Brutalization is just the latest example of a film being re-titled and packaged for DVD in order to disingenuously imply that it is a sexploitation title. In fact, the original title of the movie is Because of the Cats, an admittedly esoteric creation that may bare relevance to the plot but undoubtedly didn't have movie fans lining up at boxoffices around the world. The 1973 Dutch crime thriller has been released on DVD by the niche market company One7Movies. The film does indeed begin with a shocking sequence of sexual abuse as a middle-aged couple return to their Amsterdam apartment only to find it is being robbed by a gang of young men in stocking masks. They humiliate the couple by stripping and gang raping the woman while making her helpless husband observe the degrading act. Police Inspector van der Valk (British actor Bryan Marshall) is assigned to the case and sent to the affluent town of Bloemendaal where clues indicate the young men reside. It turns out the gang is also behind a series of local robberies in which homes are routinely trashed and family heirlooms maliciously destroyed. In keeping with the era, van der Valk is no ordinary cop: he's a maverick. Upon arriving in town, he seduces Feodora (gorgeous Alexandra Stewart), a local prostitute. He's rather obnoxious with local police colleagues and doesn't think twice about joining "persons of interest" in a few drinks while he interviews them about the case. The clues lead to a group of well-heeled young men in their late teens and early twenties who call themselves The Ravens. This is no street gang, however, but rather a cult-like organization that prides itself on a code of secrecy and military-like discipline. van der Valk observes that virtually all of the suspects have several things in common: they are from affluent families and have been spoiled throughout their lives by indulgent parents who never spent any "quality time" with them. Cracking the gang becomes even more important when one of their members turns up dead in what appears to be a scuba diving accident. van der Valk suspects murder by other gang members who may have believed the young man was about to talk to authorities. The detective also investigates a similar cult of young women known as The Cats who interact with The Ravens and occasionally engage in sex orgies with their members.
The film, which is largely unknown in the United States, was originally rated X but was cut to adhere to an R rating. Few people ever heard of it, let alone saw it. Presumably the DVD release is the unrated European cut. The rape scene is certainly shocking with frontal nudity but it's not as overtly brutal as it might have been. There are other instances of full nudity peppered throughout the film but most of the other sequences are presented somewhat tastefully. As a mystery, the film is surprisingly effective. Director Fons Rademakers has a crude but compelling way of presenting the story in an engrossing way, even if some of the plot devices and characters become occasionally confusing. He also makes good use of the Dutch locations and although the film features shocking acts of violence, they are never overly-exploited. As a leading man Bryan Marshall gives a strong performance. He's hip, hunky and charismatic...and one wonders why he never progressed beyond the supporting actor stage. (James Bond fans will recognize him as one of the British submarine commanders from The Spy Who Loved Me.) Alexandra Stewart adds the requisite sex appeal and there are some other familiar faces to be found including another Bond movie veteran, George Baker (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and future Emmanuelle sex siren Sylvia Kristel as a teenage girl gang member. The performances by all of the supporting players are extremely good. The film moves to a satisfying conclusion as the mystery to the young man's death is tied to an unexpected and rather exotic cause.
The DVD presentation is good, considering source material for a film such as this can be a "take what you can get" scenario. The DVD also includes an original British trailer with crudely inserted English language titles. In all, an impressive and interesting film. Recommended.
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde had all the makings of
a substantial hit when it opened in August 1967, its take increasing every week
for four weeks at the Forum and Murray Hill cinemas in New York. The violence,
the fashion, the birth of a new star (Faye Dunaway) and the rebirth of an old
one (Warren Beatty) attracted acres of publicity. But somewhere along the way,
the movie lost momentum, ending the year at a lowly 37th on the
annual box office chart. But in December, Joseph Morgenstern of Newsweek revised his previous negative
review and a week later Time magazine
devoted six pages to ‘the movie of the year’. Although Beatty, also the producer, agitated
for a reissue, Warner Brothers hardly went hell-for-leather. It reopened at the
394-seat New View in Los Angeles and the even smaller 160-seat Janus Two in
Washington. The week before in LA at the 810-seater Vogue Bonnie and Clyde grossed $16,000 but, backed by a new campaign, the
much smaller New View generated $22,000, with queues, not surprisingly, around
the block. Elsewhere, the movie was booked into small cinemas where the
prospect of a holdover was high. The publicity machine kicked into top gear as the
Oscars approached (it was nominated for ten). When re-launched in over 300
cinemas, it spread like wildfire. A second stab in St Louis broke the house
record. Compared to original release,
takings in most cinemas doubled. In Los Angeles it broke the record for a ‘multiple
run’ (wide release) and challenged Mary Poppins’ record for most chart
appearances by a non-roadshow in Variety’s
weekly box office Top Ten. The reissue supplemented the original $5m gross
by another $33m.
From The Reissue Bible by Brian Hannan to be published later this year.
(Click here for review of Bonnie and Clyde DVD special edition)
have to admit I was not familiar with Lust in the Dust, but as soon as I
saw the names Paul Bartel and Divine on the box, I knew I was in safe hands.
film begins with Rosie Velez (Divine) struggling through the desert on the
world's smallest donkey. About to die from thirst and exhaustion, she is saved
by the timely appearance of a waterhole. The audience is then treated to a
glimpse of his/ her naked behind whilst she bathes, which appears to have a
very unusual birthmark. Also taking in this unsavoury view is Tab Hunter as
Abel Wood, a cowboy of very few words. He is headed for Chili Verde and
reluctantly agrees for Rosie to tag along. When he arrives at this tiny, clichéd
western town he discovers that they don't take too kindly to strangers. Rosie
gets manages to get a job in the bar, which is also a brothel, and Abel learns
that there is a legend regarding hidden gold somewhere in the town. Being the
strong silent type he soon attracts the affections of Marguerita (Lainie
Kazan), bar owner and chief whore, and soon a jealous rivalry erupts between
her and Rosie. Throw into the mix Cesar Romero as the local priest and Geoffrey
Lewis and Henry Silva as bad guys and you have all the makings of a fast-paced,
mischievous comedy western. The plot is nothing new, but it is the
juxtaposition of Divine's constant chatter against Hunter's quiet, thoughtful
delivery that makes this so enjoyable. This is not the first film to use the
"secret clues tattooed on women's behinds" gag, but who cares when it
is this funny? Many of the jokes are borderline offensive, and certainly
tasteless. One would expect nothing less from the director of Eating Raoul
(1982), a dark comedy about cannibalism, and let's not forget that in Pink
Flamingoes (1972), Divine eats real dog faeces on camera.
Hunter had plenty of previous experience in westerns, and had also starred with
Divine before in Polyester (1981) and was able to use his influence in
Hollywood to get Lust in the Dust made, acting as one of the film's
producers. His character is part Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and part
Franco Nero's Django and as such he has terrific screen presence. All of the
cast are excellent and Paul Bartel manages to hold together what could have
been a mess in the wrong hands.
new DVD release is on Arrow's Arrowdrome label, which presents cult film titles
at low prices but with a minimum of extras. It does feature the original
trailer, a reversible DVD sleeve and a booklet with more information on the
film. Lust in the Dust is hugely entertaining and deserves to become a
new favourite film for anyone who likes their entertainment a little
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Waterhole #3, a 1967 Western comedy that presents James Coburn in top form as a charismatic drifter, gambler and con-man who is goaded into a gunfight with a local crook. Coburn shoots the man dead by using an underhanded tactic then robs him, only to discover a tantalizing map that shows where a trove of stolen U.S. military gold had been secreted by the man and his partners. Coburn immediately begins to follow the map on an arduous trek across the desert. He is pursued by a local sheriff (Carroll O'Connor) who is trying to arrest him for the murder of the man victimized in the duel. When the two men meet up, it becomes a cat and mouse game with each alternately getting the drop on the other. They discover the hidden gold together and thereby initiate various plots to steal it for themselves. The film, directed by William Graham, is rather amusing throughout most of its running time thanks to the inspired performances of Coburn, O'Connor and some good supporting actors such as Bruce Dern, Claude Akins, Timothy Carey, Joan Blondell and James Whitmore. Margaret Blye makes a good impression as O'Connor's love-starved teen-aged daughter who is smitten by Coburn even though he literally rapes her. The film runs out of steam in the latter part of the story when the dead crook's partners and the U.S. cavalry all converge on Coburn and O'Connor in an attempt to retrieve the stolen gold. Suddenly the film disintegrates into a pioneer version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with everyone running amok in an attempt to get the treasure.The only thing missing is a "Big W". Folk singer Roger Miller provides a running narrative in the form of a ballad but the gimmick wears thin pretty quickly, largely because the same few notes are sung repeatedly. Nevertheless, the movie is a pleasant enough time-killer thanks largely to Coburn's super-cool persona. There are no bonus extras.
On the Bowery is a 2012 release from Milestone that is remarkable on a number of levels. I will confess that I was unfamiliar with this landmark 1956 film that was shot as a quasi-documentary exploring the deplorable living conditions of down-and-out men on New York's Bowery. This section of Manhattan today is replete with boutique shops and cafes but for decades it was infamous for being a place where transients and hobos (to use a quaint phrase) would gather to commiserate with each other about the bad breaks they had suffered in life. Seedy bars dotted the streets and if you grew up in New York during this era, you knew that a walk through the Bowery section would be tantamount to tempting fate when it came to your personal safety. Filmmaker Lionel Rogosin was a liberal, socially conscious man who devoted himself to documenting societal problems. On The Bowery is said to be his most accomplished project, shedding light on the trials and tribulations of an entire subculture of downtrodden people who existed only blocks from where New York's most elite residents lived. The film utilized actual Bowery inhabitants, which explains the authenticity of the performances. Rogosin had initially tried to film the project as a traditional documentary but decided it needed a story line to keep viewers engaged. A loose plot was constructed about one desperate man in search of work who is deceived by one of his best friends. Much of the dialogue was improvised but the bare-bones plot was adhered to. The result was an astonishingly moving film that caused quite a sensation in art house circles when it was released. Sadly, it would take decades for the Bowery to be reborn, which didn't do much for the wretched souls who had to fight for daily existence there during the period in which this movie was made. The Blu-ray release from Milestone is packed with bonus extras including another Rogosin feature film, Good Times, Wonderful Times. Once again, this was a scripted movie shot in the style of a documentary. Filmed in 1964, the project is Rogosin's statement against war. It combines real footage of WWII atrocities with scenes from a London cocktail party attended by elitist snobs. Unfortunately, the film plays as pretentiously as the people it criticizes. The set also includes the 1957 documentary Out, made by Rogosin for the United Nations. It effectively chronicles the immigration of immigrants from Hungary to Austria in the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. There is an impressive wealth of bonus extras on the 2 disc set which include a walking tour of the present day Bowery by Rogosin's son Michael, who also presents his own documentary about the making of On the Bowery. There is an introduction by Martin Scorsese, who is a great admirer of the film, and some vintage documentaries about life on Bowery. In all, a highly impressive release of passion-driven films by a true master of independent movie making.
Vic is an extraordinary short film that runs 30 minutes but packs an emotional wallop. The movie is steeped in tragedy, from its subject matter to the story behind its production. The movie stars veteran character actor Clu Gulager in a career-topping performance as a once-popular leading man who has now been relegated to eeking out an existence in his modest L.A. home. Living alone and largely forgotten by his peers and friends, Vic tries to cheerfully get through each day, bolstered by the companionship of his loyal dog. His home is a modest shrine to his former achievements. The walls boast faded newspaper articles about him from bygone eras and there are tattered 8x10 stills of hit movies from happier times. Vic is feeling the pain of his twilight years. He still cuts a handsome figure and can joke and flirt with the ladies but he is relegated to having to use rolls of pennies to pay for necessities in local stores. In one poignant scene, he flirts with a charismatic cashier who is his own age (played in by Gulager's real-life wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery). When he returns to the store the following day to ask her on a date, he is told she was fired because she couldn't keep up with the work load. Vic's world is on the verge of total collapse when potential salvation arrives in the form of a phone call from out of the blue. An influential young director is interested in hiring him for a key supporting role in a major dramatic film. The news sends Vic into elation, then panic when he learns he has to do a reading for the part. This will require him to sit in front of the director and other key crew members and convince them that he is the man for the job. Nevertheless, Vic studies the script diligently, determined to knock 'em dead and revive his dormant career. Then he learns that his beloved dog has been stolen by a local miscreant who he refused to give money to. With his appointment for the reading looming, Vic becomes completely distraught as he searches frantically for his dog. He then makes a frantic drive to the production office to see if he can salvage this one last chance to restore his dignity. The highlight of the movie is Vic's reading of the script for the director and producers. He has dyed his hair jet black, but its a botched job and makes him look foolish. Nevertheless, he is treated reverently by those present and, in an inside joke, he is complimented on his performance in McQ, the John Wayne detective flick in which Gulager co-starred in real life. The film offers some tantalizing, brief appearances by such fine veteran actors as John Phillip Law, Carol Lynley, Richard Herd, Gregory Sierra, Robert Lyons and Peter Mark Richman. You fervently wish the movie was longer in order to capitalize on this extraordinary gathering of talented people. When it's time for Vic to do his reading, director Stallone has ratcheted up the suspense to an almost unbearable level and Gulager pulls out all the stops in a performance that becomes increasingly brilliant.
Vic is based on a story by Sage Stallone, the son of Sylvester Stallone, who won an award as Best New Filmmaker at the Boston Film Festival. Tragically, he died in 2012 of heart problems at age 36. The movie was a family affair for Clu Gulager, with his son John serving as cinematographer and editor (along with Bob Murawski, who would go on to win an Oscar for his editing of The Hurt Locker). Another son, Tom Gulager, gives a fine performance as the young director who holds the key to the old actor's career resurrection. The movie also gave Gulager the opportunity to play a scene with his wife Miriam, who would pass away shortly thereafter. Knowing this adds even more poignancy to the sequence. Stallone shows that he had great potential as a filmmaker but perhaps his greatest legacy is the fact that he co-founded Grindhouse Releasing with Bob Murawski, a company that built a loyal following by restoring and releasing niche market gems. Appropriately, Vic has been released on DVD as a special edition by Grindhouse. The DVD includes a remarkably intimate and revealing interview with Clu Gulager, whose modesty is refreshing and admirable. He says he never became a major star but "was not irrelevant". Indeed, Gulager made one of the most indelible screen villains of all time in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers, playing a psychotic hit man opposite Lee Marvin. Gulager speaks lovingly of his family and his joy at having this fine starring role this late in his career. When asked what the next stop is for him, he says bluntly "the grave". Fortunately, he looks far too fit for that to be imminent and one hopes he does get some good film roles in the future.
The commercial prospects for Vic were always limited due to the fact that it is a short film. The mind reels at the potential the story might have had if proper funding could have been found to make this into a feature length movie. Gulager, who is simply superb throughout, might well have scored an Oscar nomination.
The DVD also includes a montage of still photos from Gulager's career. It's an excellent presentation of an admirable film by a talented director who was denied his chance to fulfill his potential.
The Shadowplay DVD label has released the 1984 film Hookers on Davie Street (aka Hookers on Davie). Despite the sensational title, this is not a sexploitation film. In fact, it's a sobering look at particularly sordid area of Vancouver during a period when prostitutes trawled for customers apparently without any interference from local authorities. The documentary was directed by two female filmmakers, Janis Cole and Holly Dale and won an award at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Canadian version of the Oscar, the Genie Award, in the category of Best Documentary. The film traces the nightly ordeals of a diverse group of prostitutes that includes young women and transvestites, each of whom suffers the indignity of standing on a street corner and soliciting drivers to pay them for sex in their cars or back in a squalid motel room. The filmmakers obviously had gained the trust of their subjects and were allowed extraordinary access to these wayward souls who share their stories on camera. Virtually all of them came from broken homes, foster homes or juvenile centers and most started their careers as prostitutes very early in life, some before they were teenagers. Most seem to regret having to do this for a living but feel that they have no other choice. The hookers in question pride themselves on working in a "pimp-free" zone where they band together to keep out those who would exploit them even further. Aware of the risks they take every night by getting into cars with strange men, the group does what it can to rescue any of their peers from particularly dangerous situations. Nevertheless, some of the women describe frightening encounters with men who beat them and, in some cases, threaten their lives. If there is a central figure in the film it is Mark, a transvestite who goes under the name of "Michelle". He is half-way through a transgender operation and struts his stuff on the pavement wearing a garish dress with an ample bust line constantly on display. He shamelessly discusses how he got into sordid sex after being abused by an older man and seems unconcerned about the way he now makes a living. A visit from his distraught mother is especially moving when she describes on camera how she still loves her son despite the wreck he has made of his life. The film shows the prostitutes gathering for nightly "rest breaks" in a hotel bar where they joke and laugh the way any other co-workers might be expected to. However, there is an underlying tragic circumstance behind each of their stories. The movie also doesn't shy away from showing some of the "johns" who patronize the hookers. One has to wonder if they aren't as pathetic in their own way as the prostitutes are. After all, the hookers are victims of circumstance while the johns are generally married, relatively affluent men who feel obliged to pay for their thrills. The film culminates in coverage of a protest march by local prostitutes to lobby for legalization of their trade. (Canadian laws concerning prostitution have been criticized for being vague. Prostitution is technically legal but can be prosecuted under certain circumstances if deemed to be a danger to the public.)
Hookers on Davie Street is the kind of bold film making that not only impresses but informs the viewer. In this case, it humanizes a sub-culture of people and makes their plight a sympathetic one.
The DVD transfer is grainy but, given the technology of the era when the movie was shot, the original master probably was as well. There are no extras.
Funny Girl's engagement at the Criterion Theatre in New York City.
In his column on the Digital Bits web site, writer Michael Coate provides some fascinating facts about director William Wyler's classic 1968 film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Funny Girl, the movie that won Barbra Streisand a Best Actress Oscar. Coate not only traces the movie's entire road show presentation history in North America but also scores an exclusive interview with Sony's Grover Crisp, who discusses the challenges he encountered in the film's recent restoration process. Click here to read.
The Vinegar Syndrome DVD label is making a niche for itself through the release of retro erotica from the 1970s. The latest release is a "Peekarama Big 2 Unit Show" double feature. First up is Abduction of an American Playgirl, a 1975 hardcore flick shot largely in a rural area. Darby Lloyd Rains, one of the more popular "names" among porn actresses of the era, stars as a woman who is randomly abducted by two simpletons who want to satiate their sexual desires. She conveniently faints when they approach her and she remains in a virtual coma while they bring her to a remote house and remove all of her clothes. However, she quickly sizes up their combined intelligence is about the same as their shirt collar sizes and turns the tables. If you can accept the premise of forcible abduction as a premise for comedy, you might be able to relish the goofball satirical aspects of the film. It turns out that the kidnapper's plans to retrieve a ransom fall apart when her own father shows no desire to have his daughter returned. They then discover that Rains is a nymphomaniac with an insatiable sexual desire. By the end of the first day she has so exhausted both men that they have to call in a friend to help with the stress of keeping up with her demands. Eventually her younger sister shows up with some greatly reduced ransom money and both sisters outwit the villains by stealing their car. Having escaped sexual abuse, they decide to go to motel and pick up some new strange guys. (Hey, this was '70s porn, after all). Because of the abundance of alleged comedic situations, the film is about as erotic as a dip in a pool of ice. However, the transfer of this low-budget sleezefest is actually rather impressive. It also includes a trailer (yes, they made trailers for porn flicks) that identifies the movie under the title of Abduction of an American Plowgirl.
The second feature, Winter Heat, was shot in 1976 and is more ambitious than the Playgirl movie in that it at least attempts to present a somewhat believable story. Male porn icon Jamie Gillis leads a gang of thugs (including his own wife) to a remote snowbound cabin where they attempt to find food and shelter. Since the cabin is conveniently inhabited by three comely young women, their list of demands gets somewhat more creative. There is a genuinely disturbing element to this film, at least initially, with Gillis giving a fairly convincing and scary performance as the sex-crazed leader of the pack. The film contains numerous hardcore sexual scenarios that are played largely without humor. It's a distasteful premise for our more enlightened times and the film is squarely geared toward male interests with the female victims ultimately getting into the action. The transfer is fairly grainy in the beginning but quality improves as the film progresses.
Vinegar Syndrome releases are definitely acquired tastes and are not for mainstream viewers. However, if you have fond memories of the erotica from this time period, the company is doing yeoman work in preserving and presenting this fare.
Based on Mossad
agent Peter Malkin’s “Eichmann in my Hands,” the 1996 made-for-TV movie “The
Man Who Captured Eichmann,” directed by William A. Graham, tells the
suspenseful tale of the apprehension of one of the most notorious war criminals
of all time. But the
apprehension is only half the story, and the movie excels in the scenes after
the capture when Malkin (played by Arliss Howard) finds himself face-to-face
with Adolf Eichmann, a man responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi
The capture of
Eichmann (Robert Duvall, who also executive produced) in Argentina, where he
fled after the war, plays out like an old heist movie: putting together the
team, coming up with a plan and executing it despite several red herrings and
momentary obstacles. The interrogation
scenes, however, where Eichmann and Malkin square off and discuss their very
different views of the Holocaust, produce the movie’s strongest moments. Duvall
masterfully portrays the banality of evil, so much so that Malkin is left
frustrated, confused and saddened in his search for answers. It’s telling then
the movie is titled “The Man Who Captured Eichmann,” instead of “The Capture of
Eichmann.” As an action thriller, it comes up short. As a character study, it’s
Since it’s a TV movie, there aren’t any special features on the
manufactured-to-order Warner Archive DVD release. But as an example of a
higher-quality made-for-TV movies with subtle and nuanced performances by its
leading men, it would make a fine addition to a DVD library.
an episode of the Jack Benny radio show from 1948, Jack and Mary Livingstone
are being driven to the Warner Bros. studios in his "trusty" Maxwell
by his manservant, Rochester. They are stopped at the gate by the studio guard,
voiced by the wonderful Mel Blanc. When the guard demands identification in
order to be admitted, Jack tells him that he is Jack Benny. The guard still
demands ID. Benny pleads with him to recognize him: "…after all, I made a
film here a few years ago, The Horn Blows
at Midnight…I am sure you remember that!" "Remember it??? I
directed it!!!" replies Blanc as the guard. Such amusing set-ups became
some of Jack Benny's most famous self-deprecating jokes. The Horn Blows at Midnight has become legendary because of Benny's
making fun of it but as we can now see with its release on DVD, the comedy
legend was being unnecessarily harsh. The Warner Archives' recent release of
the film gives us a chance to evaluate this 1945 film for ourselves. People who
can remember the endless jokes Benny made at the expense of this much-maligned movie
will be surprised to learn that it was directed by the great Raoul Walsh
and boasted a great score by Franz
Waxman. Benny is backed by a wonderful Warner Bros. supporting cast: Guy
Kibbee, John Alexander, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Allyn Joslyn,
Reginald Gardiner, Mike Mazurki, a young Robert Blake, and the beautiful Alexis
Smith. The production values are high and it has some good special effects for
its time. So why the jokes?
main answer is that it did disappointing business at the box office. One
possible reason for the poor reception is that it was released within the same
week that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Another possible reason is that,
although it is a Jack Benny movie and Benny is very good in it, it is not the
familiar Jack Benny persona that the public had come to know and love through
his #1 top-rated radio show.
plays Athaneal, a questionable trumpet player in a radio studio orchestra that
is playing in a broadcast for a program sponsored by Paradise Coffee ("the
coffee that makes you sleep"). Athaneal actually falls asleep during the
broadcast. He dreams that he is an angel in Heaven who is being sent back down
to planet number 339001 -- "Earth," a six-day project rush job -- to
blow Gabriel's Horn at midnight to bring an end to that planet.
we have the first thing that people found fault with: they make Jack Benny an
inept trumpeter. A trumpeter? Come on…everyone knows Jack Benny was an inept
violinist. Oh, well. He reaches planet number 339001 (Earth) by borrowing a
Times Square hotel's elevator to get there. The always wonderful Franklin
Pangborn plays the prissy hotel detective trying to solve the mystery of how an
elevator just disappears. Once he's arrived, Benny plays the part with naive
wonder as an angel back on Earth after being dead for 250 years. As a matter of
fact, he died in New York, or "New Amsterdam" as it was called when
he was last there. He has to contend with two "fallen angels" played
so wonderfully by great character actors John Alexander ("Teddy" from
Arsenic and Old Lace) and Allyn
Joslyn, who know that once Athaneal blows Gabriel's Horn it's down south to a
warmer climate for them because they're no longer welcome in Heaven. The only
side effect that they suffer on Earth is a comic case of convulsions on the
hour every hour ("Well, that one wasn't so bad." "No,
comparatively mild."). All the aforementioned character actors meet up for
a surrealistic rooftop climax as Athaneal races the clock and the
"villains" while getting tangled up with a big neon advertisement
atop the Times Square Hotel. Will he see to it that the horn blows at midnight?
film gives you an opportunity to see Jack Benny play a part other than
"Jack Benny." Are there any of the well-known Benny mannerisms? Sure,
we can see glimpses. The Benny walk is there, of course. His ineptitude is a
major plot device. The closest gag involving his epic "cheapness" is
a joke involving his heavenly boss played by the great Guy Kibbee telling him
that down on planet number 339001 he will need some "money." When he
hands him the dollar bills, Athaneal asks: "What are dollars?" Yeah,
right? Jack Benny asking what dollars are!
The overall picture and sound of the
Warner Archives' DVD are very good and the original trailer is included. At 78 minutes it is an excellent Warner
Bros. comedy. A great non-Jack Benny Jack Benny film. Get this one.
of the superb releases recently issued by The Criterion Collection are classics
from the 1950s international scene. One
is arguably the best caper/heist movie ever made, and the other is perhaps the
best Shakespearean adaptation ever produced.
up—Rififi, released in 1955 and
directed by American director Jules Dassin—who had exiled himself from America
due to the blacklist. It’s a film noir
made in France with French and Italian actors and a French crew. As the lyrics in a cabaret number, sung by
Magali Noel in the film, reveal, rififi
means “rough and tumble.” In other
words, Rififi is about riff-raff,
tough guys, and would-be gangsters. In
this case, the protagonists are a quartet of jewel thieves who plan a big caper
together—to break into the safe in a notable jewelry store in Paris. Led by Tony (Jean Servais), the motley crew
also includes an Italian safecracker played by Jules Dassin himself, mainly
because the original actor became unavailable at the last minute. Dassin stepped in and his performance is,
frankly, one of the best things in the picture.
Rififi earned Dassin the
Best Director prize at Cannes that year, and it’s no wonder why. It’s safe to
presume that most caper/heist pictures that came afterward owe a big debt to Rififi. The structure of the film—the gathering of the crooks, the meticulous
planning, the showpiece of the robbery execution, and the tragic aftermath—has
been copied in one way or another. Of
note is the half-hour sequence in which the four thieves break into the store
at night and perform their handiwork. It’s completely without dialogue or music. The men use hand signals to communicate with
each other, for the robbery is so well planned that they don’t need to
talk. The addition of the time limit—they
have to get it done before sun-up—makes it one of the most riveting set pieces
in the crime movie genre. In a
supplement on the disk, Dassin (interviewed in 2000) reveals that the film’s
composer insisted on writing music to accompany the scene. Dassin expressed reservations, but the guy did
it anyway. When it was done, Dassin ran
the film for the composer first with the music, and then without. After seeing the footage, the composer
acquiesced to Dassin’s original vision. The
sequence was better with no music. It turned
out so well that several countries banned the film because the heist scene was
something of a “master class” on how to do it!
transfer is a new 2K digital restoration, and it’s an improvement over
Criterion’s previous release of the title. The aforementioned interview with Jules Dassin is a delight, for the
director is candid about the blacklist, his struggle to get his career back on
track after his exile, and the origins and making of Rififi. Also included are
set design drawings by art director Alexandre Trauner, production stills, the
trailer, and an optional English-dubbed soundtrack. The booklet contains an insightful essay by
critic J. Hoberman.
Throne of Blood is Akira Kurosawa’s 1957
masterpiece that brilliantly transposes Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the Japanese feudal era. It works like a charm. Drawing
extensively on some of the formal elements associated with traditional Noh
Theatre, Kurosawa choreographs a danse
macabre that is at once graceful, poetic, and most certainly violent.
the masterful Toshiro Mifune in the Macbeth role (he’s called “Taketoki” in the
film) and Isuzu Yamada as the Lady Macbeth equivalent, the picture is a
powerful concoction of directorial originality, superb acting, and striking
imagery. Asakazu Nakai’s cinematography
is especially important to the film’s success. The outdoor scenes, often filmed in real fog, are eerily beautiful, supporting
the notion that Macbeth is, after
all, a ghost story. The scene in which
Mifune encounters the witch (one instead of three) is creepy as hell. And as good as Mifune is, this is
unquestionably Yamada’s picture. As Lady
Asaji, Yamada exhibits a wide range of emotional display, from the quiet and
sinister to the raging, mad bloodlust of power. She is the scariest thing in
the Criterion Collection saw fit to re-issue the DVD on Blu-ray. Again, the new 2K digital restoration is an
improvement over the earlier release. There are two subtitle translations to choose from—one by Japanese film
translator Linda Hoaglund, and another by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie—as well
as an audio commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck. A too-short documentary on the making of
film, originally a segment of the Toho
Masterworks series on Japanese television, features interviews with
Kurosawa, Yamada, and other members of the creative team. Film historian Stephen Prince supplies the
essay in the booklet.
gave us many great pictures, and for my money, Throne of Blood ranks in the top five. Treat yourself... and discover or reaffirm
why Kurosawa is one of cinema’s legends.
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's long-out-of-circulation DVD of the 1968 Victorian era spy spoof The Assassination Bureau. Oliver Reed plays a British aristocrat who heads the titular organization which is comprised of well-heeled men who take it upon themselves to arrange for the assassination of prominent figures in politics and society. The Bureau is paid handsome sums by third parties to "off" these people but they pride themselves on a key rule of the organization: each victim must be deemed to be inherently evil enough to justify being murdered. Reed has inherited the Bureau from his late father and fears that the group has been lax on enforcing its own code of ethics by putting profit above the good of society. A young woman who is attempting to become England's first female newspaper journalist (Diana Rigg) approaches Reed with the promise of a large sum of money- but the caveat is that the victim is to be himself (for reasons too long to explain here). Reed surprises her by accepting the challenge and telling his colleagues that either they will succeed in killing him or he will kill them all one by one. In this way he hopes to eliminate the current bureau, which he feels is comprised of incompetent, greedy men. The film is primarily a zany farce directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who had recently won praise for his direction of Khartoum (talk about diversity in a filmmaker's work!). The action is often cleverly staged but rarely generates much genuine laughter, with only some moderate amusement arising out of the off-beat premise. Instead, it's primary pleasures come from the wonderful cast that includes future Bond alumni Telly Savalas (who would team with Rigg later in the year for On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Curt Jurgens and Vernon Dobtcheff (The Spy Who Loved Me), not to mention notable character actors like Kenneth Griffith, Beryl Reid, Philippe Noiret and Clive Revill. The production design is particularly impressive but the farcical elements occasionally make Casino Royale (1967) look like an exercise in comedic restraint. Still, this is an enjoyable romp that any 60s spy movie fan will want in their DVD collection. The disc contains no extras.
Released four years before the comedy smash Airplane!, the film that inspired it remains relatively obscure to all but the most devoted retro movie lovers. The Big Bus was Paramount's spoof of the disaster movie genre which had peaked in 1974 with the release of two blockbusters- Earthquake and The Towering Inferno- and one other major hit, Airport '75. The genre then ran out of steam just as The Big Bus went into production, which might explain why it was received anemically by both audiences and critics. Yet, it's a film with many pleasures and it is consistently amusing throughout. The Big Bus delivers some giggles whereas Airplane! provides many belly laughs. The genius actor of Airplane!, however, is that the producers had the wisdom to cast three of Hollywood's great stone faces- Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen- in comedic roles that surprised audiences. In fact, it revitalized all three actor's careers with their deft handling of absurd situations. The casting of The Big Bus was not as innovative because virtually every actor involved had been known for their work in comedies. However, it is an inspired cast that includes Joseph Bologna and Stockard Channing in the lead roles and a wonderful group of talented second bananas that includes Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Stuart Margolin, Jose Ferrer, Harold Stone, Larry Hagman, Richard B. Shull, Ned Beatty, Rene Auberjonois, Ruth Gordon, Bob Dishy, Lynn Redgrave, Vic Tayback and Vito Scotti. The only surprise is the comedic talents of John Beck, who had a short-lived career as a dramatic heart throb in the mid-to-late 1970s.
The plot concerns the debut run of a super spectacular bus that is powered by nuclear energy. The maiden voyage of "The Cyclops" finds the usual diverse group of passengers that permeate any disaster movie: a battling married couple, a quirky priest, a discredited hero looking to salvage his reputation, his one-time lover, a terminally ill man trying to enjoy his remaining days, a cranky old lady, etc. The bus is being piloted by Bologna, who plays a driver who has been alienated by his colleagues because of suspicion that he devoured the passengers on a previous journey that found his vehicle stranded in the mountains. (He maintains his innocence by insisting he only ate one foot that was surreptitiously placed in a stew made up of seat cushions!) His ex-girl friend, Channing, is the designer of the bus and is on board for the maiden journey. Along the way an eccentric millionaire oil man who is in an iron lung (Ferrer) schemes to sabotage the bus with a bomb in order to thwart the advancement of nuclear energy. Much of the humor relates to the production design aspects of the bus interior which is over-the-top tacky even in the era of leisure suits and wide ties. There is a garish decor complete with an omnipresent lounge singer who works every disaster along the way into one of his cheesy vocal numbers. The provides the requisite rapid fire jokes, some of which fall completely flat while others resonate quite well. The cast is in top form and everyone seems to be having a great time with each star given their moments to shine. One of the problems is that the bus, which was supposed to seem like an absurd concept in 1976, no longer generates many laughs partly because such monstrosities are now in operation in our major cities (minus the nuclear power, of course). The film culminates in a witty and very inspired cliff-hanger ending that is an homage to the fabled finale of the original version of The Italian Job.
The Big Bus was available years ago on Paramount DVD but has been out of circulation for some time. Happily, it is now available through the Warner Archive. The picture is crisp and clean throughout, though -as with most Paramount titles- it is devoid of any bonus extras. The film pales in comparison to Airplane! but any retro movie lover with a passion for disaster movies of the era will find it an amusing experience.
Fritz Weaver discusses the making of Fail Safe with Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer at a 2009 screening of the film at The Players club in New York City.
Sidney Lumet's 1964 thriller Fail Safe centers on an accidental launch of an American nuclear bomber strike on Moscow and the frantic efforts of the U.S. President (superbly played by Henry Fonda) to convince the Soviet premiere not to retaliate. The tension-packed film was a boxoffice dud at the time, despite glowing reviews. That is because Stanley Kubrick convinced Columbia to buy the rights to the film and shelve it until after his similarly-themed Dr. Strangelove went into release. Kubrick rationalized that if Fail Safe were released first, the impact would have been so great on the public that no one would have accepted a satirical version of the same premise. The result? Strangelove became a boxoffice smash while Fail Safe took many years to reach its intended audience through television broadcasts. The film has no musical score and is masterfully shot in a documentary-like style. There are outstanding performances by Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy, Frank Overton, Larry Hagman and- in his big screen debut- Fritz Weaver. Look for Dom DeLuise in a rare dramatic role.
Click here to order special DVD edition from Amazon
Loren did receive equal line billing with Charlton Heston in print ads for El Cid (as indicated by this trade magazine advertisement for the film's reissue). However, she was appalled to find that the billing arrangement on a Times Square billboard had relegated her name to an area below Heston's.
By Brian Hannan
A row broke out
this week in Italy over promoters choosing to give Brad Pitt top billing for 12
Years A Slave, a film that depicts the plight of an African American man played
by Chiwetel Ejiofor. That reminded me of a lawsuit brought by Sophia Loren over
El Cid in January 1962.Although
contractually guaranteed equal billing with Charlton Heston, her name had been
featured below his on an electric billboard in Times Square in New York
promoting the Samuel Bronston roadshow presentation at the Warner Theatre. Her name
on the billboard was in equal size to Heston’s but she demanded it should be on
the same line. She sought a temporary injunction in the New York Supreme Court
to stop the sign being used and, in a drastic turn of events, then demanded her
name be removed entirely from all promotion to do with the film. She claimed
the action had damaged her prestige and reputation. The New York court
disagreed. Aggrieved at being denied the temporary injunction, she was set to
continue her lawsuit and there was a stalemate for several days in February until
common sense prevailed. Loren was no stranger to rows over billing and later
had a titanic tussle with Marlon Brando over who got top billing on The Countess
From Hong Kong. She lost that one, too.
Click here to read the original formal complaint filed by Sophia Loren's attorneys.
As Cinema Retro gets inundated with DVDs to review during the course of any given year, it's virtually impossible to keep up with all of them in a timely manner. Here are some notable titles you should be aware of:
Cabaret Blu-ray (Warner Home Video): Warner Home Video has inherited the rights to Bob Fosse's classic 1972 film adaptation of the stage production that, in turn, was based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. The Blu-ray comes packaged in one of those irresistible hardback book formats that is loaded with wonderful photos from the movie. The movie itself holds up superbly even after 40 years. The decline of Germany's Weimar Republic amidst the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s is seen through the eyes of nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and her constant companions (Michael York, Helmut Griem) . Fosse's decision to emphasize the sleaze elements of the Berlin of this era helped to elevate this to the status of one of the most intelligent musicals ever put on film- and Joel Grey's eerie Emcee serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for for the moral destruction of a great nation. The set is packed with extras including recent and previously-released interviews with cast and crew members, a new documentary about the making of the film, an audio commentary track by author Stephen Tropiano, who wrote a book about the making of Cabaret and an original trailer. This title should be deemed as essential for any classic movie library.
I'M DICKENS, HE'S FENSTER COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Lightyear Video/TV Time Machine): This 1962 sitcom lasted but one season but remains one of the more intriguing programs of its era. The show had the misfortune of being up against the popular Mitch Miller program and Route 66. Ratings suffered initially and ABC decided to cancel the series. However, ratings began to climb as positive word of mouth and good reviews began to spread. Ironically, the series began to gain more viewers than its competition but by then the leading actors had moved on to other projects. The show languished in Bootleg Heaven with no official DVD release until this 16 episode set was unveiled last year by TV Time Machiine and Lightyear Video. It features half of the show's episodes, 16 in all, each beautifully remastered. The series presents John Astin and Marty Ingalls as best friends who are also business partners who own their own handyman service. Although many people call the show a lost classic, I find only moderately amusing. In fact, the show's demise resulted in John Astin going on to star in a true TV classic, The Addams Family and left its creator, Leonard Stern, free to work with Mel Brooks in developing Get Smart! Nevertheless, the show is a pleasurable experience on all levels with the two leads demonstrating the deft comedic timing that would lead them to greater stardom in the years to come. What is outstanding is the love and care that has been put into this set. They include audio commentaries by Astin and Ingles along with guest stars Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether, Dave Ketchum, Chris Korman (son of Harvey Korman) and Leonard Stern, who passed away shortly thereafter. There are also any number of featurettes about the series and a wealth of vintage network TV ads. In all, a truly superb presentation of a show that few people are even aware of. The video company is said to be hoping to raise enough funding to release the second half of the show's only season.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Warner Archive): Director Tony Richardson's acclaimed 1962 film is the epitome of the British "kitchen sink drama", a genre that revolutionized film making in that country and reflected the concerns of the economically disenfranchised. Britain may have been on the winning side in WWII, but the financial repercussions of the conflict lingered for decades, resulting in a stagnant, class-driven society in which those on the bottom rungs found it very difficult to climb out of their impoverished situations. Consequently a generation of troubled youths emerged. Richardson's film poignantly shows the consequences of having young people come of age in a society that offers them little hope for advancement. Inevitably, many will take the wrong turn in life. The story follows a young man, Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in a remarkable, star-making performance) as he is sent to a borstal, which is a juvenile corrections facility. Here, he finally finds something of value to center his attention on: his skills as a long distance runner. The facility's warden (Michael Redgrave) nurtures the young man until it becomes apparent that he is using him for his own personal aggrandizement. This leads to a suspense-laden, shocking conclusion centered around an all-important long distance race. Richardson's direction is flawless and the black and white cinematography only adds to the appropriately sullen look of the film. Superb supporting performances by all. (James Bond fans should keep an eye out for future 007 villain Joe Robinson as a track coach). This film is a true classic of British cinema.
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (Shout! Factory): This is the complete American Masters PBS broadcast of a documentary that chronicles the remarkable life and career of Mel Brooks. As Brooks is very much alive and well, he is able to relate the highs and lows of his life as only he can relate them in his inimitable style. The 2013 shows finds Brooks reminiscing about working for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, where Brooks was considered to be too manic even by the likes of Caesar. He also relates funny anecdotes about his childhood and WWII experiences. Most of these stories have been told by Brooks for decades but his sheer exuberance and energy are infectious. The documentary by Robert Trachtenberg includes testimonials from such key comedic figures as Rob Reiner, Joan Rivers, Tracey Ullmann and Brooks' long-time collaborator Carl Reiner. The DVD also contains a number of out-takes from the PBS special. Well worth a viewing if you have any love for classic comedy.
The Blue Hour/ One Naked Night/ Three in a Towel Triple Feature (Vinegar Syndrome): This is a triple feature of obscure retro erotica films. The main feature, The Blue Hour, is not really a sexploitation film in the traditional sense as it is far too pretentious in its attempt to emulate art house movie fare. The 1971 production begins with opening credits that take so long to unspool they almost need an intermission. It's a sign of how boring even a film that features an abundance of nudity can be. The story centers on a young Greek woman who is now living in America and married to a successful therapist/businessman. However, she is haunted by images of sexual atrocities that she has endured at various stages of her life including a confusing scenario in which she may have murdered a young Greek priest with whom she was romantically involved. The film boasts some exotic photography but it lumbers along to a completely abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The acting ranges from passable to atrocious. Far more interesting is One Naked Night, a 1965 B&W "quickie" that chronicles the exploits of another troubled young woman who moves from a small town to New York City. She ends up rooming with some party girls and is corrupted along the way leading to a conclusion that is rather shocking. The film is a virtual female version of Midnight Cowboy with mean ol' Manhattan proving to be a devil's playground of corruption for innocent young newcomers. The real appeal of the film is not the occasional flashes of nudity but the fact that it presents tantalizing glimpses of the Big Apple during the mid 1960s including Times Square, the infamous Playland arcade, the Latin Quarter and other hot spots of the era. There is also a quaint feel to even the sex sequences including a tender seduction of our heroine by a lesbian roommate, chain smoking swingers, stag movies shown on 16mm and guys who get dressed up in jackets and ties to attend orgies. The cast of unknowns tries hard but you are aware they are strictly amateur. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining look back at a bygone era when films such as this were deemed shocking. The final entry in the triple feature is titled Three in a Towel. Shot in 1969, it's basically a glorified home movie shot in color in various sections of San Francisco. The movie focuses on a young man's erotic dreams of being a sensual version of Walter Mitty and bedding many nubile young women. The film was obviously shot as a silent feature with narration and sound effects added later. It's a crude production played strictly for laughs and the sex is relegated to an abundance of female nude shots but the action never gets beyond soft core. A "highlight" of the film is a scene in which three hippie chicks eat a banana in a suggestive manner while groping each other. Bizarrely, the narrator uses Shakespearean quotes throughout....At least the filmmakers didn't take it all very seriously. The opening titles read a "A Miracle Production-- If It Turns Out to be a Good Movie, It's a Miracle!". The only other credit is "Produced by The Saint" but it seems pretty obvious we're not talking about Roger Moore here. The film is an utter waste of time aside from some interesting visuals of San Francisco in the late 1960s and ends up being about as erotic as a wet noodle. The transfers vary in quality based on the crude source materials but The Blue Hour has undergone a restoration process. In all, an interesting package of largely forgotten films that would otherwise have been lost to time. Their entertainment value is debatable but from a sociological standpoint, they may bring back some interesting memories if you lived through this era. There are no extras other than a trailer for Three in a Towel that promises a lot more sex than it actually delivers.
Nichols: The Complete Series (Warner Archives): The Warner Archives has released all 24 episodes of the little-seen TV series Nichols that starred James Garner. The show aired in 1971-72 but, despite Garner's star power, it was canceled after one season. Garner was just one of the Hollywood superstars who, by the 1970s, felt they should move to television. This was in direct contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the early days of TV in which it was regarded as a second rate medium for name actors to appear in. Among the other shows that failed in the 1970s were ones top-lined by the likes of Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Nichols presents Garner in his most popular on-screen alter-ego: a likable, laid-back anti-hero. Set in 1914, the pilot episode finds him as a career soldier in the U.S. cavalry who resigns due to his increasingly pacifist nature (an obvious nod to the anti-Vietnam War movement that was raging at the time). Nichols makes his way back to the small home town that bears his family name expecting to live a life of leisure. Instead, he finds his parents are dead and his estate has been swindled away by con men. The town has degenerated into a raucous place where a small group of corrupt citizens call the shot. Nichols is reluctantly enlisted to be the new sheriff and, a la Andy Griffith's Sheriff Taylor, he refuses to wear a gun and uses his wits to thwart his adversaries. The show boasts fine production values and some impressive cast members and guest stars (Margot Kidder is the love interest, playing a local saloon owner.) As with any TV series, the episodes vary in terms of quality, but watching Garner at this point in his career is certainly an entertaining way to pass some hours. Although audiences didn't warm to this show, they certainly didn't lose their affection for Garner, who went on to star in the smash hit series The Rockford Files a few years later. (That show's co-star, Stuart Margolin, also appears in Nichols.)
Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series (Mill Creek): The Mill Creek video company has repackaged and re-released Wanted: Dead or Alive: The Complete Series. The show made a star of young Steve McQueen, who played a bounty hunter in the old West. The series premiered in 1958 and ran for 94 30 minute episodes, all of which are presented in this collector's edition on multiple DVDs. McQueen shows the charisma and self-assured manner that would help elevate him to big screen superstardom a few years later. The show was also a training ground for upcoming directors, writers and other actors including Lee Van Cleef, Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn and DeForest Kelly. The writing and acting hold up extremely well, a reflection of an era when intelligent Westerns ruled the roost in terms of TV ratings. The boxed set also includes 4 colorized bonus episodes (which look surprisingly good), a photo gallery, some featurettes about various aspects of the show including McQueen's famed sawed-off shotgun that he carried in a holster and a digital reproduction of a comic book based on the show. There is also the complete public domain feature film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery starring McQueen. In all, an outstanding value.
Twilight Time has released director/writer Walter Hill's 1978 thriller The Driver as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The film is intentionally antiseptic when it comes to development of characters. They are deliberately opaque. In fact, not one character in the movie has a name. The credits refer to them by their professions or physical characteristics. Ryan O'Neal stars in an almost wordless role (he speaks literally 350 words according to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo) as a legendary Los Angeles wheelman who gets paid big sums of money to drive getaway cars in the commission of crimes. The Driver doesn't know the people he is in league with and sentiment plays no part in his decision as to whether to accept an assignment. It's strictly based on the money to be earned and his confidence in the people pulling off the caper. The film opens on the robbery of a gambling den in Los Angeles. The crooks bungle their time table, leading The Driver to have to enact death-defying stunts in order to outrun a fleet of police cars in rapid pursuit. He succeeds in doing so but curtly informs his confederates that he will never work with them again because of their lack of professionalism. Meanwhile an arrogant detective (Bruce Dern) is excited by the challenge of finally capturing and convicting The Driver, a man he has been pursuing with a Javert-like zeal for years. He recovers a piece of evidence that leads him to The Driver. The Detective is blatantly breaking the law by setting up a crime and forcing some petty criminals to approach The Driver to be the wheelman. If they succeed in enlisting him for the job, they will walk away from jail sentences. The Detective doesn't want them: he only wants them to lure in the big fish so he can have the ultimate victory. To say that things go wrong across the board would be an understatement but the scenario allows Walter Hill to stage some of the most spectacular car chases in the history of the medium. He was clearly inspired by the success of Bulllitt, which he worked on, and he replicates that film's effective method of mounting a camera inside each speeding car. The result is thrilling. The caper aspect of the story is less impressive largely because of the vaguely-defined characters. Each one is unlikable and somewhat obnoxious. We root for The Driver only because The Detective is so egotistical and morally ambiguous. Isabelle Adjani is thrown into the mix as sexy window dressing but she saunters around wearing a glum, depressed expression and the script does not provide any opportunity for her to develop on screen chemistry with O'Neal. O'Neal, always a competent but bland and unexciting actor, is actually in his element in this role, as it seems to suit his real life personality. Dern steals the show because his character at least has some interesting eccentricities to play off of. There are some fine sequences aside from the chase scenes, with Dern's pursuit of a suspect aboard an Amtrak train especially exciting, even though it seems based on a similar sequence in Peckinpah's The Getaway. Ronnee Blaklee gives a fine performance as a southern woman caught up in the L.A. crime scene who pays a terrible price for that affiliation in the film's most disturbing sequence. The Driver is an imperfect film but it is an exciting one.
The Twilight Time release boasts a first rate transfer, an original trailer that shows a snippet of a kiss between Adjani and O'Neal that I don't believe ended up in the final cut and a deleted original opening sequence that gives a bit more depth to the characters but which drags along at a snail's pace. Hill was right to eject it from the film.
In all, another fine Twilight Time release and one that is highly recommended.
George Stevens' acclaimed 1953 Western blockbuster Shane finally gets the Blu-ray treatment from Paramount. The release is identical to a previously-issued DVD special edition. Alan Ladd stars as a mysterious drifter who comes to the aid of a struggling couple (Van Heflin, Jean Arthur) who are trying to hold together a shaky coalition of besieged farmers who are being terrorized by a greedy cattleman who is determined to drive them off their land. The silent, slow-to-anger Shane also becomes an idol to the couple's young son (Brandon De Wilde) who is mesmerized by the fact that the family's new friend is an ex-gunslinger with a notorious past. Shane explains that he has put violence behind him and is now determined to live a peaceful life. However, as the danger to the farmers intensifies, he inevitably feels he must take action one more time in the interest of justice. Stevens' masterful direction made this film one of the great entries in the Western genre and the Blu-ray does justice to his painstaking detail for production design and cinematography. (You can clearly see that notorious blooper of a pickup truck driving in the distance over Alan Ladd's introductory shot in the film.)
The movie would be a career high for Ladd and although he acquits himself well, I always felt that he was too much of a gentle screen presence to completely convey a gunfighter with a sordid past. The role probably would have been better suited for John Wayne. Having said that, the production benefits from superb supporting performances with Heflin particularly good as a man of peace who feels compelled to fight for his family's survival. Most memorable is Jack Palance in a stunning performance as Shane's antagonist, a fast-gun mercenary named Wilson. The other fine supporting cast members include such stalwarts as Elisha Cook Jr., Ben Johnson and Edgar Buchanan. The film remains compelling to this day and the suspense-packed finale still hold great emotional impact.
The extras include a commentary track by George Stevens Jr. (who worked on the film) and associate producer Ivan Moffat. A theatrical trailer is included but one would have hoped that a film of this importance would have merited a "making of" documentary. Nonetheless, this is the best video release of Shane to date.
(Note to Paramount's marketing team: please remove the ludicrous photo of Ladd that has adorned the back of the sleeve since the film's initial DVD release. It depicts the actor in a preposterous sheriff's costume that makes him resemble a member of the Village People and is from an entirely different movie. It would be nice if the people in charge of packaging were actually required to watch the film first.)
Those naughty folks at Impulse Pictures have done well by digging up and marketing retro European and Japanese erotic films from bygone eras. Among the more popular releases are the "Schoolgirl" titles that were very popular in Germany during the 1970s. Each release presents several short stories relating to the sexual escapades of German high school girls. (The fact that most of the actresses look a bit long in the tooth to be playing 16 and 17 year old girls becomes less bothersome once the clothes are shed.) Impulse has just released volume 10 in this series which consists of a film originally released in 1976. The thinly-plotted script features story lines that are erratic in content as well as execution. The story opens with a female teacher addressing an all-girls classroom in a discussion on contemporary sexuality. As the girls debate social mores, several of them relate personal experiences. The first tale involves a middle-aged male teacher who is accused of raping a student he was tutoring. The man professes his innocence to a local prosecutor who is interviewing him about the case. (In a bizarre tactic, the prosecutor breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the viewer directly, though this element does not appear in any other segment of the film). His young student claims she arrived at his apartment for her first lesson and that she was plied with liquor and was seduced by the teacher, who deflowered her. In an anemic conclusion, one of her fellow students comes forward with information that exonerates the teacher. This yawn-inducing scenario seems a mere pretense for showing the young girl disrobing and getting it on. In fact, the story presents flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. The second story revolves around a gorgeous virgin who is desperate to make love. The rather flaccid scenario finds her learning a life lesson by cheapening her own values through having sex with a series of cads and suffering being gang raped (never shown, but implied). The next tale is somewhat more engrossing with a snarky teenage girl in conflict with her sexy stepmother. She induces a would-be lover to engage in an elaborate plot to discredit the stepmother so that her father divorces her. In return for the young man's cooperation, she promises to finally have sex with him. The plan involves the young hunk actively courting and seducing the stepmother while the daughter secretly documents the adultery by taking photos. The whole scenario comes to an ironic conclusion that sees the deceitful daughter getting her just desserts. The most amusing segment finds two young lovers who are frustrated by their lack of privacy. Inspired by William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the couple concocts a crazy scheme to finally get them into bed together in her parent's house. This is accomplished by having the girl pretend she is possessed by a demon. The over-the-top slapstick humor has the young woman walking around cross-eyed, rolling about the landscape and engaging in obscene behavior. In one scene she enter the family kitchen, drops her panties and exclaims to her mother, "I own this pussy and it's burning!" (And you thought Linda Blair had some rough dialogue to get through...) With their daughter's "possession" out of control, the family engages the services of an exorcist, who turns out to be her lover in disguise. Behind closed doors, he performs a loud and very violent exorcism, but its really just the two of them having wild sex. The goofy premise is actually fairly amusing. The final tale has another gorgeous high school girl pampered by her middle-aged, married lover. When his wife finds out, complications ensue and she ends up becoming involved with the man's nephew (who somehow looks as old as his uncle).
The series definitely caters to female sensibilities. Women are generally presented in an intelligent manner and the sex scenes are fairly vivid but softcore and tastefully done. (Nothing too kinky here.) One of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of the film involves the English sub-titles which show that Germans must have felt at the time that the word "bang" was used constantly in American society. (One girl greets her would-be suitor by saying, "You want to bang me, right?") This misconception is an amusing reminder of how no one could convince director Sergio Leone that the phrase "Duck you sucker!" was not a common part of the American vernacular. He was so convinced that it was that he titled one of his most prominent films with this bizarre phrase. This latest Schoolgirl entry (pardon the pun) has relatively rich production values in that there are an abundance of sequences shot in actual locations as opposed to bedrooms. An enjoyable aspect of the movie is that it allows the viewer to relive the 1970s for better or worse. We see young people's bedrooms adorned with posters from Easy Rider. There are tacky fashions, high school girls with hairy armpits and the kind of grainy cinematography that was a mainstay of the era.
The movie is definitely a guilty pleasure but it's painless and largely inoffensive to watch- and it does boast some genuinely erotic moments.
The judge's ruling on the Holmes copyright is important but not very elementary.
By Lee Pfeiffer
In a landmark ruling, an Illinois judge has ruled that Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to 1923 are now considered public domain under U.S. copyright law. The ruling stems from an author's suit that protested what he felt were unnecessary licensing fees paid to the Doyle estate in relation to a new book based on the characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson. The judge ruled that any elements of the stories contained in published works prior to 1923 can now be used without permission of the Doyle estate. These include key elements of the stories and the character of the villain Prof. Moriarty. However, in defending the copyrighted elements of the later stories, the judge cautioned that any elements of the Holmes legend that were introduced in those published works are still considered under copyright. The Doyle estate said it may appeal the ruling but also expressed confidence that the primary aspects of the characters that are routinely used in popular culture and new versions of the stories would be protected by copyright law. They assert that, under the judge's rulings, ten of Doyle's Holmes stories would be subject to copyright protection- but this is debatable and depends upon how many specific personality traits and relationship changes can be said to be defined in those post-1923 stories. Such legendary aspects of the series as Holmes' address at 221 B Baker Street would be in the public domain, as would the essence of the character as the world's greatest detective- as well as his friendship with Dr. Watson. Elements that expand and better define those aspects of the stories in the post-1923 writings would not be available in the public domain. Nevertheless, the judge's ruling opens the gates for anyone to create their own Holmes projects and stories as long as they are based on elements of the early books. The Holmes character is one of the most enduring and popular in literay history. Today a recent film series starring Robert Downey Jr. has proven to be a major success, as have various TV series based on the Holmes stories.For more click here
After decades of languishing in relative obscurity, the 1966 Italian Western The Big Gundown seems to be all the rage this year with both Grindhouse Releasing and Explosive Media's special collector's editions of the Sergio Leone-inspired film that starred Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian. This review deals with the Grindhouse release (the Explosive Media special edition is primarily being marketed to European viewers.) Grindhouse, which was co-founded by the late Sage Stallone and Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker), is dedicated to preserving films that have built a cult following or have suffered from lack of mainstream exposure. Consequently, the company has built up a loyal following of grateful retro cinema fans. After a two-year hiatus following Stallone's untimely death in 2012 at age 36, Murawski is carrying the torch and has recently resumed releasing some very interesting titles on Blu-ray. The Big Gundown has generally been acclaimed as the best of the non-Leone Italian Westerns. In fact, it's so good in comparison to the often awful other films in this genre, that it was said Leone himself was somewhat jealous of the movie's success. One reason for Leone's bitterness may have been that the movie starred Lee Van Cleef, whose career he had saved through the starring roles afforded him in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Gundown was shot after the former film and before the latter, but not released in the USA until after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The delay only enhanced the film's appeal to American audiences, as GBU had proven to be a boxoffice smash and had made Van Cleef a household name. The movie was directed by Sergio Sollima who co-wrote the script with Sergio Donati, a collaborator of Leone's. The story concerns a bounty hunter named Corbett (Van Cleef) who is hired to track down and kill a Mexican peasant named Sanchez (Tomas Milian) who allegedly raped and killed a 12 year-old girl. Corbett is pressured into taking the job by Brokston (Walter Barnes), a rich and influential rancher who convinces Corbett that slaying Sanchez would pave the way for a successful political career. Corbett realizes that Brokston simply wants a crony in the state house to do his bidding, but nevertheless agrees to take the assignment. Tracking down Sanchez proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. The charismatic and self-reliant wanted man engages Corbett in a cat-and-mouse chase across the countryside, narrowly avoiding capture at several points. When Corbett does manage to get the drop on him, Sanchez manages to outwit his captor and escape. When he is finally cornered, Brokston and a small army of men turn up to ensure that Sanchez is executed- but Corbett reveals some startling information that leads to unexpected and violent developments.
Director Sollima presents a visually arresting film with an intelligent script, better dubbing than most Italian Westerns of this period and fine performances with Van Cleef and Milian playing well against each other in the manner that Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood did in their collaborations with Sergio Leone. The film is enhanced by yet another great musical score by Ennio Morricone, who composed the music for so many films of this period that he must have perfected a way of doing so in his sleep. The production rises above other films of this genre and if the movie never quite reaches the level of Leone's work, it can certainly be compared favorably. I would rank it, along with The Five Man Army, as the best non-Leone work to be found among the European Westerns. Sadly, when the film was released by Columbia in the USA, studio executives butchered the original cut. Some of this was to do with pacing and emphasizing action over dialogue-heavy scenes. There was also concern that Sollima's penchant for heavy-handed left wing political analogies to contemporary society. In any event, the result was that there have been numerous hybrid bootleg versions of The Big Gundown circulating for many years.
The Grindhouse release is superb on every level beginning with a stunningly beautiful transfer that presents the film in a nearly flawless state. The Blu-ray special edition affords Citizen Kane-like analysis and presentation to the film. The mammoth 4 disc collector's edition would require an entire day of binge viewing in order to properly appreciate all the variations of the film that are presented here. In fact, it would be too confusing to attempt to explain all the nuances in this space. However, here is a sample of the highlights:
Blu-ray presentation of the original uncensored English language edition of the film that includes three scenes which were originally edited out.
Blu-ray of Sollima's original director's cut under its original title, La resa dei conti
DVD of a 95 minute "expanded U.S. cut"
Bonus CD of Ennio Morricone's original soundtrack recording of the score.
A fascinating selection of in-depth interviews including Sergio Sollima and Tomas Milian, both of whom provide very interesting perspectives on the film and their careers in general. The Milian interview, shot last year, makes it clear that this is a man who has attained great respect in the international film industry, as illustrated by clips from some of his other major movies including the Oscar-winning Traffic. Milian tells very amusing stories about working in the Italian cinema during its glory days and mingling with the likes of Fellini and other major forces in the industry. There are also interviews with Sergio Donati who regards Sollima with affection even though he says they eventually had a feud that led to them parting ways professionally. Donati also discusses his relationship with Sergio Leone and why the famed director had resentment toward The Big Gundown.
There is also a wide variety of original trailers and TV spots plus a major selection of original production stills and international advertising materials. If you're as big of a geek for this type of material as I am, you'll be most grateful for its inclusion.
There is a also a feature length commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, both of whom do yeoman work on describing interesting insights into the making of the film and the the personalities involved. The only drawback is that neither man introduces himself at the beginning of the commentary track so it becomes a bit confusing as to who you are listening to.
Joyner also provides excellent liner notes in the accompanying collector's booklet in which he comprehensibly lays out the differences in the various versions of the film. The booklet also contains an essay on Morricone's score by Gergely Hubai.
In summary, Grindhouse Releasing has outdone itself with this presentation of a very esteemed cult Western. For my money, its the best independent video release of 2013.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Acorn
Silver Spring, MD; December 19, 2013 — After a highly competitive bidding process, Fox has acquired film rights to the iconic mystery novel “Murder on the Orient Express” from Acorn Productions Ltd/Agatha Christie Ltd, the UK based rights holding production arm of RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE). With more than two billion books sold, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, and “Murder on the Orient Express”is one of her most popular novels. The 1934 novel features her internationally renowned detective, Hercule Poirot, investigating a murder on the Orient Express.
Though no decision on writers or casting have been confirmed yet, Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator), Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan) and Simon Kinberg (X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes) will be producing the film.
Miguel Penella, CEO of RLJ Entertainment, said,“Since acquiring a majority share of Agatha Christie’s literary estate in February 2012, we have worked closely with Mathew Prichard, Agatha’s grandson, to find the right studio and filmmakers to grow the Christie brand. We are excited to be working with Fox as well as Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon and Simon Kinberg to produce a new, star-studded adaptation of one of the most well-known mystery novels of all time.”
Founded by Robert L. Johnson, RLJ Entertainment owns a 64% share in Agatha Christie Ltd, which manages Christie’s extensive literary works including more than 80 novels and short story collections, 19 plays, a film library of nearly 40 TV films, and iconic characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, is Chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd.
“Murder on the Orient Express”was previously made into a 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet. The film received six Oscar nominations, including best actor for Albert Finneyas Poirot, and winning best supporting actress for Ingrid Bergman. The all-star cast of suspects also featured Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, Colin Blakely, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael York.
Additionally, David Suchet portrayed the popular Belgian detective in all 70 television adaptations of Christie’s Poirot stories, including “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2010. The final five Poirot television mysteries aired in the U.K. in 2013 and will debut in the U.S. in 2014. In Sept. 2013, Agatha Christie Ltd and RLJ Entertainment announced the first fully-authorized new Agatha Christie novel to be released in September 2014. Bestselling author Sophie Hannah is writing the novel featuring Hercule Poirot.
Hilary Strong, Managing Director of Acorn Productions, and WME negotiated the deal for RLJ Entertainment.
The name Wakefield Poole may not mean much to mainstream audiences but in the 1970s he was quite a controversial filmmaker. Poole initially trained for the ballet then drifted into movie making. In 1971, Poole released Boys in the Sand, the first "up market" hardcore gay movie. It caused quite a sensation and was immediately embraced by long-suffering gay males who heretofore had to be content with low-end, quickly shot pornographic "loops" that played in Times Square grindhouses. Poole's film was taken seriously by the critical establishment and actually earned praise in reputable publications like Variety. The film actually cracked Variety's list of the top 50 grossing films in America, an amazing achievement for a movie with limited appeal and distribution. It also made a gay movie icon of actor Casey Donovan. Poole and Donovan followed this project up with another hardcore porn flick, Bijou, which was released in 1972. Inspired by the fact that his filmmaking techniques were being praised, Poole became more ambitious and managed to cobble together a then sizable budget for his next film, Wakefield Poole's Bible! (yes, the exclamation point was part of the title.) Poole attempted to take three tales from the Bible and bring them to the screen using his own spin on the narratives. We see Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah in period settings but through Poole's unique perspective. Poole opted to give his actors no dialogue. The film is played silently to the accompaniment of classical music. The result is one of the most bizarre experimental films of its era. Although Poole claims he had a budget of $150,000 other sources state it was actually less than half that. Regardless, it was a significant sum compared to the budgets of his previous ventures. Poole managed to do a lot with very little. Using creative locations and camerawork, he sometimes succeeds in conveying an interesting look for his trilogy of Biblical tales. Most impressive are the film's opening scenes in which we first see Adam. Shot amid some rather stunning rock formations on a beach, Poole soon introduces us to Adam's first encounter with Eve. Understandably, it doesn't take the only man and woman on earth to get down to doing what men and women like to do. The sequence is more romantic than erotic and this sets the tone for the rest of the film. The David and Bathsheba segment stars Georgina Spelvin, then riding the wave of worldwide publicity for her success in the notorious Devil in Miss Jones, considered by many to be the most accomplished porn movie ever made. Although Poole has Spelvin cavorting around fully naked, he presents the Biblical tale as a slapstick comedy with a sexually frustrated wife unable to interest her husband, a macho army general, in anything relating to love making. The third tale is the most effective with actress Gloria Grant (who went on to a legitimate career, winning an Emmy in the process) as a visually striking Delilah who seduces Samson as part of a plot to punish him for the murder of an innocent person.
The Vinegar Syndrome video label has released Wakefield Poole's Bible! as a special DVD edition, restored and presented in its uncut format. While Poole can be commended for trying to achieve something outside the porn film industry, the movie was too bizarre to appeal to mainstream audiences. Paradoxically, it also alienated Poole's core following of gay men by presenting tales of heterosexual sex, albeit in a softcore format. Not helping matters was the fact that the movie was slapped with an X rating, which even at the time seemed unnecessarily harsh. Poole theorized that it would have been given an "R" rating had the movie been made by anyone else, but his name and that of Spelvin virtually ensured retribution from the ratings board. By his own admission, the film was a flop and was only seen by a relative handful of people in its initial release. The movie has some striking visual elements, some of them effective and creative and others bordering on the pretentious. It's hard to imagine that Poole ever envisioned this pet project being embraced by movie goers on a wide basis.
The DVD is first class and provides bonus features that are far more interesting than the film itself. These include both vintage and recent interviews with Poole, who candidly assesses his own career highs and lows. Poole also provides a brief introduction to the movie as well as an interesting audio commentary track. There is also recent filmed interview with Georgina Spelvin, who claims making the movie was delightful from her perspective. She also tells an amusing story of how she got into the porn industry. As a struggling actress, she was delighted to get a role in a minor film. It wasn't until she began filming a love scene that the director told her in a matter-of-fact manner to start performing oral sex on her male co-star. Spelvin considered it a sign of her dedication to her profession that she suppressed her shock and just went ahead with the task, taking solace from the fact that the guy was "cute". She is a very amusing lady and one wishes her interview segment went on even longer. Similarly, a new interview with Gloria Grant, who also professes pride in her striking performance in the film. She says she still has no regrets about appearing naked on screen because she came into this world naked. The other bonus features include costume tests, a still gallery, a trailer and- most provocatively- silent screen tests of the male and female actors who enact various poses while completely naked. It's somehow far more erotic than the film itself.
Wakefield Poole's Bible! may have been a commercial and artistic failure, but the DVD is entertaining on so many levels that we can highly recommend it because it offers some fascinating insights into one of the strangest film projects of its era.
Warner Home Video has released a Blu-ray special edition of William Wyler's 1946 classic. If Wyler's greatest hit was his 1959 remake of Ben-Hur, it can be said that The Best Years of Our Lives is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film. (At the time of its release it became the second highest grossing film of all time, behind Gone With the Wind.) The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, winning eight. The film relates the story of several U.S. servicemen and the challenges they face in re-entering society in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Al (Fredric March) easily resumes his career as a successful businessman. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes from the other side of the tracks and finds his homecoming a lot bumpier, both financially (he can't find a decent job) and emotionally (he has to deal with a greedy floozy of a wife played by Virginia Mayo.) Most challenging of all is the plight of Homer (Harold Russell) a U.S. Navy vet who lost both of his hands in combat and who must cope by his expert use of hooks as faux "hands". The screenplay expertly intertwines the stories of these friends with diverse backgrounds and personalities and their situations spoke to a generation of servicemen who found their readjustment to society to be anything but smooth. The film features remarkable performances by the above actors with Oscar winner Russell (a real-life amputee who had never appeared in a film before) stealing the show. The poignant sequence in which Al's wife (Myrna Loy) has a sudden recognition that her husband has returned home is probably waiting for her in the hallway of their apartment is one of the most emotional scenes ever filmed. The Blu-ray is a recycling of a previous DVD special edition but it isn't quite special enough for a film of this importance. The extras are relegated to interviews with Teresa Wright, who played Loy and March's teenage daughter in the film, and Virginia Mayo who discusses how her role as a "bad girl" defied her squeaky clean image. There is also a trailer. Still, this Blu-ray release is most welcome. Click here to order.
Vinegar Syndrome (we love the name) is a DVD label that specializes in preserving and restoring vintage cinematic erotica and other cult films. Their most recent coup is the release of a double feature on Blu-ray consisting of Russ Meyer's 1964 adaptation of Fanny Hill along with Albert Zugsmith's bizarre 1967 Western comedy The Phantom Gunslinger. The dual package generously provides both films on DVD as well as their Blu-ray editions. Russ Meyer was already well-known as both a cheesecake photographer for "men's magazines" as well as a director of soft-cover sex films that generally showcased young women who were super-amply endowed. Ever the opportunist, he teamed with producer Zugsmith in 1964 for Fanny Hill, which was based on a notorious 18th century novel that chronicled the sexual escapades of a promiscuous young woman. Such was the book's controversial impact that when it was reprinted in the early 1960s it was banned in some quarters for obscenity. The publisher and civil libertarians contested the ruling and the subsequent court battle put ol' Fanny right in the midst of the contemporary news cycle. Zugsmith, who was a producer of some repute (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Touch of Evil) had by this point concentrated on low-brow exploitation fare. He reasoned that if the country was up in arms over a two hundred year old book, audiences would go wild over a film adaptation of the story. The plot centers on Fanny (Leticia Roman) as a buxom blonde farm girl who arrives in London, naive and clueless about the ways of the world. She is quickly "adopted" by Mrs. Brown (Miriam Hopkins), a seemingly benevolent older woman who is, in fact, a madame who wants to exploit Fanny's innocence by turning her into a prostitute. What she doesn't count on is just how naive Fanny is. Even when residing with numerous other ladies of the night, she fails to catch on to the fact that the place is a bordello. Mrs. Brown tries on several occasions to financially benefit from renting the young virgin to any number of eager patrons, but fate always intervenes before the act can be consummated. When Fanny falls in love with Charles (Ulli Lommel), a dashing and chivalrous young sailor, Mrs. Brown arranges for him to be kidnapped and taken out of the country. Thinking her lover has abandoned her, Fanny becomes despondent and out of grief agrees to marry a loathsome nobleman. As the ceremony begins, Fanny's betrothed manages to escape and make his way to the wedding where the film climaxes in a crazy, slap-stick filled brawl. Viewers may be puzzled by the almost complete absence of eroticism in the film, along with relatively few lingering shots of semi-dressed young women. The whole enterprise is so chaste it could be shown today on the Disney Channel. This was due to the fact that Zugsmith and Meyer clashed over the content of the film, with Zugsmith insisting that comedy should be emphasized over sexual content. Meyer finished the film but justifiably regarded it as a low-grade entry on his list of cinematic achievements. What emerged is a Jerry Lewis-like farce with zany sequences in which people swing from chandeliers, cross dress and engage in various forms of mayhem. In retrospect, it seems inconceivable that the film was deemed controversial even in 1964. Zugsmith filmed the movie in West Germany using local actors for supporting roles. Although the three leads-Roman, Hopkins and Lommel- perform admirable given the circumstances, the supporting cast is encouraged to play even the most minor moments in absurd, over-the-top manner. The result is that the film's primary legacy is as an interesting relic of a bygone era when "naughty" films could still raise eyebrow without delivering much in the way of genuine eroticism.
The second entry on the DVD "double feature" is even more bizarre and makes Fanny Hill look like Last Tango in Paris in comparison. The Phantom Gunslinger was shot in Mexico as a vehicle for Albert Zugsmith to prove he was a triple threat talent, with the erstwhile fellow producing, co-writing and directing the resulting disaster. It's clear that without someone like Russ Meyer to at least try to restrain Zugsmith's instincts for broad slapstick, the project was doomed from the start. The plot, such as it is, finds a small Western town taken over by a gang of notorious outlaws. They cause some mild mayhem but mostly seem content to gorge themselves on sumptuous feasts in between flirting with the local saloon girls. The local sheriff is terrified and runs away, turning his badge over to Bill (Troy Donahue), a hunky dimwit who sets about trying to wrest control of the town from the raucous outlaws. That's about as deep as the story line goes. Zugsmith pads the film with so much slapstick it makes the average Three Stooges skit look like the work of Noel Coward. The film is certainly one of the most bizarre of its era and its hard to know whether it was ever even released theatrically in America. There is a painful element to watching Troy Donahue at this stage in his career. Only a few years earlier, he was deemed a bankable star by major studios. Whatever desperate measures persuaded him to be involved in this enterprise will probably never be known but perhaps he was inspired by the success of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. Eastwood went to Spain and collaborated with a genius named Sergio Leone. Donahue went to Mexico and was saddled with Albert Zugsmith. Such are the cruel ironies of fate. The Phantom Gunslinger is so repetitive in its gags that one is reminded that this is the kind of film they invented the fast forward remote control feature for.
Vinegar Syndrome has presented these two oddball films in pristine condition, having overseen a complete remastering process. Fanny Hill's crisp B&W cinematography is one of the better elements of the film and its safe to say that, whatever flaws The Phantom Gunslinger may have (and there are too many to list here), the movie probably never looked so good as it does through this gorgeous transfer. Vinegar Syndrome has also included some interesting bonus extras including a recent interview with Fanny Hill romantic lead Ulli Lommel that is as strange as it is entertaining. Lommel is seen attired in winter clothing and is interviewed in a park where he periodically works out on some exercise equipment(!). He tells viewers that he got the role in the film because he could speak proficient English, having grown up in the American sector of post-WWII Berlin. He also tosses out some funny, if rather insulting, comments regarding the production and the people he worked with. A second bonus extra relates to The Phantom Gunslinger with film historian Eric Schaefer (a self-described scholar of sexploitation movies) providing some sober but interesting insights into the life and career of Albert Zugsmith. The interview is far more entertaining than the feature itself. Another creative feature is reversible sleeve art that allows collectors to display either Fanny Hill or The Phantom Gunslinger as the "featured" presentation in the Blu-ray sleeve. In summary, a superior presentation of two very inferior cinematic curiosities.
The DoubleHeaded Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power 1918-1933,a 1973 documentary by German filmmaker Lutz Becker, is not really a documentary in the traditional sense. There is no narration or point of view expressed, nor is there any original footage. Rather, the film consists entirely of rare historical German newsreel footage that loosely documents the descent into chaos that Germany experienced in the wake of its defeat in WWI. You would have to know a lot about the history of the period because the documentary makes no attempt to present a comprehensive look at how Adolf Hitler assumed power in one of the most civilized nation's on earth. (Contrary to what many people think, he did not seize the government by force.) What is rather fascinating is that Becker opts to present speeches by Hitler and his paladins in uncut format with English sub-titles. Presumably Becker doesn't need to editorialize about the content of those speeches as the effect should be self-evident to any rational viewer. The film begins with Hitler's first national address to the German people after having assumed the powers of a dictator (he would convince the reichstag to voluntarily give up most of its powers and become a body of rubber-stamping bureaucrats.) We see Hitler amid the pomp and splendor of the rallies he so favored. Grim-faced, he assumes the podium following an introduction by his loyal Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels who sets the tone with chilling warnings to the Jews that they are in danger of "pushing us too far" and hinting at the plans the National Socialists intended to initiate in terms of ethnic cleansing. It's frightening to see all of this taking place even in retrospect. Hitler begins his speech slowly and deliberately, but-as was his habit- would gradually assume an an almost fanatical fervor in his pronouncements. The camera pans across the packed auditorium and finds thousands of ordinary people shouting their approval of the new Fuhrer. The film then jumps back in time to newsreel footage from 1918 and Germany's struggle in the post-WWI era. However it also covers the fact that during the 1920s Berlin was thriving as a destination for the international jet set. We see clips of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, privileged people dressed to the nines and on the town and even Buster Keaton on a tourist visit. Yet, the stock market crash of 1929 threw all of Germany into the depths of the Depression. From such desperate times often arise dictatorial leaders.
Becker does not address a major cause for Hitler's rise to power, namely the outrageously expensive sanctions and financial burdens placed on Germany by Britain and France as war reparations. These were do draconian that the German people were left in a hopeless state of affairs. Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist party were deemed to be the cure. A master speaker, strong and assured, Hitler found the people all too willing to give up civil rights in return for financial security. Hitler delivered in spades, rebuilding the economy through government-funded jobs that saw the country's infrastructure rebuilt. He also reignited national pride and built a vast army in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. (By the time the British and French decided to do more than send angry protests, the damage had been done and Hitler preside over superior armed forces.) Soon Hitler's bizarre and sick theories about racial inferiority and superiority would have enormous consequences but most of these had not been initiated during the period of time the film covers. Again, Becker is therefore somewhat restricted because he is confined by presenting what is contained in the newsreels. They are fascinating and show Hitler from the perspective of his early rise to power. As the film ends in 1933 with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor by the aging Von Hindenberg, there is no coverage of the WWII period. There is no doubt, however, that with his appointment, Hitler was the real leader of the nation.
Becker's film is primarily of interest to hardcore history buffs. Viewers who are ill-informed about this period of history will be confused, bored or both. One would have hoped that the documentary would have provided at least a modicum of historical perspective but it is devoid of it, save for the final haunting images of Nazis burning books over the superimposed warning by the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, "Where they have burned books, they will burn people", a sad prophecy that was to become all-too-true.
(This review is based on a screening of the film on Netflix, where it is currently available for viewing. It is also available on DVD. Click here to order from Amazon)
Twilight Time has released the acclaimed Sexy Beast as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray edition. The film is regarded by many as a modern day classic of the British crime genre and while it may not equal the impact of Brit gangster flicks from bygone eras like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, the movie stands head and shoulders above most of the dumbed-down, similarly-themed movies of more recent years. Ray Winstone stars as Gary 'Gal' Dove, a one time heist artist who is now comfortably retired in a remote Spanish villa living the good life from his ill-gotten gains. He and his wife (Amanda Redman) are enjoying their middle-aged years partying hearty with another married couple (Cavan Kendall, Julianne White) with whom they enjoy an almost inseparable relationship. Into every life a little rain must fall, however, and in their case it comes in the form of a human hurricane named Don Logan. As played by Ben Kingsley in one of his most revered performances, Logan is a terrifying figure even before we see him. When the couples learn that Logan is en route to see them, the sheer terror on their faces tell us all we need to know about this crime kingpin. When Logan does arrive, he is arrogant, irrational, sex-crazed and unpredictable-- friendly one moment and threatening the next. He orders 'Gal' to return to London to help orchestrate one more heist. When 'Gal' objects, Logan becomes completely unhinged and wreaks havoc on the close-knit group of friends. As played by Kingsley, Logan is easily one of the more memorable villains in recent screen history, a totally psychotic character whose unpredictable nature and vile mannerisms make him mesmerizing to watch. Kingsley so dominates the film that it's easy to overlook the brilliant performances of the other cast members, which includes Ian McShane as another London mobster who is part of the caper. Winstone is particularly impressive here and his scenes with Kingsley tingle with real tension.
Director Jonathan Glazer made a promising directorial debut with this film. The fact that he hasn't had any other major successes is somewhat frustrating because the man shows a flair for a unique visual style. The cinematography threatens to become a bit too pretentiously artsy at times but there is no doubt that the film contains many haunting scenes. Likewise, although the story relies on dialogue rather than violence, Glazer's penchant for fast-cutting and jumping back and forth in time can be a bit distracting. Nevertheless, this is a bold reinvention of a time-worn genre and Sexy Beast is well worth a look.
Bonus extras include a commentary track by Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas, a short production featurette, a trailer and and isolated score track.
The Library of Congress continues its tradition of adding 25 films a year to the National Film Registry. In addition to being preserved by the Library, the status ensures that the films cannot be edited for television viewing. This year's list is typically eclectic, with titles released in the silent era through 2012. Among the more iconic titles on the list are Pulp Fiction, Mary Poppins, The Quiet Man and The Magnificent Seven. For the entire list click here
Warner Brothers has released another magnificently packaged packaged “Blu-ray Ultimate
Edition” boxed set. ‘The James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition” features the Blu-ray debuts of the legendary
actor’s three motion picture classics: Rebel
Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant.
The set is jam-packed with bonus extras including three feature length
documentaries, an all-new featurette titled Dennis
Hopper: Memories From the Warner Lot, five vintage documentaries and other
programs relating to the making of East
of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. If
that isn’t enough, there are also audio commentaries, premiere footage,
trailers, vintage TV shows and a wealth of collectibles including a
commemorative book, poster reproductions, rare studio production memos and a
selection of wonderful 8x10 photos.
(The following review pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B format)
Acts of Annihilation
Dario Argento is the most famous Italian horror
director to be associated with the ‘giallo’ style murder mystery films that
emerged from Italy during the 1970s and early 1980s. The films were notable for
their point-of-view camerawork, their unsettling atmospherics and
nerve-jangling, claustrophobic scenes of terror. Argento is one of those
directors you either love or hate, and his work has often been accused of being
a case of style over content. His detractors cite his implausible plots, illogical
loopholes, deafening soundtracks, overacting casts and over reliance on
stylistic flourishes that float his slim narratives. His films are just too
contrived and stylised, too gimmicky, to succeed. By contrast, Argento’s fans
love his implausible plots, illogical loopholes, deafening soundtracks,
overacting casts and an over reliance on stylistic flourishes. Argento’s colour
cinematography is exquisite, with visual effects achieved via ingenious angles,
complicated set-ups, wire-guided cameras, vivid lighting, garish colour schemes
and seemingly impossible cinematic arabesques, to present moments of extreme
shock and overtly choreographed violence, often unflinchingly in close-up.
Argento virtually invented ‘gialli’ with his impressive
directorial debut. The murder mystery ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’
(1970) benefited from Vittorio Storaro’s widescreen images in Cromoscope, Ennio
Morricone’s spine-tingling score and a collection of good performances – Tony
Musante and Suzy Kendall as the amateur sleuths, Eva Renzi as the gallery
murder victim, Mario Adorf as a anchorite painter and Enrico Maria Salerno as
the police investigator. Argento continued in a similar vein with ‘The Cat ‘o
Nine Tails’ (1971) and ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ (1971) – the three films
became known as his ‘Animal Trilogy’ and all were scored by Morricone.
Argento’s 1970s psychological thrillers reached their zenith with ‘Deep Red’
(1975), which had David Hemmings’ jazz pianist puzzling his way through a twisted
whodunit. Argento then explored the supernatural with the first of his ‘Three
Mothers’ trilogy, ‘Suspiria’, released in 1977. This gory cataclysm of witchery
and murder remains his biggest success and finest achievement, a tour de gore.
Argento has only grasped at this magnificent malfeasance occasionally since,
which has left his fans expectant and frustrated in equal measure.
‘Tenebrae’ (1982) is one of Argento’s better post-‘Suspiria’
films and certainly holds its own within the ‘giallo’ canon. Written and
directed by Argento, it begins with New York horror fiction writer Peter Neal
(Anthony Franciosa) arriving in Rome on a promotional tour for his new
bestseller, a novel called ‘Tenebrae’ (which is Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’).
Pretty soon Neal finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation. Captain
Germani (Giuliano Gemma) is seeking the killer of serial shoplifter Elsa Manni
(Ania Pieroni), who was murdered with a cutthroat razor and is found with pages
from Neal’s novel stuffed in her mouth – a modus operandi deployed in the novel
itself. Asks bemused Neal of the inspector: ‘If someone is killed with a Smith
& Wesson revolver, do you go and interview the president of Smith &
Wesson?’ The killings continue. Tilde (Mirella D’Angelo), a journalist who is critical
of Neal’s ‘sexist bullshit’ horror stories, and her on-off lover Marion
(Mirella Banti) are slain in their apartment block with a razor, again in
imitation of Neal’s horror fiction. Tilde’s criticism of Neal’s books parallels
the charges occasionally levelled at Argento himself, as beautiful victims die
beautiful deaths in the name of Argento’s artful darkness. The prime suspect in
the ‘Tenebrae’ case is Cristiano Berti (John Steiner) a daytime TV book
reviewer for Channel One, who is also Neal’s superfan. When an axe is planted firmly
in Cristiano’s skull, he drops off the ‘wanted’ list. John Saxon played Neal’s
literary agent Bulmer, Daria Nicolodi (from ‘Deep Red’) was Neal’s PA Anne,
film director Enzo G. Castellari’s brother Enio Girolami appeared briefly as a
store detective and Veronica Lario was Neal’s estranged, slightly unbalanced wife
Jane McKarrow. Captain Germani tells Neal that he guessed the killer’s identity
in the novel by page 30, but he’s not so quick on the real case. In the end,
with the police stumped, Neal himself turns detective – as did Musante and
Hemmings – to track down the ‘Peter Neal Tribute Act’ who is leaving a trail of
corpses littering Rome.
Neal’s book is modestly described by an advert in a
Rome bookstore as ‘Il giallo dell’anno, forse del deccennio’ – ‘The giallo of
the year, perhaps the decade’ – and the film isn’t bad either. ‘Tenebrae’ gives
Argento’s fans exactly what they want. With its gratuitous bloodletting and
stylised choreography of murder, this is over-the-top, comic-book Argento, a
partial return to ‘realism’ after the phantasms of ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’. The production’s backroom staff was of an
excellent calibre. Horror directors Lamberto Bava and Mario Soavi were the
film’s assistant directors, and the murders, involving razor, knife and axe,
were staged imaginatively by Giovanni Corridor. ‘Tenebrae’ was photographed by
Luciano Tovoli in Technicolor and 1.85:1 screen ratio (rather than Argento’s
earlier preferred format of 2.25:1 widescreen). Some of the cinematography –
pills resting on a glass tabletop, or water rinsing blood from an open razor
blade – is starling in its clarity. In a terrifying sequence, a woman Maria
(Lara Wendel) is chased through a park by a guard dog and inadvertently bumbles
into the killer’s basement lair. Before Tilde and Marion are murdered,
Argento’s camera glides up the outside of their apartment building, peeping
through windows, then sweeps up over the slate roof and swoops down to the
block’s stair landing, in an intricate camera take that seems inspired by
Sergio Leone’s gliding Chapman crane shot at Flagstone City railway station in
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968), a film Argento worked on with Leone
during the treatment stage. Another victim is stabbed in broad daylight in a
busy municipal square and ultra-weird flashbacks from the killer’s traumatic past
depict the murder of a woman (played by transsexual ‘Eva Robins’/Roberto
Coatti) who is wearing a white dress and bright red high heels. The film’s pulsating
synthesizer fugues – the pumping adrenalin of the killer or the fearful,
fleeing victims – were provided by Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante and Fabio
Pignatelli, who as members of the band Goblin had such success with the
soundtracks for ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’. The film’s murders are graphically
staged with zeal – the movie ran into trouble on its first release, being
prosecuted as a ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK and appearing in the US in truncated
form as ‘Unsane’, shorn of 10 minutes. The killings are very gory – seemingly
even more so in this pristine blu-ray edition – and the house of horrors
bloodbath that climaxes the film offers plenty of the red stuff and some good
Arrow Film’s new steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is
the most comprehensive and impressive edition yet released. There are various
prints of the film out there on DVD. One has the onscreen title as TENEBRAE and
the credits and the ‘Tenebrae’ page extracts in English. Arrow’s print (running
time: 1:40:53) has the onscreen title TENEBRE and the credits and pages in
Italian text. I’ve never been mad about ‘Tenebrae’, but this Blu-ray release
has made me re-evaluate the film as one of Argento’s superior gialli –
certainly in visual terms. The colours are bold and tremendous, the cinematography
in moments as delicious as anything in ‘Suspiria’ or ‘Inferno’. Those red heels
have never looked so, erm, red. The feature itself is blu-ray Region B and DVD
Region 2, and as well as the English language dub it is available to play with Italian
audio and English subtitles. It was shot in English and Franciosa, Saxon,
Steiner and Gemma voiced themselves in the English version. A wealth of extras
include a collectors’ booklet with writing from Alan Jones and Peter
Strickland, and an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Copious disk
extras include two audio commentaries (one by Alan Jones and Kim Newman,
another by Thomas Rostock), interviews with co-star Daria Nicolodi, composer
Claudio Simonetti, and author Maitland McDonagh (‘Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds:
The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento’). There’s also 16 minutes of Simonetti’s band
Goblin performing tracks from ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ in person at a gig at
Glasgow Arches. All in, this is a definitive release of what is a strong contender
for Argento’s finest 1980s movie.
The steelbook edition of ‘Tenebrae’ is available
now from Arrow Films.
Poppins (1964) was a
first for me in two ways: one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a
theater (I was five years old when it was reissued in 1973 and the Rialto
Cinema in Westfield, New Jersey, the theater where I saw it, is actually one of
the few remaining theaters from that era that is still in business) and one of
the first movies I saw played back on a VCR (in 1980). I could hardly believe my eyes at age 5 and
wondered just how in the world Mary Poppins (she is never, ever to be called
just “Mary”), the chimney sweeper, and her two young charges managed to make
their way into the sidewalk paintings with all of the colorful characters. 40 years later, I could pretty much figure it
out for myself having seen many behind-the-scenes documentaries. And yet even
though the man behind the curtain has been exposed, it still does not detract
from the sheer magic that is this now 50-year-old film, and certainly one of
the longest Disney outings at two hours and nineteen minutes. The songs are pure magic and there is not a
dull one in the entire film, another rarity.
Julie Andrews is positively radiant as
the titular heroine who comes to save the day when Jane and Michael Banks (Karen
Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively, of course), the young children of the
too-busy-for-children parents George Banks (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks
(Glynis Johns), want a new nanny after they drive off their last one (Elsa
Lanchester) in a fit of aggravation. Their
ripped-up-by-their-father classified ad makes its way to Mary Poppins who appears
to be just what the children ordered. She
takes them on several adventures, the most colorful of which involves the
aforementioned jaunt into the colorful sidewalk chalk drawings. Animation and live action match in this
sequence to produce some truly remarkable sequences. The music is infectious and you cannot help
but find yourself humming along with the characters.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end, and the long and short of it is that Mary Poppins, who successfully brings
the children together with their parents, must leave after a job
well-done. While it becomes apparent
that the children now no longer need Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins indeed has
needed the children…and it shows as she flies off.
The film is a great showcase for the
considerable talents of Julie Andrews who was 28 when she made the film and
also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Dick
Van Dyke is a complete joy, bouncing around with reckless abandon. Karen Dotrice and the late Matthew Garber are
very good as the children.
The sesquipedalian jawbreaker Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is
perhaps the film’s most well-known song simply because of its ability to
challenge even the most seasoned logophile. A Spoonful of Sugar and the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee are additional delights.
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of
the original Mary Poppins stories upon which this film is based, reportedly
gave Walt Disney a hard time as he attempted to buy the book rights from her – he
spent over roughly 20 years courting her. This story has come to light and is featured in the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, and it is receiving a
lot of publicity as it stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary
Poppins has been
released on DVD for its 40th and its 45th anniversaries. The new release features a combination
DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and ports over all the previous extras (which are
considerable, though they are only presented in standard definition) and adds
two new ones in high definition: a 14-minute piece called Becoming
Mr. Sherman which features Richard Sherman, one of the writers of
the film’s music, speaking with actor Jason
Schwartzman (who actually portrays Richard Sherman in the
aforementioned Saving Mr.
Banks)talking about the making of the film. The other extra is a Karaoke supplement.
The film looks gorgeous and sounds
terrific on Blu-ray and is a must for Disney aficionados.
The forthcoming Criterion Blu-ray/DVD special edition of Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won't be released until January 21 but you can pre-order it now on Amazon and save $10. The set will contain a combined five discs, making this Criterion's most ambitious release to date.
Here is breakdown of what you can expect from the press release:
Stanley Kramer followed
his Oscar-winning Judgment at Nuremberg with this sobering investigation of
American greed. Ah, who are we kidding? It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, about
a group of strangers fighting tooth and nail over buried treasure, is the most
grandly harebrained movie ever made, a pileup of slapstick and borscht-belt-y
one-liners performed by a nonpareil cast, including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar,
Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, and a boatload of
other playing-to-the-rafters comedy legends. For sheer scale of silliness,
Kramer's wildly uncharacteristic film is unlike any other, an exhilarating epic
of tomfoolery. DUAL-FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES New,
restored 4K digital film transfer of the general release version of the film,
with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray New high-definition
digital transfer of a 202-minute extended version of the film, reconstructed
and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the
longer original road-show version-including some scenes that have been returned
to the film here for the first time-with 5.1 surround Master Audio soundtrack
on the Blu-ray New audio commentary featuring It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo New documentary
on the film's visual and sound effects, featuring rare behind-the-scenes
footage of the crew at work and interviews with visual-effects specialist Craig
Barron and sound designer Ben Talk show from 1974 hosted by director Stanley
Kramer and featuring Mad World actors Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan
Winters Press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and members of the film's
cast Interviews recorded for the 2000 AFI program 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs,
featuring comedians and actors discussing the influence of the film Two-part
1963 episode of the CBC television program Telescope that follows the film's
press junket and premiere The Last 70mm Film Festival, a program from 2012
featuring cast and crew members from Mad World at the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, hosted by Billy Crystal Selection of humorist and voice-over
artist Stan Freberg's original TV and radio advertisements for the film, with a
new introduction by Freberg Original and rerelease trailers, and rerelease
radio spots Two Blu-rays and three DVDs, with all content available in both
formats PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick
We've plugged this release before, but if you are really stuck for a last minute holiday gift, forget those plans to get the guy in your life one of those neckties that lights up and says "Let me kiss you in the dark, baby!" Instead, go for the Dark Knight Ultimate Collector's Edition, which was recently released by Warner Home Video. It's one of those hernia-inducing boxed sets that is packed with goodies including:
Blu-ray editions and Ultra Violet access to all three Batman flicks directed by Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises
A special bonus disc that includes "the complete IMAX sequences from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises" that allows you to view these scenes in their original aspect ratios; a fascinating conversation between Christopher Nolan and veteran director Richard Donner about the challenges of revitalizing the Batman legend, a new documentary titled The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Nobody does boxed set collectibles better than Warners and this set is no exception. You get a souvenir program of images from the films, a set of separately packaged villain art prints, a letter from Christopher Nolan and even some toy replicas of three vehicles.
Each boxed set is individually numbered and the release is limited to 141,500 units. Grab it while you can. To the Bat poles!
Maverick actor and filmmaker Tom Laughlin has died at the age of 82 after a long illness. Laughlin was just another hunky actor in small roles in films like South Pacific and Tea and Sympathy. However, in 1967 he successfully rode the wave of popularity attached to biker flicks by writing, directing and starring in The Born Losers. (He used the named T.C Frank for his non-acting credits). The film starred Laughlin as a half-Native American named Billy Jack who takes on seemingly insurmountable odds to help oppressed people. The film was a hit and Laughlin revived the character in 1971 in the film Billy Jack. However, he was angry with Warner Brothers' lukewarm marketing of the film. He engaged in a high profile battle to win back distribution rights and finally prevailed in court. In 1974 Laughlin took the bold step of investing millions of dollars in re-marketing a movie that had not been a major success. This time, however, he used an innovative distribution method called "four walling" which centered on renting a wide number of theaters across the country and keeping all of the boxoffice revenues. Laughlin's plan worked so well that it permanently changed distribution patterns of major films which had once been centered on the premise of rolling out releases in slow, methodical manner. Suddenly "wide" releases became the norm and the strategy helped make Jaws the top boxoffice attraction of all time. Laughlin repeated his success with The Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. Critics scoffed at the script's ham-handed embracing of left wing political causes but the public responded especially in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate crisis that saw President Richard Nixon resigning from office shortly before the film was released. Laughlin found that the third time was not the charm, however, and his third film in the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) barely saw release in 1977. A high profile Western, The Master Gunfighter, released in 1975, was also deemed a boxoffice disappointment.
Laughlin's obsession with political activism alienated him from many in the Hollywood community. Unlike John Wayne and Jane Fonda, who successfully weathered criticisms of their high profile political pronouncements, Laughlin seemed to irk the people in power. Laughlin never ceased in expressing his distrust for whoever was irunning the show in Washington. At various times he was seen as a radicial leftist but at other times he seemed to extol beliefs of the right wing fringe movement. In short, he annoyed both sides. By having taken on the studio system, he was deemed toxic by the big money people in the industry. Working with his wife and co-star Delores, he tried repeatedly to get other film projects off the ground without success. He made three quixotic attempts to run for President as a Republican but was ignored by the party establishment. Nevertheless, in death, Laughlin is finally getting the credit he was often denied in life for reinvigorating the motion picture distribution business. For more click here . For comments from Laughlin's daughter click here
Joan Fontaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 classic Suspicion, has died in her California home at age 96. Fontaine began her film career playing attractive but nondescript characters until Hitchcock cast her as the female lead in his 1940 film version of the bestseller Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier. The film earned her an Oscar nomination and elevated her to one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses. In 1943 she received a third and final Oscar nomination for The Constant Nymph. Fontaine also won rave notices in the film version of the Gothic novel Jane Eyre, starring opposite Orson Welles. In both films she played an innocent woman whose husband is harboring a shocking secret that is unveiled within the walls of a stately but foreboding country manor. Fontaine's other major films include Ivanhoe, The Emperor Waltz, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, This Above All, The Women, Gunga Din, Casanova's Big Night, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Tender is the Night. She retired from feature films in the 1960s after being offended by being asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. However, Fontaine did continue to appear in TV shows for another twenty years. These included Ryan's Hope, Hotel and The Love Boat. Fontaine was the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland but the two sisters engaged in an on-going feud that extended back to their childhood years. For more click here
Acclaimed actor Peter O'Toole, star of stage and classic cinema, has passed away in a London hospital after a long illness. He was 81 years old. O'Toole shot to international prominence when director David Lean cast the largely unknown actor in the title role of his 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. O'Toole proved he was not to be a "one hit wonder", earning 8 Oscar nominations throughout his career, though he was frustrated at not winning the award in a competitive category. In 2003 he accepted the Academy's consolation honor: a lifetime achievement Oscar. O'Toole, Irish at birth, benefited from the explosive emergence of young method actors in the British film industry of the 1960s. His drinking exploits with friends like Richard Burton and Richard Harris were the stuff of legend and were chronicled in Robert Sellers' best selling book Hellraisers. O'Toole's career was not comprised of all hits. He went through dry spells as early as 1965 with the failure of his big budget adventure film Lord Jim and the flop 1969 musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips followed by another ill-advised venture into the musical format with the 1972 film of Man of La Mancha. . Yet, he would always surprise critics and audiences with an unexpectedly inspired performance in films that were often somewhat mundane. Among his most memorable cinematic achivements: Becket, My Favorite Year, The Lion in Winter, The Stunt Man, How to Steal a Million and What's New Pussycat? Fiercely private and disdainful of publicity and interviews, O'Toole generally proved to be quite charming when he would let his guard down. Although he said he had retired from the film industry, he was coaxed out of retirement for a historical film that is awaiting release.- Lee Pfeiffer For more click here
If you love director Richard Brooks' slam-bang 1966 Western The Professionals as much as we do, you should click here to gaze at some great international posters from the film that starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Claudia Cardinale (at her hottest!), Jack Palance, Woody Strode and Ralph Bellamy. It's part of Steve Thompson's blog celebrating his favorite year: 1966, and what baby boomer could argue with him?
Personal letters written to his friend and colleague Dennis Hamilton of the Sunday Times reveal a great deal about the nature of their relationship. In some letters, Fleming expresses his gratitude to Hamilton and at other times chastises him for using insulting verbiage and even wasting his time tending to his garden, an activity Fleming apparently disdained. The James Bond author's letters also reveal that he was once struggling to get through a business meeting without realizing that he was undergoing a major heart attack. The letters are being put up for auction. For more click here
Over the years, Friday the 13thhas been called many things. Upon its
release in May of 1980, critics who reviewed the low budget, independent wonder
called it everything from a blatant Halloween
clone (which director Sean Cunningham never denied it was) to an overly
violent dead teenager movie made with no apparent talent or intelligence.
Gene Siskel was so outraged by the film
that he called Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest
the movie business.” Siskel even went so far as to publish the home address of
actress Betsy Palmer (who gives a magnificent performance in the film) and he
encouraged fans to write to her and express their disappointment in her taking
a role in such a ghastly film.
Why did this creepy little horror film
strike such a negative chord in critics all over the country? To answer that
question, we must go back to 1978. The Alfred Hitchcock/Italian giallo-inspired
Halloween was released that year and
was not only loved by the movie-going public, but the near perfect film was
universally praised by critics including Roger Ebert, who rightfully called it “A
film so terrifying that I would compare it to Psycho.”
Critics and audiences alike were in awe of
the way director John Carpenter masterfully built suspense and the amazing film
became an instant classic as well as a box office phenomenon.
Fast forward to 1980; Director Sean
Cunningham decides to make a horror film and very wisely comes up with the idea
to combine two of the most current and successful scary movies: Halloween and George A. Romero’s classic
1979 zombie epic, Dawn of the Dead.
Cunningham would use Halloween’s structure (he would also borrow from Mario Bava’s
groundbreaking 1971 giallo film, A Bay of
Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve)
while adding Dawn’s amazingly graphic
and realistic gore effects. He would even engage the talents of the man
responsible for Dawn’s innovative gore,
special FX maestro Tom Savini.
This is primarily what outraged critics of
the time. In their eyes, Cunningham could not match Carpenter in masterfully
building terror and suspense (and there is much truth to that), so, instead,
the filmmaker would rely solely on realistic and bloody effects in order to
scare his target audience. The film was also accused of equating
sex/drugs/alcohol with death as well as being both misogynistic and illogical.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it
comes to the art of filmmaking, Friday
the 13thcannot hold a candle to Halloween, but I refuse to agree with anyone who calls Friday worthless, misogynistic and
illogical junk whose only talent can be found in its gore content.
Yes, the blood flows and Savini’s effects
are still as astonishing now as they were 33 years ago, but the entertaining
film works for many other reasons which I’ll list right now.
First of all, just like Halloween, the film has a
documentary-like feel to it. Cunningham simply shows us a likeable group of teenage
counselors (one of whom is a young Kevin Bacon) who are hard at work fixing up
Camp Crystal Lake a few weeks before the noisy children are due to arrive. The
characters have no Hollywood-esque dramatic motivations or conflicts. They are
just a very normal, happy and realistic group going about their daily business.
As viewers, we almost feel as if we’re eavesdropping on their lives.
This technique is greatly aided by the more
than competent writing of Victor Miller who wisely avoids stereotypes such as “the
jock” or “the bitch” and creates a pleasant group of normal and realistic kids.
The wonderfully natural acting of the kids themselves also helps. We like this
group and when the killer’s POV shots interrupt these normal, quiet scenes, it
really has an impact.
Next up is Sean Cunningham’s directorial
style. (For those who have said this film is little more than a gore-fest,
listen up.) Cunningham uses tried and true techniques such as showing us early
on the horror that the killer is capable of, then showing us exactly where the
killer is and, finally, having his likeable characters enter the killer’s space
one at a time. Naturally, this technique produces a fair amount of tension,
suspense and scares.
I won’t reveal the killer’s identity, but I
will say that it’s not our hockey masked pal, Jason. (Jason’s reign of terror
begins in part 2 and he doesn’t don his iconic mask until part 3.) However, once
you know who the killer is and learn the motivation behind the murders, you
will be petrified by the killer’s terrifying personality. Not only that, but upon
repeat viewings of the quieter, early scenes, knowledge of the killer’s
personality creates even more eerie, goose bump-like scares.
Cunningham also creates a nice moody
atmosphere by having half of the film take place during a nighttime thunderstorm.
Combine that with the quiet, isolated camp location and a moving POV camera
which suggests a creepy, violent and vengeful presence always lurking nearby
and you have not only a very scary little film, but a real feeling of almost
I can’t go on about the film’s scare factor
without mentioning the frightening musical score by the great Harry Manfredini.
His instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” has become a part of horror
music history and now stands tall alongside other immortal horror themes such
as Bernard Hermann’s magnificent score for Psycho,
John Williams’ often imitated, but never duplicated score for Jaws and John Carpenter’s iconic and
terrifying Halloween theme.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final
scare of the film. Without giving away too much, I have to say that it is one
of the most shocking and unexpected scares in horror movie history and second
only to the brilliant ending of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). It’s a magnificently crafted scene that can be
credited to Sean Cunningham’s solid direction, Victor Miller’s imaginative
writing, Adrienne King’s subtle and naturalistic acting, Tom Savini’s
magnificent makeup work and Harry Manfredini’s frightening music all working as
one to give audiences the fright of their lives.
Australian release poster.
And that’s just the final scene. All those
elements work together throughout the entire film and help to create a fun,
scary rollercoaster ride. The gore effects work more as a punctuation mark at
the end of a sentence. It usually caps off a tense and frightening scene. It is
not the only technique at work here. As a matter of fact, take the very minimal
amount of gore out of the film and you still have an extremely eerie,
claustrophobic and terrifying film.
As far as being misogynistic, equating
sex/alcohol/drugs with death and being illogical goes, critics couldn’t have
been more off base.
Let’s start with misogyny. First of all,
there is an equal amount of male and female deaths, and Kevin Bacon’s death is
probably the best and most graphic death scene in the film. Second of all, and
don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film, the killer is female. So, if the
filmmakers hated women, the killer would’ve been a man. Saying that this film hates
women is ridiculous.
Next up is the idea that the kids were
punished by death for engaging in sex, drinking and smoking pot. Well, if that
were the case, then why does the final girl survive? Midway through the film she
indulges in both beer and marijuana. It is also revealed that she was in a
relationship with the head of the camp and, although it isn’t shown that they
had sex, the dialogue strongly suggests it. Much like Halloween (the female survivor of that film also smokes pot and
clearly wants to be in a relationship with a boy), this idea of
sex/drugs/alcohol being punishable by violent death is not a part of Friday the 13th, but would be
misinterpreted by future slasher filmmakers thereby beginning that slasher
Lastly is the ridiculous idea that all of
the characters in this film do completely illogical things before getting
killed. This never happens. First of all, the characters are silently killed
off one by one in a Ten Little Indians manner.
The remaining characters have no idea that there is a killer among them, so it
makes sense that they would go about their business as if everything is normal.
Also, once the last two characters sense that something is wrong, they both do
completely logical things. Unfortunately, they are thwarted by the intelligent
killer who is always one step ahead of them.
For example, when they can’t find anyone,
they try to call for help, but, unbeknownst to them, the line has been cut.
(They believe that it’s just out of order due to the storm.) Next, they find a
bloody axe in one of the cabins and immediately decide to leave, but their car
has been sabotaged. Their last idea is to just hike the ten miles to
civilization and get help, but it’s pitch black outside and a thunderstorm is
With the exception of the heroine knocking
out the killer a few times and then either not continuing to pummel her or
throwing the weapon aside, the characters all act logically/intelligently in
every situation, but still get killed which is one of the reasons why the film
is so scary.
So, is it a masterful piece of cinema like Halloween or Psycho? Certainly not. However, it’s far from worthless junk and it
totally works without the effects which, by the way, take up less than sixty seconds
of the film’s 95 minute running time. At the time, those amazing gore effects
were the only things that were new in this type of film, so that’s what critics
mainly became fixated on. Unfortunately, they missed much of the wonderful
craftsmanship that went into the rest of the film.
Friday the 13th may be a dead
teenager movie, but it’s one of the best of its type. While not in the same
league as its predecessors, it’s a much better film than it’s been given credit
for. It’s also an important film in that, along with Halloween, it created a very successful subgenre/formula of the
horror film and, due to being released by Paramount Pictures and becoming a
huge financial success, it gave up and coming filmmakers a chance to break into
the Hollywood system by producing their own low budget slasher films which
utilized the same structure and similar techniques.
To date, the film has spawned ten sequels,
one remake, countless imitations and the character of Jason has become an icon
of fright. Entire books have been written about the series and at least one
book was wholly devoted to the groundbreaking first film. There have also been Friday the 13thcomic books,
novelizations, video games, action figures and conventions. Not bad for a little
movie that has been wrongfully dismissed as an illogical, misogynistic, incompetent
spectacle of gore.
issue #27 of Cinema Retro, writer John Exshaw presents a remarkable, previously
unpublished interview with iconic British actor Peter Cushing. The following
companion piece was not included for reasons of space but we are very proud to
run this as a web site exclusive.)
to interviewing Peter Cushing, in May, 1993, I arranged to speak to Christopher
Lee at the Carlton Towers Hotel in Knightsbridge, where he kindly shared the
following thoughts on Cushing as actor, colleague, and friend.
didn’t meet him until we did the first Hammer movie. I’d seen him. Of course
the thing which I’d seen which impressed me most, understandably, was 1984, which was remarkable. He was
wonderful in that. . . . Live TV! [shudders]
dedication; and this is the answer to why Peter Cushing is an actor. Total
dedication. Total! The most professional actor I have ever worked with. And I’m
not going to say underrated, because he isn’t underrated. He’s highly regarded
all over the world as a brilliant actor, and deservedly so. The record shows
that. . . . Also, one thing that we do share, I think, more than anything,
which is more important than anything else – I think we share the same
dedication, I think we share professionalism, I think we share the same
feelings about doing the best we can – one thing we certainly share is the same
sense of humour, which, of course, the general public is totally unaware of. If
they knew what we got up to on the set in every film we’ve made . . . the
imitations that I used to do, the dances that he used to do. . . . Oh, we used
to dance together in the rushes, yes; me made up as the Frankenstein creature,
a sort of, a sort of, what do you call it – buck-and-wing dance, you know. And
in years and years and years he and I have shared this idolatrous love of the
Warner Brothers’ cartoons, you see, and Sylvester, and Tweety Pie, and Yosemite
Sam. And I’ve always imitated them, you see, and he does the same. And we used
to do that on a set; people used to think we’d gone out of our minds, and we’d
make each other laugh. Sometimes it’s so important – in a way, it’s absolutely
essential – but we’re both of us ice-cold when it comes to doing it, even if
we’ve been laughing a few moments before. Again, that’s a thing we also share,
what can I say about Peter Cushing that I haven’t said before? I mean,
consummate actor, brilliant technician, and a marvellous human being. I’ve
always said, you know – I’m sure you’re aware of this – that he should have
been a priest. . . . Because there is a great love for his fellow man. There’s
an almost superhuman loving kindness in Peter, and it’s always been there. I’ve
never heard him say anything harsh about anyone. He’s also a deeply religious
man. Those are the two things we don’t have in common. I’m afraid I do say what
I think. I’m not tactless but I am a more direct person than he is. I don’t
have his tolerance. I don’t have his gentleness. I don’t have his faith; I wish
I did. . . .
is not an easy person to get to know, believe you me. There’s a lot about Peter
that I don’t know. . . . But of course, as you know, Helen died in the 1970s
and that is his only desire left in life. And it’s genuine. He has stayed alive
because he’s a man who would never take his own life because that would be a
great sin, and he has stayed alive through some pretty terrible experiences,
you know. He’s had cancer, and problems with his legs, his hips, breathing, and
all sorts of medical problems – but the spirit is unquenchable and the speed of
thinking and the mind haven’t changed at all. I mean, it’s another cliché – the
spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The same thing with Vincent [Price];
mind like a rapier, both of them. Only the physical disabilities of getting
old. . . .
he’s certainly one of a kind, and of course this business of staying alive,
simply existing, which is how he looks at his life – existence. He’s only
waiting for that moment; only waiting for it. And he’s been waiting now for
twenty-three years. It must be terrible to be so admired and so loved and so
respected but to impose, I feel, on yourself, deliberately, a sort of monastic
seclusion which he seems to prefer. He seems to; I mean, you wouldn’t think it
if you saw him with a group of people but I think he prefers to be alone. I
don’t think the house is full of people. I don’t think there’s many very, very
close, intimate friends – but nor have I, and nor have many people.
Acquaintances, yes; admirers, yes – scores of thousands all over the world,
people who feel they know him, people who feel that he’s a friend – all that.
That’s on a professional basis; I think on a personal basis, I get the
impression that he’s a person who keeps his life and his relationship with his
wife very much to himself. It’s locked up in a cupboard of which he has the
key. He doesn’t open that cupboard and release anything unless he chooses to.
But I don’t either.
To order issue #27 of Cinema Retro with John Exshaw's exclusive interview with Peter Cushing click button below
The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Far Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but I had problems discerning some of MacGraw's dialogue and found myself having to constantly raise and lower the volume. There are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
From the rumored suicide of a Munchkin to debates about how many dresses Dorothy wears, there are still controversies attached to the beloved 1939 MGM screen version of The Wizard of Oz. Click here to find the facts behind the legends.
this month from the Criterion Collection is Elio Petri’s 1970 international
hit, Investigation of a Citizen Above
Suspicion, which won the Oscar that year for Best Foreign Language Film. It
stars Gian Maria Volonté, whom most Americans will recognize as the
heavy in two spaghetti westerns, A
Fistful of Dollars and For a Few
Dollars More, but this time clean-shaven and wearing a tailored suit. He is
sharp, handsome, and volatile—the perfect personality to portray a high-ranking
detective in Italy’s (then) corrupt police force.
politicized, Investigation uses sly
dark humor to make its point—that corruption has become so bad that an official
can commit murder but can still be above the law. Here, Volonté, who enjoys rather kinky sex with his mistress, decides to
kill her to prove he can get away with it under the very noses of his fellow
officers. In short, he is a mad, over-the-top narcissist whose fantasy is to be
coerced into confessing his “innocence.” It is a sly crime thriller with a nudge-nudge,
wink-wink jab in the ribs.
The world in the year 1970 was very
different than it is now. Revolution was everywhere, and it was hip to question
authority and rebel against conformity and complacency. Investigation is one of the many pictures from that era to attack
the “establishment”—and manage to be entertaining at the same time. The jury is
out on whether today’s audiences will find relevancy in the picture, but as I
tell my students in Film History, “always judge a film within the context of
when it was released.”
of the movie are definitely Volonté’s
performance, as well as the iconic Ennio Morricone score. In a recent interview
included as an extra on the disk, Morricone explains that his approach to the
music was to use unusual, “grotesque” instrumentation. The recurring, playfully
sardonic main theme perfectly captures the film’s mischievous stance.
The new 4k digital film restoration is
sharp and crystal clear, and the colors punch out in that singular 70s fashion.
An abundance of extras include an archival interview with director Petri, a
90-minute documentary on Petri’s career, an excellent 60-minute documentary
about actor Volonté, the interview with Morricone, and a booklet featuring an
essay by film scholar Evan Calder Williams and excerpts from a book by
co-screenwriter Ugo Pirro.
Recommended for aficionados of Italian
art house cinema, Investigation of a
Citizen Above Suspicion is a cult relic of the early 70s that begs for
Altman enjoyed a successful and critically-acclaimed run as a director in the
1970s, and for my money, Nashville is
the pinnacle, the quintessential Altman Film. Along with M*A*S*H, and later works like A
Wedding and Short Cuts, Nashville is a large ensemble picture
with numerous characters coincidentally crisscrossing throughout the story, creating
a style and structure that Altman made his own (it’s a safe bet that he was
assuredly influenced by Jean Renoir’s 1939 classic, The Rules of the Game, which also displays a canvas of quirky
characters interacting at a gathering). The “plot,” as it were, concerns the
preparation and execution of a political campaign benefit concert—and the
camera follows twenty-four eccentric souls around as it happens.
citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, where the picture was shot on location, were
very upset by Altman’s film. They felt it made fun of them and the country
music industry. On the contrary, Nashville
is not really about the country music business—that only serves as the
conduit for Altman’s real message. This is a movie about America, from not only a pop culture point-of-view, but definitely
a political one. Nashville, the city, becomes a metaphor for the country, and
the music is the paint with which the world is colored.
released in 1975, Nashville is satire
at its best. Altman-esque black humor oozes through every scene, and each one
feels spontaneous and improvised (most of them were!). The picture is a
smorgasbord of sights and sounds—all fascinating and compelling. Thematically,
there are examinations of relationships, greed, exploitation, fame, ambition,
and disappointment... as well as a sudden and surprising final statement on
violence. With its depiction of the assassination of a pop singer, in hindsight
Nashville eerily forecasts the murder
of John Lennon, which occurred five years later.
usual, Altman employs many from his so-called “stock company” of actors—Lily
Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Henry Gibson, Michael Murphy, Shelley Duvall,
Geraldine Chaplin—as well as folks like Ronee Blakely, Jeff Goldblum, Karen
Black, Keenan Wynn, and Ned Beatty. Carradine, Tomlin, and Blakely are
standouts, but for me it’s Gibson who steals the picture. His characterization
of a rhinestone country singer is spot-on and often hilarious. Nashville deservedly earned Best
Picture, Best Director, and two Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations, and
yet it won only Best Song—Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” (many of the actors
wrote their own songs they performed in the movie).
new 2k digital film restoration looks wonderful on Blu-ray, of course, and the 5.1
surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack elevates to sublimity Altman’s utilization
of overlapping dialogue. You really can decipher
everything that’s said! The new documentary on the making of the film, which
features interviews with Carradine, Blakley, Tomlin, Murphy, Allan Nicholls,
writer Joan Tewkesbury, and A.D. Alan Rudolph, is informative but perhaps a
little rambling after fifty minutes. It was interesting to hear how Carradine
was unhappy with his performance during the shoot and “felt uncomfortable”—it
was after he saw the completed film that he realized it was his unhappy character that had upset him; Tom was a
guy who didn’t like himself, and the actor felt it internally without understanding
it at the time. There are three archival interviews with Altman, who is always
articulate and entertaining. Also included is some behind-the-scenes footage
and a demo of Carradine performing his songs from the film. Critic Molly
Haskell provides the essay in the thick booklet.
Nashville is a feast for the
eyes and ears. More of an experience than a narrative film, it is one for the
Actress Eleanor Parker has died at age 91. She was best known for playing the Baroness who was engaged to Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the classic 1965 film version of The Sound of Music. Upon hearing of her death, Plummer released this statement: "Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known, both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever." Parker had been nominated for three Academy Awards but it was her role as the Baroness for which she is best-remembered, as the rich woman who loses the love of Captain Von Trapp to Maria (Julie Andrews). Parker's other key films include Of Human Bondage, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Naked Jungle, Caged and Detective Story. For more on her life and career, click here.
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement:
filmmakers are using Kickstarter to raise the small budget needed to make a
brand new episode of classic TV detective show Columbo, in tribute to
the late Peter Falk.
on the amount of money they raise, the film may or may not get the rights to
use the name Columbo from Universal, but at the very least they want to
make a show in that 1970s American TV-style that fans of the genre will enjoy.
have various levels of funding options available with some great rewards, and
are appealing to the public to get behind the project. What could be a better
Christmas gift for the Columbo fan in your life than a piece of branded
memorabilia, a signed script or even a name in the credits?
For more information and the opportunity to become a
backer of the project go to their Kickstarter by clicking here
(Please note: this notice is posted for informational purposes only. The Kickstarter campaign does not involve Cinema Retro in any way, although our columnist Adrian Smith is one of the production team that is trying to get the project off the ground.)
Cinema Retro has released the following press release. (Please note: this American release of The Big Gundown is entirely different from the European special edition released by Explosive Media that we reported on recently).
LOS ANGELES - Grindhouse
Releasing is proud to present the first-ever U.S. home video release of the
greatest Spaghetti Western you’ve never seen: Sergio Sollima’s widescreen epic
THE BIG GUNDOWN!
the legendary Lee Van Cleef as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of
Cuchillo (Eurofilm superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a
twelve-year-old girl, this release contains fifteen additional minutes of gunslinging
action never before seen in America.
BIG GUNDOWN is one of the most highly acclaimed and long sought-after films in
the spaghetti western genre, hailed by critics for its stunning cinematography,
the amazing performances of Lee Van Cleef (following his iconic role in THE
GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) and Tomas Milian, the classic Ennio Morricone music
(recently used by Quentin Tarantino in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), and the riveting
direction of Sergio Sollima.
4-disc deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition of THE BIG GUNDOWN, including a bonus Blu-ray
of the uncensored director’s cut and a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s classic
soundtrack, arrives in stores December 10, 2013.
Click here to order
THE BIG GUNDOWN now on Amazon.com
the trailer on the Grindhouse Releasing YouTube channel: