The Sopranos ended its run on HBO in
June 2007, fans were forced to say goodbye to one of television’s greatest
series. It is a difficult thing to bid farewell to characters you have come to
know and enjoy watching, and Tony Soprano and his extended family and crew were
no exception. Fortunately, most of the people who appeared on the show have
gone on to other projects, some in a similar vein and others one hundred and
eighty degrees removed from the actions of La Cosa Nostra. Actor Tony Sirico, who portrayed Pauley Walnuts
since the series began in 1999, was himself involved in some criminal behavior
and did less than two years in jail prior to becoming an actor. While the Internet Movie Database lists his
first screen credit as appearing in The Godfather Part II (1974) - his
appearance is both unconfirmed and uncredited - his first speaking part might
have been as a car salesman in an episode of television’s Kojak during season five. The
first role I ever saw him in was as Patsy Riccamonza, a mobster who owes money
to Harvey Keitel’s father, in James Toback’s masterful Fingers (1978). Over the
years, Mr. Sirico has appeared in bit parts in dozens of films playing bad guys
and appeared to be typecast. Some of his
work included bits for Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. It’s his role as one of Tony Soprano’s loyal
soldiers on the highly acclaimed HBO drama that made him a household name. Sopranos
fans who have been looking forward to seeing Mr. Sirico in his own movie might
initially be delighted to catch Zarra’s
Law, a 2012-lensed crime drama, which features him in a role that few would
expect him to play: a retired police detective. However, despite this, Zarra’s Law
is not the acting showcase that it could have been for Mr. Sirico, which is a
shame because he deserves to carry a film on his own. He has proven that he can act, and traded
some truly wonderful banter on the rightly acclaimed HBO series for which he is
best known. That being said, Zarra’s Law is a nice try, but doesn’t
come near to reaching the heights that have made Martin Scorsese
premise is hardly new, but the film’s execution (no pun intended, of course) is
more interesting than one might expect. Tony’s
brother, obviously not on the same side of the law, is blown up in a car right
before his very eyes (think of Sam Rothstein in 1995’s Casino). Tony knows who is
behind it, and his nephew Gaetano (Brendan Fehr), a lawyer who lives 18 miles away
in Hackensack but never visits, wants to have more of a presence in Tony’s
life. Along the way, there are run-ins
with former childhood friend and current mobster Frankie Andreoli; unhinged Mafioso
Bobby Stax who is more short-fused than Sonny Corleone; and irresponsibly
negligent Arthur Pascano whom Gaetano is defending in court.
released on DVD, Zarra’s Law also features
fellow Sopranos actors Brian Tarantina
(he played Mustang Sally on The Sopranos),
Burt Young who did Mustang Sally in, and Kathrine Narducci, Artie Bucco’s
animated wife Charmaine. Mr. Tarantina
has got the “cold, calculating and violent scuzzball” act down pat. He also had a small role opposite Al Pacino
in Donnie Brasco (1997) and here he
doles out threats and violence to both sexes.
is a romantic subplot between Gaetano and a woman he meets (Erin Cummings), but
it’s a distraction, and I would have liked to have seen more of Mr. Sirico’s
character. The film’s best scene is
between him and his mother with whom he lives, and they have an argument about
how he gave up his life to take care of her. The scene is an emotionally pivotal moment, with real feeling that rings
true with a veracity that is unfortunately missing from many other scenes in
the rest of the film.
film’s director, Juha Wuolijoki, is Scandinavian and a curious choice to helm a
story like this.
you’re a fan of mob movies and Tony Sirico in particular (and who isn’t,
especially after his lost-in-the-woods act with a confederate in one of The Soprano’s best episodes), give Zarra’s Law a whirl. It ain’t Goodfellas…but
then again, what is?
Founded by producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, American International Pictures (A.I.P.) hit upon a formula of financing and releasing low-budget exploitation films for non-discriminating audiences (translation: the youth market). Specializing in horror films and goofy comedies, A.I.P. occasionally strayed into other genres. In 1963, the company capitalized on the always-popular WWII genre with the release of "Operation Bikini". Ostensibly, the movie's title referred to the obscure atoll in the Pacific where atomic bomb tests were conducted during the Cold War era. However, in true A.I.P. style, the advertising campaign was designed to imply that the title might also refer to the fact that the bikini bathing suit was popularized here by a French designer who conducted a photo shoot on the atoll just days after an atomic blast. (Ignorant of the risks from radiation poison, he merrily pronounced that "like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating!") Still, the sexploitation angle in "Operation Bikini" was saved for late in the film. What precedes its appearance is a fairly routine combat flick made somewhat more interesting by the obvious attempts of the filmmakers to disguise the movie's very limited budget.
Tab Hunter, one of the top heart throbs of the era, had by this point seen his popularity in decline. He nonetheless received top billing over charismatic crooner Frankie Avalon, whose career was ascending and who would find great popularity as the star of several A.I.P. beach movies over the next few years. Hunter plays Lt. Morgan Hayes, the leader of a secret commando team that has been ordered to rendezvous with a U.S. submarine that has been ordered to transport them on a secret mission. The team is supposed to locate and destroy the sunken wreckage of an American sub that was recently sunk off the coast of Bikini by the Japanese. Seems the wreckage contains a prototype of a top secret sonar device that the Allies can't afford to fall into enemy hands. From minute one, Hayes' small group of rough house land-lubbers rubs the Captain of the submarine, Emmett Carey (Scott Brady) and his crew the wrong way. Hayes' men resent being cooped up in a floating "tin can" and the naval crew resents the presence of these brash soldiers who seem to be perpetually eager to provoke a fight. Carey gives Hayes a dressing down about keeping the tension levels low and the two men ultimately gain mutual respect for one another. Upon arriving at Bikini, Hayes and his men must sneak ashore and traverse the dense jungle in search of the area where the sunken submarine is located. They are guided by local partisans who conveniently include a stunning beauty named Reiko, played by Eva Six, a recent winner of the "Miss Golden Globes" honor. (I will refrain from making any tasteless jokes.) Reiko takes a shine to Hayes and gets his mind temporarily off his troubles by seducing him. When Hayes and his men finally arrive at their destination, they are dismayed to see a virtual fleet of Japanese vessels guarding the coast line where the sub is already being salvaged by the enemy. Hayes realizes that they are now probably on a suicide mission. Nevertheless, they persevere courageously, dodging and sometimes engaging Japanese patrols before sending in Hayes and some fellow scuba divers to attach time bombs to the hull of the sunken sub. (The sequence is rather absurd because the team accomplishes this in the dead of night despite not being able to employ any lighting equipment whatsoever.) Detected by the Japanese, Hayes and his heroes take some casualties in their desperate attempt to make it back to Capt. Carey's submarine.
Here's another reminder of how great movie-going used to be in the era when a hot dog and Coke didn't require a home remortgage loan. In 1967, the Pasadena Theatre was showing a re-issue of John Wayne's "The Alamo" along with another United Artists classic reissue, "The Pink Panther". If that wasn't good enough for you, "In Like Flint" was the next feature! (Kudos to reader Mike Boldt for sharing the photo).
Throughout history there have been men born to see the
future and to do what they can to make it happen.Without exception they are branded lunatics,
fanatics and most often end up on the wrong side of the law. Such a man was abolitionist
John Brown. In 1856, Kansas was about to enter the Union. The question was
whether it would join as a free or a slave state. At a time when the nation
could not make up its mind about slavery, Brown knew instinctively it was evil
and that the future would prove him right. Brown and his seven sons fought to
make Kansas free.
“Seven Angry Men” (1955) presents Raymond Massey’s
third portrayal of John Brown. He first played the role in “Santa Fe Trail”
(1940) and on Broadway in “John Brown’s Body” (1953). Brown’s seven sons are played by Jeffrey
Hunter (Owen), Larry Pennell (Oliver), Dennis Weaver (John, Jr.), John Smith (Frederick),
Guy Williams (Salmon), Tom Irish (Watson) and James Best (Jake).
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren from a script by
Daniel B. Ullman “Seven Angry Men” is an accurate and thoughtful screen
treatment of Brown’s story. It begins by showing the simmering conflict between
the two sides of the slavery issue. Leo Gordon plays Martin White, leader of
the pro-slavery faction in Lawrence. In the first standoff we see the terrible
costs the Brown family paid for the patriarch’s actions, when we witness John
Jr., (Weaver) starting to crumble emotionally. After White burns Lawrence to
the ground to cleanse it of abolitionists, Brown retaliates by killing several
of the perpetrators in a face-to-face fight with guns and knives. The brutality
of the killings causes John Jr. to lose
his mind. Jake quits the fight and rides off to surrender to the army to get
John, Jr. some medical attention. He is soon followed by Frederick. Left with
three sons, Brown continues the battle, saying they have “planted the seeds of
freedom that will flourish with God’s help.”
Jeffrey Hunter as Owen is the brother caught in the
middle between his loyalty to his father and his fear of where the old man’s
fanaticism will lead. Debra Paget is Hunter’s love interest. When she begs him
to get his father to stop what he’s doing, Brown calls his son a weak coward.
Nevertheless Owen stays with him even after Oliver and Salmon desert him. Brown
fights on regardless and the first half of the movie ends with Kansas’ entry
into the Union as a free state, with Brown claiming victory.
The second half follows Brown on a fund raising tour
that leads him to Boston where no lesser personages than Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Henry David Thoreau contribute $1,000 apiece to the cause. Brown invests
the money in rifles and ammo to be sent to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Brown, now
reunited with three of his sons, and 15 other men seize the arsenal there,
planning to arm the slaves, who Brown believes will march to Harper’s Ferry
once they know he plans to free them. Of course, none of it worked, and one
wonders if Brown wasn’t truly mad to think it would.
He is arrested by Union officers Jeb Stuart and Col.
Robert E. Lee. At his trial for treason, an affidavit is presented claiming
mental illness ran in Brown’s family, but he rejected any attempt to get off on
an insanity plea. He tells the court that he acted on behalf of the poor and
the helpless and if he must give his life “so be it.” He was hanged in Harper’s
Ferry Dec 2, 1859.
Owen, the only son to survive, offers to gather men to
rescue him, saying there are abolitionist leaders all over the country in
support of him. But he refuses, saying he was glad to know there were many in
the nation who did not consider him insane or a murderer. But he believed he
was worth “inconceivably more to hang than any other purpose.”
Overall, “Seven Angry Men” shows us an interesting
slice of history and will probably tell you a few things about Brown and his
mission to free slaves that you didn’t know. It also shows how far a man will go
for what he believes in. In Brown’s case, he went all the way, taking quite a
few people with him. He was a man of passionate beliefs, but strangely the film
itself is very dispassionate. Massey’s portrayal keeps histrionics to a bare
minimum. The entire production, while taking great pains to tell the story in
detail and as accurately as possible, lacks the passion and fire you’d expect. Director
Charles Marquis Warren seemed to deliberately hold the emotional temperature
down with the emphasis more on historical facts. It’s a far cry from the way
today’s filmmakers work. One can easily imagine what Tarantino or Stone would
do with this material.
Warner Brothers Archive Collection presents “Seven
Angry Men” in a no-frills DVD with no extras. The black and white picture is
adequate in widescreen 16x9, and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Worth viewing for its
cast and as a refresher course on the days leading up to the abolition of
slavery. History buffs will enjoy it the most.
Shaft! Superfly! Supersoul Brother? That’s right, boys and girls. There’s a new hero
in town and his name is Steve. Once a down-on-his-luck, homeless wino, Steve,
thanks to a freaky scientific experiment, has been transformed into an
incredible being who is faster than a…well, he’s actually not faster than much
of anything , but he is more powerful than your local wino and able to bag
chicks who are way out of his league!If
you’re a fan of the funky ‘70s Blaxploitation genre, you can rejoice as a real
rarity has been dug up for your viewing pleasure.
When speaking about Blaxploitation cinema,
most film buffs immediately think of classic action flicks such as Foxy Brown or Three the Hard Way (and rightly so), but there were plenty of other
wonderful genres covered. For instance, horror quickly comes to mind. Blacula and The Zombies of Sugar Hill are not only two solid entries in
Blaxploitation cinema, but in horror cinema as well. And then there’s comedy. Who
can forget Rudy Ray Moore’s uproarious classics like Dolemite or Disco Godfather?
Supersoul Brother sort of fits into
this last category as, like Dolemite,
it’s a spoof of crime/action movies; not to mention comic book superheroes (it
was originally going to be titled The
Black Superman) and the then enormously popular Six Million Dollar Man television show.
Directed by Rene Martinez who also co-wrote
with Laura S. Diaz, Supersoul Brother aka
The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger (I kid
you not) concerns small time hoods Bob (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) who
pay evil Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad) six thousand dollars to create a super
strength serum that will enable them to easily rob a safe filled with diamonds.
There’s only one small problem: whoever takes the serum dies in six days. Enter
Steve (played by comedian Wildman Steve Gallon), a wino who has hit rock bottom.
The hoods inject the unwary Steve with the serum, convince him to carry out the
robbery (which Steve thinks is just a practical joke) and plan on keeping all
the diamonds for themselves once Steve croaks. However, Super-Steve catches
wind of their nefarious plan, hides the diamonds and, with the help of Nurse
Peggy (the gorgeous Joycelyn Norris), tries to elude the hoods and find an
antidote before it’s too late.
youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Actor Hugh O’Brian became an icon of American
television through his long-running series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. O’Brian
also became a popular fixture in feature films as well as stage productions. At
age 90, he’s still going strong. His autobiography “Hugh O’Brian or What’s
Left of Him” has just been published and his Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership
group is continuing to inspire American teenagers to become productive adults. Additionally, O’Brian has been promoting the
SFM Entertainment’s release of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: The Complete Series”
We caught up with O’Brian recently for a phone
interview from his home in Los Angeles. O’Brian’s wife Virginia, who co-authored his autobiography, also
contributed some anecdotes. Hugh O’Brian
possesses a marvelous sense of humor and makes self-deprecating jokes at the
drop of hat. However, the main characteristic that comes across is that he is a
true class act.
Cinema Retro: Can you give us some background on how
you became involved in “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”?
Hugh O’Brian: I really was a fan of Wyatt Earp before I
got the role. I was in the Marine Corps and before my time, he had spent some
time in the San Diego area. Every two or three weeks, he would go over to the
Marine Corps base , which is where I enlisted in 1943 when I was seventeen
CR: You ended up being named the youngest drill
instructor that the Marine Corps ever had…
HO: Yes, they made me a drill instructor at age
seventeen. I don’t know if you’ve ever met any drill instructors, but it would
be very difficult for any of them to believe that. My grandfather was a Marine and my dad was a
Marine. He worked for a company called Armstrong Cork. Cork, at the time, was
the main thing you would use for insulation in homes and so forth. Dad became
the captain in charge of the Marine Corps in the Chicago area and he made a
wonderful recruiting effort there. Every summer from the time that I was four,
I would go with my dad for the two week training period up at Great Lakes,
Wisconsin. I had my own little pup tent and so you could say I was involved
with the Marines since the age of four. Anyway, Wyatt Earp loved the Marine
Corps because of the discipline and what they stood for. There was a guy by the
name of Stuart Lake, who wrote the book on Wyatt (“Wyatt Earp: Frontier
Marshall”- Ed.) I made a point of
meeting him. He became very became very instrumental in my finally getting the
role of Wyatt. He liked the fact that I did all my own stunts, which was a
stupid thing to do! On one film I had
done, I jumped off the roof of a 36
story office building in New York City. These guys with guns were chasing me I broke loose and there was only
one way to go: up. They were following me and I went over to the edge and as
they came towards me, I went over backwards and came through a window
below. There wasn’t any way you could
practice that! I did my own stunts, not because of ego or anything like that,
but because when you look at a film or a TV show, they usually have a stunt man
or a double to do the fight scenes. I insisted from the very beginning that,
while obviously they could lay out action scenes so they could get paid, but I
would do the stunts myself. It helped the filming tremendously because they
didn’t have to cut to a longer shot in which they would have used a double. If
there was something that I thought was much too risky, then, of course, I would
let the stuntman do it. I think appreciated the fact that I tried to do my own
stunts. It was like Wyatt Earp being alive and doing it.
We've often written about the shameful conceit of movie studios that used to cast caucasian actors in leading roles pertaining to ethnic minorities. Sure, it was fine to have actual minority actors playing supporting roles (often for comic effect) but the most important characters were generally always portrayed by white actors or actresses (remember Rex Harrison as The King of Siam???). Sadly, this blatant policy of racial prejudice often extended to films that were sympathetic to the very races they were portraying. Case in point: Geronimo, a 1962 Western that purports to tell the story of the legendary Apache leader who stood virtually alone against the U.S. government, even after most of his tribe was browbeaten into surrendering. The logic at United Artists at the time was that there was no actor more appropriate to play a famous Native American other than Chuck Connors, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for the Aryan race. Connors was riding high at the time as the star of the popular TV series The Rifleman, and he certainly possessed an imposing physique as well as more-than-adequate acting abilities. However, even with contact lenses and a black Morticia Addams wig, there is no doubt he was completely miscast as Geronimo. This was also the case with fellow cast members Kamala Devi, a gorgeous flash-in-the-pan actress who worked on several projects with Connors before fading into oblivion and Ross Martin (!), the fine actor primarily known for playing Artemus Gordon in the Wild, Wild West TV series. Not only are all these folks woefully wrong for their roles, the characters talk in modern vernacular that makes you think they must be part of the obscure Apache tribe from Bayonne, New Jersey.
With American crime TV series now an almost indistinguishable jumble of action-oriented plots featuring calendar model-type male and female leads, it's nice to revisit an era when the pace was slower, the plots were more intelligent and the stars resembled everyday people. Case in point: the old "Columbo" series starring Peter Falk, a product of the late 1960s that became so phenomenally successful that its lifespan into the early 2000's. The show would appear regularly- and later occasionally- in the format of a 90 minute TV movie when such fare was all the rage on network TV. The show premiered as a "one-shot" production titled "Prescription: Murder" in 1968 but the character of Columbo became so popular that he became a mainstay of the NBC Mystery Movie", a weekly program in the 1970s in which popular actors were seen as sleuths. The format allowed each star (Falk, Rock Hudson, Dennis Weaver and Richard Boone) to be seen on alternating weeks. "Columbo" became Falk's signature role as the frumpy, seemingly idiotic L.A. police detective who used these characteristics to intellectually disarm his adversaries. Every episode allowed the viewer to see precisely who committed a presumably perfect crime. Inevitably, the culprit would be an elitist, well-established snob- predominantly a male, but occasionally female. The principal villain was also generally played by a major star, thus allowing viewers the delight of seeing actors who generally portrayed heroic figures to engage in some mustache-twirling as bad guys. The most delightful aspect of the series, aside from the intricate plot lines, were the sequences in which Columbo slowly closes the noose around his prey. Both detective and suspect know what is going on but they engage in civility toward each other as the culprit goes through the motions of pretending he is helping Columbo solve the crime. Columbo was unlike any of the slick, sophisticated TV detectives audiences had grown accustomed to. He was generally clad in a crumpled trench coat and drove a laughably battered 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible with the only apparent accessory a working police radio. Falk's inimitable New York mannerisms and speech patterns gave him a "fish-out-of-water" quality no matter who he interacted with, including his fellow police officers. Finishing off his unsophisticated appearance was his omnipresent cheap cigar, which he would smoke everywhere, including mansion houses where he was investigating crimes. (Like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, we never quite see him with a fresh cigar in his mouth, only a half-stogie that appeared to be as much chewed as smoked.)
Patrick McGoohan as Col. Rumford
Netflix is now presenting the various seasons of "Columbo" that were aired on NBC. (The show's revival in the late 1980s was seen on ABC.) One standout episode in a history of standout episodes is "By Dawn's Early Light", which was originally telecast in October, 1974. (The show can be found in the Season 4 category on Netflix.) Patrick McGoohan is cast as Col. Lyle C. Rumford, a gruff, spit-and-polish career soldier who is in charge of an illustrious military school. When we first see him, he is painstakingly disassembling the shell for a ceremonial canon and modifying it so that it will be an instrument of murder. We soon meet the intended victim: William Haynes (Tom Simcox), the grandson of the school's legendary founder. Haynes has a confrontational meeting with Rumford in the colonel's office. They discuss the fact that enrollment in the school has plummeted dramatically in recent years due to the aversion of boys who want to pursue a military career. (Keep in mind the episode was shot during the period in which the United States still had a presence in Vietnam.) Haynes has developed a plan to ensure the school's economic survival by making it a coed institution. Rumford is appalled by the idea and intends to thwart its implementation by having Haynes killed when he fires the canon at the school's Founder's Day event. He will achieve this by adjusting the explosives inside the shell canister then stuffing a rag into the barrel of the weapon. The ploy works: when Haynes fires the canon, it explodes and kills him in front of hundreds of horrified on-lookers. Rumford thinks he has gotten away with murder and ensured that the school will continue as an all-male institution with him in charge. But, as they say in detective films, the plot thickens when Columbo arrives on scene. To state any more specifics would ruin the enjoyment of the episode, which is one of the best. The sheer pleasure of seeing Falk squaring off on camera with McGoohan is a true delight and the episode was so well received that McGoohan won an Emmy for his performance. Adding to the pleasures are the high production values. The episode was filmed on location at The Citadel military college in Charleston and this allowed the producers a degree of authenticity that would have been difficult to replicate on a back lot. The episode also benefited from the inspired direction of Harvey Hart, who also directed such feature films as "Bus Riley's Back in Town", "The Sweet Ride" and "Fortune and Men's Eyes." If you're going to engage in some binge-watching, you would be hard-pressed to find a better companion than Lt. Columbo.
(Trivia note: keep an eye out for young Bruno Kirby, who plays one of the cadets.)
For an essay about this episode, visit the How Sweet It Was site by clicking here.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "COLUMBO: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON" FROM AMAZON
I mentioned in last month’s review of The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release of The Palm Beach Story,
Preston Sturges was a rare breed in Hollywood in the early 1940s. After
Chaplin, he was the only working screenwriter/director in that he wrote
original scripts alone and then directed them, and he put an auteur stamp on each picture in terms of
style and themes. Naturally, the bigwigs in Hollywood resented the guy, and
Sturges often had a tough time at Paramount, where his most prolific and productive
five-year-reign took place. He was a flame that burned very brightly for a
short time. This brief career arc of a genius filmmaker is aptly presented in one
of the supplements on this new release—Preston
Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, which originally
appeared on television’s American Masters
Sturges’ best work, Sullivan’s Travels was
released as a DVD from The Criterion Collection over a decade ago. The company
has seen fit to upgrade the film to Blu-ray with a new high-definition digital
restoration. Naturally, it looks magnificent, and I think by now we can take
for granted that Criterion will do a bang-up job on any digital restorations
has been written about Sullivan’s Travels
and there is no question that it is a remarkable piece of work. It premiered in
late 1941 but wasn’t released to the public until early 1942; nevertheless, it
received no Oscar nominations and at the time wasn’t as popular as Sturges’
previous pictures. Why? Possibly because it made audiences think. Yes, it’s a comedy, but that’s really only the first half.
After that, the picture becomes pretty serious, with a very sympathetic and
almost-sentimental social commentary on poverty and the Great Depression. It’s
true that the writer/director’s signature fast-and-witty dialogue is present
throughout, but the belly laughs are few in this particular title. Maybe
audiences in 1942 were wondering what happened to the Preston Sturges they
knew. Ironically (and Sturges was very big on irony), the film is now
considered a classic and Sturges’ masterpiece.
McCrea plays Sullivan, a popular Hollywood movie director who specializes in
comedies. What he really wants to do, however, is make a serious and
responsible Capra-esque picture about human suffering, entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou? (And, yes,
this is where the Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from 2000.) After
much haggling with the studio bosses, Sullivan dresses as a “tramp” and hits
the road in order to undergo first-hand what the American people have been
experiencing during the Depression. Along the way, he meets beautiful Veronica
Lake, and Sully unwittingly allows her to tag along. The movie is then made up
of the couple’s various misadventures, including a hard left turn in which Sullivan
is sent to a hard labor prison with a mistaken identity. One of the most
striking scenes in the picture is when an African-American church opens its
doors to the prisoners for a field trip to watch movies projected on the wall.
It is there that Sullivan has an epiphany about his work and life—and it’s a
very good lesson for us all.
watched The Mississippi Gambler (1953) DVD from Universal while recovering from
a root canal, hoping a good rousing Tyrone Power flick and three fingers of
Kentucky bourbon, would cure my ills. Boy, was I wrong. Watching this slow,
soap opera-ish movie, with a cast of characters that belong in an old Carol
Burnett Show sketch, was like having a root canal all over again.
the Technicolor was good, and Julia Adams was great (which she always is) but
the script by Seton Miller was a complete turnoff with one of the worst endings
I’ve ever seen. The characters were mostly boring and despicable. The plot was
ham-fisted melodrama served with a mint julep. Direction by Rudolph Mate was
lethargic and unimaginative.
it’s one of those stories about four people all in love with the wrong person.
But Miller added some very weird touches to the familiar story line. Piper Laurie
plays Angelique Dureau, a snooty, neurotic iceberg who is way too close to her
brother Laurent (John Baer) for comfort. She uses him as a shield against intimacy
with any other man, as Tyrone Power, playing the titular gambler Mark Fallon,
explains to her. For no comprehensible reason at all, other than the plot
demands it, Fallon falls madly in love with her. Why, oh, why? She’s a pouty,
petulant, porcelain imitation of a woman.
Laurent is a miserable weasel, a man with no honor – and
thus a perfect foil for the upright and honorable Fallon, who is not only a
good man with a deck of cards, he’s also the son of one of New York’s finest
fencing masters. (Zorro rides again!). The three of them meet on a Mississippi riverboat
named The Sultana. Pardon a digression
while I note that this was the same paddle boat on which Yancy Derringer (Jock
Mahoney), a few years later, would ply his poker skills in the CBS television
goal is to run an honest gambling table and eventually open his own casino. He
teams up with Kansas John Polly (John McIntyre), a seasoned veteran of many a
three card Monty game. In a game of poker, Laurent loses his sister’s diamond
necklace to Fallon. Fallon tries to give it back to her later, but she pretends
she told her brother to wager it. In the next scene she confronts the weasel
and cries, “How could you do it without asking me?” This obviously gets the
“star-crossed” lovers off on the wrong foot.
wins big that night but he and Polly barely escape being killed by a gang of
crooked gamblers and have to jump off the boat when the captain gets near the
river bank. They walk to New Orleans, after losing all their winnings in the
river. But they have a good laugh about it.
about the second act mark, enter Julia Adams as Ann Conant. She’s the member of
another weird brother/sister duo. Her brother, Julian (Dennis Weaver, believe
it or not, with a sort of New York high society accent) sits down to play with
Fallon, saying he heard he played an honest game. He quickly loses every cent
he brought with him, then goes out on deck and shoots himself. The Captain and Fallon discover he has a
sister on board, and Fallon feels responsible and wants to help her. She says
he must have gambled away the money his company gave him to take to New
Orleans. Fallon, noble fellow that he is, lies and says no he gave that money
to the captain for safe keeping. He takes Ann to New Orleans where and sets her
up in a hotel. It complicates his plans to romance Angelique but what’s a story
If you love the Warner Archive's DVD and Blu-ray releases, you won't be able to resist their streaming service, which offers hundreds of retro movies and TV episodes. The Archive is offering one month free for new subscribers. Click on the banner above of Duke Wayne as "Chisum" to visit the site.
The Shout! Factory video company has launched an excellent new streaming site, www.shoutfactorytv.com that features dozens of classic TV episodes and cult movies every month. Best of all, you can view them for free! This month we recommend the 1970 Amicus horror flick "The House That Dripped Blood", a 1970 anthology of terror tales by Robert Bloch, author of "Psycho" and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt and John Pertwee. Click here to view.
By 1963, Vincent Price was generally recognized as the heir apparent to Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as the undisputed king of the horror film genre. Somewhat lost in discussion's of Price's work is the fact that, until he starred in "House of Wax" in the mid-1950s, he had a long career as a popular and respected supporting actor in mainstream Hollywood productions. If there is a sad aspect to his international success as a horror star, it's that his talents were rarely used henceforth in films of other genres. Nonetheless, Price knew a good thing when he saw it. His collaborations with producer Roger Corman on cinematic versions of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories had proven to be wildly successful. Price wasn't overly selective about working with other producers who sought to capitalize on those films by making blatant imitations of Corman's productions. One such title is "Diary of a Madman", released in 1963 and based on a story by French writer Guy de Maupassant. In some ways, the film is a worthy rival to a Corman/Price collaboration in that it's intelligently scripted, well-cast and has a relatively creative production design that somewhat masks the movie's threadbare budget. As with the Corman flicks, Price is given a meaty role and he makes the most of it. He plays Simon Cordier, a respected French judge in the late 19th century. He has a reputation for fairness and an obsession with studying the criminal mind in the hope of understanding what motivates some men to commit horrendous crimes of violence. The film opens with Cordier receiving a request to meet with a prisoner who he has sentenced to die on the guillotine. The man is a serial killer and Cordier is interested in taking the opportunity to speak to the prisoner, whose behavior has left him baffled. The man was a pillar-of-the-community type with no criminal background a stable profession. Upon meeting the condemned prisoner in his cell, the doomed convict informs Cordier that he welcomes his imminent execution because he has been inexplicably possessed by an invisible being known as the Horla. He relates an incredible story about this creature periodically taking over control of his body and mind and forcing him to commit acts of murder. As the incredulous Cordier tries to absorb this fanciful tale, the man suddenly attacks him. In defending himself, Cordier hurls the prisoner against a wall, killing him instantly.
Back in his chambers, Cordier is haunted by the experience but doesn't think much more of it- until some strange occurrences leave him disturbed. Seems that Cordier's irresponsible behavior had somehow been responsible for the accidental death of his wife and young son years before. Cordier has tried to block the bad memories from his mind by locking away all mementos relating to them, including a large framed photograph that had been stored in his attic. He is shocked to find it hanging prominently on the wall of his study. His loyal butler (Ian Wolfe) denies having placed it there. Other strange occurrences lead Cordier to question his mental stability. A psychiatrist assures him that he is suffering from fatigue and urges him to delve back into his passion for sculpting, which he has ignored for years. Cordier follows his advice and begins to feel more relaxed. Things only get better when he has a chance encounter with a vivacious and flirtatious young woman named Odette (Nancy Kovack), who agrees to be a paid model for him. She begins a campaign to seduce Cordier, never telling him that she is actually married to a financially-strapped artist, Paul (Chris Warfield). When Paul objects to the amount of time that Odette is spending in Cordier's studio, she assures him she is only trying to earn money that they desperately need. In reality, she is a heartless gold digger who is weighing the option of leaving Paul for the older man. Oblivious to all this, Cordier is happy to have found love once again. His mood, however, is rudely disrupted when he realizes the cause of the strange things that have been going on in his house: it seems that the Horla has chosen to possess him in retribution for killing the prisoner whose body it once inhabited. Although Cordier can not see the Horla, he discovers it is a physical presence who can not only speak to him, but can also utilize a number of cruel witticisms that he uses to mock and humiliate the esteemed jurist. From this point on, Cordier's life is a living hell. In rational moments, he tries frantically to figure out how to rid himself of this ghoulish presence, but the Horla retains control of his mind and body at will. This leads to Cordier carrying out a particularly gruesome murder, leaving him desperate to find a way out of his tortured existence. He devises a last-ditch effort to lure the Horla into his study where he hopes to kill him through use of his one vulnerability: fire. The resulting consequences are dramatic but have tragic results even for Cordier.
"Diary of a Madman" is mid-range Price fare from this period. The entire enterprise rides on the actor shoulders, but they prove to be broad enough to carry it off. Price looks dashing and, as always, puts his best efforts into even a modest enterprise such as this. Nancy Kovack also gives a fine performance as a bad girl who, refreshingly, never learns to redeem herself as she cuckolds both of her lovers in turn. The film is not exceptional on any level, but it is consistently entertaining an reasonably engrossing.
The MGM made-on-demand DVD features a very impressive transfer and an original trailer is included in which Price (in character) breaks the "Fourth Wall" and addresses the viewer directly.
A film that became a legendary bomb, the 1977 Western The White Buffalo has been re-evaluated by movie fans in recent years and many consider it to be an underrated classic. Count me out of this assessment. The film is certainly unique: an ambitious attempt to blend the Western and horror film genres, but it falls short on most counts.The United Artists production stars Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickcok, who- for reasons never adequately explained- is haunted by terrifying nightmares involving him in a life-or-death confrontation with a giant white buffalo. I didn't know that buffalo come in colors, but I'll cede the point. (Given the dreadful styles of the 1970s, it's surprising the film wasn't titled The Plaid Buffalo.) Simultaneously, Chief Crazy Horse (Will Sampson) is having his own white buffalo problems. Seems the actual rampaging beast wreaked havoc on his village and killed his child. In order to restore his pride and stature among the tribe, he must hunt down and slaughter the animal- or be stuck with the monicker of "The Worm" henceforth. (This must be the Indian equivalent of "nerd".)
The two men are on obsessive journeys and are destined to meet up - but both feel they have the singular right to kill the buffalo. Hickcok meanders through some cow towns under an alias and hooks up with a mountain man geezer (Jack Warden channeling the ghost of Gabby Hayes) who decides to accompany him on his quest. When Hickcok and Crazy Horse do meet up, they end up saving each other's life in respective ambushes and declare themselves blood brothers. Despite this, each man is determined to be the one who slays the white buffalo.
The popular John Wayne flick "McLintock!" has had a long, tortured history in terms of its video releases. The film fell out of copyright for a while in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in any number of cheapo VHS and DVD editions being sold in "dollar stores". Recently Olive Films released a Blu-ray edition of the film, sans any special features. Shortly thereafter, Paramount released a Blu-ray of a previously issued "Authentic Collector's Edition" DVD that is loaded with fascinating extras. The film represented the first time Wayne had been directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, son of his old John Ford stock company buddy Victor McLaglen. Both Wayne and Andrew's careers owed their very existence to Ford and they learned well from the master in terms of how to make comedy/action films that would have broad appeal. "McLintock!" is basically the best John Ford film that Ford never directed. It has all the elements of a traditional Ford production: a battle of the sexes between a strong-willed leading man and an equally strong-willed leading lady; eccentric characters played by eccentric character actors; a snappy musical score and at least one big brawl played out in a humorous manner (in this case, the famous group fight scene in a mud pit).
"McLintock!" reunited Wayne with his favorite leading lady Maureen O'Hara, who had co-starred with him in Ford's "The Quiet Man", "Rio Grande" and "The Wings of Eagles". (They teamed for the final time in 1971 for "Big Jake".) O'Hara was one of the few actresses who could stand up to Wayne in terms of screen presence. Here, they play the familiar roles of an estranged couple. Wayne is George Washington McLintock (known by one and all as "G.W."), a cattle baron so successful that the town he lives in bares his name. He is separated from his fiery-tempered wife Katherine (O'Hara), who returns to town unexpectedly to try to convince McLintock to allow their teenage daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers) to live with her in the big city. That's pretty much the entire plot. Before long, G.W. and Katherine are battling like boxers going the full fifteen rounds. The film is an obvious western-based adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", which means that although Katherine is allowed to be seen initially as a strong, independent woman, in the end she is pacified by her husband and becomes a compliant Stepford-like wife. In a finale guaranteed to cause Hilary Clinton agitta, G.W. subjects Katherine to the humiliation of being spanked in public in front of a cheering crowd. Anyone who has progressed from a Neanderthal state will find this element of the film a bit cringe-inducing, but if viewed within the context of its era, it is undeniably amusing. In between the shouting and the spanking, G.W. and Katherine alternate between insulting each other like a frontier version of Ralph and Alice Kramden and making goo-goo eyes at each other. There's no doubt that the film will have a storybook ending and the corn quotient is fairly high. Nevertheless, "McLintock!" is such rollicking good fun that its charms are almost impossible to resist. Much of the film's charm comes from its sheer exuberance in portraying amusing people in amusing situations. There is no gravitas on display and the closest we get to some meaningful drama is when G.W.and Katherine stare longingly into each other's eyes after a period of estrangement, indicating that, despite their fiery tempers and constant arguments, these are two people who are not only madly in love but also quite lustful toward each other. Director McLaglen keeps the action flowing in true Fordian style and it's safe to say there isn't a dull moment. A lot of people get punched and some guns get fired, but no one really gets hurt. All of the shenanigans are set to composer Frank De Vol's lively and catchy score. The film was in theaters the same week that President Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps the presence of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a feel-good movie like this provided some solace to a grieving nation. In any event, "McLintock!" proved to be one of the Duke's biggest boxoffice hits. It also had a long, successful run on television in the pre-cable/home video era. Over the years, it was shown on prime time by all three major networks and enjoyed big ratings each time.
Original trade magazine ad.
The Paramount Blu-ray carries over the extras from the DVD release and is the definitive home video version of the film. Extras include:
Audio commentary that is jam-packed with vintage interviews with the film's producer, Michael Wayne; director Andrew V. McLaglen, film historians Leonard Maltin and Frank Thompson and cast members Michael Pate and Stefanie Powers.
A "making of" documentary is broken down into three sections. One provides some interesting insights into Michael Wayne's decision to devote the years after his father's death to raising money for the cancer foundation that bares the Duke's name. Another featurette spotlights Maureen O'Hara and Stefanie Powers and the third delves into shooting the famous mud pit fight.
Another featurette shows veteran stuntmen Tom Morga and Wayne Bauer demonstrating how to throw punches convincingly.
An odd but entertaining mini-documentary about the corsets women wore back in the 19th century. Today, we would call the procedure for getting into one of these contraptions "torture".
The quality of the transfer is simply terrific. "McLintock!" never looked so good.
“Sandy” Mackendrick had enjoyed a succession of triumphs in England. Working
out of Ealing studios, he directed such memorable comedies as The Man in the
White Suit, Whiskey Galore and the deliciously dark The Ladykillers. As the
Ealing factory system began to dry up, Mackendrick made an arguably unlikely
move to America. It was through a number of mishaps, unfulfilled projects and
(one could argue) a degree of ‘fate’ that Sweet smell of success eventually
fell into the lap of Mackendrick.
there was little doubt of Mackendrick’s immense ability as a director, there
was perhaps an element of doubt whether he could actually undertake a film such
as Sweet Smell of Success. After all, those subtle British films were about as
far removed as one could possibly imagine when compared to the media dynamics
and fuelled corruption of this screenplay. However, Mackendrick had a good eye;
a very good eye in fact. Given time to observe the city he knew how to capture
it at its best. Through the camera lens, Mackendrick presented Manhattan better
than any other contemporary film had done and as a result, undoubtedly
influenced esteemed future directors such as Woody Allen.
film’s ‘master and dog’ relationship between newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker
(Burt Lancaster, playing a thinly-disguised Walter Winchell) and the Machiavellian press publicist Sidney Falco (Tony
Curtis) is the only one of importance. Lancaster was never more imposing as
Hunsecker, whilst Curtis displays a slimy charm and a sickening depravity as
Falco. As the relationship unfolds, it becomes a battle of wits and power - Falco
believes himself to be in a symbiotic relationship with J.J. — he provides him with
the stories he needs - but, by the close, the power imbalance is made
depressingly obvious. Feeding off the crumbs left by Hunsecker, Sidney is always
destined to be consumed by J.J.’s domineering dictatorship. Whilst Sweet Smell
of Success remains a stunning piece of work, it is also not without its flaws -
specifically in the romantic relationship between Hunsecker’s sister Susan (Susan
Harrison) and Steve (Martin Milner) an aspiring young a jazz musician. Not that
there is anything wrong with this coiling plot- the story of Susan’s sinisterly
over-protective brother and his scheming through Falco to dishonour Steve’s
reputation provides the film’s central narrative. All of it works perfectly. However,
it is sadly the performances from the inexperienced Harrison and Milner that hamper
the film’s vibrant energy and pace – they are both limp and damp. In contrast,
such powerhouse performances from both Lancaster and Curtis, and the provision
of a razor sharp script by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets – still cements Sweet
Smell of Success as one of the greatest films of its kind. Combined with James
Wong Howe’s sumptuous deep-focus cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s brassy musical
score and you are left with something damn near close to a perfect movie.
newly restored High Definition (1080p) presentation is a 4K digital transfer
from the original 35mm camera negative – and frankly it looks incredible. As Sweet
Smell of Success is such a personal favourite of mine, I have followed its
evolution on home video - through VHS, laserdisc, DVD and now Blu-ray. it’s
been an interesting journey but I feel confident that I have finally arrived at
my destination. The film has never looked so crisp and clean. It is spotless and
always deserved to look this good. There are a couple of location scenes that
look a little ‘too’ real for my liking. I’ve always considered there may be a few
lengths of stock footage involved here, but I can’t be sure. Regardless, these
random shots fall seamlessly in line with the general atmosphere and harsh
realism of the urban setting. Wong Howe’s photography is defined by deep dark
blacks, varying arrays of grey shade and subtle use of intelligent lighting. Pin-
striped suites and intense close ups are all solid and reveal sharply defined
detail. Lancaster’s face and glasses (permanently lit from above) creates a
near ‘skull like’ shadow upon his cold gaze, the results of which look rather
spectacular in this new Blu-ray edition.
continue to supply the audio in an original untampered and uncompressed PCM
mono 1.0, which is clean and free from any distortion. Extras consist of an appreciation
by critic and film historian Philip Kemp, author of Lethal Innocence: The
Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick. Kemp
appears in the top left of screen presenting a detailed analysis of the film
while several scenes are presented. He also provides a selected scene commentary,
taking several key and expanding on detail. It does nevertheless raise the question – why didn’t Kemp provide a full
commentary track? The man is obviously an expert on the movie and his knowledge
would have been very welcome (and valuable) throughout.
bonus highlight for me is Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away – Dermot
McQuarrie’s 1986 Scottish Television documentary which features extensive interviews
with Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, Gordon Jackson and many
others. It’s a great example of how documentaries of this kind use to be made –
rather than the quick, cross cutting MTV style of documentary making today.
It’s certainly one to take time over and enjoy fully.
film’s original theatrical trailer is also included.
has again spared no expense in terms of packaging. They have provided a
reversible sleeve featuring both an original poster and newly commissioned
artwork by Chris Walker. The collector’s booklet (40 pages) includes new
writing on the film by Michael Brooke and Mackendrick’s own analysis of various
script drafts. It is also illustrated throughout with original stills and
posters. It all makes for a wonderful package and one that should be savoured –
‘I love this dirty town!’
The majestic Loew's Theatre on Journal Square in Jersey City, New Jersey is one of the theaters that had been saved from destruction.
There's few things sadder than witnessing the decline and neglect of a one time movie palace. At least in the New York City area, this trend is finally being reversed thanks to major restoration efforts to save and preserve these landmark cinema showcases. The New York Times has a major piece on these restoration efforts, which are affording movie lovers the opportunity to enjoy classic films and cultural events in these historical settings. Click here to read.
by Michele Brittany (Published by McFarland & Company, $38), 278 Pages,
Softcover, ISBN: 9780786477937
15 years ago, when I was unsuccessfully hawking a manuscript for a proposed
James Bond book around publishers, I was informed categorically in one
rejection letter that "There are already far too many Bond books jostling
for attention in the marketplace". This may or may not have been the case,
but it struck me even then as nonsense and has never, as far as I'm aware, been
a deterrent to any publisher to seize an opportunity to jump on the
Bondwagon. (I'd rather have been told my work simply wasn't any good). In the
intervening years there have been so
many books bearing the James Bond tag that even die-hard aficionados must have
had a job keeping up.
Bond and Popular Culture" (an assembly of "Essays on the Influence of
the Fictional Superspy") will find its keenest audience among those who
simply must read everything related
to their iconic hero. For it is less about Bond himself, rather – as the
subtitle suggests – it’s focus falls upon 007’s cultural influence and those who
followed in his wake. Also, naturally enough, his antecedents. Following a
foreword (which left me eager to locate James
Batman, a 1960s production from the Philippines which merged Bond and
Batman), the collection of essays of varying length are divided into five
categories: Film, TV, Literature, Lifestyle and Reinterpretation. A wide range
of topics are discussed, from Bollywood and the Japanese Nakano films to The Man from
U.N.C.L.E and Doctor Who, with a
fistful of others in between, all appended with an extensive array of footnotes
and bibliographic detail.
you might anticipate from a work such as this, some of the theses it comprises
– though unquestionably well researched and informative – can be a little hard
going. And, also perhaps a tad predictably, one or two are of a nature that
(unintentionally) sap the fun out of a subject which, let's be honest, really
shouldn't be taken too seriously.
the 24th 007 screen adventure SPECTRE looming on the horizon, the
months ahead will be hard on the wallets of serious Bond buffs. Not least of
all in the book department. At a princely $38, this non-illustrated, comparatively
slender offering is unlikely to top the shopping lists of many. But for those
who do choose to invest, it’s be best filed on your bookshelf
alongside similarly highfalutin tomes such as "Bond and Beyond: The
Political Career of a Popular Hero".
Lewis with Beverly D'Angelo and Clint Eastwood in the hit 1978 comedy Every Which Way But Loose.
Acclaimed character actor Geoffrey Lewis, and father of actress Juliette Lewis, has died at age 79 of natural causes. Lewis had a long and impressive list of major films and TV appearances to his credit. He was frequently cast by Clint Eastwood in the iconic actor's productions including High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Bronco Billy, Pink Cadillac and their last collaboration, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although Lewis was often cast as earthy, hillbilly-types, he could also excel at playing sophisticated characters as well. Other major film credits include The Wind and the Lion, Heaven's Gate, The Lawmower Man, Maverick and the TV movie version of Salem's Lot. He primarily worked in television and had amassed a seemingly endless number of appearances on major series over the decades.
Cage is a workhorse and may be one of the busiest actors today. In an era where
big name actors might release a single movie per year, Cage typically comes out
with three, four or even five. At any given time he may have over a half dozen
movies in various stages of production. Cage is a good actor, often a very good
actor, and has made some very entertaining movies that stand up to repeat
viewings. I enjoy much of what he does from the over-the-top supernatural action-horror
movies “Ghost Rider” and “Drive Angry,” to the adventure-mystery “National
Treasure” franchise and his voice work for about a half-dozen animated movies.
His list of credits and genres is vast and, if his movie output is any
indication, he’s a very busy guy. This can be a good thing for Cage fans, but
may result in a mixed bag for movie fans when an actor has too much exposure.
Fortunately for Cage, he’s pretty good in just about everything he does.
“Outcast,” Cage plays Gallain and he’s teamed with Hayden Christensen as Jacob.
Gallain and Jacob are 12th century crusader knights who are becoming
increasingly weary of killing as they travel from the Middle East to the Far
East. We witness the ruthlessness of Jacob through the eyes of his mentor
Gallain as he kills the members of a defeated Moorish army that refuses to
surrender. Even women and children are not spared Jacob’s murderous wrath. When we meet Jacob again three years later, he’s an opium addict searching for
his former mentor as well as redemption for his past sins. He finds this
redemption as the protector of a princess and her younger brother who is the
rightful new king. Both are fleeing the terror of their older brother and
warrior, Prince Shing, played by Andy On, who was passed over in favor of his
younger brother for the throne and murdered his dying father, the king. Shing
is very similar to Jacob in his bloodlust and this is what his father wishes to
avoid in a new king.
relationship between Jacob and the young king is right out of the classic American
western genre playbook. While this movie is no “Shane,” it is an interesting
melding of American and Chinese action adventure and, fortunately, everyone
speaks perfect English. Jacob agrees to safely transport the princess Lian,
played by Chinese model/actress Liu Yifei, and her younger brother Zhao, played
by Bill Su Jiahang. The boy forms the expected bond and the princess falls in
love with their protector as they make their way to safety while fleeing the
older brother who has sent out an order to kill his younger siblings. The young
king begs to learn how to use a bow as expertly as Jacob and they pause for a time.
During this training we see a flashback of a young Jacob undergoing training by
his mentor, Gallain, who we have not seen since the opening scenes. Cage
eventually returns and he turns out to be the near mythical “white ghost” referred
to throughout the first part of the movie.
Eon Productions has confirmed that Daniel Craig has undergone knee surgery for an injury he suffered during a fight sequence on the latest James Bond production, "SPECTRE". Eon said the surgery was "minor" and is not anticipated to affect filming. Craig is anticipated to resume shooting the movie on April 22 at Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional "home" outside of London. The film is shaping up to be the most expensive and ambitious entry in the long-running series. For more click here.
The Huffington Post presents writer Pat Gallagher presents a tribute to her choices as the 12 most memorable sex sirens of yesteryear. From Marilyn Monroe to Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress, click here to check out the article and see if you agree.
(1983) is a personal favorite horror film of mine. I own a 35mm print of this film, and I’ve seen
it projected three times in the last 15 years. The image looks very similar to
the VHS Vestron Video release which I first rented nearly 30 years ago: it is
dark, murky and difficult to see all of the important details. Fortunately, all
of this has changed thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films who have
correctly presented the film in the proper aspect ratio and re-mastered the
image beyond anything that we have seen thus far. Curtains, never released in any other home
video format (except for several DVDs duped from that old VHS release), is now
finally available on DVD and Blu-ray, and the result is spectacular.
Eggar and John Vernon star as actress and director team Samantha Sherwood and
Jonathan Stryker attempting to bring the story of a mental patient, Audra, to
the screen. When Sherwood has herself “committed” to an actual mental hospital
to research the role, Stryker leaves her there with plans to make the film with
a different actress and engineers a casting call at his estate without
Sherwood’s knowledge. Curtains
fails to give more than just a hint as to his motivation for doing this
(sleeping with two of the actresses he auditions seems to be one reason), but
it does set up some truly creepy set pieces, the best and most memorable of
which include a large, sad-eyed doll on a rain-swept road, a masked killer
wielding a sickle on a skating rink, and a (somewhat prolonged) chase through
corridors inside of a theatrical warehouse which calls to mind the backstage
milieu in Michele Soavi’s Stage
Fright (1987). The logistics of the murders make little sense, but
then this is a thriller, so it’s wise not to think too much about it and enjoy
it for what it is.
film’s strengths lie in the casting, the music, and the cinematography. Eggar
and Vernon are terrific, and Lynne Griffin, an actress we see far too little of
these days (she’s the suffocation victim in the original Black Christmas), is hilarious as a comedienne vying for the role.
Linda Thorson is great as Brooke Parsons, an elegant actress who discovers
Lesleh Donaldson’s head in a toilet!
Paul Zaza has created a brilliant score for this film. The “sting” that
punctuates the film’s opening title sequence as the word Curtains is cut across
the screen can also be found in Prom
Night, a film that Zaza scored before Curtains.
I’ve often wondered if this score was originally composed for Prom Night and then
rejected. It’s a score worthy of a soundtrack album and it deserves to get a
release from Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Buysoundtrax.com, or Kritzerland.
a sucker for Canadian horror films that take place in the snow (The Brood (1979) and Ghostkeeper (1981) come
to mind), and Curtains
is my favorite, hands-down. One of the strangest and eeriest movies I’ve seen,
the film has always gotten a bum rap. Far from a perfect film, the production
had a lot of rumored problems from the word go and it seems that at this point
in time the movie is more notorious for what it was originally intended to be
rather than what it in fact is. Filming began in November 1980 and continued
for months afterwards. The original director, Richard Ciupka, hand-picked by
the producer due to his previous and well-regarded last-minute takeover of
1982’s Melanie, had his name removed
from the film due to the fact that much of it was not what he himself had
filmed. The ending was changed, as were several key plot points, and what
results is something of a convoluted narrative that possesses an air of
extras on the Blu-ray are plentiful. In addition to the sterling and brightly
colorful transfer, there is a 35-minute documentary called The Ultimate Nightmare: the Making
of Curtains by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Key players
in the film take part in being interviewed as do those who worked behind the
scenes, particularly composer Zaza admitting his embarrassment at having his
name on the credits and wishing that he had been fired during the film’s
production, which is unfortunate given that his music does for Curtains what John
Williams did for Jaws (1975). There
is also a 15-minute documentary made at the time of shooting simply called Ciupka (pronounced
CHOOP-ka) and it features some behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Curtains.
is also a feature-length audio commentary moderated by Edwin Samuelson with
actresses Lesley Donaldson and Lynne Griffin and they are quite amusing to
listen to. Audio interviews with the late producer (courtesy of the Terror
Trap), actress Samantha Eggar (courtesy of yours truly), and the theatrical
trailer round out the extras.
has been written about the scenes that had been shot for Curtains which ended up
on the cutting room floor. Up until August 2009 these scenes existed but,
amazingly, the decision was made at that time to destroy them. Why the footage
sat in a vault for 26 years and was subsequently tossed in the era of DVD and
Blu-rays is an incident that is not only unfathomable to me but it raises the
question of who ordered the footage dumped. It doesn’t matter at this point,
but I am grateful that the original source materials survived so that we all
can see Curtains
the way it was intended. Although I have been a fan of the film for 28 years, I
feel as though I am really seeing it for the first time.
Film noir wasn’t just
relegated to American Hollywood films of the forties and fifties. It was
something of an international movement, albeit an unconscious one, for it
wasn’t until the late fifties that some critics in France looked back at the
past two decades of crime pictures and proclaimed, “Oui! Film noir!”
was doing it, too. Carol Reed’s 1947 IRA-thriller-that-isn’t-an-IRA-thriller Odd Man Out is one of the best examples
of the style. Robert Krasker’s black and white cinematography pulls in all the
essential film noir elements—German
expressionism, high contrasts between dark and light, and tons of shadows. Other
noir trappings are present, such as stormy
weather, night scenes, exterior locations, bars, shabby tenements, a lot of smoking,
and a crime. And, for a movie to be “pure noir,”
there must not be a happy ending. Odd Man
Out fulfills that last requirement with shocking bravura.
Mason stars as Johnny, the leader of “the organization” in an unnamed Northern
Ireland city; it isn’t difficult to connect the dots and assume the
organization is the IRA and the city is probably someplace like Belfast (where
much of the second unit photography was done on the sly; the rest of the film
was shot in studios and locations in England). Johnny escaped from prison a few
months back and has been in hiding, secluded in a house with his girlfriend
Kathleen (the beautiful Kathleen Ryan) for months. He has gathered a small gang
to rob a mill for money to support their cause. The problem is that Johnny has
gone a bit “soft,” and isn’t properly prepared for the job. Nevertheless, the
four men pull off the caper, but of course it goes wrong. Johnny is shot in the
shoulder, he unwittingly kills a man in self defense, and he is separated from
the other gang members. The rest of the film is a D.O.A.-style story of the next twenty-four hours or so as Johnny
eludes capture from the police on the streets, all the while losing blood and
his life. So we know he’s probably not going to make it and we wait for the
inevitable—but what happens until that fateful ending (which manages to
surprise us anyway with an unexpected twist in how it’s done) is incredibly
Odd Man Out is one of the most
engaging and thrilling British films of the 20th Century. Period. It certainly
rivals Reed’s The Third Man, which is
also an excellent model of British noir.
Mason is terrific as he stumbles around the streets, delusional and suffering,
practically bouncing from one obstacle to another with no safe haven in sight.
Other familiar British and Irish faces crop up—Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Dan
O’Herlihy, F. J. McCormick—and Kubrick fans might recognize a younger Paul
Farrell (the tramp from A Clockwork
Orange) as a bartender named Sam.
new high-definition digital restoration looks marvelous, naturally. Once again,
the company’s mastering for Blu-ray outdoes the competition. The image is sharp
and without blemishes for the most part, and appears as if the film was made
yesterday. Extras include a new interview with British cinema scholar John Hill
on the picture; “Postwar Poetry,” a new short documentary; a new interview with
music scholar Jeff Smith about composer William Alwyn and his gorgeous score; a
nearly-hour-long 1972 documentary featuring James Mason revisiting his hometown
in Ireland; and a radio adaptation of the film from 1952, starring Mason and
O’Herlihy. The essay in the booklet is by critic Sara Smith.
of these supplements are very good, but the reason to run out and buy this
Blu-ray release is the film itself. Odd
Man Out is a landmark crime picture with wonderfully eccentric Irish
characters, lush atmosphere, and film
noir traits galore. Highly recommended.
It's a little late in the day to extol the virtues of the Papermill Playhouse's production of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" which has its last performance on April 5, but since the show is being groomed for Broadway, it's relevant to point out that the production is simply magnificent. (The play premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last fall before moving here.) Upon entering the Papermill, we took our seats in front row, center....generally the best in the house. However, there was concern because the entire stage now had a massive new floor temporarily built on top of it. The result of this was the "new" stage not only extending practically into our seats but also having the effect of "elevator shoes"....it was a good foot above where the normal stage rose. My concern was that everyone would have to crane their necks to see what was going on directly in front of them- and indeed some of those attending who were not very tall found it necessary to sit on their coats in an attempt to elevate themselves enough to see the action. Whatever grumbling may have occurred was subdued because of the sight that stood before our eyes: a massive, ingenious example of production design that ranked among the most impressive I had ever seen. Clearly, we knew this would be a memorable theatrical experience- and it was. The reaction became even greater when we first see Quasimodo, who is hanging on a rope attached to a set of descending giant bells. The effect is breathtaking and the reason for the new stage floor would become apparent, as massive edifices as wheeled in and out of scenes throughout the production. The staggering weight would have crushed the existing stage floor.
The new show, under the inspired direction of Scott Schwartz,is a unique production that combines the key elements of Victor Hugo's classic 1831 novel with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz that appeared in Disney's animated film version and, in the process, reworks the original German 1999 production of this musical. (Peter Parnell wrote the book for the new version.) It should be mentioned that, although this production boasts memorable songs from the Disney film, this is not a feel-good experience and kids may well walk away more upset than entertained. (It notably is not recommended for kids under age 12, per a disclaimer on the show's advertising.) That's because Hugo's book presents us with one of the most tragic protagonists in literary history: Quasimodo, the deformed illegitimate son of a Frenchman of good standing and a Gypsy girl, both of whom die shortly after the baby is born. The infant's uncle is Dom Claude Frollo, the top priest at Notre Dame cathedral. He is appalled by the disfigurement of the child that he has taken into his care, but he is also ashamed. He raises the boy within the confines of the bell tower, where young Quasimodo receives an education but has been completely isolated from the bustling city of Paris, which he can only observe from the tower. His sole function is to chime the enormous bells on schedule. One day, Quasimodo slips into the streets to experience the annual "Feast of Fools", a one-day event during which the city's most undesirable elements are allowed to run rampant and indulge themselves in any vices they desire. Quasimodo no sooner enters the crowds than he becomes the object of cruel mockery and torture for the amusement of others. He is rescued by the one person who shows him an act of kindness: the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. She escorts him back to the cathedral where she is initially met with disdain by Frollo, who informs her that gypsies are not welcome in the church. However, he can't help but be smitten by her beauty and changes his tune when he makes a blatant attempt to seduce her. She rebuffs him and the humiliated Frollo plots to have her arrested on charges of witchcraft. Esmeralda goes into hiding and receives protection from Frollo's own Captain of the Guards, Phoebus de Martin, who becomes a wanted man himself because of his desire to save Esmeralda from the clutches of Frollo. In the course of the story, Quasimodo proves himself to be smarter than anyone had anticipated...and a man of great courage, as well. He not so secretly loves Esmeralda but realizes their relationship can only be platonic. Yet, he risks his life to in attempt to save her from the death sentence Frollo has condemned her to suffer.
As you might surmise from the synopsis, "Hunchback" is a morbid affair. Yet, it is a stirring production that doesn't need artificial sentiment to rouse the emotions of the audience. The cast is simply brilliant. Ciara Renee is radiant as Esmeralda and Andrew Samonsky makes for a dashing hero as her protector/lover. However, the two most impressive performances are given by Michael Arden and Patrick Page as Quasimodo and Frollo, respectively. Arden is simply amazing. He walks on stage as a handsome young actor and in front of our eyes turns himself into the afflicted Quasimodo without the benefit of a mask or makeup. He achieves this by contorting his face and maintaining that effect through the entire play (in addition to jumping on bell ropes and performing acts of derring-do"). Page is also highly impressive, playing a man decades older than his actual age and possessed of a voice that is truly a thing of beauty. There are at least thirty other actors and extras, making this the largest cast I've seen in a stage production in many years. If there is a criticism of this ambitious show, it's that there isn't a single standout song. They are all good, but none of them are great. Most are designed to advance the drama as opposed to having audiences hum them while exiting the theater.
The Papermill Playhouse is arguably the most acclaimed regional theater in the nation. This production of "Hunchback" proves why. My bet is that this production will find a home on Broadway. When it does, make sure you catch it.
(For more about the history of this musical, click here)
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
and sexy housewife Ellen (Gigi Darlene) likes nothing more than taking out the
trash in her neglige. Unfortunately this turns the janitor into a rapist, who
gets his comeuppance when she kills him in self-defence. Instead of telling her
husband what happened, Ellen goes on the run and finds that the world is a
cruel place to sexy outlaws. Ellen moves from abusive situation to abusive
situation before coming perilously close to being caught by a detective. Is
Ellen a victim, or does her penchant for nudity mean she really is a "Bad
Wishman is a somewhat fascinating character. Almost fifty by the time she
directed her first film, she started out with "nudie cuties"; tame,
often comical films mainly shot in nudist camps. These films, including Nude
on the Moon (1961) and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1963) feature
the kind of corny plot-lines and creaky acting that would have seemed dated in
1940s B features. However, working outside the studio system and therefore not
worried about the Hollywood Production Code, what Wishman could do was shoot
boobs. Lots of boobs. The nudist camp film had grown in popularity in both the
US and Europe during the late 1950s and no matter how bad these were, they
would always make money. As her films became more violent and exploitative they
became known as "roughies". Women were generally the victims of male
aggression and subjugation, and there was a focus on rape and violence. Bad
Girls Go to Hell (1965) falls into this latter category, and it is often
hailed as one of the sleaziest films ever made. What was perhaps unusual was
the fact that Wishman was a female director working in a very male-dominated
genre. Her films can be seen as more than just sexploitation, and Wishman gives
her female characters a sense of power and freedom. Despite the degradation
they go through, the women in her films often win out over the men. Sadly, in
this particular film, the ending suggests that women will always be victims, and
it could even be their own fault. Doris Wishman was a controversial filmmaker,
and this film is unlikely to win her many feminist admirers. She went on to
achieve permanent infamy with the pair of films Double Agent 73 and Deadly
Weapons (both 1974), featuring the uniquely-endowed Chesty Morgan killing
men with her enormous assets.
DVD of Bad Girls Go to Hell has been put out by Apprehensive Films, and
the print is the same found on Something Weird's earlier release. It is a
surprisingly good picture for such a low budget grindhouse film. It is a real
slice of the greasy underbelly of 1960s American life. The soundtrack is also
fun, featuring some great 1960s instrumental pop. This DVD features an awful
short film which has nothing to do with Doris Wishman, and left this reviewer
confused as to it's inclusion. Also featured are some trailers for other
Apprehensive Films DVDs, mostly of the obscure exploitation variety and again,
not related to this film at all.
eleven-year old Indian girl is sold by her father to a thirty-year-old man for
a cow and a rusty bicycle. Torn from her mother’s arms the child is taken home,
beaten, raped and turned into a slave, all the while being abused and taunted
by the local villagers because she is from a lower caste. She runs away and
tries to go home, but is looked upon as an outcast. In a society where women are considered lower
than cattle, she grows up enduring terrible punishment, including more
beatings, rapes and eventual homelessness. She is kidnapped by bandits falls in love with the bandit leader and becomes
a legend known throughout India as “Bandit Queen,” stealing from the rich and
giving to the poor. She kills the 21 men she accused of gang-raping her, and
surrenders to authorities before a crowd of 10,000 supporters. She serves 11 years
in prison and when freed, runs on her popularity as a champion of the poor, and
is elected to Parliament, only to be assassinated by a member of a higher caste
at age 37.
is the story of Phoolan Devi, played as an adult by Seema Biswas, and although
it sounds like something that happened hundreds of years ago in a dark age of
ignorance and cruelty her story took place in India, between 1963 and 2001. She
was 37 years old when she died. Some of the things that happen in Shekar
Kapur’s biographical film “Bandit Queen” (1994) were disputed by the Indian
government, which sought to have the film banned. Even Devi sued to block the
film’s release, claiming it made her look too much like a “sniveling woman.”
But if only half the incidents portrayed in the movie are true, it is not only an
unflinchingly realistic drama of a woman’s guts and determination to survive
and overcome unbelievable adversity, it is also a searing indictment of a
nation whose laws and culture create an environment where such things can
happen. One can only hope that the situation in the rural areas of India, where
this story occurred, have improved by now.
indictment starts at the top, by attacking the mindset and religious beliefs
that permit a social system that divides people into upper and lower castes.
The film begins with a quote from a sacred Hindu text that states: “Animals,
drunks, illiterates, low castes and woman are worthy of beating.” The
powerlessness of women is shown when the 11-year old girl’s mother can only
watch in sorrow as her daughter is taken away and again when the bridegroom’s
mother can only sit silently outside the room listening to Phoolan’s screams as
her son beats and rapes the child.
film is deliberately infuriating and at times difficult to watch. And if all
Kapur wanted to do was create a diatribe against India’s caste system, and
extol the virtues of its central character, it wouldn’t be much of a film. But
his theme is larger. As he explains in audio commentary provided on the disc,
the central vision that guided him through what he admits was a challenging and
difficult movie to make, can be summed up in two words: oppression and
survival. No matter how difficult Phoolan’s circumstances became, she never submitted
to it willingly. Through everything she maintained an inborn defiance, and a
spirit of rebellion that got her through it all, though at considerable cost.
the middle of the film she falls in love with her bandit gang co-leader, but by
now she cannot stand the touch of a man. At first all she can do to respond to
him is to hit him and let him hit her back. He understands her psychology and
eventually breaks through to her. But by
now her mind is saturated with revenge and blood lust because of all the
hardships she endured and the climax of the story comes when she orders the massacre
of the 21 higher-caste men in a village who raped her. Significantly, in almost
a Sam Peckinpah-ish touch, Kapur has a naked baby standing at a well crying in
the midst of the carnage. It’s a telling image.
Time has released a limited edition BluRay of “Bandit Queen.” The image is for
the most part sharp and clear though some night scenes had too much grain,
which are probably in the original film elements The only special features are
the director’s audio commentary and a separate track containing the score by
composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is also a booklet containing an
informative essay by Julie Kirgo.
film has ever presented such a realistic, disturbing, and uncompromising
portrayal of oppression and survival than “Bandit Queen.”
Just in case you thought the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome only release version of vintage porn flicks, it may come as news that they are also providing another valuable social service: remastering long-forgotten grind house "classics". Case in point: "The Muthers", a 1976 gem that plays out like the ultimate Tarantino fantasy. It's a combination of several genres: Women in Prison ("W.I.P", for the initiated), chop socky, sexploitation and blaxploitation. It doesn't get any better than this if you were weaned on this glorious type of sleaze that played routinely on 42nd Street. Directed by cult "B" movie favorite Cirio Santiago, "The Muthers" is yet another low-budget flick from the era that was filmed in the Philippines. The movie opens with a memorable introduction to the titular characters. They are Kelly (Jeannie Bell) and her equally sexy sidekick Anggie (Rosanne Katon, Playboy's Miss September in 1978), who are female pirates with an all-male crew ("You go, girls!"). We see them aboard their high speed, armed vessel as they raid a tourist boat and grab the booty. (Since these are good pirates, no one gets hurt). We know the pirates go by the name of The Muthers because their vessel is adorned with a big sign that reads "The Muthers", in what must have been the first case of branding for high seas pirates. When they return to their Hole-in-the-Wall-like village, they are informed that Kelly's teenage sister has gone missing. They start trawling the waterfront bars and learn that she has been abducted by a human trafficking ring. Working with a government agent who wants to bring down the head of the ring, a notorious crime kingpin named Monteiro (Tony Carreon), Kelly and Anggie volunteer to be captured. They are brought to Monteiro's jungle prison camp, which is guarded by a virtual army of heavily-armed thugs. Here they find dozens of young women being kept in brutal conditions. They are forced to perform manual labor and are simultaneously being groomed for sale to a procurer of girls for international brothels. Kelly manages to get a fleeting glimpse of her sister before she learns the younger girl has made a desperate attempt to escape into the jungle- a strategy which goes tragically awry.
While in the camp, Kelly and Anggie meet Marcie (Trina Parks), another beauty who is regarded as a long-time veteran prisoner who knows all the ropes. Marcie introduces them to Serena (Jayne Kennedy), who is the privileged mistress of Monteiro (who also sleeps with his male guards). Anggie resents Serena for selling out in return for her soft lifestyle at the camp and derisively refers to her as a "house nigger". But Marcie informs her that Serena often provides what human compassion she can towards the prisoners. Ultimately, Kelly, Angie and Marcie enlist Serena in an audacious plan for them all to escape. They do so but Monteiro and his goons are in hot pursuit. As the women hide in the jungle, they face death from the elements, starvation and dangerous critters. In the film's best scenario, Marcie is bitten in the chest by a deadly snake. As Serena sucks the blood out, Marcie gets the movie's best line of dialogue: "Just like every other snake I've met-- won't leave my tits alone!" Although Parks, Kennedy and Katon frustrate male viewers keeping their clothes mostly intact, Bell delivers the goods with two (not one, but two!) gratuitous topless bathlng sequences. She also saunters around the tropical location clad in a long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, the absurdity of which is overshadowed by the fact that she is conspicuously bra-less. The film climaxes with double crosses, a big shootout between the "good" pirates and Monteiro's forces, with machine gun slinging chicks also going hand-to-hand with the villains. (Yes, everybody is kung-fu fighting.) At one point in the movie, Bell gets to swing vine-to-vine a la Tarzan. As low grade action films go, it doesn't get much lower or better than this- and it's all set to a typically funky '70s disco score.
Jeannie Bell displays why the questionable choice of wearing a long-sleeve turtleneck in the tropics has its good points.
The Vinegar Syndrome release has undergone a 2k restoration from the original 35mm negative, making it yet another one of their titles that probably looks infinitely better today than it did upon its initial release. An appropriately cheesy trailer is also included that doesn't even credit the actresses, though perhaps they consider that to be a positive.