Though Vincent Price would eventually garner a well-deserved
reputation as Hollywood’s preeminent bogeyman, it was only really with André De
Toth’s House of Wax (1953) that the actor would become associated with all
things sinister. In some sense the
playful, nervously elegant Price was an odd successor to the horror film-maestro
throne: he was a somewhat aristocratic psychotic who shared neither Boris
Karloff’s cold and malevolent scowl nor Bela Lugosi’s distinctly unhinged
madness or old-world exoticism.
His early film career started in a less pigeonholed
manner: as a budding movie actor with a seven year contract for Universal
Studios in the 1940s, the tall, elegant Price would appear in a number of semi-distinguished
if modestly-budgeted romantic comedies and dramas. His contract with Universal was apparently
non-exclusive, and his most memorable roles for the studio were his earliest. In a harbinger of things to come, Price would
register his first genre credit with Universal’s The Invisible Man Returns (1940),
a curiously belated semi-sequel to the James Whale 1933 classic. Though a satisfying B-movie vehicle, Price’s star
turn as the mostly transparent Geoffrey Radcliffe would be difficult work; it’s
an imposing task to make an impression when you’re only physically present for less
than half of a film.
More rewarding and noteworthy was his role as the
vengeful Clifford Pyncheon in Universal’s free adaptation of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s brooding thriller The House of the Seven Gables (1940). That same year Price took a second memorable
turn as the effete, wine-imbibing Duke of Clarence in Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of
London. Purportedly a historical drama, Universal couldn’t help but play up the
horror-melodrama elements of Richard III’s grisly ascent to the British
throne. The scene when the Duke of
Clarence meets an ironic fate at the hands of the conniving, merciless and
bloodthirsty tag-team of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff is, without doubt, one
of cinema’s great exits.
Though the actor would tackle all types of roles for his
next employer, 20th Century Fox, he had begun his transition from leading man
once-removed to a roguish sort of character actor, one short of neither charm
nor avarice. In 1953 the actor’s career
would be forever changed when he accepted the role of the mad Professor Henry
Jarrod in House of Wax, Warner Bros.’ colorful 3-D remake of Michael Curtiz’s The
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The
success of the sinister House of Wax inspired that film’s freelance producer,
Bryan Foy, to – essentially – remake the same film for Columbia Pictures within
a year’s time. Unlike Universal or
Warner Bros., Columbia seemed less eager to embrace and invest long-term in 3-D
technologies, and The Mad Magician was one of the studio’s final rolls of the
dice in that format.
Bryan Foy had began his show business career in
vaudeville so it was only natural that both House of Wax and The Mad Magician share
the greasepaint, steamer trunks, velvet curtains and theatrical back stories of
the producer’s youthful experience. As he
had with House of Wax, Foy again tapped the talent of his favorite scribe, Crane
Wilbur, to write what was essentially a House of Wax pastiche. Wilbur was a seasoned pro who could knock out
a quick copy that still had integrity; both of the Victorian-era horror films he
would craft for Foy stylishly unraveled in thrilling fashion with neat twists
and memorable dialogue. In a wise move,
the German born John Brahm, an undeniably brilliant director of moody,
atmospheric thrillers and melodramas – mostly for 20th Century Fox - was
brought on to direct.
The most notable returnee was, of course, Vincent Price,
now typecast and expected to again menacingly wield his distinct brand of on-screen
villainy. With his stagey, Shakespearean
acting style having been honed early in his career, Price’s performances occasionally
teetered between outright flamboyance and devilishly morose… perhaps even a bit
hammy. That said, the actor’s refined
mannerisms and theatrical gesturing was refreshingly different from the common
brutishness of the usual cinematic heavies. His characters tended to be tortured souls as well; his villains were conflicted
but not unsympathetic individuals driven to madness by life’s travails and treacheries.
In House of Wax and The Mad Magician, the actor similarly
plays the part of a maligned artist. In
both films, his protagonists hide behind a series life-masks created solely for
the purpose of deception. As sculptor Henry
Jarrod in the former film, the devoted artist sees his beloved wax figures go
up in flames due to the actions of an unscrupulous business partner; Jarrod’s
scheming, unsentimental associate is not at all interested in the artist’s
creations. He’s only interested in the
swift collection of ill-gotten monies from his insurance fraud scheme. In The Mad Magician Price similarly portrays Don
Gallico, a low wage, belittled designer of magic tricks and illusions. Gallico
is the creative energy behind successful owner Russ Orman’s (Donald Randolph) respected
theatrical magic factory Illusions, Inc. Tired of seeing his boss farm out his very personal creations to more celebrated,
famous magicians – most notably the egotistical and scheming Great Rinaldi
(John Emery) – Gallico optimistically and dreamingly pines of someday being
recognized as a great stage magician himself.
Gallico is certain that day is not far off. In an attempt to attract attention to his own
talent, the magician tests a self-produced illusionist show in a cozy theater
in Hoboken, New Jersey. This engagement
is merely a step stone to his ultimate dream of securing a coveted booking on
Broadway and 44th Street. While his most
recent and exciting illusion, “The Lady and the Buzz Saw,” pushes the envelope
of high tension to an anxious extreme, Gallico is certain his work in progress –
an escape-artist illusion involving a gas-fueled 3500 degree inferno dubbed
“The Crematorium” will be the vehicle to bring him stardom at last. But Gallico’s dreams are soon dashed when the
well-heeled Orman, who years earlier had unsentimentally stolen away the
illusionist’s gold-digging wife (Eva Gabor), informs him to carefully read the
fine print of their business contract. In
a nutshell, Orman owns all of Gallico’s intellectual properties: contractually his inventions are not his
own. Needless to say, this soul crushing,
career-ending turn of events does not bode well for the briefly self-satisfied
Orman… and others.
Actress Barbara Hale has passed away at age 94. She started as a glamour girl in feature films and commercials before landing the role of Perry Mason's secretary Della Street in the long-running TV series that lasted from 1957-1966. Starring opposite Raymond Burr as Mason, Hale won an Emmy for her performance in 1959 and Della Street became her signature role. In 1985 she and Burr reunited for a Perry Mason TV movie. The show received very high ratings and the two would continue to reprise their roles periodically in other new TV movies about the famed attorney. Hale, the mother of actor William Katt, had many feature films to her credit including the 1970 blockbuster "Airport" in which she played the jilted wife of gigalo pilot Dean Martin.
Sir John Hurt, the chameleon-like British character actor with an ability to immerse himself in an astonishingly wide variety of roles, has died from pancreatic cancer at age 77. The son of a British clergyman and engineer, Hurt originally studied to be an artist before the lure of the stage led him to the acting profession. His first major film role was in the Oscar-winning 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons". Acclaim followed quickly and Hurt made his next big impression on screen in the 1970 British crime thriller "10 Rillington Place". He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the 1978 film "Midnight Express" and was nominated for Best Actor for his most acclaimed role as the tragic, disfigured John Merrick in the 1980 film "The Elephant Man". He earned a place in pop culture history for his role in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi classic "Alien" for a scene in which the titular creature violently erupts from Hurt's stomach in one of the most famous scenes in the genre's history.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1973 Euro Western "The Man Called Noon", based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. The film was produced by Euan Lloyd, who had previously brought L'Amour's novel "Shalako" to the screen in 1968 starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and an impressive supporting cast. "Noon" is no "Shalako". It's more in line with Lloyd's filmed production of L'Amour's "Catlow", which was released in 1971 (i.e instantly forgettable). Like so many Westerns of the era, it's a strange hybrid production top-lining well-known American stars with a supporting cast of European actors. The result is a reasonably entertaining but completely unremarkable horse opera that plays out with a familiarity akin to that of the well-trod shooting locations in and around Almeria, Spain. Richard Crenna, in a rare top-billed role in an action flick, plays the titular character, Rubal Noon, a notorious gunslinger. In the film's opening minutes he narrowly escapes an assassination attempt but is wounded in the process and, in that tried and true movie cliche, loses his memory. He doesn't remember who he is or why anyone tried to kill him. He is befriended by a shady saddle tramp, Rimes (Stephen Boyd), who informs him that he's wanted by the law and a virtual army of killers is after him. Rimes takes Noon to a ranch that serves as an outlaw hideout. It's owned by Fan Davidge (Rosanna Schiaffano), who has been kept captive on the ranch by the outlaws and forced to serve as their leader's mistress. Within seconds of meeting, Noon and Fan begin making goo-goo eyes at each other and we know that can only lead to trouble. It's at this point that the screenplay by Scot Finch becomes overly convoluted almost to the point of parody. A long series of facts and clues are presented to Noon that gradually help him discover his motivations and why so many people are after him. The jumbled explanations have something to do with avenging the deaths of loved ones and having knowledge of a secret cache of buried gold. However, by the time all of this is explained, there is no "A-ha!" moment of revelation. Instead, one just sits and ponders the long string of characters, names and confusing plot developments. On several occasions I backtracked on the Blu-ray disc, thinking I overlooked some obvious information but it still seemed like a confusing mess so I just gave up, sat back and enjoyed the frequent action sequences. Crenna does well enough in an undemanding, completely humorless role. The few moments of levity are provided by Boyd, who plays a character of dubious allegiance. Farley Granger shows up as a bad guy and Schiaffano is as lovely as ever, but the characters are poorly defined and the most impressive aspect of the movie are the well-staged stunts courtesy of legendary arranger Bob Simmons, who devised some of the best fight scenes in the James Bond series. Luis Bacalov provides the sometimes impressive requisite Morricone-like score. The finale of the movie finds the heroes holed up in a burning cabin surrounded by an army of antagonists. The scenario is similar to that in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" but with far less credibility. (Noon's method of terminating Granger's character is downright absurd.) The film was directed by Peter Collinson, who had shown great innovation and skill with his 1969 version of "The Italian Job". Not many of those skills are on view in "The Man Called Noon", which Collinson directed in a manner best described as workmanlike. Sadly, the young director never fulfilled his potential and ended up directing mid-range and mediocre fare before passing away in 1980 at only 44 years of age.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber has a crisp, clean transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery that includes other Westerns available from the company including "Duel at Diablo", "Billy Two Hats", "Barquero", "The Spikes Gang" and "Navajo Joe".
“You’ve got to live a
little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little—that’s the story
of, that’s the glory of love.”
popular opening song by Billy Hill and sung by Jacqueline Fontaine, “The Glory
of Love,” sets the tone for this classic, delightful motion picture that
addressed a social issue at the time that we take for granted today—interracial
marriage. Hey, in 1967, this was a hot topic. The Supreme Court had decided the
Loving vs. Virginia case, which
prohibited states from criminalizing interracial marriage, only six months
prior to the film’s release (and that legal battle is dramatized in the film Loving, currently in cinemas). Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was indeed
timely, certainly controversial in more conservative areas of the country, and
a powerful statement about tolerance and the rights of American citizens.
comedy/drama was a hit and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best
Picture, Director (Kramer), Actor (Spencer Tracy), Actress (Katharine Hepburn),
Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway), and Supporting Actress (Beah Richards). It
won only two—Hepburn took home the prize, and William Rose was honored for his
intelligent and warm Original Screenplay.
Kramer produced many “important” pictures before taking up the directing chores
himself in the late 50s, and he often tackled difficult social issues—racial
issues in The Defiant Ones (1958),
nuclear war in On the Beach (1959),
the teaching of evolution in schools in Inherit
the Wind (1960), and the Holocaust in Judgment
at Nuremberg (1961). He seems to have been just the man for the job, as
this new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release emphasizes—there are three separate
supplements on the disk about Kramer himself, plus an appearance by his widow
Karen in an introduction to the film, as well as his presence in two more
featurettes about the making of the picture.
anyone who’s never seen this wonderful movie, it concerns an upper class
liberal couple (Tracy and Hepburn) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton, who
happens to be Hepburn’s real-life niece) has surprised them with her engagement
to a black doctor (Sidney Poitier). Suddenly, the parents’ liberal attitudes
are challenged and they’re not so sure this is a good idea. Complicating the
matter, the daughter has invited her fiancé’s parents (Roy E.
Glenn and Beah Richards) to join them for dinner to “meet the in-laws.” A
cordial white priest (Kellaway) and a feisty black housekeeper (Isabel Sanford)
add to the crisis of musical chairs. It’s a talky film that takes place mostly
indoors in the family’s home—it would have made a terrific stage play—but
Kramer’s deft hand at directing keeps everything fresh. This is a film about
the writing and the acting, and everyone is terrific.
only mild criticism I would have—and it echoes that of many critics at the
time—is that Poitier’s character is too perfect. Apparently Kramer and the
screenwriter did that on purpose so there would be no way anyone, that is,
anyone white, could object to him.
After all, Kramer had no idea what kind of backlash the film would receive upon
was extremely ill during the filming; in fact, he couldn’t be insured. Hepburn
and Kramer had to guarantee their salaries as collateral to get the film made.
Tracy died about two weeks after the production wrapped. It’s one of his
greatest performances. His final speech at the end of the movie to the rest of
the cast concerning his “decision” about the marriage is sure to well up any
viewer’s eyes. Poitier is very good as well—1967 was his year, as the actor had
also appeared in To Sir, With Love and
In the Heat of the Night along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn
steals the film, though, if that is possible opposite Tracy and Poitier. Her
eyes maintain that fine line between almost-crying and bawling throughout the
picture. It’s a magnificent performance.
The Sony Blu-ray (to be released February 7) looks splendid in its 1080p High Definition glory with a 5.1 DTS-HD
Master Audio. It comes in a deluxe digibook with plenty of photos and an essay
by Gil Robertson. The problem with the disk itself is that there are no new
supplements—they’re all ported over from the 40th Anniversary DVD... but if you’ve never seen them, they’re all
quite well done. You have a choice of four different introductions to the
film—the previously mentioned one with Karen Kramer, and others each by Steven
Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Tom Brokaw. Along with the featurettes about the
film and Stanley Kramer, you get a gallery of photos and the theatrical
Guess Who’s Coming to
a milestone from the late 1960s—a relic of a turbulent time in America’s
history, but also an often funny—and gently principled—entertainment.
Many of Mary Tyler Moore's colleagues have shared their memories and thoughts on the passing of the acting legend whose character, Mary Richards on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", inspired a generation of independence-minded young women. Click here to read.
First things first; it’s obvious from 1966 through 1972
the seemingly idyllic small islands dotting the UK were no place to summer
vacation. In 1966 poor Peter Cushing
lost his left hand to a rampaging horde of flesh-eating silicates on the isle
of Petrie (aka the Island of Terror), a few miles east off of Ireland’s
coastline. In 1973, Hammer Horror icon
turned Celtic pagan Christopher Lee sacrificed an investigating Christian
martyr to the flames on the bonny banks of Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s 1973 grim
thriller-mystery, The Wicker Man. One year before The Wicker Man would have its
theatrical debut, Tigon-British Film Productions would release the
environmental-thriller Doomwatch (1972). Set on the isle of Balfe (actually Cornwall), Doomwatch tells the tale
of still another plagued and isolated island off the English coast. This time the inhabitants are desperately
trying to hide a seemingly monstrous secret from the prying eyes of outsiders. It goes without saying that the production of
these three films was likely not bankrolled by anyone from the British Tourist
Director Peter Sasdy’s 1972 sci-fi mystery, Doomwatch
recounts the story of Dr. Del Shaw (Scottish actor Ian Bannen), who teams up
with the island’s imported schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson) to
unravel the mystery behind the closeted deformities of the island’s native
inhabitants. Dr. Shaw, who works for a government-funded anti-pollution
campaign, somewhat pessimistically coded Doomwatch, soon finds out that British
navy - through an unscrupulous intermediary - had used the bay surrounding the
island of Balfe to secretly and illegally dump sealed canisters of radioactive
waste. Time and the sea have since
caused these seals to give way, with the resulting leakage infecting the
village’s fishing industry. As seafood
is the primary diet of the islanders, the exposure to toxins and unnatural
growth hormones has unleashed an outbreak of acromegaly. This disfiguring
disease is not an invention of screenwriter Clive Exton. As any scholar of classic horror can tell
you, this is the all-to-real growth-hormone aberration was suffered (and
tastelessly exploited) by Universal Studios in their casting of horror actor
Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. Though this
pituitary gland disease is a result of radioactive elements contaminating the
island’s fish supply, the natives are unaware of the Navy’s polluting of their
waters. The insular and deeply religious
community believes the island’s plague is simply God’s punishment for their
immorality and inbreeding. It’s this
deep-seated shame that has long prevented them from getting help from the
Sasdy’s film was loosely based off a BBC television
series of the same name (1970-1972) which featured a team of
activist-scientists fighting new, mysterious environmental and health threats
in the post-Atomic age. These television threats would include such plights as
enlarged radioactive rats, plastic-eating viruses, and chemical toxins that
could destroy all of Earth’s plant life. This fear of manmade and unchecked
environmental calamity was carried on in Doomwatch the film; the storyline
centers on the dangers of radioactive elements and the consequences of improper
storage and disposal methods of such harmful toxins. These issues were of
course, not uncommon during the time, as in the early 1970s environmental issues
were at the forefront of global public consciousness. Not coincidentally, in 1972, the year the
film was first released, the United States would pass the Clean Water Act with
the aim of eliminating toxic waste from global waters.
Though Bannen and Geeson are the film’s principal
players, the film sports a strong supporting cast of familiar faces. Geoffrey Keen, who plays Sir Henry, the man
responsible for the illegal radioactive dumping, will be recognizable to
filmgoers for his tenure as the Minister of Defence in six James Bond films
(beginning with Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me through Timothy Dalton’s The
Living Daylights). Another recognizable face is that of George Sanders, who
enjoyed a legendary long career in film and television and pop-culture (he
portrayed Leslie Charteris’ The Saint in no fewer than five films (1939-1941)
and even as the chilling Mister Freeze in TV’s Batman series of 1966.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release of Doomwatch is of
definitely interest to film enthusiasts. Special features include an “On Camera
Interview” with actress Judy Geeson, audio commentary and introduction to the
film courtesy of director Peter Sasdy, and a gallery of film trailers for other
recent Blu-Ray releases of Kino-Lorber.
Mary Tyler Moore, the iconic star of TV and feature films, has died at age 80. During her life, she had battled alcoholism and diabetes but her career thrived from her very first major role, her Emmy-winning performances on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" beginning in 1961. Her own TV series, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" became a major hit and a great influence on women because of her portrayal as a strong, independent woman living a productive and happy life without a steady romantic relationship. Moore's success extended into feature films and she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the 1980 film "Ordinary People". For more click here.
Perhaps the first film we saw
that convinced us that Woody Allen could actually act—i.e., not be his nebbish, nervous comic persona from his early
directorial efforts—was Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy/drama, The Front, which appeared a year before Allen’s Annie Hall.
The Front was
perhaps the first Hollywood film to tackle the subject of “the blacklist” that
occurred in the movie industry in the late 1940s and throughout most of the 50s.
This abominable practice was due to the investigation of “Communist
infiltration” in Tinsel Town by HUAC—the House Un-American Activities
Committee. It was truly a dark time in U.S. history, one in which friends were
pressured to “name names” or face the prospect of unemployment or worse, such
as jail time. Note that the Hollywood
studio heads were responsible for the actual blacklisting. The powers-that-be
decided to cooperate with HUAC by targeting stars, writers, directors,
producers, and other personnel who may have
had some connections to the Communist Party, even if it was as far back as the
1920s and 30s. It was insane.
Director Martin Ritt, who himself
was a victim of the blacklist, shows us just how insane it really was. The film
was written by Walter Bernstein, also a blacklist victim. Actors Zero Mostel,
Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough—who appear in the picture—were also once blacklisted.
The Front knows what it’s talking
about. There are laughs, to be sure, but there is also a subtle seriousness to
the proceedings that is frightening.
Allen plays Howard, a lowly
restaurant cashier who is friends with screenwriter Alfred (Michael Murphy).
Alfred gets blacklisted, so he gets Howard to be his “front”—Alfred writes the
scripts and then Howard puts his name on them and takes a percentage of the
fee. The problems start when the scripts are so good that Howard becomes known
as a talented writer and suddenly becomes in demand. Soon he’s the front for
several writers, and of course, it gets out of hand. During the course of the
story, Howard befriends actor Hecky (Mostel), who also becomes blacklisted, as
well as lovely and smart studio script editor Florence (Andrea Marcovicci),
with whom Howard falls in love. How is he going to keep his secret from
Florence, especially when she’s just as enamored of his “writing” as the studio
The Oscar nominated original
screenplay is savvy and biting, Ritt’s direction is assured and knowing, and
Zero Mostel is so good that he should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
for The Front—but it is Woody Allen’s
performance that is the soul of the movie. He literally lights up the screen
with a fully fleshed-out character that, at the time, was a refreshing
surprise. His passion for the material is evident, and one could almost think
that the film is one of his own from his late 1980s period.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition sports an all-region 1080p High Definition
restoration that looks sharp. It is accompanied by a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack, as well as an informative audio commentary by Andrea Marcovicci,
and film historians Julie Kirgo (who also provides the booklet notes) and Nick
Redman. Other supplements include an isolated score track (Dave Grusin, composer)
and the theatrical trailer.
As with most Twilight Time
releases, the Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units, so snatch it up before
they’re gone. The Front is a timely
piece of political filmmaking that still resonates, especially today.
"La La Land" lived up to its hype by earning 14 Oscar nominations, tying "Titanic" and "All About Eve" for the most ever. Other films with multiple major nominations include "Manchester by the Sea", "Arrival", "Fences", "Moonlight", "Lion", "Hell or High Water" and "Hacksaw Ridge". The Oscar telecast takes place on February 26. Click here for full list of nominations.
should say upfront that with a couple of notable exceptions I'm not a big fan
of John Carpenter's work. I wish I was, I really do (and I'll never give up on
him), but I'm just not. It strikes me that for every exceptional film he made –
Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing – there’s a handful of distinctly
underwhelming offerings: They Live, Ghosts of Mars, The Fog, Prince of Darkness,
Village of the Damned, Body Bags, Escape from L.A., Vampires, In the Mouth of
Madness…the list goes on. I concede that many of these films are widely revered,
so would stress again that these are titles that have left me personally
feeling unfulfilled and I readily acknowledge that my opinions are those of a
minority. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976),
which as with many of his films, Carpenter wrote and scored as well as
directed, was his second theatrical feature following Dark Star two years
earlier, and for me it resides upstream of the mid-water between the few titles
I greatly admire and the regrettable majority that I deem to be
the aftermath of the slaying of some of their pack by the police, the
formidable Street Thunder gang swear a "Cholo" – a blood oath of
vengeance – decreeing that they'll bring war to the streets of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile Special Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers) is transporting three
prisoners between penitentiaries when one of them falls seriously ill. Starker
decides to locate a police station to get the trio into confinement whilst he
summons a doctor. Unfortunately, the nearest is in the process of being
decommissioned and relocated to a new site and is thusly staffed by bare bones
personnel, but the officer overseeing the closure, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop
(Austin Stoker), nevertheless agrees to let Starker use the holding cells. Then
Lawson (Martin West) – the father of a little girl murdered by the gang (and who
subsequently pursued the perpetrators, shooting one of the head honchos dead) –
stumbles in to Anderson in shock and seeking refuge. Armed to the teeth, dozens
of gang members converge on the premises to make Lawson pay for killing one of
on Precinct 13 was fashioned by Carpenter as a modern day western and with
traces of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo coursing through its veins it's very much
that. Yet it's also impossible to ignore the aroma of George Romero's seminal The
Night of the Living Dead in its structure: a gathering of disparate characters,
the most intuitively improvisational of whom is portrayed by a black actor, are
holed up in an isolated location with little hope of help and where, despite
internal disputes, they're forced to put aside their differences and work
together to defend themselves from a relentless army of hostiles whose
merciless intent is to see them all dead.
a few mildly engaging scenes which serve to establish the panoply of
characters, Carpenter reaches out and grabs his audience by the throat with a
suspenseful and shocking sequence revolving around a little girl who realises
she's been served the wrong flavour of ice cream. Thereafter the director
incrementally stokes the tension with the aid of time stamps that appear at
regular intervals in the corner of the screen and not only lend the proceedings
a documentary feel but ratchet up audience apprehension as the titular assault gets
things kick off and the first wave of defenders has been taken out in a spray
of carnage it's pretty much high octane action through to the (slightly
anticlimactic) finish line. There are, however, some quieter moments
punctuating the mayhem and it's during these that Carpenter's excellent
characterisations are given room to breathe. Particularly enjoyable is the chemistry
and burgeoning mutual respect between lawman Bishop and felon Napoleon Wilson
(an impeccable Darwin Joston); come the end you can't help wishing these guys
could have taken off together on a new adventure. Also memorable in this
respect is Laurie Zimmer as an Anderson secretary who Wilson takes a shine to
and, once again, one is left wistfully musing that the relationship between
them might have been explored further.
particular standout scene during these welcome moments of quietude plays on the
innate human instinct for self-preservation; a character suggests that they
hand over Lawson to the gang in order to save their own skins, but Bishop nobly
refuses to be party to such an egregious undertaking.
already mentioned aside, there are fine performances too from Tony Burton,
Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (the latter two would be reunited as father
and daughter in the director's next big screen release, Halloween).
by a typically infectious Carpenter score – particularly its thrumming core
synth theme – Assault on Precinct 13 is a raw and intense low-budgeter, the
creativity of which obscures its budgetary constraints, and which has not only
improved with age but in 2005 spawned a starry (and unexpectedly decent)
the film was shot as The Siege, its title changed at the behest of the
distributor in favour of something punchier. Although Assault on Precinct 13 is
arguably a better choice it's also a bit of a misnomer, since nowhere in the
film itself is there a "Precinct 13", let alone one that comes under
movie has been available on Blu-ray and DVD before, but its recent UK 40th anniversary
incarnation from Second Sight makes for an irresistibly double-dip-worthy
proposition. Aside from a pristine 2.35:1 ratio hi-def transfer from a newly
restored print the release includes some exceptional bonus goodies. On
both the individually available Blu-Ray and DVD, along with a terrific assembly
of interview material – Director John Carpenter, actors Austin Stoker and Nancy
Loomis, Art Director Tommy Lee Wallace (who also handled sound effects duties),
and Executive Producer Joseph Kaufman – there are two commentaries (from
Carpenter and Wallace), a trailer and some radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray
box set release are "Captain Voyeur" (a comical short black &
white student film written and directed by Carpenter in 1969), and a
partially-subtitled 2003 documentary entitled "Do You Remember Laurie
Zimmer?"; chronicling the extensive efforts by a French film crew to
locate the actress who retired from the business many years ago. It certainly
has “will they or won't they find her?” appeal, but rambles a little and would
have benefited from being pared down to half its 53-minute runtime. Also
exclusive to the box set are a selection of art cards and a CD pressing of
cinephiles know that Woody Allen is a huge fan of Ingmar Bergman. Allen has
paid homage to the Swedish master several times, and his 1982 work, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, is an
example. It draws upon one of Bergman’s very few comedies, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which is also the basis of the
Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and later film, A Little Night Music.
Smiles takes place at the
turn of the last century (1800s to 1900s) in a rural village in Sweden, and the
story follows the bawdy escapades of several couples. Likewise, Allen’s Midsummer takes place in the same time
period, although the story is transplanted to “the country” somewhere in New
York state, and concerns an ensemble of six characters—three couples—who also
embark on bawdy escapades.
original film, in turn, is inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov. Smiles of Summer Night is light,
intellectual, and explores manners and morals with an undercurrent of serious
sexuality bubbling underneath—just like some of Chekhov’s comedies. The Russian
playwright’s comedies are not belly-laughers; instead they are subtle, amusing,
and effervescent. You smile at them.
Bergman’s Smiles is the same way, as
is Allen’s Midsummer.
said, Midsummer is not one of Woody
Allen’s better films. It’s all right—it’s not bad, it’s just very, well, light.
A fluff piece. Something he made to fill some time. He had actually shot Zelig prior to making Midsummer, but the visual effects of the
former film were taking longer than expected—so Allen wrote, produced, edited,
and released Midsummer in the interim
(Zelig was released in 1983).
are perhaps two significant aspects to Midsummer—one
is Gordon Willis’ gorgeous color cinematography, which excellently captures the
“enchanted” forest and pastoral mood of the film, and the other is that it’s
the first of Allen’s releases featuring Mia Farrow as a co-star. Unfortunately,
as opposed to several other of the director’s movies made later in the decade, Midsummer does not show off Farrow’s
talents particularly well.
plays Andrew, an “inventor” married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). They are
having marital problems, although their love for each other is evident. They’ve
invited two couples out to the country for a weekend—Leopold, a randy old
professor (Jose Ferrer) and his young fiancé Ariel (Farrow), and
Maxwell, a randy young doctor (Tony Roberts) and his adventurous nurse, Dulcy
(Julie Hagerty). Throughout the course of the weekend, couples mix,
relationships are challenged, and the promise of sex dominates everyone’s mind.
Throw in a little magic (the forest is “enchanted”),
and you have a light little romp of a comedy.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 units) features a 1080 High
Definition transfer that beautifully brings out the colorful settings. It comes
with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, plus an isolated music track (the score
is made up of lively classical pieces by Felix Mendelssohn). The theatrical
trailer is the only supplement. The booklet contains an informative essay by
film critic Julie Kirgo.
the grand scheme of Allen’s nearly fifty titles, Midsummer resides somewhere in the lower third, to be sure. Nevertheless,
it provides 88 minutes of amusement in the way a nice European pastry is
pleasing to the palate. Enjoyable while it lasts, but then it’s gone.
In 1924 a film titled "The City Without Jews" premiered in Vienna. The movie was an adaptation of a novel by Hugo Bettauer, who viewed it as a dark satire of what unchecked racism could lead to. In the novel, a fictional city named Utopia orchestrates a round-up and forced exile of all of the Jews who inhabit the city, making them scapegoats for all of the problems that have left residents frustrated. . However, after the quality of life deteriorates and services begin to fail, the city fathers issue a mea culpa and request that the exiles return to Utopia (which is an obvious metaphor for Vienna). The film was directed by Hans Karl Breslauer. It won acclaim but its legacy was to be defined by ironies and tragedies. Bettauer wrote the novel to denounce anti-Semitism even though he had already converted to Christianity. He would be murdered by an anti-Semite a year after the premiere of the film. The director of the film would never make another movie and join the Nazi party in 1940, although he may have done so because of political expediency since Nazi Germany took over the nation, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, in the "anschluss", or annexation, of 1938. At the time the film premiered Adolf Hitler was serving a jail sentence for his failed coup against the Weimar Republic. While in jail, Hitler effectively used his status to become a martyr to ultra right-wing fringe groups who were growing increasingly militant amidst the economic catastrophe that was engulfing Germany. After Hitler was elected to national office, he would wait out the death of the beloved elderly president von Hindenburg. Upon von Hindenburg's passing, Hitler established himself as dictator and appealed to desperate people who would willingly cede their civil rights to a strongman who promised he could fix everything. One of the first casualties of the Nazi regime was freedom of speech. The propaganda ministry forbade the public display of any film or published work that might be viewed as undermining the totalitarian nature of the regime. Thus, "The City Without Jews" was pulled from circulation. This was not surprising, given the fact that the movie and its source novel predicted exactly what the Nazi government had in mind for the Jews of Europe: forced evacuations and ultimately mass exterminations.
"The City Without Jews" was presumed to be a "lost" movie until 1991 when an incomplete version was discovered and screened at the Vienna Film Festival. However it lacked its powerful final sequence in which the Jews are invited to return to Utopia. The Daily Beast reports that last year a complete version of the movie was improbably found at a Paris flea market. The Film Archive Austria is raising funds to protect and preserve it, as the movie existed on highly flammable nitrate stock. Those behind the effort to completely safeguard the film also feel the movie has an unfortunate parallel in today's world where hate crimes and intolerance of minorities is on the rise.
by Anthony Bushell, who also co-directed (with Reginald Beck) and appears
on screen as a courtroom attorney, 1951's The Long Dark Hall opens with two
brutal, night-shrouded murders in rapid succession, priming the audience for
what promises to be a tasty serving of Brit-noir. Regrettably, with the
identity of the murderer openly revealed in the first scene and the wrong man
hastily arrested for the crime, it tailspins into a mediocre courtroom drama
with a crushingly dissatisfying denouement. Seldom has a film been quite so
severely undermined by such an incredulously vapid wrap-up, one so abrupt in
fact that you have to wonder if they misplaced the last dozen pages of the
script, forcing them to hastily improvise!
shadowy figure who considers himself ‘an instrument of justice’ and whose name
we never learn (Anthony Dawson) is stalking the streets of London murdering
showgirls. When Rose Mallory (Patricia Wayne) is found dead, the finger of
suspicion points to Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison), a respectable married man who
was having a troubled affair with her. Standing trial with only circumstantial
evidence to convict him, Groome's efforts to play down his relationship with
Rose make him look ever more guilty. Convinced of his innocence and prepared to
overlook his infidelity, Groome's wife Mary (Lilli Palmer) remains stoically at
his side throughout. But the murderer has another agenda and, finagling a
meeting with Mary outside the court one afternoon, he begins to worm his way
into her trust.
Long Dark Hall was scripted by Nunnally Johnson and W.E. Fairchild from an
Edgar Lustgarten novel, "A Case to Answer", its story relayed
through extended flashbacks as a writer researches material for his new book.
Structured as such, one could take issue with several blatant plot anomalies
born thereof, but the real problem is that in laying all its cards on the table
from the get go and failing to keep an ace up its sleeve, beyond the question
of how – or if – Groome will escape his predicament, in terms of suspense the
movie has nowhere to go. Which is a bit of a shame because there are some very
fine, committed performances on the show here. Rex Harrison imbues the
beleaguered Groome with sufficient enough self-reproach over the whole sorry
business that in spite of his flawed judgement one can't help but root for him;
this was an era when the crime of murder carried the death sentence, yet he blithely
continues to play economical with the truth. As good as Harrison is though,
it's Anthony Dawson who snares the most memorable scene in the film. Arriving
at the Groome residence in the midst of a thunderstorm and welcomed in by Mary,
his charming facade slips away and he makes unwelcome advances on her. Wreathed
in menace, the whole sequence is lit and shot to perfection. Dawson, whose best
films in a long career were those in which he portrayed shifty and despicable
rogues (Dr. No, Dial M for Murder, Curse of the Werewolf), was never more
intimidating on screen than he is in this scene. The ever-dependable Raymond
Huntley is on excellent form as the investigating officer and there are fairly
brief but memorable appearances by a boyish Michael Medwin and dear old Ballard
Berkeley (in another of his policeman turns, promoted this time round to
Superintendent). Also showcased here is the film debut of Jill Bennett, who
gets but a single line of dialogue before falling victim to Dawson's knife.
spite of its deficiencies, if one can forgive the painfully weak ending, The
Long Dark Hall makes for entertaining and undemanding enough post-Sunday-luncheon
fare. And if nothing else there's curiosity value to be found in the fact the
film represents one of the cruellest examples of art imitating life: When it
was being made Harrison and Palmer were husband and wife and no doubt still recovering
from the strain placed on their marriage by his fling a couple of years earlier
with actress Carol Landis, who’d committed suicide when the relationship hit
the rocks. Palmer supported Harrison throughout that whole ordeal. One imagines
it wasn't too difficult for Harrison to conjure up the desperately forlorn and
contrite expression on Groome's face as he stands in the dock.
film has been released on DVD in the UK as part of Network Distributing's
ongoing 'The British Film' collection. Presented in 1.37:1 ratio, it's a
nice transfer from the original film elements. The sole supplement is a short
gallery of international poster art and lobby cards.
Adapted fairly faithfully from Shaun Hutson's celebrated
novel of the same name, upon its release in 1988 director J.P. Simon’s Slugs slunk
comfortably into the subgenre of "nature gone crazy" frighteners
which over the years had found mankind besieged by worms, spiders, rats, ants,
frogs, bees and, er, rabbits (no, really!). And, just as the best of them had
it, Slugs’ beasties weren't of the common or garden kind, they were of the
supersized, extra squishy variety...with teeth…oh, and a taste for human flesh.
The inhabitants of a small American town – the site of a
former dumping ground for toxic waste – fall victim to a nightmarish contagion
of slugs and it's up to Council Health Inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield)
to sort it out. He quickly learns that not only are they deadly but that
they've contaminated the fresh water system. With the mutilated dead bodies of
townsfolk piling up and the authorities dismissing Brady's outlandish theories,
he turns to scientist John Foley (Santiago Alvarez) for help. Foley concocts an
efficacious amalgam of chemicals he believes will destroy them and the two men
set off to locate the slugs' breeding ground in the sewers.
J.P. Simon is better known to connoisseurs of terror cinema
as Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, whose most notorious celluloid
offering was crazed 1982 slasher Pieces. Slugs sacrifices the
inherent sleaze factor of that film and doesn’t even attempt to match its
infamous ultra-gory effects. But what the two do share in common is
that the performances of the participants are uniformly risible and both films
are hampered by truly wretched dialogue, the mostly stilted delivery of which
only accentuates just how awful it is.
And yet, again as with Pieces, these frailties – if,
when attributed to a film with such a dubious pedigree as Slugs, they can
even be called frailties – add a welcome vein of unintentional humour.
Take, for example, this early dialogue exchange between
Brady and his wife when she draws his attention to some slugs in the flowerbeds
Him: Jesus Christ, those things are big!
Her: I told you they were big.
Him: Big? They're gigantic!!
He reaches down to touch one and recoils.
Him: Damned thing bit me!
Her: What kind of a slug bites someone?
Him: I don't know, but he's living in your garden!!
Slugs’ functionality as a "horror film" is
understandably subjective, being directly proportionate to one's feelings about
the titular gastropods. Let's face it, they aren't scary, or even intimidating
for that matter; never mind run, you could stroll away from them.
However, what most people do probably deem them to be is pretty repulsive. And
on that score Simón employs his cast of thousands to admirably
I want to start this review by saying right out that if
you have a particular interest in the Cinemascope movies of the mid-1950’s, and
if you are a film soundtrack fan, especially the music of composer Bernard
Herrmann, you want the new Blu-Ray of “Garden of Evil” (1954) from Twilight
Time. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good time watching a film and
going through the special features provided on this disc.
It’s not that “Garden of Evil” is such a great flick.
It’s not. It tries to be a profound examination of men’s lust for gold and a
beautiful woman, but ends up at best being a melodramatic potboiler that’s long
on talk and short on action. “If the world were made of gold, I guess men would
die for a handful of dirt,” Gary Cooper says at the end of the film. It’s a
great line. It sounds like something Bogart could have said at the end of
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But the script by Frank Fenton (based on a
story by Fred Frieberger and William Tunberg) lacks the depth of the John
Huston classic. Nevertheless, “Garden of Evil” is still a highly enjoyable
Cooper plays Hooker, an American adventurer stranded in
Puerto Miguel, Mexico when the boat that was taking him to the California gold
fields develops engine trouble. Stranded along with him are fellow passengers Richard
Widmark, who plays Fiske, a card sharp, and Cameron Mitchell as Luke Daly, a
young hot head, who thinks he’s tough and good with a gun. The three Americans are
basically stuck with each other in Puerto Miguel as they try to figure out what
they’re going to do in Mexico while waiting six weeks for the boat’s engine to
That question is quickly answered in a cantina when Fiske
starts to tell Daly’s fortune using a deck of cards and holds up a red queen. Who
should walk in at that particular moment? None other than the red-headed queen
of Fox’s 1950s Cinemascope productions herself—Susan Hayward as Leah Fuller.
She storms into the place (as Hayward was often prone to do), saying she’ll pay
$2,000 in gold to any man who will come with her up into the mountains to
rescue her husband, who is trapped in a gold mine. Only one of the Mexican’s in
the bar, Vicente (Victor Manuel Mendoza) takes her up on her offer. The others are
too afraid of the Apaches up there. But our three intrepid Americanos can’t
resist the $2,000 and the fiery redhead who’s offering it and agree to go along
The journey is long and arduous. Hayward takes them up a
dizzying mountain trail that has a cliff with a drop of a thousand feet, give
or take a mile or two. Art directors Edward Fitzgerald and Lyle Wheeler came up
with some fantastic matte paintings for these scenes. The vistas that spread
out on the vast Cinemascope screen are breathtaking and add a weird touch of
fantasy to the film. I couldn’t help thinking of the scenes from the old Tarzan
movies, when the ape-man and his companions were climbing the Mutia Escarpment.
The use of the matte paintings to enhance the natural scenery of the Guanajuato,
Mexico location, I suspect was deliberate, to establish a demarcation between
the everyday world of Puerto Miguel and the mysterious Garden of Evil, where
the mine is located. The place was given its name by an old priest who, I
presume, knew about things like good and evil.
They arrive at the mine after several days’ journey and
find Leah’s husband, John Fuller (Hugh Marlowe), still alive. They dig him out
and set his broken leg in a splint. You’d think he’d be grateful, but it turns
out he’s a jealous insecure man, suspicious of the guys who came to his aid. He
thinks they want his gold and his wife. He’s partly right about that. Luke Daly
has already made unwanted advances and had to be knocked into submission by
Hooker. And neither Fiske nor Hooker have failed to notice Leah’s stunning
beauty, although they are more gentlemanly about it. Widmark as Fiske plays it
cynical, but in the end, he shows he’s not the cad he pretends to be and makes
a noble gesture on her behalf.
Cooper as Hooker, of course, is the upright man of honor
as always. At age 54 he was in a peak period of his career. He seemed to get
better as he got older. In films of that period such as “Vera Cruz,” “High
Noon,” and “Man of the West,” he gave some of his best performances, showing
that unusual combination of seasoned leather toughness and vulnerability. He
could do more with a squint or a twitch of the mouth than most other actors
could do with a page of dialogue. He dominates scene after scene just with his
mere presence, despite the star power of his co-stars.
Once the characters are finally all together at the mine,
the potboiler plot kicks in and the film gets a bit tedious, until smoke signal
appear on the rim and the Apaches move in. The rest of the story concerns
itself with the escape back through the mountains with Apaches in pursuit. Who
will make it? Who will die? And who ends up with Susan Hayward?
Watching Hayward, Widmark, and Cooper play against each
other is the kind of movie-going experience that cannot be equaled today. Veteran
director Henry Hathaway made good use of the wide Cinemascope lenses, shooting many
long takes with a stationary camera, filming the actors as though it was a stage
production. As film historian Nick Redman says in the Blu-ray’s commentary
track, by this time the studio had started using four-track magnetic tape to
record sound and there are moments that almost seem as if the actors are there
Not the most beloved entry in Alfred Hitchcock's
cinematic oeuvre – by either audiences in general or the director himself –
1939's Jamaica Inn (based on a Daphne du Maurier novel first
published three years earlier) is nevertheless a serviceable enough piece of
drama, which perhaps finds its most ideal place nowadays as an undemanding
rainy Sunday afternoon programmer.
Following the death of her mother, Mary Yellen (Maureen
O'Hara) travels from Ireland to England intending to take up residence with her
relatives at their Cornish hostelry the Jamaica Inn. After an unexpected
detour, which on face value proves beneficial when she makes the acquaintance
of local squire and magistrate Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), Mary
arrives at her destination to find her browbeaten Aunt Patience (Maria Ney)
living in fear of a tyrannical husband, the brutish Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks).
It also transpires that the Inn is the refuge of a gang of cutthroats – of
which Merlyn is ringleader – who orchestrate shipwrecks along the
perilous coastline, murdering in cold blood any surviving crew and plundering
the cargo. When the gang set about lynching one of their own, James 'Jem'
Trehearne (Robert Newton), who's been lining his own pockets with the spoils,
Mary saves his life and together they flee into the night, eventually turning
to Pengallan for help. But Mary soon discovers neither Trehearne nor Pengallan
are what they first appear…
Extremist spoilerphobes who've not seen Jamaica Inn needn't
get too riled by the revelation that Pengallan is the film's principal
malefactor, since it's a card Hitchcock lays face up on the table very early in
the proceedings. Some might suggest too early, but the fun derived
from this stratagem is the discomfort that escalates as we the audience,
knowing he's a bad egg, watch our hero and heroine mistake him for a paragon of
virtue, erroneously placing their trust in the very man they’re trying to bring
Its screenplay having been penned by Sidney Gilliat and
co-credited to Hitchcock’s secretary Joan Harrison, author Daphne du Maurier
was reputedly dissatisfied with the changes made to her novel, and indeed the
resulting picture as a whole. And in many respects Jamaica Inn doesn't
really feel like "An Alfred Hitchcock Film" at all, not only because
it was rare for him to tackle period drama but also due to the fact the
performances are so atypically theatrical, certainly more so than in any other
of his pictures that I can think of. The ripest ham of the bunch is
unquestionably Charles Laughton, who also co-produced and so held considerable
sway over the production – for example, he drafted in J.B. Priestley
to finesse his dialogue – and for my money the actor pitched his
performance completely wrong. What the story cries out for but desperately
lacks is a strong arch-villain and, where Pengallan ought to be a festering
pool of corruption and depravity, the conceited air, sly sideways glances,
snide smirking and ludicrously fashioned eyebrows that garnish Laughton's
portrayal, he's more pantomime rascal than anything even remotely threatening.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to enjoy about his performance. He
rapaciously chews on the scenery, shamelessly thieving one's attention every
time he's on screen – even when he's background in a shot – and his lascivious
designs on Mary are queasily unsettling. It's merely that, in the context of
this particular story, I consider the campy approach was misjudged.
Continuing with the subject of villainy, after the
initial, impressively discomfiting scenes in which it looks as if Merlyn is
going to be a despicable force to be reckoned with, the character is revealed
to be Pengallan's puppet and regrettably loses some of his edge; later on there
are even attempts to turn him into a figure of pity. Perhaps the most
interesting of the cutthroats is Emlyn Williams as Harry the Peddler, whose
soft whistling as he goes about his felonious work imbues him with quiet
menace, though he's sadly a tad underused.
On the plus side though, Maureen O'Hara is spirited and
ravishing as the heroine of the piece; one can hardly blame Pengallan for
wanting to truss her up and take her home! And those most familiar with Robert
Newton in his legendary performance as the bewhiskered Long John Silver in
Byron Haskin's 1950 take on Treasure Island may be as taken aback as
I at the youthful and slightly effeminate good looks the actor exhibits here,
however his performance is admirable.
Having stated that Jamaica Inn doesn't feel like
a Hitchcock film, there are still some nice ‘Hitchcockian’ flourishes in
evidence. Notable is a sequence in which Mary wakes beside a sleeping Jem and,
espying a savage blade lodged in the sand within reach of his hand, tries to
slip away without rousing him. All the same, the scenario isn't milked to its
full potential, at least not in the same way similar moments are so
nail-bitingly structured in the director's other works.
King’s 1975 novel Salem’s Lot began
life as an unpublished short story (“Jerusalem’s Lot”) while Mr. King was still
in college. When he decided to expand it
into a novel he posed the question as to what would happen if Count Dracula
were to come back in 20th Century America, and his wife Tabitha
joked that he would probably get run over by a cab in New York City. It was originally titled Second Coming, however it was changed at the urging of Mrs. King because
it sounded like a “bad sex story” (she’s was right, and had a dirty mind to
boot!). The 439-page book was then made
into an effective TV-movie four years later, premiering in two parts on both
November 17 and November 24 on CBS. TV-movies
are a completely different animal than theatrical films as they are often shot
in a much quicker fashion. Salem’s Lot is no exception. The multiple-hour-long film was shot during a
seven-week stretch in July and August of 1979.
film’s construction is elliptical in nature and begins at the end with David
Soul as Ben Mears and Lance Kerwin as Mark Petrie, both obviously dirty, worn
out, and tired, as they collect holy water from a church in Mexico. They have been on the run for a while, but we
don’t know why. The action then switches
back to two years previous when Mears returns to the town of Salem’s Lot in
Maine (in reality the Victorian Village of Ferndale, CA). The small town feel is obvious from the get-go
as townspeople know and greet one another with polite familiarity. Novelist Mears drives into town and eyes the
Marsten House (a false front constructed for the film that was burned down at
the end; Peter Medak did the same thing in his masterful 1980 film The Changeling) and as it turns out he
had quite a scare there when he was a child. His attraction to the huge manse, which is reputed to be haunted, only
intensifies when he learns that two antique dealers, Richard Straker (James
Mason) and Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder), have purchased it and are opening up a
new shop in the Salem’s Lot business district. Barlow is reputed to be traveling throughout Europe acquiring new and
fancy merchandise to sell at the new store, however despite Mr. Straker’s
constant insistence that he will arrive shortly, his absence is felt. Mears, meanwhile, moves into a boarding house
temporarily to work on his new novel and finds himself romancing Susan Norton
(Bonnie Bedelia of Die Hard), a local
fan of his. Things in Salem’s Lot seem
to take a turn for the worse when Straker asks a moving company to lower a
crate into his basement; cold air emanates from the wooden enclosure and the
movers run off in fright. Several deaths
occur within the town, most horrifically among them children. When the vampire finally appears in the form
of Reggie Nalder, he is quite a sight to behold. Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), a teenage horror
film fan who also is an aficionado of magic, gets caught up in the mayhem and
when his parents are killed he vows revenge against Barlow. Together with Ben, Mark finds himself on the
run from vampires…
film’s signature image of a vampire in the form of one of the young boys with
bloodshot eyes floating outside of a window is still creepy by today’s
standards. Many young children suffered
through sleepless nights 37 years ago when the film aired, mostly due to this
sequence. The film also boasts a spooky
score by Harry Sukman which punctuates the action in a fashion that keeps in
line with similar made-for-TV movies of the period and is every bit as good as
anything concocted by composers Robert Cobert and Dominic Frontiere.
you watch the film you’re struck by just how many of the wonderful character
actors who appear are no longer with us: uncredited Reggie Nalder as Barlow;
Elisha Cook, Jr. and Marie Windsor, who both appeared as a couple in Stanley
Kubrick’s The Killing in 1955; James
Mason as Straker, and Kenneth MacMillian as the constable.
Salem’s Lot, in addition to many syndicated
airings, was released on VHS in the 1980’s by Warner Home Video in the form of
the 112-minute European theatrical cut, which removes 71 minutes (roughly 38%)
of the original television broadcast. While I am grateful that the 183-minute version is the one released on
this new Warner Blu-ray, it would have been nice to have had the 112-minute cut
on here as well just to be able to compare the two. Perhaps the master for that cut has been
misplaced? Director Tobe Hooper, still
riding the wave of the success of The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) but having faltered with Eaten Alive (1976) and then getting fired
from the set of The Dark (1979),
regains his horror footing here before going on to make the little gem The Funhouse (1981) and the spectacular Poltergeist (1982). The sole extra on this otherwise bare-bones
release is a running commentary by Mr. Hooper, but this is sufficient and
should satisfy even the most die-hard fans of the film.
The Warner Archive has released a Blu-ray edition of director Vincente Minnelli's classic 1950 comedy "Father of the Bride". The movie's delights haven't faded a bit with the passing of the years and its premise is as timely as ever- namely, that planning a wedding is a major pain in the butt for everyone involved. In this case Spencer Tracy is the long-suffering dad, Stanley T. Banks, who lives an uppercrust lifestyle complete with live-in maid. Still, he isn't so wealthy that he can spend with wild abandon. When his teenage daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) announces she is engaged to heartthrob Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), everyone's lives are turned topsy-turvy. Predictably, Stanley feels Buckley isn't quite worthy of having his daughter as his wife, a common prejudice experienced by about 90% of fathers worldwide who find themselves in the same situation. However, his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) is enthusiastic about the wedding and goes all-out in assisting her starry-eyed daughter in ensuring that the big day is all she dreams it will be. Before long Stanley finds his leisure time is a thing of the past as a rapidly escalating number of chores (and expenses) relating to the wedding begin to snowball. The witty, Oscar-nominated screenplay, based on the novel by Edward Streeter, allows Stanley to narrate his own tale of woe, wallowing in self-pity all along the way and portraying himself as the ultimate victim: he's pressed to spend a king's ransom on the wedding even while his own opinions are consistently dismissed by those around him. Tracy, also Oscar-nominated, plays the part to the hilt with a slow-burn temper occasionally rising to the level of a full-blown tantrum. Before long the old adage is proven out that if a family can survive planning the wedding then the union may actually succeed. Liz Taylor radiates almost surrealistic beauty as the bride-to-be and the supporting cast is top notch with old pros Billie Burke and Leo G. Carroll joining in the fun. The only weak link is Don Taylor as the groom. The character is so ridiculously polite and wimpy that it defies belief that Stanley would view him as a threat to his daughter in any way. Under the direction of Vincente Minnelli, "Father of the Bride" remains an extremely funny film that doesn't strive for belly laughs but, rather, concentrates on a consistent string of low-key, highly amusing situations that will ring true to all viewers. The film's popularity resulted in a successful sequel, "Father's Little Dividend" and also inspired a very good remake (and sequel) starring Steve Martin in the 1990s.
The Blu-ray edition looks great and includes the original trailer and vintage newsreel footage of Elizabeth Taylor's real-life wedding as well as a visit to the set by President Harry S. Truman.
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William Peter Blatty, the novelist and screenwriter whose book "The Exorcist" became a literary phenomenon and a movie sensation, died Thursday at age 89. Blatty's success prior to the publication of the book in 1971 was largely based on comedic novels and screenplays. His greatest claim to fame in his early career was as screenwriter of the Pink Panther comedy "A Shot in the Dark". Blatty was studying at Georgetown University when he heard about a 1949 incident in which the Catholic church issued a rare approval for the exorcism of a young boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon. The story so intrigued Blatty that many years later it formed the basis of "The Exorcist", though he changed the victim to a young girl. The book was an overnight success and director William Friedkin's 1973 film version became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Blatty and Friedkin disagreed about the final cut of the film but did decide to release an alternate version in 2000 that contained scenes deleted from the original cut. Blatty directed and wrote the 1990 sequel "Exorcist III", feeling he could convey story elements that were not included in the first film or its disastrous 1977 sequel. However, "Exorcist III" opened to middling boxoffice and critical disinterest. Over the years Blatty complained that, despite the financial success "The Exorcist" franchise had afforded him, he was frustrated that he could no longer return to writing comedy, which was his first love. He said that studios and publishers always expected him to produce a horror blockbuster. For more click here.
(For an exclusive interview with William Peter Blatty, see Cinema Retro issue #19)
Second Time Around” is a 1960 comedy-western starring the late, great Debbie
Reynolds as a city widow with two children who decides to follow her and her
late husband’s dream of living out West. A friend of her deceased husband tells
her to come with the kids out to Arizona Territory where she can work in his
general store. She goes out alone at first only to find that by the time she
gets there the friend who owned the store has been killed. The sheriff (Ken
Scott) seems more interested in picking Debbie up literally at the train
station and carrying her off to the saloon than catching the killer. He tells
her that the store owner was killed by a man with a tattoo of a dagger on his
arm. Dum de dum dum. Remember that.
tries to find work in town but ends up working out on Thelma Ritter’s ranch.
You remember Thelm-a she was in dozens of films back in the fifties/sixties
playing the role of the good friend/landlady/confidante who always befriends the
female lead. We also meet Steve Forrest as a slick gambler; Andy Griffith, as
the bashful 35 year old son of a lady ranch owner (he’s more like Gomer than
Andy in this one); and Juliet Prowse as Steve Forrest’s girlfriend.
a nice cast and director Vincent Sherman does a pretty good job keeping the lightweight
story based on a Richard Emery Roberts novel moving. (Screenplay is credited to
Oscar Saul and Cecil Dan Hansen—a pseudonym for Clair Huffaker). There are two
main conflicts in the plot. The first is a romantic triangle between Debbie,
Andy, and Steve. Sharpster Steve keeps getting the best of poor Andy all
through the story, but Andy keeps plugging along. At one point Steve salts a
river with gold nuggets and gets Debbie to go out there with him and prospect
for gold. His main intention is to get her to fall in the water so she’ll have
to take all her clothes off to dry. Forced to spend the night wrapped in a
blanket, Debbie sort of melts to Steve’s charm but of course not all the way.
It’s 1961, after all.
an irate Andy rides out there in the morning and socks Steve on the jaw, and
when Debbie finds out that Steve salted the river she slaps both of them in the
face and walks off in a huff. Of course you know what happens next. Steve socks
Andy and he falls in the river. It’s that kind of comedy, folks.
second conflict is between Debbie and crooked sheriff Ken Scott. She starts a
recall petition to force him to run for re-election. She’s convinced he knows
more than he’s saying about her dead husband’s dead friend. Scott calls in
reinforcements to help him stop her, one of whom turns out to be a guy with a
tattoo of a dagger on his arm. Dum-de-dum-dum. And somehow it is very
satisfying to see that this particular baddie is played by none other than the
great Timothy Carey. Carey was an actor whose weird looks and hulking size made
him a villain extraordinaire in such films as “One Eyed Jacks,” “Revolt in the
Big House,” “The Killing,” and dozens more. He’s just as scary in this film. In
cahoots with the sheriff he and two other no goods rob a bank and steal the $200
Debbie just borrowed.
mad (that was basically Debbie’s thing, wasn’t it?) she gets people to sign the
recall petition and runs for sheriff herself. Guess what? This inexperienced,
tenderfoot female, who had never fired a gun before, and could barely lift feed
sacks into a wagon when she first got there, wins the election. You just
couldn’t keep Debbie down back in the sixties.
ridiculous as it sounds this is actually an entertaining 99 minutes. It’s
almost a time capsule of movies from that era—the kind of movie housewives and
mothers would go with their kids to watch at a summer afternoon matinee. You
could learn more about what the Sixties were really like from watching this
movie than you could watching 20 episodes of “Mad Men.”
a 20th Century Fox Cinemascope presentation, and the sound was
recorded using Fox’s then state-of-the-art stereophonic sound system. I don’t
know the technical aspects of how they recorded movie sound back then, but in some
ways it was a much better system than the current, digital high def soundtracks
in vogue today. It almost seems like they only used right, left and center
microphones to pick up all the sound. Hence the soundstage on my Bose Cinemate
II Home Theater was incredibly lifelike—much like watching a play on stage. You
could actually hear the dialog. Even more vibrant, without being intrusive, was
Gerald Fried’s music score.
the movie gets its title from the song that Bing Crosby sung in Fox’s “High
Time” which was released the same year. Henry Mancini did the scoring for “High
Time” but the producers wanted a tune for Bing to croon and hired Sammy Cahn
and James Van Heusen to write it. Nobody sings it this time around—it just
swells up suddenly for the first time in the middle of the movie during a love
scene between Debbie and Steve. I guess Fox wanted its money’s worth from the
DVD from 20th’s burn on demand Cinema Archive division has good
picture quality along with superb sound, but no special bonus features. But that’s
okay, seeing Tim Carey in a comedy was bonus enough.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Lionsgate:
Relive the imaginative and compelling cult classic, The
Man Who Fell to Earth, when the Limited Collector’s Edition arrives on Blu-ray
Combo Pack (plus Digital HD) January 24 from Lionsgate. International icon
David Bowie stars in his unforgettable debut role as an alien who has
ventured to Earth on a mission to save his planet from a catastrophic drought.
In honor of David Bowie’s legacy, the limited collector’s edition Blu-ray Combo
Pack includes never-before-seen interviews, brand new artwork, a 72-page bound
book, press booklet, four art cards and a mini poster. Hailed as “the most
intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s” by Time Out, the remastered The
Man Who Fell to Earth Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Combo Pack will
be available for the suggested retail price of $34.99.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid
alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back
to his home planet.
BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL HD SPECIAL FEATURES
· David Bowie Interview
– French TV 1977
· New Interview
with Costume Designer May Routh Featuring Original Costume Sketches
· New Interview
with Stills Photographer David James Featuring Behind-the-Scenes Stills
· New Interview
with fan Sam Taylor-Johnson
· New Interview
with Producer Michael Deeley
· New “The Lost
Soundtracks” Featurette, Featuring Interviews with Paul Buckmaster and Author
· Interview with
· Interview with
Writer Paul Mayersberg
· Interview with
Cinematographer Tony Richmond
· Interview with
Director Nicolas Roeg
David Bowie Basquiat, Labyrinth, The
in Black, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Dec. 12, 2016 — For Immediate Release — The Film Detective announces
its classic movie app, streaming on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. An established
leader in film restoration and distribution, with thousands of hours of
classic film and television restored from original elements, The Film Detective
offers viewers the chance to forgo DVDs or a cable subscription, while still
enjoying great entertainment. For a preview, visit thefilmdetective.tv
app launches with dozens of iconic titles, including rare silent films,
westerns, film noir, musicals and comedies. In addition to such golden age Hollywood
fare as Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Film Detective has
uncovered and restored such kitschy titles as Flash Gordon Conquers the
Universe (1940), The Vampire Bat (1933) and 20 episodes of The
New Howdy Doody Show (1976-77). The app refreshes content monthly for
timely programming around themes, holidays and anniversaries.
Film Detective also creates original, supplemental content, with legendary
broadcast veteran Dana Hersey (longtime star of Boston’s WSBK-TV’s
groundbreaking series, The Movie Loft), offering behind-the-scenes
information and fun-facts about the movies. The Film Detective’s original
content starts with The Outlaw: The Movie That Couldn’t Be Stopped, a
mini-documentary highlighting the film’s controversial journey to success.
addition, the app offers licensed content such as the recently discovered,
HD-restored, lost Ed Wood TV pilot Final Curtain (1957); the
Oscar-winning documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975); and
such beloved family classics as Sounder (1972). The Film Detective
has also licensed the Independent International Pictures library which includes
over 200 classic exploitation films, including the Al Adamson collection (Satan's
team is excited to bring vintage cinema to life in the digital age through The
Film Detective app. It gives consumers a library of content without purchasing
DVDs, Blu-rays or subscribing to cable. Viewers can now enjoy old favorites and
long-lost gems on demand. This is truly cutting the cord,” commented Phil
Hopkins, Founder of The Film Detective.
Film Detective uses Zype, the video distribution service for OTT, to manage and
publish their premium content and foster relationships with classic movie and
TV fans. “A premium subscription service is the natural progression for The
Film Detective,” said Zype’s CEO, Ed Laczynski. “Zype is thrilled to help The
Film Detective bring content to streaming media devices and to help
cord-cutters re-discover the classic film and television content they grew up
a free trial period with subscriptions starting as low as $3.99 per month or
$34.99 annually. Three films will stream free each month. iOS distribution will
be available in 2017.
The Film Detective:
Philip Elliott Hopkins – who has been a fixture in the entertainment industry
since 1999 – has channeled his life-long
passion for collecting classic films into The Film Detective, a leading
purveyor of restoration and distribution of broadcast-quality,
digitally-remastered programming, including feature films, television, foreign
imports, documentaries, special interest and audio. Since launching in 2014,
the Massachusetts-based company has distributed its extensive library of 3000+
hours on DVD, Blu-ray and through such leading digital and television broadcast
platforms as Turner Classic Movies, American Movie Classics, NBC, Bounce TV,
Hulu, Amazon, EPIX HD, MeTV, PBS and more. In 2016, the Film Detective launched
its OTT classic movies channel streaming on Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV. Visit
us online at www.TheFilmDetective.com
By 1959 Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were at the peak of the popularity with movie audiences. Genuine superstars, the larger-than-life actors were among the first to exert their independence from the major studios by forming their own production companies and becoming masters of their own destinies. Between them they produced and sometime starred in some excellent films. Among the most underrated of their numerous on-screen team-ups was their joint production of "The Devil's Disciple", based on George Bernard Shaw's scathing satire based in New England during the American Revolution. The film was criticized in some quarters (including the New York Times) for taking some severe liberties with Shaw's original work in order to elaborate the action sequences that audiences would expect to see in a Lancaster/Douglas film. Still, the movie retains the requisite wit that would have to be apparent in any adaptation of a Shaw story. The film had a troubled production history. It was in the works to be made as early as 1939. Over the years, names like Marlon Brando, Rex Harrison, Montgomery Clift and Carroll Baker had been attached to various announcements about production schedules that never materialized.When Lancaster got the film rights to the story it was announced it would go into production in 1955. By the time it all came together, Lancaster had teamed with Kirk Douglas for a joint production with Laurence Olivier now the third lead. The film was originally to be directed by Alexander Mackendrick who had recently worked with Lancaster on "Sweet Smell of Success". Shortly after filming began, Mackendrick was summarily fired. The director claimed it was because of his objection to revisions in the screenplay that emphasized action and sex over the elements that were pure Shaw. Lancaster and Douglas maintained that his release was due to their dissatisfaction with the pace of filming. In any event, Mackendrick's dismissal was good news for Guy Hamilton, the up-and-coming young British director who would go on to make four James Bond movies. As a replacement for Mackendrick, Hamilton's light touch and ability to mingle action with humor and romance made him a suitable director for this particular film.
Among the more significant changes between the play and screenplay is that the character of Rev. Anthony Anderson, played by Lancaster, has been elevated in importance to match that of Richard Dudgeon, played by Douglas. The film opens in New Hampshire village during the final days of the American Revolution. Anderson is a kindly, gentle man with a pretty young wife, Judith (Janette Scott), who tries to remain apolitical despite the momentous events taking place around him. The British under General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) have occupied the surrounding areas and taken harsh measures to eliminate rebel resistance. This is achieved by publicly hanging suspected rebels, sometimes on the basis of slim or mistaken evidence. When Burgoyne's men string up the father of notorious rebel Richard Dudgeon, it sets in motion a series of events that make it impossible for Rev. Anderson to remain on the political sidelines. Dudgeon, a wanted man, breaks the law by cutting down his father's body from the public square and bringing the deceased to Rev. Anderson's home. Anderson takes an instant dislike to Dudgeon because of his cynical sense of humor but agrees to bury his father with dignity in his church's graveyard. This results in tumultuous goings-on. Burgoyne orders Anderson arrested for treason but when the troops arrive at his house, Anderson is gone and Dudgeon, who is visiting, adopts his identity and is arrested in his place. This act of gallantry impresses Judith, who is already smitten by Dudgeon, as he represents the kind of dynamic man of action she secretly craves. (The fact that he looks like Kirk Douglas doesn't hurt matters.) Meanwhile, Anderson, has indeed turned into a man of action himself, engaging the British in battle. When he learns of Dudgeon's deception he begins to formulate a strategy that will ensure that Burgoyne is left with no choice but to spare Dudgeon from execution.
We won't make the case that "The Devil's Disciple" is an underrated classic but suffice it to say it has many merits and deserved a better fate from both critics and the public. Burt Lancaster may get top billing but he's saddled with a quiet, understated character throughout most of the film who comes across as a bit of a bore- at least until he takes up arms. Consequently, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier get the lion's share of good dialogue and amusing scenes and both actors make the most of it. Douglas's interpretation of Dudgeon is as a man who scoffs at death and has a cock-sure determination that somehow he'll survive any situation. He also boasts a gallows humor that is more than matched by Olivier, who admires his intended victim and extends him every courtesy even as he prepares the gallows for his hanging. Olivier's bon mots are priceless, whether it's deploring the aristocrats in London who have botched British military operations in the colonies or simply chastising his lunkhead officers (Harry Andrews gets most of the abuse). Olivier's performance is all the more impressive given the fact that in his personal life he was coping with the mental breakdown of his wife, actress Vivien Leigh. He was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actor.
The film also boasts some creative special effects with toy soldiers used to illustrate the military situation. Helping matters along is a lush score by Richard Rodney Bennett and some impressive B&W cinematography by Jack Hildyard. While "The Devil's Disciple" isn't the best of the Lancaster/Douglas screen collaborations (for that, see "Seven Days in May"), it's a highly enjoyable romp with much to recommend about it.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it's a crisp, impressive transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery of other Lancaster and Douglas titles available from the company: "The Train", "The Scalphunters", "Cast a Giant Shadow" and "Run Silent, Run Deep" along with the theatrical trailer for "The Devil's Disciple".
It looks like the big Hollywood musical is back from the cinematic graveyard as "La La Land" swept the Golden Globes with a record number of seven wins including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Click here for more. Click here for complete list of winners and nominees.
Joe Dante's "Trailers From Hell" site presents director/producer Alan Spencer's spot-on analysis of Robert Wise's 1966 epic "The Sand Pebbles" starring Steve McQueen in his only Oscar-nominated performance. For our money, it's one of the great films of its era even if its depressing as hell, as some very bad things happen to some very good characters.
On the evening of Saturday, November 29, 2003, my wife and I had the blessing
of sitting front row at Carnegie Hall’s SRO “Tribute to Harold Leventhal.” On the bill that evening were a host of the
impresario’s clients: Arlo Guthrie, Pete
Seeger, the Weavers, Leon Bibb, Theodore Bikel, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a
score of others. Sitting near us in Carnegie’s
red plush seats I spied such colleagues and clients of Leventhal’s as Judy
Collins, the actor Alan Arkin, Paul Robeson Jr. and what seemed the entirety of
Woody Guthrie’s east coast extended family. This was going to be a night of true celebration.
For the non-cognoscenti, Harold Leventhal was, at various times in his
eighty-six years, a song-plugger for Irving Berlin, a Broadway and off-Broadway
producer, a concert promoter of domestic and international musical acts, a film
producer, a radical, and the manager and publisher of some of America’s most
noted folk music artists. The tribute
was an amazing, unforgettable evening and near the finale of the two-hour long
program, Nora Guthrie, the daughter of legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie,
brought out a reluctant Leventhal to say a few words.
Leventhal, short and stocky, bespectacled and balding, was brief and
humble in his remarks. In a predictably characteristic
attempt to swing the spotlight away from his own considerable accomplishments,
Leventhal remarked in his Bronx-inflected speaking voice that he most treasured
working alongside the people that “America should be proud of,” those rare
artists of “complete integrity” who represented the best attributes of our
country’s ideals: The Weavers, Pete
Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Lead Belly. In the program book given to patrons that
night, there was a beautiful resurrected quote courtesy of Pete Seeger. Having been blacklisted and pilloried by
enemies for more than a half a century, Seeger – with Leventhal’s empathizing
guidance - managed to not only to endure the brickbats but handily outlast all his
detractors. “He has done something extraordinary for The Weavers,” Seeger said
of his old friend. “He risked his own
head and believed in us when nobody else did. You might say he believed in America.”
Woody Guthrie, the famed dust bowl balladeer and composer of America’s
unofficial national anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” was not a client of
Leventhal’s in the manner that Seeger was. Guthrie was not a stage performer in any traditional sense; he was a
writer – and a very prolific one – who would often appear on radio, on stage,
at union rallies, and hootenannies. But he
was just as likely to be found playing his guitar on the street, in derelict
saloons, on New York City’s subway system, or to fellow sailors of the merchant
marine. Guthrie’s first novel, the
occasionally self-mythologizing pre-Beat era autobiography Bound for Glory, was published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in 1943.
That book would inadvertently inspire a new generation of folk music
artists, not the least of whom was a nineteen year old fledgling folksinger
named Bob Dylan. Dylan, by his own
admission, became a “Woody Guthrie jukebox” after reading through a friend’s
copy of the book. He immediately abandoned
the coffeehouses of Minneapolis to visit Guthrie at Greystone Hospital in
Morris Plains, New Jersey, where the dying singer was institutionalized. Dylan’s first major concert engagement
following his signing with Columbia Records in the late autumn of 1961 was at Manhattan’s
Town Hall in April of 1963. That concert
was, of course, fittingly produced by Harold Leventhal.
Harold Leventhal had been familiar with Woody Guthrie’s words and
music since the 1940s; he had seen the displaced Okie singer-guitarist perform
at various left-wing functions and hootenannies during this time. He had also been familiar with Guthrie’s
humorous “Woody Sez” columns that had appeared sporadically in the Communist Daily Worker newspaper. But it was only after agreeing to manage Pete
Seeger’s new quartet The Weavers on the eve of the McCarthy-era in 1950 that
Leventhal would become a personal friend of Guthrie, who was already beginning
to demonstrate signs of Huntington’s disease.
In the early winter of 1956, with Guthrie’s health continuing to deteriorate,
Leventhal helped found The Guthrie Children’s Trust Fund, organized to get
Woody’s anarchic business affairs in some semblance of order. It was their ambition that Guthrie’s children
might benefit from the small stream of publishing and record sale royalties
that were, at long last, beginning to trickle in. It was Leventhal who commissioned Millard
Lampell, a blacklisted writer and colleague of Guthrie’s, to skillfully weave
together a program of Guthrie’s prose and songs into a program titled From California to the New York Island. Many of the spoken-word recitations from this
early stage play had been cribbed from Guthrie’s novel Bound for Glory.
The idea of bringing an adaptation of Guthrie’s Bound for Glory to the stage had long been in the making. In the late autumn of 1961, the folk music
magazine Sing Out! made a passing
mention of Leventhal’s recent acquisition of "the musical drama rights” to
the book. This was exciting news, with
such folk music world luminaries as musicologist Alan Lomax and promoter Israel
G. Young aggressively promoting the casting of Guthrie protégé Ramblin Jack
Elliott in the role of America’s premier ballad-maker. It was not surprising that Leventhal first saw
Bound for Glory as a stage production;
he had already served as producer of several off-Broadway offerings as Will
Geer’s From Mark Twain to Lynn Riggs
(1952-53) and Rabindranath Tagore’s King
of the Dark Chamber.
It’s not entirely clear why a stage production of Bound for Glory was not realized. The folk-pop music craze of 1963-1964 provided a fertile atmosphere in
which such a project could be fulfilled. Woody Guthrie, now mostly out of sight due to the devastating effects of
the incurable neurological disease Huntington’s Chorea was – perhaps for the
first time in his life - no longer simply a singer of the fringe. He was now and incontestably America’s most
iconic folk music hero. Guthrie would
finally succumb to the malady in October 1967.
Ed Robbin, an editor of the west coast Communist newspaper People’s World, first met Woody Guthrie
in Los Angeles in 1938, during the time the folksinger had a fifteen minute a
day radio program on the politically-liberal station KFVD. Guthrie’s program was one of the station’s most
popular: he quickly cultivated an appreciative audience of dispossessed and
homesick Okies and Arkies. These were
Woody’s people, the poor folk who had fled their dirt ravaged homes and farms in
the dust bowl for the promised “Garden of Eden” that was California. It was Robbin’s suggestion that Guthrie
contribute folksy, humorous Will Rogers-style commentaries to the otherwise staid
People’s World. In 1975 when Bound for Glory was to finally commence production as an ambitious
film project for United Artists, Robbin reminisced that Harold Leventhal had
long “been trying to put together a story of Woody's life that would work for a
movie script. Three different scripts were written over a period of seven
Having long been an amateur scholar and collector of all things Woody
Guthrie, seven years ago I was fortunate enough to acquire an antiquarian copy
of one of the two ultimately unproduced Bound
for Glory screenplays. The one
hundred and thirty-six page screenplay I found, Bound for Glory: the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, had been
written by William Kronick and Oliver Hailey. Kronick was principally known as a writer-director of documentary films,
Hailey a playwright and television scribe who would contribute scripts to such
1970s shows as McMillan & Wife
and Bracken’s World. With only the slightest information to go on,
I tried my best to research exactly when this unproduced screenplay was first
commissioned. Happily, a visit to the
newspaper archive at the New York Public Library was successful.
In the April 23, 1968 issue of the Los Angeles TimesI uncovered the briefest
of mentions, that Hollywood producer "Harold Hecht has signed playwright
Oliver Hailey to write the screenplay for Bound
for Glory, film biography of folk singer- composer Woody
Guthrie." This bit of news was later confirmed by the actor David
Carradine, who would eventually – if only by default - land the role of Woody
Guthrie. In a 1976 interview with the New York Times, the eccentric, self-satisfied
star of television’s Kung Fu series
recalled, “About eight years ago this producer, Harold Hecht, was going to make
Bound for Glory, based on Woody’s
autobiography, and my agent sent me to see him.” Carradine admitted this meeting at Hecht’s
“palatial mansion in Stone Canyon” didn’t go particularly well. There was a clash of personalities with
neither man having much use for the other.
In any event the proposed Hecht/Hailey/Kronick film project was soon abandoned. Robert Getchell (scripter of Martin
Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
(1974), would be the lone screenwriter to eventually deliver a workable
storyline. Robert F. Blumofe, who would
co-produce Bound for Glory with
Leventhal, offered that Getchell was hired because "early scripts, written
by friends of Guthrie, were too broad, too close to the man.” "You
can't tell all of Woody's life," Blumofe told the Los Angeles Times, who suggested the process to bring Bound for Glory to the big screen took
nearly four years. This
remembrance corresponds to Harold Leventhal's own assessment. Leventhal conceded there were serious and
ultimately fatal issues with the pre-Getchell screenplay drafts under
consideration: "Our trouble was that we were trying to cover too much
ground... When we finally decided to center our story on the two or three
key years of Woody's development, around 1938, then the whole thing came
In April of 1975 Arthur Krim of United Artists gave director Hal Ashby
(Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and
Maude) the green light to get Bound
for Glory into production. This gesture was a display of great confidence
in Ashby as helmsman, since the role of Woody Guthrie had not yet been cast. The original casting process was an
interesting one, rife with unrealized possibilities. Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson were reportedly
both offered the role. The former balked
due to his inability to play the guitar in even the most rudimentary manner, the
latter choosing instead to star opposite a hero, Marlon Brando, in The Missouri Breaks.
records have four super releases to get 2017 underway. The Rogues (1964) (CDLK
4601) features music composed and conducted by Nelson Riddle. The Rogues, a
rather short-lived TV series (aired on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April
18, 1965), starred David Niven, Gig Young and Charles Boyer as a trio of former
conmen. Whilst it won the 1964 Golden Globe award for Best Television Series,
the show has largely been forgotten. Thankfully, Alfred Perry of Four Star
Television had the vision to approach RCA with the idea of releasing an album
of Riddle’s music from the show. Vocalion’s beautifully mastered CD is a
straight re-issue of that album (LSP 2976). As you would expect from Riddle, a
hugely talented composer who had penned music from the TV series The
Untouchables and Route 66, his music for The Rogues is both rich and lush. It’s
a great example of a period sound with plenty of silky strings and of course
some wonderful swinging brass rhythms. Sound quality is remarkably good thanks
to Michael J. Dutton’s remastering of the original analogue tapes. It is also
nice to see Vocalion reverting back to providing a full and informative set of original
liner notes. Oliver Lomax provides a comprehensive account of Riddle, his
musicians and his unique approach to music. The Rogues is a release that
certainly justifies and fully deserves a fresh re-evaluation as well as some
it Is! (1968) (CDLK 4604) makes its debut appearance on CD and features the
music of composer Patrick Williams. Williams is a composer that rarely receives
the recognition that he arguably deserves. After working primarily as an
arranger in New York, he moved to California in 1968 to pursue a career in film
and television. How Sweet It Is! marked the first film score for Williams. It
was a fairly routine comedy outing (which received an X certificate in the UK)
and starred James Garner, Debbie Reynolds and Terry-Thomas. In his memoirs, Garner
would later reveal that both he and Reynolds hated the film but kept it
together for the sake of their fans. The film’s music, however, is far more
enduring. Williams provides a beautiful score ranging from some high tempo
jazzy numbers to some smooth and very romantic mellow sounds. It’s a score
which shares certain similarities to that of Neal Hefti’s prevalent sixties
sound, often romantic but with a playful underlining trill woven throughout.
The soundtrack also features two vocal tracks that fall into the easy listening
genre and are provided by the Picardy Singers. Vocalion’s CD sounds remarkable
thanks again to Michael J. Dutton’s remastering of the original analogue tapes.
Liner notes on this occasion are just a straight forward reproduction of the
original RCA LP (LSP 4037) sleeve notes. As a straight re-working of the
original album, it is also relatively short at just under 28 minutes, which is
a great shame as it practically cries out for more of the same.
aren’t too many people I know amongst the soundtrack community who don’t enjoy
the recordings of Hugo Montenegro. Whilst he was an accomplished composer in
his own right ((Lady in Cement (1968), The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking
Crew (1968)), he is perhaps remembered more for his unique arrangements –
usually of other composers’ music. Vocalion’s new CD treats us to not one, but two
of his great albums. Love Theme from The Godfather (1972)/Music from A Fistful
of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More & The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1968)
(CDLK 4595) provides the listener with arguably his very best work. Back in
1972, RCA released Love Theme from The Godfather as a quadrophonic LP (APDI-0001).
Vocalion have reissued both albums here on CD in the SA-CD format and therefore
retaining its multi-channel format (this CD is also stereo compatible). Love
Theme from The Godfather is an album of varied styles containing a mixture of
both film music and popular tunes of the time. Ranging from Lennon &
McCartney’s Norwegian Wood to Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk, the content is
diverse and eclectic – but all comes together in a quirky and highly enjoyable
way. Music from A Fistful of Dollars,
For a Few Dollars More & The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has largely
attained widespread recognition over the decades. An extremely popular album, soundtrack
collectors continue to hold their vinyl as cherished possessions. Naturally, a completely remastered version of
that album is also extremely welcome. Michael J. Dutton has done a fabulous job
in providing a crisp freshness to these classic recordings and it appears to be
perfectly justified in releasing this twofer by way of a Hybrid CD. Frankly, they
have never sounded so good. As well as including the massive single chart hit The
Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the album also includes the single cut for Hang ‘Em
high – Clint Eastwood’s first American western made upon his return from Europe
after completing Sergio Leone’s Dollar trilogy. It’s perhaps a little
disappointing that no new liner notes were produced for this release; instead
there is a straight reproduction of the original album notes. Considering the
versatility and calibre of Montenegro’s work, it would have been nice to
include some form of appreciation of his career in music. However, the proof
here is solidly in the music itself, and on that basis, it’s a winner in every
HBO will debut the documentary "Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" on Saturday, January 7, having moved up its planned March telecast date in light of the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds within 24 hours of each other last month. Click here to read critic Hank Steuver's review of the film in The Washington Post.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the University Press of Mississippi:
Winnie Lightner (1899–1971) was the first great female
comedian of the talkies. Blessed with a superb singing voice and a gift for
making wisecracks and rubber faces, she rose to stardom in vaudeville and on
Broadway. Then, at the dawn of the sound era, she became the first person in
motion picture history to have her spoken words censored.
In "Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies" (University
Press of Mississippi, Hollywood Legends Series), David L. Lightner documents
how Winnie’s hilarious performance in the 1929 musical comedy Gold Diggers of
Broadway made her an overnight sensation. She went on to star in seven other
Warner Bros. features. In the best of them, she was the comic epitome of a
strident feminist, dominating men and gleefully spurning conventional gender
norms and moral values, which earned her the nickname of tomboy of the talkies.
When the Great Depression rendered moviegoers hostile
toward feminism, Warner Bros. crafted a new image of Lightner as glamorous and
sexy and assigned her contradictory roles in which she was empowered in the
workplace but submissive to her male partner at home. Because the new image did
not score at the box office, Lightner’s stardom ended. In four final movies, she
played supporting roles as the loudmouthed roommate and best friend of actress
Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, and Mona Barrie.
Following her retirement in 1934, Lightner faded into
obscurity. Many of her films were mutilated or even lost entirely. David Lightner
has beautifully captured Winnie's early years in vaudeville, her elevation to
revues, and her capturing of the very essence of talking pictures just as they
Tomboy of the Talkies is the first and only biography of
Winnie Lightner and finally gives HER the recognition she deserves as a notable
figure in film history, in women’s history, and in the history of show business.
This book is an evocative and fascinating read that will speak to fans of
DAVID L. LIGHTNER is professor emeritus of history at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Slavery and the Commerce Power: How the Struggle against
the Interstate Slave Trade Led to the Civil War; Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse:
The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois; and Labor on the
Illinois Central Railroad, 1852-1900: The Evolution of an Industrial
Environment. He became interested in Winnie Lightner because of their shared
surname but is not related to her.
Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.,
which opened on Friday, November 1, 1985 to lukewarm notices and underwhelming
box office despite being championed by Roger Ebert’s four-star review, is a
highly stylized, dark, and uncompromising crime thriller that boasts a
then-unknown cast with a story and a pace that feels more suited to the
1970’s. It also contains what I consider
to be the greatest car chase ever filmed and edited for a major motion picture,
which took no less than five weeks to plan and shoot. Having seen Mr. Friedkin’s brilliant East
Coast police thriller The French
Connection (1971) on VHS in 1986, I made it a point the following year to
catch up with his West Coast-based story of a Secret Service agent, Richard
Chance (William Petersen), whose best friend and partner Jim Hart (Michael
Greene) has been murdered by artist/currency counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem
Dafoe). Chance has one goal: put Masters away for life with no regard for how
he has to do it. Truthfully, he would
prefer to kill him. This causes problems
for his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) who comes from a family of law
enforcement officers and wants to do things by the book. Vukovich’s patience and unwillingness to go
outside the boundaries of acceptability is tested when: Chance surreptitiously removes
crucial evidence from a crime scene in order to get to Masters; springs a
prisoner friend (John Turturro) of Masters without Vukovich’s knowledge to get
him to testify; and most notably forces Vukovich to go along with a plan to
obtain cash needed to get closer to Masters while nearly dying in what is
arguably the cinema’s most exciting getaway car chase sequence. What makes the chase work so well is that
it’s physical, it’s possible (though highly improbable), and it’s not done in a
Fast and the Furious, over-the-top
sort of way. It also comes as a result
of a plot point and isn’t just there for the sake of having a chase scene. Chance also beds a willing parolee (Darlanne
Fluegel) who gives him information on current convicts in order to provide for
herself and her son Christopher.
the intricate plot and the phenomenal car chase, I initially didn’t like the
film. The mixture of Eighties-style pop
music by Wang Chung (which turned me off, but I now feel fits the movie like a
glove) and disreputable characters were off-putting, but subsequent viewings gave
me a change of heart and I now feel that this is the last truly great film
directed by Mr. Friedkin. Like the
inexorable Popeye Doyle in The French
Connection (he will stop at nothing to put drug dealers and users away),
Chance will stop at nothing to stop and punish Masters. The difference between the two films is that
the former paints Brooklyn and New York City as gritty and almost despairing
cities whereas the latter bathes the frame in a Los Angeles that we have not
seen before. While also gritty, grimy
and dark, this is a Los Angeles that is also highly glossy and beautiful, with
beautiful people who are about as real as the counterfeit bills that Masters
manufactures. This is the overall theme of
To Live and Die in L.A. which is to
say that it’s about fraudulence. People
use each other for their own personal gains. Masters is an artist but hates what he paints and burns his work in
frustration. Since he cannot find joy or
satisfaction in his own originality, he resorts to copying others, in this case
$20, $50, and $100 bills in a procedure that is painstaking and difficult.
The French Connection, To Live and Die in LA is also based on a
novel of the same name, this one written by former Secret Service Agent Gerald
Petievich. What makes the film almost
remarkable is the opening sequence which features a martyr who shouts “Allahu
Akbar” while blowing himself up on the roof a hotel where President Reagan is
giving a speech. This scene made little
sense to me 29 years ago, but is eerily prescient of the world that we
unfortunately live in today.
performances are excellent all around. William Petersen, whose film debut was as a bar bouncer in Michael
Mann’s Thief (1981), is terrific as
Rick Chance and plays him as a daredevil whose cowboy nature makes him a
dangerous person to be around. This is
established in an early sequence wherein Chance bungee jumps off of the Vincent
Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, CA. In
addition to the martyr sequence, this could also be one of the earliest
instances of this now highly popular activity showing up in a major motion
picture. John Pankow is also quite good
as Chance’s conflicted partner. The
stand-out is Willem Dafoe as Masters, whose icy expressions and demeanor can
change on a moment’s notice without warning. Darlanne Fluegel is mysterious as Chance’s muse; I first saw her in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Debra Feuer is striking as Masters’
girlfriend and confidante. Dean Stockwell
is great as Masters’ lawyer. You can
almost see him prepping himself for the role of Ben in David Lynch’s masterful Blue Velvet the following year. Steve James is an actor I always liked ever
since I first saw him in the “Night Vigil” episode of T.J. Hooker in 1984. He
started in the industry as a stunt man in films such as The Wiz, The Wanderers, The Warriors, Dressed to Kill, and He Knows
You’re Alone prior to onscreen acting. Here he plays Jeff, one of Masters’ clients and his performance, though
small, shines. He also appeared in the
William Friedkin TV-movie C.A.T. Squad
in 1986, which was also written by Mr. Petievich. His premature death in 1993 from what is
rumored to be the medical treatment that he received after a cancer diagnosis is
a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry.
one facetiously counted the number of films Woody Allen made beginning in 1969
and throughout the 70s, there would be eight that he wrote and directed (seven
of which he also starred in), plus a movie that he only wrote and starred in—Play It Again, Sam, for which I’ll count
as 1/2, making Stardust Memories number
9-1/2. Appropriately, this film seems to intentionally pay homage to Federico
Fellini’s own masterwork, 8-1/2
(1963), which was about a filmmaker who didn’t know what movie he wanted to shoot
next. Stardust Memories, released in
1980 after the huge successes of Annie
Hall and Manhattan (with
critically-acclaimed Interiors in-between),
is also about a filmmaker in search
of the picture he wants to make.
wasn’t well-received at the time. I recall leaving the theater in anger. How
could Woody be so contemptuous of his audience? It was as if his character, the
rather egotistical and unlikable filmmaker Sandy Bates, hates his fans,
especially the ones who clamor for his “earlier, funnier movies”—and of course
we couldn’t help but superimpose Sandy Bates with Woody Allen. And that’s where audiences misinterpreted the picture.
Bates is no more Allen than Marcello Mastroianni is Fellini in 8-1/2. While Allen (and Fellini) may
have infused their “alter-egos” with autobiographical aspects of themselves,
the characters were indeed fictional representations.
no secret that Allen often likes to mimic European filmmakers he admires—his
love of Ingmar Bergman is evident in several pictures. This time, with Memories, Allen does invoke Fellini and
that director’s signature stream-of-consciousness and non-linear storytelling
with flights of fantasy and surrealism. Filming in black and white for the
second time in a row, Allen, like Fellini, throws in outdoor circus scenes,
grotesque and freakish extras, radical editing techniques, and meandering love
affairs. Instead of coming off as mere imitation, though, Allen’s picture
succeeds on its own merits. It’s a challenging, highly intellectual piece of
cinema that must be viewed more than once to fully appreciate. Allen himself
has said that Stardust Memories is
one of his favorite films that he’s made. I’d place it in the upper third of
his by now numerous works.
story follows Sandy as he attempts to please his producers, the studio, the
fans, and himself—all the while haunted by the failed and tragic relationship
he had in the past with Dorrie (luminous Charlotte Rampling). Along the way
there are dalliances with other women (Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine
Barrault). The dream sequence at the opening of the film, in which Sandy is
trapped on a morbid, claustrophobic train from hell, while looking out at another train where inside there’s a
lively party going on (and young Sharon Stone blowing kisses at him through the
window), is one of Allen’s most memorable set pieces. The whimsical middle, in
which Sandy and Harper’s character escape a film festival to watch magic acts
in a field is pure effervescence. The jump cut close-ups of Rampling’s face
during a breakdown toward the film’s end is one of the most powerful sequences
Allen ever shot.
there are the many familiar and unusual cameos that pop up—Tony Roberts,
Laraine Newman, Daniel Stern, Amy Wright, Brent Spiner, and even Allen’s ex-wife
and co-star Louise Lasser... Gordon Willis’ spectacular cinematography... Dick
Hyman’s wonderful adapted score of Cole Porter and other old-school tunes... it
all adds up. There is much to savor
in Stardust Memories.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray sports a 1080p High
Definition picture that looks wonderful, along with a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack. The only supplements, sadly, are an isolated music score, a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the
original theatrical trailer.
Stardust Memories was a divisive movie
for Allen fans, but time has been kind to it. Give it another go—you may be
surprised by how masterful and engaging it really is.
"Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!" The joke is indicative of the type of humor, sarcasm and outright condemnation that greeted the world's most legendary individual to have undergone a gender transformation. Jorgensen's name has largely been lost to obscurity in recent years but if you grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a household name. She was born a male, George Jorgensen, in 1926 and had a fairly normal childhood- except for the fact that from a very early age George was haunted by the feeling that he should have been born female. We're not talking about homosexual behavior or tendencies, rather, a deep-seated belief that only becoming an actual female through a surgical procedure could bring him happiness. Jorgensen got his wish when he underwent the procedure in Denmark and returned home as a "she". Predictably the media went into a frenzy and Jorgensen decided that if she couldn't live in obscurity, she would capitalize on her new-found fame. She wrote a best-selling autobiography and transformed her experiences into a campy night club routine before passing away from cancer in 1989.
Jorgensen's book became the basis for The Christine Jorgensen Story, a sincere low-budget film made in 1970 and released by United Artists, which curiously kept its logo confined to the very last roll of the credits as though there was something shameful about a major studio releasing the movie. Jorgensen herself acted as technical adviser on the movie which makes it all the more puzzling as to why there are so many apparent embellishments and lapses from the truth. For one, Jorgensen was not the first person to undergo sex change surgery, as the film implies, although she was certainly the most prominent. The movie also tosses in quite a few plot devices and characters that appear to be wholly created for purposes of artistic license. The movie's melodramatic aspects have become grist for the mill in terms of its reputation as a camp classic. Indeed, there are plenty of unintentional laughs and some over-the-top moments by leading man John Hansen, a blonde haired pretty boy whose career went precisely nowhere after his bold decision to play the title role. Hollywood's glass ceiling on actors affiliated with gay behavior was firmly in place at the time.
Garnett is one of the most respected and celebrated British filmmakers of his
generation having worked extensively in British television and through his work
with critically acclaimed filmmakers such as Ken Loach, whom the pair worked
together on the seminal British dramas Kes (1969) and Cathy Come Home (1966),
both of which Garnett produced. Opting to move away from producing, Garnett set
his sights on writing and directing his own feature films. After directing the
critically acclaimed drama Prostitute (1980), Garnett went on to the write and
direct the film Handgun (1983), a powerful cult rape and revenge thriller.
Eschewing the exploitation motifs as explored in the genre titles such as Death
Wish (1974), Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978), favouring
an art-house aesthetic and employing a docudrama stylistic approach, Garnett’s
film is a measured exploration of the nature of injustice and retribution while
a searing indictment of American gun culture and rape.
in Dallas, when young high school teacher Kathleen spurns the advances of
arrogant lawyer Larry, he coerces her to his apartment where he rapes her at
gunpoint, raping her a second time for good measure. Violated not only by
Larry, Kathleen is further violated by the authorities who do little to bring
the sexual predator Larry to justice. Enraged, Kathleen eradicates any form of
femininity by cropping her hair and donning army fatigues, while undergoing
firearm training, before taking the law into her own hands by luring Larry out
in the dead of night to administer her own brand of rough justice (it should be
noted that the ending will leave viewers divided, especially those expecting a
more violent denouement to the film). In this feminist vigilant film, Kathleen
is forced into this path when all around her fail her, while Larry is painted
as a bigoted, misogynistic, and racist bully, who believes his wealth and power
entitles him to anything, and this power can be derived through violence. This
is expertly shown prior to the harrowing rape scene when Garnett cuts to a
scene of Larry indulging in the high life with his equally grotesque pals,
before attending a “Foxy Boxing” match, where the all-female fighters fight
bra-less in an arena while the scummy patrons holler from the side lines and
try to grope the fighters as they walk by. It is an important point in the film
because it comes just prior to the rape sequence as Garnett is critiquing male
machismo and a sexist view of women. In a sense, with the bra-less boxers fighting
in the ring, we see that in Larry’s world sexualized violence is acceptable. In
this sequence Garnett attempts to show how this attitude and perception of women
leads him to violate Kathleen. The rape scene that follows is harrowing, yet
not overtly explicit. While the rape is shocking, especially as we see Kathleen
forced to strip at gunpoint, before being sexually violated, the most sickening
part is the attitude of Larry post-rape, where he administers blame on her for
being frigid. He sees nothing wrong in his actions, which makes it even more
satisfying when the pent up fury of Kathleen explodes as she goes hunting her
prey at the gun club where she has honed her sharpshooting skills.
expecting a film seeped in violence will be disappointed. This is a slow,
methodical and intelligent film shot in long, natural takes that make it seem
like a documentary at times, with standout performances by Karen Young as
Kathleen and Clayton Day as Larry. In October 2016, I was fortunate to interview
Garnett about his memories working on the film [note: spoilers alert].
Edwards:Your cult thriller Handgun is one of the more intelligent films that
emerged in the 70s/80s in the rape and revenge genre. Where did the inspiration
come from to make the film? Were you trying to bring attention to the
“date-rape” crisis that was afflicting American society and the failure to
prosecute the persecutors of the crimes?
Garnett: I was in America trying to understand it. Having been brought up
during the war, my idea of America was of GI’s giving me gum, Hollywood action
movies and glossy TV. My reading of its history and troubled present offered me
a different picture. I was particularly interested to see how Americans tended
to settle arguments by shooting each other. Why? I also saw the relationship
between rape and guns—in my view, rape is about violence more than about sex.
It is about power and control. So I went to Dallas—so resonant in all our minds
with violence, I even began the film with shots of Dealey Plaza, the infamous
West End district of Dallas where J.F Kennedy was assassinated. Research over
many months gradually produced a story. I have always researched and allowed
characters to emerge from it and then they, under interrogation, tell me a
did you set about writing/researching the film and securing finance for the
film? I understand that EMI stepped on board to get the film into production.
budget was small, around $3m, and my agent Harry Ufland set it up at EMI
without difficulty. I had no interference from them, until the rough cut and
then everyone wanted to “improve” the film. The problem was that I had made a
slow, thoughtful, and I hope considered character study, and they were
expecting a commercial hit—an action movie with some sexy rape scenes. I hadn’t
delivered. Some of the distributors were disappointed as they considered the
rape scenes a turn off and not sexy! I had to cut elements from the film that I
now regret. I also regret selling the film to Warner Brothers, instead of
Goldwyn, who were a small art house distributor. They were producing a Clint
Eastwood rape and revenge film. They didn’t want the competition so they bought
mine, sat on it, and opened it in a few theatres before pulling the film. It
was a failure. I was naïve. I wish I had gone with Goldwyn. They would have
been more sympathetic to the film.
did you opt to set the film in Texas? Was it their frontier attitude and
obsession with guns that prompted this?
has a frontier attitude, there are more guns there than people and the attitude
to women tends to be courtly even as they’re commodified. I had to choose
somewhere and could have set it anywhere, in truth. But Dallas seemed right at
how did you approach the visual style of the film? For me, the film is a fine
blend of action mixed with a naturalistic documentary sensibility.
style of the film was approached in exactly the same way my colleagues and I had
been developing for decades while working in small British films, many at the
BBC. I took Charles Stewart as Director of Photography and Bill Shapter as Editor,
who I’d worked with many times as producer and director. I spent many months
doing improvisations with actors, none of them known. I found Karen in New York
and the actors who play her parents in Boston; the rest of the cast I found in
Dallas. Some, like those at the gun club and in the gun shop, were just there
and non-professional actors. We allowed the actors freedom, no marks, the
camera has to follow them; they don’t exist for the camera and the lighting.
Our aim was to never to allow a line if it felt as though a writer has written
it; I wanted to abolish “acting” acting and “directing” directing as I wanted
the technique to be invisible so that all you see is a character in a
circumstance and the audience is eavesdropping on the action.
casting of Karen Young as Kathleen Sullivan was brilliant as she delivers a
highly believable performance of an innocent young girl pushed over the edge
into vengeance. How did you come to cast her in the role and were you pleased
with her performance in the film?
was excellent. A very talented young woman. She never flinched when going through Karen’s
journey especially as she had many arduous emotional scenes during the shooting
Let's hope that we never have another year in which we lose as much artistic talent as we did in 2016. Here is TCM's moving annual retrospective of those lost in film and TV during the year. Doubtless, you will have some unpleasant surprises when you realize that you weren't aware of the extent of how many great talents left us during the last twelve months- and this video was prepared before the passing of both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. We do take consolation from the fact that, while these artists are no longer with us in the physical sense, their work is eternal.