The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts will present "An Evening with Jerry Lewis" on March 15. The comedy legend will appear on stage for two performances on that date. Click here for more details and to view film clips of the show.
One forgets how busy Leonard Nimoy was during the early
and mid ‘70s. There’s a tendency to think he vanished once his three year hitch
as Mister Spock on NBC’s Star Trek was over, but he was everywhere for a while,
acting in Mission: Impossible,
lending his voice to the classic show In
Search Of…, writing books of poetry, and even recording albums.Granted, his demonic eyebrows and somber
voice limited him to some degree – he would always seem otherworldly - but he
had an undeniable star quality.
In late January of 1973, Nimoy starred in Baffled!, an NBC Tuesday Night Movie of the Week. It was projected as a
possible TV series, where Nimoy would play Tom Kovack, a race car driver who
survives a crash but returns from his near death experience with the ability to
see visions of the future. Unfortunately,
the idea didn’t take off. By the year’s end, Nimoy was supplying the voice of
Spock for a Star Trek animated
series. He never quite escaped the role
that made him famous, but in Baffled!,
he appeared to be trying very hard to create a new character. Now available on
DVD from Scorpion Releasing, viewers can judge Baffled! for themselves and decide whether Nimoy could’ve succeeded
in another series.
The movie starts with the crash. Kovack is roaring around a speedway when he
begins hallucinating that a Victorian manor has popped up in the middle of the
track. His car spins out; he goes flying through the air, and the next thing we
know he’s being interviewed on a talk show. He discusses his visions, but stops
short of saying he has ESP. Meanwhile, a paranormal expert named Michelle Brent
(Susan Hampshire) contacts him, believing Kovack is blessed with special powers.
Soon, Kovack and Brent are in England, investigating a complicated case
involving a weird family, a mansion that may or may not be haunted, and some
sort of curse involving a wolf’s head insignia.
At its best, Baffled!
feels a bit like other ‘70s shows such as Night
Galleryand The Sixth Sense. It
even owes a bit to The Avengers, minus
the cheeky, swingin’ London vibe. At its
worst, Baffled! is a bit dry and takes
too long to get from one point to the next. It was directed by Phiip Leacock, a television
veteran who specialized in one-hour shows like The Waltons. At times, Baffled!
feels like an hour show padded out to make a feature length piece. One wonders if NBC opted out of the series
because of the slowness of the movie, rather than looking at Nimoy’s
The flaws of the movie aside, Nimoy is fun to watch
here. He tries to be the kind of
wise-cracking leading man that series television required in those days, and
even pulls off a few action scenes. NBC may have missed a good bet when they
didn’t pick this one up 40 years ago. With some care, it could’ve worked.
The Scorpion Releasing DVD includes the UK version of Baffled!, which is 89 minutes long (The
US version is 99 minutes). It’s presented in full screen for, after all, it was
a TV show. There are also some trailers for other Scorpion DVD releases,
including a nice clip of Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack. If for no other
reason, the disc is worth a look to see Nimoy battling his way out of Spock’s
Eric Bercovici, who produced and adapted James Clavell's massive novel Shogun into the Emmy-winning 1980 mini-series, has died at age 80. Bercovici was working on the Paramount lot and observed that the studio was not satisfied with a stream of prospective screenwriters who could not master how to adapt a story that was heavy on Japanese language and culture into a mainstream form of entertainment for American audiences. Bercovici and Clavell initially argued over his insistence that Clavell approve major edits and omissions to the novel. Eventually, Clavell relented and the series became a ratings smash. Bercovici related how, during production, the logistics of filming in Japan so annoyed local residents that police almost shut down production despite pleas from one of the series stars, the legendary Toshiro Mifune. It was the arrival in Japan of President Jimmy Carter that distracted the police and allowed production to finish. Bercovici also wrote the screenplay for John Boorman's 1968 WWII survival film Hell in the Pacific starring Mifune and Lee Marvin. However, his main strength was in television. He also wrote the hit 1977 Watergate-based mini series Washington: Behind Closed Doors and episodes of classic TV shows like Mission: Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, I Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Click here for more
Harold Ramis, who helped found the Second City comedy troupe and legendary TV series, has died after a long illness. He was 69 years old. Ramis wrote, directed and appeared in many hit comedy feature films. Among the hit films he directed were Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. He also wrote or appeared in films such as National Lampoon's Animal House, Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was part of a generation that reinvented TV and motion picture comedy. Ramis was a native of Chicago and had moved back there in recent years. For more on his life and achievements, click here.
Ballroom Confidential is a modestly-budgeted 2013 documentary production by director Brian Lilla. The film centers on Caleb Young, a 44 year-old gay man who found himself drifting through life without any clear cut ambitions or plans. He was trying to cope with the tragedy of having lost the "love of his life" due to a terminal illness. Young was living in Manhattan when the 9/11 attacks occurred and shook him emotionally. He ended up settling in Florida where his mother inspired him to do something tangible with his talents as a dancer. Young had made a living as a professional entertainer and drag performer mostly in gay venues. Inspired by his mother's confidence but financially broke, he cobbled together enough funds to open up the Absolutely Ballroom salon in Ormond Beach where he quickly established himself as a popular dance instructor. The movie opens with Caleb and choreographer Joe Mounts rehearsing with their students for a much-anticipated one night production of a fun, spy-themed show that will play for a local audience comprised of family and friends of those who are performing in the show. (The dance studio is adorned with some really cool James Bond international movie posters.) Overwhelmingly, the students are elderly women, most of whom have been widowed. For them, ballroom dancing is the elixir of life, acting as a diversion for what might otherwise be a lonely existence. Caleb's mother appears throughout, as she is one of the performers in the show. Amusingly, she is joined by her husband (Caleb's step-father), a macho guy who initially rejected ballroom dancing on the basis that it was too feminine. By the end of the film, however, he's as dedicated as any of the ladies in ensuring that the show must go on.
Director Lilla is working with a bare bones budget and virtually all of the action is understandably confined to the dance studio or the homes of some of the students. They are an amusing assortment of people and the friendships they have formed which each other are readily apparent. There are shy ladies, divas and hams...but all of them seem very charming. The film is often quite moving, especially in sequences in which some of the women describe how the loss of a long-time spouse has a devastating impact on the remaining partner. It's also rather touching to see ladies in their 80s and 90s getting dolled up to star as glamour girls in the big production. The film is a valentine to the art of dance and never takes any cheap shots at any of the participants, no matter how eccentric some may be. It is also rather amusing to see Joe Mounts, a burly bear of a guy who would look more at home in a Scorsese movie, delicately dancing with and instructing his students. As the countdown towards the opening night continues to tick, the pressure on everyone continues to build until opening night finally arrives.
Ballroom Confidential is a sweet and touching film that looks at the best aspects of human behavior and presents its participants in a dignified light. Caleb Young is an ingratiating fellow who has obviously brought great joy to his community through giving elderly people a renewed sense of purpose in their lives and that, more so than any specific dance production, is probably the legacy he can be most proud of.
Click here to order the DVD from the official web site.
Eddy and Sid after a Master Class at NYU, 2003. (Photo: Michael Doft)
Sid Caesar’s funeral service was held on Sunday afternoon,
February 16 at a private ceremony in Los Angeles. Among the family and friends paying
tribute was Sid’s biographer and friend, Cinema Retro’s Eddy Friedfeld, who
co-authored Sid’s creative biography, Caesar’s Hours, published by Public
Affairs in 2003.
What follows is the eulogy Eddy delivered before Sid's family, friends and colleagues.
Sid said that, like Isaac Newton, he stood on the
shoulders of giants, his inspirations- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel
and Hardy and W.C. Fields, who helped him develop his career and craft. Today, Sid, we stand on your shoulders- and
celebrate your life, your art, your warmth, character, and friendship. You did things no one else could do and you
inspired many others, including people in this room, to take the same artistic
And if our challenge was to sum up all your vast
achievements into one phrase, we would say- “You made America laugh.”
Born in Yonkers in 1922, the fourth and youngest son of
Max and Ida, he picked up dishes after school at his father’s luncheonette.
Going from table to table he learned to speak his signature doubletalk, French,
German, Italian and Russian from the multi-ethnic clientele. He went up to the
Catskills one summer as a saxophone player and part time comedian, and wound up
going back the following summer as a full time comedian and part time musician. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who could
site read, he played with Shep Fields, Charlie Spievak, Claude Thornhill and
Benny Goodman. He served in the Coast
Guard during World War II, part of the Greatest Generation. He loved being an American and was the poster
boy for the emerging medium of television and the Post World War II era of
prosperity, growth and vision. While
doing the reviews for the soldiers, he met Max Liebman, who cast him in Tars
and Spars and later in his first Broadway Show, Make Mine Manhattan. The impresario Liebman took his protégé to a
meeting with a young executive, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who wanted to bring the
variety show to people’s living rooms, so that they didn’t have to go out for
Broadway quality shows on Saturday Night. That meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Review and then Your Show
of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and The Chevy Specials.
Genius is often
overused. Except where it is most
almost nine years, he made millions laugh. At this point Sid would put his hand up, admonish me and say, “no one
ever does anything great alone.” Sid wanted to make sure that his final bow was
taken along-side Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and
Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Danny and Doc
Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Aaron Ruben, Mike Stewart, and a number of
other great talents who worked indefatigably to write, create, and produce this
new style of comedy on a weekly basis. They were quality- they could do what no one else could do,
before or since.
Sid loved the written word- if it doesn’t start out on
the page, it will never make it to the stage. He presided over a stable of creative
minds. Young kids of immigrant parents
who wanted to make their mark on the world through the vehicle of Sid’s unique
gifts. When Larry Gelbart was asked why
most of Sid’s writers were young and Jewish, he said, “Because all of our
parents were old and Jewish.”
When you hear the generic term Writers Room, the first
thought that it elicits in most minds is the legendary Caesar’s Writer’s
Room. He loved his writers, collectively
and individually. They were his
Praetorian Guard. Of all his accomplishments, his acknowledged greatest was
that he presided over the greatest group of comedy writers ever assembled,
unless you think The Constitution is funny.
I had reached a point in our work together where I
could watch a sketch and discern which writer contributed what line or thought.
He made me promise never to share that with anyone. What was most important was not that these
people were geniuses in their own right. What was significant was how they worked together. It was the genius of collaboration. The alchemy of creating comedy.
1949, television was a little over a year old. No one knew whether it was going
to last, and no one envisioned the impact it would have on society and the
world. Before Sid Caesar, television consisted of vaudeville, burlesque,
wrestling, and bowling. Sid and his multi-talented cast, writers and crew
helped define the medium, developing sketch comedy that was based in truth. For
39 weeks a year, they conceived, wrote, and executed an hour and a half of live
television a week, week after week. They did it, because they did not know they
couldn’t do it. There was no teleprompter, no cue cards, and no second chances.
movie satires, to foreign film parodies to pantomime, from a boy at his first
dance to an argument at a bus station, to lions in the circus, they crafted
stories that had beginnings, middles and ends, and helped ensure that
television grew into one of the most enduring forces in our society. Unlike comedy that came before that was
rooted in immigration and financial depression, this was about a new America-
post-WWII, prosperous, hopeful, the era of suburbs, skyscrapers, and space
travel- it needed smarter, fresher, optimistic, cutting edge comedy with an
infusion of culture and satire.
Sid was a master of character and dialect. He transformed into the put upon husband
Charlie Hickenlooper, feudal lord Shtaka Yamagura, stoner jazz musician
Progress Hornsby, Tony Towers, the inventor of the Towers Trot, The Gangster
Moose in Bullets Over Broadway, who had ears like a hawk, Al Duncy, who was
reluctantly and literally carried onto the stage to have his life story told
with Uncle Goopy and a parade of other crazy relatives in front of five
thousand people, and the German General who fastidiously avoided jangling his
medals, as he prepared to be a fancy hotel’s doorman.
He was a scientist who, after being bitten by a
radioactive termite, developed an insatiable appetite for wood. As The
Professor his endless expertise ranged from mountain climbing, sleep, and
And as the crying clown, Galipacci, he braved the
perils of live television. When it came
time to paint the tears on his cheeks, the point on his pencil broke. I don’t know what a lesser performer might
have done, but Sid not only didn’t break character and song, he instinctively
painted lines on his cheeks and proceeded to play tic tac toe, not missing a
He was Melville Krump, DDS, who got locked in the
hardware store overnight as part of a frenetic hunt for Jimmy Durante’s stolen
loot along with the greatest comedians of all time in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was Noble Eggleston, the pride of
Venezuela, Illinois with six other roles in Little Me. And, as Coach Calhoun of Rydell High, he got
John Travolta his letterman sweater in Grease.
He was also a Shtarker, possessed of Herculean
strength- as he said “I could walk through a wall without opening a door.” The strength that affectionately held Mel
Brooks out the 18th floor window of The Palmer House in Chicago,
punched a horse who was threatening his beloved wife Florence, and pulled the
sink out of the wall of his dressing room when he had trouble remembering a
Sid understood his audience and always treated them
with honesty and respect. He believed
that the greatest comedy came with pathos- making the audience not only laugh-
but think and sometimes cry.
We are a people that are defined by our culture and our
passions. Sidney Caesar was a giant,
becoming one of the most famous people in America. He walked among stars and statesmen, and the
most accomplished and creative of his and subsequent generations, but always
with a sense of awe and humility.
He raised a family. You can’t tell the Sid Caesar story without talking about Florence, his
partner of 67 years, and children, Michelle, Rick and Karen. He battled and overcame demons and developed
deep and lifelong friendships.
We own our cultural icons- they belong as much to us as
they do to their own families. Laughing
together keeps us close to our families; it is the lingua franca for our
friendships, the shared memories, the shorthand phrases and inside jokes that
keep us close years later.
Sid’s work not only made people laugh, it brought
families together. Over the years, I
consistently heard people say to and about Sid: “Thank you for making my
parents laugh.” It was that association
that people wanted to remember.
I didn’t grow up watching Sid Caesar. He belonged to my parents and
grandparents. He was the fine china,
their gold standard, talked about at the dinner table like a successful
relative. My generation grew up on Blazing
Saddles, Get Smart, MASH, The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family, without
realizing the connection.
I met Sid 14 years ago for an interview. We had a very nice connection. He invited me to come back two days later to
watch his old shows with him. The
article was well received and it led to a friendship and an artistic
autobiography entitled Caesar’s Hours that came out in 2003. I spent two years working with him on that
book. It was Sid, me, and Sid’s dog,
Carlin. It was the hardest I ever worked
and the most fun I ever had. It was
basically one long, spirited argument. Sid loved passionate discourse. He believed in his version of the Samuel Goldwyn adage, “From a polite
conference comes a polite script”- and to which he embellished: “You only fight with your friends- no one
else is worth your time.”
He was tough on those close to him, and toughest on
himself- he wanted everyone to be the best version of themselves, the most
productive and the most artistic. He was
a naturally gifted writer who never touched a pencil or keyboard- he could hear
a paragraph and literally rearrange it in his head- and make it better. If he didn’t have the deadline of a weekly
show, we’d still be working on the Professor on Mountain Climbing sketch from
1951, and making it better with each draft.
He became my coach. I realized that if John Travolta had paid more attention to Sid when he
played his coach, he could have been even bigger.
After we finished working together, we became even
closer, and I visited him often. When I
was in New York, we had a regular Friday night phone call that began in 2003
and ended about two weeks ago. If I
didn’t call him by 3:30, there was a voicemail message from him asking me where
I was and that he was ready to talk. He
could discuss and debate art, film, music, world history, politics, and string
theory- he loved an intelligent discussion. He particularly loved the impressionist painters- Monet, Manet, Renoir,
and Seurat, who started out as struggling artists trying to develop a new form
of art- his favorite painting was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He identified with artists who painted
outside the lines- to him that was what being a comedian was- painting outside
He became one the best friends I ever had- a surrogate
father after my own father passed away, and a mentor. He was there for encouragement, advice and
support as I worked on other projects and developed and taught my comedy and
film courses at Yale and NYU. He loved
that college students were getting to know his work and writing papers about
him, which I shared with him. He took
this not-so-young lawyer and helped me become a writer and film professor and
he took pride in my accomplishments. He
would tell me: “Eddy, Live the life that you want, and love the life that you
As the performers in this room today can attest, he was
the world’s greatest audience. He
laughed with his mouth and with his eyes, and his approval was palpable. It wasn’t a star’s laugh- it was a fan’s
laugh and a friend’s laugh- wonderful for a comedian or writer; he never
outgrew that sense of wonderment that most of us only had as a kid. Toward the end of his life I still loved to
make him laugh- I told him the irony was that I probably did the best creative
work of my career in Sid Caesar’s bedroom.
After Florence passed away four years ago, we spent a
lot of time together watching old movies, from Key Largo to The Manchurian
Candidate to his favorite- The Godfather. He had a personal story about the
actors in every film. I got to know his heart- it was big and complex. I even forgave him for making me turn off
North by Northwest after 40 minutes, proclaiming that “it takes too long for
Hitchcock to tell a story.”
I want to particularly thank all of the friends who
supported Sid after Florence passed away. You need to know it meant the world to him to have you around. Special thanks Sid’s caregivers, Kona, Peter,
Jerry, and Albert, who worked tirelessly to make Sid feel like a king, and a
heartfelt thanks to Fran and Lou Zigman for organizing the parties, the smaller
visits, the hospice care and many other things that literally kept him alive
these past few years.
In Laughter on the 23rd Floor- Neil Simon’s
play based on his days in the Writer’s Room, the characters gather when they
realize that the reign of their boss, television star Max Prince, is coming to
a close. When Lucas calls him noble, Ira
“You think he was noble? He was Moses for crise’
sake. The man is a giant. He’s Goliath. Maybe he’s Goliath after David hit him in the head with a rock, but
there’s fucking greatness in him, I swear… He’s got so much anger in him, so
much pain, so much roast beef and potato salad, that when he goes down like he
did tonight, with such a crash, people fell out of their beds in Belgium…
There’ll never be another Max Prince again, because he’s an original. I’m telling you guys, we just lived through
This is Sid
Caesar’s final public appearance. And I
want to explain the nuance of that remark. At his core, his essence, Sid Caesar was a performer, an entertainer,
and a storyteller. Whether he was in
front of 60 million people, 60 people or six people, every fiber of his being
wanted to make you laugh and smile, and leave you feeling better than when you
got there. The fact that you’ve been
there for him and are here today means the world to him. The fact that you got
to smile and be emotional, he gets that credit, and on his behalf, he would
want me to thank you.
Sid Caesar was an original. He loved, he was loved and he will be
missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Remember, you made America laugh.
is a good month for The Criterion Collection. Last week we reviewed the
company’s restored Blu-ray/DVD dual format release of Foreign Correspondent. Coming quickly on its heels are two more
excellent releases on this red carpet of home video labels.
up—Tess, directed by Roman Polanski.
This 1979 picture—released in the U.S. in 1980 and nominated for Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score) and winner of three (Art
Direction, Cinematography, and Costumes) is a scrumptious, beautiful depiction
of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the
D’Urbervilles. It is a very faithful adaptation, although several scenes
from the book are left out or shortened. Still, the film is nearly three hours
long—but don’t let that scare you, it’s never dull. I have to confess that I
fell in love with Nastassja Kinski when I first saw Tess in a Manhattan cinema. She remained my onscreen heartthrob for
over a decade as a result! Kinski is strikingly beautiful, and it is this
beauty that carries her extremely subtle performance through the character’s
difficult emotional upheavals. Kinski’s Tess is shy, vulnerable, introverted,
and naive—until she is the victim of sexual violence. Then the character is
forced to mature, and rather quickly. When it’s all over, on reflection, one
realizes the actress never relied solely on her looks. Superbly supporting
Kinski are Peter Firth as Angel, the man who at first rejects her but then
rescues her from the likes of Leigh Lawson, as the sexual predator Alec.
was Polanski’s first feature after fleeing from the U.S. under, ahem,
disturbing criminal charges. He made the film in France, where he took up residence.
His late wife, Sharon Tate, had given him the novel back in the Sixties, and
he’d promised that he would one day make the film for her. As we all know, Tate
didn’t survive that decade. Ten years later, Polanski kept his promise (the
film is dedicated “To Sharon”). It is certainly a love letter to her and his
cinematic audience. Since the story involves what the poster tag line read as
“She was born into a world where they called it seduction, not rape...” one
wonders if the picture might have also been Polanski’s way of apologizing for
any rate, Tess can be listed among the
director’s best pictures. It is gorgeously rendered, exquisitely acted, and,
like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, is one
of the most visually-stunning films of its era.
new 4K digital restoration—supervised by Polanski himself—looks fantastic on
Blu-ray. Several extras document the making of the film, including Once Upon a Time...Tess (a piece from 2006),
three programs featuring interviews with Polanski, Kinski, Lawson, producer
Claude Berri, costumer Anthony Powell, and composer Philippe Sarde, and others.
A 1979 interview with Polanski on The
South Bank Show is revealing, and there is also a documentary shot on
location for French television during the film’s production. The package comes
with both Blu-ray and DVD disks.
wonderful release from Criterion in February—Breathless, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Released in 1960, this is
simply one of the most important entries in modern film history. While it
wasn’t technically the first French New Wave film, it was the one that truly
ushered in this unique movement with significant critical and commercial impact.
It really is the quintessential French New Wave film, for it serves as a
checklist of stylistic traits:
low-budget, handheld camera, improvised dialogue, existential theme, and
radical editing. The French New Wave took the Neorealism of the forties and
made it arty. It’s the cinema equivalent of jazz.
story is paper thin: Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the studly petty criminal who has
a short-lived romance with a beautiful American girl working in Paris (Jean
Seberg) until he can’t hide from the authorities any longer. As the film
follows the couple over a course of a few days, Godard plummets deep into the
characters’ psyches as we follow them through a series of seemingly trivial
events, but which in fact are extremely intimate. It’s all very striking, and you
can still feelthe revolutionary
punch the movie had in its day. In truth, Breathless
is perhaps Godard’s most accessible movie. Honest, it really is a love story—just a quirky, edgy
actors are marvelous. They are both frankly sexy individuals, and Godard makes
sure you get that. With Breathless, Belmondo
defined his image as the handsome cad, while it solidifed Seberg’s career as an
art-house darling; it’s tragic that her tenure in the motion picture business
was sadly cut short. She is simply radiant in the film.
new release is a dual Blu-ray/DVD package. All of the extras from the label’s
previous DVD edition of the film are ported over to this one. The only
difference is the magnificently restored, high-definition digital
transfer—approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard—that makes Breathless a must-have in any serious
film collector’s library.
Vinegar Syndrome has released another "Peekarama" double feature of hardcore retro porn from the 1970s. In the amusingly garish packaging, it promises both features are "Full Color, Widescreen" as though the productions were directed by John Ford. First up is Deep Roots, which has to be the only attempt to mingle Alex Haley's landmark bestseller and TV mini-series with the peculiar oral talents of Linda Lovelace. Such creative marketing has long been a mainstay of the porn business which always incorporated the latest social phenomenons into grind house productions. Remember On Golden Blonde and Romancing the Bone? Deep Roots presents top-liner Jesse Chacan as Billy, a beefy, good-looking Native American guy who is bored with life on the reservation. He inherits a house in L.A. and decides to move there. The opening sequences actually boast some real production values and some relatively impressive camerawork as we watch Billy drive his motorcycle through the city streets then do the tourist bit on foot. There's a retro kitsch appeal to seeing him walking through the big city and admiring a wax figure of Paul Newman and John Wayne's hand print at Grauman's. 'lest the audience gets too restless, however, things start moving fast for Billy in the romance department. He picks up a free-spirited, buxom hippie girl and within minutes she's stark naked and being body-painted by him. (This was the '70s, after all.) Billy has an eye for another nubile young girl but her reluctance to surrender her virginity to him results in him seducing her sexually insatiable girlfriend. So much for Billy getting in touch with his feminine side. The "plot" follows its leading man as he samples a seemingly endless array of willing women. Thrown in out of nowhere is a subplot featuring a forty-something cougar who looks like the love child of Mae West and Dolly Parton. The whole film ends up in an orgy sequence hosted by a guy dressed like Groucho Marx(!) For reasons unexplained, Billy finds the prospect of having free sex numerous times a day with good looking women to be difficult to cope with so, in the film's abbreviated finale, he returns to his previously-discarded girlfriend on the reservation. Presumably, he's matured quite a bit...and now also knows how to incorporate the image of Groucho Marx into erotic bedroom sessions. Deep Roots ("Deeper Than "Throat"...More Powerful Than "Roots" read the poster) is average retro porn fare from the era, if not a grade above a lot of the "one reelers" produced during the period. The women did not have to undergo Botox treatment in those days and, thus, they really do look like a girl who could live next door. (Though unfortunately, never next door to me.) As the male lead, Jesse Chacan's performance is up to par in the physical sense but he has all the charisma of Ted Cassidy's Lurch. The DVD transfer looks pretty good with rich colors and a minimum of splotches on screen.
Starlet Nights, also released in 1978, treads the (even then) cliched path of adopting famous fairy tales as porn movies. In this case, Snow White (Candy Nichols) is an innocent 19 year old girl who is fawned over by her father, a successful Beverly Hills physician. Snow's stepmother (porn legend Leslie Bovee) is jealous of the attention her husband gives to his daughter and schemes to discredit her virginal image by luring her into a sex orgy that dad will presumably witness when he comes home from work. The trappings of the Snow White legend are awkwardly interwoven in the tale. Every character has a name derived from the fairy tale and the wicked step mom consults a variety of wizards who reside in her bedroom mirror. She ultimately succeeds in getting Snow into the sex movie industry but her jealousy only increases when she becomes a major prospect for stardom. As with Deep Roots, everything comes to a head (so to speak) in the orgy sequence, but the step mom's plans go awry here when her hubby has to attend a business meeting overnight, thus being deprived of witnessing Snow's depraved behavior. Not one to waste a good orgy, the step mom gets in to the mode and the action heats up. Like Deep Roots, there are some effective production values in Starlet Nights, which was supposedly directed by a woman named Lisa Barr, but in reality was directed by a guy named Joseph Bardo who used the nom de plume for marketing purposes. ("A Woman Porn Director????") There are some good L.A. location shots including sequences filmed outside major studios. (Retro geeks will enjoy seeing huge billboards for "current" movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) The performances are all dreadful but the sex scenes are genuinely erotic and there are even some original pop music songs on the soundtrack that rise to the level of "not as bad as you might have expected." The DVD transfer is quite good but there are plenty of artifacts from where the reel changes took place. However, these just add to the flavor of watching a genuine grind house double feature.
In all, another enjoyable release from Vinegar Syndrome.
My heart raced a bit when LaShonda, Cinema Retro’s
inter-office mail carrier, dropped off a new title from Vinegar Syndrome this
morning. Those fellows specialize in long forgotten’70s sleaze, and while most
of their titles should probably remain forgotten, their latest "lost
treasure" was the enticingly titled Game
Show Models. The models, I imagined,
would frolic in bikinis and enjoy a few pillow fights before revealing their
true identities as secret agents, or something along those lines. I thanked
LaShonda, locked the door, and plunked the disc into the machine.
Show Models, to my dismay, isn't even about models.
It's about a young man named Stuart Goober (John Vickory) who left his girlfriend
to pursue his vague dreams of success. She’d
seemed like a decent, free-loving sort, the kind of young woman who paints her
face and dances in the street for money, but Goober has given himself a
five-year plan and time is running out, baby. As written, Goober is one of those Sweet Smell of Success schemers who
wants to scratch his way to the top, but director/writer David Gottlieb cast
Vickory, a soft spoken, Peter Fonda/Michael Sarrazin type. Vickory isn’t fiery
enough to make us believe he gives a damn about making it big. He seems more
like a coffee shop hippie.
Things pick up a bit when the aptly named Goober gets a
job with a Los Angeles public relations agency. The firm’s latest client is
Cici Sheridan (Diane Sommerfield), a young rock & roll singer surrounded by
family members and a stone-faced posse, each determined to protect her from the
dangers of show biz. After quizzing the agency goons on the names of the seven
dwarves from Snow White, Cici
inexplicably falls for Goober. Well, so
much for the models.
One of the original tag-lines for the film read:
'You've seen them give out the prizes on Daytime TV - Now see the Goodies they
give out at Night!' Yet, there's not
much model action here. There is some
nudity and some sex, including the opening scene where a guy makes his model
girlfriend wear a Japanese mask while they make love (similar, incidentally, to
the mask in Kaneto Shindô's Onibaba, a
great 1964 movie you should watch instead of this one). Full disclosure: I'm not a great judge of sex
scenes. Even the best of them look dumb to me. The only sex scene I've ever
really liked was a five-second lesbian scene in The Last Emperor. In that
one, the girls looked like they were having fun, and it didn't go on for so
long that they ran out of ideas. In Game
Show Models, we get a lot of grimacing, and groping, and of course, the Onibaba mask.
By the end, Goober is disillusioned by show business
and seeks out his old girlfriend, the one who danced in the street. Naturally,
she's already shacked up with someone new, but she invites Goober to join in on
one of her interpretive dances. Cue the bittersweet theme music, roll the final
credits, and get us the hell out of here.
Show Models is an uneven mess, but it isn't entirely
without merit. The film has a nice,
‘Vaseline on the lens’ mid-70s look, thanks to cinematographer Alan Capps, and
there’s a lot of great LA scenery. The game show set, loaded with brilliant
pinks and yellows, is a kitschy marvel, as is the PR firm, which is an explosion
of craggy men wearing ugly neckties and gemstone rings the size of dinosaur eggs.
The supporting cast is pretty interesting, too.
Well-known character actors Dick Miller and Sid Melton steal every scene they’re
in. Diane Thomas, who would go on to become a successful screenwriter before
her death in a 1985 car crash, is touching as Josie, Goober’s dancing
girlfriend. LA Times entertainment
editor Charles Champlin has a funny cameo as himself. Meanwhile, Cici's
entourage includes Thelma Houston, whose career had skyrocketed in 1976 with
her Grammy winning recording of ‘Don't Leave Me This Way,’ and Willie Bobo, one
of the top Latin jazz drummer/bandleaders of the era.
Did this colorful cast know what they were signing on
for? Maybe not, for as we learn in the DVD's commentary track, Gottlieb didn't
set out to make a skin flick. He originally intended to make an artsy film
called The Seventh Dwarf about his
own experiences working in a public relations firm. It was Sam Sherman of Independent
International Pictures who suggested Gottlieb add some dirty stuff so he’d
“have something to latch onto.” It was
also Sherman, who’d made a successful career out of producing such exploitation
fare as Blazing Stewardesses (1975),
who suggested the game show angle. Gottlieb, who hadn’t wanted to make an
exploitation film, agreed. It was either
that, or continue lugging around giant film cans and being turned down by
Vinegar Syndrome’s 2-disc set features anamorphic
widescreen (1.85:1) transfers of both cuts of the film. The Seventh Dwarf is a bit more dog-eared, and the Dolby Digital
2.0 mono tracks are hissy at times, particularly at the beginning of both discs.
The outtakes (7:56) feature some additional game show footage, some frames from
the opening sex scene, and some unexpectedly overt (not hardcore) moments in the
bedroom scene with Goober and Cici. Gottlieb, evidently, was going for broke in
order to get his film shown. A gallery of stills is also included, plus a
rather tedious conversation between Gottlieb and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin. Ultimately,
this film that Vinegar Syndrome is marketing as “a mind bending blend of art
house drama and drive-in sleaze,” is neither artsy enough or sleazy enough. Gottlieb fumbled in trying to serve two
Perhaps the oddest thing about the film (both versions)
is that Harriet Schock's lovely 'Hollywood Town' serves as the film's
unofficial theme song. Indeed, the song,
which was the title track of Ms. Schock’s 1974 debut album, feels out of place
in the film, like a butterfly landing on a busted open garbage bag. But the song does lend gravitas to the film, and
fits in with the theme of LA being, “where the lost and found come to find
their way.” Schock, who wrote the Helen
Reddy hit, ‘Aint No Way To Treat a Lady,’ and recorded several top selling
albums of her own, told Cinema Retro that she had no idea her song was featured
in Game Show Models.
“Somehow I missed that,” Ms. Schock said. “The publisher probably kept the sync fee and
I simply never knew about it.”
Since she didn’t mention Game Show Models in her on-line bio, I’d wondered if she distanced
herself from the movie. It turns out she’d never even heard of it.
“Is it porn?” Ms. Schock asked, curious as to how her
song was used. “Should I be worried?”
Scream Factory continues their winning
streak of releasing horror film favorites with their double feature Blu-ray release
of 1988’s Bad Dreams and 1982’s Visiting Hours. They originally released these films together
on DVD in September 2011.
Dreams opened on
Friday, April 8, 1988 and is, in hindsight, eerily prescient of David Koresh,
the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect who met a horrific end when
the FBI closed in on him and his compound ignited into a conflagration on April
19, 1993 in Waco, TX. Jim Jones and the Jonestown
deaths in 1978 also come to mind. In
this film, the late Richard Lynch plays a cult leader named Harris who
convinces a group of people that love and unity are the only ways to live, and
he shows that love by dousing them all in gasoline and lighting them on
fire. Jennifer Rubin plays Cynthia, a
confused and reluctant holdout who knows that what he is doing is wrong and
attempts to escape, barely getting out with her life. This presumably takes place in 1975 as she
spends thirteen years in a coma and when she comes out of it, those around her try
to get her up to speed on all things that are the Eighties. One of the women who attempts to befriend her
is played by E.G. Daily whom genre fans will recall as the short, plump
sorority sister from Tom McLoughlin’s One
Dark Night (1982). I almost feel as
though her role was cut short as she seems to be a much better drawn character
than others around her who have more screen time. Naturally, Harris keeps appearing to Cynthia,
both as the person she remembers and also in a horribly burned state. Genre fans will be able to figure out the
plot fairly early on, and one cannot help but see more than a passing resemblance
to Wes Craven’s masterful A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984) and its protagonist, Fred Krueger, and his history of
being burned and invading people’s dreams. Mr. Lynch is a familiar villain to audiences. He was the bad guy opposite Bill Hickman in The Seven-Ups (1973); he tried to rape
Al Pacino in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow
(1973); and he was part of the team headed by Peter Fonda that hunted people in
Peter Collinson’s Open Season
(1974). Here he is creepy as he terrorizes
Ms. Rubin who, interestingly, made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors (1987), playing a
similar role as a woman terrorized and forced to sit with others in a group
therapy session trying to come to grips with her situation. The references to the aforementioned Elm Street films cannot be overlooked given
the inclusion of actor Charles Fleischer, who also appeared in Mr. Craven’s
While the film elicits a creepy plot,
the mood and texture fail to arouse the type of suspense that is needed for
this type of story. This is an admirable
attempt, but the film cannot help feel derivative as though it has borrowed
from other similar movies in the hopes of riding the more successful outings’
coattails. Another film that dealt with
the subject of a religious cult, albeit in a strictly dramatic way, is Ted
Kotcheff’s 1982 film Split Image,
which featured Peter Fonda as the man who shows everyone the way to
The extras include a feature-length
commentary by the director; a featurette called Dream Cast; a look at the make-up effects; behind the scenes shots;
the original ending; a promo; a trailer; and a photo gallery.
The second feature, Visiting Hours, was released on Friday,
May 28, 1982. I recall the television
spot for the film which was very effective and clever: it depicted a hospital
building at night wherein all the lights in the rooms begin to go out until the
only remaining illuminated rooms form the image of a skull. Unfortunately, the film itself is nowhere
near as clever, as it resorts to textbook horror film clichés which may have
seemed original and frightening 32 years ago, but to today’s jaded horror
viewer eyes they are simply tired, despite a few truly jolting jumps.
Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for her
portrayal of Felicia in Hal Ashby’s 1975 comedy Shampoo, turns up here as Deborah Ballin, an activist who is also
an opinionated feminist who speaks her mind on a television talk show. She unwittingly arouses the rage of Colt
Hawker (Michael Ironside) who sees her on TV; he is just a few sandwiches short
of a picnic and has his own set of baggage that rears its head with flashbacks of
a violent past. Hawker stalks and
eventually attacks Ballin, who is rushed to the hospital and is tended to by a
nurse, Shelia (Linda Purl), who is on the same page as Ballin when it comes to
women’s rights. Hawker makes his way to
the hospital and murders an older patient and a nurse. While eavesdropping on Shelia, Hawker decides
to stalk her and her children, following her home and making his way
inside. On his off-hours, he finds time
to hit up a young blonde named Lisa (Lenore Zann) who is into him until he
becomes rough and angry, eventually taunting her with a knife and raping
her. He then spends the rest of the film
trying to get to Deborah through a series of creepy episodes.
Hours is a missed
opportunity and that is part of what makes it so frustrating to watch. Beset by an almost complete lack of cinematic
style and suspense, the film is obviously following in the footsteps of previous
trend-setting films like Halloween
(1978) and Friday the 13th
Hours is not the only slasher film to utilize sexual politics and women’s
rights as a backdrop for misogyny and mayhem. Dario Argento’s Tenebre
(1982), which was being filmed at the time that Visiting Hours was released, does a much better job of exploring
the troubled landscape of male-female relationships, sexual desire, and revenge.
It’s also highly cinematic, which should
come as no surprise as its style was inspired by Andrzej Zulawski’s emotional
rollercoaster ride Possession (1981),
one of Mr. Argento’s favorite films. The
film also sports character actor Michael Ironside in the role of a brutal
killer who is after Ms. Grant. Mr.
Ironside is excellent, as usual, and really deserves a better showcase. William
Shatner of all people plays Ms. Grant’s boss – the film was released a week before
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!
Even though I am not a fan of the film,
I would have appreciated the inclusion of a commentary track with the director. However, the extras that are here are fairly
in-depth and enlightening. First up is
an interview with writer Brian Taggert who speaks quite eloquently about his
past and how he came to write the film. Next
is an interview with Pierre David who has worked with fellow producer Victor
Solnicki on David Cronenberg’s best work, including The Brood (1979), Scanners
(1981), and Videodrome (1983). The last interview consists of a visit with actress
Lenore Zann who is unrecognizable today. The blonde perm she wore in the film is now straight, dark brown and
short. The rest of the extras contain
the radio spots, the TV spots, a photo gallery and trailers for other Scream
If you are a fan of these films,
Blu-ray is the way to go.
Cinema Retro's London photographer Mark Mawston is always on the "A" list when it comes to covering top entertainment events. Mark provides these remarkable candid photos from the BAFTA red carpet arrivals.
(All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved. For more about Mark's work, visit www.markmawston.com)
American Hustlers Christian Bale, David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper.
Twilight Time has released the 1966 epic Khartoum as a Blu-ray special edition. Officially the film was a Cinerama production but the process used was 70mm, not the original Cinerama three-strip format. The film, impressively directed by Basil Dearden, was met with respectable, if unenthusiastic, reviews upon its initial release. The boxoffice take was also anemic especially in the all-important American market where the film's historical basis was largely unknown to U.S. audiences. However, Khartoum has always had enthusiastic defenders and their ranks seem to be growing as the years pass, especially in an age when such "thinking man's epics" are few and far between. The film boasts two magnificent performances by two larger-than-life stars. Charlton Heston stars as General "Chinese" Gordon, so named because of his record of military victories in China. Laurence Olivier is The Mahdi, the self-described religious prophet who is on a fanatical course to convert everyone in the Arab world to either convert to Islam or die a violent death. The film opens with an excellent prologue that gives a snap shot of the political situation in the 1880s and how this affected the British empire. Britain was allied with Egypt at the time and considered itself to be that nation's military protector. The Mahdi took advantage of the politically fluid situation in the Sudan to gain a major foothold in taking over the government by commanding a growing army of fanatical followers. The Mahdi hated the Egyptians because he felt they were too secular and their ties to the West had sold out their religious obligations to Islam. The Egyptians feared that the Mahdi's growing power would leave them unable to defeat him in an all-out war should he ultimately seize control of the Sudan. The British sent an officer corps to lead Egyptian troops in a preemptive strike against the Mahdi. However, the religious leader outwitted them by drawing the invaders into the oppressive desert and then slaughtering the exhausted soldiers. The Mahdi was now making his move to take control of the crown jewel of the Sudan, the city of Khartoum which is situated on the banks of the Nile.
The film presents the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) as going against the tide of England's obsession with colonialism. He doesn't want anything to do with sending a major force into the Middle East to combat an army of religious zealots- yet he feels a sense of obligation to make at least a token effort to evacuate a significant number of Egyptian citizens from Khartoum before the Mahdi lays siege to the city. He reluctantly sends General Gordon on a mission that is very much doomed from its inception. Gordon was highly respected in the Sudan, having ended the slave trade there. He is stubborn, arrogant and generally ignores orders. However, he is regarded as a virtual saint by the Sudanese. Gladstone calculates that by sending Gordon of a fool's errand, he will take the blame if his mission fails. Gordon sees through the ploy but his ego gets the better of him and he accepts the challenge. He is accompanied by Col. Stewart (Richard Johnson), who acts as his right hand man even though he admits to being a personal spy for Gladstone. The abrasive relationship between Gordon and Stewart eventually turns to mutual respect and the two men work together on thwarting the Mahdi's plans. Upon arrival in Khartoum, Gordon abandons his primary mission which is to evacuate Egyptian nationals down the Nile via riverboat. Instead, he makes a daring visit to the Mahdi's camp and attempts to get the "prophet" to show mercy on the citizens of the city. When the Mahdi makes clear he intends to slaughter every man, woman and child who does not swear loyalty to him, Gordon informs his adversary that he will mount a defense of the city. Gordon sends Stewart on the long voyage back to England to blackmail Gladstone into sending a British military expeditionary force. Gladstone is outraged but agrees to do so because the British public is impressed with Gordon's courage and the gallantry of his mission. Meanwhile, in Khartoum, Gordon sets about fortifying the city- and praying that the British troops arrive before the Mahdi can advance upon the city, the garrison of which is greatly outnumbered.
Khartoum is a lavish epic that boasts fine performances across the board. The action sequences are thrilling and spectacularly filmed and the entire production impresses on every level. The Twilight Time Blu-ray does point out the film's flaws, however. In the commentary track by film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (the latter two are among the founders of the video label), they rather pointedly call out various aspects of the movie for falling short. In the aggregate, they believe Khartoum is a Wal-mart version of a David Lean epic. They observe (correctly) that there are some really bad rear screen projection shots and that most of the production was filmed at England's Pinewood Studios, with on-location Middle East filming spread out to look more extensive than it actually was. There is also criticism of the historical aspects of the film. Apparently Gordon was as much a fanatic for Christianity as the Mahdi was for Islam- indeed, he sounds as though he was a complete crackpot. None of that is alluded to in the script, which obviously intended to present Gordon as a more traditional hero. Amusingly, every now and then the trio of film historians remind the viewer (and each other) that they really do like Khartoum, but then they quickly get back to tearing it down. Other justifiable criticisms they have is that the film presents some impressive British character actors in the London sequences but fails to utilize them in any meaningful way. They just stand around like props. It is also observed that the two meetings between Gordon and the Mahdi that are depicted in the movie never took place in real life. Call it commerce over historical accuracy, as the studio wasn't about to disappoint viewers from enjoying the smartly-written byplay between the two leads. Redman, Dobbs and Kirgo also appropriately give credit to famed stunt director Yakima Canutt for bringing the film's stirring battle sequences to fruition- and they heap lukewarm praise on composer Frank Cordell for what this reviewer thinks is actually a magnificent score. In totality, much of the joy of this Twilight Time release comes through the informative audio commentary, even if you may disagree with our "hosts". The transfer is magnificent and the release boasts the usual excellent collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo. An original trailer is included as is a cool compilation trailer promoting the 90th anniversary of MGM.
The region free release is limited to 3,000 units.
Several readers have corrected us on our statement that The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was never released on home video. Readers Paul Scrabo and Allen Blank point out that the film was released on laser disc and Paul also says a VHS version was also released. Thanks for the corrections, guys. Our understanding is that there apparently isn't a print deemed high grade enough to merit a modern video release for the age of digital media. Hopefully, the film will somehow find its way onto home video in the future.
A textbook example of how to make an action/adventure movie, Captain Phillips represents a triumph for director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks. The acclaimed film closely follows the real life story of Richard Phillips, the American merchant marine captain who was assigned in 2009 to navigate a massive cargo vessel laden with millions of dollars of goods as well as humanitarian supplies through the Horn of Africa. This necessitated that the vessel had to tempt fate by entering waters in which Somali pirates had been terrifying ship's crews and often holding them hostage for ransom. As fate would have it, Phillips and his crew found themselves menaced by a skiff of heavily armed pirates who managed to board their vessel despite gallant attempts to thwart them. (The film only minimally discusses the self-defeating policy of sending crews into harm's way without so much as small arms to defend themselves.) Phillips acts decisively and instructs his crew to hide in within the bowels of their ship while he and his first mate attempt to bribe the pirates into making a quick exit. The ploy doesn't work and the leader of the group, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) insists on holding the crew ransom in return for millions of dollars. We won't provide any spoilers here but suffice it to say that clever and daring actions by Phillips and his men results in the pirates disembarking the ship in an enclosed, hi-tech lifeboat with only Phillips as hostage. Although the captain has saved his vessel and his men, his own situation is precarious as his captors hurry toward Somalia where his rescue would be even more complicated.
Director Greengrass wastes nary a frame in expository elements of the film. The movie opens with Phillips bidding his wife farewell as he is about to embark on yet another seemingly endless voyage. He meets his crew and he is presented as a strict, no-nonsense commander but one who gains the respect of his men. Not long after setting sail on their mission, the vessel is attacked by the pirates. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game that is both physical and psychological as Muse and Phillips attempt to outmaneuver each other. The excellent screenplay by Billy Ray avoids any heavy handed social commentary, but it does humanize the villains. In the film's opening sequence we see them being forced into piracy under threat to their lives by greedy local warlords. Muse, who speaks relatively fluent English, is but a humble local fisherman who has been dragooned into violent acts. If he doesn't bring home a trophy for ransom, he is likely doomed. His three companions range from immature in personality to bristling with potential sadism. Muse strikes a temperate balance, reassuring Phillips he will be safe once the ransom is paid. The final section of the movie deals with Phillips' attempted rescue by the U.S. Navy, including a Seals team that courageously made a night parachute drop into shark-filled waters to enact a daring plan that is right out of Mission: Impossible. Hanks gives a brilliant performance, one of the best of his career. He never overplays Phillips' courageous acts. He makes some daring decisions and moves, but throughout he is scared to death, as any sane man would be. The supporting cast, compromised largely of relatively unknown actors, is terrific. Paul Greengrass brings the suspense to an almost unbearable level in the film's nail-biting finale.
The Sony DVD special edition includes a commentary track by Hanks and Greengrass as well as an extensive documentary about the making of the film that includes interviews with the real Captain Phillips, who seems every bit as charismatic as his on-screen counterpart. The documentary reveals that the extraordinary Somali actors are all residents of the United States, having emigrated there as young people. It's a joyful experience to watch these actors relish their opportunity to star in a major Hollywood film. (Although Bardi has been nominated a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Hanks and Greengrass were inexcusably overlooked.) The documentary also discusses Greengrass's determination to minimize studio shooting in favor of actually filming aboard the merchant marine vessel. It makes it all the more impressive when one sees the obstacles that cinematographer Barry Ackroyd had to overcome to obtain the incredible shots he achieved in such confined spaces. Kudos, also, to editor Christopher Rouse for an equally impressive achievement. The other extras are a trailer gallery of recent films including The Monuments Men and American Hustle, but curiously does not include a trailer for Captain Phillips.
This is an intelligent, rousing adventure story that ranks among the best action movies of recent years.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
In our never-ending quest to provide gratuitous thrills, Cinema Retro presents rare photos of Hollywood hunks and godesses.
"Take that, Sue Lyon!" Ann-Margaret circa 1964 giving her version of the Lolita look.
David Janssen was riding high in '64 as star of TV's The Fugitive. The dour Richard Kimble never got to strut his stuff like this. Lookin' good, but hey Dave, did you borrow those sandals from Liberace?
Hitchcock’s 1940 film Foreign
Correspondent is often underrated or forgotten when it comes to lists of
the director’s “best” films. In fact, it was nominated for an Oscar Best
Picture the same year as Rebecca (which
won), and, personally, I think it’s the better movie. It’s certainly more of a
“Hitchcock film” than Rebecca, as it
is one of those cross-country espionage adventure-thrillers along the lines of The 39 Steps, Saboteur, and North by
was the director’s second Hollywood movie. Although Hitchcock was contracted to
David O. Selznick (who produced Rebecca),
Hitch’s deal allowed Selznick to “farm out” the director to other studios and
producers, for a piece of Hitchcock’s salary, of course. In this case, Foreign Correspondent was produced by
Walter Wanger (who had also produced John Ford’s Stagecoach). It’s interesting that during the seven-year period in
which Hitch worked for Selznick, the non-Selznick-produced pictures, in my
opinion, were arguably better (Shadow of
a Doubt, Lifeboat, and Notorious, are other examples).
story concerns an American journalist (Joel McCrea) who is sent to Europe,
prior to September 1939, to interview various personages in order to determine
if war is likely to break out. Predictably, McCrea immediately falls into a
plot involving assassination, the kidnapping of a diplomat, and devious Nazi
spies. Co-starring Laraine Day as the blonde love interest, Herbert Marshall as
her father, George Sanders as McCrea’s ally, and Albert Bassermann (nominated
for Best Supporting Actor) as a Dutch diplomat who is really the MacGuffin of
the story, the picture served as propaganda to persuade America to be more
sympathetic to what was occurring across the Atlantic. When Hitler invaded
Poland in 1939, America stayed neutral while Britain and France declared war on
Germany. The allies pleaded with the U.S. government to enter the war and come
to their aid, but there was significant anti-war sentiment in America at the
British to begin with, Hitchcock, instead of returning to his native England to
face the crisis with his kinsmen, chose to support the war effort in a more
subtle way—by making propaganda films thinly disguised as entertainment.
Actually, the picture itself is in no way subtle—its message hits you on the
head with a hammer. McCrea’s final monologue, in which he broadcasts to the
American people that they must join the fight in Europe, was at the time deemed
quite controversial. Like Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator (the same year), the language is strongly
proselytizing. The film includes several signature Hitchcock set pieces—the
black umbrellas in the rain, the windmills reversing direction, the plane crash
into the sea—all the while keeping the audience in a state of nail-biting
suspense. McCrea is splendid and serves as a fine Hitchcockian “everyman,” and
the visual effects, for 1940, are extraordinary. Foreign Correspondent, it’s been said, was also admired by Ian
Fleming, who at the time of the film’s release had once worked as a journalist
but was then serving as the personal assistant to Britain’s Director of Naval
Intelligence. It’s understandable why a spy story like Correspondent would appeal to the future creator of James Bond.
Criterion Collection once again graces us with a dual Blu-ray/DVD format
package (three disks), which makes sense marketing-wise, and the new 2K digital
film restoration looks marvelous. Extras include a new piece on the film’s
special effects; Hollywood Propaganda and
World War II, a fascinating look at cinema in that era; an excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show featuring guest
Hitchcock, who comes off as more of a comedian than a filmmaker; and a very
interesting photo essay about wartime rumors shot by Hitchcock himself that originally
appeared in a Life Magazine issue
from 1942—it tells a story in the form of photographic storyboards. Add the
booklet with an essay by film scholar James Naremore, and you have another
must-have gem from not only Criterion, but from the Master of Suspense.
Actor Ralph Waite has died at age 85. He became an icon of American television as the kindly father on the hit TV series The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972. Waite received an Emmy nomination for his performance and he appeared in several Waltons reunion shows and TV specials over the years. Waite had a diversified career prior to acting. He was a Marine, social worker and ordained minister. He became disillusioned with the church and entered the acting profession. Despite a battle with alcoholism for many years, Waite was always in demand both on TV and in feature films. He received another Emmy nomination for his performance in the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. His feature films include Cool Hand Luke, The Stone Killer, Lawman and The Magnificent Seven Ride! He peppered his acting career with political activism and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress on three occasions. He starred on stage in an acclaimed version of Death of a Salesman and in recent years, he had a recurring role as Mark Harmon's dad on the hit CBS series NCIS. Click here for more.
The death of funnyman Sid Caesar leaves precious few legends remaining from the Golden Age of American television comedy. Caesar was one of the giants of 1950s TV and his series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour were considered training grounds for future legendary comedy writers such as Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Caesar also appeared in many feature films including a leading role in the blockbuster 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In the 1960s, however, his career was derailed due to his personal demons such as battles with alcoholism and substance abuse. By the 1980s, he had conquered these weaknesses and found a welcome audience still respectful of his talents. His other feature film appearances include The Busy Body, The Spirit is Williing, Grease and Silent Movie. Click here to read more about his remarkable career.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
LONDON FILM MUSEUM TO STAGE ‘BOND IN MOTION’ FROM
21 MARCH 2014
FIRST TIME THE LARGEST OFFICIAL COLLECTION OF
JAMES BOND VEHICLES HAS BEEN EXHIBITED IN LONDON
London, 11 February 2014:
The London Film Museum and EON Productions are delighted to announce that
the BOND IN MOTION exhibition,the
largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles, will be on display
for the first time in London from 21 March.
exciting family exhibitionwill transform the entire London Film Museum
space in Covent Garden and will allow Bond fans and members of the public to
see the most up to date collection, including for the first time in the UK, the
1/3 scale model of Agusta Westland’s AW101 helicopter used whilst filming
2012’s Skyfall. BOND IN MOTION will
also feature a wide range of vehicles, miniature models, action sequence
boards, vehicle concept art and props from all of the James Bond films.
Iconic cars that have
featured in the all action Bond vehicle chases will also be on display,
including ‘Wet Nellie’ Lotus Esprit S1, from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977, the Rolls-Royce Phantom III from Goldfinger, 1964 and the Aston Martin
DB5 from GoldenEye, 1995.
We're always happy when readers can add some interesting angles to our coverage of retro films. Here is a letter we received from Canadian subscriber Andrew Merey:
"Further to your review of Room 43, it should be noted the movie has a terrific main title jazz theme by British composer Ken Jones (he also did the music for Fire Down Below (1957) and Tarzan Goes to India (1962)). The Room 43 title them was released as a single on Warner Bros. (5078)in 1959. Ray Anthony also recorded his own interpretation of the Room 43 theme (Capitol 4275) also in 1959."
Retro responds: Thanks for sharing this info, Andy...it adds another dimension to a worthwhile British low-budget effort that has much to recommend about it.
When I screened this DVD presentation of the much-hyped HBO movie Behind the Candelabra, about the love affair between Liberace and his young boy toy Scott Thorson, the three people I viewed the movie with unanimously voiced an almost vitriolic response to the film. It had nothing to do with the gay love affair content (they are all dyed-in-the-wool liberals who support gay rights.) Their complaints centered on the fact that the film was boring and pointless and a colossal waste of talent. I was taken aback by the degree of their hatred for this movie but I will concede it was distinctly disappointing. First the background. In 1977 Scott Thorson was a hunky young guy who was introduced to Liberace. They entered an intense relationship that Thorson, in his memoirs, maintained was a legitimate May/December love affair. Before long Thorson had displaced Liberace's previous live-in lover and had moved into the master pianist's opulent but garish mansion. Thorson had been warned that Liberace went through lovers like Kleenex but nevertheless for a four year period he seemed to be an invaluable aspect of Liberace's life. Thorson was not only a companion but a trusted confidant. He was put on Liberace's payroll and became his major domo, even appearing in his act by driving the flamboyant entertainer on stage in a Rolls Royce. Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels fell off the relationship and Thorson found himself out of favor. In an All About Eve-like scenario, he was being upstaged by other young men who had caught Liberace's eye. By this point, Thorson-who had a troubled past and little hope for a professional career- had become financially dependent upon Liberace, who he claimed had promised him financial security for the rest of his life. The result was a messy and highly publicized palimony-type legal battle that saw Thorson getting a modest payment in return for removing himself from Liberace's home and his life.
Behind the Candelabra must have seemed like a sure-fire project from the very beginning. Steven Soderbergh would be directing and two of Hollywood's most legendary heterosexual screen gods, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, would play Liberace and Scott Thorson in a big screen adaptation of Thorson's book that would be adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Richard LaGravanese. Yet the film was unable to secure a theatrical release. The official theory was that the prospect of two straight screen legends making out together would turn off audiences. This is a valid concern. Way back in 1969, two of England's leading "swordsmen", Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, co-starred as an aging gay couple in Stanley Donen's Staircase. This very fine, little-seen film was avoided like the plague by audiences. Given the fact that films cost a fortune to market and publicize, the decision was made to premiere Behind the Candelabra on HBO. It was received with praise in many quarters and was nominated for any number of international awards, with Douglas winning a Golden Globe. However, one suspects that if the high profile talent had not been involved, the movie might have been treated more harshly. Douglas and Damon give excellent performances and boldly go where no straight actors have gone before, enacting sequences depicting gay sex in a way that probably would have destroyed their careers in less enlightened times. However, the film never grasps the viewer emotionally. The whole thing plays out like a gimmick as though two straight guys thought it might be a hoot to see if they could pull off the challenge of portraying two flamboyantly gay men, one of whom was the most over the top entertainer of his era. When you get over the initial novelty of seeing Douglas prancing around on screen and ogling Damon, who is in almost superhuman physical condition, entering a hot tub naked, you are left with a patchy story line that plods through a two hour running time that seems to take longer to unwind than Ben-Hur. The script is also restricted by the fact that it has to adhere to Thorson's version of history, which naturally portrays him sympathetically and doesn't address criticisms that he may have been an opportunist who entered a relationship of convenience in order to obtain financial security. (Thorson was serving time in jail when this film premiered last year.)
We see details of Liberace's remarkable lifestyle but learn little about his background or ascension through show business. An unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds is cast as his adored mother but she is criminally underutilized in the role. Liberace occasionally discusses some aspects of his past but the emphasis is on his showmanship and the shallowness of his existence. His home is a monument to himself and his relationships are portrayed as based primarily on short-term sexual satisfaction. Thorson's background is also glossed over. When we first see him he is living with an older couple who were his de facto parents and working as an animal handler in the film industry. Suddenly, he's in a hot tub with Liberace and moving into his mansion, with scant attention paid to his emotional or financial state at the time. Because this is Thorson's vision of his relationship with Liberace, it is presented as a genuine love affair that had run out of steam, with him paying the price as Liberace's victim. The film does have a final sequence in which Liberace, laying his bed dying of AIDS, calls Thorson to stop by for one last goodbye. In the film version, the two men manage to put aside their differences and have an emotional last meeting. However, this scene illustrates the basic problem with the entire film: despite valiant performances by Douglas and Damon, there is no truly emotional core to this scene or the entire project. Sequences that are meant to enrage or touch the viewer do neither. The movie lumbers along from one fairly monotonous sequence to the other. As director,Soderbergh is efficient, but somewhat cold and distanced from his own project. There are some moments of genuine humor, such as when Thorson first sees Liberace sans toupee. However, there are other aspects of the film that don't work at all. For example, Thorson maintained that Liberace coerced him to undergo radical plastic surgery in order to obtain his mentor's physical characteristics. In a dramatic sequence, Thorson reluctantly goes under the scalpel which is wielded by a crackpot plastic surgeon (well-played by Rob Lowe). The only problem is that the "new" Thorson doesn't look much different than the "old" Thorson and in no way resembles Liberace. We all know that no one wants to risk messing up Damon's billion dollar face but this key aspect of the films falls short because the payoff shot of the radically transformed Thorson just isn't there.
The film captures the mood and look of the 1970s well enough as evidenced by the fact that not all of the garish fashions are confined to Liberace. (Yes, guys we really did dress this way in the '70s.) However, the sheer opulence of Liberace's stage appearances have a less-than-grand look to them that would seem to fall short of his actual shows. The one exception is a cliched ending sequence in which Thorson envisions the late entertainer ascending to Heaven. The scene seems directly inspired by the finale of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, but done less effectively. The movie boasts an interesting supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's manager and Scott Bakula as one of Thorson's cronies, but- like Reynolds- these talents are not used to their full potential.
There was much I admired in Behind the Candelabra but in the aggregate, the film falls short of its potential and our expectations. The HBO DVD release of the film includes a short "making of" featurette that emphasizes how much care and effort went into recreating Liberace's home and the fact that many of his actual costumes were used in the production. It also addresses the Liberace's ludicrous insistence on maintaining that he was straight because of fears that admitting his obvious homosexuality would have ruined his career. The featurette is, in many ways, more interesting than the feature film it supports and one is left with the impression that, because Liberace did lead a remarkable and dramatic life, the best way to learn about it is probably through books or documentaries.
Shirley Temple, one of the most iconic figures in the history of the movie business, has passed away at age 85. No details of her death have been released as of this writing. Temple was the the ultimate child star. The pint-sized dynamo's sugar-coated family films provided some respite to audiences from the pain of the Great Depression and literally saved Fox from bankruptcy. She was the biggest boxoffice sensation of the era and was so popular that her image adorned a highly successful merchandise line. Seemingly every little girl at the time had a Shirley Temple doll. Temple was so popular that she received an honorary Oscar in 1934 for her contributions to the film industry. She continued to act as a teenager and a young woman but quit feature films in 1949, though she did return to the screen with a TV series between 1959-1961. In 1950, Temple married businessman Charles Black and henceforth would be known as Shirley Temple Black. In her memoirs, published in 1988, she related how, at age 22, she discovered that her considerable fortune had been squandered by her parents through their opulent lifestyle and bad business investments. Temple always maintained that she bore them no ill will. Temple was always politically active and was appointed as U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon in 1969. She would later also serve as a U.S. ambassador and chief of protocol for President Gerald Ford. Although a lifelong Republican, Temple was honored by President Bill Clinton in 1998. The President said of her that she "had the greatest short-lived career in movie history, then gracefully retired to the far less strenuous life of public service". For more click here
Actor Christopher Jones has died at age 72. Once touted as the heir to James Dean, Jones boasted a handsome face and the same type of brooding intensity that had made legends of Dean and Brando. Jones got his first big break in the 1960s Western TV series The Legend of Jesse James but the show lasted only one season. After appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Judd for the Defense, Jones graduated to feature films. He starred in the little-seen 1967 drama Chubasco (click here for review), the hit 1968 Roger Corman production of Wild in the Streets (in which he played a rock star who becomes President of the United States), Three in the Attic and the spy thriller The Looking Glass War. His most high profile role was as a British army officer who falls in a forbidden love affair with an Irish girl in David Lean's 1970 film Ryan's Daughter. Jones dropped out of acting after that, circumventing a promising career. He later attributed his disillusionment to the murder of Sharon Tate, who he claimed he was having an affair with at the time of her murder by the Manson gang in 1969. Jones was by all counts a moody man who disdained the public spotlight. Jones spurned other offers to return to the screen including one by Quentin Tarantino to appear in Pulp Fiction. His last known screen credit was the rarely-screened Mad Dog Time in 1996 for director Larry Bishop. Click here for more.
(Click here to read Herbert Shadrak's 2009 article about Christopher Jones)
When we first started Cinema Retro ten years ago, one of our first subscribers was Leith Adams, the highly-regarded archivist for Warner Brothers. Well, it's time for a little nepotism so that we can return the favor for his support over the years. For a classic movie lover, Leith has a dream job: preserving and cultivating "the stuff dreams are made of" which includes every type of costume and prop that might have some historical significance (or practical use in future films.) The Hollywood Reporter presents a video segment in which Leith takes viewers through a typical day on the job. Click here to view
Dateline Hollywood, March 21, 1967: Steve McQueen gets the honor of having his handprints immortalized in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, as commemorated in this snippet from a British film magazine of the era.
The AMC Filmsite presents an interesting decade-by-decade analysis of the greatest boxoffice disasters of all time. Author Tim Dirks points out what many critics fail to: that some of these films, such as Cleopatra, were extremely popular with audiences but their extravagant production costs caused the studios to bleed red ink. He also includes a caveat that some films that lost great sums in initial release were able to slide into profitability over many years through TV rights and video sales. Dirks is also not part of the crowd of critics who pile on every movie that lost money. He makes the case for some films of artistic merit such as Friedkin's Sorcerer, despite the fact that it was a boxoffice flop. The charts adjust the boxoffice grosses for inflation, which gives new relevance to what the greatest flops really were. Click here to read.
Eagle-eyed subscriber Frank Coronado sent us a YouTube link to some fascinating B&W footage shot on the Pinewood Studios set of Thunderball in 1965. You'll see Terence Young directing actors Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Philip Locke in the casino sequence. The footage originated with a Dutch television program.
When The Waterdance was released in 1991 I couldn’t
wait to see it. It had all the earmarks of a film I would enjoy; Eric Stoltz in
a leading dramatic role, a solid reception at the Sundance Film Festival and a
script by Neal Jimenez, who wrote perhaps the best alternative teen film of the
1980’s, River’s Edge. I had to wait until the video release, but The Waterdance
didn’t disappoint. I instantly fell in love with this poignant character study
of three patients coping with sudden wheelchair confinement. It’s always felt
like a secret film only I’ve seen, so I’m thrilled that this compelling gem is now
available from Sony Pictures Choice Collection.
Jimenez, who co-directed along with Michael Steinberg,
drew on his own experience as a paraplegic to craft this story of a writer who finds
himself in a physical rehab ward following a debilitating accident. It’s not
difficult to believe that the script evolved from real-life events because it
unfolds like a great play, each character so fully conceived and with scenes full
of humor, pain, hostility and resiliency. Stoltz perfectly internalizes the
frustration of writer Joel Garcia who wakes to find himself in a halo brace on
a gurney headed toward is temporary new home in a rehab center. While his ward mates
Bloss (William Forsythe) and Victor (Tony Genaro) bicker about what to watch on
the lone television, Joel turns to observing his new cast of roommates to pass
the hours between visits from his married girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt). He
can’t help but be drawn to the two loudest, former biker and born agitator
Bloss and his primary target Raymond (Wesley Snipes), a charmingly forward
patient who may be prone to exaggerating his exploits outside the facility. The
three men rely on each other to navigate their new circumstances as they
reassert their masculinity in their compromised bodies.
One of the finest achievements of the film is that is
never sentimentalizes any aspect of the characters’ recoveries. Instead
Jimenez, Steinberg and the excellent cast treat their characters with a great
deal of empathy and celebrate even the ugly and uncomfortable part of human
nature. The Waterdance should stand amongst Stoltz’ signature roles in The Mask
and Some Kind of Wonderful as one of his finest performances. He displays a
similar quiet melancholy here, his clear blue eyes conveying all Joel’s dismay
and resignation. Stoltz is also gifted with a light comic touch and he finds
every note of humor in the script as Joel looks for any kind of distraction. Raymond
provides a rare vulnerable character for Snipes, a man who takes this setback
as an opportunity to become the man he intended to be. Usually the most easy
going and affable guy on the ward, the scene where his family visits is a
heartbreaker. Mostly known for playing ruthless heavies, William Forsythe’s
work here is phenomenal. He takes another tough guy and adds so many unexpected
layers that Bloss feels like someone you just met; a real person. The film also
provides Helen Hunt with the first in a number of great turns as a woman who
struggles to give solace to her leading man. Here she’s smart and sensual, and
showcases that innate maturity that has marked all of her work as an adult. William
Allen Young and the always wonderful Elizabeth Pena are also terrific as
caregivers, treating the patients with directness and dignity.
I’m fairly certain I’ve only seen The Waterdance in pan
and scan so it nice to have it here in its original widescreen format. While
there’s nothing markedly original about the cinematography, the directors,
along with D.P. Mark Plummer create an intimacy between the characters that
allows the audience to fully engage in the patients’ struggles. In the
tradition of classic Hollywood movies, every aspect of the film from the score
to the editing works to service the story creating an illuminative experience
for the viewer. This DVD’s only extra is a theatrical trailer, but the film
itself is the real treasure here and I hope more people are able to discover
Ordinarily, spending time in a Turkish prison on drug smuggling charges would not be considered a good career move. Ironically, for Billy Hayes, the famed protagonist of Midnight Express, the experience somehow evolved into a life-changing adventure that has seen him become an international best-selling author, the subject of an Oscar-winning movie and now the star of a one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express, that is opening off-Broadway tonight for a limited run at the St. Luke's Theatre. I was invited to view a preview performance and it is possible the final version show might be tweaked a bit but the basics will remain the same. Hayes was a cocky young product of the Flower Power generation who was enjoying a free-wheeling lifestyle of travel, pot smoking and casual sex. In 1969 he ended up in Turkey where he recognized that it was pretty easy to smuggle hashish out of the country into the USA. Hayes profited from the fruits of his crime, which he felt was a victimless endeavor. However, in 1970 he was eventually caught and sentenced to the hellish experience of an extended stay in Turkish jail. There he was terrorized by sadistic guards and had to battle to stay alive every day. Yet he behaved himself and served his sentence when, 54 days prior to his scheduled release, the court ruled that he should now serve a life sentence. Feeling betrayed, Hayes began planning a hair-raising escape that eventually succeeded, against all odds. He not only escaped the prison but had to elude his pursuers and eventually made his way out of Turkey on a rowboat. To say any more would ruin many of the more startling aspects of his story. Suffice it to say that his situation was equally perilous even after he arrived in Greece.
Hayes turned his incredible tale into the bestseller Midnight Express. The book was made into a smash hit film in 1978 by director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who would get an Oscar for his screenplay. Hayes has written a couple of follow-ups to his original book and has carved a niche for himself as a successful actor and director. Thus, it is not surprising that he would end up in a one-many show. The production is as bare bones as you can get, as the "set design" consists of a stool that Hayes sits on while he relates his thrilling tales. He is charismatic, witty and can weave a good yarn without ever arousing suspicion that he may be exaggerating his experiences. In fact, elements of his hippie personality are still very much in evidence by the fact that, if anything, he underplays some of the more dramatic aspects of his legendary experiences. For example, he takes issue with the way his story was presented in the film, pointing out that he never killed a prison guard and debunking other aspects of the script. He is also dissatisfied that the film completely excluded his post-prison escape via rowboat. He is more passionate about the effect the film had on worldwide audiences. Hayes maintains that his guards were sadistic and the legal system in Turkey is corrupt, but says he has great affection for the Turkish people. Thus, it still irks him that every Turk depicted in the movie was cast in a villainous light. In fact, the film was responsible for a 95% decline in tourism to the country in the year after it was released .
Hayes is refreshingly modest and self-effacing, blaming himself for being dumb enough to deal with drugs in Turkey. He claims he intended to do his time until his sentence was changed, an action he believes was influenced by President Nixon's crackdown on world wide drug trafficking. He engages the audience with a winning manner and brings both laughter and pathos to his tales, pointing out that there was some good to come of the experience. For example, he met his wife when attending the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the film and they are still together today. Hayes finishes every performance with a Q&A session that the audience responds to with great enthusiasm. If I have any criticism of the show, it's that he told some wonderful anecdotes (especially about the film) during the Q&A that should be included in the show itself.
Riding the Midnight Express is a memorable evening of theater that will appeal to any real life or armchair adventurer. Billy Hayes is a master storyteller who doesn't have to fictionalize any elements of his true life adventures: they are incredible enough.
(The show runs through March 23. Billy Hayes greets the audience after every performance and personally signs copies of his books in the lobby.)
Click here for the show's official web site and ticket information.
of my films have a sexual theme. I'm a sex maniac, so why not?" So says
director Piero Vivarelli, interviewed in the new Mondo Macabro DVD of his 1970
feature,The Snake God (Il Dio Serpente). You don't have to take his word for it.
Just a glance at the movie tells you he was a kinky son of a gun.
Paola (the beautiful Nadia Cassini) is a young
bride brought to the Caribbean by her wealthy, older husband. She enjoys the
luxury, but she's a little bored. Hubby, you see, keeps taking off for
business meetings, leaving Paola with nothing to do but laze around on the
beach and perspire. She befriends a young black woman named Stella (Beryl
Cunningham, Vivarelli's real life wife), a sexy school teacher who seems to
have a carefree lifestyle. Paola is envious after seeing Stella cavorting on
the beach with her hunky boyfriend, but Stella acts indifferent. "My
boyfriend is fun," Stella says, "But he's stupid." Stella
has more pressing interests involving local tribal customs, namely, those
involving a mysterious snake god. Quicker than you can sayI Walked With A Zombie, Stella introduces Paola to voodoo. At one point
in the film Paola attends an island ritual and ends up thrashing on the
ground with Stella as if they’re both possessed by evil spirits. Paola is
a clean-cut European girl, so this scary island atmosphere is all new and
exotic to her. By the film's end, Paola has given herself to Djamballa, the
snake god. Isn't that always the way?
Vivarelli was a genre bouncer, moving easily from
rock & roll musicals, to comic book adventures. He earned his bones writing
screenplays for directors like Lucio Fulci and Sergio Corbucci, and even after
directing several of his own features, Vivarelli was often called upon to punch
up someone else's screenplay. That's why you'll see his name on everything from
spaghetti westerns to soft-core porn. He had an interest in songwriting,
too, often contributing musical ideas to his films. Hence, Vivarelli's features
were usually highlighted by vibrant scores, chockfull of brass and fuzz
guitars. EvenThe Snake God, which is heavy on mind-numbing tribal beats,
features a nice electric bass line that could've been lifted from an old
Vivarelli, who died in 2010, was a rebellious soul
who often chided the movie business for its hypocrisy. In the DVD's
"about the film" section there's a lot of verbiage about how he was a
communist, and a pot smoker, and howThe Snake God was his statement about colonization.
Gee, I thought the film's message was something about not leaving your younger
wife alone, because there's usually a snake god out there waiting to show her a
good time. To paraphrase something Vivarelli said during the interview,
once you've been in the sheets with a snake god, you don't go back to mortal
The Snake God isn't Vivarelli's best work. Many of
the ritualistic scenes go on far too long in an effort to pad out a
thin story, and despite all of Vivarelli's close-ups of bare asses and
breasts, there's not much of an erotic charge here. The racial theme is also a
bit heavy handed, with the black characters depicted as earthy and
raw, while the white folks are shown as naïve and uptight (a theme
familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the films of Whoopie Goldberg). Also, there
was a period of time in cinema history when screen couples gazed into each
other's eyes while eating citrus fruit, as if fruit juice dripping down
someone's chin really jacked up the pheromones. If interracial fruit sucking is
your bag, there's a fair amount of it here.
The DVD is quite beautiful, though, courtesy of a
new anamorphic transfer. The Caribbean looks breathtaking, and the sunlight
bouncing off the ocean is nearly blinding. Kudos to Mondo Macabro for displaying
Benito Frattari's cinematography in such sharp detail, for Frattari's
camera work is the best part of a slow, dullish film. Do you like snake movies?
Go findCobra Woman with Maria Montez and Sabu. You'll be
(The Snake God is 95 minutes long, and presented in widescreen (2.35:1/16:9). The DVD includes a handful of special features, such as the interview with Vivarelli, extensive production notes, newly created English subtitles, a trailer, and previews of other Mondo Macabro titles.)
The death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman sent shock waves around the world. Hoffman was found dead in New York City, apparently a victim of the substance abuse he was attempting to combat. Stephen Whitty, the film critic of the Newar Star Ledger, offers and insightful tribute to Hoffman. Click here to read
Blogger Shaun K. Chang posts an interesting article on the Hill Place film web site regarding the Academy's controversial rescission of a Best Song Oscar nomination for writer Bruce Broughton pertaining to the Christian film "Alone, Yet Not Alone." Broughton allegedly violated Academy rules by openly soliciting votes from members but critics say he is being victimized by a double standard that may have something to do with the religious nature of the film. Chang presents a well-balanced article that examines both sides of the controversy and find that everyone deserves some criticism for the positions they have taken. Click here to read.
In a British Film Institute stage interview, composer David Arnold talks about the impact that the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice had on him as a young boy. It was the first Bond film he had seen and even though he had to view it via a 16mm screening, he was hooked not only on the visual elements but also John Barry's thrilling score. Arnold discusses all of this and how he became a 007 composer himself. Click here to view.
Oscar-winning Austrian actor Maximillian Schell has passed away at the age of 83. Schell made his English language screen debut opposite Marlon Brando in the WWII film The Young Lions in 1958. Three years later he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. Schell played an attorney burdened with the thankless task of defending Nazi war criminals. The character, while repelled by the acts some individuals committed, offered a spirited defense that brought nuance to the circumstances in which National Socialism had arisen. The intelligent depiction of this sensitive subject- and Schell's impassioned performance- was praised internationally. Schell continued to be a leading man in high profile film productions including Tokapi, Counterpoint, Krakatoa: East of Java, The Odessa File, A Bridge Too Far, The Freshman, The Chosen and Deep Impact. He was nominated for Oscars two other times: for Best Actor in the 1976 screen adaptation of Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth and the following year for Best Supporting Actor for Julia. Schell was also an acclaimed director with his documentary about Marelene Dietrich winning international praise. For more on his life and career click here.
poster screamed: “Most criminals answer to the law. The world’s most savage
executioner must answer to Bronson.” Since the late 1960s, Charles Bronson’s
name on a marquee was a guarantee of unchained action. When The Evil That Men Do opened in 1984, fans
were hit with the expected violence─but this time they were also assaulted with
thick layers of sadism, sleaze and depravity. And they loved it.
Born in 1921, Charles
Bronson (originally Bunchinsky) was a dirt-poor Pennsylvania coal miner before
he was drafted and later used the GI Bill to study acting. After dozens of
small roles, he became a popular supporting player in hit films like The
Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963)─then went
overseas to star in European pictures like Farewell, Friend (1967), Once
Upon a Time in the West (1967) and Rider on the Rain (1970).
Although ignored in the States─where they were shelved or
sparsely-released─Bronson’s foreign films were international blockbusters and
made him one of the biggest superstars in the world. With the vigilante-themed
American movie Death Wish (1974), Bronsonfinally became huge at
U.S. theaters and he followed it with worldwide hits including Breakout
(1975) and Breakheart Pass (1975). By the early 1980s, weak entries like
Love and Bullets (1979) and Borderline (1980) weren’t doing much
at North American box offices, but the Bronson name (with the right material)
could still secure financing.
Looking for suitable material was independent producer
Pancho Kohner─son of Paul Kohner, the successful Hollywood agent and the
longtime representative of Bronson. Pancho Kohner had already produced the
Bronson vehicles St. Ives (1976), The White Buffalo (1977), and Love
and Bullets. He recalls, “[Bronson] always liked to satisfy his audience.
He knew what his audience expected of him. He didn’t want to deviate too far.
He did a couple of films that were different, but mostly he knew what his
audience expected of him and that’s what he wanted to do.”
look for material that will entertain,” Bronson once said. “I’ve sustained
because I’m sympatico with the material I do and the other way around. An actor
shouldn’t just think of doing things he
might enjoy doing. I think first of the audience, not of myself, but of the
movie fans all around the world who want to be entertained.”
Kohner’s search led to an action novel called
The Evil That Men Do. Published in November of 1978 by Times
Books, it dealt with a legendary assassin named Holland who
travels to Guatemala to take out Clement Moloch aka“The Doctor”─a
feared torturer described as “one of the most hideously depraved men in all the
darkest ranks of history…a man who stood in blood to the ankles.” Kirkus Reviews called the book “A
frightening, razor-slice thriller that holds the reader hostage until the last
shuddering climax.” Author R. Lance Hill’s previous novel, King of White Lady (1975) which was about a cocaine dealer, was
optioned several times by movie producers, but it stayed unfilmed. Bronson
initially passed on The Evil That Men Do, but in 1980 the screen rights were
purchased by a partnership consisting of Kohner, Bronson, Jill Ireland
(Bronson’s actress wife) and director J. Lee Thompson. Hill was commissioned to
turn his novel into a script.
J. Lee Thompson’s long directing career began
in the 1940s in England and his exceptional British films included the
suspenseful Tiger Bay (1959). Thompson relocated to Hollywood in 1960,
and the following year he helmed two action-suspense classics: Guns of
Navarone (which earned him an Oscar nomination) and Cape Fear. His
output included over a dozen more pictures before he first teamed with Bronson
and Kohner on St. Ives and The
While Kohner shopped the Evil That Men Do package, Bronson starred in Death Wish II for the Israeli filmmaking cousins Menahem
Golan and Yoram Globus, who had recently moved into the Hollywood movie market
by purchasing the distribution/production sleaze outfit the Cannon Group. In
1982 the Death Wish sequel went
to number-one at the U.S. box-office, was a huge international hit, revitalized
the Bronson name, and gave a major boost to Cannon’s image. Naturally, Golan
and Globus wanted a follow-up.
Kohner explains, “Golan wanted to do
Charlie’s next picture and [The Evil That Men Do was] the one that we were going to do next. We were going off to
Cannes to pre-sell foreign territories. I explained to Menahem that the rights
to the book and the cost of the screenplay was $200,000. Menahem said, ‘Well,
as a producer, that’s your contribution.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s very nice, but
I put up a third, Charlie put up a third, and J. Lee Thompson put up a third.
We must certainly reimburse them, if not me.’ He said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’
Menahem and I liked each other, but he didn’t want to back down. It became a
matter of principle. We were leaving the next day for Cannes. [Golan] said,
‘I’ll tell you what. We’ll go to Cannes anyway and we’ll pre-sell the next
Bronson picture. When we come back in two weeks, we’ll find another story and
we will not make The Evil That Men Do. That’s how we came to do 10 to
Midnight . It wasn’t
until later that we made The Evil That Men Do.”
not only my favorite Francois Truffaut film, but it’s also my favorite French
New Wave picture. While Godard’s Breathless
is often cited as the quintessential French New Wave movie—and it is indeed
a hallmark of the movement—for me it’s Jules
and Jim that fully represents that important development in cinema history.
It contains all the recognizable stylistic and thematic qualities that those
French upstarts brought to their films (what?
French critics becoming filmmakers?
How dare they!), but it’s also a darned good story with wonderful
performances by its three leads. And while the movie ends on a bittersweet,
somewhat tragic note, Jules and Jim is
really a feel-good movie because of the way Truffaut chose to tell the tale.
The director has never shied away from pathos and sentimentality—something the
filmmaker was very good at—but in Jules
and Jim he keeps it from being maudlin or syrupy by infusing the picture
with whimsy. Perhaps the best way to describe Jules and Jim is that it’s a pure delight, a quirky joy from start
on a 1953 semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché,
who fictionalized the menage a trois relationship
between him, his best friend, and his best friend’s wife (the true story of
which is recounted in the fascinating 1985 documentary, The Key to “Jules and Jim,” included as an extra). The source
material was perfect fodder for Truffaut, who was particularly adept at
exploring the mysterious topics of flawed love and romance (he would make
another menage a trois picture a
decade later entitled Two English Girls,
a sort-of flipside of Jules and Jim).
The storyline is relatively straight-forward: Jules (Oskar Werner), an
Austrian, and Jim (Henri Serre), a Frenchman, become bosom buddies in France in
the years before the First World War. They both fall in love with the same
bohemian and decidedly “free” woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, in a
career-defining performance). The war intervenes and separates the two friends,
for they must fight on opposite sides of the conflict. But they make it out
alive and reconnect during peacetime—and Catherine is still very much a part of
their lives. Catherine had married Jules before the war, but now, even though
she lives with Jules and their young daughter, Catherine begins a renewed
affair with Jim—in the same house. Jules’ friendship with Jim prevents him from
objecting, although it is clear that the pain is there, buried, inside both
men. Needless to say, the triangle ends badly; but, ironically, it’s presented
as if the situation is the most natural thing in the world.
Jules and Jim was released in
1962 to international critical acclaim and established Truffaut as one of
France’s great directors. He made many wonderful pictures during his brief
career (which was tragically cut short by a brain tumor), including the
magnificent Oscar-winner, Day for Night,
but none would reach the heights achieved by Jules and Jim. Its influence on future filmmakers is
undeniable—Martin Scorsese once claimed that GoodFellas was directed in the same style as Jules and Jim, with disjointed narrative, rapid-fire cutting, and
voice-over narration. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie
is practically a love letter to the French New Wave, especially the frivolous,
whimsical nature that was present in Jules
and Jim. The recent Frances Ha,by Noah Baumbauch, also owes a lot to
Truffaut’s masterpiece, especially to the significantly fanciful score by
has seen fit to re-issue their earlier DVD release as a Blu-ray, and the
results are astounding. The new 2K digital restoration is gorgeous. Beyond
that, the extras are exactly the same as the previous DVD edition, which includes
two separate audio commentaries (one by Jeanne Moreau herself), several video
interviews with Truffaut from different periods of his career, the
previously-mentioned documentary on the true story behind the film, video
interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard and co-writer Jean Grualt, and
much more. This new release is dual-format—you get the Blu-ray and two DVD
disks, all containing the same material.
you already own the previous release, the question for you is whether or not
you want to experience Jules and Jim in
the best possible visual and aural presentation. For me, the answer to that is
a no-brainer. Jules and Jim is
Francois Truffaut’s gift to cinema lovers.