Bond girls Jenny Hanley, Caron Gardner, Francesca Tu.
BY MARK MAWSTON
The ultimate “Bonding” session once again
took place at the home of the 007 franchise, Pinewood Studios, on Sunday 24th
September. Those lucky enough to attend were treated to a dealer’s room, a 50th
Anniversary 4K screening of You Only Live
Twice, at which organizer Gareth Owen read a message received from the e
Prime Minister herself, Theresa May, which touched on the amazing feats of
ingenuity and sheer technical mastery that went into the construction of the
films famed volcano set; a three course lunch and afternoon tea and of course a "who’s who" from the world of Bond from both in front and behind the camera.
Peter Lamont - Assistant Art Director - Art Director and Production Designer of 18
Bond films, Terry Ackland-Snow - Art Director on two Bond films, Alan Tomkins - Art director on five Bond films, Monty Norman – Composer, Vic Armstrong - 2nd Unit Director and stunt performer /
supervisor, Rocky Taylor - Stunts - You Only Live
Twice and many other Bond films; Norman Wanstall - Dubbing Editor/ Oscar-winning Sound Designer, Paul Weston – Stunts, and
William P. Cartlidge- Assistant Director- You Only Live Twice and future
Bond Associate Producer.
Monty Norman, composer of "The James Bond Theme".
Shane Rimmer, a Bond film veteran cast member and his wife Sheila, lead the crowd out of the John Barry Theatre.
Alan Tomkins and Peter Lamont.
Brian Gorman presented his one-man Bond tribute show.
And from in front of the camera: Shane Rimmer - three Bond films including You Only Live
Twice, Eunice Gayson - Sylvia Trench in Dr. No & From Russia With Love, Jenny Hanley – “Irish
Girl” in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Sylvanna Henriques - Title sequence - You Only Live Twice and “Jamaican
Girl” in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Caron Gardner - Pussy Galore Flying Circus pilot in Goldfinger,
Nadja Regin - Kerim's girl
in From Russia With Love and Bonita in Goldfinger and Francesca
Tu, Osato’s secretary- You Only Live Twice.
Stunt Legends Vic Armstrong and Rocky Taylor enjoy some amusing anecdotes along with interviewer Gareth Owen.
William P. Cartlidge reflects on the trials and tribulations of bringing "You Only Live Twice" to the screen.
The highlight for many of those stars, as well
as the fans in attendance, was a special tribute to the late, great Sir Roger
Moore. The day was rounded off with a specialpremiere
of Brian Gorman’s wonderful 60 minute one-man show “One Man Bond” (every Bond
film in 60 minutes!). Afterwards Gorman said “It’s a dream to perform at
Pinewood at this event, as you already know that this audience will get it,
terrifying though it is if you get something wrong! It’s not like a normal
crowd and I’ve never used a microphone before!” He needn’t have worried though and
this rounded off what was another excellent event organized by Bondstars Andy
Boyle and Retro’s own Gareth Owen.
(All images copyright Mark Mawson. All rights reserved)
Harry Dean Stanton, who died earlier this month at age 91, was the epitome of the successful character actor: he could play a wide range of characters (though they were usually eccentric) and he had won critical acclaim even when some of the films he appeared in did not. More importantly, Stanton had built an enthusiastic following among hardcore movie lovers and scholars. Stanton, The Kentucky native and WWII veteran had, like so many of his colleagues, had knocked around in odd jobs before moving to Hollywood to take up acting. His first credited screen role was in the 1957 "B" western "Tomahawk Trail". The film wasn't special but Stanton fit well into the Western genre. In the coming years, Stanton would appear in many horse operas on the big screen as well as on television, where his credits included "Gunsmoke", "The High Chaparral" and "The Wild, Wild West" to name but a few. Ultimately, his quirky mannerisms and distinctive appearance made him a much in-demand character actor. He began to appear in major films such as "Cool Hand Luke", "Kelly's Heroes", "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", "The Godfather Part II", "Farewell My Lovely", "92 in the Shade", "Straight Time" and "The Missouri Breaks". He scored well with critics and audiences with a major role in Ridley Scott's original "Alien" in 1979 and would go to be seen in "Escape from New York", "Christine", "Repo Man", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Twister" and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" (in the role of Carl Rodd, which he played again earlier this year in the revival of the "Twin Peaks" TV series). Stanton never made it to superstardom but neither did he ever go out of style. He was in demand until his final days- a fitting legacy for an actor's actor. For New York Times obituary, click here.
Raymond Benson with Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
true American innovator and icon has left us.
I would never claim to be one of this brilliant man’s inner circle of close longtime
friends or family, I was privileged to know him for nearly three decades. I was
a guest at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on numerous occasions, many times
along with my wife and even my son, who first visited when he was eight years
old! Hef was always a generous host—kind, warm-hearted, and full of
conversation. He also had integrity. His championing of civil rights and First
Amendment freedoms is legendary. He gave us the permission to embrace the
sexual revolution—and, believe it or not, he was a strong advocate of women’s
rights. The women who truly knew him loved
first “met” through correspondence after the publication of my 1980s book, The James Bond Bedside Companion. I had
been a Playboy reader and subscriber
since I was old enough to be one (and was sneaking it into the house before
that!), so I knew the magazine well, its philosophy, and its impact on popular
culture. I also was well aware that Hef was a James Bond fan. Playboy was the first American
periodical to publish fiction by Ian Fleming. Beginning with the March 1960
issue, Playboy published several of
Fleming’s short stories and excerpts from his novels during that decade. The
magazine also featured pictorials from the films that lasted into the 80s.
sent Hef a copy of the Bedside Companion and
I was surprised and pleased that he wrote me back, thanking me for the book and
relating a little of how he first screened Dr.
No at the Chicago Playboy Mansion in 1962, months before its official ’63 release
in the U.S. Additional occasional correspondence between us ensued over the
next few years, and then, in 1994, I was invited to visit Playboy Mansion West
on “movie night” while I was attending a James Bond convention being held in
Los Angeles. A year later, I landed the gig to become the first American author
to pen official 007 novels. I suggested to the Ian Fleming people that we
approach Hef to do an exclusive short story for the magazine and re-establish
the Playboy/Bond connection. The
result was the publication of my Bond fiction in six issues of Playboy between 1997 and 2000.
Raymond took this snap from the sidelines in 1999 as the 45th Anniversary photo is taken of Hef and hundreds of Playmates. (Photo copyright by Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
of the more memorable weekends I spent in Hef’s company was during the “Playboy
Expo,” held in L.A. in 1999 for the 45th Anniversary of the
magazine. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the expo, which ran for two
days and featured the appearances of around 300 Playmates, past and present. I
was on the sidelines when the iconic photograph was taken at the Mansion of Hef
and all the women present who had graced the centerfold since the 1950s. That
was surely a “pinch me” moment.
normally visited the Mansion on “movie nights.” These were held on Sundays,
when up to fifty guests were invited for a buffet dinner and the screening of a
current film. When no other events were happening, Hef had “classic” movie
nights of old movies on Fridays and/or Saturdays. Hef was a serious movie buff!
fact, Hef made many contributions to the world of cinema. He was one of the
movers and shakers (and financiers) for the restoration of the famous “Hollywood”
sign that had come into disrepair by the 70s. Playboy Enterprises had a working
film production company during that decade and made a few memorable pictures.
For example, the first Monty Python film, And
Now for Something Completely Different (1971), was a Playboy production.
Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (also 1971)
was executive produced by Hefner.
work in television was also pioneering. His Playboy’s
Penthouse, that aired for two seasons in 1959-1961, was the first variety
show to break the “color barrier” by ensuring black performers mingled with
impact that Hef’s magazine had on the world cannot be capsulized in this short
tribute. I will leave that task to others. Just know that a young Hugh Hefner
created Playboy on his kitchen table
in a modest Chicago apartment with very little money. Now the rabbit logo is
one of the most widely recognized symbols around the world. Hef is a perfect
example of someone who pursued the American Dream and achieved it.
in Peace, Hef, and thank you.
Cinema Retro extends its deepest
condolences to Hugh Hefner’s family—Crystal, Cooper, Marston, Christie, and
(For Raymond Benson's exclusive interview with Hugh Hefner about the films he produced, see Cinema Retro issue #5)
Allen came off an incredible run of five superior films released between 1983
and 1987 (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her
Sisters, and Radio Days) and then
delivered one of his occasional “serious” pictures (without his presence as an
actor) in late ’87 that was so dire that it only grossed approximately $500,000
in its initial run.
a six-character “play” that takes many cues from the works of Anton Chekhov, September is set in a Vermont country
house where depressed Lane (Mia Farrow) is recovering from a suicide attempt.
Her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest) is there for moral support. Lane is in
love with tenant/writer Peter (Sam Waterston), and neighbor/teacher Howard
(Denholm Elliott) is in love with Lane. She doesn’t share Howard’s affections,
but Peter, however, is in love with Stephanie. Coming to visit into this
quartet of woe is Lane’s extroverted mother, a former actress named Diane
(Elaine Stritch) and her second husband Lloyd (Jack Warden). Diane and Lane
have a complicated relationship. When Lane was young, she found her mother
being abused by a man and she killed him (shades of the infamous real-life case
involving Lana Turner, her daughter, and a mobster).
sound like one of Woody Allen’s laugh-fests, does it?
September was a problem project
for the writer/director from the beginning. He had originally cast Christopher
Walken as Peter, started shooting, and then decided that wasn’t working. He
recast the role with Sam Shepard. Maureen O’Sullivan was playing Diane, and
Charles Durning had the part of Howard. Allen shot the entire movie and edited
it. He was unhappy with it for some reason, so he decided to recast the
roles of Peter, Diane, and Howard, and remake
the entire movie. I’m sure the studio, Orion Pictures, loved that
prospect—but at that time Allen’s stock was uncommonly high and he had the
clout to do it.
acting is good enough, I suppose. Elaine Stritch, in particular, shines in the
showy role of the crazy show biz mom. The problem is that these are people we
can’t really care about. The love and angst on display quickly becomes
no one has ever seen the first version of September
that Allen shot, I can’t imagine that the picture we saw in the cinema in
December ’87 was any better. For the record, I will state that Woody Allen,
with nearly fifty titles under his belt, is one our national treasures as a
filmmaker…but September ranks as one
of the worst five movies he ever made. Luckily, he followed the picture with
one of his best “serious” titles—Another
Woman (also available from Twilight Time).
looks gorgeous, though! The cinematography
by the late, great Carlo Di Palma emphasizes the autumn colors of Vermont with
a pastel palette that is very pleasing to the eye. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray
1080p High Definition transfer is admirable, accompanied by a fine 1.0 DTS-HD
Master Audio. The only supplements, however, are an isolated music and effects
track (the music consists of Allen’s typical Great American Songbook jazz
standards), and the theatrical trailer.
September—a nice product of
only 3,000 (limited edition) units—will appeal to Woody Allen completists.
When Franco Nero rails at God, you can almost imagine
that God hears him. ("Is that Nero yelling again? What did I do
now?") While watching The Sack of
Rome (1993), an Italian production which features a good amount of Nero’s
skyward beefing, I tried to imagine an American actor playing such a part.I couldn't think of many. Even a pair of
scenery chewers like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster would seem too urbane. I’d
give Japan’s Toshiro Mifune a shot at reaching God’s ear, but only if Akira Kurosawa
was directing him. Daniel Day Lewis could get God’s attention, but he’s not
American. The problem, of course, is that American actors haven't had many
chances to shout at the heavens. In American movies you can yell at your boss,
or your spouse, and you can shoot people in the head, but you don’t get many
opportunities to yell at God. This is true now more than ever, for contemporary
actors aren't asked to do much beyond work on their pecs and whiten their
teeth. Can you imagine Channing Tatum or Shia LaBeouf railing at God? That's
why Nero's performance in The Sack of
Rome is so impressive. Compared to Nero, American actors seem twitchy and
neurotic, as pampered as a bunch of models at a Victoria’s Secret shoot. Nero? I’m tempted to say it’s just the Italian
language that makes him seem so explosive, but even when Nero's not talking,
he's simmering. He’s an actor not given his due.
The film takes place in 1527 when mercenaries invaded
Rome and began a horrific course of looting and destruction. Nero plays Gabriele da Poppi, an artist who
feels above it all. Gabriele believes artists are immune during times of war.
He lives like a 16th century rock star, buffered from the outside world by a
kind of grand opulence. He saunters about his enormous estate looking as
glittery and well-fed as one of Rembrandt's noblemen. He lives with Gesuina, his lover and model (the
angelic Vittoria Belvedere, a young woman whose perspiration looks like it
would go well over flapjacks) and her little punk of a brother. Gabriele calls this
teen duo his "beasts." They bathe together and play games in what
seems like an indoor Eden. Suddenly, Gabriele’s
idyllic life is upended when the soldiers raid his mansion, destroy his
artwork, and kill Gesuina’s brother.
The head of the mercenaries holds Gabriele and Gesuina captive
in their own home, demanding Gabriele paint a portrait of him. Gabriele,
however, suffers a kind of psychotic meltdown after seeing his beloved city
turned to rubble. All he can paint are bizarre images of salamanders and
flowers. His sleep is troubled by nightmares. He wonders if debauched lives
like his own contributed to Rome's fall. He also feels guilty over not getting Gesuina to safety when he had the
chance. The worst of his fears, though, is that the sacking of Rome may mean
the end of previous concepts of art and beauty.
Sack of Rome is hard to follow at times. Still, there's
an undeniable passion in the film, boiling under every scene. Director Fabio
Bonzi is telling a story about the passing of an age, and he tells it with just
a handful of characters. When Gabriele sees Gesuina in bed with their captor, he
mourns the ending of an epoch, yet, he marvels that the hell they're in has
actually made his muse more beautiful. These scenes are wrenching because Nero
uses only his face and eyes to convey Gabriele's profound regret. Later, as
their abductor lay eviscerated, Gabriele doesn’t celebrate. His life has changed too quickly and
violently. The young girl he once playfully sniffed before her bath has become
hardened. Even the soldiers outside are
bracing for the future like the aging outlaws in The Wild Bunch, exchanging their swords in favor of primitive
firearms. Murder will become abstract, less personal. "The golden
age," Gabriele says, "is over."
Although TheSack of Rome boasts a couple of mildly
erotic scenes, the new DVD from One7Movies is a change from a company that
usually focuses on European erotica. For
those wondering about such things, the only bonus feature is a gallery of
stills, and the movie is presented in full screen rather than widescreen; it
looks scratchy in places, and seems older than a film from ‘93. Still, it's a
beautiful movie with impressive costumes and set decoration. (If you search for the film on the IMDB, use the Italian title, Zoloto.) I can’t vouch for the film’s historical accuracy, but it’s
worth a look, particularly for Nero's performance. When he lets it rip, few can
In the late 1970s producer David V. Picker was persuaded by a friend to see up-and-coming comedian Steve Martin on stage. Picker had never heard of him but was impressed enough by his oddball comic genius that he signed him for a movie deal with the esteemed Carl Reiner directing. The result was "The Jerk", which turned out to be a smash hit upon its release in 1979. Martin seemed set for a meteoric rise in the movie industry but he stumbled badly with his second film, the bizarre, downbeat and ill-advised "Pennies from Heaven". Hoping to recapture his celluloid mojo, Martin soon teamed again with Picker and Reiner for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", an inspired film noir spoof that, through the technology of the day, allowed Martin to "star" with cinematic legends of bygone eras. Despite favorable reviews, the film was too unconventional for mainstream audiences and under-performed. Undeterred, Martin, Picker and Reiner teamed for a third time in 1983 on what seemed to be a sure-fire spoof of horror films, "The Man with Two Brains", co-written by Martin, Reiner and George Gipe. The film seemed certain to draw in the audiences that had packed theaters a decade before for Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein"- but alas, "Brains" also laid an egg. Martin would soldier on in films until he finally scored some hits, but the fact of the matter is that some of his best work was done in some of his least-seen films, "The Man with Two Brains" among them.
As the title certainly implies, the film is based on a zany premise. Martin plays Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (the name itself is the basis of many hilarious gags in the film), a world-respected brain surgeon who has perfected the "screw-off" method of removing the top of a patient's skull. He's a rich egotist but he's also despondent over the recent death of his beloved wife, with whom he enjoyed the kinky habit of eating lunch off her behind. Meanwhile we meet Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner), a vivacious man-eater who has just finished abusing her elderly millionaire husband to the point that he has a fatal heart attack- only to learn that he had changed his will so that she won't inherit anything. Fleeing the house in anger, Dolores steps in front of Michael's car and suffers a traumatic brain injury. Instantly obsessed by her beauty, he performs a life-saving operation. Upon awakening, Dolores senses that Michael is a trusting, naive soul who she can instantly manipulate. Before long, the two are married - a plot device that sets in motion a running gag about how the perpetually horny Michael has to keep chaste while he waits for his wife to recover from her medical problems (even though she is sleeping with hunky guys at every opportunity.) Her motive is to ultimately manipulate- and presumably kill- her husband without ever having to consummate the marriage- especially when she learns he has just inherited millions from a deceased relative.
Most of the action is set in Vienna, where Michael is attending a brain surgeons conference. Although it's obvious that the closest anyone in the production got to Austria was a Vienna sausage lunch cart in Hollywood, the change in locale opens the story up to more exotic aspects. Michael meets Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner), a fellow nutty professor who has a Universal Monsters-style laboratory constructed in his urban condo. The two men form a friendship- but it's challenged when Michael falls in love with one of his new friend's experiments, the disembodied brain of a lovely lady who he can communicate with by telepathy. In one of the funniest scenes, he takes his new love out for a spin in a rowboat- and puts a hat on the glass jar to prevent "her" from getting sunburned. Meanwhile, a clever subplot is introduced in which Vienna is being terrorized by the mad "Elevator Killer" who offs his victims by injecting them with window cleaner! (The unmasking of the villain's identity is one of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film.) To continue to explain the story line as though it were logical would be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say, "The Man with Two Brains" is Steve Martin at his best. The film is packed with many hilarious scenarios and sight gags- and Kathleen Turner adds immeasurably to the fun with a spot-on performance as the evil femme fatale. Carl Reiner proved to be the perfect director for Martin and the films they did together hold up well today.
The Warner Blu-ray release is quite welcome and will hopefully allow the uninitiated to enjoy the many pleasures of this film. The only bonus extra is an original trailer which, bizarrely, doesn't mention or credit Kathleen Turner, who had already achieved major stardom from her appearance in "Body Heat".
Director Michael Ritchie seemed to be on the fast track in becoming one of Hollywood's "A" list young filmmakers. His career started in television and hit a speed bump when he was fired from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." after arguing with a producer about the content of a script. However, he eventually segued into movies. His first big screen feature was "Downhill Racer", the 1969 drama starring Robert Redford that displayed Ritchie's talents behind the cameras. A few years later, his career went into overdrive. He directed the quirky hit crime film "Prime Cut" followed by the prescient political satire "The Candidate" and then the critically-praised satire "Smile". His genial comedy "The Bad News Bears" proved to be a major boxoffice hit. Ritchie never stopped working but the momentum faded by the late 1970s. He had the occasional modest hit ("Semi-Tough", "Fletch") but all too often he was consigned to mediocre films that played to mediocre results. Whether Ritchie was denied bringing innovative visions to reality by short-sighted studio executives or whether he just ran out of steam is not known. However, by the time he died in 2001 at only 62 years of age, those of us who admired his earlier films couldn't help but think that some great, unfilled projects had died with him. One of Ritchie's "work-for-hire" productions, the 1988 comedy "The Couch Trip" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The quirky screwball concept falls short of its potential but there is much to recommend about it.
The movie opens at a psychiatric institution in Illinois where John W. Burns Jr. (Dan Aykroyd) is being held against his will. However, if he is a prisoner, it is in the sense that Bob Crane's Colonel Hogan was prisoner: the inmate is literally running the asylum. Burns has it pretty good for an incarcerated man. He's overflowing with confidence, charisma and superficial charm and wins over everyone in his sphere of influence. There seem to be few pleasures that he is denied at the institution and even finds a way to have sex with the secretary (Victoria Jackson) of the chief psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Baird (David Clennon), an uptight, humorless man who doesn't relate to the inmates under his care. The script introduces a separate story line concerning Dr. George Maitlin (Charles Grodin), an esteemed and very popular psychiatrist who dispenses pearls of wisdom to "patients" who call into his popular radio program. When it turns out that Maitlin himself is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he decides to take a sabbatical and attend a professional conference in London with his bubble-headed wife Vera (Mary Gross). He puts out the word that he wants an obscure psychiatrist to fill in for him by hosting his radio program, on the proviso that the substitute host isn't impressive enough to challenge Maitland's stranglehold on his audience. When word reaches the institute that Dr. Baird has been chosen to interview for the hosting gig, Burns intercepts the message, orchestrates a brilliant escape, steals a car and adopts the identity of Baird, even managing to fly to L.A. on his plane ticket (this was 1988, after all, before today's onerous security measures would render such a feat virtually impossible). Once in Hollywood, Burns is met by his "colleague", Dr. Laura Rollins (Aykroyd's real life wife Donna Dixon), who- in addition to being brainy- is also a sexy, leggy blonde. He also meets Harvey Michaels (Richard Romanus), a smarmy, fast-talking agent who is representing Maitland. The faux Dr. Baird quickly intimidates Michaels by making outrageous demands to host the radio program, all of which are met. Burns hits a speed bump when he has a chance encounter with a seemingly crazed con man named Donald Becker (Walter Matthau), who recognizes him as a wanted man and threatens to expose him if he doesn't make him a partner in his schemes. Left with no choice, Burns has Becker move into his lush hotel suite.
When Burns makes his debut in the guise of substitute host Dr. Baird on the radio program, he radicalizes the format by dispensing brutally honest advice to his troubled call-in audience. At times, he indulges in outrageous behavior and tosses out obscenities that shock Michaels and Dr. Rollins. However, all is forgiven when he becomes an overnight sensation and a ratings smash. Before long, "Dr. Baird" is the toast of Hollywood, leading to him making even more outrageous demands. A fly in the ointment comes when the real Dr. Baird meets Dr. Maitland at a convention in London. The two men realize they're being exploited and hurry back to Hollywood where they attempt to thwart Burns as he accepts an award on Maitland's behalf at a black tie dinner.
"The Couch Trip" starts out as an uninspired comedy but improves considerably as it progresses. The script is most effective in satirizing the (then) new populist trend of having troubled people rely on advice of radio show hosts to make life-altering decisions in their lives. The concept was absurd in the 1980s and has grown exponentially today with people using social media platforms as Dollar Store versions of psychiatrists, taking the advice of total strangers in regard to resolving their most intimate problems. Aykroyd is in top form with his cynical con man schtick. Matthau appears only fleetingly but adds his considerable skills to the merriment- and the supporting cast is also very amusing with Charles Grodin and David Clennon particularly funny. Director Michael Ritchie proves to be as adept with comedy as he was with dramas and thrillers and his "hands off" style allows both Aykroyd and Matthau to shine. The film bombed on its theatrical release but it offers enough gentle pleasures that it can recommended for home viewing. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray provides what appears to be segments from the film's original electronic presskit including some interesting behind the scenes footage and interviews with Aykroyd, Dixon and Ritchie (though grumpy old man Matthau's interviews have a total running time of about 20 seconds). The original trailer is also included.
For lovers of classic cinema as well as classic music, the recent emergence of presenting screenings of films accompanied by live orchestras has proven to be manna from Heaven. This was particularly true last week at Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall when the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of David Newman, presented a big screen showing of "Star Wars: A New Hope" with the Philharmonic providing live accompaniment of John Williams' legendary score. To call the resulting event thrilling would be an understatement. The atmosphere in the hall was unusual for a Philharmonic event, as concert producer Betsey Tumarkin thought outside the box and allowed the Philharmonic to go funky. The hall clearly embraced and catered to the fan movement, which allowed attendees the opportunity to pose for photos with characters from the film. It was an amusing sight, with uppercrust patrons walking about with Martinis intermingling with families with young children who were thrilled to meeting Darth Vader and some of those evil storm troopers. Additionally, self-described "Star Wars" geeks proudly wore their own costumes to the event, making an interesting contrast to those attired more traditionally for a Lincoln Center concert. The resulting detente between both aspects of the audience was due to their common respect for the music of John Williams. Even conductor Newman, an esteemed film composer in his own right, got into the action following four-- yes, four-encore appearances demanded by the thundering ovations - by wielding a light sabre from the podium. I must shamefully admit that I only saw "Star Wars" once, when it opened theatrically in 1977, though I did revisit portions of it back in the dark days of VHS to fact-check a book I was co-authoring with Michael Lewis, "The Films of Harrison Ford". Thus, when the Cinema Retro was invited to attend and review the opening night of the concert series, this became the ultimate offer I couldn't refuse. Perhaps my distance from the film served me well on this particular night because, while I certainly remembered the most iconic aspects of the movie and those classic lines of dialogue, I was able to enjoy the many wonderful nuances of the story and the performances as if for the first time, including the homage to John Ford's "The Searchers" when Luke finds his home destroyed and his family brutally murdered. It was also delightful to see British acting icons Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing evoking applause from contemporary audiences when they first appeared on the screen.
Attendees got into the spirit of things by warming up to dastardly villains.
The version of the film that was screened was the "Special Edition" from 1997. It was especially created for concert events, as it had the dialogue in sub-titles for those instances in which the overwhelming sound of the orchestra drowned out some of the soundtrack. There was an intermission mid-way through the screening, presumably to give the musicians a break, but also to ensure that there was a race to the souvenir stands where attendees could buy exclusive "Star Wars" concert merchandise. In the program created for the event, John Williams states "These live performances allow audiences to hear these scores in a new way. The performance by a live symphony orchestra enables audiences to hear a lot of music that can go unnoticed in the cinema." As for the challenge such events present to musicians, Williams says ""The orchestra must play pretty relentlessly for two hours or more. It is very intense for the brass, particularly in many of the battle sequences that can be 15 or 20 minutes long." Horn player Leelanee Sterrett is quoted as saying, "The brass parts are very prominent in almost all the famous themes you think of: The Imperial March, Princess Leia's Theme, the Throne Room. We have a really important role to play in the storytelling." Of Williams' score, David Newman says "It was so groundbreaking. It completely changed film music".
Sales of concert merchandise were out of this world.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to visionary mind of George Lucas comes from John Williams himself: "(He) created something that seems to be timeless. You'd have to look back to Walt Disney or even Dickens to find a comparison to the longevity enjoyed by the fabulous characters George has conjured. Darth Vader, Yoda and Luke Skywalker are very much still with us and will continue to be for decades to come. Forty years is now looking like a very short time."
(The New York Philharmonic will next present "The Empire Strikes Back" on September 26, 27 and 28; "Return of the Jedi" on October 4 and 5 and "The Force Awakens" on October 6 and 7. Click here for information and tickets.
Hollywood studios are still licking their wounds over one of the worst years in memory in terms of boxoffice performance, though there are signs of a strong final quarter. Still, the guys and gals in the corner offices can't get out of a rut when it comes to lack of imagination. When they have a good thing, their only strategy seems to be to over-indulge in it. As David Sims writes in the Atlantic, Warner Bros. is planning three- yes, three- simultaneous comic book-related films featuring the Joker. The abundance of superhero films is the latest trend and, as usual, studios are over-indulging in it to the point that the bloom will come off the rose with audiences that are always seeking the next shiny object. Eventually, the quality of the films, which are all similar in content, begins to diminish and all the CGI effects imaginable can't make up for an uninspired script. There's already signs that audience exhaustion with superhero flicks is already setting in, despite the great success of some of the franchises. Universal is in the same dilemma: trying to dust off its classic Universal Monsters franchise for modern audiences despite anemic response to their updated version of "The Mummy" starring Tom Cruise. The recent remake of Stephen King's "It" indicates there is still a big market for horror films....but let's remember, the film is still a remake of a TV production. The lack of imagination and risk-taking among the major studios has left independent productions and art house films to dominate the market for mature audiences who want to see something a bit different than young women being pursued by maniacal killers. Perhaps the success of Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" might embolden the studios to have more faith in diversity- but I wouldn't be surprised to see a film about the battle of Gettysburg somehow involving Superman and Batman. Click here to read.
Allen’s very first directorial effort (not counting What’s Up, Tiger Lily? from1966, which was, in actuality, a
Japanese spy movie that Allen rewrote, dubbed, and re-edited into a comedy) was
the low budget, no frills Take the Money
and Run, released in the summer of 1969 to an unsuspecting audience. While
Allen was already somewhat familiar to the public via his numerous television
talk show and stand-up appearances, as well as his small roles in three late-60s
motion pictures, no one was quite prepared for the zany, nebbish onscreen
persona that Allen debuted in Take the
Money. It was a cinematic guise he would keep to the present day.
intellectual Jewish nerd that Allen presented (here his character’s name is
Virgil Starkwell) quickly became the guy whom we all thought Woody Allen really
is. Some folks might have said, “Oh, he’s just playing himself.” Perhaps
certain characteristics of the real Woody Allen may have been a part of Virgil
Starkwell, or Fielding Mellish, or even Alvy Singer, but like Groucho Marx and his onscreen persona, we now know that Woody
Allen is not that guy. In truth, he tends to be surprisingly shy, quiet, and
introverted. This revelation makes the performances in his movies that much
Take the Money and
also a milestone because of its “mockumentary” format, a comedy sub-genre that
had been rarely explored up to that point. Something like A Hard Day’s Night might be called a mockumentary, but it wasn’t
until Allen’s landmark unveiling of his first feature that we saw the comedic
possibilities of presenting a story as if it were real news—complete with
documentary-style narration (provided in this case by veteran Jackson Beck).
movie is the tale of a common serial thief, and how his love life and eventual
marriage (to Louise, played by Janet Margolin) affects his “career.” The
hilarious biographical narrative includes wacky robberies, failed attempts to
go straight, and numerous stints in the pen. One cannot easily forget the
classic bank holdup scene in which Allen passes a note to the teller, who can’t
read the handwriting. Before long, the entire staff of the bank is attempting
to decipher whether Starkwell wrote “gub” or “gun.” “Is this a holdup?” one guy
for roughly $1.5 million, the picture looks, well, cheap, and it has that 1960s
shot-on-newsreel-cameras feel, which of course is entirely appropriate. The
direction is competent; Allen has long acknowledged the contribution of editor
Ralph Rosenblum to his early comedies. It’s not unfair to say that Rosenblum
may have taught Allen essential lessons in directing. That said, it’s also no
small feat to act in, direct, and co-write (with Mickey Rose) a movie. Despite
the low rent vibe of the picture, the jokes really do come every few seconds,
and this is worth the price of admission. It is a very funny movie.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray transfer looks fine, although the video quality of the
original picture wasn’t particularly great to begin with. Unfortunately, like
with most Allen Blu-ray releases, there are no supplements other than trailers
for other Kino Lorber releases.
Take the Money and Run is a
worthwhile examination of a genius artist’s baby steps. There’s no question
that Allen’s career began with an impressive laugh riot—and things would only
"Thunderball" co-stars Martine Beswick and Luciana Paluzzi.
Hammer and "Live and Let Die" actress Madeleine Smith.
BY MARK MAWSTON
The London Film Convention, organized by
Thomas Bowington was quite literally a Who’s Who of heroes and villains from
the small and silver screen. The actual Who came in the shape of a Dr. himself
in the guise of Sylvester McCoy, along with Who assistants Katy Manning who played Jo and
Bernard Cribbins from both the Amicus film version and the TV version. There was also a
rare appearance from Garial Woolf. The other key cult British film genres-the Carry On films, James Bond and Hammer horror- were all represented too, with many of the star
guests appearing in all three: from the Carry On Films we had Fenella Fielding,
Anita Harris and Amanda Barrie, from Hammer and Bond we had Maddie Smith,
Valerie Leon, Martine Beswick, Eunice Gayson, John Wyman, Deborah Moore, Jan
Williams, Shane Rimmer, Robert Watts, Golden Girl Shirley Eaton and a rare
appearance from Luciana Paluzzi.
We also had the Star Wars and action films
represented by Vic Armstrong, Wolf Kahler, Jack Klaff, Virginia Hey and many others.
All in all, a fabulous day for the fan and the collector alike with many of the
attendee’s purchasing back copies of Cinema Retro to be signed by the guests! (All photos copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Wolf Kahler- still recovering from looking inside the Lost Ark of the Covenant!
The First Lady of Bond, Eunice Gayson.
Anita Harris & Amanda Barri
Carry On’s Fenella Fielding
Famed Producer & Production Manager from Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Bond Robert Watts with Who assistant Katie Manning.
James Bond's "Golden Girl" Shirley Eaton.
Bernard Cribbins plays ventriloquist to Sylvester McCoy.
They were two of the greatest acting talents of their time. But when Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh discarded their spouses and families to begin a torrid affair, it paved the way for scandal and madness. Olivier found himself seduced by the sexually aggressive Leigh, who worked diligently to help deconstruct his marriage, as well as her own. When the two finally married, the relationship became erratic when Olivier discovered that Leigh had been diagnosed with what would now be known as bipolar disorder. Her range of emotions varied wildly and as time wore on, her mental condition deteriorated to a tragic level. Writer Michael Thornton covers the tempestuous relationship for the Daily Mail and points out that Olivier and Leigh never fell out of love with each other- even after they divorced. Adding to the salacious aspects of the story, Thornton maintains that both Olivier and Leigh were actively bisexual and carried on affairs with members of the same sex. Leigh, however, fell victim to her psychological disease and would have quick sexual interludes with men she would pick up on the street. To read, click here.
CINEMA RETRO HAS RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING PRESS RELEASE:
12, 2017 - New York, NY – At this year’s 15th edition of the New
York City Horror Film Festival, broad-ranged character actor Brad Dourif,
beloved to fright fans as the voice of killer doll Chucky, will receive the event’s
Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday, Oct. 28. The prestigious trophy honors Mr.
Dourif for his long-ranging contributions to horror cinema, and the actor will
accept in person.
Dourif began his career on the stage where he was eventually noticed by Milos
Forman and cast as Billy Bibbit in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, a role
which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He has
brought his craft to classic genre films including the John Carpenter-scripted EYES
OF LAURA MARS; David Lynch’s DUNE and BLUE VELVET; and William Peter Blatty’s THE
EXORCIST III. Dourif gained further renown for voicing Chucky in the CHILD’S PLAY
franchise, the latest film of which, CULT OF CHUCKY, debuts this fall.
features and 31 short films make up this year’s festival, which opens Thurs Oct.
26, with a range of films including New York premieres of Mitchell Altieri’s THE
NIGHT WATCHMEN; Norbert Keil’s REPLACE starring Barbara Crampton; Benjamin
Arfmann’s DISMISSED starring Dylan Sprouse; Richard Stringham’s CLOSE CALLS;
and Mathieu Turi’s HOSTILE starring Javier (IT) Botet; and the North American
premiere of Michael Mongillo’s ghost story DIANE.
festival runs October 26–29, at Cinépolis Cinemas, 260 West 23rd Street.,
at the corner of 8th Avenue and 23rd Street in the heart
of New York’s Chelsea district, just one block over from the famed Chelsea
Hotel, once home to Sid Vicious, Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Bob
Dylan, and Arthur C. Clarke.
NYC Horror Film Festival was born in 2002 by filmmaker Michael J. Hein as a
venue for newer independent horror filmmaking. After Michael’s passing in 2011,
the festival created the Michael J. Hein Achievement Award to celebrate the
hard work and perseverance of creators in the field. George Romero was the
first recipient of the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award, followed by other
classic scaremeisters including Rob Zombie, Roger Corman, Frank Henenlotter,
Robert Englund, Stuart Gordon, and the beloved late Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper,
Angus Scrimm, and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The full schedule for the New York City Horror Film Festival is here:
Cinema Retro issue #39 has now shipped worldwide. For subscribers, this is the final issue of Season 13. Please renew for Season 14 (see below) and keep supporting the world's most unique movie magazine.
Issue #39 devotes a full 32 pages to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice", which starred Sean Connery as 007 and introduced Donald Pleasence as the immortal villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Why did we dedicate half of the pages in this issue to the film? Largely because of the outpouring of contributions from talented writers from around the world, not to mention esteemed names like composer David Arnold, actress Karin Dor, who played the villainous femme fatale Helga Brandt, Tsai Chin who played Bond's bedmate in the pre-credits scene, legendary lyricist Leslie Bricusse, assistant director William Cartlidge, future Oscar-winning production designer Peter Lamont and Nancy Sinatra, who recalls the nerve-wracking experience of singing the title song. Plus in-depth looks at composer John Barry, the cars of "You Only Live Twice", the inside story behind the Little Nellie autogyro, "now and then" photos of key locations and a Bondwagon full of rare photos and promotional art, some of which are published here for the first time- plus a look at all the accompanying international 007 collectibles.
Issue #39 also concludes our celebration of the life and career of actress Susan George and examines the kinky little-seen crime thriller "Night Hair Child" (aka "What the Peeper Saw") plus the obscure-but-worthy cult flick "Deadly Strangers" starring Hayley Mills- plus tributes to the late, great Sir Roger Moore.
In reality, you only live once- so don't miss this limited edition issue.
You can still subscribe to Season 13 and get all three issues shipped to you
at once, including issue #37 and #38, which honor "Rocky" and "The Dirty
The Suspicious Death of a Minor
(o.t. Morte sospetta di una minorenne)
(1975) is a bit of a queer fish. It's widely regarded as the last – and
arguably the least – of director Sergio Martino's giallos, though in fact it
only barely qualifies as such, spanning as it does several genres. It's a
curious hybrid wherein the giallo element is fairly low-key, playing second
fiddle to poliziotteschi tropes with an ill-judged sprinkling of comedy.
been rudely propositioned by a guy at a dance, a young girl is chased from the
place by an impeccably dressed, unspeaking assassin. He corners her in a room
at an insalubrious Milan hotel where he savagely slays her. The guy whose unwanted
attentions the girl drew prior to her murder is later revealed to be Inspector
Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli), working undercover to expose a drugs and
underage prostitution racket in which she was embroiled. Every time Germi gets
close to the next link in the chain that person dies, each falling victim to
the silent assassin who's keeping one step ahead of him and eradicating anyone
whose evidence could lead to the identification of the top banana and bust the
trafficking operation wide open.
Sergio Martino was the man behind such excellent giallos as Torso, All the Colours of the Dark and the gloriously titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have
the Key, whilst co-scripter Ernesto Gastaldi (as well as collaborating with
Martino on the aforementioned trio) penned such renowned works as The Case of the Bloody Iris and Death Walks on High Heels. And yet,
although purely in terms of its subject matter there's a dark underbelly festering
away in The Suspicious Death of a Minor,
it never quite plumbs the anticipated depths of sleaziness that its title and
credentials might imply. As is standard for Italian films of this period the
female cast is typically gorgeous, notably Patrizia Castaldi (as the story's
first victim), Barbara Magnolfi and Jenny Tamburi. But none of them actually
look like minors, nudity is employed with uncommon restraint for this sort of
movie and, a couple of graphic attacks aside, the production is not nearly as
brutal as it might have been either. None of which is to suggest it's not worth
dipping in to; there's some great stuff going on here.
all odds Claudio Cassinelli is eminently likeable as Germi, the cop who get
suspects to talk at gunpoint, drives like a maniac, recklessly fires off his
weapon in the midst of civilians, sleeps with prostitutes and hooks up with a
petty thief (Gianfranco Barra) as an accomplice. "It was self defence,
right?", Germi’s boss (Mel Ferrer) encouragingly prompts when he’s being
raked across the coals by a superior officer for his aberrant technique;
"No, sir, it was self offence,"
Germi replies bluntly. Indeed, his Dirty Harry-esque modus operandi may be unorthodox but it sure gets results. (As an
aside, Cassinelli was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1985 whilst
working on Martino's sci-fi actioner Hands
photographed by Giancarlo Ferrando, highlights include a chase which begins
with a shootout on a fairground Crazy Mouse ride and ends messily on an
underground rail track, and a tense confrontation atop the retractable roof of
a cinema. The first half of the film unfolds reasonably unpredictably – it's
some time before we learn that Germi is actually one of the good guys – but
once our man has established the identity of the first victim it's not too much
of a strain for the viewer to see where the plot is going and who the brains
behind the prostitution ring is likely to be. That said, there are still a few twists
en route to the slightly abrupt
finale, one of them particularly cruel and involving Barra and Tamburi. All
this is offset, as indicated earlier, by some mostly unwelcome humour. There's
a running gag in which Germi is constantly breaking his spectacles that isn’t
too intrusive. But the front door of his beat up jalopy keeps falling off too, adding
a slapstick dimension to the proceedings; during an extended car chase, which is
played purely for chuckles, his passenger leans out and with much amusement pulls
off the back door too, hurling at the pursuing vehicle.
With a terrific
score from Luciano Michelini – which sandwiches traditional 70s cop movie
sounds between between piano-driven melodies evocative of the Confessions films (no, really!) and
Goblin's superlative work on the Argento classics – The Suspicious Death of a Minor will never be cited as one of the
greats, but it's enjoyable enough and unlikely to leave anyone with an
appreciation for the golden period of Italian filmmaking feeling disappointed.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor
hits DVD and Blu-Ray as a dual format Arrow Video release bearing the on-screen
title Too Young to Die. A brand-new
2K restoration from the original camera negative, the transfer is faultless,
with sound options available in English mono and Italian mono (with English
subtitling). Supplements are sparse, at least by Arrow standards; there's a
feature commentary from author Troy Howarth, a generous 43-minute interview
with Martino (in Italian with English subtitling) and a trailer (again in
Italian with English subs). A collector's booklet and the usual Arrow reversible
sleeve are dropped in to round off the deal.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER (This is a Region 2/Pal format release)
Lisi and Rod Steiger are “The Girl and the General,” available on DVD via the
Warner Archive Collection. The poster art on the DVD cover asks, “What happens
when the roles of man and woman are reversed?” The answer on the cover, “‘The
Girl and the General’ is what happens!”
is an Austrian general captured during WWI by Italian Private Tarasconi
(Umberto Orsini) who is separated from his unit while retreating from the
advancing Austrian Army. Realizing he will receive a reward by his superiors
for capturing and turning in the general, the private attempts to bring the
general to his Italian commanders. He has dreams of using the reward money to
buy a farm and live a quite life in the country. Where do the Italian and
Austrian lines begin and end? Who can be trusted? Outsmarted by the general,
the terrain and the confusing and changing front lines, the private is driven
by his dreams, hunger and safety when he finds an abandoned farm house. There’s
no food, but they have a place to rest for the night. The general escapes and
the private encounters the beautiful Ada (Lisi) who is equally hungry and also
seeking safe haven from the raging battle. Private Tarasconi and Ada agree to
split the reward if she will help him recapture the general and take him to the
Italian army. They find and recapture the general and they continue their trek.
private is drawn as much to Ada’s beauty as he is to the reward, but hunger
becomes the great equalizer for all three. Keeping the general their captive is
no easy task as the trio journey from one problematic location to another,
encountering Austrians and Germans, but no Italians and end up back at the
abandoned farmhouse where they started after traveling in a circle. In spite of
their partnership, Ada is not about to give in to the private’s lust for her, nor
is she about to share a precious egg she has found. The private takes the egg
from a sleeping Ada and returns the empty egg after sucking out the contents.
His hunger partially quenched, he turns to his lust for Ada, but she stops him.
He shares his dream of buying a farm and Ada warms to him with the possibility
continue their journey as the general does everything he can to outsmart them
and escape. Ada outsmarts the private using his attraction and trust of her against
him and locks him in a closet on an Austrian train car. The private soon
returns and they use money found in the farmhouse to buy a donkey and cart so
the private and general can hide in the barrel on the cart as Ada leads them
through enemy occupied territory. In one scene, Ada goes out searching for food
only to pass into an Austrian encampment. She asks for food, which they give to
her, but they have a demand for repayment. Ada endures the humiliation of being
fondled in return for potatoes until the men are ordered to leave when their
superior arrives. Upon returning to the private and the general, she lies and
says there was no food.
each try to one-up each other with their shared needs like food and shelter,
the general’s need to escape and the private’s dream of buying a farm and
marrying Ada. She simply wants to survive and uses the two men for her own ends
as they make their way to the Italian lines, but to get there they must cross a
mine field. All I will say about that is the donkey doesn’t make it and the
movie comes to a satisfying conclusion.
more accurate title for the movie could be “The Private, the Girl and the
General,” but that doesn’t have the same ring or commercial appeal as “The Girl
and the General.” Produced by Carlo Ponti, the movie was directed by Pasquale
Festa Campanile who also contributed as co-writer of the original story and is
credited as a co-screenwriter. He was also co-writer on “The Leopard” in 1963
featuring Burt Lancaster in one of his signature roles. Campanile also directed
“The Girl from Trieste,” in 1982 which featured Ben Gazzara. The movie features
terrific location shooting and a fabulous score by the great Ennio Morricone.
Has he ever delivered a bad score?
Perhaps, but there’s always added value to any movie where Morricone has made a
is not a typical war movie as there is very little in the way of combat. The
soldiers on both sides disappear for most of the movie except when they show up
as road blocks to the trio’s progress. Roles are not reversed so much as
equalized as the trio search for food, safety and shelter in a basic will to
survive. This common struggle trumps everything and brings them together as
danger blocks them at every turn. The movie is also very funny, especially when
Steiger is involved with outsmarting the easily outsmarted private. In an early
scene after being captured, the general convinces the private to take his boots
off and, after setting them aside, the general tosses them over a cliff,
forcing the private to walk in his socks until he finds suitable replacement
in the fall of 1967 by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in the U.S., the movie is well worth
a viewing. Lisi and Orsini are very good and the incomparable Steiger is very
appealing in his role as the general. The movie looks and sounds terrific and
clocks in at 103 minutes. The DVD is bare bones with no extras.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
The stars must have formed a fortuitous
alignment. Somehow, a great wrong has been righted and order has been restored
to the universe. Kino Lorber, under its
KL Classics brand, has just released “Sunset in the West,” the first-ever high
definition Blu-Ray edition of a Roy Rogers Trucolor western. This may not sound
like a big deal to some people, but for the initiated—those who grew up watching
Roy on the big screen at countless Saturday matinees in the 1950s— it is monumental.
Because, until now the only Roy Rogers movies available for home viewing were
dark, faded, and badly edited transfers released first on VHS and later DVD by
Republic Studios. Republic treated Roy’s movies with criminal disrespect. The
studio let the movies fade away with in their vaults, and then sold them to TV
where they were butchered to fit time slots. By the time they got to home video
there were a mess. For Roy’s fans, it seemed a hopeless situation that would
never be corrected. But now, thanks to a first class restoration by Kino
Lorber, you can see what John McClane was talking about in “Die Hard,” when he
told Hans he was kinda partial to Roy Rogers more than John Wayne, because: “I
really like those shirts.”
Color was an essential component of the
Rogers westerns. In addition to the western-style shirts he wore, there was the
bandana around his neck, the silver studs on his holster and gun belt, the hand-tooled
boots with touches of turquoise on them, all of which combined to make Roy
practically a living work of art. Even Trigger, his golden Palomino, billed as
“The Smartest Horse in the Movies” was outfitted with handsomely a burnished
leather saddle festooned with silver doo-dads and a Mexican-style saddle
blanket. But you could hardly see any of that on home video. Part of the
problem was the Trucolor process itself. Republic invented its own cheaper red
and green two-strip color process to save money and still compete with
Technicolor. The absence of the third blue strip resulted in more pastel shades
than Technicolor with the picture emphasizing oranges and blues. The result was
a special look that was immediately identifiable, and put Republic’s, and
especially Roy Rogers, movies sort of in a class by themselves. But the big
drawback was that Trucolor film faded quickly. Kino Lorber has done a
praiseworthy restoration, remastering “Sunset in the West,” from a 4K scan, and
the movie looks just about as good as it must have when it was first released.
It’s a significant event in the history of film restoration.
“Sunset in the West” is a typical Roy Rogers
movie. Certainly not the best he ever made, but a good one.
I would vote for “Bells of San Angelo” as the best, but I suppose it’s all a
matter of opinion. When you’re talking about the King of the Cowboys what can
you say? They’re all great. In this one Roy finds himself involved in a plot
involving gun runners. The script by screenwriting veteran Gerald Geraghty starts
with a train hijacking. (That’s another plus right there. Roy Rogers and
trains! There are several steam locomotives in the story, although it’s likely
there was only one that was used and made over to look different each time.)
The bad guys drive the trains to isolated areas, dump out the freight, and
replace it with guns to be smuggled across the border to a foreign power. The
trains are found later wrecked somewhere along the track. Roy finds out about
it when the train he was expecting to pick up the cattle he had driven to
Bordertown races right on by without even stopping. Not a man to let a thing like
that go by, Roy jumps on Trigger and races after the steaming locomotive. He
overtakes the train, jumps aboard and is immediately punched out by the
engineer and knocked off the speeding locomotive.
And that’s just the first reel of this
action-packed movie. Directed at a frenetic pace by the legendary William Witney
(one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite directors), “Sunset in the West” packs a
slew of galloping horse chases (Roy takes down two baddies riding double in one
scene), numerous fist fights (including a barroom brawl that must have used
half of Republics fabled team of stunt men), several gun fights, four or five
quick musical numbers, and a finale that takes place along the crashing waves
of a deserted beach. And all packed into a dizzying 67 minutes.
The cast includes Penny Edwards, playing the
niece of Sheriff Tad Osborne (Will Wright), an old timer who’s about to chuck
his 30-year career because he can’t solve the mystery of the highjacked trains.
The plot gets moving when Roy, is deputized and helps find out who’s behind it all.
Also on hand for comedy relief is Gordon Jones as “Splinters” a hiccupping
barber/deputy sheriff. Pierre Watkin appears as Gordon McKnight, a leading
citizen of Bordertown who seems kind of shady, and Estelita Rodrigues, who
plays Carmelita a Mexican gal singer who doubles as a spy for Deputy Splinters.
Foy Willing and the Sons of the Purple Sage are on hand to provide some of the
Kino Lorber presents the movie in a
1920X1080p transfer and in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, slightly wider
than the standard 1.33:1. Bonus features
include audio commentary by Western film historian Toby Roan, who provides
interesting info on the cast, the locations, and, just about anything else
you’d want to know about the movie. There are also previews of other westerns
in the KL catalog. There’s no question. This is one Blu-Ray you have to own. Let’s
hope there are more restorations of these classic films to come. Until then, Happy
Trails, partner, and may the Good Lord take a liking to you.
Bava's celebrated 1966 Gothic chiller Kill,
Baby...Kill! – o.t: Operazione Paura
(Operation Fear) – is something of a
masterpiece in terms of stylish tableaux, yet where engaging narrative is
concerned it somewhat fumbles the ball; the plot underpinning what is without
question a beautiful film to look at is so humdrum that I'd suggest it can
really only be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities. Whether that's
sufficient grist to warrant a visit (or indeed a revisit) is purely subjective.
the death of a woman impaled on railings in a remote East European village,
Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) summons an outside coroner, Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo
Rossi Stuart), to perform an autopsy. It transpires that the woman is the
latest of several villagers to fall prey to the malevolent ghost of a child,
Melissa Graps (Valerio Valeri). Aided by local nurse Monica Schuftan (Erika
Blanc), Eswai is compelled to probe the mystery. But the pair are soon drawn
into a hallucinogenic world where familial secrets lurk in the shadows and, as
those around them begin to perish, their own lives come under threat.
admit that the preceding synopsis reads rather intriguingly. However, even at
85-minutes Kill, Baby…Kill!'s story
feels stretched – to call it a slow-burner would be an understatement – and its
distinctly anticlimactic denouement serves only to sprinkle salt on the wound.
Bava himself worked on the screenplay alongside writers Romano Migliorini (La notte dei diavoli) and Roberto Natale
(L’isola delle svedesi), and one
really might have expected something more interesting to emerge from the
focus on the positives, as already asserted Kill,
Baby...Kill! is brimming with Bava's trademark flourishes and so can at
least be dubbed an artistic triumph. Several genuinely startling moments
involving the ghost of the little girl, the gorgeous mist-shrouded graveyard
set and the vast cobweb-strewn crypt bathed in eerie green and magenta lighting
combine to varnish the production with a surreal dreamlike sheen. In some cases,
it adopts a satisfyingly nightmarish quality, for example the dizzying sequence
in which Monica runs from the child down a vertiginous, seemingly bottomless
spiral staircase. And another when Eswai pursues a fleeing man, only to catch
up and find himself face-to-face with...himself!
footnote, I’ve never been too keen on either the original Operation Fear or Kill, Baby…Kill!
titles under which the film is so often widely identified, both of which – if
one knew absolutely nothing about it – seem to hold more the promise of a
frothy 60s spy romp than the early 1900s-set chiller that it is. Far better is
its less employed UK moniker, Curse of
the Dead, which if nothing else more honestly telegraphs its Gothic horror intent.
has been issued by Arrow Video in the UK as a dual format DVD/Blu-Ray combo.
The movie itself is a restored 2K hi-def transfer with mono English and Italian
soundtracks (English subs being provided for the latter). Bonus goodies
comprise a feature introduction and 11-minute interview with Erika Blanc (both
in Italian with English subs); a commentary from Bava expert Tim Lucas; a video
essay on devil children in Gothic horror by critic Kat Ellinger; a 25-minute
interview with Lamberto Bava (son of Mario and assistant director on this film),
in Italian with English subs; a trailer; an alternative German opening sequence
bearing the on-screen title Die Toten
Augen des Dr Dracula (The Dead Eyes
of Dr Dracula) – and I’d wager there were a few disappointed patrons among
those lured in by that outrageous
retitling! – with the credits running over different footage to that in its Kill, Baby...Kill! incarnation; a stills
gallery comprising German lobby cards and poster art; a 7-minute short entitled
Yellow that pays homage to Bava's distinctive
cinematic style; and finally a collectors booklet plus a reversible sleeve
featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER (This is a Region 2/PAL format release)
Lynch is today’s foremost surrealist. In many ways, he has taken up the mantle
begun by those artists of the 1920s who attempted to present in tangible,
visual forms the juxtapositions, bizarre logic, and beauty/horror of dreams.
Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Man Ray,
Germaine Dulac, René Magritte—to name a few.
people know Lynch from his films, but as this thoughtful and insightful
documentary reveals, he is and has always been primarily a painter. Lynch began
his career in the “art life” studying and practicing fine art… and he sort of
fell into filmmaking along the way. Even today, despite his recent foray back
into television with Twin Peaks—The
Return on Showtime, Lynch spends most of his time in his home studio
drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and painting.
film is narrated by Lynch himself as he takes the audience through moments of
his early life growing up first in the state of Montana, then Idaho,
Washington, and finally Virginia. After high school, Lynch briefly attended the
School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but he dropped out because he
wasn’t inspired. His friend Jack Fisk (future production designer on several of
Lynch’s films and future wife of actress Sissy Spacek) got the artist to join
him at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and that’s where
things started to take off.
documentary might be disappointing to Lynch fans in that it covers only his
childhood and twenties…just up to the point where he makes Eraserhead (which took four years in the mid-seventies and was
finally released in 1977). Other documentaries, such as 1997’s Pretty as a Picture, might delve into
Lynch’s more well-known feature work. However, for this unique documentary, Lynch
has provided never-before-seen home movies and photographs of his childhood,
family, and artwork. As these biographical stories are related in chronological
order, we see Lynch at work in his studio… drinking coffee, smoking, and
painting. In fact, we get a very good look at a great deal of his artwork. And
if you think Lynch’s movies are strange, wait until you see his paintings!
Stylistically, they are three-dimensional multimedia pieces. A canvas might
contain found objects, gobs of thick paint, wood and metal, odd figures and
creatures, and lettering. Fascinating stuff.
explains how he got the idea for a “painting that moved,” which resulted in his
first film, Six Men Getting Sick (Six
Times) (1967), and then moved on to make other surrealistic, avant-garde
short films such as The Alphabet and The Grandmother. These efforts led to
his moving his family in 1971 (he had gotten married in ’67 and had a child in
’68) to Los Angeles so that he could study at the AFI Conservatory. It was
there that he began his first feature film, the iconic independent
takeaway from the documentary is that Lynch evolved as an artist whenever there
were obstacles to overcome. He developed a knack for taking a bad situation and
turning it into something productive. We see this occurring repeatedly in his
tales of journeying from childhood to becoming an adult.
Criterion Collection presents the film in the company’s usual top-notch
excellence. The video quality of the Blu-ray High Definition digital master is
gorgeous—you can see every wrinkle of Lynch’s weathered face, as well as the
fine lines of his silver-white hair. Sound—always important in a Lynch film and
just as vital here—is a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio. The package is short
on supplements, though. Along with the theatrical trailer, an interview with
one of the directors, Jon Nguyen, illustrates the working process the
filmmakers had with Lynch. An essay by critic Dennis Lim appears in the
only 88 minutes, David Lynch—The Art Life
is a short but worthwhile look into the mind—and dreams—of one of today’s
most important visual artists.
Until it goes off the rails, writer/director Taylor Sheridan's "Wind River" shapes up to be a compelling murder mystery. The film's opening scene shows a young woman desperately running through a remote, snowy landscapes, obviously trying to outpace whoever or whatever is pursuing her. Ultimately, we learn her fate when Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker who is assisting the police in the search for the missing girl, stumbles upon her body. Turns out she had been sexually abused prior to her death, which took place on the barren Wind River reservation for Native Americans in Wyoming. Cory has to deliver the bad news to the girl's father (Gil Birmingham), whose wife is already suffering from a mental disorder. Ironically, the victim, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), was the best friend of Cory's own daughter, who died under tragic and unsolved circumstances a few years prior. Both men are now forced to cope with staggering grief even as Cory continues to assist police in pursuing whoever killed Natalie. The FBI sends a single agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to head the investigation. She is given an arms-length reception by the local constable on the reservation (Graham Greene in an excellent performance) because she seems like an ill-equipped city slicker. It will come as no surprise to anyone that she proves to be a quick learner and earns everyone's respect with her courage and brainpower.
"Wind River" is an indie film getting an unusually wide release (it credits twenty-five people as producers/co-producers). It boasts outstanding cinematography by Ben Richardson, who makes the bleakness of the Wyoming winter landscape a truly foreboding place. Taylor Sheridan, who specializes in films about rugged individualism, has considerable skill with his actors, and gets top-notch performances from Renner, Olsen and every actor who appears even in the smallest role (kudos to casting directors Lauren and Jordan Bass.) In terms of acting and atmosphere, the film is commendable on every level. However, Sheridan the screenwriter lets down Sheridan the director with a script that meanders half-way through. Just as I was crediting him for avoiding gun battles and concentrating on character development, it devolves into a shocking act of violence that leads to a flashback sequence that depicts another despicable act of violence that brutally depicts the sexual abuse of a young woman. While the scene is designed to shock, it also becomes somewhat prurient and difficult to view. The script falls off a cliff as Cory gets closer to resolving the murder largely because there is no "Aha!" moment that every good mystery commands. Sheridan provides plenty of red herrings but an expected link to two key elements of the story that never materializes (I can't say more without issuing a "Spoiler Alert!") What's left is an ambitious and impressive effort that falls short of its possibilities. Renner makes a stalwart leading man but Olsen's character seems like needless window dressing; someone tossed into the mix to mitigate the otherwise all-male dominance of the story line. The film has its heart in the right place, demonstrating the shame of having Native Americans still living on remote reservations, but Sheridan can't make up his mind about whether he wants to tell a compelling mystery story or make a social commentary. The result is a mishmash of intelligent dialogue mingled with needlessly exploitive violence.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVE.
“GHOSTS OF MONUMENT
By Raymond Benson
great John Ford made many outstanding westerns, and My Darling Clementine (1946) is certainly one of them. I would
argue that not since Stagecoach (1939)
had there been as good a picture in the genre, and it didn’t even star John
the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clanton Gang, and the gunfight at the
O.K. Corral, the film is hogwash as far as the truth is concerned. But as pure
entertainment, it’s right up there with the best of the classic westerns that
have given us stylistic and physical imagery that is today considered cliché.
And in order to become cliché, whatever it
is has to have been great to begin with. It must be a trend setter, a
groundbreaker, an artistic decision that resulted in an iconic piece of
celluloid. Much of what John Ford did accomplished just that. My Darling Clementine has it all—the
dumpy saloon with the honky tonk piano player and free-roaming prostitutes,
“Injuns,” cattle rustlers and thieves, stagecoaches and horses, ornery
villains, and, most of all—the scenery of Monument Valley, Utah.
The landscape of Monument Valley is a
character itself in Ford’s westerns. Even though we’ve seen the same buttes and
rock formations dozens of times, we always buy that we’re somewhere in the
“west,” in that mythical land of Hollywood archetypes. And what better
archetype is there to play our hero, Wyatt Earp (the film was loosely adapted
from Earp’s autobiography), than the inimitable Henry Fonda. Walter Brennan
makes a surprisingly nasty villain as Old Man Clanton. Linda Darnell, as saloon
girl Chihuahua is a stand out. More problematic is the casting of Victor Mature
as Doc Holliday. While the actor displays the requisite angst in the character,
he plays Holliday with no humor whatsoever, and it doesn’t quite work. After a
while he just becomes annoying for being grumpy and moody all the time.
Nevertheless, this is one of the
classics, folks. And, if you study it closely, there is a singular darkness in
the hearts of the characters—even the “good” ones—that suggests these
historical figures are now nothing but ghosts of a tall-tale-past where life is
cheap and death comes unexpectedly. Monument Valley, for all its beauty, is
fairly spooky at night—and much of Clementine
is shot at night. Even the blowing
dust during the climactic gun battle creates an eerie, ghost town effect. Clementine
is one of Ford’s blackest, most cynical films, but it’s cleverly disguised
as mainstream Hollywood entertainment. The picture has great atmosphere and
action, gorgeous black and white cinematography by Joseph MacDonald, and that
infectious song, “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” which I believe I first heard
sung by Huckleberry Hound. And while it
might offend nitpicky historians as to its accuracy... who cares? Legend is
myth and vice versa. Clementine doesn’t
possess the originality of Stagecoach nor
the sucker punch that is The Searchers,
but it definitely stands as one of Ford’s essential pictures.
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration
of the theatrical release version looks terrific—I must say that I am very
impressed with Criterion’s handling of black and white films made prior to the
sixties. As with the earlier Fox release on DVD, the disk includes the early
“pre-release” version of the film, a work-in-progress as producer and studio boss
Daryl F. Zanuck re-cut Ford’s original submission. Further cutting ensued to
create the theatrical release version, and it is most interesting to explore
the differences in the two cuts. Another
port over from the Fox disc is the excellent comparison of the two versions by
film preservationist Robert Gitt.
New extras include a video essay by
Ford scholar Tag Gallagher; a new interview with western historian Andrew C.
Isenberg about the real Wyatt Earp; Bandit’s
Wager—and early silent short directed by Ford’s brother Francis, and
featuring John as an actor in a supporting role (!); television documentary
excerpts about Monument Valley and Tombstone, Arizona; and a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from 1947
featuring Fonda and Cathy Downs (who plays Clementine in the film).
“Only one thing counts: either you have money and
you’re someone, or you don’t have any and you’re a doormat.” So states Giulio
Sacchi (Tomas Milian), as he plans to kidnap the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy
business-owner. Together with two small-time hoods, who are more accustomed to
snatching purses than snatching rich girls, Sacchi hopes to take 500 million
lira, enough never to have to work again. Having grown up on the streets with
no parents or opportunity, Sacchi constantly rails against the system. He
believes he is a genius and can commit crime because the world owes him a
living; in reality he is short-tempered, dangerous and cowardly, as he proves
when he guns down a traffic officer whilst acting as getaway driver for a bank
robbery. This hasty murder brings swift police attention and the gang are
nearly caught, leading them to beat Sacchi and reject him from their organised
crime ring. This spurs him on to plan his perfect big score, but his short
temper causes him to leave a string of dead bodies in his wake, which soon
brings tough cop Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) hot on his trail.
Human fits what the Italians called the poliziotteschi, a genre which depicted
corrupt or inept cops and violent criminality. The 1970s was an incredibly
violent period in Italy’s history, often referred to as Anni di piombo, or the Years of Lead, when both left- and
right-wing extremists engaged in acts of terrorism including bombings and
political assassinations. The authorities seemed unable to bring any form of
control to this unstable and terrifying situation and the Italian films of the
period charted this chaos and mistrust through explicit depictions of crime and
horror. Although Milan is now a popular tourist destination for its important
art and architecture, Almost Human
depicts it as a city which looks more like the mean streets of 1970s New York,
filled with crumbling buildings, ugly apartment blocks, abandoned quaysides and
patches of rubbish-strewn wasteland. This comparison is surely no coincidence,
as the poliziotteschi, as well as
addressing issues of contemporary Italy, borrows heavily from the tough
American crime thrillers of the period like The
French Connection (1971) and Dirty
Harry (1971). The film’s original Italian title, Milano odia: la polizia non puo’ sparare, translates as “Milan
hates: the police can’t shoot”, which sounds as if it is criticising the
targeting abilities of the local constabulary. What is actually implied by this
is that the bureaucracy means that the police are powerless to stop the
criminals. Even if they are caught and arrested, as Grandi complains, they are
released again twenty-four hours later to go out and steal and kill again.
Sacchi is so blasé about killing people because he believes no one will notice
another body in Milan.
Human may be derivative of the American cop thriller,
but it is also an exciting and shocking political critique of Italian society,
where women and children can be gunned down in cold blood and the police are
powerless to stop it unless they step outside the law they are sworn to
Director Umberto Lenzi is a legend of Italian
cinema. Like many who worked outside the arthouse or neo-realist traditions of
Visconti or Fellini, Lenzi made films within every popular genre from
sword-and-sandal to giallo, from sex comedies to cannibal horror. Like his
contemporaries he made whatever was popular, whether for the local or
international audiences, so his name can even be found on spy films like 008: Operation Exterminate (1965),
spaghetti westerns such as Pistol for a
Hundred Coffins (1968) and zombie splatterthons like the deliriously
ridiculous Nightmare City (1980). Shameless sat him down for an exclusive
interview for this new Blu-ray, which features an HD restoration from the
original negative. He is a fascinating figure whose career spans over fifty
years and he has plenty of stories to tell about his time in the film industry.
Also included are some archival interviews with Lenzi, co-star Ray Lovelock and
writer Ernesto Gastaldi, himself legendary in the Italy with over 100 film
credits. Tomas Milian, a Cuban-American who had a tremendous career both in
Europe and in the U.S, and who passed away earlier in 2017, is also interviewed
and proved himself to be equally entertaining as he was in his movies.
The Blu-ray comes in the traditional Shameless
yellow case with both original and alternative artwork. With a terrific
heavy-rock score from none other than Ennio Morricone, Almost Human is an exciting film from the golden period of Italian
exploitation cinema and is not to be missed.
“Starring the Plaza” by Patty Farmer (Beaufort Books, Hardback, Illustrated, 130 pages ISBN#: 0825308461)
One of New York’s biggest film stars isn’t even a person…it’s The
Plaza, the legendary hotel on Central Park where numerous classic movies have
been shot. Author Patty Farmer reverently captures the allure of the fabled
place in her new book “Starring the Plaza”, which pays tribute to one of
Gotham’s truly grand dames (she dates back to 1907). Cinematically, some celluloid gems stand out in our
minds: Cary Grant being kidnapped there in North
By Northwest, Streisand and Redford as briefly reunited former lovers outside the
hotel in The Way We Were and Walter
Matthau starring in numerous Neil Simon comedy skits in Plaza Suite. The wonderful anecdotes are accompanied by 180 photos,
making this an irresistible addition to any movie lover’s book collection.
Here is the official press release:
From the day it opened on October 1st 1907, the lavish 19-story
French Renaissance building on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Central
Park South was simply the grandest hotel in the world. It’s no wonder that from that day to this,
The Plaza’s lavish interiors and exteriors have remained sought-after settings
for films, TV shows, commercials and music videos as well as home to the most
significant social events of their day.
In “Starring The Plaza”,
a labor of love conceived and created by pop-cultural historian Patty Farmer,
the hotel shines in a whole new light - a Klieg light, as it were. Page after
page of moments captured from movies, plays, TV shows, parties, premieres, and
press events form a new kind of chronicle of New York’s favorite landmark.
Readers will find all of their favorite Plaza-on-film moments here: Alfred
Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; to
everybody’s favorite tear-jerker, The Way
We Were; to Neil Simon’s uproarious Plaza
Suite and Barefoot in the Park,
the grand lobby in Home Alone 2, plus
a few they might not have been aware of.
There are even some Hollywood recreations of the place
included—Plaza Pretenders—but it’s clear that no amount of movie magic could
ever beat the real thing. It was this combination of The Plaza’s own special
magic stirred with Hollywood’s heady mix that has made the legendary Fifth
Avenue address utterly timeless.
From Shirley MacLaine scaling the Pulitzer Fountain to a
frizz-headed Barbra Streisand handing out political leaflets, The Plaza has
co-starred with the best in the business. And from Liz Taylor to The Beatles to
the showroom of the Persian Room, anyone who is anyone has stayed there, partied there, performed there and
“Starring The Plaza” is the first-ever visual celebration of the Plaza
on stage, screen, and in society, and its author Patty Farmer has scoured the
archives to show it off in all its glory. Legendary movie star Mitzi Gaynor provides the Foreword and discloses a
few of her own adventures at the iconic hotel.
The Hollywood Reporter has published an article detailing the major players who are vying to gain at least some control over rights to the James Bond franchise, which -according to the article- is deemed to be under-utilizing its true potential for profitability. Warner Brothers is said to be the front runner for gaining distribution rights for the next film in the series, set for release in November 2019. Daniel Craig will star in what he has stated will be his last appearance in a Bond film. Among the top bidders in competition with Warners are newly-emerging entertainment powerhouses Amazon and Apple, both of which would like to expand the Bond image into mediums beyond feature films. However, the rights situation regarding the franchise is a complex one. Eon Productions, founded by the series' original producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, owned the franchise outright and had a long term distribution deal with United Artists. The two men had a strained relationship and when Saltzman decided to sell his share of the franchise in the mid-1970s, he snubbed Broccoli by selling his interests directly to United Artists. The partnership between Broccoli and UA was a friendly and fruitful one but by 1989 the old guard at the studio had left and an acrimonious relationship developed between the new top brass and Broccoli, who fumed over what he felt was a bungled marketing campaign for "Licence to Kill" in 1989. Broccoli opted to put the series on hiatus until 1995 when a new regime had taken over under the auspices of MGM, which had taken over United Artists years before. When the series resumed with "GoldenEye", Cubby Broccoli had passed the oversight of the Bond franchise on to his daughter Barbara and her step brother Michael G. Wilson. Cubby, who died in 1996, lived to see "GoldenEye" become a blockbuster and the Bond franchise reinvigorated under his heirs.
Daniel Craig took over the Bond role from Pierce Brosnan's successful run, and Sony has distributed each of the four films in which he has starred. The forthcoming Bond film is up for distribution bids and has attracted major studios. Unusually, the deal is only for one picture. Profits for the studio that distributes Bond films can be relatively slim compared to the sizable budgets they must front. However, the Bond franchise still has a great deal of prestige and a durable following. The last two films grossed almost $2 billion internationally and the video and merchandising rights are also very lucrative. Although the major bidders would like to control all rights to the franchise outright, in order to do so the winning studio would have to convince both MGM and Eon Productions to sell their interests in Bond. To date, there is no indication that either party, let alone both of them, intend to do so. Click here for more.
Robert E. Kent’s production
of Invisible Invaders is merely one
of a long string of modestly budgeted 1950’s science-fiction films. As such it’s almost inevitable that at some
interval during the film the healthful actor John Agar will turn up. In this movie
the always dependable Agar – rocking a serious military buzz-cut - is cast in a
leading man role as Major Bruce Jay of the United States Air Force. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, this sinewy,
lantern-jawed actor would star in a number of bona fide sci-fi classics as Revenge
of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955),
and The Mole People (1956). The score of sci-fi and horror movies he
would appear in from 1955 through 1962 weren’t all of such high cinematic or
popular culture caliber to be sure; nonetheless most were enjoyable programmers
if you happened to be a popcorn-munching juvenile or a mostly uncritical adult
with a soft spot for low-budget monster movies. In this latter category you might find apologist fans – and I’m one of
them, truth be told - of Agar’s turns in Daughter
of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Brain from
Planet Arous (1957) and Attack of the
Puppet People (1958). These films
weren’t bottom-of-barrel offerings, but they could hardly be considered
particularly buoyant either.
I suppose that part of the
reason I love the low-brow end of 1950’s science-fiction is that there’s always
something much worse out there still to be discovered. We already know of the complete calamities,
the cinematic trash that nonetheless never fails to entertain. Maybe the on-screen monster we’re supposed to
fear is little more than a gorilla wearing a deep-sea diving helmet (Robot Monster) or perhaps a rolled-up
carpet with pasted-on eyes (The Creeping
Unknown), or the busty but empty-headed Fire
Maidens of Outer Space. These films,
for all their charms, are simply not good – at least not in any conventional
sense. The true fans, of course, will
generally excuse or explain away a film’s shortcomings and wince-producing missteps. Hey,
the producers did what they could with what they had; the film’s production
schedule was too rushed etc. etc.… This is willful, but empty devotion and I confess that I suffer from it.
If the appearance of John
Agar isn’t enough to sound your preliminary bad-film alarm bell, I suppose the additional
presence of the skeletal Shakespearean actor John Carradine in the cast should alert
one that there might be some cinematic rough-sledding ahead. Of the hundreds of films – and television
shows - Carradine would appear in over a long but sadly only occasionally
distinguished career, only a handful are truly great. Carradine is fifth-billed in the ending
credit roll of Invisible Invaders, and
I guess this placement is fair. The
veteran actor only appears in two scenes of any real consequence (and the first
is so brief that it might be missed in the blinking of an eye). During his too-brief portrayal of military-scientist
Karol Noymann, the lanky Carradine is seemingly incinerated in the film’s
opening montage. But as this is a
borderline horror film, the ill-fated scientist’s fiery demise proves to be
merely temporal. It’s clearly too early in the film to confidently write off the
possibility of a second appearance.
That second coming arrives
soon enough when Carradine – or, at least, something in the personage of
Carradine – comes knocking on the door of his old friend and scientific colleague
Adam Penner (Philip Tonge). Technically,
Penner is not visited by Noymann; instead he’s met by an alien who is temporarily
utilizing the scientist’s corpse as an agent of mobility. The gaunt, expressionless corpse-shell of
Noymann coldly informs Penner (in that peerless Carradine basso tone) that the
earth will be destroyed in twenty-four hours time by a merciless alien
invasion. This has been deemed necessary
since the previously “slow scientific developments” of the earthlings – their
activities having long been monitored by the aliens from their outer space
perch - have recently accelerated… as has their misuse of atomic energy. The aliens are now prepared to invade earth and
set up a “Dictatorship of the Universe.” It seems as though 20,000 years prior – just in case our planet’s
inhabitants started getting too smart for their own good, I suppose – the
aliens proactively established on the moon a conveniently invisible and
“impregnable base for its space ships.” The militarists and scientists on planet earth never picked up on these
moon bases as… well, they’re invisible and we couldn’t see them.
Among devotees of horror and mystery-adventure films,
director Jesús “Jess” Franco remains a divisive character. His earliest, more traditionally constructed
films - say The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)
and The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966) - are
usually held in some level of regard amongst traditionalists, while more
adventuresome moviegoers wax rhapsodic over his later perplexing, exploitative
and occasionally pornographic art film exercises. Franco’s The
Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and The
Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) are more conventional exemplars of traditional movie-making,
not as challenging to audiences as some of his more experimental post 1972
work. Both films are now available on a double-feature special edition Blu-ray
from Blue Underground.
The five Fu Manchu films produced by Harry Alan Towers from
1965 through 1970 are occasionally referenced – and perhaps dismissed - as weak
James Bond pastiches, but such description is misleading and unsatisfying. The Fu Manchu films as conceived by Towers and
Co. are akin to cinematic comic strips for adults – the two final strips admittedly
marketed to a more leering segment of mature audiences. Jess Franco was something of a
Johnny-Come-Lately to the series, perhaps a budget-minded choice of director. The first two films (The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) were helmed by Australian Don Sharp,
the series’ third entry, The Vengeance of
Fu Manchu (1968) directed by Brit Jeremy Summers. For what would prove to be the final two
entries of the franchise, the producers went to the continent to seek out an
Jess Franco admitted to being surprised at having been
asked to direct the series’ fourth and fifth entries. In many respects the eccentric Spaniard was
worthy of Tower’s consideration as he shared the producer’s lifelong
enchantment with the comic-strip sensibilities of such popular dime store caliber-novelists
as Sax Rohmer and Edgar Wallace. But
while he manages to bring some sense of old world British Empire derring-do to
the screen, his two Fu Manchu films - with their attendant misfires and lurid
nude sequences – stand apart from the first three films in the series and remain
resolutely Franco in construction.
How so? Well, the
bevy of beautiful, half-naked women hanging sorrowfully in bondage chains is a
continually present and reoccurring Jess Franco fantasy. Christopher Lee’s co-star, Tsai Chin, recalls
the distinguished British actor’s discomfort parading in his Fu Manchu wardrobe
past a gaggle of chained, half-naked actresses. The epitome of gentlemanly British behavior, Lee was visibly distressed by
such staging. In Chin’s estimation,
while the cultured and mannered Lee was most determinedly a renaissance man, he
was certainly “not a womanizer.”
Chin, the Chinese-born British actress then best known
internationally for her small role as agent “Ling” in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, would have had some
insight in this matter. She returns in The Blood of Fu Manchu for her fourth outing
as Lin Tang, the sadistic, malevolent daughter of the mad villain. As in the series’ previous entries, Chin
portrays Tang as completely dispassionate, commanding her minions to torture
and humiliate innocents and enemies alike with merciless Oriental fervor.
In an interview with Tsai Chin years on and included here
as a bonus feature, the informed actress admits to having had to repeatedly
“search her conscience” to justify her participation in the Fu Manchu franchise. She was progressive enough to recognize that
the Sax Rohmer novels were unapologetically racist in their construction. Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series, the first novel having
been published in 1912, were written as blowback in the decade following the long
simmering anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-Christian, and decidedly anti-British
Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901. But Chin was also keenly aware of racism in
the modern film industry; there were, simply, few opportunities for “ethnic” actors
to get work of anytime, so she soldiered on with the series despite her
In truth, the actress was sadly given very little
do. Chin believed, very accurately, that
the character of Lin Tang - as written by one “Peter Welbeck” - was completely
one dimensional. The actress was born a
year following MGM’s own esteemed Boris Karloff/Myrna Loy vehicle, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). In this pre-code film, the sultry Loy brashly
teased Lin Tang as a seductress and nymphomaniac. It’s extremely baffling why – in the swinging
sixties and with such nudity and bondage envelope-pushers as Franco and Towers steering
the enterprise – Chin’s Lin Tang was so wasted, cast as little more than a
remorseless, cruel bitch.
Christopher Lee wouldn’t suffer any moral quandaries as a
Caucasian playing an Asian villain with exaggerated epicanthic
folds – the responsibility of an actor, after all, is to effectively pretend
and make an audience believe that he or she is someone they are not. Regardless, the lanky Lee would admit
disappointment with the series as a whole. It was his opinion that, as had Hammer’s popular Dracula series, the Fu
Manchu franchise ran out of steam very quickly, that the earliest film had been
the finest and that the enterprise should have wrapped immediately following. It’s there, however, that the similarities
end. Lee’s exasperation with the
producing team at Hammer is well documented, but the actor - very interestingly
- seemed to carry little animus for Harry Alan Towers.
I’m a sucker for car chases. Not the
perfunctory, last-minute “Hey, this movie needs a car chase!” variety, but the
kind that comes as a result of a particular plot point wherein someone or some group has to get away from some other
group. While most new car chases such as TheFast and the Furious sort are usually
accomplished through CGI, I find that this sleight-of-hand fakery virtually
abolishes all tension. The best ones that I have seen all did it for real
through innovative and unprecedented filming techniques and excellent editing: Grand Prix (1966), Vanishing Point (1967), Bullitt
(1968), The Seven-Ups (1973), The Blues Brothers (1980), The Road Warrior (1981), The Terminator (1984), F/X (1986), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and The Town (2010) all have action sequences that put the full wonder
of film editing on display.
There are two major car chases in the
late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, which opened on Friday, September 25, 1998, and
it’s the second and longer one that ranks up there in the pantheon of The Greatest
Car Chases Ever Filmed. The French
Connection (1971) and To Live and Die
in L.A. (1985) are the granddaddies of car chases in my humble opinion and Ronin’s is certainly in the top ten,
with a stupendous wrong-way-driving-against-incoming-traffic sequence through a
tunnel in France to composer Elia
Cmiral’s exciting score.
The title of “Ronin” is originally a
reference to the feudal period of Japan relating to a samurai who has become
masterless following his master’s death as a result of the samurai’s failure to
protect him. To earn a living, the samurai wanders from place to place
attempting to gain work from others. For the uninitiated, title cards prior to
the film’s opening credits inform us of this. This name relates to the film as
several mercenaries meet for the purpose of stealing an important silver case.
Sam (Robert DeNiro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), and Spence
(Sean Bean) and several others are the persons for hire. Deirdre (Natascha
McElhorne) is the one who called them all together but she offers little in the
way of an explanation as to what the contents are. Like in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), they don’t know
one another and work under the assumption that all involved are trustworthy
which eventually will be their undoing. Now ya see, if they has listened to the
James Poe episode “Blood Bath” on the old time radio show Escape!, none of this would have ever happened! Yeah…
Sam used to work for the CIA, Vincent
is a “fixer”, Spence is a former Special Air Service expert in weaponry, Gregor
is an expert in electronics, and Larry (Skipp
Sudduth) is one of the drivers. Sam is the most inquisitive and probably has
the most to lose. They don’t discuss their past and are eager to get paid. Sam almost
acts like the ringleader, but he has some serious competition after they secure
their objective and are double-crossed. It then becomes a game of who can trust
who (naturally, the answer is no one). There are some really good supporting
performances by Michael Lonsdale (I hadn’t seen him in a theater since Moonraker!) and Jonathan Pryce and the
action always keeps moving forward but unlike today’s films, the action
sequences are well-staged and edited and have depth to them. A terrific
addition to Mr. Frankenheimer’s filmography.
heavyweights Columbia and Universal produced as many serials as Republic
Pictures from 1929-1956, the latter studio is generally best known for its
exciting sound-era chapter-plays.
Universal and the less widely known Mascot Pictures were in the game the
earliest; both studios began releasing their sound serials in 1929. Mascot would only last six years or so.
Universal – choosing to concentrate exclusively on the production of feature
films – effectively got out of the serial business in 1946. Republic and Columbia hung on to the production
of chapter-plays the longest; they released their final serials in 1955 and
wasn’t only a serials factory. The
studio was in the low budget feature filmmaking business as well, busily
churning out a dizzying array of westerns, adventure pictures, and mysteries. They would test the box-office potentials of
the horror film market during the 1940s with limited success. As a second-tier “Poverty Row” studio,
Republic would enjoy a less distinguished track record in the horror film realm
than, say, Monogram Pictures. The latter
studio would occasionally tap the talents of such moonlighting film ghouls as
Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco, and Lionel Atwill. Dutifully exploiting the popular culture
trends of the day, Republic would soon move into the production sci-fi serials
beginning with King of the Rocket Men
(1949). In the next five years the
studio would knock out a number of similar themed serials with The Invisible Monster (1950), Flying Disc Man from Mars (1951), Radar Men from the Moon (1952), and Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952).
Sholem’s Tobor The Great (1954), now
out on Blu Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, was one of Republic’s earliest
non-serial feature films of the “Silver Age” of Sci-Fi. Though more of a timepiece curiosity than a
great film, old-school sci-fi fans – at least those with long memories - will
welcome Tobor The Great as a valuable
addition to their private collection. The year 1954 was, to be sure, a good one for devotees of sci-fi
cinema. Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea managed to garner the studio two
Academy Awards. Universal unleashed The Creature from the Black Lagoon in
glorious 3-D and, not to be outdone, Warner Bros. released a swarm of giant
radioactive ants collectively known as Them!
on the city of Los Angeles. Tobor The Great is not even remotely as
entertaining nor well crafted as the three above mentioned films, but it’s
arguably no better or worse than such other 1954 efforts as Devil Girl from Mars or Roger Corman’s Monster from the Ocean Floor.
obvious that Republic’s target audience for Tobor
The Great was the juvenile market. We’re introduced early on to Brian “Gadge” Roberts (Billy Chapin), a ten
year old whiz kid who is a prodigal student of mathematics and the sciences. We soon learn that young Brian’s proclivities
for the disciplines are at least partly inherited. The boy and his mother Janice (Karen Booth) have
been living comfortably in the home of his maternal grandfather ever since the
boy’s father had been killed while serving in Korea.
grandfather happens to be the kindly Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor
Holmes), a research scientist working for the C.I.F.C., an acronym for the Civil
Interplanetary Flight Commission. The commission’s principal concern is with helping guarantee America’s front-runner
status in space travel, rocketry, and guided missile launches. The professor, an expert in astrophysics and
aerodynamics, studiously labors away in a secreted wine cellar repurposed as a modern
subterranean experimental laboratory.
plot of Dario Argento’s 1985 thriller Phenomena
has long been the subject of ridicule and derision by critics and fans alike
since its initial release. The inevitable complaints about the film range from
the bad dubbing and stiff performances to the ludicrous notion that insects can
be employed as detectives in a homicide investigation (this is true and has
actually been done, providing the inspiration for the film). If the film does
not sound familiar, that could be attributed to the fact that Phenomena was severely cut by 33 minutes
and retitled Creepers when it opened
in the States on Friday, August 30, 1985.
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) is a fourteen year-old student attending an
all-girls school in Switzerland while her movie star father is away for the
better part of a year shooting a film. Her mother, who left the family when
Jennifer was a child, is merely mentioned but never seen. Unfortunately, her
roommate Sophie (Federica
Mastroianni) has just informed her that the school is
beset by a killer who stalks girls their age and kills them. Well, that’s unfortunate! You would think that
someone would order the school closed and the girls sent away. As you can
imagine, this doesn’t sit too well with Jennifer who suffers from a bad case of
sleepwalking and manages to find herself embroiled in the very murders she was
hoping to avoid. She meets entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), a
wheelchair-bound Scot who lacks a Scottish accent but possesses an avuncular
disposition that endears Jennifer to him and his chimpanzee Inga who doubles as
his nurse. Fortunately for Jennifer, he is aiding the police in their
investigation into the murder of a Danish tourist (Fiore Argento, the
director’s eldest daughter) and the disappearance of McGregor’s former aid.
Together with the help of McGregor, Inga (yes, the chimp!) and a very large
fly, Jennifer sets off to locate the murderer. When she does, she nearly
Connelly was chosen by Mr. Argento to play the lead as he had seen her in
Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in
America (1984). His decision to set the film in the Swiss Alps is
unorthodox but provides the perfect backdrop to the story as the scenery is
utterly breathtaking. He also makes terrific use of the Steadi-cam and it never
Phenomena has been released on home video more times than I can
count, but the new Blu-ray from Synapse Films is gorgeous and has completely
different extras than the 2011 Arrow Video release which had the more
well-known 110-minute cut and an array of then-newly-produced extras. Phenomena has more detractors than
admirers if you believe what you read, and even staunch proponents of Mr.
Argento’s vision (Maitland McDonagh and Alan Jones) have written off the film
as silly. However, the amount of love and dedication that has been lavished
upon this film restoring it to its former glory on Blu-ray says volumes about
those who cherish it. This set is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the
price of an upgrade as it sports the following:
set comes with two Blu-rays which consist of three (3) different cuts of the
film, all available in high-definition for the first time ever in one
collector's edition package:
the 83-minute United States Creepers cut in HD
the 110-minute International Phenomena cut in HD
the 116-minute English/Italian hybrid
audio Phenomena cut in HD
In days of old, American movie audiences were often shown a charity promotional short for the Will Rogers Institute, which provided vital research into debilitating medical diseases. At the completion of the film, theater ushers (remember them?) would walk through the audience soliciting contributions for the charity. Many major stars cut promo shorts for the Will Rogers Institute. In this one, shown in the summer of 1969, Clint Eastwood makes the appeal following clips of action scenes from "Two Mules for Sister Sara" and "Coogan's Bluff".
John Wayne's estate has recently launched a line of official liquors based on the Duke's drinking preferences. Wayne Enterprises, which is run by the Duke's son Ethan, produces brandy and bourbon in accordance with the Duke's taste. Wayne was from a generation of hard drinkers but never developed a dependency on liquor. In an article for the Daily Beast, Ethan recalls interesting anecdotes about his father's drinking habits. Contrary to his popular image, Wayne appreciated fine wines and champagnes...but he wasn't so sophisticated that he ever built his own wine cellar. Instead, he kept Dom Perignon and expensive wines stored in his garage! To read the article, click here. To visit the official site of Duke branded liquors, click here.