If movie fans recall the 1983 sci-fi thriller "Brainstorm" at all, it's generally as a footnote in history. The movie marked the final screen appearance of Natalie Wood, whose mysterious and controversial death still remains hotly debated. Director Douglas Trumbulll, a special effects master, had introduced the concept of virtual reality many years before the concept would become real. He also assembled an impressive cast that, in addition to Wood, included three Oscar winning actors: Cliff Robertson, Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher. Things were proceeding very well and expectations were high for the MGM production. Trumbull's incredible special effects concepts were generating a good deal of buzz. However, with Wood's tragic death days before filming was to be completed, MGM got cold feet and tried to shut the production down in order to get reimbursed for all costs to date through Lloyds of London. Trumbull boldly resisted and tried to prove to MGM that the film was quite salvageable since Wood had completed all her major scenes. Just a bit of rewriting and tweaking would save the production. The studio resisted but Trumbull prevailed and the movie was released in 1983 to anemic reviews and weak boxoffice. However, in an excellent, in-depth article for Popular Mechanics, writers Ryan D'Agostino and Eleanor Hildebrandt provide the little-known back story to this troubled movie and interview Trumbull and Fletcher about their experiences. The bottom line: this underappreciated movie was extremely prescient about the technologies that would soon dominate our world. Click here to read.
Director Guy Hamilton accepting the Cinema Retro Lifetime Achievement Award, 2008.
(Photo copyright Mark Mawston, all rights reserved.)
In this BBC article from February, 2017, director Guy Hamilton's suspense-packed adventures in WWII are recounted, though the late filmmaker was loathe to discuss his wartime experiences. Hamilton, who died in April, 2016, was in the Royal Navy, landed some secret agents on a beach in occupied France, only to find that his escape route had vanished when the ship that brought them departed suddenly. Hamilton joined the agents in evading German troops and managed to make contact with members of the Resistance, who housed the men at risk to their own lives. The amazing story rivals anything seen in the four James Bond films that Hamilton would go on to direct.
Kudos to everyone at Kino Lorber for bringing about this vitally important set. Here is the official press release:
York, NY -- November 13, 2018 -- Kino Classics is proud to announce the Blu-ray
and DVD release of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, a monumental 6-disc
collection, curated by Shelley Stamp (author of Lois Weber in Early Hollywood)
and executive produced by Illeana Douglas, celebrating the ground-breaking
early female directors of American cinema who helped shape the language of
First Women Filmmakers will become available on Blu-ray and DVD November 20,
2018, with a SRP of $99.95 for the Blu-ray and $79.95 for the DVD. The films in
this collection are accompanied by music scores composed by Renee C. Baker, The
Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Makia Matsumura, Maud Nelissen, Dana Reason,
Aleksandra Vrebalov, and others. Special Features include an 80-page booklet
with essays and photos, eight short documentaries featuring Interviews with
historians and archivists, and audio commentaries for select films.
by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
continues the legacy begun by Pioneers of African-American Cinema, equally
ambitious in scale, and every bit as historically significant. Presented in
association with the Library of Congress (and drawing from the collections of
other world-renowned film archives), Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is the
largest commercially-released video collection of films by women directors,
focusing on American films made between 1911 and 1929 -- a crucial chapter of
our cultural history.
2K and 4K restorations of more than 50 films, including features, shorts and
fragments, this collection includes more than 25 hours of material, not only
showcasing the work of these under-appreciated filmmakers, but also
illuminating the gradual changes in how women directors were perceived (and
treated) by the Hollywood establishment. Included are films by such pioneering
filmmakers as Ruth Ann Baldwin ('49-'17), Grace Cunard (The Purple Mask),
Dorothy Davenport (Linda, The Red Kimona), Alice Guy-Blaché (Algie the Miner,
The Little Rangers, Matrimony's Speed Limit, The Ocean Waif), Zora Neale
Hurston (ethnographic films), Cleo Madison (Eleanor's Catch), Frances Marion
(The Song of Love), Alla Nazimova (Salome), Mabel Normand (Caught in a Cabaret,
Mabel's Blunder), Ida May Park (Bread), Nell Shipman (Back to God's Country),
Lois Weber (Hypocrites, Suspense, Scandal, Where Are My Children?), Elsie Jane
Wilson (The Dream Lady), Marion E. Wong (The Curse of Quon Gwon), and many
showcasing the ambitious, inventive films from the golden age of women
directors, we can get a sense of what was lost by the marginalization of women
to "support roles" within the film industry.
names Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Dorothy Davenport Reid, and other
significant female directors deserve to have their names celebrated next to
DeMille's, and Griffith's as the early pioneers of Hollywood," said
Illeana Douglas. "Just as these woman told powerful stories to raise
awareness and educate, we must do the same! I am honored to be a part of
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, so that these films, and filmmakers, can be
put in the pantheon of cinema where they belong."
played an extraordinary role in early filmmaking, but this history has been
largely forgotten," said Shelley Stamp, author of Lois Weber in Early
Hollywood. "I'm so thrilled that these films have been restored and
re-scored so that contemporary audiences will have a chance to see what female
filmmakers were up to 100 years ago."
the early decades of cinema, some of the most innovative and celebrated
filmmakers in America were women. Alice Guy-Blaché helped establish the basics
of cinematic language, while others boldly continued its development: slapstick
queen Mabel Normand (who taught Charlie Chaplin the craft of directing), action
star Grace Cunard, and LGBTQ icon Alla Nazimova. Unafraid of controversy,
filmmakers such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Davenport Reid tackled explosive
issues such as birth control, abortion, and prostitution. This crucial chapter
of film history comes alive through the presentation of a wide assortment of
films, carefully curated, meticulously restored in 2K and 4K from archival
sources, and presented with new musical scores.
Feast your eyes on the outstanding American release trailer for Sergio Leone's 1966 masterpiece "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach- although composer Ennio Morricone deserves co-star billing for his legendary score.
Twilight Time has released the 1969 British anti-war comedy/drama "The Virgin Soldiers" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. Adapted from the 1966 novel by Leslie Thomas,who based the tale on his personal experiences while serving in Malaya in the early 1950s when British troops were called into action to quell political unrest and violent uprisings. The film has been compared to Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" which was released the following year and which focused on American forces serving in the Korean War. Both films were riding the wave of anti-Vietnam War protests and their geographical locations could easily be swapped for those in Vietnam. Additionally, the two movies both have a similar tone in that they mix a cynical, comedic view of life in the military with morbid scenes that display the carnage of the conflicts. In "M*A*S*H" the human toll of war is confined to scenes in the operating room where over-stressed surgical teams try to save the lives of those who were badly wounded. In "The Virgin Soldiers", the horrors of war come late in the film with a surprise attack by insurgents on a train carrying soldiers to an location where they were supposed to enjoy some leave time. But there are major differences in the way the story lines are presented. The Altman film dealt primarily with the antics of a trio of wiseguy anti-Establishment types while "The Virgin Soldiers" chronicles the personal experiences of a private, Brigg (Hywel Bennett) and a young civilian woman, Phillipa Raskin (Lynn Redgrave), who is forced to live on a military base where her father (Nigel Patrick) serves as the R.S.M. Most of the screen time is devoted to the Brigg character as he tries to get through his obligatory stint in National Service unscathed. The film presents the usual scattershot collection of men in the regiment as an eclectic bunch ranging from cowards to unlikely heroes. There is even an openly gay couple, which defies credibility since homosexuality in British society was considered to be a criminal act at the time.
The early part of the movie depicts the young soldiers as untested, naive and afraid of actually going into combat- all perfectly human concerns. They are also bored on the base due to lack of female companionship and are desperate for sex with any available woman. Amidst an atmosphere in which his fellow soldiers brag about their sexual conquests, Brigg nervously tries to arrange losing his virginity while posing as an experienced lady's man. He tries to satiate his sexual desires with a local hooker,
Juicy Lucy (winningly played by Tsai Chin), whose heart of gold extends
to giving credit on account to any soldier who suffers impotence from
performance anxiety. The unit's sergeant, Driscoll (Nigel Davenport), instills military discipline in his charges while also acting as a father figure, recognizing that these frightened young men are far away from home and are facing a conflict in an exotic land that they don't even understand. A parallel plot centers on the miserable existence of Philippa whose father is a strutting misogynist and comically inept figure. Her mother (played by Redgrave's real-life mum Rachel Kempson) is a dippy eccentric whose primary focus seems to be on the well-being of her pet goldfish. Phillipa is much-desired by every soldier on the base, given the lack of females in their vicinity. They view her as a sultry woman of the world when, in fact, she, too, is also a virgin, much to the consternation of her father, who constantly derides her for not yet having taken up with a man. He even chides her by telling her that the local gossip speculates she might be a lesbian. Phillipa is emotionally alone in the world in a location she can't relate to and doesn't want to be in, much like the young recruits on the base. She refuses to be a temporary bed mate for soldiers who are moving on.
Any retro movie lover would be forgiven for thinking there would be a multitude of pleasures in The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, a
1976 Western comedy top-lining such considerable talents as Lee Marvin,
Oliver Reed, Robert Culp, Kay Lenz, Elizabeth Ashley, Sylvia Miles and
the always watchable Strother Martin. Sadly, the film is a complete
misfire with nary a true guffaw to be found throughout. The movie is
directed by Don Taylor, who helmed some fairly good films including Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Damien: Omen II and The Final Countdown. However,
comedy is not Taylor's strong suit, as evidenced by the
over-the-top elements of the movie. The quasi plot finds Marvin as Sam
Longwood, an eccentric plainsman who is partnered with Indian Joe Knox
(Oliver Reed) and Billy (Strother Martin) in an attempt to track down
their former partner Jack Colby (Robert Culp) who fled with the haul the
gold hoarde the four men had discovered years before. Colby has used
the stolen loot to establish himself as a respectable politician. Sam,
Joe and Billy concoct a scheme whereby they will blackmail Colby into
returning their share of the money by kidnapping his wife Nancy Sue
(Elizabeth Ashley), a loud-mouthed and obnoxious woman who has had
romantic ties to Sam in the past. For reasons far too labored to go
into, the trio of men are also accompanied by a seventeen year-old
prosititute named Thursday (Kay Lenz) who is seeking to escape the clutches of her
former madam (Sylvia Miles).
The film has boundless energy but the non-screenplay leads the
characters to dead-ends. Taylor inserts numerous slapstick comedy bits
that bring out the worst in Marvin, as he goes into his over-acting mode
routinely. Most embarrassing is the bizarre casting of Reed as a Native
American. Cursed by having to wear a mop-haired wig and grunting "Me
Tarzan, You Jane"-style dialogue, Reed does the most harm to the image
of the Indian since the massacre at Wounded Knee. The film lurches from
extended fistfights to boring chase sequences, all designed to mask over
the fact that the script is a bland, pasted together conconction. There
is also a jaunty musical score by John Cameron that is played almost non-stop, causing you to keep the remote on "mute" mode. The
only people to emerge relatively unscathed are Lenz, Culp and Martin,
who provided whatever wit and charm the film boasts. On paper, the
project probably looked promising, but in terms of any genuine
laughs...well, they went that-a-way.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray with a good transfer and an abundance of trailers (including one for this movie) that prove to be far more entertaining than the main feature.
Racial tensions are flaring in the deep South. White supremacists are marching with members of the Klan, as progressive counter-protestors face off against them amidst a media frenzy. Confederate banners are proudly waved opposite those displaying the American flag. You would be forgiven for thinking this scenario describes the USA in the year 2018 but in actuality it's the setting for the 1996 political thriller "The Chamber", based on the novel by John Grisham. Like other Grisham cinematic tales, it's a complex story of eccentric characters, some laudable, others villainous, and its decked out with an atmosphere of Southern fried hatred. The film opens in Mississippi in 1967 when a Jewish civil rights lawyer makes the fatal mistake of taking his two young sons to work with him on the very day the Klan has placed a time bomb in his office. The resulting blast kills the boys and injures the father, who later commits suicide, leaving his widow (Millie Perkins) to cope with a lifetime of unspeakable sorrow. The story then cuts to the present day (1996) where we find Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell), a bright, dedicated young lawyer, determined to intervene on behalf of the man who was convicted of the hate crime and who is now about to be executed after many years of exhausted appeals while on Death Row. The culprit is Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman) and he is Adam's grandfather, though the young man has never met him. This introduces the first problem with the screenplay by the usually estimable William Goldman: we are never really clear about why Adam is so dedicated to savING the life of a grandfather he has never met. He is clearly haunted by the fact that his own father committed suicide when Adam was a child, presumably out of the overwhelming shame of being Sam Cayhall's son. Adam's motives are left murky, especially when there is no doubt that Sam did plant the deadly device in the lawyer's office. Is Adam grasping at straws in trying to reclaim some dignity for his family's name or is he on to something more intriguing? Because this is a Grisham tale, our hero does turn detective and learns that Sam had at least one co-conspirator, a local white supremacist (Raymond J. Barry) who was never on law enforcement's radar. Turns out he is actually Sam's brother and has been living under an assumed name. In a dramatic meeting, Sam's brother implores him not to spill the beans and to continue to cover for him until he is executed a few days later in the gas chamber. Sam responds with a verbal onslaught against his brother, screaming out that the plan was never to kill anyone. If that's the case, why is Sam willing to go to his death to continue to cover up for his slime bag brother? The question is left ambiguous.
There's a lot of legal maneuvering as Adam exhausts the options available to save Sam, who he has met and formed a bond with. Behind Sam's exterior of hatred and racism we learn there is a deep-thinking, intelligent man who is more nuanced than one might think when it comes to race relations. This warm, fuzzy side of the character doesn't ring true and seems to be a plot contrivance to make the audience sympathize with his plight. Helping matters is the fine performance by Gene Hackman, which goes a long way to making Sam accessible from an emotional standpoint even if his conversion is unconvincing. (After all, he still had willingly carried out a terrorist action in the name of racism.) The supporting cast includes Faye Dunaway as Sam's estranged and long-suffering daughter who saw him murder a black man when she was a child. She's now living the life of a Southern belle and is not too happy with being outed as Sam's offspring. The script does allow for father and daughter to have a somber reunion in prison and it's one of the few scenes that works credibly in the film. (It's also enjoyable to see Hackman and Dunaway reunited for the first time since "Bonnie and Clyde" 29 years earlier.) Lela Rochon is tossed into the mix in an under-written role as a young African American attorney who is being manipulated by the Mississippi governor (David Marshall Grant, playing the role like Snidely Whiplash) to befriend Adam in order to find out what legal strategies he is employing. The implication is that the Governor and other top officials have a lot to fear if Sam is not executed on schedule, but these factors are left frustratingly murky.
a banquet, and most sons of bitches are starving to death!”
Warner Archive has just released the Blu-ray version of Mame, 1974’s film
version of the hit Broadway show.The
musical itself was based on the play Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell,
also a film and also available from the Warner Archive.
paper, this movie had “hit” written all over it with Mame’s Broadway director
Gene Saks on board along with Bea Arthur (Saks’ wife) and Jane Connell
reprising their stage roles.The popular
score by Jerry Herman was augmented with a new song, Loving You.Phillip H. Lathrop was the cinematographer,
Onna White staged the production numbers and veteran composer/arranger Fred
Werner supervised the music.
casting of the title role created controversy at the time as the star of the
Broadway version of Mame, Angela Lansbury, was overlooked in favor of
television and film legend Lucille Ball.It was decided at the time that Ms. Ball would draw a larger audience as
film musicals had been sputtering at the box office.Previous efforts such as Paint Your Wagon,
Hello Dolly and Lost Horizon had been financial disasters, and the studio
wanted to stack the deck in favor of Mame breaking this trend.
Ball had never been known as a singer and at age 63 she may have not been as
nimble on her feet as she was in earlier musicals.One just has to remember her taming the cat
dancers with a whip in MGM’s Ziegfield Follies in 1946.Ms. Ball’s performance as Mame Dennis is
still enjoyable and, if anything, is somewhat restrained.Scenes involving a comic foxhunt with Mame
riding sidesaddle and a disastrous stage debut could have turned into Lucy
Ricardo style slapstick, but were wisely held in check by director Saks.Ms. Ball conveyed warmth, strength and gentle
humor in her performance as the eccentric, but lovable aunt.
story follows the young and recently orphaned Patrick Dennis being sent to New
York to live with his only living relative: his father’s sister Mame, a
free-spirited bachelorette socialite.Mame instantly takes a liking to her nephew and vows to show him all the
culture and unconventional personalities of Manhattan during the late 1920s.Her friends include a stage actress of dubious
talent, the headmaster of a Bohemian nudist school, a less- than- successful
stockbroker and a loyal houseboy.
escapades with Patrick are made aware to his guardian, a conservative bank
president, who sends the child to boarding school.Despite this setback, Auntie Mame remains the
main influence on her nephew’s upbringing, and the story tracks their
relationship through Patrick reaching adulthood and his preparations to
marry.Along the way Mame encounters the
stock crash of 1929, employment in customer service, marriage to a Southern
aristocrat and a sudden tragedy.Her one
constant through everything is her loving relationship with young Patrick.
fantastic supporting cast includes Bea Arthur as actress Vera Charles, Jane
Connell as Patrick’s nanny Agnes Gooch, Robert Preston as Mame’s love interest
Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, George Chiang as the houseboy Ito, Joyce
Van Patten as Southern belle Sally Cato, Bruce Davison as the adult Patrick and
John McGiver as Mr. Babcock, Patrick’s guardian.
highlights include the beautifully staged title number sung by Robert Preston,
a touching duet, My Best Girl, between Mame and Patrick, the hilariously wicked
Bosom Buddies, where Mame and Vera confirm their lifelong friendship and a
genuine holiday moment with the charming We Need a Little Christmas.
script by Paul Zindel does drag a bit in the second act as adult Patrick
contemplates marriage.There is an
awkward jump as one wedding is called off and another takes place.Zindel does include many of the one-liners
that made the stage version so humorous.Chiang, the houseboy answers a call from Mame’s financial adviser asking
“he wants to know what to do with your stocks before he jumps out the
window.”Vera enters the room after an
all-night binge and declares: “Somebody has been sleeping in my dress!”
This ad culled from the New York Times Archive shows quite a disparity in the films that Columbia Pictures was promoting for the holiday season in 1967: the Oscar-winning "A Man for All Seasons" (which had been in release since the previous year!) along with the third guilty pleasure Dean Martin Matt Helm flick "The Ambushers". Those were the days, indeed.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Kevin Costner stars in and directs the triumphant cinematic
masterpiece Dances with Wolves, based on the novel by Michael Blake. Available
November 13th, 2018 from Shout! Factory, this breathtaking three-disc Steelbook
Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical cut for the first time on
Blu-ray, an extended cut of the film and an entire disc of bonus features.
Winner of seven Academy Awards®, including Best Directing
and Best Picture, this modern classic tells the story of Lt. Dunbar (Costner),
a Civil War hero who befriends a tribe of Native Americans while stationed at a
desolate outpost on the frontier. What follows is a series of unforgettable
moments — from Dunbar’s tender scenes with Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell),
to the thrilling, action-packed buffalo hunt. Experience the excitement,
emotion and sweeping beauty of this cinematic treasure as never before on
Dances with Wolves Bonus Features
Disc One: Theatrical Cut
Disc Two: Extended Cut
Commentary with actor/producer/director Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson
Commentary with director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis
Disc Three: Bonus Features
· A Day in
the Life on the Western Frontier
Original Making of Dances with Wolves
Creation of an Epic - A Retrospective Documentary
· Music Video
Vignettes (Second Wind, Confederate March and Music, Getting the Point, Burying
the Hatchet, Animatronic Buffalo)
Actress, producer and director Penny Marshall has died at age 75 from complications with diabetes. In addition to starring in the iconic 1970s sitcom "Laverne and Shirley", Marshall was a trailblazer as a female director who broke barriers by helming big studio productions that became major boxoffice hits. Among them: "Big", "A League of Their Own" and "Awakenings". Comedy played a major element in Marshall's life. Her career was jump-started when she was cast as Oscar Madison's secretary in "The Odd Couple" television series. She and Cindy Williams introduced the characters of Laverne and Shirley on the "Happy Days" TV series. The lovable but unsophisticated blue collar ladies became so popular that a spin-off series was created for them to star in. The show proved to be a ratings smash, running for eight seasons. It was the brainchild of Marshall's brother Gary Marshall, who was a major force in the entertainment industry. Marshall gradually fulfilled her dream of becoming a director at a time when doors were largely closed to females who wanted to enter the profession. However, she proved she could bring in big budget productions on time and her direction was instrumental in making them major boxoffice hits. Marshall was once married to Rob Reiner, himself an actor and director who had become popular on an iconic 1970s sitcom, "All in the Family". For more on her life and career, click here.
"The Duke is London. God Save the Queen!" So read the tag line on the film posters for John Wayne's detective thriller "Brannigan". Released in 1975, the fish-out-of-water tale finds the Duke traveling across "the pond" to extradite a prisoner back to Chicago. Needless to say, there are complications. This photo shows Wayne on location for a key scene in Piccadilly Circus in 1974. Note the marquees for the stage production of "Oh, Calcutta!" and the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow screen version of "The Great Gatsby". Peeking out from behind the traffic light is a poster for "The Sting".
The AV Club sets its sights on misguided and largely failed efforts to reboot initially popular film franchises. In general, the article illustrates how a franchise can be diminished when its continued without artistic passion but merely for the purpose of creating artificial enthusiasm through aggressive marketing. Among the celluloid victims: Ghostbusters, Robin Hood, the Terminator, Superman and Jack Ryan. Click here to read.
How you’ll feel about MGM’s “The Last Hunt” (1956), a
grim depiction of the decimation of the buffalo herds out west in the 1880s,
depends on how you feel about actually seeing buffalo shot down before your
eyes while the cameras rolled. Writer/director Richard Brooks wanted the film to
be a searing indictment of the men who ravaged the western frontier, especially
those who made their living hunting bison. For the sake of authenticity, he and
producer Dore Schary went out on location to Custer National Park, South
Dakota, where they still have a small herd of buffalo. They got some
spectacular footage of the buffalo stampeding over the Black Hills and had
government permission to film during the annual “thinning of the herd,” when sharpshooters
are invited to kill a limited number of buffs to keep them from overpopulating.
As a result. there are scenes in “The Last Hunt” in which we see buffalo
hunters Charlie Gilson (Robert Taylor) and Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger)
shooting down a dozen or more of the majestic beasts as they sit peacefully
unaware by a watering hole. It is isn’t a reenactment. It’s real and it’s disturbing
But that was Brooks’ intent. He wanted to show how greed
and hatred of the Indian brought the buffalo to near extinction. Buffalo hides
not only brought the hunters a good price but in their minds a dead buffalo
meant less meat for the Indians. Brooks personifies these attitudes most
vividly in the psychopathic Charlie Gilson. He is a man who hates everything,
especially buffalo and Indians. He gets a real kick out of killing, too. He
says it makes him feel alive. Taylor is convincing as a truly bad man, although
his performance is somewhat one-dimensional. In most of the scenes, he’s either
drunk and surly or just plain mean and surly.
On the other hand, McKenzie is a gentler soul who only
agrees to go on the hunt when his small herd of cattle is wiped out by a
buffalo stampede. He has no animosity against Native Americans and keeps
telling Charlie he needs to chill out. Granger gives a good performance as a
nice guy, but he’s almost too nice to be believable. Also in the hunting party
are Lloyd Nolan as Woodfoot, a skinner with a peg leg and Russ Tamblyn as
Jimmy, a redheaded half-breed, whom Charlie can barely tolerate. Woodfoot could
have been an Ahab-type character with a grudge against buffalo for losing his
leg, but he’s more philosophical than that. He’s seen a lot. He explains
Charlie’s hatred for Indians to Jimmy by showing how much alike they are. He
says Charlie eats without a fork, just like an Indian, he’s free with his women
just like an Indian, he even blows his nose in his fingers like an Indian. “But you see, Charlie don’t like himself very
much,” Woodfoot says, “so it’s only natural he’d hate Indians.”
The four men manage an uneasy coexistence until their
pack mules are stolen one night by a small band of roving Indians. Sandy and
Woodfoot are willing to let it go, but Charlie rides off after them with blood
in his eye. He tracks them down, kills them and wounds an Indian Girl (Debra
Paget) traveling with a small boy. He brings the girl and boy back to camp and beds
down with her, much to Sandy’s dislike. Charlie gets drunk and mistreats the
girl, while Sandy seethes, but remains silent. Sandy and the Indian girl begin
to get closer, however, when Charlie’s not around or just passed out and
tension slowly builds.
Things come to a head when Sandy hesitates to shoot a
white buffalo because he knows it has religious significance to the Indians.
Charlie has no such qualms. He knows the hide will bring a price of $2,000. He
kills it and now both the Indian girl and the white buffalo hide become the
sources of conflict that eventually leads to a violent and chilling climax.
“The Last Hunt” is an interesting film made by an
interesting director. Like some of Richard Brooks’ other films, such as “In
Cold Blood” and “Bite the Bullet,” it’s hard-hitting, almost merciless, in its
portrayal of the darkness that lies just below the thin veneer of civilization.
It could have been a classic, but it has become a victim of the era in which it
was made. It’s not likely that any major studio today would release a film
showing the deliberate killing of live animals, no matter what the reason. For
one thing PETA would make life miserable for the film makers, and today’s
audiences would most likely condemn it as well. The casting of Debra Paget as
the unnamed “Indian Girl” is another strike against it. The casting was not
Richard Brooks’ fault. Movie studios in 1956 never cast Native Americans in
major roles. Indian characters were usually played by Mexican actors like
Delores Del Rio or Gilbert Roland. Paget
does a great job, but it’s a false note in a film that tries so hard to be
But the biggest problems with “The Last Hunt” is its slow
pace. The film focuses too much on the five main characters bogged down in
their own personal conflicts. It takes forever for McKenzie to finally have his
fill of Charlie’s constant bullying and mean-tempered treatment of the woman
and the half-breed. He’s too mild-mannered and when the final showdown does
happen it’s a long, drawn out affair that lacks suspense.
Director Peter Jackson has long been a historical expert on WWI and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of "The War to End all Wars", he has debuted a remarkable feature film, "They Shall Not Grow Old". In collaboration with Britain's Imperial War Museum, Jackson converted elements of 100 hours of silent film footage of the conflict into a vibrant new production that brings the war alive so that modern audiences can relate to the anonymous soldiers in a new, personal way- especially knowing that many of them would be casualties of the war. The movie will be shown in U.S. movie theaters on December 17 and December 27. For New York Times story about the making of the film, click here. For theaters showing the movie, click here.
tag-line on the theatrical poster for Brewster
McCloud, Robert Altman’s 1970 black comedy, proclaimed, “Something Else
from the Director of M*A*S*H.”
was something else, all right.
M*A*S*H, of course, was a
surprise hit earlier in the year, catapulting Altman into the A-List in
Hollywood. The picture was an irreverent commentary on the Vietnam War
(although the story takes place during the Korean War). It radically bucked the
system in terms of the sound recording and overlapping dialogue, and it initiated
the director’s penchant for using an ensemble cast and an improvisatory,
free-for-all sensibility. This was a new kind of cinema, an entry in what film
historians call New Hollywood.
for Christmas the same year, Brewster
McCloud was Altman’s anticipated follow-up. Most critics and audiences felt
it was very different from M*A*S*H—a
zanier, loosely-plotted ramshackle of a film that was considered weird and unlike
anything seen before. In retrospect, however, and especially considering
Altman’s further career of making large, unconventional and improvisatory
ensemble pictures, Brewster seems
very much in keeping with the auteur’s
stylistic and thematic traits that populated nearly all his movies.
Brewster is the story of a
young man (played by Bud Cort) who lives in a secluded area of the recently-built
Houston Astrodome, and he is building a wing-apparatus that will enable him to
fly. He’s encouraged and protected by a beautiful guardian angel (fallen, perhaps?)
named Louise (Sally Kellerman), but Brewster is infatuated with a pretty Astrodome
tour guide, Suzanne (Shelley Duvall, in her debut film role). Meanwhile, there
are serial killings going on around Houston being investigated by hotshot
detective Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy). The common “fingerprint” in the murders
is that each victim is covered in bird droppings. On top of these proceedings
are classroom scenes in which a very odd “Lecturer” (Rene Auberjonois) instructs
us about ornithology as he slowly becomes birdlike himself throughout the film.
is indeed an eccentric premise for a movie, and Robert Altman excels with it.
Make no mistake—this is an inventive, funny, bewildering, and fascinating
picture. I consider it to be one of Altman’s best films, one that solidified
not only his haphazard way of shooting a movie, but his use of a repertory
company of actors (many of the cast from M*A*S*H
appear here, along with newcomers who would continue to work with the director
in the future, such as Duvall).
of the cast, they all play colorful characters right out of a modern urban
fairytale on acid. Even Margaret Hamilton, the famed Wicked Witch of the West
from The Wizard of Oz shows up
wearing ruby slippers. The performances are excellent, especially that of
Duvall, Murphy, and good old John Schuck, who plays a traffic cop caught up in
Shaft’s investigation (Schuck was the “Painless” dentist in M*A*S*H and worked with Altman several
Archive has upgraded their previously-released DVD version of the film to a region-free
Blu-ray in 1080p High Definition with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. There is a
lot of grain present in the darker scenes, but that is to be expected with the
film stock from this era. There are no supplements other than the theatrical
you’re an Altman fan, or can appreciate wacky, trippy comedies that smoothly
slip into theatre of the absurd, then Brewster
McCloud is for you. Frankly, this “something else” is a gem.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Actress and director Sondra Locke has died at age 74. She passed away in November but for reasons unknown, her death wasn't reported until six weeks later. Locke first gained attention in the film industry when she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the 1968 film "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". She worked steadily in films and television in supporting roles until 1976 when she co-starred with Clint Eastwood in "The Outlaw Josey Wales". The film formed the basis of a long-time working and personal relationship between Locke and Eastwood. They would go on to co-star in five more films together but their relationship was an increasingly tumultuous one, complicated by the fact that although Locke was living with Eastwood, she was married to another man in what she described as a platonic marriage. Ultimately, the couple's personal troubles resulted in their breakup and a high profile palimony suit against Eastwood by Locke. It all became fodder for the gossip columns with Locke publicly accusing Eastwood of mistreating her both emotionally and financially and claiming he pressured her into getting two abortions. The palimony suit was eventually settled when Eastwood arranged for Locke to get a deal at Warner Brothers to direct and act in films she would develop. However, this, too, resulted in lawsuit when Locke claimed that the one feature released under the deal, the 1986 film "Ratboy", was virtually buried by the studio, which never gave the green light to any of her other projects. Locke filed suit accusing Eastwood of concocting a phony production deal with Warner Brothers that was designed to ensure that none of her films went into production. After a high profile trial in which Eastwood was compelled to give testimony, he made an undisclosed financial settlement with Locke. Although Locke claimed to take satisfaction from a woman prevailing over one of the industry's most powerful men, her career never recuperated, though she did present her side of the story in her autobiography titled "The Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly". In recent years, she had been battling bone and breast cancer. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest related to the illnesses. For more click here.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Universal City, California, November 1, 2018 – Five of
some of the most timeless holiday films come together on Blu-ray™ and DVD in The
Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe Edition available now from
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring all-new bonus features and
unforgettable characters, experience these five classic holiday specials with
your whole family.
‘Tis the season to enjoy the timeless holiday classics in
The Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe Edition featuring 5
unforgettable stories. Produced by the legendary Rankin/Bass, Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and The Little Drummer Boy
feature iconic Animagic™ stop-motion animation and Frosty the Snowman and Cricket
on the Hearth are beautifully illustrated. Starring the voice talents of Fred
Astaire, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, Danny Thomas, Burl Ives and many more,
these favorites also feature some of the most beloved songs of the season and
are sure to entertain audiences of all ages for generations to come!
The Original Christmas Specials Collection: Deluxe
Edition includes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969),
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Cricket on
the Hearth (1967). Along with The Original Christmas Specials Collection:
Deluxe Edition, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa
Claus is Comin’ to Town are also available in individual new Deluxe Editions on
Blu-RayTM and DVD.
· The Animagic
World of Rankin/Bass: An all-new documentary celebrating the legacy of the
holiday specials created by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass including
interviews with filmmakers and historians.
· Restoring the
Puppets of Rudolph: Discover how the puppets from the beloved special were
· Reimagining Rudolph
in 4D: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer attraction film.
· Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer Attraction Film: A short stop-motion film originally created
for a Rudolph 4D experience.
Rudolph and the Reindeer Games: A video storybook including the untold story of
the Reindeer Games
· Frosty the
Snowman Original Pencil Test
on Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
has released an interesting time capsule of a boxed set that features early work
by director Brian De Palma and starring a very young Robert De Niro before
either of them were significant names in the motion picture industry. The films
are The Wedding Party (made in 1963,
released in 1969), Greetings (1968),
and Hi, Mom! (1970).
Palma had embarked on a film career in the very early 1960s when he was a
student at various institutions. While at Sarah Lawrence College in New York,
he collaborated with then-theatre-professor Wilford Leach (who went on to
become a major stage director, designer, and writer) and Cynthia Munroe (who
provided much of the script and funding) to make a feature entitled The Wedding Party. Most accounts (including
IMDb) state that the movie was made in 1963; however, an essay by Brad Stevens
in the accompanying Blu-ray booklet claims that the film was shot in 1964-65. It
was eventually copyrighted in 1966, but wasn’t released until 1969, after the
moderate success of De Palma’s first mainstream (of sorts) picture, Greetings (released a year earlier in ‘68).
most interesting thing going for The
Wedding Party is that it also sports the movie debut of De Niro, as well as
Jill Clayburgh, William Finley, and Jennifer Salt (although De Niro’s name is
misspelled in the credits as “Denero”—go figure). It’s one odd little movie,
very low-budget, shot in black and white, and in a style reminiscent of early
silent comedies (although it has sound). In a supplemental featurette, critic
and filmmaker Howard S. Berger cites Richard Lester’s The Running, Jumping, and Standing Still Film (1959) as an
influence, and one can see that. There is speeded-up footage in which
characters run around, jump, fall, and drive cars in a comic, Keystone Cops
fashion. There is also a French New Wave feel in that the picture is full of
radical jump cuts. De Niro’s character, Cecil, is really a supporting role/groomsman
to protagonist Charlie (Charles Pfluger), the groom of the titular event, and
Josephine (Clayburgh), the bride. William Finley, who went on to star in other
De Palma pictures, particularly Phantom
of the Paradise, is another groomsman. The
Wedding Party is a black comedy about the hypocritical rites of a wedding
and the familial events leading up to it. There’s a laugh or two.
Greetings was another black
comedy made in collaboration with co-writer/producer Charles Hirsch as the kind
of pseudo-underground, low-budget, counterculture art film that budding
filmmakers were creating to appeal to the college crowd in the late 60s (movies
like Bob Rafelson’s Head or some of
Roger Corman’s hippie-biker pictures come to mind). De Niro shares protagonist
status with Gerrit Graham and Jonathan Warden as Jon, Lloyd, and Paul,
respectively. Each young man is rebelling against society in some way. Paul
wants to avoid the draft (so his pals help him be “gay”); Lloyd is obsessed
with the Kennedy assassination and seeks to uncover its secrets; and Jon wants
to be a pornographer. The picture is shot in a similar vein as was Wedding Party, albeit in color this
time, with even more uncompromising editing. This time it’s got the whole
late-60s pop thing going for it—shock-value subject matter, political
commentary, drugs, violence, and sex. In fact, the latter component earned Greetings the distinction of being the
first American mainstream movie to be officially given the “X” rating by the
newly-established MPAA (it has since been re-rated “R”).
to Hirsch, Greetings got mixed
reviews but did good business, especially in New York, where it played well at
art houses. It was decided that a sequel was in order, originally called Son of Greetings, but the title was
eventually changed to Hi, Mom!
Released in 1970, Mom almost received
an “X” rating, but De Palma deleted part of a scene to get an “R.”
Hi, Mom! is yet another black
comedy, and this one’s particularly subversive. It focuses solely on De Niro’s
character, Jon, who has returned to New York after serving in Vietnam. Now he’s
radicalized and wants to make a statement to the world. Hirsch calls the character
“Taxi Driver Light,” and one can see a glimpse of Travis Bickle here in De
Niro’s Jon. This time, Jon continues his venture into smut-making (with the
help of pornographer Allen Garfield, continuing a role he started in Greetings) by filming across the street
into people’s apartment windows, Rear
Window-style. He falls for one of the victims of his voyeurism, Judy
(Jennifer Salt). Most notable in the picture is a disturbing black and white
sequence in which an off-off-Broadway troupe of black actors perform a show
entitled “Baby, Be Black,” in which white audience members are forced to participate
in the show, put on blackface, eat soul food, and then be terrorized by the
actors (who are painted in whiteface). Not sure how this sequence would play
for a modern audience! Look for early appearances by Charles Durning (credited
as Charles Durnham) and Paul Bartel.
has done a top-notch job with these cinematic oddities. The High Definition
Blu-ray (1080p) presentations with original English mono audio (uncompressed
LPCM) look and sound surprisingly good. There are optional English subtitles. Supplements
are plentiful. There’s a new audio commentary on Greetings by Glenn Kenny, author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor; a new appreciation of De Palma’s
and De Niro’s collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger; new
interviews with Charles Hirsch; the pressbook for Greetings; the theatrical trailer for Hi, Mom!; reversible sleeves on the two jewel cases with
commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and booklets featuring pieces on the
films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas, and Christina Newland, and an archival
interview with De Palma and Hirsch.
three films are curiosities, certainly fare for film historians and serious
enthusiasts of De Palma and De Niro. For others, the trio will be considered
very strange pieces of cinema that merely reflect the times in which they were
Criterion Collection has upgraded to Blu-ray their earlier DVD release of
Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 feature, Sawdust
and Tinsel (titled The Naked Night when
the picture was first released theatrically in the U.S.). The visual quality
has improved with a new 2K digital restoration that looks razor sharp with gorgeous
contrasting black and white imagery, and it comes with an uncompressed monaural
Sawdust was a major step
forward in the evolution of Bergman’s filmography, although it was not
well-received by Swedish audiences at the time of release. It was most likely
deemed too disturbing for what appeared to be a movie about a traveling circus.
Note that this was before Bergman’s international breakthrough, which would
occur a couple of years later with Smiles
of a Summer Night. At the time of Sawdust
and Tinsel, Bergman was mostly known just in his native country and at the
various film festivals around the world where his work had been submitted.
first several pictures in Bergman’s oeuvre,
especially in the late 1940s,were
often melodramatic tales of entanglement, lost love, betrayal, and working-class
misfits struggling to enrich their lives. It wasn’t until Summer Interlude, in 1951, that a singular stylistic and thematic voice
emerged that can now be identified as Bergman-esque. Earlier in 1953, Summer with Monika was released, and
that caused something of a sensation with its frank portrayal of what the U.S.
distributor called “The Story of a Bad Girl.” That one made a star out of
Harriet Andersson, who would work on several other pictures with Bergman over
the next four decades.
Sawdust and Tinsel was a very different
picture from Monika. Taking place in
the early 1900s, the story concerns a poor, shoddy traveling circus that barely
supports itself. It is run by Albert (Åke Grönberg),
a middle-aged man who left his wife and sons in a small town in order to be a
ringmaster. His mistress, Anne (Harriet Andersson), is the bareback rider,
younger and yearning for something better. Frost the Clown (Anders Ek) and his
wife Alma (Gudrun Brost), who has an act with a sickly bear, are oddballs and constant
thorns in Albert’s side. When the circus sets up near the town where Albert’s
family lives, he decides to go for a visit. First, though, the troupe must
borrow costumes from the local theater run by creepy manager Sjuberg (played by
Bergman stalwart Gunnar Björnstrand). There,
Anne meets the mysterious actor, Frans (Hasse Ekman), who seduces her away from
sound like a good time at the cinema? Hogwash. This is a fascinating and haunting
battle of the sexes—a typical Bergman theme—but the carnival milieu is so
unique to the director that Sawdust and
Tinsel is immediately visually striking with its dreamlike photography (it
was the first collaboration between Bergman and longtime cinematographer Sven
Nykvist), its colorful and eccentric characters, and its moody and often
the story’s core is a treatise on how human beings react to humiliation. The
opening scene, in which Frost must rescue his wife from the taunting of the
Swedish military performing exercises near the beach, is a nightmarish, nearly silent
mime show of anguish and terror (and the facial contortions that Ek’s Frost
makes are worth a study in skin elasticity!). The meat of the picture is how the
ultimate shattering of both Albert’s and Anne’s dreams force them to re-examine
their lots in life.
all powerful stuff.
on the disk include an audio commentary from 2007 by Bergman scholar Peter
Cowie, a video introduction from 2003 by Bergman himself, and an essay in the
booklet by critic John Simon.
For those of you looking for the sold-out boxed set retrospective of Bergman’s
career that was released in November, Ingmar
Bergman’s Cinema, new copies will be available February 26, 2019.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "SAWDUST AND TINSEL" FROM AMAZON
wonders if Billy Wilder’s magnificent comedy-drama, The Apartment, could be made today in the age of #MeToo. Probably
not, despite its brilliant script, exceptional cast and performances, perfect
direction, and its positive message against sexual harassment in the workplace.
so, in some circles The Apartment was
considered controversial upon its release in 1960. Hollis Alpert in the Saturday Review called it a “dirty fairy
tale.” Then again, The Apartment was
coming off the heels of the hugely successful and popular Some Like it Hot, which the more-Puritan side of America may have
called illicit and tawdry, too. Or perhaps co-writer and director Wilder was
simply good at telling grown-up tales for adults within the context of a
rapidly-maturing culture that was on the verge of a decade known for its freedom
of expression. The 1960s was an explosion in breaking taboos—in all the arts, as
well as in politics, civil rights, and sexual mores. It was the decade of revolution,
protest, and the Pill.
Weiner was most assuredly influenced by The
Apartment to create his groundbreaking television series, Mad Men, which also spotlighted sexual
harassment in corporate America in the 1960s. The executives of Mad Men’s Manhattan advertising firm
often behaved like their counterparts in the New York insurance company that is
at the center of The Apartment. To
think that Wilder did it first, and at the beginning of the actual decade in
question, is a kind of eerie premonition.
the film, written by Wilder and his relatively new (since 1957) scribe partner,
I.A.L. Diamond, several executives at the firm take advantage of schlemiel C.
C. “Bud” Baxter (a career-defining performance for Jack Lemmon) by borrowing
the underling’s Upper West Side apartment for extramarital affairs, often with
women from the office. Baxter hopes for a promotion out of the deal. One of the
bosses, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, playing against type once again for
Wilder) wants the apartment for a liaison with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine,
in a career-making performance), who
is a lowly elevator operator at the firm. The problem is that Bud is sweet on
a screwball comedy, a love story, a treatise on gender politics, and a cynical
take on American morality, all done with Billy Wilder’s singular flare for
caustic wit and irony. Oscar voters thought it was special, too, for the
picture walked away with the statues for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best
Original Screenplay, as well as Art/Set Direction (black and white) and
Editing. Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated in the leading acting categories,
as was Jack Kruschen (who plays an initially bewildered—and then
helpful—neighbor) for Supporting Actor.
Blu-ray release is a marvel. The brand new 4K restoration looks astonishingly sharp
and crystal clear, an absolute perfect representation of the film. It comes
with an uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack, with an optional 5.1 remix in
lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. There’s an audio commentary by film producer and
historian Bruce Block.
previous home video releases, this Arrow release contains loads of supplements.
The Key to the Apartment is a
wonderful and concise introduction to the movie by film historian Philip Kemp,
who also provides selected scene commentary throughout the picture. The Flawed Couple is a new video piece
by filmmaker David Cairns on the unique collaboration between Wilder and
Lemmon. Hope Holiday, who plays one of Bud’s bar pickups, is featured in a
short interview with anecdotes about the making of the movie. Of interest to
budding screenwriters is an archival interview with Wilder for the WGA Oral
Histories program on how he writes a script. Also included are
previously-released documentaries from 2007, Inside the Apartment, a making-of featurette, and Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon—but
now presented in high definition. A reverse sleeve on the jewel case presents
the original artwork for the film poster and newly commissioned artwork by
Academy is rapidly becoming one of the great classic film restorers on Blu-ray.
The Apartment is a testament to its quality-control.
Billy Wilder’s masterpiece (one of several!) is also a work of genius that, considering
today’s sexual politics, still stands the test of time.
Warner Archive has just released the 1951 RKO science-fiction classic The Thing
From Another World on Blu-ray and it is a definite improvement over the current
Hawks produced this tight 87-minute thriller from a script by Charles Lederer
and the original story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell.Lederer removed the shape shifter aspects of
the alien visitor and dialed back the paranoia that John Carpenter explored in
his graphic 1982 remake.Here, the
scientists who discovered the crashed remains of a flying saucer under the ice
near the North Pole are shocked to find the remains of an
extra-terrestrial.After returning to
the base camp with their frozen visitor, an accident allows the creature to
thaw and wreak havoc upon the researchers and the Air Force team sent to
creature, played by James Arness, needs blood to survive and reproduce, and two
members of the crew are found hung upside down with their throats slit.Kenneth Tobey leads the team of soldiers and
scientists, now isolated due to a storm, in a desperate battle to subdue the
alien before they are all killed.
strong supporting cast includes Robert Cornthwaite, Margaret Sheridan, Dewey
Martin, Douglas Spencer and in a rare on-screen appearance, voiceover master
Paul Frees.The pace is fast and furious
with not a scene or line of dialogue wasted in this chilling story of do-or-die
survival against a seemingly undefeatable foe.The monster, compared by the scientists to a form of plant-life, is
unaffected by bullets and demonstrates it has the ability to reproduce itself
after a sled dog attack severs its arm.A spectacular sequence features an attempt to incinerate the creature by
dousing it with kerosene and setting it ablaze.What follows is a thrilling action set that critic Roger Ebert admitted
scared him to death as a youth.Director
James Cameron, in the sci-fi documentary Watch the Skies, noted it as the first
full body burn in a Hollywood movie and marveled that “the entire scene was lit
by the guy on fire.”
followed the completion of The Thing as to who actually helmed the film.Direction is credited to Christian Nyby, but
many critics claim that the film is very close to producer Hawks in style and
execution.Subsequent interviews with
several cast members reveal that even the actors weren’t sure who was in
and Nyby were clever in never showing an extended close up of Arness as the
Thing, thus keeping him more mysterious and anonymous.Later interviews revealed that Hawks was
never satisfied with the look of the creature and actor Arness was somewhat
embarrassed by the costume and make-up effects.The story comes to an electrifying conclusion that asks the world, in the
midst of numerous real-life UFO sightings across the country, to “watch the
technicians at Warner Archive have done a masterful job at rescuing this
favorite classic from the ravages of time.The new disc was created from a 1080p high-definition master in 1.37
preserving Russell Harlan’s claustrophobic framing and his beautiful black and
white photography.All scratches, dirt, pops
and instances of flicker have been removed.The contrast is sharp and the blacks are rich with fantastic detail now
revealed in every scene.What might have
been stock footage of the Air Force plane landing at the North Pole is crisp
and appears to be second-unit work specifically for this film.Several sequences that were inserted back
into the original print, such as the “close the door” scene with General
Fogarty, are nearly as clear as the rest of the film.Watch for the scene where we first meet Dr.
Carrington and notice that the elements on the periodic table above his head
may be clearly read.
mono sound is very crisp and makes it easier to follow the rapid-fire dialogue,
which was a hallmark of Hawks’ productions.The humorous romantic exchanges between Tobey and Sheridan are
especially helped by this sonic enhancement.The re-mastered soundtrack also allows us to fully appreciate the
growling brass and eerie theremin tonalities from Dimitri Tiomkin’s score.The opening credits might remind you of
Tiomkin’s themes during the graveyard scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, which was
made at RKO six year prior to this film.
Warner Archive Blu-ray release of The Thing from Another World is an occasion
where it is definitely worth the cost of upgrading from the DVD, although the only bonus extras are a couple of trailers.This is a film that John Carpenter, Steven
Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron all cite as a major inspiration for
their own works.This new print shimmers
and would make a worthy addition to your home library.
Universal has released the 1967 Don Knotts comedy "The Reluctant Astronaut" as a Blu-ray release. The film was Knotts's second feature film for the studio following the surprise success of "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken". This time Universal raised the production budget, thus allowing director Edward Montagne to shoot on location at both the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers. Knotts again recreates what is essentially his Emmy-winning portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife from "The Andy Griffith Show", complete with that character's requisite "salt-and-pepper" suit. When we first see his character, Roy Fleming, he's a 35 year-old nervous type whose "career" is playing an astronaut on a rocket ship ride in a children's amusement park. He still lives at home with his doting mother (Jeanette Nolan) and his overbearing father, Buck (Arthur O'Connell), who keeps bragging about his heroics in WWI and instills military discipline in the household. ("Well, he was a corporal, and you know how bossy they could be!" explains Roy's mom.) Buck wants his son to live up to his own self-proclaimed achievements in the Great War and without Roy's knowledge, sends in an application to NASA under his son's name. The goal is to get Roy into the astronaut training program. When an acceptance letter to report to NASA arrives in the mail, Roy goes into panic mode at the prospect of being an astronaut. He's suffered from a fear of heights since childhood and he reminds his mother that he can't even bring himself to get on the step stool to reach the marmalade jar. Attempts to share his fears with his father fall on deaf ears as Buck is a big-mouthed blowhard who immediately starts bragging to the entire town about his son's achievement. Soon, Roy is the reluctant guest at a party in which he is already cited as a local hero. Not wanting to humiliate himself or his father- not to mention local girl Ellie (Joan Freeman), who is trying to impress- Roy leaves for the NASA training center. (An amusing, on-going gag finds Roy pretending to board planes but secretly slipping away so he can take a safer mode of transportation: a Greyhound bus.)
Once he reports to NASA, Roy is both relieved and bemused by the fact that he has not been accepted for astronaut training but, in fact, is a janitor-in-training. When his father and his friends make a surprise visit to the facility, Roy tries to cover up his shame by dressing as an astronaut and demonstrating a new rocket sled with predictably disastrous results. Upon being fired and unmasked as a fraud, he returns to his hometown in shame, leaving his father heartbroken. However, this familiar dilemma in all of Knotts's feature films is resolved in predictable fashion by fate allowing him a chance to redeem himself. NASA learns that the Soviets are about to demonstrate the effectiveness of their new automated space capsule by launching a dentist who has no experience with astronaut training. NASA is eager to beat them to the punch and decides to ask Roy to volunteer. The scenes of the panic-stricken nerd trying to cope with space travel are among the funniest bits in the film. Naturally, a disaster occurs and Roy saves the day by summoning hidden courage that even he didn't know he possessed.
"The Reluctant Astronaut" doesn't have the cult following that "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" has built but it's equally good and at times laugh-out-loud funny thanks to Knotts' comedic genius and an inspired supporting cast that includes Leslie Nielsen (still trapped in pre- "Airplane" mode when studios didn't realize his comic potential), Arthur O'Connell, Jesse White, Jeanette Nolan, Frank McGrath and Paul Hartman. There are other familiar elements of the Knotts feature films: a good script by Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell (head writers of "The Andy Griffith Show") and fine direction by Knotts's frequent collaborator, Edward Montagne. Naturally, there's also a zippy and amusing score by Vic Mizzy.
Universal has once again provided a terrific Blu-ray transfer with eye-popping colors. Not to sound like an ingrate, but I feel compelled to repeat my only criticism of these Knotts releases, which is their complete lack of bonus materials, especially since the DVD editions contained the original trailers which are easily available for the Blu-ray releases. However, even if you have the DVD editions in your library, the quality of the Blu-rays releases merits upgrading if you're a true Knotts fan.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
model Tina Cassidy (Kathryn Witt) visits Hollywood plastic surgeon Larry
Roberts with a specific list of tiny imperfections that need to be corrected at
the request of Reston Industries, a producer of glossy television
commercials.Dr. Roberts becomes curious
when he realizes that several of his recent patients have had the same type of
follows is a science fiction/police procedural that involves the murder of
these same models.The police become
suspicious when it is discovered that all the victims were patients of Dr.
Michael Crichton once again makes predictions based on emerging
technologies.His first feature film, Westworld
(1973), pioneered the use of digitized imagery to present the point of view of
Yul Brynner’s android gunslinger.
Looker, we have actors being converted to computerized images that may be
manipulated through animation.These
digital actors communicate subliminal messages that cue the audience to respond
favorably to the product.Once these
models are scanned by the L.O.O.K.E.R. (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive
Responses) program, there’s no need for humans to create commercials.And if the process works so well at
convincing television viewers to buy, why not use it to manipulate a national
election and allow a corporate-friendly Senator to be elected President?
one effective scene, Tina returns to her home to visit with her parents and
finds that they can’t take their eyes away from a comedy show they are
watching.Mom and Dad have been drawn in
Industries is also preparing the L.O.O.K.E.R. technology for military
applications with a gun that renders an enemy immobile for several minutes
leaving no memory of the event.A
henchman hired to kill Dr. Roberts employs the weapon to almost humorous effect
as he taunts his victim.
good thriller requires a great cast and director Crichton chose wisely with
Albert Finney as the mild mannered
surgeon Dr. Roberts.One might wonder if
this character was at all inspired by the Beatles’ song of the same name.Also on hand are James Coburn as sleazy corporate head John Reston, Susan
Dey as model Cindy Fairmont, the always
beautiful Leigh-Taylor Young as marketing director
Jennifer Long and Dorian Heywood as
people may be aware of this film only from its claustrophobic pan and scan
showings on pay cable during the 80s and 90s.The Warner Archive’s’widescreen Blu-ray provides a beautifully restored
edition of Looker in all its Panavision glory.The stereo sound is properly re-mastered and showcases the music score
by Barry De Vorzon, who created a terrific techno-thriller
soundtrack that avoided the cheese factor and aged well.And then there’s that title song, performed
by Sue Saad, that will definitely earworm its way into your head for days.
new Blu-ray version of Looker will propel you back to the 80s in style and
comfort. Bonus features are the original trailer, an informative introduction by Michael Creighton and a deleted scene that was included in the TV broadcast of the film. Another great addition to the
Warner Archive library.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
handsome, beautifully-illustrated, and affordable entry in Turner Classic
Movies’ series of books on film history, genres, and trivia, comes just in time
for the holidays. Christmas in the
Movies—30 Classics to Celebrate the Season offers a selection of excellent
choices in chronological order. Author Arnold, a film historian and TCM
commentator, provides enough background, offscreen anecdotes, and justification
for his picks to satisfy the most critical movie buff.
Christmas in the
to tick all the obvious suspects (Holiday
Inn; It’s a Wonderful Life; Miracle on 34th Street, White
Christmas; A Christmas Story; The Nightmare Before Christmas), but
Arnold also throws a spotlight on some lesser-known gems such as Remember the Night (1940), with a
screenplay by Preston Sturges—although I’d haggle that the Sturges’-helmed
piece, Christmas in July (also 1940)
might be a better option. Other worthy entries include The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), 3 Godfathers (1948—yes, a John Ford western!), The Lion in Winter (1968—Christmas in medieval England with Henry
II and Eleanor!), Gremlins (1984), and
Die Hard (1988—yes, this action flick
is certainly a Christmas movie!).
is particularly gratifying that Arnold chose the 1951 Scrooge (released as A
Christmas Carol in the U.S.) with Alistair Sim in the titular role. Arnold
is quite correct that this is the
definitive adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, as there have been “far
too many to count.”
film’s discussion ends with a “Holiday Moment” sidebar. Here, Arnold highlights
a specific bit from the picture that epitomizes the selection as one of the
great Christmas movies. For example, the Holiday Moment from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) is Judy
Garland’s iconic rendering of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Arnold
provides the lyrics of the song the way Garland sang it, juxtaposed with the
original lyrics, which were oddly much darker and cynical.
book or list that deems to choose a finite number of movies to represent a
specific genre or theme will invariably incite calls of “But what about ___?”
Perhaps one neglected title that brings out the Christmas spirit for James Bond
fans is the 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret
Service, which had a Christmas song (“Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are
Grown?”), Christmas morning at Blofeld’s hideaway, and 007’s proposal to his
future bride on Christmas Eve!
minor quibble aside, Christmas in the
Movies is comprehensive, informative, and fun. It might well be the perfect
gift this season for the movie lover in your family!
a fascinating interview supplement contained on this amazing new release by The
Criterion Collection, film historian Joseph McBride calls The Magnificent Ambersons one of the great Hollywood tragedies in
that the film we got from writer/director Orson Welles was not the one he
intended. It is widely known that RKO Radio, the studio behind the production,
deleted forty-three minutes from Welles’ final cut, reshot the ending, and
released the film their way—all
against Welles’ wishes—and then promptly destroyed the cut footage so that the
movie could never be reconstructed.
is a stolen masterpiece.
said, the film is still a great
movie. In fact, it earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting
Actress (Agnes Moorehead), Best Cinematography (Black & White, by Stanley
Cortez), and Best Art/Interior Set Decoration (Black & White).
Ambersons, based on Booth
Tarkington’s 1918 novel (Welles claims that Tarkington was a “friend” of his
father’s), the picture was the director’s follow-up to Citizen Kane. Once again featuring some of the Mercury Players
(Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, and Moorehead) and new casting choices (Dolores
Costello, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter), the production of Ambersons went well, with the picture going only a little over
budget. Welles delivered a 148-minute cut—and then Pearl Harbor happened.
Welles was appointed by Nelson Rockefeller to be a goodwill ambassador to Latin
America so that he could attempt to persuade South American countries from
entering the war on the Axis side.
dutifully went to Brazil and started shooting a film (It’s All True, another picture sabotaged by RKO) and was
essentially unavailable to receive notes and requests from RKO regarding Ambersons. RKO, unhappy with the film,
then took it upon themselves to change it to suit their needs, and there was
nothing Welles could do about it. The picture released in July 1942 was
88-minutes in length.
a Magnificent Ambersons that is an
hour longer be a better film than it already is? We can only assume. For one
thing, the ending was drastically different. Welles’ version was cynical, dark,
and ironic. Given the wartime climate, RKO wanted a more upbeat ending—never
mind that it really doesn’t make sense that the characters suddenly change
entire attitudes they have held throughout the film. Never mind that the final
half-hour of the movie feels choppy, rushed, and out-of-rhythm from the first
hour. The 88-minute version is what we have and must live with.
should be stated again—The Magnificent
Ambersons is still a great picture.
story concerns the wealthy Amberson family in the early 1900s Indianapolis. Beautiful
Isabel Amberson (Costello) marries Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway) instead of
Eugene Morgan (Cotten), but she regrets it… and she and Morgan carry torches
for each other for the remainder of their days. Enter Isabel and Wilbur’s
bratty son, George (Holt), who terrorizes the town with his bad manners,
arrogance, and boorishness. Things get complicated when he begins to woo
Morgan’s daughter Lucy (Baxter) and at the same time insult and humiliate her
father. All the while, Wilbur’s sister Fanny (Moorehead) also carries
unrequited love for Morgan and inserts herself into the already-touchy
Ambersons is about the downfall of a
respected and wealthy family to that thing called Progress—namely, the
invention and proliferation of the automobile and other industrial evolutions.
Welles makes an ecological statement with the picture (back in 1942!) which is
something else RKO was unhappy with, seeing that American industries had to
ramp up to support the war effort.
new 4K digital restoration looks marvelous, and it contains two separate audio
commentaries with scholars Robert L. Carringer and James Naremore, and critic
packaging is first-rate. The numerous and excellent supplements alone make the
product a 5-star purchase. Especially interesting and informative are the new
interviews with (previously mentioned) McBride and one with film historian
Simon Callow. Both men relate different insights into the history of the
production and the editing debacle. Director Welles appears on a 1970 segment
of The Dick Cavett Show (along with second
guest Jack Lemmon) for an often-hilarious and always-entertaining half-hour
discussion. New video essays on the cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s uncredited score (that was also chopped
up with RKO’s editing), by Francois Thomas and Christopher Husted,
respectively, are a welcome addition.
included is the silent version of Ambersons,
originally called Pampered Youth (1925),
and re-edited for the U.K. as Two to One (1927).
If that wasn’t enough, we get two Mercury Theatre radio plays: the 1939
adaptation by Welles of Ambersons (with
Welles playing the role of George), and a 1938 adaptation of Seventeen, another Booth Tarkington
creation. There’s more, such as audio interviews with Welles by Peter
Bogdanovich and at an AFI symposium, and the theatrical trailer. The booklet
comes in a stapled “manuscript” that resembles a typed screenplay. It contains
essays by authors and critics (Molly Haskell, Luc Sante, Geoffrey O’Brien,
Farran Smith Nehme, and Jonathan Lethem), and excerpts from a Welles memoir.
even in its sadly truncated form,further
illustrates the genius that was Orson Welles. This Criterion release is a
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement:
Just in time for the holidays,
McFarland publications has released John Farkis’s latest book The Making of
Tombstone: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Modern Western. Which is only
appropriate as Disney/Buena Vista premiered this film on December 25, 1993, 25
years ago this month. While other books have been written about Wyatt Earp, Doc
Holliday, and the O.K. Corral, this is the only book written solely about the
making of that iconic film. With numerous behind-the-scene photos and
interviews from over 140 cast and crew members, stuntmen, extras, wranglers and
Buckaroos, this book is a virtual day-by-day summarization of how the film was
made. Starring Kurt Russell, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Sam Elliott, Dana
Delany, Bill Paxton, and Val Kilmer in his Oscar-deserved role of Doc Holliday,
Tombstone is the story of Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Holliday, the Clantons and
McLaurys, and their tumultuous relationship, cumulating in the historic
gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and subsequent Vendetta ride.
Farkis details the stormy creation of
the project, from script development, financing and casting, to site location
and construction.Along the way, he also
explores Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp, which at the time, was in direct
production competition with Tombstone. In fact, Costner was
screenwriter/director Kevin Jarre’s first choice for the role of Wyatt. Known
for his screenplay of Glory (1989), Jarre was replaced early in filming by
action-director George Cosmatos. While extremely proud of their work on the
film, virtually everyone associated with the project said it was an extremely
tough, miserable experience. And Farkis details the trials and tribulations in
exquisite detail. With access to numerous script iterations, call-sheets, daily
production reports and internal communications, he unpacks the story behind the
story. Photographs supplied by cast and crew members serve to enhance this
experience. Not only does he explain the film’s concept and production, he also
describes the historical tale, from the founding of Tombstone, to the
conclusion of Earp’s Vendetta ride. And, he adds a postscript appendix of the
film’s recent 25th anniversary celebration.
Released on Monday, November26, this
book can currently be purchased through McFarland, Barnes & Noble, Amazon,
and numerous other sites. If one wishes to have a personalized autographed
copy, they can be ordered directly from the author. Jkfarkis@earthlink.net.
Relive the moving moment at the 1996 Academy Awards at which Kirk Douglas received an honorary (and well-deserved) Oscar, presented by Steven Spielberg. Though compromised by the effects of a stroke, the screen legend looked as handsome as ever and was gracious in his acceptance of the award.
Criterion has released a dual format Blu-ray/DVD edition of director Michael Mann's 1981 crime thriller Thief starring James Caan. It's a highly impressive film on many levels, especially when one considers this was Mann's big screen feature debut. He had previously directed the acclaimed 1979 TV movie The Jericho Mile, which was set in Folsom Prison. Mann was inspired by his interaction with the world of convicts and wrote the screenplay for Thief, which is credited as being based on author Frank Hohimer's novel The Home Invaders, but he maintains virtually none of the source material ended up on screen. The story centers on Frank (James Caan), a bitter man with a troubled past. As a child he was raised in state-run homes before being sent to jail for a petty crime. Inside prison, he committed violent acts in order to defend himself but this only resulted in lengthier jail terms. By the time he has been released, he has spent half of his life behind bars. While in jail, Frank befriended Okla (Willie Nelson), a older man and master thief who is doing a life sentence. He becomes Frank's mentor and father figure and teaches him the tools of the trade. When Frank is finally released, he becomes a master at his craft, which is pulling off seemingly impossible heists of cash and diamonds. Before long, he has become a legend in his field. As a cover, Frank runs a major used car dealership and a small bar. However, he realizes that his luck will certainly run out at some point and he is determined to retire after making a few more high end scores. He works with a small team consisting of two confederates (James Belushi, Willam LaValley) who are also pros in gaining access to seemingly impenetrable vaults. The headstrong Frank wants to also settle down and raise a family. He makes an awkward introduction to Jessie (Tuesday Weld), an equally head strong, down-on-her luck character who nevertheless becomes smitten by him and ends up marrying him. The couple face frustration, however, when their attempts to adopt a baby are thwarted by Frank's criminal record. Frank is ultimately approached by Leo (Robert Prosky), a local crime lord who entices him to stop working independently and pull off a high profile heist for a fortune in diamonds. Frank rejects the offer but eventually he relents, though he is reluctant to work with a new partner. Leo has managed to break through Frank's cynicism by showering him with praise the benefits of his influence, which include arranging for Frank and Jessie to illegally adopt the baby they want so desperately. The lure of being able to retire after this one huge score leads Frank to go against his better judgment and he agrees to work for Leo on this one big job. The diamonds are located in a vault so secure that it would seem to be better suited for Fort Knox. In order to break in, Frank and his team must use highly sophisticated drills and other equipment that would rival the top gear used by any branch of the military. On the verge of realizing his greatest score, however, things go terribly wrong on any number of levels. Frank, seeing his world crumble around him, goes on a violent rampage of destruction and self-destruction.
Thief is a highly stylized movie that moves at a rapid clip and features one of James Caan's strongest performances. The problem, however, is that the character of Frank is so obnoxious, he is difficult to relate to. Peckinpah, Scorsese and Coppola always had a knack for making disreputable characters seem appealing, but Frank is nasty, arrogant and self-centered. This is certainly realistic, given the bitter feelings he has toward society, but the viewer never warms to him in any meaningful way. He is only sympathetic because the people he deals with are so much worse. Nevertheless, Thief is a crackling good yarn that boasts some fine performances especially by Tuesday Weld and character actor Robert Prosky, who is brilliant in a scene-stealing role. Willie Nelson's screen time is very limited but he makes effective use of his two scenes. The film features superb cinematography by Donald E. Thorin, who made his debut here as Director of Cinematography. His night sequences on the rain-slicked streets of Chicago evoke visions of neon-lit nightmare. The film features an electronic score by Tangerine Dream, the band that provided the music for Willliam Friedkin's Sorcerer. Strangely, their score for that films holds up well but their work in Thief comes across as a bit monotonous and dated. The film's ultra-violent conclusion is exciting but rather cliched with Frank turning into yet another pissed off screen hero who decides to take down all of his enemies in an orgy of shootouts and destruction. (I know it sounds petty but I can never accept such sequences when they are set in urban neighborhoods in which no one ever seems to call the police even as houses explode and machine gun fire is sprayed all over the place.). The film excels, however, in the break-in sequences which are superbly directed and feature camerawork that make the crime scene look like an attraction from Disney World, with fireworks-like sparks filling the air.
The Criterion Blu-ray transfer is superb on every level. Extras, which are carried over to the DVD, include a commentary track by Michael Mann and James Caan that was recorded in 1995. There are also fresh video interviews with both men that are rather candid. (Caan, who has worked consistently through his career, modestly says "I was rather popular at one time" in reference to his work on the film. Mann says he is still debating in his mind whether he regrets using Tangerine Dream's score) There is also an interview with Johannes Schmoelling of the band, who discusses working with Mann to create the score. An original trailer is included as is a nicely illustrated booklet with an informative essay by film critic Nick James.
Ken Berry, who rose to fame in the 1960s as one of the stars of the "F Troop" TV series, has died at age 85. Berry entered show business thanks to the efforts of Leonard Nimoy, who was Berry's sergeant in the U.S. Army. After Nimoy left the service and entered the acting profession, he helped find opportunities for Berry, who went on to stardom in the mid-1960s as Captain Parmenter, the likable but inept commanding officer of U.S. Cavalry post in the old West that was populated by con men and incompetents. Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch co-starred with Berry in the show that ran from 1965 to 1967. When Andy Griffith decided to retire from his immensely popular sitcom, he created a spin-off series, "Mayberry R.F.D" that featured Berry as the male lead. The show defied expectations and began a ratings hit, thanks in no small part to Berry's pleasant, "guy next door" persona. Despite this, "Mayberry R.F.D" was a casualty of CBS's infamous cancellation of its most popular sitcoms because they skewed towards older, rural audiences. Berry went on to co-star in a spinoff of "The Carol Burnett Show", "Mama's Family" in the 1980s. He was also occasionally seen in feature films such as Disney's "The Cat from Outer Space" and "Herbie Rides Again". For more click here.
Those of us who share the rather unusual- and sometimes bizarre-profession of reviewing films for a living all share a nasty little secret: there are countless classic movies that we haven't seen. I'm not alone in making this mea culpa. No less than the late, great Robert Osborne, whose insightful introductions on Turner Classic Movies helped launch that channel's success, once confided in me that even he could list numerous classic movies that he had yet to catch up with. When he confessed this to Lauren Bacall, she told him that she envied him because she wish she could recapture the sheer joy of seeing a great film for the first time. I've never seen the 1942 musical "Holiday Inn". I can't say why but perhaps it's because that as a boy growing up in the Sixties, such productions seemed quaint and unappealing when I had a celluloid tidal wave of WWII flicks, Westerns and Bond-inspired spy movies. After all, John Wayne and Steve McQueen never danced on film, so why bother watching anyone else do so? Thus, when I attended the Papermill Playhouse's stage production of the much-beloved Irving Berlin song fest, I was in the unique position of not being acquainted with the property at all. At the risk of invoking the names of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, to be sure. However, the Papermill has outdone itself in presenting the ultimate "feel good" production for the holiday season.
The story is as sappy and sentimental as I suspected when I was a kid, but with the passing of decades, I've warmed to sappy and sentimental musicals and "Holiday Inn" turns the old concept of "Hey, kids- we can put the show on in the barn!" into a slight variation that boils down to "Hey, kids- we can put the show on right here at the inn!". The story opens with a song and dance trio just finishing a successful engagement. They are Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez), his girlfriend and dance partner Lila Dixon (Paige Faure) and Ted Hanover (Jeff Kready). Backstage, Jim drops a bombshell by proposing to Lila and announcing that they can now leave show business and move to a farm he has just purchased sight unseen in rural Connecticut. Although Lila accepts the marriage proposal, she says she wants to continue the act on the road for another six months with Ted while Jim prepares the farm for her to move in following their marriage. Jim agrees but when he gets to the historic Mason Farm that he has purchased, he discovers he's been snookered. The place is run down and he is immediately served with demands to pay back taxes and assorted other staggering debts he didn't know existed. While he struggles to cope, he is visited by Linda Mason (Hayley Podschun), the previous owner the farm, which had been in her family for generations. Seems Linda couldn't afford the upkeep and had been evicted, thus allowing Jim to secure the place while in foreclosure. In a coincidence that only occurs in musicals of this type, she is attractive and has a talent for performing on stage, though she gave up her career to become a teacher when sufficient opportunities didn't appear for her to make a living in show business. Jim imposes on her to sing a bit and he recognizes she has star power. Meanwhile, Lila makes a surprise visit and confesses she is so caught up in her own thriving career that she is calling off the marriage and going back on the road with Ted. You don't have to be the kind of person who wears a deerstalker hat and smokes a pipe to detect what happens next: Jim falls head over heels for Linda and they devise a plan to transform the failing farm into a hotel that presents musical productions. The plan proves to be an immediate success, drawing crowds from far and wide but things unravel when Ted turns up and announces that Lila has kicked him to the curb and broken up their act when a millionaire proposed to her. Desperate to jump start his career, Ted worms his way into the inn's revue, in the process falling for Linda, who is clearly smitten by Ted's talents as well as he egotistical self-assurance which is in contrast to Jim's modest nature.
The well-oiled plot device of a city slicker finding himself hapless as a farmer must date back to the invention of celluloid but it persists because it's a genuinely funny one, as evidenced by films such as "The Egg and I", "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House", "The Money Pit" and the still amusing "Green Acres" 1960s TV series. The fish-out-water concept provides some genuine laughs but it is the wealth of Berlin songs that elevate "Holiday Inn" to a special status. Just consider all of these classic numbers in one show: "Heat Wave", "Blue Skies", "Happy Holiday", "Cheek to Cheek", "Easter Parade" and a little number called "White Christmas" that might actually catch on. All of them are superbly performed by a flawless and talented cast under the outstanding musical direction of Shawn Gough with equally impressive choreography by Denis Jones. Gordon Greenberg is the director of the overall production which practically had the enthusiastic audience dancing in the aisles. Kudos to costume designer Alejo Vietti for providing some eye-popping creations and especially to scene designer Anna Louizos, whose creative sets are not only impressive but are miraculously changed literally in the blink of an eye without the slightest interruption. The four leads in the show illustrate the Papermill's painstaking casting process pays off. Rodriguez, Podschun, Kready and Faure are delightful to watch throughout. Each of them has the ability to knock 'em dead during the musical numbers but they also deliver the witty bon mots in a style that ensures big laughs. There is also a spot-on supporting performance by Ann Harada as a local handywoman who finds plenty of work repairing Jim's dilapidated inn. The book has been tweaked a slight bit to make the dialogue more relevant for today's audiences but there are some quaint references to Connecticut as a dull, largely rural state, which gets big laughs from tri-state audiences who have suffered the endless traffic jams on the I-95 corridor.The film version was released in 1942 during the early days of WWII, which accounts for the sentimental success of "White Christmas", but for reasons unknown, the stage production takes place in 1946. A notorious blackface musical number in praise of Abraham Lincoln that appeared in the film has also been mercifully left out of the stage production.
The Papermill's presentation of "Holiday Inn" illustrates why the venue is the gold standard of regional playhouses. The show delighted the audience so much that even the rude nitwits that generally walk out before the show ends in order to get a head start on reaching the parking lot seemed transfixed by all the talent on stage and remained to join in the roaring standing ovation. It's the perfect holiday show and runs through December 30. Don't miss it.