jihadist-occupied Timbuktu, a militiaman climbs off the back of a motorcycle
and, in a daily ritual, uses a megaphone to remind the population about the
mandates of the occupiers’ harsh Sharia law: “Important information! Smoking is forbidden. Music is forbidden. Women must wear socks!” Initially, these scenes in director
Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) recall the scenes of the PA system
announcing the day’s recreational activities at the 4077th’s field hospital in
Robert Altman’s “MASH” (1970). The
harsh, amplified sound of the delivery system gives the message a heft of
authority. In contrast, the message
itself is absurd, like the logic-twisting quips that one of Groucho Marx’s old
characters would spout. In Altman’s
film, the inane whine of the PA system provided ironic relief from the intense scenes in the
surgical tent. In Sissako’s, the viewer
initially laughs at the nonsensicality of the words, but as the film
illustrates, the jihadist tyranny is nothing to snicker at. Caught singing, a young woman is publicly
punished with 40 lashes. For adultery, a
man and a woman are stoned to death in a particularly horrific way. They are buried in a sand pit up to their
necks, unable to move, and then bystanders batter their unprotected heads with
invasion depicted by Sissako actually occurred in recent history. Jihadists mobilized by al-Queda and its affiliates seized control of Timbuktu in
2012 and remained in power for a year before Malian and French troops drove
them out. In some ways it was a
forerunner of the present aggression by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Like the footage we now see every day from
that front on the web and cable news, Sissako dramatizes the heavy hand of
Timbuktu’s oppressors with shots of his gun-wielding militiamen cruising the
ancient streets in open vehicles, black banners flying. A compassionate imam (Adel
challenges the invaders’ dictates. In
one instance, his resistance is successful as an armed patrol barges into his
mosque during prayer, and he orders them to leave. In another, trying to reverse the forcible
marriage of a teenaged girl to a young militiaman, he fails. “It was a legal marriage based on Islamic
law,” the jihadist administrator (Salem Dendou) rules. But there was no guardian at the ceremony to
look after the girl’s interests, the imam contends. “We are the guardians of all deeds since we
arrived in this territory,” the administrator sternly counters.
oppression of Sharia law, or its interpretation by the extremists, is
reinforced by the fact that interpreters are needed for communication between
the Arab-speaking invaders and the natives of Timbuktu, who speak mostly French
and Bambara. The crushing weight of
fundamentalist rule also falls heavily on Kidane (Ibrahim
Ahmed dit Pino), a herdsman who has attempted to live apart from the invaders
with his wife, daughter, and tenant in an idyllic desert refuge. Kidane’s story forms the core of the film and
builds to a tragic conclusion, which in Western eyes is likely to be all the
more troubling because of Kidane’s fatalistic acceptance of events (“it is
willed”). In an American production,
Dwayne Johnson would have saved the day, or Jamie Foxx as Kidane would have
shot his own way out.
A nominee for the 2015 Academy Award in the Best Foreign Movie
category and for the
Palme d’Or as Best Picture at Cannes, “Timbuktu” looks gorgeous
in the new, hi-def Blu-ray edition released by the Cohen Media Group. Detail is sharp, and the colors of the exotic
tribal clothing worn by Kidane’s wife (Toulou Kiki) and other characters are so
vivid they seem to jump out of the TV screen. Some critics thought the movie was too pretty. However, arguably, Sissako is telling his
story through the eyes of his indigenous characters, and this is the world as
they see it. The Blu-ray disc includes
English subtitles for the multi-lingual dialogue track, and there are two extras:
a theatrical trailer and a thoughtful interview with Sissako at a public
screening of “Timbuktu.”
Here is the special extended trailer for the new "Man From U.N.C.L.E." film that was prepared by Warner Bros. for Comic-Con. It's bound to set off a lot of debate between purists who remain loyal to the classic TV series and those who argue that we need an "U.N.C.L.E." for a new generation. Based on the trailer, it appears that director Guy Ritchie has retained virtually none of the elements of the TV series beyond the title and character names, though we do extend kudos to him for insisting that the film is at least set in the 1960s Cold War period. As with most contemporary spy flicks, the trailer emphasizes action over plot or characterizations. Will the film succeed in standing on its own as a new tent pole franchise for Warners? We'll get the answer when it opens on August 14.
There’s a scene in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance” (1962) when a newspaper man says “This is the west, sir and
when legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Screenwriter Ben Hecht and
director Jack Conway seemed to have followed that sentiment in their biopic,
“Viva Villa!” (1934) which presents a highly fictionalized version of the life of Mexican
revolutionary Pancho Villa. Though not historically accurate, it’s an
entertaining and worthwhile film, and in its own way presents the truth about what
it means to be oppressed and to finally decide you’ve had a belly full and rise
up against it.
The opening scenes show the peones being told by Porfiro Diaz’s soldiers that their land is
being taken away from them. When they protest, the leader of the protesters is
given 100 lashes. His young son watches as the last lash is delivered and it’s
discovered the man is dead. “It must have been too much,” an officer says
derisively. The boy follows the man who wielded the whip into an alley and
stabs him to death. The boy is Pancho Villa.
Grown to manhood, the adult Villa (Wallace Beery) has
become a bandit, partners with another ruthless hombre, Sierra (Leo Carillo).
Beery plays Villa as a larger than life character of gargantuan appetites. He
drinks, eats, and kills as the impulse strikes him. Every beautiful woman he
sees he must have, and he marries each of them. As his reputation grows, a
contemplative little man named Francisco Madera starts a revolution and his friends,
wealthy landowner Don Felipe (Donald Cook) and his sister Teresa (Fay Wray), enlists
Villa in the cause. Villa recruits hundreds of villagers to fight and they free
city after city from the cruel dictator’s grasp. His exploits are recorded by an
American newspaper man, Johnny Sykes (Stuart Irwin), who helps create Villa’s
Things start to go wrong when Madera, a dreamy
idealist, thinks Villa’s tactics are too brutal, and puts him under the command
of General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut). Pascal is an opportunist who uses both
Villa and Madera, until the day he can seize power for himself. Despite all
that Villa did for him, Madera excludes Villa from the government he forms in
Mexico City after Diaz resigns. Villa and Sierra return home to the hills of
Chihuahua, where they take up bank robbing again. For his crimes Madera has him
thrown in jail, and Pascal arranges for him to be executed. Madera stops the
execution but not before Pascal humiliates him by making him crawl in the dirt.
There’s a lot more to this big, sprawling story, and
Hecht’s script is tight, full of visual metaphors, most of which revolve around
the land that everyone’s fighting for, down to the last handful of dirt
clutched in a dying man’s hand.
Stories abound regarding the filming of “Viva Villa!”
For example, the movie began with Howard Hawks directing and Lee Tracy playing
reporter Johnny Sykes. But Tracy had a drinking problem and apparently urinated
off his hotel room balcony, while screaming insults at a group of military
cadets. Tracy was hustled out of the country and Hawks was called back to
Hollywood by producer David. O. Selznick. The two of them got in a fight over
Tracy. Hawks wanted to keep him in the picture and he socked Selznick in the
nose and himself out of the picture. He was replaced by Conway. All previous
scenes were reshot.
Despite this setback, the reassembled cast and crew
managed to turn in solid performances in all the key roles. It’s arguably
Beery’s best film, and Schildkraut turns in a world class performance as a
vicious snake. Conway’s direction is solid and straightforward. The black and
white cinematography by James Wong Howe is first rate, highlighted as usual by
his use of sharp contrast in the bright daylight scenes shot in the Mexican
There are other films about the Mexican revolution,
including Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata,” (1952) which is more historically
accurate, and “Villa Rides” (1968) an adventure film played almost for laughs
with Yul Brynner as Villa and Robert Mitchum (script by Robert Towne and Sam
Peckinpah). But “Viva Villa!” has a timeless quality to it that holds up well
today and manages to show its influence on the films that followed. The Warner Archive has done a first rate job
of transferring the film to DVD. The original theatrical trailer also appears
on the disc. Recommended.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
After his iconic battle against the
legendary Bruce Lee in 1972’s Way of the
Dragon (and with the encouragement of cinematic superstar and karate
student Steve McQueen), six-time, undefeated world karate champion Chuck Norris
felt it was time to move permanently into the world of cinema. In just a few
short years, he was already headlining low budget martial arts/action films
such as 1974’s Slaughter in San Francisco
(as a villain), 1977’s Breaker!
Breaker! and 1978’s Good Guys Wear
Black (his first box office hit). This success led to Chuck’s 1979 karate
classic, A Force of One. The cool and
entertaining film really started to get him noticed by action movie fans and
was quickly followed by The Octagon (1980),
an exciting and suspenseful ninja thriller. With Norris and karate/action movie
audiences now hungry for more, Chuck immediately started work on his next
feature, 1981’s highly enjoyable An Eye
for an Eye.
After his partner is murdered by powerful
international drug lord Morgan Canfield (played by the late, great Christopher
Lee), detective Sean Kane (Norris) is berated by his captain (Richard Shaft Roundtree) for using excessive force
in his quest for answers. Fed up with how the law works, Sean willingly
relinquishes his gun and his badge. However, Sean Kane doesn’t need a weapon.
Sean Kane is a weapon!Seething with rage and hell-bent on revenge,
Sean, along with a grief-stricken father (the sorely missed Mako from Conan the Barbarian and Chuck’s Sidekicks) of one of Canfield’s recent
victims, sets out on a quest to find the mysterious drug kingpin and bring him
to his knees.
Directed by Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama and Chuck’s Lone Wolf McQuade), An Eye for an Eye, which was the last film to be made by famed
independent film studio Avco Embassy Pictures (The Fog, Phantasm, The Exterminator, The Howling), was written by
William Gray (Prom Night, Humongous)
and James Bruner (Chuck’s Invasion U.S.A.
and The Delta Force), and shot
entirely on location in San Francisco, California.
The nicely paced, entertaining and well-structured
film is filled with solid direction as well as memorable and diverse
characters; not to mention wonderful performances. As is usually the case with
his engaging action films, Chuck Norris is cool, a bit humorous and totally
believable as a courageous, but dangerous hero. It’s also no surprise that the
legendary Christopher Lee brings a touch of diabolical class to his villainous role
while the great and always reliable Richard Roundtree delivers another solid
performance. The rest of the top-notch cast shines as well. Academy Award
nominee (for The Sand Pebbles) Mako
is extremely lively and witty, making his character the perfect sidekick for
the low-key and semi-serious Chuck; Matt Clark (The Outlaw Josey Wales and Chuck’s Walker, Texas Ranger) delivers a wonderfully balanced and subtle performance
as fellow cop McCoy; beautiful Maggie Cooper (TV actress turned news
commentator) does well with her role as Chuck’s love interest; three time WWWF
(now WWE) Tag Team Champion Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man and Chuck’s Missing
in Action 2: The Beginning) is completely convincing as a deadly and
intimidating Bond-like henchman; the lovely Rosalind Chao (TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) gives a
powerful, but, unfortunately, brief performance as a news reporter; Stuart
Pankin (Arachnophobia) is quite comical
as an effeminate pimp and, in their brief roles, Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s, Walker, Texas Ranger) is warm and
likeable as a cop while action movie regular Mel Novak (Chuck’s A Force of One) exudes slimy evil as a
street snitch. The simple, yet intriguing story moves along at a fast clip and
the skillfully directed action sequences (especially the very suspenseful chase
scene between Rosalind Chao and Professor Tanaka as well as an exciting
helicopter attack that could rival a Bond film) will no doubt keep you
watching. Add to all of this a kick-ass musical theme by talented composer
William Goldstein (Chuck’s Forced
Vengeance) and you have an early 80s action/adventure that is a real joy to
An Eye for an Eye has been released
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in a brand new, HD, anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen
transfer and although the film shows some slight grain in the darker scenes,
the movie is otherwise crystal clear and the colors are vibrant. I love this film
and this is the absolute best I’ve ever seen it look. Needless to say, it’s a
tremendous improvement over the previous DVD release. The region 1 disc also
contains a very informative audio commentary with director Steve Carver who not
only discusses numerous aspects of the film’s production, but also talks about
many interesting things such as working for Avco Embassy and how the late
Professor Tanaka was really taking those hits and kicks Chuck was dishing out
in the big finale. Carver also has some wonderful and fascinating things to say
about Chuck Norris, Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree, Mako, Toru Tanaka and
the rest of the talented cast. The disc features the original theatrical
trailer (“White Lightning is back!”) along with a trailer for Chuck’s enjoyable
1988 action-thriller Hero and the Terror (also
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber).
like me, you’re a fan of Chuck Norris’s early 80s martial arts/action films, I
highly recommend this Blu-ray release of An
Eye for an Eye.
FROM FRANCE WITH LOVE: GENDER AND IDENTITY IN FRENCH
By Mary Harrod (I. B. Tauris, £62/ $99)264
pages. Hardback. ISBN: 9781784533588
Review by Diane
French romantic comedy has been enjoying
something of a popularity boom, beginning slowly in the 1990s and showing no
sign of waning two decades later. The
'comédie romantique' (still a relatively new term in the French language) now
firmly standardised as a popular film genre in France. The rom-com genre has outperformed all others
financially, responsible for around 50% of domestic box office takings and the
lion's share of French film production. So why, Mary Harrod poses, has the area been so badly neglected by
This book is not, perhaps, for those with a
casual or passing interest in the genre; some degree of academic knowledge and
awareness of related literature is assumed here. However, throughout the study, Harrod makes a
strong case for academic attention and the need for further study on this
contemporary cycle of films. Drawing
from extensive research, and a feminist framework, we are presented with how
there has been a slow shift towards promotion of the female point of view in more
recent films, with a large proportion of female writers and directors taking
the helm. This shift may seem late in
coming in comparison to the rest of the world, but perhaps unsurprising for a
country which didn't allow women to vote until 1944 and generally has exhibited
delayed liberalisation in terms of modern female life in France.
Harrod discusses this relatively new
phenomenon and newness of privileging female subjectivity from a number of
different perspectives and cites over a hundred films as examples here, which in
themselves clearly highlight some of the difficulties in categorising the
genre. Rom-coms veer from the
traditional boy-meets-girl narrative, to family-centred ensemble pieces, to other
recent trends such as rom-coms featuring male duos; male buddy 'bromance'
The rom-com is historically seen as frivolous
and lacking in substance; deprecated as an object unworthy of study, not least
in France where critics have tended to denigrate domestic efforts as
"pathetic imitation[s] of former Hollywood models". However, Harrod argues, comedy itself is
highly regarded in literature and can be profoundly revealing about the social
world and, of course, the very notion of romantic love is frequently
central in western fiction, remaining
irresistibly alluring throughout the ages. So, perhaps the fact that romance can be used as forum for women to
explore their identity, emotional lives and experiences is the very thing that
makes it at once historically overlooked by patriarchy and yet invaluable in
terms of social significance.
Harrod examines the French version of
romantic love, alongside changing dynamics of contemporary notions of the
couple. Although there are a huge number
of film titles mentioned in passing, there are a few more engaging case studies
which allow for detailed understanding of the issues under discussion. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie (2001); one of
France's most successful rom-coms ever to make a mark at the international box
office, is studied here as an example of the genre before it was
well-established in the domestic market. Harrod remarks upon a number of atypical elements with the film;
although having a feel-good Hollywood style ending, it displays notions of
disjointed and fragmented families, with the central couple more akin to
childlike friends rather than romantic lovers (the film also has suffered
allegations of misogyny and racism).
This study often, intentionally, raises
more questions than it answers - Harrod notes the "babbling polyphony of
discourses" apparent within the genre from race, religion, sexuality and
commitment, to defining the very construct of 'romance' itself. The fact that there are so many areas of
question is what makes Harrod's work feel like it's bursting at the seams;
further research is clearly called for to even begin to adequately cover all
the issues raised here - but the fact that they are acknowledged is a good start.
Timeless human issues such as male and
female positioning to commitment and adultery are frequently deliberated in
rom-coms, views on which have changed over time. In French cinema, adultery has traditionally
been seen as something of a joke; almost an endearing trait in men and integral
to the experience of marriage. Harrod notes that, though the notion still persists
and is far from dead, adultery has been significantly deglamourised and is significantly
less socially acceptable in modern French cinema (and, we infer, French
society). Female desire is increasingly
prominent in such films but, as Harrod points out, even in films made by women,
female promiscuity seems to result in emotional emptiness at best (using Bridget
Jones as a point of comparison).
The significance of the effect of cinema on
society (and vice versa) should not be underestimated; changing social
attitudes has been linked with audiences taking cues from their cinematic
hero(ine)s or, at least, are reflected in them. An important example Harrod gives here is the film Pédale Douce (1996) which
had significant impact on the case for gay and lesbian equality and made a key
contribution to legal change for same sex couples to adopt children in France.
Alongside foregrounded representations of
alternative or queer gender positions, Harrod discusses the emergence of new
types of heroine, and conflicting versions of womanhood represented by French
female stars. She presents Audrey Tautou
and Marion Cotillard as unthreatening, childlike versions of femininity whereas
more modern trends seem to allow for more comic heroines; favouring intelligence
over naïvety and becoming, therefore, more believably realistic rather than
(male) romantic fantasy. Romauld et
Juliette (1989) is noted as a key departure from conforming to norms of
physical attractiveness of French female protagonists (especially in terms of
slimness), but it remains that the rom-com genre still contributes
substantially to traditions of idolising the female body (as opposed to achievement). Harrod notes the double standard in attitudes
here; in 2005's Je préfère qu'on reste amis, Gerard Depardieu is described as "just
within the bounds of healthy size in this film" (having put on a
substantial amount of weight in recent years), yet continues to be cast in
leading roles - the same would be unlikely for a female lead.
The history of women needing to be
'rescued' - usually a low status woman by a rich man (à la Pretty Woman, 1990) -
also still pervades; the two most recent rom-coms Harrod saw at the time of concluding
this study, she says, both show career goals for women as unfulfilling, even
belittling, which, in the case of male characters is invariably the
opposite. She also addresses the still
current hot topic of age difference in the coupling of stars; many male
co-stars are at least 20 years senior to their partner (in the 1999 film Venus
Beauté, Audrey Tautou is a scandalous 49 years younger than co-star Robert
A particularly interesting pattern that
arises here is that, increasingly, characters in French romantic comedies
express desire to be part of a family unit; well beyond simply the romantic
desire of coupledom. This is highly
significant in a social context - the fact that a high proportion of female
directors opt for the family ensemble narrative adds fuel to the concept that romance
for men ends with conquest whilst for women it is a more of an ongoing
Harrod gives a broad picture of the evolution
of the nature of family as a social unit in film, into less conventional
formats; seen in the shift towards ensemble rom-coms, the dethroning of
marriage as a central goal, alongside inclusion of same-sex relationships. The emergence of the nurturing father is
discussed also - with Trois hommes et un couffin in 1985 (later remade in the
USA as Three Men and a Baby); although less prominent into the '90s and beyond,
nonetheless, motherhood for women became less often an exclusive life-goal.
Whilst Harrod's book may not be for the
casual rom-com viewer, she argues her case well: this is clearly an area of
distinct social significance for film studies, unfairly neglected and even
scorned by scholars and critics alike. Hopefully there will be enough academic interest in the near future for the
fascinating questions she raises to be taken on board and developed by others.
The Warner Archive has released the 1951 comedy Callaway Went Thataway. The film is a low-key but delightful tale that has more than a wisp of Frank Capra in its story line. The movie opens with a montage of scenes showing young boys and girls glued to their television sets as they watch the adventures of singing cowboy Smoky Callaway (Howard Keel). They don't realize they are actually viewing old "B" movies from the 1930s. Not that it matters. Callaway has found a new audience with a younger generation and they have made him America's favorite TV hero in these early days of the medium.(Since so many households did not have televisions in 1951, the film shows a common sight during this era: people crowded around department store windows to watch TV broadcasts). Network brass and sponsors immediately want to keep the gold train rolling by initiating more new films starring Smoky. The only problem is that no one has seen him in ten years. The network enlists a marketing firm owned by partners Mike Frye (Fred MacMurray) and Deborah Patterson (Dorothy McGuire) to track down Smoky and sign him up for an exclusive contract that will also see an explosion of merchandise with his name and face on it. Everyone stands to get rich including the marketing firm- but finding Smoky seems to be an impossibility. Mike hires a private eye, George Markham (Jesse White) to turn over every stone to find the unwitting superstar. Ultimately, they assume Smoky must have passed away, alone and forgotten. By happenstance, they come across Stretch Barnes, an amiable young cowboy who is an exact look-a-like for Smoky. The ever-opportunistic Mike convinces him to pose as the real Smoky and sign the relevant contracts that will make everyone a fortune. The ruse works. Network executives and sponsors are delighted and kids enthusiastically look forward to meeting Smoky during his nationwide personal appearance tour. The only problem occurs when Stretch goes before the cameras. Lacking any acting experience, his performance is awkward and unprofessional. However, the executives attribute this to simply having been out of the business for a while and decide they can edit around the footage to make him look like his old self. In the course of accompanying Smoky on public appearance stops, Deborah finds that the simple but sincere country boy has fallen in love with her. He even gives her an engagement ring and tells her to hold on to it until the day she feels he would make a good husband.
The funniest bits in the movie occur late in the story when Markham ends up finding the real Smoky (Keel in a dual role). It turns out he's a far cry from his old image. He's a hopeless alcoholic and womanizer and he's greedy as well. He blackmails Mike and Deborah by threatening to have them arrest for identity theft if they don't fire the phony Smoky and hire him. This leads to some genuinely funny sequences. Mike, stalling for time, agrees to the terms on the proviso that the real Smoky dries out in at a fitness farm. Here, Smoky manages to mix his exercise routine with getting drunk via some well-hidden bottles of booze he has stashed around the facility. Things finally come to a head when Smoky is required to make a charity appearance before 90,000 fans. The real Smoky is too crude to pull it off and Stretch, feeling ashamed of his role in all this deceit, intends to go back to his farm. The finale may be predictable but it's quite entertaining with Keel squaring off in a fistfight with himself!
The performances are very entertaining. MacMurray has long been underrated as an actor, remembered primarily for his late career string of Disney films and starring on the sitcom My Three Sons. However, he was an actor of great depth. He could play villains (The Apartment, The Caine Mutiny, Double Indemnity) and lovable cads with equal skill. McGuire is very charming in the only prominent female role and Keel steals the film in a part that surely would have been played a decade earlier by either Gary Cooper or James Stewart. The movie moves at a brisk pace thanks to collaborators Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, who co-wrote and co-directed the film. The movie is charming throughout and the Warner Archive DVD boasts not only an impressive transfer but an original trailer as well. There is also an unintentionally amusing explanation at the end of the film assuring viewers that MGM meant no disrespect to any contemporary western star and that the studio is well aware of the wonderful social values Hollywood cowboys instill in America's youth!
The 1963 romantic comedy Come Fly With Me has been released by the Warner Archive. The film is a breezy, if dated, homage to an era when flying on a commercial airliner was actually deemed to be an exotic experience. The movie chronicles the love lives of three stewardesses (remember that quaint term?)- Donna Stewart (Dolores Hart) and Hilde Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton) are mature, self-determined young women and the newbie to their flight crew, Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin) is a bumbling but irresistible airhead. All of them have one common trait, keeping in the era in which the film was made: they are all drop dead gorgeous. This is one instance in which a profession has not been Hollywood-ized to make it appear glamorous. Back in the day stewardesses were considered to be highly desirable jobs, as they allowed young women the opportunity to not only earn a good living but also see the world during their down time. At the time, few women had opportunities to exert their talents as business executives, so working for an airline was one way out of a humdrum lifestyle. However, there were plenty of misogynist males who controlled the rules that deemed whether a young woman was worthy of being a stewardess. For one, they had to be unmarried. They had to be attractive and had to agree to Draconian terms that could see them fired if they gained too much weight. Adding insult to injury, they would sometimes even have to provide their measurements as part of the employment process. Fortunately, we live in a world today where such practices are not only unthinkable but also illegal. However, we also live in a world today in which travel has become an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Customers must endure skyrocketing prices, petty additional charges and the discomfort of being squeezed like cattle into the tiny confines of their seats. Thus, Come Fly With Me does provide a journey into the past, for both better and worse, when it comes to reliving the glory days of airline travel.
The plot finds our three heroines on an exotic flight that will take them first to Paris, then on to Austria. From the get-go we see how stewardesses were considered to be human prey by lecherous male customers who paw at them and make awkward attempts to get dates. In the film, the women are also targeted by flight crew members. Each of the women ends up meeting their own prospective lover. Naturally, each of them initially spawns the advances. Donna has a chance encounter with a charismatic but egotistical Austrian baron, Franz von Elzinger (Karl Boehm) whose attempts to woo her backfire. Hilde is courted by a older, polite customer, Walter Lucas (Karl Malden) while Carol meets cute with the First Officer of the flight, handsome Ray Winsley (Hugh O'Brian). It will not be giving away any spoilers to reveal that each of the women ends up agreeing to date their individual suitor. Donna is swept off her feet by the lavish favors bestowed on her by Franz. However, in a rather engrossing plot twist, it is revealed that he is actually using her as an unwitting "mule" to smuggle diamonds into Austria on her future visits. Hilde finds herself smitten by the earnest and gentlemanly Walter, but turns sour on the relationship when she learns he has been recently widowed and suspects he only likes her because she resembles his deceased wife. Carol finds a willing boyfriend in Ray but is alarmed to find out he has been having a long-term affair with a predatory married woman in Paris. Worse, the woman's husband has filed a formal complaint with the airline, which has punished him by refusing to promote him to captain.
The film was designed primarily as a chick flick in an era that began a few years earlier with Three Coins in the Fountain, which depicted for the first time the notion that young women should travel the world together on exotic vacations. This was followed by Where the Boys Are, a movie that had an even greater impact in encouraging single women to indulge themselves in travel and partying. (Coincidentally, it starred Dolores Hart). Come Fly With Me sends out mixed messages in terms of women's liberation. On the one hand, the three main female characters are headstrong and think nothing of making demands of their suitors that ensure they are treated with respect. (For all the romantic scenes in the film, it's implied that these ladies are distinctly virginal despite a few frank references to sex.) On the other hand, each of them seemingly only wants to find that special guy and settle down, presumably willing to sacrifice their careers in the process. In the movie's favor is the fact that it was actually filmed on location in Paris and Vienna, which adds a luster that many films of the era lacked. (The studio sequences were shot at MGM's now defunct UK-based studios.) Consequently, the movie has a rich, classy feel to it. The cast is also impressive with each of the stars delivering an amusing performance, even if Tiffin does overdo the lovable goofball routine. The location scenery in these gorgeous European locales still impresses and the movie benefits from the title song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, which was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in 1957, though it's sung here over the credits by Frankie Avalon. The proceedings move along at a brisk pace thanks to the efficiency of Henry Levin's direction and the impressive cinematography by the legendary Oswald Morris. The screenplay was written by the esteemed William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm). The film ultimately builds to a somewhat suspenseful conclusion via the diamond smuggling plot before it tapers off to a contrived finale in which each of the ladies resolves their romantic issues and finds fulfillment with their flawed, but still admirable beau.
I enjoyed Come Fly With Me despite its predictable story line, largely because of the charismatic cast and the presentation of a bygone era that is somewhat fascinating from a sociological perspective. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is hit-and-miss. At times the film looks gorgeous but at some points (especially in sequences using second unit footage) there is a yellowish hue. There are no extras.
(Trivia notes: This was Dolores Hart's final film. She was a hot property with the studios but decided to leave acting to become a nun. Today she is a respected abbess of a monastery and a documentary about her life was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. Actress Lois Maxwell appears in the movie in an inexplicably wordless role despite having many high profile film credits including two James Bond movies as Miss Moneypenny and the horror classic The Haunting, which was released the same year as Come Fly With Me. It would appear as though much of her footage may have ended up on the cutting room floor.)
We've all seen Halloween, Friday the
13th, and Hellraiser. But for true horror aficionados, much of the
charm of the genre lies in low budget, low production value, and extreme,
outrageous effects and plots. Read on to learn more about five of the forgotten
horror films of
the 80’s that, while an exercise in bad taste, will provide the horror fan with
a truly enjoyable viewing experience.
While poorly received upon its 1988 debut, Pumpkinhead has
built up a cult following in the years since its release. The movie tells of a
small rural town besieged by an ancient, gigantic monster (the titular
character), who is called into being by a father who wants to exact revenge on
the teenagers who have injured his young son in a dirt biking accident. The
film, which starred genre favorite Lance
Henriksen as the vengeful patriarch, spawned one direct to video sequel and
two made-for-television films.
Happy Birthday to Me
The Canadian production stars Little House on the
Prairie darling Melissa Sue Anderson as Ginny, the leader of an elite high
school clique whose members meet unfortunate ends. This 1981 slasher flick is
best remembered—when it's remembered at all—for the bizarre methods by which
the teens are murdered (including death
by shish kabob and death by weight lifting). These elements, in addition to
the twist ending, set it apart from the rest of the early 80’s slasher pack.
This 1984 comedy horror is about a race of humanoid
mutants (CHUDs, or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers), who live in
the subway tunnels beneath New York City. When the government cracks down on
transients who live in the transit system, the CHUDs begin coming up onto the
streets to feed. Starring John Heard and Daniel Stern, the movie is
quintessential midnight viewing and one of the best horror films set in the Big
Apple. C.H.U.D. was so popular upon its release, it developed a cult following
and can still be seen on the El Rey
Network, which DirecTV and Dish
Network customers have access to.
Another creature feature set in the urban underground,
1980's Alligator is about a giant reptile who is killing humans in the sewer
system of Chicago. The movie is based on the urban legend about a child who
flushed a pet baby alligator down the toilet when it gets too large to live in
the house. Although the film has largely been lost to time, it was praised upon
its release for its satirical elements and even spawned a board
Falling more on the science fiction side of horror, 1985's The
Stuff is an engaging satire with plenty of comedic elements. The film focuses
on the marketing of a white substance found bubbling out of the ground as a
sweet, calorie free treat that the public begins to consume like ice cream. As
you might suspect, that's not a great idea. Soon, it's apparent that those who
eat The Stuff are transformed into mindless zombies. The cult
classic features the earliest known film appearances by both Mira Sorvino
and Patrick Dempsey.
While you won't find these films in the list of genre classics, it's worth
probing the back catalog to check out these unique
pieces of horror history. Many will appreciate their amateur acting, obvious monster props, and ridiculous storylines.
Kino Lorber is releasing a five film collection of British film noir gems on August 25. See details below from press release.
BRITISH NOIR: Five Film Collection (The Assassin / The
Golden Salamander / The OctoberMan / They Met in the Dark / Snowbound) (DVD only)
Directors: Ralph Thomas, Ronald Neame, Roy Ward Baker,
Carl Lamac, David MacDonald
Cast: James Mason, John Mills, Trevor Howard, Herbert
Lom, Richard Todd, Anouk Aimee, Robert Newton
Film Noir/1943-1952/NR/470 minutes
Synopsis: While the film noir movement may seem like a distinctly
American phenomenon, British studios embarked on their own shadowy thrillers,
laced with postwar cynicism. This five-DVD collection assembles some of the lesser-known
Brit noir titles from the Rank Studios, featuring such major talents as actors
James Mason, Trevor Howard, and John Mills; and directors Ronald Neame and Roy
THEY MET IN THE DARK (1943): Discharged for treason, a former Navy Commander
(James Mason) sets out to expose the espionage ring that destroyed his career -
Directed by Carl Lamac.
THE OCTOBER MAN (1947): After a traumatic brain injury, a young engineer
(John Mills) tries to repair his life. But his recovery is thwarted when a
woman (Kay Walsh) is found strangled-and he becomes the prime suspect -
Directed by Roy Ward Baker.
SNOWBOUND (1948): A British Army vet (Dennis Price) exposes a plot by
ex-Nazis to reclaim a stash of gold bullion hidden at a ski resort. This
edition was derived from a master suffering from moderate deterioration and is
presented in a less-than-ideal condition - the stellar cast included Robert
Newton, Herbert Lom and Stanley Holloway - Directed by David MacDonald.
THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER (1950): A British archaeologist (Trevor Howard)
finds himself caught between a gang of North African gun-runners and the woman
he loves (Anouk Aimée) - the top-notch cast included Herbert Lom and
Wilfrid-Hyde White - Directed by Ronald Neame.
THE ASSASSIN (aka Venetian Bird) (1952): A private eye (Richard Todd)
arrives in Venice in search of a fugitive, but soon discovers that the city's
winding waterways hold dark secrets - Directed by Ralph Thomas.
LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN” (1981; Directed by
By Raymond Benson
Fowles’ 1969 novel, The French
Lieutenant’s Woman, was a literary sensation, a best-seller, and a work
deemed “impossible” to film because it broke conventions and played with
narrative structure and point of view. And yet, there were several attempts in
the 70s to adapt the difficult Victorian story to something cinematic.
Apparently Dennis Potter took a shot at writing a screenplay at one point, but
it was playwright Harold Pinter who cracked the problem and presented the tale of
obsession, infidelity, and shame as two parallel stories—one in the Victorian
past, as in the book, and one in the present, dealing with the actors making the film we’re watching.
It was a unique and original approach to the material. With Karel Reisz at the
helm, the film adaptation became a critically-acclaimed art house delight.
a Czech director working in England, was at the forefront of the British New
Wave of the 60s with such pictures as Saturday
Night and Sunday Morning, Morgan!,
and Isadora. He brilliantly realizes
Pinter’s script with the help of the gorgeous cinematography by the great Freddie
Francis and the superb performances by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. It was
Streep’s first starring role (she had previously held supporting parts and won
her first Oscar for Supporting Actress for Kramer
vs. Kramer) and it earned the actress her first Oscar nomination in the
Leading Actress category. For many, especially in the U.S., this was the first
time Irons was seen on the big screen (he had previously done much work for
British television and had a small part in one feature film). Narratively, it’s
Irons’ movie—he plays the protagonist—but it is definitely Streep, with her
hauntingly quiet portrayal of Sarah, the fallen woman, who leaves an indelible
parallel stories follow illicit love affairs. In the present, actors Mike
(Irons) and Anna (Streep) are making a movie called The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Both are married to other people,
but they have an on-location affair while filming in West Dorset, England. Coincidentally,
the characters they play in the movie—Charles and Sarah—have a scandalous
affair in the same setting, but in the Victorian era. The point of the picture
seems to be that nothing has changed since the late 19th Century in terms of
morality, social mores, and how misplaced passion can wreck a life. Sarah is a
mysterious outcast in the seaside town of Lyme Regis, the subject of much gossip
as being the “French Lieutenant’s Whore,” i.e., she had an adulterous
relationship with a married, visiting French soldier. Charles is a
paleontologist working in the village; he is engaged to marry a well-to-do
local girl, but he unwittingly becomes obsessed with Sarah. This, of course,
leads to the man’s ruin. In both cases, the aftermath of the affairs leave
devastations... or do they?
Fowles’ novel, the consequences of Charles’ and Sarah’s affair is played out in
three different endings. It is up to the reader to decide which is the most
plausible—or morally acceptable. For the film, Pinter has twisted this conceit
into the two analogous storylines with dissimilar outcomes. Very clever indeed.
Perhaps Pinter’s script—which was nominated for an Adapted Screenplay Oscar—is
the real star of the picture.
the Oscar nods for Streep and Pinter, the film was nominated for Art Direction,
Costume Design, and Film Editing.
moody, beautifully shot, brilliantly written, and exquisitely acted, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is ripe
for rediscovery as an important piece of British cinema from the early 80s.
Criterion Collection does its usual bang-up job with a new 2K digital
restoration and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The images look marvelous.
Reisz’s attention to detail in the period setting is a feast for the eyes.
include new interviews with Streep and Irons, editor John Bloom, and composer
Carl Davis (whose score is evocative and sublime); a new interview with film
scholar Ian Christie about the making and meaning of the film; an episode from The South Bank Show from 1981 featuring
Reisz, Fowles, and Pinter; and the theatrical trailer. The essay in the booklet
is by film scholar Lucy Bolton.
Chariots of Fire may have taken the
Oscar gold for 1981, for me the finest British picture that year was The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
“DARK WAS THE NIGHT received
an overwhelming response at ScreamFest and the Lincoln Center’s New York Film
Festival Sidebar Scary Movies Series and is now in theaters across the
country and available Day and Date on VOD, and Digital platforms including
ITunes and Amazon instant video.
Kevin Durand (The
Strain) and Lukas Haas (INCEPTION) star as local policemen who go to battle
against an ancient evil. The script, from Tyler Hisel, appeared on the 2009
Black List of best un-produced scripts, a rarity for the monster genre, under
the title THE TREES. Rounding out the cast are Bianca Kajlich
(Undateable), Sabina Gadecki (the ENTOURAGE movie), Heath Freeman (SKATELAND),
Steve Agee (@midnight) and Nick Damici (LATE PHASES).
Maiden Woods is a remote
and quiet town, but something stirs in the dark woods surrounding this isolated
community. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his deputy (Lukas Haas),
struggle to confront their own personal demons while facing down a new breed of
Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca
Kajlich, Steve Agee, Nick Damici, Sabina Gadecki, and Heath
Dallas Sonnier, Jack
Heller, Stefan Nowicki, Dylan K. Narang, Joey Carey
Ross Dinerstein and Kevin Iwashina
Caliber Media, Sundial Pictures,
Preferred Content & P Street Films
Stars in a creature feature that is downright poignant.
Director Jack Heller
does a fantastic job of doling out the scares and ratcheting up the tension in
– AINT IT COOL NEWS
design and cinematic discretion, make the damn thing work! –
by withholding the usual genre tropes... A notch above standard horror,
suspense. Tech and design contributions are nicely turned all
certainly talent in Jack Heller’s fright film “Dark was the Night,” beginning
with its cast. (Kevin Durand) conveys tender sorrow and steely resolve
with understated dexterity.
A trip into the
woods that will give you chills, but provide you with the urge to press “play”
over and over again – highly recommended.
- DREAD CENTRAL
One hell of a
great movie! One of the best horror films of the year. Don’t miss it!
This could be the next great horror franchise. – FANGORIA
Jack Heller is a graduate of the University of Southern
California School of Cinematic Arts. Jack made his directorial debut with the
Micro Budget film Enter Nowhere, starring up and coming stars Scott
Eastwood (The Longest Ride), Sara Paxton and Katherine Waterston (Jobs,
Inherent Vice), the independent film was released by Lionsgate. As a music
video and commercial director, he has worked with artists including, Miley
Cyrus, Big Sean, and Chief Keef, as well as brands such as Beats By Dre, Pac
Sun, British Knights, Stussy, and Hood By Air. Heller has produced over
20 feature films including the upcoming Bone
Tomahawk starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard
Jenkins and is a founding member of the production company Caliber
Media. Dark Was the Night is his second feature film as Director.
In anticipation of the new "Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film, Warner Home Entertainment has reissued the complete series in a DVD boxed set, complete with 10 hours of bonus extras. If you don't have the set, click here to order from Amazon and save $38.
Here is some behind the scenes footage of Sean Connery and Jill St. John with director Guy Hamilton rehearsing for the final sequence of "Diamonds Are Forever" that pitted them against actors Bruce Glover and Putter Smith.
Winston Churchill once said of the Soviet Union "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". The same could be said of Marlon Brando, that most rebellious and unpredictable of acting legends. He could be selfish, nasty, charming, seductive and completely dismissive. If you have even a modicum of interest in Brando's life and career, don't miss director Stevan Riley's new documentary feature "Listen to Me Marlon". The offbeat title is meant to suggest the stream of consciousness that is based on the main premise of the film: audio tapes of Brando engaging in self-analysis. Ironically his intention was to use these recordings, which were made over decades, as the basis of an autobiographical documentary that was obviously designed to give his side of the story as it related to his life and career. As with many quixotic projects Brando became involved with, the film never became reality. However, director Riley (who helmed the acclaimed James Bond documentary "Everything or Nothing") received cooperation from the Brando estate to fulfill the actor's quest to refute certain urban legends about his life through his own words. The film is laid out in a fascinating manner. It is non-linear in the sense that it doesn't strictly adhere to the timetable of the momentous events of Brando's life. The movie zig-zags through the decades with photos and footage of his younger years with those from his final tortured days, beset by personal family tragedies. There was always a sense that Brando was consistently aloof and unconcerned about the public's perception of him. This proves not to be true. In the audio tape segments that define the premise of the movie (there is no narrator, only Brando himself), we find that this was a man who cared very much about being the target of bad press, especially when he was convinced the stories were not true. However, there is also an introspective admission that he considered himself to have major failings as a father and family man, a fact evidenced by the dramatic events in the latter part of his life that saw one of his sons, Christian, incarcerated for shooting to death his daughter Cheyenne's boyfriend and the subsequent suicide of Cheyenne several years later. It becomes clear through are photos and home movie footage that one aspect of Brando was that he truly loved his family, yet he was too self-absorbed with his own life and career to have been anything other than an occasional presence in their lives. In heartbreaking public trial footage, we see Brando, that most private of men, break down in tears as he bemoans his failings as a father. The movie shows that Brando himself was subjected to a strained relationship with his own father, a cold and unfeeling man who could never praise his son even after he had achieved international fame. In one awkward on-camera interview from the 1950s, the father is almost dismissive of his son's achievements. Brando later reflects compassion for his father, however, pointing out that he, too, had lived a very difficult life and was a product of those experiences.
Brando on the set of Last Tango in Paris with director Bernardo Bertolucci and co-star Maria Schneider, 1972.
The film provides no interviews with critics or colleaguesbut does present riveting vintage interviews in which we see Brando at his most playful. On a press junket (perhaps the only one he did in the 1960s) for the underrated WWII spy thriller "Morituri", Brando is far more concerned about seducing the attractive female journalists than he is in extolling the virtues of the film. The audio segments also indicate his bitterness over his experience on the 1962 remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" which almost sank MGM. Brando took the lion's share of the blame for the film's enormous cost over-runs and was publicly chastised for selfish and irrational behavior on the set. His side of of the story is that they needed a scapegoat and he was it, pointing out he felt the film had major script problems from the beginning. The film also addresses the strained relationship between Brando and director Francis Ford Coppola, who resuscitated his career with "The Godfather". Brando laments that fact that Coppola bad-mouthed him for being unprepared on the set of "Apocalypse Now" and says he was hurt by this public flogging by a man he considered a friend. The documentary is peppered with film clips from key Brando movies, all of which are presented in gorgeous transfers, indicating Riley had a sizable budget for this film. (Many documentary film makers use VHS transfers of movie clips in order to get free usage under U.S. copyright laws.) There is also some truly rare color, on-set footage from "On the Waterfront" that left this viewer clamoring to see more. Brando's classics are represented and so are his bombs, so as the infamous "A Countess From Hong Kong", Charlie Chaplin's big screen comeback that landed with a thud. There are also the late career artistic triumphs such as "The Godfather" and "Last Tango in Paris", though on the latter Brando clearly resents his relationship with director Bernardo Bertolucci who he felt manipulated him into unveiling too many of his personal inner demons. Throughout the film, we see Brando represented by a digital 3D image of his head which he posed for in the 1980s and which fascinated him. He predicted that the future of film making would be revolutionized by digital technology- a predication that has come true. The statue-like, free-floating head of Brando serves as an anchor for his narration and perhaps, fittingly, reminds one of his appearance as Jor-El in "Superman". The movie also covers his social activism beginning with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. We see him among a Hollywood contingent in Washington D.C. as part of Martin Luther King's landmark protest. The film also traces his well-known devotion to equal rights for Native Americans. The movie includes the legendary Oscar ceremony footage of a mystery woman named Sacheen Littlefeather, in full tribal dress, refusing Brando's Best Actor statuette for "The Godfather" in protest of Hollywood's treatment of Indians on screen, much to the incredulity or perhaps amusement of presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore. It was the kind of bold, in-your-face move that epitomized Brando as a rebel but it was also a missed opportunity. Why didn't he appear himself to make the speech? Laziness? Cowardliness? We'll never know. Like many of Brando's causes, however, these seemed to burn brightly but briefly.
The movie covers Brando's failed marriages and tempestuous relationships with women, none of which ended satisfactorily. Despite his late career fun appearances on Larry King's chat show, we get the feeling that he died feeling lonely and frustrated, haunted by what he perceived to be his own failures. If "Listen to Me Marlon" has a flaw is that it leaves us hungry for even more. Some key films and events are glossed over or ignored, perhaps for reasons of running time. Brando's "One Eyed Jacks", the only film he ever directed, is tantalizingly glimpsed in clips but not even identified by name. He created a fine movie after taking over from director Stanley Kubrick, who found he could not work with Brando. The film went far over-budget and caused angst at Paramount, adding to the growing belief that Brando might be more trouble than he was worth. However, we never hear a word about his views on directing or what happened on the set of the film. Perhaps he never addressed this in the audio recordings that Riley was given access to, but it will frustrate Brandophiles to not have the film covered in any detail. There are other snippets that also leave us desiring more: his dismissal of the first "Superman" movie, which he concedes he did strictly for money (but did he really think it was a bad movie?) Brando bragging that he rewrote the script for "Apocalypse Now", whereas others said he was just fudging because he was too lazy to read the script. The movie also covers Brando's increasing reliance on cue cards and other devices to remind him of his lines. Over clips from "The Formula", we hear him brag that he insisted that his character wear a hearing aid so that his lines could be fed to him. We see that the only place Brando truly feels at piece was in his beloved atoll in Tahiti. Home movies indicate this was a place where he could find peace and solace, away from studio executives, fawning fans and intrusive journalists.
"Listen to Me Marlon" is a remarkable film and is a fitting analysis of a man who personifies the old cliche "They don't make stars like that any more".
(The film opens July 29 for a two week run at the Film Forum in New York City.)
One of Mel Brooks' least-discussed films, the 1991 comedy "Life Stinks", is also one of his most accomplished works. The film didn't click with Brooks's usual audience at the time, perhaps because the film is laced with social commentary. Brooks obviously ignored the old Hollywood advice to "Leave the messages to Western Union". Nonetheless, it's precisely because of this departure from his usual productions that gives "Life Stinks" a certain poignancy that isn't found in his earlier works. Granted, Brooks always included some sentiment in his films (even Zero Mostel's Max Byalystock in "The Producers" is con man with some admirable traits.) However, "Life Stinks" makes a plea for compassion toward society's most vulnerable people, even as it concentrates on the primary purpose of any Brooks film: to make the audience laugh.
The movie opens with a very amusing scene in which we are introduced to the central character, billionaire business magnate Goddard Bolt (Brooks) who calls a conference meeting with his team of corporate "yes" men and sniveling team of lawyers. Like Auric Goldfinger unveiling his plan to rob Fort Knox, Bolt uses a large scale model of the worst section of Los Angeles to announce his plans to buy up this property and turn it into a spectacular business compound that resembles a vacation resort. Naturally, it will bear his name and he is unconcerned about the fact that it will displace legions of homeless people who have erected a makeshift "city" on this property. As portrayed by Brooks, Bolt is an intentionally over-the-top egotist who never stops bragging about his accomplishments and who is clearly involved with in a passionate love affair -with himself. (If the film were made today, critics would immediately suspect that the character was based on Donald Trump.) Bolt's plans hit a snafu with the arrival of his arch business nemesis Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor) who announces that he has managed to already buy up the remaining half of the land that Bolt needs to carry out his dream. Neither man will budge in terms of selling his half of the land to the other so they decide to engage in a bizarre bet. The wager is that Bolt must forego his identity and all of his money and credit cards and attempt to survive as a homeless person within the confines of the geographic boundaries of the disputed land. If he can last 30 days living off his wits, he gets Crasswell's half of the land. If he fails, he cedes his half of the land to Crasswell. The movie chronicles the predictably rude awakening that Bolt gets from the first minute he enters the world of these hopeless souls. This is where the human side of the script kicks in. Bolt, a man who has commanded countless minions as the head of business empire, can't figure out how to even earn enough money to rent a $2.50 a night flop house hotel room. Nor can he come up with a plan for how to get a meal. Alone and destitute, he ultimately befriends some long time street people who pity him and take him under their wings. These include Sailor (Brooks' frequent co-star Howard Morris), a jovial but mentally unbalanced man who knows the ropes when it comes to surviving on the mean streets of L.A. Bolt also encounters Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a former dancer who has hit on hard times. The fiery-tempered young woman has learned to get by the on streets by using physical violence to protect her "home", which is in reality a motley collection of discarded items gathered in a back alley.
The film is basically geared for humor and it delivers in spades. There are some laugh-out-loud sequences depicting Bolt and his friends contending with some local bullies. However, Brooks the director scores even more impressively with poignant sequences in which Bolt learns the value of the people around him. He may have billions in the bank but he finds that a free meal in a soup kitchen is worth his fortune. He begins to see the people around him in a different light. When Molly's "home" is destroyed by vandals, it becomes clear that to a homeless person this loss is as devastating as it would be for the average person to lose their house. The film points out how transient people who live in over-sized boxes can have their world demolished by a pounding rainstorm that washes away their shelter. Every day is a battle to survive on the street. Predictably, Bolt and Molly reawaken human elements in each other and a romance blossoms. In one lovely sequence, Bolt and Molly find shelter in a costume warehouse where he convinces her to dress up regally and dance with him. It's a charming scene, the likes of which no other contemporary movie would show for fear of it appearing to corny. The movie is enhanced by composer John Morris's wonderful score. By this point, Morris had composed the music for most of Brooks's films and his contributions are essential elements of each of them. The supporting cast is also terrific with Howard Morris scoring very well as the sympathetic street person who doesn't realize how desperate his plight is. Warren gives a knockout performance that hits all the right notes in terms of pathos and belly laughs. Jeffrey Tambor steals his every scene as a hilarious villain- and the scene in which he and Bolt square off using bulldozers in a monster-like battle is genuinely hilarious. Even famed character actor Billy Barty makes a brief appearance in a scene that is extremely amusing.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a commentary track by Brooks and screewriters Rudy De Luca and Steve Hoberman. The three also appear in a short 2003 documentary about the making of the film. De Luca is another frequent collaborator of Brooks, having not only written scripts for him but also played supporting roles in the films. In "Life Stinks" De Luca appears as a demented man who thinks he is J. Paul Getty. Brooks, who doesn't get overly political in the film itself, uses his interview to say he was inspired to make the movie by dramatic cuts to social services and clinics that had been made by the Reagan administration, to which he attributes the explosive growth of the homeless population in the years that followed. While Brooks and De Luca's hearts are clearly in the right place, they make a politically incorrect faux pas by referring to the homeless people as "bums", which, to a certain generation was regarded as almost a term of endearment, along with "hobo". Nevertheless, for viewers of a younger generation, the it probably sounds harsh. The Blu-ray release also includes the theatrical trailer.
"Life Stinks" can be criticized for being predictable and occasionally overly sentimental. It's Brooks' version of a Frank Capra tale. In fact, Capra himself was not immune to criticism about the sentimental nature of his films, with some critics deriding them as "Capra Corn". However, this film represents the kind of comedy studios don't make today in this era of gross-out jokes. It is a celebration of kindness and generosity over greed. It has well-defined characters and a terrific cast. This "Life" doesn't stink. In fact, it's very much worth living.
Alex Rocco, whose hard scrabble life on the streets of Boston prepared him to successfully play crime figures in films and on television, has died from pancreatic cancer at age 79. During his youth, Rocco ran with the notorious Winter Hill Gang, which was founded by the infamous Whitey Bulger. His association with the gang led him to be incarcerated as well as being suspected of having driven a getaway car used in a murder. At one point, his first wife was almost killed when a bomb exploded in a car she was driving. Rocco, who was born Alexander Petricone Jr, took the stage name of "Rocco" on a whim when he saw a bakery truck bearing the Rocco name on it. Fearing that his associations of the Boston mob would lead to his demise, he spontaneously decided to move to Hollywood. He took an acting class that was taught by Leonard Nimoy, who gave him valuable advice that led to some successful roles. Rocco's biggest break came with his performance as Moe Greene, the ill-fated Las Vegas casino owner who is marked for death by Michael Corleone in "The Godfather". Rocco's role was brief but he gave a commanding and memorable performance and his dialogue from the film is still widely quoted by movie fans. More roles followed but Rocco found himself typecast as mob wiseguys until he switched his talents to comedic roles in the 1980s. He won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the acclaimed but short-lived TV series "The Famous Teddy Z". That opened plenty of doors and Rocco remained a popular character actor throughout his career. He also appeared in "The Facts of Life" TV series that ran for nine seasons. Other film credits include "The Friends of Eddie Coyle", "Freebie and the Bean", "The Stunt Man" and "The Wedding Planner". For more click here.
Theodore Bikel, who played Captain Von Trapp in the original 1959 stage production of The Sound of Music, has died from natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 91 years old. Bikel was Austrian by birth but his father moved the family to Palestine (later Israel) in the wake of the Nazi anschuluss. Bikel always had an interest in the arts and took up acting and folk singing. He emigrated to London in 1946 where he made a name in stage productions. He later went to Hollywood and made his big screen debut in 1954. He found immediate success and over the years appeared in such films as The African Queen, I Want to Live!, My Fair Lady and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!. He received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones. Bikel also appeared in many classic TV series, all the while keeping his strong ties to the stage. He starred in over 2,000 performances of Fiddler on the Roof. He recorded dozens of albums of folk songs and was very tied to promoting Jewish culture and heritage. He was also a political activist throughout his life. An interesting side note: Bikel unsuccessfully screen tested for the role of Auric Goldfinger in the classic 1964 007 film. (The part eventually went to Gert Frobe). When my co-producers and I unearthed the screen test footage in the mid-1990s, Bikel was gracious enough to allow us to you use it our documentary The Making of Goldfinger. Not many actors would have been secure enough to willingly expose their unsuccessful screen test to millions of viewers, but Bikel did and for that this writer will always be personally grateful to him.
Sony and Eon Productions have released the new trailer for the forthcoming James Bond thriller "SPECTRE" starring Daniel Craig. The film opens in the UK on 26 October with worldwide release following on 6 November. Click here to view.
I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as a very recent interview with Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Cinema Retro experience is that we continue to get inundated with review copies of niche market DVD and Blu-ray titles pertaining to films we've never heard of. Many of these come from Vinegar Syndrome (so-called for the nefarious affliction that attaches itself to old reels of film if they are not stored correctly.) The company has earned kudos for not only rescuing obscure titles from oblivion but releasing them in remastered versions that often include bonus extras. Much of the company's product line consists of vintage hardcore porn from the 1960s-1980s but Vinegar Syndrome also releases bizarre exploitation films from this era as well. Case in point: "The Cut-Throats", a 1969 WWII opus that is aptly described on the DVD sleeve as a cross between Nazisloitation and sexploitation genres. What is Nazisploitation? Well, it's a sordid sub-genre of low-budget film-making that took off in the 1970s and had a limited, but profitable run over the next decade. The subject matter was particularly distasteful: it involved the sexual torture and exploitation of female prisoners and concentration camp inmates as a device for stimulation. (Think "The Night Porter" without the redeeming factors.) Perhaps the most notorious of the Nazisploitation films was the infamous "Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S." , a twisted and sickening exercise in cinematic offensiveness that should result in your crossing anyone you know who enjoyed it off your list of house guests (click here for review). "The Cut-Throats" is not a Nazisploitation film in that regard. Yes, there are women who are constantly groped but in this case the females are willing and mostly prone to doing some groping themselves. The movie was directed by one John Hayes, who apparently has a cult following for his Ed Wood-like ability to see his dream projects through despite a lack of funding or resources. This admirable quality is on display in "The Cut-Throats" from the very first frames.
The film opens on a bizarre note: a painted backdrop of a cowboy over which we hear someone warbling an old-fashioned western song. (The score is by Jamie Mendoza-Nava, who went on to compose music for other more notable "B" movies.) At first I thought I had accidentally put on some old John Ford film with the Sons of the Pioneers singing over the opening credits. Hayes's decision to open the movie with this song never makes sense in the course of what follows beyond a brief opening scene of a G.I. using a lasso. We are then introduced to the no-name cast as we see an American colonel recruit a handful of men to accompany him on a dangerous mission to infiltrate a remote German outpost and capture important documents and battle plans. What the G.I.s don't realize is that they are being duped into helping him secure possession of a chest of priceless jewels that is being hidden inside the German HQ. When the men infiltrate the compound, they quickly dispatch the German soldiers, only to find that the place is actually a bordello. The sexy females on site quickly switch allegiance and put on a bizarre stage performance consisting of singing and dancing in costume(!) Things heat up pretty quickly from that point with the G.I.s understandably lowering their resistance and bedding the young women. In one of the film's few attempts to provide some outright humor, one G.I. of German ancestry finds he is sexually stimulated by making love on a bed draped in Swastika sheets while listening to records of Hitler's speeches. Once the corrupt colonel intimidates a prostitute into showing him the hidden treasure, he considers his own men to be expendable. He uses a skirmish with a passing German motorcade as a cover to murder his own men. The film's climax finds him going mano-a-mano with a surviving German colonel as they duel over who gets possession of the jewels. (Ironically, the plot device of corrupt Americans and corrupt German soldiers vying for a fortune in stolen treasure bares a similarity to the finale of "Kelly's Heroes", which was produced the same year.)
"The Cut-Throats" is such a mess that it boggles the mind to imagine that even drive-ins or grindhouse cinemas would have shown it back in the day. However, the sexual revolution in film was a new phenomenon so any outlet horny male viewers had to ogle naked women on screen was probably assured of some financial success. The movie was clearly not made for the Noel Coward crowd. The film has an abundance of guilty pleasures, not the least of which is the fact that the film is set in "Germany". I use quotation marks because it appears this is a Germany from an alternate dimension, unless in my travels I somehow missed the nation's desert areas, where the action takes place. Then we have the main location, the German military compound which is clearly a modern housing unit that is either being constructed or deconstructed. With the house boasting a modern American facade and an empty in-ground swimming pool, one is tempted to suspect that director Hayes simply appropriated an abandoned property for the few days it probably took to film this epic. The premise is like staging a WWII action film on the same sets where "Leave It To Beaver" was shot. The editing process looks like it was achieved with a chainsaw, with abrupt cuts in abundance. There is virtually no character development beyond the most simplistic characteristics afforded the principals. Hayes did manage to find the budget for some period G.I. uniforms and weapons, as well as few German WWII-era vehicles (though one of them seems to be adorned with the Afrika Corps symbol even though the fighting is supposed to be taking place in Germany.) For cult movie purists, about the only recognizable face....well, not exactly face....I became aware of is that of Uschi Digard, whose legendary assets figure into a ludicrous sequence in which she plays the secretary to the German colonel. Upon hearing that the war is officially over, she doffs her uniform and seduces the German's young adjutant by going starkers and serving him a bottle of wine in a unique manner- by first pouring it over her trademark natural assets. The scene is representative of the entire goofy atmosphere of the production. The sex scenes feature full female nudity but never go into hardcore territory. A somewhat kinky aspect involves a scene in which two G.I's are engaging in a threesome with one of the prostitutes. One of the G.I.'s gets so carried away that he begins to caress his friend. Seeing gay sex on screen, even if played for laughs, was rather groundbreaking for 1969. Another amusing aspect of the film is the fact that some of the G.I.s and German soldiers sport hair styles that make them look like they were auditioning for The Grateful Dead.
"The Cut-Throats" will appeal only to those dedicated retro movie lovers who revel in "D" level (or in this case "double D" level) obscurities such as this. I personally enjoyed watching this train wreck of an indie film and have some grudging respect for the people involved. Back in the pre-video camera era, it was an expensive and cumbersome task to bring even a slight venture like this to reality. The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent on all levels. The packaging features what I presume is the original one-sheet movie poster art which is appropriately awful. There is also an original trailer that features a narrator who seems to be doing a poor Orson Welles imitation in relating the action as though he were the voice of God. A selection of still photos are also included but they are censored with bikini tops drawn on the women so that they could be displayed in neighborhood theaters.
"The Cut-Throats" DVD is limited to only 1,500 copies.
Burton and Taylor met on the set of Cleopatra...and the sparks flew on screen and off.
The Huffington Post digs back into the past to unearth some of the more vivid sex scandals involving well known actors and actresses. We're not sure that Barry Williams going on a date with his "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson deserves inclusion, but undoubtedly Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman and Errol Flynn do. Click here to relive some not-so-glamorous moments in show business history.
Last month, Entertainment Weekly re-published an interview from some years ago in which Steven Spielberg reflected back on the making of "Jaws"- and discusses the trials and tribulations of the film he thought would end his career before it even took off. Click here to read.
"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
(The following review refers to the UK release on
Region B/2 formats)
New from Arrow Films in the
UK is Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Milano Calibro 9’ (‘Milan Calibre 9’), a crime classic
from 1972 and one of the best examples of the poliziottesco (‘Italian crime
movie’) genre. Jailbird Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is released from San
Vittorio prison in Milan
after three years behind bars. He’s out for good behaviour, but what follows
his release is anything but. Money-laundering Godfather ‘The Mikado’ (Lionel
Stander) is convinced Ugo has hidden $300,000 he has stolen from the mob, but
despite beatings and harassment, Ugo remains silent. The hoods on his trail –
waiting for him to make a mistake and trip up – include greasy, sadistic
blabbermouth Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf). As Ugo runs afoul of the mob and the
police, he ends up on the Mikado’s payroll again, but eventually finds out that
you can’t trust anyone – not even those closest to you.
Fernando Di Leo’s crime
thriller masterpiece arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in great shape, with superb
colour and sound, and a wealth of extras. Also included in the package is a
fully illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring an insightful essay ‘Film Noir, Italian-Style: Giorgio Scerbanenco,
Fernando Di Leo and Milano Calibro 9’ by Roberto Curti, the author of ‘Italian
Crime Filmography, 1968-80’. Arrow Films’ edition contains the English language
track most fans of the film will be familiar with (with Lionel Stander dubbing
himself and Mario Adorf dubbed with a squeaky, helium whine) and the original
Italian edition (with Stander’s crime kingpin called ‘The Americano’, not the
9’ is, with Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘The Marseilles Connection’ (1973 – aka ‘High
Crime’), my favourite 1970s Italian crime movie. Both films pack a considerable
punch, emotionally and physically, and also have an underlying socio-political
agenda amid the action. In Di Leo’s film, which adapted the work of Italian
noir novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco, two police commissioners – one from the
north of Italy, one from the south – discuss and argue over the
north-south/rich-poor divide. The pair is played by actors well known to
connoisseurs of Italian genre cinema – Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli– and
while the scenes don’t drag, their authenticity, especially in the English
language dub, is occasionally questionable. For example, would a Milanese
commissioner of police ever use a phrase like ‘dangling dingleberries’? The
film could do without these scenes, Di Leo reckons in retrospect, but they
remained in the original cut of the film. With actors of the calibre of Wolff
and Pistilli is supporting roles, writer-director Di Leo obviously fields a
very strong cast. Gastone Moschin, the fascist agent from Bertolucci’s ‘The
Conformist’ (1970), is superb as the stoic, tough nut Ugo Piazza, an immovable
object who the Mikado’s ruffians just can’t break. Ugo ‘had it made’ but
couldn’t resist biting the hand that fed him. Now that hand pummels him, in an
attempt to find the whereabouts of the missing $300,000.
Compared to taciturn Ugo (an
indeed everyone else in the film) Mario Adorf’s performance as Rocco is like a
whirlwind. Smashing his way through life with zero regard for the pain, suffering
and hatred he generates, he dominates the film. Adorf is one of the great
European actors of his generation and the more films of his I watch, the more
impressed I am by his skill. He was great in westerns – the crazy bandido in ‘Last
Ride to Santa Cruz’ (1964), landgrabbing villain Santer in ‘Winnetou the
Warrior’ (1963 – ‘Apache Gold’) and the bandit with a spur instead of an arm in
Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Specialists’ (1969 – ‘Drop Them of I’ll Shoot’) – but was
equally at home in comedies, such as the caper ‘The Treasure of San Gennaro’
(1966) or the Oscar-winning drama ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979). Rocco’s two humourless
henchmen, Pasquale and Nicola, were played by Mario Novelli and Giuseppe
Castellano. Barbara Bouchet was Ugo’s go-go dancing girlfriend Nelly. Bouchet’s
psychedelic dance routine (in a nightclub of the type that only ever appear in
Italian crime movies) wearing a beaded bikini, is a visual highlight. Philippe
Leroy gave a commanding performance as Ugo’s ally Chino, who’s a tough as they come, and Ivo
Garrani played aged crime kingpin, Don Vincenzo, a once-important man, now
blind and consumed by loneliness. Even the characters at the corners of Di
Leo’s drama are given life, through professional performances from familiar
The powerful score was
composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It’s partly traditional orchestral
arrangements, but Bacalov also collaborated with Italian prog-rock band Osanna
on the soundtrack. Bacalov had worked with the band The New Trolls to great
success on Maurizio Lucidi’s thriller ‘The Designated Victim’ (1971) and in
fact the song ‘My Shadow in the Dark’ from Lucidi’s film accompanies a scene
between Ugo and Nelly in ‘Calibro 9’. ‘Milano Calibro 9’ was photographed by
Franco Villa in an autumnal, inhospitable Milan, with interiors at DEAR
Studios. Di Leo shot on the streets of Milan and also in such authentic
locations as the Milano Centrale railway station on Piazza Duca d’Aosta and on
the canals and bridges of the Navigli district (both of which have now been
renovated since the film was made). The pre-titles sequence, the greatest
opening scene of any Italian crime movie, introduces twitchy hood Omero Cappana
walking through SempionePark in Milan, towards a cash drop-off. The hood is
revealed in the opening shot of the film, as the camera pans down Torre Branca
(BrancaTower), an iron panoramic tower in SempionePark. The top of the tower is a viewing
point – did De Leo film some of the title sequence’s cityscape panoramas across
Milan from the
top of here? The scene is accompanied by a mellow flute motif, not unlike one
deployed by Bacalov in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’ (1966) where it too is a
prelude to a savage burst of violence. The action then proceeds to Piazza Del
Duomo (Duomo Square)
in Milan where
the cash handover, a strange game of pass-the-parcel, begins. The music
develops from the flute melody, to staccato piano, relentless strings and
eventually explodes into a full-throttle prog-rock jam, as violence explodes on
the screen. When the hoods find out they have been duped in this cash exchange,
they take horrific revenge on the double-crossers. Be aware, Di Leo’s film is
very violent, and just as it begins with an act of extreme savagery, it ends
with one too, in a scene that’ll pin you back in your chair.
Sony and Eon Productions have officially announced that the world premiere of the new James Bond film SPECTRE will take place in London on 26 October. The film will also open to the public that day throughout the UK and Ireland. These territories will get a jump on the international release date of 6 November, which covers other countries including the United States.
In viewing Warner Brothers' DVD edition of the 1972 film Skykacked, I was totally prepared for another cheesy Seventies disaster film - an Airport Lite, if you will. Initially, my premonitions were shaping up to come true. The script follows the tradition of presenting the quasi-all-star cast by rote, with each actor given a few precious seconds to establish their personality quirks and telegraph what their dilemma will be once the inevitable crisis unfolds. In this case, the plot is simple enough to make The Poseidon Adventure look like The Big Sleep. Rock-jawed Charlton Heston is the pilot of a commercial airliner on which the head flight attendant (or "stewardess" in the vernacular of the day) is former lover Yvette Yvette Mimieux. Shortly after the flight takes off, a message is discovered written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. There is someone aboard who claims to have a bomb they will detonate if the plane isn't diverted to Anchorage, Alaska. It isn't giving the store away to inform you that the mad bomber is James Brolin. Not only is this revealed very shortly into the film, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to not realize he is the bad guy - especially when the other passengers consist of pregnant Mariette Hartley, folksy musician Rosie Grier and crusty U.S. Senator Walter Pidgeon. Besides, the brainiac who designed the menu for the DVD eliminates any doubt of the culprit's identity because the still photo they used on the main menu shows Brolin holding a gun on the cockpit crew.
F.W. Murnau, the influential German director of the silent film era, is improbably back in the news again. His grave, located outside of Berlin, has been tampered with on several occasions since his untimely death in a car crash in 1931 at age 42. However, this time robbers have succeeded in absconding with the head of the deceased director. German police are looking into the possibility that the grave robbery may have been part of an occult ritual, given certain evidence found at the scene. Although Murnau's achievements in filmmaking are among the most consequential of all time and span a wide range of subject matters, he is most widely known for his adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula". Murnau's film "Nosferatu" was released in 1922 and remains perhaps the most definitive and frightening version of the tale. At the time he was sued by Stoker's widow for not getting authorization for the film from Stoker's estate. She won and prints of the movie were ordered to be destroyed. However, numerous prints survived and the film is widely shown on classic movie circuits today. For more click here
The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959 Directed
by Terence Fisher, Starring Peter Cushing, André Morell and Christopher Lee.
Arrow Blu-Ray release date: 1st June 2015
Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles is a thrilling
story that has stood the test of time. Featuring London’s super sleuth Sherlock
Holmes, this adventure sees him travel to Dartmoor’s Baskerville Hall where Charles
Baskerville has been found dead and under mysterious circumstances. As cinema’s
most filmed character of all time - Sherlock Holmes movies have acquired
something of a unique place in history. One might perhaps think back to the
days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in order to recapture their first
encounter of this classic filmed adventure. Hammer Studios had begun to revisit
these classic horrors and thrillers throughout the mid to late Fifties, with
filmed projects such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. So it was
perhaps no surprise that the studio picked up The Hound of the Baskervilles and
splashed it with their own distinctive and original blend of Hammer style.
terms of general entertainment value, the film works very well in deed. Peter
Cushing’s Holmes offers a new perspective, bold and abrasive; he provides a
genuine freshness to the role. Cushing injects a much needed character boost to
Holmes, and one which relegated Rathbone’s later portrayals into bleak
obscurity. Cushing certainly appears to relish within the role, and many have
argued in favour of his performance as being the very best presented on screen.
He is once again paired alongside his regular sparring partner, the recently (and
sadly) departed Christopher Lee. It was a nice departure for Lee, who regarded
it as one of his first major romantic leads. It was a refreshing change playing
the dashing hero type role, especially in contrast to his more regular monster appearances.
The chemistry between Cushing and Lee is quite wonderful, and their shared
screen time is something rather special and memorising. The film also boasts
some fine support, particularly from André Morell, who provides us with an
astute and wisely Dr. Watson. Morell is afforded a generous amount of screen
time in Hammer’s remake and he seems to thrive during every second of it.
is a wonderful, vintage feel about the film, it not only bubbles away with
Hammer’s unique sense of atmosphere, but it benefits from an ‘old time’ pacey
narrative. Director Terence Fisher never seems to let the film fall short; he
keeps it tight without ever letting momentum wain. There is a healthy vitality
about Hammer’s remake, helped undoubtedly by composer James Bernard's energetic
score which bristles along nicely. Despite the diversions away from Conan
Doyle's original novel, the story is respectfully handled and works
exceptionally well. It has certainly withstood the test of time andl remains a
hugely enjoyable piece of entertainment. Is it as good as Rathbone’s 1939
version? That’s a tough question, and for me, the jury is still out. I would
certainly sleep easier placing them side by side and treating them with the
equal respect they both deserve.
The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first filmed version to be shot in vivid
colour. Everything is bathed with sumptuous textures from hunting red riding
costumes to splendid tweed suits and rich wooden panelling. So with all things
considered, there was perhaps an overall expectancy that this should look
positively beautiful after being afforded the Blu-ray treatment. Well, in some
ways the upgrade works, but not without some minor troubles.
Blu-ray is still probably the best I have seen on any home video format, but
that shouldn’t really surprise anybody. However, like a lot of recent Hammer
films to emerge on the Blu-ray format, the image does remain a little on the soft
side, not perhaps as soft as The Curse of Frankenstein but nowhere near as
crisp or sharp as say Quatermass and the Pit. Whilst a great deal of the movie
takes place at night, even interior lit scenes also tend to be a little on the
dark side and lack any real vitality. Viewers may well be left questioning why
this couldn’t have been corrected or improved during the mastering process, but
it simply remains a little too bland and muted on the eye. Added to this problem
was a fairly large amount of white speckle which seemed to haunt the picture
is an area that I still find generally unacceptable, especially in consideration
of today’s technology; the process of eliminating such flecks and particles is
a fairly easy (albeit) time consuming element of restoration. Today, with any
Blu-ray purchase, there is arguably a degree of basic requirements that one
would like to expect, including a fairly good, cleaned up picture. With The
Hound of the Baskervilles, it became something more than just a minor
distraction and instead fell into the category of unavoidable hindrance, and that
is a genuine shame. If a company can produce for example, a near spotless print
of Frankenstein (1931) is there any reason why a 1959 movie shouldn’t look just
as clean? I don’t believe that’s too much to ask.
the bonus features on this disc appear to balance out and make up for the
film’s minor quality issues. Firstly there is a super new audio commentary featuring
the always reliable Hammer experts Marcus Hearn along with Jonathan Rigby. For
the purist of Hammer fans, there is also an Isolated Music and Effects track.
Listen carefully to this during the opening scenes and your ears will certainly
reveal how background conversation tracks are most definitely looped…
the Hound! Is a brand new 30 minute documentary looking at the genesis and
making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator
Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman and actor/documentarian and
co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss.
Morell: Best of British is another excellent featurette looking at the late
great actor André Morell and his work with Hammer.
Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes is a 1986 documentary looking at the many
incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character and is narrated and
presented by Christopher Lee. It does have a typical television look about it
and clearly shows the limitations of video tape, on which it was clearly shot.
Nevertheless, it’s fairly enjoyable in its own right.
Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back
on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville. This is a nice little piece dating back
to around 2003, wherein Christopher Lee also speaks fondly and movingly about
his friendship with Peter Cushing.
Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee. A couple of
passages are included in this section. Plus there is also an original theatrical
trailer (b/w) and an extensive gallery featuring over 140 images including
photos, posters and lobby cards.
packaging includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper and a collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson and
illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
you are prepared to be tolerant of the films minor imperfections – you will no
doubt be happy with the overall package. Frankly, it still remains the best
version currently open to the market.
Producer Jack Heller contacted us to say that he's a big fan of Cinema Retro. Even better, he's producing that rarest of rarities in today's cinema: a Western. "Bone Tomahawk" is his forthcoming production starring Kurt Russell. Heller says he's been influenced by the gritty feel of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven". Well, he's at least been inspired by the best...We also love the movie poster which brings back memories of when artistry defined the way movies were marketed instead of lame, scanned in Photoshop creations. Kudos to you, Jack...We look forward to seeing the film.
Until the sexual revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was embraced by the film industry, the subject of homosexuality was dealt with in schizophrenic manner by studios. There were some bold attempts to address the subject in a serious and sympathetic manner, but fine movies like The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Victim were relegated to art-house hell and never enjoyed a wide audience. Indeed, it was the complete financial failure of the former film that motivated, in desperation, producer Cubby Broccoli to dust off the idea of adapting the James Bond novels for the screen. In other cases, the movies were more high profile (i.e Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour) but studios forced the directors to substantially water down overt references to homosexuality. Within a few short years, however, the situation had changed dramatically. While many characters were often presented as comical stereotypes, there were other bold attempts to address more realistic approaches to the traumas faced by gays and lesbians. Going one rung further, a few films actually took on such issues as cross-dressing and transsexuals. One of the more notable films of the era was The Christine Jorgensen Story, released in 1970. However, as well-meaning as the movie was, it was generally regarded as an exploitation movie with a good dose of shlock and some unintended laughs. (Click here for review)
Far more impressive was the 1972 British film I Want What I Want...To Be a Woman starring Anne Heywood in a daring performance as an effeminate young man who secretly desires to be a woman. Unlike the real-life Christine Jorgensen, this story is not based on fact, but a novel by writer Geoff Brown. Roy is a sensitive twenty-something man who is living a nightmarish life. He's the son of a macho, ex-army officer (the always brilliant Harry Andrews) who spends most of his time drinking with high society types while he seduces their women. Roy and his father have a fractious relationship as the old man refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that his son looks more like the daughter he never had. He tries to force Roy into macho behavior by having him escort women on fraudulent dates and making him sit with other men in drawing rooms to argue politics over cigars and brandy. Meanwhile, all Roy wants to do is explore his feminine side. Eventually he can't resist the urge to dress as a woman and is caught in the act by his appalled father, who slaps him around and humiliates him. Distraught, Roy leaves his home to establish a new life in a far away town. This represents his first public appearance as a woman and the film conveys the anxiety cross dressers must feel when they make such a "debut". Although Heywood makes a head-turning woman, we have to remember she's supposed to be a man. As such, she gives a riveting performance and demonstrates the inevitable paranoia that might accompany such a bold lifestyle decision. Roy is convinced that everyone he passes on the street knows his secret.
wonderful, eclectic hodgepodge collection of vintage 3-D, tests, shorts,
animation and trailers has been released on Blu Ray recently by Flicker
Alley. 3-D Rarities, released on the Flicker Alley label, is for film and nostalgia buffs, alike. This is a wonderful snapshot of 3-D motion
picture photography from early tests in the 1920’s up through 1962, and arrives
in time to honor the 100-year anniversary of the exhibition of 3D films.
wasn’t just a brief fad in the 50’s but was found in sporadic use for specialized
presentations up through then. Early
surviving shorts show us wonderful glimpses of Washington DC and New York City,
with wonderful perspective. Two company
films follow, Thrills For You and New Dimensions.Thrills
for You was produced by The Pennsylvania Railroad for exhibition at the
Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940 in San Francisco. This B&W wonder gives a viewer an all too
brief look at railroading in its heyday from GG1 electrics, steam engines and
the lounge cars (although why an East Coast Railroad would promote itself on
the West Coast and not in its own territory is beyond me). New
Dimensions is an eye popping Technicolor feast of animation, produced for exhibition
at the 1940 Worlds Fair. Perfectly
synchronized with music and effects, a Chrysler is assembled one piece at a
the collection moves into the 50’s, the disc contains 3-D trailers for: It Came From Outer Space; Hannah Lee; The
Maze and Miss Sadie Thompson. Shorts include special intros for the
first 3-D film, Bwana Devil, hosted
by Lloyd Nolan (with a guest appearance by Beany & Cecil); Stardust in Your Eyes, which played
with Robot Monster and features
comic Slick Slaven, doing impressions, telling some jokes and singing a tune or
Doom Town is a very odd take
on the Atom Bomb and tests that were being done at Yucca Flats. Somewhat flippant in its tone and very
critical of this new super weapon, it only played a few bookings and
disappeared from view. Another great
short is the Casper cartoon Boo Moon,
another Technicolor visual feast.
is most noteworthy (and appreciated) is the restoration/cleanup work that has
been done on these films. Many were
transferred from the only surviving elements and had properties such as color
fade, shrinkage and other damage. The
bane of 3-D presentations was always the potential of a technical foul-up that
even one frame could produce. The images
here are extremely clean and have been color corrected and registered in place
to be able to deliver a comfortable 3-D viewing experience (and will always be
in sync when viewed from this Blu-Ray). Kudos to Bob Furmanek at the 3-D Archive for
finding these gems as well as Greg Kintz for the digital restoration. They both
deserve a big hand for their efforts.
are plenty of other shorts, including some risqué footage shot by, pre-Godfather, film student Francis Ford
Coppola, as well as a very informative, multi-page booklet with essays on every
short in there. It is certainly worth the modest price for these nostalgic
abbreviated version of the contents have just completed a successful run at New
York’s Museum of Modern Art and will be showing up in special engagements
across the country this summer.Please
for further information about this project and others.
Bonus Materials Include:
- Introductions by Leonard Maltin and Trustin Howard.
- Essays by Julian Antos, Hillary Hess, Thad Komorowski, Donald McWilliams, Ted
Okuda, Mary Ann Sell and Jack Theakston.
- 3-D photo galleries - Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), New York World's Fair
(1939), Sam Sawyer View-Master reels (1950) and 3-D Comic Books (1953).
- 3-D footage directed by Francis Ford Coppola from The Bellboy and the
- Commentary tracks by Thad Komorowski and Jack Theakston.
TO WATCH THE 3-D VERSIONS OF THESE FILMS, YOU NEED:
- 3D HDTV
- COMPATIBLE 3D GLASSES
- BLU-RAY 3DTM PLAYER OR PLAYSTATION 3 SYSTEM*
- HIGH-SPEED HDMI CABLE
For those of us who are hopelessly addicted to spy movies of the 1960s, the Warner Archive provides a gift: the first DVD release of "The Scorpio Letters", one of the more obscure 007-inspired espionage films of the era. Produced by MGM, the movie was shown on American TV in early 1967 before enjoying a theatrical release in Europe. It seems the studio was trying to emulate the strategy that it was employing at the time for its phenomenally popular "Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series. That show had proven to be such a hit with international audiences that MGM strung together two-part episodes and released them theatrically. (Three films were released in America but a total of eight were shown in international markets.) As "The Scorpio Letters" was produced with a theatrical run in mind, it has a bit more gloss than the average TV movie, which was then a genre in its infancy. Nevertheless, it still has all the earmarks of a production with a limited budget. Although set in London and France, you'd have to be pretty naive to believe any of the cast and crew ever got out of southern California. Grainy stock footage is used to simulate those locations and there is ample use of the very distinctive MGM back lot, which at times makes the film resemble an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." What the movie does provide is some nice chemistry between its two lead actors, Alex Cord, who had recently acquitted himself quite well in the underrated 1966 big screen remake of John Ford's "Stagecoach" and Shirley Eaton, then still riding the wave of popularity she enjoyed as the iconic "golden girl" from the Bond blockbuster "Goldfinger". The two play rival spies in London, both working for different British intelligence agencies, though whether it is MI5 or MI is never made clear.
The film is based on a novel by Victor Caning that had been adapted for the screen by the ironically named Adrian Spies, who had a long career working primarily in television. (Curiously, his one credited feature film was for the superb 1968 adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries".) There is nothing remarkable about his work on "The Scorpio Letters". In fact, Spies provides a rather confusing plot. The film opens on a jarring note with a man taking a suicidal plunge from his apartment window in London. Turns out he was a British intelligence agent and the reasons for his suicide are of great interest to the higher ups in the spy business. Alex Cord plays Joe Christopher, an American ex-cop who now does work for one of the intelligence agencies run by Burr (the ever-reliable Laurence Naismith). Burr orders him to get to the bottom of the suicide case and in doing so, Joe gains access to the dead man's apartment just in time to encounter a mysterious man stealing a letter addressed to the dead agent. A foot chase ensues that ends with both men getting struck by a London double decker bus (yes, MGM had one of those laying around the back lot.) Still, Joe manages to steal back the letter the man had swiped and finds it is obviously a blackmail attempt made against the dead agent by a mystery person who goes by the name of Scorpio. From there the plot gets rather confusing and becomes one of those thrillers that is best enjoyed if you stop trying to figure out who is who and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Joe flirts with Phoebe Stewart (Shirley Eaton), who works in another intelligence agency. It appears her boss and Joe's boss are constantly trying to undermine each other in the attempt to solve major cases. Phoebe makes an attempt to seduce Joe, but he correctly suspects that she is trying to compromise him for information he knows about the case. Inevitably, a real romance blossoms but the love scenes are pretty mild, perhaps due to the fact that this film was made with a television broadcast in mind. (The plot invokes the old joke of having the would-be lovers get interrupted every time they attempt to get it on.)
Joe gets a lead that takes him to Paris where he discovers that Scorpio is the man behind a shadowy spy network that uses agents employed as waiters in an upscale restaurant. I imagine the reason for this is explained somewhere along the line but it's just one more confusing element to the script. Joe infiltrates the spies/waiters gang in the hopes of finding out who Scorpio is. Meanwhile, in the film's best scene, he is exposed, captured and tortured. There is even a modicum of suspense as there appears to be no logical way he will get out of this particular death trap. Refreshingly, Joe is no 007. He makes miscalculations, gets bruised and beaten and often has to rely on the intervention of others to save him. (In the film's climax, finding himself outmanned and outgunned, he actually does the logical thing and asks someone to call the local police for help.) Ultimately, Scorpio is revealed to be one of those standard, aristocratic spy villains of Sixties cinema. In this case he is played by the very able Oscar Beregi Jr. If you don't know the name, you'll know his face, as he excelled in playing urbane bad guys in countless TV shows and feature films of the era. There are numerous kidnappings, shootouts, double crosses and red herrings and one bizarre sequence that is ostensibly set in a French ski resort in which the ski lift is inexplicably in operation even though it's summer. Additionally, the California mountains look as much like France as Jersey City does.
Despite all of the gripes, I enjoyed watching "The Scorpio Letters". It's an entertaining, fast-moving diversion, directed with unremarkable efficiency by Richard Thorpe (his second-to-last film). Cord makes for a very capable leading man, tossing off the requisite wisecracks even while undergoing torture. Eaton possesses the kind of old world glamour you rarely see on screen nowadays. Together, they make an otherwise mediocre movie play out better than it probably should. (A minor trivia note: this represents the first film score of composer Dave Grusin, who would go on to become an Oscar winner.)
The Warner Archive DVD transfer is very impressive and the film contains an original trailer, which presumably was used in non-U.S. markets.
"Signpost to Murder", which has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive, is the kind of modest production that major studios used to routinely produce in the hopes of generating some equally modest profits in quick playoff situations. The MGM production was made in 1964 and ostensibly takes place in England. However, the British countryside is represented by small village set shot on a Hollywood back lot, along with one of the most unconvincing matte paintings ever created. Fortunately the film is a claustrophobic affair that all too obviously betrays its origins as a stage play, thus relegating most of the action to an elegant country home that adjoins a giant water mill wheel. The film opens in an asylum for the insane where we find the protagonist, Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman), as a reformed inmate who had been incarcerated for the murder of his wife. His progressive psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Fleming (Edward Mulhare), makes a plea for his patient's release back into general society but the request is refused. Driven to severe despair, Alex clunks the doctor over the head and uses his clothing as a disguise to escape the prison. With a manhunt under way, he makes tracks for the mill house residence, which he has long admired from years of gazing out of his cell window. Once there, he secretly enters the home just in time to see it's sole resident, Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward), sauntering around the home modeling bathing suits for a forthcoming village fashion show. (Who said timing isn't everything?) Alex gets a hold of a shotgun and forces Molly to tell visiting police detectives that all is well. In reality, she is awaiting the return of her husband from a business trip to Amsterdam- a fact that unnerves Alex. Because of the film's abbreviated running time (a scant 78 minutes), events move along at an improbably fast pace. In the course of the evening, Molly ends up using Alex as her own de facto shrink and confides that she isn't overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her husband. Turns out he's been cold and inattentive. For his part, Alex confides that he isn't even sure that he ever murdered his wife due to the shock of seeing her body in a bathtub. From that point, his memory of the evening in question blanked out. Before long, these two lonely people are making goo-goo eyes at each other and there is an implication things go even further. Molly believes in the innocence of her "house guest" and continues to hide his presence from all visitors, of which there are quite a few. In fact, for a remote country house, the place seems to have more people ambling about than Victoria Station. Events go into overdrive, however, when Alex believes he sees the body of Molly's husband revolving on the giant water wheel. Naturally, when she goes to look, the body isn't there. She assures him that it was all in his imagination, but Alex begins to doubt his own sanity and wonders if he may have murdered yet again. When Molly's husband does turn up dead, the story becomes one of those typical British drawing room mysteries in which all the principals gather in the living room while some red herrings are dismissed and some astonishing facts are revealed.
Although the production boasts some genuine and fine British character actors (Mulhare and Alan Napier among them), the film has an odd feel to it because the two leads are so obviously American. Whitman initially injects his manner of speech with a half-hearted attempt at a British accent, but it inexplicably disappears. Woodward doesn't even go that far. A simple line of dialogue explaining that she is an American would have helped, but lacking that, one can't help but be distracted by her "California Girl" mannerisms and speech. Woodward's presence in this low budget black and white production is a bigger mystery than the murder plot, given the fact that she was already a major star and an Oscar winner by this point in her career. Yet, she and Whitman do have considerable chemistry together- and if the prospect of a woman falling for a presumably psychopathic killer sounds far-fetched, just consider that major jail break in New York state in which a female prison employee helped two murderers escape because she thought they were in love with her. Under the capable direction of George Englund, the film moves at a brisk pace and is a pleasing time-killer. I suspected one major plot device from the beginning but I do admit that a second one came as a bit of a surprise. As a trivia note, fans of 1960s spy movies will probably recognize the mill house set as the exact location of the opening sequence of the "Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film "To Trap a Spy".
The Warner Archive DVD features an original trailer in which the narrator refers to the star as "Joan" Woodward!
Fans camped out for days at Comic-Con hoping to be among the anointed who got the opportunity to attend the big sneak peak at the forthcoming "Star Wars" epic. Director J.J. Abrams was on hand along with original cast members Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. There was a good deal of sentiment on display and there was also a compilation of clips pertaining to the eagerly-awaited film. Click here for more
Way back in the 1970s while in college, I took a course dedicated to classic films. The teacher was Herbert J. Leder, an affable, if eccentric, professor who also had the distinction of having directed some films for major studios. They were all "B" movies, but they did get wide release. One of them was titled "The Frozen Dead", a 1967 Hammer horror wanna be with Dana Andrews as a mad Nazi doctor who plans to use cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern day England. As a joke, Herb showed the film one day in his "Classics of the Cinema" class. It was mildly diverting fare, no better or worse than much of what Hammer itself was releasing during this time period. A couple of years later, Fox released "The Boys From Brazil", a major adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling thriller. The plot centered on a mad Nazi doctor who was using cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern society. I was rather shocked at the similarity of the story lines and discussed it with Herb Leder, who was dismissive of pursuing any possibility that Levin's novel might have been influenced by his "B" movie. Today, of course, the mindset would probably be different and a lawsuit, frivolous or not, would probably have been brought against all parties concerned with "The Boys From Brazil". The film version of Levin's novel was greeted with mixed reviews. I recall arguing the movie's merits (or lack thereof) with my mentor, Playboy film critic Bruce Williamson. I found the movie to be highly enjoyable and I was particularly impressed by Gregory Peck's refreshing change of pace, playing an outright villain, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Williamson said he felt that Peck reminded him of a drunk at a party who puts a lampshade on his head in an attempt to bring attention to himself. Nevertheless, upon seeing the film again through the Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, my admiration for the movie remains undiminished.
The movie begins with a series of suspenseful sequences in which a determined young American, Barry Kohler, (Steve Guttenberg) in South America doggedly and surreptitiously tracks and photographs the activities of suspected former Nazis.He becomes increasingly audacious and manages to bug one of their meetings. He is shocked to learn that they have launched a plan to revive the Third Reich through the efforts of the world's most wanted man, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who oversaw barbaric "medical experiments" at Auschwitz. Kohler makes contact with the legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), who runs a drastically underfunded operation with his sister (Lili Palmer) that attempts to bring war criminals to justice. Lieberman is sarcastic to the young man and dismisses his information- until he suspects that he has been murdered. Lieberman then launches his own investigation, traveling internationally to interview parties who might shed light on the conspiracy. He finds that the ex-Nazis have ordered the murder of 94 civil servants around the globe who are all in their mid-60s. As the investigation continues, he suspects that Mengele has cloned DNA from Adolf Hitler and that there are now teenage boys coming of age as sons of the men who have been marked for murder. Mengele needs to replicate the exact occurrences in the life of Hitler, including the death of his father when he was a teenager. By doing so, he hopes that at least one of the 94 boys will become a leader for the revived Reich.
The premise of the plot is an unlikely one to involve the likes of Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason, who plays another ex-Nazi who pulls the plug on Mengele's plans, thus forcing the arch villain to act independently to see his scheme through to fruition. Indeed, there are times the film seems like a dusted off vehicle for old time character actor George Zucco, who reveled in playing mad doctors. However, under the direction of Franklin J. Schaffner, the pace is brisk, the story involving and the performances are compelling. Add to all this a superb musical score by Jerry Goldsmith and it's hard to resist the movie, despite its abundance of guilty pleasures. The finale is a bizarre doozy in which Mengele and Lieberman (who is obviously supposed to be real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal) end up in a wrestling match in the presence of bloodthirsty hounds! Olivier overdoes the feeble old Jewish guy routine (a performance he would recreate practically verbatim as Neil Diamond's cantor father in "The Jazz Singer" a couple of years later). Nevertheless, he's fun to watch. An irony is that, although Gregory Peck gives the superior performance, it was Olivier who got a Best Actor nomination. Adding to the irony, Olivier had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor two years before for playing a thinly-veiled Mengele in "Marathon Man". There are plenty of fine supporting performances including Anne Meara in a rare dramatic role, Bond baddie Walter Gotell, John Dehner, Rosemary Harris, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Bruno Ganz and Linda Hayden. Young Jeremy Black is especially creepy as the teenage boy who doesn't realize he is carrying Hitler's DNA.
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray does justice to this opulent production that is dripping in atmosphere. An original trailer is also included.
Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who broke through barriers to become a major international star, has died in Cairo from a heart attack at age 83. In recent months, he had been battling the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Sharif and Peter O'Toole were virtual unknowns when they were cast as the leads by director David Lean in his 1962 masterpiece "Lawrence of Arabia". Both received Oscar nominations for the film and went on to become two of the biggest stars to emerge in the 1960s. Sharif reunited with Lean for another blockbuster, the 1965 production of "Doctor Zhivago" in which Sharif played the title role. He also co-starred with Barbra Streisand in her Oscar-winning 1968 film "Funny Girl" and appeared with her in the 1975 sequel "Funny Lady". Other prominent films Sharif appeared in during the 1960s include Samuel Bronston's ill-fated but underrated "The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Behold a Pale Horse", the star-packed production of "The Yellow Rolls Royce", "The Night of the Generals" (with Peter O'Toole), "Mayerling", "More Than a Miracle" and "Genghis Khan". Two his career missteps occurred in films he made in 1969: the critically lambasted "Che!" in which he played communist revolutionary Che Guevara and "MacKenna's Gold", a bloated Western that is more remembered for its poor rear screen projection shots than its magnificent landscapes. During the 1970s Sharif made some good films that were underrated ("The Last Valley", "The Horsemen", "The Burglars", "Juggernaut") and quite a few forgettable ones. As his boxoffice popularity went into decline, he began to appear in more obscure films or play small roles in larger productions. He increasingly concentrated on his real passion: perfecting his game of bridge. In fact, Sharif was regarded as a world-class player and wrote a syndicated newspaper column regarding techniques for playing the game. For more click here.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 Bob Hope comedy "A Global Affair". On the surface, it's standard Hope fare from this era but there are some interesting, if bizarre, aspects to the production. Most notably, the film was done with the cooperation of the United Nations and plays at times like a promotional feature for the perpetually beleaguered institution. Hope plays Frank Larrimore, a swinging New York City bachelor who works for the U.N. He is also a passionate advocate for children and has been unsuccessfully trying to get the U.N. to adopt a program that will grant certain basic international rights to minors. When an unseen mother leaves her baby at the U.N. before a holiday weekend, the Undersecretary General (Nehemiah Persoff) orders Larrimore to act as the child's guardian for a few days. This results in certain predictable gags as Larrimore fumbles his way through the daily basics of caring for the kid. He totes her around in a pet carrier, powders her with sugar and uses kitchen towels as diapers. When word leaks out about the U.N.'s "orphan", every country makes demands that the child be brought up as a citizen of that nation. The debate escalates to an international story and Larrimore finds himself saddled with the tyke for an extended period. He is given the unenviable task of judging which nation would be best-suited for the adoption. To help him cope with the pressure, he is assigned another U.N. employee, Lisette (Michele Mercier), a lovely French girl who immediately locks horns with Larrimore about his inabilities and his hedonistic lifestyle. This is exacerbated by the frequent presence of his upstairs neighbor Randy (Robert Sterling in the kind of role usually played by Tony Randall or Gig Young), who uses the baby as a lure to bring gorgeous single women to Larrimore's apartment for wild parties. As you might imagine, Larrimore and Lisette gradually fall in love even as they seek out the right parentage for the baby. Things get complicated when female representatives of various nations attempt to seduce him in order to influence his decision. For a swinging bachelor, Larrimore seems curiously immune to feminine charms. He deftly avoids one seduction attempt after another and even calls the police to remove one such lovely, a bustier-clad Yvette (Elga Andersen) from his bed. In terms of his love life, Larrimore seems less into the world of Hugh Hefner than the domain of the Boys in the Band, given the lengths he goes to in avoiding intimacy with women. This includes cougar Yvonne De Carlo, who smokes up the screen with an impressive Flamenco dance number. Ultimately, the movie breezes to a conclusion that is telegraphed in the first five minutes of the story.
The film plays out in predictable style and, like most Hope vehicles, keeps a brisk pace this time under the direction of veteran helmer Jack Arnold. It took four writers (including Charles Lederer and Arthur Marx) to develop this sitcom-like script that relies entirely on Hope's standard shtick. Fortunately, he's up to the task. Hope's genius is that he knew his limitations and never went beyond them. He played essentially the same character in every movie he made and his ability to toss off a wisecrack was rivaled only by Groucho Marx. (When queried by a U.N. delegate about what he knows about Turkey, he quips "I know the white meat is tender!"). The film provides some mildly amusing scenarios, some concerning Larrimore's fussy landlord played by the inimitable John McGiver. The equally impressive character actress Reta Shaw has a brief bit and Barbara Bouchet has a small role as well. There are some unintentional laughs whenever Larrimore is required to remind the audience of all the good works the U.N. does for the world, which was obviously a quid pro quo for being allowed to film on the premises. This dialogue has all the natural flow of someone in a hostage video. There are also some dated jokes involving U Thant, Soviet gulags and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (There is even a cameo by Adlai Stevenson!)
In al, "A Global Affair" is much ado about nothing- but the irresistible lure of Bob Hope and the sheer number of glamorous young actresses make this black and white production a pleasant way to spend 84 minutes.
Producers Albert R. Broccoli (left) and Harry Saltzman with author Ian Fleming and star Sean Connery in a publicity photo taken before production started on the first 007 film "Dr. No" in 1962
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Eon Productions has stated on the company's web site and Facebook page that they have not granted rights for a James Bond musical production. Earlier, Merry Saltzman, one of the daughters of the late 007 producer Harry Saltzman, announced that she was staging a musical production based on the Bond films. In response to the Eon statement, Saltzman indicated that she has not sought rights from Eon nor does she believe she needs them since her stage production would fall into the category of a parody. Eon has been very protective of the Bond brand over the decades and it remains to be seen how this will be resolved. The situation does open some old wounds that many thought were long closed. Harry Saltzman teamed with fellow producer Albert R. Broccoli to form Eon Productions and produce the James Bond films. It was an uneasy relationship from day one but the two partners rode the wave of the series' phenomenal success. However, a series of bad financial investments led Harry to sell his 50% share of the franchise in the early 1970s. Instead of offering his share to Broccoli, he chose to sell it to United Artists, thus making the studio Broccoli's new partner in the franchise. This led to many problems for Broccoli as studio management changed in the 1980s and left him at odds with the new regime. In protest, Broccoli did not make a Bond film from the release of "Licence to Kill" 1989 until the revival of the series with "GoldenEye" in 1995. Despite hard feelings that ran for many years, Broccoli and Saltzman did have a reconciliation of sorts in 1981 when Broccoli invited Saltzman to the London premiere of "For Your Eyes Only". They kept in touch occasionally until Saltzman's death in 1994.
Since Broccoli's death in 1996, Eon has been run by Broccoli's daughter Barbara and her step-brother Michael G. Wilson. The pair has succeeded in reinventing the franchise, first with the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Bond and more recently with Daniel Craig in the role. The latest Bond film, "Skyfall" was released in 2012 and is the top-grossing British film in history. As of this writing, Merry Saltzman has indicated she intends to continue development of the Bond musical. It remains to be seen whether her plans will ultimately bear any fruit.
War II vet Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens in a Navy hospital bed after
languishing in a coma for two years. He
learns that he’s despised by other patients and hospital staff as a traitor,
but he has no idea what he’s supposed to have done wrong. Amnesia has erased that portion of his
memory. Overhearing that he’s going to
be court-martialed, Jim escapes from the hospital and seeks help from his buddy
Mark Gregory. But he learns from a
newspaper headline that Mark is dead, and that he is blamed for the “torture
at gunpoint, and then willingly when she begins to realize that Jim is
innocent, Mark’s widow Martha (Barbara Hale) helps the fugitive hunt for
another friend, Ted Niles (Richard Quine). Jim, Ted, and Mark were fellow prisoners in a Japanese POW camp, Jim’s
last memory before his coma. He hopes
that Niles can help him piece together what happened, and why he’s being chased
by Naval Intelligence and two mysterious killers. The mystery is compounded when Jim and Martha
grab dinner at a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Jim spots an Asian man whom he recognizes as Tokoyama (Richard Loo), the sadistic prison-camp guard
who haunts him in PTSD mental flashbacks.
Clay Pigeon” (1949) is an efficient little B-movie, what studios called a
“programmer” in the old days to fill the bottom half of a theatrical double bill. A trim 63 minutes long, it’s typical of the
modestly budgeted, black-and-white crime dramas cranked out by Hollywood during
and after WWII. Like TV series dramas a
decade later, these unassuming pictures provided on-the-job experience for
up-and-coming young talent who would go on to write, direct, and produce more
prestigious works. In this case, the
young talents were 35-year-old scriptwriter Carl Foreman and 33-year-old
director Richard Fleischer, here billed as “Richard O. Fleischer.” Fans of classic Hollywood spectacle fondly
remember Fleischer for “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (1954), “The Vikings” (1958), and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
(1970). Just as readily, Cinema Retro fans are likely to associate him
with cult favorites like “The Don Is Dead” (1973), “Soylent Green” (1973),
“Mandingo” (1975), and “Mr. Majestyk” (1975).
direction in “The Clay Pigeon” includes some compelling Noir visuals and
situations. In the opening scene of
Fletcher in close-up in his hospital bed, two anonymous hands enter the frame,
feel along the unconscious man’s face, then suddenly close on his throat. Later, Jim is chased through anonymous big
city (L.A.) streets by two menacing characters in fedoras. In their initial meeting, Martha apparently
welcomes Jim and says she’s glad to see her husband’s friend. Then, realizing that Martha has gone into the
next room not to fix coffee but to call the police, Jim lunges in and grabs the
phone. The two engage in a believably
frantic scuffle. Jim clinches with
Martha and covers her mouth, she struggles and bites his hand, and Jim knocks
this first, tense half-hour, the movie loses some of its momentum as Martha
becomes Jim’s ally and the couple take time out from their flight to picnic on
the beach and engage in some silly banter. But the final scenes pick up stride again as Fletcher is trapped by his
enemies on a speeding train -- a foreshadowing of Fleischer’s claustrophobic,
train-bound thriller a year later, “The Narrow Margin” (1950). One sequence reflects screenwriter Foreman’s
interest in social issues, as another war widow, played by Marya Marco, hides
Fletcher from Tokoyama and his gunmen. The widow is Japanese-American, and Fletcher notices that one of the
items in her apartment is a commendation to her late husband, also
Japanese-American, who was killed in action against the Nazis in Europe. It’s nice to see that the studio cast
Asian-American actors Loo and Marco in prominent speaking roles in an era in
which white actors were cast all too often as Asians. As old-movie and classic-TV enthusiasts know,
stars Williams and Hale were married in real life. Two other familiar faces in early stages of
their careers, Martha Hyer and Robert Bray, have bit roles.
Warner Archive Collection release of “The Clay Pigeon” is a
manufactured-on-demand DVD-R. The 1.37:1
image, pillarboxed for widescreen TVs, is sharp and clean, so sharp in fact
that the grainy stock footage used in the train sequence is distractingly
apparent. There are no extras, chapter
stops, or subtitles on the disc.
Disney, which now owns the rights to the "Star Wars" film franchise, has announced that it will develop a stand-alone film that centers of the life and adventures of young Han Solo, the character who has been famously played by Harrison Ford in the legendary film franchise. The movie will be co-directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who were the "force" (pardon the pun) the hit films "The Lego Movie" and "21 Jump Street". The film will be written by Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. Lawrence is the scribe who co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back", "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens". No casting has been announced but the film is slated for a May 2018 release. Disney has been upfront about expanding the "Star Wars" universe into new segments. The studio obviously hopes that Han Solo can carry a successful tent pole franchise on his own. For more click here.
to view the Jess Franco filmography in its entirety is intimidating and
virtually insurmountable as the late writer/director had nearly 200 credits to
his name. Finding all of them on video
is nearly an impossible task, but thanks to DVD and Blu-ray, many of his most
revered titles are now available in high quality transfers. One of the most prolific directors in the
cinema, Mr. Franco, who hailed from Spain and passed away in 2013, was busy up
until the end of his life and while he openly chided the quality of his own
work (rightfully so in his later outings), he has legions of fans the world
is impossible to look at the cinema of Italian director Dario Argento, who
himself was influenced by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Wallace, without
knowing that he was heavily inspired by his mentor Mario Bava. The colorful sets and off-kilter camera
angles are trademarks of both directors. The Girl Who Knew Too Much,
Mr. Bava’s 1963 film which is also known as The
Evil Eye and starred John Saxon, is considered by some to be the first giallo film (a subset of the Italian
horror film that is a thriller or a “whodunnit”), however another film that can
arguably don this mantle is Mr. Franco’s The
Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962), a beautifully lensed black and white thriller
that must have been shocking to audiences at the time of its release in a
similar fashion to the reception that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) received here in the States two years earlier. Like Psycho,
Baron von Klaus has its origins in
literature. Based upon the novel The Hand of a Dead Man by David Khune, Baron von Klaus takes the monster out of
the monster and puts it into a human being. Along with Mr. Bava, Mr. Franco no doubt had an impact on Mr. Argento’s
style and themes. So-called trademarks
attributed to Mr. Argento appear in this film, such as a mysterious killer
donning black gloves; a self-appointed sleuth who attempts to unmask the
identity of the killer; the use of women as sexually desirable objects to be
possessed or dispatched with violently should they spurn the killer’s charms; and
the use of shadows. The plot involves
the titular character, Baron Von Klaus, who comes from a lineage that is cursed
by the ghost of a killer that is more than likely possessing the mind of our
poor anti-hero. Anyone born into this
family has the potential to become a murderer. This becomes a convenient excuse for Von Klaus to behave reprehensibly
and by today’s standards, the film is very tame. However, to have seen this type of story and
depiction of torture and murder in 1962 must have been extremely jarring, and
certainly must have made the audience uneasy. If Mr. Franco was willing to show them this, then they would have to be on their guard just in case he
showed them that.
Klaus’s fiancée is a wonderful woman who loves him unconditionally and cannot
come to terms with the idea that her beloved might somehow be the same person
murdering young women. A police
inspector arrests the wrong man but eventually lets him go. In some ways, this is a segue thriller,
because on the one hand it takes elements of the supernatural which were so
prevalent in the Universal and Hammer thrillers of the preceding decades and
weaves it into this story which anticipates the types of thrillers that were to
become a mainstay of Euro-horror for many years later on. An element that appears multiple times in the
film is one that has been depicted in countless other examples of the genre so
as to become a cliché: a woman takes to the dark and deserted streets alone
after hours on her way home and virtually guarantees that someone will follow
and attack her. At the time this film
was made, it’s possible that audiences simply weren’t expecting someone to do
something so foolish, yet it happens in the dark and dead of night. If the film were remade today, the casting
directors could showcase a pretty young thing sporting the ridiculous white
earbuds that are all the rage, making it more convenient that ever for a killer
to sneak up on her undetected and dispense with her before she knew what hit
the knife-in-the-shower shock murder in the aforementioned Psycho, Baron von Klaus depicts
violence in an explicit and shocking way for the time. Contemporary audiences are numbed to screen
violence in a way that viewers 50 years ago could never have imagined. The dark shadows on the walls of the neighborhood
that the killer haunts are creepy and harken back to the Val Lewton thrillers.
new Kino Lorber Blu-ray is transferred from a print that has some imperfections such as
lines that may have been embedded in the emulsion, but nothing too distracting. Overall, this is a very sharp and beautiful
Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) is one of the most entertaining Italian giallo films ever made that is not
directed by Dario Argento. This stunning
directorial debut by the man who was frequently Mr. Argento's second unit
director on previous films only gets better with age and easily lends itself to
repeat viewings despite being somewhat marred by a disappointing ending. The film is beautifully lit and photographed and
is a slasher film that one can call truly lurid in its execution, but at times
it is also very funny. It boasts a premise that is formulaic to be sure, but its
very simplicity works in its favor. Plus, the idea of being trapped inside a
building with no possible way out is one that anyone can find frightening. Stage
Fright calls to mind Lamberto Bava’s Demons
(1986) which follows a similar plot (folks who band together to ward off an
intruder and cannot find an exit) and the mammoth Metropol Theatre. In fact, Mr.
Soavi played the metal-faced punk in Demons
who handed out the invitations. He’s also the young cop in the police car
outside the theater in Stage Fright,
redubbed dialog and all. The film has
the usual charms one has come to expect of the Italian horror cinema of years
gone by: quirky character banter, quotable lines, off-the-wall camera moves,
and a phenomenal musical score, here done by Simon Boswell and Stefano
Filmed in April and May of 1986 right after Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster
(one of the characters in the film even writes out a check dated April 26, 1986
– the very day of the Reactor 4 meltdown), Stage
Fright’s opening credits play over some strange sound effects, slow
footsteps, a door opening, someone forcing a mop into water, a cat meowing and
screeching, etc. The film then opens on a shot of Lucifer, the stage manager’s
black cat who happens to be running through a stage play that is in rehearsal.
His appearance cannot go unnoticed. Before the dawn arrives, more bad luck than
one can shake a stick at will befall the entire cast of this production.
Lucifer seems to be the harbinger of bad luck for the entire group. David Brandon, the photographer in Photo of Gioia (1987), stars as Peter
Collins, the director of this theater troupe of amateurs rehearsing for the
play that is opening much sooner than he lets on. Described by one of the young
women as an intellectual musical, “The Night Owl” is the story about a murdered
prostitute who comes back from the dead and rapes her own killer. Nice, huh?
Peter tries to get his cast together and in synch with the music but they’re
all over the place. Unbeknownst to him
and the others, Alicia the leading lady (Barbara Cupisti) and Betty the
wardrobe mistress (Ulrike Schwerk) sneak out in the hopes of finding treatment
for Alicia’s twisted ankle. Naturally, they go to a mental institution because
psychiatrists are doctors, too, aren’t they? Naturally, it’s pouring.
Naturally, the institution houses Irving Wallace, an actor who went crazy and
killed 16 people. And naturally, Wallace manages to escape and find refuge in
Betty’s car that very night! Amazingly, Mr. Soavi makes no effort to conceal
Wallace’s face from the audience; we know what he looks like, and he is
frightening. After the police interrogate everyone, Peter decides to use
this horrible incident to his advantage. Unfortunately, the real killer is hiding in the theater that they cannot
Reliable Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka John Morghen, plays Brett, the perpetual
theatrical prankster with the effeminate voice. He meets his death brutally as
well through a case of mistaken identity.
The ending is truly bothersome, because it throws in the usual tongue-in-cheek
horror movie ending staple that became so prevalent in the genre’s lesser
Don’t let this one disappointment stop you from seeing Stage Fright. What the ending lacks in the way of logic is more
than made up for in mood, music, sound effects, and the constant drone of thunder
from outside the theater. All of these
elements mix to make Stage Fright a
terrific slasher film.
new Blu-ray from Blue Underground is a revelation and worth the upgrade, not
just for the beautiful image, but also for the wealth of extras that the disc
has to offer. This is the first time
that this film has been available in the United States with any extras to speak
Theatre of Delirium – Interview with Director
Michele Soavi (approx. 19 minutes). I must admit that this is first time I have
actually seen a sit-down discussion with Mr. Soavi (pronounced mic-KELL-ay
so-AHV-ay), a director who showed tremendous promise with this first
feature. His subsequent offerings have
been hit or miss and he now seems to work solely in the realm of Italian
Head of The Company – Interview with
Star David Brandon (approx.
12 minutes). This is an interview with
one of my favorite actors in the film. Mr. Brandon played Peter the stage manager, whose dictatorial style is
what holds the group of amateurs together
as they are dispensed with one by one Ten Little Indians-style.
Blood on The Stage Floor – Interview
with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice
(approx. 14 minutes). This actor is
better known internationally as John Morghen and has appeared in a wealth of brutal
horror films for Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci. Here he speaks of his experience making the
film, and his annoyance with one of the actors who was not a trained
The Sound Of Aquarius – Interview with
Composer Simon Boswell
(approx. 18 minutes). This piece shines
a light on the film’s score, which is one of my favorite scores and was once
released on the Lucertola label in a limited pressing of 1200 copies and how
Simon Boswell the composer came to score the film. The score is terrific.
The Owl Murders – Interview with
Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio
(approx. 11 minutes) is interesting in that Mr. Tenoglio has nearly 60 credits
to his name as a make-up artist, yet he is not as well-known as Sergio
Stivaletti who contributed effects to many other contemporary giallo films,
such as Demons (1986) and Opera (1987). I am glad that he is given his due here.
requisite theatrical trailer and poster/still gallery rounds out the
this on Blu-ray is a must for fans of this film. The dark, sub-par transfer from the Eighties
has been upgraded to a gorgeous and colorful palette which makes me yearn for
the now bygone days of Italian horror cinema.
Macnee with Diana Rigg in the classic TV series The Avengers.
The Daily Beast's Andrew McKie writes an amusing and informative tribute to the late Patrick Macnee, the dapper actor who defined British class and elegance. Macnee, who passed away on June 25, was mostly known for his starring role as adventurer and crime fighter John Steed on the long-running TV series The Avengers. But, as the article points out, there was so much more to his story, including an unconventional upbringing by his lesbian mother and her lover as well as his roguish ways that saw him expelled from Eton. To read, click here.
it opened in theaters some 55 years ago, on July 13, 1960, producer/director
Irwin Allen’s “The Lost World” promised 96 minutes of exotic, CinemaScope,
Color by DeLuxe fantasy adventure about dinosaurs and modern-day explorers in a
remote corner of the world. As difficult
as it may be for older filmgoers to remember today, and for younger ones to
even imagine, widescreen cinematography and sumptuous color were powerful draws
in that era before home theater, 500 cable channels, and streaming video. The TV set in your living room would only
pick up three or four stations at best on a small black-and-white screen. A night out at the movies in CinemaScope and
air conditioning was a big treat for most families. Talk about a lost world. Ten-year-olds were further primed by a Dell
movie-tie-in comic book with its cover photo of a fearsome giant reptile
emerging from a sinister fog: “Fantastic
adventures of an expedition to a lost land of prehistoric animals and fierce
enticements worked and Allen’s movie did good business, but its reviews failed
to match its commercial success. The
critics, who had little use for science fiction anyway in that era before the
genre became big entertainment business, derided nearly every aspect of the
film. Some of their points were
valid. By filming on studio backlots and
using stock footage to cut costs, Allen compromised the classy value of Winton
Hoch’s expansive widescreen cinematography. The script by Allen and his frequent collaborator, one-time Alfred Hitchcock
scenarist Charles Bennett, leaned heavily on conventional Hollywood plot
elements to pad out Conan Doyle’s rousing but rather dramatically thin source
material. Those might not have been
serious liabilities five or ten years earlier, but Hollywood was already moving
in the direction of greater realism, at least in terms of filming in authentic
exotic locations rather than a sound stage. Most small-town audiences probably didn’t care, but their comments
didn’t enter the permanent record. The
newspaper and magazine reviews did. Today, compared with the level of lifelike detail that modern CGI can
produce, the sets look even cruder in the jungle scenes.
for special effects purists, Allen dashed hopes that the movie would employ the
magic of stop-motion animation that had distinguished First National Pictures’
original, silent-screen version of “The Lost World” in 1925. Instead, as another way to save money and
time, the production substituted tricked-out lizards for the ingenious,
articulated model dinosaurs that Willis O’Brien had built and animated for the
1925 film. O’Brien was credited as a
“technical expert” for the 1960 film, but the work really was done by Fox’s
in-house team of L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr. When “The Lost World” ran on TV from the
late 1960s through the ‘80s, it suffered even further: pan-and-scan conversion
ruined Hoch’s cinematography and made the artificiality of the sets even more
apparent. It didn’t help that Allen
recycled footage from the movie for his TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of the
Sea” (1964-68) and “The Time Tunnel” (1966-67). The practice confirmed Allen’s critical reputation as a crass
penny-pincher and may have conflated the movie with those childish TV shows in
the film, scientist George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns from an
expedition to the wilds of the upper Amazon, where he claims to have found an
isolated plateau on which dinosaurs have survived into the present. Not having any physical or photographic proof
(his photos were lost when his canoe overturned on the return trip), and
already regarded by his staid colleagues as an egotistical gadfly, he is met
with disbelief. He proposes to launch a
return expedition, joined by his skeptical rival Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn)
and globe-trotting sportsman Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie). As a condition for financing the quest,
newspaper magnate Stuart Holmes (John Graham) coerces Challenger into taking
star reporter Ed Malone (David Hedison) along. Malone will file breaking-news dispatches on the way to the Amazon and
beyond -- a prescient 1960 version of today’s reality TV and real-time internet
coverage of sensational “infotainment.”
to South America, as represented by the actors in close-up looking out of airplane
windows at spectacular stock aerial footage of lush jungles and cascading
waterfalls, the expedition reaches an outpost where they are met by guide Costa
(Jay Novello) and helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas). They also have two unwelcome additions. Holmes’ daughter Jennifer (Jill St. John),
has impulsively jetted over without parental knowledge to join her boyfriend
Roxton, accompanied by her brother David (Ray Stricklyn). From the outpost, Gomez’ chopper ferries the
explorers to the lost plateau. There, a
dinosaur wrecks the helicopter, stranding them. After adventures with other dinos, giant spiders, and man-eating venus
fly-traps and voracious creeper vines, they are captured by a tribe of
cannibals. A gorgeous native girl
(Vitina Marcus) helps them escape through the perils of the Graveyard of the
Damned and the Lake of Fire (did Lucas and Spielberg see this movie as teens
and take notes?). There’s a subplot
about a dark secret in Roxton’s recent past and a hunt for diamonds, leading to
a confrontation with one of his fellow travelers in a grotto where a gunshot
rouses another dinosaur, which eats the most expendable character in the
cast. Getting rid of the monster by
dumping a cascade of lava on it, the survivors flee the plateau just before the
magma sets off a volcanic explosion.
novel and the 1925 movie ended with Challenger taking a dinosaur back to
London, where the creature escapes and causes panic (in the book, a
pterodactyl, in the silent film, a Willis O’Brien T-Rex). Allen, in another cost-conscious move (or did
he have thoughts about a sequel?), ends with a baby T-Rex, actually a gecko,
hatching from an egg, and Challenger jovially promising to take it back as
proof for skeptics.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Shout! Factory:
Robin Hood. Wealthy man of mystery.
Debonair rogue. Call Simon Templar what you will, but never cross The Saint.
A timeless figure of adventure since his creation by Leslie Charteris in 1928, The
Saint has thrilled adventure aficionados with his exploits in a variety of
media, including novels, movies, and radio—but nowhere was the dashing Mr.
Templar more indelibly realized than in his 1960s television series, presented
here in one outstanding collection: The Saint: The Complete Series. Fans of the dashing spy will finally be able to
revisit his adventures with the release of The
Saint: The Complete Series on DVD from Timeless Media Group, a division of
Shout! Factory, LLC.
the first time as a complete series, the 33-DVD box set features all 118
episodes of the classic espionage show, including first 71 episodes of the
series in black & white and the subsequent 47 episodes in their original
full color presentation. The Saint: The Complete Series also comes loaded with bonus features
previously unavailable in North American releases, including the featurette Behind the
Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director as well as audio commentaries on
select episodes with members of the cast and crew, including Sir Roger Moore,
Executive Producer Robert S. Baker, Associate Producer Johnny Goodman and more!
perfectly-cast Roger Mooreas Simon Templar, The Saint was not
only a benchmark in the lifespan of the character, but a stepping stone to
Moore taking on the role of an even more well-known man of action later in his
career. The Saint: The Complete Series
features superb guest stars including Oliver Reed (Tommy, Gladiator), Academy
Award-winning actress Julie Christie (Darling, Doctor Zhivago), Donald
Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen), Edward Woodward (“The Equalizer”) a bevy
of Bondian beauties (Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman and Shirley Eaton, as
well as Lois “Miss Moneypenny” Maxwell), and many more.
The Saint: The Complete Series Bonus
·Audio commentary on select episodes:
o“The Talented Husband” – Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“The Saint Plays With Fire” – Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“Luella” – Director Roy Ward Backer and
guest star Sue Lloyd
o“The Saint Bids Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and guest star Eunice Gayson
o“The Happy Suicide” – Jane Merrow
o“Escape Route” - Roger Moore, Robert S.
Baker (Executive Producer) and Peter Manley (Production Supervisor)
o“The House on Dragon’s Rock” – guest
star Annette Andre
o“The Ex-King Of Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer)
o“Vendetta For The Saint” - Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer), and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
·Behind the Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director featurette
About Timeless Media Group
Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory, LLC, produces and distributes a
variety of home entertainment products, including classic television
programming, first run movies and its own award-winning military history
documentaries, along with an extensive offering of special interest DVD and
Blu-ray™ collections. Visit timelessvideo.com.
The Cinefix web site provides a lengthy analysis of the differences between Stephen King's novel "The Shining" and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film version, which in this writer's opinion has many merits but is ultimately undermined by the miscasting of Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall. The Cinefix guys provide clips from the film and some very clever graphics in a fast-moving and cynically humorous examination of how the book and film versions depart from each other. - Lee Pfeiffer
Vinegar Syndrome continues to unearth obscure erotic movies from decades past and manages to infuse new life to them. That may not make the people who participated in them very happy but for the sizable audience devoted to retro erotica, this is manna from Heaven. One of the recent releases is also one of the strangest. Billed on the DVD sleeve as "The Flying Acquaintances", this 1973 bares the title of "The Acquaintances" on the print that the DVD was mastered from. A perusal of the bonus publicity materials indicates it was also marketed as "The Sensuous Stewardesses." Bizarrely, the film opens with a syrupy love song crooned by a Jack Jones wanna be. How this pertains to the scenario of the film itself remains a mystery. The nominal plot (such as it is) concerns a bank teller, Max (future porn superstar Jamie Gillis) who makes ends meet by moonlighting as a taxi driver in New York City. In reality, he has other reasons for this secondary job. Seems Max has an enviable ability to get female passengers in bed. All the while, he assures his wife that he is remaining faithful. In the first scene, Max picks up a stewardess at the airport and drives her home. She invites him in and tells him she doesn't have enough money for the fare but she will be happy to work it off in "trade". Max accepts, thereby leading to one of the longest and most boring sex scenes ever filmed. Not helping matters is the fact that the movie is softcore. There is plenty of female full frontal nudity but the film still balks when it comes to having the guys go Full Monty. While the stewardess is screaming in passion, the scene cuts to the apartment next door where a sexually frustrated wife is trying unsuccessfully to arouse her construction worker husband. (We know he's a construction worker because he wears his hard hat at home.) Turned on by the shrieks of joy coming from the next apartment, the wife strips naked but all her hubby wants to do is drink beer, eat chicken and watch some mindless action movie on TV. Whatever amusement this scenario might have provided is not only beaten to death, it's then disinterred, abused and buried again. The seemingly endless sequence will have your mind drifting to more erotic thoughts such as what groceries you need to add to your shopping list. Another scenario finds a young Frenchman in New York who is seduced by a comely young woman. In yet another vignette, a young male virgin is seduced by a cougar who gets it on with her girlfriend to ensure he enjoys the experience. A common theme throughout centers on frustrated women trying to entice largely passive males.
What is remarkable about this film is that it seems dated even for 1973. By then, softcore was out and hardcore was in. The film seems to be from an era where people had to get watching those old "nudist" documentaries. It is as close to hardcore as you can get, but even by porn standards, the production lacks imagination or skill in terms of execution. There are redeeming factors, however. For one, the Vinegar Syndrome restoration is highly impressive. Second, the film has a great deal of on location scenery. If you enjoy seeing New York during this time frame, the film offers a cornucopia of great images including Columbus Circle and Times Square. For those of you who like to spot retro movie marquees, it's probably buying the DVD for that purpose alone. In slowing down the frames, I spotted some great ones: "Prime Cut" playing side by side with "The Godfather" at the old Loews State in Times Square; "The Sorry and the Pity" at the Paris Theatre and other 42nd Street marquees featuring "Hannie Caulder", "The Legend of Nigger Charlie", "The Possession of Joel Delaney" and many more.
The movie includes some photos in a still gallery and the original trailer.
In days of old before every movie released was designed to be a record-breaking blockbuster, studios routinely produced modestly-budgeted fare designed for a quick playoff and modest profit. A perfect example of this is "Quick, Before It Melts!", a softball sex comedy from 1964 that must have been considered to be a bit risque in its day. Although George Maharis, then a current heart throb gets first billing, the real star is Robert Morse. He plays Oliver Cromwell Cannon, an aspiring reporter who is routinely abused by his boss, publishing magnate Harvey T. Sweigert (Howard St. John), who considers Oliver to be so inconsequential that he has to be reminded that he is engaged to his daughter Sharon (Yvonne Craig). Oliver's career is on the fast track to nowhere until Sweigert affords him an opportunity to prove himself. He is being assigned as the first staff reporter at the South Pole and will be stationed at a U.S. Navy weather installation there. Sweigert is to the political right of Sen. Joe McCarthy and sees Soviet expansion everywhere, even in the remote frozen tundras. Sweigert gives Oliver the seemingly impossible task of digging up some sort of scoop that would embarrass the Soviets. Accompanying Oliver is Peter Santelli (George Maharis), an ace photographer who is also a renowned ladies man.
Prior to leaving, Oliver visits Sharon and does his best to seduce her. She's a virgin on the verge but insists on waiting until their wedding night, much to Oliver's frustration. En route to the South Pole, Oliver and Peter have an extended stopover in New Zealand. Here they befriend two lovely young ladies- Tiara (Anjanette Comer in her big screen debut), an exotic beauty and her equally sexy friend Diana (Janine Gray). Both of the women are the polar opposite (pardon the pun) of Sharon, and they have liberated attitudes towards sex. Peter falls for Diana and Oliver is immediately smitten by Tiara. A running gag in the film is Oliver's inability to get her to tell him if they slept together during one particularly wild night in which he became so drunk he developed amnesia. Soon Oliver is a conflicted man. He wants to remain loyal to Sharon but boys will be boys and his hormones are raging. Fate intervenes when Sweigert insists they leave immediately for the South Pole. Upon arriving at the naval station, Oliver and Peter are hit with the stark reality of how unpleasant life is about to become. Enclosed in the small confines of the base with 50 below zero temperatures outside, they find themselves subjected to hazing rituals by the longtime staffers. The base is manned by Navy personnel as well as a contingent of scientists that includes Mikhail Drozhensky, a Soviet representative of a joint scientific research project. As the days turn to weeks, boredom becomes a problem and Sweigert is getting impatient for Oliver to file some type of scoop. With everyone on the base suffering from sexual frustration, Oliver and Peter con a visiting admiral (James Gregory) to get some good press by inviting down a contingent of everyday women to visit the base. Naturally, they arrange for Tiara and Diana to be among them. Upon arrival, Oliver's hormones win out and he starts to seduce the willing Tiara in a snowmobile (talk about sexual frigidity!). This leads to another running gag that must have been old in Shakespeare's day: every time they come close to consummating the deal, some distraction interrupts them. Naturally, the women become stranded at the base due to weather and the sexual high jinks continue. Peter isn't having any problem with Diana but fate prevents Oliver from sealing the deal with Tiara. The conclusion of the story has Oliver trying to file a career-saving scoop about the Soviet scientist defecting before his arch rival reporter (Norman Fell) can beat him to it.
"Quick, Before It Melts" is the kind of mid-range movie that defines mediocrity. It has a good cast but most of them are encouraged to overact by director Delbert Mann, who once directed such estimable fare as "Marty" and "Separate Tables". What led him to become involved in this drivel remains a mystery. Even more bizarre is that the screenplay was written by Dale Wasserman. Yes, that Dale Wasserman- the acclaimed writer of "Man of La Mancha" and the stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film has some amusing gags including composer David Rose finding a way to insert his signature song "The Stripper" into the action. Morse is an energetic leading man but his character inexplicably morphs from Jerry Lewis nerd mode into a sophisticated Sinatra type by the end of the film. Anjanette Comer does make for a stunningly beautiful leading lady and the equally lovely Yvonne Craig gives her usual perky performance. Popular character Bernard Fox, who generally epitomizes every old fashioned cliche about the British, is bizarrely cast as a U.S. naval officer. Go figure. The film is marred by some poor rear screen projection work. The long shots were filmed by a second unit near the Bering Sea but anyone above the age of five will recognize that the closest the cast members got to something cold was an ice cream sundae at the studio commissary.
"Quick, Before It Melts" has been released as a Warner Archive title. The transfer is excellent. There are no bonus extras but the disc is region free.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Harry in Your Pocket, a largely unheralded 1973 comedy/drama that finds James Coburn well-cast as a debonair "king of the pickpockets". Along with his partner, the elderly but equally charismatic Casey (Walter Pidgeon), Harry is intent on recruiting a couple of newcomers to train as part of an ambitious pickpocket team. He settles on Ray (Michael Sarrazin) and his new girlfriend Sandy (comely Trish Van Devere), a destitute couple that is eager to learn from the master. After some rough edges in the "training", Ray and Sandy earn their keep by helping Harry set up the sting operations. Casey decides who will be the victim, Sandy distracts that person while Harry robs his wallet, then quickly passes it off to Ray. Harry's golden rule is "Harry doesn't hold", meaning he is never in possession of the incriminating loot for more than the few seconds it takes to pass it off to his accomplice.Life with Harry is good. The team travels extensively and everything is first class. However, it isn't long before Ray suspects that his real value to the team is the fact that he is accompanied by Sandy, who Harry clearly has eyes for. Soon, sexual tension threatens to disrupt the profitable partnership.
It may seem that a film about pick-pocketing might be a complete yawn. Indeed, there isn't much that happens in terms of plot and the movie relies almost entirely on the chemistry between cast members. Fortunately, everyone is at the top of their game. Coburn is charismatic and charming, but has a hard, threatening edge that makes it clear Harry is man who is used to getting things his way. It's top flight Coburn, in terms of performance and he's well-matched by Sarrazin and Van Devere, who gets to wear some eye-popping mini-skirts to distract the potential victims. The most kudos, however, go to Pidgeon in a wonderful late career performance. As the erudite, dapper and coke-sniffing thief, he dominates every sequence- especially when he opines about the lack of a code of honor that used to be prevalent among people of his peculiar trade.
This is the only feature film ever directed by Bruce Geller, best known as the creator and chief writer for the Mission: Impossible TV series. He handles the action well and capitalizes on lush location shooting in Seattle, Victoria, BC and Salt Lake City, all set to a funky Lalo Schifrin score. If there is one dismaying aspect to the movie, it's the fact that, unlike most films and TV series about charismatic con-men from The Sting to Hustle, the victims here are not corrupt executives and politicians, but everyday working people. It's hard to cheer on the protagonists when they are depriving the guy next door of his week's wages. Nevertheless, Harry in Your Pocket is a forgotten gem of film and well worth catching up with.
Directors Brent Hodge's and Derik Murray's new documentary "I Am Chris Farley" covers the bittersweet life and career of the comedy genius who died tragically ahead of his time. Through the cooperation of his family, friends and colleagues, the film presents a complete picture of the artist who was perpetually making audiences laugh even as he battled his own personal demons. The film opens theatrically in New York and L.A. on July 31 and will be telecast on Spike network on August 11, followed by availability through on-demand outlets. For more about the production, click here to visit the official web site.