From 1978 Taxi, one of the most beloved sitcoms in
TV history, ran for five seasons and featured a hugely talented collection of
character actors. This was the show that made its’ stars household names, and
now that you can look back on the series nearly forty years later, it is easy
to see why. Unlike some classic television from the 1970s, Taxi is still funny.
Taxi focused on several taxi drivers and
other staff who worked for Danny de Vito, who sat safely in his dispatcher’s
cage barking orders at all around him. On the surface an unlikeable character,
there were occasional chinks in his armour revealing a softer side. Doing their
best to get by, surviving life near the bottom in New York City, were Judd
Hirsch, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Christopher Lloyd and Andy
Kaufman, amongst others. The latter played Eastern European idiot-savant Latka,
the mechanic who quickly became everyone’s favourite character, as evidenced by
the studio audience cheering whenever he walks on to the scene.
This new box
set, carrying every single episode, enables you to see how these great
performers grew into their characters, developing quirks and catchphrases as
the interplay of their personal relationships became the main reason audiences
came back every week. Sure, it was a funny show, but these were people you
could believe in. You could switch on your TV and spend time with a group of working
stiffs whose lives, loves and daily struggles were a lot like your own, and the
fact that they faced their challenges with a smile and a (mostly) positive
outlook gave you hope for your own sometimes difficult existence. The set
itself is thin on extras however: original series promos are on here which are
a slab of nostalgia in themselves. The only other bonus feature is a one-hour
compilation of the best of Taxi,
which given the fact that you now hold all 114 episodes in your hands seems a
It is no
surprise that Taxi only survived one
more season after the show’s main writers Glen Charles and Les Charles, along
with director James Burrows, left to create Cheers.
Taxi’s final season shows the hole
they left, but still contains a lot of entertainment nonetheless. And looking
back at Taxi now, a sitcom repeated
less often than Cheers, one can see
how the two are connected. Both take a comical look at the American working
man, but are not afraid to turn down the jokes for emotional moments when the
time is right. Taxi will bring back
waves of nostalgia for anyone over a certain age who remembers watching
television in the late 1970s and early 1980s. All that is missing from this box
set to make the experience complete are some vintage commercials and a few TV
Film Institute is currently showing the Director’s Cut of “Close Encounters of
the Third Kind” as part of its on-going celebration of Steven Spielberg’s
films. Here is the official press release:
Pictures Entertainment's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an exclusive
extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May, screening from a new 35mm print.
This special presentation will lead the BFI's two month season dedicated to
Steven Spielberg - a celebration of one of the most influential and successful
filmmakers in the history of cinema that will screen more than 30 of the
director's films throughout June and July.Combining elements of both the 1977 original
version and the 1980 Special Edition, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut)
represents Steven Spielberg's definitive edit of his sci-fi masterpiece.
theatrical run of The Director's Cut from 35mm will form a fitting tribute to a
filmmaker now synonymous with the magic of film and the ritual of cinema-going;
returning his version of the story to its intended format and setting.
from a new 35mm print, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Close
Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an
exclusive extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May.
Mark Mawston reflects on the personal impact the film had on him.
Of all of
Steven Spielberg’s classic films, probably the most truly magical, the one that
really lifts your spirits is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Although this
is an incredibly important film, I consider it slightly down the pecking order
in the master’s great works although I, rather controversially I’m sure, would
always place it above Jaws in the auteur’s body of impressive films. The reason
is simple; whereas Jaws terrified me on my 10th birthday, Close Encounters
filled me with a sense of wonder. This
may have had something to do with the venue I first saw it in- The Queens in
Newcastle, which, when the film was released, was one of the few surviving
Cinerama theatres left. Its huge curved screen made any film shown seem like an
event but this one was simply made for it and had the most impact on me. I’ll
never forget the thrill of seeing twinkling stars begin to suddenly move from
the top left of the huge screen towards the events unfolding, especially in the
scene where the alien ships pay a visit to the remote farmhouse of the small
boy Barry and his terrified mother. The sheer impact that scene had on me will
never be forgotten and was one of the main reasons why I wanted to see this
film on the big screen again. I was not to be disappointed. I spotted many new
things that I’d missed when screening it on Blu-ray for my enraptured daughter and
from TV screenings and realised that the moving stars weren’t just limited to this
scene but appear specifically when Roy (Richard Dreyfuss- never better) is
sitting in his van at a remote crossing. It’s now easy to see so many things
that Spielberg drew upon, from shot for shot from North By Northwest to the
fact that When You Wish Upon a Star is playing when Barry’s toys “come alive”.
The one thing I hadn’t previously spotted that really stood out was that when
the alien visitor at the end of the film smiles after giving the famous hand gestures,
his smile and face are those of Barry’s. This is the kind of thing that you can
really notice on the big screen. Science fiction is the one of the genres most
suited to the big screen, with titles such as Blade Runner, Star Wars and 2001
made for this experience. However, it is Close Encounters that benefits from it most
and shows the sheer sense of scope that the young director brought to this
tale. Along with The Searchers, is there a more famous shot of a silhouette in
a doorway in movie history? To see this scene alone is worth the admission fee
and I urge you to see it on its BFI/Park Circus re-release. To paraphrase a
classic of the genre; For space, no one can beat a screen.
Spielberg always said that the added the
scene of the inside of the spaceship for the Special Edition of the film in
1980 was always a disappointment and I agree. What was on screen would always
pale in comparison to what you imagined and also took away for of the wonder. Spielberg
rightly exorcised this scene for this version of the film, which is easily the
best. This is still essential viewing to those who still watch the skies rather
than the “stars” of reality TV.
When I Love Lucy debuted on American television in 1951, nobody could
have suspected that it would become one of the most beloved shows of all time.
Across six seasons Lucille Ball and her real-life husband, Cuban band leader
Desi Arnaz, shared their lives with millions. At the time it was the most
watched show in the United States, and undoubtedly helped fuel TV set sales
during the decade. It has also been repeated constantly since, and sold around
the world. Now, almost sixty years since the final episode, it is possible to
go back and view it all from the beginning.
Keeping their own names helped further
blur the line between the show and reality in the minds of the audience, and
watching Desi and Lucy every week felt like you were spending time with real
friends. For the most part the situations played out in I Love Lucy were relatable (despite the occasional flights of
fancy, such as a visit from Superman to her son’s birthday party), and
reflected the new booming post-war economy in the States, when homes were new
and filled with the latest labour-saving devices. Lucy was the perfect
housewife and foil to Desi’s rather serious-minded band leader. She was always
involved in schemes to manipulate or get around him, but would always end up
being put back in her place. In many ways Lucille Ball was a proto-feminist,
becoming one of the first powerful women in Hollywood, but the message of the
show was not always quite so advanced. Despite this she was adored by both male
and female viewers.
I Love Lucy
was, in part, an attempt to hold their marriage together. Lucille had insisted
Desi play her husband in the show to enable them to spend more time together,
but it clearly didn’t work. She filed for divorce in 1960, one day after
filming the final episode, claiming their marriage had not been like it was on
TV. She bought out ownership of their production company Desilu Productions and
became important and powerful force in Hollywood at the time. The Twilight Zone had first aired as an
unofficial pilot show as part of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1958, and
Desilu went on to produce Star Trek, Mission Impossible and many more.
If you have watched a lot of early
television, particularly that made in the UK, the first thing to strike you
when viewing I Love Lucy on DVD is
the quality of the production. Eschewing early, cheaper video formats, the show
pioneered the technique of using a multi-camera studio arrangement and recorded
straight onto 35mm film. Therefore, watching it now I Love Lucy looks as good, most likely better, than it did at the
time. This image quality occasionally works to I Love Lucy’s detriment now, as it is easy to spot the occasional
painted backdrops and hastily-created sets, something which would have been
lost in the low resolution broadcasts of the 1950s. The high production value
is owed almost entirely to Karl Freund, director of the Peter Lorre-starring Mad Love (1935) and one of the most
important cinematographers to come out of Germany: The Golem (1920) and Metropolis
(1927) are amongst his credits, and one of the first Hollywod movies he shot
was Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931). He
was invited to be the Director of Photography on I Love Lucy and effectively invented the multi-camera format that
is still used for studio sitcoms and dramas today.
This box set includes dozens of bonus
features alongside the hours and hours of actual episodes. They have found
original openings and trails from the archives, which provide an interesting
glimpse into early 1950s television viewing. Also included are episodes of
Lucille Ball’s earlier radio sitcom My
Favourite Husband, the show that inspired I Love Lucy, deleted footage, home movie footage from the set, interviews
and much more.
If you Love Lucy, pick up this box set from 30th May.
Sam Mendes hosted the press launch to mark production of Spectre at Pinewood Studios in 2015.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Sam Mendes brought the James Bond franchise to an all-time high in terms of critical acclaim and boxoffice receipts with the 2012 release of "Skyfall", which marked the 50th anniversary of the movie series. He then announced he would not be on board for the next 007 flick, "Spectre". However, after much negotiating (and presumably a boatload more money), Mendes relented and directed that film as well. While not enjoying the hype and response that "Skyfall" did, "Spectre" was also a major international hit grossing close to $900 million, outdone only by "Skyfall", which racked up a gross of $1.1 billion. Now Mendes says he won't direct the next Bond film- and this time he says he means it. Mendes has nothing but good things to say about working on two 007 blockbusters but says it's now time for a new director with a new vision. He also says he doesn't know whether Daniel Craig will continue in the role. Craig, who has done four Bond films to date, has made conflicting statements about his desire to continue in the role. Mendes says that the ultimate decision will be left to producer Barbara Broccoli, who initially championed Craig for the part when virtually everyone else thought he would make a poor choice. That was then and this is now and Craig has enjoyed enormous popularity among the fan base. Still, while diamonds may be forever, a Bond actor's lock on the role isn't. Way back when Sean Connery left the series after "You Only Live Twice" in 1967 many critics predicted the end of the franchise. It would be too inconceivable, they said, to consider anyone else in the role. Over a half-century later, however ,the series is thriving. Bond is cool again even for kids and there is no signs of the character or the films running out of steam. Doubtless, the producers don't look forward to the stress involved in finding a new actor but they have succeeded many times before. George Lazenby played the part very well in his one turn before quitting the series in 1969. Connery came back in 1971 for one film before Roger Moore took the helm for a successful string of films that lasted from 1973 to 1985. Timothy Dalton played the part twice and Pierce Brosnan proved to be the Bond of the new era with four major successes between 1995-2002. Craig began the role in 2006 with "Casino Royale" and has been the Bond of record since. (Before the purists complain, we'll acknowledge that Connery returned again to the role in 1983 with "Never Say Never Again" but the production was not part of the official franchise.) The recent respectability the Bond films have enjoyed from the critical establishment has also upped the ante in terms of who directs the next film. Gone are the days when Bond directors would be dismissed as being workmanlike in their skill. In fact, a new generation of critics is far more complimentary toward some of the previous directors than critics had been at the time of the movies' original releases. The franchise is now attracting "name" directors who might have once avoided being pigeon-holed as a 007 director. One thing seems certain: any major decisions about the next Bond films seem to be quite a ways off. Even if Craig can be lured back to the role, he is committed to some high profile projects in the coming months. For more click here.
He's arguably the last of his kind from the Golden Age of stand-up comedy. Don Rickles is now 90 years old and still performing, though according to a profile in the Washington Post, he's now considered a sit-down comedian, with a recliner on stage being about the only concession he's made to his advanced age and the onset of some physical infirmities. But his razor-sharp humor remains intact and Rickles still writes his own material to perform in front of appreciative audiences. Most people would be uncomfortable with being singled out by a snarky comedian but Rickles' fans consider it be a mark of honor to be on the receiving end of his insults. There was a time when Rickles broke barriers with his unique act in the 1960s. Until then, most stand-up comics were relatively benign and respectful to their audiences. Rickles changed all of that. A downside of his influence is that, while Rickles gentle ribbing never crossed the line into vulgarity, the younger generation of comedians had no such reservations. Perhaps because his act reminds us of a gentler time in American comedy, Rickles is now considered to be a national treasure. It's worth noting that he is also an accomplished actor, having appeared in dramatic roles in feature films in such diverse fare as Roger Corman's "X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes", "Run Silent, Run Deep" opposite the likes of Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster and "The Rat Race" with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. After Rickles caught on with his comedy shtick, he remained a popular fixture in feature films, often replicating his wiseguy persona, most memorably in the Clint Eastwood WWII comedy caper film "Kelly's Heroes". He also provided the voice of the grumpy Mr. Potato Head in the "Toy Story" films and reverted back to a dramatic role in Martin Scorsese's "Casino". In 2007, director John Landis paid homage to Rickles, who he met as an aspiring filmmaker on the set of "Kelly's Heroes", with the acclaimed documentary "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project". Click here for an interview with Rickles and clips of some of his best moments.
early 1970s Italian Gothic chillers from director Emilio Miraglia have been released
in the UK in a dual Blu-ray/DVD box set. Bearing the tantalising umbrella title
"Killer Dames", it could equally be looked upon as a Marina Malfatti
set, since the actress occupies a prominent role in both of the films contained
prolific assistant director throughout the first half of the 60s, Emilio Miraglia's
fourth spin in the director's chair following a trio of crime thrillers was
also his first foray into terror terrain. 1971's The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave (o.t. La Notte Che Evelyn Usci Della Tomba) concerns English aristocrat Lord
Cunningham (Anthony Steffan), a man devastated by the passing of his titian-haired
wife Evelyn, who he suspected was being unfaithful. Struggling to overcome his
grief over her death and rage at her perceived infidelity, Cunningham lures attractive
redheaded women to his castle residence on the outskirts of London where he
first seduces then tortures them in a dungeon kitted out with S&M gear. Cunningham's
doctor (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) convinces him that remarriage is the only way to stem
his unravelling sanity, whereafter he meets and falls for the beautiful Gladys (Marina
Malfatti). They wed and at first it appears that the doctor's advice was sound.
But then the slayings begin...
screenplay, which Miraglia co-wrote with Fabio Pittorru and Massimo Felsatti, is
an intoxicating blend of Gothic mystery and stylish giallo, top-heavy with the
staple ingredients of the latter – copious nudity and sadistic killing. In one
particularly nasty sequence a victim is thrown into an animal enclosure where
the canidae residents rip out her intestines. Director of photography Gastone
di Giovanni brings plenty of visual lustre to the show and Bruno Nicolai
provides a dreamy cocktail lounge score. Although the pace slackens a tad here
and there and the sadomasochistic facet affords it an unnecessarily sleazy vibe,
in summation it’s a compelling enough little number which keeps one engaged and
guessing up until the last reel – bristling with unpredictable double and
triple crosses – and its slightly abrupt conclusion. Steffan makes for a solid
leading man, slipping back and forth between cultured sophistication and sweaty
paranoia, whilst Malfatti is delightful as the beleaguered heroine.
next film (and Evelyn's bedmate in
this set, surely not coincidentally also featuring a key character by that
name) was the following year's The Red
Queen Kills Seven Times (1972, o.t. La
Dama Uccide Sette Volte, a.k.a. The
Lady in Red Kills Seven Times - its onscreen title here).
the wake of their grandfather's murder by a masked figure cloaked in crimson, two
sisters (Barbara Bouchet and Marina Malfatti) inherit his castle abode. But the
murders continue, believed by some to be perpetrated by the mythical ‘Red Queen’
who, family legend has it, returns every 100 years to claim seven lives. Could that
possibly be the case? Or is there something more insidious going on?
has to be said that some aspects of Red
Queen are a little clichéd (it's one of those films where, when a character
utters those guaranteed-death-sentence words "I know who the killer
is" you just know they’ll get bumped off five minutes later without having
had time to spill the beans) and the otherwise creepy titular killer is
slightly undermined by a cartoonish burst of manic laughter accompanying each murder.
Nevertheless, in this writer's opinion it's the better film of the pair, slicker
paced with a superior narrative that builds to a more satisfying climax, and boasts
more imaginative death sequences than its predecessor (one memorably grisly impaling
is staged atop a spiked fence). Oh, and it also showcases an early Sybil
Danning performance, the Miraglia/Pittorru script ensuring the actress has
barely a single scene in which she isn't required to shed her clothing. The
director maintains a fine level of ‘who's-doin'-it?’ intrigue that, as with Evelyn, keeps the audience in suspense
until the final reveal (though seasoned giallo buffs will have little
difficulty seeing through the veritable shoal of red herrings), and there are
plenty of standout moments; a stylish nightmare sequence which culminates with
Barbara Bouchet strapped to a torture rack will certainly pique the prurient
proclivities of her fans. Bruno Nicolai serves up an infectiously chirrupy
score (you'll be humming it long after the end credits have rolled) and Alberto
Spagnoli's beautiful cinematography ensures that there’s always something on
screen to admire, whether it be the atmospheric Gothicism of the castle
interiors or the striking décor in the (then) modern apartments.
Variety reports that the family of the late director Sergio Leone is developing a six-episode Western TV series titled "Colt" based upon a concept that Leone had planned with his collaborators but which was never realized. His goal was to present the American West in a more realistic manner than had been seen in his classic "spaghetti Westerns". The focus would be on the handgun used by The Man With No Name, portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the classic "A Fistful of Dollars". The episodes would follow the trail of that gun as it passes from owner to owner. The first two episodes will be directed by Stefano Sollima, the high profile Italian filmmaker and son of Sergio Sollima, who directed Lee Van Cleef in the cult Italian Western "The Big Gundown". Stefano will also be writing the scripts for the series. Unlike Sergio Leone's Westerns, which were set in America but filmed in Spain, the Leone Film Group intends to shoot the series on location in the USA. Click here for more.
While doing press interviews at Cannes for his latest film "Cafe Society", Woody Allen was asked about his biggest boxoffice hit, "Midnight in Paris". Beyond confirming that the film's success surprised him greatly, Allen tells a fascinating tale about the origins of the story. Decades ago he was told by legendary Hollywood agent Swfity Lazar that Cary Grant, who was in self-imposed retirement, would return to films if he could be directed by Allen. Adding substance to the tale, Grant showed up one night at Michael's Pub, the New York jazz venue where Allen still plays with his band. Grant apparently loved the music and Allen was enthused about developing a film project for him. He devised a scenario in which Allen would play his usual nebbish character who, one night, finds himself whisked off in a limousine with Cary Grant. The two end up in the 1920s. However, when Allen approached Grant's office with the idea, he was told flat out that Grant would never return to making movies. He later learned that Swifty Lazar often passed around inaccurate rumors. Nevertheless, Allen kept the story concept tucked away until he used it as the basis for "Midnight in Paris". By then, Allen was too old to play the male lead so he cast Owen Wilson. Allen fashioned a superb film but the mind still reels at what could have been....For more click here.
Character actor Burt Kwouk has passed away at the age of 85. Although primarily known for his work in comedy in film and television, Kwouk was equally adept at playing dramatic roles. In fact in the year 2011, he was awarded an OBE in honor of his accomplishments in drama. However, Kwouk will always be immortalized as Cato, the long-suffering but fanatically devoted man servant to Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series. A common theme throughout the series was having Cato follow Clouseau's orders to keep him on guard by ambushing him at the most inopportune moments. Their raucous battles were the stuff of inspired lunacy. He and Sellers first appeared together in 1964 and he would continue to play the same character in new installments of the series after Sellers death up until 1992. Kwouk was also a popular presence in British television and reinforced his cult status by appearing in two James Bond films in supporting roles, "Goldfinger" (1964) and "You Only Live Twice" (1967). He also made an appearance in the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale". Kwouk, a gentle and good-humored man in real life, relished the fact that his appearances in the Pink Panther and Bond films had made him popular even with younger generations. He frequently attended Bond-related fan conventions at Pinewood Studios in London where he enjoyed discussing his career and signing autographs. For more click here.
A new F/X TV series titled "Feud" will recreate legendary Hollywood battles between celebrities. Top on the list in terms of retro movie lovers' interest will be the famous feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The two legendary stars united for the 1962 Gothic mystery "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" The low-budget film was a major hit with the public and critics and revived the careers of both Davis and Crawford. However, their off-screen drama during the making of the movie has become the stuff of legend, as the two women came to genuinely despise each other. For more click here
Cinema Retro issue #35 has now shipped to our subscribers worldwide. No other magazine centers specifically on the great Golden Age of film making: the 1960s and 1970s. Every issue is packed with exclusive interviews, rare photos and insightful columns about classic and cult movies that virtually no one else covers in this kind of detail. Please support classic cinema in the print format by subscribing or renewing today!
Highlights of this issue include:
Mike Siegel's 12 page in-depth report on the tragedy and triumph in the making of Bruce Lee's last film, Enter the Dragon
Mark Mawston's exclusive interview with Ian Ogilvy, who talks about filming She Beast, Witchfinder General and his close call with playing James Bond
Extensive report from Tim Greaves on the underrated Alistair MacLean spy thriller When Eight Bells Toll, which afforded young Anthony Hopkins an early starring role.
Peter Cook pays tribute to "The Art of Deception"- a look at the use of matte paintings in famous films.
Michael Commes takes a fun filled visit to The House of Bare Mountain, the infamous nudie monster flick
Esteemed photographer Keith Hamshere shares his memories and photos from The Living Daylights, Murphy's War and Death on the Nile.
Raymond Benson's Ten Best Films of 1954
Patrick Cooper pays tribute to Robert Mitchum and The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Lee Pfeiffer's "Take Two" column examines Assignment K starring Stephen Boyd and Camilla Sparv
Brian Hannan looks at what was hot at the boxoffice in 1966
Sheldon Hall reviews a video release of Jacques Rivette's films
Daniel D'Arpe celebrates the cult sci-fi flick Starcrash starring Caroline Munro and David Hasselhoff.
Adrian Smith joyfully uncovers the 007 sexploitation spoof Bonditis
Plus Darren Allison's latest soundtrack news and reviews, Gareth Owen's "Pinewood Past" column and the latest movie book and DVD reviews.
Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess
opens on a desolate Quebec City just before nightfall. Overcast skies, drenched
streets, and a still rustling wind suggest the tranquility of a recently
concluded storm. The camera moves toward a house, easing through an open
window. Inside, a dead body, that of a lawyer named Vilette, lies bludgeoned on
the floor. A man in priest’s cassock, which he soon removes, flees the scene
under cover of darkness. He is then observed by another priest as he hurriedly
enters a rectory. About a minute into this 1953 film, there has been a murder,
a passing glimpse of the assailant, and a witness, and a previously serene
environment is now the backdrop for a sinister scenario. Thus we have many of
the main ingredients necessary to set up a prototypical Hitchcock story.
But this story goes one brilliant step further. Based on the 1902
play by French-Canadian Paul Anthelme, Nos
deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), I
Confess has the murderer, in actuality a sexton named Otto Keller (O.E.
Hasse), tell the real priest, Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), about
his deed. The catch, of course, is that Michael cannot reveal what he knows due
to the strictures of confidential admission. Even if this wasn’t a perfect
murder—Otto only wanted to steal some money—it was a perfect confession.
The murder is more than simply an illegal secret Michael must
conceal, however. Visiting the scene of the crime the next day, his own
behavior raises suspicion, eventually to the point that he becomes the prime
suspect for Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden). And when the unhappily married Ruth
Grandfort (Anne Baxter) greets Michael and passionately mutters, “We’re free,”
it becomes clear that indeed Michael also has reason for wanting the lawyer
dead: he and Ruth harbor a taboo, though presently platonic, love, and only
Vilette knew about it. So the question then becomes not how the characters will
react to the crime itself, but how they will function following the confession,
how all involved will deftly handle the aftermath of this crime that benefits
more than just the murderer, and potentially leaves the consequences to fall on
an innocent man.
George Tabori and William Archibald are credited with the
screenplay of I Confess (one of only
two writing credits ever for Archibald), but the film was rumored to have
involved nearly 12 writers at various points in its eight-year preproduction.
Yet with so many cooks working on the broth, I Confess retains a fair amount of Hitchcock flavor. It is even
tempting to further read into it a personal connection for the director, given
that he was raised Catholic and identified with the religious setting,
appreciating Father Logan’s adherence to his religious principles, for
While Clift’s Method acting background (and his drinking) sometimes
ran contrary to Hitchcock’s preference for blindly obedient and unquestioning
actors, the two evidently worked well enough to elicit an excellent performance
by the astonishing young star, already with two Oscar nominations under his
belt and on his way to a third, for From
Here to Eternity (1953). To see Clift’s face as Hasse tells him about the
murder is an acting master class in close-up. Held in a single take, Clift’s
expressive features register his shock at the announcement, his guilty consideration
of its advantageous value, his acceptance of its significance, and his return
to priestly concern, all with the mere crinkle of a nose, blink of an eye,
facial twitch, or furrowed brow. There is no doubt Clift had one of the
screen’s more breathtaking faces, but more amazing is what he could do with it,
and we see it all in just this one shot. Costars Malden and Baxter fit their
roles well, but Clift in general gives a type of nuanced performance rarely
seen in a Hitchcock film.
In the opening sequences of I
Confess, Dimitri Tiomkin’s exuberant score pounds to operatic rhythms
matched by camera movement and editing, rising to a crescendo of high-pitched
tension as all of the above mentioned pieces are put into place. Things calm
down not long after this breakneck opening, though, settling to a statelier
pace with extensive passages of dialogue, detailed procedural interrogations,
and later, a prolonged trial sequence. Even the basic generic tenor switches
gear for a time to have its drive be the forbidden romance rather than the
murder. Before the 30-minute mark, it is clear that Michael knows too much,
Otto and his scheming wife Alma, played by famed German actress Dolly Haas in
her only American role, both know he knows too much, and Larrue knows everybody
knows more than they’re telling. The main problem with I Confess, as far as its maintaining a consistent interest, is that
we too know more than we should. Where I
Confess falters is that by this point, not even half way through the
picture, everything is more or less explained, except for perhaps how and when
the truth will be revealed, and much of what transpires until that moment is
simply getting in the way.
Actor Alan Young, the beloved star of the "Mister Ed" TV series died this week at age 96. In tribute, we are re-running Nick Thomas's exclusive interview with him.
(This interview originally ran in November 2009)
By Nick Thomas
Alan Young created some memorable characters over his long career in film and
television. Co-starring with Rod Taylor, Young played David Filby in the classic
sci-fi film of the 60s, The Time Machine. He also horsed around as Wilbur
Post for six seasons in one of best-loved sitcoms ever, Mister Ed,
and was the voice behind numerous cartoon characters such as the grumpy Scrooge
McDuck. Mr. Young is celebrating a milestone birthday- although he isn’t
especially fond of talking about such traditional annual events. But when
I spoke with him a few days ago, he was quite happy to chat about his long
Born in Northern England, Alan’s Scottish father soon moved the family to
Edinburgh, then later to Canada when he was six. Bed-ridden for months at a time
with asthma, Alan would listen to radio shows and write his own comedy routines.
He later made Los Angeles his home and went on to appear in some 20 films and
dozens more television roles. In 1994, he wrote "Mister Ed and Me," detailing
his experience with the world’s most famous TV horse, of course. He recently
revised and republished the book as "Mister Ed and Me... and More!"
Why did you update "Mister Ed and Me"?
My publisher suggested adding more stories about my life so I included some
that I think will interest readers. He also wanted more about Connie Hines, my
TV wife on Mister Ed. So I asked Connie if she would do a chapter about
her life and she was happy to.
The book’s divided into 3 sections, one called Lips Don’t Sweat. That’s an
When I was young, I was paid $3 for doing a short monologue. That impressed
my dad, who earned the same amount for working all day in a shipyard at the
time. He told me to "keep up this talking business because lips don’t sweat!" It
was good advice.
You also wrote "There’s no Business Like Show Business ....Was" which is
crammed with delightful Hollywood memories and stories. It’s extremely enjoyable
Well I love to write. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with so
many lovely people here in Hollywood. I’ve heard so many of them tell
fascinating stories, so I wanted to put it all together so fans could read about
working in Hollywood in the "old days." Young people often say to me that it
must have been easier working back then. But in many ways it wasn’t. For
example, we had to learn by the seat of our pants, as there were few schools
that taught acting skills.
One of the great joys any retro movie lover can experience is to view a screening of a classic film with a world-class orchestra playing the musical score as live accompaniment. Many acclaimed orchestras are now doing just that and delighting movie lovers across the globe. Among the most impressive performances, not surprisingly, are those presented by the New York Philharmonic, which has a very popular film-related series that is as diversified as it is irresistible. On May 19, the the NYP presented a superb tribute to Charlie Chaplin with a screening of his 1931 masterpiece, "City Lights". Conductor Timothy Brock informed that audience that by 1931 silent film was already dead. The new era of sound was all the rage but Chaplin's clout and popularity were such that he could still find financing for his films despite his insistence that they would be shot and presented as silent movies. Clearly the beloved Little Tramp would have seemed out of place in the new era. Chaplin not only wrote, starred in and directed the film but he also composed it's marvelous score. Brock was approached by Chaplin's estate to see if he could reconstruct the original score based on Chaplin's original notes. Over the decades, the score had been bastardized into many variations performed by countless orchestras and musicians around the world. The task took over a year but the effort was worth it. A sold-out audience at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center applauded wildly throughout. The evening was a triumph not only for Brock and the orchestra but also for Chaplin's legacy.
Charlton Heston fans will appreciate the fact that one of his few major films not to be released on home video has finally made it to DVD through MGM. "Number One" (released in certain countries under the title "Pro") is an off-beat vehicle for the superstar, who was then at his peak of popularity. The fact that the movie under-performed at the box-office and failed to score with critics didn't diminish Heston's status as a leading man. He would go on to star in such hits as "The Omega Man", "Skyjacked", "Soylent Green" "Earthquake", "Midway"and "Airport '75"- with cameos in the popular "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". The poor response to "Number One" doesn't diminish its many merits - and the fact that Heston was willing to play against type in a largely unsympathetic role. For the film, he reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the acclaimed 1968 Western "Will Penny". Curiously, both movies center on the same theme: a macho man who can't come to grips with the fact that he is aging and, therefore, his chosen way of life is threatened. In "Will Penny", Heston played the title character: a middle-aged cowboy who feels the inevitable aches and pains of trying to maintain a career that is clearly suited for younger men. Similarly, in "Number One" he plays "Cat" Catlan, a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football team. Catlan has seen plenty of fame and glory as the team's Golden Boy and the idol of the crowds. But now he is 40 years old and, although still in Herculean physical condition compared to most men his age, he's fallen victim to the constant brutalities he suffers on the field. The film opens on a particularly disastrous game in which Catlan makes some serious misjudgments about plays and bungles some key passes. The result is an embarrassing loss for the team. The Saints' gruff coach Southerd (John Randolph) isn't ready to give up on Catlin but seemingly every other team member is. Catlan is subjected to some cruel jokes and he has to contend with the fact that a much younger player (Richard Elkins) is breathing down his neck, hoping to replace him as quarterback. Things aren't much better at home for Catlan. His long-suffering wife Julie (Jessica Walter) patiently endures his mysterious absences, unpredictable mood swings and volatile temper. She is a very successful fashion designer but Catlan is "old school" when it comes to the role of wives. He wants Julie to stay home and cater to his needs. In the midst of one of their frequent fights, he even stoops so low as to cruelly tease her about her inability to conceive a baby. Still, she sticks with him even when he confesses to having an affair with an another attractive, self-made woman, Ann (Diana Muldaur). Faced with the fact that his career is winding down, Catlan reluctantly explores his options for his post-NFL life. They aren't very enticing. His best friend Richie (Bruce Dern), is an obnoxious former Saints player who brags about having gotten out of the game at age 34. He now runs a very successful car leasing business and lives a playboy lifestyle. He wants Catlan to work for him, a prospect that doesn't sit well with the aging quarterback. He also gets an offer from a computer company to work for them but the idea of dealing of being surrounded by machines in the confines of an office is repugnant to him.Ultimately, Catlan is inspired by his wife to go out on a high note. During one of their rare moments of domestic detente, she convinces him that he still has some good games in his future if he can shake off the funk and get his confidence back. The film's climactic game is the very definition of mixed emotions. Catlan performs well and has his mojo back but the movie's ambiguous final shot is anything but uplifting.
Tom Gries was a good director for Heston. He somehow managed to tamp down Heston's larger-than-life personality and afford him the opportunity to play everyday men. In "Number One", Heston is subject to the sorts of problems that plague most middle-aged men. He's nervous about his future. He often takes his frustrations out on the people closest to him. He tries to reassert his youth by exerting his sexual prowess through having an affair. Throughout it all, Heston admirably does not try to make Catlan into a hero. There is a level of sympathy accorded to him because of the emotional and physical stress he is under but his sheer disregard for others makes him more a villain than a hero. (He even refuses to give fans his autograph). Even worse is his sheer selfishness in how he deals with his wife's needs. He feels threatened by the success she is enjoying in her own career and therefore diminishes her achievements. Heston gives one of his finest performances, ironically, in what was one of his least-seen films.He gets able support from the woefully-underrated Jessica Walter, whose performance a couple of years later in "Play Misty For Me" should have assured her of major stardom (and an Oscar nomination). Director Gries also utilizes the talents of real-life football players, some of whom exhibit impressive acting skills. Diana Muldaur also excels as the siren who lures Catlan into her bed. There is an air of authenticity to the film, primarily because Gries shot much of it in front of packed stadiums. (Cinematographer Michael Hugo's work is especially impressive). Gries also captures the feel of New Orleans back in the day, capitalizing on the local scenery, jazz clubs and even getting the great Al Hirt to perform a number and do a bit of acting. About the only dated aspects of the film concern the off-the-field activities of the NFL players. Catlan complains that they are paid like peasants, which was probably true in 1969, but is a rather laughable notion today. Also, the NFL team is required to wear jackets and ties when traveling to or leaving the stadium, another rule that would be virtually unenforceable by contemporary standards.
"Number One" never found its audience in 1969 but hopefully the crisp, impressive DVD release from MGM will find help retro movie lovers appreciate its merits. The film did have at least one critic who appreciated the movie and Heston's performance. Writing in the New York Times, critic Howard Thompson wrote: "Charlton Heston, minus a
beard, a loincloth, a toga or the Red Sea, tackles a starkly unadorned role in
one of the most interesting and admirable performances of his career…If Heston
could have been better, we don’t know how." Our sentiments exactly.
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London may have been the epicenter of the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s but that still didn't make it easy to see adult entertainment on the screen. The dreaded Office of the Censor wielded Draconian power as the guardians of British morality. Hence, the only place you could see anything remotely erotic on film was through 8mm "loops", short films that ran only minutes. The closest mainstream cinemas got to playing films with nudity was through pretentious "documentaries" that exposed the sordid side of London's nightlife or life in a nudist colony. In reality, these denouncements of promiscuous sex existed strictly to capitalize on promiscuous sex and everyone knew it. Pete Walker was an enterprising young entrepreneur who tried to fill the gap for sex-starved Britons by shooting hastily-arranged, no-budget black and white exploitation films that lasted only minutes. Walker had started in the even more staid early part of the decade by hiring well-endowed, free-spirited young woman to "star" in his modest productions. There was no shortage of talent, as Briton did have a booming market in glamour magazines that featured nude models and starlets. Walker would shoot the silent B&W films on 8mm before graduating to 16mm. The final product would be sold in local book shops for extravagant prices. Walker and the store made tidy profits and the consumer could feast his eyes on some bare female flesh. Everyone was a winner.
In 1969 Walker decided to do something far more ambitious by creating a film with an actual story line and populated by people who could really act. The result was "For Men Only" (AKA "Hot Girls For Men Only"), a ribald comedy that ran a scant 43 minutes but had production values that looked like "Gone With the Wind" compared to his earlier efforts. David Kernan (who played Pvt. Hitch in "Zulu" a few years before) plays Freddie Horn, a young man engaged to marry Rosalie (Andrea Allen). However, she demands that he quit his job as fashion editor for a prominent journal because he is generally assigned to interview beautiful young models who wear barely-there new clothing lines. She's right to be jealous, as Freddie has been living quite the life, indulging in the "fringe benefits" of being around so many willing young women. Reluctantly, he applies for a job as a writer for a bland magazine that will ensure he has no exposure to the fairer sex. He is summoned from London to the countryside to meet his prospective new employer, Miles Fanthorpe (Derek Aylward). He meets Fanthorpe at a local church where he is giving a stern lecture on morality and the decay of society, which he attributes to permissive sex and increasing tolerance of homosexuality. The small crowd responds enthusiastically to his conservative, fire-and-brimstone rant. Freddie is understandably depressed at the prospect of working for such a man but the first clue that not all is as it seems occurs when Fanthorpe gives him a lift back to his manor house- in an Aston Martin DB5. Once at the house, Fanthorpe comes clean. His uses his reputation as a conservative prude to mask his real personality which is that of a sex-obsessed rogue. Fanthorpe then introduces Freddie to his staff, which consists of busty young women of loose morals who spend the entire day romping around in bikinis or sunning themselves while topless. Freddie is understandably delighted to accept the job of writing for one of Fanthorpe's publications that deals with nude models. Within minutes, he is immersed in a virtual orgy- and he understandably forgets a vitally important social engagement for that evening. Seems he has to accompany Rosalie and her parents to a black tie dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The parents can't stand Freddie as it is and have warned Rosalie that he is addicted to skirt chasing. When Freddie doesn't turn up for dinner, Rosalie sets out to trace his whereabouts and ends up at the country manner where she sees the real scenario. Naturally, through happenstance even her prudish parents show up along with a local parson, resulting in a chaotic scene that culminates with a bevy of bikini girls being stuffed into the DB5 for a fast getaway. (Not even 007 enjoyed that privilege.) Although one could term the film as a "sexploitation" title, that doesn't do it justice. "For Men Only" is actually quite amusing and features some very fine comedic performances. The sexual content is quite mild but there is something erotic about seeing these lovely young actresses cavort about while scantily clad. It's like Matt Helm on steroids.
The other feature, "School for Sex", also features Derek Aylward in essentially the same kind of role he played in "For Men Only". Here he is an upper-crust type named Giles Wingate who inherited a manor house and a fortune and blew through it all by marrying a series of opportunistic golddiggers. To pay off his debts, he engages in some dubious financial tactics that end up with him being criminally prosecuted. He's spared a jail sentence and put on probation but still needs to find a way to pay for his lavish lifestyle as well as the salary for his elderly, intensely loyal butler. He comes up with an inspired idea. Since he was snookered by so many lovely young women, he decides to open a "School for Sex" on his premises. The idea is to charge beautiful young women a hefty fee for instructing them how to seduce wealthy men and ensure their financial well-being. In order to carry out the plan, he needs some female assistance. He hires the Duchess of Burwash, a widowed hot-to-trot middle-aged cougar played by Rose Alba, who main claim to fame was her short but memorable appearance as the SPECTRE "widow" who gets socked by James Bond in the opening of "Thunderball". She's a boozy opportunist but she delivers the goods in terms of instructing her students how to seduce naive men. Before long, there are more students than Wingate can accommodate. Rich families are sending their daughters for instruction, thinking they will be attending a finishing school for sophisticated young women. Instead, they will run around naked and engage in sex techniques. The film comes to an ironic conclusion as Wingate becomes a victim of his own success. "School for Sex" is described by Pete Walker as the worst movie he ever made. He blames himself for not getting a professional screenwriter and trying to keep costs down by writing the script himself. Although not as polished as "For Men Only", it still has its amusing moments and there is plenty of eye candy in the form of the lovely young ladies. The performances of Aywayrd and Alba are also very funny. The film is a bit more daring than "For Men Only" in that it does include topless sequences and a glimpse or two of full nudity.
Kino Lorber has released both films as a Blu-ray double feature edition. Both remastered prints look excellent and the special features in the package are most welcome. Pete Walker provides a new filmed interview and gives some interesting insights into the world of sexploitation films in England during the 1960s. There are also numerous Walker "loops", the early B&W silent nudie flicks as well as a trailer for "School for Sex" and alternate footage from the film featuring full nudity that was shot for the Japanese market.
In summary, it's a delightful trip down Mammary Lane for anyone who appreciates the low-brow pleasures of such "naughty" entertainment.
Pierce Brosnan in "The World is Not Enough" (1999) (Photo copyright: Danjaq/Eon)
"Shaken, not stirred". Those legendary words have been spoken many times in the James Bond films in relation to how 007 prefers his Vodka Martinis to be prepared. But as Daily Beast writer Noah Rothbaum points out in an article about the origins of that drink, it was largely the screenwriters who made Bond's instructions a catch phrase as opposed to the Ian Fleming novels on which the early movies were based. Click here to read some interesting insights into the drinking habits of the world's best known secret agent.
As the introduction explains, this is not an
attempt at a definitive guide but rather to be a companion piece to some of the
films released on the Arrow label; to extend enjoyment and expand upon some of
the cult material for fans old and new. A
significant portion of the text here has been recycled from Arrow's
already-published DVD and Blu-Ray booklets, but this is made clear from the
outset (also noted throughout where relevant) and collectors may appreciate the
comprehensive assortment here in book form nonetheless, alongside new and
Arrow Video's book provides a whistle-stop
tour of the great and the good of cult, horror and genre cinema here, arranged
nicely into sub-sections focusing on cult movies, directors, actors, genres and
distribution respectively. An overview
of the topics conjures up a nostalgic mixture of fare presented on cult TV
shows like Videodrome, or The Incredibly Strange Film Show; as director Ben
Wheatley aptly notes in his foreword, "I'm profoundly jealous of anybody
coming fresh to the back catalogue of world and genre cinema. It's mind expanding and f*****g
great." Long standing cult film fans
may well be more than happy to revisit examinations of Deep Red, Zombie Flesh
Eaters, Withnail and I, The 'Burbs and others whilst those just beginning to discover
these hidden pleasures (of whom I share Ben Wheatley's envy) are well directed
toward classic gems.
Directors like David Cronenberg, Tinto Brass,
Wes Craven and George A. Romero are deservedly examined; whilst it is glorious
to see Lloyd Kaufman (of Troma films) included in such an illustrious list, it
is a shame that no female directors are noted. This is redressed somewhat in the section on actors, with the inclusion
of chapters on Meiko Kaji and Pam Grier alongside Vincent Price and Boris
Karloff. Cult sub-genres under review
range from the well-known spaghetti western and giallo through to the less-obvious
Brazilian 1970s sexploitation genre 'Pornochanchada' and Canuxploitation
(post-1990s Canadian B-movies), amongst others. The final section on distribution is good to see, as the mechanics
behind and social context of cult cinema can often be at least interesting as
the films themselves. These chapters
provide overviews of the early days of cult and exploitation cinema, a look at
the Super-8 format, film festivals, fanzines and the more recent Asian DVD
It is a shame that in a glossy presentation
like this, clearly aimed at fans, where film posters are presented near full-page,
the decision has been made to treat images of film stills like columns of text,
split in half with a thick white line. Nonetheless, this is a very clear and accessible look at cult cinema,
with the inclusion of some less obvious subject matter alongside must-see
classics which would remiss to exclude in a companion such as this.
Among our most popular articles are those pertaining to video availability of vintage erotica (You old perverts!). Vinegar Syndrome, which has rescued countless grindhouse titles from the 1960s-1980s, has just released one of their most ambitious titles yet, "All Night at the Po-No", consisting of three DVDs packed with features and shorts that all played at the Po-No Theatre in L.A during the 1970s. Don't be immediately dismissive of all of these films, as some do show talent in the construction of reasonably compelling story lines. Surprisingly, when given an actual script to follow, some of the performers also show skill in terms of acting ability, so you can at least assure your significant other that you are watching these only for their artistic merits.
Here is the official press release:
Vinegar Syndrome presents its new ‘Storefront Theatre
Collection’, which celebrates both the strange and often homegrown productions
that played in ‘mini-theatres’ of the 70s. This special-edition 3-disc set is
uniquely packaged in 100% recycled card stock and features a heavy-duty
Throughout the early to mid 1970s, the most common way to
see underground feature films was to visit a ‘storefront theatre.’ Sometimes
referred to as ‘mini-theatres’ or ‘shoebox theatres,’ these small venues were
often converted retail stores armed with nothing more than a couple projectors
and nailed down folding chairs. And, unlike larger houses like the Pussycat
chain, the films screened in these small and cozy spaces were low-budget 16mm
efforts, affectionately known as one-day-wonders.
Hundreds of these theatres dotted the American landscape,
and with them, the most truly independent and underground filmmakers found a
place to exhibit their work.
In this first volume we focus on Los Angeles’ PO-NO
Theatre with 12 examples of LA made films, produced between 1970 and 1973.
Included titles are Huck Walker’s unrelentingly ALL AMERICAN HUSTLER, Anthony
Spinelli’s bizarre vampire comedy SUCKULA, Rik Tazi’ner’s low rent costume
saga, THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, as well as anonymously directed
efforts like CARNAL-GO-ROUND, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMER THE LATE COMER, and
the experimental subjective-camera feature, EROTIC POINT OF VIEW, in addition
to five more surprise feature films featuring early genre stars like Rene Bond,
Sandy Dempsey, John Holmes, and more. All films have been scanned in 2k from
rare original theatrical prints to re-create the experience of stumbling into
the PO-NO late one evening and not leaving until dawn the next day.
Directed by: Various
1970-1973 / 740 minutes / Color / 1.33:1
Actors: Rene Bond, John Holmes, Sandy Dempsey, etc, etc…
• All films scanned and restored in 2k from ultra-rare
• Features two bonus short films
Cagney is Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., USN in “The Gallant Hours,”
available on Blu-ray for the first time by Kino Lorber. Affectionately known as
“Bull” Halsey, the movie is a biography of
Halsey told in a semi-documentary style with most of the narration provided by
Robert Montgomery, who introduces people, locations and explains the action
occurring off stage. Montgomery, a distinguished Us Naval officer in WWII, also happens to be the director of the movie
and this is his final effort on film.
movie opens at Halsey’s retirement ceremony, incorrectly stated as 22 November
1945 (Halsey retired from active duty in March 1947). Reflecting in his cabin with
his steward, retiring Chief Petty Officer Manuel Salvador Jesus Maravilla (Leon
Lontoc), the movie flashes back to the Battle of Guadalcanal as Halsey takes
command of American forces in the South Pacific on 16 October 1942. Once he
arrives on board his flag ship, Halsey forms staff and they come up with a strategy
for holding the island and defeating the Japanese. Halsey is a commanding,
straightforward man making the best of grim circumstances, but he’s earned the
respect of the men he commands. At the time the Japanese were still in a strong
position to win the war, but in spite of the odds against them, American forces
prevailed at Guadalcanal making the American victory in the Pacific a turning
point in the war against the Japanese Empire.
movie is unusual in a number of different ways. It has an unconventional score
composed by Roger Wagner, using a choir rather than an orchestra. There is some
incidental music, but according to IMDB, there was a musicians strike during
production and the score is largely sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale. The movie
predates other WWII movies like “Tora! Tora! Tora!” by depicting key figures on
the opposing side in their preparations for battle, which humanizes them in a
thoughtful and sincere way. The movie is unique for a WWII drama as it contains
no actual battle scenes, has no action scenes and relies heavily on the
characters and narrator explaining to the audience what’s going on. Suspense is
created via the radio transmissions and the actions of Halsey and his staff as
they react to the battle. Most of the scenes take place on sets recreating
aircraft and ship interiors with location shooting in San Diego standing in for
Guadalcanal and ship deck scenes. Somehow, it all works and I thoroughly
enjoyed the movie.
film benefits from beautiful black and white photography by Joseph MacDonald
which is filled with scenes of self reflection by Halsey in his spartan
quarters as he listens to radio messages and reacts to news. Cagney gives an
outstanding performance as the grizzled and outspoken Halsey and the movie includes
a wonderful cast of supporting actors with Dennis Weaver in a memorable
performance as Halsey’s aid and pilot, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Jefferson
Lowe III. Richard Jaeckel is also on hand in a brief role as battle weary
pilot, Lt. Commander Roy Webb.
in June 1960 (less than a year after Halsey’s death) by United Artists, the
movie would be one of the last for Cagney. It has been criticized by
nit-pickers for several historical inaccuracies and the viewer should be aware
that the movie takes a few liberties, but these are minor and do not detract
from the story. The film has a 115 minute running time and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray
looks beautiful and sounds terrific. The disc contains the trailer for this and
two other movies as the only extras.
Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), an up-and-coming young Hollywood studio exec
suggests in a meeting that writers could be eliminated and “any old news story”
could be adapted to provide a movie idea—“it would write itself”—Griffin Mill
(Tim Robbins), the guy at the studio who usually takes story pitches from
screenwriters, replies, “...what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the
writer from the artistic process. If we
could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something
is the satirical tone of The Player,
which is easily my favorite film of 1992. It’s a mystery why it wasn’t
nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but the Academy did honor the film with a
Best Director nod for Robert Altman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Michael Tolkin
(also co-producer), and Best Film Editing (Geraldine Peroni). Like 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, The Player takes potshots at the movie industry and skewers—fairly
Altman obviously had a good time with this one. He had spent the 1980s on the
outs with Hollywood after the 1970s, the years in which Altman enjoyed some of
his greatest acclaim (M*A*S*H, Nashville, among others). He had reason
to exhibit a somewhat cynical attitude toward Tinsel Town, and probably could
have gone further with the acerbic jabs The
Player gives to its subject matter. Instead, Altman plays it cool and
delivers a mildly critical treatise on the way movies are made, and provides a
darned good noir-ish murder mystery as
story involves Mill, superbly played by Robbins, who is receiving death threats
from an unknown screenwriter. Mill thinks he knows who it is, and he goes to
confront the guy (Vincent D’Onofrio). There’s a fight—and Mill accidentally
kills the writer. Mill spends the rest of the movie covering up the crime,
avoiding the police investigating the case (Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett),
and romancing the dead writer’s girlfriend, June (Greta Scacchi). In the
meantime, Mill’s job is threatened by the previously-mentioned Levy, who has
begun to attend meetings to which Mill isn’t invited. The Player is part satire-comedy, part 40’s-style noir (but in color), and all bravura
directed a handful of masterpieces, and this is one of them. Although it’s not
one of his signature “ensemble” films—there are really only six main
characters—the picture arguably could be called his ultimate ensemble film because around sixty celebrities appear as
themselves in cameos (Malcolm McDowell, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Buck Henry, Bruce
Willis, Julia Roberts, Lily Tomlin, Scott Glen, Jack Lemmon, Nick Nolte,
Elliott Gould, Harry Belafonte, and many more). As a testament to the respect
with which they held Altman, these people donated their time as a favor.
movie is also known for its spectacular opening eight minutes, a crane shot
that moves around the studio lot with no cuts, similar to what Orson Welles did
at the beginning of Touch of Evil (1958).
All through The Player, there are
nods and winks to movie insider trivia. The posters on the walls of the studio
offices where Mill works are only classics from the 1930s and 40s, mostly film noir titles, slyly suggesting to
the audience what we’re watching. Altman is really saying, “You’re watching a movie, folks, and we’re going to play it
up.” This is never more evident in the fact that the first thing we see is a
clapboard, and we hear the voice of the director calling, “Action!”
Criterion Blu-ray comes with a new 4K digital restoration that looks fantastic.
It has a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and an audio commentary
from 1992 featuring Altman, Tolkin, and cinematographer Jean Lépine.
is a wealth of fascinating supplements. A new documentary on the making of the
film features interviews with Robbins, Tolkin, associate producer David Levy,
and production designer Stephen Altman (the director’s son). The original hour
long press conference from the 1992 Cannes Film Festival is included. There’s a
vintage interview with Altman, as well as a short documentary about the
shooting of the film’s fund-raiser scene that contains many of the cameos. A
helpful gallery of stills from the picture also helps to identify the many
cameo appearances. There are a few deleted scenes and outtakes, and a
deconstruction of the opening shot with alternate commentaries—one by Altman,
and another by Tolkin and Lépine. Trailers and TV
spots round up the extras, along with an essay in the booklet by author Sam
The Player is one for the
history books. As the original Blu-ray is out of print, the new Criterion
edition is a must-have. The film represents Robert Altman’s masterful
“comeback” to Hollywood, and it set him on an even course for the rest of his
book that claims to be a collection of the “best” of something—whether it is a
listing of movies, music, art, and so forth—has to be taken with a grain of
salt. These kinds of things are entirely subjective; although in this case, TCM
(Turner Classic Movies) does have a kind of clout and expertise in the matter.
said, we have this beautifully-designed and illustrated coffee-table trade
paperback that contains not 1000, not 100, not 50... but 52 “essential must-see movies.” TCM’s spokesperson, Robert Osborne,
explains the criteria in his Foreword—“The Essentials” is a weekly Saturday
night event on the television network in which a guest host (the likes of Rob
Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Drew Barrymore, and more) introduce
a picture he or she believes is an Essential. The book is a collection of some
of these Essentials, with some sidebar comments by the various hosts who
appeared on the program.
big question is... why 52? Why not an
even 50? Why not 100? Aha! It’s meant to
be a movie-each-week. Fifty-two weeks in a year, one Essential per week.
every single entry in the book is indeed an essential must-see motion picture.
No question about it. Of the 52 included, I personally own 47 of them on DVD or
Blu-ray in my home library and have of course seen the others. Author Jeremy Arnold does a superb job presenting
the reasons why a particular film matters, and it’s not easy to vary
superlatives, which are what it takes to describe these great works of
the ones you expect are there—City Lights,
It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca,
Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, The Searchers, Lawrence of
Arabia, Jaws... as well as a few
that I was particularly happy to see listed (Duck Soup, King Kong, Double Indemnity, The Bicycle Thief, Seven
Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Once Upon a
Time in the West, Annie Hall...).
enough, although after going through the book, one can’t help but think, but what about ___? Why isn’t The Godfather an Essential? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Wizard of Oz? A Bergman? A Scorsese? A Fellini? I found
myself scratching my head in befuddlement at the lack of some truly significant
mentions. There is also nothing more recent than 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, althoughit’s
understandable that many pictures from the 70s and beyond might not be included
because TCM doesn’t have the rights to broadcast them.
so forget about what’s missing and concentrate on what’s there. Once a reader
decides to do that, then The Essentials is
an entertaining read and, in fact, a lot of fun. Arnold does manage to mention
other titles not contained in the book that may have been influenced by one
that is. The book also has some great stills, both color and black and white.
For a preliminary “bucket list” of must-see
movies, especially for younger aficionados who might want to get a jump start
on their film history class, The
Essentials is a good place to start.
Westerns exist in a surreal alternate universe filled with new landscapes, new
faces, new music, extreme violence and a slightly askew version of the Hollywood
western story that veered into new territory literally and figuratively. The
Spanish desert locations are unfamiliar and surreal filled with gunshots that
ricochet, echo and often sound like cannons. Good and bad men are not as we may
perceive them and behave in unexpected ways. Women and children are treated
harshly and often come to an early demise. Anachronistic cowboys, lawmen,
gunslingers, bandits and outlaws use guns and ammunition that may not have
existed during the period, but somehow it doesn’t really matter. We accept the
juxtaposition whether we are aware of it or not because Spaghetti Westerns are
a fantasy version of the fantasy west created by Hollywood. Hundreds of
Spaghetti Westerns followed the release of Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of
Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and
changed our expectations for the genre.
Maria Volonte and Thomas Milian team up as unlikely allies in “Face to Face,” a
1967 Spaghetti Western available on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The movie opens
with history professor Brett Fletcher (Volonte) announcing to his students that
he’s leaving for Texas due to poor health. In his new life in the desert,
Fletcher looks pale and sickly, spending his days relaxing in the sun with his
mistress (Linda Veras). A stagecoach stops at his hotel with two sheriff
deputies escorting the bandit Solomon “Beauregard” Bennet (Milian). Fletcher
takes pity on Bennet, who takes advantage of the diversion and holds Fletcher as
his hostage and is shot during the escape. When he passes out from his wound, Fletcher
continues to help him escape.
agent Charlie Siringo (William Berger) runs into Bennet and Fletcher and seeks
to infiltrate Bennet’s Raiders by pretending to be an outlaw himself and
eventually succeeds. Fletcher is sent away by Bennet and convinced to return
back home in the East. While waiting for his train in Purgatory City, he sees
Bennet ride into town. Fletcher saves Bennet in a gunfight with about a dozen men
seeking Bennet’s bounty. Joining up with Bennet, they meet up with former
members of Bennet’s Raiders. Bennet is a sort of Robin Hood and the leader of a
large group of people, including women and children, living in the desert. The
women in the group vary from the beautiful Maria (Jolanda Modio) to Cattle
Annie (Carole Andre) who also happens to have a crush on Bennet, but both women
have very little to do other than to represent the Hollywood western tropes of
a mistress and the girl who dresses like a boy. They live a harsh life and are
treated badly, but stand by Bennet and Fletcher.
by the group and their way of life, Fletcher takes an active role as the
raiders rob a train and the passengers. Fletcher comes up with a bank robbery
plan that results in the capture of Bennet, but reveals Siringo as a traitor.
Fletcher takes over the gang running it with an intellectual ruthlessness, his
health improving as his character becomes more outlaw than professor. He leads
the group on a trek across the desert where many are killed by bounty hunters.
Bennet escapes his captors with Siringo hot on his trail and they eventually
meet up with Fletcher for a final showdown.
“Face To Face” takes place during the American Civil War, the movie does not
depict the war in any way other then making reference to it in a few scenes.
Charlie Siringo was a real man and a Pinkerton agent, too, but I suspect the
similarities end there. The movie has political overtones dealing with race,
class, gender and fascism and the 1967 release hints at the escalation of the
Vietnam War, but it can be enjoyed on its own merits as an engaging western.
by Sergio Sollima (“The Big Gundown,” “Run Man Run”), the movie didn’t receive
a theatrical release in America until 1976 which is a pity because it is one of
the better entries in the genre. Fortunately, “Face To Face” is available on Blu-ray
from Kino Lorber and it looks and sounds very good. Volonte is terrific and so are
Milian and Berger. The opening credits are reminiscent of those for “The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly” and the movie includes an outstanding score by Ennio
Morricone. The extra features on the disc include a trailer for another Kino Lorber
release and an option to watch the movie in the original Italian. The Italian
version is not in HD and looks its age, but includes English subtitles and is a
welcome feature for fans of the genre.
Carlos Tobalina was among the most prolific of adult film directors. From the late 1960s through the late 1980s, Tobalina ground out dozens of grind house porn flicks and, no fool he, appeared in any number of them as well, though often not in the sex scenes. What set Tobalina's films apart was the fact that he at least tried to instill some quality and occasional social messages into what was otherwise undistinguished fare. Tobalina, who died at age 64 in 1989, would probably have appreciated the fact that Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing quite a few of his titles in remastered DVD editions that probably look better than they did back in the day. Among these releases is a Tobalina double feature that he directed under one of his alter ego names, Troy Benny. Both of the movies have a common theme in that they star one William Margold, who apparently was quite influential in the adult film industry of the 1980s and is still appearing in sleazy movies today even though he is in his seventies. He is also a social activist, having founded the Free Speech Coalition and established a charity to look after down-and-out veterans of the porn industry. First up in the double feature is "Lust Inferno", a 1982 production in which Margold appears as a corrupt TV evangelist (is there any other kind?). Margold, who is curiously billed as "Mr. William Margold" (not even Orson Welles had that much clout), stars as Rev. Jerry, a charismatic preacher who rips off the suckers in his audience by indulging in the usual fire-and-brimstone sermons. He also "cures" invalids who he pays off in cash backstage after the event. At home, Rev. Jerry is very much a family man, but it's probably not the kind of family most of us could relate to. His wife (Rita Ricardo) is frustrated that the Rev won't indulge in intercourse with her because he believes the act is only for procreation. He does indulge in some other sexual activities with her that are entirely for his satisfaction. Consequently, she goes off to "group therapy" sessions that are actually bi-sexual orgies. Rev. Jerry's oldest daughter, Dora (Tamara Longley) does the same with her teenage friends because dad won't allow her to date anyone. (The effectiveness of that strategy seems to be dubious, at best.) Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Lucy (Marguerite Nuit) is also finding it hard to deal with her raging hormones. She asks for- and receives- her mother's permission to adopt a disguise and seek work in the local bordello that is run by Madame Blanche (Lina Spencer). What Lucy and no one else in the family knows is that her father is Madame Blanche's best customer. He pays thousands of dollars for S&M sex sessions with Blanche's young hookers. This plot development leads to the film's ironic conclusion in which Reverend Jerry finally pays a terrible price for his immorality- but it also results in a major "Yuck" factor for the viewer. The hardcore scenes are pretty standard for the era with nothing particularly inventive going on but at least director Tobalina attempts to make a statement about the craze for supporting corrupt TV preachers. In fact, he was a bit ahead of his time. Within a few years some of the best-known televangelists would be brought down in their own sex scandals.
The most enjoyable aspect of the presentation is the recent interview with William Margold on a commentary track. Margold describes himself as a blowhard and its difficult to take issue with him. We're all for admiring anyone who takes pride in their work but Margold discusses "Lust Inferno" as though it's a major achievement. He indicates that he based his interpretation of the Reverend on Richard Brooks' 1960 film version of "Elmer Gantry" and says that back in the day he even met Burt Lancaster and correctly predicted he would win an Oscar for the role. The most amusing aspect of the commentary track has Margold, who was obviously watching a sub-standard VHS version prior to the film's restoration for DVD, complain constantly about the poor quality of the tape. He also rails against the fact that the version they are watching is missing key sequences, only to have him proven wrong when they turn up later. Margold, like most of the leading men in this peculiar branch of the film industry, was probably chosen more for his physical attributes than his acting abilities, but he seems to think that his work here is top-notch both. In fact, his performance is par for the course for porn films and there is no indication he possessed any admirable skills outside of the boudoir. Speaking of which, Margold waxes nostalgic about some of his sex partners in the movie, including one woman who became his wife and another who he continues to pine away for because he never appeared in a sex scene with her, sort of like the fisherman who gripes about "the one who got away". Regarding stock footage in the film of real life audiences at televangelist events, Margold chuckles and wonders if they ever knew they would end up in a porn film. It's also quite eye-opening to listen to Margold give the play-by-play for his on-screen antics and to provide opinions about his personal techniques for self-pleasure. Margold may indeed be a blowhard but he makes for an entertaining commentator. You have to admire Vinegar Syndrome for creating some value-added content that is both funny and insightful because it gives you an idea of what the adult film industry was like from the viewpoint of one of its veterans.
The second feature on the DVD is "Marathon", a lazy production even by the low standards one would have expected for the genre. Shot in 1982, it's a quickie that features a lot of major stars from the industry including Ron Jeremy, Jamie Gillis. Sharon Mitchell and John Holmes. The "plot" simply features a large group of swingers who attend a costume party at Gillis's apartment. Everyone is getting it on while attired in crazy costumes when a phone call alerts them that a friend (William Margold) and his wife have been injured in a skiing accident and they are both in the hospital. Deciding to provide the kind of bedside companionship that no doctor would, they all barge into the hospital suite where Margold and his wife are being treated. Here, while still in costume, they resume the orgy. The therapy works as both patients join in the action. The film is played entirely for laughs and is therefore about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice water.
The transfers of both features look very good with vibrant colors and enough original film stock grain to make you nostalgic for the era.
Cornell Woolrich is a writer whose work was much loved
and cherished by fans of film noir. The
Internet Movie Database lists 102 credits for him for both film and TV
shows—titles including “Rear Window,” “The Bride Wore Black,” “The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes,” “Black Angel,” “Fear in the Night,” and “Phantom Lady,” He
didn’t write any screenplays that I know of. The films and TV shows were all adapted from a prolific output of
stories written under his Woolrich and William Irish pseudonyms, and under his
real name, George Hopley.
While Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M.
Cain make up the Big Three in noir fiction, Woolrich carved out a special niche
for himself. Chandler, and Hammett wrote about tough guy heroes who usually
overcame the web of evil they encountered. Cain’s heroes weren’t always so
lucky, but at least they had a toughness about them that gave them a fighting
chance. Woolrich’s protagonists, on the other hand, were just the opposite.
They were guys or gals not really equipped by experience or temperament to
handle what fate had in store for them, but who tried to do the best they could
to keep their heads above water. There was always a sense of impending,
irrevocable doom, and a surrealistic atmosphere that set his tales apart from
Nowhere was that surreal quality more prominent than in one
particular low-budget feature from Nero Pictures called “The Chase “(1946). Directed by Arthur D. Ripley and adapted by
screenwriter Philip Yordan from Woolrich’s story “The Black Path of Fear,” “The
Chase” stars Robert Cummings as Chuck Scott, a man down on his luck in Miami
who finds the wallet of rich gangster, Eddie Roman, played menacingly by Steve
Cochran. When Chuck knocks on the door
of Roman’s mansion to return the wallet, you’d think he might have been a
little leery when a peep hole opens and we get a glimpse of an eyeball peering
out, and we hear Peter Lorre’s unmistakable voice asking, “What do you want?” Lorre
plays Gino, Roman’s right hand man.
Chuck is the proverbial fly stepping into the spider’s
parlor. For being such an honest guy, Roman hires him as his chauffeur. While
under Roman’s employ he meets the gangster’s wife Lorna, a sad blonde played by
French actress Michelle Morgan. Roman is a mean guy who slaps his wife around
and likes to inflict psychological cruelty, like a kid tearing the wings off of
flies. He likes to be in the driver’s seat too. Literally. In a bit of
weirdness concocted by Yordan, Roman has separate brake and accelerator pedals
in the back of his limo so he can take over when Chuck’s behind the wheel. He
tests Chuck’s tolerance for mental torture by driving the speedometer past 120,
while trying to outrace a train on the tracks ahead. Chuck remains cool and at
the last minute Eddie hits the brake. Roman turns to Gino, who’s looking a
little green around the gills, and says: “Hey, he’s alright.”
Chuck’s main job seems to be chauffeuring Lorna around on
long drives at night. She likes to stop at the beach and go out on a pier and
stare out over the water. Chuck feels sorry for her and besides, she ain’t bad to
look at. She asks Chuck what’s out there and he tells her Cuba, and she says
“Take me.” Despite his fear that Eddie is suspicious, he takes her to Cuba by
ship and no sooner do they stop in a Havana bar for a drink and a quick dance,
when Lorna collapses in his arms with a knife in her back. He’s suspect No. 1,
naturally, but a Cuban cop (Alexis Minotis) gives him a chance to try and
explain his way out of it. And, of course, all he does is get himself into
further trouble. He knows Eddie or Gino did it, but he’s got to get some
evidence. He has to make a break for it. All of this leads up to a really
strange midpoint in the story where suddenly everything takes a wild,
Yordan’s screenplay for “The Chase” plays fast and loose
with Woolrich’s original story, and how much you’ll enjoy the movie may depend
on how much of a Woolrich purist you are. Yordan and producer Seymour Nebenzal changed
the structure of the book. The novel opens with Lorna’s murder and Chucks’
attempts to clear himself. He finds an ally in a Cuban woman whose husband was
killed by cops, and the Miami portion of the story is told in flashbacks. The
restructuring and the new ending that Yordan came up with changed the story
considerably, but by providing a new background element showing Chuck to be a
returning WW II veteran with some psychological problems, it probably seemed
more plausible to audiences in the post- war America of the mid-forties. The
returning vet unable to adapt to a corrupted civilian life became a basic trope
of the genre. “The Chase” is not pure Woolrich but in its own way, it provides an
even more nightmarish finish than the original.
“The Chase” is one of those obscure little movies that
until now has only been available in very poor copies on VHS and DVD. The
picture was so dark and murky you could hardly make out the action in the night
scenes and dialogue was obscured by noise on the soundtrack. But Kino Lorber has
released a newly restored Blu-ray mastered from 35 mm elements preserved by the
UCLA Film & Television Archive. The restored picture is excellent. Contrast
and clarity are first rate, with very few flaws. Franz Planer’s impressionistic
black and white photography is shown off to great effect. The only complaint
might be that some of the interior shots inside Roman’s mansion are now a
little too bright—somewhat jarring for a movie that takes place in the twilit
world of dreams and nightmares. The soundtrack is crystal clear, however, allowing
Michel Michelet’s lush soundtrack to be heard to full advantage.
The 1920 x 1080p disc presents the film in 1:33 full-screen
aspect ratio, and has an informative audio commentary track by Canadian
filmmaker Guy Maddin. (Maddin’s only error is to misidentify Jack Holt, who
plays an Army shrink, as Bruce Cabot). Also included are two radio adaptations
of “The Black Path of Fear,” one starring Cary Grant. Overall, Kino Lorber gets
high marks for “The Chase.” It should be in every film noir lover’s collection.
character makes an excuse for the bad behavior of Dixon Steele, a Hollywood
screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart, by saying, “He’s a writer—people like
him can afford to be temperamental.”
in the same year as Billy Wilder’s acerbic film
noir attack on Tinsel Town, Sunset
Boulevard, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s similar assault on show business, All About Eve, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place was nowhere near as
popular—but it was just as scathing. It may not have been a box office success,
but the picture’s reputation has grown considerably over the decades, mainly
because Bogart’s performance as a bitter, angry movie scribe ranks among his
best onscreen personas. But it’s not pretty. The guy has anger management
issues, the likes of which probably had not been seen in a mainstream film
prior to the picture’s release. Dixon Steele is a tinder box ready to explode,
and of course he does, more than once, during the course of the story. Bogart
isn’t afraid to expose a dark side of himself in his portrayal of a man who
has, as his love interest observes, “something wrong with him.”
woman is Laurel, played by Gloria Grahame (who, at the time, was married to the
director). At first she provides an alibi to the police for Steele, who might
be a suspect in a young woman’s murder. After Dixon and Laurel fall in love,
their relationship is a stormy one. As outlined in one the supplements
contained on this new Criterion disk, the “romance” mirrors that of Nicholas
Ray and Gloria Grahame’s—they also had a tempestuous bond. It was so sticky
that Grahame had to sign a contract stating she would agree to follow Ray’s
direction during the making of the film. (And talk about sex scandals... Ray later
caught Grahame in bed with his thirteen-year-old son from a previous marriage.
Grahame eventually married the
step-son after her divorce from both Ray and another spouse in-between!)
the tale revolves around an unsolved murder investigation, In a Lonely Place is really about two lost souls trying to connect.
It’s more of a melodrama than a film noir,
although the stylistic traits of the latter certainly abound. This is not a
pleasant movie; in fact, it’s quite disturbing for a picture from 1950.
Bogart’s Dix Steele is not a likable guy, and yet we watch the train wreck that
is his life with morbid fascination. Why Bogie wasn’t nominated for a Best
Actor Oscar that year is a mystery—perhaps it was because audiences may have
been turned off by the character’s mean-spirited nastiness. Nevertheless, Lonely Place is a remarkable piece of
work, not only from Bogart, but also from Grahame and director Ray.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release features a 2K digital restoration
with an uncompressed soundtrack and a new audio commentary with film scholar
Dana Polan. The noteworthy supplements include a 40-minute excerpt from I’m a Stranger Here Myself, a 1975
documentary about Ray; a revealing new interview with Grahame’s biographer,
Vincent Curcio; a 2002 piece on the making of the movie, featuring filmmaker
Curtis Hanson; a radio adaptation from 1948 of the original Dorothy B. Hughes
novel and starring Robert Montgomery; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by
critic Imogen Sara Smith appears in the booklet.
you like your film noir tough, mean,
and nasty, then In a Lonely Place should
be right up your sleazy alley. At the same time, the tortured romance should
appeal to love-cynics everywhere. It’s so dark, it makes a Bogart/Bacall movie
look like a Tracy/Hepburn flick.
probably difficult for those residing in more liberated territories – where pornography
was something of a matter of fact affair back in the 1970s – to appreciate just
how uptight and repressed Great Britain was in its attitude to sex. There were,
however, voices in the crowd that had the courage to speak out against the establishment's
Draconian stance (though largely without changing very much at the time, it's
sad to say). One of the most famous and outspoken of those voices was that of model-
cum -actress Mary Millington. Hers is a name that may not mean much to anyone
outside the United Kingdom, but few of those old enough to remember her rise to
superstar status during the 70s would dispute that in the latter half of that
decade she was nothing short of a sensation. Yet how could that possibly be so in
a country where the authorities vehemently reviled and sought to crush the
adult entertainment industry out of existence? Respectable: The Mary Millington Story, an enthralling new feature length
documentary, provides the answer to that and many more questions.
brainchild of writer/producer/director Simon Sheridan (whose lavish book
"Come Play with Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington" is absolutely
essential reading), over the course of some 110-minutes this definitive work
documents Mary's meteoric rise from underground hard-core loops through
celebrated softcore Brit sex comedies and on to a level of national celebrity
which found her rubbing shoulders with some of the most prolific figures of the
career in the adult entertainment industry had kicked off at the start of the
decade with a clutch of hard-core loops shot in Europe, among them the famous
German short Miss Bohrloch (for which
she was paid the equivalent of almost £4000 by today's money). Few of them were
easily obtainable in the UK at the time though, for distribution of such
material was illegal. But if one knew where to go such things were available
“under the counter”, or if one were prepared to chance it they could be
acquired via the slew of mail order advertisements that appeared in adult
liked to say that she was born respectable…but didn't let that spoil her life! Truer words were seldom spoken. However, that
life certainly wasn't an easy one. Though no striking beauty, she exuded a
provocative “attainable” girl next door appeal and even at the very height of
her fame never shied away from making herself accessible to her admirers. However,
said accessibility plus her unabashed, enthusiastic attitude to sex – moreover
a willingness to pose for and perform explicit sexual acts in front of a camera
– might have built her a huge fan base across the nation, but it also brought
her to the attention of the country's moral guardians. At the time Mary's
magazine spreads for publisher David Sullivan were helping him shift around a
million copies a month, and made her an obvious target for the crusaders’ puritanical
wrath. One of them was the infamous Mary Whitehouse whose ardent campaign to
sanitise British television diversified when she set her beady sights on the
porn industry. Sullivan delighted in tweaking the tiger’s tail, and among his
raft of adults-only titles was the cheekily-monikered "Whitehouse".
the mid-70s onwards Mary Millington shook the dust of hard-core films from her
shoes, and while continuing to model for magazine photoshoots – many of the
images in Sullivan’s titles pushing the limits of what UK laws would permit –
she also edged towards the less controversial environs of the silver screen,
popping up in softcore comedies such as Eskimo
Nell (1975) and Keep It Up Downstairs
(1976). It was Sullivan, when he moved into filmmaking, who really put Mary
on the map, featuring her in what was (and still is) the highest grossing
British sex film of all time, Come Play
With Me (1977). Although she didn't have a huge amount to do – she shared the
screen with a bevy of other models, who appear both in and out of their sexy
nurses uniforms – the film was always intended as a vehicle for Mary and she
was the focal point of its advertising campaign, which promised some the
strongest viewing material ever seen on British screens. This was gilding the
lily somewhat, to put it mildly. Although some fruitier footage had been shot
for overseas versions (but never saw the light of day), the British cut of Come Play With Me was in fact little
more than an amiable Carry On style
farce decorated with copious (but inoffensive) nudity and populated by a collective
of familiar British character actors, among them Irene Handl, Alfie Bass and
Ronald Fraser. Nevertheless, the film was a huge success, and went on to run
continuously at one of London's Soho cinemas for five years. Extensive
promotion took Mary to major cities across the UK, her adventures paraded in
the pages of Sullivan's magazines and increasing her popularity at a phenomenal
was the box office success of Come Play With
Me that for his next feature, The
Playbirds (1978), Sullivan planted Mary firmly centre stage, cheekily having
her play a police officer who goes undercover in the sex industry to expose a
killer. The film again starred a bunch of Brit film and TV stalwarts, including
Windsor Davies, Derren Nesbitt, Glynn Edwards and Kenny Lynch.
actors have occupied the role of Sherlock Holmes over the decades, some more suited
to the shoes of author Arthur Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective than
others. One of the finest portrayals is that by Ian Richardson. Yet, sadly, his
is also one that is often overlooked, not leastways because he played the
character just twice (in a pair of 1983 films made for television), but also
because his light was to be quickly eclipsed a year later by the arrival on TV
screens of Jeremy Brett, whose interpretation of Holmes is considered by many
to be the definitive one.
Weintraub – who produced several Tarzan movies throughout the 60s and was executive
producer on the popular long-running Ron Ely TV series –teamed up with Otto
Plaschkes (whose producer credits include Georgie
Girl and The Holcroft Covenant)
with the intention of making several Holmes adventures headlining Richardson. But
when it became apparent that Granada TV was to launch its own series starring
Brett, their plans were abandoned in a rights furore that resulted in a
substantial out of court settlement in Weintraub’s favour. The two films that
Weintraub and Plaschkes did bring to
realisation were The Hound of the Baskervilles
and The Sign of Four, two of only
four full-length Holmes novels written by Conan Doyle. Both were shot on exquisite
sets constructed at England's Shepperton Studios and include some splendid
location work utilising the likes of Devonshire country house Knightshayes
Court (doubling for Baskerville Hall) and London's River Thames (with some canny
employ of theatrical smog to abet the disguise of non-period background
The Hound of the
Baskervilles is probably the most famous of all Holmes's adventures
and one of the most filmed. Yet it is also one that largely sidelines the great
detective from the action for its middle third. The familiar plot finds our detective
investigating death believed connected to a centuries old family curse and the
legend of a demonic canine that allegedly haunts the eerie fog-wreathed
moorlands surrounding the Baskerville estate.
by Charles Edward Pogue (whose later work included David Cronenberg’s remake of
The Fly) and directed by Douglas
Hickox (whose CV includes such 70s screen favourites as Brannigan and Theatre of
Blood), like many before and since this isn't verbatim Conan Doyle. But
that certainly doesn't detract from its worth as a cracking piece of
entertainment. It's handsomely staged (the foreboding moors, awash with
swirling fog, are at night as effectively nightmarish a Grimpen Mire as ever
brought to the screen), with lush production values that completely belie its
TV movie origins. It also boasts hands down the best depiction of the spectral,
yellow-eyed titular beast to date.
however, it benefits from an endearingly charismatic central performance from
Ian Richardson; in many scenes the actor bears a startling resemblance to this
writer's favourite Holmes, Basil Rathbone. Donald Churchill's interpretation of
faithful ally Dr John Watson leans towards a bumbling nature that irks purists
and doesn't rank as one of the more noteworthy, while Martin Shaw's Sir Henry Baskerville
is hindered by horrible dubbing. Nevertheless, add in a marvellous assembly of supporting
players – including Denholm Elliott (who'd previously appeared in 1978's woeful
spoof version of the story), Glynis Barber, Ronald Lacey (as Inspector
Lestrade), Eleanor Bron, Connie Booth, Brian Blessed and Edward Judd – and
Hickox's film is markedly one of the most star-spangled versions of the
The Sign of Four is comparatively
a slightly more grounded and sedate affair, though at least Richardson's Holmes
get more screen time. Again adapted from Conan Doyle’s novel by Charles Edward Pogue,
more so than Hound it takes dramatic
liberties with its source narrative (rearranging events and introducing new,
slightly superfluous material), yet also in keeping with its predecessor it is
hugely enjoyable. Directed by Desmond Davis (Clash of the Titans), this one finds Holmes following a trail of murders
born of a broken pact between thieves relating to a treasure of precious
gemstones and jewellery.
Healy steps in as a fine Watson (though again the character is played as a
little more maladroit than his literary self) and there are strong turns by
Thorley Walters (who previously played Watson twice, opposite Christopher Lee’s
and Douglas Wilmer’s Sherlocks respectively, in 1962’s The Valley of Fear and 1975 screwball comedy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) and Cherie Lunghi
as the delectable Mary Morstan (who, in the novel – but not here – gets engaged
to Watson). But overall this is a less starry affair than Hound. All the same, there are nice performances from Terence Rigby
as Inspector Layton (a curious name switch, for he's clearly meant to be
Lestrade), Joe Melia as the despicable peg-legged villain of the piece and John
Pedrick as his savage sidekick.
Hound before it, The Sign of Four boasts a rich cinematic mien that bests many actual big screen Holmes adventures.
one can certainly lament that Ian Richardson made only these two Holmes movies,
that they're both exceptionally good is reward enough. And both are now available
on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Second Sight, each with a bonus audio
commentary from Holmes enthusiast David Stuart Davies. The 4K restoration for
the Blu-rays is quite honestly breathtaking; one can scarcely believe that 33-year-old
TV movies could look so good. There is, however, a caveat: the 1.78:1 aspect
ratio presentation of the two films. Back in 1983 they were shot for then-standard
4:3 television format and the decision to force fit the image to modern widescreen
TV sets has played merry havoc with the composition in some shots, at its most
injurious when the tops of heads are rudely shorn off. It’s more noticeable in The Sign of Four than in The Hound of the Baskervilles but it’s a
frequent distraction just the same. This disappointment aside though, these
releases can't come more heartily recommended, both to Holmes fans (who will
snap them up regardless of any perceived shortcomings remarked upon here) and
those who simply enjoy a good solid evening’s entertainment.
A shot from The Sign of Four in its original 4:3 aspect ratio.
The same shot as presented on Second Sight’s 1.78:1 aspect DVD and Blu-ray release.
should be noted that the Blu-ray release is coded Region B and the DVD is Region
2. The films are also being made available for download and on-demand in both
standard and high definition.
Popular character actor William Schallert has died at age 93, having been active in the acting community right up through recent years. Schallert was a familiar face to retro movie and TV fans, even if his name was not as well known. He is remembered by many for playing the harried father of teenage Patty Duke in the 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show". (In a tragic coincidence, Ms. Duke also recently passed away.) Schallert was much beloved by science fiction and horror fans for his appearances in TV series such as "Commander Cody", "Space Patrol", "Men Into Space" and "The Twilight Zone".
Artist Pete Emslie's tribute to Schallert. (For more of Emslie's artistic creations, visit The Cartoon Cave.)
In feature films Schallert appeared in the cult classics "Them!", "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "Colossus: The Forbin Project" as well as the 1983 feature film "Twilight Zone: The Movie". Schallert also appeared in director Joe Dante's sci-fi homages "Matinee" and "Innerspace". He also served for two years as President of the Screen Actors Guild during the contentious period of 1979-1981 and was replaced by Ed Asner, who challenged his bid for re-election.For more about his long career click here.
In 1972, writer Grover Lewis dared to venture where many other men met their Waterloo: onto the set of a Sam Peckinpah movie in an attempt to interview the cantankerous director. The film was "The Getaway" starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Lewis's piece for Rolling Stone is a true classic of film journalism, detailing how the elusive Peckinpah initially avoided him at all costs, leaving Lewis to get the essence of the man from the film's supporting actors and crew. Ultimately, he got to speak with the man himself and discovers why Peckinpah was very much like the macho wildmen who were often portrayed in his films. Click here to read the original interview, now presented by the Daily Beast.
(For extensive coverage of "The Getaway", see Cinema Retro issue #3).
MGMhas released the 1970 Western Cannon For Cordoba as part of their burn-to-DVD line. This is yet another film that was written off as "run of the mill" at the time of its initial release but probably plays far better today when Westerns are scare commodities. The film is clearly designed to capitalize on movies such as The Professionals and The Wild Bunch, and while it certainly isn't in the league of those classics, it's a consistently engrossing and highly entertaining horse opera. Set in 1916, when the US was embroiled in assisting the Mexican government in suppressing "revolutionaries" who were really bandits, the plot centers on a crime kingpin named General Coroba (well played with charm and menace by Raf Vallone), who launches an audacious raid on American General Pershing's troops and succeeds in stealing a number of valuable cannons that will make him almost invulnerable to attack once they have been installed at his remote mountaintop fortress retreat. George Peppard is Captain Douglas, a hard-bitten and insolent cavalry officer in Pershing's command who is sent on a virtual suicide mission to infiltrate Cordoba's compound, blow up the cannons and kidnap the general. Imagine The Guns of Navarone with sombreros. He takes along the standard rag-tag team of tough guys which includes Peter Duel and the always-reliable Don Gordon, seen here in one of the most prominent roles of his career. That old chestnut of a plot device is introduced: Gordon has sworn to kill Peppard at the end of the mission for allowing his brother to be tortured to death by Cordoba.
The group pretends they are American sympathizers to the revolution and succeed in infiltrating the compound with the help of Leonora (comely Giovanna Ralli), who intends to seduce the general and then betray him in revenge for having raped her years before. The film is as gritty as it gets, and as in the Sergio Leone Westerns, there is a very thin line that separates the villains from the heroes. Peppard is in full Eastwood mode, chomping on omnipresent cigars and saying little. He betrays no sentiment and is almost as cruel as the criminal he seeks to bring to justice.
Director Paul Wendkos keeps the action moving at a fast clip and there is at least one very surprising plot device that adds considerable suspense to the story. The action sequences are stunningly staged and quite spectacular, and it's all set to a very lively and enjoyable score by Elmer Bernstein. Cannon for Coroba may not be a classic, but it's consistently well-acted and will keep you entertained throughout.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Film hisotiran Bruce Crawford's 38th salute to classic
cinema and a 60th anniversary
tribute to Cecil B. DeMille's classic epic The Ten
Commandments will be Friday May 27th, at 7pm at the Joslyn Art Museums'
Witherspoon Hall theater 2200 Dodge St Omaha Nebraska.
Special guests, Miss Holly Heston, daughter of screen legend
and star of the film, Charlton Heston and actress Kathy Garver who portrayed
young Rachel in the film. Kathy is best known as Cissy from the classic TV
series Family Affair. Artist Nicolosi will have a United States Post Office
Commemorative Envelope honoring the film and Charlton Heston and the legendary
director of the film, Cecil B DeMille, unveiled at the event.
Tickets on sale May 4th at all Omaha only Hy Vee stores
customer service counters
Sony has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on on DVD through their Sony Choice Collection. Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the local champ out cold with one punch. They gravitate to New Orleans where Speed can put together some high stakes fights. They are joined by Poe (Strother Martin) an amiable quasi-doctor (he had two years of medical school) with a penchant for opium but who is skilled at patching up bruised and beaten fighters. Chaney quickly becomes a local legend and draws the attention of a local fight promoter/kingpin who insists that Chaney fight a seemingly invincible slugger he has imported from Chicago. When Chaney refuses, the kingpin kidnaps Speed and holds him hostage until Chaney shows up for the high stakes fight. The script, co-written by Hill, is a prime example of how less can be more, at least in terms of dialogue. Bronson says very little during the film, but conveys much emotion with a nod of the head, the blinking of his eyes or a wry smile. This is evident in Chaney's relationship with a local down and out woman (Jill Ireland), who he basically sees for easy sex. When she presses him to convert their trysts into a meaningful relationship, Chaney simply walks out. No drama. No speeches. Similarly, the superb performances of Bronson, Coburn and Martin seem inspired by the Sam Peckinpah school of men sticking together no matter what. When Speed is kidnapped, Chaney initially refuses to help him. He correctly points out that Speed is responsible for his own reckless behavior that sees him make enemies of the wrong people and foolishly gamble away money as fast as he earns it. Yet, in a crunch, Chaney comes to his partner's aid. There is no fanfare between Chaney and Speed, who knows that, by appearing for the bout, Chaney has saved his life. Instead, just a quick handshake a "thank you." By de-emphasizing overtly sentimental gestures and dialogue, Hill makes the relationship between the trio even more moving.
Hill and his co-writers pack a lot of memorable scenes into the film's scant 93 minute running time. Aided by editor Roger Spottiswood (another future director) and cinematographer Philip Lathrop, Hill makes every frame of the film count. There isn't a slow moment or a meaningless line of dialogue. Clearly the highlights are the action sequences. This is Fight Club for the Baby Boomer generation. Bronson, who was in his 50s at the time, performs all of his own gut-wrenching fight scenes, along with co-stars Robert Tessier and Nick Dimitri. They are brutal affairs that will quickly convince you that these men are actually beating each other up. The stunt coordination is among the best I've seen in any film. The film's more whimsical sequences are aided immeasurably by Barry DeVorzon's addictive score.
With Hard Times, Bronson reached the pinnacle of his acting career. It's wonderful to see him reunited with Coburn, his co-star from The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. However, Coburn became even more interesting as an actor as he grew older whereas Bronson grabbed for the low-hanging fruit and began to concentrate primarily on by-the-numbers action movies. The film remains a testament to his abilities as an actor- and credit Walter Hill for bringing those out in full force.
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Peck is a Canadian fighter pilot serving with the British RAF in WWII Burma in
“The Purple Plain,” a 1954 military drama available on Blu-Ray for the first
time by Kino Lorber. After losing his wife (Josephine Griffin seen in
flashbacks) during an air raid by the German Luftwaffe in London, Squadron
Leader Bill Forrester (Peck), displacing his grief with a death wish, begins a
mission to kill as many of the enemy as possible, flying every dangerous
bombing run he can against the Japanese. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies
and has developed a reputation by members of his group as being unstable and
prone to get others killed. He insists on a short turnaround with repairs to
his Mosquito Bomber so he can return to combat as soon as possible. Time off consists
of sweating from the relentless heat and fever dreams brought on by countless
fatigued, but with an outstanding record of success, Forrester gets the
attention of his senior officer, Group Captain Aldridge (Anthony Bushell), and
the flight doctor, Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee) who believe Forrester is nearing a
breakdown. They decide Forrester should have some time off and Dr. Harris takes
him to a local village where he checks on the medical care of some of the people
and brings them food. Harris introduces Forrester to an eccentric missionary, Miss
McNab (Brenda de Banzie), and her assistant, the beautiful Anna (Win Min Than),
a local Burmese woman. Both women run the school and help the local people with
medical care, food rations and anything else they can offer. Anna is drawn to
Forrester as he shares his painful past, he begins making regular trips to see
Anna. Ultimately, they fall in love.
at the base we meet Blore (Maurice Denham) who shares Forrester’s tent and they
are joined by Forrester’s new navigator, Carrington (Lyndon Brook). Blore is an
annoying man who shares all his opinions on everything including Forrester’s
reputation as a man who gets others killed. Forrester is harsh with others
including his mechanics and the newly arrived Carrington. Their first mission
together is rather routine, flying Blore to his new assignment. Forrester has a
reason to live again and longs to rejoin Anna. The movie gets interesting and
takes a turn as a survival tale after both engines catch fire and their plane
crash lands behind enemy lines. Carrington is badly burned and must be carried
in a stretcher, but with a new found will to live, Forrester is determined to
get all three of them to safety. With no food and little water, they cross the
desolate plains of Burma by night and sleep by day.
insists they should have remained at the sight of the crash in the hope they
will be rescued. He maintains Forrester is taking another risk and is going to kill
all of them. The crossing is incredibly treacherous and the landscape is
desolate with nothing to offer other than relentless heat, craggy cliffs and
little shade. Blore grumbles and complains, but continues to carry on until he
slips down a cliff and breaks his collar bone. After seeing a plane fly over,
Blore departs while Forrester and Carrington are sleeping and heads for the
wreckage of their crashed plain to await rescue. Forrester heads out to find
Blore and return him before nightfall, but finds Blore has suffered a tragic
fate. He returns and carries Carrington on his back, more determined than ever.
Purple Plain” is an outstanding mixture of survival story, love story and WWII
adventure in exotic Burma. We never see the enemy, but the real conflict is
within Forrester and Peck is very good at doing battle with himself. We see his
change from battle fatigued suicidal risk taker, to a man who discovers life is
worth living. Bernard Lee is a welcome supporting player bringing a nice
balance to the movie and Brenda de Banzie is memorable as Miss McNab. Maurice
Denham is good as the doomed Blore and Lyndon Brook is also impressive as
Carrington. Win Min Than is beautiful as Anna, but I never quite understood her
attraction to Forrester other than her desire to nurture him. She always looks
as though she’s on the verge of tears and is almost too serious and morose at
times, but this is a minor concern. After all, she has experienced her own
Rank production released in the US by United Artists, the movie was directed by
the able Robert Parrish with outstanding cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth
and editing by soon-to-be director Clive Donner. The movie was filmed on
location in Sri Lanka, standing in for Burma. This film is a gem which rarely
played on TV when I was discovering classic movies and is a welcome release in
HD. The movie looks and sounds very good and extras include the trailers for
three other Kino blu-ray releases including Peck’s “On the Beach” and “Billy
Two Hats” as well as another Parrish effort, “The Wonderful Country.”
the most informed of Stanley Kubrick fans will know that Emilio D’Allesandro was,
in short, the filmmaker’s personal assistant, driver, builder, repairman,
cleaner, organizer, cook, amateur vet, house-sitter, pet-sitter, babysitter,
and confidante for thirty years. D’Allesandro probably knew Stanley Kubrick better
than anyone outside of the director’s own family. In many way, he was a part of the Kubrick family.
Stanley Kubrick and
a magnificent memoir that was first published in Italy in 2012. The English
translation, by Simon Marsh, is now available and is a must for Kubrick fans.
There have been numerous books about Kubrick—he’s likely the second most
written-about director after Hitchcock—but these tomes are typically about the
films themselves (analyses, the makings of, and so forth). There have been a
couple of biographies, notably one by Vincent LoBrutto, but these fail to
present Kubrick’s personal life in any substantial way—they rely on hearsay and
interviews by other people and are inadequate in that regard. Emilio
D’Allesandro knew Kubrick in such an
intimate way that he was in the perfect position to tell the world exactly what
the director was like as a man.
began working for Kubrick in 1970, just as A
Clockwork Orange was at the end of shooting and beginning the editing
stage. He therefore was behind-the scenes for all the subsequent pictures—Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal
Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, as
well as the development of discarded projects like A.I.—Artificial Intelligence, and Aryan Papers. There are chapters in the book devoted to
D’Allesandro’s work on all of these, but the bulk of the memoir is more about
the rapport and camaraderie between the two men in-between productions.
example, D’Allesandro talks about Kubrick’s love of animals—at one time there
were nearly ten dogs and just as many cats in the Kubrick household. The
filmmaker’s devotion to his animals bordered on obsessive compulsive disorder.
The same is true about his three daughters. When Katharina, Anya, or Vivian
finally grew old enough to leave the family home and go out on their own,
Kubrick was a “concerned dad” to a painful, but endearing, degree. There was a
lot of: “Oh, since you’re going to be in the city, could you possibly drop in
on Vivian and make sure she’s okay?”
author also goes into how Kubrick’s brain worked in “compartments,” that the
man was capable of multi-tasking unlike anyone the assistant had ever known.
D’Allesandro had to take it upon himself to organize Kubrick’s many-faceted
projects, ideas, and paperwork so that anyone else—and Kubrick himself—could
in opposition to the unflattering accounts in the press that speculated that
the filmmaker was a mad “recluse” or a “hermit,” the author provides solid
evidence that all this was nonsense. “In the collective imagination,”
D’Allesandro writes, “Stanley Kubrick was a kind of ogre. A misanthrope, who
lived alone in his castle, isolated from the world. Stanley was quite the
opposite: he was an altruistic man, capable of generosity without the need for recognition,
an artist who valued his privacy because it allowed him to devote himself to
what he cared about most of all: his family, his animals, and the cinema.”
Stanley Kubrick and
a beautiful picture of a genius who had perhaps the most unique arrangement for
making films in all of cinema history. The book is not only essential reading for fans of the director, but for
film buffs as well.
Following the release in March of ‘A Man
Called Gannon’ (1968), Simply Media in the UK continue to release more
Universal-International westerns, this time of 1940s and ‘50s vintage. The new
releases, out on 18 April, are ‘Calamity Jane & Sam Bass’ (1949), ‘Cattle
Drive’ (1951) and ‘Black Horse Canyon’ (1954). This trio of films are literally
‘Horse Operas’, with the accent on thoroughbred steeds and their importance and
role in the working west. Be they cattle drovers, stock breeders or outlaws,
where would any of them be without the horse? The answer, of course, is
I’ll review the DVDs in the order I watched
them. First up is ‘Cattle Drive’, a 1951 western directed by Kurt Neumann.
Chester Graham Jnr (Dean Stockwell), the spoilt, arrogant son of railroad
magnet Chester Graham Snr (Leon Ames), is accidentally left behind when the
train he is travelling on makes a water stop. Lost in the arid desert, he is
rescued by Dan Mathews (Joel McCrea), the ramrod on a cattle drive to Santa Fe.
The boy joins the trek, reluctantly at first, and eventually learns to respect
his elders, whilst also learning how to become a proficient cowhand and bronc
buster. When they arrive at the trail’s end, the boy – who has been christened
Chet by the drovers – has become so enamoured of Dan and life on the range that
he’s reluctant to re-join his father and civilisation.
As you’d expect from the material, there are similarities
here with such films as ‘Red River’ (starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift)
and ‘Cattle Empire’ (also starring Joel McCrea) and the television series that
grew out of the latter, ‘Rawhide’, which made a TV star of Clint Eastwood. On the cattle drive, there’s a chuck wagon
stocked with vittles driven by an irascible cook (was there any other type on
cattle drives?) as played by Chill Wills, as ‘old pot walloper’ Dallas. There’s
a sense of the workaday west, with the drovers routine depicted romantically,
but also to a degree realistically. The trail drivers diet of beans and more
beans will make you think of the famous campfire scene in ‘Blazing Saddles’
(1974). In a rather fanciful moment, a rogue black stallion runs off the
remuda, the herd of horses the drovers use as their steeds. But there’s nothing
fanciful about the scene where the destructive power of a cattle stampede is
depicted, after one drover accidently spooks the steers with a rifle shot.
Unusually for a 1950s western, there’s no
female lead – in fact there are no women in ‘Cattle Drive’ at all. McCrea,
always a reliable screen cowboy, and young Stockwell (perhaps known to most
from the sci-fi TV series ‘Quantum Leap’) make an appealing team. Though Dan is
the ramrod, Cap (Howard Petrie) is trail boss. Among the drovers are
troublemaker Jim Currie (Henry Brandon – Chief Scar in ‘The Searchers’) and
Charlie Morgan aka Careless (B-western star Bob Steele). Other drovers were
played by reliable stuntmen Emile Avery, Carol Henry, James Van Horn and Chuck
Roberson, who handle the ridin’ and ropin’ with aplomb. The film was shot in
spectacular Technicolor on location in Death Valley National Park, California,
and also in the distinctive hilly backdrop and red dust of Paria, Utah, which
has been used as the memorable setting for such westerns as ‘The Outlaw Josey
Wales’, ‘Ride in the Whirlwind’, ‘Sergeants 3’ and ‘Duel at Diablo’. Listen out
for the traditional cowboy ballad ‘Ten Thousand Cattle Gone’ at various points
in the film, either in orchestrations, or whistled, sung or hummed by the
cowhands. This was reputedly one of McCrae’s favourites of his own films and
his easy-going, hard-riding Dan is the epitome of a 1950s Hollywood western
hero. At one point, Dan races his horse Blaze against Currie’s steed Lightning,
but it’s Dan’s pursuit and taming of jet-black wild mustang Outlaw that
provides the film with its best moments. Outlaw himself was played by Highland
Dale, who as we shall see had a busy schedule in the 1950s.
George Sherman’s ‘Calamity Jane & Sam
Bass’ (1949) also features horse racing as a key plot component. Sam Bass
(Howard Duff), a farm boy from Indiana, arrives in the Texan town of Denton and
wins a stake by betting on Calamity Jane’s horse Thunderbolt, against the
seemingly invincible Denton Mare in a big horse race. This supposed biopic is
as romanticised and inaccurate as they come, as it depicts Bass’s descent in
outlawry. After the race, Sam manages to buy the Denton Mare and joins a cattle
drive to Abilene. En route Sam races the Mare against various cowboys’ steeds
and wins money, but in Abilene town tyrant Harry Dean (Marc Lawrence) wins a
high-stakes horse race by poisoning the Mare. The drovers have put their entire
savings, plus all the proceeds they had from the cattle sale, on the Denton Mare
to win. When they realise they have been tricked, Sam and his friends hold up
the stage that Dean is travelling on, to take back their money and an outlaw gang
Throughout the story, Sam is torn between two
women – lovely storekeeper Kathy Egan (Dorothy Hart), the sister of Denton
sheriff Will Egan (Willard Parker) and altogether livelier Calamity Jane, as
colourfully played by Yvonne De Carlo. De Carlo looks tremendous when she
arrives on screen here, in a fringed buckskin outfit and wearing bright red
lippy. She reappears at various points in Sam’s life, even saving him from jail
and lending him her horse to make his escape, as he becomes a fugitive – albeit
as an innocent victim of injustice. It’s a shame she’s not onscreen more, as Calam
is the film’s best ingredient, predating Doris Day’s more famous portrayal of
the frontierswoman by four years. Despite occasional flashes of realism, this
is an idealised Hollywood western, with colourful costumes and perfect
landscapes highlighted in magnificent photography. The big race in Abilene was
filmed at Kanab Rodeo Grounds (aka Kanab Racetrack) in Utah, with many
sequences filmed in the Kanab landscape, including Kanab Canyon and the sets at
Kanab Movie Ranch. Other scenes were filmed at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth,
California (the bank robbery scene) and Red Rock Canyon State Park, at Cantil,
California. In supporting roles, Lloyd Bridges played cattle trail boss Joel
Collins, Houseley Stevenson was irascible cook Dakota and Norman Lloyd was
Sam’s eventual betrayer Jim Murphy (that morsel at least was based on fact). Some
of the cattle drive sequences are very familiar, as it’s stock footage lifted from
Woods plays a down on his luck con artist who teams up with retired fighter
Louis Gossett, Jr. to score a huge win against a local mob boss in a high
stakes boxing match in “Diggstown,” now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Michael Ritchie directs an impressive cast in this entertaining 1992 comedy.
However, the MGM release never found its audience and underperformed at the box
office upon its release.
movie opens in Winfield Prison, Olivair County Georgia, where a fight is taking
place in the common area with the full knowledge of the prison guards and Warden
Bates (Marshall Bell). Wolf Forrester (Randall “Tex” Cobb) is fighting Minoso
Torres (Alex Garcia) as Gabriel Caine (Woods) helps an inmate escape. Wolf ends
up in the prison hospital after losing the fight and he and Gabe discuss their
plans as fighter and promoter after they’re released. The warden threatens Gabe
after the escape, assuming correctly that Gabe had something to do with it, but
he has no proof. The warden and Gabe trade insults as Gabe is released from
meets with and makes a deal with mobster Orestes Matacena (Victor Corsini) who
agrees to back Gabe in a con aimed at local Diggstown businessman John Gillon
(Bruce Dern) in a high stakes boxing match. Gabe’s pal and fellow con artist
Fitz (Oliver Platt) sets the stage for the con at a local Diggstown pool hall by
winning a bet including the classic Corvette belonging to Gillon’s son, a
recent gift from his father. Fitz, seeing a poster of the town’s namesake
Charles Macum Diggs, brags that Diggs pales in comparison to “Honey” Roy Palmer
which predictably angers the locals. It turns out Diggs is well known not only
as a boxing champ, but for defeating five men in one day. Gillon turns up as
does Gabe who bets “Honey” Palmer can defeat 10 men in one day.
problem now is for Gabe to convince “Honey” Palmer (Louis Gossett, Jr.), a
48-year old retired fighter, to commit to the fight. He agrees and the bet
jumps to a quarter million dollars as Gabe and Gillon agree on the terms.
“Honey” will fight 10 men in 24 hours, and all his opponents must reside within
has other unfinished business in town and has to pay a promised visit with
Wolf’s dogs. He also meets Wolf’s sister, Emily Forrester (Heather Graham in an
early movie), who is suspicious of Gabe and quickly figures out his con. In the
days before the fight, Wolf arrives in town dead, delivered by the prison in a
wooden crate. The bet jumps as “Honey” completes his fight training and the
fighters and spectators assemble for the big event. Near the end of the fight
the bet jumps to a million and a half with the property owned by Gillon on the
fights are predictable with easy and hard fought wins as “Honey” wins against
guys with names like Tank Miller and Hammerhead Hagen. By the final fight a ringer
is brought in by the prison warden, Minoso Torres, who is eager to see Gabe
lose. Gillon isn’t above using his own son to win the bet and the movie comes
to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion.
movie is based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” by Leonard Wise with a
screenplay by Steven McKay. The original title of the film, “Midnight Sting,”
appears during the opening credits on this disc. My suspicion is that the
studio didn’t quite know how to market this comedy which is equal parts boxing comedy
and con artist thriller.
has very little to do in the film other than look good in shorts and disappears
completely 76 minutes into the 98 minute movie after being asked to take a recent
victim of Gillon’s thugs to the hospital. Platt has little screen time after
his comic turn setting the stage for the con in the pool hall and the movie is
basically a three man showcase for Woods, Gossett and Dern.
Kino Lorber release looks and sounds terrific with a nice score by James Newton
Howard. Extras on the disc include a making of featurette and trailers for this
and another Ritchie comedy, “The Couch Trip.” This easy going comedy is
predictable and may have benefitted from a larger role for Heather Graham, but
is recommended for the enjoyable cast.
The first African-American to direct a major film for a Hollywood studio was Gordon Parks, whose feature film debut "The Learning Tree" was released in 1969. Parks may have shattered the glass ceiling but there wasn't a tidal wave of opportunities that immediately opened for other minority filmmakers, in part because there were so few with any formal training in the art. One beneficiary of Parks' achievement was Ossie Davis, who was internationally respected as a well-rounded artist. He was a triple threat: actor, director and writer but his directing skills had been relegated to the stage. In 1970 Davis co-wrote the screenplay for and directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem", a major production for United Artists. The film was based on a novel by African-American writer Chester Himes and proved to be pivotal in ushering in what became known as the Blaxploitation genre. In reality, it's debatable whether "Cotton" really is a Blaxploitation film. While most of the major roles are played by black actors, the term "Blaxploitation" has largely come to symbolize the kinds of goofy, low-budget films that are fondly remembered as guilty pleasures. However, "Cotton"- like Gordon Parks's "Shaft" films which would follow- boasts first class production values and top talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Regardless, the movie had sufficient impact at the boxoffice to inspire a seemingly endless barrage of Black-oriented American films that were all the rage from the early to mid-1970s. The Blaxploitation fever burned briefly but shone brightly and opened many doors for minority actors.
The film was shot when New York City was in the midst of a precipitous decline in terms of quality of life. Crime was soaring, the infrastructure was aging and the city itself would be on the verge of bankruptcy a few years later. Harlem was among the hardest hit areas in terms of the economy. The once dazzling jewel of a neighborhood had boasted popular nightclubs, theaters and restaurants that attracted affluent white patrons. By the mid-to-late 1960s, however, that had changed radically. Street crimes, organized gangs and the drug culture spread rapidly, making Harlem a very dangerous place to be. It was foreboding enough if you were black but it was considered a "Forbidden Zone" for most white people, who spent their money elsewhere, thus exacerbating the decline of the neighborhoods. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" serves as an interesting time capsule of what life was like in the area, having been shot during this period of decline. Director Davis was considered royalty in Harlem. Despite his success in show business, he and his equally acclaimed wife, actress Ruby Dee, never "went Hollywood". They stayed in the community and worked hard to improve the environment. Thus, Davis was perfectly suited to capture the action on the streets in a manner that played authentically on screen. Similarly, he had a real feel for the local population. As with any major urban area, Harlem undoubtedly had its share of amusing eccentrics and Davis populates the movie with plenty of such characters.
The film opens with a major rally held by Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), a local guy who made good and who is idolized by the population of Harlem. O'Malley is a smooth-talking, charismatic con man in the mode of the notorious Reverend Ike who uses religion as a facade to rip off gullible followers. This time, O'Malley has launched a "Back to Africa" campaign for which he is soliciting funds. It's based on the absurd premise that he will be able to finance disgruntled Harlem residents back to the land of their ancestry. The hard-working, semi-impoverished locals end up donating $87,000 in cash but the rally is interrupted by a daring daytime robbery. An armored car filled with masked men armed with heavy weaponry descend upon the goings-on, loot the cashbox and take off. They are pursued by two street-wise local cops, "Grave Digger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and his partner "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques). Davis provides an exciting and colorful car chase through the streets of Harlem, as the cops fail to snag the robbers. They also discover that O'Malley has gone missing, leading them to believe that he orchestrated the heist himself so he could keep the proceeds raised at the rally. The plot becomes rather convoluted, as Jones and Johnson learn that a bale of cotton has arrived in Harlem and its somehow connected to the crime. They assume that the stolen money has been stashed in said cotton bale, which quickly changes hands among the most unsavory characters in the community. Getting in on the action is a white mob boss and his goons who are also trying to recover the cotton bale. The cotton itself is resented in Harlem because of its historical links to slavery and by the end of the film, the bale ends up in a stage show at the famed Apollo Theater where it is used as a prop in a bizarre production that involves historical observations about the black experience intermingled with a striptease act! Through it all, Jones and Johnson doggedly chase any number of people through the streets, engage in shoot-outs and car chases and come in and out of contact with Rev. O'Malley, who professes his innocence about being involved in the robbery. The Rev isn't so innocent when it comes to other unscrupulous activities such as chronically cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend Iris (Judy Pace) and manipulating other women in a variety of ways.
The most delightful aspect of the film is the showcasing of some very diverse talents of the era. Godfrey Cambridge (who made it big as a stand-up comic) and Raymond St. Jacques enjoy considerable on-screen chemistry even if the script deprives them of the kind of witty dialogue that would have enhanced their scenes together. They make wisecracks all the time and harass some less-than-savory characters but the screenplay never truly capitalizes on Cambridge's comedic potential. The film's most impressive performance comes from Calvin Lockhart, who perfectly captures the traits of phony, larger-than-life "preachers". He's all flashy good looks, gaudy outfits and enough narcissistic behavior to make Donald Trump look humble by comparison. Lockhart seems to be having a ball playing this character and the screen ignites every time he appears. There are some nice turns by other good character actors including pre-"Sanford and Son" Redd Foxx, who figures in the film's amusing "sting-in-the-tail" ending, John Anderson as the exasperated white captain of a Harlem police station that is constantly on the verge of being besieged by local activists, Lou Jacobi as a junk dealer, Cleavon Little as a local eccentric, J.D. Canon as a mob hit man and Dick Sabol as a goofy white cop who suffers humiliation from virtually everyone (which is sort of a payback for the decades in which black characters were routinely used as comic foils). The film has a surprisingly contemporary feel about it, save for a few garish fashions from the 1970s. It's also rather nostalgic to hear genuine soul music peppered through the soundtrack in this pre-rap era. Happily, life has not imitated art in the years since the film was released. Harlem has been undergoing the kind of Renaissance that would have seemed unimaginable in 1970. The old glory has come back strong and the center of the neighorhood, 125th Street, is vibrant and thriving once again. These societal perspectives make watching "Cotton Comes to Harlem" enjoyable on an entirely different level than simply an amusing crime comedy.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the original trailer and the sleeve is adorned with the great Bob Peak's superb poster art.