Director Wes Craven, who revitalized the horror film genre for a new generation with the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" franchises, has died at age 76. The cause of death was brain cancer, according to his family. For more click here.
Warner Home Entertainment has recently released their
special edition DVD of director Joe Dante’s “Innerspace” on Blu-ray. The 1987
film is a sci-fi comedy that afforded Martin Short and Meg Ryan early career leading roles in a tale of inspired lunacy. The premise of the script centers on a narcissistic former military test pilot Tuck Pendelton (Dennis Quaid) who volunteers for an unprecedented scientific experiment. Doctors have the technology to shrink him and inject him into the body of a rabbit. They also obviously have the ability to bring him back into the outside world where he can resume his normal activities at his normal size. The purpose of the experiment is to allow medical technicians to eventually inject operatives into human beings so that they can perform miracle surgeries. However, there are some bad guys who are looking to benefit from the amazing technology by selling it to the highest bidder. After Tuck has been reduced inside a hypodermic needle, there is an altercation between the villains and scientists. A chase ensues that extends outside of the laboratory. By happenstance, Jack Putter (Martin Short), a nondescript grocery store clerk, is injected by the needle. The result is that Tuck is now floating around the bloodstream of an unwitting, innocent man. The laughs result from Tuck's ability to communicate with Jack and convince him of what is happening. Drawn into the mix is Tuck's girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan), who Jack befriends at Tuck's urging. In the zany antics that follow, Lydia is finally convinced of the fantastic scenario after she has become targeted by the head villain, a zillionaire named Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy). By then, there is a desperate race against time to get Tuck back into the real world before he becomes a permanent part of Jack's DNA.
"Innerspace" is a throwback to an era when major studios would routinely turn out family friendly comedies that were devoid of today's mandatory gross-out jokes and mean-spirited pranks. The entire cast seems to be having a blast under Dante's direction, perhaps because his films are glorious evidence that he has never grown out of the wonder of the types of films that appealed to him as a kid. The movie is a particular triumph of sorts for Martin Short, who proved he could carry a major budget production as a leading man. The special effects hold up extremely well even today (no surprise the film won an Oscar in this category).
We caught up with Dante all these years later to ask him to reflect on his thoughts about "Innerspace".
CINEMA RETRO: How do you feel the film holds up into today's modern age?
JOE DANTE: I've always liked it and I had a lot of fun making it. I think you can tell when you watch it.
CR: It's especially evident listening to the commentary track on the Blu-ray. It's no secret that you have been heavily influenced in your work by the classic and cult horror and sci-fi movies of your youth. Is it fair to say that "Innerspace" was a satire of "Fantastic Voyage"?
JD: I can't vouch for that because I wasn't in on the creation of it. When I was first offered it, the script had no comedy at all. I didn't think it worked that way so I went off and did something else. When I came back, they had a new writer and he approached it as comedy from the concept of what would happen if we shrank Dean Martin down and injected him inside Jerry Lewis. That was a concept I could relate to.
CR: Steven Spielberg executive produced the film. Was he involved before you were?
JD: Actually no, because I was offered the picture by Peter Guber when it was in its serious incarnation. During the time I went off to do something else, Spielberg had become involved. He was probably an impetus for turning it into a comedy.
CR: Did he have any constraints on you regarding your vision of the film?
JD: The atmosphere at Amblin was pretty free. The thing Steven would do is protect you from the studio and sometimes from the other producers. It was a very filmmaker-friendly atmosphere over there. You got all the best equipment and all the best people and all the toys you wanted to play with. Plus you had somebody on your side who was also a filmmaker and they knew exactly what you were talking about when you had a problem or you had a question.
CR: In terms of casting, you seemed to have your own stock company of actors you liked to work with: Dick Miller, William Schallert, Rance Howard, Orson Bean, Kathleen Freeman and even Kenneth Tobey.
JD: I think when you look at a director's filmography, you see the same faces popping up all the time because these people are copacetic and sometimes they become your friend. You originally hire them because you like their work and you like to watch them do their stuff so, whether it's Ingmar Bergman, Preston Sturges or John Ford, they have "go to" people that they put into almost every one of their pictures. The only down side comes when you have made a lot of movies and now you have a lot of people you want to include but, of course, you don't have parts for them.
CR: That tradition doesn't seem to be as prevalent today.
JD: That's because the business has changed so much. The movies aren't made in one locale anymore. There are less opportunities for an actor to shine over and over in a supporting role because when a movie goes to Canada or Australia, you have to use their local people. All those people who built up followings from television and movies and sometimes even radio were constantly being seen by people. Today there's just no opportunity to do that. Not only are there less movies, there are fewer roles and most of the films aren't made in Hollywood any longer.
CR: With "Innerspace", were the leading roles already cast before you got involved? Did you rely much on the casting director?
JD: No, once you are involved with a movie, you're in on all those decisions. The good thing about casting directors is that you can tell them who you want to see and they have the ability to make that happen. They make deals, they make contracts. I was using Mike Fenton, who was one of the best casting directors in the business at the time. Many of my best pictures were cast by Mike. Today, it's a little more piecemeal because so many of the movies aren't made here. So you have dual casting directors. You have the Hollywood casting director and the Canadian casting director. When it gets down to the smaller roles, they almost always cast in the locality you are shooting in. I made enough movies in Vancouver that I actually started to build up a Vancouver stock company because the talent pool there isn't that vast. I sort of bemoan the fact that actors don't have the opportunity for that kind of career longevity. When they decided to start giving all that money to the stars it came out of the casting budget. All of a sudden there wasn't much money for the supporting actors.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ADDS RARE TV SERIES ‘NICHOLS,’ ‘HONDO’
AND ‘A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH’ TO SATURDAY WESTERNS BLOCK STARTING IN SEPTEMBER
will Air Mini-Marathon of One Series Each Week Starting Sept. 12 at 12 PM ET
CITY, CA –– Monday, August 24, 2015 - Acclaimed movie diginet getTV introduces classic TV series to its
lineup for the first time by adding a block of rarely seen Western series
starting Saturday, September 12 at 12 p.m. ET. The brand new block is a
part of the network's popular ongoing all-day Saturday Westerns lineup,
and will debut with five episodes of the 1971 series NICHOLS, starring
beloved leading man James Garner and a young Margot Kidder, in one of her first
getTV will present five episodes of the wandering gunslinger series HONDO,
starring Ralph Taeger and Michael Pate, on September 19; and 10 episodes
of 1965’s A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH, starring Robert Horton,
on September 26; both starting at Noon ET. Following several
weeks of mini-marathons, all of the newly added Western series will join the
regular Saturday lineup on a weekly basis.
September 12th, James Garner is a man looking for a fresh start in NICHOLS, set
in small-town Arizona in the early 1900s. Having left an 18-year career in the
military, Garner as Nichols finds himself blackmailed into the role of town
sheriff by the villainous Ketcham Family, who run the town. Riding a motorcycle
instead of a horse, and forsaking guns in favor of more peaceful resolutions,
the newly-crowned lawman takes on bandits, manages town bullies and woos
beautiful bar maid Margot Kidder...all with his own unique style. Created by
Oscar®-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson (DOG DAY AFTERNOON, COOL HAND LUKE,
MAD MEN), with episodes directed by such notables as John Badham and Ivan
Dixon, Nichols also featured Garner’s eventual THE ROCKFORD FILES co-star
Stuart Margolin and included such guest stars as Tom Skerritt, Scatman
Crothers, THE WALTONS’ patriarch Ralph Waite, Alice Ghostley, and Ricardo
Montalban, and was well-known for being one of James Garner's favorite
on September 19, Ralph Taeger and his faithful canine sidekick Sam hit the
road in 1967’s HONDO. Based on the 1953 John Wayne drama of the same
name--which, in turn, was inspired by Louis L'Amour's sixth novel--HONDO stars
Taeger as a former Confederate officer who lived with the Apaches. Tasked with
preventing more violence from occurring between settlers and the remaining
tribes, Hondo embarks on a quest to avenge his Indian wife's death, while
battling dastardly land-grabbers, nosy reporters, and other outlaws, in the
process. Famed movie villain Michael Pate also stars, reprising his big screen
role as Apache Chief Vittoro, and the series features such guest stars as Ricky
Nelson, Fernando Lamas and Annette Funicello. Noah Beery Jr. (who played
James Garner’s father in THE ROCKFORD FILES) co-stars in this series.
month wraps up on September 26, with WAGON TRAIN’s Robert Horton in
10 episodes of the well-regarded half hour Western drama A MAN CALLED
SHENANDOAH. Horton stars as a man who wakes up after being brutally attacked,
with no memory of who he is or why anyone would want to harm him. Searching for
clues to his past life, the man dubbed "Shenandoah" travels through
the desert, running afoul of lynch mobs, dodging false charges, facing off
against violent criminals, and doling out Old West justice along the way. In
addition to Horton, the series boasted a number of impressive guest stars,
including Oscar® winners Cloris Leachman, Martin Landau, and George Kennedy,
and nominees Bruce Dern, Sally Kellerman, Nina Foch, John Ireland, and Arthur
A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH
getTV, our fans love when we dig into the vaults and find something they
haven’t seen in awhile – or maybe ever. So, in addition to uncovering
hard-to-find movies, we also wanted to deliver our fans some rare TV series,”
said Jeff Meier, getTV’s senior vice president of programming. “One of
our most popular programming blocks on the channel is
our Saturday lineup of Westerns, so we’re especially proud to be able
to present lesser known gems from legends like James Garner and Robert Horton
that haven’t been seen on TV in decades. Although each of these series
originally had a short run, they all feature classic Old West action that will
have viewers agreeing that they were cancelled far too soon.”
a digital subchannel dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies and
is available over the air and on local cable systems. The network, operated by
Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014. It features Academy Award® winning films and
other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly
70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of
the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by
Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned
stations and others. For information, visit get.tv
and connect with the network on Facebook
and Twitter @getTV.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
July 28th, 2015. Actor-turned-filmmaker Michael Lee Stever, (Super Force, Broadway; The Golden Age) and revered stage actress
and Academy Award nominee Piper Laurie (The
Hustler, Twin Peaks, Carrie) recently joined Scares That Care founder Joe Ripple and his
entire team in Williamsburg, Virginia for the second annual Scares That Care Weekend film festival and
Scares That Care is changing
the face of the American film festival, and you can bet things are starting to
heat up in a major way. With hundreds of film festivals and genre events
scattered from coast to coast, it's not unreasonable to maintain that the
'festival scene' could use a serious cage shaking and Scares That Care is doing
just that. To date they are one of the only festivals in the United
States that are donating all net proceeds to the families of their 2015 Campaign. Additionally, with this
year’s convention, the Heritage Humane Society
will have a booth setup to collect money and items for the animals under
their care. A gauntlet hopefully more festivals, and horror conventions might
be inspired to pick up.
All of this because Joe
Ripple, a retired police detective, was motivated to find a way to raise money
for families experiencing medical hardship after witnessing first hand the
financial and emotional struggle his partner faced when his 4-year-old-daughter
was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Beloved actress and horror
icon Piper Laurie was on hand for a
screening of Michael Stever's 2012
documentary short film, 'Resurrecting Carrie.' The doc
features Laurie herself as well as a host of other industry professionals who
share thoughts on how Stephen King's classic novel, Brian DePalma's legendary
film, and Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore's cult hit musical influenced,
inspired and helped steer their paths. A
fascinating Q&A with Stever and Laurie followed immediately after the
Laurie (born Rosetta Jacobs)
has become one of the most celebrated, respected actors of our time and is the
recipient of numerous awards. Originally a product of the early studio contract
player system, she finally broke free from stringent, limiting contractual
obligations and has proudly helmed a career that has spawned countless iconic
roles on stage, in film and on television. In 2012 she published her much
anticipated personal memoir, 'Learning To Live Out Loud' which has
garnered raves for its insightful eloquence, wit and blistering candor.
Michael Lee Stever has
worked steadily in the business for nearly thirty years. First as an actor,
singer and dancer and now as full time filmmaker, cameraman, editor and writer.
His first foray into indie film was as UPM on the critically acclaimed
documentary, 'Broadway; The Golden Age.'
He's since produced a handful of engaging documentaries all focusing on
various facets of the thriller/horror genre; 'Saturday Nightmares; The Ultimate
Horror Expo,'featuring George Romero, Tom Savini & Adrienne
Broberg's Guide To Thespians, Sociopaths & Scream Queens'
featuring Elijah Wood, and most recently'Heather's Freddy Cut Nightmare' featuring
iconic 'Nightmare On Elm Street'
heroine, Heather Langencamp.
Other celebs that appeared
at this year's Scares That Care were David Naughton, (American Werewolf in London) Kim Coates, (Sons of Anarchy) Sid Haig, (Jackie
Brown) Larry Drake, (Dark man)
Ginger Lynn, (The Devil’s Rejects)
and many more.
Piper Laurie and Michael Stever.
Be sure and visit www.scaresthatcareweekend.com to get tickets
and learn more about the convention. Visit www.scaresthatcare.org
to learn more about the charity itself.
For press inquiries and interview requests with
Stever, Laurie or 'Scares That Care' founder Joe Ripple, contact Stever
or via cell @ 917 407-8250
Author Ray Morton provides an insightful look into the making of the 1976 version of King Kong in the latest issue of Cinema Retro. Ray will also be introducing "Kong '76", a spoof of that remake, which will be presented at The Bell House in Brooklyn, on September 5. Prepare to celebrate the great ape's return to Gotham! For details, click here.
The notorious exploits of real-life,
Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein have inspired several horror films over the
years; three of the most well-known being Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal Psycho (1960), Tobe Hooper’s legendary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and
Jonathon Demme’s Academy Award-winning The
Silence of the Lambs (1991). These three masterpieces took bits and pieces
of Ed Gein’s horrific methods and personality in order to help build their own
iconic cinematic villains. For instance, instead of wearing a female victim’s
skin like Ed did, Psycho’s Norman
Bates dressed as his own mother who the disturbed boy had an unhealthy
attachment to (Gein also had an unhealthy attachment to his mom). The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill
planned to dress in the skin of his victims, but was not obsessed with his own
mother and, also, desired a sex change which Gein did not. (That film’s
Hannibal Lecter actually did dress in the skin of one of his victims, although
it seemed to be just a one-time thing for him.) Lastly, Chainsaw’s Leatherface also wore his unfortunate victim’s skin and,
much like Ed, decorated his home with human body parts. However, unlike Gein, Leatherface
used a chain saw, had a demented brother and father and could not function
within normal society. Right now, most of you are thinking that a more accurate
depiction of Gein’s atrocities has never been filmed. Not true. All you need to
do is to take a look at a lesser-known, but very well-made, low-budget thriller
Written by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, My
Bodyguard) and co-directed by Ormsby and Jeff Gillen, Deranged aka Deranged: The
Confessions of a Necrophile tells the gruesome story of middle-aged,
Midwest resident Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom from Escape from Alcatraz, Christine and Home Alone) who has lived with his religious and woman-hating
mother, Amanda (The First Time‘s
Cosette Lee), his entire life. When his mother finally passes away, Ezra begins
to slowly lose his mind. One night, he digs up her corpse and convinces himself
that she is still alive. The lonely and disturbed man eventually begins
exhuming more corpses which he uses to decorate his home. It isn’t long before
Ezra completely descends into madness and stalks fresh, young female victims. He
brings them back to his farm, dresses up in his mother’s skin and performs
unspeakable acts upon them.
Horror fans (and cinema buffs in general)
will be delighted to know that, although uncredited, the late, great filmmaker
Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Deathdream,
Murder by Decree, Porky’s, A Christmas Story) helped out quite a bit on
this film. Made for only $200,000.00, Deranged
was released in early 1974 by American International Pictures and grossed
$6 million at the box office. The powerful and disturbing Canadian-American production,
also features several highly recognizable faces from 1970s &80s Canadian
cinema such as Leslie Carlson (Videodrome,
A Christmas Story) and Marian Waldman (Black
Christmas, Phobia). Deranged also
benefits from a wonderful musical score (partly made up of Gospel hymns) by
talented composer Carl Zittrer (Children
Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Deathdream)
as well as amazingly realistic-looking effects by legendary makeup artist/director/stuntman
Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Friday the
13th, Creepshow) in one of his very first cinematic efforts.
So, how does Deranged stack up against the Ed Gein-inspired movies mentioned
earlier? It may not have the amazing structuring and nail-biting suspense of Psycho, the well-defined
characterizations of The Silence of the
Lambs or the relentless terror of Texas
Chainsaw, but it does contain solid-enough characters (especially Ezra) and
the film builds quite nicely, culminating in an orgy of violent madness. Like
the three aforementioned classics, Deranged
isalso filled with quite a bit
of black humor which helps immensely by giving audiences some much-needed
relief from the gruesome subject matter. Speaking of humor, the movie is mostly
carried by Roberts Blossom who gives a wonderfully balanced performance as
Ezra, making the dangerous and scary killer extremely funny in spots as well as
relatable and even likeable. No, the film is not in the same league as the
others, but it’s still an extremely well-made, engaging and creepy little movie
which is not only a much more (although, not completely) accurate depiction of
the life of Ed Gein, but also a film that deserves to be seen.
Deranged has been released
as a special edition Blu-ray by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. The film is
presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the high definition transfer
looks absolutely amazing (I’ve owned a copy of this film for 25 years and it
doesn’t look anywhere near as beautiful as this transfer does). The audio is
also excellent and the disc contains the original theatrical trailer as well as
an onscreen interview with Producer Tom Karr who candidly talks about many
interesting subjects such as not being allowed to film in Wisconsin, Christopher
Walken and Harvey Keitel both almost being cast as Ezra, and the possibility of
a Deranged remake. We are also
treated to not one, but two audio commentaries. The first, which is wonderfully
moderated by director Elijah Drenner (American
Grindhouse), features personable writer and co-director Alan Ormsby who
gives us a ton of terrific behind-the-scenes info as well as his recollections
of working alongside Bob Clark, Tom Savini and co-director Jeff Gillen. The
second commentary is by film historian Richard Harland Smith from Turner
Classic Movies. Smith gives a highly absorbing and exhaustive commentary which
not only covers Ed Gein and Deranged,
but every conceivable piece of cinema even remotely related to this subject
matter including Caddyshack! The
poster’s original, effective images and highly memorable tagline, “Pretty Sally
Mae died a very unnatural death!...but the worst hasn’t happened to her yet!”, are
featured on both the Blu-ray’s sleeve and menu. The often overlooked film is a
real find for retro horror fans/lovers of early 70s cult cinema, and this
impressive Blu-ray collection is an absolute must.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, actor David McCallum discusses his views on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", including the new big screen remake of the classic show, and reveals that he has just finished writing his first book- a crime novel "Once a Crooked Man" that will be published in January. Looks like all those years fighting crime on TV have had an added benefit for the 82 year-old icon. Click here to read.
The book "Lee Marvin: Point Blank" is a very worthy volume that sheds light on one of the cinema's most under-appreciated icons. How can an actor be an icon and still be under-appreciated? Because while Marvin's films have withstood the test of time, he is generally ignored when it comes to discussion of his personal life. Marvin was always a difficult man to pin down in terms of his emotions. He could be a cantankerous drunk or a charming raconteur. Cinema Retro's Steve Mori visited the set of Marvin's ill-fated film "The Klansman" in the mid-1970s with more than a little concern about attempting to get an interview with the acerbic super star. Instead, he found Marvin to be pleasant and chatty. (The interview appears in Cinema Retro issue #15). Author of "Lee Marvin: Point Blank", Dwayne Epstein, deals with the dual side of Marvin's personality, which was often self-destructive. He made his share of classics but also got mired down in the type of claptrap actors take on to make a quick buck. Nevertheless, he had the kind of screen presence to ensure that even in his lesser films, he commanded the attention of the viewer.
In 2013, film journalist Andrew Kemp ran an interview with Dwayne Epstein regarding how his book came to fruition. Click here to read. (Please ignore references to events that were going on at the time regarding book signings and screenings of Marvin films.)
"The High Cost of Loving" is yet another worthy film that has been plucked from obscurity by the Warner Archive. The 1958 comedy offered a rare starring role to Jose Ferrer as well as an opportunity for him to direct a feature film. Ferrer plays Jim Fry, a 15 year veteran of working diligently in the purchasing department for a mid-size company. He is frustrated with the corporate red tape that inhibits productivity but is overall happy in his work as well as with his home life. Why not? He's in his late 40's and his wife Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her big screen debut) is a ravishing blonde beauty twenty years younger than him (though the poster for the film simply ignores this and refers to them as the "young couple".) The film opens on an amusing note that will be familiar to many working couples. We see Jim and Ginny go through their morning workday rituals in an almost robotic fashion, barely saying a word to each other as they each perform their unspoken duties. He gets breakfast ready, she serves him orange juice in the shower. They both sit silently at the table, each taking a quick read of sections from the newspaper. They both climb into their vehicles and pull out of the garage in tandem before, each en route to their jobs. Ginny, against the fashion of the day, has her own career working at a small company. Jim still considers himself a rising star in his own company, a conceit that is reinforced by the news that his employer is being taken over by a much larger corporation. Warned that this often results in layoffs, Jim feels he is immune. He also isn't sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, attributing it to social Darwinism and "the law of the jungle".
Jim's smug attitude goes into a nosedive when he discovers that virtually all of his fellow executives have been summoned to a forthcoming luncheon as a get-acquainted meeting with the new brass. The problem is that he didn't receive the invitation. Assuming it must have been a mistake, he pretends he did receive it and joins in all the backslapping among his colleagues who view this as a way to make a good impression on the new bosses and rise the corporate ladder. As the days pass, it becomes apparent an invitation isn't in the cards for him. His concern turns to paranoia as he tries to analyze why all his years of devoted service have resulted in him being bypassed. He becomes obsessed to the point that he barely acknowledges Ginny's news that she is pregnant, something that both have been hoping for quite some time. (Although the film hints at sexual activity, the prudish norms of the time in the film industry relegates both husband and wife to separate beds.) To bolster his spirits, Jim's best friend from the office, Steve Heyward (Bobby Troupe) arranges for he and his wife Syd (Joanne Gilbert) to go to dinner with Jim and Ginny. However, the evening is ruined by Syd's incessant chatter about the importance of the corporate luncheon, which she doesn't realize Jim has not been invited to. The script plays out predictably with Jim interpreting every action (or inaction) of his new bosses as a sign that he is about to be fired. He looks up an old business contact in hopes of getting a new job but not only are there none open, but he is warned that in terms of his age, he might be considered "over the hill" in the corporate world. Now enraged, Jim plans to have a showdown with the brass and tell him what he thinks of them, unaware that his snub from the luncheon was due to a bureaucratic mistake that they intend to rectify.
"The High Cost of Loving" is a modest production shot in B&W on a fairly low budget (most of the scenes are studio interiors). However, the movie signifies that paranoia about one's place in their jobs is not a new phenomenon and that discrimination based on age in the corporate world is also a long-standing concern. There is also plenty of sexism that never gets addressed. When she announces she is pregnant, Jim orders Ginny to quit her job ASAP. The corporate world is made up entirely of men in management positions and bosses refer to keeping an eye out for good "men" they can promote. All of the women in the office are clearly in secretarial positions. Ferrer gives a wonderful performance (did he ever not?) and has a deft hand at the comedic elements of the script. He never allows the characters to depend on slapstick or one-liners to get a quick laugh. They all talk the way real people would in the circumstances. There is also a great deal of pathos involved as Jim comes to a life lesson that no one should define the worth of their character on the basis of a specific job. The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast with Rowlands displaying the star qualities that would serve her well in the years to come. There are also some fun appearances by TV sitcom stars of the future including Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island"), Werner Klemperer ("Hogan's Heroes"), Edward Platt ("Get Smart") and uncredited appearances by Nancy Kulp ("The Beverly Hillbillies") and Richard Deacon ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and the only character in the film allowed to go a bit over the top.)
The film is not only delightful but unexpectedly poignant. The DVD includes the original trailer.
Made months before the U.S.’s entrance into World War
II, “All Through the Night” (1941) stars Humphrey Bogart as “Gloves” Donahue, a
New York Irish gangster battling Nazi fifth columnists. “Gloves” runs a bookie
operation and he’s got the world by the tail until he gets a frantic call from
his mother (Jane Darwell) who is upset because Herman Miller, the baker who
makes “Gloves’ ” favorite cheesecake is suddenly missing. “Gloves”- with his
gang which includes William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Frank McHugh, and Phil
Silvers- rush over to the bakery and find the baker stuffed in one of the
pastry bins in the basement. A mysterious blonde (Kaaren Verne) shows up and
disappears when the cops arrive.
Gloves and his pals can’t understand why anyone would
want to harm poor old Mr. Miller, but Gloves’ mother tells him that the blonde
who disappeared must know something, and she tells him to find her. Gloves
doesn’t have a clue where to look and is not inclined to pursue the matter
further. But Mom is last seen asking a peanut vender outside the bakery if he
noticed the girl. “Gloves” and his boys
go to his expensive apartment to relax, and no sooner does he light up his
cigar than he gets an angry phone call from Marty Callahan (Barton MacClain),
another Irish mug who owns a nightclub. He’s irate because “Gloves’“ mother is
there raising a ruckus.
“Gloves” and his boys run down to the club and his
mother insists that the girl who was in the bakery works at the club. How she
knows this is never explained. But I guess the peanut vendor must have known. We’ll
never know since his dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s an annoying gap in the continuity but it really doesn’t matter. The corkscrew script by
Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbtert is intended to keep the audience guessing
with one surprising reversal after another. What’s more little plot hole more
Meanwhile, the mysterious blonde is there on the stage
singing the “All Through the Night” theme song written by Johnny Mercer. “Gloves”
recognizes her, likes what he sees and tells his mom to go home. He investigates
and in the process of trying get to the girl, “Gloves” finds nightclub manager
Joe Denning (Edward Brophy) shot. Denning holds up the five fingers of his hand
as if trying to tell “Gloves” something. Witnesses see “Gloves” kneeling over the
body so naturally he has to scram. On his way out he sees a cab carrying the
girl and some shadowy figures rushing out of an alley. Through pals he knows at
the cab company, “Gloves” finds the address the cab went to and continues his
And that’s just the beginning. It turns out Denning holding up five fingers
was a warning that there was a fifth column movement of Nazis right there in
New York. The mysterious blonde is part of the movement (or is she?), which is
being run by Conrad Veidt and his pal Peter Lorre. They are planning to blow up
a battle ship in New York Harbor. To think, it all started because “Gloves”
couldn’t get his favorite cheesecake!
Movie studios had been under pressure for years by
isolationists in Congress to refrain from making films that would incite the
country to war. But with the growing threat of Nazism, the rumors of horrors
occurring in Germany, and the known presence of Nazis in cities all over the
U.S., by 1941 the atmosphere had changed. “All Through the Night,” according to
director Vincent Sherman who shares an interesting alternate audio commentary track
on the DVD with film historian Eric Lax, was an attempt by Warners to make an
anti-Nazi comedy. Sherman admits that reaction to it was mixed. I suppose audiences
weren’t sure what to make of a movie that plays like Damon Runyon meets “Watch
on the Rhine.”
The idea for the story is based on some fact. There
were Nazis in Brooklyn and other parts of New York in the late 1930s and the
only ones concerned about them were the local gangsters and newspaper men. The
general public and the police couldn’t have cared less. So the ending of “All
Through the Night,” with rival gangs of Irish gangsters uniting and battling
German saboteurs is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
“All Through the Night” is a chance to see a big cast
of Warners’ regulars at or near their peak in a lively film that more than puts
them through their paces. It’s not Bogart’s greatest film, but it continue to
help elevate him up from the B-movie gangster films and westerns he’d once been
relegated to. It would be only a short time later that he would once again be
battling Nazis Veidt and Lorre in “Casablanca.” By then the isolationists were
silent and the country was already at war.
“All Through the Night” presents a good many extras to
enjoy on the DVD release. The audio commentary by Sherman and Lax is highly
informative. Lax presents the historical facts and Sherman tells what it was
like to work under the Warners studio system. The place was loaded with sets
made for earlier movies. All he had to do was walk around and pick what he
needed to make a movie. In those days film makers rarely left the back lot. In
addition to the commentary, there is a cartoon, newsreel a trailer for
“Gentleman Jim” and a comedy short subject about quitting smoking. There’s a lot
to see and hear on this disc. It will definitely keep you watching “All Through
the Night,” and maybe the next night, too.
Monsters come in various forms. Those found in fictional literature or film can be chilling enough but, inevitably, it is the real life monsters that strike the most fear in our hearts. People routinely joke about the fact that whenever a heinous crime is committed, those who knew the perpetrator seem to mouth the same cliches such as "He was a quiet man" or "He was a good family man". Yet there is a disturbing truth to this generalization. Some of the worst people in history have been rather nondescript types who would never stand out in a crowd. Such a man who was destined for infamy was Heinrich Himmler, whose homely personal appearance bordered on the comic. He has been described as someone who looked like a character from a Marx Brothers movie. Yet there was nothing the slightest bit amusing about Himmler, as the new documentary The Decent One makes painfully clear. Directed by Vanessa Lapa, the movie has just been brought to DVD by Kino Lorber. Himmler's life and crimes have proven to be well-worn territory for any number of previous documentaries but The Decent One is unique in that it tells his story entirely from his own perspective, along with that of his wife Marga. This was made possible by the discovery of an archive of personal letters between the couple that were looted from Himmler's home by American soldiers who occupied the place at the end of the war. Somehow the stash of letters and diaries ended up in a historic archive in Tel Aviv where Lapa and her researchers were allowed access to them. They revealed a treasure trove of photos and correspondence that provide fascinating insights into the lives of one of the Third Reich's most notorious war criminals. Virtually the entire film is told through narration of the letters between Himmler and Marga, although the film does begin with an all-too brief vintage interview with Marga that appears to be a debriefing by Allied intelligence officers at the end of the war. There are some other comments made from letters written by the Himmlers' daughter Gudrun, who grew up during the war years.
The film begins with comments from young Himmler's diary. As a teenager, he was among the many disaffected Germans who resented their nation's capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles in the wake of Germanys that saw Germany's defeat in WWI. The terms of the treaty were so severe that they caused widespread economic decline in Germany, which was made a scapegoat by bearing the entire responsibility for a war that was so complicated and unnecessary that scholars are still debating its causes today. From these early days, Himmler viewed himself as an outsider. "People don't seem to like me", he writes more than once in his diary. A key inspiration in his life was reading Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, which called for a revolution in Germany against the flawed but democratic Weimar Republic. Himmler was an early member of Hitler's National Socialist Party, which espoused a far-right political philosophy that was nativist in tone and intolerant in practice. Himmler had always harbored anti-Semitic prejudices and Hitler's ranting political speeches only galvanized others with similar feelings. Around this time Himmler fell in love with Marga, a woman eight years his senior. The two married in 1924 just as Himmler's stock was rising in the Nazi party. Before long, he would be given increasing responsibilities and would emerge as one of Hitler's most trusted and reliable confidants. The film humanizes Himmler through the correspondence with Marga, from their dating period through their marriage. The couple engages in some overtly sexual banter that seems to imply that to some degree an S&M element may have been present in this aspect of their relationship. (They both bizarrely refer to lovemaking as "revenge" on each other and imply that Himmler has been naughty and should be punished.) Following the birth of the couple's daughter Gudrun, Himmler was distressed to learn that Marga could not bear him any other children. As a key element of Nazi philosophy was that couples should have as many children as possible, the Himmler's adopt a young son, Gehbard. The correspondence makes clear that the couple had little enthusiasm for the lad and were frustrated by what they believe is his errant behavior. At one point, Himmler advises Marga to refrain from signing her letters to Gehbard, who was in boarding school, as "Mother". The film follows the Nazi party's rise to political power. Although Hitler is only seen occasionally in photos and newsreel clips, his presence dominates much of the Himmler's personal life. Himmler is there for "the boss", as he refers to him, day and night and his absence from home ultimately leaves Marga frustrated, though Himmler is dutiful in writing letters and sending presents.
The turning point comes with Hitler's disastrous decision to betray his ally Stalin and launch the massive invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, a strategy that achieves remarkable success initially but which would lead to disastrous consequences in the long run. It represents the first time that Marga addresses the fact that Germany may be in real peril, despite her husband's increasingly meaningless platitudes that Hitler can never be defeated. The Allied invasion of Normandy three years later wreaks havoc on the nation. In correspondence written by the astute Gudrun, the child is distressed that Germany is now without any allies and is on its own. Throughout the entire war, Himmler is only a fleeting presence at home but Gudrun clearly adores him even as Gebhard is never fully accepted as his son. In his duties as right hand man to Hitler, Himmler thrives on his new responsibilities to deal with indigenous populations in conquered countries. He starts off by rounding up suspected homosexuals and incarcerating them in concentration camps with orders to ensure that all are shot while "trying to escape". He organizes death squads to exterminate entire villages in conquered Soviet territory. The most ambitious plan, however, is the "Final Solution" to "the Jewish problem". Himmler enthusiastically oversees the implementation of widespread genocide on a scale that is still hard to fathom. During this time, he continues to extol the virtues of the average Nazi, who he maintains has remained "decent" despite the unsavory tasks they must perform in order to keep the Germanic population free of "human animals". Indeed, Himmler seems to never stop bragging about his regard for ethical behavior despite all evidence to the contrary. He insists that members of the Master Race remain pure in every way- even as he engages in a extra-marital affair that sees him impregnate his mistress. He condones confiscating all the property and wealth of doomed Jews but warns that no German can ever personally benefit from this booty- even as he sends some of it home as gifts to his family.
"The Decent One" is an intriguing experience precisely because it reiterates what we already know: some of the most demonic people on the planet can hide behind the guise of being rational, compassionate individuals. Since the film is restricted to telling Himmler's story only through his own words, it does not serve (or attempt to serve) as a chronological diary of the German experience in WWII. Some key events are only glossed over in the interest of time while others are ignored altogether. (It would be interesting to know what Himmler thought of the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by his own generals.) The film ends with a scene of Himmler dead on the floor with a British sentry standing over him. Placards at the end of the movie inform the viewer that he had been captured two days previously but had escaped trial by taking a cyanide capsule. We are also advised that his wife Marga died in 1967. His son remained haunted by his fractured relationship with his father and died only a few years ago. His daughter is still alive and donates to an organization that defends convicted Nazi war criminals. Apparently time and history has taught her nothing.
The film and its director have been criticized in some quarters for utilizing the device of having the entire story told through the words of the subjects themselves. The knock against Lapa is that this fails to provide context to the events that are unfolding on screen. I feel these critics miss the point. The most intriguing aspect of the movie is precisely that there are no distractions between the words of Himmler and his family members. It offers the kind of perspective that a standard format would deny the viewer. The Kino Lorber release features some interesting extras. They include an introduction by esteemed documentary maker Errol Morris, who also discusses the film in a Q&A session at Brandeis University. There are also some compelling featurettes that show researchers looking through the files containing Himmler's correspondence and photos. There are visits to relatives of Himmler, who are not in sympathy with him in any way and who discuss the negative connotations that the surname still evokes today. An original trailer is also included.
"The Decent One" should be seen by everyone who believes the old adage that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
Orson Welles died in 1985, he was known to the younger generation for his
adverts, his chat show appearances and for voicing a giant robot in Transformers:
The Movie. His early successes more than forty years earlier were often
over-looked, the larger-than-life raconteur having allowed his legend and
personality to become bigger than his numerous cinematic achievements.
Magician serves as a much-needed reminder of just how talented Orson
Welles was. A true polymath, it did not seem to matter what Welles turned his
hand to, he would be better at it than you. He was an established artist,
actor, theatre actor and director all before reaching twenty years old. Before
creating what is still generally accepted as the greatest film ever made, Citizen
Kane (1941), he was a popular radio presence, both as the voice of The
Shadow and through his own Mercury Theatre productions. It was with the
latter that he produced what is still considered one of the most controversial
radio dramas of all time: his contemporary adaptation of The War of the
Worlds in 1938, which terrified audiences by forcing them to realise that
they could not always trust what they were listening to on the wireless. Anyone
who had achieved such amazing success at an age where most of us still don't
know what we want to do with our lives could be forgiven for relaxing somewhat
after that. But not Welles. He spent his entire working life going from one
creative project to another, whether it was film, theatre or television.
Frustrated by the lack of control afforded to him by the studio system, and in
particular by the disappointing way The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was
treated, he became in effect an independent film director, raising money
wherever he could to fund projects which were often left unfinished. Yet it was
during this time that some of his greatest films were made, in particular The
Trial (1962) and Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight (1965). He funded
these films by putting in memorable appearances in other director’s work, such
as his Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949), a role which he later
recreated for a successful radio series.
the complicated nature of the funding means that some of Welles films are still
in legal dispute, and a high quality copy of Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is
still not commercially available. Clips from this and many examples of his
other work are included here which reminds us just how visually impressive his
films were. The documentary includes interviews with friends, family and
colleagues, both newly shot and archival. Most importantly Welles is given the
opportunity to speak for himself, with clips taken from various points
throughout his career. Time and time again he was frustrated yet he always
seems philosophical as he considers his failures as well as his achievements.
documentary was given a brief theatrical run before being released on DVD by
the BFI. Extra features include an extended interview with the actor Simon
Callow, who has written three volumes of biography on Orson Welles, whose
research has helped to sift through many of the legends to get to the truth of
the man. Magician is as thorough and engaging a documentary as one would
hope for, and ought to lead to a resurgence of interest in Welles' work. It may
perhaps help to finally resolve the legal limbo in which many of his films
Actress Yvonne Craig, who specialized in playing perky and sexy characters in TV shows and feature films, has died after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 78 years old. Craig broke into the film and TV industry in the late 1950s, making her big screen debut in the exploitation film "Eighteen and Anxious". Before long, she was not only co-starring with Elvis Presley in "It Happened at the World's Fair" and "Kissin' Cousins", but also dating him as well. There was no shortage of work for the attractive Craig during the 1960s and she appeared on numerous TV series including "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." In fact, Craig filmed extra sequences for extended two-part episodes of the show that were released theatrically under the titles "One Spy Too Many" and "One of Our Spies is Missing". However, it was when producer William Dozier cast Craig as Batgirl in the "Batman" TV series that she became a TV icon. Although the show's popularity was on the decline by that point, Craig did appear in the final 26 episodes of the series and built a loyal following that extends to this day.
Her other feature films include "Quick Before It Melts!", "Advance to the Rear", "Ski Party" and the Don Knotts movie "How to Frame a Figg". She also had a brief but memorable role as a Russian ballerina/spy opposite James Coburn in the 1967 hit "In Like Flint". Craig became an independent businesswoman later in life, producing pre-paid promotional phone cards and working in real estate while also providing voice-over work for the TV series "Olivia". For more click here
Fans of the "Star Wars" franchise just got some news from Disney that is out of this world: the company intends to open 14 acre theme parks based on the film series at both Disneyland and Disney World. The complexes will include an auditorium designed to show a media show about the history of "Star Wars". It will be built to hold a staggering 8,000 people. For more click here.
You may think that the American drive-in movie theater has gone the way of the do-do bird and The Knack. However, there are still a surprising number of drive-ins operating, primarily in rural area where the price of real estate isn't so prohibitively expensive. One of the drive-ins of interest to Cinema Retro readers is the Mahoning Drive-in located in Leighton, PA, not too far from the New Jersey border. What makes the theater unique is the owner's quest to concentrate solely on classic and cult films shown in 35mm. You can forget seeing the latest Adam Sandler flick here. This is for lovers of old sci-fi and horror films. The theater has been working with Exhumed Films to continually find sources for good 35mm prints in order to keep retro film festivals alive. For more on the theater and its history, click here.
(If you know of a theater that specializes in retro-based film programming, you can send the details to: email@example.com. Please ensure that there is a current web page the article can link to.)
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Cinema Retro proudly presents its latest "Movie Classics" special edition issue: "The American Westerns of Clint Eastwood", the perfect companion to our acclaimed special issue dedicated to the three Clint Eastwood Westerns directed by Sergio Leone.
"The American Westerns of Clint Eastwood" is a 116 page limited edition publication. Each of Eastwood's American Westerns is covered in detail in individual chapters:
"Hang "Em High"
"Paint Your Wagon"
"Two Mules for Sister Sara"
"High Plains Drifter"
The Outlaw Josey Wales"
Special section covering early film roles and TV Western appearances
Featuring hundreds of photographs, rare behind-the-scenes stills an movie poster art, including location photos (then and now) and even props that exist to this day in private collections!!
We are also very honored to present unseen movie poster designs by the legendary Bill Gold, who has overseen the advertising campaigns for most of Eastwood's films since "Dirty Harry" in 1971. Bill has provided some stunning examples of unused artwork and posters that were never utilized in ad campaigns.
(This issue is not part of the subscription plan and must be ordered separately).
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There's a tasteless old joke that defines "mixed emotions" as the reaction you would have upon hearing that your mother-in-law just drove off a cliff in your new Jaguar. As a die-hard fan of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series, I admit to having expectations of experiencing mixed emotions at last Monday's world premiere of Guy Ritchie's feature film version of the show at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. For those of us who grew up during the spy craze of the mid-1960s, espionage movies are always close to our hearts. With Bond, Bourne and Mission: Impossible still big box-office, it's clear that the younger generation is in synch with our passion for this genre. The Bond films have earned respect for enduring for more than 50 years with six different actors giving vastly different interpretations of Agent 007, each successful in his own way. However, Bond has never been out off the big screen for a period of more than five years (those dark days between the release of Licence to Kill in 1989 and GoldenEye in 1995), whereas some of the other classic spy sensations of the 1960s were brought back many years after their initial success. The classic Get Smart TV series begat a woeful big screen version called The Nude Bomb in 1980, a decade after the show last aired. The 2008 version with Steve Carell was only good by comparison. The Avengers begat the universally-scorned big screen version. The success of Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise masks the fact that the films have nothing to do with the classic TV series that inspired it. That show's premise was to showcase a team of special agents, each of whom had their own unique special talents. Cruise's films tossed out the team concept and even made the show's leading hero, Jim Phelps into the main villain in the first big screen edition. (Blasphemy! It's like remaking Gunsmoke and having Marshall Dillon turn out to be a bank robber.) The Wild, Wild West (inexplicably re-titled Wild, Wild West) was a dreadful 1999 concoction that served as a vanity piece for Will Smith. The less said about the big screen version of I Spy starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, the better. Following the distortions big screen versions of beloved spy TV series perpetrated on the movie-going public, those of us who are long time U.N.C.L.E. aficionados sometimes felt that the long-planned theatrical version of the show might best be left undeveloped. Indeed, it seemed as though fate agreed. There have been so many efforts made to bring the franchise to movie screens that one loses count of them all. Suffice it to say that scripts have been floating around major studios since the mid-1970s when the show's original stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were deemed essential to star in it. In 1983, we did get Vaughn and McCallum in the CBS TV movie Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. but plans to revive the series fell through. Over the decades, high profile names like Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh had all expressed enthusiasm about making a feature film version of the only to have plans inevitably go up in smoke. Finally, director Guy Ritchie managed to overcome the curse with the long-awaited film that has just opened. Ritchie seemed to throw cold water on the project in the eyes of many fans of the show when he announced he was ditching most of the key ingredients that were considered to be main staples of the U.N.C.L.E. story lines. Thus, it was with an open mind but a bit of trepidation that I entered the theater to experience the film, comforted by the knowledge that at least the lavish after-party at the Bowery Hotel was sure to be sensational. (It was.)
I'm please to say that not only did I enjoy the new feature film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but so did several die-hard, long-time admirers of the show who alsoattended the premiere. The first order of business in regard to the film is to understand that director Ritchie has started the concept of the franchise from scratch. Fortunately, Ritchie did keep one integral aspect of the show intact: it is set in the Cold War. In this version Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a charismatic international smuggler of fine art who is avoiding a lengthy jail term by doing high stakes undercover work for the F.B.I. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a psychologically troubled Soviet agent with a hair-trigger temper and almost supernatural physical strength. He is a loyal agent to the Red cause partly because he feels an obligation to restore his family's honor, as his father had been denounced by Stalin's regime as a traitor. The film opens with Solo sneaking into East Berlin to make contact with Gaby (well-played by Alicia Vikander), a sexy young woman who is nonetheless relegated to working as a mechanic in a dreary auto repair shop. Solo informs her that her estranged father, an esteemed nuclear scientist, has been kidnapped by forces unknown. The fear is that he may be forced to develop a nuclear weapon for an unstable regime. (At least the plot line is timely, given the current debates that are on-going about the Iran nuclear deal.) She agrees to help him track down her father through trying to contact an equally estranged uncle who may know his whereabouts. All of this entails the minor obstacle of getting over the Berlin Wall. In the course of attempting to do so, the pair is relentlessly attacked by Kuryakin, who seems impervious to pain and impossible to slow down, let alone stop. The ever- dapper Solo, however, is unfazed by any number of near death situations and he and Gaby make a daring escape in a manner that is suspiciously similar to that used by James Coburn in the 1967 flick In Like Flint.
The plot threatens to become predictable when Solo and Kuryakin are forced to work together by their respective intelligence agencies, a device that already had moss on it back in 1977 when Roger Moore found himself in the same situation with an albeit beautiful Soviet spy (Barbara Bach) in The Spy Who Loved Me. After a brutal, knock-down, drag 'em out fist fight, Solo and Kuryakin make a temporary truce to ensure the success of the mission. If will not be revealing any astonishing "spoilers" to inform the reader that the duo ultimately come to respect each other, even while engaging in typical male ball-busting put-downs. Things heat up when they discover that the missing scientist is in the hands of a group of international, filthy rich criminals (are there any other kind in spy flicks?) Fortunately, these baddies are of Bondian caliber and the most intriguing of them is Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki in a sensational performance). There are numerous plot twists, some surprising and some predictable, and quite a few extravagant action sequences. This time around, Ritchie shows more restraint than usual by minimizing the number of action scenes that are shot in today's de rigeur style of blurry images and fast cuts that undermine the impact of such sequences, although a major chase scene involving an ATV falls victim to the cliche. If the film is about anything, it's costume and production design and both aspects are highly impressive. For those of us who still cling to fond memories of the 1960s, it's wonderful to see so many stylish fashions on the big screen once again. Some of the scenes are staged to look like layouts for a fashion magazine of the era and the result is rather delightful, especially in scenes in which Vikander wears some striking mod numbers that recall Stefanie Powers as The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. I should also point out that in today's world of grungy male screen heroes, it's refreshing to see Solo stride proudly around wearing well-tailored three-piece suits. Ritchie also deserves credit for including imaginative opening and ending credits, which in itself represents a rarity today. The film contains any number of highly amusing sequences, some of which are laugh-out-loud funny, yet it never goes full throttle over-the-top into the world of Get Smart, Austin Powers or even that much-derided, camp-filled third season of the TV series. It's also fun to see a movie set in an age where sophisticated spies must use "high tech" gadgets that look positively primitive by today's standards. Obviously, there are no cell phones, computers or other modern distractions.
Don't look for Del Floria's tailor shop entrance to U.N.C.L.E. HQ. In fact, don't look for U.N.C.L.E in the new feature film- it's a code word, not an organization. However, the anticipated sequel seems to remedy that.
There are some gnawing disappointments. One would have hoped that there would have been a few more overt nods toward the impact of the original TV series, which remains quite popular today. Why no cameos from Robert Vaughn and David McCallum? Composer Daniel Permberton provides a fine, innovative score but why is the only acknowledgement of Jerry Goldmith's legendary main theme relegated to a brief joke when Solo hears a few strains of Hugo Montenegro's cover version on a car radio? Why has the famed pen communicator (which foreshadowed the mobile phone by decades) been left absent from the script? At least there are some glimpses of the beloved U.N.C.L.E. rifle and Hugh Grant may not make us forget the great Leo G. Carroll's interpretation of Alexander Waverly, but he does bring energy and wit to the role. Most of the credit must go to Cavill and Hammer for overcoming the unenviable task of inheriting their roles from two TV icons. Cavill does seem to intentionally channel Vaughn's perpetually flippant style as Solo but Hammer's Illya is far removed from McCallum's interpretation. To their credit, they show considerable chemistry together. Much has been made over advance word that U.N.C.L.E. is not even an organization in this film and there is no mention of its evil counterpart Thrush. However, if you stay for the closing credits (which the vast majority of the audience at the world premiere did not, as they were eager to get to the after-party and all that free booze) you will find that the emergence of U.N.C.L.E. as an organization seems in the cards if a sequel materializes. In fact, the movie ends as though a continuation is an inevitability. I asked director Ritchie about this and he said all concerned are ready, willing and eager for a sequel, but it all depends upon the box-office for this film. Here's hoping it happens. Those of us who have waited for forty years for an U.N.C.L.E. feature film can't wait another forty. The film does not make you forget the classic original series but in its own way compliments it. For those involved it's a case of mission accomplished.
Like most Anglo-European co-productions, the 1968 caper film They Came to Rob Las Vegas deserves plaudits for not using any subtlety in its title. You know instantly what it's about as the protagonists, well, they come to rob Las Vegas. The ring leader is Tony Ferris (Gary Lockwood), a casino craps dealer who uses his inside observations to organize an outrageous plot. The casino's daily monetary takes are hauled off to banks courtesy of seemingly impregnable armored cars owned by Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), an obnoxious tycoon with mob connections who prides himself on the fact that his armored cars are unique in their design. Each one is a virtually Sherman tank with devices that automatically lock if any attempt to open the doors is detected. Inside the car are heavily armed guards who can live for an extended period of time (there's even a bathroom inside!). Additionally, the drivers can activate armor mechanism and machine guns from within the cab. Still, petty crook Ferris believes he has the perfect plan to knock off one of these trucks and capture the millions inside. He organizes a gang of crooks, each of whom has their own specialized talent, to literally kidnap the truck and secrete it in an underground hideaway in the desert. It goes without saying that there are some flies in the ointment and things don't go as smoothly as planned.
Truffaut had an all too short but certainly brilliant career as a filmmaker. He
began in the world of film criticism in France, but in the late 1950s he
decided to make movies himself. Truffaut quickly shot to the forefront of the
French New Wave in the late 1950s and early 60s, alongside the likes of
Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, and others. By the time the 70s
rolled around, Truffaut was a national treasure in France and a mainstay in art
house cinemas in the U.S. and Britain.
1973 masterpiece, Day for Night (in France La Nuit Américaine, or “American
Night”), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of that year, the only
time Truffaut picked up an Academy Award. Due to odd eligibility rules, the
picture could be nominated for other categories the following year. For 1974, Truffaut
was nominated for Best Director, the script by Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, and
Jean-Louis Richard was up for Best Original Screenplay, and Valentina Cortese
was nominated for Supporting Actress. Thus, Day for Night is perhaps one of the
auteur’s best known works outside of France.
title refers to a technique used in Hollywood pictures to create night scenes
shot during the day by using a special filter. In France “day for night” was
also known as “American night,” because it was an inexpensive and less
complicated method to achieve the effect.
title is entirely appropriate because the movie is about making a movie.
Truffaut plays a director named Ferrand (the filmmaker often acted in his own
pictures; most non-French audiences will remember his major role in Spielberg’s
Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The film he is making is a trite melodrama
about an older man falling in love with his soon-to-be daughter-in-law—which is
a plot that might very well have been in a real Truffaut movie. In fact,
several of the talking heads in the disc’s supplements suggest that Truffaut
was slyly making fun of his own 1964 melodrama, The Soft Skin (reviewed here),
which at the time of its release was a financial and critical disappointment
for the filmmaker.
Bisset and Truffaut
“plot,” as it were, of Day for Night is
nothing more than a freeform documentation of the movie’s shoot, particularly
focusing on the actors and crew and the on-screen and off-screen relationships
they have while on location—who’s falling in love, who’s breaking up, who’s
sleeping with or cheating on whom, and so on. In fact, mimicking the love
triangle that’s in the film-within-the-film, two of the lead actors, Julie
(Jacqueline Bisset) and Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud) have an affair, jeopardizing the actress’
marriage, especially when Alphonse becomes enraged with jealousy when Julie
decides to reconcile with her husband when the man visits the set. There are
other dalliances among crew members... at one point a wife visiting her
henpecked production manager husband shouts at the entire production staff, “What
is this movie business? Where everyone sleeps with everyone! Everyone lies! Do
you think it's normal? Your movie world...I think it stinks. I despise it!”
it’s a romantic comedy, and there are quite a few laughs and whimsical moments.
Truffaut was often guilty of injecting sentimentality into his films, and it’s
here in abundance. This is not a bad thing, for the director did this thing
well. Day for Night is indeed very light, its buoyancy aided by Georges
Delerue’s sparkling score. It’s a quintessential Truffaut picture in that it
hits his various auteur thematic signatures—love affairs, infidelity,
reconciliation, pathos, and even cinema history. In fact, the picture is in
itself an homage to the art of making motion pictures. A key recurring sequence
is when Ferrand has fitful dreams at night, picturing himself as a young boy
desperate to steal lobby cards and press photos from the local cinema. As the
American movie posters claimed in the tag line, “it’s a movie for people who
cast is sensational. Besides Truffaut, Bisset, and Leaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont
plays the older screen idol who is nearing retirement, Valentina Cortese is an
Italian screen idol whose major earlier work was “with Fellini” (and this is
true for Cortese herself!). Other Truffaut “regulars” such as Dani, Alexandra Stewart, and Nathalie Baye, make
picture was shot at the legendary Victorine Studios in Nice, France (now called
Riviera Studios), the site where many noted films were made, such as To Catch a
Thief, Children of Paradise, Lola Montes, Mon Oncle, And God Created Woman, and
more. These photos depict what the grounds looked like in 2000, when I visited
the location while researching my James Bond novel, Never Dream of Dying (the
studios were used as a model for a setting in the book). While I walked around
the grounds, I mostly thought of Day for Night, for Truffaut’s movie had stayed
with me for decades since I first saw it on its initial release.
Photos taken by Raymond Benson at the filming location in 2000.(Photos copyright Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
Criterion Collection presents a gorgeous new restored 2K digital transfer,
supervised by director of photography Pierre-William Glenn, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Most of the supplements that appeared on the
Warner Brothers DVD of 2001 have been ported over, such as vintage “making of”
documentaries; interviews with Truffaut, Bisset, and several other cast and
crew members; a documentary on the film featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf;
and vintage news clips such as Truffaut being interviewed at Cannes. New
supplements include a fascinating video essay by the extraordinary filmmaker ::
kogonada; new interviews with DOP Glenn and assistant editor Martine Barraqué;
and a new engrossing interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew about the rift
that occurred between Truffaut and Godard after the release of the film. An
essay by critic David Cairns adorns the booklet.
for Night is easily one of François Truffaut’s best films. If you haven’t seen
it, you owe it to the movie lover inside you to pick up this one.
Classic movie posters, once regarded as the domain of eccentric collectors, are finally being taken seriously in financial circles because of their often staggering rate of return on investment. In an article for Bloomberg News, it's pointed out that some of the rarer posters appreciate at a far greater pace than many conventional investments. The irony, of course, is that for decades such posters were routinely tossed out after a movie was exhibited. Most had to be returned to National Screen Service, the company that leased the promotional materials to theaters. After a period of years, NSS destroyed older posters, photos and lobby cards, which were never officially available for sale to the public. However, die hard collectors found niche shops that catered to their needs. In the beginning, collectors wanted the posters because of their artistic merit but over the decades, they came to be regarded as a solid financial investment. Click here for more.
Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema is showing a film festival dedicated to the movies of Man From U.N.C.L.E. stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Tonight and tomorrow, there is a double feature of Vaughn's "The Venetian Affair" (in IB Tech!) and McCallum's "Sol Madrid". On Friday and Saturday, there will be an U.N.C.L.E. double feature of "The Spy With My Face" and "One Spy Too Many"-- all in glorious 35mm. Click here for details.
The 1969 comedy The Maltese Bippy has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. What is a bippy? If you're of a certain age and grew up in the 1960s, you need not ask. A bippy was an undefined thing that nevertheless, it was insinuated, had a rather naughty or distasteful element to it. The phrase was coined by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on their hit TV series Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The show is rarely discussed today but there is no underestimating its impact on American popular culture when it premiered in January of 1968, replacing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had been canceled after three and a half seasons. The premise of the show capitalized on the youth movement and sexual revolution that characterized the era. There was no structure to the show, which largely consisted of rapid fire one-liners and short comedy sketches that often pushed the limits of network censorship. Rowan and Martin had been a popular comedy team that had nonetheless not reached the top rungs of their profession. That would change with the premiere of the show. Their shtick was not unlike those of other comedy duos: Dan Rowan was the sophisticated straight man and Dick Martin was the naive, goofy partner who got most of the laughs. The two men were improbable hosts for what became TV's hippest "must see" comedy show. Not only were they middle-aged, but they adhered to the then popular tradition of hosting their show while clad in tuxedos. Nevertheless, Rowan and Martin introduced envelope-pushing humor that became a sensation. The Smother Brothers had tried the same thing on CBS and got canceled for their efforts largely because they were so sarcastic about LBS's Vietnam War policies. But Rowan and Martin skewered all of the politicians and even included some of them on the show as part of its tradition of showcasing unlikely people spouting one-liners. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels may have had a hit record titled "Sock It To Me, Baby", but it was Laugh-in that immortalized the phrase. In fact, it played a role in the 1968 presidential election. Richard Nixon, back from the political graveyard, was the Republican nominee for president, squaring off against the Democratic nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Democratic convention in Chicago had been a disaster, marred by riots and police brutality. Nixon had based his campaign on a calm, law-and-order message that resonated with middle class, white voters. However, he was notoriously lacking in humor or personalty. When his advisers convinced him to make a five second cameo on Laugh-In in which he phrased "Sock it to me" as a question, voters saw a side of Nixon they didn't know existed. Whether he ever knew the relevance of the show or not, his poll numbers started to rise and he eeked out a narrow victory over the surging Humphrey in the November elections. Other phrases popularized on the show included "Here comes da judge!", "Veerrry interesting" and "You bet your sweet bippy", which was routinely used as a retort to almost any question posed to Dick Martin. The show's impact over its five year run included making household names of then unknown actresses Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin. Seemingly all the major stars wanted to film cameos for the show. These included such eclectic talents as Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman and John Wayne. The show also made a short-term superstar of eccentric crooner Tiny Tim.
In 1969, MGM signed Rowan and Martin to a feature film, The Maltese Bippy. This was not their first time on the big screen. In 1958 they appeared in a forgettable comedy, Once Upon a Horse. The Bippy movie did not replicate their success on television and vanished rather quickly, though it has developed a cult following over the decades. The Maltese Bippy begins amusingly enough with footage from a sword and sandal movie that then morphs into Rowan and Martin doing their standard stand-up routine! You have to give the writers credit for at least thinking outside the box. The film proper begins with partners Sam Smith (Rowan) and Ernest Gray (Martin) trying to eek out a living by convincing a busty, 18 year old airhead to appear in a sexlpoitation film with Ernest as the leading man. The amusing sequence finds them filming this "epic" in the confines of a small office with incredibly shoddy pull down paintings serving as scenery. The office is raided and they are evicted for non-payment of rent. Back at Ernest's Victorian era house, his only remaining financial asset, the pair snipe at each other as they try to come up with some other method of making a living. From this point, the story goes into very bizarre directions. It would be pointless to try to connect all the disparate plot angles. Suffice it to say that over the course of the remaining running time, we are introduced to a series of eccentric supporting characters. These include Robin (Carol Lynley), a young college girl who is boarding at the house. Ernest has the hots for her but her innocent nature may be a ruse and she appears to have an ulterior motive for her presence in the house. This could be rumors that the place holds an ancient treasure that is the motivation for less scrupulous characters to pay visits to Sam and Ernest. These include Mischa Ravenswood (Fritz Weaver), a menacing Romanian nobleman who is always in the company of his mentally deranged sister Carlotta (Julie Newmar). They seem to be after the treasure that the household is said to contain. Added to the mix is another wacky boarder, Axel (Leon Askin of Hogan's Heroes). Then there is Ernest's long-suffering housekeeper Molly (Mildred Natwick) who may not be what she seems. An unrelated subplot has the victim of a vicious murder discovered near Ernest's house. It appears the dead man may have been killed by an unknown animal and this results in extended sequences and gags in which Ernest begins to believe that he is actually a werewolf!
The film lumbers along under the direction of veteran Norman Panama but every now and then a genuinely funny gag comes along that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. The film's greatest asset is the spirited performances and the film provides a treasure trove of goofy characters for well-established actors to have fun with. (It's great to see Fritz Weaver in a rare comedy role.) Ironically, the movie mostly comes alive in the final act in which virtually the entire cast kills themselves off. It's a bizarre but funny premise and is well-executed. Despite its flaws, The Maltese Bippy is an enjoyable romp.
The failure of The Maltese Bippy at the boxoffice ensured that Rowan and Martin never appeared on the big screen again. Dick Martin, who had already established himself as a successful supporting actor and comedy director, had a thriving career until his death in 2008. Dan Rowan retired in the early 1980s partly due to health problems. He passed away in 1987 at age 65. Is it safe to say that Rowan and Martin's legacy as major influences on American comedy in the 1960s is secure? You bet your sweet bippy.
By 1988 Chuck Norris was firmly established
as an international action movie star who was spoken about in the same breath
as Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The six-time
world karate champion had shown us his stuff in more than a half dozen
entertaining martial arts/action flicks such as Silent Rage (1982), Forced
Vengeance (1982) and Lone Wolf
McQuade (1983) before somewhat breaking away from his karate roots and
moving into almost pure action films the likes of Missing in Action (1984), Code
of Silence (1985) and Invasion U.S.A.
(1985). Although Chuck eventually tried his hand at comedy (1986’s Firewalker), his fans (including me) were
happiest at seeing him play the lone hero who kicks ass, takes names and makes
the world a better place. In 1988, we got our wish as Chuck continued his
successful association with now legendary film studio The Cannon Group and
starred in a brand new action film entitled Hero
and the Terror.
Directed by William Tannen (Flashpoint), Hero and the Terror, which was based on a novel by actor/writer Michael
Blodgett (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
Turner & Hooch), concerns Homicide detective Dan O’Brien (Norris) who,
a few years earlier, had been given the nickname “Hero” due to “capturing”
notorious Los Angeles serial killer Simon Moon (Superman II’s Jack O’Halloran). Since then, O’Brien has been
mentally torturing himself because he believes that the praise he has received
is undeserved. He also suffers from nightmares that stem from almost being murdered
by the monstrous psychopath. While Dan and his girlfriend (Brynn Thayer from
TVs One Life to Live) are busy
preparing for the birth of their first child, Moon, who the media has dubbed
“The Terror”, busts out of prison and picks up exactly where he left off,
leaving a string of bloody corpses in his wake. Can detective O’Brien not only
summon the courage needed to face this horrific madman once again, but, also,
prove to himself that he has the right to be called “Hero”?
Hero and the Terror
a bit of a unique Chuck Norris movie in that it isn’t just the usual guy flick.
Besides being a well-balanced combo of action film and suspense thriller, it
also contains a mature, romantic subplot; not to mention the fact that Chuck (believably)
plays a more realistic and human character as opposed to the almost
indestructible supermen he’s portrayed in the past, making this film appealing
to women as well as men. Brynn Thayer, as Chuck’s girlfriend, helps this along
by giving a very likeable and sometimes humorous performance.
The entertaining film is loaded with even
more top-notch acting talent. To begin with, professional boxer turned actor
Jack O’Halloran is appropriately creepy as Simon Moon. O’Halloran never utters
a word and, instead, gets his character across through expressions and body
language alone. Next up, is the late, great Steve James (American Ninja, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Weekend at Bernie’s II and
Norris’s Delta Force) as Chuck’s
cool, funny and fearless partner. Also, the legendary and sorely missed Ron (Super Fly) O’Neal (who also co-stars in
Chuck’s A Force of One) makes a brief
appearance as the mayor; the always welcome Billy Drago (Pale Rider, The Untouchables as well as Chuck’s Invasion U.S.A. and Delta Force 2) appears in a rare, normal role as a psychiatrist; talented
musician Murphy Dunne (The Blues Brothers)
gives an amusing performance as a hotel manager, and likable Jeffrey Kramer (Jaws, Hollywood Boulevard, Jaws 2) as
well as highly recognizable character actor Tony DiBenedetto (The Exterminator, Raw Deal) show up as
cops. The movie also features Joe Guzaldo (Chuck’s Code of Silence) as the mayor’s right hand man; not to mention
cameos by 9th degree black belt Bob Wall (Enter the Dragon and Way of
the Dragon which also featured Chuck), the beautiful Karen Witter (Out of the Dark, Buried Alive, TV’s One Life to Live) and Renegade’s Branscombe Richmond as a
thug. The fun movie boasts solid direction, decent characterizations and, with
the exception of the well-done and refreshing romantic subplot, is exactly what
you would expect from a late 80s action film.
Hero and the Terror
been released on a region one Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and is presented in its
original 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The beautiful HD transfer boasts sharp, crystal
clear images and the disc not only contains the original theatrical trailer,
but the trailer for Chuck’s enjoyable 1981 actioner An Eye for an Eye as well. If you’re yearning for an entertaining,
yet more mature Chuck Norris action-thriller, Hero and the Terror won’t disappoint.
after the school year ended in June 1984, I went to a friend’s house on a
Friday night to watch the premiere of Carlin
on Campus, an HBO concert of one of my favorite comedians, the legendary
George Carlin. When the concert was
over, my friend switched around until he reached NBC-TV. They were airing When A Stranger Calls, a 1979 thriller starring Carol Kane, Charles
Durning, and Colleen Dewhurst. I saw the
film from the beginning, and the first twenty or so minutes had me utterly captivated. It presented a scenario that I found to be
terrifying, and apparently so did Rex Reed, whose proclamation “some of the
most terrifying sequences ever filmed” was used in the newspaper ads. I thought it was so original – until I saw
Bob Clark’s frightening Black Christmas
(1974) four years later and saw where the “inspiration” may have come from. But my impressions of the film never left
ALERT: If you don’t want the film’s plot spoiled, do not read this review any
further as certain aspects will be revealed.
on Friday, October 12, 1979, Fred Walton’s When
A Stranger Calls pits babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) in the home of
Dr. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano) and his wife (Rutanya Alda) who are going out
for the evening. Their two children are
upstairs asleep. An hour later, Jill
gets a phone call wherein the caller hangs up, and then a second one where a
mysterious voice asks her, “Have you checked the children?” Initially she thinks this is a friend of hers
playing a prank, but after three more of these calls throughout the night she
calls the police who brush it off as innocuous. Several more calls of this nature compel her to call the police back,
and they agree to trace the call, which is a good thing as the caller is
calling from another phone line inside the house and, horrifically, has
murdered the two children she is in charge of baby-sitting.
film then flash forwards seven years to Dr. Mandrakis’s new digs in Beverly
Hills. He has summoned police detective John
Clifford (Charles Durning) who handled his case. Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), the killer, has
escaped from a mental facility. Dr.
Mandrakis wants Clifford to find him and take appropriate action to make sure
he doesn’t harm anyone else. Clifford is
only too happy to oblige. How he hopes
to succeed with this plan is not addressed. Incredibly, he confides this to a peer.
film is a feature-length version of the same director’s 1977 short film The Sitter, upon which the opening
sequence of the feature film is based. Unfortunately, once this sequence is over, the film moves in a
completely different direction, one that is nearly bereft of suspense until the
final reel. It’s almost as if the
remaining 80 minutes are there as filler before the credits role. Colleen Dewhurst is quite good as a woman
living in an apartment who attracts the unwanted advances of Duncan, who
appears meek and pathetic, but what single/divorced woman walks home alone at
night through dark areas and empty stairwells, only to get home and leave her
apartment door opened? One of the
biggest missteps the film makes is following the killer around and almost
painting him as a sympathetic character. How he became a monster who could kill two innocent children is never
addressed. In Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the mere
presence of Hannibal Lecter left the audience frightened and on edge. That is not
the case with this guy, who was played by an actor who was terminally ill
during shooting and passed away in April 1980. His inability to emote anything that would instill fear plays against
Denham (Robert Armstrong) remarks in Willis O’Brien’s King Kong (1933) that “every legend has a basis of truth” and When A Stranger Calls is no
exception. A real-life case in March 1950 provided the basis for an urban legend
that persists even to this day and has become the inspiration for many
television shows and movies alike.
performances by those in the film are all quite good, especially Carol Kane as
the baby-sitter. The situation she finds
herself in at the end of the film has the elliptical storyline that has become
a common trope in the genre.
also scored Empire of the Ants
(1977), Death Valley (1982), and
innumerable made-for-TV movies including Wes Craven’s Chiller (1985) and Fred Walton’s I Saw What You Did (1988), the latter also revolving around a telephone,
provides an exceptional musical score that is deserving of a better movie. The score is available here
from Kritzerland on CD and is worth having even if you’re not a fan of the
film inspired a 1993 sequel with Durning and Kane returning under the direction
of Walton. In 2006, a theatrical remake
Blu-ray from Umbrella is an Australian Region 4 disc that either needs to be played on an
all-region player or on a computer with a Blu-ray drive and software that
strips the regional encoding to permit playback. The image is good and has some grain, which
is expected for a film shot 36 years ago. If you’re a fan of the film and are able to play it back, this is a
decent release despite the lack of extras.
Deadline Hollywood is reporting that William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director of The Exorcist, The French Connection and Sorcerer, is planning to direct a film version of Don Winslow's crime thriller novel The Winter of Frankie Machine about a retired Mafia hit man who finds that someone is out to kill him. He must figure out who it is and why before time runs out. The project is in its early stages with no financing or studio attached. Friedkin won't approach investors or seek a distribution deal until a script is finalized. Winslow is said to be working on the screenplay now and Friedkin may collaborate on that. The book has tempted directors such as Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann in the past but nothing became of those projects. Friedkin wants to get back to his roots and shoot the movie in a gritty style with a budget of $15 million maximum. That should make the project plenty tempting for both studios and investors. Friedkin has rarely made films in recent years, preferring to concentrate on his passion for directing operas. For more click here.
I was a teenager, the Boy Scout troop that I was a member of consisted of
nearly 25 scouts. We had a few older scouts whom the rest of the younger scouts
looked up to, and during our weekend camping trips the seniors made every
effort to scare the beejezus out of us youngsters with ludicrous tales of
ghosts or killers hiding out in the woods. These stories were often woven
around a campfire in the late hours of the evening when we were all seemingly
vulnerable. During the summer of 1980, Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th was doing well at the box office, so I was already
aware of these “murderers in the woods”-themed films. This didn’t make it any
easier for us to go on camping trips! The
success of Friday the 13th gave birth
to countless carbon copies of young adults-being-stalked-in-the-woods films.
One such outing is the late Joe Gianonne’s Madman,
a film released in January 1982 by Jensen Farley pictures, a distribution
company responsible for other horror outings including Richard Ciupka’s Curtains (1983). The schematic premise of Madman is so basic and so bereft of suspense (at least by today’s
standards) that I hate to say anything negative about the film, simply because
the cast and crew involved in the making of it and showcased in the
behind-the-scenes extras are just such nice people! The film probably works great for young kids
who have never seen a horror film and are unfamiliar with all the extended
silences and dramatic “stings” that have become clichés that populate the
second half of the film. Madman opens at a campsite with a scene
that appears more silly than sinister. T.P. (Tony Fish) sports a ridiculous belt buckle with his initials on it
and does his best to scare a group of young campers and staff members with a
song about being killed in the woods. One of the leaders of the camp, Max (the late Carl Fredericks), talks
about some nut-job named Madman Marz who supposedly roams the wilderness
waiting for someone to yell out his name so he can wreak havoc on them.
Naturally, this only compels one dope in the group to yell out his name and
make fun of him, challenging Madman Marz to come get everyone prior to an
evening of illicit sex. How Madman eats
and survives the wilderness is never addressed. T.P. has the hots for Betsey
(Gaylen Ross of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead,
inexplicably cast here with the name of Alexis Dubin) and makes no bones about
it in a silly hot tub scene set to yet another song. The rest of the cast are a group of newbies
who are set up for slaughter but their personalities never reach the
likeability factor that Laurie, Linda and Annie reached in Halloween (1978).
is a fair amount of gore spilled in this film and by the end you sort of feel
glad that it’s all over. Madman Marz
could be considered the cinematic brethren of Andrew Garth in Tom DeSimone’s far
more entertaining Hell Night (1981) who
creeps around Garth Manor, or even Victor Crwley in Adam Green’s Hatchet movies. Hell
Night was the first film that Frank Darabont worked on (he’s not a fan of
it!) and it truly deserves a Blu-ray release.
What sets this new Madman DVD/Blu-ray combo set apart is Vinegar Syndrome’s wealth of
extras that appear on both formats:
film boasts two separate running commentaries that run through the entire 90-minute
running time. They feature comments from director Joe Giannone, producer Gary
Sales and actors Paul Ehlers and Tony Fish.
is an intro in HD that runs just under one minute as producer Gary Sales talks
before the Blu-ray presentation.
-Madman: Alive at 35 runs 21 minutes, is shot in HD and
features producer Gary Sales and actors Tom Candela and Paul Ehlers who discuss
the making of the film.
-The Early Career of Gary Sales is an interview with producer Gary Sales.
Shot in HD, it runs 14 min. and 15 seconds in length, but Mr. Sales speaks with
a great deal of energy and explains that he went to film school with director Armand Mastroianniwho,
at that time, had directed He Knows
You’re Alone (1980), a clear Halloween
(1978) rip-off. So, despite the sort
running time, he includes a wealth of info. It seemed like everyone was
making these types of horror films at the time, and Madman is loosely based upon the legend of Cropsey, who became famous in Staten Island,
NY. Mr. Sales also explains how he got his start in the industry by working on
a sex film in New York in 1973 entitled It
Happened in Hollywood. If you were looking to break into the film industry
in the early 1970’s, one way to do it was through the adult film industry. It
was here that he met Wes Craven who edited Hollywood,
as well as Peter Locke. Wes Craven and Peter Locke would go on to make The Hills Have Eyes in 1977, so
networking and making contacts are everything. What makes this
documentary/interview so fascinating is that we are given a first-hand account
by the producer as to what it took for him to not only get into the film
industry, but to get the ball rolling on Madman.
It wasn't like it is today, where somebody can make a film on a cell phone or
an iPad and simply upload it to someone.
-The Legend Still Lives is from 2011, which is strange as Code
Red had just released a 30th anniversary edition DVD at the
time. Shot in SD, it runs an
unbelievable 91 minutes (longer than the movie!) and gives you just about all
you would want to know about the film. Cast
and crew and other experts in the field of horror talk about the film and, in a
maneuver that would make Sean Clark happy, we are taken to the filming
location, only to find that most of the buildings that appeared in the film
have been torn down many years ago.
is a stills & artwork gallery that runs over seven minutes and provides newspaper
ads and reviews.
-Music Inspired by Madman runs just over 13 minutes and consists
of submissions of music by fans. This
film has quite a following!
-In Memoriam runs almost six minutes and discusses
the passing of both Joe Giannone the director Carl Fredericks.
out the extras are brief discussions with Mr. Sales and Mr. Ehlers at a horror
film convention; TV spots, and the theatrical trailer.
I would recommend this to not only fans
of the film, but to fans of the genre who want an insight into filmmaking in
general, and what it took to get a film like this made in the
jihadist-occupied Timbuktu, a militiaman climbs off the back of a motorcycle
and, in a daily ritual, uses a megaphone to remind the population about the
mandates of the occupiers’ harsh Sharia law: “Important information! Smoking is forbidden. Music is forbidden. Women must wear socks!” Initially, these scenes in director
Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) recall the scenes of the PA system
announcing the day’s recreational activities at the 4077th’s field hospital in
Robert Altman’s “MASH” (1970). The
harsh, amplified sound of the delivery system gives the message a heft of
authority. In contrast, the message
itself is absurd, like the logic-twisting quips that one of Groucho Marx’s old
characters would spout. In Altman’s
film, the inane whine of the PA system provided ironic relief from the intense scenes in the
surgical tent. In Sissako’s, the viewer
initially laughs at the nonsensicality of the words, but as the film
illustrates, the jihadist tyranny is nothing to snicker at. Caught singing, a young woman is publicly
punished with 40 lashes. For adultery, a
man and a woman are stoned to death in a particularly horrific way. They are buried in a sand pit up to their
necks, unable to move, and then bystanders batter their unprotected heads with
invasion depicted by Sissako actually occurred in recent history. Jihadists mobilized by al-Queda and its affiliates seized control of Timbuktu in
2012 and remained in power for a year before Malian and French troops drove
them out. In some ways it was a
forerunner of the present aggression by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Like the footage we now see every day from
that front on the web and cable news, Sissako dramatizes the heavy hand of
Timbuktu’s oppressors with shots of his gun-wielding militiamen cruising the
ancient streets in open vehicles, black banners flying. A compassionate imam (Adel
challenges the invaders’ dictates. In
one instance, his resistance is successful as an armed patrol barges into his
mosque during prayer, and he orders them to leave. In another, trying to reverse the forcible
marriage of a teenaged girl to a young militiaman, he fails. “It was a legal marriage based on Islamic
law,” the jihadist administrator (Salem Dendou) rules. But there was no guardian at the ceremony to
look after the girl’s interests, the imam contends. “We are the guardians of all deeds since we
arrived in this territory,” the administrator sternly counters.
oppression of Sharia law, or its interpretation by the extremists, is
reinforced by the fact that interpreters are needed for communication between
the Arab-speaking invaders and the natives of Timbuktu, who speak mostly French
and Bambara. The crushing weight of
fundamentalist rule also falls heavily on Kidane (Ibrahim
Ahmed dit Pino), a herdsman who has attempted to live apart from the invaders
with his wife, daughter, and tenant in an idyllic desert refuge. Kidane’s story forms the core of the film and
builds to a tragic conclusion, which in Western eyes is likely to be all the
more troubling because of Kidane’s fatalistic acceptance of events (“it is
willed”). In an American production,
Dwayne Johnson would have saved the day, or Jamie Foxx as Kidane would have
shot his own way out.
A nominee for the 2015 Academy Award in the Best Foreign Movie
category and for the
Palme d’Or as Best Picture at Cannes, “Timbuktu” looks gorgeous
in the new, hi-def Blu-ray edition released by the Cohen Media Group. Detail is sharp, and the colors of the exotic
tribal clothing worn by Kidane’s wife (Toulou Kiki) and other characters are so
vivid they seem to jump out of the TV screen. Some critics thought the movie was too pretty. However, arguably, Sissako is telling his
story through the eyes of his indigenous characters, and this is the world as
they see it. The Blu-ray disc includes
English subtitles for the multi-lingual dialogue track, and there are two extras:
a theatrical trailer and a thoughtful interview with Sissako at a public
screening of “Timbuktu.”
Here is the special extended trailer for the new "Man From U.N.C.L.E." film that was prepared by Warner Bros. for Comic-Con. It's bound to set off a lot of debate between purists who remain loyal to the classic TV series and those who argue that we need an "U.N.C.L.E." for a new generation. Based on the trailer, it appears that director Guy Ritchie has retained virtually none of the elements of the TV series beyond the title and character names, though we do extend kudos to him for insisting that the film is at least set in the 1960s Cold War period. As with most contemporary spy flicks, the trailer emphasizes action over plot or characterizations. Will the film succeed in standing on its own as a new tent pole franchise for Warners? We'll get the answer when it opens on August 14.
There’s a scene in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance” (1962) when a newspaper man says “This is the west, sir and
when legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Screenwriter Ben Hecht and
director Jack Conway seemed to have followed that sentiment in their biopic,
“Viva Villa!” (1934) which presents a highly fictionalized version of the life of Mexican
revolutionary Pancho Villa. Though not historically accurate, it’s an
entertaining and worthwhile film, and in its own way presents the truth about what
it means to be oppressed and to finally decide you’ve had a belly full and rise
up against it.
The opening scenes show the peones being told by Porfiro Diaz’s soldiers that their land is
being taken away from them. When they protest, the leader of the protesters is
given 100 lashes. His young son watches as the last lash is delivered and it’s
discovered the man is dead. “It must have been too much,” an officer says
derisively. The boy follows the man who wielded the whip into an alley and
stabs him to death. The boy is Pancho Villa.
Grown to manhood, the adult Villa (Wallace Beery) has
become a bandit, partners with another ruthless hombre, Sierra (Leo Carillo).
Beery plays Villa as a larger than life character of gargantuan appetites. He
drinks, eats, and kills as the impulse strikes him. Every beautiful woman he
sees he must have, and he marries each of them. As his reputation grows, a
contemplative little man named Francisco Madera starts a revolution and his friends,
wealthy landowner Don Felipe (Donald Cook) and his sister Teresa (Fay Wray), enlists
Villa in the cause. Villa recruits hundreds of villagers to fight and they free
city after city from the cruel dictator’s grasp. His exploits are recorded by an
American newspaper man, Johnny Sykes (Stuart Irwin), who helps create Villa’s
Things start to go wrong when Madera, a dreamy
idealist, thinks Villa’s tactics are too brutal, and puts him under the command
of General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut). Pascal is an opportunist who uses both
Villa and Madera, until the day he can seize power for himself. Despite all
that Villa did for him, Madera excludes Villa from the government he forms in
Mexico City after Diaz resigns. Villa and Sierra return home to the hills of
Chihuahua, where they take up bank robbing again. For his crimes Madera has him
thrown in jail, and Pascal arranges for him to be executed. Madera stops the
execution but not before Pascal humiliates him by making him crawl in the dirt.
There’s a lot more to this big, sprawling story, and
Hecht’s script is tight, full of visual metaphors, most of which revolve around
the land that everyone’s fighting for, down to the last handful of dirt
clutched in a dying man’s hand.
Stories abound regarding the filming of “Viva Villa!”
For example, the movie began with Howard Hawks directing and Lee Tracy playing
reporter Johnny Sykes. But Tracy had a drinking problem and apparently urinated
off his hotel room balcony, while screaming insults at a group of military
cadets. Tracy was hustled out of the country and Hawks was called back to
Hollywood by producer David. O. Selznick. The two of them got in a fight over
Tracy. Hawks wanted to keep him in the picture and he socked Selznick in the
nose and himself out of the picture. He was replaced by Conway. All previous
scenes were reshot.
Despite this setback, the reassembled cast and crew
managed to turn in solid performances in all the key roles. It’s arguably
Beery’s best film, and Schildkraut turns in a world class performance as a
vicious snake. Conway’s direction is solid and straightforward. The black and
white cinematography by James Wong Howe is first rate, highlighted as usual by
his use of sharp contrast in the bright daylight scenes shot in the Mexican
There are other films about the Mexican revolution,
including Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata,” (1952) which is more historically
accurate, and “Villa Rides” (1968) an adventure film played almost for laughs
with Yul Brynner as Villa and Robert Mitchum (script by Robert Towne and Sam
Peckinpah). But “Viva Villa!” has a timeless quality to it that holds up well
today and manages to show its influence on the films that followed. The Warner Archive has done a first rate job
of transferring the film to DVD. The original theatrical trailer also appears
on the disc. Recommended.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
After his iconic battle against the
legendary Bruce Lee in 1972’s Way of the
Dragon (and with the encouragement of cinematic superstar and karate
student Steve McQueen), six-time, undefeated world karate champion Chuck Norris
felt it was time to move permanently into the world of cinema. In just a few
short years, he was already headlining low budget martial arts/action films
such as 1974’s Slaughter in San Francisco
(as a villain), 1977’s Breaker!
Breaker! and 1978’s Good Guys Wear
Black (his first box office hit). This success led to Chuck’s 1979 karate
classic, A Force of One. The cool and
entertaining film really started to get him noticed by action movie fans and
was quickly followed by The Octagon (1980),
an exciting and suspenseful ninja thriller. With Norris and karate/action movie
audiences now hungry for more, Chuck immediately started work on his next
feature, 1981’s highly enjoyable An Eye
for an Eye.
After his partner is murdered by powerful
international drug lord Morgan Canfield (played by the late, great Christopher
Lee), detective Sean Kane (Norris) is berated by his captain (Richard Shaft Roundtree) for using excessive force
in his quest for answers. Fed up with how the law works, Sean willingly
relinquishes his gun and his badge. However, Sean Kane doesn’t need a weapon.
Sean Kane is a weapon!Seething with rage and hell-bent on revenge,
Sean, along with a grief-stricken father (the sorely missed Mako from Conan the Barbarian and Chuck’s Sidekicks) of one of Canfield’s recent
victims, sets out on a quest to find the mysterious drug kingpin and bring him
to his knees.
Directed by Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama and Chuck’s Lone Wolf McQuade), An Eye for an Eye, which was the last film to be made by famed
independent film studio Avco Embassy Pictures (The Fog, Phantasm, The Exterminator, The Howling), was written by
William Gray (Prom Night, Humongous)
and James Bruner (Chuck’s Invasion U.S.A.
and The Delta Force), and shot
entirely on location in San Francisco, California.
The nicely paced, entertaining and well-structured
film is filled with solid direction as well as memorable and diverse
characters; not to mention wonderful performances. As is usually the case with
his engaging action films, Chuck Norris is cool, a bit humorous and totally
believable as a courageous, but dangerous hero. It’s also no surprise that the
legendary Christopher Lee brings a touch of diabolical class to his villainous role
while the great and always reliable Richard Roundtree delivers another solid
performance. The rest of the top-notch cast shines as well. Academy Award
nominee (for The Sand Pebbles) Mako
is extremely lively and witty, making his character the perfect sidekick for
the low-key and semi-serious Chuck; Matt Clark (The Outlaw Josey Wales and Chuck’s Walker, Texas Ranger) delivers a wonderfully balanced and subtle performance
as fellow cop McCoy; beautiful Maggie Cooper (TV actress turned news
commentator) does well with her role as Chuck’s love interest; three time WWWF
(now WWE) Tag Team Champion Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man and Chuck’s Missing
in Action 2: The Beginning) is completely convincing as a deadly and
intimidating Bond-like henchman; the lovely Rosalind Chao (TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) gives a
powerful, but, unfortunately, brief performance as a news reporter; Stuart
Pankin (Arachnophobia) is quite comical
as an effeminate pimp and, in their brief roles, Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s, Walker, Texas Ranger) is warm and
likeable as a cop while action movie regular Mel Novak (Chuck’s A Force of One) exudes slimy evil as a
street snitch. The simple, yet intriguing story moves along at a fast clip and
the skillfully directed action sequences (especially the very suspenseful chase
scene between Rosalind Chao and Professor Tanaka as well as an exciting
helicopter attack that could rival a Bond film) will no doubt keep you
watching. Add to all of this a kick-ass musical theme by talented composer
William Goldstein (Chuck’s Forced
Vengeance) and you have an early 80s action/adventure that is a real joy to
An Eye for an Eye has been released
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in a brand new, HD, anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen
transfer and although the film shows some slight grain in the darker scenes,
the movie is otherwise crystal clear and the colors are vibrant. I love this film
and this is the absolute best I’ve ever seen it look. Needless to say, it’s a
tremendous improvement over the previous DVD release. The region 1 disc also
contains a very informative audio commentary with director Steve Carver who not
only discusses numerous aspects of the film’s production, but also talks about
many interesting things such as working for Avco Embassy and how the late
Professor Tanaka was really taking those hits and kicks Chuck was dishing out
in the big finale. Carver also has some wonderful and fascinating things to say
about Chuck Norris, Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree, Mako, Toru Tanaka and
the rest of the talented cast. The disc features the original theatrical
trailer (“White Lightning is back!”) along with a trailer for Chuck’s enjoyable
1988 action-thriller Hero and the Terror (also
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber).
like me, you’re a fan of Chuck Norris’s early 80s martial arts/action films, I
highly recommend this Blu-ray release of An
Eye for an Eye.
FROM FRANCE WITH LOVE: GENDER AND IDENTITY IN FRENCH
By Mary Harrod (I. B. Tauris, £62/ $99)264
pages. Hardback. ISBN: 9781784533588
Review by Diane
French romantic comedy has been enjoying
something of a popularity boom, beginning slowly in the 1990s and showing no
sign of waning two decades later. The
'comédie romantique' (still a relatively new term in the French language) now
firmly standardised as a popular film genre in France. The rom-com genre has outperformed all others
financially, responsible for around 50% of domestic box office takings and the
lion's share of French film production. So why, Mary Harrod poses, has the area been so badly neglected by
This book is not, perhaps, for those with a
casual or passing interest in the genre; some degree of academic knowledge and
awareness of related literature is assumed here. However, throughout the study, Harrod makes a
strong case for academic attention and the need for further study on this
contemporary cycle of films. Drawing
from extensive research, and a feminist framework, we are presented with how
there has been a slow shift towards promotion of the female point of view in more
recent films, with a large proportion of female writers and directors taking
the helm. This shift may seem late in
coming in comparison to the rest of the world, but perhaps unsurprising for a
country which didn't allow women to vote until 1944 and generally has exhibited
delayed liberalisation in terms of modern female life in France.
Harrod discusses this relatively new
phenomenon and newness of privileging female subjectivity from a number of
different perspectives and cites over a hundred films as examples here, which in
themselves clearly highlight some of the difficulties in categorising the
genre. Rom-coms veer from the
traditional boy-meets-girl narrative, to family-centred ensemble pieces, to other
recent trends such as rom-coms featuring male duos; male buddy 'bromance'
The rom-com is historically seen as frivolous
and lacking in substance; deprecated as an object unworthy of study, not least
in France where critics have tended to denigrate domestic efforts as
"pathetic imitation[s] of former Hollywood models". However, Harrod argues, comedy itself is
highly regarded in literature and can be profoundly revealing about the social
world and, of course, the very notion of romantic love is frequently
central in western fiction, remaining
irresistibly alluring throughout the ages. So, perhaps the fact that romance can be used as forum for women to
explore their identity, emotional lives and experiences is the very thing that
makes it at once historically overlooked by patriarchy and yet invaluable in
terms of social significance.
Harrod examines the French version of
romantic love, alongside changing dynamics of contemporary notions of the
couple. Although there are a huge number
of film titles mentioned in passing, there are a few more engaging case studies
which allow for detailed understanding of the issues under discussion. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie (2001); one of
France's most successful rom-coms ever to make a mark at the international box
office, is studied here as an example of the genre before it was
well-established in the domestic market. Harrod remarks upon a number of atypical elements with the film;
although having a feel-good Hollywood style ending, it displays notions of
disjointed and fragmented families, with the central couple more akin to
childlike friends rather than romantic lovers (the film also has suffered
allegations of misogyny and racism).
This study often, intentionally, raises
more questions than it answers - Harrod notes the "babbling polyphony of
discourses" apparent within the genre from race, religion, sexuality and
commitment, to defining the very construct of 'romance' itself. The fact that there are so many areas of
question is what makes Harrod's work feel like it's bursting at the seams;
further research is clearly called for to even begin to adequately cover all
the issues raised here - but the fact that they are acknowledged is a good start.
Timeless human issues such as male and
female positioning to commitment and adultery are frequently deliberated in
rom-coms, views on which have changed over time. In French cinema, adultery has traditionally
been seen as something of a joke; almost an endearing trait in men and integral
to the experience of marriage. Harrod notes that, though the notion still persists
and is far from dead, adultery has been significantly deglamourised and is significantly
less socially acceptable in modern French cinema (and, we infer, French
society). Female desire is increasingly
prominent in such films but, as Harrod points out, even in films made by women,
female promiscuity seems to result in emotional emptiness at best (using Bridget
Jones as a point of comparison).
The significance of the effect of cinema on
society (and vice versa) should not be underestimated; changing social
attitudes has been linked with audiences taking cues from their cinematic
hero(ine)s or, at least, are reflected in them. An important example Harrod gives here is the film Pédale Douce (1996) which
had significant impact on the case for gay and lesbian equality and made a key
contribution to legal change for same sex couples to adopt children in France.
Alongside foregrounded representations of
alternative or queer gender positions, Harrod discusses the emergence of new
types of heroine, and conflicting versions of womanhood represented by French
female stars. She presents Audrey Tautou
and Marion Cotillard as unthreatening, childlike versions of femininity whereas
more modern trends seem to allow for more comic heroines; favouring intelligence
over naïvety and becoming, therefore, more believably realistic rather than
(male) romantic fantasy. Romauld et
Juliette (1989) is noted as a key departure from conforming to norms of
physical attractiveness of French female protagonists (especially in terms of
slimness), but it remains that the rom-com genre still contributes
substantially to traditions of idolising the female body (as opposed to achievement). Harrod notes the double standard in attitudes
here; in 2005's Je préfère qu'on reste amis, Gerard Depardieu is described as "just
within the bounds of healthy size in this film" (having put on a
substantial amount of weight in recent years), yet continues to be cast in
leading roles - the same would be unlikely for a female lead.
The history of women needing to be
'rescued' - usually a low status woman by a rich man (à la Pretty Woman, 1990) -
also still pervades; the two most recent rom-coms Harrod saw at the time of concluding
this study, she says, both show career goals for women as unfulfilling, even
belittling, which, in the case of male characters is invariably the
opposite. She also addresses the still
current hot topic of age difference in the coupling of stars; many male
co-stars are at least 20 years senior to their partner (in the 1999 film Venus
Beauté, Audrey Tautou is a scandalous 49 years younger than co-star Robert
A particularly interesting pattern that
arises here is that, increasingly, characters in French romantic comedies
express desire to be part of a family unit; well beyond simply the romantic
desire of coupledom. This is highly
significant in a social context - the fact that a high proportion of female
directors opt for the family ensemble narrative adds fuel to the concept that romance
for men ends with conquest whilst for women it is a more of an ongoing
Harrod gives a broad picture of the evolution
of the nature of family as a social unit in film, into less conventional
formats; seen in the shift towards ensemble rom-coms, the dethroning of
marriage as a central goal, alongside inclusion of same-sex relationships. The emergence of the nurturing father is
discussed also - with Trois hommes et un couffin in 1985 (later remade in the
USA as Three Men and a Baby); although less prominent into the '90s and beyond,
nonetheless, motherhood for women became less often an exclusive life-goal.
Whilst Harrod's book may not be for the
casual rom-com viewer, she argues her case well: this is clearly an area of
distinct social significance for film studies, unfairly neglected and even
scorned by scholars and critics alike. Hopefully there will be enough academic interest in the near future for the
fascinating questions she raises to be taken on board and developed by others.
The Warner Archive has released the 1951 comedy Callaway Went Thataway. The film is a low-key but delightful tale that has more than a wisp of Frank Capra in its story line. The movie opens with a montage of scenes showing young boys and girls glued to their television sets as they watch the adventures of singing cowboy Smoky Callaway (Howard Keel). They don't realize they are actually viewing old "B" movies from the 1930s. Not that it matters. Callaway has found a new audience with a younger generation and they have made him America's favorite TV hero in these early days of the medium.(Since so many households did not have televisions in 1951, the film shows a common sight during this era: people crowded around department store windows to watch TV broadcasts). Network brass and sponsors immediately want to keep the gold train rolling by initiating more new films starring Smoky. The only problem is that no one has seen him in ten years. The network enlists a marketing firm owned by partners Mike Frye (Fred MacMurray) and Deborah Patterson (Dorothy McGuire) to track down Smoky and sign him up for an exclusive contract that will also see an explosion of merchandise with his name and face on it. Everyone stands to get rich including the marketing firm- but finding Smoky seems to be an impossibility. Mike hires a private eye, George Markham (Jesse White) to turn over every stone to find the unwitting superstar. Ultimately, they assume Smoky must have passed away, alone and forgotten. By happenstance, they come across Stretch Barnes, an amiable young cowboy who is an exact look-a-like for Smoky. The ever-opportunistic Mike convinces him to pose as the real Smoky and sign the relevant contracts that will make everyone a fortune. The ruse works. Network executives and sponsors are delighted and kids enthusiastically look forward to meeting Smoky during his nationwide personal appearance tour. The only problem occurs when Stretch goes before the cameras. Lacking any acting experience, his performance is awkward and unprofessional. However, the executives attribute this to simply having been out of the business for a while and decide they can edit around the footage to make him look like his old self. In the course of accompanying Smoky on public appearance stops, Deborah finds that the simple but sincere country boy has fallen in love with her. He even gives her an engagement ring and tells her to hold on to it until the day she feels he would make a good husband.
The funniest bits in the movie occur late in the story when Markham ends up finding the real Smoky (Keel in a dual role). It turns out he's a far cry from his old image. He's a hopeless alcoholic and womanizer and he's greedy as well. He blackmails Mike and Deborah by threatening to have them arrest for identity theft if they don't fire the phony Smoky and hire him. This leads to some genuinely funny sequences. Mike, stalling for time, agrees to the terms on the proviso that the real Smoky dries out in at a fitness farm. Here, Smoky manages to mix his exercise routine with getting drunk via some well-hidden bottles of booze he has stashed around the facility. Things finally come to a head when Smoky is required to make a charity appearance before 90,000 fans. The real Smoky is too crude to pull it off and Stretch, feeling ashamed of his role in all this deceit, intends to go back to his farm. The finale may be predictable but it's quite entertaining with Keel squaring off in a fistfight with himself!
The performances are very entertaining. MacMurray has long been underrated as an actor, remembered primarily for his late career string of Disney films and starring on the sitcom My Three Sons. However, he was an actor of great depth. He could play villains (The Apartment, The Caine Mutiny, Double Indemnity) and lovable cads with equal skill. McGuire is very charming in the only prominent female role and Keel steals the film in a part that surely would have been played a decade earlier by either Gary Cooper or James Stewart. The movie moves at a brisk pace thanks to collaborators Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, who co-wrote and co-directed the film. The movie is charming throughout and the Warner Archive DVD boasts not only an impressive transfer but an original trailer as well. There is also an unintentionally amusing explanation at the end of the film assuring viewers that MGM meant no disrespect to any contemporary western star and that the studio is well aware of the wonderful social values Hollywood cowboys instill in America's youth!