a sucker for military movies. I’ve enjoyed the genre since I was a kid and that
pleasure continues to this day. As a former military guy, it matters very
little to me the time period or whether the movie is attempting to present a
message as long as the story is good and holds my interest. Director Tom Jeffrey's “The Odd Angry
Shot” is a military movie about the Vietnam War which certainly held my
interest and with great enthusiasm.
see the Vietnam War as America going it alone and for the most part that’s true
in terms of troops sent and the high cost. Almost forgotten now and little
discussed at the time is that there was an alliance between South Vietnam and
America which included South Korea, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan, Philippines, Iran,
West German, Spain, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
is among the members of this alliance to send troops to Vietnam and “The Odd
Angry Shot” is about a fictional deployment of Australians in the late 1960s.
The movie is based on the novella of the same name by William R. Nagel who
served as a cook in the Australian Army and deployed to Vietnam. He was a keen
observer during his time in Vietnam and created an award winning story of
movie is notable as one of the earliest movies to deal directly with combat
during the Vietnam War and specifically the soldiers of the Australian Army.
Sets for the movie were built on the Sydney Showgrounds in Sydney, New South
Wales, and later transported to the Australian Army’s Jungle Warfare Training
Center in Canungra, Queensland. This is where those serving in the Australian
Army trained before deploying to Vietnam.
movie is in a different category from Vietnam movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “The
Deer Hunter” and “Platoon” which take their subject very seriously and have
much to say about the war. The movie isn’t quite a comedy or even dark comedy,
but the tone is unusual compared to most movies about this war. “The Odd Angry
Shot” is a more light-hearted and even snarkier than those movies and resembles
“M*A*S*H” with a bit of “Catch-22.” Its focus is a group of men as we follow
them from pre-deployment at home in Australia to engaging the enemy in Vietnam.
When not out on patrols, where some receive the literal odd angry shot, they
deal with the inevitable boredom of deployments with beer drinking, writing
home to family, receiving “Dear John” letters, joking around, friendly brawls
and passing the time with a scorpion/spider fight.
movie features a mostly Australian cast, some of them recognizable as character
actors in Australian movies made over the past 35-years. John Jarratt plays the
central character, Bill, and has appeared in a wide variety of mostly
Australian productions from “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to the recent “Django
Unchained.” Probably the biggest name outside of Australia is Bryan Brown as
Rogers in one of many fine performances. Fans of “Mad Max” will recognize Tim
Burns in a “blink or you’ll miss him” part as a birthday party guest at the
beginning of “The Odd Angry Shot.” He was memorable as Johnny the Boy in “Mad Max,”
the guy faced with sawing off his own foot at the end of that movie.
Blu-ray includes a nice pile of extras including the trailer, an interview with
stunt man Buddy Joe Hooker and one of the better audio commentary tracks I’ve
listened to in a while with director Tom Jeffrey, producer Sue Milliken and
actor Graeme Blundell. It’s entertaining and the contributors are enjoying
their time discussing and reminiscing about their work on the movie.
movie looks terrific and sounds great. Regardless of your personal feelings of
the Vietnam War, this movie is an outstanding addition to any war movie
collection or fan of Australian cinema and certainly worthy of repeat viewings.
There are those who consider the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards 1968 collaboration "The Party" to be an underrated comedy classic, while others feel it is a complete misfire. Count me among the latter. I can appreciate the audacity of making a minimalist comedy that was largely designed to be improvised- but there lies the rub. Sellers and Edwards succeeded in their quest to make this experimental film based on a threadbare script (60 pages) but the movie has a patchwork, almost desperate feel about how to fill up 99 minutes of screen time with what amounts to approximately 15 minutes of inspired material. Sellers is in top form, performance-wise, playing Hrudni V. Bakshi, an almost surrealistically polite Indian actor who we first see playing the title role in a big budget remake of "Gunga Din". With millions of dollars on the line, it's up to Bakshi to carry off his pivotal death scene so that a massive explosion can be detonated that will destroy an expensive set. In the film's funniest scenes, Bakshi drives the director crazy by screwing up even the simplest of tasks and prolonging his death scene for an absurd period of time. Then, carrying through on the age-old "Ready when you are, C.B" joke, he inadvertently ends up detonating the explosives and destroying the set before the cameras are rolling. Bakshi is immediately fired and his name is added to a studio blacklist so that he will never be hired again. Through a slight error, however, the studio boss, Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) mistakenly assigns his name to the invitation list of a party he is holding at his posh L.A. home. Thinking he has been forgiven for his costly mishaps, Bakshi is all too happy to attend the party, where the Hollywood "A" list crowd will be assembled.
Things start off promisingly as Sellers' ability for clever improvisation pays off. His initial Maxwell Smart-like bumblings are low-key enough to be believable. He mingles with the ever-growing crowd of snobbish party-goers and makes the acquaintance of a beautiful actress, Michele Monet (Claudine Longet), who is constantly being sexually harassed by her date, a hyper-mode, chauvinistic studio executive, C.S. Divot (Gavin MacLeod) who becomes increasingly desperate to bed her right there in the house where the party is taking place. For reasons never explained-and which defy credibility- she finds herself smitten by the innocent Bakshi and the two flirt, much to the consternation of Divot, who is the executive who fired Bakshi only the day before. In another strained plot device, he fails to recognize the same bumbling man he chastised and fired. The film traces Bakshi's increasingly disastrous mishaps at the party, which become more surrealistic with every passing minute. Comic actor Steve Franken appears as a tuxedo-clad waiter who walks about serving champagne on a tray but who has a nasty habit of taking liberal gulps of the bubbly himself. Edwards features the character in interminable amounts of footage, as the waiter becomes increasingly drunk. Although the scenes are skillfully played by Franken, the one-note joke becomes another repetitious absurdity. By the end of the film Edwards pulls the plug on any semblance of sanity and resorts to pure chaos. The midst of over-flowing toilets, sexual escapades, overbearing kids and their drill instructor-like nanny (a woefully underutilized Jean Carson), Edwards centers the action on a large swimming pool where, inexplicably, the household teenagers arrive with their hippie friends and a baby elephant (!) in tow, though it is never explained how suburban kids get their hands on a baby elephant. Then the pool is submerged in a never-ending sea of soap bubbles as everyone parties with the semi-submerged elephant. Keeping in mind that the film was released at the dawn of the hippie era, every major studio tried desperately to tap into the youth market, Blake Edwards included. Devoid of any meaningful concept of how to end the movie, he obviously decided that if he put in blaring music and a bunch of drunken or drug-induced party goers, the psychedelic imagery would mask the lack of genuine comedic content. The epilogue of the movie finds Bakshi mercifully back in real life, but driving a vintage 1930s three wheel classic British sports car by the Morgan Motor Company. (The car's appearance in the film became somewhat iconic.) He pays a visit to Michele's apartment and it becomes clear the two will form an unlikely romance.
Despite my reservations about "The Party", I can heartily recommend the new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The first reason is because there are many people who seem to think this film is terrific and the opinion of this reviewer is definitely in the minority. The second reason is the quality of the Blu-ray itself, which does justice to one of the film's greatest assets, its creative production design by Fernardo Carrera. The transfer looks great and the colors practically leap out of the screen. Over a decade ago, MGM, which initially released the film on DVD, commissioned extras to be shot for inclusion in a special edition of "The Party". For reasons unknown, those extras were never released in the United States but were included on a UK DVD release. Why MGM didn't feel the extras were worth including in the North American market is a mystery because they feature extensive insights from Blake Edwards and other cast and crew members. Fortunately, Kino Lorber managed to rescue some of these bonus extras for inclusion on this release. One featurette details the over-all making of the film, while another is particularly fascinating, as it points out how this movie marked the first time that a video assist technique was employed on a major studio film. The innovation involved attaching a video camera to the main 35mm camera, thus allowing Edwards to view what he had just shot instead of having to wait for the dailies. It was a refinement of a technique that Jerry Lewis had been experimenting with for years. Edwards realized this would change how films were shot and at one point ended up buying the rights to the technology before relinquishing them back to the inventor, who by this point, had found a way to build a video camera inside the 35mm camera. Edwards states that he simply didn't have time to run the company while in the middle of making films, though he acknowledges that his decision probably cost him a small fortune in future profits. The Blu-ray also includes the original trailer and career over-views of Edwards and producers Walter Mirisch and Ken Wales.
So there you have it: a rare case where I can't recommend the main feature but enthusiastically recommend the Blu-ray special edition.
Actor Leonard Nimoy has died from pulmonary disease at age 83. The iconic "Star Trek" legend had attributed his health issues to the habit of smoking, even though he gave up cigarettes many years ago, according to the New York Times. For full coverage, click here.
Altman was a very quirky director, sometimes missing the mark, but oftentimes
brilliant. His 1973 take on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye is a case in point. It might take a second viewing
to appreciate what’s really going on in the film. Updating what is essentially
a 1940s film noir character to the
swinging 70s was a risky and challenging prospect—and Altman and his star,
Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe (!), pull it off.
one of those pictures that critics hated when it was first released; and yet,
by the end of the year, it was being named on several Top Ten lists. I admit
that when I first saw it in 1973, I didn’t much care for it. I still wasn’t
totally in tune with the kinds of movies Altman made—even after M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud (an underrated gem), and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But I saw it again a few years later on a
college campus and totally dug it. Altman made oddball films, and either you
went with the flow or you would be put off by the improvisational, sometimes
sloppy mise-en-scene that the
director used. And the sound—well, Altman is infamous for his overlapping
dialogue (one critic called it “Altman Soup”). If you didn’t “get” what the
director was doing with sound, then you would certainly have a hard time with
Elliott Gould plays Philip Marlowe. A very different interpretation than
Humphrey Bogart, obviously. And yet, it works. Gould displays the right amount
of bemused cynicism, as if he had been asleep for twenty years and suddenly
woken up in the 1970s. And that’s exactly how Altman, screenwriter Leigh
Brackett (who co-wrote the 1946 The Big
Sleep), and Gould approached the material. Altman, in a documentary extra
on the making of the film, called the character “Rip Van Marlowe.” He is an anachronism
in a different time. For example, Marlowe can’t help but be bewildered by the
quartet of exhibitionist lesbians that live in his apartment complex. And he
still drives a car from his original era. And therein lies the point of the
picture—this is a comment on the 70s, not the 50s.
plot concerns the possible murder of the wife of Marlowe’s good friend—the
friend is a suspect—as well as a suitcase of missing money belonging to a
vicious gangster (extrovertly played by film director Mark Rydell), an Ernest
Hemingway-like writer who has gone missing (eccentrically played by Sterling
Hayden), and the author’s hot blonde wife who may know more than she’s telling
(honestly portrayed by newcomer Nina van Pallandt). The story twists, turns,
hits some bumps in the road, and finally circles back to the initial beginning
may not be one of Altman’s best films, but it’s one of the better ones. It’s
certainly one of the more interesting experiments he tried in his most prolific
period of the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray release, however, doesn’t really improve on the original DVD
release of some years ago. It appears to be a straight to Blu-ray transfer with
no digital restoration of any kind. Hence, the image looks not much better than
the DVD version. Since the soft photography and low lighting was intentional,
any attempt at high definition is lost. The extras—the aforementioned “making
of” documentary, a short piece on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, an animated
reproduction of a vintage American
Cinematographer article, the trailer, and a few radio spots—are the same.
if you’re an Altman fan and don’t already own the out of print DVD, you may
want to pick up the new Blu-ray. It probably won’t be long before this, too,
like Philip Marlowe himself, is a rare collector’s item.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 video releases).
BY ADRIAN SMITH
Armstrong, the writer and star of Eskimo Nell,once said, "It's hard
to wank and laugh at the same time". In the 1970s filmmakers gave it a
very good try however, and the British sex comedy was virtually the only kind
of film being funded. The problem is
that the majority of them were neither funny or sexy. They were generally
grubby and embarrassing for the actors and the audience. One of the pioneers of
the British sex film was director and producer Stanley Long, responsible for The
Wife Swappers (1969) and Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1975) and many
others. An occasional cinematographer on prestigious films like Roman
Polanski's Repulsion (1965), Long often recognised and nurtured new
talent, particularly if he could see a financial reward.
Armstrong had written The Sex Thief for Martin Campbell (1975), a film that
Stanley Long admired, so he approached the two of them with an idea for making
a film based on the pornographic poem Eskimo Nell. Realising that the concept
was so pornographic it was unfilmable, Armstrong decided to pen a tale of
young, idealistic filmmakers trying to make a film in 1970s Britain. Armstrong
wrote himself in as the director, fresh out of film school. After being
rejected by the major studios, he finds himself hired by Benny U. Murdoch (Roy
Kinnear), a sleazy producer who is obsessed with making a sex film based on the
poem Eskimo Nell. In an attempt to raise the finance, they end up agreeing to
make various different versions: a pornographic film, a kung-fu musical, a gay
cowboy epic and a wholesome family film, each with a different star. Inevitably
chaos ensues, along the way spoofing virtually the entire British film
industry, Mary Whitehouse and the Legion of Decency, and the very establishment
Eskimo Nell is a fantastic
snapshot of Britain in the 1970s, and also manages to be utterly hilarious. The
cast includes porn pin-up Mary Millington and TV stars Christopher Biggins, Doctor
Who's Katy Manning and Christopher Timothy, best known as the vet from All
Creatures Great and Small. Some of the comedy is dated, it often manages to
be tasteless, and is probably offensive in its use of camp gay stereotypes, but
the film gets away with it all thanks to the filmmakers' irreverent attitude. Eskimo
Nell is not only Britain's best sex comedy, but also one of the finest
satires of the film industry ever made. Michael Armstrong was an experienced
film director himself, having made horror films including Mark of the Devil
(1970) under very difficult circumstances. Martin Campbell went on to achieve
fame as director of two Bond Films, GoldenEye (1995) and Casino
Royale (2006), putting his sex film history far behind him.
Films have released the film in both DVD and Blu-ray versions, utilising a new
transfer of a 35mm print from the BFI archive. A booklet about the film is
included, written by genre historian Simon Sheridan, who also discusses the
film with Michael Armstrong on an entertaining commentary track. Eskimo Nell
is a terrific film and this new release is a reminder that it was indeed
possible to laugh at a sex film.
his career, director Marco Bellocchio has been no stranger to controversy.A former supporter of militant left wing
politics, many of his films have strong socialistic and violent themes woven
throughout them.Although he has
somewhat mellowed with age, his younger years were still quite radical.Few of his films demonstrate this better than
1986’s Devil in the Flesh (Il Diavolo in Corpo), a sexually charged film
set during the terrorism and turmoil of Italy’s “Years of Lead”.Loosely based on Raymond Radiguet’s novel, this
Italian-French production stars Maruschka Detmers and Federico Pitzalis as two
lovers entrapped by the passion they have for one another. As they soon
discover, though, passion alone cannot sustain a healthy relationship,
especially when one person is engaged to a jailed terrorist. Although the plot
a bit clichéd, Devil stands out for being one of the first X rated films
to not only feature a mainstream actress, but also be released in the U.S. by a
(Pitzalis) is an eighteen year old student who, like many people in their final
years of high school, is quite bored with all the monotonous lectures in the
classroom. One day class is interrupted
by a commotion from a nearby rooftop. Looking around, the class discovers that a young woman is threatening to
jump, drawing a crowd of onlookers. One
of these onlookers is Giulia (Detmers), an older woman that Andrea sees and
immediately becomes infatuated with. Pursuing her, Andrea and Giulia eventually develop a friendship which
quickly becomes sexual and transforms into a torrid affair. Yet, complicating this affair is the fact that
Giulia is engaged to a man who is in prison for charges of terrorism. Also, Giulia’s soon to be mother-in-law becomes
quite suspicious and endeavors to find out who is sleeping with her son’s
fiancé. As if all this is not enough, Andrea discovers that Giulia is a rather
unstable woman who shows hints at the capacity of violence. All in all, these
factors make all the problems Romeo and Juliet faced seem quite tame in
be given to Pitzalis, who depicts the detached, devil-may-care attitude of a
disaffected teenager with great conviction. As the film progresses, it is clear that Andrea really has no ambitions,
no dreams, and no real concerns in the world. The only thing he actually cares about is Giulia, and the lust he feels
towards her. While his performance is
admirable, it is still undoubtedly Maruschka Detmers who steals the show with
her own dazzling skill. She doesn’t
simply portray a woman who is controlled by passion, but rather a woman who is
trapped by passion. It is readily apparent that for Giulia, passion is both her
savior and tormentor. The longer her
relationship with Andrea continues, the closer she is to being pushed over the
edge into outright madness. Happiness and misery come together hand and hand. Between Giulia’s hysterical laughs, longings
for Andrea, and sudden bursts of energy followed by crashing lows, the film
begs audiences to answer a specific question. Does Giulia truly love Andrea, or does she simply need/use him? Either way, it seems unlikely that “ happily
ever after” is in the cards for these two.
Devil is sexually explicit, and as such
it may make some viewers uncomfortable to watch. In today’s day and age, relations between
high school students and older adults are gravely serious matters. While numerous similar films have been made,
there still may be some viewers who may find the vivid subject matter in poor
taste, especially in a scene roughly halfway through the film. In one of the
more infamous moments in Bellocchio’s
film career, Devil in the Flesh features a scene of un-simulated sex between
Pitzalis and Detmers. Although brief and
done (for lack of a better word) tastefully, it is still unusual to see outside
adult films (although to be fair, many contemporary TV shows such as Game of
Thrones have come pretty close to approaching, and breaking down, that same
taboo). Understandably, Italian
producers wanted the scene to be cut, yet Bellocchio refused. Eventually, Italian Courts ruled in his
favor, and he was able to complete the film with his cinematic vision fully
made a bold career choice by agreeing to the scene, because she became one of
the first mainstream actresses to participate in an act of un-simulated sex.
Initially, she did defend her choice, saying that the scene had not been done
or portrayed in a vulgar manner. While she may be right, it became something
that would stand out in her resume and overshadow many of her other
day, critics are still divided about this infamous scene, although the majority
of opinions seem to be unfavorable. While some will argue that it captures the raw passion that exists
between Andrea and Giulia, many others argue that it trivializes the passion by
trading in for shock value. Even with the relaxation in standards today for
media (again, here’s looking at you Game of Thrones; Blue is the Warmest
Color) there is a fine that can’t be crossed without penalty. When Devil premiered in the United
States, it received an X rating and was confined to art house theaters. Still,
the fact that any major distributor (Orion Pictures) even chose to showcase the
film was pretty remarkable: it shows how times were changing, albeit slowly.
the Flesh was made
in the 1980s, during a period where the Italian film industry was in crisis.
While in previous decades the industry had been one of the most world renown,
the 80s saw a widening gap between mainstream and art house cinema. To this day many people, including Quentin
Tarantino, lament over the current state of Italian cinema. They feel that the industry has lost that
magic touch that helped produce some of the most iconic movies in years past. Agree or disagree, this particular movie is
clearly different from something that would have normally been shown in
NoShame Films and MYA Communications released fully restored versions of Devil
in the Flesh. Although both labels
are defunct, the DVDs are still readily available on sites such as Amazon for
decent prices. The NoShame edition does
have more special features, but both editions are uncut and feature gorgeously
re-mastered colors and crisp audio. Overall, lovers of Bellocchio and art house films might just want to
check this one out; highly recommended.
Well, it's that time of year again when pundits everywhere weigh in on the merits (or lack thereof) of the previous evening's Oscar telecast.
Here are my random observations:
Host Neil Patrick Harris was affable and likable and worked like hell to put on a good show. But there lies the rub. Traditionally, Oscar hosts never had to be chosen for their ability to carry Busby Berkeley-like song and dance extravaganzas. Dear old Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were simply there to keep the traffic flowing to the podium in between rattling off some memorable one-liners. Billy Crystal quashed that tradition with his ever-outrageous opening production numbers that razzed the Academy and some of the nominees. The idea should have been retired with him when he announced he would no longer host the event. Last evening's opening act was certainly opulent and contained some funny zingers if you could discern them through the lightning-fast production. Throughout the rest of the show, Harris had some hits but plenty of misses. There were some witty lines (i.e "Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest") but plenty of bizarre antics that either flopped or just went nowhere. Early on, he introduced a running gag in which he said he made predictions about the show that were kept in a locked box on the stage. No one knew the point of the joke, which he referred to numerous times. When the payoff finally came, it turns out there were printed pages that accurately predicted what certain winners and presenters would say and how they would act. It was impressive but only in the way that a guy at a cocktail party can impress others with the old "Pick a card...any card!" magic routine. It was completely pointless for an Oscar telecast that weighed in at 3 1/2 hours. Additionally, some of Harris's other jokes were so lame that, in one instance, he had to explain the meaning of a joke about Oprah Winfrey's wealth to Oprah herself. When you have to discuss why people should find a joke funny in retrospect, you're in trouble. I was reminded of a critic who once said that watching producer Samuel Bronston's "Circus World" was like sitting with an elephant on your lap. Perhaps last night's event wasn't the equivalent of an elephant but it came pretty close to holding a walrus on your lap. Harris gamely tried to keep the pace going fast but it was beyond his control. Overlong acceptance speeches are the bane of any Oscar host and they were out in full force last night. Overall, Harris tried hard and succeeded often enough not to have embarrassed himself. However, since the guy already hosts the Tony Awards, the Emmys, the TV Land Awards and probably the "Man of the Year" at your local Loyal Order of Moose Lodge, the Academy should pull out all the stops to bring back some proven hosts such as Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg or Ellen Degeneres, all of whom have a natural ability to improvise brilliantly.
Most of the talent on stage looked elegant. For the most part the males continued the welcome trend of shunning trendy tuxedos in favor of the standard black tie look. The ladies also avoided any over-the-top fashion disasters and most looked very stylish, with J-Lo knocking viewer's eyes out with a plunging neckline number that managed to be sexy without crossing over into tacky.
Harris's ill-constructed comedy sketch in which he strutted from backstage out to the main event clad only in white briefs was probably lost on 95% of the viewers who didn't realize that it was a spoof of a sequence in "Birdman". As such, countless millions of people around the globe were probably scratching their heads as they pondered the relevance of the largely superfluous routine. I have a sneaky feeling that the primary motive for Harris to strut out of the stage and show his fab abs. That doesn't make it appropriate for an event that once at least aspired to providing a classy atmosphere. This bit would have been better left to the Letterman show.
Harris struts his stuff in "Birdman" sketch that was more suited for "Letterman" than the Oscars.
Left-wing political speeches were back with a vengeance but they had a mixed impact. Long-time activist Patricia Arquette, a deserving Supporting Actress winner for her remarkable performance in "Boyhood", gave an impassioned speech about equal pay for women. It was somewhat appropriate, given the fact that her character in the film is a single mother who struggles her entire life with low pay in often menial jobs. However, anyone delivering a passionate speech about any topic should take note: it would have a bit more meaning and sincerity if it wasn't read word-for-word off a sheet of paper. These people are professional actors, for Pete's sake--- why can't they just speak extemporaneously about subjects that are supposed to be so important to them? The writers of the Oscar-winning song "Glory" from "Selma" were more effective, delivering a relevant criticism of exceptionally high incarceration rates for black males in America, along with successful attempts in recent years to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Alejandro G. Innaritu, the Mexican director who won the Oscar for "Birdman", worked in some respectful pleas regarding the plight of illegal immigrants when he initially won an award for co-writing the screenplay for the film. When Sean Penn strolled to the podium to announce the Best Director award for Innaritu, he pondered about "Who gave this sonofabitch a Green Card?" So Innaritu will always have that as part of his legacy. Penn may be one of our greatest actors, but the combination of his perpetual frown and his penchant for tasteless remarks should make him off-limits for future Oscar chores. The most effective "lecture" was the one delivered by Graham Moore, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game". The young, gay writer made a plea for tolerance in society and disclosed that age 16, he had tried to commit suicide. He inspired young viewers to be proud of who they are and to continue being "weird". It was a poignant and touching moment.
Least classy Oscar nominee: Michael Keaton, who chewed gum throughout the entire evening. The ghosts of Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier must have been doing cartwheels in their graves.
I was happy to see J.K. Simmons win Best Supporting Actor for his amazing - and terrifying performance- as a potentially psychotic music teacher in "Whiplash". Simmons encouraged everyone to call (not text, or E mail!) their parents, if they are fortunate enough to still have them, and express their love for them. Good advice...but it was kind of a weird Dr. Phil moment. More bizarrely, Simmons never uttered a word of thanks to his director or co-star.
I hope I never see another Oscar show in which the host enters the audience to toss jibes at attendees. Harris tried this and the results were deadly. As the clock kept ticking, he engaged in meaningless patter that he seemed to be improvising on the spot. This included humiliating various celebrities for no apparent reason and even making small talk with a "seat filler" (a person who takes a celeb's seat if they have to run to the bathroom.) It got so bad that I thought I had gone into a time warp and was watching an old episode of Monty Hall in "Let's Make a Deal".
There was so much time wasted on superfluous bits that went nowhere that I really resented the fact that honorary Oscar winners Maureen O'Hara and Harry Belafonte were relegated to a few seconds of film clips from an event held separately from the main show. Exactly how does a show that extols Hollywood tradition and glamour not find a few fleeting minutes for these legends to appear on the telecast? It was galling, especially when you saw another legend, Sidney Poitier, standing next to Belafonte. Can you imagine the emotional payoff if this had been played out on stage? But it didn't because we needed that valuable time to be used for Harris to stroll through the audience trying to find how to kill time.
One nice surprise was the tribute to the 50th anniversary of "The Sound of Music" in which a selection of classic songs from the film were performed by a surprisingly understated Lady Gaga- topped off by an on-stage appearance by the ageless Julie Andrews. With so few Hollywood legends still with us, this was especially nice to see.
The award for "Longest Winded Speech of the Night" went to Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of "Ida", the Polish movie that won for Best Foreign Film. We understand his pride in taking home his country's first Oscar but he simply wouldn't shut up-- even when the orchestra started playing over his words. It's as though he thought he was filming the pilot for the "Pawel Pawlikowski Show". Maybe next year, Oscar should consider reviving one of those big canes they used to use in Vaudeville to forcibly remove performers from the stage.
As usual, most of the nominees for Best Song were boring at best and at least one- from "The Lego Movie"- was awful. It may have been fun in the context of the film itself, but even an elaborately staged production number couldn't mask the fact that not one sane person would ever willingly play this at home or in their car. Similarly, seeing the audience explode in thunderous applause at John Legend's rendition of "Glory" from "Selma", one couldn't help but wonder just how often most of these folks ever listen to gospel music in their spare time.
There were numerous jibes about the recent controversy regarding the fact that all of the major nominees were white. This lead to conspiracy theories all around that there were devious forces afoot that belied a racist tone to the Academy. Really? For the record, after every year's nominees are announced, there is an inevitable backlash that so-and-so got cheated out of a nomination. This is nothing new. As for racism in the Academy, it's pretty fair to guess that the vast majority of the Academy members would be considered very liberal. For years, conservatives have lambasted this aspect of the awards, accusing the Academy of caving in to political correctness. Additionally, one only has to consider the fact that last year's Best Picture winner was "12 Years a Slave" and two of it's key artists- screenwriter John Ridley and actress Lupita Nyong'o, both of whom are black- received Oscars.The film was nominated for nine Oscars including a nomination for the film's director Steve McQueen, who is also black. It simply defies belief that the same members of the Academy became racist in the course of twelve months. Even if you do believe that, didn't anyone notice that a Mexican director won the top award?
Then there is the annual controversy about the memorial segment of artists who passed away in the last year. As usual, everyone can cite somebody who should have been included. Although Elaine Stritch was noted more for stage appearances and Joan Rivers was primarily a comedy star, both should have been included because they did have feature films on their resumes. (Rivers was actually one of the first female directors and she used to host the Oscar red carpet event for many years.) No mention was made of either of them, but there were plenty of people cited who worked behind the scenes as executives or agents that most people never heard of. My own personal gripe is that our old friend and Cinema Retro contributor, actor Richard Kiel, was also not commemorated despite the fact that he was a hugely popular figure in films, especially for his role as the immortal James Bond villain Jaws. Another affront we took personally was the omission of Brian G. Hutton, who directed "Where Eagles Dare", "Kelly's Heroes" and Frank Sinatra's last starring role in a feature film, "The First Deadly Sin". Apparently his contributions to the film industry were not deemed worthy of recognition. Can't they extend this sequence just another 60 seconds? Given all the padding in the show, time constraints should not be cited as a reason to diss major names such as these.
Lastly, the Academy deserves credit for nominating films that, by and large, were worthy of all the nominations they received. The year 2014 was a terrible one for Hollywood in terms of declining boxoffice. The industry depends more and more on fewer and fewer potential blockbuster movies. It's a recipe for disaster. Meanwhile, the Academy has correctly brought to the world's attention the existence of smaller, personal films that negate the common criticism that most good movies were made decades ago. In fact, some of those nominated will be regarded as classics and the attention the Oscars afford these smaller films will help them find the audiences they so richly deserve.
A long time ago in our own galaxy, major American television networks once aspired to raise the quality of the medium through the presentation of prestigious TV movies and mini-series. The trend began in earnest in the 1970s and continued through the next decade before a new generation of executives decided to dumb down the quality in favor of sensationalism. Ironically we are living in what many consider to be a new "Golden Age" of television- but the caveat is that most of the good stuff requires viewers to pay to view it through HBO, Showtime, Amazon Prime and Netflix. American network "free" TV is pretty much worth what we're paying for it with an endless array of smutty sitcoms, various "reality" shows that star real-life miscreants and a largely indistinguishable batch of urban cop shows that have so exhausted the premise that I expect CBS to announce "NCIS: Mayberry" as a new series. Add to this the interminable number of commercials and you have a medium that is self-destructing before our eyes. Even if you can become engrossed in a mystery show, the mood is rather negated by seeing countless ads for male sexual stimulants coupled with warnings that a dangerous side effect might be a four hour erection. (I have yet to meet a middle aged male who wouldn't welcome this particular "ailment".) Yet we still have visual records of the glory days of American television and that includes the availability on DVD of many high quality TV productions that were known as the "Movie of the Week". All three major networks sank a lot of money into these ventures and attracted top names to star in them. The format also afforded many aspiring young talents behind the cameras to emerge in prominence, the most notably Steven Spielberg', whose 1971 TV thriller "Duel" remains a timeless classic.
The Warner Archive has released the 1973 TV movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" as a burn-to-order title. The film was originally telecast in 1973, an era when some fine work was being done in the realm of the horror genre. (Both "Don't Look Now" and "The Exorcist" were released theatrically that year.) Kim Darby gives a fine performance as Sally Farnham, a young wife who has inherited a large, old world house that had once belonged to her grandparents. She moves in with her husband Alex (Jim Hutton), an up-and-coming executive whose workaholic ways causes some occasional tension in the marriage (this being an era in which the standard role for women was to keep the house tidy until her hubby came home.) The couple begins a vigorous and ambitious redecorating project and hire an interior designer (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) to redo most of the rooms. Things go well enough initially but when Sally pokes around a long-neglected study she ponders why the fireplace has been bricked up to make it as secure as a bank vault. Mr. Harris (William Demarest), a long-time handyman who worked for Sally's grandparents, informs her that he bricked up the fireplace at the insistence of her grandfather. Without telling her precisely why, he advises her to leave well enough alone and not pursue plans to make the fireplace operational. In true horror movie tradition, she instantly ignores his advice and breaks through part of the brickwork, opening a vent to a seemingly bottomless drop below. Before you can say "Vincent Price!", strange things start happening. Sally feels as though she is being watched and she hears eerie voices whispering throughout the house. In another tried-and-true horror movie tradition, her husband instantly dismisses her concerns- even when she realizes her imagination isn't playing tricks on her.
From almost the very beginning of the film, director John Newland lets the viewer in on the fact that the house is indeed haunted, though her forestalls showing us the intruders. Instead, we hear them whisper and giggle among themselves as they celebrate being free to roam the house. They know Sally by name and make it clear that they intend to steal her soul and make her one of them. The action picks up when Sally and Alex host a prestigious dinner party for his business contacts. The party goes disastrously off course when Sally catches her first glimpse of who is menacing her. It is a gnome-like little creature that stands about one foot tall and he is perched directly beneath her at the dinner table. She screams in panic and of course the creature slips away before anyone else can see him, leading Alex to chastise her later for ruining a perfectly good dinner party. She is later menaced by the creatures while she is in the shower (another horror movie tradition). This is followed by what appears to be the accidental death of visitor to the house, but Sally knows it was murder caused by the gnome creatures. With Alex leaving on a business trip, Sally does defy one horror film tradition by vowing to get the hell out of the house instead of staying around to see what happens next. Before she can leave, however, the little devils manage to incapacitate her with a sleeping pill. Only the presence of her friend Joan (Barbara Anderson) prevents them from taking her into their lair beneath the house. Joan begins to believe that everything Sally has feared is actually true and in a tense climax, the house is plunged into darkness and Joan races against time to save her friend from an unthinkable fate.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" has built a loyal following over the decades after it's sensational initial telecast in 1973. The film is extremely well-made and intelligently scripted by Nigel McKeand. Darby and Hutton offer some real star power and William Demarest, who was primarily known for playing cranky old guys in comedies, is well-cast in a highly dramatic role that he carries off very effectively. Director Newland, an old hand at supernatural tales (he hosted the TV series "One Step Beyond") might have milked more suspense from the script by never actually showing the creatures that menace Sally. However, given the fact that he chose to do so, it must be said they are genuinely creepy. The special effects are all the more impressive given the fact that the film was made in the pre-CGI era. The cackling little demons sound like Munchkins but there's nothing cute about them. Thanks to some very good makeup effects, they provide some memorably chilling images.
The Warner Archive edition contains a bonus audio commentary track with horror movie screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick ("Final Destination", "Day of the Dead") and film historians Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton and Sean Abley. The three are definitely in full "Mystery Science Theatre" mode, joking and mocking various aspects of the production. They pounce on the casting, saying that Darby looks like Jim Hutton's daughter instead of his wife and take some very funny potshots at the awful '70s styles Darby is seen sauntering around in. (They refer to her wardrobe as a form of birth control.) Just when their sarcasm about the film seems to be going into the realm of disrespect, they make it clear that they very much admire the film as a whole and appropriately commend key aspects of the production. Their commentary is consistently insightful when discussing its place within the horror genre but at least two of them seem a bit ignorant of movie history in general, as evidenced by the fact they have no idea that Jim Hutton was a major star in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the commentators does at least know that "he's Timothy Hutton's father". In all, the commentary track is a very nice bonus feature one would not readily expect to find on a title such as this.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a bit dated in concept and execution but it stands light years ahead of most of the gore-drenched "dead teenager" movies that define the horror genre today, as evidenced by the lackluster response accorded to the 2010 big screen remake.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and in anticipation of the forthcoming big screen version of the classic television series, Cinema Retro will be offering periodic reviews of individual episodes of the show, which aired between September 1964 and January 1968. The episodes will be chosen at random and not presented in any specific order, thus offering analysis of telecasts from the four seasons. Reviews will be written by U.N.C.L.E. scholars and long-time devotees of the series.
BY C.W. WALKER
Date: February 1, 1965; repeated June 21, 1965
December 16-18; 21-23, 1964
fans new to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
ask me which episodes they should start with, The Mad Mad Tea Party Affair is always at the top of my list. It was filmed
just before Christmas and aired in February, midway through the first season
when the series was really hitting its stride.Although it lacks the film noir
feel of some other first season episodes like “The Dove Affair” and “The Never
Never Affair” or the colorful ‘60s vibe of later seasons, it contains all the
elements that defined the series and made it so enormously popular. In many
ways, this is a quintessential episode.
plot effectively employs a three-cornered structure so integral to the series
which always includes an initially confused but ultimately helpful Innocent; a smart,
powerful and deadly Villain, and of course, the agents supported by the
U.N.C.L.E. organization. In this case, the Innocent is a hapless store clerk
named Kay Lorrison played by Zohra Lampert, who many will remember from the
Goya Bean commercials of the 1980s. Lorrison is with her fiancée, Walter, buying
lunch from a pushcart on a New York side street, when a mysterious man
accidentally-on-purpose smears mustard on her dress, necessitating a trip into
Del Floria’s dry cleaning shop to take care of the damage.
of the attractions of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
series was its central “wainscot fantasy” --- that is, the idea that an
incredible but largely invisible and exotic world of spies fighting evil existed
side by side with our everyday, mundane existence. As with Harry Potter’s
Hogwarts, young folks in the audience wanted to believe that U.N.C.L.E. was real
(the official sounding disclaimer at the end of each episode told us so!) and adults
could have fun playing along. Everyone coveted an U.N.C.L.E. identification
card (preferably gold) or fervently hoped that one day, Napoleon Solo and Illya
Kuryakin would come knocking on our door, dragging us along with them to save
the world. Even the United Nations got into the act when visitors asked guides
to allow them a peek at U.N.C.L.E.
bad guys (often, but not always) were in league with Thrush, and could be found
lurking just behind the facades of the most innocuous places like book stores
and car washes, beauty salons and vacuum cleaner repair shops. To enter
U.N.C.L.E.’s sleek futuristic headquarters (what Kay later describes as this
“chrome and gunmetal madhouse”), all you had to do was pull the coat hook in
the middle booth of Del Floria’s. Poor Kay: she doesn’t even pull that iconic
hook. While she’s still patiently waiting, dressed in just her underwear, the
back wall suddenly swings open, revealing U.N.C.L.E.’s pulsing high tech reception area and, like
Alice, Kay is suddenly propelled through a modern looking glass.
episode acknowledges its debt to Lewis Carroll with act titles like “The Rabbit
Hole Revisited” and “The Mad Hatter’s Inquisition.” Dick Nelson only wrote two
other episodes besides this one, but with his contributions of the retired
agent, Albert Sully in “The Odd Man Affair,” and the infamous Thrush operative,
Angelique, in “The Deadly Games Affair,” his contribution to the series’ canon
unplanned sojourn at HQ means she may miss her own wedding, but there’s a much
larger crisis shaping up in the form of increasingly serious threats being made
against U.N.C.L.E. which is hosting a top secret international summit within
the HQ building later that day. The aforementioned mysterious man (a bemused
Richard Haydn), who begins the story by attacking HQ with a model airplane,
turns out to be a red herring: he’s actually U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly’s
brother-in-law, a logic professor named Hemingway. The real villain is Riley (a
misleadingly pleasant Peter Haskell) a mole in U.N.C.L.E.’s demolition lab, who
is working under the direction of the notorious Thrush scientist, Dr. Egret.
is notable, not only because she is a formidable professional woman, but also
because she could effectively transform her physical appearance. Thus
disguised, she was supposed to be a recurrent antagonist but played by
different actresses. As it turned out, she will show up only once more, in “The
Girls from Nazarone Affair,” definitely a lost opportunity.
with the Innocent, the Villain and the agents all scrambling around the sleek,
shiny corridors of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, , “The Mad Mad Tea Party” also features some interesting gadgetry, including
an innocent looking pen that, when pressed against a skull, can instantly homogenize
a brain. This wicked weapon is deliberately contrasted with Hemingway’s more mundane attempts to keep the
agents on their toes. For the most part, veteran television director Seymour
Robbie plays it straight and simple, although he does include a particularly
notable low angle shot of shell casings sliding across the corridor floor after
all ends well of course, but not before some very close calls, enough for Kay
to realize that although the life of an enforcement agent can be terribly
exciting, she’s better off pursuing a nice quiet life with good old boring
Walter. I’m not quite sure we in the audience felt the same way. Illya looks
awfully dashing in that black turtleneck at the end, and his playful wink is
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one of Woody Allen’s best films, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, released in 1985, is a treat. It’s got laughs and
pathos and is an excellent treatise on the conflict between fantasy and
reality. Purple Rose represents a
period when Allen was at the peak of his powers, when he was considered one of
America’s greatest auteurs, and
before there was the stigma of scandal hovering over his work. In 1985, Allen
could do no wrong, and The Purple Rose of
Cairo does everything right.
doesn’t appear in the film. The picture belongs to Mia Farrow, and she delivers
one of her best and most poignant performances as Cecilia, a meek and unhappy
housewife/waitress in New Jersey during the Depression area. She is married to
Monk (Danny Aiello), who is abusive and pays little attention to her needs.
Thus, Cecilia escapes to the movies and sometimes sits through the same picture
repeatedly. One such picture is the film-within-the-film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fictional RKO movie about Manhattan
socialites who have just returned from Africa. They’ve brought along an
archaeologist, Tom Baxter (winningly played by Jeff Daniels), who notices
Cecilia in the audience, falls in love with her, and then breaks the fourth
wall by stepping out of the screen and into the real world. Cecilia and Tom
have a whirlwind romance, even going back into the movie together for a “madcap
hilarity comes, of course, with Baxter’s reactions to the universe of color and
places beyond the scenes in the movie he was in. But his vacating the picture
has caused problems—the other characters in the movie don’t know what to do
with themselves and their story halts. The picture’s producer and Gil Shepherd—the
“real” actor who played Baxter onscreen—comes to remedy the situation. Cue the
love triangle complications.
draws from a number of influences, most particularly Buster Keaton’s 1924 film,
Sherlock Jr., in which Keaton is a
theater projectionist who slips into the movie that’s playing. Allen takes the
premise further, in several different directions, and the result is a bittersweet
comedy that even Allen himself (who is normally self-deprecating about his
work) thinks turned out well. The picture also features an early appearance by Glenne
Headly and Allen regular Dianne Wiest.
Time has released a limited edition Blu-ray—only 3,000 units—which
automatically gives the title collectors’ item status. In terms of picture quality, it appears that the movie
was simply transferred to Blu-ray without any restoration. There is a lot of grain
in outdoor scenes, and artifacts and blemishes can be seen throughout. That
said, Purple Rose is still a
good-looking picture on Blu-ray (the cinematography was by the late, great
Gordon Willis, whose contrasts in lighting work well with the theme of the
story). The only extras are the theatrical trailer and trailers for other titles
released by the company.
forking out $29.95 for The Purple Rose of
Cairo might be of interest only to die-hard Woody Allen fans. I’m not sure
the Blu-ray improves significantly over the original DVD release from a decade
ago. But if you don’t already own it, and you’re either an Allen fan or a
cinephile who appreciates some of the best the 80s had to offer, then The Purple Rose of Cairo is for you.
Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition (1,500 units) dual format edition of the 1978 adult movie hit "Pretty Peaches" by director Alex deRenzy, who was perhaps the most prolific director the medium had ever seen. deRenzy didn't crank out cheapo grind house movies. Instead, he tried to incorporate relatively high production values, often shooting in outdoor locations. He also had an eye for attracting some of the most exotic actresses of the era. "Pretty Peaches" is one of deRenzy's most notable achievements. The movie introduced Desiree Costeau, who would go on to be a legendary name in erotic cinema. deRenzy made hardcore movies with some substance and style and this title is no exception. The plot finds the title character, Peaches (Costeau), an amiable but air-headed young beauty, racing along in her jeep in a hurry to get to Virginia City, Nevada, in the hopes of attending her father's civil wedding ceremony to his second wife, a young black woman with an insatiable sexual appetite. Peaches arrives just in the nick of time for the ceremony but after making some small talk with her father, she speeds off again in her jeep en route to San Francisco. Along the way, her jeep goes off the road and she is knocked unconscious. Two young men race to her assistance but, upon examining the scantily-clad Peaches, become sexually aroused. One of them goes so far as to violate her while she is still unconscious. When she finally awakes, she has complete amnesia. The men use this to their advantage by convincing her that they own the jeep and offer her a ride to San Francisco, where they coincidentally share an apartment. Peaches goes along but is troubled by the fact that she can't recall her name or anything about her background. While in the big city she tries to find professional help but ends up receiving treatment from a mad, sex-crazed doctor whose "therapy" consists of inducing enemas! She doesn't fare much better when she applies for a job as an exotic dancer and ends up being violated by a gang of lesbians. Peaches is also uncomfortable living with her two male companions, who have a steady stream of loose women over to the apartment who they bed down without any regard for privacy concerns. Ultimately, she meets a handsome, kindly psychiatrist who offers to help her if she drops by his house that evening. Naturally, this offer isn't what it seems, either, and Peaches ends up in a major orgy where her memory is jolted back in an unpleasant way when she sees her own father (!) participating in the goings-on.
"Pretty Peaches" is very much from the school of 1970s erotica that blended slapstick comedy with hardcore sex. As the title character, Desiree Costeau is quite a find- at least in terms of her physical qualifications. She also gives an amusing performance, though it's doubtful Katharine Hepburn lost much sleep about her entry into the acting profession. The film is populated with other mainstays of the adult film industry of that time period including John Leslie, Joey Silvera and Paul Thomas. Juliet Anderson (aka "Aunt Peg") also makes her screen debut in this flick playing an assertive maid who ends up in a threesome with Peaches' dad and his new bride. Director deRenzy has good instincts when it comes to turning down the comedy elements when the action gets hot and he does provide some genuinely erotic sequences- but in the aggregate, the film will probably appeal most to those who like to mix laughs with their salacious cinematic thrills.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is just about perfect, having been remastered from a 35mm source print. Chances are the film looks better today than it did on the big screen. The release contains some special features including three trailers for other deRenzy films and an interview with film historian Ted Mcilvenna, who knew deRenzy since the 1960s. Mcilvenna was a social activist in San Francisco who was fighting for sexual freedom and crusaded against the archaic laws in Britain that criminalized homosexuality until 1967. he relates how deRenzy was so prolific in his work that he once discovered 19 completed feature films in his archive that the director had not gotten around to editing. There is also a rare interview with deRenzy himself, shot on VHS tape shortly before his death in 2001. Vinegar Syndrome believes this is the only known filmed interview with deRenzy.
Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" has been released by Sony as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD package that also includes a digital edition of the film. The film lives up to the almost unanimous acclaim it has received since it opened last year. It is also a front-runner for this year's Best Picture Oscar. What Linklater did was nothing short of historic: filming the same story in real time with the same actors over a twelve year period. The audaciousness of the project makes the mind reel, in terms of the physical logistics alone. Linklater had to shoot around his actor's other filming schedules, ensure that the production funds wouldn't dry up and work with an ever-revolving crew in varying locations throughout Texas. To be fair, director Michael Apted's historic "Up!" series has been filming updates every seven years for his series that has traced the lives of schoolchildren he first met in 1964. However, Apted's amazing achievements are in relation to a documentary, while Linklater has crafted a fictional, big studio release.
The film traces the life of a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who we first meet as a toddler. The script, which is based on challenges Linklater experienced in his own childhood, allows us to witness Mason growing up on camera through his 18th birthday. There are plenty of speed bumps encountered along the way. When we first meet him and his sister Samantha (played by Linklater's own daughter Lorelei), the kids are already the product of a single mother household, his parents having split up shortly after he was born. Their mom (Patricia Arquette) and father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) have a fractured relationship. Seems dad has been less-than-attentive to his family's needs and disappeared for a year to Alaska for vague reasons. He's now back in their lives and hoping to establish a civil relationship with his ex. She's having none of it. With their father back in their lives, he tries hard to make up for his past negligence, taking them for weekend excursions and giving them the few luxuries he can afford: arcade games, bowling and fast food. However, the kids witness the emotionally shattering experience of seeing their mother and father fight whenever they are in each other's presence. (Note to divorced parents: even if you hate your ex, don't let your kids know it. They already have enough psychological trauma to deal with.) Meanwhile, mom is trying hard to improve her kid's lives but the results are not encouraging. She has to rely on her mom to watch the children while she tries to juggle going to work and attending night classes in order to get a college degree. (The film succeeds in providing a moving look at the plight of single parents.) An attractive woman, she has virtually no time for herself and nothing akin to a social life. Thus, she is vulnerable to any man who seems sincere. She goes through more failed relationships and marriages, all of which leave her growing children in a constant state of uncertainty. The family moves frequently, disrupting whatever stability the school system had provided to the kids. They constantly have to make new friends but when they do, relationships always prove to be temporary. With the passage of the years, dad remarries and fathers a baby with his new wife. The relationship between him and their mother becomes more accepting and cordial as the kids go through the normal cornerstone moments of their lives: grade school, high school and on to college. The fact that we are watching the actors age in real time adds profoundly to the emotional impact of the story.
"Boyhood" is so brilliantly realized as a cinematic concept that you forget you are watching a work of fiction. Most of the credit must go to Linklater, whose direction is superb and whose script is written the way people act and talk in real life. The characters are sincere, flawed people who find it hard to cope with the pressures of everyday life. The kid's father is an overage juvenile; their mom is a long-suffering woman who has gotten old before her time. Every time she thinks she has found a tiny sliver of happiness, it turns out to be an illusion. She gets her degree and begins teaching at a community college where she meets an established professor, Bill (Marco Perella), who is an affable, divorced dad with two kids the age of her own son and daughter. Things start off swimmingly but over time deteriorate as he falls victim to alcoholism and becomes physically abusive. The sequence in which their mother tries to extract from the house against the wishes of her threatening husband is a disturbing reminder of what so many women must deal with in real life. The film ends with Mason heading out on his own for college dorm life. By this point, we think we know him personally, having watched him mature through the years. As played by Ellar Coltrane, Mason is an admirable and polite, if not occasionally sullen, young man who is already somewhat cynical about life and who seeks to walk to his own drumbeat. The film ends on an optimistic note, which is appropriate after suffering along with him through so many years. Coltrane gives an assured, self-confident performance and he is more than matched by Lorelei Linkater as his sister. In fact, the performances of every actor in the film, right down to the minor supporting roles, are nothing less than superb. Linklater provides them with some sterling dialogue but the film does feature a couple of sequences that feel forced and out of place. They depict the kids assisting their dad in campaigning for Obama in the 2008 election. Nothing wrong with that, but he shoehorns a superfluous character into a brief scene to depict him as a right wing fanatic who implies he would shoot the kids if they ever stopped on his property again to campaign for "Barack Hussein Obama". The country certainly has no shortage of such lunatics but the scene is the only one that feels artificial because it implies an ugly generalization about anyone who didn't support Obama. (Linklater doesn't see the irony in the fact that, in another sequence, it is the dad who encourages his kids to illegally remove a campaign sign from the law of a John McCain supporter.) It's a minor quibble but the scenes risk alienating part of the audience for a film that, otherwise, is apolitical and speaks truth to people of all beliefs and backgrounds.
The video release is curiously short on bonus extras. There is only a featurette about the making of the film in which we are treated to behind the scenes footage of the cast throughout the years. There are also extensive interviews with Richard Linklater and the major cast members that have far more poignancy than those found in the usual "making of" production shorts. The featurette has a particularly moving moment when Linklater finally shoots the last scene for the film: a sequence in which Mason is driving to college on a remote desert highway, surrounded by stunning vistas. It's moving to watch Ellar Coltrane put the finishing touches on a project that had been part of virtually his entire life. The inclusion of this segment only makes us wish all the more than Linklater and his cast had provided a commentary track. Undoubtedly, this will be made available on a future "Super Duper Deluxe" release of the film. For now, however, this edition of "Boyhood" merits "must-see" status.
Jourdan as the Bond villain Kamal Kahn in "Octopussy".
Louis Jourdan, the talented and iconic star of French cinema, has passed away at age 93. Among his major English-language films that made him an international star were Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case", the classic musical "Gigi", "Three Coins in the Fountain", "The Swan", "The V.I.P.S" and "Year of the Comet". In 1983, Jourdan also entered pop culture history by playing the lead villain opposite Roger Moore in the James Bond film "Octopussy". For more click here. For more about Jourdan and "Octopussy", visit the MI6 Community web site here.
Kino Lorber was right to bring out Foxes (1980) in Blu-ray under their KL Studio Classics series. The elegant re-issue seems aimed at convincing film snobs that this little gem from the last days of disco finally deserves their attention after a distance of 35 years, during which time it was either dismissed as another insignificant teen comedy of the ‘80s, or as a guilty pleasure. But longtime champions of the film, myself included, need no convincing. We owned the clamshell VHS, we owned the first-generation DVD, and now, if anything, I’d venture to say we feel vindicated that it now carries the stamp as a bonafide classic by a home video label as respected as Kino Lorber. Indeed, a major fist-pump moment comes during director Adrian Lyne’s remark in the audio commentary that Roger Ebert selected it as his favorite film of 1980 and took it with him to the Dallas Film Festival that year.
French lobby card.
Speaking of the commentary, British director Lyne’s (“Fatal Attraction,” “Flashdance,” “9 ½ Weeks”) fascinating and intimate recollections are worth the price of the disc alone. He made his directorial debut with the movie and is at times almost apologetic over what he sees as the wobbly choices of a first-time director. Viewers will note scenes that contain what came to be known as his signature style in movies like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Fatal Attraction”: single-source lighting, using smoke on set to create light rays, and other stylistic techniques from his background as a commercial director. He is refreshingly candid and modest throughout, revealing misgivings over a scene he feels should have been cut or one that goes on too long, as well as revealing funny anecdotes about the actors. Randy Quaid, for example, donned a carnival mask in an umpteenth take of a scene that Lyne felt he just wasn’t getting right; Kandace Stroh had to be screamed at in her face so she could cry, and other funny reminiscences.
Sally Kellerman’s on-camera interview is another bonus, but she seems hard-pressed to remember much about filming “Foxes,” since at the time of production she was also shooting another feature in Israel. As a result she had to repeatedly jump on transatlantic flights between LA and Tel Aviv to shoot both pictures simultaneously. Kellerman is nonetheless a hoot just to listen to, as her trademark breathy, blousy way of talking just seduces you all over again, a la “Hot Lips O’Houlihan.” At one point she interrupts a story to ask her interviewer, “What is Blu-ray anyway?”
“Foxes” is a portrait of a group of teen girlfriends in LA’s San Fernando Valley at the cusp of the ‘80s, mothered by bossy and precocious Jeanie, played by Jodie Foster. They are real Valley Girls at varying degrees of promiscuity and jadedness. The baby-face of the group, bespectacled Madge (Marilyn Kagan) wears her virginity as a badge of shame, while druggie Annie (Cherie Currie of The Runaways) is trying to hide out from her abusive cop father, who wants to commit her to a mental hospital. They’re all trying to act older than they are, hosting awkward dress-up dinners in homes not their own, sleeping around and cutting class. Scott Baio plays a skateboarding drifter who’s dropped out of school and now fills fire extinguishers to make money. He seems to be everyone’s kid brother, when he’s not trying to sleep with one or another of the girls. Jeanie (Foster) seems to be hopelessly devoted to saving doomed Annie, to the point of suggesting lesbian longing, especially given Jeanie’s indifference to her part-time boyfriend Scott (Robert Romanus) but it never goes that far. That’s pretty much the whole plot: a loosely woven series of moments in their lives, punctuated by concerts, fights with parents, and cruising Hollywood Boulevard -- until an inevitable tragedy strikes one of them and closes the story, offering an open-ended but decidedly down take on teen life.
In one of the film’s key scenes, Jeanie and her mother, Mary (Sally Kellerman) have it out at home after Mary has picked up her daughter from another police station. Mary, herself a divorced mother who sleeps around, tells her daughter: “I don’t like your friends….You’re all a bunch of short forty year-olds and you’re tough.” But Mary’s honesty gets the better of her when minutes later she breaks down and admits that when she sees them lying around “half out of your clothes….you’re beautiful. I admit it, you’re all beautiful -- and you make me hate my hips. I hate my hips.” Lyne calls out the scene as his favorite and pays tribute to screenwriter Gerald Ayres for its emotional truth.
Visually, “Foxes” is beautiful to watch in this Blu-ray edition, whereas previous home video issues made the cinematography look murky. “Midnight Express” and “Fame” cinematographer Michael Seresin’s artful camerawork gives the picture a soft-focus and pastel coloring, even managing to make the smoggy sunlight of Los Angeles look like an oil painting. Lyne says he shot some of the Hollywood Boulevard scenes himself, and they give the film an authentic sense of time and place, with glimpses of street life that remind the viewer of a pre-gentrified Hollywood, much like New York’s 42nd Street at the same time.
As Lyne explains, the picture was put together by producer David Puttnam and Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, who was obviously keen to use the movie as a vehicle for his hottest artists of the time, most prominent being Donna Summer. Her beautiful disco classic “On the Radio” plays over the opening titles, while Cher -- another Casablanca artist -- literally plays on a radio in the opening scene, post-credits. Is it a duel between the two, top disco divas of ‘79-80? Fragments of “On the Radio” repeat throughout the film, taking on a more melancholy tone as the story comes to a close. Euro-disco composer Giorgio Moroder provided the score -- containing echoes of his music for “Midnight Express” (1978) -- and other artists to listen for on the soundtrack include Janice Ian, Foreigner and Brooklyn Dreams. When the girls go to see Angel in concert at the Shrine Auditorium, Lyne confirms in the commentary a suspicion I have had for years: They couldn’t get KISS, who was on tour during filming.
Released between two movies that became classics of the L.A. High School genre, Rock ‘n Roll High School (1979) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Foxes dared to silence its teen audience with issues of heavy drug use and overdoses, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse and premature death. In fact, Lyne reveals that writer Gerald Ayres (“The Last Detail,” “Rich and Famous”) based Jodie Foster’s character on his own teen daughter, whom he accompanied to high school and on friend outings to gain more authentic insights into her world. Tonally, “Foxes” is more of a true companion piece to “Little Darlings” (1980), starring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol, or “The Last American Virgin” (1982), both of which satisfy their audiences’ demands in the sexual-initiation and awkward-high-school-moments departments, but manage to slip in moments of true pathos.
Someday, perhaps, Jodie Foster will participate in reminiscing about the making of “Foxes” as an indulgence to the movie’s fans, as she has done on numerous other commentary tracks of her other, “serious” films. Likewise Scott Baio. In the meantime, Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray is the definitive collector’s edition to date and one to enjoy for years to come.
Warner Home Video has made good on its promise to rectify some glitches on its otherwise magnificent recent release of the entire "Batman" TV series. Two episodes were accidentally included that were incomplete. The "Marsha's Scheme of Diamonds" episode was missing its epilogue and the "Hi Diddle Riddle" episode lacked its opening narration. Additionally, some fans complained that Warner's did not include the very brief tags at the end of episodes that promoted who the villain would be in the next telecast. Anyone who purchased the set on either Blu-ray or DVD was invited to register for replacement discs, which have now been sent out. In addition to providing complete versions of the aforementioned episodes, the two new discs also have an extended bonus section featuring the previously missing "villains" promos. Additionally, Warner's has included a couple of brief but cool bonus segments that weren't included on the original release. These are a promotion advising viewers to tune in the for the next evenings broadcast to see the unveiling of some new additions to Batman and Robin's arsenal. These included the Batboat and the Batcycle. Another brief segment is a promo for a rebroadcast of the very first episode of the series.
For more on the "missing footage" advisory, click here for Warner's original press release.
"Sex is only dirty if you're doing it right."- Woody Allen
Well, "Fifty Shades of Grey" has finally opened and- predictably- it looks to be an international blockbuster. All over the world, BDSM ("Bondage, Discipline, Submission and Masochism", for the uninitiated) will be the flavor of the week as couples dabble in getting naughty. But the very notion that the real world of this peculiar sexual fetish could be accurately presented in a none-threatening, Harlequin romance-like manner is negated by the fact that the film is rated R and has been released by a major studio. True, there was a brief period of time when major movie studios did push the envelope in terms of depicting raw sexual freedoms. Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" was made over forty years ago but would be considered un-releasable by the Hollywood suits who run the industry today. Even United Artists, which had the courage to distribute the X-rated sensation back in the day, tried to have it both ways by re-issuing the film a few years later in a "safe", R-rated version, which was about as pointless as re-cutting "The Sound of Music" and eliminating the songs. As with the source novel, the film version of "Fifty Shades" will become a sensation with people who think they're being daring by tying up their giggling partner to a bed post while playfully spanking them. Meanwhile, look for this Disneyfication of a sexual fetish to reach into other mediums- especially network television, which hasn't produced a truly original idea in decades. You can almost see the executives sitting around the long tables trying desperately to figure out how to work a bondage and discipline theme into mainstream fare:
"Hey, let's do a kinky TV remake of "My Fair Lady". We can have the leading actress sing "The Pain in Spain Falls Mainly in the Plain"!
"Forget that, we have to find out how to merge this stupid Duck Dynasty craze in with kinky sex. How about reviving "The Beverly Hillbillies" and calling the lead characters the Clamp-etts?"
It all leads to the question of whether any sexual practice can still be edgy if you can picture your parents and grandparents indulging in it. Small wonder that those who participate in the "real" world of BDSM have scoff at the pure vanilla depiction of their fetishes in "Fifty Shades".
Anyone who considers for a minute whether to explore the world of sado-masochism would be well-advised to see director Christina Voros's 2013 documentary "Kink", which has just been released on DVD, appropriately, by Dark Sky Films. The movie, produced by actor James Franco, caused a buzz and won acclaim on the film festival circuit (including Sundance) for its unstinting look at how BDSM is marketed to those who find it stimulating. Director Voros deserves praise for going all the way and not sanitizing the shocking depictions of these dark and generally sinister practices. The film makes no judgments either for or against those who indulge, but concentrates entirely on the business aspect of marketing BDSM-themed videos. The movie centers on the company Kink.com which is located in a gigantic building in San Francisco that was once used as an armory. The company's founder, Peter Acworth, an affable, forty-something Brit, relates how he got very wealthy by catering to people's darkest sexual desires. He takes us on a tour of the cavernous facility, pointing out that the foreboding nature of the huge, empty rooms suits his purposes just fine, as they provide ready-made film sets. The film observes some productions- in- the making, both straight and gay-themed. Voros interviews both cast members and directors, all of whom take their work very seriously and take pride in turning out slick, professional productions. It becomes abundantly clear that this is no longer your father's version of S&M films, which were generally relegated to old B&W 16mm loops in which naked guys in black socks and garters lamely "whipped" bored actresses, who had one eye on their wristwatch to see when quitting time was. Within the bowels of the Kink building, any number of productions are going on simultaneously. A surprising number of the directors are females, including at least one butch lesbian. They come across as generally intelligent and likable. All of the participants maintain that the secret to Kink.com's success is that they only hire real life adherents of BDSM both in front of and behind the cameras. They have female casting directors who go through a massive array of available "talent" to weed out actors who might only be motivated by money. The theory is that such individuals can't fake finding pleasure in pain and generally have to be fired. Other actors are eliminated because of objections from the leading actresses. (One male co-star is eliminated on the basis that "He's a vagina hog- he never wants to get out!") Acworth states with pride that his productions are also very well monitored in attempts to ensure that all participants are healthy and enthused. He acknowledges that there is a certain danger of someone going too far and hurting a submissive, especially when said submissive routinely cries "Stop!" but really means "Keep going!" Thus, every submissive must employ a "safe" word that, if uttered, means that all action must cease immediately. The film humanizes the participants in this peculiar practice as much as possible. In between takes on a film in which a woman is being ravaged by a group of men, the cast chats amiably about such mundane topics as organic diets and the lure of a good chicken pot pie. A few minutes later, we watch people willingly subject themselves to almost unspeakable tortures. A gay "bottom" is submerged in a bathtub while an innocent-looking young woman is violated by a sex toy mounted on what can only be described as an automated piece of industrial machinery. This is not for the squeamish. Voros doesn't go so far as to show actual penetration, but doesn't hold back on showing full frontal nudity and sexually aroused males.
American Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall arrives in Marrakesh on a business trip,
he checks into the hotel and discovers a corpse in his wardrobe. This is the
beginning of a "wrong man" style adventure involving international
espionage and criminal gangs, but thankfully on his side is sexy super-spy Kyra
Stanovy (Senta Berger). The two set off to clear his name and solve the
mystery, and spend large parts of the film having to rescue each other from
assorted dangers, mainly involving local kingpin Casimir (Herbert Lom) and his
psychotic henchman Jonquil (Klaus Kinski). Also thrown into the mix are British
character actors Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Le Mesurier and Terry-Thomas,
providing a combination of plot exposition and comic relief, and the entire
plot builds to an inevitably happy conclusion where wrongs are made right, the
guilty are punished and the innocent get to ride off into the sunset.
Our Man in Marrakesh (known in the
States as Bang! Bang! You're Dead!) is a typical mid-Sixties Harry Alan
Towers production. An independent British producer who had made a name for
himself in radio and television before moving into feature films, he
specialised in European co-productions, pulling in A-list names and finance
from several different countries. His budgets were low, and his scripts were
often second-rate, but he seemed to have a no trouble persuading bankable stars
to take off around the world with him. He always preferred to shoot on
location, and Our Man in Marrakesh is no exception. Aside from some
rear-projection driving shots in a studio, most of the film is shot in
Marrakesh itself, giving it a seedy authenticity which gives puts it on a par
with the Bond films of the time. This film was one of hundreds of Bond-style
films produced during the 1960s. They became known as Eurospy films, although
other countries and continents got in on the act, too. Our Man in Marrakesh
mixes elements of Bond with Hitchcock's thrillers fairly successfully, and Tony
Randall makes a likeable comedic leading man. More fun, however, are the
various characters that rotate around him, most notably Klaus Kinski, who once
again looks unhinged and slightly dangerous. His piercing eyes and ease with
violent outbursts would of course be put to use in better films later on,
particularity in his collaborations with Werner Herzog.
Tasmanian director Don Sharp is best known for his Hammer films Rasputin the
Mad Monk (1966), The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and The
Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), but his cult credentials include films like Curse
of the Fly (1965), two Fu-Manchu films with Christopher Lee (both produced
by Harry Alan Towers) and bizarre zombie-biker thriller Psychomania
(1973), a film that caused such despondency in star George Sanders that he
committed suicide shortly after its release. His direction is uncomplicated and
efficient. Although he rarely displays what could be called creative flair, he
gets the job done, and he was clearly reliable enough to be regularly employed
by producers for whom schedules and budgets were tight.
Our Man in Marrakesh, complete with
James Bond-style marketing materials, is a fun and exciting film with bullets,
car chases, corpses, bikini-clad babes, spies and gangsters, all wrapped up in
an exotic locale. It won't change your life, but it is fun and features more
entertainment value than many other Eurospy movies of the period. This has been
released by Network on R2 DVD as part of their 'The British Film' collection.
This is an exciting five-year plan, launched in 2013 with Studiocanal, to
release over 450 vintage British films. Sadly most of these DVDs have so far
featured very little in the way of extras, with just a theatrical trailer and
an image gallery to accompany the movie. However when films like these have not
been seen in any sort of decent print for decades the DVDs are well worth your time.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW CLIPS AND TRAILER AND TO PURCHASE THIS TITLE.
There was a time when the drive-in theater was a mainstay of American movie-going. However, the drive-ins got squeezed out of most urban area when the value of real estate skyrocketed. Suddenly it became far more attractive to lease land to a zillion dollar shopping center than to a guy who was showing double features. There are still drive-ins in the United States and they are, as is the case with all vanishing ways of life, highly cherished by retro movie lovers and nostalgia buffs. However, the demise of the drive-in theater craze wasn't entirely due to real estate values. As films became more sophisticated, so did audiences. Who wants to see the newest Star Wars or Bond flick at a venue where the screen was a football field away and the sound came through a tinny speaker inside your car? Adding to the challenge of running a successful drive-in were the new liberties available to filmmakers beginning in the mid-to-late 1960s. As major motion pictures increasingly depicted nudity, drive-in theaters became the focal point of local protests when parents complained that little Jack or little Jill could see those big bad bare bosoms- and worse- on the big screen in color when the family went for an outing. The result was a plethora of lawsuits and legal obstacles. Yet, some drive-ins continued to persevere- even those that switched to showing outright porn exclusively. In an article in the Daily Beast, writer Steve Miller looks back on the rise and fall of drive-ins and the legal challenges they faced. (There still is one drive-in operating in Texas that shows strictly porn, which gives a whole new interpretation to the old saying, "Everything is bigger in Texas!")Click here to read
"I'm a whore. All actors are whores. We sell our bodies to the highest bidder."- William Holden
Cinema Retro columnist Dean Brierly has launched a blog dedicated to memorable quotes from hard-bitten movie actors of days past. The site provides rare insights and observations culled from interviews with the likes of William Holden, Robert Ryan, Barbara Stanwyck, Jan Sterling, Fred MacMurray, Lee Van Cleef and many others. Click here to check it out.
Eon Productions has released the first tantalizing glimpses from the production of "SPECTRE", showing Daniel Craig in action in the snow-capped mountains of Austria. A brief behind the scenes film report accompanies this first officially released photo of Craig as 007. In the clip, cast and crew members discuss the filming and Craig is shown briefly at the very end as Bond shoots an adversary dead. It's hard to draw any definitive conclusion from these glimpses except that Craig looks exceptionally cool (in both senses of the word) and that, at least for us long-time veterans of all things Bondian, the atmosphere inevitably brings back welcome memories of the 1969 classic "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".
USA Today culled this frame of Daniel Craig from the behind-the-scenes footage.
Daniel Craig (James Bond), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann) and Dave Bautista (Hinx) were in the Austrian ski resort of Sölden for SPECTRE. Other Austrian locations for SPECTRE include Obertilliach and Lake Altaussee.
People magazine's web site features a selection of forthcoming photos from director Guy Ritchie's forthcoming big screen version of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, Arnie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin and Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly. The film probably won't resemble the classic TV series but kudos to Ritchie for keeping it set in the Cold War era. Click here for more.
JUST ADDED! CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE TEASER TRAILER!
In the lead up to the August 2015 release of the feature film version of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", the web site The Digital Spy put together an informative and fun article centering on key facts and film clips relating to the classic TV series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Click here to view.
Years of Marvel Comics. From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen
Roy Thomas, Josh Baker
Hardcover with fold-out, ribbon bookmark, and four-foot accordion-fold timeline
11.4 x 15.6 in.
Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking
with fold-out, ribbon bookmark
11.4 x 15.6 in.
If you take a look at the top 100 all-time highest worldwide
grossing movies, fifteen of them are either Marvel or DC comic adaptations.
According to Box Office Mojo the third highest grossing film of all time is The
Avengers (2012) at over a billion and a half dollars. Comics, it would
seem, are major players in the world of entertainment.
Seventy-five years ago it was all very different. Comics were
for children and were disregarded as both an entertainment medium and as an art
form. Comics were disposable. Because of their ephemeral nature surviving early
copies now trade hands for vast sums. Buying the first appearance of Superman
or Batman will set you back a cool $1-2 million. Thankfully, if you want to
hold the history of these comics in your hands without having to cash in your
life insurance, Taschen have released huge and lavish tributes that, once
opened, will send you whirling back through time to your own childhood and
Four years ago Taschen published 75
Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking, and
it was one of the biggest books this writer had ever seen. So heavy it comes in
a cardboard carrying case with handle, it is crammed with fantastic full-size
reproductions and blown up panels from classic comics and long-forgotten
strips. The dating used here suggests that DC began in 1935, with a comic
called New Fun. DC's most famous sons, Superman and Batman, did not make their
first appearances until 1938 and 1939 respectively. The book is divided into
sections; The Stone Age, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, The
Dark Age and The Modern Age, and each begins with shiny toughened pages. By
discussing some of the things that were going on in the comic industry outside
of DC, one can look at their development in context. There are also fold-out detailed
timelines in each section with a year-by-year breakdown including major world
The book is also a reminder that DC weren't always about
superheroes. Alongside our spandex-wearing favourites were western comics,
science fiction, military comics, funny animals, exotic adventurers, gangsters
and detectives. There are other big names which have been somewhat forgotten by
now, such as Captain Marvel, Will Eisner's The Spirit (despite an ill-advised
attempt to being him back in a 2008 movie), Plastic Man, Starman and The
Spectre. Even supporting characters occasionally got their own comics, such as Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen
("See Jimmy turn into The Giant Turtle Man!") and Superman's Girl Friend Lois
Lane, the latter demonstrating that comics could appeal to both boys and
Also honoured are the many writers and artists who have built up
the world of DC comics over the years, from Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, the
creators of Superman, through to more modern writers like Alan Moore, who with Watchmen
in 1986 changed the perception of what the comic book could achieve.
Of course DC has made a major impact beyond the comics, something
which is included here. It is fun to see some of the toys and games kids would
be desperate to collect, as well as imagery from the many movies and TV shows
they inspired, including serials The Adventures of Superman (1948) and Batman
and Robin (1949) as well as perhaps the greatest example of 1960s pop
culture, the televised Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward (recently
released on DVD and Blu-ray by Warner Brothers); a comic strip brought to life
in full technicolour.
75 Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking is a book that will most-likely take you the rest of your life to
read and enjoy. For those who prefer something a little smaller to read,
Taschen has also released separate volumes titled The Golden Age of DC
Comics and The Silver Age of DC Comics.
It was only a matter of time before Taschen would give Marvel the
same treatment, and 2014 marks their seventy-fifth anniversary. In 1939 Marvel
really hit the ground running, publishing a comic featuring a collection of
tales featuring amongst others The Human Torch (in this version an android) and
Sub-mariner, both of whom are still popular today. Coinciding with the
beginnings of war in Europe, a conflict which would eventually spread around
the globe, Marvel's comics reflected the fears and ambitions of military
conflict. Sub-mariner became the first superhero to fight Nazis in 1940, and in
1941 Captain America leapt into the fight, literally. On the front cover of his
first issue he is proudly punching Hitler in the face, star-spangled shield to
the fore. This was so controversial at the time that protestors marched on the
Marvel headquarters in New York!
That same year Stanley Leiber was hired at Marvel as a general
assistant and gofer whilst still a teenager. Within two weeks he was
commissioned to write a Captain America story. Signing the story "Stan
Lee", within eight months he was an editor and he went on to become one of
the most important figures in the comic book world. Stan Lee is responsible for
the creation of dozens of classic comic characters including The Fantastic
Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The X-Men and many more. It is mostly his creations
that now dominate Hollywood, particularly since the creation of the Marvel film
studios in 1996 and their subsequent purchase by Disney in 2009 for a mere $4
Stan Lee was not the only genius working at Marvel, and the book covers
work by many of the fantastic writers and artists employed over the last
seventy-five years including Jack Kirby, John Romita and Steve Ditko. The
author of this Marvel history himself, Roy Thomas, served as a Marvel editor
from 1965-80 and had runs on The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Conan
the Barbarian and many more.
75 Years of Marvel Comics. From the Golden Age to the Silver
Screen gives us a thorough history of the company and their comics.
There is a detachable four-foot long double-sided timeline giving a
year-by-year history not only of Marvel but comic book development in general.
Obviously a lot of space in the book is devoted to their most beloved
characters, including Thor, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Daredevil and The Avengers
alongside those already mentioned. Like the DC book before it, it is also fun
to discover many other characters and stories that one may have missed, with
names like Werewolf By Night, Captain
Britain, Sgt. Fury and His Howling
Commandoes, Dr. Strange (recently announced as another Marvel movie) and
Luke Cage, the first black superhero. Marvel also published "girls
comics" such as My Love and Our Love Story and created female
superheroes like The Cat, Black Widow and Elektra.
late 1960s some of their comics went psychedelic, and in the 1970s Marvel began
to experiment with some fairly edgy material, such as the sleazy Howard the
Duck, the horror-enthused Tomb of Dracula
or the violent adventures of Conan the Barbarian. The artwork was always
excellent and is beautifully reproduced here.
an early Captain America movie serial
in 1944, Marvel's comics were not used as material for a theatrical movie again
until 1986, with the disastrous George Lucas-produced Howard the Duck. It was not until the movie version of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000) that the real movie boom began. Perhaps
special-effects technology had finally caught up with the imaginations of
Marvel's writers and artists. However some of their characters had found
success on American television, most memorably with the Bill Bixby/ Lou
Ferrigno-starring The Incredible Hulk
(1978). This was produced by CBS who were also responsible for the TV movies of
Captain America (1979) and The Amazing Spider-Man (1977), imagery
from which can also be found in this book.
first appeared in a Marvel comic in 1962. Whether posing on the White House
lawn with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1980 or appearing alongside Barack
Obama in a 2009 issue of The Amazing
Spider-Man, the web-slinger has become closely associated with the real
world, and in particular the city of New York. His youth and quips have made
him one of Marvel's most popular heroes, and in a moving December 2001 issue he
was forced to confront the horrors of 9/11. Unlike DC characters who mainly live
in fictional cities or worlds, the Marvel universe exists amidst our own.
books are a fitting tribute to the worlds of DC and Marvel and the people who
brought these incredible worlds to life week after week. One can only hope that
both companies will continue producing comics and stories for at least another
seventy-five years each.
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show can now escape those chopped-up re-runs on cable TV by purchasing the complete series on DVD. Now you can relish 6400 minutes of one of the great sitcoms in TV history - all uncut on 40 DVDs! As Don Knotts' Barney Fife would say- "This is big!" Click here to order discounted from Amazon at save $160!
If you're as addicted as we are to director Joe Dante's "Trailers From Hell" web site, maybe you can help the site continue to grow. "Trailers From Hell" presents an amazing number of original theatrical trailers for everything from classic cinema to "B" movies and schlock films. Best of all, each trailer is accompanied by a commentary track by a well-known filmmaker, writer, or movie historian. You can view the trailers both with or without the commentaries. Joe tries his best to present and preserve these precious artifacts of movie marketing but there are some titles that have eluded him. Click here to find out the trailers on his "must have" list and see if you can help!
"Boyhood" won the coveted Best Film award at this year's BAFTAs. Richard Linklater won the director's award for the same film. Eddie Redmayne won for Leading Actor for "The Theory of Everything" and Julianne Moore won Leading Actress for "Still Alice". Click here for full list of winners.
In the wake of their success with "Gone Girl", Ben Affleck and director David Fincher will re-team for a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 thriller "Strangers on a Train". The original film is regarded as one of Hitchcock's best. The movie starred Farley Granger as a dapper young tennis pro who has a chance encounter with a man of similar age, played by Robert Walker, with whom he shares a compartment on a train. To pass the time, the men engage in a macabre "what-if" scenario to see if they can construct the perfect crime. They come up with what appears to be a foolproof plan. Both men name a bothersome real life person as the presumed "victim". They then agree that if each man carried out a murder on behalf of the other man, they would never be caught because they have no ties to each other and don't even know the person they will murder. The two men part company but Granger is horrified when he discovers Walker took the conversation literally and has murdered the person Granger had named as the victim. Worse, he now insists that Granger carry out his part of the plan or be murdered himself. The ingenious story line has a timeless appeal but Affleck and Fincher are walking on thin ice in terms of incurring the wrath of Hitchcock enthusiasts who regard his work as sacred. On the other hand, they obviously hope to appeal to young audiences, among whom many probably never even heard of Hitchcock, let alone the original film. The original has also been analyzed extensively for what many consider to be a homo-erotic attraction between the characters played by Granger and Walker, who had a field day creating one of the era's most memorable movie villains. Given Affleck will star, chances are this element of the original film will not be present in the remake. Click here for more.
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement:
The most celebrated lawman of the Old West rides again
in the complete series (1955-1961) of the popular classic television Series The
Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Hugh
O'Brian stars as the famed marshal whose exploits with Doc Holliday, Bat
Masterson and the Clanton Gang are boldly brought to life in episodes based on
actual events. With his signature Buntline Special pistol in hand, Wyatt Earp
held posts in a series of increasingly lawless towns and battled dangerous men
in his efforts to keep the peace. Through Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City and Tombstone, Wyatt's reputation
as a just and formidable marshal grew, culminating in a storied gunfight that
would seal his legend.
The success of the TV series spawned a series of comic book tie-ins.
This complete series includes all six seasons on 30 DVDs,
approximately 100 hours of content. Also included in this collectors set are
interviews with stars Hugh O’Brian and Mason Alan Dinehart III and an historical
timeline of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
Sorry to report that the recent mad dash on the part of our readers to obtain back issues of Cinema Retro has resulted in issue #4 from 2006 being depleted from our back issues department. The following issues of Cinema Retro are now permanently sold out: #4, 7, 8, 10 and 12. The following issues are in very low supply: #3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 24. To order back issues click here or click here to order from our Ebay affiliate store.
Lizabeth Scott, the sultry blonde who epitomized cinematic "bad girls" in film noir productions, has passed away at age 92. Scott specialized in playing hard-bitten, self-confident femme fatales usually from the wrong side of the tracks. Her leading men included Robert Mithchum, Burt Lancaster, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kirk Douglas. Her film credits include "Loving You", "Dark City", "I Walk Alone", "Too Late for Tears", "Pitfall" and "Scared Stiff". Her last screen appearance was in director Mike Hodges' acclaimed 1972 cult movie "Pulp", which was a send-up of the film noir genre. Scott's career began to fade in the late 1950s though she did make occasional appearances in TV series in the following years. In more recent years, she occasionally appeared at film festivals to discuss her work and career. Click here for more.
If you haven't yet picked up Timeless Media's fantastic boxed set, Gene Autry: The Complete Television Series, we're happy to present the original press release from December, 2013:
of the most influential performers in American history, Gene Autry is the only
entertainer with all five stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, one each for
Radio, Recording, Motion Pictures, Television and Live Performance. In a career
that spanned more than three decades, Autry built a media empire, thanks to his
box-office smash musical Westerns, cross-country rodeo tours and a diverse
music career that included the million-selling hit Christmas classic ‘Rudolph,
the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’
Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory, has releasedThe Gene Autry Show: The Complete
Television Serieson DVD. For
the first time, all 91 episodes from the show’s five season run, uncut and
fully restored from Autry's personal film and television archive, will appear
together in a 15 DVD box set. The collection also boasts a bevy of bonus
content, including select episodes of Autry’sMelody
Ranchradio show, vintage
Autry commercial appearances, film trailers and photo galleries; as well as a
bonus DVD showcasing classic episodes from Autry’s other Flying ‘A’ Pictures
television seriesThe Range
Rider, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Jr.andThe Adventures of Champion.
airing on CBS from 1950-1956,The
Gene Autry Showfeatures a
wide range of guest stars, including Gail Davis, Denver Pyle, Sheila Ryan,
Clayton Moore, Donna Martell, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Riley, Harry Lauter,
William Fawcett, Gloria Winter, Lee Van Cleef, Lyle Talbot, Chill Wills, John
Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, the Cass County Boys, and Dick Jones.
(Photo copyright 2014 by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
BY MARK MAWSTON
Ennio Morricone, one of the most celebrated
film composers in cinema history, appeared to a packed 02 arena in London’s Docklands
on February 5th 2015. The venue, (formally The Millennium Dome) normally
a mainstay for Boy Bands and Revered Rockers, seemed Cathedral -like, not only
due to its sheer size and capacity, but mainly due to the soaring music which
filled it over two hours. This concert, unlike other Morricone concerts I’ve
had the pleasure to attend, had a reverential feel to it, one of reflection.
The music that the 100 strong orchestra and 75 piece choir gave life to wasn’t simply
the most popular from the composer’s incredible body of work but obviously the
ones that meant to most to him personally. Tracks from films such as Casualties
Of War, 1900, The Mission and Cinema Paradiso were the ones given centre stage.
This may be because this concert was called “My Life In Music” and although
famous for the scores he composed for such Westerns as Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good The
Bad And The Ugly, it was the smaller, more obscure works that were given life
by the composers famous baton, such as the theme from Quemada, a Marlon Brando
film about slavery. This shouldn’t have been too much of a shock as only about
35 of the 500 plus soundtracks that Morricone has composed were for these
beloved Westerns, which still remain his most famous works. The love for these
films was reflected in the fact that highlight of the night was the glorious
version of Ecstasy Of Gold, taken from Morricone’s childhood friend Sergio
Leone’s The Good The Back and The Ugly. Never has a soundtrack so perfectly
matched the visuals on screen, supporting the fact that Morricone’s themes were
as important as the actors and the director themselves in shaping these
wonderful films. This love and appreciation was reflected in the fact that,
after two encores and cries of “Maestro” Morricone returned to stage and played
the piece once again, to rapturous applause.
(Photo copyright 2014 by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
It was a huge pleasure to see the maestro on
stage once again after serious back problems had forced him to cancel his original
concerts last year but, as said, there was a touch of poignancy this time. It
was as though he was conducting the music for his own requiem and by doing so,
making sure it was perfect. He wouldn’t settle for anything else I’m sure. When
this third encore ended, he picked up his music sheets like a professor running
off to his next lecture, and, after a bow to the audience, left stage without a
word. He didn’t need to, as his incredible music had spoken for him. I hope
that this won’t be the last time we get to see the maestro who’s most recent soundtrack
work, on old friend Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, show a man still at the
top of his game. Although the most outstanding moment from that soundtrack
could easily be seen as a missing theme from the Eastwood Spaghetti westerns
with his familiar horns and heavenly choirs, the fact that it is called “The
Funeral” again made one feel that this concert was indeed a very special but
poignant event. I left hoping that our own lives will continue to be sound
tracked by this undoubted genius
Welch promotes Chelsea on the set of Hannie Caulder.
When you think of legendary British football teams, the image of Raquel Welch doesn't usually come foremost to the mind. However, in 1972 the Hollywood icon attended a Chelsea vs. Leicester City match and- intentionally or naively- managed to upstage the game itself. It was all part of an elaborate PR gimmick devised in part by famed photographer Terry O'Neill who had been photographing Welch on the set of her Western film "Hannie Caulder" (he even got her to pose in a Chelsea kit for some on-set photos.) Whether Welch really understood or gave a hoot about British football teams, the ploy worked and resulted in one of the most memorable games in memory. The Daily Mail relives the big day and presents a series of fascinating photos. Click here to view.
“Paper Mask” is a movie that reminds me of those dreams
we all have, the ones where we show up at work or school and aren’t prepared
for a major meeting or test. I think these dreams show our terror of
being exposed as frauds. I also think they serve another function –
they’re the brain’s way of telling us to wake up. The brain knows we have to
get out of bed, so it creates an unpleasant scenario to jolt us from our
sleep. In a way, our brain knows what buttons to push to get us moving in
Still, it’s interesting that so many of us
fear being revealed as a fraud. It must be a universal dread.
I imagine lawyers have dreams where they aren’t
prepared for a trial. School teachers, too, must have dreams where they
enter a classroom without knowing the day’s lesson. I suppose the most
well-known of these dreams is the one where an actor has to go onstage but
doesn’t know his lines. But these dreams must be especially terrifying for
doctors, for few things could be more horrible than entering surgery and not
knowing what to do.
“Paper Mask” never quite approaches the atmosphere of a
nightmare – it’s about a young man who sneakily assumes the identity of a
doctor and gets a job at a small London hospital. At times he probably
wishes it was all a dream, such as his first night of duty when he’s met by
badly wounded people, people crying out for pain killers, and a man who’s
nearly lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. The phony doctor looks
the part, but even rookie nurses can see he’s overwhelmed by the blood and
agony of the emergency ward.
The sham artist, played by Paul McGann, had
previously worked as an orderly in another hospital. He resented doctors,
insisting to his pals that they were arrogant, overpaid jerks. Early in the
film he sees an ex-girlfriend and her new doctor boyfriend in a car crash. He
pulls them from the wreckage; she’s alive, but her beau is dead. McGann
finds the fellow’s application to a nearby hospital; as if to prove his own
theory that doctoring is easy, he takes the dead man’s place at the job
McGann has, as one character tells him, the luck of the
devil. He passes the interview, even as he stumbles when asked about the posh
school he allegedly attended.
Strangely, we’re compelled to celebrate along with
McGann as he endures his horrendous first night on the job and gradually passes
himself off as a doctor. He’s cagy, learning how to read X-rays by betting an
older nurse she can’t identify certain problems. He loses each bet, but slowly
learns his way around an X-ray. All is well until he eventually botches a
procedure and causes the death of a patient.
As in the best novels of Cornell Woolrich or
Patricia Highsmith, the plot thickens and the body count rises. Director
Christopher Morahan, a veteran of BBC dramas and comedies, doesn’t go for
laughs or dark humor in “Paper Mask.” Instead, he keeps things quick and tight
until we know McGann will have to do something desperate to keep up his ruse.
McGann is quite good as an ego-driven man who dives into a charade and always
seems on the verge of cracking. I like how he occasionally plucks out an
old American tune on a banjo, sometimes jubilantly, sometimes forlornly.
His favorite song, not surprisingly, is ‘The Great Pretender’.
Amanda Donahoe is very good as a feisty nurse who falls in love with McGann, as
is Tom Wilkinson as an older doctor who suspects McGann isn’t legit. (Yes, it’s
the same Wilkinson who taught the blokes how to dance in “The Full Monty”.)
I also loved how the movie subtly touched on the ever
present British class divide. The working class McGann had begrudged
doctors, but when he arrives at his new job, he finds that certain doctors
resent the high-class schooling found on his phony credentials. “We just
want someone who cares,” hisses Wilkinson. “We don’t care about your bloody
superior education!” When McGann sneaks into his alleged alma mater to research
his “past”, a boy accosts him. “I don’t believe you went here,” the boy says.
“Your clothes look cheap.” McGann ignores him. “I could report you,” the boy
says. “And I could break your neck,” McGann answers.
The movie succeeds because we get to know McGann
so well that we identify with his fear of discovery. But are we supposed
to feel alarm at the movie’s end, when he’s still out there, putting more
people at risk? That’s where the movie gets a bit muddy. Who is the
real villain of the piece? Is it McGann, or the medical profession? In
retrospect, the most frightening moment of the movie is when Wilkinson informs
McGann that he won’t be fired, for it would make the hospital look bad.
The idea that a hospital would rather keep an inept doctor than attract
attention for having hired him in the first place is enough to make one
homophobia, suicide, prostitution, sex, blackmail, racism, pompous military
officers, family disagreements, GI bar fights and inter-racial relationships.
“Pearl” dips into all this and more in a three-part TV mini-series from 1978. The
series borrows liberally and literally from movies like “From Here To Eternity,”
“In Harm’s Way,” “Tora! Tora! Tora! and “Midway,” and also serves as a
forerunner for one of the best TV mini-series of this kind, “The Winds of War.”
episode opens with narration by Joseph Campanella explaining the impending Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor and the oblivious nature of Americans enjoying their
stay in paradise. John Addison’s title music evokes the tropical locale and
plays over scenes of vintage Honolulu photos prior to America’s entry into WWII.
Hawaii was a much more exotic place even after WWII.
melodrama of the series is focused on the American residents of Honolulu in the
days prior to the attack interspersed
with scenes of the Japanese Navy making its way across a stormy Pacific ocean.
The Japanese are depicted as all business in this series, which is a shame
because it would have been interesting to get a sense for what the characters
were thinking personally about the audacious military strategy..
Japanese carrier scenes and most of the aerial attack scenes are represented by
footage literally taken from the classic 1970 movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor occurs halfway through the second episode, after we’ve
met the characters and know all of their dalliances in paradise.
series features a “Who’s Who” of some of the well-known movie and TV stars from
the late 1970s: Angie Dickinson, Dennis Weaver, Robert Wagner, Lesley Ann
Warren, Tiana Alexandra, Gregg Henry, Katherine Helmond, Adam Arkin, Brian
Dennehy, Max Gail, Char Fontane, Audra Lindley, Richard Anderson, Marion Ross,
Allan Miller and Mary Crosby.
series was written by Stirling Silliphant, no stranger to melodrama, as he
wrote the screenplays for “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Poseidon Adventure,”
“The Towering Inferno” and “The Swarm” as well as thrillers like “Shaft in
Africa,” “The Killer Elite,” “The Enforcer” and “Telefon.” The story is
entertaining and held my interest throughout. The more salacious topics are
handled as one would expect from a late 1970s TV production which means there’s
a lot of talking about sex, but we see very little action other than the military
battle scenes are also sanitized for a late ‘70s TV audience and limited mostly
to nurses aiding men in bandages, the main characters discussing the attack and
scenes the attack taken from the aforementioned “Tora! Tora! Tora!” In the era
of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Fury”, the series feels a bit lacking in this
respect, but this was typical of TV at that time.
performances are pretty one dimensional, but the cast is engaging with their
allotted time on camera. The period costumes and vehicles help as does the
on-location filming in Hawaii. The popularity of “Pearl,” a Warner Bros.
production broadcast on ABC, may have influenced the choice by Columbia and NBC
to produce the similar six episode TV mini-series remake of “From Here to
Eternity” in 1979 which then became a short lived 11 episode series in 1980.
watched “Pearl” when it was first
broadcast back in 1978 and I’m glad it’s available for those who enjoy this
type of war time melodrama. The two-disc set is part of the Warner Archive
collection and is manufactured on demand. There are no extras on this three
part mini-series which clocks in at four-hours and 39 minutes.
begins with a close-up shot of the spires of a Gothic cathedral, organ music
playing on the soundtrack and air-raid sirens blaring as a statement appears on
screen: “Cologne on the Rhine during the last weeks of World War II.” The scene
moves down to street level as German civilians and soldiers run for bomb
shelters as destruction rains down on them. An American prisoner of war makes
his escape during the chaos and he stumbles upon the home of a college
professor and his daughter.
Ferrer plays the American POW, Captain Foster MacLain. He meets the Fraulein of
the movie, Erika Angermann, played by Dana Wynter. She helps him evade capture
during a search of her father’s home. We learn about a fiancé she has not seen
in over two years. She learns later from a letter that he has been wounded and is in a
hospital. McLain thanks her and the professor, who gives him a coat- a precious
gift under the circumstances. After McLain departs, shots are heard and Erika fears he was killed or wounded. While she is grappling with that scenario,
another air raid takes place, during which her father is killed..
heads for the safety of her uncle’s home in Berlin at a time when many Germans are
fleeing the Russian advance and heading to the American lines. A middle-aged married
couple has also taken refuge in her uncle’s home and soon a group of Russian
soldiers move in as well. The Russians get drunk and murder Erika’s uncle who
has hidden her in a bedroom. The married couple discloses her location and a soldier
is killed in a fall from the roof while trying to rape Erika. Taken into
Russian custody and charged with murder, Russian Colonel Dmitri Bucaron (Theodore
Bikel) takes a liking to Erika and orders her release.
war is over, but Colonel Bucaron’s kindness comes at a price. He fancies the
shy and beautiful Erika as his mistress and while out drinking, Erika befriends
Lori, played by Dolores Michaels, a piano player in a Berlin nightclub
entertaining Russian soldiers. Lori helps Erika escape and make her way to the
American line where she is taken in by the married couple from her uncle’s
house. They’re living well as pimps and seek to make Erika one of their
prostitutes. Erika flees yet again after being harassed and aided by an
American soldier. She ends up meeting up with Lori, who gets her a job in the nightclub where Lori
plays piano and Erika is one of several girls waiting her turn to get dunked
while sitting on a chair over a dunk tank as American GIs take turns tossing
balls at a target. Erika’s humiliation and her situation seems hopeless when
McLain, now promoted to Major, re-enters her life.
movie is episodic and melodramatic in this story of a German woman preserving
her dignity amid the degradation many German women had to endure in the final
days of the war and its immediate aftermath.. She swallows her pride several
times throughout the movie in order to survive and she bends, but never breaks.
movie is directed by Henry Koster, known for many classic movies from
light-hearted favorites such as “The Bishop’s Wife,” “The Luck of the Irish,”
“The Inspector General” and “Harvey” to more dramatic fare like “The Robe,” “A
Man Called Peter,” “The Virgin Queen,” “D-Day the Sixth of June” and “The Story
of Ruth.” At the end of his career he directed several enjoyable comedies with
James Stewart, “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” “Take Her, She’s Mine” and “Dear
story, based on the book by James McGivern, was almost certainly sanitized in
typical Hollywood fashion of the day. Contrary to the provocative image
depicted on the advertising art for this June 1958 release, Erika maintains her
virginal purity throughout as her dignity and future happiness is challenged.
Wynter is terrific as the shy German girl Erika. Interestingly, Wynter was born
Dagmar Winter in Berlin, Germany, grew up in England, moved to Rhodesia after
WWII and studied medicine at Rhodes University in South Africa. She was discovered
on the English stage and signed a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox in
1955. Retro movie fans will remember her from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,”
“D-Day the Sixth of June” (working with Koster for the first time), “Sink the
Bismarck!,” “On the Double,” “The List of Adrian Messenger,” “Airport,” “The
Questor Tapes” and appearances in dozens of TV series from the 1950s to the
Michaels is very good as Erika’s less shy friend Lori, a piano playing bar maid
who is the complete opposite of Erika, but with the stereotypical heart of
gold. Another great female supporting role is Maggie Hayes as Ferrer’s military
aid, Lt., Berdie Dubbin.
Ferrer is charming and good natured as the American soldier who finds Erika and
falls in love with her. Theodore Bikel is underused but still memorable as the Russian Army Colonel
Bucaron. Pivotal to the story is James Edwards as Corporal Hanks in an
important supporting role. Edwards is probably best remembered for playing noble
military characters in many movies including “Home of the Brave,” “The
Manchurian Candidate” and “Patton.”
Banner, fondly remembered as Sergeant Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes,” appears in a
brief scene as a health inspector delivering bad news about Erika which is intercepted
by Lori. Unknown to Erika is that she’s been registered as a prostitute,a
development that adds considerable drama to the story and her hopes of
immigrating to America.
is a burn to order DVD released as part of the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives
and there are no extras on the disc. The sound quality on the disc is crisp
with a score by Daniele Amfitheatrof. The colors
look good, if a bit washed out in some scenes. The movie was filmed in
CinemaScope, but is presented full frame for this release. It is a pity that
Fox didn’t see fit to preserve the widescreen image for this release. While much
of the movie appears to have been filmed on sets, there are several second unit
shots of the Rhine River that would have looked very nice in widescreen. I
really enjoyed “Fraulein” and it is recommended for those who enjoy WWII
I have seen virtually every James Bond clone released by major studios during the 1960s but "Assignment K" had eluded me until it was released as a burn-to-order title by the Sony Choice Collection. I was expecting another low-brow effort done on a small budget and perhaps affording some guilty pleasures throughout. However, "Assignment K" was a pleasant surprise. It's an intelligently written, well-acted espionage yarn that goes to some lengths to avoid Bondisms in favor of a realistic scenario populated by realistic characters. The film was directed by the woefully under-rated Val Guest, whose talents were generally dismissed at the time as workmanlike competence but which today seem much more impressive. (Guest had some spy movie experience, having previously directed key segments of the multi-director farce "Casino Royale".)
Stephen Boyd stars as Philip Scott, a high-powered executive of a London-based toy company. When we first meet him, he is attending an international trade show in Munich. We learn very quickly that the dapper, charismatic Scott is actually a secret agent of sorts. There are cryptic messages passed and even more cryptic conversations that take place at the toy fair as well as Scott's luxury hotel. (He seems to have a Bondian expense account, if nothing else.) The plot centers on a real MacGuffin: something about sneaking a strip of vitally important microfilm back to MI6 in London. Naturally, there are bad guys who want the microfilm, too, though I was never clear about precisely what information the strip contains. Nevertheless, Scott is not above mixing business with pleasure and during the course of his visit to Munich he meets Toni Peters (Camilla Sparv), a gorgeous young Swedish woman on holiday at a ski resort. She initially resists his attempts to get a date, but finally she relents. Scott goes all out to show her a good time and his substantial expense account certainly aids in the effort. He takes her a non-stop, dizzying agenda before succeeding in getting her back to luxurious villa. It isn't long before the undercover man is literally under the covers with his new flame. Before long, the two are madly in love- and Scott doesn't seem to be bothered by that gentleman's code for secret agents that dictates you shouldn't get too romantically involved with any "civilians". Scott's selfish obsession with Toni is understandable. (Hey, she looks like Camilla Sparv!). However, his judgment proves wrong when he continues to date her even after one of his contacts is murdered on a ski slope by adversaries who are after the microfilm. Ultimately, Toni is kidnapped and held for ransom, the price being that Scott must identify his key contact in Munich. Surprisingly, he agrees to do so, though the resolution of the problem is a little confusing in terms of his motivation. Throughout the plot, Scott keeps assuring the perplexed Toni that the real danger is over and the couple returns to London. Here, we see Scott report to his MI6 boss, Harris (played with amusing world-weariness by Michael Redgrave), who reminds him that he is putting an innocent girl in jeopardy. Sure enough, Toni is kidnapped once again, thus forcing Scott to follow in 007's footsteps in one key respect: he goes to the "toy company's" version of gadget master "Q" (Geoffrey Blaydo,n in an amusing reprise of virtually the same character he played in "Casino Royale") in order to use hi tech methods of tracking down where the kidnappers are located. He also imposes on the branch to devise a time bomb in a desperate attempt to free the innocent woman whose life he has now placed in danger. That's the extent of the hardware and gadgetry used in this film. Scott doesn't drive fantastic cars, nor does he have the ability to press buttons to get himself out of jams. He loses fist fights and takes beatings in a refreshing nod to realism.
Boyd's character is in the mode of Harry Palmer: he's clearly not enamored of moonlighting as a secret agent. (Unlike Palmer, he freelances, and thus can quit the profession at any time.) His cynicism, however, never reaches the depths of Alec Lemas, the despondent protagonist played by Richard Burton in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold". Lemas was so cynical and disillusioned that you felt all the joy had been sapped from his life. Scott, however, adopts Palmer's ability to thumb his nose at his superiors but has not lost his joie de vivre when it comes to his vices: smoking, drinking and bedding beautiful women. The character is very well played by Stephen Boyd, an actor who could go over-the-top occasionally (see "The Oscar"!) Here he delivers one of the most restrained and impressive performances of his career. Sparv provides the kind of old world, spy girl glamour that is in short supply nowadays- and she is a more than competent actress, as well. The supporting cast is terrific and includes the great Leo McKern and Jeremy Kemp as heavies, as well as an appearance by Jan Werich, who originally filmed sequences as Blofeld in "You Only Live Twice" only to be replaced by Donald Pleasence. The film has an exotic look to it, as director Guest maximizes locations in London, Austria and "West Germany". (Isn't it satisfying that we can now eliminate "West" and "East" when describing Germany?) The plot is a bit confusing but the characters and dialogue are intriguing and there are some genuine surprises that are unveiled at the climax of the story. The only complaint is the musical score by Basil Kirchin, which is far too lightweight and zippy for a film with this somber premise.
"Assignment K" didn't make much of an impact during its initial release. Perhaps audiences were so jaded by the tidal wave of spy movies. In the U.S., the film was released as the second feature on the same bill with the horror film anthology "Torture Garden" and was dismissed by the New York Times in a few sentences that indicated it was nothing more than a glorified travelogue. It's a pity because if the film had received the reception it deserved, Boyd could have continued to play the character of Philip Scott in some well-warranted sequels.
The Sony Choice Collection DVD has a fine transfer, but is devoid of any extras, including a trailer or even a menu. Can't this film get some respect?