Retro-active: The Best from the Cinema Retro Archive
By Todd Garbarini
Swamp Thing (1982)
is a peculiar entry in the Wes Craven canon.
For a director who cut his teeth in porn (most directors began their
careers as editors in this field in the early 1970s) and directed such fare as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Swamp Thing is a much gentler film. One of the few PG-rated entries to his credit,
it was made just a few years prior to his very own A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the movie that turned the horror film
industry on its ear with the introduction of Fred Krueger and which spawned one
of the most successful franchises in the genre.
Released on Friday, February 19, 1982 by the
late Joseph E. Levine’s long-defunct Embassy Pictures, Swamp Thing is a film version of the DC Comic that was created by
Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Set in
the swamps of Louisiana (though filmed in South Carolina), brother and sister
scientists Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown) are hard at
work on an experiment that is designed to create a plant and animal hybrid that
can withstand the extreme temperatures of various environments. Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) works for the
government and makes a trip to the lab to see how things are coming along. Just as it appears that the government has
spent its money well, the henchmen of one sinister Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis
Jourdan), headed by the late cinema baddy David Hess, attempt to steal the written
magic formula and the serum from the clutches of its rightful owner. Linda is killed, and Alec gets doused with
the new concoction, ends up on fire (yes, that is stunt man Anthony Cecere running
outside engulfed in flames, a feat he
would repeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street)
and jumps into the swamp, reemerging as the titular creature who is henceforth
played by Dick Durock. Dr. Arcane believes that this serum will make him
immortal and he will therefore stop at nothing to make sure that he gets his
hands on the complete formula. Alice
begins to fall for Alec/Swamp Thing as she is eluding Dr. Arcane's machine gun-toting
minions. Mr. Hess, who appeared in the
aforementioned Last House, plays the
usual crazy, bullying nut job that he did so well in Hitch Hike (1977) and House
on the Edge of the Park (1980), and the supporting cast that surrounds him
are a terrific group of menaces. Reggie Batts nearly steals the film in his
turn as Judd, a young store proprietor who does everything he can to help Alice
avoid capture. There are various animated wipes, dissolves, and visual
transitions/segues that take you from one piece of action to the next in an
effort to emulate the look of a comic book. For the most part, the film succeeds.
Swamp Thing was
originally available on home video on capacitance electronic disc (CED),
laserdisc (LD), and the ubiquitous VHS cassette. Although it made its DVD debut in 2000, the
discs were pulled from the shelves when it was discovered that the DVD was
sourced from the international print which ran 93 minutes in length and contained
an additional two minutes of nudity that was not seen in the original 91-minute
PG-rated 1982 domestic theatrical exhibition. Bowing to some consumer complaints, MGM reissued the movie on DVD in
2005 in its original version, minus the nudity. It is this version that appears
on both the new DVD and Blu-ray. It would have been nice if the missing footage
had been included as an extra (if it is here as an Easter egg, kudos to those
of you who can find it!).
The transfer of the film is excellent; there
are a few spots and very small scratches here and there but nothing to distract
from your pleasure of watching the image. Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, is to be commended for
continually putting out our favorite genre films in these new versions with
top-notch extras. Best of all, this is a
DVD/Blu-ray combo. I don't know what the criteria is (or who the decision maker
is) when it comes to deciding to release a title in separate formats or as a
combo, but I sincerely wish that all of Scream Factory's titles were sold as
combos forthwith. That being said, both
formats boast excellent transfers, with Blu-ray obviously being the sharper and
clearer of the two.
There are some really nice extras on the
discs (which are presented equally on both formats). The movie contains two
separate full-length commentaries. The first is with writer/director Wes Craven
and it is moderated by Sean Clark of Horrors Hallowed
Clark is a walking/talking encyclopedia and asks Mr. Craven lots of interesting
and intelligent questions about the production and the people involved.
The second commentary is with makeup effects
artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. This track is an absolute joy to listen to as
Mr. Munns remembers a great deal about the making of the film. Growing up in Studio City, CA, he speaks quite
eloquently about his experience in the film business prior to Swamp Thing, in addition to the issues
that began to flourish when the film was green-lighted. He recalls having to wait a long time as the
financing was secured, and even went to work on a film initially called Witch (later released as Superstition) in
the interim. Since the sex of the Swamp
Thing was an issue, he had to work around the anatomically correct creature and
his recollections are humorous in how this was handled (he says that the film
needed a PG-13 rating, however Swamp
Thing was shot in the summer of 1981 and this rating was not used until 1984
with the release of John Milius’ Red Dawn). He talks about fitting the suit, discusses
how the makeup crew became the scapegoat when filming came to a crawl due to
the other departments that were behind, the dangers of wearing the Swamp Thing
suit, the stunts that needed to be done, and how he took over as Swamp Thing
when Mr. Durock could no longer perform.
The bonus features consist of:
Tales from the Swamp is an
interview with Adrienne Barbeau. The
segment runs 16:56 and Ms. Barbeau is a delight to listen to. Jovial and funny,
she recalls the time that she spent on the film and talks about the bacteria
and parasites in the water, the long hours on the set while they were in South Carolina,
and the challenging elements around them. The original script that was given to
her by Wes Craven was far more audacious than what ended up on screen.
Unfortunately, just as the film went before the cameras, the production company
began to chip away the film's budget, necessitating constant rewriting during
the course of shooting and many concessions needed to be made. Ms. Barbeau is
rather candid and pulls no punches in explaining her disappointment with the
final product at the time, however she has developed an appreciation of the
film in the years since its release.
Hey, Jude is
the name of the second segment, and this is a fun and entertaining interview
with actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude (hence the name!). It runs 14:30. Mr. Batts explains how he got the role in the
film and was a fan of DC comics. Following
the release of Swamp Thing, he also appeared
in the North and South (1985) miniseries
The last segment is titled That Swamp Thing, and it’s a look back
with creator Len Wein who explains how he came up with the name for the
creature and how he got his start as an animator. The segment runs 13:19.
The original theatrical trailer is also
included, and this is in excellent condition, not the usual scratch-ridden mess
that we’re used to seeing.
The photo galleries consist of posters and lobby
cards; photos from the film; William Munn’s behind-the-scenes photos; and behind-the-scenes
photos by Geoffrey Rayle.
As an added bonus, the DVD/Blu-ray sleeve is
reversible and has the French poster artwork under the title of La Creature Du Marais, which translates
to “The Creature of the Swamp”.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of the
biting social satire The Hospital.
By 1971, the playwright Paddy Chayefsky was considered so
revered that he remains the only writer that comes to mind who could demand a
possessive credit on films he wrote the screenplays for. (The film’s titles
were followed by the credit “By Paddy Chayefsky”). Such a case is The Hospital, a film that was highly
acclaimed in its day and voted into the National Film Registry in America in
1995, signifyingits status as a
classic. Why, then, consider it a “long over-looked film”? Because the virtues
of The Hospital were overshadowed by
Chayefsky’s 1976 masterpiece Network, a
glossier and more outrageous movie that resonated even more soundly with
audiences and critics. Consequently, The
Hospital is rarely discussed in critical circles and seen even less on the
big screen within the art house circuits. Yet, the power of this film is as
timely as ever.
Non-American audiences may well scratch their collective
heads over the on-going, increasingly contentious debate over the health care
system in the United States.In order to
explore the premise of The Hospital, its
relevance must be placed within the context of this debate. In the post-WWII
world, almost every modern, industrialized nation installed a form of national
health care. In America, however, it remained a “for profit” system that gave
insurers every incentive to deny sick people coverage. Virtually everyone in
America agrees that the system has become hopelessly broken but despite the
fact that the uninsured rate in America is now at an all-time low, the debate
over the merits of President Obama’s attempts to the health care system remain
largely split on the basis of one’s political party- and millions remain
without coverage. Paddy Chayefsky foresaw the ultimate collapse of the system.
His screenplay places the crisis in a localized level- specifically one
over-burdened New York City hospital that is desperately trying to stay open in
a bizarro world where the need for profits often trumps the incentive to provide
proper care. The sequences in which an
omnipresent aspect of the emergency room is a bureaucrat who harasses
critically ill patients to produce proof of their medical insurance is a daily
occurrence in hospitals across the USA.
Chayefsky views the crisis through the eyes of Dr. Bock
(George C. Scott), a weather-beaten, revered doctor who is not only going
through a mid-life crisis of divorce and impotence, but who is chronically
depressed because his life’s goal of helping the sick has been converted into
dealing with a monstrous administrative system that is out of control. Bock gamely
soldiers on, trying to bring sense to the madhouse he oversees, even has he
contemplates suicide on a daily basis. When a string of mysteriousmurders with comical overtones take place at
the hospital, Bock finds himself taking on the role of detective, as well. He
does find time for an intense fling with Barbara (Diana Rigg), a free-spirited
young woman who is intent on taking her
crazed father from his sick bed and returning to their hippie lifestyle on an
Indian reservation.She tempts Bock to
give up his high pressure career and join her.The chemistry between Scott and Rigg is dynamic and Chayefsky gives them
one of his trademark sequences characterized by extended dialogue that allows
both actors to showcase their brilliance on screen. (Chayefsky wrote a similar
sequence between William Holden and Beatrice Straight in Network) It’s a sheer joy to listen to Scott and Rigg speak the
superb dialogue and enact the sequence with such passion. In today’s era in
which seemingly every film is based on cheesy CGI effects, it’s even more of a
treasure to relish Chayefsky’s writing.
The 1970 film Darker Than Amber should have been a huge commercial success. It
should have been the start of a major film franchise. It should have elevated
Rod Taylor to the ranks of the era’s top action stars. None of these expectations
were realized despite the fact that the movie expertly combines mystery,
action, drama and romance with a unique protagonist.
The movie is based on the seventh in a series
of 21 novels written by John D. MacDonald between 1964 and 1985 featuring Travis
McGee, a self-described beach bum who lives on a houseboat called The Busted Flush in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. When not enjoying his sporadic retirement, he works as a “salvage
consultant” in return for half of the value of whatever he retrieves for
clients. Though he is not an official detective, he possesses intrinsic investigative
skills and is an enemy to evildoers. On occasion, he may offer his services pro
bono because he is also a knight-errant, though one with sullied armor. His
best friend is Meyer Meyer, an economist who lives in a nearby cabin cruiser
and who provides him with periodic philosophical advice.
was the first and last appearance of Travis McGee on cinema screens. The film’s
box office failure may have been due in part to the inexperience of the
relatively new studios that produced and distributed it. National General
Pictures began distributing films in 1967, including their own productions as
well as movies from Cinema Center Films, the recently-formed subsidiary of the
CBS Television Network. NGP released McGee’s film debut, which was produced by
CCF, with meagre publicity and it disappeared quickly from theaters. (CCF
ceased production in 1972 and NGP stopped distributing films in 1973; Warner
Bros. subsequently acquired the rights to all of NGP’s movies.)
Than Amber begins, McGee and Meyer are fishing in a skiff underneath a
bridge when his line gets snagged by a woman who has been thrown over with
weights tied to her feet. Travis saves her life and brings her back to his
houseboat. Her name is Evangeline Bellemer and she is consumed with shame and
guilt due to a shady past. Her despair combined with her stoic acceptance of
pain intrigues McGee who becomes romantically involved with her. Unwisely, she
makes the fatal mistake of leaving the houseboat to retrieve money from her
apartment. McGee is infuriated by her fate as well as that of his friend, Burk,
from whom he rented the skiff. His ensuing investigation leads him to Terry,
Griff and Adele, a trio of crooks who used Vangie in a scam that victimized men
on cruise ships. McGee hatches a plan of revenge with the help of Meyer and
Merrimay, an actress who resembles Vangie. The plan will take him to Miami, to
Nassau and back to Florida. But he underestimates his adversaries who will kill
anyone that stands in their way. After Griff outfoxes him, he is only saved
from a shallow grave by the appearance of a stray pup. And when his plan to
manipulate Adele fails, he finds that he is no match for the ferociously demented
Terry who proceeds to beat the living daylights out of him.
This was the first movie that Robert Clouse
directed and it is an auspicious debut. Unlike many films in which the location
photography serves as a travelogue, Clouse and cinematographer Frank Phillips authentically
capture Florida’s leisurely sleaze along with its stunning splendor. He also utilizes
peripheral characters to good effect, a good example being the diner scene with
the maid Nicole. However, Clouse excels with the action sequences which are further
enhanced by the credible exposition of the principle characters. Not only are McGee
and Vangie well-defined but Terry and Griff also emerge as atypical villains courtesy
of brief vignettes. Because of this, the inevitable clashes are not just
exercises in wanton violence. While McGee’s bout with Griff is exciting, it is
only a prelude to his eagerly-anticipated fracas with Terry. This bareknuckle brutal
fight, which begins on the cruise ship and ends on the pier, is a thrillingly
staged, bone-breaking, blood-splattering, vessel-bursting battle between two
equally-pitiless antagonists whose only desire is to pummel the life out of one
In the screenplay credited to Ed Waters, the
novel’s title loses its source. In the novel, Vangie is Eurasian and has dark
hair and dark eyes with “irises a strange yellow-brown, just a little darker
than amber.” In the movie, Vangie is blonde and no mention is made of her eyes.
Then again, the title could pertain to the movie if it refers to something that
is quite prominent in the fight sequence: blood. (According to the biography of
John D. MacDonald, The Red Hot Typewriter,
MacDonald disliked the script and contributed to major uncredited revisions
with executive producer Jack Reeves.) Basically, the script follows the novel’s
plotline fairly closely, one exception being McGee’s affair with Vangie, who elicits
more sympathy than the novel’s callous prostitute. The ending of the film is also
more poignant than that of the novel in which McGee is relatively unchanged by
his experiences. In the film, the bruised and battered McGee looks sadly out to
the sea, unable to forget the woman whose life he saved but whose death he was
unable to prevent.
you go down in deep water, you’re scared. You don’t know how scared you can be.
Soon, you forget. But the reef never forgets. It just waits.”—Gilbert Roland as
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” released in a limited edition
(3,000 copies) Blu-ray by Twilight Time, is either the second or third movie
ever made in Cinemascope. “The Robe” was the first, and “How to Marry a
Millionaire” was in production at the same time as “Reef” so there’s some
dispute about the release chronology. Basically “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” is
Romeo and Juliet set in the sponge-diving world around Tarpon Springs, Fla.
with a young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore as the “sponge-crossed” couple.
Wagner plays Tony Petrakis, son of Mike (Gilbert Roland), one of the best Greek
sponge divers in the business. Moore plays Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Thomas
Rhys (Richard Boone) the leader of the Conches, the Anglo “hook boat” sponge
fishermen. According to the script by A.I. Bezzerides, there’s no love lost
between the two factions. Greeks stay out in the deep water, the Conches fish
in the shallow waters of the Everglades.
Times are tough for the Greeks, however. The sponges are
disappearing. And Mike owes money to a loan shark who threatens to take his
boat. Mike and his family have two choices. They can go out to the 12-Mile Reef
where Mike already lost one of his sons or they can try moving into the Everglades—
Conch territory. They try the Everglades and do okay until Conch Arnold Dix
(Peter Graves) shows up with some buddies, threatens to cut Mike’s air hose and
grabs their sponge haul. When Mike gets back to Tarpon Springs he looks the
Conches up at their favorite watering haul to settle the score. There Mike
meets Rhys and Dix but violence is prevented when cops show up. Meanwhile,
young Tony and Gwyneth catch love at first sight and run off together while the
grownups are arguing. Wagner, complete with hair dyed black and permed to make
him look Greek, plays Tony as the young stud trying to get out from under the
shadow of his macho father, who calls him “Little Tony.” Moore plays a goofy
girl gaga over handsome Tony, even though Dix thinks he’s her boyfriend.
“Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” has plenty of plot
complications, which only get worse when Mike decides his only recourse is to
dive the 12-Mile Reef. On the way out to the reef, Roland, in one of his best
performances as a tough but tender-hearted macho man, gives the speech quoted
above, telling Tony he can’t let him dive because it’s too dangerous.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away. It’s
a very simple story with very broad characters, and admittedly has a totally
unbelievable ending. I’ve read a lot of nasty reviews of the film that dismiss it
as shallow melodrama with some critics, even faulting screenwriter Bezzerides
for inventing the sociological issues posed by the conflict between the Greeks
and the Conches. But who cares about that?
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” on Blu-ray is an exceptionally
entertaining movie for several reasons. First is the on-location Cinemascope
photography shot around Tarpon Springs and Key West by Edward Cronjager. Director
Robert D. Webb uses Cronjager’s camera to capture a lot of the local color and
some of the culture of the Greek divers. I’ve been to Tarpon Springs and it
doesn’t look much different today. The underwater scenes are spectacular. Second
is a near-perfect music score by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. Bernie
outdoes himself with this soundtrack, providing a truly sensory experience that
makes you feel your down in the water with the divers. Third, is the presence
of two great actors in the cast. Roland and Boone provide the anchor for this
film, giving it a weight its two fledgling co-stars simply didn’t have. Enough
cannot be said about Roland, who never fails to give his characters a sense of
“stature” as he so eloquently put it in “The Lady and the Bullfighter.” Boone as
Rhys has the authority needed to play a man who all the Conches look up to.
favourite Spaghetti Western theme song – and I stress theme song, not theme music
– is Roberto Fia’s splendidly triumphant rendition of composer Luis Bacalov’s ‘Django’.
The only one that comes close to challenging it for my affection is ‘Angel Face’,
the opening credits ballad from A Pistol for Ringo (o.t. Una pistola per Ringo),
Graf Maurizio’s silky vocal marrying up with Ennio Morricone’s passionate
melody to forge a little scoop of sorrow-tinged nectar. And although I confess
that my knowledge of Italian westerns is criminally deficient, of the titles I
have actually seen I’d unhesitatingly cite A Pistol for Ringo among my
in 1965, the film was directed by Duccio Tessari, an uncredited co-writer on
the previous year’s uber-classic A Fistful of Dollars. Part of the appeal of
Tessari’s film is that the story takes place on the run up to Christmas,
although being as sun-baked southern Spain is doubling for the Wild West it’s
an exceptionally balmy one. Nevertheless, the inclusion of tinsel-decked trees,
Christmas dinner and even a carol or two embroider the proceedings with a
festive ambience conspicuously rare – perhaps even unique (I reiterate that my
knowledge is lacking) – in Spaghetti Western terrain.
a couple of days before Christmas in the town of Quemado and ruthless Mexican
bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho) and his gang have plundered the bank of its entire
cash reserve. Their escape route to the border cut off by pursuing lawmen, the
bandits hole up at the hacienda of Major Clyde (Antonio Hasas) where they take everyone
hostage, including Clyde’s daughter Ruby (Hally Hammond), who also happens to
be the fiancée of the Sheriff (George Martin). Under siege, Sancho threatens to
kill two hostages a day until the law agrees to back off and let them ride away
unhindered. Desperate for help, the Sheriff turns to scar-cheeked gunslinger
Angel Face (Montgomery Wood) – Ringo to his friends – who’s currently locked up
in the town jail on a quadruple murder charge. He makes Ringo a proposal: infiltrate
the gang, eliminate them and rescue the hostages and he’ll be rewarded with 30%
of the retrieved cash and exonerated of his crimes.
Tessari co-scripted A Pistol for Ringo, his fifth feature film, with Alfonso
Balcázar. Casting Montgomery Wood in his debut starring role was a
masterstroke; Wood is actually the nom de guerre of former stuntman Giuliano
Gemma – all the better for performing his own gags, which include crashing
through a ceiling to land upright on a grand piano and leaping from a galloping
steed. Gemma has a scorching intensity about him and he gifts the self-serving
Ringo with an affable personality and a cunning, cocksure attitude in the face
of adversity. He also prefers milk to hard liquor and has a habit of dishing
out pearls of wisdom at felicitous moments (“Never cry for a dead person – it’s
pointless.”). He’s introduced playing hopscotch with some children, breaks off
to take down a quartet of gunmen with the matter-of-factness of swatting flies,
finishes up the game and strolls casually away. This is a guy who, with three
bad guys still to be disposed of, realises he only has one bullet left in his
gun and yet somehow still manages to pull it off. You’d really not want to be
looking down the business end of Ringo’s six-shooter, but just the same he’s a
very likeable anti-hero figure.
Sancho meanwhile makes for a nicely greasy villain, coincidentally also named
Sancho. He shares some great scenes with Gemma, the best of which finds Sancho
threatening to put a bullet through the bound Ringo’s head, only to find
himself compelled to relent time and again as our unflustered hero convinces
him he’s a valuable asset best kept alive – and what’s more his help is going
to cost Sancho an ever-escalating cut of the booty! There’s even some gentle
humour thrown in during a gathering ‘round the piano to sing carols, with
Sancho awkwardly mumbling his way through “Silent Night”.
Hammond is actually Lorella De Luca, director Tessari’s wife, and she
brings a measure of prim sex appeal to the show, although beyond playing
vulnerable she isn’t given too much to do – at least not until the finale when
she finally gets her hands on a shotgun. Meanwhile Nieves Navarro (wife of the
film’s co-producer Luciano Ercoli) fills the role of sultry bad girl rather
deliciously; despite the fact she’s one of the intruders in wealthy landowner
Antonio Hasas’s home, he has an amorous eye on her – and who can blame him? Amiable
Manuel Muñiz is in situ primarily for light relief.
of light relief, in my limited experience of Italian westerns they generally
tend to be more brutal than their American counterparts, but A Pistol for Ringo
is a bloodless, pretty frivolous affair, more mischievous in tone than one
might expect from the sub-genre. That tone is established in the first few
seconds as two unsmiling gunslingers stride towards each other and then, as
opposed to drawing their weapons as anticipated, wish each other a Merry
Christmas. To be fair the story itself is no great shakes, I can’t defend it, but
regardless of any shortcomings this is very respectable fare that gallops along
at a lively pace and – as do the best of them – leaves you wanting more.
Though we’re only a few months into 2018, I’m already dead
certain that Shout! Factory’s brand new Blu-ray edition of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) will be regarded as one
of the most generous, lovingly produced and expansive reissues of the
year.This remarkable set offers nearly
three hours of beautifully constructed bonus materials to supplement the actual
feature’s ninety-nine minute running time.In case you’re wondering, the short answer is, “Yes.” It’s officially now time to retire your
treasured Laserdisc copy of Matinee as
well as the now-rendered-totally-inconsequential bare bones DVD issued by
Universal in 2010.
an undeniably warm and wonderful film, an affectionate but quirky Valentine.In a series of amazing supplemental features
included with this set, several key members of the film’s creative team suggest
the movie was, in essence, director Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) very personal love letter to the
art of the B-movie.Critically praised,
but not commercially successful upon its release in early winter of 1993,
Shout! Factory has added this title to its “Shout Select” catalogue designed to
“shine a light” on “unheralded gems.”This film is certainly one such deserved
jewel, but Matinee Director of Photography
John Hora appears less dreamy eyed than some when offering his own honest post-assessment.
Cognizant that the Hollywood industry was just that, an industry, it was Hora’s contention that
regardless of the immaculate staging and wonderful storytelling of Dante’s very
personal film, he suggested the director would need to pursue a more
traditional career path following the indulgence of Matinee.The age of making
films for what Hora would describe – perhaps too dismissively - as a
“specialized audience,” had passed.Making more marketplace films for consumption by a more general public of
cinemagoers would be the only guarantor of future employment.
If Hora offered a tough in-hindsight assessment, it was
not an unreasonable one.Dante himself
would recall that no one, neither early on at Warner Bros. nor later at Universal,
were particularly optimistic about the film’s potential as box office dynamite.Acknowledging the project as a labor-of-love,
Dante accepted his tribute to the “B-movie” magic of days long gone might best be
realized as an independent film project. When Dante’s early investors reneged
on their promises of bankrolling the production, the director was forced to
negotiate directly with the juggernaut that was Universal Studios for
financing. In Dante’s own recollection, Universal’s accountants emerged shakily
from the board room giving the eccentric project a nervous, wary blessing.It was a rare industry moment, the director
would concede with a sigh, when “Passion won over reason.”
In hindsight Dante mused that Universal’s green lighting
of Matinee was to “my everlasting
gratitude, their everlasting regret.”The film is undeniably brilliant cinema and
most assuredly a wonderful time capsule piece; but it was in design and intent an
indie film, one not likely destined for blockbuster status.Dante’s original idea was to bring the film
out in limited release in art house cinemas.He hoped positive word-to-mouth might help create a buzz, and was
confident that this film – one designed for cineastes
in mind - would be met with favorable critical appraisal.But in 1993 Universal was a corporate titanic
that dropped their films into blanketing nationwide release for a quick return
on investment.Sadly, Matinee was too insular a film to appeal
to a mass audience, finishing a disappointing sixth even in its first week or
Originally in development at Warner Bros., writer Jerico
Stone’s original screenplay of Matinee
– which Dante described as a “fantasy” concerning nostalgic friends who
congregate one night at a haunted neighborhood theater - would differ wildly
from the final product.Though Stone,
billed simply as “Jerico,” would share on-screen credit along with screenwriter
Charlie Haas for the original story, he would, much aggrieved, later litigate
unsuccessfully against the Writer’s Guild for screenplay credit.In any event, Warner Bros. would eventually
pass on Stone’s early unmarketable treatment, as would several other
studios.Undeterred, Dante chose to
bring in fellow New Jersey “Monster Kid” and writer Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) to take a
whack at the script.It was Naha who wove
in the un-credited idea of a beloved TV-horror film host (ala WCAU and WABC’s Zacherley) coming to visit a
neighborhood bijou to promote the latest offering of low-budget cinematic
Revisiting A Passage to India (1984)
on Turner Classics the other night, I was struck in a way that I had never been
before by how incredibly beautiful and powerful Judy Davis’s performance is in
this movie. The plot of the film, based loosely on a 1924 novel by English
writer E.M. Forster, revolves around the adventures of two Victorian English
women in early 20th century India. The younger woman, Adela Quested, played by Davis, has come to that
country with the likely intention of marrying a local British magistrate named
Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). She is accompanied on her sea voyage by Heaslop’s
mother, known in the film simply as Mrs. Moore, played exquisitely by Peggy
Ashcroft. The two women become good friends during the trip and share a disdain
for the kind of English class snobbery they encounter upon their arrival. One
hot afternoon they decide to take a day trip from the city, known as
Chandrapore in the novel, where they have lodgings to visit the fictional Marabar
Caves, a site reportedly based on the Barabar Caves in the Makhdumpur region of Jehanabad
district, Bihar. Note: David Lean, the film’s director and writer, decided against
shooting these scenes at Barabar because he felt the location lacked the scenic
grandeur he so loved to showcase in his pictures.
During the outing, Mrs.
Moore has an attack of severe claustrophobia while visiting the first cave -- a
foreshadowing of her own death within a few short days. She insists that Adela
and Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), a young Indian physician whose idea it was to
visit the caverns, continue their sightseeing without her. Shortly after this an incident occurs (or does it?)
involving the couple. We see a frantic Adela running down a steep
ravine in a state of great agitation, as if being chased by someone. (In an
important earlier linking scene we saw her riding her bicycle alone on the
outskirts of town where she encountered a number of highly erotic Indian
statues abandoned in the tall grass; an experience which clearly left her
emotionally shaken.)Upon returning to Chandrapore, Aziz is shocked to find himself accused of
attempted rape. He is immediately arrested and jailed to await trial. All this
is prelude to the moment when Adela takes the witness stand for the prosecution
Among my favorite classic American film is Alice Adams (1935), the early Katherine Hepburn
vehicle. There is a moment in that movie when director George Stevens puts the
young actress’s face fully in frame (just as David Lean does in Passage with
Davis, but with less tenderness) holding it there as she muses on small-town
social snobbery. “People do talk about you, oh yes they do…,” Alice says in her
silly, heartbreaking manner. There is something of this same unsparing,
introspective quality in the climatic courtroom scene with Adela: there is much
more, too. Two lives hang in the balance here, the life of the accused and that
of his accuser. What Adela says or doesn’t say at that moment will forever
determine not only Aziz’s fate, but hers as well. She can either choose to save face by
remaining silent on the matter, or risk destroying everything by speaking up. Everything hinges on her decision. I am reminded
of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot: Do I dare/ Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For
decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse… So how should I presume?
Published for the first time anywhere, in
celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane's birth, come two short
novels in the same book. "The Last Stand" (Spillane's final novel) is
preceded by "A Bullet for Satisfaction," an unfinished manuscript
that was finalized by Spillane's long-time collaborator Max Allan Collins. Both
stories are satisfying reads. The book has been published by the Hard Case Crime imprint from Titan Books.
Mickey Spillane is best known for his
character Mike Hammer, the fictional P.I. that redefined the "action
hero" and spawned countless imitators. Unlike private investigators before
him, Mike Hammer was a merciless executor of villains who slept with countless
beautiful, willing women. Sound like anyone we know? The first Mike Hammer
novel, "I, The Jury," was published in 1947, six years prior to Ian
Fleming's James Bond debut, "Casino Royale." It may be argued that if
Fleming was indeed James Bond's literary father, Spillane and Mike Hammer could
be considered, if not grandfathers, then influences. Fleming admitted to that
but he also had an influence on Spillane. The mid-1960s saw Spillane introduce
a new character, Tiger Mann, an agent for a private organization dedicated to
wiping out Communism. Tiger Mann lasted four novels.
If there is such a thing as a
"Tough-Guy-Renaissance-Man," Mickey Spillane was it. After a brief
stint in college he worked summers as a lifeguard and for a period of time was
a trapeze artist for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.Through a friendship with
fellow Gimbels department store employee Joe Gill, he began his career
as a comic book writer in 1940, eventually writing an eight-page story a day on
a diverse number of characters from different publishing companies, including
Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. He enlisted in the United
States Army Air Corps on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor and
became a fighter pilot and flight instructor.
"I, The Jury" was written in just
19 days and sent off to publisher E. P. Dutton. Between the hardcover released
in 1947 and the subsequent paperback a year later, the novel sold more than 6
1/2 million copies in the US alone. A new career began, along with a
reinvention of the genre.
Mickey Spillane was also an actor. His first
leading role was given to him by John Wayne, who hired him in 1954 to appear
with Pat O'Brien and lion-tamer Clyde Beatty in the Wayne-produced film
"Ring of Fear," which Spillane, without credit, also co-wrote, although,
he did receive a white Jaguar as a gift from producer Wayne. He also starred as
his most famous creation, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 British produced film
"The Girl Hunters" for which he received favorable notices acting
alongside such veterans as Lloyd Nolan and future “Goldfinger” actress Shirley
Eaton. But perhaps for many of us of a particular age, he was most well known
for his appearances in the Miller Lite commercials as his alter-ego of Hammer
along with "Doll," Lee Meredith of "The Producers" fame.
First up in the book is "A Bullet for
Satisfaction”, which presents a very Hammeresque character in a Hammeresque
story. Told in Spillane's traditional first-person style, Detective Capt. Rod
Dexter is both the hero (anti-hero?) and narrator. The book opens with Dexter
investigating the murder of the politically connected Mayes Rogers. But no one
seems to be talking. In an argument with the D.A, he loses his temper; "Then
I'll just continue my investigation of the Rogers’ murder and go anywhere and
everywhere it leads me. And before I'm through with you, you'll be doing plenty
of talking". Not
surprisingly, he loses his job. He takes it on his own to continue the
investigation unofficially. The web spins, the clock turns and he finds himself
getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he comes closer to unraveling a
conspiracy. Of course he finds time for a dalliance, this time with the sister
of Rogers’ widow.
Much like Mike Hammer, Det. Dexter is a man
driven by vengeance. And much like Hammer, Dexter has a lot of luck with dames.
When he, along with one of the women he seduces are kidnapped, Dexter diagnoses
the situation thusly: "The other one grabbed Jean. She tried to break
away and he slapped her until she was still. He was dead - he just didn't know
it yet." A short time later: "Behind the wheel now, Bacon smiled
and let a low, rumbling laugh come deep from his throat. 'What have you got
against a little joy ride, Dexter?' He laughed again. So did the guy in the
back. Killing them would be a pleasure."
Yes, Mickey Spillane's work can be a guilty
pleasure but he never fails to satisfy. I guess that's why sales of his books
have now topped 225 million.
The lead story here, "The Last
Stand", is an entirely different type of book. First of all, it's told in
the third-person, not Spillane's typical style. There are no shoot outs.
There's no sex. There's a hell of a terrific story, though.
Joe Gillian is a pilot who, when his vintage
BT 13A airplane loses power, lands "in the middle of a desert that was
someplace in the United States where nobody would ever look to find him and, so
far, not even a vulture was eyeing him for supper."
Drinking a beer (Miller Lite, natch -
Spillane got a plug in) to pass the time, he meets Sequoia Pete, an Indian from
a local reservation who's "fossil hunting" but who has lost his horse.
They share a "Tastes great, less filling, right?"beer and try to find their way back to
Pete's hogan. The buddy movie begins.
The love interest shows up soon after in the
form of Pete's sister who is as brilliant as she is sexy and Joe finds himself
pulled into a whirlwind of trouble that involves criminals, G-men, the tribe
and a secret that could lead to incredible wealth and power.
Then there's Many Thunders, aka Big Arms. "They
call him Big Arms for a reason," Running Fox said softly. "He picks
up train wheels. He plays with tree trunks. Sometimes he lifts cars right off
the ground." He also considers Running Fox to be his woman and has
hurt many other men who he thought were a threat to his claim. And he's going
to fight Joe on Feast Day.
"The Last Stand" is a terrific romp
through the western desert of the US with colorful, well-fleshed characters and
a fine story. It's written cinematically. You can almost picture the people and
the world they inhabit.
I thoroughly enjoyed both these stories both
times I read them. I can't say this about too many books, but when I turned the
last page of "The Last Stand" I turned the book over, turned to the
first page and started to read it again.
Pinter was one of the groundbreaking playwrights that emerged out of the 1950s,
along with Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and a handful of others. They changed
the landscape of what audiences could expect on the stage. Pinter’s first
decade of remarkable plays (and a few screenplays) fall into a category dubbed
by critics as “comedies of menace.” They feature (usually) working-class
Britons in situations in which an ambiguous threat lies underneath the surface
of an otherwise mundane existence. The subtext
is everything in a Pinter play. Known for the pauses in dialogue
(specifically designated in the scripts), Pinter was able to pack weighty
meaning in what is not said, more so
than perhaps any other modern playwright.
The Birthday Party was his first
full-length play (written in 1957, premiered in 1958) and is one of his
most-produced and well-known works—although probably not so much by anyone who
isn’t an aficionado of the theatre. You’re not going to see a production of The Birthday Party at your local high
school. The Homecoming (1967) won
Pinter the Tony Award, and, for my money, is his greatest work (it was
brilliantly filmed by Peter Hall in 1973 for the American Film Theatre
experiment). As a screenwriter, Pinter’s work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Betrayal (1983) received Oscar nominations, and he received the
Nobel Prize shortly before his death.
filmmaker William Friedkin, who had yet to make The French Connection and The
Exorcist, had seen a production of The
Birthday Party in England in the early 60s and, by his account, was knocked
out by it. He personally met with Pinter to convince the elusive playwright to
allow him to adapt the play into a film. It took some doing, but finally Pinter
relented and wrote the screenplay himself. The picture was produced on a
shoestring budget, but Friedkin managed to employ several outstanding British
actors—many of whom were already a part of Pinter’s unofficial “repertory
those familiar with Pinter, the results are outstanding. For everyone else—The Birthday Party could very well be a
Shaw stars as Stanley, a nervous boarder in a seaside village rooming house run
by Meg (Dandy Nichols) and Petey (Moultrie Kelsall). It may—or may not
be!—Stanley’s birthday. Enter two mysterious new boarders, Goldberg (Sydney
Tafler) and McCann (Patrick Magee), whom we know have an agenda with Stanley
but we’re never sure what it really is. We just know it’s a threat, and they
make things very uncomfortable for him… and the audience. Shaw and Magee,
especially, deliver riveting performances.
say more would be a disservice to the viewer and to Pinter, for much of the
power of The Birthday Party is its
mystery and ambiguity. Just know that by embarking on this journey you will be
entering a heightened realism in which characters never say what they mean and what
they don’t say means more. As an adaptation of Pinter’s play, Friedkin’s The Birthday Party is quite faithful and
Lorber’s new Blu-ray presents a 1080p transfer that looks fair enough for its
age and intentionally drab cinematography and setting. The nearly half-hour supplemental
interview with director Friedkin is fascinating—he relates the entire history
of how he got involved with Pinter and the film, and he throws in anecdotes
about the playwright and a few other characters (like Joseph Losey). Theatrical
trailers for this and other Kino Lorber releases—many related to Pinter—are
The Birthday Party will certainly be
appreciated by those of us who were theatre majors many years ago, and by the
art house cinema crowd. For others, the picture might be an acquired taste.
(Author Gabriel Hershman has written "Black Sheep: the Authorized Biography of Nicol Williamson" (The History Press). Williamson, who passed away in 2011 at age 75, was an enormous talent. John Osborne called him "The greatest actor since Brando". However, he had many personal demons that sidetracked what should have been a far more successful career. Hershman explores the peaks and valleys of this temperamental man's dramatic life and career and in this article reminds us of why his talents and work should be rediscovered.)
BY GABRIEL HERSHMAN
Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Albert Finney,
Tom Courtenay and … Nicol Williamson. Just a few of the most influential actors
of their generation.
Were you surprised when I mentioned Nicol’s name? He was, at the time of
his death, the least well known of
that generation of actors. And yet, in my opinion, Nicol should have topped that
list. Anybody who saw Nicol in Osborne’s InadmissibleEvidence, sweating, combustible,
driven by almost orgasmic self-loathing – ‘the greatest performance in a modern
play’ in Michael Coveney’s words – knew they were watching an extraordinary
If only we could re-visit Waiting
for Godot, Diary of a Madman, The Ginger Man and, of course, Hamlet – a performance that led Nicol to
the White House to give a one-man show in front of Richard Nixon – then it
would be clear: Nicol was the
foremost actor of his generation.
But … Nicol’s stage triumphs made his screen career
seem desperately unsatisfactory by comparison. Yes, Nicol wanted to be a film
star. An early meltdown at Dundee Rep came when Lindsay Anderson chose not to
cast him as Frank Machin in ThisSportingLife (1963). If he’d got that role – and there’s no reason to
assume Nicol would have made a lesser impact than Richard Harris – then Nicol’s
film career could have been different. Sadly, it was several years before
audiences would see him in a major role, to glimpse that blowtorch talent on
Nicol shone in The
Bofors Gun (1968), playing a deranged, alcoholic squaddie who kills himself
and, in so doing, scuppers the career prospects of a mild-mannered bombardier
who’s desperate for promotion. It was a barnstorming portrayal.Pauline Kael later criticised this and other performances
of Nicol’s as ‘too strong’ – but she was wrong. Take LaughterintheDark
(1969). He was vulnerable and oddly affecting as the businessman blinded by
infatuation (and a car crash) in Tony Richardson’s otherwise ineffective
re-working of Nabokov’s classic.
Nicol was on top form again with one of his serial
collaborators, Jack Gold, in The Reckoning
(1970), a powerful story of class and revenge. It should have been up there
with GetCarter but it was overlooked. The film of Hamlet – although too dark and claustrophobic – at least captured Nicol’s
nasal, deliberately unsexy prince for posterity.
By 1970, despite not having a movie hit, Nicol was a
genuine superstar. He wed gorgeous actress Jill Townsend who would enjoy small-screen
success with Poldark. Yet an essay by
Kenneth Tynan, written at the time of Nicol’s White House triumph, hinted at the
demons that eventually destroyed him. In particular, it seems to me, that Nicol’s
altercations– unlike those of Harris and Reed – were often with influential
people. ‘Victims’ included Broadway producer David Merrick, whom Nicol punched
when the legendary showman demanded cuts to InadmissibleEvidence, Dick Cavett, whose chat
show he once unceremoniously exited, and, later, Evan Handler, who got a beating
during the infamous Broadway performance of I
Perhaps – for all their hellraising and vitriolic
behavior – guys like Reed and Harris knew who to be nice to. Perhaps they were
simply more endearing drunks? Either way, by the early Seventies, Nicol was
losing ground. He stumbled again on film. Who remembers his Red Bull
performance in The Jerusalem File? Or
TheMonk? (Don’t worry, even diehard fans of Seventies movies don’t
know them!!) They have disappeared.
Nicol offered a brilliant interpretation of Arturo Ui
– the Hitler-like gangster in a TV version of Brecht’s classic drama. But it
was soon forgotten. Nicol made a memorable villain (his son, Luke, thought it
was his greatest screen performance) in The
Wilby Conspiracy. But it didn’t do much for his screen career. Playing
Sherlock Holmes in The Seven Per Cent Solution
looked like a breakthrough. Yet some enthusiasts had trouble accepting Nicol as
a drug-addled Holmes.
Williamson starred as Sherlock Holmes opposite Robert Duvall as Watson in the 1976 film "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution".
By then Nicol’s life was increasingly troubled. He
stormed out of Enemy of the People and
times before a scene was shot. He eventually took the lead in TheHumanFactor, Otto Preminger’s
cash-strapped tale of political double dealing. Yet again it was a troubled project. Preminger
seemed to be in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It needed Hitchcock to bring it
to life. Yet in Nicol’s self-effacing, benevolent lead – a political agnostic
caught between despicable ideologies – there was so much nuance and subtlety.
Stage success continued to come Nicol’s way, in Coriolanus and TwelfthNight, in a Royal
Court revival of InadmissibleEvidence, and, especially, in a Broadway
production of UncleVanya. George C. Scott, his notoriously
fiery co-star, was driven to apoplexy when Nicol won better notices. Yet
genuine film stardom was elusive. Sadly for Nicol, who hated TV, it’s likely
that an episode of Columbo was his
best remembered screen performances of the decade. (Rosebud?!) See, I told
The Eighties finally gave Nicol a palpable hit – as Merlin
in Excalibur. Such was Nicol’s
perceived unreliability, and lack of box office clout, that John Boorman had to
fight to win approval to cast him. Nicol enjoyed the role but, strangely, it
did little for his film career. Instead he played third fiddle to Oliver Reed
and Klaus Kinski (whom he cheerfully described as ‘a cunt’) in the enjoyably
hammy Venom. To be fair, if anyone
caused trouble on that film, it was not Nicol.
After that? Who remembers I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can? Or his portrayal of Mountbatten in
the TV series The Last Viceroy? A late
supporting role (well, he was only 50 but approaching the end of his film career)
in BlackWidow gave a hint of what could have been. He played, with
endearing tenderness, a successful but lonely museum director. If you re-visit
the film, watch Nicol’s performance carefully, the way he fiddles with his watch
when he meets Theresa Russell, his little jig when he shows her his Seattle
dream house. Ah, what a talent Hollywood missed out on in the Eighties!
Nicol continued to shine on stage. But great
theatrical performances exist only in memory. Trevor Nunn, a particularly
insightful contributor to my biography, remarked that ‘the achievements of
those who work in the theatre are no more than writing on the sand. There may
well be a vivid and important message for all to see, for a while, but by and
by the tide comes in, and when it next goes out, that writing has disappeared’.
All too true, sadly. Nicol continued to appear on
stage, memorably in his one-man show Jack:
A Night on the Town with John Barrymore. A contributor to my book, Saskia
Wickham, told me she thought Nicol was “mesmerising and just sublime … a
genius”. This, in the end, is where the appeal of Nicol and – my biography – resides.
Nicol was perhaps a great screen actor lost. But I suspect that history will
regard him as probably the greatest stage actor of his generation nevertheless.
Russell’s controversial but widely-acclaimed adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s
novel, Women in Love, might have had
a better and more appropriate title—Men
in Love. While touted as being an examination of the nature of love and
sexuality between two men and two women, in the end we are left with the more
potent notion that there is a love that can exist between two males—as friends—that is more powerful and
“eternal” than the love a man will have for a woman.
in 1969 in Britain and in 1970 in the U.S. (hence, its four Oscar nominations
for the year 1970), Women in Love has
not aged well in terms of its arty and borderline pretentious direction… but as
I tell my Film History students, “judge a film within the context of when it
was released.” In that regard, Women was
a groundbreaking and daring motion picture of its time. In the U.S. it played
only in the big city art house theaters, probably due to its frank nudity (both
female and male—one of the first
mainstream pictures to feature full frontal men in the raw) and subject matter.
the early 1920s in the English countryside, where class standing is very much a
thing; but a movement is afoot for the emancipation of women, free-thinking,
avant-garde art, and the breaking of social taboos. While the story focuses on
four characters—Rupert (Alan Bates), Gerald (Oliver Reed), Gudrun (Glenda
Jackson), and Ursula (Jennie Linden)—the “protagonist,” as it were, is Rupert.
In fact, it is how he approaches his relationships with his best friend Gerald
and the woman he eventually marries, Ursula, that is the crux of the story.
Jackson, however, won the Best Actress Oscar as the free-spirited,
take-no-prisoners Gudrun in what is honestly a supporting role in the story.
This statement is not meant to take away from her engaging, charismatic
performance—she’s terrific. There is no question that she steals the movie. But
Linden has more screen time as her younger, more conservative sister.
made the film a cause célèbre at the time was the
much-talked-about nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed—which, apparently,
they had to talk Russell in to filming because they were keen to do it. Beautifully
shot by Oscar-nominated Billy Williams, the rumble in an English manor study by
firelight rightly is a remarkable piece of cinema.
Russell received his only directing Oscar nomination for the film. Some might
watch it today and think that his work—and the acting as well—is over-the-top.
The truth is that Russell intentionally stylized
the movie with a heightened realism that matches the passion and intensity
of its subject matter. This is a picture in which style and substance are
notched up to eleven. Russell, in his later career, would often be accused of extravagance
and pretentiousness—but here, Women in
Love is relatively tame in comparison.
gorgeous period piece with heady dialogue, editing influenced by the French New
Wave, lovely costumes, and beautiful scenery, is showcased by the Criterion
Collection’s new restored 4K digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural
include two different commentaries from 2003 (one by Russell, one by
producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer); new interviews with DP Billy Williams and
editor Michael Bradswell; vintage interviews with Russell and Jackson; an
interesting on-location piece featuring Bates, Linden, and Kramer; and the
most striking supplement is Russell’s own biopic autobiography, A British Picture—Portrait of an Enfant
Terrible (1989), a bizarre but fun piece in which a little boy plays
Russell throughout the years, even when Russell is an adult. Another
interesting, but less successful, inclusion is a 1972 short film, Second Best, based on a D. H. Lawrence
short story, produced by and starring Bates. The booklet features an essay by
scholar Linda Ruth Williams.
English, and literature buffs will certainly appreciate Women in Love. For those willing to position it in its appropriate
historical place, it’s a scrumptious and sensual delight.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the BFI Southbank:
From Monday 2 April – Monday 30 April, BFI Southbank will celebrate one
of the undisputed masters of cinema, Sergio Leone, with screenings of all his films,
as well as a complementary season of contemporary westerns. The season
coincides with the re-release of AFistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone,
1964), which is back in selected
cinemas courtesy of Park
Circus on Friday 13
April, and plays
on extended run during the season. Also included in the season will
be the other two films in Leone’s Dollars Trilogy –Fora Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly (1966) – as well as his virtuosic
Once Upon a Time in
the West(1968), and the American gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America(1984).
There will also be a talk from Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling on Friday 6 Aprilexamining the distinctively
Italian character of Leone’s unique films and
charting how they’ve been
interpreted and celebrated over the years. Leone continues to influence filmmakers, from Edgar Wright
(whose first film was a parody called A Fistful of Fingers) to Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and David Mackenzie, and to complement the season,
there will be screenings of modern takes on westerns, including feminist interpretations and those
which explore the African diaspora's contribution to
the genre; these will
include My Pure Land (2017), followed by
a Q&A with director Sarmad
or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) and a preview of Chloé
Zhao's The Rider (2017).
Sergio Leone came from a filmmaking family, cutting his teeth working on dozens
of features including Ben Hur, and directed his first
Colossus of Rhodes (1961), a traditional
Italian ‘swords and sandals’ film, before moving
on to the genre that would define his career.A Fistful of
Dollars (1964) was the film that put Leone on the map, a
that flips the American western and gives it some European punch. The first
part of Leone’s Dollars
Trilogy, which is re-released on Friday 13 April, firmly sets out
the winning blueprint for the other two: not least in establishing both the
role of Clint Eastwood’s nameless anti-hero and his
memorable collaboration with Ennio Morricone. It’s
sequel For a Few Dollars More (1965) boasted double the budget of its predecessor and saw Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood play a couple of smart but ruthless bounty
hunters closing in on a vicious gang and their horrific leader. Eastwood’s final
film with Leone The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly(1966), which
completed the Dollars Trilogy, ironically
produced some of their finest work during a period of deteriorating relations.
Eastwood stars as Blondie who, in competition with two equally dangerous and
resourceful men, is after a stash of stolen confederate
gold. The resulting film is undoubtedly one of the greatest westerns ever made.
Also screening in
the season will be Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) starring Henry Fonda, Charles
Bronson and Claudia Cardinale. A piece of land with a
vital water source becomes the focus for this epic
piece covering all the best aspects of the Wild West;
it is both a homage to what
came before and a thoroughly
entertaining addition to the genre. Leone’s final
western A Fistful of Dynamite(1971) is set during the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and
sees a bandit and a British explosives expert
reluctantly team-up in a
tale that reflects the
political instability and violence rocking Italy at the time. Though often overshadowed by his
previous work, his final western is a rarely seen
treat. Completing the programme is Leone’s final film
as director, Once Upon a Time in America(1984), which saw the director transfer his ‘adult fairytale’ approach to the American gangster genre, following the friendship between four
youngsters from New York’s Lower East Side as they rise within the ranks of
organised crime. Despite an all-star cast including
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern and Joe Pesci, the film was overlooked
critically and commercially in the US, but has since been re-appraised
as one of the greatest gangster films in cinema history.
westerns screening alongside the Leone titles bring
the genre right up to the present day, with recent releases and previews of
brand new features, and regular BFI series WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and AFRICAN ODYSSEYS alsofeaturing
films from the genre. Based on a true story, My Pure Land (Sarmad Masud, 2017) is a western with a feminist
twist which centres on a land dispute in rural Pakistan; the screening on Thursday
12 April will be followed by a Q&A with director Sarmad Masud.
Another western with a distinctly feminist perspective is Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly
Surya, 2017), which intelligently blends the western genre with arthouse
sensibilities; the film, which previews as part of the BFI’s WOMAN WITH A
MOVE CAMERA series will be followed by a Q&A with the director Mouly
In 2013, writer Noel Murray presented a fine article in the AV/TV Club web site that examined the origins and enduring appeal of the classic 1960s spy series "The Avengers", which was actually inspired by a previous TV series, "Police Surgeon". Murray tracked the sensational reaction to the show in the UK and its subsequent appearance on American television. He also outlined the interesting casting with star Patrick Macnee benefiting from two strong female leads- Honor Blackman and her successor Diana Rigg. Most intriguingly, Murray pointed out that the overall quirky appeal of the show is best illustrated by the 1965 episode "Death at Bargain Prices" (telecast in 1966 in the USA). Click here to read.
The works of William Shakespeare were ideally
suited to the sensibilities of Orson Welles. More than once, on stage and in
the cinema, The Bard’s scenarios supplied a prime source for Welles the auteur,
and the dramatist’s distinct personalities manifest themselves in grandiose roles
skillfully personified by Welles the actor, in his straightforward Shakespearian
adaptations and in characters created to embody correspondingly epic types (Charles
Foster Kane, as the most notable example). This artistic appreciation and cross-form
application was most outstandingly realized in Chimes at Midnight, from 1965, but the same impassioned devotion—aesthetic
and thematic—is likewise evident in the dynamic, striking Othello (1951), otherwise known as The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice, an unsung Welles film now
available on an exceptional Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
love affair with Shakespeare began at a young age, when he published an
annotated series of Shakespearean texts at the age of 12 and, later, at just 16,
when he performed in assortedproductions
at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, an outing that would prove significant to Othello’s genesis. Fleeing the infamous
blacklist business in America, Welles arrived in Rome to star in Gregory
Ratoff’s Black Magic (1949), and it
was around that time that he embarked on the disorderly path toward what would
be his second consecutive cinematic rendering of a Shakespeare primer,
following 1948’s Macbeth. What ensued
was a convoluted lesson in haphazard, yet thoroughly determined independent
filmmaking, with years of on-again, off-again shooting, different
cinematographers and editors, several locations (Rome, Venice, Morocco, etc.),
miscellaneous financial interruptions, and multiple casting changes—there were two
Desdemonas before Welles settled on Suzanne Cloutier, whose voice he
nevertheless had dubbed by Gudrun Ure. Othello
was initially (finally) released in 1952, when it shared the Grand Prize with Two Cents Worth of Hope (1952) at the
Cannes Film Festival. But that was not the end of its difficulties. The details
of the whole process are recounted (and frequently repeated) on the Criterion
disc, dispersed amongst a range of interviews and documentaries and in Geoffrey
O’Brien’s accompanying essay. But what matters most, is that while a decent
film managing to survive the turmoil would be remarkable enough, that a very good film was the ultimate result
is even more impressive.
Beginning just after the death of
Othello (Welles assumes audiences know how and why this happened and so spends
little time worrying about exposition), Othello
flashes back and delves into the intricate web of deception that led to the Venetian
general’s demise. Prominent in this charade is Othello’s traitorous ensign,Iago
(Micheál MacLiammóir), whose dubious, ambiguous motives are born not from some pure,
abstract malevolence, but from an ordinary professional, personal resentfulness
(or, so Welles would also interpret it, potential impotency). Driving a wedge
between Othello and his radiant wife, Desdemona (Cloutier),
the weaselly Iago takes advantage of Roderigo’s (Robert Coote) jealousy—he,
too, has amorous eyes for Desdemona—and the two of them devise a ruse to drive
Othello mad with suspicion and to concurrently sew discord between he and his favored
lieutenant, Cassio (Michael Laurence). Cloutier is at her best in moments of
unknowing bewilderment, her chaste beauty convincingly stunned by Othello’s
rage and his distrust, while MacLiammóir, who co-founded the Gate and was
fundamental to Welles’ early theatrical career, is the embodiment of deceit; hovering
always on the periphery, scheming and biding his time, he is all vacillating slants
and slithering movements. Welles, of course, is center stage, his performance
descending from one of class, command, and charm (“I think this tale would win
my daughter, too,” says one onlooker as Othello captivates the crowd—and the
viewer), to one of deadening confusion and despair. And yet, even as the seeds
of doubt produce an ensnaring crop of gradual torment, Welles loses none of his
booming, prevailing presence, nor the magnitude of his theatrical inflection.
Welles had openly criticized Laurence
Olivier’s approach to Shakespearean cinema, regarding his interpretations as
little more than filmed theater. So, it stands to reason that Welles, already a
visual mastermind, would render his Othello
in extraordinary illustrative fashion. There may be less polish—a result of
budgetary restrictions and the movie’s slapdash assembly—but there is a tangible
increase in filmic vigor, as Welles treats the material not as something
required for “serious” actors and directors to undertake, but as something to
be passionately fulfilled. Translating this enthusiasm with requisite care and affection,
Welles advances Othello as an artful
mélange of stark, expressionistic designs and vivid, textured imagery, like
engravings animated by the complex balance of light and shadow for which he was
so renowned. Part of his innate, virtuoso style has to do with nearly shot-by-shot
ingenuity, crafting (and Othello feels
very much like an artisanal creation) a rich production design detailed in
depth and accented by astonishing camera angles, reflective surfaces, and
crossed shadows generated by tapestries, iron bars, and thatched roofs. Gloomy
interiors portent the delirious, devastating downfall to come, while outside,
the backdrop of bleak skies and raging waters induce a similarly imposing
it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
When you think of a touching movie about the adventures of an elderly man and his beloved cat, chances are "Harry and Tonto" springs to mind. However, there is another worthwhile movie that merits a look, even if it doesn't boast Art Carney in his Oscar-winning performance. "Frank and the Wondercat" is a 2015 documentary by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Tony Massil that won acclaim on the film festival circuit a few years ago. It's now been released on DVD by BrinkVision and is streaming on Amazon Prime. Ostensibly, it's an amusing tale that follows 80 year-old Pittsburgh native Frank Furko as he reminisces about Pudgie Wudgie, his tabby cat of fourteen years who was not only his constant companion, but the center of his life as well. However, as the movie progresses it becomes a poignant examination of sentiment, loneliness and dignity in old age. Frank learned early on that Pudgie was somewhat unique among cats in that he was agreeable to being dressed up in all types of exotic costumes and disguises. Pudgie was also adept at learning some tricks that could be performed on stage. For Frank, he proved to be the perfect tonic following a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Before long, Frank became a local sensation even in the era in which "hi tech" meant VHS tapes, upon which Frank dutifully recorded all of Pudgie's appearances. From charity performances to fairs to schools to local TV stations, Frank and Pudgie's legend grew. The documentary makes good use of the battered VHS archives Frank keeps stuffed in drawers inside his cluttered home, which is a monument to his departed best friend. We see gloriously scratchy videos with garish colors as we relive Frank and Pudgie's moments of glory. There is also a clip from the nationally-syndicated "Maury Povich Show" where Pudgie won first prize in a pet contest and Frank discusses how the duo were invited to New York to appear on David Letterman's show. But the comedic aspects of the film are matched by the moving examination of Frank's personal life now that Pudgie is gone. He reflects on his early life and relives painful episodes with his strict father, his undying love for his late mother and his on-going dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL team maintains a museum where there is a wall dedicated to Frank and Pudgie, who never missed a game. (Pudgie would attend in full fan regalia.) We watch as Frank stands by the wall and explains to passersby just how special the Frank and Pudgie team were to local fans. We also see him pay visits to the cemetery where Pudgie is buried in the same plot as Frank's parents (albeit they didn't get their images engraved on the stone.) Frank shows off stacks of condolence letters he received from people everywhere upon Pudgie's passing. It's clear they still provide a much-needed balm for his ailing soul.
"Frank and the Wondercat" is emblematic of the many fine documentaries that often go unnoticed. Fortunately, for this one there is a happy ending with its exposure on DVD and Amazon Prime. Filmmakers Alvarez-Mesa and Massil never mock or exploit their subject and present Frank and his story in a dignified manner. He's eccentric, to be sure, but he's a lovable eccentric. One would think that their film is appreciated by him as the grand achievement of his "partnership" with Pudgie. You don't have to be a cat a lover to admire the movie, but if you are, chances are you'll end up loving it.
One need not be an enthusiast of silent-era cinema to
find Bill Morrison’s illuminating Dawson
City: Frozen Time a totally engrossing, masterfully assembled
documentary.Anyone with even a passing
interest in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries,
of the Klondike Gold Rush, of film preservation, or of time-capsule newsreel
footage will find this film absolutely fascinating and rewarding.Aside from a bit of on-screen prefatory and postscript
talking-head commentary - courtesy of the two surviving and earliest on-site “lost
film” investigators - most of Morrison’s two-hour long film is presented to us as
an intriguing mosaic; an emotive montage expertly combining the imagery of
long-lost vintage newsreels, miraculously salvaged snippets of silent film
footage, and an astonishing series of rescued glass-plate negative photographs –
the latter courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush chronicler Eric Hegg (1867-1947).
There is, perhaps surprisingly, no accompanying audio
narration present on the soundtrack, as combination director/editor/writer Morrison
chose to share the tale almost exclusively through visuals alone.His documentary, in a sense, mimics how a vintage
silent film itself would unspool before us.It’s this composite of photographs, film reels, broadsides, and vintage
newspaper clippings alone that propel the narrative forward. Morrison’s own succinctly
composed inter-titles are overlaid images to provide necessary detail or to impart
historical context.Alex Somers’ moody
and evocative musical score perfectly underpins the gentle historical drama.
The film begins, fittingly, in 1978, more or less at the mystery’s
starting point in a remote Canadian township.It was in the summer of that year when a backhoe operated by the town’s
Pentecostal minister unearthed a most curious discovery:hundreds upon hundreds of film canisters dating
1903 through 1929 were found buried in the permafrost beneath Dawson City’s moribund
recreation center.Thankfully, and with
the gratitude of scholars and filmgoers worldwide, the backhoe operator chose to
engage a work stoppage.Rather than
plough the canisters forever and for all time into oblivion, he decided it prudent
to contact local authorities about this mysterious trove of unearthed film reels.This unusual cache of film prints – most in
various stages of decomposition - was first brought to the attention of Michael
Gates of the Canadian Parks Service.Sensing this find might be an important one, Gates brought in an expert,
Sam Kula, director of Canada’s National Film, Television, and Sound Archives.Shortly after, Kathy Jones, the director of
the Dawson City Museum, was also brought in to assist and help monitor the
Ultimately some 1,500 reels of film were excavated from
the construction site, though – frustratingly - only three hundred and
seventy-two or so of these were eventually deemed salvageable.The enormity of the find - combined with the
fact that many of the unearthed films were identified as early Hollywood
productions - caused the National Archives of Canada to enlist the assistance
of the U.S. Library of Congress.Together the cultural branches of both Canada and the U.S. were able to
save and restore some 533 reels – to one degree or another – salvaging what an
inter-title describes as the “last remnants of 372 silent film titles.”The 372 reels that did survive were found
beneath a former ice skating rink/swimming pool housed inside the old community
recreation center, once owned and operated by the Dawson Amateur Athletic
Association.It was in 1929 that the
film canisters were ingloriously deposited as landfill under the rink at center-ice,
a clumsily engineered attempt to smooth over the complaints of skaters fretting
about the unevenness of the surface at midpoint.
Chances are you never heard of Oscar Micheaux. However, if you read about his remarkable life, you'll be impressed- especially if you are a retro movie lover. Micheaux was a pioneer in African-American cinema. Like most black people, he was appalled by the content of D.W. Griffith's 1915 cinematic sensation "Birth of a Nation". While the film was a landmark in terms of its technical achievements, it was also one of the most racist films the industry would ever produce, extolling the Ku Klux Klan as heroes while vilifying black men as dangers to civilized society. Micheaux, an industrious young man, had already found success writing and publishing novels. In 1918, he decided to also try his hand at making movies. In those days many theaters were still segregated and Micheaux made intelligent, adult films for black audiences. They became sensations with grateful viewers who were sickened by seeing members of their race depicted in degrading manners in mainstream Hollywood production.s. Micheaux would go on to make 44 films and had just started to bridge the gap into desegregated cinema when he passed away. Writing in The Daily Beast, Gil Troy looks back on the life and career of this under-appreciated filmmaker. Click here to read.
McQueen steals a high valued automobile from a wealthy Mississippi family and heads
to Memphis with two friends in order to woo a prostitute. He gets involved with
a horse race and learns a thing or two about life. This isn’t a Steve McQueen
action movie, but it is the basic plot of “The Reivers,” a 1969 movie based on
the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Faulkner and available on Blu-ray from
Kino Lorber. Part road movie and part coming-of-age story, this is the second
feature directed by Mark Rydell. “The Reivers” is dipped in Southern
sensibility and cinematographer Richard Moore gives 1905 Mississippi a
nostalgic dream-like appearance. A reiver is a thief and Steve McQueen plays
Boon Hogganbeck, a friend and employee of the McCaslins who run a plantation in
rural Mississippi. Boon was adopted by the family at a young age and is a sort
of mentor to 11-year old Lucius (Mitch Vogel). When “Boss” McCaslin (Will Geer)
purchases the first automobile in the county, it’s not just any car, but a
brand new yellow Winton Flyer.
Lucius’ grandfather, runs the family and farm with a firm, but thoughtful hand.
A death in the family requires Boss and Lucius’ parents to depart for four days
to attend the funeral. Lucius is left in the care of Boon with strict orders for
the car to remain locked up. Boon takes Lucius home in the Flyer after dropping
the family at the train station. He gives Lucius a driving lesson and informs him
of his intentions to take the Flyer on a trip to Memphis so he can meet up with
his girlfriend Corrie (Sharon Farrell) and invites Lucius to join him. They
devise a tangled web of white lies and misinformation to deceive various
relatives and soon head off for Memphis. Shortly after departing, Ned McCalin
(Rupert Crosse) is discovered hiding in the back seat under a blanket (how he
went undiscovered back there is hard to explain, but it’s not important). Ned
is a bi-racial cousin to the McCaslins and, like Boon, works for the family. Along
the way the three reivers get stuck in a mud trap set by a local farmer named
Edmonds (played to the hilt with dripping chewing tobacco by character actor Charles
Tyner) who sits in wait after flooding a depression in the road making it
impossible for horse carts or automobiles to get through without his mule
towing services. The three clean their muddy mess after stopping at a local
Memphis is a big deal and Lucius is given the honor of driving the Flyer into
town as they arrive at a boarding house run by Mr. Binford (Michael
Constantine) and Miss Reba (Ruth White). Ned departs to stay in the black side
of town (this is 1905 Mississippi) and Lucius is introduced to Miss Corrie who
he perceives as an angelic vision of motherly virtue. The wonders of adult life
are presented to Lucius in quick order when he is offered beer at dinner and gets
into a fight with Corrie’s nephew Otis (Lindy Davis) who informs Lucius that
Corrie is in fact a whore and they are staying in a brothel. Defending her
honor, Lucius starts punching and Otis cuts Lucius in the hand with a knife before
Boon arrives. Touched by Lucius’ gesture, Corrie vows to give up her life as a
prostitute and be the virtuous woman Lucius sees in her.
a new Tomb Raider in town and she’s not… well…she’s not your older brother’s Tomb
Raider.Gone is the statuesque,
pistol-packing Angelina Jolie of the iconic video game character’s first movie incarnation.Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is pared down to
the essentials - a dangerous tomboy who is smart, feisty and tough as nails.
we meet this Lara Croft she’s broke,
toiling as a London bicycle messenger, getting her ass kicked in MMA training
and still reeling from the disappearance of her father (Dominic West) seven
years ago.He had vanished exploring a
mysterious island off the coast of Japan. When she discovers the key to his
hidden workroom, she becomes hooked on his quest and decides to follow his
trail all the way to the jungle tomb he was desperately trying to keep from
ever being opened.
by the aptly named Finnish director, Roar Uthaug, the film starts off at a breakneck
pace and rarely slows.The action moves like
a bullet train from a bike chase in Central London to a Hong Kong dock melee
and then on to a remote island as forbidding and dangerous as the one King Kong
calls home.There, Croft encounters her
father’s nemesis – a shadowy organization called Trinity which is laser-focused
on finding the final resting place of an ancient Queen known as “The Mother of
Death.”Their archaeological dig is run
by a psychotic thug played with real verve by Walton Goggins (Justified), who could clearly give
Hannibal Lecter a run for his money.When he steals Croft’s father’s journal, the path to the tomb and its
hideous contents is revealed and the final battle begins.
is fit and relentless, yet vulnerable for an action hero – when she takes a
beating, you feel it.The amount of
training Ms. Vikander had to endure for the role must have been epic.As the New York Times’ review pithily noted,
she has “a washboard stomach you could play the blues on.”(Sorry, that was too sweet not to reuse!) Cinematographer
George Richmond makes great use of the lush South African scenery, and his zooming
camerawork flies through jungle canopies and ancient tombs with equal finesse.
Vikander’s Lara Croft isn’t as snide or as sexualized as her predecessor, hers
is a strong debut and like Daniel Craig’s Bond, she’ll make this iconic
character her own.
RAIDER is released by Warner Bros. and MGM. The film makes its North American debut on Friday, March 16.
Cinema Retro receives many film-related books from publishers who desire that we feature them on our web site and in our magazine. One of the most impressive we've received recently is "The Films of Broderick Crawford" by Ralph Schiller. It's an engrossing biography that you may need two hands to lift and it's packed with interesting facts about one of Hollywood's most neglected leading men of a bygone era. We've asked Mr. Schiller to provide an overview of Crawford's career based on information in his meticulously-researched book.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Tickets are now on sale for the first in a series of
events celebrating the talented specialists behind the James Bond films.
Lyricist Don Black and composer David Arnold will be in conversation with
broadcaster and writer Edith Bowman on Tuesday 20 March 2018 at the London Film
Museum, home to the Bond in Motion exhibition.
Bowman will be talking to Black and Arnold about the songwriting process and
the inspiration for their songs.
Award-winning lyricist, Black has written over a hundred
songs for motion pictures including a quintet of James Bond theme songs - Thunderball,
Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, ‘Surrender’ from Tomorrow
Never Dies, and The World is Not Enough.
A fan of the James Bond film series and its music from an early age, Arnold is
best known for scoring Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die
Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
A huge movie fan and respected film presenter, broadcaster Edith
Bowman has hosted TV and radio shows across all the major networks. She
has her own successful podcast, Soundtracking, which explores the relationship
between film and music.
The evening will commence at 6:30 pm with a Champagne Bollinger reception during
which guests may enjoy the Bond in Motion exhibition which features over 100
original items from the long-running film franchise including cars, boats,
motorbikes, concept drawings, storyboards, costumes, and model miniatures. The
event will finish at 8 pm.
London Film Museum is located at 45 Wellington Street,
Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7BN.
Tickets will be dispatched up until 4:00pm Friday 16th
March. Following this time, please select the "Click &
Collect" option at checkout to pick up your tickets directly from London
Tony Curtis, like most aspiring screen stars, slogged through bit parts in unmemorable films when he first broke into the industry in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, however, he was a major star, even if the films he top-lined were relatively undistinguished. With his boyish good looks and New York wise guy persona, Curtis excelled at playing charismatic rogues and, perhaps improbably for a guy born in the Bronx, cowboys, knights and other exotic men of action. But Curtis was more than just a pretty face and by the late 1950s he was getting challenging roles that allowed him to show off his dramatic acting skills. He was brilliant in "Sweet Smell of Success" and "The Defiant Ones" and gave one of the great comedic performances of all time in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot". By the late 1960s, however, his star power was fading. He still had enough clout to get the male leads in lightweight comedies like "Sex and the Single Girl" and "Don't Make Waves", but the bloom was off the rose. Ironically, he won fine reviews for his convincing performance in the 1968 film "The Boston Strangler", but most of the good roles would continue to elude him. Like many fading American stars, he turned toward European productions, starring in "Those Daring Young Men in the Jaunty Jalopies" and "You Can't Win 'Em All", the latter with fellow U.S. import Charles Bronson who found major stardom in Europe long before he became a big name in America. One of the least prestigious films that Curtis appeared was titled "On the Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...", a 1967 sex comedy filmed in Italy and which would not be released in the USA until 1969, when it had limited distribution. Perhaps because theater owners in the UK and USA had pity on the poor souls who had to stand on ladders and put film titles on theater marquees letter-by-letter, the English language version of the film was shortened to the more provocative "The Chastity Belt". Curtis wasn't the only English-speaking actor in the otherwise all-Italian production, as Hugh Griffith and John Richardson were co-starred.
The film opens with Curtis playing against type as Guerrando de Montone, a sniveling, cowardly and bumbling opportunist who finally is granted his wish to be made a knight. As his reward, he is entitled to claim a vast tract of land as his own. Guerrando is quick to abuse his power over the peasants, especially when he discovers that the local game warden and his voluptuous daughter, Boccadoro (Monica Vitti) live on his land. Although Boccadoro is initially attracted to him, Guerrando's misogynistic ways quickly alienate her. Guerrando informs her that he is her lord and master and will use her for sexual pleasure whenever he pleases. Most of the fun in the script, which was co-written by the esteemed Larry Gelbart, centers on the buxom beauty's strategies to avoid going to bed with Guerrando, who becomes increasingly frustrated. To solve the problem, he forces her to marry him but she delays the consummation of the marriage by invoking a rare, ancient ritual that commits them both to spending three days in constant prayer. When that obstacle is removed, Guerrando is ready to make his move only to find that he has been summoned to join the Crusades and leave Italy for a period of years. To ensure that Boccadoro remains chaste, he has her fitted with a chastity belt which causes her to swear vengeance. The film meanders through the couple's misadventures with Boccadoro intent on finding her husband and murdering him. She poses as a knight in armor and infiltrates his camp but both are kidnapped by an evil, horny sultan (Hugh Griffith) who forces Guerrando to convert to Islam while he makes plans to open the chastity belt and have his way with Boccadoro.The whole thing ends in a madcap chase with heroes and villains chasing each other about a castle.
Italian cinema-goers were very enamored of sex farces during this period. "The Chasity Belt" is one of the tamest, as there is no nudity and the most provocative aspects are plentiful shots of Ms. Vitti's ample bosom bouncing around during the many chase scenes. Like most films of the genre, there are plenty of moments of slapstick and narrow escapes. What impresses most about this modest production is director Pasquale Festa Campanile's light touch and the ability to move the action at such a rapid pace that you don't ponder how predictable it all is. While it's still a bit of a shock to see someone of Curtis's stature in this "B" level comedy, he is in good form and provides plenty of laughs by not even attempting to disguise his New Yawk accent. He is matched by the very likable Vitti and Hugh Griffith, who recycles his lovable rascal shtick from "Ben-Hur". What is stands out most are the rather spectacular locations. Most of the action is shot outdoors in ancient ruins and castles that add a good deal of atmosphere to the goings on.
"The Chasity Belt" is the kind of film that Curtis probably did very reluctantly. He would later try his hand in television co-starring with Roger Moore in the sensational action series "The Persuaders", but it lasted only 24 episodes. A later series, "McCoy" lasted only a single season. Curtis would still turn up in a few major films like "The Mirror Crack'd" and "The Last Tycoon" but only in supporting roles. Nevertheless, he remained enjoyable to watch and always gave his best effort. Perhaps for that reason, "The Chastity Belt" is a lot more worthwhile than you might imagine.
The Warner Archive DVD is generally very good with a few blotches and grainy frames, but one suspects there aren't too many archival prints of this long-forgotten film floating around out there. There are no bonus extras.
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from some of the comedy classics of the silent era, it’s arguable that the one
picture of the period you should make a point to see is Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film that
has appeared on Sight and Sound’s top
ten films poll five times and consistently cited as one of the most essential
motion pictures in history.
high praise, and it’s deserved.
those of you who won’t watch silent movies because you think they’re boring or
slow or whatever—forget it.The
Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most riveting pictures you’ll ever
see.Its brevity (only 81 minutes at 24
frames per second) is a strength, but its power lies in the faces of its
actors.Dreyer has focused the camera
(with superb cinematography by future Hollywood director Rudolph Maté)
on facial close-ups—the eyes, the mouths, the wrinkles in the skin… and it all
masterfully reveals the inner turmoil of the characters.
that of Joan.The performance by stage
actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti in the title role is
nothing short of miraculous.At the time
she was an acclaimed performer in the theatre to such an extent that her name
in the credits is simply listed as “Falconetti.”What eyes, what expressions, what pain… what passion!As she is overcome by the rapture that envelops her, Joan is transformed
to a thing of otherworldly beauty.
familiar with Joan’s story knows what the film is about.Young Joan had led French armies against the
English during the Hundred Years’ War, was captured, and, because she claimed
to be able to speak with God, was put on trial for heresy by French clergy loyal to the English.The film depicts her trial and ultimate
adapted the actual handwritten court transcripts in writing the screenplay;
thus, the intertitles are real testimony delivered in the proceedings.The piece begins dramatically, with crowds
outside the court gathering to hear news of the trial.Sideshow performers and midway vendors turn
the thing into a circus.Inside, Joan is
led to confront a group of all-male judges who question her about her choice of
clothing (she dresses as a “boy”), her sexual orientation, her alleged
communication with the Lord, and if she’s really consorting with the
Devil.Joan has an intelligent,
reasonable answer for every question, but the judges have one goal in
mind.They move on to a torture interrogation
and finally the sad conclusion that would be the basis for Joan’s Sainthood.
Cinema Retro was invited to the special preview screening
of the new documentary film My Generation, which is to be screened with a
Q&A with narrator Sir Michael Caine in selected cinemas throughout the UK on
March 14th 2018.
Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Harry Palmer, Jack
Carter, Charlie Croker and simply Alfie: these key names in British cinemaall have one thing in common- they all share
the iconic characteristics of one man and, bar Carter, all come from the latter
part of the era that defined him as one of the
“Faces” of the 60s, Sir Michael Caine. From A-Z, Alfie to Zulu, this is an
actor whose roles literally cover all the bases when it comes to memorable 60s cinema,
although, as Caine himself points out, “The 60s didn’t really end till 1971” so
that being the release date of Get Carter, we’ll happily include it in that
iconic “role call”.
There’s no better star to take us through a
documentary of what made the 60s the 60s than Caine. This is the era that
defined him and he knows all the other people who could easily have fronted
such an undertaking, many of whom feature in revealing conversations with the
once Maurice Micklewhite. Incidentally, he famously changed his name to Caine
after speaking to his agent from a phone box in Piccadilly and when asked for a
stage name, saw a sign for The Caine Mutiny starring his favourite actor Humphrey
Bogart and the rest is history- just like the documentary itself. “It’s a good
job I didn’t look up the other way” he says “As I don’t think Michael 101
Dalmatians has the same ring to it”.
The colleagues and friends I referred to whose
stories bring many of the still photographs of the time to life include David
Bailey, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Roger Daltrey, Sandi Shaw, Donovan,
Penelope Tree and Terry O’Neill to name just a few. The title of the film, once
vocalized so memorably by Daltrey when he fronted The Who, now takes on a
greater meaning; one of reflection rather than the youthful disdain it once did
when Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old”. The lyric took on a different
meaning to me after seeing this documentary. I’d always wondered if its writer,
Pete Townshend, had ever regretted singing it so often, especially when he got
into his sixties, but now I see it very differently. The fact that the talking
heads aren’t seen as they are now in 2018 but simply vocalize images of their
younger selves is a master stroke by director David Batty. The wiser words of
hindsight of those featured stars, looking back at themselves as well as the
era as a whole, gives the piece genuine pathos. What I gleaned from this is
that fact that they may have aged but none of them really did get old. There’s
still a fire and a sense of amusement as they divulge their stories over the
footage of their younger selves. They now look upon this time and its seismic
changes with the same wonder and disbelief as the viewer does in 2018. As Caine
himself re iterates “The 60s was and is a mindset, not just a number”.
Michael Caine was and is the face of 1996
rather than just 1966 to me. This is because he was seen by this next
generation of “lads” as the ultimate symbol of Cool Britannia, the granddaddy
of hip. His face adorned just as many magazines as it had 30 years earlier and
the reason for that is that these pictures, like the decade they were taken
from, were seen as iconic; the time when Britain was the epicenter of fashion,
film and music. Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls in those Cool
Britannia days, kept pushing the idea of this documentary film to Caine. It
took three years to complete due to Caine’s still incredibly busy acting
The Daily Mail reports that British scientists are working with Disney to help reverse the deterioration of classic animated film cells used to create cinematic masterpieces. The original cells were painstakingly created by teams of artists and craftsmen to "animate" Disney films from the early days of the company through the release of "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. This was the era in which CGI effects had not been perfected. Single cells from Disney films that have surfaced in the private collectors market bring many thousands of dollars on auction circuits. However, Disney maintains the bulk of the cells, which are deteriorating with age. The scientists have methods to stop the deterioration and to ensure that this priceless aspect of film history will be preserved properly for generations to come. Click here to read.
Kino Lorber has released the 1945 film "Hangover Square", directed by John Brahm, as a Blu-ray special edition. George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a sensitive,
talented composer who has been working very hard, perhaps too hard, on a new
concerto for piano. A well-known conductor (Alan Napier) thinks it’s a worthy
piece of music and is going to debut it at Symphony Hall once it’s finished.
The conductor’s daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) not only adores George’s music,
she adores him as well. Sounds like an ideal situation, but in this 1945 20th
Century Fox film noir, you know things are not going to work out very well. You
see, George has a problem. He has blackouts that are caused whenever there are
loud dissonant noises around him. And when he blacks out he kills people.
The film actually starts with a murder scene. We see
George stabbing an antiques shopkeeper to death and setting the place on fire
(fire is a major motif in the film). He escapes before the police can catch him
and walks through the foggy London Streets to his home on Hangover Square,
where he finds Barbara and her father trying out his unfinished concerto. He’s
forgotten what he just did but when he sees a newspaper headline (they printed
them fast in those days), he has a bad feeling that he might have done
something naughty. He tells Barbara about his misgivings and decides to go see
Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) a forensic psychologist who works for the
police. Middleton does some tests on George’s clothes and the knife he found in
his possession and tells him there’s no evidence of any connection with the
murder. But he’s still concerned about George having these weird blackouts. He
tells him he needs to get some rest, relax, and get away from that damned
concerto for a while. Turns out to be the worst doctor’s advice ever.
George goes out to unwind at a local music hall and gets
an eye full of Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), a singer/dancer and a
card-carrying member of the International League of Femmes Fatales. In fact,
she’s probably president of the local chapter. George is flattered when she
pays a little attention to him after finding out he’s a composer. She’s trying
to make a name for herself on the stage and needs some new songs. She coaxes
George to write some tunes for her. Being a totally naïve sucker who never had
much experience with women, other than the decent Barbara, he’s totally out of
his league with Netta, who has several other guys on leashes, including her
piano player and a handsome playboy type she meets one night while in George’s
One night, amidst this abuse, he’s walking home in that
perpetual 20th Century Fox fog and a horse- drawn wagon carrying
steel pipes hits a ditch and the loud cacophony of the pipes hitting the ground
sends George off into another one of his spells and you know what happens. What
I like about “Hangover Square” is that there is no explanation for why George
has blackouts whenever he hears discordant sounds. It’s just how it is.
Something in his brain is screwed up and, I suppose, being a musician, he’s
sensitive to sound. If they did a remake today, you’d have tons of psychobabble,
and flashback scenes of how his parents abused him when he was a baby, blowing
loud duck calls in his face in the bathtub or something similar. There’s none
of that. There’s the gimmick of the loud noises and flashbacks and that’s it.
Anyway, George starts neglecting the concerto and Barbara
and finds himself consumed by Netta and her insatiable demands for music. That
might have been okay, except every time he tries to get close to her, spend
some time alone with her, she’s always busy, or has a headache (or has a date
with another guy). Frustration builds up and explodes when George goes to her
apartment and asks her to marry him so he can devote all his time to her and
discovers she’s actually going to marry that slick playboy rat. Bad mistake. I won’t
tell you what happens next and it’s not what you think. Not right away. There’s
actually still a lot of the movie left. A lot of it is taken up with George debuting
his concerto. The soundtrack score, including the concerto for “Hangover Square”
was written by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. There’s music throughout the
film, with scenes of Laird Cregar at the keyboard actually playing some of it.
The big scene at the end features 10 minutes of the concerto, a significant
piece of film music in its own right.
hindsight, the most enjoyable thing about Manhattan
Murder Mystery was Diane Keaton’s return to co-star with Woody Allen in what
will most likely be their last screen appearance together. Released in 1993, Murder Mystery was Allen’s obvious
attempt to regain public favor after an acrimonious split with Mia Farrow and
the surrounding uproar of allegations and custody battles. Keaton’s presence
served to remind us that the old chemistry between the two actors could still
generate sparks, and it did.
critics at the time commented that the pair could have been playing the characters
of Annie and Alvy (from Annie Hall) sixteen
years later, now settled in an imperfect, but comfortable, marriage. In fact,
much of the plot of Manhattan Murder
Mystery was originally a part of Annie
Hall! That 1977 classic, co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman,
contained not only the Annie/Alvy love story but also a murder mystery the
couple attempts to solve. Eventually that was all thrown out of Annie Hall (thank goodness!). Years
later, Allen and Brickman decided to resurrect the discarded plot elements and
fashion a brand-new script in which a couple like Annie and Alvy—now middle-aged—get themselves embroiled in
(Allen) and Carol (Keaton) live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where
else?) and meet their apartment building neighbors, Paul (Jerry Adler) and
Lillian (Lynn Cohen). The next day, Lillian has died of a heart attack. Larry
and Carol notice that Paul doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Furthermore,
Carol discovers an urn full of ashes in Paul’s kitchen, even after Paul has
said that Lillian was buried in their “twin cemetery plots.” Enter Larry and
Carol’s friend Ted (Alan Alda), who encourages Carol’s imaginative speculation
that Paul murdered his wife. Larry’s client, Marcia (Anjelica Huston), gets into
the act as well, and the foursome embark on exposing Paul’s nefarious scheme
that involves a series of lies, a mistress, and his wife’s twin sister.
plot is far-fetched, but Allen treats the material as a farce anyway. It works well
enough. Much of the fun of the picture is watching Allen and Keaton as their
characters do astonishingly stupid things, such as when Carol, thinking Paul is
out of the building for a while, sneaks into his apartment to snoop. Of course,
Paul returns, forcing her to hide under the bed and lose her glasses at the
has included references to cinema history that are a lot of fun—clips from
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
and Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)—inform
the story with thematic and visual motifs. There are laughs, to be sure, but Manhattan Murder Mystery does not rank
among Allen’s best comedies. It’s enjoyable fluff, and perhaps that was all it
was meant to be.
Time’s limited-edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units) looks very nice in its 1080p
High Definition transfer, showing off Carlo Di Palma’s colorful cinematography
and New York City landmarks that are always a treat in a Woody Allen film. The
audio is 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with an isolated score and effects track. The
theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
for a lightweight romp around the Big Apple, Manhattan Murder Mystery will please fans of Allen and, especially,
wasn’t what audiences expected from a “Martin Scorsese Picture.” A period
“costume drama” with no violence, bloodshed, or curse words? And yet Scorsese
himself described it as one of his most violent films.
is true, perhaps, when one considers the emotional
violence that occurs between the characters in this beautifully-rendered,
but curiously lifeless adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel about New York high
society and manners in the 1870s.
many ways, The Age of Innocence is
one side of a Scorsese coin that includes Gangs
of New York on the other. They both take place in Manhattan in roughly the
same time frame (Gangs is in the
1860s) and focus on two extremes of the social ladder—the upper crust in Age, and the lower class in Gangs.
story is simple—Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a member of New York’s
high society set. He’s a quiet, introverted, but good-looking man who could
probably have any lady he wants. But he has settled on May Welland (Winona
Ryder), a straight-laced younger woman who is practically his equal in
temperance. Enter May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has come
home from Europe after a bad marriage and—shocking!—is
planning a divorce. In high society of the time, that was tantamount to marking
a woman with a scarlet “A.” Newland becomes infatuated with her and almost
calls off the marriage to May. The gossip mill begins, and lives roll into
turmoil. Does Newland end up doing the right thing by dropping Ellen and
keeping his promise to May? Do we care? In the interest of a no-spoiler review,
I won’t answer either question.
lies the main problem with The Age of
Innocence. While Day-Lewis is easily one of our greatest modern actors, his
role here does not give him much to do but to look forlornly at the two women
in his life. Yes, there is torment in his soul, and the two female leads go
through the same sentiments—but revealing
those emotions was forbidden by society. It was what people did not say to each other that contained the
weight of conflict. It was all kept inside. And, thus, it’s all kept inside the
In my critique of the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony, I criticized the Academy and host Jimmy Kimmel for wasting valuable air time on an elaborat (and unfunny) comedy sketch that deprived viewers from seeing some of the honorees who had received Oscars earlier at a ceremony hosted by the Academy's Governors. Among them was one of the world's finest and most enduring actors- Donald Sutherland, who surprisingly never received a nomination despite giving movie lovers a rich selection of characterizations ranging from those found in screwball comedies to intense dramas. Sutherland delivered a humorous, classy and gracious acceptance speech that viewers never got to see. However, we found this clip of his entire speech that was made available by the Academy. In fairness, the Academy argues that by giving their honorary awards away from the main ceremony, it allows the recipients to speak at length and not be bound by artificial time demands. That's a valid point. However, our guess is that most of the honorees would happily deliver shorter speeches in order to have their moment of glory shared with viewers around the globe.
"There's got to be a morning after" went the strains of the Oscar-winning song from the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure" and that somber warning always pertains to coverage of the Oscar events show itself. After last year's abysmal event that saw awful comedy bits, offensive omissions of major stars from the memorial tribute and the historic snafu in which the wrong film was initially announced for Best Picture, there was no where to go but up. Much of the success or failure of these shows rests on the back of the host. I thought it was going to be a mistake to bring back Jimmy Kimmel, as I was generally unimpressed with his performance last year. However, the second time was the charm- or almost. (More on that later). In general, this year's telecast was more tightly structured and moved at a faster clip even though it still ran about three-and-a-half hours. Helping matters was the fact that there was an exciting and highly diverse selection of films competing in the key categories and they boasted some brilliant performances by an eclectic array of actors. Gone are the days when viewers had to suffer through the mandatory opening musical production number, which was generally measured in terms of how misguided it proved to be. Kimmel started off with a witty dialogue that was surprisingly and refreshingly light on the political barbs in spite of the fact that the White House had just gone through a couple of miserable weeks that had brought out a surrealistic number of self-imposed scandals and crises.I had thought there would be so many quips about this that I expected to see President Trump's name listed among the key contributors to the show. (There were, however, some deep digs at Harvey Weinstein, who does not have a political base that can be offended.) However, I was relieved that Kimmel kept himself in check because I'm among those that think major awards shows should try to stick with the subject at hand: the work and the personalities involved in creating it. With Kimmel having decided to follow the old adage and "Leave the messages to Western Union", it fell upon others to promote diversity and equality. Great efforts were made in both areas with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand movingly calling for all female nominees to stand up. It was a moment that illustrated how fast and furiously Hollywood is moving to finally provide opportunities to females in the industry. Similarly, there were many minority artists on stage as presenters, performers and winners. I was glad to see triple-threat Jordan Peele, the director, writer and producer of the ingeniously quirky "Get Out", become the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay award.
The awards dispensed during the show all went to worthy winners, though I would have liked to have seen "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" take home the Best Picture prize. Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand were popular, if predictable, winners based on their superb performances. "The Shape of Water" took Best Picture, as did its director Guillermo del Toro. The elaborate presentations for Best Song just emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nominees in this category, as the songs themselves ranged from pleasant to dreadful, which is often the norm. The show was moving along swimmingly until Jimmy Kimmel took viewers and participants on a major, ill-advised detour just as he had last year by introducing an elaborate gag in which people in an adjoining movie theater were used as unknowing props when Kimmel brought an array of celebrities from the Oscars ceremony next door to surprise them. Incredibly, it was a variation of the same awful shtick he pulled off the previous year. There's something rather condescending about bringing in a boatload of rich people to dispense candy and hot dogs to the grateful masses. It's like watching benevolent nobles toss some trinkets to their loyal serfs. Worse, the gag ate up valuable air time that could have been used for more appropriate purposes. Earlier in the show Kimmel made a snide remark about showing some of those honored with Oscars being dismissed with "blink-and-you-miss-them" clips from a ceremony that had been held previously. He correctly needled the Academy for pointing out that these artists and technicians, who would have once been allowed on stage at the "real" event, were now excluded. But his hypocrisy was revealed when he launched his dopey sight gag later. If you think I'm being a grump then ask yourself if it was more appropriate to spend time showing Kimmel and company tossing food to audience members or have the opportunity to see and hear Donald Sutherland accepting the Governor's Award for lifetime achievement.
The segment that honors artists who passed away in the last year should also be retired. Although sensitively presented and well-edited, the number of inexcusable exclusions is now almost downright offensive. Yes, it's great to honor those who make the cut (I counted three personal friends in the montage of artists who have left us in the last year), but if you can't extend the segment for even another few minutes in order to include other worthy honorees, then let's just eliminate it altogether. (The Academy does provide a more comprehensive tribute on their web site. Click here to view).
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Orchids for Miss Blandish premiered in London in 1948, it created controversy
that extended all the way to British Parliament. The Monthly Film Bulletin called the movie “the most sickening
exhibition of brutality, perversion and sex ever shown on a cinema screen.” The Saturday Pictorial called it “a
piece of nauseating muck.” The Observer’s
reviewer wrote: “This film has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness
of a sewer.” Some politicians were also offended. The Parliamentary Secretary
to the Ministry of Food said that the film “was likely to pervert the minds of
the British people.” Eventually, the British Board of Film Censors was
compelled to offer an apology for approving the film’s production.
Attempts to release the movie in the United
States by distributor Richard Gordon were met with threats by the New York
Censor Board as well as the Customs Department to confiscate it. Gordon had to
bring the movie into the country through New Orleans but it would still take three
years of bargaining and the removal of 12 minutes of objectionable scenes to
obtain approval for exhibition. Nevertheless, the edited version was still greeted
with harsh reviews. Time called it,
“ludicrous claptrap from a claptrap novel.” The
New York Times chastised it as “an awkward attempt on the part of the English
to imitate Hollywood’s gangster formula.”
The critical disdain has never stopped. In
the multi-volume reference work, The
Motion PictureGuide,Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross
write “This a sick exercise in sadism (and) is about as wretched as they come.”
The annual Halliwell’sFilm Guide summarizes the movie as “hilariously
awful (and) one of the worst films ever made.”
The movie is based upon the 1939 novel of the
same name by British author James Hadley Chase that was called everything from pulp
trash to borderline pornography. When it was published in America three years