Noel Harrison as agent Mark Slate in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
Noel Harrison, who rode the wave of "British Invasion" music to U.S. shores in the 1960s, has died at age 79. The son of legendary actor Rex Harrison, Noel took a different path than his famed father. At the height of his career, he dropped out of show business to do construction work because he disdained living the life of a celebrity. He was also a championship skier at one time. At his peak, Harrison's well-received folk songs won him loyal followers and some of the songs charted as hits. His biggest splash came when he recorded "The Windmills of Your Mind", the classic title song for the 1968 film "The Thomas Crown Affair" starring Steve McQueen. The song won an Oscar and is still "covered" by artists today. In terms of acting, Harrison only dabbled in the field. He had minor roles in 1960s films like "Agent 8 3/4", "The Best of Enemies" and "Where the Spies Are". He became a heart throb for teenagers during his co-starring role opposite Stefanie Powers in "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." He also guest starred on numerous prominent TV series. Harrison resumed his career as a folk singer and found his audience was still enthused about his work. He cut an acclaimed album in 2002. Upon hearing of his death, Stefanie Powers issued this statement:"My darling friend Noel Harrison passed last night. Let us all light a candle to speed him on his way - he deserves to fly with the angels." For more click hereClick here to visit the Noel Harrison web site.
Eastwood and Siegel on the set of Dirty Harry in 1971.
They made five films together and all of them have stood the test of time. Clint Eastwood and his mentor, Don Siegel, gave us Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Beguiled and Escape From Alcatraz. Each of these movies were not only highly entertaining, some have become classics of their respective genres. It was Siegel who encouraged Eastwood to make his directorial debut in 1971 with Play Misty For Me, and Eastwood would follow Siegel's penchant for shooting fast, efficiently and under-budget.Eastwood was a bit nervous about the prospect and persuaded Siegel to play a supporting role in the film simply so he would be on hand in case any problems arose behind the camera. The rest, as they say, is history. Eastwood would go on to dedicate his Oscar winning 1992 film Unforgiven to both Siegel and his original mentor, Sergio Leone. Den of Geek web site writer Aliyea Whiteley takes a look back on the collaborative films made by Eastwood and Siegel. Click here to read.
(For Cinema Retro's tribute to the original Dirty Harry films, see issue #9) Limited copies left: $30 includes postage)
Writing on the Diabolique magazine web site, Cinema Retro contributor Harvey Chartrand takes a look at the UK Blu-ray release of the long-lost horror film and "social satire" Sleepwalker by British director Saxon Logan. Click here to read the fascinating story behind this film that has just been resurrected by the British Film Institute.
Click here for the fascinating story of how one determined man managed to restore the original Volvo P1800 driven by Roger Moore in The Saint TV series. The car had been abandoned and had been relegated to the status of a complete wreck. Kevin Price found the car neglected in a field in North Wales but it still took six years for him to persuade the owner to sell it to him. Price then spent a decade tracking down replacement parts and six more years to restore the vehicle, which is the original one driven by Moore in the series. The car is now a star in its own right at UK auto shows.
Ed Lauter, the popular character actor who specialized in playing tough guys, has died at age 74. Lauter was one of those familiar faces who was recognized by audiences even though many viewers did not know his name. For movie buffs, however, Lauter was well known and highly respected. He had dabbled with being a standup comic in the 1960s before trying his hand at acting. Lauter quickly gained a reputation as a reliable character actor and he became in-demand during the 1970s. Among his most memorable roles were a ruthless prison guard in director Robert Aldrich's 1974 hit The Longest Yard and as Ann-Margret's ill-fated husband in Richard Attenborough's 1978 thriller Magic. Other prominent roles included Hitchcock's final film Family Plot, The Magnificent Seven Ride!, Breakheart Pass, French Connection II, Hickey& Boggs, Death Wish 3 and, most recently Trouble With the Curve and the 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist.He also appeared extensively on television and co-starred in the acclaimed TV movie The Jericho Mile. For more click here
It's one of our favorite comedies of all time. We were delighted to find this Youtube footage from Hollywoodbackstage.com showing the star-studded 1963 premiere of Stanley Kramer's epic comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Cinerama Dome Theatre in L.A. The guest list included stars of the film such as Milton Berle, Edie Adams and Terry-Thomas along with George Burns, Barbara Rush, Maureen O'Hara, James Garner and Rhonda Fleming.
Writer Kara Kovalchick takes a look at those vanishing elements that used to make movie-going so enjoyable but which now seem relegated to the distant past. From red velvet curtains to free dishes to uniformed ushers, these are reminders of how an evening at the movies used to be a special night out. It recalls an era when people didn't have the ability to disrupt their fellow viewers by texting and chatting on mobile phones! Click here to read
Director King Vidor's follow-up film to his massive success The Big Parade, was a relentlessly downbeat silent film titled The Crowd. The film was extremely ambitious and boasted superb production design in its cynical depiction of how big city life seems to work relentlessly against an ambitious young man and his new bride. The film's downbeat story line alienated many viewers during its initial release in 1928, but the movie foreshadowed the onslaught of unexpected misery that would envelop America the very next year with the onset of the Great Depression. In a column on TCM's Move Morlocks blog, writer R. Emmet Sweeney looks at the background of this fascinating film and reveals that it's eventual release on home video is dependent upon sales of Warner's forthcoming The Big Parade DVD. (TCM recently ran a rare broadcast of the film.) He also discusses the tragic fate of the movie's star, James Murray. Click here to read
Natalie cools off even as she heats up the audience in Splendor in the Grass.
Kimberly Lindbergs of the Movie Morlocks site presents her "Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood" through analyzing Love With the Proper Stranger, This Property is Condemned, Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass. (What? No West Side Story or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice???) We concur that Natalie Wood's screen presence just seems to get better with time. Click here to find out why.
For a brief shining moment she was the "it" girl. In the 1940s, gorgeous Veronica Lake took Hollywood by storm. With her blonde mane done up in a distinctive style that is still very much in-vogue, Lake had the makings of an enduring sex siren. However, poor career choices coupled with a troubled personal life led to an equally rapid decline and an early death in relative obscurity. Writer Shawn Dwyer looks at the rise and fall of this Hollywood legend. Click here to read
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
We admit to not being among those who think Caddyshack is up there with the great Charlie Chaplin comedy classics. We might agree that it merits inclusion with the greatest work of nightclub comic/actor Charlie Callas, but there is no denying we're in the minority on this one. We actually prefer the comparative sophistication of Rodney Dangerfield's other starrers, Easy Money and Back to School. Yet, Caddyshack has spawned a fanatical following since its release in 1980 and the fan movement seems to only increase with every year. Count Tiger Woods among those who consider it their favorite comedy. Bill Murray's role as goofy groundskeeper Carl Spackler is probably his most popular screen character -though he is continuously upstaged by Mr. Gopher. The gopher scenes were ironically shot after most of the main photography had been completed. Director Harold Ramis experimented with using a live animal as Murray's on-screen nemesis but opted for a modular critter when the real gopher proved to be too unreliable (you know how actors are!) Special effects wizard John Dykstra built the immortal rodent who has earned his own place in the movie comedy hall of fame.
The story of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet had been filmed many times
prior to director Franco Zeffirelli's acclaimed 1968 version. Earlier
versions were hampered by the casting of actors in the title roles who were old enough to be in nursing homes. However, Zeffirelli cast
actual teenagers in the parts: 17 year old Leonard Whiting and 16 year
old Olivia Hussey. Zeffirelli also took advantage of the artistic
freedoms afforded filmmakers in the 1960s and depicted for the first
time the sexual desires of the two lovers.The result was a box-office
hit that appealed not only to critics but also to a younger generation
that could finally identify with the actors cast in the key roles. (For actor Michael York's exclusive interview about co-starring in Romeo and Juliet, see Cinema Retro issue #6)
"A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT: A LOST CASSAVETES CLASSIC"
Cinema Retro columnist Dean Brierly examines a buried treasure from the early career of John Cassavetes
Too Late Blues (1962) Directed by: John Cassavetes Written by: Richard Carr, John Cassavetes Starring: Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens, Everett Chambers
Fade In There are lost films and then there are films so far gone it’s as if they never existed. At best, they make stealth appearances on late-night TV about as often as sightings of Halley’s Comet. Too Late Blues is such a film. This celluloid bastard child was born from the unlikely coupling of Paramount Pictures (i.e., the Hollywood establishment) and the anti-Hollywood actor/writer/director John Cassavetes. Yet while both parents swiftly disowned their jointly produced offspring, the film has tenaciously clung to a marginal life in the shadows of film history.
Nearly without exception, critics savaged Too Late Blues upon its release, labeling it mawkish, overwrought and ridiculous. At times, it is all of these things, yet its stylistic daring and the emotional depth charges set off by its lead actors transcend the film’s limitations. Indeed, its very awkwardness serves to underscore the instability of its ambitious yet emotionally stunted characters. The few souls lucky enough to have witnessed the minor miracle that is Too Late Blues find that it lodges in the memory with the persistence of a jilted lover.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
(This article originally ran in June 2007)
The latest sci-fi special edition release from Fox is the eagerly-awaited Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The TV spin-off series from the mid 1960s has built such a devoted cult following that many people forget it was based on a major big screen feature film produced by Irwin Allen. The eccentric producer has always been marginalized by the lifted pinky crowd for being the schlockmaster supreme, but Allen was a dedicated craftsman who cared not a whit about the critical establishment. He had an uncanny sense for reading the mood of moviegoers and providing the precise type of entertainment they craved at any particular time. By the time his instincts began to fail him in the late 1970s, he had already produced some of the most popular and highest-grossing motion pictures of all time, to say nothing of cult TV classics like Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and of course, the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea spin-off.
Remember when glamour and style were commonplace in Hollywood? If not, then revel in this rare photo from the Cinema Retro archives of Audrey Hepburn attending the premiere of My Fair Lady in 1964. America is not supposed to have royalty, but Miss Hepburn never got the memo.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
I've got to admit that when I received this screener from Fox I forestalled watching it. The 1973 film was only vaguely familiar to me and I kept putting off viewing it in order to handle more important priorities: like working on my 6-foot decoupage tribute to Lorne Greene. When I finally did watch The Neptune Factor I was pleasantly surprised at how competently it was made and how engrossing the story is. Fox has given this little-seen adventure film a quasi-deluxe release to tie it in with similarly-themed titles like Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The film is inferior to Fantastic Voyage but I enjoyed it far more than the latter film, which has dated noticeably.
The next time you think you've got too much time on your hands, consider Canadian artist Kristan Horton,who professes not to own a TV, but somehow became so obsessed with Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove that he's recreated some of the most iconic sequences from the film using everyday household objects. This is the kind of time-consuming diversion one would think was last practiced by inhabitants of the Bastille, yet we have to admit Horton has fashioned some remarkable images. We can't wait to see his tribute to General Jack D. Ripper's "precious bodily fluids"! The web site www.cinematical.com uncovered this bizarre tribute. To indulge yourself click here.
"MEIN FUHRER, THEY'VE MADE A TRIBUTE TO ME USING CLOTHESPINS AND DINNERWARE!"
Ever wonder why the plot lines and even trailers of today's action movies often seem indistinguishable? Well, the truth is that they are intentionally made to be indistinguishable.Slate writer Peter Suderman reveals that the late author Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat! was designed to give aspiring screenwriters some tips about producing scripts with commercial appeal. However, the self-help scenario worked too well. The book has been used as a formula by studio executives to commission big budget action movies that never stray far from some basic plot devices. It's as generic as you can get, with only the characters distinguishing one story from another. The article explains why Hollywood is so devoid of creativity: if one Iron Man movie makes a ton of money, just make ten more movies just like it. The strategy works theoretically, but not always financially. Audiences often know they are being served warmed over, recycled fare and this often results in such "sure-fire" hits bombing at the box-office. Click here to read
The Total Film web site provides a useful guide to 50 cinematic gems that have not received the recognition they deserve. Although there is a heavy concentration on horror movies, the list does include other genres as well. Click here to view
(The following review pertains to the UK-Region 2 DVD release)
This film is a true oddity, and one
that will most likely escaped the attention of even the most avid Orson Welles
fans. Three Cases of Murder is an anthology film featuring three short
stories, each by a different director, linked by British television personality
Eamon Andrews, who appears to have just got home from a night at the theatre.
The only loose connection is that each is about, well, murder, and each segment
also features Alan Badel. a British character actor who was better known at the
time for his theatre work, but is superb here.
"The Picture" is set in an
art gallery, where the glass over a painting has been mysteriously smashed, and
several items have been stolen. Despite these nefarious goings on no culprit
has ever been caught. The museum tour guide meets an oddly dressed gentleman
(Badel) who engages him in conversation about this painting, a large portrait
of a gothic, fog-enshrouded manor house. Before he knows quite what has
happened to him, our tour guide finds himself actually inside the house itself.
This strange man reveals himself to have been the artist who painted the
picture. He had died before it was completed. It transpires that all the
pictures in the gallery act as a form of afterlife limbo, where the dead are
forced to live inside the paintings, stealing whatever they can from the
gallery. Also living in the house are a sinister, attractive young woman and a
truculent old taxidermist, obsessed with collecting butterflies.
This first story is by far the best of
the bunch, and plays out like a missing Twilight Zone episode, with its
stark lighting, fantastical story, weird camera angles and sickening twist
ending. Of particular interest is that
this segment was directed by Wendy Toye, who was that most rarest of people: a
female director in the 1950s British film industry. She had begun her career as
a dancer and actress, before moving into theatre and then film direction. At that
time there was only one other female director in the country, Muriel Box,
showing just what a difficult industry it was for women to rise beyond the
traditional production jobs on offer; script girl, wardrobe or makeup. The fact
that "The Picture" is the best, most inventive part of Three Cases
of Murder is testament to what a great talent she had, a talent that was
greatly underused in British cinema.
The second story, "You Killed
Elizabeth", is a mini-Hitchcock thriller regarding two best friends who
fall out over a girl. Murder and drink-fuelled amnesia lead to another surprise
twist where we learn the true cost of betrayal. Compared to the inventiveness
of the first segment, this story comes across a little flat. It was directed by
David Eady, his first contribution to a feature film. He went on to have a
minor directing career in British television and B pictures.
The final story is "Lord
Mountdrago", and casts Orson Welles as a pompous foreign secretary in the
old boys network of British politics. Although the story was directed by George
More O'Ferrall, who had a long career in television, it is claimed Welles
himself took over most of the directing. This is only a rumour, but it is not
hard to believe given his reputation.
Welles plays the titular Lord
Mountdrago, who after publicly humiliating a rival politician (Alan Badel
again) begins to suffer from nightmares, where he is himself repeatedly
humiliated by this same politician. After receiving psychiatric counselling he
refuses to acknowledge that a simple apology to the man he had wronged would
solve the problem. Instead he begins to believe that murder is the only way to
restore his sanity.
This story shares a similar Twilight
Zone feel to "The Picture", but is largely played for laughs. Welles,
who was appearing here whilst working in theatre, throws himself into the role
with gusto, unafraid of making Lord Mountdrago look increasingly ridiculous,
including an appearance at a party where he has forgotten to put on his
Three Cases of Murder is an odd little film, but is
certainly worth revisiting in this new release. It deserves to be given some
attention, and serves a reminder of just how creative even low budget B films
could be. This DVD from Odeon Entertainment includes a booklet which mostly
focuses on Orson Welles. The most significant extra is the inclusion of the
short film Return to Glennascaul, an Irish ghost story also featuring
Welles which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953. It is a creepy warning
on the perils of picking up hitchhikers, and is worth the purchase of this DVD
You can order Three Cases of Muder from Odeon
Entertainment by clicking here
Cartoonist and film book author Sophie Cossette pays tribute to the late, great British director Ken Russell, calling him "The Mad Hatter of British Sinema" and examining the stories behind Russell's controversial films. There's also her unique cartoons that enhance the very enlightening analysis. Click here to view
Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) is a shy,
introverted teenager who is transferred to Indian Hills High School in Calabasas,
CA because he played hooky too many times at his previous school and needs to
be set on the straight and narrow. After
shuffling awkwardly from class to class, he becomes friends with Rebecca Ahn
(Katie Chang), a peer who dresses well, pays him attention, and is obsessed
with celebrities and who loves to party. When they aren't in school, Marc accompanies
Rebecca as she looks through unlocked vehicles for cash and anything valuable that
she can resell. Mark later happens to mention in passing that a friend of his
is currently out of town; naturally, he and Rebecca gain entrance to the friend’s
house and search through the belongings. Mark is visibly nervous and wants to leave.
Rebecca pilfers the keys to a Porsche and they go joyriding.Her attitude towards this behavior is
troubling in the carefree and apathetic way that she conducts herself.She seems to have absolutely no problem
taking other people’s property, even in broad daylight, and using it for how
own amusement and gain.Rebecca begins
to get restless and more daring, and while she and her friends are out
socializing at a famous club also attended by Paris Hilton and Kirsten Dunst, she
gets the idea to rob Ms. Hilton's home. Using all social media and mapping
websites to her advantage, she locates the real home addresses of her favorite
celebrities and, with Marc and several friends in tow (one of whom is Nicki,
played by Emma Watson), goes on a massive five-finger discount that includes
purses, expensive shoes, jewelry, Rolex watches, and thousands of dollars in
cash.What is all the more amazing is
that despite Marc’s hesitance and obvious reluctance, no one even thinks for a
minute that they are being watched by closed-circuit security cameras.
If this story sounds familiar, it
should. Based upon Nancy Jo Sales’s article The
Suspects Wore Louboutins
that was published in the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, The
Bling Ring (2013) is director Sophia Coppola’s fifth feature film (a made-for-Lifetime movie of the same name and about the same subject aired in 2011). Loosely based upon the true story of a pack
of young celebrity gawkers who go to extreme lengths to emulate the style and
fashion sense of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr and anybody else
they deem worthy of adulation and emulation was highly publicized some years
back. As depicted in the film, these
young adults don't appear to be inherently bad
people. They are simply caught up in the
excitement of the 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week celebrity reporting that is
constantly aflutter on the Internet; they give in to their temptation to break
the law. Why they do what they do is not so apparent. They seem to want to be famous, just like the
people they look up to. Several of them foolishly take photos of themselves at
the scenes of the crimes and post them on their walls on their Facebook pages. It never occurs to them that what they are
doing is wrong. They all seem to have the idea that the people’s houses they are
burglarizing are so rich that they won’t even notice that most of these lavish
items are missing. By the end film,
however, the house of cards comes crashing down when the police get involved and
they are all arrested and given prison sentences.
ways, The Bling Ring is the flip side
of Mrs. Coppola’s previous film, 2010’s Somewhere,
which was an introspective look at the life of a very famous actor miserable in
his existence of fame and fortune. Somewhere, and 2003’s Lost in Translation, both were eloquent studies
in loneliness (the former in one’s own surroundings and the latter in a foreign
environment) and a case can be made for Marc in The Bling Ring. He’s a
teenager who feels like an outcast; he’s a nobody
desperately trying to be a somebody.
Coppola imbues the film with humor, too. The character of Nicki and her home life is not a fabrication. She is based upon Alexis Neiers, a young
model and actress wannabe who was the subject of the “reality” series Pretty Wild, which lasted nine episodes
and depicted her home life and relationship with her sisters and mother. Alexis’s
mom, one-time Playboy model Andrea Arlington, does her best under the
circumstances trying to raise these young women, however she seems to rely on
Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret a little
too much in scenes that induce interior smiles. Her mom During the course
of filming the show, Alexis was arrested for her participation in the
Coppola continues to bifurcate audiences into the love it or hate it
camps. Unlike Somewhere (my vote for her best film so far), which illustrates the
director’s love of Michelangelo Antonioni’s work, The Bling Ring is a far more audience-friendly film.
The extras, all in high definition, on
the disc contain:
The Bling Ring: On Set with Sofia, the Cast and Crew featurette (22:51) is exactly what the
title entails. The filmmakers talk about
how the project came about (Mrs. Coppola read the Vanity Fair article on a plane and assumed that it was already
optioned for a film), how the film was cast (the ringleader was the most
difficult to cast), and some of the actors weigh in with their views of the
the Real Bling Ring (23:46)
is a very interesting featurette that discusses the actual case and the real
names of those involved in the 2008/2009 events.
of the Crime with Paris Hilton
(10:37) Ms. Hilton gives us a tour of her house where the film was shot and
bemoans the fact that most of her stolen jewelry consisted of irreplaceable pieces
handed down throughout the years in her family. A humorous bit includes a mini tour of her mini doghouse for her seven
The theatrical trailer is also included
and runs just shy of two minutes.
My only complaint is the lack of an
audio commentary, something that Mrs. Coppola perhaps does not have an interest
in doing, a trend that I hope she reverses.
was the first and only time two famous filmmaking Swedes worked together—the
enigmatic, existential, and brilliant director Ingmar Bergman, and the glamorous,
international star of Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman (no relation). According to Ingmar in a filmed introduction
he made in 2003, he and Ingrid had met and agreed that one day she would act in
one of his films. Then, apparently he
and Ingrid met again at a film festival in the mid-70s. She reminded him of their promise; he told
her about the script he was working on, in which Liv Ullmann would play the
daughter, but he hadn’t cast the mother yet. Done deal. But, in a
recently-filmed interview, Ullmann relates how the two Bergmans did not get
along very well for the longest period. Ingrid wanted to do it one way, Ingmar another—and he had never dealt
with such a headstrong Hollywood personality before. In the end, though, Ingrid capitulated to the
director, eventually admitting that he was right. He must have been, for she was nominated for
a Best Actress Oscar and picked up a slew of other awards in 1978, and sadly,
it was to be her final feature film.
Autumn Sonata is a chamber piece
and feels as if it could be a stage play; indeed, it has been adapted to the
stage after the fact. The story is simple—a
world-famous concert pianist in her sixties stops touring for a moment to visit
her estranged forty-something daughter and husband in Norway. Both of them seem to know that they’re going
to come to blows at some point during the stay, and they do. The last act is a painful, cathartic
angst-fest, as both women—mother and daughter—have it out with what went wrong
with their relationship. Oh, and to
complicate things, the mother’s other daughter
is at the house, too—and she suffers from a severe disability (possibly
Multiple Sclerosis). By the end, the
actresses will be exhausted and spent—and the audience will be as well. This is serious, heavy-hitting Bergman (the
director), and it displays just how effortlessly—it appears—he could dig deeply
into the emotional psyches of two very gifted actresses, more so than we have
ever seen before. It’s not a
particularly “fun” time at the movies, but it is a powerful exercise in acting and directing. Serious fans of the theatre, and with the
Bergmans—both of them—will surely find this to be a stunning little drama.
Sven Nykvist’s color cinematography is gorgeous
in its new 2K digital restoration. The
Blu-ray exhibits some natural graininess, but the improvement over Criterion’s
earlier DVD release of the film is substantial. Extras include the previously mentioned Introduction by Bergman himself;
audio commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie; the Liv Ullmann interview; a
vintage interview between Ingmar Bergman and critic John Russell Taylor at the
National Film Theater in London in 1981; and, astonishingly, a three-and-a-half-hour “making of” on-set
documentary. That’s more than twice as
long as the movie itself. The film
chronicles the entire production—initial readings, rehearsals, dress
rehearsals, filming—it certainly gives you a feel for how Bergman worked. The usual classy booklet (with an essay by
critic Farran Smith Nehme) and packaging, hallmarks of The Criterion Collection, make Autumn Sonata a terrific addition to the home collection.
Italian screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni has passed away at age 87. Vincezoni was best known for his work on the Sergio Leone Western classics "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", both starring Clint Eastwood. Vincenzoni was rather dismissive of his work on these films, saying that he knocked off his writing contribution in a matter of days. In the case of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" he improvised and created a plot outline on the spot in order to win financing from United Artists. Vincezoni said he was most proud of other films that he worked on that were honored on the film festival circuit. Indeed, although regarded as classics today, the Leone Westerns were largely despised or ignored by the critical establishment in the 1960s. Vincenzoni once told Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling that one of his great regrets was allowing a feud over money to break his relationship with the legendary director. When Leone died, Vincenzoni, with more than a hint of amusing ego, took the blame saying, "As the more cultured man, I should have known better." For NY Times obituary click here
When F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote "There are no second acts in American lives", he would have missed the boat when it comes to actor Robert Davi. He's been a familiar face on the big screen and TV for decades and is known as one of the most memorable James Bond villains. Davi was generally regarded as a reliable and talented character actor. When I made his acquaintance some years ago, we instantly bonded. He is a regular guy with a New York attitude, no ego and a mutual love of exchanging ball-busting jokes with any other guy in his orbit. We share a love of good cigars and stories of old Hollywood but the difference, of course, is that Davi's stories are based on personal experience. His first major role came about when Frank Sinatra personally chose him as a co-star, despite his lack of experience. That was the basis of a long-time friendship and Davi always spoke reverently of Sinatra, s grateful for the break he gave him. A few years back, we were conversing over some stogies and arguing politics (we're on opposite sides but love debating the issues),when Davi told me he was determined to embark on a second career as a crooner of Sinatra's songs. In my typically gentle way of offering advice I told him he was crazy. I told him no one would go to a concert to see a guy who never sang a note on screen. Then shortly thereafter, Robert starred in a directed a little-seen independent movie called The Dukes, about an over-the-hill group of doo-woppers who were attempting to make a comeback. He did all of his own singing and was quite brilliant. The next thing I knew, he was being acclaimed as one of the best Sinatra tributes act ever. Davi is now the toast of the town, taking his show on the road around the country to packed houses. He's now fulfilling another dream by combining his singing talents on stage with Don Rickles, one of Sinatra's best cronies. In a review on The Huffington Post, writer Ellen Sterling calls him "A legend in the making". Sometimes nice guys do finish first. For more click here
Not too long after The Little Mermaid was released on Friday, November 14, 1989,
I saw it at the Guild Theater (aka the Guild 50th) next door to
Radio City Music Hall in New York.It
was a decent-sized theater that showed films from 1938 until 1999 when it was
gutted and replaced with a Nautica store (The
Little Mermaid’s Ariel would have felt at home here), and it is now an Anthropologie
branch for women.Thinking about the
Guild Theater made me miss the single screen showcases of New York such as the
Biograph, the Festival, the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the 8th Street
Playhouse, The Beekman, the Cinema I and Cinema II, and the 68th
Street Playhouse to name a few (the Paris on 57th Street is one of
the few remaining such theaters).They
were decent-size auditoriums and you had a very good chance of seeing something
special there in limited release.
The Little Mermaid is
one such film. It had been years since I
had seen a Disney film exhibited theatrically and, like most of us, had very little
inkling that the studio would be releasing a whole new slate of inspired and financially
successful animated features in the years to come (especially The Lion King, which I originally saw in
the form of an unfinished workprint at the Walter Reade Theater in New York in
early 1994). Originally published as Den lille havfrue (The Little Sea Lady) by Hans Christian Anderson on April 7, 1837 in
Fairy Tales Told for Children, The Little Mermaid tells the story of
Ariel, a sixteen year-old mermaid who, like human females of that age, becomes
restless living under the watchful eye of her father, King Triton, who only has
her best interests at heart. Ariel is cautioned
about humans and sternly told not to mingle with them. Of course, this only compels her to seek them
out. Along with her friends Flounder and Scuttle the Seagull, she surfaces and
sees a handsome man named Prince Eric on a ship that enters a dangerous storm. She is instantly smitten, and saves Eric’s
life, singing to him and disappearing just before he awakens. Having heard her voice, Eric wants to find
Ariel who, in turn, wants to be a part of the human world.
King Triton is suspicious of Ariel and
he drills Sebastian (the most memorable character in the film, though it is up
for debate if he is a crab or a lobster) for information about his daughter’s
sudden change in behavior. When it comes
out that she is in love with a human, her father reacts in rage and loses his
mind. At the urging of two eels (Flotsam
and Jetsam), Ariel goes to see a sea witch named Ursula to find out how she can
be with Eric. Ursula is not out to help
Ariel out of kindness, mind you. She
wants Ariel’s voice, and convinces Ariel to allow her to make her human for
three days in exchange for her voice. The
plan is to get Eric to kiss Ariel before the designated time runs out, or else
she will become a mermaid again and have to answer to Ursula (notions of
Cinderella spring to mind!).
All of this action is set to some truly
enjoyable songs, the most recognizable and popular of which are arguably “Part
of Your World”, “Under the Sea”, and “Kiss the Girl”. It’s hardly a surprise that “Under the Sea”
won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, while the film also won
both awards for Best Original Score. These
are the kinds of songs that are very memorable, even to people who have just
heard them and have not seen the film. Twenty-five
years later, The Little Mermaid is
one of the most well-known of the Walt Disney cartoons, gaining in popularity
among young children thanks in no small part to its availability on home video. New generations of fans who were born years
after the release of the film have sprung up and still dress up as the
characters for Halloween, with Ariel and Sebastian being top favorites.
The new Blu-ray is comprised of an
all-new, digitally restored picture. The
image is a marked improvement over previous versions and just pops off the
screen at you; this is clearly the best the film has looked on home video (I
remember seeing it on VHS and most of the image’s detail was completely lost). While The
Little Mermaid has been available on DVD in 1999 in a movie-only edition
and in 2006 in a 2-disc Platinum Edition with a wealth of extras, those extras
have been ported over to the Blu-ray in a special section called Classic DVD Bonus Features. In addition, the Blu-ray contains brand-new,
exclusive extras shot in high definition and they are comprised of:
Part of Your World
music video featuring Carly Rae Jepsen (3:39)
(10:45), a nice look at some of the many faces who have been working for years
at Disney, such as John Musker and Ron Clements, in addition to more recently
employed animators who were inspired by The
Little Mermaid to follow animation as their career path. This is one featurette I would have liked to
have seen last at least half an hour or more as I love hearing about what
motivates these artists.
Deleted Character - Harold Merman (2:05) is a quick look at a character that was cut from the
film. This segment is presented in sketch
Under the Scene - The Art of Live Action Reference (13:13) is a look at how the animators use real-life
stand-ins who go through the motions of the main characters in the film, and
then draw the movements of the performers to get the nuances of the animated characters. Animators John Musker and Ron Clements spoke
to actress Kathryn Beaumont about her experiences acting out Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan to get an idea of how to draw
the characters in The Little Mermaid. Ruben Aquino, the directing animator, talks
about the challenges of making moving images into living and breathing
characters that exude emotion. They also
interview the real-life performers who acted out the lead animated roles for
Eric and Ariel in footage shot in 1988.
Howard’s Lecture (16:27)
is a look at the late Howard Ashman and his contribution to the film.
Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland (4:45) smacks a little of self-promotion, but it offers up
an exuberant Jodi Benson taking us through Disney’s New Fantasyland which
showcases many of the later Disney characters.
Crab-e-oke Sing-Along is
a cleverly-titled section that allows you to sing along with a handful of the
film’s best-known songs.
The aforementioned Classic DVD Bonus Features (in standard definition) is here, too
and it includes: deleted scenes; backstage Disney; music and more; an audio
commentary with John Musker, Ron Clements, and composer Alan Menken; Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea; Behind the Ride That Almost Wasn’t; and Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride
Inspired by Disney Imagineers.
This 2-disc diamond edition contains a
standard DVD of the film and a digital copy. The bonus features included are: Part
of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland, classic deleted
scenes, an alternate version of “Fathoms Below,” and a Fight with Ursula/alternate
All in all, this is a great package of
a now classic film, making the upgrade to Blu-ray well worth it. A great idea for Christmas!
This ‘jewel in
the nation’s crown’ is being re-released to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of its first broadcast which took
place on 31st October 1973
The World at War
is regarded by many to be one of the greatest documentary series of all time.
This BAFTA and Emmy Award winning documentary series, which was first broadcast
40 years ago, was the first factual series of its kind to document the full
history of World War II. The series was memorably narrated by legendary screen
actor and stage icon
The World at War
has been inspiring film makers and historians for the past 40 years including
such programmes as the BBC’s ‘Nazis a Warning from History’, produced by
Laurence Reece, and more recently Oliver Stone’s ‘Untold History of the United
States’ , both series creators’ laying claim to being inspired by The World at
The World at War was conceived and produced by Sir
Jeremy Isaacs and was first broadcast on the ITV Network on the 31st October 1973. Making use of of rare black and
white and colour film archive footage supplied by the Imperial War Museum, this
26 part documentary series investigates the events surrounding World War II and
features interviews with major members of the Allied and Axis campaigns,
including civilian eyewitnesses, enlisted men, officers, government advisors
and politicians, to create what is widely agreed to be the definitive history
of World War II and a landmark in British television history.
In 2010 the series went through a major
digital restoration upgrade to HD - the archive film used in the series is the
only World War II footage of its kind to be restored and remastered to HD 16.9
and 5.1 Sound.
Lord Olivier provided brilliant narration for the series.
DVD & Blu-ray
RRP: DVD Price: £79.99
RRP: Blu-ray Price:
Discs: DVD 11
Discs: Blu-ray 9
Running time: DVD 739mins
Running time: Blu-ray769mins
Catalogue No: DVD
Barcode: DVD 5030697017918
Region: 0 for both DVD &
The World at
War 40th Anniversary release is distributed by
FremantleMedia Home Entertainment and is available from all good DVD
stockists online and in store
from 31st October 2013.
Cinema Retro mourns the passing of director Richard C. Sarafian, who has passed away at age 83. Sarafian may not be a household name but in the film industry he was held in great regard, especially by maverick younger directors like Quentin Tarantino who emulated his work and style. Crusty, outspoken and often littering his sentences with curses that would make a longshoreman blush, Sarafian was an uncompromising man when it came to his personal visions of how his movies should be constructed. He started off directing episodes of classic TV series including I Spy and Batman and his best known work from the 1960s is the eerie "Living Doll" episode of The Twilight Zone in which Telly Savalas as a cruel stepfather gets his comeuppance at the hands of possessed toy doll. Sarafian graduated into feature films and directed the movie which gained him fame, if not fortune: Vanishing Point, the 1971 action film that included ground breaking car chases that influenced action films for decades to come. (Like most superior works, it spawned an inferior remake.) In interview with Cinema Retro for issue #12, Sarafian said the experience of making the movie was not a happy one. Studio brass insisted on re-editing the movie and taking most of the nuance out of the story. He was also dissatisfied with having to cast Barry Newman in the lead, as he had been hoping the studio would sign either George C. Scott or Gene Hackman. The film laid an egg at the boxoffice but with the advent of home video it became a cult classic. Sarafian had more troubles on the set of the 1973 Western The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing starring Burt Reynolds. During production, a mysterious murder took place on the set that gained the production notorious headlines around the world. Sarafian was more satisfied with Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris and John Huston. He also directed the 1976 Sean Connery thriller The Next Man. By 1988, however, his career was in decline due to his refusal to toe the line with studio executives and the fact that some of his films were not successful. He hoped a high profile disaster movie titled Solar Crisis would reignite his career but he went over budget and once again clashed with the studio. Sarafian called the finished film a mess and had his name removed from the credits. In more recent years, he dabbled in acting, playing small character roles in high profile movies.
On a personal note, Sarafian was a great fan of Cinema Retro and would occasionally call this writer to discuss specific issues.Even when he praised an article, it was with plenty of expletives attached. A refreshing aspect of Sarafian's personality is that, while he detested studio "suits", he also didn't shy away from taking personal responsibility for some films he deemed to be artistic failures. Needless to say, he was a one-of-a-kind talent and movie lovers everywhere will mourn his passing.
Author and screenwriter William Boyd is the latest noted author to take a crack at writing a one-shot James Bond novel. Solo is set in 1969 and involves the adventures of a 45 year old 007. Boyd says his story ideas caused some controversy among members of Ian Fleming's family, which still retain rights to his work. Boyd admires Fleming's writing style but feels says that the original novels are now a bit cringe-inducing to read in terms of their treatment of women and minorities. He says that Solo reflects a more modern attitude and avoids sexism and racism. The novel is due to be released this week. Click here to read more.
HBO has made a deal with executive producers J.J. Arbrams and Jerry Weintraub to buy a pilot for a TV series based on Michael Crichton's thriller Westworld. The story was already made into a hit 1973 MGM film starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. If the story line remains consistent, it will involve the establishment of a high end amusement park where people can live out their most extreme fantasies. The park features exact period recreations of various eras of history with the gimmick that highly sophisticated robots are intermingled with the guests and are indistinguishable from the humans, who can use or abuse them as their fantasies dictate. Things go wrong when a design flaw in the control program allows the robots to think for themselves and rebel against their human masters. For more click here
Director James Whale's impact on early sound cinema cannot be overstated. His classics Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are as revered as ever by critics and retro movie lovers. On the TCM Movie Morlocks blog, writer Kimberly Lindbergs delves into Whale's psychological state and examines how his experiences in WWI might have influenced his films...and possibly led to his suicide in 1957. Click here to read
Sony has released the original soundtrack to Robert Altman's 1970 anti-war comedy M*A*S*H as a burn-to-order title. The original vinyl version of the soundtrack, issued in conjunction with the film, was considered quite unique at the time because the bulk of the tracks consisted of dialogue from the film as opposed to composer Johnny Mandel's score. A criticism was that the original release only provided a truncated vocal version of the main theme, which is actually titled Suicide is Painless. In 1995, a remastered CD of the soundtrack was released with the full version of the song along with some bonus tracks and it is this version that has just been reissued by Sony. With the exception of the brilliant title theme, most of Mandel's amusing score is only heard in snippets, with the dialogue from the film still providing the basis for the content. It's rather odd to remember that in the pre-home video era, listening to dialogue from a film such as this was a rare treat. The success of the subsequent TV series has led many people to forget that there initially was an Oscar-nominated film that inspired the show. Thus, you can relive the zany wisecracks of the original Hawkeye and Trapper John (Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould) interacting with Hot Lips (Sally Kellerman), Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Radar (Gary Burghoff, the only cast member carried over from the film to the TV series). A third lead in the film was Duke Forrest, played by Tom Skerritt, but the character was not imported to the TV show, though he is present on the album.
With the dialogue compromising the bulk of the soundtrack, you can at least revel in Suicide is Painless in its uncut glory. The song was deemed too controversial for TV so an instrumental version was used on the series. The brilliance of the lyrics resonate even today, as the gentle, seemingly benign folk song extols the joys of offing oneself. Shockingly, the lyrics were written by Robert Altman's 14 year-old son, though he did not receive a screen but is said to have made a fortune in royalties over the decades.
The M*A*S*H soundtrack is certainly an oddity, coming at a time when albums derived from hit films consisted entirely of music. However, if Altman broke the rules with his off-the-wall anti-Establishment gags, it seems only suitable that the soundtrack did the same. It's a great deal of fun to return to the days when audio snippets of your favorite films were as close as you could get to experiencing them, at least until cut-up, watered down versions would be released to television.
The Penthouse production of Caligula raised more than a few eyebrows with the last minute decision to insert hardcore sex scenes.
On the heels of the news that the leading actors had been cast for the film adaptation of the steamy S&M-laced bestseller Fifty Shades of Gray, the web site Do You Remember takes a stroll down memory lane and looks at other notorious major releases that are primarily remembered for their sexual content. Click here to indulge.
Last evening I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The unique two-night event at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center had commenced on Tuesday with an evening hosted by Alec Baldwin (who helped conceive of the tribute's format.) Last evening, the closing night's performance was hosted by Sam Waterson, who provided insights into the films chosen for inclusion and the composers who created the memorable scores. Under the banner The Art of the Score, master conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos lead orchestra in a presentation of flawlessly performed original music from specific Hitchcock films in synch with dialogue from the film clips shown. It's an impressive feat, given the fact that being off timing by a mere second could wreak havoc on the concept. The film scores honored were To Catch a Thief (Lyn Murray), Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann), Strangers on a Train (Dimitri Tiomkin), Dial M for Murder (Tiomkin), North By Northwest (Herrmann) and Hitchcock's amusing signature theme, Funeral March of a Marionette which was composed by Charles Gounod in 1872. The entire main title sequences of each film were shown as the orchestra performed the themes. The effect was truly wonderful, with both Kitsopoulos and the orchestra in top form. One became even more aware of how vital Hitchcock's composers were to the quality of his films. What struck me is how such unabashedly lush and often romantic scores have been relegated to the past in today's film industry in which composers are relegated to the status of necessary evils. The work of these masters will be performed for generations after today's largely nondescript film scores have long been forgotten. The strongest part of the performance came after the intermission with particularly effective sequences and music from Dial M for Murder and North By Northwest having a mesmerizing effect on the audience. You could have heard a pin drop. The latter film, which boasts what is arguably Herrmann's greatest score, seemed to be the performance that resonated most with the audience. The concept of having dialogue included in the film clips did not sit well with everyone. My wife, for example, felt that the magnificence of the orchestra was undermined by the inclusion of dialogue in the clips. She maintained that the orchestra was so flawless that the viewer lost sight of the fact that it was a live performance and not simply the original soundtrack being played on celluloid. The Gounod piece, for example, was presented over silent home movies of Hitchcock. The concept could have worked brilliantly but someone diluted the impact by inter-cutting snippets of the trailer from North By Northwest in which Hitchcock makes amusing witticisms about world travel. It might well be more effective if future presentations designed along similar lines presented the film clips without the dialogue and perhaps inter-cut them with still images so that the full effect of the orchestra could resonate even better with audience. Nevertheless, any evening at Avery Fisher Hall is a special occasion and this was a masterful tribute to a master director.
Veering off topic for a bit, I do have to be a bit of a grouch, though it has nothing to do with the venue or the orchestra. Rather, it concerns the behavior of audience members. True, they sat in rapt attention during the entire performance. However, at the end of the program, the maestro had barely lowered his baton before a quarter of the audience scrambled for the exit doors, like the sequence in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain in which a false alarm about a fire causes pandemonium. There was a time when audience members would be too ashamed to leave such a grand performance before the orchestra even took its first bow. Just how important is it to get the first cab or get to the parking lot before anyone else? This trend is nothing new. I've noticed it at Broadway plays. Half the audience is gone before the applause even kicks in at the finale. We all know New Yorkers are perpetually in a hurry but there was a time when a sense of manners and decorum would have trumped their impatience. The audience members who remained to applaud seemed to go out of their way to compensate for those who jumped ship early. I dunno. I guess its a sign of the times. In an era when people look to the casts of Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty for their role models, it's no surprise we're not seeing the likes of Noel Coward sitting next to us in the audience. Their rudeness and lack of courtesy may not have been intended as a slap in the face of the brilliant artists who performed last night, but the result was the same.
If you were a boy growing up in the mid-1960s, chances are you had the Man From U.N.C.L.E Thrushbuster Corgi car. Not only did it come in cool packaging that included a display stand with photos of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, but you also got a plastic ring with their photos on it. The ring would "flicker" and alternate the image of each actor. The well-made car was also pretty groovy- you pressed a button on top and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin would alternately shoot out of the side windows. (The add says there were sound effects for the gun shots but we don't recall this being the case). Most of the cars were painted blue but there were a small number of them available in white paint. These can now command hundreds of dollars on the collector's circuit. Here is an original ad for the car from the Moonbase Central web site.
Here's an unlikely pairing. It happened at the 1971 Grammy Awards when John Wayne presented the award for Best Motion Picture score. After insufferable small talk with Andy Williams, the Duke reads the winners: George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney for their score for Let It Be. Of course the Beatles were going kaput around that time, but Paul McCartney did dash up to the stage (with wife Linda) to utter a brief "Thank you" before running off again. Still, it's a fascinating pairing: Duke Wayne and Paul McCartney.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner was fresh off his Best Director Oscar triumph for Patton when he teamed with legendary producer Sam Spiegel for the historical epic Nicholas and Alexandra. The film was an adaptation of a best-selling book by Robert K. Massie that traced the tragic events leading to the assassination of Russia's last czar, along with his entire family. With a screenplay by the esteemed James Goldman (The Lion in Winter), the film had the potential to be another Spiegel classic. After all, Spiegel had teamed with director David Lean to produce two of the great cinematic masterpieces: The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Despite their mutual triumphs, Lean (like most people in the film industry) came to loathe the gruff Spiegel, whose mercurial temper knew no bounds. He would chastise gaffers and esteemed directors alike and Lean had had enough. When he began production on his 1965 blockbuster Doctor Zhivago, Spiegel's ego was bruised because Lean had teamed this time with producer Carlo Ponti. If Lean had made a boxoffice smash out of the Russian Revolution, Spiegel would prove he could do the same thing. Thus, Nicholas and Alexandra was borne more out of revenge than inspiration. In addition to hiring Schaffner for the project, Spiegel conspicuously brought two key members of the Zhivago team with him: production designer John Box and cinematographer Freddie Young. However, Spiegel's finances were not adequate to afford the big name stars he had hoped to cast in the lead roles. Thus, he was forced to cast relative unknowns from the British stage: Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman. To give the film some boxoffice allure, he cast a "Who's Who" of British acting royalty in supporting roles, comprised of legendary established stars and up-and-comers. They included Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Jack Hawkins (whose part was dubbed due to the actor's recent throat surgery), Harry Andrews, Tom Baker, John Wood, Roy Dotrice, Alexander Knox, Eric Porter and Timothy West.
The story, steeped in historical accuracy, finds Nicholas ill-prepared to serve as czar over a troubled Russia beset by devastating economic conditions. With the majority of his people facing starvation and a daily struggle to survive, Nicholas resides in palatial splendor in Petersburg with his headstrong wife, Alexandra. Nicholas is a good man in his own way. He cares about the peasants but lives in a bubble that prevents him from relating to their day-to-lives. Born of privilege, he knows no other life. The Romanovs have ruled Russia for three hundred consecutive years and he sees no reason for the tradition to stop with his dynasty. He is delighted when Alexandra presents him with a male heir to the throne, but the boy is sickly and suffers from life-threatening hemophilia. Still, it's a happy family with Nicholas doting over his daughters and young son. He seems oblivious that there is great resentment towards his wife, who manipulates his every move and keeps him cut off from personal friends. He ignores warnings from his ministers that he must tone down Alexandra's lavish spending habits, especially during the poor economic climate. A protest by peasants in 1905 builds tension further when a mishap causes the army to fire on the people, slaughtering hundreds of them. The seeds of revolution continue to grow with the agitator Lenin leading the charge in hopes of establishing a Bolshevik ruling party and deposing the czar. Nicholas' ill-fated decision to enter WWI against Germany brings about catastrophic results. Not only are his armies no match against the Kaiser's but Alexandra is of German heritage, which further builds public resentment against her. As Russian forces face devastating defeats on the battlefields, revolution spreads quickly through the country. Lenin's popularity grows, especially when he promises to make immediate peace with Germany if he is given power. Before long, the czar finds himself essentially powerless. He and his family are arrested but he still believes they will live an idyllic and peaceful life in exile. Instead, they are shunted between distant locations and housed in barely-livable conditions as the new order debates their fate. As we all know, it is a tragic one with Nicholas and his family abruptly shot to death by an assassination squad.
These dramatic developments play out slowly but in an interesting manner throughout the film's 183 minute running time. The performances are all first rate, with Jayston especially good as the sympathetic (if clueless) czar. Suzman is every bit his match as the egotistical Alexandra and each member of the supporting cast provides a gem of a performance, with Olivier and Harry Andrews especially impressive and Tom Baker stealing the entire movie with his mesmerizing performance as Rasputin, the crazed monk who had a Svengali-like influence over Alexandra, much to her husband's disgust. Yet, despite those attributes and a rich production design, the film never emotionally moves the viewer as much as one would expect. The characters remain somewhat opaque and the great historical events that affect them are only given marginal background and explanation. Schaffner clearly wanted to emphasize personal relationships over visual splendor and by and large he succeeded. However, there is some emotional component missing here. He crafted an impressive movie on many levels but one that perhaps did not fulfill its ultimate potential. The movie was greeted with the customary (some would say obligatory) Oscar nominations generally accorded historical epics. It was nominated for 6 awards (including nods for Best Picture and Actress) and won in two technical categories. Nevertheless, overall critical response was mixed and the film was considered a boxoffice disappointment. Schaffner would go on to make three more impressive films (Papillon, Islands in the Stream and The Boys From Brazil) and several flops before passing away in 1989 at age 69. Spiegel never regained the mojo he once enjoyed in the industry. He would only make two more relatively low-key films (The Last Tycoon, Betrayal) before he died in 1985 at age 84.
Twilight Time has released a magnificent Blu-ray edition of Nicholas and Alexandra, limited to 3,000 region-free units. The transfer is superb and this release maintains the original intermission break. Bonus features include an isolated track of Richard Rodney Bennett's impressive score, the original trailer and four very interesting vintage production featurettes, as well as an illustrated collector's booklet with scholarly notes by Julie Kirgo (almost worth the price of the Blu-ray alone). Nicholas and Alexandra may not be the classic Spiegel and Schaffner had envisioned, but in this age of dumbed-down action movies, it plays much better than it did upon its initial release in 1971. It's a film that educates even as it entertains and should be a part of any retro movie lover's home video collection.
Following on the successful premise of burn-to-order DVDs, Sony has expanded the process to its audio line, re-issuing retro-based albums on CD that have not been officially available for decades. One of the more notable releases is Come Spy With Me by Hugo Montenegro and His Orchestra. Montenegro composed original themes for TV series and feature films during the 1960s including Lady in Cement, the Matt Helm movies The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew as well as the music for the 1969 John Wayne-Rock Hudson starrer The Undefeated. However, his greatest success was as the king of cover versions of popular movie and TV themes. Montenegro's album of cover music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (nevertheless released as the "original" soundtrack) was so successful that it spawned a sequel album. Similarly, his cover version of Ennio Morricone's magnificent theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly became an international smash and earned him a gold record despite the fact that his rendition was positively anemic compared to Morricone's original. Nevertheless, Montenegro and his orchestra knew how to arrange music for popular tastes and his future influence on the music industry was characterized by helping to popularize the Moog synthesizer. Among his more successful albums was the aforementioned Come Spy With Me, the title of which was derived from a 1967 low-grade James Bond spoof. Nevertheless, it had a catchy title theme (originally written by Bob Flowers) and the cover of Montenegro's album had some eye-catching graphics of comely spy girls. The tracks include Montenegro's instrumental version of Come Spy With Me (the original had lyrics) as well an eclectic selection of title tracks from popular TV series and feature films:
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Our Man Flint
The James Bond Theme
Purists may balk at Montenegro's jazzy and often funky renditions of these themes, but if his purpose was to simply emulate the originals there would be no point in producing this album.
It's terrific to have a retro treasure like this back in circulation. Break out your old smoking jacket, grab a fine cigar and pour yourself a glass of wine...for the duration of this record, you'll be transported back to the glory days of spy movie music and the cover artists who celebrated the genre.
One of our favorite late career John Wayne movies is McQ, which finds the Duke as a tough detective tearing up Seattle to avenge the murder of his partner...and uncovering corruption in the top levels of the police department. The film presents one of the most exciting car chases of the era. Click here to watch the original trailer
Here's a look back at what was playing in Winnipeg, Canada during one week in 1966. The Sound of Music, Alfie, Doctor Zhivago, the remake of Stagecoach, The Appaloosa, How to Steal a Million, Gigi, The Glass Bottom Boat, Battle of the Bulge, A Fine Madness, The King and I, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Torn Curtain and a great double bill of Our Man Flint and Von Ryan's Express. Those were the days, indeed!
In an interview with The Guardian, screen legend Claudia Cardinale looks back on her remarkable career and recalls the great actors and directors she worked with. Cardinale is still making movies and claims that acting is her life's passion. Click here to read. Click here to visit Cardinale's official web site
film fans tend to have very memorable impressions of when they saw a thriller
that impacted them strongly. On Friday,
May 9, 1980, I watched the John Guillermin
version of King Kong on a rerun on
NBC-TV and eagerly discussed it the following day with my Boy Scout troupe on
our way into New York to visit the United Nations building. Walking through the New York streets was
quite an education in many ways, not the least of which was our journey through
the theater district along 42nd Street. On
the way, we saw movie marquee displays for pornographic movies (yikes!!) and
comedies such as Don Adams’ The Nude Bomb.
the 13th had just opened up the previous day, and a theater displayed lobby
cards depicting images from the film. One of them contained an image of a woman
screaming at a man who had been impaled on a wall with arrows. This was the first time I had seen such a graphic
image and it really made me wonder what the rest of the movie consisted of. I remember being really disturbed by it. It would be another seven years before I
would see Friday the 13th
on a local television station airing and I must admit that I found the film to
be mediocre at best. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), which I had seen five
years earlier, was more my cup of tea. I
found that film to be truly gripping
and tense. Years later I caught up with
the DVD release of Friday the 13th, however,
my reaction was still the same. I
suppose if I had seen the film when I was considerably younger it quite
possibly would have terrified me. One person it did terrify was author David Grove, one of the world’s foremost
authorities on this watershed horror film. He was just nine years-old when he caught a local television airing of
the film. He hasn't been the same since!
On Location in
Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th is the excellent new
book by Mr. Grove which should delight fans of the first in this now (in)famous
horror film franchise. Illustrated with nearly
300 black and white photos and written with the cooperation of people both in
front of and behind the camera, the book is an in-depth look at the making of a
film that made horror fans out of young kids. What is remarkable is that they (like Yours Truly) are still horror film fans to this day. It appears to be a life-long love that
doesn’t waver. If you have read the
excellent behind-the-scenes look at Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) in JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, this book is the
product of the same labor of love.
well researched, the book takes the reader through the film's humble beginnings
in 1979, from getting the cast and crew together, the script revisions to the
final draft, to the start of filming the day after Labor Day in September. The author draws parallels between the film
and the aforementioned predecessor, Halloween,
and also points out the differences between the two.
bulk of the book takes the reader to the actual physical locations where the
film was shot. As a traveler who loves
to go to the locations where my favorite horror movies were made, I only
discovered roughly five years ago that this film had been shot in my home state
of New Jersey! Yes, the Internet is a
wonderful tool. Armed with screenshots from
the film and directions from Google Maps, a friend of mine and I sought out as
many of the locations that are covered in this book, with the exception of Camp
NoBeBoSco, better known in the film as Camp Crystal Lake. Camp NoBeBoSco, where the bulk of the story
takes place, is actually a Boy Scout camp, and I only got as far as the
entrance. I have read about and heard
from friends that the inhabitants of this camp do not appreciate outsiders
trying to sneak in and have a look around, despite the film’s popularity. You
would think that they would set it up so that people could pay to stay there; I
would think that they would make a killing (pun most definitely intended). Then again, the camp would require an
enormous amount of upkeep as a result of the inevitable visitors who would try
to dismantle and take pieces of the remaining cabins as souvenirs!
makeup effects artist Tom Savini created what remains of Jason Voorhees, the
poor soul who drowned at the hands of distracted camp sitters. He speaks at length of his experiences on the
film. The book also nicely discusses where the cast ended up following the
film’s wrap and subsequent release.
may not be a fan of Friday the 13th,
but I have to acknowledge its place in the history of the horror genre and give
kudos to Mr. Grove for having written such an interesting, in-depth look at the
making of this film. As a result of his
tremendous efforts, I am going to revisit the film with a different point of
view. My appreciation for Friday the 13th and director
Sean Cunningham’s inexorable quest to get it made has grown as a result of this
must-have for Friday the 13th
completists and horror film fans alike.
Despite his aversion to making public appearances or attending awards shows (he has even shunned the Oscars when nominated), Woody Allen will receive the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at next year's Golden Globe ceremonies, to be telecast on January 14. For more click here
Ray Dolby, who is credited for revolutionizing the way sound was utilized in the motion picture industry, has died at age 80. Dolby's contributions to the film industry are largely taken for granted in today's era of special effects-driven, big budget movies. However, for those who first experienced the impact of the Dolby sound, the memories will resonate through their lives. The first Dolby sound system effect (which reduced background noise and ensured a crystal clean sound) was implemented in 1971 for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The younger generation of filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, would find the Dolby effect to be an essential part of their films and created sound-driven action sequences to highlight Dolby's achievements. For NY Times obituary, click here
George A. Romero's Day of the Dead
premiered on Friday, July 19, 1985, it was released in the same fashion that
his Dawn of the Dead was distributed seven
years earlier, which is to say without an MPAA rating.The poster sported the caveat (or allure,
depending on your point of view): “Due to scenes of violence, which may be
considered shocking, no one under 17 admitted.”Widely considered as an independent maverick in the film industry, Mr.
Romero once again decided not to submit his film to the ratings board knowing
full well that they would demand extensive cuts, leaving most of Tom Savini and
Greg Nicotero’s best work on the cutting room floor.One of the major problems with releasing a
film unrated is that the perception is that it is, in fact, a self-imposed
X-rating. An “X” generally means death
at the box office, unless you’re Marlon Brando doing the tango in Paris. Also, most major newspapers refuse to carry
ads for such fare.In addition, the film
opened two weeks after Robert Zemeckis’s wildly successful Back to the Future, which was still doing incredibly well at the
box office.As a horror fan four months
shy of my 17th birthday, I was unable to see it theatrically. Like most of my contemporaries, I caught up
with it on home video some years later. Having already seen Night of the Living Dead (1968) and it’s
(in)famous sequel which takes place in a shopping mall, the aforementioned Dawn, I didn’t know what to expect from Day.
some ways, it’s difficult to accept the fact that Dawn is sandwiched between Night
and Day. Night, which was shot in black and white and tells the story from
the lead character’s point of view by giving the characters information slowly
just as the audience is taking in all of the dreadful occurrences that are
happening to them, can also be viewed as a much more macabre version of an
episode of The Twilight Zone. However, there is a grimness to Night that makes it one of the scariest
movies ever made. Dawn, on the other hand, takes this same scenario of the zombies
out for human flesh and adds a very humorous stance to it. There is even a sequence where a motorcycle
gang throws pies in the faces of the slowly stumbling zombies. Day,
on the other hand, is much more serious in tone and is clearly the most depressing
of the three films. I must admit that at
the time that I saw this film, I never would have guessed that over 20 years
later The Walking Dead, a television
series based upon a graphic novel wherein a select group of strangers band
together against an unnamed contagion outbreak and are forced to fend for
themselves, would go on to become one of television’s most gripping, entertaining,
violent and popular shows. Audiences’s
appetite for this type of horrific material only seems to be on the
loved Day when I first saw it, and it
is my second favorite after the classic Night. Most people choose Dawn as their favorite, however, probably because they saw it when
they weren’t supposed to! Day introduces us to a completely
different set of characters and actors. It begins with a brilliant sequence that jolts the audience out of
complacency and puts them on edge for the rest of the film. Sarah (Lori Cardille), John (Terry
Alexander), McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), and Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) are part
of an underground army compound in the Florida Everglades trying desperately to
understand how to cure the contagion outbreak. They have limited resources and are being watched by Captain Henry
Rhodes (Joe Pilato, in a performace that Siskel and Ebert labeled as shameless
overacting, but he’s actually really terrific and has some of the most quotable
dialogue in the film) and his lackeys Steele (Gary Howard Klar) and Rickels (Ralph
Marrero). Meanwhile, Dr. Logan (the late
Richard Liberty) is experimenting with live and dead zombies in an effort to understand
them and control them so that they can become obedient. Dr. Fisher (John Amplas) is a scientist who also
attempts to mediate between Dr. Logan and Capt. Rhodes, however communication
between these parties begins to break down and supplies start to slowly run out. Mistakes are made, and Miguel is bitten by a
zombie, leaving Sarah to amputate his arm and burn the wound to inhibit the
spread of infection.
Logan continues his experiments, this time on a restrained zombie named “Bub” whose
child-like behavior suggests that his memory works, at least partially. Sarah is disgusted to find that he is using
body parts as food to reward Bub for correctly performing tasks; she plans to
escape with her loyal confederates but is stopped by Capt. Rhodes who freaks
out and kills Dr. Logan. All hell breaks
loose and chaos ensues, resulting in some truly amazing makeup work by Tom
Savini and Greg Nicotero.
Day of the Dead has been released in
many different formats. The latest is a Blu-ray release this month from the fine
folks at Scream Factory who never cease to amaze me with their tireless efforts
on countless new Blu-rays of old horror favorites. Their transfer of the film in high definition
is the best that Day has ever looked
on home video. If you own the 2003
Divimax two-disc set from Anchor Bay, hold on to it because two of the extras
from that fine set have not been carried over to the Blu-ray: the audio interview
with Richard Liberty and the 39-minute original documentary The Many Days of Day of the Dead.
exclusive and new cover art by artist Nathan Thomas Wilner and a flip-over
cover which has the original one-sheet poster art.
World’s End: The
Legacy of Day of the Dead (85:26), a brand-new high definition documentary that
discusses the making of the film in Pennsylvania. Many of the people involved in the film’s
production are interviewed here.
commentary with George Romero, Tom Savini, Cletus Anderson (production
designer) and Lori Cardille
is ported over from the Anchor Bay disc)
commentary with film director Roger Avary, an admitted fan of the film (this is
ported over from the Anchor Bay disc)
Day of the Dead:
Behind the Scenes
(30:42) – This is Tom Savini’s production footage that details his extensive
makeup effects used during filming in late 1984 (this is ported over from the
Anchor Bay disc, however the beginning is a little different). Shot in standard definition on either VHS,
VHS-C or 8mm video.
(08:12) is ported over from the Anchor Bay disc and was called Gateway Commerce
Center Promo on that edition. It takes
viewers on a tour of the underground location where Day was filmed. Presented in
Underground: The Day
of the Dead Mines
(07:37) – Hosted by Ed Demko of Cult Magazine, this new, high definition look
into the mines where Day was filmed
makes one wonder how the cast and crew fared while shooting. Skip Docchio, a facility tech who worked in
the mines for 32 years, was on hand during shooting and recounts his
memories. Mr. Demko humorously recites
some of the film’s dialogue.
trailers (05:55) – There are four trailers provided here, and several of them
seem like promotional items at film festivals.
Spots (01:35) – There are three spots here, all making a point to emphasize
that the film has not been rated.
Gallery – this consists of behind the scenes shots, locations where the film
was shot, posters/lobby cards (remember when they made those?), and a
miscellaneous section that includes images of past video releases.
disc is highly recommended. It would be
wonderful if Scream Factory could get their hands on Mr. Romero’s Creepshow. I have the Region 2 two-disc special edition DVD
and the documentary is almost as long as the film itself. Creepshow
needs a Blu-ray release and Scream Factory is the company to do it!