the French had their own Batman-like character in the early days of silent
film. Created by Louis Feuillade and Arthur Bernède, Judex (“judge”
in Latin) was a crime-fighting avenger that appeared in silent serials in
1916-17. The character was resurrected once in 1934 in a sound feature, and
once again in 1963 by celebrated director Georges Franju. The Criterion
Collection has seen fit to release Judex,this later version, on Blu-ray and DVD
in a dual format package. The results are splendid.
doesn’t bother to disguise his face when he’s in character. He wears a black
cape and a Zorro-like hat. You could say he’s kind of like The Shadow. By day,
though, he applies old-age makeup and assumes the role of Vallieres, the right-hand
man to an evil banker. Judex is in love with the banker’s daughter, Jacqueline,
who is played by Franju regular Édith Scrob, the
thin doe-eyed actress who was creepily effective in the director’s excellent
horror film, Eyes Without a Face
(also on Criterion). Judex himself is played by an American stage magician,
Channing Pollock, who curiously has little screen presence but performs a lot
of impressive sleight-of-hand in the picture.
crime-fighter and his team (a group of guys all dressed in black) quickly
disposes of the evil banker and locks him away, but Jacqueline is kidnapped by
the family’s governess, Diana (superbly played by Francine Bergé),
who in reality is a masked Catwoman-like criminal. She plans to hold Jacqueline
for ransom, that is, until Judex comes to the rescue.
sounds like an episode from the 1966 Batman
television show, but in fact, Judex is
stylish and in some spots very surreal. For example, the scene in which the
banker is “poisoned” (actually drugged by Judex) is a masked ball. The
attendees’ costumes—many of which are birds—are bizarre and unsettling. Franju
turns the pulp material into something rather poetic, despite numerous holes
and flights of fancy in the plot.
notable is that Franju seems to be more interested in his villain than in
Judex. Bergé’s Diana is the most engaging character and has the most
screen time in the film. In a 2012 video interview extra with the actress, Bergé reveals that she was told to simply play “evil”—and that’s
what she does, with a capital “E.” It’s her performance that makes Judex a fascinating piece of celluloid.
The Blu-ray looks great with its new 2K
digital restoration. Extras include a 2007 interview with co-writer Jacques
Champreux and an excellent 50-minute documentary of Franju’s career. The best
extras are two Franju shorts—one is a documentary about a Paris military
complex; the second one, a film about filmmaker/magician Georges Méliès (who is
played by Méliès’ son), is almost worth the price of the entire package. The
enclosed booklet contains an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an interview
Impulse Pictures continues its obsession with sleazy 1970s porn flicks with the release of "The Chambermaids", a 1974 opus that exploits erotic fantasies regarding the otherwise mundane occupation of hotel maids. Yes, there is something about maids and nurses that appeals to below-the-belt interests of men and these scenarios were often the basis of porn flicks going back to the beginning of the genre. Naturally, in order for the fantasies to be enacted, the maids in question have to be young and pretty and not look like members of the old Soviet Olympics team. In "The Chambermaids" two young women, Mary Ellen and Sally, are bored with their low-paying professions of cleaning rooms in a big city hotel. They devise a plot to become considerably more friendly to male guests in the hope they will be financially rewarded for their efforts. It doesn't take long for the plan to meet with success. One of the maids ends up bedding a businessman who is awaiting the arrival of a married colleague. After a hot session with said maid, he asks her to bring a friend back later so he can "entertain" the client in an even more special manner. The other maid, meanwhile, is tidying up the suite of a newlywed couple when she encounters the distraught groom. He explains that his wife is in the bedroom, frustrated, because he can't rise to the occasion. The maid theorizes that he is unnecessarily paranoid about now being married and gives him a crash course in revitalizing his mojo. The grateful hubby then goes back into the boudoir with renewed confidence. Somewhere along the way, the scenario begins to play out like a French bedroom farce with mistaken identities and chance encounters adding some comedic touches. The new bride (conveniently clad in a nightie) ends up wandering into an adjoining hotel room where she observes one of the maids and another woman pleasuring each other. They immediately seduce her and, following this session, she is mistaken for a hooker and ends up bedding the businessman's client.
"The Chambermaids" doesn't boast any of the big names from the porn industry during this era. Even the ubiquitous John Holmes is nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, it's a middle-of-the-road production, more ambitious than some and boasting a cast that is fairly attractive, if you don't count the guy who plays the business client. (He resembles the love child of porn legend Ron Jeremy and character actor Al Letieri.) The sex scenes are pretty straight forward and aren't marred by the goofy slapstick comedy that permeated a lot of the X rated flicks of the day. It's undoubtedly also the only time in screen history in which a woman indulged in oral sex to the strains of Burt Bacharach's Oscar-nominated "Casino Royale" song "The Look of Love".
Impulse Pictures has wisely chosen to market the movie's shortcomings as strengths. Consider the copy from the back of the DVD sleeve:
"The amateur camerawork, microphone shadows, elevator music, terribly recorded sound and "you are there" extreme close-ups, will bring you back to the days when adult film were cheap and fast and VERY sleazy. Re-mastered from a scratchy, barely surviving theatrical print, "The Chambermaids" is a steamy slice of 70's sex cinema that will have you cleaning up your own room after you watch it!"
At last- a case of truth in advertising! How can you help but love this company? Besides, that cover art is worth the price alone.
recently watching Sweet Hostage
(1975), I couldn’t stop thinking that Martin Sheen should’ve been a much bigger
star. I didn’t get out to the movies
much as a kid, and could only watch a small black & white TV in my bedroom.
Hence, it was Sheen, the king of the TV movie, who gave me my first inkling of
what an actor could do.
from his iconic turn as the homicidal Kit in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), Sheen did most of his
1970s work on the small screen. He had a
shifty-eyed way about him that screamed “troubled loner.” Granted, he could dial it down long enough to
play Bobby Kennedy in The Missiles of
October, but generally, he played twitchy, neurotic types.
seemed to be on television every month in those days. I remember him as the
doomed Private Slovick, shaking like a leaf as he stood in front of an
execution squad. Then he was as a cocky hot rodder trying to upstage a sadistic
sheriff in The California Kid. He was
“Pretty Boy” Floyd, the Depression era bank robber. There was the Kennedy turn, and then, of
course, the endless reruns of various cop dramas where he often appeared as
misfits and derelicts, cackling all the way.
Sweet Hostage originally aired on ABC in Oct. 1975, the peak of the “made for TV
movie” era. Sheen’s portrayal of
Leonard Hatch, an escapee from a Boston mental ward who kidnaps a lonely teen
played by Linda Blair, was quite a big deal at the time, especially among
women. I recall overhearing various
females – aunts, teachers, ladies at the supermarket – talking about this
movie. “Did you see it?” they’d ask each other. “Did you cry at the end?”
the decades since, the movie appeared to fall into the rabbit hole where a lot
of made-for-TV flicks go, but it loomed large in my mind. I recalled it as a dark tale of a man who
held a woman hostage, and somehow they fell in love. I’m not familiar with
Nathaniel Benchley’s novel, Welcome to Xanadu, which served as the basis for
the movie, but I’ve heard the movie is much more of a tearjerker. On a side note, I remember a day in the
1990s when Sweet Hostage was airing
on an obscure local station, wedged in between Mexican mummy movies and
infomercials. I hadn’t seen it in years
and wanted to get reacquainted with it. To my surprise, the movie felt
sentimental and overblown. Watching it
tonight streamed on the Warner Archive, though, it seemed a nearly perfect
relic of the era.
first image is a tight close-up of Sheen’s gaunt, slightly haunted face. The
wind blows his hair back, all the better to see his thousand mile stare. As
Hatch, Sheen may have reached the pinnacle of his psycho period. He’s a
literature spouting nutcase, the sort of eccentric who wanders the grounds of
the asylum reciting poetry and demanding the nurses call him ‘Kublai Khan.’ He
escapes one night, steals a truck, robs a store (while wearing a clown mask)
and heads for parts unknown.
plays Doris Mae Withers, a 17-year-old who dreams of the day when she can leave
her father’s chicken farm. One day her truck breaks down on the highway and
Hatch picks her up. When he decides she’s an illiterate who could use some
mentoring, he holds her captive in his cabin, trying to impress her with the
beauty of poetry. She makes a few feeble
attempts at escaping, but gradually succumbs to Hatch’s weird charm. True, he has an irrational temper, but when
he’s not yelling at her, he’s rather kind, like a man from another era, someone
out of a story book of princes and rogues. He even wears a puffy shirt. Hell,
it beats living on the chicken farm, so she gets comfortable and hunkers down
for the long hall. Far-fetched? Sure,
but I never said the movie was flawless.
at times, comes dangerously close to overdoing it as Hatch. He’s a dervish of
fake accents, odd mannerisms, cackling laughter, and manic outbursts. But for all of his frenzied behavior, we
never learn why he was in the mental hospital. For all we know, he’d been locked away because he loved poetry. (There’s
an odd scene where Hatch meets a townie who babbles at him in lines borrowed
from Star Trek. He even gives Hatch the Vulcan salute. What do we glean from
this? Quoting Mr. Spock is permitted, but quote Lord Byron and you go to the
Richard C. Glouner shoots the hell out of the Taos, New Mexico locations, but
his strategy of filming the main characters from below works against the theme
of the movie. Shooting from below makes Sheen and Blair look like large
powerful figures, when they’re actually two little people in a big lonely
world. Glouner’s work is striking, but
it doesn’t fit the story. He does have a flair for making Taos look like big
sky country, and he makes Hatch’s cabin look rustic and hard, but his best work
is a scene where Sheen and Blair waltz
around inside the cabin – he brings his camera above the scene, looking down at
the two as they appear to be growing closer. It’s a warm scene, and it’s a
reminder of how director Lee Philips carried off the neat trick of making us
believe Blair could fall in love with her captor.
a veteran TV director, keeps the movie motoring along, but he nearly destroys
it with music, including a terrible theme song that he dumps into the movie at
random sections. The song, which I won’t glorify by mentioning its title or
singer, nearly capsizes the movie. Imagine if, while watching Badlands, or, say, Bonnie and Clyde, a scene was suddenly interrupted by Terry Jacks
singing ‘Seasons in the Sun.’ That’s how off-putting the music is here. Since
most TV shows of the period had an opening theme song where the plot would be
described ( i.e. “Here’s the story of a man named Brady…”) television producers may have thought a TV
movie needed the same thing, a song to describe the action. Still, it’s
ridiculous. This is probably why I had a bad reaction to the movie back in the
also had a bad habit of laying drippy music underneath all of the emotional
scenes, as if he’s determined to tell us how we should feel. The score, a schlocky mix of TV music clichés
by Luchi De Jesus (who had done a lot of Blaxploitation movies), really hasn’t
aged well. Some of the scenes were
magical on their own, such as when Sheen and Blair embrace after she reads a
poem that moves him to tears. Strip the
music away and the scenes would be much more powerful, for Sheen and Blair
don’t need musical accompaniment. And as much as I like Sheen, it’s really
Blair who made this movie sit up and speak. As Doris Mae, Blair gives just
about the most honest performance ever given by a teenager.
like Sheen, had become a bit of a TV icon, emerging from The Exorcist to appear as various teen alcoholics and runaways on
somewhat scandalous TV movies. (Her name is above Sheen’s on the credits, which
shows you the power of The Exorcist
was still in the air). And while Sheen
hyperventilates as Hatch, Blair has the sense to underplay their scenes together
– she’s the rock in the middle of his windstorm.
consider this: If female viewers fell in love with Sheen in this movie, they
were doing so through Linda Blair’s eyes. Blair must have tapped into something
that exists in all women, some strange desire to be trapped, combined with a
need to nurture. The creepy cabin in the
woods becomes a kind of enchanted cottage, with Doris Mae sweeping up and
hanging curtains, her eyes widening as Hatch tells her of exotic, faraway
lands. Yet, she also knows that this
grown man is still something like a kid himself. For Doris Mae, Hatch is all men in one: the
unpredictable but gentle father, the encouraging teacher, the playful brother,
the flirtatious boyfriend, and even, in a roundabout way, the son who needs
protection. With so many facets of Hatch to deal with, Doris Mae can only grow.
To her delight, she likes growing. In what is probably the performance of her
lifetime, Blair shows us the inner workings of a sad girl warming up to life.
ending is a bummer, with bloodthirsty vigilantes closing in on Hatch’s
cabin. When he spots a police helicopter
hovering over his place, he decides to take the only way out he can think of,
sacrificing himself so Doris Mae can live. TV viewers bombarded newspapers with
angry letters, asking why the film had to end in a death. The movie was a success, though, and was even
given a theatrical release in several European countries. There were even
rumors that 34-year-old Sheen and 17-year-old Blair had some sort of off-screen
affair (which both denied).
announced at the time that he was leaving television to focus on big screen
features. He started by killing Jodie
Foster’s hamster in The Little Girl Who
Lives Down the Lane. He got as far
as ApocalypseNow, suffered a heart attack during filming, and spent the next 30
years bouncing between TV and independent pics. He’s never hit the peaks I’d imagined for him. As for Blair, well, Roller Boogie was beckoning. Blair, too, has worked steadily, but she was never better than she was
as the girl in Leonard Hatch’s cabin, her eyes widening with love for the
strange man who brought out the poetry in her.
(This review pertains to the limited edition Region 2 UK release from the BFI)
By Paul Risker
well as asking the question “Is cinema more important than life?” Francois
Truffaut showed a flair for statement when he declared Werner Herzog to be “The
most important filmmaker alive.”
the BFI have the final word this summer, it will be remembered as the summer of
Herzog, as they align themselves with the German filmmaker and journey headlong
into his cinematic world. This rendezvous starts with a descent into the past with
two distinct forms of horror - the hallucinatory horror of human obsession in
Aguirre, Wrath of God and the genre horror Nosferatu.
Wrath of God represents an important entry in Herzog's career, and by coupling it
with his 1971 feature documentary Fata Morgana, this release highlights the spatial
thread that runs through his cinema. From the jungle, the desert, Antarctica
and the urban geographical spaces resemble continents in Herzog’s cinema. Therein
the decision to offset Herzog's early foray into the jungle with an early
montage of images of the desert set to songs by Leonard Cohen is a fitting
accompaniment to Aguirre’s obsessive jungle march.
is theoretically possible to appreciate select films via the filmmaker’s commentary
on a first viewing, and Aguirre, Wrath of God is one of those films to support
such a theory. Herzog’s commentary intertwines well with the film, and whilst
the film functions as an independent entity - the grown up child who has come
of age and has been sent out into the world; Herzog’s words take you behind the
images to tell you the transparent narrative of the human experience behind the
in one sense the films exist separately of their filmmaker, in equal measure an
extension of him. In Aguirre, Wrath of God Herzog’s audacity to confront the inhospitable
jungle as well as the arduous nature of the filmmaking process finds him
mirrored in the tale of obsession and the obsessive nature of Don Lope de
Aguirre (Klaus Kinski).
primary focus appears to be trained on the experience or sense of feeling the
film offers over the consideration of narrative, by opening himself up to the
environment as a source of inspiration. He allows the jungle to reveal its
nature and to guide him in creating an experience for him, his characters and
us the audience. Aguirre feels authentically gruelling, and lacks the
artificial feel of a performance, merging the physical and psychological
experience of a trek, and despite the improvisational approach, Herzog manages
to create a melodic flow amidst the arduous natural terrain, imbuing it with
graceful beauty despite the descent into an obsessive voyage of death.
Wrath of God offers a powerful meditation on a theme of insanity - the susceptibility
versus the immunity. Whilst Kinski’s Aguirre floats on the surface in a state
of disquieting peace, his counterparts are inevitably dragged beneath the calm
surface. Kinski’s delivers a pitch perfect performance, both his idle and glaring
stare offset against the awkward physical movements that masterfully merge the
physical abruptness with a shade of a devilish soul.
jungle setting affords Herzog the opportunity to take advantage of the space
and setting as a mirror to reflect his characters psychology - the wildness of
their natures, and the labyrinth of obsession that the winding river becomes a
metaphor for. But the fatalities suffered by the native’s offers a reflection
that man is his own undoing, and mother nature is only a backdrop or a
reflection capable of showing us both our Jekyll and Hyde.
sits as the opening chapter in the tumultuous Kinski-Herzog collaboration; the
full story of which was wonderfully told in Herzog’s 1999 documentary My Best Fiend.
This relationship imbues Herzog’s career with a shade of folklore. If Woody
Allen listed reasons to live, then one of the reasons to be grateful for
Aguirre, Wrath of God is Herzog’s infamous threat to shoot Kinski. Whilst
disputes on set are not unheard of, Kinski and Herzog pushed into the realm of
the absurd. Whilst the two men plotted each other’s murder together they created
a series of films that have come to represent one of the great cinematic
collaborations in the history of film. But the distortion of these stories has
imbued them with a sense of myth; where what happened differs to what we think
happened. The stories of threats of physical harm and fleeing native tribes
could be read as filmic parables or cautionary tales for other filmmakers. If
the story of the making of a film can be just as compelling as the narrative
that plays out onscreen, the Kinski-Herzog dance more often than not produced such
a compelling second narrative. What better place to start than with Aguirre,
Wrath of God where this collaboration was born.
a fine selection of extras including an old commentary track moderated by
Norman Hill and the montage documentary Fata Morgana, included on this release
are three early shorts that see Herzog experiment with the subjective and
objective perspective of his characters. An entertaining trilogy representing a
young filmmaker cutting his teeth, they present him as a filmmaker fascinated
by human nature, behaviour and personality from the very dawn of his filmmaking
The Warner Archive has released director Ken Annakin's madcap comedy "The Biggest Bundle of the Them All" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film's title has multiple meanings. It's a romantic ballad that is crooned over the opening titles by Johnny Mathis and a rock 'n roll version is heard later in the film. It also refers to a kidnap victim as well as the loot a group of thieves hope to gain from an audacious robbery. Finally, there is the sexual twist on the title with a bikini-clad Raquel Welch adorning the advertising posters.
The film is set in Italy and director Annakin makes the most of the lush locations. The film opens with an inept group of amateur crooks gently kidnapping a local crime lord, Cesare Celli (Vittorio De Sica), in the hopes of holding him for an elaborate ransom. Although Celli is refined, cultured and pompous, the leader of the crooks, Harry (Robert Wagner), soon discovers that Celli is past his sell date in terms of his influence in Italian crime circles. In fact, he is penniless and without the slightest influence among the real "dons". In an ironic twist, Celli becomes humiliated by this discovery and tries valiantly to find ways to collect his own ransom and prove that he still has some value to somebody. When that fails, he convinces Harry and his four confederates to enter into a partnership with him to mastermind a grand theft that will make them all rich. It involves an elaborate operation in which they will rob a train and steal a fortune in platinum, which will then be flown out of the country on an old WWII U.S. bomber. In advance of putting the scheme into play, the gang attempts several other minor crimes but they prove to be far too inept to carry even these out successfully. Celli enlists the aid of an influential American, "The Professor" (Edward G. Robinson), an equally sophisticated man who outlines the "foolproof" master robbery scheme.
The film is delightful on many levels. First, there is the inspired cast with De Sica stealing every scene in a truly inspired and very funny performance. The "gang that couldn't shoot straight" has several genuinely amusing actors including Italian character actor Francesco Mule, Brit Davy Kaye and American Godfrey Cambridge as a fey gangster who seems to have every amusing mannerism of Joe Besser of the Three Stooges. Raquel Welch, then in the early days of her superstardom, holds her own quite well in this "boy's club", playing the gorgeous arm candy of Wagner's Harry and there is an amusing sequence in which she dances in a disco with Edward G. Robinson (!) Director Annakin had the good sense to show plenty of gratuitous footage of Welch jiggling, gyrating and dancing about, often clad in a sexy bikini. Victor Spinetti turns up in a cameo, as does Mickey Knox, the American character actor who made good in Italy be rewriting Italian dialogue for American audiences on classic Westerns for Sergio Leone.
The film has many very funny vignettes and a whimsical score by Riz Ortolani. Annakin, who was equally adept at directing dramatic action films, never lets the pace flag for a second and the chemistry between his cast members is one of the movie's great pleasures.
The Warner Archive release is from a print that shows some fluctuations in lighting and color but is overall quite acceptable, though unfortunately there are no extras.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer with Eli Wallach at The Players in New York City.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Eli Wallach, the prolific actor of screen, stage and television, who passed away Tuesday in his New York City home. He was 98 years old. Wallach was one of the last of the Hollywood legends. He rarely enjoyed a leading role but was considered to be one of the most respected character actors of the post-WII era. He was as diversified as a thespian could be and would play heroes, villains and knaves with equal ease. For retro movie lovers, his two most iconic performances were as the Mexican bandit Calvera in John Sturges' classic 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and as Tuco, the charismatic rogue bandit in Sergio Leone's landmark 1966 production of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although he never won or was even nominated for a competitive Oscar, he did receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 2010.
On a personal basis, this writer knew Wallach because we were both members of The Players, the legendary club for the arts at Gramercy Park in New York. Wallach's portrait adorns the club's Hall of Fame and he was an active participant in the club, appearing in readings and plays throughout the years. The last time I saw him there was in late 2012 when he made a surprise appearance to greet actress Carroll Baker, who was speaking at the club about her long career. Wallach, who played her lecherous older lover in the notorious Baby Doll, showed up to see her, much to the delight of the audience. As always, Wallach was accompanied by his devoted wife, actress Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for 66 years. I first met him in 2005 when I joined the Players. We both attended a black tie dinner in honor of Ben Gazzara. Coincidentally, the first issue of Cinema Retro had just been published and I gave him a copy. He was delighted to see an article in which we editorialized that he should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and proceeded to tell some amusing stories about the making of the film, including having to temporarily share a bed with Clint Eastwood due to lack of accommodations in Spain. Wallach was always good for a funny anecdotes and seemed to be perpetually in a good mood. I tried on many occasions to have a formal interview with him and he was agreeable. However, by the time his non-stop work schedule finally abated, his health had deteriorated. The last time I spoke to him at length was after I saw the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010. I was delighted to see he was looking so fit. I called him up for an impromptu conversation and, as usual, he spent about an hour explaining how he didn't have time to talk. During the course of that conversation, he related priceless tales of working on The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and John Huston and bemoaned the fact that only he and fellow Players member Robert Vaughn were the only remaining cast members from The Magnificent Seven. I informed him that when I had asked Vaughn how that felt, he said "It stinks- but it beats the alternative!" Wallach let out a typically hearty belly laugh.
Eli Wallach was a Hollywood legend and an actor's actor. However, his real legacy is that he was an even rarer breed in today's film industry: a class act, a devoted family man and a true gentleman.
Rest in peace, Tuco.
For more on Wallach's life and career, click here.
the Old West, small homesteaders run afoul of a big landowner who controls the
local law and levies killer taxes on their ranches and farms.The homesteaders finally refuse to pay the
taxes, andpetition the governor for
help.Meanwhile, expecting reprisal from
the landowner’s hired guns, they build a makeshift fort for refuge.They also send for help from a mercenary who comes
to their aid with his private army of four associates and a Gatling gun.
kidding about the Western setting. This
is actually the plot of “Gonin No Shokin
Kasegi,” also known as “The Fort of Death,” a 1969 Japanese chambara by Eiichi
Kudo. Nevertheless, the similarities are there. The homesteaders are peasants, the landowner
is their oppressive feudal lord, and the higher official they’ve petitioned is
the emperor. It’s easy to squint and
superimpose an Old West setting out of an American B movie, with Audie Murphy
or George Montgomery riding to the rescue.
not joking about the Gatling gun, though. The film is hazy about the historical period of the action, but I would
guess the setting is meant to be the 1870s, when Western goods and weapons have
entered the Japanese economy.
of the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai movies will recognize the star of that series,
Tomisaburo Wakayama, as Ichibei, the head mercenary. The movie calls him a “bounty hunter,” and
“The Fort of Death” is one of three movies (1969-72) about the same character
that the reference books call the “Bounty Hunter” series. In this one at least, he seems more like a
soldier of fortune who might collect bounties one day and lead a team of
quasi-military specialists the next.
should be the poster boy for middle-aged, dumpy, homely males: the women in the
movie keep making passes at Ichibei, if not downright trying to get in his
pants, including a smokin’ hot lady ninja on his team of mercenaries.
contrast to his dour Lone Wolf and Cub ronin, Wakayama loosens up with Ichibei,
who runs a medical practice when he’s not fighting a war for downtrodden
peasants. There’s a funny, raunchy scene
where a jittery patient comes to Dr. Ichibei complaining about pain “down
there”; Ichibei diagnoses the clap and somberly tells the poor bastard that
he’ll have to “cut it off.” When the
patient reacts in terror, Ichibei says, “Oh, all right” and directs his nurse
to bring a pump with a very long hollow needle, and . . . Trust me, you won’t
see a scene like that on “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Dr. Oz.”
first read about “The Fort of Death” years ago -- I think in one of John
Willis’ “Screen World” movie annuals. I had the impression that the film was
intended to be a Japanese version of a Spaghetti Western, bringing full circle
a pattern that began when Akira
Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961) inspired Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking Spaghetti,
“A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). I don’t see much of a Spaghetti influence,
though, unless Ichibei’s Gatling gun was intended to remind contemporary
viewers of Franco Nero’s machine gun in Sergio Corbucci’s “Django” (1966).
“The Seven Samurai” (1954) would seem to be more of a prototype, at least in
the basic premise of expert warriors coming to the aid of besieged
peasants. But “The Fort of Death” is
mostly action for action’s sake, without the deeper themes of honor and duty
that characterized “The Seven Samurai,” or for that matter Kudo’s own “The
Thirteen Assassins” (1963) and “The Great Killing” (1964). Presumably, an American company will someday
issue an official stateside edition of “The Fort of Death.” In the meantime, a good, home grown, letterboxed, sub-titled print is available on
the collector’s circuit.
A controversy over the style of drapes for a mansion's library would not seem to be the fodder for a sizzling screen drama but it is the catalyst for the events that unwind in The Cobweb, a 1955 soap opera that involves the talents of some very impressive actors and filmmakers. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman, based on the bestselling novel by William Gibson. The cast features an impressive array of seasoned veterans as well as up-and-comers. Among them: Richard Widmark, Lauren, Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, Oscar Levant, Susan Strasberg and John Kerr. The action all takes place in a psychiatric institute called "The Castle". It's actually a mansion house and the patients are seemingly there voluntarily. They are an assortment of mixed nuts ranging from elderly eccentrics to young people with severe problems interacting with others. The nominal head of the institute is Dr. Devenal (Charles Boyer), an erudite, once-respected professional who long ago ceded actual power to his second-in-command, Dr. Stewart MacIver (Richard Widmark), who has implemented very progressive and controversial theories about patient treatment that involve giving those afflicted with psychiatric disorders a voice in the policies and events pertaining to the institute. He's routinely criticized for going to far in trying to build patient self-esteem but MacIver is convinced that such programs are the only way to ensure that those in his care can become self-sustaining members of society. The Castle is hardly the kind of loony bin depicted in most Hollywood films of the era. In fact, it looks more like an upscale bed and breakfast. Everyone is nattily dressed, exceedingly polite and indulge in social activities. MacIver is the one who seems closest to a complete breakdown. His marriage to his sultry young wife Karen (Gloria Grahame) is on the skids. She accuses him of being a workaholic who puts his career before the needs of his wife and young son (Tommy Rettig). On a more personal level, she makes it clear that she is sexually frustrated, as MacIver has moved into a separate bedroom, telling Karen that she is a self-obsessed party girl. There is truth in both accusations. The chain smoking MacIver does seem to be married to his job. Predictably, things get more complicated when MacIver has an affair with a co-worker at the institute (Lauren Bacall) and Karen's ill-conceived flirtations with the perpetually horny Dr. Devenal backfire and cause distress for both of them. The fragile tranquility among the patients also becomes strained when a controversy erupts over MacIver's plan to allow them to design and create new draperies for the library. This inspires the most problematic inmate, a young man named Steve Holte (John Kerr) who is traditionally anti-social but who comes alive by using his creative talents for the project. However, the institute's busy-body secretary, Victoria Inch (Lillian Gish) has already ordered expensive draperies from a company and she objects to using the patients' creations. This sets in motion a series of dramatic circumstances that has major consequences for all the main characters.
The premise of the screenplay reads like something out of a Monty Python sketch and critics at the time of the film's release pointed out the absurdity of having draperies serve as the catalyst for such dark goings-on. The film was considered a major disappointment and has largely been forgotten. However, looking at the movie today, one is impressed with the sheer amount of talent involved in the production. It should also be pointed out that saying the movie is about curtains is as inaccurate as saying The Titanic is a movie about icebergs. In fact, The Cobweb is a reasonably compelling drama that sustains interest despite an "everything but the kitchen" sink formula for introducing crisis after crisis for the main characters and a tacked on happy ending that deviated from the book. Widmark is a commanding screen presence and Gloria Grahame excels as his sex-starved wife. Grahame completely overshadows the presence of Lauren Bacall, who underplays to the point of invisibility. There is also a scene-stealing performance by Lillian Gish as an insecure administrator with no life outside of her office duties and who is immediately threatened by any incursion into her spheres of influence. Charles Boyer is an odd but inspired choice as the institute's director, a man who has sold out in terms of his professional ethics simply to enjoy a cozy life and a fat pay check. John Kerr and Susan Strasberg also impress as anti-social young people who predictably become attracted to each other.
The Cobweb is a potboiler, pure and simple. While it's not a "lost classic" by any means, it seems the film does deserve to be re-evaluated for its many merits.
The movie is available on DVD through the Warner Archive. The transfer is very good and includes the original theatrical trailer.
(Cinema Retro is pleased to announce that we will be reviewing titles now available on the Warner Archive Instant Streaming Service.)
Warner Archive has released The Venetian Affair as a streaming video title, having previously been released as a burn to order DVD. The intriguing 1967 spy thriller is often mistaken for a Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film since it stars Robert Vaughn, was released by MGM and features the word "affair" in the title. Yet the movie is far removed from the fanciful world of U.N.C.L.E. In fact it's a refreshingly downbeat espionage drama that was based on a best-selling book by Helen MacInnes. Vaughn plays Bill Fenner, a disgraced ex-CIA man who battles a penchant for booze while trying to eek out a living as a reporter for an international wire service. Fenner is sent to Venice ostensibly to investigate the apparent suicide bombing of an international peace conference committed by a respected U.S. diplomat. Fenner soon discovers he is a pawn in a complex plot that involves mind control and enemy agents. The role afforded Vaughn a chance to showcase his considerable acting skills and he plays Fenner as a moody and not particularly heroic figure. The one trait similar to Napoleon Solo is that he manages to intertwine with some exotic European lovelies including his ex-wife Elke Sommer and mysterious femme fatales Luciana Paluzzi and Felicia Farr.
Original movie tie-in paperback edition.
Although the interiors were obviously filmed at MGM studios, director Jerry Thorpe capitalizes on the exotic sites and sounds of Venice, always a prime location for stories of mystery and intrigue. The movie is largely devoid of humor but reliable character actor Roger C. Carmel provides a few moments of levity. The excellent supporting cast includes Edward Asner as Fenner's crotchety former CIA boss who still harbors hatred for him, Karl Boehm as the enemy agent who masterminds the mind control plot and Boris Karloff, who is refreshingly given an important and intelligent role at a point in his career when he was largely relegated to low-budget Mexican horror movies. The movie also boasts a wonderfully atmospheric score by Lalo Schifrin.
Click here to access the Warner Archive streaming service.
What can one say about a movie that is nothing more
than 90 minutes of a guy trying to start an old VW bus? That’s what Ryan Steven
Green’sCircle the Wagens seems
to be, as we follow a couple of good-hearted fellows in their attempt to bring
a “baby blue ‘72” across the country to California. The vehicle, a rusted Volkswagen Transporter
Deluxe won on eBay, is affectionately known as “The Croc.”It breaks down. It starts up. It breaks down.
It starts up. Somebody paints it. It breaks down. And that’s the story.
The movie is supposed to amuse us with the camaraderie
of men linked by their love of VWs, but there’s really not enough here to hang
a story. It grows monotonous to hear someone groping for words to explain why
these vehicles inspire such devotion. No one really has a good reason, although
a few people correctly point out that all cars “look the same nowadays.” True, the old VWs stand out and have some
character, but what’s the point if yours won’t start?
Our happy go lucky protagonist, Dave Torstenson,
doesn’t help matters, labeling himself early on as someone who knows nothing
about cars. Great, just the guy we want
to spend 90 minutes with as he fumbles with his heap. We’re told constantly
about his adventurous spirit, and how he went to Iraq in 2006 to teach
elementary school, but while I’m sure he’s a nice guy, none of this makes one
care if he gets his piece of junk bus across the country. Green even stops the movie halfway through so
Torstenson can enter a steak eating contest at some hillbilly dive, as if
watching someone chew a steak is any more interesting than watching someone try
to start up an old rust bucket.
According to the movie’s website, Green “made his first documentary at the tender age
of 19. Its subject was the ‘blue flame,’ that is, lighting farts on fire. The
topics of subsequent films are equally symptomatic of an unfashionably happy
childhood: snails, moustaches, modern homesteaders, coffee, and now Volkswagens.”
Well, I haven’t seen his movies about farts or mustaches, but if Circle The Wagens is any indication,
I’ll avoid them. Circle the Wagens is almost saved by cinematographer Lawson Demming,
who shoots the roadside motels and the big sky scenery with élan. It’s not enough, though.
The movie has been well received on the festival circuit,
and given a surprisingly high rating on the IMDB, I imagine due to its DIY vibe.
(Green edited the thing on a computer inside the Croc, which earns him some
points from “do it yourselfers.”) Some viewers may be satisfied with the
colorful photography, the nostalgia for cheap roadside kitsch, and the
earthiness of the characters. Some may
find a metaphor here for an old America that is dying. Some may even be tickled to know about this
Volkswagen subculture. To me, watching this was like listening to someone who
doesn’t speak a language try to bluff his way through a conversation. The
rhythms may be there, and the right facial expressions, but there’s nothing
If you can’t wait for this one to hit the cable
channels devoted to cars and such, it will be available VOD on 7/29, and DVD
8/26. For more about the film, visit CircleTheWagen.com.
production company Vinegar Syndrome seems to be trying to pick up the market
that Something Weird Video has cultivated over the past fifteen years or so. And
that is a good thing! Their desire to restore and release as many independently
produced exploitation films as possible is both laudable and impressive. I
count myself as a cult film fan but a look at their list of titles leaves me scratching
my head in wonderment as I have never heard of most of the movies they are
dealing to the public. My few dips into the VS catalog have been interesting,
sleazy fun but I was caught off guard by this disc. The company is following
the Something Weird template of having each DVD comprised of a double feature
of titles that have some kind of themed connection. In this case we have two
set-bound, low budget talky dramas spiced with sex in one case and ..... I'm
not sure what in the other.
Candidate (1964) was pitched to me as a sexploitation film staring Ted Knight
and my mind rejected that description sight unseen. There can be no such film,
said logic and reason. Surely the planet would rip asunder if such a movie
existed, said sanity. Ted Knight of The Mary Tyler Moore show engaged in sexual
shenanigans? This cannot be true. And in the end this thought process was proven
right enough for me to retain my intellect after screening the film. Now, there
are sexploitation elements in the film as you might expect with any film that
top lines sex kitten Mamie Van Doren, but those are the least interesting
parts. (Of the film, I mean…) She plays Samantha, a hard working modern woman
who, because of a chance encounter with senatorial candidate Frank Carlton (Ted
Knight), is offered a job by conniving campaign runner Eric (Buddy Parker)
aiming to work for the prospective senator. She agrees and we are then shown
the complicated way various relationships shape the campaign and how it all
falls apart. In a strange choice, the story is related as a series of
flashbacks as the main characters are grilled in front of a Congressional
hearing which causes the film to feel like a mild and overly solemn
courtroom drama. It can be pretty entertaining to watch Eric procure ladies for
the Washington elite but the film bogs down once the shape of the downfall of
Knight's character comes into focus. Parker plays the ruthless Eric as a
cynical bastard and he isn't bad in the role but its Knight who is most
impressive. As his character meets and falls in love with Angela (June
Wilkinson) we see this shy man come alive and have to face the fact that the
woman he cares for will destroy his hoped-for career. Knight is exceptional in
the role, investing great care in showing very nuanced emotions as he struggles
with his options. In the scenes involving his character, the film is solid and
the courtroom sequences are very well- scripted.However, the rest of the movie-
the sexploitation parts- are dry as dust. This is the film's problem- it has
half of a good movie but it has been shackled to a silly lingerie show with
Miss Van Doren. In the end The Candidate isn't a bad movie but it isn't very
good either, which is a shame.
Syndrome has coupled the main feature with a decidedly 'B' picture from 1957
called Johnny Gunman. If The Candidate sometimes felt a bit set-bound, it looks
better with this movie immediately following it. Extremely low budget, the film
seems to have been shot on the cheap and quick with little time for second
takes. The story takes place in New York (I think) as gangster Johnny G (Martin
Brooks) spends a long night hiding out from a rival hood. This other gang boss
named Allie (Johnny Seven) is up for the same new position as Johnny but has
the added impetus of a Lady MacBeth-like girlfriend pushing him to off the
competition. While on the run from gunmen, Johnny finds himself in a cafe where
he threatens the patrons and then propositions the only pretty girl in the
place, Coffee (Ann Donaldson). The other customers don't like the idea of this
nice girl spending all night with this dangerous man so a bargain is worked
out- she will spend two hours with each of the three men who want her attention
over the next six hours. If this sounds artificial, you are right. The rest of
the movie plays out with Coffee spending her required time with each man as she
seeks a story worth writing about- she's a journalist, you see. As you might
expect, she falls for Johnny's criminal charms and must decide if she will
return to her little home town or stay in the big city to love a bad man good. To
call this film dull is to be too nice. It has a 67 minute running time and I
nearly dozed off twice in the first forty-five minutes. The movie feels both
rushed and static with only a few poorly constructed sets on view. The acting
is half-hearted with Miss Donaldson taking top honors as the stiffest actress in
memory. Some of her line deliveries are as if she had never read the script
before walking onto the hastily nailed together set. Ugh! Save yourself the
time and skip it.
DVD carries no extras but both movies look very good. The Candidate is in very
sharp black & white anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation with Johnny
Gunman looking just as good on a 1.33:1 print. I might have wished for some
more information on these movies but in the end I'm just happy they are
available. Well, I'm happy one of them
“HEARTS AND MINDS” (1974; directed by
‘LEST WE FORGET
By Raymond Benson
Academy Award for Best Documentary of 1974 went to the controversial and
incendiary Hearts and Minds, the
first big movie about the Vietnam War that attempted to prove to the world that
America made a huge mistake. A lot of people didn’t like that being said.
by Bert Schneider (of BBS Productions fame—Easy
Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, many others) and
director Peter Davis, the documentary is most definitely one-sided in its
arguments. The entire film is shaped and edited to present the most anti-war
statement possible, as well as put a bad light on the men in power that made
the decisions to go to war in the first place.
can imagine that in 1974 this was not an easy pill to swallow. Never mind that
the picture is brilliantly made—the footage is unbelievably powerful and
sometimes very difficult to watch. Remember those photos of the little
Vietnamese girl running naked down the road, a victim of a Napalm attack? Well,
in the movie, you see film footage in
color of that very scene as it happened. The same is true of the famous
photo depicting the execution by gunshot of a Vietcong prisoner in the street
by a Saigon police chief. In Hearts and
Minds, we don’t see the still photo, we see the actual killing, again in
color. These are among the many horrific imagery contained in the picture, much
of it stock footage. However, most of the running time is taken up by
interviews with guys like General William Westmoreland, Clark Clifford
(Secretary of Defense 1968-1969), Walt Rostow (aide to Kennedy and Johnson),
Daniel Elsberg (former aide to Defense Department), and many other talking
heads. Most of them come off as windbags spouting stuff we now know is simply
not true (General Westmoreland: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price
on life as does a Westerner.”).
film is obviously divisive as to which side of the aisle you reside—liberal or
conservative. I’m sure even today there are plenty of conservatives who still
believe we were right to go to Vietnam. While this column is meant to be a
review of the documentary, I think I can safely say that history has proven
that the liberals were right all along. Looking back at this picture now, it
simply reconfirms what we should have learned
from the mistakes made.
Criterion Collection has re-issued Hearts
and Minds in a dual format—Blu-ray and DVD (three disCs)—in a
high-definition digital restoration supervised by director Davis and
cinematographer Richard Pearce. The audio commentary is by Davis. Added to this
new release are over two hours of unused footage, including interviews of
people not seen in the film (e.g. David Brinkley). Overkill? Perhaps, but for
war history buffs who want to dig into the depths of this admittedly biased but
fascinating condemnation of a black mark in our time, then don’t miss Hearts and Minds.
Peter Hunt’s On Her Majesty’s Secret
Service celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. Actor George Lazenby, who donned the role of
Bond, James Bond, for this singular
film will be appearing for a Q and A at the screening on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. The event will be held at the Landmark
Theatre, 10850 West Pico at Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. From the press release:
Bond goes undercover in the treacherous Swiss Alps in this underrated, highly entertaining,
action-packed epic filled with artillery-laden ski pursuits, incredible stunts
and nonstop thrills! George Lazenby (in his only appearance as James Bond)
leaps into the role of Agent 007 with supreme confidence and undeniable
charisma, even finding love with the beautiful and seductive Tracy Di Vicenzo
(Diana Rigg). But first Bond must stop evil genius Blofeld (Telly Savalas) from
releasing a germ warfare plot that could kill millions! Directed by Peter R.
Hunt (Gold, Shout at the Devil).
The Hollywood Reporter says that Harrison Ford's recent injury on the set of the new Star Wars film, now shooting in England, resulted in a broken ankle and he may miss filming for up to eight weeks. Nevertheless, producers are confident that they can get around the problem and that the film's December 18, 2015 will not be affected. For more click here
Having been friends with a number of people in my life who are- or have been- car salesman, one thing becomes clear very quickly: you need to have a thick skin and a good sense of humor in order to survive in this curious profession. Not even bank robbers have seen their reputations degraded as much as car salesman- especially those who specialize in used cars...er, make that "previously owned vehicles", in the parlance of today. As with any profession, generalities can be dangerous. There are undoubtedly many reputable people selling cars but even they will tell you that, behind the scenes, the overriding strategies are to close the deal, no matter what it takes. I've always found it rather ironic that while, on the national level, car companies spend a fortune to present their products in TV ads that have production values that suggest class, style and elegance- while at the local level, car dealers swamp the airwaves with home-made ads that are cheap, cheesy and unintentionally hilarious. The consumer sees an ad during the Super Bowl with a guy who looks like 007 behind the wheel of a spanking new vehicle. Yet his local dealership sells the same product through ads featuring the owner, his mother, his cutesy kids - and in some cases over the top comic scenarios that are something out of the old Second City TV skits. (A local dealer near me is a portly fellow who routinely sells his cars while dressed in tights as a super hero!)
Car dealerships already had shaky reputations by the time director Robert Zemeckis rode a semi over the profession with his 1980 comedy "Used Cars". Twilight Time has released the special 2002 DVD edition as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray title. The film clearly exploited the new screen freedoms in the realm of tasteless humor that had been introduced a couple of years before by director John Landis with "National Lampoon's Animal House". There are those who consider "Used Cars" to be on par with that comedy classic, while others feel its "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" structure makes it more chaotic than consistently funny. In this writer's opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale had previously written and directed the 1978 film "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", which Steven Spielberg produced. The underrated and largely under-exposed comedy was the antithesis of "Used Cars" in that it was a sweet-natured look at how the arrival of The Beatles in America wreaked havoc on the lives of New York teenagers. Zemeckis and Gale went on to write Spielberg's epic 1979 WWII comedy "1941" before getting the green light to do "Used Cars", which was executive produced by Spielberg and John Milius.
"Used Cars" opens on a cynical shot of Arizona car salesman Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) tampering with the odometer on a beat-up vehicle in the hopes he can sucker some poor soul into buying it. Rudy is a charismatic young man who is a charming as he is soulless in terms of his moral fiber. He is intent on raising $10,000 so he can afford to be a credible candidate in the forthcoming race for state senator, a job he presumes will enable him to benefit from even greater graft and corruption. Meanwhile, the only person he respects is the owner of the car lot, the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), a man in precarious health whose days are clearly numbered. Luke is locked in a constant daily battle with his more affluent brother Roy (also played by Warden) who has a successful car lot directly across the highway from Luke. Despite the fact that Roy's sales far out-gross those of Luke, he is intent on using dirty tricks to gain control over his less fortunate brother's lot so that he can have the biggest dealership in the state. Much of the humor derives from Rudy's intense attempts to use chicanery to outwit Roy's attempts to seize Luke's property. When Luke suddenly expires, Rudy fears that Roy will inherit the car lot. He enlists the assistance of his two slovenly co-workers Jeff (Gerritt Graham) and Jim (Frank McRae) to hatch an audacious plan whereby they bury Luke inside a car on his own lot then try to convince Roy that he has taken a sudden trip to Florida. Roy isn't buying it and uses his affluence to buy off local officials to launch an investigation. Complicating matters is the arrival of Luke's estranged daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon). Rudy woos and beds her while hiding the fact that her dad is actually dead. As the film unwinds, the story becomes increasingly ludicrous and culminates in a wildly ambitious sequence in which Rudy organizers a fleet of 250 dilapidated vehicles driven by high school students on a race across the Arizona desert as part of a scheme to ensure Barbara inherits her father's car lot.
"Used Cars" boasts some truly amusing performances with Kurt Russell as the glue that holds this disparate cast together. For Russell, who had recently won acclaim for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in a TV movie, the Zemeckis film was pivotal in proving he could also draw audiences to movie theaters. (Heretofore, he was primarily known as the child and teen age star of many Walt Disney films). Every cast member is impressive and adds immeasurably to the fun, but it's Jack Warden's terrific tour de force performance as both brothers that dominates the film. Zemeckis and Gale have some misfires among the machine gun-fire like rapidity of jokes and comic situations, but they score more than they miss their targets. In one amusing sequence, they actually incorporate footage of then President Jimmy Carter in an outlandish manner. The highlight of the film is clearly the junk heap car race across the desert with Rudy and Roy battling each other from side-by-side pick up trucks like a modern version of the "Ben-Hur" chariot race. The sequence is so over-the-top and logistically impressive that you can honestly say that you've never seen anything like it. "Used Cars" has something to offend everyone: vulgar language abounds, there is disrespect for the dead, the American political system is mocked in a cynical manner and there is plenty of gratuitous tits-and-ass. No wonder I feel like watching it again.
The Twilight Time releases keeps the features from the previous special edition DVD including an award-winning 2003 commentary track featuring Zemeckis, Gale and Russell that is delightful throughout. The guys even goof about their own sloppiness in making the film (the opening frames accidentally reveal a soundman's arm and boom mic in a rear view mirror of a car). Clearly, they had as good a time reflecting on the experience as they did in making the film. There is an isolated score by Patrick Williams and an unused score by the estimable Ernest Gold. Additionally, there are radio spots and a TV ad done for a local Arizona car dealership where the movie was shot in which Kurt Russell actually appears (obviously as a favor) on camera with the lot's owner and help's pitch that week's specials on used cars! A gag reel and some outtakes are surprisingly flat and unfunny. There is also an original trailer from the days in which trailers themselves did not have to be rated. Thus, it's packed with gratuitous nudity even though it was screened to family audiences, which must have caused countless parents to have "that" conversation with their kids before they were ready to do so. There is also a terrific gallery of promotional materials including one ad that features notes from Steven Spielberg in which he complains that they may have produced a distasteful movie, but the ad campaign he is rejecting went too far in pointing this out. The movie was released during the presidential election period of 1980 and one ad notes that Ronald Reagan was not the only actor vying for the nation's top office- and invites audiences to see then incumbent President Jimmy Carter's movie debut. (As mentioned previously, this is a sly reference to newsreel footage seen in the film.) This particular ad also featured the likenesses of both candidates. Try doing that today!
The Twilight Time release is top notch. The film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it is inspired lunacy that, at times, makes Animal House look as sophisticated as 'Love's Labour's Lost'.
in the summer of 1964, A Hard Day’s Night,
starring The Beatles and directed by Richard Lester, is arguably the second
most influential British film of that decade (the first being Goldfinger, coincidentally released the
same year.). Why? For one thing, it brought The Beatles to a worldwide audience
that was just getting to know them through their music. Secondly, it spawned
imitations and knock-offs (The Monkees, anyone?) and is arguably the genesis of
music videos—where would MTV have been without it? Thirdly, the film itself was
innovative, fresh, and surprisingly funny (those long-haired boys from
Liverpool could actually act!).
of the best things about the Criterion Collection’s new deluxe box set of the
film (dual Blu-ray and DVD, three discs) is the short extra, On the Road to “A Hard Day’s Night,” an
interview with author Mark Lewisohn, that documents how The Beatles did not magically appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964,
already brilliant, already at the top of their game. In fact, as every serious
Beatles fan knows, their story began in 1958 when John Lennon met Paul
McCartney in Liverpool at the ages of seventeen and fifteen, respectively, and
they started playing music together and writing songs (George joined not long
after at age fourteen!). The first four years embodied a lot of work gaining
experience, honing their skills, and creating an act that would change not only
music itself, but pop culture. The Hamburg days, the early shows with Pete
Best, the gigs for peanuts, the obtaining of managers (first Allan Williams, then
Brian Epstein), auditioning for producer George Martin, being rejected by a
major record label, and then finally landing a contract with one—these were all
things none of us in America were aware of when we watched the four lads
perform on Ed Sullivan. What we saw
was a tight, talented band, and it seemed as if they’d come from nowhere.
(Apologies to UK readers, who of course knew how great the band was all through
to A Hard Day’s Night. Kudos to
United Artists executive David Picker, who greenlit a three-picture deal with
producer Walter Shenson (Picker was also responsible for green-lighting Dr. No, a little picture featuring a
character named James Bond). Picker had the foresight to make the deal with The
Beatles in 1963, well before the
band’s appearance on U.S. television. Apparently his instincts were good. If he
hadn’t done it then, someone else would have much later, and I dare say the
results would not have been as good.
was no accident that American director Richard Lester was hired to helm the
movie, either. He was living in the UK and had directed British television,
especially those crazy guys known as the Goons (Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers,
Harry Secombe), who were forerunners of that type of English humor we Americans
found odd but grew to love, especially by the time Monty Python came around.
The Beatles were fans of the Goons, so they figured Lester was their guy. It
was a perfect match. Lester not only brought out that odd British humor, but he
also combined the elements of the British New Wave in cinema (the “kitchen-sink
dramas” of the “angry young men”) and the French New Wave (radical editing,
improvisation, hand-held camerawork, low budget), and created something very
then there’s the music. Did you know that the song, “A Hard Day’s Night,” was
written overnight, on demand by
producer Shenson, because they needed something that matched the title? Not
only was it a good song, it was a massive hit
song! Imagine that... “Hey boys, could you write a number with the title in
it?” “Sure, Walter, we’ll have it for
you in the morning.” Bang. Oh. My. God. And that’s not to mention all
the other great tunes in the film. (For my money, the UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, the album, is one of The Beatles’ five best
this is a Criterion release, you can expect nothing but an outstanding transfer
of the film itself—4K digital restoration, approved by Lester, with three audio
options—monaural soundtrack, a stereo 5.1 surround mix, and a DTS-HD master audio
on the Blu-ray. Wow. There’s also an audio commentary by some of the cast and
extras are wonderful—some we’ve seen before, but others are new. A nice piece
on Lester, Picturewise, is narrated
by Rita Tushingham and features Lester’s early work (and there’s the obligatory
inclusion of Lester’s The Running Jumping
& Standing Still Film). In Their
Own Voices is a new piece mixing 1964 interviews with The Beatles with
behind-the-scenes footage and photos. A longer 1994 documentary, “You Can’t Do That: The Making of ‘A Hard
Day’s Night’” by producer Shenson, also includes an outtake performance by
the band. Things They Said Today is a
2002 documentary about the film featuring interviews with Lester, Martin,
screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. And there’s more,
buy me love? Forget it! The Beatles, Walter Shenson, Richard Lester, David
Picker, and everyone else involved with the film certainly bought enough love
for us... and we’re still basking in it.
Criterion Collection’s A Hard Day’s Night
is a must-buy.
The Hollywood Reporter visits Jerry Lewis at his home in Las Vegas and finds the 88 year old comedy legend as opinionated, cranky and funny as ever as his career undergoes yet another renaissance. Click here to read
Neil deGrasse Tyson is universally regarded as one of the top astrophysicists in the world. He hosts the popular Cosmos series and is a ubiquitous presence on American television as he promotes the study of science and astronomy is layman's terms. Nevertheless, the generally calm, cool deGrasse does have something that irks him more than the flat-earthers who continue to argue that the planet is only a few thousand years old and that humans romped around in the presence of dinosaurs. Turns out that a routine question from TMZ regarding his opinion of the movie that bastardized science the most, set deGrasse into a humorous "rage" when he immediately recounted how the 1979 Disney flick "The Black Hole" continues to irritate him to this day. deGrasse said that the scriptwriters didn't even make a token attempt to convey the actual science behind real black holes and claims that, had they done so, they would have also turned out a more compelling film. deGrasse isn't a totally stick-in-the-mud, however. He acknowledges that the Bruce Willis blockbuster Armageddon was also amiss when it came to science, but he gives it a pass because he feels it was a very entertaining film. Click here to watch the interview.
After being attached to the forthcoming "Ant-Man" Marvel super hero flick for a staggering eight years, director/co-writer Edgar Wright left the project he has been nurturing on the basis that the studio made changes to his script without his permission. Variety presents nine other examples of high profile film productions dating back to "The Wizard of Oz: and "Gone With the Wind" that saw directors replaced, mostly due to "creative differences". Click here to read.
Dee became a Broadway sensation as the female lead in A Raisin in the Sun. She also played the role in the acclaimed 1961 film version opposite Sidney Poitier.
Ruby Dee, the acclaimed star of stage and screen, has died at age 91. Dee was part of a generation of African-American actors who broke through racial prejudice and elevated the status of black characters in film and theater. She won both Emmy and Grammy awards and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2007 for American Gangster. Dee enjoyed a creative collaborative relationship with her husband, the late actor Ossie Davis, who was a legend in his own right. In addition to their contributions to the arts, Dee and Davis were also fervently involved in the issue of civil rights. For more click here.
On his web blog Hill Place, writer Shaun Chang catches up with former actress Cristina Raines for an exclusive interview. Raines had prominent roles in such 1970s gems as Michael Winner's The Sentinal, Robert Altman's Nashville and Ridley Scott's The Duelists. Interestingly, this accomplished actress gave up the glamour of show business for a career in nursing. Click here to read.
One of the most sought-after film scores in
the last 40 years has finally been released on CD. When released in 1968,
Michael Reeves’ classic Witchfinder
General (released in America as The Conqueror Worm) , starring Vincent Price (in arguably his finest role) featured an
equally impressive score by Paul Ferris. At the time of the film's initial
release a 45rpm record of the love theme was issued in England, but not a
complete soundtrack. Thought to be have been lost forever, the original
1/4-inch master tapes were found in the vaults of recording studio De Wolfe Ltd
Recently-discovered box containing reels of the original score.
The tapes, which are the original recordings, and not a copy, include
every cue used in the film, and are now available on a CD for fans of this film
(and the music) to enjoy at long last. Released by De Wolfe Ltd, the 3-sided
gatefold sleeve reproduces photos of the newly discovered tape box and reel
itself, and also comes with a 12-page booklet detailing the film's history. For
this author, this is the 'find' of the decade!
MPI Home Video has released producer/director Dan Curtis' 1973 production of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" on Blu-ray. The film was shot for American television and starred Jack Palance as the legendary vampire. The production was released theatrically in some European markets and this Blu-ray is the theatrical cut. In general, vampires had been good to Curtis and he returned the favor by popularizing them in his high profile TV productions such as "Dark Shadows" and "The Night Stalker". For "Dracula", Curtis enlisted some top talent, aside from Palance: legendary screenwriter Richard Matheson and acclaimed cinematographer Oswald Morris, among them. He also spent rather lavishly on the project with location filming in Yugoslavia and England. Matheson's intelligent script follows the Stoker novel in most major respects with the exception of jettisoning the character of Dracula's fawning slave Renfield and the accompanying subplot set in an insane asylum. The action begins with Jonathan Harker's (Murray Brown) arduous journey to Dracula's foreboding castle in Transylvania. The Count ostensibly wants Harker to suggest some real estate holdings so that Dracula can relocate to England. Upon seeing a photograph of Harker's friend Lucy (Fiona Lewis), he is instantly mesmerized. It seems she is the spitting image of his own lover from hundreds of years ago. They were both victims of Dracula's war time enemies and he has been pining away for her ever since having been transformed into a vampire. Matheson and Curtis very much wanted to add this new plot device in order to give the character of Dracula and emotional aspect that was missing from previous cinematic incarnations of the character. As presented here, Dracula is as much victim as villain. His motives are largely related to his quest to make Lucy a reincarnation of his former lover. Thus, he imprisons Harker in his castle and immediately sets about relocating to a home that is near the residences of Lucy and her fiancee Arthur (Simon Ward). Perhaps in the interest of the 98 minute running time, designed to fill a two-hour broadcast slot, Matheson only briefly alludes to the fatal and murderous sea crossing by Dracula in which the entire crew of the passenger ship dies under mysterious and horrific circumstances-- though there is a haunting image of the last victim strapped to the wheel of the ship with a cross clutched in his hand. Once in England, Dracula wastes no time in ensuring that Lucy becomes his victim. This leads to the introduction of Prof. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) who correctly diagnoses her bizarre maladies as having been caused by a vampire. The plot then follows the traditional elements of Stoker's novel with the manhunt on for Dracula and attempts to rescue Lucy and Harker's financee (Penelope Horner) from eternal damnation, both having been victimized by the Count.
The centerpiece of any Dracula film, of course, is the actor who plays the title role. Jack Palance makes for a striking visual representation of the Count: tall, imposing and seething with barely-restrained menace. Palance could chew the scenery if he didn't have a strong director, but Dan Curtis keeps him in check and, if anything, his performance may be a bit understated. Nevertheless, it's a very credible interpretation of the role and Palance deserved the kudos he received. Similarly, Curtis does a fine job as director, drenching the action in a menacing atmosphere and getting fine performances from his cast members. (Davenport is particularly good as Van Helsing). Adding to the commendable aspects of the production is Robert Cobert's fine, atmospheric score and Oswald Morris' creative camera angles. The film is a winner on all counts, if you pardon the pun.
The MPI Blu-ray is also very good indeed. The transfer is excellent and the release includes some interesting bonus extras including brief interviews with Palance and Curtis done in the early 1990s. Palance is surprisingly funny and says he had never seen the production, joking that he might have found it too scary. Curtis insists in his interview that Palance was the definitive screen Dracula, something that others may argue with especially when confronted with names like Max Schreck, Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Nevertheless, Curtis' enthusiasm for the film remains apparent even twenty years after it had been filmed. There are also some silent footage snippets identified as deleted scenes when, in fact, they are mostly just different camera angles. Most interesting is a comparison between scenes in the TV and theatrical versions. The main differences are confined to scenes in which vampires are "staked" by Van Helsing. Predictably, the theatrical takes are far gorier with oceans of blood ejecting from the mouths of the vampires There is also a theatrical trailer that seems to have been intended for the British market.
In total, a very worthy release of a very worthy take on a timeless literary masterpiece.
Cinema Retro's Matt Field and Dave Worrall on the red carpet.
By Matthew Field
headlined an exclusive red carpet event at the Odeon Leicester Square in
London, to mark the 50th anniversary of Zulu – the 1964 epic about
the historic 1879 battle at Rorke’s Drift.
Arriving at the cinema, the Prince told Suzannah Endfield Olivier, the
daughter of the film's director Cy Endfield, that Zulu was one of his favourite
films. 'I watch this film every single year before Christmas time,' he said. 'Maybe
once. Maybe twice.'
Matt and Dave with Cinema Retro contributor Paul Adsacks.
Inside and ahead of the film, guests were treated to a screening of rare
behind the scenes footage shot on location in South Africa in 1964. Cinema
Retro’s Dr. Sheldon Hall, gave the 2,000 strong audience a running commentary
to the black and white footage. Film critic Mark Kermode and Historian Dan Snow
both addressed the audience giving the film a cultural and historical context.
Dave and Matt with Welsh Guards.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who played King Cetshwayo the leader of the
Zulus in the film, was also in attendance. He said in a short recorded piece to
camera “My portrayal of King Cetshwayo, my maternal great-grandfather, was not
only a privilege, but almost inevitable once the idea was conceived. Cy
Endfield and Sir Stanley Baker came to see me at KwaPhindangene to request my
assistance in enlisting the thousands of extras for the Zulu regiments and the
part of King Cetshwayo. But when Endfield saw me, he was struck by the family
resemblance, and persuaded me to play the role myself.”
The Choir of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards performed Men of
Harlech on stage before a specially filmed message from Michael Caine. The
event benefited three very worthy charities - Walking With The Wounded, The
David Rattray Memorial Trust and Sentebale.
Zulu actor Dickie Owen and Henry Coleman a historian of the film who supplied rare footage. Henry also runs a Zulu web site that can be accessed by clicking here.
Finally the audience enjoyed the gorgeous 50th anniversary
digitally restored print of the film. As the lights came up, we began talking
to an elderly gentleman sitting next to us, only to discover, he was in fact 88 year old actor Dickie Owen, who played
Corporal Schiess in the film. In all, a memorable commemoration of a very
memorable British film classic.
well-known that when John Ford, who had worked with actor John Wayne on a
number of films prior to seeing him in Howard Hawks’ Red River, proclaimed that he didn’t know that “the son-of- a-
bitch could act!”
words were apt. Prior to the release of Red
River in 1948 (it was shot in 1946 but didn’t appear in theaters until
’48), Wayne had mostly played the likable, stalwart “John Wayne” character that
had first appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).
But in Red River, Wayne plays a role
that turned critical and public opinion of the actor’s thespian abilities. He
pulls off a remarkable feat—Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, is a first-class
S.O.B., a guy you really want someone to punch out throughout the movie; and
yet, Wayne manages to make him likable. He carries an audience through over two
hours of hardcore western, and he delivers one of his two or three best
performances. It doesn’t hurt that Wayne is ably supported by Montgomery Clift,
who plays Wayne’s adopted son. In many ways, it’s really Clift’s picture—he’s
the protagonist, and the story is seen through his eyes. But wait—maybe it’s
seen through Walter Brennan’s eyes in the original, rare theatrical cut,
released here in a glorious 2K digital restoration on Blu-ray.
fact, I had never seen the theatrical cut, the version preferred by director
Hawks. A longer cut, by about six minutes, was the one that was shown on
television and appeared on previous home video releases. The longer version was
actually intended as a preview for studio execs; it utilizes on-screen textual
transitions (as if the audience is reading from a book) and an extended final
confrontation between Wayne and Clift. The theatrical cut dispenses with the
textual transitions and instead substitutes sequences narrated by Walter
Brennan, who then, arguably, becomes the character through whose eyes we see
the story. Why this version, which originally played to audiences in 1948,
didn’t become the standard edition after that is a mystery; in actuality, Hawks
was quite right—the theatrical cut is the
better one, except for the trimmed final fight between the two leads. As Hawks tells Peter Bogdanovich in an audio
interview included as an extra in the Criterion Collection’s elaborate box set,
the best way to watch Red River is to
view the theatrical cut up until the last few minutes, and then change to the
preview cut at the point when Wayne marches through the heads of cattle to
confront Clift at the corral.
thing that is remarkable about Red River is
that it was Hawks’ first western. He would go on to make a handful more (good
ones, too!), and was known for making pictures in all genres, but the fact that
he went out of the gate with one of the greatest westerns of all time is truly
an achievement. Red River, without
question, is one of the five best
American films of the genre.
story is a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas
along the Chisholm Trail, the hardships the men overcome, and the battle of
wills between Wayne, the tyrannical leader and father, and Clift, the calmer,
perhaps smarter right-hand cowpoke and adopted son. Hawks manages to capture the
perilous trek with uncanny realism, assured composition and tempo, and drama.
Hawks once said that the key to a good film was “three good scenes and no bad
ones.” Well, Red River has far more
than three good scenes. The stampede sequence is nothing short of astounding.
went all out on this one. It’s a four-disk set—two Blu-rays and two DVDs
containing identical material. Both versions of the film are included, along
with a couple of interviews with Bogdanovich, who explains the difference
between the two cuts and presents his views on the picture. Critic Molly
Haskell talks about Hawks in a new video interview, and film scholar Lee Clark
Mitchell tells us all about the western genre in an interesting piece. There
are audio excerpts from interviews with Hawks and novelist Borden Chase, as
well as a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red
River featuring Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Brennan. Besides the usual
essay-filled booklet, the box comes with Chase’s original novel, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, from
which the film was adapted.
Douglas Sirk was known primarily for his “adult” melodramas of the 1950s that
usually dealt with bucking the small-town America social mores of the times. All That Heaven Allows is a prime
example. In lush, bold Technicolor (the superb cinematography is by Russell Metty),
Sirk tells the story of a May-September romance between an “older” widow and a
younger man (in actuality, star Jane Wyman was only 38 when the film was made,
and her paramour in the picture, Rock Hudson, was 30; obviously the intention
was that Wyman’s character is even older, say, in her 40s, since she has
college-age children). The couple must face gossip, scorn, and ultimate
rejection from Wyman’s society friends and even her grown children. The message
of acceptance and tolerance hits one over the head like a hammer, to be sure,
but, granted, at the time the subject matter was most likely indeed scandalous
to most Americans. Now it’s a big “so what.” That said, the point of the
story—that women need to be responsible for their own happiness and not cater
to what other people think—is still relevant today. A mother’s children will
eventually grow up and leave the nest; why should she remain in an unhappy
situation just to please them when they’re not even there?
but yes, Rock Hudson. Looking back at his performance in this and his other
hits of the 50s and 60s and knowing what we know about him today, one cannot
help but view the actor in a different light. And, for me, anyway, I saw right
through Hudson’s performance. I couldn’t believe that a) Wyman fell for the
guy, and b) that Hudson was really attracted to her. In 1955, the audience for
whom the picture was aimed (female, I imagine) may have bought the romance;
today, it’s superficial and frankly unbelievable. If there had been a bit more
spark between the actors and some clues that there were aspects about each
other that they found appealing (other than Hudson’s Adonis good looks), it
might play better. As it is, All That
Heaven Allows is now a curious relic of a time when America had more bugs
up its ass than a mother spider.
Criterion Collection presents the picture in the classiest way possible—a 2K
digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray—and it
looks marvelous. Of particular interest is the extra, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, in which we are treated to clips from
his films that he edited himself; they compile the moments in which the subtext
implies the truth about his sexual orientation. A Profile of Douglas Sirk, a 1979 BBC documentary, features rare interview
footage and is an interesting portrait of the filmmaker. There is more, of
course, in the dual Blu-ray/DVD format package, including an essay on Sirk in
the accompanying booklet, written by none other than filmmaker Rainer Werner
Fassbinder, whose work was inspired by the director’s pictures.
The Cinema Retro archives once again delves into its limitless images to present two great stars indulging in the Hollywood ritual of posing for cheesecake photos: Errol Flynn, seen here in an undated publicity photo at the height of his career and young Raquel Welch in the mid-1960s. Back in the day, stars and stars-in-the-making were subject to many glamour shoots designed to play up their images as sex symbols.
face it, 1979 was a particularly bad year for the Concord. It was the year in
which the ‘Airport’ franchise were about to deliver their latest offering in
the shape of the quite awful Airport ’79
The Concord. However, Airport ’79
was beaten (by several months) to the screen by a cheesy little flick from
Italy, Concord Affaire '79. Directed
by Ruggero Deodato, Concord Affaire '79
is more an action thriller rather than the formulated disaster flick that we
have come to know.Some commentators
have argued that it is actually far better than its ‘Airport’ rival, and to be honest, I would probably side with that
opinion.But let’s be clear from the
start, neither film will ever be described as a classic…
film was not a big budgeted project, the film’s restraints are apparent –
mainly through the use of stock footage of the British Airways supersonic
‘bird’ or the (less than seamless) shots of some average miniature models. But
of course, that is half of the film’s 70s charm and its era defining identity
stamp. Concord Affaire '79 separates
itself from the typical disaster genre film right from the start, largely by
having the plane crash in the first reel. There is no long laborious build up –
this plane is down, crashing into the ocean off the coast of Martinique and
leading us to believe there are no survivors. Of course, that’s not quite true,
Jean Beneyton, the young French flight attendant played by Mimsy Farmer, does
survive the crash. She is captured / rescued by the man responsible for the crash
– Milland, played by Hollywood veteran Joseph Cotton. The film in fact boasts a
string of established stars; Van Johnson plays Captain Scott, whilst Edmond
Purdom played Danker, one of Milland's leading henchmen. Heading the cast is
the ever enjoyable James Franciscus as Moses Brody, an American investigative
reporter who decides to go to the Antilles in an attempt to rescue Jean
Beneyton and uncover the story. From here on, it’s all rather good fun.
Cipriani’s score for Concord Affaire '79
marks its debut release on CD. It’s only previous release was on vinyl LP
consisting of 15 tracks and released in Japan on Polydor records. Whilst
Cipriani sets an energetic pace with his opening main title Danger flight, there are also plenty of
lush romantic cues. The score does however illustrate an age, due mainly to an
overwhelming backbeat of Euro disco, an era which perhaps does not transfer too
easily in today’s society. But of course, its style is very much of its time
and still retains a certain retro charm. The composer cleverly based his score
on variations of a single theme, which is hard to achieve unless in the hands
of someone such as Cipriani. The central theme is used to good effect,
sometimes melodic and rich or in the case of the underwater scenes there is an
edgy dreamlike quality attached. But above all else, Cipriani uses Concord Affaire '79 to indulge himself
deep into a world of synths and electronica, perhaps in reflection of the
futuristic, supersonic era of the film’s narrative. Synth theme in particular is a long, almost operatic homage to a
haunting electro heaven. However, Cipriani never seems to step too far over the
line, and later adds more familiar analogue instrumentation (such as strings)
to the synth sound and as a result, the blending works very well in deed.
Concord Affaire '79
is a curious, almost experimental score, yet Cipriani ultimately succeeds in
making it work. But there are moments where one is left considering, if
Cipriani perhaps deliberated over which route to take when composing this
score. It is certainly an eclectic mix of styles, both in mood and in its
instrumentation. For Cipriani collectors and soundtrack collectors in general, Concord Affaire '79 is well worth adding
to your collection. Consisting of 27 tracks, (7 of which did not make it into
the film), the CD is a huge improvement over the original album and its audio
has been beautifully remastered. Chris’ Soundtrack Corner has demonstrated a full
commitment to Cipriani’s work - with Concord
being the composer’s Sixth title in their increasingly impressive catalogue. We
can only hope there is more to come.
Even astute fans of retro cinematic classics may be unfamiliar with Billy Wilder's 1951 gem "Ace in the Hole". The film was a boxoffice flop in its American release back in the day but over the decades it has become regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best movies of its era. Kirk Douglas, in one of the truly great performances of his career, is cast as Chuck Tatum, a once-lauded reporter for a major New York newspaper, who finds his career on the skids. His cynical nature, overbearing personality and weakness for liquor has resulted in him being displaced to New Mexico, where- out of desperation- he convinces the editor of an Albuquerque paper to give him a job. Within hours, Tatum is bored by the sleepy atmosphere and passive nature of his co-workers, most of whom have no ambition beyond reporting minor stories of local interest. Things change radically when Tatum stumbles onto a crisis in the desert that could make for a compelling story. Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is the owner of a cafe located on a remote road who finds himself trapped in a cave after venturing inside to look for ancient Indian artifacts. Tatum sees that rescue plans for the man are rather poorly staged by the local deputy sheriff (Gene Evans). He enters the cave at great danger to himself and makes a connection with Leo, whose legs and midsection are buried under debris. Tatum is able to communicate with him from a small opening in a dirt mound and he assures Leo that he will get food, water and cigars while he organizes a rescue team. Grateful, Leo looks upon Tatum as his guardian angel. However, it becomes clear that Tatum is using his relationship with Leo for his own selfish purposes. He sees the potential as one of those "child stuck in a well" scenarios that tends to galvanize the entire nation. By personally taking charge of the rescue effort, Tatum makes himself a national hero overnight, as hundreds of people stream to the remote location and erect a tent city in order to be on the scene when Leo is eventually saved. Tatum, fully aware of American's eagerness to embrace the bizarre elements of any story, also plays up the notion that Leo is the victim of an ancient Indian curse for prowling around sacred tribal grounds.
Tatum has some disturbing factors to contend with, however. The primary problem is dealing with Leo's bombshell, self-centered wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling in a terrific performance). She was already looking to get out of a boring marriage with a boring man and decides to leave town during Leo's moment of crisis. Tatum uses a combination of charm and threats to convince her that staying put and playing the role of loyal wife would be in everyone's benefit. His prediction comes true in the financial sense, as the Minosa's cash-starved cafe begins to burst at the seams with visitors due to its proximity to the cave. Ironically, Leo's life-threatening predicament is finally bringing him the financial success that has eluded him. While Tatum becomes obsessed with manipulating the crisis, he also finds that his dispatches from the scene and his exclusive access to Leo have put him back in demand as a writer. He bypasses his own employer to sell updates to his ex-boss in New York at extortionist rates. He also has a hot/cold relationship with Lorraine, who clearly has a submissive sexual aspect to her moody demeanor. She's excited when Tatum mistreats her, though it's never made clear if their relationship goes beyond the flirtation stage. Tatum gets some disturbing news when he learns that the rescue team can use an expedited method to rescue Leo. Not wanting to kill the goose who laid the golden egg, Tatum manipulates the corrupt local sheriff (Roy Teal) into ordering a more labored method of rescue, even though it will result in a delay of days before reaching the victim. The decision has startling consequences for all involved. To say any more would negate the surprising turn of events depicted in the film. Suffice it to say, the intensity of the story continues to build throughout, making "Ace in the Hole" a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience.
Criterion has released "Ace in the Hole" as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD. The quality, as one might expect, is up to the company's superb standards. The package is loaded with fascinating extras including a rare extended interview with Billy Wilder at the American Film Institute in 1986. In it, Wilder talks about "Ace in the Hole" and other aspects of his career. The film was an early directorial effort for him and the first movie he produced, following his career as one of the industry's most in-demand filmmakers. By his own admission, "Ace in the Hole" was a major source of frustration for him. The movie was ignored by American critics and audiences and even re-titled "The Big Carnival". In the post-WWII era, it was probably deemed far too cynical for U.S. audiences. In fact, the "hero" of the film is a cad, the leading lady is a self-obsessed phony and the local law officials are corrupt. Except for a few minor characters, there is no one in the film with a truly moral center. Wilder says he took heart from the fact that the movie was quite successful in its European release. The set also contains a 1988 interview with Kirk Douglas, who discusses the film and his respect for Wilder in a very informative segment. Most impressive is the inclusion of "Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man", a 1980 documentary by French film critic Michel Clement in which Wilder gives extraordinary access to his private life. We see him at home and at the office with long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond as they laze around trying to come up with ideas for future projects. Wilder comes across as a symbol of Hollywood's bygone Golden Age. Speaking in a thick Austrian accent with his ever-present stogie at hand, Wilder regales the viewer with insights about his family's escape from the Nazi occupation and his unlikely meteoric rise up the film industry's food chain. Almost from the beginning he was a hot property and would remain a revered director, producer and writer throughout his entire career. The set also includes a vintage audio interview with another Wilder collaborator, screenwriter Walter Newman and an insightful and creatively designed "newspaper" with essays by critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin. Director Spike Lee provides a brief video "afterword" in which he extols the virtues of the film and also shows off a cool original lobby card that he treasures because it is signed by both Wilder and Douglas. Topping off the "extras" is a truly excellent audio commentary track by film scholar Neil Sinyard, who provides so many interesting background observations about the film that it will open any viewer's eyes to the latent meanings of certain sequences and images. Even if you consider audio commentaries to be dry and academic, I do urge you to give this one a listen. It's first rate throughout.
In summary, this is a first rate presentation of one of the most unfairly neglected American film classics; one that in recent years is finally getting the acclaim that it should have received on its initial release. Criterion has surpassed even its usual high standards.
Nicholas Wrathall turned an introduction to Vidal by his nephew into a rare filmmaking
opportunity. The result is Gore
Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, a new, in-depth look at the writer’s
long and singular life.
took seven years to make,” Wrathall told CinemaRetro, “five years of
interviewing him and I benefitted from the time frame because I got to know
author wrote a number of historical novels including Burr, Lincoln and 1876 along with screenplays, essays and
teleplays; but was best known for speaking out, totally unconcerned about the
feathers he ruffled along the way. In
addition to Wrathall’s interviews, the film makes use of decades of Vidal’s
televised appearances – arguing about sexuality in the 1950s, arguing against the Vietnam War and social inequality in the 1960s, stirring the intellectual pot whenever
possible. Archive footage shows Vidal’s
incredible reach – he was friends with JFK, Paul Newman, Eleanor Roosevelt and numerous
other boldfaced names. Viewers also see
a remarkable progression - from a young, vigorous Vidal, thoroughly enjoying
sparring against arch conservative William F. Buckley, to a more mature provocateur
railing against Ronald Reagan and finally an increasingly frail elder statesman
horrified by American imperialism and the Iraq war. Through it all, Vidal maintained his wry sense
of humor noting that “We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing
because we remember nothing.”
in NY, LA, Washington as well as Italy and Cuba, the film offers a definitive
look at one of the last “intellectual celebrities” of our time. “He was courageous, and provocative, that’s
why Carson and Cavett loved having him on their shows.” Wrathall adds.
with his razor sharp opinions, Vidal was also known for throwing lavish
parties, attracting movie stars, artists and politicians. Ground Zero for these coveted events was his
beloved villa, Rondinaia in Ravello, Italy. In fact, one of the film’s emotional highlights is Vidal’s final visit,
packing up books and memories and staring out at the incredible view one last
time. Actor Tim Robbins reminisces about
bringing his family for a stay with Gore and his partner, Howard Austen - only
to be joined by two other dinner guests, Sting and Bruce Springsteen and their
spouses. There was nobody Vidal didn’t
seem to know.!
notable talking head was author Christopher Hitchens – in one of his last on
camera interviews. He and Vidal had a
complicated relationship – at one point Hitchens was his literary heir apparent
only to be cast out when he spoke out in favor of the Iraq War, something Vidal
documentary ends with a final off camera question – “What is your legacy?”
Although Vidal dismisses it with a sneer, the documentary’s director thinks
that along with being a “writer, essayist and novelist… he was a brave,
outspoken person who lived at the center of our culture.”
Vidal: The United States of Amnesia opens in Los Angeles on June 6th. It is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York.
(For Don L. Stradley's review of the film click here)
Sex may be fun but it shouldn't be funny, at least when it comes to erotic filmmaking. That's my humble opinion, anyway. Most people would seem to disagree and from the inception of porn cinema, goofy comedy has been routinely blended with the more traditional aspects of the genre. Case in point: "Honey Buns", which was shot under the title "Heads or Tails" back in 1973 by director James Chiara. If that was his real name ("nom de plumes" were standard in the industry), nothing more has been heard from his since. The film is standard grind house fare from the period, with fairly low production values and a few exterior shots in L.A. to give the production a bit of atmosphere. Chiara, who is also credited as the writer, provides a familiar scenario: a nerdy male virgin who seems hopelessly destined to have his sexual fantasies remain unfulfilled. Here, our protagonist is Harry (Matt Hewitt, an odd-looking duck with an even odder, hard-to-place accent.) When we first meet Harry he is laboring as a clerk in the small office of a feminine hygiene company. He is working under the oppressive rule of a tyrannical, Captain Bligh-type boss who enjoys berating him in front of his sexy secretary, who he routinely takes into "private meetings" for some quickie sexual gratification. Alone and miserable, Harry's fortunes seem to change when he encounters an eccentric street magician who gives him a magic pill (this was pre-Viagara era, mind you) that allows Harry to conjure up the bed mates of his dreams, each of whom is completely submissive to his desires. However, as with all such fantasies, there is a down side- literally. Every time Harry is about to consummate the act, he finds that the ladies vanish into thin air. The film follows the frustrated Harry as he tries to find a solution to his problem. In between, the viewer is treated to a good deal of hard core action, some genuinely steamy, but most of which is compromised by the presence of this unappealing leading man. It's like watching "Last Tango in Paris" with Jerry Lewis in the Brando role. The movie boasts appearances by two of the cult sex symbols of the day, porn legend Rene Bond and the supremely endowed Uschi Digard, whose appearance is somewhat of a tease. She struts around in a mini skirt but leaves the rest to the viewer's imagination. Most of the film's gags are rather lame and predictable but there is no doubt that there always has been a market for these rather non-threatening porn releases that emphasize humor as much as sexual content.
As usual, Impulse Pictures does a good job of presenting a long-forgotten "B" movie in a fairly respectable manner. The transfer elements are fine although the packaging lacks the informative liner notes that accommodate some of the company's releases.
Timeless Media, which is affiliated with Shout! Factory, has released the classic 1960s TV series "I Spy" in a boxed set that contains all 82 episodes. Although Image Entertainment had released the series previously on DVD, this marks the first time the show is available in its entirety in one set. The show was one of many TV series that capitalized on the recent success of the James Bond films. Suddenly, TV and cinemas were playing spy-related fare virtually non-stop. NBC had some of the best elements of the spymania craze with "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", Get Smart" and "I Spy". The latter series premiered in 1965 and ran three seasons through 1968. It presented Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson, who uses his status as an international tennis pro as a cover for his activities as a CIA agent. He is assisted by his good friend Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby), who ostensibly is his trainer, but who is also a top spy for the American government. What set the series apart from most of the competition was producer Sheldon Leonard's determination to spend a lot of money on the show. While the men from U.N.C.L.E's "foreign" intrigue was limited to stock footage and back lot sets, the "I Spy" guys really got to travel to exotic locations around the world. Consequently, the show has a glamorous aspect lacking in most other action adventure series from the period. Then there was the fact that in an era of hip spies, Culp and Cosby were arguably the hippest. They traded genuinely funny wisecracks that often seem improvised. The series was also significant from a social issues standpoint. Bill Cosby was the first African American leading man to play a dramatic role in a weekly TV series. He was awarded numerous Emmys for his performance but his presence in the show was controversial during an era when anti-segregation laws in the South had to enforced by gun-toting National Guardsman. Some southern affiliates of NBC refused to air the series. Cosby, who was by then a well-known stand-up comic, always credited Culp for putting his career on the line for him by insisting that either Cosby got the co-starring role, or he would quit the show before it even got under way. There is no real way to measure the impact Cosby's presence on the series had on young African American kids. However, I was in grade school when the show aired and the racial mix in the school was about 50/50. Suddenly, black kids finally had their own TV icon to admire and he was arguably the hippest of all the action stars of the era. Cos looked good in a tux, wooed pretty ladies and was an intrepid man of action.
We have obviously not viewed every one of the 82 episodes contained on the 18 DVDs in this set but a random look indicates the quality of the transfers is top notch. The series has also aged very well and, like the Bond movies, never seems out of date. Culp and Cosby still generate terrific chemistry together as well as with some of the big name guest stars who range from Don Rickles and Jim Brown to young Ron Howard. The only gripe is that one wishes there were at least a few bonus extras to point out the impact of the series and its significance in pop and societal culture. Image Entertainment had released a couple of special DVDs titled The Robert Culp Collection in which the actor provided commentary tracks. Those are not included here so you may want to hang on to them even if you add this irresistible new set to your DVD collection.
If you have $10 million laying around that you don't know what to do with, you might consider buying the iconic apartment seen in the 1961 classic film Breakfast at Tiffany's. It served as the personal residence of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) and key sequences were shot for exteriors in the film including Hepburn's interactions with co-stars George Peppard and Patricia Neal. It's located at 169 E. 71st Street and is otherwise just another building in the tony neighborhood. It sold for over $5 million two years ago and the current owner thinks he can now double that investment. Interiors were shot in a studio, though a representative for the owner thinks the famed party sequence was actually filmed inside the apartment. One thing is certain: if you want to buy the place, it won't go lightly on your wallet. For more click here