Derek Pykett (Published by BearManor Media £20.00), 444 Pages, Softcover, ISBN:
9781593938833 (also available £26.50 Hardcover)
Review by Tim Greaves
of the greatest films of all time were made at MGM British Studios and some of Hollywood's
most prolific names laid foot upon the stages there. In an eminently readable
trip down memory lane, “MGM British Studios: Hollywood in Borehamwood” is a bounteous
treasure trove primarily comprising interesting and amusing memories of some of
those who had the privilege to work there. Sub-titled "Celebrating 100 Years
of the Film Studios of Elstree/Borehamwood", the tome boasts a voluminous collection
of stories from those who worked in front of and behind the camera back in
those halcyon days – some names are familiar, others not so much, but all of
them have tales to tell; if nothing else, author Derek Pykett deserves an award
for his prowess in undertaking the unenviable task of assembling the wealth of
material into concise and readable form.
Following no less than five forewords (from Rod Taylor, Nicholas Roeg, Olivia
de Havilland, Virginia McKenna and Kenneth Hyman), the author provides some background
information on the six studios that operated in the Borehamwood and Elstree area
before moving forward through the decades, with mention – albeit not always
extensive – of every production that came to fruition there. Anecdotal material
is present in abundance and there are some marvellous nuggets to be found
within. Just a few standouts for this reviewer: Christopher Lee reminiscing over
some wordplay with Errol Flynn on the set of The Dark Avenger that resulted in the unfortunate (and permanent)
disfigurement to one of his fingers; Brian Cobby's amusing recollections of his
embarrassment over appearing starkers in For
Members Only (US: The Nudist Story;
and Bette Davis's pithy remarks after working with Alec Guinness on The Scapegoat – "[He] is an actor
who plays by himself, unto himself. In this picture he plays a dual role so at
least he was able to play with himself." (Try reading that and not hearing
her acid tongue spitting out the words.)
Additionally there is some terrific trivia dotted throughout, all drawn from
the files of the "Borehamwood & Elstree Post", with stories ranging
from an alleged alcohol-related motoring accident involving Trevor Howard and (in
a separate incident) Burt Lancaster's chauffeur driven car being damaged in a
collision, to an electrician being taken to court and fined the princely sum of
£1 for assaulting a colleague on set.
It has to be said that some passages leave one feeling a tad short-changed, for
example the coverage of the quartet of ‘Miss Marple’ films starring Margaret
Rutherford – shot between 1961 and 1964, and which this reviewer happens to
adore – that amounts to barely more than a page (though I was intrigued to
learn that Marple's cottage in the film, located in Denham Village, was some 20
years earlier John Mills's family home). However, one also appreciates that
given the breadth of the subject as a whole, brevity is paramount in holding
the reader's attention and Pykett's engaging and fact-laden prose keeps things
moving swiftly along, resulting in a captivating page-turner. Where the text is
a little more in depth – information focussing on producer brothers Edward and
Harry Danziger and the section devoted to the production of The Dirty Dozen, for example – there’s
some fabulous reading, also found in the slightly meatier pieces devoted to
Hitchcock and Kubrick.
The 1967 boxoffice smash "The Dirty Dozen" starring Lee Marvin was among the many classic films shot at MGM British Studios.
out with three expansive photo sections featuring shots of the sets, the stars,
the films and a wealth of behind a camera treasures (wherein fans of TVs Richard the Lionheart and Where Eagles Dare are particularly well
catered for), a pair of chronologically arranged filmography chapters, and a
reproduction of the text from a 1950s promo booklet put out but the studio to
extol the virtues of its facilities, "MGM British Studios: Hollywood in
Borehamwood" is a recommended addition to the bookshelf of anyone with
even a passing interest in the golden years of movie-making in Britain.
The contemporary horror film genre has become an endurance test for seeing how much blood and splatter can be contained in each stomach-churning release. Gone are the days when such films were populated by literate scripts and iconic stars. Fortunately, home video releases still allow us to revel in the glory days of the horror genre, which came to a gradual end in the mid-to-late 1970s. The genre reached its first peak in the great Universal Monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s before being reinvented for a new generation in "gorious colour" by Hammer studios in Britain. Then American International Pictures got on board with enormously successful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced by Roger Corman and generally starring Vincent Price, who became a horror icon during this period. This era also saw the rise of Amicus, another British production house that sought to emulate the success of Hammer by often producing horror anthology tales that also starred icons of the genre. Still, by the mid-1970s, such movies were growing stale with younger viewers as a new generation of filmmakers specialized in the kind of gory tales that would have been deemed unreleasable even a few years before. The 1974 production of "Madhouse" represents the last desperate gasp of the type of horror film that had grown so popular over the previous decade. It stars two genuine legends, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who heretofore had been denied sharing the screen together despite having jointly appeared in anthology horror flicks. Robert Quarry, who was being groomed as their heir apparent by American International on the basis of his portrayal of Count Yorga, also had a prominent role in "Madhouse". The production, however, was far from a joyous swansong for the film that marked Price's final association with American International. In fact, the entire movie was deemed such a mess by those involved that it's a testament to their talents that it was even completed. The film was a joint venture between A.I.P. and Amicus, two studios with very different philosophies about making movies. There was tension from day one and the film went into production with a hastily cobbled together script that no one found satisfactory. Indeed, having received the script on Friday, the actors were expected to begin shooting on Monday. Robert Quarry was so disgusted by the lame dialogue that he took it upon himself to ghost write major portions of the script, an act that was looked upon favorably by his co-stars who asked him to do the same for their characters.. Jim Clark, who is primarily known as a talented editor for many esteemed films, was assigned the thankless task of bringing this mess-in-the-making to the screen. He was hobbled by a disgruntled and dispirited cast as well as quarreling executives.
"Madhouse" was originally titled "The Revenge of Dr. Death", a much more appropriate title. The film opens with Price as legendary film star Paul Toombs hosting a New Years Eve party in his Hollywood mansion. Toombs has become a star largely based on his recurring role as Dr. Death, a hideous murderer who stalks his victim in a distinctive skull-like mask. He no sooner announces his engagement to a beautiful actress, Ellen Mason, (Julie Crosthwait) when he is distastefully informed by porn producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) that the bride-to-be used to be one of his top stars. Disgusted by this revelation, Toombs publicly chastises Ellen and the two storm off upstairs. Minutes later, Ellen is decapitated by someone in a Dr. Death costume. The prime suspect is Toombs, who is blamed for the murder and who suffers from a convenient bout of amnesia that leads him to believe he must have been guilty of the crime. He is committed to a mental institution for years. When he is released, he is convinced by his best friend and favorite screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) that he should accept an offer to revive the Dr. Death character for television. Ironically the show is being produced by Oliver Quayle, who is now a reputable figure in the industry. Toombs initially spawns the offer, partly out of revulsion for Quayle but primarily because he fears that playing Dr. Death again might inspire him to commit more violent crimes. Nevertheless, Herbert, who is now also an aspiring actor, convinces Toombs that he is up to the challenge. As the show goes into production, a series of high profile murders occurs with the victims turning out to be people who have come into contact with Toombs. They include an opportunistic young actress (Linda Hayden), who tries to seduce and blackmail him and her equally opportunistic step parents. As the body count rises everyone suspects that Toombs is the killer but Scotland Yard can't pin the crimes on him. It's apparent to the viewer, however, that Toombs is the victim, not the killer. This is typical for protagonists played by Price. Even if they are murderers, it's generally the result of them having been driven insane by unscrupulous people they had trusted. "Madhouse" takes this formula to an extreme. At times it plays like "Gaslight" on steroids. You would also have to be the least adept sleuth since Inspector Clouseau if you can't spot who the real villain is practically from frame one.
"Madhouse" follows the style of recently successful Price films from the era, primarily the Dr. Phibes movies and his acclaimed hit "Theatre of Blood" which had been released the previous year. The key component is a sense of campiness, though in "Madhouse" the actors play it straight and don't give overly broad comedic interpretations of their roles. Price actually has an interesting character to play, as Toombs is a multi-faceted man with a painful past and present to contend with. He does yeoman work, giving one of his finest late career performances (he even gets to croon a love song that is played on old Victrolas!). Cushing is largely underutilized until the climax when the two stars share a terrific scene. Stuck between these two legends, Robert Quarry doesn't have much to do other than sip cocktails and make snarky remarks. Still, having these three stars on screen together makes for a delightful experience even if the material is often predictable. In fact, it's the sheer predictability of the script that makes the movie so enjoyable. This is the kind of horror flick in which nubile and defenseless young woman walk through dark houses to see what went bump in the night. It's gory and bloody in keeping up with the times, but somehow the gore is never as repugnant as it is in slasher and "dead teenager" flicks that would come to redefine the horror genre. It should also be pointed out that Price's Dr. Death makeup effects are truly impressive, as is the gimmick employed throughout the film of having clips from Price's old collaborations with Roger Corman shown as examples of Paul Toombs's career highlights. (A nice touch is acknowledging the late great Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who appear in these sequences, in the opening credits of "Madhouse".)
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release is outstanding on all levels. It features a commentary track by horror film historian David Del Valle that is both entertaining and informative. Del Valle personally knew many of the people involved in the production and his track is like a master class in horror filmmaking. There is also a short but very good retrospective documentary about the making of the film in which Del Valle is interviewed along with another esteemed horror film scholar, C. Courtney Joyner. Both of them provide plenty of fascinating facts about the troubled making of the movie, which was renamed "Madhouse" at the eleventh hour by A.I.P. executives who had already printed publicity materials bearing the film's previous title. The Blu-ray also contains a gallery of other Vincent Price films available through Kino Lorber.
"Madhouse" may have been deemed a second rate horror film back in the day but, given the dearth of larger-than-life stars in today's movie industry, it allows retro movie lovers to revel in the onscreen pairing of two truly iconic screen legends. It also represents the type of movie of which it can be said, "They don't make 'em like that any more". I only wish they did.
Cosby co-starred with Robert Culp in the hit 1960s NBC TV series "I Spy".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Legendary comedian and actor Bill Cosby has been formally charged with sexually assaulting a woman who said she considered him a friend and mentor. The incident is said to have occurred in 2004. Pennsylvania prosecutors cite new evidence that was unveiled in relation to the case, which was first reported by the alleged victim in 2005. At the time, prosecutors chose not to file charges. Cosby has been accused of sexual assault over the decades by many women whose stories are quite similar. They state that Cosby lured them into a trusting relationship, then used drugs to immobilize them. He then allegedly sexually assaulted them. Cosby has denied committing any illegal acts and has brought a lawsuit against on of the women, model and actress Beverly Johnson, claiming that she have slandered his reputation. He has admitted in a 2005 deposition that he had obtained prescriptions for Quaaludes and would give the pills to women with the expectation of having sex with them. However he never clarified whether the women knew that was his intent and if the sex was consensual following their ingesting of the pills. Allegations of sexual abuse have dogged Cosby since the 1960s when he burst onto the scene as one of America's brightest young stand-up comics. In 1965 he co-starred with Robert Culp in the TV series "I Spy" which earned him Emmy awards and respect for breaking down racial barriers as the first African American actor to star in a dramatic TV series. In the ensuing decades Cosby has become an iconic presence in American pop culture. His 1980s sitcom series became a smash hit and ran for many years, defining the epitome of "Must See TV". Some of Cosby's alleged victims have claimed that his iconic status and powerful connections discouraged law enforcement officials from aggressively pursuing their claims. Ironically, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for the crime Cosby is charged with would have expired in 2016. Cosby was arraigned in court today. For more click here.
time Shannara fans have reason to rejoice. Thanks to the series producers Sonar Entertainment and MTV, author Terry
Brooks' Shannara has come to life. Based upon his second novel, "The
Elfstones of Shannara," The Shannara Chronicles is an engaging new
television series that premieres on MTV on January 5. Cast with some terrific
young actors it's a good bet to be a hit with MTV fans who know nothing of Brooks' novels.
Shot on location in New Zealand, it has beautiful scenery, breathtaking
cinematography and an impressively talented and good looking cast. (Elves are
supposed to be beautiful, no?) The set design is spectacular; wait until you
see the Sacred Garden and the Ellcrys.
long time to come, on a post-apocalyptic Earth, a magical tree, the Ellcrys,
stands in the Elven city of Arborlon. For thousands of years it has protected
the Four Lands from demon invasion. As long as the Ellcrys lives, the demons
remain banished in the Forbidding. But the Ellcrys is dying. For the first time
in its history the Ellcrys is shedding leaves and with each leaf that falls
another demon is released into the world. The demons are coming...
Since its planting the tree has been
protected by The Order of the Chosen. Each year young elves vie for one of the
seven places in the Order, giving a year's service tending to the tree. This
year, against tradition, the first female elf has earned a spot in the Order.
She is Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton - Unhallowed Ground, Downton Abbey),
granddaughter to King Eventine Elessedil (John Rhys-Davies
- do I need list his credits?) and the Ellcrys speaks to her through visions.
Misinterpreting one of the Ellcrys' messages, she runs away in an attempt to
protect someone she cares about.
Shady Vale, Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler - The Carrie Diaries, Arrow), a
young man who is half-elf, half-human, is dealing with the death of his mother,
a gift she gives him on her death-bed and a mission she imparts; "Find the
Druid." The Druid she refers to is Alanon (Manu Bennett - The Hobbit,
Arrow). The gift pertains to the magical elfstones once wielded by Wil's
father, Shea Ohmsford. Wil leaves Shady Vale intent on going to Storlock to
study healing to make up for the helplessness he feels being unable to save his
mother. Instead of finding Alanon it is the druid who finds Wil but not before
Wil has been relieved of the elfstones by a beautiful Rover girl (read: thief),
Eretria (Ivana Baquero - Pan's Labyrinth). Alanon has been called by the
Ellcrys and with Wil in tow they head to Arborlon.
a Changeling demon prowls Arborlon doing the Dagda Mor's bidding. The first
leaf lost by the Ellcrys released the Dagda Mor, a powerful Elven Druid
corrupted thousands of years earlier by the Illdatch, a book of dark magic. The
Changeling's mission is to kill all the members of the Order of the Chosen. In
this way, as only a member of the Chosen possesses the ability to revive the
Ellcrys, a demon invasion will be assured…
an exciting and impressive adaptation of Terry Brooks’ equally impressive
The original three amigos: band leader Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.
By Lee Pfeiffer
It's almost too good to be true. After long, complex negotiations the cable channel Antenna TV has closed a deal to begin showing full length vintage episodes of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" beginning January 1. The shows will provide a fascinating time capsule that extends over Carson's thirty years hosting of the iconic NBC late night program. Full one hour episodes will air on weeknights while earlier 90 minute episodes will be telecast on weekends. In today's age of basically crass, dumbed-down interview shows, Carson's "Tonight" episodes will probably resonate better than ever. The show would present an astonishing array of guests that represented everyone from legendary actors and singers to literary figures and politicians. For a generation that grew up on the show it will be great to hear Ed McMahon once again bellow, "Heeerrreee's Johnny!". For more click here.
Alfred Hitchcock loathed having to abide by the Puritanical "Hayes Code" that, in effect, acted as a de facto censorship board for American films. Hitch devised numerous clever ways to introduce adult sexual situations into his films in a manner that made it difficult, if not impossible, for the prudes to order scenes trimmed or deleted. Hitch lost a few battles (ironically one them based on a non-sex scene involving the flushing of a toilet!) but generally managed to get one over on the would-be censors. Click here for an article from The Richest web site that examines some his tactics for including sex in his movies (although the article fails to examine "Marnie", perhaps the most sexually driven of all Hitchcock's films.)
Following its popular exhibition at Madame Tussauds in London, the six James Bond wax figures are now on display in the Hollywood branch of famed museum. Fans can pose with likenesses of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Lazenby's agreement to do a sitting last February made completion of the exhibit possible. The other five actors had previously had likenesses of them on display at various time periods at the museum. For more, including a link to buy tickets, click here.
The band Radiohead confirmed that they had indeed been asked to write a theme song for the blockbuster James Bond film "Spectre". However, their track was rejected in favor of Sam Smith's "Writings On the Wall". Nevertheless, Radiohead was very pleased with their effort and just made it available for fans to experience. For more on the Radiohead/Bond connection click here.
I've long had admiration for the work of actor Robert Shaw ever since he impressed me at age 8 with his chilling interpretation of the SPECTRE psychotic killer Red Grant in "From Russia With Love". Shaw could always be counted on to deliver a fine performance even if the material he chose was sometimes underwhelming. Shaw was also a talented writer and playwright, having won acclaim for his play "The Man in the Glass Booth", which was inspired by the war criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shaw, like many actors, participated in many questionable films in order to enable his real passion, which was to bring avante garde movie projects to fruition, even if they only appealed to the art cinema crowd. One of Shaw's most interesting vehicles is one of his least seen. "Figures in a Landscape" was his 1970 adaptation of an allegorical novel by Barry England that abounded with reference to the (then) on-going Vietnam war. Shaw dispensed with that aspect of the novel and instead played up its more opaque aspects, particularly those that concern the two protagonists in what is basically a two-character adventure. The film opens with Shaw and co-star Malcolm McDowell on the run in an unnamed country being pursued by unnamed forces (presumably the police and/or military) for unspecified crimes. One senses they are political prisoners in a totalitarian state but this is never addressed directly. Shaw is MacConnachie ("Mac"), a middle-aged man with a colorful past that often found him on the opposite side of the law. McDowell is Ansell, a twenty-something free spirited type from London whose social values are the polar opposite of Mac's old fashioned values. When we first see the men, they are running at a high rate of speed and have to contend with the major obstacle of having their hands bound behind their backs. We never learn how they effected their escape and from whom but these are just several key questions that Shaw's screenplay goes to lengths in terms of not filling in the audience on the details. The two men, bound by their mutual need for one another, bicker and bark at each other like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones" with Mac channeling his future performance as Quint in "Jaws" by constantly attacking the younger man for being the product of a soft generation. As these types of films generally play out, Mac and Ansell are able to win some small victories through mutual efforts and begin to develop a grudging but sincere admiration for each other. (In one of the script's few instances of humor, we learn that Mac is somewhat of a prude by the way he chastises the younger generation for the sexual promiscuity afforded by "The Pill".) They finally figure out a way to free their bonds and obtain food, water and arms. However, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a helicopter piloted by faceless, nameless men who coordinate a widespread army of pursuers on the ground The image of the helicopter haunts Mac and Ansell throughout their desperate race across a harsh landscape that contains both deserts and high, snow-covered mountains. Throughout their ordeal, the men come to know each other better though Shaw's screenplay, perhaps not coincidentally, gives his character far meatier material than McDowell gets to work with. Shaw is at his best in the quiet sequences, reminiscing about his beloved wife who waits for his return home.
The film falls short of its Kafkaesque pretensions but is never less than engaging, thanks in no small part to the skill of director Joseph Losey in keeping the bizarre aspects of the scripts from becoming too alienating for the audience. There is also superb cinematography that does justice to the magnificent, if sometimes foreboding, Spanish landscapes and a fine score by the estimable Richard Rodney Bennett. It's unclear what Shaw was trying to say in this sometimes puzzling film that at times evokes aspects of Patrick McGoohan's classic TV series "The Prisoner". This jumbled aspect of the story robs the film of some of its potential dramatic payoffs but there is real satisfaction in watching Shaw and McDowell in parts that are this meaty. We only learn enough about each character to tantalize us even further regarding how they ended up in this dilemma and it's probably best that Shaw never provides any easy answers. However, some of the men's actions and interactions cry out for a bit more clarification especially in the exciting climax when Mac is motivated to take on downing the hated helicopter even at an unnecessary risk to his own life.
"Figures in a Landscape" has been released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray. As with most of the company's titles, this one boasts a superb transfer that does justice to the impressive filming locations. Unfortunately, no extras are included. A pity because this film cries out for a commentary track that could have covered not only the movie itself but also Shaw's remarkable career, one that never completely fulfilled its potential because of his own personal demons.
Business” features Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov in an espionage
thriller directed by Nicholas Meyer. The Cold War is over and a former CIA agent
is called out of retirement to exchange an imprisoned Russian agent for a
captured American pilot. The movie was released in 1991 just as the Soviet
Union ceased to exist and the Russian Federation was born. Old tensions between
East and West remain and the movie tries to be a tense “Cold War” style
is Sam Boyd, a retired CIA agent who is using his skills as a corporate spy.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is Pyotr Ivanovich Grushenko, a former Soviet spy serving
time in an American prison. Sam is called out of retirement to exchange Pyotr
for the American being held by the Russians. Glasnost and perestroika indeed,
or so it would appear. Sam escorts Pyotr to the recently reunited Germany along
with a case filled with a million dollars when he realizes they are being tricked
by the Russians. It turns out the exchange is a fake and they are involved in an
elaborate double cross and money laundering scheme involving the Russians and
on their trail are the American and Russian agents attempting to get the money back
and to kill Sam and Pyotr who form an alliance and make their way through
Germany and on to Paris. It’s not exactly clear what they plan on doing once
they get there or how they plan on getting away with their lives and the movie’s
ending does little to clear things up. The main problem is that the story was
obviously meant to be a typical Cold War thriller. Nicholas Meyer does a good
job as writer and director, but it’s clear that the story just was not going to
work after the Cold War ended during production. What do you do with a Cold War
thriller after the Soviet Union ceases to exist? It was an unfortunate time to
produce such a movie.
is a great actor and Baryshnikov is generally good, but they both appear bored
and don’t really look like they’re into it. The supporting actors are almost comical
in a painful way in their attempts to play it straight, but one can predict
everything that’s going to happen before it plays out. The movie is trying to
be a kind of comic buddy movie, but it never quite works out. Géraldine Danon is on hand as a French woman who turns
out to be Pyotr’s daughter, but she serves no serious purpose other than to
launder the money through a Swiss bank to make it untraceable (I guess).
Smith is on hand as Sam’s CIA contact and is good in just about everything he’s
in. Terry O’Quinn is also on hand, but other than being the mastermind behind
the money laundering scheme, he doesn’t have much to do. The central plot is
too full of holes and none of it really makes any sense. Why not just keep the
cash and hide somewhere in luxury? Instead Sam and Pyotr keep exposing
themselves by meeting with old friends and known associates in cities filled to
the brim with spies.
movie looks fine on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and showcases some fine on-location
work in Germany and France. The night-time street scenes in Germany are very
nicely shot and the movie is an easy going 98 minutes. The disc contains a
featurette with interviews by a very bored Hackman as well as out-takes, sound
bites and the trailer. Interestingly, the trailer attempts to sell the film as
a buddy comedy and features a scene not in the movie with the leads living in
retirement on a tropical island. I’d say catch this movie if you have to see
everything by Gene Hackman, Mikhail Baryshnikov and director Nicholas Meyer.
Writing for the superb 007 web site "From Sweden With Love", Cinema Retro columnist Mark Cerulli pays a visit to one of the most memorable James Bond villains: Putter Smith, who portrayed half of the gay hit men team in the 1971 007 flick "Diamonds Are Forever", squaring off against Sean Connery. . Smith, an acclaimed jazz musician, reminisces in part one of this recent interview. Click here to read and to view a fascinating deleted scene from "Diamonds Are Forever".
Capra was a superstar Hollywood director in the 1930s. He had a string of
critically-acclaimed and successful pictures after joining Columbia Pictures
and elevating the studio from “poverty row” to a force that competed with the
big leagues. Two of Capra’s Columbia movies won the Oscar for Best Picture, and
Capra became the first filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director three times, all within five years. You Can’t Take it With You was Capra’s
second Best Picture winner and his third Best Director achievement.
his films have been called “Capra-corn,” because they are usually steeped in
Americana, explore themes of social class inequality, feature casts of
eccentric—but lovable—protagonists and greedy, heartless villains, and contain stories
about the Everyman’s struggle against the Establishment. Capra was also one of
the developers of the screwball comedy, in which mismatched couples, usually
from different social classes, fall in and out and back in love.
You Can’t Take It
With You was
based on the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was still
playing in New York when the film opened. It’s a story with Capra’s classic oddball
characters—this time a whole family of them—and their clash with the moneybags
banking world (a hot topic in the Depression-weary 1930s).
Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the patriarch of a poor but extremely happy freedom-loving
houseful of misfits that include his daughter Penny (Spring Byington as a pulp
writer and painter) and her husband (Samuel S. Hinds, a maker of fireworks),
his granddaughter Essie (a very young Ann Miller as a would-be ballerina taking
lessons from a mad Russian instructor played by Mischa Auer) and her husband Ed
(Dub Taylor as a vibraphone player and printer), a couple of other hangers-on
who create things in the basement (Donald Meek and Halliwell Hobbes), and the
obligatory comic African-American maid and butler (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson). Oh, and then there’s the other granddaughter, Alice
(Jean Arthur), who is relatively normal and works as a secretary in the big
bank building owned and run by “A.P.” Kirby (Edward Arnold), who wants to buy
Grandpa’s house and land so that he can develop on it. Grandpa is the only
holdout in the area and refuses to sell. The complication comes when Alice and
Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart, in his first major role and first for Capra) fall
in love and want to marry. Socialite Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) disapproves with
such viciousness that she practically
becomes the real villain of the piece.
the Capra ingredients are all there—odd and funny characters, a conflict
between upper and lower classes, and a screwball romance. Add in a healthy dose
of Americana songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and you have a classic that in
many ways still resonates today as a cautionary tale of greed. As the title
states, you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone, so you might as
well have fun and not worry about it while you’re here on earth.
performances are first rate all around (although Byington received the only
Oscar nomination, for Supporting Actress), and the adaptation by Robert Riskin
is superb (despite radical changes to the third act of the play). There are
some very funny moments, such as when the Kirbys come to the Vanderhof home for
dinner on the wrong night, causing the nutty household to spring into action to
accommodate them. Familiar-face Harry Davenport has a wonderful comic turn as a
night court judge when everyone is thrown into the drunk tank for disorderly
conduct and illegal manufacture of fireworks.
yet, of Capra’s most well-known pictures of the 30s (It Happened One Night, Mr.
Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and
this one), You Can’t Take It With You is
perhaps the weakest. The problem is that it’s too long, at times ponderous, and
it takes a while to get going. I do question whether or not it really was the
Best Picture of 1938—other nominees such as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand
Illusion, and Boys Town may have
been more deserving. And yet, You Can’t
Take It With You is still a very good time at the movies.
new Blu-ray release is outstanding. The film was fully restored and mastered in
4K (1080p high definition) and looks marvelous. There’s not a blemish to
behold, and the grain is welcome. The audio is Mono DTS-HD MA with several
languages from which to choose. Supplements include an audio commentary by
Frank Capra, Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison that is well-informed and
entertaining. A 25-minute documentary, “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers...You Can’t Take It With You” features
Capra’s son and others talking about the history behind the making of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included, and the hard-case inner booklet
features a comprehensive and studious essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
line—it’s a must for cinephiles, Capra fans, Jimmy Stewart enthusiasts, and
lovers of glorious black and white. Enjoy it... while you can.
"The Strangler" is a long-forgotten 1964 low-budget exploitation movie originally released by Allied Artists. It has developed a bit of a cult following among retro movie lovers who will be delighted that the film has come to DVD through the Warner Archive. The movie was designed to capitalize on the notorious Boston Strangler murders that were in the news at the time. However, what sets the movie apart from other cheap thrills productions is the fact that it is intelligently scripted and presents its villain as a highly complex character, filled with nuances and psychological tortures. Victor Buono, who had made a sensational film debut the previous year in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", gets a rare starring role as the titular character. He's Leo Kroll, a meek, obese young man who barely makes a living as a lab assistant in big city hospital. He's quiet, unassuming and superficially friendly even though he has no real friends in his life. Our first glimpse of Leo is rather startling. We see him inside the apartment of an attractive young woman who is undressing, not knowing that she has a stalker on the premises. Leo suddenly emerges and strangles her with her own stockings. We learn that Leo is behind similar serial murders of young women in the area but the police are at a dead end. Leo's private life is pure hell. He lives with his aging mother (Ellen Corby) who controls virtually every aspect of his life. She even ensures that their apartment is a shrine to herself, adorned with numerous photos of her. When the film opens, she is confined to a hospital room and expects Leo to visit her every night right after work. When he takes a night off to indulge in his murderous past time, his mother's abrasive accusations of neglect seem to bother him more than the heinous crimes he has committed. He clearly hates and resents his mother. She never fails to remind him that he is a loser: overweight, homely and friendless. She tells him that she is the only person he can rely on and trust. She also warns him against getting involved with women, saying that any girl who would date him had to be after his money. Leo also has a peculiar fetish- he likes to leave dolls at the scene of his murderS, each representing the woman he has just killed. He obtains them by winning a game of chance at a local arcade where his skill at the game seems to impress the girls behind the counter, one of whom, Tally (Davey Davison), he clearly has a crush on, which inevitably puts her on Leo's endangered species list.
There weren't many diverse roles that Buono could play in his career. Generally, the baby-faced actor was stuck portraying varying incarnations of a "man child". However, he did carve out some memorable performances playing largely comedic villains in shows like "Batman", "The Wild, Wild West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". He worked steadily, occasionally landing a mature role in major films such as "Robin and the Seven Hoods" and "Four For Texas" in which he appeared with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Buono, who died young at age 42 in 1982, arguably gives the best performance of his career in "The Strangler", making a man who commits despicable acts seem almost sympathetic. When he finally asks a woman he barely knows to marry him, her rejection of him is truly a heartbreaking scene. Leo ends up on the short list of police suspects but manages to elude arrest. He even demands to take a lie detector test, which he passes due to the fact that he has no feelings of guilt whatsoever. His motive for murder isn't even to alleviate the sexual repression he feels. It's simply his way of dealing with mommy issues. Each woman he slays is a stand-in for the mother he deplores. Under the highly competent direction of Burt Topper, "The Strangler" boasts some impressive performances by a largely unknown cast. The police sequences, which highlight David McLean as the over-worked cop assigned to crack the case, ring with authenticity. The B&W film also has good cinematography and creative use of lighting effect. Yet it is Buono who dominates the production with a performance that would have won critical raves if it were seen in an "A" list production. The film is consistently entertaining and at times highly suspenseful. The Warner Archive release is top-notch but lacks any extras. A commentary track on this title would be most welcome for a future edition.
In the early 1960s director John Frankenheimer emerged as one of Hollywood's most exciting talents. Consider the remarkably diverse films he made in a four year period between 1962 and 1966: "Birdman of Alcatraz", a somewhat fictionalized but extremely compelling prison drama with an Oscar nominated performance by Burt Lancaster; the classic thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" which perfectly analyzed the type of paranoia that still defines American politics today; "Seven Days in May", yet another classic political thriller that also retains its relevance; "The Train", a superb WWII film about the French Resistance attempting to thwart a Nazi's theft of priceless national treasures, "Seconds", Frankenheimer's brilliant and underrated "Twilight Zone"-like chiller and "Grand Prix", the big budget, star-packed racing extravaganza that was unlike any of his previous films (it was in color, for one). For a while, it seemed Frankenheimer could do no wrong. However, by the late 1960s, he began to stumble. His forthy comedy "The Extraordinary Seaman" was, by any rational evaluation, a complete disaster and was deemed largely unreleasable by MGM. His next major effort, "The Gypsy Moths" reunited him with Burt Lancaster, star of some of his greatest successes. However, despite having many merits, the film failed to click with audiences and critics. Suddenly, Frankenheimer was no longer the "Golden Boy" who represented the new age of daring young American directors. In the mid-1970s, he got two more bites at the apple with "French Connection II" and the terrorist thriller "Black Sunday". He delivered the goods artistically but both films did not amass the anticipated grosses and Frankenheimer was increasingly relegated to helming middling films in return for a quick pay check. He later confessed that some of his problems were self-imposed due to his dependency on alcohol. As his feature film career deteriorated, Frankenheimer found salvation through directing acclaimed, high profile TV movies that saw him win four Emmy Awards. He did have one late career theatrical hit with the spy thriller "Ronin" in 1998. He passed away in 2002, having had the satisfaction of seeing his work re-evaluated by a new generation of critics with "Seconds", in particular, finally winning the type of praise that had eluded reviewers when initially released in 1966.
One of Frankenheimer's least-discussed films, "The Fourth War", has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The movie went into production at the very end of the Cold War. By the time it was released in 1990, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, which is probably why the audience is informed that the story takes place in 1988. Although the film is set up to be a grudge match between two military tough guys on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the central character is Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider), a spit-and-polish veteran U.S. Army officer who arrives at his new command, a remote base on the border of West Germany and Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Knowles is a complete hard ass with Patton-like disciplinary measures he doesn't hesitate to enact for any soldier who doesn't abide by his rules. But we learn later that Knowles is a bit of a hypocrite. Seems he has a reputation for being a loose cannon who consistently defies orders and regulations in order to carry out procedures his own way. He's been booted from several commands and this is his last chance. It's an opportunity that has been afforded him by his Vietnam War buddy Gen. Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), whose life Knowles saved back in the day. Knowles shows his gratitude by immediately violating orders and taking a small patrol past the "no go" boundary that abuts the Czech border. By happenstance, the group witnesses a disturbing sight: a dissident is racing toward the West German border over snow covered fields with Soviet soldiers relentlessly hunting him down on horseback. The man almost makes it to freedom but is shot dead by the Soviets. Outraged, Knowles pulls his pistol and is about to initiate a shooting war. His second in command, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid) realizes the international implications that would follow and convinces Knowles to holster his weapon- but Knowles is still outraged. He tosses a snowball at the Soviet commanding officer, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow). This juvenile act of protest will lead to a relentless war of wills between both men, each of whom studies the other's history. Before long, Knowles is making surreptitious nocturnal one-man missions behind the border. At first he causes mischief by holding Soviet guards at gunpoint and humiliating them. But his actions become increasingly risky, culminating in his destroying a guard tower and nearly killing the men in it. Valachev begins to respond in kind, sneaking over the border to humiliate Knowles. By this point, Lt. Col. Clark suspects that Knowles is becoming irrational and carrying out forbidden missions. General Clark dresses down his old friend and tells him that if he makes one more slip-up, he won't be able to save him from being drummed out of the military. Knowles is momentarily shaken but can't resist resuming his activities over the border.On one such "mission", he meets a desperate young woman who is trying to sneak back into Czechoslovakia. She's Elena (Lara Harris), who explains she has to rescue her little daughter who is being cared for by her grandmother. Elena explains that her mother is now too ill to take care of the child and she worries that the girl will be placed in a state home. The gruff Knowles is moved by her plight and agrees to help her in her quest- a promise that ultimately leads to dramatic consequences and a one-on-one confrontation with Valachev that could reignite the Cold War.
While "The Fourth War" is not of a caliber of John Frankenheimer's early classics, the film has much to recommend about it. The movie did not make much of an impact when it first opened and has remained under the radar screen ever since. It needs a few champions and I'm happy to be one of them. For one, it's intelligently written and presents two interesting characters, though we never learn much about Valachev. Knowles, on the other hand, is an emotional basket case hiding behind a tough guy persona. He's friendless and desperate to find meaning in life. In one poignant scene, he celebrates his birthday in his quarters, accompanied only by a bottle of booze and a kid's party hat on his head as he tries vainly to have a civil conversation by phone with a grown son who is clearly not enamored with him. He's a tragic, fascinating figure- a small scale General Curtis Lemay, who has channeled his demons into a personal crusade against communism. Scheider gives a terrific performance and gets fine support from Prochnow, Reid and Harris, whose character provides the catalyst for a clever plot twist late in the film. Harry Dean Stanton is terrific especially in the sequence in which he locks horns with Scheider. It's riveting all the way. Director Frankenheimer turns the Canadian frozen tundra into a convincing replica of the Eastern European landscape and milks a good deal of suspense from the proceedings, culminating in a spectacular, testosterone-laced battle between the two antagonists in full view of their respective armies.
"The Fourth War" is well worth a look. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational. Bonus extras are the original trailer and a gallery of other trailers for Scheider films available from the company.
Long regarded as one of Roger Corman's most ambitious and poignant films, "X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" comes to Blu-ray as an impressive special edition from Kino Lorber. Corman became a legend by overseeing production of countless low-budget horror and exploitation films beginning in the late 1950s. What the movies lacked in budgetary aspects they more than made up for in terms of intelligent scripts and often creative technical processes that more than compensated for the skimpy budgets. Corman's films not only gave early breaks to a new generation of actors and filmmakers, but he also helped resurrect flagging careers of veteran actors, one of whom was Ray Milland, who stars in this film. Milland was a Best Actor Oscar winner for the 1945 movie "The Lost Weekend" but by the 1960s his boxoffice appeal had waned. By teaming with Corman on "The Premature Burial" in 1962, Milland found he enjoyed acting in horror-based flicks. They also helped him pay the bills and maintain his status as a leading man, albeit in vehicles that critics generally dismissed as "B" movies. If Milland never became a legend through his association with horror films as Vincent Price did, his presence in these movies kept him on the radar screen and allowed him to occasionally nab fine roles in major Hollywood productions such as "Love Story", "Gold" and "The Last Tycoon". The success of "The Premature Burial" led to Milland reuniting with Corman for "X" the following the year.
Original Gold Key tie-in comic book.
"X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" presents Milland as Dr. James Xavier, a respected surgeon in a big city hospital who has an obsession for exploring the greater meaning of life. He is consumed by a belief that if people could be empowered to see through solid matter, they might learn the secrets the universe. Xavier has been working under a grant to explore these possibilities and the result is a serum that, if administered as eye drops, might allow a person to obtain X-ray vision. Against the advice of his colleagues who claim the serum hasn't been perfected yet, Xavier boldly administers the drops in his own eyes. The results are positive. He finds that, to a limited degree, he can indeed see through solid matter. However, the effects are temporary and unpredictable. Xavier tempts fate by continuing to up the dosage. This results in his being able to achieve extraordinary results. He finds he can see inside the human body and uses his skill to help correct misdiagnosed patients. His boss, head surgeon Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt) is skeptical of his claims and his best friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) refuses to assist him in his experiments on the basis that he perceives Xavier is suffering from psychological problems based on the serum he has been taking. In fact, Xavier is slowly being driven mad. By being able to see within virtually every object and person, he finds the mental anguish to be excruciating. He can't turn it off at will and is subject to often seeing the world through blinding psychedelic patterns that result in him acting irrational. His sole ally is his colleague Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), a colleague who seems to have a romantic interest in him. Diane attempts to talk Xavier into stopping the experiments but he feels compelled to continue in the hope that eventually he will be able to unlock the secrets of life. Tragedy strikes when Xavier's irrational behavior results in the accidental death of a friend. Because he flees the scene, he becomes wanted for murder. By this point, the serum has wreaked havoc on his eyes, which now look surrealistic. To hide them, he wears an omnipresent pair of over-sized sunglasses. Desperate and alone, Xavier meets a carnival barker, Crane (Don Rickles), who soon understands the extraordinary power he possesses. Crane, an opportunist, convinces Xavier to appear at the carnival and use his power as a money-making gimmick. Xavier is appalled but consents out of financial necessity. However, when Crane begins to exploit sick people, Xavier flees the scene. Diane tracks him down and the two hurry to Las Vegas where Xaveri's X-ray vision results in him winning big. However, he doesn't know when to quit and suspicious casino staffers challenge him, turning his triumph into a debacle.The film's conclusion finds Xavier in a high speed car chase across the desert, pursued by police vehicle and helicopters. He stumbles on a religious revival meeting being held in a tent by a charismatic, fanatical preacher (John Dierkes), whose sudden influence over Xavier results in the film's controversial and shocking final scene.
"X" is a fine film on all counts. Corman, who not only produced but also directed, never allows the fantastic premise of the story to drift into the area of the absurd. To his credit, Milland plays his role with the dignity he would have afforded to an "A" list part in a big budget film. He gives a fine and compelling performance, as does everyone in the supporting cast including Rickles, who reminds us that he was once a dramatic actor before honing his skills as an insult comic. The intelligent script aspires to deal with issues that go beyond the standard horror/sci-fi film format. In this respect, it should be viewed on par with another similar film, "The Incredible Shrinking Man". The movie also benefits from creative special effects, a fine score by Les Baxter and impressive cinematography by the legendary Floyd Crosby.
The film's final frames are still the subject of debate among retro movie lovers today.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is joy to view, not only because of the excellent transfer, but also due to the inclusion of two separate commentary tracks. On the first Corman discusses the film in detail, and with great affection. He also talks about his long term relationship with American International Pictures, a studio that allowed him virtually complete creative control over his productions. The result was a mutually beneficial partnership that lasted many years as the studio and Corman helped define each other. The second audio commentary track is by film historian Tim Lucas, whose knowledge not only of this specific film but of the genre itself is highly impressive. Not surprisingly, his grasp of the minor details involving the film's production exceeds that of Corman himself, who admits on his track that time has made his memory of certain aspects of the movie a bit hazy. (He incorrectly states that this was Don Rickles' first feature film, when, in fact, it was his fourth, having appeared in such high profile movies as "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "The Rat Race".) Both Corman and Lucas discuss in detail the film's controversial final frames, which I will not discuss here for fear of providing a spoiler. There is also a welcome video interview with director Joe Dante, who professes his love for the film from the first time he saw it as a kid. Dante also points out that the movie was originally titled simply "X" and remained so even in the print itself. He informs us that the subtitle "... The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" was added at the last minute for the print campaigns only. A segment from Dante's popular web site Trailers From Hell presents the movie's original trailer with an introduction and commentary by another contemporary director, Mick Garris. The trailer also appears separately and when viewing it, one becomes of aware of how American International included the film's only humorous sequence simply for use in sexing up the trailer. It involves Xavier and Diane at a house party where Xavier finds his X-ray vision allows him to see everyone naked. Refreshingly, his ethics don't outweigh his libido and he does what any other guy would do: he keeps gawking. The trailer emphasizes this brief sequence as only an American International production could do. Another bonus included on the Blu-ray is the film's original prologue, a rather bizarre and pedantic slog that resembles those creaky old science documentaries that baby boomers were forced to watch in school auditoriums. The seemingly endless piece is boring and bland and Corman used excellent judgment in cutting it. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating viewing today.
"X" was an important early success for Roger Corman. That it still stands the test of time as fine entertainment today is a testament to his skills as a producer and director.
Director Michael Winner was never the darling of critics except for his breakthrough films in the mid 1960s which evoked the sensibilities of England's emerging mod movements and a humorous, if cynical, view of society. He later morphed into more populist fare, directing the kinds of action films and moody horror flicks that seemed predestined to alienate critics but please mainstream audiences. Winner hit pay dirt with the release of his 1974 urban crime thriller "Death Wish", a film that perfectly mirrored the frustration of everyday Americans by the perception that crime was spiraling out of control across the nation and that traditional authorities were hamstrung in their efforts to stop the bad guys. The film was loathed by liberals (as well as the author of the source novel, Brian Garfield, who accused Winner of bastardizing and dumbing down his work.) However, as director William Friedkin recalled to this writer, he had never experiences a more visceral reaction to a film by its audience as he did when seeing "Death Wish". Audiences cheered every vigilante shooting committed by the movie's protagonist, Charles Bronson, who had just endured a family tragedy caused by muggers and rapists. Ironically, Winner's greatest boxoffice success was followed by the rapid demise of his clout in the film industry. A series of lazy and largely uninspired efforts followed and he ultimately faded from the industry by the early 1980s, relegated to directing vanity projects that few have ever seen. In his later years, Winner emerged as an omnipresent force on British television, where he appeared as a crusty conservative political commentator who was delighted to take pot shots at Labour, using the kind of insensitive vernacular that made old world pundits cringe but which delighted TV producers. He also became one of England's most temperamental and feared food critics and parlayed that into a successful TV career, as well. Somewhat lost in the shuffle was the fact that Winner occasionally made good movies in his heyday. When Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I visited him at his London mansion ten years ago, we found Winner to be initially in the kind of mood we fully anticipated: cranky, short-tempered and cynical. However he changed his tune when he saw that we were there for a serious evaluation of his films. He expressed his gratitude and said that few people ever bother to examine his cinematic achievements, preferring to accept his new personas as pundit and food critic.
"Scorpio", released in 1973, was one of two collaborative projects Winner made with star Burt Lancaster (the other being the under-rated 1971 Western "Lawman"). The movie was not particularly successful when first released but plays far better today, thanks in large part to a great cast that includes Alain Delon, Paul Scofield and Gayle Hunnicutt. Winner's intelligent direction also plays a major asset. The espionage thriller was a product of its time, though screenwriters David W. Rintels and Gerald Wilson seemed almost prophetic in paving the way for the kind of paranoid spy movie that has been de rigueur ever since. The movie was in production in the wake of the Watergate scandal, an event that seemingly was minor at the time but would lead to the exposure of what Carl Bernstein has termed the "criminal presidency" of Richard M. Nixon. By the time "Scorpio" was in theaters, Nixon was fighting for his political life. Ultimately, he would resign amid the debris of an administration that saw 40 of its members serve jail terms for a sweeping array of crimes that were so widespread in scope that they still boggle the minds of historians. (The resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the scandal due to unrelated corruption charges was treated almost as a minor event.) The end result of all this is that public trust in the institution of government was greatly eroded and gave rise to the increasingly paranoid fear that anything even involving the government- particularly the CIA- should be inherently distrusted. The film centers on a CIA agent named Cross (Burt Lancaster), who is said to be aged 50 in the script but who, in reality, was aged almost 60 at the time the film was made. Cross is a shadowy figure who ranks as one of the agency's top operatives. He finds himself inexplicably marked for death by his own boss, McLeod (John Colicos), who has passed the word that Cross is a double agent for the Soviets. McLeod, boxed in by legal sanctions against performing assassinations, outsources the mission to kill Cross to Jean Laurier, a freelance killer who goes by the code name Scorpio. Making matters murkier is the fact that Cross and Scorpio are friends and colleagues, with the older man acting as a kind of mentor for the up-and-coming French operative. Initially, Scorpio intentionally bypasses opportunities to kill Cross because he believes that his friend is innocent of the charge of treason. However, he eventually relents under pressure by McLeod to carry out the assignment. This leads to a cat-and-mouse pursuit that extends from Washington, D.C. to Vienna, where Cross uses his ingenuity and old friends and contacts to outwit and keep ahead of Scorpio and his team of accomplices from the agency. Cross finds an unlikely haven in the apartment of Zharkov (Paul Scofield), a top Soviet agent who is as cynical about his own government as Cross is about his. The two men are the best of enemies. They have thwarted each other in the past, but both men have a healthy respect for each other. They realize that they are each regarded as expendable dinosaurs by a younger generation of bureaucrats who are more interested in advancing their careers than they are in political ideologies. Zharkov houses Cross in his Vienna home while Cross makes plans to try to smuggle his wife Sarah (Joanne Linville) out of Washington D.C. so that she can join him on the run. Trouble is, she is under constant surveillance by the CIA, which is hoping to track down Cross through any communications he attempts to make with her. Things heat up when Scorpio tracks Cross to Vienna, thus setting in motion several high voltage situations in which the old friends attempt to kill off each other.
"Scorpio" is one of those espionage films that becomes so complex that it is almost impossible to follow. I could never figure out whether Cross was being framed or whether he might actually be a traitor, though I presume one is to assume the former scenario. Unlike the recent acclaimed feature film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", which was not only incomprehensible but also a complete bore, "Scorpio" allows the viewer the luxury of ignoring the nuances of the plot and simply sitting back and enjoying the outstanding performances and action sequences. The re-teaming of Lancaster and Scofield, who co-starred in John Frankenheimer's 1965 classic "The Train", was an inspired idea. The two do outstanding work, particularly in a quiet sequence in which the old war horse agents get drunk and debate Zharkov's reluctance to disown his belief in communism. Delon makes for a charismatic, if icy, killer and his scenes with Lancaster have a good degree of tension. Michael Winner takes ample advantage of the exotic settings and provides at least one doozy of a memorable action sequence set in an enormous Vienna construction site where the seemingly ageless Lancaster outdoes himself in terms of stunt work as he attempts to elude his would-be assassins. The film also has a "sting-in-the-tale" ending that probably would surprise viewers who are most astute than I in terms of following the key plot points and complex relationships between the characters. I admit that I was left baffled. It should be pointed out that the movie also features a fine score by the late, great Jerry Fielding.
Lancaster, Winner and Delon on the set.
;Twilight Time has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray, limited to only 3,000 copies. The transfer is beautiful; riight up to this company's high standards. Bonus extras include an isolated score track, the original trailer and a highly engaging commentary track by film historians Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and Julie Kirgo, who also writes the accompanying, highly informative liner notes. On the track, Redman astutely points out that "Scorpio" represented a bygone era in cinema during which studios made plenty of mid-range films that they hoped would generate modest profits. This is in contrast to today's insane practice of gambling an entire's studio's financial health on one or two over-blown productions in the hope they will be blockbusters. Dobbs, for his part, amusingly makes a mea culpa, admitting that he always considered Michael Winner to be a hack director. However, compared to many of today's filmmakers, he practically looks like a master of his craft. Redman also provides some very interesting facts about the sad, final days of Michael Winner, whose "golden years" were marred by a myriad of potentially deadly health problems caused by eating an infected oyster!
"Scorpio" is a film that makes me appreciate all the more how much I miss stars like Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. The movie may not be a classic but it presents them with meaty roles and they don't disappoint in terms of delivering terrific performances.
Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man is, essentially, a
seventy-four minute valentine to Universal-International’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Beginning with their lavish staging of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was Hollywood’s
uncontested House of Horrors, the motion-picture industry’s preeminent fright
factory throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Their films brought to the screen the
most enduring visages of this golden age of horror. The studio made familiar faces – and
occasional bankable stars - of their contract players and talent for hire: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, George
Zucco, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Maria
Ouspenskaya, and Lon Chaney Jr.
But the trademark old castles and foggy moor scenarios
on which the old Universal films were staged were largely gone by the early
1950s. In the years prior to England’s
Hammer Studios breathing colorful - and sexy - new life into the gothic-horror
genre, the creaking-door chillers of times past had been supplanted by new
atomic-age monsters and belligerent visitors from the farthest reaches of
outer-space. Universal, re-christened as
Universal-International following a company merger in 1946, proved adaptable to
the change. The studio would produce
nearly as many classics during the silver-age of 1950’s science-fiction as it
had with its gothic-horrors.
The most successful and iconic of all the Universal
monster-movies of the 1950s was, without rival, Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon
(1954). Arnold and producer William
Alland had worked previously – and successfully - on the sci-fi classic It Came from Outer Space (1953), so the
studio wasn’t being incautious when they invested $600,000 of those earnings on
a second collaboration. Photographed in
glorious black-and-white, principal shooting was scheduled for the Universal
back-lot and on the freshwater bayous of Wakulla Springs outside Tallahassee, Florida.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
was one the biggest box-office successes of 1954 bringing in an estimated three
million dollars on its first year of release.
The popularity of the film spawned two successful sequels,
Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The original film was such a phenomenon that
its pop-culture status was unusually acknowledged - and cross-promoted - by
rival studio 2oth Century-Fox. In a
famous sequence from Billy Wilder’s The
Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell are seen walking out
of a theater screening of The Creature
from the Black Lagoon. As the two
stroll along curbside, Monroe’s dress billows upward from a rush of air through
the sidewalk’s subway grate.
In a supplement from Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill Man, producer-writer Sam
Borowski offers that his affectionate documentary on the history and legacy of
the Gill-man was a labor-of-love. Borowski
recalls first meeting documentarian Matt Crick in lower Manhattan on what was otherwise
a solemn occasion. Both men were in
attendance at a memorial processional following the attack on the World Trade
Center, September 11, 2001. Having long
pondered a tribute to this much-loved monster-series, the producer admits it
was only after Crick signed on that the laborious process of pulling together the
bits of fragmented memories, ephemera and vintage celluloid would commence.
They had a rough-cut of the film assembled as early as
2004, and it was rumored that their documentary would be featured as a
supplement on Universal’s The Creature
from the Black Lagoon “Legacy Collection” release of 2004. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen; even
though the back cover of that DVD set oddly features an attribution credited to
the film (then sub-titled “50 years of the Gill-Man”). In 2005, the filmmakers began to showcase
this early cut of the film at indie-cinemas and various film-conventions but,
as far as I’m aware, this 2015 issue on Blu is its first appearance on any home
The biggest difficulty with the making of such a
documentary was that it was a late-starter. By 2001 there were few very people who had worked on the original film available
to chat with. Producer William Alland,
director Jack Arnold, and co-screenwriter Harry Essex had all passed way in the
1990s. With the exception of the
talented (and still lovely) Julie (aka Julia) Adams, nearly the entire cast had
passed on: gone from consideration were actors
Richard Carlson, Whit Bissel, Richard Denning, and Antonio Moreno. Borowski and Crick did manage an
illuminating interview with co-screenwriter Arthur Ross prior to his passing in
2008. Ross offered he was brought in
late on the first project, originally titled, Black Lagoon, to oversee the writing of a second draft. In one vignette Ross takes credit for
bringing the palpable sense of humanity to the otherwise startling-in-appearance
The two featured stars of this documentary – and, aside
from Ross, the only ones to share first-person, if entirely anecdotal commentaries
- are Julie Adams and Ben Chapman. Adams
is most certainly the more well-known of the two. Signed by Universal in 1949, the actress
worked near-continuously in the television and motion-picture industry until
the late 1980s when offers became less forthcoming. Adams was doubled in many of her water
sequences by Ginger Stanley, a strong swimmer and cast member of Florida’s
Weeki Wachee Springs Water Show. Stanley
is also on hand here to generously share her experiences with the filmmakers.
Though his name does not even appear in the film’s
credits, Ben Chapman was the tall actor who donned the creature-suit for all
scenes on shot on land. (Ricou Browning,
who appears later in the tribute but doesn’t offer much in the way of
commentary, doubled as the creature in all of the film’s marvelous underwater
sequences). Chapman’s enthusiasm for
having played in such an iconic film is infectious. A frequent guest on autograph-show circuits
and monster movie conventions, Chapman was the friendlier and more out-going of
the two surviving Gill-men, always available to chat or take a smiling photograph
with fans young and old. Chapman, a
Universal contract actor, recalls he was twenty-five years old when he got the
part. His casting was the result of
brawny western star Glenn Strange having turned down the role. Strange, beloved amongst horror film fans for
playing the shuffling, stiff-armed monster in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, passed on the role as he
wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer.
Rudolph has had an interesting Hollywood career. He was a protégé
of Robert Altman, for whom he worked as assistant director, and then went on to
write and direct his own oeuvre of
quirky, art-house pictures for four decades. Like Altman’s films, they are ensemble productions often using a stock
company of actors. Stylistically, though, they are much more lyrical, almost
pretentiously arty. Thematic elements in Rudolph’s movies nearly always involve
romanticism and fantasy, and the good ones such as Welcome to L.A. (see Cinema Retro review), Remember My Name, Choose Me, Made in Heaven,and Trouble
in Mind,were critically acclaimed
and modestly successful.
Love at Large, unfortunately, is
not one of the good ones. The movie seems to be in search of a story as it
follows private investigator Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger, mugging a lot and using
an odd, gravelly voice) on a bigamy case, but the path is really a labyrinth of
possible love affairs for nearly all of the main characters. While Harry’s in
the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend (Ann Magnuson), he meets
a hot client (Anne Archer, whose beauty does not make up for the extremely
mannered performance of a “mysterious dame”) with whom there’s a chance at some
hanky panky. He’s also in competition with a feisty, sarcastic female private
eye named Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, who delivers the most believable and
honest performance in the movie), with whom Harry just might be in love. Each
of the women also has her own individual journey of seeking romance. It’s all
on the level of a soap opera.
was experimenting with this one, and the result doesn’t really work. It
attempts to be a movie about relationships and the “meaning of love” (a
favorite topic of Rudolph’s) overlain with a highly stylized neo-noir detective plot—a lighter Trouble in Mind, perhaps. The problem is
that the noir aspects, and the case
Harry is investigating—cries out to be much more than it is. If it had been a further
developed, gritty crime plot that actually elicited suspense, the picture might
have jelled. Furthermore, the hunt-for-love story, really the backbone of the
movie, resolves abruptly and unsatisfactorily for three of the five sets of
couples involved. With the sometimes laughable performances and the odd tone
with which the actors have been directed, Large
at Large is a head scratcher. It might have been much better in the concept
stage, but the movie doesn’t realize its potential.
said, the writer/director’s permeating quirkiness is interesting enough to
warrant a viewing. And any movie that
casts rocker Neil Young as Archer’s sinister and violent boyfriend is worth
seeing for the novelty factor. (Ted Levine, Annette O’Toole, and Kate Capshaw
also appear in the picture, completing the list of familiar movie faces from
the late 1980s.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Love at Large looks very good with its colorful Oregon countryside
locations and Portland bars and hotels. The transfer is clean and blemish-free.
There are no supplements on the disc other than trailers of other Kino Lorber
the mid 1960s James Bond was everywhere – it was the beginning of the “movie
tie-in” era and when Thunderball was released, Bondmania exploded with numerous 007-flagged consumer items from
dive masks to racing sets, men’s cufflinks and beach towels...
almost every movie has a “marketing partner” of some type – tires, toys, cars,
watches, etc. (Try walking into a store
today and avoiding the Star Wars logo!) But for a while, Bondmania has returned – especially in Europe.
now, we all know what watch Bond wears. (Hint: it ain’t a Rolex anymore…) In Paris and London, Daniel Craig’s chiseled
face stared down from massive Omega billboards and store displays for their
beautiful (but pricey) Spectre edition watch.
also publishes Lifetime, a glossy,
high-end magazine aimed at serious watch enthusiasts. The current issue is devoted to Spectre with
in-depth coverage of the film and products related to it. Definitely worth picking up from their
the world is thirsty work so Heineken, a longtime 007 marketing partner,
returns with specially designed packaging and a number of promotional items
like a bottle opener and bottle-shaped flash drive.
vodka of choice in Spectre is Belvedere. Loo7k for their special 007 bottles
and their limited edition Martini set. If anyone needed an excuse to try a martini, this is it!
favorite bubbly is back for Spectre as well – Bollinger Champagne. Their elegant
007 limited edition Bottles are expensive – (145 Euros at the Paris Airport)
but they look like true objets d’art… and of course the beverage they contain
is precious. No wonder Bond drinks it! If one really has money to burn, Bollinger also offers the Spectre
limited edition Crystal Cooler that would look at home deep within a volcano
crater or on an upscale holiday dinner table!
you’re ready for a cloo7se shave, Gillette is inviting consumers to experience
“Bond Moments”, no Walther PPK needed, just a ProGlide razor in a Holiday Gift
Pack, which curiously offers no 007 branding in the U.S.A market.
However, in the UK, the packaging at least features the Spectre film logo though its relationship to the film is tenuous at best.
Blofeldish? The iconic Spectre ring is available on the official Bond website
for a not unreasonable $216.
Doulton caused a stir with the Jack the Bulldog figurine, which sat on M’s desk
in Skyfall. They created a limited edition
to tie in with that film. Now Jack is
back – in a slightly charred form in keeping with his appearance in
Spectre. Fortunately it’s available on
the Royal Doulton website!
quick and by no means comprehensive listing of Spectre products would not be
complete without mentioning THE ultimate 007 tie-in that only a very few fans
will be able to own. Probably the most
exclusive Spectre product of them all – the achingly beautiful Aston Martin DB9
GT “James Bond Edition”. Only 150 of these
were made and all were sold in a flash – even at a $237,007 price. The folks at Aston were feeling generous, so
for that money, they’ll throw in an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra. Not a bad deal at all!
is just a smattering of available Spectre products. The European market has many other
participating brands – chief among them beautiful and tres expensive 007 pens
and lighters from luxe French manufacturer, S.T. Dupont; bespoke clothing and
more. Everything but radioactive lint…
The year 1969 represented major breakthroughs in cinematic freedoms, as evidenced by the big crowds who swarmed theaters to see erotica as "Sweden, Heaven and Hell". Although such films could probably be shown on the Disney Channel today, back in the day the softcore flicks marked the first time that "X" rated films were accepted as mainstream fare instead of fodder for guys in long raincoats. Suddenly, couples could brag about seeing these movies, which shortly thereafter gave way to even more sexualized celluloid. A few years later, the hardcore classics "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" played continuously for years in the same theaters on 42nd Street. Cinematic sex was now here to stay, to the disgust of many and the delight of many more. - Lee Pfeiffer
Many Cinema Retro readers write to tell us that they like the fact that we shine a new light on older, under-appreciated movies and re-evaluate them after the passage of time. In this instance, I can't re-evaluate "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" because I had never seen it prior to its release on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory. To say that the film was subject to a string of bad luck is an understatement. It might be more appropriate to consider if it was literally cursed. First some background: the Lone Ranger had been a pop culture hero for many years in comics, on the radio and on screen. The 1950s TV series starring Clayton Moore made the character iconic and forever associated with "The William Tell Overture" which was played each time he rode into action. The 1978 revival of "Superman" as a big screen adventure was a boxoffice smash and elevated its unknown lead- Christopher Reeve- to genuine stardom. It wasn't the first time that a relatively untested leading man carried a major movie to boxoffice success. Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif did so with "Lawrence of Arabia" and George Lazenby managed the feat with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Producer Jack Wrather was inspired by this history and when he acquired the feature film rights to The Lone Ranger character (for an eye-popping $3 million), he decided to cast unknowns as the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tonto. After an exhaustive search, he thought he struck gold by casting Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse. Both were hunky young men who were adept at riding horses and managing the physical challenges of starring in a big budget action film. The film was to be directed by William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who had earned praise for his direction of "Monte Walsh" a decade earlier. For his cinematographer on "The Legend of the Lone Ranger", Fraker hired another legend, Laszlo Kovacs. Other top talent quickly signed on including esteemed screenwriter William Roberts, who had written the screenplay for "The Magnificent Seven". Composer John Barry was signed to create the score and a main title theme. Jason Robards joined the cast as President Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Lloyd took a rare dramatic part as the villain. Things were looking promising. However, the bubble was about to burst.
While the film was in production, it reaped a mountain of bad publicity when the producers forced the beloved Clayton Moore from making any further public appearances at autograph shows and charity events where he had been making the circuit dressed in his original Lone Ranger costume. Moore fought the order in court and ultimately prevailed but the damage had been done. An outraged public had an "in" for the new Lone Ranger long before production had ever wrapped. During filming, a stuntman almost died and leading man Klinton Spilsbury insisted on shooting the film in sequence to help with his understanding of his character and motivations. Shooting in sequence can be a costly proposition but the producers complied. However, in viewing the rushes, they decided that Spilsbury was something short of dynamic in the way he delivered his lines. They hired actor James Keach to dub him through the entire film, a fact they tried to keep secret but which leaked out immediately even in the pre-internet era. (Ironically, Keach delivers his dubbed lines in a bland, monotone manner that makes one wonder just how bad Spilsbury could have been.) By the time filming wrapped, the film had been tarnished but Universal, the studio releasing the movie, was still optimistic. However, the bad luck continued even in post-production. The film's technical aspects proved to be challenging and the movie's December 1980 release was bumped to Memorial Day in May of 1981. The good news is that President Ronald Reagan had agreed to attend a special screening of the movie prior to general release. Shortly before this was to occur, he was wounded in an assassination attempt and was unable to attend (the "The Gipper" was considerate enough to send a video greeting to attendees.) When the film opened to the public, response was poor from both the public and critics, who denounced the movie as the second major Western bomb in a row, following the disastrous opening of "Heaven's Gate" the previous fall. The movie quickly became the butt of jokes. Johnny Carson quipped that on opening day, Tonto put his ear to the ground and said "Kemosabe, me hear very few people heading toward the theaters!". Carson rarely weighed in on criticizing films and, as he was one of America's top barometers of pop culture, the sarcasm only reinforced the notion that the film was a bomb. Themovie had the dubious distinction of sweeping The Razzies, the awards for the worst achievements in movie making. Klinton Spilsbury couldn't overcome the stigma of having been dubbed. His name was mud in the industry and to this date, he has not acted professionally again. (Though, bizarrely, he did become an acting teacher in Vancouver for a time.) Michael Horse fared better, however, and carved out a satisfying career as a character actor that extends to this day.
In watching the movie today, its problems remain apparent, though it is entertaining in a goofy sort of way. Some screen heroes such as Batman can look cool in a mask but The Lone Ranger simply looks likes a throwback to a bygone era of entertainment when kids would be less demanding about the corn quotient served up by their idols. The film would probably have benefited from some self-awareness that the entire premise was outdated but the movie-makers made the mistake of playing the entire affair completely straight. In fact, the film is almost devoid of any humor at all. Another problem is that the story takes so long to tell how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended up meeting and becoming blood brothers that it takes a full hour before audiences even get to see the Lone Ranger. The story leading up to this is compelling, with young John Reid witnessing his parents slaughtered by a marauding band of cutthroats. His life is saved by a Native American boy his own age named Tonto, who brings Reid back to his tribe. The Indians adopt Reid and teach him the basic skills of survival. Before long, he is feels very much a part of the tribe- until an uncle inexplicably arrives from Chicago (!) and takes him back to the big city against his wishes. The action then jumps to years later. Reid is aboard a stagecoach heading West when it is attacked by a group of robbers. In an exciting, well-filmed stagecoach chase sequence, Reid displays his heroics, saves his fellow passengers and falls head over heels for lovely Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), who is the niece of the nearest town's newspaper. When Reid and Amy arrive, they are greeted by the uncle, who is on a one-man crusade against a local evil land baron named Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.) Cavendish has amassed a paramilitary force, bribed the local sheriff and kept the town's population in fear as he acts as a de facto dictator. For his efforts, the uncle is murdered. Reid joins the Texas Rangers along with his brother and a posse sets off to track down Cavendish. Along the way they are lured into a canyon and in another rousing action sequence, they are all killed except for Reid, who is badly wounded. Coincidentally, Tonto happens upon the scene and recognizes an amulet that Reid is wearing which Tonto gave to him when they became blood brothers. He nurses his old friend back to health and Reid becomes determined to bring his brother's killers to justice as-- wait for it- The Lone Ranger! It's never explained how he gets the fancy duds and mask but we do see the origins of how he adopts Silver as his wonder horse. Before long, the Lone Ranger is bellowing "Hi Yo, Silver!" and riding with Tonto to infiltrate Cavendish's compound. Turns out Cavendish has a lot in common with today's political fringe nuts: he wants to secede from the union and establish a country called New Texas. His scheme is ambitious: he intends to hijack a train carrying President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and hold him hostage until his demands are met. The execution of the plan is a highlight of the film, as is Robards' amusing performance as Grant. The scenes in which he matches wits with Cavendish over a sumptuous dinner brings to mind similar obligatory scenes from the Bond movies. The action-packed finale features the U.S. Cavalry joining the Lone Ranger and Tonto to free Grant, who gets into the action himself. By another coincidence, Grant's train had been carrying Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickcok and General George Armstrong Custer, so you can imagine it's gonna be a bad luck day for Cavendish.
There is much to criticize about "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". The producers and director seemed oblivious to the fact that a guy in a white hat and black mask shouting "Hi Yo, Silver!" would come across as incredibly corny to modern audiences if it wasn't played with at least a dab of self-awareness and humor. Alas, it's played straight- as is the use of the "William Tell Overture". It's as though the filmmakers had entered a time warp and thought they were out to please audiences from the 1940s. Another major weak link is the musical score by the esteemed John Barry. The instrumentals are fine but Barry has concocted a title theme called "The Man Behind the Mask" that is crooned by Merle Haggard. To say it's unintentionally hilarious would be an understatement. Not helping matters is some awful narration that describes the action in a corn pone drawl that sounds like it would be more at home in "Blazing Saddles". Yet, for all it's flaws, I enjoyed the film because of its sincere attempt to bring to life an iconic American hero, no matter how outdated the concept might have seemed. There are also some very impressive action scenes and some incredible stunt work. Alas, it wasn't enough to save the movie from its disastrous fate. Hollywood is so devoid of new ideas that the concept was, of course, recently revived as the equally disastrous Johnny Depp version of the Lone Ranger. Can't we let the guy rest in peace?
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray boasts a decent transfer but there is a good deal of grain in some of the sequences. This could be the way the film looked on original release, as it was criticized in some quarters for its sometimes muddy cinematography, which was particularly surprising since director Fraker was one of the best cinematographers in the business. The Blu-ray cries out for a commentary by film historians who could discuss the movie's interesting back story, but alas, only a trailer is included.
There have been countless tributes to Frank Sinatra on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Here is some great footage of Sinatra recording Ervin Drake's superb and haunting "It Was a Very Good Year" in 1966 when Sinatra was arguably at the peak of his career.
is the third excellent release of a Harold Lloyd film by The Criterion
Collection and it’s a welcome addition to sit on the shelf along with the
previous two (Safety Last! and The Freshman). I mentioned in a review
of one of the previous releases how wonderful it was that Criterion was
re-issuing Lloyd’s catalog. Most of his work had been unavailable for many
years; I grew up with Chaplin and Keaton, of course, but with Lloyd, not so
much. It’s a pleasure to discover him in this way.
Speedy was Lloyd’s final
silent film, released in 1928. Although he usually made his pictures in
Hollywood, this time he wanted to shoot in New York City. Bruce Goldstein,
director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum, explains in an
interesting supplement, “In the Footsteps of Speedy,” that Lloyd took his leading lady Ann Christy and canine
co-star King Tut on the railroad across country to make the movie. Quite a bit
was shot there, but in the end, though, nearly half the picture was also made
on the streets of Los Angeles, doubling for New York—and the matching up is
sometimes not very convincing. Still, it’s revelatory to see New York as it was
in 1928—Times Square, Washington Square, Sheridan Square, Brooklyn and Coney
Island—it’s all here, exactly the way it was. The establishing shot for Manhattan
was that of the Woolworth Building, because at the time that was the tallest and
most famous structure! Fascinating stuff.
story concerns Pop Dillon’s horse-drawn streetcar, the last one of its kind in
the big city, the tracks of which the railroad baron wants to demolish to make
way for progress. Pop’s daughter Jane (Christy) is engaged to Harold “Speedy”
Swift (Lloyd), who takes it upon himself to make sure Pop’s livelihood isn’t
taken away or at least insure that he’s fairly compensated. Why Harold is
nicknamed “Speedy” is not really clear... he’s the usual “Glasses”
character—naive, enthusiastic, positive—who works at one job and then another,
happily trying to make ends meet so he can marry Jane.
of the movie is a sightseeing tour of New York—the Coney Island scenes are
especially enjoyable, since Speedy and Jane ride many of the classic attractions
that don’t exist anymore. King Tut, the stray dog who picks Speedy to be his
master, is adept at many tricks and serves as a terrific little sidekick.
biggest draw, though, at the time of the film’s release, was the appearance of
Babe Ruth in a minor role as himself. Speedy is a baseball enthusiast—a plot
point that never really amounts to much—and he has a chance to give the Babe a
ride in his taxi (Speedy’s current job). The Babe invites Speedy to see the
game at Yankee Stadium, where our hero is able to avoid the cops who are after
him for traffic tickets. Babe Ruth had already appeared in a couple of films,
in one as himself and in another, a work of fiction called Babe Comes Home, as a baseball player very much like himself. Speedy came at the right time—1928 was the second year in a row the
Yankees won the World Series.
Speedy is certainly good
fun, although for my money I think both Safety
Last! and The Freshman are better
pictures. There are plenty of chases and slapstick bits, but the “thrill”
stunts Lloyd is known for are not in this one. Here’s hoping Criterion
continues its releases of Harold Lloyd classics, especially Grandma’s Boy, Girl Shy, and The Kid Brother.
movie looks terrific in a new 4K digital restoration from elements preserved by
the UCLA Film & Television Archive; there’s a musical score by Carl Davis
from 1992, synchronized and restored and presented in uncompressed stereo (and
it sounds great!). A new audio commentary is by Goldstein (see above) and
Turner Classic Movies director of program production Scott McGee. In addition
to the Goldstein documentary mentioned earlier, there is a selection of rare
archival footage of Babe Ruth, presented by David Filipi, director of film and
video at the Wexner Center for the Arts. A new video essay featuring stills
from deleted scenes is narrated by Goldstein. There’s also a cute collection of
Harold Lloyd’s home movies, narrated by his granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, as
well as a newly restored Lloyd short from 1919—Bumping Into Broadway, with a 2004 score by Robert Israel. The
booklet contains an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.
must-buy for fans of silent comedy and for those who want to enrich their lives
with the genius of Harold Lloyd.
The conventions of the gangster movie are rigidly defined,
critic Robert Warshow observed in a famous 1948 essay. At heart is the character arc of the socially
deviant protagonist, whether Rico Bandello, Tony Montana, or Michael Corleone:
“a steady upward progress followed by a very precipitate fall.”
In Brian Helgeland’s excellent biopic “Legend” (2015), currently
playing in limited theatrical release, the twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray
(Tom Hardy, in a dual role) are already on the upward curve of Warshow’s
character arc in the 1960s London underworld as the film begins. “Reggie was a gangster prince of the East
End,” Reggie’s future wife Frances (Emily Browning) muses in voiceover. “Ronnie was a one-man mob.” In the first scene, the dapper Reggie
derisively brings tea to two rumpled detectives who are staking him out, the
senior of whom, Inspector Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), is determined to
bring him down. The mentally disturbed
Ronnie is behind bars, but a prison psychiatrist is intimidated into clearing
his early release. The doctor’s honest
assessment when Reggie comes to escort his brother home: “Your brother Ron is
violent and psychopathic, and I suspect he’s paranoid schizophrenic. To put it
simply, he’s off his fucking rocker.”
The Krays control the run-down East End and wage sporadic turf
battles with their rivals, the Richardson brothers’ “Torture Gang” in South
London. When the Richardsons are sent up
the river, the Krays’ extortion-based empire expands to swallow their
territory. Reggie opens a posh
nightclub, Esmeralda’s Barn, whose clientele of slumming celebrities impresses
sheltered teenager Frances on their first date: “Oh look, is that Joan
Collins?” she asks breathlessly. It
is. Reggie’s financial advisor Leslie
Payne (David Thewlis) tries to convince him to move into legitimate business,
but the big money from the rackets is a powerful inducement to remain on the
other side of the law, especially when the twins seal a trans-Atlantic
partnership with Meyer Lansky through a Mafia intermediary (Chazz
Palminteri). The homosexual Ronnie hosts
orgies that attract a varied following, including a politically powerful Peer,
Lord Boothby (John Sessions). Scotland
Yard begins to close in, but the vested establishment pulls strings all the way
up through the Prime Minister to protect Boothby from public scandal, and
Read’s superiors order him to curtail his investigation. Ronnie murders a rival mobster in a pub, and
Read thinks he’s finally got a case, but the key witness refuses to identify
Kray in a lineup for fear of her family’s safety.
Hardy’s performance is a remarkable, Academy Award-worthy
achievement. Part of the credit goes to
the superior facial prosthetics that transform Hardy into the thuggish,
bespectacled Ronnie, but even more credit goes to Hardy’s own talent and
physicality. The actor gives each
brother a distinctive posture, gait, and voice. The tricks used to put both characters on the screen simultaneously are
seamless, notably in a long fight scene where the twins slug each other to a
pulp with fists and champagne bottles. At the same time, with one actor in the dual roles, Hardy and Helgeland
underscore the fact that beneath the surface, both brothers are very much alike
in their propensity for violence. Reggie
is simply better able to control himself. This shared volatility becomes more apparent in the second part of the
movie, the downward curve of Warshow’s arc, as Reggie becomes increasingly
unhinged because of a personal tragedy. When he bloodily stabs an underling, Jack “the Hat” McVitie (Sam
Spruell), to death, the murder unravels the Krays’ enterprise. As the closing credits note, the brothers
were sent to prison in 1968. The
real-life Ronnie died in 1995, Reggie in 2000.
Cinema Retro fans are likely to get a charge out of the movie’s
1960s costumes and cars, the stream of oldie hits on the soundtrack (when’s the
last time you heard “Soulful Strut” or “The ‘In’ Crowd”?), and the scenes of
music divas Timi Yuro (Duffy) and Shirley Bassey (Samantha Pearl) performing at
Reggie’s club. Pearl doesn’t sing
“Goldfinger” in her cameo as Bassey, but there’s still a one-degree association
between “Legend” and 007 that should interest Bond fans: Helgeland’s script was
based on a 1973 biography of the Krays by John Pearson, who also wrote two
superlative books in the Bond canon, “The Life of Ian Fleming” and “James Bond:
The Authorized Biography.” The film’s
supporting performances are outstanding, with Thewlis and Spruell in particular
nearly giving Hardy a run for his money. The movie suggests a host of comparisons with other gangland classics,
including the British productions “The Criminal” (Joseph Losey, 1960) and “Get
Carter” (Mike Hodges, 1971), which bookended the actual Kray era; Martin
Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1989), from which Helgeland clearly draws inspiration;
and Helgeland’s own “Payback” (1999); in that film, Mel Gibson’s character
Porter and Gregg Henry’s manic Val seem like early foreshadowings of the
Reg/Ron duality. If “Legend” inspires
you to watch or re-watch those pictures, all the better.
If I have a quibble with the film, it’s with the title “Legend,”
which isn’t very evocative of a gangster saga. Worse, it poses the risk of confusion with a very different movie,
Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy-adventure with Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. “The Krays” might have better done as a
title, except that -- in fairness to Helgeland, I should point out -- it was
already taken as the title of a 1990 movie by Peter Medak, with Gary and Martin
Kemp as Ronnie and Reggie. The Medak
version filled out the details about the twins’ early lives more thoroughly than
Helgeland does, and it’s not a bad film itself, if not as riveting and stylish
as “Legend.” It’s currently streaming on
“The Gunfight at Dodge City” (1959), now out on a Kino
Lorber Blu-ray, tells the story of Bat Masterson during his time as sheriff in
the famed Kansas cattle town. It recounts how he was forced to leave Hays City
after a shooting incident with a Union Army sergeant and join up with his
brother Ed (Harry Lauter), the deputy marshal in Dodge. Ed doesn’t like being
deputy marshal much because the real authority in town belongs to Sheriff Jim
Regan (Don Haggerty), who runs the town the way he likes it, enjoying the
profits therefrom. He decides to run against him in the next election.
Ed has a fiancé, Pauline Howard (Julie Adams), the
starchy daughter of the town preacher. Bat takes an interest in his brother’s
fiancé, which she seems to encourage, mainly because nobody thinks she and Ed
will ever really get married. Bat also forms a business relationship with
another woman, Lily (Nancy Gates), the owner of the Lady Gay Saloon. He buys an
interest in the saloon, and becomes her partner, not noticing that she may have
more than business on her mind.
Another complication arises in the form of Dave Rudabaugh
(Richard Anderson) a gunfighter with a grudge against Bat. When Ed is killed,
Bat mistakenly believes it was Regan or his henchman (Tim Carey) who killed
him. He can’t prove it so instead of gunning him down he decides to take Ed’s place
and run against Regan in the election.
The rest of the story goes about resolving the
Masterson/Regan conflict and settling the romantic triangle situation. Bat also
learns who really killed his brother, although when told the killer’s identity
it hardly seems to matter to him anymore. And frankly long before you get to
the finish of this dull western, you’ll hardly care, either.
The story, only loosely based on some of the facts of
Masterson’s life, is all over the place, with no central focus to hold your
interest. McCrea, in his mid-fifties when he made this picture, seems to be phoning
it in. Joseph Newman’s direction is by-the-numbers, with little interest
generated in several scenes that should have crackled with tension. The script
by Martin Goldsmith and Daniel Ullman contains more fiction than fact and seems
more interested in the romantic aspect of the story more than anything else.
Julie Adams comes off the worst in “The Gunfight at Dodge City.” Having to play
an uptight preacher’s daughter, she comes off snobbish and brittle, a far cry
from the many radiant female characters she played during her long career.
Bat Masterson was one of the most interesting legends
of the Old West. Besides being a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a gunfighter and a
lawman, he was later in life a sports columnist for New York newspapers, a regular
Times Square celebrity, and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Too bad the filmmakers
didn’t try to add some of the real Masterson’s pizzazz to the dull character in
Kino Lorber did a first rate job transferring the
cinemascope print to Blu-ray. The presentation is flawless, with vibrant color
and good black level. The mono sound is crisp and clear. The only extras on
this release are preview trailers for other KL Studio Classic releases,
including Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West.” If you are a Joel McCrea fan you’ll
probably want to add this one to your collection, but if you’re looking for a
factual biopic of Bat Masterson or even just a good, entertaining western, look
Somehow I missed Norman Jewison’s Other People’s Money when it was released in 1991, but now courtesy
of the Warner Archive Collection, I was able to catch up with this minor but enjoyable film.
Based on Jerry Steiner’s play of the same name, with a
screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Other People’s Money is mostly notable as Gregory Peck’s last major
screen performance. Peck turns in one of his signature honorable roles as
Andrew Jorgensen, a successful but principled businessman who is ultimately more
invested in his employees and
maintaining integrity than in enlarging his company’s bottom line. That’s why
he and his wife Bea (Piper Laurie), along with manager Bill Coles (Dean Jones),
are determined to keep New England Wire and Cable out of the ruthless hands of
corporate raider Larry the Liquidator (Danny DeVito). Way out of their depth,
they call in a secret weapon, savvy New York lawyer Kate Sullivan (the
wonderful Penelope Ann Miller) to outwit and out-beguile Larry. As Bea’s
daughter, Kate has added incentive to stay a step ahead of her opponent and
keep the company intact.
Devito excels at creating despicable but lovable
characters and gets a rare lead role in this film. He plays Larry like he
stepped out of Guys and Dolls, only
this eccentric millionaire gambles with stock and shares rather than dice. The
love of Larry’s life is his computer system CARMEN which provides him with
potential corporate conquests, but the target of his lust is Kate. Despite
their contrasting physiques, DeVito and Miller exhibit an unexpected chemistry
and their sexually charged repartee really crackles. Unfortunately these more modern sequences
blend awkwardly with those set at the factory, making the other half of this
film feel overly dramatic and sentimental. Even so, it’s a treat to see Peck
deliver an impassioned speech to the company’s shareholders and to enjoy Piper
Laurie in a sympathetic role. I just wish their material had same thread of
humor and fun as that afforded to DeVito and Miller.
Norman Jewison’s lengthy filmography includes multiple
classics and a handful of stage to screen adaptations Fiddler on the Roof(1971), Jesus
Christ Superstar (1973) and Agnes of
God (1982). He’s mastered every genre but the disparate tones in this film
never quite gel in a completely satisfying way. Jewison’s expert skill is still
evident, however, in the polished style and the accomplished performances, thus
making Other People’s
Money a slight but worthwhile film. The only bonus material on this
Warner Archive disc is the theatrical
trailer, but the feature transfer looks slick and for this out of print film.
By 1987, Burt Reynolds was largely regarded as being past his sell date as a leading man in theatrical films. Some of his decline in popularity was self-imposed. Reynolds had continued to knock out cornpone comedies long after they had run out of steam. His other problem was due to the fact that he had been seriously injured on the set of "City Heat" due to a mis-timed stunt that left him in serious shape and resulted in a long hospital stay. During this time, terrible rumors spread widely that implied he had contracted AIDS. By the time Reynolds recovered, the damage to his career had been done. Although he would continue to star in films for major studios, their boxoffice take was generally mediocre at best. Reynolds would eventually gravitate to television where he starred in a hit sitcom, "Evening Shade". One of his attempted comeback vehicles was the 1987 crime thriller "Malone" in which Reynolds eschewed his image as a towel-snapping wiseguy and returned to his roots to play a mysterious man of action. The film opens with the titular character, played by Reynolds, refusing to carry out an assassination for the CIA. Malone has been one of their most reliable covert killers but he's ashamed of his profession and decides to give it up for a quiet, normal life. He knows that one doesn't just walk out on the CIA so he uproots his life and packs all his belongings in his weather-beaten car and heads off to remote areas of the Northwest. While enjoying his lifestyle as a drifter, his car breaks down and he manages to get it to a one-horse town where the local garage owner, a partially disabled widower, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) informs him he has to order a special part for the vehicle. The two men make friendly chatter and Barlow offers to allow Malone to stay at his house until the car can be repaired. Also on the premises is Barlow's teenage daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who immediately takes a fancy to the mysterious stranger who has entered her otherwise mundane existence. During his stay, the tight-lipped Malone observes that Barlow and some other town residents are being bullied and intimidated by employees of a local land baron named Delaney (Cliff Robertson), who- for reasons unknown- is trying to force certain locals to sell him their land. Failure to do so results in inevitable harassment. When Malone comes to Barlow's aid and humiliates some of Delaney's goons, Delaney meets with him and tries to bribe him to work for him. Seems that anyone of influence in the town is on Delaney's payroll, including the local sheriff (Kenneth McMillan). Malone refuses the offer and Delaney turns to bringing in professional assassins to murder him. Adding to Malone's woes is the fact that a former CIA colleague, Jamie (Lauren Hutton) has tracked him down and has orders to kill him, as well. Jamie, however, warns Malone of her mission and the two decide that "Make love, not war" should be their mantra. As Delaney increases the pressure, Malone decides to go mano a mano with him. He sneaks into Delaney's heavily-guarded compound and discovers a massive arsenal being stockpiled there. Turns out that Delaney is the leader of an extremist right wing fringe group with ties to sympathetic elected officials in Washington, D.C. He intends to imminently launch a violent uprising in the hopes that it spreads nationally and takes down the government.
There isn't a single original thought in "Malone". The film is a modern day remake of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", which had been released two years before. Eastwood's film, in turn, was a virtual remake of George Stevens' "Shane". The stories all share some common themes: a family is being harassed by a local rich guy who has nefarious purposes. A mysterious stranger comes to their aid and, in the process, is idolized by a young member of the family. In the climax of all three stories, the stranger finds himself having to put his life on the line to rid the locals of the menacing figure who is making their lives miserable. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Malone". Under the competent direction of Harley Cokeless, the story moves at a brisk pace and there is plenty of time to explore the backgrounds of the key characters. Reynolds still had enough macho mojo to pull off roles like this and it's great seeing him play a serious role once again. As a man of few words, he excels not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the film's explosive conclusion, which borrows much from another (then) contemporary hit, "Witness" as we watch Malone on Delaney's farm systematically eliminate the bad guys. Reynolds gets some fine support from Cliff Robertson (in the kind of superficially charming role usually played by Robert Vaughn), Kenneth McMillan and Scott Wilson. Lauren Hutton's brief appearance is a highlight of the film, as she and Malone intersperse romantic interludes with suspicions about each other's motives. (Malone willingly beds her but is afraid to digest any drinks she prepares out of fear she will poison him.) The biggest revelation is the performance of Cynthia Gibb, who displays considerable charm as the young girl who is starstruck by Malone. (The script thankfully keeps the relationship chaste.) "Malone", filmed in and around Vancouver (the usual tax-friendly doppleganger for American locations), is a good old-fashioned action flick. In today's era of over-produced, over-budgeted CGI-laden monstrosities, it's simplicity, predictability and unpretentious story line are assets. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the trailer as well as trailers for other Burt Reynolds releases available through the company.
In the perception of most people Paul Newman was a legendary actor who had a hobby of racing cars. However, Newman considered himself primarily a professional race car driver with an interest in making movies. The new documentary "Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman", directed by race car enthusiasts Adam Corolla and Nate Adams, explores Newman's passion for the sport in great detail through the utilization of interesting archival footage and new interviews with some of Newman's friends and colleagues. The result is a highly impressive film that takes a quirky look at a quirky man. "Quirky" is the word because Newman- along with Brando, perhaps- was the most reluctant of Hollywood superstars. He disdained the party and publicity circuit and preferred to live quietly with his wife Joanne Woodward and his family in Connecticut, a place he felt sufficiently removed from the movie industry. Newman would make the occasional TV appearance to publicize a new movie, but he was far more passionate about participating in causes that he nothing to do with show business. He was an unabashed liberal in an era where liberals proudly wore that label. His backing of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential race so infuriated Richard Nixon that he put Newman on his infamous "enemies list". When this was divulged years later, Newman called it one of the great honors of his life. Newman also gave generously to charitable causes and would come out of hibernation for fund-raising on behalf of the downtrodden. In all his years in the spotlight, he was never linked to scandal and, despite being one of the world's most famous sex symbols, was never linked to another woman. There was room in Newman's life for yet another passion, however, and it turned out to be race car driving. As Robert Wagner, who co-starred in the 1969 racing film "Winning" with Newman, explains in the documentary, the actor had no real interest in the sport until the film went into production. A new era of filmmaking had arrived and audiences would no longer tolerate the notorious rear screen projection techniques employed in the past. For "Winning", the actors were expected to drive their own race cars with cameras mounted on them to capture the feel of realism. Wagner admits he was intimidated by the process. He and Newman had to undergo extensive training in one of the world's most prestigious racing schools. When filming was done, Wagner said goodbye to the dangerous sport but Newman was hooked.
The film features interviews with many of Newman's racing car colleagues including the legendary Mario Andretti and his son Michael, along with Willy T. Ribbs, who emotionally credits Newman with opening the doors that made it possible for him to be champion driver. It's pointed out that when Newman started racing, he was greeted with cynicism by the pros, who thought it was just a vanity past time for a major movie star. But Newman quickly won their respect by starting at the bottom and painstakingly learning the craft. He had his share of accidents and missteps but never blamed anyone but himself. Before long, Newman was regarded as an esteemed colleague by the inner circle of drivers. Over the years, he honed his skills and won many trophies on his own merits. What impressed his fellow racers most was Newman's modesty. Even after winning a triumphant victory, he would credit his team for their professionalism and make it apparent he considered the victory to be a group achievement. He also fulfilled a dream of racing at Le Mans, where the only reason he didn't win was due to a tire problem that cost him time in the pit stop and forced him to come in second. The film shows ample archival footage of Newman at Le Mans. He loved the race, but loathed the fanfare. In America, Newman's audience for races largely consisted of serious fans of the sport, not stargazers. At Le Mans, he was subjected to a tidal wave of paparazzi who never gave him a moment of peace. Newman wanted to be respected for his racing skills, not for his film work. Consequently, he never returned to Le Mans.
Newman with his friend and co-star Robert Vaughn in the 1974 blockbuster The Towering Inferno. Despite his legendary status as a film star, Newman preferred to be known primarily as a race car driver.
"Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman" is a consistently interesting examination of a man who was known by countless millions of movie goers, but who largely succeeded in keeping his personal life out of the news. The film is understandably light on his movie career, though some short clips of key career achievements are shown. There are also interviews with Robert Redford, who talks about the personal side of Newman and their long friendship. Redford says he still remains grateful for Newman insisting that he play the Sundance Kid despite the fact that they barely knew each other. The role catapulted Redford to superstardom. He also discusses the elaborate practical jokes they would pull on each other, often at great expense. Neither man would give the other the satisfaction of acknowledging he was the victim of a prank. Newman's brother Arthur speaks emotionally about his close relationship with his brother and states the obvious, that movie studios loathed Paul's obsession with racing- and for good reason. Had he been seriously injured, it could have jeopardized major film projects. Conspicuously missing from the production is Newman's widow Joanne Woodward, though she is seen in archival footage from many years ago expressing her trepidation about his racing and her concerns that he might give up acting to pursue racing as a vocation. Nevertheless, she was generally on hand to cheer him on. The only other celebrity interview featured is that of Jay Leno, himself a well-known classic car buff. He describes having Newman on The Tonight Show when the actor was pushing 80. In a highly amusing clip of the segment, Leno induces Newman into a go-cart race around the cavernous hallways of NBC Studios- a race that Newman wins handily. Leno describes his respect for the man and his low-key, charming nature.
The documentary is consistently informative and entertaining. The film covers Newman introducing Tom Cruise to racing after they had starred in The Color of Money in 1987. Cruise enjoyed his brief flirtation with the sport but lacked Newman's discipline and patience. It also delves into Newman's well-known charitable work. Newman's hobby of making home made salad dressing resulted in it being marketed professionally. He only reluctantly agreed to have funky depictions of his face on the packaging in order to spur sales, but insisted that all the profits go to establish the Hole-in-the-Wall camps for seriously ill children. To date, the Newman's Own food line has donated close to half a billion dollars to this cause.
What emerges from "Winning" is the fact that Newman was an enigma: a shy superstar and humanitarian. The kind of class act that rarely comes along today.
Bonus extras include extended, uncut versions of many of the key interviews, a trailer and a short segment in which co-director Adam Corolla painstakingly restores one of Newman's favorite race car to make it operational again.
The documentary is a unique look at a Hollywood legend - and you don't have to be a racing buff to enjoy the amazing footage of Newman behind the wheel.
Two years after Kino Lorber Studio Classics issued their
Blu-Ray of the continental version of Mario Bava’s horror anthology BLACK
SABBATH, the boutique label has now chosen to release the film’s U.S. cousin in
the same format. Originally released in
Italy in August 1963 as “I tre volti della paura" (“The Three Faces of
Fear”), BLACK SABBATH was issued in the U.S. the following spring under the
American-International banner. The film
is often invoked as Bava’s personal favorite among his many directorial
efforts. The Eastmancolor-shot film is
certainly one of his best; though, truth
be told, I personally find the monochrome, atmospheric and gripping witches
tale, BLACK SUNDAY (1960), to be his true high-water mark.
There is, of course, an interesting back-story to this
U.S. issue. American International infamously
tinkered with the original continental cut of the film. These changes have long
been a subject of angst and scorn amongst horror film fans and scholars; their
main complaint is that A.I.P.’s interference wrecked what was previously a perfectly-wrought
and taut trilogy. Their re-sequencing of
episodes and their trimming of a few frames of shocking but gratuitous gore, both
unwelcome and disparaged, would ultimately be the least of concerns.
The greatest outrage was reserved for the studio’s controversial
re-editing of one particular episode, “The Telephone.” In a clumsy effort to protect American
audiences from any contemplation of perceived sordid behavior exhibited
on-screen in the European version, this segment was re-edited in such manner as
to totally remove any suggestion of vengeful lesbian-culpability as a motive in
the ensuing terror. It was, without
doubt, a calculated business - rather than creative - decision to placate the
moralists at home, but it also inarguably subverted the intent and arc of the original
Having said this, I must admit that I’ve always been fond
of this often pilloried A.I.P. cut. Not
only was it the version to which I was first introduced - through repetitive telecasts
on Saturday night’s Chiller Theater on
New York’s WPIX - but this English-language version, far more importantly,
features the genuine ominous and sepulchral tones of the great Boris Karloff.
There’s no reason to note here the many small and large
differences between Bava’s original Italian and the subsequent A.I.P. version of
the film. The changes are all exhaustively
and expertly attenuated on the colorful commentary track courtesy of Tim Lucas,
editor of the popular cult-film magazine Video
Watchdog. Lucas is undeniably well
suited for the task: he’s the
acknowledged foremost Bava scholar and author of the thousand plus page
labor-of-love tome “Mario Bava: All The
Colors of the Dark.”
It also must be said that the studio’s meddling paid
off: BLACK SABBATH did very well for
A.I.P. It opened in neighborhood
theaters and drive-ins across the U.S. in late May of 1964, the top-bill of a
pairing with another 1963 Bava Italian import, EVIL EYE (aka THE GIRL WHO KNEW
TOO MUCH). It was still doing the
circuit in October 1964, now paired with Herschell Gordon Lewis’s splatter-fest
BLOOD FEAST (1963). One year following
its U.S. release, the film was still being programmed as dependable late night
drive-in fare, but now reduced to bottom-bill status to director William
Conrad’s exploitation-shocker TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965).
Cineastes can – and most certainly have – argued the
merits and failings of A.I.P.’s re-sequencing of the trilogy, but the A.I.P.
cut inarguably starts things off with a chill. The haunting and nightmarish “A Drop of Water,” possibly the most
celebrated segment of the trilogy, had climactically closed the earlier continental
version of the film. Reportedly based on
a tale by Anton Chekov, this entry concerns the eerie retribution suffered by
nursemaid Helen Chester (Jacqueline Soussard) following her theft of an amethyst
ring from the corpse of an elderly female patient. The newly departed victim would, only
temporarily, lose possession of the precious stone to her scheming health-care
The twist is that the dead woman was a spiritualist, a
medium with a life-long interest in the black arts. Having some inkling of her client’s interest
in the supernatural, it almost goes without saying the nursemaid should have…
well, known better. The grotesque
corpse of the withered and deceased sorceress – whose dead eyes refuse to stay
closed, no matter how much they’re prompted - should have been warning enough. The décor of the old woman’s home is, as one
might expect, as ominous and brooding as her lifeless body that rests in the
master bedroom. It’s a sullen and dank residence
with heavy draperies, dreary interior hallways, and an assortment of gloomy
toy-dolls strewn haphazardly about the house without explanation. The old woman appears to have retained a
housekeeper to look after her home, but the general disarray that surrounds her
death-bed clearly demonstrates she was not getting the service she’s paid for.
There is a scarcity of dialogue in all three episodes
of BLACK SABBATH; there’s just enough verbiage to propel each storyline
forward. The moments best remembered throughout
are almost entirely visual. Bava was a
stylist of the highest-order (he was a painter prior to working as a
cinematographer), and this film is an amalgam of assortment of haunting images. The corpse-figure of the late medium is so
plainly a mannequin that a more sophisticated modern audience might laugh at the
director’s intended deception. The
problem is the twisted face of the mannequin-corpse is truly the stuff of which
nightmares are made; the molded face with its crazed eyes provides an
undeniably creepy and iconic horror-film visage, one not soon forgotten.
As previously mentioned, the most radical and
controversial re-edits are found in the second segment of BLACK SABBATH, “The
Telephone.” The A.I.P. re-edit of this
episode, more giallo than horror, has
been almost completely shorn of an important red-herring sub-plot. Through their removal of any suggestion of
sexual deviancy, as it is, this capitulation to perceived American moral-sensibilities
of the era inarguably alters and dilutes the sense of mystery that Bava had so masterfully
conjured in the original cut.
In “The Telephone,” the comely Rosy (Michele Mercier)
is terrified by a series of telephone calls that are seemingly coming in from the
disconnected voice of a dead lover. The
mysterious caller is acutely aware of every movement the terrified woman makes
as she moves about her lush apartment - this despite the fact that her windows
are shuttered and blinds drawn. It’s not
explained with satisfaction why Rosy doesn’t simply call the police right away. There is a passing mention she suspects this
voice from beyond the grave is stalking her due to a betrayal: she, apparently,
earlier had turned her lover into the authorities, though it’s never specified
for what crime. Rosy does eventually alert
a seemingly sympathetic friend (Lidia Alfonsi) to the threatening intrusions, but
there is an unambiguous suggestion this called-upon-ally was a former lover who
may or may not have a vengeful agenda of her own.
Boris Karloff’s moniker was the only one in 1964 that would
have carried any marquee import to an American audience. In BLACK SABBATH,” the seventy-six year old
actor not only stars but also serves as a macabre master of ceremonies of sorts;
he bridges the three disparate episodes with his trademark sinister
intonations. He is also, fittingly, the
uncontested star of the film’s third and final (and anglicized) title, “The
Wurdalak.” This episode is a most gripping
and atmospheric entry, an imaginative and mostly original re-working of Aleksey Konstantinovich
Tolstoy’s 1839 short-story, “La Famille du Vourdalak.”
As the menacing Gorca, Boris Karloff, the long-reigning
king of the horror film, plays – for the very first time in his lengthy and celebrated
career, a genuine vampire. Karloff,
of course, had played an assortment of ghoulish roles dating back to the
silent-era. He was, at any given time,
the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Fu Manchu, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… even detective
Dick Tracy’s fabled nemesis Gruesome. Throughout a half-century plus of celluloid villainy, the off-screen
gentlemanly Karloff was cast almost exclusively as a heavy: he was the maddest
of mad scientists, the most ruthless of gangsters, and the most black-hearted
He plays to type here as well, though there is an
interesting twist to this Eastern European brand of vampirism. Though a vampire by any and all definition of
the word, a Wurdalak, we discover, feasts not on the blood of convenient strangers
but on the sanguine cells and platelets of his very own loved ones. This uncomfortable level of intimacy between the
vampire and his victim is used by Bava to great effect. There is one remarkably creepy moment when,
as his distraught son and daughter-in-law look on in understandable dread, the gaunt
and swollen-red-eyed Karloff chillingly embraces his barely post-toddler grandson
with the most evil of intent.
With apologies to goalie-masked Jason of the Friday the
13th series, this is the stuff of true horror. Kino offers the film in a 1:85:1 ratio, and
includes the aforementioned Tim Lucas commentary track as well as the original
theatrical trailer. Fans of Bava and
Euro-horror might be best served by sticking with the original continental cut of
BLACK SABBATH (available on Kino Classics K1162), but Boris Karloff fans will
need this version for their personal collections. It’s essential.
On December 5 and 6 the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performed live orchestral accompaniment to the popular 1990 holiday film "Home Alone" at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts in Newark and the State Theatre in New Brunswick on respective days. There is a very definite trend by major international orchestras to incorporate cinema in special performances such as these. It's a trend we at Cinema Retro obviously welcome. Not only do these shows allow audiences to relish the thrill of hearing a live orchestra but it also exposes many people to the merits of worthy movies that they may not have been familiar with. We attended this afternoon's performance at the State Theatre. It was preceded by the NJSO's welcome practice of encouraging audience members to show up an hour early for a sing-a-long session that is held in the second floor lobby area. Here, pianist Rob Keiser hosted some rousing renditions of traditional Christmas carols. When the orchestra, under the direction of Constantine Kitsopoulos, took the stage and began to play in synch with the film, there was tremendous applause upon hearing the NJSO's rendition of the legendary 20th Century Fox fanfare that accompanies the studio's logo. The performance was flawless and made one fantasize about what it must have been like to be in the original recording sessions. "Home Alone" might seem a rather bizarre choice for a live accompaniment. However, composer John Williams' score is delightful throughout and the final credits feature traditional Christmas standards that gave the NJSO an opportunity to end the concert on a truly uplifting note. The film itself was shown as a digital restoration with a built-in intermission. I had not seen "Home Alone" since it originally opened in 1990 and I was impressed at how well its attributes have withstood the test of time. Younger members of the audience still howl in laughter at the antics of Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, the latter two as the inept house-breakers who get more than they bargained for from a precocious 8 year-old.
For more about the NJSO and a listing of future events, click here.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit up front
that Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s character, Remo Williams (aka “The
Destroyer”) has played a small, but significant role in my life.
My older sister had been a high-school friend of one of
the author’s daughters. Though the
passing of time has made the chronology of events a bit hazy, I’m guessing it was
through that friendship that I was first introduced to Warren Murphy’s teenage
son. It was the son who – upon learning
I was a big fan of his father’s pulp-paperback novels – graciously gifted me a personally
autographed copy of The Destroyer #3:
Chinese Puzzle (1972). This now-tattered
paperback proudly sits on my book shelf to this very day. This, I guess, would have been about 1978. I was seventeen years old. I’m fifty-four now and admit I hadn’t much thought
about the Destroyer series for several decades.
Novelist and screenwriter Warren Murphy (The Eiger Sanction, Lethal Weapon 2) died
this past September at age 81. It was
only by chance that I happened to learn of his passing through a small obituary
in The New York Times. That night, with the warm nostalgia of the
Destroyer novels temporarily in mind, I did an internet search and discovered
that the series had spiraled from the dozen or so books of which I was familiar
to upward of 150 titles. Murphy apparently
bowed out following the publication of “Line of Succession” (Destroyer #73) in
1988. That book was also the last to
feature a shared credit with co-creator Richard Sapir who had passed away – too
young, at age 50 - the previous year. It
would be a tangled mess to figure out exactly who wrote what. Like the songwriting team of Lennon and
McCartney, the two had agreed to share credit even when the novels were product
of a single writer’s efforts. The
majority of the Destroyer books from 1988 to present have largely been written
by a series of ghostwriters.
If you weren’t around in the early 1970s, you might not
appreciate this golden-age of the paperback super-secret-agent. With their glossy and colorful cover-art depictions
of evil super-criminals, fiery explosions, wild gun play, grenades and other scenes
of mayhem, this was real-man literature at its finest. Though written in 1963, the first Remo
Williams’ novel “Created, the Destroyer” had languished in a cabinet until its belated
publication in 1971. Truth be told, the
novel might not have seen the light-of-day had it not been for the phenomenal
success of the Pinnacle Books series The
Don Pendleton’s anti-hero Mack Bolan (the
aforementioned Executioner), was an
angry Vietnam veteran at war with the Mafia and other unsavory hooligans
worldwide. The series was wildly popular. By early 1973 it was estimated that The Executioner series had sold some eight-million
copies in the U.S. Soon best-seller
lists, railroad and bus station book kiosks and the revolving paperback racks
in every drug store across America were crammed with titles featuring a new
army of pistol-to-the-cheek anti-heroes. A New York Times article from
March of 1974 identified a number of these pretenders to Mack Bolan’s blood-splattered
throne; there was The Destroyer, The
Butcher, The Death Merchant, The Assassin, The Marksman, The Inquisitor, the
Head Hunter,The Avenger, The Revenger, The Penetrator, and The Baroness. Even that exhaustive list somehow missed acknowledging
the long-running and popular Nick Carter
- Killmaster series and Ernest Tidyman’s John Shaft titles.
Derided as a low-culture phenomenon by literary
critics, these assembly-line novels – filled cover to cover with gratuitous sex
and wanton violence - were undeniably slim and not always well-written; they
were considered the trashy offspring of the time-tested puzzling mystery
novel. The critical backlash was
inevitable and there were periodic sessions of hair-pulling amongst reviewers on
how the publishing industry had arrived at this inglorious moment. Where was blame to be assigned? Some thought the nightly splashed-on-TV-screen
violence of the Vietnam-era had made readers malleable to such literary mayhem. Some blamed the often nonsensical episodic
action-adventure motifs of Ian Fleming’s James Bond as a primary culprit. Others with a better sense of history traced
the disintegration of the traditional mystery novel to Mickey Spillane’s crass
and violent, “I, the Jury” (1947).
The preceding remembrance has been my long-winded way
to say that I was really looking forward to the Kino Lorber Studio Classics DVD
reissue of Remo Williams: The Adventure
Begins (1985). Not only do I hold
warm memories of the Destroyer series, but as a stone-cold James Bond fan, I
was enthused to finally catch this dimly remembered action-flick. Remo
Williams was helmed by Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger,
Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) from a script by Christopher Wood (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). Hamilton’s and Wood’s James Bond has always
been the more tongue-in-cheek one, and I expected the filmmakers would adhere
to the best traditions of their tried-and-true playbook.
This isn’t a spy-film… or, rather, it is… of
sorts. The film tends to be an uneasy amalgam
of many genres. Remo Williams is
part-super spy, part super-hero, and part martial-arts master. Conversely, the grim sequence that opens the
film is staged as a throwback to the gritty, New York City “mean streets”
police-dramas of the early 1970s. Following a brutal tangle with a trio of street-thugs on the darkened Brooklyn
waterfront, we’re first introduced to our reluctant anti-hero (Fred Ward) when
his unconscious body is dispassionately pushed into the East River. The bruised and beaten policeman is – intriguingly-
rescued from drowning by a pair of mysterious scuba-divers replete with
underwater flashlights. It’s all been a
set-up. The divers have apparently been waiting on his violent submersion.
The policeman awakes on a hospital gurney following an
indeterminate passage of time, but no longer recognizes his own mirrored reflection. He had been submissively drugged and made to endure
a series of non-sanctioned plastic surgeries. The roguish policeman is, not unexpectedly, both confused and angry. Things become clearer when he is introduced
to intelligence operatives Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) and Harold Smith
(Wilfred Brimley). He learns from these two
serious men that he has been selected to serve a top-secret organization, CURE,
which – he’s reminded - doesn’t actually exist for all intent and purposes.
doesn’t exist. Police officer Samuel
Edward Makin, his former self, is now dead and buried. He has been reborn as a mystery man with no
record of ever having existed. He has
been given a new name for the sake of convenience, Remo Williams, and is told that
he’s been chosen to act as a sanctioned assassin since “Our cops are corrupt,
our judges are bought, and our politicians are for sale. Everywhere you look, slime is on the loose.” MacCleary invokes a heretofore little known
“eleventh commandment:” “Thou shall not
get away with it.” It must be said that
this brand of rough justice, no matter how well-intentioned, sounds a bit
fascistic and not very American-like. His
first target, it is explained, is George S. Grove (Charles Cioffi), a shady
multi-millionaire who is ostensibly developing a weapons system for Ronald
Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. CURE has
reason to suspect Grove’s patriotism and wants Williams to eliminate the shady
This non-Constitutional method of offing corrupt
officials and contractors from government posts is entirely intentional. Murphy and Sapir both worked as city-desk editor-reporters
for such Jersey City based dailies as the Hudson
Dispatch and the Jersey Journal. Murphy also served as the beleaguered press
secretary to disgraced Jersey City Mayor Thomas J. Whelan. Whelan was one of the infamous “Hudson County
Eight,” an octet of elected official and cronies prosecuted by New Jersey’s Attorney
General on extortion and conspiracy charges. Murphy would later tell one interviewer that he only turned to writing-fiction
“when everybody I worked for in Jersey City politics went to jail.”
More than a decade following publication of the first Destroyer novel, actor Fred Ward was
tapped by filmmakers to play the rogue CURE assassin Remo Williams. Though he bore little resemblance to the handsome
slim-face agent featured on the paperback covers of the Destroyer series, Ward’s
stoicism, rugged features and twice-broken nose gave him a Charles Bronson-like
macho presence. The film’s oddest bit
of casting was that of Joel Grey, the esteemed Broadway actor and dancer, as
Chiun, a wizened Korean of indeterminate age. The Korean nationalist is a devoted practitioner of the totally fictitious
combat discipline of Sinanju, which
he touts as the most supreme of all martial-arts forms. Sinanju
is something of a religion to Chiun. Which is why, I suppose, no one is terribly surprised to see this inscrutable
master literally walk on water near the film’s climax.
It was reported that the fifty-two year-old Grey wasn’t
originally interested in the role. I first
assumed the actor’s reluctance to play an elderly Korean was simply a matter of
aesthetics. Having seen the movie, I now
suspect the actor’s initial reluctance was the result of his reading the
script. Christopher Wood’s screenplay does
little to present Chiun as anything more than a tired cliché: he’s merely one more in a long-line of
mysterious and inscrutable wise-men from the East. In testament to his gift as an actor, Grey
nearly manages to pull off the charade. Thanks
to the amazing work of Academy Award nominated make-up artist Carl Fullerton,
Grey is convincingly re-cast in his appearance.
The master and unwitting student first cross paths in a
basement apartment. Unaware that Chiun
is on the CURE team, the initial meeting between the Sa Bum Nim (“Master Instructor”) and his reluctant protégé soon
turns violent. In the course of the played-for-laughs
dust-up that follows, we learn that Chiun has achieved such mastery of Sinanju that he has developed his
reflexes to the point he can outmaneuver a bullet fired at close range. This skill, of course, will later come in
In the interest of more dramatically documenting Remo’s
conversion from slothful beat-cop to athletic super-agent, we’re made to
witness the transformation in something resembling real-time. The better part of the movie’s first hour is
wasted on only mildly amusing vignettes of Remo’s schooling in Sinanju practices. He’s taught to walk stealthily on the ledges
of high-rise buildings, to hang by his fingertips from Coney Island’s famed Wonder
Wheel, and to participate in any number of challenges that seem a template for television’s
Ninja Warrior obstacle-course series. Sadly, such turgid pacing is what,
eventually, dooms the film’s already lagging narrative. There’s very little sense of urgency
throughout the movie’s two-hour-long running time, no ticking time-bomb to engender
suspense. The tracking down of nefarious
industrialist George Groves is reduced to nothing more than a convenient and disposable
sub-plot. There’s also a cinematically opportunistic
but non-starting romance between Remo and smitten U.S. Army Major Rayner
Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) that – like so much in this film - amounts to little in
I’ve never known quite what to make of Carlo Lizzani’s
‘Requiescant’ (1967), the director’s second and last foray into spaghetti
westerns. I saw it before I had the chance to view his first western, ‘The
Hills Run Red’ (1966) and had high hopes for the film – based on the fact that
it was screened in September 1993 on BBC2 in the season of ‘Moviedrome’ cult
films and it came highly recommended by Alex Cox. I’m a big fan of Lizzani’s ‘The
Hills Run Red’. I don’t know why, but from the moment I saw it, I loved it. Ennio
Morricone’s music helps, as does the great cast, including grandstanding Henry
Silva, beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, leathery old Dan Duryea and massively
underrated Thomas Hunter. I know I am largely alone in my assessment and
enthusiasm, but for those who make lists, I deem it Top-20 spaghetti western material.
Following on from ‘Day of Anger’ and ‘Cemetery Without
Crosses’, Lizzani’s ‘Requiescant’ is Arrow Films’ third spaghetti western release
on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s also known by the titles ‘Kill and Pray’ and ‘Let Them
Rest’. First off, it feels much more like an ‘Italian’ film than most spaghetti
westerns, mainly due to an absence of Spanish supporting players and exclusively
Italian location filming in Lazio (rather than Spain’s Madrid or Andalusia
provinces). And the presence of legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of
the most recognised and recognisable faces in Italian, indeed world cinema, is simply
distracting when he pops up as Don Juan, a pistol packing priest with a social
conscience. Like the ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Henry Fonda!’ casting coup moment from
Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, this is ‘OMG, it’s PPP!’
An Italian-West German co-production, ‘Requiescant’
stars Lou Castel (who played the young assassin in ‘A Bullet for the General’)
as a Mexican boy who is the only survivor of a massacre of Mexican peons at
Fort Hernandez. The perpetrator was San Antonio landowner George Bellow
Ferguson (a demonic Mark Damon, cast against type), who with his cadre of
gunmen has stolen their borderlands with bogus treaties. The boy is found
wandering in the desert and is adopted by travelling priest Father Jeremy and
his family, but when he grows to adulthood, he abandons the ways of the Lord.
He discovers his true vocation when he inadvertently foils a stagecoach hold-up
and finds he is naturally gifted with a six-gun. His proficiency leads to him
becoming something of a hero to the local Mexican population, who call him
Requiescant, as in ‘rest in peace’ in Latin, due to his ritual of reading a
prayer over his victims’ corpses. Requiescant’s step-sister Princy (Barbara
Frey) runs away to become a showgirl, but ends up in forced prostitution in a
seedy San Antonio saloon/bordello run by Ferguson’s henchman Dean Light (Carlo
Palmucci), which in classic spaghetti western tradition sets Requiescant
against the murderer of his real parents.
The film’s tone veers from tragedy to comedy, and
Castel makes an offbeat hero, even for spaghetti westerns. At some moments he plays
the film as a spoof, as when he encourages his horse to speed up by using a
frying pan to hit its rump and in his tactic of mounting a horse, first by climbing
onto a hitching rail then into the saddle. In complete contrast to Clint
Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Requiescant is something of a bumbler, with his
holster slung on a piece of rope, but no one can argue with his accuracy with a
pistol. There are some totally strange moments in the film also, as when
Requiescant hides out at Fort Hernandez and discovers the bleached-out
skeletons of the Mexican victims of Ferguson’s massacre scattered behind the
palisade – it is these corpses from the past that must also ‘Rest in Peace’,
but only when their murders have been avenged. In another noteworthy scene, Requiescant
faces Dean Light in a pistol duel, with both participants standing on stools
with their heads in nooses (as Tuco the Ugly tried to execute Blondie the Good)
which is timed by the midnight strike of a clock. At one point Princy is forced
to swallow a drug that makes her hallucinate and much is made of the simple
rural characters’ naivety against the savvy, capitalist businessmen.
For its lack of authentic spaghetti western atmosphere,
‘Requiescant’ is a definite curio for a number or reasons. It’s more realistic
than many spaghetti westerns. Here the poor Mexican revolutionaries collect
Requiescant’s victims valuable weapons, rather than leaving them lying around
with the corpses, as Clint’s Man With No Name does in the ‘Dollars’ films. What
makes the film of real interest is its unusual cast. Mark Damon is a cloaked
villain from the cobwebs of Italian gothic horror, a relic of the Old South,
like Joseph Cotton’s delusional patriarchs in ‘The Tramplers’ (1965) and ‘The
Hellbenders’ (1966). All-powerful and sadistic, he keeps his wife Edith
(Mirella Maravidi) in a padded cell and later, after she has helped Requiescant
escape, he garrottes her. He also uses his Mexican servant (Luisa Baratto) as a
live target – she holds a candelabra aloft – in his wine cellar shooting
gallery. Ferguson’s views are typical Reconstruction Era rants: slaves were
‘looked after’ by their Southern masters, while the north exploited them with a
minimum wage, and the Mexican farmers ‘don’t deserve’ to own land.
‘Requiescant’ ends with a tableau (of the revolutionaries riding away to their
next battle, while others till the land) that could have appeared in any socio-political
agrarian Italian film and resembles rural neorealism. Here the western setting is
simply a vehicle for the discussion of wider issues. This is a far cry from
‘The Hill’s Run Red’, a Dino De Laurentiis production released internationally
by United Artists and a much more straightforward (and commercially successful)
revenge film. Lizzani directed ‘Hills’ as a favour to De Laurentiis, but used
the pseudonym ‘Lee W. Beaver’. ‘Requiescant’ is obviously a much more personal
project for Lizzani, who made a series of highly political films. Along with
the appearance of director Pasolini in ‘Requiescant’, Pasolini’s regular actors
Franco Citti and Ninetto Davoli appeared: the former as two-fingered badman
Burt (who is particularly fond of his blond toy doll) and the latter as Niño, a
Mexican trumpeter. Their presence – a distinctly Italian presence – creates a
rather strange atmosphere which might be termed ‘Prairie Pasolini’.
Acclaimed character actor Robert Loggia has passed away at age 85. Loggia was a familiar face to TV viewers throughout the decades and starred in the short-lived 1960s crime caper series T.H.E. Cat, playing the titular character. In the ensuing years, Loggia became one of the most sought-after actors for high profile supporting roles in feature films. His major credits include "Big" in which he memorably performs a dance routine with a rejuvenated Tom Hanks in the F.A.O Schwarz toy store in Manhattan; "Jagged Edge" for which he received an Oscar nomination, "Scarface" (1983), "Prizzi's Honor", "Che", "S.O.B" and "Independence Day". For more click here.
The year 1969 was a particularly good one for Glen Campbell. With America under siege by a tidal wave of bad news about Vietnam, race riots, revolts on campus and other seemingly endless divisive issues, there was a niche for wholesome entertainment that Campbell was able to fill. He had recently proven he could cross over from the country and western charts to general audiences. Seemingly everyone loved his music. Campbell even appealed to younger audiences and he shared the top ranks of the pop music charts with acts The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. With his good looks, down-home gentle humor and songs about unrequited love, Campbell provided the perfect salve for America's wounds. He even made a notable splash on the big screen that year with a very credible acting debut as John Wayne's co-star in the classic "True Grit". Adding to his success, CBS signed him to host a weekly variety show titled "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour". The program was successful and ran for three full seasons. Seemingly, Glen Campbell could do no wrong in 1969.
Shout! Factory has released two full Christmas specials from "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" which aired in 1969 and 1970. Both episodes provide a reflection back on an era in which television was still resisting the new-found freedoms that Hollywood was embracing. In 1969 such groundbreaking films as "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice", "Easy Rider", "Midnight Cowboy" and "The Wild Bunch" had explored sex and violence in a manner that would have been unthinkable even a few years before. However, the TV industry in America was still playing it safe, catering to family-oriented fare and inoffensive sitcoms. The dam would break the following year with the premiere of Norman Lear's "All in the Family", but the three major networks had to be coerced into relevancy. For all of that, the sludge pile that represents most programming on network TV today makes one pine away for this more innocent era. At least the shows were good and one misses the complete absence today of the traditional variety show, which "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" represented. If you didn't like one song or comedy sketch, just hang in there as there were plenty more coming your way. Of the two programs presented on this DVD, the stronger entry is the 1969 Christmas show. The guest line-up reminds us of how many larger-than-life entertainers used to populate the medium in an era before cheesy "reality" shows defined television. In the 1969 show, Campbell's guests include such icons as Andy Griffith, Cher and Paul Lynde. Campbell presides over the festivities with charm and self-confidence, never attempting to upstage his guests. As was the case with variety show sketches from this period, the ones on the DVD probably seemed a lot funnier back in the day than they do today. The skits are too long and weakly written, though it is undeniably fun just to see these entertainers together on screen. Griffith and Lynde limp through a couple of comedy bits including one now predictable premise of a disgruntled Santa Claus in the throes of self-pity, complaining that no one appreciates him in the "younger generation". Griffith is a sympathetic bartender who keeps serving Santa doses of milk. The show is at its best from a musical perspective. Cher, looking gorgeous, performs a soulful rendition of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" while Campbell presents some terrific versions of haunting beautiful hits like "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman". He even knocks out a credible version of Mason Williams' superb acoustical hit "Classical Gas". Later in the show, he introduces his wife and young family as well as his troupe of regular singers and dancers. They all gather around and sing traditional Christmas carols as a finale. (Keep an eye on the final credits- yes, this was from an era when shows actually had credits- and note that one of the comedy writers was an aspiring comic named Steve Martin!). The 1970 Christmas show pretty much follows the same format: a mix of comedy sketches, hit songs and traditional carols. This time, however, Campbell also introduces his mom and dad who do a fine job performing "Crying Time". Then Campbell's three sisters also join in and prove to be fine crooners in their own right. This episode features guest stars Anne Murray, Mel Tellis, Jerry Reed, Shecky Greene, George Gobel and Larry McNeely. The comedy sketches are as lame as the ones on the 1969 show, though Greene and McNeely do perform a rather nice, silent tribute to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The finale finds the giant cast gathering in a living room setting to sing carols. The sheer warmth and good will of the segment makes you momentarily feel as though you actually are in a neighbor's living room (assuming your neighbor's living room has klieg lights and Shecky Greene).
The Shout! Factory DVD presents these long-unseen programs uncut and in pristine condition. Today, Glen Campbell's very public, courageous battle against the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease has made him the subject of a great deal of attention, including a feature length documentary. However, this DVD release reminds us that the man's legacy should not be that of a victim but, rather, of a major entertainer who had a long and remarkable career.
when everyone thought director Brian De Palma’s work couldn’t get more
controversial than 1983’s Scarface,
out came 1984’s Body Double, which
was simultaneously praised and reviled. Just as they had with 1980’s Dressed to Kill, feminist groups
protested Double with even more
vitriol due to the picture’s perceived violence against women. Many critics and
audiences dismissed the movie as merely a small step above porn, given the fact
that much of the plot does deal with Hollywood’s “other industry” that was soaring
to new heights in the mid-80s thanks to the rise of home video and VHS. And
yet, Body Double is now a certified
cult classic, a De Palma fan favorite, and, frankly, in this reviewer’s
opinion, one of his most accomplished and stylish efforts.
working in full Hitchcock Homage Mode, De Palma borrowed some of the plot of Vertigo, in which a killer uses a
look-alike woman to fool our hapless and naive protagonist into believing the
lady is someone else. With Pino Donaggio’s lush orchestral score accompanying
the action, one is indeed reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s romanticism from that
1958 film. The suspense is plotted and paced in the manner of the Master of
Suspense, and the picture also contains much of Hitch’s penchant for dark humor
Wasson (remember him?) plays Jake, a struggling Hollywood actor who is recently
separated from a cheating wife. He’s also claustrophobic, which of course plays
into the plot. He meets another actor, Sam (Gregg Henry) at an audition; Sam
graciously allows Jake to house-sit at a fancy home in the hills while Sam goes
on tour. The bonus for Jake is the eye candy that can be viewed with a
telescope—every night, a woman across the way performs a tantalizing striptease
in a window. Jake falls for the woman (former Miss USA, Deborah Shelton) and he
also unwittingly witnesses her brutal murder.
Holly Body, a porn star (winningly played by Melanie Griffith in one of her
first major roles), who might be somehow involved with the killing. Naturally,
Jake sets out to solve the crime and insinuates himself into Holly’s world in
order to do so. As we learn on the disc’s supplements, De Palma had considered
casting a real porn star in the part—but Hollywood would have turned its back
on him. Griffith convinced him that she could
do the required “moves,” and her casting is a revelation.
this is a story about voyeurism and victims, reality and illusion, truth and
trickery. Hitchcock often explored the same themes; in De Palma’s hands, Body Double becomes an exercise in visual
style and storyline thrills. It’s also a scathing and humorous poke in the eye
at Hollywood itself, especially the world of cutthroat auditioning and casting.
film is very explicit; apparently De Palma once again had to fight the censors
for the film to receive an “R” rating. Griffith unabashedly did her own nude
scenes, even the celebrated peep-show dance through the telescope (which is set
to Donaggio’s mesmerizing trace music).
Body Double got an extra
publicity boost with the inclusion of the hit song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to
Hollywood; a music video running regularly on MTV at the time contained tied-in
clips from the film.
Time’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fabulous. Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography is lavish
and colorful, very conducive to the HD format (1080p). Shot in and around
Hollywood, the locations are familiar, such as scenes in the famous restaurant,
Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Beverly Center, and the Rodeo
Collection mall on Rodeo Drive.
include four well-done featurettes on the making of the film, with interviews
with De Palma, Griffith, Shelton, and Dennis Franz, who plays a film director
molded on De Palma himself. There’s also an isolated score track; Pino Donaggio
collaborated several times with De Palma—Body
Double may be his best team-up with the filmmaker. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD
Time’s release of Body Double is
limited to 3000 copies.
(Note: this title is sold out at the Twilight Time web site. However, it is available from dealers on both Amazon and eBay.)
label Cineploit records have launched their latest album with the introduction
of Videogram. Hailing from Sweden, their pre-cert album offers a richly enjoyable mix of 80s-inspired soundtrack scores
and popular VHS culture. (For non-UK readers, the term "pre-cert" refers to the era prior to the implementation of certification standards for VHS releases that went into effect in 1984, thus requiring a seal of approval. The certification process resulted in censored versions of many films being substituted for the original versions.- Ed.) The album begins with the deliciously retro indent
before we’re immersed among a wealth of genre defining tracks ranging from
horror, fantasy, thrillers, police drama and a John Carpenter epic suite.
love of the whole VHS culture period is evident throughout Videogram’s sound;
it’s obviously so much more than just making music, there’s such an intense vibe, it almost clones and
reproduces the environment of the past. It has the ability to transcend and
transports you directly back.
music is hugely enjoyable, with heavy pulsating synths dominating the
proceedings. There is also a rich electronic vein which runs throughout its
tracks and is, of course, so representative of the 70s and in particular, that
warm 80s soundscape. There are some
wonderful standout tracks, in particular ‘Cobretti’ which pulsates with the
subtlety of an ‘industrial Schifrin’, with conventional brass instead being
substituted by metallic crash and thrash. As a new approach, it all works
perfectly well and still captures the flavour of the period. Then of course,
there is the mammoth ‘Man Is the Warmest Place to Hide’, an epic 13 minute nod
towards Carpenter’s "The Thing" (1982). But don’t expect a note for note
rendition, as it is very much a homage
to Carpenter’s environment, it simply drags you into that pre-cert VHS video
world and invites you to sample a flavour, a taste from a cup that we all previously
drank from at one particular place in time.
could be argued that to appreciate this album fully, you perhaps had to live
through that particular era. But with a welcome revival towards all things
retro being very current, I have little doubt this album has widespread appeal.
Boomers will simply lap it up, whilst newbie retro seekers need hardly look for
a better place to begin.
have delivered a polished album with a razor sharp biting edge. Pre-cert allows
them to slither perfectly among the ranks of Cineploit’s already established
stable of artists. It’s an album that demands repeated plays and left me
wanting more. One can only look forward safe in the knowledge that they will
continue to grow and blossom. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Cineploit has again produced
a lavish package on their gatefold 180 gram vinyl LP, CD and LP and CD
combinations. For more information, visit their website at http://www.cineploit.com/
year 1948 was the pinnacle for film noir in
America, although this style of crime picture would continue for at least
another decade. Yes, it’s a style, not a genre. For the most part it was also
an unconscious style, for the filmmakers who brought us film noir had no idea they were making “film noir”—it wasn’t until the late 1950s that a bunch of French
critics coined the term after looking back at this strange, cynical, dark breed
of crime stories.
Pitfall is a corker, and
while it’s certainly a movie about a crime and contains many of the film noir trademarks such as a femme fatale, a jaded protagonist,
brutal violence (for the time), high contrast photography of light and shadow,
an urban setting, and unstable alliances, it’s really a movie about the hazards
Powell plays Johnny, a bored insurance adjuster in Los Angeles who is looking
for a little excitement in his dull and monotonous life, even though he has a
devoted wife (Jane Wyatt) and young son. Enter fashion model Mona, played by Lizabeth
Scott—the actress who starred in more film
noir pictures than anyone else—who is not really a bad girl but is
certainly an enticement. She is the femme
fatale—a woman who will lead an otherwise good man to his downfall, but to
her credit she doesn’t particularly set out to do so. Her former boyfriend,
Smiley, is in jail for embezzlement, and Johnny is assigned to recover as much
of the money as he can from the “gifts” Smiley gave to Mona. Instead, he falls
a crooked private detective, Mac (played with sinister creepiness by Raymond
Burr), has also fallen for Mona, and he’ll do anything to get her—even if she
wants nothing to do with him. Thus, the plot becomes a love triangle of sorts,
with poor Jane Wyatt clueless as to what is going on. Then things get trickier
when Smiley gets out of jail.
Lizabeth Scott is the object of Raymond Burr's unwanted attentions in "Pitfall".
are terrific all around, but kudos must especially be given to Scott. She was a
competitor of Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, and others who
specialized in playing smoky hot dames; and while Scott never became a superstar,
she is certainly admired by film noir fans
as being perhaps the leading femme fatale of all time. With her husky
voice, a body that won’t quit, the blonde hair, and the bedroom eyes, who
wouldn’t fall for Lizabeth Scott? Powell’s Johnny may be making a huge and
terrible mistake, but he’s a heterosexual male primed for temptation. And that seems to be the point of Pitfall—we all make errors in judgment
because that’s the downside of being human. In the end, though, it’s Scott for
whom we feel the sorriest.
Lorber’s new release is mastered in high definition from a 35mm dupe negative
preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It looks very good, but it’s
not pristine. An entertaining and informative audio commentary by film noir expert Eddie Muller is a
welcome addition. Otherwise the only other supplements are trailers for other
Kino Lorber releases.
line—Lizabeth Scott fans shouldn’t miss this one and film noir enthusiasts will most likely want to add it to their
On the eve of the November 1963 release of TWICE TOLD
TALES, the British actor Sebastian Cabot would tell a reporter from the Copley
News Service, “They’ve been after me to do more of the horror pictures with
Vincent Price. I wouldn’t mind that a
bit, though I must say I wouldn’t want to do them exclusively.” He intimated that he and his co-star had
discussed a possible future pairing in “a light comedy” motion-picture. Alas, it was not to be; the two actors would
not work together again. Cabot, of
course, would soldier on and enjoy success as both a television personality and
a recognizable voice-over actor. Following
the passing of Boris Karloff in 1969, Vincent Price would reign as the big-screen’s
uncontested “King of Horror.” Cabot’s estimation of Price as an actor
“extremely adept” at light-comedy was incisive. Throughout his long and fabled career, Vincent Price’s on-screen
ghoulishness would nearly always be mitigated with a wry smile and twinkle in
TWICE TOLD TALES is the second of two quickie vehicles
in which Price starred for Robert E. Kent’s Admiral Pictures, Inc. (1962-1963). For their first pairing, DIARY OF A MADMAN
(released in March 1963 and distributed through United Artists), Kent mined the
imagination of the great French short-story writer Henri-René-Albert-Guy de
Maupassant. That film’s ballyhoo
proclaimed it “The Most Terrifying Motion Picture Ever Created!” It most
certainly wasn’t, but the film still managed to be a worthwhile psychological
thriller - though one that didn’t particularly resonate at the box-office. In what was obviously an attempt to
capitalize on the low-budget but big commercial success of Roger Corman’s Edgar
Allan Poe adaptations for A.I.P, Kent quickly changed course and ambitiously turned
to the short stories and novels of Nathanial Hawthorne for material.
Though a descendant of John Hathorne, the unrepentant
magistrate who presided over the fate of several innocents during Salem,
Massachusetts’s celebrated witch trials, Nathanial Hawthorne was a
romanticist: he was not prominently a
writer of mysteries or of fantastic fiction. Having said that, Hawthorne was not averse to penning a good ghost story
or two and his talent had won him the praise of contemporaries. One such fan was Edgar Allan Poe himself. In his review of Hawthorne’s two volume
collection of short stories TWICE TOLD TALES for Graham’s Magazine in May of
1842, Poe unabashedly pronounced the New Englander as “a man of truest genius…
As Americans, we feel proud of this book.”
Of course Hollywood producers have always somehow
managed to take great creative liberties with the acknowledged classics. Stories of cigar-chomping producers passing
on tracts of classic literature so their stable of writers might “give ‘em a
polish” are legion. Though Roger
Corman’s series of Poe films both successfully and artistically mined the great
man’s work for their tortured characters, grim atmosphere and elements of plot,
Corman himself rarely offered filmgoers a straight-forward re-telling of any of
the doomed author’s fabled tales.
Producer-writer, Robert E. Kent seems to have taken a
similar, albeit far less successful, approach with his production of TWICE TOLD
TALES. Only segment two of this trilogy
film, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” closely resembles Hawthorne’s original story, and
even that diverges when at odds with cinematic expectations. In “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” a sinister
love-triangle between Dr. Carl Heidegger (the corpulent Sebastian Cabot), Alex
Medbourne (Price) and the recently revived but still exquisite corpse of Sylvia
Ward (Marie Blanchard) is re-engineered as to feature an original - if
salacious - back-story. This “Virgin
Spring” elixir-of-eternal-youth morality-fable plays out with little fidelity to
the original tale.
Original comic book tie-in.
Such creative-license is stretched to the breaking
point with the film’s final episode, “The House of the Seven Gables.” This segment bears little resemblance to Hawthorne’s
celebrated novel, but it has borrowed elements from the better known – and far
more lavish – 1940 Universal film of the same title. The Universal film, perhaps not
coincidentally, also featured Vincent Price in a starring role, though this
tale, too, strayed far from Hawthorne’s original. Though I recall no physical blood-letting in
the Hawthorne novel, in TWICE TOLD TALES the sanguine red fluid pours freely– and
mostly unconvincingly, it must be said - from ceilings, walls, portraits, and
lockets. The Pyncheon’s family’s metaphorical
skeleton-in-the-closet becomes all too real in this rather uninspired
Part of the film’s original marketing stratagem was the
offer of “FREE COFFEE in the lobby to settle your nerves!” One might suggest, with a measure of
cynicism, that such brew was a necessary component in helping to keep audiences
awake. TWICE TOLD TALES is, to be
generous, a very good ninety-minute film. The problem is that the filmmakers stretched this ninety-minute film to an
interminable two-hour running time.
This is a “sitting room” or “parlor” film; most of the
action (as it is) takes place in mildly claustrophobic confines of small home
settings with long stretches of unbroken dialogue. There are very few provocative set-pieces employed
over the course of three segments and the most ambitious of these, the deadly
and poisonous garden of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini (Price), is only experienced in sun-soaked
broad daylight. This supposedly lethal
garden is both terribly over-lit and ill-disguised in its construction (the
seams of the faux-grass mats are clearly visible). As such, this potentially visual and cinematic
garden of death portends little of its intended menace. If only love-struck suitor Giovanni Guasconti
(Brett Halsey) could have encountered the beautiful but lethal Beatrice
Rappaccini (Joyce Taylor) in a blue-swathed moonlight setting, the garden’s mysterious
atmosphere would have been instantly heightened.
Kent’s too-wordy screenplay suffers occasional patches
of purple prose, but it’s serviceable. There are a couple of great moments: Cabot’s toast of the glass prior to his experimental drinking of a fluid
that may or may not kill him (“To eternal youth, or just eternity?”). In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” we’re not sure, at
first, of who is a prisoner to whom. Is
it the estranged daughter to the father, or the father to the daughter? When all is made clear, we can better understand
the poisoned daughter’s bitter complaint, “The only difference from being dead
is that this house is bigger than a grave.”
TWICE TOLD TALES is no classic, but it’s not unworthy
of one’s time. Vincent Price is, as
always, brilliant in all three of the villainous roles he inhabits. The supporting cast is mostly great as well,
and Kent, unashamedly, brings aboard several of the familiar players who earlier
worked with Corman on the Poe series. Director
Sidney Salkow was, sadly, no auteur. Though he had been directing and writing films – and bringing them in
under or on budget - for both
independent and major studios as early as 1936, it’s clear he was most
interested in producing a satisfying checkmark in the company’s profit ledger and
not terribly concerned with film-as-art. Though Salkow’s films are never less than
competent, they’re generally pedestrian and not particularly memorable. As helmsman, Salkow simply possessed none of
Corman’s visual-style or displayed any ability to stage an impressive production
on a shoestring budget.
To be fair, Corman had advantages. His gothic films were European in design: his settings were of torch-lit gloomy and
brooding castles, of misty streets of cobblestone and black twisted tree-limbs. Two of the TWICE TOLD TALES, on the other
hand, are set in the non-atmospheric repose of 19th-century small-town
America. With the small exception of a creepy
sequence in which a thunder and lightning-storm disturbs a tomb that had been
sealed for thirty-eight years (and sits, inexplicably, just to the rear of Dr.
Heidegger’s back-door), the dressing that surrounds TWICE TOLD TALES demonstrates little
of the macabre ingredients necessary for mounting a successful horror film.
This release from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics presents
TWICE TOLD TALES for the first time in the U.S. in a Blu-Ray edition. The film is presented in Technicolor and in its
original 1.66:1 ratio. Bonus features
include an optional commentary from film scholars Richard Harland Smith and
Perry Martin, as well as trailers for the title film as well as Corman’s TALES
OF TERROR and BLACK SABBATH. A brief
“Trailers from Hell” segment is also included, courtesy of Mick Garris.
works of famed director Akira Kurosawa are mostly associated with the samurai
film—pictures set in the time of feudal Japan, and usually starring the
brilliant actor Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon,
Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden
Fortress, Yojimbo, among others).
However, Kurosawa made other kinds of movies that are probably not as well
known in the West except to film historians and true cinephiles—and fans of the
excellent DVD and Blu-ray label, The Criterion Collection. Some of Kurosawa’s
early work was made up of film noir gangster
and crime pictures (e.g., Drunken Angel,
Stray Dog, The Bad Sleep Well), but also, surprisingly, heartfelt social
dramas set in contemporary Japan—about ordinary people. Ikiru is one of the latter, and it’s a movie that Roger Ebert once
called Kurosawa’s “greatest film.”
Ikiru is set in Tokyo in
the early fifties. Kanji Watanabe (played by the wonderful Takashi Shimura) is
a middle-aged bureaucrat in City Hall, the chief of “Public Works.” He has
spent the last thirty years behind a desk, stamping endless pieces of paper
with his little seal, never causing trouble, and pawning off problems to other
departments, which, in turn, direct them to yet more departments. Bureaucracy
at its dullest and most inefficient. At the beginning of the story, several
women bring in a complaint about a mosquito-infested cesspool in the middle of
their district that should be covered or turned into a park or whatever. But no
one at City Hall wants to accept the responsibility of doing anything about it,
including Watanabe, and even the egotistical mayor.
to Watanabe’s stagnation are the attitudes of his grown son and his wife, who
live with him in the same house. All they’re waiting for is the inheritance
that will one day come their way (Watanabe’s wife is long dead). Then the
ultimate insult occurs—Watanabe discovers he has stomach cancer and has six
months to live. After the initial shock and depression, the news inspires him
to undergo a drastic change.
suddenly wants to make something of his life while there’s still time. He
befriends a young female subordinate and attempts to experience Tokyo’s
nightlife, but that doesn’t satisfy him. Finally, he embarks on taking it upon
himself to do something about that cesspool and turn it into a children’s
playground before he dies.
there is more going on in Kurosawa’s film—the director has something to say that
is universal regarding a) government bureaucracy; b) working for years in a job
that provides no pleasure; c) gossip among co-workers and family about things
for which they don’t bother to learn the truth; d) the medical profession’s
reluctance to tell a patient the hard facts; e) and, finally, how important it
is to find something in one’s life that is fulfilling. Ikiru means “to live” in Japanese.
brings me to the lead actor, Takashi Shimura. While Toshiro Mifune usually gets
all the accolades of being “Japan’s greatest actor” etc. etc., and while I
don’t begrudge Mifune-san this praise, I believe Shimura-san had a longer,
deeper, and more varied career as an actor. If you’ve seen Rashomon or Seven Samurai,
then you know who he is—Shimura played the leader of the seven samurai, and he
was the woodcutter in Rashomon. In
fact, Shimura, was in twenty-one of Kurosawa’s thirty films (Mifune was in
sixteen). Shimura also appeared in Gojira
(Godzilla, 1954, and its American
cut, Godzilla—King of the Monsters,
1956) in a major role of a paleontologist. The actor appeared in several other
Toho Studios monster movies released worldwide. In fact, Shimura was in over
200 films between 1934 and 1981 (he died in 1982 at the age of 76). Than man
was a genius. One only has to compare the actor’s performances in both Ikiru and Seven Samurai to appreciate the diversity this talented actor
possessed. Takashi Shimura is Japan’s greatest unsung cinema thespian.
has re-issued Ikiru with a new, very
good-looking restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural
soundtrack. There is an audio commentary from 2003 by Stephen Prince, author of
The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira
Kurosawa. Supplements include a 90-minute documentary from 2000 about
Kurosawa that features interviews with the director; a lengthy documentary from
2003 on Ikiru featuring interviews
with Kurosawa, one of the script writers, other members of the crew, and
Takashi Shimura. There’s a new English subtitle translation, and the obligatory
trailer. An essay by critic and travel writer Pico Iyer and a reprint from
critic Donald Richie’s book The Films of
Akira Kurosawa are included in the booklet.
Ikiru is a movie about
humanity, life, and death, and it’s perhaps Kurosawa’s most personal film. That
means it’s a must for connoisseurs of foreign cinema.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 comedy "Honeymoon Hotel". The film, made just a few years before the liberalization of sex in the American cinema, is a labored affair with a sterling cast that is largely wasted due to a ludicrous script and leaden direction. This is somewhat surprising because the screenwriters- R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock- were hot properties at the time, having written some truly classic sitcoms and memorable feature films. Here, they drop the ball with a script that resembles a horny 15 year-old boy's viewpoint of romance and sex. The film opens by introducing us to two best friends, Ross Kingsley (Robert Goulet) and Jay Menlow (Robert Morse), who revel in the fact that they share a Manhattan bachelor pad where they entertain a steady stream of female conquests. The handsome and devilish Ross is clearly the main magnet for the willing women, but even nerdy Jay is doing alright for himself. Thus, it puzzles Ross as to why Jay is about to marry traditional good girl Cynthia (Anne Helm). The story shifts to the scene of the opulent wedding. Just before the rituals can be carried out, however, Cynthia observes Jay and Ross ogling her friend Lynn Hope (Nancy Kwan). She has a public hissy fit and calls off the wedding. The ever-resourceful Ross realizes that Jay is now stuck with a honeymoon package to a tropical island for two that appears to be useless. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass by, he convinces Jay to go on the trip and take him along on Cynthia's ticket. The plan is to get Jay over his grief by getting back into the world of womanizing. Where better to do so than a tropical isle? The two men check into Honeymoon Hotel without realizing that it adheres to a strict policy of catering to newlyweds only. Through a string of coincidences the strict desk clerk misses the fact that two men are checking into the same room. This leads to any number of double entrendres and opportunities to overact as the maids come to realize that two guys appear to be on a honeymoon together. (Keep in mind this was 1964). Ross and Jay ponder why they are striking out with the female guests until they finally learn of their dilemma. Just when their libidos seem destined for disaster, they conveniently discover that there is one single woman on the property: Lynn Hope, who is the social director of the resort. This sets in motion a string of coincidences that are so unbelievable they would be more appropriate in a science fiction film. Predictably, Ross woos Lynn but on the verge of getting her into bed, she runs into Jay and learns of Ross's reputation as a serial seducer. She then plays Jay and Ross against each other in a pedantic series of scenarios in which each man thinks he will be the one to score with her. Finally, Ross legitimately falls for Lynn and in true storybook tradition, makes plans to finally settle down with the right girl. Then everything goes to hell in the film's wacky but dreadful conclusion in which one of his former conquests, Sherry (Jill St. John in typical air-headed floozy mode) arrives as the resort as the mistress to Ross's crusty boss (Keenan Wynn). In the increasingly ridiculous scenario, the boss's wife turns up because she suspects he is dallying with other women. Then Cynthia appears out of nowhere to see if she can reconcile with Jay. The situations that follow find Sherry being passed around by the males like an appetizer on a platter as each man finds he has to hide her presence from his significant other. Bedroom farces can be quite funny if carried out competently but Levin proves he isn't up to the task. The cast gamely goes through the manic pacing but there isn't a genuine laugh to be found.
The biggest disappointment with "Honeymoon Hotel" is the squandering of the admirable talent on screen. Goulet always had a fine screen presence in addition to being an impressive crooner. With his model-like good looks he should have been a much bigger star in films, but he seemed to primarily be relegated to mid-range fare like this. Morse made it big by being cast repeatedly as a "Jerry Lewis Lite". His aping of the comedy legend is so apparent that it was wonder he wasn't sued for identity theft. Morse has talent but he's reduced to enacting ridiculous scenarios that are completely out of place in what is supposed to be an adult romantic comedy. Other victims include fine supporting actors like Elsa Lanchester , who is consigned to a tiny role as a maid and the great British character actor Bernard Fox who plays the rigid desk clerk. Nancy Kwan is especially wasted, a fact the producers seemed to have realized because they shoehorn in a pretentious dance routine designed to show off her talents in that area despite the fact that it comes completely out of left field and doesn't even fit in the context of the sequence. Everything about "Honeymoon Hotel" is second rate. The film's bare bones budget is reflected by the fact that the closest the cast got to a tropical isle was a few hours shooting at a local beach a few miles from MGM's back lot. The opulent resort depicted in the film is stuffed with claustrophobic sets and an abundance of plastic palm trees. I've seen more convincing recreations of island life in department store summer patio displays. Even the "bachelor pad" is the recycled set from the "bachelor pad" seen in the previous year's MGM comedy, the far superior "Sunday in New York". Although the movie attempts to be risque with its sexual themes, the producers didn't have the courage to go beyond some smarmy one-liners. The honeymoon resort is populated by couples who appear to never stop copulating but the biggest laugh in the film is an unintentional one: the bedrooms in the suites all have separate beds, which makes the film as sexually daring as an episode of "I Love Lucy". "Honeymoon Hotel" might have been construed as a sex comedy but it's as flaccid as....well, a wet noodle.
Scott became a top box-office draw starring in 105 movies in a career which
lasted for nearly four decades. He’s best remembered as a western icon in a
career that, in many ways, rivals that of John Wayne. While the Duke made
movies into the mid 1970s and made appearances on TV until his death in 1979, Scott
retired from acting in 1962 after making “Ride the High Country” for Sam
Peckinpah. Scott was 64 and felt he could not surpass his performance in that
movie. He remained happily retired until his death in 1987 at the age of 87.
like the Duke, is known for his collaboration with an iconic larger-than-life
Hollywood director. In Scott’s case the honor goes to Budd Boetticher. They
made seven movies together and “The Tall T” is among their best efforts. Based
on a story by Elmore Leonard with a screenplay by future western director Burt
Kennedy, the story is simple and starts out at a leisurely pace.
plays Pat Brennan, a former ranch hand with a small ranch of his own who wants
to make a deal with his former employer at the Tall T. On the way he visits a
friend and his son who operate a stage coach water stop outside of town. The
boy admires the heroic Pat and asks if he will pick up some candy in town which
Pat agrees to do. In town Pat meets up with Ed Rintoon, the local stage coach
driver, played by Arthur Hunnicutt. They discuss the recent marriage of local
mine heiress Doretta, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, (Jane in the MGM Tarzan
series), to the opportunist Willard Mims who married her for her wealth. Pat
heads over to the Tall T to purchase a bull for his small ranch, but after
making a bet with his former employer who wants him back, ends up losing his
horse when he fails in his bid to ride the bull.
his way on foot with candy, saddle and pack in hand, Pat is picked up by
Rintoon who is transporting newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims. Willard would
just as soon not pick up Pat, but is persuaded by Doretta. They make there way
to the water stop which is strangely empty. Three men with guns are waiting for
the bank stagecoach and have murdered the boy and his father and kill Rintoon
after a brief shootout. Willard selfishly convinces the outlaws that his wife
is worth holding for a ransom and makes a deal allowing him to deliver a
message to her father.
Boone plays Frank Usher, the leader of the gang, and he agrees that a ransom
may be a better option than a stagecoach robbery. He’s aided by Henry Silva as
Chink and Skip Homeier as Billy Jack. Frank claims to be a man with moral values
like Pat while Chink and Billy are only interested in getting drunk and
spending time at any available whorehouse. Billy keeps the candy Pat brought
for the murdered boy and the candy is slapped from his hand by Frank. Frank,
Chink and Billy take Pat and Doretta to a desert hideout and wait for Willard’s
return. The men make it clear that they are willing to kill their captives and
Pat realizes that all three will be dead when the ransom is delivered. Boone is
terrific as Frank Usher. Frank is a complicated bad guy who understands the
moral code of good men like Pat Brennan. In typical anti-hero fashion, Frank
tries to convince Frank that he’s not like Chink and Billy. He isn’t, but that
doesn’t stop Frank from using Pat’s moral code in order to manipulate everyone.
“Tall T” would appear to be an odd choice for the title of this movie. The
ranch plays a very small part in the movie and is never discussed after Pat
loses the bet. The original title was "The Captives" which is the
title of Elmore Leonard's original story. "The
Tall Rider" is believed by some to be still another pre-release title, but
the final title was changed to "The Tall T" which is the name of the
Tenvoorde ranch. The movie is enjoyable and the performances by Scott, Boone,
O’Sullivan, Hunnicutt and Silva are a testament to Boetticher as an auteur of
highly stylized westerns. Henry Silva is of particular interest as the villainous
Chink and his performance manages to slightly outdo Boone who is also in top
by Columbia in April 1957, the sound quality on the disc is near perfect and
the Technicolor is beautifully preserved in widescreen. The movie is only 78
minutes long and it feels like it should be longer. The movie was previously
released on DVD by Sony as part of “The Films of Budd Boetticher” and was one
of five Scott/Boetticher movies in the set which is loaded with extras. That
set is out of print and can fetch a premium price on-line. This version of “The
Tall T” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the Sony Choice Collection
and there are no extras on the disc which starts up without a menu.