A*S*H, and later works like A
Wedding and Short Cuts, Nashville is a large ensemble picture
with numerous characters coincidentally crisscrossing throughout the story, creating
a style and structure that Altman made his own (it’s a safe bet that he was
assuredly influenced by Jean Renoir’s 1939 classic, The Rules of the Game, which also displays a canvas of quirky
characters interacting at a gathering). The “plot,” as it were, concerns the
preparation and execution of a political campaign benefit concert—and the
camera follows twenty-four eccentric souls around as it happens.
citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, where the picture was shot on location, were
very upset by Altman’s film. They felt it made fun of them and the country
music industry. On the contrary, Nashville
is not really about the country music business—that only serves as the
conduit for Altman’s real message. This is a movie about America, from not only a pop culture point-of-view, but definitely
a political one. Nashville, the city, becomes a metaphor for the country, and
the music is the paint with which the world is colored.
released in 1975, Nashville is satire
at its best. Altman-esque black humor oozes through every scene, and each one
feels spontaneous and improvised (most of them were!). The picture is a
smorgasbord of sights and sounds—all fascinating and compelling. Thematically,
there are examinations of relationships, greed, exploitation, fame, ambition,
and disappointment... as well as a sudden and surprising final statement on
violence. With its depiction of the assassination of a pop singer, in hindsight
Nashville eerily forecasts the murder
of John Lennon, which occurred five years later.
usual, Altman employs many from his so-called “stock company” of actors—Lily
Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Henry Gibson, Michael Murphy, Shelley Duvall,
Geraldine Chaplin—as well as folks like Ronee Blakely, Jeff Goldblum, Karen
Black, Keenan Wynn, and Ned Beatty. Carradine, Tomlin, and Blakely are
standouts, but for me it’s Gibson who steals the picture. His characterization
of a rhinestone country singer is spot-on and often hilarious. Nashville deservedly earned Best
Picture, Best Director, and two Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations, and
yet it won only Best Song—Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” (many of the actors
wrote their own songs they performed in the movie).
new 2k digital film restoration looks wonderful on Blu-ray, of course, and the 5.1
surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack elevates to sublimity Altman’s utilization
of overlapping dialogue. You really can decipher
everything that’s said! The new documentary on the making of the film, which
features interviews with Carradine, Blakley, Tomlin, Murphy, Allan Nicholls,
writer Joan Tewkesbury, and A.D. Alan Rudolph, is informative but perhaps a
little rambling after fifty minutes. It was interesting to hear how Carradine
was unhappy with his performance during the shoot and “felt uncomfortable”—it
was after he saw the completed film that he realized it was his unhappy character that had upset him; Tom was a
guy who didn’t like himself, and the actor felt it internally without understanding
it at the time. There are three archival interviews with Altman, who is always
articulate and entertaining. Also included is some behind-the-scenes footage
and a demo of Carradine performing his songs from the film. Critic Molly
Haskell provides the essay in the thick booklet.
Nashville is a feast for the
eyes and ears. More of an experience than a narrative film, it is one for the
Actress Eleanor Parker has died at age 91. She was best known for playing the Baroness who was engaged to Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the classic 1965 film version of The Sound of Music. Upon hearing of her death, Plummer released this statement: "Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known, both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever." Parker had been nominated for three Academy Awards but it was her role as the Baroness for which she is best-remembered, as the rich woman who loses the love of Captain Von Trapp to Maria (Julie Andrews). Parker's other key films include Of Human Bondage, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Naked Jungle, Caged and Detective Story. For more on her life and career, click here.
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement:
filmmakers are using Kickstarter to raise the small budget needed to make a
brand new episode of classic TV detective show Columbo, in tribute to
the late Peter Falk.
on the amount of money they raise, the film may or may not get the rights to
use the name Columbo from Universal, but at the very least they want to
make a show in that 1970s American TV-style that fans of the genre will enjoy.
have various levels of funding options available with some great rewards, and
are appealing to the public to get behind the project. What could be a better
Christmas gift for the Columbo fan in your life than a piece of branded
memorabilia, a signed script or even a name in the credits?
For more information and the opportunity to become a
backer of the project go to their Kickstarter by clicking here
(Please note: this notice is posted for informational purposes only. The Kickstarter campaign does not involve Cinema Retro in any way, although our columnist Adrian Smith is one of the production team that is trying to get the project off the ground.)
Cinema Retro has released the following press release. (Please note: this American release of The Big Gundown is entirely different from the European special edition released by Explosive Media that we reported on recently).
LOS ANGELES - Grindhouse
Releasing is proud to present the first-ever U.S. home video release of the
greatest Spaghetti Western you’ve never seen: Sergio Sollima’s widescreen epic
THE BIG GUNDOWN!
the legendary Lee Van Cleef as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of
Cuchillo (Eurofilm superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a
twelve-year-old girl, this release contains fifteen additional minutes of gunslinging
action never before seen in America.
BIG GUNDOWN is one of the most highly acclaimed and long sought-after films in
the spaghetti western genre, hailed by critics for its stunning cinematography,
the amazing performances of Lee Van Cleef (following his iconic role in THE
GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) and Tomas Milian, the classic Ennio Morricone music
(recently used by Quentin Tarantino in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), and the riveting
direction of Sergio Sollima.
4-disc deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition of THE BIG GUNDOWN, including a bonus Blu-ray
of the uncensored director’s cut and a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s classic
soundtrack, arrives in stores December 10, 2013.
Click here to order
THE BIG GUNDOWN now on Amazon.com
the trailer on the Grindhouse Releasing YouTube channel:
It's no secret that the Loew's Jersey City Theatre is a favorite of Cinema Retro readers in the New York/New Jersey area. The magazine periodically provides film scholars to introduce classic movie screenings there. Located only minutes from mid-town Manhattan, the landmark theater that opened in 1929 has seen its share of hard times and almost faced the wrecking ball before activists saved it in the 1980s. Since then, a private ad-hoc group called Friends of the Loew's has been managing the theater and overseeing a painstaking restoration of the palace back to its former glory by using mostly volunteer help. The theater now screens classic movies monthly and also offers concerts and stage productions. Now the new Mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, weighs in on his views about the potential for the place to become the hub for the revival of Journal Square, the famed center of the city that has been in decline since the 1970s. The area is on the verge of seeing a boom and the Mayor feels the Loew's can be a major, world class venue. Those who have nurtured the Loew's, however, are nervous that the politicos will move in and undo progress that has been brought about by the current management team. The Mayor assures the Friends of the Loew's that "we are not throwing them out" and says that sizable investments from private industry will be pouring into the theater to finalize its full restoration. Click here for more
David McCallum with event host Bruce Crawford. (Photo: Steve Gray)
By Jon Heitland
On any list of the best films based on World War II, The Great Escape, directed by John Sturges
and based on the novel by Paul Brickhill, will always rank near the top.The compelling story of a group of British
and American prisoners of war and how they outwitted their Nazi captors
observes its 50th anniversary this year, and actor David McCallum,
who plays Ashley-Pitt in the film, travelled to Omaha, Nebraska on November 9,
2013, to help celebrate the classic film. Proceeds went to the Nebraska Kidney
Foundation, which was why McCallum took time from his busy television schedule
to make an appearance.The evening event
centered around a showing of the film at the large, concert-style theater at
the prestigious Joslyn Museum, to an enthusiastic, full house crowd of 1000.
Great Escape 50 year retrospective was another in a long running series of
film tributes organized by Omaha film historian and documentary producer Bruce
Crawford, who, since 1992, has produced similar events for other classic films,
with major sponsorship from Jerry and Patti Gress. Crawford is a lifelong lover of cinema, and
his retrospectives include appearances by the film’s stars or director to share
their recollections with an appreciative audience. Crawford has also produced
two radio documentaries on classic film composers, including Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Taxi Driver, The Day
The Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, North By Northwest, etc.) and Miklos Rozsa
(El Cid, Quo-Vadis, Julius Caesar, King
of Kings, and Ben-Hur).
His past film retrospectives have included a tribute to special
effects legend, Ray Harryhausen, with screenings of Mysterious Island, and Jason
and the Argonauts in 1992; a 35th anniversary screening of Ben-Hur with director William Wyler's
family as special guests in 1993; and The
Longest Day, with director Ken
Annakin and the family of producer Darryl F. Zanuck in 1994. In subsequent years he honored Alfred Hitchcock
with a showing of Psycho, with Janet Leigh and her daughter Kelly as honored
guests; Gone With The Wind with Ann
Rutherford; and Mr. Smith Goes To
Washington, with Frank Capra, Jr.
For The Great Escape
event, local World War II re-enactors appeared in uniform along with a local
modeling club’s display of vintage model planes from the era, along with a
model of a prisoner of war camp. Attendees particularly enjoyed a motorcycle identical to that ridden by
Steve McQueen in the film when he tries to jump a barbed wire fence to elude
German soldiers. A United States Postal Service commemorative envelope for the
50th anniversary of The Great
Escape was also unveiled, featuring scenes from the film involving both
McCallum and Steve McQueen.
Commemorative envelop by the artist Nicolosi.
In introducing the film, McCallum recalled how he got the acting
“bug” at a young age: “My life as an
actor started when I was about 10 years old. I did a scene from King John, from Shakespeare, as a very small prince
in the tower, and there this jailer with a red hot poker is about to put out
his eye, and he pleaded for his life. I did this in a very small theater in a
church, and at the end I got a standing ovation. The scene got a standing
ovation, but I assumed it was for me. At
that moment I realized I had come home, I had found the place where I was going
to be for the rest of my life.”
Memorabilia display (Photo: Jon Heitland)
McCallum, a native Scot, was the son of professional classical
musicians, his father David, Sr., first violinist for the London Philharmonic,
his mother Dorothy a cellist. Young David took up the oboe at age eight, and
attended the Royal Academy of Music for a time, but he left school at age 15 to
attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for two years to become an actor. He
then went into repertory theater, but that was interrupted when he was
conscripted into the National Service. McCallum recalled “I became second in
command of C company, Third Battalion of the Gold Coast Regiment of the Royal
West African Frontier Force.” McCallum noted with pride this unit distinguished
itself earlier in World War II because of the enemy lines of communication it
captured, adding “I mention this because the wonderful thing about being in the
British army is you learn how to put the uniform on, how to march, how to
salute, and that all came in very useful
later on, on several occasions, The Great
Escape being one of them.”
(Photo: Steve Gray)
After leaving the army, McCallum did a lot of television in
Great Britain, with an occasional movie role in such films as The Long, The Short And The Tall, with
Laurence Harvey; Billy Budd, directed
by Peter Ustinov; and Freud with
Montgomery Clift, directed by John Huston. It was while filming Freud that
McCallum met director John Sturges, who would remember him later when casting The Great Escape. Sturges had directed Bad Day At Black Rock, in 1955, one of McCallum’s favorite films.
Sturges had also directed the iconic western The Magnificent Seven, in
1960, which starred Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn, three of
the stars he would feature in The Great
Escape, along with Robert Vaughn, McCallum’s future co-star on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Upon being cast as Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape, McCallum remembered “When I arrived on set, John
Sturges, the director, gave me a letter, and in the letter it said ‘Let us know what you want, do you need a
babysitter, where would you like to live, would you like a car, would you like
a driver?’ Which was welcoming in a way
which I never thought possible.” McCallum noted he had not done a major
Hollywood type movie before, and he appreciated the respect and care with which
the cast was treated.
On the set of The Great
Escape, McCallum stated the cast all got along well, although they formed
small social groups for their off time: “We had a wonderful time together. The Germans went off with the
Germans, and the British went off with the British, and I went off with Donald
Pleasance., who was a good friend of mine.” McCallum soon also became friends with James Garner, as most of Donald
Pleasence’s scenes were with Garner. The three men remained friends from then
on. McCallum did not see much of Steve McQueen, who played one of his most remembered
roles in the form of Hilts, the cocky American flier whose motorcycle escape
has become a classic sequence, because for many of the ensemble scenes,
McQueen’s character was in the “cooler”.
McCallum also enjoyed the fact his wife, actress Jill Ireland,
and son Paul were with him during the filming, and they would sight see on his
days off in Starnberg, Germany. His
mother also visited the set, and McCallum drove her around Austria. Another member of the Great Escape cast, Charles
Bronson, also became lifelong friends with David McCallum, their friendship
even surviving McCallum’s divorce from Ireland and her later marriage to
Bronson. McCallum has been happily married to his wife Kathy Carpenter since
Although most attendees were interested in re-experiencing the
inspiring film, many were there to meet McCallum, popular today for his role of
Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on televisions’s N.C.I.S.,
as well as a substantial contingent who fondly remembered him as Illya
Kuryakin, the enigmatic Russian spy on The
Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. McCallum as Illya created a sensation at the time, resulting in mob
scenes and rock star-like status for McCallum.
The experience of being a “sex symbol”, especially for teen age
girls, caught McCallum by surprise at the time. His character was originally intended to be a a sidekick to Robert
Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo, but quickly became a co-star that helped make the
series a hit in the 1960s and a lasting icon in popular culture. Many of those
teen age girls, now in their 50s and 60s, stood in line after the film to meet
McCallum and get an autograph, which the 80 year old actor graciously supplied
to about 300 attendees anxious to meet him, finishing just before midnight. He also enjoyed seeing a large display of Man From U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia
featuring his image at the event supplied by this writer, a fan from Iowa and
author of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book:
The Behind The Scenes Story of a Television Classic.
McCallum and Cinema Retro's Jon Heitland in front of a display of Man From U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia. (Photo: Mike Beacom)
Today McCallum, besides appearing on N.C.I.S., also does voice over work on video games, which he
describes as a wonderful opportunity to over act. He commutes regularly from Los Angeles back
to New York City to see his family. He
looks forward to raising a glass of wine to another 50th anniversary
next year, the golden anniversary of the premiere of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
In concluding his remarks on The
Great Escape to the appreciative audience, McCallum emotionally recalled
that the cast first saw the film when it premiered in London at the Odeon
Leicester Square Cinema (the scene of many later James Bond premieres): “The
balcony seats had been reserved for the cast. I sat down in my seat, not
knowing what to expect. And for the very
first time, as the curtain parted, and the music of Elmer Bernstein came up, I
watched that film. And I will never,
ever, forget that moment.”
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) is one of the greatest American films ever made.
It is also one of the most disturbing,
and it is astonishing to look back and see that a major studio (Columbia
Pictures) released it as is. Although nominated
for Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie
Foster), and Best Original Score (Bernard Herrmann, who also was nominated in
the same year for his impressive score to Brian DePalma’s Obsession, albeit posthumously) by the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, it won none. The top
honor instead went to John Avildsen’s Rocky,
the story of a streetwise debt collector in Philadelphia who gets the chance to
become a boxing world superstar. Mr.
Alvidsen also walked away with the statue for Best Director, and the fact that
Mr. Scorsese was not even nominated in this category has long been considered
to be one of the most, if not the
most, egregious Oscar snub(s) in the Academy’s history, something the organization
appears to have attempted to smooth over with what is generally considered to
be his consolation prize - his Oscar for The
Departed (2006), a good film but not in the same league as his greatest work
(he lost out on directing Oscars for Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), and The
Aviator (2004). )
Robert De Niro gives one of his
greatest screen performances as Travis Bickle, a lonely cabdriver who deliberately
works long hours because he cannot sleep. He befriends Iris (Jodie Foster), a
12-year-old prostitute whose pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) raffles off a menu of
shocking sex acts (even by today’s barely-there standards) not heard outside of
a porno film or a sound bite by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that she and Travis can engage
in for a price. Instead of taking up the
offer, Travis uses his time with Iris to try and convince her to leave the
profession that she is a part of. When
she refuses, he arms himself to the teeth and kills her pimp, her John, and the
lowlife who stands in the hall and collects the money in what was at that point
in American cinema one of the most shocking and bloody sequences ever
filmed. Today, you could probably show
it on network television with few cuts, if any.
What makes Taxi Driver so memorable is the way that it captures New York City
in the summer of 1975 when it was filmed. The city was a terribly depressing and dangerous place to be at that
time, and cinematographer Michael Chapman manages to capture the Big Apple in a
way that few cameramen have - Owen Roizman’s work on The French Connection (1971) and The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) being two obvious exceptions. In the midst of all of this, photographer Steve
Schapiro took innumerable publicity shots on the set of the film and captured
the cast in their moments during camera set-ups, prior to and after shooting,
and while taking a break. The images are
a fascinating look at the ideas that both Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul
Schrader had about the city and the central character, the aforementioned
Bickle, and how they wanted to get those ideas across to the audience. The city itself is also a character in Taxi Driver and this fact comes out quite
strikingly in Mr. Schapiro’s on-set photographs which are now available for aficionados
of this great film in the form of a new book by Taschen, the glorious publisher of such mammoth
tomes on cinema greats like Kubrick, Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, and
Simply titled Taxi Driver, this stunning, oversized book is a collection of
beautiful photographs taken by Mr. Shapiro that depict much of the action of
the film and candid, behind-the-scenes shots. It begins with a foreward by director Scorsese, written in 2010 while he
was shooting Hugo (2011) in London,
and it follows with an introduction which is a reprinting of Richard Thompson’s
interview with Mr. Schrader from the March/April 1976 issue of cinema
cognoscenti magazine fave Film Comment;
Paul Garner’s “It’s Dilemma, It’s Delimit, It’s De Niro” essay from New York magazine from May 16, 1977;
Norma McLain Stoop’s essay “In the Middle of the Street in the Middle of the
Night” from After Dark, May 1976; Judy
Klemesrud’s essay “Jodie Foster’s Rise From Disney to Depravity” from the New
York Times on March 7, 1976; Lawrence Grobel’s Playboy Interview with Robert De
Niro from Playboy in January 1989; Richard
Goldstein and Mark Jacobson’s interview “Martin Scorsese Tells All: Blood and
Guts Turn Me On!” from The Village Voice,
April 5, 1976; and Mr. Schrader’s interview with Mr. Scorsese from January 29,
1982, published in Cahiers du Cinema,
during the editing of the eerily prescient The
King of Comedy, its relation to Taxi
Driver as a companion piece included for obvious reasons. The rest of the text is German and French
translations of the aforementioned essays.
The most unsettling images are not of
the film’s bloodshed at the end, though they are quite graphic and colorful and
which friend Father Francis Principe told the director was a little too much “Good
Friday” and not enough “Easter Sunday” when he viewed it at a private screening
in 1976, but of the slow dancing sequence between Sport and Iris, depicted in
the this book. Here is a twelve year-old
girl being told by a man who uses her nascent sexuality for his own method of
making money, that she’s his woman. It’s
really quite revolting, and probably goes on today with all the multiple cases
of sex trafficking in the world. Taxi Driver doubles as a cautionary
tale, its religious themes also present.
When Taxi Driver was released to theaters in 1976, the ending was so
bloody that in order to avoid receiving an X rating from the MPAA, the director
was faced with cutting down the scenes, something he did not want to do. He opted instead to de-saturate, or lessen
the amount of color, in the sequence so it would not look as graphic. This action was incorporated into the film artistically
to represent what the murder scene might have looked like in the tabloids. On the
film’s 35th anniversary in 2011, the film was released on
Blu-ray. Since times have changed, there
was an effort afoot to re-saturate the film and make it look the way that it
was intended to look prior to the color reduction process. Unfortunately, that color negative could not
be located, and there is talk that it might not have survived. Mr. Shapiro’s photographs of this brutally
violent sequence, replicated in this book, might be all that visually remains of
this controversial sequence.
Driver is a stunning
achievement from Tashen, and I personally want to thank Mr. Schapiro for having
taken such amazing photographs of this incredible film. A must for any serious fan of American
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE BOOK DISCOUNTED FROM AMAZON.COM.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE FILM, TAXI DRIVER, MASTERED
IN 4K BLU-RAY DISCOUNTED FROM AMAZON.COM.
It's conventional wisdom that 1939 is regarded as the greatest year ever for classic movies. (I respectfully argue that 1969 was even more impressive, but I digress). So many great films were released in this one calendar year: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din and too many others to list. Lost amid this wealth of cinematic treasures is the often-overlooked John Ford classic Drums Along the Mohawk, a movie that certainly ranks among the legendary director's best work, yet it curiously remains among his least-discussed major achievements. The movie has just been released as a Blu-ray special edition by Twilight Time. The film stars Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda as Lana and Gil Martin, colonial era newlyweds who leave the safety of a big city (Albany, New York) to settle in the upper Hudson Valley, then a no-man's land of hardship and danger for the farmers and settlers who tried to claw out a life there. Their marriage and move to a farm Gil has purchased happens to coincide with the outbreak of the American Revolution. Suddenly, this non-political couple who only want to prosper on their own land find themselves enmeshed in the crisis of the times. Like most farmers, their desire to opt out of the conflict between colonists and British forces turns out to be wishful thinking. The Brits have allied themselves with local Indian tribes who terrorize the settlers through constant raids, forcing them to take refuge in a local fort while they suffer the indignity of watching their farms burn. The fort only provides temporary protection. Short of ammo and provisions, the defenders realize they have precious little time to form a strategy for survival. In the film's most compelling sequence, Gil volunteers to make a seemingly suicidal run through the forest to reach reinforcements at another fort. He is doggedly pursued by three Indian braves who are hot on his heels. Ford milks considerable suspense from the sequence which foreshadows Cornel Wilde's brilliant 1966 movie The Naked Prey. As with any Ford production, however, this one spends considerable time on character development, homespun comedy and American traditions. The battle sequences are impressive but its the actors who make the most of the spotlight with both Colbert and Fonda (in his first of several collaborations with Ford) perfectly cast. There are also Ford stock company regulars like Ward Bond and John Carradine but it is Edna May Oliver who steals the show in an Oscar-nominated performance as a feisty pioneer widow whose forceful nature terrorizes the Indian warriors more than they can intimidate her.
Drums Along the Mohawk was Ford's first color film. It was shot in Technicolor but apparently Fox tossed out the original film elements in the 1970s. This restored version is obviously not as gorgeous as the original theatrical presentations but the film nevertheless looks terrific. Twilight Time has released the movie as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray that features some interesting bonus extras. Top of the list is Nick Redman's 2007 feature length documentary Becoming John Ford that traces the mercurial director's long history at Fox and his collaborative productions with studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. The two would create some great films but ultimately a feud over My Darling Clementine would lead to Ford leaving the studio in 1946. Redman, co-founder of Twilight Time, does a superb job of providing notable talking heads (including Peter Fonda) who provide insightful details on Ford's life and career. Redman also appears on an equally informative commentary track with film historian Julie Kirgo who provides the informative write-ups for the Twilight Time collector's booklets that accompany each release. It's nice to finally hear her speaking directly to viewers and the commentary track is highly entertaining. There is also an original trailer. The only complaint is that the artwork on the sleeve is a bit bland given the star power in the movie.
Cinema Retro enters its tenth year of publishing with issue #28 which is now at the printers. It will be mailed to all UK/European subscribers before Christmas. Subscribers throughout the rest of the world will get their issues in January.
We launch our landmark anniversary with one of our best issues ever. Here are the highlights:
Sheldon Hall presents major coverage of the 50th anniversary of the British war movie classic Zulu starring Stanley Baker, Michael Caine and Jack Hawkins...complete with rarely seen images.
Dave Worrall takes you behind the scenes for the filming of the James Bond blockbuster Goldfinger at Pinewood Studios and presents some rare behind-the-scenes production shots as well as a "now-and-then" guide to specific studio locations from the film.
Ray Morton provides an exclusive interview with famed cinematographer Richard H. Kline, whose credits include Soylent Green, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Camelot, Body Heat, The Mechanic and the 1976 remake of King Kong.
Brian Hannan looks at the dramatic behind-the-scenes story of BUtterfield 8, the film Elizabeth Taylor fought against doing...only to win her first Oscar.
Howard Hughes continues his history of Oakmont Productions with a look at the low-budget WWII flick The Thousand Plane Raid starring Christopher George.
Raymond Benson provides his choices for the best movies of 1987.
Tim Greaves looks at the strange life and career of Hammer Films starlet Victoria Vetri (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth)
Dean Brierly concludes his "Crime Wave" series with a look at the greatest- and most underrated- American gangster films.
Lee Pfeiffer revisits the cult apocalyptic thriller Panic in the Year Zero directed by and starring Ray Milland.
A look at the history of comic book movie tie-in issues
Harvey Chartrand provides the fascinating story behind Mary Rose, the film Alfred Hitchcock never got to make.
Darren Allison reviews the latest soundtrack releases
Plus all the news about new DVD, Blu-ray and film book releases.
By subscribing to Cinema Retro, you will receive this issue plus issues #29 and 30, delivered to your door.
Heard was nineteen when she played the title character in Jonathan Levine's
slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane;
she can at least get away with playing a seventeen year-old. Mandy
Lane, which debuts this month on Blu-ray, is better known for its
reputation of having been shelved for seven years following its debut at the
2006 Toronto Film Festival for reasons best served by another article. Up to this point, Ms. Heard was already a
veteran of four films and several television appearances; this is her first
real starring role, as the film rests on her shoulders. She gives quite a remarkably natural
performance and having seen her work since this 2005-lensed outing, I would
attribute her onscreen “nervousness” as the object of affection by
testosterone-driven wolves in her midst to her skill as a serious dramatic
actress than to an inability to relax and just “be”.
Lane represents the epitome of the adolescent female sexual ideal, The Perfect High
School Girl - the girl all the boys vie for; the girl all the girls want to be
or want to destroy. The tone is set in
the film’s opening shot as the camera focuses on Mandy Lane’s breasts,
revealing the dumbfounded stares of the average-looking boys and girls in the
hallway, and conveys their longing cinematically without being
exploitative. She is friends with Emmett
(Michael Welch), a nerdish boy whose desire for Mandy is as strong as all the
other guys, but he tries to hide it. He
just knows that she is out of his league. In some ways, the film seems like it plays like a modern day “horny
teenager” flick, but that would be a cursory dismissal. While the 1980s will probably be remembered
as the birth of the horny teenager horror film, which started in 1978 when
Michael Myers bludgeoned his sister to death after “the sex act” in John
Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the
films of the 2000s will no doubt be looked upon as the remake era, or most
certainly the “influenced by” era. Sean
Cunningham made Friday the 13th
a superstitious day to be reckoned with, and premarital sex was forever labeled
as a crime punishable by death by deranged killers. Still, young men with
sex on their minds did all they could to get the girls of their dreams into
bed. He Knows You’re Alone
(1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Burning (1981), The Boogens (1981), Halloween
II (1981), and countless other stalk-and-slash films repeated this formula
with much less panache and cinematic style than Mr. Carpenter did in his
watershed film, even prompting a send-up of horror films in the form of Student Bodies (1981), a comedy that
ridiculed death as the inevitable outcome to teenage sex.
Wes Craven's Scream (1996) reignited
interest in horror in 1996 and proved that it was once again viable box office,
so has there been resurgence in the teenage sex and death flick. Unlike
the gawky and under-confident teenagers of a quarter century ago who had to
borrow their parents’ oversized cars to get some action, today's teens are
muscular and sexy model types who seem to have stepped off of the pages of GQ
and Playboy magazines. Most of them appear to have money and their own
set of wheels. In Mandy Lane,
director Jonathan Levine manages to take a very overdone and tired horror
subgenre and make it different and interesting. The obnoxious jock Dylan
(Adam Powell) and his posse of over-stimulated friends, all expertly portrayed
by Whitney Able (Chloe), Luke Grimes (Jake), Melissa Price (Marlin), Edwin
Hodge (Bird), and Aaron Himelstein (Red), invite Mandy Lane to a party at his
house. Mandy agrees, and elects to bring her awkward friend Emmet along,
much to Dylan's chagrin. Once there, Dylan puts the moves on Mandy who nervously
brushes off his advances. This disgusts Emmet who tricks Dylan into a
maneuver designed to impress Mandy but that effectively takes Dylan out of the
game completely. Nine months after Dylan's untimely demise, Red
rounds up Chloe, Jake, Marlin, and Bird for a weekend at his father's mansion
in Bastrop, TX. The locales should look
familiar to Tobe Hooper fans.
caretaker in the form of a much older Garth (Anson Mount) who lives in a shed
in the back is there to oversee the teens and protect them, complete with a
firearm at his side. Mandy, whose parents died when she was young and is
now being raised by her aunt, is invited and decides to go along. Once
there, the guys all descend upon The Perfect Blonde, making no bones about how
much they want to jump hers. Jake is especially aggressive and looks a
bit like Robert Pattinson from the Twilight
films. Mandy is made the most uncomfortable by him, which makes one ponder
why she would agree to spend the weekend with a group of people who all want
the one thing from her that she is not willing to surrender. That
question is answered near the end in an interesting twist.
begin to go wrong rather quickly and it does not take the high schoolers long
to learn that there is a murderer in their midst. Director Levine reveals
the killer’s identity early on and yet despite that, the film remains
interesting enough for the audience to want to see it through to the end.
He directs the film with a restrained hand, which is refreshing when most films
like this tend to hit the audience over the head with quick cuts, loud music
and sound effects in a desperate effort to be suspenseful. The middle of
the film drags a bit but not by too much, and perhaps Mandy Lane would benefit by some tighter editing.
females in the film are snotty and bitchy but not in an overly hateful
fashion. Unlike the shallow vamps in the Black Christmas remake in 2006 and many others of its ilk, Chloe
and Marlin, just like the guys who are all pining after Mandy, are all real
people. Credit must go to the performers in this film. They all
talk and sound like real teenagers who are looking to find their place in the world,
and are concerned with how others perceive them and are the types to surrender
to peer pressure. The script by Jacob Forman is, no pun intended, a cut
above standard fare, providing archetypes that are familiar yet different.
film also possesses a good use of existing music - try to watch the racetrack
scene set to the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” without smirking at the subtle
irony. The score by Mark Schultz is also
The Anchor Bay Blu-ray, which provides a terrific visual and aural transfer, has a
feature-length commentary with director Levine and judging from his comments it
was recorded this year. Mr. Levine
provides an interesting, engaging and very funny commentary seen from the
standpoint of a director who made his first film some eight years ago (he has
since directed three films since Mandy
Lane). At times he complains that he
wishes he had done a certain shot differently, but that is inevitable through
the benefit of time and hindsight. The
standard DVD also contains this commentary.
in all, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
is an above-average slasher film.
NOTE: If you have a region-free DVD or Blu-ray
player, the French DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film both have a 28-minute
interview with Ms. Heard, shot circa 2006, wherein she talks about the
film. A 14-minute interview with the
director can also be found on this edition. However, there is no running commentary on these versions, which also
possess English-language soundtracks.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE ANCHOR BAY BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON
William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), based upon the novel of the same name by
William Peter Blatty, is one of the greatest and most powerful American motion
pictures ever made. With an impressive
cast that includes Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb,
Jack MacGowran and newcomer Linda Blair, The
Exorcist had its origins in a 1949 case involving the purported demonic
possession of a young Evangelical Lutheran boy in Cottage City, MD who is still
alive to this day, is retired from NASA, and claims to have no memory of the
events that he experienced. Mr. Blatty, who
read about the events at the time, thought about the story for years until he
wrote the book circa 1969, some 20 years later, in the house of his ex-wife in
Coming on the heels of my all-time
favorite film, 1971’s Oscar-winning The French
Connection, Mr. Friedkin never thought of The Exorcist as a horror film but rather as the serious exploration
of the nature of faith and desperately wanted to direct the film. While watching The Exorcist, what is most striking about it is its unique ability
to present the material as something that seemingly could absolutely
happen. The idea of demonic possession
has arguably never been so deftly handled and depicted as it is in this film. Other attempts by filmmakers to create
convincing film explorations of the subject, mostly in the wake of this
enormously successful venture, have largely been ineffective. With the release of the film on Blu-ray in
2010, the film was given a much-needed high definition upgrade and you can read
Lee Pfeiffer’s review of that Blu-ray here. The new 40th anniversary release is identical to the 2010
release in that all the material from discs one and two of the 2010 Blu-ray
appears to be ported over on to one disc for the new release. A second Blu-ray includes a new documentary called
Beyond Comprehension: William Peter
Blatty’s The Exorcist (27:49) wherein Mr. Blatty revisits the Encino, CA house
that he wrote the book in for the first time in over 40 years (now it a guest house
that belongs to actress Angela Lansbury - do you think she knows that?). Mr. Blatty discusses his two aborted attempts
to write the novel and that he was originally a comedy writer(!). Father Karras (the Jason Miller character in
the film) is Mr. Blatty’s alter-ego, and like Karras, Blatty’s mother lived in
a nursing home and passed away there. Perhaps
the saddest revelation is the fact that he lost a son six years ago at the age
of 19 due to heart inflammation.
The second documentary on the second
Blu-ray is an interview with Father Eugene Gallagher (19:47) who was part of
the Philodemic Debating Team and had a professional relationship with Mr.
Blatty and discusses his experiences while Mr. Blatty was writing the novel.
Also included with this 40th
anniversary package is a small hardcover excerpt of the excellent autobiography
by William Friedkin called The Friedkin
Connection and it contains his passages about the making of The Exorcist which is truly a
If you already have the original
Blu-ray from 2010, there is probably little reason to upgrade; get yourself The Friedkin Connection if you have not
The feud between John Sturges and McQueen was tragic...he had made McQueen a star in Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, McQueen's long-delayed plans to bring a racing movie to the screen culminated in the ill-conceived Le Mans. The two old friends feuded over the film's concept. After Sturges quit the project, "B" movie director Lee H. Katzen took over. The film was one of the few outright bombs of McQueen's career, consisting mostly of footage of speeding cars and virtually no plot. (Thanks to Cinema Retro contributing writer Steve Saragossi for sharing this rare photo).
(This book was recently reviewed by Lee Pfeiffer. Here is columnist Adrian Smith's take on this volume.)
Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses - Roger Corman: King of the B
Chris Nashawaty Introduction by John Landis
part of the Gothic season at the British Film Institute recently, Roger Corman
sat and signed autographs for well over an hour as the line of fans and
admirers snaked its way around the building. At least 50% of those fans were
clutching copies of this new coffee-table book, a visual delight from Chris
Nashawaty, writer for Entertainment Weekly.
books have been published on the Corman phenomenon, most notably his own
autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a
Dime. Since that was published in 1990 he has made at least a hundred more.
Until he gets around to updating that volume, which given his continuing
workload in film production seems unlikely, we are lucky that so many other
writers and filmmakers are constantly willing dive into his career.
not as revealing or personal as Bevery Gray's excellent Roger Corman: An
Unauthorised Life, Nashawaty's book is a real joy. He has selected over 150
images, many of which are previously unpublished. Artwork, photos and movie
stills are presented in full colour alongside an oral history of the life and
career of Roger Corman, from his childhood right up to the present day.
Corman's contribution to the movie business is immense, and, as covered in the
book, his honorary Academy Award in 2009 was well deserved. Those lined up to
congratulate him on that night included Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Jack
Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich. The list of those filmmakers who have
graduated from the "Corman School" is almost endless, and the fact
that he is still making films today means that yet another generation are
learning from the master.
evidenced by a photograph of him on the Hawaiian set of Piranhaconda
(2012), Corman is very much a hands-on producer. He has an almost preternatural
sense of what is going to become the next big thing in the business; providing
teenage movies for the drive-ins in the 1950s, using VHS before the major
studios in the late 1970s or bringing monster mash-up movies to the Syfy
channel (as well as Piranhaconda, Corman has been responsible for Sharktopus
(2010), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010) and Dinoshark (2010), the
latter as both producer and star).
well as dozens of new interviews, the book also critically examines some of the
key titles from Corman's back-catalogue, either as director or producer. Attack
of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The
Intruder (1962), The Big Doll House (1971), Boxcar Bertha
(1972, an early film from Martin Scorsese) and even The Slumber Party
Massacre (1982) are all touched on, amongst many more. One can use Nashawaty's
selections as a list for beginners keen to gain an understanding of Corman as a
Christmas just around the corner, this book is well worth considering sending
to the movie lover in your life. It makes the perfect introduction to Roger
Corman and his work, and contains new stories and anecdotes as well as a few
that will be familiar to aficionados. And as he is showing no sign of slowing
down, the Corman story is not over yet.
At a recent auction of classic movie memorabilia conducted by Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies in New York City, an original Maltese Falcon sold for $4,085,000. There were two falcons built for John Huston's classic 1941 movie but this one can be verified as actually having been in the film. It was purchased by an anonymous collector. The piece is thought to be the third highest valued movie collectible in history having sold for slightly less than the original Batmobile and James Bond's original Aston Martin DB5. Click here for more