RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
The 1964 sci-fi film Robinson Crusoe on Mars has always eluded me until the Blu-ray release from Criterion. The fact that a company as selective about its titles as Criterion would endorse a deluxe edition of a film that was written off as kid's matinee fodder back in its day gives testimony to the movie's many merits. Directed by Byron Haskin, an old hand at classic sci-fi (War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits), Robinson Crusoe on Mars owes more than its title to Daniel Dafoe's classic adventure novel. Despite its setting in the future, the movie adheres rather closely to the basic premise of the book. Paul Mantee and Adam West are astronauts orbiting near Mars when their attempt to avoid an astroid causes them to be drawn into the planet's gravitational pull. The two men eject separately in escape pods but West is killed in a crash landing. Mantee survival seems like an even worse fate: he has only a limited amount of water and the air is too thin to breathe. He is forced to watch his oxygen tanks deplete gradually, knowing it will lead to certain death. How he overcomes these obstacles provides an intriguing aspect to the movie. It becomes obvious that, although Mantee is accompanied by a surviving NASA chimp, the film's intelligent screenplay appeals as much to adults as it does to kiddees.
Mantee is a charismatic leading man who impressively carries off the more difficult aspects of the role such as trying to remain optimistic even when he suffers setback after setback in his attempts to use a radio to call earth for help. Then there is the chronic isolation. Although he solves the problem of food, air and water, he yearns for human companionship. He gets his wish through an unexpected development. An alien race frequently visits Mars to use slave labor as part of a mining endeavor. When one of the slaves (Victor Lundin) escapes, Mantee rescues him and names him Friday. Before long, the two men are valiantly trying to learn each other's language and customs. Soon, they're sitting around shirtless in their man cave indulging in some male bonding. Before the movie can become Brokeback Mountain on Mars, however, they find themselves under nearly constant assault by the alien spaceships who are relentlessly pursuing Friday. Forced underground, Mantee and Lundin are exposed to various climates and dangers on the red planet as they try to find isolation in the polar ice cap.
Molly Peters, who began her career as a nude "glamour girl" model before starting a short-lived film career, has passed away at age 78. She had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer according to her husband but it was a stroke to which she succumbed. Peters' voluptuous appearance made her one of the more popular of the provocative models who posed for men's magazines in the 1960s. She posed for England's legendary photographer of nudes, Harrison Marks. She landed the only memorable role of her career in the 1965 James Bond blockbuster "Thunderball". In the film, Bond (Sean Connery) was sent to the Shrublands health spa to recuperate from some wear-and-tear. Here he encounters nurse Pat (Peters), a sexy blonde who conveniently is assigned to look after Bond's needs. Within short order Bond has her naked in a steam room. In another scene, Bond memorably massages the nude Pat with a mink glove. At the health spa, Bond discovers some nefarious activities going on by Spectre agents that finds Pat bewildered by Bond's strange comings and goings. Peters' scenes were brief but among the film's most memorable including a scene in which she straps Bond to a therapeutic stretching machine that a Spectre agent uses to almost deadly effect on 007. Following "Thunderball", Peters made the little-seen thriller "Target for Killing" co-starring "Thunderball" villain Adolfo Celi and future Bond baddies Karin Dor and Curt Jurgens. In 1968 she made her last credited film, "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" with Jerry Lewis. In 1995 this writer along with Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall along with Mark Cerulli and John Cork, tracked Ms.Peters down. She participated in an extensive on-camera interview recalling her experiences for the "Thunderball" special edition laser disc. The interview is now available on both the Blu-ray and DVD editions of the movie.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
CELEBRATE THE LIFE OF SIR ROGER MOORE WITH
TWO JAMES BOND CLASSICS, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME AND FOR
YOUR EYES ONLY,
AS THEY RETURN TO CINEMAS WORLDWIDE
WITH PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT UNICEF
London, UK – May 26, 2017 – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Studios (MGM), Park Circus and EON Productions are pleased to announce a series
of special screenings in memory of Sir Roger Moore, to take place at cinemas
across the world including: Odeon Cinemas (UK), AMC Theatres (U.S.) and Hoyts (Australia),
beginning 31 May 2017. Additional locations to be announced soon.
The newly restored 4K versions of The Spy Who Loved
Me and For Your Eyes Only will be screened with 50 percent of
all proceeds benefitting UNICEF. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Sir
Roger had been a dedicated and passionate supporter of UNICEF since 1991.
Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli of EON Productions,
long-standing producers of the James Bond films said “In honour of Sir Roger
Moore, we are delighted these Bond screenings will benefit UNICEF which was the
charity closest to his heart.”
Gary Barber, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, MGM
added “Sir Roger Moore left an indelible imprint on audiences worldwide. There
is no better way to remember Roger’s legacy than bringing back his iconic
performances as James Bond to cinemas across the world while aiding UNICEF, the
charity he steadfastly supported.”
Nick Varley, CEO of distributor Park Circus said “Park
Circus is extremely privileged to be MGM’s library distributor and we are
delighted to have the chance to celebrate the life and work of Sir Roger Moore
through these screenings, and most particularly as it benefits UNICEF, an
organization very close to Sir Roger.”
We would also like to thank Deluxe Technicolor Digital
Cinema for kindly facilitating the delivery of this project to cinemas for us.
Details of screenings can be found at www.parkcircus.com and
at participating cinemas websites.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
U.S. TROOPS AROUND THE WORLD, THERE WAS NO ONE LIKE HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS…
MAY, JOIN TIME LIFE AND THE GREATEST ENTERTAINER OF THE 20TH CENTURY FOR A TIMELESS,
STAR-SPANGLED COLLECTION OF HIS TOP-RATED HOLIDAY TV SPECIALS
BOB HOPE SALUTES THE TROOPS
This Commemorative 3-Disc
Set, Available EXCLUSIVELY at WALMART, Collects Some of Hope’s Historic
TV Specials Across Five Decades, Patriotically Packed with Memories, Laughs and
Stars, and Filmed on Location at Military Bases from Vietnam to Saudi Arabia
Bob Hope, the
greatest entertainer of the 20th century, spent nearly half of his 100
Christmases heading up USO shows as a globetrotting Santa Claus with a golf
club, a sackful of jokes, and an airplane filled with stars. Armed with a lifelong dedication to America’s
troops and a star-studded crew of performers, he performed on battleships and
battlefields, sometimes accompanied by the sound of fighter jets overhead. The missions were often dangerous, and their schedule
brutal, yet for thousands of servicemen and women far from home there
was no one like Hope for the
legendaryNBC-TV comedy and
Christmas specials – some of the most-watched programs in television history --
spanned five decades, from President Truman to Clinton. And, this May, BOB HOPE SALUTES THE TROOPS, a timeless 3-disc set from Time Life®,
collects some of the legendary performer’s greatest and most patriotic holiday
specials, including seven classic shows from the ‘60s to the ‘90s,
re-mastered from original broadcast elements for optimal viewing:
Bob Hope’s Christmas Cheer
in Saudi Arabia (Original Airdate: 1/12/91) -- During
Operation Desert Shield, Hope brought his USO Christmas show to U.S. troops
stationed in Saudi Arabia. Performances
include Marie Osmond serenading a serviceman, Hope and Ann Jillian doing a duet
and the Pointer Sisters performing “I’m So Excited”; other highlights include a
comic exchange between Hope and actress Khrystyne Haje (“Head of the Class”).
The Bob Hope Christmas
Special: Around the World with the USO (Original Airdate: 1/16/69) -- Hope
brought his USO Christmas tour to Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Midway, and
aboard the USS Hancock and the USS New Jersey in the South China Sea. Bob Hope and former professional football
player Rosey Grier trade barbs, the
Golddiggers dance on deck for the crews of two passingdestroyers
and Dick Albers performs his comic trampoline act. At Okinawa, a skydiver parachutes into the
audience and Ann-Margret exhorts members of the different services to stand up
during her performance. Hope does mail
call for the troops, inviting one service member (whose mother says he’s a good
singer) to perform and Gen. Creighton Abrams thanks the entire cast and crew
for coming to Vietnam.
Bob Hope: Memories of WWII
-- Hope looks back at World War II with his wife, Dolores Hope, and
colleagues who share their recollections about the period, including the shift
from shipping audio recordings of radio shows from the U.S. to actually
traveling overseas to perform for troops stationed abroad. Frances Langford and Bob reminisce about
their first wartime tour. Footage includes historic clips of Bob, Jerry Colonna
and Frances Langford doing a radio show for the Armed Forces Network, Bob
onstage with Bing Crosby, and a celebrity road trip to sell war bonds.
The Bob Hope Christmas
Special (Original Airdate: 1/15/65) -- Hope and company embarked on
a 1964 Christmas tour to entertain troops stationed in Guam, Okinawa, the
Philippines, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Along the way, the troupe went from the freezing cold of Korea to the
tropical heat of Thailand and in Vietnam experienced danger when the hotel
across the street from theirs is bombed. Jill St. John demonstrates the latest dance moves with service members,
and Anita Bryant, on her fifth USO tour, serenades two soldiers guarding the
The Bob Hope Christmas Show
(1/16/63) -- From more than a dozen military
bases in the Pacific, Bob Hope and his entourage performed the 1962 Christmas
tour in Japan, Korea, Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa, Formosa, and aboard the
USS Kitty Hawk. Among the highlights:
Lana Turner and Bob Hope do the bossa nova and there’s more comedy when Bob
brings Miss USA Amedee Chabot onstage. The
show closes with Anita Bryant leading everyone in Silent Night.
The Bob Hope Christmas
Special: Around the Globe with the U.S.O. (Original Airdate: 1/17/72) – In 1972, Hope brought his USO
Christmas tour to Hawaii, where Don Ho and His Wahinis perform Tiny Bubbles. Then, the company head to Wake Island and
Okinawa and on to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Spain, and Cuba. Along the way Bob delivers his topical
stand-up, and jests with Jill St. John, pitcher Vida Blue, and astronaut Alan
The Bob Hope Christmas
Special (Original Airdate: 1/17/73) -- Hope made his 22nd Christmas
tour of U.S. military bases to entertain troops, starting with a send-off from
Santa Claus (actor and pro football player Merlin Olsen) as the group departs
for the Aleutians, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Diego Garcia, the
Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and the USS Midway. Highlights include Bob
doing his custom-tailored monologues (with departing fighter jets drowning out
his act in Thailand), a “fatigue version of Sanford and Son” with Redd Foxx,
and Rudy Cardenas’ show-stopping juggling. Bob brings a star-struck service member onstage to sing to Miss World
Belinda Green, dances and sings with Lola Falana, and jokes with L.A. Rams
quarterback Roman Gabriel.
The 1971 Hammer horror cult classic "Twins of Evil" will receive a rare big screen showing on Tuesday May 30 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn. Showtime is at 9:30. Here is the official description from the Alamo Drafthouse web site:
Hosted by TV writer/producer, recovering film critic
Bruce Bennett. Admission only $10!
By 1971 the UK Hammer House of Horror had traded cleavage
and blood trickle for R-rated female nudity and comparatively extravagant
applications of “Kensington Gore”. TWINS OF EVIL literally doubles down on the
nudity care of comely Maltese identical siblings Madeleine and Mary Collinson.
And writer Tudor Gates’ grafting of vampire yarn with witch-hunt mentality
jeremiad offers plenty of opportunities for bloodletting - particularly via a
climactic beheading. But with all due respect to the Collinsons, the most
memorable charms on display in TWINS OF EVIL are of a more backward-glancing
variety. Taking a page from Michael Reeves’ WITCHFINDER GENERAL, director John
Hough (DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY) stages and paces TWINS as much as an urgent
50’s American western as a 70's grindhouse horror film. Star Peter Cushing’s
genius for effortlessly civilizing outlandish genre scenarios had long been
Hammer’s secret weapon. But playing a fatally conflicted parochial scourge in
TWINS would be Cushing’s first role after the devastating loss of his wife
Helen and more than anywhere else in his career, Cushing's performance is
palpably anguished. John Wayne has THE SEARCHERS, Peter Cushing has TWINS
the picture takes place a couple of months after the end of World War II in the
year 1945, Bad Day at Black Rock is
really a western. The setting is a desert town that’s barely a whistle stop for
a train that hasn’t halted there in four years; the main street looks as if
it’s right out of Dodge City, and the
opening credits are designed in big, colorful, bold words that spread across
the wide CinemaScope screen. Even director John Sturges is primarily known for
his many westerns.
Guy Spencer Tracy rides into town—on that train—and is met with inexplicable
hostility from everyone he meets. All he wants is to find a guy named Komoko—a
Japanese farmer who supposedly lives just out of town. Most of the residents
seem afraid to help Tracy. The ones who aren’t scared are bullies who attempt
to intimidate Tracy into leaving town. It doesn’t take long for Tracy to figure
out that Black Rock is run by Bad Guy Robert Ryan. Even the alcoholic sheriff
(Dean Jagger) is in Ryan’s pocket, as well as the young female mechanic (Anne
Francis), the telegraph operator (Russell Collins), and the hotel clerk (John
Ericson). Ryan has a couple of bruisers (Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin) who do
most of the threatening. The only civilian seemingly willing to extend an ounce
of courtesy to the stranger is the undertaker (Walter Brennan).
why is Tracy so unwelcome? Why is Black Rock so paranoid? What secret in its
past are the citizens obviously protecting? Tracy—not one to back down
easily—decides to try and get the answers before the gang puts him in the
are classic western trappings. It’s High
Noon, only Tracy has come to town
to find everyone against him, rather than the other way around. Ryan is the
archetypal greedy, mean cattle baron, and Marvin is his six-shooter-slinging
henchman. The only difference is that everyone in Black Rock gets around in a car
instead of on a horse.
film historian Dana Polan states in the accompanying audio commentary, Bad Day is a B-movie disguised as a
prestige picture. The studio is MGM. The CinemaScope/color photography is
impressive. The star is Spencer Tracy, adding “respectability” to the film.
And, in the end, it’s a “problem picture,” in that the movie is about racism. All
that spells “importance.”
of that really matters, for Bad Day at
Black Rock is simply solid entertainment. It is suspenseful, full of
tension, has action—a car chase, hand-to-hand combat, a shootout—and admirable
performances. Tracy was nominated for an Oscar Best Actor. Sturges was
nominated for Director, and the adapted screenplay by Don McGuire and Millard
Kaufman received a nod.
Warner Archive Collection release presents a 1080p High Definition transfer
with DTS-HD Master Audio.
include the aforementioned commentary and the theatrical trailer.
a few-frills package, but Bad Day at
Black Rock is a no-frills thriller that packs a raw and gritty punch.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
It goes without saying that Kirk Douglas is a
Hollywood icon. From his first role as Walter O’Neill in “The Strange Love of
Martha Ivers,” (1946) to “Spartacus” (1960) and beyond that until his last, so
far, appearance in a made for TV movie, he remains—even in retirement after a
stroke and a helicopter crash— one of those larger than life movie stars, the
kind they just don’t make any more. He
had a look and a style. Those shiny white teeth could as easily smile
charmingly at you or snarl like a barracuda. His bright blue eyes could be full
of tenderness one minute, as in his love scenes in “Spartacus,” or fierce and
mean as in “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” He played complex characters that were always
a mix of good and bad, but never evil.
Such a character is Johnny Hawks, the
frontier scout he plays in “The Indian Fighter” (1955), made in the middle part
of Douglas’ career. He had moved up from tough guy film noir roles by then and
this was the first film made by his own production company, Bryna Productions. The
film was made on location in Oregon by Hungarian-born director Andre de Toth, who
wore an eye patch, had seven wives and 19 children (talk about the kind of man
they don’t make anymore!). It tells the story of Hawks, who is brought in by
the Army to lead a wagon train of settlers through Sioux Indian territory. Rather
than the peerless good guy who has no flaws, Johnny has one major hang-up. He
is easily distracted. When, in the opening scene he spies Onahti (Elsa
Martinelli) the beautiful daughter of Chief Red Cloud (Arthur Franz), bathing
in a river sans clothes, he can hardly keep his mind on his job. His ogling is
interrupted by Sioux brave Grey Wolf (Harry Landers) who says, if he lays one
more eyeball on the fair Indian lass, he’ll set him up for a quick scalp
treatment. Nevertheless, Johnny during negotiating safe passage for the wagon
train and trying to establish peace terms between the tribe and the soldiers at
Fort Benham, manages to make a few passes at Onahti, who resists at first, but
soon surrenders to Johnny’s virile charms.
Plot complications come in the form of two
shifty ne’er-do-wells, Lon Chaney and Walter Matthau, who spend most of their
time getting the Indians drunk enough to tell where they can find the gold said
to be located on Sioux land. When Johnny abandons the wagon train for a night
to have a little dalliance with Onahti, all hell breaks loose. Several braves
are killed by the gold hunters and the tribe goes on the warpath. The wagon
train narrowly makes it back to the fort, and everybody wonders, where the heck
is Johnny Hawks ? Johnny wakes up that morning under a tree lying next to the
Indian chief’s daughter. He had a great night, but, boy, is he in trouble.
The film climaxes with the Indians besieging
the fort in a scene that resembles something out of “The Vikings” (1958), one
of Douglas’s later films, The Sioux set the fort on fire by lobbing balls of
flame at it from long poles cut from saplings. I don’t know if that has any
historical authenticity, but in his commentary, provided on a separate audio
track, Western film historian Toby Roan, makes note of the scene’s uniqueness,
and gives credit to the filmmakers for at least coming up with a different
approach to the old Indians-attacking-the fort scene.
Incidentally, Roan is the proprietor of a
highly-recommended blog on western films,https://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/, where you will find
all kinds of interesting info on older westerns. I had seen “The Indian Fighter”
before, but I wasn’t aware, until Roan pointed out that beloved character actor
Hank Worden ("Old Mose" in “The Searchers”) actually plays two parts in this
movie. He’s a jail house guard, and also Crazy Bear, one of the Indians that
Chaney and Matthau ply with liquor, trying to find out where the gold is. Roan
provides a ton of other insights into the making of the film. He knows which
construction company built the full-sized Fort Benham out there in the Oregon
wilderness and even what kind of lumber was used.
Kino Lorber presents “The Indian Fighter” in
a 1080p transfer on Blu-ray in Cinemascope with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Colors are bright and clear, and Wilfred M. Kline’s cinematography of the
Oregon forests and the snow-covered Cascade Mountains in the distance are a
treat for the eye. It was de Toth’s first Cinemascope film, and he used the
wide-angle lens in several scenes to do a full 360 degree pan of the beautiful
vistas surrounding the actors. The inestimable Franz Waxman contributed a very
colorful score for the film, and it’s too bad this release is not in stereo.
“The Indian Fighter” is an entertaining
movie, but it’s not without problems. De Toth’s direction seems to be focused
more on the scenery than the bloody frontier action taking place, resulting in
an overall lack of intensity. Douglas, however, and his supporting cast acquit
themselves well. Douglas displays a lot of physicality, doing quite a bit of
stunt work himself. In fact Roan points out that doing a horse fall, he ended
up with a broken nose.
It’s also definitely a film of its time. It’s
not likely that you could make a film today entitled “The Indian Fighter” unless
it was about a boxer in Bombay. And Johnny Hawks’ forceful seduction of Onahti
in the river bed might be protested by feminists today as nothing more than a
glorified rape. However, the movie gets points for a sympathetic portrayal of
the Sioux (even though there are no native Americans in the cast), whose Chief
Red Cloud tells Johnny his concern about the white men coming into the
territory is not the loss of the gold they are after, but the pollution of the
air and water they will bring. Nice environmental touch. “The Indian Fighter” is a mixed bag, good but
not without its flaws, just like Johnny Hawks.
Fifteen years after co-producing and directing the British Victorian-era war classic Zulu, Cy Endfield brought an epic prequel to the story to the screen with Zulu Dawn. Unlike the original film, however, this 1979 release suffered from a bungled and scatter shot North American release that ensured that very few Yanks or Canadians ever had the opportunity to see the film in theaters. Botched release notwithstanding, the movie is in many ways as good as its predecessor, even if the screenplay falls short on presenting the main characters in a fully developed way. The story pertains to the greatest British military defeat of its era as the Victorian penchant for colonialism extended into South Africa. Initially the indigenous Zulu tribes had a cordial relationship with the British, but a foolish change in political strategy saw increasing incursions onto Zulu territory. The Zulu king went to great lengths to avoid confrontation until it became obvious that the local British officials were intent on taking their land by military force. The British expeditionary force led by Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole) is well-armed with the latest weaponry and feels completely confident about a quick victory over the tribesmen, who are largely relegated to using primitive weapons. Like his American contemporary, General Custer, Chelmsford is an egotist with an overblown sense of self-confidence. He makes Custer's mistake of dividing his army into smaller units, spaced far apart. When the Zulu warriors mount a massive, surprise attack in what became known as the Battle of Isandlwana, the British are quickly overwhelmed. Like the original film, Zulu Dawn treats the native tribesmen with full respect and the script is clearly sympathetic to their cause. The British soldiers are depicted as courageous and gallant, but their superiors are generally seen as pompous snobs. A notable exception is the true life character of Col. Dumford (Burt Lancaster), a maverick Irishman who leads a contingent of African troops fighting with the British. Dumford tries to convince Chelmsford that his military strategies are flawed but his pleas fall on deaf ears. By the time Chelmsford and his reinforcements arrive at the battlefield, they find a seemingly endless plain of thousands of dead bodies, as only a handful of British troops managed to escape.
Zulu Dawn is a genuine epic with first rate production values with a sterling cast that includes such prominent actors as Simon Ward, Anna Calder-Marshall, John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport and Bob Hoskins. The latter half of the film is devoted entirely to the battle sequences and they are stunningly staged and photographed, with Elmer Bernstein providing the stirring score. The movie is very well directed by Douglas Hickox, who is primarily remembered for Theatre of Blood and John Wayne's Brannigan. However, one must acknowledge that on a film of this scale, much of the credit must go to the second unit team as well.
Original British quad poster
Severin Films, which recently released a terrific special edition of another great '70s British war flick The Wild Geese (click here for review), has presented Zulu Dawn as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD dual package. The quality is outstanding on the Blu-ray but I'm always even more impressed by Severin's bonus extras. In this case, they include a fascinating history of the Zulu conflicts with scholar and author Ian Knight, who talks seemingly endlessly about every facet of the battle. The word "endlessly" here is meant as a compliment. Although I consider myself a military history buff, Knight's segment is like attending a master class and I realized how little I actually knew of the events depicted in the film. Knight explains that, although the Zulus won the battle, they suffered tremendous losses in the process and their victory was short-lived, as Lord Chelmsford ultimately sent their king into exile. The Severin crew also flew Knight to the actual battle locations in South Africa and it's truly amazing to see how untouched they remain to this day. (Crudely constructed above--ground grave sites for the soldiers still dot the battlefield.) There are also raw footage outtakes and some deleted scenes including several variations of Bob Hoskin's character's death. Another interesting segment features an extensive interview with historical and military consultant to the film, Midge Carter. Carter was an unemployed Brit with an in-depth knowledge of the film who just phoned the production company and ended up getting hired to ensure accuracy. Carter makes for an engaging interview, telling interesting tales about how he prevented historical inaccuracies from being included in the film. He also trashes director Hickox as a snobby elitist with a less-than-impressive work ethic. He also shares his scrapbook of on-set photos which had been autographed by every member of the cast. Severin interviews are always excellent to watch, thanks to producer David Gregory and Carl Daft's determination to let them go on as long as necessary and not worry about the length of the pieces. I only wish this was the case with some of the documentaries I produced for major studios, where there was always a bizarre determination to trim everything to the bone. Severin also doesn't indulge in gimmicky special effects or camera work. They simply turn on the camera and let the subject talk. Not fancy in terms of technique, but a wonderful throwback to how interviews used to be presented. Finally, there is an original theatrical trailer included in the set.
Chances are you haven't seen Zulu Dawn. You're in for a real treat with this superb presentation of an excellent film.
the best Star Trek film ever made,
Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath
of Khan (1982), which was originally subtitled The Vengeance of Khan but was changed so as not to interfere with
Richard Marquand’s Revenge of the Jedi
which itself was changed to Return of the
Jedi, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and is the subject of an
exclusive screening at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre. The 113-minute film,
which stars William Shatner and the crew of the Enterprise, will be screened on
Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 7:30 pm on Digital Cinema Projection (DCP).
PLEASE NOTE: Director Nicholas Meyer is
scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A following the screening.
From the press
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (35th Anniversary Screening)
Wednesday, May 31, at 7:30 PM at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre
Followed by Q&A with Director Nicholas Meyer
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 35th anniversary
screening ofStar Trek
II: The Wrath of Khan, regarded by many buffs as the best feature film
in the long running series. After the box office disappointment of the firstStar
Trekfeature in 1979,
Paramount Pictures and producer Harve Bennett decided to take a fresh approach
to the follow-up film, cutting the budget drastically and bringing in talented
newcomers to revitalize the popular franchise.
Nicholas Meyer, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter and novelist ofThe
Seven-Per-Cent Solution, had made his directorial debut with 1979’sTime
After Time. He came to this new project, as he freely admitted, as aStar
Treknovice, but he
brought intelligence, ingenuity, and wit to the sequel. Meyer and the
screenwriters decided to bring back one of the memorable villains from the TV
series, the intergalactic tyrant Khan, and hired Ricardo Montalban to reprise
his role from that episode. Of course the regular cast members of the Starship
Enterprise — William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, DeForest Kelley,
Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig -- were also on board, along with newcomer
Kirstie Alley. Another newcomer to the enterprise was young composer James
Horner, a future Oscar winner who had one of his first major credits onStar
Critics endorsed the new approach.Varietycalled the film “a very satisfying
space adventure, closer in spirit and format to the popular TV series than to
its big-budget predecessor.” The commercial success ofStar Trek IIinsured a long voyage for the
Enterprise on the big screen and on television for decades to come.
Director Nicholas Meyer also worked onStar Trek IVandStar
Trek VI. In addition toThe Seven-Per-Cent SolutionandTime After Time, his many other
credits as writer and/or director includeVolunteers,Company
Business,Sommersby, the TV movieThe
Day After, and two Philip Roth adaptations,The
Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre is located at 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA
90211. The phone number is (310) 478 –
Sir Roger Moore, the iconic British actor who swept to fame playing The Saint and James Bond, has passed away from cancer at age 89. Moore grew up in a middle class lifestyle in Lambeth during WW2 and was among the children evacuated from the city during the Blitz. He had planned a career as a cartoonist but his good looks and charismatic personality drew him first to modeling and then studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. He found success early in his career and was placed for a time under contract with MGM in Hollywood. However stardom didn't follow immediately. Moore mostly appeared in soap opera stories opposite big stars but none of the films were very successful and was dismissed as just another pretty face. In the 1956 period costume drama "Diane", he was Lana Turner's leading man- but the film was a dud and one critic described Moore as "a lump of English roast beef", something he would joke about through the rest of his life. Moore left MGM and starred in "The Alaskans" TV series and was brought in to star in "Maverick", appearing in 16 episodes over a three year period. That lead to his starring as Simon Templar, the world class adventurer in the TV series "The Saint". The show ran for seven seasons and was a major international hit. Following that he also starred with Tony Curtis in the popular TV series "The Persuaders". When that show left the air Moore was hired to star as the third actor to play James Bond, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Moore's first Bond film "Live and Let Die" in 1973 was an important one for the franchise. Had audiences not responded well to his interpretation of 007, the series might have ended. Moore decided not to imitate Connery but to provide his own unique interpretation of the role, emphasizing the humorous aspects. Audiences responded with enthusiasm and Moore would play the role in seven films over a twelve year period. He left the series after "A View to a Kill" in 1985.
Spy Guys: Michael Caine, Roger Moore and Sean Connery made a hilarious joint appearance at the 1989 Oscars.
During Moore's tenure as Bond he made numerous other feature films including the highly successful 1978 adventure movie "The Wild Geese". Other notable films include "ffolkes" (aka "North Sea Hijack"), "Shout at the Devil" and "Gold". In the 1981 blockbuster comedy "The Cannonball Run" he played an eccentric who thought he was Roger Moore. In his post-Bond career Moore occasionally made films or appeared on television but devoted much of his time as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. In that capacity Moore traveled the globe raising countless millions of dollars to help impoverished children. He often said that it was his work for UNICEF that he was most proud of. His charitable work was an obvious factor in his being knighted in 2003. His good friends Sean Connery and Michael Caine, both of whom achieved significant career boosts by also playing spies in the 1960s, were on hand for the ceremony. In recent years Moore had traveled extensively to promote numerous books he has authored with his personal assistant Gareth Owen. Sir Roger and Owen also developed speaking tours in which they would discuss his long film career in casual chats on stage in front of appreciative audiences generally in capacity-filled theaters.
Prior to becoming an actor, Sir Roger worked as a model.
On a personal note we at Cinema Retro had the pleasure of knowing Sir Roger Moore very well. He was an early supporter of our magazine and even provided an endorsement below our banner head. He remained a contributor to our publication and was always there to provide an amusing story or anecdote. He was completely devoid of egotistical behavior and found self-deprecating humor to be his best weapon against criticism. He once told this writer that he learned early on that critics found it no fun to mock an actor who mocked himself. Sir Roger was also beloved by his fans. He always had time to chat with them or sign autographs. Sir Roger's passing represents a sad day for all who loved and admired him- but his legacy as an actor and humanitarian remains secure. He is survived by his wife Kristina and his children Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian.
The new documentary "Becoming Cary Grant" premieres on Showtime June 9. Grant was the most opaque of Hollywood superstars. While audiences packed theaters showing his movies, Grant rarely gave interviews, wouldn't appear on TV shows and generally maintained an aura of mystery around him- which compares favorably to today's publicity-starved celebrities who sometimes leak their own sex tapes in order to get some publicity. The documentary traces Grant's rags-to-riches story and the strange tale behind his mother's estrangement from him- something that haunted him throughout his life. The most controversial aspect of the movie was Grant's well-known indulgence of LSD under medical supervision. In that regard, Grant- the most "Establishment" of stars- preceded the hippie movement by years in terms of preaching about the psychological benefits of the drug- though by the mid-1960s the dangerous side of LSD had turned the public against its use and even Grant ultimately moved away from it. Grant went into self-imposed retirement after his final film, "Walk, Don't Run" in 1966, still at the height of his boxoffice appeal. He did appear at the Oscar ceremonies in 1970 to accept a lifetime achievement award and in the 1980s he embarked on one-man show tours in which he conversed with everyday people usually in small town venues. Grant died in 1986 after leaving the stage from one such appearance. For more click here.
The web site the007dossier.com has posted a vintage broadcast in which Sean Connery sits with film scholar Mark Cousins to watch and comment on scenes from his James Bond films. (Thanks for reader Mark Ashby for sending the link.)
At a packed symposium in Cannes where he received a three-minute standing ovation, Clint Eastwood discussed his philosophies of filmmaking along with the personal experience of growing up in the Depression. Eastwood said that he views movie-making as an emotional experience not an intellectual one and warns that when an emphasis on intellectual aspects of a film overrides trying to move the audience emotionally directors can find themselves in trouble. Eastwood addressed his long-standing complaints about what he perceives as political correctness in the film industry and warns that "We've lost our sense of humor." Ironically it was Eastwood's sense of humor that earned him rare bad press concerning his personal life. Traditionally Eastwood stayed out of commenting on national politics but in 2012 he appeared at the Republican convention to endorse Mitt Romney with a bit of improvised comedy that earned him a good deal of criticism because of barbs aimed at President Obama that many felt crossed the line in terms of being too distasteful. Eastwood was not overtly active in the 2016 presidential campaign and he did not address the current political situation in his appearance at Cannes. During his chat at Cannes he did acknowledge that he sometimes misses acting on screen. (He has not starred in a film since "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012). He says he will return to acting "someday", a vow that might seem overly-optimistic for a man of 86 years of age- but we wouldn't want to bet against him. For more click here.
Scorsese has made several films that are challenging for an audience. Even some
of his most acclaimed pictures, such as Raging
Bull, are difficult to watch and “enjoy.” Scorsese tackles hard truths
about the human condition, and many times they’re unpleasant and disturbing.
Sometimes the dramas he explores are not what one would call a “good time at
doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, great art often requires an audience
to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of
what the artist has intended to convey.
Silence is one of those
films. A decades-long passion project for the director, based on the novel by
Shūsaku Endō, it is about the
“silence” of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. The
subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman,
who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his
Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a
deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture,
it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious
statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses.
Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore.
Silence is a period piece
that takes place in 17th Century Japan, when Portuguese Jesuit
priests were attempting to bring Christianity to that feudal kingdom. One
particular priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), had gone to Japan on such a
mission, but news comes back to Portugal that he has renounced his faith and disappeared.
Two young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam
Driver) are sent to locate him to find out what happened—and spread the Gospel
while they’re at it.
doesn’t go well. The priests encounter the cruel and calculating samurai known
as the “Inquisitor” (magnificently portrayed by Issey Ogata), who does
everything in his power to crush the priests’ objective, wipe Christianity from
his land, and keep an iron hold on the citizens’ beliefs. Different methods of
torture are his preferred weapons of rule. As time passes, the priests’ faith
is severely compromised—but Rodrigues hangs on, fighting with every fiber of
his being to the bitter end.
doesn’t come for two hours and forty-one minutes.
lies the problem I had with what otherwise was one of the most
gorgeously-photographed motion pictures I’ve seen in years. The cinematography
by Rodrigo Prieto earned an Oscar nomination—and probably should have won. The
production and costume designs by Dante Ferretti should have also at least received
nods. The movie is indeed beautiful to look at, on par with such visual feasts
as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, and The Tree
just… long. And very slow. The meditative pace, intentional as it is, serves
the subject and the picture well up to a point. The movie is additionally extremely
quiet; the soundtrack consists of mostly sounds of nature along with delicate period
music of an Eastern flavor by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge. The relentless
suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what
Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.
acting, especially by Garfield, shows extreme dedication to the material. Both he
and Driver lost a good deal of weight for their roles. At one point during
filming, as recounted in the documentary supplement on the disk, the entire
cast and crew broke for lunch on a beach—but the two actors chose to stay in a
boat away from shore and not participate in the meal.
new Paramount Blu-ray disk exquisitely captures the film. It looks fantastic,
as it should, with a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are several sound
options—5.1 DTS HD Master Audio in English, and other languages in 5.1 Dolby
Digital. The only supplement is the aforementioned making-of featurette, Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence,
which provides a satisfying overview of the production and its genesis.
of Martin Scorsese should give Silence a
chance, but don’t expect the flash-bang editing of GoodFellas. This is an art film of the highest order, one that you
may find very rewarding if your endurance makes it to its final, glorious image
before the end credits.
(The new documentary "Becoming Bond" is now showing on the Hulu network.)
BY MARK CERULLI
to seeing Josh Greenbaum’s illuminating documentary, Becoming Bond, which premiered on HULU May 20th, I had
dismissed George Lazenby’s mystifying refusal to continue as 007 as just
another gullible young actor taking bad career advice; like Tom Selleck passing
on Indiana Jones, Travolta nixing Forrest Gump, Thomas Jane handing Don
Draper to Jon Hamm… but there’s more to
it than that, a lot more as it turns out.
combining interview footage of Lazenby, still hale and hearty at 77, with
well-staged recreations, Becoming Bond
dives deep into this complicated and impulsive star to understand HOW he could
casually dump one of the most coveted roles in the history of film. As it turns out, that decision is symbolic of
who George Lazenby really is: intelligent, charming, naïve but most of all, independent. Lazenby is, and has always been, his own man. From pissing off teachers in grade school, to
pursuing a girl from an elite family many social stations above his own, George
always did what George wanted to do. Usually documentaries feature others talking about the main subject in
order to create a full picture. Early on, director Josh Greenbaum felt
Lazenby’s stories were so rich, he wanted to recreate them – it was an inspired
choice. Australian actor Josh Lawson is
perfect as a young George Lazenby, gradually finding his way in the world and
effortlessly using his charm and chiseled looks to become a top model. A fluke landed him dinner with a London
talent agent (played by real Bond Girl, Jane Seymour) who got him in the
door to audition for 007, then George did it HIS way: conning a brusque Harry
Saltzman (comedian Jeff Garlin) into handing him the keys to the Bond movie
kingdom, then confounding him when he wouldn’t play by his rules. Lazenby did his and Cubby Broccoli’s film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
became a box office hit in 1969 (despite popular belief that the movie bombed.) Suddenly the world – and a world of women –
were at his feet, but it was a lot for a guy from tiny Goulburn, Australia to
handle. Maybe too much. Lazenby turned down a one million dollar
payment to sign a seven-picture deal, something most actors would give body
parts for. Once the Bond producers realized none of the usual leverage worked,
they were playing by Lazenby’s rules, which meant there were no rules: George does what George wants. In the end, Lazenby did okay without Bond – he
made his money in real estate, acted in other films, married, became a father…
but oh what might have been.
After the documentary screening at LA’s delightfully quirky Cinefamily Theater, cast, crew and George himself answered questions, and once again, George was George. When asked if he regretted walking away from Bond, the actor said, “If I had stayed as James Bond I would have probably had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, been a drug addict… that’s the kind of person I would’ve been because it wouldn’t’ve been me.” He admitted he just didn’t like taking orders. Sitting next to him, actor Josh Lawson perceptively pointed out that, “the things that caused George to walk away were the things that got him the job in the first place.”
After the Q&A, Hulu threw down an after party with an open (bless them) martini bar. There the cast and Lazenby mingled with guests – including this CR scribe. I had met George before, but had forgotten how freakin’ big he is in person. (A fellow Bond fan said he was the tallest of all the Bonds.) Shaking his enormous hand reminded me of shaking hands with boxing champ George Foreman during my HBO producer days. No wonder Lazenby knocked out a stuntman during his Bond action screen test. (An act seen in the documentary, followed by Saltzman stepping over the twitching body to tell George, “We’re going with you.”) Absolutely priceless, all true – and pure Lazenby!
composure is remarkable given how close he came to having it all. In fact, the only time he became visibly
emotional was when he discussed the one decision he does regret: giving up the girl of his dreams, a lovely
upper class gal named Belinda (wonderfully played by Kassandra Clementi). Like her co-star, Clementi had never met
Lazenby until Wednesday’s premiere and she had never even seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
was shown after the festivities. And how
did she like it? “I loved the film,”
Clementi said via her publicist, “And George Lazenby was unsurprisingly just as
captivating and charming as he is today.” Sounds like a newly-minted Bond fan…
The little-seen 1983 thriller Double Exposure has been released on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome as a special edition. The film has an interesting background. It was originally filmed in 1971 under the title of The Photographer by director William Byron Hillman with Michael Callan cast as a photographer of beautiful women who also turns out to be a serial murderer. Hillman and Callan were frustrated that the movie received only a limited release. Twelve years later, they collaborated on a remake of the movie using the title Double Exposure. This time around, Callan served as an uncredited screenwriter on Hillman's new script and he also produced the movie, as well. Major script changes included having the main character, Adrian Wilde (Callan), not certain if he actually is a murderer. He's a generally kind and decent man who eeks out a modest living photographing models. He resides in a mobile home in L.A. which serves as his business office and bachelor pad. He is haunted by recurring nightmares of him committing horrendous murders of some of the women he photographs. When they actually start turning up dead, he is convinced he must be the culprit. He seeks guidance from his shrink (Seymour Cassel) and warns his new girlfriend, sexy Mindy (Joanna Pettet) that he has doubts about his sanity. He also seeks comfort from his brother B.J. (James Stacy) , a rather belligerent, bitter man who nevertheless has not allowed the loss of an arm and a leg prevent him from making a career of stunt driving. He also proves to be quite a lady's man and in one memorable sequence mud wrestles a bikini-clad girl in a bar. As the body count builds, Adrian slides further into madness.
The film is definitely of "B" movie caliber, but it's generally engrossing and well-made. Callan delivers a very fine performance in the lead role and he is more than matched by Stacy. Pettet does well as the female lead, and exposes a lot of flesh in a fairly graphic bedroom scene. There are other familiar faces who pop in and out of the film including Pamela Hensley as a detective assigned to track down the killer, Cleavon Little (largely wasted) as her perpetually grouchy superior officer and Robert Tessier as a skid row bar manager. Sally Kirkland and future Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson also have early career roles. Hillman directs efficiently, though the ending veers into cliched "woman in jeopardy" territory and the final few frames of the movie, in which the killer is unveiled, boasts some fine acting but disintegrates into a confusing and frustrating scenario in the last hectic seconds. Nevertheless, Double Exposure is a good thriller, well-made on a modest budget.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo has several impressive bonus features that vary from the previously issued DVD 2013 edition from Scorpion. They include:
New transfer from the original camera negative
Commentary track with director William Byron Hillman
Scorpion has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1979 Canadian disaster movie "City on Fire". If you've never heard of it, don't feel bad- neither had this writer and I thought I was quite familiar with the genre which arguably began with the release of "Airport" in 1970. The success of that film spawned similarly-themed adventures that generally found all-stars casts threatened by water, fire, animals and other forces of nature. Producer Irwin Allen hit two home runs with "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno", the latter representing the artistic and commercial peak of the short-lived but highly popular genre. At its height even second-grade disaster flicks could make sizable profits (a low-grade Japanese import titled "Tidal Wave" was a hit after it was "Americanized" with some brief footage of Lorne Greene included.) By the late 1970s, however, fickle audiences had tired of the sheer predictability of the disaster movie premise. The release of "Star Wars" incited a new interest in sci-fi but there were still some attempts to pump life into disaster flicks even if most of the passion and creativity had been drained from these productions. "City on Fire" is about, as you might have guessed, a city on fire. The unnamed city (actually Toronto) is the setting for a catastrophic blaze that starts as an act of sabotage caused by a disgruntled employee at a large chemical plant that has been foolishly located in the center of the urban metropolis. The seemingly minor act of mischief quickly escalates when raw fuel pours unchecked into the city's water supply. A spark ignites a huge inferno that rapidly isolates a major part of the city in a ring of fire that makes it almost impossible for firefighters to penetrate, thus leaving it to the potential victims to find their own methods of escape. Most of the action takes place inside a major hospital which is being evacuated even as the flames make it unlikely that many of the staff and patients will be able to reach safety. In order to do so they must navigate a deadly gauntlet of fire.
"City on Fire" lacks the big budget production values of the more successful disaster movies but director Alvin Rakoff and production designer William McCrow get around that obstacle in very commendable ways. Rakoff does utilize the old stand by of using actual disaster footage from news broadcasts in certain instances and uses a jittery camera to provide a sense of impending danger to otherwise stagnant buildings, at times making it look like Don Knotts was the cameraman. However, the production design is quite good and Rakoff handles the action scenes very commendably. There are some cheesy special effects, primarily scenes of the skyline burning, but the up-close action footage is spectacular at times and the movie features some of the best stunt work I've seen including many instances of the stuntman's worst nightmare: the full-body burn. The biggest star in this budget-challenged production is Henry Fonda, then in the winter of his career and seemingly content to play characters of authority who sit around offices and control rooms barking orders over telephones (i.e "Meteor", "Rollercoaster" and "The Swarm"). Old Hank would prove he still had his mojo with his final film, "On Golden Pond", that saw him win an Oscar, but in the years leading up to that he was happy to pick up quick pay checks with supporting roles in populist fare. Here he plays the stalwart fire chief trying to cope with the loss of an entire city. Barry Newman is the playboy physician who is trying frantically to save his hospital which is in the direct line of fire. He's also juggling a strained relationship with old flame (pardon the pun) Susan Clark, a glam socialite who had once been his lover. Meanwhile, she is involved in an illicit affair with the mayor (Leslie Nielsen) and is unaware that there are incriminating photos that are about to be used to blackmail both of them. Shelley Winters is wasted in a throw-away role as a bossy nurse who acts a lot like Shelley Winters and James Franciscus is a TV news producer who is trying to keep wall-to-wall coverage on the air despite that the fact that his star anchor, an aging diva (Ava Gardner) has turned up drunk right before the broadcasts. One of the more rewarding aspects of the film is that it affords meaty roles to actors who are generally relegated to second-tier status. They all perform admirably but it's impossible to view any of Leslie Nielsen's pre-comedy career performances objectively. He became such a master of brilliantly spoofing his own acting style that when you view his dramatic work you keep waiting for punchlines and slapstick gags that never materialize. The film follows all the conventional elements of the standard disaster movie (i.e children in peril, a pregnant woman who goes into labor during the crisis, lovers reunited, etc.) I half expected the climax to feature the heroes trapped aboard an upended ocean liner while being menaced by a shark. However, I must say that I very much enjoyed "City on Fire". It boasts an intelligent script, fine direction and reasonably good performances. There is also an almost complete lack of humor, so you won't see Fred Astaire as a charming con man or an unbilled Walter Matthau getting soused in a bar in the midst of an earthquake. The sense of gravitas is in keeping with the dramatic scenario of people stranded within a ring of fire. The movie came a day late and a dollar short to capitalize on the disaster movie trend. It's not as slick or polished as the best entries in the genre but it's better than many others including Irwin Allen's career-ending turkeys, "The Swarm" and "When Time Ran Out".
The Scorpion Blu-ray contains a notice that the transfer was put together from various sources. There are a few blotches here and there but the Blu-ray generally looks fine. Bonus features include a TV spot for the film and a trailer gallery of other Scorpion releases. Recommended.
filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu’s late-period picture, Good Morning (Ohayō), is a curious, but amusing,
slice-of-life portrait of a suburban neighborhood in contemporary (circa 1959)
Japan. Ozu, mostly known for the gendai-geki
film genre, i.e., modern dramas about family life and social conditions, also
made a few comedies. He was a genius at depicting relationships between parents
and children (Tokyo Story, 1953, is
arguably his most admirable work), and Good
Morning presents something of a parable about how a couple of young
schoolboys influence an entire community of suspicious and gossipy housewives
and lackadaisical “salary men” husbands.
Western audience will deem the comedy subtle;
cultural differences between East and West, especially when it comes to
bathroom humor, decidedly determine how funny someone will think Good Morning really is. There are a lot
of fart jokes in the film. In fact, Ozu uses farting as a way that characters
communicate, especially the children. The schoolboys assign status to how
easily one can blow wind by pushing an imaginary button on a forehead.
Inability to produce a toot results in minor ostracization. It must be said
that the children’s farts don’t sound like the real thing—they are high-pitched
and somewhat musical in tone.
adults, on the other hand, produce lower-toned flatulence that is more
realistic. In their case, the noises are often confused with real words. In one
scene, a man is dressing for the day and pleasantly lets two or three bursts
fly. Each time, his wife enters from the other room and asks, “Did you call?”
He shakes his head no, and she leaves. It happens again and she returns. “Did
you say something?”
story, such as it is, concerns two brothers—probably about nine and six years
of age—who decide to go on a speaking strike until their parents buy a new
television set (all the rage, apparently, in those days). The boys are also
rebelling against the grown-ups’ use of meaningless greetings to fill up air
space—“Good morning,” “How are you,” “I’m fine,” “Nice day,” etc.
the same time, the adult women in the block gossip and imagine faults in their
neighbors, all based on misunderstandings and a lack of real communication—which is what Ozu’s film is really about. He
seems to be saying that in order for everyone to get along in a modern society,
we need to say what’s truthfully on our minds.
in gorgeous Technicolor, Good Morning differs
from Ozu’s more solemn works that have a restrained editorial pace and
meditational camera work. This one is lively, is accompanied by a “funny”
musical score, and features many scenes outdoors. The cast is fine, especially
the two boys (played by Shitara Koji and Masahiko Shimazu).
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray features a 4K digital restoration (upgraded
from the label’s previous DVD release) and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
It looks terrific.
more significant, though, is that Criterion has chosen to include as a
supplement Ozu’s acclaimed silent film from 1932, I Was Born, But… Sound films came late to Japan because of the benshi—narrators who performed during
screenings of silent pictures, commenting on the film’s narrative. They had a
powerful hold on the industry. Criterion had previously released this title as
part of an Eclipse box set of early Ozu titles, but here they’ve upgraded the
movie as a Blu-ray. Also a comedy, Born deals
with similar social mores. In this case, the boys influence how their father
deals with his boss, and also how they relate to their school mate, the boss’
son. For my money, despite being a silent picture, I Was Born, But… is better than Good
supplements include a portion of a “lost” Ozu silent short from 1929, A Straightforward Boy; a new interview
with film scholar David Bordwell about the films; and a fascinating video essay
on Ozu’s use of humor by critic David Cairns. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay adorns
the inner booklet.
Good Morning is a worthwhile
release from Criterion, especially for aficionados of Japanese cinema. One
viewing, and your perception of farting will be changed forever.
You really shouldn't complain about having to clean out your garage because you never know what hidden treasures might be found there- especially if you are like many people whose garages have become storage depots that haven't seen a car in years. The Daily Mail reveals that a canister of film has been discovered in a garage belonging to the family of the late, great character actor Leo McKern, who co-starred with the Beatles in their 1965 film "Help!". The footage reveals McKern's home movies taken of the Fab Four horsing around on the snow-bound landscapes of Austria. Click here to read.
Powers Booth, who won an Emmy for portraying crazed cult leader Jim Jones, has died at age 68. Booth had once been a leading man in feature films such as "The Emerald Forest", "Red Dawn" and "Southern Comfort" before finding a niche as a character actor in films and on television. His TV credits include "Deadwood", "24", "Hatfields and McCoys" and "24". Booth also appeared in the hit western feature film "Tombstone" and played Alexander Haig in Oliver Stone's "Nixon". Click here for more.
The blending of two disparate but popular film genres –
in this case, the horror/sci-fi film with the saddle opera - was hardly new
when The Valley of Gwangi hit the big
screen in 1969. This film’s most identifiable
predecessor, one pitting cowboys against a prehistoric monster, might be The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), but
truth be told Hollywood had been combining these two genres almost from the very
beginning. In the 1930s and ‘40s,
audiences thrilled to the ghostly monochrome exploits of such western serial heroes
as Ken Maynard, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Buster Crabbe with such films as Tombstone Canyon (1932), The Vanishing Riders (1935), and Wild Horse Phantom (1944). Universal’s Curse of the Undead (1959) was a later but no less interesting experiment
for Hollywood’s preeminent fright factory. The studio removed the vampire from the usual atmospheric Gothic
trappings of old Europe and dropped him onto the sagebrush plain.
On the far loopier end of the spectrum, the notorious director
William “One Shot” Beaudine, provided us with the ultimate in old west
weirdness with his legendary twin-bill of 1966, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse
James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter. 1973
brought to movie houses two of the more memorable big-screen blends: the
sci-fi/western Westworld and Clint
Eastwood’s prairie ghost saga High Plains
Drifter. This combining of westerns
and fantasy films continues, more or less, to this very day… as anyone who
caught the lavish CGI-fest Cowboys and
Aliens (2011) can attest.
Director James O’ Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is set mysteriously at the turn of the century
somewhere “South of the Rio Grande.” (Principal photography on The Valley of Gwangi was actually shot on
various locations throughout the deserts of Spain). The locals are enjoying a parade through a
dusty town. The parade has been staged
to promote K.J. Breckenridge’s wild and wooly Cowboys vs. Indians Wild West
Show. K.J.’s rodeo, not-politically
correct by today’s standards, is set to be held at an equally non-PC
bull-fighting arena. Contemporary
political activists needn’t grab their picket signs. The stadium is hardly filled to capacity, and
we soon learn Breckenridge’s rodeo is in dire financial straits. The show simply hasn’t been pulling in the
crowds of late, and even main attraction “Omar, the Wonder Horse,” whose equally
non-PC stage-jump from an elevated platform into a murky pool of water isn’t
enough to save this sad affair.
Suggesting the writing is on the wall, the sultry Breckenridge
(Gila Golan) is approached by smooth talking Tuck (James Franciscus), a
self-absorbed rodeo cowboy and former lover of T.J. Tuck now makes his living by booking acts for
a big entertainment consortium back east. He wants K.J. to sell off the rights to her semi-popular diving horse
act, but his ex-paramour is still bitter over their estrangement and not
interested in selling. Besides she
believes newly found prosperity is just around the corner. She agrees to show him the still-secret
attraction that she’s certain will reverse her rodeo’s downward spiral.
The budding impresario is stunned when she unveils “El
Diablo” a miniature horse that Tuck recognizes is no horse at all. It’s actually an Eohippus, a fifty-million year old ancestor of the equine. This was not a lucky guess, nor is the
startled ex-cowboy an expert on prehistoric beasts. Ten minutes earlier in the film Tuck had
gleaned this morsel of knowledge after stumbling upon a scotch drinking
Paleontologist camped in the scrub brush desert in search of fossils. Tuck responsibly alerts the amazed scientist (Laurence
Naismith) about the Eohippus (“The
greatest scientific discovery of the age!”) and together they learn the Eohippus was captured on the frontier outskirts
of the grimly named “Forbidden Valley.”
Allen has written and directed several dramas over the years (none of which he
appears in)—and there are indeed a few that are worthwhile endeavors. The 1988
release, Another Woman, might be one
of Allen’s least-seen films, and yet it belongs in a list of the artist’s
solid, good pictures—not one of his
masterpieces, but certainly not a clinker (with over forty-six titles, his oeuvre runs the gamut!)
few months ago, I reviewed Allen’s first drama, Interiors, here at Cinema
Retro and acknowledged
the obvious influence of Ingmar Bergman in the work. But it was stated that Interiors was really more Eugene O’Neill
than Bergman. Here, Another Woman is
definitely channeling Bergman; in fact, many critics spotted the similarity—or homage—to the Swedish master’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957), in that the
film is about a person reflecting on a past life, discovering painful truths,
and resolving to change paths moving forward. In Strawberries, the protagonist is an old man; in Woman it’s a female turning fifty. The
Bergman comparison is made even stronger by the fact that Bergman’s longtime
and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, is the DP on Allen’s picture.
He shoots it in striking, picture-perfect color.
(sensitively played by the great Gena Rowlands) is an intelligent philosophy
professor on sabbatical, and she’s hoping to write a book. She’s in her second
marriage to Ken (Ian Holm), who is also in his
second marriage. His teenage daughter from the first union, Laura (Martha
Plimpton), is closer to Marion than her own mother (Betty Buckley). Marion has
rented an apartment to get away from construction noise at her home so that
she’ll have peace and quiet to write. However, the walls are thin and she is
next to a psychiatrist’s office. Marion can hear the patients talk about their
problems. One particular subject, Hope (Mia Farrow), is pregnant and suicidal.
Listening to Hope triggers a crisis in Marion, who begins to face turning fifty
and what her life has meant. She soon discovers that she’s been in denial over
a lot of things, mainly that she isn’t perceived by people close to her in ways
that she had thought.
film then takes the Wild Strawberries route
as Marion reflects on events from her past (shown in flashbacks and dream
sequences). Instances of infidelity, jealousy, elitism, and abortion come back
to haunt her—and Marion resolves to do something about it.
to Interiors, Another Woman is much more confident in its direction, and the
control over the piece is more relaxed. Experience counts, for Allen had one
other dead-on drama under his belt (the dreadful September) and several pieces one could call “dramedies” before
tackling Woman. His work here with
Nykvist is masterful. The cast is excellent—besides everyone previously
mentioned, the film also features Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman,
Harris Yulin, John Houseman (in his last screen performance), Frances Conroy,
Philip Bosco, and David Ogden Stiers.
music—made up of classical and Allen-esque jazz selections—is also very
effective. Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 serves
as a theme of sorts, and its melancholy pervades the picture.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks marvelous, showing off Nykvist’s photography
with vivid hues. As with most Allen releases, though, the supplements are
sparse—only a theatrical trailer and an isolated music score are present on the
disk. A perceptive essay by Julie Kirgo adorns the inner booklet.
eighties may be Woody Allen’s strongest decade of work, and Another Woman is a fine example of the
no other filmmaker has blended art and commerce quite like Steven Spielberg.
Just as Spielberg has melded blockbusters with socially relevant films, he has
also conflated his own image as a Jewish outsider who buys whole-heartedly into
American consumer culture. Molly Haskell’s new book on Spielberg, Steven
Spielberg: A Life in Films, published by Yale University Press, takes a deep
dive into these issues in a concise, enjoyable and informative read. As part of Yale’s’ Jewish Lives series,
Haskell is front and center analyzing each Spielberg project from his
background as a Jewish kid growing up in 1950s Arizona who wondered why his was
the only house on the block without a Christmas Tree, embarrassed by his
traditional grandparents. Spielberg is certainly not the only outsider, Jewish
or otherwise, to mine his loneliness into a cinematic career, but as Haskell
illustrates in this monograph, he is the most successful film director to do so.
the text, Haskell describes several occasions where Spielberg consciously
creates his own public persona, actions most similar to Walt Disney, one of
Spielberg’s cinematic heroes- and someone he is often compared to. However, Haskell
compares Spielberg to another giant of classic Hollywood- David O. Selznick.
Selznick balanced his output of popcorn fare and meaningful epics in a career
that matches Spielberg, especially during the 1980s when Spielberg began
producing films of up and coming directors that he had faith in. However,
Haskell lays out times it was difficult for Spielberg to be a mogul. These
include the shooting of Poltergeist where on-set witnesses say Spielberg
directed sequences of the film as opposed to the movie’s credited director,
Tobe Hooper (these accusations hurt Hooper’s career) and later during
Spielberg’s partnership in DreamWorks.
Haskell’s strength lies is in describing in detail how some of Spielberg’s most
iconic films are rooted in his childhood. While it is easier to see this in E.
T. and Close Encounters, it is harder to discern this in the films based on
source material such as Empire of The Sun and Catch Me If You Can. In fact, in
reading this book I was surprised to learn that Spielberg as his most personal
movie cited Catch Me If You Can, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as real life
forger Frank Abagnale, Jr. The changes
made when the film was adapted from Abagnale’s memoir reveal why this is the
case: Frank Jr’s mother is given a lover that leads to the break-up of the
family, the singular event that happened in Spielberg’s own young life that he
never really got over. In addition,
Frank Sr. (played by Christopher Walken) still plays a role in the younger
Frank’s life, whereas in real life Abagnale never saw his father again.
Although such changes might be those of the screenwriter Jeff Nathanson,
Spielberg’s execution of the scenes as director adds a personal touch that
another filmmaker might not give the material.
layout of the book informs the filmmaker’s life: there are four beginning
chapters, describing Spielberg’s early life and childhood, arrival at Universal
and his forays into their television department. Then the author gives a
chapter each for Jaws and Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Each subsequent
chapter is titled with at least two, sometimes three of the director’s films.
After Close Encounters, the only chapter that contains as its title a single
film is Empire of The Sun. Haskell cites this movie as Spielberg’s most
meaningful film. With it’s boy protagonist, separation of families, and war
time setting, the movie can be seen as a powerful bridge between Spielberg’s
early family movies and his later, socially important films such as Schindler’s
List and Saving Private Ryan.
Spielberg: A Life in Films is an excellent book and is a must-read for any fan
of Spielberg’s work. It is also an important work for anyone interested in how
the background and childhood of a director gets infused in their film work.
One of the very earliest developers of moving image
technology, Thomas Edison, was also one of the first “snuff” filmmakers. His
film The Execution of Czolgosz (1901)
purported to depict the actual electrocution of the assassin of US President
William McKinley. It was faked of course, but his 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant was
distressingly real. Audiences have been both fascinated and repulsed by filmic
depictions of death ever since.
Killing for Culture was first published in 1994 as an
illustrated history of mondo documentaries, the infamous Faces of Death video nasties and films which purported to feature
actual death, such as the laughably poor exploitation film Snuff (1975), “the film that could only be made in South America…
where life is CHEAP!” In the twenty years since that first edition film and video
depictions of actual death have become far more prevalent owing to the
proliferation of digital video technology and, of course, the internet. The
authors attempt to explore why this has happened, taking in the rise of filmed
executions by terrorists and murderers who film their own horrific crimes, just
like that depicted in Henry: Portrait of
a Serial Killer (1986), a film itself inspired by real events.
Kerekes and Slater also take in a wide range of sources from
across film history in this rewritten and updated edition of Killing for Culture, much of which will
be of interest to Cinema Retro readers. They provide commentary on Italian
films such as Mondo Cane (1962), the Black Emmanuelle films from Joe D’Amato,
and other cannibal-type films, including the notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Hollywood has also skirted around the
idea of the “snuff” movie, most notably in the George C. Scott-starring Hardcore (1978) from Paul Schrader, and
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983)
imagines a secret TV station broadcasting live torture and murder to Canada
from across the American border.
Killing for Culture is a depressing yet compelling book.
Given its relentless treatise on the cruelty and brutality of man, it is not a
text you would want to read in one sitting. Packed with both colour and black
and white imagery, coupled with occasionally graphic descriptions, one might
require a strong stomach to make it to the end. It is however a fascinating,
Nietzschean experience of staring into the abyss and seeing what stares
late Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990) had a long, prolific career in the Italian
film industry as a screenwriter and director, but little exposure in U.S. theaters
by comparison with his total output.IMDB credits him with sixty-three titles as director.By my count, eleven arrived on Stateside
screens, none of them earning Corbucci any real notice at the time.All were genre films -- first sword-and-sandal
movies, then Westerns -- before it was cool for critics to treat such products
seriously, especially dubbed imports.Three toga-and beefcake pictures -- “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961),
“Duel of the Titans” (1961), and “The Slave” (1962) -- were released on
drive-in and double-feature bills in the Hercules era.“Minnesota Clay” (1964) had a 1966 run
disguised as an American B-Western.“Navajo Joe” (1966) passed through theaters in 1967, earning a typically
dismissive review from Bosley Crowther in the New York Times (“results aren’t
worth a Mexican peso”).You had to use a
magnifying glass to see Corbucci’s name on the movie poster.In his 1994 autobiography, Burt Reynolds said
he only took the offer to star in the picture because he thought the director
would be the other Sergio . . . Leone.“The Hellbenders” (1967) came and went, also camouflaged as an American
production and promoting Joseph Cotten’s starring role.Cotten was a fine actor but hardly big
box-office in ’67.
Mercenary” (1968) enjoyed a higher profile in a 1970 release, but “Alberto
Grimaldi Presents . . .” dominated the credits, including the cover blurb on a
paperback novelization that touted the movie as “the bloodiest ‘Italian’
Western of them all . . . by the producer of ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’
” “Companeros” (1970) didn’t open in the
U.S. until 1972, and then only with limited distribution. “Sonny and Jed” (1972) followed in 1974. Neither made much of an impression as the
Spaghetti cycle waned here. “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975), a sad attempt at comedy in the Spaghetti
twilight, loped through rural drive-ins. “Super Fuzz” (1980; U.S. distribution, 1982) was a Terence Hill police
comedy that the Times’ Herbert Mitgang said had “one funny gag a few minutes
before the end.” At least Mitgang noted
Corbucci and Hill by name as “longtime makers of spaghetti westerns.”
you were nostalgic for Italian Westerns in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, after the
cycle had come and gone in the States, you could read about Corbucci in
Laurence Staig and Tony Williams’ “Italian Western: The Opera of Violence”
(1975) and Christopher Frayling’s “Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans
from Karl May to Sergio Leone” (1981). There you would learn that one of Corbucci’s Westerns that never made it
to the States, “Django” (1966), was as wildly popular and influential overseas
as Sergio Leone’s movies. But good luck
in ever seeing it or Corbucci’s other Westerns, unless you might catch “The
Hellbenders” in a pan-and-scan, commercial-infested print on local TV.
to the advent of home video, cable, and streaming internet -- and in
particular, DVD and Blu-ray in which his films can be seen in the proper aspect
ratio and definition -- both the committed and the curious now have access to
virtually all of Corbucci’s thirteen Westerns, even the obscure “Grand Canyon
Massacre” (1964), his first powder-burner, co-directed with Albert Band. Is Quentin Tarantino justified in praising Corbucci
as “one of the great Western directors of all time”? Today, you don’t have to take Tarantino’s
word for it, or not; you can judge for yourself.
most accounts, a Corbucci Top Five would include “Django,” The Great Silence,”
“The Mercenary,” “Companeros,” and “The Specialist” (1969). The first four are all in relatively easy
reach in various formats and platforms. “Django,” “The Great Silence,” and “Companeros” have had domestic DVD
releases. “The Mercenary” hasn’t, but it
shows up periodically on cable channels, albeit in an edited version, and you
can find good DVD and Blu-ray editions with an English voice track through
Amazon and import dealers on the web.
Specialist” remains more elusive. Written and directed by Corbucci during his peak period, originally
titled “Gli specialisti” and also known as “Specialists” and “Drop Them or I’ll
Shoot,” this Western never played in U.S. theaters, has never had an American
video release, and is hard to find even on the collectors‘ market in a print
with an English-language option. Not to
be confused with other, unrelated films of the same name, including a mediocre
1994 Sylvester Stallone crime drama and an obscure 1975 B-movie with Adam West,
it is past due for official U.S. release on DVD. Or, better yet, on hi-def Blu-ray to give Corbucci’s
compositions and Dario Di Palma’s rich Techniscope and Technicolor
cinematography their due sharpness and color on home screens.
There is an immediate appeal in the very premise of Alfred
Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), a
curiosity that stems from how exactly this story will play out and how the
Master of Suspense is going to keep the narrative taut and technically
stimulating. It was a gimmick he would repeat with Rope (1948), Dial M for
Murder (1954), and Rear Window
(1954), similar films where the drama is contained to a single setting. But
here, the approach is amplified by having the entirety of its plot limited to the
eponymous lifeboat, an extremely confined location that is at once anxiously restricting
and, at the same time, placed in a vast expanse of threatening openness.
Following a German U-boat attack that sinks an allied
freighter and creates the cramped, confrontational condition, a cast of nine
diverse, necessarily distinctive characters are steadily assembled aboard the
small vessel (and their variety is indeed necessary so as to tackle singular
themes and disparities). Starting with journalist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead,
in the film’s featured and much-hyped performance), the improvised squad
includes: a member of the freighter’s crew, Kovac (John Hodiak), the radioman,
Stanley (Hume Cronyn), a steward, Joe Spencer (Canada Lee), seaman, Gus Smith
(William Bendix), a U.S. Army nurse, Alice (Mary Anderson), the wealthy
industrialist, Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), the shell-shocked Mrs. Higley (Heather
Angel), an Englishwoman who arrives with her already deceased infant child,
and, adding instant and inherent tension, Willi (Walter Slezak), a survivor
from the enemy German sub.
Connie is the most incongruous personality for such an
occasion. Initially adorned in a fine mink coat, accompanied by her camera, her
cigarettes and suitcases, all of which seem miraculously dry, she sure doesn’t
look like someone who has been torpedoed, as another character is quick to
point out. She and Rittenhouse will together serve as half of the film’s
embodied class consciousness, which is one of several social divisions alluded
to as explicit points of contention or simply hinted at as latent cultural
conflicts (“Do I get to vote too?” asks the African American Joe). Though
generally cordial and cooperative to start, the spirit of critical
collaboration doesn’t last. How could it? For a film like this, there needs to
be a breeding ground for consistent opposition, beyond the predictable clash
between Willi and the rest.
What develops is multi-leveled, ever-fluctuating suspicion,
a leery and fascistic survival of the fittest that hangs in the balance as the
winds of authority and hysteria blow. With his famously elaborate set-pieces
made impossible by Lifeboat’s scenario,
Hitchcock narrows his focus to the dynamic landscape of the human face, and the
film is nothing if not a revelatory study in human nature, especially when
individuals are in strained situations. There are constant disputes about the
best path forward, often grounded in ideological motivations derived from
political, religious, or national beliefs—whatever is needed to prevail and
retain a semblance of composure in the face of an extraordinary dilemma.
In a swift 97 minutes—its riveting progression a testament
to how the tension outweighs its spatial and dramatic limitations—the
characters endure assorted trials and tribulations, just enough to keep
everyone on edge, but not too many to seem unnatural. This ranges from the
unique (Gus’ impending leg amputation), to an issue that affects just a few
(cheating at cards), to something upon which all involved are invested (the
bliss of fresh rainwater to drink and the disappointment when the passing storm
doesn’t last). There are lingering doubts about motivation, the debatable
course of progress, and turn-on-a-dime behavioral shifts. Two passengers even
find time for romance.
To express all of this, and to keep the viewer engaged when
the actions and visuals, at least in a broad sense, are relatively reduced, the
writing of Lifeboat is tremendously
vital. While Hitchcock came up with the idea for the picture, the basic story
was written by John Steinbeck (after Hitch’s first choice, Ernest Hemingway,
passed). It was Steinbeck’s first fiction film, though he had written a
documentary in 1941. What he completed, however, resembled something more like
a novella. Subsequent writing and rewriting duties went to everyone from Harry
Sylvester and MacKinlay Kantor, to Jo Swerling, Ben Hecht, Hitchcock’s wife,
Alma Reville, and others. Ultimately, only Swerling gets the screenplay credit
(Steinbeck, who was so unhappy with the deviations in the final film that he
tried to have his name removed from the picture, gets original story).
Vampire Bat (1933) was a staple of TV late-night movie programming
well into the 1980s. Too often the
running time of this maltreated film was irreverently trimmed or stretched to
accommodate commercial breaks or better fit into a predetermined time
slot. With black-and-white films almost
completely banished from the schedules of local television affiliates by 1987, TV Guide disrespectfully dismissed The Vampire Bat as a “Dated, slow-motion
chiller.” That’s an unfair appraisal. But with the MTV generation in the ascendant
and Fangoria gleefully splashing the lurid
and blood-red exploits of such slice-and-dice horror icons as Michael Meyers,
Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger on its covers, it’s somewhat understandable why
the other-worldly atmospherics of The
Vampire Bat were perceived as little more than a celluloid curio – an
antiquated footnote in the annals of classic horror.
Vampire Bat is hardly original. The film was, no doubt, conceived as an
exploitative hybrid of Universal’s Dracula
and Frankenstein twinblockbusters of 1931. (Though not a Universal production, several
scenes of The Vampire Bat were
purportedly shot on that studio’s back lot). Though this Pre-Code film starts as a mostly routine
mystery sprinkled with doses of suggested vampirism, there’s also a mad doctor who
secretly labors in mad devotion to “lift the veil” separating God from man. The doctor has artificially created living,
pulsating tissue requiring human blood for sustenance. Sadly, low rent Majestic Pictures wasn’t able
to engage the services of Universal’s Kenneth Strickfadden. So the mad doctor’s bare-bones laboratory features
none of the splendid electrical gimmickry or flashing circuits that monster
kids love so well.
Though director Frank R. Strayer might not have achieved auteur status, he was no mere
craftsman. He had been involved (most
often in a directorial capacity) in well over one hundred film projects dating
back to the silent era. His greatest
notoriety was likely being the principal helmsman of the wildly popular Blondie series for Columbia in the late
1930s/early 1940s. Though no gloomy
visionary as Universal’s James Whale, Strayer could nonetheless effectively conjure
similarly eerie, ethereal atmospheres to the low-budget mystery and horror film
productions he was assigned. The
scenario and screenplay for The Vampire
Bat was scribed by Edward T. Lowe. Lowe too was a true pioneer of the Hollywood film industry. He had also worked in the silents, hanging on
long enough to contribute scripts to such popular mystery franchises of the
1940s as the Bulldog Drummond, Charlie Chan, and Sherlock Holmes series.
For a modestly-budgeted production without major studio
backing, it must be said the cast of The
Vampire Bat is exceptional. For all
intent and purposes, this is essentially an “actor’s film,” as Strayer –
curiously - offers little on-screen moments of murderous mayhem. Our hero is the affable Melvyn Douglas, a future
two-time Academy winner whose career would endure for more than a half-century. In Ninotchka
(1939), Douglas would famously sway screen siren Greta Garbo from the
schemes of such Soviet puppet masters as Bela Lugosi. Leading lady Fay Wray, who would earn her
bona fides as the big screen’s preeminent “Scream Queen” of the 1930s with a
five film run in 1932-1933 (Doctor X,
The Most Dangerous Game, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum and, of course, King Kong), finds herself again the target of a mad doctor’s evil
machinations. Sadly, the comely actress
isn’t given much to do in The Vampire Bat
except have a teasing flirtation with the dashing Douglas and await her
inevitable final reel rescue from the mad fiend.
It’s been a very
long time since I last sat down to watch Caltiki - The Immortal Monster. It was
back in a time when like-minded friends would exchange and trade (decidedly dodgy)
VHS copies of obscure monster movies such as this. The term ‘dodgy’ of course
is used in retrospect; at the time they were pure gold dust, a rare opportunity
to watch something which was out of reach to mainstream admirers. You needed to
put in the leg work and research, but becoming part of that community offered
so many rich rewards.
Today, it’s a
society that has basically become redundant. There is simply little demand for
an ‘under the counter’ or private exchange community. Instead we appear to be
rather satisfied, accepting and respectful of the efforts provided by the
speciality labels. To a large degree, the industry has taken over the leg work
and as a result, begun to fulfil our demands. It’s become a stable position and
something that we could only perhaps dream of during the early graduate years
of the blossoming video revolution.
Arrow’s Caltiki -
The Immortal Monster serves as a perfect example and illustrates just how far
we have come. Let’s be clear, Caltiki is a film that could perhaps be described
as a little thin. However, as a slice of enjoyable hokum it could equally be
described as quite perfect.
A team of
archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors)
descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious
disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than
they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the
monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god
Caltiki was a
project that bought together two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda
(The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August
Moon, Blood and Black Lace). In consideration of the film’s low budget, the
filmmakers certainly made the most of what they had. The on screen results are
a testament to their combined creative talents. Caltiki is a film that works
best when not examined too closely, it needs to be enjoyed rather than
scrutinised. Yes, there are cheap mistakes and tell-tale signs, such as actors
casting shadows on the glass matte paintings, or a desire to shoot too darkly
in order to cover up the thin production values - but it hardly matters. The
production values actually balance out rather well. This film has some
incredibly gory moments that are in fact executed (by Bava) with some style.
Skulls with bulging eyeballs, half eaten human appendages are among the film’s
many impressive effects. Don’t be fooled, an early Italian film it may be, but
it’s right up there with Britain’s Hammer films in terms of vivid gore. Some
may even maintain that Caltiki’s gore factor exceeded that of any Hammer
production made during the same period, and they may just have an argument. Viewing
Caltiki today, one can only wonder how it would have looked - had the budget stretched
to the luxury of colour film stock… Caltiki also bears an uncanny resemblance
to Hammer’s The Quatermass Experiment (1955). Bava would later express that he
was in fact influenced by the story. Not that it matters a great deal, it was
the era of creeping slime and Bava wasn’t alone, with Hammer following their
own trend with X The Unknown (1956) and Hollywood close behind that with The
Arrow’s Brand new
2K restoration of the film has been produced from the original camera negative
and looks very impressive. The picture perhaps lacks a little in terms of fine
detail which is more likely down to poorer grade film stock – remember this was
a low budget production. There are good deep black tones and the general
picture appears far smoother and nicely balanced in regards to overall
contrast. It couldn’t be further from the grainy old prints that were once
circulated. I should also point out, Arrow have used the Italian print of the
film which contains both English and Italian mono soundtracks (Lossless on the
Blu-ray disc). By picking the original Italian track, you can also access the
newly translated English subtitles.
Caltiki bonus material are two new audio commentaries. Tim Lucas, (author of
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) provides another excellent commentary.
Interesting and articulate, Lucas proves once again to be the perfect choice
for the job. The second commentary by
Troy Howarth, (author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So
Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) is also a good listening
experience. There isn’t really too much different to be heard that hasn’t
already been touched upon by Lucas. There is also very little in terms of
contrasting opinions, both men clearly have a love for Bava which results in
their observations generally coming from the same perspective. (Was there a
need for a second commentary?)
In a TV appearance on Stephen Colbert's show, Julie Andrews recalled filming "Mary Poppins" back in 1964. In one of her flying scenes, she began to sense that the harness that was supporting her in the air was not as stable as the technicians had assured her. Her fears proved justified: at one point the harness gave out and she plummeted to the floor of the studio. Although she miraculously escaped serious injury, the world's most beloved nanny apparently shouted out some not very Disney-like words to express her frustration. Click here to watch and to also view an interview with Dick Van Dyke about his role in the forthcoming new Mary Poppins film.
Gordon with Steve McQueen in the 1968 blockbuster "Bullitt".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Character actor Don Gordon has died at age 90. Gordon was a close friend of Steve McQueen and he appeared with McQueen in three of his biggest hits: "Bullitt", "Papillon" and "The Towering Inferno". Gordon generally played strong silent types and his face was familiar to movie goers especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In "Bullitt" he had a meaty role playing the partner of McQueen's maverick detective. In "Papillon" he was a fellow convict suffering through the hell of Devil's Island prison and in "The Towering Inferno" he played a fellow firefighter helping McQueen to save trapped people from a blazing skyscraper. Gordon also appeared on numerous television series in guest star roles and earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in "The Defenders". Among his other screen credits: "WUSA", "Fuzz", "Lethal Weapon", "The Final Conflict" and "Exorcist III". For more click here.
“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.
Israeli actress Daliah Lavi has passed away at age 74. Lavi was discovered by Kirk Douglas, who met her on a film shoot when she was ten years old. She went on to stardom in the 1960s, appearing with Douglas in "Two Weeks in Another Town" before often being cast as femme fatales in various thrillers including the Matt Helm film "The Silencers" and "Some Girls Do". She also was the female lead in "Lord Jim" and showed her talents for comedy in the spy spoofs "Casino Royale" and "The Spy with the Cold Nose", as well as the zany comedy "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" (aka "Blast-off"/ "Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon"). Lavi eventually left acting to concentrate on a singing career and became a major pop star in Germany. For more click here.
Director Sofia Coppola's remake of the 1971 film "The Beguiled" opens this summer. This new teaser trailer reveals that the film will stay reverent to the original movie which was directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood in a gothic Civil War tale. Eastwood played a badly wounded Union soldier who is rescued, hidden and nursed back to health by the teachers and students at a quaint southern school for girls which eeks out an existence in the midst of the war. The film was a rare bomb for a Siegel/Eastwood collaboration but it remains one of the best films both have have been associated with. For Eastwood it was a rare opportunity to play a rather villainous role as the wounded soldier learns to exploit the sexual frustrations of the students and their headmistress, who was memorably played by Geraldine Page. His manipulative efforts wins him numerous bed mates but also leads to an unforeseen consequence. The original film was hard to market and was lacking in the kind of raw action that Eastwood fans expected back in 1971. The new film stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst. Coppola is a skilled director and may pull off the rare feat of overseeing a remake that rivals the classic original movie.
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
Joe Dante's addictive Trailer's From Hell web site presents the original trailer for the 1962 film The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, a fun but bare-bones production designed to capitalize on the Steve Reeves craze of the era. The trailer is narrated by film producer Michael Peyser, who recalls seeing the film as a kid. Peyser says that audiences were shocked to see how old the Stooges now were, since children had been used to watching their classic shorts in re-runs on TV. That may well have been the case for Peyser personally, since this was obviously the first Stooge feature film he had seen. However, by 1962, the Stooges had already released two previous features, Have Rocket- Will Travel and Snow White and the Three Stooges,both low-budget productions that were substantial box-office hits. Thus, audiences had readily accepted the older versions of the Stooges and Joe DeRita, who had taken over from Curly and Shemp. Over the next three years, the Stooges would make three more feature films and have cameos in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Four for Texas. Click here to view and while on the site, make sure you check out other vintage trailers, all amusingly narrated by contemporary directors and producers.
On April 29 the Tribeca Film Festival hosted an historic reunion between director Francis Ford Coppola and cast members from "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II". Significantly, the event was held at the nation's crown jewel of theaters, Radio City Music Hall. Joining Coppola were James Caan, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, James Caan, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton. The sold out venue first saw back-to-back screenings of the first two "Godfather" films, which were rapturously received by fans who applauded loudly at the introduction of certain beloved characters as well as classic lines of dialogue. (The audience predictably went wild when the scene arrived of Michael and Kay attending the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.) Since neither film had ever been shown in the Music Hall, it was especially pleasing for retro movie lovers to experience them in Gotham's famed venue. Upon the final credits of "The Godfather Part II" ending, Coppola and the cast members took the stage for a discussion moderated by director Taylor Hackford. The "Godfather" alumni clearly relished seeing each other after so many years. Coppola was the father figure among the group and most of the comments about the making of the film were appropriately recalled by him. Coppola related how Paramount was skeptical about his abilities to bring the bestselling novel to the screen. At one point early in the production he was alerted that he was to be fired from the $6 million production. The studio brass didn't like the initial footage he had shot, specifically the scene in which Don Corleone rejects a business proposal from Sollozzo to join him in the drug trade. Coppola frantically arranged to reshoot the footage over the weekend and managed to avoid getting fired the following Monday. Coppola credited producer Al Ruddy and Paramount mogul Robert Evans for standing by him as allies, even though he admitted that the mercurial Evans caused him endless agita. Al Pacino related he was also in the studio's crosshairs. Unimpressed with his performance as Michael, he was due to be fired. Coppola came to his rescue by prioritizing the scene in which Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and corrupt police captain McCluskey in a restaurant. Coppola presumed that Pacino would carry off the scene brilliantly. He was proven to be correct when Pacino was retained on the film. Talia Shire, sister of Francis Ford Coppola, related how she desperately wanted to play the role of Michael's vulnerable and fragile sister Connie. Coppola actually made her screen test for the part and still felt she was all wrong for it because he envisioned a homely actress in the role. Coppola and the cast member recalled Marlon Brando being in an exceptionally good mood during production perhaps because he saw the film as his lifeline to a career comeback after a decade of boxoffice disappointments. (Brando was represented by a photograph placed prominently on stage among his cinematic "family".) Caan recalled practical jokes played by Brando on the set and Duvall remembered Brando leading male cast members in a mooning contest during filming of the wedding scene. Keaton acknowledged that she had only recently watched the film for the first time in decades because she felt her character never fit in with the all-Italian cast and that she was particularly bothered by her voice in the film. Coppola also revealed how Lenny Montana, who played hitman Luca Brasi, could not remember his lines and delivered them in a halting fashion. To get around the obstacle, he quickly wrote a scene showing the dim-witted Luca rehearsing his "thank you speech" to Don Corleone as though it was a difficult homework assignment. It was a brilliant improvisation that got Montana off the hook and made his brief presence in the film even more memorable. Coppola also paid tribute to the many artists from the films who are no longer with us and specifically praised Al Letieri for his performance as Solazzo.
Special campaign poster designed for the event.
If there was a weak link in the memorable discussions on stage it was Taylor Hackford as moderator. Hackford was understandably enthused about his role but he forgot the golden rule that interviewers should follow: remember that the audience is there to hear the guests, not the interviewer. Hackford seemed to be winging it instead of having carefully prepared questions and often ate up valuable time by giving long personal observations before getting to the point. He also had no rhyme or reason when it came to allocating the questions. Understandably, he went to Coppola more than anyone else but some cast members were treated almost as stage props. Duvall was rarely called upon to make a point, Shire told some good tales in the beginning but was barely heard from again and, to the consternation of audience members this writer spoke to afterward, De Niro was virtually ignored throughout the entire 90 minute discussion. It was only at the very end that Hackford seemed to remember that De Niro was sitting right next to him and the iconic star was given a single question before the evening came to a conclusion. Consequently there was very little discussion of "The Godfather Part II" and no mention at all was made of "The Godfather Part III". Hackford also wasted a good deal of time discussing trivial aspects of the production such as Coppola having the last minute idea of placing a cat on Don Corleone's lap in the first scene of the film, a minor point of interest that Hackford discussed ad nauseum. To his credit, however, Hackford realized the historic nature of the occasion and made it clear he would blow past the imposed timetable and continue the discussions for as long as possible. Consequently, those lucky enough to be in attendance certainly got their money's worth.
In all, "The Godfather" reunion was a superb, full day of entertainment, even if it tested the endurance of everyone's rear ends (the entire event lasted almost nine hours!). Kudos to the Tribeca Film Festival and Robert De Niro for making it a possible and giving classic movie lovers an offer they couldn't refuse.
(To read Star Ledger film critic Stephen Whitty's take on the event, click here).
Back in December 2014
Cinema Retro posted my review of the Columbia Classics’ DVD of “Edge of
Eternity,” (1959) one of director Don Siegel’s early, lesser known films. I gave it high marks—especially for its
location photography in and around the Grand Canyon, and a climax that ended in
a fight on a gondola car suspended 2,500 feet above the canyon floor. I thought
it was one of those little-known hidden gems you come across once in a while—a
movie worth seeing. The video quality of the Columbia DVD wasn’t bad either.
But now the folks at Twilight Time have come out with a limited edition (3,000
copies) Blu-ray of the film that literally blows the older version away.
As noted in my
original review, “Edge of Eternity” was one of two films Siegel made in 1959
that clearly showed he had already begun to master the art of shooting on
location—an art he perfected by the time he made “Dirty Harry” (1971). The
other movie was “The Lineup” , for which Siegel and screenwriter Stirling
Silliphant concocted a brilliant tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall
dialog, that also gave moviegoers a black and white documentary-like tour of
San Francisco, most of which is no longer there. In “Edge of Eternity,” Siegel
had a less compelling script to work with, but the breathtaking aerial photography
shot in widescreen Cinemascope and Eastman color by the legendary Burnett
Guffey more than made up for it.
The story focuses on
Deputy Sheriff Les Martin’s (Cornell Wilde) efforts to solve a series of
murders that take place in the canyon and the former boom town of Kendon,
Ariz., a place where a fortune in gold lies in an abandoned mine. The mine was
shut down during World War II, due to lack of manpower. It won’t be reopened
until the price of gold rises from $35 an ounce. As weird as it sounds, at the
time the story takes place, the biggest industry in Kendon was the mining of
bat guano from a cave on the far side of the canyon. The cave contained 500,000
tons of the stuff, which was sold as fertilizer. This is all based on
historical fact. The U.S. Bat Guano Company actually operated there until the
late 1950s, and Siegel took advantage of everything the location had to offer,
including “the dancing bucket,” a cable car the company had built, stretching 5,000
feet across the maw of the canyon—the only way to get to the bat cave. The end
credits express the film makers’ gratitude to U.S. Bat Guano for its
cooperation—perhaps the first and only time the movie industry acknowledged how
much it owes to shit, bat or otherwise.
The love interest in
“Edge of Eternity” is Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), the daughter of a wealthy
mine owner. Her flaming red hair and the canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird she
drives stand out vividly against the dry desert background, as she flirts with
Deputy Marin and wistfully remembers the days when Kendal was a boom town. She
has a younger brother (Rian Garrick) who drinks and gets in trouble with the
cops all the time. Also on hand is Mickey Shaughnessy playing a garrulous
bartender who dreams of someday leaving Kendon and taking off for Las Vegas.
A second murder
occurs and Deputy Martin starts to feel the heat from his boss (Edgar Buchanan)
and some political enemies in the state capital who want to know why the bodies
are starting to pile up. Martin is vulnerable to attack when it’s revealed he
had some trouble on his last job. When a third corpse turns up Martin stands to
lose his job. Who’s committing the murders and what do they have to do with the
$20 million in gold we’re told lies under the town?
Those are the main
plot questions, but really, who cares? The story isn’t what matters in “Edge of
Eternity.” It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel manages to put on
film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing Wilde and
Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the background, you
hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is there’s a murder to
be solved, some backstory guilt to be healed by Wilde, and a love story to be
brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it off with his usual
The Twilight Time 1080p
Blu-ray in 2.35:1 aspect ratio makes the Grand Canyon cinematography come alive,
with far more detail than the older DVD. This new release also comes with some
nice extras, including an informative audio commentary by film historians Nick
Redman and C. Courtney Joyner. They provide insights into how this film came to
be made and how Siegel and Guffey shot the climactic scene with the dancing
bucket using two helicopters and a fearless stunt man named Guy Way. It makes
the onscreen action seem even more dangerous. Redman also points out how the
sense of a real place with real people is something totally missing from
today’s films, partly due to the heavy use of CGI.
According to Joyner, “Edge
of Eternity” was originally written as a vehicle for veteran character actor
Jack Elam. The writers thought it was time Elam got his first starring role in
a film. Unfortunately nobody else saw it that way. Siegel, who was a friend of
Elam’s, saw the script sitting on a coffee table in Elam’s house and thought it
would make a pretty good movie. They ended up picking Cornell Wilde for the
part and Elam played a smaller role as the man who operates the bucket. As
Joyner points out, he may not have gotten his big breakthrough, but it’s one of
the few times he didn’t play a bad guy.
The Blu-ray also has
an isolated audio track for Daniele Amfitheatrof’s impressive score and a
booklet containing an essay by Julie Kirgo, which discusses further details of
the film’s location and crew. She also points out how “Edge of Eternity” shows
Siegel “beginning to explore the territory he would dominate in later years:
the life of a decent cop attempting to juggle his crazy mixed-up personal life
with a professional, criminal crisis.”
This Twilight Time
disc is a must-have for any Don Siegel fan, or for anyone who wants to see how “real”
thrillers used to be made.