Remember the old days when unpredictable occurrences seemed to predictably occur at the Oscars ceremony? There was the nude streaker who failed to unravel the ever-unflappable David Niven. There were the political activist winners who used the forum to grandstand for their favorite causes. This included Vanessa Redgrave's pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist remarks during her acceptance speech, Marlon Brando sending a surrogate to reject his "Godfather" Oscar in protest of Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans, "Patton" winner George C. Scott refusing to show up at all in protest of the competitive nature of awards shows, the producers of the anti-Vietnam War documentary "Hearts and Minds" taking solace that that the nation was about to be "liberated" by a brutal communist regime, which caused another stir when Frank Sinatra was pushed on stage at Bob Hope's urging to read a hastily-scribbled denouncement of the remark. The Oscars haven't been as relevant or fun since, though I've been among the dwindling ranks of critics who often defend the entertainment value of the show even as its become ever more chic to diss the telecast as increasingly irrelevant. The Oscars have always been flawed, to be sure, and so have the ceremonies but they have also provided a lot of moments that were fun and sometimes poignant. (If you doubt me, just watch the marvelous segment of Charlie Chaplin returning from blacklist exile to receive a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1972 in the clip below.)
This year's Oscar awards ceremony didn't need spontaneous moments to cause controversy. We knew going in that the elephant in the room would have to be addressed: the on-going criticism in some quarters that the Academy is racist because there were no black nominees this year. This is total nonsense, of course, as has been pointed out by numerous distinguished African-American members of the Academy. Yes, Oscar was lily white this year and last year as well but it certainly wasn't due to an orchestrated attempt to bar people of color from being nominees. Since the 1960s, the Academy has overseen a long, sometimes torturous road toward removing the kinds of prejudicial barriers that not only had traditionally characterized the awards but the Hollywood studio system as a whole. It was a big deal when Hattie McDaniel won for "Gone With the Wind" and Sidney Poitier became the second black actor to win a full quarter of a century later for "Lilies of the Field". Since then the Academy has mirrored the changes in society to the point where no one thinks its particularly newsworthy to report on the skin color of any winner. Still, some folks got their knickers twisted about the all-white field of nominees this year. Host Chris Rock was lobbied to cancel his gig as host of the event, 'lest he be labeled an Uncle Tom. (To his credit, Rock ignored the implied threat.) A few other prominent people made a big deal about boycotting the ceremony. Chief among them, Will Smith, whose absence seemed less a statement of principal than simply pouting over the fact that he didn't get his expected nomination for "Concussion". (Smith conveniently seems to have forgotten that the Academy had previously nominated him twice.) Smith was joined by the ever-angry Spike Lee, despite the fact that his career was launched by winning a student Academy Award. He had also been nominated for two regular Oscars and only this very year accepted an honorary Oscar for his entire career. He showed up to accept that at a pre-broadcast ceremony, all the while denouncing the Academy as engaging in racist behavior. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it, too. Lee pointed out that this is the second straight year that the Oscars nominees were all white. "We can't act?! WTF!!", he asked rhetorically. That's hardly the case. Remember way back to 2014 when the Academy earned praise for its awarding of three Oscars ( and a total of nine nominations) to "12 Years a Slave"? Lee and Smith would somehow have you believe that the Academy members suddenly became racist since then and conspired to deprive black artists from getting nominations. The sad truth is that there is a scarcity of black talent behind the cameras and the major African-American actors often don't appear in films that are Oscar-worthy. That's not to diminish the value of the actors or the films. They are simply gearing their movies to the expectations of their audiences, which is what actors have done since the beginning of time. Chris Rock emphasized this point with an amusing "man-on-the-street" segment in which everyday black moviegoers were interviewed about their opinions of the films nominated this year for Best Picture. None of the people interviewed saw them and some hadn't even heard of any. The lack of interest among younger black people to pursue movie-making careers does deprive the industry of hearing and seeing alternative viewpoints from a cinematic perspective. But what is the solution proposed by Lee and Smith- to force young people to attend film school whether they like it or not?
Last night's ceremony started off well with a witty and expertly delivered monologue by Chris Rock. He gently tweaked the Academy by acknowledging the controversy but then, like a person who can't resist telling a good joke until the point of boredom, he kept revisiting the racism angle throughout the evening with very mixed results. To be sure Rock was himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He had to thread the needle between not appearing to be insulting to the Academy that was paying him a king's ransom to host the show, without alienating his core base of fans. To the degree he succeeded will be determined in the days to come. (Personally, I'm getting weary of major awards shows hiring hosts who have the intention of trashing the very awards the show is about. Enough already.) Suffice it to say Rock was in the ultimate "no win" situation. However, his insistence on not burying the race debate undermined other elements of the show. Adding to the absurdity of the racism accusations was a speech about diversity that was delivered by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, who, not incidentally, is an African-American. I don't know of many racist organizations that elect a minority female to be their representative. In any event, the Academy went so overboard in presenting black artists on stage that the whole thing threatened to back-fire. Presumably, the intention was to provide a not-so-subtle rebuke of Smith and Lee's charges by having some of the most respected African-Americans in the industry today show their implied support of the Academy by appearing on the show. After all, does anyone really think living legends like Morgan Freeman or Quincy Jones would lend their presence to a racist ceremony? However, most viewers probably simply regarded this as politically correct pandering to the critics. Indeed, Sacha Baron Cohen, in amusing ""Ali G" character mode made reference to the "token" white presenters. Since the vast majority of people who watch the Oscars are older and white, you could almost hear the comments in homes across the nation: "I hate racism but for God's sake stop cramming all this diversity stuff into the Oscars." Agree or disagree, I've already heard from people who think the Academy, in the immortal words of Louis B. Mayer, should "Leave the messages to Western Union".
Chris: Between a Rock and a hard place.
The main purpose of the ceremony is to celebrate great film-making but the constant references to race threatened to overshadow the individual achievements of the artists. The show ambled on to the customary 3 1/2 hour running time. As usual there were highs and lows. What follows are my random thoughts on various aspects of the show:
It always bothers me that honorary awards to living legends are reduced to a few seconds of film clips from a pre-show dinner. This is supposedly done to allow the telecast to move quickly. However, it also deprives viewers of magical moments such as the Chaplin award shown in the clip above. This year we learned that Debbie Reynolds received an honorary Oscar yet we got to see virtually none of it. Yet there was time for such bizarre segments as "SNL"-like comedy skits, a protracted and unfunny extended gag in which Girl Scouts went into the audience to sell cookies (!)and an appearance by Vice-President Joe Biden (to a rapturous ovation) to denounce sexual harassment on college campuses. Huh? While I don't want to see anyone suffer harassment of any kind anywhere, this was out of place on the Oscars and only justified on the dotted line reasoning that the subject matter was covered in the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Hunting Ground". Sorry- it would have been more appropriate to see Debbie Reynolds in the twilight of her years accepting accolades from her peers.
It was a night of surprises. Alejandro Inarritu, who won the Oscar last year for directing "Birdman", scored a rare back-to-back win for "The Revenant". However, this was also a rare case in which the Best Picture ("Spotlight") was directed by someone other than the Best Director winner. You had to feel for Sylvester Stallone, who was the sentimental favorite for Supporting Actor for "Creed". He lost in a surprise upset to the brilliant Mark Rylance for "Bridge of Spies" that reminded me of a similar situation many years ago when Burt Reynolds was supposed to win in the same category for "Boogie Nights" only to be by-passed by the Fickle Finger of Fate. Let's hope Stallone at least keeps his renewed respect in the industry by not making the mistake Reynolds made and delving back into awful projects in search of a fast, fat pay check. Another big surprise was the fact that "Mad Max: Fury Road" won the most Oscars, six in total, all in the technical categories. A lot of establishment types are still mystified about the critical acclaim this film received and how it ended up with a Best Picture nod. Suffice it to say, it's an acquired taste.
There was a definite political aspect to the show, all of it left wing. As usual some winners used their speeches to sermonize about everything from race relations to the threat of global warming. (They should pass out violins to these people.) At some point I thought I could hear Rush Limbaugh's head explode, though the telecast will give right wing commentators plenty of meat on the bone for their annual dissection of the awards as a thinly-disguised Democratic political event. Having said that, there were precious few Donald Trump jokes. Perhaps he's doing more damage to himself than any writers could.
Style and glamour outdistanced the embarrassing fashion statements. Many of the ladies looked sensational, though I will admit to being vulnerable in terms of overlooking certain fashion mistakes if the necklines plunge deep enough. It's enough to justify the admonishments of Major Hawthorne, played by Terry-Thomas in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", who chastises Americans for their "positively infantile pre-occupation with bosoms!" The men looked equally classy and elegant with the Bond-revived white tuxedo making a major comeback. Host Chris Rock wore one and looked terrific. The biggest faux pas in terms of fashion, quite predictably came from the Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, Jenny Beavan, who won for "Mad Max: Fury Road". She decided to replicate the grunge look of the film by wearing a cheap leather jacket but she came off looking like a character from the "Star Wars" cantina sequence.
Actress/model Kate Upton symbolized the female strategy for attire: "If you've got it, flaunt it!"
An emotional highlight was the Best Score Oscar given to one of the few living legends in the field, the great Ennio Morricone for his score for "The Hateful Eight". Morricone's presence only reiterated just how diminished the field of impressive film composers is today. Sure, there are a handful of reliable names but no one like Morricone, John Barry, Dimitri Tiomkin, Elmer Bernstein or Jerry Goldsmith. That's partly the fault of an industry that regards composers not as valuable members of the production team, as it had in the past, but as necessary evils. Therefore composers are often brought in very late to create scores on ridiculously short deadlines.
The in memorial montage to talents lost in the last year is always a moving highlight, and this year was no exception. However, as usual there were some inexcusable snubs of revered people. The most glaring I noticed was John Guillermin, who directed such major hits as "The Towering Inferno", "King Kong" (1976 version), "Death on the Nile", "Skyjacked" and many others. No mention of beloved character actor Abe Vigoda, either. Yet, there was room in the montage for a host of people who worked in the weeds of show business in terms of public awareness. (Apparently even dead people in Hollywood need press agents.) These omissions cause great backlashes every year but the Academy soldiers on making the same mistakes, thus giving credence to conspiracy theorists who believe that inclusion in the montage is based more on personal relationships than achievements.
Most of the speeches by winners were unremarkable. Popular winner for Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was a class act, as was Mark Rylance. When the winners droned on too long, the orchestra fired up Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" to intimidate them into shutting up. It seemed to have little-to-no effect. Maybe next year a helicopter attack can accompany the music to persuade them to get off stage.
Best speech of the night was by presenter Louis C.K. who pointed out that the most deserving nominees were those in the category for Best Documentary (short). He said that these were true artists, driven by a passion for story-telling and filmmaking and that none of them will probably make anything like a living wage in the course of these noble endeavors.
Every year there is at least one presenter who engages in trashy behavior in order to bolster their image as somebody on the "cutting edge". This year it was foul-mouthed "comedienne" Sarah Silverman, who has about as much to do with the contemporary film industry as Fatty Arbuckle. Silverman, with her trademark deadpan Morticia Adams demeanor, strode on stage to introduce a performance of the nominated song "Writing's On the Wall" from "Spectre". She used the opportunity to disparage the long-running franchise and, in doing so, diminished the introduction of the song's writer and performer, Sam Smith. The Bond producers and Smith got the last laugh when the song won the award but one has to wonder why Silverman was chosen to introduce a segment that insulted the nominees? Surely there were composers and singers who would have been honored to have the gig. Instead, they went with a woman whose film credits include something titled "Cops, Cum, Dicks and Flying". Whoever brought her on board should be fired- or worse, made to watch back-to-back screenings of "Copes, Cum, Dicks and Flying".
Speaking of the Best Song category, Smith's Bond number was no classic by 007 standards but it was certainly a lot better than some worst songs in the series (think "Die Another Day" and the wretched "Quantum Of Solace"). It was also light years better than the other nominated songs that were performed including "Til It Happens to You", a dreadful concoction about sexual abuse from "The Hunting Ground" written and performed by Lady Gaga. It may have been written with the best of intentions (abuse victims were present on stage) but that didn't make hearing it any more bearable. Similarly, the song "Earned It" from "50 Shades of Grey" was also terrible. The film is about people who enjoy sado-masochism. After listening to this number I felt that I had been drafted into the ranks of masochists. By the way, two of the nominated songs weren't even performed at all, proving that star power is the primary factor in terms of deciding who the "Cool Kids" are in terms of having their work exposed to millions of viewers. Who gets to tell the nominees of the other two songs that their work doesn't merit being performed? (Click here to view the song performances).
Speaking of Bondian references, it was nice to hear those classic 007 themes played as the show entered each commercial break. Also great that they included Burt Bacharach's superb main theme for the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale".
I was happy to see "Spotlight" nab the Best Picture award primarily because it reiterates the valuable and often thankless role that investigative reporters play in democratic societies. Sadly we live in an age where such writing skills and dogged determination are deemed expendable by people who rarely pick up newspapers any more.
Well, that's about it for my take on our old friend Oscar this year. Click here for full list of winners. To weigh in on your own opinions, please visit the Cinema Retro Facebook page.
One of the most unfairly neglected WWII films of its era, director Lamont Johnson's 1970 escape thriller The McKenzie Break comes to Blu-ray through Kino Lorber. The movie is rather small in scale with most of the action confined to a POW camp for German prisoners located in Scotland (though the movie was actually shot in Ireland.) The establishing sequence succinctly makes the film's scenario abundantly clear. The British ostensibly run the camp but the real power is in the hands of the senior German naval officer, Schlueter (Helmut Griem), a 27 year-old true believer in the Nazi cause. In the first scene we observe the inability of the camp's British commandant, Major Perry (Ian Hendry) to stop a riot orchestrated by Schlueter in protest of plans to shackle twenty five German officers in retaliation to the same action recently done by Germans to British POWs. The British guards seem hapless and ill-equipped to handle the situation. This leads to the arrival of Capt. Jack Connor (Brian Keith), an unpopular maverick officer who has been sent by London to the camp to "advise" Major Perry about how to reinstate order over the POWs and blunt Schlueter's growing influence with them. Although Perry isy the senior officer, he can read the tea leaves and understands that Connor has virtually carte blanche to carry out his plans. Connor immediately meets with Schlueter and makes it clear there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak. The two men are outwardly cordial toward each other but only in the kind of superficial relationship that one sees between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They both know they intend to get the better of the other man. In Schlueter's case this means successfully orchestrating a daring escape through a secret tunnel for a key group of naval officers. He has been ordered by Hitler himself to do this so that Germany's shrinking U-boat corps can get some extra manpower. Schlueter, who is handsome, witty and charismatic, is determined to carry out his orders at any cost and Connor discovers he is willing to kill any dissenters among his fellow prisoners. This includes a disgruntled Luftwaffe officer who resents Schlueter's tactics. He's mortally wounded in another riot orchestrated with the sole intent of leading to his demise. Connor confronts Schlueter about this war crime and the fact that he believes Schlueter previously murdered his superior officer in the camp because he refused to aggressively follow the plans for the escape. Connor tells Perry that he knows there is an escape tunnel. Perry argues that they should close it down immediately but Connor has a more daring plan. Knowing that the escapees would have to make their way to the coast and be rescued by a U-boat, he argues to allow the men to escape then follow them and nab the U-boat, too. Perry thinks the plan is too risky but Connor prevails and the group of German soldiers escapes. Unfortunately for Connor, things to do not go the way he anticipated and he discovers there is a good chance the men will make it back to Germany.
The McKenzie Break is an intelligent, well-written film based on a source novel by Sidney Shelley. There have been countless WWII movies set in prison camps but this one gets a refreshing twist by making the Germans the prisoners. Under the impressive direction of TV director Lamont Johnson (in his feature film debut), the Germans are not portrayed as dolts or stooges, nor the mustache-twirling villains they often were in films such as this. They are presented as loyal servicemen who are simply trying to do what any POW would want to do: get back to their native country. The character of Schlueter, however, is more controversial because he can excuse killing his own men in order to achieve the greater goal. Connor is also a flawed officer. Within hours of arriving at his new post, he's sleeping with a female orderly. He's also bull-headed and suffers from a superiority complex that makes him adverse to taking advice from Major Perry, who he considers to be an incompetent. The performances are excellent, though this is primarily a two-man story. Keith, long one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood, gives a commanding performance. He's charming even while he's being insolent and his thick Irish brogue adds a feisty element to his character. Similarly, Schlueter is extremely well played by Helmut Griem, a fine actor with considerable screen presence. It takes a good deal of skill for a young actor not to be overpowered by Keith's sizable persona and Griem pulls off the feat admirably. The film builds in excitement as the escape plan goes into action, although not without some tragic and unforeseen consequences for the Germans. The final sequence is a race to nab the escapees by an increasingly desperate Connor, who now fears they will indeed get away on the U-boat. The final scenes are packed with suspense and extremely well-staged, as is the film's ironic conclusion. Highly recommended.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber does not include any extras except for the original trailer.
Ridin' High: Eastwood shared the cover of Time magazine in 1978 with his friend and fellow superstar Burt Reynolds, who were acclaimed as the two biggest boxoffice stars in the world.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Clint Eastwood is now an icon of international cinema but back in the late 1970s he was "merely" a superstar, devoid of the kind of critical praise that he now routinely enjoys. It was in 1979 that my co-author Boris Zmijeswky and I approached a publisher with a book titled "The Films of Clint Eastwood", the first attempt to analyze his films on a one-by-one basis. (If I ever looked through it today, it would probably strike me as awful, but, hey, we all had to start somewhere, I was just out of college and eager to write a book.) The publisher immediately agreed but when the transcript was handed in the editor voiced concerns to me. He said that, while everyone enjoyed Eastwood's movies, I was perhaps according him more credit than he deserved as an actor and director. When I told him that I felt Eastwood had the potential to become a world-class director, he chuckled in a patronizing sort of way. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt that there was more to the "Eastwood Mystique" than a cool, soft-spoken, hard-hitting action hero. Writer Robert Ward, who penned some masterful portrayals of iconic actors of the era through excellent interviews, also made no apologies for his admiration for Eastwood's talents. In those days there were precious few of us and Eastwood was happy to accommodate journalists who were serious about discussing his work. When Ward interviewed Eastwood in 1977 for Crawdaddy magazine, Eastwood's latest crime thriller "The Gauntlet" had just been released. Ward spent two hours interviewing Eastwood- then had to spend two more unexpectedly (for reasons you will discover when you to read the interview, now republished on the Daily Beast web site titled "When It Became Cool to Like Clint Eastwood".) What emerges is a portrait of Eastwood at a time when he was the biggest star in the world, yet still devoid of the opportunities he would get later to showcase his talents as director. Of his acting abilities, it had been said- not initially without some truth- that he attended "The Mount Rushmore Acting Academy". However, as the years passed, Eastwood- like all actors- became more competent and interesting in terms of expressing emotion on screen. Ironically, Ward interviewed Eastwood when "The Gauntlet" was under-performing in comparison to his other action flicks. No wonder- it's arguably the worst film of his career, at least in the era since he became a major star But Eastwood kept growing as a director and actor and some triumphs, small and large, loomed before him beginning in the late 1980s with "Bird". Even those of us who defended his work and looked prophetic for our early support of him could not envision the length and breadth of his career- and he's still going strong. Click here to go back and time and read Ward's excellent interview; one that has not been equaled since in terms of getting to the personal side of the man behind the myth.
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
One of the most underrated epics of all time, the 1962 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" was reviewed largely on the basis of its troubled production history and massive budget over-runs. Star Marlon Brando took much of the blame, though he always denied that had been the cause of the financial debacle that ensued at MGM when the studio suffered massive losses after the film's release. As with another major money-loser of the era, "Cleopatra", many people dismiss this remake of the original 1935 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" as some kind of artistic debacle. In fact many retro movie buffs regard it as superior to the first version. If one can judge the film on its own merits, not its financial legacy, they will find Brando and co-star giving brilliant performances as Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh. An inspired supporting cast, stunning production values and a great musical score all contribute to making this one of the great epic films of its day. This original trailer gives you a sample. - Lee Pfeiffer
CLICK HERE TO ORDER BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FROM AMAZON THAT INCLUDES RARE PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE THAT WERE NOT INCLUDED IN THE FILM'S ORIGINAL RELEASE.
Slocombe with Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg filming "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981. (Photo: LucasFilm).
Douglas Slocombe, the acclaimed cinematographer and director of photography, has passed away at age 103. Slocombe was revered by directors over a career that extended from 1940 to 1989, when he lensed his final film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". He had also filmed the first two entries in the Indiana Jones series, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Slocombe never won an Oscar but was nominated for "Travels with My Aunt", "Julia" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He had been nominated for eleven BAFTA awards, winning three times. Slocombe's other major films include the Ealing Studios British comedy classics starring Alec Guinness, the classic chiller "Dead of Night", "The Blue Max", "The Lion in Winter", the original version of "The Italian Job", "The Fearless Vampire Killers", "The Great Gatsby", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Rollerball", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the renegade James Bond production "Never Say Never Again". For more about his life and career click here.
What do you do when you despise the person most likely to bring your goals to fruition? We're not talking about the Republican establishment's dilemma with Donald Trump but, rather, the central plot premise faced by the U.S. Olympic ski team coach (portrayed by Gene Hackman) in director Michael Ritchie's acclaimed 1969 film "Downhill Racer". The protagonist of the movie is one Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford), an almost impossibly handsome young man from the rural town of Idaho Springs, Colorado, who has a single-minded obsession of being America's first gold medal winner for downhill skiing in an era when the sport was dominated by Europeans. With his good looks and superficial charm, Chappellet is used to being a big fish in a small pond. He is virtually penniless and, when not practicing on the slopes of European mountains, is forced to eek out an existence by living with his cold, unemotional father (non-professional actor Walter Stroud in a striking performance.) He has no career plans beyond his single-minded obsession with getting on the Olympic team. His lack of intellectual curiosity or abilities to socialize with others don't seem to phase him. Like any narcissist he savors any small victory as a sign of his superiority over the peasants he must occasionally interact with.Chappellet lacks any self-awareness or introspection. He takes a cocky delight in being able to drive down the main street of his one-horse town, pick up a local old flame and get her to have sex in the back seat of a car. He seems oblivious to the fact that the battered vehicle belongs to his father and that he doesn't even have a place of his own to carry out his carnal activities. Chappellet gets the big break he is looking for when a top skier on the Olympic team suffers a grievous injury. The team coach, Claire, calls in Chappellet to replace him. From the start, their relationship is a rocky one. It becomes clear that Chappellet is not a team player. He skis superbly and Claire recognizes him as the team's potential best hope for victory. However, he is also alarmed by his independent streak and his inability to follow protocols. Chappellet is in this for personal glory and his teammates are viewed as unnecessary distractions. True, he can go through the rituals of socializing. He's polite to his roommate and occasionally joins the other guys for beers, butChappellet is clearly a vacuous, self-absorbed figure. The film traces his achievements on the slope and Claire's unsuccessful attempts to turn him into a team player. Chaplette also meets a vivacious business woman in the sports industry, Carole (Camilla Sparv). He's instantly smitten by her exotic good looks and libertarian outlook toward sex. The two begin an affair but it turns sour when Chaplette can't accept the fact that Carole is an emancipated young woman who marches to her own beat. Her unwillingness to dote over him or to treat their relationship as anything but superficial bruises his ego. In Chaplette's world, it is he who treats sex partners like disposable objects, not the other way around. The film concludes with Chaplette and his teammates engaging in the make-or-break competition against top-line European skiers to see who can bring home the gold.
The Best of Frenemies: Redford and Hackman
"Downhill Racer" was a dream project of Robert Redford, who had championed the film, which is based on a screenplay by James Salter. Redford's star had risen appreciably with Paramount following the success of "Barefoot in the Park". The studio wanted to do another film with him and suggested that he play the male lead in the forthcoming screen adaption of "Rosemary's Baby". Redford pushed for "Downhill Racer", a film that the Paramount brass had dismissed as being too non-commercial. (This was before Redford would reach super stardom with the release of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".) Thus began a game of brinksmanship between Redford and the studio. He managed to get Paramount to supply a small budget ($2 million) and creative control over the project to him and Roman Polanski, who was enthused about directing the film. However, the studio made a counter-move and lured Polanski to direct "Rosemary's Baby". Annoyed, Redford had to find a new director and settled on Michael Ritchie, and up-and-coming talent who was eager to make the transition from television into feature films. He and Redford, along with their tiny crew, used their limited budget to travel to international ski competitions in order to film real life action on the slopes that could later be combined into the final cut of their movie. For all their efforts, "Downhill Racer" was a boxoffice disappointment and would be overshadowed by the release of "Butch Cassidy" later in 1969. Yet its a film that Redford is justifiably proud of. There are many admirable aspects of the production, not the least of which is Redford's compelling performance as a protagonist who is not very likable or sympathetic. He's also not very intelligent, either, a character flaw that doesn't seem to bother him much, as he feels he can get by on his looks. The down side of "Downhill Racer" is that when the central character is a total cad the viewer finds it hard to be concerned with his fate, unless there is a major dramatic payoff as in the case of Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd" or Paul Newman in "Hud", two of the most notorious characters in screen history. Where "Downhill Racer" blows it is in the final sequence during the championship ski run. There was an excellent opportunity to end the movie on a poignant note but the movie punts and leads to an emotionally unsatisfying ending. Nevertheless the exotic scenery and fine performances (especially by Hackman, who is under-seen and under-used) compensate for a story that is as chilling as the locations in which it was filmed.
Criterion has upgraded their previously released DVD special edition to Blu-ray and it looks spectacular. There is a wealth of interesting extras, all ported over from the previous release. These include separate interviews conducted in 2009 with Robert Redford and James Salter. I found them to be most enlightening because I was blaming Salter, as the screenwriter, for being responsible for the film's unsatisfying ending. Lo and behold, Salter expresses the same exasperation. Apparently his original script called for the more dramatic finale that I was envisioning. However, he says that Redford made the change without his permission. It's still apparently a sore spot with him. For his part, Redford is defensive about the decision, saying that he felt the the ending he insisted upon was the correct choice (Note: it wasn't.) It would be interesting to see Redford and Salter lock horns over this in the same interview at some point. In any event, Redford's enthusiasm for the film is evident even if it seems to exceed that of audiences. To reiterate, it's a fine movie with many qualities but Redford has had superior, under-appreciated gems in his career. Other bonus extras on the Blu-ray include interviews with editor Richard Harris (whose work on the film is most impressive), production executive Walter Coblenz and champion skier Joe Jay Jalbert who was hired as a technical consultant and became indispensable on the production, serving as double and cameraman. The footage he captured skiing at high speed with a hand-held camera is all the more amazing because he was a novice at shooting film. There is also a vintage production featurette from 1969 and a very interesting one-hour audio interview of director Michael Ritchie at an American Film Institute Q&A session in 1977. The affable Ritchie was there to promote his latest film "Semi-Tough" but goes into great detail about how he became disillusioned with the constraints of working in the television industry where directors at that time were just hired guns whose creative ideas and instincts were constantly being suppressed. Ritchie tells an extended anecdote about shooting an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." during which he came up with a suggestion to improve a key scene in the script. He was told to mind his own business by the producer (who he doesn't name). When series' star Robert Vaughn agreed with him, Ritchie shot an alternate version of the scene that was met with enthusiasm by the network. Instead of being congratulated, he was blackballed from the series henceforth. Ritchie would go on to make some very fine films including "The Candidate" (again with Redford), the wacko-but-mesmerizing crime thriller "Prime Cut", "The Bad News Bears" and others. However he never lived up to his full potential and ended up directing many middling films before his untimely death at age 63 in 2001. The AFI audio included here is a rare opportunity to listen to his views on filmmaking while he was at the height of his career. The Blu-ray set also contains the original trailer and a collectible booklet with essay by Todd McCarthy.
A new stage adaptation of Harper Lee's literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be brought to Broadway by producer Scott Rudin. He has hired veteran writer Aaron Sorkin to write the script, which we are told will deviate from the previous, unrelated stage version that adhered closely to the original story and text. Rudin says that the original concept can't be kept in "the original Bubble Wrap" and plans to add scenes that are only alluded to in the film. His instincts better be right because generations of readers have a passionate love for the novel and the 1962 screen version that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck. Readers reacted in shock when the beloved Lee's unpublished novel "Go Set a Watchman" was published last year. The manuscript, which was written before "Mockingbird", presents the character of Atticus Finch (played by Peck in the film as a stalwart and courageous fighter for racial equality) as a blatant racist. Lee passed away last week after suffering declining health for years. There has been speculation that she never intended to have "Watchman" published but those who looked after her affairs said she was mentally competent and wanted the book to come out. The same controversy is likely to occur with the new stage production of "Mockingbird" with skeptics sure to raise questions regarding just how involved she was in granting rights for the show. Lee lived a low-profile life style since the 1950s when "Mockingbird" was published. She rarely granted interviews and expressed a disdain for publicity. Some of those who befriended her wonder if she was mentally or physically competent enough to make such decisions and note that the highly lucrative publishing of "Watchman" seemed at odds with her decision to keep it unpublished for over a half-century. (Click here for more on the debate about her mental health.) Nevertheless, a new "Mockingbird" will grace Broadway. The curiosity factor alone seems to ensure some big ticket sales, but whether any resulting backlash will damage the production remains to be seen. For more click here.
The good folks at Synapse Films are primarily known for releasing high-end editions of retro porn flicks and cult sci-fi/ horror titles. All of their releases are impressive, if not in terms of content, then certainly in terms of quality and the imaginative bonus extras. The label often gives the deluxe treatment generally reserved for David Lean films to low-rung, long-forgotten titles. Often, even if the film is of questionable merits, the perspectives offered by the extras make the viewing experience highly enjoyable. Synapse sometimes strays from their own formula by releasing mainstream films. Case in point: "Stalingrad", an acclaimed three episode documentary that was broadcast to great acclaim in 2003 in Germany and Russia. The new Synapse Blu-ray release is an extended cut featuring previously unseen footage. The film is presented in three separate stand-alone episodes, each running 55 minutes, that follow the progression of the battle in sequential order. As a viewing experience, "Stalingrad" is utterly mesmerizing. It's a sobering reflection on what was deemed the bloodiest battle of WWII. Directors Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorge Mullner present heart-wrenching interviews with both German and Russian veterans of the battle. The horrors they recount are backed up by some of most dramatic newsreel footage I've ever seen. The battle of Stalingrad has been documented many times before- and very effectively. However this documentary has the advantage of an extensive running time that allows some of the more personal nuances to be recounted in ways that previous documentaries were not able to do. The film is fairly well balanced between the Russian and German perspectives and the stories told from both sides are uniformly moving.
If there is a weakness in the production its in the fact that it lacks an introduction that gives the overall background on how the battle came to be. Clues to its origins are strewn throughout the episodes but for the benefit of those who are not WWII historians, a brief overview of the conflict would have been useful. For the record, in 1939 Nazi Germany shocked the world by signing an alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. The move was a surprise because from a political standpoint, National Socialism was vehemently against Communism. But Adolf Hitler was shrewd in his political dealings. He conned Britain and France into ceding Czechoslovakia to him on the basis of a promise that it would satiate his territorial demands. By the time they realized they had been snookered, Hitler had moved against Poland, thus initiating the outbreak of WWII. Hitler was already in alliance with imperial Japan and Italy. Indeed the Axis powers seemed destined to rule much of the world. Josef Stalin was more than happy to sign up and share the spoils of war. He assisted in invading Poland and Finland but behind the scenes Hitler regarded him as a hapless stooge and the Russian people are genetically inferior to the Aryan race. By forming an alliance with Stalin, Hitler ensured that he wouldn't have to fight the Soviet army until a time of his choosing. That time came in June 1941 when Hitler launched a major invasion of the Soviet Union. By that point he was comfortably in control of most of continental Europe and he felt he could deal Stalin a quick death blow. His generals warned him otherwise, but Hitler had assumed total command of German military strategy. At first his instincts seemed to be right. German columns made quick progress through the Soviet territory, decimating the ill-prepared enemy forces they encountered. Thousands of miles of land was seized and the peasant populations subject to cruel tortures and genocide. Hitler's unwillingness to take advice from his generals backfired when he split his forces in 1942 to launch simultaneous attacks on two different regions, sending half in a quixotic mission to seize the oil fields in the Caucuses and the other half to take Stalingrad. It was the military equivalent of hubris. He was most obsessed with taking Stalingrad not because of any relevant military importance but simply to deal Stalin a personal blow by occupying the city that bore his name. The Germans met far greater resistance than they had anticipated. The civilian population joined the fight and proved a formidable force, building barricades and tank traps while the regular army fought the Germans fiercely. Germans did inch forward and at various points occupied large sections of the city. However, Staliln's mastermind general Zhukov had kept an enormous army secretly in reserve. As winter bore on, the Germans were not equipped to deal with the harsh Russian weather. Food and fuel supplies dwindled, morale sank among the huge German Sixth Army and their advance came to a stalemate. Zhukov waited until his prey was weak and disheartened, then launched a one million man surprise counterattack that resulted in hundreds of thousands of German troops being encircled, starved and relentlessly bombarded even as temperatures reached 60 below zero. The toll was horrendous on German troops, many of whom died from starvation and some from suicide. Toward the end, the starving soldiers sometimes resorted to cannibalism to survive. Hitler demanded that the troops fight to the last man, but Field Marshal Paulus ultimately relented and surrendered, making him the first German Field Marshal in history to do so. Ultimately it would take years before a political agreement would see the surviving POWs allowed to return to Germany. Only 6,000 of the 100,000 prinsonersremained alive at that time.
"Stalingrad" cuts presentation of the causes and background of all of the above to the bare minimum, instead concentrating on first-hand accounts of the battle. Survivors include both Russian civilians and German and Soviet war veterans. All of their stories are compelling and some might move you to tears. Among the tales of mutual cruelty, however, are some stories of unexpected compassion. The German POWs expected to be executed immediately but were impressed by the fact that their captors, themselves drastically short of food, split their bread ration with the prisoners. Soviet doctors also worked diligently to save the lives of wounded Germans. For the German troops, most had turned against Hitler when it became clear that he intended to all but abandon the Sixth Army to their fate, save for a relative small number of wounded men who were able to be airlifted out. One patient recalls that all wounded men were placed in occupied Poland until they recovered because Hitler didn't want the stigma of so many injured soldiers to bring down the morale of the German people who, by that time, were suffering terribly. The Blu-ray includes a wealth of incredible battle footage from both sides that will make you appreciate the bravery of war time photographers and filmmakers. Bonus features include interview segments that were deleted from the original cut of the film, an interview with historian Dr. Guido Knopp that adds interesting perspectives to the events, and "Stalingrad Today", a video tour of the impressive city that has since been rebuilt and renamed Volgograd but which still bares the scars of the infamous battle. What is left as an overriding impression is that over 500,000 died unnecessarily in order to satiate the whims of a madman.
"Stalingrad" is a major historical record that should be seen by everyone.
The German video label Explosive Media has another impressive release with the largely unheralded 1969 Western "Land Raiders", which the company has released on Blu-ray. The film was largely dumped on secondary markets for drive-in audiences and rural theaters in a year that saw such high profile Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch". Small wonder it didn't receive much attention. Not helping matters was its rather lame title which doesn't even represent the main focus of the story. The movie was yet another in the seemingly endless line of European Westerns that went into high gear a few years earlier with the success of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy. "Land Raiders" rises to the top echelon of those homages (rip-offs?) thanks in large part to the presence of some seasoned Hollywood veterans. The movie was produced by Charles H. Schneer, a frequent collaborator of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The direction is by Nathan Juran, who was on Oscar-winning art director who turned to directing many of the Schneer/Harryhausen films. This project represented a rather odd subject matter for Schneer and Juran, as they generally stayed within the realm of science fiction and fantasy. (Juran had directed many episodes of Irwin Allen TV shows in the 1960s including "Lost in Space" and "The Time Tunnel".) What possessed them to tag onto the fading genre of spaghetti westerns is open to speculation but it must be said that they delivered a surprisingly intelligent, well-acted movie that overcomes some of its production shortcomings.
Telly Savalas plays Vicente Cardenas, an evil land baron (are there any other kind?) who is attempting to forsake his Mexican heritage in order to build a successful empire in the American West. He controls the local government in a small but booming town and even has the sheriff, John Mayfield (Phil Brown), under his thumb because he has been financing the education of Mayfield's teenage daughter Kate (Janet Landgard), who is unaware of the deal with the devil he has made with Vicente. Vicente has an insatiable desire to keep expanding the territory under his control and is willing to use ruthless methods in order to achieve his goal. If he can't buy someone's loyalty he will use sheer brutality to intimidate them. Vicente also has a macabre bounty that is drawing miscreants to the territory: he is offering a cash reward for every Apache scalp delivered to him. On the surface he pretends to be a man of the people. He even has a glamorous American wife, Martha (Arlene Dahl), who continues to be willfully blind to her husband's brutality, as it affords her a luxurious lifestyle. But Vicente has mastered the art of instilling fear into the hearts of the local population and convincing them that he represents the the strong man who can keep them safe. (He should have run for U.S. president...) Into the mix rides Vicente's estranged brother Pablo (George Maharis). He's a depressed, motiveless drifter who is still nursing a broken heart over the death of his fiancee a couple of years earlier. When he learned she was carrying another man's baby, the couple got into a very public row. Soon after she was found dead, presumably as the victim of an accident. However, the local population became convinced that Pablo murdered her. He has stayed away for quite some time but is forced to enter town again when he saves Kate Mayfield from an attack by Apaches. His presence in the town sets off predictable tensions with Vicente, who attempts to patch up differences but finds that Pablo will have none of it. He's well aware of his brother's duplicity. Meanwhile Vicente gets some disturbing news from U.S. Army Major Tanner (Guy Rolfe): the government is attempting to broker a peace treaty with the Apaches and is sending a representative to meet with them. The government intends to cede to the Apaches a wide swath of land that Vicente depends upon to use as open range for his cattle. In short order he convinces Major Tanner to become an ally to help him thwart the deal. What Tanner doesn't know is that Vicente has his thugs murdered the government agent and framed the Apaches for the deed. Vicente then rallies the locals to make a raid on the Apache camp. Pablo tries to convince the citizens that Vicente was behind the murder, but no one believes him. What follows is a horrendous massacre of innocent Apache women and children. The Apache braves understandably want revenge and launch their own raid on the town. In the midst of all this Pablo learns some vital information regarding the death of his beloved fiancee that leads him to settle the score with Vicente even as the Apache attack begins.
The most surprising aspect of "Land Raiders" is how effectively it had been cast. Nearly all the roles are convincingly played, with Savalas in full bad guy mode, chewing up a lot of scenery and dominating every frame he is in. However, Maharis, never the most dynamic of leading men, holds his own against him and even manages to be convincing as a Mexican. The story has some implications that go beyond standard horse opera fodder. The movie was released the same year as "Soldier Blue" and both films bucked the trend by painting Native Americans as victims of genocide. If the massacre sequence in "Land Raiders" isn't as stomach-turning as that in "Soldier Blue", it's still somewhat shocking in its depiction of the brutal killings. The script also delves into the philosophical differences between Vicente and Pablo over retaining their ties to their Mexican heritage. So "Land Raiders" is a notch above most of the simplistic shoot-'em-up plots that defined the majority of European Westerns during this period. The movie is compromised by the use of some obvious stock footage in scenes of stampedes and cattle drives (the film stock doesn't come close to matching), but it does have several impressively-staged action sequences including the large scale attack on the town by Apaches. It's all competently directed by Nathan Juran and set to the requisite Ennio Morricone-cloned score by Bruno Nicolai that at times could pass as the work of "The Master". "Land Raiders" is by no means a classic but it has stood the test of time as an impressive entry in the Euro Western genre.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray has a wonderful transfer, the original trailer, a highly enjoyable still photo gallery and variations of the opening credits. The Blu-ray is primarily available from Amazon Germany under it's German title "Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo" ("Go to Hell, Gringo") but you can sometimes find imports on your local Amazon or eBay.
interview was set for 10:30 AM. Usually
they run a few minutes late as the celebrity works his way through a call list.
When the moment arrives an assistant handles the intros. Not this time. At precisely 10:30:00, the phone rang and
iconic Indie filmmaker John Sayles introduced himself. And why not? A no-nonsense, get- it -done type of auteur, Sayles handles his own
publicity calls and was keen to discuss his remarkable and varied career in
advance of a weekend retrospective at LA’s Cinefamily February 18 - 20.
broke into the business, like so many before him, by working with genre legend
Roger Corman who figuratively and literally wrote the book on low budget
filmmaking. “I got very lucky, didn’t
realize it at the time, “Sayles recalls. “I wrote three screenplays (Piranha, The Lady in Red and Alligator) and had them all made into
movies within the year.” The experience
helped shape him as a filmmaker. “A lot of it was learning what you had to have
money for and what was just labor intensive. What can you do with just good ideas and hard work?”
immediately put his guerilla filmmaking chops to good use. “My first movie
(1979’s Return of the Secaucus Seven)
cost under $100,000 and was shot in five weeks, my last movie (2013’s Go For Sisters) was under $1 million and
was shot in four weeks.”
facility for the unique language of screenplays served him well over the
years. His ”For Hire” literary work on
features like The Howling (1981), The Challenge
(1982) and The Clan of the Cave Bear
(1986) provided much-needed capital so he could make his movies like Baby, It’s You (1983), Matewan (1987), Lonestar (1996) and others. He also wrote an early draft of a Spielberg
sci-fi concept called Night Skies
that later became the worldwide phenomenon known as E.T. (Presumably that helped finance many a can of raw stock!) Through all of his projects Sayles keeps an
eye on the bottom line, asking himself, “How am I going to tell this story with
the means I have… and pay people decently and have it be a livable experience?”
John Sayles on set of AMIGO. Photo credit Mary Cybulski
at every level of the film industry will tell you that “the business” has
changed. Sayles has directed 18 films in
a thirty year career and has his own take on how today’s new technology has impacted
the new indie voices trying to get heard… “Technology has made filmmaking
so much more democratic. We were just at Sundance and they get 2000-3000
feature films submitted every year. When
we started out, that would’ve been a dozen. It’s much easier to make a movie, but there’s a bottleneck in
has made his name by telling highly personal stories that get his attention. “Generally it’s something that I know enough
about to be interested in, but not so much about that there’s no investigation
left.” Then he asks himself two
important questions – “What do I really think about this?” and “What really did
go on here?” Sayles is drawn to characters
who feel, “Oh my God, if I turn left it’s not very good and if I turn right
it’s not very good.” He cites his 2010
film Amigo, set in the 1900 Filipino-American
war. His main character is a small town
mayor who finds himself walking a razor’s edge when American troops take over
his town. “How much can I cooperate
without collaborating… that’s not a tenable position,” is how Sayles describes the
situation. “That’s a real moral dilemma!” he adds.
hunting for material, Sayles frequently turns to history. “History is full of
great stories and you don’t have to make much stuff up,” the auteur explains. He dipped back into history for his current
project titled To Save The Man. It is set at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
in 1890 where young Native Americans from various tribes were sent to suppress
their unique culture and become, essentially, “white”. According to Sayles, it’s “…political as well
as being a high school story and it’s set in the year of Wounded Knee.” Sayles is now engaged in the arduous task of raising
money to make their summer start date. But even with all the hardships of
modern indie filmmaking, Sayles is grateful for every chance to get behind a
camera. “If you get to make a movie, that’s a great thing.” And John Sayles has made some great movies.
Weekend with John Saylesruns February 18-20 and features the writer/director
introducing six of his groundbreaking films including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Baby, It’s You and The Brother From Another Planet.
(Thanks to Matt Johnstone for his help in arranging this interview.)
gangster movies about mobs, molls, and ingenious but ill-fated heists enjoyed a
big vogue in Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s, especially after the success
of Jules Dassin’s stylish “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” in 1955. Opening
here a year later in an edited, subtitled print as “Rififi,” Dassin’s picture
drew a small but appreciative audience of critics and foreign-film fans, and
became a perennial favorite in American art houses, repertory theaters, and
was a rare example of a “policier,” as French audiences called them, gaining
any critical and commercial notice on these shores even remotely comparable to
their popularity abroad. Although the genre owed a clear debt to classic
American crime films, it fell victim here, like nearly every other cinema
import from abroad, to a homegrown bias against dubbed or subtitled foreign
films in that more insular era of American popular culture. The vast
demographic of moviegoers in small-town America tended to be wary of movies
that they had to read as well as watch, or those in which stilted dialogue came out of unfamiliar actors’
mouths in interchangeable voices that didn’t match the movements of their
lips. If you were a crime-movie
enthusiast, you already had plenty of domestic product to choose from, anyway,
thanks to a wave of violent, “fact-based” programmers like “The Bonnie Parker
Story” (1958) and “Al Capone” (1959) that U.S. studios released in the wake of
high ratings for TV’s “The Untouchables.”
policiers that crossed the Atlantic, if they made it at all, were likely to be
relegated to marginal, second-run theaters, alongside nudies and exploitation
pictures. Newspaper ads and posters
played up the sexier, grittier aspects of the films as lurid entertainment “for adults only.” For example, the blurbs on the posters for
“Doulos, the Finger Man,” a subtitled 1964 edit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le
Doulos” (1963), proclaimed: “Raw, Savage, Shocking” -- “So ruthless, untamed
women would do anything for him . . . and did!” In these days of graphic
internet porn, what may have been “shocking” 50 years ago now looks quaintly
tame. Actual nude scenes in the original
European prints, which were modest to begin with by today’s standards, were
trimmed out of the American versions in deference to anti-obscenity laws. The sensual content that remained would
hardly cause a stir in today’s climate, but it was provocative for its era,
when married couples on TV had to be shown sleeping in modest PJs in twin beds,
if they were shown in the bedroom at all.
advertising strategy of implied sex turned a quick buck for distributors who
had little chance of seeing the policiers accepted by mainstream
ticket-buyers. However, the films’
reputation suffered in the larger court of public opinion. Middlebrow critics snubbed them as sordid
trash, almost beneath their notice. The
New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, for example, dismissed the Melville film as
“talkative and tiresome,” and seemed personally offended by the “mean and
disagreeable” title character portrayed by Jean-Paul Belmondo.
have changed greatly since then. Younger
generations of critics, less bothered by disagreeable characters than Crowther
was, have revisited the policiers and found them worthy of serious
discussion. Thanks to DVD, Blu-ray,
streaming video, and cable movie networks, a wider audience in middle America
has a chance to see the films in their original form, and they’re more likely
to be receptive to foreign productions than their grandparents in the Ike
era. Several policiers, including “Le
Doulos” and nearly all of Melville’s other pictures, are available in restored
DVD and Blu-ray editions with classy packaging. However, other policiers of arguably equal merit remain missing in
action on U.S. home video, even on the collector’s market, notably Alex Joffé’s
1959 production, “Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (1959).
the title suggests, Joffé’s film shares a bloodline with Jules Dassin’s better
known classic. Both were based on novels
by French crime writer Auguste Le Breton, who claimed that “rififi” was
criminal slang that he had picked up from real underworld acquaintances in the
hangouts of Montmartre and Pigalle, meaning something like “melee” or
“rumble.” Le Breton co-authored the
script for the Joffé movie.
critics have questioned whether Le Breton was telling the truth about his gangland
connections, and suspect that he coined the term “rififi” himself. Dassin said he was disturbed by racist
implications in the word, since Le Breton asserted that it referred to the
violent characteristics of Parisian gangs made up of North African immigrants
from the Rif area of Morocco. Accordingly, in the film version of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes,” Dassin
downplayed the ethnicity of his characters. Sort of a Mickey Spillane of France, Le Breton became a popular
celebrity after the success of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” and made a lot of
money writing about hoods and tough guys. Many of his novels were branded with “rififi” in their titles, but aside
from certain shared themes and plot elements, the books were unrelated to each
“Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (in my rough English translation, “The Girls Mix It
Up”), underworld entrepreneur Vicky de Berlin (Nadja Tiller) owns a popular
floating nightclub, the “Ration K,” on the Senne River in Brussels. Characteristically for Le Breton’s criminal
figures, Vicky’s surname isn’t necessarily her real family name, just a
nickname referring to the city where she came from. (In “Du Rififi chez Les
Hommes,” the ringleader of the story’s audacious jewel robbery, played by Jean
Servais in the movie, was Tony Le Stéphanois: “Stéphanois” being a
colloquialism for someone from the French town of Saint
Etienne.) Vicky’s troubled past as a
displaced Berliner is suggested by a photograph of her father on the desk in
her private office, a German officer wearing the Iron Cross. The name of her club implies that she might
have made her first money dealing surplus or stolen U.S. Army rations on the
black market after World War II.
Most urban crime thrillers made today are indistinguishable blood baths that consist of mindless car chases and pretentiously tough characters. Every now and then, however, a real unsuspected gem surfaces. Such is the case with the 2015 film "Criminal Activities". Despite its generic, computer-generated title that sounds like it was created to emulate one of the endless CBS crime series, the film is expertly made and superbly acted. It also has some very clever plot twists and turns that play out logically and very surprisingly. Most impressive is that this marks the directorial debut of character actor Jackie Earl Haley, who has been kicking around the industry for decades mostly in minor roles. Now in his fifties, he's made a dynamic impression both on-screen and behind the camera with "Criminal Activities". One must proceed gingerly in reviewing a film like this, 'lest some of the spoilers be divulged.
The film opens with the death of a seemingly troubled young man who is killed by a bus in front of horrified on-lookers. It's presumed to have been a suicide. After his funeral, some of his friends gather to discuss the tragic event. They are Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Zach (Michael Pitt). They are unexpectedly joined by Noah (Dan Stevens) , a nerdy financial investment analyst who was the butt of jokes in high school among some of his friends. He's still very much a nerd but is reluctantly accepted into the group's social orbit partly out of compassion for the way he was treated by them so many years ago. Over drinks the group analyzes why their friend might have ended his life. It's revealed that the dearly departed had been complaining about being followed by some unknown person or persons in recent days...something that unnerved him. Is it possible this stalker might have actually been responsible for his death? The conversation soon turns to money...and the common goal of everyone in the group to attain a successful life style. Bryce says he has a sure-fire investment scheme based on insider trading. There is a stock that is about to skyrocket but they would need to come up with $200,000 to get in on the deal. Collectively they don't have anywhere near that amount. However, Noah advises that he can definitely front the money, as long as they all share the risk as well as the profit. Assuming Noah is putting up his own savings, the young men readily agree. Weeks later, the "sure-fire" investment goes to hell when the company involved is raided by the feds and its CEO is arrested, causing the stock value to plunge to virtually zero. The panicked group gets together and learns more bad news: Noah didn't put up his own money. Instead, he borrowed it from a local crime kingpin, Eddie (John Travolta) who now expects to be repaid. He meets with the terrified men and they find him to be a smooth operator. He's quiet, calm and witty- but alerts them that the "interest" on the loan is another $200,000. The men advise him that they can't possibly come up with $400,000. He then makes them an offer they literally can't refuse - or they will pay with their lives. Eddie explains that a local rival crime boss has kidnapped his young niece and he's desperate to get her back. He advises them that he will forgive their entire debt if they successfully kidnap his rival's nephew. Eddie will then ensure the release of his niece by arranging a trade of hostages. The four men are understandably frightened by the proposition. After all, they are every day guys with no experience in criminal activities. Nevertheless, Eddie leaves them no choice. He makes it abundantly clear that failure is not an option-at least if they value their lives. The men concoct a scenario to kidnap the nephew, Marques (Edi Gathegi) from a local sleazy nightclub he hangs out in. The men bungle key aspects of the plan but, against all odds, succeed in capturing Marques and bringing him to a vacant apartment they have access to. They advise Eddie that the plan was a success and he tells them everything is looking good- just keep Marques on ice until he gets his niece back. Marques proves to be a handful. He speaks in street jive that is a far cry from the vernacular used by his Gen X white captors. Although tied to a chair, he exudes significant enough charisma to possibly talk his kidnappers into releasing him on the basis that they can still get away with no criminal charges. From this point on, it would be a disservice to detail more of the plot except to say that things wrap up in a startling manner that this viewer didn't see coming.
Director Jackie Earl Haley, who wrote the screenplay based on a script by the late Robert Lowell that had been gathering dust since 1977, provides himself with a plum supporting role as the most memorable of a two-man team of hit men who are in Eddie's employ. The concept of two eccentric hit men had moss on it even before Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson played such roles so memorably in "Pulp Fiction". In fact, Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager were terrific in similar parts way back in Don Siegel's 1964 remake of "The Killers"- and Robert Webber and Gig Young were also quite good in Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". However, Haley is superb in his brief scenes on screen as a chatty, seemingly friendly street guy who can jump from making quips to blowing someone's head off in a nanosecond. The entire cast is superb, with Dan Stevens particularly memorable as the hapless Noah and Edi Gathegi almost stealing the entire show with an extremely good performance. Travolta, who also served as Executive Producer, seems to be having a blast as the villain. His screen time is limited but he makes the most of it, appearing at key points in the plot. In essence, he's playing a low-end version of a Bond villain. He lives in comparative wealth, has adoring women around him and sucks down dreadful kale-based milk shakes as part of a bizarre diet. He never loses his temper and becomes even scarier the more friendly he acts. As director, Haley keeps the action flowing at a swift pace and credible reactions by the "kidnappers" that evoke the way most of us would feel if we found ourselves caught up in such extraordinary circumstances. However, Haley-who is too obsessed with Tarantino-izing his film- puts style over substance during the movie's surprising final sequence. It proves to be a near fatal error. When the surprises are revealed, Haley does so in a lightning-fast sequence that is almost impossible to comprehend. Worse, he jumps back and forth in time and introduces a key character we haven't seen before. I had to revisit the ending several times in order to comprehend exactly what was being unveiled. Once I understood the plot development, I found it highly satisfying- but no viewer should have to rely on taking such measures just to figure out what is going on. "Criminal Activities" was denied a theatrical release and went straight to home video. Perhaps the incomprehensible nature of the ending was a factor in this. Nevertheless, if you are willing to stick with it (and possibly re-review scenes on the Blu-ray), you might well agree that this is a highly entertaining film and that Haley shows considerable promise as a director.
The Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment features some deleted scenes and an all-too-brief joint interview with Haley and Travolta. The film should have included a commentary track, as Haley's late break into directing and his nurturing of an almost ancient un-filmed screenplay would have made some interesting points for discussion.
Cinema Retro's "Man About London" Mark Mawston covers the "A" list events for our site- including last evenings BAFTA awards. Here are some of his outstanding shots from the red carpet. (All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.) Mark has photographed some of the legends of rock 'n roll. Visit Mark's web site by clicking here.
Yesterday the British Academy of Film and Television Arts held their annual awards ceremony, attracting acclaimed actors and filmmakers from around the globe for the festivities in London. Big winners were "The Revenant", "Brooklyn", Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson and Alejandro G. Inarritu. For full list of winners, click here.
Ed. Kier-La Janisse & Paul
Corupe (2015) Spectacular Optical Publications
$29.95 CAN / £17.95 UK
Review by Diane Rodgers
Those around in the 1980s may well
remember hysteria about 'video nasties' and the fevered destruction of records in
America bearing the (then new) Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics label, fuelled
by fears of a pervading obsession with evil amongst youth and popular culture. Satanic
Panic studies this moral frenzy from a vast array of perspectives in
fascinating depth, outlining the fears of anxious parents and a confused mainstream
culture about teens supposedly embroiled in Satanic cults and potentially carrying
out ritual abuse, devil worship, suicide or murder at any given moment.
Following the rise of interest
in the occult from the 1960s onward, it's easy to see why Reagan's America,
still reeling from the confusion of Vietnam and the implications for the 'American
Dream', morality and family values, latched onto something so easily
sensationalised as a scapegoat to blame for all of society's problems. Satanic Panic builds this picture
brilliantly throughout; each chapter looks at a different aspect of pop-culture
- specific films, comics, music, TV, RPGs, infamous trials, MTV, home video, evangelists
and preachers, but never dwells on already well-trodden subjects; the editors
have gone to some lengths to find plenty of material covering new ground.
Films like Evilspeak (1981) and 976-EVIL (1988) consider adult anxieties
fantasised onto youth culture and their apparent susceptibility to 'techno
devilry'. Kevin Ferguson suggests that
the real hidden fear is the invasion of telephone and computer technology in
the home. Role playing games like
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are case studies which faced significant and
widespread criticism from Christian detractors who saw the gaming community as
"a Satanic conspiracy threatening society". Gavin Baddeley (once offered an honorary
priesthood by satanic cult leaderAnton LaVey) discusses an outspoken D&D detractor
Christian personality William Schnoebelen who, by his own admission, used to be
a Satanist and a vampire before becoming 'born again' and evangelising on the
evils of RPGs. More often than not, here
and throughout the book, it is shown to be these detractors (rather than the
merely rebellious teen participants), who believe in the power of the
supernatural and the evils of magic in a very real way and thus cause plenty of
Paul Corupe covers the
Christian comic art of Jack T. Chick who, amongst many dubious choices, gave a
platform to controversial figure Dr. Rebecca Brown who lost her medical licence
in 1984 for misdiagnosing patients (blaming sickness on demon manifestations
and witchcraft, amongst other causes), suffering herself from paranoid
schizophrenia and demonic delusions. Satanic Panic 's host of writers
(including experts, enthusiasts and academics) frequently argue the case
successfully; the loudest detractors of the 'Satanic Panic' were actually often
the ones causing damage, and usually in their pursuit for fame, greed or
notoriety. There are serious cases here;
that of Michelle Smith and her notorious Michelle
Remembers memoir (1980), co-written by therapist Dr. Lawrence Pazder, about
Satanic ritual abuse, detailing physical, psychological and sexual
torture. From the evidence Alexandra
Heller-Nicholas gives, Pazder cashed in on and sensationalised what may have
been a far more unremarkable but no less tragic case of child abuse. The infamous case of Ricky Kasso (who
savagely murdered a fellow teen in 1984) is also highlighted for discussion,
influential on films like River's Edge
(1986) and songs by bands like Sonic Youth (Satan is Boring, 1985).
It is easy to forget the size
of such a moral panic from almost 40 years ago, but Joshua Benjamin Graham's 'Fundamentalist
readings of occult in cartoons of the 1980s' is a reminder of its full extent;
it seems laughable now that worry about violence and Satanism was so widespread
at the time that people thought a cartoon He-Man calling on the power of
Greyskull actually meant that "our children are being taught by TV today
to call on demons..."! Stacy
Rusnak's perceptive analysis of the demonization of MTV details battles over
(American) family values and moral issues like abortion, pornography and drugs
and how the explosion of music video was challenging to the dominant
hegemony. Rusnak explains how MTV gave
strong anti-authoritarian representation to the jeans, leather jacket and
shaggy hair generation and thus became a target in itself for Tipper Gore and
other wives of high-ranking members of Congress who founded the Parent's Music
Resource Centre (PMRC) ; "as though MTV was more accountable for America's
children than the parents".
A centrepiece to the book, and
the entire Satanic moral panic itself, is Alison Lang's chapter on the Geraldo
Rivera TV special Devil Worship: Exposing
Satan's Underground (1988). Most chapters
in the book at least refer to this inflammatory show, due to its notoriety and influence
on the outrage of the time, which the New York Times described as an
"obscene masquerade". From
Lang's description, Rivera's programme sounds like Chris Morris' Brasseye Paedogeddon! special (2001), an
intentionally outrageous parody of tabloid TV on yet another moral panic of the
modern age. However, this doesn't make
Rivera's reportage any less shocking. His scandalous claim of 1 million practising Satanists in America
carrying out sex abuse pornography and satanic ritual abuse (which Lang points
out was a phenomenon since debunked by FBI) was entirely unsubstantiated. Rivera uses no scientific or academic
evidence for his claims, but rather conjecture, opinion and bullying to extract
rapid fire soundbites from his guests, requesting they use words of "...
no more than two syllables - we're dealing with an audience with the mental
capacity of 13-year-olds here". From contemptuous to downright offensive, Lang summarises Rivera's show
as hilarious and troubling; pure sensationalist 'entertainment'.
Many chapters in the book
concern music, film or pure pulp fiction that were intended as such
'exploitainment', cashing in on the easily sensationalised, but the outrage and
hysteria caused are clearly where the danger lies in Satanic Panic. The book is a
mine of information with plenty of full-page images, posters and stills to whet
your appetite further, with a deliciously glossy set of full colour images at
the back. Topics cover everything
relevant from the kitsch, fun and tabloid to sincerely perceptive and philosophical,
I already have a rapidly growing must-see list of films, comics and TV specials
to follow up next!
It is important to remember
seriously, however, that for every perceptive adult that sees such a movement
of purported Satanism as merely a teenage "... rejection against the
standards their parents represent..." (as Leslie Hatton quotes Revered
Graham Walworth, a pastor local to the Ricky Kasso case), there will be an
outraged Tipper Gore or fundamentalist group looking for something or someone to
blame for all societal problems. Lisa
Ladoucer, writing about the PMRC and heavy metal, cites the devastating case of
the West Memphis Three. Three teenagers were tried, convicted and jailed for
almost 20 years for the murder of three young boys based on no real evidence
other than a suspicion that one of the teens may be a devil worshipper as he
had expressed interest in metal music and the occult; new DNA evidence led to
their release in 2011. That, Ladoucer
writes, "...is the power of Satan."
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1963 action adventure film "Kings of the Sun", a movie that has largely faded into relative obscurity. In viewing for the first time since its initial release I was pleasantly surprised at how impressive the film is on any number of levels. For one, it takes place during a period that has been largely untouched by Hollywood in that it is set in the era of the ancient Mayans. One must deal with the fact that the historical aspects of the screenplay are largely hokum. The story opens with the Mayan people mourning the death of its king in battle against a rival tribe led by the blood-thirsty Hunac Ceel (Leo Gordon). The new heir apparent is Balam (George Chakiris), a young man who must instantly assume his father's throne and responsibilities. These include the practice of human sacrifice to appease the gods. Balam does not agree with this practice and feels it is at odds with an otherwise highly advanced culture. Nevertheless, under badgering from the top holy man, Ah Min (Richard Basehart), he concedes to continue with sacrifices in order to keep his deeply religious people satisfied. He is also told that he must choose a young maiden to be his future bride. He chooses Ixchel- and who can blame him since she's a ringer for Shirley Anne Field? Ixchel is willing to accept being queen but her enthusiasm is dampened by Balam's cold, unemotional demeanor toward her. Before the young betrothed couple can wed their village comes under siege by Hunac Ceel and his forces. Their only hope for survival is to take to the sea and find a new land. The voyage is an arduous one that threatens to diminish the Mayans' confidence in their new king. However he is redeemed when they actually find land and discover that the climate is hospitable and that crops grow abundantly. They set about building a stockade and permanent dwellings, using their scientific knowledge as a guide. A new threat emerges, however, in the persona of Black Eagle (Yul Brynner), chief of the indigenous people who populate the Mayans' new home land. Black Eagle ambushes Balam and engages him in a duel. However, Balam is saved by fellow Mayans who seriously wound Black Eagle. Ah Min orders that he be nursed back to health with the ultimate goal of using him as a future sacrifice to the gods. Black Eagle is cared for by Ixchel and you can see immediately where the story is going once the two lock eyes. It's clear they are mutually attractied. Ixchel is fascinated by Black Eagle, who has savage ways in terms of combat but who also possesses a great intellect. Not hurting matters is that he is in superb physical condition and struts around in a tiny loin cloth while her husband-to-be and the other male higher-ups among the Mayans are generally seen wearing enough silly costumes and headgear that they look like an ancient version of The Village People.
As Black Eagle makes a slow, painful recovery the relationship between him and Ixhcel intensifies and he even proposes to her, though she has to decline as she is already committed to Balam. Black Eagle has extolled the virtues and civility of the Mayans for nursing him back to health but his attitude changes when he is informed that he will be their sacrificial lamb. Assurances that his death will result in his being worshiped as a god don't appease him and he is led to the sacrificial altar. At the last moment, however, Balam spares his life and orders that the Mayans will no longer practice human sacrifices. Ah Min is so alarmed by this that he takes his own life in order to appease the gods. Nevertheless, Balam instructs his people that this is a new era for the Mayan culture and that they will learn to co-exist peacefully with Black Eagle's people. At first things go well as both cultures blend together well and teach each other valuable skills. However, Balam becomes aware of the attraction between Black Eagle and his future bride. Jealousy finally gets the better of him, resulting in a fight between Ixchel's two would-be lovers. The peace treaty is called off and both tribes are likely to become enemies again. Another crisis hits the Mayans when, unexpectedly, Hunac Ceel arrives by sea with a massive invasion force. When Balam ignores his demands to surrender, the two sides engage in a fierce battle. At first Mayan military strategies take a heavy toll on the invaders. However, their sheer numbers soon overwhelm Balam's forces. The Mayans' only hope for salvation lies in Black Eagle's hands. Will he commit his people to fight on behalf of Balam's kingdom who they now regard enemies?
There aren't many surprises in the story. Once the angle of a love triangle is introduced it becomes obvious that both men will end up squaring off against each other. As these things usually turn out, one man's heroic death conveniently leaves the path clear for his rival to get the girl, so to speak. It's like "The Vikings, only with an abundance of sand. Still, "Kings of the Sun" is never less than entertaining. The direction by the woefully underrated J. Lee Thompson is first-rate, not only in the dramatic sequences but also in the climactic battle, which ranks as one of the best-staged I've seen in films from this era. It's all set to a stirring score by Elmer Bernstein, who occasionally seems to channel some note-for-note aspects of his legendary score for "The Magnificent Seven". In fact there are a couple of genuine connections to that film. Brad Dexter, who was one of the "Seven", has a supporting role and the opening narration is by an uncredited James Coburn, who, of course, also starred in "Seven".
Chakiris and Field give highly credible performances, given the fact that they don't remotely resemble anyone who could be considered a Mayan. However, the film is Brynner's show. Few actors could command the screen like he did. His very presence in a frame ensured that he could steal the scene and "Kings of the Sun" presents him at his exotic best.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray boasts a great transfer that does justice to the film's semi-epic scope. There are a lot of people in this expensive-looking film that takes full advantage of the Mexican locations. The Blu-ray contains the original trailer and a trailer for another fine Yul Brynner film, "Taras Bulba". Kino Lorber has also retained the magnificent original artwork for the packaging which gives full evidence of that glorious era in which seemingly every other movie poster looked like a classic piece of artwork. Highly recommended.
Scott plays a former Confederate spy in the 1953 western “The Stranger Wore a
Gun.” When the movie starts, Jeff Travis (Scott) is involved in a brutal murder
during the final days of the Civil War while spying for Quantrill' Raiders, a
gang of notorious Confederate guerrillas. A wanted man after the war, Travis
heads west to Arizona to start a new life. Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) helps
him escape from a river boat and meets up with him later in Arizona. Travis
also meets up with one of his former Quantrill Raider associates, Jules Mourret
(George Macready), who offers him a position in his new gang of outlaws so he
can continue to steal “Yankee gold.”
wants Travis to continue his old ways as a spy and pretends to be a detective
sent by the stage line to investigate recent gold robberies. Travis meets the local
stage line owner Jason Conroy (Pierre Watkin) and his pretty daughter Shelby
(Joan Weldon) and both take a liking to him. Travis plays Mourret against rival
gang leader Degas (Alfonso Bedoya) and tries to turn Mourret’s own men against
each other. Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) are part
of Mourret’s gang of cutthroats and naturally they don’t trust Travis.
movie is filled with action scenes staged for the 3-D camera and they look a
bit silly on the flat screen. However, the movie has high production value,
fine performances and is high on action with one particularly brutal scene of a
man having objects shot off his head by a drunk Degas and his equally drunk sidekick
as the man begs for his life. Travis shows up and departs, leaving Degas to
continue his deadly game. The move comes to a predictable conclusion with a
fire, gunfights and Travis and Josie departing on the stage together.
and Scott made six movies together, all westerns; “Man in the Saddle” (1951),
“Carson City” (1952), “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1953), “Thunder Over the
Plains” (1953), “Riding Shotgun” (1954) and “The Bounty Hunter” (1954). DeToth
was known for the gritty depiction of violence in his movies, many of them
crime thrillers and westerns, but he is also remembered as the director of one
of the greatest horror movies ever made. No stranger to 3-D, he helmed the horror masterpiece, “House of Wax” for
Warner Bros. in the same year he made “The Stranger Wore a Gun.” The irony is
that the Hungarian born director only had one eye and lacked the depth
perception to enjoy the fruits of his 3-D labor. Yet he directed what is
considered to be both the greatest 3-D movie and one of the best horror flicks
ever made. The first wave of 3-D movies was released throughout the 1950s, but
the process was costly and cumbersome with few theaters set up to project in the
duel strip 3-D process.
chose the right director for a 3-D western, but this movie was only shown in
that format in its early engagements. Watching it in 2-D one can still see
where 3-D effects were used as guns are fired, flaming torches, chairs and
whisky bottles are tossed directly toward the camera at every opportunity.
Explosive Media DVD is Region 2 so
you’ll need the appropriate player (though some viewers report they had no
problem playing it on their Region 1 units.) The movie audio options are German
and the original English. Extras include a photo montage of advertising
material and a couple of trailers, including one where Scott promotes the
virtues of three dimensions, Technicolor and stereo. The picture and sound
quality are terrific and the movie concludes after a brisk 79 minutes. Well
worth the time for classic western fans.
Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However,
imports often turn up on eBay and Amazon in other countries.)
Back in 1978, Burt Reynolds was still at the beginning of
a cycle of six action comedies that he made with director Hal Needham—a cycle
that started with “Smokey and the Bandit “(1977) and ended with “Cannonball Run
II” (1984). One of the best of these
films was “Hooper”—a tribute to Hollywood’s unsung hero, the Hollywood stunt
man. “Hooper” was a very personal film for both Reynolds and Needham who both
started their movie careers as stunt doubles. Needham started doing stunt work
in the early years of live TV in New York and is best remembered for his stunt
driving in Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” (1968). Reynolds also began in TV and
parlayed his athletic ability along with his good looks to become one of
tinseltown’s biggest stars. In a very real way, “Hooper” is even more personal
film for Reynolds, because one of the characters in the film is based on a
legendary, real-life stunt man/movie star, whom Reynolds knew personally and in
“Hooper” begins with opening credits superimposed over
Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) putting on braces, ace bandages, and padding over a
body bearing multiple scars. “March of the Toreadors” plays on the soundtrack
as he dons a motorcycle outfit and strides out into the sunlight to perform a
dangerous stunt, skidding a motorcycle under a moving truck. He’s working on a
spy movie starring Adam West who appears in the film as himself. That stunt
completed, next day he takes a high fall off a roof with a dog. “Make me look
good,” West tells him. But it’s after that fall we discover Sonny’s got a bad
back. He gets his friend Cully (James Best) to walk him to his trailer, where
he gives him a shot of Xylocaine. “You know what I’d do if I ever met the guy
who invented Xylocaine?” Sonny asks. “I’d get on my knees and kiss his ass.”
In the meantime, a new younger stuntman said to be the
next Sonny Hooper, arrives on the scene. Ski (Jan Michael Vincent) meets Sonny
during filming of a chariot race scene. Although he sees Ski as a threat, Sonny
can’t help liking the young up-and-comer. For one thing, the kid is damn good
at what he does. Maybe too good. As the story progresses, Sonny realizes the
new generation of stunt players coming up are smarter and tougher, if not better
than he and his contemporaries were. “They don’t take pills,” he tells Cully, “they
don’t drink, they don’t take shots, and they carry little pocket calculators.
We don’t watch out, they’re gonna blow us right out of the tub.”
The story follows a simple straight line, the old timer
trying to keep up with the younger rival even if it costs him his life. His
doctor tells Hooper that his vertebrae are torn almost beyond repair. One heavy
impact or fall could paralyze him for life. Naturally the film leads to a
climax that calls for Hooper and Ski to perform the greatest stunt ever
filmed—one that involves jumping a rocket car 325 feet over a collapsed bridge.
In addition to the main plot line there is a subplot that
in a way is even more interesting than the rest of the movie, once you know the
inside story. Hooper has a sweetheart, a gal named Gwen, played, of course by
Sally Field, Reynolds’ main squeeze at the time. Gwen has a father, Jocko Doyle
(Brian Keith) who was once known as the greatest stunt man alive. It’s no
coincidence that in real life Sally Field’s stepfather was none other than Jock
Mahoney one of the greatest stuntmen who ever lived. Keith first appears on
horseback wearing a fringed buckskin jack, the kind that was Mahoney’s trade
mark when he played the Range Rider, a Gene-Autry produced TV series that aired
in the 1950s. Mahoney, who was known in the trade and by his friends as
“Jocko,” had been a stunt double for Charles Starrett in the Durango Kid
features. He played Yancy Derringer on a CBS series and went on to play Tarzan
in two features that were filmed in Asia. Unfortunately, he contracted dysentery
and dengue fever while on location in Thailand and his general health took a
heavy hit. During the filming of an episode of the Kung Fu TV series in the
seventies Mahoney suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair for some
I mention all this because near the end of Act Two of “Hooper,”
Jocko Doyle also suffers a stroke, mirroring the same fate suffered by Mahoney.
In Gene Freese’s biography, Jock Mahoney,
The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman, the author tells us that both
Reynold and Needham were Jocko fans, and of course he was Sally Field’s
stepdad. Freese says the part of Gwen’s father was “based on Jock Mahoney
himself.” Both the star and the director wanted Mahoney to play the part, but
the studio didn’t want him. Some fans, who knew the Mahoney/Doyle connection
thought that perhaps he wasn’t physically able to play the part. But that wasn’t
it. He was fit enough, Freese writes, but the studio wanted a bigger name.
However, Mahoney was on hand during filming in an advisory capacity and
provided some of the “Mahoneyisms” that the actors used in their dialog.
“Hooper” is one of those special movies that really
deserved to be released on Blu-Ray. For one thing it’s the kind of movie that
they don’t make any more, and probably never will again. As Hooper said, the
boys with the calculators and computers have taken over. A lot of stunt work has
been replaced by CGI. “Hooper “is light hearted and fun to watch because
everyone in it seems to be enjoying themselves. Reynolds does his usual mugging
and winking into the camera, and there was real chemistry between he and Field
back then. But more importantly, “Hooper” pays homage to the men and women who
made the stars look good, as Adam West said. And it shows the price these
legendary people paid, in terms of broken bones, chronic pain, in some cases
permanent injury and even death. Yet despite the odds of surviving a career
like that intact, the film conveys a sense of good humor mixed with bravado
that’s hard to find in movies these days. It’s no Range Rider, but it’s a damn
Warners Home Video released “Hooper” in 1.85:1 aspect
ratio. The picture is excellent. The soundtrack contains the usual country
western tunes, but is in mono with too much shrill high end and not enough
bass. The only extra is a standard format trailer. This is another case where an
iconic film significant at least of the time period in which it was released,
is presented with no commentary or documentary features. I would really have
enjoyed hearing Reynolds or Field talk about it.
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE "HOOPER" TRIBUTE FACEBOOK PAGE.
("Hooper" will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (North America) on Saturday evening February 13. Check local listing for time in your area.)
The Best of Benny Hill 1974 Region 2 DVD
Review: Directed by John Robins. Starring Benny Hill, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Patricia
Hayes, Jackie Wright and Nicholas Parsons.
early Seventies saw Benny Hill at the very top of his game. He was a unique
figure and a giant among comedy acts. Hill’s diverse range of hugely memorable
characters, his sketches and songs propelled him to stardom and made him a worldwide
household name. The Best of Benny Hill was released theatrically in 1974, a
hilarious compilation of sketches culled from his early Thames Television years
1969-1973. All of the film’s featured sketches are from the television episodes
produced and directed by John Robins.
Best of Benny Hill brings back many precious memories. While many of the
sketches would today no doubt find themselves labelled as either politically
incorrect or simply out of touch, you ultimately look upon them with a genuine
sense of innocence. Arguably, the late Sixties and early Seventies were more
liberating and promiscuous times. Hill’s sketches were reflective of that. It
was simple fun with no real offending agenda. Yes, it was cheeky, saucy fun -
the type of which you would find on a Bamforth seaside postcard.
the sheer diversity of Hill’s characters that makes this compilation so
entertaining, Pierre De Tierre the Avant-Garde French film director, Fred
Scuttle’s health farm and “Keep Fit Brigade” sketches all remain prime examples
of Hill’s simple but highly infectious comedy. There’s also Tommy Tupper in
Tupper-Time, Hill’s hilarious parody of Simon Dee and the chat show Dee Time.
Check out Hill trying to contain his laughter throughout this sketch, it is
both endearing and priceless. Of course, it shouldn’t be overlooked that a
great deal of the success was also due to Hill’s reliable and regular stable of
support actors. Brian Todd, Henry McGee and Jackie Wright as Hill’s ‘straight
men’ were all highly credible and essential to his comedy routines.
as part of Network’s British Film Collection, The Best of Benny Hill is
featured in a brand new transfer from the original film elements. Presented in
its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the picture looks impressive. There are a few
vertical scratches (during a couple of studio sketches) which were of course
shot on tape and where such minor defects are to be expected. The film elements
(originally shot on 16mm) look very nice and the mono audio track is clear
throughout. The special features include the original theatrical trailer and a
selection of stills and promotional material in the image gallery.
The Best of Benny Hill is a wonderful time capsule that provides a hugely
enjoyable 83 minutes of laughter, and perhaps a welcome reminder of more simple
times. As a collective, it serves as perfect showcase and a lasting tribute to
a much missed comedy genius.
Venturi's Day 6 is another genre
outing that has made its rounds under different titles: Alien Exorcism (U.S.), Alien
Encounter (U.K.), 5 Giorni Sulla
Terra (Italy), Eirian-Baasasu-Ekusoshituto
(Japan), and 6 Days on Earth. Now out on DVD from One 7 Movies, Day 6 introduces a story that is
intriguing but tests the audiences' patience by inundating them with so much
information that it becomes a bit much to follow. Although spoken (and apparently also dubbed)
in English, there are no subtitles, and their absence is heavily felt. In a nutshell, the film is a fair attempt of
mixing aliens with evil spirits. Dr.
Davide Piso (Massimo Poggio) is a scientist who has dedicated his life's work
to the study of alien abductions. You
would think that he would have taken notes from Whitley Strieber's 1987 book on
the subject, Communion, as he speaks
with and studies people who claim to have been abducted. He is also interested in how these abductions
affect the person and their soul. The
aliens themselves look like they stepped off the cover of that best-selling
a lecture that he administers on the subject, he is approached by Saturnia
(pronounced "sa-TURN-yah" and played by Laura Glavin), a woman half
his age who lets her sexual attraction to him be known. She asks him for help as she feels possessed
by some other form of life (couldn’t it just be PMS?) He soon discovers that an alien named Hexabor
of Ur is possessing her and, according to the Day 6 website (the film's official website), Hexabor of Ur is
"an alien entity coming from ancient ages, from the site of Ur, according
to the Bible the Abraham's city of birth. A regal and disdainful personality, with a sexual androgynous nature, s/he
believes to be the elected one, destined to entirely possess a human
'container'…" Loosely translated
form Italian, I am guessing. Dr. Piso
has developed a method of getting abductees to relive their experience of being
abducted by hypnotizing them in order to "exorcise" the alien that
has possessed them so to speak. He
employs this technique on Saturnia but soon learns that she cannot come out of
the hypnotic state, and this permits the Hexabor of Ur to flourish and attempt
to attack mankind. Desperate, Dr. Piso
keeps Saturnia sedated so that he can work to find a solution to get her out of
the hypnotic state.
film has received more than its fair share of negative reviews, but I would say
give it a chance. It's by no means a
great film, but it is very ambitious for the subject matter which attempts to
mix alien abduction with soul possession and does so nicely. I can't say that I have seen this type of
story before. Laura Glavin is quite good
as Saturnia. Ms. Glavin has been
appearing in the Italian television series Don Matteo since 2009 and is best
known to audiences for her work on that show. Massimo Poggio is also good as Dr. Piso, however this being an Italian
film, all the dialog is dubbed and sounds read from a script. Think Dario Argento. Just about all the dialogue is obviously
looped, but there is a fairly good car chase halfway through the film. It ain't To
Live and Die in L.A. (then again, what is?), but it's decent.
film was shot digitally and the lack of subtitles is puzzling. According to the end credits, shooting took
place in April 2009 (this is information that I have never seen disclosed in a
film credit before), so we are seeing this film nearly six years following its
There are two extras on the disc. The first is a 56-minute “documentary” called Sci Real which is conducted in both
Italian (with English subtitles) and in English, and purports to be a
documentary on the phenomenon depicted in the film. The second is the
I would have preferred the film to be in
spoken Italian with English subtitles. Perhaps a future Blu-ray release will contain just that.
When they say "They don't make 'em like that anymore" it could well be in reference to "The Honey Pot", a delightful 1967 concoction that has just enjoyed a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The film is the kind of star-studded comedy/mystery that is all but unseen today. However, the film barely registers in the minds of most movie-goers and was not successful when it was first released. (The studio even reissued it under a new title, "It Comes Up Murder".) The project was cursed from the beginning. The original cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, died before production was completed. When the film was released in select engagements, the running time was 150 minutes, which was deemed to be far too long for this modest enterprise that is confined largely to interiors. For general release, 18 minutes were cut although some of those scenes still appeared in lobby cards advertising the movie. One well-known character actor, Herschel Bernardi, had his entire role eliminated. Additionally, the film's producer Charles K. Feldman was under a great deal of stress, as he was simultaneously overseeing production on his bloated, out-of-control spoof version of the James Bond novel "Casino Royale". Yet, what emerges somehow managed to end up being quite entertaining, thanks in no small part to the larger-than-life Rex Harrison having a field day playing an equally larger-than-life rich cad. Essentially, he's playing Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" once again- only this time with a more devious streak. Both characters are filthy rich. Both are erudite and sophisticated snobs who devise cruel games involving innocents in return for his own self-amusement. Harrison is a wicked but lovable character. You can't help cheering him on despite his lack of ethical convictions.
The film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is cobbled together from Frederick Knotts' play "Mr. Fox of Venice" and Thomas Sterling's novel "The Evil of the Day" with a healthy dose of Ben Johnson's play "Volpone" tossed in. In fact the film opens with Harrison as the pretentiously-named Cecil Sheridan Fox enjoying a performance of "Volpone" at a magnificent Venetian theater. The camera pans back to show that this is a private performance for Fox alone. He stops the play before the finale, thanks the cast members for a spirited production and leaves the scene. Yes, he's that rich. We soon learn that he is using elements of "Volpone" to orchestrate an elaborate and expensive practical joke. The first step comes when he hires an unemployed American actor, William McFly (Cliff Robertson) to be his hired hand. He informs McFly that he must pose as Fox's long-time major domo in his elaborate mansion house, which is impressively located right on one of the canals. Fox explains to McFly that he has written to three former lovers and told them he is terminally ill. None of the women know that the others have been informed. He reasons that they will all make a bee-line directly to him, ostensibly to care for him, but in reality in hopes of inheriting his fortune. First on his list is Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), who Fox wooed when she was a wild teenager. In the course of their affair, he put her on the road to a life of luxury and pleasure. Then there is Princess Dominique (Capucine), an exotic beauty who is in a troubled marriage and Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a famous but fading movie star. On the surface, all three of these women are independently wealthy and shouldn't need his fortune. But he suspects that, in reality, all are in some degree of financial distress and he wants to see if they will compete with each other to earn his favor. Sure enough, each of the ladies arrive at his home and are surprised to see they have two female competitors. Lone Star is now a cranky hypochondriac who requires constant pampering from her ever-present companion, a spinster named Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Dominique tries to put on an heir of self-assurance and Merle is a wise-cracking cynic. All of them individually express their sympathies to Fox and there is even the occasional attempt at seduction. Fox puts on a show that he is desperately ill and even sits in bed affixed to an oxygen tank. In private, however, he blasts classical music and dances around the room, delighted that his perceptions of human behavior are proving to be true. The plot takes several major swings in due course, however, when one of the women ends up dead, ostensibly from an overdose of sleeping pills. However, McFly and Sarah suspect murder is afoot. The film then becomes one of those time-honored drawing room mysteries with upper crust characters matching wits with the local inspector (Adolfo Celi, marvelous in a rare comedic role.) To describe the plot in any further detail would necessitate providing some spoilers. Suffice it to say there are plenty of red herrings and a complex plot that will demand your constant attention or you will be hopelessly lost.
The performances are all first rate, though Capucine (never one who mastered the light touch that these sorts of comedies require) is a bit stiff. However, Hayward and Adams pick up the slack with very funny characterizations. The scene stealer among the women, however, is Maggie Smith, who is more street wise than any of the others suspect. As for Harrison, he seems to be having a genuine ball, chewing the scenery and dispensing bon mots that are consistently amusing. The sequence in which he dances around his bed chamber is one for the ages.
"The Honey Pot" deserved a better fate than it received when it was released theatrically. Hopefully it will get a more appreciative audience through this fine Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. You'll find viewing it is time well spent, indeed. (There are no bonus extras except for the original trailer).
it has been released before on Blu-ray, the “Criterion treatment” is always welcome
for a classic, well-known film such as The
Graduate. Quite simply, it’s one of the most beloved pictures of the 60s,
one that hit a nerve in the public consciousness. It helped define those wildly
changing years at the end of the decade, illustrating how the country’s youth
rebelled against an established society that they were expected to join. The Graduate is a landmark of the New
Hollywood movement that took over the studios in those years and held reign
through the 70s.
Mike Nichols, fresh from his success as a debut helmsman for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), gave us a romantic comedy unlike
anything we’d seen previously—mainly because of the radically daring casting of
an unknown actor named Dustin Hoffman. Highly influenced by French New Wave, Nichols
brilliantly directed the entire picture, but his most important contribution to
the film’s triumph was the re-imagining the story not to be about a tall,
blonde, suntanned, southern California leading man type (i.e. “not Jewish”)
that was the norm for Hollywood. No, Nichols saw that The Graduate would be so much better if it was about a schlemiel. An Everyman that the audience
could perhaps recognize as one of them. Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock is
okay-looking, he’s not un-attractive,
he’s smart, and not a loser. Yet here he is, just out of college, not knowing
what the hell he’s supposed to do now, and he allows himself to be pulled into
an affair with an older, married woman who is one half of a couple that is close
to his parents. The youth of America apparently could relate. The Graduate changed the casting
philosophy in Hollywood overnight, opening the door for “unusual” actors to
come to the forefront and play leads.
striking directorial choice Nichols made was the use of songs by Simon and
Garfunkel as a soundtrack. Movies had previously contained pop music—but a
specific artist’s work hadn’t been used in such a personal, meaningful way.
It’s as if Paul and Art’s voices are our guides along Ben’s journey to find his
elusive purpose in life. It’s a perfect fit. It’s interesting to note that the
only original song in the picture, “Mrs. Robinson,” was an on-the-spot
creation, only the bare bones of which is used in the film. It was later, after
the movie’s release, that Simon fleshed out the song and the duo recorded the
hit single that appeared on the LP Bookends
in 1968. The hugely popular song was also a bit controversial, being that it
was about an adulterous affair and the Lord’s name was mentioned as “loving
Mrs. Robinson more than she will know.”
three leads are marvelous. Anne Bancroft, who received top billing, plays
against type as well. Robert Surtees’ carefully considered lighting and
photography makes her appear much older than 35, which is what she was at the
time. Ironically, Hoffman was 29—they were only six years apart in age. Bancroft
performs the unhappy Mrs. Robinson with cold and cynical aggressiveness, but
also with a vulnerability that is palpable. Katharine Ross became the
heartthrob of many young men in 1967, including me. She’s wonderful in the role,
but it is indeed her beauty that serves as yet another layer to the film’s
theme that yes, even a schlemiel can
end up with Katharine Ross. As for Hoffman, he plays Ben with just the right
amount of realistic, nervous anxiety—he is so true to the dramatic action that
some of the public accused him of not acting at all—he was “being himself.” He,
of course, would prove them wrong with his next choice of roles—the radically
different Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy—confirming
just how good Hoffman had been in The
it was nominated for many of the major categories at the year’s Academy
Awards—Picture, Actor (Hoffman), Actress (Bancroft), Supporting Actress (Ross),
Adapted Screenplay (Calder Willingham/Buck Henry)—only Nichols walked away with
the Director Oscar. For my money, The
Graduate was robbed (In the Heat of
the Night—granted, a wonderful picture—won).
new 4K digital restoration looks tremendous, the colors are rich and solid,
emphasizing the “modern” 1967 look and feel that distinctly identifies the
period. The film comes with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack (and optional
5.1 surround remix, approved by Nichols, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio).
You’ll be humming “Scarborough Fair” for days. There are two audio
commentaries—one from 2007 with Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, and one from
1987 featuring film scholar Howard Suber.
bountiful supplements include a new, long, fascinating interview with Dustin
Hoffman (his interviews are always good, he comes off as such a personable
guy); a new conversation between Buck Henry and producer Lawrence Turman that
reveals some surprising tidbits about the making of the film (e.g.,
Willingham’s script was thrown out and only Henry’s re-write was used for
shooting); and a new interview with film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen
about editor Sam O’Steen’s work with Nichols. Several pieces of vintage
material appear on the disk—a documentary from 2007 on the film’s influence; a
1992 vignette on the making of the picture; a terrific interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters on NBC’s Today show in 1966; and an excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show featuring Paul
Simon as a guest. Along with the trailer are some interesting casting screen
tests—one with Hoffman and Ross, of course, but also other candidates for the
roles such as Tony Bill and Jennifer Leak, and Robert Lipton and Cathy
Carpenter. The booklet contains an essay by journalist and critic Frank Rich.
The Graduate was the most
intelligent, witty, and surprising comedy-drama
of its era. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to dive into
Criterion’s superb new release.
Impulse Pictures has once again delved into their archives of seemingly unlimited adult film titles from the 1970s and 1980s for two separate DVD releases: "Farmer's Daughters" and "Snow Honeys". The former film is apparently the most notorious- and for good reason. Released in 1976, "Farmer's Daughter's" is the work of director/writer Zebedy Colt, who made a reputation back in the day for creating some of the most distasteful and shocking hardcore porn feature films. The fact that the bearded, grungy Mr. Colt is seamy enough to make the lunatics on "Duck Dynasty" look like sex symbols did not stop him from placing himself in the leading role, thereby guaranteeing he'd get plenty of "fringe benefits" from the on-screen action. The setting is a remote farm in an unnamed location. The opening sequences make you think you're going to be watching a lighthearted porn spoof of shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres". We see the aforementioned Mr. Colt as Shep, an aging, bedraggled husband who is happily going at it with his wife Kate (porn superstar and publisher Gloria Leonard, billed here as Gayle Leonard.) Ms. Leonard is fine on the eyes but it takes a lot of willpower to watch Colt enjoying carnal pleasures with her. Things get kinky right away when we see that they are been secretly observed by their three daughters (Susan McBain, Marlene Willoughby and Nancy Dare). That's a pretty twisted premise right there but things are about to get even weirder. The three sexually frustrated sisters are inspired to take matters into their own hands and start a private orgy between themselves. When a goofy local farm boy, Fred (Bill Cort), stumbles on the scene, they force him to have sex with them. (That's right: in the film's most unbelievable lapse in credibility, he has to be forced to have sex with them.) What follows won't be described here in detail. Suffice it to say that upon having Fred reluctantly satisfy their needs they indulge in some acts of humiliation towards him that are still plenty eye-opening even by today's standards.
Pretty soon the sisters get their own comeuppance when three escaped convicts happen upon the farmhouse. You don't have to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to figure out the premise that happens next as the three men engage in gang rape and even kinkier activities involving the girl's parents. Again, we won't provide the details but the molestation of young Fred pales in comparison to what follows. The film's climax somehow incorporates elements of "Last House on the Left", "Deliverance" and "Death Wish" and combines group sex, gang rape, blood-drenched revenge murders and incest, thus giving a new interpretation of movies that are intended for the whole family. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this wacky exercise in perversion is the fact that one of the horny convicts is played by a real actor, Spalding Gray. Yes, that Spaulding Gray, the grumpy raconteur who built a cult following on the basis of his one-man stage show and subsequent film, "Swimming to Cambodia" which was based on his experiences playing a small role in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields".
"Farmer's Daughters" is repulsive, offensive, shocking and degenerate on every level. Small wonder that these "qualities" are cited in promotional releases for the DVD which will undoubtedly please its intended audience.
Another Impulse release is more benign in content but also wacky in its own way. "Snow Honeys", released in 1983, is a hodgepodge collection of scenes from unrelated porn flicks wrapped around a thin premise. Erotic superstars of the era Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott open the movie in scenes filmed at a scenic ski resort. They amiably break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the viewer, griping that they are getting very little money for being in this production so they might as well enjoy themselves. Within minutes the two are starkers inside a resort hotel room and bizarrely describing scenes we are about to see even while they are pleasuring each other. This device is used to link choppy clips from older porn movies starring such familiar names and faces as John Holmes (was there a porn flick from this era he wasn't in?). Vanessa Del Rio, Desiree Cousteau, Seka and John Leslie, to name just a few. The vignettes range from a rather strange lesbian seduction sequence that starts out as romantic but quickly turns S&M to a somewhat amusing take off of Superman with the hero, Super Rod, getting it on with Lois Lane (named Lois Canal here). The big joke is that every time they mention their more famous counterparts' names, they are bleeped. "Snow Honeys" is fairly uninspired in its premise but does provide some abbreviated and memorable moments from other, better productions- and at least Ken Starbuck and Kara Lott are much easier on the eye than watching anything starring Zebedy Colt.
Both transfers are impressive considering the questionable source material and both include sneak peeks at Impulse's line of "Peep Show" silent loops from grind house theaters of days gone by. "Snow Honeys" also has a reversible sleeve with the alternate image more provocative than the weird sleeve depicted above.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "FARMER'S DAUGHTERS" FROM AMAZON
There is no doubt that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has earned Disney the right to crow about being the top-grossing film of all time. However, when one considers what a film grosses, a major aspect in the equation is often overlooked in terms of considering ticket prices over the decades. Boxoffice Mojo has made that adjustment and the results are enlightening. If inflation is considered, plenty of "golden oldies" rocket back up the list, an indication that a film's true success should be calculated in terms of the number of tickets sold, not boxoffice dollars. One would also assume that the older films were also far more profitable on a dollar-for-dollar basis given the fact that production costs were far less in years past. The adjusted chart shows that "Gone With Wind" is still the all-time boxoffice champ with the original "Star Wars" in second place. The top-grossing James Bond film becomes "Thunderball" (1965) (#30 on the list) which would have an adjusted boxoffice gross today of $644,000,000. "Jaws", "The Godfather" and "The Sound of Music", each of which shared the highest grossing film honor at one time, also go far back up the adjusted chart. Keep in mind that these numbers pertain only to the North American market. If international grosses were adjusted for inflation, these numbers would be even more eye-popping. For example, "Thunderball" was made on a budget of approximately $6 million. The latest Bond film "Spectre" has grossed close to $900 million to date but also was reputed to cost over $250 million. Click here to read.
Johnny Depp, whose films have generally tanked at the boxoffice lately, is returning to the safe terrain of the "Pirates" franchise.
Forbes has compiled their annual list that no actor wants to find themselves on: the most overpaid stars of the year. Forbes matches an actor's stratospheric paychecks to the performances of his films at the boxoffice. The results show that Johnny Depp leads the pack in terms of the dubious honor of being the most overpaid major star. Other "honorees" include such major names as Denzel Washingon, Will Ferrell and Will Smith, all of whom suffered through a number of money losing duds. The perpetual favorite in the analysis, Adam Sandler, escaped being named the most overpaid actor only because he didn't have a film in release during the time frame Forbes used to compile the list.. For more click here.
off to The Criterion Collection for releasing Blu-ray editions of these two
remarkable motion pictures. They have not been available in the U.S. since the
days of VHS.
double feature is really one big movie divided into two, both of them epics,
approximately six-and-a-half hours in total length, with built-in intermissions
in each picture. It’s the monumental story of a group of Swedish emigrants who
make their way to America in the 1840s and settle in the Minnesota wilderness.
The tale covers roughly thirty years, but the story officially ends in 1890.
The Emigrants and The New Land were landmark Swedish imports that gained much
acclaim and popularity at the time of their release. The Emigrants was the third foreign language film to be nominated
for the Best Picture Oscar (in 1972; the previous year it had been nominated
for Best Foreign Language Picture). Jan Troell also received Directing and
Screenwriting nominations (co-written with Bengt Forslund), and Liv Ullmann was
given the nod for Best Actress (she lost to Liza Minnelli in Cabaret). The New Land was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film the same
year The Emigrants was up for Best
co-stars with her frequent Bergman collaborator, Max von Sydow, as Kristina and
Karl-Oscar, a poor married couple with children who decide that their farm in
Sweden is a loser and the government is corrupt and unhelpful. The dream of
many Europeans was to go to America, the promised “new land” of opportunity.
But in 1840, that wasn’t so easy. It took some money, certainly, but it also
required near-superhuman fortitude, health, and bravery. People could die crossing the ocean. Oh, and they
also had to know how to build their own house, toil the earth, grow and hunt
their own food, and fully support and protect their families in a time when
Native Americans (i.e., “savages”) were living amongst them. Karl-Oscar is up
for the challenge; after the death of their young daughter from starvation in
Sweden, Kristina finally agrees to emigrate. They join a straggly group of
friends and extended family and make the journey together.
on classic Swedish novels by Vilhelm Moberg, The Emigrants begins in Sweden, covers the harrowing trip over the
ocean and then the trek cross country from the east coast to the Midwest. The New Land follows their struggles to
make lives for themselves in a hostile, but beautiful, environment. The story
is presented with brutal realism and authenticity. After viewing the pictures,
there will be no doubt in one’s mind what it was really like to be an early
settler. The boat voyage alone is so powerfully realized that you won’t easily
forget it. The journey takes ten weeks, during which the twenty or so
emigrants, living in the cramped steerage of a relatively small packet ship,
undergo serious seasickness, scurvy, starvation, conflict, and some deaths.
protagonist couple meets each new obstacle with tremendous strength, although
the years and frequent childbirths begin to take a toll on Kristina. Both von
Sydow and Ullmann are exceptionally good, especially in the scenes of intimacy
between two people who obviously love each other very much and are willing to
sacrifice everything for each other.
Eddie Axberg, as Karl-Oscar’s younger brother, is also a standout with his own
set of adventures that develop into a subplot as he leaves Minnesota with a
friend and heads toward California and its siren call of gold everywhere.
photographed, the new high-definition digital restorations, with new English
subtitle translations, look fantastic. Troell’s pace might be considered slow
by today’s standards, but like Kubrick’s Barry
Lyndon, which also strived to recreate a time and place that no longer
exists and succeeded, both The Emigrants and
The New Land capture not only the
harshness of the era, but also its grace, simplicity, and beauty.
supplements in the two-disc set include a new introduction to the films by
theatre and film critic John Simon; a new conversation between film scholar
Peter Cowie and director Troell; a new interview with Liv Ullmann; an hour long
documentary from 2005 on the making of the pictures with archival footage and
interviews with key personnel; and trailers. An essay by critic Terrence
Rafferty appears in the booklet.
is impressive, exemplary filmmaking, something any devotee of quality European
motion pictures needs to see. You may not want to get on a boat ever again.
Former actress Nancy Wait gained notoriety and a loyal following due to her big screen debut in the 1972 British sex farce "Au Pair Girls". She later returned from London, where she had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and concentrated on building a new career as a painter and writer. Her memoir "The Nancy Who Drew" has received praise since its initial publication in 2011. Cinema Retro contributing writer Brian Davidson caught up with Ms. Wait for this exclusive interview that ties in with Brian's tribute to "Au Pair Girls" in the latest issue of Cinema Retro (#34). Visit Nancy's official blog/web site by clicking here.
Brian Davidson: Christa in ‘Au Pair Girls’ is an introvert
coaxed into wearing sexy clothes which imply confidence and an extrovert
personality. I understand that you took up acting initially to help overcome
shyness. Were you therefore attracted to the role because you saw something of
yourself in Christa?
Nancy Wait: Absolutely. I remember when I was 14, in my
first year at the High School of Performing Arts here in New York and my acting
teacher took me aside one day and told me I should wear red. I have brown eyes
and brown hair and used to like wearing the colour brown. And this teacher who
I thought was very glamorous and sophisticated told me I was too mousy. She
said ‘’You need to wear red to bring you out!’’ It made an impression. The
change I went through over the next few years was also the change most
teenagers go through on the way to becoming their own person, and I started to
enjoy calling attention to myself with makeup and various hats and certainly
more colourful clothes.
But however much I changed myself outwardly, inside
I remained the same shy girl. They say that an introvert and an extrovert are
two sides of the same coin and you will often find an extremely shy person
behind the most extrovert actor. In fact, that’s the very reason many of us are
drawn to the profession- the chance to be someone other than our shy,
introverted selves. Though my basic nature has always been shy and modest,
moving to London and going to RADA was a chance to be really brave- though it
was nothing compared to the courage I needed to play Christa in the film. And
you’re right, I don’t think I could have even imagined doing the role if she
hadn’t been shy at first. Luckily the scenes were shot in sequence, so while I
got my feet wet I could play her shyness first, the part of her character that
was closest to me in spirit. My confidence was up by the middle of the shoot,
when Christa breaks out. So it all worked out very well from that standpoint!
B.D. In order to help pay for your tuition at RADA,
I believe you worked as a Bunny Girl at London’s famous Playboy Club, a form of
role-playing which I’m sure appealed to the actress within you. How did your
transition from Bunny to film actress come about?
N.W. I was working at the Playboy Club during term
breaks to earn the fees for school, and in a way the film and being a Bunny had
nothing to do with each other and yet they had everything to do with each
other. For instance, I don’t think I ever dreamed I would be the kind of person
who would be brave enough to take her clothes off for a film. And yet I had
already stepped out of my previous comfort zone by taking the job as a Bunny.
And what I first thought was tremendously daring- parading around in the Bunny
costume- after a few weeks became just par for the course. So there was that
but also the fact that I was just a glorified cocktail waitress who had to wear
distressingly high heels and be on her feet for an 8-hour shift. So when I was
offered the film and realised I could earn the fees for school in a week
instead of a month playing one of the leads in a film directed by Val Guest-
me, who had never been close to a professional job before- I didn’t have to
think too long about it.
There was also that thing when something comes to
you, falls in your lap as it were, completely out of left field and you can’t
believe it’s happening to you. Because I wasn’t looking for an acting job-it
was too soon and I still had a couple of terms to go at RADA. But my boyfriend
had an agent, and this agent said it was never too soon for me to get my
headshots out there and, without my knowing, he was putting me up for parts. I’ll
never forget that afternoon when I was working at the Club and got a call from
this agent who told me I was up for a lead in a film and he said ‘’ Oh, and
they love that you’re a Bunny!’’ Meanwhile, little did I know that my unlikely
transformation from a shy, modest student into a Bunny was only a precursor for
the far more public transformation that Christa would go through …
Self portrait, 1980.
B.D. Unlike your already established co-stars
Gabrielle Drake, Astrid Frank and Me Me Lay, you had never acted in a feature
film before yet the part of Christa is surely the most challenging of the four
girls’ roles from an acting point of view. Did you find Val Guest sufficiently
supportive under the circumstances?
N.W. I wouldn’t really have known if the part of
Christa was the most challenging as I didn’t see the others’ scenes until much
later after the film was out. And even if I had seen them, my part was
challenging enough! On the other hand, acting is acting whatever the mode,
stage or screen, and the only important thing is to remember your lines and
‘’don’t trip over the furniture’’ as Noel Coward famously said. And Val Guest
was enormously considerate to a newby like me. My first day on the set, he had
me sit next to him while they filmed a scene with Gabrielle Drake and Richard
O’Sullivan- the one in the barn with all the bundles of hay- and like the
seasoned professionals they were, these two made film acting look easy. So that
was a bit of luck! I suppose another bit of luck was my first scene with Lyn
Yeldham who played Carole, the daughter of the home where I was an au pair. Lyn
already had professional experience in front of the cameras yet she was far
more nervous than I was and kept flubbing her lines. Though I felt bad for her,
it gave me a boost. There was someone on the set who was less sure of herself
than I was!
But honestly, if Val hadn’t been so kind and
patient and understanding I don’t think I would have been able to do half the
things he asked of me. You have to trust your director and Val made that easy
with the way he made it seem we had all the time in the world. You never would
have known we were on such a tight schedule. I’ve no doubt he was the same with
the other actresses but he let me know all the time that he thought I was doing
a wonderful job. It’s the sort of thing that goes a long way in getting a good
performance out of someone.
Film book author Kim Holston provides an interesting original advertisement for Brian De Palma's "Sisters" (1973) starring Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt. Note that the film was double-billed with the grind house exploitation film "Rape Squad". The ad pertains to the Philadelphia region.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" is the kind of low-key potboiler that studios used to churn out by the dozens in the hopes of making a fast profit. That isn't meant as a knock. Plenty of very worthy films fall into this category and there is much to recommend about this one even if it never quite lives up to its potential. The most interesting aspect of "Ten Seconds to Hell" is the fact that among its creators are any number of big names who were on the cusp of gaining wider recognition. Director and co-writer Robert Aldrich was already an established name in the industry but would find his greatest successes ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" ,"The Dirty Dozen" among them) in the Sixties. Producer Michael Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, was just discovering that that the horror film genre for which Hammer would be forever associated was far more lucrative than standard thrillers or crime films which Hammer had originally produced. The cinematographer Ernest Laszlo would go on to lens such high profile films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Fantastic Voyage". Art director Ken Adam would become perhaps the most legendary production designer in the history of the business with "Dr. Strangelove", "Barry Lyndon" and numerous James Bond films to his credit. Thus, modest productions such as "Ten Seconds to Hell" often provided fertile training grounds for major talents in the making.
The story is an off-beat one in terms of its protagonists who are six German soldiers who return to Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. What they find is an apocalyptic landscape that the local population and the Allied forces are trying to rebuild into a major urban center. Aside from the sheer logistics of clearing the debris from seemingly endless bombing raids there is the problem of bombs themselves. As in every city that faced bombardment there were countless "dud" bombs that failed to go off. However they remained a major risk as they were capable of exploding without warning. It fell to small teams of incredibly courageous men to try to disarm them- and the casualty and fatality rates among them were sky high. The six German ex-soldiers had cleared dud bombs for the army during the war. In fact they were all deemed to be politically undesirable by the Nazis and were sentenced to concentration camps. However since there were considered to be expendable, they could best serve the Reich by disarming bombs. If they were killed in the process then so be it. The six men formed a tight-knit group and learned the expertise required to survive the war. Now upon returning to Berlin, the British solicit their services to disarm dud bombs that have fallen throughout the city. As an inducement the men are offered high salaries, comfortable apartments and double rations- quite an offer for a city that was left in poverty and on the brink of starvation. The men agree to the plan even though they know that they will face death every day. The group is dominated by two strong-willed men: Eric Koertner (Jack Palance), a sullen but honest man who is nursing psychological wounds from the war that are never satisfactorily explained and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler), a selfish man of few morals who puts a good time above everything else. The six men end up making a pact with a morbid premise: they will each contribute half of their salaries into a pot over a period of three months. Knowing there is a good chance at least some of them will die in the course of their work, the survivors will split the proceeds at the end of the "game". What starts out as a rather tasteless exercise takes on greater resonance when, indeed, over the course of several weeks numerous members of the group are indeed killed in the line of duty. Adding to the tensions is the deteriorating relationship between Eric and Karl, who must share the same apartment with Margot Hofer (Martine Carol), a beautiful young French woman who is persona-non grata in her native country because her late husband had been a German soldier who was part of the occupying forces in Paris. These three troubled souls are forced to inhabit the same living quarters and inevitably sexual tensions arise. Eric is slowly falling for Margot on an emotional level while Karl clearly just wants to take physical advantage of her. Predictably the end of the film finds the two men as the last living members of their group and who are engaged in working together on a particularly dangerous disarmament of a bomb from which only one will emerge alive.
"Ten Seconds to Hell" falls short in several key aspects. If there is a sure-fire way to ensure on-screen suspense it revolves around having someone desperately having to disarm an explosive device. Yet director Aldrich fails to wring much suspense out of these premises. Additionally the characters are not very well-defined. We never really get to know the reasons behind Eric's moody personality. We learn he was a prominent architect prior to the war but the script hints at much deeper insights into the man that never materialize. Additionally, Karl is such a loathsome, self-centered and untrustworthy man that one wonders why the group chooses to include him among them in their post-war assignments. Not helping matters is that this is yet another Tower of Babel-like film production in which some of the supporting characters have quasi-German accents while the male leads all talk with varying American accents that make it hard to accept them as German nationals. Aldrich deserves kudos for thinking outside the box and presenting the post-war period from the standpoint of those on the losing side but the distraction of hearing known American stars such as Palance and Chandler speak as though they are in a Western proves to be a minor undoing of the film. Still, "Ten Seconds to Hell" is an efficiently-made thriller and boasts some memorable aspects such as a sequence in which one of the group is trapped under a fallen bomb while a dilapidated building threatens to fall on top of him and his would-be rescuers. At the time the film was made in 1959 there were still plenty of bombed-out neighborhoods in West Berlin and Aldrich and art director Ken Adam take full advantage, providing some eerie backdrops for the film's most pivotal scenes. I also enjoyed the byplay between Chandler, Palance and Martine Carol who makes for a sympathetic figure- a woman who could not help but fall in love with an average German soldier despite the fact that her country had fallen to the army he represented. In many ways her character is the most interesting of all the protagonists. Palance gives one of his more restrained performances and refrains from hamming it up, as he could frequently do. Chandler is effective playing against type as a charismatic villain.
The Blu-ray transfer is flawless and does justice to the stark black-and-white cinematography. An original trailer is included and, as was the practice of the day, its typically bombastic in its promises to provide riveting screen entertainment.
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!