It must have seemed like a sure bet to adapt Elmore Leonard's book The Moonshine War into a film way back in 1970. MGM, then struggling to stay afloat, even signed Leonard to write the screenplay. The end result, however, is a mixed bag despite the impressive talent involved in the production. The movie is now regarded as a long-forgotten flop, the failure of which seemed to be ensured by a bizarre ad and poster campaign that featured an image of a generic hillbilly with a shotgun rather than emphasizing the cast. The film is set in rural Kentucky during the Prohibition era. Frank Long (Patrick McGoohan) is a corrupt federal agent who is ostensibly in the area to search out and destroy local stills. In fact, he is intent on finding the hidden liquor stash of Son Martin (Alan Alda), the reigning local kingpin of illicit booze. His intention is to force Martin to partner with him. When his hard-edged efforts fail to intimidate Martin, Long decides to call in two confederates- Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Richard Widmark), who uses his profession as a dentist to cover his gangster activities and Dual Matters (songwriter and singer Lee Hazlewood), his sadistic right hand man. Long's intention is to use some additional strongarm tactics to get Son to divulge the location of his still. However, Taubee -and especially Dual- prove to be bloodthirsty killers and their tactics result in torture and murder. Before long, Taulbee concedes even he needs reinforcements, despite the fact that the cowardly locals won't lift a finger to assist Son in his besieged cabin. Soon a small army of killers has descended on the property. This is too much even for Long, who sides with Son and his only ally, his farm hand Adam (legendary blues singer Joe Williams) who have only a few guns and their wits to stave off certain death.
The Moonshine War never reaches its full potential, though the eclectic cast makes it worth viewing. Richard Quine's direction is rather limp and uninspired and the central role of Son Martin is miscast with Alda in the lead. He doesn't seem remotely convincing as a hillbilly and gives a rather boring, half-hearted performance. Fortunately, the other cast members are a lot more lively with Widmark playing against type as an outrageous villain. He's in a perpetually jolly mood even when ordering the execution of innocents and he is accompanied by an Eva Braun-like dumb hooker, Miley (Susanne Zenor), who seems oblivious to the carnage being caused by her "beau". The real scene-stealer, perhaps improbably, is non-actor Lee Hazelwood, whose demented and murderous hit man is a truly chilling screen presence. McGoohan, who is also somewhat miscast, is never less than riveting to watch no matter what role he plays and there is a deft supporting turn by Will Geer in traditional Grandpa Walton mode.
Elmore Leonard's screenplay is somewhat erratic, ranging from cornpone country humor to outright sadism. Not helping matters is the inclusion of upbeat country western standards, a gimmick that seems inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Here, however, the result seems more inappropriate than artistically inspired. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Moonshine War for what it is- a consistently engrossing, entertaining vehicle that seemed to be custom made for the drive-in circuit of the era. Oh, and the final scene does pack an unexpected wallop.
maybe for Michael Caine and Ernest Borgnine, has any other actor ever starred
in more movies, ranging more widely from classic (“A Star Is Born,” “North by
Northwest,” “Lolita”) to cult (“The Pumpkin Eater,” “Cross of Iron”), to the
campy and B-level titles that partially rounded out the final two decades of
his career (“Bad Man’s River,” “Mandingo”),
than James Mason (1909-1984)?
releases from the Warner Archive Collection showcase Mason’s versatility in
mid-career films that could hardly be farther apart in theme and subject
Decks Ran Red” (1958) was one of Mason’s two collaborations with
producer/director Andrew L. Stone in the late ‘50s. Ed Rummill (Mason), a hardworking and
ambitious first officer on a luxury liner, is offered the command of the S.S.
Berwind, a merchant ship, after the previous captain unexpectedly dies. “You might be smart to pass this up,” one of
his superiors cautions, noting that the Berwind has a restless crew and a
troubled history. Rummill eagerly jumps
at the opportunity for advancement anyway. Presently, flying to the remote New Zealand port where the Berwind is
docked, his enthusiasm is dampened on
first sight of the ship: “As dirty, as miserable, as rusted-up an old tub as
I’d ever seen.”
dirt and rust are the least of his worries. Crewman Scott (Broderick Crawford), abetted by his crony Martin (Stuart
Whitman), begins to stir up mutiny even before the Berwind leaves port. Scott’s plan is this: after they put out to
sea, he’ll nudge the mutineers into killing Rummill and the other
officers. Then he and Martin in turn
will murder their fellow crewmen. Once
they dispose of the bodies, the two conspirators will partially scuttle the
ship and bring it in as an abandoned derelict, collecting a reward for
recovering the vessel: one million dollars, half the value of the Berwind and
its cargo. Further creating strife, a
beautiful woman comes aboard for the voyage (Dorothy Dandridge), the wife of
the new ship’s cook. Scott gleefully
figures that the presence of the “well-stacked doll” will ratchet tensions even
direction is so efficient and the sleek Mason and rumpled Crawford are so well
contrasted as the main antagonists that you’re tempted to overlook lapses in
logic and continuity as the movie proceeds. The ship’s routine appears so orderly and the crew so sedate that the
mutiny angle never really comes together. Stone seems to recognize about
halfway through that the narrative is about to stall, and so Scott abruptly
abandons the mutiny scheme, breaks out his stash of firearms, corners the
officers on the bridge, and with Martin’s help begins to pick off the other
crewmen. Rummill begins as a character
on a human scale, competent but fallible, but by the end of the movie, he’s
swimming across a choppy ocean and scaling the side of the ship like an action
hero for a final confrontation with Scott. Similarly, Dandridge’s character, Mahia, never quite seems to come into
focus either; calculatedly seductive one minute, scared and helpless the
next. An early scene suggests that she
will pose a sexual challenge to the happily married Rummill, as Mason muses in voiceover,
“It never entered my mind that the woman would be so sensuous and so exotically
beautiful.” But Rummill keeps hands off,
regarding her as more a nuisance on the already troubled ship than an object of
the movie is best enjoyed as the cinematic equivalent of 1950s men’s pulps like
“Male” and “Saga,” which marketed lurid tales of modern-day piracy, danger at
sea, and exotic sex as true stories. Mason’s voiceover narrative even has the same overheated prose
style: “There was a ship named the S.S.
Berwind. This is the story of that ship
. . . A story which actually happened .
. . A story of the most infamous, diabolically cunning crime in the annals of
maritime history.” The name “Ed Rummill”
is suspiciously similar to “Erwin Rommel,” Mason’s famous role in “The Desert
Fox” (1951); maybe Stone and Mason were having a little fun with the audience.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Sea Gull” (1968), an ensemble cast enacts Chekhov’s tragedy
of frustrated lives and misguided love in a circle of well-to-do landowners,
actors, and aspiring artists in late 19th Century Russia. Mason shares roughly equal screen time with
Simone Signoret, Vanessa Redgrave, David Warner, Harry Andrews, Alfred Lynch,
Denholm Elliott, and Kathleen Widdoes, but in a sense he’s first among equals.
He has top billing as Trigorin, a popular but second-rate novelist. He’s the subject of the first close-up in the
film in a brief, wordless scene added by Lumet and screenwriter Moura Budberg
that doesn’t appear in the original play. And the role of Trigorin is a pivotal one, whose actions lead to
calamity for two of the other characters in the final act.
laudable to see any attempt to bring classic literature to the screen,
especially these days, when the average person in the street, if asked to
identify Chekhov, probably would answer, “Isn’t he that guy from ‘Star
Trek’?” I give Lumet and his cast high
marks for ambition, even if they never quite surmount the challenge of translating
Chekhov’s complex, allusive work to the visual, kinetic medium of film.
basic problems, one relating to casting and the other to performance, beset the
movie. While Warner and Redgrave are
fine actors, they’re too old at 27 and 31, respectively, to play Chekhov’s
Konstantin and Nina. I knew lots of kids
like Chekhov’s Konstantin in my college literature and drama courses, bright
but immature 20-year-olds with mother fixations. At 27, Warner seems like a case of arrested
development. Likewise, it’s affecting
when Chekhov’s 17- or 18-year-old Nina attaches herself to the older Trigorin,
and you realize, even if she doesn’t, that her infatuation will not end well;
Redgrave looks like a woman in her twenties who should know better. Mason doesn’t present the same disconnect
between appearance and behavior, but he brings a misplaced sense of gravity to
the role of the faintly absurd Trigorin. The disreputable Mason of “The Wicked Lady” (1945) and “The Prisoner of
Zenda” (1952) would better have served the role.
Warner Archive Collection editions are bare-bones DVDs without chapter stops,
subtitles, or significant extras. “The
Decks Ran Red” includes the theatrical trailer. The black-and-white transfer is acceptable, and there’s a startling
visual in the title credit, where “Red” in “The Decks Ran Red” stands out in
bleeding crimson against the monochromic background. They do the same thing now in “Sin City” with
computers; how did they do it in 1958? The transfer of “The Sea Gull” is somewhat soft, muting the Technicolor
cinematography, but not objectionable. There are no extra features.
Sir Roger Moore will be signing copies of his latest book, "Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown", in London. Below is the schedule for the signing sessions.
"Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown" recounts Sir Roger's personal memories of the his friendships and working relationships with many of the greatest Hollywood legends.
1pm Book signing, Hatchards St Pancras
5pm Book signing,The Cinema Store
2.30pm Book signing, WaterstonesGuildford
1.30pm HarrodsBook signing
1pm Book signing, Waterstones Kingston
Please note: Due to the large crowds that are anticipated, in order to ensure that all books can be signed, Sir Roger will not be personalizing copies. Additionally, there will be no posing for photos or signing any items other than the book itself.
Can't make it to the signings? Click here to order from Amazon UK.
The book will be released in the USA in October under the title "One Lucky Bastard". Click hereto pre-order from Amazon USA
Hayes in his one man stage show Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes, which is now on tour.
By Mark Cerulli
“Ne Oldu, Ne Oldu,
That line from Midnight Express,
delivered with swaggering menace by a depraved prison warden (played by the
great Paul L. Smith) burned itself into this scribe’s cortex back in 1978. Alan Parker’s iconic film about the real-life
ordeal of American student Billy Hayes caught smuggling drugs in Turkey and
sentenced to a hellish prison became a cultural phenomenon – not to mention an
international box office success. It earned glowing reviews and Oscars for screenwriter
Oliver Stone and composer Gorgio Moroder. Hayes even met his wife Wendy at the
splashy Cannes premiere. No joy for Turkey, though - there was an international
outcry about their seemingly draconian justice system and the country’s once-booming
tourism hit the skids hard. The gritty association to the film has stuck ever
Retro caught up with the real Billy Hayes, now touring with his one-man show “Riding
the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” to separate fact from Turkish prison fiction. And as Hayes freely admits, it’s been a wild
months ago I was in a prison cell, eating beans and now I’m flying to LA to
talk about a movie deal for my book!” Hayes remembers, still scarcely believing
the turn of events. Unlike many authors
who are gently shunted aside as their work is repurposed, Hayes bonded with
Oliver Stone, then making his name as a hot young screenwriter.
spent a week in the Mayfair hotel in New York with Oliver, eight to ten hours a
day” he recalled, likening it to being in a washing machine on spin cycle, “but
I loved every second of it.” Stone, who had read an early galley of the book,
wanted to glean any hidden gems and Billy wanted to see how a screenwriter
worked. Then they parted ways - Stone
off to a cabin to write and Hayes waited to see how actor Brad Davis would
bring him to life.
had no control, I had sold the rights …” Billy remembered, “but I ended up
being really lucky. Oliver wrote a great script and (director) Alan Parker was
brilliant… but at the same time, my biggest problem with the movie is everybody
says ‘I’ll never go to Turkey, I saw Midnight Express’. I love Turkey, Istanbul is wonderful… I got
busted on my fourth trip. In the movie you don’t see any good Turks.”
island of Malta stood in for Turkey when that country predictably refused
filming permission and the producers flew Billy in for some publicity shots. He and star Brad Davis hit it off, forging a
friendship that would last until the actor’s death in 1991. “They walked me onto the set in that incredible
stone fort, Fort St. Elmo, and they were shooting a scene on the balcony with
Brad and Randy (Quaid) and it was like I was looking across at myself… it was
was even time for Billy to meet his tormentor in chief… “They took a break and
I was being introduced, I felt this hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there
was Paul Smith, in costume, looking like the badass sadist guard… then he
smiled. He was a very nice, warm, cuddly guy.” The 6’4” Smith (who later played ‘Bluto’ to
Robin Williams’ ‘Popeye’) was so cuddly that Brad Davis went to the director
and said “This effing guy is killing me in the fight scenes.” Alan Parker promised to get Smith to dial
back, but instead told the hulking actor, “You’re doing great, keep it up!”
the movie, effective as it was, wasn’t the real
story, not completely. Yes, Hayes
smuggled hash and yes, he was just 54 days away from release when the Turkish
court, under pressure to “get tough” on drugs, heartbreakingly re-sentenced
him to Life, but that’s where film and fact start to diverge.
did indeed get retried. The judge – as
in the film – was very sympathetic. As
Hayes recalled, “He said he wished he had retired before having to render the
(new) verdict.” In fact, said judge did
him a solid – since he couldn’t give him a lower sentence than Life, he reduced
Life to 30 years. A nice gesture, but
thirty years is still THIRTY years! When
the sentence was handed down in court, the real Billy Hayes said, “I can’t
agree with you, all I can do is I forgive you.” Run through Oliver Stone’s typewriter, Billy’s enlightened zen morphed
into, “I hate you. I hate your nation...
And I fuck your sons and daughters because you’re all pigs!”
Strong stuff. A “dramatic beat” in
Hollywood parlance… and there were immediate consequences. After Billy’s
escape, Turkey didn’t seek extradition. After publication of his book, they
still gave him a pass… but once the movie came out, they issued an Interpol
arrest warrant, a travel restricting scarlet letter that branded him for the
next twenty years! “Thank you,
Oliver.” Billy laughs.
His other issue is with the film’s
portrayal of his incredible escape. On film he has a final confrontation with
the psychotic warden, impaling his skull on a coat hook. (Listen for the “pickaxe in a watermelon” sound
effect!) Then he slips on a guard’s
uniform and walks out the door. It
worked and was the kind of ending that had audiences cheering… but his real
life escape was even more dramatic. Billy had managed to get himself moved to
an island prison and was planning to somehow swim to shore when a storm forced
the local fishing fleet to take shelter in the prison harbor. In the teeth of the storm, Billy swam out,
cut a rowboat loose and rowed to the mainland. Eventually he walked through the highly defended (and land-mined!) border
between Turkey and Greece and got his freedom, along with lifelong bragging
“The one thing I thought was, if
they make this into a movie, they’ll put this ending in, it’s made for Hollywood…
and then they didn’t do it!” Billy remembers, adding, “Alan (Parker)
showed me the movie in this little screening room in New York… at the end of
it, I was all sweaty and Alan asked, ‘So what do you think?’ I said ‘I loved
the movie, but I missed my rowboat, what happened?’” The director explained that to include
Billy’s elaborate, true-life escape, they’d have to cut out 45 minutes of
Billy Hayes (left) with Brad Davis, the actor who portrayed him in the film. (Photo courtesy of Billy Hayes).
“As a filmmaker I understand it…”
Billy concedes, “but I really wanted my rowboat. It gave me back my life!”
Over the last forty-odd years,
Billy has tried to set the record straight about his entire ordeal, but never
has he had a forum like this one-man show, which grew out of his 1980s college
lecture tour. As Billy puts it, “At the very least, my life is a cautionary
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” was put together by lead producer Barbara Ligeti (who’s
made several films of her own including Hugo
Pool and Motorama). She was looking for a singular talent to
present at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Barbara, who knows everybody, knew
had met Billy when he was in a play I enjoyed in the late 80s, I didn’t realize
he was ‘THE’ Billy Hayes.” Ligeti laughs. “I asked him ‘Can you tell your story in an hour on a stool with a
bottle of water?’” Billy signed on and
the Edinburgh show proved too good to leave as a one-off event. “We all went to work” Ligeti remembers, “and
now the show is up to 70 minutes with an immediate Q&A afterwards.”
Producer and Director Jeffrey
Altschuler helped Billy craft his lecture into a riveting, yet uplifting live presentation.
Altschuler, who had worked in TV commercial production, had numerous ties to the
film version of Billy’s life, “I knew the guys who put the movie together,
Peter Guber and Neil Bogart, and I knew Alan Parker from commercials.” That helped when Barbara brought him in to
dramaturge the show. He and the star had
a lot in common…
grew up in the 1960s in New York, we both dropped out of college. I chose to
buy and sell horses instead of hash”, Altschuler recalled. “It was a very different time, everybody got
stoned but nobody thought about where it came from or how it got there until Midnight Express.”
with any creative project, it all came down to the material. “I was really impressed with Billy’s writing.”
Altshuler said. The two honed the
script from a lecture to a dramatic reading and when the show’s original
director left, Altschuler got the gig even though he had never directed live
just had to encourage him and get him to dig a little deeper to cover the
material the way it should be covered. It was totally a collaboration.”
city after city, the show has received a rousing reception. Many Turks are coming out to see the
performance, something Billy appreciates. “They’re young kids whose parents were alive when all this was happening
and they’ve been hearing about it, now we can talk about it.”
decades of wanderlust, Hayes sounds like a man who has finally found his place
in the world. “This just confirms to me that this is what I need and want to be
doing now…. it’s cathartic and therapeutic, but every time I tell it it’s like
the first time.” With plans for the
show to tour the globe, there’s not even a hint of Midnight fatigue. “This has
been a joy, it’s just been a joy.” Sounds like a happy, Hollywood ending at last.
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” will return to New York’s Barrow Street Theater starting
Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell site presents the original theatrical trailer for John Huston's "The Man Who Would Be King" starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Watch it in its original format or with commentary track by award-winning screenwriter Josh Olson. Click here to view
The date was September 18, 1970 and Dick Cavett, host of his own acclaimed late night chat show, must have felt he had a coup by landing three top actors to appear on that night's broadcast. They were John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara- none of whom had the Brando or Sinatra-like reputation of being a "bad boy". The three were making the rounds to promote Cassavetes new directorial effort, the feature film "Husbands". As director, Cassavetes believed in having his actors improvise and say whatever might come into their heads. That strategy should not have carried over into the medium of television, however. In an article for the New Yorker magazine, Dick Cavett recalls how this talented trio turned his show into a nightmare. The actors, who were probably drunk, were as obnoxious as anyone could imagine, pulling juvenile pranks and being as rude as possible to Cavett and his audience. Nervous, jittery laughter turned into outrage on the part of the audience and viewers at home. Click here for Cavett's recollections and to view the infamous episode.
Attenborough's role in the 1963 classic The Great Escape gained him international acclaim.
The film industry has lost another legend with the passing of Lord Richard Attenborough, who was one of the pioneers in successfully carving out dual careers as both actor and director. Attenborough was a familiar face as an acclaimed character actor in British films in the post-WWII era but gained international stardom in director John Sturges' 1963 WWII classic The Great Escape. (Attenborough's co-star in that film, James Garner, passed away last month). Attenborough also co-starred with Steve McQueen in that film and would reunite with him in director Robert Wise's sprawling 1966 epic The Sand Pebbles, which would earn Attenborough a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He directed his first film in 1969, a big-budget anti-war musical Oh! What a Lovely War. In 1972, he directed the ambitious screen biography of Churchill, Young Winston. He also directed the 1977 WWII epic A Bridge Too Far. The following year, he gave Anthony Hopkins an important early leading role as the star of the suspense thriller Magic. Curiously, none of these films were significant boxoffice or critical successes but Attenborough persevered and finally brought his dream project- the biography of Ghandi- to fruition in 1982. He won the Academy Award for Best Director and also received the Oscar for producing the Best Picture. Attenborough had gone into self-imposed retirement from acting to concentrate on directing. He returned to the screen in 1993 to play an important role in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster Jurassic Park. Five years ago, Attenborough suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. He passed away today at his home in England at the age of 90. Click here for New York Times obituary.
the turn of the Millennium, several film directors from Mexico were gaining
attention and acclaim—guys like Alfonso Arau, Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu,
Guillermo del Toro, and this year’s Oscar-winner as Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón
(for Gravity). Cuarón’s
career trajectory has been, for me, the most interesting of the bunch. He broke
into the international scene with the 2001 coming-of-age drama, Y Tu Mamá
También, and followed that with, of all things, the megahit Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,
which, I argue, is the best of all eight Harry Potter movies. The terrific
dystopian thriller Children of Men followed
that, and then came Gravity.
than the superb handling of each specific film’s material, there isn’t much
similarity between these pictures, and yet it’s apparent that Cuarón
brings an auteur sensibility to his work. This is most evident in the more
personal Y Tu Mamá También, a film Cuarón
made in his native Mexico with no Hollywood studio in sight. The director and
his brother Carlos Cuarón claim in the terrific new extra of recent
interviews about the making of the film that the picture is not
autobiographical. However, a much of the world in which our two high school-age
protagonists exist is similar to the more middle-to-upper-class upbringing the
and Julio (honestly played by Diego Luna and Gael García
Bernal), are typical, urban, horny hormone-raging teenagers ready to graduate
from school and step out into adulthood. But for that to happen, a rite of
passage must occur to shake the boys out of decidedly vulgar adolescence,
mischief-making, and carefree attitudes.
an older unhappy married woman, Luisa—Maribel Verdú, in a tour de force performance—whose tragic
secrets motivate her to recklessly accompany the boys on a road trip to “the
beach.” The journey is a rite of passage for her, too, but the teens don’t know
this. What happens on that trip will change the two boys’ lives forever. In
essence, the film is a frank and modern Summer
of ’42 meets Jules and Jim. In
fact, Y Tu Mamá También does seem to be
inspired by the French New Wave—not only Jules
and Jim but also, as revealed by the Cuarón brothers in the
documentary, Godard’s Masculin Féminin. The detached, omniscient voice-over
narration in Y Tu Mamá evokes these 1960s classics in a more contemporary context.
And, like Godard’s films, Y Tu Mamá contains commentary on the then-current
political situation in Mexico, when the ruling party of 70-plus-years was voted
out. The upheaval, while not directly affecting our three characters, is
constantly in the background.
film is also sexually explicit. The picture was released in the USA unrated,
which means it otherwise would have received the problematic NC-17. The raw
naturalism of the sex scenes is indeed shocking, but without it the movie would
not have the impact that it does. As it is, Y
Tu Mamá También packs a punch. The Big
Reveal about Luisa at the end of the story can possibly change in an instant a
viewer’s reaction to the film up to that point. Along the way, you will have
laughed, cringed, laughed some more, and observed a loss of innocence as it
often occurs—unexpectedly and with deeply emotional prices to pay.
three leads are exceptional. Cuarón was fortunate to
employ actors who courageously bared their souls—as well as their skins—to make
this truly remarkable, highly recommended film.
new, restored 2K digital film transfer is gorgeous (the cinematography is by
the great Emmanuel Lubezki). The Blu-ray features a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master
Audio soundtrack. Extras include vintage and new behind-the scenes
documentaries featuring the director, cast, and others; Carlos Cuarón’s
very funny short film You Owe Me One (2002),
a new interview with philosopher Slavoj Žižek
about the film’s social and political aspects, and deleted scenes.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
DVD and Blu-Ray
on A.E.W. Mason’s classic 1902 adventure novel, The Four Feathers had been made three times before this definitive version
of a “British Empire Adventure Film” was released in 1939.Produced by Hungarian-born but UK-based
Alexander Korda, one of the great filmmakers of British cinema, and directed by
his brother Zoltan Korda, The Four
Feathers represents the best of what England had to offer during its day,
as well as the epitome of the kind of yarns spun by Kipling and his ilk.
vivid Technicolor and sporting a cast of hundreds of ethnic extras, the picture
captures the grand Victorian era of the British military and takes place mostly
in Africa some ten years or so after the fall of Khartoum.The story is simple (albeit somewhat
improbable):a young officer (John
Clements) is accused of cowardice by his associates and fiancée after he
resigns his post on the eve of a major deployment to take back the Sudan.Setting out to prove the opposite, he
disguises himself as a mute Arab so that he can “make a difference” from the
inside of the enemy camp and show his “friends” what he’s really made of.At one point, his rival in love, portrayed by
the excellent Ralph Richardson, is struck blind by excessive exposure to the
desert sun—and our hero must help him trek across the country to safety, all
without saying a word or revealing to the man that he’s his old colleague.
particular version of The Four Feathers would
be an impressive film if made today, but for 1939, it’s a masterpiece (the
recent 2002 version doesn’t compare).With its tremendous logistical challenges and
extreme conditions on location, the picture is a marvel to behold.It also contains tons of what are now
familiar clichés of British Empirical tales, mostly embodied by the humorous
performance of overly stately C. Aubrey Smith—and this, too, is a testament of
the film’s influence.The picture is
also a timely (and embarrassingly hilarious) lesson in how racism was taken for
granted during its day.
new Criterion edition, of course, looks gorgeous in a high-definition
restoration.At that time, Natalie
Kalmus (the wife of Technicolor’s inventor, Herbert Kalmus), was forced upon
filmmakers as “color coordinator” if one wanted to use the process, and she had
total control over its application.Whether it was appropriate or not, Natalie went for bold, vivid colors;
in this case the result is happily spectacular.
audio commentary by Charles Drazin is interesting, but the true gem of the
extra features is the interview with Zoltan Korda’s son, David.He sheds light on the lives of the amazing
trio of brothers—Alexander, Zoltan, and Vincent—who became one of the most
important British film families in its history.There is also a vintage documentary short about the Kordas’ studio,
London Films, which features rare footage of Zoltan in action directing The Four Feathers.
about any Criterion Collection release is a must-have.This is one has that quality in spades.
It is with profound sadness that we must announce the passing of director Brian G. Hutton, a long-time friend of and contributor to Cinema Retro. Brian was one of the most unique talents in the film business. Born in New York City, he never lost his hard-scrabble, irascible attitude which extended to resenting having to take orders from the studio "suits" who employed him. He walked away from a great and lucrative career in the industry decades ago and kept out of the public eye, granting precious few interviews in the intervening decades. He remains primarily known for his two big budget WWII MGM films, "Where Eagles Dare" and "Kelly's Heroes", both starring Clint Eastwood. The films were difficult to make and the latter resulted in a major conflict with Hutton and Eastwood and MGM when the studio exercised its rights to dramatically cut the film prior to its release. Hutton also made a number of lesser-known films but each of them proved to be enduring and worthy of praise.
When Cinema Retro was preparing its first Movie Classics edition devoted entirely to "Where Eagles Dare" in 2009, we made every effort to contact Hutton for an interview, but we were unsuccessful. However, shortly after the issue appeared, I was
startled to receive a phone call from a gentleman named Bill Tasgal who said he
was sitting in a coffee shop in L.A. with his friend Brian Hutton and they were
both perusing the Where Eagles Dare issue.
He said Hutton wanted to speak with me. A few seconds later an unmistakably New
York accent growled, “Is this Lee Pfeiffer?” When I said it was, he said “I’m
looking at your magazine and I’m going to sue you for using such an ugly photo
of me!” To which I replied, “As a director, you should know the camera never
lies!” So began a friendship that saw Brian contribute extensively to our Movie Classics Kelly's Heroes issue as well as our revised updated edition of the Eagles Dare issue that was published in 2012.
Last October, Dave Worrall and I traveled to L.A. to finally meet Brian in the flesh. We managed to arrange a wonderful lunch date that saw him reunited with his old friend, director John Landis, who Brian gave a break to when he hired John as a "go for" on Kelly's Heroes. Brian saw great promise in the young film enthusiast and, of course, Landis made good on the faith shown in him by becoming an internationally respected director himself. Over lunch, we were privileged to hear some amazing and truly hilarious stories about their adventures filming in Yugoslavia (not all of them are suitable for publication). It was a wonderful day in every respect.
Reunion in L.A., October 2013. From L to R: Bill Tasgal, John Landis, Brian G. Hutton and Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
Brian Hutton suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and struggled valiantly against the odds. An original tough guy, he managed to hang in there a lot longer than anyone would have predicted but finally the battle was lost. He is survived by his loving wife Victoria and his devoted friend and colleague, Bill Tasgal, who was played a crucial role in making Brian's later years so rewarding and enjoyable. However, Brian had many other "friends" that he never knew personally- namely, everyone who ever saw one of his films. Although he was loathe to lavish praise on his own work, he was very grateful to the loyal fans who kept his films in the spotlight long after he went into self-imposed retirement. He was particularly moved by the fact that so many people around the globe held Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes in such esteem. He was always lavish in his praise of Clint Eastwood, with whom he continued to maintained a close friendship over the decades.
Rest in peace, Brian- and as Oddball from Kelly's Heroes might say, "Hope you only encounter positive waves...."
(Continue reading for a biography of Brian G. Hutton)
approached the 2013 Blu-Ray edition of André Téchiné’s “The Bronte
Sisters” (1979) with mild interest, which was mostly piqued by the powerhouse
casting of the three leading young actresses of 1970s French cinema -- Isabelle
Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie-France Pisier -- as Emily, Anne, and
Charlotte Bronte. Imagine a 2014 U.S.
film teaming Scarlett Johanssen, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley. With vague memories of “Devotion,”
Hollywood’s melodramatic 1946 Bronte biopic, I was doubtful that the film
itself would be particularly compelling.
But I was pleasantly surprised.
Relating the formative events in the lives of the three sisters and
their brother Branwell (Pascal Greggory) in straightforward, episodic form,
Téchiné’s interpretation is first-rate: excellently acted, emotionally moving,
and visually striking with starkly beautiful cinematography by Bruno Nuytten on
the Yorkshire moors where the Bronte siblings lived their sadly short lives.
In a new documentary about the making of the film, included as
an extra on the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray, Téchiné recalls that he wanted
to stay true to the facts of the Brontes’ lives without speculation or
embellishment. Similarly, he “demanded a
certain austerity of acting” from the cast to complement the unadorned style of
the narrative. Beginning with a scene in
which Branwell, proud but also uncertain about his talent, unveils his painting
of his three sisters and himself, the movie proceeds to cover decisive moments in the siblings’ lives. Emily, a free spirit, capers on the moors in
boy’s clothing. Charlotte, the quietly
ambitious sister, convinces their aunt to lend money so that she and Emily to
go abroad to school. Anne, the dutiful
one, stays behind to take care of their father, aunt, and brother.
Initially, this approach seems a bit cold and distant, but as
the movie continues, it becomes clear that Téchiné’s decision was a wise
one. The unfolding vignettes are quietly
powerful in illuminating the close and sometimes contentious relationships
between the sisters. This
matter-of-factness pays off especially well in the later segments of the film. As one tragedy after another besets the
family, the scenes relating to the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne are all
the more affecting because they aren’t amped up with banal dialogue and syrupy
background music. Téchiné is helped
immensely by the costuming, set design and cinematography (as he acknowledges
in the making-of documentary), which recreate mid-19th Century England in
A certain playful sense of humor surfaces occasionally,
leavening the bleakness of the story. When the sisters submit their first novels as Acton, Currer, and Ellis
Bell, speculation runs wild in the publishing world: are they the same person,
are they male or female, are they a man and a woman collaborating? Deciding it’s time to reveal the sisters’ true
identities, Anne and Charlotte travel to London to meet with their publisher in
person. “I am Currer Bell, and that is Acton,” Charlotte says quietly when she
and Anne appear unexpectedly in the publisher’s office. “We are three sisters. There is no man.” Pisier delivers the lines with perfect
Adjani, Huppert, and Pisier are luminous. Interviews in the making-of documentary
reveal that the actresses had a sometimes intense off-camera rivalry,
complicated by existing relationships with other people in the production
crew. (Téchiné and Pisier were friends;
Adjani and Nuytten were romantically attached.) It’s a measure of Téchiné’s talent and the actresses’ professionalism
that the three women convincingly project a sisterly bond of support and
affection, with perhaps the real-life rivalry only erupting strategically on
screen in scenes where the sisters’ love for each other is strained. I wish Patrick Magee (“Marat/Sade,” “A Clockwork
Orange”) had more to do as the head of the Bronte family, and his distinctive
voice is lost because his lines are dubbed in French by someone else, but
nevertheless his presence is used effectively if sparingly, Bronte purists will be pleased that he,
Téchiné, and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer portray the Rev. Patrick Bronte
sympathetically as a caring father and progressive clergyman, reflecting modern
scholarship that refutes earlier prose and film portraits of Bronte as a
addition to the making-of documentary, the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray
includes two trailers and an excellent audio commentary track by film critic
Wade Major and Bronte scholar Sue Lonoff de Cuevas. If you’re as unfamiliar with the subject
matter as I was, I might almost suggest that you listen to the commentary
before playing the movie, since Major and de Cuevas illuminate many details
about Bronte history and about the production aspects of the movie that
deepened my appreciation of the film. Although the making-of documentary doesn’t include Adjani or Huppert
(Pisier died in 2011), many of the other key cast and crew are
interviewed. This is an excellent
Blu-Ray package, highly recommended.
Now this is what you call a bargain: three terrific WWII flicks for only $10 on Amazon, courtesy of Shout! Factory's Timeless Media label, which continues to distribute first rate editions of films that were often considered to be second-rate at the time of their initial release. This "War Film Triple Feature" package includes three gems that were not particularly notable at the time of their release. Two have grown in stature, while the third has benefited only from Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes' enthusiastic coverage in issue #25. The films included in the set are:
"Attack" (1955)- During the period of WWII, both the Allied and Axis film industries concentrated on feature films that were pure propaganda designed to motivate their fighting men and the public at large. By the early-to-mid-1950s, however, more introspective viewpoints emerged among Hollywood directors and writers. With the conflict now over, the American military became fair game for criticism, though thin-skinned top brass would withhold official cooperation to productions that didn't pass their demands to show the Army or Navy in a positive light. Fred Zinnemann had to water down the script for "From Here to Eternity" from being a scathing indictment of military brass to making the villains a couple of stray bad apples who got their just comeuppance once the generals rode to the rescue of oppressed enlisted men. By 1955, director Robert Aldrich had emerged as a major new talent and had enough clout with the studios to thumb his nose at Pentagon demands when it came to developing his latest project, a controversial WWII script titled "Attack" (aka "Attack!"). Aldrich, who also produced the film, was denied use of military personnel and equipment when he refused to radically change the story. Instead, he focused on a small band of soldiers and laid out $1,000 of his own money to buy an old tank- the only "major" investment in this economical production. Ironically, by making the film on a relatively tiny budget, he succeeded in creating one of the most powerful military stories of its era. The film focuses on a company of battle-weary G.I.s who just lost a sizable portion of their unit when a mission went terribly awry. Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance) puts the blame squarely on his commanding officer, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), accusing him of cowardly behavior by failing to provide the men under his command with the backup support he had promised. When Cooney orders Costa and his men to occupy a farmhouse in a village that may be infested with the enemy, he makes similar problems to provide backup support should a firefight break out. Costa threatens to kill Cooney if he breaks his word again but Cooney remains unphased. Like the French officers in Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", he is a politically connected snob whose influence in social circles allows him to be protected by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). Bartlett is repulsed by Cooney's cowardice but has political aspirations after the war and knows that, by coddling Cooney, his influential father can assure his being elected. When the mission goes predictably bad, Costa loses many men under his command and Cooney never provides the promised assistance. This leads to some of the most shocking developments ever seen in an American war movie and, indeed, the scenario that plays out is still rather traumatizing today as an enraged Costa enacts his plan of revenge. The ending of the film is so unlike anything seen in a Hollywood production that one is surprised the film wasn't consigned to sit unreleased on a shelf. As leading man, Jack Palance is acting with a capital "A" as he uses every nuance of the new "method" acting that was then all the rage. Still, he makes a powerful on screen presence. However, it is Eddie Albert who steals the show with a masterful performance as a sniveling, spoiled elitist. (The irony is that Albert was a real life war hero who was wounded during the D-Day invasion.) Lee Marvin is also excellent in an early career role and Robert Strauss provides the few laughs in the film as a blue collar Jewish soldier who is understandably paranoid about being captured by Germans. "Attack" is a terrific war movie- one that probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release.
"BEACH RED" (1967)- While Cornel Wilde primarily enjoyed a successful career as a reasonably popular leading man, he also showed considerable skill as a director. His 1966 African adventure film "The Naked Prey" was an impressive achievement on all levels. Wilde followed that film with "Beach Red", a 1967 WWII era story that seems to have intentional parallels with America's increasingly unpopular presence in Vietnam. Based on a novel written near the end of WWII, "Beach Red" is primarily a pacifist view of a "good war", that is a conflict that the Western democracies realized was necessary to avoid totalitarianism from dominating the globe. Wilde isn't interested in the big picture, however. His film concentrates on how war affects individuals, in this case a company of U.S. G.Is who must make a seemingly suicidal landing off an unnamed beach in the Pacific while under relentless Japanese fire. This opening sequence is quite harrowing and Wilde does an excellent job of handling the logistics. (He had the cooperation of the Philippine government in return for filming there, thus had actual soldiers available as extras for the battle scenes.) The gruesome close-ups of wounded and dying Americans caused a bit of a stir in critical circles back in the day but Wilde deserves credit for showing an aspect of war that went beyond the standard Hollywood "Gung Ho!" treatment of men in battle. The opening sequence also blends in real battle footage, but as was generally the case with this tactic, the grainy newsreel footage is a rather awkward match for the crisp, clean work of Wilde's cinematographer Cecil R. Cooney. The screenplay was quite offbeat for the era. The action moves back and forth between American and Japanese lines in an attempt to humanize both sides. This wasn't an entirely unique premise. David Lean had made the Japanese commander a three dimensional character in his 1957 classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Frank Sinatra- in his only attempt at directing- humanized Japanese troops in his 1965 film "None But the Brave". Nevertheless, presenting "the other side" as something other than comic book cliches gives "Beach Red" a mature, interesting outlook on the war in the Pacific. The only other "name" actor in the film is Rip Torn as Wilde's hard-boiled second-in-command who has a tendency for sadism. Wilde gets a bit artsy by blending in flashbacks envisioned by both American and Japanese soldiers as they mutually dream of their wives and families back home. Some of these sequences are set to a pacifist-themed folk song and proves to be effective in conveying some real emotion when a character meets a grisly demise. There is a disjointed feel to the film, as though Wilde seemed to have a strong message but didn't know how to quite wrap it all up in a single package. Nevertheless, "Beach Red" remains an underrated, bold film that displays Wilde's talents both in front of and behind the camera.
"ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST" (1968)- As mentioned previously, Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes covered the making of this relatively low-budget 1968 WWII film in issue #25 and extolled its virtues. "Coast" was one of numerous small-scale wartime movies filmed in England in the late 1960s that turned out to be highly entertaining, well-scripted, directed and acted. "Coast" is one of the best of the bunch, most of which were produced by Oakmont Productions and released by United Artists, often as the lower half of double bills in the United States. Lloyd Bridges, in a rare starring role in a feature film, plays Major Jamie Wilson, a man who is haunted by a botched major military operation that resulted in 3/4 of his command being killed. He is at odds with Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir), an equally hard-nosed officer whose son was killed in the ill-fated operation. Both men blame each other for bungling the mission and there is genuine hatred between them. To redeem himself, Wilson devises another elaborate, highly dangerous mission- this time to send a small group of commandos into Occupied France to destroy a dockside refueling station that the Germans consider crucial for continuing to wreak havoc on Allied naval forces. Predictably, Wilson and Franklin are assigned to spearhead the mission despite their mutual dislike for each other. Wilson's relentless training for the operation results in his getting a reputation as a Captain Bligh-like figure, despite the fact that at home, he is a devoted husband to his wife Sue (Sue Lloyd) and his young son Jimmy (Mark Ward). Wilson's plan involves disguising a vessel as an enemy boat and sailing unobstructed near the French port where frogmen will swim to the dock and destroy key installations. The German commander (Walter Gotell) is fortunately preoccupied with an easy lifestyle of watching stag movies, smoking cigars and drinking fine liquors. The early stages of the operation prove to be successful- but then things start to go wrong. Director Paul Wendkos, who also helmed the Oakmont production "Hell Boats", does a good job of wringing a lot of suspense out of the intelligent script. He's helped by the fact that both Bridges and Keir (a Christopher Lee type with a strong screen presence) both deliver excellent performances. The low budget is evident in the use of miniatures in the battle sequences, but overall, "Attack on the Iron Coast" is a first rate "B" movie. Highly recommended.
The Peter Cushing Appreciation Society reports that actress Madeleine Collinson has passed away from unknown causes at age 62. Collinson and her identical twin sister Mary became international sensations in the late 1960s and 1970s by posing nude together in provocative photos in "men's magazines". They were featured in a high profile layout in a 1970 issue of Playboy, becoming the first twins to pose for the iconic magazine. Collinson's screen career was short-lived and the high water mark was "Twins of Evil", a 1971 cult favorite produced by Hammer Studios and starring Peter Cushing. Madeleine and Mary played twin sisters who fall prey to to religious fanatics and a charismatic vampire in old England. The Collinsons were born in Malta but gained fame when they moved to England where their uninhibited natures and willingness to pose nude together gave them a kinky twist during the sexual revolution. Details are sketchy regarding Madeleine's passing. For more click here
“TIE ME UP! TIE ME
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
FIFTY SHADES OF
By Raymond Benson
twenty years prior to the popularity of Fifty
Shades of Grey, acclaimed and eccentric Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar
delivered to the world a kinky morsel of bondage-love—Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (original Spanish title: Átame!). The director had just come off the international success of his 1988 picture, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,
which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. While the
filmmaker’s early ‘80s films are certainly of note, it was Women that thrust Almodóvar into the
when it came to releasing his next film in the U.S. in 1990, Almodóvar
was met with some resistance from the MPAA ratings board. The dreaded X rating
was threatened, forcing Miramax, the film’s distributor, to sue. The film was
eventually released “unrated”; however, it was this lawsuit that prompted the
MPAA to change the stigmatized X to the more consumer-friendly NC-17. (Henry and June became the first U.S.
film to be released with the new NC-17 rating. Ironically, the NC-17 rating
wasn’t an improvement. The stigma remained and the media in many areas of the
country continued the policy of refusing to advertise NC-17-rated movies.)
picture does give you a pretty good barometer on judging the level of
sexually-explicit scenes in the cinema. It’s pretty shocking—however, intelligent
adults in the audience might recognize that Almodóvar is pulling a
fast one on us—which is very much a stylistic signature trait of the
director’s. We just didn’t know that in 1990.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me
a comedy, a dark one at that, but I’m sure many people might see it as
offensive and misogynistic, especially in the wake of recent events such as the
Cleveland, Ohio kidnappings, enslavement, and ultimate rescue of three women in
2013. That’s essentially the plot of the film, except it’s only one woman in
Banderas plays Ricki, an unbalanced, violent, but charming mental patient who is discharged from the institution.
Why? Who knows—he should never have been let out. Anyway, he has a fixation on
a Marina, a former porn actress now making B-movies (courageously played by
Almodóvar favorite Victoria Abril). Like in
William Wyler’s 1965 film, The Collector,
Banderas kidnaps his prey—and isn’t very gentle in going about it—and keeps
Marina a prisoner in her apartment. Ricki’s goal is to “get her to love him” so
they can be married and have children. At first, she is naturally repulsed,
terrified, and resistant. Until he can trust her, Ricki binds her to the bed
whenever he has to go out. This goes on for some time until finally Stockholm
Syndrome sets in and Marina actually does
fall in love with her captor. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say
that things turn out in Almodóvar’s typically
they might have missed was the fact that Almodóvar intended the
piece to be like the B-movie that Marina is making within the story. He wanted
to make a “Roger Corman movie.” Thus, much of the picture has the trappings of
a cheap horror film. Even Ennio Morricone’s score is sinister and nervy—and
this is the clue that Almodóvar wants us to
laugh at the situation. Banderas’ Ricki is so
utterly likable (as well as handsome, hot, etc.) that we are fooled into
ignoring the seriousness of his crimes. Marina’s reactions to him also become
unbelievably tolerant, despite the fact that she is his captive. It is this
heightened unrealism that is the key
to not only Tie Me Up! but also much
of Almodóvar’s work. In other words, this is theatre of the absurd. Go with the flow
and you may come out of it enlightened by notions of human sexuality and
relationships that you might not have considered before. Besides, the two
central performances are so winning that you can’t help but stay riveted to the
screen. Banderas, in particular, has never been better.
restoration is gorgeous, colorful, and sharp, as it was supervised by both
Almodóvar and his brother, executive producer
Agustin Almodóvar. Extras include a brand new documentary
on the making of the film, featuring current interviews with the director,
Banderas, Abril, and others involved in the production. There is also a new
interview with Almodóvar collaborator and Sony Pictures Classics
co-president Michael Barker. A 2003 conversation between Almodóvar
and Banderas is included, as well as footage from the film’s 1990 premiere
party in Madrid. The included booklet contains a piece Almodóvar
wrote about the picture, a 1989 interview with the director, and a dialogue
about the film between filmmaker Wes Anderson and critic Kent Jones.
get out the handcuffs and rope, settle down with your significant other, and
have yourself a kinky old time with Tie
Me Up! Tie Me Down! Adults only please!
The Warner Archive has released the classic 1956 film noir Ransom! as a burn-to-order title. The film is a textbook example of minimalist production values being overshadowed by a strong, intelligent script (co-written by future 007 scribe Richard Maibaum) and excellent direction, courtesy of Alex Segal. Glenn Ford plays Dave Stannard, a highly successful owner of a major vacuum cleaner company. He lives an idyllic home life with his devoted wife Edith (Donna Reed) and their 8 year-old son Andy (Bobby Clark). Suddenly their peaceful, quiet life is sent into a tragic spin when Andy is kidnapped by persons unknown. Stannard alerts the local police chief and soon his house is swarming with cops while outside a circus-like atmosphere develops as ghoulish neighbors gather to sniff out any updates in the case. For long agonizing hours Stannard doesn't receive any word until the inevitable phone call comes in demanding that he get a $500,000 ransom together. Stannard uses his influence as a highly respected local businessman to get the local bank to provide the money in the exact denominations required. He and Edith are convinced that by paying the ransom, Andy will be returned safely. However, the police chief (Robert Keith) and a local reporter (Leslie Nielsen) break the sobering news to him that, by paying the ransom, he is probably ensuring his son's death. Stannard rethinks his strategy and goes on local television with a direct address to the kidnappers: if they release Andy no harm will be done and if they are ever arrested he will plead for leniency for them. However, he becomes increasingly enraged as he informs them of the alternative: they will never get the ransom money because he intends to use it as a reward to bring them to justice- "dead or alive". In a superbly written sequence, Stannard addresses the unseen villains and tells them that with the $500,000 reward hanging over their heads, they will never know a minute's peace. They will suspect everyone around them, including each other, of being a potential sell-out. Edith, who is emotionally shattered, is outraged at Stannard's strategy. In fact, virtually everyone is against him, callously accusing him of valuing money over the life of his son. However, Stannard holds firm in the belief that every ransom paid ensures a future kidnapping. With his marriage crumbling, his own brother publicly criticizing him and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stannard begins to question the logic of his controversial strategy.
Director Segal milks considerable tension out of this scenario and goes against the grain of the conformist 1950s by presenting both the police and the press in a rather cynical light. The chief tries to be helpful and is sympathetic to Stannard but lets slip that his every decision is motivated by political implications. He also has to resort to helping himself to Stannard's liquor cabinet in order to cope with the crisis. Similarly, Nielsen's streetwise reporter adds to Stannard's misery by threatening to leak the story unless Stannard promises him exclusive access to his home once the news does break. The script also avoids an obvious cliche by not identifying who the culprits are. Their identities become irrelevant, as this is about one family's trauma and their personal reactions to it. The actors are all first rate with Ford, not always the most exciting of screen presences, giving what may well be the most intense performance of his career. The premise of the movie has had impressive durability. This film was based on a TV drama and in the 1990s it was remade by Ron Howard in a big budget version starring Mel Gibson. However, Alex Segal's version remains, in many ways, the most enduring. It's precision, economical filmmaking at its best.
The DVD contains the original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to view a preview clip.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.
July 16th 2014, Cinema Retro’s Eddy Friedfeld moderated a tribute to
the late Sid Caesar with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Billy Crystal at The Paley
Center in Beverly Hills, which Rotten Tomatoes called “funny, touching, and
illuminating.” The two hour program had
Brooks and Reiner sharing stories and recollections of their time onstage and
in the fabled Writers Room of Your Show of Shows and Caesars Hour, and Crystal
sharing how Caesar influenced him to become a comedian, including a step by
step recollection of how he created the legendary Fernando character. For full coverage on the Rotten Tomatoes web site, click here
the break-up of Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the end of the 1970s, Keith Emerson
ventured into the world of film soundtrack composition with his score for
Italian director Dario Aregento’s horror film Inferno in 1980. This, in turn,
led to Emerson being commissioned to compose and perform the music for the
Sylvester Stallone film Nighthawks in 1981. From here a succession of film
scores were to follow for directors in Italy, Japan and the United States. At
the Movies gathers together Emerson’s music for seven movies including
Nighthawks, Best Revenge, Inferno, La Chiesa (The Church), "Muderock,
Harmagedon and Godzilla Final Wars.
One (US Movies) contains 2 full soundtracks. Firstly, there is Nighthawks
(1981) an enjoyable cop thriller from Sylvester Stallone. The movie co-starred
Billy Dee Williams as Stallone’s partner, Lindsey Wagner (of TVs Bionic Woman
fame) as the love interest and Rutger Hauer as terrorist Heymar Reinhardt.
Emerson’s music, in consideration of its period, works very well indeed. Many
composers, including the likes of orchestral masters such as Jerry Goldsmith,
were experimenting tentatively with electronic music and synths during this
film making period, and many failed miserably. However, Emerson appears to
address the balance rather impressively. If you possess the patience to
overlook a few genuinely cheesy moments – such as ‘Nighthawkin’ and ‘I'm a man’
which contain a vocal style reminiscent of the dying disco era – than you are
in for a treat. There is some fine dramatic scoring here. Its main theme works
very well - listen carefully and you may even pick up on a motif which is not
too dissimilar to that of ELP’s ‘Fanfare for the common man’. The soundtrack is
sometimes deep and broody – sometimes light and soulful. ‘Tramway’ for instance
is a tense and edgy piece that never seems to rely permanently on synths –
Emerson instead feels confident enough to introduce and experiment – and in
this case – adds a delicate sound of a whirling police siren as part of the
soundscape. All in all, Nighthawks still works very well – which is a pleasant
second half of the CD contains the soundtrack of John Trent’s Bad Revenge
(1984) which appears to be a European – British production? Nevertheless, it is
something of an obscure film which has disappeared under the radar. But it
contained a rather impressive cast including John Heard, John Rhys-Davies and
Michael Ironside. The story revolves around an American tourist in Spain who is
forced to take part in a $4 million drug deal, because his best friend has been
kidnapped and is being tortured by the drug kingpin who set up the operation.
The score begins with a somewhat lengthy orchestral suite (15.29) which serves
in setting the tone. Whistles, rhythmic clapping hands and maracas indicate a
strong European flavour. Bad Revenge certainly has a more established prog rock
feel to it, again there are some vocals which perhaps unflatteringly date the
score. But there are some real nice moments, too - The Dreamer, for instance is
the film’s love theme and is performed beautifully by simple piano and delicate
background synths. Because Bad Revenge is such a rarely seen movie, we don’t
ever enter this score with any preconceived ideas - no clues, which, whilst
refreshing, it can also, leave you a little empty. However, Bad Revenge is also
a very nice way to round off the first disc, look upon it as a generous bonus
and all will serve well.
Two (Italian Movies) contains 2 full soundtracks and an EP. Disc 2 begins with
Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) the film in which Emerson cut his teeth in terms
of film music. Inferno is a wonderful score, opening with a truly beautiful
theme, which is so often the case with Italian horror films. However, there is
a rich diversity throughout the score; tracks such as Taxi Ride provide a clear
example of Emerson’s classically trained background and his virtuosity as an
accomplished pianist. Sarah in the Library Vaults also highlights his flair for
tense, dramatic scoring with the aid of lengthy, unsettling strings. Whilst
Mater Tenebrarum explodes like an assault on the senses and becomes a full
blown synth orientated operetta. The soundtrack as a whole remains quite superb
and bristles with a seemingly eternal energy.
is an EP containing music (Four tracks) from Michele Soavi’s La Chiesa (The
Church) (1989). The film told of an old Gothic cathedral, built over a mass
grave, which develops strange powers. The Church trap a number of people inside
with ghosts from a 12th Century massacre seeking to resurrect an ancient demon
from the bowels of the Earth. Emerson’s music for La Chiesa takes on a much
darker element, the emphasis is centred very much on its gothic surroundings.
Much of its fifteen minutes are brooding, tense and full of dread, but Emerson
does dabble with some electronic percussion which does inject a burst of much
off Disc 2 is Emerson’s score for Lucio Fulci’s Murderock (Uccide a passo di
danza)(1984). By Fulci’s standards, Muderock was something of a standard
thriller which saw the owner of a prestigious New York ballet school team up
with a male model in order to solve a series of bizarre murders of a few of the
students. The soundtrack is something of a mixed bag - following a fast paced
opening theme, the score wastes little time in reverting to a very dated vocal
(Not so innocent) provided by Doreen Chanter. Hereafter, the album takes on a
very mainstream life. Instrumental keyboard pieces are broken up with some nice
individual cues, Prelude to Candice is a sweet, subtle composition, and Coffee
Time provides some light Jazzy relief (and a rare excursion) before we are
launched back into a standard prog rock landscape. The score concludes with a
lift in the shape of The Spilone, a funky bass driven track that seems somewhat
out of place with what has preceded it.
3 (Japanese Movies) consists of 2 full soundtracks starting off with
Harmagedon: The Great Battle with Genma, a science fiction anime movie released
in 1983. Emerson’s score for this rarely seen movie is probably the lightest
from this box set. The music is pretty safe throughout – entertaining organ
riffs dominate and provide a jolly enough experience if this is your kind of
thing. Totalling some 18 minutes in length, it is thankfully rather short.
finish disc 3, there is the score to Ryûhei Kitamura’s Godzilla Final Wars
(2004). This turned out to be something very different. I found myself quite
enjoying this score. Perhaps it was due to the fast forwarding - a quantum leap
of some 20 years in the evolution of Emerson’s film music? I’m not sure. The
music for Godzilla Final Wars is without doubt, more upbeat, and arguably down
to the advances - not only in Emerson’s compositions - but in technology and
instrumentation. The score is incredibly diverse – tracks such as EDF
Headquarters fight are pure club dance! EDF museum is a track bordering on
trance, whilst Infant Island has more than a passing resemblance to Jean Michel
Jarre’s ambient classic Équinoxe. All of which is wonderful, so why do I remain
confused? Well, I just can’t match this music to Godzilla… Featuring elements
of break beat and electronic rock mixed with orchestral elements, it is unlike
any other Godzilla soundtrack. A little research revealed that Emerson was only
given two weeks to write the score of the film and that only a small percentage
of his score made it to the final cut of the film. Having not seen the movie –
I can’t comment on what appeared in the film, but I’m led to believe it
contains more music by the director’s regular collaborators, Nobuhiko Morino
and Daisuke Yano, who were later hired to complete the rest of the film's
score. So, as a result, I’m assuming this is Emerson’s music for the film -
most of which did not make the final cut. However, as a standalone listen, the
soundtrack works well and benefits enormously from Akira Ifukube’s original
Godzilla theme arranged by Emerson - which is very good indeed!
this excellent set is always going to intrigue – as a collective, it is a fine
representation of Keith Emerson’s film work. Sound quality is absolutely spot
on, as is the packaging which uses individual card covers for each of its 3 CDs
and sits in a very strong clamshell box alongside a 16 page book. Released by
Esoteric Recordings and available through Cherry Red Records priced at £17.99,
it’s well worth taking a look at.
the early half of the 1970s – post his final (official) stint as 007 – Sean
Connery made an eclectic array of script choices, ranging from the highly
astute (The Offence and The Man Who Would Be King, both of which
rank among his finest screen work) to the, er… questionable. (Yes, Zardoz, I’m looking at you). 1974’s
political potboiler Ransom (U.S. title: The Terrorists) falls somewhere
little more than a clutch of television works to his prior credit, Finnish
director Caspar Wrede wouldn’t seem to have been the most obvious choice to
helm a big screen thriller with a bone fide international superstar headlining,
and the plodding result does somewhat corroborate its director’s roots.
story picks up in the wake of a series of bomb attacks on London, and finds a
group of terrorists holding hostage the British ambassador to Scandinavia.
Meanwhile, a separate team led by Petrie (Ian McShane) have hijacked a British
plane on the icebound runway, Petrie’s intent being to whisk his comrades and
the ailing ambassador out of the country. Failure of the officials to comply
will result in the plane, along with its passengers and crew, being blown sky
high. It falls to Scandinavia’s head of security Tahlvik (Connery) – renowned
for his refusal to negotiate with terrorists – to intervene.
Connery’s magnetic screen presence as the hard-as-nails security chief coupled
with fresh-faced Ian McShane’s lively turn as the urbane terrorist who may not
be all that he seems keep things ticking along reasonably well, and director
Wrede generates sporadic moments of suspense during the opponents’ strategic
play-offs. The Norwegian locations offer up some terrific vistas for
Oscar-winning Swedish cinematographer Nils Nykvist to train his lens on (an
aerial pursuit through snow-dappled mountains is breathtakingly noteworthy) and
Jerry Goldsmith delivers a serviceable score, albeit one of the less memorable
in his vast oeuvre.
beyond this, I’m afraid, Ransom is
very much routine fare. It doesn’t help that the script confines Connery – indisputably
the picture’s biggest asset – to an office, treading water as he orchestrates
attempts by others to outwit the terrorists; he should be out there on the ice
himself, getting his hands dirty. By the time he steps into the fray at the
climax it’s a case of too little too late.
Distributing have issued Ransom on
DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK as part of their ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The new HD transfer looks tremendous (so clean, in fact, that it
gives the game away in a couple of instances where still images have been
inserted in lieu of live action footage) and the release is rounded out with a
pair of original release cinema trailers and a respectable gallery of stills
and poster art.
Oscar winning actor and legendary comedian Robin Williams was found dead earlier today. He was 63 years old. Details are still sketchy but Williams had been suffering for years from depression. Early indications are that his death may have been the result of suicide. Click here for more
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the superb 007-themed web site From Sweden With Love, a James Bond weekend will be held in Stockholm September 19-21 to benefit UNICEF Sweden. Among the Bond cast and crew members who are scheduled to appear: Robert Davi, John Glen, Carole Ashby, Rick Sylvester, Kristina Wayborn, stuntman Paul Weston and many others. Click here for full information.
Turn on the news these days and it’s hard to avoid the
conclusion the world is in pretty bad shape. Wars and unrest in the Middle East
and Eastern Europe, passenger planes shot out of the sky, deadly viruses with
no cure, the government spying on their own people, terrorist bombings, mass shootings
in schools, tornadoes ripping people’s homes apart, drone attacks. No sooner is
one disaster over than another begins. Times are weird and chaotic. It’s almost
as though the cable news channels aren’t broadcasting the news so much as
they’re showing episodes out of an old movie serial cliffhanger.
Anyone remember those 20 minute chapter plays that ran
week after week before the Saturday matinee double feature at neighborhood
theaters? They showed up later on TV in the fifties. They were usually based on
comic strips that were popular back in the 1930’s, featuring characters like
Buck Rogers, Ace Drummond, Jungle Jim, and Tarzan.
Perhaps the best of the cliffhangers were the three
produced in the 1930s by Henry McCrea for Universal, featuring Alex Raymond’s comic
strip character Flash Gordon. Created by the Hearst Syndicate to compete with
Buck Rogers, Flash wasn’t like today’s superheroes. He didn’t have special
powers. He couldn’t fly, or have bullets bounce off his chest. In fact, before
the word came under attack by Ming the Merciless, he was just a polo player.
But when disaster struck, he was able to rise to the occasion and save the
There were three Flash Gordon serials released by
Universal. “Flash Gordon” was first in 1936. In this one Ming, Emperor of the
planet Mongo (Charles Middleton), is steering his planet directly into the
orbital path of the earth. Flash, (Olympic swimming star Buster Crabbe), Dale
Arden, (the beautiful Jean Rogers) a woman he meets on a plane shot out of the
sky, and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) fly to Mongo in a spaceship that
Zarkov designed. It took 12 episodes and four hours of actual viewing time, but
our heroes finally prevailed. Or at least thought they did.
“Flash Gordon” was followed in 1938 by “Flash Gordon’s
Trip to Mars” in which Flash, Dale and Dr. Z discover that Ming isn’t as dead,
as he appeared at the end of the first serial. They take him on again, this
time on Mars, where Ming is assisted by the mysterious Azura, Queen of Magic.
Finally in 1940, McCrea produced “Flash Gordon Conquers
the Universe.” In this chapter play, the earth’s population is being decimated
by a plague known as The Purple Death. No surprise to learn that Ming once
again survived his supposed death at the end of the last bunch of episodes and
is behind the mysterious disease.
McCrea had a very convincing method of setting up each
of these serials, by opening the story with newsreel footage of wars,
earthquakes, and riots in the streets. Watch the beginning of any of them, and
except for the black and white photography, you’d swear you’re watching the news. The chaotic world
of the Flash Gordon serials strongly resembles our world today. So where is
Flash now, when we need him the most?
Fortunately he’s readily at hand, at least on DVD. Last
year Image Madacy Entertainment released a dandy little set of all three
serials titled “The Complete Adventures of Flash Gordon”. It comes not in a box
but in a three-way fold-out album that has a cover featuring a collage of the
main characters. There’s a 24-page booklet in the fold-out with some of Alex
Raymond’s original artwork for the Sunday newspaper comic strips. In addition, there’s
text giving some background info on the characters that appear in the comics
and in the serials—not anything new for old time fans, but a nice introduction
for anyone new to this space opera.
As for the serials themselves, some may think they’re
quaint with space ships that look like household appliances with sparklers
attached, magnified gila monsters for dinosaurs, and a guy in a gorilla suit
with a horn glued on his head. But there’s an underlying story in all three
serials that is probably worth watching again during these times. Like our
world, the planet Mongo was a world divided against itself. Lion Men battled
Hawkmen, The Hawkmen fought the Sharkmen, Frigia is attacked by Autobots sent
by Ming. All these tribes and races, in fact, are at war with each other mainly
because Ming manipulates and controls them. It’s Flash who arrives and makes
friend with each of these groups, and then unites them in friendship to defeat
the evil emperor. It’s sort of a triumph of cultural diversity.
The video and sound quality of the DVDs is good, but
not great. There’s been no effort to restore the seventy year old film stock,
so there are lots of scratches and dust, but for the most part the serials are
very watchable. You can buy them on the Internet for around 10 or 11 bucks. I
highly recommend this collection. It’s a great antidote to the news.
It’s not that I have any compelling evidence, but I
find it more fun to believe than to not believe. Of all the skeptics I’ve known, none have
been fun at a party. Give me a roomful
of believers, and I can almost guarantee a nicer bunch of people, not to
mention tastier stuff at the buffet.
Watching The Life
After Death Project, a 2- disc DVD
set collecting a pair of made for TV documentaries that aired on ScyFy last
year, didn’t sway me one way or the other, but I look forward to more by
director Paul Davids. I watch a lot of
documentaries, and most of them eventually lapse into cuteness or
self-indulgence. A lot of them are 90
minute selfies. Davids won me over
because he simply allows people to talk, to describe what they’ve experienced.
He doesn’t bother with cheesy recreations, and doesn’t try to scare us. What
Davids does is create a mood as if we’re sitting around a campfire telling
stories. What’s better than that?
Disc one is the winner. It’s about Davids’ relationship
with Forrest J Ackerman, the editor and publisher of Famous Monsters of
Filmland, a fun magazine that had a curious impact on a certain faction of male
children born after 1955. Davids knew
Ackerman, and is convinced that his old friend and mentor is haunting him.
Davids interviews some other people from Ackerman’s circle, and they, too, have
experienced odd happenings that suggest a possible close encounter of the Forry
kind. Apparently, the man known to his closest admirers as “Uncle Forry” still
enjoys a good practical joke, even from beyond the grave.
Where the movie really kicked in for me was when Davids
enlisted the help of various psychics. The trio, all female, each took a crack
at speaking to Ackerman. The outcomes were fascinating. One psychic in
particular described Ackerman perfectly. I’m aware that the psychic scenes could’ve
been rigged in the editing, but so what? I was entertained, which is a rarity
these days. And if Ackerman’s friends say that he visits them in their dreams,
I’ll take them at their word. (After all
the money I spent on FMOF back in my childhood, I’m expecting a visit, too.
Forry, if you’re out there, I’m in Rockport MA, and I usually go to bed around
1:00 AM. Stop on by.)
Davids was obviously very passionate about the Ackerman
story, so disc two suffers a bit in comparison. It's mostly a series of talking head sequences where various people
discuss the subject of life after death. Even though it’s not as fun as the
first disc, some of disc two is quite interesting, particularly when Davids
talks to nurses and hospice care workers who have some amazing stories to tell.
There are allegedly some extra features on the first
disc, including some interviews with Ackerman and more spooky talk, but they
weren’t on my reviewer’s copy. Perhaps
this was another of Forry’s post life practical jokes.
For a better understanding of Forrest J Ackerman’s
life, you could do worse than watch Uncle
Forry’s Ackermansions, now on DVD from Novemberfire.com. It’s a 70 minute labor of love from November
Fire founder Strephon Taylor and Tom Wyrsch, combining a lot of home movies,
plus some old interviews where Forry sat
with Northern Ca. horror host Bob Wilkins to tell stories about Boris Karloff,
Peter Lorre, and others.
Ackerman was the original fanboy. He created science fiction fanzines,
organized fan clubs, amassed what is probably the largest collection of sci-fi
and horror memorabilia in the world, and was eventually hired by publisher
James Warren to helm Famous Monsters of Filmland. He had a generous side, often opening his
home to the public, allowing other fans to come in and enjoy his
What drives a collector? Is it a kind of gluttony? Does
it stem from adolescent desire to have more than the other kids? Is at
overcompensation for something lacking in a person's life? I’ve known some
collectors, and their tunnel vision can be off-putting. A few are downright unhinged. A study should
be done. Unfortunately, this particular documentary doesn't tackle any serious
questions about the inner-workings of obsessive collectors. It's just a fun
jaunt through Ackerman's various homes.
Ackerman is at his most likable when he talks of his
1920s childhood, when he attended as many as seven movies in one day. He sounds
humble when he discusses how he fell in love with “fantastic films,” and even
as an old man he still seemed smitten by the robot from Metropolis. Those years must have had a profound impact on him, for
he spent the next five decades trying to relive them. This is the Ackerman I wish I had known, the
one I might have called “Uncle.”
Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites. Edited by Paul Duncan and Jürgen
Müller. (Taschen, £34.99) 688 pages, illustrated (colour and B&W), ISBN:
Review by Sheldon Hall
Taschen likes to produce big, heavy books, and this is one
of its biggest and heaviest to date. Don’t drop it on your foot. The company
previously published a shorter handbook on this subject, entitled simply Film Noir (2012), and the editor of that
volume, Paul Duncan, now co-edits this triple-sized follow-up. The erstwhile
co-authors of the earlier book, Alain Silver and James Ursini, are among the
better-known contributors here (27 are credited) in a chronologically organised
survey of a hundred films spanning from 1920 (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) to 2011 (Drive). Those two titles give an indication of the perennial
problem with film noir: deciding what it is. Is it a genre, a style, a mood, or
all three? Not surprisingly, the various authors do not agree on the answer.
The entries on individual films – each running to between
four and eight pages in length – are preceded by three longer pieces which give
some thought to the nature of the object in question: a reprint of Paul
Schrader’s classic article ‘Notes on Film Noir’ (no source is given for it, but
it was first published in the magazine Film
Comment in 1972), a lengthy analysis of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947) by Jürgen Müller and Jörn Hetebrügge,
and ‘An Introduction to Neo-noir’ by Douglas Keesey. The first of these is the
most useful, placing the ‘original’ cycles of films noir in the social and
cultural context of the 1940s and 1950s, describing the influence of the
‘hard-boiled’ school of crime fiction, and suggesting some of the stylistic,
thematic and atmospheric qualities associated with the noir form.
In their chapter ‘Out of Focus’, Müller and Hetebrügge
justify the choice of The Lady from
Shanghai for an extended case study because it is ‘exemplary’ and ‘the
epitome’ of film noir style. But its extreme qualities also make it somewhat
untypical and more representative of its director than of noir generally. The authors
take the view that both Welles and the film are great because they broke
standard Hollywood conventions (which they evidently regard as stale and
boring). That may be true in this case but it is much less so of many if not
most of the other noir films of the ‘classical’ period, which as often as not
drew heavily on those conventions while adding to their range and variety. The
extensive illustrations which are as much the raison d’être of Taschen’s books
as the text are rather disappointingly used in this chapter. While Müller and
Hetebrügge describe shots from the film in some detail, their analysis is not
accompanied by stills or frame grabs illustrating those particular images so
the reader cannot judge the accuracy of the description. There are a dozen
frame blow-ups from the climactic hall-of-mirrors sequence, but that is not
among the scenes analysed at length.
While Schrader’s piece is insistent that film noir is particular
to the years 1941-58, the rest of the book suggests that its history is much
longer: no fewer than 45 of the hundred films selected for the book were made
outside that key period. Among the dubiously relevant later titles included are
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966)
and The Passenger (1975), both of
which are distinctly lacking in the stylistic and generic qualities associated
with classic noir, along with Peeping Tom
and Psycho (both 1960), The Getaway (1972) and Black Swan (2010). In casting the net so
widely, the editors risk making noir a category so diffuse and nebulous as to
be meaningless. Although most of the chosen films deal in some way with crime,
virtually anything ‘a bit dark’ could be made to fit into parameters as loose
as these. As if to prove the point, a filmography of 1,000 titles includes such
unlikely candidates as Metropolis (1927),
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
(1948), The Wages of Fear (1953), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), Deliverance (1972), Lethal
Weapon (1987), The Matrix (1999) and
almost everything by Hitchcock (including the lighter ones).
Douglas Keesey’s discussion of ‘neo-noir’ suffers
particularly from this lack of clear definition: although he refers to noir as
a genre, his chapter ranges over a diverse selection of relatively recent films
which seem to me to have little in common in either narrative or stylistic
terms. In referring back to the postwar cycle Keesey relies on the old-hat
notion that they reflect male anxieties about the threat posed by newly
independent career women – a character type conspicuous by her absence from
most of the films. He also seems not to know that the French ‘Série Noire’ –
often credited with giving rise to the filmic nomenclature – was so called not
because it was a ‘dark series of books’ or punningly suggested ‘a bad series of
events’ (his translations) but because the volumes had black covers.
I don’t want to sound too harsh about this beautifully
produced book which, with its lavish illustrations taking up three-quarters of
most double-page spreads, makes for a very pleasant browse or, at an RRP of nearly
£35, a very expensive doorstop. I’m just not sure that it helps to shed any
more light on a form – style, genre, whatever you want to call it – that seems
more shadowy the more scholars focus on it.
(The following review
pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B/2 formats)
By Howard Hughes
The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo
on from its release of ‘Lady Snowblood’ and ‘Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of
Vengeance’ in 2012, UK company Arrow
Films has released another Japanese cult classic in ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’, a
film which mixes swordplay, horror and the supernatural into a bloody vengeance
known as ‘Kaidan nobori ryû’, ‘The Tattooed Swordswoman’ and ‘Black Cat’s
Revenge’, this is unusual action fare from director Teruo Ishii. Meiko Kaji,
who went on to star as Lady Snowblood, cuts her teeth – and several villains’
major arteries – as Akemi, the head of the Tachibana Clan. In the opening rain
swept swordfight, she accidentally blind’s Aiko (Hoki Tokuda), the younger
sister of Yakuza clan leader Boss Goda. After a three-year stretch in prison,
Akemi returns to her role as Tachibana leader, but fears she’s been cursed by a
black cat – the animal licked the bloody eyes of blinded Aiko as she lay in
agony. Upon their release from prison, Akemi’s five cellmates join her clan –
having acquired dragon’s tail tattoos to match their leader’s. The arrival of a
blind swordswoman at a rival clan results in the Tachibana gang girls suddenly
developing a high mortality rate. The murdered corpses of Akemi’s cellmates are
found, one by one, with the dragon tattoos gruesomely sliced from their back.
It a plot twist that surprises no one, the blind stranger is revealed to be Aiko
Goda, back to take revenge on Akemi. Following a violent, score-settling
encounter between the rival clans, a sword-swishing showdown of bloody
violence, the final duel between Akemi and Aiko is artfully lit against a
maelstrom swirl of night sky.
Woman’s Curse’ packs an awful lot into its 81 minutes and despite erratic
plotting is never dull. The cast is a gallery of grotesques and stock genre
characters. Beautiful Kaji is perfect as Akemi, though she’s underused here
compared to the ‘Lady Snowblood’ movies, which showcase her charisma and sword
fighting talent much better. Tatsumi Hijikata played the scarily strange
hunchback Ushimatsu, who behaves like a cat and is an unsettling presence
throughout. Makoto Satô was heroic Tani, Yôko Takagi (in her film debut) was
his lover Chie Mitsui – who are tortured by being thrown down a well – and
Yoshi Katô played Chie’s father Jutaro, who is beheaded but returns as a reanimated
deadman brought back to life by the hunchback. The warring gangs scenario
recalls Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ (1961), but Ishii populates his underworld
with Yakuza gangsters with questionable personal hygiene, cocky gang bosses, assassins,
traitors and human scum. The story also veers off into weird moments of
suspense and horror, with bizarro theatre presentations, nightmarish allusions
to cannibalism, references to the opium trade, drug-hooked pleasure girls,
torture sequences and shades of Peckinpah and Poe.
of the costumes are fairly out there – check out one gangster’s bowler hat and red
loincloth combo – while the fight choreography by Masatoshi Takase is riveting.
Despite ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’s visual splendour and cult movie oddness, I’ve a
nagging feeling that the rest of the film never quite matches its magnificent title
sequence, as Akemi and her five henchmen fight the Godo clan, in muddy, rain-drenched
slow-motion. Each of the Tachibana fighters has part of a dragon tattooed
across their backs, with Akemi as the head, her men as the tail. The eerily melodic
music of Hajime Kaburagi plays delicately against the balletic bloodletting,
and the cat’s ocular blood-feast is an unsettling climax to the scene.
summary: Swift swordplay, much blood. Highly recommended.
·New high definition
digital transfer of the film prepared by Nikkatsu Studios
·Presented in High
Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
·Uncompressed mono PCM
·Newly translated English
·Audio commentary by
Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, author of ‘Behind the Pink Curtain’
·The Original Trailer
(which includes alternate takes from shots used in the film)
·Trailers for four of the
films in the Meiko Kaji-starring ‘Stray Cat Rock’ series, made at Nikkatsu:
‘Wild Jumbo’, ‘Sex Hunter’, ‘Machine Animal’ and ‘Beat ‘71’.
featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes,
illustrated with original archive stills.
The Blu-ray/DVD edition of ‘Blind Woman’s
Curse’ is available now, in Region B/2 format, rated certificate 15.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the premiere
of the iconic 1960s spy series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., producers Robert
Short and Jon Heitland are organizing The Golden Anniversary Affair, an
exclusive invitational event in Los Angeles, scheduled for Friday September 26th and
Saturday September 27th.
This once in a lifetime event will represent an
opportunity for a maximum of 100 fans to gather and share their memories and
their love of this classic series.
The festivities begin on Friday September 26th, when
the lucky 100 take a special walking tour of the Sony studio lot with an
emphasis on sites where the show was filmed, including Stage 10, where
U.N.C.L.E. headquarters stood. On Saturday September 27th, the main event will
take place at The DoubleTree by Hilton on the Westside where several rooms will
be devoted to panel discussions about the making of the original show and the
upcoming Warner Bros feature film, a display of original props (the U.N.C.L.E.
weapons, wardrobe and special car created for the series) and an U.N.C.L.E.
cast and crew discussion about the making of the show leading up to a soiree
Saturday night. Although the event will end Saturday evening, on Sunday
there will be an opportunity for attendees to visit outlying filming sites on
“It is not
uncommon to hear fans, many of whom are leaders in their chosen professions,
remark that this show changed their lives,” says Short, an Academy
Award-winning visual effects artist.
Says Heitland, the author of The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. Book, the Behind the Scenes Story of a Television Classic, “We feel
it will be the definitive event marking the 50th anniversary of this
Classic 60’s series.”
So far, the producers have lined up a number of VIP
guests, including associate producer George Lehr, director Joe Sargent, and
director of photography Fred Koenenkamp, composers Gerald Fried, Robert Drasnin
and “Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” regular Randall Kirby who have confirmed their
interest in attending. A list that continues to grow every day. The producers
hope that The Golden Anniversary Affair will be a West Coast reunion of sorts
for all who made the show such a success.
HBO will remake Michael Crichton's classic 1973 film "Westworld" as an HBO production. Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood will star. This will be a series based on the original concept of a virtual vacation paradise where attendees can indulge in their most shameless fantasies, courtesy of interacting with robots who are indistinguishable from human beings. Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Yul Brynner starred in the original feature film version, which was based on Crichton's best-selling novel. For more click here.
As improbable as it would seem, some important out-takes and behind-the-scenes footage have been discovered pertaining to director Sergio Leone's landmark Western "A Fistful of Dollars". Made in 1964, the film was responsible for the pop culture phrase "spaghetti western" and became an international hit that made a star of Clint Eastwood. Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes, writing on the Spaghetti Western Data Base site, provides in-depth analysis of these recently-discovered cinematic treasures. Click here to read.
you’re too young to remember it, you’ll recall that Twin Peaks was a short-lived phenomenon on television in the year
1990. The frenzy lasted into 1991 but sadly fizzled out quickly due to the
network’s (ABC) futzing around with time slots, days-of-the-week for airing,
and unexplained hiatuses. What began as the number one show on television for
several months somehow derailed during its underrated second season and lost
its viewership. The program was cancelled, leaving the fans of the series with
an unresolved cliffhanger that haunts us to this day.
Lynch and Mark Frost were the men behind Twin
Peaks. At the time, in the late 80s, Lynch was just coming off the success
of his 1986 feature film, Blue Velvet,
when he teamed up with TV veteran Frost to create a PG-rated show that explored
many of the same themes as Velvet—only
for a television audience. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, in Washington
state, is gorgeous (those beautiful Douglas firs!), has a diner that serves the
best pies in the world, and a seemingly “normal” population of families and
mill workers. However, like in Blue
Velvet, a dark underbelly exists beneath the safe exterior, one that is
supernatural and evil.
thrust of the show’s first season and half of the second season was solving
the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” Once that storyline was resolved, it
was clear that the writers and creators weren’t sure where to go from there.
The episodes did falter a bit mid-second-season,
but for my money, they found their footing in the last quarter with the new
storyline involving master criminal Windom Earle. The show was just building to
a new dramatic peak (no pun intended) when the axe fell.
bounced back quickly, though, and made a feature film, released in 1992,
entitled Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me.
Not many people liked it, including the die-hard fans of the show (who had, in Star Trek fashion, begun letter-writing
campaigns to the network with pleas to renew the show). What was wrong with the
feature film? It lacked the quirky humor and most of the eccentric characters
from the TV show and instead focused on the very sordid and tragic story of
Laura Palmer’s final week of life before her murder. It also didn’t address the
cliffhanger ending of the series—or did it? At any rate, the movie failed, and the Twin Peaks phenomenon was over.
the aforementioned die-hard fans formed fan clubs, an annual pilgrimage to the
show’s locations in Washington state, and the cult grew over the last twenty-four
years. It is now generally recognized that Twin
Peaks was way ahead of its time and that it was the catalyst for the
“episodic” television dramas that came after it—Northern Exposure, The
X-Files, and pretty much everything else we watch today on cable channels. Twin Peaks showed the networks that
audiences would stick with a storyline that developed over many episodes. It
was a new way of doing things on television. The show was also groundbreaking
in that it dared to take viewers into surrealistic territory—something that
hadn’t been done since, say, 1968’s mini-series of The Prisoner. Twin Peaks also
began the cult of water-cooler discussions the next day at work. “What did that
mean?” “Who was that dancing dwarf?” “I think so-and-so killed Laura.” “No, I
think whozit did.” And so on.
the years went by, several releases of the show on VHS and later DVD exacerbated
the confusion because the two-hour pilot episode (1:34 without commercials) was
owned by a different company and was never issued in America. People were
buying the two seasons without seeing the all-important, foundation-laying
pilot (and still the best “episode” of the entire story). This was rectified in
2007 with the “Definitive Gold Box” DVD release that contained both complete
seasons, remastered with bonus material (but not Fire Walk With Me). Additionally, over the years, it was learned
that Lynch’s initial cut of Fire Walk
With Me was nearly four hours long and it did contain scenes with the other characters from the town. The
director had been forced to cut the movie down to a manageable 2:15 by
contract, so he decided to just focus on Laura’s story. Fans have been howling
for these “missing pieces” to be released, but the rights were tied up in legal
and financial complexities.
we now have it all. These “missing pieces” have been assembled, remastered, and
edited by Lynch himself to create a somewhat “new” Twin Peaks movie (called, of course, “The Missing Pieces”). This
Holy Grail for Peaks fans, along with
the gorgeously restored and digitally remastered Fire Walk With Me (first Blu-ray release in the USA) and the two
television seasons with pilot, now comprise Twin
Peaks—The Entire Mystery, a lavish box set that begs to be devoured with
several slices of pie and some of that “damned good coffee.”
“The Missing Pieces” emphasizes how much better Fire Walk With Me would have been had Lynch been allowed to release
the longer version. It would have felt more like the television series. There
are sequences that help explain a lot about the ending of the show, too. While
Lynch elected to remain vague about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s fate in the
Black Lodge and his earthly body’s possession by BOB the Killer, there are
clues in the “Missing Pieces” that at the very least address the situation.
theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me needs
to be critically reassessed as well, now that we’ve seen many more David Lynch
films of its ilk (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). It works best if you think of the picture as a
horror film—which it is—and a very disturbing one at that. Sheryl Lee delivers
a courageous and brilliant performance as Laura, far surpassing anything she
did on the television series.
for the two seasons of the show, Kyle MacLachlan is a revelation as Agent
Cooper—this was the role the actor was born to play. Other standouts in the
cast are Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn
Fenn, James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric Da Re, Everett McGill,
and Jack Nance.
extras in the box set include new video interviews between Lynch and the Palmer
family (Leland, Sarah, and Laura), and then the actors who portrayed them
(Wise, Zabriskie, and Lee). Very effective stuff. There is a new Fire Walk With Me making-of documentary,
a couple of documentaries ported over from the 2007 Gold box, the Blu-ray
version of the “international” pilot, and some new collages of “atmospheres”
from the show that combine imagery and music into short, themed vignettes.
twenty-five years later, Twin Peaks—The
Entire Mystery serves as a reminder that Lynch and Frost’s show was even
more brilliant than it was first suggested, and that it needs to be
rediscovered and re-evaluated. There is much to savor.