Blue Underground’s double-feature Blu Ray issue of Code 7… Victim 5 and Mozambique is a generous release considering
the company chose to simultaneously issue both films as standalone DVDs.Both films are among the earliest big screen
efforts of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers.Both were adapted from Tower’s own
semi-original scenarios (under his usual pseudonym of “Peter Welbeck”) and both
were penned by the Australian screenwriter Peter Yeldham with British director Robert
Lynn at the helm.
Both men had been working in television and, like Towers,
were now gingerly testing the waters of the international movie business.The films, modest thrillers financed by
Tower’s UK Company “Towers of London,” nonetheless share a continental roster
of technicians and actors.The films are
serviceably entertaining as thrillers, but are most ambitious in conveying a
jet-setting ‘60s ambiance.The fact that
Towers brought his international crew to southern Africa to film is the most
notable feature of both efforts.
“Africa is changing,” the ruthless drug smuggler Da Silva
sighs to a shady Arabian client in Mozambique
(1964).“The best days are
gone.”Indeed they were… or soon would
be.Just as location shooting was being
completed on this fictional thriller set in the tiny, East African province of
Mozambique, a coalition of real-life indigenous anti-colonialists and communist
guerilla fighters were combining to upset centuries-long Portuguese rule.As a decade-long bloody civil war would soon
follow in the wake of the filming of this Technicolor/Technoscope drama, it’s unlikely
that any subsequent team of filmmakers from British or continental Europe would
be warmly welcomed in the years going forward.
The South African locations of this disc’s companion film
Code 7… Victim 5 are cosmopolitan and
glittering in presentation; conversely the photography of the plaintive Mozambique
countryside captures a far more sober and undeveloped region.Aside from breathless images capturing
beautiful oceanside views - sightlines unblemished by tourist constructions -
the countryside of Mozambique circa
1963 is revealed as poor and agricultural.
The two films offered on this disc do share similarities
aside from their exotic African settings.Not the least of these is that both films open with very public
assassinations of characters mostly tangential to the film’s plotlines.Code 7
opens with the daylight murder – by a team of menacing clown-faced assassins –
during Capetown’s New Year’s Eve Carnival parade.Mozambique
opens similarly with a mysterious assassination atop the winding, ancient stone
stairwells of old Lisbon.
American actor Steve Cochran plays Brad Webster, a down-on-his-luck Cessna
pilot.We first encounter Webster as he
trawls about Lisbon’s bleak waterfront in search of employment.His blacklisting as a pilot-for-hire is
understandable as his previous assignment didn’t go all that well.Both of his passengers were killed in a crash
of his piloted small craft, leaving Webster the lone survivor.
For better or worse, his fortunes change following a
desperate, alcohol fueled fight in a waterfront saloon.Faced with a probable sixty day jail sentence
for vagrancy and public fisticuffs, Lisbon authorities mysteriously offer Webster
an alternative.A certain Colonel Valdez
residing in Mozambique is looking to hire a small-craft pilot on the down
low.The police offer Webster one-way airfare
from Lisbon to their colonial territory should he choose to accept the deal.
He does.Once aboard
his Lufthansa flight to Mozambique,
the sweating heavily, PTSD-afflicted Webster meets the comely blond Christina
(Vivi Bach).Christina too,
coincidentally, was also sent a one-way ticket at the behest of the mysterious
Colonel Valdez.So begins an improbable
romance between this middle-aged and craggy American and a beautiful young
woman in her twenties.In truth, actor
Cochran is perhaps a bit too long-in-the-tooth to pull off this charade as a
dashing hero and paramour.
In the opening scene of Republic Pictures “The Man Who
Died Twice,” (1950) a car drives along a mountain road and two cops in a patrol
car remark that it’s nightclub owner T. J. Brennon (Don Megowan) passing by.
Next thing you know the car goes off a cliff and explodes in flames. Then a
woman (Vera Ralston) gets out of a cab in front of her apartment building and
looks up at the balcony where two men are fighting. She shrieks in horror as
one of the men comes plummeting down and lands on the sidewalk at her feet. Splat!
She watches as the other man climbs up a fire escape ladder to the roof. But
not before a third man appears on the balcony and the guy on the fire escape
shoots him. Vera Ralston faints from all the excitement and falls on the
pavement next to the fallen corpse.
The cops show up almost immediately, revealing that the
two dead men are members of the narcotics squad and the unconscious woman (whom
they just leave lying there on the concrete until the ambulance arrives) is
none other than Lynn Brennon, wife, now widow, of T. J. Brennon, the guy who
went over the cliff. All this in just the first few minutes of this low-budget
70-minute crime movie directed at a frantic pace by Joe Kane, veteran of
countless Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies., and penned by Richard C. Sarafian,
who would later be best known as the director of “Vanishing Point” (1971), the
ultimate car-chase movie.
“The Man Who Died Twice” is a pulpy story that borrows a
lot from other crime and gangster movies of that era. It’s a coincidence, I
suppose, that this film was released the same week as Don Siegel’s “The
Lineup,” but the similarities in the two films are pretty striking. The
McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everybody’s after) in both films is a missing
stash of heroin. In both films, dangerous drug dealers want their drugs back
and will stop at nothing to get them. In both films two of the more interesting
characters are a couple of gunsels who arrive from out of town to get the goods
back for their employers and in both films the heroin is stuffed inside a doll.
It makes you wonder if Serafian and Stirling Silliphant, who wrote “The Lineup,”
had some kind of competition going to see who could turn out the better script
using the same story elements. Silliphant wins that one hands down.
The gunsels In “The Lineup,” are played by Eli Wallach
and Robert Keith. Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan handle the roles of Hart and
Santoni in “The Man Who Died Twice.” While not quite on a level with Wallach
and Keith, they do a good job as the two killers. Milton is particularly nasty in
a casual kind of way in a scene in their hotel room when he hears a cat meowing
outside the door. He goes out in the hall, picks it up and puts out on the
window sill and then shuts the window. Karlan yells, “Hey, what’s the matter
with you. It’s three stories down.” Milton keeps calling his wife back home only to be disturbed by the fact
that she’s never there when he calls. He tells Karlan that one time a bartender
pal gave him the number of a hot babe, if he ever wanted a good time. Half-drunk
he put the number in his pocket and didn’t look at it until the next day and
found it was his home phone number!
Vera Ralston as Lynn Brennon was only 35 at the time this
film was made but she looks tired and bored. She was an ice skating star back
in her native Czechoslovakia when Republic Studios chief Herbert J. Yates
brought her to the U.S. and tried to make her a star. She made over 20 features
for Republic but despite Yates’s efforts audiences did not really accept her, and
she quit acting after “The Man Who Died Twice.”
The leading man in this B-movie extravaganza is Rod
Cameron, who has about as much charisma as a side of beef. Better known for his
westerns, he plays Bill Brennon, T.J.’s brother, who had sent him a telegram
asking for help, which was unusual because he and Bill hadn’t spoken in 15
years. But you know how it is, when your brother sends you a wire saying he’s
in trouble, you gotta do something about it. Right?
Kino Lorber has released the 1968 espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" on Blu-ray. The film, which was titled "Nobody Runs Forever" in it's UK release, is significant in that it paired two charismatic leading men- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer- in a low-key but well-scripted tale that sustains interest throughout. The film is based on John Cleary's novel and presents some offbeat and refreshing elements for a spy movie made at the height of the James Bond-inspired phenomenon. Most refreshingly, the two protagonists are Australians, a rare instance in which heroes from "Down Under" are showcased in a non-Australian movie of the era. Taylor plays Scobie Malone, a tough-as-nails police officer in the Northern Territory who is content to fulfill his job of keeping order in the Outback and arresting small-time trouble makers. He is reluctantly assigned to travel to London for an unusual mission: to bring back the Australian High Commissioner, Sir James Quentin (Plummer) and have him stand trial on charges that he murdered his first wife many years before. When Scobie arrives in London, he realizes that the timing of his mission could not be more sensitive: Quentin is hosting an important diplomatic conference with African leaders in the hope of finalizing a major treaty that could affect the balance of power in the African continent. The world is watching as Quentin tries to iron out details to make the treaty a reality. When Scobie informs him of his assignment, Quentin seems curiously nonplussed about the nature of the charges against him- but he is quite concerned by the fact that his sudden absence from the conference would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. He imposes on Scobie to give him a few additional days to sort out the final details on the treaty. Scobie takes an instant liking to Quentin and his adoring wife Sheila (Lilli Palmer), and agrees with the request. Scobie's cover story to Sheila is that he is simply acting as a bodyguard to Quentin, but she seems to suspect his real motive is more nefarious. When an attempt is made on Quentin's life, Scobie is instrumental in thwarting it. The two men ultimately bond as friends and Scobie begins to suspect that Quentin could not have possibly murdered his first wife. Why then is the Australian government convinced he had? More pressing is solving the problem of who is behind the assassination attempt on Quentin and who in his inner circle is a mole. It appears a shadowy organization feels threatened by the chances of the treaty succeeding- and wants to thwart it by killing Quentin.
"The High Commissioner" is a film that plays best if not examined in detail because there are plenty of loosely-developed plot points. It's never quite explained why Scobie was taken all the way from the Outback for this particular assignment. Surely the government could have found one equally capable law enforcement officer who was a bit more accessible. It also becomes clear that the plot to thwart the conference is just the "MacGuffin" in that it's never thoroughly explained who the bad guys are or why they feel threatened by Quentin's peace conference. Nor do we learn precisely what is being negotiated at the conference. What we do have are some intriguing characters including two of the most glamorous actresses of the period: Daliah Lavi, in full dangerous femme fatale mode as a seductive enemy agent and Camilla Sparv as Quentin's loyal secretary who holds a not-so-secret crush on him. While on assignment, Scobie allows himself to be seduced by Lavi (who wouldn't?) but remains chaste with Sparvi's character, so as to not impede his professional standing with the Quentins. The film moves along at a brisk pace under the direction of Ralph Thomas, who had recently helmed two other spy flicks- "Deadlier Than the Male" and "Agent 8 3/4" (aka "Hot Enough for June". ) Thomas showcases Taylor's rugged good looks by giving him Bondian opportunities to wear tuxedos and engage in plenty of mayhem. The film's climax takes place at Wimbledon, where the villains intend to assassinate Quentin by using a gun placed inside a television camera. The murder charges against Quentin come to a head in an emotional discussion Scobie has with Sheila, though her explanation for his innocence seems rather weak. The film builds to a fiery and explosive final scene that is undermined only shoddy special effects.
The best aspect of "The High Commissioner" is that it provides a good role for Rod Taylor, one of the most charismatic leading men of the 1960s. Taylor was usually cast as American or British characters because he had mastered both accents, but here he is allowed to talk like a native Australian, which, in fact, he was. Equally at home in posh cocktail parties or flailing away at the bad guys, Taylor was the epitome of the charming tough guy. Plummer also gets an interesting role though the character is never fully developed and plays second-fiddle to Taylor's. Nevertheless, he embellishes the much-besieged Quentin with quiet dignity even when narrowly dodging bombs and bullets. Lilli Palmer is especially poignant as Quentin's ever-faithful but long-suffering wife who is harboring a terrible secret that figures in the explosive climax. There is also an impressive supporting cast that includes Clive Revill as a butler whose allegiance may be in question, Calvin Lockhart as a handsome international man of mystery and an unrecognizable, black-haired Derren Nesbitt as a villain. The lush locations begin in Australia before moving to London, where director Thomas capitalizes on them. Interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual fine standards and includes the original trailer. Recommended.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is an
often-quoted line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And if director
Walter Hill had stuck to that idea, his “Wild Bill” (1995) would be a great
movie, instead of a near miss. Unfortunately, he mixed legend with pure hogwash
and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of scenes connected only by the fact
that James Butler Hickok (Jeff Bridges) hated it when somebody messed with his
You know a director intends to make a “serious” western
when he starts the film out by showing the central character’s funeral. “Wild
Bill” begins not only with a funeral, but a funeral shot in high-contrast,
grainy black and white. In fact the film keeps switching from color to black
and white for numerous flash back scenes, depicting “events” from Bill’s early
life, some of which are complete fiction.
Attending the funeral are his on-again-off-again
sweetheart Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin) and Charlie Prince (John Hurt), an
Englishman who has drifted out West for the excitement. Prince narrates the
story. The first act of “Wild Bill” is the most interesting section of the
film—a series of famous episodes from Hickok’s life shown very briefly in quick
tableau. We see Bill shoot it out with half a dozen buffalo hunters intent on
robbing him of his hides. The fight is triggered when he steps up to the bar
and one of them lifts the hat off his head. He turns and smashes him with the
back of his hand and next thing you know, guns are blazing. When it’s over and
the buffalo hunters are all dead Bill goes back to the bar and says: “They need
to understand. You never touch a man’s hat.”
Another scene depicts the famous incident in Abilene, Kansas
when Hickok as sheriff tried to stop roundup revelers from tearing up the town
and accidentally killed his own deputy. (For a nice treatment of that true
incident check out the half-hour “Gunsmoke” episode called “The Roundup,” with
Matt Dillon killing an old friend who had substituted for an ailing Chester). Another
scene shows Hickok giving an embarrassing performance in Buffalo Bill Cody’s
(Keith Carradine) Wild West show.
Problems with the story really start soon after Hickok
arrives in Deadwood Gulch, Dakota Territory, where, as we all know, it’s just a
matter of time before he stares down at those aces and eights (the Dead Man’s Hand),
and gets shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. In Deadwood he’s reunited
with his old flame Calamity, Charlie Prince and an old traveling companion named
California Joe (James Gammon). The reunion with Calamity is a sad one, however.
Bill no longer has any interest in rekindling the flame. In another flashback
we learn he is going blind from glaucoma that was probably caused by syphilis. Their
relationship is a portrait of sadness, anger and frustration.
Hill’s screenplay is based on Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood”
(the basis of the HBO series) and “Fathers and Sons,” a play by Thomas Babe. Where
it goes wrong is in the fabrication that Jack McCall (David Arquette) was the
son of a woman named Susannah Moore (Diane Ladd), whom Hickok had loved and abandoned.
McCall wants to kill Hickok out of revenge for his cold-hearted treatment of
his mother. There are more flashback scenes showing what happened between Bill
and Susannah, but none of it ever happened in real life. It makes for
interesting, if sentimental, drama but it’s unnecessary and only muddles the
story. The fact is that McCall was just a tinhorn drunk who had lost all his money
to Wild Bill in a poker game and was humiliated when Bill took pity on him and
gave him some money to get something to eat. The next day he came back in the
saloon in a drunken rage, called him a name and shot him from behind. McCall,
in one of two trials that were held on the case tried to argue that Wild Bill
had killed his younger brother, but the truth of that allegation was never
With the untimely death of Peter Sellers in 1980, his long-time collaborator, writer/director Blake Edwards decided to create a "tribute" to his iconic star of their "Pink Panther" series by filming not just one, but two sequels simultaneously. The decision was not without controversy as virtually everyone in the film industry was aware of the fact that the two men had long ago come to loathe each other but continued to work together because of the success of the "Panther" franchise. The first sequel, "Trail of the Pink Panther" was a cut-and-paste job incorporating clips from Sellers' original films as Inspector Jacques Clouseau along with unseen outtakes that were cobbled together to form a plot in which Clouseau goes inexplicably missing in the second half of the film (only because Edwards had run out of outtakes.) The film sets the premise for the second sequel, "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983) which was designed to introduce a suitable replacement for the Sellers/Clouseau persona in the form of a new character. Edwards originally approached then red-hot Dudley Moore, who declined to be tied to a film franchise. He then went in the opposite direction and hired Ted Wass, a veteran of the TV sitcom "Soap", to take on the challenge of establishing himself as Sellers' successor. It was a tall order especially for a young actor who had never made a feature film and who was completely ignorant of the process. Still, it represented an offer he couldn't refuse. The script picks up where "Trail" leaves off with the world galvanized by the authorities' attempts to find what happened to "the world's greatest detective". Leading the frantic investigation is French Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), Clouseau's long-suffering boss and a klutz in his own right. Dreyfus is secretly thrilled that Clouseau has gone missing and may be dead but he's forced to oversee the search efforts. In a scene that seems inspired by "Our Man Flint", he utilizes a computer to come up with the name of the sleuth who is most qualified to take on the mission. Through a quirk, the resulting answer puzzles everyone: it turns out to be Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass), an inept New York City police officer who, like Clouseau, has gained a reputation for efficiency despite his constant bumbling. Sleigh's own harried boss is thrilled to send him packing off to Paris to take on the investigation. Sleigh's first meeting with Dreyfus quickly crushes the latter's hopes that he might finally be working in alliance with a capable detective. The simple act of crossing room and shaking Dreyfus's hand results in Sleigh stumbling and knocking the French lawman out of a window, resulting in being hospitalized, as he had so often been due to Clouseau's ineptness. Lom's comic timing was always a major asset to the series and he's in top form here.
The story then finds Sleigh on hunt across exotic European locations in search of Clouseau. It's a journey that rapidly becomes wearying despite Edwards' attempts to liven the proceedings with frequent scenes of slapstick humor. Sleigh meets up with Cato (Burt Kwouk), Sellers' longtime man servant, who has now established their apartment as a museum in honor of his employer, replete with wax figurines representing Clouseau's greatest disguises. The scene seems more like another desperate gimmick on the part of Edwards to summon the presence of Sellers, even if its in the form of a wax model. Along the way, Sleigh also encounters characters from the early "Panther" films including those played by David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine (all of whom filmed their reunion scenes for "Trail" with the understanding that some of the footage would be utilized in "Curse"). The assemblage of these notable stars is one of the few inspired aspects of "Curse" and it's a joy to see them together, even though the ailing Niven had to be re-voiced by impressionist Rich Little, who did a very commendable job of it. A gangster played by Robert Loggia is introduced into the convoluted plot that takes on an "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" aspect and another character from Clouseau's past, Prof. Balls makes a couple of brief appearances to little effect despite the fact that the role is played once again by the great comedic second banana Harvey Korman. The proceedings drag on through flat and completely predictable sight gags, some of which go on interminably (i.e Sleigh in drag as an undercover cop in New York and later using a blow-up sex doll in an attempt to convince bystanders she is his girlfriend. There's also a seemingly endless fight scene in which Sleigh takes on the baddies with the help of a sexy female martial arts expert). What is most shocking about "Curse" is how the timing is off on almost every comedic set-up, which is rather surprising given the fact that Edwards originated the series and professed to care about it immensely. It would be easy to blame Ted Wass for the film's failure but in reality the young star gamely performs his required duties with admirable skill. However, he's hampered by a poorly-developed character and Edwards seemed convinced that the mere intention to name him as Sellers' successor would immediately win over audiences. However, Wass's Sgt. Sleigh is merely a klutz with none of the fabled eccentricities of his predecessor. The fact that he wears over-sized eyeglasses that make him look remarkably like Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent only adds to his burden. The film only comes alive in the final act with an extended and clever cameo appearance by Roger Moore (amusingly billed as "Turk Thrust II", a reference to Bryan Forbes' screen credit in "A Shot in the Dark"), who was simultaneously filming the James Bond movie "Octopussy" on another sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Moore's deft comedic timing steals the entire latter part of the film and left this viewer pondering that, had he been the star of the production, the movie might not have been so ill-fated. It must be said, however, that the film does boast one other positive aspect: the traditional, wonderfully animated opening credits that make it all the more apparent how frustrating movies seem today in the sense that they usually eschew opening credits all together. An entire art form is vanishing from the industry in the urge to "cut to the chase" and get immediately into the story.
Blake Edwards originally envisioned that the Ted Wass series of "Panther" films would be moved to New York City, partly to accommodate MGM's insistence that the franchise become more budget-oriented. The unpromising prospects that scenario afforded were circumvented by the failure of the movie. But the problems didn't end there. Edwards accused MGM of intentionally low-balling the film's release and not marketing it aggressively enough. The suit was settled out of court in 1988. The title "Curse of the Pink Panther"s seemed eerily prophetic for all concerned.
Chances are you've never heard of "Hollow Creek" (or "A Haunting in Hollow Creek", per the UK release title). It's a low-budget ($500,000) indie film that was made under the auspices of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre, an admirable venture that encourages film industry professionals to mentor promising younger talents in the hopes that they will be able to create inventive new feature films. "Hollow Creek" was written by an alumnus of the Institute, director Guisela Moro, who also has the female lead. The film was co-written by the male star, Steve Daron. It's an ambitious crime thriller by way of supernatural elements that looks more expensive and polished than its budget might indicate. The film, which sat on a shelf for three years, was released in 2016 and was recently made available on DVD and Amazon Prime streaming service. The plot starts off in a leisurely manner: bestselling horror novel writer Blake Blackman (Daron) arrives at his agent's vacation home located in the deep woods of rural West Virginia. He's accompanied by Angelica Santoro (Moro), who we initially presume to be his wife. Blackman is there to write his next novel but he's secretly harboring an obstacle: a severe case of writer's block. Not helping matters are the sexual distractions afforded him by Angelica, who we learn is actually his mistress. Blackman's marriage has been fragile for some time and he relishes the time spent with Angelica- but their bliss will be short-lived. While Blackman is preoccupied by trying to fill blank pages for his next book, Angelica becomes unsettled by some eerie and inexplicable events including indications someone or something is lurking in the nearby woods. She also has a brief glimpse of the ghostly apparition of a young boy. She later learns that the area has been on edge for the last few years due to the unsolved disappearances of three boys. When she thinks she recognizes one of them in the back seat of a dilapidated old vehicle, she gives chase in true Lois Lane fashion. She discovers that two of the boys have been held captive and literally kept in cages in a hidden chamber in house owned and occupied by a crazy, sadistic couple. Angelica, who has just learned she is three months pregnant with Blackman's child, is captured and imprisoned with the expectation that her child will belong to her insane captors. Meanwhile, the frantic Blackman's life begins to unravel. He's released from contract by his publishing house, his wife files for divorce and due to circumstantial evidence, he is the police department's prime suspect in Angelica's disappearance. Nevertheless, he doggedly pursues finding out what happened to Angelica and rescuing her if he can.
Were it not for some of the more sordid elements, "Hollow Creek" would have fit well into the ABC Movie of the Week productions that were telecast on TV in the 1970s. That's meant as a compliment, not a knock. The film isn't without flaws. It has a primary plot loophole in that, when Angelica goes missing, it's never explained what happened to her SUV, which was parked near the villain's house. Additionally, the film's chaotic but exciting conclusion incorporates elements of the supernatural that seem somewhat superfluous since the film succeeds on the level of being a compelling real-life crime saga. Nevertheless, it's an extraordinarily accomplished work for the aspiring director and her cast. Moro certainly doesn't give herself an easy time of it. In addition to having written and directed "Hollow Creek", she puts her character through the ringer, having to endure torture and death threats from her sadistic captors. Although the film has unsettling aspects to it, Moro refreshingly doesn't bleed into slasher territory and shows restraint when it comes to crossing the line into showing repulsive imagery. She gives a terrific performance, as does Steve Daron. The supporting cast is also exceptional with not a false note to be found. Burt Reynolds makes a brief but effective appearance in an obvious gesture to lend the credibility of his name to the film. The movie is impressively scored and shot, though cinematographer Jon Schellenger can't resist being a bit gimmicky by utilizing a distracting technique of filming some scenes inexplicably in a garish blue hue. The finale packs in some cliches and predictable action scenes but there is an imaginative and moving finale.
The FilmRise DVD boasts an excellent transfer, but frustratingly there are no extras. It would have been interesting to hear the perspectives of the principals regarding how the film was made. "Hollow Creek" is an impressive, often spellbinding thriller. If there's any justice, we should be hearing more from Guisela Moro and Steve Daron.
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
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Warner Archive has released the little-remembered 1969 adventure film Kenner. Although we'll watch Brown in virtually anything, this film is pretty much a klunky, under-scripted misfire, directed by Steve Sekely, who specialized in B movies. (His greatest success was Day of the Triffids.) Brown plays the title role of Roy Kenner, a rugged, no-nonsense seafarer who arrives in Bombay ostensibly to locate an old friend who has gone missing. In fact, he's trying to track down a ruthless criminal named Jordan (Charles Horvath), a one-time partner whose double crossing ways resulted in the death of Kenner's best friend. The film's misguided premise is to show the touchy-feely side of Brown when virtually no one went to his films looking for his touchy-feely side. Within minutes of arriving in Bombay, he encounters Saji (Ricky Cordell), an adorable child of the streets who longs to see his American father. His devoted mother Anasuya (Madlyn Rhue) keeps a terrible secret from him: she is a prostitute who doesn't even know who fathered the boy. Saji helps Kenner escape harm at the hands of an angry mob and, as a result, the two become inseparable. Kenner romances Anasuya, but both mother and son become unwitting participants in Kenner's dangerous attempts to track down Jordan. The film meanders from one chase to another, and director Sekely does the best he can to capitalize on the exotic locations in old Bombay and provides a few exciting, well-staged chase scenes. However. everyone seems to realize they are participating in a bottom-of-the-double-feature production. Brown is uncharacteristically bland, phoning in his performance and performing the requisite action sequences with something less than zeal. There is one surprising plot development that does pack some emotional impact, but the film is, in the overall sense, a misfire. The former footballer-turned-action star was overexposed at the time, with six movies released between 1968-1969 though he would later redeem himself with more successful films than this. The supporting cast of Kenner contributes some admirable performances, with old hand Robert Coote as a devious English aristocrat providing a few interesting moments. However, the performance of Charles Horvath as the villain is poor enough to make viewers grateful that he has limited screen time. Unless you have an urgent desire to see what Bombay looked like in 1969, this Brown title will be only for the actor's hard-core fans. The DVD contains the original trailer, which plays up the exotic locations and action elements, while pointedly avoiding the attempts to soft-soap Brown's character.
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it would be a wait of 15 months before it hit British screens, Phenomena –
Dario Argento’s ninth feature release – was first unveiled to Italian audiences
early in 1985. It had been three years since Tenebrae (which despite stiff
competition is my favourite Argento) and at the time Phenomena was broadly
considered his weakest offering. It’s narrative core, which concerns a young
girl communing with insects in order to identify a maniac killer, was indisputably
a shade bananas (rather apt given the significant involvement of a vengeful
primate!), but for me it was by no means his least interesting film to that
point and considering the mixed bag of cinematic fodder bearing his name that’s
appeared in the years since, I’d not hesitate to cite it as one of his more
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous movie star,
arrives at The Richard Wagner International School for Girls in Switzerland
where she learns from her new roommate that a number of girls in the area have
gone missing, the possible victims of a serial killer. Jennifer suffers from somnambulism
and one night she wakens to find herself lost in the woods, whereupon she
encounters a friendly chimpanzee which leads her to safety at the nearby home
of its owner, wheelchair-bound entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald
Pleasence). Jennifer is fascinated by insects and when she tells McGregor she’s
able to communicate with them telepathically the two become firm friends.
McGregor has been assisting police on the serial killer case in an advisory
capacity and believes that the corpses of the missing girls can be tracked down
by the Great Sarcophagus, a species of fly that can detect rotting flesh. He
duly convinces Jennifer she can help solve the case by using one that he has
captive to guide her to the refuge of the killer.
(with Franco Ferrini), produced and directed by Argento, it’s obvious from the
above précis that Phenomena is structured upon some pretty outré ideas. But
even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying, I applaud the man for
attempting to do something beyond playing safe and recycling the same old
giallo formula. Besides which, overlooking its inadequacies – not least of
which is a run-time that overstretches the narrative’s ability to fully engage –
there’s some really good stuff going on here.
of that run-time, if ever proof were needed that it’s possible to have too much
of a good thing then Phenomena is it. There exist three versions of the movie:
the 116-minute Italian cut, a 110-minute international edit, and an American
theatrical cut (retitled Creepers and which, at 83-minutes, had almost a third of
the Italian original’s run-time sheared off it); against all expectation it’s
the latter tightened-up version that arguably plays best.
I digress. The Swiss locations are breathtaking and in terms of set-up, Phenomena’s
opening sequence – which finds a young girl on a class trip into the mountains
being inadvertently left behind when the coach departs (they used to count us
aboard in my day!) – is terrific. The girl, played by his teenage daughter
Fiore, goes looking for help and happens across a chalet nestled in the
hillside where someone (or something!) tries to kill her. She flees but is
pursued by the grunting, scissor-wielding maniac to an observation platform
overlooking a waterfall. All the pieces are in place for the film’s first
murder sequence and with almost lascivious relish the camera observes a
stabbing, followed by a slo-mo backwards lurch through a plate glass window and
finally a decapitation. There’s graphic mayhem aplenty peppered throughout the
remainder of the movie (including a protracted wallow in a vile stew of rotting
cadavers), but for sheer style this opener is never quite matched.
Connelly was 14-years-old when she shot Phenomena and given that it was only
her second feature film appearance (following a small part in 1984’s Once Upon
a Time in America), it’s remarkable just how confidently she carries the film;
not only a budding beauty but already exhibiting the talent that would carry
her on to great acclaim (including an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) in the years
ahead. Donald Pleasence showed up in a fistful of Italian chillers of varied
worth during the 1980s and he’s as reliably entertaining as ever here, adopting
a Scottish accent as the academic whose closest chum is a chimp. Argento’s
long-time partner and go-to leading lady (cf. Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, Opera)
Daria Nicolodi delivers with elan, so too for that matter does gorgeous Flesh
for Frankenstein star Dalila Di Lazzaro, present as Jennifer’s chaperone and
school headmistress respectively. It’s good to see prolific player Patrick
Bauchau on hand too, although he’s a tad underused as the investigating police
inspector, very much relegated to the sidelines of the action.
Burt Reynolds had been gnawing around the boundaries of genuine stardom for more than a decade, starring in short-lived television shows and top-lining "B" movies. He ingratiated himself to the American public by showcasing his wit and comedic abilities by appearing on chat shows. In 1972, he struck gold when director John Boorman cast him opposite Jon Voight as the two male leads in the sensational film adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance". Finally, he could be classified as a major movie star. Soon, Reynolds was cranking out major films even while his uncanny ability to publicize himself resulted in such stunts as his famed provocative centerfold pose in Cosmopolitan magazine. On screen, Reynolds sensed that he could cultivate an especially enthusiastic audience if he catered to rural movie-goers. He was proven right with the release of "White Lightning", a highly enjoyable 1973 action/comedy that perfectly showcased Reynolds' favored image as a handsome, unflappable hero with a Bondian knack for tossing off quips while facing death and also engaging in good ol' boy towel-snapping humor. Playing bootlegger Gator McClusky, Reynolds drew major crowds, very much pleasing United Artists, which enjoyed hefty profits from the modestly-budgeted production. Reynolds learned, however, that his audience wouldn't necessarily follow him if he deviated from that image. When he went against the grain in films like "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing", "At Long Last Love" and "Lucky Lady", the movies bombed. When he stuck to the basics, he had hits with "Shamus", "The Longest Yard" and "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". The legendary Variety headline that read "Hix Nix Stix Pix" was no longer true. The American heartland loved Burt Reynolds, especially when he played characters that rural audiences could embrace.
In 1976, Reynolds fulfilled another career milestone by directing his first feature film, a sequel to "White Lightning" titled "Gator". Like the first movie, it was shot entirely on location in Georgia and picked up on the adventures of everyone's favorite moonshiner. When we first see Gator in the sequel, he his getting out of jail only to be targeted by the feds to be used as a pawn in a multi-state crackdown on an epidemic of political corruption that threatens the career of the self-serving, ambitious governor (played very well by famed chat show host Mike Douglas in his big screen debut.) Gator is living in a shack located deep in an inhospitable swamp with his elderly father and precocious 9 year-old daughter when the feds launch a major raid to arrest him on moonshining charges. In reality, they want to use the warrant as leverage to convince him to go undercover for them inside the crime ring. Gator wants no part of it and leads the feds on a merry chase around the bayou in which he is pursued by speed boats and helicopters before finally relenting. The lead federal agent in charge is Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), an overweight, hyper-nervous Jewish guy from Manhattan who has the unenviable task of ensuring that Gator follows orders. A good portion of the film's laugh quotient comes from Irving's less-than-convincing attempts to "blend in" with small town southern locals. The crime ring is run by Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), an outwardly charming and charismatic fellow who, in reality, uses brutally violent methods to ensure loyalty and intimidate local businessmen to pay protection money. He and Gator are old acquaintances and he doesn't hesitate to give Gator a good-paying job as an enforcer for his mob. Things become more intriguing when Gator sets eyes on Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), an attractive local TV anchor with liberal political beliefs that find her squaring off against Bama in order to protect the poor merchants he is exploiting. "Gator" proceeds on a predictable path but its predictability doesn't detract from its merits, which are considerable. Reynolds is a joy to watch and it's small wonder he leaped to the top ranks of cinematic leading men. His cocky, self-assured persona served him well on the big screen and "Gator" is custom-made to please his core audience. He also proved to be a very able director, handling the action scenes and those of unexpected tragic twists with equal skill. He also gets very good performances from his eclectic cast, with Weston engaging in his usual penchant for scene-stealing. Reed also shines in a rare villainous role and ex-model Hutton proves she has admirable acting chops, as well. The action scenes are impressive thanks to the oversight of the legendary Hal Needham, who would forge a long-time collaborative relationship with Reynolds.
The year 1968 proved to be one of the most dramatic in American history. With the Vietnam War protest movement in high gear, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to not run for a second term, the Chicago riots and the the chaos in the Democratic party that lead to Richard Nixon's return from the political graveyard, at times it seemed like the very fabric of American society was falling apart. So it came as no surprise that the exhausted citizenry would try to find some temporary solace through popular entertainment. The movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" was a considerable hit partly because it starred two Hollywood icons: Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and partly because it was so far removed from the contentious factors that defined every day living for most people. The film marked Lucille Ball's second-to-last big screen appearance (her final one being the ill-fated 1974 screen adaptation of "Mame"). She was never overly enamored of making theatrical films since she had such a loyal following on television. "Ours" was a notable exception and the film provided her with a good role in which to show she still had the timing that made her a comedy legend.
The film is based on the story of a real-life North and Beardsley families and inspired Helen North Beardsley (played by Lucy in the film) to write a book titled "Who gets the Drumstick?", which explored the humorous anecdotes of running a household with 22 children. Lucy had read the book and saw the potential for a screen adaptation. She enlisted her long-time sitcom writers Bob Carroll, Jr and Madelyn Davis to come up with a story for a feature film. Melville Shavelson, an old pro and directing comedy films, was brought on board to helm the production and co-write the screenplay. The coup was casting Henry Fonda as the husband, Frank Beardsley. The final script tossed out most real-life accuracies in favor of Hollywood schmaltz, which may be why Helen North Beardsley's book isn't officially credited as a source. (In real life, the Beardsley clan ended up mired in divorce and sibling disputes that extend to this day.) The film opens with Frank Beardsley (Fonda), a career naval officer returning from an extended stint at sea. Recently widowed, Frank has ten children ranging in age from late teens to infants. His brother and sister-in-law (the real heroes of the story) have been caring for them all until he returns. Once Frank assumes the dual duties of both mom and dad, he predictably finds the workload overwhelming. He keeps bumping into Helen North (Lucy), an attractive nurse on the naval base and the two are immediately attracted to each other. She has also recently been widowed and has eight children of her own. Amusingly, when the two go on their first date, each is reluctant to reveal to the other that they have such a large family. When the beans are spilled, they decide they can make the situation work to their advantage by getting married.
What follows is predictable bedlam as the kids resist being forced to share their home with the "other' family. Much time is spent on Helen trying to placate both sides and managing to alienate everyone. Meanwhile, hubby Frank resumes his naval duties, thus leaving Helen to deal with the 24/7 chaos but he does amusingly institute a navy-like system of keeping order in the house that mimics Capt. Von Trapp's methods in "The Sound of Music". The film is typical of these big family comedies in that the smaller kids tend to be lovable while the teenagers are self-centered and arrogant. It will not require a spoiler alert to state that in the end a crisis unites everyone to form one big, happy family. The film plays out like a big screen version of a sitcom with every predictable sight gag imaginable, albeit with a bit of saucy sexual humor thrown in. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining throughout thanks in large part to the engaging cast. Lucy and Fonda have genuine screen chemistry. Van Johnson pops up occasionally as Fonda's fellow naval officer and close friend and manages to get few laughs in a cliched buddy role. Tom Bosley makes a brief but amusing appearance as a physician who makes a house call on the Beardsley abode only to find the situation mind-boggling in terms of the sheer craziness on display. The film was obviously supposed to serve as a vehicle of tolerance for very large families but unintentionally seems to be a promotion for Planned Parenthood. Despite taking place during the height of the Vietnam War protests, when elder son Tim Matheson ends up being drafted, the family sends him off with all the concern that might be expended on a kid going to 4-H camp for a week. The film is devoid of any reflection of the political and social strife that had affected every American family during this crucial year. However, no one goes to see Lucille Ball in order to be reminded of social problems and director Melville Shavelson does an admirable job of making a cornball scenario play out more successfully than might have been imagined.
The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and the transfer looks great. The only bonus extra is a work print trailer that doesn't seem to be finalized.
Business isn’t exactly booming for private
detective Peter Joseph Detweiler, better known as P.J. His makeshift office is
in a bar belonging to his only friend Charlie, his sporadic jobs include
entrapping cheating wives and he is not above drowning his sorrows in liquor. So
when wealthy magnate William Orbison offers him a substantial fee to be a
bodyguard for his mistress, Maureen Prebble, he jumps at the chance. What P.J.
doesn’t know is that Orbison has already hired someone else to commit a murder.
How this murder and the shamus’s new job intersect is the crux of the terrific
1968 neo-noir from Universal, P.J. (U.K.
title: New Face in Hell.)
Private detectives were prominent in the late
1960s and included Harper (1966), Tony Rome (1967), Gunn (1967), and Marlowe (1969).
P.J. appeared in the midst of this
surplus, which may account in part for its box office failure. The movie quickly
disappeared, at least in its original form. Due to one extended and bloody
sequence in a gay bar as well as to other scenes of violence and sexuality,
Universal drastically cut and re-edited the movie for its television network
presentation. Since then, it has never been officially released on home video
and the original version may be lost forever.
Philip Reisman, Jr.’s screenplay is based on
his original story co-written with producer Edward Montagne. The script initially
unfolds as a conventional mystery but gets increasingly complicated with each
twist and turn. Maureen appears to definitely need a bodyguard, in view of threatening
letters as well as a shot fired into her bedroom. And there is no shortage of
suspects who would like to see her dead. Orbison’s emotionally fragile wife,
Betty, resents the very thought of her husband’s paramour. Betty’s relatives despise
Maureen because of her emergence as principle beneficiary in Orbison’s will. Orbison’s
Executive Assistant, Jason Grenoble, due to his apparent affluent upbringing, is
displeased about being used as a flunky. Making P.J.’s job more difficult is Orbison’s
decision to take everyone, including relatives and mistress, to his hideaway in
the Caribbean island of St. Crispin’s. And it is in this tropical setting that
P.J. is forced to kill a suspect. This seems to be the end of the case. But it
is really only the end of the second act. The third act is filled with
intrigue, deception, blackmail and three brutal deaths.
John Guillermin is an underappreciated
director who created admirable films in many genres, including mystery, adventure,
war and western as well as the disaster and monster genres. His success could perhaps be due not only to his
skill but to a style that is unobtrusive. He directs P.J. in a straightforward fashion, not allowing any directorial flourishes
to interrupt the flow of the story. With cinematographer Loyal Griggs, he cleverly
contrasts the seedy sections of New York City with the natural beauty of St.
Crispin’s. However, this beauty is soon tainted by the presence of Orbison, whose
wealth the island’s economy requires to flourish. Guillermin allows each of the
characters within Orbison’s contingent enough screen time to make an impact.
Basically, they all appear to be self-centered, greedy and nasty. Orbison is
especially sadistic, in addition to being notoriously miserly. Maureen doesn’t
apologize for providing sexual favors in exchange for future wealth. Betty is
willing to be repeatedly humiliated to obtain her customary allowance. Grenoble
continually demeans himself to keep his well-paid position. And then there is butler
Shelton Quell, who is not as harmless as his effeminate mannerisms suggest. This
is a sordid group of characters that P.J. is involved with but his dire
financial state has apparently extinguished his conscience, particularly since
he soon becomes intimately involved with the body that he is guarding. P.J.’s
essential irony arises from the fact that he is equally greedy, at least
initially. He also seems to be morally bankrupt. When he encounters Orbison
leaving Maureen’s cottage, it doesn’t faze him that they have just engaged in a
quickie. P.J. knows that he has sold his gun to Orbison just as Maureen has
sold her body.
In the early 1960s, George Peppard became a
major star in expensive films such as The
Carpetbaggers and How the West Was
Won. In mid-decade, he starred in another big-budget film, The Blue Max, the first of three movies
he would make with John Guillermin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he starred
in several smaller-budgeted movies. While some of them, especially Pendulum and The Groundstar Conspiracy are exceptional, others are unremarkable.
The commercial failure of these movies diminished his star status and he was
relegated to series television. This was regrettable because he had genuine
star quality as well as considerable talent.
As P.J. Detweiler, Peppard creates a unique
private eye that puts him apart from his cinematic brethren. P.J. initially appears
disillusioned with his life and work. Like many film noir protagonists, he is one
of society’s alienated outcasts. He is not just down and out but seems resigned
to his dismal situation. When he is offered the lucrative position of
bodyguard, he is so destitute that he agrees to a humiliating audition of
fisticuffs. As he begins his job, he appears impassive to the decadence of
Orbison’s environment. However, after he has been duped and discarded, he
asserts himself and becomes a traditional detective who is determined to pursue
clues and solve the mystery. But unlike traditional detectives, he doesn’t
derive any pleasure from the solution to the crime. The fact that he has been maneuvered
into facilitating a murder has emotionally drained him. At the end of the film,
he forces a cheerless smile at Charlie but he is unable to sustain it,
replacing it quickly with a look of despair. All of these emotions are
reflected in Peppard’s superb portrayal.
Admittedly I'm not proficient in analyzing Italian "giallo" films. They represent a peculiar genre combining film noir with tinges of crime and overt sexual behavior, often of a perverse nature. Director Giulio Questi's bizarrely-titled "Death Laid an Egg" is a 1968 production that has acquired a significant cult appeal. It's easy to see why. The movie is a mind-bending exercise in quasi-surrealism combined with Hitchcockian elements of kinky people involved in murderous activities. Much of the action takes place in- get this- a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant run by Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), a sexy and dominating woman who constantly berates her long-suffering husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The couple has a marriage of convenience and spend much of their time bickering about how to run the plant, which is in financial trouble and is beset with problems with recently fired workers who hang about and exhibiting threatening behavior. The plant is of great concern to their financial investors who are pushing Anna and Marco to develop a mutant form of chicken that will dispense with such unnecessary parts as the head, thereby improving profitability. This strange premise sets the basis for the story, which only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Anna and Marco's marriage is threatened by the presence of their sensuous, live-in secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), a sexually liberated teenager who has a magnetic hold on the couple. Marco is scheming how to get away from Anna and start a new life with Gabrielle but he's financially dependent upon Anna's fortune in order to survive. Meanwhile, Anna is equally smitten by her and the two women even sleep together, implying they, too, have a sexual relationship. However, Anna is having an affair with another man, Luigi (Renato Romano) who she considers to be her real lover. They are scheming how to manipulate Anna and Marco for their own financial advantage. Complicating matters is Marco's hobby-- which is checking into a roadside hotel frequented by prostitutes and abusing and even murdering the ladies of the night in ritualistic S&M practices. There is also a Felliniesque scene in which pampered members of the social elite engage in a strange party game that involves randomly selected guests forming pairs and entering a deserted room where presumably they are to explore their inner-most sexual fantasies. Toss into the mix a subplot in which chemists realize their dream of creating the mutant chicken, which pleases the financial backers of the processing plant- only to have Marco react with disgust about the development, leading him to suffer a breakdown of sorts that threatens his own livelihood. Got all that? If so, then please explain it to me.
The film's scattershot plot devices make it hard to follow. Director Questi moves the action along at too-brisk-a-pace to fully comprehend what we need to absorb in order to fully comprehend the characters' motivations and who is doing what to whom. You'll probably find yourself revisiting key parts of the movie in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on. Having said that, the film is stylishly presented and is bizarre enough to hold the viewer's attention. Helping matters are the performances of Trintigant, Lollobrigida and Aulin. The first two actors were royalty of the European cinema at the time the movie was made and they deliver the goods. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that young Ewa Aulin, whose brief career has left her regarded as a flash-in-the-pan sex symbol of the era, gives an impressive, nuanced and admirable performance in the presence of her two esteemed co-stars. The film also benefits from an inspired score by Bruno Maderna that perfectly captures the bizarre mood of this very bizarre film.
Fans of "Death Laid an Egg" have had to subside on sub-par home video releases of the movie but now the creative folks at Cult Epics have issued a Blu-ray/DVD edition that must be a substantial improvement over existing releases. The film is presented in its original Italian language version with English sub-titles in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but IMDB lists the original theatrical ratio as 1.85:1, which may explain why the opening credits are subjected to some of the names being partially cropped. Still, it's an impressive release and there are some welcome bonus extras including the original trailer, isolated soundtrack score and a nice photo gallery of promotional materials. The movie is certainly an acquired taste but if you're feeling adventurous, give it a try.
Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".
"Running on Empty" is one of Sidney Lumet's best films but the 1988 release remains one of his least-seen, despite winning enthusiastic reviews upon its release. Perhaps the offbeat storyline and lack of "boxoffice" names in starring roles prevented potentially appreciative audiences from seeing it. However, the good news is that the Warner Archive has made the title available on Blu-ray. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a married couple who, in the 1970s, were part of a radical leftist group akin to the Weathermen. They carried out a scheme to destroy a facility that was manufacturing Napalm but the bombing had an unintended consequence: a security guard ended up blinded and partially paralyzed. Now it's 1988 and the couple have been on the run ever since, the FBI having doggedly pursued them the entire time. The Pope's situation is complicated by the fact that they have two sons: Danny (River Phoenix) is a senior in high school and his brother Harry (Jonas Abry) is a precocious pre-teen. The family is constantly pulling up stakes and moving out on the spur of the moment if they suspect the feds are closing in on them. When we first meet them in the film, the family is on the run again. They sustain themselves by Arthur getting short-term jobs in each new location, as Annie stays home with the boys. They are aided and abetted by a clandestine secret network of left-wing sympathizers who provide them with seed money to help them manage a lower-middle class lifestyle. Still, the nerve-wracking nature of their existence is taking a toll on everyone, especially Danny, who is of an age where he wants and needs stability. When the family ends up renting an apartment in a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Danny finally finds a niche in the high school. His music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) recognizes the boy's musical abilities and arranges for him to apply to Julliard for a scholarship, which he wins against all odds. This development causes a family crisis. Arthur maintains that in order to attend the school, the family will finally have to come up with positive proof of Danny's real identity- a revelation that would be sure to bring in the authorities and separate him from the family indefinitely. Annie argues that it's time to put Danny's life dream ahead of their own priorities and claims she can ask her wealthy, estranged father who she has not been in contact with for years, to allow Danny to live with him in Manhattan. Arthur, who has an authoritarian streak, insists that the family stay together. Complicating matters is that Danny has fallen hard for his first true love, a sassy classmate named Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his music teacher. She lives a privileged life but is unhappy because she doesn't adhere to society's idea of conventional behavior. The two teens become emotionally dependent upon each other- but when Arthur learns the feds are closing in again, Danny confesses his real identity to Lorna in order to explain why he has to leave in order to keep his family together.
If all of the above sounds a bit soap-operaish, it doesn't play out that way. Under Lumet's steady and assured direction, and working from a terrific screenplay by Noami Forner, every cast member delivers a superlative performance, including those in supporting roles. (Kudos to the casting director, Todd Thaler, for rounding up such a talented group.) Hirsch is great as the sincere but flawed father who barely hides a dictatorial nature. Lahti is equally good as his committed, but long-suffering wife. The scene stealers are River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, both of whom deliver superb performances. There is no action, no violence, only pure human emotion. After so many years on the run, fractures appear in the relationship between Annie and Arthur. She had always been content to allow him to dominate the family's actions but now she is daring to defy him. There are so many beautiful and touching scenes in "Running on Empty", but one of the best is a quiet one in which young Danny and Lorna express their love for each other. It's one of the most richly rewarding romantic scenes in any film. There is also a beautiful and touching scene in which Annie defies Arthur by secretly arranging to meet with her estranged dad (superbly played by Steven Hill in an abbreviated but pivotal role). Tensions mount until the highly emotional final scene.
"Running on Empty" provides no villains. The FBI men are shadowy figures but they are just doing their jobs and trying to enforce the law. Annie and Arthur are haunted by the fact that their act of violence claimed an innocent victim but their ideology prevented them from ever taking responsibility for their actions. They are still committed idealists who believe in taking down the Establishment, even if they no longer adhere to doing so through violent means. The film is not only thought-provoking but thoroughly entertaining. It's another outstanding achievement, albeit it a relatively unheralded one, from one of America's master film directors.
For many years Pierce Brosnan has taken control of his own legacy through his production company Irish DreamTime. He's had some mixed results but the bottom line is that he has remained a popular, consistently working leading man. Brosnan's hi-tech thriller "I.T." was released in 2016 with a limited theatrical run that apparently didn't generate any substantial business. The film has been released on Blu-ray where it has been largely savaged by reviewers. Having watched the film, I'll dare to go in the opposite direction and swim against the tide. I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining and very slickly made with rich production values that mask its relatively modest budget.
Brosnan is well-cast as Mike Regan, a mega-wealthy industrialist who is gambling everything he has on the launch of a bold new enterprise. Essentially, it's an Uber-like service that caters to rich executives who need air transportation on a minute's notice. Regan's company has a fleet of private jets ready to serve this limited clientele in return for sky high fees. When we first meet Regan, he's frantically overseeing his company's first official unveiling of the business plan. He still has to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but feels he has nothing to worry about in that regard. However, upon personally launching the hi-tech, expensive video presentation in front of business executives, the press and potential investors, a serious glitch threatens to spell catastrophe when the video malfunctions. Regan is spared disaster by the intervention of Ed Porter (James Frecheville), an innocuous temporary employee who Regan doesn't even know. Thanks to Ed's quick thinking, the video presentation resumes quickly and is deemed a success. A grateful Regan personally thanks Ed and rewards him with full-time employment. He also invites him to his modern mansion house with a freelance assignment to rewire the outdated wi-fi capabilities. When Ed arrives at the house, Regan introduces him to his wife Rose (Ann Friel) and his attractive teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott), who is a high school student. Regan gives Ed the royal treatment and encourages him to stay for drinks. Ed, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive. Upon having seen Kaitlyn tanning herself poolside while clad in a bikini, he decides to wire the home in a very unique manner that no one will be aware of. By the time he's done, the Regans have the ultimate hi-tech wiring system- but don't suspect that Ed has secretly installed microscopic video cameras and microphones that allow him to monitor every movement and conversation, which he views at his loft on a wall-sized video screen. Unbeknownst to Regan, Ed had also made some "improvements" to his state-of-the-art sports car that will allow Ed to manipulate the controls and a video system installed on the dashboard. Regan soon discovers that his friendly overtures to Ed have blurred the line between in the employer/employee relationship. Soon, Ed is showing up uninvited at the family home. Of more concern to Mike and Rose is Ed's increasingly obvious interest in Kaitlyn, who seems smitten by the older man. When Ed crosses the line, Regan ends up firing him in a very belittling manner and thereby opening a Pandora's Box of troubles for himself, his wife and daughter.
Ed seeks immediate revenge and he has plenty of tools at his disposal. A master hacker, he forges documents that are leaked to the SEC, causing Regan's pending deal to fall under suspicion of being illegal and gumming up the approval process. He also releases provocative footage of Kaitlyn in the shower that was secretly shot with the hidden cameras. The result is her humiliation among her friends and schoolmates. Regan catches on that his entire world is in the hands of a mentally unstable former employee and he decides to fight back. After trying to physically intimidate Ed- a tactic that fails- he uses his own hi tech genius, the shadowy Henrik (wonderfully played by Michael Nyqvist), who constructs a plan to turn the tables on Ed by hacking the hacker and turning his own world into a nightmare. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between Regan and Ed that escalates to a violent final confrontation between the two antagonists.
Hemmings is “Alfred the Great” in the epic story of the legendary Saxon King.
The film opens as Alfred is about to take his vows as a priest when the Danes
invade to pillage and rape their way across England. Michael York is Guthrum,
the Viking leader of the invaders. After fierce battles, the Saxons and Danes form
a truce and Alfred agrees to Guthrum’s additional terms; swapping hostages.
Guthrum picks Alfred’s wife, Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome), as hostage and takes
her with him across the English Channel to Denmark.
Viking scenes are played for every last ounce of lusty Pagan Medieval violence
and gusto. A relaxing night out with Vikings is no stop at your local coffee
shop. Axe tossing games, knife fights and rape ensue in the great hall while
Guthrum cheers on the Viking good times. Aelhswith retreats to her room to be
with her baby and handmaid, but she’s followed by Guthrum who rapes, though
ultimately she willing accepts him as her lover.
back in England, Alfred continues his struggle to unify the warring Saxons
under his leadership. Alfred is literally wallowing in the mud, surviving along
with his closest associates as they find allies in thieves and other common
folks who are eager to join him against the local barons. They develop tactics
and after savage battles with the feuding kingdoms and form an alliance under
Alfred’s leadership just as an invading fleet of Danes is seen approaching
through the mist-covered river. Another
great battle between Saxons and Danes ensues and Alfred is reunited with his
wife and child. The movie is a serviceable epic, but it’s lacking in several
areas. For one thing, the casting is off. Michael York has far more charisma in
every scene than David Hemmings. The movie would have benefited if York had
played Alfred and Hemmings Guthrum. There’s very little in the way of chemistry
between Hemmings and Ransome and it was entirely predictable that Aelhswith would
become enthused about being Guthrum’s lover.
movie marked the second big screen
appearance, of Sir Ian McKellen who would gain fame in many roles including the
fantasy Tolkien Middle Earth series as Gandolph. The movie also features appearances by
other familiar and up-and-coming actors like Colin Blakely as Asher, Peter
Vaughan as Burrud, Julian Glover as AEthelstan (try and say that name fast
three times) and Vivien Merchant as Freda. For some reason Merchant does not
speak a single word in spite of her prominent role in the movie. According to
critic Pauline Kael, who was no fan of this film, Merchant may have refused to
say her lines because the dialog was unspeakable.
wanted to like the movie, but it isn’t one of those films you yearn to watch
more than once or twice in a lifetime. It has its moments, but lacks the
grandeur you might expect in a film about Alfred the Great. Why was Alfred so great? You’ll have to find
out on your own because you won’t know after watching this biopic.
the Great” was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in summer of 1969 and shown in
some territories in an extravagant roadshow presentation with the 35mm format
blown up to 70mm. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is good and clocks in at 122
minutes with the trailer as the only extra. Recommended primarily for fans of
British historical epics.