Director John Mackenzie's powerful
and captivating 1972 kitchen sink drama Made
has been given the opportunity to find a new audience via a tasty UK Blu-Ray
release from Network Distributing.
Valerie Marshall (Carol
White) is a single mother eking out a meagre living as a London telephone
exchange operator whilst simultaneously caring for her
multiple-sclerosis-stricken mother (Margery Mason). Seemingly destined never to
find true happiness and weary of the inapposite attentions of would-be suitors,
Valerie agrees to assist priest and family friend Father Dyson (John Castle) in
chaperoning a bunch of underprivileged youths on a day trip to the seaside.
There she meets folk singer Mike Preston (Roy Harper), whose outwardly relaxed
approach to life just might pave her way to salvation.
A slightly ponderous and largely
dispiriting snapshot of early 1970s lower class Britain, I'll openly confess
that when I first saw Made I was
convinced it would leave me cold. And after its grim beginnings I smugly
concluded that I was right. Yet gradually, in forging an array of richly drawn
characterisations and harrowing narrative turns, director Mackenzie and writer
Howard Barker slyly reeled me far enough in to their sorrowful tale that by the
time curtain fall loomed I was aching for Valerie to find happiness.
So pitch perfect are the
performances of everyone involved that the film’s warts and all tactic – which
certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to subjects such as the
indignities of hospitalisation and the darker face of football fanaticism – varnishes
the proceedings with a distinct documentary vibe. Nowhere is this feeling more
alive than during a powerful scene in which Valerie receives a visit from a policeman;
asking to be allowed in before he imparts his awful news, and diplomatically
turning to close the door on the camera (and, by extension, us the audience), the
officer leaves us outside to shamefully eavesdrop on Valerie's torment, whilst a
lingering shot of the closed door is intercut with a succession of fleeting
images that serve to compound the heartbreak.
One can't help but feel empathic
towards Valerie as it becomes apparent that all the men in her life care about
her only to the point of satisfying their own agendas. Her milquetoast manager
at work, Mahdav (Sam Dastor), sees her solely as a sex object. Father Dyson
clearly has romantic designs on her, but his controlling nature (subtle at the
outset, less so later) eventually drives her into unexpected arms. Even
the genial Mike – who despite initial doubts as to his intentions, appears to be
wholly sincere in his feelings for Valerie – ultimately undermines his
credibility by ruthlessly exploiting the traumas in her life in the lyrics to
one of his songs.
Carol White had a fairly
varied career where screen roles were concerned, yet due to films like Poor Cow, Dulcima and Some Call it
Loving, I uncharitably tend to associate her with gloomy dramas. But as
gloomy dramas go, in this one she’s superb and I’d probably cite poor,
life-battered Valerie as representing one of her finest film performances. As
Mike, singer/songwriter Roy Harper (who composed several of the musical numbers
especially for the film) is also exceptionally good. From the moment we first
encounter him – being interviewed on Brighton seafront by legendary music
presenter "Whispering" Bob Harris – he oozes charisma and it's easy
to see why Valerie would be drawn to him. But for me the real standout is
sad-eyed Margery Mason as Valerie's ailing mother. One scene in particular, in
which she tries to console Valerie following a dreadful turn of events, is
truly heartbreaking. (As an aside, noting that Mason lived to the ripe age of
100 whereas White passed away prematurely at just 48 certainly gives one pause to
ponder the big old lottery of life.)
receipt of Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-Ray edition of Mardi Rustam’s “Evils of
the Night” (1985), I was reminded of a tired cliché drilled into my head as a
child: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The cover art, designed by Terry Levine,
a friend of Rustam’s, invokes the stereotypical “sex-crazed teens trapped in a
world of terror” vibe that horror movies of the 1980s were notorious for. However,
I held out hope as I prepared to view the disc but this hope was quickly lost
when “Exploitation TV” appeared on my screen, followed by the silhouette of a
busty woman. Despite this, I still thought: Could this be one of those “so bad
they’re good” cult classics that fans love to revisit? After all, the film
featured such well-known and respectable actors as John Carradine, Julie
Newmar, and Tina Louise, as well as fan favorites Neville Brand and Aldo Ray.
However, since these actors had only about fifteen minutes of screen time combined, we’re mostly left with a
troupe of young actors and actresses whose inexperience is not only
demonstrated on screen but also with their non-existent IMDB filmographies. Now,
after seeing the film, I am relatively certain that Carradine, Newmar, and
Louise, were very happy to be minimally involved in this mess passed off as a horror
film’s plotting is unclear and slow moving, with the first half hour of the
movie dedicated solely to embarrassingly non-erotic sex scenes included solely to
titillate the young (and male) audience of the time (Within the first fifteen
minutes, I had closed my laptop twice
in pure disgust). Even if you can make it past the first half hour of pure soft-core
pornography (actress Amber Lynn, who plays Joyce, was a fairly well-known star
in many adult films), you’re still left with a story that is underdeveloped and/or
pretty much defies logical explanation. It’s difficult to even identify the
main character(s) well into the film, as the multiple story threads go nowhere. Which group of teenagers will prevail over
the aliens and their minions, the grease monkey lackeys? More importantly, who cares? At the one hour
mark, I had to reread the back of the disc’s case to remind myself what was
going on, since none of the villains actually announced intentions for the
kidnapped teens. Although it was the intention (I think) of the filmmaker to
tell the story of vampire aliens requiring teen blood to remain youthful, we’re
left only with excessive sex-scenes and hard-to-follow ludicrous “scientific”
discussions between aliens. In an
interview included as a bonus on the disc, Rustam says that he considered “Evils
of the Night” as a horror remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). He wishes.
would say Rustam hit a triple with “Evils of the Night.” His film is combines
bad writing, acting, and direction. However, according to the filmmaker at
least, the movie did well financially and he himself was mostly happy with the
finished product. (To be fair, “Evils of
the Night” was the first film he’d directed). In an interview recorded eight
years following the film’s release, Rustam said, “I believe it is still a good
movie for its period. I might go see again this month.” I agree with Rustam that
the film is a product of its time. Although I doubt a film such as this could
possibly break into today’s market, its “ample nudity and moments of splattery
gore” do mark it as a true horror film of the 1980s. However, unlike director Rustam,
it’s doubtful I will revisit this film within the month— if ever again.
Cinema Retro readers no doubt remember Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi thriller Westworld. Who can forget the chilling spectacle of Yul
Brynner – sans face – stalking a hapless Richard Benjamin? When I heard HBO was “rebooting” Westworld, I was skeptical. The word “Why?” kept coming to mind. The original was so good, why go
happy to say I was dead wrong. By
expanding Michael Crichton’s original vision, the producers were able to open
up new storylines and vastly enhance the earlier concept. While the 1973 film was epic, it was limited
by the visual effects available at the time. Now every modern tool in the VFX toolbox can be used and the results are
intoxicating, drawing the viewer into
Westworld’s latex embrace.
overall setup is still the same – a high-end resort modeled after the Old West
where guests can indulge in every fantasy and no matter how much mayhem they
cause, they can’t ever get hurt. So far… Overseen by Executive Producer J.J. Abrams (sharing
those duties with Jerry Weintraub, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and Brian Burk),
the series’ attention to detail is meticulous. The show’s use of Monument Valley’s stunning
vistas (put to such good use by John Ford many decades ago) really gives it a
scope well beyond typical cable. The
town of “Sweetwater”, the hub of the
action, has an authentic look and feel as good as anything seen on Deadwood and the gunfights – of which
there are many – would do Clint Eastwood proud.
Nolan (who also directed the pilot) and Lisa Joy’s writing is crisp, seamlessly
blending layer upon layer of narrative. HBO’s casting is flawless: Anthony Hopkins as the resort’s Creator
Director is quietly menacing as he rewrites the resort’s “storyline” for mysterious
reasons. Instead of Yul Brynner, Ed
Harris is the relentless gunslinger in black. Not a robot, but a frequent guest who is on a quest to discover all
the resort’s hidden secrets, whether management wants him to or not. To say
he stays “in character” would be an understatement. When another guest begins to gush about how
his (real life) foundation saved his sister’s life, Harris threatens to slit
his throat, snarling, “I’m on vacation!” Thandie Newton is conniving yet vulnerable as the local brothel owner
who begins to have doubts as to who or what she is… and special note has to be made of Evan
Rachel Wood, a stunning actress who made her name in HBO’s Mildred Pierce and True Blood
and in a string of indie films. Here she
plays an innocent farm girl “host” (artificial human), available to be ravaged
or romanced, depending on the guest. Gradually she realizes she’s part of something much bigger and
her AI awakening is a major story arc. Louis
Herthum, playing her homespun rancher dad, is nothing short of terrific –
alternating from folksy charm to an eerie mechanical persona as he’s examined
by Hopkins and his head programmer, played by a brooding Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale). Rounding out the regulars is the great
looking James Mardsen as a stoic young gunslinger.
in production, a casting notice asking extras to be prepared to perform nude
went viral, causing an uproar. There IS
nudity in Westworld, but it’s fleeting
and in each instance, totally germane to the story. Not a gratuitous shower scene in sight.
HBO has plans for 10 episodes of Westworld,
but hopefully that’s just the beginning. With a reimagining like this, there is plenty more to explore. And
then maybe they’ll visit Romanworld or Medievalworld…
Olive Films has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered and rarely seen 1979 film "The Outsider", a powerful drama directed by Tony Luraschi , who seemingly had a bright career but who, instead seems to have fallen into obscurity. This seems to be one of only two films he was ever credited with. The reasons for this remain unclear, given the fact that "The Outsider" is a powerful film that has retained its bite over the decades. One can only wonder why a work of such passion could not have inspired its director to continue to direct movies, although perhaps fate prevented him from doing so. (If any readers has any information to share about this, please let us know.) The film is set in Northern Ireland during the height of "The Troubles", that seemingly endless period of time when nation was torn apart by state of virtual civil was. The IRA routinely battled British forces on the streets of major cities, turning urban centers into virtual war zones at times. There were also loyalist paramilitary groups that did not want independence for Northern Ireland and who wanted to stay loyal to the crown. The end result was a series of bombings, gun battles and kidnappings that ultimately took thousands of lives and left the civilian population in grave danger. The Good Friday peace agreement, brokered by Prime Minister Tony Blair with enthusiastic backing of President Bill Clinton, finally brought about an end to most of the violence but this didn't take place until 1998 and until then, the bloody legacy of Irish fighting Irish forever seared the nation's history.
In "The Outsider", Craig Wasson plays Michael Flaherty, a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran of Irish descent who grew up under the spell of his grandfather (Sterling Hayden), who continues to relate stories about his glory days serving in the IRA and carrying out dangerous missions against the British. Michael decides to make his grandfather proud by leaving the family home in Detroit to join up with the IRA. He manages to make the proper contacts and when he gets to Ireland, he is promptly met by members of an IRA group located in the Catholic dominated Republic of Ireland. Here his new comrades greet him politely but warily and with good reason: traitors are not uncommon in the movement and there is suspicion Michael might be a British plant. Finally convinced he is sincere, they move him from safe house to safe house, much to his frustration. Michael is eager to see action against the British but all he gets are delays. After griping that he feels he is wasting his time, the IRA commander sends him and another agent on a mission that requires them to cross the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and the geographical area where most of the acts of violence are carried out in the quest to have both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland reunited as one country, independent of British rule. When Michael arrives in Belfast, he finds the city resembling a war zone with bombed-out buildings and an occupying force of machine gun-carrying British forces on seemingly every corner. While he awaits his orders for the mission, he meets and strikes up a romantic relationship with Siobahn (Patricia Quinn), a firebrand of a young woman who hates the British for killing her younger brother. Although she is not officially with the IRA, she is trusted by them and provides cover for their actions. As Michael impatiently awaits making himself useful, a cruel deception is under way. The local IRA commander has come to the conclusion that Michael could be more valuable dead than alive. He theorizes that if the IRA murders him and frames the British, the result will outrage Irish American sympathizers in the USA who would then increase their monetary donations to the group. Simultaneously, the local British commander (Geoffrey Palmer) has had Michael under surveillance and has also concluded that he could be quite valuable dead- especially if the blame could be placed on his IRA comrades. Meanwhile, Michael is oblivious to all this and is finally given orders to proceed on a mission- but it's one that is intended to be his last. The film ends with a shocking revelation relating to Michael's family that sets up an emotional last scene.
"The Outsider" is a highly accomplished work and is superbly directed by the aforementioned Tony Luraschi. It's a pity that, for whatever reason, he never chose or perhaps had the opportunity to continue making films. The movie is also outstanding in terms of casting with even minor roles played so convincingly that at times you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary. The story does manage to deftly tip-toe through the tulips when it comes to passing judgment on the political implications of the events depicted. Both the British military and the IRA members are presented in an unflattering light. How you react to the film probably depends on your personal view of the politics involved. After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. If there is a criticism of the film, it's related to the script, which is unrelentingly downbeat. Surely even IRA members managed to have a laugh and a joke occasionally in a pub but in "The Outsider", everyone is downbeat, depressed and paranoid. Still, the Olive Films Blu-ray is most welcome and very highly recommended. There is only one disappointment: the presentation is bare bones. With a film associated with this much controversy, there should have been a commentary track with scholars who can discuss Ireland's infamous "Troubles" so that the script can be discussed in context. Highly Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment:
Horror fans are sure to rejoice when a terrifying trio of
Stephen King’s screen adaptations -- “Salem’s Lot,” “Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye”
and “Stephen King’s It” (a best-seller on DVD and one of King’s most popular TV
miniseries) – debuts with all-new 2016 high definition masters on Blu-ray™ from
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, just in time for a haunting Halloween on
The three films based on the best-selling author’s novels
and short stories are among his most popular and feature a variety of film and
TV stars, including Drew Barrymore, Tim Curry, James Mason, Richard Masur,
Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, David Soul, Richard Thomas and James Woods, among
others. Each title will be available to own on Blu-ray for $14.97 SRP.
Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of
them worldwide bestsellers. In addition to these new Blu-ray titles, some of
his most noted works include Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone,
Misery, The Green Mile, The Stand, and The Shawshank Redemption. Recent work
includes End of Watch, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes,
Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. King’s books have been translated into 33
different languages and have been published in over 35 different countries. The
recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the
2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished
Contribution to American Letters, King lives in Maine and Florida with his
wife, novelist Tabitha King.1 The author’s 11.22.63, produced by
J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, is currently
available on Blu-ray™ from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
About the Films:
“Salem’s Lot” (1979)
Sinister events bring together a writer (David Soul)
fascinated with an old hilltop house; a suave antiques dealer (James Mason)
whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac; and the dealer’s mysterious,
pale-skinned “partner” (Reggie Nalder) in “Salem’s Lot” -- a blood-curdling
shocker based on King’s novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist).
• All-new Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe
A wandering supernatural feline’s adventures provide the
linking story for “Stephen King‘s Cat's Eye” -- a dead-on ‘thrillogy’ scripted by King and directed
by Lewis Teague (Cujo). The staff at Quitters Inc. promises to help nicotine
fiend Dick Morrison (James Woods) kick the habit. Next, a luckless gambler
(Robert Hays) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building – on
the five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Finally, our wayfarer kitty
rescues a schoolgirl (Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll.
• Feature-Length Commentary by Director Lewis Teague
October 1957: "It" awakens and the small town of
Darry, Maine will never be the same. Stephen King brings to life every childhood
fear and phobia as seven children face an unthinkable horror which appears in
various forms, including “Pennywise” (Tim Curry), a clown who lives, hunts and
kills from the towns sewers. Years later, the surviving adults who are brave
enough return to stop the new killing spree, this time for good.
• Commentary by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis
Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas
Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose blood-drenched, over-the-top horror films built a loyal cult audience, has passed away at age 87. Lewis never achieved mainstream recognition but apparently took satisfaction that his bizarre, low-budget films had resonated with their intended audiences. Lewis, a former teacher, became involved in show business by producing and directing commercials, as well as voicing some of them. In 1963 he wrote and directed "Blood Feast", a horror flick on a tiny budget. The film became popular with the "so-bad-its-good" crowd and benefited from a creative marketing campaign. Over the decades, Lewis would continue to market his films to a growing fan base and found a particularly receptive audience in the rural drive-in markets that responded to his humorous approach to horror and sexploitation films. Among his productions: "Scum of the Earth", "Two Thousand Maniacs", "Monster-a-Go-Go", "Something Red" and "The Gruesome Twosome".
Here's a real find on YouTube: color behind-the-scenes footage from the 1962 D-Day classic "The Longest Day". It's a hodgepodge of disjointed silent clips showing wounded British soldiers, a glider and Ken Annakin directing Peter Lawford and Richard Todd in the battle for a bridge.
Many a director and/or star of hardcore porn movies has fantasized about establishing a career in mainstream cinema. Many have tried but few have achieved this goal. Among those who aspired to greater heights was Carlos Tobalina, who had established himself as one of the more innovative and stylish directors of porn flicks in the 1980s. Tobalina's micro-budget productions attempted to go beyond the low demands of the "raincoats-across-the-lap" crowd. Tobalina would attempt to present more fully fleshed-out story lines and occasionally succeeded in getting credible performances from his cast members. His films were relatively high budget at the time due to extensive location shoots. He was also an aspiring actor and would appear in small roles in his own films. By 1985, Tobalina felt the time was right to make his move into mainstream fare. The VHS revolution was now in full swing and suddenly consumers could watch porn in the privacy of their own homes without having to slip into a local X-rated theater in the hopes of not being recognized by friends and neighbors. Soon, porn movies would mostly be shot directly for the home video market, resulting in even lower production standards and films that could be shot in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The home video revolution would virtually ensure the death knell of grind house movie theaters that specialized in hardcore flicks. Perhaps Tabolina saw the writing on the wall when he went full throttle with his most ambitious project, a crime thriller titled "Flesh and Bullets". In reality, the movie had an earlier incarnation, "The Wife Contract". Both versions were unacknowledged remakes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train" which presented the delicious concept of a man who encounters an eccentric fellow traveler in a private car on a commuter train. The two men in Hitchcock's film pass the time of day by debating whether a perfect crime could be committed. They agree that if the murderer had no prior connection to the victim, it could. The men both lay out a playful scenario in which they each name a person they would like the other man to kill in a morbid pact. One of the men clearly believes it was all a sick joke-until the person he named as his intended victim turns up dead and his "friend" from the train now expects him to commit murder as his part of the pact. Tobalina's film presents a different scenario based on the same concept. Roy (Glenn McKay) is a distraught man who is going through the strains of providing alimony and child support for his ex-wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and their young daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina, you-know-who's real life daughter). Jeff (Mick Morrow) is also in dire straits trying to pay alimony to his ex, Gail (Susan Silvers). The two men have a chance meeting in a Las Vegas bar and form a pact to kill each other's spouse. Both of them have some experience with death. Roy has seen action in Vietnam and Jeff confides he once murdered two gay wrestlers who raped him (they are rather insensitively listed in the final credits as "Homo Wrestlers"!). To ensure that they each carry out their part of the pact, they agree that if either of them fails to do so, he will be marked for death by the other man.
Mai Lin is among the adult film stars who make cameos in the film.
Tobalina had a fool-proof scenario on which to base his film...after all, Hitchcock had ironed out most of the kinks. The screenplay, also written by Tobalina, follows the efforts of Roy and Jeff to ingratiate themselves to the other man's wife. In doing so, they both unexpectedly fall in love with the woman they have promised to kill. Yet, if they don't carry out the murder, they will be marked for death themselves. Tabolina does the best he can with his limited resources but although he may have had more talent than the average porn director, the crudeness of his techniques and clunky production values make it clear that the movie was shot by an amateur. Tobalina tries to paper over this fact with a few distractions by casting some porn actresses in small legit roles in order to use their names in the promotional materials, but their core fans will be disappointed because this is one Tobalina production that has a bare minimum of sex and nudity. Tobalina also goes with the old misleading trick of getting some veteran actors involved in the film. Thus, we see "special performances" by Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero, Aldo Ray and Cornel Wilde, mostly in blink-and-you'll miss them roles that were inserted to simply give the film a bit of Hollywood glam. (Cult actor Robert Z'Dar also appears). Tabolina also had to shoot some of the film on the fly as certain locations obviously required permits he couldn't or wouldn't obtain. There are also some miscued sound effects that prove to be distracting. The performances range from laughably bad to adequate, with even old pros Wilde and Ray looking like they were filmed in a first read through of the script. (Sadly, this proved to be Wilde's final film appearance. He looks suitably embarrassed and even had to suffer the indignity of having his name misspelled in the final credits!) Leading man Glenn McKay is very much of the beefy, hirsute hunks who were all the rage in the era of "Magnum P.I." His co-star Mick Morrow, however, suffers the distraction of having one of the most unbecoming hair styles ever seen on film, thus making him look like a cross between a Medieval page boy and Farrah Fawcett. Not surprisingly, neither McKay or Morrow has any other on-screen appearance in their credits. The film is not without its enjoyable elements, however. The plot is consistently engrossing and you tend to give special dispensation to all involved for working with a tiny budget and low-end production values. Where Tabolina, the screenwriter, blows it is in the final sequence which could have been dramatically effective. However, he wimps out and goes the way of a happy ending that makes the viewer feel cheated.
The Vinegar Syndrome release, which has salvaged the film from obscurity, is first rate. The transfer looks terrific and there is the welcome inclusion of Tobalina's original cut of the film, "The Wife Contract". Granted, they have had to resort to using a grainy Dutch VHS copy as the master, but the language is in English and it does provide an interesting look of how Tabolina drastically recut the movie for its final version. An original trailer, hosted by Cesar Romero and playing up the genuine stars, is also included though if the film ever did manage to find some play dates in theaters, they must have been few and far between. It's hard to recommend "Flesh and Bullets" as mainstream entertainment but, as a retro curiosity of a director's bold but failed attempt to break into the mainstream, it is certainly worth a look.
It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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McFarland has released a major book about the life and career of the brilliant but eccentric actor Klaus Kinski. Edited by Matthew Edwards, the book features essays that cover Kinski's work in indisputable classics as well as his appearances in "B" level cult movies.
Here is the official press release:
With more than 130 films and a career spanning four
decades, Klaus Kinski (1926-1991) was one of the most controversial actors of
his generation. Known for his wild tantrums on set and his legendary
collaborations with auteur Werner Herzog--Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu
the Vampyre (1979)--Kinski's intense performances made him the darling of
European arthouse and exploitation/horror cinema. A genius in front of the
camera, he was capable of lighting up the most risible films. Yet behind his
public persona lurked a depraved man who took his art to the darkest extremes.
This first ever collection of essays focusing on Kinski examines his work in
exploitation and art house films and spaghetti westerns, along with his
performances in such cult classics as Doctor Zhivago (1965), Crawlspace(1986), Venus
in Furs (1965), The Great Silence (1968), Android (1982)
and his only directorial credit, Paganini(1989). More than 50 reviews of
Kinski's films are included, along with exclusive interviews with filmmakers
and actors who worked with him.
Rowan & Littlefield Publishing has released a major biography of film director Henry Hathaway. The book, by Harold N. Pomainville, is chock full of fascinating insights into a director who never quite got the acclaim he deserved. The volume will be of special interest to Western fans, given the extensive coverage afforded Hathaway's North to Alaska, 5 Card Stud, Nevada Smith, How the West Was Won, The Sons of Katie Elder, Circus World, Legend of the Lost and John Wayne's Oscar-winning classic, True Grit. Hathaway, like his contemporaries John Ford and Howard Hawks, could be a gruff, no-nonsense character who demanded perfectionism from his cast and crew. While the films he made never quite reached Fordian or Hawksian levels of acclaim, they have stood the test of time. Author Harold N. Pomainville has provided an exhaustive and highly readable account of a master filmmaker. - Lee Pfeiffer
Here is the official press release:
For the casual film fan, Henry Hathaway is not a household
name. But in a career that spanned five decades, Hathaway directed an
impressive number of films and guided many actors and actresses to some their
most acclaimed performances. He also helped launch the Hollywood careers of
numerous actors such as Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Karl Malden, and Charles
Bronson. His work on Niagara established Marilyn Monroe as a major
star. Hathaway also guided John Wayne to his Academy Award-winning performance
in the original version of True Grit.
In Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director, Harold N.
Pomainville looks at the life and work of this Hollywood maverick. The author
charts Hathaway’s career from his first low budget Western in the early 1930s
through his last film in 1974. In between, he focuses his attention of the
films that brought the director acclaim, including The Lives of Bengal
Lancer (1935)—for which Hathaway received an Oscar nomination—noir
thrillersThe House on 92nd Street and Kiss of Death, and his
documentary-like production of Call Northside 777 with Jimmy Stewart.
In this book, the author captures Hathaway’s extroverted personality and keen
intellect. He befriended some of the best known celebrities of his generation and
was known for his loyalty, generosity, and integrity. He was also notorious in
Hollywood for his powerful ego, explosive temper, and his dictatorial style on
the set. Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director is a
must-read for anyone interested in the enduring work of this unheralded, but
no-less-noteworthy, master of American cinema.
Vinegar Syndrome has done it again. They’ve
unearthed another rare, almost forgotten 70s flick for our viewing pleasure and
I couldn’t be happier. This time it’s the wholly mistitled, but extremely
interesting 1972 whodunit, Night of the
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, Creature from Black
Lake), Night of the Strangler begins
when a pregnant, young woman (Susan McCullough) returns home to New Orleans and
breaks the news to her racist brother, Dan (James Ralston from What’s Love Got to Do with It), that the
father of her child is black. Dan flips out, begins beating her and even
threatens to kill both her and her boyfriend before being stopped by younger
brother Vance (The Monkees’Mickey
Dolenz). Not long after, the sister’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper (Patrick
Wright from Revenge of the Cheerleaders).
This horrible act sets off a chain of gruesome murders that has homicide
lieutenant De Vivo (Michael Anthony) baffled. Can the clueless lawman find the
murderer before he kills again and again and again?
Although the title would have you believe
that you are about to watch a horror movie, Night
of the Strangler is more of a mystery thriller influenced by awful,
real-life events such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King; not
to mention the Vietnam War. The title makes no sense as there are no strangulations
in the entire film. There are shootings, stabbings, drowning; even death by
snakebite and poisonous arrows, but absolutely no strangling. So, is the movie
any good? I very much enjoyed it. Filmed in New Orleans, this well-done,
low-budget feature will definitely keep you guessing. I wouldn’t go so far as
to say that it’s a lost classic, but it’s a pretty engaging, solidly written and
directed movie with decent characterizations, which also benefits from some
wonderful performances. To begin with, Mickey Dolenz is terrific as the
understanding and peaceful younger brother. Dolenz comes off as extremely
likeable and even a little humorous in spots. Up next, James Ralston gives a
fun, over-the-top performance as the racist and almost sociopathic Dan. Ralston
gives it everything he’s got and he really makes you hate this character. Also,
Michael Anthony is pleasant and convincing in his role as Lt. De Vivo and
there’s a nicely balanced performance by Chuck Patterson (The Five Heartbeats) as a benevolent priest.
Night of the
been released on DVD (for the very first time) by Vinegar Syndrome. The disc is
region free and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
There are no special features. The film print itself (which has been scanned
and restored in 2K from The American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm theatrical
print) is mostly filled with excellent-looking, extremely clear images, but
does contain a few scratchy/grainy moments. This, however, does not detract
from the viewing experience one bit. As a matter of fact, it seems appropriate
being that this flick is really a nice piece of retro grindhouse cinema. If,
like me, you’re an obscure cinema enthusiast; especially from the 1970s, I
recommend taking a look at Night of the
Universal has released "Counterpoint", the 1967 film that Charlton Heston fans have long sought on DVD. The WWII drama requires a bit of historical context before getting into the main plot. By December 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling rapidly. Allied forces were on the doorstep of Germany itself and victory was assumed to be only a matter of weeks away. However, Adolf Hitler had an ace up his sleeve. On December 16 he unleashed a massive secret reserve of tank forces in a surprise attack on Americans in Belgium. The Yanks were caught completely off guard as Panzers raced toward their goal of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. Hitler knew that if he succeeded in taking possession of this strategic city he could prolong the war indefinitely. Because German forces had to move at a lightning pace before Americans could regroup, they were given grim orders from the high command to execute prisoners because they could not spare the resources to imprison and care for them. This resulted in the infamous Malmedy Massacre in which dozens of American POW's were shot dead by German troops. (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is responsible for bungling history and causing outrage for claiming in 2006 on his TV show that it was helpless German troops who were slaughtered by Americans- a "fact" still believed by many who heard the segment.) What is true is that Americans retaliated with identical orders and there were instances of German who were shot dead after surrendering. Ultimately, Hitler's bold gamble, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, failed. After strong initial success, due largely to the fact that the U.S. air corps was grounded due to poor weather, the tide turned. The weather improved and the Americans had mastery of the skies. They took a devastating toll on the Panzer corps, which itself was starved for fuel. Ultimately, the entire strategy was deemed one of the worst military blunders in history. Hitler had expended his last reserves that could have been used to defend Germany. Defeat followed and within six months, Hitler would commit suicide and his "Thousand Year Reich" would have lasted less than a decade.
It is against this intriguing backdrop that the plot of "Counterpoint" (which was filmed under the title "Battle Horns") takes place. The film opens immediately before the German counter-offensive. With victory in sight, complacent Americans feel comfortable inviting USO troupes into Belgium to entertain the G.Is. Among them is a world famous symphonic orchestra led by its larger-than-life conductor Lionel Evans (Charlton Heston). The maestro is conducting a concert in the ruins of bombed out palace when a sudden German bombardment throws everything into chaos. As American troops rush to gather arms, the 70 member orchestra attempts to flee in a bus. They are captured within minutes and taken to an ancient cathedral that serves as the command HQ of German General Schiller (Maximillian Schell). His second-in-command, Col. Arndt (Anton Diffring) has already been executing American prisoners and intends to do the same with the members of the orchestra, despite Evans' protests that they are civilians. Before the execution can take place, their lives are spared by Schiller, who has an appreciation for classical music and who admires Evans, having seen him conduct before the war. Schiller proposes a deal to Evans: he will spare everyone's life if he agrees to stage a private concert for Schiller. Evans, a headstrong, arrogant man, refuses. He suspects that Schiller will kill the musicians anyway and does not want to give him the satisfaction of having them perform for him. A battle of wills begins between two equally stubborn men. Complicating matters for Evans is the fact that two American soldiers are masquerading as members of the orchestra. Then there is the additional complication of Evans' relationship with cellist Anabelle Rice (Kathryn Hays). The two were once lovers but Annabelle left Evans to marry Victor Rice (Leslie Nielsen), who is Evans' assistant conductor. Evans is still carrying a torch for her and when the troupe is imprisoned in a dank basement within the cathedral, old tensions between the two arise once more. Schiller first tries to woo Evans by treating everyone humanely and ensuring they are comfortable and well-fed. However, he makes it clear that time is running out, as he must join forces at the front line. Ultimately, Evans relents due to pleas from his orchestra members who are on the verge of panic. However, he cautions that they will be killed as soon as the concert ends. He is correct, as Schiller has agreed to turn the orchestra over to Col. Arndt, who has already had a mass grave dug in anticipation of the executions. Evans buys as much time as possible by telling Schiller the troupe needs extensive rehearsals. During this period, he helps the two G.I.'s attempt to escape. He also secures access to a pistol and devises a plan in which the orchestra will resist their executioners and attempt to escape in the bus as soon as Schiller's concert has ended. They will be aided by a small group of Belgian partisans who will launch a diversionary attack.
"Counterpoint" represented only one in a list of films in which Charlton Heston played characters who were arrogant, conceited and often self-absorbed. (i.e "The War Lord", "Khartoum", "Planet of the Apes", "Number One", "The Hawaiians" ). As Evans he selfishly risks the lives of dozens of people rather than to lose face in his psychological war of wills with Schiller. Refreshingly, when the final shoot-out takes place, Evans doesn't transform into a typical Heston action hero and it's amusing to watch the future president of the NRA have to be coached in how to use a hand gun. The film was shot on the cheap, as so many Universal productions were during this era. Literally every frame was filmed on the studio back lot, but because of the claustrophobic nature of the script, the overall impact isn't diminished by the penny-pinching. Heston gives a powerful performance as one of the more flawed characters he has played and he is quite convincing in scenes in which he conducts the orchestra. He is matched by Maximillan Schell, who is all superficial charm and charisma. Kathryn Hays is quite good as the woman caught between two lovers and Leslie Nielsen reminds us that he was once a good dramatic actor before going the "Naked Gun" route late in his career. Ralph Nelson directs the intelligent screenplay and milks a good deal of tension from certain scenarios and an additional pleasure is hearing classical music played so brilliantly. "Counterpoint" may not be a classic but the offbeat nature of the story, combined with the talents of an inspired cast, make it a winner.
The Universal DVD is as bare bones as usual with nary a single bonus feature but the transfer is excellent.
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With so few quality roles afforded to actors of a certain age bracket, I looked forward to viewing "Grandma", the 2015 independent film that won very favorable reviews for Lily Tomlin in the title role. Indeed, Tomlin received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and the film was named one of the ten best independent movies of the year by the prestigious National Board of Review. Thus, I approached the film, which was written and directed by Paul Weitz, with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations. That mood lasted about three minutes into the movie when we are introduced to Elle (Tomlin), an older but still very independent woman who was a firebrand in her day. She received a bit of fame for her provocative poetry but in recent decades hasn't written anything of merit. In fact, she hasn't written anything at all for the last four years. The first we see of Elle, she is cruelly breaking up her relationship with her decades-younger lesbian lover, Olivia (Judy Greer) and informs her to leave her keys to their apartment and get out. Elle doesn't say specifically when she is intent on breaking the younger woman's heart but when Olive reluctantly leaves, Elle breaks down crying. Did she act like a villain in order to do what she felt was best for Olive in the long run? Presumably so, but as we follow Elle around in the course of one long day, it becomes apparent that this off-the-wall counterculture type does indeed possess a mean temper that can flare up at a moment's notice and over the slightest perceived provocation. Elle gets plenty provoked, too, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep to ask for $600 so she can get an abortion later that afternoon. She's too afraid to tell her own mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who is a successful business executive with little time for anyone but her colleagues. We learn that Lily gave birth to Judy after becoming pregnant through a artificial insemination. Judy was raised by Elle and the love of her life, Vi, who now been dead for a number of years, a tragedy that Elle has never fully recovered from. One might think that the sight of her own granddaughter in desperate straits might solicit some sympathy from Elle, but instead she tosses out obscene insults to the young girl. But don't feel too sorry for Sage...she's got a foul mouth of her own. Thus, our introduction to the two main protagonists of the story is through a stream of vile obscenities and insults. I realized early on that I still had an entire movie to spend with these less-than-lovable characters. Indeed, things only go downhill from there...and fast.
Screenwriter Weitz practically twists himself into a pretzel to rationalize some very irrational behavior on the part of Elle and Sage. For starters, although Elle seems to be living comfortably in a fairy nice apartment, she informs Sage that her entire net worth is only about $40. The fact that a woman in her seventies who is living in L.A. would be worth only $40 is ludicrous to the point of distraction. The script provides an explanation: Elle was tired of being in debt for medical bills relating to Vi's care so she used every penny of savings to pay off that debt. Uh-huh. When Sage asks the obvious question- doesn't she have credit cards- Elle explains that she cut them up as a symbolic act and turned the shredded cards into a decorative piece of art. Uh-huh. Elle nevertheless agrees to assist her granddaughter in raising the required cash. They pile into her ancient, mechanically-challenged automobile and set off to visit Sage's boyfriend who promised to get the money for the abortion. They find him to be a self-centered, uncaring cynic. So Grandma does what grandmas do best- she slams the boyfriend in the crotch, causing him much pain and also inspiring this writer to once again make a plea to script writers: the "shot in the crotch" joke was funny just once. It was way back in 1969 when Paul Newman kicked Ted Cassidy where it hurts in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Ever since then, it's been a cheap mechanism to get an even cheaper laugh. Please retire this tired device. Next stop on the Elle/Sage road trip to through Hell is a visit to a free clinic where destitute young women can get abortions. Sounds sensible. However, when they arrive at the location they discover the clinic has closed or moved and has been replaced by a boutique coffee shop. Neither Elle or Sage has enough smarts to take the obvious course of action: simply Google "women's clinics" on Sage's cell phone to find out where they alternately get the procedure done. Instead, they decide to patronize the coffee shop where Elle lets loose with a loud stream of obscenities. When the owner politely asks them to leave, Elle goes into a tirade of more obscenities. Presumably this is to further establish her anti-Establishment credentials and endear her to the audience. ("Hey, Granny's still got it!") The attempt fails, however, for the simple reason that no sane person would enjoy sitting in a coffee shop listening to some ex-hippie blather filthy language. Elle and Sage next visit one of Elle's friends who had expressed an interest in buying some presumably rare first edition books that Elle hopes will cover the cost of Sage's abortion. When the woman offers her only $50, Elle goes into another tirade of obscenities- despite the fact that Sage had researched the value of the books and informed her they were almost worthless.
The film goes into a new direction when, out of desperation, Elle decides to visit her ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott) in the hopes of getting some cash. They haven't seen each other in many years and since they've been divorced Sam has been through several marriages. At first their reunion is civil but when Karl agrees to give the money, there is a caveat: he wants some fast sex. Elle refuses and a Pandora's Box of old resentments spills out into the open, with Karl still angry that his wife turned out to be unfaithful- and a lesbian, to boot. Elle finally shames him into parting with the money but when he learns it's for an abortion, he relents on moral grounds, which in the eyes of screenwriter Weitz immediately makes him a villainous character. (Even if you're politically and socially liberal, the heavy-handed propaganda messages contained in the script will probably make you roll your eyes.) Ultimately, Elle and Sage reluctantly visit Sage's mother Judy at her place of business. It's a sterile environment and we see that, as an executive, she has the reputation of a female Captain Bligh. She and Elle have been estranged for quite some time and Judy is non-too-happy to learn her daughter needs an abortion. Like Elle and Sage, Judy peppers her sentences with obscenities, thus indicating that the acorns don't fall far from the tree in this family. Ultimately, everyone ends up at the abortion clinic but not before screenwriter Weitz can insert another political dig: Elle encounters a young mother and her adorable looking little daughter outside the clinic where the mom is protesting abortions. When Elle tries to make nice with the little girl, she receives a black eye. It might strike one as being tasteless to use a small child to make a political statement but everyone in Grandma is vile and vulgar, so why should the toddlers be any different? In the last fifteen minutes or so, the problems are resolved and Elle makes up with Olivia. It's the only section of the film in which the characters are given anything close to admirable human emotions but it's too little too late.
Grandma is an offensive film and I say that as someone who routinely reviews vintage X-rated fare for this web site. The difference is that outright pornography isn't pretentious but Grandma certainly is. Paul Weitz can be commended for inspiring his actors to give excellent performances but the value of the production pretty much ends there. I have never met anyone like the people in this film and if I did, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their company for one minute longer than I had to. Why, then, would a viewer want to spend the running time of this film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) digesting a barrage of filthy language spouted by unsympathetic characters? Even Sage, a young girl facing a great trauma, comes across as a vile ingrate, making demands more than asking for help. Lily Tomlin still has what it takes to carry a film. To her credit, she doesn't "glam" up her character but still has plenty of charisma. She's a consummate actress and her performance here is admirable. It's just a pity that its contained within a miserable movie about miserable people who treat each other in a miserable fashion.
The Sony Blu-ray contains an audio commentary track with the principals, a cookie-cutter "making of" featurette in which everyone extols the virtues of the people they worked with, a Q&A video from a screening of the film with Tomlin and Elliot and an original trailer.
The year was 1970 and John Wayne was riding tall in the
saddle- both on screen and off. The Duke had recently been awarded his only
Oscar, winning the prestigious honor for his triumphant performance in the 1969
film adaptation of the best-selling novel "True Grit". His first move following
his Oscar win was “Chisum”, a dramatic and exciting Western based on
the Lincoln County Cattle War of 1878 in New Mexico in the days before the territory
gained statehood. Wayne plays the titular character, a legendary cattleman who built an empire that stretched for many miles and employed a significant number of the local population. Chisum was the "big dog" in New Mexico but his power was threatened when businessman Lawrence Murphy began encroaching on his business interests. Ironically the trouble started, not over cattle, but over the control of dry goods. Murphy and his partner James Dolan had a government contract that allowed them a virtual monopoly on selling goods and beef in the area. When a rival general store opened, Chisum backed it and set in motion the events that led to the five-day war which escalated after Chisum found out that Murphy had been responsible for the theft of some of his cattle. The events are played out in "Chisum" and they include some larger-than-life characters including Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), who were on friendly terms when they worked for Chisum. Years later, Garrett would be the lawman who hunted down and killed Billy. Although there is a good deal of artistic license taken in terms of historical events, screenwriter Andrew J. Fenady has most of the basic facts straight- and why not? The real-life drama was every bit as compelling as any work of fiction.
Wayne wanted a strong film for his Oscar follow-up and "Chisum" fit the bill. It reunited him with frequent collaborator, director Andrew V. McLaglen and included a stock company of actors who were old personal friends including Bruce Cabot, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Ron Soble, Christopher George and Ed Faulkner. It also marked a reunion of sorts for Wayne with his co-stars from the 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima" which included Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. Wayne also gave small roles to Christopher and John Mitchum, the son and brother of his old pal Robert Mitchum. The film is exceptionally well cast with Tucker in especially fine form as Lawrence Murphy. It took an actor with considerable screen presence to stand up to John Wayne and seem credible and Tucker fits the bill perfectly. Their antagonism starts out as personal insults but as Murphy buys off the local sheriff, William Brady (Bruce Cabot) and orchestrates the killing of competitor Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), events escalate rapidly. Billy the Kid takes matters into his own hands and murders Sheriff Brady in revenge for the killing of Tunstall, who was a father figure to him. Tensions rise and the film climaxes with a terrific sequence that starts as a massive shoot-out in a general store and finishes up with Chisum personally leading a stampede of cattle down the main street and engaging in a knock-down fist fight to the death with Murphy.
"Chisum" is intelligently scripted and represents one of the finest accomplishments of both Wayne and Andrew V. McLaglen. Shot in Mexico, it also features superb cinematography by the legendary William Clothier, who bookends the film with dramatic images of Chisum sitting astride his horse, enjoying a size-appropriate cigar while proudly overlooking his massive spread of land from atop a hill. Wayne is outstandingly good in one of his finest screen performances but the supporting cast is also excellent with nary a weak note. There are so many interesting characters and historical facts involved in the story that you wish there was another half hour of running time to do justice to the events depicted. Among the film’s fans was President Richard Nixon who said that, while he didn’t see many movies, he very much enjoyed “Chisum” very much and thought that Wayne was a “fine actor”. He went on to give an extended "review" of the film and said that it represented how law and order is the backbone of American democracy and nowhere is that depicted better than in the Western film. The movie enjoyed strong reviews and was a major hit for Warner Brothers.
Warner Home Entertainment has released a special edition of "Chisum" on Blu-ray and the transfer is gorgeous. The extra bonus features from the DVD edition have been ported over including a commentary track from director McLaglen who provides fascinating first-hand accounts about the making of the movie (though he does erroneously state this was his third collaboration with Wayne. In fact it was his fourth following "McLintock!", "Hellfighters" and "The Undefeated".) The Blu-ray also features an excellent vintage "making of" documentary that puts the film into historical perspective. There is also an original trailer. In all, an impressive Blu-ray release of one of the best Westerns of its era.
American ex-Presidents occupy a unique place in society. They represent the smallest, most elite club on earth. Each of the living ex-Presidents has known the bizarre ritual that results from transforming from the most powerful person on earth to someone with absolutely no legal powers in the amount of time it takes the new President to swear to the oath of allegiance. An incumbent President in a deeply divided nation can consider themselves to be successful if poll numbers show they left office with an approval rate of the mid-40s or higher. However, the best way a President can make poll ratings soar is to simply leave office. Traditionally the American people, and the world at large, views ex-Presidents from a saner, more nuanced viewpoint and inevitably their reputations improve with time, largely because they are mostly seen doing good deeds and raising money for charities. The ex-Presidents club has also seen some unexpected friendships develop due to the fact that only someone who has served in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Oval Office can possibly relate to what his peers have gone through. Thus we saw President George H.W. Bush form a close bond with President Bill Clinton despite the fact that it was Clinton who deprived Bush of a second term. Word has it that the two men have almost a father/son relationship. Consequently, Clinton and President George W. Bush are said to enjoy a very cordial relationship. When Clinton was in office he served as the unlikely vessel that afforded President Richard M. Nixon a degree of public redemption by calling upon him for advice relating to foreign policy. President Gerald Ford also formed a very close friendship with the man who defeated him, President Jimmy Carter. The two traveled the lecture circuit in a quixotic attempt to convince Americans not to demonize people simply because they disagreed with their political beliefs. Yes, we tend to love our Presidents- as long as there is an "Ex" prefix before that designation. However, it's doubtful many would love ex-Presidents Russell P. Kramer and Matt Douglas, the protagonists of the 1996 political comedy "My Fellow Americans". Directed and co-written by Peter Segal, the film takes a promising premise that ends up being more fun in theory than it is in execution.
The film opens with Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his successor-in-office Douglas (James Garner) being summoned to the White House to participate in an event to be presided over by incumbent President Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Neither man wants to be there, as they both detest Haney (who was Kramer's Vice-President)- but not more than they detest each other. En route to the conference, they insult each other constantly using language that would embarrass a Marine drill instructor. Both of the men have their annoying eccentricities. Douglas is a skirt-chasing womanizer (remember Bill Clinton was in office when the film was released) and Kramer is a penny-pinching tightwad who tarnishes his reputation by whoring himself for big bucks by making a speech a in front of Japanese executives (President Ronald Reagan had been lambasted for doing the same thing when he left the White House.) When they arrive at their destination, the real plot device kicks in. Turns out Haney is corrupt and details of a kickback scheme with a defense contractor are about to be unraveled by a snooping reporter. Haney and his equally corrupt staff get to work to concoct a scheme whereby Kramer will be framed as the real culprit and Douglas will be the top suspect in the murder of the defense contractor. Things go awry, however, when Kramer and Douglas manage to escape and go on the lam. They nearly die in a helicopter crash before being stranded in rural America with sinister "Men in Black" types hunting them down. Almost penniless and virtually helpless without their servants and security force, the two men become like a pensioner political version of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". They need each other to survive but can barely tolerate the other man's presence. The scenario is wide open for some great possibilities but director and co-writer Segal can't quite capitalize on the opportunities. Given the fact that the entire story premise is absurd, Segal manages to ratchet up even more absurdities until the film feels enough like a comic book that I expected the Marvel name to appear in the credits. By foot and car, the Presidents wander through the American heartland like modern Woody Guthries. Along the way they encounter an Elvis Presley impersonator, a former sexual conquest of Douglas (who doesn't believe it's really him), endless chases by Haney's Gestapo-like assassins and high speed car chases. They predictably learn a life lesson about the nobility of everyday Americans and the struggles they endure. The whole improbable mess comes to a climax back at the White House where, for reasons far too laborious to relate here, the ex-Presidents end up being chased on horseback in an attempt to reveal the truth about Haney, who is in the process of honoring members of the Dutch Resistance (!)
"My Fellow Americans" does have some pleasurable aspects and moments. Lemmon excels in playing "Odd Couple"- like scenarios largely because he starred in the film version of "The Odd Couple". The film would have been more enjoyable if he had his usual co-star Walter Matthau with him but it is fun to see Lemmon and Garner square off against each other. There are also a few funny one-liners and modestly amusing scenarios including a surprising revelation at the end but Peter Segal's leaden direction ensures that no scene lives up to its potential. There are a number of good character actors in supporting roles ranging from Lauren Bacall (largely wasted), Wilford Brimley and, most amusingly, John Heard as Haney's handsome but dumb-as-an-ox VP (a not-so-subtle jibe at the legacy of Dan Quayle in the days before Sarah Palin would emerge to take the mantle.) One of the problems with the script is that it is so intent on not offending anyone's political sensibilities that the obsession with being "middle of the road" becomes annoying and pretentious. Thus, there is no bite to the jokes. For every knock against the GOP there is an equivalent knock against the Democrats. For example, in one scene the hitch-hiking ex Presidents are picked up by a destitute family who live in their car. We make sure we learn how both parties adversely affected their lives. The point of the scene is to show the Presidents humbled by these simple but honest people, but the film presents these noble characters as kind hearted idiots who believe Mount Rushmore is a natural rock formation. As I've written before, Hollywood screenwriters always believe that if they want to show an honest patriot, it has to be in the guise of a Gomer Pyle-type, unsophisticated idiot from rural America. It's the ultimate back-handed compliment. The other cliche readily apparent in the script is that all the dapper, educated and sophisticated characters tend to be crooks, schemers and murderers. Isn't just possible that a "real American" can also be sophisticated, patriotic and educated? Such are the predictable aspects of this lumbering comedy. I will say that the film is quite interesting in an unintentional way. Although released only twenty years ago, it's shocking to see how primitive technology was. No one seems to have a personal computer and there isn't a single cell phone seen anywhere, illustrating just how rapidly these devices came about and changed people's lives.
"My Fellow Americans" isn't some disaster and one hates to be a Grumpy Old Man about any film featuring Jack Lemmon and James Garner (who gets to replicate his jump from a speeding train from "The Great Escape" in this film). It certainly has some moments that afford minor laughs but the movie would have been better off delving completely into the Theatre of the Absurd in the manner of the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" movies.
The Warner Archive has released the film in widescreen format for the first time. Previously, it was only available in pan-and-scan. Extras include the original trailer and a mildly amusing selection of bloopers that mostly focus on Lemmon cracking up on the set.
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Some actresses' performances can be much admired while others you virtually devour. I devour any performance by Bette Davis, who often elevated even middling films to something akin to high art. Such a case is evident in her cult classic Dead Ringer, a 1964 thriller that allowed Davis to give a tour de force performance in a dual role. The film itself has a hokey concept, that of two estranged identical twin sisters who are reunited with deadly consequences. Yet, Davis' former leading man and Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid directs this otherwise minor screen effort with great style, affording Davis one of her best late career performances. As Edith, Davis is seen as a down-and-out owner of a skid row bar who is facing financial ruin. She is reunited with her rich sister Margaret at the funeral of Margaret's husband. The two have not been on speaking terms ever since the self-absorbed Margaret stole Edith's rich lover and seduced him into marrying her. Invited to Margaret's mansion, the sister's bitter rivalry gains new momentum. Edith ultimately concocts an audacious scheme whereby she will murder Margaret and then switch identities with her, in the process masking the slaying as a suicide. As absurd as the premise may sound, director Henreid and Davis bring enough gravitas and tension to these scenes that the plot plays out quite credibly. Predictably, Edith - now posing as Margaret- encounters a minefield of challenging situations. Although she looks and sounds exactly like her deceased sister, the two women had vastly different personalities and habits. Part of the fun is watching Edith having to constantly improvise to escape exposure by suspicious housekeepers, servants and old friends of Margaret. The boiling point comes when she is "reunited" with Tony (Peter Lawford), an ambitious social climber who had been Margaret's lover and boy toy. Tony is anxious to resume their love affair. Edith/Margaret is clearly delighted to inherit her sister's handsome lover, but soon realizes that she can only bluff so far before being found out. Adding to her woes is the investigation led by her own former boyfriend, a police detective (Karl Malden) who is the antithesis of Tony: he sincerely loved Edith and wanted to marry her. The irony, of course, is that his investigation of the suicide has him in constant contact with Edith, though he believes he is dealing with Margaret.
Dead Ringer is consistently entertaining throughout and the glorious black and white cinematography and Andre Previn's Bernard Herrmann-like score only add to the pleasure of watching this quaint thriller unfold. The performances are all excellent but no one can hope to match the site of Bette Davis slapping around Bette Davis. The Warner Home Video Blu-ray release of the film features a new featurette about the making of the movie and interview with film historian Boz Hadleigh, who also provides a commentary track along with Charles Busch. Hadleigh provides some great anecdotes about the film and gives the movie and its participants the respect they deserve. There is also a vintage production short about the mansion house where much of the movie was shot. It's quite interesting to see rare behind the scenes footage of Henreid at work with cast and crew.
The movie is a grand showcase for one of Hollywood's most legendary actresses- and the Blu-ray presents Ms. Davis at her very best.
Freddie Francis had a long and prosperous career in the cinema, learning many areas of filmmaking by cutting his teeth as a stills photographer, clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller; he also worked on training films while in the army.Garnering enough experience led him to become a camera operator on films as diverse as The Tales of Hoffman (a favorite of George Romero’s and Martin Scorsese’s), Twice Upon a Time, and Beat the Devil.He also worked as a cinematographer on The Innocents, Night Must Fall, The Elephant Man, and Dune, while scoring two Oscars for shooting Sons and Lovers and Glory.In the midst of this, he managed to find time to direct more than his share of thrillers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, chief among them The Brain, Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and The Creeping Flesh.Most genre fans grew up seeing these films on late-night television or on weekend broadcasts, and they all have appeared on home video in a variety of different formats.
One of Mr. Francis’ most elusive titles is the bizarre, black comedy Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly, released Stateside simply as Girly in 1970.Now available on an all-region NTSC DVD by the fine Scorpion Releasing, which has also brought us Sweet William, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend, Say Hello to Yesterday, and The Last Grenade to name a few, Girly, Based upon Maisie Mosco’s stage play Happy Family, is an obscure and fairly macabre tale of a brother and sister (Howard Trevor and Vanessa Howard) who suffer from a form of arrested development at the hands of their crazed mother (Ursula Howells) and equally batty nanny (Pat Heywood) who treat the twenty-somethings as if they were still toddlers.Mumsy and Nanny refer to Sonny and Girly (who both wear school uniforms that they clearly are too old to be wearing) as their "darling loves" and smother them with creepy affection.They play in schoolyards and zoos, looking for “new friends” and rope them into their staged games by kidnapping them and taking them back to their enormous house (in reality the Oakley Court Hotel in Windsor, England) to incorporate them into their day for fun.Among these “new friends” are men they refer to as “soldier” and “number five” who are both held prisoner.An unfortunate couple (Michael Bryant and Imogen Hassall) is fooled by their childish charms and the woman meets her untimely demise through an “accident” that Girly blames on the man. The poor guy ends up at their house with his girlfriend’s body dumped in a chest.In order to stay alive, he’s forced to be polite and made to ask, “Please may I have some bread, Mumsy?” and “Please, may I be excused?” prior to using the water closet which is outfitted with an artificial toilet that houses a jack-in-the-box.Any attempt to flee the premises is met with stern warnings of being “sent to the angels” should such further actions occur. Michael Haneke more than likely took a cue from this film when he made both versions of his film Funny Games which were far more gruesome and tragic.
MGM has released the 1969 film The File of the Golden Goose on DVD. Yul Brynner top-lines the crime thriller that plays more like an espionage movie. Brynner portrays American Treasury agent Peter Novak, who is sent to London to infiltrate and bust a major ring that specializes in spreading counterfeit U.S. currency. Novak is assigned a young Scotland Yard detective, Arthur Thompson (a very effective Edward Woodward) and the two men enact a scenario where they are ultimately taken in as part of the gang by mobster front man George Leeds (always-reliable character actor Walter Gotell). The film is unremarkable on most levels, but the script is intelligently written and there is some genuine suspense when Novak begins to suspect that Thompson is adapting to the mobster lifestyle for real. Brynner makes for one of the most inimitable leading men of his era, constantly bringing a sense of dignity and gravitas to what otherwise might be considered to be a B movie. There is also a very wry performance by Charles Gray, playing an out-of-the-closet queen who dabbles in counterfeit bills in between hosting orgies. The film was helmed by actor/director Sam Wanamaker, who makes the most of the extensive London locations. However, the movie's climactic shootout sequence involving a helicopter is a bit of a dud and suffers from poor editing. Nevertheless, any Brynner film deserves attention and The File of the Golden Goose is a more than satisfying thriller.
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Warner Brothers dug deep into their vaults to compile
this nostalgic and electrifying collection of vintage musical shorts featuring
some of the greatest names in entertainment history. The short films in this
six-disc set feature performances and appearances by Eddy Duchin, Harry Reser
and His Eskimos, Jimmy Dorsey, Ozzie Nelson, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and
others, plus "Ramblin' Round Radio Row" films from 1932-35, and much
more. 11 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English.
(This is a region-free DVD release)
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Aug. 1, 2016 — For
Immediate Release — The Golden Age of Musicals features 17
fabulous, classic films from the genre’s peak era, spanning two
decades from 1937 to 1957, in a five-disc DVD collector’s set, available
Aug. 9 from Film Chest Media Group.
The emergence of sound technology sparked a natural expansion,
taking the musical genre from the stage to the big screen. Multiple camera
angles, the ability to shoot at various locations and the use of lavish
background scenery that would be impractical in a theater allowed filmed
productions to outshine live performances.
Interest in musicals increased dramatically in the
mid-1930s when director Busby Berkeley (Take Me Out to the Ball
Game, The Gang’s All Here, For Me and My Gal) began to enhance
traditional dance routines with his unique style. His creative numbers
would typically begin on stage, then gradually transcend
the limitations of theatrical space by filming from above, capturing
dancers forming kaleidoscope-esque patterns.
As the motion picture industry grew with the development
of special effects, increased quality of film technology and the introduction
of color, the musical genre experienced sustained popularity for decades.
The Golden Age of Musicals boasts more than 25
hours of song, dance and comedy that will dazzle and entertain, from slapstick
to romance to over-the-top opulence. Featuring the best films and biggest stars
of the era, including Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, Danny
Kaye in The Inspector General, Bing Crosby and Bob
Hope in Road to Bali, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At
War With the Army, Judy Garland in Till the Clouds Roll By and many more, The
Golden Age of Musicals is a must-have collector’s set for fans
new and old!
The Golden Age of Musicals is presented in full screen with
an aspect ratio of 4 x 3 and original sound.
In his review of "Jack of Diamonds", New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed it as "strictly low-grade "Topkapi". He only missed the mark in one respect: I would argue that it is more low-grade "To Catch a Thief". The 1967 crime caper stars George Hamilton as handsome and inanimate as a mannequin found in the window of a posh 5th Avenue department store. At least no one can ever accuse him of putting the "ham" in "Hamilton". Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, the world's most notorious cat burglar. When we first see him, he's using a rope and pulley to enter the penthouse apartment of Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), who plays herself. While old Zsa is sleeping, Hill manages to abscond with her valuable jewels- but, ever the gentleman, he leaves her a message telling her how much he enjoys her films (which means Hill has immaculate taste in jewels but not-so-great taste when it comes to the cinema.) Ms. Gabor is one of several real-life celebs who play themselves in the film. The others are Carroll Baker and Lili Palmer, each of who are victimized by the elegant, gentlemanly thief. The cameos are a pretty transparent gimmick to add a little more glamour to the production, which was produced by a West German film company and released theatrically in the USA by MGM.
Hill lives a Hefner-like lifestyle in a lavish mansion replete with all the trappings including a gymnasium complete with a trapeze which he uses to stay in shape so he can utilize his signature style of entering high buildings using the tactics of a human fly. We soon learn he has a mentor who goes by the name of "Ace" (Joseph Cotten), as he was once the world's greatest jewel thief and was known as "The Ace of Diamonds". He still acts as a wise sage for Hill, advising him on the dos and don'ts of certain potential capers. Hill soon finds that he has a competitor for some of the same jewels. Turns out it is a female cat burglar, Olga (Marie Laforet), who has her own mentor, Nicolai (Maurice Evans), a dapper dandy who also was once a famed jewel thief. Nicolai has concocted a plan for the ultimate theft and wants Olga and Hill to join forces to carry it out with he and Ace acting as advisers. This gives Hill plenty of time to make time with his new sexy partner but there is virtually no chemistry between Hamilton and Laforet, partly because her character is largely window dressing and is not fleshed out in the slightest in terms of being given a background. Nicolai's plan requires stealing some famed jewels from a seemingly impenetrable museum but just to learn their precise location it will require the cat burglars to break into a safe located in the headquarters of the Paris police. Achieving this daring goal, the foursome then turn to the main event: the robbery of the jewels. They are racing against time against an international police organization (presumably based on INTERPOL) that is doggedly trying to track them down and stop future robberies. The organization's point man is Von Schenk (Wolfgang Preiss), a charismatic German who pursues them with the zeal of Inspector Javert.
"Jack of Diamonds" is yet another film from the Sixties that looked anemic in its day but probably plays better now. The film tries to present some glamorous European locales but much of it is achieved through the over-used stock footage that MGM had in its vaults at the time. (A scene supposedly shot atop the Pan Am building in New York features what may be the worst rear screen projection effect I've ever seen.) Still, the offbeat feel of the film is somewhat enjoyable and the script allows a Bondian air in which the pursuer and the pursued match wits while enjoying each other's company and sharing fine cigars. George Hamilton makes for a strikingly handsome leading man even if he's a bit short in the charisma department. The real fun is watching old pros Cotten, Evans and Preiss trade barbs and witticisms. It's the kind of dialogue that is rare in contemporary thrillers. The caper aspects of the production are carried out adequately by director (and former actor) Don Taylor and if the entire enterprise stacks up as "Hitchcock Lite", it's an enjoyable romp throughout with nary a dull moment and a bizarre but infectious score by Bob Harris and Peter Thomas (bizarre because it is the only time you will ever seen a filmed ski chase that combines jazz music and yodeling.)
The Warner Archive has released the film as a region-free DVD title. There are some inconsistencies with the color quality but overall it's an acceptable print, though I suspect it may not be presented in its original aspect ratio. This version seems to be matted but I could be wrong. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
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In the estimation of many film scholars the 1970s was the most adventurous and liberating period in the history of the medium. The new freedoms in regard to sex, violence and adult themes that had exploded in the mid-1960s became even more pronounced in the '70s. Among the most daring studios to take advantage of this trend was United Artists. The studio had been conceived by iconic actors in the silent era with the intent of affording artists as much creative control over their productions as possible. UA had continued to fulfill that promise, producing a jaw-dropping number of box-office hits and successful film franchises. The studio also disdained censorship and pushed the envelope with high profile movie productions. The daring decision to fund the X-rated "Midnight Cowboy" paid off handsomely. The 1969 production had not only been a commercial success but also won the Best Picture Oscar. A few years later UA went even further out on a limb by distributing "Last Tango in Paris". The studio fully capitalized on the worldwide sensation the movie had made and the many attempts to restrict it from being shown at all in certain areas of the globe. Like "Midnight Cowboy", "Tango" was an important film by an important director that used graphic images of sexual activity for dramatic intensity. Unfortunately, not every filmmaker who was inspired by these new freedoms succeeded in the attempt to mainstream X-rated fare during those years that the rating wasn't only synonymous with low-budget porno productions. Case in point: screenwriter John Byrum, who made his directorial debut with "Inserts", a bizarre film that UA released in 1975 that became a legendary bomb. The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units).
The claustrophobic tale resembles a filmed stage production. It is set primarily in one large living room in a decaying Hollywood mansion. The time period is the 1930s, shortly after the introduction of sound to the movie industry resulted in the collapse of silent pictures (Charlie Chaplin being the notable exception.) The central character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is not named but is referred to as "The Boy Wonder". From our first glimpse of him we know we are seeing a man in trouble. He is unkempt, dressed in a bathrobe and swizzling booze directly from the bottle. We will soon learn that he was once a respected mainstream director of major studio films and was revered by Hollywood royalty. Now he is a has-been who has resorted to making porn movies in 16mm in his own home. (Yes, Virginia, people liked to watch dirty movies even way back then.) He is entertaining a visitor, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), a perpetually cheery, bubble-headed young woman who was once a respected actress but who, like Boy Wonder, has fallen on hard times. She is now a heroin addict who earns a living by "starring" in Boy Wonder's porn productions. They make small talk and some names from the current movie business are bandied about. Harlene tells Boy Wonder that a rising star named Clark Gable is said to be an admirer of his and wants to meet him. Instead of responding favorably to this news, Boy Wonder seems unnerved by it. The implication is that he is locked in a self-imposed downward spiral and lacks the self-confidence to attempt a real comeback. Harlene also needles him about his sexual prowess. It turns out that the king of porn films has long been impotent for reasons never explained. As they prepare to film some scenes Harlene's male "co-star" (Stephen Davies) arrives. He is nicknamed Rex, The Wonder Dog, which seems to bother him especially when the Wonder Boy uses it to intentionally disparage him. Like Harlene, Rex is short on brains but is physically attractive. Boy Wonder seems to have a real resentment towards him, perhaps because Rex is a powerhouse in bed while he can't get anything going despite directing naked people in sex scenes. It becomes clear that if Boy Wonder and Rex don't like each other. Boy Wonder ridicules Rex for performing sex acts on male studio executives who he naively believes will help him become a star. However, their relationship looks downright friendly compared to the interaction between Harlene and Rex. When Rex is a little slow in becoming physically aroused, Harlene mocks him mercilessly. This results in him essentially subjecting her to a violent rape which thrills Boy Wonder, who captures it all on film. Harlene doesn't appear to be any worse for the wear, however, and blithely says she's going off to a bedroom to rest.
The household is next visited by mobster Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), the man who finances Boy Wonder's film productions. He is accompanied by his financee Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), a pretty young woman who seems to have a particular interest in the forbidden world of pornography. Big Mac and Boy Wonder also hate each other. Big Mac berates Boy Wonder for making his porn flicks too esoteric and artistic for their intended audiences who just want a cheap thrill. However, for Boy Wonder the porn films represent the last opportunity he has to demonstrate the cinematic style and camera angles that once impressed critics and the public. In the midst of their arguing, it is discovered that a tragedy has occurred: Harlene has died from a heroin overdose. Everyone seems nonplussed by the news and Big Mac's only concern is to ditch the body somewhere quickly. Turns out Rex has a part time job in a funeral parlor and can arrange for a gruesome plan in which they dump her body inside a grave that is being prepared for another person's funeral the next day. The plan is to dig a bit deeper, bury Harlene, then place a layer of dirt over her and have the "new" body placed on top of hers. As Big Mac and Rex leave to "undertake" this sordid task, Boy Wonder finds himself alone with Cathy Cake. She wants to use the time to have Boy Wonder film her in her own personal porn movie since Big Mac would never let his "fiancee" do so with his knowledge. She finds the idea of sex on film to be a stimulant but Boy Wonder won't have any of it. He knows that Big Mac's volatile temper and ever present bodyguard could result in him being the next corpse in the house. Cathy Cake tries another tactic and feigns interest in Boy Wonder. He lets his guard down and gradually is seduced by her. She even manages to cure his impotence but the tryst turns ugly when she learns he has not filmed it. Boy Wonder soon discovers that his renewed pride and self-respect is to be short-lived when it becomes clear that Cathy Cake actually loathes him and was only using him in order to fulfill her porn movie fantasy. The ploy works to a degree- her attention to Boy Wonder reawakens his sexual prowess but when she learns the camera wasn't rolling, she cruelly tells him that she only used him for selfish purposes. With this, Big Mac and Rex return from their horrendous errand and catch Boy Wonder in bed with Cathy Cake. The situation becomes dangerous with Big Mac threatening to kill Boy Wonder and things only deteriorate from there.
According to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo that accompany the Blu-ray, Richard Dreyfuss seemed to have a personal obsession with this film. He was very involved in all aspects of its production and remained defensive about the movie after its harsh reception from critics. The movie's complete rejection by reviewers and the public might have hurt his career but Dreyfuss already had "American Graffiti" and "Jaws" under his belt. Soon he would also star in another blockbuster, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" followed by his Oscar-winning performance in "The Goodbye Girl". The fact that so few people ever saw "Interiors" actually worked to his advantage. However, whatever motivated him to become involved in this bizarre project remains a mystery. It's an ugly tale about ugly people doing ugly things to each other. If there is a message here, I didn't receive it. There isn't a single character you can identify with or sympathize with. They are all self-obsessed cynics with no redeeming traits. That leaves us with whatever values the performances afford us and it's a mixed bag. Dreyfuss is miscast. He was twenty nine years-old when he made the film and, despite his sordid appearance which ages him considerably, he is still far too young to portray a once-great movie director who has fallen on hard times. John Byrum's direction of Dreyfuss is unsteady. At times he encourages him to underplay scenes while at other times he has Dreyfuss chew the scenery mercilessly. Similarly, Stephen Davies plays the brain-dead hunk Rex with flamboyantly gay characteristics one minute then suddenly transforms into a heterosexual stud the next. Bob Hoskins in what would become his trademark tough-guy gangster mode but gives a solid performance. The best acting comes from the two female leads with Veronica Cartwright especially good as the ill-fated Harlene. Jessica Harper also does well in her thankless role. Both women seem at ease in doffing their clothes and playing much of their scenes in a provocative state. Cartwright even goes full frontal for the violent sex scene with Rex while Harper spends almost the entire last act of the film being photographed topless. Curiously, the willingness to appear nude onscreen was considered the epitome of female emancipation in films during the 1970s but the practice has largely become frowned upon in more recent years. In fact the days are long gone when virtually every major actress had to appear naked on screen. Today, female emancipation is the ability to play erotic scenes on screen without having to be completely compromised.
A while back I caught a film I vaguely remember having come and gone upon its initial release in 1974, a crime thriller titled The Destructors (aka The Marseilles Contract). The film flopped when it opened but I felt it had to have some value given the leading roles were played by Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason. I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be a first-class action movie. The plot finds Quinn as the head of the American Drug Enforcement Agency in Paris. He's obsessed with bringing crime lord James Mason to justice but is hampered by red tape. When Quinn narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Mason's thugs (in a very exciting and creatively staged sequence set in a Paris railroad station), he decides to take matters into his own hands. Quinn hires old friend Michael Caine, of late a charming hit man, to "off" Mason before another attempt can be made on his own life. Caine uses his charm to seduce Mason's sexpot, jet-setting daughter (Alexandra Stewart) in order to win the confidence of her father. Before long, Caine is an indispensable employee of Mason's and willingly peforms "hits" for him in order to boost his credibility. The plot takes plenty of twists and turns with unexpected developments and double crosses occurring on a regular basis as the three principals play cat-and-mouse games with each other. Director Robert Parrish keeps the action flowing and stages some exciting chase sequences. One, arranged by the famed Remy Julien, was obviously the direct influence for the opening car chase in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. In this film, Caine introduces himself to Stewart by challenging her to a high-risk car chase in the hills of the French countryside. The two cars become obvious phallic substitutes in a high speed mating dance. Sound familiar? In GoldenEye, the scene is repeated almost verbatim with Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen in the hills above Monte Carlo. (Not coincidentally, this scene was also staged by Julien, so he can't be accused of ripping off anyone's work but his own.) The film has some terrific locations, with primary action filmed in and around Paris and Marseille. In fact, even the interiors appear to shot in actual locations - there is nary a studio shot to be found.
The real joy of watching The Destructors (unfortunately, the title sounds like a Marvel comic), which ably directed by Robert Parrish, is the chemistry between Quinn and Caine, two old pros with different onscreen personas who play marvelously off each other. Add in the always-wonderful James Mason and a very winning performance by the sensual Alexandra Stewart, and the film emerges as one that should have certainly met with a better reception than it enjoyed at the time. There are some other aspects to recommend including the literate script by Judd Bernard and a good score by the reliable Roy Budd. Hell, there's even an impressive cameo by Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy's scriptwriter!
Reversible sleeve poster art.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it looks terrific. Bonus features are the original trailer and a trailer for Michael Caine's third and final Harry Palmer spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, also available from Kino. The latter trailer appears to be a work print that has been making the rounds for years, as it lacks any credits or even the film's title. A nice additional bonus is the inclusion of a great mini poster for The Destructors on the reverse side of the Blu-ray sleeve.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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“Bad Man’s River” (1971) may be one of the most-unappreciated
spaghetti westerns that Lee Van Cleef ever made. This bizarre comedy-western
directed by Eugenio Martin (as Gene Martin) languished for a long time in the dollar
DVD bin at your local video store after having fallen into public domain. Most
reviews indicate that the DVD was a mess, and that the movie itself was one of
the worst films Martin, and Van Cleef ever had anything to do with. Well,
thankfully, Kino Lorber has rescued “Bad Man’s River” from the video trash heap
and released a good wide-screen transfer of the movie on Blu-ray. It may not be
among Van Cleef’s top ten all-time best movies, but it isn’t that bad either.
In fact, it’s pretty entertaining.
Martin, best known for the cult-horror classic, “Horror
Express” (1972), worked from a script by Hollywood veteran Philip Yordan.
Yordan previously had turned out some great screenplays for blockbusters like
“El Cid,” and “King of Kings”, cult favorites such as “Johnny Guitar,” film
noirs such as “The Big Combo” and “The Chase” (reviewed by Cinema Retro on May
13, 2016), and dozens of others. For “Bad Man’s River,” it appears that Yordan
decided to write a story that was basically a Looney Tunes send-up of the usual
spaghetti western plot. In essence, this comes down to: one character double
crosses another and they both get double crossed by somebody else, and on it
goes until the big gundown at the finale. In this case it’s a woman who does
all the double dealing, and what a woman she is—Gina Lollabrigida.
Van Cleef plays bank robber Roy King. He and the three
members of his gang (which includes Gianni Garko as Ed, Simon Andreu as Angel,
and Jess Hahn as Odie) rob a bank by digging underground up into the vault.
They make their getaway by train and split up, after which Roy runs into the
beautiful Alicia (Lollabrigida). She knows he’s got some loot, so she convinces
him to marry her on the train. (She conveniently happens to travel with a
preacher.) After the ceremony, she asks him if there was any insanity in his
family. Martin pulls the camera back from a tight close up of Roy and we see
he’s in a straight-jacket. Next thing he knows he’s in a mental institution. (See
what I mean by Looney Tunes?) But it’s no problem. He’s a dynamite expert and blasts
his way out of the funny farm and rejoins his former gang members to pull
another job. Turns out the woman behind a plan to blow up the Mexican
government’s stash of munition’s hidden in an old mission, is none other than Alicia.
She’s married to a Mexican politician now named Francisco Paco Montero (Daniel
Martin). When Roy first reunites with Alicia she says, “I’ve been expecting
you.” Roy says, “I had a hard day at the office.” She says “It’s big of you not
have hard feelings.” And he replies, as he’s taking off his clothes, “Your need
was greater” as he hops into the sack with her.
She introduces him to her new husband and they plan the
job, for which Roy and his gang will make ten grand. They blow up the mission
but guess what? There’s no ten grand. Alicia explains the real plan to Roy. Now that they’ve blown up the munitions, the
Mexican government will send $1 million to Montero ostensibly to buy more guns.
But of course, once they got the money they’ll all split it up. But there’s yet
another twist when Roy discovers the guy who was supposed to be Montero really
wasn’t. He was a double. The real Montero is James Mason, with one of the worst
Spanish accents ever preserved on film. He sounds like a Mexican by way of
So at this point we’re only two-thirds of the way through
the movie. The rest involves more double crosses, that include the leader of
the Mexican Revolutionaries, Col. Enrique Fierro (Sergio Fantoni), who falls
another victim of Alicia’s charms. It all sounds pretty tedious, but if you
roll with it, and take it for the satire that it at least tries to be, you can
get some laughs out of it.
Van Cleef does well with this rare stab at comedy, even sporting a
dorky hair piece and a derby. It seems like everyone had a pretty good time
making the movie. Lollabrigida was a bit past her prime, but still sexy and just
the right age for Van Cleef. She’s very convincing as a femme fatale of whom
one character says: “She isn’t afraid of anything, except poverty.”
Kino Lorber presents the film in a 2.45:1 widescreen
aspect ratio, which does justice to the 35mm print shot in Franscope. The audio
is an adequate 2.0 lossless mono soundtrack. The eccentric soundtrack by Waldo de los Rios,
which includes everything from rock music to abarbershop quartet, is
well-presented. A lot of people
criticized Rios’s music but I thought it fit the totally wacky premise of the
whole movie, which I suppose you could sum up as “Cherchez la femme”—spaghetti western-style.
If you wonder why we at Cinema Retro consider the 1960s the true "Golden Age" of movie making, just take a gander at this page from a Canadian newspaper in 1966 and consider the diverse number of popular films that were showing during the same week: Dean Martin as Matt Helm in "The Silencers", James Coburn as "Our Man Flint", Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell in "The Trouble With Angels", "The Sound of Music", a reissue of "A Hard Day's Night", "Carry on Cleo", "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" and reissues of Vincent Price in "Tomb of Ligeia" and Richard Kiel in "Eegah". We're not making the case that these were all classics but we will make the case that they were all fine entertainment- which is why films such as these live on in the pages of Cinema Retro magazine.
Impulse Pictures, which specializes in salvaging erotic feature films from the dustbins of our memories, has resuscitated "The Little Blue Box", a 1979 production that feature's a "Who's Who" of adult film stars from the era. Jennifer Welles, one of the most popular actresses of the genre during the 1970s and 1980s, has a dual role that actually requires an attempt at displaying some acting chops. She acquits herself fairly well but it becomes immediately apparent that she wasn't cast because someone felt she was the heiress to Katharine Hepburn. The story opens in the apartment of a young couple, John (John Leslie) and his wife Jen (Jennifer Welles). There is already some tension between them. Seems that the spark has gone out of their love life. John is consistently pre-occupied with his profession as a writer and spends all day pounding typewriter keys (although it's never made clear what, exactly, he is writing and for whom.) Jen, on the other hand, has been radicalized by her obsession with a "Women's Lib" group she participates in. She's become a humorless nag who views everything John does from the context of how it indicates he is insensitive to women. One day while Jen is at work, the doorbell rings and John finds himself face-to-face with Miss Azure (Welles in her dual screen role). She's vivacious and seductive so John immediately let's her in. Seems Miss Azure is peddling a remarkable blue electronics box that allows you to watch porn on your television. (This remarkable invention of the future is better known now as on demand streaming.) Nevertheless in an era when few households had VCRS, the idea of watching erotic movies at home was a welcome development for many people. However, before things can really get started, Jen returns home and tosses Miss Azure out of the apartment. Nevertheless, John invites her back the next day and Miss Azure shows him why the blue box is actually worth the $3,000 price tag: you don't just view standard porn films through it: you create your own. The box has ability to transport the owner into the TV set where he or she can live out their wildest fantasies. It doesn't take John long to write out a check and -Presto!- he and Miss Azure are now involved in a full-out orgy that includes Jen's girlfriend from upstairs (Leslie Bovee). Jen returns home at a seemingly inopportune time only to find the image of her hubby engaging in some down and dirty activities on the TV set. He fails to heed her warnings to stop and before she knows it, she is included in the orgy. As these things usually go, she finds the experience liberating and everyone gets into the groove.
"The Little Blue Box", unlike similar productions of the era, doesn't try to capitalize on location shooting. The entire film is set in the claustrophobic confines of an apartment. However, the movie does include some familiar names from the era in addition to John Leslie and Jennifer Welles. There are appearances by ubiquitous performers such as Leslie Bovee, Jamie Gillis, Sharon Mitchell and one of the first genuine "cougars", Gloria Leonard. Asian actress Ming Toy, who only made four adult feature films, makes a few memorable appearances. "The Little Blue Box" is one of the better efforts from the era largely because the "Twilight Zone"-like premise provides some genuinely amusing scenarios in addition to the erotic elements that are, indeed, erotic.
The Impulse release has been tidied up to a degree but still boasts enough of a rough look to bring back memories for anyone who indulged in these films during their original showings. There are no bonus features.
You have to hand it to ol' Jack Warner- he knew a good thing when he saw it and he also had an uncanny ability to replicate success. Following the Oscar-winning triumph of Warner Brothers' "Casablanca" in 1942, Warner, as the main mogul of the studio that bore his family's name, managed to capture lightning in a bottle again. Warner recognized that the unique chemistry among key cast members resulted in the success of "Casablanca". Not only had Humphrey Bogart proven to be credible as a romantic leading man but he was surrounded by some remarkable supporting actors: Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre among them. His first priority was to re-assemble much of the cast for another WWII-themed film project. Warner was a master at milking the same cow when it came to cinematic success stories. Following the success of "The Maltese Falcon", he quickly cobbled together "Across the Pacific" for "Falcon" stars Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Now Warner had Bogart, Greenstreet, Rains and Lorre in mind for "Passage to Marseille", which would not-so-coincidentally be directed by Michael Curtiz, who had helmed "Casablanca". For good measure, Warner ensured the film would also benefit from a score by that film's esteemed composer, Max Steiner. For good measure, Warner cast actress Michele Morgan as the female lead. Morgan had originally been considered for the role of Bogart's lover in "Casablanca", but the part ultimately went to Ingrid Bergman. Topping things off, Warner peppered the new film with appearances by other reliable alumni from "Casablanca" in supporting roles- and even made sure he had a character in a Bogart-like hat and trenchcoat meeting up with Claude Rains on an airport runway! For all his enthusiasm about the project, "Passage" was a troubled production. It had been kicking around the studio for quite some time and had been in pre-production a full six months before filming began. Additionally, Humphrey Bogart was not enthused about the movie and argued with Warner that he would rather star in a film titled "Conflict". Warner had demanded that Bogart drop out of that production to star in "Passage" with the intention of replacing him with Jean Gabin. Ultimately a compromise was reached and Bogart would eventually star in "Conflict", but not until 1945.
The film is based upon a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were best known for writing "Mutiny on the Bounty". As with that film, this one deals with a troubled ocean voyage and a mutiny. The plot is very wide-ranging and employs the unusual device of relating events as flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Although director Curtiz does manage to keep things comprehensible, the bouncing back and forth between time periods does require the viewer to pay close attention. The film opens at a secret Free French air base located in rural England. A reporter, Manning (John Loder), is doing a story about the efforts of the Free French forces to help free their homeland of German occupation. He meets with the commander of the base, Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains), who briefs him about military operations and takes him to the runway area where pilots are readying for another bombing run over occupied France, the irony of which finds the pilots having to destroy parts of their own country in order to free it. A particular, somber pilot catches Manning's eye. Freycinet explains he is Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart) and he relates his remarkable tale to the reporter. Matrac was the publisher of a political gazette in France that was critical of what he felt was the government's appeasement policies towards Nazi Germany in the months before the war broke out. Ignoring warnings to tone down his criticisms, Matrac continues to criticize elected officials but he pays a steep price for his courage. Government-hired goons raid his offices and destroy the place, killing a man in the process. Matrac is then framed for the man's murder and he finds himself on the lam with his lover Paula (Michele Morgan). With the police closing in, the couple marries shortly before Matrac is finally arrested. He is sent to the French penal colony known as Devil's Island where he and his fellow inmates suffer inhumane abuses and backbreaking work in dangerous swamps. Matrac and four fellow convicts are approached by an elderly fellow French inmate, Granpere (Vladimir Sokoloff) who can arrange for them to make a daring escape by boat- on the proviso that they promise to fight to free France from German forces. The men agree and make their escape but become becalmed in the Caribbean. They are rescued by a steamer ship captained by Freycinet, who immediately suspects the men are actually escaped convicts and discounts their story about being fishermen who were trying to return to fight the Germans. Also suspicious is the obnoxious martinet, Major Duval (Sydney Greenstreet), who represents the French military presence on the vessel. Duval is a turncoat who is demanding that the ship keep on its original course and return to France, where he intends to collaborate with the German government. This doesn't sit well with Freycinet and the escaped convicts, who lead a mutiny that overcomes Duval and his men. The ship then sails to freedom in England where both Freycinet and Matrac join the Free French forces. However, Matrac is a haunted and despondent man because his beloved wife and their young son he has never seen continue to reside under German occupation. Every time he flies with his crew on a bombing mission over France he makes a detour on the way home so that he can fly over their farm and drop a personal message to them.
The wide-ranging scope of the story keeps things moving at a fast clip despite the convoluted plot and abundance of supporting characters. Bogart is grim and somber throughout, with none of his trademark quips or wiseguy cracks on display. The fact that he is playing a Frenchman is a major distraction because he keeps all the Bogart mannerisms in place. He gives a solid performance but isn't believable at all as a French nationalist. Fortunately, his co-stars such as Peter Lorre (as a fellow convict), Greenstreet and Rains are more convincing. There are engrossing scenes in the penal colony (actually California locations) and some very interesting characters that populate the goings-on. There is also an exciting action sequence that takes place when the convicts lead a mutiny but a technical flaw finds the steamer ship rock solid in the water, apparently oblivious to any movement the waves or rolling of the ocean might seem to cause. Rains is as solid and commanding as ever, Lorre and Greenstreet chew the scenery as only they can and Morgan makes for a perfectly suitable romantic interest for Bogart. "Passage to Marseilles" isn't a classic- and it's sentimental final sequence is telegraphed almost from frame one- but it is solid entertainment with a sterling cast.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray ports over all the intoxicating extras from the DVD special edition. They include:
Trailer for the Errol Flynn WWII thriller "Uncertain Glory"
A historical discussions with scholars about the role of the Free French in WWII
A compilation of gag reels and bloopers from vintage WB movies that is more interesting than amusing.
A Chuck Jones WWII-themed cartoon "The Weakly Reporter" that centers on wartime deprivations and rationing.
"Jammin' the Blues", a Oscar-nominated short that showcases African-American jazz greats in concert
"I Won't Play", a corny short film depicting American G.Is in the Pacific, one of whom alienates the men in his unit because of his constant bragging about his musical prowess and his friendship with a major female film star (who just happens to pop by in the jungle to entertain them!)
Various vintage newsreels including one cringe-inducing short that depicts attractive WACs being shown military training techniques in an era long before women would prove they could do these things as well as men. Here, the young ladies are treated like fish-out-of-water, afraid to break their heels while giggling at the obstacles the men have to overcome in training.
In all, an irresistible package for any retro movie lover.
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Issue #36, the final issue of Season 12 of Cinema Retro, has now shipped worldwide.
Highlights of this issue include:
Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Professionals" starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode and Jack Palance.
*Mark Mawston with a rare exclusive interview with 70's sex siren Linda Hayden
*Cai Ross takes a bite at covering the underrated 1979 version of "Dracula" starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier
*John LeMay uncovers the top secret story of the unfilmed "Romance of the Pink Panther" that was to have starred Peter Sellers.
*Peter Cook continues his celebration of matte painting artists
*Tim Greaves uncovers the fascinating career of British "Sex Queen" Mary Millington
*Mark Mawston concludes his interviews with legendary stills photographer Keith Hamshere, who recalls shooting "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and the James Bond films
*Lee Pfeiffer's personal tribute to the late Euan Lloyd, producer of such films as "The Wild Geese" and "Shalako"
*Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau burn up the Old West in "Viva Maria!"
Raymond Benson's Ten Best Films of 1955
*Darren Allison's latest soundtrack news
*Gareth Owen's "Pinewood Past" column
If you have not yet subscribed for Season 12, you can still do so and get all three issues: #34, #35 and #36. Thanks to all of our subscribers worldwide who continue to support classic cinema in print! (As a reminder to our London readers, the Cinema Store is now sadly defunct. However, you can ensure that you never miss an issue by simply subscribing!)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
The World’s leading James Bond tribute band, Q The Music,
are set to broadcast their next major public event across the world; streamed
on the web in November 2016. They are crowd-funding the project by
selling advanced copies of the stream, as well as DVDs and CDs of the show.
On 27th November, the show returns to The Harlington Theatre in Fleet, Hampshire (UK) – following a sell- out show last year. Ramping
things up this year, the show have added a live String section to the
performance and will be using Nic Raine’s String arrangements. Musical
Director Warren Ringham explained: “Nic Raine is widely regarded as the leading
arranger and orchestrator of Bond music – and after all, he was John Barry’s
orchestrator, working on A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights – so this is
a really exciting for us to be teaming up with him.”
For those who can’t be at The Harlington in person, Q The
Music’s electric and awe-inspiring performance will be available right to
spectator’s homes; streams of the show will be on the web 24 hours later. In
addition, DVDs and CDs will be on sale. “This is something we have
wanted to do for a number of years. We have followers all over the
World who ask about seeing us live, and now they can! We have
already sold streams to the US, Germany, Netherlands, Thailand, South Africa
and of course, the UK.”
As well as the concert itself, the stream is going to be
hosted Chris Wright, a co-presenter of the hugely popular podcast James Bond
Radio. “I’m so happy and excited to have Chris there. As
well as becoming a good friend, he is a huge fan of our show (having seen it
himself), so this will be a great opportunity to team up. Chris is
going to be circulating ‘round the theatre chatting to cast and crew, and also
getting reaction from the crowd at the event.”
The show is being recorded, filmed and mixed by Mark Forster and his company
Worldwide Productions. Mark himself worked at Abbey Road Studios and
was involved and worked on the last three James Bond film soundtrack
The show, on Sunday 27th November, still has limited
tickets available for sale if you want to go in person on: www.theharlington.co.uk
"Gun the Man Down" is yet another Poverty Row low-budget Western shot during an era in which seemingly every other feature film released was a horse opera. Supposedly shot in nine days, the film is primarily notable for being the big screen directing debut of Andrew V. McLaglen, who would go on to be a very respected director who specialized in Westerns and action films. The movie also marked the final feature film for James Arness before he took on the role of Marshall Matt Dillon in TV's long-running and iconic "Gunsmoke" series. After failing to achieve stardom on the big screen, Arness found fame and fortune in "Gunsmoke" when John Wayne recommended him for the part. Wayne had been championing Arness for years and provided him with roles in some of his films. Following "Gunsmoke"'s phenomenal run, Arness seemed content to stay with TV and had another successful series, "How the West Was Won". John Wayne was one of the first actors to successfully launch his own production company, Batjac, which produced this film and Wayne's influence is felt in the project. Andrew V. McLaglen was the son of Wayne's good friend and occasional co-star Victor McLaglen. The screenplay was written by Burt Kennedy, who Wayne would later hire to direct several of his own films. The movie provided young Angie Dickinson with her first role of substance and she would reunite with Wayne years later on Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo". Speaking of which, another Wayne favorite, character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez appears in both films. Also in the cast is Harry Carey Jr. , son of Wayne's idol and and personal friend, Harry Carey. The cinematography is by William Clothier, who would lens many of Wayne's later movies and the film was produced by Duke's brother, Robert Morrison. "Gun the Man Down" is very much a Wayne family affair.
The film opens with three fleeing bank robbers: Rem Anderson (James Arness), Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Ralph Farley (Don MeGowan), who arrive at their hide-a-way cabin with the law in hot pursuit. Rem has been seriously wounded and Rankin makes the decision to leave him behind. Rem's girl, Jan (Angie Dickinson), objects at first but Rankin convinces her to go with them in part because they have $40,000 in loot from the local bank. The law arrives at the cabin and arrests Rem. He is nursed back to health and is offered a deal for a light sentence if he helps track down his confederates. Rem refuses and does his time in prison. Upon release, he begins his mission vengeance and tracks Rankin, Ralph and Jan to a one-horse town where Rankin has used his ill-gotten gains to open a profitable saloon. Upon discovering Rem is in town, Rankin hires a notorious gunslinger, Billy Deal (Michael Emmet), to assassinate him. Jan has a tense reunion with Rem and seeks his forgiveness but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Rem emerges victorious over Billy Deal and Rankin, Ralph and Jan flee town with Rem in pursuit. Their final confrontation takes place in a remote canyon with tragic consequences.
Given the film's meager production budget, "Gun the Man Down" is a surprisingly mature and engrossing Western with intelligent dialogue and interesting characters. (In addition to those mentioned, there is a fine performance by Emile Meyer as the town sheriff). Arness projects the kind of macho star power that Wayne had and Dickinson acquits herself very well as the stereotypical saloon girl with a heart of gold. The film, ably directed by McLaglen, runs a scant 76 minutes and was obviously designed for a quick playoff and fast profit. It has largely been lost to time but the Olive Blu-ray release puts in squarely in the realm of hidden pleasures. Fans of traditional Westerns will find nothing very new or innovative here, but the film does hold up as solid entertainment. The Blu-ray includes the original trailer.
Drive-In was shot in Sydney, Australia in 1986 by English-born Brian
Trenchard-Smith. One of the most significant sparks in Ozploitation cinema
during the 70s and 80s, the director’s renown stems predominantly from his
knack for turning relatively scant budgets into expensive looking pictures with
sharp teeth and blistering attitude. Set in the (then) near future – which is now
some quarter of a century in the past – the film ushers its audience into the
midst of a society that's gone to hell in a handcart; the economy has collapsed,
food is in short supply, unemployment is rife...the latest movie blockbuster is
Sylvester Stallone's Rambo 8: Rambo Takes
Russia! Welcome to a garish neon-lit nightmare, awash with Day-Glo
graffiti, where looters and violent wastrels rule the night, cruising in
souped-up stock cars, exploiting the impotence of the authorities and leaving a
trail of mayhem and destruction in their wake.
One evening Jimmy 'Crabs’
Rossinni (Ned Manning) takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to a movie
at the local Star Drive-In theatre. Claiming to be unemployed at the gate in
order to score tickets on the cheap proves to be a big mistake. While Jimmy and
Carmen are making out on the back seat of the car, someone absconds with a
couple of their wheels and they find themselves stuck there for the night. With
the dawn comes the revelation of the establishment's true purpose and the awful
realisation of the gravity of their situation; they have been deliberately confined
in an electric-fence-ringed prison, a hovel where the Government incarcerates
the unemployed populace. Patrolled by police, it's practically a self-contained
township where the inmates are supplied with copious junk food, beer and music
and are thus more than content to stay put, captivity being a preferable
alternative to the starvation and certain death they’d face out on the streets.
Carmen, having fled her home and being something of a loner by nature,
immediately begins to fit in. But Jimmy is determined to escape, no matter the
Tautly directed by
Trenchard-Smith from a Peter Smalley script, fans of vehicular mayhem are
certainly well catered for with Dead-End
Drive-In, especially during an 11th hour chase around the Star’s parking
lot and a spectacular climactic stunt; one imagines that a fair old chunk of
the budget was expended on that alone. But although it all ends on a note of
hope and a truly grand amen, the movie as a whole makes for pretty bleak
viewing (which, to be fair, is a common denominator in most films that envisage
a dystopian future). With its cast of bizarre and feral characters and distinctive
lensed-in-the-80s vibe, Dead-End Drive-In
sits comfortably alongside the era’s top end Troma product (which, I hasten to
add, is intended as a compliment), and there's some amusement to be had in that
the films beaming out of the Star's projection bunker include a couple of
Trenchard-Smith's earlier Ozploitationers, 1982's Turkey Shoot and (this writer's pick from the director’s CV) the cracking
1975 actioner The Man from Hong Kong.
Ned Manning doesn't make for
the likeliest hero figure, yet although he’s scrawny to the point that even his
mother puts him down, he ably steps up to the plate when the moment comes. As
his girlfriend Carmen, Natalie McCurry is gorgeousness incarnate; crowned Miss
Australia in 1989, the actress tragically passed away in 2014 at the age of
just 48. The real scene stealer here, however, is smooth-talking Peter Whitford
as the Star's sly manager, Thompson, who befriends Jimmy but ultimately turns
out to be far from the amiable soul he first appears.
Light on narrative
development but heavy on sleazy atmosphere and flashy action, viewers who like
their post-apocalyptic movies rough around the edges and teeming with
quirkiness are sure to get a rapid-fire buzz from Dead End Drive-In.
The film arrives on Blu-ray
in the UK from Arrow and it’s a worthy upgrade of their DVD release, which appeared
three years ago. A brand new 2K restoration using the original film elements, the
transfer is very impressive indeed with only occasional traces of vertical
scratching in evidence. The deal sweeteners comprise a commentary from the
always interesting Trenchard-Smith, the director’s 1973 TV documentary “The Stuntmen”
(49m), his disturbing 1978 public information film about the dangers of hospital
patients sneaking an illicit cigarette – “Hospitals Don't Burn Down” (24m) –
plus an original release trailer and a short gallery of still images (intercut
with textual information) depicting graffiti art created for the film by