Cinema Retro has received the following press release
regarding the film “Culloden” and “The War Game”.
These startling and controversial films by Peter Watkins,
first broadcast on BBC TV, have been newly remastered to High Definition and
will be released on Blu-ray for the first time on 28 March 2016, presented
together in a Dual Format Edition (contains Blu-ray and DVD discs). An array of
special features includes a new interview by film editor Michael Bradsell, who
worked with Peter Watkins at the BBC, audio commentaries for both films and
short films about each one.
Hailed as a breakthrough when it was first broadcast in
1964, Culloden – which brilliantly reconstructs the famous battle of
1746 – stunned viewers by approaching its historical subject matter in the
style of contemporary TV news coverage.
Watkins’ The War Game, about a limited nuclear
attack on Kent, blended fact and fiction to create a disturbing vision of the
personal and public consequences of such an attack. Banned from TV screens for
twenty years, it was through its cinema release in 1966 – and its Academy Award
for Best Documentary Feature in 1967 – that it gained a loyal and vociferous
Newly remastered and presented in both High Definition and
Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 21 mins): the
film editor talks about working with Peter Watkins at the BBC
John Cook audio commentary on Culloden (2002)
Culloden on Location (Donald Fairservice, 1964, 8
mins): colour footage of the cast and crew during the filming of Culloden,
with a 2002 commentary by John Cook
Patrick Murphy audio commentary on The War Game (2002)
The War Game: The Controversy (2002, 19 mins):
Patrick Murphy charts the production history, banning and eventual distribution
of The War Game
The War Game book: on-screen gallery of the complete
1967 book, published to accompany the film
Illustrated booklet with new essays by John Cook, David
Archibald and William Fowler, and full film credits
It’s great to
see Vocalion continuing to release a further addition in their remarkable
series of original library music. Last year the label launched a new series of Bruton
music releases to add to their catalogue and further strengthen their commitment
to the genre. Vocalion has released a new CD featuring a superb collection of
music from the archives of, arguably the most famous of all library music
labels, KPM. Flying Start - a collection of contemporary scores from the KPM
1000 Series (1968-1978) (CDMSL 8516) is an excellent compilation featuring 28
of the finest 1000 Series compositions. The focus here is very much on their majestic
orchestral and big band sounds with contemporary rhythm. But there is also so
much more, romantic interludes, avant-garde spacey jazz, and abstract
underscores all equate to a varied and rewarding listening experience. Keith Mansfield’s ‘World Series’ will be instantly
recognisable to thousands, and was used for years as the signature tune of BBC
Television’s athletics coverage.
In addition to Mansfield, there is a whole host
of KPM stalwarts including Neil Richardson, David Lindup, Nick Ingman, John
Dankworth and Johnny Pearson. The CD has a genuine filmic feel to it and
crammed with exquisite orchestrations. Vocalion’s audio quality is stunning,
and reflective of the mastering process (taken directly from the original
stereo analogue tapes). Thankfully, Vocalion’s packaging for this release is of
the standard we have come to expect, consisting of an eight-page booklet with a
lengthy essay detailing the background of the KPM 1000 Series as well as
composer biographies and a discussion of the music itself. Overall, it’s
another wonderful addition to a marvellous series of releases.
The Warner Archive has released "Go Naked in the World", a 1961 screen adaptation of a novel by Tom T. Chamales that apparently caused a bit of a sensation back in day with its forthright and adult look a highly-charged sexual relationship. The film, directed by Ranald MacDougall, opens with Nick Stratton (Anthony Franciosa) returning home on leave from the U.S. Army. We know things are somewhat tense with his family because he doesn't immediately tell them he is back, preferring to do some partying first. When his father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) discovers this, the tension builds immediately. Pete is a well-known construction magnate whose projects dot the city. Nick is in rebellion against his overbearing father, who feels that his son must follow him into the construction business. Pete loves his family, which consists of his long-suffering wife Mary (Nancy R. Pollack) and their two children, Nick and his teenage sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) but he alienates them with his heavy-handed demands that everyone march to his tune. He relegates Mary and Yvonne to the roles of helpless females and obnoxiously dictates his daughter's dating habits to the point of humiliating her. Mary, his wife of 30 years, has no say in any important matters. However, Nick is more rebellious and constantly stands up to his father, leading to explosive confrontations. Things only worsen when Nick falls head over heels for the vivacious Guilletta (Gina Lollobrigida), an independent party girl with a knock-out figure who can only be described in the vernacular of the era as a "bombshell". Nick has no trouble luring Guilletta into bed but he can't understand why she wants to leave it as a one-night stand. Nick is more than smitten- he's in love but Guilletta continues to inexplicably try to keep him at arm's length even though it's clear she loves him. Turns out that Nick is rather naive in his understanding of her lifestyle. He soon learns that she is a notorious hooker. Worse, his own womanizing father is among her clients! Nick still can't leave her- but his relationship brings the feud with his father to an even more alarming level. Caught in the middle is Guillette, a woman who is ashamed of her lifestyle but not sufficiently ashamed enough to quit it. She acts as an unwitting catalyst for the destruction of Nick's family's relationships that extends to Mary and Yvonne finally confronting Pete about his dictatorial ways. Wracked by guilt, Guillietta attempts to leave Nick again and again, as she suspects their love affair can only end tragically. Still, she is drawn to him with the same passion he has for her and their relationship continues even as it leads them to mutual disaster.
"Go Naked in the World" is extremely steamy in its treatment of sex when one considers it was released in an era in which such activities could only be hinted at. Nick and Guillette clearly love sex and the film doesn't paint them judgmentally as "bad people" for engaging in this behavior, which was fairly progressive for the time. The film is essentially a soap opera but a very engrossing one. Franciosa gives a powerful performance as a young man torn between his love for his father and the fact that he resents his attempts to dominate his life. Lollobrigida is terrific. She was often written off as another Italian sex symbol but I have never seen a film in which she didn't give a highly impressive performance. Her abilities range from light comedy to tragic dramas such as this. Borgnine, another great reliable force in old Hollywood, dominates every scene he is in and convincingly plays Franciosa's father even though he was only ten years old than him. The script has some melodramatic aspects but remains consistently interesting thanks to an intelligent, believable screenplay and fine direction. The impressive supporting cast includes Will Kuluva and Philip Ober. High recommended.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer and is region free.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of "The Hawaiians", which was released in England under the title Master of the Islands. The 1970 big budget movie was a critical and commercial failure in its day, but evaluating it after all these years leads the viewer to accentuate its many positive elements. The story is actually an official continuation of James Michener's Hawaii, which was made into a major film in 1966 that curiously also underwhelmed critics and public. This sequel doesn't have the epic proportions of its predecessor, but it does boast some impressively lush production values and a typically enticing score by Henry Mancini. For this film, Heston reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the vastly under-appreciated 1968 Western "Will Penny"which Heston regarded as one of his most satisfying artistic accomplishments. He is cast against type here in a somewhat unsympathetic role during a period of his career in which he was typically cast as a stalwart heroic figure. Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, a hard-nosed sea captain who transports luckless Chinese immigrants to Hawaii where they become cheated, abused and enter into what amounts to indentured servitude. The opening sequence finds the Chinese crammed into the sweltering hold of the ship and falling victim to illness and malnutrition. Hoxworth only adds to their misery by applying beatings and coldly calculating his human cargo in terms of acceptable deaths, 'lest his ultimate profits fall short of expectations. Hoxworth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. He is cut out of his father's will and has a contentious relationship with his siblings, who have little use for him. Barred from further sea duties, he is relegated to a failing plantation which he is determined to turn into a success, if only to spite his relatives. Geraldine Chaplin is his half-Hawaiian wife, whom he adores but who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained in the script, turns frigid after their son is born.
The film tells a parallel story about the plight of two immigrants who work on his plantation: Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) and Mun Ki (Mako), two people who, through necessity, live as man and wife even though Mun Ki tells Nyuk Tsin that the children she has borne him will not be considered hers. Instead, Chinese tradition dictates that they will ultimately return to China where his wife will assume the mantle of mother and Nyuk Tsin will be relegated to the status of an aunt. The couple's hard work appeals to Hoxworth's generally dormant sympathies and he allows them to prosper financially, especially when they successfully grow the first pineapples on Hawaii - a development that makes Hoxworth rich. However, the film piles crisis upon crisis on each of the major characters, including political intrigue, armed revolution and, in particulalry affecting sequences, outbreaks of leprosy and plague. John Phillip Law appears late in the 134-minute film as Heston's grown son, whose humanitarianism brings him into direct conflict with his father's Machevellian ways.
The Hawiians is big-budget soap opera at every level, but it's a consistently engrossing one. Heston excels playing part that takes him into new territory as an actor. The supporting cast is equally good, with both Mako and Tina Chen giving outstanding performances. It can't be said that the film is an unqualified success, but it's never boring and it probably seems more impressive today than it did at the time of its initial release. It should be mentioned that the movie has a fine score by Henry Mancini. There are worse fates than spending a couple of hours with Heston under any circumstance.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) is right up to the company's high standards. It includes a trailer and the usual informative liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.
the mid 1980’s, I caught ABC-TV’s premiere broadcast of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and it changed me
forever. I became a huge fan of both
Stanley Kubrick’s and Stephen King’s work, as well as classical music. Despite the protestations of many a film
reviewer regarding the casting of Jack Nicholson, I greatly admired his performance
in the film, and eagerly sought out all of his films that I could find on home
video and television at the time. Among
them was a film that I had not heard of before, the story about two Navy lifers
transporting a convict to the “brig”, a military prison, for having stolen
$40.00 out of the Polio contribution box (the Commanding Officer’s wife’s favorite charity – oops!!). Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), which opened in New York on Sunday,
February 10, 1974 (having premiered in L.A. in December of 1973) , contains my favorite film performance by Jack
Nicholson, which is saying a lot considering that his turn as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
is the role that most critics think of when they discuss his work. Here he plays Billy "Badass"
Buddusky, a U.S. petty officer who, along with Richard "Mule" Mulhall
(the late Otis Young), is tasked with escorting a sailor, Larry Meadows (Randy
Quaid), from their home base in Norfolk, VA to Portsmouth Naval Prison up in
Maine. On the surface, this looks like a
fairly routine affair as Buddusky and Mulhall go through the motions of taking
Meadows by train to his final destination. Initially by-the-book and aloof, they begin to feel sympathetic towards
the nebbish Meadows following a shoplifting episode. He’s obviously a kleptomaniac and, even
though he’s only 18, probably feels as though his life is over. Along the way, they start to think of the
things that Meadows will miss out on – his first sexual experience, having his
first beer, and getting into all sorts of fun trouble. Buddusky takes on the
role of the leader, and he sets out to show Meadows a good time. They break into laughter following Buddusky’s
outburst at a bartender (the language his uses in this scene could very well have
been a first for the time) and Meadows looks like a kid rang someone’s doorbell,
ran off and has gotten away with it. He’s obviously enjoying himself with his newfound “friends”. They get beer on their own and get drunk,
then spend the night in a hotel room and laugh to their heart’s content.
time progresses, Buddusky and Mulhall cannot help but take a liking to Meadows,
and eventually start to feel sorry for him, feeling that he got a raw
deal. They take time to seek out his
mother during a stop in Philadelphia (they don’t find her), and then they watch
him attempt to ice skate in Rockefeller Center in New York and fight with
Marines at Penn Station (which looks completely different than it does today). In Boston, they take Meadows to a whorehouse
for his first sexual experience (Carol Kane plays the prostitute). Michael Chapman, the cinematographer who shot
the movie, plays the taxi driver who gives the boys a ride (Mr. Chapman would
go on to shoot Taxi Driver for Martin
Scorsese in the summer of 1975, and actually appears as a cab fare in that film). They also sit it on a session with Nichiren
Shoshu Buddhists and Meadows attempts to put into use the chant that he is
taught in order to obtain good fortune. The
late Luana Anders makes an appearance in this scene, as does the late Gilda
Radner; they both died of cancer in 1996 and 1989 respectively. Another party they end up at features a very
young Nancy Allen, who is told by Jack Nicholson in a very funny speech about
why he loves his uniform. Even director
Ashby shows up: he can be seen sitting at the bar in the dart-throwing sequence,
sporting glasses and his trademark white beard. By the end of the film, we know that inevitably they must follow their
orders, and it’s painful to see Meadows incur Buddusky’s wrath following a
failed attempt to escape. The ending is
poignant, but a far cry from the tremendous downer that ends the novel of the
same name by Daryl Ponicsan upon which the film is based. Thankfully, the film is a tad more
There are, at a minimum, three important lessons gleaned
from the outrageous 1970 sci-fi thriller The
Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. The first and most obvious lesson is that the adage “two heads are
better than one” is simply not necessarily true. The second is that mad scientists, the most
bitter and misunderstood members of the medical profession, tend to a more liberal interpretation of the
Hippocratic Oath they’re sworn to. The
last and perhaps most important lesson: if
you and your best gal find yourself necking in an automobile on a remote
lover’s lane, it might be best to spoon under a good-old fashioned hardtop. Convertibles
are too easily shredded by two-headed maniacs.
Let’s be frank. Anthony
M. Lanza’s The Incredible Two-Headed
Transplant is one weird movie. It’s
not without merit, but it’s surely a film that invites parody and guffaws over
a Coke and tub of hot popcorn. This, I
imagine, is the reason Kino Lorber has offered the choice of a genuine “RiffTrax”
audio commentary as an optional supplement. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t listen through the mocking
supplement in total. Truth be told, while
I enjoy a cheap laugh or a well chosen barb as much as anyone, I’ve never been
a big fan of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or “RiffTrax” phenomenon. It’s not that I don’t find such commentaries humorous
or even, on occasion, insightful… at least when enjoyed in the privacy of one’s
own home. But one can’t ignore that such
burlesque has inspired several generations of idiots to ruin public theatrical
screenings with lame attempts at imitation.
Though a genuine 1970s drive-in theater-exploitation-horror
movie in nearly every regard, The Incredible
Two-Headed Transplant differs from most as it offers not a single spooky
nighttime scene. This might be the only
horror film that I know of that takes place entirely in broad daylight. Co-screenwriter James Gordon White conceived
the film “as a tongue-in-cheek take off on Frankenstein,”
but I suppose that can be said of practically any horror/sci-fi film featuring
a body on an operating gurney. In some
ways the film, reportedly shot on a budget of $350,000 and a money-spinner for
A.I.P. within six months of release, is an oddity even among that studio’s
deep-catalog of low-budget horrors. Writer White sees the film as a classic “B”
production, while star-player Bruce Dern has infamously dismissed it as a “Z”
It must be said that nearly everything about the film is
schizophrenic, and this extends to the movie’s soundtrack. There’s an early dash of background
instrumentation that offers a Seventies ghetto-soul vibe. But this then contemporary musical element
seems somewhat out of place when juxtaposed against the film’s entirely tranquil
Californian countryside setting. Odder
still is the film’s main title song, “Incredible,” a pleasant but out-of-sync bossa nova vocal number sung by the
otherwise obscure singer Bobbie Boyle. Both interludes start the film off on a weird,
Screenwriter White (The
Glory Stompers. The Mini-Skirt Mob) admits that while writing the non-union
scenario for American-International, he had visualized horror-film maestro
Vincent Price in the role of the crazed Dr. Roger Girard: the part, for
whatever reason, went to a young, lithe Bruce Dern instead. A great actor by any standard, Dern turns in
an uncharacteristically aloof and workmanlike performance in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. In his memoir Things I’ve Said but Probably Shouldn’t Have, Dern admits he wasn’t
at all thrilled about the role, but the offer of $3,500 for ten days work was
enough for him and his fiancé to get married on so he signed up. Regardless of the star’s dubious commitment
to the project, director Anthony M. Lanza keeps the film moving along at a good
clip, and it must be said the movie suffers no moments of padding.
The film certainly wastes no time in getting one
involved. We’re instantly transported to
a suburban home where a ghastly act of violence is in progress. With several bloodied bodies littering the
floor, a crazy-eyed psychopath – one with an unfortunate propensity for sexual
violence - is in the process of lasciviously terrifying a young girl. Thankfully, she’s saved from a lurid fate at
the last minute when the police arrive and subdue the madman. Though a prudent judge commits the murderous
rapist, Manuel Cass, (played with wild, eye-rolling fervor by Albert Cole) to a
mental institution “until sanity is restored,” there’s little chance of that
happening anytime soon. It’s not long
after his confinement that Cass murders an attendant and drives off into the
countryside in a sporty 1961 Dodge Comet.
The scene shifts to a seemingly more tranquil
environment. Though wife Linda is
adamant that her husband is a “fine surgeon” who could very well enjoy a
thriving “marvelous practice” if only he… well, put his head to it, Dr. Roger
Girard (Bruce Dern) seems pretty determined to remain less than respectable. Dr. Girard is a man obsessed: he’s single-minded in his determination to
transplant a second head on a human subject. He’s also pretty confident in his ability to accomplish such a task. He’s already succeeded in this endeavor - as
any number of twin-headed caged animals and serpents kept in his home laboratory
can attest. For what purpose, you might
ask? Well, the doctor’s preoccupation in
this matter is never adequately explained. He’s obviously self-interested in creating an unassailable reputation as
one of the scientific greats, but as for the moral complexities of his
twin-head experimentations… well, “future generations” can sort it all
out. The doctor’s suspicious, cagey elder
mentor-assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) mutters something early on about his
protégé being the only one who can restore his damaged hands “and the body
needed to go with them,” so there’s some surgical motive there as well. Dr. Girard, at least at first, doesn’t come
off quite as crazy as Max, but he too
is something of a nut case, quick to impart bitter, disparaging missives on the
small-minded dullards he once worked beside at the local hospital.
Not counting the paying audience, the true victims of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant are
Pat Priest’s beleaguered Linda Girard and John Bloom’s Danny. As the not-so-good doctor’s luscious wife, any
on-screen appearance of Priest, the lovely and curvaceous former Marilyn
Munster, is welcomed. Sadly, without the
kindly Uncle Herman or Grandpa to watch over and afford her a measure of
familial protection, Priest’s lonely afternoon of poolside sun-bathing is interrupted
when she’s spied upon, kidnapped and near-sexually assaulted by the
psychopathic escapee. Her preoccupied
husband didn’t hear her screams as he was, as usual, puttering away with bad
intent in his hacienda-home laboratory. As awful as Cass manhandles Priest during the kidnapping, it must be
said that the treatment she receives from her own husband is barely
better. In the course of the film Dr. Girard
(all in the interest of scientific secrecy, of course) locks his wife in his
laboratory, gags her mouth, ties her to a bed, performs a needle injection
against her consent, feeds her tranquilizers, and imprisons her inside a large
steel cage… and this is not to mention the not inconsequential emotional abuse
she’s made to endure. But the doctor
promises his wife a nice vacation (“anywhere you want”) after he finishes up
his experiments, so all is good.
Director John Badham dissects the original trailer for John Ford's "Stagecoach" starring John Wayne in his star-making role. Here is his analysis from Joe Dante's "Trailers from Hell" web site. By all means, check out hundreds of other classic trailers reviewed by filmmakers and historians by clicking here.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Anchor Bay:
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – (March 22, 2016) – Award-winning
filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar’s (The Others, The Sea Inside) latest
psychological thriller Regression arrives May 10 on Blu-ray™ and
DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Dimension Films, and Digital HD and On
Demand from Starz Digital. Regression features an ensemble cast led
by Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Training Day,
The Purge), and Emma Watson (Harry Potter, Perks of Being a
Wallflower). Hailed as a “carefully-crafted tale of collective psychosis”
by the Hollywood Reporter, Regression also stars David
Thewlis (Harry Potter,Anomalisa), Dale Dickey (“True Blood”) and Devon Bostick
(“The 100”, Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
Minnesota, 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke)
investigates the case of young Angela (Emma Watson), who accuses her
father, John Gray (David Dencik), of an unspeakable crime. When John
unexpectedly and without recollection admits guilt, renowned psychologist
Dr. Raines (David Thewlis) is brought in to help him relive his
memories and what they discover unmasks a horrifying
Regression will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay
Entertainment for the suggested retail price of $26.99 and $22.98,
Criterion Collection released the wonderful Bicycle
Thieves on DVD in 2007 and now finally presents a marvelous new 4K digital
restoration of the Academy Award-winning picture (1950, Honorary Award for
Foreign Language Film) on Blu-ray. The movie was known in America for decades
as The Bicycle Thief—but the literal
translation of the Italian title is plural, and this also makes more sense in
the context of the film’s story. There is
more than one bicycle thief, and the revelation of the second one’s
identity is what gives De Sica’s picture its emotional power.
neorealism was a movement that lasted from 1945 to about 1952, and it was
highly influential for filmmakers around the world. There would not have been a
French New Wave in the early 60s had Italian neorealism not served as a
stylistic and thematic launching pad. Film scholars generally acknowledge
Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945)
as the first true Italian neorealist picture, for it presented a striking
naturalistic depiction of life among the lower class and the poor in post-World
War Two Italy. Strict realism had been attempted previously by other European
filmmakers (e.g., Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante),
but nothing had prepared the world for the harsh, yet affective, truthfulness
of Italian neorealism.
traits of the movement include working with extremely low budgets; shooting on-location
in the streets of war-torn cities often with hand-held cameras, creating a
documentary-like visual style; avoiding artifice in editing, camerawork, and
lighting in favor of a simple “style-less” presentation; using non-professional
actors in many cases; and adapting conversational, non-literary dialogue.
Thematically, the films focused on the plight of the poor and lower class as
they struggled to climb out of the horror that the world war had brought; a new
democratic spirit with emphasis on the value of “ordinary” people; a
compassionate point of view; humanism; and a focus on emotions rather than
Bicycle Thieves is an exemplary entry
of the movement; it is indeed the crown jewel. The story is simple—Antonio, a
poor man, finally gets a job that will pull his family, which consists of his
wife, his son Bruno (around eight or nine years old), and newborn baby, out of
poverty. But the job requires a bicycle that would enable Antonio to move
around Rome. All goes well for a day or so, until a thief steals the bike. For
the rest of the film, a desperate Antonio and Bruno scour the streets of the
city looking for the thief and the stolen bicycle, encountering a variety of
characters who try to help (or hinder) him. Yes, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was an homage of sorts to Bicycle Thieves.
Sica cast a shoe factory worker, Lamberto Maggiorani, as Antonio. For a
non-actor, his performance is exceptional. However, the real find was Enzo
Staiola as Bruno, who delivers arguably one of the greatest performances by a
child actor in the history of cinema. In many ways, the story is seen through
his eyes, and it is Bruno’s outlook of the world around him that defines the
direction is masterful, as is the script, which was written primarily by De
Sica and frequent collaborator Cesare Zavattini, who was responsible for the
screenplays of several important Italian neorealism pictures. De Sica presents
the characters’ poverty with a matter-of-factness that ultimately hits home
when Antonio’s impulsive actions nearly result in tragedy. It may be a
depressing film, and one that will cause the viewer to shed a tear or two, but
in the end there is a statement of humanity that each of us will recognize.
new Blu-ray looks terrific, as is the gold standard for Criterion. The film
contains an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The disk supplements from the
original DVD are ported over with nothing new added. They include: Working with De Sica, a fascinating
collection of interviews, including one with Enzo Staiola, who is now an old
man—and yet he still looks exactly like little Bruno!; Life As It Is, a piece on Italian neorealism with scholar Mark
Shiel; and a documentary from 2003 on screenwriter Zavattini. There is an
optional English-dubbed soundtrack. The booklet contains an essay by critic
Godfrey Cheshire, plus reminiscences by De Sica and his collaborators.
Bicycle Thieves is truly one of the great motion pictures. I screen itevery semester for my Film History
class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The picture is required
viewing for anyone interested in world cinema and the movements that shaped
If you were going to write a
script following the further adventures of two Shakespearean characters, it's a
safe bet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wouldn't be the first names to spring to
mind. For those who don't know, they are two minor characters from Shakespeare's
Hamlet. They become the focus of Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz
And Guildenstern Are Dead, adapted for the big screen in 1990. The title is
taken directly from a line spoken in Hamlet.
It is a fairly shapeless,
existential film. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Gary Oldman and Tim Roth)
travel around the wilderness, partaking in nonsensical debates about fate,
chance, life and death. They seem unsure of where they are going or why, and often
muddle up their own names as if they are not entirely certain of their
They stumble across a
travelling acting troupe fronted by the Lead Player (Richard Dreyfuss). He
gives them cryptic hints about their place in the bigger picture, but much of
his meaning is lost on them. Occasionally, they find themselves flitting into
the events happening at the Danish castle of Elsinore, where young Prince
Hamlet (Iain Glen) is descending into madness following the death of his father
and the subsequent marriage of his mother (Joanna Miles) to his scheming uncle,
Claudius (Donald Sumpter). When involved in the fineries of Hamlet's story,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suddenly become different men - they become more
articulate and purposeful, and have a better understanding of their place in
the world. When the action moves away and they are left alone once more, they
slip back into nonsensical and often stupid character traits, as if they have
been stripped of their personality and understanding.
The film often focuses on
the off-stage aspects of Hamlet, wherein Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are mostly confused by the small snippets of information they glean from their
position at the edge of the main action. They try hopelessly to piece together
what is happening in Hamlet's life (and the lives of other characters) during
their absence, but only come up with fanciful theories to explain situations
which lie beyond their grasp. The technique raises an important question for
the audience: what role do we play in other people's lives? Our friend's lives,
our family's lives, don't cease to exist just because we aren't present - yet
we don't know what is happening to them or what they are experiencing at any
given time unless we are there to bear witness. Ultimately, lives carry on
regardless and our understanding of any situation is dictated and shaped by
whatever snippets we see for ourselves.
It's a clever device which
enables us to relate to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We see that, like them,
we are merely minor characters on a much larger stage - called 'Life'. The two
main characters are constantly mistaken for each other by those around them;
even between themselves they often forget which one is Rosencrantz and which is
Guildenstern. In some ways, Stoppard is mocking the way they are written in the
play, indicating they are so similar that they might as well have been rolled
into one, since there is not enough discernible difference between them.
One can imagine that
adapting the play for the big screen would present a daunting prospect for many
directors. It comes as little surprise, then, that Stoppard himself directed
the film version. As he pointed out in
an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "It began to become clear
that it might be a good idea if I did it myself—at least the director wouldn't
have to keep wondering what the author meant. It just seemed that I'd be the
only person who could treat the play with the necessary disrespect." He does a commendablejob here, and it seems surprising this was his one and only film directing assignment. With over 40 writing
credits to his name, it would have been interesting to see him adapting and directing
one of his other plays.
During the casting stages,
Stoppard approached Sean Connery to play the Lead Player. Once Connery's name was associated with the
production, Stoppard was able to secure funding for it.Unfortunately, around this time Connery was having problems with his
throat, leading him to visit a specialist who discovered abnormal
cells which had to be surgically removed. Connery pulled out of the feature to concentrate
on his health. Stoppard reacted angrily, informing the actor he had committed to the film and the producers would take the matter further. In
the end, Connery settled the matter out of court. It's not difficult to visualise Connery in the role: he would have had fun with the character and his voice would have
suited the prose beautifully, but alasit was not to be. Richard Dreyfuss makes a
perfectly worthy replacement, full of energy and mischievous humour in the
Through a distribution deal with the Warner Archive, many Paramount titles are being reissued on DVD. Among them: "Hustle", a 1975 crime flick starring Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. The film is definitely of an era when cop and gangster movies largely defined the medium. Directed by Robert Aldrich, "Hustle" doesn't rate high on the achievement scale of any of the participants but that isn't to say it doesn't have redeeming values that make it worth a look. The film opens on a sobering note with a group of grammar school kids rejoicing in a field trip to the beach- only to immediately discover a body in the surf. Turns out she is Gloria Hollinger, a wayward teen who had been living a troubled life. L.A. police Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate the death. The coroner quickly dismisses the death as a suicide. Gaines and Belgrave accept that verdict but they are then confronted by Gloria's grieving parents, Marty and Paula Hollinger (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan). Marty is an emotionally unstable man who has never recovered from traumas suffered in the Korean War. He has a short fuse and an explosive temper. His wife tells Gaines and Belgrave that although their daughter's promiscuous ways caused them anxiety, Marty was extremely close to her. He becomes obsessed with finding the person or people he believes murdered his daughter. He locks horns with the cops and accuses them of being complicit in a cover-up. Meanwhile, Belgrave starts to have second thoughts about the suicide theory. Initially, his pleas to re-open the case are rejected by Gaines and their boss, Captain Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) but eventually he relents and begins to investigate further. The trail leads to Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a sophisticated business tycoon with a penchant for wining and dining prostitutes- including Gaines's own girlfriend, Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), who is a high priced call girl. Gaines learns that Sellers did indeed have contact with Gloria and that he arranged for her to star in porn films for his own pleasure. He denies having anything to do with her death, however. Marty Hollinger isn't buying the denial and sets out to avenge his daughter- an act that leads to a dramatic confrontation with Sellers.
"Hustle" strives to be more complex and intelligent than many of the low-end cop films from this era. To a degree it succeeds. The script by Steve Shagan does accentuate relationships and character development over major action sequences. However, the script is also problematic because the story line never really engages the viewer on an emotional level. The victim of the alleged crime is already dead when we first see her so there is little emotional resonance toward her character. Much of the screen time is taken up with the ups and downs of Gaines's relationship with Nicole. Theirs is more than a love affair of convenience. He is clearly smitten by her but harbors resentment over her lifestyle as a hooker. Nicole, for her part, is quite comfortable with her line of work. She will only give it up if Gaines marries her, something he is reluctant to do, having already been in a failed marriage. Reynolds and Deneuve defined charisma and glamour on screen in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, director Aldrich has plenty of bedroom scenes with his attractive leads but they are strangely bland and anything but erotic. Writer Shagan attempts to delve deeply into Gaines's psyche. He's sarcastic and cynical toward his job and superiors (in the tradition of all '70s cinematic cops) and he seems cold and unemotional. He also harbors fantasies about returning to Rome, where he once visited in relation to an investigation. He even keeps a calendar from 1968 on his wall to remind him of his goal to return to Italy. There are also references (not very well explained) of his obsession with "Moby Dick". The latter two personality quirks are supposed to be endearing but come across as rather pretentious in the scheme of the story. As for Deneuve, she is largely used for window dressing. We see her sauntering around the apartment and occasionally profiting from engaging in an obscene phone call with a client. In reality, her character could easily have been removed from the script without any major detriment to the overall story line.
The film meanders through some rather innocuous sequences before leading to the climax, which is quite intriguing and much better than most of what proceeded it. Reynolds and Deneuve are in fine form but the best performances come from Eileen Brennan and Ben Johnson as the distraught parents. Johnson, in particular, is a frightening force of nature and gives a riveting performance. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted in a couple of short sequences that are rather weakly written. Paul Winfield gives the film an additional emotional core as the antithesis of Gaines in that he is a man of compassion and honor. Eddie Albert, always an asset to any film, is spot-on as usual, but also under-utilized. Other familiar faces in supporting roles include Catherine Bach and Jack Carter. The film, photographed by Joseph Biroc, has a grainy look that is compatible with many action movies of this period and composer Frank De Vol's score ranges from disco-like themes to schmaltzy romantic mood music.
The Warner Archive release contains no extra features.
"Batman v. Superman": potential blockbuster or "Cleopatra Redux".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The heavily-hyped Warner Brothers super hero epic "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is one of the most heavily promoted films in years. It's also one of the most expensive. Variety estimates that the film's $250 million production budget plus ancillary marketing costs will make it necessary for the movie to gross $800 worldwide just to break even. You read that right: $800 million. One industry analyst says that anything less than a gross of $1 billion will be considered a disappointment. Warner Brothers contends that those figures don't take into consideration ancillary revenues from video and merchandising. Fair enough, but if a film bombs, generally speaking, the merchandise and video sales do, too. If you doubt it, how many people did you see walking around with "Waterworld" or "Howard the Duck" T shirts? Veteran screenwriter William Goldman once said of the film industry "Nobody knows anything." That was decades ago and it's still true today. The major studios are so devoid of any original ideas that they can only keep upping the ante in hopes of milking the current passion for big-budget comic book hero productions. It seems that if "Hamlet" were to be brought to the big screen nowadays, the famed soliloquy would have to be delivered by some guy in a cape and mask. Warner Brothers says that the fate of the studio doesn't depend on "Batman vs. Superman", but the fact that they would have to make such a statement indicates how high the stakes are in terms of this film delivering the goods.
Short-sighted studio executives have always been suckers for mega-budget would-be blockbusters. After the success of "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments" in the late 1950s, studios churned out any number of big-budget roadshow productions. Some worked out well ("The Sound of Music", "Patton", "The Longest Day"), some did okay ("The Alamo", "The Sand Pebbles") while many more lost substantial sums of money ("Mutiny on the Bounty", "55 Days at Peking", "Reds", "Hello, Dolly!", "Cleopatra", "Paint Your Wagon" and the notorious "Heaven's Gate"). That isn't to say that most of these boxoffice bombs weren't good movies. In fact, some were great movies, but from a sound business standpoint, their budgets should never have been allowed to jeopardize the health of the entire studio. When James Cameron's "Titanic" went over-budget and ended up costing $200 million back in 1997, industry executives swore they would never put themselves in such a precarious situation again. Guess what? The film became a blockbuster and all caution was thrown to the wind. Before long, directors who were deemed to be hot could get a virtual blank check if they could convince studio bosses that they had the next "can't miss" formula. That included Cameron, who ended up dropping $300 million on "Avatar", which managed to denounce capitalist corporations even as Cameron sought millions from the same entities to finance his already-forgettable blockbuster. (Cameron had learned never to sink your own money into your own production, regardless of how passionate you are about it. It was a lesson learned the hard way by John Wayne on "The Alamo" and Francis Ford Coppola on "Apocalypse Now".) However, the truth of the matter is that the industry is relying on fewer and fewer blockbusters to carry the baggage for other costly productions that either under-perform or bomb outright. The jury is not yet in on "Batman v. Superman" but how it stacks up in terms of quality isn't the most relevant factor. If the movie doesn't open huge there will be at lot of pants wetting in the corporate boardroom. (Word of mouth on the film is worrying. Apparently, trailers aren't testing that well with the fan boy base the studio needs to woo.)
Here's a suggestion: how about cutting back on productions that have budgets equivalent to some nation's entire gross national product and get back in the business of making modestly-budgeted movies that are designed to make modest profits. Studios never bet the ranch on mid-range westerns, war movies and spy flicks. Kate Hepburn, Jerry Lewis, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster and Marilyn Monroe never starred in high risk blockbusters but their films could always be relied upon to make a decent profit. In the rare cases they did not, the losses were never very substantial. Remember when classic sci-fi movies like "Planet of the Apes" could be completed on relatively small budgets even with major talent involved? Today, insane salaries for overpaid talent have driven the costs of films sky high even before shooting even begins. This, despite the fact that unlike days of old, there are precious few genuine "stars" still left in the industry. What defines a star? Someone whose name on the marquee virtually guarantees a film's success, regardless of the quality of a film. Try thinking of how many actors today meet that criteria. The studios have learned nothing since the era in which Fox bet its very future on the fate of one film: "Cleopatra". It's a practice akin to the average person betting their life savings on a sure bet at a casino. I dunno. I'm just a guy with a blue collar background from Jersey City but I think I could run a studio boardroom more responsibly than some of the folks who are now doing so-- and so could you. Nobody knows anything.
as nails CIA agent Nick Pirandello (James Belushi) recruits milquetoast insurance
agent and suburban family man Bob Wilson (John Ritter) to save the world in
“Real Men,” a 1987 equal parts action comedy, spy movie, road movie and buddy
movie now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Buddy movies dominated the
action genre throughout the 70s and 80s in theaters and, on TV and just about
every male star appeared in at least one. The “Lethal Weapon” movies starring
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover typified the genre with the apparent mismatch of personalities
who eventually work together to bring the plot to a satisfying resolution.
is no stranger to the buddy movie, having starred in a few throughout the 80s
including “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. While the two leads play it mostly
straight, the movie does provide laughs, action and also veers into science
fiction as it builds on one odd scene after another. Just as things start to move
in one direction, the movie takes a new turn into weirdness which is a big part
of the fun. It’s basically a series of non-sequiturs sequenced to bring about a
satisfying conclusion. Somehow it all works.
happens to look exactly like a recently killed CIA agent and Nick is sent to escort
him from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in five days to complete the dead spy’s
mission by Friday. Nick calmly explains their mission as he assembles a nail-firing
machine gun from parts found in Bob’s garage in order to fend the group of
unknown agents trying to kill them. Nick reveals their mission which is to meet
up with extra-terrestrial visitors (Nick calls them Ufoes) seeking a glass of
water in exchange for the “good package” or the “big gun”. The bad guys want
the big gun but the good package will save the earth from the effects of a recent
toxic waste accident which will result in the end of mankind. Bob proves hard
to convince and attempts escape at every opportunity, but Nick pulls out every
trick in the book to convince Bob that their mission is important to America
and the world, as they’re confronted by several groups of agents including
Russian KGB, rogue CIA agents and clown assassins.
escaping and driving through the night, they make a pit stop in Las Vegas. Nick
tries to prove the truth of his mission by showing a still doubting Bob a pen
inscribed by the Ufoes with, “To Nick from his Friends Far Away.” Still
unconvinced, Nick hammers the pen through a baseball after which it levitates,
sprouts antennae, spins and flies away. Russian agents show up and, after Nick
fails at negotiating a truce with a sultry female Russian agent, the shooting
begins again. Just as things start looking grim, the Russians stop shooting for
their lunch break. The duo calmly walks away from the halted firefight and end
up at Nick’s parents’ home where Bob meets Nick’s mom (a cameo by Barbara
Barrie) and dad. Nick explains that dad has gone through some big changes in
his life and is very happy now as a woman. Dad is played by Dyanne Thorne, best
known to fans of 70s exploitation cinema as the star of the Ilsa exploitation series,
in a funny sequence that ends with Thorne reminding Bob to call.
Thursday they’re in Indianapolis where they pick up a special glass to hold the
water for the Ufoes. They also engage the CIA killer clown unit. Nick is a
crack shot and seemingly has eyes in the back of his head. After falling in
love with a dominatrix he meets in Pittsburg, Nick briefly loses interest in
the mission, but by then Bob has gained the confidence Nick has lost and completes
Ritter was good at playing the type of character portrayed in the past by Bob
Hope, Danny Kaye and Don Knotts; the cowardly loser who comes through in the
end and gets the girl. In this case he earns the respect of his wife and kids
when he goes after the neighborhood bullies who stole his son’s bike. Jim
Belushi is also very effective as the relative straight man. He’s tough,
confident and plays it cool throughout, but also come across as a bit of the
slippery con man ala Bud Abbott and Dean Martin. Belushi and Ritter have good
chemistry and it’s a pity they didn’t do another film together.
by United Artists in 1987, this is the sole directing credit for Dennis Feldman
who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Known as a writer and producer, his
previous credits include “Just One of the Guys,” “The Golden Child,” “Species”
and “Virus.” In some ways the movie is a precursor to “Men in Black” where
government agents also have secret knowledge of extraterrestrials and compete
in an effort to garner favors from their advanced technology. The movie
underperformed at the box office, but did find life on cable TV and home video
release. Miles Goodman provides an entertaining score which does a fine job
underscoring the strange elements of the film.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and sounds great. The only extra is the trailer, but
it’s worth a look because it’s simply a series of scenes between Nick and Bob
explaining what makes a man a “real man.” The movie is definitely an acquired
taste, but Belushi and Ritter are very good very likable as a team. The movie
isn’t for everyone, but it’s unique, entertaining and worth a look.
Hefti’s soundtrack compositions always seem to define a sense of good safe ground.
Throughout the 1960s, Hefti provided light but always memorable scores
including TV’s Batman (1966-68), How to Murder your wife (1965), Barefoot in
the park (1967) and The Odd Couple (1968). Perhaps rather less memorable were
the comedies Boeing Boeing (1965) and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s hung you in the
closet and I’m feelin’ so sad (1967). Boeing Boeing marked the last strains of
Paramount’s association with Jerry Lewis and co-starred Tony Curtis. A romantic
comedy farce, the film is set in Paris, and Hefti’s loungey, easy-listening feel
makes it an enjoyable experience. There are of course certain familiarities. Hefti’s signature sound is hard to ignore:
smooth brass and witty electric keyboard motifs all signify a certain 60s
charm. Vocalion’s new release (CDLK4578) marks Boeing Boeing’s first venture on
CD. At just 28 minutes, it’s a straight forward re-release of RCA’s original
1965 LP. Nevertheless, Vocalion have sensibly paired Boeing Boeing with Hefti’s
soundtrack album, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung you in the closet and I’m Feelin’
So Sad (1967). A much darker comedy and based upon the stage play by Arthur L.
Kopit, the film version starred Rosalind Russell, Robert Morse and Barbara
Harris. Hefti’s music offers a rather bizarre mix of flavours, with its main
theme song (a kid’s ditty of sorts) performed by a children’s chorus. There is
also a good deal of Bossa Nova beats and a rather nice Latin infused love
theme. Again, it is typical of that very comfortable Mancini Sixties
environment. Listen out in particular to the track ‘This is Mother’ and you
might just pick up more than a hint of Hefti’s Batman’s backbeat. Hefti’s Oh
Dad is another short score, and another straight reworking of the original album
- coming in at just 24 minutes
probably fair to assume that either of these scores (in their individual
capacity) would tend to struggle. However, as a pairing they actually work very
well and complement each other seamlessly. They achieve a rather nice balance
and as a result, a very enjoyable collection of Neal Hefti’s film music emerges.
The accompanying booklet consists of just a 2 Panel (4 page) insert containing
the original album notes – which is a shame. Thankfully, Vocalion’s excellent audio
production of the two albums makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Nancy Sinatra posted a tribute to her brother on her Facebook page.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Frank Sinatra Jr, the only son of the iconic singer and actor, has died at age 72 from cardiac arrest. A consummate performer who was described by the Washington Post as the "Keeper of his father's flame", was on tour when he fell ill. Sinatra Jr.'s story is not dissimilar to that of other children of legendary entertainers in that his last name opened certain doors and helped him establish a career but also posed challenges in terms of his ability to establish an identity of his own. Sinatra Jr. always had a checkered relationship with his father. While not actually estranged, the young man found his father to be a remote figure who was content to have his son educated in expensive boarding schools. The elder Sinatra never tried to mentor his son or advise him as to what profession to enter. Sinatra Jr. discovered early in life that he also had a gift for singing. In the 1960s he made the decision to follow in his father's footsteps by crooning traditional love songs accompanied by a big band. His father neither encouraged or discouraged that decision. Sinatra Jr. was bucking the trends of the 1960s counter culture, an era in which hard rock music was all the rage among people his age. Yet he never embraced it and in fact denounced rock and roll. Over the decades Sinatra Jr. doggedly worked to establish his own identity- an admittedly difficult task considering he was mostly singing numbers made famous by his father. Sinatra Jr. made headlines in 1963 when he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Ironically, one of his kidnapper's was a friend of his sister Nancy. The situation made international news and involved such disparate figures as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, F.B.I. chief J. Edgar Hoover and mob boss Sam Giancana. He was eventually released unharmed and the kidnappers were arrested. In 1988 he was shocked and delighted to be asked by his father to serve as his conductor for his live concerts. Sinatra Jr. indicated that this was the closest he would ever get to his father, traveling and working with him over a period of seven years. The two men were never close but Sinatra Jr. was clearly grateful for the opportunity to work with his father in a professional capacity. After his father's death, Sinatra Jr. resumed his big band concert tours, winning over appreciative audiences. He candidly told the media in 2006 that "I was never a success", pointing out that he never had a hit record or movie. However, he did take satisfaction from performing in front of his own fans and working diligently with his sisters to ensure the Sinatra legacy through official documentaries and books. In that respect he was indeed a success.
“A Bullet for Joey” (1955) with Edward G. Robinson,
George Raft and Audrey Totter is one of those “Red scare” movies from the
mid-fifties that combines elements of a crime plot with espionage and the evils
of communism. It was the Cold War era and people were digging bomb shelters and
practicing “duck and cover” air raid drills, while at the same time, congressional
committees hauled in suspected Communist Party members, including actors,
writers and directors, to testify and name names. Hollywood did its part, in
turn, by black listing suspected commies and turning out anti-communism films
like John Wayne’s “Big Jim McClain” “The Woman on Pier 13 (“I Married a
Communist”), and “I Was a Communist for the FBI.” “A Bullet for Joey”, despite
having two of Hollywood’s toughest tough guy actors in the cast, is one of the
weaker examples of this sub-genre.
It concerns a conspiracy by Communist agents who want to
kidnap a nuclear scientist named Macklin who is living in Montreal and has
developed some kind of secret atomic weapon. The Reds want to take him and his
device to Moscow. It’s not a bad story idea on the face of it. But who do you
suppose they enlist to carry out such a risky venture? Some skilled KGB agent? Some
steely-eyed Russian veteran of the Cold War? No. They get the crack-brain idea
to go to Portugal and contact Joey Victor, a deported American gangster played by
a tired-looking George Raft. They give him money, fake ID papers and send him
to Canada to snatch the scientist. Sure, I guess if you want to pull off a
super-secret international kidnapping, why not hire a nondescript guy like
Public Enemy No. 1? Makes sense to me. Even harder to swallow is the idea that
Joey would take the job not really knowing who the people are that are hiring
him, or why they would want to capture a nuclear scientist in the first place.
All he cares about is the money and a chance to slip over the Canadian border
and get back in the U.S. This is called putting blinders on your main character
so he can stumble through an overly contrived plot.
At this point you might be wondering what Edward G.
Robinson is doing all this time. Well, Edward G plays a Canadian Mountie Inspector
by the name of Le Duc who starts investigating a string of seemingly
unconnected murders that have suddenly sprung up in Montreal. Looking every bit as tired and worn out as
Raft, Edward G. goes through the usual police procedural motions as if in his
sleep. There are clues such as an organ grinder found in the river with his
face removed, a homely girl shot three times on a lover’s lane, a guy shot
through a window by a rifle with a telescopic sight. As he sifts through the
evidence, Le Duc discovers they all have one thing in common—they’re all
connected in some way to a nuclear scientist named Macklin.
Meanwhile, Joey gets help from the Soviet agents
reassembling his old mob including his former flame Audrey Totter. She’s
brought in to seduce the atomic scientist, and set him up for the kidnapping.
Joey advises her not to get involved with him, but she does anyway and tries to
get a note off to Edward G. spilling the beans. Totter, an actress whose
presence graced many a decent film noir, isn’t used very well in this flick.
Mostly she stands around looking like a big cat about to claw everybody’s eyes
out. She does have one of the best lines in the movie, however, when Joey
barges into her room as she’s writing the letter as she tries to hide it and
“Are your knuckles sore?”
“No why?”, Joey answers.
“Go back out and bang them on the door.”
That gives you some idea of the kind of script the
writers came up for this one. Maybe you can’t blame Edward G for looking tired
and bored when he’s forced to utter lines like: “Women are what makes life a
pleasure for men.”
I won’t bore you with further details of the plot, mainly
because I can’t remember anymore, even though I watched this film twice. I
don’t know if it was Lewis Gilbert’s lackluster direction, the cockamamie
script by blacklisted writer Daniel Mainwaring and A. I. Bezzerides (from the
novel by James Benson Nablo), or the tired and listless performances of the two
leads that was responsible for the eye-glazing experience watching “A Bullet
for Joey” turned out to be. All I can remember is squirming in my seat, feeling
itchy, getting up to get a drink, getting up again to use the rest room, and
finally just throwing up my hands in frustration during a scene where the cops
and gangsters are shooting it out on a boat, and all Edward G can do is try to
get through to headquarters on a radio that doesn’t work. There are guns a-blazing,
bad guys running all over the place, and in the middle of it, Edgar G is
sitting in a truck with the microphone in his hand, repeating: “Headquarters,
come in. This is inspector LeDuc calling. Headquarters, come in.” In this scene
Le Duc comes off almost as comically inept as Inspector Clouseau in one of
Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies.
There was, of course, the final moment, after Edgar G is
captured when he asks Joey why he took a job without knowing what it was all
about? Finally a light bulb goes off
over the gangster’s head when he realizes turning the scientist over to the
commies is a crime against humanity. Joey rises to the occasion and tries to
redeem himself. The title pretty much tells you how that turns out.
This was the second time Robinson and Raft worked
together. The first was in “Manpower” (1941) with Marlene Dietrich. The two
guys got in a fight over Dietrich at the time. Maybe that’s what this film
needed. Some behind the scenes shenanigans to put some life into what is otherwise
a pretty dull and lifeless movie. Too bad two old legends couldn’t have found a
better vehicle for their last appearance together.
This Kino Lorber
Blu-Ray is presented in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the picture and
sound are okay, even though no effort was made at digital restoration. There
are signs of wear and tear. The disc has no extras other than a couple of
trailers. I’ve given high marks to most of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classic series.
I appreciate their desire to keep older, and more obscure films in circulation.
But this is one is marginal at best.
One of the most popular and enduring sitcoms of its era, "McHale's Navy" ran from 1962-1966. The premise centered on Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), a PT boat skipper stationed in the South Pacific (later transferred to Italy) during WWII along with a motley but lovable crew of swabbies. McHale and his men are unconventional, to say the least, and routinely disregard basic military discipline. They are so unruly that they have been relegated to their own tiny island, which suits them just fine. Here they brew booze, entertain young women and run about dressed in party attire. They also manage to "adopt" a genial Japanese prisoner-of-war, Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who manages to stay hidden despite indulging in all the excesses of McHale and his crew. McHale's antics are to the chagrin of their superior officer, Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who is constantly devising schemes to catch McHale and his men in a major infraction and have them court martialed. Inevitably, just in the nick of time McHale and his crew distinguish themselves in some sort of military action that brings them praise from the top brass instead of ending their careers.
The series proved to be so popular that is spawned two feature films that have now been released as a double-feature DVD by Shout! Factory. "McHale's Navy" was certainly not the first TV series to have a cross-over to the big screen. In the 1950s Walt Disney edited together several episodes of his immensely popular "Davy Crockett" series starring Fess Parker and released them as the feature film "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier". During the 1960s and 1970s, the same process was used to release previously-seen TV episodes as feature films, though many were seen only in European markets. These included "Mission Impossible Vs. The Mob", "Mission: Monte Carlo" (based on "The Persuaders") and most notably, eight entire feature films derived from two-part episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.". "McHale's Navy" was a more ambitious venture because, like the big screen versions of "Batman" and "The Munsters" ("Munsters Go Home!"), it at least consisted of entirely new material shot specifically for the theatrical version. The real thrill for fans of such shows was the ability to see their favorites on the big screen in color during an era in which precious few homes boasted color TVs.
The plot of the first film is reed-thin. McHale crew member Gruber (Carl Ballantine) tries to raise funds for an orphanage by devising a massive betting scheme predicated on the outcome of a horse race in Australia that has already been completed. However, the bettors won't legitimately know the results of that race until the newspaper is delivered by mail drop a week after the race's conclusion. Thus a large number of servicemen converge on McHale's island to engage in the betting. The trouble is that almost everyone is betting on the favorite: Silver Spot. When the newspaper arrives, Gruber discovers to his horror that Silver Spot has indeed won- and now the pot isn't big enough to pay off the bettors. McHale and Gruber stall for time and buy a week during which they must come up with the money to pay off the bettors. McHale and his men sail their PT 73 to New Calendonia where McHale reunites with a former lover, Margot (Jean Willes), a local saloon owner who he hopes will lend him the funds. She agrees to do so but only for a steep price: he must consent to marry her. Meanwhile, McHale's bumbling executive officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) attempts to rescue a local French beauty, Andrea (Claudine Longet) from a bothersome local wolf, a rich businessman, Le Clerc (an unrecognizable George Kennedy). He earns her respect and his wrath but he also accidentally launches a depth charge that destroys one of the docks owned by Le Clerc. Now McHale and his men must come up with money for damages or risk being imprisoned. In a plot device that is as improbable even by sitcom standards, it turns out the valuable Silver Spot has gone missing and the crew of the PT 73 just happens upon him on a remote island. They attempt to win the money they need by disguising the horse and running him in another race under another name. The "Day at the Races"-like scenario falls apart, exposing the crew's deceitful tactic- but when McHale and his men thwart a Japanese submarine attack, all is forgiven and they are rewarded with enough cash to pay off all their debts. The film provides some pleasant entertainment and manages- ever so slightly- to spice things up compared to the TV series. (It's clear that McHale and Margot enjoy a pretty steamy past.) Also, the ever-virginal Ensign Parker finds himself uncomfortably close to Andrea as she tries to change out of wet clothing. Much of the fun derives from watching the great Joe Flynn and Tim Conway interact with impeccable comedic timing. The direction by Edward J. Montagne is well-paced. Montagne, who also produced the TV series, was an underrated talent, having helmed and/or produced the terrific Don Knotts feature films of the era including the cult classic "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".
Edward Montagne was also in the director's chair for "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force", released in 1965 on the heels of the first film's success. This time, however, Ernest Borgnine is nowhere to be seen. Borgnine told this writer years ago that he never got a clear explanation for why the film was made without him but said that theater owners leveled criticism at him, thinking he refused to be in it. In fact, Borgnine said he was flabbergasted that he had never been asked to appear in the movie. There were probably two motives for by-passing him. The first was money. By eliminating the highest paid cast member, Universal could keep production values low. Second, the studio might have wanted to give unrestrained screen time to the antics of Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, who were becoming an enormously popular duo through the TV series. In any event, Borgnine's absence is initially glaring but the as the film gets underway it turns out this sequel is superior to the original. The plot is more ambitious and the antics of Conway and Flynn are unrestrained. This film also affords McHale's crew- which consists of some wonderful character actors like Billy Sands, Gavin MacLeod and Carl Ballantine- to appear as something more than mere window dressing. This time around the plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Cutting through the clutter, it boils down to Ensign Parker first being mistaken for defecting Soviet officer and being arrested by KGB agents (one of whom is played by Len Lesser, who went on to appear as Uncle Leo in the "Seinfeld" series). Parker bumbles his way out of that but then becomes mistaken for a high profile Army officer (Ted Bessell), who has a reputation for being quite the lady's man. A lot of the fun revolves around the hapless, innocent Parker becoming a chick magnet for the likes of willing young women played by Susan Silo and Jean Hale, among others. Since the Army Air Corps officer Parker is impersonating is also a master pilot, he is forced to act as navigator aboard a bomber. Through a convoluted series of events, Binghamton ends up aboard the plane with him and the two wreak havoc before tumbling out of the plane on a jeep that is suspended from the cargo hull by a parachute. Flynn and Conway are like a modern version of Laurel and Hardy and I must admit that, despite the sheer predictability of their routine, I ended up chuckling out loud at numerous points. Meanwhile, McHale's crew gets some screen time when they switch uniforms with Russian sailors in order to sneak off PT 73 and go into town to get drunk. This, of course, turns out to have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The film also benefits from some other familiar character actors of the era including Henry Beckman, Tom Tully and Willis Bouchey, all of whom are marvelous to watch. Both films also feature the deft comedic turns by series regular Bob Hastings as Binghamton's ever-present aide and boot-licker, Lt. Elroy Carpenter, whose devotion to his unappreciative boss borders on the homo erotic. (I'm convinced the Mr. Burns/ Smithers relationship in "The Simpsons" is directly based on the Binghamton/Carpenter characters in "McHale's Navy"). As with the previous film, this one is a bit more mature in terms of sexual content, though it remains firmly in the category of family entertainment. The women's sexual aggressiveness would never have made it in the TV series (Jean Hale's character in particular makes it clear she can't wait to bed the legendary Romeo that Parker is impersonating). In another scene, Parker and Binghamton uncover a shipment of brassieres and both of them are clueless as to what they are.
Both of the Shout! Factory transfers are completely pristine and make for a highly enjoyable afternoon of "McHale" bing-watching. Unfortunately, there are no bonus extras.
In light of his artsy, unaffected, at times entirely
improvised trilogy of “road movies”—Alice
in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move
(1975), and Kings of the Road
(1976)—Wim Wenders considered The
American Friend (1977) to be his riskiest film to date. Fortunately, the
gamble paid off and this picture, more than any of his prior efforts, placed
him prominently on the world stage, garnering him international attention and critical
acclaim. While Patricia Highsmith’s source novel, Ripley’s Game, was not his first choice of her work to bring to the
big screen (it was, in fact, not yet published), the end result is a satisfying
thriller enveloped in a morally ambiguous milieu of existential drama.
Stricken with a blood disease, workaday picture framer
Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) encounters disreputable forged art dealer Tom
Ripley (Dennis Hopper) at an auction, where the former is wise to the fakery
being peddled by the latter. When Ripley extends a hand to Zimmermann, who
ignores the gesture and rebukes the criminal with a dismissive, “I've heard of
you,” the snub rubs Ripley the wrong way. Based on this seemingly innocuous
slight, he and shady collaborator Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) scheme to get
Zimmermann involved in a murderous plot. Playing off the threat that his
ailment has grown increasingly terminal (thanks to some fraudulent documents),
Ripley and Minot arrange for Zimmermann to take out a fellow gangster target. He
would be an unassuming figure for a murder anyway, with no connection to
Ripley, Minot, or the victim, and for his efforts, he would financially secure
his wife and young son in the wake of his death.
The initial catalyst of the forged painting, as well as the
ensuing personal deceitfulness, are indicative of the film’s primary theme, that
of the complex nature of mistaken and/or assumed identity. Early in The American Friend, when Ripley
ruminates, “I know less and less about who I am or who anybody else is,” it is
an explicit expression of this thematic thread. As the film plays out, he and
Zimmermann both embark on a profound journey building upon fluctuating ideals
and actions, sometime out of necessity—to adapt and stay alive—and sometimes just
for the pretense.
In any case, having done the deed, the oblivious yet
earnestly considerate Zimmermann (considerate for his family, that is, if not
the man he murders) evolves from an innocent amateur to an ethically problematic
criminal in his own right. The full weight of the abrupt shift to unscrupulous
behavior is made all the more disconcerting after he realizes no immediate consequences
for the assassination. First he is surprised and obviously pleased by the lack
of judicial punishment, then his joy borders on disturbing exultation. The man
who is at one point described as “quiet and peaceful” has now become a cold
blooded killer for hire. Just as with Highsmith’s most famous Ripley novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, appearances here
can be deceiving and easily deceived. As the proliferation of illicit activity
runs far and wide in The American Friend,
the film frequently questions character authenticity and the uncertain true
intentions of those involved. To therefore say the ensuing bond between
Zimmermann and Ripley is an unlikely and unsteady one would be quite the
understatement, and however much the two grow comfortable with one another,
even trusting of each other, nothing about the collaboration ever settles
enough to be solidified as a mutual partnership. Even if the characters let
their guard down momentarily, the viewer is continually primed to expect a
Zimmermann’s potentially fatal flaw, then, is that he
fails to realize that in this world of treachery and viciousness, where others
are playing the same ruthless game he is, one has to assume they too are
capable of violence. In a 2002 commentary track with Hopper, as well as in a
more recent interview, both of which are included on the new Criterion
Collection release of The American Friend,
Wenders states his reluctance toward taking on an amoral character like Ripley.
But what becomes clear is that Zimmermann is the one with whom the audience is
more disappointed. Ripley and his cohorts are what they are and we expect
nothing less; Zimmermann, on the other hand, should have been above such
misdeeds. His desire to provide for his family is laudable enough, and the
prospect of quick cash would be tantalizing, but his decision to ultimately go
through with the murder makes him a most problematic protagonist.
In the course of a 1977 interview with Hollywood
correspondent Vernon Scott, American-International’s very own Samuel J. Arkoff,
the studio’s notorious penny-pinching producer, admitted to his mostly fiscal interest
in the horror film genre. “We got into
horror pictures [in 1955] when we discovered that without a big budget and
major stars our films were [relegated to] second features,” Arkoff reminisced. “I decided to make two pictures of the same
type and release them on the same bill… So we sent out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Day the World Ended as a pair and they cleaned up.”
Years later Arkoff would more completely
delineate his eminently prudent and successful marketing strategy to film
historian Tom Weaver. This insightful interview
with the irascible producer was included in Weaver’s seminal tome Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror
Heroes: the Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (McFarland,
1999). In essence, Arkoff revealed that,
as an independent, the box office receipts from the earliest films released
through the American Releasing Corporation (the original name of the company
that would morph into American-International Pictures), had been relatively
As nationwide theater chains were still mostly
controlled by the major studios when Arkoff first opened shop, his A.R.C.
features were only booked by cinema-owners as flat-fee rentals of nominal cost.
The films were also, more fatefully, consigned to the lower-half of a double
bill program; this was unfair as such second-bill status did not allow independents
to take a percentage of the total gross of a twin-bill. In the years following
a 1948 court-ordered anti-trust injunction against the major studios, Arkoff
began to deliver his own twin packaged films to theater owners. Such independent double-bills ensured that all
profit percentages would rightfully funnel into the pockets of the producers.
It almost goes without saying that The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was a
purely exploitative title; an obvious attempt to capitalize on the name-recognition
coattails of several successful science-fiction films of the era. The chosen title instantly invoked allusions
to Universal-International’s Creature
from the Black Lagoon (1954), Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects vehicle The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
and Disney’s Academy Award winning 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The
latter two films would, at the very least, get their measurements right… but
more on this later.
If there was any film that I never imagined
would enjoy a Blu-Ray release, it’s the non-acclaimed and universally scorned The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. Having done so, one has to respect
Kino-Lorber’s self-aware decision to include Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) disparaging remarks concerning the
film’s dubious merit. There’s no
over-the-top self-serving ballyhoo present here, folks. Dante concludes his brief “Trailers from
Hell” supplement with these cautionary words: “I hardly know anybody who’s made
it all the way through The Phantom from
10,000 Leagues.” If nothing else, Dante’s
from-the-heart appraisal of the film’s dubious virtues proves he’s no
revisionist. He’s also not alone in his opinion;
amongst devotees of 1950s sci-fi, The
Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a long established reputation as a talky,
turgidly paced snooze-fest disguised as a monster movie.
Nonetheless, there’s a fascinating back story
to all this. In 1962 Dante, then merely
one more disgruntled sixteen-year old horror movie fan, would fire off a letter
off to Forrest J. Ackerman, editor-emeritus of the influential 1960s/1970s
magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the course of his entertaining rant to the
editor, Dante suggested fifty films that, in his opinion, accounted for the
“worst horror films ever made.” The amused
Ackerman must have agreed with many of the youngster’s findings. He would later infamously assign Dante’s
“feeble fifty” to “the eternal fames of the brimstone pit” of horror-movie
history. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues registered as “vapid” entry no. 38 on
Dante’s list, though it must be said this calculation was alphabetical rather
than meritorious in placement. To the
young letter-writers’ surprise, Ackerman chose to run his musings in the
magazine under the title “Dante’s Inferno,” an opinionated ten-page diatribe
that would cause no shortage of consternation amongst fans and the filmmakers
whose favorite films and/or contributions to celluloid history had been
commitment to Pam Grier and her Blaxploitation films of the seventies continues
with their latest package Sheba, Baby (1975). By the arrival of the mid-Seventies
Grier was at the top of her game, coming off such genre classics as Coffy
(1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) both directed by Jack Hill and both of which are
also available in superb releases from Arrow. Grier’s work for AIP continued in
explosive, fashionable style with Sheba, Baby and with new director William
Girdler at the helm. Sheba is without doubt a star vehicle that was tailor made
for exploiting Grier’s talents.
Shayne is a Chicago private eye who receives a telegram informing her of
trouble in her hometown of Louisville. The local mob boss, Pilot (D'Urville
Martin) has started to turn up the heat in trying to obtain her father’s loan
business. Along with her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), the business is run by
his partner Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), an instantly recognisable actor and
best known perhaps as Lt. Ethan Bishop from John Carpenter's cult classic
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). After several threats and a near fatal car bomb,
Sheba soon realises that the situation is becoming desperately out of control.
a few shaky moments in the script (credited to director Girdler and producer David
Sheldon), the film is carried in every respect by Grier’s scintillating screen
presence, she truly bosses the film, and looks fantastic in every frame. It’s a
film that should be enjoyed without too much scrutinising; accept it purely on
its surface level and you’ll find yourself smiling a whole lot and lapping up
the action. If your intention is to analyse it, then forget it. If you
scrutinise the problems in terms of continuity of dates, Sheba’s small quantity
of luggage (there’s a costume change in practically every scene), etc, then
you’ll be missing out on the action and overlooking its pure entertainment
value. The action scenes are plentiful and arrive fast and furious. Was this
film actually rated as PG upon its release? Look out for the car that spins
wildly off a grass verge, then look again to see how it misses Grier (on the
assumption it was her and not a stunt double) by a matter of inches. It is a pure
adrenalin pumping sequence. Yes, the film might be considered as routine and
stereotypical, even offensive in relation to its language (the ‘N’ word raises
its ugly head on several occasions), and the mob are of course pimped to the
max. But you’d be wise to let it go, as this is, after all, a product of its
time, and yes, it was almost considered as socially tolerated in the more discriminate
social culture of the seventies.
1080p presentation of Sheba, Baby can only be described as flawless. The
picture quality is as near to pristine as you could ever wish. Whist it retains
a generic low budget look, its colour grading delivers both a natural look and
just enough enhancement to emphasise those wonderful vivid colours of the
fashions and the times. The whole look manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Check out the film’s opening credits, the pin sharp yellow lettering almost
pops out from the screen. If they look familiar, you might just make the
comparison with Jackie Brown (1997), as director Quentin Tarantino uses the
exact same colour and font for his own Pam Grier movie. It’s not only homage,
but a deeper example of how Tarantino holds these movies so close to his heart.
The Blu-ray audio (original mono uncompressed PCM) is clean and clear
throughout, and allows the film’s soulful score (by Alex Brown and Monk Higgins)
to become an integral part of the experience. There are also a couple of great
vocals tracks (including the theme) provided by the American R&B/soul
singer Barbara Mason.
bonus material is both enjoyable and generous. First, there are two audio
commentaries, the first featuring producer-screenwriter David Sheldon and moderated
by critic Nathaniel Thompson. The second is provided by Patty Breen the
webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com. Breen’s commentary is actually a great deal of
fun; it’s a completely relaxed ‘fan’ style narration. Whilst Breen can’t help joking
about the film’s flaws and inconsistencies, it is never in malice and it’s
clear she absolutely adores every aspect of the movie.
Baby (15mins) is a brand new interview with David Sheldon who discusses his
role and his experience working on the movie and alongside director William
Girdler. Pam Grier: The AIP Years (12mins) does exactly what it says on the tin
and takes a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film
historian Chris Poggiali. The original theatrical trailer (2mins) and a
selection of publicity shots and lobby cards rounds off a very nice collection
of bonus material.
packaging consists of a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips, while the booklet features brand new
writing on the film by Patty Breen and is illustrated with both archive stills
Sheba, Baby is an excellent package and one that leaves us in hope that Arrow will
continue to explore Grier’s later American international Pictures such as Bucktown
(1975) and Friday Foster (1975). There’s little doubt that they would certainly
be welcomed and appreciated with open arms.
Technical Spec: Region: Region A/B Blu-ray / DVD 1/2, Rating:
15, Cat No: FCD1210, Duration: 90 mins, Language: English, Subtitles: English
SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Audio: Mono, Discs: 2, Colour
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Sir Ken Adam, the ingenious, Oscar-winning production designer who has passed away at age 95. Adam's work helped redefine films in terms of the elaborate and creative designs he invented, particularly for the James Bond franchise. Adam's work on the first 007 film, "Dr. No" in 1962 was deemed to be nothing less than remarkable, considering that the entire film was shot on a relatively low budget of just over $1 million. His exotic designs so impressed Stanley Kubrick that he hired Adam as production designer on his 1964 classic "Dr. Strangelove." For that film, Adam created the now legendary "War Room" set which many people believe actually exists at the Pentagon. In fact when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981 he asked to see the War Room, only to be told that it was a fictional creation. Reagan acknowledged that he had been intrigued by the concept since seeing it in "Dr. Strangelove". Adam had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Kubrick, whose habit of changing his mind at the last minute caused Adam enormous grief. However, the two collaborated again on "Barry Lyndon" and Adam won his first Oscar for his work on that film. Adam's close relationship with the Bond franchise is based on his now famous designs seen in the early films. They include the massive Fort Knox set for "Goldfinger", which was created entirely on the back lot at Pinewood Studios on the outskirts of London. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the gigantic volcano set that housed a full size rocket capable of lifting off. This was done for the 1967 Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Incredibly, Adam's work was not recognized with an Oscar nomination despite what many feel is one of the greatest production design achievements in film history. His other Bond films were "Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever", "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". For "The Spy Who Loved Me", Adam built the first incarnation of the massive "007 Stage" at Pinewood Studios. It burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt by his protege, production designer Peter Lamont.
Adam's other film achievements include two of the Michael Caine Harry Palmer spy films, "The Ipcress File" and "Funeral in Berlin", "Sleuth", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (for which he designed the famed "flying car"), "The Madness of King George" (for which he won a second Oscar), "The Last of Sheila", "Woman of Straw" and "Addams Family Values". He was also a prolific race car driver and had the distinction of serving in RAF in action against Hitler's forces, despite being a German national himself.
On a personal basis, Sir Ken was a good friend of Cinema Retro and had contributed to our magazine in its early stages through interviews conducted by his friend, Sir Christopher Frayling, who co-authored books about Sir Ken's remarkable life and career.He also contributed valuable interviews for documentaries we worked on about the Bond film franchise as well as "Dr. Strangelove". In his later years, Adam appeared at events pertaining to the Bond franchise that were held at Pinewood Studios by www.bondstars.com With his laid back mannerisms, wry sense of humor and omnipresent cigar, he always delighted fans with his remarkable stories. This writer sat next to him a few years ago to watch the digital screening of "Goldfinger" at Pinewood. Ken told me that he was incredulous at how wonderful it all looked. When the scene came to the interior of Fort Knox, he said to me, "I never thought I'd live to see my work presented so gloriously". It's safe to say we won't see his kind again.
(For full interview with Sir Ken Adam, see Cinema Retro issue #2)
‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ is Mario Bava’s 1970 psychedelic spin on Agatha’s ‘Ten Little Indians’/’And Then There Were None’
with the addition of 70s fashions, a funky soundtrack, a walk-in meat fridge
and a revolving bed. This movie is all about ‘The Look’ and has all the Bava signatures
present – the overuse of zooming camera techniques, the appearance of the beach
and headland at Tor Caldara on Anzio Cape in Italy as the main filming location,
the effective, budget-defying special effects shots and the consummate
cinematography. Though often written off as lower-tier Bava, Arrow’s brand new region 2 Blu-ray/DVD edition, with vibrant colours and sound, shows Bava’s finesse and ensures
Businessman George Stark (Teodoro Corra) and
his wife Jill (Edith Meloni) invite guests to stay at their luxury shoreline
residence on a secluded island. The visitors are Professor Jerry Farrell
(William Berger), his wife Trudy (Ira Fürstenberg), mysterious Isabel (Justine
Gall), the Starks’ temporary ward, and businessmen Jack Davidson (Renato
Rossini) and Nick Chaney (Maurice Poli) and their wives Peggy (Hélèna Ronée) and
Marie (Edwige Fenech). The trio of businessmen want to persuade Jerry to part
with the formula for a new type of synthetic industrial resin and offer him millions
of dollars, but Jerry stubbornly refuses. In the boozed-up, decadent atmosphere
of Stark’s retreat, hedonistic excess, murder games, marital infidelity and
jealousy flourish. For example, Marie is having an affair with the Stark’s resident
houseboy Charles (played by Mauro Bosco), who rounds the island’s occupants up
to an even ‘ten’. Soon the guests are stranded – George sends away the island’s
yacht and later the motor launch, the only other way to leave the island, vanishes,
while radio contact with the outside world ceases. Then the killings start…
The principal objective of this static albeit
stylist giallo is to kill off its attractive cast – in that respect, it is very
much a rehearsal for Bava’s ‘A Bay of Blood’/’Twitch of the Death Verve’ the
following year. Some of the scenes in the Starks’ landscaped garden, with it
tropical palms, are very similar to the later film. But whereas in ‘Bay of
Blood’, we see many of the killings enacted before our eyes, often in graphic
detail, here his camera discovers the corpses already in eternal repose. We
suppose that the principal motive for the killing is greed for Professor Jerry’s
secret formula for resin, which he plans to unveil at a chemists’ convention in
Geneva the following month (presumably September). In typical giallo style, the
film’s title is evocative, but meaningless. The ‘five dolls’ are the five beautiful
women and the film’s French title, ‘5 Filles dans une nuit chaude d’été’
translates as ‘Five Girls on a Hot Summer Night’. Most of the mystery’s
revelations involve flesh. Edwige Fenech, the beautiful heroine and future
screen goddess of continental sex comedies and gialli, is most memorable as
Marie, one of the female protagonists – mainly because she plays the role clad
in underwear, bikinis, towels or less. Most of the actors are rudimentarily
going through the motions, with William Berger, Ira Fürstenberg and Justine
Gall being most notable for putting some effort in. The women aren’t
particularly well-rounded characterisations and mostly exist to be dressed,
undressed, caressed and distressed. The men are iniquitous, greedy and easily
dislikeable – Nick tries to persuade Marie to seduce Jerry to gain the formula
– and as a result of their lack of sympathy, it’s difficult to become involved
in the plot or the victims’ plight. It is
one film Bava singled out for criticism in interviews as the least favourite of
his work: “They paid me on Saturday and I had to start filming on Monday. I had
to accept the script (by Mario Di Nardo) which was just a horrible rip-off of
‘Ten Little Indians’. I had to keep all the characters, but I took revenge by
changing the identity of the killer”.
Frankenheimer’s 1962 political thriller, based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel,
is more relevant today than it has been in the intervening years since its
original, timely release. Back then, we were in the midst of the Cold War and
treading treacherous waters with the Soviet Union. The picture originally hit
the theaters during the thirteen-day
Cuban Missile Crisis of October, so it served as a cautionary tale, a
propaganda piece, and a scary, suspenseful nail-biter. After the Cold War
ended, The Manchurian Candidate maintained
its reputation as an excellent piece of cinema, but its political ramifications
diminished. Now that seems to have changed with the cantankerous, mistrustful
climate of this year’s U.S. presidential election shenanigans. Candidate currently speaks volumes.
Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Sergeant Shaw (Laurence Harvey) head up an army
platoon during the Korean War. They are captured by the Soviets, drugged, and
taken to Manchuria, China, where they are brainwashed. Shaw, in particular,
becomes a deadly sleeper-assassin for the Communists. A crack shot with a
sniper rifle, Shaw is programmed to obey any command after he views a queen of
diamonds playing card, usually presented to him during a game of solitaire. The
platoon is released with the false memories that Shaw saved their lives. Back
home, the other members from the platoon suffer from recurring, debilitating
nightmares they don’t understand until Marco—now a major—decides to do
something about it. Meanwhile, Shaw is under the control of his domineering
mother (Angela Lansbury), who is determined to get Shaw’s step-father, a
seriously right-wing, conservative McCarthy-like senator (James Gregory), the
nomination for president.
makes the movie so caustic today is that the hateful rhetoric spouted by the
fictional Republicans in the film is frighteningly similar to what we’re
hearing in the current election cycle. It’s a familiar tune: pick a
scapegoat—any scapegoat (in the picture’s case, Communists)—and exaggerate the
threat to scare an ignorant public for a political advantage. The campaign
climate of hate and finger-pointing depicted in the film hits uncomfortably
close to the contemporary atmosphere.
co-produced the movie with screenwriter George Axelrod, and it stands tall in
the director’s body of work. The story is told with a tense, underlying sense
of dread that perfectly captures the paranoia of the era—and today. Frankenheimer’s depiction of the brainwashing
demonstration to the Soviet and Chinese delegates is surreal. The soldiers
believe they’re sitting at a floral garden party in which proper old ladies are
discussing horticulture, when in fact the women are uniformed, male Communist
agents. The bizarre incongruity and parallel editing of the scene is masterful
(the picture received an Oscar nomination for Film Editing as well).
The exciting fight sequence between Frank Sinatra and Henry Silva is said to be the first depiction of a karate battle in a mainstream Hollywood film. Sinatra broke his hand during the filming of this intense scene.
is very effective as the “straight man” of the tale, and Harvey is suitably
creepy as the brainwashed killer, although the actor’s Britishness is sometimes
difficult to ignore. The movie-stealer, though, is Lansbury, who was nominated
for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. “Mrs. Iselin” is a mother
worthy of Hitchcock, a true villain of Cruella de Vil proportions, and Lansbury
makes her very chilling indeed. Interestingly, the actress was only three years
older than Harvey, but we have no problem believing she’s his mother.
other glamorous blondes appear in the film. Janet Leigh looks fabulous as Marco’s
love interest, but in the overall arc of the story, hers is a somewhat
unnecessary character. The scene in which Sinatra and Leigh meet on a train is
the only eye-roll-producing bit in the picture, for she’s gives out her address
and phone number within minutes of meeting this obviously disturbed guy who
can’t even light a cigarette himself. The other beauty is Leslie Parrish, who
plays Harvey’s girlfriend. She is sparkling,
and certainly warrants more screen time. While Parrish made many movies, she is
mostly known for a trove of 1960s television work in such shows as Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Mannix.
new special edition features a restored 4K digital transfer of the film with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There’s an audio commentary by Frankenheimer from
1997. Supplements include a new interview with Lansbury, who is amusing and
candid with her memories of making the film; a new interview with filmmaker
Errol Morris, a fan of the movie, talking about its strengths and influences; a
new interview with historian Susan Carruthers about the brainwashing scene; a
vintage filmed conversation between Sinatra, Frankenheimer, and Axelrod from
1987; and the trailer. The booklet contains an essay by critic Howard Hampton.
one of the best thrillers from the 1960s. Considering what’s going on in
America now, you might want to pop the disk into the Blu-ray player instead of
watching the latest presidential candidate debate. You’ll assuredly find it
much more entertaining.
Sir George Martin, arguably the most influential producer in the history of rock 'n roll music, has died peacefully at age 90. Martin was described by Paul McCartney as his "second father" because he had guided the Beatles through their early years, producing all but one of their albums and giving them the distinctive sound that resulted in them becoming legends. His influence on the band was so important that he gained the nick name of "The Fifith Beatle". Martin went on to exert his influence with other major acts over the decades, remaining a powerful force in the music industry. For full details of Sir George's remarkable life, click here.
Kino Lorber has released a dual 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray of the 1954
cult sci-fi flick “Gog”.
At a secret US government base in the desert, various top secret
experiments are taking place that will provide invaluable data when the nation launches
its first manned rockets (keep in mind this is still a good six years or so
before the first Mercury flight). The experiments start to go awry so top
analyst Richard Egan is called in to investigate. Naturally, his
girlfriend Constance Dowling (producer Ivan Tors’s wife) is a top research
scientist there as well. As the investigation develops and the body count
increases, it appears that a pair of robots, GOG and MAGOG, are the cause of
the ‘accidents’…. or are they? Is someone or something else at the root
The 3-D and overall quality on this release is extremely good
(Richard Egan’s overindulgence in Brylcream is rather obvious in some shots
here). The action takes place in different fields in the frame and is
handled rather effectively. It is not a gimmicky 3-D film in any sense
and has been well thought out. When viewed on a Panasonic AG 8000 projector
there was very little or no ghosting. This project was produced by the
3-D Archive (Bob Furmanek, Greg Kintz and Thad Komorowski), the same folks who
brought us ‘3-D Rarities’ and ‘The Bubble’ last year.
“Gog” was released in May 1954 when the public's brief infatuation
of 1950’s 3-D was on the decline. As such, it was rolled out in 3-D in
only 5 bookings in southern California. It then played flat, or 2D, as
the release fanned out across the country. When “Gog” ended up in a TV
sale, for some reason it was then distributed in full frame B&W. Also
over time the negative for the left side was lost, actually most likely
destroyed, as the studios liked to keep their shelves clear to reduce storage
expenses (“Gee, why do we have two negatives of the same film? We can
throw one out!”).
So “Gog” became a ‘lost’ 3-D film. Fortunately, a left side
original release print was stumbled upon at a film exchange in a pile of materials
that was to be thrown out. The print worked its way to the 3- D Archive,
where it was found to be very faded. Fast forward to present day and the
digital technologies available to archivists. Greg and Thad, spent close
to five months working diligently to restore color, perfect registration of the
3-D image, clean up damage and dirt, all the while maintaining a ‘filmic’ look
to the presentation (films scrubbed too clean for Blu-ray have a very unnatural
Sixty three years later now, you can finally see GOG in 3-D,
better than the way it was meant to be seen.
The Kino Lorber release contains : both a 3-D and 2-D
version of the film; trailers; interviews with both the director, Herbert L.
Strock and director of photography, Lothrop B. Worth; featurette on the
restoration as well as an audio commentary by film historians Bob Furmanek, Tom
Weaver and David Schecter.
Scott plays a bounty hunter returning a former Indian captive in “Comanche
Station,” a 1960 Columbia release directed by Bud Boetticher and written by
western regular Burt Kennedy.
Jefferson Cody (Scott) trades rifles and
other items with a group of Comanche Indians in exchange for a captive settler,
Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates). Her husband has offered a large reward for her
return. After the exchange they’re met by outlaw Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his
sidekicks Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) who help Cody during an
Indian attack at Comanche Station. Lane and Cody are old enemies and he and his
men have been searching for Nancy. Lane wants a piece of the $5,000 reward in
return for helping protect Nancy on the journey to her husband. Cody
reluctantly agrees and forms an uneasy alliance due to the Indian threat.
Cody befriends Dobie, who wants to be his own
man rather than the sidekick to the outlaw Lane.. Cody and Nancy form a friendship
which Lane sees as an opportunity to get under Cody’s skin. He plots to return
Nancy on his own and collect the reward, but he knows Cody is a better shot and
the better man.
The Indians are threatening and portrayed by
Native Americans rather than red-faced Caucasian extras. They’re talked about
more than seen and when they are seen they’re mostly on horseback and only a
modest threat to Cody and Lane. Lane is the real threat and Cody predicts the
outcome as Lane’s men are killed and the movie ends with the thrilling, if
predictable, gunfight between Cody and Lane on the edge of a rocky cliff.
The movie is a little gem overall with excellent
location photography beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Charles Lawton, Jr.
There’s also tight direction by Boetticher and strong performances by Scott,
Akins and the rest of the cast. The movie was apparently shot in 12 days in the
California desert, but the very short running time of 70 minutes doesn’t hurt, as
it ensures that things move at a brisk pace.
was the final film for Ranown, the production company formed by Scott and
producer Harry Joe Brown. Scott announced his retirement from movies after this
release. Fortunately, Scott returned for one more movie, “Ride the High
Country,” in 1962. Generally regarded as a classic of the genre, Scott retired
for good after that.
region 2 German release includes both German and the original English audio. The
CinemaScope picture and sound quality on this release are both terrific. While
the movie has a running time barely over an hour, there’s a lot packed into the
70 minute running time which is also an excuse to watch it as part of a double feature.
The movie was previously available as part of the 2008 DVD set, “The Bud
Boetticher Collection.” The only extra carried over from that release is the
original trailer in English. This German release also includes a slide show
stills gallery of original advertising material which is accompanied by cues
from the score. Well worth the time for fans of classic westerns, Bud Boetticher
and Randolph Scott.
Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, imports
can often be found on eBay and Amazon in other countries. Although officially a
“region 2” title, many of readers report that Explosive Media titles play fine
on their region 1 players.)
Hyams’ “Busting” (1973) was one of several early 1970s police dramas that
followed the lead of “Dirty Harry,” two years before, in glorifying vigilante
tactics by disgruntled cops. Los Angeles
Detective Michael Keneely (Elliott Gould) tries to entrap a hooker, Jackie
(Cornelia Sharpe), by posing as a prospective john. He and his partner Patrick Farrell (Robert
Blake) trash her apartment without a warrant, looking for her “trick book” of
clients, and arrest her. The
incriminating pages disappear from the journal after it’s processed into an
evidence locker, and a high-powered defense attorney (William Sylvester) has
Jackie’s arrest thrown out of court on grounds that Keneely lacked evidence of
a crime: she had not explicitly propositioned him before he made the
pinch. The detectives learn that
Jackie’s boss is Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield), a powerful drug and prostitution
kingpin, and they go after one of Rizzo’s heroin runners, Hyatt (Jack Knight)
with equal lack of success, igniting a bloody gunfight in a crowded public
market. Rizzo brags to Keneely that he
is so well connected politically that Keneely and Farrell will never be able to
two cops are banished to an assignment nabbing “perverts” in the men’s room at the La Brea Tar Pits
Park. Marvel Comics fans take note,
Keneely has an “Ant-Man” comic book at hand to pass the time as he watches from
a stall. I doubt it was paid product
placement. Frustrated, they target Rizzo
on their off-hours with a campaign of harassment, hoping to eventually make a
case while getting under the gangster’s skin. Rizzo is so predatory and arrogant that the viewer, presumably, has no
qualms about Keneely and Farrell nailing him by any means necessary. This was the same Nixon-Era, middle-class
paranoia that “Dirty Harry” manipulated even more cunningly: the fear that
criminals were literally getting away with murder (not to mention rape,
robbery, and varied affronts to public decency) because recent court decisions
had tied the hands of the police.
an audio commentary with Elliott Gould for Kino-Lorber’s new Blu-ray release
of “Busting,” film critic Kim Morgan
calls the movie a “wonderful . . . under-looked should-be-‘70s-classic.” “Classic” is debatable; “curiosity piece”
might be a better description for younger audiences who are likely to find the
period ambience of cynicism, grimy squad rooms, seedy peep shows, and strip
bars novel. Be warned, the dialogue is
heavy with offensive terms like “faggot” and “fruit” that may reflect the
homophobic slang of the time but are no longer tolerated at all.
the movie runs a trim 92 minutes, it seems longer: Hyams’ script tends to
wander from scene to scene, never really picking up much momentum except during
the well-filmed chase and shootout at L.A.’s Grand Central Market, and even
that sequence drags at the end. None of
the characters is sharply developed, only Keneely having much in the way of a
background, and that limited to a monolog about how he started out as an
idealistic young cop. Two iconic ‘70s
cult actors are cast in small supporting parts -- Sid Haig as Rizzo’s bodyguard
and Antonio Fargas as an aggressive customer in a gay bar where Keneely and
Farrell are assigned to a drug stakeout -- but neither is given much to
his comments on the audio track with Kim Morgan, Gould recalls that Ron Leibman
was originally set to play his partner, but when Leibman didn’t work out
(Gould’s comments on this point are vague), Peter Boyle and Blake were up for
the part. Gould says, “I love both
actors,” but he championed Blake because the actor was “dangerous and
unpredictable.” Ironically, Gould’s
character is the more volatile of the two detectives. The movie might have worked better if the two
leads had been cast to type, Blake as Keneely and Gould as Farrell. Gould’s commentary is droll and
informative. “Oh my God, I don’t remember
this,” he says as Cornelia Sharpe takes off her top in the scene between
Keneely and Jackie in her apartment.
1920x1080p image in the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray is about as serviceable as one
could expect from a 40-year-old, mid-budget movie. Other extras besides the commentary tracks
are trailers for “Busting” and two other releases, “The Long Goodbye” and
“Running Scared” (the 1986 Peter Hyams cop-buddy movie with Gregory Hines and
Billy Crystal, not the 2006 film of the same name with the late Paul Walker).
always great to see a classic soundtrack album receive its debut on CD, and
Elmer Bernstein’s stylish Matt Helm score The Silencers (CDLK4573) is no
exception. Dean Martin’s campy but hugely enjoyable spy capers were made during
a successful period of spy-time, when Bond, Flint and numerous other secret
agents were dominant in cinema entertainment. Bernstein’s jazzy, cool and
deliciously infectious score ticks all the desired boxes. Bernstein fills the
soundscape with big brass and fast percussion, most of which are laced with a
hip, Latin beat. The composer provides plenty of swing, but it’s never without
an underlying sense of fun, a playfulness throughout which perfectly mirrors
Helm’s on screen exploits. Aside from Bernstein’s score, the two vocal tracks
sung by Vikki Carr (co-written by Mack David) ‘The Silencers’ and ‘Santiago’
also offer a sassy sense of relevant glitz. Vocalion has provided a beautiful,
clean production, perfectly in keeping with their usual high standards of
the downside, this is unfortunately, just a straight forward release of the original
album, which, in typical 60s fashion, consists of just thirteen tracks and
lasts a little over 31mins. I was also a little surprised that the accompanying
booklet consisted of just a 2 Panel (4 page) insert, which contains the
original LP sleeve notes along with the three supporting B&W photos. It’s
just a little disappointing, knowing Vocalion’s usual high standard of
packaging. One has to remember, this is the CD debut of what is (effectively)
an Elmer Bernstein classic. The Silencers is a cult, genre favourite, and perhaps
a few pages containing some new writing, might have given greater cause to
celebrate its emergence on the CD format. There is also the running time;
again, locking off a CD at just 32 minutes is not what we have come to expect
from Vocalion, it’s simply not their style. Considering the amount of crime
jazz compilations that appeared on budget label LPs at the time, it would of
arguably been nice to see one of these tagged on to the CD, it certainly
wouldn’t had felt out of place. Vocalion have a proven track record in taking
these budget releases of the past and providing them with a new lease of life.
I can’t help but consider if their loyal fan base would have appreciated a
little more meat on the bone.
The Silencers arguably remains an essential purchase, if only in order to
upgrade from that ageing piece of vinyl, there will always be a niggling sense
of disappointment in regards to its overall content. It’s undeniably great, but
sadly, it’s all over far too soon.
With the sad news about the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Cinema Retro presents the film trailer for "Hellcats of the Navy", the 1957 WWII adventure that marked the only time that Mrs. Reagan (then still known as Nancy Davis) appeared on screen with her husband and future president Ronald Reagan.
Here's a blog that has a unique perspective on Beatlemania: it is dedicated entirely to the ladies in the lives of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr from their early days as the Fab Four through the present. The site has little in the way of text but does provide a Yellow Submarine-sized load of great photos, many of which are new to us.
Self-portrait of George Harrison and his first wife Pattie in their garden at their home in Surrey.
The blog reminds us that behind every great Beatle was a Beatlette. Click here to view site.
Back in the pre-internet era there was an old adage that went "Never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel." In other words, think twice about taking on someone who can reach millions of people through the reach of magazines or newspapers. That might have included screenwriters, as well. Take the case of Walter Bernstein, a prolific television writer in the early days of the medium. Bernstein was one of the high profile victims of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts which, through the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The committee was ostensibly searching for "Fifth Columnists" who were secretly in league with the Soviet Union and plotting to undermine the American way of life. McCarthy and his cronies convinced a wide swath of the American public that Hollywood was a nest of covert commies and would point to films and TV series that were alleged to be sympathetic with the communist doctrine. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that the U.S. government had implored the major studios to make such films after our enemy, Josef Stalin, was betrayed his ally Adolf Hitler, who launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Immediately Stalin found himself now a crucial member of the Allies. It was a relationship of convenience for both sides. Stalin depended on the war in the West to occupy the majority of Hitler's forces, which would otherwise have been able to to capture his entire nation. For America, Britain and the other allied nations, Stalin and his tremendous military resources managed to keep Hitler bogged down in Soviet territory, sustaining huge losses in what became the Fuhrer's greatest military blunder. Hollywood studios were called upon to start cranking out propaganda films disguised as popular entertainment that would paint Stalin and the Soviets in a benign and heroic manner. The studios cooperated in the spirit of patriotism. Ironically, as soon as Nazi Germany was defeated and Stalin became a villain again, these same studios were chastised in some quarters for being pro-communist- and the "proof" was the very film that the U.S. government had implored the studios to make. McCarthy, a far-right zealot, shot to international fame with his hearings before HUAC at which suspected subversives were compelled to testify at. The deal such individuals were offered was simple: rat out suspected fellow subversives or incur the wrath of the inquisitors. Many people did betray their friends and colleagues but others, such as Walter Bernstein, refused to do so. In return they found themselves blacklisted in the entertainment industry. Legally the government could not demand that such people be denied a living but from a practical standpoint, pressure was put on TV networks and studios so that the top brass "voluntarily" decided not to employ these individuals. In the end, McCarthy's hearings unveiled no real communist threat but he did succeed in ruining the lives of plenty of left-wing artists, writers, directors and academics before being publicly humiliated himself.
By the late 1950s, Bernstein was gainfully employed again and was writing for film and TV productions (his credits include the screenplay for "Fail Safe"). In 1976, Bernstein wrote the screenplay for the devastatingly effective Martin Ritt-directed film "The Front", which explored how blacklisted writers had to endure the humiliation of employing "fronts" (i.e non-writers) to sell scripts to studios and networks, ostensibly as their own work. The real writers were denied decent paychecks and screen credit. Bernstein's long memory of those dark days of disgraceful American political policies extended to another film, "The House on Carroll Street", made in 1988. This production was somewhat less political and concentrated more on the aspect of being a thriller, which is probably what attracted the involvement of Peter Yates, who directed such high profile action films as "Robbery", "Bullitt" and "The Deep". The story centers on Emily (Kelly McGillis), a vivacious young woman living in New York City who is strong-willed and independent. She is also a "career girl", to coin a quaint phrase of the time, and holds a prestigious position as photo editor for Life magazine. However, her leftist views place her in the cross-hairs of HUAC and she is called to testify before the committee. When she refuses to cooperate and "name names" of friends and colleagues who might be communists, she is fired after her employer receives pressure from government agents. To make ends meet she makes a measly salary by reading novels to a rich old woman, Miss Venable (Jessica Tandy). While at Venable's house, she notices some strange goings-on in a house across the garden. A group of German men are having intense discussions and acting in a rather suspicious manner. Emily goes into Nancy Drew mode and eavesdrops on them but can't quite figure out what they are talking about. She later meets a young man who was at the meeting and strikes up a friendship with him. However, his behavior only increases her concerns. He is extremely nervous and informs her that there are some dastardly things being planned but he won't reveal what. Emily begins to secretly follow him and discovers that other people are doing the same. Who are they- and why does she feel increasingly threatened herself? Meanwhile, Salwen (Mandy Patinkin), a hard-nosed big wig on the HUAC committee, is ordering increased pressure on Emily to cooperate. The FBI sends a team of agents to routinely harass her and subject her to humiliating searches of her home. One of the agents, Cochran (Jeff Daniels), takes sympathy on her and the two strike up an awkward friendship that later turns into a love affair that could threaten Cochran's career.
The plot becomes increasingly complex as Cochran begins to assist Emily in finding out what the group of German-speaking men are up to. It appears that they are working in league with Salwen and government agents in a top secret plot to provide ex-Nazi war criminals with false identities in order to allow them to enter the United States and become citizens. It seems that the U.S. is willing to forgive these men for their crimes of genocide because they could provide valuable tools to combat the Soviets in the Cold War. Emily and Cochran are even more horrified to discover that the ex-Nazis are being given the identities of deceased Jewish people. Selwan discovers that Emily is on to the scheme and tries to bribe her to keep secret. When that doesn't work, things heat up and attempts are made on her life. The action-packed finale finds Emily and Cochran in a battle for their lives against Selwan and his men in the midst of bustling Grand Central Station.
"The House on Carroll Street" was met with apathy by both critics and the public but the film's attributes are more apparent today. It plays out like a Hitchcock thriller with the innocent protagonist swept up into incredible events that are initially beyond their comprehension. Walter Bernstein's screenplay is both intelligent and largely believable and director Peter Yates downplays violence in favor of good old-fashioned suspense. (It's the kind of film in which the heroine decides to place herself in harm's way by walking through an eerie old house in order to investigate suspicious activities.) The film effectively reflects an era in which America went mad and civil rights were sacrificed in the name of national security. McGillis gives a very fine performance and even provides a nude scene that is completely gratuitous but which was still much-appreciated by this viewer. Jeff Daniels is also commendable as a likable, all-American FBI man who finds that his agency is embroiled in some very un-American activities. Patinkin is a villain in the Bond mode: dripping with phony charm and charisma while all the while plotting nefarious fates for his intended victims. The production design is also commendable and convincingly evokes the look and feel of New York in 1951. The most ambitious sequence is the finale set at Grand Central Station. The mind boggles at how Yates pulled off shooting such a complicated action scene in a place that is jam-packed with people 24 hours a day, but the result is highly impressive . It should also be noted that the movie boasts a fine score by Georges Delerue and excellent cinematography by the esteemed Michael Ballaus. The film is not an underrated classic. There are some occasional laps in logic, loose ends and some highly predictable plot developments but for the most part it plays out in fine style and is consistently interesting and entertaining. Recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a fine transfer and features the original trailer.
The "coming of age" genre of American movies can vary wildly in terms of subject matter. There are the great teenage "coming-of-age"
films (see: John Hughes)- which are more poignant than standard, individual
teen angst stories dealing with topics such as "Why doesn't he like me?"
or "How do I get rid of my acne and become more popular?" Yet other, far more dramatic "coming of age" films center on the evolution of the United States, none more movingly than those dealing with the abolitionist period of our nation's history. It
was a proud time in our history; people of conviction stood up against an
abhorrent societal norm in certain areas of the country. Some people went
willingly and others were dragged kicking and screaming into a new age of
tolerance and growth. Yes, I know, we're still not
all growed-up yet but you notice that with every day passing day we see increasingly
sympathetic reactions to tragedies such as those that happened in Ferguson,
Missouri or Sanford, Florida. Good people often come together through grief.
The North Star is a moving and engaging "coming-of-age"
film. First time writer and director Thomas K. Phillips assembled an impressive
cast to tell this inspirational story based upon factual travails. "Big Ben" Jones and
Moses Hopkins (Jeremiah Trotter and Thomas C. Bartley, Jr., respectively)
become runaway slaves from the plantation they work on in Virginia when Ben
learns that he is about to be sold to an even more heinous slave-owner. Once sold, he will be
shipped to Mississippi - a state where he fears he would be subject to even greater degradation "Let's just say it's a matter of Mississippi
pride,"says the purchaser of "Big Ben," Wilburn Davis (Tim
O'Connell). "With the biggest owned niggrah comes the biggest
prestige," replies the current owner, Master Anderson (John Diehl) and
they settle on a price of $5000. Upon
learning that his new “property” has escaped, Anderson takes immediate action."That's
over a year's salary," Anderson tells the slave hunters he's hired. There
are some frightening, reprehensible creatures in this film but also some benevolent characters, as well. One of them is Mr. Lee (Clifton Powell), who advises the runaways to head toward the free state of Pennsylvania by following- you guessed it- the North Star.At the risk of making a faux pas, there's very little gray in
The North Star - things are pretty much black and white.
The North Star premiered on
UMC (Urban Movie Channel) last month for Black History Month and is now sold at
Wal-Mart and Amazon, and will be available on disc via Netflix as well as
the following digital sites: iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, Xbox and Vimeo.
I viewed the film on DVD, which unfortunately has no bonus extras or even
set-up options, either. There are scenes in the film where the dialogue is very
soft and lines can be missed, indicating the sound mixing could have been
tweaked a bit better. I would have watched it with subtitles had I been given
the option. One unrelated peeve of
mine is that there isn’t enough screen time afforded to Keith David. This
accomplished actor briefly portrays (less that 2 minutes of screen time) the
great Frederick Douglas. If you have never seen Mr. David perform Shakespeare,
do so if you can. His Othello (with Liev Schreiber as Iago) is the finest I've seen. (I've forgiven him, almost, for playing Cameron Diaz's step-father in
"There's Something About Mary." That's two hours plus I'll never get
however, is worth a viewing, despite the fact that the direction is a bit erratic and the editing sometimes results in some confusion. However, cast is uniformly superb. Despite my aforementioned criticisms, I believe that director Thomas K. Phillips has a promising future in the industry and I look forward to his next film.
The acclaimed stage troupe Raconteur Radio will present a staged radio play version of the classic thriller "Gaslight" at New York's famed private club for the arts, The Players. This event is open to the general public and will benefit The Players Preservation Fund. This is a rare opportunity for lovers of the arts to visit this historic New York landmark that was founded in 1888 by Edwin Booth, along with Mark Twain and General William T. Sherman. Countless show business legends have been members of the club including Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Christopher Plummer, James Stewart and many more. For info and tickets go to theplayerspreservationfund.com. To visit the club's web site click here.
A reader identified only as Mark from England has kindly donated this fabulous photo of the 1978 showing of producer Euan Lloyd's great adventure film The Wild Geese in London's Leicester Square. Those were the days, when you could see the likes of Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris Stewart Granger and Hardy Kruger in one movie!
The historic Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge, IL, will be
celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THUNDERBALL with the screening of the
classic James bond blockbuster film on Thursday, April 21, 2016 at 7:00pm.
Hosts Matthew Hoffman and Elizabeth Rye of the Classic Film
Series welcome as special guests, representative of the Ian Fleming Foundation
Colin Clark, and 007 continuing novelist and film historian Raymond Benson, who
will introduce the movie and sign books.
IFF board member Colin Clark will have on display from the
Foundation the five foot model of the RAF Vulcan Bomber use in the filming
of the picture, restored to its original condition.
The evening's festivities will include discussion of
Thunderball's history and behind-the-scenes stories, several Bond-related
raffles, and photo ops with Bond movie props and theater standees.
Pickwick's Classic Film Series presentations often draw fans
in costume. Attendees are invited to dress as their favorite Bond, Bond Girl,
or Bond Villain.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2:00 a.m. CST, Hoffman and Clark
will appear on Chicago's WGN AM720 morning radio show with host Nick Digilio to
talk about the Pickwick's special Thunderball celebration and all things Bond.
"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)
Chomsky is widely regarded as one of the preeminent intellectuals in the
world. As the Institute Professor
Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he currently
works, he has also written over one hundred books, among them Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony, and the Rule of Force, Profit
Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order, and the forthcoming The Culture of Terrorism which he co-wrote with Brian Jones. A seemingly tireless octogenarian, it is Mr. Chomsky’s Weltanschauung that director’s
Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott recorded over a period of
four years as the subject of their new and, unfortunately, quite timely
documentary, the elegiacally-titled Requiem
for the American Dream. The
film, which runs a mere 73 minutes, focuses on what Mr. Chomsky refers to as the
Ten Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power, which essentially are the
methods employed by the wealthy and powerful (or the “One Percent” as they are
so often referred to) to keep themselves rich and everyone else not rich. These methods, he contends, consist of reducing
democracy, shaping ideology, redesigning the economy, shifting the burden,
attacking solidarity, running the regulators, engineering elections, keeping
the rabble in line, manufacturing consent and, ultimately and most
significantly, marginalizing the population. The current state of life in America seems to be a result of corporate greed and public insouciance, or more
specifically a feeling that nothing can be done about it. There are, obviously, movements afoot to
combat these inequalities, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) being the most fervent and
obvious example by far. Over the course
of the film’s duration, Mr. Chomsky goes into detail on where America once was
(manufacturing being the predominant method of income during the 1950’s, the
most prosperous decade in the country’s history) and where it is now (in the
hands of financial institutions, which represent a select few), which is such a
far cry from how life used to be that he explains how the corrosive effect of
greed and class inequality has had such a negative effect on both the working
class and middle class collectively.
Fascinating to watch and never boring, the film matter-of-factly
uncovers the methods that businessmen, specifically those at the top, employ to
make sure that their interests are well cared for, regardless of the deleterious
effects they have on those near the bottom of the social ladder. In actuality, however, this is no different
than the methods that were used by the owners of the manufacturing giants that
built America in the first place. Cornelius
Vanderbilt (with his fleet of steamboats and later on, railroads), John D.
Rockefeller (oil, kerosene and, later on, gasoline), Andrew Carnegie (steel),
and J.P. Morgan (finance, electricity and steel) did not amass personal
fortunes ten times that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet by being nice
guys. Influencing presidents and doing
what needed to be done appeared to be viewed as necessary business tactics, and
what is happening in the country today
does not appear to be all that different than what has occurred in the past,
despite the passing of laws and legislation designed to protect workers from
tyrannical bosses. The major difference
is that today there are more people than ever before, and the size of the level
if inequality is tremendous and, as Mr. Chomsky points out, unprecedented. Although he never says it, the feeling that
you get from Mr. Chomsky is that unless there is a major public uprising (i.e.
revolution), it is unlikely that the current state of affairs will shift in the
national public’s favor anytime soon.
for more information on the film and locate screenings that will be rolled out
over the next few months.
begin by making one thing clear: The animated opening titles sequence of The Amorous Prawn (U.S. title: The Amorous Mr. Prawn) aside – which features
a pair of flirtatious cartoon crustaceans flitting around the screen – there
isn't a single prawn to be found in director Anthony Kimmins' lukewarm 1962
farce, let alone an amative one. The title in fact references the nickname of
one of the film's secondary characters, a rakish lothario played by Dennis
thrust of the story actually concerns Dodo (Joan Greenwood), the wife of
General Sir Hamish Fitzadam (Cecil Parker) and her resourceful scheme to scare
up some quick cash to help fund his impending retirement. The couple live on a
sparsely manned Army base in the Scottish Highlands, and when Hamish is sent
overseas on business Dodo sets into motion 'Operation Lolly', opening up the
house and expansive grounds of the base as a salmon fishing holiday destination
for American tourists. She bribes Corporal Sydney Green (Ian Carmichael) and the
other members of the small on-site platoon to disguise the building's military
purposes and assist in her plans by posing as hotel staff. Naturally the
subterfuge is a recipe for calamitous misunderstandings.
The Amorous Prawn exudes the whiff of
theatrical buffoonery – and not of the particularly amusing variety at that –
it should come as no surprise to learn that it first saw life as a stage play
written by none other than director Kimmins himself. Yet, to be fair, what it
lacks in laughs it manages to compensate for with a modicum of amiable charm.
Ian Carmichael is always watchable (even if his character here is a tad less
endearing than those he played in the likes of School for Scoundrels and Double
Bunk) and there are a number of stalwart Brit reliables on hand to imbue
the proceedings with a mien of comforting familiarity, among them Derek Nimmo (whose
portrayal of Private Willie Maltravers is more camp than a row of tents),
Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Bayldon, Gerald Sim and Michael Ripper. Meanwhile Liz
Fraser brings her stock in trade bosomy blonde sex appeal to the party, though
she's very nearly upstaged in the glam department by one of Price's squeezes,
barmaid 'Busty Babs' (Sandra Dorne).
Today The Amorous Prawn's primary
audience will reside either among nostaligia-seekers who remember it from its
original run round the circuit, or those with a fondness for unassuming Sunday
afternoon fare. Supported by one of John Barry's earliest scores, fans of the
composer may also be drawn to investigate, though it should be said that his
work here falls well shy of his more distinguished endeavours.
The film comes to DVD in the UK from Network, the crisp transfer serving DoP
Wilkie Cooper's black and white photography marvellously. Though not in a
position to clarify – I've seen the film just once before – it should be noted
that some material has allegedly gone AWOL from this release, apparently
amounting to some 3-minutes’ worth of footage. The film was certainly subjected
to BBFC-imposed cuts back in 1962 in order to secure a 'U' certificate, but
given that a fleeting (though startlingly graphic) glimpse of frontal male
nudity when a Scotsman's kilt rides up is present and correct in this 'U'
certificate DVD release, one would have to wonder what could possibly be
missing. The only bonus feature is a generous gallery of production stills, front
of house cards and artwork, some of which bears the film's alternate titles The Amorous Mr Prawn and The Playgirl and the War Minister.
Oscar winning actor George Kennedy has died at age 91, five months after the passing of his wife Joan. Kennedy's popularity as a character actor led to eventual leading man roles in major films. Born in New York City, he experienced stage life early, working with his parents in Vaudeville. During WWII he served under General Patton and was decorated for bravery. He drifted into acting on television in the 1950s. With his imposing physical presence (he was 6'4"), Kennedy immediately found work, generally playing heavies who squared off against the series' heroes. Among the shows he guest-starred on were such hits as "Have Gun, Will Travel", "Rawhide", "Gunsmoke" and "The Untouchables". He crossed into feature films in the early 1960s and first made a splash in Stanley Donen's 1963 comedy thriller "Charade" in which he played a crook with a hook hand who attempts to kill Cary Grant in a rooftop fight. The film demonstrated that Kennedy could play light comedy as well as menacing characters. From that point he never stopped working and quickly became one of the most popular "second bananas" in the film industry. He specialized in Westerns and appeared in plenty- squaring off against John Wayne in "The Sons of Katie Elder" and co-starring with James Stewart, Dean Martin and Raquel Welch in "Bandolero!". He also had a major role in the 1967 WWII blockbuster "The Dirty Dozen". His appearance as a buffoonish convict who initially fights but later befriends Paul Newman on a chain gain in "Cool Hand Luke" won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1968. This elevated his marketability in Hollywood and Kennedy got the occasional starring roles in films such as "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" and "The Human Factor". Generally, however, he was relegated to supporting roles, but high profile ones. As gruff, cigar crunching engine Joe Patroni in the original "Airport", Kennedy made a significant enough impression that he became the only cast member from that film to appear in the three sequels. He also co-starred with Clint Eastwood in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" and "The Eiger Sanction". He enjoyed a late career surge in popularity as Lesiie Nielsen's co-star in the three hit "Naked Gun" comedies. Kennedy had two children from his first marriage. After marrying Joan, the couple adopted four more including Kennedy's granddaughter, whose mother had been battling drug addiction. In 2011 he published his memoirs under the title "Trust Me".
Remember the old days when unpredictable occurrences seemed to predictably occur at the Oscars ceremony? There was the nude streaker who failed to unravel the ever-unflappable David Niven. There were the political activist winners who used the forum to grandstand for their favorite causes. This included Vanessa Redgrave's pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist remarks during her acceptance speech, Marlon Brando sending a surrogate to reject his "Godfather" Oscar in protest of Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans, "Patton" winner George C. Scott refusing to show up at all in protest of the competitive nature of awards shows, the producers of the anti-Vietnam War documentary "Hearts and Minds" taking solace that that the nation was about to be "liberated" by a brutal communist regime, which caused another stir when Frank Sinatra was pushed on stage at Bob Hope's urging to read a hastily-scribbled denouncement of the remark. The Oscars haven't been as relevant or fun since, though I've been among the dwindling ranks of critics who often defend the entertainment value of the show even as its become ever more chic to diss the telecast as increasingly irrelevant. The Oscars have always been flawed, to be sure, and so have the ceremonies but they have also provided a lot of moments that were fun and sometimes poignant. (If you doubt me, just watch the marvelous segment of Charlie Chaplin returning from blacklist exile to receive a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1972 in the clip below.)
This year's Oscar awards ceremony didn't need spontaneous moments to cause controversy. We knew going in that the elephant in the room would have to be addressed: the on-going criticism in some quarters that the Academy is racist because there were no black nominees this year. This is total nonsense, of course, as has been pointed out by numerous distinguished African-American members of the Academy. Yes, Oscar was lily white this year and last year as well but it certainly wasn't due to an orchestrated attempt to bar people of color from being nominees. Since the 1960s, the Academy has overseen a long, sometimes torturous road toward removing the kinds of prejudicial barriers that not only had traditionally characterized the awards but the Hollywood studio system as a whole. It was a big deal when Hattie McDaniel won for "Gone With the Wind" and Sidney Poitier became the second black actor to win a full quarter of a century later for "Lilies of the Field". Since then the Academy has mirrored the changes in society to the point where no one thinks its particularly newsworthy to report on the skin color of any winner. Still, some folks got their knickers twisted about the all-white field of nominees this year. Host Chris Rock was lobbied to cancel his gig as host of the event, 'lest he be labeled an Uncle Tom. (To his credit, Rock ignored the implied threat.) A few other prominent people made a big deal about boycotting the ceremony. Chief among them, Will Smith, whose absence seemed less a statement of principal than simply pouting over the fact that he didn't get his expected nomination for "Concussion". (Smith conveniently seems to have forgotten that the Academy had previously nominated him twice.) Smith was joined by the ever-angry Spike Lee, despite the fact that his career was launched by winning a student Academy Award. He had also been nominated for two regular Oscars and only this very year accepted an honorary Oscar for his entire career. He showed up to accept that at a pre-broadcast ceremony, all the while denouncing the Academy as engaging in racist behavior. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it, too. Lee pointed out that this is the second straight year that the Oscars nominees were all white. "We can't act?! WTF!!", he asked rhetorically. That's hardly the case. Remember way back to 2014 when the Academy earned praise for its awarding of three Oscars ( and a total of nine nominations) to "12 Years a Slave"? Lee and Smith would somehow have you believe that the Academy members suddenly became racist since then and conspired to deprive black artists from getting nominations. The sad truth is that there is a scarcity of black talent behind the cameras and the major African-American actors often don't appear in films that are Oscar-worthy. That's not to diminish the value of the actors or the films. They are simply gearing their movies to the expectations of their audiences, which is what actors have done since the beginning of time. Chris Rock emphasized this point with an amusing "man-on-the-street" segment in which everyday black moviegoers were interviewed about their opinions of the films nominated this year for Best Picture. None of the people interviewed saw them and some hadn't even heard of any. The lack of interest among younger black people to pursue movie-making careers does deprive the industry of hearing and seeing alternative viewpoints from a cinematic perspective. But what is the solution proposed by Lee and Smith- to force young people to attend film school whether they like it or not?
Last night's ceremony started off well with a witty and expertly delivered monologue by Chris Rock. He gently tweaked the Academy by acknowledging the controversy but then, like a person who can't resist telling a good joke until the point of boredom, he kept revisiting the racism angle throughout the evening with very mixed results. To be sure Rock was himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He had to thread the needle between not appearing to be insulting to the Academy that was paying him a king's ransom to host the show, without alienating his core base of fans. To the degree he succeeded will be determined in the days to come. (Personally, I'm getting weary of major awards shows hiring hosts who have the intention of trashing the very awards the show is about. Enough already.) Suffice it to say Rock was in the ultimate "no win" situation. However, his insistence on not burying the race debate undermined other elements of the show. Adding to the absurdity of the racism accusations was a speech about diversity that was delivered by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, who, not incidentally, is an African-American. I don't know of many racist organizations that elect a minority female to be their representative. In any event, the Academy went so overboard in presenting black artists on stage that the whole thing threatened to back-fire. Presumably, the intention was to provide a not-so-subtle rebuke of Smith and Lee's charges by having some of the most respected African-Americans in the industry today show their implied support of the Academy by appearing on the show. After all, does anyone really think living legends like Morgan Freeman or Quincy Jones would lend their presence to a racist ceremony? However, most viewers probably simply regarded this as politically correct pandering to the critics. Indeed, Sacha Baron Cohen, in amusing ""Ali G" character mode made reference to the "token" white presenters. Since the vast majority of people who watch the Oscars are older and white, you could almost hear the comments in homes across the nation: "I hate racism but for God's sake stop cramming all this diversity stuff into the Oscars." Agree or disagree, I've already heard from people who think the Academy, in the immortal words of Louis B. Mayer, should "Leave the messages to Western Union".
Chris: Between a Rock and a hard place.
The main purpose of the ceremony is to celebrate great film-making but the constant references to race threatened to overshadow the individual achievements of the artists. The show ambled on to the customary 3 1/2 hour running time. As usual there were highs and lows. What follows are my random thoughts on various aspects of the show:
It always bothers me that honorary awards to living legends are reduced to a few seconds of film clips from a pre-show dinner. This is supposedly done to allow the telecast to move quickly. However, it also deprives viewers of magical moments such as the Chaplin award shown in the clip above. This year we learned that Debbie Reynolds received an honorary Oscar yet we got to see virtually none of it. Yet there was time for such bizarre segments as "SNL"-like comedy skits, a protracted and unfunny extended gag in which Girl Scouts went into the audience to sell cookies (!)and an appearance by Vice-President Joe Biden (to a rapturous ovation) to denounce sexual harassment on college campuses. Huh? While I don't want to see anyone suffer harassment of any kind anywhere, this was out of place on the Oscars and only justified on the dotted line reasoning that the subject matter was covered in the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Hunting Ground". Sorry- it would have been more appropriate to see Debbie Reynolds in the twilight of her years accepting accolades from her peers.
It was a night of surprises. Alejandro Inarritu, who won the Oscar last year for directing "Birdman", scored a rare back-to-back win for "The Revenant". However, this was also a rare case in which the Best Picture ("Spotlight") was directed by someone other than the Best Director winner. You had to feel for Sylvester Stallone, who was the sentimental favorite for Supporting Actor for "Creed". He lost in a surprise upset to the brilliant Mark Rylance for "Bridge of Spies" that reminded me of a similar situation many years ago when Burt Reynolds was supposed to win in the same category for "Boogie Nights" only to be by-passed by the Fickle Finger of Fate. Let's hope Stallone at least keeps his renewed respect in the industry by not making the mistake Reynolds made and delving back into awful projects in search of a fast, fat pay check. Another big surprise was the fact that "Mad Max: Fury Road" won the most Oscars, six in total, all in the technical categories. A lot of establishment types are still mystified about the critical acclaim this film received and how it ended up with a Best Picture nod. Suffice it to say, it's an acquired taste.
There was a definite political aspect to the show, all of it left wing. As usual some winners used their speeches to sermonize about everything from race relations to the threat of global warming. (They should pass out violins to these people.) At some point I thought I could hear Rush Limbaugh's head explode, though the telecast will give right wing commentators plenty of meat on the bone for their annual dissection of the awards as a thinly-disguised Democratic political event. Having said that, there were precious few Donald Trump jokes. Perhaps he's doing more damage to himself than any writers could.
Style and glamour outdistanced the embarrassing fashion statements. Many of the ladies looked sensational, though I will admit to being vulnerable in terms of overlooking certain fashion mistakes if the necklines plunge deep enough. It's enough to justify the admonishments of Major Hawthorne, played by Terry-Thomas in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", who chastises Americans for their "positively infantile pre-occupation with bosoms!" The men looked equally classy and elegant with the Bond-revived white tuxedo making a major comeback. Host Chris Rock wore one and looked terrific. The biggest faux pas in terms of fashion, quite predictably came from the Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, Jenny Beavan, who won for "Mad Max: Fury Road". She decided to replicate the grunge look of the film by wearing a cheap leather jacket but she came off looking like a character from the "Star Wars" cantina sequence.
Actress/model Kate Upton symbolized the female strategy for attire: "If you've got it, flaunt it!"
An emotional highlight was the Best Score Oscar given to one of the few living legends in the field, the great Ennio Morricone for his score for "The Hateful Eight". Morricone's presence only reiterated just how diminished the field of impressive film composers is today. Sure, there are a handful of reliable names but no one like Morricone, John Barry, Dimitri Tiomkin, Elmer Bernstein or Jerry Goldsmith. That's partly the fault of an industry that regards composers not as valuable members of the production team, as it had in the past, but as necessary evils. Therefore composers are often brought in very late to create scores on ridiculously short deadlines.
The in memorial montage to talents lost in the last year is always a moving highlight, and this year was no exception. However, as usual there were some inexcusable snubs of revered people. The most glaring I noticed was John Guillermin, who directed such major hits as "The Towering Inferno", "King Kong" (1976 version), "Death on the Nile", "Skyjacked" and many others. No mention of beloved character actor Abe Vigoda, either. Yet, there was room in the montage for a host of people who worked in the weeds of show business in terms of public awareness. (Apparently even dead people in Hollywood need press agents.) These omissions cause great backlashes every year but the Academy soldiers on making the same mistakes, thus giving credence to conspiracy theorists who believe that inclusion in the montage is based more on personal relationships than achievements.
Most of the speeches by winners were unremarkable. Popular winner for Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was a class act, as was Mark Rylance. When the winners droned on too long, the orchestra fired up Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" to intimidate them into shutting up. It seemed to have little-to-no effect. Maybe next year a helicopter attack can accompany the music to persuade them to get off stage.
Best speech of the night was by presenter Louis C.K. who pointed out that the most deserving nominees were those in the category for Best Documentary (short). He said that these were true artists, driven by a passion for story-telling and filmmaking and that none of them will probably make anything like a living wage in the course of these noble endeavors.
Every year there is at least one presenter who engages in trashy behavior in order to bolster their image as somebody on the "cutting edge". This year it was foul-mouthed "comedienne" Sarah Silverman, who has about as much to do with the contemporary film industry as Fatty Arbuckle. Silverman, with her trademark deadpan Morticia Adams demeanor, strode on stage to introduce a performance of the nominated song "Writing's On the Wall" from "Spectre". She used the opportunity to disparage the long-running franchise and, in doing so, diminished the introduction of the song's writer and performer, Sam Smith. The Bond producers and Smith got the last laugh when the song won the award but one has to wonder why Silverman was chosen to introduce a segment that insulted the nominees? Surely there were composers and singers who would have been honored to have the gig. Instead, they went with a woman whose film credits include something titled "Cops, Cum, Dicks and Flying". Whoever brought her on board should be fired- or worse, made to watch back-to-back screenings of "Copes, Cum, Dicks and Flying".
Speaking of the Best Song category, Smith's Bond number was no classic by 007 standards but it was certainly a lot better than some worst songs in the series (think "Die Another Day" and the wretched "Quantum Of Solace"). It was also light years better than the other nominated songs that were performed including "Til It Happens to You", a dreadful concoction about sexual abuse from "The Hunting Ground" written and performed by Lady Gaga. It may have been written with the best of intentions (abuse victims were present on stage) but that didn't make hearing it any more bearable. Similarly, the song "Earned It" from "50 Shades of Grey" was also terrible. The film is about people who enjoy sado-masochism. After listening to this number I felt that I had been drafted into the ranks of masochists. By the way, two of the nominated songs weren't even performed at all, proving that star power is the primary factor in terms of deciding who the "Cool Kids" are in terms of having their work exposed to millions of viewers. Who gets to tell the nominees of the other two songs that their work doesn't merit being performed? (Click here to view the song performances).
Speaking of Bondian references, it was nice to hear those classic 007 themes played as the show entered each commercial break. Also great that they included Burt Bacharach's superb main theme for the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale".
I was happy to see "Spotlight" nab the Best Picture award primarily because it reiterates the valuable and often thankless role that investigative reporters play in democratic societies. Sadly we live in an age where such writing skills and dogged determination are deemed expendable by people who rarely pick up newspapers any more.
Well, that's about it for my take on our old friend Oscar this year. Click here for full list of winners. To weigh in on your own opinions, please visit the Cinema Retro Facebook page.
One of the most unfairly neglected WWII films of its era, director Lamont Johnson's 1970 escape thriller The McKenzie Break comes to Blu-ray through Kino Lorber. The movie is rather small in scale with most of the action confined to a POW camp for German prisoners located in Scotland (though the movie was actually shot in Ireland.) The establishing sequence succinctly makes the film's scenario abundantly clear. The British ostensibly run the camp but the real power is in the hands of the senior German naval officer, Schlueter (Helmut Griem), a 27 year-old true believer in the Nazi cause. In the first scene we observe the inability of the camp's British commandant, Major Perry (Ian Hendry) to stop a riot orchestrated by Schlueter in protest of plans to shackle twenty five German officers in retaliation to the same action recently done by Germans to British POWs. The British guards seem hapless and ill-equipped to handle the situation. This leads to the arrival of Capt. Jack Connor (Brian Keith), an unpopular maverick officer who has been sent by London to the camp to "advise" Major Perry about how to reinstate order over the POWs and blunt Schlueter's growing influence with them. Although Perry isy the senior officer, he can read the tea leaves and understands that Connor has virtually carte blanche to carry out his plans. Connor immediately meets with Schlueter and makes it clear there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak. The two men are outwardly cordial toward each other but only in the kind of superficial relationship that one sees between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They both know they intend to get the better of the other man. In Schlueter's case this means successfully orchestrating a daring escape through a secret tunnel for a key group of naval officers. He has been ordered by Hitler himself to do this so that Germany's shrinking U-boat corps can get some extra manpower. Schlueter, who is handsome, witty and charismatic, is determined to carry out his orders at any cost and Connor discovers he is willing to kill any dissenters among his fellow prisoners. This includes a disgruntled Luftwaffe officer who resents Schlueter's tactics. He's mortally wounded in another riot orchestrated with the sole intent of leading to his demise. Connor confronts Schlueter about this war crime and the fact that he believes Schlueter previously murdered his superior officer in the camp because he refused to aggressively follow the plans for the escape. Connor tells Perry that he knows there is an escape tunnel. Perry argues that they should close it down immediately but Connor has a more daring plan. Knowing that the escapees would have to make their way to the coast and be rescued by a U-boat, he argues to allow the men to escape then follow them and nab the U-boat, too. Perry thinks the plan is too risky but Connor prevails and the group of German soldiers escapes. Unfortunately for Connor, things to do not go the way he anticipated and he discovers there is a good chance the men will make it back to Germany.
The McKenize Break is an intelligent, well-written film based on a source novel by Sidney Shelley. There have been countless WWII movies set in prison camps but this one gets a refreshing twist by making the Germans the prisoners. Under the impressive direction of TV director Lamont Johnson (in his feature film debut), the Germans are not portrayed as dolts or stooges, nor the mustache-twirling villains they often were in films such as this. They are presented as loyal servicemen who are simply trying to do what any POW would want to do: get back to their native country. The character of Schlueter, however, is more controversial because he can excuse killing his own men in order to achieve the greater goal. Connor is also a flawed officer. Within hours of arriving at his new post, he's sleeping with a female orderly. He's also bull-headed and suffers from a superiority complex that makes him adverse to taking advice from Major Perry, who he considers to be an incompetent. The performances are excellent, though this is primarily a two-man story. Keith, long one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood, gives a commanding performance. He's charming even while he's being insolent and his thick Irish brogue adds a feisty element to his character. Similarly, Schlueter is extremely well played by Helmut Griem, a fine actor with considerable screen presence. It takes a good deal of skill for a young actor not to be overpowered by Keith's sizable persona and Griem pulls off the feat admirably. The film builds in excitement as the escape plan goes into action, although not without some tragic and unforeseen consequences for the Germans. The final sequence is a race to nab the escapees by an increasingly desperate Connor, who now fears they will indeed get away on the U-boat. The final scenes are packed with suspense and extremely well-staged, as is the film's ironic conclusion. Highly recommended.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber does not include any extras except for the original trailer.
Ridin' High: Eastwood shared the cover of Time magazine in 1978 with his friend and fellow superstar Burt Reynolds, who were acclaimed as the two biggest boxoffice stars in the world.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Clint Eastwood is now an icon of international cinema but back in the late 1970s he was "merely" a superstar, devoid of the kind of critical praise that he now routinely enjoys. It was in 1979 that my co-author Boris Zmijeswky and I approached a publisher with a book titled "The Films of Clint Eastwood", the first attempt to analyze his films on a one-by-one basis. (If I ever looked through it today, it would probably strike me as awful, but, hey, we all had to start somewhere, I was just out of college and eager to write a book.) The publisher immediately agreed but when the transcript was handed in the editor voiced concerns to me. He said that, while everyone enjoyed Eastwood's movies, I was perhaps according him more credit than he deserved as an actor and director. When I told him that I felt Eastwood had the potential to become a world-class director, he chuckled in a patronizing sort of way. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt that there was more to the "Eastwood Mystique" than a cool, soft-spoken, hard-hitting action hero. Writer Robert Ward, who penned some masterful portrayals of iconic actors of the era through excellent interviews, also made no apologies for his admiration for Eastwood's talents. In those days there were precious few of us and Eastwood was happy to accommodate journalists who were serious about discussing his work. When Ward interviewed Eastwood in 1977 for Crawdaddy magazine, Eastwood's latest crime thriller "The Gauntlet" had just been released. Ward spent two hours interviewing Eastwood- then had to spend two more unexpectedly (for reasons you will discover when you to read the interview, now republished on the Daily Beast web site titled "When It Became Cool to Like Clint Eastwood".) What emerges is a portrait of Eastwood at a time when he was the biggest star in the world, yet still devoid of the opportunities he would get later to showcase his talents as director. Of his acting abilities, it had been said- not initially without some truth- that he attended "The Mount Rushmore Acting Academy". However, as the years passed, Eastwood- like all actors- became more competent and interesting in terms of expressing emotion on screen. Ironically, Ward interviewed Eastwood when "The Gauntlet" was under-performing in comparison to his other action flicks. No wonder- it's arguably the worst film of his career, at least in the era since he became a major star But Eastwood kept growing as a director and actor and some triumphs, small and large, loomed before him beginning in the late 1980s with "Bird". Even those of us who defended his work and looked prophetic for our early support of him could not envision the length and breadth of his career- and he's still going strong. Click here to go back and time and read Ward's excellent interview; one that has not been equaled since in terms of getting to the personal side of the man behind the myth.
men find peace and friendship as they uncover a mystery in the Yorkshire
countryside. “A Month in the Country” is one of those elegant movies about a
bygone era in post Victorian England that has become enormously popular in
movies such as those produced by Merchant-Ivory and in TV series like the recent
“Downton Abbey.” The exploration of class distinctions and gender roles has
been a staple in English drama in movies and TV for decades and the audience
appears to always be hungry for more. The likes of Austen, Bronte and Dickens
and stores of England through WWII have provided fertile ground for countless
tales that continue to fascinate and entertain.
Month in the Country” features early career performances by Colin Firth and
Kenneth Branagh. Both actors went on to enormous success and in the case of
Branagh, as a successful director, too. Firth and Branagh were born to feature
in period pieces like this and they both do an excellent job carrying the movie
with believable performances. Natasha Richardson is also on hand and gives an
equally excellent performance as the lovely vicar’s wife.
two central characters, Tom Birkin (Firth) and James Moon (Branagh) are veterans
of the latest “war to end all wars”, commonly known as WWI, and suffer from what
was then known as “shell-shock” and later “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic
stress syndrome or PTSD), an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed symptom of
continuous exposure to the extreme violence of war. Each man is in the small
town of Oxgoodby to work, but instead uncover a secret. Birkin is removing the
paint and restoring a long forgotten mural in the local church. Moon has been
hired to find the ancient grave of a local resident. The secret behind both the
painting and the grave are at the center of the story as both men come to terms
with their emotional wounds.
church mural dates to the Middle Ages and a local patron is paying the church
for the restoration. The vicar is less than enthusiastic about the scaffolding
and feels the mural will be a distraction, but grudgingly allows Birkin to
sleep in the belfry while he works on revealing the picture. Moon is more
interested in the prospect of locating buried treasures than in finding the
grave and both he and Birkin become friends. Moon has his own demons and suffers
from nightmares while sleeping in a hole he dug beneath his tent. He tells
Birkin it makes him feel safe. Birkin stutters (a precursor to Firth’s “The
King’s Speech” stutter) as a consequence of his emotional breakdown. Both men
enjoy the solitude and peace of the countryside as they uncover the layers of
paint and earth which cover their respective projects. They form a bond with
each other and the people of Oxgoodby as they uncover and expose their
plays Alice Keach, the aforementioned vicar’s wife. Young and beautiful, she
seeks out Birkin and brings him apples. Moon suggests the possibility of chemistry
between them and the way things usually work in these period stories is that a
romance develops. However, this isn’t a story about romance and love affairs.
It turns out Birkin is married and has a wife somewhere. Birkin also befriends
the local station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter, the head butler in “Downton
Abby”) and his delightful children.
emotionally scarred, Birkin is also a bit of a jerk and resents that nobody in
the town, particularly the vicar who lives in a large empty house with his
wife, has invited him for dinner or offered lodging. Just then the station
master Ellerbeck’s children, Kathy and Edgar, arrive with food and a gramophone
to entertain Birkin as he works. They also invite him for lunch, which he
is also a local lay-preacher, the fire and brimstone type, although he’s a
friendly and kindly husband, father and friend. He sends Birkin off to his
afternoon sermon and Birkin reluctantly agrees. The children accompany Birkin,
who attempts his own fire and brimstone sermon, but instead discusses his work
in the Oxgoodby church. Afterwards he has dinner with a family who lost a son
in the war and later visits a dying girl who is at peace with her illness. All this
has an effect on Birkin as he continues working on the mural. Moon discovers the
lost grave and the mystery behind the mural and the grave are revealed. As the
movie ends a letter arrives for Birkin from his wife and both men depart on new
projects, restored to a type of normalcy.
movie is filled with terrific performances, beautiful scenery, feelings of
melancholy, a longing for what could have been and the experience of a life
lived. The movie runs a leisurely 96 minutes and includes a wonderful score by
Howard Blake. Directed by Pat O’Connor and based on the novel by J.L. Carr, it was
released in 1987 and features outstanding location photography.
Blu-ray features an insightful commentary by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo
and Nick Redman who reveal the movie was lost in a sort of movie limbo and
remained unseen for decades. Kirgo and Redman are classic movie enthusiasts and
listening to them makes you feel like you are in their company. Be sure to watch
the movie a second time with the commentary. The disc also features the trailer,
isolated music & effects track and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
One of the most underrated epics of all time, the 1962 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" was reviewed largely on the basis of its troubled production history and massive budget over-runs. Star Marlon Brando took much of the blame, though he always denied that had been the cause of the financial debacle that ensued at MGM when the studio suffered massive losses after the film's release. As with another major money-loser of the era, "Cleopatra", many people dismiss this remake of the original 1935 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" as some kind of artistic debacle. In fact many retro movie buffs regard it as superior to the first version. If one can judge the film on its own merits, not its financial legacy, they will find Brando and co-star giving brilliant performances as Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh. An inspired supporting cast, stunning production values and a great musical score all contribute to making this one of the great epic films of its day. This original trailer gives you a sample. - Lee Pfeiffer
CLICK HERE TO ORDER BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FROM AMAZON THAT INCLUDES RARE PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE THAT WERE NOT INCLUDED IN THE FILM'S ORIGINAL RELEASE.
Slocombe with Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg filming "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981. (Photo: LucasFilm).
Douglas Slocombe, the acclaimed cinematographer and director of photography, has passed away at age 103. Slocombe was revered by directors over a career that extended from 1940 to 1989, when he lensed his final film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". He had also filmed the first two entries in the Indiana Jones series, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Slocombe never won an Oscar but was nominated for "Travels with My Aunt", "Julia" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He had been nominated for eleven BAFTA awards, winning three times. Slocombe's other major films include the Ealing Studios British comedy classics starring Alec Guinness, the classic chiller "Dead of Night", "The Blue Max", "The Lion in Winter", the original version of "The Italian Job", "The Fearless Vampire Killers", "The Great Gatsby", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Rollerball", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the renegade James Bond production "Never Say Never Again". For more about his life and career click here.
What do you do when you despise the person most likely to bring your goals to fruition? We're not talking about the Republican establishment's dilemma with Donald Trump but, rather, the central plot premise faced by the U.S. Olympic ski team coach (portrayed by Gene Hackman) in director Michael Ritchie's acclaimed 1969 film "Downhill Racer". The protagonist of the movie is one Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford), an almost impossibly handsome young man from the rural town of Idaho Springs, Colorado, who has a single-minded obsession of being America's first gold medal winner for downhill skiing in an era when the sport was dominated by Europeans. With his good looks and superficial charm, Chappellet is used to being a big fish in a small pond. He is virtually penniless and, when not practicing on the slopes of European mountains, is forced to eek out an existence by living with his cold, unemotional father (non-professional actor Walter Stroud in a striking performance.) He has no career plans beyond his single-minded obsession with getting on the Olympic team. His lack of intellectual curiosity or abilities to socialize with others don't seem to phase him. Like any narcissist he savors any small victory as a sign of his superiority over the peasants he must occasionally interact with.Chappellet lacks any self-awareness or introspection. He takes a cocky delight in being able to drive down the main street of his one-horse town, pick up a local old flame and get her to have sex in the back seat of a car. He seems oblivious to the fact that the battered vehicle belongs to his father and that he doesn't even have a place of his own to carry out his carnal activities. Chappellet gets the big break he is looking for when a top skier on the Olympic team suffers a grievous injury. The team coach, Claire, calls in Chappellet to replace him. From the start, their relationship is a rocky one. It becomes clear that Chappellet is not a team player. He skis superbly and Claire recognizes him as the team's potential best hope for victory. However, he is also alarmed by his independent streak and his inability to follow protocols. Chappellet is in this for personal glory and his teammates are viewed as unnecessary distractions. True, he can go through the rituals of socializing. He's polite to his roommate and occasionally joins the other guys for beers, butChappellet is clearly a vacuous, self-absorbed figure. The film traces his achievements on the slope and Claire's unsuccessful attempts to turn him into a team player. Chaplette also meets a vivacious business woman in the sports industry, Carole (Camilla Sparv). He's instantly smitten by her exotic good looks and libertarian outlook toward sex. The two begin an affair but it turns sour when Chaplette can't accept the fact that Carole is an emancipated young woman who marches to her own beat. Her unwillingness to dote over him or to treat their relationship as anything but superficial bruises his ego. In Chaplette's world, it is he who treats sex partners like disposable objects, not the other way around. The film concludes with Chaplette and his teammates engaging in the make-or-break competition against top-line European skiers to see who can bring home the gold.
The Best of Frenemies: Redford and Hackman
"Downhill Racer" was a dream project of Robert Redford, who had championed the film, which is based on a screenplay by James Salter. Redford's star had risen appreciably with Paramount following the success of "Barefoot in the Park". The studio wanted to do another film with him and suggested that he play the male lead in the forthcoming screen adaption of "Rosemary's Baby". Redford pushed for "Downhill Racer", a film that the Paramount brass had dismissed as being too non-commercial. (This was before Redford would reach super stardom with the release of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".) Thus began a game of brinksmanship between Redford and the studio. He managed to get Paramount to supply a small budget ($2 million) and creative control over the project to him and Roman Polanski, who was enthused about directing the film. However, the studio made a counter-move and lured Polanski to direct "Rosemary's Baby". Annoyed, Redford had to find a new director and settled on Michael Ritchie, and up-and-coming talent who was eager to make the transition from television into feature films. He and Redford, along with their tiny crew, used their limited budget to travel to international ski competitions in order to film real life action on the slopes that could later be combined into the final cut of their movie. For all their efforts, "Downhill Racer" was a boxoffice disappointment and would be overshadowed by the release of "Butch Cassidy" later in 1969. Yet its a film that Redford is justifiably proud of. There are many admirable aspects of the production, not the least of which is Redford's compelling performance as a protagonist who is not very likable or sympathetic. He's also not very intelligent, either, a character flaw that doesn't seem to bother him much, as he feels he can get by on his looks. The down side of "Downhill Racer" is that when the central character is a total cad the viewer finds it hard to be concerned with his fate, unless there is a major dramatic payoff as in the case of Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd" or Paul Newman in "Hud", two of the most notorious characters in screen history. Where "Downhill Racer" blows it is in the final sequence during the championship ski run. There was an excellent opportunity to end the movie on a poignant note but the movie punts and leads to an emotionally unsatisfying ending. Nevertheless the exotic scenery and fine performances (especially by Hackman, who is under-seen and under-used) compensate for a story that is as chilling as the locations in which it was filmed.
Criterion has upgraded their previously released DVD special edition to Blu-ray and it looks spectacular. There is a wealth of interesting extras, all ported over from the previous release. These include separate interviews conducted in 2009 with Robert Redford and James Salter. I found them to be most enlightening because I was blaming Salter, as the screenwriter, for being responsible for the film's unsatisfying ending. Lo and behold, Salter expresses the same exasperation. Apparently his original script called for the more dramatic finale that I was envisioning. However, he says that Redford made the change without his permission. It's still apparently a sore spot with him. For his part, Redford is defensive about the decision, saying that he felt the the ending he insisted upon was the correct choice (Note: it wasn't.) It would be interesting to see Redford and Salter lock horns over this in the same interview at some point. In any event, Redford's enthusiasm for the film is evident even if it seems to exceed that of audiences. To reiterate, it's a fine movie with many qualities but Redford has had superior, under-appreciated gems in his career. Other bonus extras on the Blu-ray include interviews with editor Richard Harris (whose work on the film is most impressive), production executive Walter Coblenz and champion skier Joe Jay Jalbert who was hired as a technical consultant and became indispensable on the production, serving as double and cameraman. The footage he captured skiing at high speed with a hand-held camera is all the more amazing because he was a novice at shooting film. There is also a vintage production featurette from 1969 and a very interesting one-hour audio interview of director Michael Ritchie at an American Film Institute Q&A session in 1977. The affable Ritchie was there to promote his latest film "Semi-Tough" but goes into great detail about how he became disillusioned with the constraints of working in the television industry where directors at that time were just hired guns whose creative ideas and instincts were constantly being suppressed. Ritchie tells an extended anecdote about shooting an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." during which he came up with a suggestion to improve a key scene in the script. He was told to mind his own business by the producer (who he doesn't name). When series' star Robert Vaughn agreed with him, Ritchie shot an alternate version of the scene that was met with enthusiasm by the network. Instead of being congratulated, he was blackballed from the series henceforth. Ritchie would go on to make some very fine films including "The Candidate" (again with Redford), the wacko-but-mesmerizing crime thriller "Prime Cut", "The Bad News Bears" and others. However he never lived up to his full potential and ended up directing many middling films before his untimely death at age 63 in 2001. The AFI audio included here is a rare opportunity to listen to his views on filmmaking while he was at the height of his career. The Blu-ray set also contains the original trailer and a collectible booklet with essay by Todd McCarthy.
A new stage adaptation of Harper Lee's literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be brought to Broadway by producer Scott Rudin. He has hired veteran writer Aaron Sorkin to write the script, which we are told will deviate from the previous, unrelated stage version that adhered closely to the original story and text. Rudin says that the original concept can't be kept in "the original Bubble Wrap" and plans to add scenes that are only alluded to in the film. His instincts better be right because generations of readers have a passionate love for the novel and the 1962 screen version that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck. Readers reacted in shock when the beloved Lee's unpublished novel "Go Set a Watchman" was published last year. The manuscript, which was written before "Mockingbird", presents the character of Atticus Finch (played by Peck in the film as a stalwart and courageous fighter for racial equality) as a blatant racist. Lee passed away last week after suffering declining health for years. There has been speculation that she never intended to have "Watchman" published but those who looked after her affairs said she was mentally competent and wanted the book to come out. The same controversy is likely to occur with the new stage production of "Mockingbird" with skeptics sure to raise questions regarding just how involved she was in granting rights for the show. Lee lived a low-profile life style since the 1950s when "Mockingbird" was published. She rarely granted interviews and expressed a disdain for publicity. Some of those who befriended her wonder if she was mentally or physically competent enough to make such decisions and note that the highly lucrative publishing of "Watchman" seemed at odds with her decision to keep it unpublished for over a half-century. (Click here for more on the debate about her mental health.) Nevertheless, a new "Mockingbird" will grace Broadway. The curiosity factor alone seems to ensure some big ticket sales, but whether any resulting backlash will damage the production remains to be seen. For more click here.
The good folks at Synapse Films are primarily known for releasing high-end editions of retro porn flicks and cult sci-fi/ horror titles. All of their releases are impressive, if not in terms of content, then certainly in terms of quality and the imaginative bonus extras. The label often gives the deluxe treatment generally reserved for David Lean films to low-rung, long-forgotten titles. Often, even if the film is of questionable merits, the perspectives offered by the extras make the viewing experience highly enjoyable. Synapse sometimes strays from their own formula by releasing mainstream films. Case in point: "Stalingrad", an acclaimed three episode documentary that was broadcast to great acclaim in 2003 in Germany and Russia. The new Synapse Blu-ray release is an extended cut featuring previously unseen footage. The film is presented in three separate stand-alone episodes, each running 55 minutes, that follow the progression of the battle in sequential order. As a viewing experience, "Stalingrad" is utterly mesmerizing. It's a sobering reflection on what was deemed the bloodiest battle of WWII. Directors Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorge Mullner present heart-wrenching interviews with both German and Russian veterans of the battle. The horrors they recount are backed up by some of most dramatic newsreel footage I've ever seen. The battle of Stalingrad has been documented many times before- and very effectively. However this documentary has the advantage of an extensive running time that allows some of the more personal nuances to be recounted in ways that previous documentaries were not able to do. The film is fairly well balanced between the Russian and German perspectives and the stories told from both sides are uniformly moving.
If there is a weakness in the production its in the fact that it lacks an introduction that gives the overall background on how the battle came to be. Clues to its origins are strewn throughout the episodes but for the benefit of those who are not WWII historians, a brief overview of the conflict would have been useful. For the record, in 1939 Nazi Germany shocked the world by signing an alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. The move was a surprise because from a political standpoint, National Socialism was vehemently against Communism. But Adolf Hitler was shrewd in his political dealings. He conned Britain and France into ceding Czechoslovakia to him on the basis of a promise that it would satiate his territorial demands. By the time they realized they had been snookered, Hitler had moved against Poland, thus initiating the outbreak of WWII. Hitler was already in alliance with imperial Japan and Italy. Indeed the Axis powers seemed destined to rule much of the world. Josef Stalin was more than happy to sign up and share the spoils of war. He assisted in invading Poland and Finland but behind the scenes Hitler regarded him as a hapless stooge and the Russian people are genetically inferior to the Aryan race. By forming an alliance with Stalin, Hitler ensured that he wouldn't have to fight the Soviet army until a time of his choosing. That time came in June 1941 when Hitler launched a major invasion of the Soviet Union. By that point he was comfortably in control of most of continental Europe and he felt he could deal Stalin a quick death blow. His generals warned him otherwise, but Hitler had assumed total command of German military strategy. At first his instincts seemed to be right. German columns made quick progress through the Soviet territory, decimating the ill-prepared enemy forces they encountered. Thousands of miles of land was seized and the peasant populations subject to cruel tortures and genocide. Hitler's unwillingness to take advice from his generals backfired when he split his forces in 1942 to launch simultaneous attacks on two different regions, sending half in a quixotic mission to seize the oil fields in the Caucuses and the other half to take Stalingrad. It was the military equivalent of hubris. He was most obsessed with taking Stalingrad not because of any relevant military importance but simply to deal Stalin a personal blow by occupying the city that bore his name. The Germans met far greater resistance than they had anticipated. The civilian population joined the fight and proved a formidable force, building barricades and tank traps while the regular army fought the Germans fiercely. Germans did inch forward and at various points occupied large sections of the city. However, Staliln's mastermind general Zhukov had kept an enormous army secretly in reserve. As winter bore on, the Germans were not equipped to deal with the harsh Russian weather. Food and fuel supplies dwindled, morale sank among the huge German Sixth Army and their advance came to a stalemate. Zhukov waited until his prey was weak and disheartened, then launched a one million man surprise counterattack that resulted in hundreds of thousands of German troops being encircled, starved and relentlessly bombarded even as temperatures reached 60 below zero. The toll was horrendous on German troops, many of whom died from starvation and some from suicide. Toward the end, the starving soldiers sometimes resorted to cannibalism to survive. Hitler demanded that the troops fight to the last man, but Field Marshal Paulus ultimately relented and surrendered, making him the first German Field Marshal in history to do so. Ultimately it would take years before a political agreement would see the surviving POWs allowed to return to Germany. Only 6,000 of the 100,000 prinsonersremained alive at that time.
"Stalingrad" cuts presentation of the causes and background of all of the above to the bare minimum, instead concentrating on first-hand accounts of the battle. Survivors include both Russian civilians and German and Soviet war veterans. All of their stories are compelling and some might move you to tears. Among the tales of mutual cruelty, however, are some stories of unexpected compassion. The German POWs expected to be executed immediately but were impressed by the fact that their captors, themselves drastically short of food, split their bread ration with the prisoners. Soviet doctors also worked diligently to save the lives of wounded Germans. For the German troops, most had turned against Hitler when it became clear that he intended to all but abandon the Sixth Army to their fate, save for a relative small number of wounded men who were able to be airlifted out. One patient recalls that all wounded men were placed in occupied Poland until they recovered because Hitler didn't want the stigma of so many injured soldiers to bring down the morale of the German people who, by that time, were suffering terribly. The Blu-ray includes a wealth of incredible battle footage from both sides that will make you appreciate the bravery of war time photographers and filmmakers. Bonus features include interview segments that were deleted from the original cut of the film, an interview with historian Dr. Guido Knopp that adds interesting perspectives to the events, and "Stalingrad Today", a video tour of the impressive city that has since been rebuilt and renamed Volgograd but which still bares the scars of the infamous battle. What is left as an overriding impression is that over 500,000 died unnecessarily in order to satiate the whims of a madman.
"Stalingrad" is a major historical record that should be seen by everyone.
The German video label Explosive Media has another impressive release with the largely unheralded 1969 Western "Land Raiders", which the company has released on Blu-ray. The film was largely dumped on secondary markets for drive-in audiences and rural theaters in a year that saw such high profile Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch". Small wonder it didn't receive much attention. Not helping matters was its rather lame title which doesn't even represent the main focus of the story. The movie was yet another in the seemingly endless line of European Westerns that went into high gear a few years earlier with the success of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy. "Land Raiders" rises to the top echelon of those homages (rip-offs?) thanks in large part to the presence of some seasoned Hollywood veterans. The movie was produced by Charles H. Schneer, a frequent collaborator of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The direction is by Nathan Juran, who was on Oscar-winning art director who turned to directing many of the Schneer/Harryhausen films. This project represented a rather odd subject matter for Schneer and Juran, as they generally stayed within the realm of science fiction and fantasy. (Juran had directed many episodes of Irwin Allen TV shows in the 1960s including "Lost in Space" and "The Time Tunnel".) What possessed them to tag onto the fading genre of spaghetti westerns is open to speculation but it must be said that they delivered a surprisingly intelligent, well-acted movie that overcomes some of its production shortcomings.
Telly Savalas plays Vicente Cardenas, an evil land baron (are there any other kind?) who is attempting to forsake his Mexican heritage in order to build a successful empire in the American West. He controls the local government in a small but booming town and even has the sheriff, John Mayfield (Phil Brown), under his thumb because he has been financing the education of Mayfield's teenage daughter Kate (Janet Landgard), who is unaware of the deal with the devil he has made with Vicente. Vicente has an insatiable desire to keep expanding the territory under his control and is willing to use ruthless methods in order to achieve his goal. If he can't buy someone's loyalty he will use sheer brutality to intimidate them. Vicente also has a macabre bounty that is drawing miscreants to the territory: he is offering a cash reward for every Apache scalp delivered to him. On the surface he pretends to be a man of the people. He even has a glamorous American wife, Martha (Arlene Dahl), who continues to be willfully blind to her husband's brutality, as it affords her a luxurious lifestyle. But Vicente has mastered the art of instilling fear into the hearts of the local population and convincing them that he represents the the strong man who can keep them safe. (He should have run for U.S. president...) Into the mix rides Vicente's estranged brother Pablo (George Maharis). He's a depressed, motiveless drifter who is still nursing a broken heart over the death of his fiancee a couple of years earlier. When he learned she was carrying another man's baby, the couple got into a very public row. Soon after she was found dead, presumably as the victim of an accident. However, the local population became convinced that Pablo murdered her. He has stayed away for quite some time but is forced to enter town again when he saves Kate Mayfield from an attack by Apaches. His presence in the town sets off predictable tensions with Vicente, who attempts to patch up differences but finds that Pablo will have none of it. He's well aware of his brother's duplicity. Meanwhile Vicente gets some disturbing news from U.S. Army Major Tanner (Guy Rolfe): the government is attempting to broker a peace treaty with the Apaches and is sending a representative to meet with them. The government intends to cede to the Apaches a wide swath of land that Vicente depends upon to use as open range for his cattle. In short order he convinces Major Tanner to become an ally to help him thwart the deal. What Tanner doesn't know is that Vicente has his thugs murdered the government agent and framed the Apaches for the deed. Vicente then rallies the locals to make a raid on the Apache camp. Pablo tries to convince the citizens that Vicente was behind the murder, but no one believes him. What follows is a horrendous massacre of innocent Apache women and children. The Apache braves understandably want revenge and launch their own raid on the town. In the midst of all this Pablo learns some vital information regarding the death of his beloved fiancee that leads him to settle the score with Vicente even as the Apache attack begins.
The most surprising aspect of "Land Raiders" is how effectively it had been cast. Nearly all the roles are convincingly played, with Savalas in full bad guy mode, chewing up a lot of scenery and dominating every frame he is in. However, Maharis, never the most dynamic of leading men, holds his own against him and even manages to be convincing as a Mexican. The story has some implications that go beyond standard horse opera fodder. The movie was released the same year as "Soldier Blue" and both films bucked the trend by painting Native Americans as victims of genocide. If the massacre sequence in "Land Raiders" isn't as stomach-turning as that in "Soldier Blue", it's still somewhat shocking in its depiction of the brutal killings. The script also delves into the philosophical differences between Vicente and Pablo over retaining their ties to their Mexican heritage. So "Land Raiders" is a notch above most of the simplistic shoot-'em-up plots that defined the majority of European Westerns during this period. The movie is compromised by the use of some obvious stock footage in scenes of stampedes and cattle drives (the film stock doesn't come close to matching), but it does have several impressively-staged action sequences including the large scale attack on the town by Apaches. It's all competently directed by Nathan Juran and set to the requisite Ennio Morricone-cloned score by Bruno Nicolai that at times could pass as the work of "The Master". "Land Raiders" is by no means a classic but it has stood the test of time as an impressive entry in the Euro Western genre.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray has a wonderful transfer, the original trailer, a highly enjoyable still photo gallery and variations of the opening credits. The Blu-ray is primarily available from Amazon Germany under it's German title "Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo" ("Go to Hell, Gringo") but you can sometimes find imports on your local Amazon or eBay.
interview was set for 10:30 AM. Usually
they run a few minutes late as the celebrity works his way through a call list.
When the moment arrives an assistant handles the intros. Not this time. At precisely 10:30:00, the phone rang and
iconic Indie filmmaker John Sayles introduced himself. And why not? A no-nonsense, get- it -done type of auteur, Sayles handles his own
publicity calls and was keen to discuss his remarkable and varied career in
advance of a weekend retrospective at LA’s Cinefamily February 18 - 20.
broke into the business, like so many before him, by working with genre legend
Roger Corman who figuratively and literally wrote the book on low budget
filmmaking. “I got very lucky, didn’t
realize it at the time, “Sayles recalls. “I wrote three screenplays (Piranha, The Lady in Red and Alligator) and had them all made into
movies within the year.” The experience
helped shape him as a filmmaker. “A lot of it was learning what you had to have
money for and what was just labor intensive. What can you do with just good ideas and hard work?”
immediately put his guerilla filmmaking chops to good use. “My first movie
(1979’s Return of the Secaucus Seven)
cost under $100,000 and was shot in five weeks, my last movie (2013’s Go For Sisters) was under $1 million and
was shot in four weeks.”
facility for the unique language of screenplays served him well over the
years. His ”For Hire” literary work on
features like The Howling (1981), The Challenge
(1982) and The Clan of the Cave Bear
(1986) provided much-needed capital so he could make his movies like Baby, It’s You (1983), Matewan (1987), Lonestar (1996) and others. He also wrote an early draft of a Spielberg
sci-fi concept called Night Skies
that later became the worldwide phenomenon known as E.T. (Presumably that helped finance many a can of raw stock!) Through all of his projects Sayles keeps an
eye on the bottom line, asking himself, “How am I going to tell this story with
the means I have… and pay people decently and have it be a livable experience?”
John Sayles on set of AMIGO. Photo credit Mary Cybulski
at every level of the film industry will tell you that “the business” has
changed. Sayles has directed 18 films in
a thirty year career and has his own take on how today’s new technology has impacted
the new indie voices trying to get heard… “Technology has made filmmaking
so much more democratic. We were just at Sundance and they get 2000-3000
feature films submitted every year. When
we started out, that would’ve been a dozen. It’s much easier to make a movie, but there’s a bottleneck in
has made his name by telling highly personal stories that get his attention. “Generally it’s something that I know enough
about to be interested in, but not so much about that there’s no investigation
left.” Then he asks himself two
important questions – “What do I really think about this?” and “What really did
go on here?” Sayles is drawn to characters
who feel, “Oh my God, if I turn left it’s not very good and if I turn right
it’s not very good.” He cites his 2010
film Amigo, set in the 1900 Filipino-American
war. His main character is a small town
mayor who finds himself walking a razor’s edge when American troops take over
his town. “How much can I cooperate
without collaborating… that’s not a tenable position,” is how Sayles describes the
situation. “That’s a real moral dilemma!” he adds.
hunting for material, Sayles frequently turns to history. “History is full of
great stories and you don’t have to make much stuff up,” the auteur explains. He dipped back into history for his current
project titled To Save The Man. It is set at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
in 1890 where young Native Americans from various tribes were sent to suppress
their unique culture and become, essentially, “white”. According to Sayles, it’s “…political as well
as being a high school story and it’s set in the year of Wounded Knee.” Sayles is now engaged in the arduous task of raising
money to make their summer start date. But even with all the hardships of
modern indie filmmaking, Sayles is grateful for every chance to get behind a
camera. “If you get to make a movie, that’s a great thing.” And John Sayles has made some great movies.
Weekend with John Saylesruns February 18-20 and features the writer/director
introducing six of his groundbreaking films including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Baby, It’s You and The Brother From Another Planet.
(Thanks to Matt Johnstone for his help in arranging this interview.)