The Shadowplay niche market DVD label has released the obscure British film noir crime thriller Room 43. The 1958 B&W film was directed by Alvin Rakoff and features some intriguing star turns. The real star of the film is Odile Versois, a French actress who is largely unknown in English language films. She plays Marie Louise, a young Parisian waitress who is framed for a petty crime in a human trafficking scheme. Faced with trial and jail, she accepts the help of a British benefactor, Aggie (Brenda de Banzie), a middle aged tourist who invites her to immigrate to London to work as her personal assistant. Once in London, she is housed with many other comely young women in a building run by Aggie. She is also introduced to Nick (Herbert Lom), an assertive but seemingly kindly businessman who pretends to have her best interests at heart. In reality, Nick runs a loan agency in London that is a front for an organized crime ring of which Nick is the ring leader. They manipulate innocent victims such as Johnny into taking out loans then use their clout to get them to engage in illicit activities. Nick also owns the house that Aggie runs and it is actually a bordello staffed by young women who find it impossible to escape his wrath. Nick is immediately smitten by Marie Louise because of her beauty, innocence and naivety (she doesn't realize that the "boarding house" she lives in is a house of ill repute.) Nick devises a scheme to convince the young woman that her status as an immigrant will lead to her being returned to France to face criminal charges unless she participates in a quickie marriage scam designed to get her a green card. She reluctantly agrees and Nick enlists Johnny McVey (Eddie Constantine), a luckless Canadian cab driver who is indebted to Nick to marry her. McVey does so out of a sense of obligation. Nick had loaned him the funds to purchase his own taxi cab but doesn't realize he was also behind the destruction of the vehicle as part of a plot to ensure the loan could not easily be paid off. As soon as Johnny lays eyes on his bride-to-be on their wedding day, he is also smitten by her. Events move quickly from there. The couple is supposed to have the marriage annulled almost immediately but Johnny learns that he has been a pawn in Nick's scam and that Marie Louise is now being held captive in the bordello until she agrees to serve as a high end prostitute. Her refusal finds her placed on the streets where Nick intends to break her spirit by forcing her to work as a common hooker. By this point Johnny is determined to come to his wife's rescue and enlists a virtual army of fellow cabbies in his attempt to save her. The film climaxes in a major brawl at the bordello with Johnny going mano-a-mano against Nick atop the flaming building.
Room 43 is typical of the low-budget British cinematic fare of the 1950s in that it proves be an engrossing film populated by an interesting cast. Although the largely unknown Odile Versois was the female lead, the advertising campaign played up the supporting appearance by Diana Dors, who gives a good performance as another young woman who, along with her sister, has been lured into prostitution by Nick. The ads depict Dors clad in a sensual bustier but this blink-and-you-miss-it sequence was obviously included simply to justify the image on the movie poster. Constantine plays the role of tough guy with a heart of gold in the style of old time cinematic heroes and he suits the requirements of the role adequately enough. Brenda de Banzie is quite good as Nick's one-time paramour and now long-suffering partner in crime who runs the bordello but the film's best performance comes from the always-reliable Herbert Lom, seen here at his best as an urbane villain who is especially sensitive about anyone reminding him of his boyhood roots as an East Ender. He drips with charm and sophistication even as he schemes to heartlessly exploit everyone around him. Noted British character actor Robert Brown (James Bond's future "M") also appears a heroic cabby and gets to indulge in some rough-and-tumble, a far cry from the roles he usually played. Director Alvin Rakoff makes the most of his limited budget by shooting in and around the seedier sections of London and never overplays the melodramatic aspects of the story. The climactic fight at the bordello is exciting and well-directed.
The Shadowplay DVD is problematic. We have great sympathy for niche market video labels with limited capital, especially those that have to rely on the "take what you can get" nature of releasing public domain titles. However, the transfer of Room 43 barely passes muster. It seems to have been struck from a VHS master, and one that was several generations down as evidenced by the fact that there is actually some double imaging around the actors in certain sequences. Still, had they not released this interesting title I would have been immune to its merits as a worthy British film noir entry.
Available through many on-line retail sites.
Update: As usual, my co-publisher Dave Worrall has to upstage me by providing certain key facts I had overlooked in my review! He reports: " Room 43 has many interesting facts. Made and released in the UK in 1958 as Passport to Shame, there were two "unknowns" (and uncredited) in it - Michael Caine and Jackie Collins. The camera operator was Nic Roeg."
What a year it was! In 1966, you could see the following movies playing locally in Winnipeg, Canada: Dean Martin as Matt Helm in The Silencers, James Coburn as Our Man Flint, The Trouble With Angels, Carry on Cleo, The Sound of Music and a quadruple feature of monsters flicks: Die Monster, Die, Eegah, Tomb of Ligeia and Planet of the Vampires.
very proud to say that I have travelled alongside Cineploit Records since the
summer of 2012, and what a journey it is proving to be.Since then, they have featured regularly in
the print edition of Cinema Retro. Unfortunately, Cineploit’s latest two
releases arrived shortly after our print deadline; nevertheless, I wanted to
make sure they received the exposure they fully deserve.
Omaggio a Bruno Nicolai ed alle sue musiche
per il cinema Giallo - Orgasmo Sonore
efforts of Cineploit really do demand applauding. Over the past couple of years
their devotion to the music genres of Euro Horror, Poliziotti, Italian westerns
and Giallo have begun to find broader audiences. Among the label’s artists is
Orgasmo Sonore, a group that have already produced two previous albums of
diverse delights. For their latest release, they have focused on the work of Bruno
Nicolai. ‘Omaggio a Bruno Nicolai ed alle sue musiche per il cinema Giallo’ (Exploit
05) arrives in the form of a 12” 180g Vinyl mini album (45rpm) with a
beautifully Euro flavoured gatefold sleeve. Containing 6 tracks (26 mins), the
album is a tribute to Nicolai, selecting music from five of the composer’s
Giallo soundtracks from 1971-1975. Ok, so there may not be anything new here
for the Nicolai collectors, however, it has been put together exceptionally
well, and if anything serves as a perfect introduction to the composer’s
bulging body of work. The music is certainly faithful and true, ‘La Dama Rossa
Uccide Sette Volte’ (or The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times) (1972) kicks off the
album impressively, from its haunting childlike intro – right through to its
razor sharp Harpsichord strings. Whilst still beautiful, a track such Sergio
Martino’s Magico Incontro (1972) loses its edge to some degree – which is no
doubt due to the absent wistful tones of vocalist Edda Dell'Orso. Dell'Orso became
such an integral element of Nicolai’s (and Morricone’s) sound, it set an almost
unattainable level, and there the bridge becomes blatantly apparent.
Nevertheless, do not be deterred from this fine album If anything, I find adding
alternative or cover versions of my favourite composer’s work somewhat
welcoming, especially when produced with such impressive quality.Orgasmo Sonore has (unobtrusively) mixed
various sound bites to the music, which, as a result, also refreshes the entire
and band member François Rideau has delivered an excellent tribute to the
legendary composer. Oh, and to add a further dash of retro flavour, the record
is pressed in a glorious yellow vinyl with blood red splatter!Stylish, original and above all, hugely
enjoyable – it’s just a shame that it isn’t beefier in terms of its content. Regardless
of this, I have little doubt fans of Giallo will absolutely lap it up.
was great to hear the latest offering from Sospetto. Whilst Sospetto are
extremely modern in their execution, it is clear that they are heavily
influenced by the Giallo soundtrack traditions of the 60s and 70s. Every so
often, ripples of Fabio Frizzi and (arguably more often), the work of Euro-horror
specialists Goblin, seem to transcend from their music. Of course, for fans of Giallo
in particular, this isn’t a bad thing – and probably the reason why ‘Non
bussare alla porta del diavolo’ (Cine 07) will surely prove successful. As with
their previous album ‘Segni Misteriosi, Con Il Sangue Dipinto Sul Muro’ the
music is oppressive, ethereal and sometimes heavy. However, despite their
obvious influences, Sospetto have a unique talent of sounding both fresh and
unique. With this latest release, the German duo of Christian Rzechak and Hobo
Jeans have raised the bar to some degree, smoothing out some rough edges and
producing a much more polished album in the process. Tracks such as ‘Sulla
Strada Verso Il Nulla’ and ‘Viena Da Me’ are a pure delight, enhanced by the
laid back, lounge-like wordless vocals of Christine Marks - they are simply
crying out for a film to accommodate. On the flip side tracks such as ‘Citta
Che Esplode’ are sharp and funky, percussion driven pieces that wouldn’t sound
out of place in a Richard Roundtree Shaft film from the 70s.
seems key to this album, and there’s almost 35 minutes to enjoy spread over its
14 tracks. The packaging for Sospetto’s 180g LP comes in a super gatefold
sleeve with a design to fit seamlessly alongside the Giallo soundtracks of the
day. The LP is also available as a special set containing the 180g Vinyl, a CD
version of the album and a bonus DVD (PAL encoded only) containing a 23 minute
film by the group in 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). A classy album, and arguably the group’s
finest album to date.
With all the (deserved)
appreciation of Zulu, it’s hard to
imagine it was a massive flop in the US. Independent producer Joe Levine
planned a double whammy for summer 1963 – The
Carpetbaggers, an adaptation of the sizzling Harold Robbins bestseller, and
Zulu. He even arranged for Zulu to follow The Carpetbaggers into
the prestigious Palace first run cinema in New York. Spending big, Levine,
whipped up a huge marketing campaign for Zulu,
which had notched up record grosses in the UK.
But the two films could not
have been further apart. Where The
Carpetbaggers stormed to $862,000 from 25 theatres in the New York area, Zulu could only manage $190,000 from 30
in Los Angeles. Zulu scored well in
first run in Detroit (running four weeks) and Chicago, but was quickly (perhaps
too quickly) consigned to drive-ins. Failure to find a niche was not for want
of trying. In successive weeks in LA, it was supported by Nicholas Ray's epic 55 Days At Peking, comedy Ensign Pulver, and Viking adventure The Long Ships.
To salvage something, Levine send it out, within a couple of months
of initial release, as the support film to Italian-made Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow starring Italian sexpot Sophia Loren,
possibly one of the strangest movie programs of all time. In the annual box
office rankings, The Carpetbaggers
placed second. To get into the Variety
annual chart, you needed to make more than $1m in rentals (the amount the
studio received after the cinema had taken its cut). Seventy-eight movies
managed this. Zulu was not one of
(Brian Hannan is the author
of the forthcoming The Reissue Bible.)
The addictive retro web site Avengers in Time presents a short but heartfelt tribute to the classic British TV series The Persuaders starring Tony Curtis and Roger Moore as rich playboys who get swept up in incredible adventures. The expensive 1971 series was produced by Lew Grade and didn't last long. Although it was very popular internationally, it never caught on in the all-important American market and was thus canceled. However, this did free up Roger Moore to take over the role of James Bond, thus providing a silver lining for his fans. Click here to access tribute page which includes the superb opening credits with music by John Barry. It makes it all the more painful that many of today's TV series dispense with opening credits altogether.
Since the beginning of the month, Warner Archive Instant has added over 100 feature films to our new streaming service, many in 1080p HD for the first time anywhere! Classic Comedy like Bachelor Mother (1939) with Ginger Rogers and The Wheeler Dealers (1963) with James Garner. Monster Movies like Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). Musicals like Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936) and Les Girls (1957) with Gene Kelly. End of the World Sci-Fi like The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959) with Harry Belafonte. So much new amazing stuff available to stream on your iPad, Roku or PC/Mac. Try it FREE for 2 weeks.
Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel? I had no f**kin’ idea, but being a longtime music fan,
I was happy to accept the invitation for Cinema Retro to cover the LA premiere of the new EPIX documentary about rock’s
enigmatic mystery man.
Arthur Fogel (currently Live Nation's Chairman of Global Music
and CEO of Global Touring) is one
of the most powerful people in entertainment today. He’s responsible for the mega concert tours
that now sweep the globe, Hoovering up hundreds of millions of dollars in
ticket and merchandise sales and revolutionizing the way people view live music. If you’ve ever ponied up to see The Rolling
Stones, The Police, Madonna, U2, David Bowie or Lady Gaga in the last decade, then
you’ve seen Fogel’s work.
Deftly written and directed
by Ron Chapman, the film takes the viewer where fans never go, deep inside the
concert industry. What could have been a
dry exposition – after all, music is a business so it’s all about money – is in
fact a highly visual and entertaining experience. Chapman and his crew spent several years
roaming the world, interviewing the top of music’s pyramid - U2’s Bono, The
Edge and Adam Clayton, plus their legendary manager, Paul McGuinness. Fogel was a guiding hand behind the tour
everyone said could never happen – The Police’s long awaited 2007 reunion, so
Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Andy Summers were also on camera. In fact two thirds of the iconic band showed
up for the premiere. (More on that later…)
Since Fogel is Canadian, the
documentary also interviews Geddy Lee, the seemingly ageless frontman of that
country’s most enduring musical export, RUSH. But the real star of the show is, undeniably, Fogel. In a series of interviews, the low key,
spotlight-avoiding mogul talks about his background, starting out as a rock
drummer then working his way up in a true dog-eat-dog business. Fogel did it
the hard way – by paying his dues and learning, one act at a time. Other talent managers like Guy Oseary
(Madonna) and Ray Daniels (Rush) along with other insiders weigh in on Fogel’s
long string of industry hits and his rare misses like Guns & Roses aborted
2002 tour when the first show was cancelled before the doors even opened,
sparking a riot.
Helping the narrative is
stunning concert footage, mainly from U2’s ground-breaking 360 Tour (Fogel
helped the band achieve their vision of performing in the round), but also of
The Stones, Rush, the Police and lesser know groups like Canadian New Wave pioneers
Martha And the Muffins. Never been backstage? No worries, interspersed throughout is footage of bands going on stage,
heading off stage, rehearsing – even bowing their heads for pre-show
prayers! As if to cement Fogel’s insider
status, none other than Madonna asks him to lead them in their prayer right
before she goes on.
The movie also covers the
tricky issue of digital downloading – how what could have been a huge new
revenue stream became a juggernaut that crippled the entire industry. Again, this could have been another tired retelling
of a story we’ve all heard, but here it’s given a fresh spin by snappy editing
and illuminating interviews with executives who were there. The main takeaway from this very interesting
documentary is that even though the concert field – and the entire music
industry - has changed radically, there are more exciting times ahead. The film closed with a wonderful sequence
showing Fogel returning to his drumming roots by walking onto U2’s massive
stage and playing Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums in an empty stadium. Now, nobody but him could have pulled THAT
After the screening, Epix
laid down a slick party at LA’s storied Chateau Marmont. As expected, LA’s music scene turned out in
force to toast the man himself, and Fogel held court in the VIP section. Concert phenomenon Lady Gaga attended both
the screening and the after party. Used
to seeing her in lavish, often bizarre stage costumes (Remember her jaw
dropping meat dress?), tonight she wore an elegant gown and looked gorgeous –
even if her bodyguards kept most people at arms length. The evening’s only sour note occurred when I
dared approach Police drummer Stewart Copeland for a comment on the movie he
had just been featured in. I had barely
posed a question when he mumbled “Sure, sure…” and made a beeline for the door.
Unfortunately it was Don’t Stand So Close To Me, for real.
Life imitating art?
Ron Chapman is expanding his original documentary “Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel?”
to include new concert footage and an exclusive, never-before-seen interview
with Lady Gaga.It’s a perfect fit
because Fogel helped elevate her onto the global concert stage where she sells
out consistently. The documentary’s new premiere date is Wednesday, March 19th
Vocalion has treated us to a rather unique couple of albums. Visions of Eight (CDSML
8502) is a film about the personal dreams that make the Olympic Games transcend
the physical into the spiritual. When the Wolper Organization was granted the
authority to record the 1972 official film of the games, they elected to ignore
the traditional documentary approach in favour of the human stories that
emerged during the contests. Whilst the cameras recorded the tragic events
surrounding the death of the Israeli athletes, the film remains a non -
political tribute to all the contestants and to the spirit of the games. Eight
respected directors of the era were brought on board, each with a chance to
capture their separate visions. The producers commissioned three-time Academy Award
winner Henry Mancini to provide a score that captured the film’s international
spirit. Mancini handles the scoring rather well; it is full of his beautiful
melodies, whilst tracks such as ‘Spaced Out’ and ‘Soft Flight’ reveal an
otherworldly, dreamlike quality. It is an album that remains an essential part
of the composer’s body of work. If Visions of Eight was not enough to tempt
Mancini collectors, Vocalion have also added the rare 1977 album Just You and Me Together Love as a bonus. Vocalion’s CD marks the first time this
has been released on a digital format. A rather obscure piece, it features original
music by Mancini scored to the poems and narration of John Laws. Laws worked
for Australian radio and struck up a friendship with Mancini during several of
his tours in the country. It is a
pleasant enough listen and one that will certainly appeal to the Mancini
completists. The audio quality is what
one would come to expect from Vocalion with crisp clear sound, a nicely
produced booklet and production notes. Original British LP artwork has been
reproduced for the front cover, with the option of reversing to display the
original Japanese LP artwork – perfectly thought out and highly recommended!
Keep em coming!Darren Allison
In an enlightening interview with Christopher Rosen of The Huffington Post, legendary film editor Themla Schoonmaker discusses her remarkable collaborations with Martin Scorsese. They first paired on Raging Bull in 1980 and she has cut every one of his 18 films since then. Schoonmaker reflects back on the making of some of those classics right up through the release of The Wolf of Wall Street. She also amusingly expresses why the legacy of Goodfellas has proven to be a curse for both she and Scorsese. Click here to read
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM OUR ORIGINAL POSTING OF JANUARY 6. THE BLU-RAY PACKAGING ART HAS BEEN ADDED AND THE TITLE IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON.
Good news for fans of William Friedkin's underrated 1977 classic Sorcerer: after years of false starts, the remastered film will now be available on Blu-ray through Warner Home Video. Check out the press release we've just received from them:
Burbank, Calif., January 6, 2014 –William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, the cult suspense thriller
that has been largely overlooked since its 1977 release, has now been acquired
and fully restored by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and will make its Blu-ray™
debut on April 22, 2014. The release, also available on DVD, will be packaged
as a 40-page Blu-ray book filled with beautiful images from the film and
excerpts from the book, “The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir.”
Sorcerer is derived from the same Georges Arnaud novel that inspired
Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 French classic, The Wages of Fear. The film, made following the successes of
Friedkin’s The FrenchConnection and The Exorcist, tells the story of four men who, for various reasons,
cannot return to their own countries and end up in a dismal South American town
where an American oil company is seeking courageous drivers willing to haul
nitroglycerin through 200 miles of treacherous terrain. The four displaced men
have nothing to lose so they agree for a small payment of cash.
Roy Scheider (Jaws),Bruno
Cremer (Under the Sun), Francisco Rabal (Dagon) and Amidou (Ronin) star in Sorcerer which Friedkin directed
from a Walon Green (The Wild Bunch) screenplay. The haunting music was the
first credit for Tangerine Dream, the German electronic experimental band who
went on to provide many successful scores for such films as “Risky Business,”
“VisionQuest” and “Catch Me if You Can.”
Over the years, awareness of the film has been steadily building as a
result of Friedkin fan requests and newly-found praise from critics.
Then last year, the director was asked to introduce Sorcerer for its
screeningatthe Venice 70th International Film Festival where
he was presented with the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In a recent L.A. Times interview,
prior to the Venice Film Festival, Friedkin offered some theories as to why the
film may have failed to achieve commercial success when it was initially released:
"The only known actor, who was not a major star, was Roy Scheider…and
people didn't really understand the significance of the title [the name of one
of the trucks] -- they thought it was a film similar to 'The Exorcist.’ [But
most importantly], the film came out just after 'Star Wars,' a movie that
became the template for the future of American film, which it basically still
“I have a great fondness for Sorcerer, more than any
other film I’ve made.. Sorcerer is the one I hope to be
remembered for and the one film that came closest to my vision.”
The film has been remastered by Warner Bros., under Friedkin’s supervision
along with colorist Bryan McMahan who has worked with the director since 1994. "The
new restoration makes the film appear as if it was just made. None of the
essentials — the clothes, the hair — are dated in any way. It looks the way it
looked to me when I looked through the lens of the camera," said Friedkin.
The restoration began with a 4K film resolution scan of the
original 35mm camera negative.
Ned Price, Chief Preservation Officer of Warner Bros.
Technical Operations, who oversees restoration projects for the studio, said,
“I was amazed at the brilliance of the original photography. Up to this point,
I had only seen poor quality 35mm theatrical prints made from inferior
subtitled dupe negatives. Working from the 4K scan allowed us to free up all
the information contained in the original negatives.”
The soundtrack was restored from the original 35mm 4-track
stereo masters which were in remarkably good condition and contained full dynamic
The new restoration allows audiences to appreciate the true
visual and aural impact of this film.
them: Peter Sobczynski,,eFilmCritic.Com; Brent Lang,,The
Wrap; Nat Segaloff, Harvard Film Archive..
In the web site for The Independent, Cinema Retro contributor Sheldon Hall provides an adaptation of his latest cover story for Cinema Retro about the making of the 1964 British war classic Zulu. Click here to read.
(Hall appears tonight at 7:00 PM on BBC1 in the UK)
The fascinating behind the scenes story is told in greater detail in issue #28 of Cinema Retro and in the updated edition of Hall's book about the making of the film.
latest release from their continuing series of popular Geoff Love re-releases
from the 70s is this pairing of a couple of glorious albums originally released by MFP Records, La musique de
Michel Legrand (MFP 2M046-95030) and La musique d’ Ennio Morricone (MFP
2M046-94653) (both 1973). What made these two albums unusual was the fact that
they were specifically produced for the European market. Later in 1975, both
were issued in the UK as a 2-LP set - The Music of Michel Legrand and Ennio
Morricone (EMI DUOS 1181). Legrand’s heartfelt melodies work perfectly for
Geoff Love’s style of Orchestration. The Windmills of your Mind and The Summer
of ’42 will of course always be considered among Legrand’s finest signature
pieces. However, Love brings a genuine sense of warmth to these covers,
satisfying the ear of the easy-listening enthusiasts without distracting too
far from the much remembered originals. There is certainly plenty of material
to cheer about; music from Lady Sings the Blues provides a rare opportunity to
listen to Legrand’s wonderful melancholic score. The Happy Ending is a 1969
film that doesn’t perhaps conjure up too many memories, but chances are –
you’ll instantly recognise ‘What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?’, a
beautiful theme from the film that enjoys longevity much more than the film
itself. The album is an impressive compilation and a joy from beginning to end.
second half of the CD focuses on Ennio Morricone. As with the nature of
Morricone’s compositions, they are dauntingly unique, and one can only imagine
exhaling a sigh of tense disillusionment at the prospect of taking on the man’s
work. However, Love handles the challenge well, kicking off proceedings with a
very nice, haunting version of Harmonica’s theme from Once Upon a Time in the
West. It is only when we reach the “Dollars Trilogy” that the album appears to
suffer slightly. The renditions are not unlistenable - but they just seem to lose
the boldness or weight of their unconventional instrumentation. Cymbals, rumbling trumpets and even flutes simply
appear weak and lack in sustaining their vibrant punch. What is perhaps
apparent to this listening experience is the absence of any wordless vocals,
often provided by long term Morricone collaborator Edda Dell'Orso. That said,
the epic nature of the CD’s closing track (from Once Upon a Time in the West),
seems to manage very nicely indeed, but one can only wonder what Love might had
achieved had he been afforded the luxury
of a full choir. Overall, the album is a
delight and very easy on the ears.
regards to production values, La musique de Michel Legrand / La musique d’
Ennio Morricone (Vocalion CDLK 4509) retains Vocalion’s very high standards. Beautifully
remastered by Michael J. Dutton from the original analogue tapes, the CD
ensures that our ongoing trip down ‘MFP Lane’ continues to be an extremely
happy experience. Long may it continue!
The good folks at Scorpion Entertainment have done it again by producing first rate special collector's DVD and Blu-ray editions of a film that most critics dismissed as second rate at the time of its initial release. In this case, the film is "Dogs", which was unleashed (if you pardon the pun) on theaters in 1976, an era in which audiences went mad for movies about animals waging war on humanity. The modestly-budgeted production was shot in southern California on the outskirts of San Diego, with some key scenes filmed at Southwestern University. Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, who went on to become a popular director of hit TV series, the film is set in an unnamed college in an unnamed town in an unnamed state. Suffice it to say that the area is fairly rural and the townspeople all seem to have connections to the local university. A bearded, shaggy-haired and denim-clad David McCallum is Harlan Thompson, a science instructor at the school, whose counter-culture viewpoints and cynical disposition makes him a controversial figure among his peers. Nevertheless, when a series of mysterious and gruesome deaths occur, it is Thompson who is consulted about finding the culprit. Working with a new colleague at the school, Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner) and the town's sheriff (Eric Server), Thompson is at first baffled by what kind of wild animals would attack humans in a pack and leave their corpses chewed almost beyond recognition. When local dogs begin to act inexplicably vicious towards their owners, Thompson and Fitzgerald theorize that a local top secret government experiment with sensitive chemicals might some how be causing these generally benign household pets to become murderous beasts. In any event, it isn't long before Thompson and Fitzgerald encounter every classic cliched character to be found in horror films of the era. There is the stubborn bureaucrat who refuses to accept that a crisis is at hand. There are the trigger-happy mob members who set off on an ill-fated hunt for the furry fiends. There is the sexy young woman (Pre-"Dallas" Linda Gray) who inevitably feels compelled to take a shower, with predictably disastrous results. (Yes, a Doberman manages to sneak into her bathroom in the film's mandatory homage to "Psycho"). Rounding out the "must-haves" for films of this genre, the climax must place a considerable number of students in imminent danger of suffering gruesome deaths.
Although "Dogs" is a factory of cliches, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It's a true independent production that lacked any studio backing. As such, director Brinckerhoff does yeoman work getting around the obvious budget constraints. Although one assumes the cast and crew had their tongues firmly in their cheeks while shooting the movie, everyone plays it straight and no one goes for an over-the-top laugh. You keep waiting for one of those "so bad, it's good" moments to arrive, but surprisingly, the film remains a rather effective thriller. The premise, of course, is absurd...but so was the premise of Hitchcock's "The Birds", which is clearly the prime inspiration for "Dogs". The notion that any rural town in modern society can be completely cut off from humanity was far fetched when Hitchcock's film was released in 1963 and was even more unrealistic in 1976. You also have to accept the other horror film cliche that occurs routinely in this movie: when people realize they are in imminent danger and have a method of escaping, they find a reason to delay their departure until it is too late. In this case, people who should immediately flee decide to "gather a few things together" first, as though stockpiling deodorant and hair gel would even cross your mind if you were in danger of being ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Refreshingly, however, the heroes of the film, played by McCallum and Wyner, act like true academics would in a crisis situation. They are not turned immediately into superheroes and when they take up arms, it has a tragic consequence. They also make human errors and prove to be wrong in some of their judgments. McCallum's trademark acting style of underplaying a scene has served him well throughout his career. While other actors often over-emote, he can quietly steal a scene even in such star-packed films as "Billy Budd", "The Great Escape" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." This is an off-beat role for him and he delivers a fine performance. He's matched by George Wyner, who went on to have a very successful career as a character actor in hit comedies, though there is little evidence of his comedic appeal here. The two actors work well together and are joined by a competent supporting cast that includes Sandra McCabe, who nominally serves as McCallum's romantic interest but is really on-screen to provide the necessary "woman in jeopardy" sequences.
The Scorpion special edition DVD includes a campy introduction by their in-house hostess, actress Katarina Leigh Waters, who provides some interesting facts about the production while spoofing the horror film genre. There is also a documentary with recent interviews with Bruce Brinckerhoff, George Wyner, Eric Server and other people who worked on the production. Wyner and Server both talk about being thrilled to work with McCallum, who was the only big star associated with the production. Brinckerhoff, who is clearly proud of the film, discusses how the lack of production funds necessitated some of the actors to do their own stunts, which are uniformly impressive. He also points out the the film was edited by John Wright, who went on to receive two Oscar nominations and is today regarded as a top editor in the industry. The special edition also includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Dogs" had a patchwork release and, to my knowledge, never even played in some key American cities. However, it did sensational business internationally and in rural American areas where its intended audience- the drive-in-crowd - responded to the chilling one sheet poster and the ominously-narrated trailer and TV spots. The flick has held up well over the years and if you view it in the proper context, it remains and effective example of indie filmmaking, both in execution and in marketing.
If you want to "fetch" a copy from Amazon, click here to order DVD edition or click here to order Blu-ray.
(The following review is based on a screening of the show on Amazon Prime. The program can be streamed for free to subscribers of the Amazon Prime service. For more on Amazon Prime, click the advertisement in the right column of this web page)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Although I don't have a scholarly knowledge of Jerry Lewis' career, having literally grown up during his heyday as a top boxoffice star, I thought I was fairly conversant in discussing both his successes and failures, of which there have been more than a few of each. Thus, I was surprised to learn that Lewis was releasing a rare 1959 NBC broadcast in which he starred as The Jazz Singer....yes, that Jazz Singer. The show was viewed by Lewis as his personal tribute to his idol, Al Jolson, who starred in the 1927 original feature film that became the first major "talkie". The concept is so corny it could be served on a cobb but there is no denying there is a timeless appeal to this story of a wayward son who opts to go into show business, thereby breaking the heart of his cantor father who wanted him to carry on the family tradition and sing in the synagogue. Danny Thomas had already starred in a 1952 remake and Neil Diamond would star in the 1980 feature film that earned scorn from critics but produced a hell of a top-selling soundtrack album.
The NBC broadcast is significant for a couple of reasons. For one, it represented a rare color presentation on NBC, the first network to go "all color" in the 1960s. At the time, however, a color television was a distant dream for most Americans and the vast majority of viewers undoubtedly saw the program in black and white as part of NBC's Lincoln-Mercury Startime anthology series. The show wouldn't last as it fell victim to more popular fare on other networks and it isn't known what the critical reaction was to the broadcast. The show was also significant in that it marked Lewis' first attempt at dramatic acting. Yes, there were those fleeting moments of pathos in most of his zany big screen comedies, but here Lewis plays it straight as Joachim Rabinowitz (aka "Joey Robbin"), who has been alienated from his father for five years due to his decision to perform as a "jazz singer". In reality, he is performing as Jerry Lewis, his act consisting of various shtick that includes crooning love songs, performing slapstick and telling jokes. (The latter two aspects of his act had to be included as, after hearing Lewis' warbling, no one would conceivably buy the notion that people would pay money to hear him sing. To coin the old phrase, "He couldn't carry a tune if it had handles!".) Joey impresses a famous singer Ginny Gibson (Anna Maria Albergehtti, who had just finished shooting Cinderfella with Lewis). Ginny arranges for him to secure a slot on her national variety show that could make Joey an instant star. In the interim, he makes a fateful decision to return for a surprise visit to his estranged father in order to celebrate his dad's 60th birthday. Initially things go well at the family gathering, but the old man (Eduard Franz) ends up chastising his son for not following in his footsteps and for ending a tradition of cantors that has lasted five generations. Once again estranged, Joey shows up to rehearse the all-important TV show appearance...only to learn that his father has collapsed and is gravely ill. His dying wish would be to have Joey take his place and sing at the synagogue. In order to do so, however, Joey will have to forego his one opportunity to gain fame and fortune. The plot creaks with cliches and age and you realize just how much Neil Diamond's rendition of "America" helped bail him out of tear-jerker conclusion. Nevertheless, Lewis performs admirably. He is never out of his depth in the dramatic aspects of the show and delivers a convincing performance that blends his usual zany gags with a genuine attempt to deliver a moving performance. The supporting cast is also good, including Molly Picon in full-blown "Jewish mother" mode. The quality of the broadcast is surprisingly crisp and clean, having undergone a restoration process.
This is not a TV classic but it is an interesting curiosity and any Jerry Lewis fan will want to experience this unusual, rarely-seen gem.
(The Jazz Singer is also available on DVD from the Jerry Lewis archives and includes a b&w version of the show as well as a featurette with his son Chris Lewis, who discusses the history of the broadcast and its restoration for home video. Click here to order from Amazon)
Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: one of the P.M.'s all-time favourite films.
whether you share his political views, readers will have to agree that British
Prime Minister David Cameron's choice of movies are worth voting for. In an
interview in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday 'Event' magazine he chose the following
films as his favourite top five - Lawrence of Arabia; Where Eagles Dare; The
Good, The Bad, And The Ugly; Casablanca, and Schindler's List. Nice one, Dave!
There's a Cinema Retro exclusive "Broadsword Calling Danny Boy" tee
shirt in the post to you, tomorrow.
Sony has released director Richard Brooks' 1965 screen adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim as a burn-to-order DVD title. The novel, written in 1899, centers on Jim, an idealistic young man who fulfills his dream of being a highly regarded officer on a commercial cargo vessel in southeast Asia. All is going well for him under the guidance of his mentor, ship's captain Marlowe. However, when an injury causes Jim to convalesce for an extended period, he ends up on a rickety freighter under the command of an unscrupulous captain who is transporting hundreds of Muslim pilgrims. When the ship founders, the captain and his cowardly crew abandon ship, leaving the pilgrims to face what appears to be certain death. To his own astonishment, Jim spontaneously opts to join them in order to save his own life. When the ragged survivors finally make port, they are shocked to find that the ship was rescued- and Jim and his fellow crew members are now tarnished as cowards. The tale delves into Jim's psychological woes caused by an omnipresent sense of guilt. In the film version, Jim (played by Peter O'Toole) attempts to regain some honor by willingly testifying at a legal hearing that he did indeed act in a cowardly fashion. This only brings him scorn from his fellow British mariners who accuse him of tarring them all with the scandal. Morose and plagued by guilt, Jim works at menial jobs on the docks, trying to fade into obscurity but his notoriety follows him everywhere. Ultimately, he meets Stein (Paul Lukas), an aging intellectual who hires Jim for a dangerous mission to secretly transport arms and ammunition to a remote jungle village where the people have fallen under the dictatorial rule of a local warlord known as The General (Eli Wallach). Stein hopes that the delivery of these weapons will inspire the long-suffering people to revolt against their oppressor. Jim, feeling his life is meaningless, readily accepts the mission, even though it is considered near-suicidal. Against all odds, he manages to get the weapons into the hands of the villagers. He is proclaimed a local hero for doing so and in short order he finds a new acceptance among these people who know nothing of his shameful past. He forms a romantic bond with a local girl (Daliah Lavi) and begins to train the local men as armed combatants. They engage the General and his forces in an all out assault from which they emerge triumphant. Jim is suddenly thrust into the role of local hero and is proclaimed "Lord" by the grateful villagers. A period of peace and joy comes to the area- until intruders from the outside world arrive who seek to take religious treasures from the temple by force of arms. Suddenly Jim is once again forced to summon his courage to save the local people from further exploitation.
Lord Jim was an expensive production back in the day and was heavily promoted as an equally prestigious follow-up to Peter O'Toole's back-to-back triumphs in Lawrence of Arabia and Becket. The project seemed to be a sure-fire proposition, given all the talent involved and the fact that Richard Brooks was a highly acclaimed director. Yet, for all the build-up, the production proved to be a flop with critics and a commercial dud. What went wrong? Viewing the film today, Brooks' own screenplay is rather schizophrenic and never provides a clear understanding of Jim. At the beginning of the movie he's an innocent Walter Mitty type (Brooks even throws in groan-inducing fantasy bubbles that appear in Jim's mind depicting him engaging in acts of derring do.) Then Jim becomes a relentless, morose symbol of self-pity before transforming himself overnight into a virtual super hero. (It is never explained how this simple ship's first officer is able to spontaneously concoct military strategies and invent innovative weaponry as though he were a 19th century version of 007's "Q"). O'Toole carries the gentle, angelic hero stuff to extremes and the New York Times' Bosley Crowther commented at the time that he looks as though he is perpetually about to burst into tears. Brooks also indulges in heavy-handed religious symbolism with Jim carrying out self-sacrifices in order to save the innocents around him. As with most films of this era, local native populations, though treated sympathetically, come across as the white man's burden. Jim's love interest, played by Daliah Lavi, looks like she stepped out of a Beverly Hills spa and in one absurd sequence is seeing ironing what appear to be curtains as he discusses committing suicide! (Keep in mind this is taking place in a remote jungle village in the 19th century so one wonders how big a priority ironing might have been.) There is also no indication that the virginal Jim ever compromises his Christ-like persona by consummating his relationship with the girl (who is never named.) That may be noble for Jim, but it sure as hell makes their on-screen relationship a bore. The battle scenes are exciting and well-staged and Freddie Young's 70mm cinematography is as gorgeous as you would expect, though it is somewhat diluted by the fact that Brooks films large sections of the film within the obvious confines of studio sets. Similarly, the pivotal scenes of a ship in a storm-tossed sea are very obviously shot with miniatures. There is an excellent supporting cast with Lukas giving a fine performance as Jim's father figure, James Mason as an aristocratic cutthroat who leads an expedition of thieves into the village, Curt Jurgens, especially good as a cowardly opportunist businessman and Akim Tamiroff as, well, a typical Akim Tamiroff character (i.e. an amusing low-life). If you can get past the fact that Eli Wallach, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, plays the only Asian warlord with a hairy chest, you can enjoy his wry performance, though the character is poorly defined. Jack Hawkins makes brief appearances as Captain Marlowe and provides narration for the early scenes, though this device is promptly dropped by Brooks and never reappears.
The film is a quasi-epic that can't be called even a quasi-classic. It clocks in at 254 minutes, not exceptionally long if a film is engrossing enough, but at times the pace of Brooks' direction makes the story rather taxing to stick with. Nevertheless, Lord Jim looks better today than it did at the time of its initial release perhaps because it features so many talented artists who are no longer with us.
It’s a Mad, Mad,
Mad, Mad World,
the 1963 classic epic comedy directed by Stanley Kramer, is one of those
Hollywood train wrecks that you can’t help but like.It’s a one-of-a-kind all-star extravaganza
featuring some of the biggest names of mostly 1950s and early 1960s comedy (and
a good number of them were known primarily as television actor/comics rather
than big screen performers). The United Artists release was one of a current
trend of movie star ensemble film in which the producers attempt to throw in as
many big names as possible (e.g. Exodus,
Judgment at Nuremberg, The Longest Day).As Kramer himself states in a reunion extra that
appears on Criterion’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo set, “It would be impossible to
make today,” due to the salaries stars demand now.
can you find such a collection of brilliant actor/comics in one motion
picture—Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Mickey
Rooney, Ethel Merman, Terry-Thomas, Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, Edie Adams,
Dorothy Provine, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jim Backus, William Demarest, Carl
Reiner... to name a few of the more prominent folks in the sprawling story.Spencer Tracy is top-billed and serves as the
anchor, more or less, to the truly insane shenanigans going on.Then there are a bunch of cameos by the likes
of Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Don Knotts, and ZaSu Pitts, some of which are
delightful and serve as a “spot the player” game for the audience.Unfortunately, a handful of these cameos are
wasted, having no “punch line” for their appearance.For example, why bring in the Three Stooges
if they’re only going to stand still and stare straight ahead for a few seconds?The Three Stooges were not particularly known
for portraying silent statues on screen.Another disappointment is the use of Buster Keaton.We barely know it’s him (in the general theatrical
release), due to the lack of close-ups or identifiable visual Keatonesque
that sounds terrific, doesn’t it?In
truth, the picture comes off as some kind of bizarre stunt.The plot is paper thin.A bag with $350,000 has been buried beneath a
“big W” in Santa Rosita Park in the California town of the same name.A bunch of nincompoops go their separate ways
and then proceed to go nuts trying to get to the treasure first.In the general theatrical release, Kramer
takes 163 minutes to tell this tale with a series of slapstick set pieces,
mostly shot on location, and generally consisting of crash-bang, destructive,
pratfall humor.A little bit of that
noisy kind of comedy goes a long way.Two
hours and forty-three minutes of it is exhausting.Criterion has also attempted to piece together
something resembling the original road show edition of the film by utilizing
visual and/or audio elements that are, unfortunately, not in the kind of
sparkling condition as the 4K digital film transfer of the general
release.This extended edition clocks in
at 193 minutes.Both versions are too
long, as many of the critics of the time complained.While It’s
a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has its legions of admirers and fans, I tend to
agree with those contemporary reviews.As with other “big” comedies (1941,
The Blues Brothers), the size of the
stunts and destruction overpowers the humor.Comedy simply works better on a more intimate, personal level.
this case, the performances are larger than life.The superstar comics more or less spend the
entire film in a hysterical state, frantically yelling their lines.They
start at a fever pitch and then have nowhere to go from there.Rooney and Hackett are particular guilty of
this.A handful of the principles are also
supposed to be funny, but they end up being annoying.Ethel Merman, in particular, was written and
directed to play the mother-in-law from hell, and she does such a fabulous job
that I want to strangle her in the first five minutes of screen time—but alas,
we have to put up with her for the next excruciating two and a half hours. When it’s all over you feel shell
shocked.But I guess that’s the point.
not to say there are no laughs in Mad
World.There are.Jimmy Durante “kicking the bucket” is one such
highlight; unfortunately that occurs in the first ten minutes.I particularly like the sequence in which
Caesar and Adams are stuck in a hardware store basement and try all the wrong
things to escape.I’d forgotten what a
babe Edie Adams was in those days.
the picture is superb.The
cinematography, particular, is fabulous—imagery of 1963 southern California
almost transforms the picture into a western in which factions of outlaws are
vying for hidden gold.
Criterion Collection does an appropriately epic job in bringing Mad World to Blu-ray, and it’s a lavish,
five-disc set—two Blu-rays and three DVDs.The general release version looks absolutely gorgeous (it was the first
picture to be shot for Cinerama without using the Cinerama three-camera
process).The audio commentary (on the
extended version) by Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo, is
very entertaining and enlightening.I
recommend watching the general release edition first, then watching the extended
version with the commentary.Also
included are several fun extras, including vintage and recent television
interviews and spots, an excerpt about the film from the 2000 AFI program 100 Years...100 Laughs, a new
documentary with behind-the-scenes footage detailing the picture’s visual and
sound effects, a selection of humorist and voice-over artist Stan Freberg’s
original TV and radio ads for the film, and more.You even get a map of the locations.
matter if you’re a huge fan, or, if you’re like me, a respectful viewer that
appreciates the picture for its earnest in-your-face effort, Criterion’s new
release is an educational journey into mad, mad, mad, mad Hollywood.
good friends at Vocalion Records have released three excellent CDs. First is
the super score to Bernard Kowalski’s 1969 B-movie thriller STILETTO (Vocalion
CDSML 8501). Starring Alex Cord in the lead role and with support from Britt
Ekland, Patrick O’Neal, Joseph Wiseman and Roy Scheider, the film was based on
the Harold Robbins novel of the same name. Whilst Stiletto was never going to
be an Oscar contender, as so many of these great little thrillers proved, it
did gather something of a cult following. More often than not, restricted
budgets and tight schedules surprisingly lead to great production values, with
artists and crews having to think instinctively on their feet and with little
time to elaborate. Stiletto music by American composer Sid Ramin is a truly
evocative score. Ramin’s work was often uncredited and as a result, perhaps
never received the recognition he ultimately deserved. Stiletto certainly
highlighted Ramin’s ability to score a dramatic action movie. Pulsating Hammond
organ, pounding percussion and golden brass lines - certainly draw similarities
to the work of leading composers of the day such as Lalo Schifrin and Roy Budd.
The music implies a rich, Mediterranean vibe which captures the film’s international
romanticism. Stiletto’s score is, without doubt, the film’s dominant feature -
the enduring survivor.
release marks the score’s debut on CD. As a direct re-issue of the original CBS
LP (CBS Records S 70062), the music has been beautifully remastered by Michael
J. Dutton from the Original Analogue tapes. Considering the low key nature of
the movie, Oliver Lomax has provided a richly detailed booklet covering both the
production of the film and its spectacular music. To their credit, Vocalion
have also included a reversible cover containing the original LP artwork and
the splendid British colour artwork (which always gets my vote). Vocalion have
again proved that big things are often salvageable from relatively minor films,
and their foresight can only be applauded.
City was like no other TV series before or since –
Michel Moriarty, star of Law and Order,
once told this reviewer.
Inspired by Jules Dassin's
1948 film of the same name, Naked City centers on the detectives of the
NYPD’s 65th Precinct, but the criminals and New York City itself often played
as prominent a role in the dramas as the series regulars. Like the film it was based
on, Naked City (1958- 1963) was shot
almost entirely on location. The first season ran as a half-hour show under the
title The Naked City, starring James Franciscus and John McIntire
playing, respectively, Detective Jimmy Halloran and Lieutenant Dan Muldoon—the
same roles essayed by Don Taylor and Barry Fitzgerald in the film.
Naked City also starred Harry Bellaver as Det. Frank Arcaro.
When the series was expanded to an hour, the producers brought in handsome Paul
Burke as Det. Adam Flint and gruff Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker to replace
Franciscus and McIntyre (with jovial Bellaver remaining in the cast). That's
when the classic episodes of Naked City
were produced... with a host of famous guest stars, ranging from silent movie
actors like Conrad Nagel to newcomers Martin Sheen, Peter Fonda and Christopher
Naked City is so good and
so unlike any other American crime drama or police procedural it's hard to
believe it was produced in the United States, because the series definitely has
a European look and sensibility. It's sort of operatic neorealism – Vittorio De
Sica let loose with a camera in NYC. Not unlike De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Umberto
D., Naked City reflects a very
existentialist and humanistic philosophy that occasionally moves the viewer to
tears. The series regulars often become supporting players in the weekly
dramas. The writing by Stirling Silliphant and others makes the more celebrated
Paddy Chayevsky sound like an overbearing pontificator.
Silliphant really humanizes his characters.... whether cops, criminals or
ordinary New Yorkers.
Sadly, the image quality of Naked City: The Complete Series varies considerably. Several of the
earlier episodes are in bad shape – dark and speckled. Framed in 1.33:1, most of the transfers look pretty
good. Generally, image and sound quality are more than acceptable, although
dialogue isn't always clear.
But this box set is the only way to see the entire landmark television series –
unfamiliar to contemporary audiences because the series rarely went into
syndication after its ABC run.
Watching 138 episodes of Naked City on 29 DVDs is quite a time commitment, but well worth
the effort. The show (filmed in glorious black and white) is interesting from a
historical standpoint: We see the magnificent old Penn Station (tragically demolished
in 1963) and the Singer Building (the 47-story office tower – built in 1908 and
torn down in 1968). In the early sixties, the New York City skyline was never
more beautiful and balanced, before the intrusion of such massive
structures as One World Trade Center and the Bank of America Tower. The
Columbus Circle of the late fifties is almost unrecognizable, with the monument
at the centre the only constant. We also see pre-gentrified Manhattan neighborhoods
that looked quite grungy back in the day, especially in the winter.
City attracted top-flight guest stars, including Luther
Adler, Eddie Albert, Edward Asner, Martin Balsam, Barbara Barrie, Richard
Basehart, Diahann Carroll, Lee J. Cobb, James Coburn, Richard Conte, Hume
Cronyn, Robert Culp, Sandy Dennis, Bruce Dern, Bradford Dillman, Keir Dullea, Dan
Duryea, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Nina Foch, Anthony Franciosa, Gene Hackman,
Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Shirley Knight, Diane Ladd, Piper Laurie, Joanne Linville, Robert Loggia, Jack Lord, Walter
Matthau, Myron McCormick, Roddy McDowall, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Vic
Morrow, Robert Morse, Lois Nettleton, Leslie
Nielsen, Carroll O'Connor, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Suzanne
Pleshette, Claude Rains, Robert Redford, Ruth Roman, Mickey Rooney, Carol
Rossen, Telly Savalas, George C. Scott, George
Segal, William Shatner, Sylvia Sidney, Maureen Stapleton,
Karen Steele, Akim Tamiroff, Rip Torn, Jon Voight, Eli Wallach, David Wayne,
Tuesday Weld, Keenan Wynn and Dick York. George Maharis guest stars in a
first-season episode that served as a pilot for Route 66. (Naked City and
Route 66 were created and produced by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B.
only extra features are 12 minutes of commercials
from 50+ years ago, including one in which Peter Lorre promotes a flexible
You can count me among those who were critical of Jacqueline Bisset's bizarre acceptance speech at the recent Golden Globe Awards. Bisset seemed dazed and confused (though decidedly not inebriated) when she gave a rambling speech (complete with an unbleeped expletive) that resulted in widespread criticism and ridicule in both the main stream and social media. Entertainment writer Shaun Chang contacted Cinema Retro to set the record straight, at least insofar as he sees it. He has written an article detailing his dealings with Ms. Bisset and defends her as as kind, sensitive and highly intelligent woman. To be fair, that has always been her reputation and we at Cinema Retro are great admirers of her work. That's why it was so disheartening and disappointing to see her appearance at the Golden Globes. There are precious few actors and actresses still working who were major players in the golden age of cinema during the 1960s and 1970s. Generally speaking, they are light years ahead of today's crowd when it comes to class and style. Ms. Bisset certainly looked as gorgeous as ever. It was her choice of words that got her in trouble. Nevertheless, in the interest of fairness to an actress we respect and admire, we agree with Shaun Chang that she should not judged entirely by this one incident because most of us would not want to be subjected to the same fate. Thus, you can click here to read Chang's poignant defense of the lady and her career. - Lee Pfeiffer
Brutalization is just the latest example of a film being re-titled and packaged for DVD in order to disingenuously imply that it is a sexploitation title. In fact, the original title of the movie is Because of the Cats, an admittedly esoteric creation that may bare relevance to the plot but undoubtedly didn't have movie fans lining up at boxoffices around the world. The 1973 Dutch crime thriller has been released on DVD by the niche market company One7Movies. The film does indeed begin with a shocking sequence of sexual abuse as a middle-aged couple return to their Amsterdam apartment only to find it is being robbed by a gang of young men in stocking masks. They humiliate the couple by stripping and gang raping the woman while making her helpless husband observe the degrading act. Police Inspector van der Valk (British actor Bryan Marshall) is assigned to the case and sent to the affluent town of Bloemendaal where clues indicate the young men reside. It turns out the gang is also behind a series of local robberies in which homes are routinely trashed and family heirlooms maliciously destroyed. In keeping with the era, van der Valk is no ordinary cop: he's a maverick. Upon arriving in town, he seduces Feodora (gorgeous Alexandra Stewart), a local prostitute. He's rather obnoxious with local police colleagues and doesn't think twice about joining "persons of interest" in a few drinks while he interviews them about the case. The clues lead to a group of well-heeled young men in their late teens and early twenties who call themselves The Ravens. This is no street gang, however, but rather a cult-like organization that prides itself on a code of secrecy and military-like discipline. van der Valk observes that virtually all of the suspects have several things in common: they are from affluent families and have been spoiled throughout their lives by indulgent parents who never spent any "quality time" with them. Cracking the gang becomes even more important when one of their members turns up dead in what appears to be a scuba diving accident. van der Valk suspects murder by other gang members who may have believed the young man was about to talk to authorities. The detective also investigates a similar cult of young women known as The Cats who interact with The Ravens and occasionally engage in sex orgies with their members.
The film, which is largely unknown in the United States, was originally rated X but was cut to adhere to an R rating. Few people ever heard of it, let alone saw it. Presumably the DVD release is the unrated European cut. The rape scene is certainly shocking with frontal nudity but it's not as overtly brutal as it might have been. There are other instances of full nudity peppered throughout the film but most of the other sequences are presented somewhat tastefully. As a mystery, the film is surprisingly effective. Director Fons Rademakers has a crude but compelling way of presenting the story in an engrossing way, even if some of the plot devices and characters become occasionally confusing. He also makes good use of the Dutch locations and although the film features shocking acts of violence, they are never overly-exploited. As a leading man Bryan Marshall gives a strong performance. He's hip, hunky and charismatic...and one wonders why he never progressed beyond the supporting actor stage. (James Bond fans will recognize him as one of the British submarine commanders from The Spy Who Loved Me.) Alexandra Stewart adds the requisite sex appeal and there are some other familiar faces to be found including another Bond movie veteran, George Baker (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and future Emmanuelle sex siren Sylvia Kristel as a teenage girl gang member. The performances by all of the supporting players are extremely good. The film moves to a satisfying conclusion as the mystery to the young man's death is tied to an unexpected and rather exotic cause.
The DVD presentation is good, considering source material for a film such as this can be a "take what you can get" scenario. The DVD also includes an original British trailer with crudely inserted English language titles. In all, an impressive and interesting film. Recommended.
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde had all the makings of
a substantial hit when it opened in August 1967, its take increasing every week
for four weeks at the Forum and Murray Hill cinemas in New York. The violence,
the fashion, the birth of a new star (Faye Dunaway) and the rebirth of an old
one (Warren Beatty) attracted acres of publicity. But somewhere along the way,
the movie lost momentum, ending the year at a lowly 37th on the
annual box office chart. But in December, Joseph Morgenstern of Newsweek revised his previous negative
review and a week later Time magazine
devoted six pages to ‘the movie of the year’. Although Beatty, also the producer, agitated
for a reissue, Warner Brothers hardly went hell-for-leather. It reopened at the
394-seat New View in Los Angeles and the even smaller 160-seat Janus Two in
Washington. The week before in LA at the 810-seater Vogue Bonnie and Clyde grossed $16,000 but, backed by a new campaign, the
much smaller New View generated $22,000, with queues, not surprisingly, around
the block. Elsewhere, the movie was booked into small cinemas where the
prospect of a holdover was high. The publicity machine kicked into top gear as the
Oscars approached (it was nominated for ten). When re-launched in over 300
cinemas, it spread like wildfire. A second stab in St Louis broke the house
record. Compared to original release,
takings in most cinemas doubled. In Los Angeles it broke the record for a ‘multiple
run’ (wide release) and challenged Mary Poppins’ record for most chart
appearances by a non-roadshow in Variety’s
weekly box office Top Ten. The reissue supplemented the original $5m gross
by another $33m.
From The Reissue Bible by Brian Hannan to be published later this year.
(Click here for review of Bonnie and Clyde DVD special edition)
have to admit I was not familiar with Lust in the Dust, but as soon as I
saw the names Paul Bartel and Divine on the box, I knew I was in safe hands.
film begins with Rosie Velez (Divine) struggling through the desert on the
world's smallest donkey. About to die from thirst and exhaustion, she is saved
by the timely appearance of a waterhole. The audience is then treated to a
glimpse of his/ her naked behind whilst she bathes, which appears to have a
very unusual birthmark. Also taking in this unsavoury view is Tab Hunter as
Abel Wood, a cowboy of very few words. He is headed for Chili Verde and
reluctantly agrees for Rosie to tag along. When he arrives at this tiny, clichéd
western town he discovers that they don't take too kindly to strangers. Rosie
gets manages to get a job in the bar, which is also a brothel, and Abel learns
that there is a legend regarding hidden gold somewhere in the town. Being the
strong silent type he soon attracts the affections of Marguerita (Lainie
Kazan), bar owner and chief whore, and soon a jealous rivalry erupts between
her and Rosie. Throw into the mix Cesar Romero as the local priest and Geoffrey
Lewis and Henry Silva as bad guys and you have all the makings of a fast-paced,
mischievous comedy western. The plot is nothing new, but it is the
juxtaposition of Divine's constant chatter against Hunter's quiet, thoughtful
delivery that makes this so enjoyable. This is not the first film to use the
"secret clues tattooed on women's behinds" gag, but who cares when it
is this funny? Many of the jokes are borderline offensive, and certainly
tasteless. One would expect nothing less from the director of Eating Raoul
(1982), a dark comedy about cannibalism, and let's not forget that in Pink
Flamingoes (1972), Divine eats real dog faeces on camera.
Hunter had plenty of previous experience in westerns, and had also starred with
Divine before in Polyester (1981) and was able to use his influence in
Hollywood to get Lust in the Dust made, acting as one of the film's
producers. His character is part Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and part
Franco Nero's Django and as such he has terrific screen presence. All of the
cast are excellent and Paul Bartel manages to hold together what could have
been a mess in the wrong hands.
new DVD release is on Arrow's Arrowdrome label, which presents cult film titles
at low prices but with a minimum of extras. It does feature the original
trailer, a reversible DVD sleeve and a booklet with more information on the
film. Lust in the Dust is hugely entertaining and deserves to become a
new favourite film for anyone who likes their entertainment a little
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Waterhole #3, a 1967 Western comedy that presents James Coburn in top form as a charismatic drifter, gambler and con-man who is goaded into a gunfight with a local crook. Coburn shoots the man dead by using an underhanded tactic then robs him, only to discover a tantalizing map that shows where a trove of stolen U.S. military gold had been secreted by the man and his partners. Coburn immediately begins to follow the map on an arduous trek across the desert. He is pursued by a local sheriff (Carroll O'Connor) who is trying to arrest him for the murder of the man victimized in the duel. When the two men meet up, it becomes a cat and mouse game with each alternately getting the drop on the other. They discover the hidden gold together and thereby initiate various plots to steal it for themselves. The film, directed by William Graham, is rather amusing throughout most of its running time thanks to the inspired performances of Coburn, O'Connor and some good supporting actors such as Bruce Dern, Claude Akins, Timothy Carey, Joan Blondell and James Whitmore. Margaret Blye makes a good impression as O'Connor's love-starved teen-aged daughter who is smitten by Coburn even though he literally rapes her. The film runs out of steam in the latter part of the story when the dead crook's partners and the U.S. cavalry all converge on Coburn and O'Connor in an attempt to retrieve the stolen gold. Suddenly the film disintegrates into a pioneer version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with everyone running amok in an attempt to get the treasure.The only thing missing is a "Big W". Folk singer Roger Miller provides a running narrative in the form of a ballad but the gimmick wears thin pretty quickly, largely because the same few notes are sung repeatedly. Nevertheless, the movie is a pleasant enough time-killer thanks largely to Coburn's super-cool persona. There are no bonus extras.
On the Bowery is a 2012 release from Milestone that is remarkable on a number of levels. I will confess that I was unfamiliar with this landmark 1956 film that was shot as a quasi-documentary exploring the deplorable living conditions of down-and-out men on New York's Bowery. This section of Manhattan today is replete with boutique shops and cafes but for decades it was infamous for being a place where transients and hobos (to use a quaint phrase) would gather to commiserate with each other about the bad breaks they had suffered in life. Seedy bars dotted the streets and if you grew up in New York during this era, you knew that a walk through the Bowery section would be tantamount to tempting fate when it came to your personal safety. Filmmaker Lionel Rogosin was a liberal, socially conscious man who devoted himself to documenting societal problems. On The Bowery is said to be his most accomplished project, shedding light on the trials and tribulations of an entire subculture of downtrodden people who existed only blocks from where New York's most elite residents lived. The film utilized actual Bowery inhabitants, which explains the authenticity of the performances. Rogosin had initially tried to film the project as a traditional documentary but decided it needed a story line to keep viewers engaged. A loose plot was constructed about one desperate man in search of work who is deceived by one of his best friends. Much of the dialogue was improvised but the bare-bones plot was adhered to. The result was an astonishingly moving film that caused quite a sensation in art house circles when it was released. Sadly, it would take decades for the Bowery to be reborn, which didn't do much for the wretched souls who had to fight for daily existence there during the period in which this movie was made. The Blu-ray release from Milestone is packed with bonus extras including another Rogosin feature film, Good Times, Wonderful Times. Once again, this was a scripted movie shot in the style of a documentary. Filmed in 1964, the project is Rogosin's statement against war. It combines real footage of WWII atrocities with scenes from a London cocktail party attended by elitist snobs. Unfortunately, the film plays as pretentiously as the people it criticizes. The set also includes the 1957 documentary Out, made by Rogosin for the United Nations. It effectively chronicles the immigration of immigrants from Hungary to Austria in the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. There is an impressive wealth of bonus extras on the 2 disc set which include a walking tour of the present day Bowery by Rogosin's son Michael, who also presents his own documentary about the making of On the Bowery. There is an introduction by Martin Scorsese, who is a great admirer of the film, and some vintage documentaries about life on Bowery. In all, a highly impressive release of passion-driven films by a true master of independent movie making.
Vic is an extraordinary short film that runs 30 minutes but packs an emotional wallop. The movie is steeped in tragedy, from its subject matter to the story behind its production. The movie stars veteran character actor Clu Gulager in a career-topping performance as a once-popular leading man who has now been relegated to eeking out an existence in his modest L.A. home. Living alone and largely forgotten by his peers and friends, Vic tries to cheerfully get through each day, bolstered by the companionship of his loyal dog. His home is a modest shrine to his former achievements. The walls boast faded newspaper articles about him from bygone eras and there are tattered 8x10 stills of hit movies from happier times. Vic is feeling the pain of his twilight years. He still cuts a handsome figure and can joke and flirt with the ladies but he is relegated to having to use rolls of pennies to pay for necessities in local stores. In one poignant scene, he flirts with a charismatic cashier who is his own age (played in by Gulager's real-life wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery). When he returns to the store the following day to ask her on a date, he is told she was fired because she couldn't keep up with the work load. Vic's world is on the verge of total collapse when potential salvation arrives in the form of a phone call from out of the blue. An influential young director is interested in hiring him for a key supporting role in a major dramatic film. The news sends Vic into elation, then panic when he learns he has to do a reading for the part. This will require him to sit in front of the director and other key crew members and convince them that he is the man for the job. Nevertheless, Vic studies the script diligently, determined to knock 'em dead and revive his dormant career. Then he learns that his beloved dog has been stolen by a local miscreant who he refused to give money to. With his appointment for the reading looming, Vic becomes completely distraught as he searches frantically for his dog. He then makes a frantic drive to the production office to see if he can salvage this one last chance to restore his dignity. The highlight of the movie is Vic's reading of the script for the director and producers. He has dyed his hair jet black, but its a botched job and makes him look foolish. Nevertheless, he is treated reverently by those present and, in an inside joke, he is complimented on his performance in McQ, the John Wayne detective flick in which Gulager co-starred in real life. The film offers some tantalizing, brief appearances by such fine veteran actors as John Phillip Law, Carol Lynley, Richard Herd, Gregory Sierra, Robert Lyons and Peter Mark Richman. You fervently wish the movie was longer in order to capitalize on this extraordinary gathering of talented people. When it's time for Vic to do his reading, director Stallone has ratcheted up the suspense to an almost unbearable level and Gulager pulls out all the stops in a performance that becomes increasingly brilliant.
Vic is based on a story by Sage Stallone, the son of Sylvester Stallone, who won an award as Best New Filmmaker at the Boston Film Festival. Tragically, he died in 2012 of heart problems at age 36. The movie was a family affair for Clu Gulager, with his son John serving as cinematographer and editor (along with Bob Murawski, who would go on to win an Oscar for his editing of The Hurt Locker). Another son, Tom Gulager, gives a fine performance as the young director who holds the key to the old actor's career resurrection. The movie also gave Gulager the opportunity to play a scene with his wife Miriam, who would pass away shortly thereafter. Knowing this adds even more poignancy to the sequence. Stallone shows that he had great potential as a filmmaker but perhaps his greatest legacy is the fact that he co-founded Grindhouse Releasing with Bob Murawski, a company that built a loyal following by restoring and releasing niche market gems. Appropriately, Vic has been released on DVD as a special edition by Grindhouse. The DVD includes a remarkably intimate and revealing interview with Clu Gulager, whose modesty is refreshing and admirable. He says he never became a major star but "was not irrelevant". Indeed, Gulager made one of the most indelible screen villains of all time in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers, playing a psychotic hit man opposite Lee Marvin. Gulager speaks lovingly of his family and his joy at having this fine starring role this late in his career. When asked what the next stop is for him, he says bluntly "the grave". Fortunately, he looks far too fit for that to be imminent and one hopes he does get some good film roles in the future.
The commercial prospects for Vic were always limited due to the fact that it is a short film. The mind reels at the potential the story might have had if proper funding could have been found to make this into a feature length movie. Gulager, who is simply superb throughout, might well have scored an Oscar nomination.
The DVD also includes a montage of still photos from Gulager's career. It's an excellent presentation of an admirable film by a talented director who was denied his chance to fulfill his potential.
The Shadowplay DVD label has released the 1984 film Hookers on Davie Street (aka Hookers on Davie). Despite the sensational title, this is not a sexploitation film. In fact, it's a sobering look at particularly sordid area of Vancouver during a period when prostitutes trawled for customers apparently without any interference from local authorities. The documentary was directed by two female filmmakers, Janis Cole and Holly Dale and won an award at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Canadian version of the Oscar, the Genie Award, in the category of Best Documentary. The film traces the nightly ordeals of a diverse group of prostitutes that includes young women and transvestites, each of whom suffers the indignity of standing on a street corner and soliciting drivers to pay them for sex in their cars or back in a squalid motel room. The filmmakers obviously had gained the trust of their subjects and were allowed extraordinary access to these wayward souls who share their stories on camera. Virtually all of them came from broken homes, foster homes or juvenile centers and most started their careers as prostitutes very early in life, some before they were teenagers. Most seem to regret having to do this for a living but feel that they have no other choice. The hookers in question pride themselves on working in a "pimp-free" zone where they band together to keep out those who would exploit them even further. Aware of the risks they take every night by getting into cars with strange men, the group does what it can to rescue any of their peers from particularly dangerous situations. Nevertheless, some of the women describe frightening encounters with men who beat them and, in some cases, threaten their lives. If there is a central figure in the film it is Mark, a transvestite who goes under the name of "Michelle". He is half-way through a transgender operation and struts his stuff on the pavement wearing a garish dress with an ample bust line constantly on display. He shamelessly discusses how he got into sordid sex after being abused by an older man and seems unconcerned about the way he now makes a living. A visit from his distraught mother is especially moving when she describes on camera how she still loves her son despite the wreck he has made of his life. The film shows the prostitutes gathering for nightly "rest breaks" in a hotel bar where they joke and laugh the way any other co-workers might be expected to. However, there is an underlying tragic circumstance behind each of their stories. The movie also doesn't shy away from showing some of the "johns" who patronize the hookers. One has to wonder if they aren't as pathetic in their own way as the prostitutes are. After all, the hookers are victims of circumstance while the johns are generally married, relatively affluent men who feel obliged to pay for their thrills. The film culminates in coverage of a protest march by local prostitutes to lobby for legalization of their trade. (Canadian laws concerning prostitution have been criticized for being vague. Prostitution is technically legal but can be prosecuted under certain circumstances if deemed to be a danger to the public.)
Hookers on Davie Street is the kind of bold film making that not only impresses but informs the viewer. In this case, it humanizes a sub-culture of people and makes their plight a sympathetic one.
The DVD transfer is grainy but, given the technology of the era when the movie was shot, the original master probably was as well. There are no extras.
Funny Girl's engagement at the Criterion Theatre in New York City.
In his column on the Digital Bits web site, writer Michael Coate provides some fascinating facts about director William Wyler's classic 1968 film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Funny Girl, the movie that won Barbra Streisand a Best Actress Oscar. Coate not only traces the movie's entire road show presentation history in North America but also scores an exclusive interview with Sony's Grover Crisp, who discusses the challenges he encountered in the film's recent restoration process. Click here to read.
The Vinegar Syndrome DVD label is making a niche for itself through the release of retro erotica from the 1970s. The latest release is a "Peekarama Big 2 Unit Show" double feature. First up is Abduction of an American Playgirl, a 1975 hardcore flick shot largely in a rural area. Darby Lloyd Rains, one of the more popular "names" among porn actresses of the era, stars as a woman who is randomly abducted by two simpletons who want to satiate their sexual desires. She conveniently faints when they approach her and she remains in a virtual coma while they bring her to a remote house and remove all of her clothes. However, she quickly sizes up their combined intelligence is about the same as their shirt collar sizes and turns the tables. If you can accept the premise of forcible abduction as a premise for comedy, you might be able to relish the goofball satirical aspects of the film. It turns out that the kidnapper's plans to retrieve a ransom fall apart when her own father shows no desire to have his daughter returned. They then discover that Rains is a nymphomaniac with an insatiable sexual desire. By the end of the first day she has so exhausted both men that they have to call in a friend to help with the stress of keeping up with her demands. Eventually her younger sister shows up with some greatly reduced ransom money and both sisters outwit the villains by stealing their car. Having escaped sexual abuse, they decide to go to motel and pick up some new strange guys. (Hey, this was '70s porn, after all). Because of the abundance of alleged comedic situations, the film is about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice. However, the transfer of this low-budget sleezefest is actually rather impressive. It also includes a trailer (yes, they made trailers for porn flicks) that identifies the movie under the title of Abduction of an American Plowgirl.
The second feature, Winter Heat, was shot in 1976 and is more ambitious than the Playgirl movie in that it at least attempts to present a somewhat believable story. Male porn icon Jamie Gillis leads a gang of thugs (including his own wife) to a remote snowbound cabin where they attempt to find food and shelter. Since the cabin is conveniently inhabited by three comely young women, their list of demands gets somewhat more creative. There is a genuinely disturbing element to this film, at least initially, with Gillis giving a fairly convincing and scary performance as the sex-crazed leader of the pack. The film contains numerous hardcore sexual scenarios that are played largely without humor. It's a distasteful premise for our more enlightened times and the film is squarely geared toward male interests with the female victims ultimately getting into the action. The transfer is fairly grainy in the beginning but quality improves as the film progresses.
Vinegar Syndrome releases are definitely acquired tastes and are not for mainstream viewers. However, if you have fond memories of the erotica from this time period, the company is doing yeoman work in preserving and presenting this fare.
Based on Mossad
agent Peter Malkin’s “Eichmann in my Hands,” the 1996 made-for-TV movie “The
Man Who Captured Eichmann,” directed by William A. Graham, tells the
suspenseful tale of the apprehension of one of the most notorious war criminals
of all time. But the
apprehension is only half the story, and the movie excels in the scenes after
the capture when Malkin (played by Arliss Howard) finds himself face-to-face
with Adolf Eichmann, a man responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi
The capture of
Eichmann (Robert Duvall, who also executive produced) in Argentina, where he
fled after the war, plays out like an old heist movie: putting together the
team, coming up with a plan and executing it despite several red herrings and
momentary obstacles. The interrogation
scenes, however, where Eichmann and Malkin square off and discuss their very
different views of the Holocaust, produce the movie’s strongest moments. Duvall
masterfully portrays the banality of evil, so much so that Malkin is left
frustrated, confused and saddened in his search for answers. It’s telling then
the movie is titled “The Man Who Captured Eichmann,” instead of “The Capture of
Eichmann.” As an action thriller, it comes up short. As a character study, it’s
Since it’s a TV movie, there aren’t any special features on the
manufactured-to-order Warner Archive DVD release. But as an example of a
higher-quality made-for-TV movies with subtle and nuanced performances by its
leading men, it would make a fine addition to a DVD library.
an episode of the Jack Benny radio show from 1948, Jack and Mary Livingstone
are being driven to the Warner Bros. studios in his "trusty" Maxwell
by his manservant, Rochester. They are stopped at the gate by the studio guard,
voiced by the wonderful Mel Blanc. When the guard demands identification in
order to be admitted, Jack tells him that he is Jack Benny. The guard still
demands ID. Benny pleads with him to recognize him: "…after all, I made a
film here a few years ago, The Horn Blows
at Midnight…I am sure you remember that!" "Remember it??? I
directed it!!!" replies Blanc as the guard. Such amusing set-ups became
some of Jack Benny's most famous self-deprecating jokes. The Horn Blows at Midnight has become legendary because of Benny's
making fun of it but as we can now see with its release on DVD, the comedy
legend was being unnecessarily harsh. The Warner Archives' recent release of
the film gives us a chance to evaluate this 1945 film for ourselves. People who
can remember the endless jokes Benny made at the expense of this much-maligned movie
will be surprised to learn that it was directed by the great Raoul Walsh
and boasted a great score by Franz
Waxman. Benny is backed by a wonderful Warner Bros. supporting cast: Guy
Kibbee, John Alexander, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Allyn Joslyn,
Reginald Gardiner, Mike Mazurki, a young Robert Blake, and the beautiful Alexis
Smith. The production values are high and it has some good special effects for
its time. So why the jokes?
main answer is that it did disappointing business at the box office. One
possible reason for the poor reception is that it was released within the same
week that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Another possible reason is that,
although it is a Jack Benny movie and Benny is very good in it, it is not the
familiar Jack Benny persona that the public had come to know and love through
his #1 top-rated radio show.
plays Athaneal, a questionable trumpet player in a radio studio orchestra that
is playing in a broadcast for a program sponsored by Paradise Coffee ("the
coffee that makes you sleep"). Athaneal actually falls asleep during the
broadcast. He dreams that he is an angel in Heaven who is being sent back down
to planet number 339001 -- "Earth," a six-day project rush job -- to
blow Gabriel's Horn at midnight to bring an end to that planet.
we have the first thing that people found fault with: they make Jack Benny an
inept trumpeter. A trumpeter? Come on…everyone knows Jack Benny was an inept
violinist. Oh, well. He reaches planet number 339001 (Earth) by borrowing a
Times Square hotel's elevator to get there. The always wonderful Franklin
Pangborn plays the prissy hotel detective trying to solve the mystery of how an
elevator just disappears. Once he's arrived, Benny plays the part with naive
wonder as an angel back on Earth after being dead for 250 years. As a matter of
fact, he died in New York, or "New Amsterdam" as it was called when
he was last there. He has to contend with two "fallen angels" played
so wonderfully by great character actors John Alexander ("Teddy" from
Arsenic and Old Lace) and Allyn
Joslyn, who know that once Athaneal blows Gabriel's Horn it's down south to a
warmer climate for them because they're no longer welcome in Heaven. The only
side effect that they suffer on Earth is a comic case of convulsions on the
hour every hour ("Well, that one wasn't so bad." "No,
comparatively mild."). All the aforementioned character actors meet up for
a surrealistic rooftop climax as Athaneal races the clock and the
"villains" while getting tangled up with a big neon advertisement
atop the Times Square Hotel. Will he see to it that the horn blows at midnight?
film gives you an opportunity to see Jack Benny play a part other than
"Jack Benny." Are there any of the well-known Benny mannerisms? Sure,
we can see glimpses. The Benny walk is there, of course. His ineptitude is a
major plot device. The closest gag involving his epic "cheapness" is
a joke involving his heavenly boss played by the great Guy Kibbee telling him
that down on planet number 339001 he will need some "money." When he
hands him the dollar bills, Athaneal asks: "What are dollars?" Yeah,
right? Jack Benny asking what dollars are!
The overall picture and sound of the
Warner Archives' DVD are very good and the original trailer is included. At 78 minutes it is an excellent Warner
Bros. comedy. A great non-Jack Benny Jack Benny film. Get this one.
of the superb releases recently issued by The Criterion Collection are classics
from the 1950s international scene. One
is arguably the best caper/heist movie ever made, and the other is perhaps the
best Shakespearean adaptation ever produced.
up—Rififi, released in 1955 and
directed by American director Jules Dassin—who had exiled himself from America
due to the blacklist. It’s a film noir
made in France with French and Italian actors and a French crew. As the lyrics in a cabaret number, sung by
Magali Noel in the film, reveal, rififi
means “rough and tumble.” In other
words, Rififi is about riff-raff,
tough guys, and would-be gangsters. In
this case, the protagonists are a quartet of jewel thieves who plan a big caper
together—to break into the safe in a notable jewelry store in Paris. Led by Tony (Jean Servais), the motley crew
also includes an Italian safecracker played by Jules Dassin himself, mainly
because the original actor became unavailable at the last minute. Dassin stepped in and his performance is,
frankly, one of the best things in the picture.
Rififi earned Dassin the
Best Director prize at Cannes that year, and it’s no wonder why. It’s safe to
presume that most caper/heist pictures that came afterward owe a big debt to Rififi. The structure of the film—the gathering of the crooks, the meticulous
planning, the showpiece of the robbery execution, and the tragic aftermath—has
been copied in one way or another. Of
note is the half-hour sequence in which the four thieves break into the store
at night and perform their handiwork. It’s completely without dialogue or music. The men use hand signals to communicate with
each other, for the robbery is so well planned that they don’t need to
talk. The addition of the time limit—they
have to get it done before sun-up—makes it one of the most riveting set pieces
in the crime movie genre. In a
supplement on the disk, Dassin (interviewed in 2000) reveals that the film’s
composer insisted on writing music to accompany the scene. Dassin expressed reservations, but the guy did
it anyway. When it was done, Dassin ran
the film for the composer first with the music, and then without. After seeing the footage, the composer
acquiesced to Dassin’s original vision. The
sequence was better with no music. It turned
out so well that several countries banned the film because the heist scene was
something of a “master class” on how to do it!
transfer is a new 2K digital restoration, and it’s an improvement over
Criterion’s previous release of the title. The aforementioned interview with Jules Dassin is a delight, for the
director is candid about the blacklist, his struggle to get his career back on
track after his exile, and the origins and making of Rififi. Also included are
set design drawings by art director Alexandre Trauner, production stills, the
trailer, and an optional English-dubbed soundtrack. The booklet contains an insightful essay by
critic J. Hoberman.
Throne of Blood is Akira Kurosawa’s 1957
masterpiece that brilliantly transposes Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the Japanese feudal era. It works like a charm. Drawing
extensively on some of the formal elements associated with traditional Noh
Theatre, Kurosawa choreographs a danse
macabre that is at once graceful, poetic, and most certainly violent.
the masterful Toshiro Mifune in the Macbeth role (he’s called “Taketoki” in the
film) and Isuzu Yamada as the Lady Macbeth equivalent, the picture is a
powerful concoction of directorial originality, superb acting, and striking
imagery. Asakazu Nakai’s cinematography
is especially important to the film’s success. The outdoor scenes, often filmed in real fog, are eerily beautiful, supporting
the notion that Macbeth is, after
all, a ghost story. The scene in which
Mifune encounters the witch (one instead of three) is creepy as hell. And as good as Mifune is, this is
unquestionably Yamada’s picture. As Lady
Asaji, Yamada exhibits a wide range of emotional display, from the quiet and
sinister to the raging, mad bloodlust of power. She is the scariest thing in
the Criterion Collection saw fit to re-issue the DVD on Blu-ray. Again, the new 2K digital restoration is an
improvement over the earlier release. There are two subtitle translations to choose from—one by Japanese film
translator Linda Hoaglund, and another by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie—as well
as an audio commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck. A too-short documentary on the making of
film, originally a segment of the Toho
Masterworks series on Japanese television, features interviews with
Kurosawa, Yamada, and other members of the creative team. Film historian Stephen Prince supplies the
essay in the booklet.
gave us many great pictures, and for my money, Throne of Blood ranks in the top five. Treat yourself... and discover or reaffirm
why Kurosawa is one of cinema’s legends.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's long-out-of-circulation DVD of the 1968 Victorian era spy spoof The Assassination Bureau. Oliver Reed plays a British aristocrat who heads the titular organization which is comprised of well-heeled men who take it upon themselves to arrange for the assassination of prominent figures in politics and society. The Bureau is paid handsome sums by third parties to "off" these people but they pride themselves on a key rule of the organization: each victim must be deemed to be inherently evil enough to justify being murdered. Reed has inherited the Bureau from his late father and fears that the group has been lax on enforcing its own code of ethics by putting profit above the good of society. A young woman who is attempting to become England's first female newspaper journalist (Diana Rigg) approaches Reed with the promise of a large sum of money- but the caveat is that the victim is to be himself (for reasons too long to explain here). Reed surprises her by accepting the challenge and telling his colleagues that either they will succeed in killing him or he will kill them all one by one. In this way he hopes to eliminate the current bureau, which he feels is comprised of incompetent, greedy men. The film is primarily a zany farce directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who had recently won praise for his direction of Khartoum (talk about diversity in a filmmaker's work!). The action is often cleverly staged but rarely generates much genuine laughter, with only some moderate amusement arising out of the off-beat premise. Instead, it's primary pleasures come from the wonderful cast that includes future Bond alumni Telly Savalas (who would team with Rigg later in the year for On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Curt Jurgens and Vernon Dobtcheff (The Spy Who Loved Me), not to mention notable character actors like Kenneth Griffith, Beryl Reid, Philippe Noiret and Clive Revill. The production design is particularly impressive but the farcical elements occasionally make Casino Royale (1967) look like an exercise in comedic restraint. Still, this is an enjoyable romp that any 60s spy movie fan will want in their DVD collection. The disc contains no extras.
Released four years before the comedy smash Airplane!, the film that inspired it remains relatively obscure to all but the most devoted retro movie lovers. The Big Bus was Paramount's spoof of the disaster movie genre which had peaked in 1974 with the release of two blockbusters- Earthquake and The Towering Inferno- and one other major hit, Airport '75. The genre then ran out of steam just as The Big Bus went into production, which might explain why it was received anemically by both audiences and critics. Yet, it's a film with many pleasures and it is consistently amusing throughout. The Big Bus delivers some giggles whereas Airplane! provides many belly laughs. The genius actor of Airplane!, however, is that the producers had the wisdom to cast three of Hollywood's great stone faces- Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen- in comedic roles that surprised audiences. In fact, it revitalized all three actor's careers with their deft handling of absurd situations. The casting of The Big Bus was not as innovative because virtually every actor involved had been known for their work in comedies. However, it is an inspired cast that includes Joseph Bologna and Stockard Channing in the lead roles and a wonderful group of talented second bananas that includes Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Stuart Margolin, Jose Ferrer, Harold Stone, Larry Hagman, Richard B. Shull, Ned Beatty, Rene Auberjonois, Ruth Gordon, Bob Dishy, Lynn Redgrave, Vic Tayback and Vito Scotti. The only surprise is the comedic talents of John Beck, who had a short-lived career as a dramatic heart throb in the mid-to-late 1970s.
The plot concerns the debut run of a super spectacular bus that is powered by nuclear energy. The maiden voyage of "The Cyclops" finds the usual diverse group of passengers that permeate any disaster movie: a battling married couple, a quirky priest, a discredited hero looking to salvage his reputation, his one-time lover, a terminally ill man trying to enjoy his remaining days, a cranky old lady, etc. The bus is being piloted by Bologna, who plays a driver who has been alienated by his colleagues because of suspicion that he devoured the passengers on a previous journey that found his vehicle stranded in the mountains. (He maintains his innocence by insisting he only ate one foot that was surreptitiously placed in a stew made up of seat cushions!) His ex-girl friend, Channing, is the designer of the bus and is on board for the maiden journey. Along the way an eccentric millionaire oil man who is in an iron lung (Ferrer) schemes to sabotage the bus with a bomb in order to thwart the advancement of nuclear energy. Much of the humor relates to the production design aspects of the bus interior which is over-the-top tacky even in the era of leisure suits and wide ties. There is a garish decor complete with an omnipresent lounge singer who works every disaster along the way into one of his cheesy vocal numbers. The provides the requisite rapid fire jokes, some of which fall completely flat while others resonate quite well. The cast is in top form and everyone seems to be having a great time with each star given their moments to shine. One of the problems is that the bus, which was supposed to seem like an absurd concept in 1976, no longer generates many laughs partly because such monstrosities are now in operation in our major cities (minus the nuclear power, of course). The film culminates in a witty and very inspired cliff-hanger ending that is an homage to the fabled finale of the original version of The Italian Job.
The Big Bus was available years ago on Paramount DVD but has been out of circulation for some time. Happily, it is now available through the Warner Archive. The picture is crisp and clean throughout, though -as with most Paramount titles- it is devoid of any bonus extras. The film pales in comparison to Airplane! but any retro movie lover with a passion for disaster movies of the era will find it an amusing experience.
Fritz Weaver discusses the making of Fail Safe with Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer at a 2009 screening of the film at The Players club in New York City.
Sidney Lumet's 1964 thriller Fail Safe centers on an accidental launch of an American nuclear bomber strike on Moscow and the frantic efforts of the U.S. President (superbly played by Henry Fonda) to convince the Soviet premiere not to retaliate. The tension-packed film was a boxoffice dud at the time, despite glowing reviews. That is because Stanley Kubrick convinced Columbia to buy the rights to the film and shelve it until after his similarly-themed Dr. Strangelove went into release. Kubrick rationalized that if Fail Safe were released first, the impact would have been so great on the public that no one would have accepted a satirical version of the same premise. The result? Strangelove became a boxoffice smash while Fail Safe took many years to reach its intended audience through television broadcasts. The film has no musical score and is masterfully shot in a documentary-like style. There are outstanding performances by Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy, Frank Overton, Larry Hagman and- in his big screen debut- Fritz Weaver. Look for Dom DeLuise in a rare dramatic role.
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Loren did receive equal line billing with Charlton Heston in print ads for El Cid (as indicated by this trade magazine advertisement for the film's reissue). However, she was appalled to find that the billing arrangement on a Times Square billboard had relegated her name to an area below Heston's.
By Brian Hannan
A row broke out
this week in Italy over promoters choosing to give Brad Pitt top billing for 12
Years A Slave, a film that depicts the plight of an African American man played
by Chiwetel Ejiofor. That reminded me of a lawsuit brought by Sophia Loren over
El Cid in January 1962.Although
contractually guaranteed equal billing with Charlton Heston, her name had been
featured below his on an electric billboard in Times Square in New York
promoting the Samuel Bronston roadshow presentation at the Warner Theatre. Her name
on the billboard was in equal size to Heston’s but she demanded it should be on
the same line. She sought a temporary injunction in the New York Supreme Court
to stop the sign being used and, in a drastic turn of events, then demanded her
name be removed entirely from all promotion to do with the film. She claimed
the action had damaged her prestige and reputation. The New York court
disagreed. Aggrieved at being denied the temporary injunction, she was set to
continue her lawsuit and there was a stalemate for several days in February until
common sense prevailed. Loren was no stranger to rows over billing and later
had a titanic tussle with Marlon Brando over who got top billing on The Countess
From Hong Kong. She lost that one, too.
Click here to read the original formal complaint filed by Sophia Loren's attorneys.