You don't have to be gay to admire John Schlesinger's 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday but it probably helps in terms of appreciating just how ground-breaking the movie was in its day. As a straight guy of high school age when the film was released, I do remember it causing a sensation, although it would literally take me decades before I finally caught up with it. Gay friends always spoke reverently of the movie and expressed how the most refreshing aspect of the story was how "normally" a loving relationship between two adult men was portrayed. In viewing the film as a recent Criterion Blu-ray release, I feel I can finally appreciate that point of view. Gay men have long been portrayed in movies, of course, but for the most part they had been depicted as objects of ridicule or as sexual deviants. There were the odd attempts to present gay characters as sympathetic in films such as The Trials of Oscar Wilde and the brilliant Victim. Yet, even these fine efforts present homosexuality as a burden those "afflicted" must bear. Stanley Donen's 169 film Staircase offered fascinating and bold performances by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as two aging queens. However, the studio marketing campaign over-emphasized the oddity of two of the film industry's great lady's men playing a gay couple. In fact, the ad campaign showed Burton and "Sexy Rexy" giddily dancing, thus falsely conveying that the film was a comedic romp instead of a poignant and intelligent look at loving homosexual relationship. Schlesinger, one of the first unapologetic directors to come out of the closet (if, indeed, he was ever in one) decided that the most daring aspect of this highly personal film would be in its very ordinariness. The story covers a complicated love triangle between three disparate people. Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is a middle-aged, Jewish London doctor who is involved romantically with a much younger man, Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Hirsh doesn't flaunt his homosexuality, nor does he attempt to painstakingly deny it. He just lives his life as a respected member of his community, although it is clear his family thinks he's straight. (In one amusing, though uncomfortable sequence, Hirsh attends a Bar Mitzvah and has to endure attempts by nosy female relatives to set him up with his "dream girl"). The relationship between Hirsh and Bob is fairly intense, but is compromised by one uncomfortable fact: Bob is bi-sexual and is carrying on an equally intense love affair with an older woman, Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson). Both Hirsh and Alex know about each other and (barely) tolerate the triangle as the price of having Bob in their lives. For his part, Bob is a rather self-absorbed young man who seems to have genuine affection for both of his lovers, but is also either oblivious or uncaring about how the uncertainties of the relationship are affecting their psychological well-being.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was released a time when the gay rights movement was moving into high gear in the post-Stonewall period. It illustrates why the 1970s is regarded by many as the most liberating decade in film history, with old line directors like Hawks, Welles and Hitchcock working at the same time young turks like Schlesinger were shaking things up in a way the old masters never had the opportunity to do, thanks to the restrictive motion picture code. Sunday is primarily remembered for an eyebrow-raising scene in which Hirsh and Bob engage in a romantic kiss. There's nothing sensational about the tasteful way in which this rather routine gesture between lovers is presented on screen. In fact, it was the sheer lack of sensationalism that drove home Schlesinger's primary message: that loving gestures between gay men can be every bit as routine as they are between husband and wife. The fact that the kiss was enacted by two straight actors did add considerable gravitas to the moment and must have caused more than one straight viewer to think "Well, if they don't care about enacting such a scene, why should I feel uncomfortable watching it?" Schlesinger also dared to film tasteful but passionate bedroom scenes between Bob and Hirsh. Nevertheless, nothing much actually happens in Sunday Bloody Sunday. The story was based in part on real-life experiences and people from Schlesinger's own life. The story merely traces the ups and downs in the love triangle as Bob causes panic in both Hirsh and Alex by announcing he is thinking of moving to America. Hirsh and Alex do have an unexpected face to face meeting during this crisis and their sheer civility and inability to engage in more than light banter only adds to the dramatic tension.
The primary attribute of the film, aside from Schlesinger's spot-on direction, is the brilliance of the performances. Glenda Jackson was then emerging as a national treasure for the British film industry and the little-known Murray Head acquits himself very well indeed. However, it is Peter Finch's performance that dominates the movie as we watch his character go from loving acceptance of Bob's youthful self-absorbing actions to downright fury as his realization that Bob will never have the same passion for him. It's a superb performance on every level. Some viewers find the film's bizarre final sequence in which Hirsh addresses the viewer directly about his philosophy of life, but I found it to be a distraction and somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, this is a fine film, worthy of the praise it has generated over the years, and one that remains remarkably timely today.
The Criterion Blu-ray is right up to the company's top-notch standards. The transfer is beautiful and there are the usual informative extras including:
New interviews with Murray Head (who says that, as a young actor, he found his character to be rather despicable), cinematographer Billy Williams (who supervised the Blu-ray transfer), production designer Luciana Arrighi, Schlesinger biographer William J. Mann and the director's long-time partner, photographer Michael Childers who shot many of the great production stills for the film.
A 1975 audio interview with Schlesinger
Screenwriter Penelope Gillatt's original introduction to the published screenplay (there is plenty of coverage throughout the Blu-ray concerning the tense working relationship between Gillatt and Schlesinger, who accused the writer of taking the lion's share of credit for a screenplay he had extensively rewritten.)
The original theatrical trailer
Extensive liner notes by writer Ian Buruma, Schlesinger's nephew who appeared as an extra in the film.
In all, an outstanding tribute to an outstanding work by one of the era's great filmmakers.
On May 18, 2017, as part of their ongoing Classic Film
series, the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, Illinois (outside Chicago) will
present a 50th Anniversary digital restoration screening of the 1967 James Bond
extravaganza, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Showtimes 2:00pm and 7:30pm.
At the 7:30pm
show, Bond author Raymond Benson will provide the Introduction and Ian Fleming
Foundation board member Colin Clark will exhibit the Model 47 Bell Helicopter
used in the motion picture.The first 100 patrons through the door
will get a chance to win a tour of the James Bond vehicles facility in Illinois
that is overseen by the IFF. Jay Warren will perform pre-show music on the theatre
organ beginning at 6:30pm.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will provide live musical accompaniment for a screening of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets". The concert takes place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on October 28. Click here for details.
Include a Raffle for Free Star Wars Concert Tickets,
Giveaway of Star Wars Merchandise to Attendees in Costume,
Performances by Members of the Philharmonic’s Brass Section,
Meet-and-Greet with Star Wars Characters
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
New York Philharmonic is celebrating Star Wars Day by giving Star
Wars fans who come to the David Geffen Hall Box Office early access to
tickets for the Star Wars Film Concert Series on May 4, 2017, at
10:00 a.m., before tickets go on sale widely to the public online at noon.
Fans who arrive by 9:30 a.m. will be entered in a raffle to win a pair of free
tickets to the Star Wars concert of their choice. Three winners will
be announced at 10:00 a.m. The first 20 Star Wars fans to arrive in
costume will receive official Star Wars merchandise and collectible
vinyl. In addition, fans waiting in line will be entertained by members of the
New York Philharmonic’s brass section performing music from the Star Wars movies,
and will have a chance to meet R2D2, Kylo Ren, stormtroopers, and other Star
Wars characters from costumed fan groups. Those planning to attend are
encouraged to spread the word on social media using #nypstarwars.
New York Philharmonic will present the World Premiere of the Star
Wars Film Concert Series, September 15–October 7,
2017, featuring screenings of the complete films A New Hope, The
Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens with
Oscar-winning composer John Williams’s musical scores performed live to the
films. The concerts will be led by acclaimed conductor David Newman.
the release of the first Star Wars movie nearly 40 years ago,
the Star Wars saga has had a seismic impact on both cinema and
culture, inspiring audiences around the world with its mythic storytelling,
captivating characters, groundbreaking special effects, and iconic musical
scores composed by Williams. Fans will be able to experience the scope and
grandeur of these beloved Star Wars films in a live symphonic concert
experience, as the Star Wars Film Concert Series premieres from
September 15 through October 7 at David Geffen Hall in New York City. Legendary
composer Williams is well known for scoring all seven of the Star Wars saga
films, beginning with 1977’s A New Hope, for which he earned an
Academy Award for Best Original Score. His scores for The Empire Strikes Back,
Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens each were nominated
for Oscars for Best Original Score.
has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, seven British Academy
Film Awards, and 22 Grammy Awards. With 50 Academy Award nominations, Williams
is the Academy’s most nominated living person and the second most-nominated
individual in history, after Walt Disney. In 2005 the American Film Institute
selected Williams’s score to 1977’s Star Wars as the greatest
American film score of all time. The soundtrack to Star Wars also was
preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, for
being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Williams was
inducted into the Hollywood Bowl’s Hall of Fame in 2000, and he received the
Kennedy Center Honors in 2004, the National Medal of Arts in 2009, and the AFI
Life Achievement Award in 2016. Williams has composed the scores for eight of
the top 20 highest-grossing films at the U.S. box office (adjusted for
Wars Film Concert Series is produced under license by Disney Concerts in
association with 20th Century Fox and Warner/Chappell Music.
Jonathan Demme, the personable film director who graduated from making "B" movies for Roger Corman to the highest ranks of Hollywood filmmakers, has died from cancer at age 73. His remarkable career covered an impressively diverse number of films ranging from documentaries to comedies and thrillers. He won the Oscar for Best Director for his 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs". His other credits include "Stop Making Sense", "Melvin and Howard", "Philadelphia", "Crazy Mama", "Handle with Care", "Last Embrace", "Something Wild", "Swimming to Cambodia", "Beloved" and the 2004 remake of "The Manchurian Candidate". For more click here.
among discriminating CR readers, there is NO doubt that Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi
masterpiece is truly terrifying. Jump
forward to 2017: technology is light years ahead and the world is counting down
towards Scott’s latest directing effort, Alien:
Covenant. One of the many new
technologies to emerge in the 38 years since the franchise chest-burst onto the
scene is Virtual Reality. VR vastly
expands the experience of a visual work by immersing the viewer in it. Like
feature films a century ago, VR content is starting out as short films, being
consumed by a growing audience. Kudos to
Twentieth Century Fox and RSA for giving their iconic franchise the VR
treatment with Alien: Covenant In Utero,
A Virtual Reality Experience. The two-minute
feature was unveiled at a special event held at Technicolor’s Experience
Center, the company’s VR incubator in Culver City.
can forget John Hurt curiously peering into the strange pod and getting
attacked by a face-hugger in the original Alien? Now you can be inside one of those very pods. “Consumers are being part of the story, not
just watching the story,” says Matthais Wittmann, VFX Supervisor for MPC, the
Technicolor company that worked on the project with Ridley Scott Associates,
Twentieth Century Fox and a host of other partners.
goal was to scare you,” said Ted Schilowitz, Futurist at 20th
Century Fox. Mission accomplished: The In
Utero experience immerses the viewer inside the birthing pod, complete with
sights (like blood or whatever alien fluids transverse the veins) and sounds
(heartbeats, a screaming victim outside the pod) as the Alien Neomorph finishes
developing and bursts out, fully lethal, towards its next victim.
hit the ground running,” says the project’s director, David Karlak, who rode
the buzz from his brilliant futuristic short Rise straight into Ridley Scott’s office. “It’s an example of how
you take all the different disciplines that make films look as good as they do
today and recalibrating them to deliver a VR experience that is unparalleled,”
the director adds. Obviously any young
filmmaker would jump at the chance to work with a legend like Ridley Scott, but
for Karlak, the project’s unique universe also had its attractions: “For me the inspiration was the concept… since
this was told from the point of view of a Neomorph, how would a creature that’s
designed to hunt perceive the world?” Well, like the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon
everything starts to look like a nail.
Director David Karlak
Dennis, RSA’s Executive Producer of Branded Content & VR watched how her
boss immediately took to VR when a similar project was created for his 2015
hit, The Martian. “It’s very important to Ridley that these
pieces have a real filmic essence to them, they have to feel ‘filmic.’” In a nod to Karlak’s talent she said, “When
we saw Rise, we knew he was the right
person for this.”
the proper 360° look fell to Technicolor’s MPC VFX Supervisor, Matthais
Wittmann who had his hands full from the very first frame: “You need a really
high frame rate or you get sick,” he pointed out. Since there are no cuts in VR, “You can’t
save yourself with edits.”
fact that MPC was also handling visual effects for Alien: Covenant was a huge plus. “We knew very early on that there would be a VR component so our crew
went over to the sets to take photographs so we’d have them…” Wittmann says,
adding, “our team was there, they knew about the lighting, they’ve worked on
other Alien movies already so all
this information we can leverage.” And
then, of course, there was The Master: “Since this was a point of view that has
never been done before,” Wittmann continues, “it was also very helpful to have Ridley Scott close by so we could ask
him, ‘Is that how it would be?’” Director
Karlak echoed how invaluable Scott’s guidance was – suggesting he watch videos
of baby crocodiles hatching and endoscopic footage of a human womb, just to keep
the team on the right track. Now after
over five months of intense work, this alien baby has arrived, fangs and all…
Intrepid Cinema Retro scribe Mark Cerulli gets the full "Alien" VR treatment.
Alien: Covenant In
Virtual Reality Experience, is available on the Oculus platform on “Alien Day”,
April 26th and then on all mobile and tethered platforms like
Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View, HTC Vice and PlayStation VR starting May
Alien: Covenant arrives in theaters
on May 19th from Twentieth Century Fox.
Mitchum is Martin Brady, an American hired gun living in exile in Mexico in “The
Wonderful Country,” a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. While waiting on the
Rio Grande for his contact for a gun smuggling job, Brady decides to escort the
wagon north to Puerto, Texas, and pick up a cache of guns on behalf of his employers, the
Castro brothers. Pancho Gil (Mike Kellin),
another agent of the Castros, arrives to escort the guns they’re buying from a
man named Sterner, but Brady insists on picking up the guns himself. When one
of Brady’s associates reminds him that he’s a wanted man in America, Brady
states, “I want to see the other side of the river.”
in Puerto, a tumble-weed startles Brady’s horse and he breaks a leg in the
fall. He’s aided by Dr. Herbert J. Stovall (Charles McGraw), who sets his leg. Ben
Sterner (John Banner, Sergeant Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame) receives his
500 silver Pecos in payment for the guns. We learn Brady killed the man who
murdered his father and he believes he’s a wanted man, thus his self-imposed exile
in Mexico.. We later discover this is not the case after the U.S. Army and the
Texas Rangers approach him about working for them to prevent the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches.
Stark Colton (Gary Merrill) wants Martin to help the U.S. Army stop the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches. The Castros are a couple of regional
Mexican tyrants, one a governor and the other a general. Texas Ranger Captain
Rucker (Albert Dekker) wants Brady to join the Rangers, all past crimes
forgiven. Meanwhile, Helen Colton (Julie London), Colton’s beautiful wife,
meets up with Brady. Rumors spread about the two of them, resulting in Brady killing a man bullying his friend “Chico” Sterner (Max Slaten Ludwig) followed
by his return to Mexico to confront the Castro brothers.
wonderful country in “The Wonderful Country” may be that place between borders,
cultures and people on the other side of the river or in the next village. It’s
the place one longs for after leaving home, but can never fully return to. More
Mexican than American after his years in exile, Brady wants to return home, but
discovers it isn’t possible. He’s seen by the Castro Brothers as a “gringo” and
by the Americans as some sort of hybrid Mexican not to be trusted.
Pedro Armendáriz is a welcome addition to the
movie as Governor Don Cipriano Castro in a small role as the
political half of the notorious Castro brothers. General Marcos Castro (Víctor Manuel
Mendoza), is the military half and they play Brady against one another holding his
past as collateral for his service until he’s had enough and refuses their
orders. The Castro brothers are discussed throughout the first half of the
movie, but their welcome appearance, especially that of Armendariz, is a bit of
a let down because they have next to nothing to do other than give Brady new
orders and to share their mistrust of each other.
Wonderful Country” boasts many merits, but it has a complicated plot
which is slow paced and filled with underdeveloped dramatic elements and
characters. I wanted to see more of Armendariz, Merrill, Banner and Kellin as
well as a more fully developed relationship between Brady and Helen. We never
fully learn about Helen’s past, why she’s unhappy with her husband or what she
sees in Brady. We also don’t really get a satisfying reason for the gun running
operation between the Castro’s, Sterner and the Apaches other than to have a
gun battle between the U.S. Cavalry and the Apaches as well as several cross
border visits for Brady and other members of the cast. Baseball great Leroy
“Satchel” Paige has a small role as Army Sergeant Tobe Sutton and Jack Oakie
makes an appearance as Travis Hyte.
film is based on the novel by Tom Lea, who also has a cameo as the barber who
gives Mitchum a shave. The 1959 United Artists release was directed by Academy
Award winning editor Robert Parrish (He also co-directed “Casino Royale” (1967) and directed “Fire Down Below,” “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,” “Lucy Gallant, “The
Purple Plain,” “Saddle in the Wind” and more
than a dozen other movies). Parrish had a distinguished career as editor/actor/director. He also wrote the best selling 1988
autobiographies “Growing Up In Hollywood” and “Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here
Anymore” where he chronicles his experiences as a child actor in Charlie Chaplin and
Our Gang comedies to his WWII service, relationships with many classic
Hollywood greats and his editing/directing career.
by Mitchum’s production company, D.R.M. Productions with Mitchum credited as
executive producer, there’s also a great score by Alex North. In the end, the
sum totals of all those other interesting elements do not add up to a cohesive
movie. it needs a tighter plot and and even the 98 minute running time seems a bit padded.. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and
sounds terrific, preserving the beautifully filmed widescreen image. The disc
includes the theatrical trailer for this and two other Mitchum releases as the
only extras. "The Wonderful Country" is a flawed but entertaining film and the Blu-ray is a welcome addition for fans of Mitchum and traditional Westerns.
have many impressive things to show you in my citadel!”
intones the looming hologram of maniacal would-be galactic conqueror Omus (Jack
Palance) to heroic Jason Caball (Nicholas Campbell) and Kim (Ann-Marie Martin)
after they have landed on the planet Delta Three. Apparently, a screening of
the film that this scene is unfolding in, 1978's “The Shape Of Things To Come,”
is not on the agenda. Coming in the midst of the first big “Star Wars”-knockoff
boom, this Canadian low-budget effort may have its fans, but “impressive” is
probably not a word to describe the film. Even viewing it for the cheese
factor, it is still a rather moldy and unappetizing cinematic confection.
the far future, humanity has colonized the moon to escape a war-ravaged Earth.
Their peaceful existence comes into jeopardy when Delta Three, their only
source of an anti-radiation medicine, is taken over by the tyrannical Omus and
his army of robots. Omus is looking to extend the reach of his rule to the moon
and is planning on attacking the lunar domed cities with a fleet of robot run
spacecraft. In an attempt to thwart the invasion before it starts, Dr. John
Caball (Barry Morse), his son Jason (Campbell), his friend Kim (Martin),and
teleporting robot Sparks head to Delta Three. Once there, they hook up with a
group of rebels led by Delta Three's deposed governor who are planning an
assault against Omus's citadel in an attempt to win back their world.
anyone with a passing familiarity of the film's alleged source material, any
similarity between “The Shape of Things To Come” and H.G. Wells' novel (or the
1936 film directed by William Cameron Menzies for that matter) is strictly
coincidental. What might not be so coincidental are the rebels led by a strong
woman character, sassy robots, imperiled planets and an aspiration to high
adventure that firmly put this movie as firmly trying to hitch a ride on the
then-current “Star Wars” wave.
that is not to say that the screenplay is not without its own ambitions. It
wants to give us the spectacle of a desperate group of rebels fighting off a
rampaging army of killer robots or the exotic but deadly perils of space
travels. Unfortunately, its ambitions far outweigh the talent or resources
available to realize them. Director George McCowan has neither the eye or the
budget to bring any life to the material on the screen. It isn't as if his crew
didn't try. The design and build of the movie's spacecraft models is
particularly nice. Unfortunately, it appears as if the budget ran out when it
came time to paint and light them. The rest of the film's visual aesthetic does
not fare much better. The lighting is flat and the best that can be said about
the cinematography is that the camera is pointed at the actors. At times when the film sobers enough to
realize it doesn't have the budget to visualize what it wants to it commits the
same cardinal sin that Robert Wise's “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would
commit a few months later and resorts to showing its cast stare at a screen and
commenting on something that is never actually shown to the audience. Those in
search of any kind of visual flair will need to look elsewhere.
his part, Nicholas Campbell certainly seems to understand exactly what movie he
has been a part of and is candid about his experiences in one of the two
interviews included as special features on Blue Underground's recent Blu-ray
release of the film. It is a shame that an interview with Campbell's co-star
Ann-Marie Martin couldn't have been secured, as it would have been interesting
to see her feelings on the film as someone who narrowly lost out landing the
part of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” just a few years earlier. The other
interview that is included on the disc is with composer Paul Hoffert who seems
to have had more enjoyable experience, given the freedom he had to experiment a
bit with combining traditional orchestrations with newer electronic
instrumentation. A French trailer (possibly for the Quebec market?), a
television commercial and poster, picture and press book galleries round out
the disc's extras.
a good portion of my high school years devouring the paperback reprints of the
Doc Savage pulp novels of the 1930s and '40s, the George Pal-produced “Doc
Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. The film gets
just enough right to show tantalizing promise only to snatch that away with
what it gets wrong.
back to his Manhattan skyscraper headquarters from his arctic retreat where he
was using the isolation to perform some experiments, scientist and adventurer
Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. meets with his five closest friends and adventuring
companions to be told that his father has died while in the small South
American country of Hildago. However, the reunion between Doc and his aides –
known as the Fabulous Five – is interrupted by an assassination attempt carried
out by a native from a South American tribe Doc can't identify. Surmising that
his father's death was not from natural causes, the group head to Hidalgo to
investigate. There they encounter the villainous Captain Seas (Paul Wexler),
who with government functionary Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso), is trying to steal
land that was granted to Doc's father by the leaders of the long lost Mayan
tribe, the Quetzamal. Doc, his aides and Mona, Don Rubio Gorro's truehearted
assistant, head inland to the Quetzamal's hidden village to stop Seas and
Gorro's attempt to steal the gold of the Quetzamal for themselves.
broad strokes, the script captures the globetrotting nature of many of the
early Doc pulp stories published by Street & Smith between 1933 and 1949.
The film's overall plot is taken directly from the first first Doc Savage yarn
published in March 1933, also titled “The Man Of Bronze.” But readers of the
old pulps will perhaps recognize that
writer Joe Morhaim and Pal have grafted onto the screenplay some elements from
a couple of other Savage stories, most notably “The Green Death” (November
1938), “The Mystic Mullah” (January 1935) and “Mystery Under The Sea” (February
film does sport a wonderful cast. Ron Ely is as probably as close to the pulps'
description of Doc Savage as Hollywood is likely to get, the visual of him
standing on the running-board of a touring car as it races through the streets
of Manhattan (or more accurately, Warner Brothers' New York City backlot) is an
image brought to life directly out of the pulps. And Ely plays the role with a
sincerity that at times feels as if it goes against the grain of the campy tone
director Michael Anderson is attempting. The casting for Doc's five aides are
all equally physically spot on. Those who did their teen years in the 1980s
will probably get a kick out of seeing Paul Gleason as one of Doc's aides a
full decade before he was tormenting teens at Saturday detention in “The
Breakfast Club.” Pam Hemsley as Mona appears much more wholesome here than she
would just a few years later as space vamp Princess Ardala on NBC's “Buck
Rogers In The 25th Century.” Horror fans may enjoy a rather atypical
appearance from future “The Hills Have Eyes” star Michael Berryman.
certainly lavished some money on the production, at least in spots. There is
some great location photography for both Doc's approach to his Fortress of
Solitude in the beginning of the film and when Doc and his aides are trekking
across South America to the Valley of the Vanished. Less convincing is the
set-bound look of the lost Quetzamal tribe's lost valley. (See the latest issue
of CinemaRetro for more on the making of the film.)
why did “Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” flop so hard when released? Perhaps it
was the wrong movie at the wrong time. The fall of Saigon and the end of the
Vietnam War was just a little over a month in the past when the film hit
theaters in June of 1975. The country was in a malaise and a movie wasn't going
to snap it out of its funk until “Star Wars” comes along in another two years.
It may also have been overshadowed by the release of “Jaws” the same month,
which sapped much of the oxygen out of the adventure film market To a cynical and war-weary nation, the film's
simplistic pre-Depression era idea of good guys and bad guys perhaps was seen
as naive, if not downright laughable. Moments when the film dips into camp –
such as the Doc's apparent need to slap his stylized logo on all his equipment
or Don Rubio Gorro's weird diaper and giant crib fetish – probably felt like a
way too late attempt to cash in on the campy Adam West “Batman” TV series which
had been off the air for years by this
time. Ultimately, tone is the biggest
thing that works against the film and it should be interesting to see how
writer/director Shane Black will handle it if his planned Doc Savage movie ever
gets out of development.
Archive’s new Blu-ray 1080p transfer from the film's original inter-positive does a
good job showcasing the cinematography of Fred J. Koenekamp , who was fresh off
his Academy Award-winning work on “The Towering Inferno.” The only extra
feature on the disc is a trailer, which shows some definite wear around the
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The new documentary "Batman & Bill" is sure to be controversial. It tackles the subject of who actually created the iconic world of Batman, who debuted in comic books way back in 1939. Conventional wisdom always gave sole credit to Bob Kane, who became a legend in the comic book industry and our pop culture as the Batman phenomenon stretched for decades. However, the documentary seeks to give credit to Bill Finger, a collaborator of Kane's who apparently created some of the most memorable characters in the Batman universe but who remained unheralded. The documentary debuts on Hulu on May 6 and the intriguing trailer indicates this truly will measure up to being "must-see TV".
Daniel Craig at the London premiere of Spectre in 2015.
The New York Times has an article about the on-going bidding between studios for the distribution rights to the next James Bond film, which has yet to go into production or even announce a start date. It also isn't known if Daniel Craig will reprise the role. Sony's long run contract with MGM and Eon Productions has run its course and the company is trying to nail down the distribution rights to the next Bond film- even though the Times reports that the payoff is rather low given the investments studios are expected to make. The Bond franchise is at its peak, thus ensuring that every new entry will reach some level of blockbuster status. To read click here.
Woody Allen's landmark comedy "Annie Hall" is forty years old. The film won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Oscars for Woody Allen for Best Director and Diane Keaton for Best Actress. Writing in The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman pays extensive tribute by analyzing the film's 40 funniest bits. Click here to view.
If it's remembered at all, the 1970 WWII comedy Which Way to the Front? is generally attributed as being the film that ended Jerry Lewis' career as a leading man - at least for quite some time. During the 1950s, Lewis' partnership with Dean Martin made them the kind of pop culture idols that would only be rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. If that sounds absurd, search out newsreel footage of the thousands of people that stormed their hotel in Times Square, causing police to close the vicinity as Dean and Jerry merrily tossed autographed photos to the crowd below. When Martin left the act, thus bringing about one of the longest feuds in show biz history, both men went on to enjoy a successful careers on their own. Martin's friendship with Frank Sinatra did much to keep him in the public eye until he enjoyed his own fanatically loyal following. Lewis became a prolific producer and director, one of the first movie stars to successfully multi-task in front and behind the cameras. Others had given it a try only to give up after a film or two. Lewis persevered and earned respect for his knowledge of filmmaking techniques even as he enjoyed his ranking among the top boxoffice attractions in the world.
By the late 1960s, however, Lewis' brand of innocent slapstick humor had fallen victim to the new freedoms in the cinema. Suddenly he began to look like a quaint throwback to a much earlier era, even though only a few short years had transpired since the pinnacle of his career. His modest romantic comedies couldn't compete with Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice frolicking in the same bed. Lewis was dismayed by this trend and tried to fight back by opening a national chain of Jerry Lewis Cinema franchises that would be allowed to play only family-oriented films. His timing couldn't have been worse. The lack of appropriate fare not only sank the theater chain but also took down such iconic family-themed theaters as Radio City Music Hall. (Ironically, audiences couldn't be persuaded to pay $5 to see a new movie plus a magnificent stage show starring the Rockettes. Today, they line up in droves and pay $100 just to see the stage show.) Lewis gamely fought on but his films became afterthoughts to his once loyal public. He remained very popular in Vegas nightclubs and his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon continued to raise millions for charity.
Lewis' 1970 Warner Brothers comedy Which Way to the Front? has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. The film is an curiosity in the funnyman's career in that, unlike his previous films, there is literally nothing funny about the movie at all. Even the least of Lewis' other works had a few scenes that would make his detractors chuckle, but this misguided farce seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute just to satisfy a contractual obligation. Lewis plays Brendan Byers III, "the world's richest man." Byers is bored with life and is surrounded by sniveling yes men who cater to his every whim. Thus they perceive a crisis when he gets a draft notice. That in itself is the first absurdity as Lewis was in his mid-40s at the time and would not have been of draft age. Nevertheless, Byers surprises his employees by rejecting their offers to find ways to get him out of military service. He has found his purpose in life: to fight for the American way of life. His joy is short-lived when he is rejected for military service. Crushed and humiliated, he befriends three other men (Jan Murray, Steve Franken, Dack Rambo) who were also classified as unfit for the army. The screenplay is so sloppy that it never explains why these able-bodied men were deemed unable to serve. Each one of his new friends has their own compelling personal crisis that makes it mandatory that they get out of the country. Byers comes up with a novel idea: if the U.S. Army doesn't want them, he'll use his unlimited wealth to create his own army.
Fox has reissued its original DVD release of the 1968 western "Bandolero!" as a region-free title in its made-on-demand "Cinema Archives" line. The film is top-notch entertainment on all levels- the kind of movie that was considered routine in in its day but which can be more appreciated today. The story opens with a bungled bank robbery carried out by Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his motley gang. In the course of the robbery two innocent people are killed including a local businessman and land baron, Stoner (Jock Mahoney). The gang is captured by Sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) and his deputy Roscoe Bookbinder (Andrew Prine) and are sentenced to be hanged. Meanwhile Dee's older brother Mace (James Stewart), a rogue himself, gets wind of the situation and waylays the eccentric hangman while he is enroute to carry out the execution. By assuming the man's identity he is able to afford Mace and his gang the opportunity to cheat death at the last minute. When they flee the town they take along an "insurance policy"- Stoner's vivacious young widow Maria (Raquel Welch) who they kidnap along the way. This opening section of the film is especially entertaining, mixing genuine suspense with some light-hearted moments such as Mace calmly robbing the bank when all the men ride off in a posse to chase down the would-be bank robbers. Mace and Dee reunite on the trail and the gang crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico- with July and a posse wiling to violate international law by chasing after them in hot pursuit. Much of the film is rather talky by western standards but the script by James Lee Barrett makes the most of these campfire conversations by fleshing out the supporting characters. Dee's outlaw gang makes characters from a Peckinpah movie look like boy scouts. Among them is an aging outlaw, Pop Cheney (Will Geer), a well-spoken but disloyal, greedy man who is overly protective of his somewhat shy son, Joe (Tom Heaton). The presence of Maria predictably results in numerous gang members attempting to molest her but their efforts are thwarted by Dee, who always comes to her rescue. Before long, Maria is making goo-goo eyes at her protector, conveniently forgetting he is also the man who slew her innocent husband. (The script tries to get around this by explaining that while her husband was a decent man who treated her well, she could never get over the fact that he literally bought her as a teenager from her impoverished family). The story also puts some meat on the bone in terms of Dee and Mace's somewhat fractured relationship. Both of them have been saddle tramps but Mace informs Dee that his reputation as a notorious outlaw allowed their mother, who Dee neglected, to go to her grave with a broken heart. Every time the script might become bogged down in these maudlin aspects of the characters, a good dose of humor is injected,
The story proper kicks in mid-way through the film when the gang finds itself en route to a remote town in the Mexican desert that mandates that they cross a hellish landscape populated by bandoleros, particularly vicious bandits who appear seemingly out of nowhere and pick off individuals one-by-one in a "Lost Patrol"-like scenario. July and his gang are also subject to the eerie murders as stragglers in the posse become victims. When Dee and his gang finally arrive at the town they find it deserted, as the population has fled the marauding bandoleros. Dee proposes to Maria and they agree to start a new life ranching with Mace in Montana- but their joy is short-lived when July and his posse sneak into town and arrest them. Before everyone can saddle up to return to the USA, the town is invaded by an army of bandoleros, setting in motion a truly exciting finale. The entire enterprise is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, an old hand with horse operas and often memorable action flicks such as "Chisum", "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves". "Bandolero!" is one of his best achievements and he inspires fine performances by all. Martin plays it unusually straight and in a subdued manner, a rare instance during this era of him playing a realistic, multi-dimensional character. Stewart looks like he's having the time of his life and Welch, then still a contract player for Fox, acquits herself very well indeed among these seasoned pros. The supporting cast is excellent with Kennedy and Prine in top form and familiar faces such as Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr. popping up in brief appearances. There is also some excellent cinematography by William Clothier and a typically fine score by Jerry Goldsmith. "Bandolero!" is one of the best westerns released during this era.
The Fox made-on-demand titles are generally devoid of bonus materials but they have wisely ported over additional content that was found on the initial DVD release. These include a trailer for the film as well as a Spanish language trailer and a gallery of very welcome trailers for other Fox Raquel Welch titles. The transfer is excellent but Fox didn't catch a blooper on the main menu which depicts Stewart, Welch and- wait for it- what appears to be an image of Stuart Whitman! Apparently some Mr. Magoo-type who designed the menu eons ago couldn't tell the difference between Dean Martin and Stuart Whitman, who starred in both "The Comancheros" and "Rio Conchos" for Fox. A minor gaffe on an otherwise fine release.
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Despite the disappointing boxoffice results for the 2015 big screen version of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E", the film's co-star Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin, says that a script is being developed in the hopes of bringing a sequel to the big screen. Since the 1970s U.N.C.L.E. fans dealt with promising rumors that a big screen version was in the works, originally to star Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who starred in the TV series. However, these projects ended up being thwarted by various factors. In 1983, Vaughn and McCallum did star in "Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E", a one-shot TV movie reunion. When the 2015 film was released it bore little resemblance to the TV series except for the Cold War setting and the names of the characters. Still, fans responded favorably to the re-imaging of the premise and expected a sequel which seemed unlikely to happen. Another plausible option might be to convert the much-beloved U.N.C.L.E premise into a cable TV series for Netflix and Amazon- that is, if the big screen sequel doesn't materialize. Click here for more.
Catlow is a fun MGM Western from 1971 with broad comedic overtones in addition to some fairly brutal violence. The film was directed by Sam Wanamaker and produced by Euan Lloyd, an old hand at bringing good action movies to the big screen (i.e. Shalako, The Wild Geese). The film is based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. Yul Brynner plays the titular hero, a charismatic, free spirit who travels with an entourage of vagabond cowboys and sex-crazed hot number, Rosita, played by Daliah Lavi, who is cast against type as a wild, unsophisticated character. The somewhat meandering plot has Catlow accused, perhaps erroneously, of stealing cattle. He is pursued half-heartedly by Marshall Cowan (Richard Crenna), an old army buddy who spends more time socializing with Catlow than making any real attempt to bring him back to a kangaroo trial. The scenes of the two men engaging in endless attempts to outwit each other are quite amusing. Leonard Nimoy's bounty hunter Miller poses a more realistic threat, relentlessly hunting Catlow and his men down to the wilds of Mexico where everyone ends up facing both the army and Apaches.
There are some solid, suspenseful action sequences such as when Cowan finds himself wounded and surrounded by Indians. There is also a neat double cross that results in Catlow and his men having their guns stolen just as they are about to face off with the Apaches. The inspired supporting cast includes Jeff Corey as the requisite sidekick that was played by Walter Brennan and Gabby Hayes in earlier Westerns. Jo Ann Pflug provides some glamour as a sexy upper class seniorita. The chemistry between Brynner and Crenna is the main pleasure of the film but Nimoy scores well in his limited role as a ruthless villain- and the site of him bare-assed fighting with Brynner beside a bathtub is one for the books.
Clifton James, the respected character actor who rose to fame as the bumbling southern Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond films, has passed away at age 96. James, a decorated veteran of WWII, appeared in many prominent films and TV series. Among his feature films: "Cool Hand Luke", "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "The Untouchables", "Juggernaut", "The Last Detail", "Will Penny" and "Something Wild". The portly James often portrayed lawmen and judges. His most prominent role came in Roger Moore's 1973 debut film as James Bond, "Live and Let Die". The character of Pepper as a comical racist lawman named Sheriff J.W. Pepper undoubtedly made audiences laugh. But to die-hard Bond fans his presence represented the increasing amount of slapstick that characterized some of Moore's Bond films. The producers brought the character back in the 1974 007 film "The Man with the Golden Gun" in which he coincidentally meets Bond in Thailand and participates in a wild car chase. The plot device was deemed absurd and the level of over-the-top comedy alienated most fans, thus the character of Pepper was never to return. It's a fair assumption that the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, was directly inspired by James' portrayal of Sheriff Pepper. Regardless of how Bond fans feel about the presence of Pepper in the two 007 movies, there is widespread respect for James' skills as an actor. He resided in New York City and was also a veteran of the Broadway stage. Click here for more.
In the mid 1960s Amicus Productions emerged as a Hammer Films wanna-be. The studio aped the Hammer horror films and even occasionally encroached on Hammer by "stealing" their two biggest stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The first Amicus hit was "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", released in 1965 and top-lining Lee and Cushing. The format of various horror tales linked by an anthology format proved to be so successful that Amicus would repeat the formula over the next decade in films such as "Tales from the Crypt", "Vault of Horror" and "The House That Dripped Blood". The studio cranked out plenty of other horror flicks and by the mid-to-late 1970s Amicus was producing better fare than Hammer, which had made the mistake of increasingly concentrating on blood and gore and tits and ass to the detriment of the overall productions. Occasionally-indeed, very rarely- Amicus would branch out from the horror genre and produce other fare. (i.e. the Bond-inspired "Danger Route" and the social drama "Thank You All Very Much") but the studio was out of its element when it came to producing non-horror flicks. A particularly inspired offbeat entry in the Amicus canon was the 1970 production "The Mind of Mr. Soames", based on a novel by Charles Eric Maine. The intriguing premise finds John Soames (Terence Stamp) a 30 year-old man who has been in a coma since birth. He has been studiously tended to by the staff at a medical institution in the British countryside where a round-the-clock team sees to it that he is properly nourished and that his limbs are exercised to prevent atrophy. Soames apparently is an orphan with no living relatives so he is in complete custody of the medical community, which realizes he represents a potentially important opportunity for scientific study- if he can be awakened. That possibility comes to pass when an American, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) arrives at the clinic possessing what he feels is a successful method of performing an operation that will bring Soames "to life". The operation is surprisingly simple and bares fruit when, hours later, Soames begins to open his eyes and make sounds.The staff realize this is a medical first: Soames will come into the world as a grown man but with the mind and instincts of a baby.
Soames' primary care in the post-operation period is left to Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport), who has constructed a rigid schedule to advance Soames' intellect and maturity as quickly as possible. Initially, Maitland's plans pay off and Soames responds favorably to the new world he is discovering. However, over time, as his intellect reaches that of a small child, he begins to harbor resentment towards Maitland for his "all stick and no carrot" approach to learning. Dr. Bergen tries to impress on Maitland the importance of allowing Soames to have some levity in his life and the opportunity to learn at his own pace. Ultimately, Bergen allows Soames outside to enjoy the fresh air and observe nature first hand on the clinic's lush grounds. Soames is ecstatic but his joy is short-lived when an outraged Dr. Maitland has him forcibly taken back into the institute. Soames ultimately rebels and makes a violent escape into a world he is ill-equipped to understand. He has the maturity and knowledge of a five or six year old boy but knows that he prefers freedom to incarceration. As a massive manhunt for Soames goes into overdrive, the film traces his abilities to elude his pursuers as he manages to travel considerable distance with the help of well-intentioned strangers who don't realize who he is. Soames is ultimately struck by a car driven by a couple on a remote country road. Because the lout of a husband was drunk at the time, they choose to nurse him back to health in their own home. The wife soon realizes who he is and takes pity on him- but when Soames hear's approaching police cars he bolts, thus setting in motion a suspenseful and emotionally wrenching climax.
"The Mind of Mr. Soames" is unlike any other Amicus feature. It isn't a horror film nor a science fiction story and the plot device of a man having been in a coma for his entire life is presented as a totally viable medical possibility. Although there are moments of tension and suspense, this is basically a mature, psychological drama thanks to the intelligent screenplay John Hale and Edward Simpson and the equally impressive, low-key direction of Alan Cooke, who refrains from overplaying the more sensational aspects of the story. Stamp is outstanding in what may have been the most challenging role of his career and he receives excellent support from Robert Vaughn (sporting the beard he grew for his next film, the remake of "Julius Caesar") and Nigel Davenport. Refreshingly, there are no villains in the film. Both doctors have vastly different theories and approaches to treating Soames but they both want what is best for him. The only unsympathetic character is a hipster TV producer and host played by Christian Roberts who seeks to exploit the situation by filming and telecasting Soames' progress as though it were a daily soap opera.
Christian Roberts, Vickery Turner and Robert Vaughn.
Amicus had a potential winner with this movie but it punted when it came to the advertising campaign by implying it was a horror film. "The mind of a baby, the strength of a madman!" shouted the trailers and the print ads screamed "CAN THIS BABY KILL?" alongside an absurd image of Stamp locked inside an infant's crib. In fact, Soames does pose a danger to others and himself simply because he doesn't realize the implications of his own strength- but he is presented sympathetically in much the same way as the monster in the original "Frankenstein". Perhaps because of the botched marketing campaign, the film came and went quickly. In some major U.S. cities it was relegated to a few art houses before it disappeared. In fact the art house circuit was where it belonged but the ad campaign isolated upper crust viewers who favored films by Bergman and Fellini but balked when the saw the over-the-top elements of the ads.
Sony has released the film as a region-free made-to-order DVD and it boasts a very fine transfer but sadly no bonus extras. Still the company deserves credit for making this little-seen gem finally available on home video where its many attributes can finally be enjoyed by a wider audience.
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There have been two
films based on the story of Hugh Glass, the mountain man who in 1823 was
attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the territory now known as
South Dakota. “The Revenant” (2015), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the more
recent and better known. It won three Oscars, including best actor, best
director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), and best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki). It
was hailed as a cinematic tour de force because of its on-location photography
and Iñárritu’s innovative filmmaking techniques, not to mention DiCaprio’s endurance-test
of a performance. In some ways, however, the film is so over the top in style
and execution that the director’s techniques tend to overshadow the substance
of the story. It also fictionalizes the true events it is based on in a way
that makes it more melodramatic than it needed to be. Even the New York Times
noted its “Pearls of Pauline” approach to storytelling.
A more satisfying and
truthful telling of the Glass saga can be found in the first filmed version—the
sadly overlooked and highly underrated “Man in the Wilderness” (1971) starring
Richard Harris. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian and scripted by Jack DeWitt (who
also wrote the “Man Called Horse” movies), “Wilderness” tells its story simply,
directly, and far more powerfully. It’s now available from Warner Archive in
Blu-Ray, and it’s time this movie got a second look.
The basic idea in the
two films is the same. Glass, one of the trappers in the Captain Andrew Henry
expedition, is attacked by a grizzly and so badly injured that no one expects
him to live. Henry orders two men to stay with him until he expires. It is at
this early point in the plot that the two films diverge. Iñárritu’s film
depicts one of the men left behind, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) as a completely
despicable character—almost an Oil Can Harry villain. He hates Glass and Hawk, the
half-breed son he had by an Indian squaw, who serves as the hunting party’s
scout. He kills Hawk, who catches him trying to murder Glass and tells Bridger,
the other man left behind, that he saw some Arikara Indians coming and
frightens him into abandoning Glass. The bulk of the film follows Glass as he
overcomes his wounds and the elements, and faces a final showdown with his nemesis.
While this makes an exciting story, it’s not entirely in accordance with the
facts, and forces the film to have a somewhat clichéd ending.
Sarafian’s version of
the story takes a different, more realistic approach. Rather than to portray
the two men left behind to watch over Glass (renamed Zach Bass in this version)
as evil incarnate, he makes Captain Henry the villain-- although villain is too
melodramatic a word. Played by Hollywood legend John Huston as a cross between
Ahab and an Old Testament God-figure, Henry is a harsh authoritarian without an
ounce of compassion. When we first see him, in a scene that calls
“Fitzcarraldo” (1982) to mind, he is standing on the deck of a boat being
hauled by 22 mules overland to the Missouri River. The white-bearded captain
looks down at the men riding alongside on horseback as if he were the Almighty
Himself, and he runs the expedition as if he were. When he learns Bass is injured, he not only
orders the party to leave him behind, he tells Fogarty (Percy Herbert playing a
fictionalized version of Fitzgerald) and Lowrie (Dennis Waterman) to stay with
him until morning and kill him if he is still alive by then. He tells them to
say some words over him. “Say ‘he fought life all his life,’” he instructs them.
“`Now his fight is with you, God.’ I reckon that’s where he figured it always
The captain had good
reason to know of Bass’s defiant attitude toward religion. He raised Bass from
boyhood after finding him stowed away on his ship, which makes his decision to
leave him behind even more inhuman. In a
series of flashbacks that ripple through Bass’s mind as he recovers from his
wounds and regains his strength, we learn what turned young Zack Bass against God
and religion. When his mother died of cholera on board a ship and is about to
be buried at sea, he’s told by a priest that cholera is God’s punishment for
sin and that her death “was God’s will.” When he’s told he must attend the
funeral, young Zachary locks the door to his cabin and refuses to go on deck. Later
in a classroom a stern, bearded minister grills the class on the question of
who made man and why. When Bass refuses to answer the question, the minister
smacks his hands with a wooden pointer over and over, shouting, “God made man,
Bass. God made man.” But the boy remains stubbornly silent.
In another flashback,
Bass’s young pregnant wife, tells him, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
And in the earth, and the sea. Have you never seen it? Never felt it?” He says,
“No.” He says he doesn’t have much in common with God. He speaks to the unborn
child in his wife’s womb, apologizing that he won’t be there when he’s born and
for bringing him into a world that is “hell on earth.” The wilderness he
struggles to survive in is as much spiritual as it is material.
The theme of spiritual
revitalization was a subject that screenwriter Jack De Witt focused on more
than once in his writing. His scripts for the “A Man Called Horse,” films,
which also starred Richard Harris, and especially “The Return of a Man Called
Horse,” were about a man, and a people, who had lost their spiritual identity.
In “Return” Captain John Morgan finds life in England stultifying after having
lived in America with the Yellow Hand Sioux. He returns and finds the tribe
decimated and demoralized after white trappers took their land and killed many
of their people. It is only when Morgan and the tribe’s survivors participate
in the grueling Sun Dance Ceremony, that they regain their identity and the
spirit to fight again.
In “Wilderness” a subtler
transformation occurs, when Bass, alone and on the trail of the expedition that
left him behind, encounters a small group of “Rickaree’s” (the name the
trappers called the Arikara) in a forest. He hides behind a tree as a squaw
dismounts near him and squats in childbirth. Seeing the mother and the newborn infant,
he cannot help but think of the son he never met, and it’s as though for a
moment he gets a glimpse of the “heaven within” that his wife spoke of. It’s
the story’s turning point.
“Man in the
Wilderness” is an uncompromising film. Just as it refuses to paint its
characters as black and white stereotypes, it also provides no easy answers to
the questions it poses. Sarafian and DeWitt don’t sugar coat anything. Life in
the wild is presented as a constant battle for survival. Starving, Bass finds a
bison being devoured by wolves. Unable to walk, he crawls on hands and knees,
beats the wolves off with a stick, and takes a chunk of bloody raw meat and
eats it. There’s’ no respite from the
harshness of frontier life. Even when a bird flies overhead, Bass looks up at
the blue sky only to see a hawk pouncing down on it. The Arikaras are depicted
as killers, and any encounter with them will cost a white man his life. And yet
when they find Bass unconscious and near death, they leave him alone, because
of an amulet left on his body by the expedition’s Indian guide. And later when
Bass is well and they meet again, the Arikara chief (Henry Wilcoxon) evinces
admiration and a liking of the fur trapper’s courage and ability to survive.
Warner Archive has
done a good job transferring “Man in the Wilderness to a 1080 p Blu-Ray. It was
filmed in the mountains of Spain and Arizona by Gerry Fisher, and his cinematography
is shown on the disc to full advantage. The film in presented in wide screen
2.41:1 aspect ratio with DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The picture quality is
very good, but it’s too bad there wasn’t a stereo soundtrack available.
Presumably. like a lot of films in the 70s, it was shot in mono. The sound is
definitely lacking in bass and the high frequencies are a bit shrill—the only drawback
to an otherwise very good Blu-Ray. A theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Bottom line: “Man in
the Wilderness” is a definite must-have. One of the rare things that come out
of Hollywood only occasionally—a film that tries to tell it like it is.
“One Million Years B.C.” (1966)
with Raquel Welch was sufficiently profitable for Hammer Films that producer
Aida Young and studio executive Anthony Hinds were incentivized to create a
sequel.In final analysis, “When
Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” (1970) seems more a reboot of the earlier movie than
a sequel to it.Victoria Vetri, who had
been Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1968 as “Angela Dorian,” succeeded Welch
as the female lead, and Jim Danforth took over the FX role from the otherwise
occupied Ray Harryhausen, with assistance from David Allen and others.Filming began in October 1968 but post-production
FX work delayed final completion and release for two years, probably sinking
any publicity value from Vetri’s Playmate fame.The picture opened in the U.K. in October 1970, in western Europe in
January 1971, and Stateside in March 1971 from Warner Brothers-Seven Arts.The European print ran 100 minutes and
included a few frames of fleeting nudity and implied sex.The skin was negligible by today’s
premium-cable standards but apparently deemed unfit for small-town moviegoers
in the Nixon era.Warner-Seven Arts
deleted the nudity from the U.S. edit and secured a “G” rating for the kiddie
audience.The film had a brief life in
drive-ins, but wider exposure followed in syndicated TV airings in the ‘70s and
The first home-video releases of
“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” were simultaneous editions from Warner Home
Video in 1991, in formats now as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves, VHS and
Laser Disc. Both products were struck
from the rated-G print. I paid the
$59.95 asking price for the VHS cassette and probably would have sprung for the
Laser Disc too, had I owned a player at the time. I was glad to have the movie in a form that I
could watch at leisure in those days before streaming video and Netflix, when
local video stores rarely carried such second-tier titles for rental. A DVD edition appeared in 2008 as a two-fer
with Hammer’s “Moon Zero Two,” retailed through Best Buy. The DVD created a brief stir because the
unrated European print had been used as the source, supposedly by accident,
even though the case carried the “G” rating. The new Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection also is sourced from the
European print, but this time the case warns (or teases, depending on your
perspective) that it is the “International Theatrical release version which
The opening credits attributed the
“screen treatment” for the film to critically acclaimed writer J.G. Ballard,
misspelled onscreen as “J.B. Ballard,” and the screenplay to British science
fiction, horror, and thriller veteran Val Guest, who also directed. The respective accounts of Ballard and Guest
are sketchy and inconsistent as to what each writer contributed to the final
product. Such as it is, the story isn’t
bad -- even in 1971, you didn’t go to a movie titled “When Dinosaurs Ruled the
Earth” expecting dramatic complexity -- although it mostly serves to fill time
between the appearances of Danforth’s gorgeous stop-motion dinosaurs.
Set of three door panels displayed in theaters during theatrical release.
Sanna (Vetri) is one of six young
blonde maidens chosen by the fanatical chief of the prehistoric Mountain tribe,
Kingsor (Patrick Allen), as human sacrifices to appease the tribal sun god for
recent celestial unrest. Little do the
primitive tribesmen know, but the tremors on earth and in heaven that scare
them are caused by the formation of the Moon separating from Earth, not by
divine displeasure. Sanna escapes in a
sudden windstorm, falls into the sea, and is rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a
young fisherman from the neighboring Shore tribe. At the Shore village, where tribespeople are
trying to tie down an unruly plesiosaur, Tara’s girlfriend Ayak (Imogen
Hassell) becomes jealous of Sanna, who flees again when Kingsor comes to
reclaim her. Chases, escapes, and more
dinosaurs ensue, including a charming if biologically unlikely subplot in which
a mama dinosaur and her baby welcome Sanna into their family after mistaking
her for a newly hatched sibling. Where
the earlier movie closed with a catastrophic volcano eruption, Guest’s ends
with the tide receding an unnatural distance, leaving a bleak mud flat from
which a giant crab emerges (the surrealistic mud flat seems to have been
Ballard’s idea), and then roaring back again in a biblical deluge generated by
the newly condensed Moon. In another
charming touch, a raft carrying Sanna, Tara, and their friends Ulido (Magda
Konopka) and Khaki (Drewe Henley) washes gently to rest on a matte-painting
cliff in the final scene after the flood subsides and dawn breaks.
Many fans seem to feel that the
casting of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” is inferior to the earlier movie’s,
but Vetri holds her own in the lead. The
script gives her more to do than “One Million Years B.C.” demanded of Welch,
and she delivers. She has screen
presence and she looks great in skimpy
togs that accentuate her impressive physical attributes. Hammer clearly understood that sexy outfits
sell tickets at the box office, even in movies whittled down to a
family-friendly rating. It’s a strategy
still employed today by moviemakers, more than forty-five years later: case in
point, the ads for the new PG-13 action movie “Ghost in the Shell,” which place
Scarlett Johansson’s generous curves in a skin-tight body stocking front and
center. Hawdon, Allen, and Hassell
support Vetri with plucky, straight-faced performances. That may be the most anyone can ask of actors
who are required by the script to strip down to their skivvies and talk in
made-up Stone Age language. Fans of
modern CGI may disagree, and probably will, but the dinosaurs designed and
animated by Danforth and his associates have more heft and personality than
anything in the recent, expensive blockbusters “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) and
“Jurassic World” (2015). The music by
Mario Nascimbene, the maestro of biblical and Viking soundtracks, adds a
measure of classic-cinema panache lacking in today’s mostly by-the-numbers
action and fantasy scores.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray is welcome as
the latest iteration of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” for the home
market. The colors are strong, and the
definition at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio is about as good as can be expected from
older studio elements, short of a costly digital makeover. The disc includes the original movie trailer
and, anticipating the needs of the target Boomer audience, English SDH captions. It’s questionable in this instance whether
captioning is necessary, since the dialogue consists of fifteen or twenty
nonsense Caveman words repeated over and over again, but it’s the thought that
Ken (Dale Midkiff) and Bob (Preston Maybank) land
in a propeller plane and speed off on motorcycles to a large mansion. Ken calls
Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster) via radio as Bob scales the side of the
building. Julie wants him to give her access to “the mainframe” when suddenly,
somewhere a puppet (yes, a puppet)
begins yelling Danger! Danger!, obviously aware of the imminent
intrusion. Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) is sleeping in bed in the mansion
while Bob takes off his necklace and lays it on the ledge after reaching the
mansion’s roof. He rotates a parabolic dish and the puppet, operating some sort
of a crude computer and using telepathic powers, makes the necklace turn into a
sphere (think Phantasm). Bob starts
to bleed from the face and falls to his death. The action breaks into the
opening credits to “Nightmare” as sung by Miriam Stockley.
If you’re still reading this, I commend you,
because I would have stopped at the mention of the word “puppet”. There are few
films that leave me at a loss for words (Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber is hands-down the most
infuriating movie I have ever watched; I might have to re-watch that one as I
must have missed the point completely),
but Henri Sala’s Nightmare Weekend
(1986) is, in the words of the late film critic Gene Siskel in his review of
1978’s Surfer Girls, one of the most
improbably lousy movies I have ever seen. This doesn’t stop one’s viewing of
the film from being a total loss,
however, as Nightmare is if nothing
else that we can be absolutely sure of a time capsule of the 80’s, with
artifacts of the Zeitgeist on full display: girls workout wearing leg warmers,
a guy dances nearly everywhere with a Walkman in his pants, a tough guy and his
Laura Brannigan lookalike chick get it on atop a pinball machine, and computer equipment is
crude, big and bulky. Clocking in at 85
minutes, Nightmare seems longer than
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part
II (forgive me for mentioning them both in the same sentence, I do
apologize). Edward Brake is an entrepreneur/inventor who has created a
computerized “Biometer” which changes naturally aggressive animals into docile
house pets. He ultimately wants it to be used for the betterment of society,
but it’s just not ready for prime time. His partner Julie can’t wait for him
and goes behind his back to team up with a nefarious organization that will pay
her millions for the Biometer. Edward’s daughter Jessica Brake (Debra Hunter) is a Carol Alt
lookalike who, with her friend Annie (Lori Lewis) and another woman, has been
chosen to be part of Julie’s experiment for which they will both be paid 500
dollars each for their involvement. The idea is to see how the Biometer works
on people. The aforementioned puppet, named George, is housed in Jessica’s room
and is operated by a computer named Apache, indubitably the precursor to the Apache HTTP Server (Danger! Danger! Sarcasm!), and is part of
the whole operation. The motley crew, and there are a lot of characters to keep
track of unnecessarily, all find themselves one way or another being affected
by the Biometer.
two biggest issues with Nightmare are
the screenplay and the editing. I love bad movies that are entertaining but
unfortunately this isn’t one of them. The
film never seems to make up its mind as to what it wants to be: horror,
soft-core porn, comedy, campy/serious? Scenes and shots are so
short it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the goings-on. It’s also
occasionally insulting to women as they are all pretty much on display simply for
Nightmare is a Troma
production which means that it exudes its own special, patented brand of strangeness.
It’s difficult for another film director or producer to attempt to ape the Troma
style as it is a singularly unique, signature and patented style of strangeness.
Shot in July 1983 in Ocala, FL on a budget of ostensibly half a million dollars,
description which, in the hands of a seasoned auteur like David Lynch, can be a
good thing. That isn’t the case here. Nightmarefalls into the “so-bad-it’s-bad”
camp. You feel like you’re watching auditions with an amateur acting troupe,
although amazingly other reviewers have championed the acting in an otherwise
disjointed film. That being said, if you’re a fan of the film, it has been
released as a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome. The image has been scanned in 2K and looks
really nice and is a far cry from the VHS tape from 30 years ago. It also
contains an interview with producer Marc Gottlieb that runs just under 13 minutes.
He’s very engaging and fun to listen to as he describes the making of the film
and how they promoted it at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Dean Gates, who did
the makeup effects, speaks for nearly 23 minutes and provides us with an
interesting perspective on the effects that he created in the days before movie
companies made the switch to CGI for most of this type of work.
Vinegar Syndrome has put together a really nice
package for this title. It has a reversible cover and very colorful
Weekend is best
viewed on a weekend while severely inebriated!
Hitler shaped history in ways we are still coming to grips with to this day. Our
understanding and interpretation of the devastation and evil he inflicted upon
the world involves not only warfare but his impact on the lives of individuals
who would become his victims. Some of his victims would become refugees, most
prominently Jewish and political dissidents who would make their way to America
and Hollywood. Their story is told in “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to
Hollywood” available on DVD by Warner Home Video.
devastation of Europe resulted in an influx of movie talent to America and their
impact is extraordinary. The great German cinema brain drain started in the
early 1930s and delivered a variety of cinematic exiles, Jews and non-Jews
alike, who fled Nazi Germany to Vienna, Paris and London before making their
way eventually to Hollywood. Fritz Lang, Henry Coster, Fred Zinneman and Curt
Siodmak would join hundreds of other exiles after having their films banned or
after being precluded from working in Germany. Franz Waxman, Billy Wilder and
Peter Lorre fled to Paris and joined up with Henry Koster in 1933 before making
their way to America.
stories of these Hollywood legends began in the silent era in Germany where the
new aspects of cinema dominated the world with innovative visual style,
techniques and story telling. German Expressionist use of light and shadow
would be a major influence on Hollywood horror, film noir and comedy for
decades and continues to influence filmmaking to this day. Hitler’s cronies
tried to coax a few of them, notably Fritz Lang to head the German film
industry and make movies for Nazi Germany, Lang and the rest would have none of
this and left for America.
directed and produced by Karen Thomas and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, this
documentary combines archival interviews with contemporary voice actors portraying
various filmmakers and actors in the tradition of television documentaries like
Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.” Reading personal letters and movie production
notes, the technique is very effective and brings these filmmakers to life as
they work to find success in Hollywood. Movie greats from Marlene Dietrich and
Paul Henreid to Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder are also depicted using
archival footage, film clips, home movies, photos and recordings to not only tell
their struggles to adapt to American culture, but how they would influence
Hollywood movies for decades to come. Many were not able to achieve the same
level of success they had in Germany. Others shaped Hollywood and the movie
industry for decades.
narration brings the stories of these exiles to life in a fashion that will be
appreciated by movie buffs and casual movie fans alike. Imagine if these exiles
had not made it out of Hitler’s Europe. Imagine the loss to not just American
culture, but to the world. Imagine not having Franz Waxman’s score for “The
Bride of Frankenstein.” Thankfully we have the gift of Waxman’s score and (to
use one of my favorite directors as an example) Billy Wilder movies. This
documentary brings to life the stories of some of the exiles in the movie
industry who escaped the greatest tyranny in history.
Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood” is available on DVD by Warner Home Video as
part of their Archive Collection and is a burn to order release. The picture
quality is terrific considering the age of much of the photos, home movies and
movie clips. This fascinating documentary was originally broadcast on PBS in
2009, clocks in at 117 minutes and makes for a very entertaining history lesson.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Entity 1982 Directed by Sydney j. Furie, Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David
Labiosa and George Cole. Eureka Blu-ray released: 15th May 2017.
theatrically in February 1983, The Entity was an impressive piece of fantasy
horror. The film was based loosely on the story of Doris Bither and the events
that took place in Culver City in 1974.
Award nominee Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a hard-working single
mother who, one terrible night is raped in her bedroom by someone or something
that she cannot see. After meeting with sceptical psychiatrists, she is
repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath and in front of her children. Could
this be a case of hysteria, a manifestation of childhood sexual trauma, or
something even more horrific? Now, with a group of daring parapsychologists,
Carla will attempt an unthinkable experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately
capture the depraved spectral fury that is The Entity.
Entertainment’s Blu-ray is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and is an
improvement over previous DVD releases. However, The Entity, like many other 20th
Century Fox releases of the 1980s, does suffer from a rather unavoidable grainy
picture. For some reason the major studios seemed to occasionally adopt this
blatantly ‘soft-looking' style of film. Unfortunately, there doesn’t really
appear to be any method of improving that look, and as a consequence, it is still
evident on subsequent home video releases. Certain daylight scenes display an
improved clarity but of course, a great deal of The Entity’s scenes occur at
night or within dimly lit internal sets. Blacks are far from solid or deep and
instead display a milky grey quality with varying degrees of density. Another
disadvantage of darker scenes is that it shows up several flaws such as dust or
speckle. These imperfections are also evident, mainly in earlier scenes rather
than later where these flaws noticeably begin to improve. Nevertheless, you are
left wondering if The Entity has received any form of remastering? The film’s
colour palette retains a slightly dull and flat appearance, which is a shame as
it is such an enjoyable movie. The audio is both clear and punchy – elements of
which help compliment Charles Bernstein’s chilling and memorable score.
Eureka’s Blu-ray provides very little in terms of extras. There’s a relatively
short theatrical trailer which has to be said, is of poor quality. Eureka
actually produced a new HD trailer for promotional purposes (see below) and is available to
view on Youtube. It’s even shorter than the theatrical trailer, but sharply cut
and includes some different dramatic music. It might have been an idea to also
include this on the disc as it would of least provided fans of the film just
that little bit more for their enjoyment.
the poor quality of previous DVD releases, many admirers of the movie may feel
that an upgrade to the Blu-ray format is essential. However, to the casual
viewer, it may arguably be worth holding on to that DVD for just a while
of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) 1960 Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, Starring
Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John and Dennis
Lotis. Arrow 2 disc Blu-ray and DVD released: 24th April 2017
filming began on The City of the Dead, Christopher Lee was already established
as a leading horror star. Hammer was paving the way with a new brand of horror
and Lee had played a huge part in their success playing the Frankenstein
monster, Dracula and the Mummy. The City of the Dead provided the perfect
opportunity for Lee to spread his wings further within the genre by moving into
the realms of witchcraft, the occult and American gothic.
in a small New England village (and hardly a city as the title suggests), Lee
plays Professor Driscoll, an authority on the occult who persuades one of his
students Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown of Whitewood,
once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the
Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been
consigned to the past.
City of the Dead has just about everything working for it. Firstly, it is
drenched in atmosphere and reminiscent of those beautifully crafted movies
produced a decade earlier by the likes of Val Lewton and his films for RKO. Fog
shrouded and shadowy dark sets provide the perfect backdrop for this hugely
enjoyable and extremely well made film. The film also benefits from a great
production team, a blossoming partnership consisting of future Amicus founders
Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. In terms of its technical spec, The City of
the Dead is a genuine delight on the senses. Arrow’s stunning transfer captures all of Desmond Dickinson’s sumptuous
monochrome photography rather beautifully. Boasting a pin sharp picture with
lovely deep blacks and a wonderful balance in contrast, this new 4K digital
restoration (by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI) is as close to
perfection as you are likely to see. The sound is also clean (and untampered)
presented in uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM Audio. It’s a wonderful viewing
experience, and a welcome change considering the film falls into the public
domain category, which, as a result has seen many inferior releases over the
years. The City of the Dead is an extremely important film, so it’s nice to finally
see it receive the treatment it so fully deserves.
A disgruntled consumer has filed a lawsuit seeking damages against MGM and 20th Century Fox over their release of a boxed video set that purports to contain all of the 007 films. According to Bond fan Mary Johnson, who filed the class action suit in the state of Washington, that claim is misleading because, upon opening the set found that it did not contain the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale" or the 1983 remake of "Thunderball" titled "Never Say Never Again". The two films have always presented a thorn in the side of Eon Productions, the producers of the Bond movie franchise. The roots of the problem extend back to the mid-1950s when Bond creator Ian Fleming sold the film rights to his first 007 novel "Casino Royale" for a pittance in the hopes of having Bond appear on the big screen. Instead the only film version turned out to be a one-hour live American TV broadcast on the program "Climax Theater" in 1954. Response was underwhelming and the Bond character seemed to be headed toward oblivion. However, Fleming's books picked up in sales and became vastly popular around the globe- especially when new president John F. Kennedy made it known he wa a fan. In the early 1960s Fleming signed away the film rights to his other Bond novels to producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who began making the movies under their Eon Productions banner. When the movies proved to be blockbusters, studios began to emulate the Bond franchise by launching a cinematic spy boom that lasted for years. By this time producer Charles K. Feldman had acquired the film rights to "Casino Royale". He wanted to jointly produce a film version with Broccoli and Saltzman but they rebuffed him. Feldman, who recently had a major hit with the mod spoof "What's New Pussycat?", decided that without Sean Connery to play Bond, there was no point in making a serious film version of "Casino Royale". Feldman opted to repeat the formula he had with "Pussycat": round up an eclectic big name cast and add elements of zany slapstick comedy. The film was released in 1967 overlapping to some degree Eon's release of "You Only Live Twice" with Connery.
The origins of "Never Say Never Again" are too long to go into here so here's a capsule version: in the 1950s Fleming teamed with producer Kevin McClory and writer Jack Whittingham to develop potential scripts for Bond-related movies that failed to attract any interest from studios. Fleming used elements of some of their work as the basis for his novel "Thunderball"- and was promptly sued by his partners for not crediting them for their contributions or allowing them to share in revenue. Fleming, who was in ill health, settled the suit and McClory ended up getting producer credit on the 1965 screen version of "Thunderball" as well as remake rights. When he tried to exercise those rights a decade later, Cubby Broccoli, who had by that point split with Harry Saltzman and was running the Bond franchise on his own, filed various lawsuits that stymied McClory's project until 1983 when it finally made it to the screen as "Never Say Never Again" starring Connery in his final appearance as 007. The Bond feature film franchise went on hiatus between 1989 and 1995 due to legal disputes between Cubby Broccoli and MGM. When the series was revived in 1995 with Pierce Brosnan as Bond, MGM was still battling McClory, who had for years attempted to capitalize on more "Thunderball" -inspired ways to exploit the Bond franchise. When he finally lost the battles in court, MGM moved to take control of even the "renegade" Bond productions and ended up buying the rights to "Casino Royale" and "Never Say Never Again". While the company never buried the the titles, as some Bond fans feared, they were never incorporated into any releases of the Eon Bond movies on home video. Their absence in boxed sets has long perplexed casual fans of the series who were not conversant in all the legal intrigues surrounding them. It has been suggested over the years that MGM promote the Eon films as the "official" Bond movies, but of course, that wouldn't be accurate since both "Casino Royale" and "Never Say Never Again" were legal adaptations of Fleming's works and thus no less "official" than the Eon films despite the fact that they are not held in as high esteem by fans. Perhaps the best solution from a legal standpoint is to state that such sets contain "All of the James Bond Films Produced by Eon Productions". In the meantime, the notion that this case should clog up a courtroom is almost certain to evoke the kind of public response reserved for people who sue McDonalds because their coffee is too hot. Seems to us that the simplest solution to anyone who is so traumatized by the absence of two films in a Bond boxed set is that they simply return it and get their money back.
It’s easy to see why Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight is generally regarded
as his finest post-Touch of Evil
achievement. This Shakespearean mélange is a dazzling showcase for Welles’
ingenuity, his evident appreciation for the film’s literary foundation, and his
relentless aptitude for stylistic inventiveness. However, its haphazard
production and its rocky release comprise a backstory as complicated as the
movie’s multi-source construction (the script, based on the lengthy play “Five
Kings,” written and first performed by Welles in the 1930s, samples scenes and
dialogue from at least five of Shakespeare’s works, primarily “Henry IV,” parts
one and two, “Richard II,” “Henry V,” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”).
Plagued by what were at this point familiar budgetary constraints, Welles shot Chimes at Midnight over the course of
about seven months in Spain, with a break when the financial well went dry.
When the film was finally released in 1966, premiering at the Cannes Film
Festival, it won two awards and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Unfortunately
for Welles, that was as good as it was going to get. Less amenable critics,
audiences, and, perhaps most importantly, distributors, relegated the film to
its decades-long status as an underseen vision from a used-to-be-great American
master, one who actually thought it to be his best film. Recent years have seen
a sharp turnaround, though, and when a new Janus Films restoration played in
New York earlier this year, it was enough to give this extraordinary work the
boost it needed. Following a series of theatrical screenings, the revaluation
and re-appreciation of Chimes at Midnight
has culminated in a stellar Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection.
As the film begins, Falstaff (Welles) is
navigating his fatherly-friend relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), who
is conflicted in his loyalty to his real father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud).
In the meantime, rival Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Norman Rodway) joins others in a
plot to overthrow the king, in retaliation for his brutal usurping of power
from Richard II. The ensuing drama is a complex web of political intrigue and
wartime struggle, balanced against the more intimate themes of betrayal,
friendship, family, and responsibility.
As the main character, a riotous, bulbous,
crass and somehow still charming nobleman, Welles gives one of his most
grandiose and memorable performances. In an interview on the Criterion disc,
historian Joseph McBride says it is “by far his greatest,” while in an
accompanying essay, Michael Anderegg writes, “Welles’s star performance as
Falstaff is one of his finest, tempering an unfettered exuberance with touching
vulnerability, his facial expressions and the modulations of his voice
projecting a cunning watchfulness at one moment and an openness to all of
life’s possibilities the next.” The slovenly outcast—rather “pathetic”
according to scholar James Naremore in his commentary track—is nevertheless
ambitious, scheming, and wisely opportunistic. Obviously reveling in such meaty
material, Welles plays Falstaff with a touching sympathy and a witty pomposity,
best juxtaposed when he is pranked and ridiculed by Hal and Poins (Tony
Beckley) in one scene, while in the next, his steadfast penchant for bluster
and exaggeration fails to waver in the face of shame. Unlike many of the other
individuals featured in the film, in Welles’ stage play, and in the various
Shakespearean texts, Falstaff has no historical grounding, which really doesn’t
matter. He was a popular character in Shakespearean times, always good for a
laugh, and in Chimes at Midnight, he is
similarly appealing as an endearing, comic individual.
While Welles is the clear figure of
prominence, Chimes at Midnight is
abounding in contrasting character types and a corresponding diversity of
performance. From a delightfully raucous Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet and a
rigidly formal Gielgud as Henry IV, to Marina Vlady as Kate Percy and Fernando
Rey as Worcester, Chimes at Midnight
boasts an exceptional cast with varying presentational styles. In scenes of
bawdy drunken revelry, where the words “grotesque” and “bodily humor” come to
mind (or at least they do in Naremore’s commentary), or in those sequences
distinguished by stoic primness, the actors all breathe exuberant air into what
could have easily strayed into the stolid territory of textbook Shakespearean
Leading the charge is, of course, Welles.
Under his tenacious direction, Chimes at
Midnight is a stunning assembly of formal brilliance and a masterfully
arranged adaptation, Welles’ inspired restructuring of the Shakespearean text a
testament to his familiarity with the subject. But even if he personally
oversaw details that could have been merely assigned (sketching the costumes
himself, for instance), Welles, especially in this film, benefitted greatly
from key collaborators. Edmond Richard, his cinematographer on The Trail (1962) (who would later do
excellent work with Luis Buñuel), production designer Mariano Erdoiza (his only
credit in such a role), and set decorator Jose Antonio de la Guerra all work to
contribute invaluable visual detail to the film. The Boar’s Head tavern is a
dingy and squalid retreat, a wooden structure that organically pulsates to the
rhythms of its rowdy clientele, while the King’s castle is a looming stone
chamber that, even in its sealed-off reserve, still yields vivid shafts of light.
To see just how these differing sets impact character interaction, one need
only to again go back to Welles’ portrayal of Falstaff. In the tavern, a
congenial, boozing Falstaff (the “king of winos,” according to McBride), holds
court as a larger than life figure, yet he awkwardly seems pinned within the
building’s narrow walls. “In a partly self-referential gesture—he was always
struggling with his weight—Welles goes out of his way throughout the film to
emphasize Falstaff’s sheer mass,” writes Anderegg, “his huge figure often
dominating the frame.” By contrast, at the castle, Falstaff is dwarfed by the
enormity of the structure and is reduced to being a disregarded shape amongst
the masses. In any location, though, Richard and Welles manage to strike just
the right visual balance of high-contrast black and white photography and
precise camera placement, which is nearly always conducive to a general
impression of tone, character stature, and narrative weight (nobody uses a low
angle quite like Welles).
Aside from the setting distinction between
the castle and the tavern, Chimes at
Midnight further builds on contrasting imagery. Close quarters crammed with
the bobbing heads of onlooking bystanders (many of whom were non-professional
chosen by Welles simply for the way they look) are countered by wide sweeping
natural arenas, like the setting of the Gadshill robbery, which is itself an
open patchwork of horizontal movement (Welles freely tracking through the
forest) and vertical expanse (it is a forest defined by pillaring sun-kissed
trees). The Battle of Shrewsbury, the most famous sequence from Chimes at Midnight, is similarly assembled
from juxtaposition, of speed, shot size, duration, and position. It’s an
extraordinarily well-orchestrated battle scene, an Eisensteinian montage of
quick cutting and movement textured by what Naremore points out as a Fordian
incorporation of atmospheric detail: wind, cloud cover, muddy terrain, etc.
With so much visual stimulus, the emotional
resonance of Chimes at Midnight can
potentially get lost in the crowd. By the time Hal comes to power and appears
to brush aside the pitiably loyal Falstaff, the creeping sadness that went
along with the dejected giant’s tragic optimism has become a potent, painful
betrayal—“The king has killed his heart,” says one observer. This is a film
heavily preoccupied with looming death and, worse yet, the fear of irrelevance.
Everyone’s lives are at stake in this tumultuous period, but what concerns many
more than that, particularly Falstaff, is the realization of not being wanted
or needed. Surely some of this was reflective of Welles at the time. Pushing
forward in the face of little money, limited technology, and an often
unreceptive audience, he continued to make films on his own terms, as best he
could (which was still as good if not better than anyone else). If Chimes at Midnight subsequently took
longer than hoped to be given a proper restoration and distribution, so be it.
Better late than never.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES!
By Lee Pfeiffer
The release of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds has thrust Enzo G. Castellari, the director of the Italian WWII pic that inspired it, back into the spotlight. This has resulted in a re-examination of his work, which has been relegated to cult status outside of his native Italy. Severin Films, which is fast becoming a major source of first-class presentations of otherwise neglected films, is honoring Castellari with the U.S. home Blu-ray edition of the director's 1969 WWII adventure Eagles Over London. Even fans of Castellari's Inglorious Bastards (note the spelling difference for the Tarantino version), probably are unfamiliar with this ambitious, relatively big budget 1969 film that was a hit in Italy, but was virtually unseen in America or England. Thanks to Severin, and Tarantino, who continues to champion Castellari's work, the movie can finally be seen and judged by English-language audiences. The film is highly impressive on all levels and one realizes the frustration that Castellari must have felt in having his achievement virtually unseen outside of mainland Europe.
Don Rickles, nicknamed The Merchant of Venom, has died at age 90. Rickles pioneered insult comedy and became a sensation on television and night clubs in the 1960s. He was performing until recently. Rickles had started as a dramatic actor and scored some supporting roles in memorable films but it was his stand-up comedy routine that made him a legend. Rickles penchant for insulting celebrities and everyday people paved the way for a new brand of comedy, though Rickles never delved into the vulgarity that characterizes many of the acts performed by those he inspired. Rickles' appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and the Dean Martin celebrity roasts were the stuff of legendary comedy moments on television. He occasionally delved back into acting in major hit films such as "Kelly's Heroes", "Casino" and the "Toy Story" franchise for which he provided the voice of Mr. Potato Head. He was scheduled to continue in that role in the next entry in the series. He was also the subject of the acclaimed documentary "Mr. Warmth: the Don Rickles Project" by director John Landis. For more click here.
Bob Hope's status as having enjoyed the longest reign as America's most beloved comedy icon remains unchallenged . When he passed away in 2003 at age 100, Hope had mastered seemingly all entertainment mediums. By the 1930s he was already a popular star on stage and in feature films. He could sing, dance and joke often simultaneously. British by birth, Hope and his family emigrated to America when he was five years old and he would ultimately become one of the USA's most patriotic public figures. His long-term contract with NBC stretched from radio days to being the face of the network's television broadcasts. It was TV that made made Hope the ultimate media icon. His NBC TV specials were the stuff of ratings gold, especially those that found him entertaining American troops in far off locations during the Christmas season. Hope continued this tradition, which started in WWII, through the early 1990s. His genius was that he never veered from his core act: quick one-liners that were designed to amuse but never offend. Although a life-long conservative and Republican, Hope knew how to thread the needle when it came to politics. He hobnobbed with presidents of both parties and the jokes he cracked about them gently poked fun at their eccentricities without offending either them or their supporters. Hope's political barbs were made in an era in which such humor would bring people together instead of polarize them. Hope's humor became dated but he never lost his popularity with older fans who continued to tune in to his TV specials and delighted at his frequent appearances on chat shows. Not everyone was a fan, however. Marlon Brando once criticized Hope's hunger for the spotlight by saying he would turn up at the opening of a supermarket if there was a camera there. Still, Hope's ubiquitous presence extended into the realm of movies, though cinema was decidedly a secondary career for him. In the 1940s and 1950s he was a top box-office attraction, with his "Road" movies co-starring Bing Crosby particularly popular. By the 1960s changing social values threatened Hope's brand of squeaky clean comedies but he still had enough juice at the boxoffice to top-line movies throughout the entire decade.
"Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number", released in 1966, is the epitome of a Hope comedy. He plays Tom Meade, a California real estate agent who has sunk a considerable amount of money into buying a house in a remote area of the mountains by a beautiful lake. He was certain he could turn a quick profit but it transpires that the house is located in an area that is a bit too remote and his investment has turned into a money-bleeding white elephant. At the same time, the story follows the exploits of Didi (Elke Sommer), an international screen sex siren who is known for including provocative bathing sequences in her racy films. Didi is shooting her latest movie when she has a fierce argument with her director/lover Pepe Pepponi (Cesare Danova) and storms off the set to go into hiding, thus initiating an intense manhunt that dominates the headlines. Through the type of quirk that can only happen in movies, Tom makes a business phone call and accidentally gets connected with Didi, who tells him she is hiding in a nearby hotel but lacks any food or sustenance. Tom realizes he possesses bombshell information and promises to visit her with food. He sneaks out late at night so his wife Martha (Marjorie Lord) doesn't suspect anything...but unbeknownst to him, his nosy and sarcastic live-in housekeeper Lily (Phyllis Diller) catches on. When Tom arrives at Didi's hotel room, she practically seduces him but Tom has something other than sex on his mind. He offers Didi the opportunity to stay at his dormant house at the lake until the manhunt dies down. He's motivated partly by compassion and partly by the opportunity to exploit the property as the house that Didi once hid in. Things naturally go awry when Martha insists on spending a romantic weekend at the house with Tom, away from their two pre-teen but precocious son and daughter. This sets in motion one of those traditional bedroom farce situations. Tom arrives separately in advance of Martha and discovers Didi is practically comatose after taking a sleeping pill. In the ensuing mayhem, he must drag her from room to room and hide her before Martha discovers her presence. This madcap sequence is the highlight of the film and it is deftly directed by old pro George Marshall. However, the film's final act crosses the line into over-the-top outright slapstick with Diller riding wild on a motorcycle and Hope being pursued in a car chase by FBI agents who think he murdered Didi.
The joy of any Bob Hope movie is that he never played the traditional hero. He specialized in portraying characters who weren't immoral but who were willing to gnaw around the edges of ethical behavior (i.e a coward who pretends he's a hero, a virginal buffoon who pretends he's a great lover, etc.) In this production, Hope continues that tradition and gets off some good one-liners. He's got the perfect foil in Phyllis Diller and their chemistry worked so well they made two more films together in short order, "Eight on the Lam" and "The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell" before Hope retired from the silver screen with his 1972 dud "Cancel My Reservation". "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!" plays out like an extended TV sitcom from the era and was shot on a relatively modest budget. There are a few timid attempts to make the script a bit contemporary by including a some overt references to sex but it's still tame family-friendly viewing. It should be said that Elke Sommer, who was always somewhat underwhelming in terms of dramatic acting skills, had a true knack for playing light comedy and she's delightful in this movie in a physically demanding role that requires her to be tossed around while unconscious as though she is a rag doll. One of the more amusing aspects of the film is unintentional: Marjorie Lord's hairstyle, which is as high as a beehive and equally distracting. One keeps awaiting Hope to make some quips about it but they never come.
Olive Films has released the movie as a Blu-ray with an excellent transfer but no bonus extras. As retro comedies go, this is typical of a Bob Hope comedy from the era. It offers no surprises but somehow today the sheer predictability and innocence of his movies make for pleasing viewing- and this is no exception.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the History Press, UK in relation to the publication of a major new book about the life and career of Albert Finney by author Gabriel Hershman.
any actor or director of a certain age who was the most influential actor in
British cinema and theatre post-1960 and one name will immediately spring to
More than any other British actor Albert Finney was
responsible for the so-called New Wave, giving free rein to working-class
self-expression in cinema, especially in the landmark film Saturday Night
and Sunday Morning.
Other actors of the same ilk followed: Michael Caine,
Richard Harris, Malcolm McDowell, Terence Stamp and John Thaw, to name but a
few. But Finney was the original pathfinder, as all the above would have
acknowledged, his name synonymous with other British cultural mould-breakers of
the Sixties, such as John Osborne, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and George
Finney was also a supreme professional whose behaviour on
and off set - his perfectionism and precision - is often cited as the perfect
role model for others. Yet Finney is perhaps not as famous as his influence
would suggest. It is remarkable how he became the key figure in post-war
British film, a byword for the new style of acting, without selling his soul or
losing his privacy.
Finney and Audrey Hepburn in "Two for the Road" (1966)
‘I like to observe people rather than be observed,’
Finney once said.
Albert Finney’s name has resonated through the West End
and five decades of film-making but Finney the man remained largely hidden from
view - watchful, chameleon-like, the unnoticed watcher in the woods. A
character actor who managed to submerge beneath the roles he played to portray
such truthful and compelling characters: the surly Arthur Seaton, a sly
Scrooge, a senile ‘Sir’, a drunken yet heroic consul, a cantankerous Churchill
and a curmudgeonly lawyer in Erin Brockovich.
Finney is the one figure everyone genuflects to -
the godfather of modern British film. His influence, even in retirement, still
resonates in all discussions about acting in Britain right up to the present.
(Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) 1982
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón, Starring Jack Taylor, Christopher George, Lynda
Day George, Frank Braña and Paul Smith. Arrow 3 disc Blu-ray, DVD and CD.
continue to satisfy our hunger for classic slasher movies with their latest
release "Pieces" (1982), a classic slice of sickening nostalgia which emerged during
the height of the video nasty era.
Boston college campus is being terrorised by a black-clad maniac who collects
body parts from his unfortunate co-ed victims. As the corpses (and red
herrings) begin to pile up, can Professor Brown (genre veteran Jack Taylor)
unmask the murderer before his morbid puzzle is complete?
of the genre should be incredibly pleased with the treatment given to this
three disc collector’s edition. Let’s be clear from the outset, “Pieces” is not
the best directed movie you’ll ever see. Director Juan Piquer Simón, a native
of Valencia, Spain, began his career working in advertising; he was a marketing
man at heart. However, it’s a background that taught him everything regarding
exploitation. Because of his career, Simón arguably constructed his films
around the shock element, the all-important ‘money shots’ that fed his
audience. Simón almost regarded plot and narrative as secondary, and instead
focused on the essential elements, which in this case were the film’s
outrageously gory set pieces.
of the highlights of Arrow’s collection is the inclusion of the original
uncensored cut of the film, Mil Gritos
Tiene La Noche. It’s not, of course, because it is simply uncensored or
because the gore factor is increased by a notch or two. It is purely because
the original Spanish language version stands up far better than its U.S. dubbed
counterpart which suffers quite dreadfully in translation. Thankfully, Arrow
has intelligently covered all corners by including both versions of the film
and allowing for the individual’s preference.
terms of quality, the film benefits hugely from a brand new restoration in
glorious 4K. Colours are rich and vibrant and look exceptionally good for a
film of its age and in consideration of its tight production budget. The audio
tracks (presented in original English and Spanish mono) are also clear and
sharp with no evidence of hiss or distortion.
deep into this collection reveals an awful lot of treats, especially in the
audio department. The inclusion of Mil
Gritos Tiene La Noche, which is exclusive to the Blu-ray, also features the
original score by Librado Pastor. There is also an option to hear an
alternative music only re-score by composer Umberto. Switching to “Pieces” (the
U.S. version) enables you to experience an entirely different score consisting
of various composers such as Stelvio Cipriani and Carlo Maria Cordio. There is
also a separate audio CD included within this package containing the original score
with 16 tracks and lasting 36 minutes. This appears to be an expanded version
over the 14 track LP debut which ran for 28 minutes and was released in
Switzerland in 2015. There is also an enjoyable and informative audio commentary
by horror and slasher loving podcasters The
Hysteria Continues featuring Joseph Henson, Justin Kerswell, Erik
Threlfall, and Nathan Johnson. These guys really know their subject, and its
inclusion here is a very welcome feature. If all of these audio options are not
enough, you can also watch the film with the 5.1 Vine Theatre Experience, a
rather curious addition allowing you to watch the film with the audience audio which
was recorded when the film was shown at the Vine Theatre in August, 2002. As I said,
it’s a curious one which doesn’t really serve much of a purpose other than listening
to audience reaction, if that’s your thing…
Monsterpalooza convention in Pasadena, California this coming weekend will
afford convention-goers a rare opportunity to meet the last of the great horror
film stars, the Queen of Horror herself, actress Barbara Steele.
Steele, who is best known to genre fans for her work in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and
Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle
(1965), will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans on
Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8, 2017.
convention will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green
Street, Pasadena, CA 91101 from April 7 to the 9th, 2017.
Titling a film is no
trivial matter, especially from a marketing perspective. As history has proven,
there have been numerous films made which have little more to offer than a cracking
title. A really sharp one can help sell the poorest product, conversely a
stellar piece of movie-making can be undermined by something uninspired. When
you're trying to make your movie stand out in a marketplace awash with
alternatives, an attention-grabbing title is a crucial consideration and you'll
probably be aiming for something that harbours intrigue, allure, and is capable
of fostering curiosity and anticipation. When it was first unleashed
theatrically in 1985, Howling II: Stirba –
Werewolf Bitch was certainly an attention-grabber. Whether the film itself
turned out to be good, bad or indifferent, as enticing titles go the suffix Stirba – Werewolf Bitch sure did the
job, sending out a premium come and see me
you know you want to invitation with the promise of a no-nonsense serving
of lycanthropic flesh-munching and raunchy bodice-ripping, elements on which it
most certainly delivered. So, given that said title was suitably
efficacious, one has to wonder why someone later thought it was a good idea to
alter it to Your Sister is a Werewolf,
a moniker conveying more than a whiff of lightweight teen comedy – perhaps
something akin to the same year's Michael J Fox headliner Teen Wolf – as opposed to that of spicy horror movie. C'est la vie.
Following the funeral of
his sister Karen, Ben White (Reb Brown) is approached by occult scholar Steffan
Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), who informs him that his sibling was a werewolf and
submitted herself willingly to death. Dismissing these claims as balderdash,
White's scepticism is quashed when he witnesses a werewolf attack first hand.
Crosscoe subsequently tells White that the 10th Millennium of lycanthrope queen
Stirba (Sybil Danning) is imminent and on that night, beneath the glow of a
full moon, all werewolves will reveal themselves. To avert this catastrophe
Stirba must die. White and journalist Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) set off
with Crosscoe to Transylvania to seek out the location of Stirba's coven and
destroy her. However, Crosscoe is withholding a personal reason for wanting the
werewolf queen dead.
Any sequel to Joe Dante's
1981 epic The Howling was going to be
facing an uphill struggle in terms of emulating its verve and director Philippe
Mora's Howling II: Your Sister is a
Werewolf certainly lives up to expectation on that account. Which isn't to
imply for one moment that it isn't entertaining; there's a lot of fun to be
had here, even if much of it is of the so-bad-it's-good variety. The draw
here for many viewers will be the significant participation of Christopher Lee.
For such an erudite man, Lee made some curious film choices throughout his long
and varied career; one supposes that in such a competitive profession – and one
burdened by rife unemployment – regardless of how demeaning it might be work
was work. Howling II wasn't among Lee’s
more questionable judgment calls but neither is it up there among the myriad of
cherries populating his CV. Regardless, consummate professional that he was, he
never gave less than 100% and with Howling
II he brings a degree of gravitas and worth to a film whose biggest crime
is not so much being bad as being rather unremarkable. Given what Lee brings to
the show, it's a shame that co-stars Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe prove so
unengaging. It would be easy to blame the slightly hackneyed dialogue – the
script was a collaborative effort between Gary Brandner (who also authored a
number of “Howling” novels) and Robert Sarno – but when you consider that
Lee managed to work his lines into something halfway decent that's not really a
valid excuse. The odd thing is that both Brown and McEnroe are competent enough
performers, as can be witnessed in some of their other films, so quite why
they’re so ineffectual here is frankly baffling. Regardless, any shortcomings are
compensated for by fine turns from the striking Sybil Danning in the titular
Stirba/sister role, Judd Omen as her swarthy aide Vlad and a sizzling Marsha A
Hunt (who's hotter than a jalapeño both in and out of her clothing). Brief but
noteworthy input too from Jimmy Nail and Ferdy Mayne, although the latter's
transformation into beast of the night is memorable for the wrong reason, his freaky
but unthreatening make-up and the fact he's wearing a flat cap combining to provoke
The cognoscenti will have no
doubt noted this is the third home video resurrection of
writer-director-co-producer Ted Newsom’s Flesh
& Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror. Originally issued on VHS in 1999 as part of Anchor Bay’s ambitious and
much welcomed “Hammer Collection” series, this affectionate documentary was
subsequently ported over to DVD in 2004 by Image Entertainment, Inc. Both of those earlier releases shared a
running time of some ninety-nine minutes. This comprehensive new version, curiously issued again on DVD rather than
as an upgraded Blu, boasts of a “Digitally Remastered Expanded Director’s Cut.” This newest incarnation, as promised, has
been expanded with an additional thirty-seven minutes of material. Whether or not the tighter original cut has
been artistically or informatively superseded by this director’s cut is open to
argument. While the new version is of more
generous length, it must be said the story arc occasionally meanders, unnecessarily
bloated by too-familiar footage culled from original trailers.
Regardless, this documentary
is an essential item for fans of Hammer, thoughtfully outlining the studio’s metamorphosis
from a small film distribution company to a vanguard of the British film
industry. In the mid 1930s Hammer’s
earliest successes were with such monochrome dramas as Songs of Freedom (with Paul Robeson) and mysteries as The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (with
Bela Lugosi). Not surprisingly, it
really wasn’t until after the country emerged from the rubble of WWII that the
studio would hit a proper stride, adapting such popular British radio shows as Dick Baron: Special Agent as cinematic
properties. But it wasn’t until the
studio acquired the rights to bring Nigel Kneale’s popular science fiction BBC
television series The Quatermass
Experiment to the big screen in 1955 that Hammer’s course was set. The success of that film spawned a sequel and
a knockoff which would signal what would follow. Beginning with TheCurse of Frankenstein
(1957), the studio would score with an influential and commercially successful string
of science-fiction, fantasy and horror films. These successes cemented the studio’s reputation as Britain’s preeminent
In that regard, Hammer had appropriated
the mantle previously held by Universal Studios as the foremost purveyor of
Gothic horror cinema. Though the studio
was barred from utilizing Jack Pierce’s iconic make-up designs - as well as other
Universal inventions protected by copyright – such public domain properties as
Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein were free for an
original and modern updating. If
anything, the time was right for the torch of the angry villager to be passed
on. Universal had all but abandoned their
dependable stable of classic monsters, choosing instead to bring creatures of
the atom-age to the screen. As Flesh & Blood astutely notes, Hammer
would inadvertently rescue these monsters of folklore from the ignominy of their
being mere slapstick foils to Abbott and Costello. With their distinctive trademark mix of splashy
Technicolor, tawdry bloodletting, overt sexuality, and a battery of dreamy screen
sirens (and unashamed displays of ample cleavage), the studio effectively
reenergized interest in gothic-horror cinema.
To be sure, this is not an
easy story to tell to satisfaction. Flesh
& Blood bravely attempts to thoroughly document the sprawling history
and trajectory of Hammer’s hits and misses, offering a score of first-person
and genuinely interesting procession of candid talking-head interviews. The studio, as many of this film’s
participants take great pains to point out here, was a business first and
foremost. The producers were primarily interested
in turning a tidy profit on their investment and productions were sometimes
hobbled by miserly budgeting. Even in
the studio’s halcyon days (1957-1972) most of the studio’s film projects – many
pre-sold to distributors on little more than a colorful mock-up of an
exploitative film poster – adhered to a tight six week shooting schedule.
As the principal photography
of this documentary began as early as 1993, the pool of talent available for
interview had not yet been thinned by time and age. In truth, there’s hardly a then-surviving veteran
from behind or in front of Hammer’s cameras who isn’t interviewed or referenced
in the film. In a particular masterstroke,
the producers were able to enlist the studio’s two greatest and most iconic star
players, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, to serve as principal narrators of
the opus. It’s mostly Lee’s narration
that carries the documentary forward, though the wasting, frail voice of a
clearly ailing Peter Cushing also bravely serves in this capacity.
interviews, home movies, trailers, vintage newsreels, stock footage, photographs,
promotional materials, and elements sourced from television archives, we are
introduced to the surviving men and woman who served as the studio’s primary
movers and shakers. Those sharing
behind-the camera memories are Michael
Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Roy Ward Baker, Don Sharp, Freddie Francis, Aida
Young, Jimmy Sangster, Richard Matheson, and composer James Bernard amongst others. Among those who appeared on the silver screen
and were happy to share their insights and warm recollections are the bosomy
starlets who were the epitomes of “Hammer Glamour:” Ingrid Pitt, Martine
Beswick, Caroline Munro, Hazel Court, Raquel Welch, and Veronica Carlson.