It's the most bizarre mating of two diverse talents since Ernest Borgnine thought it would a good idea to marry Ethel Merman, though hopefully this one will have a happier ending. Cult movie director Rob Zombie has announced that he will bring a Groucho Marx biography to the screen. The film will based on the memoir "Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House" by Steve Stoliar, a fan who worked for the legendary actor and comedian as his personal secretary and archivist in the last years of his life. (Marx died in 1977 at age 86). Turns out the esteemed Mr. Zombie is a life long Groucho admirer. Who knew? We look forward to Zombie directing Dame Judi Dench in a biopic of Gracie Allen. For more click here
Biker films have been around for decades.
Although most cinephiles cite Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) as the first great biker movie, it wasn’t until
the mid-1960s and the release of the 1966 Roger Corman-directed classic The Wild Angels that biker films really
exploded onto the scene. Made for $360,000 and grossing close to $16 million, The Wild Angels started a cinematic
cycle trend that lasted well into the 1970s.
Noticing that other enterprising filmmakers
were cashing in on their film’s success, legendary studio American
International Pictures quickly decided that another biker flick was in order.
They gathered Corman (to produce); Wild Angels
scribe Charles B. Griffith (Rock All
Night, A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) to
write and, together, came up with the next biker extravaganza, 1967’s Devil’s Angels aka The Checkered Flag.
Directed by Daniel Haller (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The
Wild Racers, Dunwich Horror), Devil’s
Angels concerns a group of rebellious, anti-establishment bikers called the
Skulls who are searching for a police-free place they’ve dubbed Hole-in-the-Wall.
They roll into the small town of Brookville and are immediately ordered to
leave by the intimidated mayor (Paul Myer). The Skulls’ leader, Cody (played by
independent filmmaking icon; the late, great John Cassavetes), informs the
sheriff (Tobruk’s Leo Gordon) that
they’re not looking for trouble and that he, his girl Lynn (the beautiful Beverly
Adams from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)
and the rest of the posse just need a place to crash for the night. The sheriff
decides to give Cody a chance and agrees to let the group spend the night on
the beach if they promise to remain there and then leave first thing in the
morning. Cody gives his word and the bikers take off along with a local beauty
contestant (Mimsy Farmer from Four Flies
on Grey Velvet) who’s infatuated with the group. The mayor berates the
sheriff for letting them stay in town, but the lawman doesn’t budge. While at
the beach, the group gets the girl high, teases her a bit and sends her running
back to town in fright. The mayor lies by telling the sheriff that the Skulls
raped the unharmed girl and Cody is arrested. When the sheriff learns the
truth, he immediately lets Cody go, but orders him and his friends to leave
town. Meanwhile, the Skulls, who don’t like being accused of rape, decide that
the town needs to be taught a lesson. With the help of a larger group of bikers
called the Stompers, they ride back into town (against Cody’s wishes),
completely take it over and put the authorities on trial. The mayor’s lie is
revealed and he is sentenced to a public beating which Cody goes along with.
The Skulls also feel that, because they were accused of rape, they are owed a
rape. Cody is totally against this. He tries his best to stop it, but all hell
winds up breaking loose. As the Stompers and the Skulls (including Lynn) tear
Brookville apart, Cody, realizing that his Hole-in-the-Wall doesn’t exist,
quits the group and rides off alone before the state police arrive.
With only a $4 million gross, Devil’s Angels may not have been a major
hit for AIP, but it’s still an
interesting and well-done biker film which features several highly recognizable
faces from 1960s/70s cinema and television such as Marc Cavell (Cool Hand Luke), Russ Bender (Bonanza), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke), Bruce Kartalian (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Mitzi Hoag (Deadly Game).
Although not nearly as well-remembered as the
Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda 1969 classic Easy Rider nor as hard-hitting as Al
Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists from the
same year, Devil’s Angels is a solidly-made,
quirky and enjoyable exploitation film that benefits most from a wonderfully
complex performance by the legendary John Cassavetes as well as an entertaining
and thoughtful screenplay by the extremely underrated Charles Griffith. There’s
also a terrific musical score written by Mike Curb and performed by Sidewalk
Productions. Not to mention a catchy theme song by Jerry and the Portraits with
additional music courtesy of Dave Allen and the Arrows.
As far as the Skulls go, they’re mainly
benign (but not as cool as the goodhearted bikers from 1976’s Northville Cemetery Massacre) andjust looking for a place to be free.
The havoc they cause (with the exception of an accidental death) is mostly
light (and presented humorously) and they’re never really violent until the
very end, so if you’re looking for an intimidating band of evil hell raisers,
look elsewhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy this film; always have. It’s a
fun biker flick with a strong cast and a thought-provoking story. If you’re a
biker film fanatic or just a fan of AIP/Roger Corman in general, I definitely
recommend checking it out.
Devil’s Angels has been released
as a DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film is presented in
its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although it’s far from Blu-ray quality,
the movie is more than watchable. Also, the audio is clear, and the DVD’s
sleeve and menu feature the original and very cool-looking poster artwork.
recently I had been woefully ignorant of professional pornography from the
1970's but thanks to Vinegar Syndrome I am undergoing what might be considered
a master class in the genre. Their latest release to attract my attention is A
Saint... A Woman... A Devil... (1977) which has to qualify as one of the more
ambitious of its type I have eyer seen. This film is nothing short of an
attempt to use The Three Faces of Eve (1957) as the template story but taking
the material to places that Hollywood classic would never have dreamed. After
all, what better reason for a fractured personality than shameful feelings of
lust? And what better scenario than a main character that engages in sex with
multiple partners but then cannot remember those encounters? Ah, only in the
(Joanna Bell) hasn't been well since the recent deaths of her parents but she
appears to be doing just fine when her cousin Toby (Pamela Serpe) drops in
accompanied by her school roommate Sheila (Helen Madigan) for a holiday visit. The
shocked Toby discovers Sylvia on the living room floor with a door to door vacuum
cleaner salesman engaged in a bit more than a demonstration of just his
product's abilities. Toby doesn't understand what is going on because her
cousin has always been a mousy, boring and even religious person - not one that
would seduce a stranger in her own home! So, when the two visiting ladies
return later to make their presence known to Sylvia they find her praying at a
living room altar and she tells Toby about her current medical problems. It
seems that her doctor thinks her recent migraines and blackouts are
psychological rather than physical in nature but roommate Sheila isn't buying
any of it. She assumes that Sylvia is just a secret swinger and isn't bothered
when Sylvia seduces her on her first night in the house. This lesbian encounter
is done in the butch persona of "Tony" and Shelia is amused by what
she assumes is a sex game.
this time Toby has become convinced that Sylvia's childhood personality problems
have returned but decides to consult a priest rather than a doctor. The cleric
(Armand Peters) suggests it is possible that Sylvia is possessed and relates a
flashback of Sylvia's rape of a seminarian (Grover Griffith) in the church
itself! The religious man wisely recommends
psychoanalysis before ordering an exorcism and Sylvia's psychiatrist Dr. Ballaban
(this film's director Peter Savage) tells Toby that Sylvia has multiple
personalities which range from man-crazy Mona to lesbian Tony and devout but
slightly less repressed Mary. These separate personalities have grown as a
defense mechanism to the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her
schizophrenic mother (Helen Devine) who we see abuse Sylvia in more flashbacks.
The doctor decides to use deep hypnosis to try to unify Sylvia's various
personalities but Mona is the most resistant to the treatment because she
believes it will destroy her. Sylvia is completely unaware of her other selves
even though they are all part of her own personality so when Toby tries to
convince Sylvia to see Dr. Ballaban again the Mona personality takes over and
convinces a couple of junkies (Sonny Landham and Guido D'Alisa) to get rid of
the good doc before he can get rid of her.
this sounds pretty crazy then you are on the right track. Besides being a porn
film it also appears to be a bit of a vanity project by writer, director and
co-producer Peter Savage. If you think
he looks familiar you might have seen him in mainstream films such as Martin
Scorsese's Raging Bull or William Lustig’s Vigilante. The Lustig
connection seems to have started with this very film as he serves as the
assistant director and production manger for Savage here, gaining filmmaking
experience along with a number of other New York University film students. This
movie appears to have been one of many projects used to get future filmmakers
into the industry. Indeed, A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... is a technically
well made movie showing that - subject matter aside - these crew people have
the chops to make a good, solid film on a limited budget which Lustig would go
on to prove with his own work. Of course, no 1980's action movie fan can fail
to notice that actor Sonny Landham of 48 HRS and Predator fame is in this film
and he even performs in the hardcore sex scenes. I can't say I ever wanted to
see this but now I have I can inform you that if you feel the need to watch Mr.
Landham in 'action', here is your chance. But if you're like me and can't
imagine wanting to see fairly unattractive people copulate you might want to
give this movie a total pass. I don't mean to be cruel, but none of the cast
members of either gender are very attractive and by the time we are witness to
a fairly impressive home party/suburban orgy the ugliness of the people
onscreen had become noticeable enough to be a problem. I mean- wouldn't there
be some really gorgeous people in any given group of swingers? Or am I living
in a sexual fantasyland as based in reality as Middle Earth? Oh well.... dreams
Syndrome has put A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... out as a standalone release
instead of in their usual porn double feature DVD structure. I would have
thought they would take the opportunity to use the saved space for extras of
some sort as a number of the cast and crew are still around. Then again, they
might not be too keen to discuss this mostly closeted skeleton and wish its
decades old door had remained locked. The only extra is the non-porn R rated
version of the film that simply chops the hardcore sequences out to present a
pretty strange, low budget character study.
Brynner, Richard Widmark and George Chakiris share top billing in “Flight From
Ashiya” a 1964 Japanese- American co-production originally released by United
Artists. The movie is dedicated to and takes place within the world of the United
States Air Force Air Rescue Service. Created in 1946, the Air Rescue Service mission
is to rescue downed military aircrew. Their motto, which is displayed
throughout the opening credits, reads: “That Others May Live.” In 1947 the
mission was expanded to that of a special operations unit which later included
Navy SEAL like Pararescuemen or “PJs” supporting everything from
humanitarian rescue missions to NASA astronaut recovery.
story of “Flight From Ashiya” is a mix of military themed clichés and melodrama
which fans of this genre will find familiar. Two Air Rescue Service teams stationed
at Ashiya Air Base in Japan depart on Air Force float planes to rescue a group
of Japanese civilians who are clinging on to a make-shift raft after being shipwrecked
during a typhoon. With the typhoon still raging, the first float plane crashes
while attempting a landing on the choppy storm tossed water. The special
effects are well done for the era and the aircraft models look realistic. For
the new viewer today living in the era of over-used CGI effects, the models and
water tank footage may appear old fashioned, but it all works if the viewer
considers this movie was made decades before modern special effects.
three men at the center of the story suffer from what we commonly refer to today
as post traumatic stress syndrome. As they circle above the shipwreck survivors
while the typhoon rages, we learn through a series of flashbacks that each man is
opening up emotional baggage throughout the rescue which is packed with doses
of love, pain, guilt, hate, sorrow and loss. Brynner, Widmark and Chakiris are
convincing as military men and their performances allow us to forgive the
limitations of the special effects.
Chakiris plays Lt. John Gregg, a pilot stationed with Widmark and Brynner in
Germany prior to their assignment in Japan. He feels responsible for the civilian
avalanche victims he was unable to rescue in 1954. In his flashback, the team
initially manages to land their rescue helicopter, drop off supplies and take
back a few survivors. Brynner assists in delivering a baby and we see a hint of
Widmark’s troubled past in a brief flashback within this flashback followed by
a racially charged tirade toward Brynner, who we learn is half Japanese.
Chakiris insists on returning and Widmark reluctantly agrees. Their helicopter
can only carry a dozen people at a time and on the return trip the helicopter rotor
blades cause another avalanche which kills the remaining survivors.
plays Lt. Col. Glenn Stevenson, a tough Air Force veteran and survivor of a
Japanese prisoner of war camp. He was a civilian pilot and owner of a charter
airline flying supplies out of Manila, Philippines. On the eve of the Japanese
invasion of the Philippines and America’s entry in WWII, he meets his future
wife, Caroline Gordon. She’s a journalist covering the victims of a recent earthquake
for which Stevenson just happens to be flying supplies. Shirley Knight plays
Caroline in a brief and understated role as Widmark’s soon to be wife. They end
up in a Japanese prison camp and Widmark begs the Japanese camp commander for
medicine, which is denied. Their baby and his wife die in the camp and Widmark
carries this resentment to the other rescue missions.
plays Master Sgt. Mike Takashima, the senior paramedic of the team. He’s an
Army corpsmen in North Africa in 1943 during WWII during his flashback where he
meets a beautiful French speaking woman named Leila. He introduces himself
with, “Mike Takashima... father Japanese, mother Polish.” We soon learn that
she is Muslim and she and everyone else tells him their romance is not meant to
be. Not willing to give up, Brynner tells her, “My father was a Buddhist, my
mother a Seventh-day Adventist.” As Brynner searches for Leila on his
departure, she comes running to him just as a demolition team detonates an
unexploded bomb, killing Leila.
sweats a lot during the typhoon rescue mission. He’s the co-pilot and his guilt
over the avalanche deaths is relived when Widmark arrives as the replacement
pilot at the start of the movie. Widmark is faced with his racism and
resentment as he initially declines landing the float plane to rescue the
Japanese civilians. Brynner drops to the survivors with a life raft and offers
medical assistance. The three men wrap up their flashbacks and complete the
is convincingly commanding whenever he plays military men and this movie is no
exception. Likewise, Brynner is also terrific as Mike in spite of appearing
more Polish than Japanese. Widmark and Brynner are compelling in all their
films, this one included. They have a few key scenes together during the
typhoon rescue and the avalanche flashback rescue, but do not upstage one
is on hand for the younger audience members and is probably best remembered for
his skill as a dancer in “West Side Story” for which he won a best supporting
actor Oscar. He danced his way through other movies including the Jacques Demy
musical “The Young Girls of Rochefort” featuring
Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly. He also co-stared previously with Brynner in
“Kings of the Sun,” and later appeared in a stage revival of “The King and I.”
He worked with Charlton Heston in the drama “Diamond Head” and appeared in
other military themed movies like “633 Squadron” “Is Paris Burning?” and
McGuire Go Home.” He transitioned to TV roles in the 1970s and retired from
acting in the late 1990s to focus on making handcrafted jewelry.
Knight is very good in her brief scenes with Widmark. Primarily a stage and TV actress
with roles in dozens of TV series throughout her continuing prolific career,
Knight was occasionally cast in high profile movies including “Sweet Bird of
Youth,” “House of Women,” “Petulia,” “Juggernaut” and “As Good as it Gets.”
model and actress Daniele Gaubert plays the beautiful Leila in the Yul Brynner
flashback scenes. We see her briefly on the beach in a one-piece swimsuit and
she speaks only French onscreen. She had a brief acting career and is probably
best known as the star of Radley Metzger’s “Camille 2000.” She was married to
Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy until her death from cancer at age 44.
Parker plays Lucille Carroll in the third female role, but she has very little
to do in the contemporary scenes back at the Air Rescue Service operations
center. It’s not clear exactly why she’s there other than to give concerned
commentary and look worried as radio reports come in. Parker was an American
model and actress who had parts in a handful of high profile movies and TV
series such as “Funny Face,” “Kiss Them for Me,” “The Best of Everything,” “The
Interns” and appearances in the TV series “Twilight Zone,” “It Takes a Thief”
and “Night Gallery.”
movie was directed by Michael Anderson, who had a long and prolific career and
is the director of many fan favorites. I remember watching his 1956 version of
George Orwell’s “1984” in high school after we read the book. Despite its
critics, I still enjoy his “Around the World in 80 Days” which was a broadcast
TV “event” in the era before home video and cable TV. “The Dam Busters,” “The
Wreck of the Mary Deare,” “Operation Crossbow,” “The Quiller Memorandum,” “The
Shoes of the Fisherman” and “Logan’s Run” are a few of the highlights in
Anderson’s prolific career.
From Ashiya” is predictable and melodramatic, but enjoyable and winds to a
satisfying 100 minute conclusion. The widescreen Panavision image looks very
well preserved and the audio is also more than satisfactory.. The DVD is
made-to-order through the MGM Limited Edition Collection and has no extras.
you are like me, you probably have a nostalgic heart. The fact that you read
Cinema Retro is a major clue. Have you ever yearned to spend an evening in the
past, a la Gil (Owen Wilson) in Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris?” What if I
told you how to experience an evening with Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Marion
Davies, Will Rogers and Florenz Ziegfeld for a show at his famous theater that
is hosted by Eddie Cantor? Would you go?
real life can not actually bring you back in time to do so, Cynthia Von Buhler
can, and has, with her new iTheater production “Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic”
current running on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Liberty Theater on 42nd
Street in NYC. Cynthia's previous interactive and immersive shows
“The Bloody Beginning” and “The Brothers Booth” were wonderful productions that
brought audience members into the cast playing famous (and not so famous)
characters that interacted with the show and cast members. The Frolic takes you
one step closer and one step beyond.
show centers around the tragic death of Olive Thomas, a small town girl who
moved to NY in 1914 to seek her fame and fortune at 17 years old. She started
out as a model and won the title of “Most Beautiful Girl in NY.” The following
year she starred as a Ziegfeld girl in one of his most risque shows held late
nights in a smaller stage at the top of The New Amsterdam Theater. She had a
four-year film career and married Jack Pickford, the younger brother of film
star Mary Pickford. She died, under mysterious circumstances, in Paris, in 1920
when she drank mercury bichloride. It was one of the first heavily publicized
members 'travel' between Paris - the Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Nothingness).
VIP ticket purchasers party for half an hour at a “champagne orgy” with Alberto
Vargas and scantily clad Ziegfeld girls including the aforementioned ladies.
You can also visit the room of honeymooners Pickford and Thomas at the Ritz
Hotel but are eventually whisked magically back to NYC to watch the “Midnight
Frolic” and back to Paris for the death scene and investigations.
Moskowitz and Joey Calveri shine as the doomed couple and perform some
wonderful stage numbers. Delysia La Chatte is Josehine Baker incarnate. Chris
Fink as Eddie Cantor controls the show as emcee. Other standout performers are
dancer Brianna Hurley, Heather Bunch as “the down and out lady” and Erica
Vlahinos as Fanny Brice who will knock you out with her songs. The music is all
1920s but there are a couple of rearranged recent hit songs given a jazz era
arrangement that will pleasantly surprise you. Did I mention the aerialists?
Amazing. How they do it with so little clothing on is a wonder.
Midnight Frolic” is running under a well-deserved extension for the next two
weeks. I hope it will continue its run. I know I'm going back to see it again.
I didn't get to see everything - there is so much to see and do, so many nooks and
crannies to visit, too many flirtatious flappers, well, you get the idea. To
learn more visit speakeasydollhouse.com where you can also purchase tickets.
There is also a prix fixe dinner option available. I did not eat the night I
attended but people I spoke with enjoyed the meal. It must, however, be reserved in advance.
Details are available on the website.
web-site disclaimer: “PLEASE BE ADVISED: THIS SHOW CONTAINS JAZZ, LIQUOR
& FAST WOMEN” is well-deserved. So are all the rave reviews this show
had seen Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King only
once, back in 1991 on its initial release, and I liked it very much. As years
went on, though, my memories of it were such that I considered it to be
atypical of Gilliam’s work. For me, he’s always been a hit-and-miss director;
some of his pictures are absolute classics and others not so much. There is a
certain beautiful sloppiness to his direction; to use a painting analogy, it’s
as if he throws a lot of paint on the canvas and maybe it’ll turn out to be
something coherent, funny, and meaningful. Gilliam, I think, is much more of a
visual designer than a people-director—his films always look great, usually very original and envelope-pushing in
their conception and the execution of the visuals. They are often big pictures on large canvases. They
contain lots of effects work, wild costuming, over-the-top performances, and a
frenetic energy that is exhaustive. And
a lot of fantasy.
viewing The Criterion Collection’s brand new Blu-ray release of the picture for
the first time since 1991, I now realize that The Fisher King is absolutely not
atypical of Gilliam’s work. I remembered it as being an intimate study of
two characters who go from despondency to finding meaning in their lives, with
not much “Gilliam-esque” aspects to the picture. Whoa, my memory was flawed.
Gilliam’s wildness, his visual extravagance, the over-the-top performances, the
crazy camera angles, fantasy, and the acerbic humor is all there. And it’s
terrific, easily one of Gilliam’s best movies (it’s certainly the one that
received the most Oscar nominations—five, including Best Actor (Robin
Williams), Supporting Actress (Mercedes Ruehl, who won), Original Screenplay (by Richard LaGravenese), Art
Direction/Set Design (of course!), and Original Score.
Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a “shock jock” DJ who burns out when one of his
listeners becomes a mass murderer based on something Lucas said on the air. Three
years later he has quit his job, become an alcohol and drug abuser, and hooked
up with video store owner Anne (Mercedes Ruehl in an outstanding performance).
Then he accidentally meets a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), whose
wife was killed by that mass murderer in the incident that also wrecked Lucas’
life. Lucas and Parry form an odd couple friendship and Lucas gets the bright
idea of playing matchmaker with Parry and the woman the homeless man dreamily
watches from afar, Lydia (Amanda Plummer).
suffers from hallucinations (he believes a horrific “Red Knight”—a fantastic
accomplishment in visual effects and costuming—is after him, and that he must
find the Holy Grail—shades of Monty Python!—in order to bring his sanity back
to earth). Williams delivers one of his wild, crazy-man, wacky performances,
and it’s a gem. Bridges, too, is no slouch and he matches his co-star’s antics
with a grounded portrayal that is the anchor of the piece. One must also
mention Michael Jeter, who almost steals the movie as another homeless man who
does a song and dance in drag that brings down the house.
short, The Fisher King may be
Gilliam’s most “humane” picture, for it takes a serious look at homelessness,
mental illness, and the trappings of life that contribute to these ills.
Perhaps that’s why I remembered the movie as being “atypical” of Gilliam... it
had a message of social responsibility and wasn’t some dystopian fantasy set in
another world, although the director’s presentation of New York City certainly places Manhattan in another world!
new restored 2K digital transfer, approved by Gilliam, looks fabulous, of
course, and the 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is terrific.
There’s an enlightening audio commentary by Gilliam. Other extras include new
interviews with actors Bridges, Ruehl, and Plummer; as well as Gilliam,
producer Lynda Obst, and writer Richard LaGravenese. A new interview with
artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds explores the creation of the Red
Knight. There’s a wonderful video essay of Bridge’s on-set photographs,
narrated by Bridges. Footage from 1991 of Bridges training as a radio
personality with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater is a lot of fun. There are
several deleted scenes with commentary by Gilliam, costume tests, and trailers.
But the most poignant—and absolutely the funniest—extra is a 2006 interview
with Williams discussing the film. An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri completes the
you’ve never seen The Fisher King, it
should be high on your list of “to-be-watched” titles. And if you’re a Gilliam
fan, well, it’s a must-have for the collection.
Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” drew almost uniformly positive A-list reviews
on its limited theatrical release in December 2014 (to qualify for 2014 Academy
Award nominations), and on its official nationwide release the following
month. Not a surprise: Anderson has been
a darling of critics since “Boogie Nights” (1997), and his script was based on
a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, an academically revered novelist. Box-office wasn’t so hot, though. The gross from the nationwide opening weekend
was $381,000, and the total gross by the end of April only $11.1 million, just
a little more than half the film’s reported budget. Observers theorized that the film was sunk
by Pynchon’s perplexing, labyrinthine
storyline about a pothead private eye in a Cinema Retro setting of 1970 Los
Angeles. Well, maybe, but “Chinatown”
(1974) was a commercial success with an equally twisty script, and Ross
Macdonald, the dean of complex PI mysteries, sold well enough that he regularly
made the New York Times bestseller list at the end of his career.
fact, Ross Macdonald and “Chinatown” are two strands of the movie’s DNA, along
with Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” (1939) and “The Long Goodbye” (1954),
the classic movies by Howard Hawks (1946) and Robert Altman (1973) that were
based on the two novels, Roger Simon’s counterculture PI Moses Wine in “The Big
Fix” (1973), turned into a 1978 film with Richard Dreyfuss, and arguably, the
Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998). Mystery fans may enjoy teasing out the influences. Mainstream viewers may feel like they’ve
already been there, done that.
private eye at the center of Pynchon’s story, Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin
Phoenix), is visited at his beach shack by a former girlfriend, Shasta Fay
Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Shasta
Fay’s sugar daddy, Mickey Wolfmann, a real estate mogul, has disappeared. Shasta Fay believes that he may have been put
away against his will by his wife Sloane and Sloane’s boyfriend. She asks Doc to investigate. Doing so, the amiable, ambling PI encounters
a series of high-rolling and low-life characters who seem to have little or
nothing in common with each other. With
a little digging, Doc begins to uncover one tenuous thread that seems to
connect most of them, an association with something called “The Golden Fang.” The name may refer to a schooner used to ship
dope from Southeast Asia, a criminal ring that uses the vessel, a fraternity of
dentists, or a secluded sanitarium where Doc has a fleeting encounter with a
spaced-out Mickey, or all of the above. With each character, the name carries a different connotation. When a cute Asian girl in a massage parlor
reveals an important clue to Doc in a foggy alley, veteran mystery fans may
wonder if Pynchon and Anderson are also channeling the venerable pulp trappings
of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu.
today’s moviegoers don’t read Chandler or Macdonald, or maybe attention spans
have gotten shorter over the years. Like
their predecessors, Pynchon and Anderson use a variety of tricks to keep
viewers off-balance, principally the relentless introduction of new characters
as suspects and red herrings, to the point that in one brief scene, Doc perplexedly writes all the
names on a wall board and draws lines from one to the other to keep them
straight. However, the ultimate
unraveling of the mystery, when it arrives, seems pretty clear. For a real headscratcher, try Ross
Macdonald’s “The Blue Hammer” (1976) some time.
film’s actual shortcomings lie more with Anderson than Pynchon, including
inconsistent tone, uneven casting, and a decision to use a tired dramatic
device as the way to relate the story -- voiceover narration by one of Doc’s
other pals, trippy astrologer Sortilege (Joanna Newsom). Some critics defended Anderson’s choice as
the only way that the filmmaker could feasibly spoon out chunks of information
that Pynchon conveyed in his novel through the running narrative. But it seems like an easy and lazy out of a
challenge that might have been surmounted in a more dramatically satisfying way
with a little more thought. At that, it
still leaves unexplained some prominent details that were clear in the novel
but hazy in the film. For example, who
is “Aunt Reet,” the eccentric elderly woman from whom Doc mines some basic
intel about Mickey Wolfmann? Played by
an unrecognizable Jeannie Berlin, the character actually is Doc’s aunt, as the
novel explains, but she’s a puzzling cypher in the movie as she comes and goes
in one brief scene. Neither are Doc’s
working quarters in a medical building explained. Is he actually a physician? You have to read the novel to find out why he
operates out of a medical office. I
suspect that these puzzling, unexplained details were actually the main source
of frustration for paying audiences, and not the mystery plot itself.
Phoenix is excellent as Doc, and Josh Brolin is amusing as his requisite cop
nemesis, his performance hovering somewhere between the menacing persona of his
character in “Gangster Squad” (2013) and his straight-faced send-up in “Men in
Black III” (2013). In a bit perhaps
inspired by “L.A. Confidential” (1997), Brolin’s character exploits the LAPD’s
ties with Hollywood to land small roles in Jack Webb’s “Adam-12.” On TV, Doc watches a scene from the old show
in which Brolin is digitally inserted in the background behind Martin
Milner. The film’s best stunt-casting
places Reese Witherspoon as Doc’s occasional playmate, Deputy D.A. Penny
Kimball, and the two have the single best exchange of lines in the film:
Doc: “I need something from you. I need to look at
“That’s it? That’s no big deal. We do it all the time.”
“What? You break into officially sealed
records all the time?”
(casting a jaundiced glance): “Grow up.”
Warner Home Video Blu-ray presents the movie in high-def, richly saturated
color. The special features include
three trailer-style clip compilations, each focused on a specific element of
the movie (paranoia, Shasta Fay, and the Golden Fang). An alternate, unused ending is included in
the fourth feature, “Everything in This Dream.” It hews a little closer to the final chapter
of Pynchon’s novel than the rather pedestrian finale that Anderson decided to
use instead, in which Doc and Shasta Fay sorta get back together. Nevertheless, although closer, it’s still not
up to Pynchon’s lyric, evocative conclusion. The package also contains a DVD version and a digital copy.
"Jurassic World" may have received mediocre reviews but the dinosaur flick has taken a gigantic bite out of the boxoffice with the second highest opening weekend gross in history (behind "The Avengers") with over $204 million. For more, click here.
In my review of Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the 1979 disaster film "Meteor", I observed that the disaster movie genre had peaked with the release of Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" in 1974. Yet, that didn't stop studios from beating a dead horse in an attempt to squeeze some more juice out of the tried-and-true formula of gathering an all-star cast, then figuring out ways to drown, bury or incinerate the characters portrayed on screen. One of the more obscure attempts to keep the disaster film cycle relevant was "Avalanche", a movie produced by Roger Corman and directed and scripted by one of his proteges, Corey Allen, who would go on to establish a respectable career as a director of major television shows. When you approach a Corman production, you tend to give some special dispensation for certain cinematic sins that you wouldn't accord more mainstream productions. Corman, who happily embraces his legendary status as a man who made major profits from films with minor budgets, knew how to stretch the soup in the cinematic sense. Rarely armed with ample production funds, Corman cut corners whenever possible but still managed to retain a certain elegance to his productions. In 1978, he jumped on the fading disaster movie bandwagon with "Avalanche". He hired Rock Hudson as the leading man because Hudson, at this point in his career, realized that he was no longer a hot commodity as a boxoffice draw in feature films (although he did successfully transition to a popular presence on television.) Corman also cast Mia Farrow and respected supporting actor Robert Forster for additional name recognition. He secured permission to film at a major ski resort in Durango, Colorado and out-sourced the special effects work to a company called Excelsior!
The film follows the general formula of the disaster film genre in that the victims-to-be are gathered for a major social occasion, unaware that nature is working overtime to thwart their fun. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, an arrogant developer who has invested his life savings to build a vacation paradise in the Rocky Mountains. He has disdain for local environmentalists who have warned him that his destruction of an an abundance of trees on his massive property has removed a natural barrier to the inevitable avalanches that will occur. Shelby is preoccupied with his grand opening festivities and is simultaneously trying to woo back his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow), who is attending as his guest. He's also busy trying to entertain his sassy, wise-cracking mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), who is being shepherded around the resort by David's major domo Henry McDade (Steve Franken in a rare dramatic role.) Meanwhile, local environmental activist and nature photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) becomes increasingly concerned about the massive buildup of snow on the mountain peaks that are directly in line with the resort. He attempts to alleviate some of the danger by strategically using a snow cannon to set off controlled mini avalanches. Intermingled with all of this are the expected subplots involving minor characters who are set up to be inevitable victims. Barry Primus is a TV sports announcer who is broadcasting from the grand opening and who must contend with the fact that his estranged wife Tina (Cathey Paine) is on premises and rubbing his nose in it by blatantly carrying on an affair with egotistical super star skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Scott, in turn, is rubbing Tina's nose in it by blatantly sleeping with another woman, thus causing Tina to go ballistic and consider suicide. Meanwhile, David Shelby finds time to unwind by spending some quality time in a hot tub with with his naked secretary (thus allowing Roger Corman to slip in a bit of T&A). Although the story seems set up to have the disastrous avalanche occur during the opening night festivities, screenwriter Allen throws the audience a curve ball by avoiding that cliche and saving the action for the following afternoon when, amid a particularly vicious snow mobile race, a small plane piloted by one of Shelby's employees encounters bad weather and slams into a nearby mountain, thus triggering the avalanche. This is where the movie progresses beyond cliches and becomes unexpectedly enjoyable. All of the standard disaster movie shtick is present, as both lovable and loathsome characters meet predictable fates, but the film's limited production resources somehow work in its favor. We're well aware that we're watching a Corman production but somehow the inventiveness that is required to carry it all off is quite admirable. Certain plot points are introduced and inexplicably abandoned including an insinuation that Shelby has bribed local political officials to overlook his clear violation of environmental protection rules in order to build his resort. This was one of Rock Hudson's final films as an "above the title" leading man. He's grayer and a bit paunchier than we'd seen him during his heyday, but he still had star power to spare and made for a dashing leading man, whether its skinny dipping in the hot tub or personally leading rescue parties in acts of derring doo to extricate victims of the tragedy. The film's showpiece sequence is a climactic scene in which Shelby must rescue Caroline, who is dangling from wrecked bridge above a ravine. It's well-directed and genuinely suspenseful.
It' easy to pick apart a film like "Avalanche", as it squarely fits into the "guilty pleasure" category. However, the film does a lot with very little as opposed to other misfires in this genre that did very little with a lot (aka "The Swarm"). The Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition features the original trailer and a "making of" featurette in which Roger Corman extols the virtues of the film. He admits the effects were rather shoddy and recalls his outrage when he discovered the SFX company had added "red snow". Corman hit the roof and it was changed to a bluish substance that he admits still looks pretty phony. Robert Forster recalls that the "snow" was actually little pieces of plastic that were strewn by the hundreds of thousands over the scenic landscape. He remembers his dismay at the realization that none of these bits were biodegradable and many must still be contaminating the landscape of the Durango ski resort where the movie was filmed. Corman makes the claim that the film was actually a major financial success. He says his budget was only $1.7 million and that a TV sale for $2 million netted him an immediate $300,000 profit. The tale sounds a bit fanciful because it seems hard to believe that even in 1978 you could make a movie like this with three relatively big names for only $1.7 million. (Other sources give unsubstantiated estimates of the budget at around $6 million, which seems more plausible.) "Avalanche" is not near the top of the heap of disaster movies but it certainly doesn't rank at the bottom of the pack, either. The Kino Lorber release has an impressive transfer and the inclusion of those bonus extras make this title highly recommended for fans of this genre.
Charles Bronson was known for playing men of few words on screen. However, this characteristic stemmed from the actor's real life persona: he loathed giving interviews and avoided discussing his personal life. There are relatively few instances of Bronson being interviewed by media outlets but in 1993 he did go on camera to make some remarks. They ranged from the whimsical (he recalls rooming with Jack Klugman early in their careers and says that Klugman was enough of a slob to justify his being cast as Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple" TV series) to the sentimental (he speaks movingly of his wife Jill Ireland, who had only recently died from cancer.)
Moody as Fagin with Mark Lester as Oliver Twist and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There is an old adage that says bad things happen in "threes". That seemed to be the case when it came to distinguished British actors in the past week. On the heels of news that both Richard Johnson and Sir Christopher Lee had passed away comes notice that Ron Moody has also died. He was 91 years old. Moody was undoubtedly the least famous of these three gentlemen but he was no less talented. He originated the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's classic stage musical, "Oliver!", based on the Dickens classic "Oliver Twist". Moody won kudos for his role as the charismatic con man and head of a London gang that employed young boys as pickpockets. He was astonished when he was chosen to play the lead in the 1968 film version, directed by Carol Reed. Moody's name recognition was practically zero to film audiences but his brilliant performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well as a Golden Globe. He would later say that he made some career mistakes in the aftermath of his triumph in the film. He was too selective about follow-up projects and, although he continued to act in feature films and popular TV series, it was mostly in supporting roles. A rare exception was having the lead in Mel Brooks' 1970 comedy "The Twelve Chairs". He also regretted turning down the role of Doctor Who. Nevertheless, Moody was by all accounts an upbeat person who relished time with his family and thoroughly enjoyed his profession. For more click here. For a tribute from his "Oliver!" co-star Mark Lester, click here.
Artist Jeff Marshall created this tribute to Sir Christopher Lee, which was presented to him by Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Sir Christopher Lee, the acclaimed British actor, passed away last Sunday in London. He was 93 years old. The family waited to make the announcement until all family members could be notified. Lee was an early contributor to Cinema Retro magazine and periodically provided interviews and personal insights into the making of his films. We, along with movie lovers everywhere, mourn his loss. Lee was more often than not associated with the horror film genre, a fact that often frustrated him. He would routinely point out that he made many diverse films and played many diverse roles in movies of all genres, from comedies to westerns. For many years he was most closely associated with the films of Hammer studios, the British production firm that revitalized the horror film genre in the 1950s. Lee starred in seemingly countless Hammer productions, often appearing opposite another British film legend, his friend and colleague Peter Cushing. In the late 1950s, the two co-starred in the first color version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (released in America under the title of "Horror of Dracula"). The film, which was controversial because of its use of sex and violence, was nevertheless a major hit and spawned numerous other Hammer appearances with Lee as Dracula. He would later tell Cinema Retro that he did some of them reluctantly because the quality of the scripts had deteriorated over time. In one film, he found the dialogue was so poor that he insisted that the play the role without speaking. Nevertheless, the films remained popular and added to Lee's status as a legend of the modern horror film genre. In 1962, Lee was proposed to play the villain Dr. No in the first James Bond movie by Ian Fleming himself (the two were distant relatives.) Lee was not available and the role went to Joseph Wiseman. However, in 1974, Lee was cast as the Bond villain Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore in "The Man With the Golden Gun." In 1973, he starred in the original version of "The Wicker Man" playing a larger than life villain that became legendary in cult film circles. The film was not a hit on initial release but over the decades has been considered as a classic of British cinema. Lee's extraordinary achievements were often overlooked because he also appeared in many films that were low-budget and sub-standard. However, he brought grace and dignity to every role he played. As the years passed, he found he had outlived most of his contemporaries. Of the other great horror icons he knew, he once lamented to this writer "I'm the last one left". He said he particularly missed Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, both of whom he considered to be among the most fascinating people he knew. He said that they would often speak by phone and had a long-running gag in which they would try to deceive each other by posing as a crank caller.
Christopher Lee with Cinema Retro publishers Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer, years before the start of the magazine. The photo was taken at the offices of Eon Productions in London where Lee was signing some limited edition Bond lithographs by artist Jeff Marshall.
Christopher Lee saw a resurgence of appreciation for his talents from a younger generation of filmmakers who had literally grown up on his movies. He worked several times with Tim Burton. Peter Jackson cast him in "The Lord of the Rings" films and George Lucas gave him a high profile role as a villain in the reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise. He also worked with Steven Spielberg on the big budget 1979 WWII comedy "1941". In his public life, Lee was regarded as a serious man, not generally associated with humor. However, in private he was an outstanding raconteur with a wonderful sense of humor. Joining him for lunch or drinks would inevitably become a Master Class in some worthy subject. When in London, Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I would occasionally invite him to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Drones. Lunch with Lee was never a simple affair: you would be taught about what wines to order and the history of certain cuisine. The man seemed to be a walking textbook. He also loved classic cinema and discussing older films, which he had an encyclopedic knowledge of. Sometimes his conversations about film making led to unexpected humorous results. On one occasion, we were discussing Howard Hawks' 1959 western "Rio Bravo" and we both agreed that Walter Brennan stole the movie from John Wayne and Dean Martin by playing a cranky and amusing deputy. I then sought to impress Lee by doing what I thought was a spot-on impersonation of Brennan in the film. Lee scoffed so I challenged him by saying, "I suppose you could do a better Walter Brennan impression?" He said, "In fact, I can" and then proceeded to do so. The sight of the distinguished Lee doing impressions of Walter Brennan should have been captured on film but, alas, it was a moment lost in time. On another occasion, we met with Lee at Drones. I was attired in a jacket and necktie, but typically Dave Worrall decided to go casual. When we got to the restaurant, Lee looked disapprovingly at Worrall and drolly said, "If I knew we were dressing for the beach, I would have worn my bathing costume." Inside the restaurant, there was a very long mirror near our table. Lee turned abruptly and almost bumped into it, causing a nearby diner who had recognized him to quip, "That's understandable- you don't have a reflection!", a reference to his appearances as Dracula. Lee stared the man down and said, "As though I've never heard that one a hundred times before!"
Lee Pfeiffer introduces surprise guest Christopher Lee at a Cinema Retro movie tour event in London, 2006.
Lee was a private man who valued time with his wife Gitte, with whom he was married to for over 50 years. (They had one child, Christina). However, he would always make time to see Worrall and I when we were in London. On one occasion, I was meeting friends for afternoon tea at Harrods. On a whim, I called up Lee and asked if he would join us. He said yes and, to amazement of all, he turned up as a surprise guest and regaled us with wonderful stories. He also had a hobby that was passionate about: collecting patches from the various branches of the British military, which he once proudly showed us in his apartment. Lee served in WWII in the fight against Rommel in Africa. He rarely talked about his experiences because he said he was still technically under the Official Secrets Act. I would try to pry information from him by pointing out the unlikely scenario that Germany and England were about to go to war again, but he wouldn't budge. "When I give my word, I keep it", he would say. Indeed he did. I never got to hear much about his duties in helping to defeat The Desert Fox. Lee was also a sentimentalist, which might surprise many of his fans. He was especially saddened at the loss of Peter Cushing in 1994. The two men led very different lives. Cushing lived in the countryside and Lee preferred city life in London. They spoke often and would see each other occasionally. He told me that the last time he saw Cushing occurred shortly before Peter's death. The two actors were reunited for an interview session for a television program. Lee said that Cushing was clearly in poor health and near the end of his life. Both men knew it but didn't acknowledge it. They laughed and told stories as they usually did. However, when Cushing got into the car that was taking him home, Lee came to the realization that he would never see his best friend again. As Cushing looked back, Lee waved and said, "Goodbye, my friend". He said it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of his life. Lee would say that he never again enjoyed the kinds of friendships he had with Cushing and Vincent Price, although he had the highest respect for Johnny Depp, with whom he worked on several films directed by Tim Burton.
Christopher Lee holding court as a surprise lunch guest at Harrods, 2002.
Lee was so devoted to his craft and so grateful for the opportunities afforded him that he seemed unaware of the aging process. Once Worrall and I had lunch with him when he had just returned from filming the first of his "Star Wars" appearances in New Zealand under the direction of George Lucas. In one pivotal scene, he had a light saber duel with the character of Yoda. Lee explained that there really wasn't a Yoda there, nor was there any light from the saber. They would be added later by a digital process. As an actor, he said this was particularly challenging. Yet he told George Lucas that he would do much of the scene himself to minimize the use of a stuntman. Lucas cautioned him but Lee reminded him that had been deemed a master fencer his youth and prided himself on his dueling skills. The scene proved to be very arduous and sure enough, later that night Lee began to feel some chest pains. He discretely visited a local doctor who asked him if he had done anything unusually strenuous. Lee initially said no but when the doctor heard he had been filming fencing scenes at his age, he informed him that most people would find that to be unusually strenuous. Lee admonished the doctor and told him that he had done all of his own fencing scenes in the "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". When the doctor reminded him that was thirty years earlier, Lee said it was the first time that he realized he really was getting old. Yet, he never acted old. He was a living, breathing example of how leading an interesting life can help you avoid many of the ravages of old age. Lee remained up to date on all aspects of the motion picture industry and was also very interested in politics. He was a loyal Tory and was also a devoted royalist who had disdain for those who wanted to do away with the British monarchy. Fittingly, he was knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 for his "Services to Drama and Charity". In the latter part of his career, Lee embarked on releasing audio CDs that featured him crooning famous songs as well as contributing to hard rock concepts.
Dave Worrall and I last saw Sir Christopher Lee in October 2012 at the royal premiere of "Skyfall" in London. We had a chance encounter in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. He looked quite frail but still cut a handsome figure in his tuxedo. As we parted, I had the feeling that, as with his experience with Peter Cushing, we might not see him again, which added poignancy to this brief encounter. Then again, the thought of the world without Sir Christopher Lee was unthinkable. On a certain level, I think I had convinced myself that he would outlive all of us.
To fully encompass Sir Christopher Lee's contributions to the world of cinema would require a thesis-like study. Suffice it to say that he was not only a major talent but a larger-than-life personality. He was also a great friend as well as a that rarest of species today, a true gentleman. The world will still turn without his presence. It just won't be nearly as much fun, nor nearly as interesting.
"Goodbye, my friend".
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In 2009 a gelding trained and owned by a couple of
cowboys from New Mexico won the Kentucky Derby running at 50-1 odds. Mine That
Bird hadn’t won a single race in the United States before that and only
qualified to run the Derby because of the stakes he’d won in Canada. Not only
that, Mine That Bird was small and slightly “crooked up front,” as his trainer,
Chip Wooley (Skeet Ulrich) says when he first sees him. He’s skeptical at first
when he flies up to Canada to see him and advises his boss/friend Mark Allen
(Christian Kane) to pass on him. But when he sees Mine That Bird whizz around
the track he decides they need to buy him. Asking price, half a million. The
Canadians who owned him had paid only $9,500 for him.
“50-1,” (2014) directed and co-written by Jim Wilson, producer of 1990’s Oscar
Winner “Dances With Wolves”, tells the story of Mine That Bird and the two
cowboys who beat the odds and brought him to the winner’s circle. It’s your
typical underdog-overcoming-all-obstacles kind of story, except that the focus is
more on the four main human characters involved, rather than the horse. In
addition to Wooley and Allen, William Devane is present adding some gravitas to
the film, playing Doc Blach, owner of Buena Suite Equine, who puts up some of
the purchase money. Madelyn Deutch rounds out the principal cast playing
another horse trainer brought in later in the story. It’s the interrelationships
between the four characters that dominate the script with the colorful New
Mexican and dazzling Kentucky Derby settings as background.
That Bird loses the first three races that he runs in the U.S., and Wooley, a
rough and tumble former rodeo star, in frustration rides his motorcycle out
into the desert to let off some steam and has a serious accident. His injuries
limit his activities out on the track, and that’s when Allen brings in a new
trainer (Deutch) to help out. Wooley is none too pleased to discover his
assistant is “a girl!” This part of the story portrays the conflict between the
two, with Wooley acting more or less as a jerk, resenting her presence, constantly
barking criticisms at her. Frankly, the scenes between Ulrich and Deutch seem
tedious, with the “conflict” somewhat forced and contrived. The fault was more
in the dialog and situations concocted by Wilson and co-writer Faith Conroy
than with the actors who did the best they could with what they had.
rest of the movie relates how Mine That Bird qualified for the Derby and
preparations for the race, including the hiring of veteran jockey Calvin Borel,
who plays himself. There are some more complications
involving the forgetting of registration papers and some inane comedy bits
involving Borel that seem more appropriate for an old “I love Lucy” episode.
movies about horse racing usually give equal time to the horse and its owners.
The human drama is presented along with the story of the horse’s struggle to
win first place. Sea Biscuit and Secretariat live in our memories as great
heroes of the track, as will American Pharoah. In “50-1”, unfortunately, the
human angle overshadows the horse’s story. It’s almost as though screen writers
Wilson and Conroy forgot that Mine That Bird was the story’s main character.
The script is so focused on the two cowboys, the female assistant and their partner,
that Mine That Bird seems to disappear
until the big race at the end. There are very few scenes showing what a Derby
contender goes through to get ready for the big race. Because of his short
stature and “crooked” body, much could have been made of how horse and trainers
compensated for these shortcomings. But Wilson seemed more fixated on the
squabbling quartet of characters.
deficiencies of the script not withstanding, Wilson makes good use of the
actual locales where the real life story
took place. I’ve got a soft spot for movies set in New Mexico where Sam
Peckinpah did some of his best work. The state is nothing if not photogenic.
The trip through Roswell for example is fun, with the camera picking out the
UFO Museum and all the fast food restaurants serving Alien Burgers. Wilson also
does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of Louisville and Churchill Downs
on Derby Day and the excitement of the race.
All in all, considering
the film’s limited budget and a so-so script that sticks too much to what is
probably the literal truth of what happened rather than a larger- than -life story about a racing
legend, “50-1”is, in this age of overblown special effects, impossible car
chases, and adolescent toilet humor, a movie about real people in a real place,
where the only aliens and spaceships in sight adorn the tourist attractions in
Roswell. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
The Sony DVD contains a
“Making of” documentary, and a blooper reel. Sound and picture are good, but the
film would be even more impressive if it had been released on Blu-ray.
a 14-year cinematic hibernation, the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park roar back with
a vengeance. This fourth installment in
the franchise had a lot to get right – it had to stand alone as entertainment
for the masses who haven’t seen the 1993 original and make the series seem
fresh and relevant, while fanning the flames of awe with which we (well, most
of us anyway) hold dinosaurs. It also
had to acknowledge that today’s world is far darker, more commercial and more
cynical than 1993. Jurassic World succeeds on all counts. Instead of picking up where Jurassic 3 left
off way back when, Jurassic World creates a new narrative – the park has been
open for years and is a thriving tourist destination. But like any theme park, it needs to be
updated to keep the public coming back. Although they have herds of Triceratops, pods of Velociraptors (the
baddies in the first film) and dozens of lumbering Apatosaurus, the park owner
wants bigger, badder, “cooler”, so they’ve created a new species, “Indominus
Rex.” (It should’ve been named “Ominous
Rex” as it makes Godzilla look like the Geico Gecko.) This beast is a hybrid
consisting of genes from many different species, so when it busts out, the park
truly has a problem on its hands – only now it’s not largely empty as in the
first film, it’s packed with 20,000 guests.
human cast is led by Chris Pratt and his work in Jurassic World should propel
him into the Harrison Ford leading man zone. His character, the park’s ex-Navy animal trainer, is a true Alpha Male, stoic,
decisive and cool. (Although he could have used a touch of humor to lighten him
up.) Bryce Dallas Howard is spot on as a
driven career woman responsible for the park’s operations. She’s frazzled because not only is her enigmatic
billionaire boss (Bollywood star Irrfan Khan) on site, but also her nephews (played
by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, marking his second Spielberg project after
War of the Worlds) have arrived, expecting a VIP experience with their aunt. Complicating
matters is a shady security operator named Hoskins (a swaggering Vincent
D’Onofrio) sent by parent company InGen (remember them?) to assess the military
possibilities for the park’s “assets” (aka dinosaurs).
the film picks up speed, there are numerous nods to the series’ iconic past –
one of the control room operators is wearing an original Jurassic Park t-shirt,
which he bought off eBay. (“In mint condition they go for $300.”) As the nephews try to escape the park, they
stumble into the original visitor’s center and hotwire one of the red and white
Jeep Wranglers from the first film. The
only original cast member to return is B.D. Wong, playing the park’s genetic
scientist, coolly unaffected by all the mayhem his creations have caused.
expected, the VFX is impeccable; the dinosaurs seem as alive as their human
co-stars. The “trailer moment” when the
huge Mosasaurus lunges up from
the Sea World-like tank to devour a dangling Great White shark really was
stunning, as is the flying Dimorphodon attack and – yay! – the return of the
Colin Trevorrow keeps things moving and gives the audience what it wants the
most – dinosaurs and more dinosaurs. This CR scribe caught the Imax 3-D version,
but Jurassic World will not disappoint in any format.
had no idea what to expect when I placed the DVD for “Scobie Malone” in my
player. Scobie, played by Jack Thompson, makes his way through traffic on a
sunny day in Sydney Australia as the movie credits begin. An Olivia Newton-John
sound-alike sings the Scobie Malone title song. Scobie breaks the third wall by
looking directly at the viewer as the title appears on-screen during his drive
as an invitation to join him on his adventure. Scobie gives the thumbs up to a
motorcycle cop during his drive. He winks, nods and flirts with pretty girls on
the way to his swinging bachelor pad.
lives at “Sunrise Patios” and the entry sign proclaims SINGLES ONLY with a
placard stating: NO VACANCIES. His bachelor pad is reached through the central
courtyard containing a large patio and pool. A pretty girl in a bikini is
changing the sign reading “Nude Sunbathing Prohibited” by crossing out “prohibited”
and writing “Encouraged!” She pauses in front of Scobie who reads the sign and
smiles as he catches her tossed bikini and she dives nude into the pool. Scobie
says hi to another sunbather and greets a pretty girl in his apartment with,
“Hello-Hello” as they strip and get into bed.
you had doubts that women can’t resist Scobie, the movie’s title song makes it clear
with lyrics like, “There’s a softness in his eyes. Try to catch him if you can.
If you catch him try to hold that man. Love him yes, but don’t expect to own
Scobie Malone. He’s an angel and a devil changing all the time.” The bedding is
interrupted with a flashback as we discover that Scobie is more than just a
swinging sex-craved bachelor, but also a serious homicide detective, Sergeant
Malone. He’s investigating the murder of a woman in the Sydney Opera House. The
credits continue with a new song, “Helga’s Web,” and we learn that Helga is the
name of the murdered woman at the center of this movie.
in 1975, “Scobie Malone” is billed as “a 70s ‘Ozploitation’ murder mystery with
a sexy wink to the crime genre.” The movie makes great use of location scenes
shot at the Sydney Opera House and uses a series of flashbacks to tell Helga’s
story which includes plenty of sex weaved into the mix of blackmail, mystery
and murder. Jack Thompson is terrific as Scobie Malone and it’s a pity that the
movie did not do better financially or receive a wider release outside of
Australia. Maybe it was all about timing because a few years later Australian
films and pop music were everywhere.
plays Scobie in his unique swaggering style. While not instantly recognizable outside
of Australia, he is certainly memorable from featured parts in “Breaker
Morant,” “The Man From Snowy River,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,”
“Flesh+Blood,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones” in addition to many Australian screen and TV roles.
Morris plays Helga Brand. Morris is far less known here in America, but I’m
familiar with her from the down-under comedy TV series “Mother and Son” which
aired in Australia from 1984-1994 and played here in America on public TV. She
also appeared in the 1979 Peter Weir TV movie, “The Plumber” (better known as “The
Cars that Ate Paris”). She’s also the co-producer, co-writer and co-director of
the 2006 animated hit feature “Happy Feet.”
plays model, actress and high class prostitute Helga in “Scobie Malone.” She’s
also the mistress of the Australian Minister for Culture and blackmails him
with explicit pictures of them together. Their lives become even more
complicated when she convinces her boyfriend to blackmail a local gangster and
drug runner. Helga’s murderer is revealed in a series of flashbacks as Scobie exposes
those trapped in Helga’s web.
spite of the juxtaposition between swinging 70s bachelor Scobie Malone and
serious police detective sergeant Malone, the movie is quite entertaining and
an enjoyable slice of 1970s cop thriller with plenty of sex and nudity on the
side. In one scene, Scobie asks for advice on the case from a swimsuit-clad
woman lying next to the pool who is also an expert on photography. She eagerly
follows Scobie to his apartment and after advising him on cameras and film
exposures, she strips and heads for the bedroom.
on the novel “Helga’s Web” by Jon Cleary, this is actually the second movie based
on Cleary’s Scobie Malone book series. Rod Taylor played Scobie in the 1968
movie “Nobody Runs Forever” which was released as “The High Commissioner” in
America. The book series includes 20 novels, but to date there are only two
Scobie Malone movies.
movie, released by Australian label Umbrellas entertainment, is presented in widescreen on a region free DVD release. The picture image
is sharp and the movie sounds good with a couple artifact sounds left over from
the digital transfer. There are no extras on this bare bones release and there
are no subtitles. Overall this is a very worthwhile movie for fans of cop thrillers,
70s “Ozploitation” and fans of Scobie Malone.
"SCOBIE MALONE" is available as a region free DVD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Few actors had the screen and stage presence of Yul Brynner. There never was an actor quite like him and there hasn't been since. Like most thespians, Brynner had his share of good movies as well as those that fell considerably short of their potential. Nevertheless, the man never gave a false performance. He came across as supremely self-confidant even when he must have suspected the material he was given proved to be far below his considerable talents. Much of his self-confidence seemed to stem from an inflated ego. Robert Vaughn once told me that when Brynner arrived on the set of "The Magnificent Seven" in Mexico, he was still firmly in the King of Siam mode that had seen him win an Oscar. Vaughn said he carried himself as though he were real life royalty at all times. You didn't chat with him casually. Rather, he would grant you an audience. As Brynner's stature as a top boxoffice attraction began to wane, he returned over and over again to his signature role in stage productions of "The King and I" and found his mojo and star power were still very much intact when it came to touring in front of live audiences. His exotic look and manner of speaking were invariably intoxicating. Given Brynner's enduring legacy as a Hollywood icon it's rather surprising to remember that he had very few major hits. "The King and I" in 1956 was his star-making vehicle and his role in "The Ten Commandments", released the same year, helped build on his success. However, with the exception of the surprise success of "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960, Brynner proved to be more of a reliable boxoffice attraction than a powerhouse draw in the way that John Wayne, Cary Grant and Burt Lancaster were regarded. For most of Brynner's screen career, he top-lined in major studio releases that were relatively modest in terms of production budgets. Since this was during an era in which a decent profit for a film made it a success, Brynner remained popular for many years. By the 1970s, however, his clout had diminished considerably. He would have only one memorable big screen success during the decade- his brilliant appearance as the murderous robot in "Westworld" (1974). He would concentrate primarily on stage work until his death in 1985.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is the kind of mid-range vehicle that defined most of Brynner's career in Hollywood. Released in 1964 by Stanley Kramer's production company, the film is a perfect showcase for Brynner in that it lacked any rival star power and afforded him a smorgasbord of scene-stealing opportunities. The story opens in the wake of the Confederate surrender that marked the end of the Civil War. Matt Weaver (George Segal), a veteran of the Confederate army, is making an arduous journey home to his Texas ranch on foot through the desert. When the exhausted man finally reaches the small town he calls home, he gets a rude welcome. His ranch is now occupied by another man who claims he bought the deed from the township. Matt soon learns that he is despised by the locals because he is the only man to have served in the southern army. He is notified by the town's political kingpin, Sam Brewster (Pat Hingle), that a technicality has been used to seize ownership of his ranch. He also advises him to move on out of town because he is no longer welcome there. Matt, however, is not about to be cheated. He confronts the new owner of his house and is forced to shoot him dead in self-defense. Brewster manipulates the facts and accuses Matt of being a murderer. Matt takes possession of his ranch and uses firepower to hold off the townspeople. He is surreptitiously visited by his former lover Ruth (Janice Rule), who admits that she could no longer bear waiting for him to return from the war. She reluctantly married Crane Adams (Clifford David), a local union war veteran who lost an arm in the conflict. Since then, Crane has become an alcoholic with a violent temper and his relationship to Ruth has devolved into a loveless marriage of convenience.
Unable to lure Matt from his besieged homestead, Brewster takes the step of announcing to the town council that he will hire a gunslinger to kill him. Coincidentally, a man with the exotic name of Jules Gaspard d'Estaing overhears the offer. He is just passing through on a stagecoach ride but is immediately intrigued. d'Estaing convinces Brewster that he is a master gunfighter and demonstrates his prowess with a pistol. Brewster hires him on the spot but d'Estaing is in no hurry to carry out the mission. Instead, he sees the townspeople for what they are: cowardly hypocrites and delights in humiliating Brewster in front of them. d'Estaing is an intimidating presence to the townspeople. They can't pinpoint his ethnicity and know nothing of his background. He dresses immaculately, speak fluent French, plays the harpsichord and chain smokes Churchill cigars (though I wonder what they called them in this era before Churchill was born.) Ever provocative to his hosts, he stirs the pot even further by moving into the house of Crane and Ruth Adams. Predictably, it isn't long before Ruth is entranced by this larger-than-life man of mystery who dresses like a dandy and is highly cultured- the very opposite of her own husband and Matt. Tensions rise as Crane correctly suspects a romance may be brewing. d'Estaing insists he intends to carry out his mission to kill Matt, despite Ruth's protests, but he later makes it clear to her that he intends to manipulate the situation so that Matt is spared and Brewster is dragged down in disgrace.
The film, directed with admirable if unremarkable competence by Richard Wilson, is a slow-moving, talky affair that leads to some intelligent discussions about race relations and the horrors of bigotry. (This was, after all, a production financed by Stanley Kramer, who never heeded the old adage, "Leave the messages to Western Union!"). What saves the movie from devolving into a completely pedantic affair is the charisma of Yul Brynner. It also helps that he is playing an interesting character with a mysterious background and the revelations he makes to Ruth about his life only make him even more intriguing. This is a "thinking man's" western that touches on social issues as well as the desperate plight of women in the old West, when their survival often saw them entering dreadful marriages simply for financial security and protection. Brynner gets fine support from Janice Rule and rising star George Segal and Pat Hingle plays the town's pompous boss with appropriate, sneering superficial charm. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is by no means a classic but it does afford viewers to spend some time with Yul Brynner and that is always time well-spent.
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Here is the original trailer from John Ford's epic 1959 Civil War film "The Horse Soldiers". It's one of Ford's most under-rated titles. Even he had bad memories of the film because of the death of a veteran stuntman who imposed upon him to allow him to do a particularly dangerous scene. Ford conceded against his better judgment and the man died. Nevertheless, it's a rousing, exciting and intelligently written story- with a great soundtrack and terrific chemistry between John Wayne and William Holden, who play adversaries even though they are in the same army.
Richard Johnson (far right) in the 1963 supernatural masterpiece "The Haunting" with Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Harris.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of our friend, actor Richard Johnson, who has passed away at age 87. Johnson was a classically trained actor, having attended RADA and was also one of the founding members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His acting career was interrupted by service in the Royal Navy during WWII but Johnson resumed his profession at the end of the war. He alternated between playing small parts in feature films and leading roles in stage productions. In 1959, he got his first significant screen role starring with Frank Sinatra and young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the WWII film "Never So Few". He was initially offered the role of James Bond but turned down the opportunity. He later told Cinema Retro that he had no regrets because he felt that he would not have made the series the international success it was. He claimed that "I was so right for the part, I would have been wrong. Sean (Connery) was so wrong for the part, he turned out to be right for it." He starred in director Val Guest's underrated thriller "80,000 Suspects" in 1963. That same year he got what many consider to be his most memorable screen role as the leading man in director Robert Wise's classic chiller "The Haunting". Johnson played an academic who conducts an experiment with three other people to see if an ancient mansion house is actually haunted. The experiment meets with terrifying and tragic consequences. Johnson also had a significant role in the 1966 WWII thriller "Operation Crossbow" as well as a major co-starring role opposite Charlton Heston in "Khartoum" that same year. In 1967 he played famed detective/adventurer Bulldog Drummond in "Deadlier Than the Male", which spawned a sequel, "Some Girls Do". He teamed with Heston again in 1970 to play Cassius in the star-packed remake of "Julius Caesar". He also starred with his friend Heston in three high profile TV productions: "A Man for All Seasons", "Treasure Island" and the Sherlock Holmes film "Crucifer of Blood", in which he played Dr. Watson. Over the decades, he appeared in many top British TV series, most recently playing recurring roles in the shows "Spooks" , "Midsomer Murders", "Doc Martin" and "Silent Witness". His more recent feature film appearances include "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider", "Snoop", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" and his last film, "Radiator" which was produced in 2014. Johnson had been married several times, once to actress Kim Novak with whom he co-starred in the 1965 comedy "The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders". He is survived by his wife Lynne, who he married in 2004, and four children.
(Cinema Retro will be reflecting on the personal side of Richard Johnson in a future article.) For more click here.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:'
History Press is delighted to announce that it will be publishing Some
Kind of Hero this October.
For over 50 years, Albert R.
Broccoli’s Eon Productions has navigated the ups and downs of the volatile
British film industry, enduring both critical wrath and acclaim in equal
measure for its now legendary James Bond series. Latterly, this family-run
business has been crowned with box office gold and recognised by motion picture
academies around the world. However, it has not always been plain sailing.
Changing tax regimes forced 007 to
relocate to France and Mexico; changing fashions and politics led to box office
disappointments; and changing studio regimes and business disputes all but
killed the franchise. And the rise of competing action heroes has constantly
questioned Bond’s place in popular culture. But against all odds the filmmakers
continue to wring new life from the series, and 2012’s Skyfall saw both huge critical and commercial success, crowning 007
as the undisputed king of the action genre.
by Bond scholars Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, Some Kind of Hero is
based on over
100 new interviews
with the stars, directors, writers, filmmakers, studio executives and the men
who played James Bond. The authors have also drawn upon archives of rare and
unpublished material from around the world.
Some Kind of Hero is the culmination of many years researching and
interviewing the talented individuals
responsible for bringing the James Bond films to the screen. Authors Field and
Chowdhury commented: ‘As we delved deeper into the Bond mythos, we realised
there were many untold tales from many unsung heroes who played key creative
roles in the series. We hope that even the most devoted Bond fans will find
fascinating facets to the franchise in these pages. We have gained a new
appreciation of not only how the series was started but how that Rolls-Royce
standard has been maintained. When SPECTRE
is released later this year, we hope readers will gain some insight in yet
another chapter in the remarkable story of the James Bond films.’
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MATTHEW FIELD began his writing
career with The Making of The Italian Job.
He has since co-produced a feature length documentary about the film for
Paramount Pictures. In 2008 he penned the autobiography of Oscar-winning film
producer Michael Deeley, Blade Runners,
Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off! Field’s James Bond
journalism has appeared in Mi6
Confidential and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
He is a regular contributor to Cinema
Retro. In 2012, he served as editorial consultant on MGM’s feature length
documentary, Everything or Nothing.
Matthew currently works for a leading film-marketing agency. His most recent
feature film credits include Stephen Frears’ The Program, Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel and the Australian period drama, The Dressmaker.
CHOWDHURY was born in London and read Law at university there
and in The Netherlands. He has since provided legal advice on various motion
picture, music, publishing, television and theatrical projects. He was the
associate producer on two feature films, Lost
Dogs and Flirting with Flamenco. In
2012, he penned the screenplay to the multi-award winning, Olympic-themed
short, A Human Race. Ajay is the
spokesperson for The James Bond International Fan Club, established in 1979. He
edited their James Bond journal, Kiss
Kiss Bang Bang, and for the last two decades has contributed to numerous
books and magazines on the James Bond legacy. He is regularly called upon by
worldwide media to commentate on all things 007.
CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON UK (NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER IN THE U.S. YET)
For most of its running time, "The Sleepwalker" is a very compelling and intriguing mystery/drama. It centers on a young couple, Kaia (Gitte Witte) and her boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott), who are attempting to do major restorations on a rural house that Kaia has inherited from her father. At first glance, the two lead a normal life: they laugh, engage in minor disputes, make love and, in general, seem to be in a stable relationship. Their lives become unbalanced, however, with the unexpected arrival of Kaia's half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis), a wayward soul with a free spirit and a quirky, unsettling personality. She arrives in the dead of night and announces to Kaia that she is pregnant. Christine makes herself at home in the house she once shared with Kaiva. It becomes clear that both young women, who have different mothers, have very diverse opinions of their deceased father. Kaia is defensive of him while Christine denounces him as a bully and implies he might have engaged in abusing the girls on some level. With Christine's arrival, Kaia takes on the role of mother, as much as older sister, and tries to control Christine's unpredictable behavior and impulses. Christine is outspoken and feels free to critique those around her, regardless of how inappropriate her comments may be. Andrew is clearly disturbed by her presence and wants her out of the house as soon as possible. However, things become more complicated with the arrival of Ira (Brady Corbet), Christine's exasperated boyfriend and father of her forthcoming child. Ira is as much a parental figure to the immature Christine as he is her lover. He and Andrew take an immediate dislike to each other. Andrew, who has a blue collar background, resents the highly educated Ira for what he feels to be his condescending attitude toward him. The two men have an awkward relationship that is made even more strained by Ira and Christine's request to extend their stay at the house. The situation becomes even more tense as Kaiva tries to deal with Christine's psychological problems which include an eerie habit of sleepwalking and engaging unknowingly in shocking acts such as masturbating in front of others. Kaia is well aware of Christine's mental problems, but her obsession with protecting her seems to go beyond that of a concerned sister. In fact, the two seem almost uncomfortably close in the physical sense. They doff their clothes in front of each other and they snuggle together in the same bed in a manner that approaches a mutually erotic attraction. In terms of the group dynamics, the two young couples attempt to have fun through dancing and drinking, tensions continue to mount. The relationship between Andrew and Ira leads to a shocking act of violence that coincides with Christine's mysterious disappearance from the house. Kaia, Ira and Andrew search frantically for her and even notify the police, but it's all to no avail.
"The Sleepwalker" has many admirable aspects. It represents an impressive feature film directing debut for Mona Fastvold, who previously directed music videos. Fastvold has an eye for composing tension-filled situations and gets top performances from a supremely talented cast of largely unknown actors. The film also boasts some very impressive camerawork by Zack Galler and a haunting musical score by Sondre Loche and Kato Adland. However, it is Fastvold the screenwriter who runs into problems. Working with a script co-written by Brady Corbet, who plays Ira, the compelling story line waivers between a Gen X version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (i.e couples reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves and each other during a tension-filled evening of socializing) and a potential slasher film, as we gird ourselves for what we believe will be some unpredictable act of violence caused by Christine, who is a menacing presence throughout the film. However, the movie's merits are undermined by a completely unsatisfactory ending that leaves most of the key questions unanswered and is so ambiguous as to be incomprehensible. (After watching the final scene several times, I actually consulted other reviews of the film to see if I was simply too stupid to "get it". I found that other reviewers had the same reaction I had.) This seems to be a trend in modern movie-making: leave the audience feeling frustrated and cheated. Ambiguity in the finale of a film can be an attribute. A perfect example revolves around the motivations of the seemingly crazed music teacher played by J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash". Everyone I know who has seen it likes debating whether his final actions in the film were an act of retribution or benevolence. However, there are other films, such as "The Sleepwalker", wherein the ambiguity looks like pretentious gibberish. The movie ends so abruptly that one might suspect that the financing dried up and they had fifteen minutes in which to wrap up the entire production. By taking this tact, the screenwriters negate many of the admirable aspects of the film, which are plentiful. "The Sleepwalker" isn't the only movie to feature a completely unsatisfying ending. "No Country for Old Men" rides along brilliantly until the final scene, which appears to have been the result of a wrong reel having been inserted into the film. Up to that point, it is a brilliant piece of work but its impact is severely negated by a boring and seemingly "out-of-left-field" ending that many viewers complained left them cheated. There are numerous other films that have been indulging in this trend, which is baffling. Why would a director want to leave an audience resentful and unsatisfied, feeling that they have just wasted their time watching an otherwise admirable movie?
"The Sleepwalker" serves as a showcase for some impressive up-and-coming talent. It's too bad they didn't close the deal and produce a movie that lived up to its potential. The film has been released on DVD by MPI Home Video. The edition features a creepy original trailer and some truncated interviews with the director and cast culled from some footage shot for the film's screening at Sundance. Perhaps appropriately, the interviews- like the film itself- end too abruptly to be satisfying.
On June 16, the Warner Archive will release the 1975 screen version of Neil Simon's comedy classic "The Sunshine Boys" as a Blu-ray special edition. The film stars Walter Matthau and George Burns as Lewis and Clark, a legendary vaudeville comedy team who have not been on speaking terms since they broke up their act eleven years ago. For their work in the film, Matthau was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, George Burns won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Richard Benjamin, who co-stars as Matthau's harried nephew and agent who tries the Herculean task of reuniting the team for a television special about comedy greats, won a Golden Globe award. Cinema Retro had the opportunity to speak with Richard Benjamin about his memories of working on the film.
Cinema Retro: "The Sunshine Boys" must have had a very personal meaning to you, given the fact that your uncle, Joe Browning, was popular vaudeville entertainer.
Richard Benjamin: Not only that, but here I had grown up listening to Burns and Allen on the radio and all those shows- and in those days, parents and children listened to the same programs. So it was Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and all that. So when we were filming ""The Sunshine Boys", George Burns used to ask me to go to lunch every day, which was a thrill. One day, walking with him to the commissary, I asked, "Did you know my uncle? He was in vaudeville" and he said, "What was his name?" I said, "Joe Browning". He said, "Not only did I know him, but I know his act. Do you want to hear it?" He started to do my uncle's act! It was incredible. I mean here I am walking between sound stages with George Burns and he's doing my uncle's act. He said, "You know, he was a headliner. We weren't the headliners on some of those bills, your uncle was." It was amazing to hear all that. Obviously, the movie is a love letter to vaudeville and all those guys, so it had a lot of meaning for me.
CR: You also got to meet another legend of comedy, Stan Laurel. How did that come about?
RB: When I went to see my uncle, who lived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and 74th Street, which was a block away from where we were shooting "The Sunshine Boys", he had a one bedroom suite in his hotel. There was a trunk in the middle of the living room, right as you walked in. It was a big steamer trunk with his initials on it: "JB", and the "J" and the "B" were intertwined, you know the way they would do that? He was ready to go! If he got a call, he was ready. So anyway, years and years later, my friend who I went to Northwestern with was out here at UCLA doing a master's thesis on Laurel and Hardy. One day he said to me, "I'm going out to interview Stan Laurel. Do you want to come?" I said, "Are you kidding?" So he and I went out there. Stan Laurel and his wife were in a six story apartment building facing the ocean in Santa Monica. This was a place that Jerry Lewis had put them into because they evidently had no money at all. People never knew it but Lewis did things like this, but he never broadcast it. He set them up in that apartment. When we got there, there was a buzzer downstairs and my friend Jerry buzzed it. A voice came on and said, "Yes? (imitates Stan Laurel). We told him who were were and he said, "Come right up!" I thought, "My God! Through this little speaker, I'm hearing Stan Laurel! This is unbelievable!". So we went upstairs and there in the center of his living room is his trunk with the "S" and the "L" intertwined. He was ready to go, too, just like my uncle. Those guys had a motto: "Have Trunk, Will Travel". It was life to them.
CR: Prior to working on "The Sunshine Boys", you already had a working relationship with Neil Simon...
RB: Yes, they were casting the national company of "Barefoot in the Park" with Myrna Loy. Fortunately, a friend of mine who I went to school with, Penny Fuller, said she was understudying Elizabeth Ashley. I mean, listen to how these things work...She asked if I was reading for the national company. I said, "For what?" I didn't know anything about it. She said, "Your agent didn't tell you about it?" I said, "No". So I called my agent at that time and asked, "Can you get me a reading for this? I'm really right for it." He said, "Oh, Oh, sure...that's a good idea." But it never would have happened had Penny not told me. So I went in there and I did a scene- actually I did it with Penny- and Mike Nichols was casting it. I had never met him but I recognized his laugh from his comedy records with Elaine May. After the reading, he came up to me and said, "Well, that's fine." I didn't know what that meant. When I was walking out, my agent was there and he said, "You've got it! They're casting you!". So that was my introduction to Neil, through being cast in the national company. Then he and Mike cast me in the national company of "The Odd Couple" with Dan Dailey. Then Neil asked me to do "Star Spangled Girl" with Tony Perkins on Broadway. So there was a ten minute audition and I'm working for three years and doing all these other things with Neil. I mean, if Penny didn't tell me that, I don't know if you and I would be talking today. You could just miss something by inches, you know? That's the thing about this business. You really never, never know. Anything you plan on never happens but something else happens.
CR: Prior to filming, you had also worked previously with director Herbert Ross on "The Last of Sheila" (1973).That must have put you into a pretty good comfort zone going into "The Sunshine Boys".
RB: Yes, I was. Also the material was just fabulous and funny. Being with Herb again was great.
CR: Jerry Lewis always said of Dean Martin that being the straight man was the hardest job in all of comedy. In the film, you're the straight man between Walter Matthau and George Burns. You obviously found the formula for not overshadowing the stars while not being overshadowed yourself, especially since you won the Golden Globe for your performance.
RB: You couldn't be in a better environment. I mean, all these people and the experience they all had. With that material and being at MGM and having everything that you needed, it was pretty special- and I knew it at the time. I was grateful to be in it. It was really great and Herb was terrific.
CR: As you know, neither Walter Matthau or George Burns were originally envisioned for the film. Phil Silvers had auditioned for the role of Willy that Matthau ended up playing and Jack Benny had been signed to play Al but he dropped out when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. (Screen tests and make up test of Silvers and Benny appear on the Warner Archive's Blu-ray release of the film.) I presume you weren't involved with the production in these early stages...
RB: No, no, I wasn't. I saw on this new Blu-ray those tests but I wasn't on the film at that time.
CR: When George Burns took over the Jack Benny role, you, Matthau and Herb Ross got together with him to go over an initial reading of the script. Can you relate what that experience was like, especially since Burns hadn't made a movie in over thirty years?
RB: His character doesn't appear until about fifteen or twenty pages into the script. So he was just sitting there, kind of looking off into the distance. We were wondering why he hadn't opened his script. It was right in front of him in a folder. Well, we're flipping pages and reading and every once in a while we would look over at George and think, "Well, he should be opening that pretty soon." Then we started to worry that maybe he was just out of it and didn't quite know what was happening here. He didn't touch the script. He was just staring out the window. Finally, we got to his first page and we thought, "If he doesn't open it now, it's going to be kind of sad." I had the line before his so I said my line and without missing a beat he said his line. Then he said the next line, then next and next and next and next. He was just ripping those lines out there. He's not missing anything and he's very funny. So Walter says, "Wait a second! What the hell is this???" So George said, "Aren't you supposed to learn the script?" Walter said, "Yeah, yeah- but you don't have to learn the whole thing!" So George said, "Well, don't you know your lines?" I thought, "We're in for it now! We'd better be on our toes because there's no fooling around with him!"
CR: I understand you were on the set every day, even when you weren't required.
RB: Yes, because George wanted to go to lunch with me every day.
CR: As a native New Yorker, you must have appreciated all the locations that were used in the film.
RB: It was right where I grew up. But the scenes in Willy's apartment were a set. We shot that in California.
CR: It's really a terrific piece of work. It really looks like an apartment, right down to the set decorations. Al Brenner, the production designer, did a great job.
RB: Yes, that's the brilliance of Brenner and people like him. He was just fabulous. I think the lobby was the Ansonia in New York but the apartment was all a set. It was a tremendous amount of work. You know, the play is set all in the apartment except for the scene where they go to the variety show. The New York locations were great- like going to the Friars Club and the street scenes and Willy going to that garage when he is lost and where we shot the commercial for Frumpy's potato chips.
CR: I never realized F. Murray Abraham was in the garage scene.
RB: Yes, he was the mechanic who gives Willy directions.
CR: He was a decade away from winning a Best Actor Oscar for "Amadeus".
RB: I know. Isn't that incredible?
CR: A unique aspect of the film is that there is no musical score.
RB: Only that vaudeville scene that opens the credits- and then I think there's something at the end, but there is no music throughout the film. That's because nothing needs to be emotionally enhanced. It's all real.
CR: As an established director in your own right, don't you find it fascinating that there was a time when you could make a major commercial film that contained so many long sequences of nothing but dialogue?
RB: It would be a challenge to find actors who could do it. We had Walter from the stage and George from vaudeville who could both do long, long takes. What's great about that is that you build up power during those takes. It's like being out on a wire because if anybody screws up, you have to go back to the beginning. Stage actors love the challenge but there are other actors who can't do it. They can only little short things. You don't trust anybody when all they can do is all those little quick cuts because it's not life real life.
CR: It must have pleased you when the film opened at Radio City Music Hall.
RB: It was great because my wife's (Paula Prentiss) first picture, "Where the Boys Are", opened there. That was the first time I saw her on the screen. That was- and maybe still is- the biggest screen in the world. The theater seats thousands so it was quite something. Having grown up in New York and having walked past that theater my entire life and then having all that happen was thrilling. It's still thrilling to me.
CR: You've said that "The Sunshine Boys" is a valuable filmed record of a bygone era - vaudeville- that might otherwise be forgotten.
RB: I don't know if people even know what that era is any more. Those people lived more on stage than off. They did eight shows a day, seven days a week. They were on the road for fifty weeks or something like that. They knew audiences better than anybody because of that tremendous experience. There's nothing like it today. What gives anybody that kind of experience? But Neil wrote an extraordinary play. He's quite extraordinary. I think it was Walter Kerr who once said about Neil, "Yes, they are jokes but why they are so funny is because the truth is in them."
CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER "THE SUNSHINE BOYS" BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON. (AVAILABLE ON JUNE 16)
(Thanks to Carol Samrock of Carl Samrock Public Relations for her assistance in arranging this interview.)
The Warner archive has released the 1972 crime comedy "Every Little Crook and Nanny" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film boasts an impressive cast with Lynn Redgrave top-lined as Miss Poole, a comically stereotypical prim and proper young British woman of good manners who operates an etiquette school for boys and girls. When she is evicted so that the school can be utilized as a site for nefarious doings by crime kingpin Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), Miss Poole is facing destitution and the loss of her livelihood. When she goes to Ganucci to explain her plight, she is mistaken for one of many young women who are applying to be the crime lord's family nanny. He is instantly smitten by her good manners and eloquent speech and hires her on the spot. Miss Poole devises a plan to take advantage of the situation. She accepts the position and is soon regarded as an indispensable employee of Ganucci and his wife Stella (Margaret Blye). It seems Miss Poole is the only one who can control the couple's independent-minded, pre-pubescent son Lewis (Phillip Graves.). The kid is a real handful. He's sassy, sometimes arrogant and not prone to following orders, even though he seems to idolize his father for being a feared Mafia don. When Carmine and Stella leave for a romantic vacation in Italy, Miss Poole enacts an audacious plot to stage a phony kidnapping of Lewis in the hopes that she can extort just enough money from Carmine ($50,000) to reopen her etiquette school in another location. To carry out the scheme she enlists her former piano player at the school, Luther (Austin Pendleton) to pose as the kidnapper. The perpetually tense, nerdy young man bungles virtually every aspect of the caper but manages to get Lewis back to his apartment, where the young "victim" forms an instant bond with Luther's doting wife Ida (Mina Kolb), who not only views Lewis as the child she always wanted but uses his presence to chastise her husband for their sexless marriage. Meanwhile, Miss Poole reports the kidnapping to one of Carmine's low-level mob guys, Benny Napkins (Paul Sand). Benny is less-than-happy about being chosen to help Miss Poole deal with the kidnap situation, especially since he knows Carmine will have him murdered if Lewis is not returned safely. Miss Poole assures him that, if they can devise a ruse to get Carmine to send the $50,000 to them, they can retrieve Lewis before Carmine even realizes a kidnapping has occurred. To carry out this aspect of the plot, she goes to Carmine's lawyers (Dom DeLuise and John Astin), who immediately realize that their lives are on the line if they don't get Lewis back safely. An unexpected plot device is introduced wherein Carmine, oblivious to his son's fate, enters a deal with some minor criminals in Italy that requires payment of a sum of money that coincidentally equals the ransom demand. From this point, everyone gets confused (including the viewer) as the main characters scramble about, often working against each other's interests in order to save Lewis as well as their own lives. One of the more off-the-wall elements of the film is dual personality of Miss Poole, who generally acts like a dowdy Mary Poppins-like personality, but who is willing to drop her knickers in order to keep Benny Napkins in line.
The cleverest aspect of the film is it's witty title. Unfortunately, the screenplay, based on the novel by Evan Hunter, doesn't carry through on a promising scenario despite (or because of) the fact that it was developed by three writers. The director, veteran screenwriter Cy Howard, who had enjoyed a recent success with Lovers and Other Strangers, keeps the pace brisk and sometimes frantic, and gets spirited performances from a fine cast (Austin Pendleton is most amusing). However, the film never delivers the belly laughs the scenario seems to promise and the movie ends up being more likable than genuinely funny. The DVD includes an original trailer that amusingly plays up the return of Victor Mature as a leading man ("The ORIGINAL Victor Mature!"). Mature, who hit it big in the 1940s and 1950s, had only appeared sporadically on film in the decade prior to this movie. The film does afford him a rare opportunity to show off his skills with light comedy, and he delivers a very funny performance.
Star Vista/Time Life has released "The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" as a six-DVD collection. The following is the official press release:
had a better eye for talent than Ed Sullivan. That simple fact was confirmed by
the broad range of incredible acts he brought into America's living rooms from
his Broadway stage between 1948 and 1971 on the greatest, longest-running prime
timevariety show in the history of television. This May, StarVista
Entertainment/Time Life will bring home audiences front row seats for THE
BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, a 6-disc collector's set never before
available at retail. Priced to add to every TV aficionado's collection at
$59.95srp, the special edition
release delivers the biggest names in music, comedy and variety captured in the
prime of their careers, as well as all the astonishing novelty acts selected by
Ed as his personal favorites, culled from over 1,000 hours of classic
Alan King famously said,"Ed Sullivan can't sing, can't dance and can't
tell a joke, but he does it better than anyone else." And while the
host of the eponymous show may not have been as talented as his guests, he had
an uncanny ability to spot top-notch talent and welcomed everyone to his
stage: politicians, poets, sports idols, Broadway stars, musicians -- be they
rock, classical, jazz, opera, gospel, pop, rhythm and blues -- as well as
comedians, novelty acts, children's entertainment legends, and acts that defied
label. Sullivan filled his weekly showcase with something for everyone,
and he was so successful at it that he became America's most powerful cultural
arbiter. Presiding over many "firsts" on American
television, including appearances by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny,
Hank Williams, Jr., Itzhak Perlman and Harry Belafonte, Sullivan is probably
best remembered for bringing us Elvis Presley's three historic
appearances in 1956/'57, and the Beatles' three earth-shattering
performances in 1964.
23-year run, The Ed Sullivan Show presented a remarkable array
of over 10,000 performers and celebrities, including the most spectacular
ensemble of stars in show business and THE BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
reflects that across 6 carefully curated DVDs: "Unforgettable Performances,"
"The All-Star Comedy Special," "World's Greatest Novelty
Acts," "Amazing Animal Acts," the "50th Anniversary
Special" and an exclusive bonus disc never before available at
retail. The collection includes:
·Rare appearances by Barbra Streisand, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr.,
Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire and more
·Rock 'n' roll's greatest -- including Elvis Presley, The Beatles,
Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Janis Joplin and more
·Comedic talents Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Rodney
Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Joan
Rivers, the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and more
·Classic Broadway performances from My Fair Lady, Man
of la Manchaand West Side Story
·The best of the daring acrobats, challenging balancing acts and
dexterous jugglers-selected by Ed as his personal favorites
·Zippy the roller-skating chimp, Heidi the Talking Dog, the
legendary Lipizzaner stallions and more than a dozen other amazing animal acts
·Sullivan in a rare comic sketch with comedy legends Lucille Ball
and Desi Arnaz
This historic DVD set contains over 2 hours of special bonus
features, including the only surviving on-camera interview with Ed and Sylvia
Sullivan, exclusive interviews with Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller, Shari Lewis,
Johnny Mathis, Michelle Phillips, Joan Rivers, Smokey Robinson, Señor Wences,
Flip Wilson and more.
of military movies will appreciate “Screaming Eagles” which purports to tell
the “Blazing Untold Story of the 101st Airborne’s HELL RAIDERS!” Unlike the
many years later fact-based exploits told in the “Band of Brothers” mini-series,
this 1956 movie offers a more personal and brief fictional account of Company D
in the days leading up to and after D-Day.
movie offers the usual war movie clichés that typify the war movie genre. We
meet the main characters in a roll call during a practice jump in the opening
credits. The men are identified as members of fifteenth paratroopers of Company
D, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
story begins in England, June 1944, and three replacement soldiers arrive to
join “Dog” Company days before the Normandy Invasion of France. The
replacements meet Sgt. Forrest, played by Pat Conway, and Lt. Pauling, played
by Jan Merlin. The Lieutenant welcomes the new guys with a pep talk while Sgt.
Forrest singles out Pvt. Mason as trouble and makes it clear that he has to be
a part of the team. Pvt. Mason, played by Tom Tryon, has a chip on his shoulder
and quickly establishes himself as a hot-head. Martin Milner plays Pvt.
Corliss, one of the other replacements and Mason’s buddy.
Mason receives a “Dear John” letter and knocks over the other guy’s equipment
after getting drunk. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, the men reach out to Sgt.
Forrest who talks with Lt. Pauling. Forrest wants Mason out, but the benevolent
platoon commander gives Mason a second chance after talking with the men of “Dog”
Company. Mason screws up during a practice jump and the mistrust lingers
throughout the rest of the movie.
landing in France, the men discover they have missed their drop zone and their objective
by several miles. They hike through German occupied France and make their way
to the bridge which they have to take and hold in order to prevent German
advances to the Normandy landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. The men are
ordered to hold their fire so they don’t attract unwanted German attention. A
German soldier spots Lt. Pauling and Mason kills him with his knife as the
German gets off a shot which starts a fire-fight. Lt. Pauling is blinded in the
aftermath of the firefight by a wounded German soldier and Mason becomes Pauling’s
take a German occupied farmhouse and befriend Marianne, a French woman played
by Jacqueline Beer. They capture a German radio operator, but none of the men
speak German. Marianne speaks German, but does not speak English. Conveniently,
the blinded Lt. Pauling speaks French and they begin a series of misinformation
communications via radio to redirect the Germans away from the bridge. The men
of “Dog” Company make their way through a village and several fire-fights on
their way to the bridge with the aid of Marianne.
was an early movie in the careers of Martin Milner and Tom Tryon. Tryon may be best remembered from such movies as “I Married a Monster
From Outer Space,” “The Story of Ruth,” “The Longest Day,” “Moon Pilot,” “The
Cardinal,” “In Hams Way” “The Glory Guys” and many TV roles. He also had a
prominent role in the uncompleted Marilyn Monroe movie, “Something’s Got To
Give.” He also became a bestselling author.
is probably best remembered as the star of two iconic TV series during the 60s
and 70s. He starred in “Route 66” from 1960-64 and played Officer Pete Malloy
during the seven season run of “Adam-12” from 1968-75. He also featured in the
movies “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Halls of Montezuma,” “Operation Pacific,”
“Destination Gobi,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Sweet Smell of Success,”
“Valley of the Dolls” and appeared in just about every TV series during the 50s
and 60s including “Twilight Zone” and a return as Captain Pete Malloy in the
brief 1989-91 series “The New Adam-12.”
Beer was Miss France in 1954 and married to adventurer/director/ writer Thor Heyerdahl.
She had small roles in several prominent Hollywood movies including “The
Buccaneer” (1958), “Pillow Talk,” “The Prize” and “Made in Paris” as well as appearances
in several TV series.
movie also features Alvy Moore, who is probably best
remembered by fans of “Green Acres” as Hank Kimball, Joe di Reda, Mark Damon,, Paul
Burke, Robert Blake and Ralph Votrian.
the use of American surplus vehicles painted up as German vehicles and post-
WWII aircraft used as stand-ins for planes of the era may be distracting to
nitpickers like myself, most viewers will likely not notice. Overall, there’s a
nice attention to detail and good use of archive combat footage. The German’s
speak German and the German radio
operator, played by Werner Klingler, is also credited as the technical advisor
for the German military.
was directed by long-time Hollywood contract director Charles F. Haas and was
released by Allied Artists in May 1956. The black and white widescreen image
looks terrific and the movie sounds great, landing at a swift 81 minutes
running time. There are no extras on this bare-bones burn-to-order DVD via the
Warner Archive Collection but this is a welcome edition for war movie fans.
One of the most rewarding byproducts of reviewing movies for a living is that you will often encounter some prominent gem that somehow managed to escape your attention previously. In certain cases, it's arguable that a film might well be more appreciated many years later than it was during its initial release. Such a case pertains to the 1965 crime drama Once a Thief. Directed by the under-rated Ralph Nelson, the film successfully invokes the mood and atmosphere of the classic black-and-white film noir crime thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s. Although this movie was widely credited as being Alain Delon's first starring role in an English language production, he was among the all-star cast seen the previous year in the big budget Hollywood production of The Yellow Rolls Royce. It is accurate to say, however, that Once a Thief afforded him his first opportunity to be the male lead in a major American film. The film was also significant in that it provided Ann-Margret with her first opportunity to show her skills as a dramatic actress. Her meteoric rise to fame had resulted from her roles in the musicals State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and, most recently, opposite Elvis Presley in the smash hit Viva Las Vegas. In 1964, she made her dramatic film debut in Kitten with a Whip playing a deceitful "bad girl" in a film so bad it ultimately ended up being "honored" as a segment on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Another dramatic role the same year in The Pleasure Seekers was similarly unimpressive. However, 1965 proved to be her breakout year in terms of earning critical respect with back-to-back impressive performances in Bus Riley's Back in Town, Once a Thief and The Cincinnati Kid. Over the course of a few years, Ann-Margret would prove she was much more than just a talented singer and dancer. The decision to team her with Alain Delon proved to be an inspired one, as they practically smolder on screen together.
The film opens in a hip jazz club. Over the credits, we watch an astounding drum solo by Russell Lee, the likes of which had not been seen on screen until last year's Whiplash. The viewer is immediately impressed by the camerawork of veteran cinematographer Robert Burks, who had shot numerous Hitchcock classics in the 1950s and, most recently, The Birds and Marnie. The crowd at the jazz club indicates before we even see an exterior shot that we are in a very progressive place. At a time when the American South was still deeply embroiled in attempting to practice segregation, we see that the customers of the jazz club consist of both black and white patrons, all grooving almost hypnotically to an African American musician, whose drum solo almost transcends what seems to be humanly possible. We soon learn that we are in San Francisco, the American city that would most prominently embrace the on-going cultural revolution. The scene quickly shifts to a couple of thugs who rob a liquor store and needlessly murder its owner, a middle-aged Chinese woman, in front of her horrified husband. The scene switches again, as we are introduced to Eddie Pedlak (Delon), a handsome young immigrant from Trieste who drives the same classic sports car and wears the same sheepskin coat that were identified with the gunman in the liquor store robbery. Still, if Eddie is hiding his participation in such a heinous crime, he is able to put on the ultimate poker face. He eagerly greets his gorgeous wife Kristine (Ann-Margret) and their young daughter Kathy (Tammy Locke). Although they live in a modest apartment in a poor neighborhood, Eddie is eager to show his wife and daughter a major investment he has just made. Driving them to the bay area, Eddie proudly brings them aboard a small private boat that he says he has just managed to put a down payment on. When Kristine asks how he could afford to do so, he says he had been secretly squirreling away money from his modest paycheck as a truck driver. Yet, the viewer is suspicious. We have just seen a man who seemed to match Eddie's description rob a liquor store. Could the funds have come from those ill-gotten gains? Veteran detective Mike Vido (Van Heflin) certainly thinks so. He is convinced that Eddie is the man who once shot him in the stomach some years earlier when he attempted to thwart a robbery that was in progress. Since then he has haunted Eddie and refused to believe that he has gone straight. Vido is convinced Eddie was the man behind the liquor store robbery and murder, though his boss, Lt. Kebner (Jeff Corey), chides Vido for allowing his personal obsession with nailing Eddie for a crime to cloud his better judgment.
For much of the screenplay by Zekial Marko, who adapted the script from his own novel, the story plays like a modern version of Hugo's Les Miserables, with Eddie as the Jean Valjean character- a once minor criminal now trying to go straight- and Vido as the relentless detective Javert, who is determined to prove he is still engaged in illegal activities. Marko's script rings with a feel for street life and has an authenticity not found in most crime movies of this era. (Marko also turns in a sterling supporting performance as a career criminal who is acquainted with Eddie.) Vido's constant harassment of Eddie costs the young man several jobs, including his latest occupation as a trucker. In the film's most poignant sequence, he applies for unemployment insurance and must deal with an emotionless bureaucrat who tries to deny him benefits based on his criminal past. It's a moving and very emotional sequence and it's superbly played by Delon, who demonstrates that Eddie is a man at the end of his rope. The film takes an unexpected turn when he is acquitted of the liquor store robbery/murder, but his career is in ruins and he is distraught at his inability to provide for his family. Against his wishes, Kristine takes a night job as a waitress. This being 1965, Eddie is shamed by the fact that his wife has become the family breadwinner. He barely tolerates the situation until he learns that Kristine is actually employed by a nightclub and is being forced to pose as a single woman and wear a revealing uniform. He goes into a rage and forces her to quit. Their once happy marriage is now a shambles. At this point, fate intervenes with the unwelcome appearance of Eddie's older brother Walter (Jack Palance) who tries to enlist him in a major robbery of platinum from an industrial complex where Eddie recently worked. Walter estimates the haul to be worth over a million dollars but he and his sleazy henchmen need Eddie's knowledge of the place. At first Eddie heeds Kristine's pleas not to get sucked back into the world of crime, but with financial pressure building and no prospects for a legitimate job, he reluctantly consents to help plan the caper. The latter part of the film depicts the enactment of the plan, which is imaginatively staged and is filled with suspense. As these things generally turn out in crime movies, the robbery is a success, but double crosses between Walter and his henchmen prove to have disastrous consequences. Eddie finds himself marked for death and must enlist the most unlikely of allies- Detective Vido- when he learns that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom until he turns the platinum over to his former partners.
Once a Thief offers a treasure trove of superior performances. In addition to Delon's impressive work, Ann-Margret excels as the young wife and mother who simply wants a "normal" life. We see her transformed from a happy-go-lucky woman who is both a doting mom and vibrant woman with a healthy love life (she is married to Alain Delon, after all) to a nerve-wracked emotional basket case who must cope with her husband being marked for death even as he frantically promises to get back their kidnapped daughter. Van Heflin brings understated dignity to the role of the world-weary detective and Palance does what Palance did best: play a charismatic heavy. The real scene-stealer is character actor John Davis Chandler as Walter's chief henchman, James Sargatanas. He is creepy to look at, with a slim build, premature white hair and omnipresent sun glasses. He resembles the guys from the hit team played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers - - only he's somehow even more menacing than those psychopaths were. This should have been a star-making role for Chandler, but it was not to be. Another familiar face among the crooks is Tony Musante, who would go on to appear in many memorable crime flicks. A special word about young Tammy Locke, who plays Kathy. She was only six years old when she appeared in the film and gave an amazingly accomplished performance. Director Nelson always possessed a skill at emphasizing the human aspects of his films and this one is no exception. You care deeply about the protagonists and their individual dilemmas. The film ratchets up the suspense in the final moments and Nelson manages to avoid a cliched happy ending.
The Warner Archive DVD boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original trailer and a very interesting production short in which we see composer Lalo Schifrin discussing with Ralph Nelson his theories for scoring the film. During an era in which film composers were largely taken for granted, it's nice to see the spotlight on Schifrin, who has been responsible for some of the most memorable TV and film scores of all time. Put this title on your "must-have" list.
Most cinema scholars not only cite Alfred
Hitchcock’s 1960 masterwork Psycho as
the start of the modern horror film, but also its iconic shower scene as the
beginning of a new level of acceptability of violent content in cinema. Over
the next few years, violence (and gore) would escalate in genre films such as
the Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter-fests Blood
Feast (1963) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).
By the end of the decade, George Romero’s excellent zombie-munching classic, Night of the Living Dead (1968), as well
as non-horror masterpieces like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), left no doubt in the minds of cinemagoers
that they were in a new era of in-your-face, cinematic violence and gore. As
far as horror movies go, the trend continued throughout the 1970s with now
legendary films such as Wes Craven’s The Last
House on the Left (1972), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Romero’s Night
of the Living Dead sequel, the ultra-gory, semi-satirical zombie masterpiece
Dawn of the Dead (1978). As the 1980s began, most horror films
were copying the structure of John Carpenter’s phenomenal 1978 classic, Halloween, but, due to being incapable
of duplicating that film’s expertly- mounted suspense, they instead added Dawn’s grisly effects. By 1981, horror
fans expected to see plenty of blood and guts on the big screen, so almost
every genre film released during that time happily obliged. Not all horror
movies took this approach, however. For instance, there was an Australian-made
film that deviated from the current violent trend and, instead, went for more
cerebral scares. That film was called The
After miraculously walking away unscathed
from a plane crash that killed almost 300 innocent passengers, 747 pilot Captain
Keller (Jesus of Nazareth’sRobert Powell), in an attempt to
discover exactly what caused the crash and why he was the only one to survive, joins
forces with a psychic named Hobbs (Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run and An American
Werewolf in London) who strongly feels the restless spirits of the newly
Directed by accomplished British actor
David Hemmings (Blow-Up, Barbarella, Deep
Red), The Survivor is an
adaptation of a story of the same name by famed horror novelist James Herbert (whose
first novel, The Rats,was also adapted into a movie; 1983’s Deadly Eyes). The supernatural chiller,
which co-stars Australian actress Angela Punch-McGregor (The Island) and, in his final role, Hollywood legend Joseph Cotton
(Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Shadow of a
Doubt), was produced by Antony I. Ginnane (Snapshot, Dead Kids and Harlequin,
which also stars Robert Powell as well as David Hemmings). The $1, 200, 000
budgeted film also features a wonderful, but unusual soundtrack by talented
composer Brian May (Mad Max, Road Games and
the Ginnane-produced Patrick) and contains
an interesting story, powerful acting, beautiful daytime cinematography by
Academy Award-winning director of photography John Seale (The English Patient),as
well as impressive and somewhat frightening imagery (although, it would have
benefitted from a few more creepy images, atmospheric sequences and a clearer
narrative; not to mention slightly speeding up the pace).
So, was the idea to do a more psychological
horror film the way to go or should the filmmakers have gone ahead and added
the excessive gore that was demanded by horror audiences at the time? I have to
say that, artistically, the filmmakers, without a doubt, made the right
decision. It’s difficult to imagine this very suggestive movie soaked in bloody
effects as the gore would seem out of place and make the film feel extremely
unbalanced. However, The Survivor’s failure
at the box office was mostly due to it not packing enough of a bloody punch
that 1981 audiences demanded, so, in a business sense, I suppose the no-gore
decision was a bad one. Still, I’m glad the decision was made. Although by no
means a horror classic, The Survivor is
a well-made and evocative thriller that, almost 35 years after its release, can
finally be appreciated for what it is and not panned for refusing to meet
audience demands of its time.
The Survivor has been released
on DVD by the fine folks at Scorpion Releasing. The film is presented in its
original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although the night scenes are a tad too dark
and the film contains very minor scratching, the movie is otherwise extremely
sharp and more than watchable. Special features include a humorous and
informative introduction by Scorpion DVD hostess (and former WWE diva/TNA
knockout) Katarina Leigh Waters as well as an interesting and eye-opening audio
commentary by producer Antony I. Ginnane (moderated by Katarina) who talks
about, among many other subjects, David Hemmings’ visual style and the reasons
as to why the film was originally cut down prior to its release (the version
here is the full 98 minute cut). The disc also contains the original theatrical
trailer as well as trailers for a plethora of other great Scorpion releases
such as Mortuary, The Devil Within Her,
Don’t Answer the Phone and Final Exam.
If you’re looking for a moody, adult and more cerebral horror film, give The Survivor a whirl.
Robert Mandel's F/X is one of the
most entertaining and compulsively watchable thrillers of 1986. I originally
caught up with it on VHS and, while I was impressed with the film, the ending I
found to be both hokey and frustrating, mostly due to the completely
out-of-place 1982 song “Just an Illusion” by Imagination that plays over the
end credits. I felt that it undermined all that preceded it. However, like William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA (1985) and David
Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), F/X is a film that would only grow on me
after subsequent repeated viewings. I learned to forgive the inclusion of this
song as the final minutes should really be viewed as a visual pun on the film’s
overall theme, which begs the question “What is real and what is fiction?”
F/X, which was released on Friday, February 7, 1986, is also
sometimes known as Murder by Illusion. It gives us Rollie Tyler (played expertly by
Bryan Brown) as a master special-effects movie wizard who is approached by a
group of people who claim to be from the Justice Department and have a unique
offer for him. They want him to stage a fake assassination of Nicholas De Franco
(Jerry Orbach), a reputed mobster who is about to testify against his friends
just before entering the Witness Relocation Program. Naturally, they want to
give the impression that De Franco is dead before the real-life mobsters can
get to him first as a contract has been put out on his life. Rollie, whose
apartment is adorned with posters of Zombie
(1979) and Fade to Black (1980) and effects
prosthetics made for movies, is initially very hesitant, and when he refuses
their offer he is told that they will now go back to his biggest competitor to
do the job. He then asks them to give him 24 hours to think about it, and the
carrot at the end of the proverbial stick proves to be a very strong catalyst.
After setting up mobster De Franco, the fake assassination, which is similar to Michael Corleone’s hit on Virgil Sollazzo and Captain McCluskey, goes off
without a hitch (the notion of the Witness Protection Program, as it is known
today, is now common thanks to Goodfellas
(1990) and The Sopranos (1999-2007),
but back then it was virtually unheard of). Unfortunately for Rollie, the truth
about what he has just done is about to be revealed to him when he is suddenly
thrust into an unbelievable chain of events that he himself, despite his
stature in an industry that prides itself on make-believe, probably never could
the film may not seem very original nearly 30 years later, it still holds up
remarkably well for the material. One of the things that truly bolsters this
film from its intended origins (a low-budget made-for-TV movie) is the casting.
Bryan Brown is terrific as the special-effects man and Diane Venora, an actress
who is seen far too little these days, is equally likable as his
actress/girlfriend. Mason Adams, best known to American audiences in his role
as the managing editor in TV’s Lou Grant,
shines as the mastermind behind De Franco’s exodus from society. The real
fireworks begin however, with the introduction of Leo McCarthy (the phenomenal
Brian Dennehy), a police lieutenant who, along with his partner Mickey (Joe
Grifasi), is assigned to the case. The banter between Leo and Mickey takes on a
Mutt and Jeff dynamic as they try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Czechoslovakian cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, who sadly passed away in March
of 2015, does a beautiful job lensing F/X,
taking what quite possibly could have been just an average “B” thriller and
elevating it to a highly cinematic “A” feature. Also on board is the late veteran character actor Trey Wilson from Raising Arizona (1987) and Miss Firecracker (1989). Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon on Sesame Street, appears here in the only
role that I have seen him in outside of that beloved children’s show.
F/X was filmed during the summer of 1985 and is a bit jarring
to watch now due to the complete and total absence of cell phones, computer
equipment that looks like it stems from the Stone Age and all of the Titanic-sized
American vehicles on the road. One scene shows a car plow through a series of
posters advertising Rambo: First Blood
Part II, which drives home (no pun intended of course) the make-believe
nature of moviemaking with its tongue-in-cheek in-joke and is also a nice nod
to Brian Dennehy, who fought Rambo in that series’ first film. I cannot say enough about Bill Conti’s score
which is a fully realized work, complete with an orchestra, the sort that you
don’t really see much of in movies nowadays, and it fits this movie like a
glove. From the film’s opening over the
Orion Pictures logo to the love theme to the cat-and-mouse chase through
Central Park to the spectacular car chase through Manhattan, this score can
easily be enjoyed on its own merits.
transfer of this film on Blu-ray is a considerable improvement over the
original VHS tape which was murky and plagued by issues related to the
inclusion of the Macrovision anti-copying code. The multiple laser disc releases and DVD releases were not much better,
but Kino Lorber has done an admirable job of releasing the film this time
around. There is some film gain apparent
in the darker scenes, but nothing terribly distracting. The extras on the Blu-ray consist of an
interview with director Robert Mandel (14:00) wherein he discusses the pleasure
he had in making the film and how he didn’t feel qualified to helm the job due
to his lack of experience directing thrillers or action films, though producer
Dodi Fayed, who died in 1997 in the car crash that killed Princess Diana, felt
otherwise. On the basis of Mr. Mandel’s
1983 drama Independence
which to this day has yet to be released by the Warner Archive, he was hired to
make the characters human and real. The
director comes across as affable and appreciative of those who contributed to
making the film.
The Making of F/X is a featurette that also runs 14
minutes in length and was shot during the film’s production, presumably to drum
up interest at the 1985 San Diego Comic Con , as actor Brown addresses the
camera and makes reference to a “convention”. Behind-the-scenes documentaries and fan conventions abound today, but 30
years ago there was very little information outside of Fangoria magazine that could illustrate how special make-up effects
were actually accomplished. Carl
Fullerton, the special makeup supervisor who now has over 70 film credits to
his name, provides his expertise to convince the audience of Rollie’s
role. John Stears, who won Oscars for
his work on Thunderball (1965) and Star Wars (1977), talks about the four
instances that he himself was approached by reputed mobsters to do what Rollie
does in the film. Apparently, these were
four offers that he did refuse (sorry, couldn’t resist). Terry Rawlings, a veteran of some of Ridley
Scott’s best work, is also on board as the editor and keeps the film moving
along at a brisk pace with great match shots and visual and aural segues.
out the extras are theatrical trailers for F/X
and the sequel from 1991, F/X 2
which, to me, looks like a Hollywood production, and is a film that I have not
Venora utters a prophetic line at the beginning of the film: “Nobody cares
about making movies about people anymore. All they care about are special
effects.” That seems to be true of
movies more now than ever before.
Rydell’s 1979 rock ‘n’ roll drama, The
Rose, made Bette Midler a star. While she had already done theatre, some
television, and live musical acts, as well as uncredited or tiny bits in some
films, Midler broke through to the mainstream with this picture and earned a
Best Actress Oscar nomination. There were many who felt that Midler should have
won the statue (Sally Field snagged the award for Norma Rae). The point is arguable, for Midler indeed displayed top-notch
acting chops as well as singing prowess. She also proved she could rock out.
project was originally intended to be a biopic about Janis Joplin, entitled Pearl. When Joplin’s family refused
permission, the producers morphed the script to feature a Joplin-like character
known as “The Rose”—but it wasn’t Joplin—and turned the story into fiction.
That said, the movie is very truthful about rock ‘n’ roll divas, touring, and
the heavy toll that this business takes on an artist.
the project was about a fictional character and not Joplin, director Rydell
signed on, and he was able to convince Midler to star. This was inspired
casting. Midler struts her stuff and oozes sexuality in the concert sequences in
front of audiences, explodes with violence in the scenes of conflict with her
manager or boyfriend, and she delivers vulnerability and insecurity in the
quiet moments. Addicted to alcohol and other drugs, the Rose is on a fast path
to self-destruction, and Midler brings the tragedy to life with aplomb.
Bates plays her British manager with the appropriate adoration of and frustration
with his talented, but flawed, client. Frederic Forrest turns in an
Oscar-nominated performance for Best Supporting Actor as the somewhat clueless
guy The Rose picks up after a disastrous meeting with a songwriter (Harry Dean
Stanton) who refuses to give her any more of his tunes. Forrest is terrific as
he takes a tremendous amount of shit from the stormy rock star, but then turns
around and gives it back to her with the same intensity.
music is dynamite—the end title song “The Rose” became a standard for not only
Midler, but other torch singers. Rydell’s direction is assured as he stages
both huge, arena-sized rock concerts with thousands of extras, along with
small, intimate scenes between a couple of actors.
Midler and Bates: sheer perfection.
new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Vilmos
Zsigmond, has a 5.1 surround DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that will punch
holes in your eardrums (that’s a good thing for a rock music movie). Rydell
provides an audio commentary. Other extras are new, enlightening interviews
with Midler, Rydell, and Zsigmond. There are also archival interviews with
Midler and Rydell and footage from the set. The booklet contains an essay by
critic Paula Mejia.
The Rose is a brilliant, but sad,
look at the trials of rock ‘n’ roll stardom and the dark side of fame and
The reversible sleeve features the original, magnificent poster art by Frank McCarthy.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW PERTAINS TO THE UK RELEASE
BY DARREN ALLISON
The Train 1964 Directed by John
Frankenheimer, Starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau. Arrow
Blu-Ray release date: 11th May 2015
Frankenheimer ‘s The Train is a realistic and engrossing account of the sabotaging
of a Nazi endeavour to smuggle a trainload of art treasures out of France
toward the end of World War II. Burt Lancaster gives a fine performance as Labiche,
leader of the French railway-workers' resistance – and the man chosen to lead
the sabotage and protect “the national heritage and pride of France!” Paul
Scofield's Nazi, Von Waldheim, is also excellent as the colonel who rants and
rages, almost to the point of obsession, in order to see that nothing stops the
train from completing its criminal mission.
dominates this movie, his strength; agility and sheer gutsy determination
provide a genuine sense of realism. Observing Lancaster (in his sheer physical
capacity) is enough to take one’s breath away. Watch those long (often single)
takes of him sliding down railway gantry ladders, and running along the
trackside before jumping on to the moving train – and you would be hard pushed
to feel anything but respect and admiration for his work. The Train is full of
astonishing action, collisions, and stunning set pieces – take for example the
air strike on the rail yard, an amazing and meticulously executed scene
containing some of the most realistic explosions and carnage.
the thrills and spills, Lancaster also finds time for a little romance with Christine,
a tight-lipped, angry widow who runs a railroad-side hotel and played rather
nicely by Jeanne Moreau. But don’t let
this put you off for a minute, the romance is never given time to dominate or
overshadow the film’s narrative. The Train truly remains one of the great films
of the sixties. Frankenheimer’s camera often gives the film a documentary style
and the stark black and white photography does nothing but enhance the bleak
atmosphere of the times. Maurice Jarre’s
music score also adds extra depth to the movie without ever getting in the way
or overshadowing those realistically essential railroad sounds.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film is quite superb. There
are good, deep blacks where required, often giving the film an almost noir
quality. It is also virtually free of any dust, dirt or speckles, and leaves
the previous MGM DVD looking very poor in comparison. The audio comprises of a
nice clear uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM track. Additional audio delights come in
the way of a commentary by director John Frankenheimer which is both engaging
and informative. In addition to that, Arrow has also gifted us with an optional
isolated score by composer Maurice Jarre. So there is plenty to be had in terms
of audio supplements.
extras include: Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with
Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the
decade. For me, the real winning bonus
material is in the Blu-Ray’s archival footage. This includes a French
television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with
the locals of Acquigny. There is also an
original interview with Michel Simon who was so memorable in the role of the
stubborn railroad resistance fighter Papa Boule. Plus, there is some wonderful
footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles. The original theatrical
trailer is also included and rounds off a tidy and generous collection of extra
consists of a sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by
Vladimir Zimakov. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the new artwork which is a
little too abstract for my taste, especially in comparison to the beautiful
original poster art, which is thankfully contained on the reverse. I do admire
Arrow’s policy of a reversible sleeve, and can’t knock anyone who at least
provides a choice...
is also a very good collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Cinema
Retro contributor Sheldon Hall and is illustrated throughout with original
stills and artwork.
genuine fans of great sixties movies, it’s an essential piece of art for your
Chaplin’s Limelight was not quite the
swan-song for the genius filmmaker (he would make two more pictures in his
lifetime); but of these final three movies, Limelight
is the one that feels like the true farewell. It is more of a drama than a
comedy, and it is perhaps Chaplin’s most personal, introspective movie. The
fact that it is flawed and warrants criticism shouldn’t matter—it’s worth
viewing for a number of reasons.
my money, the director/actor/screenwriter/composer made a much funnier film, A King in New York (1957), after Limelight, but King is not as accomplished or well-known. Chaplin’s disastrous
final picture, A Countess from Hong Kong
(1967, starring Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, with Chaplin appearing only in a
cameo) is best forgotten. Thus, most film historians focus on Limelight as being the conclusive
cinematic statement by the master.
Limelight presents a story
that begins in London in 1914, when the music hall, where Chaplin got his start
in show business, was the equivalent of America’s vaudeville. Chaplin’s own
father had also performed in the music hall circuit, but alcohol eventually
derailed the man’s career. Chaplin taps into this autobiographical history by
creating the character of “Calvero” a once-popular clown, but now an alcoholic
has-been. To be sure, though, there are within Calvero elements of the familiar
silent icon Chaplin once portrayed (at one point Calvero delivers a potent line
of ironic dialogue, “Perhaps it’s the tramp in me!”). Enter Terry, a young
ballerina (played by a nineteen-year-old Claire Bloom in her film debut), whom
Calvero saves from a suicide attempt. The couple forge an awkward friendship
that develops into romance (on her part,
not his—although Calvero’s attraction to her is painfully obvious), but of
course throughout the course of the picture they separate, get back together,
and, at the end, unwittingly and fatefully separate for good. The movie is an apparent
discourse on how the elderly must retreat from the limelight and allow the
young to step forward and carry on.
Calvero, Chaplin is very good, if more than a little melodramatic in the
non-comic scenes (of which there are many). Bloom is fine, if more than a
little melodramatic in nearly every scene (a stand-in ballerina, Melissa
Hayden, performs Terry’s dances). The supporting cast includes old pros like
Nigel Bruce and Norman Lloyd, but also Chaplin’s son, Sydney Earl Chaplin, who
delivers perhaps the most realistic and honest performance in the picture—it’s
a shame that he made only a few more films before deciding that acting was not
for him. Chaplin’s half-brother, Wheeler Dryden, plays a dual role, and, making
the movie a full family affair, six-year-old Geraldine Chaplin has a bit part
along with two of her younger siblings.
Keaton and Chaplin teamed on screen for their first and only time.
highlight, though, and pretty much the biggest reason to take a look at Limelight, is the climactic sketch featuring
Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the only time the comic masters ever appeared on
screen together. Their sequence is classic.
said, Limelight unfortunately comes
off as being overly sentimental. Chaplin palpably tugs too hard at the
audience’s heartstrings. The lush musical score, while beautiful, doesn’t help
tone down the ultimately maudlin proceedings. The film is much too lengthy as
well, clocking in at 137 minutes, making it Chaplin’s longest picture—and it feels interminable. Finally, the romance
between the very young Terry and the very old Calvero is barely believable, but
perhaps in 1914 such a May-December relationship might not have been so icky.
must be noted that at the time the picture was made, Chaplin was practically
Public Enemy Number One in America. He was a victim of the rabid and irrational
Red Scare that was going on in the country; the Hollywood blacklist was a
result of this insane paranoia, and Chaplin—while too powerful to blacklist—was
certainly shunned for his “socialist” political views (hmm, sound familiar?).
Chaplin premiered Limelight in London
in 1952, so the government took that opportunity to deny the artist re-entry
into the U.S. A fine way to treat someone who was arguably the cinema’s
greatest innovator and pioneer! Chaplin, heartbroken and bitter, took up
residence with his family in Switzerland, and didn’t return to America until
1972, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to forgive
and forget and award him with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. And, since Limelight never got a proper release in
the states in ’52, it was re-released in ’72 and was thus eligible for Oscars. Limelight won for Original Score;
ironically, the only competitive Oscar that Chaplin ever won was for music. At
least the audience at the ceremony made him feel welcome—Chaplin received the
longest standing ovation ever at the Oscars.
new 4K digital restoration looks gorgeous, of course, and Criterion’s treatment
of the title is top-notch. Extras include a few that are ported over from the
2002 MK2 release—Chaplin Today: Limelight
(a documentary on the film); archival recordings of Chaplin reading two
excerpts from his own novella, Footlights;
a deleted scene and two trailers; and the uncompleted short, The Professor (1919). New extras include
Chaplin’s Limelight—Its Evolution and
Intimacy (a new video essay by Chaplin biographer David Robinson); new
enlightening interviews with Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd (who is
100-years-old and sharp as a tack!); and a restored short, A Night at the Show (1915). The thick booklet contains an essay by
critic Peter von Bagh, excerpts from an on-set piece by journalist Henry Gris,
and lots of photos of ephemera.
all is said and done, despite its shortcomings, this new release of Limelight does have much to offer. And
suffice it to say that if you’re a Chaplin fan, then it’s essential.
have loved movies pretty much all my life. One of the most integral aspects in
my overall enjoyment of a film is my impression of it through the film's
advertising campaign, usually through the coming attractions trailer but mostly
through the advertising artwork, primarily the movie poster. Growing up in the 1970s,
I had no way of knowing anything about a film other than what was written about
it in Time or Newsweek or newspapers. The movie poster art, referred to as key
art in the industry, was really all I had to go on in terms of getting a feel
for what the movie would be like. Each week I would eagerly await Friday’s
newspaper as it showcased the advertising artwork of the new releases just
coming out in a much more overt fashion that it did from Monday to Thursday. In
those days, the advertising artwork was just that: it was artwork, designed, conceived and actually painted by an artist. This appears to be something that has gone by
the wayside as a result of the new tools that are available to studios, such as
computers and software programs like Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator, which
make it very easy for just about anyone to slap together homogenized key art
for DVD and Blu-ray covers. This new
type of advertising art appears to have been sapped of the most important
first two movies that I ever owned on home video were Star Wars (1977) and Poltergeist
(1982). I bought these on the long defunct Capacitance Electronic Disc system (CED)
which was designed and manufactured by RCA and sold from 1981 to 1986. The
artwork to these two films in particular made an enormous impression on me as
the oversized, LP-like format lent itself perfectly to the display of these
images. Some of my all-time favorite movies, which I first saw between 1983 and
1984, sported some of the most beautiful artwork I've ever seen: Phantasm (1979), Deadly Blessing (1981), Scanners
(1981)…just about anything horror-film related. With CED, you felt like you actually owned
the movie and that it was yours. It was tangible and you could hold it and
look at it.
first video cassette that I ever rented was Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which I watched on Independence
Day in 1985, because it was not available on CED. I had seen the film
theatrically upon its initial release, but there was something about being able
to watch it on video that was enormously appealing to me. From that point on,
the artwork that I saw on the cover of VHS cassettes, in particular horror
movies, left me salivating in the video store aisles. After getting my driver’s
license, my friends and I made innumerable trips to local and independently
owned video stores to both rent movies and gaze at and admire the cover artwork
of all the boxes on display. This was my generation's equivalent of going to
the local drive-in and, just like the local drive-in, the independent video
store, in the year 2015, is nearly extinct.
long overdue and beautifully illustrated new coffee table book, appropriately
titled VHS Video Cover Art, is now
available from Schiffer Publishing. Compiled
by Tom “The Dude Designs” Hodge, it showcases nearly 300 pages worth of VHS
sleeve artwork from movies made in the 1980s and 1990s. The covers are derived
from the British VHS releases of these films and are broken into six genres: action,
comedy, horror, kids, sci-fi, and thriller. Being an admirer of these types of films, which are both cult movies and
forgettable flops (of the “so bad it’s good!” variety), what is truly amazing
to me is the number of films presented that I personally still have never even
heard of. A lot of the titles included have artwork that is very different from
the American VHS releases. Case in point: Searchers
of the Voodoo Mountain (1985), which is better known in the States as Warriors of the Apocalypse. Like a lot
of the schlock movie posters of films of the 1950s and 1960s, these colorful
cover art were sometimes better than the actual movie they were designed to
advertise. Fifty years ago, a movie poster was drawn up and the film was made
on the basis of the title and the poster. I’m sure the same held true for some of these VHS titles as the
availability of home video created a perfect opportunity for studios to make
movies that were released directly to VHS, completely bypassing cinemas
Cinema Retro issue #32 has now shipped worldwide to subscribers. Subscribe or renew your subscription today and help support the world's most unique film magazine!
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #32 INCLUDE:
Ray Morton looks at the revivals of King Kong beginning in the 1960s, with special emphasis on his two-part report on the making of the 1976 big budget remake.
Howard Hughes takes an in-depth look at the making of 100 Rifles starring Raquel Welch, Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds.
Matthew Field interviews iconic producer Anthony Waye about his work on the Star Wars and James Bond series.
Ernie Magnotta goes overboard and analyzes the merits of Orca, The Killer Whale
Tim Greaves goes undercover to examine the Charles Vine spy films of the 1960s and talks with star Tom Adams.
Adrian Smith interviews screen sex siren Caron Gardner and reviews Our Man in Marrakesh (aka Bang! Bang! You're Dead!)
Raymond Benson's Top Ten Films of 1952
Tom Santopietro celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music
Lee Pfeiffer looks back on the underrated British thriller, Val Guest's 80,000 Suspects starring Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom.
Plus Gareth Owen's Pinewood Past column, the latest soundtrack, film book and DVD reviews and much more!
Most of our regular subscribers have already re-upped for this new season. If you still haven't done so, please CLICK HERE to renew or take out an initial subscription and ensure you don't miss a single issue. (Make sure you click on the section for Season 11, as Season 10 is also still available)
While working at the Tromaville Health Club
in 1984, goodhearted, 98lb. weakling Melvin “The Mop Boy” was tricked into
wearing a pink tutu and teased unmercifully until he fell from a two-story
window and landed in a vat of nuclear waste. The toxic chemicals changed little
Melvin, transforming him into a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size
and strength. Melvin became The Toxic Avenger, the first superhero from New Jersey!
Written and Directed by the great Lloyd
Kaufman (and co-directed by his partner-in-slime, Michael Herz), The Toxic Avenger, which is a thoroughly
entertaining and unique combination of the superhero genre, raunchy and over-the-top
comedy, as well as full-on horror movie-type gore,not only became an instant hit, but singlehandedly built Troma
films (Toxie is the company’s mascot much like Spider-man is to Marvel Comics).
The Toxic Avenger character became so popular that, over the years, fans were
treated to Tromatic goodies such as Toxie comic books, action figures, a
children’s cartoon series (Toxic
Crusaders) and even a musical; not to mention three hilarious sequels (with
a fourth on the way). The first sequel, also written by Kaufman, and, again,
directed by Lloyd and Herz, appeared in 1989.
Thanks to Toxie’s past heroics, The Toxic Avenger Part II begins with
the little people of Tromaville living in peace and harmony. That is, until the
evil chemical corporation Apocalypse Inc. comes to town and blows up the local
home for the blind which, incidentally, happens to be where Toxie (played by Ron
Fazio and John Altamura) is working, along with his blind girlfriend, Claire (singer/musician/artist/poet/filmmaker
Phoebe Legere). After Toxie mops up the floor with the corporation’s top
henchman, the evil Chairman (Rick Collins from Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.) and his partner Miss Malfaire (Class of Nuke ‘Em High 2’sLisa Gaye) devise a diabolical plan to
rid Tromaville of the Toxic Avenger once and for all. They convince Toxie to
travel to Tokyo in order to locate his long-lost father, Big Mac (Rikiya
Yasuoka from Black Rain). Not only
will Toxie’s absence allow Apocalypse Inc. to take over Tromaville hassle-free,
but, while he’s in Japan, Miss Malfaire and the evil Chairman will order their
Tokyo contacts to use state-of-the-art Japanese technology in order to rid
Toxie of the Troma-tons within his body which not only give him his superhuman
size and strength, but also act up whenever he’s in the presence of evil. Will
the oblivious monster-hero figure stop the evil corporation from taking over
both Tromaville and Japan or will Apocalypse Inc. reign supreme?
I first saw this film in 1989 at a (sadly)
now defunct grindhouse theater on New York’s famed 42nd street. I
was a bit disappointed as I felt that the sequel didn’t live up to the
greatness of the original. Over 25 years later, I still feel that it doesn’t
come close to the original film, but I do find it a lot more entertaining than
I did back then (probably because this is the Director’s Cut and not the
chopped up, R-rated version I saw on its original release). Like the first
film, it’s still a wild combo of super heroics, raunchy, over-the-top comedy
and excessive gore, and the movie barely stops to catch its breath during the
109-minute running time. The larger-than-life acting is a real joy to watch too.
In particular, Lisa Gaye (who studied under Strasberg) and Phoebe Legere both
shine in their insane roles and these two lovely ladies prove to be extremely
gifted comic actors. Also, for those who enjoy seeing stars before they hit the
big time, the incredibly talented Michael Jai White (Tyson, Spawn, Black Dynamite) makes his film debut as an evil, yet
Although, the film runs a bit too long and
isn’t as focused as the original, The
Toxic Avenger Part II is loaded with enjoyably campy humor and wonderfully
comic bookish situations, characters & performances as well as insane (in a
good way) direction. It also contains a fun, Heavy Metal Toxie song and the
classic theme of good vs. evil.
If you’re a true-blue Tromaniac, you’ll be
happy to know that Lloyd Kaufman and the terrific Troma team have put together
a lovely remastered, Troma-rrific HD transfer presented in its original 1:85:1
aspect ratio. The region free Blu-ray/DVD is also packed with a ton of special
features (most of which have been carried over from previous releases). Along
with the original theatrical trailer, we also get trailers for the remaining
three Toxic Avenger films as well as
several other Troma classics like Troma’s
War and Return to Nuke ‘Em High:
Volumes 1 & 2; not to mention the featurette: The American Cinematheque Honors 40 Years of Troma, two humorous,
retro features: At Home with Toxie and
Toxie on Japanese T.V., a brief interview
with Lisa Gaye who happily discusses her association with the fiercely
independent company, a brand new introduction by the King of Troma himself,
Lloyd Kaufman, as well as a retro DVD intro and, last, but certainly not least,
a full-length, hilarious and informative audio commentary from writer/director Kaufman,
who discusses a plethora of interesting subjects such as filming in New York,
New Jersey and Tokyo as well as his many battles with the MPAA. My only
complaint here is that the commentary is out of sync, as Lloyd seems to be six
minutes ahead of the visuals. Other than
that, it’s over four hours of toxic goodness, so if you’re a Troma fanatic, a
lover of Toxie or just enjoy off-the-wall insanity, this Blu-ray is an absolute
Anne Meara, who along with her husband and partner Jerry Stiller, became a comedy legend, has died at age 85. Meara and Stiller were unlikely candidates for romance in 1950s New York: he was Jewish, she was Catholic. Nevertheless, to the disappointment of both of their families, they married. Like many young couples in show business, they initially struggled to pay the bills. They developed a comedy act that proved to be popular in Gotham night clubs. This eventually caught the eye of Ed Sulllivan, who gave them a coveted slot on his Sunday night variety show. The rest was history. Stiller and Meara became one of the top comedy acts in the country. Their real life marriage lasted 61 years, during which they remained mainstays on the New York social scene. They also continued to perform regularly and even had a popular web-based series. Meara was a familiar face on television and in feature films. She was multi-talented and could play drama as well as broad comedy. She was nominated for numerous Emmy Awards. Among her feature film credits are Lovers and Other Strangers, The Boys From Brazil, Fame, Awakenings and two films in which she appeared with her son, actor Ben Stiller: Zoolander and A Night at the Museum. For more click here.
Remember the days when it seemed as if
every week a new slasher film with a holiday in the title would hit movie
theaters and you couldn’t wait to see it? How about waiting with baited breath
to see if Eddie Murphy would appear as Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live? Or walking around the neighborhood with your
boom box blasting awesome tunes from legendary groups like Blondieor The Police? Well, if you were a
teenager in the 1980s, you remember these things well. You probably also
remember trying to sneak into the local movie theater in order to see R-rated
sex comedies like Porky’s (1982)or hanging out with your friends at the
corner pizza shop and playing now classic video games such as Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. If all this talk (especially the
sex comedy/video game part) is making you nostalgic for those unforgettable
days of fun, then you’re gonna love 1983’s Joysticks.
With the help of his idiotic nephews Arnie
(John Diehl from Stripes) and Max (Newhart’s John Voldstad), uptight
businessman Joseph Rutter (the great Joe Don Baker from Walking Tall, GoldenEye and Mars
Attacks!) does everything in his power to get the local video arcade shut
down. However, arcade owner Jefferson Bailey (Secret Admirer’sScott
McGinnis) doesn’t plan on going out without a fight. Jefferson enlists his
co-worker Eugene (Leif Green from Grease
2), his best friend McDorfus (Night
Shift’s Jim Greenleaf) as well as Rutter’s rebellious daughter Patsy (Corinne
Bohrer from Vice Versa) to help him
thwart the reactionary businessman’s misguided plan. The battle for the
arcade’s future culminates in a Super Pac-Man duel between the video
game-phobic Jefferson and Rutter’s Super Pac-Man champion, King Vidiot (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Gries).
If you don’t remember seeing this mindless,
but deliriously fun film way back when, then you probably at least recall
catching the trailer on TV. Joysticks was
the brainchild of independent filmmaking legend Greydon Clark (Satan’s Cheerleaders, Angel’s Brigade,
Without Warning) who, while at a screening of his 1982 slasher film parody Wacko, noticed a line of kids standing
in front of a video game in the lobby of the theater. Seeing how excited these
kids were over playing this game, Greydon immediately thought that a video
arcade would be the perfect location for a hot, new teenage sex comedy. The
creative director developed his timely idea further, began filming in the fall
of ’82, and by the following spring, Joysticks
was the #1 movie in the country.
The humorous film is filled with solid
direction, extremely loveable characters and fun performances (you may not
recognize most of that incredibly talented cast by name, but trust me when I
tell you that you’ll immediately recognize their faces as they’ve all gone on
to do a plethora of work over the years). Joysticks
also benefits from a simple and engaging story as well as contains enough laughs
to fill its brief 87 minute running time. The lighthearted comedy may not be in
the same league as, say, Animal House (1978)or Caddyshack
(1980), and it’s far from being an accurate depiction of teenage life in
the ‘80s à la Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982), but it’s a harmless and highly enjoyable film. If you were around
during the early ‘80s video game craze, will have you happily strolling down
Joysticks has been released
on DVD by Scorpion Releasing in a brand new 16x9 anamorphic (1.78:1) widescreen
transfer and, although the film shows some scratches and the colors aren’t as
vibrant as, say, Blu-ray, the movie is more than watchable and a huge
improvement over the previous DVD release. The disc also contains the original
theatrical trailer, a very interesting and informative audio commentary with
producer/director Clark who discusses many aspects of the film’s production
and, also, an onscreen interview with Clark who not only talks about several
films from his impressive filmography, but also details directing seasoned
veterans Joe Don Baker (who also starred in Wacko
and Final Justice for Clark),
George Kennedy (Wacko and Clark’s The Uninvited), Jack Palance (Angel’s Brigade, Without Warning),
Martin Landau (Without Warning and
Clark’s second sci-fi film The Return)
and Robert Englund (Clark’s Dance Macabre).
Rounding out the special features are several fun 70s/80s exploitation trailers
(the awesome trailer for 1981’s Kill and
Kill Again is priceless) which are guaranteed to bring back memories.
Whether you’re a fan of Greydon Clark, Joe
Don Baker, retro video games, ‘80s teen sex comedies or just like to sit back,
veg out and feel good, Joysticks is
the DVD for you.
(NOTE: Scorpion Releasing advises that this title has sold out. However, the company may do a re-pressing in the future. For now, it is available on Amazon through third party sources. Click here to order.)
The estate of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has sued Miramax for damages regarding its forthcoming feature film "Mr. Holmes" which stars Ian McKellan as Holmes in retirement. The estate claims that the screenplay has borrowed from elements of the ten stories that are still under copyright control by Doyle's ancestors. A court ruling in the USA declared that all but ten of Doyle's works are in the public domain, meaning the story elements can be used without payment of licensing or royalty fees. However, the Doyle estate jealously guards key elements of the Holmes legend that appear in the ten works that are still under their control. The estate points out in their lawsuit that the producers of the recent Sherlock Holmes feature films and the hit BBC series "Sherlock" have paid licensing fees and accuse Miramax of trying to avoid doing the same. For more click here.
“The series ends on a perfect note.” — The
New York Times
“Absorbing, impeccably produced…(with) the quietly brilliant
Christopher Foyle,” — AP
“One of the
best mysteries you’ll ever see on the telly” — San
“Terrifically entertaining”— NPR Fresh
Air from WHYY
“Michael Kitchen is
superb.” — The Seattle Times
“Like a gift from the gods.” —The New York Times
“A triumph from start to finish” —The Wall Street Journal
FOYLE’S WAR, SET 8 (The Final Season)
Debuts on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn on April 14,
Michael Kitchen stars in the final
mysteries from the universally acclaimed British series;
Set features more than two hours of bonus
It's no secret that we at Cinema Retro consider "Foyle's War" to be among the very best television shows ever produced in England (or anywhere else, for that matter.) Here is the official Acorn Media press release regarding the final season on DVD and Blu-ray.
MD — The final season of Foyle’s War, Set 8 debuts on DVD and
Blu-ray on April 14, 2015 from
Acorn, an RLJ
Entertainment, Inc.(NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. The acclaimed detective
series finishes its long run with three new mysteries set in the
uncertain days at the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 London, former DCS
Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen, Out
of Africa) now employs his unerring investigative skills on behalf of MI5,
assisted by his ever-faithful driver, Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks). The season premiered in the UK in January 2015,
in the US on Acorn.TV, the premier
British TV streaming service in North America, in February 2015, and will air
on public television stations beginning in May 2015. Set 8 guest stars two-time Emmy® and Golden Globe®
nominee John Mahoney (Frasier)
and co-stars Daniel Weyman (Great
Expectations), Ellie Haddington (Life
Begins), Tim McMullan (The
Woman in Black), Jeremy Swift (Oliver
Twist), and Rupert Vansittart (Holy
Flying Circus). The DVD 3-disc set and Blu-ray 2-disc set feature three
feature-length episodes plus over two hours of bonus features including a day
in the life of Foyle’s War and an
interview with John Mahoney. RLJ Entertainment purchased all rights to Foyle’s War in 2010 and has co-produced the last two seasons. The
entire series is also available to stream any time on Acorn TV at www.Acorn.TV.
High Castle—A translator for the Nuremberg trials is killed,
leading Foyle into the world of international oil politics and corrupt Nazi
Trespass—With tensions running high ahead of a high-level
Palestinian conference, Foyle investigates a plot involving murder, espionage,
and a terrorist threat.
Elise—After an assassination attempt on Hilda Pierce,
Foyle examines her Special Operations Executive activities during the war and
rumors of a traitor.
Over two hours of bonus features!
the truth behind the fiction for each episode (52 min.), a day in the life of Foyle’s War (26 min.), an interview with
John Mahoney (21 min.), back in time with Foyle’s
War (27 min.), and a photo gallery.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW A CLIP.
By the early 1970s, America's cities seemed to be on a permanent downward spiral. The middle class was fleeing the inner cities in droves for the safety of suburbia while the major urban centers deteriorated rapidly into an abyss of crime. This trend, of course, was realistically reflected in such films as "Taxi Driver", "Mean Streets", "Death Wish" and "The French Connection". The latter became the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1971 and helped set in motion the "dirty cop" movies that characterized this era of filmmaking. Gene Hackman's performance as New York City detective "Popeye" Doyle seemed to inspire any number of other memorable celluloid cop heroes who didn't waste time worrying about constitutional rights. Instead, they took matters into their own hands in order to bring criminals to justice- by whatever means necessary. Clint Eastwood had a smash hit employing such behavior on screen as Dirty Harry and before long, seemingly every major male star was lining up to play cops who routinely gave the middle finger to police brass as they set out to use vigilante methods to ensure the successful resolution of cases. Producer Philip D'Antoni had struck pay dirt with one of the first maverick cop movies, "Bullitt", in 1968. The title character, memorably played by Steve McQueen, routinely ignored orders from his superiors but wasn't exactly as "dirty cop", as he pretty much respected suspect's rights in the course of his assignment. However, D'Antoni's second crime classic from the era, "The French Connection" was the epitome of celebrating the notion that the end justifies the means when it came to law enforcement. The film was such a major hit that D'Antoni decided to do a follow-up titled "The Seven-Ups".
Released in 1973, "The Seven-Ups" shameless borrows on key elements of both "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", but at least does so with a considerable amount of style. D'Antonio hired "French Connection" co-star Roy Scheider and justifiably cast him in his first lead role. D'Antonio then came up with a winning recipe for another gritty urban crime film: cast numerous actors from both of his previous films in supporting roles then add a spectacular car chase as in "Bullitt", sprinkle in a driving, hard-hitting score by "French Connection" composer Don Ellis, then enlist real-life "French Connection" detective Sonny Grosso as a writer and consultant and - presto!- you have another winner. To make sure the project didn't stray too far from the formula, D'Antonio directed the movie himself. Ironically, despite obviously plagiarizing his own films, D'Antonio did emerge with a winner. Although "The Seven-Ups" is certainly not of the same caliber of "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", it does stand as a highly polished, engrossing action film. More importantly, it proved that Scheider was a credible leading man, a fact that undoubtedly lead to him being cast as the star of "Jaws" a couple of years later.
Scheider, who gives a yeoman performance, plays New York city detective referred to only as "Buddy". He heads up a top-secret four man unit called "The Seven-Ups", so-known because all of the suspects they arrest end up doing at least seven years or more in jail. The squad employs blatantly illegal methods to obtain whatever information they deem necessary from the low-lives that populate the crime-ridden areas of the city. It turns out that prominent, affluent loan sharks are being systematically kidnapped by two rogue cops and being held for ransom. The Seven-Ups are assigned to the case and Buddy relies on information from Vito (Tony Lo Bianco), a childhood friend with a shady past who leaks relevant scuttlebutt to him about the case. In the course of the investigation, however, the kidnappers prove more resolute than Buddy had imagined. Before long, one of his team has been murdered and Buddy finds himself employing increasingly desperate methods to track down the corrupt cops. The film is packed with realistic street-wise dialogue and convincing performances including real life stunt man Bill Hickman, who performed much of the driving in the "Bullitt" car chase; cult actor Joe Spinell, Ken Kercheval and Richard Lynch. Director of Photography Urs Furrer convincingly captures the gritty feel of New York's streets during this era, though much of the film was shot in the outer boroughs. The highlight of the movie (fully exploited in the trailers) is the spectacular car chase. It's a truly thrilling sequence that rivals the chases in "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", though die-hard "Bullitt" fans will recognize certain scenes from that film's chase carried over virtually intact into "The Seven-Ups".
There is a sobering aspect to watching dirty cop movies like this today. With crime rates in America having plunged dramatically over the decades and most of the cities having undergone an amazing Renaissance, the tactics employed by our "heroes" in these films suddenly look especially distasteful today- especially in light of recent high profile cases in which some "bad apple" cops have clearly violated civil rights. The trailers for "The Seven-Ups" rather sickeningly play up the fact that "you can't tell the cops from the killers", as though this was an attribute for a police officer. These "heroes" dispense with due process, break and enter suspects' homes and in one case threaten a man's innocent wife with with disfigurement. It's hard to imagine anyone who has evolved beyond Neanderthal status in these more enlightened times cheering such behavior. Nevertheless, one must view such films as products of their time- and as such, "The Seven-Ups" reminds of a less-than-glorious period in American history, one that has thankfully been replaced by better times.
The Fox DVD is poorly designed. One side of the disc contains the film in widescreen format with two bonus extras: the teaser trailer and full length trailer. The DVD sleeve indicates there is also an original production featurette but you'd have to be Sherlock Holmes to discover that you have to turn the disc over to the apparently blank "B" side (there is no writing or graphics) and deduce that if you insert this into your DVD player, you will get access to the film in cropped, full screen format along with the production featurette. The featurette, though extremely grainy, is quite interesting. It details the considerable logistics of filming the movie's signature car chase sequence, as planned by D'Antoni and Bill Hickman. It's nice that Fox included this but it's puzzling as to why they made it a challenge to locate it.
"The Rape of Europa" is the acclaimed 2006 documentary that chronicles one of the lesser-known aspects of Adolf Hitler's corrupt regime: the widespread looting and destruction of priceless art masterpieces in the territories his conquered. The subject matter had been dealt with has far back as 1965 in John Frankenheimer's "The Train", and more recently in George Clooney's "The Monuments Men". The crimes against the cultural of a nation may pale in comparison to the human toll extracted by the Nazis on their victims. Nevertheless, the loss of historical treasures was a true tragedy tied to the rise of National Socialism. The documentary reiterates the fact that Hitler had been an aspiring artist who traveled to Vienna with the hope of being accepted into the art institute there. Had that occurred, the world would have been a very different place in the years to come. However, while he possessed a degree of artistic talent, he was deemed unsuitable for acceptance by the academy. Hitler's wounded pride, along with his pre-existing shame at Germany's compliance with the oppressive Treaty of Versailles, had helped instigate his rise as as an extreme right wing political leader. Upon taking over the National Socialist Party and ultimately rising to the rank of Chancellor, Hitler managed to turn the position into that of an all-powerful dictator. His first priority was to rearm Germany in violation of the Treaty. The Allies protested but took no action. Simultaneously, he instituted increasingly oppressive sanctions against those who he deemed to be his enemies: Jews, homosexuals, racial minorities and intellectuals who opposed his policies. Using the Nuremberg Laws to deprive Jews of all civil rights, Hitler and his paladins went to work appropriating valuable artworks, sculptures and even furniture from the now-dispossessed and largely doomed Jewish population. He also waged a culture war against what he considered to be the evil influence on German culture of the modern art movement, which he felt was degrading to Aryan culture. Under Hitler's direct orders, museums were emptied of art masterpieces that were either destroyed or sold off. Those works that Hitler approved of were appropriated for the Fuhrer and his top brass, each of whom took great pride in building their massive collection of stolen paintings. (Hitler's second-in-command, Herman Goering was the worst offender.) When Hitler annexed most of Western Europe, the policies were carried out in those territories.
"The Rape of Europa" traces the impact of the Nazi art thefts and their impact on the indigenous populations of the affected nations. Although France had the most modern army in Europe and was confident it could stop a possible German invasion, the staff at the Louvre had enough foresight to move most of the masterpieces into hidden locations, a massive project that was carried out just in time: the nation would fall to Germany within six weeks. The film shows the extravagant methods the Nazis used to locate these hidden treasures. In some cases they succeeded, but thanks to the efforts of many dedicated people, other artwork survived without being stolen and many priceless artifacts were recovered after the war. When Hitler launched his ultimately ill-fated invasion of his former ally, the Soviet Union in 1941, the staff at the massive Hermitage museum managed to remove all the valuable art masterpieces to hidden locations in Siberia. Germany never took possession of the museum, having been finally sent into retreat after a mutually grueling campaign that saw enormous losses on both sides. With the invasion of Italy in 1943, the Americans and their allies were sensitive about destroying the local culture in their quest to rid the nation of German troops. General Eisenhower issued orders to avoid bombing key cultural landmarks. In some cases it worked: American bombers carried out the destruction of rail lines in Florence without destroying nearby architectural landmarks. However, in the bloody battle for the Monte Cassino, the ancient abbey was destroyed in a bombing raid in the mistaken belief that it was occupied by German troops. All of these aspects of the war are covered in this fascinating documentary through rare original film footage and interviews with survivors of the period. Their tales are alternately heartbreaking and inspiring, as they relate the Herculean tasks undertaken by patriots to preserve their nation's heritage in the hope that one freedom would once again prevail. The film also covers the challenge of tracking down missing art masterpieces in the aftermath of the war and attempts by families to reclaim certain pieces which ended up in museums.
"The Rape of Europa" is a spellbinding experience throughout. Highly recommended.
There are no bonus items on the DVD from Menemesha Films aside from the original trailer, which is a pity because a movie of this significance cries out to have a commentary track with scholars furthering our knowledge of this important period in history.
This month, Shout!Factory TV, the free streaming site, presents a number of irresistible offerings including the first season of "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent") starring Patrick McGoohan and the classic British sci-fi show "Fireball XL5". Also: John Cassavettes feature film favorites and "Quadrophenia". Click here to visit the site.
When it was announced that producer Elliott Kastner had succeeded in signing both Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson for the 1976 Western, The Missouri Breaks, the project was viewed as a "can't miss" at the international box-office. This would be Brando's first film since his back-to-back triumphs in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris and Nicholson had just won the Best Actor Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The two Hollywood icons were actually neighbors who lived next door to each other, but they had never previously teamed for a film project. Kastner, whose prowess as a street-wise guy who used unorthodox methods to get films off the ground, had used a clever tactic to sign up both superstars: he told each man that the other had already committed to the project, when, in fact, neither had. With Brando and Nicholson aboard, Kastner hired a respected director, Arthur Penn, who had worked with Brando ten years before on The Chase. He then chose an acclaimed novelist, Thomas McGuane, who had recently made his directorial debut with 92 in the Shade, to write the screenplay. What emerged from all these negotiations was a seemingly "can't miss" boxoffice blockbuster in the making. Alas, it was not to be. Upon its release, critics emphasized the "Miss" aspect of the The Missouri Breaks, with most reviewers citing the opinion that the film was a long, slow slog interrupted up a hammy, over-the-top comic performance from Brando, who Penn apparently exercised little control over when it came to the actor's penchant for improvisation.
The film opens with cattle baron David Braxton (John McLiam) "hosting" a lynching for a rapt audience of his ranch hands. Seems the intended victim has rustled some of his cattle and McLiam is determined to put an end to the thievery, which has reduced his overall business income by 7% per year- a statistic he never tires of griping about. McLiam's hardball tactics against the rustlers don't sit well with his otherwise adoring daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), an independent-thinking young woman who has acted as her father's most trusted companion since her mother left him for another man years ago. The victim of the lynching was a member of a rustling gang headed by Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson), who befriends Braxton on the pretense that he wants to purchase a plot of land on his property to establish a small farm. In reality, he wants to utilize the land to temporarily house stolen horses which his gang has gone to Canada to obtain in a daring operation against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's stables. Meanwhile, Jane- who lives a life of relative isolation on her father's estate-is immediately smitten by the charismatic Tom Logan and when she insists that he become her first lover, he finds it impossible to resist. Thus, Logan is now in a romantic relationship with a girl who is the daughter of a man he is deceiving and stealing from. David Braxton goes all-out in his obsession with thwarting the rustlers. He hires Lee Clayton, a renowned "regulator", which is a polite term for bounty hunter. Clayton is an eccentric man with a bizarre personality who speaks in a heavy Irish brogue, but also at times utilizes other accents. He is at times charming and amusing and at other times fiery-tempered and unpredictable. Upon being introduced to Tom Logan by Braxton, Clayton immediately suspects he is not a farmer, but a rustler. The two men play a cat-and-mouse game, each one employing double-entendres in their conversations. When Logan's men return from Canada empty-handed after being thwarted by the Mounties, Clayton becomes an omnipresent figure, observing their every move from afar through binoculars. One by one, he systematically murders the members of the rustling gang, always preceding their horrendous deaths by chatting with the doomed men in disarmingly friendly tones. Clayton becomes so frightening a figure that even Braxton becomes intimidated by him and attempts to fire him, but Clayton says the money is irrelevant and that once he commits to a job, he sees it through. The stage is set for a mano-a-mano confrontation between Logan and Clayton that both men realize will see only one emerge alive.
Brando and Nicholson on the set in Montana.
It's easy to see why The Missouri Breaks didn't catch on with audiences. Much of the film moves at a glacial pace, but McGuane's script is intelligent and the dialogue often witty. Brando's outrageous antics easily overshadow anyone else in the film, even though his appearances are fleeting and the lion's share of the screen time is dominated by Nicholson. Brando seems to be having a field day and there seems to be no limit to his improvisations. (At one point he is dressed as a Chinese peasant and in another he is inexplicably attired as a woman, complete with apron and bonnet.) He also has a penchant for making some uncomfortably romantic overtures to his horse. Thus, the character of Clayton proves to be a distraction from the otherwise somber, realistic tone of the film. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Brando's appearances are both amusing and somewhat mesmerizing, even if out of place. The movie boasts a first rate supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest and a young and slim Randy Quaid. Kathleen Lloyd holds her own against the considerable star power of Brando and Nicholson, which could not have been an easy feat. Alas, stardom was not to follow for her, though she still occasionally appears as a guest star in popular TV series. Where the movie disappoints the most is in its climax. The audience has been led to expect a memorable confrontation between Logan and Clayton, but when one of them gets the upper hand on the other, it's done very abruptly and rather unimaginatively, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. The movie boasts a low-key but appropriately atmospheric score by John Williams and impressive cinematography by Michael Butler. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational in the outdoor sequences but the dimly lit interiors have a degree of grain to them, which may have been intended by Butler. An original theatrical trailer has been included.
After The Missouri Breaks, Brando seemed uninspired and went on automatic pilot in terms of his film roles. He was paid a relative fortune for what amounted to extended cameos in Superman and Apocalypse Now, and while he was a significant physical presence in both films, no one made the case that he exerted himself dramatically. He would find occasional enthusiasm in certain roles (an Oscar-nominated turn in the little-seen A Dry White Season and a hilarious performance recreating his Don Corleone role for The Freshman), but his enthusiasm seemed to diminish in direct proportion to his increase in weight. Sadly, he would never totally recapture the mojo he once enjoyed as a screen icon. Yet, time has been kind to The Missouri Breaks. The film's literate script and direction are a reminder of an era in which such projects would be green-lit by major studios who appealed to the intellect of movie audiences. Today, the project would never have seen fruition no matter who starred in it.
When Paramount released the "White Christmas" Blu-ray Diamond Edition last fall, it sold out quickly. Happily, there are ample supplies back in stock at major retailers so, if you missed this essential last Christmas, you'll have plenty of time to get for the 2015 holidays.
Continue reading for a complete breakdown of the spectacular, 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD/ CD set.
One of our readers named Peter wrote to us regarding our frustration over the fact that there has been no DVD or Blu-ray edition issued in the USA or UK for director Nicholas Ray's 1963 epic "55 Days at Peking". Peter informed us that he has a French release special edition that is available on Amazon France through the Filmedia company:
"I have the French Blu-ray release. The following is a list of the extras. Note that most of the extras are in French with NO English subtitles. Original interviews with the cast are in English.
Interview with Olivier Assayas and Nicholas Ray (32 mins)
The Boxers in Cinema (6 min)
Boxer Rebellion (12 mins)
Portrait of Ava Gardner (19 mins)
Nicholas Ray documentary (47 mins)
Interviews with Charlton Heston, David Niven, John Moore and Mrs. Heston (30 mins)
The film's restoration (11 mins)
Trailer (French) (3 min)
Cinema Retro has not viewed this release but reviews on Amazon France indicate the quality is very good.
UPDATE! Several readers have notified us that there is a top-notch transfer of the film available in the UK through Anchor Bay....However, it is a "bare bones" release without the aforementioned extras on the French version.
the days before cable, video and on-line streaming, classic movie fans had to
work for their movie watching pleasure by hunting through local weekly
schedules based on what local broadcasters chose to schedule. Adventure movies,
comedies, war movies and westerns have always been at the top of my classic
movie viewing list. “The Password is Courage” is one of those movies discovered
years ago that remains a favorite of mine. Maybe because its a sort of big brother
to the Grand Poobah of all prisoner of war movies, “The Great Escape,” which
was released a year later in 1963.
movie, based on the true story of Sergeant Major Charlie Coward, is a
remarkable yet easy-going tale. One almost feels as though life was not all
that bad in a German POW camp during WWII. If the movie has a fault, it’s that
it treats the subject a little too cavalier at times. It’s a very minor
objection because the humor is always at the expense of the German captors and everything
else about this movie is pure movie watching joy.
Bogarde is perfectly cast as Charlie Coward, a man with an ironic name which
must have played a part in making him anything but a coward. The German
Luftwaffe ran POW camps through most of the war because most allied military
prisoners were aviators and air crew until the Normandy invasion in 1944. The
Germans also commonly segregated their camps by nationality and separated
officers and enlisted men into separate camps. Sergeant Major Charlie Coward
was among the senior enlisted members of one such camp, Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf,
in what is now part of Poland.
movie is based on the popular book of the same name by Ronald Charles Payne and
John William Garrote writing as John Castle. Coward was transferred to
Auschwitz III-Monowitz, a labor camp which was near the infamous Auschwitz II-Birkenau
extermination camp which Coward allegedly infiltrated in a failed attempt to
liberate a Jewish doctor. According to the book, he also aided in the
liberation of hundreds of Jews, but Coward’s involvement in these activities is
years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
seemingly ended the Australian post apocalypse triptych, director George Miller
is back, with a vengeance (and a much bigger budget). The result could have been an
overdone, bloated production, loaded with CGI and soft on any real thrills…
instead Miller has created a masterpiece that significantly raises the bar of
to begin? From the opening sequence when
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) surveys a vast desert wasteland while eating a
mutant lizard that wandered too close, you know this ain’t your daddy’s Mad
Max. The film explodes from there – Max
is captured by a gang of “War Boys” run by a terrifying character named
Immortan Joe, his face hidden behind a ghastly breathing mask complete with
teeth. Joe is played by Hugh Keys-Byrne who
starred as Toe Cutter in the original Mad
Max. The actor has bulked up and gone gray, but lost none of his swaggering
menace. Our Max is quickly put to use as
a living blood donor for an ailing warrior named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max’s life seems grim and short until he makes
a daring escape, joining up with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has just
committed the most unforgivable of sins – stealing from Immortan Joe. And she didn’t just drive off with treasure
or gasoline, she’s taken his very future – his five alluring slave wives, one
of whom is carrying his child. You can
bet he’ll unleash the hounds of automotive hell to get them back!
film cleverly blends the best of the first three movies – snippets of Max’s
personal tragedy, the hulking villain from 1982’s Road Warrior and a bit of Bartertown, resulting in a full throttle chase
through the irradiated wasteland. Gradually Max and Furiousa learn to trust each other, but that’s as warm
and fuzzy as the movie gets – there’s just no time for more. In fact, if Max has more than one page of
dialogue in the entire film, I’d be surprised. What there IS time for, is an array of
mind-bending stunts as they flee Immortan Joe’s forces, pursuing them in a
fleet of devilishly souped-up vehicles. Throw in the hostile, opportunistic
tribes roaming the wasteland and death is literally waiting around every curve. In terms of pacing, the director really puts
the hammer down, so it’s relentless… and best of all, Miller did everything “Old
School.” Real stunts, flying stuntmen, honest to gawd car crashes and glorious
explosions, all played out against a white hot sky and muted red earth. (The
film was shot off the grid in the Namibian desert when the Australian outback appeared
many of today’s releases can be enjoyed on DVD or any of the over the top
services now available, Mad Max: Fury
Road MUST be seen in a theater and
with an audience. Guaranteed, there
won’t be the usual multiplex hassles of conversation or texting – all eyes will
be glued to the screen. (The preview
audience I saw it with actually applauded various action sequences, a real
all love old movies and constantly lament, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used
to.” This time they did, and Lord
Humongous would approve!
Mad Max: Fury Road Opens May 15th
from Warner Bros.
dark corners of the human mind are the deepest dark, I believe, of anything in
the universe,” once said author, playwright, producer, and director Arch Oboler
in describing his infamous radio plays of the 1930s and 1940s which aired on
NBC under the title of Lights Out! It
is no secret that some of the world's most well-known artists, everyone from
author Edgar Allan Poe to film director Dario Argento, have channeled
nightmarish experiences from their childhood and woven them into the very
fabric of their stories and films. The late great surrealist Swiss artist Hans
Rudolf Giger, known internationally as H.R. Giger, also sublimated his fears
and frustrations into startling and often horrific imagery that coupled man
with machinery as he explored the triptych of existence: birth, life, and death.
Audiences are taken behind the scenes of this master painter in the elegiac
final days of his life in the new film Dark
Star: H.R. Giger’s World, directed by Belinda Sallin, which opens May 15,
2015 in selected cities. Although a documentary, Passagen, was made about his work in 1972 by Fredi
M. Murer, Dark Star showcases interviews with the people closest to
this man who shunned the limelight and preferred to paint on his own
Giger passed away just after filming finished. The film does an expert job of taking us through his life as he imparts
interesting anecdotes, such as showing us a skull that his father gave him as a
boy, which frightened him until he found a way to overcome his fear. This skull indubitably played a huge roll in
his life and work. He meets with friends
and family who are lucky enough to spend their time with him. Much of the dialog is spoken in Swiss German
and subtitles are provided.
Dark Star opens with placid and calm shots of the
artist’s house in Zürich, Switzerland. The camera pans around the grounds and above
the abode and the trees until it zeros in on the front door and, in a maneuver eerily
reminiscent of Dorothy Gale’s journey from black and white into Technicolor,
the door opens to reveal this dark world of surrealistic paintings. These
unbelievable images, which exist in the form of finished paintings as well as
macabre sculptures, date back to the 1960’s. Like most artists, images and emotions fueled Härr Giger’s work, and he
had his own method of painting which incorporated air brushing while listening
to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Not
surprisingly, childhood experiences factored greatly as a catalyst for his
disturbing imagery. A trip to the
Raetian Museum in Chur, Switzerland as a young lad was particularly frightening
when he saw a mummy for the first time.
tumultuous relationship with actress and model Li Tobler, whom he was with from
1966 until 1975, figures prominently in many of the works that populate his Necronomicon books. Härr Giger, enfeebled and walking with a
cautious gait, speaks eloquently about the loss of Frau Tobler who shot herself
at age 27 after suffering for years from severe depression.
this tragedy, Härr Giger’s work caught the attention of film director Ridley
Scott, who was in the midst of pre-production on 20th Century Fox’s Alien (1979), who was by his own
admission bowled over by the creations he saw in Necronomicon. These images
provided the basis for the titular monster, and it was this blockbuster science
fiction film franchise that catapulted an unassuming Giger to superstardom and
into the public consciousness for all-time. The set design is known for its heavy emphasis on sexual imagery. His then-wife, Mia Bonzanigo, was there to
see him win the Oscar for Alien.
Giger’s widow, Carmen Maria Giger, expatiates on her late husband’s sense of
perception and his masterful melding of human anatomy and machines. By his own admission, one of his paintings
came about due to a trip he had on LSD.
his fragile state, Härr Giger still managed to make it to public appearances
when museums mounted exhibitions of his work, such as the Lentos Art Museum in
Austria. The droves of fans who flocked
to see him came from all sorts of backgrounds, and many of them possessed
tattoos of his artwork that covered their arms, legs, and backs.
film leaves the viewer with an interesting overview of an artist who succeeded
in what he set out to do, and was complacent in himself and his work.
Burbank, Calif. May 19, 2015 – On June 2, Warner
Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will release The John Wayne Westerns Film
Collection – featuring five classic films on Blu-ray™ from the
larger-than-life American hero – just in time for Father’s Day. The Collection
features two new-to-Blu-ray titles, The Train Robbers and Cahill
U.S. Marshal plus fan favorites Fort Apache, The Searchers and a
long-awaited re-release of Rio Bravo. The pocketbook box set
will sell for $54.96 SRP; individual films $14.98 SRP.
Born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, John
Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on the Fox lot during
summer vacations from University of Southern California, which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne to director Raoul Walsh
for the male lead in the 1930 epic Western, The Big Trail,
and, although it was a box-office failure, the movie showed Wayne's potential.
For the next nine years, Wayne worked in a
multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger features. Wayne’s
big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as Ringo Kid in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne nearly stole the picture
from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a box-office superstar began.
During his 50-year film career, Wayne played the lead in 142 movies, an as yet
unsurpassed record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®[i],
winning the Best Actor Oscar® in 1970 for his performance in True Grit.
Details of The
John Wayne Westerns Film Collection
The Train Robbers (1973)
NEW TO BLU-RAY!
The action never stops in this western starring
Wayne, Ann-Margret and Ricardo Montalban. Three Civil War veterans team up with
a train robber’s attractive widow to recover a cool half-million in hidden
gold. The widow (Ann-Margret) wants to clear her husband’s name and the three
friends (John Wayne, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson) want to aid her and collect a
$50,000 reward. But the dead man’s ex-partners just want the gold…and will kill
to get it.
The Train Robbers is a rollicking
caper from writer/director Burt Kennedy, a specialist in Westerns with a comic
touch (The Rounders, Support Your Local
Sheriff). Here he sets a mood of amiable adventure among colorful
characters, not stinting on the two-fisted action that’s part of all the best
Special features include:
·Featurette: John Wayne: Working with a Western Legend
·Featurette: The Wayne Train
Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973)
NEW TO BLU-RAY!
Lawman J.D. Cahill can stand alone against a
bad-guy army. But as a widower father, he’s on insecure footing raising two
sons, particularly when he suspects his boys are involved in a bank robbery…
and two killings.
Filmed on location in the high desert of Durango,
New Mexico, this suspenseful saga offers a hearty helping of the stoic charisma
that made John Wayne a long-time box-office champion. Summer of ’42 discovery Gary Grimes – as Cahill’s rebellious older
son – joins a cast of tough-guy favorites (Neville Brand, Denver Pyle, Harry
Carey Jr. and George Kennedy) and such other Hollywood greats as Marie Windsor
and Jackie Coogan in a deft blend of trigger-fast action and heroic sentiment.
Special features include:
Commentary by Andrew V. McLaglen
Featurette: The Man Behind the Star
Fort Apache (1948)
The soldiers at Fort Apache may
disagree with the tactics of their glory-seeking new commander. But to a man,
they’re duty-bound to obey – even when it means almost certain disaster.
John Wayne, Henry Fonda and many
familiar supporting players from master director John Ford’s “stock company:
saddle up for the first film in the director’s famed cavalry trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande are the others). Roughhouse camaraderie,
sentimental vignettes of frontier life, massive action sequences staged in
Monument Valley – all are part of Fort
Apache. So is Ford’s explorationof the West’s darker side. Themes of justice,
heroism and honor that Ford would revisit in later Westerns are given rein in
this moving, thought-provoking film that, even as it salutes a legend, gives
reasons to question it.
released special features include:
·Commentary by F.X. Feeney
·Featurette: Monument Valley: John Ford
The Searchers (1956)
Working together for the 12th time,
John Wayne and director John Ford forged The Searchers into a landmark
Western offering an indelible image of the frontier and the men and women who
challenged it. Wayne plays an ex-Confederate soldier seeking his niece,
captured by Comanches who massacred his family. He won't surrender to hunger,
thirst, the elements or loneliness. And in his five-year
search, he encounters something unexpected: his own humanity. Beautifully shot by Winton
C. Hoch, thrillingly scored by Max Steiner and memorably acted by a wonderful
ensemble including Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood and Ward Bond, The
Searchers endures as "a great film of enormous scope and
breathtaking physical beauty" (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic).
Previously released special features include:
The Searchers: An Appreciation - 2006 Documentary
A Turning of the Earth:John Ford, John Wayne andThe Searchers – 1998 documentary
narrated by John Milius
Introduction by John
Wayne’s son and The Searchers co-star Patrick Wayne
Commentary by director/John
Ford biographer Peter Bogdanovich
Vintage Behind the
cameras segments from the Warner Bros. Presents TV Series
Rio Bravo (1959)
On one side is an army of gunmen dead-set on
springing a murderous cohort from jail. On the other is Sheriff John T. Chance
(John Wayne) and two deputies: a recovering drunkard (Dean Martin) and a crippled
codger (Walter Brennan). Also in their ragtag ranks are a trigger-happy youth
(Ricky Nelson) and a woman with a past (Angie Dickinson) – and her eye on
Chance. Director Howard Hawks lifted the
Western to new heights with Red River. Capturing
the legendary West with a stellar cast in peak form, he does it again here.
Previously released special features include:
Commentary by John
Carpenter and Richard Schickel
Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo
Tucson: Where the Legends Walked
Also available on Digital HD June 2, 2015
-- the JOHN WAYNE 10 FILM COLLECTION.This digital bundle
of 10 titles will include the followingfilms:
Before video became the standard in the adult film industry, movie makers had to utilize conventional- and relatively expensive- methods of bringing their erotic tales to the big screen. That meant shooting on film. Many grindhouse porn flicks were shot on lower-grade 16mm but if there was a big enough "name" involved, investors would shoot the moon (pardon the pun) and go for a 35mm release. Generally, these films boasted production values that were far superior and often had the benefit of directors who were more adept at realizing their visions than the hacks who were simply obsessed with capturing the "money shots" on grainy film stock. One of the more intriguing names to emerge in the porn industry of the 1980s was an exotic beauty named Hyapatia Lee. Ironically, while mainstream Hollywood studios were still enforcing the glass ceiling that kept females from exerting much influence behind the camera, the adult movie industry was affording women the opportunity to take more creative control over the films in which they were involved. Lee was one such woman. She started out as a stripper and scored some name recognition by becoming a two-time winner of the Nude Miss Galaxy contest. She discovered that appearing in adult films paid far more lucratively than stripping for drunk truck drivers and banking executives, so she began to assert her potential as a screenwriter. She married her boyfriend, Bud Lee, and the new power couple began collaborating on porn flicks starring Hyapatia. She built an enthusiastic following back in the era when you could see erotica on the big screen in urban red light districts.
Vinegar Syndrome has released an especially impressive Hyapatia Lee double feature. The main production is "The Ribald Tales of Canterbury", a 1985 film that is slickly produced and features unusually ornate sets and costumes. Hyapatia herself "adapted" (very, very loosely) the Chaucer classic book of bawdy stories told by pilgrims en route to the city of Canterbury. The concept of turning this scenario into a porn film was hardly original, but "Ribald Tales" is a step above most porn productions of the period. Hyapatia appears as the "hostess" who bookends the tales and, of course, appears in them as well. The various short stories depicted herein exploit all the standard scenarios (threesomes, lesbianism, etc.) but with a comic overtone. The movie's direction was attributed to Bud Lee and hubby outdoes Hitchcock by appearing in his own film, albeit in a steamy sequence. The movie features numerous familiar faces from the adult film industry of that time period including Peter North, Mike Horner, Buffy Davis, Debra Lynn and Jesse Eastern. The film is impressive on a number of levels and the erotic sequences are truly erotic. Vinegar Syndrome has provided a terrific transfer from the 35mm original negative. There is also an unusual bonus feature for an adult film: an audio commentary with the director, Bud Lee, conducted by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin. Lee proves to be an engaging personality. He recalls how he first met Hyapatia in a strip club and then went on to marry her. He's fairly self-deprecating when it comes to making his directorial debut with this film, saying bluntly that he was uncertain of what to do and had to rely on his crew members to do the bulk of the directing. The commentary track is not only fun, it also offers a rare insider's view of the adult film industry of the 1980s. Bud Lee, who is still working in the industry today, may not have been able to break through to mainstream feature films but one does admire the professionalism he displays in regard to his work.
The second feature is titled "Tasty" and was filmed back-to-back with "Ribald Tales", utilizing the same studio space. Hyapatia Lee top-lines again but this film is far more conventional and has a "knock off" aspect to it when compared to the ambitious previous movie. The entire action takes place in a failing California radio station. The ratings are in the basement and the over-stressed station owner (Jesse Eastern) finds that even indulging in endless sex sessions with his staffers can't lower his level of anxiety. The situation worsens when his key advertiser (Bud Lee, doubling again as actor and director) gives him one week to improve the ratings or he will pull all of his ads. The staff uses an innovative method to save the station. Ignoring FCC censorship rules, they turn the station into a porn haven, dispensing sex advice and engaging in sex acts while on the air. Predictably, the ratings soar, the advertiser stays on board and the owner is congratulated on a strategic coup that he had nothing to do with. The bare bones production basically offers a few different office sets and a control room where the DJs work and play (with emphasis on play). (t's somewhat amusing to see the use of vinyl records being spun on turntables, this being the 1980s.) Hayaptia Lee is the central character, Tasty Tastums (an "homage" to legendary America DJ Casey Kasem) and she gets to strut her stuff, singing and dancing in an erotic video titled "Hit Me With Your Wet Shot", this "homage" attributable to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot". It seems petty to fault any performance in a porn film because the actors aren't graduates of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but even by this standard, the acting ability of Jesse Eastern defies description. In a filmed interview included as a bonus extra, Bud Lee can't help but admit he could not get a credible performance from Eastern, at least in the non-sex scenes. Eastern is so bad that his temperamental outbursts on screen threaten to eclipse the sex scenes in terms of entertainment value.
Both movies were produced for porn legend Bob Chinn's Caribbean Films. The special edition includes original trailers for both movies. If retro erotic films appeal to you, this double feature is another impressive winner from Vinegar Syndrome.