(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release).
By Tim Greaves
first encountered Lionel Jeffries’ 1973 melodrama Baxter! during the summer of 1978 on what I believe to be its one
and only British television airing by the BBC. Its conspicuous absence on video
in the UK – and, until 2014, DVD – meant that, for me, some 36 years elapsed
between viewings. A small, and in many respects not particularly memorable
film, it nevertheless stayed with me over the intervening years for, I think, two
reasons. The first was its unexpectedly dark nature, which completely caught me
off guard given the family friendly nature of the director’s previous films, The Railway Children and The Amazing Mr Blunden; best remembered
for his myriad of on-screen performances, Baxter!
was in fact the third of only five projects which positioned Jeffries on the
other side of the camera. The second reason that solitary viewing remained
lodged in my psyche was a narrative jolt towards the end involving the demise
of a key character (which the 16 year-old me found extremely upsetting).
the tale of the titular character (played by Scott Jacoby), an American boy who
arrives in London with his insensitive mother (Lynn Carlin) in the wake of her
acrimonious separation from his father (Paul Maxwell). His Christian name is
Roger, unfortunate given the fact he suffers from a speech impediment which
prevents him from pronouncing his R’s, yet he treats his handicap with good
humour. At first Baxter appears to fit in well at school, where he makes easy friends,
and quickly ingratiates himself with other residents in the vicinity of his
home, among them a chef, also named Roger (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his girlfriend
Chris (Britt Ekland) and the irritatingly extrovert teenager ‘Nemo’ (Sally
Thomsett). But it gradually becomes apparent that Baxter’s lonely childhood – starved
of affection by his bickering, self-occupied parents – has scarred him badly.
Can the intervention of school therapist Dr Clemm (Patricia Neal) save the poor
lad before calamity descends?
Audiard’s script handles the maudlin subject matter with care ensuring that it
steers clear of becoming depressing, though it should be noted that anyone
looking for a happy ending is watching the wrong movie. The engaging narrative notwithstanding,
the chief appeal of Baxter! for this
reviewer is the marvellous assembly of players. Cassel’s amiable chef almost steals
the show (the scene in which the two Rogers prepare an evening meal together is
a standout) and Carlin is suitably despicable, while Ekland is gorgeousness
incarnate; one can’t help falling a little bit in love with her. There’s a nice
turn too from Paul Eddington as a sarcastic teacher. Only Neal is a little
disappointing with a role she never seems quite comfortable in. But this is
really Scott Jacoby’s film; a slightly cocky but innately witty teenager,
“Woger” has the audience in his pocket within the first few scenes and the
actor’s performance when Baxter succumbs to a severe case of anxiety carries immense
emotional heft. (As an aside, it’s sobering to note that Jacoby was 16 when the
film was shot – he can now see 60 on his horizon!)
with an infectious Michael J. Lewis score, in summation Baxter! may not exactly be the experience one expects of a Lionel
Jeffries film, but it’s a worthwhile one just the same. The film’s patient admirers
have finally been rewarded, for after 41 years the film surfaces on DVD in the
UK as a constituent of Network Distributing’s ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The pleasing transfer is accompanied by an original theatrical trailer
and a bountiful gallery of promotional stills.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
LOVE IS A LOSING GAME
Network continues to
release some unusual examples of retro British cinemabilia. This adaptation of
Graham Greene’s ‘Loser Takes All’ was shot at Shepperton Studios and on
fabulous locations in the Principality of Monaco. At the big London firm SIFA, assistant
accountant Bertrand solves an accounting mistake that impresses his boss
Dreuther so much that he insists Bertrand takes up his very generous (and
highly implausible) offer. Instead of getting married to his fiancée Cary in
Bournemouth as planned, Bertrand can instead get hitched in Monte Carlo, on the
company’s chequebook. Oh, for a boss like Dreuther...
Soon Bertrand and Cary are
living the highlife in the casino capital of Europe, staying in the royal suite
of the hotel and enjoying a lavish holiday. But Dreuther, who’s supposed to
meet them there on his yacht, is delayed, and after they are married, their spending
money runs out. The pair is reduced to living on coffee and bread rolls, until
the hotel manager notes they aren’t spending much money and are avoiding all
the hotel staff at every opportunity, so he lends them 250,000 francs. Bertrand
is a mathematician who wants to try out his system that he thinks will win him
a fortune on the casino tables. After a marathon gambling stint, Bertrand
arrives back at their hotel room to tell Cary that he’s won five million francs.
With great wealth comes a change in personality for Bertrand and he becomes
preoccupied with the acquisition of money and power, even to the point of
buying shares in SIFA and becoming a force in opposition to Dreuther. But his
single-mindedness drives sweet Cary away, into the arms of pipe-smoking smoothy
Philip. Now Bertrand must win back his bride, or it’s Monte Carlo or Bust (up).
As the trailer put it: ‘Here’s a honeymoon that isn’t all honey’.
This movie is as wafting a
piece of Continental fluff as you can imagine – lovely, old-fashioned cosiness
from a bygone age. Italian heartthrob Rossano Brazzi is the impulsive Latino
lead, Bertrand, while British actress Glynis Johns is his charming bride. Tony
Britton played Philip and Robert Morley plays Robert Morley – as he seemed to
do in all his films – as the company’s all-powerful MD Dreuther. Look fast for
a young Shirley Anne Field as Bertrand’s date in the casino. At the time of the
film’s release, ‘Today’s Cinema’ optimistically noted it ‘Has the zest and zing
of a Mediterranean holiday…if the sun never shines again this year, Loser Takes
All will make up for it’. And the admen went to town on the taglines for this
one too, calling it ‘The warmest, wonderful-est, winning-est romance-of-the-year’
and ‘It’s a spectacular CinemascoPeek inside high society’s swankiest
playground’. With dresses by Christian Dior and a light and airy score from
Alessandro Cicognini, this movie scores best in its visual and aural depiction
of Monaco and especially Monte Carlo. The on-location filming livens up the
plot with its breathtaking scenery as a backdrop. There’s a superb sequence of
Bertrand and Cary riding a Vespa on mountain roads, which lead up to a rustic,
folksy village – a setting in massive contrast to the wealth and splendour of
Monte Carlo. In fact it’s to the simplicity of the village that Cary wants to
return when they strike it rich, but Bertrand is too enamoured with the
highlife. While there’s nothing groundbreaking on display in ‘Loser Takes All’,
it’s a pleasant enough scoot, with a bit of romance, a bit of drama, a bit of
comedy, stirred into the mix. Johns is the best aspect of the film and is
highly watchable as the chirpy, quirky newlywed. Greene’s novel was adapted
again in 1990 as ‘Strike it Rich’, with Robert Lindsay and Molly Ringwald as
Bertrand and Cary, and a cast that included John Gielgud (as Dreuther) and
comedian Max Wall.
‘Loser Takes All’ is presented
in the CinemaScope widescreen format and is ‘a brand-new transfer from the
original film elements’. The colours are strong if you boost the colour on the TV,
but the image seems a little soft and could do with a sharpen. ‘Loser Takes
All’ is another addition to Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a
five-year project to release over 450 British films via a deal with
Studiocanal. It’s a British Lion release and the disc includes the original
trailer and a gallery of colourful poster artwork. In 1956, the periodical
‘Daily Film Renter’ deemed it ‘Exhilarating as champagne’. If the lovers’ antics seem a little flat 58
years later, there’s always those gorgeous Eastmancolor Monte Carlo vistas to
Although Eon Productions has yet to confirm it, Variety reports that the new James Bond film starring Daniel Craig will begin filming on December 6 at the traditional "home" of the franchise, Pinewood Studios outside of London. The script was rewritten by Neal Purvis and Rob Wade, working from an initial story by John Logan. "Skyfall" director Sam Mendes will be at the helm again and cast members introduced in that film are expected to return for this entry in the series. "Skyfall", which was released in 2012- the 50th anniversary of the screen series- became the highest grossing film of the series and the highest grossing British movie ever released. For more click here.
The "Trailers From Hell" web site presents the original theatrical trailer for Roger Corman's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tomb of Ligeia", yet another of his successful collaborations with sunglass-clad Vincent Price, who seemed to be channeling Roy Orbison. The site's founder, Joe Dante himself, provides the commentary track for the trailer. Click here to listen.
I was an avid cinema goer
back in the ‘80s and a normal week could consist of up to four visits to sample
the attractions on offer. Luckily I had a cinema 10 minutes from my house as
well as several others in my home town of Newcastle. My local, “The Jesey”, would show films about
2-3 weeks after their initial run “in town” at the likes of The Odeon which premiered
all the big new releases. However, being a fan of less mainstream films, I
would also venture across the river Tyne to places like Gateshead, Low Fell and
Byker, because these less salubrious cinemas across the water would show the
kind of films you wouldn’t find running in the more mainstream chains. A lot of
these were Cannon cinema’s owned by Golan and Globus (subjects of a new
documentary) or just so run down that they’d run everything from Lemon Popsicle
to Flesh Gordon to lesser known Cannon gems such as Lifeforce and Runaway Train.
It never ceases to amaze me that there were still a couple of low budget (but
big in America) fan favourites that would and should have been shown at these
venues that simply passed me by. Those two films were Night Of The Creeps and Night
Of The Comet, both of which I finally got to see this month- the latter 30
years after its initial release, hopefully long enough to be classed as retro
enough forCinema Retro!
As fortune would have it, Night of the Creeps
had its first UK TV showing on Film Four recently and I really loved this film
(to quote a line from it, it did “Thrill Me”.) It was well worth the wait. At
the same time Arrow Video then announced the forthcoming UK Blu-ray and DVD release
of Night of the Comet. I couldn’t
believe my luck. So did the second cult classic of the ‘80s shape up or
disappoint? Well, great films, like comets themselves, only present themselves
every now and again and sometimes burn brighter than they did when first they
first appeared, which is the case here as Night Of The Comet is easily the most
enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.
Eighteen year-old Reggie
(Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s, The Last Starfighter) misses out
on the event-of-a-lifetime when she ditches watching the comet in favour of
copping off with the projectionist at the cinema where she works. But this
turns out to be a wise move when, the next day, she discovers that the entire
population has been reduced to piles of red dust – leaving only Reggie, her
sister Sam (Kelli Maroney – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Chopping Mall) and a
handful of other survivors to fend off the roving gangs of glassy-eyed zombies.
Taking its cue from
classic “doomsday” movies such as The Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man
(and with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead thrown in for good measure), Night
of the Comet is an irresistible slice of Reagan-era B-movie fare which features
Cyndi Lauper dance-alongs (these girls just wanna have fun!) as well as some
truly gravity-defying bouffant hairstyles and some superb Zombie make-ups. The
“Zombie-Cop” is an iconic monster from the 80’s, of that there is no doubt. As
always with Arrow, the transfer is top notch, showing off the films amazing
colour pallet and the extras are brilliantly done (such as taking a shot of a
character writing on a note pad and intercutting it with the name of the
documentary, as though the on screen character is actually writing its title on
screen. It’s an indication of the time,
effort and humour that the Arrow team put into their releases.These extra’s include:
·High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original
film elements by MGM
·Original 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM
on the Blu-ray)
·Optional English subtitles for the
deaf and hard of hearing
·Audio commentary with
writer/director Thom Eberhardt
·Audio commentary with stars Kelli
Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·Audio commentary with production designer
·Valley Girls at the End of the World
– Interviews with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·The Last Man on Earth? – An
interview with actor Robert Beltran
·End of the World Blues – A brand new
interview with Star Mary Woronov
·Curse of the Comet – An Interview
with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller
·Original Theatrical Trailer
·Reversible sleeve featuring original
and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
·Collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by James Oliver illustrated with original archive stills
the film is very much of its time, it is also timeless as all great cult films
should be. The fact that the film constantly refers to and pays homage to other sci-fi classics is
fabulous, but it is the little less- than- obvious touches that will make for
repeated viewings. My favourite:s one of the survivors of the night of the
comet opens a sealed projection room door and the poster taped onto it was the
Gable/Lombard camp classic Red Dust, which is exactly what all those outside
now are. Touches like that are missing from the “Zombie” (i.e. made and watched
by) films of today. So, my advice is to buy this new Arrow release and draw the
blinds and watch the magical colours on screen and for once “Don’t watch The Skies”.
Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken in "Homeboy".
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Dillon Kastner, who represents the estate of his late father, producer Elliot Kastner:
Hollywood Classics has signed a new distribution
agreement with Dillon Kastner of Cinema Seven Productions to represent the
Elliot Kastner library for all rights.
Titles in the library of the Hollywood producer include
comedy musical A Chorus of Disapproval, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony
Hopkins, and US sports drama Homeboy with Mickey Rourke and
John Ramchandani, MD of Hollywood Classics said: “I am
delighted to work with Dillon Kastner on the wonderfully eclectic and adored
selection of his father’s features.
“Throughout his extensive career Elliott worked with
the highest calibre of world-renowned actors, screenwriters and directors
including Peter Ustinov, Jeremy Irons, James Spader, Pierce Brosnan, Alan
Ayckbourn and Donald Cammell.”
Dillon Kastner of Cinema Seven Productions Ltd said:
‘It is a pleasure to be working alongside the team at Hollywood Classics.
“My father had many ups and downs in his career, and
independent finance can inspire risky and offbeat choices, but at the end of
the day my father believed in all his projects and would be very pleased that
they have now been added to a library of films thoughtfully presented by his old
friend Joe Dreier.”
1983, a serial killer claims more than a dozen lives in and around Rome,
apparently targeting his victims at random, and then disappears.The killer leaves his signature in blood at
each crime scene: “Canepazzo,” or “Crazy Dog.”Thirty years later, Marco Costa (Gian Marco Tavani), the son of one of
the victims, interviews Raul Chinna (Marco Bonetti), a retired criminologist.Obsessively pursuing Canepazzo’s decades-cold
trail, Costa hopes that he can unearth clues from Chinna’s old investigative
files.Who was Crazy Dog, why did he
murder Costa’s father, and why did he abruptly end his bloody spree?If he’s still alive, can Marco locate him and
avenge his father’s death? Revealing that the man who knew the most about the
crimes was a young investigative reporter, David Moiraghi(Giuseppe Schisano), Chinna begins to recount
a sequence of events based on Moiraghi’s interrogations of witnesses and
examinations of the murder scenes.
back-of-the-case blurb on the One7Movies 2014 DVD release of “Crazy Dog” likens
David Petrucci’s 2012 movie to the Italian giallo
and polizio thrillers of the Cinema
Retro era.Petrucci underscores the
homage by casting three 1970s Italian genre icons -- Marco Bonetti, Franco
Nero, and Tinto Brass -- in prominent roles.Another influence would seem to be the long-running U.S. TV series “Cold
Case” (2003-2010), in Petrucci’s structure of a present-day investigator
delving into a decades-old mystery, with period-detail flashbacks to the
crime.There’s a trace of Fritz Lang’s
“M” (1931) as well, when a Rome crime boss strongarms his way into Moiraghi’s
investigation for reasons of his own.
Dog” exhibits some of the limitations of a multi-tasking auteur working
independently on a limited budget.(Petrucci produced, edited, and directed from a script by Igor
Maltagliati.)The cast of primary
characters is small, many scenes are driven either by lengthy dialogue or
conversely by dialogue-free montage, and some of the actors are more effective
than others.A scene centering on Nero
as a loquacious, crackpot artist runs on for far too long, but Cinema Retro
fans will feel inclined to forgive Petrucci: if you land Nero for a film, and
you probably can afford only a limited amount of his time, who wouldn’t make
the most of the opportunity?The framing
device of the present-day interview with the retired criminologist seems
confining at first, but as Maltagliati’s story progresses, the reason for
constructing the movie in that way becomes ingeniously clear.
Region 0 DVD is well executed.Colors
are vivid and details are sharp in the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio.The DVD uses the Italian-language print of
the film and provides subtitles in English.The disc includes two extras: the film’s original trailer and a photo
gallery.The One7Movies Region 0 DVD of
“Crazy Dog” can be ordered HERE.
Hard as it is to believe, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered 50 years ago today. Impressively, it remains alive and well in the minds of all the Baby Boomer fans who grew up with the series- and a new generation will be introduced to U.N.C.L.E. through the forthcoming feature film. We must recognize the genius of producer Norman Felton who, with Sam Rolfe, developed the concept (along with some brief suggestions from Ian Fleming.) We extend our congratulations to our old friends Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who have both been major supporters of Cinema Retro since it debuted ten years ago. Happily, both guys are doing great career-wise and never seem to stop working. We also recognize all those actors, directors, writers and crew members whose talents made the show so iconic. A special, heartfelt nod to the legendary Leo G. Carroll, whose contribution to the series is inestimable.
appreciated upon its original release in 1961, The Innocents is today considered one of the great film ghost stories. After all, it’s based on Henry James’
creepy The Turn of the Screw, a truly
scary masterwork published in 1898. In the capable hands of Jack Clayton (fresh
off his success with Room at the Top,
which had been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in 1959), the
picture delivers a classic Gothic punch that is strange, beautiful, and,
ultimately, powerfully disturbing. Faithful to the source material, the story
is set in the Victorian era. The gorgeous and inimitable Deborah Kerr stars as
a naive and, as it turns out, sexually repressed governess who is hired by an
eccentric and secretive man (“The Uncle,” played by Michael Redgrave). She is to
be a governess to his orphaned niece and nephew at a lonely country estate,
aided by only a couple of servants. He neglects to tell her the place is
haunted as hell.
film scholar Sir Christopher Frayling, in a video introduction on the background
and production of The Innocents, says
that a pivotal scene in the film might be more unsettling today than it was in
1961—and that is when the young nephew (Martin Stephens) plants a very adult
kiss on his governess. Yikes! Frayling’s right! At this point the movie takes a
sharp left turn into true darkness, the prickly kind that prompts you to turn
to your neighbor and say, “Eww.” That’s right, this is a film more about sex than
it is about ghosts, although it is certainly that, too. The ghosts happen to be
the former governess and valet, who apparently had a steamy love affair in the
house, not caring who witnessed it—not even the children. Both died in
unnatural ways. The plot gets even more sick—the ghosts are attempting to
possess the children so they can continue their love affair in new bodies.What?The bodies of siblings, the ages of whom are somewhere between ten and
right there we know that the giant multi-room house, inside of which the
governess is losing her mind, is haunted by sex.
Vile, evil sex. And Ms. Kerr’s Miss Giddens, the daughter of a conservative pastor,
reacts appropriately. Thus, we are presented with the best kind of ghost story—an
ambiguous one. Are there really ghosts? Or is Miss Giddens skyrocketing off her
rocker? It’s up to us to decide. It’s not on a whim that the film was originally
marketed as adult fare.
sensitive and assured direction, along with Kerr’s riveting performance,
certainly bring to the film its winning qualities, but two elements of the production
are essential to the picture’s success—the cinematography by Freddie Francis
and art direction by Wilfred Shingleton. Francis’ work is specially showcased
in this new Blu-ray disc from The Criterion Collection. Francis shot the movie in
CinemaScope black and white, and yet he also shaded the corners to shape the
image into a subtle, oblong, and more tunnel-like rectangle. The striking
contrasts in lighting that occur throughout the interiors and exteriors are, oddly,
almost characters themselves in this eerie story. Brilliant stuff.
it all looks marvelous, for Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration is
flawlessly executed—the images truly reach a high-water mark for black and
white celluloid on Blu-ray. Sir Christopher Frayling also provides an informed
audio commentary. Other extras include a video interview with cinematographer
John Bailey about Francis and his work, and a new documentary featuring
interviews with Francis himself, editor Jim Clark, and script supervisor Pamela
Mann Francis. The essay in the glossy booklet is by Maitland McDonagh.
question, The Innocents is a classy
and elegant release of a stylish and chilling motion picture. Highly
If you're a Cinema Retro readers, chances are you've seen the James Bond classic "Goldfinger" a gazillion times. Still, the much-analyzed film has many fascinating facts associated with it that the average fan may not be aware of. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film's release, the Daily Mail has compiled some of these trivia facts into an article. Click here to read.
It's become a tradition in the United States that, with the onset of summer, the media goes into overdrive trying to scare the pants off people with hyper-inflated warnings about the "shark menace". Forget the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being devoured by a Great White shark- all anyone remembers is that trouble maker Steven Spielberg embellishing in our brains the image of Robert Shaw serving as a human smorgasbord for Bruce, the mechanical shark. This year, the "shark menace" was relatively subdued on TV and on-line thanks to any number of genuine crisis ranging from the rise of Isis to President Putin's obsession to ensuring that Eastern Europe returns to the joyful period of Stalinism. Nevertheless, shark mania was never too far below the surface. The Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" festival features seven days of 24/7 shows about the planet's least-endearing creatures. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Smithsonian Channel has followed suit with "Shark Collection", a DVD comprising of three diverse documentaries. There isn't a "Sharknado" movie to be found, as these programs examine various aspects of the real life plight of various sharks and how they are faring through conservation efforts in recent years.
The first episode is titled "Shark Girl" and offers a fascinating portrait of a fascinating young woman. Madison Stewart is a 19 year old Australian firebrand who has had an obsession with sharks since childhood. With her parent's support, she left school in order to pursue a lifelong career in shark conservation. The film follows her on exotic diving trips to continue her education about the habits of some of the deadliest species. Stewart is consistently engaging and disarmingly charismatic but she is also unstoppable in her determination to bring about stronger conservation laws around the world. The film follows her land-based political efforts that include lobbying Woolworth's (yes, they're still a big chain in Oz) to stop selling shark meat. When the appeal on an emotional level doesn't work, Stewart secures a report from the an internationally respected laboratory proving that the shark meat the stores are selling contains levels of mercury that are far above the recommended allowance. She starts a media campaign warning that people might be putting their health in jeopardy by indulging in this delicacy. The film shows some stomach-turning of magnificent sharks being slaughtered simply to get their fins, which are considered to be a sexual stimulant in Asia. She travels to Mexico to support the government's bold decision to place an annual moratorium on when sharks can be hunted- a decree that is already baring noticeable results. Stewart acknowledges that sharks can pose a danger, but she seems to be blissfully delusional about how erratic their behavior can be. In a dive with legendary Bahamian shark expert Stuart Cove, she is literally surrounded by deadly sharks as she confidently offers them food. As with all of these nature documentaries, the unsung heroes are the camera people who take the risk of photographing these remarkable scenes, yet never get appropriate credit.
The second episode is titled "Death Beach" and provides the obligatory balance between sympathizing with the plight of sharks and being scared to death of them. It's also the strongest episode on the DVD. The film follows the efforts of scientists to discover why a popular but remote beach in South Africa was the scene of five deadly shark attacks in as many years, with three of them occurring in one summer. There are well-done recreations of the attacks and interviews with witnesses. The scientists are seen attempting to catch and tag sharks in order to study patterns of travel and behavior. The episode is genuinely disturbing and will make you relieved that you survived stepping into your own bathtub.
The final episode is titled "Great White Code Red", which will be of primary interest to people with a scientific approach to the shark phenomenon. The show features shark experts indulging in a grisly autopsy of a Great White in order to further understand the many mysteries about this creature that have continued to elude us. The filmmakers deserved kudos for not pandering to the more shocking aspects of shark behavior, but at the same time, this restraint undoubtedly makes this the least engaging of the three episodes.
"Shark Collection" is a consistently interesting release that fulfills its main mission, which is to inform even while it entertains. Recommended viewing.
Issue #30 of Cinema Retro is now shipping worldwide, as is our special issue "Foto Files #1: Spy Girls", an 80-page special tribute to the sexiest femme fatales of '60s and '70s cinema.
Highlights of issue #30 include:
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles screen debut in "A Hard Day's Night" with exclusive insights from the film's director Richard Lester and David V. Picker, former head of production for United Artists.
"Blood, Sweat and Togas": Hercules and the Italian sword and sandal epics of the 1960s.
Exclusive! Oswald Morris: the final interview with the legendary cinematographer of such film classics as "The Guns of Navarone", "The Man Who Would Be King", "Moulin Rouge", "Oliver!", "Lolita", "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Hill".
"From Rio Bravo to El Dorado"- Part 2 of the in-depth comparison between two Howard Hawks film classics.
"Francoise Dorleac: A Remembrance": a look at a rising star whose promising career was tragically cut short.
"Warlords of Atlantis" - to some, a stirring '70s adventure flick; to others, a guilty pleasure!
The late, great Gerry Anderson: his work and career at Pinewood Studios.
The little-seen cult suspense thriller "Fright" starring Susan George.
Our coverage of Oakmont Productions' series of "B" WWII flicks concludes with "Hell Boats" starring James Franciscus.
"One Eyed Jacks"- the troubled classic starring and directed by Marlon Brando
Plus the latest reviews of noteworthy videos, film books and soundtrack releases.
A reminder to our valued subscribers: this issue concludes your subscription for the current season. Please see below sections to renew on-line.
Can you remember when a major studio would premiere a major film at a mid-west drive-in? This was the case with Safe at Home, a 1962 film little-known outside the United States because it was cobbled together quickly to capitalize on New York Yankees teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who were both competing to be the home run king in baseball history. The competition between the sluggers galvanized the nation. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and featured Mantle and Maris as themselves in a children's film about a young boy obsessed with baseball. When he can't deliver on his promise to have the legendary Mantle and Maris appear at his little league function, the two players take pity on him and show up at the event. The premiere of the film was held at the Pioneer Drive-In Theater to benefit the Des Moines Little League team. The photo shows theater management and little league coaches celebrating the event. Note that the second feature is John Ford's Two Rode Together starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark. Those were the days!
Vinegar Syndrome, the DVD label that specializes in rescuing obscure cult movies from oblivion, has released another grindhouse triple feature of 1970s erotica. All three features, contained on two DVDs, are hardcore and all recall period of time when, in order to see such fare, you had to sheepishly pay to enter a porn theater, hoping that anyone of influence in your life who might see you would be sitting in the audience themselves. Watching these oldies but goodies today, one is impressed by the fact that, even within the limited boundaries of the meager production values, some real attempts were made to tell legitimate stories. In that respect, the X rated feature films differed from the "loops", which merely consisted of ten minute reels in which everyone had to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The first film in this triple feature is "Cry for Cindy", which starred Amber Hunt, a pouty, baby-faced beauty who evidently made a bit of a splash when the film was made in 1976 (it begins with a placard thanking Hustler publisher Larry Flint for bringing his top centerfold to the attention of producers.) Hunt plays Cindy, a young woman who is living the high life in L.A. She drives an expensive car, lives in a luxurious apartment and even gets to fly private planes. However, the down side is that all of this is financed by her career as a high end hooker. The film delves into her psychological dilemma: she's addicted to her lifestyle but is increasingly appalled at how she earns it. She is used and abused by a brutal pimp who reminds her that he can toss her out into the street on a whim. Consequently, she becomes his personal sex slave. Her two best friends are more accepting of their fate as hookers. In a flashback sequence, we see how Cindy started as an innocent hair stylist who was helping to finance her boyfriend's way through medical school. Faced with insurmountable debt, she is lured into the life of a hooker without ever divulging this to her lover, who thinks she is suddenly earning big money by modelling. Cindy never warms to going to bed with unattractive men but learns to be the best in her profession, thus making herself a valuable commodity. As the story progresses, however, she becomes more depressed, leading to a rather somber and unexpected development. "Cry for Cindy" is quite ambitious in many respects: it shows a feminine point of view towards sexual exploitation, admittedly even while the actresses are sexually exploiting themselves. The script is literate and interesting and - dare I say it?- the acting is impressive for this genre. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and are erotically filmed and the production values are fairly high, with numerous location sequences and even an original love song written for the opening credits. The film ranks high among the grindhouse sex flicks of the era. (The DVD set also contains a more mainstream, soft-core cut of the film).
"Touch Me" is another attempt to combine a literate script with hardcore sex. Filmed in 1971, the low-budget production is set in an institute where various young people have assembled to discuss and try to resolve their sexual issues. The setting is the private home of the doctor who administers the therapies, which seems to be an opening for low-brow comedy. Yet, the script plays it straight, offering fully developed characterizations and a cast that can actually act (even if the "doctor" is of the rather stiff, pre-"Airplane" Leslie Nielsen method school). The characters span such a spectrum of varying personalities with varying problems that you half expect to see Irwin Allen's name as producer. There's the guy who is insecure about his penis size. There's another guy who harbors rape fantasies. There's a bickering couple and a wife who is rather frigid- and of course, the prerequisite lesbian who feels compelled to get "cured" but ends up adding a few numbers of straight women to her black book. The sex here is more clinical-both cinematically and in a literal sense- as everyone learns to shed their inhibitions and express and enact their wildest fantasies. As with "Cry for Cindy", "Touch Me" is a very obvious attempt to present an erotic film that might be more appealing to female viewers. The dialogue is intelligent and the cast is talented enough to suspect some of them might have found legitimate success in the profession.
Rounding out the triple feature is "Act of Confession", a 1972 film that starts out as ambitiously as the other two entries in the set. The film opens with a rather poignant overview of the miserable conditions most people lived in during the Middle Ages. A narrator points out how particularly rough it was for women, who were mostly consigned to a slave-life existence as the wife of a peasant. Consequently, many young women sought refuge in convents, not particularly because of religious conviction, but simply to escape the drudgery of back-breaking daily life on a farm. The premise is fine and one wishes the producers had stuck with simply providing a documentary about the Middle Ages. However, sex is the name of the game here and we are soon introduced to a young nun who develops some nasty habits in the convent, getting it on with the other sisters as well as the most fortunate priest and altar boy in Europe. In what is undoubtedly the most controversial sequence, she is seduced by Jesus Christ, so if you're still griping about that old Scorsese film, here's a new one you can protest. Unlike the other two films in this set, this entry is about as erotic as a catechism class, with a leading lady so lifeless that the sex scenes border on necrophilia.
Although the films credit aliases for their directors, the DVD sleeve indicates they were actually all helmed by one Anthony Spinelli, who apparently was a legend in the industry back in the day- and improbably, was the brother of noted character actor Jack Weston. Spinelli's work is several notches above the norm for this genre and Vinegar Syndrome presents crisp, clean remastered transfers. Whether these types of films appeal to you or not, they do offer an undeniable cinematic time capsule into an era when the industry was shaking off the constraints of repressive censorship that had dominated popular culture for the entire century. I'd call this an impressive package, but given the subject matter, it would sound too much like a stale joke.
One of the many excellent
supplements that appear on this disc is a rare video interview from 1979 with
David Lynch (and cinematographer Frederick Elmes). For those of us who have
aged along with the director, it is a striking glimpse at a young artist at the
beginning of his strange and wonderful career. In it, he explains that he is
attracted to sometimes harsh, oppressive settings, such as the nightmarish
industrial cityscape in Eraserhead.
“What everyone else finds ugly, I find beautiful,” he says proudly. And the
director has pretty much remained true to his word, hasn’t he?
a landmark picture, but its original release in 1977 was slow to reach an
audience. It gained its must-see reputation only after the film was picked up
to run on the midnight movie circuit that was popular on college campuses and
in the big cities at the time. The midnight movie fad had been around a while
but it especially picked up steam in the early-to-mid-70s with titles like El Topo, The Harder They Come, Pink
Flamingos, and The Rocky Horror
Picture Show. By 1980, Eraserhead had
reached cult status, and Lynch was hired by Mel Brooks to direct The Elephant Man. “You’re a madman!
You’re hired!” Brooks purportedly said.
If you’ve never viewed Eraserhead, there is no better
introduction to it than diving into The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release. The 4K digital restoration, supervised by Lynch, looks magnificent—the
ugly is indeed quite beautiful. Yes, it’s a strange movie. I’ve heard some
folks say it’s the weirdest movie they’ve ever seen. That could very well be
true, for today Eraserhead is
considered to be one of the classic
surrealist films, sitting alongside Un
Chien Andalou or Blood of a Poet.
Despite its intentional
strangeness, the story is simple. Longtime Lynch collaborator Jack Nance (here
credited as John Nance) plays Henry, a nervous man who is afraid of the
responsibility of becoming a father. He marries his already-pregnant girlfriend
anyway, and the child that is produced is, well, a monster. After a experiencing
a nightmare in which he is decapitated and has his head sold to a company that
somehow converts it into actual pencil eraserheads, Henry attempts to murder
the child (to this day Lynch and his cast/crew have never revealed how the special
effect of the baby was achieved), which causes the destruction of Henry’s
Okay, yeah, it sounds pretty
strange—but it’s also very funny.
It’s the blackest of comedies made with that quirky “Lynchian” (I suppose
that’s a real cinematic term now) humor that audiences in the 70s weren’t quite
ready for. And yet, Lynch also manages to balance the dark satire with
menacing, creepy horror, thereby creating a one-of-a-kind, unique and personal art
The supplemental material
from the DVD box set that Lynch’s company released in 2001 is included
(“Eraserhead Stories,” a 90-minute documentary on the making of the film),
along with a new piece featuring interviews with actors Charlotte Stewart and
Judith Roberts, assistant to the director (and wife to Jack Nance at the time)
Catherine Coulson, and DP Elmes. Additional archival interviews and trailers
and the illustrated booklet containing an interview with Lynch rounds out the
But there’s more! Also
included on the disk are all but one of Lynch’s works that were released on DVD
in 2002 as The Short Films of David
Lynch. The titles on the Criterion edition are: Six Men Getting Sick (67), The
Alphabet (68), The Grandmother (70),
two versions of The Amputee (74), and
Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (95).
Missing from the earlier set is The
Cowboy and the Frenchman (88), and it’s a mystery as to why this is
Nevertheless, Criterion’s new
Blu-ray release of Eraserhead is an
essential purchase for Lynch fans. It is indeed the definitive presentation of
this remarkable piece of celluloid—so settle in, turn out the lights, and
prepare to have your mind blown.
Issue #30 of Cinema Retro has now shipped to all subscribers in the UK and Europe. As the final issue of season 10, it's time to now renew for Season 11 so you won't miss any of the great issues we have planned for you.
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Bertolucci directing Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris.
P.E.A. Films, a European based company, has filed a lawsuit against MGM stating that their auditors has found evidence that the movie studio has underpaid royalties due P.E.A. and, in general, has been slow in cutting checks and hindering the audit processes. The suit involves the 1965 Italian Western classic For a Few Dollars More starring Clint Eastwood and it's 1966 sequel The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (the first film in the trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, is not included in the lawsuit). Also in dispute is director Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial 1973 classic Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando. The sexually provocative film was a critical and boxoffice hit despite having an X-rating.
Clint Eastwood in Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
This is not the first lawsuit filed against MGM by P.E.A. Over the years, the company has accused the studio of negligence in terms of reporting revenues due to P.E.A. The current lawsuit seeks termination of MGM's distribution rights to the films as well as payment of $5 million in damages. For more click here.
Many books have been written about
Hollywood Westerns. After 45 years, the
late William K. Everson’s “A Pictorial History of the Western Film” (The
Citadel Press, 1969) remains one of the best: a coffee-table book with
substance. Everson appropriately tips
his sombrero to John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Hathaway, and Howard Hawks (with
measured praise for “Red River”), and his comments on films spanning the history of the genre up to the
end of the 1960s, from “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to “The Wild Bunch”
(1969), are incisive and thought-provoking. As a film scholar and preservationist, Everson was particularly
knowledgeable about older and often obscure movies from the silent and early
sound eras. Three of the classic titles
he highlights are worthy of his approval and deserve to be better known than
King Vidor’s “Billy the Kid” (1930) is slow
going at times, particularly if you’re accustomed to the frantic pace of modern
action movies. Nevertheless, as the
first major Hollywood dramatization of the Billy the Kid story, adapted from
Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book, it’s certainly worth seeing. Everson praises the spare quality of the
deliberately tried to avoid the traditional MGM gloss; the photography is good,
but always naturalistic, the characters drab in their dress, the buildings
ramshackle, the streets dusty. It is a
long film and a slow one, with its main action sequence placed in the middle of
the film, so that it doesn’t even build to a climax as most Westerns do. Its script is frankly untidy, yet the film is
quite certainly the best and most convincing of all the Billy the Kid sagas.
is right about Vidor’s strikingly stark style, including Vidor’s use of rugged
outdoor scenes in which massive buttes and caves dwarf the actors, but he’s
wrong about the movie not building to a climax. Actually it does, although the dramatic climax isn’t the final
confrontation between Billy (Johnny Mack Brown) and Pat Garrett (Wallace
Beery!), that you might expect from 80 years of Billy the Kid cinema, and maybe
as Everson expected. It’s an emotional
climax instead of a violent climax: the next-to-last scene in the movie, in
which Billy, on the run, tries to keep his sweetheart Claire (Kay Johnson) from
sticking with him by telling her that he doesn’t love her, although it’s
poignantly clear to the viewer that he does. Vidor, Brown, and Johnson stage the scene with great tenderness.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t much of a
resolution between Billy and Garrett. The two never really face off, as you’d expect from other movies like
“The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), which
remain marginally truer to historical fact. Just after the Kid returns to the heartbroken Claire and confesses that he really does
care, Garrett lets the outlaw ride away with her to freedom and a happy
future. Beery may seem an unlikely
choice to play Pat Garrett (although not the oddest: that would be Thomas
Mitchell in “The Outlaw” from 1946) , but the role is crafted to the actor’s
usual image as a soft-hearted roughneck, so it isn’t as clumsy a fit as you
From Billy the Kid to the O.K. Corral:
Everson called Edward L. Cahn’s “Law and Order” (1932) “[one] of the sound era’s most overlooked Westerns (and
one of its finest).” Walter Huston and
Harry Carey Sr. are terrific as Frame Johnson -- “the killin’est marshal in the West” -- and shotgun-toting gambler Ed
Brandt in this lean, black-and-white movie based on W.R. Burnett’s novel “Saint
Johnson,” with John Huston credited for “adaptation and dialogue.” Johnson (a thinly disguised Wyatt Earp), his
brother Lute, Brandt (the Doc Holliday of the story), and their pard Deadwood
drift into lawless Tombstone, where the rustling Northrup brothers ride
roughshod. The town fathers offer
Johnson the job of peace officer.
“Nope, I’m done with that,” the flinty Johnson says at
first. “All it’s gotten me is a trail of
dead men and a heap of enemies.” The
locals cagily change his mind by playing on his pride: “Pin Northrup’s bet a
thousand dollars that you won’t go up agin’ em.”
The dialogue is hardboiled, almost the only women-folk
in sight are the saloon floozies, and the script establishes a bleak,
fatalistic tone early on. Drifting,
Johnson and his companions match cards on the trail to determine whether to go
to Alkali or Tombstone; Brandt offhandedly votes for Tombstone and draws the
winning hand -- aces over eights, the cards that Wild Bill Hickok held when he
was murdered by Jack McCall. The
real-life events of the feud between the Earps and the Ike Clanton gang are
rearranged here so that the shootings and shotgun ambushes lead up to rather
than follow the showdown inside the “O.K. Barn,” staged by Cahn as a brutal,
running gunbattle around hay bales and horse stalls. A gangster movie from the same year, “The
Beast of the City,” co-scripted by W.R. Burnett and starring Walter Huston, ended
with the same sort of last-ditch, straight-up shootout between cops led by
Huston and mobsters led by Jean Hersholt as a gang lord modeled on Al Capone.
Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) has
been filmed at least five times. Everson
singled out the 1941 version, directed by James Tinling and starring George
Montgomery, as “that rare animal, a remake superior to at least some of its
predecessors. In less than an hour, it
packed in all of Grey’s complicated plot, managed to prevent the unusually
large number of characters from getting in each other’s way, offered plenty of
action and good locations and photography.” Montgomery as vengeance-driven gunman Jim Lassiter makes an impressive
entrance. Dressed all in black, he
prevents a gang of crooked vigilantes from whipping an innocent man by shooting
the whip in two. “You’re interferin’
with justice, stranger,” the ringleader snarls. “Takin’ a whip to a man ain’t justice,” Lassiter snaps back.
Grey’s novel villainized Mormons, led by the corrupt
Bishop Dyer, but the movie sidesteps religious controversy: in this version,
Dyer is a greedy judge (Robert Barrat) who attemps to intimidate Jane (Mary
Howard), a young ranch owner, into signing her property over to him. The judge’s main henchman is his son Adam,
played by Kane Richmond, whom pulp movie fans may remember better as the Spy
Smasher and the Shadow. Montgomery
anchors the film with conviction and charisma, and as Everson noted, William
Bruckner’s and Robert F. Metzler’s script keeps the gunfights, fistfights, and
chases coming at a rapid clip. This is a
movie that combines the simplicity and verve of the B-Western with the
accomplished acting and outdoor production values of an A-production.
“Law and Order” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” are
available in DVD-R editions on the collector’s market, and “Billy the Kid” has
been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection. For their quality and historical value, I
think all three films deserve proper restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, and I
suspect that William K. Everson would have agreed.
We have a limited number of magazine
binders available. Each one holds 12 issues, and comes with the Cinema Retro
logo embossed on the spine. Prices include shipping from our UK office (note;
we do not carry stocks in the US).
USA: $30.00 UK: £12.50. Europe: £15.50. Rest of the
Payment to the UK office by cheque (if
living in the UK)
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER
The web site TMZ has reported that actor Richard Kiel has passed away at age 74. Details are sketchy but the site states that Kiel entered the hospital last week in Fresno, California, for treatment of a broken leg. It is not known whether any complications from that injury contributed to his death.
Kiel was an iconic figure in both television and feature films. His imposing stature often led to him being cast as a heavy. Those of us who were privileged to call him our friend always found this ironic, since he was a kind, gentle man who virtually never said an unkind word about anyone else. Kiel appeared in the 1960s in a slew of major TV shows and played the role of the seemingly benign alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". Although his role had no dialogue, Kiel's presence was so impressive that, decades after the telecast, collectibles from the episode were still being made in his likeness. Among the other classic shows he appeared in were The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild, Wild West, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Monkees and Honey West. Kiel made an impression on the big screen as well in films like Silver Streak and The Longest Yard. However, his biggest claim to fame came when he was cast as the mute, steel-toothed villain Jaws opposite Roger Moore in the 1977 James Bond hit The Spy Who Loved Me. Kiel was considered so popular with test screening audiences that his final scene was reshot, thus sparing the character death and allowing him to reappear in the next Bond flick Moonraker. Over the decades, Kiel was a popular fixture at film events and autograph shows around the world. He truly enjoyed meeting his many fans and always had time to swap stories with them and pose for photos. He wrote and actively promoted his entertaining autobiography, appropriately titled Making It Big in the Movies. He also won a new generation of fans with his role in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore.
At the start up of Cinema Retro ten years ago, we approached Richard Kiel to contribute an article about his early days in show business. He agreed immediately and became one of our major boosters. In 2010, we attended a special dinner in his honor in London, hosted by www.bondstars.com It became evident that his popularity, far from waning, was increasing. He was a devoted husband to his wife Diane and an outstanding father to his children. We express our sincere sympathies.
Richard Kiel has left us in the physical sense- but his presence will live on indefinitely through his appearances in film. Rest in peace, big guy- we miss you already.
- Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall
UPDATE: The Kiel family has issued the following statement:
It is with very heavy hearts that we announce that Richard has passed away, just three days shy of his 75 th birthday. Richard had an amazing joy for life and managed to live every single day to the fullest. Though most people knew of him through his screen persona, those who were close to him knew what a kind and generous soul he was. His family was the most important thing in his life and we are happy that his last days were spent surrounded by family and close friends. Though his passing was somewhat unexpected, his health had been declining in recent years. It is nice to think that he can, once again, stand tall over us all.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Sept. 2, 2014 — For Immediate Release — Long-time film industry veteran Philip Elliott Hopkins announces the
launch of The Film Detective, which
distributes broadcast-quality, digitally remastered, classic programming for
television, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and other digital platforms.
Hopkins plans to release 10-20 DVDs and Blu-rays each
month – as well as syndicate
worldwide through broadcast, VOD and all leading movie portals – beginning Sept. 4.
Additionally, the Massachusetts-based
company plans to launch a classic movie subscription service
on a VOD platform, featuring a veteran movie host, later in the fall (More
details coming soon).
Film Detective’s extensive library of more than 3,000 titles – which includesfeature films, television programming, foreign imports,
documentaries– are now being re-mastered for today’s
new media. All titles are transferred from original film elements and many will be
restored in HD. With original artwork
available for most titles, all releases will be available worldwide with
region-free DVD and Blu-ray release.
The initial slate of titles to be released
Bucket of Blood (1959), Angel and the Badman (1947), Beat the Devil (1953), Carnival of Souls (1962), D.O.A. (1950), Dementia 13 (1963), Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947), Go
for Broke (1951), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Love
Affair (1939), My Favorite Brunette (1947), My
Man Godfrey (1936), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nothing Sacred (1937), Salt of the Earth (1954), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Homes: Dressed to Kill
(1946), Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), The
Big Lift (1950), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), The
Inspector General (1949), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), The
Red House (1947), The Stranger (1946) and The Terror (1963).
Hopkins entered home video entertainment
in 1999 as vice president of Marango Films, an early home video distributor of
classic movies. He co-founded Film Chest in 2002, supplying a broad array of
broadcasters including Turner Classic Movies and American Movie
Classics, and home video companies including
VCI and Image Entertainment with classic films over
the next 11 years.
Commented Hopkins, “I’m thrilled to be launching an
exciting new initiative and look forward to bringing new life to many classics that
deserve to be restored and remastered. Our goal is to build an extensive
resource online for classic film enthusiasts and to develop a social media
network to communicate with fans around the world.”
you’re a movie fan, you probably have a book shelf at least partly filled with
books about John Wayne, but I doubt any of those books reveal a more complete
story of The Duke than author Scott Eyman’s “John Wayne: The Life and Legend.”
author of acclaimed biographies on Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer and John
Ford, Eyman was reluctant to write a bio of John Wayne. “After spending six
years on John Ford, the last thing I wanted to do was saddle up and head back
to Monument Valley, either metaphorically or geographically. Ten years and two
books later, it seamed like a much better idea.” He knew the Duke, “… slightly,
but until I invested four years in research I couldn’t claim any special
insights into the man other than witnessing his good humor, his courtesy, his
first met Wayne, “… in August 1972. He was not merely big, he was huge, with
hands that could span home plate–the largest hands I have ever seen on a human
being.” A man with “… a surprising graciousness of manner and a quiet way of
speaking.” He further described the Duke, “… a good-sized man could stand behind
him and never be seen.” Duke was larger than life and a man known to family and
friends for speaking intelligently on almost any topic.
book is as much a joy to read as it is re-watching John Wayne’s movies. It’s
the origin story of a self-made man who became John Wayne. Movies were as
important to him as his family and his friends and this book lives and breathes
The Duke. It includes tales from his childhood, his collage years, his start in
Hollywood, lifelong friends, his first big break and the wilderness years that
followed; a decade of forgettable “B” movies which served as his acting school
and which defined his work ethic until the end of his life.
Wayne in the 1970 Western "Chisum"
the Duke’s origins were indeed humble, he became a man obsessively protective
of his on-screen image and box office status as a screen icon while at the same
time being known for his outspoken political views and his sometimes oblivious
nature of the changing world around him. He was both Duke Morrison the private
citizen, and John Wayne the movie star. While there are many great actors, most
are defined by one or two truly great movies. John Wayne fans and cinema
scholars alike can easily name more than a dozen John Wayne movies that are commonly
regarded as genuine cinema classics.
takes the time to explain the complicated nature of John Wayne’s politics
without being an apologist. Wayne’s political views evolved from his early years
and defined him almost as much as his movies. Eyman does an outstanding job explaining
and clarifying Wayne’s personal philosophy with anecdotes from family, friends
and colleagues; many of whom disagreed with the Duke’s politics, but the common
thread throughout the book is that almost everyone who knew him, even if they
disagreed with him, liked him and respected him. He would listen to people and
allowed them to say what was on their mind. Even in disagreement there could be
friendship. Likewise, fans love his movies regardless of their politics or his.
tells the John Wayne Story with honesty and sincerity and doesn’t hold back or
sugar coat topics ranging from infidelity, the Hollywood blacklist and charges
of racism to anger on the set, poor financial management and being out of touch
with the times. It’s as much the story of John Wayne movies and his movie image
as it is the story of his family, friends and the beliefs which defined The
Duke as a unique genre in American cinema history.
definitive biography of John Wayne chronicles the major hits and flops of his
screen career and includes the personal recollections of those who knew him. At
a hefty 658 pages, the book reads at a leisurely pace and takes its time just like
some of the Duke’s movies. The book contains an 80 page section devoted to
citations, a generous bibliography and a comprehensive index. This book is the
essential read for every John Wayne fan.
addition to the aforementioned Hollywood biographies, Scott Eyman contributed
the informative and entertaining audio commentary for the out-of-print 2006
Warner Bros. DVD release of “Stagecoach.” He also wrote the short documentary,
“Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption,” also available on that disc.
The Expendables 3 boasts the kind of all-star cast that is rarely assembled in today's film industry- yet the movie is under-performing.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Call it "Suddenly Last Summer"...one year ago, Hollywood was crowing about the performance of its usual spate of special effects-laden monstrosities designed to appeal to the least-demanding audiences, at least in terms of intellectual content. Now, suddenly, comes the realization that even viewers who thrive on shallow sex comedies and the celluloid equivalent of monster truck rallies may finally be wising up. With cinema tickets now considered a major investment by moviegoers who are still reeling from the last recession, it appears that the studios may have hit the wall: Hollywood has seen its worst summer since 1997. In July, boxoffice receipts for the North American market plummeted by 30% compared to the same month last year. Studio executives call the disastrous summer a fluke and have even blamed competition from the World Cup, which finally caught on with Americans, as a prime reason for the boxoffice decline. They may be right - and some of these so called "bombs" will go into profitability once international grosses and home video sales are calculated. However, no one wants to consider another possible reason: many of these overblown epics simply stink. The cost of a couple attending a movie in a big city now requires a small loan to be taken out. Greedy studios take the lion's share of the profits, leaving hapless theater owners to rely on diverse offerings at the snack stand in order to ensure profitability. Who wants to pay $15 a ticket to sit next to a guy who is burping up tacos and pizza? For a New York Times report click here.
There will be a 50th anniversary reunion of actresses from the James Bond classic Goldfinger appearing at the next London Film Convention to be held on 20 September. Actresses scheduled to appear are Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Nadja Regin and Margaret Nolan.
The Bond for UNICEF charity event will take place commencing 20 September in Stockholm, Sweden. An array of guest stars and screenings will highlight the festivities. Here is an updated press notice we received:
(Photo copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Cinema Retro's "Man About London", photographer Mark Mawston, covered Sir Roger Moore and Lady Moore during their appearance yesterday at London's Cinema Store. Sir Roger was signing copies of his latest book, "Last Man Standing". For his full schedule of London signing appearances, click here.
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (2014) is an interesting but
flawed movie, more successful in set-up than pay-off.
The great Cecil B. DeMille established the standard for
the old-school Biblical epic: a lot of spectacle, as much titillation as the
censors would allow, and a little homespun piety.Aronofsky takes a more ambitious tack,
combining Old Testament scripture, Jewish tradition, and Biblical Apocrypha to
explore weighty spiritual and philosophical issues.His backdrop is a stark antediluvian world of
volcanic crags and dry watercourses, from which the elaborate trappings of
classic spectacles like “Samson and Delilah” (1949), “The Ten Commandments”
(1956), and “Ben-Hur” (1959) are notably absent.
The descendants of Cain, led by their brutal king
Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), have scratched out a primitive industrial
civilization from their hardscrabble environment.They rail at the Creator (the script never
uses the word “God”) for having exiled Adam and Eve from Eden nine generations
before.“He cursed us to struggle by the
sweat of our brow to survive,” Tubal-Cain rages.“Damned if I don't do everything it takes to
do just that.”In contrast, the
descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son, represented by Noah (Russell
Crowe), his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connolly), their three sons, and their
adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), respect “the Creator’s land” and try to
conserve its resources: “We only collect what we can use, what we need.”
Noah begins to experience visions of a deluge.Consulting his grandfather, Methuselah
(Anthony Hopkins), he intuits that the Creator, disappointed with mankind’s
cruelty and greed, intends to destroy His experiment with a Great Flood and
start over.Noah and his family are to
build an ark that will house a male and a female from each animal species.Animals, innocent of sin, will survive and
replenish the world after the waters recede.Noah initially believes that he and his family will be allowed to
survive too, as reward for having lived righteously.The Creator provides a forest from which Noah
and his family can harvest timber for the ark, helped by the Watchers, fallen
angels incarnated as stony giants: “We chose to try and help mankind and when
we disobeyed the Creator, he punished us. We were encrusted by your world. Rock
and mud shackled our fiery glow.”
The first part of the film, in which Aronofsky clearly
delights in presenting the visual and thematic details of his lost world, is
slow-moving but impressively imaginative.This is not history according to anthropology and geology, but
prehistory according to the accounts of the Fall and the first Patriarchs in
Genesis, as interpreted by Aronofsky.The only community shown in detail is a makeshift village that looks
like a squatters’ camp.Weapons are made
of crudely hammered iron.Clothing is
rough and stitched-together.Several
details, some obvious like the Watchers and others more subtle, reinforce the
viewer’s awareness that this is a different Earth pre-dating ours; look closely
and see what differences you notice.
Unfortunately, Aronofsky loses his exhilaration and
takes several dramatic missteps even before the Deluge arrives in fine CGI
scenes.Sneaking through Tubal-Cain’s
camp, Noah realizes (or decides) that he and his family are just as guilty of
sin in the Creator’s eyes as the despoilers are, and that they are not meant to
procreate either.When his son Ham
rescues a girl from Tubal-Cain’s followers and tries to flee with her to the
ark, Noah leaves her to her death.When
he learns that his adopted daughter is pregnant with Shem’s baby, he determines
to kill the child after it is born (“it’s not something I want to do, it’s what
I have to do”).Much of the latter part
of the film sinks into overblown melodrama as Noah and stowaway Tubal-Cain
fight in the ark, resentful son Ham simmers, and after Ila gives birth to not
one baby but two, Noah glowers and stalks toward them with a knife.His next actions as holds the blade over the
infants seem as arbitrarily motivated as his earlier epiphany.
It’s difficult to tell whether Aronofsky tried to load
the script with more philosophical freight than the dialogue and the running time
could bear, or whether his star simply lacked the range needed to convey the
complex emotions that the scenes call for.Crowe is sturdy enough in the sequences that play to his strengths,
principally those in which Noah stands down Tubal-Cain and supervises the
building of the ark, but those requiring a believable display of spiritual
conviction, tenderness, or a sudden transition from one to the other fall
flat.Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain
similarly comes up short of the high benchmark for Biblical movie villainy set
by George Sanders in “Samson and Delilah,” Peter Ustinov in “Quo Vadis” (1951),
Jay Robinson in “The Robe” (1953), Edward G. Robinson in “The Ten
Commandments,” and Herbert Lom in “The Big Fisherman” (1959), but he may have
done his best with what Aronofsky handed him.Anthony Hopkins enlivens the scenes that feature Methuselah, who wanders
into Noah’s story from a different chapter of Genesis in the way that
characters crossed over from one Book of the Old Testament to another in the
old DeMille epics.
The Blu-ray disc in Paramount”s Blu-ray, DVD, and
Digital HD combo offers crisp images and strong colors -- to the extent that
any colors emerge from the predominantly gray tones of the natural setting and
the brown tones of the characters’ clothing.There are three informative special features -- “Iceland: Extreme
Beauty” (Iceland provided the movie’s stony landscape),“The Ark Exterior: A
Battle for 300 Cubits,” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two.”
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND GET EXCLUSIVE BONUS CD WITH CHRISTIAN MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE FILM
Scorpion has released the complete version of the 3-part 1978 mini series "The Dain Curse" as a double DVD set. The show has a checkered history in terms of home video. A truncated version was available for a while on VHS, then Image released the full three episodes on DVD. Now Scorpion has done the same and the quality of the set is very good, capturing the relatively rich production values of the series. Those of us of a certain age can remember when the major networks put a great deal of time, talent and financial resources into mini-series. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of these shows constituted "must-see" TV. In an age in which the average household didn't have video recorders, some shows were so special that people altered their lifestyles to ensure they could catch each episode. Today, those days seem long gone, with network TV now a haven for trashy game shows, indistinguishable cop show and so-called "reality shows", most of which don't bear any resemblance to the world most of us live in. To top it all off, even if you are inclined to indulge in this fare, you have to sit through such a mind-numbing number of commercials, you'll probably forget where the story left off before the last break. The good news, of course, is that magnificently entertaining mini-series are still thriving. The bad news is that you have to pay even more to watch them via "premium" cable TV channels. "The Dain Curse" was produced smack in the middle of the prestige craze of the 1970s when TV networks tried to outshine each other in terms of producing acclaimed mini-series. Unfortunately, this series, despite a promising concept, falls far short of the mark.
The story, set in 1929, is based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, ordinarily a good source for a film noir production. Robert Mitchum had gotten the formula right a couple of years before with his portrayal of Philip Marlowe in "Farewell, My Lovely". Coburn would seem to be an appropriate leading man for another Hammett protagonist, private eye Hamilton Nash. However, whereas Mitchum looked sleepy, worn-out and perpetually pissed off, Coburn looks too much like a movie star. He's immaculately attired and supremely self-confident. He does suffer the fate of all noirish detectives: he makes the occasional misjudgement that sees him beaten and battered, but for the most part Coburn is a bit too Hollywood to ever convince you that he's an employee of a private eye agency. Nonetheless, even miscast Coburn is a joy to watch, especially as he trades wisecracks with cops, crooks and dames. The problem with "The Dain Curse", however, is that there are far too many of all these characters. The plot is overly-complex and virtually impossible to follow. It opens with Nash investigating the alleged robbery of some diamonds from the home of a rich, middle-aged couple. In the process, Nash suspects there never was a robbery and begins to unravel the reasons for the staged crime. In the process, he meets the couple's daughter, a twenty-something beauty named Gabrielle, who turns out to be real handful. She's a head-turner, but she's also insufferably cynical and self-obsessed and her party girl habits lead to a complicated scenario that ultimately involves murder, phony religious cults, drug addiction and kidnapping. Throughout, Nash has to deal with the usual eccentrics found in any detective story of the era: incompetent cops, a kindly boss who is exasperated by his star detective's independent streak, corrupt public officials and more red herrings than you would find in a fish factory. Within ten minutes, I found myself confused. By the one hour mark, I had given up in terms of trying to follow the plot and the character's motivations and just decided to sit back and enjoy the often impressive performances. These include Beatrice Straight as Gabrielle's mother, Hector Elizondo as a small time sheriff who assists Nash and, most impressively, Jason Miller, playing against type as a dandy writer in the Truman Capote mold (though he favors the opposite sex.) The best performance comes from Nancy Addison in the challenging role of Gabrielle. Addison successfully conveys the wide range of emotion the character has to display over the film's five hour running time. There are also welcome appearances by Jean Simmons, Paul Stewart, Roland Winters and New York's favorite raconteur, Malachy McCourt.
The film has some riveting sequences such as Nash's investigation of a cult religious temple where a human sacrifice is being planned and his subsequent drugging by hallucinogen-causing gasses. The Long Island locations are also pleasing to the eye and Charles Gross's period jazz score is admirable. However, the screenplay drags on for far too long, testing one's ability to follow the nature of pivotal relationships and motivations. By the time the movie grinds to what should be a compelling courtroom climax, the revelations aren't shocking because you can barely understand their implications- and there is little that director E.W. Swackhamer (we love that name!) can do to sew these disparate elements into something comprehensible.
The Scorpion DVD package features the cool original promotional art on the sleeve and also includes trailers for other Scorpion releases including Coburn's "The Internecine Project", Burt Lancaster in "Go Tell the Spartans" and an unusual trailer for "Saint Jack" hosted by director Peter Bogdanovich.
McLaglen with his father Victor on the set of Rawhide with Clint Eastwood.
Andrew V. McLaglen, the son of famed character actor Victor McLaglen, who went on to a successful career as both a television and feature film director, has died at age 94. McLaglen got into directing by working on popular television Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s such as "Rawhide" and "Have Gun, Will Travel". He collaborated with John Wayne on the 1963 Western comedy "McLintock!", which proved to be a boxoffice smash. He would collaborate with Wayne on numerous other films such as "Hellfighters", "Cahill: U.S. Marshall", "The Undefeated" and their most acclaimed joint project, the 1970 Western "Chisum" which proved to be a favorite of President Richard M. Nixon. (Some of Nixon's political adversaries theorized that the film inspired him to launch the secret war in Cambodia.) McLaglen also excelled at making action adventure films such as "North Sea Hijack" (aka "fflokes") with Roger Moore. Other major films include "Bandolero!", "The Rare Breed", "Shenandoah" (the latter three with James Stewart), "The Last Hard Men" and "The Devil's Brigade". The two men also collaborated on the highly popular 1978 film for producer Euan Lloyd, "The Wild Geese" and a follow-up project, "The Sea Wolves". McLaglen had retired from films and lived a serene lifestyle in rural Washington state. For more click here
British noir crime dramas of the Fifties go, The House Across the Lake (1954) is probably as good an example as
you could hope to dip into. The tale unfolds in flashback, related by our main
protagonist to another character (precisely who is not revealed until the final
reel), is embroidered with expositional narration and, though clichéd and not
in the least unpredictable, delivers atmosphere by the barrel.
film is an early entry on the CV of writer-director Ken Hughes (the arguable highpoints
of whose career, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
and Cromwell, remain perennial favourites,
whilst his latter-day offerings, Night
School and Sextette, are best
brushed under the proverbial carpet). Hughes scripted The House Across the Lake from his own source novel, “High Wray”,
and also commandeered the director’s chair. Nowadays understandably marketed as
a Hammer film, it’s actually the fruit of the company’s earlier incarnation
Exclusive Films. Nevertheless, it boasts enough familiar names from the
company’s later glory years to set Hammer fans’ pulses racing: Anthony Hinds
produced, Jimmy Sangster AD’d, Len Harris and Harry Oakes were among the camera
operators, Phil Leakey was on make-up duty and James Needs edited.
the height of a sultry summer, American author Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) has
rented a remote lakeside bungalow in which he hopes to overcome a bout of
writer’s block. After doing a favour for his neighbours from – you guessed it –
the house across the lake, Kendrick befriends the affluent but ailing Beverly
Kendrick (Sidney James). It’s transparent from the outset that tensions are
running high between Forrest and his younger trophy wife, serial adulteress
Carol (Hillary Brooke). With his writing career plummeting, Kendrick is
desperately short of money, so when an opportunity presents itself for Carol to
dispose of her husband, he is easily coaxed into complicity for a cut of her
inheritance. After all, Forrest is a dying man anyway – why not give nature a
little chivvy along?
a short, sharp 66-minutes, The House
Across the Lake is an entertaining little film and offers up solid
performances from its three leads. Whilst Nicol and Brooke were doubtless
drafted in to drum up interest Stateside (where the film was released with the
re-titling Heat Wave), the presence
of Sid James – yes, the aforementioned Sidney is indeed he in an early straight
role – will certainly be the key draw for Brit movie buffs.
has been issued on DVD in the UK as part of “The British Movie” collection – an
arm of Network Distributing – in a new digital transfer. Hammer completists
will snap this one up (indeed, due to Sid James’ participation, so will “Carry
On” completists), but it deserves to find a home with a broader audience and
hopefully with this worthy release it will do. The disc also includes a trailer
and a small gallery of poster art and lobby cards.
this reviewer, Terry-Thomas’s turn as dastardly Raymond Delauney in the 1960 Brit-com
School for Scoundrels remains one of
his finest. The actor’s effervescent personality gelled perfectly with the
penmanship of Stephen Potter to create an egotistical chauvinist you couldn’t
help but take a liking to. Just a year later, in 1961’s His and Hers, his portrayal of a similar cad is one of his weaker
turns and rapidly becomes tiresome. It’s all in the writing, folks.
His and Hers was the
penultimate film from Brian Desmond Hurst, whose moment in the sun was the
sterling 1951 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Alistair Sim in the
title role of Scrooge. Hurst, along
with writers Jan and Mark Lowell and Stanley Mann, hailed from a background in screen
drama, so comely was not the likeliest genre for them to tackle. The lukewarm
results are testimony to their folly.
adventurer – and author of the hugely successful “I Conquered…” series of books
– Reggie Blake (Terry-Thomas) returns from his latest escapade in the Sahara.
His past expeditions have all been stage-managed by his canny publisher Charles
Dunton (Wilfred Hyde-White); the sharks he fought in the Atlantic were rubber,
the igloo he inhabited in the Arctic had central heating. But this time the set-up
went wrong and so for his new book Reggie wants to do away with the fiction and
tell it as it really was. The problem is it’s boring. When Reggie adopts a
pompous stance and threatens to take the manuscript elsewhere, it causes
friction with both his wife Fran (Janette Scott) and Dunton. Shrewdly aware
that the public is eager for a new “I Conquered…” epic, Dunton conspires with
Fran to pretend to write a book
exposing her husband’s faux adventures – “I Was Conquered by a Middle-aged
Monster” – in the hope it’ll coax Reggie into delivering a book that will actually
sell. But Reggie proves more stubborn than either of them expects…
much hilarity ensues”, as they say. Except in the case of His and Hers, it doesn’t. As previously mentioned, Terry-Thomas’s
character isn’t very likeable. Unfortunately, rather damningly, neither are
Hyde-White’s or Scott’s. They’re all
objectionable. Thus the intended humour as husband and wife divide up their
house into “his” and “hers” areas falls flat. Their struggles to adapt to their
new roles – he on all levels of domesticity, she in her attempts to immerse
herself in the business of authorship – seldom elicit more than a tepid smile.
what are we left with? Not a lot. It there’s any fun to be derived here, it’s
in the form of a myriad of cameos from favourites of the big and small screen.
Kenneth Connor, Oliver Reed, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Marie Deveraux,
Francesca Annis, Joan Hickson – even a youthful William Roach – have all put in
appearances by the time the end credits roll. These cameos certainly lend His and Hers curiosity value, but
there’s regrettably little else for which one could recommend it.
a constituent in their “The British Film” collection, Network Distributing in
the UK have just released the film on DVD and (incredulously, given its
mediocre value) Blu-Ray too, though to be fair the crisp black and white print
is pristine. The only supplement offered is a short gallery of original FOH stills.
Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers was originally deemed unreleasable because of its tasteless content. It sat on a shelf for two years before finally seeing the light of day. When the movie hit theaters, critics praised it, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and helped launch a major career for him in feature films. By 1974, tastelessness was not a barrier for Brooks' cinematic projects. Blazing Saddles, his insane send-up of the Western movie genre, came along at exactly the right time. Ten years earlier, the film would have been impossible to make. However, pop culture had matured light years between the mid-1960s and 1970s and so did audience's tolerance of envelope-pushing humor. Indeed, by the time Brooks brought this movie to the screen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had already shown the humorous side of swinging and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H made the Korean War a thinly-veiled, over-the-top comedic roasting of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Brooks still had plenty of new ways to bring tasteless comedy to new highs (or lows). The "plot line" of Blazing Saddles is razor-thin. Cleavon Little is Bart, a hip black man who is tired of being used as a beast of burden by racist white employers. Through a plot device (don't ask!), he assumes the identity of a new sheriff of a small town. The reaction of the crowd and politicians when they realize their new law enforcement officer is a black man is still priceless in its hilarity. The sheriff encounters a wide variety of local eccentrics including Jim (Gene Wilder), an amiable gunslinger who assists him in thwarting a stock company of local bad guys.
As Brooks points out in a new interview in the set, Blazing Saddles is timeless. Indeed, it feels as fresh and funny today as it did in 1974. However, no one would ever dare make such a film today. In an industry preoccupied with "safe" concepts such as stupid movies about monsters and aliens, it would be all but impossible to find financing for a film that uses "nigger" as a punch line to every other joke. Forget the fact that it's the white racists who end up getting the short end of every stick and it's the black hero who is the only handsome, intelligent character in the story- the very concept would be deemed far too toxic for public consumption. However, we at least have Blazing Saddles to remind us of an era in which filmmakers and studios dared to gore sacred cows. The result was a period that saw some of the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. In terms of maturity, however, the industry has only regressed over the ensuing decades.
Warner Brothers has put together a Blu-ray that is appropriately packed with extras, most of which have been carried over from previous releases. These include a 2001 documentary in which Brooks and Wilder are interviewed separately about the making of the film and its legacy. Brooks originally wanted Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, to star as Bart but the comedian's erratic personal behavior scared the studio bosses. At one point Flip Wilson was considered for the role before Cleavon Little "wowed" Brooks in his audition. John Wayne was even asked to make a cameo appearance but the Duke correctly assumed that his audience wouldn't be very happy about his appearance in a movie laced with obscene jokes. There are also anecdotes about the sterling supporting cast of character actors including the inimitable Slim Pickens. Also interviewed is the late, great Harvey Korman, who comes close to dominating the film with a truly hilarious performance. Writer Andrew Bergman relates how amazed he was when Warner Brothers actually bought his script for the film, which he wrote on "spec". The set provides a new documentary in which Brooks is interviewed anew (he immodestly calls the film the greatest comedy ever made) and Gene Wilder is seen in recent footage from an interview at New York's 92nd Street "Y". There are also some interesting scenes that were deleted from the final print but which were apparently included in TV broadcasts of the movie. Most interesting is the half hour pilot episode of a proposed TV series from 1975 titled Black Bart with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the Cleavon Little role. Gossett is well-cast but the show is a lame concoction of weak racially-based jokes and cheap production values. It's inclusion here is most appreciated, however, for curiosity's sake alone. Rounding out the bonus extras are the original trailer, an audio commentary by Mel Brooks and a set of postcards with scenes and jokes from the film.
For a brief, shining moment in history the region in and around Almeria, Spain served as the primary for dozens of Italian and other European Westerns during the "Spaghetti Western" craze of the 1960s and 1970s. Spain was often used as stand-in for the American West but the Spaghetti Westerns skyrocketed in popularity with the 1964 release of Sergio Leone's revisionist Western A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, followed by its sequels, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Several years later, Leone would film much of epic Western Once Upon a Time in the West in Almeria's Tabernas Desert. Interest in the genre extended into the mid 1970s when an overabundance of Leone wanna-be directors clogged theater circuits with cheap imitations of his work. Gradually, film location work in the area ground to a halt. In a remarkable photo essay for the Daily Mail, photographer Sarah Orndhorf visited the sites and sets as they appear today. Some are well-preserved tourist attractions while others are deteriorating. Among the other films shot in this region were Lawrence of Arabia, Play Dirty and The Hill. To view click here