When it comes to sci-fi films I will admit that I'm generally turned off by plots that involve peace-loving aliens who come to earth to help us lead better lives. I'd much rather have some insidious creatures with ray guns who are seemingly invulnerable as they try to pulverize mankind. Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." were certainly landmark films with much to admire about them, but I'm generally more in the mood to watch his terrific remake of "War of the Worlds" in which we learned that if demonic aliens are to take on humanity, they apparently are going to start the attack in Bayonne, New Jersey. Director Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed Oscar-nominated film "Arrival" manages to convey enough ambiguity about the motives of visiting aliens to build genuine suspense. The film is the latest in a long line that refreshingly presents a female as the lead in a role that sixty years ago would have been played by Leslie Nielsen or Gene Barry. Adams plays Louise Banks, a single woman who teaches linguistics at a college in Montana. She came to the government's attention some years before when she assisted in interpreting during interrogations of suspected terrorists. Adams is living a benign lifestyle but as the film opens, we see that mankind is about to experience an incredible phenomenon: the arrival of twelve alien spaceships around the globe. As the world goes into a full-scale panic, Louise is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of U.S. Army Intelligence, who persuades her to join a quickly-assembled team of scientists and other intellectuals who have been brought to a remote field in rural Montana where an egg-shaped ship sits silently suspended in the air, just yards above the turf. Louise is told a shocking development that the public is unaware of: contact has been made with the inhabitants of the ship and the government is working with intelligence networks from around the world to find a way of communicating with them. Louise works closely with fellow linguist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a small team as they nervously make their way into the inner sanctum of the alien craft. They have a peaceful but puzzling encounter with the beings from another world. (James Bond fans will be delighted to know that they appear to resemble giant versions of the Spectre organization's symbolic octopus.) Over the course of several days, Louise and the team frantically try to find a way for common communication with the aliens, who do not speak or make any noticeable sounds. Instead, they communicate via visual elements that resemble smoke rings, each one with a distinct meaning. Although the initial encounters appear to be non-threatening, Chinese intelligence discovers what they believe to be an inherent threat to mankind and before long, the world gears up for all-out war against the strange visitors. I won't say any more because "Arrival" is so filled with surprising and satisfying plot twists that any in-depth examination of the plot would reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say that the excellent screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on Ted Chiang's novella "The Story of Your Life", is remarkably intelligent and never less than fascinating. I'm generally not a fan of films that don't proceed in a linear fashion and at times "Arrival" throws out scenes of Amy Adams with a young daughter that are initially impossible to interpret, as the story bounces around through time periods...or perhaps these scenes are dreams or fantasies. When it all comes together in the emotionally wrenching finale, "Arrival" has taken its place as one of the most innovative and satisfying science fiction movies ever made. It's also one of the greatest expressions of parental love I have ever seen depicted in any movie.
Adams is superb and should have been Oscar-nominated for her role. She gets able support from Renner and Whitaker, both of whom are excellent. Most of the credit goes to director Villeneuve, for whom this was a dream project. He avoids every sci-fi cliche imaginable, from the look of the aliens and their spaceship to the nature of the implicit threat they may well pose. The production design by Patrice Vermette is outstanding, as is the innovate musical score by Johan Johannsson. Paramount has released "Arrival" in a package containing a Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. There are the expected bonus extras which are far more interesting than most because they go beyond the usual mutual backslapping by actors and crew members. Instead, there is heavy-duty analysis of linguistics and scientific theories, thus appealing to anyone who has an inner nerd. Doubtless there will someday be an "Ultimate Special Edition" but now this will suffice. "Arrival" is a great movie. It may not appeal to viewers who want action over philosophy, but for those who aren't afraid to delve into the mysteries of life, this movie about interplanetary visitors is literally out of this world.
Thanks to reader Mark Jarman for sharing this with us- British Pathe film archives silent footage reel showing film marquees in London in 1976. Here is their official description:
Cinema signs in London.
Various shots sign outside the Empire for 'To The Devil a Daughter'. Various
shots Jacey cinema advertising 'Bisexual'. Various shots Leicester Square
advertising 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. Various shots Cinecenta. Various shots
Odeon advertising 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest'. MS 'Operation:
Daybreak'. MS's Miss Fiona Richmond in 'Expose'. MS 'The Sunshine
Boys'. Various shots at Classic Moulin advertising 'I'm Not Feeling Myself
Tonight' and 'Housewives on the Job'. Various shots Odeon advertising 'Lenny'.
MS 'Return of the Pink Panther'. MS 'Emmanuelle'. MS's 'Jaws'. MS 'The
Hindenburg'. MS 'The Slipper and the Rose' at the Empire. MS's man behind sign
for 'Return of the Pink Panther' adjusting the wiring. MS's 'Love in a Women's
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON LIVE IN CONCERT, A One Night Only Special Event:
Screening with Live Score Performed by Wordless Music Orchestra
Saturday, April 8, 2017 at Kings Theatre, Brooklyn
Joseph A. Berger and Michael Sayers, in association with Wordless Music and
Warner Bros. Pictures, are pleased to announce BARRY LYNDON LIVE IN CONCERT at
Brooklyn’s extraordinary Kings Theatre on Saturday, April 8, 2017, at 8pm.
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece will be projected in a new 2K DCP restoration,
with live musical accompaniment by Wordless Music Orchestra, led by renowned
conductor Ryan McAdams.
Barry (Ryan O’Neal), is a young, roguish Irishman who’s determined, in any way,
to make a life for himself as a wealthy nobleman. Enlisting in the British Army
and fighting in Europe’s Seven Years War, Barry deserts, then joins the
Prussian army, gets promoted to the rank of a spy, and becomes a pupil to a Chevalier
and con artist/gambler. Barry then lies, dupes, duels and seduces his way up
the social ladder, entering into a lustful but loveless marriage to a wealthy
countess named Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). He takes the name of Barry
Lyndon, settles in England with wealth and power beyond his wildest dreams,
before eventually falling into ruin.
Lyndon’s Oscar winning soundtrack features Irish traditional music and military
marches, along with baroque and classical themes by Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and
Paisiello. Most notable are sumptuous interpretations of Handel’s Sarabande and
Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, D. 929, which emerges as a recurring,
melancholic love theme for Lady Lyndon.
sublime score will be performed by the 50-piece Wordless Music Orchestra, and conducted
by Ryan McAdams. Barry Lyndon will be projected on the huge, glorious screen of
Kings Theatre (1027 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn), Brooklyn’s premier movie palace and
one of the five ‘Loew’s Wonder Theatres,’ opened in 1929 and magnificently
restored in 2015. This engagement will be on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 8pm,
and promises to be a memorable evening of live music and masterful cinema. The
program is approximately three hours, plus one intermission.
so could have been a by-the-numbers genre movie: “Sensitive boyfriend goes to meet hot girlfriend’s parents in secluded
country home and mayhem ensues…” and that’s exactly what happens in Get Out, the new thriller from
writer/director Jordan Peele, but in a totally unexpected way.
filmturns every horror trope on its
head while tackling racist stereotypes along the way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, an
aspiring young photographer who happens to be black. His beautiful, Ivy League-ish girlfriend,
Rose (Allison Williams from HBO’s Girls)
is bringing him home to meet her parents for the first time – a momentous
occasion in any new relationship but even more so when it’s interracial, a fact
the movie meets head on. Once at the
family estate, Chris feels that something is truly off – from the mind-gaming
father (Bradley Whitford) and his spooky psychiatrist wife (Catherine Keener)
to Rose’s hostile brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Their all black staff goes out
of their way to tell Chris how happy they are to be there, which just makes him
more uncomfortable. And then there’s the
family gathering Rose forgot to tell him about, where cousins and uncles leer
at Chris as if he’s on display, making clueless, subtly racist comments in a
perfect sendup of East Coast liberal elitism. Chris gamely endures all this while Rose seems genuinely mortified – but
it’s all an act! Chris has been brought
there for a sinister purpose and after Rose’s mom slyly hypnotizes him, that
purpose is revealed and Get Out moves
into high gear.
Peele, who made his name acting and writing in comedies like MAD TV and Keanu, deftly blends laughs and horror, all leading up to a truly innovative
climax as Chris desperately tries to escape. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) is
spot on as a budding artist trying to navigate a difficult social
situation. Allison William’s Rose is
appropriately seductive and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery is hysterical as Chris’
loyal wingman, Rod, a TSA Agent who investigates when his friend goes
missing. Produced by genre hitmeister
Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Split,
The Purge), Get Out is a mystery
thriller that truly delivers while skewering today’s pervasive racial
stereotypes. It’s also is a stunning
directorial debut for Jordan Peele, who will doubtlessly be able to work in
whatever genre he chooses.
Here's a real rarity from some years ago: an officially licensed Steve McQueen Virgil Hilts action figure sold only in Japan back in the 90s. The Great Escape packaging is enough to make a collecting nerd out of any retro movie fan, especially when you throw in the optional U.S Army jacket patterned after the one McQueen wore in the film. The bad news: these figures sell for hundreds of dollars whenever they periodically show up on the collector's circuit. Now if they'd only make that Donald Pleasence companion figure! (Image from UK-based Metropolis Toys, which has a cool catalog of toys based on classic TV shows and movies)
Here is rare color footage of The Three Stooges in 1938, shot in Atlantic City New Jersey's famed Steel Pier. Moe, Larry and Curly vie for the affections of model Barbara Bradford, who was married to song and dance man George Mann, who shot the film and makes an appearance.
Movie poster artist Frank McCarthy was a legend in his field. Until his death in 2002, McCarthy had created, or collaborated on creating, some of the most iconic movie poster art of all time. The web site Dangerous Minds pays tribute to McCarthy's creations with a mind-boggling gallery of images from such films as "Thunderball", "Khartoum", "The Dirty Dozen", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "Hatari!", "The Great Escape" and many others.
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement from the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation:
Do you have a collection of Harryhausen film posters?
We’d like to speak with you…!
The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation are excited to
be working with esteemed writer Richard Holliss on a book detailing the poster
art of Ray Harryhausen movies. We have been able to scour Ray’s vast poster
archive, and have found numerous rare and fascinating pieces. However, we are
now looking for the help of fans worldwide in order to make this the most
comprehensive collection of Ray Harryhausen posters ever assembled! Artwork
varied greatly across the world, and we just know that there are more hidden
gems out there.
If you think you have any unusual or rare posters, or
just want to share pictures of your collection with us, please get in touch by
emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, with a snapshot of the poster in
question if possible.
If it’s one which we are missing from our collection, we
will arrange to have it scanned. Once the book goes to print, your name will be
printed along with the poster in question, and you will be sent a free copy of
this fantastic publication!
Click here for more info and to listen to podcast segment about the project.
In the early 1970s producer and director Bob Chinn was one of the most prolific and profitable names in the adult film industry. Chinn's productions may have had skimpy production values but he generally made them look more grandiose than anything competing erotic film producers were able to offer. Like many filmmakers in this bizarre genre, Chinn aspired to do films that were more mainstream and meaningful. He entered a collaboration with Alain Patrick, a young hunky actor in the Jan-Michael Vincent mode who had his own aspirations to become a respected star. By 1971 Patrick had accumulated some legitimate film and TV credits but always in "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" roles. Like Chinn, he drifted into the adult film industry where he established some credentials as a director. He and Chinn teamed up that year in an attempt to make a mainstream movie about the porn film business. The result was "Blue Money", which has just been rescued from obscurity by Vinegar Syndrome, which has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD.
"Blue Money" suffers from the same limitations as Bob Chinn's other productions in that it was financed largely by people who expected to get a hardcore porn flick. Thus he was given a budget of $35,000, which was a pittance even in 1971, and a very abbreviated shooting schedule. Under Alain Patrick's direction, however, the movie went in a different direction and became a hybrid between the mainstream and porn film genres.Patrick gives a very credible performance as Jim, a 25 year-old surfer dude type who lives an unusual lifestyle. On the surface he leads an unremarkable existence: he has a pretty wife, Lisa (Barbara Mills) who is a stay-at-home mom who devotes her energies to raising their young daughter. Like most fathers, Jim is a dad who goes off to work every day...except that his "work" is directing pornographic feature films. Shooting in a seedy makeshift studio, Jim and and his partner sell the finished product to shady distributors who pay them premium prices for master prints of their latest 16mm productions. Because Jim is considered one of the top talents in the industry, theaters are always hungry for his latest films. Ironically, although Jim's career is filming people having sex, he prides himself on remaining loyal to his wife and resists the occasional overtures of his female stars. Jim and Lisa have a joint dream: they are renovating a schooner-type yacht with the quest of quitting the adult film industry and sailing around the world as free spirits. All of this is put at risk when Jim casts Ingrid (Inga Maria), an exotic European beauty who is desperate for money, in his latest production. Against his better judgment, Jim begins an affair with her- thus endangering his marriage after Lisa starts to become suspicious. At the same time the government is cracking down on the porn business. Suddenly, there is a dearth of distributors to take Jim's films. He is being paid far less than usual- and the entire industry is paranoid about the number of high profile arrests of performers, producers and directors in the porn business. Lisa begs Jim to quit but he wants to take his chances in the hopes of making enough money to finally finish the schooner's renovations and allow him to take his family on their-long planned journey.
"Blue Money" is an interesting production that never found acceptance by any audience. The film received some limited release in mainstream theaters but, although not quite hardcore, it is far too sexual for most general audiences. Conversely, people expecting to see a movie packed with gratuitous sex acts would also have been disappointed. Director Patrick has plenty of sex scenes and full frontal nudity but they are generally confined to the sequences in which we watch the actual filming of porn productions. In that respect, Patrick strips away any glamour or thrills from the process. Bored performers must enact explicit acts under hot klieg lights manned by total strangers. Jim must contend with moody actresses and actors who sometimes loath each other but who must engage in kinky sex. Every time Jim yells "Cut!", arguments can break out or the male leading man finds himself unable to perform on cue. Where the film excels is as a time capsule of sexual mores at the time of its production. There is much talk about the Nixon administration's Commission on Pornography report which had recently been released. Initiated by Nixon's predecessor, President Lyndon Johnson, the report came out during Nixon's first term in office. Nixon was confident that the report would legitimize his belief that pornography had a devastating effect on society- a talking point that would play well with his arch conservative base. Instead, the report basically said that there was no such evidence. Enraged, Nixon denounced the findings of his own commission and set about a crackdown on pornography. Countless man hours and millions of dollars were spent going after theater owners and people who made the films. In "Blue Money", when Jim is eventually arrested, the cops admit that the First Amendment would almost certainly ensure that he would win the court case- but the real strategy is to financially ruin those accused by having them spend their life savings on defending themselves. This gives the movie a hook that extends beyond the soap opera-like storyline centered on Jim's fragile relationship with his wife. The movie has a polished look to it and most of the performances are quite credible, with Patrick and Barbara Mills very good indeed.
Here's a hidden gem: an obscure interview from 1965 on the set of the James Bond thriller "Thunderball". The interview takes place at Pinewood Studios on the set that served as M's office. Not sure who the woman is who is conducting the interview or what network it was filmed for. Suffice it to say she epitomizes the type of uninformed interviewer that ultimately turned Connery off to the publicity surrounding the Bond phenomenon (she doesn't even know what city he was born in.) She also wastes time asking Connery about comparisons between Bond and MacBeth (!), who he had portrayed a few years earlier on Canadian television. Nevertheless, this is an interesting piece of long-forgotten Bond history. - Lee Pfeiffer
Mildred Pierce is one curious piece
of cinema. As film critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito point out in their
fascinating conversation that is a supplement on this beautifully-presented
Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection, Pierce is a movie that almost doesn’t know what it wants to be. In
many ways it is a woman’s picture, that is, a melodrama, but it’s disguised
inside a manufactured film noir.
reasoning is sound, for in spite of novelist James M. Cain being known for
terrific pulp crime fiction (Double
Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings
Twice), his 1941 novel Mildred Pierce
is not a crime story, unless you want to say that a young woman having an
affair with her stepfather is “criminal.” The book is indeed hardboiled and
pulpy, but there is no murder in it.
the other hand, Michael Curtiz’s film version of Mildred Pierce actually begins
with a sensational murder—that of the stepfather—and the rest of the picture is
something of a journey to reveal who the killer is. This retooling of the story
must have been ordered by the studio to capitalize on the success of Billy
Wilder’s 1944 film adaptation of Double
Indemnity, and these types of crime pictures—what would later, in the 50s,
be termed film noir—were starting to
pour out of Hollywood. The noir trappings
are all there—an Eastern European director, highly contrasting black and white
photography, a look steeped in German expressionism, cynicism and angst,
unstable alliances, and even a femme
fatale—this time in the form of the daughter character.
(Joan Crawford) is a divorcee with two children. She still sees her ex-husband,
but also his best friend, Wally (Jack Carson), who hits on her every chance he
gets. Mildred struggles to make ends meet but eventually finds some success
running a small chain of bakeries (“Mildred’s”). Her bratty oldest daughter,
Veda (Ann Blyth), however, constantly complains about their social position in
the class structure, and is determined to tear her mother down. Mildred soon
marries somewhat-wealthy Monty (Zachary Scott), who is the man killed at the
beginning of the picture. The story is told as a flashback, as many films noir are.
all works, I suppose, although the more recent HBO adaptation of the novel
starring Kate Winslet is a much more faithful rendition of the story. Still,
the motion picture has top notch entertainment value, and it also contains
several powerhouse performances. Crawford deservedly won the Best Actress Oscarfor playing Mildred, and newcomer Blyth
earned a Supporting Actress nomination as the truly evil Veda. Eve Arden, as
Mildred’s spunky friend Ida, also scored a supporting nomination. Butterfly
McQueen deserves mention as the family’s maid—her presence always lights up the
screen. The men in the movie are fine but nothing special—this is definitely a
film dominated by the women. Ranald MacDougall was nominated for his
screenplay, and the picture itself was nominated for the top award. Curtiz, who
won his Oscar for directing Casablanca,
was left out this time around; but there is no question that his work is always
exemplary. He was a consummate studio helmsman who could make any kind of
with most Criterion releases, the visual and sound quality are near-perfection.
The new 4K digital restoration looks sharp, and the uncompressed monaural
soundtrack is full-front. Supplements include the aforementioned new interview
between Haskell and Polito; an excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show with guest Joan
Crawford; TCM’s 2002 feature-length documentary, Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (which also appeared on the
original DVD release); an entertaining Q&A with Ann Blyth at a 2002
screening of the film, conducted by film
noir historian Eddie Muller; a worth-the-price-of-admission interview with
author James M. Cain from a 1969 segment of The
Today Show; and the theatrical trailer. The booklet contains an essay by
critic Imogen Sara Smith.
is much to recommend in this new Criterion Blu-ray release—a must-have for fans
of Cain, Curtiz, and Crawford, although not necessarily in that order!
Here's a bizarre double feature that opened in England in 1968: the would-be epic WWII movie The Battle of Anzio starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk on the same bill as Jerry Lewis' Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River. Note: in the USA, the Mitchum film was released under the title Anzio.
Don Knotts came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen. Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature film was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry, rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable staying power. Similarly, his next film, The Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his 1969 western spoof The Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however, changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he reverted back to his old formula.
Released in 1971, Figg casts Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages. Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss (Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on. Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and the proceeds to have him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read. Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the computer to thwart the real crooks.
How to Frame a Figg is the weakest and least-remembered of Knotts' films for Universal but it still affords plenty of laughs. Knotts is essentially playing Barney Fife under a different name and even wears that character's trademark outdated "salt and pepper" suit. Knotts never broke any new ground but no one ever called for him to do so...his familiar persona was just what audiences wanted. Figg also provides a plethora of wonderful characters from the period including the great Joe Flynn and Edward Andrews, who excelled at playing smarmy men of authority. Also popping up are such familiar faces as Billy Sands and Bob Hastings, both of whom co-starred with Joe Flynn in "McHale's Navy". The appearance of cast members from that show isn't a coincidence because the film was produced by Edward J. Montagne, who also produced "McHale's Navy". Some of the humor is a bit forced, especially scenes concerning the character of Prentiss, with Frank Welker overplaying the lovable dumb klutz bit. However, Montagne and Knotts were a comfortable fit and he produced and/or directed all of Knotts' Universal feature films. Figg was directed by Alan Rafkin, who had helmed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. He understood the Knotts persona and capitalized on it with considerable skill. Another alumni of all those films, the inimitable composer Vic Mizzy, provides a typically jaunty score.
Following the boxoffice failure of How to Frame a Figg, Don Knotts successfully morphed into a featured player in many Disney movies, sometimes teaming with Tim Conway. The two of them would perform together on screen and on stage for decades until Knotts' death in 2006. In the 1970s, Knotts also broadened his fan base with his role on the popular sitcom "Three's Company". There seems to be a great deal of nostalgia for his feature films nowadays among baby boomers, with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken especially popular. How to Frame a Figg is not of that caliber but it holds up well as a very amusing family comedy.
The Universal DVD release includes the original trailer.
Here's another rare one from the seemingly inexhaustible photo archive of Cinema Retro: a Bangkok, Thailand theater showing Darryl F. Zanuck's epic D-Day film The Longest Day in 1962. The acclaimed movie stood as the highest grossing black and white film until the release of Schindler's List in 1994.
The annual British Academy of Film and Television Arts has presented its awards for the year 2016. For a full list of nominees and winners click here. Cinema Retro's London photographer Mark Mawston was there to cover all the action on the red carpet. Here is a selection of some of his photos. (All photographs copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
The Swinger (1967) and The Pleasure Seekers
(1964) are films featuring the charismatic Ann-Margret. Both films are considered to be typical
Hollywood pop cinema; light and frothy, flawed, but full of period bric-a-brac
and stylish music, much like the Elvis Presley movies of the day. In fact,
Margret had already made quite an impact starring alongside Elvis in the film Viva
Las Vegas (1964). Margret was certainly beginning to shine in all the right
places and had come a long way since emigrating from her native Sweden back in 1942.
The title song of The Swinger was written by
André and Dory Previn and the score composed by Marty Paich with additional
arrangements by Johnny Williams and Quincy Jones. The Swinger was originally
released in both mono and stereo and appeared on the RCA Victor label as one of
their DYNAGROOVE recordings. It’s a great collection of songs performed by the
enigmatic Margret in her own unique style and also features a couple of tracks
from the film’s composer Marty Paich. As the title suggests, the album is also
woven with ‘other swingin’ songs’ so expect some excellent additional material
such as ‘More’ from Mondo Cane (1962) all of which fits rather seamlessly into
the overall essence of the album. At
just 32 minutes (which was typical of an album for this time), Cherry Red has
sensibly taken the opportunity to pair this album up to make a very respectable
and ideal twofer release.
The Pleasure Seekers soundtrack was also
originally released on the RCA Victor label and featured a score by Lionel
Newman and Alexander Courage. In addition the album also featured four songs
from the writing team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs are of
course performed by Ann-Margret, with tracks such as ‘Bossa Nova’ and ‘Something
to think about’ adding a genuine lush, vibrant feel to the album. At 34
minutes, it works perfectly alongside The Swinger and rounds off the CD rather
The Swinger / The Pleasure Seekers (CD ACMEM324CD)
really does have a great deal going for it. Firstly, they are a match made in
heaven. Both albums showcase Margret’s distinguished vocal style and clearly
reflect her place in popular culture. Secondly, Cherry Red’s CD marks the first
time these two albums have ever been released on any digital format. It’s hard
to understand how they had previously slipped under the radar and never seen
the light of day before now. The audio quality is also very clean. Whilst there
is no indication of the source, both recordings are clear, with nice range and
are free from any form of background hiss. Cherry Red has also produced a very
nice 12 page booklet to accompany this release which is full of relevant and
interesting notes. The only minor grievance I have is in the booklet layout.
Whilst there is a lovely reproduction of the original album artwork of The
Swinger to the front of the booklet, the full page reproduction of the album
art for The Pleasure Seekers sits buried inside the booklet. Placing this
artwork to the back cover of the booklet renders it far more practical and
makes it completely reversible. It
provides the owner with an opportunity of choosing exactly what album cover
they want to display to the front. It’s a very simple option, but makes a world
of difference to the collector. Other than that, it’s a first rate release that
I’m sure will be welcomed and enjoyed by a great deal of people.
American politics have always been contentious. When people pine away for the good old days of political civility, well...they just never existed. Going back to the early days of the republic, candidates routinely lied about each other and passed around unfounded scandalous rumors. Even "Honest Abe" Lincoln secured the Republican presidential nomination by having his minions literally bribe people to pose as delegates and pack the convention hall. One thing is for certain, however: the country is seeing its most vibrant protest movements since the late 1960s, when the toxic mix of Vietnam, civil rights, women's rights and other emotional issues seemingly had everyone at each other's throats. In a New York Times article, writer David Bianculli recalls how the Smothers Brothers became unlike vessels of the counterculture movement. The clean cut comedy duo was hired by CBS to provide gentle family humor (Tom and Dick Smother's shtick always revolved around sibling rivalry.) What CBS didn't expect was political satire the likes of which the network never imagined. Suddenly younger people had a TV show that was geared for them and the Smother Brothers set off national debates in barber shops, diners and the family dinner table. CBS didn't like it one bit. The network was the home of such popular, non-threatening fare as "The Andy Griffith Show", "Green Acres", "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". Now, CBS magnate William Paley was getting complaints from top politicians. That set in motion a delicate situation: CBS would routinely try to censor segments of the show, but by doing so they were undermining the very audience that had made it a hit. Compromises were made but the politicos were not satisfied when seeing guests such as Pete Seeger and George Harrison intermingled with safe, traditional stars such as Jack Benny. (Seeger sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", a thinly-veiled protest song about the Vietnam War that the network tried to cut.)
Ultimately, CBS caved and cancelled the show in its fourth season, using a bogus excuse that resulted in the Smothers Brothers getting a $900,000 payout- big money back in the day. Although the brothers skewed to the political left, one of their first targets had been Democratic President Johnson, who was constantly attacked for his Vietnam policy. His successor, Republican President Richard Nixon fared even worse. Johnson had complained personally to William Paley but after leaving office, made peace with the brothers by acknowledging that satire was an essential part of American politics. As for Nixon, it was learned later that he had siphoned funds from one of his presidential war chests to pay for a private investigator to find dirt on the Smothers Brothers. He never succeeded and Nixon would resign a few years later in the most notorious political scandal of the 20th century. Perhaps the brothers' ability to make both Democrats and Republicans feel uncomfortable was their greatest talent. Click here to read and view clips.
If you're a retro movie lover make sure that "Florence Foster Jenkins" goes to the top of your must-see list. The acclaimed comedy is an old-fashioned film in the best sense of the term. In it Meryl Streep gives another truly inspired performances. In fact it's getting downright boring extolling her virtues as perhaps the finest screen actress we have today. Streep has a field day giving a tour-de-force performance as the titular character, a real-life New York eccentric who apparently had built a cult following that has lasted for decades. Set in the year 1944, we find Florence Foster Jenkins living a very comfortable life in her lush Manhattan apartment. She is catered to by her younger husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who acts as protector and mother hen over his emotionally and physically fragile wife. Florence suffers from a variety of serious health issues that has resulted in her marriage to St. Clair remaining chaste (he even resides in his own apartment.) Although Florence is his meal ticket to a life that allows him many luxuries, including dalliances with other women, St. Clair clearly adores his wife and oversees every aspect of her daily existence. This includes her obsession with opera music. Florence had a lifelong passion for it and dedicated her life to pursuing an operatic singing career. There was only one problem: she was the worst singer imaginable. Despite her passionate embrace of opera, Florence's renditions of these works inevitably resulted in her bellowing out barely recognizable, high-pitched assaults on the eardrums of anyone who had the misfortune of being within hearing range. However, Florence had one major ally in her quest: her bank account. A very wealthy woman, she was also a philanthropist who donated huge sums of money to the arts and New York's private clubs that pertained to the arts. Consequently, she was beloved by the relatively small number of people in this social circle who politely attended her "concerts" and enthusiastically applauded her efforts. Encouraged by the but insincere enthusiasm of her friends, Florence began to believe she was a truly great opera singer. All was well as long as her performances took place exclusively in front of such tolerant audiences where St. Clair could control every aspect of the show and pull enough strings to ensure she would always get a rousing reception.
The film begins with Florence's quest to hire a suitable pianist to help her with her daily auditions (such was her influence that some of the great names in music would tutor her privately). Florence settles on hiring Cosme McMoon (yes, that was his name), a nebbishy, shy young man (played by Simon Helberg) whose abilities as a virtuoso are unrecognized. Desperate for money, he cannot refuse St. Clair's generous salary offers (i.e bribes) to pretend that Florence is a great talent. He agrees and manages to ingratiate himself to her and grow fond and protective of her as well. Things go smoothly, though we do see that Florence is bravely struggling with a deteriorating medical condition. Alas, a major crisis emerges when Florence announces that she has rented Carnegie Hall and intends to give a concert there- and to invite on a gratis basis servicemen who are in New York on leave. St. Claire immediately recognizes the dilemma: up until now no critic has been able to review Florence's performances because they were all held at private venues. He knows all too well what awaits her when the press attends the performance at Carnegie Hall. The final section of the film shows her disastrous performance and St. Clair and Cosme's efforts to convince her that it was a triumph. However, they can only pull this off if they ensure that Florence does not have access to the reviews- and she determined to see them. This results in a frantic situation that approaches that of a farce in which extraordinary efforts are made to keep the bad news from the lovable lady.
"Florence Foster Jenkins" is a true gem of a movie, the kind they supposedly don't make any more. Everyone is dressed to the nines, sips champagne and engages in Noel Coward-like witty banter. Streep, Oscar-nominated for her role, is superb as ditzy would-be diva, accentuating her eccentricities but never allowing her to look unsympathetic. Hugh Grant channels Roger Moore's mannerisms so explicitly that one suspects his performance is an homage to the actor. In any event, this is the best work he's ever done and he should have been nominated for an Oscar for his role as the charismatic, charming rogue. It's hard to steal scenes from these two pros but Simon Helberg (of TV's "Big Bang Theory") manages to do so. He's a joy to watch and, like Grant, seems to have been cheated out of a possible Oscar nomination. Kudos, too, for the outstanding production design Alan MacDonald and the fine work of composer Alexandre Desplat.
The Paramount Blu-ray?DVD/digital format special edition features a wealth of interesting extras including interview with Meryl Streep about her life and career and featurettes dedicated to the production design, music, script process, etc. There is also a marvelous interview with Gino Francescino, who has been the curator of Carnegie Hall's historical memorabilia since 1986, much of which is shown (including rarities relating to the real-life Jenkins concert, which sold out but was never filmed or recorded). There is also a selection deleted scenes.
All told, this is a "must-have" release for movie lovers who want to take a sentimental journey back to the golden age of moviemaking.
Alec McCowan (right) with Vivien Merchant and Jon Finch in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy".
Alec McCowen, acclaimed British actor of stage and screen, has passed away at age 91. Theater was McCowan's first love and his one-man adaptation of the New Testament formed the basis for his critically-praised show, "St. Mark's Gospel". He would receive three Tony nominations throughout his career. He was classically trained as an actor and appeared in many high profile stage productions around the world. McCowen made occasional appearances in high profile films. His best-remembered role was as the London detective in Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 classic "Frenzy". In the part, McCowen had to track down a serial rapist and murderer who is terrorizing the city. He played the role with wry humor especially in scenes in which his doting wife, played by Vivien Merchant, insists on cooking him elaborately prepared dinners of barely edible food. McCowen also played the role of "Q", the gadgets master, in Sean Connery's final James Bond film, "Never Say Never Again" in 1983. Click here for more.
The classic movie streaming channel FilmStruck launched in October. This is a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection that allows subscribers to access classic and cult movies from the Criterion Collection through streaming services and view exclusive bonus content. Hundreds of films are available through the service and the library's titles will keep expanding on a regular basis.
The latest press release lists the streaming services that FilmStruck is now available on:
FilmStruck, the streaming movie service for film
aficionados, is now available on Google Chromecast second generation and
Chromecast Ultra devices. Continuing its rapid platform expansion, the
streaming service will also launch on Roku, Playstation 4 and Xbox One in
the coming months. FilmStruck, featuring the largest streaming library of
contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films and the
exclusive streaming home to the Criterion Collection, is available for
streaming on Apple TV 4th generation devices,Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
Criterion has released a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of William Golding's landmark novel Lord of the Flies. As virtually anyone familiar with literature of the latter half of the twentieth century probably knows, the story involves a group of British schoolboys who are among the refugees deported from England out the outbreak of what is, presumably, a third world war. Their plane is shot down over the ocean but it crashes off shore from a remote island. All of the adults die but the boys miraculously survive and make their way to dry land. Realizing their survival is in their own hands, the boys (the age of whom ranges from pre-pubescent to early teens) set about the task of building shelters. They quickly master the essentials of staying alive and learn to start fires and to hunt and fish with reasonably effective hand-made tools. Inevitably, the fragments of a society begin to coalesce but there is stark contrast in philosophies. Jack (Tom Chapin) is an assertive, take-charge older boy who quickly learns he can use his aggressive personality traits to rise to a leadership position. Jack proves his worth by quickly going native and relishing the opportunity to play king. His skills are essential when it comes to providing food for the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensitive and thoughtful boy who rivals Jack as leader of the group based on his intellectual superiority. When the rivalry becomes heated, Jack and his numerically superior group of followers resort to violent methods to suppress Ralph and his friend Piggy (Hugh Edwards), a pudgy and harmless boy who must indulge many degrading insults and taunts. The resulting battle of wills leads to numerous tragedies and a conclusion that finds Ralph alone and being hunted down by his former schoolmates, who intend to kill him.
It's clear that Golding intended to use this scenario as a microcosm for society in general. He initially regarded himself as an optimist regarding human nature but that changed during his service in WWII, when he witnessed behavior that he thought was so horrendous that he became convinced that evil is far more prevalent in the world than he had suspected. That cynicism is carried over into the film, which is such a literate version of the novel that no one is credited as a screenwriter. Director Brook would assemble his cast of young boys (none of whom had any acting experience) and read passages and dialogue from the novel prior to filming each scene. The technique worked remarkably well. Brook's shoestring budget of $300,000 was cut in half after his ill-fated, short-term alliance with famed producer Sam Spiegel, who began to make significant changes to the production in the hopes of making it more commercial. When he insisted on adding a group of young girls to the mix, Brook ended their partnership but had to pay Spiegel half of his meager budget to cover expenses he had never even authorized. Left with only $150,000 in the coffers, Brook (who is primarily known as an acclaimed director of avant-garde theatrical productions) managed to get everyone to the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, where most of the footage was shot. Brook could not afford a seasoned cinematographer so gambled on hiring a local still photographer, Tom Hollyman, whose work on the film is simply remarkable (though he would never make another motion picture). Hollyman's footage was supplemented by footage taken by Gerald Feil, who was given a hand-held camera and told to shoot anything he found interesting. The result is a superb compilation of both men's accomplishments. The movie was shot in B&W for budgetary reasons but it also worked beneficially in terms of the impact of this stark, bleak tale. Raymond Leppard's brilliant score combines British schoolboy songs with ominous jungle themes. It must be pointed out that, despite the impressive performances of the young cast members, only one- James Aubrey- decided to gravitate into acting as a profession. The real hero, however, is Brook himself, whose exercise in the ultimate "guerrilla movie making" still stands the test of time as a powerful and fascinating film.
Criterion's special Blu-ray release does justice to the movie on every level beginning with a superb transfer that emphasizes the glorious cinematography. The extras in the set are:
Audio commentary track featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographers Tom Hollyman and Gerald Feil
Audio of William Golding reading excerpts from the book, accompanied by scenes from the film
Deleted scene with optional commentary track
Insightful interview with Brook from 2008 (in which he pointedly says he never made a commercial movie because he refused to compromise with the studios in terms of his artistic vision)
Wonderful home movies taken by the young cast members.
1980 British TV interview with William Golding (one of the few he ever gave)
A new interview with cinematographer Gerald Feil
The original trailer
Feil's 1975 short film documenting Peter Brook rehearsing cast members in Brooklyn for one of his off-beat productions. For those of us who do not "tread the boards" for a living, the rehearsals seem bizarre and resemble an exercise class more than an acting rehearsal. Some of it is unintentionally funny: the kind of pretentious scenario that is often spoofed by Woody Allen, with actors chanting and seeming to run about without rhyme or reason. Yet, who are we to argue? Brook's reputation as a major theatrical director remains firmly intact.
A collector's booklet featuring essays by Peter Brook and film critic Geoffrey Macnab
In summary, the Criterion release of Lord of the Flies is essential viewing for classic movie lovers.
The Spy Command web site provides an interesting article outlining changes made for home video release to specific episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "Hawaii Five-O" and "The F.B.I.". Some of the changes are rather "in the weeds" stuff that might only be noticed by diehard fans but the specifics are still very intriguing to read- especially about a "Hawaii 5-O" episode that was only telecast once and is not available on video, and an episode of "The F.B.I." that never aired at all. Click here to read.
Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti co-authored (with Louis Paul) the book "Femme Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973" for McFarland publishers. The book has just been issued in a softcover edition, revised and updated. Here is Tom Lisanti's story behind the creation of the book.
It was a long time coming, fifteen years in fact, but McFarland
and Company finally released a soft cover edition of the very popular and
well-received Film Fatales: Women in
Espionage Film & Television, 1962-1973 by Louis Paul and myself. The
book profiles 107 dazzling women (Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, Dahlia Lavi,
Carol Lynley, Elke Sommer, and Sharon Tate, among them) who worked in the
swinging sixties spy genre on the big and small screens. Some include interviews
with these sexy spy gals. This new edition contains some profile revisions and
updates and a few new photos.
The idea for this book was all Louis Paul’s. We worked together
at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and became friends.
Louis is an expert on European spy movies, giallos, thrillers, etc. from the
sixties and seventies. He had a side video business and produced a fanzine
called Blood Times. I had been interviewing sixties actresses for
magazine articles and culled them for a book that was called Fantasy
Femmes of Sixties Cinema. While I was finishing it up, Louis suggested we
do a book on sixties spy girls. There were books on just the Bond Girls but we
thought we'd go beyond that to also include actresses from the Matt Helm, Derek
Flint, and Euro spy movies. And we also decided to include actresses who worked
in TV spy shows like The Man fromU.N.C.L.E., I
Spy, The Avengers, It Takes a Thief , etc. At
the last minute I pulled quotes from some of my interviewees on their spy
films/TV shows destined for my first book and saved for Film Fatales.
Robert Vaughn and Donna Michelle in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film "One Spy Too Many" (1966).
We felt that the book would reach a nice size audience because spy films have remained so popular due to James Bond. It is 2017 and they still are making Bond movies. It seems never ending and moviegoers just love the escapism. The affection for the 1960s Bond movies extends to the copycat films (Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Harry Palmer, Diabolik, etc.) and TV shows of the day. They all employed handsome debonair leading men, adventure, romance, diabolical villains, picturesque scenery, and some of the most beautiful actresses from Hollywood and Europe. The spy girls in particular remained popular because this genre gave them different type characters to play. A number of the actresses are exceptional and in some cases their characters are more memorable than the hero. In the book the roles are broken down into four distinct types: the helpful spy/secret agent/operative; the innocent caught up in the chicanery; the bad girl-turned-good; and the unrepentant villainess/femme fatale/assassin. This is why fans love their spy girls because of the varied facets found in this genre.
The Warner Archive continues to delve into little-remembered crime movies with the release of F.B.I.: Code 98, yet another in the seemingly endless attempts of J. Edgar Hoover to use popular entertainment as a vehicle to promote himself and his bureau as incorruptible pillars of American society. (As usual, Hoover ensures he is personally thanked in the credits, mentioned in the script, depicted in photos on office walls and appears in footage at the end of the movie.) Still, this is a tense little thriller that engages the viewer from minute one with its timely depiction of a task force trying to prevent acts of home-grown American terrorism. The plot centers on a group of business executives who are flying to a government conference. Their company provides crucial materials and engineering for the U.S space program. A nondescript employee of their company concocts a clever scheme whereby he manages to switch out a piece of luggage being loaded onto the executive's corporate jet. Inside is a time bomb. Only a quirk of fate allows it to be discovered and dismantled in time. The F.B.I. is brought in under the direction of field director Robert Cannon (stiff-jawed Jack Kelly). He works with the intended victims to sort out who might have had a grudge against them and this inevitably leads to delving into some sensitive areas of their personal lives- including illicit affairs between married people. The film is tense and engrossing throughout, thanks to expert direction by Leslie Martinson. The capable supporting cast includes Ray Danton (whose baritone voice always seems overly dramatic for any role he played), the always-watchable Andrew Duggan, Philip Carey, William Reynolds, Jack Cassidy (in pure heterosexual mode) and Vaughn Taylor as the mousey, unlikely would-be terrorist. To compensate for the low budget, there are some unintentionally amusing gimmicks to provide some sweep to the locations. An F.B.I. office in Vegas looks directly out onto the casinos on the strip; a Washington D.C. office is in direct line with the Capitol Building; a Florida office has a view of a space launching pad. Still, Martinson's use of real locations throughout most of the film adds to the dramatic intensity. The film takes pains to present every F.B.I. man as scrupulously honest and dedicated. The worst they are guilty of is flirting with secretaries.
F.B.I.: Code 98 is well worth a look. It's tightly scripted, well-directed and doesn't have a single wasted frame.
For author William Peter Blatty's interview in Cinema Retro, see issue #19 in our back issues section.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
With the recent passing of "Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty, the Washington Post takes a photographic journey back to the origins of the story that inspired Blatty to write the book. In 1949 the Catholic church issued a rare consent order to allow an exorcism to be performed on a young boy who priests feared had been possessed by a demon. Doctors and psychiatrists have long speculated that the cause of the boy's affliction was rooted in natural medical explanations but the priests reported that they witnessed events that could not have been caused by any earthly phenomenon. The priests involved remained made few public comments after the exorcism, though there are some sketchy diary entries that shed a bit of light on the proceedings. The boy who was the center of the case is still alive and is now 78 years old but has never commented publicly on his ordeal or his memories of it, if any. Unless and until he does, there will always be debate about what actually occurred in an ordinary house occupied by an ordinary family who would inspire one of the most extraordinary novels and films of the 20th century. Click here to view.
The Universal Vault series has released the 1970 film "Sometimes a Great Notion" on DVD. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the film starred- and was directed by- Paul Newman. His skills as both actor and filmmaker and amply displayed in this engrossing, off-beat drama that never found its intended audience during its theatrical release, despite a heavyweight cast. The film is basically a domestic drama, though set amid the staggering beauty of the Oregon wilderness. The Stamper family runs one of the biggest logging operations around. The family's crusty patriarch, Henry (Henry Fonda), attributes the family's success to the fact that they lead a hard scrabble lifestyle and do much of the grueling work themselves rather than simply farming it out to paid employees. Henry ensures that he keeps the keys to his kingdom close to his vest: the only positions of power are held by him and his two sons, Hank (Paul Newman) and Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel). Henry espouses his philosophy of life, which is that there isn't much purpose to existence other than hard work, eatin', drinkin' and screwin' (though perhaps not necessarily in that order). When we first meet the Stamper clan they are embroiled in a dispute with a union that represents loggers. The union has called for a strike and it appears that the workers have been dormant for quite some time. The Stampers refuse to accede to union demands that they stop their logging operations in order to show solidarity with the workers. Henry will have no part of it. He and his sons insult union representatives that come to reason with them and, in fact, physically terrorize one of them. Henry and his sons have no use for unions and adhere to the pioneer lifestyle in that every man has to fend for himself. A byproduct of this philosophy is that the Stampers are riding high as the only operating logging operation in the area. Consequently, the family gets all the business that the striking workers would ordinarily enjoy. However, the Stamper's luck is about to run out. Union members secretly begin to sabotage their operation and on one especially painful day, the family endures several tragedies of Shakespearean proportions.
Although top-billed and coming off the success of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", Newman doesn't hog the spotlight. As director, he's quite generous in ensuring that his co-stars get ample quality scenes. The film evokes a very believable atmosphere in terms of exploring the type of no-nonsense, working-class people who populate rural areas. At first glance the Stampers are a content clan but there are cracks in the facade. Hank's wife Viv (Lee Remick) is fed up with the misogynistic lifestyle she is trapped in. Among the Stampers, the women folk are meant to be seen but not heard. She was bored as a teenager growing up in a one-horse town until young Hank drove through on his motorcycle and literally swept her off her feet. Her dreams of an exciting life were quickly dashed and she now finds herself cooking and cleaning for a family of men who barely acknowledge her presence. Even romantic overtures to Hank go unrewarded and Viv is fed up with his inability- or unwillingness- to challenge his father's Draconian ways of managing the family and the business. Hank's younger brother Joe Ben is a happy-go-lucky, humorous fellow whose own wife Jan (Linda Lawson) shares his Born Again Christian beliefs and is quite content raising their kids and living a traditional lifestyle for women in this place and era. Dramatic tensions rise when Henry's estranged son Leeland (Michael Sarrazin) (Hank and Joe Ben's step brother) arrives out of the blue after being away for years. He's a troubled drifter with no particular goal or purpose in life. Henry welcomes him back but advises him that if he wants to stay, he'll have to learn how to work as a lumberman. There is also tension between Leeland and Hank because Hank once slept with Leeland's mother (!)
As director, Newman excels at capitalizing on Richard Moore's magnificent cinematography and making the lumber business seem quite interesting. The scenes of tumbling timber are thrilling and suspenseful and makes the viewer aware of just how dangerous this profession is, with the possibility of injury and death always only seconds away. In the film's most harrowing and best-remembered scene, Joe Ben is trapped under a log in a rapidly-rising river as Hank desperately tries to rescue him. Jaeckel is terrific here in a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The scene is difficult to watch but Jaeckel and Newman have never been better. (At the time of the film's release, critic Rex Reed complained that some of Jaeckel's best work in the film never made it into the final cut.) Screenwriter John Gay deftly sidesteps some anticipated cliches and every time you think you know where the story is going, it ends up in another direction. There is irony in Newman directing and starring in a film in which the protagonists are right wing and anti-union, as Newman himself was a career union man whose left wing activism earned him a place on President Nixon's notorious "Enemies List". (Newman claimed it was one of the great honors of his life.) There are some weaknesses: we never get any background on the merits of the case made by the striking loggers so we have no frame of reference as to whether we should sympathize with them or the Stampers. Also, some of the supporting roles are underwritten, especially Lee Remick's. Aside from one good scene in which she divulges her frustrations to Sarrazin, there's not much for her to do. The movie builds to its tragic climax although Newman does make sure there is a triumphant moment in the last scene, even if its represented in a rather gruesome fashion. It's a pity that Newman chose to direct only a few films. He was as impressive behind the camera as he was in front of it. The film also benefits from a fine score by Henry Mancini and the opening song, "All His Children" (sung by Charley Pride) was nominated for an Oscar. When the film failed to click at the boxoffice it was re-marketed under the title "Never Give an Inch"- although that strategy failed to work. Hopefully it will finally find a more receptive audience on home video.
The DVD transfer is superb but once again, Universal provides a bare bones release with nary a single bonus extra.
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If you enjoy the golden age of Blaxploitation films you'll be happy to learn about Brown Sugar, the new streaming service that describes itself "Like Netflix- only blacker!". The service, which costs $3.99 a month, features a gold mine of cult classics of the genre ranging from the Shaft films to action flicks starring icons Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. The network says that many of the films in their catalog are not easily available on home video. Click here for more info.
HBO is producing "Francis & the Godfather", a behind the scenes recounting of the making of the 1972 crime classic. As most retro movie lovers know, although "The Godfather" is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, it had a rocky production history. Paramount just wanted a quickie crime flick for fast playoff and balked at director Francis Ford Coppola's insistence on costly production values. The studio also wanted to fire Al Pacino and forbade Coppola from hiring Marlon Brando for the title role on the basis that Brando's decade-long string of failures made him boxoffice poison. Coppola, through shrewd instincts and an occasional bit of good luck, sidestepped these potential minefields and delivered a masterpiece that spawned two sequels and became part of international pop culture. No casting or director has been announced. For more click here.