The "Trailers From Hell" web site presents the original theatrical trailer for Roger Corman's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tomb of Ligeia", yet another of his successful collaborations with sunglass-clad Vincent Price, who seemed to be channeling Roy Orbison. The site's founder, Joe Dante himself, provides the commentary track for the trailer. Click here to listen.
of this review are reprinted from the article “Playboy Goes to Hollywood,” by
the same author, which appeared in Cinema
Retro, Volume 2, Issue #5, 2006.)
Criterion Collection has seen fit to release on Blu-ray and DVD (separate
packaging) Roman Polanski’s striking film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, originally released in 1971.
Not very well received at first, the picture’s reputation has grown over the
years such that it is now arguably considered the definitive version of the “Scottish
play” on celluloid (although Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 Throne of Blood is certainly a contender). Gritty, realistic, and
violent, Polanski’s vision is dark and troubling—as the story is meant to be.
It’s possible that some of the negative
press it received in 1971 was due to the fact that it was the first major
motion picture produced by Playboy Productions, with Hugh M. Hefner serving as
executive producer, while Playboy executive Victor Lownes II served as assistant
executive producer (Andrew Braunsberg, a close friend of Polanski’s, was credited
as producer). The film came about as a result of the friendship between
Polanski and Lownes.The director had
been recovering from the tremendous amount of grief he had suffered after the
murder of his wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family in 1969—he
needed something that would help purge himself of the ugly and violent images
in his head and heart. Shakespeare’s controversial and bloody play seemed to be
the right vehicle. (Some say the play is unlucky—there are still theatre people
who refuse to refer to it by name.)
Indeed, making the film was something
of a catharsis for Polanski—there were a few occasions in which he unwittingly
referred to the lead actress as “Sharon.” Adapted by renowned playwright and
critic Kenneth Tynan, Polanski’s Macbeth
became a poster child for the handful of ultra-violent pictures to be released
in 1971—the same year as A Clockwork
Orange, Dirty Harry, and Straw Dogs. The blood flows freely in Macbeth—a decapitation is even presented
most realistically—but to focus solely on the film’s violence does not do it
justice. The film is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the play.
“Corporate was initially against the
idea,” Hugh Hefner said in a 2006 interview for Cinema Retro. “It was not a very commercial undertaking, and I knew
it wouldn’t make any money. Victor made a strong case to do it and I agreed
with him. It was more of a prestige thing for Playboy. Playboy and Shakespeare?
Who would have thought?”
The film was made in Scotland, of
course, and featured mostly unknown but highly talented stage actors—Jon Finch
as Macbeth, Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth, Nicholas Selby as Duncan, Stephen
Chase as Malcolm, Martin Shaw as Banquo, and Terence Bayler as Macduff. At one
point during production, Polanski ran over schedule and over budget, causing
the insurance backers to drop the guarantee. Hefner had to fly to London, take
stock of the situation, and personally guarantee the completion of the film
with Playboy Productions’ money.
Back home in the States, Hefner viewed
the dailies at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner remembered, “For my birthday that
year, the cast—on film—suddenly stopped the action of a scene and began singing
‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”
The film did receive a number of very positive reviews and a few awards,
too—it won Best Picture from the National Board of Review and won a BAFTA for
Costume Design. “Of course, as I predicted, it didn’t make any money,” Hefner
said. “In fact, it lost money. But we
didn’t really care. It was a good picture and I’m proud of it. I believe since
its release the film has gone into the black.”
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration,
approved by Polanski, with 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is
assuredly the best possible presentation of this remarkable film. The dreary
Scottish landscapes are gorgeous in their own way, and you can feel the mud and
slop in every scene. Extras include a new documentary featuring interviews with
Polanski, Braunsberg, Lownes, and actors Annis and Shaw; a 1971 documentary
featuring rare footage of the cast and crew at work; an interview with Kenneth
Tynan from a 1971 episode of The Dick
Cavett Show; and a segment from the 1972 British TV series Aquarius featuring Polanski and theatre
director Peter Coe. Critic Terrence Rafferty’s essay in the booklet rounds out
this exceptional package from The Criterion Collection.
Grab it! Just don’t ever pronounce the
name of the play aloud!
I was an avid cinema goer
back in the ‘80s and a normal week could consist of up to four visits to sample
the attractions on offer. Luckily I had a cinema 10 minutes from my house as
well as several others in my home town of Newcastle. My local, “The Jesey”, would show films about
2-3 weeks after their initial run “in town” at the likes of The Odeon which premiered
all the big new releases. However, being a fan of less mainstream films, I
would also venture across the river Tyne to places like Gateshead, Low Fell and
Byker, because these less salubrious cinemas across the water would show the
kind of films you wouldn’t find running in the more mainstream chains. A lot of
these were Cannon cinema’s owned by Golan and Globus (subjects of a new
documentary) or just so run down that they’d run everything from Lemon Popsicle
to Flesh Gordon to lesser known Cannon gems such as Lifeforce and Runaway Train.
It never ceases to amaze me that there were still a couple of low budget (but
big in America) fan favourites that would and should have been shown at these
venues that simply passed me by. Those two films were Night Of The Creeps and Night
Of The Comet, both of which I finally got to see this month- the latter 30
years after its initial release, hopefully long enough to be classed as retro
enough forCinema Retro!
As fortune would have it, Night of the Creeps
had its first UK TV showing on Film Four recently and I really loved this film
(to quote a line from it, it did “Thrill Me”.) It was well worth the wait. At
the same time Arrow Video then announced the forthcoming UK Blu-ray and DVD release
of Night of the Comet. I couldn’t
believe my luck. So did the second cult classic of the ‘80s shape up or
disappoint? Well, great films, like comets themselves, only present themselves
every now and again and sometimes burn brighter than they did when first they
first appeared, which is the case here as Night Of The Comet is easily the most
enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.
Eighteen year-old Reggie
(Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s, The Last Starfighter) misses out
on the event-of-a-lifetime when she ditches watching the comet in favour of
copping off with the projectionist at the cinema where she works. But this
turns out to be a wise move when, the next day, she discovers that the entire
population has been reduced to piles of red dust – leaving only Reggie, her
sister Sam (Kelli Maroney – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Chopping Mall) and a
handful of other survivors to fend off the roving gangs of glassy-eyed zombies.
Taking its cue from
classic “doomsday” movies such as The Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man
(and with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead thrown in for good measure), Night
of the Comet is an irresistible slice of Reagan-era B-movie fare which features
Cyndi Lauper dance-alongs (these girls just wanna have fun!) as well as some
truly gravity-defying bouffant hairstyles and some superb Zombie make-ups. The
“Zombie-Cop” is an iconic monster from the 80’s, of that there is no doubt. As
always with Arrow, the transfer is top notch, showing off the films amazing
colour pallet and the extras are brilliantly done (such as taking a shot of a
character writing on a note pad and intercutting it with the name of the
documentary, as though the on screen character is actually writing its title on
screen. It’s an indication of the time,
effort and humour that the Arrow team put into their releases.These extra’s include:
·High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original
film elements by MGM
·Original 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM
on the Blu-ray)
·Optional English subtitles for the
deaf and hard of hearing
·Audio commentary with
writer/director Thom Eberhardt
·Audio commentary with stars Kelli
Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·Audio commentary with production designer
·Valley Girls at the End of the World
– Interviews with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·The Last Man on Earth? – An
interview with actor Robert Beltran
·End of the World Blues – A brand new
interview with Star Mary Woronov
·Curse of the Comet – An Interview
with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller
·Original Theatrical Trailer
·Reversible sleeve featuring original
and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
·Collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by James Oliver illustrated with original archive stills
the film is very much of its time, it is also timeless as all great cult films
should be. The fact that the film constantly refers to and pays homage to other sci-fi classics is
fabulous, but it is the little less- than- obvious touches that will make for
repeated viewings. My favourite:s one of the survivors of the night of the
comet opens a sealed projection room door and the poster taped onto it was the
Gable/Lombard camp classic Red Dust, which is exactly what all those outside
now are. Touches like that are missing from the “Zombie” (i.e. made and watched
by) films of today. So, my advice is to buy this new Arrow release and draw the
blinds and watch the magical colours on screen and for once “Don’t watch The Skies”.
Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken in "Homeboy".
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Dillon Kastner, who represents the estate of his late father, producer Elliot Kastner:
Hollywood Classics has signed a new distribution
agreement with Dillon Kastner of Cinema Seven Productions to represent the
Elliot Kastner library for all rights.
Titles in the library of the Hollywood producer include
comedy musical A Chorus of Disapproval, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony
Hopkins, and US sports drama Homeboy with Mickey Rourke and
John Ramchandani, MD of Hollywood Classics said: “I am
delighted to work with Dillon Kastner on the wonderfully eclectic and adored
selection of his father’s features.
“Throughout his extensive career Elliott worked with
the highest calibre of world-renowned actors, screenwriters and directors
including Peter Ustinov, Jeremy Irons, James Spader, Pierce Brosnan, Alan
Ayckbourn and Donald Cammell.”
Dillon Kastner of Cinema Seven Productions Ltd said:
‘It is a pleasure to be working alongside the team at Hollywood Classics.
“My father had many ups and downs in his career, and
independent finance can inspire risky and offbeat choices, but at the end of
the day my father believed in all his projects and would be very pleased that
they have now been added to a library of films thoughtfully presented by his old
friend Joe Dreier.”
1983, a serial killer claims more than a dozen lives in and around Rome,
apparently targeting his victims at random, and then disappears.The killer leaves his signature in blood at
each crime scene: “Canepazzo,” or “Crazy Dog.”Thirty years later, Marco Costa (Gian Marco Tavani), the son of one of
the victims, interviews Raul Chinna (Marco Bonetti), a retired criminologist.Obsessively pursuing Canepazzo’s decades-cold
trail, Costa hopes that he can unearth clues from Chinna’s old investigative
files.Who was Crazy Dog, why did he
murder Costa’s father, and why did he abruptly end his bloody spree?If he’s still alive, can Marco locate him and
avenge his father’s death? Revealing that the man who knew the most about the
crimes was a young investigative reporter, David Moiraghi(Giuseppe Schisano), Chinna begins to recount
a sequence of events based on Moiraghi’s interrogations of witnesses and
examinations of the murder scenes.
back-of-the-case blurb on the One7Movies 2014 DVD release of “Crazy Dog” likens
David Petrucci’s 2012 movie to the Italian giallo
and polizio thrillers of the Cinema
Retro era.Petrucci underscores the
homage by casting three 1970s Italian genre icons -- Marco Bonetti, Franco
Nero, and Tinto Brass -- in prominent roles.Another influence would seem to be the long-running U.S. TV series “Cold
Case” (2003-2010), in Petrucci’s structure of a present-day investigator
delving into a decades-old mystery, with period-detail flashbacks to the
crime.There’s a trace of Fritz Lang’s
“M” (1931) as well, when a Rome crime boss strongarms his way into Moiraghi’s
investigation for reasons of his own.
Dog” exhibits some of the limitations of a multi-tasking auteur working
independently on a limited budget.(Petrucci produced, edited, and directed from a script by Igor
Maltagliati.)The cast of primary
characters is small, many scenes are driven either by lengthy dialogue or
conversely by dialogue-free montage, and some of the actors are more effective
than others.A scene centering on Nero
as a loquacious, crackpot artist runs on for far too long, but Cinema Retro
fans will feel inclined to forgive Petrucci: if you land Nero for a film, and
you probably can afford only a limited amount of his time, who wouldn’t make
the most of the opportunity?The framing
device of the present-day interview with the retired criminologist seems
confining at first, but as Maltagliati’s story progresses, the reason for
constructing the movie in that way becomes ingeniously clear.
Region 0 DVD is well executed.Colors
are vivid and details are sharp in the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio.The DVD uses the Italian-language print of
the film and provides subtitles in English.The disc includes two extras: the film’s original trailer and a photo
gallery.The One7Movies Region 0 DVD of
“Crazy Dog” can be ordered HERE.
Hard as it is to believe, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered 50 years ago today. Impressively, it remains alive and well in the minds of all the Baby Boomer fans who grew up with the series- and a new generation will be introduced to U.N.C.L.E. through the forthcoming feature film. We must recognize the genius of producer Norman Felton who, with Sam Rolfe, developed the concept (along with some brief suggestions from Ian Fleming.) We extend our congratulations to our old friends Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who have both been major supporters of Cinema Retro since it debuted ten years ago. Happily, both guys are doing great career-wise and never seem to stop working. We also recognize all those actors, directors, writers and crew members whose talents made the show so iconic. A special, heartfelt nod to the legendary Leo G. Carroll, whose contribution to the series is inestimable.
appreciated upon its original release in 1961, The Innocents is today considered one of the great film ghost stories. After all, it’s based on Henry James’
creepy The Turn of the Screw, a truly
scary masterwork published in 1898. In the capable hands of Jack Clayton (fresh
off his success with Room at the Top,
which had been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in 1959), the
picture delivers a classic Gothic punch that is strange, beautiful, and,
ultimately, powerfully disturbing. Faithful to the source material, the story
is set in the Victorian era. The gorgeous and inimitable Deborah Kerr stars as
a naive and, as it turns out, sexually repressed governess who is hired by an
eccentric and secretive man (“The Uncle,” played by Michael Redgrave). She is to
be a governess to his orphaned niece and nephew at a lonely country estate,
aided by only a couple of servants. He neglects to tell her the place is
haunted as hell.
film scholar Sir Christopher Frayling, in a video introduction on the background
and production of The Innocents, says
that a pivotal scene in the film might be more unsettling today than it was in
1961—and that is when the young nephew (Martin Stephens) plants a very adult
kiss on his governess. Yikes! Frayling’s right! At this point the movie takes a
sharp left turn into true darkness, the prickly kind that prompts you to turn
to your neighbor and say, “Eww.” That’s right, this is a film more about sex than
it is about ghosts, although it is certainly that, too. The ghosts happen to be
the former governess and valet, who apparently had a steamy love affair in the
house, not caring who witnessed it—not even the children. Both died in
unnatural ways. The plot gets even more sick—the ghosts are attempting to
possess the children so they can continue their love affair in new bodies.What?The bodies of siblings, the ages of whom are somewhere between ten and
right there we know that the giant multi-room house, inside of which the
governess is losing her mind, is haunted by sex.
Vile, evil sex. And Ms. Kerr’s Miss Giddens, the daughter of a conservative pastor,
reacts appropriately. Thus, we are presented with the best kind of ghost story—an
ambiguous one. Are there really ghosts? Or is Miss Giddens skyrocketing off her
rocker? It’s up to us to decide. It’s not on a whim that the film was originally
marketed as adult fare.
sensitive and assured direction, along with Kerr’s riveting performance,
certainly bring to the film its winning qualities, but two elements of the production
are essential to the picture’s success—the cinematography by Freddie Francis
and art direction by Wilfred Shingleton. Francis’ work is specially showcased
in this new Blu-ray disc from The Criterion Collection. Francis shot the movie in
CinemaScope black and white, and yet he also shaded the corners to shape the
image into a subtle, oblong, and more tunnel-like rectangle. The striking
contrasts in lighting that occur throughout the interiors and exteriors are, oddly,
almost characters themselves in this eerie story. Brilliant stuff.
it all looks marvelous, for Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration is
flawlessly executed—the images truly reach a high-water mark for black and
white celluloid on Blu-ray. Sir Christopher Frayling also provides an informed
audio commentary. Other extras include a video interview with cinematographer
John Bailey about Francis and his work, and a new documentary featuring
interviews with Francis himself, editor Jim Clark, and script supervisor Pamela
Mann Francis. The essay in the glossy booklet is by Maitland McDonagh.
question, The Innocents is a classy
and elegant release of a stylish and chilling motion picture. Highly
If you're a Cinema Retro readers, chances are you've seen the James Bond classic "Goldfinger" a gazillion times. Still, the much-analyzed film has many fascinating facts associated with it that the average fan may not be aware of. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film's release, the Daily Mail has compiled some of these trivia facts into an article. Click here to read.
It's become a tradition in the United States that, with the onset of summer, the media goes into overdrive trying to scare the pants off people with hyper-inflated warnings about the "shark menace". Forget the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being devoured by a Great White shark- all anyone remembers is that trouble maker Steven Spielberg embellishing in our brains the image of Robert Shaw serving as a human smorgasbord for Bruce, the mechanical shark. This year, the "shark menace" was relatively subdued on TV and on-line thanks to any number of genuine crisis ranging from the rise of Isis to President Putin's obsession to ensuring that Eastern Europe returns to the joyful period of Stalinism. Nevertheless, shark mania was never too far below the surface. The Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" festival features seven days of 24/7 shows about the planet's least-endearing creatures. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Smithsonian Channel has followed suit with "Shark Collection", a DVD comprising of three diverse documentaries. There isn't a "Sharknado" movie to be found, as these programs examine various aspects of the real life plight of various sharks and how they are faring through conservation efforts in recent years.
The first episode is titled "Shark Girl" and offers a fascinating portrait of a fascinating young woman. Madison Stewart is a 19 year old Australian firebrand who has had an obsession with sharks since childhood. With her parent's support, she left school in order to pursue a lifelong career in shark conservation. The film follows her on exotic diving trips to continue her education about the habits of some of the deadliest species. Stewart is consistently engaging and disarmingly charismatic but she is also unstoppable in her determination to bring about stronger conservation laws around the world. The film follows her land-based political efforts that include lobbying Woolworth's (yes, they're still a big chain in Oz) to stop selling shark meat. When the appeal on an emotional level doesn't work, Stewart secures a report from the an internationally respected laboratory proving that the shark meat the stores are selling contains levels of mercury that are far above the recommended allowance. She starts a media campaign warning that people might be putting their health in jeopardy by indulging in this delicacy. The film shows some stomach-turning of magnificent sharks being slaughtered simply to get their fins, which are considered to be a sexual stimulant in Asia. She travels to Mexico to support the government's bold decision to place an annual moratorium on when sharks can be hunted- a decree that is already baring noticeable results. Stewart acknowledges that sharks can pose a danger, but she seems to be blissfully delusional about how erratic their behavior can be. In a dive with legendary Bahamian shark expert Stuart Cove, she is literally surrounded by deadly sharks as she confidently offers them food. As with all of these nature documentaries, the unsung heroes are the camera people who take the risk of photographing these remarkable scenes, yet never get appropriate credit.
The second episode is titled "Death Beach" and provides the obligatory balance between sympathizing with the plight of sharks and being scared to death of them. It's also the strongest episode on the DVD. The film follows the efforts of scientists to discover why a popular but remote beach in South Africa was the scene of five deadly shark attacks in as many years, with three of them occurring in one summer. There are well-done recreations of the attacks and interviews with witnesses. The scientists are seen attempting to catch and tag sharks in order to study patterns of travel and behavior. The episode is genuinely disturbing and will make you relieved that you survived stepping into your own bathtub.
The final episode is titled "Great White Code Red", which will be of primary interest to people with a scientific approach to the shark phenomenon. The show features shark experts indulging in a grisly autopsy of a Great White in order to further understand the many mysteries about this creature that have continued to elude us. The filmmakers deserved kudos for not pandering to the more shocking aspects of shark behavior, but at the same time, this restraint undoubtedly makes this the least engaging of the three episodes.
"Shark Collection" is a consistently interesting release that fulfills its main mission, which is to inform even while it entertains. Recommended viewing.
Issue #30 of Cinema Retro is now shipping worldwide, as is our special issue "Foto Files #1: Spy Girls", an 80-page special tribute to the sexiest femme fatales of '60s and '70s cinema.
Highlights of issue #30 include:
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles screen debut in "A Hard Day's Night" with exclusive insights from the film's director Richard Lester and David V. Picker, former head of production for United Artists.
"Blood, Sweat and Togas": Hercules and the Italian sword and sandal epics of the 1960s.
Exclusive! Oswald Morris: the final interview with the legendary cinematographer of such film classics as "The Guns of Navarone", "The Man Who Would Be King", "Moulin Rouge", "Oliver!", "Lolita", "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Hill".
"From Rio Bravo to El Dorado"- Part 2 of the in-depth comparison between two Howard Hawks film classics.
"Francoise Dorleac: A Remembrance": a look at a rising star whose promising career was tragically cut short.
"Warlords of Atlantis" - to some, a stirring '70s adventure flick; to others, a guilty pleasure!
The late, great Gerry Anderson: his work and career at Pinewood Studios.
The little-seen cult suspense thriller "Fright" starring Susan George.
Our coverage of Oakmont Productions' series of "B" WWII flicks concludes with "Hell Boats" starring James Franciscus.
"One Eyed Jacks"- the troubled classic starring and directed by Marlon Brando
Plus the latest reviews of noteworthy videos, film books and soundtrack releases.
A reminder to our valued subscribers: this issue concludes your subscription for the current season. Please see below sections to renew on-line.
Can you remember when a major studio would premiere a major film at a mid-west drive-in? This was the case with Safe at Home, a 1962 film little-known outside the United States because it was cobbled together quickly to capitalize on New York Yankees teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who were both competing to be the home run king in baseball history. The competition between the sluggers galvanized the nation. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and featured Mantle and Maris as themselves in a children's film about a young boy obsessed with baseball. When he can't deliver on his promise to have the legendary Mantle and Maris appear at his little league function, the two players take pity on him and show up at the event. The premiere of the film was held at the Pioneer Drive-In Theater to benefit the Des Moines Little League team. The photo shows theater management and little league coaches celebrating the event. Note that the second feature is John Ford's Two Rode Together starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark. Those were the days!
Vinegar Syndrome, the DVD label that specializes in rescuing obscure cult movies from oblivion, has released another grindhouse triple feature of 1970s erotica. All three features, contained on two DVDs, are hardcore and all recall period of time when, in order to see such fare, you had to sheepishly pay to enter a porn theater, hoping that anyone of influence in your life who might see you would be sitting in the audience themselves. Watching these oldies but goodies today, one is impressed by the fact that, even within the limited boundaries of the meager production values, some real attempts were made to tell legitimate stories. In that respect, the X rated feature films differed from the "loops", which merely consisted of ten minute reels in which everyone had to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The first film in this triple feature is "Cry for Cindy", which starred Amber Hunt, a pouty, baby-faced beauty who evidently made a bit of a splash when the film was made in 1976 (it begins with a placard thanking Hustler publisher Larry Flint for bringing his top centerfold to the attention of producers.) Hunt plays Cindy, a young woman who is living the high life in L.A. She drives an expensive car, lives in a luxurious apartment and even gets to fly private planes. However, the down side is that all of this is financed by her career as a high end hooker. The film delves into her psychological dilemma: she's addicted to her lifestyle but is increasingly appalled at how she earns it. She is used and abused by a brutal pimp who reminds her that he can toss her out into the street on a whim. Consequently, she becomes his personal sex slave. Her two best friends are more accepting of their fate as hookers. In a flashback sequence, we see how Cindy started as an innocent hair stylist who was helping to finance her boyfriend's way through medical school. Faced with insurmountable debt, she is lured into the life of a hooker without ever divulging this to her lover, who thinks she is suddenly earning big money by modelling. Cindy never warms to going to bed with unattractive men but learns to be the best in her profession, thus making herself a valuable commodity. As the story progresses, however, she becomes more depressed, leading to a rather somber and unexpected development. "Cry for Cindy" is quite ambitious in many respects: it shows a feminine point of view towards sexual exploitation, admittedly even while the actresses are sexually exploiting themselves. The script is literate and interesting and - dare I say it?- the acting is impressive for this genre. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and are erotically filmed and the production values are fairly high, with numerous location sequences and even an original love song written for the opening credits. The film ranks high among the grindhouse sex flicks of the era. (The DVD set also contains a more mainstream, soft-core cut of the film).
"Touch Me" is another attempt to combine a literate script with hardcore sex. Filmed in 1971, the low-budget production is set in an institute where various young people have assembled to discuss and try to resolve their sexual issues. The setting is the private home of the doctor who administers the therapies, which seems to be an opening for low-brow comedy. Yet, the script plays it straight, offering fully developed characterizations and a cast that can actually act (even if the "doctor" is of the rather stiff, pre-"Airplane" Leslie Nielsen method school). The characters span such a spectrum of varying personalities with varying problems that you half expect to see Irwin Allen's name as producer. There's the guy who is insecure about his penis size. There's another guy who harbors rape fantasies. There's a bickering couple and a wife who is rather frigid- and of course, the prerequisite lesbian who feels compelled to get "cured" but ends up adding a few numbers of straight women to her black book. The sex here is more clinical-both cinematically and in a literal sense- as everyone learns to shed their inhibitions and express and enact their wildest fantasies. As with "Cry for Cindy", "Touch Me" is a very obvious attempt to present an erotic film that might be more appealing to female viewers. The dialogue is intelligent and the cast is talented enough to suspect some of them might have found legitimate success in the profession.
Rounding out the triple feature is "Act of Confession", a 1972 film that starts out as ambitiously as the other two entries in the set. The film opens with a rather poignant overview of the miserable conditions most people lived in during the Middle Ages. A narrator points out how particularly rough it was for women, who were mostly consigned to a slave-life existence as the wife of a peasant. Consequently, many young women sought refuge in convents, not particularly because of religious conviction, but simply to escape the drudgery of back-breaking daily life on a farm. The premise is fine and one wishes the producers had stuck with simply providing a documentary about the Middle Ages. However, sex is the name of the game here and we are soon introduced to a young nun who develops some nasty habits in the convent, getting it on with the other sisters as well as the most fortunate priest and altar boy in Europe. In what is undoubtedly the most controversial sequence, she is seduced by Jesus Christ, so if you're still griping about that old Scorsese film, here's a new one you can protest. Unlike the other two films in this set, this entry is about as erotic as a catechism class, with a leading lady so lifeless that the sex scenes border on necrophilia.
Although the films credit aliases for their directors, the DVD sleeve indicates they were actually all helmed by one Anthony Spinelli, who apparently was a legend in the industry back in the day- and improbably, was the brother of noted character actor Jack Weston. Spinelli's work is several notches above the norm for this genre and Vinegar Syndrome presents crisp, clean remastered transfers. Whether these types of films appeal to you or not, they do offer an undeniable cinematic time capsule into an era when the industry was shaking off the constraints of repressive censorship that had dominated popular culture for the entire century. I'd call this an impressive package, but given the subject matter, it would sound too much like a stale joke.
One of the many excellent
supplements that appear on this disc is a rare video interview from 1979 with
David Lynch (and cinematographer Frederick Elmes). For those of us who have
aged along with the director, it is a striking glimpse at a young artist at the
beginning of his strange and wonderful career. In it, he explains that he is
attracted to sometimes harsh, oppressive settings, such as the nightmarish
industrial cityscape in Eraserhead.
“What everyone else finds ugly, I find beautiful,” he says proudly. And the
director has pretty much remained true to his word, hasn’t he?
a landmark picture, but its original release in 1977 was slow to reach an
audience. It gained its must-see reputation only after the film was picked up
to run on the midnight movie circuit that was popular on college campuses and
in the big cities at the time. The midnight movie fad had been around a while
but it especially picked up steam in the early-to-mid-70s with titles like El Topo, The Harder They Come, Pink
Flamingos, and The Rocky Horror
Picture Show. By 1980, Eraserhead had
reached cult status, and Lynch was hired by Mel Brooks to direct The Elephant Man. “You’re a madman!
You’re hired!” Brooks purportedly said.
If you’ve never viewed Eraserhead, there is no better
introduction to it than diving into The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray
release. The 4K digital restoration, supervised by Lynch, looks magnificent—the
ugly is indeed quite beautiful. Yes, it’s a strange movie. I’ve heard some
folks say it’s the weirdest movie they’ve ever seen. That could very well be
true, for today Eraserhead is
considered to be one of the classic
surrealist films, sitting alongside Un
Chien Andalou or Blood of a Poet.
Despite its intentional
strangeness, the story is simple. Longtime Lynch collaborator Jack Nance (here
credited as John Nance) plays Henry, a nervous man who is afraid of the
responsibility of becoming a father. He marries his already-pregnant girlfriend
anyway, and the child that is produced is, well, a monster. After a experiencing
a nightmare in which he is decapitated and has his head sold to a company that
somehow converts it into actual pencil eraserheads, Henry attempts to murder
the child (to this day Lynch and his cast/crew have never revealed how the special
effect of the baby was achieved), which causes the destruction of Henry’s
Okay, yeah, it sounds pretty
strange—but it’s also very funny.
It’s the blackest of comedies made with that quirky “Lynchian” (I suppose
that’s a real cinematic term now) humor that audiences in the 70s weren’t quite
ready for. And yet, Lynch also manages to balance the dark satire with
menacing, creepy horror, thereby creating a one-of-a-kind, unique and personal art
The supplemental material
from the DVD box set that Lynch’s company released in 2001 is included
(“Eraserhead Stories,” a 90-minute documentary on the making of the film),
along with a new piece featuring interviews with actors Charlotte Stewart and
Judith Roberts, assistant to the director (and wife to Jack Nance at the time)
Catherine Coulson, and DP Elmes. Additional archival interviews and trailers
and the illustrated booklet containing an interview with Lynch rounds out the
But there’s more! Also
included on the disk are all but one of Lynch’s works that were released on DVD
in 2002 as The Short Films of David
Lynch. The titles on the Criterion edition are: Six Men Getting Sick (67), The
Alphabet (68), The Grandmother (70),
two versions of The Amputee (74), and
Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (95).
Missing from the earlier set is The
Cowboy and the Frenchman (88), and it’s a mystery as to why this is
Nevertheless, Criterion’s new
Blu-ray release of Eraserhead is an
essential purchase for Lynch fans. It is indeed the definitive presentation of
this remarkable piece of celluloid—so settle in, turn out the lights, and
prepare to have your mind blown.
Issue #30 of Cinema Retro has now shipped to all subscribers in the UK and Europe. As the final issue of season 10, it's time to now renew for Season 11 so you won't miss any of the great issues we have planned for you.
For those who pay through the UK office,
subscriptions for 2015 are now due:
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Bertolucci directing Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris.
P.E.A. Films, a European based company, has filed a lawsuit against MGM stating that their auditors has found evidence that the movie studio has underpaid royalties due P.E.A. and, in general, has been slow in cutting checks and hindering the audit processes. The suit involves the 1965 Italian Western classic For a Few Dollars More starring Clint Eastwood and it's 1966 sequel The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (the first film in the trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, is not included in the lawsuit). Also in dispute is director Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial 1973 classic Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando. The sexually provocative film was a critical and boxoffice hit despite having an X-rating.
Clint Eastwood in Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
This is not the first lawsuit filed against MGM by P.E.A. Over the years, the company has accused the studio of negligence in terms of reporting revenues due to P.E.A. The current lawsuit seeks termination of MGM's distribution rights to the films as well as payment of $5 million in damages. For more click here.
Many books have been written about
Hollywood Westerns. After 45 years, the
late William K. Everson’s “A Pictorial History of the Western Film” (The
Citadel Press, 1969) remains one of the best: a coffee-table book with
substance. Everson appropriately tips
his sombrero to John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Hathaway, and Howard Hawks (with
measured praise for “Red River”), and his comments on films spanning the history of the genre up to the
end of the 1960s, from “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to “The Wild Bunch”
(1969), are incisive and thought-provoking. As a film scholar and preservationist, Everson was particularly
knowledgeable about older and often obscure movies from the silent and early
sound eras. Three of the classic titles
he highlights are worthy of his approval and deserve to be better known than
King Vidor’s “Billy the Kid” (1930) is slow
going at times, particularly if you’re accustomed to the frantic pace of modern
action movies. Nevertheless, as the
first major Hollywood dramatization of the Billy the Kid story, adapted from
Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book, it’s certainly worth seeing. Everson praises the spare quality of the
deliberately tried to avoid the traditional MGM gloss; the photography is good,
but always naturalistic, the characters drab in their dress, the buildings
ramshackle, the streets dusty. It is a
long film and a slow one, with its main action sequence placed in the middle of
the film, so that it doesn’t even build to a climax as most Westerns do. Its script is frankly untidy, yet the film is
quite certainly the best and most convincing of all the Billy the Kid sagas.
is right about Vidor’s strikingly stark style, including Vidor’s use of rugged
outdoor scenes in which massive buttes and caves dwarf the actors, but he’s
wrong about the movie not building to a climax. Actually it does, although the dramatic climax isn’t the final
confrontation between Billy (Johnny Mack Brown) and Pat Garrett (Wallace
Beery!), that you might expect from 80 years of Billy the Kid cinema, and maybe
as Everson expected. It’s an emotional
climax instead of a violent climax: the next-to-last scene in the movie, in
which Billy, on the run, tries to keep his sweetheart Claire (Kay Johnson) from
sticking with him by telling her that he doesn’t love her, although it’s
poignantly clear to the viewer that he does. Vidor, Brown, and Johnson stage the scene with great tenderness.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t much of a
resolution between Billy and Garrett. The two never really face off, as you’d expect from other movies like
“The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), which
remain marginally truer to historical fact. Just after the Kid returns to the heartbroken Claire and confesses that he really does
care, Garrett lets the outlaw ride away with her to freedom and a happy
future. Beery may seem an unlikely
choice to play Pat Garrett (although not the oddest: that would be Thomas
Mitchell in “The Outlaw” from 1946) , but the role is crafted to the actor’s
usual image as a soft-hearted roughneck, so it isn’t as clumsy a fit as you
From Billy the Kid to the O.K. Corral:
Everson called Edward L. Cahn’s “Law and Order” (1932) “[one] of the sound era’s most overlooked Westerns (and
one of its finest).” Walter Huston and
Harry Carey Sr. are terrific as Frame Johnson -- “the killin’est marshal in the West” -- and shotgun-toting gambler Ed
Brandt in this lean, black-and-white movie based on W.R. Burnett’s novel “Saint
Johnson,” with John Huston credited for “adaptation and dialogue.” Johnson (a thinly disguised Wyatt Earp), his
brother Lute, Brandt (the Doc Holliday of the story), and their pard Deadwood
drift into lawless Tombstone, where the rustling Northrup brothers ride
roughshod. The town fathers offer
Johnson the job of peace officer.
“Nope, I’m done with that,” the flinty Johnson says at
first. “All it’s gotten me is a trail of
dead men and a heap of enemies.” The
locals cagily change his mind by playing on his pride: “Pin Northrup’s bet a
thousand dollars that you won’t go up agin’ em.”
The dialogue is hardboiled, almost the only women-folk
in sight are the saloon floozies, and the script establishes a bleak,
fatalistic tone early on. Drifting,
Johnson and his companions match cards on the trail to determine whether to go
to Alkali or Tombstone; Brandt offhandedly votes for Tombstone and draws the
winning hand -- aces over eights, the cards that Wild Bill Hickok held when he
was murdered by Jack McCall. The
real-life events of the feud between the Earps and the Ike Clanton gang are
rearranged here so that the shootings and shotgun ambushes lead up to rather
than follow the showdown inside the “O.K. Barn,” staged by Cahn as a brutal,
running gunbattle around hay bales and horse stalls. A gangster movie from the same year, “The
Beast of the City,” co-scripted by W.R. Burnett and starring Walter Huston, ended
with the same sort of last-ditch, straight-up shootout between cops led by
Huston and mobsters led by Jean Hersholt as a gang lord modeled on Al Capone.
Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) has
been filmed at least five times. Everson
singled out the 1941 version, directed by James Tinling and starring George
Montgomery, as “that rare animal, a remake superior to at least some of its
predecessors. In less than an hour, it
packed in all of Grey’s complicated plot, managed to prevent the unusually
large number of characters from getting in each other’s way, offered plenty of
action and good locations and photography.” Montgomery as vengeance-driven gunman Jim Lassiter makes an impressive
entrance. Dressed all in black, he
prevents a gang of crooked vigilantes from whipping an innocent man by shooting
the whip in two. “You’re interferin’
with justice, stranger,” the ringleader snarls. “Takin’ a whip to a man ain’t justice,” Lassiter snaps back.
Grey’s novel villainized Mormons, led by the corrupt
Bishop Dyer, but the movie sidesteps religious controversy: in this version,
Dyer is a greedy judge (Robert Barrat) who attemps to intimidate Jane (Mary
Howard), a young ranch owner, into signing her property over to him. The judge’s main henchman is his son Adam,
played by Kane Richmond, whom pulp movie fans may remember better as the Spy
Smasher and the Shadow. Montgomery
anchors the film with conviction and charisma, and as Everson noted, William
Bruckner’s and Robert F. Metzler’s script keeps the gunfights, fistfights, and
chases coming at a rapid clip. This is a
movie that combines the simplicity and verve of the B-Western with the
accomplished acting and outdoor production values of an A-production.
“Law and Order” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” are
available in DVD-R editions on the collector’s market, and “Billy the Kid” has
been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection. For their quality and historical value, I
think all three films deserve proper restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, and I
suspect that William K. Everson would have agreed.
We have a limited number of magazine
binders available. Each one holds 12 issues, and comes with the Cinema Retro
logo embossed on the spine. Prices include shipping from our UK office (note;
we do not carry stocks in the US).
USA: $30.00 UK: £12.50. Europe: £15.50. Rest of the
Payment to the UK office by cheque (if
living in the UK)
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER
The web site TMZ has reported that actor Richard Kiel has passed away at age 74. Details are sketchy but the site states that Kiel entered the hospital last week in Fresno, California, for treatment of a broken leg. It is not known whether any complications from that injury contributed to his death.
Kiel was an iconic figure in both television and feature films. His imposing stature often led to him being cast as a heavy. Those of us who were privileged to call him our friend always found this ironic, since he was a kind, gentle man who virtually never said an unkind word about anyone else. Kiel appeared in the 1960s in a slew of major TV shows and played the role of the seemingly benign alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". Although his role had no dialogue, Kiel's presence was so impressive that, decades after the telecast, collectibles from the episode were still being made in his likeness. Among the other classic shows he appeared in were The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild, Wild West, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Monkees and Honey West. Kiel made an impression on the big screen as well in films like Silver Streak and The Longest Yard. However, his biggest claim to fame came when he was cast as the mute, steel-toothed villain Jaws opposite Roger Moore in the 1977 James Bond hit The Spy Who Loved Me. Kiel was considered so popular with test screening audiences that his final scene was reshot, thus sparing the character death and allowing him to reappear in the next Bond flick Moonraker. Over the decades, Kiel was a popular fixture at film events and autograph shows around the world. He truly enjoyed meeting his many fans and always had time to swap stories with them and pose for photos. He wrote and actively promoted his entertaining autobiography, appropriately titled Making It Big in the Movies. He also won a new generation of fans with his role in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore.
At the start up of Cinema Retro ten years ago, we approached Richard Kiel to contribute an article about his early days in show business. He agreed immediately and became one of our major boosters. In 2010, we attended a special dinner in his honor in London, hosted by www.bondstars.com It became evident that his popularity, far from waning, was increasing. He was a devoted husband to his wife Diane and an outstanding father to his children. We express our sincere sympathies.
Richard Kiel has left us in the physical sense- but his presence will live on indefinitely through his appearances in film. Rest in peace, big guy- we miss you already.
- Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall
UPDATE: The Kiel family has issued the following statement:
It is with very heavy hearts that we announce that Richard has passed away, just three days shy of his 75 th birthday. Richard had an amazing joy for life and managed to live every single day to the fullest. Though most people knew of him through his screen persona, those who were close to him knew what a kind and generous soul he was. His family was the most important thing in his life and we are happy that his last days were spent surrounded by family and close friends. Though his passing was somewhat unexpected, his health had been declining in recent years. It is nice to think that he can, once again, stand tall over us all.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Sept. 2, 2014 — For Immediate Release — Long-time film industry veteran Philip Elliott Hopkins announces the
launch of The Film Detective, which
distributes broadcast-quality, digitally remastered, classic programming for
television, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and other digital platforms.
Hopkins plans to release 10-20 DVDs and Blu-rays each
month – as well as syndicate
worldwide through broadcast, VOD and all leading movie portals – beginning Sept. 4.
Additionally, the Massachusetts-based
company plans to launch a classic movie subscription service
on a VOD platform, featuring a veteran movie host, later in the fall (More
details coming soon).
Film Detective’s extensive library of more than 3,000 titles – which includesfeature films, television programming, foreign imports,
documentaries– are now being re-mastered for today’s
new media. All titles are transferred from original film elements and many will be
restored in HD. With original artwork
available for most titles, all releases will be available worldwide with
region-free DVD and Blu-ray release.
The initial slate of titles to be released
Bucket of Blood (1959), Angel and the Badman (1947), Beat the Devil (1953), Carnival of Souls (1962), D.O.A. (1950), Dementia 13 (1963), Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947), Go
for Broke (1951), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Love
Affair (1939), My Favorite Brunette (1947), My
Man Godfrey (1936), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nothing Sacred (1937), Salt of the Earth (1954), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Homes: Dressed to Kill
(1946), Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), The
Big Lift (1950), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), The
Inspector General (1949), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), The
Red House (1947), The Stranger (1946) and The Terror (1963).
Hopkins entered home video entertainment
in 1999 as vice president of Marango Films, an early home video distributor of
classic movies. He co-founded Film Chest in 2002, supplying a broad array of
broadcasters including Turner Classic Movies and American Movie
Classics, and home video companies including
VCI and Image Entertainment with classic films over
the next 11 years.
Commented Hopkins, “I’m thrilled to be launching an
exciting new initiative and look forward to bringing new life to many classics that
deserve to be restored and remastered. Our goal is to build an extensive
resource online for classic film enthusiasts and to develop a social media
network to communicate with fans around the world.”
you’re a movie fan, you probably have a book shelf at least partly filled with
books about John Wayne, but I doubt any of those books reveal a more complete
story of The Duke than author Scott Eyman’s “John Wayne: The Life and Legend.”
author of acclaimed biographies on Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer and John
Ford, Eyman was reluctant to write a bio of John Wayne. “After spending six
years on John Ford, the last thing I wanted to do was saddle up and head back
to Monument Valley, either metaphorically or geographically. Ten years and two
books later, it seamed like a much better idea.” He knew the Duke, “… slightly,
but until I invested four years in research I couldn’t claim any special
insights into the man other than witnessing his good humor, his courtesy, his
first met Wayne, “… in August 1972. He was not merely big, he was huge, with
hands that could span home plate–the largest hands I have ever seen on a human
being.” A man with “… a surprising graciousness of manner and a quiet way of
speaking.” He further described the Duke, “… a good-sized man could stand behind
him and never be seen.” Duke was larger than life and a man known to family and
friends for speaking intelligently on almost any topic.
book is as much a joy to read as it is re-watching John Wayne’s movies. It’s
the origin story of a self-made man who became John Wayne. Movies were as
important to him as his family and his friends and this book lives and breathes
The Duke. It includes tales from his childhood, his collage years, his start in
Hollywood, lifelong friends, his first big break and the wilderness years that
followed; a decade of forgettable “B” movies which served as his acting school
and which defined his work ethic until the end of his life.
Wayne in the 1970 Western "Chisum"
the Duke’s origins were indeed humble, he became a man obsessively protective
of his on-screen image and box office status as a screen icon while at the same
time being known for his outspoken political views and his sometimes oblivious
nature of the changing world around him. He was both Duke Morrison the private
citizen, and John Wayne the movie star. While there are many great actors, most
are defined by one or two truly great movies. John Wayne fans and cinema
scholars alike can easily name more than a dozen John Wayne movies that are commonly
regarded as genuine cinema classics.
takes the time to explain the complicated nature of John Wayne’s politics
without being an apologist. Wayne’s political views evolved from his early years
and defined him almost as much as his movies. Eyman does an outstanding job explaining
and clarifying Wayne’s personal philosophy with anecdotes from family, friends
and colleagues; many of whom disagreed with the Duke’s politics, but the common
thread throughout the book is that almost everyone who knew him, even if they
disagreed with him, liked him and respected him. He would listen to people and
allowed them to say what was on their mind. Even in disagreement there could be
friendship. Likewise, fans love his movies regardless of their politics or his.
tells the John Wayne Story with honesty and sincerity and doesn’t hold back or
sugar coat topics ranging from infidelity, the Hollywood blacklist and charges
of racism to anger on the set, poor financial management and being out of touch
with the times. It’s as much the story of John Wayne movies and his movie image
as it is the story of his family, friends and the beliefs which defined The
Duke as a unique genre in American cinema history.
definitive biography of John Wayne chronicles the major hits and flops of his
screen career and includes the personal recollections of those who knew him. At
a hefty 658 pages, the book reads at a leisurely pace and takes its time just like
some of the Duke’s movies. The book contains an 80 page section devoted to
citations, a generous bibliography and a comprehensive index. This book is the
essential read for every John Wayne fan.
addition to the aforementioned Hollywood biographies, Scott Eyman contributed
the informative and entertaining audio commentary for the out-of-print 2006
Warner Bros. DVD release of “Stagecoach.” He also wrote the short documentary,
“Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption,” also available on that disc.
The Expendables 3 boasts the kind of all-star cast that is rarely assembled in today's film industry- yet the movie is under-performing.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Call it "Suddenly Last Summer"...one year ago, Hollywood was crowing about the performance of its usual spate of special effects-laden monstrosities designed to appeal to the least-demanding audiences, at least in terms of intellectual content. Now, suddenly, comes the realization that even viewers who thrive on shallow sex comedies and the celluloid equivalent of monster truck rallies may finally be wising up. With cinema tickets now considered a major investment by moviegoers who are still reeling from the last recession, it appears that the studios may have hit the wall: Hollywood has seen its worst summer since 1997. In July, boxoffice receipts for the North American market plummeted by 30% compared to the same month last year. Studio executives call the disastrous summer a fluke and have even blamed competition from the World Cup, which finally caught on with Americans, as a prime reason for the boxoffice decline. They may be right - and some of these so called "bombs" will go into profitability once international grosses and home video sales are calculated. However, no one wants to consider another possible reason: many of these overblown epics simply stink. The cost of a couple attending a movie in a big city now requires a small loan to be taken out. Greedy studios take the lion's share of the profits, leaving hapless theater owners to rely on diverse offerings at the snack stand in order to ensure profitability. Who wants to pay $15 a ticket to sit next to a guy who is burping up tacos and pizza? For a New York Times report click here.
There will be a 50th anniversary reunion of actresses from the James Bond classic Goldfinger appearing at the next London Film Convention to be held on 20 September. Actresses scheduled to appear are Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Nadja Regin and Margaret Nolan.
The Bond for UNICEF charity event will take place commencing 20 September in Stockholm, Sweden. An array of guest stars and screenings will highlight the festivities. Here is an updated press notice we received:
(Photo copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
Cinema Retro's "Man About London", photographer Mark Mawston, covered Sir Roger Moore and Lady Moore during their appearance yesterday at London's Cinema Store. Sir Roger was signing copies of his latest book, "Last Man Standing". For his full schedule of London signing appearances, click here.
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (2014) is an interesting but
flawed movie, more successful in set-up than pay-off.
The great Cecil B. DeMille established the standard for
the old-school Biblical epic: a lot of spectacle, as much titillation as the
censors would allow, and a little homespun piety.Aronofsky takes a more ambitious tack,
combining Old Testament scripture, Jewish tradition, and Biblical Apocrypha to
explore weighty spiritual and philosophical issues.His backdrop is a stark antediluvian world of
volcanic crags and dry watercourses, from which the elaborate trappings of
classic spectacles like “Samson and Delilah” (1949), “The Ten Commandments”
(1956), and “Ben-Hur” (1959) are notably absent.
The descendants of Cain, led by their brutal king
Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), have scratched out a primitive industrial
civilization from their hardscrabble environment.They rail at the Creator (the script never
uses the word “God”) for having exiled Adam and Eve from Eden nine generations
before.“He cursed us to struggle by the
sweat of our brow to survive,” Tubal-Cain rages.“Damned if I don't do everything it takes to
do just that.”In contrast, the
descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son, represented by Noah (Russell
Crowe), his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connolly), their three sons, and their
adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), respect “the Creator’s land” and try to
conserve its resources: “We only collect what we can use, what we need.”
Noah begins to experience visions of a deluge.Consulting his grandfather, Methuselah
(Anthony Hopkins), he intuits that the Creator, disappointed with mankind’s
cruelty and greed, intends to destroy His experiment with a Great Flood and
start over.Noah and his family are to
build an ark that will house a male and a female from each animal species.Animals, innocent of sin, will survive and
replenish the world after the waters recede.Noah initially believes that he and his family will be allowed to
survive too, as reward for having lived righteously.The Creator provides a forest from which Noah
and his family can harvest timber for the ark, helped by the Watchers, fallen
angels incarnated as stony giants: “We chose to try and help mankind and when
we disobeyed the Creator, he punished us. We were encrusted by your world. Rock
and mud shackled our fiery glow.”
The first part of the film, in which Aronofsky clearly
delights in presenting the visual and thematic details of his lost world, is
slow-moving but impressively imaginative.This is not history according to anthropology and geology, but
prehistory according to the accounts of the Fall and the first Patriarchs in
Genesis, as interpreted by Aronofsky.The only community shown in detail is a makeshift village that looks
like a squatters’ camp.Weapons are made
of crudely hammered iron.Clothing is
rough and stitched-together.Several
details, some obvious like the Watchers and others more subtle, reinforce the
viewer’s awareness that this is a different Earth pre-dating ours; look closely
and see what differences you notice.
Unfortunately, Aronofsky loses his exhilaration and
takes several dramatic missteps even before the Deluge arrives in fine CGI
scenes.Sneaking through Tubal-Cain’s
camp, Noah realizes (or decides) that he and his family are just as guilty of
sin in the Creator’s eyes as the despoilers are, and that they are not meant to
procreate either.When his son Ham
rescues a girl from Tubal-Cain’s followers and tries to flee with her to the
ark, Noah leaves her to her death.When
he learns that his adopted daughter is pregnant with Shem’s baby, he determines
to kill the child after it is born (“it’s not something I want to do, it’s what
I have to do”).Much of the latter part
of the film sinks into overblown melodrama as Noah and stowaway Tubal-Cain
fight in the ark, resentful son Ham simmers, and after Ila gives birth to not
one baby but two, Noah glowers and stalks toward them with a knife.His next actions as holds the blade over the
infants seem as arbitrarily motivated as his earlier epiphany.
It’s difficult to tell whether Aronofsky tried to load
the script with more philosophical freight than the dialogue and the running time
could bear, or whether his star simply lacked the range needed to convey the
complex emotions that the scenes call for.Crowe is sturdy enough in the sequences that play to his strengths,
principally those in which Noah stands down Tubal-Cain and supervises the
building of the ark, but those requiring a believable display of spiritual
conviction, tenderness, or a sudden transition from one to the other fall
flat.Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain
similarly comes up short of the high benchmark for Biblical movie villainy set
by George Sanders in “Samson and Delilah,” Peter Ustinov in “Quo Vadis” (1951),
Jay Robinson in “The Robe” (1953), Edward G. Robinson in “The Ten
Commandments,” and Herbert Lom in “The Big Fisherman” (1959), but he may have
done his best with what Aronofsky handed him.Anthony Hopkins enlivens the scenes that feature Methuselah, who wanders
into Noah’s story from a different chapter of Genesis in the way that
characters crossed over from one Book of the Old Testament to another in the
old DeMille epics.
The Blu-ray disc in Paramount”s Blu-ray, DVD, and
Digital HD combo offers crisp images and strong colors -- to the extent that
any colors emerge from the predominantly gray tones of the natural setting and
the brown tones of the characters’ clothing.There are three informative special features -- “Iceland: Extreme
Beauty” (Iceland provided the movie’s stony landscape),“The Ark Exterior: A
Battle for 300 Cubits,” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two.”
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND GET EXCLUSIVE BONUS CD WITH CHRISTIAN MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE FILM
McLaglen with his father Victor on the set of Rawhide with Clint Eastwood.
Andrew V. McLaglen, the son of famed character actor Victor McLaglen, who went on to a successful career as both a television and feature film director, has died at age 94. McLaglen got into directing by working on popular television Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s such as "Rawhide" and "Have Gun, Will Travel". He collaborated with John Wayne on the 1963 Western comedy "McLintock!", which proved to be a boxoffice smash. He would collaborate with Wayne on numerous other films such as "Hellfighters", "Cahill: U.S. Marshall", "The Undefeated" and their most acclaimed joint project, the 1970 Western "Chisum" which proved to be a favorite of President Richard M. Nixon. (Some of Nixon's political adversaries theorized that the film inspired him to launch the secret war in Cambodia.) McLaglen also excelled at making action adventure films such as "North Sea Hijack" (aka "fflokes") with Roger Moore. Other major films include "Bandolero!", "The Rare Breed", "Shenandoah" (the latter three with James Stewart), "The Last Hard Men" and "The Devil's Brigade". The two men also collaborated on the highly popular 1978 film for producer Euan Lloyd, "The Wild Geese" and a follow-up project, "The Sea Wolves". McLaglen had retired from films and lived a serene lifestyle in rural Washington state. For more click here
British noir crime dramas of the Fifties go, The House Across the Lake (1954) is probably as good an example as
you could hope to dip into. The tale unfolds in flashback, related by our main
protagonist to another character (precisely who is not revealed until the final
reel), is embroidered with expositional narration and, though clichéd and not
in the least unpredictable, delivers atmosphere by the barrel.
film is an early entry on the CV of writer-director Ken Hughes (the arguable highpoints
of whose career, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
and Cromwell, remain perennial favourites,
whilst his latter-day offerings, Night
School and Sextette, are best
brushed under the proverbial carpet). Hughes scripted The House Across the Lake from his own source novel, “High Wray”,
and also commandeered the director’s chair. Nowadays understandably marketed as
a Hammer film, it’s actually the fruit of the company’s earlier incarnation
Exclusive Films. Nevertheless, it boasts enough familiar names from the
company’s later glory years to set Hammer fans’ pulses racing: Anthony Hinds
produced, Jimmy Sangster AD’d, Len Harris and Harry Oakes were among the camera
operators, Phil Leakey was on make-up duty and James Needs edited.
the height of a sultry summer, American author Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) has
rented a remote lakeside bungalow in which he hopes to overcome a bout of
writer’s block. After doing a favour for his neighbours from – you guessed it –
the house across the lake, Kendrick befriends the affluent but ailing Beverly
Kendrick (Sidney James). It’s transparent from the outset that tensions are
running high between Forrest and his younger trophy wife, serial adulteress
Carol (Hillary Brooke). With his writing career plummeting, Kendrick is
desperately short of money, so when an opportunity presents itself for Carol to
dispose of her husband, he is easily coaxed into complicity for a cut of her
inheritance. After all, Forrest is a dying man anyway – why not give nature a
little chivvy along?
a short, sharp 66-minutes, The House
Across the Lake is an entertaining little film and offers up solid
performances from its three leads. Whilst Nicol and Brooke were doubtless
drafted in to drum up interest Stateside (where the film was released with the
re-titling Heat Wave), the presence
of Sid James – yes, the aforementioned Sidney is indeed he in an early straight
role – will certainly be the key draw for Brit movie buffs.
has been issued on DVD in the UK as part of “The British Movie” collection – an
arm of Network Distributing – in a new digital transfer. Hammer completists
will snap this one up (indeed, due to Sid James’ participation, so will “Carry
On” completists), but it deserves to find a home with a broader audience and
hopefully with this worthy release it will do. The disc also includes a trailer
and a small gallery of poster art and lobby cards.
this reviewer, Terry-Thomas’s turn as dastardly Raymond Delauney in the 1960 Brit-com
School for Scoundrels remains one of
his finest. The actor’s effervescent personality gelled perfectly with the
penmanship of Stephen Potter to create an egotistical chauvinist you couldn’t
help but take a liking to. Just a year later, in 1961’s His and Hers, his portrayal of a similar cad is one of his weaker
turns and rapidly becomes tiresome. It’s all in the writing, folks.
His and Hers was the
penultimate film from Brian Desmond Hurst, whose moment in the sun was the
sterling 1951 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Alistair Sim in the
title role of Scrooge. Hurst, along
with writers Jan and Mark Lowell and Stanley Mann, hailed from a background in screen
drama, so comely was not the likeliest genre for them to tackle. The lukewarm
results are testimony to their folly.
adventurer – and author of the hugely successful “I Conquered…” series of books
– Reggie Blake (Terry-Thomas) returns from his latest escapade in the Sahara.
His past expeditions have all been stage-managed by his canny publisher Charles
Dunton (Wilfred Hyde-White); the sharks he fought in the Atlantic were rubber,
the igloo he inhabited in the Arctic had central heating. But this time the set-up
went wrong and so for his new book Reggie wants to do away with the fiction and
tell it as it really was. The problem is it’s boring. When Reggie adopts a
pompous stance and threatens to take the manuscript elsewhere, it causes
friction with both his wife Fran (Janette Scott) and Dunton. Shrewdly aware
that the public is eager for a new “I Conquered…” epic, Dunton conspires with
Fran to pretend to write a book
exposing her husband’s faux adventures – “I Was Conquered by a Middle-aged
Monster” – in the hope it’ll coax Reggie into delivering a book that will actually
sell. But Reggie proves more stubborn than either of them expects…
much hilarity ensues”, as they say. Except in the case of His and Hers, it doesn’t. As previously mentioned, Terry-Thomas’s
character isn’t very likeable. Unfortunately, rather damningly, neither are
Hyde-White’s or Scott’s. They’re all
objectionable. Thus the intended humour as husband and wife divide up their
house into “his” and “hers” areas falls flat. Their struggles to adapt to their
new roles – he on all levels of domesticity, she in her attempts to immerse
herself in the business of authorship – seldom elicit more than a tepid smile.
what are we left with? Not a lot. It there’s any fun to be derived here, it’s
in the form of a myriad of cameos from favourites of the big and small screen.
Kenneth Connor, Oliver Reed, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Marie Deveraux,
Francesca Annis, Joan Hickson – even a youthful William Roach – have all put in
appearances by the time the end credits roll. These cameos certainly lend His and Hers curiosity value, but
there’s regrettably little else for which one could recommend it.
a constituent in their “The British Film” collection, Network Distributing in
the UK have just released the film on DVD and (incredulously, given its
mediocre value) Blu-Ray too, though to be fair the crisp black and white print
is pristine. The only supplement offered is a short gallery of original FOH stills.
Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers was originally deemed unreleasable because of its tasteless content. It sat on a shelf for two years before finally seeing the light of day. When the movie hit theaters, critics praised it, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and helped launch a major career for him in feature films. By 1974, tastelessness was not a barrier for Brooks' cinematic projects. Blazing Saddles, his insane send-up of the Western movie genre, came along at exactly the right time. Ten years earlier, the film would have been impossible to make. However, pop culture had matured light years between the mid-1960s and 1970s and so did audience's tolerance of envelope-pushing humor. Indeed, by the time Brooks brought this movie to the screen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had already shown the humorous side of swinging and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H made the Korean War a thinly-veiled, over-the-top comedic roasting of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Brooks still had plenty of new ways to bring tasteless comedy to new highs (or lows). The "plot line" of Blazing Saddles is razor-thin. Cleavon Little is Bart, a hip black man who is tired of being used as a beast of burden by racist white employers. Through a plot device (don't ask!), he assumes the identity of a new sheriff of a small town. The reaction of the crowd and politicians when they realize their new law enforcement officer is a black man is still priceless in its hilarity. The sheriff encounters a wide variety of local eccentrics including Jim (Gene Wilder), an amiable gunslinger who assists him in thwarting a stock company of local bad guys.
As Brooks points out in a new interview in the set, Blazing Saddles is timeless. Indeed, it feels as fresh and funny today as it did in 1974. However, no one would ever dare make such a film today. In an industry preoccupied with "safe" concepts such as stupid movies about monsters and aliens, it would be all but impossible to find financing for a film that uses "nigger" as a punch line to every other joke. Forget the fact that it's the white racists who end up getting the short end of every stick and it's the black hero who is the only handsome, intelligent character in the story- the very concept would be deemed far too toxic for public consumption. However, we at least have Blazing Saddles to remind us of an era in which filmmakers and studios dared to gore sacred cows. The result was a period that saw some of the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. In terms of maturity, however, the industry has only regressed over the ensuing decades.
Warner Brothers has put together a Blu-ray that is appropriately packed with extras, most of which have been carried over from previous releases. These include a 2001 documentary in which Brooks and Wilder are interviewed separately about the making of the film and its legacy. Brooks originally wanted Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, to star as Bart but the comedian's erratic personal behavior scared the studio bosses. At one point Flip Wilson was considered for the role before Cleavon Little "wowed" Brooks in his audition. John Wayne was even asked to make a cameo appearance but the Duke correctly assumed that his audience wouldn't be very happy about his appearance in a movie laced with obscene jokes. There are also anecdotes about the sterling supporting cast of character actors including the inimitable Slim Pickens. Also interviewed is the late, great Harvey Korman, who comes close to dominating the film with a truly hilarious performance. Writer Andrew Bergman relates how amazed he was when Warner Brothers actually bought his script for the film, which he wrote on "spec". The set provides a new documentary in which Brooks is interviewed anew (he immodestly calls the film the greatest comedy ever made) and Gene Wilder is seen in recent footage from an interview at New York's 92nd Street "Y". There are also some interesting scenes that were deleted from the final print but which were apparently included in TV broadcasts of the movie. Most interesting is the half hour pilot episode of a proposed TV series from 1975 titled Black Bart with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the Cleavon Little role. Gossett is well-cast but the show is a lame concoction of weak racially-based jokes and cheap production values. It's inclusion here is most appreciated, however, for curiosity's sake alone. Rounding out the bonus extras are the original trailer, an audio commentary by Mel Brooks and a set of postcards with scenes and jokes from the film.
For a brief, shining moment in history the region in and around Almeria, Spain served as the primary for dozens of Italian and other European Westerns during the "Spaghetti Western" craze of the 1960s and 1970s. Spain was often used as stand-in for the American West but the Spaghetti Westerns skyrocketed in popularity with the 1964 release of Sergio Leone's revisionist Western A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, followed by its sequels, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Several years later, Leone would film much of epic Western Once Upon a Time in the West in Almeria's Tabernas Desert. Interest in the genre extended into the mid 1970s when an overabundance of Leone wanna-be directors clogged theater circuits with cheap imitations of his work. Gradually, film location work in the area ground to a halt. In a remarkable photo essay for the Daily Mail, photographer Sarah Orndhorf visited the sites and sets as they appear today. Some are well-preserved tourist attractions while others are deteriorating. Among the other films shot in this region were Lawrence of Arabia, Play Dirty and The Hill. To view click here
It must have seemed like a sure bet to adapt Elmore Leonard's book The Moonshine War into a film way back in 1970. MGM, then struggling to stay afloat, even signed Leonard to write the screenplay. The end result, however, is a mixed bag despite the impressive talent involved in the production. The movie is now regarded as a long-forgotten flop, the failure of which seemed to be ensured by a bizarre ad and poster campaign that featured an image of a generic hillbilly with a shotgun rather than emphasizing the cast. The film is set in rural Kentucky during the Prohibition era. Frank Long (Patrick McGoohan) is a corrupt federal agent who is ostensibly in the area to search out and destroy local stills. In fact, he is intent on finding the hidden liquor stash of Son Martin (Alan Alda), the reigning local kingpin of illicit booze. His intention is to force Martin to partner with him. When his hard-edged efforts fail to intimidate Martin, Long decides to call in two confederates- Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Richard Widmark), who uses his profession as a dentist to cover his gangster activities and Dual Matters (songwriter and singer Lee Hazlewood), his sadistic right hand man. Long's intention is to use some additional strongarm tactics to get Son to divulge the location of his still. However, Taubee -and especially Dual- prove to be bloodthirsty killers and their tactics result in torture and murder. Before long, Taulbee concedes even he needs reinforcements, despite the fact that the cowardly locals won't lift a finger to assist Son in his besieged cabin. Soon a small army of killers has descended on the property. This is too much even for Long, who sides with Son and his only ally, his farm hand Adam (legendary blues singer Joe Williams) who have only a few guns and their wits to stave off certain death.
The Moonshine War never reaches its full potential, though the eclectic cast makes it worth viewing. Richard Quine's direction is rather limp and uninspired and the central role of Son Martin is miscast with Alda in the lead. He doesn't seem remotely convincing as a hillbilly and gives a rather boring, half-hearted performance. Fortunately, the other cast members are a lot more lively with Widmark playing against type as an outrageous villain. He's in a perpetually jolly mood even when ordering the execution of innocents and he is accompanied by an Eva Braun-like dumb hooker, Miley (Susanne Zenor), who seems oblivious to the carnage being caused by her "beau". The real scene-stealer, perhaps improbably, is non-actor Lee Hazelwood, whose demented and murderous hit man is a truly chilling screen presence. McGoohan, who is also somewhat miscast, is never less than riveting to watch no matter what role he plays and there is a deft supporting turn by Will Geer in traditional Grandpa Walton mode.
Elmore Leonard's screenplay is somewhat erratic, ranging from cornpone country humor to outright sadism. Not helping matters is the inclusion of upbeat country western standards, a gimmick that seems inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Here, however, the result seems more inappropriate than artistically inspired. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Moonshine War for what it is- a consistently engrossing, entertaining vehicle that seemed to be custom made for the drive-in circuit of the era. Oh, and the final scene does pack an unexpected wallop.
maybe for Michael Caine and Ernest Borgnine, has any other actor ever starred
in more movies, ranging more widely from classic (“A Star Is Born,” “North by
Northwest,” “Lolita”) to cult (“The Pumpkin Eater,” “Cross of Iron”), to the
campy and B-level titles that partially rounded out the final two decades of
his career (“Bad Man’s River,” “Mandingo”),
than James Mason (1909-1984)?
releases from the Warner Archive Collection showcase Mason’s versatility in
mid-career films that could hardly be farther apart in theme and subject
Decks Ran Red” (1958) was one of Mason’s two collaborations with
producer/director Andrew L. Stone in the late ‘50s. Ed Rummill (Mason), a hardworking and
ambitious first officer on a luxury liner, is offered the command of the S.S.
Berwind, a merchant ship, after the previous captain unexpectedly dies. “You might be smart to pass this up,” one of
his superiors cautions, noting that the Berwind has a restless crew and a
troubled history. Rummill eagerly jumps
at the opportunity for advancement anyway. Presently, flying to the remote New Zealand port where the Berwind is
docked, his enthusiasm is dampened on
first sight of the ship: “As dirty, as miserable, as rusted-up an old tub as
I’d ever seen.”
dirt and rust are the least of his worries. Crewman Scott (Broderick Crawford), abetted by his crony Martin (Stuart
Whitman), begins to stir up mutiny even before the Berwind leaves port. Scott’s plan is this: after they put out to
sea, he’ll nudge the mutineers into killing Rummill and the other
officers. Then he and Martin in turn
will murder their fellow crewmen. Once
they dispose of the bodies, the two conspirators will partially scuttle the
ship and bring it in as an abandoned derelict, collecting a reward for
recovering the vessel: one million dollars, half the value of the Berwind and
its cargo. Further creating strife, a
beautiful woman comes aboard for the voyage (Dorothy Dandridge), the wife of
the new ship’s cook. Scott gleefully
figures that the presence of the “well-stacked doll” will ratchet tensions even
direction is so efficient and the sleek Mason and rumpled Crawford are so well
contrasted as the main antagonists that you’re tempted to overlook lapses in
logic and continuity as the movie proceeds. The ship’s routine appears so orderly and the crew so sedate that the
mutiny angle never really comes together. Stone seems to recognize about
halfway through that the narrative is about to stall, and so Scott abruptly
abandons the mutiny scheme, breaks out his stash of firearms, corners the
officers on the bridge, and with Martin’s help begins to pick off the other
crewmen. Rummill begins as a character
on a human scale, competent but fallible, but by the end of the movie, he’s
swimming across a choppy ocean and scaling the side of the ship like an action
hero for a final confrontation with Scott. Similarly, Dandridge’s character, Mahia, never quite seems to come into
focus either; calculatedly seductive one minute, scared and helpless the
next. An early scene suggests that she
will pose a sexual challenge to the happily married Rummill, as Mason muses in voiceover,
“It never entered my mind that the woman would be so sensuous and so exotically
beautiful.” But Rummill keeps hands off,
regarding her as more a nuisance on the already troubled ship than an object of
the movie is best enjoyed as the cinematic equivalent of 1950s men’s pulps like
“Male” and “Saga,” which marketed lurid tales of modern-day piracy, danger at
sea, and exotic sex as true stories. Mason’s voiceover narrative even has the same overheated prose
style: “There was a ship named the S.S.
Berwind. This is the story of that ship
. . . A story which actually happened .
. . A story of the most infamous, diabolically cunning crime in the annals of
maritime history.” The name “Ed Rummill”
is suspiciously similar to “Erwin Rommel,” Mason’s famous role in “The Desert
Fox” (1951); maybe Stone and Mason were having a little fun with the audience.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Sea Gull” (1968), an ensemble cast enacts Chekhov’s tragedy
of frustrated lives and misguided love in a circle of well-to-do landowners,
actors, and aspiring artists in late 19th Century Russia. Mason shares roughly equal screen time with
Simone Signoret, Vanessa Redgrave, David Warner, Harry Andrews, Alfred Lynch,
Denholm Elliott, and Kathleen Widdoes, but in a sense he’s first among equals.
He has top billing as Trigorin, a popular but second-rate novelist. He’s the subject of the first close-up in the
film in a brief, wordless scene added by Lumet and screenwriter Moura Budberg
that doesn’t appear in the original play. And the role of Trigorin is a pivotal one, whose actions lead to
calamity for two of the other characters in the final act.
laudable to see any attempt to bring classic literature to the screen,
especially these days, when the average person in the street, if asked to
identify Chekhov, probably would answer, “Isn’t he that guy from ‘Star
Trek’?” I give Lumet and his cast high
marks for ambition, even if they never quite surmount the challenge of translating
Chekhov’s complex, allusive work to the visual, kinetic medium of film.
basic problems, one relating to casting and the other to performance, beset the
movie. While Warner and Redgrave are
fine actors, they’re too old at 27 and 31, respectively, to play Chekhov’s
Konstantin and Nina. I knew lots of kids
like Chekhov’s Konstantin in my college literature and drama courses, bright
but immature 20-year-olds with mother fixations. At 27, Warner seems like a case of arrested
development. Likewise, it’s affecting
when Chekhov’s 17- or 18-year-old Nina attaches herself to the older Trigorin,
and you realize, even if she doesn’t, that her infatuation will not end well;
Redgrave looks like a woman in her twenties who should know better. Mason doesn’t present the same disconnect
between appearance and behavior, but he brings a misplaced sense of gravity to
the role of the faintly absurd Trigorin. The disreputable Mason of “The Wicked Lady” (1945) and “The Prisoner of
Zenda” (1952) would better have served the role.
Warner Archive Collection editions are bare-bones DVDs without chapter stops,
subtitles, or significant extras. “The
Decks Ran Red” includes the theatrical trailer. The black-and-white transfer is acceptable, and there’s a startling
visual in the title credit, where “Red” in “The Decks Ran Red” stands out in
bleeding crimson against the monochromic background. They do the same thing now in “Sin City” with
computers; how did they do it in 1958? The transfer of “The Sea Gull” is somewhat soft, muting the Technicolor
cinematography, but not objectionable. There are no extra features.
Sir Roger Moore will be signing copies of his latest book, "Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown", in London. Below is the schedule for the signing sessions.
"Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown" recounts Sir Roger's personal memories of the his friendships and working relationships with many of the greatest Hollywood legends.
1pm Book signing, Hatchards St Pancras
5pm Book signing,The Cinema Store
2.30pm Book signing, WaterstonesGuildford
1.30pm HarrodsBook signing
1pm Book signing, Waterstones Kingston
Please note: Due to the large crowds that are anticipated, in order to ensure that all books can be signed, Sir Roger will not be personalizing copies. Additionally, there will be no posing for photos or signing any items other than the book itself.
Can't make it to the signings? Click here to order from Amazon UK.
The book will be released in the USA in October under the title "One Lucky Bastard". Click hereto pre-order from Amazon USA
Hayes in his one man stage show Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes, which is now on tour.
By Mark Cerulli
“Ne Oldu, Ne Oldu,
That line from Midnight Express,
delivered with swaggering menace by a depraved prison warden (played by the
great Paul L. Smith) burned itself into this scribe’s cortex back in 1978. Alan Parker’s iconic film about the real-life
ordeal of American student Billy Hayes caught smuggling drugs in Turkey and
sentenced to a hellish prison became a cultural phenomenon – not to mention an
international box office success. It earned glowing reviews and Oscars for screenwriter
Oliver Stone and composer Gorgio Moroder. Hayes even met his wife Wendy at the
splashy Cannes premiere. No joy for Turkey, though - there was an international
outcry about their seemingly draconian justice system and the country’s once-booming
tourism hit the skids hard. The gritty association to the film has stuck ever
Retro caught up with the real Billy Hayes, now touring with his one-man show “Riding
the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” to separate fact from Turkish prison fiction. And as Hayes freely admits, it’s been a wild
months ago I was in a prison cell, eating beans and now I’m flying to LA to
talk about a movie deal for my book!” Hayes remembers, still scarcely believing
the turn of events. Unlike many authors
who are gently shunted aside as their work is repurposed, Hayes bonded with
Oliver Stone, then making his name as a hot young screenwriter.
spent a week in the Mayfair hotel in New York with Oliver, eight to ten hours a
day” he recalled, likening it to being in a washing machine on spin cycle, “but
I loved every second of it.” Stone, who had read an early galley of the book,
wanted to glean any hidden gems and Billy wanted to see how a screenwriter
worked. Then they parted ways - Stone
off to a cabin to write and Hayes waited to see how actor Brad Davis would
bring him to life.
had no control, I had sold the rights …” Billy remembered, “but I ended up
being really lucky. Oliver wrote a great script and (director) Alan Parker was
brilliant… but at the same time, my biggest problem with the movie is everybody
says ‘I’ll never go to Turkey, I saw Midnight Express’. I love Turkey, Istanbul is wonderful… I got
busted on my fourth trip. In the movie you don’t see any good Turks.”
island of Malta stood in for Turkey when that country predictably refused
filming permission and the producers flew Billy in for some publicity shots. He and star Brad Davis hit it off, forging a
friendship that would last until the actor’s death in 1991. “They walked me onto the set in that incredible
stone fort, Fort St. Elmo, and they were shooting a scene on the balcony with
Brad and Randy (Quaid) and it was like I was looking across at myself… it was
was even time for Billy to meet his tormentor in chief… “They took a break and
I was being introduced, I felt this hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there
was Paul Smith, in costume, looking like the badass sadist guard… then he
smiled. He was a very nice, warm, cuddly guy.” The 6’4” Smith (who later played ‘Bluto’ to
Robin Williams’ ‘Popeye’) was so cuddly that Brad Davis went to the director
and said “This effing guy is killing me in the fight scenes.” Alan Parker promised to get Smith to dial
back, but instead told the hulking actor, “You’re doing great, keep it up!”
the movie, effective as it was, wasn’t the real
story, not completely. Yes, Hayes
smuggled hash and yes, he was just 54 days away from release when the Turkish
court, under pressure to “get tough” on drugs, heartbreakingly re-sentenced
him to Life, but that’s where film and fact start to diverge.
did indeed get retried. The judge – as
in the film – was very sympathetic. As
Hayes recalled, “He said he wished he had retired before having to render the
(new) verdict.” In fact, said judge did
him a solid – since he couldn’t give him a lower sentence than Life, he reduced
Life to 30 years. A nice gesture, but
thirty years is still THIRTY years! When
the sentence was handed down in court, the real Billy Hayes said, “I can’t
agree with you, all I can do is I forgive you.” Run through Oliver Stone’s typewriter, Billy’s enlightened zen morphed
into, “I hate you. I hate your nation...
And I fuck your sons and daughters because you’re all pigs!”
Strong stuff. A “dramatic beat” in
Hollywood parlance… and there were immediate consequences. After Billy’s
escape, Turkey didn’t seek extradition. After publication of his book, they
still gave him a pass… but once the movie came out, they issued an Interpol
arrest warrant, a travel restricting scarlet letter that branded him for the
next twenty years! “Thank you,
Oliver.” Billy laughs.
His other issue is with the film’s
portrayal of his incredible escape. On film he has a final confrontation with
the psychotic warden, impaling his skull on a coat hook. (Listen for the “pickaxe in a watermelon” sound
effect!) Then he slips on a guard’s
uniform and walks out the door. It
worked and was the kind of ending that had audiences cheering… but his real
life escape was even more dramatic. Billy had managed to get himself moved to
an island prison and was planning to somehow swim to shore when a storm forced
the local fishing fleet to take shelter in the prison harbor. In the teeth of the storm, Billy swam out,
cut a rowboat loose and rowed to the mainland. Eventually he walked through the highly defended (and land-mined!) border
between Turkey and Greece and got his freedom, along with lifelong bragging
“The one thing I thought was, if
they make this into a movie, they’ll put this ending in, it’s made for Hollywood…
and then they didn’t do it!” Billy remembers, adding, “Alan (Parker)
showed me the movie in this little screening room in New York… at the end of
it, I was all sweaty and Alan asked, ‘So what do you think?’ I said ‘I loved
the movie, but I missed my rowboat, what happened?’” The director explained that to include
Billy’s elaborate, true-life escape, they’d have to cut out 45 minutes of
Billy Hayes (left) with Brad Davis, the actor who portrayed him in the film. (Photo courtesy of Billy Hayes).
“As a filmmaker I understand it…”
Billy concedes, “but I really wanted my rowboat. It gave me back my life!”
Over the last forty-odd years,
Billy has tried to set the record straight about his entire ordeal, but never
has he had a forum like this one-man show, which grew out of his 1980s college
lecture tour. As Billy puts it, “At the very least, my life is a cautionary
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” was put together by lead producer Barbara Ligeti (who’s
made several films of her own including Hugo
Pool and Motorama). She was looking for a singular talent to
present at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Barbara, who knows everybody, knew
had met Billy when he was in a play I enjoyed in the late 80s, I didn’t realize
he was ‘THE’ Billy Hayes.” Ligeti laughs. “I asked him ‘Can you tell your story in an hour on a stool with a
bottle of water?’” Billy signed on and
the Edinburgh show proved too good to leave as a one-off event. “We all went to work” Ligeti remembers, “and
now the show is up to 70 minutes with an immediate Q&A afterwards.”
Producer and Director Jeffrey
Altschuler helped Billy craft his lecture into a riveting, yet uplifting live presentation.
Altschuler, who had worked in TV commercial production, had numerous ties to the
film version of Billy’s life, “I knew the guys who put the movie together,
Peter Guber and Neil Bogart, and I knew Alan Parker from commercials.” That helped when Barbara brought him in to
dramaturge the show. He and the star had
a lot in common…
grew up in the 1960s in New York, we both dropped out of college. I chose to
buy and sell horses instead of hash”, Altschuler recalled. “It was a very different time, everybody got
stoned but nobody thought about where it came from or how it got there until Midnight Express.”
with any creative project, it all came down to the material. “I was really impressed with Billy’s writing.”
Altshuler said. The two honed the
script from a lecture to a dramatic reading and when the show’s original
director left, Altschuler got the gig even though he had never directed live
just had to encourage him and get him to dig a little deeper to cover the
material the way it should be covered. It was totally a collaboration.”
city after city, the show has received a rousing reception. Many Turks are coming out to see the
performance, something Billy appreciates. “They’re young kids whose parents were alive when all this was happening
and they’ve been hearing about it, now we can talk about it.”
decades of wanderlust, Hayes sounds like a man who has finally found his place
in the world. “This just confirms to me that this is what I need and want to be
doing now…. it’s cathartic and therapeutic, but every time I tell it it’s like
the first time.” With plans for the
show to tour the globe, there’s not even a hint of Midnight fatigue. “This has
been a joy, it’s just been a joy.” Sounds like a happy, Hollywood ending at last.
The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” will return to New York’s Barrow Street Theater starting
Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell site presents the original theatrical trailer for John Huston's "The Man Who Would Be King" starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Watch it in its original format or with commentary track by award-winning screenwriter Josh Olson. Click here to view
The date was September 18, 1970 and Dick Cavett, host of his own acclaimed late night chat show, must have felt he had a coup by landing three top actors to appear on that night's broadcast. They were John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara- none of whom had the Brando or Sinatra-like reputation of being a "bad boy". The three were making the rounds to promote Cassavetes new directorial effort, the feature film "Husbands". As director, Cassavetes believed in having his actors improvise and say whatever might come into their heads. That strategy should not have carried over into the medium of television, however. In an article for the New Yorker magazine, Dick Cavett recalls how this talented trio turned his show into a nightmare. The actors, who were probably drunk, were as obnoxious as anyone could imagine, pulling juvenile pranks and being as rude as possible to Cavett and his audience. Nervous, jittery laughter turned into outrage on the part of the audience and viewers at home. Click here for Cavett's recollections and to view the infamous episode.
Attenborough's role in the 1963 classic The Great Escape gained him international acclaim.
The film industry has lost another legend with the passing of Lord Richard Attenborough, who was one of the pioneers in successfully carving out dual careers as both actor and director. Attenborough was a familiar face as an acclaimed character actor in British films in the post-WWII era but gained international stardom in director John Sturges' 1963 WWII classic The Great Escape. (Attenborough's co-star in that film, James Garner, passed away last month). Attenborough also co-starred with Steve McQueen in that film and would reunite with him in director Robert Wise's sprawling 1966 epic The Sand Pebbles, which would earn Attenborough a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He directed his first film in 1969, a big-budget anti-war musical Oh! What a Lovely War. In 1972, he directed the ambitious screen biography of Churchill, Young Winston. He also directed the 1977 WWII epic A Bridge Too Far. The following year, he gave Anthony Hopkins an important early leading role as the star of the suspense thriller Magic. Curiously, none of these films were significant boxoffice or critical successes but Attenborough persevered and finally brought his dream project- the biography of Ghandi- to fruition in 1982. He won the Academy Award for Best Director and also received the Oscar for producing the Best Picture. Attenborough had gone into self-imposed retirement from acting to concentrate on directing. He returned to the screen in 1993 to play an important role in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster Jurassic Park. Five years ago, Attenborough suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. He passed away today at his home in England at the age of 90. Click here for New York Times obituary.
the turn of the Millennium, several film directors from Mexico were gaining
attention and acclaim—guys like Alfonso Arau, Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu,
Guillermo del Toro, and this year’s Oscar-winner as Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón
(for Gravity). Cuarón’s
career trajectory has been, for me, the most interesting of the bunch. He broke
into the international scene with the 2001 coming-of-age drama, Y Tu Mamá
También, and followed that with, of all things, the megahit Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,
which, I argue, is the best of all eight Harry Potter movies. The terrific
dystopian thriller Children of Men followed
that, and then came Gravity.
than the superb handling of each specific film’s material, there isn’t much
similarity between these pictures, and yet it’s apparent that Cuarón
brings an auteur sensibility to his work. This is most evident in the more
personal Y Tu Mamá También, a film Cuarón
made in his native Mexico with no Hollywood studio in sight. The director and
his brother Carlos Cuarón claim in the terrific new extra of recent
interviews about the making of the film that the picture is not
autobiographical. However, a much of the world in which our two high school-age
protagonists exist is similar to the more middle-to-upper-class upbringing the
and Julio (honestly played by Diego Luna and Gael García
Bernal), are typical, urban, horny hormone-raging teenagers ready to graduate
from school and step out into adulthood. But for that to happen, a rite of
passage must occur to shake the boys out of decidedly vulgar adolescence,
mischief-making, and carefree attitudes.
an older unhappy married woman, Luisa—Maribel Verdú, in a tour de force performance—whose tragic
secrets motivate her to recklessly accompany the boys on a road trip to “the
beach.” The journey is a rite of passage for her, too, but the teens don’t know
this. What happens on that trip will change the two boys’ lives forever. In
essence, the film is a frank and modern Summer
of ’42 meets Jules and Jim. In
fact, Y Tu Mamá También does seem to be
inspired by the French New Wave—not only Jules
and Jim but also, as revealed by the Cuarón brothers in the
documentary, Godard’s Masculin Féminin. The detached, omniscient voice-over
narration in Y Tu Mamá evokes these 1960s classics in a more contemporary context.
And, like Godard’s films, Y Tu Mamá contains commentary on the then-current
political situation in Mexico, when the ruling party of 70-plus-years was voted
out. The upheaval, while not directly affecting our three characters, is
constantly in the background.
film is also sexually explicit. The picture was released in the USA unrated,
which means it otherwise would have received the problematic NC-17. The raw
naturalism of the sex scenes is indeed shocking, but without it the movie would
not have the impact that it does. As it is, Y
Tu Mamá También packs a punch. The Big
Reveal about Luisa at the end of the story can possibly change in an instant a
viewer’s reaction to the film up to that point. Along the way, you will have
laughed, cringed, laughed some more, and observed a loss of innocence as it
often occurs—unexpectedly and with deeply emotional prices to pay.
three leads are exceptional. Cuarón was fortunate to
employ actors who courageously bared their souls—as well as their skins—to make
this truly remarkable, highly recommended film.
new, restored 2K digital film transfer is gorgeous (the cinematography is by
the great Emmanuel Lubezki). The Blu-ray features a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master
Audio soundtrack. Extras include vintage and new behind-the scenes
documentaries featuring the director, cast, and others; Carlos Cuarón’s
very funny short film You Owe Me One (2002),
a new interview with philosopher Slavoj Žižek
about the film’s social and political aspects, and deleted scenes.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
DVD and Blu-Ray
on A.E.W. Mason’s classic 1902 adventure novel, The Four Feathers had been made three times before this definitive version
of a “British Empire Adventure Film” was released in 1939.Produced by Hungarian-born but UK-based
Alexander Korda, one of the great filmmakers of British cinema, and directed by
his brother Zoltan Korda, The Four
Feathers represents the best of what England had to offer during its day,
as well as the epitome of the kind of yarns spun by Kipling and his ilk.
vivid Technicolor and sporting a cast of hundreds of ethnic extras, the picture
captures the grand Victorian era of the British military and takes place mostly
in Africa some ten years or so after the fall of Khartoum.The story is simple (albeit somewhat
improbable):a young officer (John
Clements) is accused of cowardice by his associates and fiancée after he
resigns his post on the eve of a major deployment to take back the Sudan.Setting out to prove the opposite, he
disguises himself as a mute Arab so that he can “make a difference” from the
inside of the enemy camp and show his “friends” what he’s really made of.At one point, his rival in love, portrayed by
the excellent Ralph Richardson, is struck blind by excessive exposure to the
desert sun—and our hero must help him trek across the country to safety, all
without saying a word or revealing to the man that he’s his old colleague.
particular version of The Four Feathers would
be an impressive film if made today, but for 1939, it’s a masterpiece (the
recent 2002 version doesn’t compare).With its tremendous logistical challenges and
extreme conditions on location, the picture is a marvel to behold.It also contains tons of what are now
familiar clichés of British Empirical tales, mostly embodied by the humorous
performance of overly stately C. Aubrey Smith—and this, too, is a testament of
the film’s influence.The picture is
also a timely (and embarrassingly hilarious) lesson in how racism was taken for
granted during its day.
new Criterion edition, of course, looks gorgeous in a high-definition
restoration.At that time, Natalie
Kalmus (the wife of Technicolor’s inventor, Herbert Kalmus), was forced upon
filmmakers as “color coordinator” if one wanted to use the process, and she had
total control over its application.Whether it was appropriate or not, Natalie went for bold, vivid colors;
in this case the result is happily spectacular.
audio commentary by Charles Drazin is interesting, but the true gem of the
extra features is the interview with Zoltan Korda’s son, David.He sheds light on the lives of the amazing
trio of brothers—Alexander, Zoltan, and Vincent—who became one of the most
important British film families in its history.There is also a vintage documentary short about the Kordas’ studio,
London Films, which features rare footage of Zoltan in action directing The Four Feathers.
about any Criterion Collection release is a must-have.This is one has that quality in spades.
Cinema Retro contributor David Dorward found this interesting photo of young Steve McQueen and his wife posing with his Ferrari Lusso. The license plate number reads 007! We think this may be just a coincidence that one of real-life coolest guys on the planet had a license plate pertaining to the one of the coolest fictional characters, as the Bond phenomenon hadn't totally kicked in yet...unless McQueen was so smitten by the Ian Fleming novels and the release of Dr. No on screen that he was inspired to request "007". Either way, it makes for a fascinating photo.
It is with profound sadness that we must announce the passing of director Brian G. Hutton, a long-time friend of and contributor to Cinema Retro. Brian was one of the most unique talents in the film business. Born in New York City, he never lost his hard-scrabble, irascible attitude which extended to resenting having to take orders from the studio "suits" who employed him. He walked away from a great and lucrative career in the industry decades ago and kept out of the public eye, granting precious few interviews in the intervening decades. He remains primarily known for his two big budget WWII MGM films, "Where Eagles Dare" and "Kelly's Heroes", both starring Clint Eastwood. The films were difficult to make and the latter resulted in a major conflict with Hutton and Eastwood and MGM when the studio exercised its rights to dramatically cut the film prior to its release. Hutton also made a number of lesser-known films but each of them proved to be enduring and worthy of praise.
When Cinema Retro was preparing its first Movie Classics edition devoted entirely to "Where Eagles Dare" in 2009, we made every effort to contact Hutton for an interview, but we were unsuccessful. However, shortly after the issue appeared, I was
startled to receive a phone call from a gentleman named Bill Tasgal who said he
was sitting in a coffee shop in L.A. with his friend Brian Hutton and they were
both perusing the Where Eagles Dare issue.
He said Hutton wanted to speak with me. A few seconds later an unmistakably New
York accent growled, “Is this Lee Pfeiffer?” When I said it was, he said “I’m
looking at your magazine and I’m going to sue you for using such an ugly photo
of me!” To which I replied, “As a director, you should know the camera never
lies!” So began a friendship that saw Brian contribute extensively to our Movie Classics Kelly's Heroes issue as well as our revised updated edition of the Eagles Dare issue that was published in 2012.
Last October, Dave Worrall and I traveled to L.A. to finally meet Brian in the flesh. We managed to arrange a wonderful lunch date that saw him reunited with his old friend, director John Landis, who Brian gave a break to when he hired John as a "go for" on Kelly's Heroes. Brian saw great promise in the young film enthusiast and, of course, Landis made good on the faith shown in him by becoming an internationally respected director himself. Over lunch, we were privileged to hear some amazing and truly hilarious stories about their adventures filming in Yugoslavia (not all of them are suitable for publication). It was a wonderful day in every respect.
Reunion in L.A., October 2013. From L to R: Bill Tasgal, John Landis, Brian G. Hutton and Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
Brian Hutton suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and struggled valiantly against the odds. An original tough guy, he managed to hang in there a lot longer than anyone would have predicted but finally the battle was lost. He is survived by his loving wife Victoria and his devoted friend and colleague, Bill Tasgal, who was played a crucial role in making Brian's later years so rewarding and enjoyable. However, Brian had many other "friends" that he never knew personally- namely, everyone who ever saw one of his films. Although he was loathe to lavish praise on his own work, he was very grateful to the loyal fans who kept his films in the spotlight long after he went into self-imposed retirement. He was particularly moved by the fact that so many people around the globe held Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes in such esteem. He was always lavish in his praise of Clint Eastwood, with whom he continued to maintained a close friendship over the decades.
Rest in peace, Brian- and as Oddball from Kelly's Heroes might say, "Hope you only encounter positive waves...."
(Continue reading for a biography of Brian G. Hutton)
approached the 2013 Blu-Ray edition of André Téchiné’s “The Bronte
Sisters” (1979) with mild interest, which was mostly piqued by the powerhouse
casting of the three leading young actresses of 1970s French cinema -- Isabelle
Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie-France Pisier -- as Emily, Anne, and
Charlotte Bronte. Imagine a 2014 U.S.
film teaming Scarlett Johanssen, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley. With vague memories of “Devotion,”
Hollywood’s melodramatic 1946 Bronte biopic, I was doubtful that the film
itself would be particularly compelling.
But I was pleasantly surprised.
Relating the formative events in the lives of the three sisters and
their brother Branwell (Pascal Greggory) in straightforward, episodic form,
Téchiné’s interpretation is first-rate: excellently acted, emotionally moving,
and visually striking with starkly beautiful cinematography by Bruno Nuytten on
the Yorkshire moors where the Bronte siblings lived their sadly short lives.
In a new documentary about the making of the film, included as
an extra on the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray, Téchiné recalls that he wanted
to stay true to the facts of the Brontes’ lives without speculation or
embellishment. Similarly, he “demanded a
certain austerity of acting” from the cast to complement the unadorned style of
the narrative. Beginning with a scene in
which Branwell, proud but also uncertain about his talent, unveils his painting
of his three sisters and himself, the movie proceeds to cover decisive moments in the siblings’ lives. Emily, a free spirit, capers on the moors in
boy’s clothing. Charlotte, the quietly
ambitious sister, convinces their aunt to lend money so that she and Emily to
go abroad to school. Anne, the dutiful
one, stays behind to take care of their father, aunt, and brother.
Initially, this approach seems a bit cold and distant, but as
the movie continues, it becomes clear that Téchiné’s decision was a wise
one. The unfolding vignettes are quietly
powerful in illuminating the close and sometimes contentious relationships
between the sisters. This
matter-of-factness pays off especially well in the later segments of the film. As one tragedy after another besets the
family, the scenes relating to the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne are all
the more affecting because they aren’t amped up with banal dialogue and syrupy
background music. Téchiné is helped
immensely by the costuming, set design and cinematography (as he acknowledges
in the making-of documentary), which recreate mid-19th Century England in
A certain playful sense of humor surfaces occasionally,
leavening the bleakness of the story. When the sisters submit their first novels as Acton, Currer, and Ellis
Bell, speculation runs wild in the publishing world: are they the same person,
are they male or female, are they a man and a woman collaborating? Deciding it’s time to reveal the sisters’ true
identities, Anne and Charlotte travel to London to meet with their publisher in
person. “I am Currer Bell, and that is Acton,” Charlotte says quietly when she
and Anne appear unexpectedly in the publisher’s office. “We are three sisters. There is no man.” Pisier delivers the lines with perfect
Adjani, Huppert, and Pisier are luminous. Interviews in the making-of documentary
reveal that the actresses had a sometimes intense off-camera rivalry,
complicated by existing relationships with other people in the production
crew. (Téchiné and Pisier were friends;
Adjani and Nuytten were romantically attached.) It’s a measure of Téchiné’s talent and the actresses’ professionalism
that the three women convincingly project a sisterly bond of support and
affection, with perhaps the real-life rivalry only erupting strategically on
screen in scenes where the sisters’ love for each other is strained. I wish Patrick Magee (“Marat/Sade,” “A Clockwork
Orange”) had more to do as the head of the Bronte family, and his distinctive
voice is lost because his lines are dubbed in French by someone else, but
nevertheless his presence is used effectively if sparingly, Bronte purists will be pleased that he,
Téchiné, and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer portray the Rev. Patrick Bronte
sympathetically as a caring father and progressive clergyman, reflecting modern
scholarship that refutes earlier prose and film portraits of Bronte as a
addition to the making-of documentary, the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray
includes two trailers and an excellent audio commentary track by film critic
Wade Major and Bronte scholar Sue Lonoff de Cuevas. If you’re as unfamiliar with the subject
matter as I was, I might almost suggest that you listen to the commentary
before playing the movie, since Major and de Cuevas illuminate many details
about Bronte history and about the production aspects of the movie that
deepened my appreciation of the film. Although the making-of documentary doesn’t include Adjani or Huppert
(Pisier died in 2011), many of the other key cast and crew are
interviewed. This is an excellent
Blu-Ray package, highly recommended.
Now this is what you call a bargain: three terrific WWII flicks for only $10 on Amazon, courtesy of Shout! Factory's Timeless Media label, which continues to distribute first rate editions of films that were often considered to be second-rate at the time of their initial release. This "War Film Triple Feature" package includes three gems that were not particularly notable at the time of their release. Two have grown in stature, while the third has benefited only from Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes' enthusiastic coverage in issue #25. The films included in the set are:
"Attack" (1955)- During the period of WWII, both the Allied and Axis film industries concentrated on feature films that were pure propaganda designed to motivate their fighting men and the public at large. By the early-to-mid-1950s, however, more introspective viewpoints emerged among Hollywood directors and writers. With the conflict now over, the American military became fair game for criticism, though thin-skinned top brass would withhold official cooperation to productions that didn't pass their demands to show the Army or Navy in a positive light. Fred Zinnemann had to water down the script for "From Here to Eternity" from being a scathing indictment of military brass to making the villains a couple of stray bad apples who got their just comeuppance once the generals rode to the rescue of oppressed enlisted men. By 1955, director Robert Aldrich had emerged as a major new talent and had enough clout with the studios to thumb his nose at Pentagon demands when it came to developing his latest project, a controversial WWII script titled "Attack" (aka "Attack!"). Aldrich, who also produced the film, was denied use of military personnel and equipment when he refused to radically change the story. Instead, he focused on a small band of soldiers and laid out $1,000 of his own money to buy an old tank- the only "major" investment in this economical production. Ironically, by making the film on a relatively tiny budget, he succeeded in creating one of the most powerful military stories of its era. The film focuses on a company of battle-weary G.I.s who just lost a sizable portion of their unit when a mission went terribly awry. Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance) puts the blame squarely on his commanding officer, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), accusing him of cowardly behavior by failing to provide the men under his command with the backup support he had promised. When Cooney orders Costa and his men to occupy a farmhouse in a village that may be infested with the enemy, he makes similar problems to provide backup support should a firefight break out. Costa threatens to kill Cooney if he breaks his word again but Cooney remains unphased. Like the French officers in Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", he is a politically connected snob whose influence in social circles allows him to be protected by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). Bartlett is repulsed by Cooney's cowardice but has political aspirations after the war and knows that, by coddling Cooney, his influential father can assure his being elected. When the mission goes predictably bad, Costa loses many men under his command and Cooney never provides the promised assistance. This leads to some of the most shocking developments ever seen in an American war movie and, indeed, the scenario that plays out is still rather traumatizing today as an enraged Costa enacts his plan of revenge. The ending of the film is so unlike anything seen in a Hollywood production that one is surprised the film wasn't consigned to sit unreleased on a shelf. As leading man, Jack Palance is acting with a capital "A" as he uses every nuance of the new "method" acting that was then all the rage. Still, he makes a powerful on screen presence. However, it is Eddie Albert who steals the show with a masterful performance as a sniveling, spoiled elitist. (The irony is that Albert was a real life war hero who was wounded during the D-Day invasion.) Lee Marvin is also excellent in an early career role and Robert Strauss provides the few laughs in the film as a blue collar Jewish soldier who is understandably paranoid about being captured by Germans. "Attack" is a terrific war movie- one that probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release.
"BEACH RED" (1967)- While Cornel Wilde primarily enjoyed a successful career as a reasonably popular leading man, he also showed considerable skill as a director. His 1966 African adventure film "The Naked Prey" was an impressive achievement on all levels. Wilde followed that film with "Beach Red", a 1967 WWII era story that seems to have intentional parallels with America's increasingly unpopular presence in Vietnam. Based on a novel written near the end of WWII, "Beach Red" is primarily a pacifist view of a "good war", that is a conflict that the Western democracies realized was necessary to avoid totalitarianism from dominating the globe. Wilde isn't interested in the big picture, however. His film concentrates on how war affects individuals, in this case a company of U.S. G.Is who must make a seemingly suicidal landing off an unnamed beach in the Pacific while under relentless Japanese fire. This opening sequence is quite harrowing and Wilde does an excellent job of handling the logistics. (He had the cooperation of the Philippine government in return for filming there, thus had actual soldiers available as extras for the battle scenes.) The gruesome close-ups of wounded and dying Americans caused a bit of a stir in critical circles back in the day but Wilde deserves credit for showing an aspect of war that went beyond the standard Hollywood "Gung Ho!" treatment of men in battle. The opening sequence also blends in real battle footage, but as was generally the case with this tactic, the grainy newsreel footage is a rather awkward match for the crisp, clean work of Wilde's cinematographer Cecil R. Cooney. The screenplay was quite offbeat for the era. The action moves back and forth between American and Japanese lines in an attempt to humanize both sides. This wasn't an entirely unique premise. David Lean had made the Japanese commander a three dimensional character in his 1957 classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Frank Sinatra- in his only attempt at directing- humanized Japanese troops in his 1965 film "None But the Brave". Nevertheless, presenting "the other side" as something other than comic book cliches gives "Beach Red" a mature, interesting outlook on the war in the Pacific. The only other "name" actor in the film is Rip Torn as Wilde's hard-boiled second-in-command who has a tendency for sadism. Wilde gets a bit artsy by blending in flashbacks envisioned by both American and Japanese soldiers as they mutually dream of their wives and families back home. Some of these sequences are set to a pacifist-themed folk song and proves to be effective in conveying some real emotion when a character meets a grisly demise. There is a disjointed feel to the film, as though Wilde seemed to have a strong message but didn't know how to quite wrap it all up in a single package. Nevertheless, "Beach Red" remains an underrated, bold film that displays Wilde's talents both in front of and behind the camera.
"ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST" (1968)- As mentioned previously, Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes covered the making of this relatively low-budget 1968 WWII film in issue #25 and extolled its virtues. "Coast" was one of numerous small-scale wartime movies filmed in England in the late 1960s that turned out to be highly entertaining, well-scripted, directed and acted. "Coast" is one of the best of the bunch, most of which were produced by Oakmont Productions and released by United Artists, often as the lower half of double bills in the United States. Lloyd Bridges, in a rare starring role in a feature film, plays Major Jamie Wilson, a man who is haunted by a botched major military operation that resulted in 3/4 of his command being killed. He is at odds with Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir), an equally hard-nosed officer whose son was killed in the ill-fated operation. Both men blame each other for bungling the mission and there is genuine hatred between them. To redeem himself, Wilson devises another elaborate, highly dangerous mission- this time to send a small group of commandos into Occupied France to destroy a dockside refueling station that the Germans consider crucial for continuing to wreak havoc on Allied naval forces. Predictably, Wilson and Franklin are assigned to spearhead the mission despite their mutual dislike for each other. Wilson's relentless training for the operation results in his getting a reputation as a Captain Bligh-like figure, despite the fact that at home, he is a devoted husband to his wife Sue (Sue Lloyd) and his young son Jimmy (Mark Ward). Wilson's plan involves disguising a vessel as an enemy boat and sailing unobstructed near the French port where frogmen will swim to the dock and destroy key installations. The German commander (Walter Gotell) is fortunately preoccupied with an easy lifestyle of watching stag movies, smoking cigars and drinking fine liquors. The early stages of the operation prove to be successful- but then things start to go wrong. Director Paul Wendkos, who also helmed the Oakmont production "Hell Boats", does a good job of wringing a lot of suspense out of the intelligent script. He's helped by the fact that both Bridges and Keir (a Christopher Lee type with a strong screen presence) both deliver excellent performances. The low budget is evident in the use of miniatures in the battle sequences, but overall, "Attack on the Iron Coast" is a first rate "B" movie. Highly recommended.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer. Click here to order.
The Peter Cushing Appreciation Society reports that actress Madeleine Collinson has passed away from unknown causes at age 62. Collinson and her identical twin sister Mary became international sensations in the late 1960s and 1970s by posing nude together in provocative photos in "men's magazines". They were featured in a high profile layout in a 1970 issue of Playboy, becoming the first twins to pose for the iconic magazine. Collinson's screen career was short-lived and the high water mark was "Twins of Evil", a 1971 cult favorite produced by Hammer Studios and starring Peter Cushing. Madeleine and Mary played twin sisters who fall prey to to religious fanatics and a charismatic vampire in old England. The Collinsons were born in Malta but gained fame when they moved to England where their uninhibited natures and willingness to pose nude together gave them a kinky twist during the sexual revolution. Details are sketchy regarding Madeleine's passing. For more click here
“TIE ME UP! TIE ME
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
FIFTY SHADES OF
By Raymond Benson
twenty years prior to the popularity of Fifty
Shades of Grey, acclaimed and eccentric Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar
delivered to the world a kinky morsel of bondage-love—Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (original Spanish title: Átame!). The director had just come off the international success of his 1988 picture, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,
which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. While the
filmmaker’s early ‘80s films are certainly of note, it was Women that thrust Almodóvar into the
when it came to releasing his next film in the U.S. in 1990, Almodóvar
was met with some resistance from the MPAA ratings board. The dreaded X rating
was threatened, forcing Miramax, the film’s distributor, to sue. The film was
eventually released “unrated”; however, it was this lawsuit that prompted the
MPAA to change the stigmatized X to the more consumer-friendly NC-17. (Henry and June became the first U.S.
film to be released with the new NC-17 rating. Ironically, the NC-17 rating
wasn’t an improvement. The stigma remained and the media in many areas of the
country continued the policy of refusing to advertise NC-17-rated movies.)
picture does give you a pretty good barometer on judging the level of
sexually-explicit scenes in the cinema. It’s pretty shocking—however, intelligent
adults in the audience might recognize that Almodóvar is pulling a
fast one on us—which is very much a stylistic signature trait of the
director’s. We just didn’t know that in 1990.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me
a comedy, a dark one at that, but I’m sure many people might see it as
offensive and misogynistic, especially in the wake of recent events such as the
Cleveland, Ohio kidnappings, enslavement, and ultimate rescue of three women in
2013. That’s essentially the plot of the film, except it’s only one woman in
Banderas plays Ricki, an unbalanced, violent, but charming mental patient who is discharged from the institution.
Why? Who knows—he should never have been let out. Anyway, he has a fixation on
a Marina, a former porn actress now making B-movies (courageously played by
Almodóvar favorite Victoria Abril). Like in
William Wyler’s 1965 film, The Collector,
Banderas kidnaps his prey—and isn’t very gentle in going about it—and keeps
Marina a prisoner in her apartment. Ricki’s goal is to “get her to love him” so
they can be married and have children. At first, she is naturally repulsed,
terrified, and resistant. Until he can trust her, Ricki binds her to the bed
whenever he has to go out. This goes on for some time until finally Stockholm
Syndrome sets in and Marina actually does
fall in love with her captor. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say
that things turn out in Almodóvar’s typically
they might have missed was the fact that Almodóvar intended the
piece to be like the B-movie that Marina is making within the story. He wanted
to make a “Roger Corman movie.” Thus, much of the picture has the trappings of
a cheap horror film. Even Ennio Morricone’s score is sinister and nervy—and
this is the clue that Almodóvar wants us to
laugh at the situation. Banderas’ Ricki is so
utterly likable (as well as handsome, hot, etc.) that we are fooled into
ignoring the seriousness of his crimes. Marina’s reactions to him also become
unbelievably tolerant, despite the fact that she is his captive. It is this
heightened unrealism that is the key
to not only Tie Me Up! but also much
of Almodóvar’s work. In other words, this is theatre of the absurd. Go with the flow
and you may come out of it enlightened by notions of human sexuality and
relationships that you might not have considered before. Besides, the two
central performances are so winning that you can’t help but stay riveted to the
screen. Banderas, in particular, has never been better.
restoration is gorgeous, colorful, and sharp, as it was supervised by both
Almodóvar and his brother, executive producer
Agustin Almodóvar. Extras include a brand new documentary
on the making of the film, featuring current interviews with the director,
Banderas, Abril, and others involved in the production. There is also a new
interview with Almodóvar collaborator and Sony Pictures Classics
co-president Michael Barker. A 2003 conversation between Almodóvar
and Banderas is included, as well as footage from the film’s 1990 premiere
party in Madrid. The included booklet contains a piece Almodóvar
wrote about the picture, a 1989 interview with the director, and a dialogue
about the film between filmmaker Wes Anderson and critic Kent Jones.
get out the handcuffs and rope, settle down with your significant other, and
have yourself a kinky old time with Tie
Me Up! Tie Me Down! Adults only please!
The Warner Archive has released the classic 1956 film noir Ransom! as a burn-to-order title. The film is a textbook example of minimalist production values being overshadowed by a strong, intelligent script (co-written by future 007 scribe Richard Maibaum) and excellent direction, courtesy of Alex Segal. Glenn Ford plays Dave Stannard, a highly successful owner of a major vacuum cleaner company. He lives an idyllic home life with his devoted wife Edith (Donna Reed) and their 8 year-old son Andy (Bobby Clark). Suddenly their peaceful, quiet life is sent into a tragic spin when Andy is kidnapped by persons unknown. Stannard alerts the local police chief and soon his house is swarming with cops while outside a circus-like atmosphere develops as ghoulish neighbors gather to sniff out any updates in the case. For long agonizing hours Stannard doesn't receive any word until the inevitable phone call comes in demanding that he get a $500,000 ransom together. Stannard uses his influence as a highly respected local businessman to get the local bank to provide the money in the exact denominations required. He and Edith are convinced that by paying the ransom, Andy will be returned safely. However, the police chief (Robert Keith) and a local reporter (Leslie Nielsen) break the sobering news to him that, by paying the ransom, he is probably ensuring his son's death. Stannard rethinks his strategy and goes on local television with a direct address to the kidnappers: if they release Andy no harm will be done and if they are ever arrested he will plead for leniency for them. However, he becomes increasingly enraged as he informs them of the alternative: they will never get the ransom money because he intends to use it as a reward to bring them to justice- "dead or alive". In a superbly written sequence, Stannard addresses the unseen villains and tells them that with the $500,000 reward hanging over their heads, they will never know a minute's peace. They will suspect everyone around them, including each other, of being a potential sell-out. Edith, who is emotionally shattered, is outraged at Stannard's strategy. In fact, virtually everyone is against him, callously accusing him of valuing money over the life of his son. However, Stannard holds firm in the belief that every ransom paid ensures a future kidnapping. With his marriage crumbling, his own brother publicly criticizing him and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stannard begins to question the logic of his controversial strategy.
Director Segal milks considerable tension out of this scenario and goes against the grain of the conformist 1950s by presenting both the police and the press in a rather cynical light. The chief tries to be helpful and is sympathetic to Stannard but lets slip that his every decision is motivated by political implications. He also has to resort to helping himself to Stannard's liquor cabinet in order to cope with the crisis. Similarly, Nielsen's streetwise reporter adds to Stannard's misery by threatening to leak the story unless Stannard promises him exclusive access to his home once the news does break. The script also avoids an obvious cliche by not identifying who the culprits are. Their identities become irrelevant, as this is about one family's trauma and their personal reactions to it. The actors are all first rate with Ford, not always the most exciting of screen presences, giving what may well be the most intense performance of his career. The premise of the movie has had impressive durability. This film was based on a TV drama and in the 1990s it was remade by Ron Howard in a big budget version starring Mel Gibson. However, Alex Segal's version remains, in many ways, the most enduring. It's precision, economical filmmaking at its best.
The DVD contains the original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to view a preview clip.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.