As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for "B" spy movies of the 1960s. But you'd have to have a soft spot in your head to find much value in "Salt & Pepper", a 1968 Bond spoof with former Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford slumming for a quick paycheck and a good time in London. The film was improbably directed by Richard Donner, who displays none of the skills that would make him a world-class action movie director in the next decade. However, Donner is given some pretty skimpy material to work with. The hobbled-together screenplay finds Salt and Pepper as local legends in London's Soho district, then the epicenter of the mod movement. It's a measure of the script's level of wit that Salt is played by Davis and Pepper is played by Lawford (get it?). The duo operate Soho's hippest and most exclusive nightclub. Pepper represents old world elegance, strolling his domain in a tuxedo while Salt appeals to the "mods" by dressing in some eye-popping outfits that even Liberace would have considered to be over-the-top. The two men are happily ensconed in their world of go-go girls, chain smoking and sex with willing younger women when they become embroiled in an espionage plot that involves the hijacking of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine as part of a plan to bring about a coup in the British government. Salt & Pepper try to alert the authorities but are disbelieved. They are also framed for a series of murders and are being constantly harassed by a local police inspector (Michael Bates), a relentless grouch who, in another sign of the screenwriter's level of wit, is named Inspector Crabbe. The film consists of a series of endless chases including a bizarre central action sequence in which Salt & Pepper somehow employ their own gadget-laden spy car, albeit one that doesn't function very effectively. Even in the midst of an absurd comedy such as this, there has to be some degree of logic. It's never explained why two nightclub owners would be in possession of a super spy car. There are endless scenes of Salt & Pepper being locked in various rooms and using improbable means to escape. Davis is a ball of energy and even gets to sign a bad song in a disco sequence that at least features the redeeming quality of go-go girls in mini-skirts.
Davis and Lawford are fun to watch together and there is an occasional modestly amusing joke or set piece. However, the humor largely consists of Davis vamping his idol Jerry Lewis and the sequences with Michael Bates as the police inspector feature silent-era Keystone Cops gags that are not only cringe-inducing but were about as relevant in the late 1960s as Fatty Arbuckle. The only distinction that sets the film apart from the Eurotrash spy movies of the day is the use of some exotic locations in the British countryside. Beyond that, however, the movie suffers from awful rear-screen projection and sets that look like a high school production of a Bond epic. Nevertheless, "Salt & Pepper" did find an audience and was sufficiently successful to merit a sequel, "One More Time" which was directed by -wait for it!- Jerry Lewis.
Some years ago I hosted a black tie dinner in honor of Sir Roger Moore at New York's famed club The Players. While interviewing him on stage, I asked him what he thought his best film performances were. Moore thought pensively for a moment or two and said, "None of them!" With tongue finally out of cheek, Moore explained that, with the exception of the little-seen 1970 cult movie The Man Who Haunted Himself- he had found success by essentially playing the same character. The names would change, so would the era, but the mannerisms that his fans warmed to were always firmly in place. Moore clearly feels its best to stick to a winning formula rather than have a bold departure from his usual traits backfire, a la John Wayne as Genghis Khan in "The Conqueror". It's hard to be overly critical of an actor with such an admirable tendency toward self-deprecating humor. Moore has become Britain's version of Jimmy Stewart- an avuncular, national treasure who seemingly has no enemies in high places. Nevertheless, Moore would be the first to admit to appearing in any number of cinematic misfires. Although wildly successful on television, Moore's big screen career has a checkered history. His Bond films were predictable blockbusters and "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" did very well internationally, even though they tanked in the USA. His "Cannonball Run" may have been awful but the all star cast propelled it to the top of the boxoffice charts. Beyond that, however, even some of the better films he appeared in such as "Gold", "Shout at the Devil" and "ffolkes" (aka "North Sea Hijack") never found the audience they deserved.
One of Moore's more ambitious and curious ventures, "Sherlock Holmes in New York", has been released by Fox as a burn-to-order DVD. The 1976 made for television project was telecast with great fanfare on NBC. (Moore made the movie between his second and third Bond flicks, "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "The Spy Who Loved Me".) He breaks no new ground in his interpretation of the legendary detective, but then again he slips comfortably into the role, bringing the same traits that characterized his performance as Bond and The Saint. To his credit, he never camps it up or goes for an over-the-top laugh (if only he had shown such restraint in the more embarrassing moments of his Bond films.) The movie, directed by the respected Boris Sagal, presents Holmes and Watson (Patrick Macnee) being summoned to New York when they receive word that Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) may be in some mortal danger. Adler, as any Holmes buff knows, is the only one who ever got under Holmes's skin. By actually outwitting him in a case, she earned his respect and caused the legendary detective to deal with some inconvenient romantic notions. It's best not to reveal too much about a Holmes story so that the viewer can experience a few surprises along the way. The film does set up the main story line in the opening sequence in which Holmes (wearing an embarrassingly obvious disguise) confronts his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (John Huston) in his London lair. The two men exchange witticisms and insults and Moriarty vows vengeance for Holmes spoiling his latest criminal scheme. Moriarty promises that he will put Holmes in a situation in which he will be forced to abstain from helping authorities thwart one of his most ambitious crimes, thereby tarnishing the great detective's reputation forever.
If the plot is a bit tame and flabby, the cast is a great deal of fun to watch. Patrick Macnee plays Watson somewhat in the vein of Nigel Bruce but doesn't make him overtly useless- and, in fact, he actually saves Holmes life at one point. (Macnee and Moore would reunite in 1981 for the feature film "The Sea Wolves" and in 1985 for Moore's final 007 flick "A View to a Kill".) Huston excels as Moriarty but his scenes are far too limited and only book end the main story. The film was done rather on the cheap and all but one sequence was filmed in a studio, rather surprising considering the luster of the cast members involved. The script does have one rather surprising development about Holmes' personal life revealed as the shock ending...but to say more would be to say too much.
"Sherlock Holmes in New York" isn't one of the top entries in the Holmes canon, but any time you can see Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and John Huston sharing scenes, it's a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
"The Addams Family" TV series is now fifty years old. Life magazine covered the casting sessions of the series back in the day and have just published rare photos from those sessions, many of which have never been printed before. The sheer perfection of the final cast indicates the value of those unsung heroes, casting directors. It would be inconceivable to associate other actors with the roles, but it is fascinating to look at images of those who were in contention. By the way, did you know that Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch, also doubled as the disembodied hand known as "Thing"??? Click here to read.
In a major article for The Digital Bits web site, writer Michael Coate has assembled personal insights from a number of James Bond authors and scholars to reflect on the legacy of "Goldfinger", which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Those interviewed are: Jon Burlingame, Robert A. Caplen, James Chapman, John Cork, Bill Desowitz, Charles Helfenstein, Mark O'Connell, Cinema Retro editor Lee Pfeiffer, Retro contributing writer Steven Jay Rubin and Bruce Scivally. Click here to read.
Those were the days, my friend. Consider what was playing in theaters during this one week in 1965: "The Sound of Music" (42 weeks in the same theater!), "The Americanization of Emily", "Thunderball", "Lord Jim", "The Hallelujah Trail", "That Darn Cat", "My Fair Lady" and "Where the Spies Are".
Impulse Pictures has improbably resurrected the bottom of the barrel porn vignettes from the 1960s and 1970s- commonly known as "peep show" films- into DVD releases that actually have some social significance. First, some background. In the uptight era of the 1950s through early 1960s, even a hint of sex on screen usually resulted in censorship or arrest and prosecution. The main stream, big studios- in an attempt to prevent the establishment of an office of government censorship- took draconian measures to ensure they censored themselves by adhering to codes of ethics that watered down adult films every bit as much as any government entity was likely to do. Where would sexually frustrated men seek cinematic satisfaction? About the only venue available were 8mm stag films, which were primarily shown in private homes behind closed doors. Generally these were forbidden fruit shown at bachelor parties or perhaps added some spice to the marital bed if a man had a truly progressive wife. Men who lived in or near big cities could purchase reels of these films in "red light districts". If you lived in small town America, you were generally out of luck. When New York's 42nd Street made a sharp turn towards vice in the 1960s, porn parlor flourished along the notorious stretch. You could not only purchase reels of silent stag films for home viewing, but the era of the "peep show" also came about. A horny guy could enter a telephone booth-sized private cubicle and insert some coins into a machine and- Presto!- a dirty movie would start playing right before his very eyes. Frustratingly, the movie would end after a few minutes, thus ensuring the viewer would continue to insert more coins to see the climax (pardon the pun.) The films ran anywhere from five to ten minutes. Accordingly, story lines and production values were virtually non-existent because the action had to start almost immediately. From such modest cinematic achievements, some faces became well-known to patrons. John Holmes (aka "Long Johnny Wadd"), whose substantial physical asset became his trademark, was a ubiquitous presence in these films and some of the more prolific "actresses" also got their starts in these modest productions. As censorship laws slackened in the wake of the sexual revolution, production values increased within the porn industry and relatively high budget feature films played sometimes for months at a time in actual theaters. Among the more notorious: "Deep Throat", "The Devil in Miss Jones" and "Behind the Green Door", each of which became a pop culture sensation. Still, there was-and still is- a place for peep show fare among the remaining grindhouses in red light districts around the world.
Impulse Pictures has released a number of volumes consisting of numerous silent peep show flicks. Amusingly, they have added the sound of a whirring projector to the soundtrack. They have also shown the archival footage in its raw, primitive state, complete with original spice marks and blotches in order to recreate the experience of how these films were initially seen. What adds some "social significance" to these releases is the accompanying booklet with incisive essays by Robin Bougie, a self-professed scholar of sleeze movies. He runs a web site at www.cinemasewer.com and has an extensive knowledge of the genre. In Vol. #1 of the "Peep Show Collection", Bougie astutely points out that it took until the release of Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker" in 1965 before American adult audiences could even be shown a glimpse of naked breasts in a mainstream studio release. Bougie points out that, although these 8mm loops are as bare-bones as one can imagine, there was a sense of fun that is lacking from today's coarser porn flicks. He also provides valuable insights into identifying future porn stars in these loops, including Marc Stevens, Annie Sprinkle and Lisa DeLeeuw. (John Holmes doesn't require any identification beyond his trademark appendage.) Most of the actresses in the films, however, were simply free-spirited young women who involved in the counter-culture. Many thought that by appearing in such films, they were thumbing their nose at the Establishment. Others were probably less politically inclined and did the films simply to make a few quick dollars. Still others just liked the notion of free, liberated sex after coming out of a period of social repression. In any event, it may not be pleasing to these ladies, many of whom are now grandmothers today, that these obscure, long-forgotten stag films are now being dressed up and issued on DVD.
Bougie also delves back into the origins of the peep show films, tracing them to one Lasse Braun, who used an inheritance to finance the first of these films for European audiences. They were then imported to America by a man named Reuben Sturman, who distributed them to 60,000 porn shops. Thus, the era of the peep show was born.
This collection obviously isn't for everyone. The films are definitely hardcore and leave nothing to the imagination. But if it's possible for someone to get sentimental about such fare, this collection will fit the bill. Perhaps the value of the adult entertainment industry of this era is best summed up by a quote from Norman Mailer that Bougie cites in his essay: "There was something exciting about pornography. It lived in some mid-world between crime and art. And it was adventurous."
years ago, the Great Society was launched, the Ford Mustang went on sale, the
Beatles invaded America, and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” quite arguably the most
intriguing and original adventure series ever produced for television, debuted
on NBC. In September, 100 U.N.C.L.E. fans gathered in Culver City, Calif., home of the
once-glorious Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio where the show was filmed, to
celebrate five decades of fascination with U.N.C.L.E. The event was strictly limited to 100 attendees and sold out quickly, an indication of the show's lasting legacy.
two-day event, dubbed “The Golden Anniversary Affair,” started organizing only
last May. Two lifelong U.N.C.L.E. fans — Robert Short, an Oscar-winning special
effects artist who was introduced to the show even before it went on the air
when his sister got a job as a photo and stunt double on the series; and Jon
Heitland, author of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book,” the indispensable guide to
the series (still available at Amazon.com) — were moved to action when it became
clear that no one in or out of the TV industry planned to celebrate the
just felt right to give something back to the show that had inspired so many of
us,” said Short.
landmark series still has many devotees who have kept the flame alive for a
half century,” Heitland added, “and we wanted to commemorate that remarkable
legacy with a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
startup funds donated by Los Angeles U.N.C.L.E. fan Lisa Lazarus, Short and
Heitland moved quickly to organize an unforgettable experience that included
tours of the former MGM lot, presentations from many of the people who worked
on the show, displays of U.N.C.L.E. props gathered from numerous private
collections, and an unprecedented live concert of music composed for the show
by such film and TV legends as Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin and Gerald Fried.
(Photo copyright Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.)
weekend opened on Friday afternoon, Sept. 26, with attendees dividing into four
groups to tour the Sony Pictures lot, the facility that once was the legendary
MGM studio. The back lots that evoked countless international locations and
allowed U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin to appear anywhere
in the world are long gone, now covered with condos and offices. But the main
lot, housing the soundstages and such landmarks as the Irving Thalberg Building
and the studio water tower, remains much as it was 50 years ago.
guides led the groups all over the lot, accompanied by hosts Heitland and
Short, and by two of the event’s guests, “U.N.C.L.E.’s” associate producer
George Lehr and director of photography Fred Koenekamp. Both men delighted the
fans and the tour guides by pointing out various “U.N.C.L.E.” shooting
locations and reminiscing about their work on the show.
(Photo copyright Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.)
tour wound all through the lot, past many streets, buildings and doorways seen
briefly as office buildings, airports, college campuses and other locations in “U.N.C.L.E.”
episodes. The famous water tower “blown up” by Napoleon Solo in “The Deadly
Toys Affair” and seen in other episodes still stands at the center of the lot.
The tour went through the scoring stage where composers recorded the music for “The
Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and for so many famous pictures released by MGM and other
studios. The trip also included a visit to Stage 10, where the permanent sets
for U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters and the interior of Del Floria’s Tailor Shop once
stood. The stage is now a TV studio where Sony’s game show “Jeopardy” is taped.
as everyone left the tour, we discovered that the photos taken in front of a
green screen when we arrived were developed to show each attendee standing
inside U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters. With that surprise memento in hand, Friday
ended back at the event’s base at the Doubletree Hotel Westside for an informal
evening of dining and mixing.
Bob Short moderates panel of guests: Sharon Farrell, Fred Koenekamp, George Lehr, Randy Kirby and Joseph Sargent.
(Photo copyright Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.)
schedule was wall-to-wall fun, beginning at 9 a.m. with registration and
distribution of a fabulous swag bag provided by Lisa Lazarus, and everyone’s ID
badges, replicas of the triangular security badges worn in U.N.C.L.E.
Headquarters, of course. Panels filled the morning and afternoon: George Lehr
and Jon Heitland discussed the show’s production challenges; Fred Koenekamp
joined Stephen Sylvester, author of the must-have book “MGM: Hollywood’s
Greatest Backlot,” to talk about the tremendous advantages of shooting the
series at MGM; writer-producer Mike Thomas brought actress Sharon Farrell to
the stage for a rollicking talk about her career, which included three
appearances on “U.N.C.L.E.”; Danny Biederman, author of “The Incredible World
of Spy-Fi” and the owner of many original props from “U.N.C.L.E.” and other spy
shows and films, discussed the show’s famous gadgets with Lehr, Gene Winfield,
the custom carmaker who built the U.N.C.L.E. Car, and Richard Conroy of Ideal
Toys, the designer of the show’s iconic gun, the U.N.C.L.E. Special.
You have to be a bit courageous to name a documentary
“Boredom,” knowing it will eventually land in the hands of a snarky reviewer
looking for an easy joke. Albert Nerenberg, the director behind other
documentaries looking at everyday phenomena (“Laughology,” “Stupidity”) wanted
to explore this common life experience: what boredom is, how it happens, and
what effects it has on people.
In doing so, Nerenberg uses a variety of filmmaking
styles, from research presented by experts, to B-roll and stock footage, to
dramatizations and “Daily Show” style interviews meant as much to amuse as
Nerenberg warns us early on that there isn’t much
research on the actual topic of boredom. It’s apparently a subject that sparks
more curiosity and questions than it does answers.The documentary does pull
together a variety of experts, however, from psychologists and neurologists to
scholars on topics like education and technology. The film is for the most part
entertaining, though it does miss the mark a little by giving equal weight to
these experts and more anecdotal evidence on the effects of boredom, provided
by interview subjects. These include adrenaline junkies, drug addicts and a
professional public relations man who runs The Boredom Institute, an institute
in name only of which he is the only member, created mostly to generate buzz.
The DVD, released by Entertainment One, moves along nicely
at a brisk 61 minutes. (A clever bonus feature includes a version of the film sped up
10%, clocking it in at a more manageable 48 minutes.) The DVD also has a
three-minute featurette on the stages of boredom and a four-minute feature on a
proposed artificial mountain in Holland to add interest to the country’s
otherwise flat landscape.
While there is some interesting information to be found
in the film, it works more as infotainment than profound research. Think of it
as more of today’s version of a Discovery Channel documentary than the
scholarly programs of the 1990s.
In short, there are plenty of less interesting ways you
could spend an hour than watching this film- and at least “Bordom” is never
Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina in "Hercules Unchained", as featured in the latest issue of Cinema Retro (#30).
The latest issue of "Cinema Retro" is out and what do I see,
but an article about films that are dear to my heart. As a child of the Sixties,
the sword and sandal movies (aka peplum) meant a lot to me. Specifically the
films of Hercules, himself; none other than Steve Reeves. Interestingly enough,
while these movies were made to get people out of their houses and into the
theatres, here in the US in the early Sixties they made a bigger splash when
they were released to television. I was a little too young to see Steve Reeves’
"Hercules" when it was released in theatres, but when it was released
to TV; that's when the avalanche began. For those of us watching the boob tube
in the early Sixties, Hercules and his brethren were our heroes. (I always joke
that I'm a little messed up because all my heroes were fictional. They were:
Hercules (in the form of Steve Reeves), Tarzan (in the form of Gordon Scott),
James Bond (Sean Connery) and Elvis (the Elvis of the movies who could sing and
dance, won every fight and got all the girls.) The biggest
splash came from a show called "The Mighty Sons of Hercules" which we
now know as a package of peplum films, but back than they were our weekly
dose of heroic adventure. I did get to see some of these movies at the local
neighborhood theatre, like "Duel of the Titans", which was a
major disappointment due to the fact that it was more or less advertised as
a "duel" between "Hercules" and
"Tarzan" and not the story of Romulus and Remus. (At least here in
The article was also interesting not just for the information provided
about the stars of these movies, but for a glimpse of how these movies
fared in the UK. (Interesting that the film that I first saw on TV as
"The Trojan Horse" was known in England as "The Wooden Horse of
Troy"!) Also of interest is that the song from "Hercules
Unchained" was a popular success in the UK, but not so much in the US
where the song was not released on vinyl. [Here's some trivia: In Italy, the
singing voice of Sylva Koscina was dubbed by Marisa del Frate, one of Italy's
most popular performers. The song's title in Italian is "Con te per
L'eternita" ("With you for all eternity") and was a popular hit
for Ms. del Frate. The English version, "Evening Star", was sung by
June Valli, who had a few hits in the early fifties and was a member of the
cast of the American TV show, "Your Hit Parade" until she was let go
from the show, reportedly because the star of the show, Snooky Lanson was very
fond of her, much to the annoyance of his wife.] Well, thank you for this
little trip down memory lane. Now to get back to the rest of the issue. --Mr.
Retro responds: Angel, thanks so much for your kind words about the "Blood, Sweat and Togas" article. It's really hit a chord with readers who have been clamoring for us to cover this genre since the inception of Cinema Retro. We are grateful to writer Denis Meikle for his superbly researched article which shed a good deal of light on the importance of these long-neglected films, as well as Steve Reeves' brief shining moment as a major international star. Thanks also for the trivia. This has to be the only place in the world where Hercules, Elvis, 007 and Snooky Lanson can be logically tied into the same observations.
Bierce defined “misfortune” as “the kind of fortune that never misses.” By that measure, Damiano Damiani’s A-budget
Spaghetti Western “A Genius, Two Companions, and an Idiot” (“Un Genio, Due
Compari, Un Pollo”) (1975), starring Terence Hill, was one of the all-time
grand slams of jinxed cinema. Damiani’s
negative was stolen during post-production and the film had to be reassembled
from alternate takes. The movie was
ultimately disowned by its producer, Sergio Leone, who regretted selecting
Damiani as the director. In Germany and
Sweden, the title was changed to “Nobody Is the Greatest” in an attempt to
market the film as a sequel to Tonino Valerii’s popular “My Name Is Nobody” (1973), also produced by
Leone and starring Hill. Lacking an
American star for marquee value and released in the twilight of the Spaghetti
era, the picture never played in U.S. theaters.
the relative obscurity of the movie itself, Ennio Morricone’s musical score is
the least known of his eight scores for films directed or produced by
Leone. There was a soundtrack release on
vinyl by CBS-Sugar in Italy in 1975 (with a charming old-timey-style cover
photo of stars Terence Hill, Miou-Miou, and Robert Charlebois as their scruffy
characters Joe Thanks, Lucy, and Steam Engine Bill), but no American
edition. For newer Morricone collectors who
have had to pay high prices for the CBS-Sugar vinyl and other now-out-of-print
foreign editions -- and for those of us who are fond of Damiani’s sadly
underrated and neglected movie -- Quartet Records has done the enormous service of releasing the 1975
soundtrack on a new limited-edition CD. Remastered from the first-generation master tapes, the disc sounds
Genio, Due Compari, Un Pollo” may be Morricone’s most eclectic Spaghetti
Western score, a mixture of old and new styles. Some of the 13 tracks employ familiar motifs from his scores for earlier
Spaghettis by Leone and others. For
example, “Cavalcata . . . per Elisa” is an energetic chase theme carried by
Edda Dell’Orso’s familiar, soaring vocals. As part of the tune, Morricone samples Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” as he did
in his showdown theme in Sergio Sollima’s “La Resa dei Conti”/”The Big Gundown”
(1966). “Ansie dell’Oro” revisits the
American-style orchestral sound that Morricone favored in early Spaghettis like
Duccio Tessari’s “Una Pistola per Ringo”/”A Pistol for Ringo” (1965), when
Italian-made cowboy films tried to sneak into the U.S. market as American
B-pictures. In that sense, intentionally
or not, the track bookends Morricone’s amazing decade-long run of iconic
tracks, which actually anchor the score as the film’s signature themes,
continued Morricone’s move in the ABBA era toward a lighter, Europop-inflected
style first introduced in his title track for “My Name Is Nobody.” “Un Genio, Due Compari, Un Pollo,” the title
tune that might also be called “Joe Thanks’ Theme,” sounds a bit like the
“Nobody” theme, but more bubblegum in flavor. “Pepper Chewing-Gum,” the theme for Robert Charlebois’ hard-luck con man
Steam Engine Bill, incorporates a farting bassoon that brings to mind the jokey
frog croaks in “March of the Beggars” from Leone’s “Giu La Testa”/”Duck You
Sucker” (1971), but it’s lighter and bouncier than the earlier tune. The romantic theme “Quando Arriva L’Amore,”
which is reprised later in the film as “Dolore e Gioia,” is one of Morricone’s
loveliest compositions. And it’s the one
that you’re the most apt to replay in your mind after you listen to the CD,
fittingly so since it underscores the movie’s most striking aspect, the
sometimes wistful, sometimes slapstick romantic triangle of Joe, Lucy, and
included in the Quartet Records‘ two-fer, and also remastered from
first-generation tapes, is Morricone’s score for Sergio Corbucci’s “Sonny &
Jed”/”La Banda J. & S. -- Cronaca Criminale del Far West” (1972), a lesser
work by the maestro. But for fans,
lesser Morricone is still golden, and this is another hard-to-find
soundtrack. The standout among the seven
tracks is the title theme “Sonny,” which sounds a little like “Cheyenne’s
Theme” from “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1969). The Quartet Records CD includes an
informative, generously illustrated souvenir booklet by Randall D. Larson, and
is limited to 500 copies.
Birkin, Anita Pallenberg, a character named “Penny Lane,” sitar music by George
Harrison, Mod set design, Carnaby Street fashions, trippy psychedelic colors --
if you need a late-‘60s cultural fix and you’re short a time machine, Joe
Massot’s “Wonderwall” (1968) may be your next best remedy.
scientist Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) lives a drab existence. At work, he peers through a microscope at
wriggling microbes. At home in his
solitary apartment, he reads Scientific American amid piles of bundled back
issues. One evening, he accidentally
knocks a hole in the wall that allows him to peer into the adjoining apartment,
occupied by a pretty aspiring model named Penny Lane (Birkin). Oscar’s flat looks like a disheveled Hobbit
hole. Penny’s is a swirl of vivid Pop
Art colors. Becoming infatuated and then
obsessed, Oscar devises additional ways to spy on his neighbor. When Penny holds a party, Oscar dresses up in
a tuxedo but remains in his apartment, watching through the peep hole. He imagines a series of chaste romantic
encounters with Penny, and a series of comic duels with Penny’s boyfriend (Iain
Quarrier) involving increasingly absurd phallic objects.
at Cannes but never released theatrically in the U.S., “Wonderwall” on the
surface seems like a whimsical variation on Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1966)
and “What?” (1972) -- no coincidence,
since it was based on a story by Gérard Brach, Polanski’s friend and longtime
collaborator. MacGowran’s cartoonish
demeanor, art director Assheton Gorton’s eye-popping color palette, the silly
visuals in Oscar’s daydreams, and George Harrison’s eclectic score reinforce the
first impression that this is a comedy, not a downer like Polanski’s
psychodramas. But the movie is more
elusive than that. It definitely avoids
the predictable formula of today’s romantic comedies, in which Oscar would be
played by Matthew McConaughey or Ben Stiller, the voyeurism would be toned down,
and Oscar and Penny would eventually get together -- sort of the same way Kaley
Cuoco’s Penny and her nerdy scientist neighbor Leonard got together on TV’s
“The Big Bang Theory.” Massot, Brach,
and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante (“Vanishing Point”) devise an ending
that may be happy, sad, or cosmically transcendent, depending on how you
Very much reminiscent of other Mod-era films like “Blow-Up,”
“2001,” “If . . .,” and “Candy,” “Wonderwall” is given a welcome rescue from
obscurity by Fabulous Films and Shout Factory. The Blu-ray Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical version
restored in hi-def by Pinewood Studios, a director’s cut assembled by Massot in
the late 1990s, and numerous extras. A
glossy, colorful souvenir booklet highlights Massot’s reflections about the
making of the film, written in 2000, two years before his death, with fond and
sometimes poignant memories of hanging with the Beatles, Polanski, Sharon Tate,
Eric Clapton, and others in the Swinging ‘60s. The Fabulous Films/Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray can be ordered from Amazon by CLICKING HERE.
title of Federico Fellini’s landmark, influential 1960 film La dolce vita (“The Sweet Life”) is
ironic. Marcello (exquisitely played by Marcello Mastroianni) is a Rome
journalist working in the tabloid trade, specializing in stories of the rich
and famous. While Marcello’s day-to-day existence might indeed at first seem
like the sweet life, he is, in fact, a lonely, unhappy soul. And that’s the
point of Fellini’s comedy-drama that still manages to enlighten audiences
today, fifty-four years later. Fellini seems to be saying that no matter how
hard you pursue “the sweet life,” you will still be left with yourself—and if
you don’t like yourself, then you’re in trouble.
La dolce vita was released just
as the French New Wave was making a splash, when America’s Production Code was
being chipped away at, and when Italy was making the painful transition from
the post-war doldrums to the hipster avant-garde 60s. Fellini’s movie signaled
his own creative evolution from his early Italian Neo-Realist beginnings to a
more surreal, playful, and stylized sensibility that would grow more outrageous
as the decade went on. La dolce vita is
mostly in the neo-realist vein of Nights
of Cabiria and La Strada, but
Fellini always adds an extra touch of whimsy and peculiarity to his pictures
that the hardcore neo-realists like De Sica or Rossellini didn’t do. And that’s
what made him Fellini.
nearly three-hour movie is a Homeric odyssey of sorts as Marcello spends seven
days and nights on assignment for his tabloid, chasing down famous actress
(Anita Ekberg in an iconic role as “herself”), the purported sighting of the
Madonna, and other sensational stories—but mostly he’s chasing the nightlife,
love, attention, and intellectual intercourse with Rome’s elite. And women, of
course. Marcello is the ultimate playboy, a persona that would follow the actor
Mastroianni his entire life. Through the episodic film, Marcello encounters
sex, debauchery, pathos, and tragedy. But never happiness.
film was controversial at the time for revealing the underbelly of Rome’s
“sweet life,” and mostly for offending the Catholic Church with the opening
scene of a helicopter flying a suspended statue of Christ over ancient ruins in
the city—perceived as parodying the “second coming.” But offending the Catholic
Church with film in the early 60s was a badge of honor—nearly every important
and innovative picture was guilty of it. The bravura opening sequence aside,
the picture was still deemed scandalous for exposing Rome’s hypocrisies and
decadence in a “docu-drama” that tackles sex, religion, and politics.
within its realism, Fellini’s touches of extravagance are everywhere. Characters
become caricatures to be gawked at. The ever-present Fellini prostitutes are
simultaneously human and grotesque. The costumes (Oscar winner) themselves are
glorious and so utterly “modern.” The widescreen black and white cinematography
by Otello Martelli is gorgeous with striking contrasts, especially on
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration by The Film Foundation. It looks even
better than the Fox/Lorber restored special edition that came out on DVD a few
might want to hold on to that Fox/Lorber edition, though, for The Criterion
Collection’s version does not have the same extras—in fact, the earlier DVD
edition has the better crop of goodies. That said, Criterion brings us a number
of new extras that are well worth the purchase price of the Blu-ray. Among
these are a new interview with director Lina Wertmuller, who was assistant
director on the picture (whatever happened to her?); a new interview with
scholar David Forgacs about the period in Italian history when the film was
made; a vintage interview with Fellini from 1965; an audio interview with
Mastroianni from the early 60s; Felliniana,
a presentation of La dolce vita ephemera;
an exceptional visual essay by filmmaker :: kogonada which reveals the clues
that Fellini is moving away from neo-realism and into more fanciful territory;
and more. Gary Giddens provides the essay in the booklet.
La dolce vita is one of the
greats. If you don’t already own it, now’s the time to get it.
general consensus among fans of “Adult Films” (a.k.a. pornography movies) is
that the genre floundered and died because of the advance of technology. The
first blow was the mass adoption of VCRs in the 1980s. This was initially seen
as a major boon to the smut industry because
video cassettes allowed porn into the home where it could be watched in
secrecy. But the ravenous appetite of the back room video shops for product made
cheap, fast productions more enticing for producers, thus bringing the quality
down further and further with each passing year. The second and most deadly hit
was the creation of the internet, which made porn available at the click of a
button and made the consumer contemptuous of paying for the product at all. Now
that it is possible to see almost any combination of human bodies in almost any
form of sexual activity that you can imagine instantaneously what is to become
of the long form film version of pornography? Who will preserve old school
narrative adult movies from the old days of porno? Vinegar Syndrome will! The
DVD label seems intent on bringing us every possible opportunity to wallow in
sleaze from decades past and taste is no barrier.
Blue (1978) is one of those films that hails from that magic time before the
death of narrative porn –from before the time when the very idea of having to
follow a story to see people copulate onscreen caused puzzlement in a viewer.
Yes, this film is from the ‘Golden Age’ of pornography when smut peddlers saw
porn as just another form of profitable storytelling. As crazy as it may seem
from the 21st century perspective, there was a time when porn was seen as just
another form of motion picture art and the genre was the cutting edge of
boundary pushing. "Let's make the old folks uncomfortable - let's make a
sex film!" But, of course, that
wasn't the only impetus behind making porn. In those days there were people
that wanted to make solid, credible movies that just happened to have several
scenes of sex scattered about the running time. During this short lived time
there were some well produced pornographic movies that had high budgets and
pretty good scripts but, as you might expect, the vast majority were lower down
on the quality scale. Indeed, once the Fast Forward button became a reality,
any pretensions about crafting ‘artful films’ for the porn market became a
silly notion. People were watching these movies for one reason only- titillation
- and if the movie skimped on that front it was reviled, or worse,
do you review a film that opens on a shot of a woman orally pleasuring a man in
an ape suit? Like this- Jungle Blue tells us the tale of Jane (Kathie Kori) who
is in search of her missing father in the jungles of Peru. She arrives in that
country with a group of friends including Silvia (Nina Fause) who has convinced
Jane (by lesbian seduction we learn in one of many flashbacks) to let her and
Hank (Hank Lardner) join her on the trip. These two are posing as botanists
searching for healing herbs in the jungle plant life but are actually in search
of a hidden treasure of precious jewels that they believe are guarded by tribe
Jane's father was studying. Once in the jungle they meet loin-clothed white man
Evor (Bigg John) who is called by native the lord of the jungle. Looking very
Tarzan-like, Evor is a gentleman in every way and is the center of much
spirited attention from both Jane and Sylvia. Inevitably, both get to “know”
him- if you know what I mean.
a truly bizarre turn, Evor explains that he was created in the jungle like Adam,
with no Earthly parents and a natural innocence that not even sex with multiple
women in a single day can ruin. This needless fantasy element adds a touch of
extra silliness to the proceedings that pays off later in the film when we see
that even a gut full of bullets can't seem to kill the studly Jungle King. Of
course we learn that Jane's father has died and there is some grief-stricken
sexual activity to help keep our interests from flagging. All goes well until
the group locates that (not so) hidden tribe when Silvia and Hank put their
secret plan to poison everyone with candy into effect. The evil twosome hope to
cash in and make off to Brazil with the jewels to live a life of hedonistic
fun. As you might expect, things don't go as planned.
this film is a good example of the majority of narrative porn movies of the
1970s then I can see why the genre died. This movie is a damned mess from
beginning to end with the only draw being the actual sex scenes. Everything is
poorly done. The actors are mostly clueless, the script is a third-grader's
idea of a dirty Tarzan story and the stupid 'steal the jewels' plot is dropped
in so randomly halfway through the movie that it seems like a later addition to
the whole thing. Adding to this general slapdash feel is the fact that one sex
scene is repeated a couple of times and sloppy inserts are used to imply that Kathie
Kori actually performed sexually for the cameras. And did I mention the
sequences of an orgy with unrelated characters that are dropped into the film
at random intervals to spice things up? Ugh! Also, this is the first movie I've
seen that uses shots of the movie's poster to display the opening credits - now
that is an effective way to save money.
is not a film to my tastes but I am still glad that Vinegar Syndrome has
released it and continues to release sleazy titles of this type. These
artifacts from cinema's underbelly are fascinating and worthy of preservation
even if their appeal is quite limited. I suspect that fans of 'classic' porn will
eat this up.
(The following pertains to the UK, Region 2 releases)
Walt Disney before him, Gerry Anderson's name became a brand identifier in
itself, a mark of quality. It is impossible to hear his name without automatically
thinking of puppets on strings, whizzing spaceships and secret island hideouts.
In tribute to Anderson, who sadly passed away two years ago before the
completion of this documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation presents a
brilliantly detailed history of his working life. The film is full of archival
material detailing just how difficult it was bringing life to those puppets,
along with interviews with many of those who worked alongside Anderson, most
notably his wife and long-standing collaborator Sylvia who also provided the
voice of Lady Penelope.
documentary revisits some of the original studios that Anderson and his crew
used and new footage is shot in Supermarionation (Gerry Anderson's term to
describe his use of marionettes) to demonstrate the filmmaking process. Some of
it is surprisingly low-tech but always ingenious. Alongside Gerry Anderson's
son Jamie, Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker themselves act as presenters
for the film, and whole sets are rebuilt and then blown up in slow motion. The
documentary also reveals some of the tensions between Gerry Anderson and Lew
Grade, the ITC producer who first bought their shows and then the whole company
itself. It was under Grade that they made the move into colour and produced
their most popular and well-loved show, Thunderbirds. Following the
relative failure of the Thunderbirds Are GO movie in 1966 Anderson went
slightly darker with his follow-up TV show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Even another Thunderbirds movie two years later did not do well, perhaps
because potential audiences felt they had seen it already on television.
continued to improve the process and develop technology that made his shows of
such a high quality, including early use of video assist, which meant that his
puppeteers could view the action live on monitors instead of just looking down
at the puppets heads. Thankfully, unlike a lot of television production at the
time which was shot on primitive video tape, Anderson's shows were shot on
film, meaning they have been preserved and all look great today.
often claiming to hate the puppets (he reveals that early on he hoped to become
a director like Steven Spielberg) Gerry Anderson nevertheless worked with them
throughout the 1960s before finally having the opportunity to work with real
actors; first producing the theatrical film Journey to the Far Side of the
Sun, and then the successful TV series' UFO and Space: 1999.
Staying within science fiction, all of these shows still made extensive use of
miniatures and the effects that he had developed in his earlier puppet shows.
Distributing have produced this documentary and are releasing it in both DVD
and Blu-ray formats. For
real fans and collectors there is a limited edition box set featuring books,
comics and bonus original Gerry Anderson episodes of early shows like Four
Feathers Fall, Fireball XL5 and Supercar, all restored and in
HD. (This can be ordered by clicking here.)
filmmaker George Sluizer suddenly passed away quite recently—September 20—so it
is a quite fitting, albeit unplanned, tribute that The Criterion Collection has
re-issued a new 4K restoration on Blu-ray. The
Vanishing (original Dutch title: Spoorloos)
is Sluizer’s best known work. Not only was the 1988 original picture, presented
here, an international success and now something of a cult film, Hollywood
remade the movie in 1993 with American actors—but with Sluizer directing again.
It was not a success; its chief sin was changing the ending to a happy
one. It completely destroyed the message
and power that the original picture had and still exhibits.
The Vanishing straddles a line
between a crime thriller and a horror film. The shocking finale easily belongs
in the latter category—it is horrific indeed. Sluizer plays a clever trick on the audience by giving us two POVs to
follow—and the character we’re really meant
to follow is not the one you’d expect. Is this the victim’s story or the
perpetrator’s story? The movie starts
with the former, but by the end it’s the latter’s. Does it matter? Perhaps.
is a story of how we take our everyday lives for granted until it’s changed in
an instant by chance. We’re all playing the lottery of life... and death. Saskia
(Johanna der Steege in a small but significant role) didn’t count on running
into Raymond Lemorne (frighteningly played by the late Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu) at a highway rest stop crowded with travelers. She didn’t count on
meeting a man who discovered he was a sociopath at a young age and relished that
fact by spending his days rehearsing for the moment when he would kidnap a
random woman. Lemorne displays true evil but hides it well, for he is a
respectable middle-class employed man, married to a devoted wife (although she
suspects her husband of having affairs) and two teenage daughters. After
several trial runs and botched attempts, the sociopath succeeds at drugging and
abducting a woman—who by accident happens to be Saskia. What he plans to do
with his victim after the kidnapping is a secret kept from the audience until
the picture’s final moments.
boyfriend, Rex (Gene Bervoets), is a bit of a jerk at first. Early in the film
he leaves her alone in the car while it’s dangerously stuck inside a dark
tunnel, the point being that this is a man who takes his life for granted and
needs a firm kick in the arse. But when Saskia simply vanishes under the noses
of dozens of people, Rex changes his tune and realizes what it truly is that’s important.
The Vanishing is also about unexpected,
random violence. It can happen anywhere—even at a conspicuously “safe” convenience store and
petrol station crowded with families in the middle of the day. This is scary
stuff, folks, and Sluizer’s direction is of high caliber from the early tension
of the tunnel sequence, through Rex’s cat-and-mouse game with Lemorne, to the
final terrifying roll of the dice—for Rex must surely make a serious gamble to
find out what really happened to Saskia.
Dutch/French film is subtitled; the images look fabulous on Blu-ray. The disc
is short on extras—only two recent interviews with the late director and
actress der Steege. Critic Scott Foundas writes the booklet’s fine essay on the
of the best thrillers of the 80s, The
Vanishing would make good Halloween night viewing. Grab it now!
DAVE WORRALLreports from London, where the film is scheduled to open this week.
There was no laughter in the audience
following this morning's press show for David Ayer's WWII drama Fury - just stunned silence, as we all
walked out feeling battered and bruised after watching two hours of the most
brutal and realistic scenes of war ever captured on film. Set in the last month
of the European theatre of war in April 1945, as the Allies make their final
push into Nazi Germany, we are introduced to the world of four tough GI's and
their new rookie, who go into battle in their tank named 'Fury'. It's dark and
grim, and portrays the horrors of war similar to that of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan - but far worse. As
the film unfolds you start to feel as claustrophobic as the crew of 'Fury'
themselves, and whilst the characters are not that likeable, you start to
respect just how frightening it must have been for real soldiers in that
situation. By the end you feel as though you have spent two hours in the tank
with them. Yes, it's that tense. The
Telegraph newspaper likens it to Peckinpah's Cross of Iron and Fuller's The
Big Red One. I agree, but there's no Hollywood slow-motion deaths here -
they are all sudden, quick, and sickening. One sequence, where three Sherman
tanks take on a German Tiger tank, is absolutely terrifying, and the final 15
minutes are a tour-de-force of cinema that had my stomach tied in knots. I was
genuinely frightened. Superbly cast, with top-notch cinematography, production
design, special effects and great music score, this is a 5-Star movie any day
of the week. But it's not for the faint-hearted.
“Alamo Bay” (1985), a film directed by the
late Louis Malle, was an opportunity for the French filmmaker, who directed “Atlantic
City,” “My Dinner with Andre,” and “Elevator to the Gallows,” to add another
great film to his resume. Unfortunately, the movie, based on the true story of
conflict between American and Vietnamese fisherman in Texas, is an opportunity
In the years following the Fall of Saigon
in 1975, a million Vietnamese refugees fled to the U.S. Some of them settled in
communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Their mere presence antagonized the
local fisherman, many of whom were Vietnam vets. One in particular, Shang
Pierce (Ed Harris) hates “gooks” and feels threatened by the competition of the
Vietnamese, who proved to be excellent fishermen and hard workers. He’s
married, but, of course, his wife is a nag, so he resumes an affair with Glory (Harris’s real life wife Amy Madigan), who has
come back to Alamo Bay to help her ailing father Wally (Donald Moffat) run his
shrimp wholesale business. The film centers on the tensions that build between
them when Shang loses his boat because of missed payments. He blames Glory and
her father for hiring Vietnamese fisherman.
Into this seething caldron of resentment,
comes Dinh (Ho Nguyen) a young Vietnamese immigrant looking for relatives who
live there. He lands a job at Wally’s, putting himself in the middle of the
conflict between Glory and Shang. When Glory defends Dinh’s right to work,
Shang perceives it as a betrayal and thinks she has more than just a
humanitarian interest in the young man.
Tensions build between the American and
Asian shrimpers. Malle and screenwriter Alice Arlen, do a good job showing the
escalation of bad feelings, and have no compunction about presenting a
one-sided view of the conflict. The Vietnamese are shown as good people who
only want to work hard, live a peaceful life, and be able to pursue their
version of the American Dream. The Americans, for the most part, are shown as
bigoted rednecks, who want the Vietnamese gone. Enter Ku Klux Klan organizer
(William Frankfurter), who tells them history has shown white people will
prevail. He begins to outline a strategy. But Shang has no patience for slow
tactics. He wants action.
The next morning armed men, some with KKK
robes and hoods, go out in their boats and take some pot shots at the Asians.
Violence increases as crosses are burned and Molotov cocktails tossed.
With this basic situation, based as it is
on real-life events, this should have been a compelling, emotionally-involving
film. But, somehow, it isn’t. Arlen’s script may be the problem. Arlen, who
co-wrote “Silkwood,” another socially conscious film, hasn’t pulled her punches
as far as showing which side she’s on. But when it is laid on this heavily,
when characters become stereotypes. who seem to exist only to prove a point,
the drama is undermined by polemic. And, oddly enough, where there should be
commentary on the racism and injustice in the story, Malle instead, presents
the scenes of hatred and violence in a flat documentary-like style, that leaves
you uninvolved. I kept thinking what Oliver Stone would have done with a story
“Alamo Bay”’s greatest failure, however, is
the lack of insight into the character of Dinh, who is presented as a positive-thinking
hard worker who just wants to fit in and achieve success. Since he is really
the central character of this story, as a symbolic representation of the entire
Vietnamese community, the filmmakers should have invested more depth to his
character. Nowhere are we shown the real impact the situation in Alamo Bay has
on him personally. Even worse there was a real chance to explore the whole
tragic series of events that resulted in him and his people having to leave
their country. There is one only one almost ludicrous exchange of dialog
between Dinh and Glory where she asks what happened to him in Vietnam. He says
the Viet Cong raided his village and he had to flee into the jungle. While
hiding there he says he had to eat grass. “Eat Grass!” Glory says, as if it
were the equivalent of surviving the Mai Lai Massacre. A better writer would
have given a deeper picture of what people like Dinh experienced as the result
of war. Eating grass would be pretty low on the list of hardships they had to
Despite its shortcoming, however, “Alamo Bay”
is worth viewing if only because it dares to deal with a subject most
filmmakers would be afraid to tackle. Harris and Madigan, who worked together
in “Places in the Heart,” the excellent HBO flick, “Riders of the Purple Sage,”
and “Pollock” are excellent. Ho Nguyen as Dinh stayed close to the surface of
his character, which was probably what Malle and Arlen wanted of him. And
more’s the pity.
“Alamo Bay,” is a one of the limited
edition (3,000 copies) Blu-Ray discs from Twilight Time. Aside from a separate
audio channel for Ry Cooder’s atmospheric score, the theatrical trailer, and a
booklet giving some background on the story written by Julie Kirgo, there are
no extras. An audio commentary, at least by Harris, Madigan or Arlen, would
seem to be a required feature for a disc selling at $29.99. But that’s all you
The transfer to Blu-Ray, however, is
flawless and the 1.0 DTS HD Master audio is very good. It’s disappointing that
the original film did not have a stereo soundtrack, but the separate track for Cooder’s
music (which is similar to the score he wrote for “Paris, Texas)” is in stereo
and sounds just fantastic.
Bottom line: “Alamo Bay” deserves viewing.
It’s a worthwhile attempt to make a serious film about an important subject. Louis
Malle is no longer with us, but thank goodness there are always a few directors
around, like him, who dare to make such films. They are, sadly, becoming an
endangered species. Kudos to Twilight Time for preserving this one to Blu-Ray.
come to the conclusion that there’s rarely been a bad submarine movie. The typical
film in this peculiar genre has a little something for every movie fan: action,
adventure, suspense, drama, claustrophobia, torpedoes, mine fields, depth
charges and silent running. The plot structure is similar to that of aircraft
disaster movies except submarines have to navigate the aforementioned mine
fields and depth charges and get to fire torpedoes.
Run” is no exception to my rule. The movie features Glenn Ford as skipper of
the Greyfish, Lt. Cmdr. Barney Doyle, and Ernest Borgnine as his executive
officer and best friend, Lt. Archer “Archie” Sloan. Like most submarine movies,
the action takes place within the narrow passageways of the sub and we get to
see a few underwater model shots of the Greyfish diving, navigating a mine
field and surviving depth charges.
do get a change of scenery throughout the movie, primarily in flashbacks of the
two friends during happier times just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re
stationed in the Philippines when Ford receives orders to set sail. Ford’s wife
and daughter are captured by the Japanese a short time later and sent to Japan
on a POW transport ship.
transport ship travels along side the aircraft carrier Shinaru, a fictional
stand-in for one of the Japanese carriers that launched the air attack on Pearl
Harbor. Ford receives word of the Shinaru’s location as well as word that his
wife and daughter are being used as human shields along with 1,400 other allied
prisoners onboard the transport ship. Sinking the Shinaru will be a huge
propaganda boon and moral booster, but launching torpedoes is tricky business
and one may hit the transport ship.
fires on the carrier, but hits the transport ship, killing everyone on board including
his wife and daughter. Ridden with guilt and filled with vengeance, he’s
obsessed with the single minded purpose of destroying the Shinaru. The rest of
the movie takes a Melvillian turn with Ford as Ahab seeking out his white
whale, the Shinaru.
is terrific as the Greyfish skipper. He’s earnest and believable as Barney
Doyle and calls upon his trademark ability
to play tough, yet compassionate good guys, as he had in scores of westerns, dramas and light
comedies as well as grittier fare such as “Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda” and “The
of earnest, Ernest Borgnine is equally good as Archie Sloan. Borgnine and Ford
play off each other rather well in what would be an otherwise routine action
movie. Borgnine is one of the great Hollywood character actors known primarily
for playing heavies, tough guys and nut-burgers in scores of movies on the big
screen. However, he was versatile enough to play the occasional lead and the
rare nice guy such as in his Oscar winning turn in “Marty” from 1955.
TV fans will undoubtedly be slightly distracted- as I was- seeing Borgnine in
naval uniform. It’s a minor and unintentionally humorous issue because Borgnine
is so closely identified as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, a role he would make his
own a few years after the release of this movie in the popular TV comedy
series, “McHales’s Navy,” from 1962 to 1966 and in one spin-off movie. I’m
almost expecting Borgnine to say, “Okay you guys, knock it off!” and, “Stall ‘em!
I don't care how you do it but stall ‘em!” Fortunately, Capt. Binghamton does
not turn up shouting, “What is it McHale, what do you want? What, what, what?”
Brewster appears in the only major female role as Ford’s wife Jane Doyle in the
flashback scenes. Dean Jones appears as a young officer, Lt. Jake “Fuzzy”
Foley. LQ Jones and Don Keefer play crew members and Robert Hardy is on hand as
a Royal Navy liaison officer observing the use of the sub’s new sonar equipment.
to IMDb, there are a couple of uncredited “blink and you’ll miss them”
appearances in the movie by retro TV stalwarts Frank Gorshin and Robert Reed
who appear as sub crewmen. Virginia Gregg, Maj. Edna Heywood RN in “Operation
Petticoat,” provides the voice of Tokyo Rose.
“Torpedo Run” is not of the same caliber as genuinely classic submarine movies
such as “Das Boot,” “Destination Tokyo,”
“The Enemy Below,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “On the Beach,” “Operation
Pacific,” “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” However, it is very watchable and features all
the typical submarine movie clichés in addition to great effects and fine
performances by Ford and Borgnine.
movie was produced and released by MGM in CinemaScope making good use of the
widescreen, with nice model sequences and well integrated stock footage. The
movie is based on stories by Richard Sale who co-wrote the screenplay. A
prolific writer and sometimes director, Sale is best known as the author of
“The Oscar” and “White Buffalo,” both of which were adapted as movies.
in October 1958, “Torpedo Run” also oddly played on a double bill with “Fiend
Without a Face” in November of that year. March 1958 saw the release of the
similarly themed submarine movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” with Clark Gable and
Burt Lancaster. While “Torpedo Run” is a good WWII drama, Ford and Borgnine
can’t quite compete with the performances of Gable and Lancaster and Robert
Wise’s gritty direction.
Run” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive Collection. The
movie looks terrific and sounds good. The only extra on the disc is the
theatrical trailer. This is a movie that rarely made the rotation on local TV in
my area when I was a kid, so it was very refreshing to watch it again after so
many years. The film is a welcome addition for any fan of military adventure movies.
Hi, Lee. In his DVD review in issue #30, Adrian Smith writes
that The 10th Victim “prefigures Death Race 2000, Rollerball, The
Running Man and even The Hunger Games in its idea of murder as
mass entertainment, and [director/co-writer Elio] Petri deserves to receive
some credit.” How about giving some to Robert Sheckley, upon whose 1953
short story “The Seventh Victim” the film was based, and whose name is nowhere
mentioned? Sheckley (1928-2005) may not have been in Bradbury’s class,
but he was a Hugo and Nebula nominee, named author emeritus by SFWA in
2001. He even published a tie-in novelization of the film and, in the
1980s, two sequels, Victim Prime and Hunter/Victim.
Sheckley’s work was also adapted into more than a dozen other films and
television episodes, the best-known of which—for better or worse—is
probably Freejack, based on his novel Immortality Inc.
Retro responds: Matthew, far be it from us to deny any writer credit for their achievements. Retro articles for both the magazine and web site are often written under tremendous deadline pressure and/or short notice. The truth is that we get inundated with screener copies to review and it isn't always possible to do extensive research on people whose work may have inspired a certain film unless the source novel was written by some larger-than-life figure whose name and work are instantly known. Our purpose is to review the merits of a specific film and in doing so, it can often be argued that any number of contributors to that film are neglected in almost any DVD review. What is more inexcusable is failing to mention someone who worked on a movie and whose contribution is key to its success. I've completed many a DVD review and, after it has been posted, realized I neglected to mention such people. Thanks to our readers for pointing out when some of these occasional lapses in credit occur.
Steven Awalt –
author interviewed by Todd Garbarini
it’s about time, Charlie!”
Weaver utters these words in my favorite Steven Spielberg film, Duel, a production that was originally
commissioned by Universal Pictures as an MOW, industry shorthand for “movie of
the week”, which aired on Saturday, November 13, 1971. The reviews were glowing; the film’s admirers
greatly outweighed its detractors and it put Mr. Spielberg, arguably the most
phenomenally successful director in the history of the medium, on a path to a
career that would make any contemporary director green with envy. Followed by a spate of contractually obligated
television outings, Duel would prove
to be the springboard that would catapult Mr. Spielberg into the realm that he
was shooting for since his youth: that of feature film directing. Duel would also land him in the court of
Hollywood producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck and get him his first
theatrical film under his belt, 1974’s The
Sugarland Express. It would be the
1975 blockbuster smash success of his second film, Jaws, similar in theme to Duel
in that a seemingly unstoppable monster is eventually put down following an
inexorable chase of cat-and-mouse, which would make him a household name. Yes, Charlie, it is about time that this phenomenal film got its own book, one that
is dedicated to the story’s origin and creation. Painstakingly researched by
Spielberg scholar Steven Awalt,
the aptly-titled Steven Spielberg and DUEL: The Making of a Film Careeris an excellent book now
available in hardcover, paperback and for the Kindle from Rowman &
volume starts at the beginning with Duel’s
author, the late Richard Matheson, the man responsible for some of the most
interesting, frightening, and best short stories of the genre and some of the
most memorable episodes of television’s The
Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) such as Third
from the Sun, Nick of Time, The
Invaders, Little Girl Lost, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, and Night Call. Author Awalt expertly describes
the terrifying, dangerous and death-defying real-life incident that compelled
Mr. Matheson to pen the story, and the fascinating journey it took until it was
published in the April 1971 issue of Playboy Magazine which made its way into
the hands of Steven Spielberg’s secretary. Through interviews with the remaining crew members who worked on Duel, Mr. Awalt covers every aspect of
the film’s inception, creation (actual filming and subsequent editing into
answer print form) and ultimate presentation. What is interesting to note is that although Duel originated as a TV-movie, the film’s success in the form of
excellent critical reception and high Nielsen ratings resulted in the director
being given additional capital to increase it from its standard 74-minute
running time to the more acceptable 90-minute length it required for release in
movie theaters, and it played briefly in select markets in the spring of
1983. It is this 90-minute version of
the film that is known the world over.
with publicity shots and storyboards created by the director, Steven Spielberg and DUEL is the last word on this terrific thriller that the director originally
wanted to make without any dialogue (interestingly, the Twilight Zone episode The
Invaders was originally conceived this way). Everything you ever wanted to know about how
the film came about is covered in this exhaustively researched book. Best of all, Universal is releasing the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection
on Blu-ray, and one of the titles included in this collection is Duel.
I recently spoke with Mr. Awalt about his
book and genuine love for all things Spielberg.
Garbarini: Based on what I have read about you, it is my understanding that you
became a fan of Steven Spielberg after your first viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Please tell me about that, as that is exactly
the same way that I became familiar with his work.
Awalt: Yes, that is correct. My family
and I saw it in the early winter of 1978. I was five years-old at the time, and
my parents had earlier taken me to see Star
Wars in a drive-in during the summer before. So between those two films, they really had a
huge impact on me. I was also familiar with the Walt Disney films, as well as
Jim Henson's work, but Steven Spielberg was the first director who I saw as a real
filmmaker. The story of the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is
the one book that I really, really want to write.
I had the exact same reaction you did. I saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977, not at a drive-in but at a
two-screen movie theater. Five months
later for my birthday my parents took me to see it again and this time the
trailer for Close Encounters was
presented before the film. I remember being frightened and finding certain
images from the film to be very intense, like the interrogation scene between
Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban. Like you, I had been used to seeing the Walt
Disney cartoons. In a way, this was my
introduction to more mature, adult filmmaking. I knew about Jaws in the summer of 1975 and knew some
kids who had seen it. When it came to Close Encounters, I was just blown away
by that film. It's one of the great cinematic experiences of my childhood. I almost feel that after having seen Star Wars and Close Encounters, I was kind of spoiled because I was expecting to
see all the other directors making movies just as great as those films,
especially when you consider that on the heels of that you had The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. is actually my personal favorite
Spielberg film. I have a really deep personal connection to the film.
I can certainly understand that. He captures children in a way that I've never
seen from anyone else, except maybe for Truffaut.
Yes, I can't think of any other filmmakers who are as real and as honest with
children. I think that Steven has always been that way, even if you look at Hook you see the way the children relate
to each other.
Garbarini: I first heard of Duel when
Steven Spielberg appeared on The Dick
Cavett Show in June 1981 while doing publicity for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He
talked about Duel and a man being
chased down by a large truck, and I wondered how I never heard of the film, not
knowing that it was a TV-movie. About a
year later, I was in my 7th grade English class and we were required
to read short story collections and write compositions on them. A collection caught my eye, and Duel was one of the stories. I read it and was hooked on Richard
Matheson’s writing. In 1983 I begged my
father to take me to New York to see Duel
during a brief theatrical exhibition following the worldwide success of E.T. but it didn’t last long enough for
us to get to see it. I finally saw it on
VHS in 1988 and loved it. How did you
come to see Duel and what was your
reaction to it?
I saw it on television with my dad, but I don't remember it to the extent that
I remembered seeing Close Encounters in
the theater. I saw Raiders of the Lost
Ark, of course, and Poltergeist was
also a big film for me. However, I don't recall what it was like seeing it for
the first time. My father and I watched Raiders
of the Lost Ark many times together. He introduced me to a lot of great
movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Jaws was also a movie that I saw on
television, I think that was first on in 1980 on ABC, or was it NBC?
It was on ABC, it premiered in November 1979. That took a full four years to come to network television.
Oh, wow. Yeah, that was how our generation saw movies in the days before VHS.
I know, remember that? When a big movie was premiering on television, it was an
event that my friends and I really looked forward to. It didn't matter that it
had commercials, because none of my friends, except for one, had cable
television. Now, forget about it. You don't even have to own the movie; you can simply go to YouTube and watch almost
anything that you want. I found Amblin (1968) on there. When The Warriors was released in 1979, there
was a lot of controversy surrounding it, stories of gangs fighting in movie
theaters. When it came to ABC in 1981, that is how I first saw it. I didn't see
it on cable or on home video, I saw it on network television. I think that’s
how a lot of us saw movies from the 1970s. The networks would sometimes air movies with alternate titles. That’s how I saw Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970), which aired as War Games and Escape to Athena (1979), which aired as The Golden Raiders, and Ffolkes
(1979) which aired as Assault Force.
Yeah, that's how I first saw 1941
(1979). I have a soft spot in my heart for that film. It's a bit of a mess, but
it has really great work in it. The miniatures are really beautiful in that
movie. Yeah, it was a whole different era. Young audiences today almost don't
know what it's like to go see a movie like Star
Wars in the drive-in. For people like you and I, you'd see a movie in the
theaters, and that it would come to network television and would really be
something to look forward to. Then there was the dawn of home video in the form
of VHS in the late 70s and early 80s. I think that the first movie I saw on VHS
was The Muppet Movie, that might've
been in 1981. Then in 1982 I saw Time Bandits.
What a different era it was back then, having time to watch those movies over
and over again!
I saw both of those films in the theater, but the first home video format that
my family owned was the RCA Select-A-Vision Capacitance Electronic Disc
CED for short, which necessitated purchasing movies. The Muppet Movie and Time
Bandits were two titles that I owned. Star
Wars and Poltergeist with the
first two movies I ever purchased and they were in that format. I just watched
them over and over and over again, on a 13” color TV, no less. Most people don't even remember that system,
they tend to confuse it with Pioneer’s laserdisc format. It's interesting, Jaws was the first movie released on laserdisc;
it was through MCA's DiscoVision line. The movie was spread out the five sides!
Can you imagine?
Yeah, I actually have the letterboxed laserdisc special edition of Jaws, that thing cost $150.
My favorite action film is The Road
Warrior. The stunts and camerawork
are groundbreaking, but there are a few shots where it almost looks like a Mack
Sennett comedy in that the cameras were undercranked and the action moves too
quickly. I never noticed that in Duel.
To your knowledge, was Duel shot
without any undercranking?
There was one shot where that happens, but it actually helps. The frame rate
was actually increased and the camera was overcranked. It's a long shot where
the vantage point is that of Dennis Weaver's character, David Mann, and the
truck is just plowing around the corner coming towards him.
Was there any behind-the-scenes footage shot on this movie, or was it done on
such a low-budget that that wasn't even a consideration?
Yeah, it was very low-budget, even the amount of stills that were taken is very
small. They didn't really have a dedicated on-the-set photographer.
What is the biggest difference between the theatrical cut and the television
The biggest and most obvious difference between the two is the opening. The
first few minutes where the camera begins in the garage, pulls back and drives
through downtown traffic was all added later so that it could be released
Yes, I remember when first saw it I thought, You mean to tell me that they let him do this for a television movie?
I was astonished. But I was completely
Yeah, exactly. The television cut begins with Dennis Weaver's car driving from
left to right in the frame as he is on his way to his business appointment. Of course, the scenes with him on the phone talking
to his wife and his run-in with the school bus were also added later.
Most of those streets look the same today. The last time I was in Los Angeles
was November 2008 and I drove along most of those same roads. I made it a point
to go to Milky Way, the restaurant owned and run by Leah Adler (Steven
Spielberg's mother). She was there that day, and I sat and talked with her for a
while about how much her son’s movies changed my life. It was great walking to
the bathroom as the hallway is flanked with movie posters of his films. When
did you first meet Mr. Spielberg?
In 2006. I originally ran a website dedicated to his movies from 2001 until
2009. So, I had been writing for the website for a while. In February 2006, I
received a FedEx package from DreamWorks. I figured it was stills from his films
or something to that effect, because I had never even broached the subject of
interviewing him. It turned out to be a letter from Steven Spielberg, and he told
me how much he enjoyed my writing and really like the website. Eight months
later he was being given a lifetime achievement award at the Chicago Film
Festival and I met him on the red carpet and we talked for a while. I did a
sort of mini-interview with him. The highlight of the evening, in addition to
meeting him of course, was when he introduced me to Roy Scheider.
I am experiencing major jealousy
pangs right now! (laughs)
God, Roy Scheider. I would've loved to have met and spoken with both of them. The French Connection is my favorite
Oh, my God, I loveThe French Connection.
I was fortunate enough to meet most of the cast members of the film, such as
Gene Hackman, Tony LoBianco, and even Sonny Grosso. The icing on the cake was
meeting William Friedkin. I also met Chris Newman, who recorded the sound on the
film. One of my biggest regrets, however, has not being able to meet Roy
Yeah, All That Jazz is a great film.
Yes, in fact the Criterion Collection released that on Blu-ray. He was great in
Marathon Man, Sorcerer, and The Seven-Ups
from 1973, which is a film that a lot of people don't even know about.
Yes, meeting Roy Scheider was a great life moment for me. And then I guess
around 2011 I pitched the idea of the Duel
book to Steven Spielberg's people and he said yes right away, he thought it was
a great idea. He even invited me out to interview him before I even had a
chance to ask him if I could interview him. I cannot say enough about him, he's
just such a nice man and is so genuine. You hear the story all the time that
when you're in conversation with him, and you think about all the things that
he has going on in his life, he's just right there and he's 100% completely
focused on what you're talking about as he's talking to you. Even in conversations, he's a really great storyteller, which really
isn’t surprising! When I was out in L.A. interviewing him, he showed me a photo
of himself standing next to Federico Fellini and he was talking about this
memory that he had of meeting him in 1973 and there was such excitement in his
voice about this memory that was nearly 40 years-old. He's got such a deep
appreciation of film history and such excitement about it, and he's also one of
the pinnacles of it!
Well, he's just like us. He is first and foremost a movie fanatic. I could
literally spend hours talking to him about not only his experiences on the sets
of his own movies, and I would love to hear some stories that he has to tell
about what went on behind the scenes of his films and so forth, but also his
impressions of other directors and other movies that he has seen growing up and
even the new films that are out now and what's still inspires him. He isn't
just some hack who is out there trying to make money, he honestly and truly
loves this stuff. Were you able to see his early work? I know that he's not a
fan of Amblin, a film that I really
like very much, especially the main theme song. Did you get to see Firelightor any of the short films that he did
as a teenager?
I've seen everything he's done with the exception of his episode of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, nor
could I find his two episodes of The
Psychiatrist. I spoke to Sid
Sheinberg about it, and he remarked that one of the episodes, called Par for the Course, was one of the most
moving pieces of work he had ever seen. Spielberg was in his early twenties when he did it. The episode is about
death, friendship, and losing a friend. But, like I said, that's one that I
haven't been able to locate and I'm really interested in seeing it. You look at
the The Sugarland Express, for
example, and it's frustrating for me to look back now on even some of the good
critical notices the film got. For
example, Pauline Kael said that Spielberg was very good at moving the cars
around. But, when you look at the movies, whether they involve cars, sharks,
spaceships or whatever, even though those are brilliant and exciting cinematic
creations, and even going back to his early television work pre-Duel, he was always about the
characters. Their personalities and the situations that they get caught up in are
always first and foremost the most important aspects of the story. I've always
felt that he's been an incredibly humanistic director and I think that
unfortunately that aspect of his career has been totally lost on a lot of
critics. Getting back to Sugarland, I don't believe that the cars
are the main focus or the main aspect of that story. The characters are really
special, and the fact that a lot of the leading critics didn't see that at the
time is almost mind-boggling. Still to this day he carries that reputation with
him. It's really amazing to me that when people talk about his work, and I
don't know if this is attributed to jealousy or snobbery or whatever, they just
don't give him the credit that he deserves. I also think that a lot of the
times the critics were comparing him to highly established directors who were
in their fifties and sixties at the time. You have to look at it in
perspective. Spielberg was a guy in his twenties. How many people have that
kind of perspective into the human condition in their twenties? But for him to
have that human angle even in a film like Duel
is amazing. The intercutting between the car and truck - the film is ultimately
about a man and his paranoia. So he has enormous insight into the psychology of
the Dennis Weaver character. What an amazing young filmmaker to be able pull
off something like that at his age.
Would you say that his experience on Duel
prepared him for the desert truck chase sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
SA: No, I wouldn't say that because the truck
chase was done during principal photography and was shot by Mickey Moore. Steven
conceived and storyboarded it, but Mickey Moore shot it with the second unit
crew. I remember when I read that and thought,
I really thought that Steven had been out
there shooting that whole thing. But,
despite the fact that he didn't, it works brilliantly in the film and actually
got a lot of subsequent work for Mickey Moore. This is always a tough thing
because I do believe…I don’t want to say auteur
theory necessarily, as I think that's become a denigrated term now, but to deny
authorship I think is ludicrous. Everything
in a film is funneled through either a director’s filter or a very strong producer’s
filter, so obviously when you look at a filmography like Steven’s or any other
dominant and very personal director obviously authorship is something that
should definitely be considered. I still think his fingerprints are all over
it. Don't get me started on Poltergeist,
by the way!
(laughs) I saw that movie the weekend
that it opened. My friend and I sat through it twice. It played next door to Kill Squad.
Oh, I love Poltergeist, even to this
day. The first time that I saw it was when I was playing with some friends and
neighbors. The adults were inside
watching it on television and I basically saw it through the screen door. I
couldn’t hear it well at all, but I was so excited to see it.
I have seen Poltergeist many, many
times. It's one of my favorite movies ever. Thinking along those lines, and
this kind of thing started for me with Star
Wars, it was only in 1977 that I would go back to see a favorite movie
multiple times. Prior seeing to seeing Star
Wars, I don't ever remember doing that. There weren't any films that I had
seen that made me want to go see them more than once, although I did sit
through two screenings of Peter Pan
during a 1976 rerelease in the summertime. Superman
the Movie was another pivotal film for me. For one thing, these movies
stayed in theaters for a very long time, and if friends of mine and I loved it,
which we invariably did, we would always go see them on our birthdays. Our
parents would wonder why in the world we would want to see the same movies over
and over again instead of new movies. John Williams’ music, without taking
anything away from the writers, producers, directors, and actors, the overall
cast and crew of all of these films, I really believe is what makes those films
what they are.
SA: I completely agree and I don't think that the
filmmakers would disagree with that statement at all. I think that they would
be right there with you.
I've read that Mr. Spielberg even cuts to Mr. Williams’ music. The two of them
have gone on to such an amazing collaboration, far more so than the one between
Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann which, as you well know, was
argumentative and often combative. However, Herrmann clearly enhanced
Hitchcock's movies immeasurably. Imagine Psycho
without those strings?
SA: I know!
Billy Goldenberg wrote excellent music for Duel,
in addition to several other shows directed by Mr. Spielberg. I have always felt that his music has been
woefully underrepresented on soundtrack albums. Do you know if there are any plans to release his music from these
Spielberg projects on CD?
Not to my knowledge, no. He is very
underrepresented on disc, it’s a real shame. A lot of the soundtrack album companies are doing a really terrific job
in getting a lot of the scores out there in terms of getting them out of the
vault. However, there really is still so much work to do for scores from that
era. I really think that Billy’s scores need a release. And even John Williams’s
score to Sugarland, this is the only
score from his collaboration with Spielberg that has never been released. Now
this is like the missing link. I have heard from soundtrack producers at
Universal, at least previously anyway, they were very tight with what they
allowed to come out of their vaults. I would love to see a score for Sugarland released, and also for Duel obviously.
Well, with your excellent book on Duel
and the new Blu-ray release of the film in the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection, let’s hope that this leads
to a soundtrack release.
Sounds good to me!
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG AND DUEL: THE MAKING OF A FILM CAREER" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG: THE DIRECTOR'S COLLECTION" ON BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "DUEL" DVD COLLECTOR'S EDITION FROM AMAZON
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Dust Bug Records.
HAMMER PRESENTS DRACULA WITH
Unavailable on vinyl since its release in
1974, Dust Bug Records is proud to present this special Limited Edition 40th
Anniversary 180 g vinyl pressing of Hammer Presents Dracula with Christopher
one features the horrifying story of vampirism with spine- chilling sounds, and
music composed by James Bernard and narration by Christopher Lee. Side 2 features The Four Faces Of Evil music
suite: Fear In The Night: She: The Vampire Lovers; and Dr. Jekyll and Sister
Hyde. Music arranged and conducted By
We've gone back to the original 1/4 inch
tapes to bring you the best sound possible.
analogue- Dust Bug Records is proud to confirm that this record has been cut on
vintage analogue equipment. A DIGITAL- FREE PROCESS.
The signal path is Studer A80 Mk1 tape
recorder > RCA BA 6A limiter> EMI RS56 Curvebender EQ> Pultec EQP
1A> EMI REDD series valve disc cutting desk> Neumann VMS 70 cutting lathe
with SX74 stereo cutter head.
at midnight by candlelight for maximum enjoyment.
by the late 1970s Richard Burton's reputation was based more on his
hard-drinking and turbulent marriages, he was still capable of demonstrating
his powers as a dangerous and magnetic performer. Arguably by this time he had
lost some of his former box-office draw and was taking roles in horror films
like Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and The Medusa Touchto pay the bills, yet he was still a
mesmerising screen presence and in this film can even command the attention of
the audience whilst lying on a hospital bed in a coma.
The Medusa Touch is set in London
and begins with a murder. In the opening scene we see renowned author John
Morlar (Richard Burton) watching news of a space shuttle disaster on TV. Within
seconds he is being bludgeoned to death by a blunt instrument. It is something
of a shock to see the lead actor of a movie being killed before the credits
have even rolled, however, all is not lost. When the police arrive, led by
Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura), a French detective on some kind of exchange
visit to Scotland Yard, they realise that he is still alive. Just. He is
whisked to hospital where he is put under the charge of Dr. Johnson (Gordon
Jackson) and wired up to several monitors and machines in an effort to keep him
alive. It is then up to Brunel to find out who tried to kill him and why.
despite initially appearing that Burton is merely in this film as a cameo role,
he does actually show up in several lengthy flashbacks as Brunel tries to track
down anyone who knew him. One person who may be able to help is his
psychiatrist, played by Lee Remick. She discloses that Morlar believed he had
the power to cause disasters by willing them in his mind; the so-called
"Medusa Touch". Initially believing this to be a curse, he gradually
comes to the realisation that he can use this power to change the world.
The Medusa Touch features some
spectacular special effects as Morlar's disasters grow and grow in scale and
magnitude, from a horrific plane crash into a large apartment building to an a
royal assassination attempt by demolishing a major London landmark. It does not
take Brunel long to turn from being sceptical of these powers to being in a
race against time to stop Morlar in his diabolical quest.
directed by Jack Gold, The Medusa Touch is pure entertainment throughout
and plays like a cross between The Omen (1976) and an episode of Columbo.
This new Blu-ray features an excellent transfer and some fascinating behind the
scenes footage of the film's climax in Westminster Abbey. Jack Gold is
accompanied on a commentary track by genre authorities Kim Newman (who has also
written a booklet for this release) and Stephen Jones, where Gold is enthusiastic
and full of praise for all those who worked on the film.
Click here to order and view original trailer. (This is for the UK, region 2 release.)
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release.)
scientist Nils Ahlen (John McCallum) has developed a process via which sound impulses
can be converted into electrical energy. When his wife Helga (Mary Laura Wood)
and assistant Sven (Anthony Dawson) abscond with vital components of the
revolutionary device, Ahlen teams up with Police Inspector Peterson (Jack
Warner) to chase them down. The pursuit takes them into the icy, blizzard-wreathed
wilderness where they seek the assistance of Lapp reindeer herders to help them
survive the perilous terrain.
and directed by thrice Bond-helmer Terence Young more than a decade before he
first brought the celebrated spy to the screen, 1951’s Valley of Eagles was shot over a couple of months in testing
Norwegian weather conditions. The film has taken a fair bit of stick in the
past, the main target of viewer negativity being that what kicks off as a
promising B-grade crime thriller quickly devolves into a life-evaluating
melodrama. A bit disappointing, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie,
so – always one to buck the trend – I’m pleased to have the chance to redress
the balance here. There’s no disputing that 60-something years after the fact,
the plotting of Valley of Eagles
could be classed a little mundane; cinema has come a long way in the years
since the picture first saw the light of a projector bulb (though not always
for the better), and mundane is an accusation that could be levelled at a hefty
percentage of the cinematic output of that period. Yet that doesn’t translate
as making it a pointless investment of one’s time.
narrative is never less than engaging, peppered as it is with outbursts of brutality
(wolves are vigorously slain with ski poles) and exotic sex appeal (courtesy of
Nadia Gray, hair appealingly braided, as tough Lapp maiden Lara). There’s also
a terrific set piece in which a pack of wolves assail a team of herders astride
reindeer, the wolves themselves then set upon by the titular birds of prey. The
cast does a serviceable job with the material at hand, particularly an
underused Dawson, the consummate shifty-eyed baddie (see also Dial M for Murder, Dr No and Midnight Lace for
similarly sinister turns). Future Dixon
of Dock Green Jack Warner, here bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bernard
Lee, makes for a staunch lead and if McCallum comes across as a little starchy
that’s because the character he’s portraying is. It’s also nice to see an
early, albeit minor appearance by Christopher Lee wearing an amusingly wide-brimmed
hat. The film certainly benefits from its exhaustive, picturesque location
shoot, with some splendid Harry Waxman cinematography on offer (Pinewood-lensed
back projection shows up only occasionally) and suitably dense, if not
especially memorable Nino Rota compositions serve to underscore the gravity of
the onscreen drama.
Valley of Eagles is
available on DVD from Fabulous Films/Freemantle Media. The print utilised has
certainly seen better days, with a surfeit of light scratches and various
accumulations of detritus in evidence throughout. But one should overlook such
deficiencies and be grateful for this DVD premiere of what I’d have no
hesitation in labelling a “golden oldie”. The disc supplements are slight, though
still worth perusing, and comprise galleries of hand-coloured lobby cards,
press stills and poster art, along with interesting textual material that one
presumes has been lifted from the original release pressbook.
There is a wonderful Facebook page titled "I Spy, Spy Shows" (search under that term) that pays homage to the great espionage heroes of the past. This gem of a rare photo was posted recently. It depicts Dean Martin on the set of the 1966 Matt Helm film "Murderer's Row" being visited by Derek Flint himself, James Coburn. If only there was a recording of whatever they discussed....
Twilight Time has released Stanley Kramer's 1969 WWII era comedy "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the film since it was originally released and only had vague recollections of it. Watching it today, I found the movie to be an absolute delight thanks to a terrific script by Ben Maddow and William Rose (the latter co-wrote Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World") and a sterling cast. The film is set in 1943 in the small Italian village of Santa Vittoria. The story opens with a young university studio, Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini in one of his first major roles) who hurries to his native town to breathtakingly inform the residents that Mussolini has just been deposed. The announcement is met with a collective yawn by the townspeople, who have remained largely immune from the effects of the war and their dictator's fascist police state. However, when the towns folk learn that German soldiers will be occupying Santa Vittoria, there is widespread concern. The town's one claim to fame is its production of popular wines which are exported in massive numbers. Everyone in town depends in some way on the revenues from the wine sales and it becomes apparent that the German army intends to confiscate the town's precious inventory. Through happenstance, a local wine merchant, Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) has been appointed mayor. He is regarded as an idiot by everyone including his long-suffering wife Rosa (Anna Magnani), who has grown weary over the decades of trying to cope with his laziness and regular bouts of wine-fueled excesses. Recognizing that the seizure of the town's stockpile of wine will leave the locals destitute, Bombolini devises a seemingly preposterous plan to leave enough wine on hand to satisfy the Germans that they have secured the lion's share of the inventory. Meanwhile, prior to their arrival, the entire town will participate in a massive effort to hide the bulk of the inventory in a local cave and then have a wall constructed to hide the stash. The plan proves surprisingly effective and Bombolini emerges as an unlikely leader, who rallies the locals in the Herculean effort that involves hundreds of townspeople forming seemingly endless lines in which people painstakingly pass hundreds of thousands of bottles from hand to hand one-by-one.
When the German forces finally arrive, they are under the command of Capt. von Prum (Hardy Kruger). He is a civil, even charming, fellow who nevertheless makes it clear to Bombolini that he is no fool. von Prum has anticipated that substantial wine bottles are hidden somewhere but Bombolini, who puts on a respectable act of being a fawning, spineless civil servant, adamantly denies the charge. The tenuous situation is made more dangerous when von Prum turns his attentions to romancing a local beauty, a cultured woman named Caterina (Virna Lisi), who reluctantly plays along with him because she doesn't want to incur his wrath. Seems she is secretly hiding her real lover, an Italian army deserter, Tufa (Sergio Franchi). It seems Bombolini is winning the war of wills but before the Germans can depart with the stores of wine, the Gestapo arrives with evidence that a cache has indeed been hidden. The frolicking good times seem over for the townspeople when von Prum's methods are overruled in favor of torture.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a truly underrated gem with one of those glorious, scenery-chewing performances that only Anthony Quinn could successfully pull off without looking hammy. He's in full Zorba mode here, turning the lowly and discredited town idiot into a figure of courage and nobility. Quinn is more than matched by Anna Magnani as his fiery-tongued wife. They are like an Italian version of Ralph and Alice Kramden, constantly trading barbs and insults in sequences that are genuinely amusing. It's also fun watching the scenes in which the beleaguered Bombolini must also deal with his teenage daughter's (Patrizia Valturri) raging hormones and her quest to lose her virginity to her student lover, Fabio. Director Kramer is at his best and the sequences in which the townspeople join together to hide the wine are almost epic in scope. It's a touching, funny and moving film that is set to a fabulous score by frequent Kramer collaborate Ernest Gold.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray provides a terrific transfer an isolated track score, the original trailer and an informative collector's book with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Highly recommended.
Holder in his iconic role as the evil Baron Samedi in the 1973 James Bond film "Live and Let Die".
Geoffrey Holder, the native Caribbean who played a crucial role in transforming modern theater, has passed away from pneumonia at age 84. Holder's imposing 6'6" stature and inimitable baritone voice helped make him a highly influential figure both on stage and in film. The general public knows him as the long-time spokesman for 7 Up in the 1970s and 1980s as well as a familiar face in major motion pictures, such as the 1973 James Bond movie "Live and Let Die" in which me memorably portrayed the legendary voodoo icon Baron Samedi. However, theater goers know Holder as the Tony Award-winning talent whose revolutionary methods of presenting theatrical productions earned him world wide acclaim. For full NY Times obituary, click here.
folks at Warner Archives have just released a burn-to-order DVD collectionthat
includes all the M-G-M shorts that the Three Stooges made at that legendary studio
with their one-time manager Ted Healy. “Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory
Volume 3” featuring Howard, Fine and Howard (aka Moe, Larry and Curly) features
six zany shorts that need to be seen to
be believed. They are:
(1933) wherein Ted Healy attempts to get through a song with interruptions from
the Stooges in between big production numbers from M-G-M's feature film “Flying
High”. The Stooges’ routine is based on their vaudeville stage act.
and Movies” (1934) is a two-color Technicolor short that features Jerry (Curly)
Howard -without Moe & Larry- acting in support of Greek-dialect comedian
George Givot. This short gives Curly the opportunity to act as the middle Stooge
and allows comedian Bobby Callahan to play the kind of character Curly would
normally play. The short incorporates two musical numbers lifted from earlier
M-G-M Technicolor features, "The Chinese
Ballet" (taken from “Lord Byron Of Broadway” (1930) and "Raising The
Dust", which originally from “Children Of Pleasure” (1930).
Idea” (1934) casts Ted Healy as an “Idea Man for Hire” who comes up with insane
concepts for film plots. The Stooges drop in and out playing the old Civil War
tune "Marching Through Georgia" with soaking results. A deleted
number from M-G-M's “Dancing Lady” rounds out this final M-G-M short made by
Pretzels” (1933) presents the second M-G-M short made by Healy and the Stooges.
In this one, we find them being thrown out of work in a theater and getting jobs
as performing waiters in a German-style beer hall with predictable results.
Rhymes” (1933): In this, the first M-G-M short to feature Ted Healy and His
Stooges, the boys play Healy's "sons". Their pleas to their Papa to
tell them a bedtime story leads to a lot of eye gouging, cranium smacking and
hair pulling in the pre-code film. The
use of two-strip Technicolor was predicated on the fact that most of the shorts
in this collection (and many other from M-G-M between 1930 - 1934) were making
use of material from an abandoned feature film M-G-M made in 1930 entitled “The
March of Time”, which had been shot in two-color Technicolor. M-G-M was a
factory known to never waste anything, including valuable film stock. Thus, the
Healy and the Stooges footage was filmed to wrap around these big production
numbers, that were largely designed by ballet's Albertina Rasch (the wife
of legendary film composter composer Dimitri Tiomkin).
“Hello Pop!” (1933) The real prize of this collection is this Technicolor gem.
Restored in 2013 after being lost for over 40 years, this film had its
resurrection last year at Film Forum in New York City. Through the hard work of
The Vitaphone Project, YCM Laboratories and the good folks at Warner Bros.,
this "Holy Grail" for Stooge fans can now be yours. In this short,
Ted Healy is a nervous wreck who is trying to put on a Broadway show. Besides
dealing with temperamental artists (the great Henry Armetta, among them) he has
his three "sons" to deal with, and you can guess who plays them. Two
Technicolor musical numbers round out this short.
quality is excellent, particularly when you consider that “Hello Pop!” was
made from the only existing 35mm print. If you love the Stooges, as well as
historic golden oldies, this release is a “must”. Get it, and sit back and
"NYUK" it up.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film on Region 2 format.)
In Roy Ward Baker’s 1960s
comedy-drama Two Left Feet, Michael
Crawford plays Alan Crabbe, a clumsy and unlucky-in-love 19-year-old who begins
dating ‘Eileen, the Teacup Queen’, a waitress at his local cafe. She lives in Camden Town and there are rumours
that she’s married, but that doesn’t seem to alter her behavior. Alan and
Eileen travel into London’s ‘Floride Club’, where the Storyville Jazzmen play
trad for the groovers and shakers. Eileen turns out to be a ‘right little madam’,
who is really just stringing Alan along. She’s the kind of girl who only dates
to get into places and then starts chatting to randoms once inside. She takes
up with ruffian Ronnie, while Alan meets a nice girl, Beth Crowley. But Eileen holds
a strange hold over Alan and at a wedding celebration of their friends, Brian
and Mavis, they are caught in bed together – which ruins his relationship with
Beth and gets him on the wrong side of Ronnie and his flick-knife.
‘Two Left Feet’ is a pretty
gritty Brit-com of misunderstood youth and romantic entanglements. It’s the
antithesis of Cliff Richard’s day-glow musical fantasies ‘Summer Holiday’ and
‘The Young Ones’, and closer to kitchen sink dramas: the roughness of ‘Beat
Girl’ or the tragicomedy of ‘Billy Liar’. The inspired cast is a major asset,
with several of the roles providing early opportunities for future stars. Michael
Crawford went on to massive fame in the TV series ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’as clumsy, socially inept Frank
Spencer. He’s also went on to appear in some very good British film comedies in
the 1960s, including ‘The Knack…and How to Get It’, ‘The Jokers’ and ‘How I Won
the War’. Nyree Dawn Porter, cast as Eileen, was memorable as Irene in TV’s ‘The
Forsyte Saga’. Porter is excellent
here as the sexy seductress and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Another of the clubgoers is played by David Hemmings, who oozes cool and class
as Brian. Julia Foster, from ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and
‘Alfie’, plays Beth. The
appropriately-named Michael Craze plays psycho Ronnie, Dilys Watling is Brian’s
girl Mavis and Hammer Films’ regular Michael Ripper played her Uncle Reg. Cyril
Chamberlain shows up as garage owner Mr Miles and David Lodge appears Alan’s cocky
co-worker Bill. James Bond’s M crops up
again, with the ubiquitous Bernard Lee playing Alan’s father, a policemen.
British rock ‘n’ roller Tommy Bruce performs the title song, ‘Two Left Feet’, in imitable bellowing style,
while the band in the Cavern-like ‘Floride Club’ is Bob Wallis and His
‘Two Left Feet’ was based
on the 1960 novel ‘In My Solitude’ by David Stewart Leslie. Wide-eyed, but
strangely disillusioned, the protagonists of this story are caught in a period snapshot
between the dour 1950s and the soon-to-be-fab Sixties. The sequences shot in
London, including near the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, locate the film
historically to a very specific time and place. The cinema billboards display
adverts for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘How the West Was Won’, but on Alan’s
visits ‘Up West’, he prefers to frequent the more niche ‘Bijou Cinema’, which
is showing Harrison Marks’ nudie feature ‘Naked as Nature Intended’, starring
‘The Fabulous Pamela Green’. The social mores of the era are also to the fore –
when offered a smoke on her way to the club, Eileen is aghast: ‘Cigarette? Not
in the street thank you!’. Membership of the ‘Floride Club’ is 12/6 (a
pre-decimalisation twelve shillings and sixpence) and sensible Alan decides he
can’t get married yet because he’s too young and financially challenged. The
wedding reception has none of the scale of modern wedding celebrations – it’s
just a gathering at a private residence, with a buffet, party games and
sing-song at the piano. The generational gap is keenly delineated in the
relationship between Alan and his father. His father’s generation’s upbringing
was strict – they learned respect, lived by the rules and didn’t question them
– while Alan’s generation is unfettered by such notions. The presumption is
that they can be anything, do anything and be free as air.
‘Two Left Feet’ is part of Network’s
‘The British Film’ collection. It’s another British Lion release shot at
Shepperton Studios and the disc includes an image gallery and promotional
material pdf. It is rated 15 in the UK, presumably for the mild sexual
promiscuity, the prominent use of knives by Ronnie and the beating Alan
receives from Ronnie’s heavies. The film is another interesting 1960s British
film rescued from obscurity and is worth seeing for both Hemmings and Porter,
and the energetic dance moves in the ‘Floride Club’. It’s worth mentioning that
if you like this type of 1960s film, then check out Hemmings’ excellent film ‘Some
People’ (1962), also from Network, with he and Ray Brooks playing bikers who form
a rock ‘n’ roll band.
We at Cinema Retro are still grieving over the loss of our friend and contributor, actor Richard Kiel. He touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including his "Moonraker" co-star Lois Chile. On the blog Hill Place, Lois recalls her affection for the "Gentle Giant of Cinema". Click here to read.
(This review pertains to the British Blu-ray release by Network)
BY ADRIAN SMITH
A mysterious Englishman with mystical
powers, a sexy wife, a game of cricket and an insane asylum. In different hands
these elements could have been combined to make an Amicus portmanteau film in
the style of Tales From the Crypt or Asylum. In the hands of I,
Claudius author Robert Graves and Palme d'Or-winning Polish director Jerzy
Skolimowski it becomes a strange, hypnotic and fragmented tale that unsettles
and confuses in equal measure.
Alan Bates, who could give Richard Burton a
run for his money in the "brooding intensity" stakes, plays Crossley,
a disheveled yet charismatic wanderer who bursts uninvited into the lives of
Anthony and Rachel with devastating consequences. Anthony (John Hurt) is a
Radiophonic Workshop-style musician who spends most of his time recording
unusual noises and manipulating tape decks. Despite his apparent affair with
the wife of the village cobbler, he is happily married, if somewhat distracted
from her needs by his own sound obsessions. Rachel (Susannah York) is initially
upset by the presence of Crossley, who invited himself in for Sunday lunch
whilst Anthony was too polite to say no. Crossley claims to have spent the last
eighteen years in the Australian outback married to an aboriginal woman, where
he legally killed his children. He explains to Anthony that he also learned
shamanic abilities, including a form of shout that when uttered can kill anyone
and anything within earshot. Anthony is sceptical, yet with his interests in
sound, he cannot resist a demonstration.
This plot setup could lead to a
conventional thriller or horror film, but Skolimowski has created something
entirely unconventional. Crossley is relating this tale to a young Tim Curry at
a novelty cricket match being played between inmates and local villagers, which
in itself seems a highly unlikely scenario. The Shout uses collage-style
editing and an increasingly schizophrenic narrative until we are not entirely
sure what is going on or whose version of events to believe.
The soundtrack is particularly inventive
and unusual, making the most of the opportunity it was given in 1978 of being
one of the first films distributed in Dolby Stereo. When Alan Bates does shout
the audience must have all felt close to death. The cinematography is also
spectacular, making the Devon landscape look both beautiful and dangerous. The
Shout features a terrific cast who really embrace the concept without
hamming it up, something which could easily have happened if a "killer
shout" movie was being directed by anyone else. And if you have ever
wanted to see Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent strip almost naked and smear himself
in excrement then look no further.
This new Blu-ray features a new HD transfer
from the original film elements, an interview with the film's producer Jeremy
Thomas, an audio commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and a booklet
featuring new writing from Newman and Karen Oughton.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
By Tim Greaves
on the novel “Whispering Woman” by Gerald Verner, 1953’s seldom-seen whodunit Noose for a Lady marked the directorial
debut of Wolf Rilla (Village of the
Damned), and stars a host of reliable British stalwarts. A quaint, cliché
ridden drama, it offers up a modicum of intrigue and sufficient suspense to
tickle the palate of the most jaded aficionado of such fare. It even pulls a
satisfying rabbit out of its hat with a final reveal that this seasoned
reviewer readily admits he hadn’t seen coming. Yes, of course it creaks a
little, but if nothing else it’s guaranteed to hold your attention for its succinct
for the screen by Rex Rienits, it hits the ground running with the sentencing to
death by hanging of Margaret Hallam (Pamela Alan), found guilty of poisoning
her husband, despite her protestations to the contrary. With just seven days
until Margaret’s execution, her stepdaughter Jill (Rona Anderson) decrees she
will find the real killer. Assisted by Margaret’s determined cousin, Simon Gale
(Dennis Price), that’s precisely what she sets out to do.
the requisite ingredients of the quintessential British whodunit are present
and correct here, first and foremost the gathering of deliciously suspicious
characters – each of whom had the means and motive to bump off Hallam – which
includes the barbiturate dispensing doctor (Ronald Howard), the gossiping
spinster (Esma Cannon), the disgraced major (Colin Tapley), the irascible
ex-con (Robert Brown), and family friends with secrets to hide (Charles Lloyd
Pack and Melissa Stribling). These are characters who utter such lines as
“There’s something I must tell you – meet me tonight”, immediately signing
themselves up for an early trip to the grave before they have the opportunity
to blab. Also in situ is that feather-in-the-cap moment for every amateur
sleuth, the Poirot-esque summoning of the suspects to the drawing room to
reveal the killer’s identity. In this instance the murderer is revealed to be…(the
light snaps out…a gunshot sounds…a scream echoes through the darkness)… well, you’ll
just have to buy the DVD to find out.
Noose for a Lady has just been issued
on disc by Network Distributing as another welcome addition to its valuable “The
British Film” collection. A brand new transfer from the original film elements,
aside from a few minor crackles and pops on the soundtrack, it’s a stellar
presentation and well worth investing in. Bonus features comprise a trailer
(preceded by a nostalgia evoking censor’s card classifying it as a “U trailer
advertising an A film”) and a small gallery of promotional art and press
stills. A word about the galleries included on Network’s releases: Even though those
included on many titles are slender affairs, all kudos to the company for
taking the time to assemble such materials instead of taking the easy route and
simply batching together some pointless frame-grabs and peddling them as worthy
supplementary incentive; there have been far too many perpetrators of that crime.