of silver-age horror and sci-fi are likely rejoicing that 1958’s The Monster of Piedras Blancas has, at
long last, crossed over to the digital realm. The film’s first and only previous commercial issue was a much
sought-after out-of-print 1990 VHS release on Republic Pictures Home
Video. This new Blu-Ray version from the
folks at Olive Films has made this film, long desired by collectors, available once
again – this time in a stunningly beautiful and virtually flawless monochrome
dismissed as a second rate low-budget reimagining of Universal’s Studio’s Creature from the Black Lagoon – this Vanwick
Productions film, reportedly made at a cost of a mere $30,000 – is an
unassuming little gem. There’s plenty to
enjoy here if you’re a buff of 1950s science-fiction, with its cheesecake damsels-in-distress
and loathsome rubber-suited monsters. Directed by Irvin Berwick, a freshman helmsman with no résumé in this
capacity, The Monster of Piedras Blancas
is an unpretentious good old-fashioned creature feature ripe for rediscovery.
black and white film is set in the sleepy seaside village of Piedras Blancas,
where the bodies of two headless, blood-drained fishermen are found on
shore. (For you sticklers, while there
is an actual Piedras Blancas on the Golden State coast, the film was primarily
photographed at a lighthouse near Point Conception and around the town of
Cayucus, both in northern California). With
no town morgue to speak of, the town constable George (Forrest Lewis) and Dr.
Samuel Jorgensen (Les Tremayne) arrange to have the bodies stored – against both
the health code and good sense, I would think - in the ice room of Kochek’s
Meat and Groceries market. This was
probably a poor decision as the storekeeper, the doom-saying villager Mr.
Kochek (Frank Arvidson), has already mocked the police department’s contention that
the fishermen were killed when their boat went into the rocks during a wild
squall. The wary storekeeper doesn’t buy
this official ruling for a moment and – much to the anger of town officials – continues
to scare his already frightened customers when he mysteriously advises they
need only “look up the history of this village” to discern what the real cause of the recent trouble is.
is at particular loggerheads with the wiry Mr. Sturges (John Harmon), the
curmudgeonly keeper of the village lighthouse. Sturges is an isolated-by-choice, painfully secretive loner who only
visits town to collect groceries and, more oddly, gather meat scraps for an
undisclosed purpose. This week the meat
scraps Kochek usually saves for him were given to another customer to feed
their dogs. This revelation causes the prickly
relationship between the two already grumpy old men to completely sour. Though Kochek possesses few admirable
qualities, the self-contained Sturges might exhibit even fewer. In the presence of Lucy (Jeanne Carmen), Sturges’
comely daughter, even the town sheriff sighs that the grim and combative lighthouse
keeper is “the most unfriendly man I ever knew.”
also the most mysterious. Following the unexplained
death of his wife ten years earlier, we learn Sturges sent young Lucy away to
boarding school, fearful of her traipsing along the sand and rocky beachside
cliffs of Piedras Blancas. Now back in
town while on summer break from college, the girl has taken a counter-person
position at a local luncheonette. She’s
relatively happy now as she’s managed to attract a handsome beau Fred (Don
Sullivan), who is visiting Piedras Blancas on an oceanographic research mission.
Though the two would share a passionate From
Here to Eternity clinch in the rough surf early in the movie, I would
imagine it was to Fred’s disappointment that he was not present when the
shapely Lucy chose to shed all of her clothes for a solo skinny dip near dusk. While enjoying her nude swim an articulated reptilian
arm steals an article of her clothing from the rocks. Her father is – as is his custom – not
particularly pleased to learn of his daughter’s unsanctioned paddle near the restricted
cliffs. He had earlier cautioned that the
eerie acreage surrounding the lighthouse is “a lonely place to get to after
dark.” Upon hearing his daughter express
concern that she sensed someone – or something – had been watching her during
her naked frolic in the cove, the father would scold – as any reasonable Dad would,
I guess – “I don’t know what they teach you in college these days, but it’s not
course Lucy’s free-spirited ways are a less pressing problem to villagers than
the fact that the tally of headless and bloodless bodies has been spiraling
upward in recent days. Something
resembling a fish gill is found on one corpse, causing Fred and Dr. Jorgensen
to suspect that if a sea-monster is terrifying the village, it’s likely an
evolutionary aberration; perhaps a diplo-vertebrate,
a presumed “mutation of the reptilian family.” (As an aside, I Googled the term
“diplo-vertebrate” thinking it was a simply a pseudo-science invention of Piedras Blancas screenwriter C. Haile
Chace. Surprisingly, there was a single
reference to this term found in an 1891 geological treatise, “structures… not made clear as yet their
precise relation to modern Amphibia and Reptilia.”).
any event, science eventually intersects with superstition and suddenly the
villager’s long whispered “Legend of the White Rocks” monster seems plausible
to all involved. Apparently, beachside corpses
sprinkled about aren’t anything new in Piedras Blancas: this has been going on
for years and years, and this grim tide has helped foster the belief that a
sea-monster exists within the cave fissures dotting the coastline. What follows is what you might expect: a climactic battle between man and beast atop
the tower of the imposing lighthouse. The
always most obvious suspect in the film finally admits collusion with the
creature, even reasonably offering it was probably “stupid” of him to
unintentionally wean The Monster of
Piedras Blancas from an all-seafood to an all-meat diet. Well, you can’t argue with that.
is a Saturday night popcorn movie, presented here in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio and
mono sound. The movie sports a pretty
good cast, good production values (for its low-budget) and competent direction
by a first-timer. The film’s screenplay,
while formulaic and unsurprising, is neither terrible nor groan- inducing. The monster’s scaly rubber suit – the design
usually credited to Piedras Blancas
producer Jack Kevan, who had earlier helped construct the iconic Black Lagoon
creature for Universal – is pretty impressive, with actor Sullivan later recalling
it being scarier in person than seen on film.
Films should be commended for rescuing this and other such dimly-recalled 1950s
sci-fi rarities. In recent years the
label has given respectful white-glove treatments to such desirable titles as Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956), The Colossus of New York (1958), The Invisible Monster (1950), Flying Disc Man from Mars (1950), and She Devil (1957). Could we have soldiered on with our lives
without these mostly forgotten titles not having appeared on home video in HD and
on Blu-Ray? Of course we could have…
though our lives would surely be far emptier without them.
Blood (Kenneth More) is a man with an incredible immune system and without worries.
He spends most of his time working as a human guinea pig for government departments
such as the Common Cold and Flu Research Agency. There he frustrates the men in
white coats by stubbornly refusing to catch a cold. He never gets ill, and his
secret is that he has no emotional attachments. “The minute you get into a
relationship with a woman, your guard is down and the coughing will start!”
News of this remarkable constitution gets to the scientists at N.A.A.R.S.T.I.,
the National Atomic Research Station and Technological Institute, who are
preparing to send the first maned rocket to the moon. They have previously sent
up dogs and monkeys, but owing to public complaints about cruelty to animals,
they have decided it would be far better to send a human. However, it is far
too risky to send one of their trained astronauts. After all, training is
expensive. Far better to send William Blood instead in the first rocket, and
provided he gets there in one piece, they will then send up the real
astronauts. This sounds like a fool-proof plan, but what is not accounted for
is a distraction, in the shapely form of stripper Polly (Shirley Anne Field),
who has fallen in love with him.
Blood begins his astronaut training he has to face the other jealous astronauts
lead by a young Charles Gray, who are furious that they won’t be the first on
the moon after all their preparations. However, he does have the project leader
Dr. Davidson (Michael Horden) on his side, and he goes through a rigorous
raining regime featuring extreme temperatures and G-force simulators to prepare
him for the adventure ahead.
Man in the Moon is a
delightful film with a sparkling and witty script written by Bryan Forbes and
Michael Relph. Basil Dearden’s direction is inventive and makes use of some
excellent location work at RAF Denham alongside impressive sets built at
Pinewood Studios. It is a perfect encapsulation of an England on the cusp of
great change. Blood, whizzing around in an open-topped Messerschmitt
bubble-car, is the epitome of modern man, whilst those in charge at
N.A.A.R.S.T.I. he meets are still wearing tweed and smoking pipes. His thinking
is progressive, as he has no qualms about seducing a beautiful woman whilst still
actively berating the institution of marriage. The Britain of Man in the Moon has one foot in the war
years, the other in the Atomic Age, with an endearing performance by Kenneth
More at the centre of it all.
his forty-year career, Basil Dearden made dozens of film, many of which are now
considered classics. With notable hits including Violent Playground (1958), The
Blue Lamp (1950) and The League of
Gentlemen (1960), he clearly had an affinity for film noir-style crime
dramas, and it is perhaps easy to forget that one of his early hits was
actually the early Ealing comedy The
Goose Steps Out (1942) starring Will Hay. Dearden made many films for
Ealing Studios, even contributing to the classic supernatural portmanteau Dead of Night (1945). His last film was the
supernatural mystery The Man Who Haunted
Himself (1970), frequently cited by Roger Moore as the best film he ever
made. Sadly, Dearden died in a car crash shortly after completing the film, the
accident occurring in the very spot where months earlier they had shot Roger
Moore’s character’s car crash for that film.
Man in the Moon is another release in Network Distributing’s ‘The British Film’
collection, and as such comes with little bonus material, limited to an
original trailer, image gallery and press book. Despite this reservation it is
still a superb release. The main reason for watching is to see an excellent
transfer from original elements, and like all the films in their collection, Man in the Moon is a forgotten
but entertaining gem.
perfectly fair to describe Mario Bava as something of a maverick; he is after
all, an Italian director from the golden period of Italian horror films. Much
is attributed to Bava, some even label him as the man responsible for launching
the giallo film genre and in particular the entire sub-genre of the slasher
Del Delitto (Bay of Blood) is also regarded as one of the very first slasher
movies. It was Bava’s 24th theatrical film as director and as such he
was confident in both his style and technique. Ecologia Del Delitto is arguably
one of Bava’s most violent films and featured some graphically bloody murders. The
film also boasted a strong international cast led by the beautiful French
actress Claudine Auger, best known for her role as Dominique in the James Bond
film Thunderball (1965). The film also featured Italian actress Laura Betti,
with whom Bava had enjoyed working with on Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969).
the time Ecologia Del Delitto appeared, Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani was
well adapted to the thriller score. Ecologia Del Delitto was the first of three
projects that teamed both Cipriani and Bava, the second being Gli orrori del
castello di Norimberga (Baron Blood) 1972) and lastly Cani Arrabbiati (Rabid
Dogs) (1974). Whilst all three scores have been previously released on the
excellent limited edition Digitmovies double CD from 2005 ‘Mario Bava Original
Soundtracks Anthology Volume III’ (CDDM046), the Chris' Soundtrack Corner
expanded score is fully worth the upgrade. In addition to the 37 minutes of
music previously released, the CSC release contains 11 new tracks. Christian
Riedrich explains, ‘Eleven bonus tracks of about fourteen minutes total length
are added to this album, seven of which are previously unreleased, these
include alternate takes, "wild" recordings, or edited mixes of
original takes extended by looping the music and thus doubling the length of
the track in order to offer a better listening experience. The cues are not
sequenced in film order but have been placed in an order that we believe
provides an optimum listening experience of the music apart from the
score works extremely well. There is a great deal of emphasis on percussion,
tribal drums in particular are used to provide an uneasy, atonal quality which
conjures up a genuine sense of foreboding. Yet, in listening to Cipriani you
can pretty well guarantee you’re never too far from a beautiful melody. Cipriani
seems to possess a unique ability in mixing the two styles seamlessly. Listen
for his excellent ‘lounge’ version of the main title, and you’ll be transported
to a silky soft, heavenly place via an ever so slightly threatening layer of opening
strings... it’s a perfect example of equilibrium and it works deliciously well.
newly released and extended edition of Ecologia Del Delitto has been
beautifully produced by Christian Riedrich and newly mastered by Stefan Betke. The
CD is accompanied by a 16-page illustrated booklet designed by Aletta Heinsohn
featuring detailed and exclusive notes by film music journalist Randall D.
Larson. If I had one minor gripe, I would have possibly put some of that stronger
artwork to better use for the cover illustration. The powerful poster image by
Spanish artist Jano would have pressed all the right buttons - but perhaps this
was hampered by copyright limitations. Nevertheless, it certainly shouldn’t put
you off, as Cipriani’s music remains the domineering factor.
Thirteen web sites sites that provide downloads of current movies and TV shows will be blocked by major internet providers after a key ruling in a UK court sided with complaints from the Motion Picture Assn. that such downloads are illegal and deprive studios of revenue. The sites are to be blocked within the next few days. The ruling virtually ensures that traffic to the sites will be reduced substantially. According to Variety, blocking such sites has proven to be an effective tool in the battle against video piracy, which is estimated to cost the industry hundreds of millions- and perhaps billions- of dollars a year. Studies show that when accessibility to pirated sites becomes unavailable, many consumers decide to pay for access to legal streaming services. For more click here.
Altman’s self-proclaimed “anti-western,” based on the novel McCabe by Edmund Naughton, is one
peculiar piece of cinema that fits right in with the “New Hollywood” movement
that began in the late 60s and continued through most of the next decade. At
the time, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was
considered extremely unconventional, not very audience-friendly, and quirky to
boot. Cinema-goers expecting a traditional western were bewildered, but
word-of-mouth and good reviews by younger, “hip” critics edged the picture
along to more educated and receptive viewers. Today, McCabe is generally acclaimed to be one of Altman’s best movies.
weren’t yet accustomed to the director’s methods of movie-making in 1971. M*A*S*H (1970), of course, was a huge
and popular hit. His second effort, Brewster
McCloud (also 1970), was less welcomed, although its charms are appreciated
now by the faithful (I consider it one of Altman’s better pictures). McCabe followed these, so the director’s
stylistic temperaments were still new: overlapping dialogue, improvisational acting, ensemble casting,
murky—and yet beautiful—cinematography, an unusual musical soundtrack,
anti-heroes for protagonists, and a “controlled sloppiness” of mise-en-scène. McCabe had all of these things, but it
also had two strong performances by the leads, Warren Beatty and Julie
Christie, and by the soon-to-be-familiar “Altman stock company” (Keith
Carradine, Shelley Duvall, René Auberjonois, John
Schuck, Bert Remsen, Michael Murphy, among others).
(Beatty) drifts into a ne’er-do-well mining town in the U.S. northwest
territory, circa turn of the last century—so it was still very much “western
times”—and promptly decides to show the settlers he could be an alpha dog. The
town is still in the process of being built—the only notable structures are the
church and the saloon. Not bothering to refute a rumor that he’s a gunfighter
who had killed men, McCabe sets up a brothel and begins to make serious money.
Enter Mrs. Miller (Christie), a Cockney (and opium addict) who comes to town to
start her own whorehouse. She and McCabe eventually team up and create a
class-A establishment that is actually the cleanest and most comfortable place
to hang out. Then the evil mining company arrives to buy out McCabe, and he’d
better accept—or else. McCabe turns out to be not a gunslinger at all—but he
attempts to fake it in order to save his own life, Mrs. Miller, and the town.
was nominated for Best Actress for her role, and she is quite good as the
strong woman who actually becomes the brains of the outfit. Beatty’s McCabe is
actually not a very smart guy—he’s all bravado and no substance—a character he
does well seeing that it’s out of the actor’s comfort zone. Keith Carradine
made his big screen debut in the film at the age of nineteen—he’s wonderfully
goofy and lanky as a cowboy who spends most of his time at the brothel.
Zsigmond’s photography is indeed murky; its soft focus was apparently achieved
with a pre-fogging technique on the film negative prior to exposure. On
Criterion’s new Blu-ray, the imagery looks better than I remember it did when
it was projected on a screen.
the most impressive thing about the film is production designer Leon Ericksen’s
“town” which is built before our eyes as the movie progresses. Altman employed
the builders as actors (in costumes) and they are seen in the background,
working away, as the action unfolds in front of them.
disk sports a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural
soundtrack. An audio commentary from 2002 featuring Altman and producer David
Foster accompanies the film—and it’s always a pleasure to listen to the
director talk about his films. There’s a fascinating new making-of documentary
featuring the likes of Carradine, Auberjonois, frequent Altman collaborator
Joan Tewkesbury, casting director Graeme Clifford, and others; an interesting
new video conversation between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell;
a vintage featurette about the
production; footage from the Art Directors Guild Film Society Q&A from 1999
with Ericksen; an archival interview with Zsigmond; a gallery of stills from
the set by photographer Steve Schapiro; and—perhaps the most fun—two excerpts
from The Dick Cavett Show from 1971,
one with Pauline Kael talking about the film, and the other with Altman.
There’s the obligatory trailer, and an essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel
Rich in the booklet.
line—the Criterion Collection’s latest addition to its Robert Altman line-up is
impressive and belongs on the shelf of any true cinephile.
We were very sorry to hear that Video Watchdog magazine has announced it is closing down after an astonishing run of 27 consecutive years. Publishers Tim and Donna Lucas cite soaring postage costs combined with the ever-diminishing number of bookstores and newsstands to carry the magazine. In a written statement on the Video Watchdog web site they say they have explored all possible methods of staying in print but could not find a feasible way to do so and that the future of Video Watchdog is up in the air. Over the years, the magazine has presented outstanding coverage of the latest video releases along with insightful interviews, great photos and the talents of supremely informed writers. We at Cinema Retro never viewed Video Watchdog as a competitor, but rather, an inspiration. They faced a familiar problem that all of us who publish traditional magazines in the age of new media face: the web site draws a huge number of readers but the majority of people who read it don't buy the print edition. This is true of every print publication in the world. What many readers who enjoy the web sites don't realize is that, if there isn't a magazine or newspaper to generate funds, the web site, too, will most likely go away. We at Cinema Retro continue to buck the trend but we, too, can ultimately be susceptible to the same factors that sank so many worthy film-related magazines. So many great newspapers and magazines have gone out of business because people just take a fast read of their web sites and call it a day, which is why, to survive, even great institutions like the New York Times only allow a certain number of articles to be read for free during a given month before the reader is told they have to subscribe at least to the on-line edition. So if you enjoy any web site regularly, please do support the venture behind it. On-line journalism is terrific...but there is also something special about a printed publication that you can hold in your hands and peruse at your leisure.
Tim and Donna Lucas provided outstanding insights into the world of classic and cult cinema. We sincerely hope that their considerable talents are used in a new venture to continue their valuable contributions to film journalism. Thanks also to their outstanding "supporting cast" of talented writers. We at Cinema Retro also benefit from the selfless contributions of outstanding writers around the world. Without their efforts, we wouldn't exist. We thank everyone associated with Video Watchdog for a job well done and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Released in 1966, producer Ivan Tors' Around the World Under the Sea seemed at first blush like an exercise in stunt casting: cobble together some contemporary TV favorites into a feature film and have MGM and Tors divy up the profits. However, that perception would be entirely wrong. While the film did boast some popular TV stars in leading roles, the film itself is an intelligent adventure flick, well-acted and very competently directed by old hand Andrew Marton. The film stars Lloyd Bridges (only a few years out of Sea Hunt), Brian Kelly (star of Flipper), Daktari lead Marshall Thompson and Man From U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum. Veteran supporting actors Keenan Wynn and Gary Merrill are also prominently featured and Shirley Eaton, riding her fame from Goldfinger, has the only female role in this macho male story line.
The plot finds a team of leading scientists who come together to install earthquake warning sensors on seabeds around the world. The risky mission is undertaken in the Hydronaught, a nuclear-powered state of the art submarine/science lab capable of operating at the ocean's greatest depths. The physical dangers are only part of the frustrations the team has to cope with. The presence of Eaton, as a drop-dead gorgeous scientist on board the confined all-male environment leads to inevitable jealousies and sexual tensions. (Although Tors specialized in family entertainment, even he couldn't resist a most welcome, completely gratuitous sequence in which Eaton swims around underwater in a bikini.) Unlike many films aimed at kids, Around the World Under the Sea boasts a highly intelligent screenplay that has much appeal to older audiences. The heroes are refreshingly human: they bicker, they panic and they make costly mistakes in judgment. Bridges is the stalwart, no-nonsense leader of the group, Kelly is his ill-tempered second-in-command who tries unsuccessfully to resist Eaton's charms, Wynn is his trademark crusty-but-lovable eccentric character. McCallum's Phil Volker is the most nuanced of the characters. A brilliant scientist, he can only be persuaded to join the life-saving mission by making demands based on his own personal profit. He also allows a brief flirtation with Eaton to preoccupy him to the point of making an error that could have fatal consequences for all aboard. Each of the actors gets a chance to shine with the exception of Thompson, whose role is underwritten. The scene-stealers are McCallum and Wynn, who engage in some amusing one-upmanship in the course of playing a protracted chess game. However, one is also impressed by Kelly's screen presence. He could have had a successful career as a leading man were it not for injuries he sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. (Partially paralyzed, Kelly went on to serve as producer on a number of successful film including Blade Runner.)
The film benefits from some wonderful underwater photography shot in the Bahamas, Florida and the Great Barrier Reef - all the result of a collaborative effort between the three top underwater filmmakers of the period: Jordan Klein, Ricou Browning and Lamar Boren. Although the special effects were modestly achieved, they hold up quite well today. Marton wrings some legitimate suspense out of several crisis situations including an encounter with a giant eel and a Krakatoa-like earthquake that almost spells doom for our heroes. How they escape is cleverly and convincingly played out. The movie also has a lush score by Harry Sukman (we'll leave it to you to pronounce his last name.)
Warner Archive's widescreen, region-free DVD looks very good indeed and boasts a couple of nice extras: an original production featurette and an original trailer (with Spanish sub-titles!). The company has wisely retained the magnificent poster art for the DVD sleeve.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
The word "restrained" doesn't often fit into analysis of Jerry Lewis' film career, but in Hook, Line and Sinker, a 1969 black comedy, the legendary funnyman is indeed restrained, as least in comparison to most of the characters he played. The film is an unusual entry from this period of Lewis' film work in that he did not direct the movie. Instead, George Marshall, an old hand at helming diverse films, took on that responsibility. There isn't much discernible difference in the end result and one could easily be forgiven if they were to assume that Lewis directed. He plays Peter Ingersoll, a typical middle class suburbanite who is living the American dream. He has a boring but steady 9 to 5 job as an insurance salesman, a pretty wife (Anne Francis), two polite children, a comfortable home and a devoted best friend, Scott Carter (Peter Lawford), who also happens to be his personal physician. The only consternation in the household is wife Nancy's concern about Peter's costly and self-indulgent hobby of deep sea fishing. Peter's mundane but comfortable existence comes to an abrupt end when Dr. Carter gives him the stunning news that a recent medical check-up has confirmed that he is terminally ill. Distraught and and depressed, Peter is stunned when Nancy suggests that he forsake his responsibilities as husband and father and enact an audacious plan whereby he will spend his last few months on a solo journey to exotic locations where he can spend his final days fishing. Nancy concocts a plot whereby the entire venture can be financed on credit cards that will never have to be paid. Additionally, his life insurance policy of $150,000 will ensure that his family can live in comfort (this was back in 1969, don't forget.) Peter is initially reluctant to engage in the scheme but he ultimately concedes. He ends up traveling to exotic locations as he wracks up enormous bills with carefree abandon. In Lisbon, he is shocked when Scott Carter appears unexpectedly with the news that an equipment malfunction on a medical device resulted in the wrong diagnosis. Peter isn't going to die, but has to pretend he has in order to escape prosecution for the monies owed to the credit card companies. Scott assures him that the statute of limitations last only seven years, after which he can reappear and resume his family life. By this point, the audience has long since figured out what Peter has to learn belatedly: that the entire plan has been an exercise in deceit on the part of Nancy and Scott. He discovers that the two are having an affair and that Nancy and his kids are in Lisbon, too, where they refer to his best friend as "Daddy Scott" even as their mother shares his bed. Emotionally devastated, Peter concocts a complex scheme of his own to exact revenge on his wife and friend.
Hook, Line and Sinker fares better than many of Lewis' late career big screen ventures in that the humor, characters and situations are more realistic and believable than those found in most Lewis films. The character of Peter is somewhat of a nerd and klutz but is far cry from the typical imbecile he usually portrays. Consequently, although he is dressed in a silly disguise when he discovers the deceit played upon him by those he trusts most, there is a certain genuine sadness that permeates the scene. The humor is also a bit more daring than usual, with the habitual abuse of corpses playing a central role in the plot. There are some over the top elements of the film, but for the most part it's a highly enjoyable, consistently amusing scenario well-played by an energized Lewis, who has a perfect foil in Lawford. It's really Lewis' show, however, with few memorable moments for supporting players other than Lewis perennial Kathleen Freeman, who makes a welcome appearance early in the film as the world's worst baby sitter. The actual on-location filming in Lisbon helps elevate the production values, even if the majority of the movie has clearly been shot in the studio. I'm a sucker for Jerry Lewis films, including this one, which remains one of his more successful efforts of the 1960s.
The Sony DVD is from the burn-to-order program and is region free. The transfer is top-notch but there are no extras. Sony should be a bit more generous in this area and provide at least a trailer, which we present for you here.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
mid-to-late Seventies seemed rife with films that featured sharks and the
mysterious depths of the Bermuda waters. High class entries of course included
Jaws (1975) and The Deep (1977), both of which were based upon successful
novels by Peter Benchley. For every good example, there is naturally a fair
amount of cheaper, less impressive imitations.
Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks (1978) directed by Italian Tonino Ricci,
unfortunately lands in that category.
Andres (Andrés García ) and his partner Angelica (Janet Agren ) are hired to recover some treasures
from an aircraft that has ditched into the Bermuda Triangle, they face not only
human treachery but also the mysterious powers of an underwater civilization. Ricci’s
film did very little business and came about strictly because of the Italian
film industry’s love affair with shark movies.
Tonino Ricci did have the good sense to hire Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani
to write the score. The composer was becoming more than familiar with this particular
genre with Cipriani, also scoring Il triangolo delle Bermude (The Bermuda
triangle) (1978) and Uragano sulle Bermude l'ultimo S.O.S. (Encounters in the
score for Bermude La Fossa Maledetta is quite an eclectic mixture of styles. A
great number of the tracks serve as simplistic mood setters, not unlike
standard ‘library’ samples. There is nothing in the way of a memorable lush
theme or even a stand out action piece, which is strange considering that this
is an adventure movie. There is nothing that could be described as rousing. Instead,
Cipriani uses a recurring 6 note motif in various alternative forms.
Additionally, the listener is reminded that this is indeed 1978 and with it
comes plenty of bass guitar played over a Euro/Latin disco backing track, a
style that would come to dominate many Italian films from this particular period.
Cipriani’s score sticks very much to formula, with some nice little synthesised
cues thrown in along the way.
Chris' Soundtrack Corner's complete CD gets really interesting when it reaches the bonus material.
Cipriani seemingly gains access to a rather nice (if limited) set of orchestral
musicians. As a result, the music has a much improved, almost lush appeal and
provides a complete change of direction. Mysteriously, this only occurs for a
couple of tracks before reverting back to the more familiar synthesised
approach. However, even these ‘alternate’ versions seem to carry far more
weight and even provide some threatening wordless vocals which really hype up
the atmosphere. Ultimately, one is left wishing that there were a great deal
more strings and harmonies used within the context of Cipriani’s main score.
label Digitmovies had previously released a three-score, 2-CD set that featured
18 tracks from Bermude La Fossa Maledetta - but is now long deleted.Chris' Soundtrack Corner now offers the complete
score (31 tracks in total) with an additional 26 minutes of previously
unreleased material – an element which is bound to appeal to dedicated Cipriani
collectors. Comprehensive album notes are provided by John Bender contained within
an 8-page booklet.
By 1969, Raquel Welch was at the peak of her cinematic career. Still a bit rough-around-the-edges as an actress, she nevertheless possessed a charming on-screen personality. Not surprisingly, that wasn't the aspect that movie studios chose to showcase when marketing her films. A prime example is Flareup, a 1969 thriller that heavily stressed images and clips of Welch gyrating in a sexy outfit as a go-go dancer. The fact that she is dressed in depressingly demure outfits except for this brief sequence represents something less than truth-in-advertising. Welch is Michele, a vivacious, independent minded Las Vegas strip club dancer whose best friend is murdered by her psychotic ex-husband Alan (Luke Askew). He gets away with the murder and kills another of his wife's friends, who he believes conspired to cause convince his ex to divorce him. Last on the list is Michele, who he relentless hunts. Although charismatic, Michele shows a distinct lack of common sense when it comes to self-protection. For reasons never explained, she turns down police protection and is immediately stalked by Alan. He trails her to Los Angeles, where her poor judgment flares up again (pardon the pun) when he pursues her in a high speed car chase. In the kind of logic made for "women-in-jeopardy" movies, Michele sails through the crowded streets of L.A. where she could seek help from hundreds of passersby, only to wind up in a remote and deserted section of Griffith Park where her would-be killer pursues her through a zoo. She later continues to show similar good sense by escaping from a guarded hospital room only to walk straight into the killer's next trap.
Flareup epitomizes the guilty pleasure movie, from the faux Bond-like opening credits to some laughably bad acting. The film is directed in a clunky, erratic style by James Neilson, who doesn't miss an opportunity to use a zoom lens or a cliched situation. He does succeed, however, in making the most of impressive on-location shooting in both Vegas and L.A, which at least gives the movie a feeling of authenticity. Neilson also shoots topless go go girls at L.A's famed Losers Lounge,where "King Leer" himself, Russ Meyer, is said to have scouted for well-endowed "talent" for his own movies. James Stacy is the parking lot attendant who starts a love affair with Michele and, refreshingly, this is one movie that doesn't have the male play hero to rescue his girlfriend. Michele maybe lacking in good judgment but is brave and resourceful enough to take on the killer herself. The movie does have some genuine suspense and one particularly chilling sequence in which an elderly motorist realizes that the hitchhiker he has picked up is actually a cold blooded murderer. Here, director Neilson finally distinguishes himself in an extensive sequence that is quite haunting.
The movie is good, passable fun and brings back some fond memories of the swinging Sixties. The region-free DVD from the Warner Archive contains an original trailer that emphasizes that Welch is now playing "herself", not a Mexican bandito or a cavegirl, a sly knock on her earlier films. The trailer, which is sexist enough to cause Gloria Steinem heart palpitations also presents Stacy with prominent billing- and spells his name wrong!
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
This film comes across as something of a
vanity project for Pacino, part documentary, part dramatisation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in an attempt to explore, understand and
represent the play to the common man. The film and its aims are ambitious perhaps and in great danger of hilarious
and actorly self parody in places ("It has always been a dream of mine to
communicate how I feel about Shakespeare to other people") . Although overall Pacino's film is a little confused
about what it's exact aims are, it does capture some entertaining aspects of
the creative acting and directing process.
Pacino's sincere passion for Richard III, his
earnest attempts to analyse it and make it relevant are admirable; the play is
complex and interwoven, full of scheming politics, intrigue and backstabbing. He tackles head on a number of issues
including the difficulties American actors and audiences face with the language
of Shakespeare, their overly reverential attitude toward the text (which Derek
Jacobi points out is the main stumbling block for American actors) and the fact
that the average man-on-the-street honestly just finds Shakespeare a bit
boring, amusingly illustrated in a number of vox-pops from the streets of New
The film features an impressive cast,
including performances from and interviews with Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin,
John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl
Jones, Winona Ryder, Kevin Kline, and a host of other recognisable faces; therefore,
the fly-on-the-wall documentary aspects are often the most gripping. There are some genuinely heated moments of
round-table rehearsals, revealing in terms of talent, dedication and
understanding of actors of their own art. Notable, amongst others, are Penelope Allen (Herself / Queen Elizabeth),
expressing sheer passionate outrage in a clear understanding of her character's
complexities and Alec Baldwin (Himself / Duke of Clarence) who seems drop
effortlessly and convincingly into inhabiting his character in a most understated
manner one moment, and the next making jokes between takes about being paid in
donuts. Pacino has clearly made a
directorial decision to rely on close-ups and screen actors in efforts to avoid
stagey British theatrical traditions, allowing actors to quietly and intimately
inhabit their characters, creating a more uniquely American approach to
Nonetheless, Pacino's sheer intensity and
commitment to the process of this do lead to some truly ridiculous actorly
moments here, worthy of a Christopher Guest-style parody. For example, Pacino's plan for casting is simply
to get a bunch of (famous) actors in a room with copies of the play, let people
randomly start reading out whatever parts they feel drawn to, with his intent
that "the role and the actor will merge... and hopefully the casting will
get done by itself, one way or another. Cut immediately to: room full of extremely confused actors arguing about
who's reading what part. In another
behind-the-scenes moment, Pacino's co-director attempts to explain iambic
pentameter to him; pontificating that it is "like an anteater, very high
in the back and short front legs...", leaving a bewildered Pacino
shrugging to camera. In fact, Pacino
seems unafraid to portray himself as perhaps not the most astute or perceptive
amongst his peers, admittedly finding the play "very confusing" and
full of "fancy words", expressing wide-eyed awe at Kevin Spacey's
clear understanding of the play: "You're a pretty smart guy".
The constant cutting of the film between
behind the scenes rehearsal and documentary exposition with more filmic dramatised
scenes of the play does not help with clarity for the viewer, however. The
point isn't always clear, and some of Shakespeare's text, in scenes taken out
of context at least, is not always easy to follow, plus it becomes increasingly
unclear what type of film Pacino is trying to make here. At times, it seems a lighthearted parody film
about attitudes toward Shakespeare; Kevin Kline tells a story of his earliest
memories of Richard III, having attended the play with his girlfriend: "we
made out in the back row and left in the intermission." At other times this is a documentary about American
actors struggling to understand Shakespearian motives; John Gielgud, upon being
asked why Americans find this difficult, replies, without irony: "Perhaps
they don't go to picture galleries and read books as much as we do." It becomes even less clear with what purpose
the film-within-the-film (of the cast in re-enacting Richard III in full period
costume and setting) is being made, particularly as it is filmed using the same
close-up documentary-style roving camerawork as for behind-the-scenes sections;
there is no clear visual distinction for the audience as to whether this is
rehearsal, play or final film.
With regards to the disc itself, the screener
DVD copy available at time of review had no menu screen, artwork or extras, so
it is difficult to comment on the finished article, although a recently added
commentary would be a fascinating and welcome addition. The transfer itself could have been better
also; the overall volume level seemed very quiet in comparison to most discs,
and the contrast in terms of both colour and shadows was a little washed out
This film is a bold attempt to grapple with a
number of issues, whilst trying to do justice to the play itself, perhaps
trying to do too many different things. It is a shame that the film increasingly focuses on dramatised film-within-a-film
scenes when it is the behind-the-scenes documentary struggle that really
provides the most fascinating aspects here. In fact, in true Shakespearian fashion, the wisest and most
heartbreaking words of the entire film come from the mouth of a homeless,
toothless, beggar interviewed ad-hoc in the streets of New York: "...if we
think words are things, and we have no feelings in our words...it doesn't mean
anything. But if we felt what we said,
we'd say less and mean more. [wanders
away from camera to a passerby] Spare some change?"
a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work over the past twenty years—“the heart
wants what the heart wants.” The writer/director (and, now, only occasionally
an actor) has lately tackled this topic with varying results. You have to hand
it to him, though—the guy has consistently made more or less a movie a year
since 1969. There have to be a few clinkers in there—even Hitchcock had some.
Luckily for us, though, Café Society is a pretty good entry in Allen’s canon—not
one of the masterpieces of yesteryear, but it’s probably the best thing he’s
done since the excellent award-winning Midnight
Café Society is a period piece that takes place mostly in
Hollywood in the 1930s, and therein lies much of its charm—the production
design and costumes, along with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, immediately
provides eye candy that looks fabulous in high definition. Fans of American
cinema history will find a lot to admire in the picture’s references to old
story is familiar territory. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody-surrogate this time
around, playing New Yorker Bobby, who goes to L.A. to get a job at the studio
run by his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). There, he meets a secretary, Veronica
(Kristen Stewart), and falls in love. Little does he know that she is involved
with Uncle Phil. Another woman named Veronica (Blake Lively) enters the tale a
little later, when Bobby is back in New York. In short, Café Society is a love story that
spans several years with a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-another
girl, boy-runs-into-first-girl-again plot structure.
are laughs, to be sure, but overall the film projects a bittersweet,
melancholic mood that is disarming for a Woody Allen film. Is the ending a
happy one? That’s not a guarantee; in this case what the heart wants may not be
what’s best for the heart.
performances are of high caliber, especially those of Stewart and Lively. The
former creates a deeply conflicted character in Veronica 1, while the latter
lights up the screen as Veronica 2. Parker Posey is always a welcome addition,
and Corey Stoll, as Bobby’s mobster brother, is hilarious.
a solid 3-out-of-4 stars Woody Allen flick. The one thing that definitely could
have been deleted was the voice-over narration (delivered by Woody himself),
which is unnecessary and, at times, annoying.
with most home video releases of the director’s pictures, the Lionsgate Blu-ray
(packaged with a DVD and digital copy) comes with little in the way of
supplements. In this case, there’s only two-minutes of “red carpet footage” and
a trailer—but the feature film is a little gem.
The first two people in my life who
taught me to think deeply about social and political issues and argue cogently
and passionately for what I believed in were my late father David and Norman
94-year-old entertainment icon is the subject of a terrific American Masters
documentary: Norman Lear- Just Another Version of You, which premieres nationwide Tuesday,
October 25, 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS.
Speaking from his home in Los Angeles about both the documentary and his
masterful 2014 autobiography, Even This I Get to Experience, he still has an energy level
that would put people a quarter of his age to shame.
“People think when you’re over 90 you’ve
changed. It’s everyone else who’s
changed. Suddenly I’m extremely wise,” Lear says. Charming and reflective, he explains why he
wears the white hat that has become his favorite article of clothing and his
He has never lost
his childlike view of the world. “I’ve
never been in any situation, no matter how tragic, where I didn’t see the humor
in it. Human beings are all foolish-
that knits us all together.”
When asked what the secret to creating
loving and enduring characters and family on television, he said: “My bumper sticker just outside on my car
reads “just another version of you.” I think the question is best answered by
that deepest of philosophies- I truly believe that as humans sharing our human
commonalities we are versions of one another despite our ethnicities, our skin
colors, or the country we may have been born in.”
“It seems to me when I look at the LGBT
issue and see how far it has moved, whether socially, legally, or politically, and
then I look at divisions in between races and I haven’t seen the same movement. Maybe that’s the next big movement, that the
race movement leaps forward the way the LGBT movement has.”
Lear and the late Maya Angelou shared a
concern that America was losing touch with its humanity. A national icon for hope, when asked whether
he was more worried about the American people 40 years ago or now, he said: “I’d
like to be the touchstone for hope that Trump is for lack of hope. He is gathering all of those people who are
suffering as a result of the fact that we have little if not a long way to go,
making for a culture where everyone has equal opportunity, and he is helping
those that do not enjoy equal opportunity that villains are keeping them from getting
and he is the hero.”
“Donald Trump is the middle finger of the
American right hand- they do not have leadership in any direction. If you look at the auto industry, there is
the airbag problem, in pharmaceuticals, the EpiPens, if you’re looking at
banking it’s Wells Fargo, and if you’re looking at politics, it’s Donald
Trump. It’s a very difficult place to be
if you’re broke and out of a job or you have a good job and two kids in school
and can no longer afford to live where you’re living.”
Connecticut, Lear learned to love America through the eyes of his immigrant
Jewish grandfather. “At nine, I was forced to become an adult,” he said when
his father went to jail. “But that kid
remained inside me for the rest of my life.”
A World War II
hero, he started writing during the early days of television, for Dean Martin
and Jerry Lewis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Frank Sinatra.
was part of the transitional generation from American Jews to Jewish
Americans. Proud, fiercely loyal and
carrying a sense of purpose and cultural and religious commitment to justice
that permeated their work.
In the 1970s, Lear singlehandedly
changed television with All in the Family, which became a platform for social discussion and reform. Norman Lear revolutionized the sitcom, taking the
American family from the
antiseptic and idealized to the contentious and
dysfunctional. He was the first to hold
up the mirror and share social issues through the sitcom format. Until Lear, mainstream television did
not carry Vietnam protests.
Living in London,
his partner, Bud Yorkin sent him a tape of a show called Till Death do us
Part. “The father was conservative; the
son was progressive. I went with that
relationship and never lived to regret it.”
That show became
All in the Family, which starred Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, the bigoted
patriarch of a Queens New York working class family, who was constantly at odds
with his college student son-in-law, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), whom he referred
to as “Meathead” for his progressive views. The first show began with a disclaimer: “The program you are about to
see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our
frailties, prejudices and concerns. By
making them a source of laughter, we hope to show- in a mature fashion- just
how absurd they are.”
became a megahit. It was the top-rated show on American television, and
the winner of four consecutive Emmy Awards as Outstanding Comedy Series. All in the Family was not only one of
the most successful sitcoms in history, it was also one of the most important
and influential series ever to air, ushering in a new era
in American television characterized by programs that did not shy away from
addressing controversial or socially relevant subject matters and created an
intelligent discourse, couched against a comedic and satirical backdrop.
Stivic spoke for me,” Lear said. Like
Archie, he didn’t know a lot about what could be done about the country’s
problems, the nitty gritty of the scholarly work that led to his opinions. He had those opinions reflexively. I am the same way. I think of myself as a bleeding heart
conservative. I think the most conservative
thing in America is to be devoted to The First Amendment, to The Bill of
Rights, to the notion that we are all created equal under the law, and we must
find a way to ensure equal justice. I
think that’s an extremely conservative point of view. The bleeding heart part is because I don’t
know enough to know how to correct it and I vote for the people who seem to be
closer to how to correct it and to making good on those promises. The problem
is that the people who do the best job at pretending that they back those
documents are the Right. But it isn’t in
actuality as the culture progresses.”
“As for the career that followed,” he
said, “while the decision to cast Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapelton, Rob Reiner
and Sally Struthers was my own, the four-way chemistry that resulted in each
player drawing comic strength from the other characters, at the same time
brilliantly playing against them to deepen the humor in every direction, was a
gift that I can only take credit for nourishing and using well.”
Archie Bunker and his family was followed by Maude, The Jeffersons, Good
Times, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, as well as Fernwood Tonight, a talk show parody
dedicated to battling bigotry and social issues through art, and Mary Hartman,
Mary Hartman, a parody of soap operas. In
the 1970s, most of America was laughing and thinking because of Norman Lear.
follows him around through recent and 40-year-old clips, discussing political
and social issues, and his battles with censors and censorship, which at the
time was called “program practices.” It also shows his influence on now famous
individuals, who have kept Lear’s activist flame burning bright.
He reflected on a few of his many
friendships, including Carl Reiner, with whom I was able to agree from own
experience: “Carl Reiner, a friend for some 60 years now is one of a kind. If no matter how good you may have a reason
to feel, if you aren’t feeling a little bit better for being with him, I would
call for a physician right away.”
“You raised me,” Jon Stewart said to him. “Where I think I learned how to process
complex thoughts, issues that I cared about, through the lens of comedy, was
watching Norman Lear shows.”
Carl Reiner and Norman Lear at book party for producer David V. Picker, Los Angeles, 2013. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved).
“What could make me prouder,” Lear replies.
“”Good Times” was for white people,” Russell
Simmons said. “The Jeffersons” was for
black people. It was aspirational,
angry. George Jefferson taught me how to
walk- with confidence.”
With appearances ranging from Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Mel Brooks,
and Amy Poehler, and directed by Heidi Ewing
and Rachel Grady and Executive Produced by American Masters’
Michael Kantor, the film offers a unique insight into a “Gadol Hador,” a giant of his generation and those to
Lear retired from television to devote
his life to activism. He created “People
for the American Way.” Fighting for
civil rights resulted in death threats. He also bought an original copy of The Declaration of Independence and
toured it around the country. “All men
are created equal [with the right] to life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness- The Declaration of Independence. The tour celebrated the founding fathers who pledged “their lives,
fortunes, and sacred honor” to make good on these words… But ironically, and
God Bless America, the last time I witnessed a reference to sacred honor was in
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.”
“He had such a
responsibility to make sure kids saw it and knew what that meant,” said George
Clooney. When asked about what advice he
would give to students who are embarking on artistic careers, especially
comedy, Lear said: “Go with your
gut. Deliver on your intention and go
with it- it’s golden.”
Cinema Retro Contributor Eddy Friedfeld
is the co-author of Caesar’s Hours with Sid Caesar and teaches film and
television classes at Yale and NYU
Film noir was still a valid Hollywood
commodity in 1951, and director Nicholas Ray was one the style’s star
practitioners. He had begun his career with the classic They Live by Night, and just the previous year he had brought us In a Lonely Place (see Cinema Retro’s
review here). On Dangerous Ground, which stars Ida Lupino (who reportedly
directed some scenes when Ray was ill) and Robert Ryan, is a fair
representation of the movement—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly great,
it comes across as two different movies. The first forty minutes or so are deep
in film noir territory—it has an urban
setting, a cynical and violent protagonist (Ryan, as a police detective in the
city), night scenes, hard-boiled dialogue, harshly contrasting black and white
photography (by George E. Diskant), and sultry dames. Then, the story shifts
“up north” to snow-covered landscapes and mountains, a bright sky, and a completely
different plot than the one we started off with. Ryan, after chasing after
mobsters in the city, is sent upstate to help out with a murder investigation
in a rural area (which also doesn’t make sense, jurisdiction-wise). There he
meets a lovely blind woman (Lupino) and abruptly softens his tough guy act. His
affection for her affects the way he treats her younger, mentally challenged brother,
who of course is the killer. At this point the movie doesn’t know if it wants
to be a crime thriller or a love story.
performances are fine, although Ward Bond as the father of the slain victim is
ridiculously over-the-top. The direction is competent, and the cinematography
is striking. The problem is the script by A. I. Bezzerides—it’s weak enough to
sink the entire picture. Fortunately, the film is saved by another member of
the production team—the inimitable Bernard Herrmann. He provides the exciting score, and fans will immediately recognize motifs that
sound as if they could be practice riffs for his music in Vertigo and, especially, North by Northwest. Bernie’s work makes On Dangerous Ground completely worthwhile
and a lot of fun to watch.
restoration and transfer of the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disk looks
darned good. The images are sharp and clear, and the blacks and whites are
vivid—the snow sequences are notably gorgeous. The movie comes with a commentary
by film historian Glenn Erickson. The theatrical trailer is the only
of film noir should consider picking
up this release—and Bernard Herrmann enthusiasts should grab it without
thinking about it.
Fat City, released in 1972,
was something of a “rebound” film for beloved director John Huston, whose
previous two films had been flops. Based upon the 1969 novel by Leonard Gardner
(who also wrote the screenplay), Fat City
follows Stacy Keach as Billy Tully, a small time boxer who never made it big
who is living in squalor. When Billy makes a rare return visit to the gym, he
meets Ernie (Jeff Bridges, hot off of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Last Picture Show). Billy sees some
potential in the teenager’s boxing ability and suggests he go see his old
manager, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto—the future “Coach” on Cheers). Ernie does as told, and soon finds himself under Ruben’s
optimistic wing, while Billy’s life further deteriorates when he begins an
affair with an alcoholic wreck named Oma (Susan Tyrell, who would herself
secure a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film). At the same time
that Ernie begins his fighting career, he too runs into trouble when he
impregnates his virginal girlfriend and soon leaves the world of boxing behind.
When Ernie and Billy reunite on a work crew in the San Joaquin Valley, both
become inspired to get back into the ring and return to Ruben. However, for
those assuming Bridges and Keach inevitably come to blows in some sort of
bloody boxing ring climax, they don’t. This is because Fat City isn’t so much a “boxing movie” as it is a character
portrait of Kecah’s sad-sack loser who just can’t seem to help himself out of
the bottle and other bad choices. Things seem to be on the up for Billy in the
third act when he finally shakes off his alcoholic lover Oma and wins his
“comeback” fight. Billy self-destructs soon after though when he doesn’t get as
big of a cut from the fight as he hoped for from Rudy (who has already given
Billy plenty of money in advances). Billy soon goes running back to Oma, now
back with her husband, and after her he crawls right back into the bottle.
Billy ends the film just as he had begun it, and though we don’t know his
future, it looks to be subpar as he shares a cup of coffee with Ernie.
character pieces like this are fairly common today, back in 1972 Fat City was something of a trailblazer.
And though things end on an ambiguous if not totally sour note for the film’s
protagonist, for director John Huston Fat
City was indeed a successful comeback as it was both a critical darling and
a financial success. Once again the famous director was back in high demand. As
to those who no doubt puzzle over the film’s title, which is never spoken in
the film itself, author Leonard Gardner told Time in 1969, “Lots of people have asked me about the title of my
book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it
means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a
photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was
scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no
one is ever going to reach.”
in summary, those hoping for an inspiring sports movie might be disappointed,
but for those that love downbeat realistic character studies, Fat City is a real winner. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray comes with the film’s theatrical trailer, an isolated score track,
an audio commentary with film historians Lou Dobbs and Nick Redman, and also
some wonderful liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Time Life:
Bob Hope, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, was
above all a patriotic American dedicated to our troops around the world. His
star-studded USO Christmas shows brought a taste of home to servicemen and
women scattered thousands of miles from their families. Bob rang in the
Christmas season with the biggest stars in Hollywood along with major figures
from the worlds of sports and music, and cracked jokes with his celebrity pals
and presidents alike. At home or abroad, his specials proved that laughter was
the best medicine.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES 6-DVD set features 13 specials from Bob’s career,
spanning five decades with dozens of celebrity guests. Highlights include:
Bob’s first studio comedy special “in living color” with
guests Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and Janet Leigh
The Bob Hope Chevy Show with the entire cast of I Love
Lucy—Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, plus James
Cagney and Diana Dors
A hilarious spoof of Star Wars and other sketches with Tony
Bennett, Perry Como, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Dean Martin, Olivia
Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, Tuesday Weld, The Muppets and more stars
The murder-mystery parody Joys (A Comedy Whodunit) with
nearly fifty guest stars including Charo, Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Don
Rickles, George Gobel, Alan King, Don Knotts, Groucho Marx, Vincent Price andFreddie
The best of the bloopers from 30 years of Bob’s shows with George
Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller, Burt Reynolds,
DonRickles, Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. T, John Wayne and
Bob’s 1967 USO tour to 22 bases around Vietnam, Thailand and
the South Pacific in 15 days with special guest Raquel Welch
Highlights from over 25 years of specials in Bob Hope’s
World of Comedy and the celebration Highlights of a Quarter Century of Bob Hope
A look at Bob’s personal relationships with American
presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy,
and Harry S. Truman
Bob Hope’s 90th birthday celebration featuring tributes by Johnny
Carson, George Burns and many more!
EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Plus, the DVD set contains the
exclusive bonus feature Shanks for the Memory about the world of golf according
to Bob Hope, which includes historic clips of Bob with Bing Crosby,
presidents and pros on courses around the world, and special appearances by Pres.
Gerald Ford, pro golfers Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and
Trotted out towards the tail end of the early 1980s slice-'em-and-dice-'em
heyday, The Initiation is a competent
if unremarkable entry to the subgenre, notable if anything for its 'name'
casting – Psycho's Vera Miles, Clu
Gulager from long-running TV western The
Virginian – and an early performance by Daphne Zuniga; despite the fact she
receives an "introducing" credit on the opening titles, the actress
had actually appeared in an earlier slasher feature, 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
College student Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) has been suffering
from nightmares, possibly manifested by a repressed childhood memory in which
her affluent parents (Miles and Gulager) were attacked in their home by an
intruder. Submitting herself to experimental dream therapy under the college's
psychology lecturer (James Read), Kelly is also one among a group of sorority
pledges who, as part of their initiation into Delta Rho Chi, have been tasked
with breaking into the shopping mall owned by her father’s company. She and her
friends subsequently find themselves locked in for the night, unaware that
they’re in the company of a shadowy prowler who's just stopped off in the
sports department to pick up some handy hunting goods...
Former actor Larry Stewart was an episodic television
director when he took up the reins on 1984's The Initiation and it represents his only theatrical feature. One
can see why. The pacing is painfully pedestrian, in fact aside from the
enigmatic flashback/dream sequences – which, since they’re swiftly shelved once
the stalkin’ ’n’ slashin’ kicks into gear- are clearly in situ to lay the
foundations for some dark familial revelations come the finale – the first hour
is notable only for its dearth of engaging incident. At least when the killing
begins the pace picks up a little, yet although the bursts of violence are
convincingly staged – which is more than can be said for some of those in a
number of The Initiation's genre
siblings – Stewart and screenwriter Charles Pratt, Jr fail to muster up anything
particularly imaginative; this is strictly paint-by-numbers stuff. Even the
twist ending – which despite some heavy handed attempts at audience
misdirection at least manages to remain fairly unpredictable – falls shy of unique.
Coming to the party so late in the day, The
Initiation needed something – anything
– to make it stand out; sadly it just comes up wanting.
Still, the movie looks
good, the multi-floor shopping mall location lending it a goodly measure of
production value, and the strong cast alone makes it worth a visit, especially
Vera Miles, who'd just recently revived her Psycho
heroine Lila Crane in a 23-years-later sequel. Daphne Zuniga is excellent too
and manages to eschew the script’s nudity demands, the decoration in that
respect befalling former model and future soap star Hunter Tylo. James Reid is
also entertaining as the college lecturer sidelining in unauthorised therapy; I
must admit though, whenever I see the actor I can't help but think of him as that
dodgy dentist in TV movie Columbo: Uneasy
Lies the Crown.
In summation, where seasoned slasher aficionados are
unlikely to find anything here they’ve not seen a dozen times before, as
undemanding booze'n'popcorn terrors go The
Initiation makes for an adequate enough time-passer.
Released on DVD in the UK by Arrow back in 2013, the company
has reissued the film in a newly restored Region A/B dual format Blu-Ray/DVD
package. There's a moderate level of grain present throughout the feature and
the hi-def image occasionally serves to accentuate poorly focussed shots. The
mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Extra features comprise a chatty commentary
from podcast team The Hysteria Continues, a short piece of footage from a frat
party sequence (omitted from the restoration due to the loss of the original
soundtrack) and a trailer. Additionally there are interviews with writer
Charles Pratt, Jr and supporting cast members Christopher Bradley and Joy
Jones; sadly, though perhaps to be expected, there’s no input from stars Miles
or Gulager, whilst disappointingly Zuniga is also conspicuous in her absence. Reversible
sleeve artwork and a limited edition collectors' booklet spruce up the deal.
of the more fascinating aspects of the Spanish horror film is that the
country’s most famous exports were produced during the near forty year
dictatorial regime of Falangist leader Generalissimo
Francisco Franco. In interviews
conducted following the passing of the repressive dictator in 1975, actor Paul Naschy
(the so-called “Lon Chaney of Spanish horror”) often expressed bemusement regarding
the restrictions imposed by Spanish censors on his films. Naschy’s horror films were (arguably, I
suppose) of either very modest or completely non-political in their design - if
not their subtext.
Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina Alvarez) was greatly influenced by the celebrated
cycle of gothic horror and mystery films produced by Universal Studios in the
1930s and 1940s. The primary difference
between these monochrome films and those Naschy would lens beginning 1968 is
unmistakable: most of his films,
including the colorful Count Dracula’s
Great Love (1971), owed more to the more contemporary themes and style of
Britain’s Hammer Studios. Spanish
implementation of less discreet on-screen sexuality and a seemingly limitless
supply of blood plasma packets pushed even Hammer’s edgiest offerings to the tame,
more modest borders of exploitation cinema.
the horror films released in this otherwise repressive environment were neither
produced under the tightest of restriction nor designed in an effort to avoid
offending the sensibilities of right-wing prudes. As anyone who has ever enjoyed a Paul Naschy
or Jess Franco film can attest, Spanish horror offerings of the 1960s and 1970s
are suffused with gory imagery, eroticism, savagery, envelope-pushing scenarios…
and generous dollops of female nudity.
most censorship boards, the Spaniards didn’t seem terribly concerned with flashpoints
involving on-screen immoralities or scenes of sickening violence. Their primary concern was simply that film characters
demonstrating unwholesome peccadilloes or otherwise satanic non-Christian traits
not be identified as being of wholesome Spanish heritage. So a werewolf bearing the Eastern-European the
Slavic surname of Daninsky was permitted, as were godless Hungarian vampires
and Prussian hunchbacks. Those in the Spanish
film industry were more than happy to ring international box-office cash
registers with their appropriations; the atheistic commies of Eastern Europe were
welcome to the authorship of the malevolent creatures spawned from their
Aguirre’s Count Dracula’s Great Love
(original title El Gran Amor Del Conde
Dracula) was Paul Naschy’s only on screen appearance as Brom Stoker’s
legendary vampire Count Dracula. The
actor would in his long career assume the roles of practically every vanguard monster
of the “classic horror” pantheon. In a
lengthy series of Spanish-European co-productions, Naschy would don the makeup
and costumes of vampires, mummies, hunchbacks, werewolves… he even tackled the dual
role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Well
regarded by filmmakers and contemporaries as a hard-working, earnest
actor-writer-director, he was also remembered as a humble, modest man. His greatest pride was when horror fans
whispered his name with the same reverence reserved for the greatest icons of
the genre: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, and
opens, more or less, as nearly every other Dracula film. Following a violent breakdown of the
horse-carriage somewhere near Hungary’s mountainous Borgo Pass, a group of five
travelers - one gentleman and four buxom beauties - seek temporary help at the
supposedly derelict sanitarium of Dr. Kargos. The good doctor is nowhere to be found – at least, not yet – but the
castle’s new tenant, the soft-spoken, candelabra carrying Dr. Wendell Marlow
(Paul Naschy) soon answers the door of what’s rumored to be the ancestral home
of the Vlad (“The Impaler”) Tepes, the bloody historical Prince of Wallachia.
first sight Marlowe is no cruel Vlad Tepes. Naschy’s Marlowe is a supposed Austrian
aristocrat and an apparent softie: he’s a thoughtful and gracious sort,
self-effacing, and unrelentingly polite. In fact, when the stranded travelers are brought into the anteroom,
they’re not only immediately welcomed with courtesy but offered accommodation and
meals for the week. This is necessary,
he explains, as there are no hotels in the area; he owns no transportation modes
and his forthcoming order of supplies are seven days away.
four blond girls at first don’t seem terribly grateful for the Dr.’s generous
hospitality. One whispers a complaint almost
immediately, moaning her displeasure that the castle is a dreary, gloomy sort
of a place. If director Aguirre wanted
to convey a palatial sense of doom and menace to match that description, he was
clearly let down by his art department. The castle interiors are generally bright and immaculately clean save
for the odd cobweb or two drooping forlornly from lighting fixtures. The castle’s cellar, where the delivery of a
wooden crate of human-length proportion arrives at the film’s beginning, is a
bit more atmospheric: here we find the
stony labyrinth passageways, the moss covered walls, the rat-infested rooms we
of the stranded travelers finds the genial Dr. Marlowe a physically attractive
specimen. That said, she’s reminded by a
friend that her tastes in men are her own. The friend prefers a man “slimmer and taller.” (Naschy was hardly a cadaverous Count, a muscular
man of stocky build and approximately only 5’ 8” in height). With little alternative the girls choose to
make themselves at home, now resigned to their unplanned stay at the castle. By day two they’re making the most of it and immodestly
sunning their naked bodies in the estate’s opaque pool. Though the castle grounds are in disrepair
and in serious need of some landscaping, they discover the wooded acreage is nonetheless
conducive to long negligee-garbed walks in the moonlight.
a scary thought, indeed, to think that it has been twenty-nine years since I
first saw Dario Argento’s fifth giallo
feature film which I had read about two years earlier in the pages of a back
issue of Fangoria Magazine.The word giallo is the Italian word for the color
yellow, and has found new life in describing a subgenre of the Italian horror
film that refers to a who-done-it involving a killer who conceals their identity
by wearing a large coat, a wide-brimmed hat, unisex footwear and gloves, their
face always obscured or hidden completely.Very often we see the killer only in synecdoche.These stories all originated in the form of
pulp novellas which sported yellow covers, hence the use of the term giallo.
the word giallo is always spelled one
way, the correct spelling of the film’s title, Tenebrae, has always been up for debate. One is never sure if it is Tenebre or Tenebrae. In reality, Tenebrae is the Latin word for shadows and darkness and also
refers to a Christian religious service which I personally have never been
privy to. Nevertheless, in regards to
the spelling of the title of Mr. Argento’s film, either one is much better than
the horrendous and Americanized Unsane,
which even trimmed the film’s running time down to 91 minutes. Considering that Unsane played on 42nd Street in New York City, a place
where horror films, sci-fi outings, and future cult movies were dumped and
rarely ever given advertising space in newspapers, the audiences were probably
comprised of folks either too wasted or asleep to care what they were watching,
so cutting out extraneous blood and gore seems silly in retrospect.
Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is a popular novelist whose new book, Tenebrae, has just been released. He flies from New York to Rome for a press
junket arranged by his agent Bullmer (John Saxon in a strangely comedic turn)
and his publicist Anne (Daria Nicolodi whose voice is dubbed by, of all people,
Theresa Russell!). He plays nice with journalist/feminist
friend Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), who labels Neal’s work as misogynistic, and finds
himself interrogated by an overly adoring talk show host/fan (John Steiner),
and ends up being stalked by a crazed killer who adores his work. In the thick of it, he has an affair with
Anne, nearly has a tryst with a woman young enough to be his daughter, and does
his best to help the police detectives who are working his case. Throughout all of this mayhem, Mr. Argento’s
camera is heavily engaged in the action, whether it represents the killer
trying to find a hiding place through a subjective POV shot, or just decides to
do an incredible sweep from one side of Tilde’s apartment, over the roof, and
on to the other side. This virtuoso
camerawork was accomplished by using the Louma Crane and was operated by the
late cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who also shot Suspiria for Mr. Argento.
Tenebrae’splot is interesting
enough to keep the audience guessing until the final frame. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with
horror films and Mr. Argento’s work in particular will be able to figure out
the killer’s identity. This truth should
not prevent one from their enjoyment of viewing the film, however. Watching Tenebrae
again nearly made me want to cry because it reminded me of why Mr. Argento is
my favorite horror film director. Between 1974 and 1987 he directed six consecutive films that were not
only wildly entertaining but also incredibly imaginative and visually arresting. They are vast improvements over the narrative
dullness (albeit cinematically striking) of Four
Flies on Grey Velvet and The Cat
O’Nine Tails, although his debut film, The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was terrific. Deep
Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena and Opera are six of the most stylish and
compulsively watchable movies that I have ever seen. Mr. Argento’s output following Opera has been uneven at best, with Sleepless and Do You Like Hitchcock? being the few standouts.
Tenebraeis one of Mr.
Argento’s best written, acted, and most tightly constructed films. It’s also one of his most violent and bloody
works. Like the tongue lashing that Peter
Neal receives at the hands of ill-fated Tilde, Mr. Argento received harsh
criticism upon the film’s release regarding not only the subject matter, but
the manner in which the female characters are horrifically dispatched. When you compare Tenebrae to some of the contemporary horror films, the sort of
torture porn that has become prevalent in the genre of late, Tenebrae seems fairly time in
comparison. For some people, it’s a
toss-up between this and Deep Red, as
to which is his best film. Tenebrae had its genesis when Mr.
Argento and his partner Daria Nicolodi were promoting Suspiria in Los Angeles in 1977 wherein a fan was stalking the
director, and left him a note telling him that he wanted to kill him. Check, please!
Tenebrae has some great extras and they are
all-new Synapse Films supervised color correction and restoration of a 1080p
scan from original uncut negative elements, presented in the original aspect
ratio of 1.85:1. The film looks
terrific. I was lucky enough to see a
screening of the film in a beautiful 35mm print imported from Norway through
Exhumed Films in February 2008, and this Blu-ray looks better than that.
English and Italian language options with newly-translated English subtitle
tracks for both.
commentary track featuring film critic and Argento scholar, Maitland McDonagh. This is a terrific commentary as Mrs.
McDonagh proves herself to be highly authoritative on the subject of this
film. Considering that she wrote the
first book I ever recall seeing on Dario Argento in 1991, this should come as
no surprise. Unfortunately, the
commentary that originally appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD with Dario Argento,
Claudio Simonetti and Lori Cursi has not been ported over, so hang on to that
DVD because that is a worthy commentary as well.
high-definition 1080p English sequence insert shots, playable within the film
via seamless branching [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
in-depth documentary Yellow Fever: The
Rise and Fall of the Giallo by High Rising Productions, chronicling the
giallo film genre from its beginnings as early 20th century crime fiction, to
its later influences on the modern slasher film genre. [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY
DISC]. This is a terrific documentary
which features interviews with Dario Argento, Maitland McDonagh, Mikel Koven,
Ruggero Deodato, Kim Newman, Umberto Lenzi, Dardano Sachetti, Richard Stanley,
Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Alan Jones, and Luigi Cozzi to name a few. The giallo
genre is attributed to the writings of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, P.D.
James, and Arthur Conan Doyle and is a great addition to this edition.
UNSANE (U.S. version of TENEBRAE) end credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE
EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
opening credits sequence [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
SHADOW theatrical trailer [SPECIAL FEATURE EXCLUSIVE TO THE BLU-RAY DISC]
as a burn-to-order DVD from the Universal Vault Series, some may be quick to add
that they should have kept “The Conqueror” in the vault. The movie is notorious
for being one of the worst movies in Hollywood history. Much has been written
about how terrible this movie is so I’m going to avoid jumping on that
bandwagon. After all, calling this movie bad is like calling out water for
movie is also a part of a conspiracy theory of sorts because many of the cast
and crew died from cancer and some have connected those cancer deaths to the
location filming in St. George Utah which was the stand-in for the Gobi Desert.
St. George is downwind from where the above ground nuclear testing occurred in
Nevada. Indeed, many involved with this movie did succumb to cancer including lifetime
smoker John Wayne who also denied any connection between his cancer and the St.
George location filming.
CinemaScope widescreen image for “The Conqueror” looks terrific and has an
appropriately grand score by Victor Young. The movie stars John Wayne and Susan
Hayward and features some of the best character actors of the era including
Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Morehead, Thomas Gomez, William Conrad and Lee Van
Cleef. If only the movie was the western it tries so hard to be rather than a 13th
century historical epic taking place in Central Asia.
nobody was more surprised than former actor and director of “The Conqueror”
Dick Powel when the Duke insisted on playing the lead. When asked by reporters
during production how Wayne looked as Genghis Kahn, Powell replied, “Murderous.
Just murderous.” I’d say murderous for the viewer too. While there’s a lot of
ethnicity in the cast (Native American Indians from a local reservation were
hired as extras to portray the Mongolian hordes in the movie) it’s hard to
believe that they couldn’t cast a single Asian actor in this movie.
movie pulled in a healthy profit world-wide for RKO at the time of its initial
release in 1956, but it was critically panned and is difficult to watch. “The
Conqueror” was a personal favorite of the movie’s eccentric producer Howard
Hughes who owned RKO at the time and pulled the movie from theatrical and TV distribution.
Apparently Hughes watched the movie over and over again, but it was not seen by
mortal men again until1974 after the rights reverted to Paramount. This was the
final movie that Hughes personally produced and some may say it would have been
better if he had destroyed the negatives and all copies of the movie.
Conqueror” was previously released by Universal in 2006 as part of the, “An
American Icon: John Wayne 5 Movie Collection” DVD set. That release included
the trailer, subtitles and chapters. This burn to order release appears to be produced
from the same source material because it looks and sounds identical, but includes
no extras and the movie starts up immediately after loading. “The Conqueror” is
a rare turkey for the Duke as most of his post “Stagecoach” output is very
watchable. It’s a must see for die-hard fans of the Duke and when hosting movie
nights where you want guests to leave early.
Joe Dante (1984’s Gremlins) and Allan Arkush (1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) cut their teeth in Hollywood putting
together trailers for Roger Corman films in the early 1970s and got the idea to
make their own film by piecing together stock footage from other Corman pics
and shooting a story around the clips. Armed with $55,000 from Mr. Corman, Hollywood
Boulevard is the result. Released in
1976 on a smattering of screens, Hollywood
Boulevard is a charming and entertaining send-up of Hollywood filmmaking
which stars the incomparable (and sadly, the late) Candice Rialson as Candy Wednesday, a fresh-off-the-bus
naïve blonde who, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, wants to be an actress
and walks straight into the office of agent Walter Paisley (Dick Miller). His advice to just go out and walk the
streets and be seen is taken quite literally, and she finds herself suckered
into the middle of a bank robbery while assuming that it’s a movie being shot
(that old gag!). It takes Candy some
time to see through the bank robber’s real intent, but amazingly it does not
seem to faze or dissuade her from getting into showbiz. Eventually she manages to hook up with a
ragtag group of performers who work for Miracle Pictures – their motto is “If
it’s a good movie, it’s a miracle!” They
are making a film called Machete Maidens
of Mora Tau II, which is directed by a campy and pretentious director named
Erich Von Leppe (Paul Bartel) who orders around his leading lady (Mary Woronov).
Unfortunately for her, she is replacing
an actress who died on the set while Machete
Maidens was being shot! Could the
same fate befall her? Candy, now doing
stunts for Miracle Pictures, catches the attention of Patrick (Jeffrey Kramer
of Jaws), a writer, and they begin a
passionate affair while making films. A
series of misadventures follows when the crew goes to the Philippines to shoot.
There is a hilarious bit where Candy, Walter, and Patrick view their finished
product at the old Gilmore Drive-In in Los Angeles. Candy eventually becomes a
glamourous film star and Patrick a successful screenwriter.
Hollywood Boulevard was shot in August 1975 in Los Angeles
over a period of ten days(!) and is a film clearly love sonnet to the industry. There are street shots of Grauman’s Chinese
Theater (Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett’s Beyond the Door is on the marquee!), while another theatre boasts Jaws and Dog Day Afternoon. Can you
imagine that there was a time in this country when you could go a theatre and these two films would be playing at the
same time? Try finding any theatre
nowadays boasting films half the
caliber of these two titles. The Pussycat
Theater offers Fred Donaldson’s Sometime
Sweet Susan to those adventurous enough to head through the doors (Martin
Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was being
filmed during the same time in New York City and Susan is on a marquee in that film, too). The film is loaded with silly action that the
low budget would allow and ADR-looped lines abound.
Releasing has done a wonderful job of transferring Hollywood Boulevard. With
the exception of two brief streaks down the left side of the frame early on the
transfer, the 2K scan of the film’s inter-positive is a revelation, easily the
best the film has ever looked. There are
some nice extras on this edition, which is limited to 1,500 copies: the
feature-length commentary with directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush and producer
Jon Davison has been ported over from the 2001 DVD release. Even if you are not a fan of the film (how
can you not be?!), the commentary is worth the price of the Blu-ray alone as it
has a terrific insight into the manner in which low budget filmmaking at New
World Pictures was done in the 1970s. Director Dante is very engaging and hilarious to listen to, recalling
with amazing swiftness which films the scenes were culled from, and funny
anecdotes about the scenes and how and when they were shot.
are also a handful of brand new on-screen interviews with:
Joe Dante (15:26) He quite correctly
points out that despite the fact that more movies are available for viewing now
than ever before, younger audiences don’t know about these films (foreign and
the like) because they haven’t been exposed to them.
Allan Arkush and Jon Davison (15:23) are
very funny to listen to, discussing how they came to direct and produce
respectively Hollywood Boulevard and
how they met Jeffrey Kramer and came to cast him.
Mary Woronov (11:18) speaks zealously
about her time working for New World Pictures.
Roger Corman (7:00) reiterates how
little money it took to make the film and how much he genuinely loves it.
Kramer (13:16) gets a decent amount of screen time here, reminiscing about his
early days in the film industry, and tells a very funning anecdote about the
premiere of his TV series Struck by
Lightning in which he co-starred with Jack Elam. I liked this show which debuted on Wednesday,
September 19, 1979, but I was also ten years-old, and after a total of three
episodes it was cancelled due to low ratings.
Drake (3:30) was the assistant cameraman and talks about the perils of shooting
up near the Hollywood sign.
Blu-ray also contains the original theatrical trailer and an edition of Dante’s popular Trailers From Hell.
would have loved to have seen a tribute to the late actress Candice Rialson,
who passed away in 2006 at the age of 54 from liver disease. She appeared in
Raphael Nussbaum’s controversial exploitation/social commentary film Pets in 1973, the 1974 movie-of-the-week
The Girl on the Late, Late Show and a
series of three exploitation films, Candy
Stripe Nurses, Mama’s Dirty Girls,
and Summer School Teachers, all in
1974. She was a real trouper and is
spoken of highly by Jeffrey Kramer as a kind and funny person. She is deserving of her own documentary.
Machete Maidens of Mora Tau II is a film that I really want to see,
and it would have been wonderful if it was actually made (a la Machete (2010) being born from Grindhouse (2007).
Hollywood Boulevard again suddenly
made me think of David Lynch’s Mulholland
Drive (2001), with Naomi Watts’s wide-eyed Betty leaving the parking lot of
LAX to “make it in the movies”. Candice
Rialson was a wonderful film personality and truly deserved to go on and enjoy
success in the Dream Factory.
(Note: this title appears to have sold out quickly though some dealers on eBay are offering it.)
The following news items were reported in Film Daily during the week of October 21, 1963
Stephen Boyd in "The Fall of the Roman Empire"
Paul Lazarus Jr., executive vice president of Samuel Bronston Productions, is lining up tours to the Bronston Studio in Spain for exhibitors who have expressed interest in (and booking) Fall of the Roman Empire. The trips, on which theater men will be on their own, especially for transportation, are expected to start shortly after mid-November.
Steve McQueen in "the Great Escape" (Like we really had to tell you!)
United Artists' The Great Escape rolled up $205,915 in the second week of its Golden Showcase run at 21 theaters in the greater New York area.
Arthur Kennedy, Victory Jory, Sal Mineo, George O'Brien, and Dolores Del Rio have been signed for key roles in Cheyenne Autumn Warner Bros. film which John Ford is directing.
Britain's Shirley Eaton will fill the sole femme part in MGM's Rhino in production in South Africa.
Executive Council of British Film Producers Association will support the move by the Association of Independent Cinemas to reduce the admittance of teenagers to "A" pictures from 16 to 14. Films classified as "A" by the censor are forbidden to children under 16 unless accompanied by an adult. Films tagged "X" are forbidden to those 16 and under while "U" films are for the entire family.
How the West Was Won has passed the 500,000 admission mark at the Warner Hollywood Cinerama Theatre, where the MGM production has grossed more than $1,000,000 since its opening October 21...Ticket orders are being taken into December and the engagement will continue indefinitely.
Swedish poster for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
Stanley Kramer and many of the stars of his It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World will appear on The Jerry Lewis Show, ABC-TV
November 2, the night before the UA Cinerama comedy has its
international press preview at The New Cinerama Theatre in Hollywood.
brilliance in Hollywood comes in very modest packages. Who would have thought
that a string of horror films made on shoestring budgets, with no star power,
and little attention from the studio, would become classics in style and
what happened when, in 1942, producer Val Lewton was put in charge of a
division at RKO Radio Pictures with the directive to make a series of ridiculously inexpensive movies intended to be competition for Universal’s successful
franchise of monster flicks. Lewton—a former novelist and poet—had previously worked
for MGM and, in particular, David O. Selznick, before being hired by RKO. He
brought this experience along with his literary background to the table when he
was told he could do anything he wanted as long as the budget for each film did
not exceed $150,000.
there wasn’t enough budget for special visual effects, elaborate monster
makeup, or any of the other trappings for which Universal was known. Lewton had
to tap into the imaginations of his audience members and find ways to suggest that what was on the screen was
truly frightening. To do so, he put
together an inventive creative team—director Jacques Tourneur, writer DeWitt
Bodean, cinematographer Nicholas Musucara, and editor Mark Robson—to make the
first iconic entry under the producer’s watch.
result? Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur,was so successful
that it put RKO, which had been struggling after the financial failures of
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, back on the
map. Box-office aside, the motion picture manages to be atmospheric, eerie, and
psychologically disturbing without a single monster appearance. Everything
frightening about it is all in the mind. Cat
People unnerves viewers through the use of light and shadow, sound, and the
mere suggestion of menace.
story concerns Irena, an Eastern European woman in New York (exotically played
by Simone Simon), who has a mysterious past and family tree. It seems she
descended from a cult of Serbians who practiced witchcraft—and they had the
ability (or curse?) of turning into panthers when sexually aroused. During the
course of the story, Irena—as well as the men around her— must come to grips
with who she really is. Okay, it’s a love story... sort of.
sexuality at the heart of Cat People had
to be played with a good deal of subtlety due to the Production Code, but it’s
there. Much of the film’s power comes from the primal, sensual heat within the
subtext of the visual poetry on display. Not only does the movie burn with
suggestive tension, its German expressionistic beauty is seductive. The style is what gives Cat People its claws.
new 2K digital restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, certainly
shows off the look of the film, and it appears better than ever. The black and
white imagery is appropriately grainy and the contrasts are sharp. There’s an
audio commentary from 2005 featuring film historian Gregory Mank, including
excerpts from an audio interview with Simone Simon.
the supplements is a new interview with cinematographer John Bailey, who was DP
of Paul Schrader’s more explicit 1982 remake of Cat People—this is a highlight, as Bailey compares the two pictures
and talks about the work of his predecessor Musucara. Additionally, Jacques
Tourneur is interviewed in a 1977 French television program. Most impressive is
the inclusion of a feature-length documentary from TCM, narrated by Martin
Scorsese, about the life and work of Val Lewton. The movie trailer and an essay
in the booklet by critic Geoffrey O’Brien round out the extras.
stylish, and mesmerizing, Cat People was
the beginning of a remarkable four-year run of interesting, intelligent horror
movies made by dedicated craftsmen who not only wanted to entertain an audience
but also to create art. Let’s hope that The Criterion Collection presents more
of the works of Val Lewton, but for now, Cat
People is just in time for Halloween!
has been written and said about director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s
ten-hour mini-series originally broadcast on Polish television in 1988. The
late Stanley Kubrick, who rarely commented on other filmmakers’ works, wrote in
a foreword to the published screenplays of Dekalog
that Kieślowski and his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz
had dramatized their ideas with “dazzling skill.” Many critics have called Dekalog one of the greatest television
mini-series ever made.
Dekalog has been previously released
on home video, The Criterion Collection has seen fit to present on DVD and
Blu-ray a new, restored 4K digital transfer that has also been recently playing
in select art house cinemas around the U.S. Even though all but two episodes
are in an analog television aspect ratio (4:3), there is no question that this
is cinematic material. Kieślowski’s mise-en-scene is subtle and beckons to
be seen on the big screen—or a large high definition TV. The clarity of the new
Criterion release does wonders for Dekalog,
and as a result the package is one of the hallmarks of the company’s
Dekalog is loosely based on
the Ten Commandments. No, it’s not a Biblical drama. Each episode is a modern (i.e.,
the late 1980s, when the films were made) take on how the Ten Commandments
relate—or not—to the contemporary world. The stories are set in and around a
single apartment block in Warsaw, Poland, and mostly involve various tenants.
Each episode is a separate tale, and yet characters from one part might appear
in the background of another, illustrating that the “chapters” are connected.
For example, a little girl who is at the focus of Dekalog: Seven can be seen playing outside a window in Dekalog: Nine. An old man who collects
stamps is a minor character in Dekalog:
Eight, and his two grown sons are the protagonists of Dekalog: Ten.
who died too young (of heart failure) in 1996, apparently liked story cycles.
Another of his acclaimed works is the Three
Colors Trilogy (Blue; White; Red) from 1993 and 1994—interconnected but
separate tales obliquely meditating on the meanings behind the colors of the
French flag. Dekalog does the same
thing with the Ten Commandments. Kieślowski and Piesiewicz
wrote ten little dramas that have as starting points the Biblical moral tenets,
but they are not handled literally. For example, in Dekalog: One, a man keeps his beloved computer in a prominent spot
in his living room, but his reliance on what the computer tells him with its
calculations eventually has tragic results. This is Kieślowski’s
ironic way of commenting on the
commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
that’s the key to Dekalog—every
episode is flush with irony. The episode dealing with “thou shalt not kill” is
more about the capital punishment faced by the protagonist of the tale than it
is the murder he committed that landed him on death row. The episode concerning
“honor thy parents” concerns a young woman who has incestuous thoughts for the
man she always thought was her father—but who, it turns out, is not. Sometimes
a single episode relates to two—or even three—commandments, and there are cases
in which one commandment is the subject of two or more chapters.
is provocative, challenging stuff.
Dekalog stars some of the
most talented Polish actors of the day—many of whom none of us outside the Iron
Curtain knew at the time. And that’s another thing—one must keep in mind that Dekalog was made while Poland was still
a Communist country. While this has some bearing on the stories, the underlying
truths of the piece are still quite universal.
the cycle features nine different cinematographers (Three and Nine were shot
by the same DP). There is indeed a different look to each episode—and yet Kieślowski
managed to keep them all consistent in style to create a whole. The cumulative
effect of the ten pieces—in content and visual craft—is what ultimately makes Dekalog such a powerful, meaningful work
of the episodes, Five and Six, were expanded to feature length
(and were shot in widescreen) to become A
Short Film About Killing and A Short
Film About Love, and were released theatrically, also in 1988. The longer
pictures add more depth to the original TV versions. In the case of A Short Film About Love, the ending is
remarkably different. Fortunately, Criterion has included these two feature
films in the set along with the ten original one-hour episodes and trailers.
entire extra disk is devoted to hours of supplements. Most welcome are archival
interviews with Kieślowski, taken from 1987, 1990, and 1995. A
very informative and illustrative new interview with film studies professor and
author Annette Insdorf is a highlight of the set. Other archival and new
material includes interviews with thirteen cast members, Piesiewicz, three
cinematographers, editor Ewa Smal, and Kieślowski confidante
Hanna Krall. The thick booklet contains an essay and capsules on the films by
cinema scholar Paul Coates, along with excerpts from the book Kieślowski
Criterion Collection has always been known for producing boxed sets of
outstanding quality. Dekalog is one
of their crown jewels.
I recently wrote in relation to a review of "The Big Show" that circus movies have gone the way of the Model T. You can add to that another genre of film that used to be a Hollywood staple- the safari movies in which the hero was a great white hunter. Changing social attitudes make it unlikely we'd ever again cheer some rock-jawed leading man as he unloads some hi caliber bullets into a grazing elephant or a lazing hippo. The last word on such films was Clint Eastwood's woefully underrated (and woefully under-seen) 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart", which was loosely based on the hunting obsessions of director John Huston during production of "The African Queen". Nevertheless, jungle-themed adventures are still the stuff of cinematic thrills in the minds of retro movie lovers. One of the best is "Rampage", a 1963 opus directed by Phil Karlson and based on a novel by actor/screenwriter Alan Caillou. Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Stanton, known in zoological circles as the world's most eminent tracker of wild game. The Wilhelm Zoo in Germany makes him a proposition: they will finance his trip to Malaysia to track down and capture the Enchantress, a legendary one-of-a-kind animal that is said to be half-leopard and half-tiger. Part of the deal is that Harry must also return with two tigers. Harry is told he will be traveling with Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins), an internationally famed hunter of exotic prey. Harry is invited to meet Otto at his opulent home which is unsurprisingly decorated with trophies of his more notable expeditions into the wild. However, Harry's eye goes immediately to Abbot's girlfriend Anna (Elsa Martinelli), an exotic beauty many years younger than Otto. It's clear that Abbot takes great pride in his relationship with Anna and he enjoys seeing Harry looking at her with pangs of desire. It turns out that Anna was a young girl of fourteen who had no family and who was facing a harsh life on the streets. Harry "adopted" her, presumably for humanitarian reasons but, in fact, he was grooming her to be his lover. Out of gratitude for the opulent life Abbot has afforded her, she has complied even though it is clear she would rather have a relationship with another man. It only takes a moment for she and Harry to lock eyes before both of them realize they are drawn to each other.
At first the journey to Malaysia goes well enough. While Harry personally loathes the killing of exotic animals, he respects Abbot for his achievements. However, en route to their destination, it becomes clear to Abbot that Harry and Anna are becoming increasingly flirtatious. He even tells her that she has his permission to have a fling with Harry as long as it's a short-term affair and she continues to regard him as her "real" lover. However, Harry and Anna aren't interested in a quickie sexual thrill...both of them want to build a relationship. Things become more tense when they arrive in Malaysia and begin hunting the tigers and the Enchantress. Abbot attempts to kill a a charging rhino and finds it takes him two shots to do so, which apparently is a no-no in the world of big game hunting. The failure to bag the rhino with one shot becomes a metaphor for Harry's diminishing virility. To prove he still has what it takes, he foolishly attempts to capture the Enchantress in a cave and ends up being badly mauled. It falls to Harry to capture the beast. By the time the group is back in Germany, tensions are raw. Both Harry and Anna admit that they did make love and Anna tells Abbot that, while she respects him, she has never loved him. Driven to madness at the thought of losing Anna, Abbot lures Harry into the storage room where the Enchantress is locked in a cage. He frees the animal with the expectation that it will kill Harry but, instead the beast leaps from the train and hides somewhere in Berlin. With an all-out hunt on for the dangerous animal, the film predictably finds Harry, Abbot and Anna facing off against each other as well as the Enchantress.
"Rampage" is certainly dated. It's the kind of movie where the two male antagonists-to-be dress in tuxedos for their initial meeting and drink cocktails while the leading lady saunters about the house in a lavish gown. However, the movie was ahead of its time in terms of addressing the issue of animal conservation. The film makes a poignant plea through Mitchum's character to stop the wholesale annihilation of entire species. In that respect, the film joins only two others from this era that spring into mind that were similarly-themed: John Huston's "The Roots of Heaven" (1958) and Ivan Tors' "Rhino!" (1964). Despite intelligent direction by Phil Karlson and a compelling screenplay, the movie exists to showcase its three glamorous stars. Mitchum is solid as the thinking man's tough guy, Hawkins is old world elegance and superficial charm and Martinelli has the kind of traditional sex siren persona that is all but invisible in today's film industry. The movie also benefits from some exotic locations (apparently filmed in Hawaii, not Africa) and an impressive score by Elmer Bernstein (even if the title track sounds like a combination of Monty Norman's theme for "Call Me Bwana" combined with "The Banana Boat Song".) There's even an appearance by Sabu as a guide for the hunting expedition. The movie is unusually frank for its day in its treatment of sex. Mitchum and Martinelli practically undress each other with their eyes and this aspect lends increasing tension to the inevitable mano a mano showdown between rivals Mitchum and Hawkins. "Rampage" is largely off the radar screens of retro movie lovers but that's all the more reason why the DVD release through the Warner Archive is highly recommended. (Note: the DVD contains no extras but is region-free.)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH CRAIG'S COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOURNE FILMS.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Last evening Daniel Craig took to the stage for a 90 minute interview as part of the New Yorker Festival, sponsored by the legendary magazine. The interview took place at New York's School Visual Arts. Craig, who is not known to be enamored of engaging in interviews, was clearly in a feisty and humorous mood and attributed his presence at the event as a sign of his long-standing respect for the New Yorker magazine. The wide-ranging discussion covered a multitude of topics with the predominant subject unsurprisingly being James Bond. Craig was sporting a bleached blonde crew cut for a forthcoming role that made him bare a resemblance to the legendary Bond villain Red Grant, played memorably by Robert Shaw in "From Russia With Love". He was dressed casually in jeans, sneakers and a leather jacket and walked on stage with host, writer Nicholas Schmidle, without any formal introduction. Craig displayed considerable humor but did pepper his comments with some liberal use of profanity. Here are some highlights of the interview:
Craig said that rumors that he has been offered $150 million for the next two James Bond films are completely untrue. "I haven't been offered any money", he said. Craig noted that the next Bond film isn't even under discussion at this time. He said that after having spent a full year filming "Spectre", everyone involved feels they need a break from the series for a while. Craig did acknowledge controversial comments he made to the press last year in which he said he would rather slash his wrists than play 007 again. Although he didn't formally apologize for the comments, he clearly seemed to regret saying them. He admitted he was in a foul mood at the time because the ordeal of filming "Spectre" had left him emotionally drained and physically injured after having suffered accidents in the course of production. He did not rule playing Bond again in or out but did say that if he were not to play the role again "I would miss it terribly" and said he considered it "the best job in the world". When asked what specific perk he likes the most about playing the role, he wryly noted that he has an Aston Martin stashed in a garage in upstate New York- a direct benefit of playing Bond.
Craig said that throughout his life he has always enjoyed seeing Bond films but had never read Ian Fleming's novels. He never dreamed he would be asked to play the part of 007. When producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson told him he was their choice to play Bond in the 2006 reboot of the franchise, "Casino Royale", Craig almost dismissed the offer out of hand. He said he felt he was all wrong for the role and took a full year to give the producers his answer, after having consulted with family. He said he reluctantly agreed to take on the part with the proviso that it was understood he would not attempt to play the role like Bond actors who came before him. He was effusive in his praise of his immediate predecessor, Pierce Brosnan, but told the producers that he would not be successful in playing Bond in the lighthearted manner that succeeded with Brosnan. He demanded to see a finished script and to have input in defining the character of Bond in his own persona. Craig was surprised when his demands were met and was highly impressed by the finished script. He said he appreciated the producers' willingness to allow him to make creative suggestions regarding the films he has appeared in.
(Photos copyright Tom Stroud. All rights reserved)
Craig spoke highly of his colleagues with whom he works on the Bond films. He was especially generous in his praise of producer Barbara Broccoli, who is producing his forthcoming New York production of "Othello" in which he will play Iago. Craig said that, while he had heard of Barbara Broccoli before being approached for the Bond role, he assumed she was a woman in her seventies. When he finally met her face-to-face he was astonished that she was decades younger. He praised Broccoli and his other colleagues on the Bond series as the epitome of professionalism.
Asked about the current political situation in the United States, Craig said he was a solidly supporting Hillary Clinton. While not mentioning Donald Trump by name, he did say that he thought a country should not be run like a business, as Trump has professed. Craig said that companies only care about the bottom line and making a profit while the first priority of a nation should be to provide help and compassion for its least-fortunate citizens. His comments got rousing applause. (The scandal of Trump's sexually-charged comments on the 2005 video was unfolding during the interview and Craig may well have been unaware of the developments.)
Craig acknowledged that his second Bond film, "Quantum Of Solace", had a rushed production schedule and suffered from script deficiencies due to a writer's strike. He said the script had to be fine-tuned without the benefit of the screenwriters and that even he ended up writing material, stressing that he did not consider himself qualified to do so. Still he defended the film saying there were still some "fantastic" elements to it.
Regarding his private life, Craig denied tabloid reports that he is "prickly" to deal with. He said that he understood that by playing Bond his life would never be the same and that he would be the subject of intense media attention. He did say, however, that to whatever extent possible, he tries to stay out of the press. He scoffed at the notion that he is anything like Bond in real-life, saying that he is neither a bon vivant or a tough guy. He laughingly said that the public should never confuse him with his on-screen alter-ego. Asked if he had any advice for his possible successor in the role, Craig said that actors should not try to emulate their predecessors and bring their own style and conviction to the part. He said the most challenging aspect of filming a Bond movie was the sheer amount of time it takes to shoot it- a full year. He said he misses his family and New York when filming. He also said that not much time elapses between the end of shooting and the release of the film- perhaps six months. Thus it is important to work out the movie in great detail before filming begins because the schedule doesn't allow much time for making changes after production has wrapped.
Craig cringed when a clip was shown of him in his feature film debut in director John G. Avildsen's little-seen 1992 prison drama "The Power of One". He needn't have been embarrassed as the clip showed Craig giving a powerful performance as a brutal and abusive prison guard. He said he had not seen the film since it was originally released.
Asked about criticism from Paul Greengrass, director of the Bourne spy films, that he wouldn't want to direct a Bond film because they were outdated, Craig responded that no one associated with Bond would want him to and that "He should be so lucky" to be asked. This evoked laughter and applause from the audience. Craig, who made his comments seemingly in jest, did say he has yet to see a Bourne movie, but looks forward to getting around to it in the future.
Asked about long-time criticisms that the character of James Bond was sexist, Craig commented on a clip from "Spectre" in which Bond seduces a character played by Monica Bellucci and pointed out that charges of sexism against Bond were misguided because such scenes are meant to be viewed with a degree of camp.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved)
Craig said that since he was a young boy he wanted to be an actor. He used to fantasize about being on the big screen. He said one of the films that inspired him most was Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", which was a bomb when it first opened. He said he recalled watching it in awe in a mostly empty theater and being mesmerized by the film. He recalled that this particular movie was one of the ones that most inspired him to pursue an acting career.
In terms of future projects Craig acknowledged that he will star in an co-produce a two-season television production of author Jonathan Franzen's best-selling novel "Purity" for Showtime. Craig said he wife got him hooked on the book and he immediately called producer Scott Rudin, who owned the screen rights to make a deal to film the story. Craig said that he feels T.V. is the proper medium for the adaptation because he does not want to have to cut down on the essential elements of the story in order to squeeze them into a feature film's running time. His goal is to ensure that virtually every important element of the book is brought to the screen. He also said that he will play a small supporting role in the forthcoming film "Kings" with Halle Berry, which apparently deals with the aftermath of the L.A. riots that took place in Los Angeles in 1992 following the Rodney King verdict.
Craig verified internet rumors that he was indeed in the latest "Star Wars" movie, playing an anonymous Storm Trooper. Craig indicated he is a big "Star Wars" fan and when the "Spectre" filming coincided with filming of "Star Wars" at Pinewood Studios, he couldn't resist asking director J.J. Abrams if he could appear in a tiny, uncredited role. Not surprisingly, his wish was granted.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved)
As the evening approached the last half hour, Craig took questions from audience members. This is always a bit dodgy since eccentrics and kooks seem to be drawn to an open microphone the way moths are attracted to a flame. Refreshingly, most of those who participated asked intelligent questions though there was at least one of the requisite hams who droned on with some self-serving comments, as if the audience wanted to hear about him. Craig handled them all- the good, the bad and ugly- with graciousness, respect and humor. At evening's end, the packed house gave him a rousing ovation. Craig said that, contrary to what one may think of the man who plays James Bond, he goes to sleep early and said he was up beyond his bedtime. With that, he bid everyone goodnight. For more click here.
Remember the days when you would wear a baggy
raincoat, visit your local independent theater and abuse your genital region
while watching “naughty” films? Maybe the younger “internet porn” readers don’t
(I actually don’t either. I just remember hearing about it while OD’ing on VHS
porn in the 80s), but I know some of you older perverts know what I’m talking
about. You see, during the 1960s and early 70s, you could hit your local
grindhouse theater and see films that are now classified as sexploitation.
These low-budget independent features contained plenty of nudity, but showed
very little in the way of actual onscreen sex, giving them the nickname
“soft-core.” Until hardcore classics like 1972’s Deep Throat and Behind the
Green Door as well as 1973’s The
Devil in Miss Jones arrived on the scene rendering the tamer stuff almost
obsolete, these soft-core flicks (which were also frequently viewed by couples)
were all the rage. And now, the nice folks at Vinegar Syndrome have unearthed
three of them for you to relive or to discover for the very first time.
In the first feature, Marsha, The Erotic Housewife, a young woman (soft-core queen Marsha
Jordan also from Count Yorga, Vampire)
whose businessman husband (Mark Edwards) is cheating on her, decides to teach
him a lesson by fulfilling her sexual fantasies with other men. The second
feature, titled For Single Swingers Only,
tells the tale of Gracie (Ann Myers) who moves into an apartment complex for
swingers, but gets much more than she bargained for. Last, but not least, Her Odd Tastes once again stars Marsha
Jordan, this time as a woman who goes from having an incestuous relationship
with her sister to becoming a door-to-door vibrator saleswoman. She eventually
kills a man in self-defense before being hired by a book publisher to research
sexual pleasure and pain. The insatiable woman travels the world, visiting Hong
Kong, Africa and the Middle East in order to satisfy her strange sexual
All three films (which were directed by Don
Davis) may contain washed-out colors and plenty of pops, scratches, jump cuts
and lines; not to mention drab-looking locations, but hey, no one buying a
ticket to see these movies was interested in things like cinematography or
production value. They paid to see some skin and there’s plenty of nudity on
display here. There’s also a lot of kissing and groping (in lieu of everything
else) as well as a bunch of unintentional laughs thanks to silly dialogue, stiff
acting and quite a few so-bad-it’s-good moments. Highlights include a hilarious
“Marsha” theme song, a woman with a very thick Swedish accent, a satanic orgy
where one guy wears a silly-looking goat head mask and, finally, death while
boinking on an electrified chair.
On the downside, the three movies, although
each one only running a little over an hour, all move along at a somewhat slow
pace. Still, I enjoyed them allfor
what they are. (I found Her Odd Tastes to
be the better paced and most entertaining of the three).
The three filmshave all been released on one dual layer DVD by Vinegar Syndrome.
The disc is region free and the movies are presented in their original 1.33:1
aspect ratio. The aforementioned pops, scratches, jump cuts and lines (which us
grindhouse cinema junkies adore) never detract from the story, and the images,
although far from Blu-ray quality, are more than watchable and pretty much what
you would expect something from this genre to look like. There are no special
features, but the DVD sleeve and disc both contain the original poster art for
all three films; my favorite tag line being “In Throbbing Color.” If you’re a
fan of soft-core sex flicks or are just curious to see what they were all about,
I recommend giving this retro drive-in collectiona look.
Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who assisted James Bond in both novels and on screen, is finally getting into the spotlight on his own via a new series of comic book adventures authorized by the Ian Fleming estate. The comics will be written by James Robinson with artwork by Aaron Campbell, both of whom have impressive credentials in the industry. The series will be published by Dynamite. Based on the preliminary artwork, this ain't your grandad's version of Felix Leiter. In the Bond films he tends to be as dapper and sophisticated as 007 himself but the comics will present Leiter as a freelance investigator who looks more "Miami Vice" than "Casino Royale". According to the publicity, Leiter will still be involved in the world of espionage. Bond fans have long griped about the character of Leiter not being used to his fullest potential on screen. Not helping matters has been the problem of inconsistency over the decades with a variety of actors taking on the role. Each played Leiter in an entirely different manner and bore no physical resemblance to the other actors. Only two actors have played the role more than once: David Hedison (in "Live and Let Die" and "Licence to Kill" and, more recently, Jeffrey Wright in "Casino Royale" and "Quantum Of Solace"). In the literary world, Leiter lost a leg to a shark in the novel "Live and Let Die"- a scene that was dramatized in the 1989 Bond flick "Licence to Kill". Leiter did not appear in any Bond movie again until the series was re-imagined with Daniel Craig in 2006 with "Casino Royale". When Wright took over the role, no reference was made to the shark incident. The character debuted on screen in the very first Bond movie, "Dr. No" in 1962. He was played by Jack Lord, who would go on to star in "Hawaii Five-0" on television. For more click here
Ted Kotcheff’s “Billy Two Hats” (1974) is one of those
off-beat kind of movies they made back in the mid-Seventies when studios still
believed in small, realistic films that focused on character more than shoot-outs,
believable story lines more than special effects and solid performances by seasoned
actors who knew their craft more than flashy histrionics by shiny boys and
girls who just stepped off the front pages of the supermarket tabloids. It’s not
a great film by any means. It’s slow, and a bit heavy handed in getting across the
themes contained in Alan Sharp’s (“Osterman Weekend,” “Ulzana’s Raid”) script,
but it’s worth watching, if only so you can say you’ve seen the only “Kosher
Western” ever made.
57-year-old Gregory Peck, speaking with a thick Scottish
accent, stars as Arch Deans, a bank robber on the run with his young Kiowa half-breed
sidekick Billy (Desi Arnaz Jr). Jack Warden is Henry Gifford, the sheriff who’s
tracking them down. Gifford is a man with no love for outlaws or Indians or
much else for that matter. He captures Billy early in the story and tells him
that he looks on him as the lowest of the low. He’s also a cynic. When they
ride out into the desert he tells Billy to stop looking for his compadre to
come to his rescue. Deans is half way to Mexico, he says, already spending the
measly $400 they stole from the bank. But out in the desert, Kotcheff gives us
a shot of Deans up in the hills watching them.
Gifford stops for the night at a general store/saloon out
in the middle of nowhere run by an old friend—an ex-buffalo hunter by the name
of Copeland (David Huddleston), who has settled down with an Apache woman. Copeland
shares Gifford’s views on Native Americans, even though he lives with one. He
tells Gifford he and his “wife” had a son but, says, he “made her give him to
In the morning, Deans comes down from the hills and rescues
Billy, wounding Gifford in the shoulder. While Copeland patches him up, Gifford
asks Deans why he came back for Billy and Deans just shrugs and says: “He’s my
partner.” After the outlaws have ridden some distance away, Gifford reminds
Copeland of his old buffalo gun hanging on the wall of the saloon. Copeland
takes it down, loads and sights it carefully, and shoots Deans’ horse out from
under him at a distance of over half a mile or more away. Deans suffers a
broken leg as a result and the fugitives double up on the remaining horse and
It takes Gifford a few days before he’s well enough to
ride. While he’s recuperating there’s the obligatory scene where Copeland and
Gifford remember the days when they could stand in one spot all day and watch
the same herd of buffalo pass from morning to night. But Gifford also tells
Copeland he just can’t figure why Deans came back for the boy. He was in the
clear. It just doesn’t make sense to him that anyone would do that, especially
for a “breed.” “I’m a reasonable man,” he says. “It’s important to me that
things make sense.”
Meanwhile Billy has made a travois (an “Indian
perambulator,” Gifford calls it) for Deans and they try to get through the
mountains to Mexico, but in a canyon they run into a handful of Apaches. They manage
to scare them off without any loss or injury, but you know they’ll be back.
Their next stop is a small cabin inhabited by a settler
named Spencer (John Pearce) and his bought- from-St.-Louis- for-$100-wife
Esther (Sian Barbara Allen). Esther stutters and Spencer slaps her in the face whenever
she gets stuck on a word. “It shakes up her brain box,” he explains. Spencer
has a wagon and after some haggling agrees to drive Deans for $100 to a town
two days away where they have a doctor.
That night Deans and Billy sleep out in the barn and
Deans suddenly recalls how Gifford asked him why he came back for him. He tells
Billy he didn’t rightly know. But he asks Billy if he ever read the Bible. “Well,
there’s a bit in it,” he says, “from the Book of Ecclesiastes, that says `Two
are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. And if they
fall, the one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him that is alone when he
falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. And if one shall prevail
against him, two shall withstand him.’”
“Billy Two Hats” is essentially a movie about loneliness,
loyalty, hatred and the need for relationships, all good ingredients for what
could have been a gripping drama of alienation and a search for meaning in a
meaningless world. But Kotcheff (“First Blood,” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”)
seems to lack the depth and sensitivity to bring out the themes and emotions
contained in Sharp’s screenplay. The film’s pace is slow and the tone so muted
that a lot of scenes fail to convey any convincing emotion.
Peck’s performance as Deans is solid and his Scottish
accent seems authentic—one of the many off-beat touches of the movie. Warden as
Gifford is as effective as ever at making his character look lived-in and
Huddleston provides good backup for him. Arnaz isn’t called on to do much, and frankly
his love scenes with Sian Barbara Allen are handled rather clumsily and are too
perfunctory to have much dramatic effect.
Despite these limitations, “Billy Two Hats” is worthy of
your attention, at least as a breather from today’s super violent comic book
movies and a reminder that they once made movies, even westerns, for grown-ups.
By the way, while it may look like the American
Southwest, “Billy Two Hats” was actually filmed in the Negev Desert in southern
Israel. Kotcheff explains in an interview included on the Blu-Ray disc that for
financial reasons they could not make the movie in the U.S. and both he and
producer Norman Jewison thought the Spanish locations used in Spaghetti
westerns had been overused. Jewison was filming “Jesus Christ Superstar” in
Israel at the time and suggested he film it there. Thus, Kotcheff says, was the
first “Kosher Western” born.
Kino Lorber has released
“Billy Two Hats” on An impressive 1920x1080p Blu-Ray that presents all the
desolate beauty of the location captured on film by cinematographer Brian West.
An interview with Kotcheff and three trailers for this film and two other
Gregory Peck movies are the extras.
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In “Blackmail,” (1939), Edward G. Robinson plays John
Ingram, an expert at putting out oil well fires with explosives. He’s got a
wife, Helen (Ruth Hussey) a son, Hank (Bobs Watson), and a sidekick named Moose
(Guinn “Big Boy Williams). After one of his jobs, the newspapers snap his photo
and put him on the front page. His success affords him the opportunity to buy
his first oil well. But a short time after his picture appears in the papers an
obsequious stranger, William Ramey (Gene Lockhart), shows up at the house
begging for food. He turns out to be someone from Ingram’s past, who know that
the oil man is actually a wanted fugitive who escaped from a southern chain
gang nine years ago.
To keep Ramey quiet, Ingram gives him a job, but it
doesn’t take long before Ramey keeps upping the ante. He finally tells Ingram
he knows he’s innocent of the robbery charge he was sent to the chain gang for,
because he was the one who stole the money. In a scheme that only a dumb hero
in an MGM potboiler would fall for, Ingram exchanges ownership of the well for
a signed confession. Ramey, of course is too smart for Ingram, and in the end
Ingram not only does not get the confession, he also loses the well and is
taken in by police for questioning. Next
thing you know, it’s back to the chain gang.
“Blackmail,” was released by MGM seven years after
Warners’ “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain
Gang,” (1932) starring Paul Muni. Rather than focusing on social injustice and
the deplorable conditions of Southern chain gangs, as the Warners film did,
“Blackmail” uses all that as background for what is basically a melodrama. It
was probably a smart move to go that way, since there was no way MGM, or anyone
else, could have turned out a better socially conscious chain gang movie than
the Paul Muni film.
The chain gang scenes in “Blackmail” are not bad, with
director H.C. Potter and his writers (David Hertz and William Ludwig), focusing
less on the social inequities and more on how Ingram intends to honor his
promise to his wife not to try and escape again by not letting anything that
happens on the chain gang get to him. But after learning that Ramey is planning
to sell the well, and his family is now living in near-poverty, he begins to
crack. Not only that, the sadistic guard, who he escaped from nine years ago,
is still there with his bull whip, adding to his misery. He finally makes a
break with help from his good buddy, Moose, and heads back home for a showdown
“Blackmail,” is an entertaining movie. Not every film has
to have “redeeming social value,” but it’s just too bad MGM couldn’t have come
up with a more believable plot. There are too many scenes where the characters
do things that strain credulity, especially when the film reaches its climax.
One of the problems is that Edward G, on loan to Metro,
was miscast. We’re used to him in his gangster roles—the tough guy who always comes
out on top. He gives a good performance as Ingram, but this tricky bit of
casting-against-type undermined the basic story line. As Ramey keeps squeezing him, you keep
expecting Ingram to pull a gun out of his coat and tell him: “Say, what do you
think I am? Some kind of sap? Got any last wishes?” But instead he falls hook
line and sinker for Ramey’s machinations.
Lockhart is another bit of unusual casting. Normally the
kind-hearted, sympathetic guy, as Ramey, he plays a groveling, totally
despicable snake. Those distractions wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the
plot and its unlikely twists, didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief. The
story, as contrived as it is, move along at high speed, and Ingram’s problems pile
up one after another for 81 fast minutes to the point where it seems he’ll
never resolve them. You won’t be tempted to hit the stop button on your remote
control until you reach the final frame, even though the denouement may leave
you scratching your head.
The Warner Archive has released “Blackmail” on DVD.
Picture and sound quality are very good. The only extra on the disc is the
original theatrical trailer. If you’re an Edward G. Robinson fan, or just like
chain gang movies, you’ll probably want to add this obscure title to your
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
a film has been previously issued on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, a Criterion upgrade
is still always welcome because you’ll get stuff that further enhances the
viewing experience. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen were once notoriously
camera-shy regarding interviews or “making of” documentaries of their work—but
Criterion has managed to coax them into participating—and it’s a treat.
Blood Simple was the debut feature
from the Coen Brothers, and it’s the second release by the Criterion Collection
of the siblings’ work (Inside Llewyn
Davis appeared in early 2016). Simple
premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 1984, had an acclaimed showing at the
New York Film Festival later that same year, and then was picked up for
theatrical distribution in early 1985. Although it was made on a shoestring
budget (about $1.5 million after post-production), Blood Simple exhibited trademark stylistic and thematic elements
that would appear in all of the Coen Brothers’ pictures—flashy cinematography, dark
humor, literary influences, intelligent plotting, existentialism, and engaging
stories made for smart audiences about stupid people.
recall viewing the film in New York on its initial release and becoming very
excited about it. I already couldn’t wait for the next feature from the
brothers. I saw something so fresh and original—even though it had obvious nods
to B-movie horror flicks and neo-noir crime thrillers—that I immediately
anointed in my head the Coen Brothers as “the next big thing.” And that they
extensive supplements on the Criterion disk—worth the price of admission—detail
the production from the genesis in the siblings’ heads to the ultimate,
long-awaited release. From the very beginning, they envisioned actor M. Emmet
Walsh as Visser, the sleazy private detective, even though the brothers had
never met him. The script grew out of this concept—and luckily, Walsh accepted
the meager offer to appear in the film, even though nearly everyone on the
production had never made a feature film before. The money was raised through friends and other investors, the
casting of the other roles was done in New York, and the picture was made in
and around Austin, Texas because they didn’t have to use union crews there. “In
Texas—down here, you’re on your own,” Visser says in a voice-over at the
beginning of the story. The Coens were indeed “on their own” when they made Blood Simple.
the Coens had wanted Holly Hunter in the lead role—they had seen her in a play
in New York. She was unavailable, so she recommended her friend Frances
McDormand, who got the lead part of Abby. It was her first film, too. John Getz
was cast as her chump lover, Ray, and experienced actor Dan Hedaya came in as Marty,
the cuckolded husband. While McDormand is absolutely wonderful in the film, it
is indeed Walsh who owns it. If the actor was going to place only one of his
many movie appearances in a time capsule of his career, Blood Simple should be it.
Sonnenfeld, who had a little experience shooting documentaries, was hired as
Director of Photography—so he was essentially a newbie as well. Even the
composer of the score, Carter Burwell, had never done a film before. It was something
of a miracle that Blood Simple turned
out so remarkably good. Nearly all the personages involved would work together
again on future pictures (and McDormand and Joel Coen would fall in love and
you’ve never seen it—the film is a must. The story starts off in a
has left her husband, Marty, and is shacking up with Ray. Marty hires detective
Visser at first to get evidence of the affair—and then Marty contracts the guy
to kill the couple. Visser fakes the murders so he can still take the money, and
then things go really wrong from
it to say that the nearly fifteen-minute segment of Ray attempting to murder
Marty—illustrating to audiences how truly difficult it is to kill someone—is
feature is a new restored 4K digital transfer, approved by Sonnenfeld and the
Coens, with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The image is
gorgeous, clear, and vividly colorful. The masterful sound mixing by Skip
Lievsay is also showcased in this Blu-ray edition. Supplements include outstanding
and fascinating new interviews with the Coens, McDormand, Walsh, Burwell, and
Lievsay about the making of the film, all told with humor and behind-the-scenes
stories that will convince you that working on a Coen Brothers set is the ideal
way to make a movie. For example, at one point we learn that in order to make a
puny, burning dumpster look bigger, the Coens hired little people to play the
men throwing garbage into it. By shooting from a distance, the actors appeared
to be normal-size, and the dumpster looked huge.
most valuable extra on the disk is the “conversation” between the Coens and
Sonnenfeld about the film’s look as they comment on selected scenes while
simultaneously using Telestrator video illustrations. This 75-minute piece is a
master class in filmmaking. Three trailers are also on the disk, including the
initial “investor trailer” that was shot early on during the fund-raising
process. An essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich adorns the booklet.
shocking, and funny, Blood Simple represents
the Coen Brothers at their best—and they were only getting started! The new Criterion release is a 5-star gem. Let’s hope the
company continues to explore the rest of the Coens’ oeuvre!
it really be 25 years since the release of The
Commitments? An acclaimed hit with audiences and critics alike when first
seen, it quickly grew in stature into something of a modern classic and has
remained perennially popular ever since. It has also inspired touring bands, a
major stage production and a few million sub-standard karaoke renditions of the
iconic Mustang Sally (and other
ditties) in pubs up and down the land.
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) dreams of being a band manager, and places an ad
in the local paper – “Have you got soul? If so the world’s hardest working band
is looking for you.” Various losers, opportunists and drop-outs turn up at his
door to audition, but bit by bit he manages to put together an inexperienced
band comprising ten members: men, women, backing singers, guitarists,
saxophonists, a drummer and an unlikely lead vocalist in the shape of slobbish
Deco (Andrew Strong). Their specialty is soul music and, with Jimmy’s undimmed
enthusiasm driving them (“say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud”)
they begin rehearsing for their debut gig. The name of the band: The
run amok among the band members, but despite their off-stage bickering they
prove surprisingly terrific on-stage.
Around Dublin their reputation grows and they find themselves on the verge of
greatness, receiving glowing reviews in the local press and growing
word-of-mouth hype. On the night of their biggest gig, saxophonist Joey ‘The Lips’
Fagan (Johnny Murphy) assures the band he has arranged for soul and R&B
legend Wilson Pickett to join them on-stage after performing his sell-out gig
in Dublin. By this point, the bands’ internal politics are at breaking point.
Can they keep their tempers at bay long enough to hit the big-time, or will
this show mark the final curtain for The Commitments?
Alan Parker does a wonderful job, creating a hilarious view of working class
Dublin. He doesn’t shy away from the bleaker, grittier elements, showing
rundown shacks used as shops in the middle of a ramshackle housing estate,
drunken pub brawls, foul-mouthed street altercations, dreary living conditions,
garbage piled high, and people bickering about sex and music through their
unremittingly glum, booze-drenched days. There is nothing glamorous about the
film: it is a feel-good movie in some
ways, but there is equally a feel-bad vibe running beneath it all at the same
band is thrown together from an advert in a local paper, with potential talents
auditioning in Jimmy’s cluttered front room, or even out on the street, while
he watches from an armchair or even from the bath-tub with his shower cap on.
Parker’s characters use words like ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ as regularly as they use
basic determiners and nouns, yet he somehow invests them with love and warmth
and makes them people worth rooting for. Over his career, Parker worked on a
number of successful musicals including Bugsy
Malone (1976), Fame (1980) and Evita (1996). Critics have drawn parallels
between The Commitments and Fame, citing this as an Irish
counterpart. Although Parker is a great director, it is surprising to note he
only has 19 directing credits to his name. With him, it’s all about quality not
quantity: he has proven himself a brilliant director across numerous genres
with films such as Midnight Express
(1978), Shoot The Moon (1982), Mississippi Burning (1988), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and The Life of David Gale (2003). Parker
shows up briefly in a Hitchcock-style cameo as a producer at Eejit Records, the
label which shows interest in signing the band.
to believe it’s been five years since America’s worst environmental disaster,
the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which claimed 11 lives and allowed 50,000
barrels of oil per day to spew from
the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 heartbreaking days until the well was
finally capped. Since then the world has
moved on and the event remains relevant only for those who lived through
it. Director Peter Berg’s riveting new
film “Deepwater Horizon”, should snap people back to attention.
Horizon” is told through the eyes of blue-collar worker, Chief Electrician Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg,
who leaves his loving wife (Kate Hudson) and arrives on the massive rig, 41
miles off the Louisiana coast. Costing $500,000 a day to run, the rig is weeks
behind schedule – which means a team of BP managers led by a creepy John
Malkovitch is breathing down the crew’s thick necks. In fact, they’ve just cut short some important
safety inspections to save time. When
seasoned rig manager Mr. Jimmy,
wonderfully played by Kurt Russell, demands a pressure test, the results are
troubling… and then all hell breaks loose! Flammable gas leaks from the well and the failsafe mechanisms –
including slicing through the main drilling pipe – fail and the rig explodes. From then on it’s a white-knuckle fight for
good as the actors are, and Wahlberg is at his best playing a workin’ man, the
real stars of “Deepwater Horizon” are
the visual effects. The film takes you
5000 feet below the surface to spot the beginnings of trouble – tiny gas
pockets leaking out, then inside the
well as the toxic gas races up, turning the rig into a raging fireball. To recreate the maritime disaster, the
filmmakers built one of the largest sets ever constructed – using over 3.2
million pounds of steel. Real life oil
workers (including Mike Williams) acted as technical advisers to give it all an
authentic look and feel right down to the control panels. The set even features a working helipad, used
onscreen. (Shades of “You Only Live
the movie shows the sheer terror facing the crew, it also spotlights true acts
of bravery as Wahlberg’s character rescues their beloved crew chief, Mr. Jimmy
from the burning bowels of the rig. When
he and the platform’s young Dynamic Positioning Operator (sort of like a pilot)
played by Gina Rodriguez find themselves trapped, with seemingly no way out, he
gets her to take a (real) leap of faith into the burning waters far below.
illuminating is the film’s ending crawl where we see the faces of the 11 lost
crewmembers and learn the fates of the survivors - several quit the oil
industry for good and the BP managers got off with a legal smack on the wrist
(although the company was forced to pay a massive $20 billionin fines.) “Deepwater Horizon” is a stark and thrilling
example of what happens when human greed and hubris meet Mother Nature.
Criterion Collection has issued a Blu-ray upgrade to a previous winning DVD
release—Carol Reed’s World War II suspense adventure, Night Train to Munich. It’s a terrific example of the fine cinema
Britain was managing to produce even while at war. Released there in August of 1940, the country
was already in the conflict, although the Blitz had not yet occurred. (The picture was released in the U.S. in
December 1940, smack dab in the middle of
more striking is its resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) in tone, setting, and even characters.
Marketing pushes at the time suggested that Night
Train to Munich was a “sequel” to Vanishes,
which was an extremely popular movie on both sides of the Atlantic. Night Train is not a sequel, though—it’s
more of a remake.
at the studio must have thought they needed “another movie like Lady Vanishes” so writers Sidney Gilliat
and Frank Launder, who were responsible for the previous screenplay, were
secured to pen the new one. Both pictures have plots that involve spies, double
agents and Nazis, and a major portion of the stories takes place on a passenger
train. To sell the “sequel” concept even more to the public, popular actress Margaret
Lockwood, the star of Vanishes, was
cast as the lead, this time opposite a young Rex Harrison instead of Michael
Redgrave. Most curious, though, is the inclusion of two characters (and the actors who played them) from Vanishes—the duo of the very British,
comical, possibly gay men known as Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil
Radford and Naunton Wayne). The couple was such a hit the first time around,
the two fellows had to be passengers on board Night Train, too. There has
been much discussion about Charters and Caldicott’s sexual orientation since
their several appearances in these and a few other films of the late thirties
and early forties. Are they gay? There are certainly several humorous “clues” in these
two first titles to suggest it. Since something like that couldn’t be blatantly
talked about in those days, it was best for the audience to simply find it
funny that two men are traveling together (again, on a train?) and possibly
using the same bed (in Vanishes).
Night Train, Lockwood plays the
daughter of a Czech scientist who is the MacGuffin of the story—both the Allies
and the Nazis want him. When father and daughter are captured and held in
Berlin, Harrison, a British agent whose cover is to perform and sell sheet
music in an English seaside town, is sent to Germany to free and bring them back
to the U.K. He impersonates a Nazi major in order to get “inside,” and his
impromptu escape plan involves the boarding of a train traveling from Berlin to
Munich (with fellow passengers Charters and Caldicott willing to help!). In the
meantime, a Nazi captain played by Paul Henreid (here credited as Paul von
Henreid—before he moved to Hollywood to be in Casablanca) is dedicated to keeping the scientist and his daughter
under the thumb of the Reich. Never mind that both Harrison and Henreid are
both in love with Lockwood.
pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? Forget it—this is a fast-paced,
intelligently-written, well-acted, and suspenseful adventure film. Mixed in
with all the excitement is light humor, in the tradition of Hitchcock’s
picture, thus providing viewers with an entertaining ride. Reed, who would go
on to make other classic British thrillers such as Odd Man Out and The Third Man,
handles the material with panache and style—just as Hitchcock did—but with a
more personal, friendlier touch.
new disk comes with a restored, high-definition digital transfer, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The image is remarkably clear and sharp, a
testament to the outstanding job Criterion does in presenting vintage cinema.
Supplements include a fascinating 2010 conversation between film scholars Peter
Evans and Bruce Babington about the director, writers, and the socio-political
climate at the time the picture was made, and an essay in the booklet by film
critic Philip Kemp.
“All aboard!” and take another ride on the thriller-adventure train. It doesn’t
matter if you don’t know The Lady
Vanishes—Night Train to Munich stands
on its own as top notch filmmaking. Better yet, get them both and make it a