Criterion Collection continues its excellent re-issuing of Charles Chaplin’s
major works with The Kid, the first full-length
feature from the filmmaker. Released in 1921, Chaplin expanded on the two and
three reelers he had been making (a “reel” at that time was approximately 10-15
minutes long) to the six-reels of The Kid
(the original cut was just over an hour; Chaplin re-edited it in the early 70s
to create the now standard 53-minute version). It’s still a short film, but
longer than what were considered “shorts.”
The Kid received high
acclaim on its release and was one of the writer/actor/director’s most popular pictures.
This was in part due to the presence of young Jackie Coogan in the titular
role. Coogan, who grew up to play Uncle Fester in The Addams Family television series of the 1960s, steals the movie
from right under Chaplin’s little mustache. At age five, Coogan displays a
mastery of acting, mime, and acrobatics that is still remarkable today. He is a
natural in front of the camera, and he has loads of charisma to boot.
for Chaplin, he, too, is marvelous in this story about how his famous Tramp
character finds an abandoned baby on the street and takes it upon himself to
raise the child. Only a few years later, after he and his illegally-adopted son
have bonded and are “partners” in petty crime, does the kid’s mother re-enter
aspect that set The Kid apart from
previous Chaplin entries was his reliance more on drama than comedy. There is
no question that he infused his comedies with pathos from the very beginning,
but his last several shorts for the First National Company (his distributor at
the time) were “dramadies.” As the opening title of The Kid reads: “A picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear.” My
father, who had seen the film in the 1920s, recalled how there wasn’t a dry eye
in the house when the authorities take Coogan away from Chaplin and the boy is
crying and reaching out to his “dad.”
delivers another superb-looking 4K digital restoration of the 1972 re-release
version, also featuring an original score by Chaplin on an uncompressed
monaural soundtrack (the score is lush, melodic, and gorgeous, as are all of
the artist’s compositions). There’s a new audio commentary featuring Chaplin
historian Charles Maland that is informative and serves as a nice complement to
the piece, since the movie is silent.
include Jackie Coogan: The First Child
Star, a new video essay by another Chaplin historian, Lisa Haven; A Study in Undercranking, a new
documentary featuring silent film specialist Ben Model on the tricks with speed
used by filmmakers of the period; vintage interviews with Coogan, and Chaplin’s
second wife Lita Grey Chaplin (who appears in the film as an angel); vintage
audio interviews with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh and film distributor Mo
Rothman; deleted scenes and titles from the original 1921 release; a 1921
newsreel documenting Chaplin’s first return trip to Europe; footage of Chaplin
conducting his score in Hollywood in 1971; a 1922 silent short, Nice and Friendly, featuring Chaplin and
Coogan, made with and for Lord and Lady Mountbatten for their wedding; and
trailers. The booklet essay is by film scholar Tom Gunning.
terrific addition to the Criterion-Chaplin library. Here’s hoping that The Circus is next!
Here is the original 1968 behind the scenes production featurette for Steve McQueen's "Bullitt". The short is narrated by McQueen himself and emphasizes his commitment to ensuring that the crime thriller reflected real life at all times. The featurette also shows some alternate angles and behind the scenes footage of co-stars Robert Vaughn and Jacqueline Bisset as well as an extensive look at the staging of the classic car chase in San Francisco.
There was a time in American politics when people could disagree without detesting each other. Epitomizing a prime example of inter-American detente in the 1960s was the relationship between arch conservative John Wayne and arch liberal Kirk Douglas. The two men disagreed on almost every major political issue. Wayne had backed the McCarthy era blacklist and Douglas was notable in helping end it a decade later. When the two iconic actors agreed to co-star in Otto Preminger's 1965 WWII epic "In Harm's Way", there were predictions of fireworks on the set as both Wayne and Douglas could display volatile tempers. Instead Duke and Douglas got along personally like a house on fire. Wayne's Batjac Productions even backed Douglas' 1966 big budget production of "Cast a Giant Shadow" about the founding of Israel. The two men teamed for the third (and regrettably final) time in 1967 for "The War Wagon", a marvelously witty and highly entertaining Western that showcased both actors at their best. Enjoy this original theatrical trailer.
Both John Wayne and Lee Marvin vied for Elizabeth Allen's attentions in John Ford's 1963 comedy "Donovan's Reef".
Elizabeth Allen never became a super star but the lovely and talented actress graced both movie and TV screens with her fine performances. She also appeared in some acclaimed stage productions as well. Among Elizabeth's film credits are "Donovan's Reef", "Diamond Head", "Cheyenne Autumn" and "The Carey Treatment".
Her TV work included "Bracken's World", "Another World", "Guiding Light", "CPO Sharkey", "The Fugitive" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Ms. Allen passed away in 2006 at age 77. Writer Scott Rollins presents an in-depth tribute to her on his blog. Click here to read.
Vigoda (left) with Richard Castellano and Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" (1972)
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Abe Vigoda, whose hang-dog expression and low-key mannerisms help propel him to fame, has passed away at age 94. Vigoda toiled in films and TV without notable success until director Francis Ford Coppola cast him in the key role of Tessio, a mob lieutenant in the Corleone crime family in the 1972 classic "The Godfather". Tessio was one of the most trusted "employees" of the Corleone family but following the death of its patriarch Vito Corleone, Tessio is discovered to be planning the assassination of the new godfather, Michael Corleone. Memorably he is led away to his execution with typical understated emotion. Vigoda's stock in the film industry rose immediately and he became a popular character actor, appearing in such films as "The Cheap Detective", "The Don is Dead", "Newman's Law", "Look Who's Talking" and "The Cannonball Run II". He also made an un-billed cameo appearance as Tessio in the 1974 production of "The Godfather Part II." (Both films won Best Picture Oscars). In 1975 Vigoda landed a key supporting role in the popular TV sitcom "Barney Miller", playing a world-weary detective nicknamed "Fish". The show ran until 1982 and resulted in a short-lived spin-off series about the character in which Vigoda reprised the role. Vigoda was a popular fixture with the Friars Club whose merciless jibes against him usually focused on his less-than-stellar looks and the fact that Vigoda has mistakenly been pronounced as having died in a 1982 article in People magazine. Vigoda accepted the resulting jokes with typical good humor. At various Friars Club roasts that he attended, speakers would inevitably joke "If only Abe Vigoda were alive, he would have loved this evening!".
Abe Vigoda was also a member of the legendary Lambs Club in New York City, as was Cliff Robertson. They are seen here with Marc Baron, "Shepherd" of the private club for the arts.
Life Magazine called Rita
Hayworth “The Love Goddess.” Make no mistake—she was primarily known as one of the sex symbols of the 1940s. Nevertheless,
she was also a talented actress and a terrific dancer (she held her own with
Fred Astaire in a couple of movies). Strikingly beautiful, Hayworth was the
type of star who lit up the screen and oozed charisma. And her big breakthrough
to that position in Hollywood was Gilda,
the 1946 part-noir, part melodrama
that contained many of the iconic images for which Hayworth is famous.
Film noir historian Eddie
Muller, in a new interview included as one of the supplements, says Gilda is not film noir, although it’s got all the trappings. This is true. It’s
certainly made in the style of a film noir—the contrasting black and
white cinematography by Rudolph Maté (who later became a
director in his own right) is clearly derived from German expressionism, the
characters are untrustworthy and suspicious, and there’s a femme fatale.
wait—is Gilda really a femme fatale?
Not really. Sure, she’s manipulative and uses her sexuality to get the men in
her life to do what she wants; but Gilda is not a bad person—she’s just caught
in an uncomfortable situation and is acting out because she’s unhappy. A minor
subplot dealing with Mundson’s business dealings—with former Nazis—doesn’t
totally qualify Gilda as being a film noir, either. No, this is a movie
soap opera, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an entertaining piece of Hollywood
glamour that captures a cynical post-war mood prevalent in a lot of Hollywood
fare of the late 40s.
story takes place in Buenos Aires just as World War II is ending. Johnny
Farrell (Glenn Ford, in one of his significant roles as well) is a gambler,
drifter, and “tough guy” bumming around Argentina. There he meets a rich man,
Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who offers Johnny a job being his right hand
man at the casino. The two men work together well and become very chummy—until Mundson
returns from a weekend away with a gorgeous wife. She is, of course, Gilda
(Hayworth)—and it is immediately obvious she has a history with Johnny.
rest of the film is a melodramatic clash of wills within this triangle, and it’s
not a smooth ride. Much is made of the word “hate,” but in most cases in this
picture, that word really means “love.”
is quite good in the movie. She performs two song-and-dance numbers (for the
casino audience), but her singing voice is dubbed by Anita Ellis. These are signature
tunes—“Put the Blame on Mame” (done as a sultry striptease—almost), and “Amado
Mio.” (One wonders how Gilda managed to rehearse with the band and lighting
crew to do tight, theatrical show-stopping acts, seemingly on the fly.) At any
rate, Hayworth smolders as Gilda, and
she takes over every frame she’s in. Ford is fine, although he sure has a funny
way of hitting people. Macready provides the requisite sinister authority over
the other two characters, just as he would a decade later in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.
aspects are top notch—the photography, music, editing, sets, and especially the
costume design. Hayworth’s gowns are right out of the catalog of Hollywood dreams. Perhaps the only weak
element is the writing. The story feels jumbled a bit, but the dialogue is rich
with memorable one-liners. “If I was a ranch, I’d been named the Bar Nothing,” Gilda famously says. The
screenwriters had challenges on their hands. The Production Code prevented the
filmmakers from fully exploring the relationship that is really going on between Johnny and Mundson. It’s pretty muted, but
it’s there, folks. Ford’s character is much more enamored of his boss than a
regular employee would be. How that wrinkle plays into the stew once Hayworth
arrives is the heart and soul of the picture. Read between the lines and you’ll
fathom what the writers intended, but
couldn’t quite get past the censors.
Criterion Collection’s new high-definition digital restoration, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack, looks and sounds exemplary. A wonderful audio
commentary by film critic Richard Schickel, made in 2010, accompanies the film.
include the previously mentioned interview with Muller; an interesting 2010
discussion with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann about the film;
“Hollywood and the Stars,” a 1964 television show about Hayworth’s career up to
that point; and the trailer. The fold-out insert contains a poster of Gilda on
one side and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.
tag line on the movie poster read: “There never was a woman like... Gilda!” That’s probably true. Put the Blame
on Mame, indeed!
Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) became something of commercial success,
despite being generally panned by the critics. Following the murder of Sharon
Tate, the film was re-released in 1969 and once again proved to be a success
with audiences. In December 1969, filming began on Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (1970), a film that was intended as a direct sequel to Robson’s movie. Jacqueline
Susann, the original author of Valley of the Dolls had been approached to write
a screenplay, but declined the offer. Instead, director Russ Meyer and film
critic Roger Ebert, took on and completed the task in just six weeks. Ebert
described it as ‘a satire of Hollywood conventions’ while Meyer leant more
towards ‘a serious melodrama, a rock musical […]and a moralistic expose of the nightmarish
world of Show Business’.
film is set around a female band, The Kelly Affair featuring Kelly MacNamara
(Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella "Pet"
Danforth (Marcia McBroom). Along with their manager (and Kelly’s boyfriend) Harris
Allsworth (David Gurian) the group set off to Los Angeles to find Kelly's
estranged aunt, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who is heiress to a family fortune.
and her band arrive and are greeted fondly by Susan who informs her that she
will be left a portion of her inheritance. However, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod)
a financial adviser to Susan, attempts to discredit the band as general
degenerates in order to embezzle the money for himself. Aunt Susan meanwhile
introduces Kelly and the band to a connected producer Ronnie "Z-Man"
Barzell (John LaZar). At one of his flamboyant parties, Z-Man wastes little
time in persuading the band to perform, the result of which is a huge
success. Z-Man becomes the group’s
manager and changes their name to The Carrie Nations which ignites the fuse and
causes a series of clashes with Harris.
of these elements nicely combine to set up a classic and well-rounded piece of
melodrama. Add to the mix a healthy dash of seduction, drugs, alcohol, one-night
stands, a lesbian affair, an abortion and a delicious little twist or two and
you’ll discover there’s more than enough meat on the bone for a fulfilling and
thoroughly magical couple of hours.
have put together a really thoughtful and beautifully presented limited (3000
copies) edition containing two of Russ Meyer’s key Hollywood films. The Blu-ray
(1080p) presentation of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is quite wonderful. The
vibrancy of the film’s colour palette shines through in practically every scene
and is only emphasised by the lush surroundings of the late Sixties hippy
culture. Skin tones (and there’s a lot of it on show) look fresh, but perfectly
natural and free of any forced enhancement. The film retains that comic book colour
freshness that one could perhaps align with in any classic episode of TVs
Batman. Yes, it very hip and very cool. Arrow has also provided an array of supplementary
delights especially in terms of audio options. Aside from the film’s original
uncompressed mono track, there is an engrossing commentary track by
co-screenwriter and film critic, the late Roger Ebert. Ebert’s commentary is a
wonderful listen, a man who knew his stuff and was of course an element of the
film’s DNA. Whist the commentary was initially featured on Fox’s DVD release of
2006; it’s a real treat to have it included here on the Blu-ray. Also featured
is a second audio commentary, courtesy of cast members including Erica Gavin,
John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read. Again, this commentary
also appeared previously on the Fox DVD, and while it is rather less
streamlined than Ebert’s specifics, it does offer an entirely different
perspective. The two commentaries ultimately complement each other rather well.
On top of the two commentaries is a further music and effects track, which I
believe marks a first for this title on any home cinema format. It’s a very
welcome track, considering the popularity of music and for consumers who might
not have the soundtrack among their collections.
this point it is perhaps best to shift focus towards Arrow’s second disc in
this set, and the film The Seven Minutes (1971). This Russ Meyer directed film
was made directly after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and was his last
mainstream production for Twentieth-Century Fox. The film consists mainly of
his stable of regular actors and actresses, but look out, too, for appearances
by Yvonne De Carlo and a very young Tom Selleck. Overall, the film was considered
as a rare commercial failure for Meyer, but it’s very welcome here as a bonus
disc. Sadly, it is only included in standard DVD format.
to Arrow’s other bonus material; there is an optional introduction by Z-Man
himself, John LaZa. Much more entertaining is: Above, beneath and beyond the
Valley: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy, which is a fascinating
retrospective documentary (30 minutes). Look
On Up at the Bottom, with composer Stu Phillips and three members of the Carrie
Nations discussing the film’s music. It’s a nice little featurette which
manages to cram a lot into its relatively short time (11 minutes). The Best of
Beyond features favourite moments from the film selected by cast and crew
members (12 minutes). Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the time, baby takes
a look at the late 1960s social culture that spawned Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls (8 minutes). Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene is a nice short
featuring both participants Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers who discuss the
film’s lesbian scene (5 minutes). There is also a very nice collection of screen
tests for Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom, all
of which are presented in relatively nice condition (8 minutes). Also included
is a selection of trailers, one of which is based on a behind-the-scenes photo
shoot with Meyer taking the publicity photos and provides a great ‘sneak peek’
privilege. Finally there is a high definition photo gallery which consists of
approximately 125 images.
packaging is of their usual (and exceptional) high standard. Inside contains an
informative and nicely illustrated 42 page booklet featuring new writing on the
film by critic Kat Ellinger. I was also very happy to see Arrow’s regular
reversible sleeve format containing two original pieces of ‘Beyond’ film art,
rather than an optional piece of ‘new’ art. It’s an option that will arguably
please the purists among film collectors.
was fabulous to revisit what is perhaps Meyer’s most polished piece of work.
Yes, there’s no denying it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is trashy, dirty and
totally unscrupulous… and exactly why I find it so lip-smacking good. Everything
considered, it’s probably the best piece of exploitation ever committed to
film. So miss this wonderful cult classic at your peril…
Though the 1966 space-age vampire flick Queen of Blood is not new to home video,
it has been one of the more elusive science-fiction titles of the 1960s. Issued on VHS as Planet of Blood back in the early 1980s on the budget “Star
Classics” label and later in 1990 on a much improved laser disc from Image (paired
with Mario Bava’s similarly-themed Planet
of the Vampires), Queen of Blood has
been mostly unavailable to collectors for nearly twenty-five years. In March 2011 MGM finally re-issued the title
as part of its Limited Edition Collection,
but only as a made-on-demand release. In
2015, Kino Lorber has – very happily for genre fans and collectors - rescued
this title from the wasteland of cult-film marginalia with their superb Blu-Ray
release of this Roger Corman-Curtis Harrington classic.
of Blood (for reasons we’ll get into a little later on) more
resembles a 1950s sci-fi B-film than one from a decade on. Astronauts Allan Brenner (John Saxon) and Laura
James (Judi Meredith) are co-workers at the International
Institute of Space Technology. The
agency is developing plans to send a spacecraft to Mars and Venus but James’
works seems terribly mundane: she sits
in the radio room diligently monitoring the stream of white-noise signals
emanating from outer-space. Listening
for endless hours at this “music of the spheres” (as Brenner describes the monotonous
stream), James might be doing important work; but it doesn’t seem – at first – that
she enjoys a particularly exciting forty-hour work week. That is not until the radio she monitors starts
picking up an unusual transmission.
Expert cryptographists and cipher analysts are brought
in and quickly decipher the spectral message from the cosmos. They’re excited to learn that seemingly
friendly and curious ambassadors from an un-specified planet are en route to visit
planet earth. The scientists are obviously
thrilled by the prospect, and one can appreciate the excitement of the
world-renown Dr. Farraday (Basil Rathbone) as he triumphantly crows via a loudspeaker
that the greatest of historical summits is imminent. But the euphoria on campus is short-lived. The planned meeting seems to take an unpredicted
turn for the worse when a second message is received. It seems the alien’s spacecraft has
crash-landed on a Martian moon and its surviving single occupant asks that a
space craft be dispatched to collect. This is where, of course, the trouble begins.
A rescue mission is arranged, with Brenner, James, Paul
Grant (Dennis Hopper) and Dr. Anders Brockman (Robert Boon) in tow. The alien spacecraft has crashed on the
Martian moon of Phobos and it’s there that the crew will have their first
face-to-face meeting with the titular Queen
of Blood (Florence Marley). With her
green skin, crimson red lips, and mod bee-hive hair-do (initially hidden by the
rugby-ball shaped leather helmet she wears), it must be said that the visitor
cuts a startling figure. Brockman
suggests the space-ambassador’s green-tint is likely due to the presence of chlorophyll
in her genetic make-up, that the emissary’s DNA might be more akin to that of a
plant. If the Queen is a sophisticated plant, as the astronaut opines,
it’s safe to say she’s more Venus fly-trap than sunflower.
Paul’s gentle entreaties to the alien are both warm and
genuine. He tries to get her to sip some water but her disingenuous eyes
are mistaken as windows of affection. In reality, the Queen is not
displaying any romantic interest in Paul (as embodied by the still strikingly
young Dennis Hopper). She is, in fact, sizing up the naive astronaut as a
possible future meal. We soon learn the reason the Queen has not partaken
in any of the previous meals offered; she’s more intent on feeding on the warm
blood of the crew. There haven’t been any screams in the night to alert
them to the menace. The Queen first hypnotizes her intended prey and then, much
like a vampire bat, uses her saliva to serve as a numbing agent, dulling the pain
of the incisors as they stab into her victim. Once wise to the treachery,
the astronauts – still determined to bring her back to earth as the scientific
find of the ages – feeds her the ship’s store of blood plasma. This works
out OK until that limited supply is exhausted and they’re still far from earth.
The back-story to this film is nearly as interesting as
the film itself. The imaginative and extraterrestrial scenes were Soviet in
origin, the outer-space sequences shot entirely at the Odessa film studios in
the Ukraine, just off the shoreline of the Black Sea. The space-footage featured in Queen of Blood had been primarily sourced
from the 1963 Soviet film Mechte
Navstrechu (“A Dream
Come True”) (1963), directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze. In what would prove to be the first salvo of
the C.C.C.P. vs. U.S. space-race, the Soviet Union would launch Sputnik in
October of 1957. It was the first
successful satellite launch in world history and Soviet filmmakers were
encouraged to celebrate this glowing achievement of socialism with Eastern bloc
neighbors in the form of cinematic paeans. The multitude of imaginative space-age film tapestries created in the
wake of the Sputnik launch were truly impressive; the Soviet depictions of space-ways
were majestically conceived presentations combining vibrant colors, eerie
Martian landscapes, rotating spherical objects, state-of-the-art visual
effects, and futuristic set decoration.
happened upon seeing several of these magnificent space-epics in a cinema in
east Hollywood. Thrilled by the
sophistication of the on-screen imagery, Corman would travel to the Soviet
Union and arrange licensing rights for a package of Soviet sci-fi films through
Mosfilm, the official-organ of the state-run motion-picture industry. Corman wasn’t interested in releasing the
films in the U.S. in their original – and very political - forms. He recognized the Soviet films were littered
with heavy-handed doses of anti-Americanism and thinly disguised metaphorical proselytisms
of socialist-internationalism. Corman
was primarily interested in re-cutting and re-dubbing the Soviet films for
consumption by a decidedly non-ideological U.S. audience. Queen
of Blood would not be Corman’s first experiment with such
re-constitution. Two of his earliest
efforts in re-dubbing and incorporating new footage to westernize his package
of Russian sci-fi films were Voyage to
the Prehistoric Planet (1965) and Battle
Beyond the Sun (1962).
In the case
of Mechte Navstrechu, a film mostly
plundered for use in Queen of Blood,
its rosy scenario of peaceful co-existence between the planets was not commercially
viable. Instead Corman envisioned the film
as a space-age version of a “traditional gothic vampire story.” As he was busy working on other projects, Corman
arranged for director Curtis Harrington to shoot new scenes with an American
and British cast and then seamlessly blend these segments into the existing
Russian space-footage. In one of the
supplements, Corman mildly boasts that many scholars have mused that the
low-budget Queen of Blood might have
very well been the template for the big-budget box-office smash Alien (1979). This is at least partly true, but Queen of Blood itself was largely a
re-working of the It! The Terror from
Beyond Space” (1958). Sci-fi and horror film buffs will also detect the
not-so-subtle allusions to the famous Twilight
Zone episode “To Serve Man” (broadcast March 2, 1962) as well as Mario
Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965).
Having already made a considerable investment in his licensing
of the Soviet films, executive producer Corman was rather stingy with the
financing of its American cousin. Harrington was only apportioned somewhere in
the region of $40,000 to $65,000 – depending on what source you’re to believe -
to re-constitute the original Soviet production into a commercial commodity. Though John Saxon had earned a reputation for
professionalism as an actor – he already had two-dozen or so films to his
credit - his star had not yet completely risen. Seventy-three year-old Basil Rathbone was brought in for a day’s work to
augment the bill as the seasoned actor enjoyed name recognition amongst genre
There’s no trouble identifying the Harrington-shot
footage from the original Soviet - and this is not a knock against his
direction. To keep production costs down the U.S. control-room sets had
been, very clearly, constructed from wood elements purposefully painted silver
as to project a metallic sheen. As seamless
merging of the original film with new footage was paramount to the film’s
success, a great amount of attention – and budget - was given to the art department
to authentically mimic the design of the original space-suits and helmets worn
by cosmonauts in the original film.
Regardless of such penny-pinching shortfalls, Queen
of Blood is one of the more eerie space-films of the era. This is
mostly due to Harrington’s ingenious use of shadowy silhouettes as an
inexpensive but effective method to convey tension and suspense. Most of the memorable on-screen gloominess of
Queen of Blood is the result of the
unblinking, emotionless eyes of Czech actress Florence Marley. It was a
masterstroke not to give Marley’s green-tinted alien any dialogue – it would
have surely diluted the effect of her menacing countenance. Watching her cold
eyes follow the doomed crew-members aboard the spacecraft with a cold,
reptilian-like disengagement is positively chilling.
This Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release
features the film as 1080p high-definition widescreen (1:85:1) transfer. Supplements include an interview with Roger
Corman, who provides his never-less-than usual amiable but cogent overview of
things, including a reminiscence of when first introduced to the Soviet
science-fiction films in a theater in east Hollywood. The nitty-gritty of the Queen of Blood production is more thoroughly examined in a second
interview, this time featuring the commentary of with Oscar-winning visual
effects specialist Robert Skotak. Skotak
is as much historian as artist (he’s the author of “IB Melchior: Man of Imagination” (Midnight Marquee Press), and
muses knowledgably and at some length on all aspects of this great
“B”-film. The original theatrical
trailer of Queen of Blood rounds out
the special features.
first Coen Brothers feature to be given the “Criterion treatment” is, oddly,
their most recent release—Inside Llewyn
Davis, which received (mostly) critical praise upon its release in late
2013. Kudos were especially heaped upon the film’s relatively new star, Oscar
Isaac. Sadly, while the picture recouped its investment and made a little
money, it wasn’t as widely embraced by audiences as it should have been. This
is probably because the Coen Brothers typically don’t make movies for the
masses. The auteur siblings create
art that appeals mostly to intelligent, hip audiences willing to enter a
strange, sometimes disturbing, always surprising, universe that is distinctly
Inside Llewyn Davis is presented as a
comedy, but in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre,
“comedy” can mean many things. It can be wild and wacky (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski) or it can be dark and foreboding
(Barton Fink, A Serious Man). Llewyn Davis leans
more toward the latter. In fact, it is a downright melancholy picture that will
leave in a funk any viewers who happen to be musicians. But that doesn’t mean the
film’s not funny, too.
Davis (Isaac, in a brilliant performance worthy of an Oscar nomination he
didn’t get) is a down on his luck but talented folk singer in 1961 Greenwich
Village. The setting is pretty much a character, too, for this was the hotbed
of the folk scene prior to the
arrival of Bob Dylan, who changed everything. The Coens and Isaac based the
Davis character on the very real folk musician Dave Van Ronk—but really only his
musical material (adapted by musical producer T Bone Burnett). While Davis is
on stage, he is magic. The songs are heartbreakingly beautiful. Off stage, though,
unlike Van Ronk, Davis is a mess. He’s cranky, cynical, and not a very nice
guy. He’s losing what friends he has and he’s his own worst enemy. The movie becomes
his journey through a bleak New York winter as he tries to eke out a living,
take care of a neighbor’s cat, and bring some sort of sense to the madness that
is his life. Even though he’s a trainwreck happening before our eyes, poor Davis
doesn’t realize he’s doomed until, at the end of the movie, he hits a
career-ending brick wall in the form of a certain person.
like most everything the Coen Brothers create, this revelation is exhibited
the Coens’ other musical feature, O
Brother, Where Art Thou?, this one explores a very specific music steeped
in Americana, and the movie is full of it. Justin Timberlake plays a supporting
role as another folkie, along with lovely Carey Mulligan. Much of the material
consists of wistful folk ballads, but the trio of Isaac, Timberlake, and Adam
Driver perform a song called “Please Mr. Kennedy” that is a laugh riot—the
funniest bit in the film—and why it wasn’t nominated for Best Song for that
year’s Oscars is a mystery.
Criterion Collection’s new special edition release of the film is very unique
in how much the Coen Brothers participated in the supplements, of which there are
an abundance. The brothers are usually unwilling to do interviews or support
“making of” documentaries. This time, however, they did a lot, the least of
which was approving the 4K digital transfer, which looks gorgeous. Director of
photography Bruno Delbonnel chose to shoot the picture with a soft focus and
muted colors that somehow evokes the black and white feel of the era. It works
beautifully to amplify the melancholy. The feature has a 5.1 surround DTS-HD
Master Audio soundtrack, plus an audio commentary by authors Robert Christgau,
David Hajdu, and Sean Wilentz.
running time of the supplements are more than three times as long as the
feature film. “Inside Inside Llewyn Davis”
is a forty-three minute documentary on the making of the film, revealing the
Coen Brothers at work, especially in the casting and working with Burnett on
the music adaptation. Additionally, the disk includes a long, fascinating interview
with the brothers conducted by Guillermo del Toro; a conversation between
Burnett and the Coens about folk music; a new piece about the Greenwich Village
folk scene of the era featuring Van Ronk’s co-biographer, Elijah Wald; a short
documentary by Dan Drasin about the 1961 clash between folk musicians and
police in Washington Square Park; trailers; and, finally, the awesome
full-length feature (originally aired on Showtime), Another Day, Another Time—a documentary by Christopher Wilcha that
covered the special concert of folk music held at New York’s Town Hall in
September 2013. Oscar Isaac performs along with the likes of the Punch
Brothers, Joan Baez, Marcus Mumford, Jack White, Gillian Welch, Lake Street
Dive, and many others. It’s worth the price of the disk. The booklet contains
an essay by film critic Kent Jones and a poster illustration of Isaac as Llewyn
you missed Inside Llewyn Davis during
its theatrical run, here’s your chance to explore the film in depth. As with
any Coen Brothers effort, it is a rewarding experience. Time will prove it to
be one of their better ones.
Disney has pushed back the release of "Star Wars: Episode VIII" from May, 2017 to December, 2017. No explanation was provided in the Variety article that reported the shift in strategy. However, principal filming is on schedule to commence in England next month with Rian Johnson taking over the director's chair from J.J. Abrams, who helmed the current blockbuster in the series "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". Johnson has also written the screenplay. For more click here.
Glory days: the Ziegfeld hosted many premieres over the decades including the 1972 gala for Bob Fosse's "Cabaret". Forty years later the Ziegfeld hosted Liza Minnelli and other cast members who returned for a screening of the restored version of the film.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
In 1969 the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan opened its doors for the first time. The lavish theater quickly won the hearts of movie fans. It was an elaborate place and showcased top films. It was considered New York's secondary jewel, however, as Radio City Music Hall was still alive and well and showing top-notch movies. Over the years Radio City closed its doors, a victim of changing times in the film industry. The Hall would only show family friendly films and there were precious few that could profitably play at the cavernous theater. You used to be able to get to a first run movie and a big stage show for five bucks but, after a while, nobody came. After the Hall closed and reopened, you can now see the stage show only for about a hundred bucks and the place is packed. Go figure. Now the Ziegfeld will follow Radio City into the realm of glorious Gotham cinematic memories. The landlord has notified management that the lease will not be renewed and the theater is expected to close in the next few weeks. It will mark the end of Manhattan's last single-screen theater. Ironically the plug wasn't pulled by the theater's owners, Cablevision, who kept the venue open despite losses of over $1 million a year. Under Cablevision the theater played first run movies but also periodically showed restored classics. The theater also hosted the occasional premiere. However, American studios rarely hold the kind of glorious premieres that were once regular occurrences, thus resulting in the loss of a key part of the theater's income. The theater's name will change to the Ziegfeld Ballroom and will now be hosting corporate events although the new owners will keep the screen intact primarily as a decoration and promise that occasional films will still be screened there.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer at the Ziegfeld's New York premiere of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" in August 2015.
For this writer the closing of the Ziegfeld seemed like an inevitability in changing times when multi-plex cinemas dominate the landscape. The first film I saw there was the 1969 reissue of "The Sand Pebbles" starring Steve McQueen. It was being promoted with a new ad campaign that capitalized on the anti-Vietnam war movement that had emerged since the film originally opened in 1966. I recall being a wide-eyed 13 year-old and being swept away by the grandeur of the place even though I had been to the even grander Radio City countless times. I have nothing but wonderful memories of the Ziegfeld. In 1975 when I was the film critic for my student university newspaper I would get invitations from the studios to attend movie events there. For blue collar kid from right across the river in Jersey City who was working his way through college, it was pure bliss. I recall taking my girlfriend (now wife) to what I thought was a standard advance screening of Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" in 1975 and being mortified to find everyone else dressed to the nines for some kind of prestigious unveiling of the film. (They even gave you the vinyl soundtrack album on the way out. Pure Heaven!) Over the decades I have seen countless films there and witnessed the slow but inevitable decline in the atmosphere. My last visit there was in August for the premiere of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film. Despite having a somewhat tired interior, the old place still rallied for one last red carpet, celebrity-packed event. I won't be going to the Ziegfeld again before it closes because I want that very special evening to be my lasting memory of a very special place, one that will remain alive and well at least in the hearts of movie lovers. "Closing Channel 'D'", indeed.
This is the original review from the movie industry trade magazine Film Bulletin for the 1966 "Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film "One Spy Too Many" starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, which was comprised of the two-part episode "The Alexander the Greater Affair" with some additional footage shot specifically for the theatrical release. Despite the low production costs of these "U.N.C.L.E." films, they generated huge profits in the international markets. Eight feature films were made from two-part episodes, although only three were released in the United States: "To Trap a Spy", "The Spy With My Face" (the latter two as a double feature) and "One Spy Too Many".
The eight feature films are available as a DVD set. Click here to order.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will star respectively as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a new BBC production titled "Stan and Ollie". The film is shaping up as an affectionate tribute to the legendary comedy duo and will concentrate on their last personal appearance tour which took place in the UK in 1953. Hardy's health was failing at the time but they continued the tour as initially anemic attendance statistics began to grow. Ultimately the tour proved to be highly successful even as Laurel and Hardy came to the realization that their long-time professional partnership was at an end. Oliver Hardy died in 1957. Stan Laurel passed away in 1965. For more click here.
The Warner Archive has delved into its vaults to release some WWII-era American propaganda films. One of the more interesting titles is "Hitler's Madman", a 1943 exploitation piece directed by Douglas Sirk, who would go on to become an esteemed filmmaker whose work is still revered today. The movie was made on shoestring by an independent production company and was considered marketable enough for MGM to make a rare acquisition of a film made outside of the studio's control. The "quickie" nature of the production was designed to capitalize on one of the most horrendous war crimes in history: the systematic destruction of an entire village, Lidice, in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The film centers on the ordeal suffered by the peasant population of the village when Nazi rule becomes increasingly more oppressive under the command of "Reich Protector" Reinhard Heydrich, a Hitler favorite because of his unquestioning loyalty to National Socialist dogma. Even by Nazi standards Heydrich was considered a brute and was feared by both the people of Czechoslovakia and Germans who interacted with him. Heydrich was a man without conscience who believed in suppressing dissent by use of ruthless methods. He is played very well in the film by John Carradine, whose dyed blonde hair renders him virtually unrecognizable. Its doubtful that the real Heydrich engaged in the kind of Prof. Moriarty dialogue and mannerisms that characterized so many cinematic villains of the period, but Carradine does manage to evoke some truly sinister and creepy forms of behavior, all the time exuding a pretentious charm that makes those on the receiving end of his icy stare realize they might well be doomed.
The script personalizes the ordeal of the people of Lidice by following the story of Jarmilla Hanka (Patricia Morrison), a young woman who is shocked to discover that her former boy friend Karel Vavra (Alan Curtis) has secretly arrived back in town on a mission for the Allies to organize the locals into an underground movement to disrupt Nazi activities. He gets a less-than-enthusiastic welcome by the men of the village who are understandably reluctant to give Heydrich an excuse to unleash a widespread crackdown on the population. Jarmilla's own father Jan (Ralph Morgan) is an advocate for conformity and warns against the consequences of opposing the Nazis. However, Heydrich and his goons ratchet up the pressure by arresting and executing professors and other intellectuals, then forcing the male students to "volunteer" for service on the Eastern front. Adding insult to injury, he announces that girls between the ages of 16-19 will be forced into bordellos to pleasure the stressed out German troops. in one of the film's most daring and unnerving scenes, Heydrich has the young women line up in a perverted version of a beauty pageant as he personally decides which girls have the necessary "qualities" for this degrading assignment. In fact the film abounds with sequences that are shocking in their implications. It was pretty strong stuff for 1943. However, there is a good deal of Hollywood hokum attached as well as the expected distortion of historical events. It is true that Heydrich was assassinated and, in revenge, Hitler ordered every male in Lidice to be shot; every adult woman sent to a concentration camp and all young children sent to state-run orphanages. He then ordered that the entire village be razed to the ground and that any historic or geographical reference to its existence be eliminated. The film attributes Heydrich's murder to Jamrilla and her father who assassinate him on a country road. This is pure baloney. Heydrich was actually mortally wounded by a team of highly trained commandos who carried out the deed as Heydrich's car drove through the streets of Prague. Historical liberties aren't the only problem with the film. The acting tends to be of the "over-the-top" variety that was frequent in Poverty Row productions of the era. Not helping matters is the distraction of having some actors utilize exotic European accents while others sound like they are from New Jersey. This "Tower of Babble" effect undercuts the dramatic aspects of the performances. However, the film retains much of its power in the jarring sequences of Nazi oppression and the human toll it took on the population of the lands areas they occupied. There is also the considerable presence of John Carradine, whose performance transcends some of the weaker aspects of the production. Director Sirk also rises above the material and, given the minimal clout he must have had at this point in his career, manages to make a "B" exploitation flick into something more meaningful.
The Warner Archive region-free DVD looks fine but contains no extras.
the American Theater of Actors, in conjunction with Dr. Harriet Fields, presented
a theatrical reenactment of the 1928 trial of W.C. Fields for the murder of a
Canary. Entitled “The Real Transcript of W.C. Fields Murder Trial (Of A
Canary),” the thirty minute production is based upon a true story of the night
that Fields was arrested for the inhumane treatment of a canary in his act at
the Earl Carrol Theater by two New York City policemen attached to the Humane
had been appearing in Earl Carroll’s Vanities and was performing a routine that
is immortalized in his 1932 film “The Dentist.” In the routine, a man with a
huge brisling beard comes to see Fields, the dentist. As Fields pokes around
the man’s beard in an attempt to locate the man’s mouth, birds fly out, at
which point Fields grabs a rifle and tries to shoot them. When the routine was
done on stage, the two police officers claimed the bird, was not shot, but was
tortured and fatally injured when it ran into the scenery and fell to the stage.
While they could have issued a summons under the law protecting the creatures,
they instead arrested Fields and took him to jail.
was arraigned at the Seventh District Magistrates’ Court at 314 West 54th
Street and tried in front of the Honorable George Simpson charged with:
“Violation of Section
949 of the Penal Law in that on September 13, 1928 at 11:35 P.M. at 755 Seventh
Avenue, the Earl Carroll Theater, he did carry a bird in his pocket and took
the same from his pocket and permitted the bird to fly upon the stage and cause
said bird to fall to the floor as to produce torture.” (From the actual
can’t make this up.
also cannot believe that the reenactment was done on a stage in what was then,
in 1928, the original courtroom where the trial was held. Yet that is also
true. Under the direction of James Jennings, the founder of the American
Theater of Actors, his team of professional took some very slight liberties
with the actual trial and transcript and added some dramatic business to
entertain the fairly large crowd who attended this commemorative
performance. Fields was played by
Terrence Montgomery and, taking some license with the casting, changed the
“Honorable George” to the “Honorable Georgina—played by Jane Culley.
changes were required in what must have been one of the most entertaining
trials in New York jurisprudence. Especially when Officer Moran, the arresting
officer in the case (played emotively by Thomas Kane), had actual lines from
the trial like:
“We saw the bird in
the cage, and in the window of the taxicab we held the bird up. It was gasping, and we took it down, and we
notified the taxi driver that the bird was dying. When we got to the hospital, the bird was
surprising that, in the performance, Fields signaled to the audience, that
“Moran” is really pronounced “Moron.” Especially as Fields’ attorney,
established to the court that the two officers posed for press photos with the
bird in the cage before leaving the theater. He also brought out the photographers’
use of magnesium powder flashes almost suffocating the people in the photos.
the judge patiently let both sides produce witnesses and allowed the trial to
go on, it was obvious that the Honorable Georgina found a more likely cause of
the birds death (the flash powder used by the photographers when the officers
posed with the bird and cage). She delivered her verdict, as the original Judge
“The bird was all
right, I am satisfied, until he got into the hands of one or both of the officers. This was a case I am very frank to
say, that if the proper discretion had been used, Officer Moran would not have
taken a reputable citizen and placed him under arrest when he had the right to
use a summons…There is no danger of Mr. Fields running away and, in an act that
is shown every night, there is every inducement to stay here. He made an
unjustifiable arrest of a reputable citizen on the theory that this bird was
suffering torture and, before me, there is not one scintilla of evidence of the
bird having suffered torture….The bird did not die from any act on the part of
this defendant, William C. Fields, nor did the bird suffer any torture at his
hands whatsoever. Therefore I find the Defendant not guilty, and he is
acquitted. (The bird and cage returned to the attorney for the defendant.” (Again,
from the original trial transcript)
audience signaled agreement with their applause and the reenactment was
followed by some film clips of the sound films Fields made in the years
following his run in with the law.
was then followed by a question and answers session with Dr. Fields and James
Jennings and some refreshments generously provided by the theater. A fun
evening for all and definitely NOT for the birds.
The latest James Bond hit "Spectre" starring Daniel Craig is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The Blu-ray set, which includes a digital copy, will ship in the USA on February 9. The Blu-ray includes video blogs made during production of the film, a look at the spectacular opening sequence in Mexico and a photo gallery.
Customers can save $17 off the list price by clicking here to order.
If you never heard of the controversial 1982 futuristic thriller "Turkey Shoot" it may be because the film's release was largely botched especially in the United States where Roger Corman picked up distribution rights and re-titled the movie "Escape 2000" (despite the fact that the story is set in the year 1995!). The film's troubled production history is graphically outlined in the impressive Blu-ray special edition from Severin Films. But first let's examine the premise. "Turkey Shoot" is among the countless forerunners of "The Hunger Games" in that it uses the time-honored concept of presenting helpless humans as prey in sadistic "sporting" contests. From "The Most Deadly Game" to Cornel Wilde's superb "The Naked Prey", the concept seems to be a favorite for screenwriters and directors. "Turkey Shoot" started as a promising venture for director Brian Trenchard-Smith. His two leading actors, Steve Railsback (who had recently made a splash in the acclaimed film "The Stunt Man") and Olivia Hussey (of "Romeo and Juliet" fame) were enthused about the premise. The film presents them in a futuristic society in an unnamed country where totalitarianism is prevalent. (How come we never see an optimistic view of a futuristic society?) Railsback is Paul Anders, an admitted dissident against the police state who is busted when he makes repeated radio broadcasts denouncing the government. Hussey is Chris Walters, an apolitical young woman who gets arrested when she tries to aid someone who is being brutalized by the state security forces. The two find themselves whisked to a "re-education" camp in a remote jungle setting. The place is actually a concentration camp run by a sadist named Thatcher (Michael Craig, whose character's name is a not so subtle rebuke of the British prime minister of the era. In fact, in some countries the film was released with the alternate title "Blood Camp Thatcher"). Anders continues to defy authority and Thatcher delights in torturing him. Chris tries to keep a low profile but it isn't long before the predatory guards headed by Chief Ritter (Roger Ward) have targeted her and other young women for chronic sexual abuse. The nightmarish situation only becomes worse when Paul, Chris and two other inmates- Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) and Griff (Bill Young)- are chosen to be prey in a high stakes game of life or death. The four prisoners are sent unarmed into the wilds with a bit of a head start before Thatcher and some elitist cronies begin hunting them with hi-tech weaponry as well as a crossbow, wielded with deadly skill by Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), a vivacious but particularly cruel woman with lesbian tendencies who has some distasteful plans for Rita, to whom she is sexually attracted. It takes quite some time to get to the main theme of the film which is the "turkey shoot" of the hapless prey, all of whom delight the hunters by proving to be especially inventive in their methods of staying alive. The victims also prove to be masters of turning the tables on their pursuers and killing several of them. Things tend to get very bizarre when, out of the blue and without explanation, a half-man, half-beast creature is unleashed by the hunters to help track down the exhausted fugitives. It's like someone inserted some outtakes from the 1977 version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" into the movie. Along the way viewers are treated to an unending feast of sadism, sexism, and all-around general cruelty complete with torturous deaths, some of which are over-the-top and seem included only for the sake of the gore factor.
When "Turkey Shoot" was originally released it apparently was the subject of quite a bit of controversy in Australia and the UK, where critics and media watchdogs griped about the film's violent content. Over the decades, however, the movie seems to have built a loyal cult following that may have been at least in part attracted by the film's back story, which is more compelling than what ended up on screen. All of this is explored in Severin Films' outstanding bonus features, many of which were imported from a previously released edition from another company. Combined with some fascinating interviews culled from the acclaimed documentary "Not Quite Hollywood" (an excellent history of the Australian film industry by director Mark Hartley), this hodge podge of bonus features adds up to one of the most compelling special editions I've experienced. Most of the major participants are seen reminiscing about the movie. Since they were interviewed separately there wasn't the stigma of offending another participants sensibilities. The interviews play out like a real-life version of "Rashomon" with so many distinctly different versions of the same experience that you wonder if these folks are referring to the same movie. Their candor is both amusing and fascinating as they mostly recall their work on the movie as a very unpleasant experience. (Olivia Hussey is notable by her absence from the extras and this is perhaps the reason why.) The real fun starts when the blame game goes into effect with various actors, producers and Trenchard-Smith assigning responsibility for a film most consider to be least somewhat of a disaster. Trenchard-Smith points out that just before shooting started his production funding was cut substantially. This resulted in key sequences being scrapped. He could have quit there but you have to admire the guy. As a true professional he stuck with the truncated version of the script and began shooting in an inhospitable climate with an unhappy cast and trying to cope with often sub-par special effects caused by the budget cuts. He admits that the negative reaction to the film derided his career (although apparently it made a good deal of money.) There is a new round table discussion with Trenchard-Smith, producer Anthony Ginanne and cinematographer Vincent Monton (who did not film "Turkey Shoot" but who had worked for Ginanne on other productions.) The discussion is polite but leaves little doubt that both Trenchard-Smith and Ginanne both harbor different views about who is to blame for the film's artistic failings. Steve Railsback, seen in a separate interview, implies that even with a reduced budget of $2.5 million, it should have bought a more opulent production for its era and insinuates that some hanky-panky may have caused some of the funding to mysteriously disappear. Lynda Stoner remains especially bitter about her experience on the movie and is still angry that she was pressured into doing a nude scene. Hussey was, too, but stuck to her guns only to have a completely unconvincing body double play the scene. Stoner also harbors resentment toward actor David Hemmings (who did not appear in the film, but who served as one of the producers) for being a dictatorial presence on the set and even insisting upon directing some sequences.
For all its faults there is much to admire in "Turkey Shoot" especially when one becomes aware of the extreme obstacles that the director and cast had to overcome. The gore factor has become somewhat less shocking in our desensitized era and the good things about it (notably the performances and direction) hold up well. The movie is definitely an acquired taste for select viewers but the Severin special edition should be recommended as a "must have" for anyone who wants an insightful look at how major productions can be sabotaged by factors that neither the case or crew have any control over.
In the 1970s and 1980s director Brian De Palma had some high profile hits with Hitchcockian thrillers such as "Sisters", "Obsession", "Dressed to Kill", "Blow Out" and "Body Double". De Palma's defenders extolled the virtues of these films as clever homages to Hitchcock while detractors accused De Palma of using The Master's formulas to make a fast buck. In 1982 director Robert Benton jumped on the same bandwagon with his own Hitchcockian project, "Still of the Night", which was shot under the title "Stab" before the marketing campaign had been re-evaluated. A few years earlier Benton had triumphed at the Oscars with "Kramer vs. Kramer", taking home the Best Director Oscar. That film also provided an important career boost for Meryl Streep, who also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The two were reunited for this project which stands out on both of their credentials as an odd choice. Chances are that when you think of Streep's exalted status in the film community today, the thriller genre is unlikely to come to mind. (Though she did also appear in "The River Wild" and the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate".) Benton, who had directed relatively few films to date, was more accustomed to the genre and perhaps his involvement with this flawed production can be explained by the fact that the basis for the story (which he collaborated on with David Newman) was a real life experience that found him obsessed with a woman who simultaneously excited and frightened him. Certainly it's a sold premise for a thriller and through much of the movie Benton provides a compelling scenario complimented by two excellent actors: Streep and Roy Scheider. The film falls apart in the final act when it begins to resemble less of a homage to Hitchcock than an homage to De Palma's homages to Hitchcock- with a dose of "Play Misty for Me" thrown in (i.e knife wielding killer attacks protagonist on a balcony that overlooks the churning sea.) It's not that "Still of the Night" is bad (though Streep has gone on record as saying it is), it's simply that it hardly seems like it would ever have been compelling enough to attract two recent Oscar winners.
The film opens in the office of New York City psychiatrist Sam Rice (Scheider). Like most cinematic headshrinkers, he appears to need psychiatric care more than his patients do. He's going through the miseries of a divorce and seems bored and depressed. The only significant female relationship he has is with his mother (Jessica Tandy, who perhaps not coincidentally starred in Hitchcock's "The Birds".) Sam's mundane daily routine takes a dramatic turn when he discovers that a long-time patient, businessman George Bynum (Josef Sommer) has been found stabbed to death in his car on a Manhattan street. From this point some key elements of the story are told in flashback sequences. Sam remembers Bynum as a sexual predator who had been having an affair with one of his staff workers. Then he meets Brooke Reynolds (Streep), a gorgeous thirty-something blonde who seems both alluring and vulnerable. Bynum confesses that he is obsessed with her and cut off his previous affair in order to engage in one with Brooke. Shortly after Bynum's death, Sam is shocked when Brooke appears at his office, nervous, unsettled and chain-smoking. (Yes, you could smoke in an office in those days.) In the awkward conversation that follows she says the purpose of her visit is to return a wristwatch that Bynum had accidentally left at her apartment. She doesn't want to return it herself for fear of alerting Bynum's widow about the affair he was having with her. From minute one Sam is smitten and intrigued by this quirky, jittery- and stunningly beautiful- young woman. He also realizes that her cover story about the watch is thin. She actually wanted to meet him. Shortly thereafter Sam is visited by Detective Joe Vitucci (Joe Grifasi, channeling every personality cliche you can think of when it comes to a New York City cop). He asks Sam if he can shed any light on who might be Bynum's killer. Sam informs him that anything he had discussed with Bynum would be protected under doctor/client privilege...but he also finds himself unable to inform Vitucci about Bynum's affair with Brooke. He realizes he is now obsessed with her, just as Bynum was. He strongly suspects that Brooke is Bynum's murderer but can't get her out of his mind. Like Bynum, he's simultaneously sexually stimulated and terrified of her. Nevertheless, he begins finding excuses to see her and his presence seems to have a calming effect on Brooke. The friendship goes to another stage when she responds to his kiss but Sam is too lacking in self-confidence to actually seduce her. Meanwhile he begins to experience some eerie occurrences. He believes someone is stalking him in the basement of his apartment building. As he follows the mysterious Brooke on a nighttime walk through Central Park (a chilling scenario for anyone in those days), he finds himself alone and so unnerved that when a man jumps out of the shadows to mug him, he is actually relieved to have another human being on the scene. Director Benton knows that a sure-fire way to ratchet up suspense is to put the protagonist in a creepy dark house or in an equally unnerving location. However he goes to the well with this plot device a little too often. For a man who lives in the heart of Manhattan, Sam seems to wind up repeatedly in eerie, isolated places. However, some of the sequences are genuinely suspenseful as in the scene in which Sam is in the laundry room of his apartment building, deep in the bowels of the basement. No one is around. There is total isolation when suddenly the lights in an adjoining room inexplicably go out. You can share his sense of increasing panic as he knows someone is stalking him...but who and why? Refrehingly, Scheider portrays Sam as an everyday guy, not a tough-as-nails hero. He's vulnerable both physically and emotionally throughout.
The film's primary asset is its two stars, both of whom give intense and very convincing performances. There are also the usual plot twists and red herrings one would expect to find in a movie of this genre and Benton for the most part manages to wring some genuine suspense out of it even when he resorts to old gimmicks that include a dream sequence in which Bynum is menaced by an eerie little girl (are there any other kinds of little girls in dream sequences?) It's straight out of "The Shining" but then again just about everything in "Still of the Night" seems recycled, even though it manages to be engrossing right up until the climax when Benton the screenwriter resorts to every time-worn cliche imaginable: an old dark house, a sacrificial lamb character, a vulnerable hero, a knife-wielding maniac...you get the picture. About all that is missing is John Carradine as a mad scientist. The weak ending feels like it was tossed together at the last minute and doesn't retain the suspense or logic that Benton has managed to build heretofore. Nonetheless, "Still of the Night" is still worth a look if only for the performances and those few genuinely spooky sequences.
The Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber includes the original trailer and trailers for two other Roy Scheider films, "Last Embrace" and "53 Pick-Up."
protest has been part of human society going back to Paleolithic times when the
first homo-protestapien complained "What, nuts and berries again?"
The response was most likely either "Go out and kill something,
then," or "Discover fire and I'll make a casserole." Admittedly,
I loosely translate from the original "ogg," "ugh" and
the year 1968 the earth was awash with protesters (for good reason) who had
developed protesting into an art form. The art form of choice was the protest
song. From Arlo Guthrie to John Lennon, Country Joe McDonald to Marvin Gaye,
Bob Dylan to The Plastic People of the Universe, Phil Ochs to Jimmy Cliff, the
airwaves were filled with politically charged lyrics that stirred the souls of
the youth of the world. Americans like to think they had a patent upon it but
Eastern Europe was at the forefront of something other than Vietnam, their own
had been over for more than twenty years but there still were countries in
upheaval. The Prague Spring had come to Czechoslovakia
and led to another Communist invasion. Yugoslavia was beset with protests from
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Western Macedonia that led to concessions that
angered Serbians and Montenegrins. This caused not only a Serbian emigration
from Kosovo but also further religious tensions as Macedonians created their
own Orthodox Church and Muslim nationalism rose in Bosnia irritating Serbian
churchmen. And, of course, the Cold War was in full swing in Germany with the
Berlin Wall, just seven years old, still 21 years away from demolition. It is
in the politically turbulent year of 1968 that "Fatherland," aka "Singing the Blues in Red" begins.
meet protest singer-songwriter Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannach, whose
biography mirrors his character's) as he is interrogated by officials of the
Stalinist-Communist East German government who look to convict him of crimes
against the state and exile him. Drittemann (whose name translates from the
German as "third man," make of that what you will) is a
Marxist-socialist whose criticism leads to being denied to perform any longer
and eventually, at the age of 40, gets him a one-way exit visa to West Germany
and he leaves his son and an ex-wife behind.
some people may think that a good thing with the opportunity to make a living
again and become a success in the west - there is already a record company
waiting to sign him, Klaus does not. In his, and "Fatherland's" world
view capitalism is just as terrifyingly corrupt as hard-line Communism. He is
besieged as soon as he steps into the west, turned into a celebrity and faces a
choice of signing his life away to the record company or maintaining his
ethics. At his press conference in West Berlin he is asked a number of times
about his father (Sigfrit Steiner) who was also a musician forced into exile
back in the 1950s. When he opens a safe-deposit box in a bank there (the key to
which was passed to him by his mother back in East Berlin) he discovers
personal effects from his father that turn his life upside down. He now wants
to find his father and with the assistance of Emma, a French-Dutch journalist
(Fabienne Babe) who seems to be withholding information, he begins his journey
and heads to England.
made mostly in Germany and in German, "Fatherland" is an English
film. Written by Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with Warren Beatty on
"Reds", it was directed by Ken Loach who made a number of politically
charged films in the 1980s that ran him afoul of the Conservative Margaret
Thatcher government. That government influence extended to the film and
television industries and Loach found it harder and harder to work in the UK.
This film could be viewed as Loach's and Griffith's response. The dichotomy of
Germany's two faces (materialistic consumerism v. slapstick communism) mirrors
the divided Great Britain of the late 80s where Thatcher's Tory government of
opportunists held sway over a divided Liberal party.
eventually found partners in West Germany and France. "Fatherland" is
as straightforward as good Rock ‘n Roll music, it doesn't pull many punches and
delivers a philosophy of life that sounds pretty bleak here: "The man born
to be hanged need not fear drowning. The ones that are ruled carry others; the
ones who rule are carried by others. Any life is better than no life." But
if I delivered these lines in context it would amount to a 'spoiler' and if
"Fatherland" teaches anything it is that context is everything.
"Fatherland" has been released by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The disc contains an isolated score track and an informational collector's booklet.
Dan Haggerty, who found fame as Grizzly Adams, has died from cancer at age 74. Adams had been playing bit parts in films until he was cast as the title character in "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams", a 1974 low budget family film that went on to gross the (then) sizable sum of $45 million. The show was spun off as an NBC TV series a few years later. It lasted two seasons but made Haggerty synonymous with the role of a character who was loosely based on a real-life adventurer. Adams was a mountain man who encountered larger-than-life adventures. Although Haggerty continued to work fairly steadily in the ensuing years, he was relegated largely to low-budget and straight-to-video projects. Nevertheless, his name and that of Grizzly Adams remain pop culture icons of the 1970s. Click here for more.
World of SHAFT: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and
Steve Aldous (Published by McFarland $35), 260 Pages, Softcover, ISBN: 9780786499236)
Review by TIM GREAVES
can be few devotees of popular 1970s cinema unfamiliar with Gordon Parks'
gritty 1971 box office hit Shaft;
even those who've not seen it will certainly have heard of it. The movie
spawned two sequels, Shaft's Big Score
(1972, also directed by Parks) and Shaft
in Africa (1973, helmed by John Guillermin), as well as a short-lived
television series. Yet the iconic title character, black private detective John
Shaft – personified on film and TV by Richard Roundtree, and gifted with a
piece of theme music (by Isaac Hayes) as instantly identifiable and iconic as
‘The James Bond Theme’ – was actually the creation of a white author, Ernest
Tidyman, whose first novel originally hit the shelves in 1970. A paragon for
many black Americans during a heated period of struggle against racial
oppression, over time John Shaft cultivated a huge fan base across the world,
with readers and viewers of multiple nationalities, race and colour thrilling
to his literary and cinematic escapades.
Steve Aldous has channelled his boundless passion for all things Shaft into a
thrilling new book, "The World of SHAFT: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic
Strip, Films and Television Series". At this point I should confess that despite
having sat through the movies on countless occasions, I've not seen a single
episode of the TV show, nor read any of Tidyman's seven novels (published
between 1970 and 1975, the final one concluding with the character’s demise); however,
the enthusiasm that emanates from every page of Aldous's book has certainly
inspired me to rectify that oversight.
off with foreword by David F Walker (instrumental in reviving Shaft in both comicbook
and novel form), and some background information aptly classified as "The
Shaft Phenomenon", there follows an informative chapter devoted to creator
Ernest Tidyman. We're then plunged into extensive information and commentary appertaining
to each of the man's novels (including contemporary reviews, as well as
location and subsidiary character detail), the story behind several lamentably
failed attempts to launch a syndicated comic strip in the early 70s
(illustrated with some of the original trial panels), and everything you could
want to know about the 7-episode TV show (originally broadcast between 1973 and
1974), in which the character was again portrayed by Richard Roundtree, but in
an unpopular watered-down incarnation designed to avoid offending the perceived-to-be
delicate sensibilities of armchair audiences. "Cinema Retro" buffs
will doubtless revel in the extensive detail – the only go-to quick reference
you’ll ever need – on the production of the films (though there's a slight over-emphasis
on cast and crew bio), which again includes some invaluable contemporary
critical reaction, as well as coverage of John Singleton's respectable 2000
re-imagining with Samuel L Jackson occupying the title role. The book concludes
with detailed appendices and a bibliography.
research benefited immensely from having had access to a collection of
Tidyman's original private paperwork, which provided an inestimable
resource and subsequently the backbone of the book. Adorned with an
action-packed "come on, pick me up and buy me, you know you want to"
cover (the movie poster art for Shaft's
Big Score), it has to be noted that "The World of SHAFT" is
otherwise a tad light photographically speaking, but it's nevertheless an
essential acquisition both for those already familiar with the character and
the curious who are eager to be educated. One thing's for sure: you'll
certainly depart its pages with the feeling there can't possibly be anything
left to learn – or at least worth knowing – about the legend that is John
Nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards have been announced. "The Revenant" topped the nominations with. "Mad Max: Fury Road" was a surprise in that it received ten nominations. Sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Creed". Legendary composer Ennio Morricone was nominated for Best Score for "The Hateful Eight". Previous Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence received her fourth nomination (for "Joy"), making her the youngest actress (age 25) to achieve that honor. Snubs included Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott for Best Director even though their films "Bridge of Spies" and "The Martian" were nominated for Best Picture. The films "Carol" and "Inside Out" also failed to get expected Best Picture nods though the latter was nominated for Best Animated Feature. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", now the highest grossing film of all time, failed to score in any of the major categories but did get technical nominations. The James Bond film "Spectre" received a Best Song nomination for Sam Smith's "Writings on the Wall".
In the wake of David Bowie's passing, Britain has lost another revered figure at age 69- also from cancer. Alan Rickman, esteemed star of stage, screen and television, has passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. Rickman shot to fame in 1988 as the villain in the first "Die Hard" movie and went on to become one of the UK's most respected actors. For more about his life and career click here.
not sure how, when, and where Quentin Tarantino actually saw these two Japanese
films back in the day (they weren’t released in the U.S.), but the character of
a vengeful female samurai assassin was a major inspiration for the director’s Kill Bill pictures; in fact, Lucy Liu’s
character of O-Ren Ishii is so close to Lady Snowblood that it’s unclear if she’s
an homage or a rip-off. At any rate, if you’re a fan of Kill Bill, then you will most likely appreciate these low budget
cult action films.
on a Japanese manga by Kazuo Koike
and Kazuo Kamimura (Shurayuki-hime)
published in 1972 and 1973, both features star the beautiful Meiko Kaji as Lady
Snowblood, a kimono-dressed assassin who is active in the late 19th Century and
wields a mean blade hidden in an umbrella. Kaji is a popular actress in her
native country—she appeared in many B-movie action and martial arts pictures (i.e.,
the Japanese equivalent of exploitation movies) in the 70s, and then went into
television in the 80s. She is also an accomplished musical artist and singer,
having released many singles and a dozen LPs. She sings the main title song of Lady Snowblood (“Shuro No Hana”), and Tarantino used the same theme during a
sequence in Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Meiko
Kaji is perhaps the best reason to view this double feature.
first film is an origin story in which we learn that Yuki, aka Lady Snowblood, is
born to a mother who is in prison for killing one of a criminal foursome—three
men and one woman—who murdered her husband and son, and raped her. She passes
on the remainder of her vendetta to her daughter, who grows up to study martial
arts and become a vigilante. As an adult, Yuki tracks down the other three to
exact her revenge.
second picture finds Yuki as something of a hired hand of the secret police.
She must infiltrate the home of an anarchist in order to retrieve an item the
government wants—but, of course, her prey turns out not to be the true bad guy.
Lady Snowblood must switch allegiances and set things right with a lot of
swordplay, blood-letting, and Eastern-style poise.
movies are colorful and exotic in terms of photography, production design, and
costumes—the imagery of white snow splashed with red blood, mixed with the
period Japanese wardrobe and sets, exhibit a unique beauty that Tarantino
recreated in Kill Bill. Otherwise, the
two Snowblood movies are cheaply
done. The blood effects are, for the most part, ridiculous. One slash of a
throat and the blood laughably sprays like
a fire hose. The storylines are predictable, but like the manga from which they are adapted, are pure comic book pulp.
Criterion Collection presents both features on one disk. The new 2K digital
restorations look very good in that glorious and vividly garish color that is indicative
of the 70s. Each film has uncompressed monaural soundtracks, and there are new
English subtitle translations. The disk is short on supplements, containing
only new interviews with Kazuo Koike (the writer of the manga), and screenwriter Norio Osada. Trailers for both pictures
are included. The booklet features an essay by critic Howard Hampton.
for aficionados of Japanese exploitation and martial arts fare, which, in the
1970s, was the equivalent of fast food.
Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will has long posed a conundrum for film critics and historians. How do you assess a film that is brilliantly made but which promotes a hateful message? The 1934 production which was created as a love letter to Adolf Hitler and his rapidly-rising National Socialist movement has been relatively shunned at film festivals and the art house circuit over the decades. It's undoubtedly been most widely seen in classrooms and on home video. Yet the passing of time has allowed the film to be more actively shown in recent years and it is nearly always accompanied by an introduction that rightly explains its relevance both to the period in which it was made but also as it pertains to today's world. Director Riefenstahl had been a popular actress in German cinema who had caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who was quite the movie fan (his favorites included Gone With the Wind and Laurel and Hardy.) Riefenstahl had recently become a pioneer as one of the first women to enter directing in the era of sound films. Hitler commissioned her to film the Nazi party's annual meeting in Nuremberg in the expectation that it would bolster the movement as well as increase the fanatical cult of personality that was already attached to him. Hitler had tried to overthrow the German government a decade earlier but ended up in jail. He turned this to his advantage by becoming a martyr to the cause and writing his personal bible Mein Kampf from his jail cell. By the time he was released, even those who had prosecuted him were trying to curry favor with the future dictator. Hitler ran for office and won the election to become Germany's chancellor. In reality he had most of the political power but was prudent enough to bide his time until the ceremonial head of state, Von Hindenburg, passed away from natural causes. Hitler knew that the public would not abide him disrespecting the beloved Von Hindenburg, who was regarded as a national war hero. As it had so many times in these early days of Hitler's rise, fate cooperated with his interests. Von Hindenburg passed away and Hitler went full throttle to establish himself as a virtual dictator. His first order of business was to eradicate Germany's fragile hold on democracy. The nation had come out on the losing side in WWI and was suffering terribly from onerous war reparations that had to be paid to the Allies, who were basically using Germany as a cash cow. Hitler quickly put to rest the last remnants of the loathed Weimar Republic and combined the offices of chancellor and president, thus giving himself unchallenged power over the country. He then persuaded the Reichstag to voluntarily cede most of their powers to him, thus making the series of checks and balances in the government a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies. Hitler still had important goals to fulfill. It was important to mobilize the nation as a fighting force in the expectation of war. However, he was bound by the Treaty of Versailles which mandated that Germany's armed forces number no more than 100,000 men. Hitler got around this by organizing numerous civic and political groups and turning them into paramilitary organizations. In this way he was able to train millions of Germans as soldiers even if they carried picks and shovels instead of rifles. Hitler also did some controversial "house cleaning" within his party by personally ordering the murders of SA head Ernst Rohm and his top lieutenants. The SA was Hitler's personal bodyguard but had grown to the size of an army. He worried that Rohm had political aspirations of his own and that he might orchestrate a coup. On the so-called Night of the Long Knives, the top echelon of the SA was systematically executed. Hitler appointed a more benign stooge, Viktor Lutze, as the new head of the SA. Hitler's biggest challenge was to ensure that he and Lutze could convince the rank and file SA men to stay loyal to the party and Hitler himself. This he intended to do at the Nuremberg rally, where he would give speech extolling his appreciation of the SA. The ploy worked and any dissension never spilled over into a threat to Hitler.
"Triumph of the Will" presents a sanitized picture of all these dastardly goings-on. What emerges is a nation that is completely behind Hitler and the Nazi cause. This was nonsense, of course. There were countless people who opposed the regime and over the course of the next few years they would pay dearly for their protests against the demise of German democracy. Nevertheless, as a propaganda piece the film is probably unrivaled in its impact. Although the movie was shown internationally, it didn't quite have the alarming impact one might have assumed. The Western democracies still thought of Hitler as primarily a quirky crank whose influence would be primarily confined within Germany's borders. Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a master of using cinema as a tool of manipulation. Not wanting to alarm the Allies before Germany had been rebuilt militarily, the film was given rather non-threatening sub-titles to accommodate its international showings. Meanwhile, within Germany, the messages were more ominous. When viewing the film even today one gets the feeling that Germany was an invincible power. One can only imagine the trepidation Allied troops must have felt when they finally had to go up against what had become a seemingly unstoppable war machine. The clues were in the film. The legions of robot-like paramilitary adherents are presented as fanatical loyalists to the new dictator. In fact the "real" armed forces were featured so slightly in the film that they raised protests. To appease them, Hitler commissioned a second film by Riefehstahl titled "Day of Freedom" (also included in this set). The movie has her trademark use of imaginary camera angles but it amounts to basically a sop to the armed forces by showcasing their prowess through military training exercises. More powerful are the scenes in "Triumph of the Will" that carefully showcase Hitler as a demi-god. He is seen traveling to Nuremberg by the small plane he favored for use in his political campaign stops. (Hitler was the first politician to eschew the traditional whistle stop train tours in favor of using a plane in order to cover more territory.) The images of his plane flying through the spectacular cloud formations are truly stunning. We also watch him as he stares down at the massive rally forming in expectation of his arrival. When Hitler does arrive at the rally he is preceded by a small army of his top officials who were being formally introduced to the German people through this film. In retrospect, they formed the perfect "Rogue's Gallery" and would go on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Most paid for their sins with their lives though others were sentenced to jail terms in the aftermath of the war. When Hitler takes to the podium he used his trademark practice of starting his speech in a low voice but gradually rising in tone and emotion into a virtual scream. The most disturbing part of the film occurs when all of the countless thousands of participants march past the podium and pledge their loyalty, not to Germany, but to Hitler personally. The film then concentrates on the ancillary fanfare that took place during this seminal week in the nation's history as we watch torchlight parades march past Hitler's hotel balcony where he looks on approvingly. At all times Riefenstahl diminishes the notion of individualism in order to present Hitler in an almost superhuman manner. He is photographed from angles that make him seem literally larger than life.
The Synapse Blu-ray, which features a restoration by Robert A. Harris, contains some valuable extras, the most informative being a feature-length commentary track by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, an expert on German history. Santoro's calm, laid-back manner is somewhat jolting at times, given the gravity of what we are viewing, but he provides excellent information regarding the nuances of these scenes and the fate of the individual Nazi top brass.Where the track falls a bit short is in Santoro's discussions of Riefenstahl and her legacy. He acknowledges her talents as a director but doesn't put much meat on the bone in regard to her personal life and legacy. (She lived until the age of 101 and never fully repented for her association with Hitler, nor was she ever prosecuted. She would defensively point out that she never actually joined the Nazi party, which is indeed surprising.) She would go on to make another important propaganda film for Hitler in 1938, Olympiad, an equally whitewashed account of the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin and which also managed to elevate Hitler as a star attraction even though he was largely a bystander. Arguably, Olympiad was the more important and effective film as it was meant to appease foreign concerns about the atrocities that were just being implemented in Germany.) Some of the slack from the commentary is addressed in excellent liner notes written by director and film historian Roy Frumkes, who delves deeper into Riefenstahl's fascinating life. Frumkes points out that the film should not really be considered a documentary because many of the "spontaneous" scenes were staged by Riefenstahl and some were shot repeatedly in order to get the desired footage. The new 2K restoration is impressive on all counts and does justice to Riefenstahl's astonishing camera angles. This presentation also boasts newly interpreted English sub-titles that accommodate the film's original German language version. It's beneficial to watch the film first then view it again with Dr. Santoro's commentary to provide context.
Compromised genius: Riefenstahl directing Triumph of the Will.
"Triumph of the Will" is indeed a major cinematic achievement- but tragically it promoted the greatest evil of the 20th century. The mind reels at what Leni Riefenstahl could have achieved had she not been compromised by her political beliefs.
Guillermo Del Toro is set to direct a long-planned, often delayed big screen remake of the 1966 sci-fi hit "Fantastic Voyage". James Cameron is behind the plans to bring the remake to reality. The film centers on a group of scientists who are miniaturized and inserted into the body of another prominent scientist in order to remove a blood clot that has endangered his life. Matters of international security depend upon successful completion of the mission but things go awry and endanger the would-be rescuers. The original film, directed by Richard Fleischer, was acclaimed for its (then) state-of-the-art special effects. The film also provided an early career hit for young Raquel Welch who was then a contract player at 20th Century Fox. Other original cast members included Stephen Boyd, Edmond O'Brien and Donald Pleasence. The remake is still in its early stages with no completed script and no casting decided upon.
Sentimental favorite Syvester Stallone brought home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his acclaimed performance in "Creed".
Major winners in last night's Golden Globe awards included Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winselt and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose film "The Revenant" won for Best Motion Picture Drama. "The Martian" won for Best Comedy/Musical, which left a lot of people scratching their heads. Denzel Washington received a lifetime achievement award and legendary composer Ennio Morricone won for Best Score for his work on Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight". Sam Smith's theme song for the latest James Bond movie, "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre", won for Best Song. For a complete list of winners, click here. The tradition of host (Ricky Gervais), winners and presenters trying to look hip and relevant by incorporating profanity into their appearances remained firmly in place. For Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever's dissection of the telecast, click here.
Bowie starred in the 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
David Bowie, one of the most iconic rock and rollers of all time, has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was 69 years old. Bowie exploded onto the British rock scene in 1969 and quickly became an international sensation. Over the decades he remained relevant by constantly reinventing himself and producing a wide range of music. He even created an alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, who simultaneously built an equally enthusiastic audience. Cinema Retro readers should also recall that Bowie had a successful career as an actor as well. His first appearance on screen was as an extra in the 1969 film "The Virgin Soldiers" but over the decades he won acclaim for his performances that afforded him leading roles and the chance to play memorable supporting characters as well. His film credits include "The Man Who Fell to Earth", "The Hunger", "Absolute Beginners", "Labyrinth", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Yellowbeard", "Into the Night", "Basquiat" and "The Prestige". He also won acclaim for his performance on Broadway as "The Elephant Man" in 1987.
Bowie kept his illness secret until the end. Just two days ago he released his latest album to the acclaim of critics and fans. He died peacefully surrounded by members of his family.
Cinematographer Carl Guthrie opens “Fort Massacre” (1958)
with a widescreen cinemascope desert vista – mountains in the background, and a
rock formation shaped like a vulture perched on a rock in the foreground. The
vulture seems to be looking down at a group of soldiers on a burial detail. Private
Robert W. Travis (John Russell), a member of the troop, in a brief bit of
opening narration, tells what happened. “C” Troop, Sixth Cavalry was ambushed
by 50 apaches and only a dozen men survived. The commanding officer was killed,
and a lieutenant is badly wounded, leaving non-commissioned officer, Sgt. Vinson
(Joel McCrea), in command. Vinson is a tough man who says he makes his
decisions based on what he thinks Army regulations call for. But before long,
as they start the 100-mile journey to Ft. Crain, his men begin to wonder if
there isn’t something deeper and darker motivating him.
McCrea gives a grim, tight-lipped performance as Vinson, the
sergeant who has command of the troop suddenly thrust upon him. His mission is
to find the main column of soldiers they were separated from or failing that to
proceed by themselves to the fort. Among the other survivors is Travis, the
chronicler of this story, a young recruit who tells Vinson that he joined the
Army to become a man. Before that he was just a 28-year-old “baby,” unable to
make any decisions for himself. Educated, he could have been a doctor or a
lawyer but couldn’t decide, so he drifted. Pvt. McGurney (Forrest Tucker) is an
Irishman who’s seen a bit of life, and has found his home in the cavalry. He has
some serious concerns about Vinson’s ability to command. Next is Pvt. Pendleton (George N. Neise), one
of the wounded men, a coward constantly challenging Vinson’s decisions. There
are several others who all play a part in the drama, with Pawnee (Robert
Caruso), the Indian scout, an important and pivotal character.
Vinson decides to lead the troop toward a waterhole
ahead, but Pawnee returns from a scouting mission to report that 20 Apaches
have stopped there. Vinson, despite the strenuous objections of his men, orders
the troop onward. They will take the waterhole from the Apaches, even though
they are outnumbered at least 2-1. It’s on the way to this fight that McGivney
tells the other men he suspects the Sgt. doesn’t give a hoot about the safety
of his men, but is obsessed with hatred for the Apaches. He informs the others
that Apaches killed Vinson’s wife and now all he wants is revenge, even if he
has to sacrifice the entire patrol.
When they get to the waterhole, a fierce battle ensues,
and the troopers are victorious. However, Travis witnesses Vinson’s cold-blooded
murder of an Apache who had tried to surrender. When Travis questions him about
it, Vinson goes off the rails, ranting that the Apaches “hate us,” and you have
to “feed them bullets.” From this moment on even Travis begins to doubt his
sanity, and we watch as a tormented man battles his inner demons.
“Fort Massacre” was directed by Joseph M. Newman (“This
Island Earth”) from an original screenplay by Martin Goldsmith (“Detour,” “The
Gunfight at Dodge City”). It’s an unusual story for a western. While there’s
plenty of action, the focus is on the inner turmoil of the tormented character
played by McCrea, a man torn between his responsibility to his men and his
fierce hatred of his wife’s killers. The central question Goldsmith poses is “Which
side will win out?” The story moves with the inevitability of a train heading
toward a collision, culminating in a battle that takes place in an eerie ancient
Indian cliff dwelling, which Pvt. Pendleton sarcastically dubs “Fort Massacre.”
And, in an ironic twist, it is Travis, the young man who could never make a
decision, who provides the film’s shattering climax. “Fort Massacre” is a film
well worth watching.
Kino Lorber has done another admirable job bringing this
Cinemascope feature to Blu-ray. The film is for the most part exceptionally
clean with rich colors and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for Cinemascope gives us
every millimeter of Carl Guthrie’s beautiful cinematography. The soundtrack is
DTS Stereo. There’s no surround sound, and the soundtrack is not all that
dynamic, but Marlin Skiles score is heard to good advantage throughout. As
usual with these Studio Classics Blu-rays the only bonus features are some
trailers for other films in the company’s catalog. It’s too bad. Commentary on
Goldsmith’s screenplay alone would have been worth whatever the extra cost. Nevertheless,
for anyone interested in westerns, particularly the westerns of Joel McCrea
this Blu-ray is a must-have.
(or “RIFFRAFF” as it appears in the titles) opens on a rainy night at the El
Caribe aircraft hanger in Peru. The pilots, ticket agent and a passenger await
the arrival of a man who rushes to the ticket agent and enters the plane
clutching his attaché case as he finds a seat among the cargo and livestock. Midflight,
a buzzer sounds and a pilot discovers the cargo door gone. The remaining
passenger, Charles Hasso (Marc Krah), says the other man jumped. Hasso arrives
in Panama and is briefly interrogated by Major Rues (George Givot) who advises
him to remain in town for further questioning.
the attaché, Hasso makes his way to detective Dan Hammer’s office and hires him
to protect him and asks to meet later at his hotel. Before leaving he pins a
map from the attaché to Hammer’s wall hiding it in plain site among all the
other items where it remains unseen by everyone. Meanwhile, Hammer is hired by American
oil company executive Walter Gredson (Jerome Cowen, Dagwood’s boss George
Radcliffe in the “Blondie” movie series) who owns the map. He wants Hammer to
find Hasso and the map. It turns out the map is worth a fortune in South
American oil revenues.
O’Brien is terrific as Dan Hammer, an American ex-pat living in Panama. He’s as
hard-boiled as private detectives get and is soon approached by pretty blonde
nightclub singer Maxine (Anne Jeffreys), the requisite femme fatal and
girlfriend of the oil executive seeking the map. Walter sends her to watch over
Hammer and follow his progress. Meanwhile, Eric Molinar (Walter Slezac) is also
seeking the map. He has his thugs murder Hasso and traces him back to Hammer
and the oil executives.
has a friend and side-kick, a cabbie named Pop, played by Percy Kilbride.
Kilbride would soon become famous playing Pa Kettle in eight widely popular movies
between 1947 and 1955. Kilbride provides just the right level of laid back comic
relief in an otherwise dark detective thriller. Hammer also has a lazy shaggy
dog which sleeps outside his open office door and Major Rues is on hand
throughout the movie. The relationship between Hammer and Maxine is strictly professional
and Hammer quickly realizes she’s sent to spy on him, but they soon fall for
each other. Hammer takes quite a beating at the hands of Molinar’s thugs until
Maxine discovers the map while helping Hammer get cleaned up.
movie comes to a satisfying conclusion after 80 hard boiled minutes filled with
lots of snappy dialog. The 1947 RKO production was directed by Ted Tetzlaff,
better known as a cinematographer in over 100 movies and director of a handful of
movies. He put his camera skills to good use here as director creating just the
right atmosphere of light and dark and shadows. The black and white image is
well preserved on this burn-to-order DVD released as part of the Warner Archive
Collection. The disc is bare bones, but the movie is worth checking out for the
outstanding black and white photography, terrific story, great cast of
character actors and of course that great title. “Riff-Raff” is a true gem
among 1940s crime thrillers.
The annual BAFTA nominations for the best achievements in filmmaking have been announced. Top contenders are "Carol" and "Bridge of Spies" which each nabbed 9 nominations. "The Revenant" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" received 8 and 7 nominations respectively. The awards ceremony will take place on February 14th in London. The importance of the BAFTAs for the American film industry has increased substantially in recent years as BAFTA nominations are often seen as indications of which films will receive Oscar nominations. For the full list click here.
To identify editor-publisher Richard Klemensen’s Little Shoppe of Horrors as simply a
fanzine is to do it a grave disservice. Such an appellation too often denotes an enthusiastic but decidedly
If you’re a dyed-in-wool-fan of fantastic cinema and were
knocking about in the late 1960s or early 1970s, you’ve probably gambled and subscribed
- at least once – to such a fanzine as described above. One mimeographed or perhaps having suffered the
ill-effect of poor off-set printing, lousy photo-reproduction, and variable
levels of scholarship. The earliest
issues of Little Shoppe of Horrors
(henceforth to be referred to as LSoH)
may have exhibited some of these mechanical deficiencies on inception, but over
its forty-three year history the content within its pages has never been short
of brilliant. LSoH is simply without
peer and has no comparable challenger in its field of endeavor; it’s indisputably
the most venerated encyclopedia of all things Hammer and British horror.
You’ve never heard of the magazine, you say? Well, if you’ve ever bought a useful book within
the last forty years that documented the history of British horror films - or one
of the better researched biographies of such key players as Christopher Lee or
Peter Cushing - you’re tangentially in debt to LSoH. Since its founding in June 1972, the resources of the
magazine have been plundered by the genre’s finest scholars. I suppose this is only fair. Many, if not all, of the most respected writers
painstakingly researching the tradition have earned their earliest bylines contributing
to the magazine. There’s hardly a figure
associated with British horror cinema, either in front or behind the camera,
whose stories, large and small, have not been annotated and shared within this
great magazine’s pages.
The fact that LSoH has
been based since its beginning in Des Moines, Iowa, half-a-continent and one
ocean away from the Hammer production offices in London, England, is simply mind-boggling. Not a world way, perhaps, but close,
especially in the pre-internet age. What’s
equally amazing is that, with the exception of the first six issues
(1972-1980), the succeeding twenty-nine have been published in the fallow years
following the studio’s sad descent into bankruptcy and irrelevancy in 1979. So the magazine has faithfully served these
past thirty-six years as the primary torch-bearer and celebrant of the studio’s
From the glossy and colorful artistically rendered front
and back covers to the impeccable research of their stable of writers – and in
spite of an indisputably erratic publishing schedule – LSoH has remained the nexus for all things British horror. The latest, issue no. 35, published October
2015, proves the passing of time has not even remotely dimmed the magazine’s
reputation for superlative reportage.
This spanking brand new issue features a gorgeous and
colorful fold-out cover, courtesy of artist Jim Salvati and equally impressive back cover art by Bruce Timm. Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing and lead
actress Susan Denberg are evocatively rendered in an atypical mad-scientist laboratory
scene from Hammer’s classic Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Some twenty-eight of
the magazine’s ninety-eight pages are, not coincidentally, dedicated to an exhaustive
examination of all aspects of the film’s
production; synopsis’s, interviews, set-design sketches, a bevy of rare
photographs, clippings etc. A further
twenty-three pages examines Terence Fisher’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) in equally acute detail. There’s also a look-back at the early fan-journal
Fantastic Worlds, part of the
magazines series “A History of Horror Film Fanzines.” As always, there’s a
plethora of book and DVD/Blu-Ray reviews, as well as a provocative interview
with actor Barry Warren (Kiss of the
Vampire (1963), Devil Ship Pirates
(1964) and Frankenstein Created Woman
(1967). The former article is the
seventh installment of the magazine’s “British Character Actors” series. There’s also the always erudite and
worthwhile letters to the editor column.
In June of 2015 we lost the great Sir Christopher Lee
and, in memoriam, the editor has exhumed an interview, courtesy of his friend
the late Bill Kelly, of the legendaryt actor. In this “open conversation” from the early 1990s, Lee reminisces about
his career and his many roles, including his iconic turn as Count Dracula in seven
Hammer productions and several more instances in continental knock-offs. In yet another segment, the author Tom
Johnson (Hammer Films: An Exhaustive
Filmography) offers an affectionate memoriam to Lee and shares both amusing
and poignant glimpses of the times their paths crossed. There are several moments when both Lee’s and Johnson’s
observations and ruminations are as laugh-out-loud funny as they are revealing.
Let’s face it. You
need this. With their in-depth coverage
of every aspect of the best – and lesser efforts – of British horror cinema, Little Shoppe of Horrors has… well, left
no headstone unturned.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT OFFICIAL WEB SITE FOR LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS.
Jim Sherlock, one of Australia's most respected film historians, provided us with this sampling of what was showing in Oz on one day in 1966. Sort of boggles the mind, doesn't it? Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film One of Our Spies is Missing, Julie Christie in Darling, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in Marriage Italian Style and Doris Day and Rod Taylor in The Glass Bottom Boat (note that in Australia it had the more provocative title The Spy in the Lace Panties!). Those really were the days....
With this column we begin a new feature: showcasing original reviews from industry trade magazines from many years ago. It is interesting to see how classic and cult movies were received on the basis of these reviews which were presented to the movie theater trade prior to their general release. First up: Hammer Films' "Dracula A.D. 1972" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This review appeared in the October/November 1972 issue of Film Bulletin.
Cinema Retro has asked author Michael Richardson to write an exclusive article for us regarding what influenced him to write his new book "The Making of Casino Royale".
BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
The sixties James Bond spoof Casino
Royale was a psychedelic multi-storylined extravaganza of improvisation and the
constant rewriting of various screenplays, brought about after negotiations
between producer Charles K Feldman, Eon Productions, United Artists and
Columbia Pictures failed to bring about a co-production. Realising that he
would have to proceed without Bond actor Sean Connery, Feldman crammed his
picture with as many famous names as possible: Peter Sellers, Woody Allen,
David Niven, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, Daliah Lavi, Joanna
Pettet, Barbara Bouchet, William Holden and Jean Paul Belmondo to name but a
few. The cast also included several unbilled cameos such as: Peter O’Toole,
Caroline Munro, Dave Prowse, John Le Mesurier, Fiona Lewis and ex- Formula 1
racing driver Stirling Moss.
I had watched Charles K Feldman’s Casino Royale on
television many times before a friend of mine furthered my interest in the
production by pointing out the different plotlines and disjointed nature of the
screenplay. Over the years, I both researched and came across much more
information about the hap-hazard manner in which CasinoRoyale was produced,
which only wetted my appetite to learn as much as I possibly could about this
feature film that had somehow managed to get out of control. My fascination
with this craziest Bond film of all eventually brought about an exchange of
faxes with director Val Guest, who was living in California at the time. When
Guest made a flying visit to London for Christmas 2005, I telephoned him at his
London home in Belgravia just before the New Year and we discussed the
production in great detail.
Sometime later I was reading an interview with
Guest, where he was quoted as saying, ‘There’s a whole film to be made about
the making of Casino Royale!’ This made me think, though obviously making a
movie was beyond my abilities and resources, but writing a book that outlined
both the development and production of the film was certainly something I could
do. Doubling my efforts to obtain even more information regarding the film, I
read through every Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles and David Niven
biography I could locate. However, this was just the beginning as I then began
consuming every book associated with anyone who had worked on the film
including actors: Dave Prowse, Ronnie Corbett, Peter O’Toole, Chic Murray and
Duncan Macrae, directors: Val Guest, John Huston and Robert Parrish, plus
writers: Wolf Mankowitz and Terry Southern. My quest for additional knowledge
involved the scouring of both British and American film industry publications
of the time, plus searches through many website features and on-line archives
and even obtaining the French published Ursula Andress biography, despite not
being able to read or speak the language.
The Making of Casino Royale (1967)
explores all aspects of production, including the origins of Ian Fleming’s
novel and subsequent screenplays, the casting choices, pre-production, filming
at three British film studios, location filming in England, Ireland, Scotland
and France, plus publicity and merchandising. This gives an overall picture of
how this strange psychedelic pop art movie was assembled from several different
storylines that involved no fewer than seven directors (including two second
unit directors), working from a screenplay credited to three writers, although
known to have input from at least nine other people including Peter Sellers and
Woody Allen. Eventually, I amassed enough information to
assemble a production schedule with dates for the picture, which indicates in
which order the various segments were filmed, who was directing and which major
cast members were present.
The story behind the making of this
film outlines how what was happening behind the scenes was just as bizarre as
anything happening in front of the cameras. The book also pieces together what
material was filmed and then discarded from the movie, by using reference
sources such as production stills, portions of scripts and anecdotes about the
making the film. Overall this outlines the story of a major blockbuster movie,
which got out of control to become one of the most complicated productions
filmed and the most bizarre James Bond film ever. Almost 50 years after being produced the elements that originally worked
against the sixties Casino Royale, such as the lack of a coherent storyline and
the sending up of James Bond, are now considered to work in its favour and have
assisted in making it a cult slice of sixties psychedelia.
to whet your appetite I can confirm that you will discover the answers to the
1 During development, which James Bond
actor was approached about playing the character for what would have been the
first time in June 1964?
2 During December 1965, which actress
well known for appearing in The Avengers television series was named in the
American press as being lined-up to appear in Casino Royale?
3 For his cameo role in the Scottish
Marching Band sequence, what did Peter O’Toole accept as payment?
4 Why did Sarah Miles turn down the
role of Meg, one of the McTarry daughters?
5 What did Shirley MacLaine do the
week before principal photography was due to commence that stopped production?
6 Why was Blake Edwards turned down as
a director for Casino Royale?
7 After suffering the bad experience
of having his screenplay constantly rewritten while making the film What’s New
Pussycat? why did Woody Allen agree to work with Charles K Feldman again on
8 What role was Dave Prowse originally
going to play in Peter Sellers’ nightmare?
Actor Wayne Rogers passed away on New Years Day at age 82 from complications with pneumonia. Rogers had played bit part in movies and TV series before landing his signature role as Trapper John, Alan Alda's co-star on the TV series M*A*S*H, which debuted on CBS in 1972 and ran for eleven seasons. Rogers and Alda played the roles of insubordinate, wise-cracking medics in the Korean War. The characters were originally played by Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland in director Robert Altman's Oscar-nominated counter culture feature film from 1970 that inspired the TV series. Rogers left the show after three seasons and was replaced by actor Mike Farrell, whose character of B.J. Hunnicut proved to be equally popular throughout the remainder of the series' run. Rogers later starred for the three seasons in another TV series that was inspired by a comedy feature film, House Calls, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Major roles eluded him in the ensuing years, though he continued to play supporting parts in feature films and TV shows. Rogers eschewed acting and concentrated on the fields of real estate and financial investments. He proved to be highly successful at both. For more click here.
Alec Guinness gave so many brilliant dramatic screen performances that many
moviegoers forget that he was also one of the most accomplished comedic actors
the British film industry had ever seen. Although Guinness first gained fame
with star-making roles in David Lean's "Great Expectations" and
"Oliver Twist" (playing Fagin), the bulk of his successes in the
1950s were in classic British comedies such as "The Lavender Hill
Mob", "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "The Ladykillers",
"The Horse's Mouth", "Our Man in Havana", "All at
Sea", "The Captain's Paradise", "The Man in the White
Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob". By any standard, a remarkable
roster of great comedies. By the 1960s, however, Guinness concentrated
mostly on dramatic roles. Who could blame him, with prime appearances in David
Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"? In 1965
he did make one screwball comedy, "Situation Hopeless..But Not
Serious", a WWII-era film that co-starred young up-and-coming Robert
Redford in a supporting role, but the movie didn't particularly resonate with
critics or audiences. His only other concession to the genre of cinematic
farce was "Hotel Paradis0", filmed in 1966 by writer/director Peter
Glenville, who only sporadically made movies. Glenville's most recent cinematic
excursion had been his highly acclaimed 1964 film version of Jean
Anouilh's play "Becket". "Paradiso" was as far away from
that dramatic achievement as one could imagine. It returned Guinness to a genre
that allowed him to re-tune his considerable skills at playing overt
comedy. In fact, Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956.
The film is adapted from the play "L'Hotel du Libre
Echange", whichwas co-written by Georges Feydeau (who Glenville appears as
in the film, albeit in an uncredited role.) In fact, Alec Guinness had starred in the original London production of the play in 1956. Like the play, the movie is set in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1900s. Guinness plays Benedict Boniface, a sophisticated
milquetoast who lives a comfortable existence with one glaring exceptional
factor: he is constantly henpecked by his shrewish, dominating wife Angelique
(Peggy Mount), who oversees his every move. Benedict suffers in silence, finding a bit of solace by puttering around his garden which adjoins the home of Henri and Marcelle Cotte (Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida).They have their own problems: Henri is a negligent husband who is more obsessed with his career as an architect than he is with the considerable charms of his gorgeous wife, who is frustrated by his neglect and who is desperate for some romantic attention. One sunny afternoon when Henri leaves for an overnight business trip to the city, Benedict summons the courage to drop in on Marcelle and express his love for her. She is shocked but doesn't lose any time in agreeing to explore the possibility of an affair with him. Fate favors the would-be lovers when Angelique announces that she, too, is leaving on an overnight trip to look after an ailing sister. Things almost go awry when an unexpected house guest, Mr. Martin (David Byng), arrives to take up the Boniface's on a long ago offer they made to have him stay with him. The trouble is that Martin, a widower, has in tow his brood of four young daughters and their enormous amount of luggage. The Benedicts are horrified and inform Mr. Martin in the most polite manner possible that they simply don't have space to lodge the entire family and that he she consider taking rooms at a hotel in Paris. Through a misunderstanding, the name of Hotel Paradiso is mentioned. This happens to be a sleazy establishment that stays afloat by catering to illicit lovers. It is precisely the place where Benedict intends to spend the night with Marcelle. However, unbeknownst to him, Mr. Martin has mistakenly assumed that Benedict has recommended the hotel as a place for him and his daughters to stay. Benedict and Marcelle meet for dinner at a local restaurant where they briefly enjoy a rather saucy stage act before realizing they might be recognized. They then head off to Hotel Paradiso where they rather awkwardly enter the bedroom in anticipation of carrying out their plans for engaging in the kinds of activity that would surely cause a public scandal if they were to be discovered. Things get complicated quickly. Every time the would-be lovers are about to get down to business, another remarkable coincidence occurs. They include the arrival of Henri, who is staying at the hotel to examine the plumbing. Then Mr. Martin arrives with his four daughters. Even the Benedict's flirty maid shows up with Henri's nephew, who is about to be seduced by the amorous domestic servant. Playwright Georges Feydeau is on hand as he silently observes the goings-on. The film quickly becomes a classically-styled bedroom farce with Benedict and Marcelle now trapped in their room and deftly trying to avoid being seen. There are countless near-misses and close encounters and the inevitable face-to-face meetings that require explaining their presence at the hotel by employing incredulous excuses. Before long, the police end up the hotel and Benedict and Marcelle are arrested, which adds another obstacle to overcome in their unconsummated love affair.
The film was greeted with tepid reviews at the time, with critics citing Glenville's propensity to direct films as though he was still working in a theater. It's true that Glenville does have a somewhat heavy hand in terms of directing lightweight comedy scenarios.However, the movie certainly plays better today simply because no one makes films like this anymore, least of all with the caliber of stars like Guinness and Lollobrigida, who was also quite adept between dramatic roles and lightweight farces. Both actors are at their best here, especially as the pace of the farce picks up pace and the coincidences and obstacles that their characters have to deal with become more incredible and amusing. There is able support from the always-reliable Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff turns up as the hotel's sleazy manager. However, the show-stealing performance is the hilarious turn by David Byng, whose Mr. Martin is a naive eccentric with a sporadic speech impediment that comes and goes depending upon the state of the weather! It plays a pivotal role in the film's climax. The concluding sequence takes place at the opening of a new play by Georges Feydeau which the principal characters attend together. It leads to a very amusing "sting-in-the-tail" finale with ironic consequences. "Hotel Paradiso" benefits from a lavish production design and a good score by Laurence Rosenthal. It also marked an early career achievement for legendary film editor Anne V. Coates. In summary, a most entertaining film from an era in which there was a place for sophistication in cinematic comedies.
The Warner Archive DVD is region-free and includes the original trailer. The packaging also retains the wonderful original poster art by Frank Frazetta.
“He Ran All the Way” (1951) was forties’ tough guy John
Garfield’s last cinematic performance. It’s a taut, tense, claustrophobic drama
about Nick Robey, a cop-killer who takes a family hostage in a small apartment,
as he tries to figure a way to lam out of town. As Garfield’s swan song it’s a
compelling performance, and ironically there are eerie hints throughout the
film of the real life crises he was facing at the time. More on that later.
The film begins with Robey’s mother (Gladys George)
hollering at him to get out of bed and go look for work. She talks to him like
a worthless bum and the first time we see him, Robey is a harassed, seemingly
helpless character without a clue what he ought to be doing with his life. When
he leaves his apartment his friend, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) catches him on the
street and reminds him they do have
something to do. Almost as if against his will, Robey finds himself with a gun
in his hand, as they march into a warehouse and rob a guy carrying a briefcase
full of money. The job is botched from the start. A cop shoots Molin in the
back and Robey plugs the cop and runs for it.
James Wong Howe’s stark black and white close up cinematography
showing the sweat on Garfield’s face and the look of fear in his eyes and John
Berry’s close, unyielding direction perfectly convey the rage and paranoia of a
desperate man on the run. Robey stays on the crowded city streets as long as he
can, then ducks into an indoor swimming pool where he picks up Peggy Dobbs
(Shelley Winters). He figures if he has a girl with him, he has a better chance
of not being spotted by the cops. He manages to take her home, where
unexpectedly he learns she lives with her mom (Selena Royal) and dad (Wallace Ford)
and kid brother (Bobby Hyatt).
The family, seeing that Peggy has a new boyfriend,
obligingly goes to the movies, leaving them alone. Peggy is hopelessly naïve as
Garfield grills her about the family and her life. When she turns on the radio
and they start to dance, she tells him to loosen up. “I dance the way I wanna
dance,” he snaps and turns the music off. That’s the kind of guy he is. When
the family members come back from the movies, he looks out the window and sees
them on the street talking to two men. He thinks they’re cops and he pulls a
gun on mom, pop and the kid when they come upstairs. That’s when the trouble
starts and unfortunately that’s when the story starts to unravel.
After keeping them hostage overnight, he lets the old man
and Peg go to work next morning so as not to arouse suspicion, threatening to
kill the others if they give anything away. Frankly, at this point, the
situation becomes too contrived and the characters, Robey included, too unbelievable
and too unlikeable for anyone to really care what happens to them. The Wallace
Ford Character and his wife are too cowardly, Peggy is at first too naïve and
then later too daring or foolhardy to be believable. And Robey is at turns too
much of a whiner on the one hand and too much of a thug on the other.
As noted earlier, “He Ran All the Way,” a movie about a
man hounded by authorities and grim fate, mirrors in many ways the real-life
situation Garfield was living through at the time. His career was on the skids,
he had a bad heart condition, and he was being investigated by Joe McCarthy’s
House UnAmerican Activities Committee for his involvement with the Communist
Party. Like Nick Robey, Garfield was trapped in a web of circumstances from
which he would never escape. Garfield would be dead of a heart attack a year later
at the age of 39.
This film generally gets great reviews, in part, I
suspect because it was Garfield’s last, and also because, in another ironic
twist, it was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had his own troubles with the
McCarthy Committee. He went to jail as one of the famous Hollywood 10 for not naming
names. Trumbo and co-writer Hugh Butler had to use the name of Guy Endore in
the credits as a front. Working from a novel by Sam Ross, they tried to keep
the tension high, but in the end it all sort of comes apart, and by the time
it’s over you’re sorry more of the characters don’t suffer Robey’s fate. They
just plain get on your nerves. But maybe that was the point. The world created
by Trumbo, Butler and Ross, was a world you wouldn’t want to live in anyway. Maybe
you’d be better off dead. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the point of most of
Kino Lorber has outdone themselves with this stunning Studio
Classics Blu-Ray presentation of “He Ran All the Way.” The restored transfer is
absolutely flawless. The picture is crystal clear and the crisp black and white
photography is rendered in film-like detail. Sound is mono. Unfortunately there
are no extras except for a trailer for the film and for two others, including
“A Bullet for Joey.”
Overall, I can think of several other Garfield films I’d
recommend over this one, including “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “Body
and Soul.” But despite its flaws, I’d recommend getting this one just to round
out your Garfield collection and to enjoy, perhaps, one of the best black white
Blu-ray discs on the market.