Sissy Spacek rose to stardom with her Oscar-nominated performance in the 1976 film version of Stephen King's supernatural bestseller "Carrie"- but the actress reveals how the odds were against her getting the role. Among the obstacles: a previous strained relationship with the film's director Brian De Palma and the fact that studio executives were lobbying for De Palma to cast another actress in the role. Spacek was still determined to land the role and her strategy was to go to the audition looking as "disgusting" as possible. Click here to read.
Writer Ernie Magnotta has released a new book "Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series" that explores the origins of John Carpenter's classic chiller as well as evaluations of the entire "Halloween" series. The book is 380 pages and has 200 color photos. For full details and to order, click here.
was three years-old when John Llewellyn Moxey’s The Night Stalker premiered on the ABC Movie of the Week on January
11, 1972 and it took me nearly twenty years to catch up with it on a late night
rerun on a local ABC-TV affiliate. Featuring the terrific late character actor
Darren McGavin in the role of Carl Kolchak, an intrepid reporter who wants to
print the truth regardless of what his editor says after finding himself in the
midst of several murders, The Night
Stalker, penned by the great Richard Matheson based on an unpublished
novel, is a delightful slice of early 1970s spooky entertainment fare that is
most definitely a product of a time that was populated by groovy music on the
radio, TV dinners, and little kids getting tossed around in the backs of mammoth
station wagons. The Las Vegas of 1971 when this movie was shot is much
different from the Las Vegas of 2018. For one thing, the bulk of filming takes
place in what is in present day known as the Fremont Street area. Much of Vega$, the television series starring
Robert Urich that ran from 1978 to 1981, was also filmed in this location as
well, so it will no doubt look familiar to viewers.
is like a cross between photographer Arthur (Usher) Fellig, better known as
Weegee, and Jeff Daniels’s Will Macavoy on HBO’s The Newsroom. He wants the scoop but he wants to tell it the way it
is: truthfully. We are introduced to him after the events have occurred and the
action is told in flashback as Kolchak, unshaven and nearly impecunious in a
run-down motel, is writing a book about the events that have happened. Someone,
or something, is stalking the
residents of Las Vegas and draining them of a portion of their blood. The
authorities (Kent Smith and Claude Akins) are keeping a tight rein on Kolchak
so as to avoid public embarrassment and panic. The suspect is Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater), a
creepy-looking man who bears a resemblance to Jonathan Frid of Dark Shadows fame.
gets into frequent and boisterous arguments with his editor Tony Vincenzo
(Simon Oakland, forever known as the deus
ex machina psychiatrist at the end of 1960’s Psycho) about letting people know the truth, especially if they are
in danger of dying at the hands of Skorzeny,
who appears to be a vampire following failed attempts to shoot him dead after
his break-in of a blood bank at a local hospital. Vincenzo wants to keep the
newspaper’s reputation clean and urges Kolchak not to print such events for
fear of frightening the public. Far from being the first television series to
deal with vampires, it exercises restraint in the depiction of violence against
women, though the results do not shy away from showing some blood – this was,
after all, the era of the televised Vietnam War. One of the earlier victims is
a young woman whose mother is played by actress Virginia Gregg, who provided
the voice of Mother in Psycho and Psycho II. Carol Lynley plays a
prostitute, though her profession is only alluded to in her introductory scenes.
She is a lady friend of Kolchak’s, with modern parlance applying the moniker of
“friends with benefits” to their relationship; she’s twenty years Kolchak’s
junior and urges him to read up on vampires. Kolchak eventually makes his way
to Skorzeny’s lair in an effort to
get the story on his own and uses standard items from his Anti -Vampire Kit
such as a crucifix and the sun through broken glass in an effort to kill him
(or it). A twist has Kolchak leaving
Vegas with his tail between his legs at the urging of the authorities, his
determination to tell the truth at its strongest when he ends up at the motel that
we saw him at the start.
1960s murder thrillers with Joan Crawford have been released by Mill Creek
Entertainment on single-disc Blu-ray.The cover sleeve bills the package as a “Psycho Biddy Double
Feature.”The films are “Strait-Jacket”
(1964), the first of Crawford’s three pictures with producer-director William
Castle, and “Berserk!” (1967), her first of two with producer Herman
Cohen.In using the possibly ageist and
definitely sexist phrase “Psycho Biddy,” Mill Creek’s marketing department
clearly hopes that audiences will have fond memories of the frenzied, middle-aged
Joan Crawford in 1981’s “Mommie Dearest,” shrieking “I told you!No . . . wire . . . hangers -- ever!” at her
terrified adopted child, Christina.Never mind that the belittling term “biddy” is problematic in the case
of Joan Crawford.There may be plenty of
biddies in the world, but the imperious Joan was never one of them.Never mind either that it was Faye Dunaway
impersonating Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” not Crawford herself.For most casual movie fans, the distinctions
are not likely to matter.
“Strait-Jacket,” scripted by Robert Bloch, prosperous farm owner Lucy Harbin
(Crawford) returns unexpectedly from a trip to find her younger husband (Lee
Majors -- his first film role) in bed with another woman.Enraged, Lucy seizes an ax and butchers the
pair as her young daughter Carol watches.Released from a mental institution twenty years later, Lucy is welcomed
home by her brother Bill and her sister-in-law Emily (Leif Erickson and
Rochelle Hudson), who have reared Carol in the meantime.Carol (Diane Baker) encourages her mother to
ease back into a normal routine by looking and dressing as she had, two decades
before.The gray-haired Lucy dons a
black, ‘40s-style wig and trades in her dowdy outfit for a tight dress.The tactic goes awry when Lucy, drinking too
much out of nervousness and getting tipsy, puts a move on Carol’s uptight
boyfriend Michael.More stresses
mount.Lucy hears things, sees things,
and dreads meeting Michael’s even stuffier parents, who are unaware of her
history.As they skip rope outside a
store where Lucy is shopping, two little girls appear to be chanting, “Lucy
Harbin took an ax . . .”Bill’s creepy,
disheveled hired hand, Leo (George Kennedy, almost unrecognizable at first
glance), asks if she wants to use his ax to chop the head off a chicken.Lucy’s therapist drops in for a visit and
observing how tense she is, gravely suggests that she’s at risk of a
relapse.Then one murder occurs,
followed by a second, and evidence points to Lucy.
the headlong pace and gruesome CGI of modern slasher movies, even older viewers
are likely to find “Strait-Jacket” quaint at best.A similar production today would probably
wind up as a made-for-cable, “my mom is a murderer” melodrama on the Lifetime
Movie Network.The film’s pacing is
deliberate, and the carnage is low-tech and mostly implied, despite the old
lobby poster’s promise in grand William Castle style that “Strait-Jacket
vividly depicts ax murders!”Although
the restrictions on movie violence had relaxed a little by 1964, and a
melodrama filmed in black-and-white like “Strait-Jacket” might tease the MPAA
standards on mayhem with slightly more success than one photographed in color,
studios were still careful not to push their luck too far.Of the three ax attacks in the film, only one
explicitly shows grievous bodily harm.Even so, with quick editing and minimal gore, the effect is more
impressionistic than realistic.These
days, grislier special effects routinely appear on prime-time TV crime shows.
FilmStruck, the streaming service that provided classic movies from the vaults of Warner Bros, the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies, will be shut down to subscribers on November 29, 2018. The corporations that owned the service cited the fact that it hadn't progressed from appealing to a "niche" market. Sadly, this is the case in today's entertainment industry. If every production or venture isn't an immediate blockbuster, there is little appetite to nurture the product in hopes of growing the audience. That's how it has come about that a film can literally gross over a billion dollars and still be considered a disappointment. Alex Cranz bemoans the loss of FilmStruck in an article on the Gizmodo web site. Click here to read.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
foundation established by legendary special effects visionary Ray Harryhausen
is pleased to announce a joint effort with Morningside Productions, the company
of late film producer Charles Schneer.Discovery of new materials in the vast archives of the Ray and Diana
Harryhausen Foundation will be the basis of a spectacularly new and original
theatrical motion picture in the style of such Harryhausen/Schneer classics
such as Clash of the Titans, the duo's most significant box office
collaboration from 1981.
project, tentatively entitled Force of the Trojans, is based on a screenplay by
Beverley Cross, and original production art and sculptures conceived by Ray
Harryhausen that are on par with some of his most iconic screen creatures.
of the Trojans will embody the spirit of the original Harryhausen films with
all the fun, vibrant action, epic scope and dedication to craftsmanship that
has made Ray Harryhausen's films timeless.
other revisits to the fantasy adventure genre, Force of the Trojans will bring
together stop-motion animation with the photo-real world of CGI, marking the
first time that a monster battle will mix both techniques on screen in a major
motion picture.In homage to a bygone
era, this film will bring both worlds crashing together.For the first time, we can put on screen
sequences that were not possible for Ray due to the limitations of special
effects photography at the time.
Harryhausen Foundation oversees and curates a vast creative archive of 60
years’ worth of artefacts in its 50,000-strong collection from the father of
animated special effects, making this the most complete and comprehensive
fantasy cinema and animation collection anywhere in the world.We are excited and challenged to have
unearthed this lost gem and a look forward to creating a film that will delight
both the fans of Ray Harryhausen and moviegoers everywhere.
Trustee, filmmaker and friend of Ray Harryhausen
Harryhausen 1920 - 2013
Harryhausen was a young puppeteer and animator heavily influenced by King Kong
in 1933 and then went on to work as apprentice animator with Kong animator
Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young.Ray
went on to have a spectacular career establishing himself as the most
influential animators and special effects wizards in film history. From Jason
and the Argonauts, the 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans his imagery
and iconic creations are known the world over. His sixteen feature films
represent the most influential fantasy and science fiction cinema of the
Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars."
set up the Foundation in the, and he intended that future generations should
enjoy his work but also learn about the craft of filmmaking. I am delighted
that audiences want to visit the artefacts on display. We have over 50,000
items in the collection making it the largest of its kind outside of the Disney
Walsh is an award-winning film maker and trustee of the Harryhausen Foundation.
In 2019 his new book Harryhausen: The Lost Films is published by Titan Books.
If you were a boy growing up in the mid-1960s, chances are you had the Man From U.N.C.L.E Thrushbuster Corgi car. Not only did it come in cool packaging that included a display stand with photos of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, but you also got a plastic ring with their photos on it. The ring would "flicker" and alternate the image of each actor. The well-made car was also pretty groovy- you pressed a button on top and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin would alternately shoot out of the side windows. (The add says there were sound effects for the gun shots but we don't recall this being the case). Most of the cars were painted blue but there were a small number of them available in white paint. These can now command hundreds of dollars on the collector's circuit. Here is an original ad for the car from the Moonbase Central web site.
at London’s Bond in Motion exhibit could be forgiven for wondering about the
steady stream of distinguished-looking people heading through the vehicle
displays towards a private area – but they were witnessing a bit of James Bond
history in the making. On on Thursday, October 11th, the Ian Fleming
Foundation, EON Productions, IFF founder Doug Redenius and this writer hosted a
remarkable book signing for Charles “Jerry” Juroe, the executive who ran
publicity on 14 Bond movies, from Dr. No
right up to the dawn of the Pierce Brosnan era. His memoir, Bond, The Beatles and My Year with Marilyn is just out from McFarland
Press.(Shameless Plug:Doug and I “line produced” it and the book is
a fascinating read, not just for Bond fans but for anyone interested in movie
history.)For 50 years, Jerry knew, worked
with or encountered “Anyone who was anyone”. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig,
Mary Pickford to John Wayne, William Holden, Alfred Hitchcock and, yes, the Fab
Four.Jerry even crossed paths with the
legendary Howard Hughes.Bond was only
part of Juroe’s remarkable career – he served as Marilyn Monroe’s publicist
(not an easy gig!) when she was making The
Prince And the Showgirlwith
Laurence Olivier in England. Jerry was an executive at United Artists, Paramount
and other major studios. Movies aside, Jerry is also a World War II veteran who
took part in one of the most significant military actions in modern history –
the D Day Invasion.
Credit: Danny Gibbons.
event’s guest list included many prominent alumni from the Bond series – director John Glen, line
producer Anthony Waye, Oscar-winning production designer Peter Lamont, talent such as
Carole Ashby, Valerie Leon, Jenny Hanley, Margaret Nolan, Caron Gardner,
Sylvana Henriques and Terry Mountain, Roger Moore’s daughter Deborah, Harry
Saltzman’s son Steven, former EON marketing executives Anne Bennett and John
Parkinson, along with a number of staff members from EON, who graciously
provided all manner of support for the event.(The signing was preceded by a private lunch for Jerry arranged and
attended by Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson) American actor
Billy Zane was on hand – meeting up with Peter Lamont who created the stunning
sets for the “little” film they made together in 1997, Titanic.The Bond community
was well represented with Cinema Retro’s Dave Worrall, From Sweden with Love’s
Anders Frejdh, Some Kind of Hero authors
Ajay Chowdhury and Matthew Field, Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan
author Mark O’Connell and French Bond Club co-founder and Bond historian,
Laurent Perriot in the crowd.Designer
Mark Witherspoon was a photographer.
Above: Actor Billy Zane and director John Glen.Credit: Mark Cerulli.
and I each made a brief address – reading well wishes from the likes of Pierce
Brosnan and top Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman (a protégé of Jerry’s) then
turned the floor over to the Man himself.Jerry, long famous in the industry for his tough exterior, was visibly
moved.He thanked everyone for coming
and simply wished them “My longevity” (he’s 95) which got a big round of
applause.Many hadn’t seen Jerry – or
each other – in decades so as the old saying goes, “There was a lot of love in the room”. One thinks that actors and filmmakers hang out
with each other constantly, but in reality they do a film then it’s on to the
next project and they may never work with the same people again.Since working on a Bond film is arguably a
highlight of any career, these few hours in each other’s company were priceless-
an All Time High, for real.It was a privilege to be there.
(Photos copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING ACTOR CHRISTOPH WALTZ ANNOUNCED AS A SPECIAL GUEST AT THE
2018 VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL
OFFICIALS ALSO ANNOUNCE HIGH PROFILE ADDITIONS TO 2018 PROGRAM INCLUDING BARRY
JENKINS’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK AND JULIAN SCHNABEL’S AT ETERNITY’S GATE
Also Include Sundance Award-Winning Documentary Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.
VA – OCTOBER 10, 2018– Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Christoph Waltz
will be a special guest at the upcoming 2018 Virginia Film Festival, VAFF
officials announced today. The Festival also announced program additions
including Moonlight writer and director Barry Jenkins’ latest film, If Beale
Street Could Talk, and Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, which stars Willem
Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh. The Virginia Film Festival is a program of the University
of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts. The
2018 Festival will take place from November 1-4 in Charlottesville and will
include more than 150 films and over 100 industry guests from around the world.
also announced today the addition of the Sundance Award-winning documentary
Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. that charts the unlikely rise of a London Sri Lankan
immigrant through the ranks of the music industry to become one of the most
fascinating and controversial artists today.
thrilled to announce that Christoph Waltz will be joining us for the 2018
Virginia Film Festival,” said Jody Kielbasa, director of the VAFF and vice
provost for the arts at UVA. “Our audiences will not only have the chance to
hear from someone who is clearly one of the leading actors working today, but
also one who is at the very top of his game, and whose star is still on the
rise. He is truly one of the most interesting and talented actors of his time,
and brings a sense of originality to every role that makes it nearly impossible
to imagine anyone else in it.”
appear with Academy Award-winning producer and VAFF advisory board chair Mark
Johnson for “A Tribute to Christoph Waltz” on Saturday, November 3, 2018 at
1:00 PM at The Paramount Theater. The pair worked together previously on
Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, which opened last year’s Virginia Film Festival.
The event will combine the onstage interview with clips of key scenes from
the newly-announced screenings and tribute event will go on sale on Friday,
October 12 at noon online at virginiafilmfestival.org; in-person at the UVA
Arts Box Office in the lobby of the UVA Drama Building, open M-F from noon to
5:00 PM; and by phone at 434-924-3376. Beginning October 24, Festival tickets
will also be available at the Downtown Box Office in the lobby of Violet Crown
on the Downtown Mall.
Tiffany has always been a magnet for fans who emulate Audrey Hepburn's iconic appearance in the film.
(Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
There are legions of retro movie lovers around the world who hold the 1961 film version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" close to their hearts. Now the iconic New York landmark- the symbol of unabashed self-indulgence- is making it possible to follow in the footsteps of Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly. Tiffany has opened an on-premises upscale restaurant that movie fans have been flocking to in order to live out a cinematic fantasy and enjoy a sumptuous meal in dazzling surroundings. White-gloved waiters serve the fare on the finest crockery amidst tables populated by diners who are dressed to the nines (and sometimes adorned as Holly). Washington Post writer Megan McDonough recently decided to experience the real breakfast at Tiffany's. Click here to read.
The Robb Report focuses on nine airplanes that were associated with famous films or stars and what has become of them over the decades. From a personal jet owned by Elvis Presley to a Spitfire from "Battle of Britain" to James Bond's microjet to a biplane that flew Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, the stories behind these unusual aircraft make for good reading. Click here to read.
movie censorship relaxed in the early 1970s, Mel Welles’ horror film “Lady
Frankenstein” added sex and nudity to the familiar Frankenstein formula of the
single-minded and arguably demented scientist who creates a monster and lives
to regret it.In the 1971 production,
now available in a handsome, fully loaded Blu-ray edition from Nucleus Films
encoded for Region B, Dr. Tanya Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns home to the
family estate after completing medical school.Having inherited the family obsession, she is determined to help her
father (Joseph Cotten) realize his long-frustrated ambition of creating human
life in his laboratory.When Baron
Frankenstein and his associate Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller) balk at including the
refined young woman in their gory experiments, she fiercely overrides their
objections:“Stop treating me like a
child!I’m a doctor and a surgeon.”Frankenstein and Marshall successfully
reanimate a creature that they’ve stitched together from plundered cadavers,
but events take a turn for the worse, and soon a suspicious police officer,
Inspector Harris (Mickey Hargitay), begins nosing around the Frankenstein
Frankenstein” was filmed in Italy and independently marketed in Europe, where
Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay, and Paul Muller were popular actors in genre
movies.In the U.S., it was distributed
by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.Inexplicably, New World billed Rosalba Neri as “Sara Bay” in the
American credits and promotional materials, and depicted the exotically
beautiful brunette actress as a blonde in the poster art.Like many other exploitation films from the
same period, notably New World’s own series of Women-in-Prison productions like
“The Big Bird Cage,” it professes to have a feminist message while at the same
time including a fair amount of female nudity to meet the expectations of the
grindhouse audiences to which it was pitched, here and abroad.
feminist aspect is clear when Tanya discusses the resistance she faced in the
conservative halls of higher learning.“Was it difficult, very difficult, being my daughter?” her father asks sympathetically.“Sometimes,” Tanya responds, “but mainly
because I was a woman.The professors
still have a lot of old-fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.”In the wake of recent news events, many of us
will sympathize with Tanya’s dilemma and reflect that things haven’t changed a
lot in the male-dominated corridors of power, either in the two hundred years
since the early-1800s setting of “Lady Frankenstein,” or indeed in the
forty-seven years since the film was made.
as the story progresses and Tanya takes center stage, she begins to employ sex,
seduction, and murder to achieve her ends.You may start to wonder:do her
ruthless and increasingly cruel methods invalidate the movie’s claim to advance
a feminist theme . . . or underscore it?When one character is murdered in cold blood at her suggestion while she
has sex with him to distract his attention, does the film idealize -- or
objectify -- Rosalba Neri’s bare breasts and ecstatic facial expressions?When the infatuated, middle-aged Marshall
professes his love for her, does Tanya practice gender bias in reverse by
suggesting that she respects his intellect, but she’d respect it more if
Marshall were also young and handsome? The answers, I suppose, depend on your
interpretation of female empowerment.
Photos all copyright 2018 by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.
BY MARK MAWSTON
Three days before the
launch of the new Halloween film and
40 years since the original was released, Cinema Retro’s Mark Mawston was
invited to photograph the London leg of the new tour by the original films
director John Carpenter. As with his concert
here two years ago, John’s set was littered with some of his finest moments;
themes that have transcended their mere film score monikers to become rock music
synth classics in their own right. Tunes such as The Fog, accompanied as it was by dry ice and clips from the film itself,
projected onto screens around the stage, were nirvana for those many fans gathered
to witnesses the maverick director’s other great contribution to cinema: his music,
played live on stage.
Film critic Ann Thompson worked on early John Carpenter movies as a press agent, including the original 1978 horror classic "Halloween", which is being reissued to theaters. Thompson recently reunited with the director and actress to reminisce about the making of "Halloween", which was made for a relatively small budget and became a boxoffice blockbuster. Carpenter also discusses how his superb remake of "The Thing" made him cynical about working with major studios after it under-performed at the boxoffice- a fate that was blamed on his ambiguous ending to the movie. Click here to read.
John Carpenter's 1980 horror film "The Fog" has undergone a new 4K
restoration by Studiocanal and will be released to 50 American theaters
on October 26, presented by Rialto Pictures. The restoration finally
allows the movie to be seen as Carpenter envisioned it. Over the
decades, the movie was largely out of circulation due to the fact that
the prints had been allowed to deteriorate. A new trailer and theatrical
poster has been created for the presentations.
New original poster art by Matt Ferguson.
For a list of theaters presenting "The Fog" click here.
Shampoo (1975) is a movie
that can leave a viewer unsure as to what they just watched.Was it merely a vanity project for
Producer/Co-Screenwriter/lead actor Warren Beatty, who plays a babe magnet L.A.
hairdresser who juggles his three main girlfriends while haplessly attempting
to go into business for himself? Beatty portrays George Roundy, a flashy
dressing, motorcycle riding lothario who deftly manipulates the hearts and
sexual appetites of the beautiful women who constantly want to throw themselves
at him and his hair dryer. Or is it a
social satire, a la The Graduate,
that exposes the flaws in American life by showing us the sexual/romantic
dysfunction in the homes of the upper crust? One of Beatty’s character’s love
interests is the wife (Lee Grant) of the business tycoon (Jack Warden) he hopes
will finance his would-be new spa. Is it
a screwball sex comedy that aims for occasional emotional profundity? The
second of the hairstylist’s two lady friends is the tycoon’s mistress (Julie
Christie), and the third is that woman’s close friend (Goldie Hawn). Or is the
movie primarily a commentary on the American political climate of the late
1960s, and its damaging impact on the citizenry? The story takes place over one
24-hour span, that happens to be the day Richard Nixon won the 1968
answer is that Shampoo is a little of
each of those things. Which leads to the question of whether it was successful
in developing any or all of its themes. The feature’s overall quality has been
a debatable point over the decades. Roger Ebert felt it came up short,
summarizing that it “wasn’t confident enough to pull off its ambitious
conception,” “wasn’t as funny as it could have been in the funny places,” and
“it’s not as poignant as it could be in its moments of truth.” In the pages of The New York Times, meanwhile, critic Nora
Sayre positively savaged the movie, charging that it ultimately sank into “a
slough of sentimentality” while also calling it pretentious and dumb. Other
reviews have been kinder. It’s been called “a sharp satire” by Time Out, and
“one of the last true moments of personal expression in American cinema” by Elaine
Lennon in Senses of Cinema, etc.
can be hard to know what we’re supposed to make of the main characters. Roundy
is shown to be a user, and his three girlfriends, while likeable-enough people,
are hardly role models feminists of the day could have seen as on-screen
heroes. So are we supposed to find all of them laughably shallow people, tragic
figures victimized by their own egos and emotional needs, or are they simply
authentic representations of a womanizing hairstylist and the kinds of people
with whom he would be likely to consort? Director Hal Ashby, who struggled
while working alongside the overbearing Beatty in Beatty’s
open-to-interpretation role as Creative Producer, seems to have felt distantly
sympathetic to the characters. Ashby said of them, “They’re not people I spend
time with, but they’re people I’ve looked at and felt sorry for. So I spent a
lot of time being very kind to those people. The other way’s easy. To make fun
of people is easy. Life isn’t that easy.”
else with which Ashby had to tangle during the making of Shampoo was the often volatile artistic relationship between Beatty
and Co-Screenwriter Robert Towne. Beatty and Towne were engaged in a creative
power battle over the film’s content starting back from when it was only an
idea being bounced around between the two of them. Once Ashby was brought in,
he found himself often acting as referee between those two. Towne was actively
involved on the set, to the point where Goldie Hawn came to feel like she was
working under three different directors. Despite this circus atmosphere,
though, and despite Ebert’s and Sayre’s critiques, and despite what some see as
its foggy intentions, Shampoo took in
a slew of nominations at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Lee Grant won
the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
The times they were a-changin’ in the
1960s. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho did not feature a foreign monster (no
Dracula vampire with an Eastern European accent or Cold War alien creatures or
Japanese Godzilla.) The audience follows the main character (played by Janet
Leigh) to an American motel where the caretaker Norman Bates appears to be a
mild-mannered young man. Then he stabs the main character to death in a shower.
The camera slowly zooms out of the eye of the beautiful young woman’s corpse.
Norman Bates was inspired by the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who committed
two ghastly and grisly crimes in Wisconsin in the 1950s. The assassination of
President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 traumatized the nation and the
race riots in 1964 and 1965 showed a conflict and crisis in American society
that could no longer be ignored. After midnight, on August 1, 1966 in Austin,, twenty-five
year old Charles Whitman stabbed his mother and wife and then shortly before
high noon he climbed the stairs of the clock tower at the University of Texas
campus and murdered multiple victims by firing at them with his sniper rifle
until he was shot by police officers.
Twenty-eight year old Peter Bogdanovich
had been obsessed with cinema his entire life. He wrote film criticism for
various magazines and had also been a movie programmer at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York City. He had left NYC for L.A. because he no longer wanted to
only write about films. He wanted to be a director. Yet it was his writing that
gave him his first directing job. Roger Corman had read an article Peter
Bogdanovich had written for Esquire, and the two of them discussed
filmmaking when they met at a screening. Corman gave Bogdanovich complete
creative control over his directorial debut, with one exception. He had to use
the actor Boris Karloff and footage from the film The Terror.
Bogdanovich had been deeply disturbed by Charles Whitman’s mass shooting and
felt compelled to write a screenplay based on the event. How would he
incorporate Boris Karloff into this story? Karloff had been the iconic face of
horror in Hollywood history. His foreign facial features and voice had
frightened American audiences. The 1930s - 1950s was an era when America’s
deepest fears were of foreign enemies. The 1960s altered audiences’ views. Lee
Harvey Oswald was American. Charles Whitman was American. The enemy was no
longer foreign. The enemy was within American society.
Bogdanovich named his directorial debut
with the stark title Targets. He co-wrote the screenplay with his wife
Polly Platt. He was against his directorial debut being released by American
International Pictures. Bogdanovich wanted it to be distributed by a company
with historical significance. He sold the movie to Paramount. They had Boris
Karloff for five days and a shooting schedule of twenty-three days. They juxtaposed
two plotlines. In the first plotline, Boris Karloff plays Byron Orlok (a nod to
Nosferatu), an aging horror movie star who wants to retire, which
outrages the company who want him to make more films. Karloff was seventy-nine
years old when production on Targets started in 1967. He felt
rejuvenated by the opportunity to play a character that was a deviation from his
usual appearances in the horror genre. This was a character that had nuances
and was realistic. Karloff’s performance is wistful and wry, which fits his
character who is reflecting on the course of his career. Bogdanovich’s
performance is appropriately anxious and nervous as he plays himself, a cinephile
who has suddenly been thrown into the management position of his first major
motion picture. Bogdanovich plays (Sammy Michaels), a young director who is
both optimistic about Orlok (he believes the script he has written will be
Orlok’s best and most complex character) and skeptical about the state of the
movie business (“All the good movies have been made.”) Bogdanovich had a high
opinion of Karloff and was nostalgic for Old Hollywood. This becomes clear in
several scenes. Karloff and Bogdanovich watch a sinister scene together from The
Criminal Code and Bogdanovich praises his performance. Bogdanovich and the
hippie radio DJs (whom he satirizes as absolutely absurd in their lack of
serious questions for Karloff) gather around and listen to Karloff’s hypnotic, mesmerizing
voice as he recites the ancient fable of the Appointment in Samarra which symbolizes the inescapability of
death. This fable doubles as an epitaph for Karloff’s career (Targets was
his last major role in an American film) and as a commentary on the mass
shootings in American society. Bogdanovich also uses dialogue he wrote for
Karloff as a commentary on the changing attitude to the horror genre (“You know
what they call my films today? Camp! High camp!”) and on Bogdanovich’s own
perspective of Hollywood and L.A. in the 1960s (“what an ugly town this has
people represent their countries. In
music it seems, Elvis Presley was and is still, now more than ever, everything America represents. He optimized the
‘American Dream’ but the tale of the man who changed not only music but culture
forever, plays out more like a Greek tragedy than an American classic.
been many great documentaries on Elvis but few have matched the scope of “The King” mainly because its tapestry onto
which Elvis was sewn is America itself. Both follow similar paths.
moment when Ethan Hawke, one of the many key figures in this film says “when my
grandfather was alive, America’s greatest export was agriculture. By the time
my father grew up it was entertainment”. This one line sums up the entire
film. Elvis, like America, started off with humble beginnings and worked hard
to reap the harvest that the dry soils and endless toil could produce. When the Presleys lived in Tupelo
they didn’t have a cent to pay their bills and Elvis’s father was incarcerated
for changing the value of a check in the hope of buying a few weeks extra food. The analogy
of Elvis’s life and America’s own growth in the boom during the post-WW2 world
go hand in hand; from the lean to the bloated. Elvis grew up in Memphis, a
cultural melting pot and there is good reason to say that if the Presleys
hadn’t moved here, then the world would never have heard of Elvis and Rock ‘n
Roll as we know it would never have happened. When record mogul Sam Phillips
said “If I had a white boy that sounded black I could make a million dollars”
he wasn’t white-washing music as some people allude to here. What he was hoping
for was that he could find a singer who could break down barriers and introduce
the world to a new sound, based on old Delta blues, the definitive American musical heritage. In Elvis, Phillips found
the perfect mix of beauty and danger, sweat and cologne and more importantly,
black and white. The stars and indeed, the stripes, were aligned right
there in the tiny Sun studio in Memphis with Elvis simply tearing up the rule
book and playing the music he and Sam loved and admired. It changed music
another key figure in the documentary does his usual “Elvis stole from the
black artists” monologue but did he really? Did he not merely celebrate it and
introduce it to others as anyone wants to do when they fall in love with
something or someone? Would the world have even heard of Little Richard or
Chuck Berry or Fats Domino, great artists in their own right, if Elvis hadn’t
kicked down the doors that taste and indeed racial boundaries had kept
segregated up to that point? Elvis took the choice
to spend his childhood in Gospel churches and his teens in predominately black
areas such as Beale Street where BB King played. Thus, I find Chuck D’s diatribe
all a bit tiresome these days and think that he will be more famous for his
line “Elvis was a hero for some but meant shit to me” from Fight The Power rather than any of his other contributions to
music. If only James Brown or Jackie Wilson, who were there first hand and knew
Elvis, were still around to clarify it all. However, it’s the link between
Memphis and Elvis that again sums up the analogy that Presley was the spark
that lit the fuse, the plunger to the dynamite that enabled the great Memphis music
explosion that followed, both culturally and racially. Memphis was, like the
country itself, a place of extremes. Not only is it the birthplace of Sun and
Stax Records, two of the studios that made some of the greatest music the world
has ever heard, it was also the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the
shining light who broke down political racial barriers in the way Elvis had
done musically, was assassinated. Memphis is America in a nutshell and when
Memphis burned in the riots of the 1960’s, both Sun & Stax were left
standing. There may have been war on the streets but the places where entertainment
emanated from still stood tall and unscathed, their neon still flickering and lighting
up the night long after the flames had turned to ash.
It is the
parallels between Elvis and America that make this such a fascinating
documentary and so it’s strange that Elvis seems to have lost himself to the
entertainment industry he optimized. He was the Dr. Frankenstein who couldn’t
control or gain the respect of the monster he’d help create. In parallel
worlds, while Elvis suffered through those ‘60’s movies, American youth
suffered to a far greater extent through Vietnam. The 1970s brought the soul-draining
Vegas years for the singer while America itself took a long hard look in the
mirror when the Watergate scandal broke. Both brought artist and country to
Movie marketing sure has changed. Studios rarely advertise films in newspapers today (assuming you can still find a newspaper today) but that medium was once the most effective method of promoting new films. Not only were traditional ads run but clever off-beat ancillary campaigns were also featured in the guise of entertainment. For example, here is a promotional campaign for the 1966 epic "Khartoum" starring Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier that was squarely aimed at kids despite the fact that the intended audience was adults. This promotional block seen above was featured in the United Artists pressbook sent to American theater owners to suggest creative local publicity campaigns.
(For extensive coverage of the making of "Khartoum", get the Cinema Retro Movie Classic Roadshow Epics of the 1960s issue by clicking here.)
Cinema Retro reader and contributor Kev Wilkinson was kind enough to provide these rare photos of the British sexploitation film The Pleasure Girls playing at London theaters in 1965. For Adrian Smith's extensive articles on the British sex film industry in the 60s and 70s, see Cinema Retro issues #23 and #24.
Turner Classic Movies (North America) will broadcast "Treasures from the Disney Vault" on October 15. Here is the official description:
Once again, we are honored
to present an assortment of classics from the Walt Disney library, with TCM
friend and Disney expert Leonard Maltin returning as host. This collection
includes the TCM premieres of three Disney features and two cartoon shorts:
The Cat from Outer Space (1978) is a sci-fi
comedy feature about an intelligent extraterrestrial cat named Jake who crash
lands his spaceship on Earth and seeks help in making repairs so he can return
to his own planet. The human actors include Ken Berry, Roddy McDowall, Sandy
Duncan, Harry Morgan and McLean Stevenson.
The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980) is a
family-adventure film in which a plane carrying various animals is turned into
a boat after crash landing on a desert island. (A full-scale Boeing B-29 bomber
was used in the film.) This film stars notable actors Elliott Gould, Geneviève
Bujold and Ricky Schroder.
Flight of the Navigator (1986) is a sci-fi
adventure about a boy (Joey Cramer) who is abducted by a spaceship and travels
into the future. Randal Kleiser directed and the cast includes a young Sarah
The premiering cartoons in our night's lineup
focus on the Mickey Mouse family of characters. In Magician Mickey
(1937), Mickey stages a magic show despite interruptions from heckler Donald
Duck. In Pluto's Sweater (1949), Minnie Mouse knits a hideous pink
sweater for Pluto, to the amusement of the kitty Figaro.
Two features are given encore screenings in the
theme of Halloween. The classic musical fantasy Bedknobs and Broomsticks
(1971), which combines animation and live action, stars the delightful Angela
Lansbury as an apprentice witch in WWII England, who takes in three children
during the London blitz and plans to use a magic spell to help in the war
effort. The film, directed by Robert Stevenson, received four Oscar nominations
and won in the category of Best Special Visual Effects.
The Little Whirlwind (1941), an encore
cartoon, has Mickey Mouse struggling with a small tornado. This short is of
particular interest because it employs a redesigned Mickey that was employed
briefly during the World War II period. In this version, Mickey has smaller
ears, larger head and hands and buck teeth.
The sci-fi adventure The Black Hole (1979)
concerns space travelers who locate a lost spacecraft that is hovering near a
black hole and try to solve the mystery of how the ship defies the enormous
gravitational pull. An imposing cast includes Maximilian Schell, Anthony
Perkins, Ernest Borgnine and Yvette Mimieux. This film was Oscar-nominated in
the categories of Best Cinematography and Visual Effects. It was the first
"dark-themed" Disney feature and the first to be given a rating of
By the mid-to-late1970s, the legendary Henry Fonda was deemed all-but-through as a leading man. What was a screen icon to do in an industry that no longer appreciated his talents? In Fonda's case, he began farming out his services in cameo roles, often playing scientists or presidents and bringing a bit of gravitas to such decidedly underwhelming productions as "Tentacles", "City on Fire", "The Swarm", "Wanda Nevada" and "Meteor", along with the hit WWII film "Midway". Clearly, Fonda was frustrated by being relegated to cinematic window dressing, which probably explains his participation in "The Great Smokey Roadblock", which went into production in 1976 and which received a spotty release the following year. Fonda probably disapproved of the fact that the studio had changed the title from the more appropriate "The Last of the Cowboys" in order to cash in on the CB radio craze and the unexpected success of "Smokey and the Bandit". It is rather shocking to see Fonda starring in this bare bones production shot entirely in rural California. But he brings dignity to his performance as "Elegant John", a well-known aging trucker who is revered by his peers for his record of reliability. Seems he's never missed a scheduled delivery and is known as a true professional. However when an illness confines him to a hospital, John falls behind on his truck payments and the vehicle is confiscated. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his livelihood, John steals his own big rig and immediately becomes a wanted man. Low on cash and resources, he gives a lift to a young hitchhiker, Beebo Crozier (Robert Englund), a naive and shy young man who possesses enough cash to fill up the gas tank at least once. The pair hightails it to a bordello run by John's old friend Penelope Pearson (Eileen Brennan), who presides over a group of happy young hookers. However, they have just been busted by the cops and face arraignment. They concoct a daring scheme to move their possessions into the back of the big rig and take off for South Carolina, where for some vague reason, everyone feels they can safely start a new life. (Apparently, they have never heard of extradition laws.) John states that he may be doomed but he wants to make one last, big successful run.
No corn pone trucking comedy would be complete without a buffoonish lawman and in this case he's played by the inimitable and always amusing Dub Taylor. The plot finds the group arrested by Taylor and his equally dopey deputy but they turn the tables on them by using sex as a temptation. The big rig then takes off at high speed but now inter-state warnings are out and John and the girls are becoming the stuff of popular legend. Along the way, the rag tag group attracts more lovable misfits including a down-and-out DJ played by master impressionist John Byner and a crazed hippie from New Jersey played by Austin Pendleton, who seems to be channeling the future performance of Dennis Hopper as the whacky photographer of "Apocalypse Now". Soon, the entourage of counter-culture types forms a nomadic family that is perpetually one-step ahead of their pursuers. (Picture "The Outlaw Josey Wales" with motorcycles and a big rig.) The only action set piece in the film comes during the climax when police have set up the titular roadblock that Elegant John and his followers are determined to smash through on their way to a new life. The scene itself is well staged and features the requisite amount of crushed police cars for a film of this peculiar genre.The movie borrows heavily from director Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 cult flick "Vanishing Point". Both films center on outlaws who become populist legends by avoiding capture by the police. The film even has John Byner blatantly imitate the DJ from "Vanishing Point" played by Cleavon Little by having him broadcast propaganda to the masses on behalf of the outlaws.
Kino Lorber continues its welcome habit of unearthing cinematic rarities and making them available to retro movie lovers. Case in point: "Tiger by the Tail", a long-forgotten crime thriller filmed in 1968 as an independent production but not released until 1970. The film is the epitome of a good "B" movie from the era: lean, fast-moving and efficiently made with an impressive cast. The movie is typical of low-brow fare from the 1960s. It's primary purpose was to shot quickly and turn a modest profit. Many of these films, which often played as the second feature on double bills, had the asset of affording leading roles to actors and actresses who rarely had the opportunity to get top billing. Such is the case with this film which features Christopher George in the leading role. He plays Steve Michaelis, a recently discharged U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran who is returning home to New Mexico. However, he makes a nearly fatal pit stop in Mexico and the opening scene is a bit of a shocker. He's a about to bed a local beauty when two thugs enter the room and a brutal fight ensues that he barely escapes. This seems like an irrelevant scene, given all that follows, but we find out later its pertinent to his fate. Steve arrives in New Mexico where he reunites with his older brother Frank (Dennis Patrick), who raised him after their parents died. While Steve is down-and-out and broke, Frank has prospered as the majority share holder in the local horse racing track which fuels the local economy. The two men have a frosty reunion that is strained even further when Steve discovers that his former girlfriend Rita (Tippi Hedren) is now romantically involved with Frank. Nevertheless, the two men reconcile and things appear to be heading in the right direction. However, fate takes a tragic turn when the racetrack is robbed and Frank is murdered in cold blood. This sets in motion a complicated series of events. Steve learns he will inherit his brother's share of the racetrack stock, something that doesn't sit well with Frank's partners who inform Steve they intend to use a legal loophole to pay him off at a bargain basement price and assume total control of the operation. Steve soon discovers that he may not even get that money, as it becomes apparent someone has ordered him to be killed. Worse, he is being framed for the murder of his brother. The film follows the formula of old film noir crime thrillers and that isn't a bad thing. We see him use his wits and considerable fighting ability to thwart attempts on his life as he tries to find out who is out to get him. The logical suspects are the racetrack shareholders, a group of greedy elitists who don't want to be in business with him. Red herrings abound and Steve learns he can't trust anyone including Rita who informs him she wants them to resume their relationship now that Frank is in his grave.
"Tiger by the Tail" feels and looks like a TV movie of the era and that isn't a coincidence. Director R.G. Springsteen was best known for his work in television where he excelled in directing episodes of classic western series, and his colleague on those shows, writer Charles A. Wallace wrote the screenplay for the film. (This would prove to be Springsteen's final work in the film industry before his death in 1989.) Springsteen's direction is workmanlike in some areas but more inspired in others. He milks a good deal of suspense from the plot and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace across the movie's 99 minute running time. Springsteen, perhaps because of budget limitations, shoots virtually every scene in a real location which adds authenticity to the production. The film boasts a good cast of supporting actors, all in top form: Lloyd Bochner and Alan Hale as the greedy stockholders, Dean Jagger as a Scrooge-like banker and most intriguing, John Dehner as the local sheriff (in an excellent performance) with a penchant for using twenty dollars words in his vocabulary and who, along with his hot-headed deputy (Skip Homeier) may be complicit in working with the bad guys. Steve's only friends are Sarah Harvey (Glenda Farrell), the perky owner of a gun and souvenir shop who performs ballistics tests in the shop and New Mexico State Trooper Ben Holmes (R.G. Armstrong) who offers Steve whatever limited advice and support he can. The singer Charo (yes, that Charo) is cast in a superfluous role to provide a couple of songs in a local bar and to add a bit of additional sex appeal when we aren't gawking at Tippi Hedren sunning herself poolside in a bikini. As a leading man, Christopher George is top-notch. He's handsome, rugged and capable with fists and a gun as he takes on seemingly insurmountable odds. George should have been a success on the big screen. He was coming off a run in the hit TV series "The Rat Patrol" but never quite got his opportunity to shine on the big screen. "Tiger by the Tale" represents one of his few leading roles in a feature film, though he impressed as villains in the John Wayne westerns "El Dorado" (1967) and "Chisum" (1970). He died in 1983 at only 51 years of age from heart complications.
The Kino Lorber transfer is impressive, as usual, though there are some occasional speckles and artifacts. However, it's doubtful that there are many pristine prints of the film floating around, given its lowly stature. The Blu-ray features a very good commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, both of whom show a good deal of respect for the movie and all involved in its production. They are especially kind to Tippi Hedren, pointing out that she was long underrated as an actress. (She unfairly took most of the blame for the failure of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" in which she starred.) The release also includes a gallery of other action films and mysteries available from KL, though no trailer is included for "Tiger by the Tail". I don't want to overstate the movie's merits. It certainly isn't a lost classic but I suspect you'll find it far more impressive than you might have suspected. Recommended.
those sage words of advice, 15 year-old Fannie Belle Fleming leaves her home in
the backwoods of West Virginia in 1950 to pursue a career in show business.What happens next is not exactly what the
aspiring country singer had in mind.
(1989 Touchstone/Disney), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino-Lorber, is based
upon the true story of the vocalist- turned- stripper who changed her name to
Blaze Starr and became scandalously involved with Governor Earl Long of the
Great State of Louisiana.
played by Lolita Davidovich (Raising Cain, Leap of Faith, Cobb), is persuaded
by sleazy club owner Red Snyder (Robert Wuhl) to try stripping, which he
assures her is a form of dancing.“Trust
me,” he tells her.After a timid start,
Blaze becomes a star on the Burlesque circuit moving from New York to Baltimore
and finally landing in New Orleans in 1959.
is there in the Big Easy that Blaze encounters the colorful Earl K. Long,
portrayed in bigger than life fashion by Paul Newman.One night Earl stumbles into a Bourbon Street
establishment where he apparently knows most of the strippers on a first name
basis.Immediately taken with her beauty
and figure, Long asks if he may take Blaze to dinner.Remembering her mother’s words, a sadder- but
-wiser Blaze asks the Governor “Can I trust you?” and is quite pleased when he
answers “Hell no!”Their brief, but
passionate affair was the stuff of legend in a state not unfamiliar with
political shenanigans.While not
addressed in the film, both the Governor and Ms. Starr were married to others at
Ron Shelton’s film follows a late ‘80s trend of comedy-dramas from south of the
Mason-Dixon Line, featuring a quotable script and likeable characters who are
anything but the backwoods stereotypes we are accustomed to seeing.Much like Steel Magnolias, Fried Green
Tomatoes and Shelton’s own Bull Durham, this movie gives us another strong
female lead, confident in choosing her path in life without relying on the support
or approval of men.Ms. Davidovich’s
portrayal of Blaze is both comic and intelligent in that she is able to partner
with Governor Long and guide him through his campaign for Congress.
Newman chews his way through Shelton’s script as a conflicted, progressive
politician caught in a system that still sees women and minorities as
second-class citizens.On the one hand
he supports a civil rights act that will guarantee voting and equal employment
opportunities for blacks in 1960 Louisiana, but at the same time he still holds
some of the racist beliefs of many in his own political party. “We can’t keep sleeping with them at night,
and kicking them during the day” he says during a raucous meeting with state
Curly and Shemp were long gone but even in the 1960s, the "new" Three Stooges continued to gain popularity with a younger generation. The slapstick kings "starred" in a series of cartoons and even inspired a long-running comic book series published by Gold Key. The web blog 1966 My Favorite Year presents a gallery of Stooges comics covers. Click here to view.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Even astute fans of retro cinematic classics may be unfamiliar with Billy Wilder's 1951 gem "Ace in the Hole". The film was a boxoffice flop in its American release back in the day but over the decades it has become regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best movies of its era. Kirk Douglas, in one of the truly great performances of his career, is cast as Chuck Tatum, a once-lauded reporter for a major New York newspaper, who finds his career on the skids. His cynical nature, overbearing personality and weakness for liquor has resulted in him being displaced to New Mexico, where- out of desperation- he convinces the editor of an Albuquerque paper to give him a job. Within hours, Tatum is bored by the sleepy atmosphere and passive nature of his co-workers, most of whom have no ambition beyond reporting minor stories of local interest. Things change radically when Tatum stumbles onto a crisis in the desert that could make for a compelling story. Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is the owner of a cafe located on a remote road who finds himself trapped in a cave after venturing inside to look for ancient Indian artifacts. Tatum sees that rescue plans for the man are rather poorly staged by the local deputy sheriff (Gene Evans). He enters the cave at great danger to himself and makes a connection with Leo, whose legs and midsection are buried under debris. Tatum is able to communicate with him from a small opening in a dirt mound and he assures Leo that he will get food, water and cigars while he organizes a rescue team. Grateful, Leo looks upon Tatum as his guardian angel. However, it becomes clear that Tatum is using his relationship with Leo for his own selfish purposes. He sees the potential as one of those "child stuck in a well" scenarios that tends to galvanize the entire nation. By personally taking charge of the rescue effort, Tatum makes himself a national hero overnight, as hundreds of people stream to the remote location and erect a tent city in order to be on the scene when Leo is eventually saved. Tatum, fully aware of American's eagerness to embrace the bizarre elements of any story, also plays up the notion that Leo is the victim of an ancient Indian curse for prowling around sacred tribal grounds.
Tatum has some disturbing factors to contend with, however. The primary problem is dealing with Leo's bombshell, self-centered wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling in a terrific performance). She was already looking to get out of a boring marriage with a boring man and decides to leave town during Leo's moment of crisis. Tatum uses a combination of charm and threats to convince her that staying put and playing the role of loyal wife would be in everyone's benefit. His prediction comes true in the financial sense, as the Minosa's cash-starved cafe begins to burst at the seams with visitors due to its proximity to the cave. Ironically, Leo's life-threatening predicament is finally bringing him the financial success that has eluded him. While Tatum becomes obsessed with manipulating the crisis, he also finds that his dispatches from the scene and his exclusive access to Leo have put him back in demand as a writer. He bypasses his own employer to sell updates to his ex-boss in New York at extortionist rates. He also has a hot/cold relationship with Lorraine, who clearly has a submissive sexual aspect to her moody demeanor. She's excited when Tatum mistreats her, though it's never made clear if their relationship goes beyond the flirtation stage. Tatum gets some disturbing news when he learns that the rescue team can use an expedited method to rescue Leo. Not wanting to kill the goose who laid the golden egg, Tatum manipulates the corrupt local sheriff (Roy Teal) into ordering a more labored method of rescue, even though it will result in a delay of days before reaching the victim. The decision has startling consequences for all involved. To say any more would negate the surprising turn of events depicted in the film. Suffice it to say, the intensity of the story continues to build throughout, making "Ace in the Hole" a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience.
Criterion has released "Ace in the Hole" as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD. The quality, as one might expect, is up to the company's superb standards. The package is loaded with fascinating extras including a rare extended interview with Billy Wilder at the American Film Institute in 1986. In it, Wilder talks about "Ace in the Hole" and other aspects of his career. The film was an early directorial effort for him and the first movie he produced, following his career as one of the industry's most in-demand filmmakers. By his own admission, "Ace in the Hole" was a major source of frustration for him. The movie was ignored by American critics and audiences and even re-titled "The Big Carnival". In the post-WWII era, it was probably deemed far too cynical for U.S. audiences. In fact, the "hero" of the film is a cad, the leading lady is a self-obsessed phony and the local law officials are corrupt. Except for a few minor characters, there is no one in the film with a truly moral center. Wilder says he took heart from the fact that the movie was quite successful in its European release. The set also contains a 1988 interview with Kirk Douglas, who discusses the film and his respect for Wilder in a very informative segment. Most impressive is the inclusion of "Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man", a 1980 documentary by French film critic Michel Clement in which Wilder gives extraordinary access to his private life. We see him at home and at the office with long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond as they laze around trying to come up with ideas for future projects. Wilder comes across as a symbol of Hollywood's bygone Golden Age. Speaking in a thick Austrian accent with his ever-present stogie at hand, Wilder regales the viewer with insights about his family's escape from the Nazi occupation and his unlikely meteoric rise up the film industry's food chain. Almost from the beginning he was a hot property and would remain a revered director, producer and writer throughout his entire career. The set also includes a vintage audio interview with another Wilder collaborator, screenwriter Walter Newman and an insightful and creatively designed "newspaper" with essays by critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin. Director Spike Lee provides a brief video "afterword" in which he extols the virtues of the film and also shows off a cool original lobby card that he treasures because it is signed by both Wilder and Douglas. Topping off the "extras" is a truly excellent audio commentary track by film scholar Neil Sinyard, who provides so many interesting background observations about the film that it will open any viewer's eyes to the latent meanings of certain sequences and images. Even if you consider audio commentaries to be dry and academic, I do urge you to give this one a listen. It's first rate throughout.
In summary, this is a first rate presentation of one of the most unfairly neglected American film classics; one that in recent years is finally getting the acclaim that it should have received on its initial release. Criterion has surpassed even its usual high standards.
Writer Jim George provides an unpublished interview with Stella Stevens conducted in the 1990s in our latest issue of Cinema Retro magazine, #42. It seems fitting to raid Jim's blog to resurrect an article he originally wrote in 1981 about Stevens' co-star in "The Nutty Professor", Jerry Lewis. Click here to read.
For anyone with a remote interest in
soundtrack music, they will probably have some knowledge of how difficult it is
to secure the rights to Stanley Kubrick’s film music. Permission has been basically
refused and the whole issue is generally tied up in a bundle of tightly wrapped
Whilst there is still a great demand for
these scores, the slow and unsuccessful process has left the fan base both
frustrated and in limbo. It’s not that there hasn’t been a gallant effort;
fans/producers such as the respected and much admired Nick Redman have taken up
the challenge, but alas to no avail. As a result, the Kubrick soundtrack sagas
remain something of an impregnable and stubborn wall to penetrate.
I can’t therefore condemn entirely the
efforts of some labels and their attempts to try and fill the void and at least
try and provide something for the fans that is at least commendable. El Records
have attempted to provide just such a set with the release of a 4 disc box set
Kubrick’s Music: “Selections from the Films of Stanley Kubrick” (ACME338BOX).
It is important to point out that this is neither the definitive answer nor the
solution to the long- standing problem, and neither does it pretend to be. Moreover,
El’s presentation comprises of musical selections from Kubrick’s central
masterpieces, complimented by pieces which the director used as ‘temp tracks’ during
the production (and by varied accounts) with every intention of using these in
the final film, only to decide to replace them late on.
As the press release states:
“Stanley Kubrick’s audacious use of music was
one of the aspects that distinguished his films. He handled music with
sensitivity, invention and respect and it resulted in the creation of some of
the most indelible scenes in cinema history. Three that spring to mind… the use of Vera
Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ over a ninety-second montage of nuclear explosions
that closes “Dr. Strangelove”; the deployment of Strauss waltzes to create an
elegant cosmic ballet during the docking sequence in “2001: A Space Odyssey”,
and the highly controversial use of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” during
the attack on F. Alexander and his wife by Alex and his Droogs in “A Clockwork
In “2001”, the scherzo from Felix
Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (used for scenes of weightlessness) and
Vaughan Williams “Antarctica Suite” (for the Stargate effects and scenes on the
moon) were both used in preview showings of the film before being discarded.
While on “Eyes Wide Shut”, Wagner’s “Lieder Im Triebhaus” (“In the Greenhouse”)
from Wesendonck Lieder was a significant theme in the production for more than
a year before being replaced.
We have also assembled the complete vintage
ballroom music from “The Shining”. The final movement from Berlioz’s “Symphonie
Fantastique”, with its epic use of the chant from the Roman Catholic Requiem
mass, the “Dies Irae”, and a Sibelius piece, “Valse Triste”. Both were
important to the evolution of the film. Finally, as a young man, Stanley Kubrick fell
in love with Sergi Prokofiev’s score for the Sergei Eisenstein’s first sound
film, “Alexander Nevsky”. He played it to death, and it would inspire him later
in his own use of dramatic music. From the scintillating recording by Fritz
Reiner with the Chicago SO, we include the movement, “Battle On the Ice”.’